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

What is the Game?

When a teacher points out that something specific is wrong, say, your kua (hip socket region) isn't open, three things become immediately imperative.  What is the test? What is the measure?  and What is the game?

Unfortunately the more common follow up is, just do this movement 10,000 times and you'll understand how it fits with everything else.  That is a hook with no bait in my book.  Every student knows on the first day of class that there is a danger of conditioning the wrong thing.

 A test is often a result that can be felt or seen on oneself or on another person.  Often times you can easily be trained to say Yes that's it, or No that's wrong, long before you can pass the test yourself.  For a teacher to say you are doing something wrong, they themselves must be performing some kind of test.  If you don't have access to this test you are training in the dark, metaphorically speaking.  There are certainly valid arguments for training a student in the dark, but they are rare. (see below)

Just how open does your kua need to be?  A measure is a way of deducing the degree to which one has some particular attribute, either how much or how little, under increasing amounts of pressure/movement, or time/speed. A simple example would be, do you have the structural integration for a head attack.  The test is very simple, can you move someone with your head.  The measure would involve adding pressure and force gradually such that you have no feeling of pain or compression in your neck, spine or other joints. At the point when you have compression or pain you are out of your range.  We can be taught to see this in others too.  A measure is a little different from a test.  If a test is qualitative, a measure is quantitative. 

Thirdly, and most important is a game.  Without a game conditioning is slow and of questionable value.  A game automatically enters the part of your brain that makes learning fun, and drills it deep into the place where you can access it instantly and automatically.  

The more complex or difficult the attribute is, the more important it is to use a game to condition it.  Otherwise you are just conditioning frustration!  And it's great to play the game before the test or the measure, if you can.  In that sense it is fine to have students learning in the (metaphoric) darkness as long as they understand the test and the measure eventually.  But just giving a correction is, like I said, a hook with out a worm.

Even with a simple form correction, the measure can be as simple as, it looks like this, not like that.  The test answers the question why it's an important attribute and/or shows some sort of structural function.  It becomes a game when is happens with music, timing, rhythm and variations of style.  It can also be conditioned in a two person form or a limited push hands exchange, or a resistance drill that just works that position as a game.  

Teasing, jostling, tricking, improvising, dancing, funky-grooviness--these are some of the most important ways of learning, and all fall under the games category.  Think: Games, the sky is the limit. A good teacher alternates between too serious and too much fun. (In my humble, yet irreverent, opinion.)  

The test, the measure and the game are important for the student to know for almost any correction or principle.  This is what we should expect from a good teacher, and a good teacher will expect us to ask for it too.  

Traditionally, getting a beating at the moment of transmission may have had a powerful conditioning effect. Few people want that experience these days, so we need games.  


I feel strongly about everything I just said above, I don't mean to diminish it, but there is another case to consider.  A teacher may present a puzzle for the student to solve.  Like, Okay, now figure out how I just did that.  But puzzles in martial arts classes sometimes last decades.  That seems wrong to me.  Puzzles are great, but if the students aren't solving it, it's time for a new puzzle or a different game.  

Why do puzzles sometimes last so long?  In Asia, it is often considered an attack on the status of the teacher to ask a question.  It is a sad self-defeating custom.  Also sometimes students want to stay in awe, because they get a kind of devotional high from it.  That's not very productive, even if it does pay the bills.  Puzzles cross over into the realm of secrets (and magic).

Kids learn at about age four that if you want to be more interesting, you need to get good at keeping secrets.  Even just looking like you are hiding a secret can magnetize people to you.  But oh heavens, trading secrets is even more funner than fun.  

External Internal Mixes

Just wanted to share this video of one of my class mates from the early 90's.  Stan was a strange kid, about 17 in this video, I remember him having some mental development problems that made him a bit shy and awkward in conversation, but he was fun to practice with.

And here is Shifu Qing Zhong Bao, George Xu's main teacher before George left China around 1980.  He is 95 years old in the video.  Lanshou, the system he is a master of, and the one Stan is demonstrating above, is considered a mixed internal and external system.  Whatever right?  Looks like it is pretty good for health in old age as well as training young people for maximum versatility.  

Exploring Theatricality in Chinese Martial Arts

Here is the pod cast of my talk at Soja martial arts.  It's 2.5 hours long.  I used a format where I had everyone get up and try the stuff I was talking about every 20 minutes or so.  It was lots of fun.  Thank you Soja for hosting it!

We need to learn how to edit these pod casts very soon, but until then, if you are listening to it on your computer the dial that spins around the cinch button allows you to move around in the talk, fastforword and rewind we use to call it.

Two Talks at Soja Martial Arts

Two talks at Soja Martial Arts in Oakland this month.  Join the fun.
Exploring Theatricality in Chinese Martial Arts with Scott Phillips 
Saturday, Date: 6/23/2012From: 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

For Soja's 2nd Summer Lecture series: Scott Phillips will be presenting a workshop/lecture on: Exploring Theatricality in Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Saturday, June 23, 7 – 9 pm Soja Member pre-registration price $20, or $25 @ door. Non-soja members pre-registration price $25 or $30 @ door. The mix of Martial Arts and Theater Arts has captured the popular imagination through super stars like Jackie Chan. But few people realize that before the 20th Century most martial arts were connected to some form of theatrical performance. These ranged from the numerous distinct styles of both folk and classical physical theater, known as ‘Chinese Opera,’ to festival skits, public exorcisms, martial processions, street performances, and improvisational games--all intimately built around actual fighting skills. This workshop will present the seamless confluence of martial arts basic training as a way to explore physical character development, mimic gesture, and as a tool for improvisation and crafting stage presence. This workshop will consist of a mixture of lecture and movement formats. All experience levels are welcome!
The Shared history of Yoga, Dance & Martial Arts with Eric Shaw 
Saturday, Date: 6/16/2012From: 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Eric Shaw will be lecturing for Soja's Summer lecture series: The Shared history of Yoga, Dance and Martial Arts Soja Member pre-registration price $20, or $25 @ door. Non-soja members pre-registration price $25 or $30 @ door. The Great Sage Bodhidharma is said to have traveled to from South India to China in the sixth century, where he taught Ch’an Buddhism and fighting arts to the monks at Shaolin. In the Kerala region he came from, they practice Kalaripayattu, a martial art that is also used by dancers to prepare for the stage. This is only one of many connections in the historical lineage, structure and purposes of these three practices. Come learn the complex story of their rich interweaving in Asian history from ancient days to our living moment, in this presentation rich with images.


Daoism and the Martial Arts: What is Emptiness?

Lecture Series (2)

Daoism and The Martial Arts:

"What is Emptiness?"

21701773_godWhat are the uses of emptiness?

Why was emptiness sought after by generals, princes, actors, exorcists, daoist hermits, fengshui masters, poets, judges, martial artists, and weavers?

Could emptiness mean being really, really relaxed?  Or could it refer to becoming a container?  If so, a container for what?

What is the difference between an empty body and an empty mind?

If becoming empty is a good thing, how is it applied?

Does qigong, yogic daoyin or tai chi help with this stuff?

Is there more than one type of emptiness?

This talk will cover the latest research into these questions and more.
May 20th, 2012

East Bay Yoga Shala

Sunday, 10:30 AM

2050 4th Street

Berkeley, CA

Scott P. Phillips teaches traditional Chinese martial arts, which he began studying when we was 10 years old.  Instead of summer-camp, his parents sent him to a Buddhist monastery.  His life long study of history, spontaneity, and Daoism is a regular part of his teaching.

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.

Jibengong (Basic Work)

Dr. Ken Fish inspired a very interesting thread on Rum Soaked Fist which I’d like to draw readers attention to. (It takes a little while to get going and is up to 7 pages as I'm posting.) Fortunately, I’ve been banned from posting on the site without explanation. Frankly that’s a good thing because it required a lot of effort to monitor comments from people who regularly misunderstood and therefore freaked-out about comments I made.

Fish’s disturbing premiss is that the training secrets of Chinese martial arts masters are usually withheld at the beginning of a person’s training, not later after many years of study as is often assumed. By withholding certain types of intense, precise, and personally coached training at the beginning, a master can insure that a student stays forever at an intermediate level.

In other words, because of extensive sharing and the ease with which students change masters these days, many high level techniques have actually been written about and it has become quite possible to learn these methods, but without that more basic training these higher level techniques rarely if ever come to fruition.

It’s funny you know, from when I first started studying martial arts all the way into the early 90’s, if you wanted to insult a student from another school or someone else’s master, you would say, “You lack basic training, If you just go back and practice the basics you will have a chance of improving.” The standard retort to this insult was made famous by Bruce Lee, “You have offended my family and the Shaolin Temple, you must have grown weary of living.”

What is most striking about the thread is that Fish gives Jackie Chan as the best example of someone who has unequivocally had this basic training. He explains that the training is performative, it can be seen, and it is unmistakable. He then goes on to say repeatedly that anyone who has had professional level traditional Chinese Theater training has it, unequivocally. And that this basic training, ‘though quite rare in modern teachers of the arts, is widespread among all regional styles of Chinese theater and martial arts. (Which, I might add, should be a clue to understanding it’s origins.)

Naturally, I totally agree with him. But I would go further, I would say that a great number of higher level skills, concepts and training methods are directly accessible only through seeing the martial arts within a matrix of ritual-meditation and theater. Without accessing the original context, our only hope is reverse engineering.

In other words, you can’t just be tough, you have to act tough!

Bing Gong Bing Gong

Let me try to give readers a better idea of what this basic work (jibengong) is like by describing my own experience of learning it and trying to teach it. Kuo Lien-Ying was trained around the turn of the 20th Century in Beijing traditional theater arts, also known as Northern Shaolin. As the vicious mass movement to separate theater, religion and martial arts got underway, he moved into the martial arts camp, where he studied with many of the greatest artist of his time. He fled with the Kuomintang to Taiwan in ’49 and then came to America in the 1960’s where my first teacher, Bing Gong, became his top Shaolin student.

Studying with Bing was a profound experience and we became very close.

Ye Xiaolong Ye Xiaolong

The truth is that Bing, although he spoke very little, had a strong desire to pass on the essence of this art. But sadly, hardly anyone was willing to endure the training. He would have me do very simple movements over and over again in slightly different ways until my body permanently changed.

For instance, while I held the basic monk stance, (see image below) he would order me to make small adjustments or movements while he introduced various forms of resistance. There were many eventual ‘benefits’ to this. So for example, after a time I could move my knee high enough and integrate it into my structure well enough that I could use it to block kicks to my ribs.

Take another example from Shaolin. While doing the second line of Tantui (springy legs), which is a very straight forward punch, punch, punch-kick combination, Bing would have me freeze with my

Paulie Zink Paulie Zink

outstretched leg up above hip level. Then he would have me move it higher and he would test it for connection or integration in various ways. And then we’d do the same on the other side--over and over, day after day, week after week. Again, until the ability was permanent.

Bing also kicked me a lot. He wouldn’t tell me how to get into a stance, he would kick me into it. Although I can point to a lot of different learning methods that I have experienced over the years which could account for the gongfu in my legs, nothing else was really as profound as that.

As I’m sure readers can surmise, these things are not complex to teach or to learn, but actually getting the student to do the work is unusual. I guess I liked it when Bing kicked me because I never asked, “Why are you doing that?” nor did I respond emotionally by making a face as most students do. How do you explain to a student that they are not to make a face? Trying to explain it is like making a problem on top of a problem, it just doesn’t work.
I think anyone who has done professional dance training will understand this instinctively. As one of my dance teachers put it, “Some people know how to take corrections and some people don’t.”

I could say things about all of my teachers in regards to jibengong, but I’m just going to mention two more, the first is Ye Xiaolong. Geroge Xu brought Ye over from Shanghai one Spring in the early 90’s because George himself wanted to learn from him and they both taught class together. But then suddenly in late May, George got his long awaited “Green Card” and shortly there after he flew to Europe to teach. He left Ye by himself to teach classes in San Francisco and arranged for us to get him back and forth from his house to the park. But as there was no translation, only two of us came to class for the whole Summer. He taught us for 100 days, everyday for about 3 hours. We concentrated on about five exercises which we did over and over. Ye constantly had his hands on us, making corrections, pushing, resisting, kicking and saying, “Bu hao,” (no good). We actually did a lot of push hands too, but it was never competitive, it was done as a kind of cooperative power stretch. The effects were permanent.

Paulie Zink deserves a mention here also because I believe he is an international living treasure specifically because he has the worlds largest collection of jibengong. As he put it to me, “I don’t teach martial arts anymore because I have yet to find anyone who is willing to do the preliminary work.”

Monk Clears His Sleeve - stance Monk Clears His Sleeve - stance

The New Definition of Fascia

Josh Leeger turned me on to a series of articles which are using a new definition of Fascia.  This article is particularly worth reading:

Fascial Fitness: Fascia oriented training for bodywork and movement therapies, by Divo G. Müller and Robert Schleip.

Many people I've shown the article to have commented that one of the authors is into a painful type of bodywork called Rolfing, and they have suggested that the authors may have created a Rolfing centric view of fascia.  Strangely no one has pointed out that the other author is into Continuum, which is a very watery type of movement exploration.

You'll get the new definition of fascia by just reading the article, so I'm not going to try to nail it down, but  readers should know that the old definition was a description of the clear or translucent film that surrounds all muscle.  The new definition includes tendon and ligament and sees all that juicy stuff as a single organ.

Whatever, right?  But what is important about this new article, and this new approach, is that it uses clinical language and conforms to kinesiology standards.  Until now there was no clinical explanation of how external martial arts work that any of us could use when talking to a physical therapist.  That's going to be a big change.

Fascia? Fascia?

The article explains that tendons and ligaments themselves can take load and can spring.  What the authors don't seem to understand is that it is through the natural spirals of the body that all of these soft tissues function together.  They don't seem to realize that the reason they are getting these springy dynamic results from slow holistic lengthening is because their method builds on these underlying spirals.  Spirals are there in shortened positions too, as anyone who does whole body tie-up and throw techniques (think: Aikido) can tell you.

So, it's a good start.  It primarily deals with what we call in both internal and external martial arts, "the foundation."  That is the ability to get in and out of a range of deep, long, loaded, and spiraled stances while using smooth (wood), explosive (fire), fluid (water), and hard-solid (metal) movement qualities.  "The foundation" is what I usually refer to in this blog as "jing training," the first level of internal martial arts.  It is also commonly referred to in martial arts lingo as "the benefits of good structure."

The authors lose a few points in my book at the end of the article when they say this training, "should not replace muscular strength work, cardiovascular training, and coordination exercises."  That statement muddies the issue.  All that stuff is just included in basic Shaolin, it's already complete.  If we are building this "foundation" for learning Tai Chi, Bagua, or Xinyi, then we are going to leverage these underlying spirals to allow us to reduce muscular "strength" and discard the torso tension usually associated with "coordination exercises."

The author, however, should get extra credit for hinting at methods for developing higher levels of internal martial arts.  For instance, take the "ninja principle" all the way out, and the body becomes so light and quiet that our experience of the physical body becomes totally empty (xu).  Or take the idea of fluid movement all the way out, and ones habits of coordination and resistance become baby-like, unconditioned (ziran).

The Proprioceptive Refinement section of the article is the most interesting.  They discuss the, "need to limit the filtering function of the reticular formation."  This refers to a part of our brain which we can train to pay attention to certain kinds of nerve stimuli and ignore others.  Muscles transmit information slowly, that's why we need to turn them off and pay attention to other stimuli-- and that's the very mechanism which can make it is so easy to manipulate someone who is, in martial arts lingo, "too stiff."  Eventually we want to turn off most of our 'inside the body sensors' and turn on most of our 'outside the body sensors.'   The authors correctly identify the problems with doing any movement exactly the same way over and over, namely that we become insensitive to small errors which then become habituated.  This is why it is so important that our forms are empty! By cultivating emptiness, our movement is unconditioned by our mind.  On the other hand, always thinking about a specific and exact application of a technique, will turn us into robots.

Qi has no memory!  To practice martial arts with qi is to be continuously spontaneous.

To quote the Daodejing:
To be preserved whole, bend.

Upright, then twisted;

To be full, empty.

What is worn out will be repaired.

Those who have little, have much to be gained.  Having much, you will only be perplexed!


Fascia? Fascia?