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Weakness With A Twist 

Internal Martial Arts, Theatricality, and Daoist Ritual Emptiness

Tuesday
Jun172014

Trivial and Not So Trivial

My executive assistant tells me that this sort of blog post I've just written below is very obtuse.  She says it is unreasonable to assume that my readers are going to try to connect all these seemingly disparate ideas.  Normally the writer does that work.  But perhaps readers will be inspired if I say that this type of obtuse post is a new type of puzzle, like one you might find in a daily newspaper, whereby readers have to stop and think about how it is possible that all these things are connected.

_________________

I've written a number of blog posts, and sketched out a few others in the last week, but could someone please explain to me how people finish things when the weather is so nice?

The weather in Boulder, Colorado, keeps trying to suck me away from my work.  Fortunately I have my early morning practice/teaching otherwise my guilt level about not getting work done would be off the charts.  I am considering becoming a night person and sleeping through the day.  I don't want to become a victim of good fortune.

Speaking of being a victim, I found some pants that I really like.  I can't even find the exact name (sorry) but they are made by Kuhl and are made out of stretchy material.  They are strong and comfortable and you can kick over your head and do the splits in them if you can do those things!  

I also wanted to comment on shoes.  I'm hard on shoes they tend to get torn up form all sides if I'm doing a full range of training in them.  The barefoot shoe movement has been fantastic.  I have for years and years been pulling all the junk out of my shoes and trying to find the flattest, toughest, lightest shoes I can.  I was very happy with Saucony-Hattori.  They are the lightest and most comfortable shoes ever.  

But I have also been wearing Merrell's, they aren't quite as comfortable, and they don't fit my feet quite as well as the Sauconys, but they are tougher.  They really hold up to a beating.  So I have to give it to the Merrell's trail runners.  They are a better shoe, if I consider the big three; tough, flat, and light.

The sad part of this story is huge numbers of people have been getting horrid cases of plantar fasciitis.  This actually has nothing at all to do with shoes, and everything to do with bad habits and overly enthusiastic marketing.  I went into REI about a year ago and the shoe guy was trying to sell me 'barefoot' shoes and was explaining how I need to run on my toes or something.  It was obvious he didn't know what he was talking about.  It is simply a failure of personal responsibility all around.  This is how the fashion goes.

Improvements in society, be they artifice, culture or freedom, can get taken away because people won't take personal responsibility.  Usually it is a bit complex, like it is in this case, it is partly the fault of individuals, part marketing, part distributors, partly just problems seeing how changes in artifice, culture or freedom will change behavior. 
It looks like the barefoot movement is on the way out because people are getting sued.  I'm considering buying a ten year supply because I've been waiting for these shoes for 30 years, and there is a chance they will disappear.   

Nia Sanchez, Miss USA!If you missed the controversy about Miss USA Nia Sanchez, you can catch up here.  Can I use the word retarded on my blog without offending people?  There is actually a movement falsely calling itself feminist that is trying to promote less responsibly for women.  It will fail, but it has the support of a lot of government agencies at the moment and a lot of universities too.  It can do a lot of damage before it goes down in flames.  Let me be clear, if you want personal agency, personal responsibility is non-negotiable.  If taking a set of actions has consequences that would be different if you took a different set of actions, you are responsible for that.  I mean, you can't have an anvil fall on your head unless you walk under it.  Someone might be trying to kill you, that doesn't make you somehow not responsible. 
That is the basic philosophy of self-defense.  You are the agent of your own freedom.  This is a new idea and I am grateful to Miss USA for helping to spread it.  

 

Monday
Jun092014

Two New Classes in Boulder, Colorado

I'm teaching in North Boulder Park, Monday thru Friday 6:30-9:00 AM for the Summer.  In the Fall I may move indoors.  The reason we start early is that makes it much easier to do standing meditation.  In the language of Daoism, morning is the time of life, it is simply eaisier to do transformitive training because the available Qi is changing from dawn to day.  Of course I'm planning to have evening classes too but they have a different character.  Morning is the time to establish daily discipline.

I'm also teaching a kids class, ages 7 to 13 in the same location from 10 AM to Noon.  These are week long sessions Monday to Friday, with the usual gongs, drums and total theater integration.

Pass the word!

 

 

Thursday
Jun052014

Tribute & Vassalage

Tribute & Vassalage was a major part of state craft around the world in centuries past. In attempting to address the origins of Chinese martial arts and its relationship to the arts of other North Asian societies, as well as India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and even Africa, we really can't get very far if we think of martial arts as purely about fighting. Great individual fighters are found everywhere and yet great armies do not require them. We can perhaps imagine martial arts spreading around border regions, where inter-cultural-marriage happens, or where a talented individual might take refuge. We can also imagine the casual trading of martial skills amongst well armed merchants and in secret pirate lairs.

I will not dismiss these possibilities, they seem likely to have happened. But these kinds of border interactions don't explain the intensive and wide spread nature of martial arts very well. That is one of the reasons I started thinking about the role of theater and dance in the spread of martial arts.

Unlike the marginal agency of border crossing cultures, the performing entourages that were sent as tribute and vassalage went from the seats of high culture in one society to the seats of high culture in another. They were often quasi-slaves, or perhaps servants but usually of very low social status. Imagine you are an emperor and a king, in far away India, sends you 20 fantastic performers as a gift. What do you do? If you can find them, you send him back a gift of 25 even better performers. Frankly, it was cheap and effective diplomacy. It was the creation of long distance conviviality.

But conviviality was also immediate. Performers speak the languages of music and dance. Put great performers from disparate traditions in the same castle and they are likely to start working and playing together, they may even exchange children as disciples. Physical storytelling is a potent way to transcend language barriers.

I've never seen a study focussed on the extent of performing entourages being sent back and forth across the world but I would bet it was extensive. I've come across accounts of African performers being sent to Beijing in the 1400's at the time of Admiral Zhenghe and similar entourages being sent from Indonesia, and Tibet. One can still challenge the notion that these dancers, musicians and actors were also adept at fighting skills. But I've dealt with the integration of fighting skills and performing skills in countless other blog posts so I'll put that one aside for the moment.

This came up at the Daoist conference because after demonstrating some North Indian Classical Dance (Kathak) and showing how it uses mime and abstract storytelling in ways that are remarkably similar to Chen Style Taijiquan, I was asked about the theories that Chinese martial arts have some origins in India.  But this is only half of the answer I gave.  

Tuesday
Jun032014

Daoist Conference • 2014 • Boston

I'm returning to Boulder today after a week in Boston.  I have been attending an International conference at Boston University about Daoism.  

I owe my readers a full report, but there are two obstacles.  One, I'm tired. Very.  Two, in general I'm not supposed to talk too much about papers that haven't been published yet.  

Here is the abstract of my paper:  Cracking the Code: Taijiquan as Enlightenment Theater
This paper presents three interrelated ideas using historic, experiential and visual contextualization: 1) Image mime within the Chen Style Taijiquan Form (taolu) can be understood as a form of theater presenting the story of Zhang Sanfeng becoming an immortal (xian). 2) Taijiquan as the integration of embodied theatricality with deity visualization as daily ritual and alchemy. 3) Framing violence as a transgressive path to becoming an immortal.

The paper was too long for me to deliver in the 20 minutes they allow for such things, so I danced and performed it instead.  It was a huge success.  Lots of interest and excitement, good questions too, which I knocked out of the park.  In a way it isn't fair to 'perform' a paper because it tends to be much more interesting than even the really good papers, so I apologize for that.  

The next project, as soon as I finish up the footnotes and stuff, is to perform the paper on Youtube, 20 minutes with five minutes of questions.

I also taught a class: Conditioning Emptiness: Where Martial Arts Meet Spontaneous Luminosity
The presumption of this workshop is that freedom can not be learned but the habits of freedom can be conditioned through play.  Daoyin in martial arts, theater, and hermit yogas, all posit that emptiness can be discovered and verified in the “pull” between wildness and stillness. In this workshop we will deploy daoyin as twelve animals each with five elements in continuous expression and transition. This form of Operatic Daoyin comes from the animal stage roles of southern China, it is interactive and involves lots of rolling around and movement on all fours. This workshop is open to all levels of experience, loose clothing and a sense of humor will be helpful.

Several very experienced people told me this was the funnest Daoyin/Qigong class they had ever taken.  It was a good hour and a half with 15 minutes for questions.  I had them on the ground rolling around like dogs and pigs.  I've got to video that class too.  

Mostly I just loved meeting everyone there.  This is the third conference I've been to in 12 years and this one was incredibly optimistic.  12 years ago we worried that we were dealing with the survival of a frayed and fragmented tradition, or darker, that there were only a few threads left of this fine fabric.  In Los Angels five years ago there were a few anthropologists who brought a lot of hope by explaining that they were finding people who had been Daoists all their lives and had managed to find ways to sneak around the horrors if the 20th Century.  At this conference it was evident that religious creativity is thriving in China and Daoism in general.  There is interest, and excitement, the texts survived, the impulse for theatricality survived, the rituals that didn't make it are being re-invented from the ones that did survive.  There is sharing. There is rebuilding and pilgrims have never been so rich or so free.  

I owe my readers a lot more, but for the moment, the cat that is now out of the bag is that Daoism is a living creative force that is packed with martial arts and theater and fiction and all kinds of other cool stuff.  I think there was another level of excitement too.  A lot of us who started studying Daoism 20 years ago stepped into an unknown dark realm and now suddenly it is exploding with curiosity and invention.  It is the excitement of having wandered into something that was small and is about to get much bigger--effortlessly.  

Laozi said:  Beautiful music and delicious food, cause the traveler to stop;  Words about the Dao are insipid and bland.  

What I realized at this conference is that line can be very funny if delivered with the proper vocalizations and dancing.

Thursday
May222014

Graphic Novel of the Boxer Rebellion

I recently got a graphic novel called Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang.  It is a wonderful introduction to the history of the conflict.  If I were going to teach a course that included the Boxer Rebellion I would included this book because it is a quick enjoyable read and it covers most of the main issues of the time.   It is a fictional account that follows one of the peasant leaders of the rebellion through his hallucinatory experiences of violent righteousness.   While there are a number of other important books one should read like, The Origins of the Boxer Uprising and History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth  the advantage of Boxers & Saints is that it is so much fun everyone will have read it by the first day of class so we could get right into discussing the interesting details. Check it out!

Saturday
May172014

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!"

 

 

Saturday
May172014

Samisen Fighting Class

I got excited today because I met a samisen player who was interested in playing for my fighting class in Boulder, Colorado, where I am now teaching.  I got this idea that I should teach drumming and fighting together because there are so many things that tie the two together.  But samisen would be really good too.  I want it to be live music because that interaction between tempo and rhythm is key to working with mood and timing and letting go.  I want to foster the kinesthetic conversation between freedom and chaos, order and spontaneity.  

Tuesday
May132014

Teaching and Enlightenment

There are three basic approaches to teaching that match the basic approaches to enlightenment.

I use the term enlightenment loosely, because I think people ought to lighten up about it.  (That is a joke, sort of.)

These approaches to enlightenment could also be understood as the orthodox daoist framing of religious expression.  This framing has a universal quality to it because it is easily re-discoverable, not because it is an absolute truth.  It is not religion specific but refers more generally to three views of what the human relationship to nature is.  None of these three views are exclusive either, in fact there is an experientially based/tested assumption that humans inherently have access to all three.  

They are:

1) Wuwei.  A non conceptual experience of being/emptiness.  Without preference, progress, hierarchy, equality, individuality or community.  It can not be framed or limited by words, images, names, or descriptions.  

2) Perfection.  Tantric enlightenment.  Becoming a god.  Perfect body mechanics.  Superior anything.  Sudden enlightenment.  Games.  Glowing health.  Accumulating qi.  Perfect circulation.  The achievement of effortless skill and technique.

3) Subordination.  Making alliances with any form or embodiment of power.  Shamanism.  Survival strategies.  Devotion.  Discipline.  The gradual approach.  Contracts.  

__________

This formula is in many of the chapters of the Daodejing.  Laozi the author of the Daodejing, keeps coming back to the first one as a natural process of return, like water returning to the sea.  

I don't know anyone who has gotten good at martial arts without taking the third view.  But I also don't know anyone who has gotten good by exclusive fidelity to the third view.  In that sense, I understand practice as a conversation between these three views.  They have a way of refreshing each other.  

With regard to teaching children I start with the third view because it creates a container for experiencing the first view.  Children find it deeply relaxing and satisfying to be given tightly channelled directions, to be surrounded by percussive order and explosive command, to be welcomed into a safe guided challenging total environment.  That relaxation leads directly to self-respect and self-acceptance.  From that base, they then have the option of choosing the second view, self-directed, self-gratifying, self-disciplined self-improvement.

Adults present a different challenge.  My preference is to initiate adults into the first view via a year of standing still practice supplemented by hanging out time.  But everyone is different.  And more importantly everyone has a unique way of relating to me.   So it is my goal as a teacher to re-invent a kind of theatrical temple culture.  I want to offer an environment or milieu that students can enter where all three views are available.  An environment where dance, games, techniques, solo discipline, learning through doing, immediate feed back, edge experiences, identity challenges, deeply comforting personal retreat technologies, awareness expanding experiences, chaotic containers, and ordered experiments are all simultaneously available.  A space where failure is fun.  Where performance is a direct way to access the capaciousness of beauty.  A space emotionally big enough for both gentle healing and the serious experiential examination of human violence and aggression.

One of the problems I face is the culturally static model of a class and a teacher that we are all accustomed to.  For the theatrical temple model to work, individuals have to feel free to experiment and get support for changes in their entire lives.  

The hobbiest model is actually fine.  It is just that my challenge is to get students to understand that the subject we are working with is the alchemy of all their appetites: sleep, work, play, nutrition, intimacy, social life, risk taking, heroism, reclusiveness, etc. etc. etc....

_______________

Here is my attempt at one of the Daodejing Chapters that presents the three views, Chapter 23:

To seldom speak is to follow the Dao.

A gust of wind can not last all morning,

A downpour can not last all day.

What causes these?  Heaven and Earth.

If the actions of Heaven and Earth do not last long, how much less the actions of human beings.

One who cultivates Dao, will experience Dao.

One who cultivates perfection, will experience perfection.

One who cultivates need, will experience need.  

Dao, Perfection, and need all have their own fruition.  

Trust without a basis is simply faith.

 

Friday
May092014

My Teaching Philosophy

Learn through doing.  All the talking and thinking and conceptualizing and dreaming has a place.  But no one has ever gotten even remotely good at anything without the direct experience of doing that thing.  

The test comes first.  In everything I teach, the test comes first.  Otherwise how would you know it is worth learning? If you pass the test right off the bat you don't need to learn it.  If you fail the test, in the real world, you know exactly why you want to learn something.  Also if the test comes first, you can keep re-testing yourself until you personally know you know what you know.

Support Mindfulness: Read this article by one of my students who is far more articulate than I am, saying what I wish I had said about the way I teach.  (it's a PDF)

Aggression is Natural, so is Enlightenment:  People show up with all kinds of history, meet them where they are.

Great teaching requires a profound level of trust and mutual consent.  Being explicit about physical and emotional boundaries is always a sign of maturity and responsibility, practice and model it.

First create an emotionally safe place to practice physically dangerous skills.   Then, when the student is ready, create a physically safe place to do emotionally dangerous things.   I took this from martial arts hero Rory Miller.

Fun, Games, and Seriousness:  Appropriate teaching means being inclusive and adaptable by using a wide range of teaching strategies.

Friday
May092014

More Video's for the Master Key (previous post)

This next one is Thang Ta see Wikipedia.

What an awesome training ritual from Manupur.  I spent a few days with some Manupuri dance masters in Calcutta, they were awesome.  It is a bit like Kathak but with lots of jumping.  

And here is a documentry!

Monday
May052014

The Master Key

The sound quality on this podcast of Rory Miller is poor, but it is still a fun talk. (I'll come back to it in a moment.)

I was talking to Daniel Mroz yesterday and he said that his friend who is a Beijing Opera (Jingju) master of martial arts roles made a very bold statement.  He said that there is a basic movement of the whole body, making a flower with the hands, which is the master key movement out of which all other Beijing Opera movement comes. 

This particular movement is nearly identical to a basic movement used in Kathak (North Indian Classical Dance).  It is also important in Filipino knife fighting Silat, Maija Soderholm showed it to me the other day.  George Xu uses identical whole body coordination as his favorite warm-up for teaching Chen Style taijiquan but working from a horse stance.  

The movement is probably essential for anyone who masters handling two single edged blades at the same time.

Now that I've had a day to play with it as a key concept, I'd say it is key to all Baguazhang and is very helpful to staying integrated during shaolin movement.  It is not key to Liuhexinyi, but I may change my opinon on that.  As an underlying integration of right to left and homo-lateral to contra-lateral symmetry it can be used as an internal measuring stick of whole body integration in almost any complex movement. 

I've been doing it for 25 years, but I never thought of it as a key movement before.

I read one of Namkhai Norbu's books last fall in which he recommends using the Vajra posture for standing until one is past the experience of fatigue before laying down and relaxing into emptiness as a way of going directly to the experience/expression of Dzogchen (non-conceptual enlightenment).  Basically the Vajra posture is the same posture used for this movement in Kathak dance.  It all fits together so well.  And the term Vajra means a weapon of uncuttable substance, like diamond I guess.  I also recently read an article by Meir Shahar about the widespread concept among martial artists in pre-20th Century China of creating a Vajra body.  Here is the title (you can get it for free if you have access to JSTOR):

  • "Diamond Body: The Origins of Invulnerability in the Chinese Martial Arts." In Perfect Bodies: Sports Medicine and Immortality. Edited by Vivienne Lo. London: British Museum, 2012.

So all this is to preface that I met Adam who runs West Gate Kungfu School here in Boulder, Colorado.  We hit it off right away. We both care deeply about the arts and we both see performance skills and having maximum fun as master keys of the martial arts experience.  He invited me to hang out with his performing troupe the other day.  I brought my instruments and accompanied their warm-up routines, which went really well, I also taught some Daoyin which they immediately wanted to teach to the kids classes.  I had a great time and I have deep sense of respect for what Adam is doing.

His students have a lot of talent and enthusiasm and they have some great butterfly kicks too! Butterfly kicks, by the way, use the exact same body coordination as that Vajra flower movement I was just talking about above.  

So I was an argument on Facebook with a Police Officer about whether or not Capoeira is utilitarian in a self-defense context.  He was particularly adamant that flips are useless for fighting.  I eventually got him to agree with me, which was awesome because he is obviously a really smart and experienced guy.  To win the argument I went through some of the stuff you can hear in that Rory Miller talk at the top of this post.  For instance, martial arts training rarely, if ever, kicks in the first time a person is in a violent situation.  It is more likely that it will kick in after 3-5 violent situations.  And when it finally does it can be amazing.  But before that it is all conditioning and that includes what you conditioned as little kid.  From a purely self-defense point of view having a lot of techniques to choose from forces a person into his or her cognitive mind which generally precipitates a whole body freeze.  So one of the most important things martial artists need to train if they care about self-defense is breaking that freeze.  

Conditioned movements should be designed relative to what a person is likely to need.  This is very different for a police officer who may have a duty to get involved, and a citizen caught in a self-defense situation.  Criminals most often (this material comes from Rory Miller) attack children and women from behind, and surprise attacks are also most often from behind.  The practice of doing a back flip involves moving huge amounts of momentum backwards and up.  If the attacker is taller than you are, your head is going to slam into either his chin or his nose, and you will probably both end up on the ground.  The motion of a back flip is actually a really good thing to condition as a response to a surprise attack from behind.  

In general, practices which use large amounts of momentum, practices which condition comfort and ease with flying through space are great for self-defense.  Why?  because of this maxim:  If you are winning try to control the fight, if you are losing add chaos and momentum.  If you get attacked by surprise, you are already losing, so add chaos and momentum.  The practice of spinning around the room while holding on to a partner is also great conditioning, most judo classes train this a lot.  Add butterfly kicks and you are doing even better, practice using those kicks off of walls and tables and you are approaching ninja territory.  

UPDATE:

Someone just posted this on Facebook and it is a great example of the same base movement used to organized a routine:

Monday
May052014

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 Academia.edu, 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,

...is 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.  

Tuesday
Apr222014

Boulder Colorado 

I just moved to Boulder Colorado with my wife Sarah.  Many people have asked me why?  The answer has too many answers.  But I want a big change that will inspire me to do things differently.  

At the moment we are looking for housing, it is shockingly cheap compared to the San Francisco Bay Area.  This gives me hope that there will be enough of a population interested in dedicating lots of time to learning the arts.  I have no idea yet where I'm going to be teaching, but there is a lot of optimism floating around and plenty of spaces.  

Anyone who wants to help with connections or ideas would be welcome.  I'm searching for collaborators.  I love helping other people with their business or art projects and I love learning new stuff, and I particularly love trying experiments.  I also have experience teaching a wide range of stuff, all of which I'm happy to share:

Daoyin, two types: 1) Orthodox hermit floor practice, 2) circus animal yoga.  It can be taught as a classic yoga class, or as systematic enlightenment training (elixir or emptiness), or as games and puzzles, or for ground fighting and conditioning.

Improvisationally loaded fighting class games, with a nod toward tantric forms of enlightenment (see previous post!). 

My classic kids classes using drums gongs, and wood blocks to teach shaolin and daoyin as a creative performing art.

I want to try teaching an African martial arts strategies of conditioning class using drumming to teach fighing. 

Lectures: History, Daoism, Religion, Theater and Martial Arts.  

Tons of different Qigong systems.

Yiquan, for meditation, health or fighting.

Bagua, Tai Chi (three styles), Northern Shaolin, Lan Shou, Liuhexinyi, tumbling, dance.

Workshops:  This is a totally open thing, the idea being that any aspect of the arts can be modularized.

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Note that I used the term "fighting" above which can mean a lot of different things from self-defense to games to professional uses of force strategies-- and all of them come with profound identity challenging discussions of morality and amorality.

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I was at a wonderful party a few weeks back and a mathematician asked me if I'd ever heard of Long Tack Sam?  I was embarrassed to say that I had not.  There is some very interesting stuff on line if you search around, there is also a film, and if anyone knows how I can get to see it, please let me know.  He was a professional performer from that triangle around Shandong and southern Shanxi that was martial arts 24/7.  After the Boxer rebellion and the start of the Republic Era (1912) all sorts of obstacles were put in his path.  His group's specialty was tricks using the queue, which was banned under penalty of death!  He managed to escape to the United States and toured internationally and was a huge success.  Had he stayed in China I suspect his only real option for success would have been to teach martial arts or go into some completely unrelated field.  Anyway a very interesting case, there is also a bunch of stuff in the movie (I think) about how ashamed his descendants were of his performer caste origins.  

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I also came across this short piece on a sword maker in Taiwan.  His story makes a great metaphor for a bunch of the cultural re-texturing that is going on right now.  He is making very high quality steel specifically designed for martial artists.  In order to tap into the authenticity of the ancients he is using an industrial process built on knowledge of engineering and metallurgy.  But there is also a strong handi-craft element, or what I like to call--be your own lumberjack-- his swords get an authenticity and a quality boost because they are partially hand made.  He polishes them for 2 years but the explanation of why is built around chemistry.  And on top of that he has some kind of dreaming practice and transmediumship or "channelling" relationship to the gods which he is reluctant to talk about but which is also framed as essential!  I love it.

Tuesday
Apr012014

Martial Arts Games Workshop this Sunday!

Martial Arts Games  with Scott Phillips 
Sun: 4/6/2014   From: 12:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Cost: $40 for this 3 hour course.  Soja monthly members receive an automatic 10% discount.
 
The purpose of playing games is to have as much fun as possible and to unleash spontaneity which is the only proof we have that we are not robots.  When we get rid of fear and replace it with exhilaration, competitiveness melts away, leaving behind a joyful cooperative buzz that lasts for days. The martial arts skills we condition and test in games are the skills we trust the most.
 
Traditionally folks retreated to the quiet mountains to meditate and find equanimity, but martial artists were rebel tricksters who instead invented games that are sneaky down and dirty short-cuts to enlightenment. They are the quick and easy route to joyful comfort in our bodies, discarding limitation, and entering the Void via a secret door.

We will particularly work with creating positive stimulation via soft hand slapping, unbalancing, and games that condition speed with relaxation and increase spatial awareness. Come ready to play, invent and develop ways to improve martial arts games. Bring your own funny bone, you may have the opportunity to hit someone with it.

Sign-up Here at the Soja Martial Arts Website, click on Schedule and then on Adult Workshops.

Thursday
Mar132014

Occam's Katana

this is a KatanaOccam's Katana is not the name of the book I'm working on, although it might make a good chapter title.  Occam, a rather clear thinking guy who lived in the 13th Century, is the name we give to the use of a mental razor blade used for cutting out all the unnecessary theories and mind farts that tend to get stuck to the facts.  It is often stated as, the simplest and most direct explanation is the one most likely to be true.

But of course that is not always true.  For situations where theories (or even ideologies or hysteria) have had a lot of opportunity to co-opt facts or even pound and shape them, a more hefty device might be necessary.  Thus Occam's Katana is the tool you want for these bigger jobs.  

this is reel to reel filmI once dated a French woman whose name was Super Chick.  She had a job, I kid you not, at the Museum of Modern Art as an expert on painting on film.  You know film, the stuff that goes from reel to reel in a movie theater.  Apparently some artists have thought it a good idea to paint with paint on top of pieces of film.  Not as animation mind you, but as very small paintings.  Anyway it's a thing.  With a history and stuff.  

She also had a full collection of Post Modern theory in her apartment.  At that time I had already read the major theorists and such, my father had interviewed a number of them for his radio show Social Thought, and afterward he gave me the books.  I had also read several when I studied with Angela Davis, and it was a big thing in both the anarchist and dance worlds I travelled in.  But Super Chick had more.  And she had read them in both languages.  In fact, she had the extraordinary distinction of having been a personal assistant to both Richard Rorty, the translator of many of the French Post Modern Philosophers, and the film maker John Waters!  You know, the guy you always see in Facebook images saying, "Do not have sex with people unless they have a lot of books!"  

So I borrowed a short stack, thinking I might as well take this opportunity to up my game.  She had meticulously underlined large sections of text in pencil.  The problem was, I couldn't figure out why.  When we talked about it she admitted (perhaps an influence from Richard Rorty) that none of these books actually had any intrinsic value in the realm of ideas, but that they had an aesthetic value.  That's what she was doing with the pencil, marking things that were aesthetically pleasing.  

At that time there were only a small number of Post Colonial Studies Theorists, James Clifford comes to mind, but my take on them is they are a combination of Post Modern Theory and Marxism.  Which is very funny if you think about it.

Anyway all this is to introduce a book I have not read yet, I have only read this review of it by Paul Bowmen, Stateless Subjects: Chinese Martial Arts Literature and Postcolonial History, by Petrus Liu

No doubt, to get through this you will need to sharpen up your Occam's Katana.

Here is what I got out of it.  The idea that martial arts can be learned from a secret manual is an idea associated with a society that privileges the written word.  And a great deal of the martial arts fiction of the last 400 years has had this idea built into it.  Therefore, wait for it..., martial arts fiction was written by the literati-- the elite gentry class.  This might not seem like much of a revelation, like duh right?  Like who else would have written it?  But there is so much ideology piled up around martial arts that it actually took Occam's Razor to cut us back to the obvious truth.  

But the implication of this last paragraph knocked my socks off.  If martial arts manuals were a common element of fiction, they were of course also a common element of theater, opera and popular culture.  We also know that secret manuals that confer immortality and various magical powers or curses are a mainstay of religious literature (also written by the literati).  

The reason this is so important is that it solves a minor problem I've been dueling with.  There are a handful of martial arts manuals produced in China between 1500 and 1900.  Some of them have enlightenment or talismanic content, but they all seem to point to a pure martial arts, a subject fully formed and distinct from theater, opera or religion.  As regular readers know, my working thesis is that martial arts was inseparable from theater and religion historically.  When the history of martial arts is laid out alongside religion and theater, Occam's Razor tells us they were all interrelated and physically integrated.  But how do I deal with this very small number of seemingly pure martial arts manuals?  

The answer is so simple I had been missing it.  These manuals were produced  to feed a kind of playful fantasy that the heroic martial arts of the theater existed in real life.  If the famous General Yue Fei, as portrayed in an opera, learned his martial awesomeness from a secret manual, then wouldn't a literati studying martial arts from a live-in actor (who was also his his lover-servant) want to produce a secret manual too? In fact, wouldn't that be a better way to explain how he learned the martial arts?  A literati probably wouldn't want to admit directly that he studied martial arts with an low caste actor, but if he learned it from a manual, that would be cool.  

In that sense, the very idea of a martial art that can be learned from a manual comes from the theater.  The idea that martial arts could be learned from a book has a post modern ring to it, it is actually a form of the theatre of the absurd.

As an aside, a large number of martial arts styles are said to have been learned via watching an animal, a monkey, a crane a rooster, etc...  Wouldn't that be a great way for a literati to avoid admitting they studied with an Opera trained Animal Role specialist?  

And both explanation fit perfectly with the so called "penny books," which were mini-martial arts books that appeared on commercial presses in the mid-1800's.  If you were an actor who wanted to become a martial arts teacher having a secret manual to share or sell would have been a perfect narrative to explain the origins of your training, or rather, to cover them up.  

This also explains why laymen encyclopedias of the 1500's have references to learning martial arts, the idea of having martial arts skill transmitted through a god, a stranger, or a family member was already well developed in the theater.  If you could watch it on the stage, why couldn't you hire a private tutor?

 

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