Silence in Golden, Duct Tape is Silver

This post is entirely free of romanticism.  It points to a new super charged modernity of pure martial arts.  

Three days have passed...


I recently got to visit a secret society of violence experimentation.  I'm 5'11'' and 160lbs.  The guys I was playing with have a ton of experience with actual violence and averaged 6'3'' and 230lbs.  Each was different and has a unique story but the results on my end were:  6 choke outs.  20 throat pokes.  Head butt to the nose and the eye socket.  Nose and jaw rubbed into the ground.  A knee bouncing up and down on my solar plexus.  Random pain compliance.  Balls kneed and squeezed.  Floor impact.  Chest compressed to the point of no inhale do to excessive weight.  A mildly dislocated shoulder.  And 3 accidental chiropractic adjustments.  

I mention all this because none of it is actual damage, but my mind read it as damage at the time.  Well, I had a bit of vertigo this morning and my nose has some free floating bits of cartilage, and maybe my shoulder isn't quite where it should be, but over all I feel great.

Several of the most experienced guys I was playing with claimed they had no hormonal response.  They say fighting with another person is like fighting with a teddy bear, they don't see another person there so they are not triggered emotionally or socially.  That's pretty amazing.  They, in some sense, are able to shed their identity so that fighting is just what normal feels like.

Over all the feed back I got was very positive.  My skills and training are great.  The problem is that when I'm taking what I perceive to be damage I become more of a monkey, that is, I start reacting instead of fighting the way I'm trained to do.  Getting poked in the throat in this case was not doing real damage but it freaked me out.  Taking five or six body shots in a row, in this case, wasn't damage but believing it was made me fight poorly.  

But what is most interesting to me is tracking how I feel.

First off there was the enjoyment of my failures and feelings of appreciation for the folks helping me with that.  The first session went until 2 AM so there was some exhilaration, and a kind of body looseness that happens when I'm passed tired.  That seems like 3 or 4 hormone combinations right there.  But I'm pretty sure that my social challenge autopilot-- I need to be tougher than you-- hormones didn't flood my system.  That's a very important detail.

From 8 in the morning we went until about 1 pm.  Some nausea, lots of need to drink fluids.  Perhaps that had something to do with the whiskey the night before.  More simple feelings of fun and enjoyment.  Then that evening I was just feeling elated.  Tired but extra friendly.  I was in pain  all over, one arm was barely functional and my face felt bruised, but the pain was mixed with some hormone that made me feel really good.  Perhaps I felt socially bigger then normal, unflappable.

All the next day I was happy about being in pain.  Every time I felt pain, it was accompanied by joy.  And then I had a new effect.  My body wanted resistance.  Not push ups or squeezing or jumping around, or powering through.  My body wanted dynamic resistance all over.  It was perhaps like being a kid and wanting to be tickled, very dynamic and unpredictable.  And a bit like wanting to wrestle, but different from wanting to physically dominate.  This deep physical desire was my body wanting to relax against dynamic and chaotic oppositional forces.  

That last one was a very cool feeling.  Unfortunately I only had my wife around to play with, but she indulged me for a few minutes and that made me very happy.  I believe that whatever that hormone combination was, it is probably key to the highest levels of martial arts training.  It's as if once I got there my body already knew how to make up games that would condition me for optimum battle skills.  I should add here that this hormone inspired feeling is related to what I have elsewhere described as a separation of the inner and outer body, distilling jing and qi in motion.  The version I practice without the hormone inspiration feels like the mass of muscle and bone is a dull container driven by an inner body that can not be easily caught because it is moving around inside, like a separate body.

The next day (two days after) I had mostly come down from the high but I felt heroic and larger than normal.  My body had mostly healed but the pain I still had bothered me more, it had migrated.  My limbs and my face felt better but my chest felt stiff and compressed.  Not a big deal from a healing point of view because bruises on the torso get great blood circulation.  I did a lot of chest loosening exercises and felt fine.  But later in the day I had a very strong sensation around my chest and heart.  A new hormone.  I felt hollow.  Longing.  Like I'd been emotionally crushed, but just as a sensation.  I wanted to be held and gently caressed, it felt childish.  Vulnerable.  Like I wanted to be inside and then inside again.  

Three days later all the effects are gone.



Many if not all of these hormones have been isolated and probably can be injected into the blood.  I think taking hormones could be a really smart way to train but just look at how many changes I went through, it would require very complex monitoring.  

Understanding how to trigger (or not trigger) the hormones and then not over doing it is probably a better route.  We should consider monitoring these hormones in students too.  Right now there is potentially inexpensive technology that can tell you all the hormone concentrations in your blood in about an hour.  We just have to create the market for it.  

There are so many implications for education and learning in general here.  Imagine a school where subjects are taught only when the student's hormone profile is at its optimum for that subject?  If, for instance, your hormones are primed for mathematical thinking, you would likely invent the games that would teach you everything you need to know as long as you had the inputs/problems/proofs/tools available.  Imagine a speed reading class that focussed on getting you to the right hormone balance before trying to teach you anything.  My guess is the very best teachers all do this intuitively already.

The opposite, having exactly the wrong hormone profile for a particular type of learning would be a pure disaster.

Nothing here is new.  All the feelings I've described are part of NORMAL.  But conscious discussions of how to optimize these feelings for specific results needs a lot more attention and naming.

I suspect that traditional ritual behavior and ritual design is deeply tied up with conditioning people via hormone responses.  Some rituals require a big crowd because that triggers certain hormones.  A wedding for instance, is meant to permanently seal a social bond in the mind of everyone present.  An execution follows a similar logic.  There are countless other examples.  Secrets and secret rituals must be a different combination of hormones.  I don't want to simplify this to the point of triviality, but enlightenment may just be a relationship to hormones.  That doesn't mean we all have access to it or even care to.  This is just a line of thinking.  

Again, this is nothing new, A Brave New World, and A Clockwork Orange were built around this theme.  Two early scifi's that crossed the blood-brain barrier into literature, from low brow to high brow. Which brings us to the title of this post.

Silence is golden,

Duct tape is silver

     (an original poem) by Sgt. Rory Miller

The Super Hero Complex

Many people take an interest in martial arts because they treasure the image of a righteous and powerful do-gooder, also known as ‘the super hero complex.’  My goal is to inspire or re-inspire the superhero in you!  Yes, there is irony here, but there is and has always been irony in martial arts.  

Not too surprisingly, many people have tried to find an antidote to this irony by carrying a gun or pepper spray, or some other magic bullet.  And there are a whole slew of “reality based” martial arts, which (of course) are not.  Martial arts irony is robust.

click on the image to purchase it from the artistPlanning for a possible sudden attack at sometime in the future requires fantasy--lots of fantasy.  And fantasy requires an enormous amount of energy to maintain.  The best answers in self-defense are based on asking, what kind of person am I? and what kinds of violence are statistically most likely to happen to me.  But identity isn’t set in stone, it requires a lot of fantasy and effort to maintain, and if you use violence statistics to minimize risk, your risk starts getting very small. So the Daoist answer to the problem of persistent irony in the practice of martial arts is to invest in the power of emptiness.  

And then to pile irony on top of irony, in discovering this natural emptiness we also discover our inner super hero powers.  Wow.  

Why are there so many naysayers?  What is wrong with knowingly entertaining ourselves?  What is so contemptible about delighting in self-discovery?  In exploring the possibilities of human nature?  

No doubt, some will poo-poo this idea by saying that what is learnable always falls within a clearly discernible and measured curriculum.  But I say to them: what is most exciting to learn happens in the face of dark chaos.  And I venture that where there are many short-cuts, there are as many blind alleys.  

Would you stake your identity on being an effortless emptiness super hero?


I predict that in my lifetime not knowing self-defense will become like illiteracy was 100 or so years ago.  

If you line up the arguments for teaching everyone self-defense and the arguments against, side by side, the arguments in favor are much stronger.  Sometime back in the 1990’s my former stepmother (who is an internationally known civil rights lawyer and can be seen eating cookies in a Michael Moore movie) and I were discussing sexual politics, date rape, and behavioral norms.  I said something on the order of, “The solution is to teach everyone self-defense.”  

Now, at that time, the apocalypse was a distant unlikelihood, Buffy had not yet staked a single vampire, nerds were still nerds, and nobody even knew how zombies were created. 

There was no internet, no youtube, nobody had a video cell phone, no Rory Miller, no Devi Protect, and no Gift of Fear.  There were Wimin’s self-defense classes at that time, like IMPACT which started in 1985, along with loud whistles, mace, and permanent ink spray.  

But there wasn’t to my knowledge anyone explaining in plain legal language, the way they regularly do on cop shows today, the importance of Intent, Means, Opportunity, and Preclusion.  Outside of castle law, back then, the “right to self-defense” was down right murky.  The difference between predator violence and social violence was unexplored territory in the popular imagination.  There was also no popular critique of terms like victim and victimizer, they were as irony-free in normal conversation as “bread & butter.”

At the time I was practicing martial arts and dance about 8 hours a day and since I didn’t believe in cars, I was riding my bicycle or my skateboard everywhere.  

My former stepmother’s response to my suggestion that everyone learn self-defense was memorable, “Women will never be equal to men in physical strength, and besides it is totally impractical.”

I knew then that she was wrong, but I didn’t have the arguments or the examples to prove my point.  If self-defense was the equivalent of becoming a skillful martial artist practicing for hours everyday, she might have had a point.  But it turns out that self-defense is really much more like a form of literacy.  It is a way of thinking about and seeing the world.  Surely it involves martial arts skills to some degree, but it is a mistake to think that self-defense skills require you to be superior in any physical sense. 

The arguments for teaching these skills to everyone before they reach puberty are getting stronger as the list of topics that should be included in a basic self-defense education grows: Good guy modeling, monkey dance awareness, personal responsibility, emotional bio-chemistry, the nature of autonomy, cultural and social “othering,” citizenship, talking to the authorities, the cultural and historical links between fighting, dancing and improvisation, etc, etc, etc... 

Thinking back on her comments that day, it is striking how similar the old arguments against teaching women how to read are to the arguments against teaching women self-defense.  

In fact, I would like to caution anyone who uses the “totally impractical” argument  to look back at all the people who were later face-palmed by inspired people who didn’t seem to notice that impracticality was an obstacle.  

How Cheap is Life?

Alexander Hamilton came from a place where life was cheap.  In the West Indies of his time the majority of people were enslaved, didn't wear clothes and had an average working life expectancy of four years.  He didn't know his father and his mother died when he was ten.  Death was all around him, yet somehow he learned accounting and how to read and write in English, French, and Hebrew.  At the age of 15 a devastating hurricane destroyed much of his surroundings and he wrote a vivid description of it which was published in newspapers all along the East Coast of the future US.  Someone in New York was so impressed by his writing that they took up a collection to send him to Princeton!  When he got there, talk of revolution was in the air and he convinced his dorm mates to practice marching drills with him from a book.  When war came he marched his friends down to the armory and because he had already taken command they made him an officer on the spot.  Shortly after the first battle he met George Washington who recognized his merits and made him Aide-de camp, responsible for all correspondence of the general.  

And the rest is history.  As far as supplying ideas and doing the intellectual leg work he is the single most important American founding Father.  When a person's life has been that cheap-- and he gets through it-- he must see challenges differently than the rest of us.  Not just challenges, but risks and ideas too.

Clarence Thomas has a lot of critics, enemies really.  He was born in a Gullah community.  The name Gullah is probably a distortion of Angola.  The Gullah were isolated to some degree in language and culture because they used African fighting traditions to free bonded people and make war.  After the American Civil War, a group of Gullah that were fighting on the Mexican Border were invited to join the US Calvary; later made famous by Bob Marley's song "The Buffalo Soldiers."

Clarence Thomas grew up in extreme poverty and hardship, abandoned by both parents he delivered coal as child, probably the dirtiest work there is.  Yet he managed to attend school, always graduating at the top of his class and receiving one scholarship after another.  To this day he is subjected to constant racist attacks that he is stupid and unworthy, that he only ever got anywhere in life because of other peoples pity, guilt and charity.  Yet he knows how cheap life can be.  His eloquent and unfettered opinion on the right to keep and bear arms is a necessary addition to our understanding of the history of the United States.  Like Hamilton, Thomas knows that the pen is mightier than the sword.  People who know how cheap life can be, fear the pen more than the sword, or in this case, the gun.

I've been watching a lot of Italian knife fighting lately.  Its spontaneity and musicality are informing my jian (double edged sword) work.  This art clearly comes from a place and time when life was cheap.

The Chinese arts I study are at least 500 years old, that's a lot of time to keep a tradition going.  That means the arts survived many eras when life was cheap as well as eras when life was not so cheap.  Classical artists try to consolidate and pass on as much of the essence of their art as they can.  Yet, we often fail to understand the lessons of the previous generations.   Without the actual experiences, accumulated knowledge is often just a shadow; shadows on top of shadows.  I'm very lucky to have studied so much with George Xu because he lived through a time when life was very cheap.  He has been able to bring many of those shadows to life!  Perhaps it has been harder to learn from him those parts of the arts that flurished when times were not so cheap, thank goodness for my other teachers, but the beauty of these arts is that these shadows on top shadows take tangible forms if you nurture them.  And George Xu certainly has taught me a kind of openness which can only come from choosing life!

There are several chapters of the Daodejing which are about living through times when life is cheap.  I leave you with this one: 

Exiting at birth, entering at death,

3 in 10 choose life,

3 in 10 choose death,

3 in 10, 'though they choose life, make decisions that bring about premature death.

Why? because they regard life as precious.

And then there are those who are good at nourishing life!

When entering a wilderness, they don't avoid tigers or rhinos,

When entering a battle, they don't put on armor or take up weapons.

The rhino finds no place to jab his horn,

The tiger finds no place to dig its claws,

The weapon finds nothing to catch its blade,

 Why? because there is no death point on them.

--Daodejing, Chapter 50


The Right to Vote and Self-Defense

I have been saying now for a few years that 'self-defense' is a relatively new idea.  The basis of moral self-defense is a consequence of lower status people claiming parity against a majority.  Chinese actors (a degraded caste) must have found it very difficult to claim justifiable homicide or self-defense in the courts against a commoner--because actors were required to step into the gutter when a commoner passed them in the street.  

The same is certainly true of Jews in both Europe and the Middle East.  

For women, the possibility of independence from the protection and authority of a man was closely related to a woman's ability to earn independent income.  Along with income, and the right to vote, the notion of self-defense began to take shape.  

I'm very excited to see other people are taking an interest in the history of the idea of self-defense.  Here is a must read article:

One of the western world's first female martial arts instructors, Garrud, who died in 1971 aged 99, is thought to have learned jujutsu in the late 19th century. She began working with suffragettes between 1908 and 1911, eventually at her own women-only training hall, a room at the Palladium Academy dance school in Argyll Street

....."Woman is exposed to many perils nowadays, because so many who call themselves men are not worthy of that exalted title, and it is her duty to learn how to defend herself," [Edith Garrud].

Click the image to buy on Amazon!



I keep a notebook with me all the time because ideas come and go, often times if you don't catch them they're gone. I was looking through my notes of blog topics for today and a lot of them are kind of negative. I just don't feel like working with that right now.  So I'm pulling something out of thin air for your reading pleasure.  I'm in the midst of a move. The limbic system of our brains are deeply resistant to change, they desperately try to hold on to stability and predictability.   After living out of boxes for a couple of weeks my life is an emotional roller coaster ride.
The future is still up in the air but we are going to be staying on a farm with goats, chickens and bees for at least a few weeks. Wish me luck.

I've self identified as an improviser and a spontaneity artist for almost 30 years. It has profoundly framed my understanding of aesthetics, action and perception. So my thought for the day is a very simple one, one that, because of this basic framing of my own experience, is so obvious to me I could easily neglect to say it. That thought is that both fighting and teaching fighting are forms of pure improvisation.

My basic philosophy is that we have lists of social fighting expectations. Everyone has them, 'though they are not the same for everyone.  The lists are made up of largely unconscious actions, responses, and ways of being.  Here is an example of a partial list:

  • communicate, "I'm your equal"

  • bounce on your toes

  • control the opponents arms

  • face off, eye to eye

Here is another one:

  • communicate, "I'm not a threat"

  • shrink

  • position your head so that your eyes are looking up

  • show your personal-space-boundary with your palms facing outward

My job is to point out how these lists work, how they function normally, what triggers them-- and then get the student to stop doing them. Sometimes my methods take the from of 'try this" or "what if you turned the other way here." Sometimes they involve exploring an intrinsic body or space awareness, like "spin around without letting your eyes catch on anything and then try that again," or "now try that on all fours and notice how your dantian naturally responds to gravity." Even when I'm teaching an exact sequence like Bagua single palm change, I'm constantly trying to get the student to "stop trying to control the future." The relationship between ones elbow and ones knee must remain spontaneous --spatially active and responsive-- even when the sequence is a known form.

Lately I've been instigating this game: "You are in a bad position, now improve it with out going directly against me and with out using momentum or retreating. Just change your position. Don't think. Don't think of me as human. Feel the spaces and act on them at the same time. No techniques."

At times I'm giving intense direct physical feed back, slapping, tapping, poking, spinning, scratching, swiping, tripping, creating targets and moving them around.  At times I'm intensely verbal, "do this," "now this," "over here" "backwards," "now with him," "now with her,"  "now with an imaginary ape,"  "now on the ground."  This kind of teaching unhooks people from their resistance to acting spontaneously.  The more fun you have improvising, the less you will fear failure, and the more you will love fighting.

A student that has been studying with me for about three months, paid me an unexpected complement the other day.  She said, "I've had a lot of movement training, and taken a lot of classes, but nothing quite like this before.  What your are doing is Total Immersion."

Teaching Without Teaching

I just won an award for this post!  I submitted it to a blogging carnival, where you can read other great offerings on the topic of Bullying!


Martial Arts Perth

I have been doing much thinking about teaching and the nature of teaching and the purpose of teaching.  My ideas are incomplete but I thought I'd do some sharing anyhow.  I got the great pleasure of hanging out with Rory Miller the other day.  We took a long walk.  It is rare (for me) to be in the presence of someone I can talk about anything with.  So unusual.  It made me reflect; am I like that? Most of the time people are exerting a enormous amount of effort to hide their true nature.  We also spend tons of energy pretending to ourselves that we don't see what is happening socially.  What a relief to meet someone who is truly unpretentious.

I got Rory to read Impro by Keith Johnstone, and now he is running around telling people that Martial Arts is to Fighting, as Acting is to Improvising. A significant part of Johnstone's book is about teaching, and we talked a lot about it.  How much of teaching is just failure of the teacher to deeply understand the subject?  How much of teaching is un-conditioning negative behavior learned from loving parents who care so much they can not see what they have done?  How easy it is to be unaware of what behaviors we are reinforcing and what behaviors we are suppressing.  When I woke up the next day after talking to Rory it occurred to me that I may love teaching because I lack confidence.  I may even intentionally put myself in difficult teaching situations because I get a physiological thrill from the see-saw effect of the fear that I will fail miserably followed immediately by elation when things go well.  How would my teaching change if I actually felt confident? or indifferent?


Anti-bullying is one of the latest fads in education, and it is being used by a lot of martial arts teachers to market their programs.  When I think of bullying I think of my experience with Johnstone.  Bullying is a social game.  It can be taught as a game.  The idea that --a person being bullied is not in control-- is an illusion.  Talking about this is stupid.  You can either play a bullying game and experience it for yourself or you can talk about it for the rest of your life.  Such games can raise fascinating questions about whether or not we are in conscious control of our actions.  I had a kid claim he absolutely could not stand still, and that I could ask his mother about this for verification.  At that moment I was really wishing that a tiger would wander into the dojo and test his thesis for him.

As Rory pointed out, one of the consequences of "zero tolerance for violence" in schools is that now there are bullies who are physically smaller than the people they are bullying.  I had verification of this from some students who came to me a few months ago asking about how they could deal with this kid who constantly hits them, usually on the head.  He is smaller than all of them and they were claiming powerlessness.  Joss Whedon made a film about "zero tolerance" policies.  It's called Serenity.  In the film, as in real life, such policies have horrifying unintended consequences.  No doubt we are training a generation of super-bullies.  I responded to my students by having them play insult and complement games.  It's pretty simple, you face off and insult your partner (keep it personal, keep about him), he thanks you and insults you back, you thank him and then you complement him, then he complements you back, then back to insults, over and over.  The faster the better.  At first most students will make weak offers like "your shirt is messy,"  and they will forget to thank their partner.  As they get better at it, the insults are more and more real like, "your bald spot is a crusty white puke." Then we add self-complements and self-insults.

This leads to my 'Rules for Bullies' number one, which is also my rule of self-defense number one:  accept all offers.  If someone hits you with a baseball bat, keep playing the scene.  Never pretend it didn't happen.  If you get killed come back as a ghost and haunt that #%$@# right away!  Keep the action moving.  If you are trying to bully someone stay focuses on it being their fault!   That annoying twerp (with "zero tolerance" it could be--a handsome jock) is just taking up space, time and air that rightfully belongs to you!  You are the bully, exercise your birth right!  Make them pay! If you are being bullied, for God's sake man, accept all offers! Confess to all accusations immediately and admit to all wrong doing, it's even OK to make up bad things you did and confess to them as well.  But to play this game you must understand that the space belongs to the bully and you are only there to have fun at their expense.  There are two ways to play, if the bully gets closer take up more space, get languid, put your feet up on the cafeteria table, better yet, lay back on the table with your legs spread if necessary reach out in all direction, yawn, drool, as they move away, get smaller. You will control them like an insect with a chip in it's head. The game also works just as well if you shrink and whimper as they get closer and you get bigger as they move away.

Our perception of space is plastic.  It is only when we think it is fixed that we get into problems.  Bullies are not predators.  They are purely social animals.  Social animals are constantly trying to maintain and manage their identities, belongings, and status.  Non-attachment to those things is social freedom.  Knowing this intellectually means nothing.  Knowing it kinesthetically is total social freedom.  But knowledge of this sort is also expertise in trance.  The ability to go in and out of a trance is a skill.  But it is also a risk.  The traditional Chinese way to think about this is that there are ghosts and demons lurking about all the time, attracted by passion, and fear, and when you go into a trance they start eating your kidneys.  Go there too passionately or for too long and you will get stuck in the trance, you may even acquire a ghost body that stays with you...because you are it's food supply.

This is the essence of what I teach:  How you live in your body is determined by the rituals you use to inhabit animated space.

Rory had an interesting rule of thumb; it is to the extent that you really care about something that you are likely to make poor decisions about it. That's because our sense of caring is the limbic system of our brain, not the rational part.  There are strategies one can use to get around this, like actually taking other people's advice, or externalizing the decision by giving it to another person or using an astrological calculation.  The Sunzi has a good story about this:  One general sent the opposing general a jar of wine that actually contained his piss.  Having tasted the piss, the general got so angry that the next day he made a bad decision on the battle field which exposed his vulnerabilities and that was his final battle.

What is the lesson? if you get a jar of piss sent to you--keep playing the scene!  Drink a few glasses and wonder why you aren't getting drunk.  Or send a return jar filled with peach schnapps!

Rory talked about his teaching as giving people permission to act on what they already know to be true from their own experience.  A potent idea.  I believe I'm doing that in the kinesthetic realm too, but I wonder sometimes how deep or far away that experience might be.  For example, can people go straight to remembering how they moved before the first time they got frustrated trying to put two tiny Legos together?  Can they remember all that wasted effort?  Can they return to that effortlessness without the shame of clumsiness or the shame of being too damn cute?

There are two basic ways to deal with bullies.  Make it too much trouble for the bully to bother with you, or get a group of friends together and beat the bully up.  It sounds simple, but these are important and newanced social skills.  However, and this is a big however, a lot of what passes for education is actually bullying.  To teach these skills to kids means that they will have a choice. Have no doubt, kids able to make choices for themselves will bring down the education system as we know it.

Applications, Not

When you get some time, look at this article (pdf) that proves convinsingly that teaching martial arts applications slows down or inhibits, kinesthetic learning!  It begs the question, are martial arts teachers consciously or unconsciously holding students back by teaching them applications?  Also, is Youtube in league with the devil?

wantfitness-Taiji Wrestling - Advanced Takedown Techniques-

I've been suspicious of apps since before I ever started teaching, my first teacher, Bing, didn't teach apps.  (Martial applications have become such a standard part of martial arts curriculum that people often refer to them simply as "apps" for sort.)

It is fascinating that apps have taken over.  If I had to bet, I wouldn't put the blame on teachers, aggressive students demand apps!  And teachers are probably seduced by the role of being the candy man--'hey, dude, they are paying me to keep them at a low level of learning --how can I say no?'

George Xu did teach us applications, but his theory at the time (and back then we had a lot of time...4 hours a day, 6 days a week) was that the student should have at least three applications for every inch of movement.  And after a while, the student will develop disdain for all technique and move on to a level of practice where any and all movement is an infinity of open possibilities.

After reaching that level, apps seem silly, 'though, as collectors, we might occasionally be stimulated by a novel or creative app.

But students love apps.  They're always askin' for them.  George Xu explained to us that in and around those dark days of the Cultural Revolution, if a person was unwise enough to asked his xinyi teacher about an app, the student would for sure walk home bloodied.  George told us this casually, but years later when his brother Gordon Xu came over to the States I asked him about George's xinyi teacher and he was like, 'Oh that guy was treturous, the skin on George's shins never had time to grow back.'

In the past, I have sometimes given in to my student's requests to teach them apps, and have lamented that iphones and microwaves have given us neither more free time nor a stronger sense of commitment.

But putting all that aside, enlightened-genius-former-jail-guard Rory Miller solved this problem for me!  He articulated a point which, the moment I heard it, stopped my heart.  "What? Oh my gosh, it's so obvious, how is it that no one articulated this to me before?"  The insight is that we fight to established martial stances, not from them.  Once a student knows the given stance I can put them-- or myself-- in a seriously compromised I've just been surprise attacked position and from there, fight to the stance.   This allows me to point out, or for the student to spontaneously discover, target options, angle variations, or changes in orientation. This way the information goes into the correct part of the brain without becoming a technique to remember  or forget, and it doesn't inhibit learning.  Good angles are good angles, vulnerable targets are vulnerable targets, there is no good reason to link them to particular movements.

Since surprise attacks tend to leave people disoriented, it seems important to practice fighting from disorientation.


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.

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