Weakness With A Twist 

Internal Martial Arts, Theatricality, and Daoist Ritual Emptiness


Curriculum Vitae 2014

In case my readers want to check out my entire work history and education, my Curriculum Vitae 2014 is now available for download here on my website and also for viewing at academia.edu.

It is a brave new world (again). 


On Boxing: Joyce Carol Oats

I just finished reading On Boxing , by Joyce Carol Oats.  It is a fun read.  She normally writes fiction, but this is a tribute to her life long love of boxing.  Her love of boxing is in a sense a tribute to her bond with her father, who initiated her into its beauty.  

The book jumps right into philosophy and has great stuff like this:

The old boxing adage--a truism surely untrue-- that you cannot be knocked out if you see the blow coming, and if you will yourself not to be knocked out, has its subtler, more daunting significance: nothing that happens to the boxer in the ring, including death--"his" death--is not of his own will or failure of will.  The suggestion is of a world-model in which we are humanly responsible not only for our own acts but for those performed against us.

And here, after pointing out how often boxing fights were illegal in times passed, and thus happened in-between states, in outlaw territory, or on islands with performers and spectators both risking arrest:

And boxers have frequently displayed themselves, inside the ring and out, as characters in the literary sense of the word.  Extravagant fictions without a structure to contain them.

She has much to say about notions of "primitive" and the intensity of emotions:

Those whose aggression is masked, or oblique or unsuccessful, will always condemn it in others.

After putting both feet forward into philosophy she wanders around into the lives of boxers, and major events in boxing history.  Some of the essays in this book are informative, in depth reportage, but they are also languid, timeless; as a reader one gets the sense that she deeply savors hanging out in the world of boxing.  

I couldn't help thinking of Elaine Scary's comment in On Beauty and Being Just  that one of the errors about beauty she made in her youth was thinking that boxing was not beautiful.  I wonder if Joyce Carol Oats helped change her mind?  

On Boxing includes a number of enticing and complex book reviews (more books added to my reading list) and she is not at all shy about discussing racism and, in the final essay, fascism.  Check it out.


What is the Kua?

I first heard the term kua 胯 explained by Kumar Franzis in the early 1990's.  He said something to the effect of, it is the functional space in and around the hip socket that continues up into the torso to just below the ribs.

Chen Zhonghua has a detailed explanation of the kua here.  One thing I like about it is that he explains that the definition of what the kua is, will keep changing as your skill and understanding improve.  The implication is that we are making a categorical error if we are satisfied with a definition of the kua as either anatomy or physiology.  

Sam Masich also has a detailed explanation of the kua, it focuses on understanding the ways we misunderstand culture and language.

Here is my take on it.

The kua is really a list of different exercises and types of awareness.  But I would caution the reader, this isn't the sort of list that one can go straight down from one thing to the next.  Each of these exercises is a link in a much larger chain of exercises, ideas, concepts, and forms of awareness.  I have collected here all the ideas about the kua in one place so that we might have a global or comprehensive discussion about the larger subject.

First off, there are a whole bunch of mobility exercises that need to be learned.  The hip region needs to be differentiated from the legs and the torso through various types of folding and spiraling.  There are probably ten essential exercises here, which can be expressed with infinite variety since the kua is involved with all movement.

These exercises are important for two primary reasons. First, the differentiation of the kua allows the student to make small physical adjustments that dramatically improve ones position relative to a threat or an opponent.  That has an enormous effect on the range of physical strategies one can employ.  Second, without the differentiation of the kua the student has movement vulnerabilities that manifest because certain weaker parts of the body are taking strain (like knees or lower back). At the same time stronger parts of the body move in blocks, the intrinsic power of which can not be accessed without differentiation.

After mobility and differentiation are established.  The next stage would be transferring force through the kua, from the legs to the torso, and from the torso to the legs.

That can be followed by generating force from the kua. I count seven ways to do this.  They are all fairly simple, but they need to be taught because they tend to be counter intuitive.

Next is liquid movement.  There are two parts to it.  The first is practicing moving fluid from one part of the body to another until it is easy to generate whole body liquid movement.  The second is working with a partner to test ones ability to stay liquid under all sorts of pressure.  This is actually true for every part of the body, not just the kua, but it is essential for discovering the higher order functioning of the kua.

The next concept on our list is very important to martial artists but it is better known by its theatrical name, "monkey doesn't want to go to school."  It is a way of sinking in response to another person pulling on ones arms, such that, one cannot be pulled forward off of ones feet or base.  It does not involve leaning backwards.    It is also characterized by complete relaxation of the legs, there is no tightening of the thighs nor of the feet muscles.  It is most certainly not a form of "rooting."  This skill is often kept secret by martial arts teachers, and children often do it naturally without being taught.  

Building on "monkey doesn't want to go to school," we finally come to opening the kua.  I charge $10,000 dollars for this teaching.  But I guarantee you will learn it in ten years or you get your money back.  

I'm tempted to say that the ability to open ones kua is rare.  But it isn't that rare, lots of ballet dancers do it.  And there are all kinds of situations where people open their kua without naming it, perhaps you do this when you stick your toe into the river to test the temperature before making a full plunge.  But what is rare is the ability to keep the kua opening in response to complex forces.  

To accomplish this last step requires a cascade of discrete skills, executed in the right order, and practiced, not just until they are natural and spontaneous, but to the point where they re-form and re-shape ones body.

This is unequivocally a daoist art form, and requires direct daoist transmission.  Scholars are still uncomfortable with the idea that there is a form of authentic daoism that doesn't have a textual lineage, they generally refer to people like me as a "practitioner." That's okay, but there is a categorical problem with this term; namely that people who receive daoist transmissions prioritize view and fruition over methods.  Methods tend to be disheveled, flexible, expressive and spontaneous.  In that sense, I'm not a "practitioner," it is a mistake to point to what I practice. I'm actually a daoist because of my view of the human relationship to nature, and the experience and expression of the fruition of that view.

Anyway back to methods, sort of.  The non-conceptual experience of sitting and forgetting (zuowang 坐忘), by definition can not be expressed in words.  This same view is foundational for practicing zhanzhuang  站桩 (standing still), daoyin 導引 (pulling and guiding), jindan 金丹 (golden elixir).  If I had to name it, I'd say it is an experience of limitless space, a stage if you will, wuwei 無為, an agenda-less openness of not knowing. Once that is irreversibly established, then these methods can dance around on the stage as: emptiness, stillness, movement, bubbling, flowing, fire and water, mercury and gold, or the magical and the mundane.  

Opening the kua is a form of emptiness.  This type of emptiness arises spontaneously when we drop all intention within the body--also giving rise to a visualized qi body out in the space around us.  But that isn't enough.  Because simply having qi and emptiness is not stable under the pressure of complex movement and outside forces.  This 'event' must take place in a larger experience of limitless space.  The space can then be moved using the imagination.  But that only works if the qi body is simultaneously felt and imagined.  

So the whole thing is actually pretty easy.  Like I said, for $10,000... guaranteed.  Opening the kua can also be awesome for ones health, but since that idea is associated with Tai Chi and is so cliché and problematic, I will deal with it in a future post.  

Warning:  The information in this post has previously been top secret, anyone attempting to practice it without the proper initiations will surely shorten their lives.  





Rigor Mortis

A review of the film Rigor Mortis (2013) "Geung si" (original title), Director: Juno Mak Writers: Lai-yin Leung (script), Philip Yung (script) Stars: Anthony Chan, Siu-Ho Chin, Fat Chung

I watched Rigor Mortis on the airplane on the way back from Boston last month. This film was dropped in my lap by a scholar I met at the conference named Sean Allen (His abstract is write at the top of this link).  He gave a wonderful presentation on Daoism in horror films.  Talking afterwards we had lots of ideas to share and I left with a list of films to see!  The next day he dropped Rigor Mortis in my lap, extracting a promise that I would review it.   

I think we can understand Rigor Mortis as an assertion of cultural archeology. My sense of traditional theater/opera going back 200 years or more, is that the horror-ghost-supernatural genre was very widespread, it may have even been the dominant genre. But like horror today, it isn't the art form that inspires a lot of literary intelligence. To the contrary, if it is written about at all it is often to say, "that was a scary waste of time." But some of us consider it the most creative genre in terms of costumes, props, music and sets, not to mention the most forgiving of bad acting.  The horror genre is the most willing to utilize improvisation and ultimately the most willing to risk offending concerned mothers, government officials, and just about everyone else. I suspect this was true in historic China as well.  

The makers of Rigor Mortis obviously had a broad knowledge of popular religion, as there are 100's of cultural artifacts in there, actually it would be fun to watch it again and count them. The whole thing can be framed as and example of the land of Millet dreams. The notion of a millet dream world is key to the cosmology of Chinese religion, it comes from a story first written down about 1500 years ago about a scholar who is struggling to start his career, he happens to meet an old Daoist in a café and falls asleep over his millet.  He dreams his whole life, apparently in real time, and then wakes up with his millet still warm.  You can read about it in this wonderful new complete and concise history of Chinese Literature  by Sabina Knight.

In the film, an old apartment building becomes the location of the millet dream, which doesn't actually involve any millet, they use stir-fry instead, and begins at the end of a career not the beginning.  It works well because the notion of another reality as a metaphor for where we are living our lives is ultimately and traditionally conceptualize spatially. That is, the unseen-world of ghosts, spirits, ancestors, gods, and demons is ever present, all around us, below us, above us, inside us, beside us, manoeuvring around in chaotic time tunnels. Like and old apartment building.

The basic tentative working hypotheses of Chinese exorcists when dealing with ghostly and demonic forces is that upright conduct has the capacity to lead to the complete resolution of chaotic forces.  On the other hand, sex, blood, pain, and other yin substances and actions tend to draw out chaotic forces and even feed them. Thus, in this film an exorcist has to walk this line between drawing out chaotic evil and resolving it.  He does this while managing another not-so-well-behaved exorcist who would like to harness some of that slimy red yin power.  There are some scary monsters and basically the whole thing is about the undead, conceptualized as conflicting emotions which live on fear, lust and pain, endless loops of suffering.  You know, a real family film.  

Rigor Mortis doesn't actually let us know for sure whether it is a dream world imposing itself on reality or whether reality is just an illusory aspect of a dream world. Thus it posits the basic traditional-- Zhuangzi is dreaming he is a butterfly, and the butterfly is dreaming he is  Zhuangzi-- Operatic framework of illusion vs. disillusion (See Sophie Volpp ).

At this moment in history this sort of illusion vs. disillusion art work strikes me as a comic attack on modernity and rationality.  Truth isn't knowable so it isn't that important, lighten up already, it's just fake blood and special effects!  When it is all over we can get back to the important work of friending and unfriending people on Facebook.   

At the Daoist Conference in Boston the issue was raised that in popular film there is often label confusion between tangki or other ritual experts and Daoshi (literally: Officails of the Dao).  I would suggest that this may actually reflect real anxiety about the difficulty lay people have in knowing which types of ritual experts to trust.  Popular culture, documented in written plays and more recently by anthropologists of village level ritual, sometimes portrays Daoshi as wild warriors and liminal exorcists with amoral magical powers.  As we learned at the conference, some groups of elite literati were comfortable using spirit writing to create new forms of Daoism.  I think we are headed toward more expansive definitions of Daoism which may include illiterate but theatrically intelligent forms of Daoism.

Still there is good reason for caution about changing our definitions of Daosim.  I hope the discussion continues to be framed by Clifford Gertz's ideas that we try to be a form of literature which is expert at relating what people say about themselves, and each other.

Anyway, it is a fun movie, plenty of crows blood, creepy rituals and powerful talisman--check it out!


The Natan Sharansky  definition of democracy is that you can go into a public square and say what ever you want without fear of violent retribution. He specifically pointed out that an election does not signify democracy if this basic right is not being met. That perspective led to the Phillips measure of democracy (that's me), namely that one can make a horror movie. Horror movies require the freedom to express ones greatest fears and the social networks capable of bringing together economic resources and expert skills. If it hasn't made a horror movie, it isn't a democracy. For great swaths of the world it is a decent measure. There are a few exceptions that prove the rule, in the early days of film technology, governments hadn't yet figured out that horror movies could be a threat so there are a few horror movies that got under the wire in the 20's and 30's. Then there is India which simply does not make horror movies (perhaps this is because images of horror are sacred in India?). The other big exception to the Phillips rule has been Hong Kong, which has made a lot of horror movies over the years.

Hong Kong was not a democracy, but under British rule the rights of self-defense, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the right to a lawyer, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances were pretty much intact. But now Hong Kong has been handed over to the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). So naturally I asked Sean Allen (who later gave me my copy of Rigor Mortis and who is an expert on Hyper Masculinity in Asian Horror), "Has Hong Kong made a horror movie since the PRC took over?" He answered that there was indeed a lull, for a few years the masters of horror were holding their breath, but in the last 3 years a number of very serious horror movies have been produced.

This is a real source of optimism for me. I am an American, I believe strongly in Democracy, but societies that protect basic contract rights, rights like self-defense, and freedom of speech can exist alongside democracies. I don't know what the future holds, but the PRC is allowing Hong Kong to make horror films and that is a reason to be optimistic. I now have a list of new horror films to see and review for my readers, as well as some older horror films that deal with Daoist priests.  There is no way of knowing whether or not we are in some sort of millet dream, but as long as the horror movies keep coming, I'll pretend that we are.



Northampton, MA

I'm going to be in Northampton teaching some private lessons and working on a paper for a week starting tomorrow.  If anyone lives around there and wants to get together, or you know someone in the area you think I'd like to meet, drop me a line.  



Beer as a Path to Enlightenment

This a very funny read, about an important part of Tibetan History.  The commentary is already excellent so I'm not going to add anything, but if you think all those famous enlightened Masters of the past were well behaved you probably haven't read the Beer Sutra.  


Shanghai 1903 or 1933?



22/52 a Guessing Game

This is a silly post about being in Boulder, Colorado.  I'm sitting in a fancy café watching the end of the Tour De France, incidentally.  This café has marble tables and black leather seats.  Everyone here is in incredibly good shape, it is on a major bicycle route.  But Boulder is like this in general, people are in great physical condition.  

Anyway, there is a game people play in Boulder called 22/52.  Incidentally, I was pretending not to be listening into a conversation in another café when I learned about this game.  The rules are simple, you are hanging out with a friend and you see someone in the distance, you then say "22/52" and you both guess whether the person is closer in age to 22 or to 52.  If you guess differently the game is on.  As the chosen target gets closer it usually becomes obvious who won. You can play for push-ups, or beer, or just bragging rights.  

I'm not sure this game would work anywhere but in Boulder but if you have nothing better to do, you can play it all day here.  There really are that many "fit" people here.  

This makes me think about a concept my father invented called "Social Sorting" back in the late '80's or early '90's.  The idea is now popular with economists, especially when thinking about where people choose to live.  The idea is that people sort themselves out into different groups by looking first at a "flag" or a signal that tells a person they may want to join, second experiencing a "screen", which is some kind of measuring-up, assessment, or perhaps a necessary barrier, and third the "overflow,"  which weeds people out who for whatever reason don't fit in.

Anyway this all gave me a really cool idea for a Tai Chi video commercial.  Instead of 22/52 it would be called 42/72.  The camera would start way off in the distance (perhaps a few shots from a helicopter) watching someone doing Tai Chi (or Baguazhang or some other type of gongfu).  "42? or 72?" flashes on the screen, then the camera zooms in on this really old woman jumping around like a grasshopper.  It should repeat three times with different people in different location for variety.  At the end it can have some tag-line like, "Aging with power and grace:  The art of Tai Chi."



A Junk in New York and London 1851

Check out the latest article by Ben Judkins about a Junk that was sailed to New York and then London in 1851.

The most exciting thing about it is that a group of 20 Southern Chinese sailors, hired to sail the boat, just happened to have enough martial arts and opera training to put on shows in New York and then in London for 2 years.  That is strong evidence for two things:  

One, that martial arts and opera training were wide spread at least among sailors.  Actually opera might not be the right word here but they had some kind of theatrical performance training, most likely amateur.  

Two, they conceptualized martial arts as a performing art that could easily be incorporated into a larger performance.  

There is a lot of other fascinating stuff in there too, a ground breaking law suit, a visit by Charles Dickens, and Westerners playing Chinese opera instruments.  There is also some suggestion that the religious rituals they performed for themselves were accessible as performance.   Now I want to know more.


"Don't Talk" Rightly Won the Nobel Prize for Literature

I try to write reviews of books I think my readers will find stimulating.  These don't always fall in the Daoist or Martial arts categories.  At the recent conference on Daoism I attended in Boston, I met Sabina Knight who was interviewed widely after Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Her review of Mo Yan's work is a must read, The National Interest.  If that link doesn't work here is a link to the PDF.

Here is another link to an interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books, she was also interviewed by NPR if you prefer pod casts.  

After reading Knight's review I had to go out and read Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out .  I'm not going to write my own review because this one is so good, but I will add some comments.

If you know a bit about post 1949 Chinese history, it is increadibly entertaining to hear a first person account of the various eras from the point of view of a donkey or a pig.  The layers of irony get so deep you really can't crawl out of the well.  It is as if Mo Yan is doing an exorcism and you, the reader, are the demonic force being ensnared by irony and then entrapped in a deep well of meaning.  

The layers of irony are not just historical, there are just as many layers of irony from literature both Chinese and International, the pig with human attributes for instance is clearly a bit of slop thrown in Orwell's direction.  The Cultural Revolution through the eyes of a pig is so infused with theatricality that in 500 years it could perhaps be included as an 'outer chapter' of Sun Wukong's Journey to the West.  Outlaws of the Marsh makes an appearance too.  The characters faces often have color as if they were painted for a performance.  And I found this great description of the kind of music I use when teaching Northern Shaolin to kids:  "It penetrates clouds and pulverizes stones."

Sabina Knight points out that the title is a reference to Buddhism and that throughout the novel he is using phrases which are taken straight out of Buddhist scripture.  There is also an enormous amout of popular religion floating around the book, again layered in as irony with new meanings and absurd contexts.  For instance there is a chapter title (52) "...turn fake into real."  I read this as a reference to the Daoist elixir practice (jindan).  

It is not an easy book to read.  But is has magical qualities that make it worthwile.  It seemed that each time as I neared the end of the book a new section mysterously appeared.  The novel follows a landlord executed in 1950 sir-named "Ximen" or Western Gate, which is cosmologically the gate we pass through when we die.  He is then re-incarnated as a donkey, an ox, a pig, a dog, a monkey, and finally a big headed boy.  

This is an amazingly rich work, the Nobel Prize folks got this one right.  May they escape torture in Lord Yama's Court.  Mo Yan's name means: "Don't Talk," he is one of the most iteresting political writers of our time. 

Some Fun at King Yama's Court



The View From Manywheres

This Blog Post at The Last Masters about Kungfu Women is a great read.  (hat tip to Ben Judkins).

I've been reading Why Do Men Barbecue?: Recipes for Cultural Psychology   By Richard A. Shweder.  I read his Thinking Through Culture when I was like 20 years old or something.  It was great, it probably goes on the list of the first 10 books that really made me think.  The sad thing, for me, the sad thing about who I am, is that the only person I could talk to about the book was my father. (My father had a radio show called Social Thought and was the one who gave me the book.) For whatever reason, I just wasn't around people who had both the interest and the ability to read and think about complex and challenging ideas.  
That is one of the things I love about going to a conference on Daoism, there are a lot of people with whom I can have deep and far ranging conversations.  HOLY SMOKE!  I met two people in two days who had read Elaine Scary's The Body in Pain.  In my mid-twenties I was desperate to find someone who had the capacity to read that book, to no avail.  And yet at the Daoist Conference in Boston I met two people in two days!

Here are two great quotes from Richard A. Shweder...more to come:

The knowable world is incomplete if seen from any one point of view, incoherent if seen from all points of view at once, and empty if seen from nowhere in particular. 

There is no single best place to be raised, whether you are a girl or a boy.  But one of the really good places to be raised is any place where you learn that there is no single best place to be raised, whether you are a boy or a girl. 



Article on the Boxer Rebellion

The Economist has an article on the Boxer Rebellion that is interesting.  The comments are interesting too.  One of the things I like about the Boxer Rebellion is that the deeper one goes, the more ambiguity one finds.  In the article and in the comments we can see the struggle to claim that one side, or one view, is righteous.  In order to achieve this, one has to use powerful tools of reduction.  So that is an interesting exercise, while I was reading it I was trying to identify the reduction.  What is being conflated?  What is being left out?



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.  



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!




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.  

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