Mish Mash

This was my day to blog.  After teaching 5 and a half hours this morning, 3 and a half of it in the cold, two indoors, I was ready for a nap.  I slept from 1pm until 5pm.  Whoops that was my day to blog.  Well, never fear.  I have a bunch of small crunchy bits for y'all to chew on.


I love this picture series of Liu Fengcai doing Baguazhang.

In these pictures he is emphasizing polarity in his body created by the combination of "monkey doesn't want to go to school" and "effortlessly floating the head upward." The two forces create extraordinary external wrapping of the soft tissue around the torso and the backs of the legs-- this is evident in the shape of his hands.  Sweet.  (The artist's sketch underneath is an unnecessary distraction, but notice he added the drawing 4th from the left which breaks several baguazhang rules.  The arrows are misleading too.)


Only Comics and Dogs Wiggle their Head!

For all the hemming and hollering I’ve heard over the years about the importance of keeping the head upright as well as contrary opinions in favor of practicing dodging and ducking with the head, I am delighted to let everyone know that the controversy was created entirely from the denial of gongfu’s theatrical origins.
Here is a video of me doing an 8 part warm up that came from Kuo Lien-ying which I have been doing for 30 years.  After reading Jo Riley's book Chinese Theater and the Actor in Performance.  I've changed three of the movements slightly (I'll have to make a new video).  I'm very sure that I've been doing the exercises slightly wrong for all these years because I was limited in my view and simply didn't understand the original instructions.

Number 2 in the series is for training the basic heroic stance and should be done with the chest lifted more than you see here.

Number 3 is the basic comic stance and should be done with the tailbone back, the belly out, the arms straighter, and the head lifted.  In this position it is OK if the head wiggles because that's what comics and dogs do to show their lower statues.  It's so much better this way.

Lastly the 8th stance, usually called "chin to toe," is used as a mind clearing exercise by performers back stage immediately before they perform.  It should be done with the kidneys forward, not back as I've shown in the video. Thanks Jo, that tiny bit of information unlocked a lot of secrets for me.  (Yes, there are secrets.)


Disheveled and in disarray...

is a good description of all of my Daoist studies, as well as all my “progress” in martial arts.   I have followed my teachers in trying to transmit brilliant structures, orders, and systemizations in my writings.  However; the reality is a lopsided, languid, sometimes choppy, sometimes flowing,  unwieldy beast.

Occasionally I pick up a comment saying I'm too organized.  Reality doesn't fit in boxes.  Thanks for pointing that out.  All systemizations are also limitations.  All stated orders are incomplete.  The truth is always available in completely undifferentiated chaos (huntun), just waiting for you to stick your head in there and pull it out.

Occasionally I have received friendly comments here and on various forums which describe my thinking as mystical.  While I realize it is silly of me to take umbrage at this, it does rub me the wrong way.  I’m not personally interested in a mystical journey.  I’m not declaring that everything I say is a concrete metaphor, yes, my metaphors are sometimes misty or even foggy; but I am not on a mystical journey.  Sometimes looking in at something new or foreign from the outside creates a mystical feeling in the observer, that's fine, but please tell me if you think I’ve become rooted in anything less than what is absolutely real.


Chinese Martial Arts are a treasure...

but they are a changing treasure.  The Daodejing mentions three unchanging treasures, hold and preserve them!

The first is compassion.  (We're talking predator drone, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the thick-of-it,  compassion-- not moral platitudinous, bumper-sticker yoga compassion like, "Do no harm.")

The second is conservation. (No not greenness people!  I’m (in the) black and I’m proud!  Business is the most effective social mechanism for conservation ever-- cut your costs, improve your efficiency-- now let excess, laziness, misty eyed romantics, hysterical greenies, and inferior products and services die.)

The third is not imagining yourself to be at the center of the world.  (Duh!)

The three treasures do not lend themselves to fame, or charisma, or even claims of authorship.   Each person, or family, or community, or nation, or institution can find its own way to express these treasures.  But it's not hard to see why one might be inspired to live like a hermit.


Cold!  Lively!

I love being outside this time of year!  When the temperature drops the surface of my body cools down, but the inside stays hot.  This is an ideal condition for cultivating the Daoist elixir practice (jindan) and martial arts in general.  Why?  Because jing and qi differentiate more easily.  Our structure, the heavy stuff we are made of, jing, is easier to feel and therefore relax because it is cold on the surface.  And our qi, the activity, the motion, the animation, is more obvious on the inside.  It hums and vibrates.  Explosive power is more available.  In stillness the qi wiggles deeper into the bones, making whatever it is you practice irreversible.  People who get lazy about their practice in the winter months miss out on the best season. THE BEST!


Here are some websites I found interesting:




OK my home-slices, keep it real.

Scratching The Uncarved Block

wuwei1The Uncarved Block is one of the primary metaphors for the concept/anti-concept known as wuwei. The Daodejing suggests that we be like an uncarved block of wood.  The implication is that once a block of wood is fashioned into something, it loses it’s potential to be something else.  Once we make a decision, it cuts off certain options.  In other words, it is often good to wait.  But the Daodejing isn’t telling us to be indecisive.  It doesn’t say, “in difficult situations--waver!”  It also doesn’t say be slow, like a tree; or “be inactive,” like a log or a stump.  It says be like a partially processed block of wood.  Since the Daodejing doesn’t give us any idea how big this block of wood might be, or what it might be for, we can speculate.  Our block of wood could be carved into any sort of deity or icon, or perhaps a boat, a cabinet, a ladle, or a coffin.  The Daodejing is using this metaphor to point to a process which takes place when we make something.  It is not saying, “Don’t make stuff.”  Sometimes a decision can position us for more possibilities, sometimes a decision can limit us. Is this better than that? Be comfortable with ambiguity, but have a few uncarved blocks hanging around in case you need them.

There are a couple of other ways to look at this too.  A block of wood is simple, a block of wood has no preferences, a block does not calculate it’s advantages.  A block of wood can be an image of innocence, and of embracing the unknown.

The process of carving a block changes our nature as human beings.  It changes the carver.  Carving is a skill which requires particularly fine motor control, and a very specific sense of three dimensional mental imaging.  It is a sort of trance.  A sharpened focus.  It creates patterns of conditioning in our bodies and habits of mind.
Thus, the concept/anti-concept of wuwei is not a method. It is a challenge to the type of thinking which looks at everything as a method.

Yes, this type of method might be better than that one. But methods are just vehicles for transforming a vision into an experience--a result...in process.  A method always comes from something, like an uncarved block, and always gets discarded in the end.  Making and measuring is an aggressive mind-set which easily causes us to loose sight of the bigger picture.

Internal martial arts can be understood as a vehicle for discarding methods.

I’ve been reading Tabby Cat’s blog irregularly and I noticed that he has been ranting against any other blog which describes or promotes a method which involves alignment, structure, or anatomical and physiological analysis.  He even dismissed my reluctant post on the three big muscle groups, and hinted that I might be an Posture Nazi. What is this all about?   It seems our little Tabby wants to be like the uncarved block but just can’t seem to pull it off.

His Taijiquan tradition is all gush, gush about Ben Lo, and gushy, gushy about Ben’s teacher Chen Man-Ching (the "Professor"), and, of course, ultra gushy wushy about Chen’s teacher, Yang Chenfu.  All that gushing is a form of Shamanism.  I define Shamanism as:  Making contracts or alliances with powerful unseen entities in the hope that one will acquire that entity’s powers. A word to the wise, do not get in the way of other people’s contracts with unseen forces.

In that school there isn’t much teaching.  There isn’t much attempt to create methods which will help people develop.  There is an emphasis on relaxing.  Do the form a lot, get the postures just the way you’re told, with out explication or modification.  If you lose  a bout of push-hands to a senior student, it is because you aren’t relaxed enough.  Now, honestly, there is nothing wrong with discarding methods.  --Remember the uncarved block!

Taijiquan really can be practiced as a revealing of our true nature without any inquiry or experiment.  Heck, who needs the form?  Who needs a teacher?  Just stop carving! Stop making and measuring, stop calculating and stop seeing everything as a method!  I concur!

Readers may be thinking, oh, yeah, I could move to a cabin in the Montana wilderness and live a life of quietude and leisure and then my every movement would become Taijiquan, right?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  If it isn’t working for you right here, it isn’t all that likely to work for you out there either.  But so what?  Wuwei is the idea that a return to simplicity is always an option.  Always a possibility.  Everywhere.  Always.

smartcatpostThe moment I start writing a blog post, or you start reading one, the danger that we will lose sight of wuwei increases.  Because reading and writing is a form of carving. The moment we put pen to paper we risk crossing over into the land of methods.

Does embracing a method mean we have lost sight of wuwei? Maybe, maybe not.  This is one of the essential questions the Daodejing asks.   Some people have translated Dao-De-Jing as "The Classic of the Way and It’s Power” (Dao=way, De=power, Jing=text) meaning that it is a book of ultimate methods.  But Dao and De resist definition.   We could say there are Dao style methodless-methods, and De style methods which perfect us back toward simplicity.  The two together are one, Daode.

Our true nature is without limits.  Sometimes we go into survival mode and make contracts with the unseen world in hope of getting an advantage, a leg up, or accumulating power (Shamanism).  Other times we are content to explore, inquire, and experiment--wandering at ease (De).  And sometimes we find ourselves without an agenda at all (Dao).  These three categories of human experience, Shamanism, De, and Dao, are practiced to some extent by all humans.

If Tabby Cat ever stops scratching his post and decides to come down from his anonymity and share a bowl of milk with me--we might find ourselves together with no agenda.  (Yes, I’m offering!) He certainly makes a habit in his blog of purring in the direction of methodless-methods: “Just Rrrrrelax, it’s just Mmmmind, nothing but Eeeeenergy.”  But then he hits himself with his own bludgeon.  He goes to Ashtanga Yoga for alignment, and thinks Boxing is the perfect method for learning to hit.   Au contraire my fair kitty, I surmise from this that he has become trapped in a method.  He believes that Taijiquan works through using sensitivity to find an opponent’s weakness and channeling energy/power effortlessly up from the ground to uproot his opponent.  This is a perfect description of a water woman reverting to an ice woman.  This would also explain why he thinks he can’t hit someone using Taijiquan.  At that level he gets some power from weakness, but using sensitivity for power and advantage is a form of aggression which will block further fruition.  Power (jin) and energy (qi) have limits, weakness has none.

Taoism in the News

3117229Here is an article from the NYT about Daoist music at Carnege Hall.

Here is an article from Taiwan News titled Daoism in Taiwan Undergoes Transformation.   I personally found the article frustrating.  It starts off saying Daoism is the hot new thing, then tells us it was hot a long time ago, then it says it's always been kind'a hot under the radar, then is says it's gotten too hot is some ways.  All true I guess but each point is only interesting if investigated in depth.

This one is also from the Taiwan News about a Palanquin builder and carver who is competing with cheaper mass produced palanquins.  This Summer I really enjoyed walking around the neighborhood they describe in the article.  There were tons of people carving deities and the work was exquisite.  (I got some of it on video too.) These articles about how a traditional skill is being lost are not that convincing.  First of all, if it made it into the 21st Century, it's doing pretty good for itself.  Seems like there is still a market.  Second of all, if a mass produced one will do, then a mass produced one will do.  What's the big deal?  Take that incredible skill and carve something else that people want to buy and treasure.

It's funny too.  One of the key metaphors in the Daodejing is that of the Uncarved Block of Wood.  Hey, leave that block of wood in a potential state, at least until you need it.  It was recognized 2500 years ago that the process of carving wood expands the part of your mind dedicated to your arms, fingers and shoulders.  Carving causes stress.  It forces things into being.  What would happen if we just left the gods inside the blocks of wood?  Would we still be human?

Steamy Woman, Watery Woman, Icy Woman

The practice of Taijqiquan push-hands is a feminine art.  Even when practiced by men, it unleashes feminine qualities.  For the fun of it, we could compare it to ballet.  Even though most people are familiar with a few famous male ballet dancers like Nijinsky, Nureyev, and Baryshnikov, everyone thinks of ballet as a feminine art.

The first level of practice is called "Icy Woman."  At this level we develop a root so that when pushed the opponent's force is directed through our body down to the ground.  As the Icy Woman's structure improves she is able to keep this rooted quality continuously during dynamic movement.  If played as a game, both people will try to keep even pressure on their opponent's root.  The moment the pressure is broken either partner can move to sever their opponent's root. The game can also be won root-to-root.  In this case each person uses a blend of twisting, wrapping, expanding and condensing to improve the integration of their root.  Root against root, the better root will win.

There are two side tracks many teachers take with the Icy Woman.  The first side track is technique.  90% of the push-hands on youtube is a demonstration of this.  Techniques include tricks, grappling, striking, pushing, plucking martial applications and so on.  The other side track is trying to develop sensitivity.  This confusion arises when an Icy Woman has a broken or ineffective structure or an inferior root, and yet still wants desperately to win.  Sensitivity does not need to be developed.  Sensitivity is innate, we are born with it, no assembly required.  The only way to reduce sensitivity is with aggression.  The Daodejing makes this point on the first page, (the concept is called wuwei).
In innocence we can feel the subtle essences.

When possessed of desire we can feel only the yearned-for manifest.

The second level of practice is called "Watery Woman."  At this level it is necessary to become weak.  If played as a game, the goal is to try and find some ice in your opponent.  Ice is either structure or rootedness.  The Watery Woman does not attempt to compete structure-against-structure nor does she try to uproot her opponent.  She gives up rootedness and structure for fluid movement and weight.  The Watery Woman sloshes her weight in and around her opponent, she only wins when her opponent makes a mistake--the mistake of becoming icy.

The Watery Woman is not hard to achieve, because it is also an innate human quality.  Many people get stuck with the Watery Woman because they try to fall back on Icy Woman skills and techniques when they are losing.  A heavier Water Woman has a huge advantage over a waifish one.  A half-frozen Icy Woman can beat a half-dried Watery Woman.  Being an Watery Woman is not an advantage in and of itself.  One can get stuck at this level by developing very effective mixed ice and water techniques, including vibrating, bouncing, or shaking oneself.  If it only moves fast, it isn't water.

When the Watery Woman becomes comfortable, lively and uninhibited-- the pleasure of the experience  becomes steamy.

The third level of practice is called "Steamy Woman."  At this level her body becomes cloud-like.  Empty and full at the same time.  When the Steamy Woman meets ice or water in her opponents she simply floats them out of the way.  Her mind is not on her body at all, but all around it at play with the elements of volume, momentum, and density.  Inside a steam-like feeling moves around freely without regard to purpose or concept.  Like a cloud, it has no agenda.  Outside the game is played by the shifts and swirls of presence.

For those of you who have been following my discussions for sometime, you will probably see the three Daoist "views" permeating the practice of push-hands:  Wuwei (effortless, natural, return), Transcendence (perfection, enlightenment), and Shamanism (contracts with, or sacrifices to, powerful allies,--in this case female super hero allies.)  Push-hands is a method which can be practiced using any of these views, but each view will produce a unique type fruition.

No doubt, some of my readers are thinking, "Where did you get this Woman thing from."  Here, I must admit that the Chinese term I'm referring to is ren, or "human," and it has no gender.  However, when George Xu, for instance, explains these three types of people, he makes the opposite mistake and calls them Ice Men, Water Men, and Steam Men.  I chose to use the female pronoun because it's consistent with Daoist thinking and practice.  Another key idea of the Daodejing is the centrality of our feminine nature. (Chapter 6)
The Valley Spirit is Deathless it is called the Dark Feminine.

The door of the Dark Feminine, is called the root of Heaven and Earth.

Subtle, it seems only tenuously to exist, and yet drawn upon it is inexhaustible.

I have been told there is a Fourth level, the "Void-like Woman."  It is effortless, and innate, it happens automatically with a completely resolved death.  Perhaps it is possible to reach this level while one is still breathing?

OK a little off topic, but pretty Icy! OK a little off topic, but pretty Icy!

Avoid Fame, Practice Obscurity

I recently received an email from Paulie Zink's wife Maria asking me to please write a letter to the Los Angles Times complaining that a recent article on Yin Yoga made no mention of it's founder, Paulie Zink.  My sympathy goes out to everyone involved.

First of all to the LA Times.  The one thing newspapers like the LA Times used to have over TV news was something called investigative reporting.  It involved finding experts and insiders who had something to say about a particular topic.  The reporter would get in a rental car and go visit these insider/experts, see what they were up to, and put together a summary of their opinions and knowledge.  Now any expert with something to say or insider with experience to reveal has a blog.  The LA Times has lost it's reason d'etre.

The piece the LA Times published on Yin Yoga is just a puff piece for somebodies yoga teacher.  Free advertising for a friend loosely veiled in the mystique of "research."  Come on, the reporter googled Yin Yoga, talked to the first two people who picked up their cell phone.  It took all of twenty minutes to research.

My greater sympathy goes to Paulie Zink.  He is the holder of an extraordinary Daoist Lineage of Dao Yin.  Dao Yin, like all things Chinese, is very hard to put in a box.  It is first and foremost a hermit's expression of a life dedicated to the Teachings of Laozi.  The particular lineage he holds includes master level circus and martial arts training.  Did a Dao Yin hermit decide he'd had enough of the mountains and join a traveling performance troop, or did a master performer retire to the mountains?  Either way Dao Yin is way more than Yin Yoga.  I've never seen a yogi as good as Paulie Zink. Dao Yin technology is just higher.  Regular yoga is like a computer with excellent connectivity, interface, and compatibility, but not much memory.  Dao Yin is like a high speed super computer with 2000 years of memory, but little connectivity (it's best taught in a small group or one to one), an obscure interface (it requires an enormous time commitment to learn), and is useful for only two things--being in the circus or being a hermit.

Did the "founders" of Yin Yoga study with Paulie Zink?  Yes they did.  Was Zink the first person to use the term Yin Yoga?  Probably, it sounds like something he would say.  But the Yin Yoga people didn't study long enough to learn Dao Yin.  What they are teaching is just smart exercise for hip urban professionals.  It doesn't come close to the Dao Yin Paulie Zink practices. What they do works because it is simple and easy to learn.

Laozi's Teaching's, the Daodejing, has chapter after chapter describing the fruition of a Daoist life as "obscurity."  This is not some mysterious power that will allow you to win friends and influence people, it's real obscurity.  In fact, the fifth Xiang'er Precept is:  Avoid Fame, Practice Obscurity.  (See this article for more on Xiang'er and the Daodejing.)

A few years back, Zink moved from Hollywood to the hermit lands of Montana.  He seems to be hoping that he can travel around the country and teach workshops a few times a year and perhaps pick up a few high end private students (people like Madonna?).  The depth of Paulie Zink's knowledge would be appreciated in any circus town, like San Francisco or Montreal.  He could live in a sound proofed apartment with a nice private garden and teach at a circus school.  The one in San Francisco already has three contortion teachers, but Zink's knowledge and open hearted generosity would be a welcome addition.  I've seen him take the most twisted up funky stretchy poses and turn them into loco-motor movement.  Elbow stands become bunny hops with a fluffy tail.  Static warrior poses become dragons skittering across the water.  I'm not kidding.  This stuff is amazing.

By the way, the best scenario for the origins of Shaolin gongfu (Kung Fu) is that 1000 years ago (early Sung Dynasty) someone who had learned this half-hermit, half-circus storytelling art of Dao Yin, was living in the Song Mountains around Shaolin Temple and offered to help out by teaching the orphans some discipline.  Most large Temples were also orphanages.  Perhaps he had given up a child to a temple many years earlier and felt guilty about it.  Meir Shahar suggests in his ground braking book Shaolin Temple, that one of the roots of Shaolin is probably Dao Yin.  He also says that martial arts heroes were already in the written literature of the time, the literature itself having grown out of theater!

Chinese culture doesn't fit into boxes.   Most likely the development of Chinese movement culture happened in a topsy-turvy, a little bit here, a little bit there kind of way.  Give a sword to a Dao Yin master and he's gonna stretch it to the limit.  He's gonna do something wild and explosive, something soft and silky, something spontaneous and never seen before.  That's the fruition of Dao Yin.  That is the physical expression of the teachings of Laozi-- our limitless nature--Daode.  (Dao= limitless unnameable nature, De=a person's unique expression of Dao.)

Dao Yin is a treasure.  The version I learned doesn't have all the circus stuff or martial arts in it.  So in some senses it is a lot easier to learn than Paulie Zink's material.  But what I learned is still a hermit practice.  In order to practice I built a dedicated elivated room in my isolated apartment.  I called it the sky palace.  When I moved, I dropped that practice.  Modern Qigong is namby pamby soft and flowery compared to Dao Yin.  The Dao Yin I learned is a little like yoga but it's noisy and rambunctious, it gives you bruises,  and must be practiced everyday with for at least 3 hours with meditation.  Zink's Dao Yin probably requires closer to 8 hours of practice a day.  Dao Yin doesn't make you feel like putting on a suit and heading to the office, it makes you feel like spontaneously doing nothing.  Perhaps it would be unfair to call it the art of disciplined fooling around, but you get the idea.

When I met Paulie Zink in LA at a workshop he was teaching,  he was traveling with a disciple who lived with him in Montana and seemed to be learning everything.  I'm very happy about that.  His disciple spoke very little.  I asked him a few questions and I had to lean in close to hear soft spoken answers delivered directly from his heart.  A natural hermit.  Paulie Zink's oldest student also came into town for the workshop.  He was very generous to me, answered questions and gave me some tips; he lives in a high desert town I'd never heard of halfway between LA and Las Vegas.  He too is a Hermit.

Here is his youtube channel.