New Zhang Sanfeng Essay in the Journal of Daoist Studies (12)

The Zhang Sanfeng Conundrum: Taijiquan as Enlightenment Theater—by Scott Park Phillips

Journal of Daoist Studies, vol 12 (Paperback, 258 Pages)

Price: $25.00

The Journal of Daoist Studies (JDS) is an annual publication dedicated to the scholarly exploration of Daoism in all its different dimensions. Vol. 12 Contents:

  • Shen Ming-Chang—Laozi and Community Policing;

  • Tang Man-To—Ji Kang’s Theory of Music;

  • Livia Kohn—Armored Gods: Generals, Guardians, Killers, and Protectors;

  • William T. Sanders—Echoes of Esoteric Buddhism in Manuals of Internal Alchemy;

  • Scott Park Phillips—The Zhang Sanfeng Conundrum: Taijiquan as Enlightenment Theater;

  • LiChien Hung—Ritual Healing in Taiwan; Herve Louchouarn—Daoist Medicine: Human Nature and Physiology;

  • Denise Meyer—The Taiji Path to Non-Duality; Helene Bloch— From Daoist Asceticism to Longevity Market? “Nourishing Life” on Mount Qingcheng;

  • Ron Catabia—Blue Mountain: A 20th-Century Korean Daoist Master; Mateus Oliva Da Costa—Daoism in Latin America; David Jeffrey—Zhuangzi in the Classroom: A Teacher Diary Study;

  • Peter Deadman— The Black Pearl and the White Pearl;

  • Monk Yun Rou—The Mad Monk Manifesto: A Daoist Cry for a Paradigm Shift

I presented the first version of this essay at the 9th International Daoist Studies Conference in Boston in 2014. It was a huge hit, and immediately selected for publication. It was going to be part of a collection called Daoism and Warfare, but after several revisions the editor took ill and it never came to be. Meanwhile I produced a short performance variation of the original paper at the 1st International Martial Arts Studies Conference in Cardiff in 2015. At the same time I produced my famous (now almost 15 thousand views!) video Cracking the Code, which covered some of my early discoveries. Then as I was completing my book Possible Origins, in 2016, a whole bunch of new material fell in my lap. Most notably I realized two things:

  • General Qi Jiguang was a 20 year disciple of the Sage Lin Zhao’en, who studied directly with the Immortal Zhang Sanfeng. Since General Qi Jiguang is widely cited as an original source of Taijiquan, that upends most scholarship on pre-20th Century Taijiquan—which has wrongly claimed there is no connect to the Immortal Zhang Sanfeng.

  • Zhang Sanfeng was a character in a play during the same period (early Wanli). The play (Xiyangji) features Zhang Sanfeng fighting 24 palace guards using the same movements named by Qi Jiguang and identified with Taijiquan. This (along with other strong evidence) proves that theater was an important source of Taijiquan’s mysterious slow motion martial prowess.

Anyway, that’s just a taste of what went into the new essay. Very Exciting! Please grab a copy while they are HOT!

Lin Zhao’en’s Shattering the Void to Experience Taiyi. From  Lord of the Three in One— Kenneth Dean 1998.

Lin Zhao’en’s Shattering the Void to Experience Taiyi. From Lord of the Three in One—Kenneth Dean 1998.

Imperial Twilight

Imperial Twilight

A few weeks ago I was on a social media platform talking back and forth with a few young American-educated Chinese now living in Shanghai. They started off explaining that mainland Chinese people feel justified in not doing anything to stop Fentanyl deaths in the USA, because of their ‘memory’ of the Opium Wars. i got a bit “Ya’ll need a history lesson” on them.
I read a handful of books on the Opium Wars back in the 1990s. But none of those books addressed the massive Anti-American propaganda campaign around this issue in the Chinese education system and news-propaganda.

The fact that these young people I was talking to were educated in the USA, made me doubt my own….

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Delightful Reviews

Happy New Year Everyone!

I’ve been working like crazy on my book, the writing is done, working on footnotes now…images next….

Let me know if you want to be a reader-who-helps-edit.

Meanwhile, I ditched Google search for Duck Duck Go! When I searched for my name I got these three wonderful reviews of my book I had not seen! Please enjoy them as much as I did.

Possible Origins Good Reads!

Fast Daoyin

I have a complaint. People associate the label “Daoist” with slow.

Looking at the Daodejing, the concept of “slow” is not there. Stillness in motion, be like water, sure, but not slow. We also have constructions like ‘do without doing’ (wei wuwei). But they are meant to be read two ways at the same time (quickly): 1) Do Nothing 2) Use Not-Doing to do it.

Most Tai Chi and Qigong teachers who speak Chinese use the expression “man man” which means: slowly slowly. Or “do it slower.” Whereas Daoist ritual uses the expression “kuai kuai” which means quickly quickly. In fact, the English expression “chop chop” which means “do it fast,” comes from the Hong Kong Pidjin-English for kuai kuai.
In Daoist ritual the expression “kuai kuai” is used for sending messages, executing contracts, and communicating with unseen forces. It comes from officialdom, in which, an order is given followed by the command to carry it out quickly.

Most of the Daoyin I know is fast. It can be done slowly, some of it. Tai Chi is slow, and should be. Baguazhang not slow. It drives me crazy that people do it slowly. Xinyi, not slow either.

Daoyin is a complex subject, and one that by definition is constantly evolving. One principle of Daoyin is whole-body-unity. Daoyin, via its role in Chinese martial arts, has had a massive impact on the American Fitness Industry. This is never acknowledged. (This is a problem of Modernity, but whatever, its better than post-Modernity.)

The Daoyin critique of American Fitness for the last 40 years is that weight-lifting makes you slow and stiff like a robot. So it is with great pleasure that I present to you the guys at Speed of Sport. They fully accepted the Daoyin critique and have adapted what they do. Everything they do is based on the Daoyin principle of whole-body-movement.
Speed is a great way to test whole-body-unity, and if the result you want is speed, then whole-body unity is the method. Almost everything they do starts with stimulus outside the body. So this approach is getting closer to the Golden Elixir too. Soon they will be sending messages to the unseen world via contracts delivered kuai kuai.

There are probably fifty short videos on the Speed of Sport Instagram Account, Check it Out! Then start evolving!

It seems only fair to also point out that a lot of Dance training is highs peed too, especially the dance I teach for Self-Defense. Most martial artists are on the ground begging me to stop after an hour of continuous Waltz, that’s when I hit them with Samba!

Modeling Innovation

The debate often surfaces around martial artists who have been at it for a long time about the relative value of tradition vs. innovation. I am for both.
On the tradition side I believe we need more of the intact mythology and cosmology to guide us. We need to re-infuse the arts with enchanted knowledge from many sources without damaging the roots. Accurate histories, like the one I’m almost finished writing, give us direct access to the sources in mythology so that we do not lose our way. Without the guide and the enchantment, we are in danger of becoming antique collectors.
On the side of innovation, the sky should be the limit. But we still need models. This is an awesome model of how to innovate. It is sort of a Chinese-West-African Restaurant in London that invents all of its own dishes. Yum. Inspiration! Book a table: Ikoyi

Look Thai Baguazhang

Ong (Ronnarong Khampha) has been studying martial arts under Nick (Saran Suwannachot), the leading young martial arts master of Chiangmai. Here are the two of them performing Lanna-style martial arts dance on New Year's Day (April 13).

This is an amazing find, and an amazing martial artist. I want to go meet these guys if anyone has a connection to them?
This Lanna Dance is closely related to Baguazhang. I have been saying that Kathak Dance is closely related to Baguazhang as well. My reasons are different. In the case of Kathak, the movement aesthetic and the mythology line up perfectly. But the connection is more distant. Likely because the separation between Kathak and Baguazhang is centuries old. That is a big part of my next book (almost finished!).

But this Lanna Dance is closer to Baguazhang in pure movement terms, and probably separated by less time.

We must ask these questions. Is there something innate about human movement with or without weapons which allowed these arts to become so similar? Is there an element of culture that these countries share that caused them to develop the same thing separately? Or more likely, because they had contact; Did Baguazhang developed from Lanna? Did Lanna develop from Baguazhang? Did they both develop from Indian Dance? I suspect that all of these countries were sending Martial-arts Dancers as tribute to each other’s kings.
This video on Facebook, Fudoshin Shotokan Karate, shows a form of court dance from Okinawa that has many elements of Kathak Dance from North India. It is undeniable.

My conclusion: A form of martial-dance was traded back and forth between the courts of Asia for a thousand years. Beauty transcends.

Bitter, Weird, Wind-fire

Uploaded by 白蓮花邪教金獅學校 on 2018-11-13.

Wind-Fire Wheel Baguazhang

Bitter Winter is a good blog to keep up on Religious repression in China today. There are several articles that explain the situation and context well. Impressive. Dark/Bitter. This article is about a statue of Laozi being torn down.

This is an uplifting essay about the healing power of Weirdness.


I am in Chicago teaching and all out of brain cells, so instead of a blog post this week I will give you some stray paragraphs I am working on from my upcoming book! Enjoy!

“Humor was, up until the 1930s and even into the 1940s, a central and glorious part of Chinese culture. As I will show, humor was an important part of Chinese martial arts. The Chinese traditions of humor were tortured and crushed in mainland China beginning in the 1930s before the Communists took power, but after 1949 China became a humorless desert. Of course, humor is part of human nature and it keeps popping up no matter how many times it gets pounded down. But the story is a bleak one. One reason to know the mythic and cosmological origins of Tai Chi and Baguazhang is so that we can recover the glorious and powerful jester-like energy that they intrinsically embody.”

“The first half of the twentieth Century saw a fight over the origins of Tai Chi. Initially everyone said that it came form the Immortal Zhang Sanfeng. Because Immortals were considered superstitious and therefore the cause of China’s misery, the origins of Tai Chi were shifted to a lineage that came directly from a real person named Zhang Sanfeng. This was a sloppy sleight-of-hand because Zhang Sanfeng was obviously an immortal, and it came under attack by China’s first martial arts historian Tang Hao. Tang Hao was the head of propaganda for the Guoshu Institute. He argued that Zhang Sanfeng was not a real person, and even if he was, he had nothing to do with martial arts. Instead, Tang Hao argued that Tai Chi came from a Ming Dynasty General named Qi Jiguang. In the year 1563 General Qi Jiguang published a poem that described weaponless fighting techniques and used twenty-nine of the Tai Chi movement names. That was a good argument, but Tang Hao neglected to mention that Qi Jiguang was a student of the Golden Elixir and that his teacher claimed to be a direct student of Zhang Sanfeng. This was a rather large omission, an omission that has been repeated over and over.”

When Buddha finds Zhang Sanfeng he asks, “Why are you so dirty?” Zhang answers, “The stinking skin bag cannot be escaped.”

Buddha asks, “If you cannot escape it, how can you get fruition?” 

“Zhang then gives the Buddha a comic lecture about the nature of enlightenment. The answers he gives in the text were lifted from one given by the leader of the Eight Immortals, Lu Dongbin, in the earlier published epic Journey to the East. I believe this part of the play is meant to be improvised. A debate between Zhang Sanfeng and the Buddha about the importance of having a body is a great set-up for laughs! Actors in this era were expected to improvise much of the dialog.”

Research News

This is a short documentary on Tangki, Chinese spirit-mediums.

The Immersion Labs Foundation has a go-fund-me page for The Last Bajan Stick Fighters Very cool, you will be hearing more about this project from me in the future.

See Jane Fight Back is worth checking out. Fortunately, this is an evidence based site dedicated to the positive value of teaching self-defense. Unfortunately it is interwoven with false and socially damaging feminist claims.

In the category of just weird, Modern Art was heavily promoted by the CIA!

If you have not yet read my page on Dance as Self-defense, or even if you read it a while ago, you will enjoy reading it again! I am proud of how fun this workshop/research sounds.