I highly recommend Rory Miller's workshop this weekend.  It's at Soja Martial Arts in Oakland.  Here is the phone number: 510.832.7652"

And here are some more details for sighing up:


Rory recently wrote this blog post about teaching and I posted a comment over there that I liked, so I'm posting it here:

Teaching is about putting people in situations which cause/trigger the collapse of illusions.

Training is about doing exercises which reveal aspects of our true nature. (It is often apophatic).

Conditioning is about creating unconditioned spontaneous responses to situations- as they arise.

African Martial Arts

The following is a review of Fighting for Honor, The history of African Martial Arts Traditions in the Atlantic World, by T. J. Desch Obi.
The book breaks a lot of new scholarly ground, it really challenged me to think about culture and history in new ways.  It’s not light reading.
Obi begins with a Japanese definition of Marital arts as an exacting movement transmission of routines, movement qualities, and techniques which are taught generation to generation and which are used to instill ethics.  African martial arts and dance generally meet this definition.
He then goes into a detailed history of several different peoples from Central and West Africa and explains the cultural origins of their specific martial arts traditions.  The details are fascinating.  For instance Kandeka boys of Angola were taught to slap fight from early childhood.  By 6 or 7 they were left with older boys in charge of young calves, while the women went off to farm and the men took the full grown cows and bulls to distant grazing areas.  The boys learned to socially dominate the calves using head butts, and by the time they were adults they would have complete control of the herds by this method.  He later explains that this extraordinary skill becomes the preferred method of execution used by Capoeirista secret slave societies (bonded communities?) in Brazil.
The Kandeka boys also learned stick fighting.  They would begin with leaf covered branches to slow the fight down, as the leaves fell off, the fight would become faster.  As skill in avoiding injury developed the sticks would get thicker.  Adult men would carry these sticks or clubs in their belts at all times and were experts at throwing them as well.
This same group, made extensive use of inverted kicking in puberty rituals, in duels and other contexts.  He makes a very good case that this is the origin of Capoeira’s most distinctive fighting techniques.
In discussing the history of Nigeria, he explains that secret societies played a key roll in maintaining order and regulating violence.  Knowledge of wrestling and head butting was very widespread in the form of competitive games, it was used for settling disputes of honor.  There were also some extraordinary defense oriented groups on the border regions who made taking a head in battle a prerequisite of adulthood, which Obi contrasts with the interior groups who had strong rules against bloodshed.

The second part of the book deals with North America.  Obi did extensive research and fieldwork in South Carolina, and he sheds new light on the Seminole/Gullah Wars.  I loved this part of the book.  He succeeded in reframing North American slavery in my mind.  I really didn’t know that the Gullah fought a 50 year war, set up a strong hold in Mexico and after the Civil War were invited to join the US Cavalry as “the Buffalo Soldiers” made world famous by Bob Marley.  I certainly didn’t know that they used a style of inverted high kicking!
There is so much in this book to think about.  Obi, after months of trying to find African Martial Artists in South Carolina, and being told that nothing of the sort exists, is finally excepted as a student by the first person he had originally asked.  The fact that he was Nigerian and already knew a style of competitive leg wrestling did eventually help him break in to the secret society.  He was told that his (Nigerian) style of wrestling had been very popular a generation ago, with many champions the locals could name, but at the same time it was totally secret.  If you weren’t an insider, you didn’t know about it, you couldn’t know about.
The third part of the book deals with Francophone parts of the Caribbean, and the forth part of the book deals with Brazil.  There are tons of cool details here, like his discussion of folding blades held with the toes.
Obi raises three striking controversies.  The first is a challenge to the Albion Seed Theory.  The second is a challenge to the notion that slaves weren’t able or allowed to fight.  And the third is that the martial traditions of honor and secret societies allowed Africans in the Americas to maintain their martial arts traditions through dance, ritual, and games.
There are two main theories of cultural development in the United States.  The first is the melting pot theory which holds that we are a mix of a bunch of different cultures.  The other is the Albion Seed theory which holds that there are four primary folkways which all come from England and which have been totally dominant in determining American values and behavior.  Long time readers know that I’m a fan of the Albion Seed theory (given that name by it’s primary proponent David Hackett Fischer).  Obi challenges Fischer’s scholarship of fighting traditions.  First he says that boxing was a much later development, and didn’t exist in early America.  Second he says that “gouging” was the primary fighting style of the English who came here.  That is not a big departure from Fischer’s “rough and tumble rasseling,” they are essentially talking about the same art. But Obi asserts that its primary characteristic was eye “gouging” and that it usually went by that name.  The friendlier style of stand up grappling, “catch as catch can” was also prominent.  This is very important because it leads to Obi’s assertion that African-Americans had unique ways of fighting.  At the meta level, he seems to be a supporter of the Albion Seed approach, namely that there are a few base cultural folkways which dominate over the centuries.  However, he argues that there are clearly a few African cultures which have remained stable cultural influences to this day.
African Americans continued to train slap fighting, as anyone who went to an urban public school in the U.S. like I did, can attest.  They also practiced “knocking” or head butting, kicking and distinctive styles of wrestling.  The knocking is particularly interesting.  The history of American Football is nearly always described as a development of the Ivy League schools.  But it seems fair to ask why the American version of Football/Rugby developed with direct head to head smashing and no other Euro-origin country has developed anything like it.  Obi gives examples of African American Sailors sharing the art of head butting as both a martial art and a form of entertainment.  Obi does not come out and say this, but I will.  Football has some African Cultural roots.
Okay, did bonded people fight?  Obi is utterly convincing on this account.  They did.  It’s true that they were often forbidden to fight under the rules of slavery and there was a death penalty for attacking a white person, but that simply didn’t stop them.  They fought each other a lot, and they fought whites too and sometimes got away with it, particularly because whites would have been embarrassed to admit they weren’t in control and because slaves were valuable so there was a strong impetus to try and resolve problems.
African-Americans maintained their culture through secret societies and what Obi calls Tricknology!  That is, the art and culture of hiding your culture, of subsuming it, obscuring it, and of pretending it isn’t happening when it actually is.  Celebrations with dance, and singing, are obvious places where this happened, and where ritual and cultural values were passed on.  He argues that fighting culture played a key role in the transmission of culture, but that it was well hidden.
And that leads us to Honor.  Bonded people dealt with the humiliation and loss of autonomy by maintaining a very strong sense of honor.  Fighting style was and still is a key element in the maintenance of this sense of honor.  Who, what, when, where and how a person fights, are all factors which determine a person's honor with in a society.  When you train to fight through dance and play, it has a profound effect on the way you move and interact, the way you make judgements, and the way you make friends.  It forms your world view.

I am deeply appreciative of T. J. Desch Obi for all his research and scholarship.

All of this is very personal for me for numerous reasons including that I studied Congolese Dance with Malonga Casquelourd for about 3 years, about 20 years ago.  I also studied Katherine Dunham’s technique for teaching Haitian Dance for about 4 years around the same time.  It was a very intense training period for learning Chinese Martial Arts too, as I steadily increased the number of hours I was training gongfu from about 3 a day to 6 a day.
Katherine Dunham invited Malonga to come teach in the United States in the early 70’s.  Malonga’s father was a military leader, so he was able to travel around the Congo a lot as a child and learned the dances from many different regions- from soldiers.  Malonga was sent to military officer training in Maoist China in the 1960’s, where of course he learned Mandarin.
Malonga danced with extraordinary martial skill and power.  All of his dance was functional.  He didn’t teach it that way in class, but he freely showed me stuff when we were joking around in the halls.  The spirit of fighting was very real for him and he could turn it on.  Because of my Chinese training, I can still fight with my Congolese dance, they are of course different, but that difference is getting smaller the better I get.  (I plan on doing more videos about this, but for now you can still watch these antiques from 2005 --African Bagua, Part 2.)

Bite Me vs. Don't Bite Me

076c8_the-game-rapper-hiphoppow Bite Me!

This is a simple post.  I just want to say that fighting is an animal thing.  At times it is a form of base communication.  The line between fighting and communicating is unconscious and blurry.  Most of the violence people in the modern world have experience with is fighting 'as communication.'  Think: bar fights, domestic violence, siblings, gang wars, arguments gone bad, police submission holds, and ring fighting.

When someone you don't know creeps up behind you and hits you with a big club it could be communication.  Often times it isn't, but if one tribe is trying to communicate to  another tribe that you have crossed into their territory, then it was indeed an attempt at communication--it's just that they don't care if you personally understand, since you have a high probability of dying.

Likewise if you see the knife before they stick it in, there is a good chance that some form of communication is intended.  If you don't see it, it may simply be a killing for pleasure, or survival, or to rob you. But it could also be that your death is meant to send a message to you boss.

Don't Bite Me! Don't Bite Me!

My question is, can you tell by the person's posture if they are trying to communicate?  Rory Miller pointed out that there are certain types of predators who want you to believe they are communicating because it keeps you in your social mind.  At least some of these predators are able to fake the physicality of communication.  Their goal is to get you in a very vulnerable position.

But that leads to another question, can we train to recognize when we are personally taking on the physicality of communicating?  To me this is a way of defining a "go" button.  A "go" button is a line of behavior or circumstance that you have pre-thought out in your mind so that when you see it, you go straight to fighting mode.

Bite Me! Bite Me!

If you start fighting while you are still communicating, you are probably stopping yourself from using full power.

The two base communication poses in fighting are "bite me" and "don't bite me," they are ancestral dominance and submission gestures. The "don't bite me" pose is actually a good flinch response if you are being pounced on by an animal with a big mouth trying to bite your neck.

The twist in the neck or torso of the "bite me" pose is supposed to vulnerable.  That's the point of it, but it is unconscious, so if you think you are dominating in a fight you're probably doing the "bite me" pose-- and it's de-powering you.

Even training a form all by yourself, the "bite me" and "don't bite me" communication poses are likely to creep into your movement all the time.  That's the simple reason so many martial arts schools are constantly repeating the need to sink your shoulders.  They are saying in effect "Drop the 'don't bite me' message because it is reducing your power."

I might even go a little further.  The physicality of Wuwei communicates nothing.

Meeting Tabby Cat

YangtaichicarI have much neglected writing about my meeting with Billionaire Genius Tabby Cat.  First off I should say that in person he is warm, worldly, charming, thoughtful, generous, agreeable, and a great conversationalist.  I am truly delighted to make his acquaintance.  We fully agree on 99% of everything!  But as I’m sure my readers are aware the fiercest, most contentious arguments happen with people you very nearly agree with.  That 1% of difference starts to seem like the key to everything.  So I will take the liberty, in the interest of furthering the evolution of all human knowledge, and trusting that he will do the same for me, of making my case raw, without niceties.

It was 8:30 AM on a warm Thursday.  After about 20 seconds of friendly posturing, we squared off for some fixed foot push hands.  Seconds after contact I found my hand around the front of his neck, slowly and gently lifting him backwards.  “We could do that,” he said and then proceeded to jump around like a feather weight boxer.  “No, no,” I said, “I want to learn your game.”

yang-chengfu-tuishouThe base idea of Tabby Cat’s theory is that push hands is not a game, it is a single attribute training drill.  The attribute it trains is so key to Tai Chi, that until you acquire this attribute, nothing else matters (except money and sex).  Before we discuss what that attribute is, lets address the consequences of this type of view.

Since historically speaking it is quite clear that the serious fun of martial arts developed in a social environment with theater, religious ritual, health ideas, and a wide range of prowess inspiring everyday problems, both social and asocial--the notion that a single attribute drill could be at the center of what defines Tai Chi is a profoundly Modern notion.

We tend to think of people like Yang Chengfu and his student, Zheng Man Qing, and his student, Ben Lo (Tabby’s teacher) as representatives of tradition.  But Yang Chengfu most likely saw himself as a modernizer, and Zheng Man Qing even more so.

SpockVulcanThe idea that a profuse, weirdly complex, theatrical fighting art like Chen style Tai Chi could be whittled down to just an attribute drill and a simplified 37 move form with, as Ben Lo put it, “Fair-ladies hands,” could only have come about as the result of a Dr. Spock-like inspired purging of all irrational impurities.

Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  But it gets weird when all your students think you are the representative of a long and stable tradition.  When in fact you represent only a small part of it.  When in fact you were just playing around with language, trying to find words to describe your practice which were clear, simple and direct.  The huge problem here is that words get stale.  “Go with the flow,” was a great expression when it was first uttered, but now it is cracked and tasteless.  The instruction, “Just relax,” has become as polysemous as “You’re so spiritual.”
So there we are in the park and I’m trying to understand what this single attribute is and how I can tweak the game of push hands in order to use it as a tool for acquiring this all important attribute.  We cross hands again, this time I ignore the fact that Tabby is curving his chest inward making his head and neck vulnerable to any upward expanding movement.  I let him lead me around and then suddenly he pushes me and I move my foot.  I lose.  We do it again, I lose again, and again.  He says, “See, you’re really tense.”  I reply, “Should I try to melt my tension when you push on me suddenly?”  “Yes," he says.  I try it, it doesn’t work.  Then I push him without giving him a chance to lead me around.  It works, I win.  He says, “You can’t do it that way.”  I’m confused, I say,  “Your attacks are all straight forward and sudden.  Can you do them slowly?”  “Okay, he says.”  When he attacks even a little bit slower, I have time to melt, and he has a much harder time getting me at all.  His slower attacks sometimes reveal a connection to the ground and I win.  But mostly I lose.
He clearly has a special attribute.  The attribute is a wave, or surge that hits me before I feel his mass pushing me.  But only just before, which is why he can’t do it slowly.  If the wave could hit me a full second before his mass did, it would be way more impressive.  The surge comes forward from belly height and seems to have influence all the way down to the feet.  But it comes in the same way every time, so when it’s slow, or if I’m allowed to move my foot or if I attack any part of his body besides his belly or chest, the “attribute” doesn’t work.
I point this out and challenge him to do push hands flank to flank.  He says, “The point of the drill is to acquire the attribute and then you can do anything you want with it.”  “Okay,” I say, lets do it on the ground then.  “Systema has drills like this, in every possible position and angle.”  (Later I learn that he literally wrote the book on Systema!)

He doesn’t want to do it on the ground, so I offer, “I clearly see that you have acquired a valuable attribute, but for it to have any martial significance it would have to work in a surprise attack, in which you begin to fight from a terrible position.  Can you do it if I’m grabbing you from behind?”  I circle in slowly for the kill but he retreats to, “Ben Lo can do it from any position.”  He describes a bunch of examples, but if I understand him correctly, Ben Lo is generally attacking fast.

I’m a little disappointed, I really want to be literally ‘blown away!’  I venture that what he is actually doing is leading me around until I make a mistake and reveal some structure or tension at which point he suddenly attacks.  He agrees that he is basically doing this.  I counter that it is quite divergent from fighting because in a fight, action trumps inaction.  He asserts that it is an essential attribute drill which, once mastered, creates a quantum shift in movement and understanding.
I spend the rest of my time with Tabby in the park trying to do exactly what he is doing.  I figure, I might as well try to learn as much as I can right there and then.  His preferred position is one hand on my elbow and one hand reaching for my chest.  I match this, as well as the inward curve of his chest.  He says, “That’s a better position.”  We push some more and then he treats me to a wonderful breakfast and an even better extended conversation on everything under the sun.

It’s been about three months since our meeting and I must say that in the process of deeply considering Tabby Cat’s ideas and developing my critic of them, I think I’ve improved a lot.  I've been learning from both of our mistakes.

What was happening?
The idea of a single attribute drill is a brilliant Modern innovation.  But shouldn’t there be some kind of limit on how long it takes a person to learn it?  I mean at least with single attribute zazen, the practice of sitting still is the fruition, so there isn’t much pressure to prove you are enlightened.  But with Tai Chi there is a reasonable expectation that at some point some serious ass kicking attributes will kick in.  Really, if the single attribute takes more than ten years to acquire is it worth it?  If it were only two years of training we were talking about I’d be like, “Yeah that’s the way to go.  Attribute drills baby!  Drill baby drill!”

But we are talking about less than a handful of Ben Lo’s students having acquired it over a period of 50 years.  Yikes.  Tabby mentioned that two students were super achievers, Terry Li (recently deceased) and Lenzie Williams.  I have yet to meet them, but even if these guys are the cats meow, they are only two in how many 1000's of students?
Zheng-ManqingZheng Man Qing promoted Tai Chi for health, entertainment, and the cultivation of wuwei generally, and that’s awesome wonderfulness.  I’m right there with him.  I am not promoting the idea that there is anything special about me or that learning Tai Chi will make us superheros or enlightened or even better people.  Tai Chi is art, Tai Chi is beauty.  I'm with anyone who recognizes that.  But as promoters of beauty we have a duty to make plain our flaws, and to correct them.

The five training principles Tabby promotes are simply inadequate to communicate the internal aspects of the art.  They are:

  1. Relax

  2. Body Upright

  3. Separate Weight

  4. Turn the waist

  5. Beautiful Lady's Hand

To illustrate this I will describe two problems Ben Lo has had teaching that I learned about talking with Tabby.
After years of teaching push hands, Ben Lo realized his students were getting worse.  Students were simultaneously searching for tension in their opponent, when he found it, he would suddenly blast his opponent.  This caused the loser to fear the sudden shock and develop chronic defensive tension.  Meanwhile the winner was being rewarded for being more aggressive (more on why this is a problem below).  Ben’s solution was to create a new game.  He gave each partner a different role, one would only try to look for tension and the other would only try to evade it, after twenty minutes they would reverse.  This resulted in improved yielding skills but it didn’t solve the problem.  (The first time I pushed hands with a 5 year student of Ben Lo’s, I put my hand on top of his head and he yielded all the way to the ground!  We were playing a completely different game.)

The second problem was that two types of students were coming to him, the jocks with “tense” full chests, and nerds with “collapsed” chests.  Neither one was relaxed and he told them so, but after a while the “tense” students started to become collapsed too.

Here is what’s going on.

We have two bodies.  An outer body, the thing with muscles that most people normally think of as a body,  and an inner body.  The inner body feels like empty space in the torso.  I suspect that the inner body is more primitive in the evolutionary sense.  Obviously this implies a composite body theory. The inner body is clumsy, very strong and innocent.  It is somewhat like Freud’s Id.  It has very simple primal desires.  It lacks artifice, memory, and preferences.

Anyway, all normal human activity is a war between these two bodies.

The jock type of movement uses a tough outer body shape with a lifted chest in order to limit, direct, and constrain the inner body; however, the jock type uses the inner body for power.  In the battle between the bodies the jock type of movement represents the inner body overpowering the outer body.

The nerd type of movement uses a collapsed but tense chest in order to de-power the arms by disconnecting them from the liquid mass of muscle.  This is necessary for fine motor control.  The nerd type of body has a strong collapsed chest and weak arms (the chest and arms have different liquid densities).  In the nerd type of movement the inner body is sneaky and fairly quiet, but it can also manoever all around evading and repositioning to get to tricky angles.  In the battle between the bodies the nerd type movement represents the outer body overpowering the inner.

What we actually want to cultivate in “internal arts” is each body doing a separate job, working together, but completely distilled from each other.  So the outer body is dead, totally quiet and devoid of intent.  The internal body is totally active and free.  The internal body is moved indirectly by the spacial mind moving around in space.  Once you have this conceptual framework it is easy to see Tabby Cat’s mistake.

Tabby Cat actually has a dead external body and a free internal body.  That part he is doing correct, but he moves his internal body by keeping his mind in his belly.  The more he can expand out from his belly in the direction of the ground and his opponent, the more effective his push is.  The more his spacial mind extends down, the more force he has to float his opponent. To the extent that his spacial mind extends past his own hands into or beyond the opponent he can move the opponent without them feeling any structure in the attack.  This is what we call internal power (neijing).  Because his mind stays in his belly it is always pushing his mass, and given a moment to adjust to the unfelt attack, the secondary mass attack is easy to deflect.  In fact, if the secondary attack is resisted and he presses it anyway, he will reveal a structure.  And structure once revealed, can be crushed.

To use different language, he has huajing (transforming power), but he doesn’t know how to use it (not much ling--inner agility, intelligence).  So when he goes to attack he sometimes uses huajing by accident but mostly retreats to anjing (hidden power).  In the brief moment his mass is being pushed forward by his mind inside his dantian, he is exposing his jin, his structure and his root.  This is why he can not attack slowly. This means that although he has reached the level where he can completely distill jing and qi in solo movement, he still mixes them under pressure.

What he should be doing is keeping his mind outside the body all the time.  This will eliminate the initial need to lead the opponent around because the only way an opponent can go directly against outside the body force is if they have the same mind-outside-the-body skill set.  His mistake is that he is leading his internal body in a direct way, when in fact he should be leading it in an indirect way.

The strongest indicator that this is Tabby’s problem is that even though it is on his list of 5 training principles above, he doesn’t have a clear upright posture.  An upright posture comes from another related force called Central Equilibrium power (Zhongdingjin).

To practice Central Equilibrium power by oneself simply requires that one's liquid mass adjusts in relationship to the the center of liquid mass as any force goes out in any direction.  It’s not very complex, but the outer body has to be dead-weight relaxed (xu) in order to do it.  If the outer body is not dead-weight-relaxed, posture correcting muscles will be activated to bring the mass back on center, thus pitting the external body against the internal body in a battle.  If central equilibrium is maintained exclusively by changes in the spacial mind, in Daoist terms, jing and qi remain distilled.

To apply Central Equilibrium power while fighting, the opponent’s mass must instantaneously be included in one’s liquid mass adjustment.  When done correctly, the opponent’s incoming force is dispersed automatically and instantaneously by a continuously adjusting spacial mind.  Thus, there is no advantage in evading by yielding the chest and neglecting uprightness.

In other words, yielding the chest is fundamentally an aggressive act because it is a set up for an outward attack (Lu into Ji in classic push hands terms). When we hit someone using Central Equilibrium power we never shoot out to a single point; as our mass spirals and expands to hit, it is moving equally in other directions.  To use Wang Xiangzai’s language, “Power never comes out to a point, the body never breaks the qi egg.”  Although the opponent gets clobbered, the body doesn't take on the experience of aggression.   That's not much consolation for the injured party, but it's an interesting idea.  No?

Tabby Cat has been doing a bit of writing lately and I recommend reading it.

I learned a lot from the exchange, and I have more to write about still.  I'm still open to the idea of a single attribute drill that would eliminate a lot of wasted time.  But in this case I would have to say it failed.   There is so much detail to the internal martial arts that putting off learning it in hopes of some holy grail of power ultimately means never learning that detail at all.  And Tabby is the case that proves the point, he studied Systema in hopes that it would fill in the gaps, and in the end he has retreated to Western Boxing and Yoga to supplement his Tai Chi.  In this case, I think, even Modernity has failed.

Holding Back Chaos

I heard a great story from George Xu the other day.  On his last trip to China, one morning he found himself in a Taxi line.  I assume I don’t have to tell readers how much transformation has had to come to China in the last 50 years for there to be taxi lines.  So anyway he is waiting in this line leading to the curb and just as he is getting to the front of it a big guy cuts in front to take the cab.
So George says, “Excuse me, there is a line here.  You have to go back and wait in the line.”
The guy says, “Screw you.”
So George maneuvers in front of him and backs him toward a pole where he places his hand on the front of the guys neck, and says, “Please go to the back of the line, everyone is waiting.”
Since George has him completely covered with his weight, the guy mumbles, “Okay.”  So George lets him go and moves toward the cab.
Suddenly the guy says, “Hey, I wasn’t ready!”
So George says, “Okay, are you ready now?”
And the guy says, “Yah, now I’m ready.”
So George gives him one arm circle that sends him flying and rolling on the ground.
The people waiting in the taxi line all begin clapping.  Several people offer thanks because this same guy has done this before.
Then the guy gets off the ground and comes forward in a bowed posture and while gesturing with his hand says, “Excuse me, the taxi is yours.”  Then he saunters off, presumably to find another way to get to work.


Taxis-in-China-3-520x338I love this story, but I think I heard it three times before I understood the humor and irony in it.  Key to the humor is the line “Hey, I wasn’t ready!” and George’s flat response, “Are you ready now?”
This is a very particular type of violence.  Really it is a category of social education.  It doesn’t even come close to qualifying as self-defense.  Here is the four part test:
Intent--the guy’s intent was to take the taxi, not to cause injury.
Means--possibly, he was bigger.
Opportunity--well, George is a martial artist so the guy really didn’t have opportunity, and there were a lot of other people around who might have gotten involved.
Preclusion--nope, George could have walked away without injury at any time, and obviously that is what most people would do.

In my mind I’ve tried to spin it as a modified duel, or an older man protecting his physical space, or a spontaneous attempt to stop a sort of snatch and run type of crime.  But the story doesn’t support any of those interpretations.
If the assault happened in the United States and the guy decided to go to the police to try to prosecute George for assault, George would probably get off one way or another.  I mean all those witnesses took his side.  That kind of thing has a big effect on judges, juries and district attorneys.

The explanation that really fits this story is as follows.  Society is a balance between chaos (wu) and order (wen).  Chaos is waiting, mingling about in everything that appears ordered, waiting to break out and cause havoc.  A taxi line is just a temporary facade, just around the corner death and destruction are on the edge of their seats.  Order is maintained only because some individual heros, men of prowess, privately cultivate inner mastery of chaos and can unleash it in the service of order.  These men of prowess are all independent wanders in the realm of ‘rivers and lakes.’  It is only through their temporary agreements, their alliances, their fleeting commitments to a particular order of society that there is a central authority at all.


While I was writing that last line, I watched a San Francisco Police officer crossing the street in a crosswalk while doing spinning tricks with his baton!  Balls!

"Outlaws of the Rivers and Lakes" "Outlaws of the Rivers and Lakes"

Aunkai Martial Arts in Japan

If you are a martial artist visiting Tokyo you will want to pay a visit to Akuzawa Minoru, he teaches an art he calls Aunkai which is a hybrid of Chinese and Japanese arts.
When I first found the studio, I looked in to see a bunch of guys in boxing gloves hitting boxing mitts.   My first thought was, oops wrong class.  But it was in fact the right class.  They use Sanda as a base for skills development and as a warm-up.

Akuzawa Sensei's website is worth reading, especially the Bujutsu section.  Towards the end of class he was kind enough to show his skills to me directly and let me test him in various ways.  He also partnered me with his senior student Miyakwa Kazuhisa for a significant portion of the three hour long class which gave me a good sense of what he has been able to transmit.

Although, I believe it is quite difficult for most students to grasp, Akuzawa Sensei is using an apophatic method,  "...[W]e aim to give our students the physical tools to forge a Bujutsu body able to bring its own imperfections to light, address them, and come to its own answers--all of this eventually leads the practitioner down their own path in the Martial Way."  While most people would read that statement in context as iconoclastic or individualist, to me it is simply explaining that the methods themselves primarily point to what you are NOT supposed to do.

Take for instance these two exercises:  sessyoku1_01sessyoku1_02Both have fixed foot positions.  The one top goes up and down.  The one on the bottom goes forward and backward.  They are both designed to take all arm and leg power out of the system as well as any size advantages or gravity/momentum/positioning advantages--  Thus leaving only "internal"  mind-energy changes of the torso for generating force.  What the practice reveals is all the possible things you could do that are wrong.  This is really important because all those "wrong things," like tension in the shoulders, might seem like they are giving an advantage in a more dynamic or volatile exercise.
No matter how much you simply copy the external shape, it is impossible to simply copy movement that happens internally. To add to this, the concept of bujutsu, unlike martial sports, does not adhere to rules, so you must be able to flip your perception and look at things in a completely different light.

Here I think he is suggesting that the mind limitations normally associated with social dominance also limit power and options.  To practice 'internal' arts is to fundamentally play a different game.
You must not get bogged down on the "shape" of things in practice. I also strongly believe that you should not create a method that is set in stone. Bujutsu itself is the ability to use the body in any situation, any environment, and as such is the embodiment of change. This means that training must be tailored to yourself by endless trial, error, experimentation, and adjustment if you want to understand the true essence behind movement.

Again he emphasizes the apophatic; make mistakes and learn from them.  Sure, there is a method here, but  the method is pointing to something.  When you figure out what it is pointing to, the method can be burned away.

Akuzawa Sensei is a warm, generous and open guy and his students were all welcoming.  The best test of his power I got was when he asked me to hold his arms down at his sides.  I was instructed to use any kind of force adjustments I wished to try and stopping him from lifting his arms up for the opening movement of Tai Chi.  I was ready, in position, holding his arms with all my creative effort, but he unconsciously decided to scratch his head!  His "head scratching" power was totally unstoppable, he took me with him.

He is clearly offering a method, it uses boxing gloves and some Shaolin and Xingyi type repeating lines, and a bunch of two person resistance/cooperation exercises that teach various things, and he advises students to do standing meditation practice on their own.  But he is also clearly saying, don't get stuck on the method, the method is all about limitations, the fruition is about freedom.

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."

Kung Fu: The Hard Way

I just watch the first part of this 4 part video made by the BBC in 1983.  It's quite good, it's asks most of the right questions, sometimes it's answers are too brief and too general, but if we started from this very good basic explanation, how did we get side tracked?  The basics are here, Kung Fu was a devotional and exorcistic religious practice, a highly developed form of actual fighting skill, it played a roll in social cohesion, children's moral and physical education, triad organizations, rebellion, theater, dance, medicine, health and music.  The well established ties between Indian and Chinese civilization during the Han and Tang dynasties likely played some roll in it's development, especially in the realm of meditation and yogic action.

In answer to the above question I've come up with five reasons that the nascent field of Kung Fu studies has been so retarded.

  1. When Qigong fever got out of mainland China it really confused the issues of Kung Fu's origins with a false narrative.

  2. This particular BBC documentary focuses on Hong Kong, and manages to avoid getting caught up on the propaganda narrative of Chinese Nationalism dominant in both mainland China and Taiwan.

  3. The Western ideas of mystical energy, self-defense, moralistic non-violence, and the belief that categories must be clear and distinct-- all have played a roll in inflating, diminishing or obscuring some aspect of the actual history of Kung Fu.

  4. Buddhism exploded in the West, which amplified the 'Shaolin comes from Bodhidharma' narrative and tinted the glasses through which we look at everything Chinese.

  5. The traditional Chinese distinction between Orthodox and Heterodox religion was so 'foreign' to Western notions of religion that it took over 100 years of scholarship and cultural exchange to become comprehensible.  (See here,... here,... here ... and here.)


Daoyin Part 1: The Dog

Here is the first in a series of videos I shot about Daoyin and it's relationship to fighting theory.

Daoyin is an ancient Daoist movement meditation art. About 500 years ago it was combined with theater, fighting skills, and ritual. The result was the creation of the diverse arts of Shaolin, Tai Chi, and what you see in this video--
Circus Style Daoyin-- a performing art that uses animal movements to ritually re-discover our true nature.

It is the original "Yoga-TaiChi." Dig?