Bagua Mud Walking

I’ve heard a lot of explanations of why Bagua mud walking has that name.  When the Buddha walked through mud lotus flowers came up in his foot steps.  Mud is strongly suggestive of the yin element.  Occasionally I hear the term “Pure” Yang Qi.  It’s a bit redundant because the category yang implies purity in the same way that yin implies impurity, a mix of stuff, water and earth, mud.

1449839752_ce857dd97bI’ve heard mud walking refers to waist high thick river mud that makes your legs heavy and forward progress difficult.  I’ve heard that it is the stickiness of surface mud which creates a delay of the foot finding the ground and mushing in and then holds it back when one tries to pick it up creating an opening and closing of the joints, particularly the hip (kua).

On my own I came up with the idea that Tai Chi is an ocean art and Bagua is a mountain art.  The Tai Chi body moves as if it was constantly re-balancing while standing up in a boat.  The Bagua body moves as if it was constantly re-balancing while walking along a mountain ledge.  In either case, if you tense up your belly you are in trouble.  On the ocean if you tense you will loose your balance and fall down.  I suspect that sea sickness happens because the length of an ocean swell is longer than we can hold and release tension.  The more chaotic the environment the more important it is that rebalancing happens continuously, a muscular on/off switch will fail under natural pressure.  When walking on mountain ledges you simply have to have the feeling of upwardness connected to continuous rebalancing or you will freak out every time you look down.  It is both a spacial presence and a letting go.

The more upright you are, the easier it is to relax the belly, and the more relaxed your belly is, the easier it is to continuously rebalance.
Walking in mud also has this ‘just drop the pretense of superiority’ tone to it.  After all, walking in mud is just a slip away from rolling in it!  In that sense walking in mud means giving up social conventions.  Walk like you really don’t care who is watching.  Discard all your style, swagger, swing, lilt, lithe, bounce, and strut.

mud-wrestling-buffalo-nyNearly every video I’ve put on Youtube has at sometime been criticized by some yabo who insists that a STREET FIGHT is the purpose and the meaning of life.  While humans have been leveling ground for many centuries, the ubiquity of street pavement is quite new.  150 years ago most fights and surprise attacks happened in mud or dust.  That was true on the battle field, in towns, and on country roads.  Of course there was snow too, and many other surfaces, some of them level some steep and rocky, but as often as not, the ground was slippery and unstable.

And on slippery ground, getting power from pushing against the ground (a so called ‘ground path’ strategy) doesn’t work.  What we in the martial arts world call “rooting” is simply a losing strategy.  It’s like when a football player hits you at full speed while you are just standing there.

victory-pose-buffalo-nySo in my humble opinion, all these explanations of mud walking have their place, but the best explanation is that mud walking is walking on a very slippery surface.  A surface where you don’t rely in any way on either forward momentum which pushes off the back foot, nor on rebalancing by using the front foot as a brake.  The center of mass must stay over the feet without structural tension, without engaging any posture correcting muscles.  In Bagua, the center of mass spins like a top to maintain uprightness with momentum.

Below is mud, all around is water; the body is like a pebble landing in a still pond, sending out ripples of pure yang qi-- the substance of inspiration.
Now go get dirty.pebble in water

Mothering and Othering: Making an Immortal Baby

pregnant-happy-womenThe most basic, primal, reduction of the notion of self-defense is the protection of a baby in the womb.  It totally trumps castle law and threats to life and limb.  If a pregnant woman rips out a man’s throat, or shoots or stabs him, all she has to claim is she was protecting her baby.  As long as she can plausibly make that claim, no jury in any civilized country would convict her.  Even a child would at least have to make the case that running away was a bad option, or that lethal force was justified, but a pregnant woman unaided and under attack can get away with almost anything.

Obviously pregnant women do everything possible to avoid having to fight, above and beyond the rest of us, which is probably why their case for justified self-defense seems so strong, so pure.

But that’s an aside, here is the main question.  What is the psyco-physical state a female uses to protect her fetus and, by extension, small children close at hand?  Pregnant women, in my limited experience are often happy and relaxed.  Compared to the average person they have virtually zero abdominal tension.  We understand this viscerally.  If we were carrying a baby inside our body we would be careful in all our movements to not transmit tension to the baby.  The way we walked, moved our arms and turned our head would all keep in mind treating the baby with loving care.  We would avoid shaking or bouncing unless the baby seemed to like that.  And when the baby was sleeping we’d probably be careful to move in a way that wouldn’t wake the baby.

e1alch-sA woman who is pregnant is doing this all the time.  So in the event that she needed to fight, it seems possible that she would maintain this attitude or at least be physically informed by it.  Think for a moment though, how such a fighting style would look.

First of all, it could not rely on structure or rooting because pregnant women tend to have poor structure and balance.  They have a lot of mass to wield, but the movements of the  arms would likely be used clear a large area around the belly while attacking in circles.  The mind, rather than focusing on death points to attack, would be using massive force to throw an attack back.  In other words, a pregnant woman might fight using the tai chi and bagua notion of a giant rolling ball.

The mind of the pregnant women, if she made the actual jump to fighting, would be fierce beyond reckoning.  A parallel with the concept of “xu” we have written about before is pertinent here.  “Xu” literally means fake, but in martial arts it refers to a body which is not giving off self-identity signals, a body which does not respond to pain, a body which has let go of all tension.  The pregnant woman who has made the jump to fighting is fighting for the baby, not herself.  The experience might be de-personalized, the baby has needs, the baby is the future, what happens to the outer body is secondary, the outer body can risk being destroyed as long as the baby is fully and totally protected.

This seems to invoke the image of two bodies, an inner one and and outer one completely differentiated-- a qi (potent energy) body, surrounded by a jing (relaxed mass) body.  To make this match up with the standard internal martial arts lingo is a small leap.  The inner body (the baby) is qi, it is potential energy, pure animation which is round in shape and when awake, can extend several feet beyond the outer flesh body of the ‘mother.’  The qi body (the baby’s needs and perhaps its will) seems to take over the mother;  however, the qi body is blind to what is happening outside, so it must be led by the mind.  The mind of the mother controls the space and defines the environment around herself.  The mind goes first, the dynamic energy of the baby (qi) follows the mind.  The mass of the mother’s body (jing) always puts the baby energy ahead of its own needs.  The shen (spacial mind) leads the qi (energy body) and the qi leads the jing (body mass).

04dThis appears to be a very obvious, though over looked, explanation of why  Daoists have so often used the metaphor of making an immortal baby to describe the internal elixir practices of neidan, and jindan.

Try this practice: Imagine you have a baby in your lower dantian. Try to move without waking up the baby.  Do this over a period of months and gradually increase the range on motion in which you can move without waking up the baby.  Eventually your body mass will become very quiet.  This is called purifying jing.  This is, of course, also a description of doing a tai chi form, or so called ‘pre-heaven’ Baguazhang.

Once the jing is purified and the body is quiet in motion, then you can experiment with waking up the baby.   While the baby is sleeping there will be no power.  After the baby is awake, power will seem to come from emptiness.

All this suggests a composite mind and a composite body.  At the moment we are dealing with massive generalizations and oversimplifications but let me sketch it out quickly.  The composite mind has several models.  One model is the lizard, mammal, frontal cortex (human)--a three part mind where the lizard is powerfully focussed on survival and aliviating pain, the mammal is obsessed with status, pleasure seeking, emotions and group bonding, and the frontal cortex is all about planning, imagining and rational thought.  There are other models too.
Models for the composite body come from evolutionary theory.  Our bones were once an exoskelatin, a shell which got covered in a wormy substance we call muscle.  Each part of our brain comes from a different type of body substance which at some point in our evolution was an independent animal.  We are composite forms which tend to organize all these ‘minds’ and ‘bodies’ in standard ways, however, extreme circumstances or carefully designed practices can alter the organizational order of this conscious/unconscious mass of kinetic life energy.  Just a thought.


It seems to me that in utero, before we get the gender defining hormones, males and females both have a proto-womb.  Perhaps this is even true to some extent for pre-pubescent children.  I would like to propose what must seem obvious to many people, that this proto-womb is what martial arts, theater, meditation and ritual all refer to as the lower dantain.

The womb seems to have some independent connection to mind, as if it was an earlier life form in our evolution, which can re-assert itself when other aspects of our composite body-mind are quiet.


When a mother fights, the ground belongs to her baby.  Dantian, literally means cinnabar field, red ground.  Everything which enters that field belongs to the baby.  Even the mother’s own body belongs to the baby.  The fighting mind of a pregnant woman has a very unique way of owning space, a unique way of possessing.

Contrast this with the social form of fighting that men do.  One man pees on a tree to mark his territory with his testicular scent.  Another man then does the same thing and they fight over ownership.  The peeing doesn’t actually have to take place, it can just be assumed.  This testicular marking style of fighting involves a sense of ownership too, but it is less absolute.  Subordinate yourself to the dominant male and the fight is off.  Fights for status are rarely lethal and are usually resolved with simple posturing.

The testicular scent fight is a battle of and for identity, “My body owns this! and belongs here! doing this!”  The womb fight is asocial, “Don’t even think about hurting this baby or you will die (after you’re dead I’ll make a decision about whether or not you are good food for my baby).”
When two men fight over testicular scent, they each extend their minds right up to, but not through, their social challenger.  Two testicular scenters engaged in hand to hand combat are usually very close together, but their minds do not extend much beyond their own bodies and thus the jing (body mass) and the (potential energy) remain mostly mixed up within the body.   Because the qijing and qi do not differentiate the power is very limited.

goddess-kali-idolWhich brings us to othering.  Othering is the psyco-physical process of dehumanizing an individual or a group of people so that you can kill them without feeling social restraint or remorse.  Othering is shorthand for:  “Seeing someone as belonging to another species.”  Butchering animals may be totally natural on a farm, or while hunting, or it may need some training.  Certainly us urban people need to get past our squeamishness in order to butcher an animal.  After I caught, gilled, cleaned and iced 128 King Salmon in one day in Alaska I was haunted by fish eyes whenever I looked closely at anything shiny.  But other than that, I had successfully othered them.

If a person is raised to believe that another ethnic group or tribe is inferior, the process of othering is probably already complete.  When a criminal plans an assault, most likely he or she has already gone through a process of othering.  It is important to think about because in some cases you may be able to avert an assault by somehow getting the assailant to see you as a member of his tribe.  Othering is a justification process.

What does the psyco-physical experience of othering do to the mind and body?  To successfully other, is to shut off, like flipping a switch, all immediate social impulses.  So while it may be possible for a human predator to get close to someone by imitating social behavior, the behavior is not tied to a script, so when the range is right the knife simply goes in.  It is nearly always a surprise to the person being othered.  It’s also very quick and uses overwhelmingly superior force.  Although if simply threatening force is likely to allow the predator to achieve his or her goals then there may not be an actual assault.  It seems like the mind in these cases sees a victim as kinetic energy to be controlled or extinguished.  It’s not a contest for ownership, total ownership of the space is established before the assault.

Othering doesn’t require much physical training or energy work or relaxation techniques.   It only requires that the mind sees the immediate environment as inside its control.  In George Xu’s words, “The wolf thinks: ‘This territory is my refrigerator.’”  So in this case, the mind definitely leads the body mass (jing) but it doesn’t matter whether the jing and qi are mixed as long as the predator has enough skill to sneak up on the prey.  (In other words, predators in nature often need extraordinary skill to hunt, and thus they have perfect differentiation of jing and qi, but human predators can use weapons, so they don’t.)


Mothering is the source of all compassion. Mothering is the psyco-physical process of extending ones mind to include someone or something within ones field of protection.  To mother is to project the sense of “my baby” out into space.  It is a very potent place to fight from.
Othering is nearly the direct opposite of mothering.  It is a process of extending ones mind to surround but totally exclude someone or something from the protection one affords himself.
And Testicular Scenting is just a cute term for "the monkey dance."

Tunnel Vision and the Perception of Density

pole-dancing-empowerment-embodiment-samantha-holland-hardcover-cover-artUnderstanding the nature of perception is profoundly important for the study of any movement art.  The martial arts have been particularly vulnerable to the modern dictum that, "what you see is what you get."  But perception just ain't that simple.

Kinesiologists and their fellow travelers have uncovered a plethora of experimental evidence that motor development, perception, and imagination, are all intertwined and interdependent.  For instance check out this upcoming workshop blurb from Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen:
The senses are our organs of receiving information from ourselves and from the outer world.
Perception is the psycho-physical process of interpreting sensory information. This process begins as potential and develops in response to experience. The dynamics of perception explores how we filter, modify, distort, accept, reject, and use sensory information to bond, defend and learn.

In order to perceive clearly, our attention, concentration, motivation or desire must actively focus us on what it is we are to perceive. This aspect of perceiving, pre-sensory motor focusing, patterns our interpretation of sensory information.  Without this active focusing our perception remains poorly organized.

Sensory information comes to us through multiple channels.  Touch and movement are the first of the senses to develop. They are registered throughout the whole body and establish the baseline for future perception through the sensory structures of the head: mouth, nose, ears and eyes.  Sensory information from these structures is transmitted via the nervous system through cranial and spinal nerves...

[This workshop will explore:]

  • The perceptual-response cycle.

  • The developmental sequence of the senses and perception.

  • The mouth as the first extremity to grasp, release, measure, reach, and withdraw.  It sets the foundation for the movement of the extremities (head, tail, hands and feet).
    The mouth and nose as the first initiators of movement of the head and spine.
    The inner ear as it registers vibration, movement, auditory tone and body postural tone.

  • The eyes as they are dependent upon all the previous senses and, the role of the eyes in helping to integrate the other senses into more complex patterns.
    Cranial and spinal nerves from a cellular and nervous system perspective.

The perception of space outside our bodies is thus built on a foundation of both movement and feeling.  So for instance if I look at a tree, or just for fun, a guy named Hulk, I'm going to be using my eyes to determine his size, shape, motion, and density.  90% of that is not what I actually see, it is happening in my imagination.  My imagination happens to be very accurate for this task.  Even though Hulk's back is not visible to me, I've incorporated it into my visual comprehension.  If one of Hulk's legs was obscured by a trash can my mind would still imagine the leg and would be quite surprised if suddenly the trash can was gone and there was no leg there.  A very large part of this imaginative process develops through touch.  Hulk's density is frankly not visible at all, our perception of density is built on our experience of touching, squeezing, biting, lifting, pushing, bouncing and poking similar objects.

Embodiment is the new catch word being used to sell everything.  The packaging on my toothpaste tells me that it will leave me feeling more embodied, so does the flier for 25 Hour Fitness, and the meditation class down the street.  All of this embodiment hoopla is just the perception of density from the surface of the skin inward. The opposite of "Embodiment" then is disassociation.  I don't really know what disassociation is, but I'm guessing it is a failure of imagination.  Many drugs, especially the illegal ones, cause some kind of dissociation which probably temporarily damages the basic functioning of the imagination.

In Chinese internal martial arts, Tai Chi, Xinyi, Bagua, we take a different route.  I suppose we could say, "We do Embodiment inside out!"  The higher levels of practice are all about the cultivation of emptiness which is the feeling of zero density from the skin inwards.

As we discussed above, density is perceived through various forms of touch.  Every inch of the body is capable of perceiving density.  The feeling of cultivating Qi is hard to pin down but at least part of what we call "feeling qi" is the perception of density from the surface of our bodies outward.

If you just do a quick glace around the room, you probably aren't thinking much about density.  But now find an object like a vase or a can of deodorant, ask yourself, "Can I feel the density of that object by just looking at it?  Can I feel its density from a distance with my belly?  How about with my elbows?"  Most peoples imagination can do this quite easily.  When a cat is stalking its prey in a forest, it keeps its eyes on the prey but it is testing the ground for density with each step.  If you walk into a darkened room your perception of density suddenly goes on high alert so that you won't ding your shin or otherwise smack into something solid and unexpected.  That perception seems to reach out into space.  This is what we are doing when we practice internal martial arts.

If you hit someone, basically you are trying to make them feel more embodied.  The more they feel the pain inside their body, the more effective your strike was.  The more their perceptive faculties are focused inwards, the less they have available to find a way to hit you back.  So the opposite is also true, the more my faculties are focused outwards, the better my opportunity to fight.  This is true for the entire surface of my body and also for my ability to imagine out into space.

Along the same line of thinking, stare into the center of this image.  After a while the lines on the edges will start to straighten out.grid-optical-illusion

This happens because we basically have tunnel vision all the time, it just seems like the whole world is in focus because our imagination makes it so.  But if you are in a fight for your life with an adrenaline surge, part of your imagination shuts down and you get tunnel vision.  This Wikipedia article suggests that there are pharmacological reasons for this, in other words they don't call it a loss of imagination.  But in fact it is both.

cb2e25378ca3545bc8ca7ef82365f1fcTheater ritual and martial arts are closely intertwined.  Masks have been used since ancient times to create altered states of consciousness.  If you want to know what it is like to experience the tunnel vision associated with being attacked, just put on a mask with narrow eye slits.  Mask work done with tradition and sensitivity has the ability to profoundly change the way we move and see.  It can change the way we feel and perceive both space and time.  Most traditional Chinese martial theater and ritual was done with elaborate spacial perception altering costumes and either heavy mask like make-up or actual masks.

What's New!

Twisting and spiraling has gone mainstream!  I win!  Here is a fun article from Men's Health about twisting--  inspired by Tai Chi and Bagua and even cloud hands style Qigong-- to make people run faster.

Also, here is a cool new blog about what isn't new...ancient Tibet-o-civilization:  Early Tibet.

And here is my friend Maija's fun Blog: Sword and Circle.

I don't know the story behind this blog but I like it, maybe you will too.  Dark Wingchun.

I found that last blog because Maija published the following article on it (and Facebook), looking around the web she has written on this theme a few times but this is the newest incarnation:  Random Flow.

I like her ideas a lot.  My view of two person set flow routines (in reference to her random flow routines) is that if they are taught as techniques the purpose is lost.  Knowing where the force is going to come from is what makes this type of practice safe even with momentum and power in the mix.  Maija quotes her teacher Sonny, “If I know what you are going to do and where you are going to be next,  I can beat you no problem!”  That would be true if a person could truly know.  But to me what exemplifies the great tradition of gongfu is movement which can not be stopped by any technique.  It is an incredible presence.  This means training two person flow drills until they have no gaps, until one is defended on all four sides while simultaneously attacking.  The purpose of two person flow drills is to be able to beat an opponent even when he knows exactly what I am going to do.  So in the end we must be talking about an identical experience, we train the form to get as close to totally undifferentiated chaos as is humanly possible.  Which also happens to be my definition of the term Tai Chi.

Here is a video of some of my students doing a set flow drill (starts at 44 seconds in).

You also might want to check out this at Daoist

And Livia Kohn has a new blog!
Here is the link to her Three Pines Press, and an interesting book on Sex in the Suwen.

The Social Muscles

I've been workshopping the idea of Social Muscles for a few months.  Even after years of blogging I still meet people who are baffled by the idea of cultivating weakness, so I'm trying to find vocabulary that makes this traditional group of ideas more "accessible."

251px-Elwood-just-got-a-bathEveryone is familiar with the idea of social stress.  Social stress happens whenever there is any challenge to a person's preferred status.  There have been a lot of rat studies about social stress (their hair tends to fall out).  There have also been a few studies of British civil servants (their hair falls out too).  Generally the lower you are in the social hierarchy the more stress.  That's probably because the lower you go in a hierarchy, the more people their are competing.  Positions at the top of social hierarchies are generally less stressful, but that depends on how real the challenges are and how often they are coming--the opposite could be true.

I used the word real in the last sentence, but social status is actually mostly about illusory things like who has the most friends or the biggest house, or even more illusory things like, 'do you believe in _____' (insert any group defining marker like: god, unions, aliens, PCB's, barefoot running...)  It's nearly impossible to have a conversation without experiencing some social stress.

chillinOur experience of social dynamics is largely unconscious.  Experiences with improvisational theater, intense conflict, or other dramatic breaks from normal behavior can lift the veil off of social dynamics.  Suddenly you just 'wake up' and notice that every word, glance, sound, or movement is changing peoples status before your eyes.  Most people are status specialists, one person fights to be dominant, another looks around for a strong person to be number two to, others show their top row of teeth and nod "yes" a lot-- they are happy subordinates.  There are infinite degrees of social status and it can change in the blink of an eye, or rather, it always changes in the blink of an eye.  Most people have a preferred status but status is constantly in flux, changes happen in quantum leaps.  Good teachers are masters of changing from low to high status in a flash, one moment the students find themselves cheerfully interacting with each other, helpful, and cooperative, the next moment they are frozen listening to the teacher's instructions with bated breath.

All of these status expressions are physical.  They come from deep inside the body and they are effected by our perception of personal and architectural space and ownership.  (See my blog post on Body Mapping.)    These largely unconscious movements and expressions arise from torso movement in and around the organs.  You can consciously activate them, but once they are active they are hard to control.  You can decide to get angry, but then deciding to calm yourself back down ain't that easy.  It's a lot of work to fake being happy--try doing it for an extended period of time and the stress will become debilitating.

Social Muscles are all the muscles of the torso that create, control, assert, and manage social status.  When we practice internal martial arts we want to let-go (tou kai = dissolve outward) all our social muscles.  We want to discard the impulse to control our status with physical expressions of dominance and submission.  If this sounds easy, perhaps I'm not being clear.  If you are home by yourself reading a book, or watching Chopped on the Food Network, you are reacting to stress cues of dominance and submission.  Any time you think, "I liiiiiike," or "Sexy-time," or "Really?" you are activating your Social Muscles.  Some experiences are obviously more stressful than others (I find watching Chopped really stressful).

Readers may be thinking, "But dude, it's relaxing talking with friends or curling up on the couch with the latest Bed Bath & Beyond catalog!"  It doesn't matter.  One part of your experience is relaxing, and probably being stimulated by happy chemicals too, another part is actively, unconsciously, reacting to social stress.  Facing my own demons, my happy chemicals are clearly triggered when I get in an argument, I love it, and perhaps it is less stressful for me than for other people, but it's still stressful, my Social Muscles are still working overtime!

What often passes for "relaxing" is actually just people hanging out in their preferred status.  I love soaking in hot water and breathing fresh air.  Visiting a spa can certainly be a real break from social stress, but sometimes the people at spas are down right freaky.  When hanging out at a spa becomes your preferred status, you have entered a weird zone.

My guess is that beginning as infants we spontaneously make faces and change body shapes.  Our internal organs just move around and do random stuff in response to stimulation.  But our parents give us consistent feedback for specific expressions, gestures, sounds, and whole body movements.  Through this consistent feedback we learn to interact socially.  In the beginning I doubt it is stressful, a baby can cry loudly for 4 hours straight.  What makes it stressful is the attempt to constrain impulses.  If you just get angry, it's not stressful.  But hardly anyone does that.  We start to get angry and then we check ourselves, or wonder why, or attempt to assert dominance and fail, or restrain ourselves, distract ourselves, simmer, or just "walk away."  That stuff is all really stressful.  Social Muscles work to contain spontaneous reactions. ¹

It seems to me that most "displays" of emotion are attempts to change our social status.  I remember being in India in a post office.  After the 4th hour of waiting in lines to mail some books back home, and getting turned away from a counter for about the sixth time, because I hadn't wrapped the books properly, I just started crying.  I willed it.  In America I would have done something differently, something more on "script," but in India my dominance/submission messages weren't working anyway so I chose to throw all caution to the wind.  The tears were a satisfying release for me, but the people around me started looking enormously upset.  Suddenly everyone was helping me.  There were a lot of young people sending letters to Harvard and MIT, and they all stopped to help me.  About 20 of them pulled me outside and listened to my problem and then they started helping me solve it, they found me a guy who sews up books (really, in plastic and canvas) and another person who writes out addresses and sews on labels and one who affixes wax seals.  It was weird.  Anyway my point is that because I was in another culture and had been pushed to the brink, I was able to discarded who I am.  I could have a pure, baby like, expression of emotion, a non-stressful expression of emotion, and just watch the reactions. That never happens at home, I know my place, we all know our place and we work hard to keep it.

The practice of internal martial arts is about completely letting go of the social USE of the muscles. This is especially true of the abdominal muscles and the ways these muscles connect to the face, hands and feet.  The Social Muscles are extraordinarily powerful, when we drop all social constraints we can become angelic, monstrous, predator-like, or to use traditional Daoist terminology-- immortal.²


¹I use the word spontaneous here with some trepidation because, I think, the impulse to contain or control social situations seems spontaneous to the extent that it is unconscious.   Perhaps primal urge would be a better choice of words, or maybe something Chinese like yuande, original nature.

²The Chinese character for immortal, xian, is made up of a mountain and a person.  So as a literal image it means: mountain man.  AKA, big foot, sasquatch, & yeti.

Xian = Immortal = mountain+person Xian = Immortal = mountain+person

Defeat All Dirty Power!

IMG_1497Below is the text of the flyer for George Xu's latest public offerings in San Francisco.  It's poetry, of a sort.  The first time I met George was around 1990.  My first teacher, Bing Gong was making a formal introduction on my behalf.  George was briefly delighted and then went into a wild rant about how everyone was doing Tofu Tai Chi.  He proceeded to define and contrast Tofu Tai Chi with the other cosmological possibilities and then began demonstrating maximum spring shaking power as the antidote to all this squishy food practice.  I was hooked.

In case you are wondering, "dirty power" is anything generated from a body which does not conform to the principle of "Dead physical body"  --Also known as XU, which was the topic of my last post.


2011 Seminar with Master George Xu

Seminar 1: Master George Xu will teach Chen Style Tai Ji , secret of max gravity, 3rd level of internal power, pure and large internal power, form and Tai Ji push hand principles, and Wu Tang Qi Kung. Unit empty pure force will defeat all dirty power force and weak force.

Seminar 2: Master George Xu will teach Xing-Yi Six Harmony - Ten Animals, Xing-Yi 10 principles, 10 different circles, Seventh Harmony to the enemy and Eighth Harmony to the universe, 3 level of 10 Dan Tian training (small internal, large internal, space spiritual Dan Tian), and Qi Kung training.

Seminar 3: Master George Xu will teach Ba Gua basics and dragon eagle form, Ba Gua snake, dragon, tornado, three different power, Ba Gua principles and usage. Dead physical body follow intelligence internal power and pure internal power follow space spiritual power.

Seminar 4: Master George Xu will teach new secret from Europe, Tai Chi form and principles, two men training, test your internal power perfection, intelligence and purity. Tai Ho of Tai Chi, Natural style secrets. Teach you to be as powerful and wild as tiger, fast as lighting, large like ocean, spiral as tornado, heavy as mountain, light as feather at the same time.

Fee:  $120 one day, $180 both days

Please register in advance.


1. Feb. 12-13 Sat & Sun 9-5pm

2. March 5-6 Sat & Sun 9-5pm

3. March 26-27 Sat & Sun 9-5pm

4. April 30 - May 1 Sat & Sun 9-5pm



Also: Rory Miller will be in the San Francisco Bay Area again Feb. 18th-20th.  Check it out!

Me & friends at Rory's workshop in last September Me & friends at Rory's workshop in last September

New Classes

I'm in the thick of it again.

Tai Chi and Qigong starts up again this Wednesday Jan 5th, 2011, at 5841 Geary Street, 6 to 8 PM.

Bagua Zhang and Qigong start up Thursday morning Jan 6th, 2011, Douglass Playground 6 to 8:30 AM.

All in San Francisco of course.  But I'm available for private lessons in Marin too since I live near the bridge.  I take phone calls if you have questions...415-752-1984.

This week I'm beginning 10 new children's classes in Northern Shaolin as a Performing Art in schools, that's in addition to the 2 I'm already teaching.


I had a great vaccation, did a ton of reading and practice, I didn't check my email or phone for 14 days.  Yeah me.


I have a new theory I'm excited about. I'll just share it with y'all briefly because I'm headed to bed early these days.

Here are some interconnected notions.

1.)  The frontal cortex of the brain is the part we usually associate with "thinking."  The frontal cortex counter-intuitively has a largely inhibitory function.  We don't usually think of  "thought" as a form of inhibition but it turns out that if I think about jumping out the window my brain does most of the things it would do if I actually did get up and jump out the window.  But in addition to all those things my frontal cortex inhibits my movement. That's why you can improve a skill just by thinking about doing it.

2.)  The various nerves which send messages from the body to the brain operate at different speeds.  Some of them are lighting fast, like the nerves sending information from the eyes, the ears, and those involved with spacial awareness.  But the nerves which send messages from inside the body to the brain are much slower.  Naturally, as martial artists we should instantly recognize that any information received from the slow nerves inside the body would be useless in a self-defense situation.  As Rory Miller puts it, "Time is damage."

Thus; the reason we practice internal martial arts slowly is to first make sure that we are not inhibiting any movement on the inside.  Inhibitory movement includes many things like stabilizing or rotating individual joints or holding strength in the abdomen.  Once all that inhibitory tension is gone then we can move (spread?) our mind to the outside of the body, to the fast nerves, to the instantaneous awareness of plastic and dynamic space.

As I have been saying now for about a year now-- body inside the mind, not mind inside the body.


Also check out Rory Millers new workshop in SoCal, he is hinting at another one in San Francisco soon too.


Happy New Year!3221829804_94d1960374

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:

Baby Feet

baby-feetMuch of learning in traditional Chinese martial arts involves re-imagining.  A subset of learning involves re-naming.  The purpose of re-naming is to re-imagine a process or practice you are already familiar with.  We could speculate that the imagination has a built in deterioration and mutation mechanism for anything which has become fixed.  The imagination requires regular refreshing to function properly.

Among the latest re-naming I’m excited about is the expression “Baby Feet.”  This expression refers to both the method and the fruition of practice.  It is a method because I say things like, “Make sure you have baby feet when you are punching each other.”  It is a form of fruition because it really isn't something you do, it is the result of completely emptying the legs of all impulses to “stay balanced” or “generate structural power.”  Of course if you do that it doesn’t feel like much because you probably aren’t moving much.  Only when the dantian (abdominal region of the mind) is relaxed enough to expand all the way to the ground and there is a free hydraulic flow between the two legs and that flow is controlled by movement of the dantian, not the legs, only then can you get the sensation of “baby feet.”  Once you have that sensation it can function temporarily as a signal to let you know all the other stuff is active and operative.

I use to describe this sensation as “putting your foot down like pouring pancake batter on a griddle.”  But that got stale when I quit eating wheat!  Also the sensation started to become bigger, faster and lighter;  Now it’s more like dripping food coloring in water.

Anyway, it is more obviously a Daoist teaching with this new improved naming because walking on “baby feet” is something we all already know.  It has simply been obscured by artifice, coordination, and intelligence.  Yet it is apparently an experience available to everyone all the time.  The Dao of Wuwei is not an achievement or a skill, it is simply our true nature revealed.


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.