Baguazhang's Contentious Beginnings

Wang Shujin Wang Shujin

Kent Howard has translated a book by the famous Baguazhang teacher from Taiwan, Wang Shujin.  He has also started a blog to promote it where he has written a number of short essays about the origins of Baguazhang. It is wonderful that someone is taking martial arts history seriously. In the most receint post he takes some time to debunk some of the conjecture out there.  Then he says this:
The Story of Dong Haiquan being taught Bagua Zhang as a fully developed martial art by two mountain-dwelling Daoist recluses has all of the basic elements of many a martial art legend in China. All you need to do is change the names, and a few circumstances, and you have Zhang Sanfong creating Taiji Quan from a dream or Shaolin priests learning their art from an Indian monk. Chinese love to shroud their origin myths in the mists of antiquity. It lends them a certain air of distinction and provides an unassailable historical precedent.

There are several elements of this legend, however, that do not stand up well in the face of modern research. First, there has been no discoverable trace in history or literature of two Daoists named, Gu Jici and Shang Daoyuan in the Mount Ermei region of Szechuan Province. Researchers who combed those fabled mountains interviewing present day Daoist adepts found no temple records containing either name, nor of any Daoist recluses of that time who were known to teach martial arts. Second, facts point to Dong learning martial arts in his youth that contained many elements found in modern Bagua Zhang. Third, Dong was a member of the Quan Zhen sect of Daoism and learned a method of walking meditation that resembles Bagua Zhang circle walking patterns and stepping. Finally, Dong Haiquan seemed quite happy to allow the origins of Bagua Zhang to be obscured by legend rather than have contemporaries believe that he had synthesized it whole cloth from elemental skills derived from previous training.

....The last question to take up in our quest for the real Dong Haiquan is whether he popularized an art that had existed previously, or if he invented his own style by marrying disparate methodologies into one cohesive system. This task is made more difficult when you consider that Dong, when asked by his disciples where he learned Bagua Zhang, would comment that he received his art from “a man who lived in the mountains.” If the system existed before Dong Haiquan, we know it was not called Bagua Zhang. That name was unknown before his time. In fact, Dong’s first generation students stated the original name for the system was Zhuan Zhang (Rotating palms). Later it was expanded to Bagua Zhuan Zhang. Finally, probably near the end of Dong’s life, or perhaps even posthumously, it was shorted to Bagua Zhang.

....We can probably never say with absolute certainty if Dong Haiquan learned his art from another source, and merely popularized it, or whether he synthesized techniques learned from several sources and created an entirely new martial system. In any event, Dong was certainly good at marketing his product and keeping the source, as he played his cards, very close to the vest. As Lao Tzu once said, “The Sage wears rough clothing and embraces the jewel within!”

Here is the comment I left on his blog (not approved yet):

Thanks for putting this together.

I would ask the question: What reasons did he have for keeping Baguazhang's origins a secret?

As a marketing strategy it did work, so it is possible that marketing was his reason, but it's not a very good reason considering his main marketing strategy was being the best around.  Perhaps his secretiveness was a personality quirk, but that isn't very convincing either. What isn't being said?

  1. The southern and western half of the country was rebel territory for from 1853-1870.  What was he doing during the Taiping rebellion and the many other smaller rebellions during that time?

  2. What is the evidence that he was a Longmen Daoshi?  It is problematic to say that Quanzhen is a "sect," it is a teaching lineage. He could have received "registers," jing (texts), transmissions, etc...from any lineage including Tibetan Banpo--it's all secret under penalty of death.  If he had the title Daoshi, then legally speaking he had the rank of an imperial prince.  All that stuff about being a eunuch could be discarded that way (see original essay).  But the word "Daoshi" could have simply meant magician or wandering recluse.

  3. For most of the Ching Dynasty and much of the Ming Dynasty as well, Zhengyi Daoism was practiced in secret.  It still is.  When I visited Chengdu in 2001 I talked to a Chinese Anthropologist who told me that Zhengyi priests managed to hide amongst the poorest villages.  He said they have found them, but they disappear by the next day and can not be found again.  Daoists often change their names.  There is NO reason to believe we could find two "mountain Daoshi" by their names.

  4. The Quanzhen walking "technique," like everything Quanzhen, is a simplification/purification of older ritual practices.  The possibility of Daoist ritual origins for Baguazhang has barely even been scratched.

  5. Has anyone considered that the name Baguazhang may have been the original name of the art, but it was a secret name, only revealed when the political climate had changed?  Rebel-heterodox "meditation" sects often practiced martial arts and named themselves after the trigrams! (See Esherick's "Origins of the Boxer Rebellion.")

  6. If there ever was anyone else in the early 1800's who practiced this kind of art, perhaps they were in the western part of the country, and perhaps they were wiped out--20 Million people died during the Taiping Rebellion.  It kind of makes sense that he wouldn't want to talk about that in Beijing, there were still rebels fighting in 1870 when he started teaching.

Thanks for considering these ideas. ------ The daoist origins of Baguazhang is a repeating theme for me.  If readers search the bagua category on the side  they'll find a lot of material.  People often say that internal martial arts were combined with internal alchemy.  Some scholars may argue that ritual, alchemy and martial arts all have separate origins.  That may be true, but for the last 2000 years they have been influencing each other.  Ritual is the bigger, more encompassing, subject of the three.  If you want to understand the origins of martial arts and alchemy, ritual is the place to start.

4 stages of Qi

George Xu has simplified his explanation of the basic process of making martial arts internal.

First there is External-Internal, which means that the jing and qi are mixed.  Most martial arts use this method to great effectiveness.  It is high quality external martial arts-- muscles, bones and tendons become thick like chocolate.

Second is Internal-External, most advanced taijiquan, xingyiquan, and baguazhang practitioners get stuck here.  It means that the body is completely soft and sensitive.   While power is constantly available, the yi (mind/intent) is trained to never go against the opponent's force, so that when this kind of practitioner issues power it is in the opponent's most vulnerable place (in friendly practice it is often used to throw the opponent to the ground).  Unfortunately, if the opponent gives no opening there is no way to attack.  Also, at the moment of attack all jin, no matter how sneaky or subtle, becomes vulnerable to a counter attack.

The third is Pure-Internal, this is very rare.  All power is left in a potential state.  Because there is no jin, one is not vulnerable to counter attack. To reveal this aspect of a practitioner's true nature requires completely relaxing the physical body so that jing and qi distill from one another.  The body becomes like a heavy mass, like a bag of rice, Daoists call it the flesh bag.  Then one must go through the four stages of qi:

  1. Qi must go through the gates.  The most common obstacle to this is strength, either physical, psychological, or based in a world-view.  After discarding strength the shoulders must be drawn inward until they unify with the dantian.  The same is true for the legs; however, the most common obstacle to qi passing freely through the hip gates is too much qi stored in the dantian.  Qi must be distributed upwards and released in order for it to descend.

  2. Qi must conform to the rules of Yin-Yang.  As much qi as goes into the limbs must simultaneously go back into the torso.

  3. The qi must become lively, shrinking expanding and spiraling.  (This is what I'm working on.)

  4. This one in Chinese is Hua--to transform, like ice changing into water and then steam.  But George Xu prefers to translate in as melt the qi.


Personal Update:  I'm going on a classical music only fast.

Meditations of Violence

Yes, dear reader, it seems I am the last kid (blogger) on the block to read Meditations on Violence, A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence, by Sgt. Rory Miller. Many of my fellow bloggers have recommended it but it wasn't until I got hold of it myself that I understood why.

Sgt. Rory is a good writer. He understand his audience really well. His audience is made up mostly of tough-guy martial artists who train a lot, and not so tough-guy martial artists who also train a lot. He talks to us as if we were a bunch of girls sitting around in our nighties at a pajama party. In walks Sgt. Rory with his big boots, body armor, sim-guns, SWAT team-prison guard experience, with talk of predators and the monkey dance. With bravado and humor, he kindly offers to set us straight.

This book makes you meditate on violence. I particularly like his discussion of what happens to your body when you are attacked--What he calls the hormone cocktail. He says we lose dexterity and coordination and not just the ability the think or plan but the ability to see, hear and feel. Our sense of time becomes distorted and we can even freeze up.

Reading this book makes us think hard on the value of our martial arts training. Different types of training serve wildly different purposes. Of course this is obvious, we don't do muscle building to get good at push-hands, we don't cultivate weakness to win wrestling competitions, and we don't practice butterfly kicks unless we have an appetite for showing off. But no doubt, readers will find justifications for doing the practices they already enjoy--Even though he blind sides you with smart quips like this one:
Experience, in my opinion, could not give rise to a new martial art. Given the idiosyncratic nature and the improbability of surviving enough high-end encounters, it would be hard to come up with guiding principles or even a core of reliable techniques. I am painfully aware that things that worked in one instant have failed utterly in others.

There we have it, from the tough guy of all tough guys, the professionals' professional, the marital arts trainers' trainer! Martial arts can not have been created by people with real life fighting experience. Go ahead, bite down on this bullet, I know it hurts.

Still he unwittingly makes a great case for Chinese internal martial arts training. For the sake of argument, let's pretend that the main reason internal martial arts were created was for fighting (an idea my regular readers know I find ridiculous).

In a fight for our lives we fall under the influence of adrenaline and we become very strong. Mark one down for cultivating weakness! Don't waste your time cultivating strength, in a real fight you'll be really, really strong-- automatically...autonomicly.

You will also lose your sensitivity to pain, so external conditioning, training to take blows, is also a waste of time. Sgt. Rory doesn't totally reject conditioning. He says that training surprise impacts, on your face particularly, can help to keep you from going into shock in a situation where you are completely surprised. Familiarity with the feeling of being hit will make it easier to see through the hormonal fog.

Speaking of fog, he gives some statistics on police firing their pistols while they are under attack. Basically, they miss most of time at very close range because they are shaking and they can't see:
...Under the stress hormones, peripheral vision is lost and there is physical "tunnel vision." Depth perception is lost or altered, resulting in officers remembering a threat five feet away as down a forty-foot corridor. Auditory exclusion occurs--you may not hear gunfire, or people shouting your name or sirens.

Blood is pooled in the internal organs, drawn away from the limbs. Your legs and arms may feel weak and cold and clumsy. You may not be able to feel your fingers and you will not be able to use "fine motor skills," the precision grips and strikes necessary for some styles such as Aikido.

The "dis" of Aikido here is totally unnecessary since all styles have these kind of techniques, probably invented for dealing with drunks. But what a great case he makes for internal styles like Baguazhang and Taijiquan!

Internal arts don't rely on focused use of the eyes, in fact my bagua training is full of exercises designed to get you to use your eyes in unusual ways. I would even argue that the different bagua Palm Changes can invoke different experiences of time, distortions if you will. If you are constantly spinning around or turning your head, you can get by without your peripheral vision.

Internal arts are based on the principle that coordination will be impossible in a real fight. That's why we only move from the dantian! (As I noted above, I don't believe fighting is the only reason we move the way we do, or even the primary reason...but it makes a great argument doesn't it?) In bagua and taiji we don't tense up our muscles, all movement is centralized in a single impulse. We use one unbroken spiral as our only technique.

Jumping rope? Waste of time too. It's fun training for sparing games, but in a real surprise attack two things are likely. One, you freeze and stop breathing like you are a frightened animal "playing dead." And two, the hormone cocktail will give incredible speed and stamina--don't bother training those either!

Lest I leave you thinking everything he says is pro-internal arts, I should point out the obvious. Any technique requiring sensitivity will likely be useless in a fight to the death. So is push-hands, which is all about sensitivity, really useless? Maybe it is. But he also makes the case that training to attack from a place of total stillness is great practice for teaching yourself how to get "un-frozen" when you are utterly petrified. Good Stuff!!!

note: I just I just Googled "Meditation on Violence" and I got Maya Deren's 1948 12 minute film by the same title, a classic if you haven't seen it yet.

Is 70% Enough?

The following is another essay by a student in my Taijiquan class at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, enjoy:

One concept in particular that I initially had trouble with was the idea of doing at 70%. Instead of using my full range of motion, use around 70% of my range, or less if injured. I also initially had some difficulty with the idea of emphasizing the middle not the ends. I was raised from a very young age on the concept of doing everything at 100% or not doing it at all; in essence do or don’t do. Because of this I have always lived my life according to this philosophy. When I do something I do it to my best ability, give it all I have, or I do not do it at all.

At first this concept of 70% and emphasize the middle not the ends seemed wrong, lazy, half assed, and noncommittal. But, I also decided to have an open mind and try to look at things from a different perspective. After allowing myself to consider that my preconceived perception of how to do things may not be the only way of doing things, I discovered that only going at 70% and emphasizing the middle not the ends was NOT weak, lazy, half assed, etc. but was in fact in its own way a strong, active, committed way of approaching something.

While I have opened up to the idea and see it in a much different and positive light, at times it can still be quite a challenge. The areas in which I noticed it the most was in paired exercises especially when I was following my partner. I had a very hard time following. I always wanted to lead, be in charge, be aggressive, attack or defend at maximum strength. In so doing I found it very hard to perform the exercise. For example, in push hands, I hard a very hard time reacting and following my partner because I was so aggressive, hard, rigid, unforgiving. I had a very hard time staying stuck to my partner because I was rigid not soft. It was only in softness and by not trying so hard that I could even get close to sticking to my partner.

In addition I also found learning and practicing the form to be much easier when I was not trying to be perfect from the get go. At first the idea that it did not need to be perfect and that you did not even want it to be perfect was very uncomfortable and disturbing. However, now I understand and to certain extend even enjoy the idea that it does not have to be precise or perfect or performed with everything I have to my maximum ability. Once I let go of the perfectionist ideology I found the form even more enjoyable and beneficial

In what to me seems a related issue, I never knew and would never have guessed that Taijiquan is a form of martial art. I had always thought of it as some kind of Taoist meditative exercise routine to promote good health and long life. I would never in a million years have thought that it had any martial aspects or applications. Again I saw it as weak, passive, non-aggressive and associated that with weakness, passivity, non-aggression, and allowing oneself to be pushed around. I could not have been more wrong. I now can at least see how weakness, reacting, following, etc. can be a in its own way very strong.

While I have allowed myself to see the world in a different light, I still have a long way to go. I look forward to continuing my Taijiquan practice and further pursuing this new way of thinking.
To me it seemed that you demonstrated many different aspects of Taijiquan, giving us an idea about the many aspects of the subject. Obviously, in 11 weeks or 22 hours of class time, there is no way we can become Taijiquan masters. While at times you definitely challenged my preconceived notions, I think that was in actuality the best aspect of the class – trying to get us to see things in a different light, from a different perspective, to be a little uncomfortable.

One example that comes to mind was when in class we performed the form very slowly. In one aspect I enjoyed doing the form very slowly but it also was very difficult. In doing it slowly I came to realize that I have a very strong issue with double weighting. I do not like at all having all my weight on one foot or the other. For some reason I perceive this as a weakness. During our class discussion on the topic of double weighting, you clearly demonstrated that in all actuality, the weakness is being double weighted. Having discovered this concept I now have something to explore further. After having experienced both sides I believe that less emphasis on double weighting in a number of aspects of my life will have a profound improvement for me. In conclusion, thank you for a different, challenging, and eye opening experience.

A 160 Pound Bone Hammer!

Hebrew HammerThe quest for power is endless.

However; we all know that no matter how frivolous or fruitless the quest for power becomes, people will still seek it.

The sacrifices we make in the pursuit of power are not small, and the likelihood of eventually becoming possessed is high. That's what power does, it possesses.

This is true of all sorts of power, including the most basic type: physical power. That's why demons in Chinese art are so often shown with "great" muscle definition.

Daoist precepts, which preclude the invention of internal martial arts, strongly discourage the development of physical power. Why? Because these precepts require us to be honest about just how strong we actually are-- from the beginning!

It is only through the quest for power that we come to think of ourselves as weak, or insufficient. Humans are naturally very strong.

Pure internal martial arts completely discard the idea of muscle force. They completely discard the idea that any form of exertion is necessary to generate force.

My hand, balled up into a tight fist, is mostly bone. So is my elbow, and so is the heal of my foot. I weigh a little under 160 pounds. If I can move, propel, rotate or swing my entire body weight and strike an opponent with all one hundred and sixty pounds concentrated at a single point, using my bony fist--what need do I have for muscle strength?

Even a 40 pound bone hammer can bring down most men with a single blow. Don't even waste your energy trying to image a 160 pound bone hammer, it's just too much force.

Relatively speaking, force generated from muscle exertion is pretty wimpy.

If you get possessed by the idea of being able to generate a lot of force; consider that time spent trying to move freely as a single integrated unit has a much bigger pay off than any muscle-force training.

A 160 pound bone hammer pay off.

Note: This post is a riff on Master George Xu's recient claim that he is a 160 pound bone hammer!

Second Note: The picture at the top of this post is from the Film "Hebrew Hammer," very funny, I recommend it! Shana Tova!!! (Yom Kippur starts tonight.)

And also I forgot to wish everyone a happy Double Nine Day (last Sunday)--It's Daoist New Year!!! and it's traditional to eat venison.

Practicing Internal Arts Will Shorten Your Life!

Continuing on the previous post "The Real Purpose of Internal Arts," I would like to say clearly for the record, Internal Martial Arts will shorten your life.

Why?  You thought they were good for your health didn't yah? Not a chance.  Yang Chenfu, the most famous Taijiquan Master of the 20th Century died at like 54.  Many Internal Masters have died in their 50's.  They were all too fat.  Many internal martial artists have died from fighting injuries and venereal diseases too.

Lets get this clear.  Practicing Internal Martial Arts does not make you a good person.  If you are a ruffian goon, you will live and die like a ruffian goon.  If you think you are practicing everyday for some future attack, to fend off some wild assailant, that view will determine the type of fruition available to you.

Even if you practice the highest level art, with the most supreme teacher, your view will still determine what results your practice produces.  The constant search for power and superiority will shut out the other types of fruition that these arts were in fact created to reveal.

The problem is that modern Masters have been cut off from their own roots, they have historic amnesia.   I know all these history book writers keep telling us that Internal Martial Arts were created by professional fighters because their jobs as bodyguards or mercenaries required it.  Poppy-cock!  It's just not possible.  Why would someone weaken themselves if they were facing actual violent adversity on a daily basis?

Immortal Insence BurnerNo, the Internal Martial Arts were developed by people who had already cultivated a subtle body; a weak, sensitive, feminine (yes I said that), humble, yielding,  and desireless physicality.  A body cultivated with the idea that lack of pretense is not only a moral way of being; but a moral way of moving.

This is not the morality of being good. This type of morality is based on being real.

The Daoist practice of being real produces freedom and spontaneity (ziran). The inspiration to create from that "body" has led to experiments in every walk of life. 

In every realm of living-- effortlessness, naturalness, and the complete embodiment of an animated cosmos, found a way into peoples' daily lives, into the sacred and the mundane.

If you just practice any of the Internal Martial Arts or Qigong you will probably get fat.  Why?  Because these arts were created from a "body" that was incredibly efficient.

When you begin training martial arts, especially if you start in your 20's or younger, you will automatically work hard, and over do it.  When we are young we have too much qi in our channels.  All we can really do with that extra qi is waste it.  Hopefully we blow it off in ways that won't leave a perminant mark on our bodies.

When working hard and training hard, we naturally need to eat a lot.  But if you seriously practice Internal Martial Arts or Qigong, you will become more efficient in your movement and you will have to be disciplined about eating less. If you do that, your appetite intelligence (your spleen function in Chinese Medicine) will become much more discerning. It will tell you what is good for you to eat, and how much is the appropriate portion.  You will be able to trust your appetite(s).

In addition, your digestive system itself will become more efficient over time.  Your body will extract more nutrients from less food.  If, however, you fail to regularly and consistently reassess your appetite, you will over eat-- and you will get fat.

Improved digestion and movement efficiency will happen simply from practicing any Internal Martial Arts method, it makes no difference what you think or what you believe.  But the fruition I'm calling "appetite sensitivity" will only develop if your view is that you are cultivating weakness.

Boom and bust fitness routines, like Boot Camps, are one of the worst thing a person interested in developing a subtle body could do.  Your appetite sensitivity will shrivel up and fall off.

Gaining Control

Hmmm...A female friend of mine was recently attacked by a crazed crackhead half block from her house.  He was big and he kicked her in the ribs.

She thought her ribs were broken, she feared for her life, and she thought about the lives of her two new born infants who were thankfully not with her at the time.  Then she "went crazy on him," and he ran off.

In telling me about the incident she said she wished she had studied martial arts because she wanted to make sure he didn't hurt anyone else.  That, I think was the rational explanation, the more spontaneous explanation, I'm guessing, would be that she wanted to kick his ass.

A few days later while we were sitting at an outdoor table at a local bakery/cafe, she asked me how much martial arts training would have helped her.  I dodged the question and talked to her a bit about self-defense and what kind of training we do.  Then a 300 pound guy sat down next two her on a large green wooden box which had a sign saying please do not sit here.  The purpose of the box was to guide the flow of foot traffic around the tables and chairs, and thus, not for sitting.   It promptly toppled over onto her--bruising her arm.

The guy was naturally embarrassed and apologetic.  But that prompted her to ask me if studying martial arts would have prevented her from getting hit by the box.

So I was cornered.  Would martial arts training help with a surprise attack or a surprise accident?  Yes, probably, maybe, I'm not sure, I don't know,... how could I know?

10 TreadingHexagram 10 of the Yijing (I Ching) is about just such a situation.  The title reads Treading (Lu):

Treading on a tiger's tail: one is not bitten.  Auspicious.

The image is of an innocent, perhaps a 10 year old child, stepping on the tail of a tiger and not getting bitten.  Why?  We don't really know.  Perhaps it is because the tiger isn't hungry and 'though surprised, it doesn't feel threatened.

10 TreadingChinese Internal Martial Arts cultivated with a Daoist perspective achieve quite the opposite results of what most people think.  These arts are not about gaining control.  They are not about preparing for some monstrous future attack.  They are not about trying to control or predict the future.

To the contrary, they are about giving up the effort to control.  The basic  assumption or experiment of internal martial arts is that other options will present themselves effortlessly when we give up trying to control.  Does this really happen?  Yes, probably...maybe...How could I know?  I don't know, I simply have the experience that being less aggressive reveals other options.  I certainly don't know in advance what those options will be.  I keep repeating and simplifying the experiments because having options sometimes seems akin to freedom.

Ancient Character Treading (LU)In Buddhism they have the expression, "Skillful Means," to describe brilliant techniques on the road to enlightenment.  But it's also kind of a Buddhist joke because the end result requires no skill at all.

In my opinion, this friend of mine who got attacked, did everything right.  She did get some bruises on her ribs, but frankly a couple of weeks training in martial arts could easily produce the same injuries.  After she chased him away by whatever crazy moving, screaming and raging she did, she even had the peace of mind to record all the details about his clothing and appearance for the police.

Wide Eyed InnocenceHer innocent response was good enough.

And that is the point of this post.  Not only are we cultivating weakness, we are cultivating innocence.  The skills we develop in all the Internal Martial Arts involve discarding our learned responses, discarding our preconceptions about what our body is and how it works, discarding our ideas about how events begin and how they come to a resolution.

Discarding pretense, embracing innocence.

Daoism and Sex (part 2)

talk to the hand

In my previous post I didn't get as far as discussing the history of Sex and Daoism or misunderstandings resulting from that history. Instead I focuses on what Daoism understands sex to be.

The brilliant young scholar Liu Xun has written about two person Daoist practices from the ~1600's generally undertaken by two people of the opposite sex. Unfortunately it looks like his writing on this subject remains unpublished at this time. Perhaps he will read this and correct me. My recollection is that it is often difficult to tell from textual sources whether sex of any kind was involved because most of it is written in metaphoric language. There probably were some practices involving sex and meditation, but they were by no means widespread and it is questionable whether they should be called Daoist at all. (More on this below.)

Others have tried to say something about early Celestial Master (~200 CE) sex practices, but the truth is we don't know much about them. It seems like there was a short period in which teachers would pick two people of opposite gender from among their disciples and guide them through some sort of private marriage ritual in which the teacher and the two disciples were all present. Because the practice was discontinued, I think it is fair to conjecture that it didn't produce the best results.

Judging only from the precepts followed by Celestial Masters at the time, I think it is safe to say they were not engaged in anything they thought would increase desire. Most likely they were practicing not getting excited. Or, as I describe in the previous post, perhaps they were engaged in some type of physiological awareness which had as its goal, limiting the production of jing in the form of eggs or sperm, so that it would be available for some other practice. Generally speaking, sexual desire causes our bodies to produce more sperm/semen and more warmth excitement and lubrication.

Dao zang

I have heard that some Chinese Emperor's may have practiced getting an erection with out any desire. Supposedly it is possible, through extreme discipling of the mind, to get an erection, have sex, and neither ejaculate nor feel any desire. Presumably one doesn't feel much pleasure either, but I don't know. This kind of practice makes a little sense if you are an Emperor and have 800 concubines who are bored. It is important to remember that while some Emperor's were no doubt sex addicts, each and every concubine represented a political alliance which had to be maintained. If you never had sex with them, you might cause more trouble that it was worth. I can't imagine why anyone would want to try those practices today.

Now on to the misconceptions (no pun intended). The Daozang, generally known as the Daoist Cannon, has been complied by order of various governments into different additions over the last few hundred years. It is an enormous collection of texts (≤5000). No Daoist could study or use more than a fraction of these texts in a lifetime. Which would lead one to ask, "Are there texts in the Daozang which no Daoist has ever used?" And the answer is, probably. Compared to Buddhism, and Confucianism, Daoism has been a lot more lax about condemning what other people do. Practices which were outside the norms of Confucianism or Buddhism, were openly rejected by these two traditions. But Daoists have been more likely to respond, "Maybe it is Daoist, I don't know." So there is a trend that whatever no one else wanted, got stuck with the label "Daoist" simply because Daoists didn't reject it. Daoists have generally held precepts encouraging discretion and even secrecy, so it's likely that individual Daoists would not know the details of what other Daoists were doing.

That being said, there have been lots of books written about Daoist sexual practices. For the most part these have been invented out of whole cloth, or deal with issues your average sex advice columnist could handle better. But we also have the problem that people have intentionally limited (and therefore mis-translated) the meaning of the term jing to mean simply semen. Thus, we have been treated in some books to the disgusting image of semen traveling up the spine to nourish the brain.

And yes, of course, there are Daoist precepts against wasting jing. But folks, that is meant to refer to jing before it goes into sexual reproduction. There are many ways you could interpret this precept. For instance, I would say push-ups and sit-ups are a violation of the "don't waste jing" precept because the day after you do them your body will start using jing to regenerate your injured muscles, which is a waste because push-ups and sit-ups serve no purpose (except perhaps vanity).

[Note to readers, my updated position as of 11/17 is that people should practice Maximum Vanity. There is not enough true vanity in the world.]

The crazy idea that an average Joe, like me, would get an erection, make-out for twenty minutes and then have sex and not ejaculate, is the stupidest idea ever!

Man, just shoot!

Let it out, it's too late to save it, might as well clean out those pipes.

On a slightly different note.


Over the years, many people have come to me wanting to study qigong because, in their own words, "I want more energy!" After a couple minutes of interviewing it inevitably turns out that they are deficient either because they do drugs, don't get enough sleep, work too many hours, have a poor diet, or don't exercise enough. All of these problems are solvable with out qigong, so they never stick around. (A couple of times the problem has been they exercised too much, in which case the problem was easily solved by suggesting they do less.)

However, there are some weird power accumulation exercises out there falling under the category of sexual qigong. None of these are good for your longterm health, because like taking drugs, they mess with your endocrine system (In TCM language they use up yuan qi). They are also completely unnecessary because you can get the same amount of energy from proper diet, sleep and exercise. My guess is that these practices were originally invented for people who were starving in times of famine, when such practices might have served a real purpose.