Sitting in the back seat of a relative's car, I picked up a copy of Oprah Magazine. The magazine was filled with articles about how to have a happy-go-lucky life. The first article I read was called, "How to Be More Creative." The gist of the article is that creative people cultivate synesthesia. Poets for instance, actually try to feel the sadness in rocks and trees, or the temperature of a rainbow. (I couldn't find that article online, but I did find this excellent one about musician Pharrell Williams and his synesthesia.)Read More
Strengthness with a Twist: A blog about internal martial arts, theatricality and Daoist ritual emptiness
Brand New Book: TAI CHI, BAGUAZHANG AND THE GOLDEN ELIXIR, Internal Martial Arts Before the Boxer Uprising. By Scott Park Phillips. Paper ($30.00), Digital ($9.99)
Also buy: Possible Origins, A Cultural History of Chinese Martial Arts, Theater and Religion, (2016) By Scott Park Phillips. Paper ($18.95), Digital ($9.99)
Workshop Travel Schedule
Daodejing Online Open for New Members - Click for Info: Next meeting, Sunday May 19th, 8am to 10am (MT) (5/19, 6/16, 7/14, 8/18)
Portland, OR—June 1-2 PURE ANIMAL Workshop
Los Angles: 5th International Martial Arts Studies Conference (May 23rd-24th)
Los Angles: 13th International Daoist Studies Conference (June 20th-23rd)
Since I began teaching qigong around 1990, I have learned, practiced, and taught countless styles. I think we should change the naming conventions of qigong because they do not match my empirical experience.
There is one book everyone who practices qigong should read, Qigong Fever, by David Palmer. It is a history of the politics that created the name "qigong," and the communist political clique that created a vast quantity of junk science claiming qigong was good for everything from curing cancer to re-directing guided missiles (I'm not kidding).
The problem arose because the methods (styles) of practicing qigong were removed from the Golden Elixar (jindan) framework that originally grounded it. That framework is jing-qi-shen; where jing is everything physical or structural, and shen is everything imaginary including the functional spatial imagination. In this framework, Qi is the intermediary between these two conceptual-experiential categories.
Qigong is simply moving with a felt sense of qi around ones body. With regard to the internal martial arts, that feeling of qi acts as a buffer in between the physical body and the spatial imagination. The quickest way to develop this feeling is through brush bathing.
Brush bathing is very simple. Sit on a bench and pour a bucket of hot water over your head. Then scrub your whole body with a stiff brush; starting at the top and moving towards the feet, scrubbing the yang meridians before the yin meridians (back before front). Then pour four buckets of hot water on your head and one cold bucket. After each bucket visualize (see and feel) the steam as a color permeating your skin and out into space. The colors should changed from dull to bright, and follow the five element color sequence: green, red, silver, violet, gold.
Brush bathe everyday for a couple of months until this felt visuallization is easy to conjure. Meanwhile, learn to dance while maintaining these felt visualizations. That, in my experience, is the entirety of qigong, the rest is marketing and hand-holding.
So what are all those other "qigong" type things that people do? They all fall either into the category of jinggong or shengong. (The word "gong" means work in modern Chinese, but in a non-communist milieu it means to accumulate merit.)
Jingggong is any specific pattern (or quality) of movement. (Once you have the pattern, you can add your qigong felt visualizations to it.) The purpose of jinggong is to change ones physical body through refining ones awareness of it. That covers a wide range of experiences including: coordination, relaxation, imitation, rhythm, breathing patterns, and ways of connecting or integrating through the body.
Shengong is the practice of moving the body exclusively with the imagination. This is how all the internal martial arts work, but it also includes subtle or invisible movements that may happen while practicing visualizations in stillness.
Jinggong works fine without qigong. And qigong is a wonderful practice on its own too. They also work well together. But shengong is not going to work unless one has mastered the qigong practice. And shengong will not work for martial arts or dance unless the movement patterns (jinggong) are established first. At the risk of stating the obvious, if one does not know how to kick someone in the head shengong will not help, learn the skill first.
Colors are a useful way to trick ones mind into experiencing empty space as having substance, so that it becomes easier to manipulate. There are countless other tricks. I suspect it will be some time before my naming conventions become conventions. But calling everything qigong, is not consistent with the basic cosmology of the body or the practice. Let's change it.
People ask me, "Scott, why do you hate power so much?"
I don't actually hate power, but every type of power obscures access to other types of power. Readers may respond that certain types of power can be added together to create composite powers, so it isn't necessarily true that one type of power obscures access to another. But even with composite powers, it is smart to separate them into distinct forces, so they can be perfected individually.
The primary method of Daoist martial arts is to reduce power, or to discard as many types of power as possible. What is left when power is discarded? Mass, structure, perception, awareness, balance, the capacity to change, density, fluidity, mobility, pliancy, and expression.
Daoist martial-theater uses expression to imitate the appearance of power, both as patterns of movement, and as techniques for moving other people's bodies. But power is not necessary, the techniques and appearances are all illusions of the theater. I may look tough but I'm actually empty. My toughness is fake. I my look wimpy, but my wimpiness is an illusion, I'm actually tough. (Fake things can still have real world effects.)
A pattern of toughness which is held as stored power, even if it is just a mental strategy, will limit the range of one's expression. The key is to stop carrying around strategies for domination. The simple effort of carrying around ideas about power, obscures access to the purest, most innate forms of power.
Thus, the daily project of Daoist martial-theater becomes the practice of cleaning or clearing out power from the body. To do this one must fully comprehend each type of power. At first this seems like a paradox, because one will not be able to fully comprehend any type of power unless he or she practices using it. In the Taijiquan Classics, this practice is actually called dongjin, literally: comprehending power.
The implication is that once power is fully comprehended it is no longer needed. This needs further explanation.
There are countless types of power used in Chinese martial arts, some of them obvious, some hidden. Generally the term jin is used to denote all these types of power, while the term jing is used to denote just the physical body without intent. So jin are all the ways intent is used to move jing.
Daoism's golden elixir practice (called jindan) has been a constant of Chinese culture for a couple thousand years. It uses the idea of qi as the intermediary between shen (the spatial mind) and jing (the physical body). Shen moves jing, but only in directly, qi is like a buffer which is released from jing whenever intent in the body is reduced.
For example, if I slap a student in the face, qi will float off of the student's face. Whether he or she associates the slap with love, or hate, or a comedy routine, is a process of the imagination, we call that shen. Theatrical content is created by simultaneously linking the experience of the qi (we call it heat or "a stinging sensation") to the location of the slap and the imagination. Qi is the intermediary between jing and shen (the "sting" is the intermediary between the physical body and the imagination).
That is what we call in Daoism jindan, the golden elixir of immortality.
To develop this, one has to re-learn how to move. Although cosmo-physiologically speaking, this is our original state, our self-empowered predator state (before we became appendages of our tools).
The process is different for everyone because we each come to the practice with different types of developed power.
Each type of jin (by definition: using intent within the body) will make the body more dense in some way or other-- if it is practiced as power. But if a type of jin is simply practiced as a pattern of movement expression, without attempting to accumulate power, it has a cleansing or purifying effect.
So one could say that every type of imaginable power fixes or cleans the physical body in some way, as long as it isn't used as power.
The cleaner the body (jing) becomes, the more readily qi is available as an intermediary. And thus, the more readily, and expressively, the imagination can move the body. (Rory Miller's crowd is now calling this effect "plastic mind.")
All those types of power become underlying integrity. This is most obvious with structure training, but is true for all type of power. This is very simple to explain in the case of "good" structure. Once it is established it simply supports other movement, it does not need to be used in any direct way.
This is why, for instance, I teach the four basic taijiquan powers (peng, ji, lu and an) until students can move with them in a continuous flow; and then I have students drop them. They represent interior structure and efficiency. What I don't do is encourage students to perfect these powers as techniques past the point of being able to simply do them and identify them in themselves and others.
Once a type of power is established it can be used to clean the jing, to purify one's form. This is done by practicing power as movement patterns using only the spatial mind, with no intent in the body.
Actually, the body can be cleaned by simpler movements, like shrinking and expanding. The golden elixir of immortality (jindan) practice does not consider martial power development essential. However, students of martial arts who fail to develop power(s) will likely lack the ability to apply advanced spatial mind connections to fighting games or against tricky opponents.
So go ahead and develop power, just practice not using it.
For reference, see the Daodejing, chapter 28, The Uncarved Block.