Tim Cartmell

Back in June of this year while I was attending the Daoism Today conference in Los Angles I had the opportunity to visit and take a Sun style baguazhang lesson from Tim Cartmell.  Tim is one of the most well known teachers in the American internal martial arts world.  His book Effortless Combat Throws is widely acclaimed.  His more recent book The Method of Chinese Wrestling, which is a translation of Tong Zhongyi's book first published in 1935, is one of the most beautiful books on the market.

I made my way down to Tim's studio in Huntington Beach around noon.  His studio is all mats with big windows and great lighting.  It turns out that he currently only teaches the Chinese Internal Arts (Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua) in private lessons and workshops.  The classes held in his studio are all Jiujitsu Mixed Martial Arts oriented stuff.  There were a few guys in their twenties hanging around and a few showed up around the time I did.  Tim told them they could practice their grappling over on the side while we used the center of the space for my lesson.

My sense is that Tim has created a sold institution.  His studio is a place where mostly guys in their twenties can come and let loose.  A place where it is safe to learn ethics and explore natural aggression.  This kind of milieu is an enormous gift to any community and I was both impressed and inspired by it.  If students are interested, the internal arts are their for them too, but they are not the main product he is selling.  I like that, it takes the economic pressure off of a tradition which really requires adoption levels of intimacy to learn.

Personally Tim was warm and welcoming.  His teaching was very clear and it matched his theory.  He showed me the first two palm changes of the Sun style of Baguazhang and tested my structure through out the movements.  He showed a couple of applications which involved close contact throws.  Over the years I've learned many versions of the single and double palm change but each time I learn a new one it is like opening a different window into the original physicality of this arts distant past.

At one point in the second palm change there is a heel spin with both feet turned out.  A bit like Indian Classical Dance but since we were working on a mat I was having trouble with the spin.  So Tim showed me a straight line practice in which turning in (kou) and turning out (bai) alternate with a spin.  I immediately recognized the stepping pattern from a diagram for walking an Yijing (I-Ching) hexagram found in Jo Riley's book Chinese Theatre and the Actor in Performance.  We had a short discussion about it and he seemed genuinely interested but obviously it was a much longer conversation for another time.  (I don't have Riley's book handy but if anyone does and wants to scan that page for me I'll post it in an update.)

I only had one lesson with Tim so it is quite likely that I misunderstood something or only saw a small part of what he does.  But this is what I got.  Tim's idea is to use a very soft-light touch with precise footwork to attain a strategically superior position.  From there he uses superior structure to close in, at which point an effortless throw happens.  During the throw I noticed him melting his structure some what, becoming heavier like water.  So he appears to have three modes: soft-light touch, structure, and water.

I think this is an excellent method and I highly recommend Tim as a teacher for anyone living near Huntington Beach.  The method is very close to the one I practiced for may years but I've since changed my theory.  However, I still believe that what Tim is teaching is necessary to learn, it is probably more exact to say that that I think of it as a developmental stage in a larger theory.

I've explained my theory countless times but it comes out a little different each time, so once more with gusto.

Structure training is necessary because everyone is already using structure even without any training.  Structure training teaches you exactly what the best possible structure is so that 1) you can break someone else's structure when you encounter it and 2) so that you are familiar enough with the feeling of structure in your own body that at a more advance level you can totally discard it as a strategy for yourself.

Water training is a necessary stage leading to total emptiness.  Water is not very effective for fighting on its own, but it is a superb aid to fighting in close contact --throw or be thrown-- situations because it allows you to add weight anywhere at will.  Water is also useful for avoiding strikes and for rolling on the ground.

The importance of learning to achieve a spatially and structurally advantageous position should not be underestimated.  The best way to learn this is to practice with a very light sensitive touch, weakened, so as not to rely on strength.  In this weakened state you will lose unless you truly have the best position, the position of dominance.  With practice you will slowly get better at finding that position.  Once you are good at this, you will always know if you have a great position or a terrible one.  The next step is to always practice from a terrible position, that way no matter what position you get into you can still fight.

In order to fight well from a terrible position you need to transform from water to steam and from steam to emptiness.  Steam will give you the superior power but it is slow.  Emptiness will make you fast again and make it impossible for your opponents to feel your intent until it is too late.

Most of my current theory developed from recent encounters with George Xu, and since he is constantly changing his theories I suspect my theories will keep changing too.

Tim has tons of videos and discussions available on the web...Check it out.  Tim was very cool about setting up lessons, so if you are near Los Angles drop him a line.

More Video Libraries

More old martial arts stuff appears on Youtube everyday. This guy has assembled another library, like this one I've posted about before. I found this wonderful bagua video of Bai Yucai. I love the way he does turns off of his front foot from the swallow swoops down pose. Don't much care for the applications and I would like to see some fast movements, but great stuff:

I also found this. I haven't written about Zhaobao style of Taijiquan before because I don't know much about it, but it has created a bit of a stir because some of the practitioners are good and because unlike Yang and Wu it does not derive directly from Chen, in fact it may be older. Zhaobao village is very close to Chen village so the controversy is really about authenticity of lineages... which are all in dispute anyway. I like his way of moving, clean and lively:

Turn off the Thumbs!

fonzi1They say we use only a small portion of our brain, and that of the small part we do use, about 90% is devoted to the functioning of our eyes, tongue and thumbs.  I'm not sure of the actual percentages of brain mass we are talking about here but thumb control uses up one of the biggest chunks.  Thumbs are a huge source of tension because they are full of impulses.  Thumbs carry impulses, intentions, desires, giving, taking, and holding on, they are the root of acquisition.  We use our thumbs for almost everything.  No other species really has thumbs.  If you’ve ever done rock climbing you know that you need thumbs for tying knots and setting anchors, but for climbing itself they don’t add much.  I’ve been cutting back on thumb usage lately and I’m functioning well at about 50% of normal thumbing action.

I’ve also been napping and sleeping with my thumbs folded into my palms and wrapped by my fingers.  This is the first type of fist babies make.  Martial artists never make this type of fist because they say you will brake your thumb if you try to punch something with your thumb on the inside.  It is however used in daoyin for 'closing the channels,' but I’m not sure exactly what that means.  Sometimes meditation itself is described as 'closing the channels' too.

There are so many inventions that fall under the title meditation.  Often they are described as something one does or doesn’t do with the mind.  The problem is that mind has so many possible meanings, heck mind is often thought of as the source of meaning.  In the Daoist tradition I practice and teach, the term dantain is used to transmit the method of meditation.  Dantain literally means ‘cinnabar field.’  It is a spacial description.  The dantian is the space of meditation, it is like a giant square stage (with no corners) in which or on which 'experience' performs.  This method of meditation is simply a posture of stillness.  This stillness is defined less by any particular experience of mind or body, it simply rests on the stability of the dantian stage.  Thus no priority is given to thought or image, sound or sensation.  No priority is given to the heart or the head, nor to the inside or the outside.  The spleen, a passing car, and one’s thumbs are all doing meditation.

You read that right, thumbs meditate. In fact, this seems like a good way to explain what Chinese internal martial arts are.  In taijiquan, baguazhang, and xingyiquan we also begin with the dantian as a stage.  Our bodies move on a platform of stillness, a platform of limitless stability.  Normal activity is turned off.  Any localized impulse is turned off.  Intentions, desires, concepts, and visions, are not rejected anymore than movement itself is rejected--but they are also not fed, they simply come and go.  The method itself is an experiment.

In this experiment all experience takes place on this ritualized mind stage, which we call the dantian. The dantian is not a location in the body, it is not a center.  It is a space larger than the body, usually quite a bit larger.  If it is smaller than the whole body or even the same size as the body, then whole body movement will be impossible, relaxed integration will be impossible.  The mind here is posited to be a spacial experience rather than a perspective.  A perspective of the stage could move from the performers, to a prop, to the sky above, or to an audience member.  Whereas space remains constant and stable.  Focusing the mind on either a technique or a part of the body disrupts the stability of this dantian.  A disrupted dantian doesn’t disappear, it just becomes focused and full.  Fullness in movement is like a fantasy in meditation.  A fantasy requires effort and focus to maintain.  Maintaining a fantasy for an extended period of time is exhausting and it tends to harden our views, leaving us less flexible.  In fact, fullness and fantasy are the same thing.  They are like noise.  There is nothing wrong with noise, noise just obscures everything else and leaves us feeling burned out.  When perception is obscured we have fewer options.  For a martial artist, being empty on a platform of stillness is a state of potent openness--dark power-- like an owl flying in the night.

Thumbs are symbolic of preferences.  The thumbs up button on Facebook is truly the antithesis of meditation.  In martial arts, tension in the the thumb is like a preference which won’t go away.  A lingering desire to control the future.  Thumb work has become such a huge part of our modern lives.  How can we claim stillness, or emptiness, or awareness, or even relaxation if our thumbs are full of impulses, efforts and desires, full of half cooked stratagies, misunderstood text messages, and unexamined preferences?
I say empty your thumbs.  Turn off your thumbs.


Golden Bell vs. Iron T-Shirt

Hammering a Gong Hammering a Gong

At the recent Daoism Today conference in LA, in addition to presenting my unfinished paper, I did a participatory demonstration of many of the elements of Northern Shaolin, daoyin, taijiquan, and baguazhang which are theatrical, and appear to be connected to exorcistic rituals.  Most of the responses were positive and encouraging.  I did the demonstration on the first day of the 4 day conference so I had lots of time to respond to peoples comments and to hear suggestions.  Zhou Xuanyun is a Daoist priest/monk who is married and lives in Boston.  He describes himself as Zhengyi (Orthodox Unity) but he was trained on Wudang Shan which is a center of Quanzhen (Perfect Reality) monasticism and martial arts.  His comment, which he made through an anthropologist, was that he didn't understand how I could practice both Daoist (taijiquan, baguazhang) and Buddhist (Shaolin) styles of practice simultaneously--wouldn't the training methods undermine each other?

My first response was that my first teacher's teacher, Kuo Lien-ying, practiced theater, Shaolin, taijiquan, and baguazhang.  The anthropologists loved this answer because finding an actual person who embodied both traditions and saw no contradiction in practicing them both is their gold standard.  The anthropologist view is that the continuity of culture is unbroken.  To say continuity or tradition is broken is to apply some external idea of purity to a culture which never had it.  So actual informants are king.  I may not be doing them justice but I think that is the gist of their view.  I tend to see the idea that Shaolin (Buddhist) and Taijiquan (Daoist) would need to be kept separate as a contemporary political contrivance.  But I must add here that the anthropologists are doing a wonderful job of gathering detailed accounts of living and recently passed Daoists. This is fantastic stuff.  (More on this in a future post.)

Hammerng by hand Hammerng by hand

Zhou's challenge is still serious.  He is right that the practices seem different and sometimes contradictory in methodology.  Teaching a lot of Shaolin does disrupt my bagua and taiji practices.  But I think this has less to do with method and more to do with the type of trance and energy expenditure necessary to teach kids classes.  I might just as well ask, how can a person do Daoist practice in Boston?  Isn't the chaos of urban America too much?  I would hope that the answer is no, disruptions are not enough to negate strongly held commitments.

Historically speaking, I could spin this argument a lot of different ways but taking the time right now would be too much disruption of my own practice.  Instead, I can make the argument simply and quickly.

One of the founders of the Boxer Rebellion (Yi He Quan) was a martial artist famous for his "Golden Bell" practice.  This practice was said to be the original basis for what became the much derided Boxer Rebellion claim of invincibility to bullets.  Golden Bell is still a common form of conditioning.  The term conditioning here means a method of developing resistance to, or protection from, strikes to the body.  It is a kind of toughness.

Tuning a gong Tuning a gong

The other common type of body conditioning is called "Iron T-Shirt."  Golden Bell and Iron T-Shirt are good stand-ins for the larger argument between the internal practices of taiji and bagua on the one hand, and the external practices of Shaolin on the other; Golden Bell is internal, Iron T-Shirt is external.

The methodological difference between inner/outer or Shaolin/Wudang (Buddhist/Daoist) is resolved by looking at the convergence of these two practices.  Iron T-Shirt is a process of rubbing, pounding, massaging, scraping and hitting the surface of the torso.  Over time it makes one tougher and more resistant to strikes by thickening the surface, strengthening the bones, and desensitizing one to the shock of being struck.  Over time the differentiation between outer toughness and inner softness becomes stronger and more prominent.  At that point the process begins to reverse itself.  The external surface becomes quiet while the inner softness becomes more lively.  One no longer fears strikes to the surface because the differentiation of a lively, soft interior makes it is easy to move the vulnerable inner organs out of the way.

Golden Bell works by the opposite methodology.  It starts from the inside.  One relaxes and empties the torso of all tension, initially testing the torso for uniformity as a container of qi, like casting a bell, or tuning a gong.  The density of the surface of the bell must be uniform, and the interior of the bell must be free of tension, imperfections or obstructions.  Over time, the differentiation of inner liveliness and outer stillness becomes more distinct.  Once this distinction is achieved it is tested the same way Iron T-Shirt begins, with rubbing, pounding and strikes to the torso.  If the process has been completed correctly strikes to the quiet relaxed surface of the torso do not disturb the internal organs because they can be easily moved out of the way.

Learning martial arts, whether internal or external is always a disheveled process.  No two teachers use exactly the same methods.  External and internal methods are both defined by long lists of preliminary, basic, advanced, and extra-curricular experiments or exercises.  Two different schools rarely produce the same fruition, regardless of whether they share the same "internal" or "external" designation.

I see the fruition of martial arts as a type of freedom.  People are very nearly robots, our actions are usually predictable and automatic.  Martial arts training, both internal and external, is a way to become unglued from our robot nature.  Whether we call that robot "inner" or "outer" doesn't make a whole lot of difference.

(more on gongs, here and here)

Taoist Master Zhuang

saturns_squareMichael Saso has his own Youtube Channel.  Saso is the author of many books on Daoism and Tantric Buddhism.  His early work on Daoist ritual in Taiwan was ground breaking and he remains one of the few people ever to become a Zhengyi Daoshi (Daoist priest).

This video of his teacher and one of his teacher's sons is amazing.  The roots of baguazhang are not totally obvious in this video of pacing the void,  but imagining this ritual done on a national scale and refined over 1700 years, it isn't hard to imagine that baguazhang (the martial art) is just a variation.  In the last part of the series (6 parts) you see the priest alternating between walking the magic square and walking a circle something we also do in baguazhang.

You'll also notice that the shoes do not allow one to press through either the ball of the foot or the heal, creating a walk infused with unexpressed power, shi we call it---potential.  In basic taijiquan for instance, the four powers peng, ji, lu & an, are each executed from either the ball of the foot or the heel.  Eventually emptiness, as ritual action, replaces this type of forceful intention and one paces the void without any agenda.  This weakness, as I've been known to call it, is actually profoundly potent.  Many people over the years (including me) have criticized Aikido for having a "love your enemy, don't hit him" namby pamby approach to martial arts.  But Aikido is correct in describing the potency of emptiness in action as having no intent to harm your enemy.  Does anybody want to argue with me when I say it is quite possible to do harm even when you don't intend to?

Unity and Harmony

The Chinese Character "ping" The Chinese Character "ping"

How is this for dark irony?  The Chinese civil war which took place in the 1850's and 60's was call the Great Peace Rebellion (Tai Ping) and is ranked the world's second bloodiest war of the last 500 years.  The Chinese character 'ping' is a common tattoo in the San Francisco.  I suppose it would be stating the obvious to point out that the term 'ping,' which is usually translated into English as 'peace,' doesn't really mean peace.

The idea of peace resists description because it is so deeply ingrained in the most basic concepts and metaphors of our civilization.  "Peace is just...like, ....peace man, you know?"  Because of this it is easy to unconsciously project our notions of peace onto other cultures.  The Chinese idea of peace as best I've been able to glean, is a combination of yi (unity) and he (Harmony).  And naturally that is the name of another Chinese War, the Boxer Rebellion which is known as the Yi He Uprising.

starchartWhat is going on here?  Could this unity harmony thingy explain why Google was able to find the compromise of moving it's operations to Hong Kong?

Yi and he are the two most important concepts in Chinese Martial Arts.  But before I get into that let's examine them more generally.  The Chinese calendar seems like a good place to start.  It is thousands of years old.  Chinese governments have been publishing a calendar for the whole country almost continuously since the Han Dynasty (1st Century B.C.E.).  At first glance it is extremely complex because it is a composite of 10's perhaps 100's of local and ethnic calendars.  To name just a few, there is the lunar calendar, there is the stem-branch system of 10's and 12's that make up a 60 day cycle, there are the 28 Lunar Mansions which are also called constellations and since 7 goes into 28 they track with our 7 day weeks, there is the Islamic Calendar subsumed inside the larger calendar, there is a 72 day Yijing divination sequence which reverses its direction at the solstice and equinox, and there are many many more.

When I think of all the little local and ethnic calendars subsumed in the big calender I think of a story I heard about Californian Indians having a calendar which reminded them when it was time to go pick wild onions.  By picking onions in particular locations at particular times they loosened the ground and initiated the growth of more onions. They were making gardens in the wilderness.  (But of course it wasn't the wilderness to them.)  These sorts of ritual cycles are embedded in the Chinese calendar along with innumerable locals celebrations and sacrifices to gods, spirits and ancestors.  It was all in one calendar thus we could say there was unity (yi).  Harmony is a broad concept, but in a basic sense, harmony is achievable through not scheduling a mandatory meeting for work or school on either of the first two nights of Passover!  (To give an example from my own life.)  Harmony is achievable because our conduct, our activities, and our rituals, take place with awareness, sensitivity, and responsiveness to a bigger context or environment.

Any attempt by diplomats or corporate representatives to negotiate with the Chinese government must begin with some understanding of unity and harmony.  Sitting down at a negotiating table with a powerful Chinese representative without incorporating the concept of unity and harmony would be like meeting an American representative without bringing along the concept of "sitting down at the negotiating table!'  It's that basic.

I know I said above that I would explain the importance of unity and harmony in martial arts, but it's not easy to explain.  I fear words are likely to fail me but here goes.

Unity means inclusiveness.  Harmony means simultaneous individuation.  They work together.  But in trying to explain them I get stuck.  I could go to Daoist cosmology and say that huntun, totally undifferentiated chaos, approaches unity.  When everything is undifferentiated we could almost stay it's a single thing. But it is not quite unity because unity can be conceived of as having boundaries, like a country or an egg, whereas huntun has no boundaries.

yinyangAnd of course the Taiji symbol itself is the most ubiquitous image of harmony.  It graphically dipicts simultaneous individuation--two distinct things working together inside of each other.  But that just starts to sound weird, so lets have an example.

Imagine just an egg, without air or ground.  Make it a mammal egg so that the shell is soft.  Unity is the egg, the totality of your awareness is the egg.  The egg is all there is.  The egg can have a distinct shell, yolk and white, or it can be scrambled.  It's still just an egg, it's still a unity and it's still all there is.  In Daoist meditation there is this notion that we can map stillness as a transition between two types of experience which are actually one--the egg with a shell, a white and a yolk, and the egg scrambled.

In the internal martial arts, taijiquan, xingyi, bagua, we are an egg.  The totality of our awareness, our sense of where we are and the boundaries of our perception, is an egg.  Our physical mass is the yolk (jing).   The egg white is clarity and movement, it is what animates us (qi).   We could almost say that the egg white is inspiration and motivation; however, in Daoist cosmology this egg white is just the medium for animation--inspiration comes from Dao, it does not have any apparent origin.

-1The shell of the egg is the boundary of our perception.  When we practice internal gongfu the shell is the sky and the horizon--as we see, feel, hear, smell and imagine it.  We call this shen (spirit) in martial arts.  It contains the yolk and the egg white.  In basic training we develop the yolk (the body) so that it is smooth, round, and able to shift and change like a thick liquid which can expand and condense in all directions.  Then the yolk itself becomes so quiet that we forget it!  We forget it like we would forget our own body in the presence of a beauty beyond words.  We move only the egg white, shifting and swirling within an enormous shell, and the body follows without effort or inhibition. That's harmony.

Performers are Mean People

It would seem the most obvious thing in the world that martial arts are performing arts.  I mean, Jackie Chan, hello?  But denial of this notion is deeply embedded in contemporary Chinese culture.

MeilanfangBeijing Opera (Jingju) has as its most basic physical training something called "da" literally hitting or striking.  The warm ups I learned as a kid studying Northern Shaolin are the very same ones used in Beijing Opera.  The stage roles are divided into either martial or civil categories (wu and wen).  Extensive weapons training is given to everyone because much of the traditional repertoire involves depicting historic conflicts and battles.  Probably the best piece of evidence is the most famous Chinese Opera star of the 20th Century, the female impersonating dan Mei Lanfeng, studied Baguazhang with one of the toughest internal martial artists of his time!  It was said to have improved his sword dance.

Yet people will tell you that Chinese Opera has nothing to do with martial arts.

Beijing Opera is just one of many forms of physical theater in China.  There are urban regional styles like what Jackie Chan studied as a kid and there are rural regional styles.  There are also village lineage families, and there are amateur village and regional styles.  And within all of those categories there are ritual styles.  This is a quick gloss to give readers a sense of the scope--there were probably more than a hundred styles of physical theater in 19th Century China.

But there is a big problem here.  Denial.

Jackie Chan has said in variously self deprecating ways that he doesn't know about fighting.  And although it is well known that the Physical Theater of the Red Junks was created by the first Wing-Chun masters, it is also reported that they kept their fighting skills entirely separate from their performing skills.  Even today tight lines of distinction are drawn---at least in peoples minds---despite the fact that the stances used in fighting and performing are the same, and it is hard to know when a martial arts form has crossed-over into theater.

And everyone knows that Bruce Lee left Hong Kong for the US because he wanted to come here and teach Cha-Cha, right?  It's true.

Martial artists go to great lengths to deny any links to performing arts; the "New Life" and other nationalists movements in the 20th Century set out to completely separate martial arts from religious ritual and theater.  Sometimes they went ahead and just changed the arts, like Yang and Wu styles of taijiquan.  For example, Chen, the older style, is chockablock with pantomime training.  Other times they just discarded whole categories of practice, like back bends and high kicks, and sometimes they went for straight faced denial:  "No, that movement isn't for cueing the music, it's for poking your eyes out!"

Mean People!

I have not even finished reading David Johnson's new book, Spectacle and Sacrifice, The Ritual Foundations of Village Life in North China, but the chapter on Entertainers is so astounding I just had to blog!

Entertainers (yuehu) were a degraded caste in China.  Long time readers of this blog may know that I was deeply shocked and offended by my experiences of caste in India in the 1990's.  Chinese culture is not nearly as shocking to my American sensibilities, but then again, I've been studying Chinese martial arts for 32 years and no one has ever spelled it out to me as clearly as Johnson does in his book.

An entertainer had to move off to the side of the road to let "good people" pass.
[Performers] were known as jianmin, "mean people": they could not marry commoners, could not sit for examinations, and could not change their status.  In some cases they were required to be on call to the local yamen to entertain at banquets and other occasions.  (Just what their responsibilities were is never made clear, but they may well have included sexual services.)  They were treated with contempt by the general population....

While there were two major categories of entertainers, there were also castes within castes.  The basic categories were coarse (cu) and fine (xi), generally it appears that the coarse played music and the fine played music but also had acting skills.

boatburning"Mean people" were used for everything from entertaining visiting dignitaries, to weddings, to the most sacred rituals of a region.  "Opera Families" were profane outsiders who lived in separate districts or separate villages and yet were paid to entertain and purify--to bring order and expel evil.

A caste of hated artists brings to mind Roma (Gypsy) culture in Europe [hat tip to Liu Ming for the analogy].  The "mean people" were considered profane, but they were a necessity for the maintenance of the sacred.  Ritual Theater was the most common and widespread religious experience in China before the 20th Century. (Here are some links to previous posts.)

There were many different types of ritual performance throughout the calender year and every single village handled things differently.  So it is important to note that amateur commoners performed important roles in rituals and theater, as did Daoist priest, Buddhist monks, Yinyang masters, military personal, local elites, children and even high officials.  In fact, I think it is fair to say that some village rituals had a role for everyone.

GuanYuStatueWhich brings us back to martial arts.  Martial arts were used extensively in these rituals.  It seems almost too obvious that the basic physical training for popular and rarefied physical theater in China was in fact martial arts training.  Each region had it's own style of gongfu (kung fu) and it's own style of theater (ci).  But the basic training was the same.  It could be refined for either fighting, performing, or both.

What I've just now realized is that the ideology of modernity functioned in China as a cover for the deep animosity towards the performing castes.  These castes are now probably close to extinction.  Of course it's risky to generalize, but we now have a better explanation of why most martial arts lineages did everything they could to deny their past participation in ritual performance (lion dance being the big exception).  While the entertainer castes were officially liberated, their historic vocation as ritual experts was derided as the root cause of China's humiliations and failures as a nation!  I suspect that in some cases individual artists from degraded castes managed to survive by first denying any connection to ritual theater, and then skillfully transforming themselves into pure martial artists.

Now I have to re-think what qigong is in this context.  Kind of gives a different meaning to the expression "secret teaching," doesn't it?

(Remember if you are reading this on facebook you can see more images by clicking "original context" below.)

Big Kungfu Tournament in San Francisco

San Francisco "Golden Gate Kung Fu Championship"

July 2-4, 2010

Master Tat-Mau Wong and Nick Scrima bring you the "Golden Gate Kung Fu Championship" an official ICMAC 5 Star Rated event.

Over the weekend of July 2-4, 2010, a first rate Chinese martial arts championship will be staged in the beautiful city of San Francisco.

Over 350 divisions will ensure exciting competition in Traditional and Contemporary Wushu-Kung Fu, Taiji, Bagua, Xing Yi, weapons forms, Tui Shou (Push-Hands) and fighting.

We are excited to bring this tournament to what is considered the biggest home to Chinese martial arts outside of China. This is another great opportunity for West Coast competitors to build up their points standing for the Inside Kung-Fu Top Ten Rating and also to qualify for the ICMAC World Championship in the Bahamas in December.

We have secured Marriott Marquis in downtown San Francisco as the official tournament venue. Located in the heart of the city, the hotel is easy to get to from the airport by subway ($8.10 one way is the best transportation rate).

We look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones in what is sure to fast become a premier Chinese martial arts competition.

Coaches, "Fire-up your Team", the 4th of July Weekend is going to bring some real fireworks to San Francisco!

For additional information please contact:

Nick Scrima at: Nick.Scrima@kungfuchampionship.com

Chinese speaking competitors may contact Master Tat-Mau Wong at:


Martial Arts and Meditation

Standing still practices are widespread in the Chinese martial arts world.  Most styles have some type of standing still practice, and most qigong is derived in some degree from these practices.  For the sake of explication I'm going to divide stillness practices into two halves-- meditation and power-stretch.  Power-stretch is a group of methods dealing with the transitions from stillness into movement and will be the subject of a future post.

Meditation is only half of the big subject; "stillness practices."  But meditation in the martial arts happens in both movement and stillness.  The most difficult thing for modern people to understand is that meditation training requires no instruction.  It is not something we do with our minds.  Meditation is not a clearing process or a form of mind-body repair.  The martial arts are loaded with many different types of trance which do such things, but meditation is simply not a mental process.

The most common type of meditation in the martial arts is the practice of a form.  In order to practice meditation using a martial arts form one simply does the form.  (This is true regardless of the style, shaolin, taijiquan, baguazhang, or something else.) Do the form without self-correction.  Do the form without any attempt to make improvements.  Do the form without thinking of applications.  Do the form without any agenda or focus, and you will be practicing the most basic and essential form of martial arts meditation.

Standing meditation is essentially the same.  Stand in a posture which makes it easy to be still and discard the idea that stillness has an agenda, a focus or a reason.  Some postures are easier than others, and for this reason having a teacher to correct your posture is very helpful.  But whether you have a teacher or not, basic standing is practiced daily for one hour.  After about 100 days the posture itself should start to reveal effortlessness.

The subject of trance in the martial arts can be divided into three basic categories, all of which are total sensery experiences.  However; for the purpose of explication, each of them can be distinguished by the ways in which they use visualization.

Before I describe them, let me make it clear that I believe one should first practice a form, devoid of planning, agenda, magic, power, or utility.  However, being a realist, I know that it is a rare student who comes to the martial arts without an agenda of fighting, prowess, heroism, health, vanity, or the desire to dominate.  The old masters got around this by insisting on total subordination to the teacher.  In my world I offer limited fulfillment of these "martial wonders" up front-- from day one.  Through developing a personal relationship with my students I can slowly introduce the practice of emptiness and having a "zero" agenda.

In other words, the "zero" of martial arts meditation, and the one, two, and three of "power-healing trance" (see below), have no inherent order.  They can be taught in any order-- in a disheveled go-with-the-flow way.  However, at some point that zero-emptiness meditation practice must be established or the student will not have a dantian for their practice.  The word dantian (literally cinnabar field) refers to a large empty space for doing ritual.  It is most often described as a location in the center of the body; but as metaphors go, we could also describe it as a container, a vacuum, or silence.

The three types of visualization:

1.  Deities.  These are aspects of truth and nature.  Some have biographies, or histories, and some do not.  They are known by a list of their attributes which are then visualized in front of the martial artist, then above one's head and then descending into and merging with the visualizer.

2.  Environment.  One can visualize walking on a lake, in mud, through clouds or on a high mountain ridge.  There is really no limit here.  In baguazhang for example there are visualizations of walking through a tunnel of spiraling fire, or being surrounded by five mountain peaks.  One can also visualize abstractions like the eight trigrams of the yijing (I-Ching) transforming into each other.  Probably the most common thing to visualize is martial applications of fighting techniques.

3.  Visualizing spaces within the body.  For instance a huge palace can be visualized at the throat notch, or two deities sitting on your kidneys.  Spaces can be empty or full, vacuous or active, dark or light.  Spaces can be finite and solid, or infinite and formless.   Basic "dissolving" practices like ice to water, water to steam fall into this category.

The three categories can overlap each other.  A deity can be both inside and outside the body.  The boundary between inner and outer can dissolve.

Next week I'll deal with the power-stretch half of stillness practices...ways of understanding transitions to movement.