Real vs. Fake

Just finished reading:

Worldly Stage, Theatricality in Seventeenth-Century China, by Sophie Volpp, and  (Harvard, 2011).

Honestly, I did not think I would make it through this book, but it kept surprising right to the end.  It is well written, well organized, and has copious footnotes.  But the subject matter is a form of physical-musical-theater that is only accessible to me through translations of scripts and my imagination.  Since my primary interest in the subject is in finding answers to questions about the origins and development of martial arts and possible insights into the theatricality of the arts I practice, I was constantly filtering the author's ideas through that lens.  Here is some of what I got:

Just how socially degraded were actors?  Very.  They were in a permanent caste that made them morally available for sex with either gender.  Most actors appear to have been male and judging from the literature, most sex was with men.  The book is full of innuendo and subtle slang, men who practice love of "the southern mode," or "the cut sleeve" (a reference to cutting one's own sleeve in order to not wake up a sleeping boyfriend.)  Individual actors were role specialists, meaning that at a certain age their stage gender and style of movement was set.  It remains an unanswered question whether livelong fidelity to a role was necessary to develop a high standard of skill or because they used those skills in other contexts  such as fighting or sexual entertainment?  A troop could be bought and owned as could individual actors, and they could be loaned out on a short term or long term basis.  One could pay an additional fee to have a role played by a woman. Bonded house servants were higher status than actors, as they could marry out.  Bonded servants were sometimes given training in acting.  Owning an actor in those days must have been something like owning a large flat screen tv in your home is today.

Despite the strong lines of social degradation, there was a lot of line crossing which takes some time to get one's head around.  Theater was everywhere.  In the villages there were temple theaters and public performance spaces everywhere.  Performances happening every day for a month were common several times a year in all sorts of concurrent locations.  It is hard to get a sense of how common theater was or how much amateur theater there was, masked exorcism, or performance rituals, but I get the sense it was happening all the time.  They had lots of stages, but all they needed to perform was a large square of red felt, and many types of performance involved the audience.

In the south around Hangzhou and Suzhou the norm was to perform on boats or barges!  Readers may recall previous discussions about the origins of Taijiquan in which we posited that the technique developed from people who spent a lot of time on boats.  This is a very strong explanation for the origins of Taijiquan's distinctive movement.  Why it survived in and around Chen village is another question, but we are moving here from possible explanations to probable ones.

Among the literati, home theater was very common.  These were big families and they would invite their friends over for shows.  The actors would often double as servants, and most likely end up in peoples laps as the night progressed.  The literati were obsessed with theater and theater framed all other social phenomena.  The big back drop to the existence of the literati is that way more people were taking and passing the national exams than were getting appointments.  To be able and capable of taking the exams and re-taking them to stay current, one had to be dedicated to the written word.

Surrounding literati culture was a constant muddle over authenticity and the theater was the obvious place to work that out.  Who was really qualified? And how would you recognized such a person?  Who got their position through money or connections?  It was a total obsession that broke along certain lines that permeated the theater and real life.  An actor could at least play a government official on stage, the vast numbers of 'qualified' literati who never even got an appointment could look on with envy.

Illusion vs. disillusion was the dominant dichotomy.  Is this my authentic identity or am I acting?  Is this play more ethically or emotionally real than the people I interact with socially or career-wise?  You get the idea.  These kinds of questions are quite modern, and are an endless source for art and debate.  Anyone who has spent an hour looking at martial arts videos on Youtube knows that the dominant dichotomy there is Real vs. Fake.  Is this real?  Would it work in a street fight?  Is it an authentic lineage? etc. etc. nauseum.   The difference between our modern notions and those of the 17th Century is that those guys were not so arrogant as to think they could actually get to some place called "real."  They thought the best they could do was to oscillate between illusion and disillusion.  Disillusion in the martial arts is like, "whoa dude, that technique looks so powerful but it like totally failed against a non-compliant opponent."  Illusion is like, "l guess I'll have to buy that video of totally awesome street tested combat techniques after all...that'll make me top dog for sure."  It's just my opinion, but I believe photos and video have played a huge role in changing our relationship to what is "real," in all realms, but especially in martial arts where even though it is still easy to fake or "throw" a fight, slow motion instant replay of Mixed Martial Artists "grounding and pounding" each other is a potent illusion.

It's fascinating, the debates we are having today about martial arts have a lot of similarities to the debates they were having about theater.  Is spontaneity better than precise instruction?  Does authentic passion make us better fighters, or better teachers?  Does vernacular language have something to teach formalism?  Think of this one in terms of the constant tension between rough experience and refined lineage.  Is refinement better than vulgarity?  And this one I love, is the spectator's ability to see, recognize and appreciate great art the true measure of a life worth living?

If the physical training for martial arts is a super set, or a subset, of training for the theater then naturally we would want to compare martial arts training manuals with theater training manuals.  As readers are no doubt aware, there aren't a whole lot of martial arts training texts, or even poetic martial texts, before the 20th Century.  (By the way, I would like to see a complete list if anyone has such a thing.) But at least martial training manuals do exist, even if they are mixed up with talisman, chanting, and images of god/heroes from the theater.  As for theatrical training manuals, they do not exist at all.

We have all heard reasons why martial arts training was secret, but we are unprepared to explain why theater training would be even more secret.  Is it because if you know how to act you can impersonate anyone?  Including gods, demons and government officials?  A good skill set must have had promising commercial value given adoring literati and the widespread use of "opera" as a part of village ritual calenders, but the complexity of the social contract also makes the commercial value of those skills hard to assess.

As far as martial skills among actors, the book gives us no direct insights.  But it is interesting to speculate that if they were debating illusion vs. disillusion as much as they were, was the same debate happening among people of the fist?  I believe Douglas Wile has commented on this to the effect that generals didn't want troops with martial arts training because it interfered with infantry skills.  These debates could well have been taking place.  How often have we though, "I've been practicing these great skills but since I never get in fights, what use are they?"  Even in the military, a great fighter could be picked off with a cheap crossbow.  Who is going to respect true skill?  Where would it be recognised or even criticized if not on the stage?  (Susan Naquin has described numerous types of staged fighting as entertainment in her book on pilgrims.)  It seems probable that in some places there were regular festivals where people could share, test and display their amateur arts and get recognition for their skills.

Other thoughts:

It is pretty common for a play to start with a martial display or a fight.  Even "civil" plays about gender bending love things, like the one translated in the appendix, start with soldiers and troops marching around.

The wine shop was a very popular place to see theater, it seems particularly informal such that on a whim you could hire someone to perform at your table.  I've written about the role of martial arts and banquets elsewhere, it's just worth noting that wine shops were a focal point for theater.

She discusses the dichotomy, familiar to most martial artists, between xing and shen.  That is form vs. spirit.  Interestingly, in the aesthetics of the time, things alike in spirit were considered "internal likenesses," while things alike in form were considered "external likenesses."

She discusses xu (fake/empty) as a key concept in the theater.

There is a category of plays which posits that, if most of our experience is an illusion, then can cultivating a strong relationship to theatrical illusion be a deeper form of authenticity?

How shall we morn falsely acquired merit?

Is Gina Carano a Feminist?

A number of new scholarly books on martial arts have come across my desk in the last month.  This field is in its infancy and I am exited to be part of the project of defining and inspiring it.  In that spirit, there is much in these works to praise, much to criticize, a yawn here and there, and a few things that need to be stopped dead in their tracks.

So this is the fourth of a series in which I will discuss individual essays within larger works.  The following essays are from a collection edited by Thomas A. Green and Joseph R. Svinth titled, Martial Arts in the Modern World (Praeger, 2003).


First order of business:  Is Gina Carano, the star of the new film Haywire, a feminist?  Gina has been a star of the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) World for the past several years, she is hot, and she is now a Hollywood action star who is capable of doing her own stunts and fight choreography.  We'll get back to that.

"Women's Boxing and Related Activities: Introducing Images and Meanings," is an essay by Jennifer Hargreaves that delves into the cultural nuances of women and fighting.  She does a good job of covering all the cases, begining with an excellent history of women in the ring actually knocking each other bloody for money, all the way to the porno version of boxing done by strippers.  Is it masculine? Is it feminine?  Is it a special case?  Are they champions? are they exploited fools? are they happy subordinates?  are they victims or makers of their own fate?  Some female boxers in every case love it, some hate it.  Some are in it for dominance, some for money, some for excitement, some do because they crave risk, some seek health, some do it to look beautiful, some do it and find peace.  Self image?  It's all over the map too.  Hargreaves attempts to apply every post-colonial, feminist, culturgina-caranoal criticism she can find to the actual situation and history of women's boxing.  The result?  Not a single theory is consistent with reality.

I have read way too much theory in my life.  My fear is that even though Hargreaves (and many others, Richard Rorty comes to mind) have the honesty after years of studying post-colonialism, feminism, and critical theory to acknowledge it is faulty--people have invested so much time and university money in it, that it will live on as a ghost, haunting us to our graves.  I hope not.

My Great Grandmother was a prominent suffragette in New York.  As my Grandmother explained it to me, "If there was something that boys were good at, I wanted to prove that I could be good at it too."  I stand with my Grandmother on this one, it is wrong to put obstacles in the way of women trying to do whatever it is they want to do just because of their gender.  In the end, that is the only feminist idea that has any merit.

As for the film Haywire in theaters at the moment, it is a parody of b-movies which are vehicles for an action star.  If you go to the late show, sneak in a six-pack of beer and talk during the talking parts, you'll freakin' love it!

Don't Sleep There Are Snakes!

piraPerhaps you have heard the saying, 'cultures are mutually incomprehensible.'  To start off, most people in the world have not had an immersion experience with another culture.  Most people do not have the experience to say whether or not they are capable of comprehending another culture.  Secondly, culture is not so easy to define.  The English language is certainly functional for talking about business and air traffic control in most parts of the world.  So certain aspects of culture can transcend culture, either because there is something similar in both cultures, or because a roughly equivalent concept can be carved out of a group of concepts, and function in translation.  It's also conceivable that culture can change, but that is controversial because the norm is almost certainly that cultures change very slowly.  An individual, however, can change, and even a whole group of people can adopt a new culture, or (controversial again) a hybrid culture.  Certainly there are people who are truly bi- or even poly-lingual.  But absolute fluency almost certainly requires being raised in that culture from day one.  Some cultures, like the United States, can be very welcoming of people from other cultures, as long as they pick up their trash and generally follow our written laws, we happily tolerate their odd behaviors until they assimilate...even if they are Canadian.

The complexity of the question, 'What is culture?' is further muddied by the notion that there are cultural groups with fuzzy lines between them, sometimes marked with war, geography, new languages, new religions, new political entities, and now, new tools for communication.

There is a culture in the Amazon Jungle in Brazil where, when a person wants to stop talking at night and go to a separate hut, instead of saying "good night" or "sleep tight," they say, "Don't sleep, there are snakes!"  And that is the title of a wonderful book I read recently about this particular tribe and a missionary's attempt to learn their language over a period of twenty years of immersion.  If you like thinking about the question, "What is culture?" or have ever wondered why anyone would suggest that culture is mutually incomprehensible, then this is the book for you.  It's very well written, it's fun, and it's full of cultural zingers.  Like that the Pirahã (the cultural group he lived with) don't have numbers at all.  It's stunning.  They also won't talk about a memory or story of any kind unless the person who witnessed it is still living.  This even applies to dreams.  They hardly make anything that we would call art, and everything they make seems to be intentionally impermanent.

If a culture has many simularities to our culture, it's quite possible for us to convince ourselves that we understand what is happening in that other culture, we may even acquire a new concept like "wuwei" from the Chinese to help explain their behavior.  But when the simularities are few it becomes more obvious that we are almost always peering at another culture through the lens of our culture.  Anyway, I recommend it!  I would also recommend it as a teaching tool for inspiring students to think about the nature of culture.

Don't Sleep There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle, by Daniel L. Everett.  (Pantheon, 2008)

Acupuncture Meridians

book-final-large-with-layer-shpFor a hundred or so years people enamored by acupuncture have put forward theories about how acupuncture works. A few of these theories have made the stretch from possibility to plausibility.  (See here for a partial list.) For the most part they rely on endocrinology and the chemistry of the brain.  No theory, until now has been put forward which explains why the meridians are where they are and simultaneously offers a plausible explanation of how the work.

The new theory offers that meridians are "emergent lines of shape control," which effect the body through overlapping "contractile fields."  (Wooh!)  It is put forward in a book called Muscles and Meridians, the Manipulation of Shape, by Phillip Beach.  While reading this rather long and dry text, something shocking occurred to my fragile mind.  For someone steeped in Western Civilization, to even entertain the possibility that acupuncture is efficacious we have had to ignore an enormous affront to our sensibilities.  The affront is that knowledge of the precise lines of the meridians could have been discovered and mapped and then passed down for 2000 years of recorded history as a form of applied medicine without anyone ever learning how the meridians were originally mapped!  Oh, you might hear people say, they were just felt.  But come on, that is so easy to test.  You just find a barbarian who hasn't memorized the locations of the meridians and teach him to feel!  Zhen Da!  He will draw them for you!  But if this ever happened, there are no records of it.  One would think this would be a priority no?  I am of course willing to believe that people have mapped and re-mapped the meridians many times over, and then then just kept their methods a secret.  That's cool, but even if that were true, (and we don't have any evidence that it is) it's still a huge affront to my Western Civilization sensibilities.

Anyway, I sense that Phillip Beach felt the affront and was motivated to do something about it.  Internet hero, Elisabeth Hsu has explained that the meridians were developed on the surface of the body and only later were connected to the internal organs.  Beach leverages this clue well.  It is also likely that many of the "points" were developed independently from the meridians.  Some points are easy to explain simply in terms of trail and error as the best spots to manipulate and maneuver a person passively receiving a massage, or actively resisting a martial arts technique.  Beach also leverages this point in his theory.  Another clue is the widespread idea in Traditional Chinese Medicine that only a few of the meridians develop in utero, some appear at the moment of birth, and the rest develop slowly over the first 5 or so years of human activity.  He uses this information in his theory as well, but if I wasn't already familiar with the idea I doubt I would have understood what he was talking about.  Unfortunately the book needs another edit.

Never the less, its a great theory.  He draws extensively on developmental embryology to show how different regions of the body are related and belong to the same contractile field.  A contractile field is pretty easy to understand.  If I poke you with something sharp, you will move away from the point in a very specific way by contracting certain parts of your body.  If I poke you in a different place, you will contract differently only if I have poked you in a different contractile field.  If I poked you on the same contractile field, but in a different spot than the first time, you will still respond pretty much the same way you did the first time.  But if I cross an invisible line suddenly your contractile reaction will be different.  This idea has been studied extensively in leeches!  Leaches have only 4 contractile fields but because the fields overlap, you can get 8 different contractile responses from a leach.  But only 8, no matter where you poke.  However if you poke a leach with two needles you can get some composite reactions.  Anyway that's the basic theory, the meridians aren't necessarily the boarder between two contractile fields, they are lines on the body which strengthen, weaken, or resolve the relationships between contractile fields.

Now that seems testable, as long as you have enough of a military attachment to deter lawsuits.

That probably should have been the whole book, but I suspect Beach wanted to demonstrate how overall shape changing or perhaps shape re-ordering relates to medicine.  I mean, I suppose at this point someone could try to argue that posture and alignment play only a small role in over all health, illness and disease, because methods focused singularly on posture have not passed muster (ie. randomized, peer reviewed fights to the death).  But the reality is that almost any chronic problem will eventually show up in the bones.  Archeologists have taught us that.

Seiza Seiza

Beach continues his argument by discussing his own idiosyncratic clinical experience, and makes some interesting points.  He describes 8 basic sitting postures, squatting, seiza, kneeling on the heels with the toes curled forward, seiza on one foot while squatting on the other, pike, on the butt with legs crossed, and on the butt with soles of the feet together.  He says that these ways of sitting are all good indicators of the proper functioning or integration of contractile fields.  When a patient presents with X problem and has trouble getting into one of these "shapes," it becomes part of their prescription to practice trying to get into it.  Not hugely convincing, but it did make me think that these seated postures ought to be part of a routine check-up.  If you had to demonstrate your ability to sit in all these positions when the doctor was listening to your breathing and tapping on your knee, it would eventually become part of peoples self-health evaluations.  That would be a mighty good thing.  I can just see all the mothers fretting that their teen-aged sons have flunked "squatting."

Lastly, Beach spins some fun stuff about the feet.  He calls shoes, "sensory deprivation chambers."  Who knew?  Honestly, this part of the book excellent.  He suggests that the vast majority of lower back problems can be fixed by walking barefoot in an uneven rock garden for 20 minutes a day.  The feet are very sensitive, they have the capasity to resolve and change complex structures in the lower back.  In my own experience many people are suffering needlessly because they never walk on uneven ground.  I don't just mean hills or groomed paths.  I mean really uneven rocky ground.  Scrambling and scurring over rough terrain resets all the components of locomotion--balance, spacial awareness, rhythm, shrinking, expanding, alignment, liquid mass manipulation, and force transmission through the bones.

Having pondered this book for about two months, I have two objections.  The first is that he just dodges the "What is Qi" problem.  This must have kept him up at nights, finally deciding that the theory stood up better without any explanation of qi.  But this leads to the second objection, how do we explain the direction of qi flow in the meridians?  If Beach's theory gets traction, and I think it should, we will likely see the notion of qi flow broken down in to different types of flow, each with distinct properties.

Block Prints of the Unseen World

I'm going to a lecture on Wednesday at 4 PM, with a slide show by David Johnson the author of Spectacle and Sacrifice, The Ritual Foundations of Village Life in North China.  He is speaking about the following exhibit.  Check it out.

Speak of Good Things: Nianhua and Chinese Folk Tradition

Exhibit - Artifacts: Center for Chinese Studies: Institute of East Asian Studies | June 22 – September 28, 2011 every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday with exceptions | 9 a.m.-5 p.m. |  Institute of East Asian Studies (2223 Fulton, 6th Floor)

And...happy Moon Cake Festival!  Just ate mine.

Daoism: Religion, History and Society

There is a new journal on the scene published out of Hong Kong you may want to check out.  It's called Daoism:  Religion, History and Society.  The current addition has an article by Terry Kleeman who does wonderful work and who bought me a mango drink in the basement of Ikea in Taipei, Taiwan two Summers ago.  He was full of reading suggestions and encouragement.

UPDATE: I haven't been able to figure out how to get past the wall, by hook or by crook.  I even looked for a way to pay!  Anyone know how to get to the text?

Stripping For the Dead?

strippingdeadI don't have much of a commentary on this yet, but it is a must read.  When people claim that a type of Kung Fu is 'just x' or 'just y' and it was 'originally just z' but then got mixed with 'a little p influence,' they are usually just repeating something they heard from someone who either didn't know, or was trying to cover something up.  The real history of religious Kung Fu theater ritual is itself an incredible treasure, way more interesting and complex than any of the spins we have heard yet.  This is the first I've heard of stripping for the d


ead, and I've been reading about this stuff for a long time.

Here is the Director/Anthropologist's website.

This article about the film is pretty good too.

The Meaning of Kung Fu

imagesFor years I went with "something of great quality which takes time to develop" as my definition of Kung Fu.   Then I switched to using Kristopher Schipper's definition of Kung Fu  in Taoism and the Arts of China, he said it used to mean "Meritorious Action!"  Now master linguist Victor Mair has committed a heck of a lot of words to explaining the meaning of Kung Fu, particularly as it relates to Tea.  Enjoy.

Sucker Punch, A film about self-defense

I am a collector of arguments. I would much rather hear a finely crafted argument than sip a glass of fine wine. A year or so ago I got myself in an argument about whether Chinese culture had the notion of self-defense 500 years ago. My contention is that self-defense is a new idea that has been developing very slowly since the American revolution (and other "Enlightenment" events) proposed that social order could be rooted in individual freedom. (I tentatively conceded the argument after my primary contender presented a translation of a 16th Century Chinese Encyclopedia which I'll include at the end of this post.)

Certainly there have always been people who found ways to practice fighting and reasons for claiming their actions were righteous. But that is not the same as claiming self-defense. For instance, in China it was common to claim that one had to fight to protect ones honor or property. But what if you had no property or no honor? Theater professionals were the lowest social caste, below even thieves, clearly they had no honor to defend. Similarly Biblical justice, an eye for an eye, is framed as the settling of a score, it is not an argument for self-defense.

This is why I was so taken by Sgt. Rory Miller's arguments in Meditations on Violence. He explained that very few forms of social violence justify an act of self-defense. With a few exceptions social violence is avoidable and deterrable. Social violence is the form of violence that most people have experience with, consequently they tend to confuse it with asocial violence which is a much rarer form of violence. Asocial violence almost always requires an act of self-defense. For instance, in the international arena we hear the absurd and incomprehensible argument that Israel responds to attacks against it's civilian population with disproportionate force. This type of argument only makes sense if you believe this is a social conflict. In an asocial conflict one is expected to use the minimum amount of force necessary to neutralize the threat. In the case of Israel, it has yet to neutralize the threat, up until the threat is neutralized any level of violence is justified.  Likewise in a social conflict, if we can easily retreat we are expected to do so. But you don't retreat once someone has broken into your house. Retreating from asocial violence tends to leave a trail of blood. The 1948 declaration of Jewish autonomy will continue to be an offense to all those who consider Jews less than fully human.

Bernard Lewis recently explained that there is no word for 'Freedom' in Arabic, the closest term is something a kin to 'justice.'  In the recent demonstrations in Egypt people were chanting "Freedom" in English.  As hopeless as it may sounds to say it, autonomy and self-defense are concepts which require novel and complex arguments to comprehend.

The arguments explaining when and how self-defense is justified are actually new. The argument for women's self-defense may have gotten some inspiration from great figures of the past like Harriet Tubman, but the moral arguments which justify it are still being articulated. The same is true for children's self-defense; witness the national "bullying" debate, and the ever growing number of films and TV shows about girls who fight back.

Self-defense is in the air.

The new film Sucker Punch, by the same guy who made 300, is about justifiable self-defense. Freedom, all freedom, is predicated on our notions of self-defense. Most people reviewing this movie don't seem to understand that. For instance I've read about 30 reviews criticizing the shortness of the plot--not incoherence mind you--shortness. As if the length of the plot matters. The film explores the relationship between the power of dance and the power of the mind to fight for freedom and autonomy.  It's a sublimely beautiful film.  Check it out.

If you want see the Ming Dynasty Encyclopedia entry about martial arts, make the jump below!

The following is a quote from Josh, a scholar of Buddhist studies who was posting on Rum Soaked Fist last year.  Later in the argument he acknowledged that for the most part these texts don't explain why people are practicing martial arts.  The arguments below fall under defense of property and defense of honor which are weak arguments for self-defense unless you are in Texas.  Being a master of ones body does imply some notion of autonomy in the same way a dance style like Flamenco does.  The 'self-protection' quoted below does imply self-defense, however in my recent readings of Historical Chinese plays about the justice system the actors are surprisingly inarticulate about why they were justified in fighting.  Also note the theatrical nature of some of the pictures and challenge match nature of others:
"In the Ming and Qing periods, it became popular to print large encyclopedic collections of commonplace knowledge, which are generally known as riyong leishu "encyclopedias for daily use." Endymion Wilkinson says of these that "These riyong leishu "encyclopedias for daily use" form an important source on popular religion and everyday attitudes, social practices, law, and the economy not found in other extant sources." (Chinese History: A Manual, p. 608). In other words, these writings were intended for a broad (but literate) audience. Among the variety of topics they present, several of these collections include chapters that briefly cover martial arts. I'll provide a few examples. The first of these collections, Wanbao quanshu, is generally considered to be a 16th century compilation. In fascicle 19, there is the chapter called "Wubei men" ("Skills of Martial Readiness") which offers a number of excerpts on martial arts practice. The chapter begins with a short verse extolling the virtues of practicing boxing. One of the lines states that after learning boxing, "During the daytime you will not have to worry about people coming to borrow from you, and at nighttime you will have no fear of thieves coming to steal from you."
In another collection from roughly the same time period, the Wanyong zhengzong, the introduction states that the one who studies boxing "will master his body, and will not be bullied by villains... [boxing] is the basis for self-protection.... The gentleman who does not practice this art will be bullied, cursed, have his possessions seized, and will unknowingly be subjected to worry and harm."
I think that these quotes and their presence in works intended for a general audience speak for themselves, and very much contradict the statements that you have made above regarding the perceived function of CMA in pre-modern Chinese society, at least at this particular time."



Winter's Web

Winter is closing in and I'm headed out of town, to a place without zeros and ones.

I have so many blog posts I'd love to share, but you know what they say, "If you want to get something done, give it to someone who is already busy."  I guess I wasn't busy enough!  It will all have to wait for the new year.

In the meantime, I read The Body Has a Mind of It's Own, by Sandra Blakeslee.  This is a marvelous book.  It has no footnotes, which is a big drawback, but it summarizes the scientific literature on body mapping.  This is not Body-Mapping the "therapy" I posted about a week or so ago, it is body mapping the theory that there are about 15 different three dimensional maps of space, motion, sensation, and awareness in our brain.  Basically we know about the 15 different maps because researchers have been studying the weird stuff that happens to people when they get brain injuries.  Years ago Oliver Sachs wrote the book The Man Who Mistook Her Wife for a Hat, and described the process, but a lot has happened since then.

If you want to explain Qi in scientific terms this is the way to go.  Body maps, as metaphors, are a bit confining.  I don't really think all 15 or so mechanisms should be called maps, and maybe none of them should, but the mechanisms by which Qi, Jing, and Shen can operate in a "quiet body" "active mind" situation have all been roughly sketched out in this book.

So I've started on a new project to become conversant in Kinesiology.  I'm reading papers and books, and I'm even working on a paper with Josh Leeger whose blog covers the really interesting edge of new "fitness" experiments.

Speaking of which, the paper I wrote for the conference on Daoism Today about Martial Arts, Theater and Ritual has gotten enough positive feedback from the few readers I gave it to, that I'm going to put some real effort into publishing it.  When I get back.

Also, I'm really hoping I can pull together a self-produced class for kids (ages 7-13) after school in the space I'm renting on Geary Street.  Tentative start date in February.

Speaking of the space (5841 Geary St.), My Tai Chi and Qigong class there has been going great, feel free to drop in on us when we start up again Jan. 5th 2011.

I'm going to be taking over the renting and scheduling of the space, so if you want to rent it for classes or rehearsals of any kind, drop me a line, it's bright with mirrors, wood floor, and low cost.

And my morning Bagua Class will be open for new students beginning Jan 4th. 2011 so come on down and check out the funnest exercise in the world!


Since people look to me for expertise in the realm of horror films, here is my quick review of Black Swan:

(I'm probably the only one who is going to tell you what this film is about so be sure to hit the "Donate" button in the side bar if you are digging this blog.)  Black Swan is about the conflict between technique and expression.  A theme martial artists will totally dig.  There isn't really any fighting in this film which is crazy, how can they make a film without fighting?  Anyway, the film does a great job diving into the nightmare of having awesome skills that everyone recognizes and yet still not being able to dance (martial artists can replace the word fight with the word "dance" in that sentence if they want to).  I loved it, anyone who has ever been consumed by "a practice" will relate.  (Full disclosure: I closed my eyes whenever the nail clippers came out!  Some things are even too much for me.)


If you missed the Kung Fu For Philosophers article in the New York Times, check it out.  My first thought, "hey, dude, I could teach that class."  In my class each week I would send half the class home with a different philosopher to study and digest.  The next week when they returned we would pick two students to get on stage and fight.  Richard Rorty verses Charles Taylor one week, Zhuangzi verses Spinoza the next.  The students would have to fight and argue at the same time!  If a student got tongue tied or beaten down, we'd put in a fresh one to keep the action rolling.  (In the article the writer gets Zhuangzi wrong.  Zhuangzi says uncertainty is real.  The experience of uncertainty is real too.  The "transformation of things" is not something to "go along with," it simply is.  We are imaginational beings-- as much butterfly as man from one dream to the next.)  If you would like me to teach this class post a comment!

I'll be back January 1st, 2011.