The Perfect Martial Arts Curriculum

Recently, several of my students have been giving me a hard time.  They say I'm under playing the importance of structure training.  Perhaps they are right.

In the traditions of India, Japan and China, it is common to teach using an ideal model.  Copy the model and practice like crazy and eventually you will understand how the model was created, both what makes it tick and what raw materials went into it.  "Reverse engineering" is the name techies give for this type of teaching.  It works well in flexible one-on-one learning situations where, if for some reason, a particular model isn't coming together, the master teacher can just change to a different model.

This way of transmitting cultural knowledge tends to be quite effective at creating continuity.  It's weakness lays in it's tendency to "worshiping" the model itself.  If the teacher believes a particular model is so great it should never be changed he will tend to blame the student (or the society as a whole) for artistic decline.  It's also possible that the teacher got an imperfect transmission of the model and ends up transmitting superficial knowledge.

Western Civilization gives priority in learning to cognitive understanding, not models.  Even when faced with an art which is visceral and corporeal, the tendency is to teach with a curriculum utilizing progressive stages of conceptualization.

This type of teaching tends to make efficient use of time and facilitates group learning.  It's very adaptable.  If the students aren't getting it, the teacher will try to develop a new lesson based on the notion that all knowledge is built on previous knowledge.  By working with the pieces, eventually the whole picture will come into view.

Working against this approach is the problem that acquired knowledge based on conceptual notions or utilitarian routines can sometimes inhibit artistic realms of awareness. (That's what the film the Black Swan is about, by the way.)   Artistic skills and ability are not always based on previous knowledge.  Realms of awareness which open up possibilities of spontaneous action can not really be taught, they must be discovered.  In fact, one type of knowledge can inhibit learning in another realm, like hitting the brake and the gas at the same time.

Too often the role of teacher as facilitator is undervalued and the role of teacher as "spoon feeder" is idealized.  My own learning experience in the martial arts benefited enormously from the "just copy this ideal model" and practice like crazy way of doing things.  Getting autonomous students to willingly submit to that form of learning usually requires a huge head fake.  A sort of matador's cape that I've never been particularly good at wielding.  Meanwhile our society exerts an enormous amount of pressure on teachers to create a progressive curriculum.


All of that was just a conceptual prelude to me presenting the problem in the following practical terms.

If you want to understand the value of strength, do some really hard physical labor for an extended period of time.  Try working 20 hour days commercial fishing in Alaska, carrying around 80 pounds of gear all day above 10,000 feet, or tossing bales of hay in Iowa.  (Perhaps people can mimic some of these effects in the gym, but I'm skeptical.)  Once you have this kind of strength you will appreciate flexibility as a total revelation.  Without first developing this kind of strength, flexibility just seems like a convenience.  But build up some serious strength and flexibility will seem like a treasure.

Once you have strength and flexibility, structure is a revelation.  Good or correct structure will allow you to transfer force through your bones, dramatically reducing the need for muscular strength, allowing you to conserve enormous amounts of energy.

Once you have structure you can develop it so that any movement at any angle or curve has integrity.  And then looseness will be revelation.  With looseness you will have the ability to have structure only when you want it.  You can disappear and re-appear at will.

Once you have looseness, momentum is a revelation.  Looseness will give you the speed and adaptability to take advantage of both your own and an opponent's momentum.   It's a whole different way of fighting. (Yes, I'm talking about fighting again, but it's only a frame for the larger philosophical discovery.)

Once you understand momentum, you will feel the value of increasing the unified integrity of your entire liquid mass as a revelation.  Unity comes about through reducing all effort.  Eventually you will experience turning off all specific muscular control as a revelation.

Once you have discarded effort, emptiness becomes a revelation.  Emptiness connects the effortless body to spacial awareness.

No doubt there are revelations to come.

Laozi says that the more focused, differentiated, specific and clear an idea becomes, the more likely it is to begin to stagnate and decay or harden and break.  Shouldn't this be the first lesson?

National Living Treasures

ling-3I really don't know what to do.  Paulie Zink has another video up on Youtube.  His Daoyin is the link between Daoist hermit rituals, Shaolin, the martial theater tradition, and internal martial arts.  I don't know of anyone else that has even come close to receiving the complete transmission of this knowledge.  Paulie Zink has it, yet hardly anyone appreciates that fact, even worse, I don't think he appreciates it!  For crying out loud, why call it Yin Yoga?  You're killing me.

For those who have missed this story, here are some of the details.  Paulie Zink learned Daoyin and Monkey Kungfu in Los Angels in the late '70's early 80's from a guy, Cho Chat Ling who learned it from his father and taught no one else.  The Monkey Kungfu is made up of 5 different Monkey forms and qualities all of which Paulie then taught to his close friend Michael Matsuda.  I interviewed Michael last year in Santa Clarita and he told me that he never learned any of the Daoyin and that Monkey Kungfu and Daoyin were completely different systems.  It's my opinion that Monkey is one of about 20 Daoyin animal movements, but it happens to be by far the most developed of the animals because Monkey was such a popular stage role in every part of China.  Michael dismissed this notion by saying that it was purely a martial arts system.  He backed up this statement by telling me that a group of Paulie Zink's teacher's father's Kungfu cousin's  disciples (got that?) came to visit Los Angels from Hong Kong twice in the 1980's to compete in tournaments and Michael got to travel with them.  He said they were superb fighters, unlike Paulie Zink who never had an interest in fighting.  But Michael also said that none of the visiting group knew Daoyin, and none of them knew all 5 monkey forms either.  That means Michael is also a National Living Treasure and more people need to get down there and study with him.  I took his class-- that's some serious gongfu!  (Buy a video!) (There is more of Michael's argument here, but the idea that there was some wall of separation between fighting skill and performing skill does not stand up to historical scrutiny.)

The purpose of Daoyin is very simply to reveal the freedom of our true nature.  That's the purpose, or I could say the fruition.  One of the reasons this thing has gotten so screwed up is that people are always confusing the method with the fruition.  They think that physical looseness and flexibility is the fruition, when in fact it is only the method, and only a small part of the method at that.

The method of Daoyin is very simply to distill what is inside from what is outside so that we might become aware of this other thing, call it emptiness, call it freedom, call it original qi, call immortality, call it whatever you want.  The world outside of us is always pushing or pulling, and the world inside of us is always pushing or pulling.  The premise of Daoyin is that there is a place in between inside and outside which is always pure and always free.

Thinking back to how Daoyin was created, there were two ways in.  One way was to cultivate extraordinarily plain stillness and emptiness, and from that experience begin moving.  The other way was to tap into the spontaneity of the animal mind, to move, think and feel like a wild animal.  In order to have the complete Daoyin 'experience' you would have to go in one way and find your way out the other!  So in a sense, Daoyin can't really be taught, it has to be found.

One of the many differences between Yoga and Daoyin is that Daoyin has what we call in the martial arts world, "external conditioning."  Somewhere in the middle (1:26) you see Paulie putting his legs together and flopping them side to side, whacking them on the ground.  His torso becomes like water and his legs like someone else's legs.  Who cares?  Just throw them around.  This is one of the doorways in.

Later, when he does the pig, he is banging his knees on the ground in a rapid fire vibration.  Then near the end he does the caterpillar (changing into a butterfly) which looks totally smooth, but I've taught it to kids a lot and I always have to explain that "gongfu teachers like me are the model of toughness and dispassion!" and "I don't care if you get little purple bruises--the cure is more practice!"

In the video he starts with the frog, then the stump, the tree, then the crab, the transition to lotus sitting, then the pig (at 1:59, I've never seen that before!), then the caterpillar into the butterfly.

The music is barely survivable.  It should really be done on a hard, unforgiving surface.  The production quality is even lower than the stuff I do.  I'm pretty sure that most people will look at this video and say, it doesn't measure up to this or that standard--but that's partly because people don't know what they are looking at.

He is doing only a tiny fraction of each animal. Viewers should know that all the animals have meditation postures, and they all come totally to life, like the pig did for about one second (1:59).  The pig is particularly interesting because like the dog, it was the lowest status role there was in the Chinese theater tradition.  Think about it, to be an actor was lower status than a prostitute or a thief!  Playing the role of a dog or a pig was really low.  The animal role specialists would draw straws to see who the unlucky guy was who would have to play the pig!

Given that Paulie's teacher probably inherited a really low social status, it isn't all that surprising that he would want to abandon it himself and go into the import-export business (no one actually knows where he is now), but he obviously valued it enough to believe that it should be passed on to someone in it's complete form.  I can even understand wanting to free it from it's original Daoist/Theater context, even if I think that was short sited and highly problematic given that Paulie does not seem to understand what a treasure he is or has.

The Primeval Tongue

feng-mei-qi-orbitIt is a staple of Chinese movement and religious studies that the tongue should be on the roof of the mouth.  In Daoist ritual and ritual meditation the tip of the tongue is sometimes used to draw talisman on the roof of the mouth.  But in Zouwang (sitting and forgetting) the basic emptiness meditation practice, which is very much like Zen, part of the posture instructions for stillness include putting the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth behind the teeth.  I’ve also heard people say to put the tongue on the soft pallet.  The identical instruction is standard in Tai Chi and other internal martial arts and qigong classes.

There are two explanation commonly given.
The first is that keeping the tongue in that position allows the throat to open so that saliva can travel downward without stimulating the gag reflex or the need to swallow.
The second explanation is that it somehow connects the meridians which travel in a circle up the back, over the head, and down the front-- popularly called the “micro-cosmic orbit” of the du and ren acupuncture channels.

A while back I wrote about Michael Jordan’s amazing tongue.  In an interview he said he learned to do tongue lap-rolls from his father who always rolled his tongue when he was chopping wood.  I’ve been experimenting with this for a long time.  How does movement of the tongue help the movement of wood chopping?  I think I have the answer.

The sucking reflex babies are born with is a whole body movement which comes up from the belly and presses the tongue to the roof of the mouth.  Not the tip of the tongue!  A spot about a centimeter back from the tip of the tongue presses upward into the roof of the mouth. This creates a rolling effect pushing the tip of the tongue downward and out (to surround the nipple).

If you don’t have a baby handy to play with, find a cat and interrupt her while she is licking herself.  She’ll probably stop with her tongue just slightly out of her mouth on a downward arc and give you this Jewish grandmother look like, “What? You want something? No, what makes you think I’m busy?”

If you put your own tongue in this position and try to talk it will sound like, “blublah.”  I find that practicing with my tongue in this position is very similar to having “baby feet” (see previous post).  It is an even better position for getting saliva to flow down the throat without stimulating the gag reflex.  It also seems to interrupt my tendency to think in words.  Why did it take me 20 years to figure this out?

This is a very relaxed position of the tongue, it is not held with pressure.  Any movement of the dantian (the abdominal region of the mind) will be felt as a subtle change in the shape or fullness of the tongue if it is relaxed.  If the tip of the tongue is curved upwards this feedback loop will be broken.

Perhaps this experience is what was originally meant by “connecting the du and ren meridians” but if that is the case, the method and purpose really got mangled in the translation, or the transition to modernity.

(please, no “baby talk” in the comments)

Here is a video of an infant sucking:

The Cat Walk

Tanka Tanka

It was raining hard the other morning so I did my practice inside and I really got into working on the cat walk.  I've got these walks down: the dog, the bunny, the monkey, the phoenix, the crab, the dragon and probably a bunch of others I'm not thinking of right now.  But the cat has been tough.  This is the Paulie Zink Daoyin I'm talking about here, and he showed me the scared cat, the cat licking, and the stretching cat but not the walking cat.  It's hard to walk like a cat!  But it's only a matter of time and deduction before I get it.  After all I have Xinyi cat-washes-his-face practice to help me.  So I was doing some experimenting and I realized that the cat prowling is different than the cat walking, and the prowl started happen for me.  Cats have a narrow ribcage and they walk with a really narrow base.

After practice I went on-line looking for videos of cats walking and I found this amazing study, "Whole Body Mechanics of Stealthy Walking in Cats," comparing the way cats and dogs walk!  Here is a summary, but check out the study link it's got so much juicy content and equations too.  Make sure you watch the videos.  (I couldn't figure out how to embed them, but I used a program I have called VLC to watch them with out any trouble.)

Here is what I got from the article.  Dogs (and by inference, humans) walk in an very efficient way. (Wolves must be even more efficient, George Xu told me to practice like a wolf running in the sky!  --One movement, three hours, not get tired!)  Prowling cats on the other hand are 100% inefficient!  They use absolutely no forward momentum.  Well, that's what happens when you practice xinyi, taijiquan or baguazhang walking with whole-body shrinking-expanding emptiness too.  The momentum happens when you pounce or strike, not in the walk.

The article poses "a tradeoff between stealthy walking and economy of locomotion."  My opinion, as far as humans go, is that we can master both if we return to the source of walking.  Walking is a trance, an extremely complex trance.  When we walk we are doing something on the order of the mental complexity required for visualizing a Tibetain Tanka in perfect detail and animating ourselves in it! This is what Daoyin, real Daoyin, is supposed to do.  It takes you all the way back to the origins of movement, where all movement inspirations come from.

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.


Paulie Zink Workshop in Marin

Taiyuan+tw04Here is the info on a Paulie Zink workshop April 17th and 18th in Marin County, California.  This is a bit difficult to write about because he is calling it Yin-Flow Yoga instead of calling it by it's actual name Daoyin.  It's a weird problem, he wants to be able to teach his material and it nearly fits within the yoga class context, but if you read the text of the link you won't understand why this guy's stuff is so special.  And because of that participant's expectations are going to be for yoga not Daoyin.

For those of you not familiar with Paulie Zink, he is the preeminent practitioner of Monkey Kungfu, he dominated the tournaments and exhibitions in the 1980's and I've yet to see a better performer of Monkey Kungfu.  There are better acrobats out there and there are better contortionists, and there are possibly people who act a little more like monkeys than he does--but there is no one else I've seen who puts it all together the way he does.  It's too bad he never had a whole troop to perform with.  He does have a disciple now, so I'm hopeful that his lineage will get passed down.

L0038878 Qigong exercise to treat lack of essence and pulsesHe credits his ability to years of train in the Daoyin system which he learned along with the Monkey Kungfu.  This system is a combination of meditation techniques, some of them very old and shamanic like spending 4 hours balancing on only your knees and elbows staring at a flame, along with balancing, stretching, folding, rolling, exploding, pounding and scrapping.  It is made up of animal imitation.  Each animal has a whole series of meditations, postures, and forms of locomotion.  It is the forms of locomotion that really sets it apart from a yoga class, but around half of the postures are quite similar to yoga postures.  The difference is, his frog eats flies and hops, his bunny wiggles it's tail, and his downward-dog, scampers around the room and tries to lick people.

I think of Daoyin primarily at a hermit practice done in conjunction with long periods of meditation.  It is a capacity increasing tradition and is likely one of the roots of Chinese medicine.  In his lineage it seems to have merged with a circus tradition.  How did this happen?  The answer is pretty simple but not widely understood, in fact I don't think Paulie Zink agrees with me on it.  But any way here it is:

Paulie Zink Paulie Zink

The most common and widespread form of religious experience in China was public Physical Ritual Theater (often called opera in English).  There were quasi elite performing families which were part of a designated caste.  These families were hated outsiders.  It seems likely that Zink's teacher was from one of these families and taught a single outsider (an American) because he wanted to free the art from the tradition.  In the South of China, where his tradition comes from, Daoist priests performed public rituals which included theater and theatrical components.  So it's not hard to imaging that Daoists were working with performing troops and may have even apprenticed there sons and daughters to each other occasionally.

Anyway, if you've got the time, check out the workshop!

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.)

Avoid Fame, Practice Obscurity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is his youtube channel.

Should You Have Sex With Your Qigong Teacher?

yoga5September being Yoga Month, I happened on an article yesterday in Common Ground called, "Should You Sleep With Your Yoga Teacher."  It's hardly worth linking too...and sorry it's not on-line yet.  In a few words; it was wishy-washy.  The majority of Yoga teachers quoted the precept, "Do no harm."  Which is of course a fantasy, not a precept.  But it makes an interesting contrast with the Martial Arts precept, "Do maximum harm."

Neither precept gives us much to go on.   The article retreated to the standard American office protocol; people in positions of power should not abuse their power.  Do not coerce your students to have sex with you.  Duh.

I was disappointed.  Had I been writing the article I might have said something about how Yoga classes generally have a hypnotic quality.  All the Yoga teachers they posed the question to talked about the importance of creating something elusive called "Sacred Space."  In a Yoga class the teacher will go through a series of requests.  Do this, now do that, now relax, now take a breath (as if you would forget) now do this progressively more difficult thing, now relax, now do this, now do abracadabra-vinyasa (half the class doesn't know what this means but they all pretend they do and just follow someone else).  In short suggestions followed by compliance followed by more difficult or unusual requests.  Hypnoses.

Until recently, perhaps because of  my contrary nature, I have had an aversion to thinking about hypnosis.   But no more.  I'm into it (more blog posts coming up!), and I think it's an important tool for learning.

In the context of Yoga as hypnosis, the question comes up, do Yoga students have conscious will?  If they have given over their conscious will to their teacher, then how can they consent?  Notice I didn't say "free will," I said "conscious will."  Hypnosis probably requires that the person being hypnotized freely give over control of their conscious will to the hypnotizer.

This is possible because conscious will is probably an illusion.  You can wiggle you foot four different ways--

1.  you can plan to wiggle it and then wiggle it,

2.  you can think "I'm wiggling my foot" while you are wiggling it,

3.  you can think, "wow, I just noticed that I was wiggling my foot unconsciously,"

4.  or you can wiggle your foot and not even know you wiggled it (but a machine can measure it).

We usually prefer to believe we are having sex because of a conscious decision, certainly that is the legal requirement, but in reality we may be acting on mostly unconscious "factors," like hormones and smells and conditioning.  We may be just telling ourselves that we are entirely free agents.  I don't know.

Daoism is clear about this.  Sex is OK if you are trying to have a baby.  Otherwise it's a really inefficient use of jing and qi.

Most martial arts classes are not too hypnotic, but there is a continuum on the one hand between;

•  classes where students independently run most of their own workout and come together to do two person routines or competitive activities and...

•  classes where a teacher guides the students through a slow series of suggestions, many of them about illusive qi flow and the visualization of colored clouds.

So my, my dear readers, I leave it in your hands to answer the question:  Should You Have Sex With Your Qigong Teacher?

UPDATE:  (I've decided I'm going to start teaching Taoist Yoga sometime this Fall.)

UPDATE:  Here is a weird blog on Sexy Yoga from China.

Top Predators Practice Internal Martial Arts

nuwafuxi01I’ve been working with the “ball” material I wrote about in the last post and I’ve decided that there is an other way to explain it.

The top predators I’m likely to see in San Francisco on any given day are falcons, hawks, cats, and raccoons.  Occasionally I see a coyote or a heron too.

All of these predators are able to fluff up their bodies.  We tend to think of these moments of fluffing up as autonomic responses to fear because they parallel the goose bumps we get when we are watching a horror movie.  We also learn in school that some animals fluff up so that they will look really big to an attacker or a competitor,  and that has a parallel in the expression “I feel pumped up” which athletes sometimes use.
But of course we don’t know for sure why these predators fluff up and we definitely don’t know whether or not they consciously control it.

Nuwa&fuxiI used the term autonomic above.  The nervous system is divided into two types of nerves, the ones that control obviously voluntary actions (yes that would include ear wiggling even if you aren’t very good at it yet); and nerves that control much less voluntary things like pupil size and heart rate.  The less voluntary system is called the autonomic nervous system and it is also divided into two parts. One part that is active when you take a deep relaxing breath while sitting in a hot tub, and another part that is active when you hold your breath, tense up your muscles, pull back your lips and grit your teeth.  The relaxing nervous system is called para-sympathetic, the stressed out nervous system is called sympathetic.  (I know the names are ridiculous, they refer to anatomy you only see when you are doing a dissections.)

The ball practice that I wrote about yesterday is the practice of making your whole body fluff up and its opposite, shrink-condense.  This happens at the most outer layer of the physical body, between the muscles and the hair follicles.

In this practice it is key that you keep your breathing relaxed, that you do not activate the stressed out nervous system even a little bit.  Through this practice you will eventually be able to do more than just fluff up and shrink-condense.  You will be able to spontaneously change the entire surface of your body in any way you want.

I suspect that the top predators are able to do this without becoming stressed out, while prey, like bunny rabbits, only do it when they are stressed out.

This kind of practice has lots of health benefits but the fighters out there may be thinking, “How could I possibly fight using such a subtle mechanism?”  The answer is that the practice trains your body to not get stuck, to keep changing even in a situation of stress.  It will increase your power too, because there will be less inhibition in your body.

And of course when the predator ball becomes second nature, you don’t think about it, it just becomes part of everything you do.

The following Hagiography is from To Live As Long As Heaven and Earth:

"During the reign of Emperor Cheng of the Han, hunters in the Zhongnan Mountains saw a person who wore no clothes, his body covered with black hair. Upon seeing this person, the hunters wanted to pursue and capture him, but the person leapt over gullies and valleys as if in flight, and so could not be overtaken. [But after being surrounded and captured, it was discovered this person was a 200 plus year old woman, who had once been a concubine of Qin Emperor Ziying. When he had surrendered to the 'invaders of the east', she fled into the mountains where she learned to subside on 'the resin and nuts of pines' from an old man. Afterwards, this diet 'enabled [her] to feel neither hunger nor thirst; in winter [she] was not cold, in summer [she] was not hot.']
The hunters took the woman back in. They offered her grain to eat. When she first smelled the stink of grain, she vomited, and only after several days could she tolerate it. After little more than two years of this [diet], her body hair fell out; she turned old and died. Had she not been caught by men, she would have become an [immortal]." (Campany 2002:22–23)

"The earliest representations of Chinese immortals, xian (?), dating from the Han Dynasty, portray them flying with feathery wings (the word yuren ?? "feathered person" later meant "Daoist") or riding dragons."

[Thanks Wikipedia, for saving me from having to type these two quotes in myself!]