Saturday Workshop Change

It looks like rain tomorrow, so the workshop has been moved:

The tai chi/martial arts event that was taking place from 2-4pm has been moved to a different (indoor) venue. If you'd like to attend this, (which is going to be pretty exciting and fun (see details here: let me know or RSVP to the event.

We are meeting for this at 1:45 PM at Bethnal Green Station and I will bring the tea for a tea break in the middle!


And I'm excited about teaching Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday:

@ Eastbourne House Arts Centre, Bullards Place, Bethnal Green, London


Had an awesome day, will report soon.


A week ago I arrived in Cardiff, Wales, UK, for the first Martial Arts Studies Conference.  I went straight from there to teaching a two day workshop in Amsterdam with Alex Boyd.  Over the next week I hope to have some time for reflection.  Until then, here are some undigested bits of excitement.

Paul Bowman deserves enormous credit for organizing the conference, and doing a wonderful job of it.  I admit, I worried beforehand that we might have disagreements, but Paul gets my highest praise:  He is the kind of guy one can disagree with and feel the bonds of sworn-brotherhood grow deeper.  His character, thus set the tone for the entire conference.  This is the first academic conference I have attended where everyone present had the ability to kick me in the head.

This is a dream network.

I taught in Amsterdam at a converted shipyard with a vegetarian restaurant and artist studios, will post a video.  The students taking the workshop practice Lishi, a Chinese Daoist collection of martial movement and ideas--I'll post more on it later.  It is very worth researching.  It is connected to Daoist thunder rituals and was brought to the UK in the 1920's, so it is a window into the past as well.  Some excellent training, and orthodox Daoyin.  They were very open to what I have to share, it is a good fit.  (And Alex Boyd is a great teacher.)


Martial Arts Studies--will it become a discipline or not, how about an "indiscipline?"  I think the point here is that martial arts stretches the boundaries of many categories, and at the moment is in need of some working definitions.

Considerations of authenticity must be included in the definition of martial arts.

There is much support for the notion that dance and acting were closely related to western martial traditions. Dueling was expected to up hold standards of beauty.

Do we need a theory of history?  How do we know what questions to investigate?  Is it enough to follow what is intreging?  Probably not, we need to consider metaphors, and make lists of differing views, perspectives and conditions.  Yes, theory is dangerous, it can obscure or become an obsession.  Theory is powerful, we need to be able to put it down, it should not become part of our arm.  Sometimes great questions seem to come from nowhere.  

There are Japanese Kata, that tell stories.  I didn't know that before, a new subject to investigate.

We need more people from the "outer edge," (that's the sharpest bit of the sword).  So much of the work on Martial Arts Studies up until now has been outside of academia, those people need to be included and rewarded.  I suspect this field is going to explode now because there are people out there who have been sitting on research for more than 30 years.  Up until now, it has been career suicide for academics to seriously take up the study of Martial Arts.  The commercial world in film, religion, and sports is a huge potential source of funding and interest.  

Open minded enthusiasts can accomplish a lot.

Project:  Understanding what sovereignty is by looking at differences in notions of individual self-defense.  

Shiva, lord of the dance, is the destroyer of illusion.  In the South Asian world view, dance is closely related to destructive power (perhaps).  

"One should avoid making sweeping generalization."--a view held by people who don't seem to notice that they are in the habit of making sweeping generalizations.  Better, in my view, to do it, and know you are doing it.  It makes it easier to take it back later.  

Bruce Lee was defiantly killed by talismanic magic.

Plate steal armor was easy to move in, do flips and rolls, hop fences, climb, swing, and wrestle in.  It just requires wearing it a lot--some wise men tested this out.  I hope this means that we stop seeing people move like stiff robots when they wear armor in the movies.  And I hope we see more people wearing plate steal armor to the movies, driving google-cars and drinking coffee at Starbucks.

Zhang Sanfeng texted me several times during the conference to clarify his positions.

Anthropology has changed from representing (peoples, events, milieus) to making.  This was obvious when I was in college, and partially accounts for me dropping out.  

Martial arts is a very potent tool for identity transformation.  This position was promoted particularly by women at the conference, but I think there is a consensus

The desexualization of confined spaces.

One can not teach self-defense/counter-assault scenarios without acting, and the better the acting is--the better the training will be. 




Hitting the Road

I'm headed to the University of Connecticut to deliver a paper on Daoyin.  It compares Tibetan, Orthodox Daoist, and Animal Role Specialist Opera styles of Daoyin, exploring the commonalities in view, method and fruition.

I'm then headed up to Vermont to work with Paulie Zink's youngest advanced student, Damon Honeycutt.  

Then I'm going to Montreal for fun.

And then I'm goign to be teaching for a week in Ottawa with Daniel Mroz.  

As usual if there is someone you want me to meet, beat, or have intellectual intercourse with drop me a line!  I'm much nicer and more dangerous in person than I seem on the blog.  

Here is my schedule 2014:  

  • Connecticut Oct 4th
  • Vermont Oct 6th
  • Montreal Oct 10th
  • Ottawa Oct 13th
  • Back in Boulder Oct 19th

And then I'm going to Chicago to teach Daoyin and Internal Martial Arts in a graduate level Shiatsu Progarm, followed by a week in Traverse City for some workshops.

  • Chicago Nov 6th
  • Traverse City Nov 11th
  • Back in Boulder Colorado Nov 17th


Weakness With a Twist in Japan: Sumo

I have been in a whirl wind of change.  I moved from San Francisco to the suburb of Lafayette, and then I got on a plane to Japan.  At the moment it is 7 am in Tokyo and I am sitting down in line to see an all day Sumo match.

If anyone has contacts in Japan that they would like to introduce me to, please send me an email.  If you are in Japan and you want to meet up, same.  If you happen to know of something particularly cool or weird to do, particularly in Tokyo or Kyoto, I’m all ears.

The report on radiation:  There is none in Tokyo,  we brought a Geiger counter from home and it shows no change.  Second, the abundance of cheap delicious food is Japan there is no sales tax, and no tipping and my American Express card is not charging for currency conversion.  Sarah is at my side playing angry birds, we are in need of coffee and snacks but we must sit here for one more hour before the tickets are handed out.


sumo-ceremonyUpdate...the Sumo was awesome. Here are my quick observation which are certain to offend someone so let me preface them by saying they aren't meant to offend, just to provoke thinking:

1.  I would like to see what Sumo was like before the spread of Fascist movements in the early 1900's.  Was it more or less theatrical? comic?

2.  Are the Sumo guys meant to be Cosmic Babies?  I ask this because Tangki in Taiwan are often seen that way and the defining characteristics are sometimes said to be bare feet, bare chest, and bib (They wear two kinds of bibs in Sumo, a fighting one and a ceremonial one.)  When baby or child deities are made into icons or puppets or actors in China, they also have these characteristics.

3.  I was reminded of Indian Monkey wrestling several times.  The "dirt" that gets watered and swept at regular intervals on the Sumo stage has similarities to the 'dirt' that gets mixed with gee and nice smells and gets shoveled into even softness in the Indian wrestling temples between fights.  Also a Sumo guy did a bow (as in bow and arrow) dance at the end which looked a lot like a monkey king spinning a staff.

4.  Between each fight there a singer comes out and does a short dance with a fan, it looks closely related to the Shimai (Noh Dance/Drama interludes) I studied at Oomoto 23 years ago.  So does the officiated Shinto priest's vocalization and movement.

5.  The wood clappers are used at certain times, for theatrical effect?

6.  I believe there was a ritual in which each match was formally announce.  It seemed like the reading of imperial decrees.

sumo tea cup7.  I have heard from several sources that the Japanese do not think Sumo and Mongolian wrestling are related.  I heard for instance, that the squat dance they do with their arms out to the sides, hands together than up then down, is to show that the wrestler has no weapons.  But it looks a lot like a version of the Mongolian eagle dance.  (check Youtube)  Also the side balance with one leg up in the air and then coming down with a heavy stop looks just like Mongolian wrestling.  As a demonstration of prowess it has a lot in common with the stamps in Chen Style Tai Chi too.  Maybe Mongolian wrestling came from Sumo?

8.  I really appreciated all the dancing and posturing and throwing salt and slapping and grunting.  It really gave me a chance to see who was likely to win and why!  Especially when looking at the early junior matches-- the (not)-eagle dance instantly let me know if they had good shoulder integration which is key to winning.  The squat let me see head integration and uprightness, and the four legged prone posture let me see if they had any spine problems.  Later in the show when they started reaching for and then throwing salt, they sometimes really looked like gorillas.


We've got tickets to I gotta run.

Hot Springs in the City

I  visited Xinbeitou yesterday.  This is a hot spring in the city limits of Taipei.  In fact it’s on the the Subway line, about 30 minutes max from anywhere else in the city, it took me about 20 minutes to get there from Central Taipei.
Walking out of the subway you see a park with a steaming river running through it.  The park has a beautiful new library made of wood and stone, warmly lit with views of the park.  I was there at night so I didn’t get to visit the hot springs museum.
There are lots of hotels around the area and I guess some of them have their own hot springs tubs.  But on the advise of Lonely Planet I went to the outdoor public bath.

It cost 1$ US.  There are booths to change and shower in and a place to leave your shoes.  There are also lockers with keys for your stuff but everyone just puts their stuff on top of the lockers, there is very little theft in Taiwan.

There are four large beautiful stone pools in a hillside.  Each is fed by a water fall and the two on top are 40 and 41 degrees celsius, Hot!  There are also two cold pools, where I spent more than half my time because I was already too hot when I got there.

In a Japanese public bath men and women are separate and naked.  Here men and women mingle together and wear bathing suits.  I remember a public bath in Japan where I watched a guy scrub his body 8 times in between soaks.  These were vigorous scrubs, enough to take off skin.  Either he was scraping off layers of skin or his skin was very tough from years of scrubbing.  Anyway, scrubbing is against the rules in this Taiwanese hot spring.  Any scrubbing you want to do happens in your private booth while you are changing and showering.

The mood is very relaxed and friendly, a couple of young women who were with their mothers decided to talk to me.  (Wow, the sexy hairy monkey talks!)  The waterfalls are the dominant sound especially in the hotter tubs where people are ‘cooking.’  But this is no new-age hang-up keep-your-voices-down kind of place.  It’s all flirting and catching up on gossip.  About equal numbers of men and women but no children.

Really worth a visit...perhaps every other day.  I saw no evidence of religion, or stretching, but one guy was doing arm exercises while standing up in the corner.  They close for 45 minutes of cleaning every 2 hours, so it’s clean.

Taiwan Project

This is the first day since I arrived in Taipei that I’ve really rested.  It was raining the day I arrived but it’s been clear all week until today and I must say the rain cooled things down a bit.  Air conditioning is necessary for thought, I actually feel my brain turning off and on as I walk in and out of the heat.

I went on a reading frenzy in the two months before I came and it has continued since I arrived.  On Friday I met with professor Paul Katz in his office at the Academia Sinica and he gave me three papers to read and made a number of further suggestions for future reading.  Two of the papers were on the organization of martial cults, dance procession groups dedicated to martial deities and exorcistic rites.  The third paper was on the roll of justice and judicial thinking in Daoist ritual and its relationship to a wide range of social institutions including martial cults. He has been very helpful in introducing me to other scholars here too.  Our talk was less than an hour but it gave me a lot to think about and helped me organize my ideas from the point of view of a research project which is turning out to be essential for speaking with other scholars.

The next day I met with Dave Chesser of the blog Formosa Neijia.  We had a wide ranging talk about life in Taiwan, martial arts gossip, and business.  As readers of his blog know, he has a real talent for encouraging friendly open debate and we talked about how he can use that skill and experience to build a school integrating kettle ball training and martial arts skills.  He has read all my father’s books on business so we really got into how to translate my father’s ideas about what makes a business flourish into the Taiwanese context.  As all business people know, being in business means constantly refining and adapting what you do through trial and error.  And that takes time.  In my opinion he has what it takes to be successful and he’s off to a good start.

Dave convinced me to take a class with He Jing-Han (his blog is:  Master He taught a three hour class in the park behind the big public library (where students on the weekend line up 2 hours before opening time, just to make sure they have an air conditioned place to study).  The class was focused on a linear form of baguazhang he calls baguaquan, the form can be seen on his Youtube channel.  This form is just a small part of what he teaches year round and I got the impression that his style of baguazhang is organized very differently than mine.  In fact, of all the things I’ve studied it most resembled the mixed internal/external Lanshou system I originally learned from George Xu 20 years ago.  I would love to come back and get a sense of the full scope of what he teaches, this guy is a living treasure.

Shirfu He is a warm and gracious guy.  After class we went to lunch for two hours and had a wonderful talk about Daoism and the history of internal martial arts.  When I told him about my project He suggested that martial cults were created for group fighting while martial arts are focused on individual fighting, but he conceded that it was quite possible that historically people practiced and taught both together.  He also made the important point that what he teaches has changed dramatically from what his teacher, born in 1906, taught.  He suggested it was nearly possible to comprehend how his teacher thought about the arts, considering he lived through such different and turbulent times.  Going back 5 or 6 generations is really stretching credulity.  I know he is right and yet the project seems important anyway.  I think it is worth while trying to understand not only what teachings have been discarded or changed, but why.

I also had the opportunity to meet twice with Marcus Brinkman.  Once for a Chinese Medical Cupping treatment (my whole back got cupped with more suction than I’ve felt before!) and once for a Baguazhang lesson on his roof.  He is a fun guy with an in depth knowledge of Chinese medicine and substantial martial prowess.  He gave me some really good theoretical explanations about the relationship of internal martial arts and medicine, but I’ll save them for some future blogs. (I need time to digest them!)

Yesterday I met with a Professor of Daoism named Hsieh Shi-Wei.  I honestly believe he is the first person to really understand the full scope of my project and he was very encouraging!  More on that later.

Other highlights--
People are warm, kind and helpful.  The subway and bus system in Taipei works like a charm. I don’t even have to pull my pass out of my wallet because it has a radio chip in it, I don’t even have to slow my stride when entering and exiting the subway!  Taipei is much cleaner than I imagined it would be, public bathrooms are much cleaner here than they are in America.  I went drinking at an outdoor beer factory and a dinosaur bone covered bar.  I’ve enjoyed asparagus juice, salt-coffee, a mug-bean smoothie, tons of interesting street food, seaweed chips, a harrowing scooter ride, and I stubbed my middle toe black and blue hiking in the mountains.

I have one more meeting here in Taipei tomorrow and then I think I’m headed for the south.