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Weakness With A Twist 

A place for qi-jocks & qi-nerds to explore internal martial arts, Daoism, health, performance, shaolin, and inner cultivation.

Thursday
Dec272012

The Clumsy Cowboy

When I was a little kid I had a little book called The Clumsy Cowboy that I treasured.  It was about a cowboy who couldn’t stay on his horse.  After going through some trials and tribulations he eventually solves the problem by attaching himself to the saddle with a bucket of glue.  No doubt, before the invention of stir-ups in the 3rd century a lot of cowboys had this problem.  But even after that one can imagine that wielding a weapon from horseback ran the risk that when the weapon came into contact with a fearsome warrior the sudden shock would transfer to the rider causing him to either drop the weapon or fall off his horse.  

Of course, whether or not one falls off their horse also depend on what sort of weapon they are using and how they are using it.  But any force transferring into the rider’s body is going to either hurt or knock him off the horse.  If the force transfers to the rider’s wrists he will probably drop the weapon.  The goal in such collisions of force is for the rider to transfer all the shock directly to the horse.  The horse can handle it.

This is clearly one of the origins of horse stance.  Shaolin and Tai Chi are almost identical in the way they use horse stance.  When we punch from horse stance it is essential that whatever resistance we meet is transfered to the imaginary horse-- the imaginary horse between our legs that is.  Really this imaginary horse is the lower part of the dantian and at the physical level requires that we relax and expand our base, especially the underside of the thighs, to redistribute all incoming force.  This can only be learned by having a teacher who understands how it works resist your punches while giving direct feedback about the quality of the punch.  Although the mechanism should be the same in Shaolin and Tai Chi, meaning it could be classified as either internal or external depending I guess on how well one does it, most people who learn to punch from horse stance only learn to generate power.  

Horse stance is not a particularly good stance for punching, in fact, it is a bit ridiculous.  To get power from a horse stance most people lean and push through their feet, which is of course wrong.  The whole reason for using horse stance to train punches is so that the student can learn to hit while staying perfectly upright and simultaneously transfer all the incoming force to the horse.  It’s a difficult stance, if the student can accomplish this task in horse stance then that skill will transfer easily to any other stance.  

Tuesday
Dec252012

Compression

I often hear martial artists talk about compression as one of the ways of gathering power, particularly in the joints.  The idea is that one can compress energy and then release it against an opponent.  This technique works.  But it has some big flaws that can be exploited, it is fragile.  When an opponent compresses themselves they create a moment of rigidity.  Whenever an opponent is rigid they are vulnerable to either being broken by a big mass crashing into them, or having their connection to the ground broken by a tiny bit of upward movement.  Even more embarrassing, if I can add some weight to an opponent’s self-compression they may tiddlywink themselves backwards or simply collapse.  

So one of the reasons all internal marital artists practice shrinking and expanding is to ensure that we can shrink without the slightest bit of compression.  This by itself has intrinsic healing ability.

In my experience, compression is painful if practiced a lot, and tends to wear out the joints.  It is probably harmful to the internal organs and I suspect it creates a lot of negative emotion.  

Yes, compression can be used for generating power but its downside is nearly unlimited while its upside is small and over rated.  (Kind of like fruit cake:)

Wednesday
Dec192012

Invest in Loss

I've written about this topic before, Not Your Grandmother’s Tai Chi and here too.  And I recommend you go over to the Yang Family Tai Chi forum and read what the expert translators say "Invest in Loss" means.

Here is the question:  

I am told of a quote from Cheng Man-ching, "Moreover, a beginner cannot possibly avoid losing and defeat, so if you fear defeat you may as well not even begin. If you want to study, begin by investing in loss. An investment in loss eliminates any greed for superficial advantages... Concentrating your ch'i to become soft is the only proper method to invest in loss." translation by Mark Hennessy.

"Invest in loss" is an expression which has become very widespread as a part of any English language explanation of tai chi push-hands.  As Louis Swaim explains in the link above, it is actually two characters, eat and loss (chi kui).  And that any fluent Chinese speaker would hear it as closely related to the ubiquitous phrase, eat bitter (chi ku).  

The problem is to make it apply to tai chi practice.  As I said in my first link above, I believe the phrase implies willingly losing as a method of learning better ways of moving and fighting.

For example, take a better position by moving your foot, without letting your opponent know that is what you are doing.  Use your mind in tricky ways.  Plan, not to win but to cheat.  

I also like thinking that Cheng Man-Ching knew he was in New York City and knew what a bear market strategy was.  He was aware that he was talking to Americans and liked a translation that had the term 'invest' in it.  Invest in loss sounds like a short sale on the stock options market.  Why not make money while you're losing?  Americans will understand that.

But I also had the great fortune to read Paul A. Cohen's book Speaking to History: The Story of King Goujian in Twentieth-Century China , which explains the origin of "eat bitter."  The premise of the book is that the Goujian story is as well known to all Chinese as Cinderella is to Americans.  And yet, most foreigners who become fluent in Chinese never have an opportunity to learn the story or to contemplate it's meaning.  The expression "eat bitter" is often explained as a rough equivalent of "pay your dues," or Muhammad Ali's "Don't quit, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion" or "misery has its merits."  Except that it is often explained that Chinese people kind of expect to suffer and don't necessarily expect a reward later on, although they may hope for one.  I have often heard that in the context of learning, "eating bitter" is a byproduct of dedication and subordination to a worthy teacher.  

But Paul Cohen turns all that on its head because the story of Goujian is very straight forward.  He was conquered and he totally accepted the most humiliating subordination for years before getting his kingdom back by trickery.  Then he secretly plotted a strategy of total revenge over 20 years.  The way he kept himself focussed on the task of revenge was by wearing furs in summer and going bare chested in winter, and by hanging an extremely bitter gallbladder from his doorway which he would lick every time he walked under it.  So eating bitter, or eating loss, means to accept defeat publicly while secretly planning totally revenge.  

That fits very nicely with my understanding of "invest in loss."  Let your opponent think he won, but position yourself to break his legs.  

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As an aside, I am very sympathetic to those who wish to see push-hands as a way to transmit non-aggression or even non-intention, giving up control and letting go of self-assertion.  But I think the "game of push-hands" is at best a tool, if people are using it to improve skill or attain attributes they are likely to charge right past such open ended forms of daoist fruition.  The dao of wuwei has no method, no requirements and no form.

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Irony Alert!  After having written the above text, I spent about two hours editing it and added another section.  The stuff I said was totally awesome, like the best writing I’ve ever done, and it was full of secrets too.  And then I hit the cancel button by mistake...I guess that’s what happens when you title a post “invest in loss.”  

I’ll just tag a few more lines on here but I just don’t have the time to re-do it.

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As another aside, (and I've written about this a bit in the first link up top)  Dominance is in our genetic code.  A two week old goat has good rooting and uprooting skills because they use those skills to establish social dominance.  We are the same except we also establish dominance verbally, spatially, with money, with knowledge, with mates, etc....  So when people set out to learn martial arts they naturally frame it as a dominance exercise.  Complicating things, self-defense is not about dominance, but violence professionals like prison guards, bouncers, and police are often required by their job to assert dominance so a lot of dominance training gets totally mixed up with the larger subject of martial arts.  

Push hands can be a fun dominance and submission game.  I concede that.  It is dominance by either superior skill, sensitivity or mysterious qi cultivation. The Cheng Man-Ching school, the school most responsible for popularizing the expression "Invest in Loss," tends to teach push hands as a dominance game.  They are often so hell bent on not losing that they collapse their chests in a desperate effort to evade.  This is a tragedy because with the loss of upright posture there is a profound loss of fruition.  

When people practice push hands with perfect upright they completely discard pushing!  From there effortlessness and stillness are revealed.  Non-aggression, wuwei, our true nature (de), all manifest spontaneously. 

Monday
Dec172012

Rooting and Uprooting

I'm teaching a workshop called Rooting and Uprooting
At Soja Martial Arts
Sunday 1/13/2013 
 From: 11:00 am - 2:00 pm
Soja is located at:  2406 Webster, Oakland, CA, 94612 between 24th & 25th Streets.

Rooting is the skill of being unmovable and it is also a way of generating power.

This class will lay out a progression of exercises for developing perfect rooting skills. The better one's understanding of rooting is, the easier it is to defeat those skills in others. Thus, the internal martial arts are infused with the saying “Know your enemy better than he knows himself!"  Most of class will be lively two person partner work, beginners with some athletic experience are welcome.

For Acupuncturists and Bodyworkers we will also cover the exact method for correctly differentiating the movement of the yin and yang meridians so that qi will spontaneously rise up from the bubbling-well.

Workshop cost: $25 early bird, $30 day for Soja current Adult martial arts members; and Early bird / day of $35 / $40 for non Soja Members. Soja offers partial scholarships for those in financial need.

Sign up by calling: Peter at 510.832.7652    or Emailing:  info@sojamartialarts.com

or got to SojaMartialArts.com and click through to Schedule/Adult Workshops.

Friday
Dec142012

Perfect Upright

One of the most important basics that most martial artists teach is having an upright posture.  This is often the very first lesson.  Cat stance and horse stance are usually the first two stances taught in Northern Shaolin and both require an upright posture, and the same is true for the vast majority of martial arts.  A good martial arts teacher will correct a student's uprightness incessantly.

The Chinese word for upright is zheng 正 and it carries a lot of different meanings.  Like our English term, it invokes the notion of an "upright character" but is perhaps even stronger in that it implies good posture comes from being a virtuous person and visa versa.  It also implies a correct way of being, and by inference good citizenship, and is even used to mean "government approved."  

The ritual culture of China is ancient and until the 20th Century was a defining characteristic of both national and local governance.  So rituals were refered to as upright or not upright, meaning they were conducted in a way and for a purpose which was either orthodox or heterodox* depending, I suppose, on whether it served the interests of a given authority.   

The Daoist influence on ritual frames this uprightness as a form of naturalness, available to everyone.  Having upright qi is the basis of the ritual master's prowess.  Upright qi is also the result or the fruition of ritual, much like the result of meditation is stillness.  For that reason, upright also means to rectify, that is, to heal through returning to simplicity.  

Theater (which is traditionally understood as ritual exorcism) makes the notion of upright and upright character vivid by contrasting the upright glowing qi radiance of one character with the rumpled hunched character of another.

So given all the cultural significance of uprightness, even if it had no martial function it might still be a key part of Chinese martial arts; however, uprightness is also an essential part of martial arts skills and self healing.

In a surprise attack, the simple act of fighting to recover an upright posture can be decisive.  For children and smaller adults a head attack or a punch straight upwards is the quickest route to unstoppable force. Having an upright centerline is a necessary step to many other skills including evading with small movements and turning around ones central axis to attain a superior position or execute throws, to name a few of the more important ones.  

But this post is titled "Perfect Upright."  Knowing "upright" is pretty easy, it's the sky, it's always there.  It's also the spontaneous ability of all the liquid aspects of ones body to go immediately to level, like water in a glass or the mast of a sailboat pointing at the sky.  Even better, every cell in the body has fluid in it, it is as if we are made of sand and every grain of sand knows where up is.  Perfect uprightness is effortless.  Anything less than perfect uprightness requires effort.

Why is this a problem?  If perfect uprightness is effortless, why would it need to be taught at all?

The first reasons is that humans are really good at carrying things.  When as toddlers we learn to carry things, we find it very amusing because anytime we pick something up or drop it, we have to completely re-balance every cell in our bodies.  By the time we can speak we are already perfect masters of this skill and it has become unconscious, so we don't even notice we are doing it.  In addition, we master more complex skills, like carrying a glass of water without spilling it.  That requires loads of unconscious tension because half the cells in our body are doing twice the re-balancing work to compensate for the part of our bodies which remains still.  Normal face to face communication, like conventionally holding our head in one position to show we are listening also requires loads of unconscious tension.  

Bao Zheng, The Upright Judge, A Deity & Theatrical FigureThe second reason is that humans are really good at pushing.  I recently spent a lot of time with a few two week old baby goats.  They are already masters of pushing because they use it socially to establish dominance and submission.  They love pushing on a persons hand.  If there is no break in the person's structure they will change position and try again, if there is a break in structure, they will plow right through.  They do this with a lot of sensitivity. Humans are the same, and it is an unconscious process.  Ask a few eight year old boys to stand on roughly the same spot and they will start pushing each other, usually on the shoulder, each trying to control the spot--back and forth, stumbling then recovering--they love doing it and it's totally automatic.  When people learn martial arts they often get social dominance behavior mixed up with good fighting skills.  Pushing is not a martial skill, it is purely for social dominance purposes. If the person you are pushing is stable you will push yourself backwards. 

Upright power is among the most basic and most advanced skills.  Perfect upright power is one of the most exciting things a martial artist can experience!

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*Orthoprax/heteroprax are better terms for ritual because it is something one does not a specific way of thinking.

Sunday
Dec092012

Antifragile

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

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

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

Sunday
Dec092012

The Super Hero Complex

Many people take an interest in martial arts because they treasure the image of a righteous and powerful do-gooder, also known as ‘the super hero complex.’  My goal is to inspire or re-inspire the superhero in you!  Yes, there is irony here, but there is and has always been irony in martial arts.  

Not too surprisingly, many people have tried to find an antidote to this irony by carrying a gun or pepper spray, or some other magic bullet.  And there are a whole slew of “reality based” martial arts, which (of course) are not.  Martial arts irony is robust.

click on the image to purchase it from the artistPlanning for a possible sudden attack at sometime in the future requires fantasy--lots of fantasy.  And fantasy requires an enormous amount of energy to maintain.  The best answers in self-defense are based on asking, what kind of person am I? and what kinds of violence are statistically most likely to happen to me.  But identity isn’t set in stone, it requires a lot of fantasy and effort to maintain, and if you use violence statistics to minimize risk, your risk starts getting very small. So the Daoist answer to the problem of persistent irony in the practice of martial arts is to invest in the power of emptiness.  

And then to pile irony on top of irony, in discovering this natural emptiness we also discover our inner super hero powers.  Wow.  

Why are there so many naysayers?  What is wrong with knowingly entertaining ourselves?  What is so contemptible about delighting in self-discovery?  In exploring the possibilities of human nature?  

No doubt, some will poo-poo this idea by saying that what is learnable always falls within a clearly discernible and measured curriculum.  But I say to them: what is most exciting to learn happens in the face of dark chaos.  And I venture that where there are many short-cuts, there are as many blind alleys.  

Would you stake your identity on being an effortless emptiness super hero?

Tuesday
Dec042012

Theory

Experience and theory talk to each other.  New experience (hopefully) causes theory to be either re-worked or thrown out and replaced by new theory, which prompts experiments which in turn lead to new experiences.  

However, language is not very good at communicating experience.  There are may places where language can fail us.  I have the sense that my body-mind-experience has real limits, but where they are is often unknown. Those limits are sometimes presumed based on what I can remember, or think I can remember, of my own experience, they may even be based on what I've heard about my potential.  So I have limits but I don't know what they are.

Language can be burdensome.  

So there is experience (mixed with uncertainty), and there is a portion of that experience which can be felt as a kind of knowing.  And that knowing can be translated into language as some sort of metaphor, often metaphors on top of metaphors.  Some of those metaphors are unconscious.  Some are just useful because they point to some pivotal aspect of experience, but may otherwise be misleading. And these metaphors are put together into theories we then use to formulate experiments to test and replicate our experiences, and to share with others.  

If we could simply and effectively demonstrate and describe the experiments for replicating an experience we could, theoretically, by pass the need for theory.  But experience is uncertain, metaphors are imperfect, and experiments have artificial boundaries, so nature has stuck us with a never ending conversation between theory and practice.

So always approach theory with doubt.  There probably is another way to solve the problem, whatever it happens to be, no matter how insistant your teacher is about a particular method or your lineage is about a particular way of stating things.

Which seems like a good enough intro to this video which attempts to answer the question, why do we have a brain?  There is a funny joke about 2 minutes in.   

Tuesday
Nov272012

Lost Knowledge

I love this video because when you see it done right you instantly realize that everyone else is doing it wrong.  
How did this type of knowledge get lost?  Did a generation of archers go to their graves bemoaning the advent of the gun?  Or did pieces of knowledge get peeled off bit by bit over time?  It is also amazing that this knowledge can suddenly go viral on Facebook and everyone interested in the subject gets to see it right away.  The inventor guy doesn't even have to get famous.
 
backwards complexityI went to the Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City last week.  The sandals and shoes of native Americans caught my eye because there was an exhibit of backwards complexity, the oldest shoes 1500 BP (Before Present) were the most intricate and developed while the 500 BP ones were kind of shabby.  There were also some 1600 BP boots that had been re-produced to look like a sweet pair of waterproof Uggs.
 
I hear my musician friends complain that, yes digital is great, it has so much potential, but people mostly listen to small files that filter out all the complexity and detail in the sound.  
I'm not romantic about this.  I don't think we all need to live in houses with hand made nails!  Then again, hand made nails are pretty cool. The "global market" seems to be providing us with a lot of choices lately.
Lifestyle, diet, health, birthing and dying; what did our ancestors have that we have lost? what are we losing right now that we take for granted? what are we discovering or re-discovering right now?  what will the future bring?
Again, the video is shocking because it is so obvious, now.  But there must have been a generation for whom it was not obvious.
 
I feel like I've made a lot of progress with this blog.  When I started out, there was a lot of resistance to the idea that martial arts and theater are siblings of the same family.  That the skills of fighting and the skills of acting and dancing and improvising and playing music and performing exorcism and mediation and trance all fit together.  Now-a-days, some people I meet look at me like I'm crazy when I explain what my blog is about--like duhhh, everybody already knows that.  
But of course it's not that simple, most people can say it without being able to see it.  
But I'm excited, I think internal martial arts are going to make a big new splash soon.  Call it the fourth wave.  The first wave was hippy inspired, "go with the flow."  The second was exercise is too painful but I'm a yuppie so I do "qigong for health and fitness."  The third arose from the ashes of the historical post Boxer "New Life" and "Pure Martial" nationalist movements having seduced a generation of utilitarian "Westerners" into believing that martial artists of the past were all professional fighter dudes, we'll call it the "I wish I could kick your ass with qi" movement.  The fourth wave is going to be totally different.  People will step into training environments, total body mind awareness lifestyles.  Like sacred cities or holy mountains, but with free wifi and capracocoa.* It will be called the "Oh, That's how it works!!!" movement.  
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If you are in or near the San Francisco Bay Area, please come to my workshop this Sunday at Soja.  See for yourself what fourth wave internal martial arts are all about!
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*(hot chocolate made with fresh goat's milk--do try it)
Wednesday
Nov212012

OODA Loop

Quoting from Wikipedia:

The OODA loop has become an important concept in both business and military strategy. According to Boyd, decision-making occurs in a recurring cycle of observe-orient-decide-act. An entity (whether an individual or an organization) that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby "get inside" the opponent's decision cycle and gain the advantage.

 

There isn’t all that much to say.  Training can shorten your loops, allowing you to get inside a less trained person’s loop.  Fast loops are good, slow loops are bad. Being unpredictable even to the point of chaos is generally an advantage if it keeps forcing the opponent to re-loop without being able to execute an effective action.

The problem with martial arts games of all types (wrestling, boxing, MMA, push-hands) from a fighting point of view is that they limit you.  When you have a lot of training and you are suddenly confronted with a new set of rules which deny you those training options or action, you will likely get stuck.  Why?  Because you train for speed, and when you train for speed certain conditions will trigger a certain kind of action.  If you train to pull off particular types of set-ups, or throws or strikes, your body will just start doing them when the opening appears.  If the rule set doesn’t allow it, you will have to spend a second stopping your body from making the move.  Your mind can get stuck making sure that you really aren't allowed to do what your body has trained to do.  Your body won’t believe that it isn't allowed to do that thing which has worked so well in the past until it has had time to adjust to the new set of rules.

If you are training self-defense, you are training people to break the rules, to do the unexpected, to temporarily abandon social constraints.  

This is related to the observation that oftentimes martial artists aren’t able to use their training in a surprise attack. The conditions just don’t seem right, you’d have to keep telling yourself, yes, go, do it now.  The second time you get attacked it probably has a better chance of working, but who gets surprise attacked twice now-a-days?  

The OODA loop is also important for training to win games in which both people are trained with the same set of rules.  It is still possible to be faster and more difficult to predict.  There are also things you can do to disorient or shock your opponent.  A great deal of tai chi is focuses on the disorientation aspect of the OODA loop.  

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One of the interesting training questions that comes up in partner work is the distance vs. action ratio.  Acting first usually trumps waiting because it forces the opponent to re-loop, dealing with an attack rather than attacking.  But if you are ready for an attack there is a certain distance where any action is a mistake because it will reveal your intent too soon, giving the opponent time and options for a powerful response.  This is why in Greco-roman wrestling, for instance, there are these long stand-offs where both wrestlers are waiting for the other person to make a mistake.   Swords and knives have this quality too, as long as both parties want to avoid getting cut any thrust of the knife makes the hand vulnerable to attack.  Tai Chi is famous for playing in this close quarters realm where whoever acts first loses.  But of course a player of great skill will disorient their opponent on contact.

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OK I've said enough about that.  It came up a while back with Tabby Cat, who has a new video.

The problem is obvious if you watch it.  The guy Tabby is pushing with looks like a loaded gun forced to keep the "safety" on.  He sees ways to act, but then remembers he isn't allowed to do that: OODA loop shut down.  It's very different then two people who train with the same set of rules.  There is something else important and valuable to see here, namely that Tabby is easily uprooting his opponent by using his opponent's tension.  It is a very difficult skill to learn because you have to comprehend what is happening and melt all the tension in your body.  But what I always look for in a Tai Chi guy is, can they do it in the form?  Can they do it in a big range of motion?  Can they do it to the side?  Up, down, left, right, front, back, circle? From behind?  On the ground? or over their head?  (While sipping tea is my goal.) Notice he only has the skill upward from a low position close to the body.  That would be the easiest position.  Sort of like treading water in the deep end of the pool.  Swimming in the arctic it ain't.  

Anyway that is my conceited opinion and that is what I was thinking when I got to the later part of the video where he wraps the red pregnancy cloth around his arms.  OK perhaps it is because I've been doing too much relaxation of deep unconscious tension lately, but when I saw that, I just about busted a gut!  Now that we know you can tread water in the deep end, why not try it in the kiddie pool!

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Well, if you've read this far I have a little treat for you which is mostly unrelated.  I have been thinking about advice to give beginners who what to go far in internal martial arts.  Here is my advice.  Don't try to make any technique work.  It is quite counter intuitive, but the problem is, if you try to make a technique work you will be conditioning yourself to feel either 1) a type of active resistance, or 2) success.  The problem with the feeling of active resistance is that when you actually have the internal gongfu you won't feel any resistance.  The problem with the success feeling is that when your technique fails in a violent confrontation you are likely to freeze.  Now I don't know from experience that the feeling of success in a flaw, but my gut tells me it is.  Anyway, to win by force is a mistake.  What we want is that you just practice the techniques, if there is resistance change, if not keep going.  In the beginning it is the outer forms that really matter.  Know the technique, don't try to make it work.  A subtle difference perhaps, but I'm finding it is a powerful teaching key.

Thursday
Nov152012

Identity and Cosmology

From about the age of two, we start carrying things around.  These are our things.  These things are somewhat like the 150 or so people we recognize as our group, and the much smaller bunch of people we call family and friends.  Belonging is not the same thing as owning, but it takes up space in our body memory in a similar way.  We carry these identity objects around with us.  I know what books I have on my shelf even when I’m a thousand miles away.  When I go backpacking I know that I’m carrying 42 things and I know exactly where each of them is.  

This stuff we carry around is the stuff of our identity.  Likewise we learn ways of walking that match up with the groups we belong to.  We learn ways of holding our head that communicate who we are and our status within these groups.  Identity changes when it is confronted by reality.  Sometimes it changes fluidly, sometimes it is very resistant to change.

Our place in a family seems stable, and may in fact be stable for a very long time, but it is what it is because we agree that it is.  It can be disturbed.  Certainly the things we own can come and go, some things much more easily than others.

Identity floats on the edge of the unconscious.

Cosmology is similar to identity.  In its simplest form it is just the world around us.  In reality we only see a very small field of our vision in focus, we only feel contact on our skin, but our mind imagines a much bigger field in focus and sensory awareness all of the time.  The feeling of the world around us is a very strong feeling.  

I’m sitting in a cafe right now looking out the window, but I have a strong feeling sense of where the espresso machine is behind me, also where the bathroom door is and how many tables are in the corner.  Now it is entirely possible that someone just moved the tables (I’m wearing ear plugs) or stole the espresso machine, and if I were to turn around right now and see those things gone it would be a shock (Don’t worry, I just checked and they are all still there.)  This kind of cosmological presence is entirely in my mind, yet it is somehow stored in my body.  I can very clearly imagine the feeling in my body of walking up the carpeted stairs in the three story house I grew up in, I can even remember the feeling of wrestling on and rolling down those stairs.  If I were to go visit that house and find that it had been torn down I would still have these feelings.  

The sun and the moon both move “across” the sky.  Our feeling of the sky is the beginnings of cosmological awareness.  The word “across” is in fact a pretty vague concept, but we all know what it means.  That’s cosmology.  At some point we learn or we envision that the sun and the moon go around the earth.  And then we learn that the earth is actually spinning and that while it is spinning around itself it is also spinning around the sun, and that the sun is spinning around the universe and that the universe is expanding.  

Cosmology also floats on the edge of the unconscious.

Identity and cosmology often overlap.  For instance, part of what we think we know about muscles is cosmology, part of it is identity.  Part of the concept “muscles” is found in how our body feels, part of it is the way we feel emotionally about our bodies, and part of it is how we understand muscles to function in relationship to movement.  Each of these experiences has a kind of built on top of, interwoven layered quality.  It is part identity, and part cosmology.  We pick up part of this “muscles” concept and carry it around as an aspect of identity, it has changed a few times since we first picked it up at around age four.  Our cosmological notion of muscle functionality has also been changing with the accumulation of knowledge and experience.  

Identity and cosmology are both vulnerable to reality.  They can be altered, torn down, shocked, disturbed, wrangled, bolstered, tested, and abandoned.  

I bring all this to my reader’s attention because I want to say something about the roles of teacher and student.  

In the professional dance world, a complement teachers would bandy about fairly regularly was, “I like the way you take correction.”  This complement signified that the dance student was receptive to changes.  Perhaps it also signified a degree of fluidity in identity and cosmology.

My job as a martial arts teacher is to identify the student’s problem, and then to state, demonstrate, or show him or her what is right and what is wrong.  9 times out of 10 this will challenge the identity of the student to some degree.

The student’s job in this identity challenging situation is to understand why a particular attribute or action is correct and why another is incorrect.  It is not usually the student’s responsibility to fix the problem on the spot, but rather to recognize the quality or attribute in question.  

Another part of my job as a teacher is to keep changing metaphors, descriptions and activities until the student sees or feels something new.  9 times out of 10 this is a challenge to cosmology.

The student’s job is to appropriate this new cosmological “idea” or “experience” into his or her daily practice.  That generally involves some kind of perceptual shift, which, with practice, becomes a new way of being.

Change can be fun and/or scary or subtle and/or unconscious.  I suppose that sometimes identity and cosmology shift in gradual ways and other times they make quantum leaps.  I suspect that it is a teacher’s sensitivity to the process of these changes that makes him or her a good teacher.  As Keith Johnstone  put it:  Teaching is not a substance, of which a little bit is good and a lot is better--bad teaching is deeply harmful!

Identity and cosmology (this is from Daoism now) are illusions maintained by effort.  That effort requires energy from food and the (original qi) stuff we have stored deep in our kidneys.  When we weaken ourselves carefully, we automatically put less effort into identity and cosmology making them slightly more vulnerable to softening and flexibility.  But of course becoming too weak too suddenly can cause a sudden collapse of identity or cosmology leading to a kind of snap back, effectively strengthening our perceptions of self and world.   We evolved this way because it was good for survival.  For instance, when we have a close shave with death, the moment we are safe our bodies release hormones in our blood which cause us to feel strong family-like bonds with whoever we happens to be with, changing our identity to improve our survival.   

In case you are wondering, there is a short cut to all of this.  It is to become completely empty in totally undifferentiated chaos.  That, by the way, is what the name Tai Chi actually means.

Monday
Nov122012

Internal Power 101

Hey Everybody!  I'm teaching a workshop called Internal Power 101
At Soja Martial Arts
Sunday 12/2/2012 
 From: 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Soja is located at:  2406 Webster, Oakland, CA, 94612 between 24th & 25th Streets.

The workshop will be an overview of the power generation methods used in all traditional Chinese martial arts: Tai Chi, Xingyi, and Bagua Zhang. 

Workshop cost: $90 for non Soja Members, 10% off for Soja current Adult members.
Here is the skinny:

What is perfect structure and what are its limits? Laozi said, “Knowing when to stop is wisdom.” How do we know when we’ve had enough of a particular type of training? How is it possible to have a calm body and a wild mind at the same time? How can we prepare emotionally and physically for the hardships which happen after a violent encounter? Is it possible to attack in such a way that the opponent can not figure out how to resist? How can a martial art be consistent with the Daoist cultivation of emptiness (xu-kong), non-aggression (wuwei), and natural spontaneity (ziran)? 

Because comprehending a kinesthetic idea requires actually being able to do it, the answers to these questions became a list of solo and partnered experiments that fall into three general categories:

Jing 精- Discovering the underlying structure expressed in traditional Chinese concepts of anatomy and physiology through the exploration and testing of daoyin and shaolin movements and postures.

Qi 氣- Dissolving conscious and unconscious tension in the body in order to reveal the unconditioned freedom of our water-baby-like original nature.

Shen 神- The development of an active spatial awareness which is unconstrained by the trances of everyday living.

11 am - 5:30 pm  6 hours with an hour lunch break (12:30-1:30) $80 (early registration) or $90 after.
 
Please note:  Soja does not offer refunds for this workshop for any reason, but in case your schedule changes at the last minute in most cases we will apply your funds toward future workshops or regularly scheduled classes.

Scott P. Phillips taught the Tai Chi and Qigong programs at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, before that he spent ten years studying Daoism with Liu Ming the founder of Five Branches University, and he has practiced martial arts all of his life. He is a senior student of renowned masters George Xu and Bing Gong. He has an extensive background in ethnic dance and improvisational theater, and also teaches Baguazhang, Luihe Xinyi, Yiquan standing meditation, Northern Shaolin as a performing art, and Daoyin.

 

Sign up by calling: Peter at 510.832.7652    

or Emailing:  info@sojamartialarts.com

or got to SojaMartialArts.com and click through to Schedule/Adult Workshops.

Friday
Nov092012

Self-Defenseless 

I predict that in my lifetime not knowing self-defense will become like illiteracy was 100 or so years ago.  

If you line up the arguments for teaching everyone self-defense and the arguments against, side by side, the arguments in favor are much stronger.  Sometime back in the 1990’s my former stepmother (who is an internationally known civil rights lawyer and can be seen eating cookies in a Michael Moore movie) and I were discussing sexual politics, date rape, and behavioral norms.  I said something on the order of, “The solution is to teach everyone self-defense.”  

Now, at that time, the apocalypse was a distant unlikelihood, Buffy had not yet staked a single vampire, nerds were still nerds, and nobody even knew how zombies were created. 

There was no internet, no youtube, nobody had a video cell phone, no Rory Miller, no Devi Protect, and no Gift of Fear.  There were Wimin’s self-defense classes at that time, like IMPACT which started in 1985, along with loud whistles, mace, and permanent ink spray.  

But there wasn’t to my knowledge anyone explaining in plain legal language, the way they regularly do on cop shows today, the importance of Intent, Means, Opportunity, and Preclusion.  Outside of castle law, back then, the “right to self-defense” was down right murky.  The difference between predator violence and social violence was unexplored territory in the popular imagination.  There was also no popular critique of terms like victim and victimizer, they were as irony-free in normal conversation as “bread & butter.”

At the time I was practicing martial arts and dance about 8 hours a day and since I didn’t believe in cars, I was riding my bicycle or my skateboard everywhere.  

My former stepmother’s response to my suggestion that everyone learn self-defense was memorable, “Women will never be equal to men in physical strength, and besides it is totally impractical.”

I knew then that she was wrong, but I didn’t have the arguments or the examples to prove my point.  If self-defense was the equivalent of becoming a skillful martial artist practicing for hours everyday, she might have had a point.  But it turns out that self-defense is really much more like a form of literacy.  It is a way of thinking about and seeing the world.  Surely it involves martial arts skills to some degree, but it is a mistake to think that self-defense skills require you to be superior in any physical sense. 

The arguments for teaching these skills to everyone before they reach puberty are getting stronger as the list of topics that should be included in a basic self-defense education grows: Good guy modeling, monkey dance awareness, personal responsibility, emotional bio-chemistry, the nature of autonomy, cultural and social “othering,” citizenship, talking to the authorities, the cultural and historical links between fighting, dancing and improvisation, etc, etc, etc... 

Thinking back on her comments that day, it is striking how similar the old arguments against teaching women how to read are to the arguments against teaching women self-defense.  

In fact, I would like to caution anyone who uses the “totally impractical” argument  to look back at all the people who were later face-palmed by inspired people who didn’t seem to notice that impracticality was an obstacle.  

Friday
Nov092012

World Music Festival

The San Francisco World Music Festival Starts tonight.  The theme is Asian Opera.

Check it out.  Reviews to follow.

Monday
Nov052012

External Internal Mixes

Just wanted to share this video of one of my class mates from the early 90's.  Stan was a strange kid, about 17 in this video, I remember him having some mental development problems that made him a bit shy and awkward in conversation, but he was fun to practice with.

And here is Shifu Qing Zhong Bao, George Xu's main teacher before George left China around 1980.  He is 95 years old in the video.  Lanshou, the system he is a master of, and the one Stan is demonstrating above, is considered a mixed internal and external system.  Whatever right?  Looks like it is pretty good for health in old age as well as training young people for maximum versatility.  

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