Up-Close-RockI've been sitting on this blog post for a while. It relates both to Sgt. Rory's workshop last weekend and the Tabby Cat push-hands debate, but it is more deeply about how and why I train.

We fight because we are vulnerable.  A little kid can say he wants to kill me but I have no reason at all to fight until I'm vulnerable or someone I care about is vulnerable.  It's a minimum requirement.

When animal predators attack they do so in ways that minimize their own vulnerability.  When human predators attack they usually do the same thing.  A victim may never have the chance to see their attacker, or may only see them as disarmingly charming and friendly in those seconds before the attack.

Here is how a lot of martial artists think:  I have great structure.  Once I have engaged with a threat I will avoid direct structural force against force contact with the threat until I have acquired a superior position.  At that point I will unleash all of my force, weight and structure where the threat is most vulnerable.

Martial games like Mixed Martial Arts, Push-hands, or Boxing all function by limiting both competitor's vulnerabilities.  The game then becomes:  How can I create a situation where I can exploit a limited subset of my opponent's vulnerabilities before she can exploit mine.  The goal is dominance, when that is achieved the game is over.  Which is why it is relatively safe.

When we train games we are training to ignore some of our vulnerabilities.  This explains why Tabby Cat was accused of ignoring the vulnerability of his head and why he countered that push-hands as a game ignores the extreme vulnerability created by close physical proximity, fixed positioning of the feet, and many other "rules."

To paraphrase the Tai Chi Classics:  Because I understand my own vulnerabilities, I understand my opponent's as well.  To the degree that my opponent does not understand his own vulnerabilities, I am totally free to act.

So a little re-framing is in order.

The history of warfare begins with attack and then run, followed shortly by attack from a distance with rocks and then run.  The next step in evolution was fortification which protected vulnerabilities while simultaneously allowing for counter attack.  This works great in the short term but in the long term people with time to plan will overcome your fortifications.  The next step was mobile forts, namely tanks and airplanes.  Then we got nukes and now we are back to fighting with our hearts and minds against terrorist insurgencies.

030624-F-8833H-050It is very logical to begin martial arts training with simple attack, defend and escape ideas.  Then to move on to structure training both as "fortification" and to improve power generation.  Next one needs to understand how good structure is broken, so more power training along with targeting and angles--like siege warfare.  After that it's important to make our forts mobile, and either tougher like tanks, or freer like airplanes.  Whether by conditioning (tanks) or sensitivity (airplanes) we avoid metal (think: structure) against metal confrontation until we have maneuvered into the superior position.

All fine and necessary.  But in the end it still comes down to working with vulnerabilities.  To really put vulnerability at the center of your training, to take it all the way--you need to get weaker.  This is not a good strategy for a nation on the edge of survival.  But for an already confident powerful nation it makes sense to train for attacks based on putting ourselves in the most vulnerable situations.  That's what we are doing of course, planning for systematic terrorist attacks, biological, germ, computer, etc...

The most thorough way to learn about our vulnerabilities is to cultivate weakness.

What did I say?  I said that martial artists usually train the best techniques, from the best positions, with the best possible structure.  Fine.  Go do that for as long as it takes you to see that no matter how good you get at it,  your vulnerabilities still don't go away.  Then start training without structure, from the worst possible positions, and with spacial awareness instead of technique.

The illusion that we have direct conscious control over our bodies is an enormous source of pain, aggression, and defensiveness.  When that civilizing pretense is dropped, the body follows the spacial mind without inhibition.

Weak Legs

sai ping ma horse stance1A 9 year old student asked me during class the other day if I did any strength training.  I did my teacher thing and screwed up one side of my face while bulging out my eye on the other, "No," I replied,  "Do you do any strength training?"  This kid admitted that he didn't but I could see by the way he looked at the ground that someone had been trying to breed a feeling of deficiency in this kid's head.  Now we aren't talking about just any old 9 year old, this kid can walk across the room on his hands and he can do a press handstand from a straddle position on the floor.  So I said, "OK, you stand in a low horse stance and I'll put all my weight on your shoulders and you try to lift me up."  I leaned down on his shoulders and lifted myself up on to the very tips of my toes so that he had about 150lbs on his shoulders.  He then stood up with out even a second thought, lifting me into the air.  "That was easy right?" I asked.  "You could lift two adults couldn't you?."  "Yeah," he said, looking a little brighter.  "So you're strong enough already right?"  He just looked at me, unsure what to say.  "Now you have to figure out how to transfer the force of your legs to your arms.  That's what you need to work on."  And then we got back to the two-man form we had been working on when he asked the question.

If any of my readers doubt the above anecdote I challenge you to do the experiment yourself.  Find a small healthy kid, 5 to 8 years old.  Show them how to do a horse stance and then try putting all your weight on their shoulders.  As long as the kid's back is straight and her legs are aligned to take weight she should have no trouble lifting you up.

Why is this relevant?  Why now?

On my last trip to China I wandered all over Ching Cheng Shan mountain in Sichuan.  The "trails" are mostly steep stone stair cases that wind up into the clouds.  If you are lazy and have a little cash, you can hire two guys to carry you up three miles of stairs in a litter made with some cloth and two bamboo poles.  The guys who do the carrying all day long during the tourist season have pencil thin arms and legs.  They are skinny enough to be run-way models at a fashion show.  Their leg muscles do not bulge.

Likewise, I studied twice with Ye Shaolong, the second time I trained with him everyday for three months.  He is probably the world's greatest master of what George Xu calls "the power-stretch."  He uses low, slow expanding movements to develop explosive and suddenly recoiling power.  In his 70's, Ye Shaolong is one of the skinniest people I have ever met. He has no muscle.

In my early twenties, with ambitious winds blowing, I took to standing still in a low horse stance with my arms horizontal to the ground out to the sides, for one hour. I did this everyday for a year.  (20 years later, I still stand for an hour everyday but not all of it in a horse stance.) For the first few months, my thigh muscles got bigger, but then a funny thing happened.  As my alignment and circulation improved, my thigh muscles, my quadriceps, started to shrink.  After a year of this kind of practice my thigh muscles were smaller than they had been when I started.  And by the way, I wasn't just standing, I was training at least 6 hours a day and I didn't have a driver's license so I was also riding my bicycle up steep San Francisco hills as my sole form of transportation.  I'll say it again, my muscles got smaller.

Ouch! That's got to hurt Ouch! That's got to hurt

Most people who practice martial arts actually never learn this because they don't have the discipline to pass through that first gate.  At the time, I was just like everyone else, I believed that I needed to improve my strength.  I now understand that strength itself is an obstacle to freedom.

The internal arts of Qigong, Daoyin, Taijiquan, Baguazhang, Xingyiquan, and some of the the mixed internal-external arts like Eight Immortals Sword, all have ways of training that do not require building strength.  Some Shaolin schools have these methods too.  In fact, under the proper guidance of a teacher, with a natural commitment to everyday practice, anyone can use these arts to reveal their true nature.  A true nature which, like that of your average 7 year old, is already very, very strong.

On this blog I have explored many justifications for the cultivation of weakness.  For instance:

--it makes you more sensitive,

--you need less food (making it possible for more people to eat in times of food scarcity),

--you need less energy to exercise leaving more energy available for other pursuits,

--it's better for circulation in times of less activity (which is what we are doing most of the time anyway),

--your movement is less conditioned to a series of set responses (spontaneously agile),

--and you don't need to wear spandex.

But the number one reason for not developing strength is that healthy human beings are already strong enough.  Even 5 year old children are very strong.  The problem is that normal human beings have disrupted the integration of natural, untrained strength, into their everyday activities.  This happens first of all in the arms, which develop both fine motor coordination and repetitive patterns, both of which leave the arms disconnected from the natural strength of the torso.  Also, adult hormones, particularly male hormones, produce muscle really easily if we prime them with lots of food and reckless exercise.  By reckless exercise I mean games or athletics that cause injuries.  Small injuries to the legs will instantly cause a healthy male to develop big thick quads, it can happen overnight. Once these arm and leg problems are established they become habits.  But natural strength doesn't go away, it's waiting for us just under the surface.  The real problem, the only real problem, is the fear that we need to be strong to face life's challenges--the notion that we need strength to prevail.

The likelihood of injury from strength training, by the way, is the reason that people who do strength training have to create all sorts of schedules to "cross train" the various muscle groups.  These people are now arguing that all training is actually in the recovery! Weird.

Fu4And don't get me started on core strength....  OK, it's too late.  Core strength is just a marketing scheme, like Green architectural-design-dog-walking-nanny services.  It just sounds good or something.  It plays on peoples feelings of insecurity and guilt.  There is no core that needs strengthening to begin with, but even if such a core existed, the market is saturated.  Every type of movement training from Yoga to tiny-tot-tap-dancing now claims to be good for your "core."

Here at North Star Martial Arts we specialize in Core Emptying!

That's Right! All negativity is stored in the inner "core"--known traditionally as the mingmen or "gate of fate."  Sign up for this once in a lifetime offer of 12 classes for only $99 (that's a $1 discount) and you will get a bonus "card" to keep track of your first one hundred days of Cultivating Weakness!  Empty your Core Today!  (Say the words "relax your dantian," or Tell them you heard it here at W.W.A.T.)

Like aggressive advertising, strength obscures our true nature.

Martial artists who try to develop strength are preparing themselves for some future attack, the nature of which is yet unknown.   I'm not against strength, heaven knows people love it, I'm just against the argument that we need it.  Anyone who says Chinese Internal Martial Arts require a person to develop strength is confused about the basic concepts.

note: (If you are a bit of a sadist and want to watch some people squirm, I'm about to post this at the unhinged Internet forum Rum Soaked Fist! check it out.)

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 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.

Big Muscles

muscles_human_body_backAs someone whose job it is to translate ideas from one culture to another, the pressure to use more familiar language is always floating around in the background.

Many people would like me to describe the fine details of Chinese Internal Martial Arts using vocabulary from sports or physical therapy.  This is always problematic for two reasons.  First, one can only go so far describing kinesthetic experiences before one starts  sacrificing subtlety--language is an imperfect tool.  Second, by discarding Chinese concepts, one loses the primary organizing metaphors of Chinese culture, and what might be simple suddenly becomes complex.

Still, sometimes we give in to the pressure.  Today is one of those days.

There are three big muscles on our backs which are extremely powerful and efficient. Unfortunately, the problem with humans is; we don’t use these big muscles very well.  Our arms are just too smart. We habitually use our many smaller arm muscles to do complex and repetitive tasks.  This is the cause of a lot of stress and tends to shorten our lives.  For this reason advanced internal martial artists have developed ways to make use of the three big muscles.

We evolved these three big muscles as four legged creatures with our torsos parallel to the ground.  This is important because on a horizontal torso the three big muscles hang  in a relaxed way towards the front of the body (originally the underside).

  • The diamond shaped Trapezius muscle hangs from the spine wrapping the ribcage towards the arms.

  • The Latissimus dorsi muscle hangs from the spine around towards the belly and reaches around to the inside of the arms.

  • The Gluteal Fascial muscle complex hangs off of the lower spine and pelvis onto the outsides of the legs.

If you naturally move from just these three muscles, you are probably a very strong and efficient cave man--because this is not how humans normally move.

To activate these three muscles is a fairly complex process.  Normal sports training doesn't do it.

First we have to get them to hang loosely.  Most of the time when we are moving around or working, the three big muscles are being used for stabilizing.  They stabilize the pelvis, the spine and the arms.  (This is an important function in the event that we get hit by a car or a buffalo, but it isn't necessary to walk around all the time using these muscles as stabilizers.)

LatissimusBasic structure training in Internal Martial Arts gets us to stop using these three big muscles for stabilization by getting us to put our weight directly on our bones.  The other 400 or so smaller muscles in our bodies are then used to focus force along our bones through twisting, spiraling and wrapping.  In that sense, the early years of internal martial arts training teaches us to use our muscles like ligaments; or put another way, the primary function of the smaller muscles becomes ligament support.  (To develop this capacity in ones legs requires many years of training.)

Once the three big muscles are relaxed and loose and the rest of the muscles are being used for ligament support, a transition begins.

The transition is difficult because it requires turning off the active quality of the smaller muscles. The main function of the smaller muscles then becomes simply to transfer force or weight from outside the body (like from an opponent or gravity) to the three big muscles of the back.  The smaller muscles also have a minor secondary function of changing the direction of force coming out of the three big muscles.

This minor secondary function is not to be confused with active control.  To make this transition means practicing doing nothing with your arms for hours everyday and connecting the unengaged emptiness of your arms to an equivalent lack of active muscle engagement in your legs.  (In practice, this usually looks like loose flailing or slow spongy movement.)

trapeziusThe three big muscles are already so big they don’t need to be strengthened but they do need to be enlivened.  All three muscles should be like tiger skin or octopi, able to expand and condense and move in any direction.  They then can take over control of the four limbs in such a way that movement becomes effortless--even against a strongly resistant partner. If you accomplish this all of your smaller muscles will be doing the task of transferring force to the three big muscles---preventing an opponent from being able to effect your body through your limbs.  Yet whenever your limbs make contact with your opponent, he will be vulnerable to the force of your three big muscles.

In the Taijiquan Classics they call this, "I know my opponent, but my opponent does not know me!"

(Note: weightlifting/surgical ideas about anatomy are so dominant that the gluteal muscle fascial complex doesn't actually exist as a picture on the internet.)

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!

Five Levels of Muscle Training

This is a description of internal martial arts from the point of view of muscles.  These five levels apply to taijiquan, baguazhang, xingyiquan and (applied) qigong:

  1. Moving and Coordinating; running, jumping, rolling, lifting, stretching, etc.

  2. Static Structure; The ability to hold a static shape for a long period of time, and transfer force applied on any part of the body to the feet, the back or another limb.

  3. Continuous Structure with Movement;  All muscles must move in twists and spirals following the flow of the bones and ligaments.  Muscles weaken and become sensitive.  Force can be applied in motion at any angle from any part of the body.  Force can be avoided without losing whole body integration.

  4. Empty and Full at the Same Time;  All muscle tension must be discarded along with all intention to move.   Any solid concept of body structure must be discarded or melted away.  Muscles function like liquid and air.  (Power becomes unstoppable but unfocused and difficult to direct.)

  5. Whole Body Becomes a Ball.  Resistance training for big muscles only.  Small muscles are used mainly for sensitivity and force transfer (ligament support).  Muscles move only by "ten directions breathing," they move in all directions using expansion and condensation, not lengthening and shortening.


The separation of jing and qi, which happens automatically in stillness, needs to be available in motion to enter level 4.

In order to act through a body, that body must be felt as a dream.  Dreaming is not like the conscious mind.  If you think about running, you are likely to stumble.  In order to run, speak, or do any of these types of muscle training, you must first dream it.  In order to reach level 5, levels 1 through 4 must be felt as dream.  In other words, they can be done spontaneously by feeling, without thinking, or willing.



From my experience, this order is essential.  Each level takes a minimum of two years training.  Some internal traditions attempt to start their training at level 4 and then go back and fill in gaps in levels 1 and 2 through diligent forms practice.  The attempt to fill gaps in level 3 through push-hands training.  That seems like a mistake.

The quickest way to get level one skills is through rough play or dance (forms with speed and rhythm).

Level 2 can only be learned through a teacher/partner who tests your structure.

Levels 3 and 4 will be inhibited by strength training.

The key to transitioning from level 3 to level 4 is non-aggression, wuwei.  Aggression is refined to perfection and then discarded.  This transition probably requires working with emotionally mature partners.

Applications do not work at level 4.  Period. But paradoxically, the ability to use weight and momentum improves.

The good news! Yes, it takes at least ten years (two years for each level, and a minimum of three hours everyday), but levels 2 through 5 can be practiced at any age.  Levels 2 through 5 actually get easier with age because muscles become weaker and skin becomes looser!

Pure Internal Power

I'm hoping to create a little controversy with this video as I get the hang of my new editing software.

The first part is an attack on application demo's we see all the time on Youtube-- without shaking power most of them are useless.

The second part is a challenge to all the people who make a distinction between long power and short power.  The issue came up in Taiwan talking to Marcus Brinkman and Formosa Neijia, and it is in Nam Park's bagua books too.  It's a pretty common way of talking about internal power.  The distinction between long power and short power certainly is effective for fighting, there is no conflict here.  My challenge is for them to explain how they can do it without creating an on-off switch in their power.  I argue that short power needs a root and is thus vulnerable to uprooting.  In short, the theory of long and short power does not conform to the Internal Classics idea that, "I know you, but you don't know me."

In putting out this challenge it is my hope that I can learn more about my own limitations, no doubt they are legion.  Let the sparks fly.

Who can do Daoism?

I wrote earlier about a lunch I had with He Jing-Han, the Baguaquan Master.  It was a lively lunch.  At one point he challenged me to give a definition of jing.  I probably gave him 12 definitions which he rejected before I got around to the standard medical definition:  An essence which is extracted from fresh air and food which is then distilled and stored through rest, sleep and stillness.  He Jing-Han believes that storing enough jing to do Daoist practices requires extraordinary discipline and solitude.  Thus it is impossible to cultivate Dao in the city with a family and a job.  So he says we should just focus on being good people.

Most Taiwanese have little idea where they would get knowledge about Daoism if they wanted it.  He Jing-Han's sources like writer Nan Huai Jin have put a filter on access to that knowledge.  In effect they appear to stop most people from further inquiry.

Daoism does not have an open door.  But that doesn't mean no one ever comes in or out of the door.  If He would have accepted some of my earlier definitions of Jing he might have accepted my declaration that the story of the Eight Immortals (Ba Xian) is precisely to let people know that there are as many ways to cultivate Dao as there are people.  The point of the Talisman (fu) of the 60 Cloud Fates is the same, that there are many ways to become an immortal.  Everyone has Jing.  Every being's jing is already pure and perfect.  It is reproduced by our healthy habits, and it also reproduces us.  The differentiation of Jing and Qi happens in stillness, it has no special requirements, it requires no effort.

Han Wudi, was known as the Martial Emperor and he lived during the last part of the first half of the Han Dynasty (2000 years ago).  He was said to have a solid gold practice room, and Xiguanmu (The Queen Mother of the West) as his private tutor.  Yet he was unable to cultivate Dao because he was haunted by the ghosts of all the people he had killed in the process of expanding and then consolidating the Empire.

The point?  If you deal with your ghosts you can cultivate Dao.  If you don't, even a solid gold practice room and Xiguanmu as a teacher will not be enough.  Conflating the process of Cultivating Dao with Purification leads to elitism, an Earthly Hierarchy--and there are no true earthly hierarchies.  Hierarchy is a process of imagination--thus the only true hierarchies are of Heaven.

I know this can sound obscure, but it's not that hard to get.  The most basic act of Chinese religion is to make sacrifice.  The sacrifice to Heaven, as a totality, was always performed by the emperor.  Everyone else sacrified to their little piece of heaven, that is, their ancestors and their local gods.  Hierarchies are maintained by acts of subordination and dominance, which are made real through ritual.

Daoist Priests are forbiden by precept to subordinate.  Every other choice will eventually lead to freedom, it just takes longer.  Daoism is a short cut.  Freedom has a physiology.  That physiology is our true nature and it is revealed through the cultivation of weakness, stillness, openness, and lacking pretence.

Fighting in Space

I recently heard that some astronauts spent 6 hours trying to loosen a bolt on a space station.  It’s extremely hard to get leverage in space.  This led me to asking, just how much fighting is gravity dependent?

The answer is, almost all of it.  In space if you try to poke someone in the eye, you will both spin away from each other.  However I think you could poke a persons eye if you were simultaneously pulling them towards you by the neck.  Anyway nearly all strikes, kicks and throws are gravity dependent.  Probably about 70% of joint locks are too.  Most of them would be impossible to get on a resisting partner in space.  Even hair pulling is out.  We are left with squeezing grabs to the groin and neck--and head locks.

Since everyone knows, space is the next wild, wild west (Firefly fans?), I think we should start training for zero gravity fighting.

It’s also a good way to explain why relaxation is superior to tension in a fight.  Almost everything we do in a fight is gravity dependent.  The best fighting methods force an opponent to carry not only their own weight but your weight too, at the worst possible angles. Even with throws in which the opponent is picked up into the air, momentum is used in combination with a destabilized base to create a circular force around a center of gravity and a gravity dependent still point--ending of course with a smack down.  (I just wanted to say smack down.)
So start analyzing fighting methods in terms of gravity and they will become more effective.     As long as you are controlling the exchanges of momentum, your opponent should be carrying as much of your mass as possible.  So, for example, if you punch someone you want all of your weight to hit them with momentum.  If you do it right, strength is completely irrelevant.