New Blogging Routine

I'm going to try to write a new post every other day for a few weeks.  Since I'm new in Boulder there are probably new people reading, and I want get into a new routine.  

I've done a bunch of updates to other parts of the website, with more to come and I'm open to suggestions reader might have for changes or new pages.

I've been working on a paper that is going to be delivered at the end of the month at the Daoist Conference in Boston.  I'm excited about it.  Adam D. Frank wrote an interesting book about 10 years ago and here is a review of it by a friend of mine who is a growing figure in the field of Anthropology.  If you track down to numbered paragraph 10, you can read the justification for my paper.  I spent 4 days talking to Georges so perhaps I had an influence on him but mostly I just think we think alike.  My paper is called Cracking the Code: Taijiquan as Enlightenment Theater.

As Ben Judkins noted, D.S. Farrer has a bunch of interesting stuff on, which is a great site, as is Dissertation Rewiews.

I've been thinking a lot about how I want to structure my classes and how to charge for teaching.  This rather boring article actually raises many of the basic questions.  His point about me needing to choose exactly what I'm teaching is probably correct.  I should probably institute some mandatory introductory classes too.  But there are two basic problems I have that he doesn't address.  (1) I don't believe there is any inherent order to the subject and I believe that all the normally discrete subjects from improv theater to baguazhang to meditation benefit from being presented in a common milieu--as a single megasubject.  (2) Hardly anyone with the free time to study with me in depth has the money to pay me what I'm worth.  The author of that article seems to think that if he just raises his prices students will be paying him what he is worth, I don't think it is possible to pay me what I'm worth using the model of monthly dues. I'm looking seriously at models whereby people who care about the arts can make a donation to the preservation and promotion of the arts on a 5 to 25 year scale. I'd love to hear peoples thoughts on these issues.

I read these two articles on Yoga, the first is funny, if like me you have been following the yoga is ours debate.

Ghosts of Yoga Past and Present 

Of course the idea of owning artistic expression in someone else's body is absurd, and the author seems completely blind to the fantastically liberating forces of international commerce, but it is fun anyway.

This article: 

Gender Justice Bla, Bla, Bla, actually incoherent unless you have a very sharp Occam's Katana handy.  But she does raise a very interesting question about the reasons soccer-mom/professionals are choosing to do constantly changing disciplined workouts that are short on play.  Why are they choosing so much structure over games and fun?  It is apparently what a lot of people want, and I see many of the same traits in children who generally seem to find being on a very short leash deeply emotionally satisfying.  The article has too much dross in it to come to any clear conclusion but there is something interesting going on.  As mothers have come to be masters of their childrens' "playdates" they seem to have created the same thing for themselves, but without the play.  Is it new? Is there anyway to track adult seriousness vs. playfulness over time?

And lastly, I think fish is very healthy food and I'm very excited to learn that fish prices are about to fall through the floor.  If other things, like housing prices for instance, were to drop too life on earth might just become too easy! Don't read these last two links if you are uncomfortable with the idea that life is getting better all the time do to commercial prowess.  I call this the green washing solution.  These links have nothing to do with martial arts, but they do have to do with Tantric ideas about enlightenment, and that is part of what I'm teaching these days. Below is Manjushri the deity for cutting through styles of teaching, which my students and my wife tell me is my patron saint.  

Some Thoughts for the Wood Horse Year 2014

For the wood horse year I'm planning something really big, but I'm about to go into solo retreat for a month in the Sierra Nevada first.

The workshop last weekend went really well, basically my theory is that what I've been doing with kids will work even better with adults.  Conditioning not learning.

I have a bunch of links I wanted to share, so here they are.  

The first one is kind of whatever, but I learned that the classic Bruce Lee movie Fists of Fury (remade by Jet Lee), is called Jingwu in Chinese.  Jingwu means Pure Martial, it was the name of the political martial arts movement that was essentially an exorcism of all the yin stuff in martial arts like ground fighting and magic.  

Dog style is one of the surviviors of that purge.  Check it out.  Dogs and pigs were the very lowest status animals, so it is hard to imagine someone wanting to do such a style unless it was a joke, or they themselves were super low status in the society and they were claiming a kind of reverse awesomeness.

This was how some of it came back in a flood in the 1980's, great pictures of Qigong Fever.

This is an awesome return of the pre-20th Century martial arts narrative culture, unfortunately it got removed, a commenter says that seen from the other side there is a beaver visible.  

This is a fun idea for martial artists, con-men and actors alike.

If you are signed up with you can get a copy of D.S. Farrer's $200 book Shadows of the Profit: Sufi Mysticism and the Martial Arts, for free as download.  It is about Silat, and looks very interesting.  So does the 45 minute video that goes with it!

And this is just a freaky image of the future for no particular reason.

Enjoy the ride!


Martial Arts of the Mind

Martial arts as a route to enlightenment is a subject I have written about some in the past, and I'm working a bunch of new material into my book.  But this is a pretty great summary of some of the issues, awesome really, Ling Gesar.  The links are easy to follow from there too.

And the Placebo effect is always on my radar.  This is a link to a study by the star of placebo research most people know as the author ofThe Web That Has No Weaver , Ted Kaptchuk.

Basically the new spin on placebo is that it works, so we should use it.  The why and how it works is, at this point, still only explainable via religion (A former stepfather of allopathic medicine I suppose). This is true of the mind in general.  The arrogance of science, or scientism if you prefer, or rational modernity, whatever, simply does not have a metaphor that adequately explains either the mind or consciousness.   We are not really robots or computers or computer-like monkeys. We are what we are, or, as Popeye was fond of quoting Torah:  I yam what I yam.  

I also heard a metaphor people might like to consider.  You know how we talk about twenty year olds who can call in 3 laser guided smart bombs in like 10 minutes in Afghanistan at like a million dollars a pop?  Well that's what it is like for Doctors in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).  They are calling in smart bomb medicine every time they push a button, like a million dollars a pop.  If you've been to the ICU, whether you are a pauper or a prince, you are now probably worth more than the Six Million Dollar Man!  And all the savings we can pile up in every other type of medicine will be used up in two days in the ICU. And it is getting more expensive everyday because they are inventing new machines all the time.  And yes, most of that money gets spent on people at the very end of their lives.  I don't know, it seems like this ought to lead to some moral discussion here.  Like perhaps we could pay people to wear Do not resuscitate wrist bands?  Or at least give them a tax break?

I've been working through some vocabulary problems, "popular" religion vs. "village" religion, verses the clerical lineages, verses text based traditions, verses movement based traditions...anyway, I like the term "temple religion" and when I Googled it I got "temple culture" and a video from my friend Fabian who does wonderful work:

My father recently linked to this article about Aging Baby Boomers in the Housing Market.  Over the next 3-5 years we are going through a massive inversion!  Retired people will suddenly out-number working people by a large ratio.  The ratio just started flipping out!  Consensus housing, consensus religion, consensus rock, consensus exercise, consensus marriage, education, medicine, crime, and consensus marital arts--it's all flipping out!  It's going to change big and change fast.  What do you think? 

United States birth rate (births per 1000 population).[3] The United States Census Bureau defines the demographic birth boom as between 1946 and 1964[4] (red).


Live Blogging 3

Very excited about my new secret weapon.  It is called plunger power.  But of course I can not reveal much more than the name.  It makes you back away while making me more healthy!  

George Xu was talking this morning about this poem (at the bottom)

And mysteriously yesterday and today they are discussion the same guy Song Shuming on Rum Soaked Fist!

Song, actually claimed that poem and a bunch more that I have yet to find, were written by a famous daoist he was directly descended from, Song Yuanqiao.  But on closer examination this Song Yuanqiao was most likely known because he was in a Wuxia (martial arts) novel!

Fun stuff.  I hope we find the full text. And if anyone knows more about a real historical figure called Song Yuanqian or has read the novel, please help us out in the comments below!  

Also I ordered this book:  

Green Peony and the Rise of the Chinese Martial Arts Novel (Suny Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture) 
Wan, Margaret B.; Paperback 


Update: Found the novel--

Masters of Out of Body Mis-Perception

I'm in Taos, fires on all four sides.  The roads are open at the moment, but the forest locations are mostly closed.  I guess I'll spend a few days here on the Rio Grande.  I spent yesterday rafting and kayaking down the river.  I seem to have come to a point where I have committed to not spending more than a few minutes thinking about where I might go next.  Why spend the time if it is going to be on fire anyway?  Perhaps there are other reasons.  Anyhow, this article is stimulating:

I am fast changing my views about all martial arts.  Well, fast isn't the correct word, but I'm beginning to see martial arts in an even more theatrical way than I have in the past.  I'm beginning to see it as magic.  Yes, the woo woo type.  Why? because the best skills rely on mis-perception and mis-direction.  In my mind it is still high art, high skill, beauty, athletic, real fighting mastery.  Know your opponent better than he knows himself.  

We Need A Name

I would like to draw all of my readers’ attention to Ben Judkins’ blog Kung Fu Tea.  He began posting in August of 2012 and now has a large number of posts on what he calls martial studies.  When I started reading his posts I immediately knew I had found a kindred spirit; a seriously trained martial artist (Wing Chun) who was open to viewing contemporary Chinese martial arts as having emerged from a milieu which embedded them in ritual, theater, music, and other complex social and religious phenomena.  (We need a name for this type of view/study/project.)

I quickly sent Ben an email introducing myself and then I called Daniel Mroz at the University of Ottawa.  Daniel teaches Theater using Choi Lifut and Chen style Taijiquan as the basic training.  Or perhaps, if one accepts the premise of this blog, he teaches Chinese Martial Arts from its theatrical base.  Anyway, I excitedly asked Daniel if he wanted to help me organize an academic conference, and with his help we quickly made out a list of scholars and experts we hoped to invite.  (We need a name for this conference)

That week I had a wonderful talk with Ben on the phone.  His focus is the Southern area around Hong Kong and mine has tended to be the North of China, so he had a number of interesting reading suggestions that I have been plowing my way through.  The conversation also opened me up to thinking more broadly about the spread of martial arts theater (so called opera) outside of China.  Look at this Wiki page on Bruce Lee’s father-- he was in 86 films!


Ben Judkins’ current post is about Bandits, Eunuchs, and the Son of Heaven, Rebellion and the Economy of Violence in Mid-Ming China  by David M. Robinson, (which I reviewed here).  My paper, Theater, Ritual and Exorcism in Chinese Martial Arts (download the pdf), relies heavily on Robinson’s book in places and so I read Judkins’ current post as thoughtful feedback of my own work.  I just want to respond to it here briefly.

Judkins’ draws a distinction between two ways of looking at history, “rational choice” and “thick description.”  It is a wonderful discussion.  He makes a very good case that there is an event (the Opera Rebellion) which was foundational in the creation of the modern martial arts of Wing Chun, Choi Lifut, and possibly a few others.  He posits that people made rational choices which drove that event.  I think he would agree that we still can’t know very much about why the martial arts turned out the way they did without a "thicker" description, perhaps including a discussion of the way rituals are used and physically embodied to remember events inside or outside of normal histories.  

I would invoke Mary Douglas’ How Institutions Think , and say that there is deep continuity within the ritual and theatrical aspects of martial arts training which effect memory, values, and ways of knowing, even across cultures and stretches of time.  So here I suppose I am going further a field then Geertz’s “thick description.”  I am studying  me, and people like me, who have discovered themselves inside a cultural milieu, not just agents of a “thick” description but something with more space, more volume. (We need a name for this)

For instance in teaching Baguazhang’s single palm change I use many different metaphors to embed the movement with meaning.  I can spontaneously come up with a hundred utilitarian technical “applications” of single palm change, but I know that students don’t learn the “real” single palm change that way.  Metaphors transmit complex kinesthetic ideas like being asocial without an agenda.  Yesterday I attempted to communicate this to a student by telling her the story of Musashi and Benkei, in which Benkei in his last breath says, “Thank you” to Musashi for having just broken the rules of the duel and killing him with his short sword.  Then I said, “Offer your arms as if you are the old warrior Benkei thanking Musashi for killing you.” Sometimes I use material from Daoist Ritual, it depends on the student and the situation.  Another student, who is a doctor, came to me one day and said, “I figured out how to practice single palm change.  I imagine I am delivering a premature baby from the mother to the intubation table.  These babies are extremely slippery and small and they haven’t breathed yet so they have to be moved and placed quickly, but with perfect balance and softness.”  

That student’s description of delivering a baby (actually more than a hundred babies) is emotionally intense, physically refined, spatially alive, and socially meaningful.  If bagua is done as ritual emptiness, it both accumulates and resolves kinesthetic memories like this one.  In fact, that is actually what you do when you fight with it.  

Perhaps this is a longer discussion than I set out to have but I wanted to say this:  Rather than framing “the project” as thinking about causes and events in history, or specific milieus which nurtured or influenced the martial arts, I would like to think about the martial arts we know and follow strands of thought and movement and experience and knowledge back through time and space.  I suppose in a way I want to reverse engineer history, ethnology, and religion. (We need a name for this)


Judkins’ previous three posts are about Peter A. Lorge’s book Chinese Marital Arts From Antiquity to the Twenty-First Century, published by Cambridge University Press.  I picked this book up about a year ago while on the UC Berkeley campus.  When I got home I sat down with a big expectant grin (Cambridge Yea!) and read the Introduction.  Then I stood up, threw the book in the air and did a spinning double back kick, knocking it across the room where it smashed into the wall.  I then ran to my bed and screamed into my pillow for three hours, at which point I sat up quickly read the rest of the book and then called Daniel Mroz (this is his blog--and this is his book! ) and begged him to convince me to not write a review of it.  Which he did.

To my delight Judkins has reviewed the book and found kind and scholarly ways to say most of the things I was going to say through my teeth.  What a great ally!

I realized after thinking about it for a few months that if there had been no Introduction and the book had been titled Key Innovations in the Development of Warfare in North Asia, and he had used the words warfare or combat all the way through the text I would have been delighted to find the handful of golden nuggets in there. But it is not a book about martial arts, the nuggets are there because the subjects have some small overlap.

I also realized, with time, that his introduction very clearly lays out the antithesis of what I think the subject is.  Which is helpful!  Lorge rejects the quest for authenticity in the martial arts and the importance of naming-- two things I believe are indispensable.

I used to teach high school students and I’ve had quite a lot of students who were in street gangs.  These kids had been taught how to fight.  They had done a lot of what I would call adrenalized scenario training.  Most of it on each other, but some of it on people they targeted as victims or rival gangs.  They knew how to spar, some dirty wrestling, how to use elements from the environment to advantage (including weapons) and how to fight effectively as a group.  But they had no martial arts skill.  Period. 

In that same vein Lorge attempts to make a distinction between the aesthetics of violence and all other aesthetic considerations.  While it is true that people will search Youtube to watch gang fights or violent crimes being committed as entertainment, I don’t see how a practitioner of martial arts can confuse that with the performance of martial arts.

Aesthetics, authenticity and naming can be challenging issues to discuss, but they are also essential issues.  


So, in keeping with the title of this post, we need a name for this project.  I don't have it yet, so I'm looking for feedback.  Here are some rough stabs at it:  

Milieu Martial Arts (MMA) ha ha...

Situational Loci of Aesthetical Fighting and Performance Studies

Apophatic Kinesiological Ethnographical Martial Investigations through Time

Ritual Martial Theater Confluence Studies of History and Ethnology

Reverse Engineering Martial Arts and Performance

Normalizing Martial Arts Expertise through the study of Violence, Markets and Theatricality

Martial Arts Ritual Studies

Very Thick Ritual Martial Arts Performance and Historical Re-visioning.  

Embodied Martial Artists Reclaiming Ritual Theater as Historic Memory (EMARRTAHM)




Hat tip to Rick Matz over at Cook Ding's Kitchen:

I recommend this article in the Wall Street Journal by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  What Taleb says has interesting implications for martial arts training.  I'd love to hear what my readers think of this.  Here is his book, which I'm planning to read over the holidays. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder


Also, this article may be useful for getting us to think about how we condition ourselves.  What is the right metaphor here?  Is this a tough nut to crack or have we just discovered a few pieces of the puzzle?

Lost Knowledge

I love this video because when you see it done right you instantly realize that everyone else is doing it wrong.  
How did this type of knowledge get lost?  Did a generation of archers go to their graves bemoaning the advent of the gun?  Or did pieces of knowledge get peeled off bit by bit over time?  It is also amazing that this knowledge can suddenly go viral on Facebook and everyone interested in the subject gets to see it right away.  The inventor guy doesn't even have to get famous.
backwards complexityI went to the Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City last week.  The sandals and shoes of native Americans caught my eye because there was an exhibit of backwards complexity, the oldest shoes 1500 BP (Before Present) were the most intricate and developed while the 500 BP ones were kind of shabby.  There were also some 1600 BP boots that had been re-produced to look like a sweet pair of waterproof Uggs.
I hear my musician friends complain that, yes digital is great, it has so much potential, but people mostly listen to small files that filter out all the complexity and detail in the sound.  
I'm not romantic about this.  I don't think we all need to live in houses with hand made nails!  Then again, hand made nails are pretty cool. The "global market" seems to be providing us with a lot of choices lately.
Lifestyle, diet, health, birthing and dying; what did our ancestors have that we have lost? what are we losing right now that we take for granted? what are we discovering or re-discovering right now?  what will the future bring?
Again, the video is shocking because it is so obvious, now.  But there must have been a generation for whom it was not obvious.
I feel like I've made a lot of progress with this blog.  When I started out, there was a lot of resistance to the idea that martial arts and theater are siblings of the same family.  That the skills of fighting and the skills of acting and dancing and improvising and playing music and performing exorcism and mediation and trance all fit together.  Now-a-days, some people I meet look at me like I'm crazy when I explain what my blog is about--like duhhh, everybody already knows that.  
But of course it's not that simple, most people can say it without being able to see it.  
But I'm excited, I think internal martial arts are going to make a big new splash soon.  Call it the fourth wave.  The first wave was hippy inspired, "go with the flow."  The second was exercise is too painful but I'm a yuppie so I do "qigong for health and fitness."  The third arose from the ashes of the historical post Boxer "New Life" and "Pure Martial" nationalist movements having seduced a generation of utilitarian "Westerners" into believing that martial artists of the past were all professional fighter dudes, we'll call it the "I wish I could kick your ass with qi" movement.  The fourth wave is going to be totally different.  People will step into training environments, total body mind awareness lifestyles.  Like sacred cities or holy mountains, but with free wifi and capracocoa.* It will be called the "Oh, That's how it works!!!" movement.  
If you are in or near the San Francisco Bay Area, please come to my workshop this Sunday at Soja.  See for yourself what fourth wave internal martial arts are all about!
*(hot chocolate made with fresh goat's milk--do try it)


Thogs are unfinished thoughts.  I could let these percilate for a few weeks and perhaps they would turn into full on thoughts, but I've got lot's of other matterial to slice and dice so I'll just toss these ones to the crowd.  


First up, Neanderthal Martia Arts!  Yes, I know what you are thinking, MMA right?  But no I mean the real thing.  And there are some intreging links about pre-historic giants with popeye arms in the article if you get into it.  


Then there is Camille Paglia, always a hoot.

My friend Elijah Siegler writing about David Cronenberg and Religion.

This intersting website of temptation.  How do I get a copy of this?


According to Stanley Fish, there are two types of intellegence, Foxes and Hedgehogs.  Hedgehogs are experts in one thing, one type of thinking.  Foxes are broad thinkers who know a little about a lot of things.  The problem is our current era is creating a lot of fake foxes and imposter hedgehogs!  When you can Facebook-google-Youtube-blog your knowledge it is possilbe to appear to have a type of intellegence you don't really have, at least for a few minutes.  True foxes are very rare.  What is the implication of this for matial arts?


Look, a free book on Taoist Alchemy!


If the toughest things about fighting happen after the fight, what can we do to prepare for this?  Does this question lead to a good explanation for the development of internal martial arts and their connection to meditation?


Vector force from the ground to the point of impact does not contribute to mass unity.  We just can’t get away (whether thinking about avoiding self injury or fighting) from the idea that mass plus velocity equals force.  The larger and more unified the mass, the less it has to gain in velocity to effect an equal amount of force.  Momentum is mass plus acceleration, acceleration is the rate which velocity increases over time, so the more mass unity, the less time or velocity is necessary to exert the same amount of force.  Therefore:  Pushing off the ground with the foot reduces power if it reduces mass unity, which it does if force travels along a line (or a curve) through the body.