Water Yoga

I went to an Acro-Yoga class the other day.  It was fun, lots of young people excited about learning movement.  The funny thing is everything we did in the class was actually the same as the acrobatics I learned in my 20's.  They have just tacked the word yoga on the end.  Cool?

So that got me thinking about Paulie Zink's comment to Paul Grilley that ended up inventing Yin Yoga.  Zink basically said something to the effect that yoga is too yang and it needs to be balanced by yin.  Practically speaking from the five element theory that frames Daoyin, most yoga is heavy on the wood element (naturally extending and growing) and also on the metal element (strength and holding poses or shapes).  He suggested adding the earth element which is very relaxed stillness for extended periods of time.  Earth practice is good for meditation and goes deep into the ligaments.  It is a very individual practice because at that level of relaxation we are all structurally diverse.  That is what modern Yin Yoga adds to the practice.  

So I was looking at the Yoga calenders for various local studios in Boulder and I noticed that some of them were having like one or two days of Yin Yoga a week.  That makes a lot of sense to me.

Then I noticed that they had Kundalini Yoga one or two days a week too.  (My wife went to a Kundalini class and loved it so I think we are going to be a mixed household for the near future.)  Kundalini is the fire element that the standard Yoga class is missing.  Smart.

I know that there is Yoga and then there is Yoga!  Like people are doing all sorts of experiments and I think that is great.

But that still leaves out the element of water.  Modern Yoga is still weak on the water element.

The basic partner acrobatics we were doing has one person being the "base" supporting the other person being the "flyer."  Learning the role of "base" involves strenght and range of power exercises while weighted.  That is the metal element again.  Being the "flyer" means having a very relaxed fluid body so that one can balance in the air on the "base." That is the water element.

But as the "flyer" gets better he/she actually becomes very strong and able to hold powerful shapes in the air, while the "base" becomes more fluid and able to do the balancing for the "flyer," dynamically moving the "flyer"  around to different positions.  They switch back and forth between metal and water, metal and water--or in Daoist alchemical terms between cinnabar, mercury and gold.  This type of theater is, after all, an enlightenment teaching tradition.

So anyway, I'm thinking about trying to teach straight Daoyin to the Yoga world and perhaps I can explain it via the metaphor of adding more of the water element to practice.  As I'm fond of saying, "Your downward dog needs to wiggle its tail and scamper around the room!"



Conditioning vs. Learning

I picked up a few different types of outlining software/apps and I'm wondering if it is a good way to produce blog posts.  The theory being that many people actually want to read an idea in outline form, so they can skip to the parts of a text that most interest them.  I think some of my best blog posts have been outlines or frameworks for thinking about larger issues.

  • people get older
    • I'm 46.  There are so many old injuries.  So many ways I've changed my training and movement over the centuries to accommodate damage, love lost, birth defects, growth defects, public face-plants, and failed experiments.  Annoyingly, there are a number of movement experts I've heard lately who when asked about aging answer: "don't get old."  I think that is a lame answer.  Fun people have more rough spots than they can count.  
  • we are broken,
    • I'm a bit broken, this is the first time I've ever injured both knees at the same time. And I injured my lower back too. The healing process has been hap-hazard. I've made progress numerous times only to relapse or create a new problem. I'm an optimist, so if anytime over the last 7 months you asked me, I'd be like, "Hey, I'm healing up pretty well."  Optimism is what people turn to when reality gets in their way.  I'm conditioned to say it, and think it. Intellectually I know it is a bit flawed. But I am also quite optimistic that my current trajectory is really great. That may be part of my self-conditioning to be a teacher. You can't go out and teach today if you think it is going to make you less able to teach next week.
    • But I'm really not kidding, I am totally optimistic about the training I'm doing now. And the embarrassing part of it is that I'm doing some strength training.
    • I think I understand what muscles are supposed to do better than I ever did before. And it is making me a lot more conservative. Not in the, "limit your range" sense, but in the "what shapes should my body be able to attain" sense. Also I'm giving less value to relaxation. Here is why:
    • I think that for any type of conditioning there is a hormone cocktail that is ideal. In other words, if I can trigger the correct hormone cocktail in my body, it will condition itself. Train itself. My body knows what to do. It knows what feedback to seek, it knows what will work. Relaxation as a hormone response is superior to the other types.  That is why I'm going back to the training I had in my early 20's, because I was so unconscious of what I was doing it had to be 90% conditioning anyway.
  • we are often limited by age 7
    • I've spent a lot of time teaching more than a 1000 kids.  Some kids at age 7 (I was one of them) are not able to walk into class and do a full bottom-on-ankles squat.  Most are able to do it as easily as smoking a cigarette or talking on a cell phone.  Some can do a full monkey squat which involves partially dislocating their hip sockets in a squat so that their bottom repositions between their ankles on the floor.  Actually I could make long lists of all the cool stuff outlier 7 year olds can do.  And, I believe that if you give me 7 year olds with very little natural ability, I can still get them doing amazing things.  
  • we can overcome many limits
    • When I started dancing I had no natural flexibility or rhythm, I could however, jump high and I did have superior energy and endurance.  I learned to do the splits, on the floor, in the air, upside down, and sideways.  I also learned one handed handstands, bridges, back walkovers, and handsprings.  And with all that I still couldn't get into a full squat long enough to smoke a cigarette or make a phone call.  We are not all the same.  Because I thought doing pistols and squats were important I pushed myself to figure it out, and eventually, after years of trying, I developed the ability to do a full squat.  But honestly it never became easy.  A lot of the handbalancing stuff was really difficult for me too because I have very little flexion in my wrists.  No exercise I have ever found improved my wrist range.  It still sucks just as much as the day I started.  
  • even if we can overcome major limits, there will be a price to pay
    • I used to say the definition of qigong is whatever you do such that your work/play doesn't leave a mark on your body.  Everywhere I pushed my body to go beyond what it naturally wanted to do, there is a mark.  That's okay, we can push our bodies to do amazing and insanely fun stuff, but there is price.  
  • any solution is temporal
    • All the magical body training I have done has an expiration date on it.  If it improves something, if it fixes something, if it makes something right; it will eventually become the wrong thing to do.  
  • my knowledge, incredible as it is, is contingent on the unknowable
    • I'm speaking here about my ability to train other people.  The more I know, the more I know about what I don't know.  I have always been honest with students about the limits of my knowledge, but experience keeps showing me that the bigger subject is always going to be what I don't know.  As a teacher I want to burn all the "how to" books! 
  • Learning is over rated. 
    •  Why? Because it is conditioning that sets up what we can learn. If you are not conditioned to be curious, you must rely on love and fear to motivate learning. There is a chapter of the Daodejing that explains this.  (The best kind of teacher is like a shadowy presence....the next best uses love, then fear, and finally she just hacks at you!) For some reason unknown to me, most people stop being able to learn in adulthood. This accounts for why people try to hold on to jobs and status and other failed ideas.  It explains why the catch word of my generation is sustainability. So goes the fashion, I go the other way.
  • I'm conditioned to delight in the chaos of not-knowing.
    • I have no way on my own of knowing if my training is a good long term strategy for a given success. The beauty of learning a classical art, from an older person, who learned it from an older person, is the hope that the flawed training strategies would have been throw out at some time over the generations. But it should also be obvious that in an open society there ought to be better ways to come by "better ways to train."
  • All of this has led me to looping. 
    • I'm experimenting with the training I got as a dancer in my early 20's. It is informed, oh boy, oh boy, is it informed by the years, but it is also the same old stuff my body got good at first. There is some trust there I guess.  Or maybe I'm going backwards in hope of getting back to the very beginning before I ever started learning.  
  • In my optimism I see this new way, this spontaneous way.  I see a way to use pure inspiration.  A pathless path.  

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.  

Dantian Disease

One of the most interesting discussions from Internal Martial Arts Summer Camp was about Dantian* Disease.  Now, at first blush one is likely to surmise this is a euphemism for being fat.  But actually it was about the specific types of work related injuries internal martial artists get.  

Some weird image from the internet demonstrating a bulging dantianFirst we need to put aside the over eating issue.  Any athlete who trains very hard when they are young is going to consume large amounts of food.  Most athletes who fail to improve the efficiency of their movement before age 30, get too injured to continue.  An athlete who succeeds at improving the efficiency of his movement, must significantly reduce the amount of food he eats by the age of 35 or he will begin gaining a lot of weight.  While reducing food intake is certainly an act of will, it does not require an act of will power.  As movement becomes more efficient, appetite naturally diminishes.  It is quite simply the result of paying attention.

We are also not discussing body type here.  All the various body types have intrinsic beauty.

As a person develops internal power (neijin), several changes take place in the body.  First of all, the legs do more of the work and the arms do less.  Secondly the muscles that run up and down the back closest to the spine become stronger.  These muscles are balanced by the iliopsoas muscles which travel in front of the pelvis from the mid- and lower back to the insides of the legs. The softer, and more relaxed one is in the upper body the more efficiently, and effectively internal power is expressed through these muscles and other adjacent muscles as well.  

The problem arises because the particular quality of muscle that develops is very dense, it becomes progressively more tendon like.  The thicker and denser a tendon is, the more elastic power it stores.  Like a strong bow that is very difficult to draw, once it is fully drawn it has immense shooting power.  His type of muscle must be lengthened everyday otherwise it will put pressure on the lower back.

Of course the lower back can actually handle an enormous amount of pressure.  But over long periods of time, or after some minor injury temporarily makes whole body lengthening difficult, the spinal discs can become compressed.  This compression causes the belly, casually referred to as “the lower dantian,” to stick out!

Compression almost always produces some pain, but we have wildly different sensitivities to pain, as well as mechanisms for coping with it.  Most people can ignore minor pain for years on end with out any trouble at all.  Especially in a case like this where there can be substantial benefits in the way of power.

So, how does one fix this problem? this internal occupational hazard? How does one reduce a bulging dantian?  By simply and completely conforming to Daoist precepts; cultivate weakness and emptiness

*Note: The term dantian, is literally cinnabar field.  It refers simultaneously to a long list of concepts.  In external alchemy (early chemistry), the composite substance cinnabar was supposed to be refined into mercury and then into gold and other rare elements.  In internal alchemy, mixed qi and jing are distilled and then refined into shen (spirit?) which is then refined into xu (emptiness).  The term could metaphorically refer simply to a place where change takes place.  Tian by itself simply means a field, but the pairing of cinnabar with a field implies a large outdoor space where ritual transformation or rectification takes place.  In martial arts the dantian most often refers to the lower third of the torso simultaneously as a location and a function of centralized organization or coordination for the storing and releasing of force.  There are other areas occasionally referred to as dantians, for instance the head is sometimes called the upper dantian in reference to its role in inner alchemy.  Three dantians an upper lower and middle is also conventional, and some would even venture that the whole body is a dantian.

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?

Theory and Metaphor in Martial Arts

I’ve been trying to write about theory for a few weeks.  The problem is simple, but explaining the problem is not. The problem is that martial arts theories are built on metaphors.  Notice that in the previous sentence we have three metaphors.  “Built” is the most obvious one here, implying that a foundation is laid followed by a construction project.  Another metaphor in the sentence is “problem,” implying perhaps a puzzle requiring contemplation, or alternately an agent causing systematic disruption.  In addition we have “martial” and “arts” nagging for explication, “martial” implying war, and “arts” implying the harnessing of beauty while piling up skills.   

But if we look back at that sentence the most challenging term is “metaphors.”  All theory is built on metaphors, mental constructs in place of actual experiences.  Someone might protest at this point that martial arts can only be based on physics.  But physics is made up of metaphors too; we are a liquid body of mass filled with solids of various densities, structured along lines of potential force and contained by a semi-porous wrapping with an elastic surface tension.  To make that description of the human body useful in martial arts practice it has to be both simplified and abstracted so that possibilities and probabilities can be measured and predicted.  It is a lot more efficient and useful to just say, “Your finger on the end of your arm is the pool cue, and his eye is the ball.”

Metaphors are always imperfect because kinesthetic experiences are far more complex than language.  I suppose someone might want to challenge that statement, but even if we could speak in a language as complex as kinesthetic experience it would have to be robust enough to survive the learning and testing process.  And then there are mundane concepts like communication breakdown.  

So it follows that if we clearly understand a metaphor and we diligently put it into practice, it will fail.  It will fail because it was imperfect to begin with.  It was an inaccurate description of form, method and fruition.  A quick example: Many martial arts schools use the metaphor of circulation, but all the substances which are known to circulate in the body circulate too slowly to be useful outside of passive processes.  If in this case circulate is meant to refer to forces from an opponent being returned to the opponent, the liquid aspect of the metaphor “circulate” is an inadequate description of the aspects of structure and mind necessary to accomplish this function.

The majority of Tai Chi classes are containers for the trivial.  I recently heard about a teacher who had created three “new” tai chi forms, one for diabetes, one for Alzheimer's, and one for Parkinson's disease.  My first thought was, “Wow, cute.”  No doubt there is some talismanic effect from self-selecting to learn and practice a form which has a specific health benefit.  Unless of course you are that person who thinks, “Hey, I did my my diabetes form today, bust out the triple chocolate cake!”

In most of these trivial classes the students simply follow the teacher through the form and get an occasional posture correction.  The same metaphors are repeated ad nauseum; relax, root, flow, spiral, sink, be stable like a mountain, flow like a river.   

The same is true for most martial arts classes.  There is very little metaphor analysis going on.  Some schools frown on talking in class at all.  Some students just want exercise, their base metaphor being, “I am a machine that gets rusty and needs motion and heat (oil?) to maintain optimal functioning.”  Some schools cater to parents metaphorical expectations that their child will become either a robotic fighting machine or a caring disciplined servant of all that is true and good.  Some schools take enormous pride in maintaining the same metaphors over time.  Some schools are proud of their simplicity, others of their clarity.  The more systematic the approach, the more entrenched the metaphors will be.  Rotary Engine

Thus, those of us who can actually think kinesthetically are constantly changing the metaphors we use.  We need to use one metaphor to test another.  The process involves continuously reformulating and refining the metaphors we use, while also pairing and juxtaposing them to birth new metaphors and kill off old ones.

The process of training should allow metaphors to be replaced by precise feelings and experiences.  But both the maintenance of skills as well as the teaching of skills requires that metaphors function as containers for kinesthetic knowledge.  The same is true for those metaphors which define our identity.  The freer we are, the freer we are to change and adapt the metaphors we live by.  

The identity piece is also important because the martial arts we practice transit between cultures which often have different deeply embedded metaphors which can act either as  lubricants or friction in the transmission of ideas.  (For example Chinese language posits that time is a man facing backwards, while English posits time is a man facing forwards.)

I know for sure that if a teacher can describe a kinesthetic experience with perfect clarity it is wrong and it will fail.  It may however, be very, very useful.  Lion's Head Meatballs

Playing with Majia and swords yesterday, she offered the metaphor that if you put your arm too far out to the side it will get ground up in a blender.  Metaphors are so much fun.  George Xu has a similar one; cut off your opponent’s arm with your spinning airplane propeller.  He has a whole bunch of new and unusual metaphors, as well as reformulated and recycled ones.  For instance, be a giant meatball hanging in the sky.  (I believe he is referring to Lion’s Head Meatballs, yum!)  Or, be a tree trunk falling on your opponent when you chop.  Also, use your rotary engine against his piston engine.  And, punch him with three heads and six arms while being empty like Romeo staring at Juliet as it begins to snow.  

Please share your favorite martial arts metaphors.

Cooling Gloves

There is some new technology coming our way from Stanford.  They claim it is better than steroids.  The article is excellent, please read the whole thing.  Temperature is the primary limitation on muscle performance and now they think they understand why and how to work around it.  Strength training is about to enter a new era.

In a previous post I outlined my new theory which posits that there are two categories of movement, energy efficient and power efficient.  

Power efficient movement doesn't make us sweat, it doesn't make us over heat, it doesn't give us sore muscles and it doesn't wear down the soft tissues of our bodies.  It can make us very tired, but we'll just want to find a place to lay down and sleep.  Like a cat.

Energy efficient movement allows us to walk or run for long periods of time.  It also allows us to work with our hands, carry things, and multi-task.  All these activities induce fatigue, pain, and stress.  At the risk of over simplifying I will venture that when we build muscle we are almost always doing it within an energy efficient framework.  Personal trainers have identified a long list of different types of muscle training and "conditioning" each requiring different regimes.  But repetition is the key.  We seem to be "made" for fatigue, pain, and stress because we adapt to it very easily.  Not only that, but in concentrated bursts it seems to improve our mood, and plays a significant social role in mate acquisition and status displays.  

The key to power efficient training, is to not trigger this adaptive response!  We still use repetition, but our key purpose is to refine a specific feeling and then take that feeling into more lively dynamic movement.  That "feeling" is a process of refining signals of awareness which allow us to glimpse or encircle that which has no feeling, true effortlessness.  

So we march off into this brave new world with "no limits" on adaptive capacity and with "no limits" imposed by fatigue or heat.  Where will this leave us?  How soon will we bash up against the new limits?  Because they are coming.  I'm not an expert or anything but one of the rules of systems theory is that if you speed up or improve the efficiency of just one part of a complex system, you slow the whole system down.  

I'm excited by the new possibilities, but I'm concerned that the kind of training I've been doing is drifting further away from the mainstream, not closer.  So much for the meeting of East and West.  Non-aggression, returning to stillness, and spontaneous naturalness won't disappear because we are the valley floor, but effort and aggression keep finding ways to climb higher.


(hat tip to Geoff)

Jewish Strong Man

This is an entertaining pod cast about a Joseph Greenstein, "The Might Atom."  

Here is some more about him.  He studied Jujitsu back in the day.  He also believed that most people stop themselves from being naturally powerful.  Here are some more stories.  There is a book too but it's $70 on Amazon so I'm going to wait until Hannukkah.  

Philosophy Is Often Too Weak

I picked up this book at the library last year and forgot to review it.  Such a great title: Martial Arts and Philosophy Beating and Nothingness, Edited by Graham Priest and Damon Young,  Vol. 53 in the Popular Culture and Philosophy® series.  

The sad truth is, I rarely find philosophy compelling.  I very much like live discussions where (my) ideas become the center of attention, so when philosophy is a voice in the mix it's fun. Nothing in this book struck me as novel or stimulating until yesterday when a student of mine graciously sent me a link to an article from the book.  In the context of a student taking an interest in the specific arguments of Gillian Russell I suddenly had a reason to reflect more deeply on them.

Here is the article.

And here is my response:  

If a person doesn't know the historical and religious origins of martial arts it is pretty easy to make unending categorical errors about the purpose of training, and to completely miss the fruition of practice.  If Gillian Russell were to come to class I think her mind would be blown.  If a person is completely unaware of what the fruition of weakness might be, how can he or she be expected to recognize that fruition when it appears?  If her methods require strength, then she is in a self-referential loop.  Are there really no down sides to strength in her experience? or is she simply ashamed of her own natural strength limitations?  
When we truly accept who and what we are, and appreciate our true nature the way it is--the result is freedom.  Why would we want to cover that up with strength unless we feared it?  (Or even weakness for that matter, as she laments a fellow student --and wannabe qi jock-- did.) 
Because we, as human beings, have yet to find the limits of what are, every method we teach is wrong.  Or rather, a method is only right in a particular context at a particular time to the degree which it serves to reveal something true.  Methods always have some fruition, the two are inseparably linked, but the fruition is not always what we expect.  We can never truly know the fruition of someone else's practice or what views they hold about themselves and the world.  We can only know what they communicate to us. 


As a footnote I would like to add that I often encounter martial artists that believe what they have been taught was the method itself; that a given method is the correct way to stand or move or execute a technique.  There are only three methods I'm aware of in which the method is the same as the fruition.  They are wildness, stillness, and emptiness.  Everything else is preliminary or apophatic.  Everything else is wrong.


Also as a footnote, because I mentioned philosophy, I have to say how disgusted I am by a show on NPR called "Philosophy Talk."  Their bad tasting tag line is, "We question everything except your intelligence."  Really?  Well it doesn't pan out because the hosts are so narrow minded and limited in their experience of both the real world and ideas that even when there is an interesting guest or topic they seem to squash it with their own pontificating.  Yesterday they were talking about the recent Citizen's United Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States.  They were completely oblivious to the pro-commerce arguments which obviously informed the majority of the court.  


OK, since I seem to be in a confrontational mood, perhaps bought on by the large amount of time I've been spending around baby goats these last few weeks, please send me any and all links to books or articles about philosophy which you think might stimulate my horns to grow.  Thanks for listening.



Yin Yang

I wouldn't be a martial artist at all if I didn't love the "doi!" moments where I hit my self-on the forehead because I've just realized how wrongly I've been practicing for x number of years.  That's because those moments are transitions to new freedoms.  

Yinyang theory is among the most basic aspects of North Asian cosmology so I'm not going t go into it here because most of my readers already know it.

What got me excited is that I suddenly came to understand the yin and yang meridians in a way I never had before.  Or rather, I put together a bunch of discrete experiences into a coherent whole.  So I'll just make a list.

Zhang Xuexin taught that qi rises up the meridians on the insides and back of the legs, then moves to the yang meridians coming up the the back over the head and out along the tan side of the arms, and then comes from the palms inward along the yin meridians of the arms and down the face and then down the front of the body and then, moves down the yang meridians of legs which are on the outside edges and along the front.  Kumar Frantzis taught the same thing.  And generally this is part of any heaven-earth qigong series.  

Liu Ming expained that meridian flow, like the flow of qi in meditation, happens by itself, of its own accord, effort only inhibits it.

Markus Brinkman, on his roof in Taiwan, explained and demonstrated channel theory as it applies to martial arts using a finger counting system.  He was astonished at how fast I picked it up.  I puzzled on it for awhile and did a bunch of experiments.  The idea is that force is generated, defused/transformed and transmitted along specific groups of meridians in sequence.  The theory is in this book: Applied Channel Theory in Chinese Medicine Wang Ju-Yi's Lectures on Channel Therapeutics

I figured out through my own experiments that the yang meridians are better for defense and yin meridians are better for attacking.  In the language of tai chi, pengjin takes force on the yang meridians, jijin issues force via the yin meridians.  A corollary for this is that yin is gathered when our structure is organized towards the inside edge of the feet, yang is gathered when our structure is organized towards the outside edge of the feet.  

In an attempt to reduce all structural power (jin/jing) in my body I figured out that I could put my foot down during baguazhang walking as if it were a vacuum cleaner, allowing qi to draw inward as my foot takes weight. 

George Xu said to me sometime in the last year, "The yin and yang meridians have different jobs."

Anyway, all this fit together for me recently.  All these things have to happen at once --simultaneously and continuously.  Without this piece, we can not achieve an 'I know you, you don't know me,' situation.  Without the crystal clear differentiation of the roles of the yin and yang meridians, the dantian can not do its job of meeting our opponent before our mass does.  

It wasn't that hard to say, and no doubt, I believed many times over the years that I understood it intellectually and physically.  But until it was happening in my body under the pressure of testing and resistance, it was just words.  

There are so many ways to be wrong, it feels good to get a few more of them out of the way.


• For more background read this article on making a sandwich.  Or for tai chi structure theory read this. For the concept and rationale of reducing jing/jin read here.