Weakness With A Twist 

Internal Martial Arts, Theatricality, and Daoist Ritual Emptiness



LIVE LONG GET RICH!  Is the traditional Chinese thing to say at New Years.  And indeed, it is a good idea, Let's do it!

I've been reading Daoism in the Twentieth Century, Between Eternity and Modernity, by David A. Palmer and Xun Liu.  It is excellent and deserves a full review in the coming weeks.  For today I have a juicy quote from the introduction which is by Kristofer Schipper:

The linkage between communities that are established and reinforced through the institution of fengxiang [carrying incense ashes from one temple to another creating a network] are important, and many historical networks such as the Mazu temples of maritime merchants are clearly linked to China's commercial expansion.  But the economic role of temples was not limited to this function only....Daoist communities taxed their members and also outsiders in a variety of ways: through an initial membership fee, by receiving contributions at each festival, by auctioning leadership positions, by taxing merchants at the temple fairs, and so on.  One of the salient charateristics of the temple orgnaization was the importantce, and also the perfect transparency, of financial management.  All accounts were made public through posters affixed on the temple walls.  After meeting the costs of the different communal celebrations, the money was used for charity and welfare, for medical services, public works, and so on. But in many instances associations and temples also provided venture capital and this usage has today become important in overseas communities.  Indeed, in countries like the United States or Canada, there is no need for Chinese temples to train militia, build roads and bridges, and to invest large sums in charity, whereas the procurement of venture capital is a most necessary means of mutual support.  

This gives me a lot to think about.  Transparency in financial management is so important to the modern world and Daoists made it a priority during the Ming Dynasty!  The conquering Qing Dynasty set out to suppress Daoism with major anti-Daoist laws starting in the 1700s, culminating in the 1898 law declaring that every temple had to be converted into a "modern" school.  In the Twentieth Century the Nationalists (Chinese Christian Fascists is a better descriptor) and the Communists, nearly completed Temple Daoism's destruction.  If we think of Daoist temples as networked, local, honest, open, financial institutions of autonomous government, their long-term systematic suppression takes on new and darker explanations.  

Fortunately Daoism is now bouncing back in many new creative ways!  

Maybe we should start a Kungfu Bank?


The energy of the Fire Monkey Year can be summarized in the statement, "Use it or lose it!"  The Wood Goat year we just finished was the most creative year of all sixty years in the Lunar calendar.  If you set yourself up with projects and clear vision, the Fire Monkey year is going to be full of explosive energy jumps you can grab hold of and ride.  But they come and go in a flash so you have to be ready.  Without a vision there is a danger of getting profoundly lost in the Fire Monkey year because it is all about sudden desires, followed by other sudden desires, and so on.  

The Fire Monkey year is a great year for people who already have a meditation practice.  If you don't have one, and want to start one, in this year a week long solo retreat to prime your pump would be the best strategy.  Of all sixty years, this is the year people are most likely to reach enlightenment.  It is also the easiest year for opening your third eye!  

Social butterflies are likely to achieve positions of leadership in the Fire Monkey year.  The election in the United States is going to be mind blowing, with more participation then ever before.  

Even introverts are likely to make a lot of new friends this year.

For martial artists it is going to be awesome.  In the Fire Monkey year expect your natural effortless power to triple.  Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, is the greatest of all fighters.  To fully harness the energy of the Fire Monkey requires taking the discipline of improvisational skill development seriously.  So mix it up, chaos can be your friend.  

Travel!  Party! Love! And finally, watch out!  The danger of burning out, busting up, and self-cumbustion is higher in the Fire Monkey year.  EAT WHEN IT IS TIME TO EAT, SLEEP WHEN IT IS TIME TO SLEEP!

Gong Hey Fat Choy!!!


Daoyin Reimagined: A Comparison of Three Embodied Traditions

I am happy to announce the publication of the Journal of Daoist Studies volume 9 (2016), available at Three Pines Press.  It is $25 for the paper book and $15 for the digital book.  

Oh, and my article Daoyin Reimagined: A Comparison of Three Embodied Traditions, co-written with Daniel Mroz, is in it!


Here is the table of contents:

Erica Brindley Spontaneous Arising: Creative Change in the Hengxian 1

Steven Burik Comparative Resources: Continental Philosophy and Daoism 18

Friederike Assandri Stealing Words: Intellectual Property in Medieval China 49

Shu-Wei Hsieh Possession and Ritual: Daoist and Popular Healing in Taiwan 73

Georges Favraud Immortals’ Medicine: Daoist Healers and Social Change 101

Marnix Wells Daoism Not as We Know It 120


Scott P. Phillips & Daniel Mroz Daoyin Reimagined: A Comparison of Three Embodied Traditions 137

Andrew Colvin Nonaction and the Art of Blending: Daoist Principles in Aikido 157

David Hessler Teaching with Dao 170

Avery Morrow How Not to Be Thinged by Things 182

Yanxia Zhao Daoist Longevity and the Aging Society 191


I highly recommend the whole book.  In Taiwan, Shu-Wei Hsieh was extremely generous in introducing me to the people who could help with my research into the relationship between religious rituals and martial arts, and his work is extraordinary.  I stayed with Marnix Wells, the author of the now classic Scholar Boxer, when I was in London.  We are working on a project together about the earliest connections of Zhang Sanfeng to theatrical martial arts.  I love his mind.  And Georges Favraud's work is absolutely pivotal.  He is doing a type of Daoist anthropology which documents a person's entire life, showing the depth and breadth of religious experience across time. His focused, intensely intimate, and local, style of anthropology is profoundly optimistic and open-minded.


Daoyin Reimagined has been in the works for a long time, and I'm very happy with it. Here is the abstract:

This essay investigates three transmissions of esoteric movement from the perspective that religious, theatrical, and martial arts of China are a single subject. This is a comparative and speculative exploration of personal practice contextualized by current scholarship. The practices we examine are healing exercises (daoyin) as taught by American Daoist and Buddhist initiate Liu Ming (1947--2015), those taught by American martial arts and yoga teacher Paulie Zink (b. 1954), as well as Himalayan Rigdzin Trulkhor transmitted by the Tibetan Buddhist sage Jigmé Lingpa (1729-1798) in the 18th century. We selected these practices for both systemic and phenomenological reasons: they have strong structural similarities, they treat the body in correlate ways and their effects on the practitioner are similar. 


The world of publishing is changing wildly.  As a teacher and thinker I want as many curious people to read my work as possible, so this article is available on adademia.edu.  But I also want people to support the Journal of Daoist Studies if they can.  


I'm expecting my article on the theatrical and religious origins or Taijiquan to come out in a book called Daoism and the Military later this year.  And my book Possible Origins, A Cultural History of Chinese Martial Arts, Theater, and Region, is finished and looking for a publisher, in case you are one!  And I've started work on a cultural religious history of Baguazhang!


Martial Arts Social Movements

A new (composite) thought about martial arts social movements.

There are three types of martial arts social movements.  For the sake of neat categories we will call them Nationalist, Universalist, and Trader.  I will explain each in turn.  Each type of social movement contains a unique value system and has identifying characteristics that can allow us to understand most of the conflicts that happen between them.  

Nationalist, socialist, fascist, anti-colonialist, anarcho-feminist (etc), irredentist, or revolutionary—these martial arts social movements are structured to be in service of “the cause.”  While these movements often take on the language of modernity (science, purity, rationality, progress), it is used as a test of conformity rather than a defining characteristic of these arts.1 

  • These martial arts social movements treat dance/dancing either as a weakness to be suppressed and ridiculed, or a romantic bouquet of flowers to remind them of their claim to a place (or identity) it is often called “folk” dance. 
  • Religion is either a unified monotheistic structure or a militant atheist one.  A few outliers may have made “the cause” itself into a religion.  Polytheism, paganism, improvisation, and open-ended spiritual exploration are all violations of the creed.  
  • Titles within the system are actual ranks in a social structure.
  • Self-defense is a justification more than it is a method.   

Universalistmartial arts social movements pride themselves on their ability to assimilate (suck in) techniques from anywhere and everywhere.  They assemble a progressive method and then promote it as gospel.  Mix Martial Arts (MMA) is a great example.  Muay Thai is a Nationalist movement inside of Thailand, but a Universalist one outside.3 Olympic Judo and Boxing are Universalist too.  Wushu is born out a contradiction between its Universalist character and its Nationalist aims.   

  • The advocates or this tradition are called coaches or trainers (artists are competitors).    
  • Self-defense is largely part of a fantasy about what violence looks like.  

Trader martial arts social movements are named after the trader peoples: Jews, Sogdians, Gujarati, and Senegalese.4 These peoples have traditionally sought out things of value to buy or learn and then taken them to other places to sell rather than sticking to a place or a social hierarchy.  

  • These martial arts social movements can be like antiques, preserved and quirky, or well cared for.  They can also be new inventions, or re-packaged products.  
  • The major characteristic of this social movement is that the story about the art is inseparable from the art as a product.  
  • Modularity is common because any attribute can be sold as a separate product.  Self-defense is simply an attribute.  Kick-boxing conditioning can be packaged for weight-loss.  Taijiquan can be sold as medicine.  
  • Antiques are of little value without their story.  New assemblages must have a creation story.  


 What is a thought?  My regular readers know what a thought is, but most people in the world do not.  This is particularly obvious to me when I mix in academic circles where knowledge production or nuance of argument is the goal.   

A thought is a verbal construction which changes the way people see or perceive a social institution.  Thoughts are tools for understanding how things (ideas, behaviors, movements, objects, principles) are constructed and organized.  Thoughts are very powerful because they allow us to sort, re-frame, re-organize, re-start, filter, group, and interpret.5

Thoughts are not about knowledge, they are about knowing how we know.  Some thoughts are specific to a milieu, and some thoughts are more general.  Some thoughts are composites of other thoughts, others are re-workings of established thoughts to new contexts.  And very rarely, a new thought is actually generated.  The total number of original thoughts is probably less than fifty.6

Richard Rorty warned against the “narcissism of a good idea.”7 Thoughts which have the power to organize and re-frame are seductive.  They carry with them the danger of obsession.  The image of the Wizard of Oz insisting that everyone wear his rose colored glasses comes to mind.  The more thoughts we apply to our studies the safer we are from this “narcissism” because we can use one thought to counter another.   

The thought above is obviously a composite of other thoughts.  It’s value is that it can be used to see conflicts between these different martial arts social movements.  Each movement has an ethos and an ethic.8   

The field (or anti-field) of martial arts studies needs some common dreams so that we can talk to each other.9  This is my contribution.  


1Morris (2004) and Cohen (1997).

2Shweder (1991)

3Rennesson (2011)

4Sowell  (1996)

5Phillips (1988-1998)


7Rorty (1999)

8Shweder (2003)

9Douglas (1986)


Allen, Ernest.  “‘When Japan Was “Champion of the Darker Races’:  Satokata Takahashi and the Flowering of Black Messianic Nationalism” in The Black Scholar 24 (Winter 1994): 23-46.  http://www.umass.edu/afroam/downloads/allen.tak.pdf

Cohen, Paul A. History in three keys: The Boxers as event, experience, and myth. Columbia University Press, 1997.

Douglas, Mary. How institutions think. Syracuse University Press, 1986.

Jackson, George. Soledad brother: The prison letters of George Jackson. Chicago Review Press, 1970.

Meyer, Michael A. The Origins of the Modern Jew: Jewish Identity and European Culture in Germany, 1749-1824. Wayne State University Press, 1972.

Morris, Andrew D. Marrow of the Nation: A History of Sport and Physical Culture in Republican China. Vol. 10. Univ of California Press, 2004.

Phillips, Michael.  Social Thought, a radio show that played for ten years on NPR.  1988-1998 http://socialthoughtradio.com/

Rennesson, Stéphane. "Thai Boxing: Networking of a Polymorphous Clinch”." Martial Arts as Embodied Knowledge (2011): 145-60.

Rorty, Richard. "Achieving our country: Leftist thought in twentieth-century America." (1999).

Shweder, Richard A. Thinking through cultures: Expeditions in cultural psychology. Harvard University Press, 1991.

Shweder, Richard A. Why do men barbecue?: Recipes for cultural psychology. Harvard University Press, 2003. 

Sowell, Thomas. Migrations and cultures: a world view. Basic Books,1996.


History and Knowledge

A few short paragraphs on the etymology the "martial arts."  Excellent work.

Long time readers of this blog know that I've gone from ranting-and-raging to equanimity on the subject of Yoga overstreching and hypermobility.  Finally the subject is getting some serious attention:


And there is a link to an academic paper (PDF) as well:


Ben Judkins did this short piece on Tiger Soldiers that I missed during the Summer.  I've used the first two images in my up-coming book, but for a different effect.  He assembled some very cool images, well worth checking out and thinking about.


Which leads me to another free floating thought.  Many of the westerners who wrote about China before 1900 and a few in the early 1900s were very astute.  Not so many people read or study these accounts. We have come to expect writers about China to be sensitive to all sorts of signifiers about the preciousness of Culture that most of these writers lack.  And there is a sense that academia is always making progress, so we should read the most recent thing.  But when I read this stuff I'm often astounded at how broad and insightful these folks were.  All this stuff is free and in the public domain.  Check it out.


I got this one from the library, it was apparently very popular at one time...1902...so there are a lot of copies around in good conditions, Mrs Archibald Little:


 Dr. Doolittle:


All of J.J.M. de Groot's books are available for download or viewing.  The guy basically invented Chinese studies.  I'm working my way through book 6.


And Henri Dore's works too!


Still just scratching the surface.  



I love practicing martial arts in the snow.  There has been a lot of snow lately so I haven't had time to blog.

But here are some things I've dug up.

First off is a very straight story about Buddhist nun's practicing Kungfu.  It seems so normal.  That is what I like about the story.  http://www.buddhistdoor.net/features/the-druk-amitabha-kung-fu-nuns-combining-martial-arts-and-meditation

I've been reading...a lot.  One thing that caught my mind was an account of the birth of China's most famous patriot.  The story goes that the Buddha was giving a big lecture-demo in India when a female bat farted so loudly it shook the Buddha's lotus flower.  King Garuda, the giant bird, immediately swooped in and killed the bat.  Thus Garuda could not attain full enlightenment and had to be reborn as human.  He thus became general Yue Fei, whose style name is Pengju 鵬舉.  I've been reading C.T. Hsia, but you can get it straight from wikipedia...scroll down to the last paragraph in the Buddhist section.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garuda#cite_ref-12

Below is an image of Yue Fei in hell!

Speaking of hell, the large collection of images of Chinese Hells at Reed College is amazing.  Check it out.


Now, I haven't had time to read it yet.  But this appears to be the first translation into English of the Heshan Gong commentaries on the Daode Jing.  I personally have most of the commentary in fragments, it was translated into German in the 1980's.  Along with Xiang'er and the partial commentary of Zhang Daoling, it is the oldest and most important Daoist commentary.  The most commonly used commentary on the Daode Jing is Wangbi.  But he was not Daoist and he is said to have died at age 25 from overwork.   



Into the Badlands and Flaying

I've been watching the new AMC show Into the Badlands.  I came across this article explaining how choreographer Dee Dee Ku works.  He gave all the actors a crash course in martial arts, six hours a day for six weeks.  During that period he had everyone doing wire-work and acrobatics too.  He then started to choreograph for each actor based on their strengths and talents.  

The article explains that it would be a disaster if the show was just martial arts with bad acting, and equally bad if it was just good acting with terrible martial arts.  I wonder if it is occurring to anyone else that if you want to be in the movies these days, both acting and martial arts are a requirement.  Of course readers of this blog already know that martial arts and acting were originally a combined subject, separating them was a flawed product of modernity.

My wife pointed out that in the first half of the 20th Century, if you wanted to be in movies you had to be able to sing and dance.

At the same time, I've been reading the massive and repetitive Chinese epic, Canonization of the Gods (Fengshen Yanyi).  Every character has magic weapons.  

The weapon below makes an appearance in Into the Badlands, in the hands of the character The Widow.  

The weapon is called Chinese Hooked Swords.  Occam's Razor would suggest that, since this is a crazy looking weapon, it must come from Chinese Opera.  But still we can consider how it might be used in actual combat.  Please feel free to do that in the comments (here are some close ups).  I have a more complex explanation.  Notice the similarity to this Tibetan ritual weapon:

What are those hooked blades for?  Well it turns out they are for flaying.  The English word flaying usually means cutting off the skin.  But in this case they are for separating the flesh from the bone.  

This has both theatrical and legal significance in China.  In the Qing Dynasty legal code, the punishment for killing your father, or committing treason, was a type of flaying called "Death by a Thousand Cuts."  It was a public mutilation of the body.  In fact, there were several variants of this punishment.  In one version, the executioner had a basket full of blades.  Each blade had the name of a place on the body to stab, gouge or flay.  The basket was covered with a piece of cloth so the executioner could pick a blade without looking.  This way, heaven could intervene and make it a quick death by selecting the "heart" blade early on--or alternately it could take hours before the heart blade came up, making the death slow and painful.  In another version, the cuts were made in a specific ritual order, presumably to cause the most suffering.

In the epic Canonization of the Gods, Nezha wants to kill his father but instead he publically cuts off his own flesh.  He gives his flesh to his mother and his bones to his father.  This was one of the most popular plays during the Qing Dynasty and dates all the way back to 1300.  So what kind of sword was used on stage to accomplish this task?  

What kind of weapon is designed for flaying oneself?  I should point out here that the Tibetan weapon above is used in the Tantric ritual called Chöd, specifically for visualizing removing the flesh and offering it to the Buddha.  Are the hooked swords above related to a Chinese variant of this ritual?

The weapon below is also pretty weird.  My friend Maija thinks it is a pair of knuckle dusters that got carried away with itself, adding spikes and blades--perhaps for someone with giant hands.  



This weapon has many names, as does the weapon Nezha uses for flaying himself on the stage.  One name that is used by martial artists and in the Nezha Operas is Qiankun Jian, or Heaven-Earth Swords.  This might explain why as a weapon it seems better designed for cutting oneself than for cutting an opponent.   


San Francisco Trip

Teaching Circus Daoyin

We did three hours of intense animal Daoyin.  It was good.  People got so tired they naturally returned to stillness.  Which is the point of Daoyin, to discover and feel the spontaneous pull between movement and stillness.  In that pull our form becomes pliable because it is freed from our story.  And our story is freed from the limitation of our form.  The movement is designed to push both sorts of boundaries.  This type of class is a very positive experience for most people.  It fully integrates strength, flexibility, body re-orientation, and locomotion.

From a marketing point of view, I have barely scratched the surface of people who might be interested in this training; they include those who teach movement to children, any kind of yogi, bodyworkers, performers, martial artists who do conditioning or mat-work.  I would like to market to people who are interested in enlightenment, while avoiding the positive affirmations and trance crowd.

Circus Daoyin is the complete integration of yoga, martial arts, and theater—or rather, it is the re-assembling of three traditions that used to be one.  

Teaching Dance as Self-Defense

This went so well, it is hard to comprehend.  My confidence about the subject has been steadily increasing.  Essentially I teach the waltz, a smidgen of jazz, and then finish up with samba.  But every class objective applies to martial arts.  Every discrete lesson is presented as martial arts, because the building blocks of the dance are all martial games.  It is a powerful approach.  It change peoples perceptions of both martial arts and dance.  In a sentence, it lifts the artificial walls separating martial arts and dance so that everything from history, to concepts, to principles, can pass freely around the space.

I'm so excited about this because it solves a major problem in martial arts which is that martial training often enters the brain as a skill or a technique.  That part of the brain is hard to access in new or adrenalized situations.  When dance enters the mind as a game, as play, it becomes instantaneously accessible.  

There were several martial artists in attendance who had some dance training, but only one of the students was a dancer with no martial arts training.  Her modest comments at the end were gold.  "Martial artists need to learn how to keep their frame."  When she said this, everyone looked at her with disbelief.  But I was thinking: this is awesome.  Martial artists habitually test their "frame" as structure transferred from a point of contact (force) to the ground.  But in dance a frame is used in motion without a connection to the ground, so it has to be solid.  She then demonstrated how one uses a frame to generate whole body mass for a strike in motion.  She had seen me doing it and her dance background made it instantaneously accessible.  Whereas martial artists were constantly trying to re-position their arms and losing their frame.     

Training with Rory Miller

This was a self-defense teacher training course.  Before the course I had a day to play around, and I got several hours of heavy contact with Rory.

Rory, with his 500+ documented uses of force, has qualities to his movement that no one else has.  Stuff that works on other people doesn’t work on him.  He says he is simply experiencing force vectors. He does not visualize or feel his own body or the other persons body.  When I was “fighting” with him, I tended to tense up a lot, because it felt like he could hit me, like my whole body was vulnerable.  That doesn’t happen when I spar or play with most people.  I’m not sure it happens with anyone else, but it made me wonder if it is happening with other people just below my radar. 

One thing that was really cool, after I relaxed I was still having trouble because he was ahead of me (in time and space), I could hit him a lot, but he was hitting me harder—or rather his strikes were having more effect on me. 

Then I dropped something.  I made an easy-to-describe, but hard-to-explain, change.  I removed my torso as a target.  I removed it from my own awareness.  Wow.  Huge improvement.  I think what happened is that part of my mind was occupied with feeling my own body, and when I dropped that I had more time and space to play with.  My experiments since then tend to confirm this explanation.  In theory I already knew this.  But Rory provided a type of pressure testing that pushed me to experience it in a new way.

Rory and I also did a bunch of dueling with sword/knives, great stuff.  I got a little time with Maija Soderholm and Peter Ajemian too.  And lots of other people who just wanted to play.  A very fun group. 


Rory’s teacher training 

This was great, Rory is trying to pass on his knowledge and experiences so that other people can teach self-defense meaningfully and effectively.  There was a lot of material to think about and test out. Rory attracted a lot of great teachers for the class.  The task is to learn his material and make it our own.

I taught the power generation part of the self-defense seminar.  This went well.  People with less martial arts experience were astounded by how much power they had.  And at least six of the very experienced martial artist said I left them with important tools and strategies to practice; that my approach was getting them to re-think how they generate power.  

For this one hour section of a 10am to 6pm workshop, I taught drop-steps and structure and both together.  The drop steps class was a revelation for a lot of people.  The centrality of drop-steps in martial arts is often overlooked because the main way we make martial arts safe is by taking out the momentum.  Drop steps are the most powerful tool for generating momentum in any direction for a strike.  They are also overlooked in dance, because in dance we hardly ever think to strike each other, but the unexpressed power is always there and available, and that is part of the joy of dancing.  

I presented the material as stuff everyone already has.  As intrinsic power that is easily accessible through play.  I also presented everything without corrections.  The idea is that we are conditioning people to trust their intrinsic power.  We want the expression of power to feel good.  That positive feeling will get people dancing more, feeling the drop-steps everywhere, and owning that part of themselves which is powerful. 

Adding structure to drop-steps is built around the idea of fighting "to the stance,” not "from the stance."  This is a revelation for many people, it was for me when I first got it.

One new thing Rory presented on, was the idea that the amount of experience one has with violence has a big impact on the type of teacher one can be.  He said that people with 0-1 experiences of violence can be very good at teaching clear movement principles.  People with 50 experiences with violence are often in an intuitive place where it is difficult to teach.  After 100 experiences the brain changes and experience becomes more abstract, so with a special effort it can be taught.  People with just 2-5 experiences are where many of the teaching problems come up, it can create false confidence.  

George Xu

Working with George Xu continues to be interesting.  We had just an hour together, but he gave me five things to work on.  As usual these things can be strange.  He made a distinction between positive force, zero force, and negative force.  Negative force is what he wanted me to work on.  It is drawing power away from your opponent without them feeling it. It is nothing like yielding.  The opponent actually feels they have gotten stronger, when in actuality they have become more vulnerable.  At the moment, I would describe it as using the principles of liquid counter-balancing in the vertical plane.  To use a thermal metaphor, the amount of pressure an opponent applies causes the mercury in my body to go up and down.  

It is a cool trick because if you apply it simultaneously with unbalancing the opponent, improving your position and targeting vulnerable areas--the opponent will feel themselves overwhelmed when they are at their strongest.  For now it is just a cool experiment.  It will have to be made into a dance game before I attempt to teach it.  I wonder if I can make it work with the push step in swing dance?


This is a fun piece about Irish Dancing!  McGregor dominates due to his dance background.  And if you doubt that because it is written in jest, watch every minute of this video!


Parallel Opposites

Monday is my day for blogging, but I was on the road this week, so this is just a quick post with some cool videos and some updates.  I'll give a report of my amazing time in San Francisco next Monday.

Here is a sample of the kind of secret Italian martial-dance that is slowly becoming available.  This change in perceptions about the martial origins of dance, is a parallel-opposite of the transition happening in North Asian martial arts which are taking back their theatrical and religions roots.   


And this is a film from Iran I think. The spinning at the end is pretty great.  Again we are seeing the perfect overlap between dance and martial arts.


My book is written, but there is still a lot of stuff to finish.  I don't have a publication date yet. 

We are working on a full re-build of this website, hopefully by the New Year, and it will be mobile compliant...

I have been working on a video version of Cracking the Code: Taijiquan as Enlightenment Theater.  It is close to being finished but I may not release it until I know more about the publication of my book because it would be nice to put them out at the same time.  I have several more videos I'm dying to make, the next one will likely be Thunder Struck: Bagua Zhang's Obvious-Hidden Origins.

And I owe readers reviews of Ben Judkins The Creation of Wing Chun and Meir Shahar's The Oedipal God. They should happen over the Winter break.  

Check out this review of a one day Martial Arts Studies conference.  It is by my friend Abi Moriya in Israel.  He is a fascinating guy and a great martial artist.  http://chinesemartialstudies.com/2015/12/07/conference-report-religion-violence-and-existence-of-the-southern-shaolin-temple/

I wish I had been at the conference, especially for the Guan Yu paper.  I have a lot about him in my book.  There is so much to say about this.  But quickly, Guan Yu isn't exactly deified for his loyalty to Cao Cao, he is canonized as a valuable enemy leader.  His spirit is given a home after he is executed, and he is recognized for his righteousness and loyalty in general.  Cao Cao is the bad guy in the Three Kingdoms canonization epic, but historically he plays a very important part in the spread of Religious Daoism.  Zhang Lu, the grandson of Zhang Daoling (the founder of religious Daoism), road out to meet Cao Cao in the open field.  They negotiated a surrender that included spreading Daoist Priests all over the kingdom.  

And that isn't even the half of it!




Some More Thoughts on Martial Arts as Dance

Here is the latest promo for my upcoming San Francisco Bay Area workshops Circus Daoyin and Dance as Self-Defense:  

Check it out my new and improved descriptions!  http://eepurl.com/bGNJKD


Because we are social animals, we tend to mistake the social activity of fighting with the self-defense mode of embodying our inner predator.  The moment we are in “fight” mode, we are holding back.  That's because we evolved to use a communicative type of violence for humans within our tribe for establishing social dominance and submission.  It is different from the type of violence we would use for teaching outsiders to fear our tribe, and different again from the clarity of hunting.  

If we list the dangerous places we might encounter young men and women challenging each other for dominance and engaging in the social activity of fighting--the drunken dance-party is near the top of the list.  The dance party is found on every continent, in an astounding variety of forms.  Why does alcohol so often go with dance?  Because they both are about letting go of social and physical inhibitions.  

Since the invention of alchohol, dance parties have likely been an ideal place for evil predators to scout their targets.  

If we think about it this way, it isn't surprising that martial skills would be embedded in dance styles.  

But there are many other reasons.  

Social inhibition often creates a reluctance to dance.  It is also quite common that a person dares to dance but does it in a stiff and inhibited way.  I suspect that in many cases, dances are designed to increase the social stress so that the leap one has to make to get through inhibition is larger.  It separates the men from the boys (no gender bias intended).  To actually get good at dancing, means spending a whole lot of time in this uninhibited state.  

What in the world of self-defense is like this?  For one, there is the "go button" that each of us needs to practice pushing if we are to have any hope of being able to muster martial skills in the instant that we need them.  Pushing through the social terror of asking someone to dance is not the same as neutralizing a violent threat, but there IS a "button" there that has to get pushed.

But even better, think about the difference between what it feels like to be stuck in a social fight, a monkey dance, two goats butting heads.  And think about what it feels like to just execute a martial arts principle without inhibition.  The feeling of dropping the monkey dance, dropping the "fight," is very similar to the feeling of dropping the inhibition to dance.  I think they are similar because they are both social inhibitions made of the same "stuff," hormonally speaking.  

Anyway, this works for me.  And it seems to be working for my students.  If I find myself in goat butting-heads mode, I just start dancing.  If I notice my students are getting into "fight" mode, I just say "Dance, come on, let's dance! Let go, let it go.  Don't believe me, just dance!"  The increase in martial power, balance, and spatial awareness is instantaneous. 

To dance is really to let go of oneself.  

Sadly one of the problems I have had teaching this is that some people have had dance training that isn't about letting go.  It is about control.  This is especially true of fake styles that teach "steps."  Dance does not use steps.  Sorry, that is a mistake.  Dance is about whole body momentum.  Rhythmic patters, defiantly. Spatial patterns, for sure.  (This is hard to explain if you don't already have this experience, so please come to my workshops).  

I hate to sound pedantic, but more people need to learn how to put their foot down.   

Here is another point that I think a lot of people miss.  You may be better at violence than I am because you have extraordinary experience in street gangs or military hand to hand combat, or your are just huge, or whatever, but, if I can kick your butt, I can do it with the waltz.  Yes, I have martial arts training, but I use principles of movement, and those are just as accessible in dance as they are in martial arts--often more accessible.        
People often choose dance vs martial arts for identity reasons.  I guess I never felt that limitation, but I should put it up front that I consider enlightenment the goal of both traditions.  Studying these arts one should expect to experience some challenges to one's identity, because that is where the energy for break-throughs lives.
Stop fighting and start dancing.  

Teaching in San Francisco and other News

Please come to my workshops in San Francisco/Oakland [Nov. 29th and Dec. 2nd]  Read about them and sign up at the Soja website: http://sojamindbody.com/schedule/   (make sure to click on "Adult Workshops").  You can also see Anna Valdiserri's and Rory Miller's workshops there, I highly recommend them.

I would like to spend a little time pitching my workshops here.  The copy text is challenging to write because I'm in uncharted territory.  I'm a cowbody doing my own thing.  

The Circus Daoyin class is my attempt to bust yoga people out of the "prison" of the yoga mat.  But I don't want to say that directly because "prison" sounds negative.  So think about it as yoga in the fifth dimension, breaking out of the limitations of time and space.  Spontaneity driven yoga. Yoga with a muse, or the Chinese version of the muse called Jade Maidens and Golden Lads.  This class was a big hit with the Asian Bodywork community I taught in Chicago, specifically because it zeros in on how health practitioners can use self-cultivation to get better healing outcomes.  But the design of this class is open ended, aimed at giving people new ways of experiencing their bodies in movement.  It doesn't have a beginning and it doesn't have an end, wherever you are you can just jump right in!  

The Dance As Self-Defense class is my new baby.  I've taken all the funnest stuff in martial arts and put it into dance games.  Think: A safe way to work with maximum momentum.  Each game teaches principles of movement and perception.  Since this class was so well received in Portland last year, I have been refining the games and inventing new ones. Whenever the tough guys I teach outside in the park aren't getting something, I've turned class into a dance lesson.  My taijiquan and baguazhang students are all now learning the Waltz as a short-cut into martial arts skills.  One of the beautiful things about this method is it by by-passes the normal emotional identity blocks people have.  By changing the emotional context, it gives students an opportunity to experience the movement in new ways.  

Please, please, please, tell your friends!


In other news, the Indian origins of Yoga are fighting back!  When I was in the UK I got to see a secret family style of martial arts that includes an entire system of spatial-mind breathing, basically the same as Daoist jindan.  And there are banana leaf texts to prove it.  It is not surprising that a defense of the Indian origins of Yoga has been slow to come out.  Hatha Yoga was tainted with performer and other low caste stigmas.  And the secret family stuff usually comes with a prohibition against sharing the material outside of both one's family and one's caste.  The supporting texts are also probably often written in languages that are not easily accessible.  


Now, meet the Cry-Bully!  This article is mediocre, but the term Cry-Bully is a gift from the gods.  Perhaps this god could become the patrion saint of Cry-Bullies?


Now there is an App for people who just want to get in fights more often!  Rumblr is an easy way to document idiocy!  And maybe, just maybe, it could create enough legal cover to bring back legal dueling.  One can hope.  The link has changed since I first looked at it a few days ago, they are upping their game.  Go ahead and sign-in, it is anonymous.  


Check out this cool exhibit which is going to be in London.  And do keep an eye out for everyone's friend, the Cosmic Vagina!


The Journal of Martial Arts Studies

This wonderful publication is now out.  It is free, and I have a review it.  Check it out!  Download it.  Share it.  A new field of study has come into existence.  


The whole thing: The Journal of Martial Arts Studies

The Individual Articles





Acupuncture and the Martial Arts

The martial arts connection to medicine is very weak unless we dive into specific religious notions of medicine and health. That view has long made me a polarizing teacher, some people love me, some hate me.  As my regular readers are aware, connections between theater, religion and martial arts were severed at the beginning of the 20th Century. Because of this, few people can actually see the religious connections between medicine and martial arts.  What we got, almost by a historical fluke, was the valorization of the martial arts school connected to the herbalist and the bone-setter.  This connection is certainly real.  The connections between ways of training the body and massage techniques (bodywork, tuina, etc) are strong in practice.  That is why the Daoyin for bodyworkers program has been successful.  But for this connection to be meaningful, the language has to be correct.  Otherwise it just becomes laying theory on top of practice; an unnecessary burden. 

Countless martial artists have included acupuncture charts in their books. Some have even attempted to link movement patterns to acupuncture meridians, in qigong for example, and even in fighting technique.  I've never been able to make any sense of this stuff.  And I've had a long time to ponder it and experiment with it.  My Daoist teacher was the founder of Five Branches School of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and I taught for five years at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  

Typically people start with a perfectly good method or practice.  Then they come up with a theory to explain it. And then they tack on the acupuncture meridians.  That's two steps out over the cliff in my book.  That's adding mathematical variables to an equation and hoping it doesn't change the results too much.   

Don't mis-understand me.  I'm not anti-theory.  Even wrong theories can create new ways of looking at a problem.  Or suggest strategies for simplifying a problem.  And yes, sometimes things get so screwed up that adding a mathematical variable and watching the results is a good method.  But if you are going to follow the Road Runner off of the cliff, be prepared for a lot of backpedaling (in mid-air).  

There is a cosmological connection between meridians and martial arts, but it isn't what people think.

A ghost is a weak commitment.  Why?  Because that is usually what happens to a person's commitments when they die.  If your body isn't around to act on a commitment or a desire it tends to weaken and float away into nothingness.  But sometimes the living will try to carry on the will, or the intent, of the dead.  The further a particular intent gets from the body of its inception the weaker it is.  But a living person can catch hold of someone else's desire and preserve it.  It thus becomes a ghost, or a ghostly influence.  We can also create our own ghosts.  For instance, a commitment made as a child, or during a previous relationship, can cling to our body and keep manifesting unconsciously in our actions.  

When an intent or desire (think: imagination) gets stuck in the body, it infuses the body with qi.  In a wuwei (non-intentional) state the imagination is free to roam and qi floats outside the body as a buffer between the imagination and the body.  Normally, we have simple desires, they manifest somehow in our actions, and then they disappear.  No fuss no muss.  But unfulfilled desires can take up residence in our bodies.  In the modern world we think of these as anxiety or stress.  The Chinese thought of them as set patterns of qi: meridians.

The classic Daoist idea of illness has one of three causes.  1) You inherited a ghost from your ancestors, usually a bad habit like drinking whiskey, or hating your neighbors.  2)  You picked up a wandering ghost, some dead person's unresolved desire to harm--usually via revenge, but there are countless other possibilities.   3) You are a screw-up all on your own, your homegrown desires and conflicting emotions lead to self-harming conduct.

All three of the above causes manifest in the same way, first as bad conduct, then as meridians.  Acupuncture is the study of how patterns of inappropriate conduct get stuck in the body.  When a person has all twelve meridians they are dead.  

It is a simplification, but we can think of acupuncture as a form of torture meant to scare away ghosts, and purge the body of stuck patterns of qi.  

Death occurs when all the qi at the surface of the body gets forced by the imagination into the physical body. When the imagination becomes all substance, that is death.  Sickness is when just part of the imagination is stuck in the body.  

The idea that someone would want to use a movement pattern to establish meridians in the body is crazy.  Less crazy is the idea the someone might want to use a movement pattern to clear out the meridians.  But the connection is still weak.  There is little reason to involve the meridians in martial arts at all.  

This is where the demons come out.  Most of the people writing about internal martial arts today are discussing something called jin , usually translated as internal power.  I can assure you, if your whole body becomes jin, you are dead.  

The purpose of jin, from a Daoist point of view, is to chase out the ghosts. Old lingering ghosts in our bodies have established themselves in our behaviors, but more immediately they have established themselves in our unconscious movement habits and patterns.  By establishing a super clear and conscious pattern of movement inside the body, we can overwhelm the weak lingering qi patterns of ghosts. 

But from a Daoist point of view, it is a mistake to leave that super clear conscious movement pattern in the body.  Once the jin has chased away the ghosts, it should be discarded too.  Accumulate too many jin patterns and they will start to fight each other for dominance in your body.  Allow just one to dominate your movement all the time and it will slowly wear down all the soft tissues in the body leaving you crippled.  

There are a lot of different ways things can go.  Daoists thought this through.  You can switch types of jin with the seasons, develop different types of power at different times of year.  Or you can use a divination method to decide what type of power to work on.  But pursuing the same pattern usually leads to a story like this, "I played football until my injuries caught up with me, and I switched to basketball, until my knees gave out, so I started biking, when I couldn't do that anymore I switched to golf, now I just swim and walk."  This is all okay. We don't need to beat death here.  (As I pointed out in my last blog, I'm not into the ghost of "sustainability."  It would not be that easy to use up all our resources even if we tried, but we certainly don't need to leave all this "stuff" for our grandchildren.)

The Daoist view is that jin can be used to clean out the ghosts, but the fruition of "internal power cultivation" is not internal power!  It is no-power stored in the body.  It is pure liquid mass and momentum surrounded and nourished by a wild predator mind.  An immortal rainbow egg; the empty body/jing surrounded by qi, surrounded by spirit/imagination/shen, and then surrounded by emptiness/xu.

Wait, did I just walk myself off of a cliff?  Anyone who has spent time around Traditional Chinese Medicine knows that there are a ton of different theories, and many of them contradict each other.  They can't all be right and they can't all be wrong!    


Images in a Changing World

Monday is my day to post a blog.  I failed to post on time this week because I was trying to come to terms with copyright law, use permissions, and the failed concept of public domain works of art.  (I'm happy to report I'm that far along with both my high quality video productions and my book.)
Most of my readers are decent and upright citizens, and may not be aware of terms like copyright nazis. Consider this.  If one were to re-record a recording of a piece of music by, for example, by putting a microphone in front of a speaker, most people would not consider this a new piece of art.  It certainly wouldn't be copyrightable.  But, in fact, if one takes a purely technical photograph of a photograph, that is considered a new work of art.  Even if a photograph is very old, and is clearly now in the public domain, a person or a corporation, or a museum can take a new picture of it and restart the copyright.  These works can be owned too, creating some incomprehensible process by which I, or you, can be required to pay for permission to use them.  You need to be a lawyer to understand it.
A painting, say from the 13th century, which has been in the public domain for hundreds of years, is technically owned by the Smithsonian, for example.  Which, as a citizen, I own.  But the museum has decided that they want to make money off of anyone who might want to reproduce the image.  So they claim copyright of a documentary photograph they took of it.  And since they can take a photo anytime they please, they claim copyright forever.  Even though these works of art are often available online in high quality resolutions, the rights to publish them in a book or use them in a video have to be licensed for a fee.  If an artist, like me, wants to use a substantial number of images, it costs thousands of dollars and takes months of negotiations. There is a concept called fair use, but this blog for instance, even though I've hardly made any money from it, is a form of marketing and might or might not be considered "fair use."  A judge would have to decide, and that would cost thousands of dollars even if I won.  
Perhaps readers have heard of wiki commons, or Creative Commons licensing agreements.  At first I was excited about this as a possible solution.  Some of the images have been put on Wiki Commons by museums. That is fantastic.  But a great many images are still questionable.  The Creative Commons license isn't a warranty.  You, or I, could still be sued for using them.  And of course in the case of videos, Youtube will simply take the video down if there is a challenge, they don't even care whether the claim is false or not.  
Now I'm seeing the world differently.  When I look at a book I consider whether it would benefit from a few black and white images.  With modern printing, black and white images cost the same as words to print.  Yet, most books which would benefit hugely from a few historic or culturally relevant images have none.  This is a form of censorship.  It is just too much of a hassle to get permissions and figure out copyrights, so most books forgo images. 
This image is clearly old enough to be in the public domain.  The museum who "owns" it charges for high resolution digital files. In economic terms that is call Rent Seeking.  But I was warned that publishers probably will not reproduce it because it is part of the May's Studio Collection which was "dumped" at the museum and there is still a remote possibility that someone will try to make a copyright or ownership claim.  Rant over.
This is the new Martial Arts Studies Book series, which promises to be awesome.  I'm thinking about proposing an alternative history of Baguazhang.
Nunchucks were a portable torture device.  In China and Japan, all criminals had to confess.  The final judgement always required a confession.  So it was standard to torture people until they confessed.  Nunchucks were used to slowly crush bones during interrogations.  They can also be used for minimal force arrests. So I was delighted to see some police departments are adopting them. 
I thought we should try this a few years ago.  It is Brave New World stuff.  Imagine being declared oxytocin-deficient.  At work.  Or by your family.  Or in jail.  Also imagine the creep potential.  "My husband wasn't being nice, so I started putting oxytocin in his Bud Lite and now he loves me...more."


And this is some big news out of China.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/29/us-china-politics-plenum-idUSKCN0SN16Y20151029


Also, I'm hoping that my blog will become Mobile Compliant soon, stay tuned, and thanks for reading!



Bio-Mechanics of Martial Arts

I live in Boulder, Colorado.  If you get into trouble socially in Boulder, all you have to say is the magic word, "sustainability."  This works for all situations.  If the police are trying to arrest you, just say, "sustainability," and they will let you go.  If you step on someone's foot at the cafe, say "sustainability," and everyone smiles. If your dog barks at someone, if your goats get out of the yard and chew up the seats of your neighbor's convertible, if you forget a friend's birthday, just say "sustainability;" it is the universal safe word for Boulder. All advertising, marketing, education and politics uses the word "sustainability," in all situations. 

In martial arts circles, where English is spoken, I often hear the term "bio-mechanics" used in a similar way. While the term "sustainability" never actually referred to anything real, bio-mechanics is a defunct field of kinesiology.  

Bio-mechanics is the application of principles of engineering to human movement.  In martial arts there are a handful of these principles which everyone should know because they are intuitive.  Long levers are more powerful than short levers.  Move the center of mass off of the base and the person will fall.  To lift someone, get under their center of mass.  Mass times velocity squared equals momentum.  

On the other hand, the expression "bio-mechanics" is invoked by marital artists frequently to justify the use of "structure."  To see if structure is actually involved simply do the technique while someone slowly and gently pokes you with a red-hot branding iron.  If you move suddenly six or eight feet in the opposite direction, structure was not the original mechanism, because structure does not jump into the air and scream when it experiences pain.  

Bio-mechanics has some utility.  It can be used to analyse a javelin throw in two dimensions.  But in three dimensions it is too complex to be practical.  Yes, Usain Bolt, the fastest runner ever, has very short springy achilles tendons.  And bio-mechanics would predict that.  But there are plenty of people with short achilles tendons who are slow runners.  The oddities of statistics and social biases being what they are, having the name "Bolt" is at least partially responsible for his great speed.  He likely got extra positive feed-back and assistance from coaches, friends, and fans, because of his cool name.

The field of bio-mechanics came crashing down when someone wrote an academic paper attempting to analyse the movement of two basketball players dribbling down the court and passing the ball back and forth.  Bio-mechanics could not explain it.  It was too complex.  It required a new theory, the theory of continuous, perception, action loops.  Movement is not mechanical, it syncs with visual flow, predicts patterns and produces dynamic spatial maps.

However, academic fields do not die, people do.  And once people have tenure at a university--they do not die, they become zombies.   So bio-mechanics is still taught at universities.  

Bio-mechanics is also used extensively in elite sports coaching.  Obviously this is not science because it suffers from an extreme case of selection bias.  Put all the best runners in a group and pick their coach competitively and whatever mojo-magic training routines they come up with will be "proven" superior.  Bio-mechanical analysis is just light-weight baggage, verbiage for the experts to toss around.  Meanwhile, already very fast runners practice running even faster.  They use keen observation of the competition, and trial and error.  

Why is this important?  

Because martial arts are not bio-mechanical, they are interpersonal.  The mistakes people make, and then justify by saying the magic word, "bio-mechanics," are errors of perception.  A simple example is the idea of alignment.  

The conventional error of perception is that "good" alignment improves structural power.  This creates an astronomic number of problematic training artifacts.  When people say, "alignment" they imagine they are referring to something purely physical.  But humans communicate our social status through the way we stand. We stand differently in a crowd of athletes than we do in a circle of nerds.  We stand differently on top of a mountain than we do in a shower stall covered with thick fuzzy mold.  It gets weird.  We unconsciously treat inanimate objects and spaces as if they were animate.  That's why trophies are tall and shiny.  We tend to stand up taller next to a trophy, unless we feel we do not deserve it.  

People have tried to argue with me.  Saying, for example, that they do not have social interactions with a tree. This has actually been tested by kinesiologists in Japan.  People breath differently next to trees than they do next to freeways or buildings.  Trees probably make our monkey brains feel safe.  If we need to escape from a predator, we can climb up into the branches in an instant.  

People do become habituated to certain postures, because tension held in the body communicates "character."  This social-origin tension is inefficient for power generation.

I'm trying to point to something here which is hard to put into words.  I can make fun of people in Boulder and their magic words, or academic fields that won't die, or coaching science, but these people all believe in what they are doing.  My comic critique is not likely to change their minds. 

The same is true for martial artists and "bio-mechanics."  This magic word is used as a psychic defense mechanism to deflect people away from noticing the way social tension and competitive monkey dancing influences their movement.  When predators are hunting, they do not fight; fighting is a social dominance activity.  How can I break through this deflection?

A human is a bunch of bones and water in a chewy membrane called skin.  Inside this membrane are other membranes stringing it all together.  This water is mixed with various chemicals and compounds.  All of this amounts to nothing but a chunky blob of mush. When this body is at 98 degrees and has an electrical charge running through it, it suddenly organizes into a cool shape!  But without awareness of space and a dynamic imagination, this body will just lay on the ground shaking.  

The bio-mechanics of alignment is an electrical feed-back loop triggered by the perception of space which organizes our mass so that it balances over our base.  Every part of the body has to be balanced on whatever is beneath it in a continuous fluid electrical flow.  Structure is simply an illusion of frozen time.

However, this "structural" illusion in an attacker is what allows the internal martial arts principle of counterbalancing to work.  All incoming forces and physical resistance can be counterbalanced if the attacker tries to use their body in a structural way to generate power from the ground through their body.  

Discarding the structural illusion also has healing power because without it, body parts tend to move toward the most efficient use of vertical space.   

Physical movement principles are straight forward in the abstract.  In practice they have to overcome all the ways we are socially resistant to freeing our inner predator.  


Weakening into the Void

Weakness is a door for returning to our true, unconditioned, baby-like nature (zhende 真德, yuande).  But weakness itself is not a type of fruition we seek.  The idea of nurturing weakness arose because aggressive intentions preclude subtlety, cover up sensitivity, and obscure awareness.  Focus is aggressive.  Focus limits responsiveness.  Weakness is a way of keeping options open.  

In the early debates between Buddhists and Daoists, both advocated for a kind of potency.  Buddhists argued that a focused mind could be used to break through to clarity, and Daoists countered that clarity was self-arising.  

Daoists also argue that strength is self-arising.  In fact, I have become an advocate of self-arising strength. The problems with strength all come from putting intent into the muscles.  If strength is limited to the physical body, the power of the void will be less accessible.  If this sounds mystical, bring it up with Rory Miller, he is saying similar things.  It isn't mystical, it is the way our bodies work when we drop aggression.  

In order to develop coordination and self-healing, many people find it beneficial to develop the ability to feel every part of the inside of their body.  This is okay, as long as those senses do not become hardened.  The reality is that the inside of our bodies cannot be felt directly, the true feelings are defuse and confusing.  That's why babies need to wiggle their arms and legs for many months before they actually gain control of them.  It is a process of linking up the imagination with felt experience and visual perception.  All that is a function of the imagination, and it should stay imagination, flexible and dynamic.  The interior of the body should not become some hardened notion of truth.  When our imagination becomes hardened truth, Daoists call that death (or the birth of a ghost).    

A key concept of internal martial arts is the idea that the body can feel hollowed out.  This is called tong, sometimes translated "through."  It is the type of emptiness that allows a flute to produce sound, a hollowness that goes all the way through.  I am an advocate of any type of strength which supports the experience of tong

At some point, I noticed that students who do not have much tone in their biceps have trouble keeping their shoulders tong.  This led to my own experiments, and now I advocate keeping the biceps toned all the time as a way of keeping the shoulders tong.  Relaxation is fine as long as the biceps remain toned.  Another way people lose tong, is by pushing their shoulders down, this destroys the open space and commits the arms to a line of power.  This is probably the biggest structural error in the world of martial arts.  It is very common. People with this training will have to pass through a period of feeling weak before they can establish actual strength with tong.  I used to think this period of weakness needed to last months or years, but that was a hook without a worm for most people.   I have since figured out that students can replace strength with shapes of empty vanity by flexing their biceps all the time.  By this method one can drastically cut the time it takes to develop tong shoulders. The key is that strength must stay in the imagination, the biceps must not be used to carry.  If a student picks up a weapon, they must imagine that it is part of their body, not something they are carrying.

So weakening into the void means recognizing the emptiness of all strength, and cultivating it.  The mind does not go into the muscles.  The mind must remain unfocussed and without limitation.  Plastic.  The mind goes into the void.

Naturally, acting skill works the same way.  Strength or image which is committed to the body becomes permanent character.  Theatricality can be built either around a profound change in a person's character, or around a character who refuses to change even while everything around them is changing.  In either case, the actor does not want to become a permanent character, acting skill is the ability to take on new characters and imagine dynamic worlds for them...  Acting requires being weak and unconditioned enough to allow strength to be self-arising.  Daoists call this pacing the void (步虛 buxu).  

 Here is a diagram for the ritual from Michael Saso's website: