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Weakness With A Twist 

Internal Martial Arts, Theatricality, and Daoist Ritual Emptiness

Monday
Aug312015

Closing the Third Eye

One of the enlightenment goals of Daoism is closing the third eye. Many religious systems actively try to open the third eye because it is associated with intuition and wisdom.  Daoists don't openly reject intuition and wisdom--both are good for party tricks and playing the stock market--but most of the time we don't need them, especially not before I've had my morning coffee.  

In the old days, the third eye had many practical uses, like seeing what was happening far away.  It took a lot of effort and was unreliable, but using it made people feel powerful.  That is why Daoists close the third eye, the two regular eyes are unreliable enough without adding intuition and wisdom into the mix.

Now-a-days, everyone has a smart phone or a computer close at hand.  Using these devices opens the third eye. You can ask any question, create any fantasy, see any event or map, and know what is going on anywhere.  It is not just that you can hear a few voices in your head--you can hear any voice!  

The basic instructions for Daoist meditation can be summarized like this: if the third eye opens, close it.

Closing the third eye used to be easy.  Most people wanted to open their third eye, but it took so much effort, concentration and practice; so most people didn't bother. That's why some religions valorized it.  Historically, Daoism was responding to the excesses of fasting, drug use, and sleep deprivation strongly associated with opening of the third eye.  Daoist doctrine, beginning with the Daodejing, saw this as a waste of life and vitality (qi and jing).  

Today, third eye powers are common, and used for so many different purposes; if someone wants you to believe in their religion, say the Second Coming, global warming, gender indeterminance, or that it is good to marry a piece of furniture--they will show you this with their third eye! See?  Just watch this video or visit this news sight.

The first Daoist precept--explained by the founder of Religious Daoism, Zhang Daoling, the original teacher, in about 50 CE--"Don't interfere with people's direct connection to heaven."  In other words, if people want to believe something, let them.  You just close your third eye and see things as they are.  

Closing the third eye is becoming harder.  Socially people are expected to keep it open as a form of communication, and to stay informed.  Having an open third eye is so easy that most people become addicted to it at some point.  This is extremely draining.  People actually say things like, "Do you remember how you used to find your friends at a crowded public event?"  People now use their third eyes for all sorts of things which their regular eyes are perfectly capable of achieving.  

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Now let me explain a Daoist method for closing the third eye.  Use your third eye in reverse, suck in and dissolve the world.  While doing standing meditation, look out into the distance and suck everything into the third eye, send it down to the feet, and merge it with the firmness and darkness of the earth.  The need for the third eye will be eliminated because everything in the environment will be present.  Simply find chaos and embrace "not knowing."

Over time, the effect of closing the third eye is that the body becomes empty of all intent, old injuries resolve, and one's natural (child-like) ability to balance incoming forces is restored.  

Having an open third eye drains the kidneys, injures the lower back, and causes the head to pitch forward. The modern explanation for this problem is that people are spending too much time staring at a screen.  The traditional explanation is that when the third eye is open, you can't see the hungry demons sneaking up to chomp on your kidneys and nibble on your neck.

In closing I would like to say a few words about standing meditation.  I think it is the core of internal martial arts practice.  People often talk about the difficulty they have meditating, the difficulties they have starting or maintaining a practice. I have always found this puzzling.  Perhaps it is because people are trying to open their third eye?  This might explain why people find it difficult.  

My definition of meditation is: pick a time and place to practice.  The time is one hour, the same time of day, everyday.  The place is a quiet place, a space where you won't be disturbed or distracted; the same place everyday.  If a practice has some other characteristics, it might be better to call it something other than meditation so people don't get confused.  

Fun personal note of no particular significance:  I've been standing still since I was 20.  In my 24th year of practice (four years ago) I passed a significant marker: having stood still for the equivalent of a whole year. 

Monday
Aug242015

The Darkest Skill

The best skill is the darkest, the most deceitful, the most illusory, the most invisible.  A guy gets stabbed in the back and doesn't even notice until it is too late.

Which is better skill:

  • You know that I uprooted you and you feel my power; or you don't know I uprooted you and you don't feel anything coming?
  • Causing pain; or causing damage without immediate pain?  
  • You feel me attack and you move; or I move you, but you think you moved yourself? 
  • You don't feel me attack so you don't move; or you move yourself, but you think I moved you?

In each case, the latter is better skill.

Technique is amoral, but the use of technique is always moral (good or bad).  That's why the teaching of technique needs moral context.  A dark technique is only dark because we associate it with social deviance, the bad guys; the actual technique itself can be used for righteous action, given the right context.  

Correctly conceptualized, the subject of Internal Martial Arts is the exploration of the interactions between social-dominance reactions and the perception (and misperception) of the underlying physics. The biggest obstacle to learning internal martial arts is the word "internal" itself. Martial techniques don't happen in the body, just like thoughts don't happen in the body.  This odd confusion between inside and outside leads people to look for power generated from inside the body.  It also leads to unproductive modernist discussions of body-mechanics. Perfect body mechanics should follow from purposes, not lead them.  In fact, there are only two powers: gravity and momentum.  Body mechanics basically comes down to one thing, how does it all work together?  

There is a story in the Daoist classic, Zhuangzi, about three thiefs.  The low level thief practices picking the locks on peoples luggage; the master thief steals the whole bag and hopes the luggage holds together during his escape. The true master thief, however, uses charm to take control of the whole country and then just collects taxes.  

If we are the same size and I want you to believe in my superior skills without causing damage, that is going to be a confidence game.  I'm going to need a trick of some kind.  If I have removed the automatic, monkey-dance-I-dominate-you signals out of my movement,  I will have to trick you into submitting.  I think this is the secret history of a lot of internal martial arts stuff.  

If I am using my dark skills, I have the option of causing real damage, but you are not going to know that.  I'm not going to signal it.  By not signaling my capacity to harm, most people will not feel justified in trying to hurt me; they may not believe I have the skills.  

Convincing people of capacity to harm, is a different skill set than actual capacity to harm.  

There is so much deception in the world of martial arts teaching.  

That is why I think theatrical skills are so important.  Fake dominance and submission skills are extremely useful in social conflict.  Is vanity the root of all human problems?  Perhaps.  That's why there are lots of Daoist precepts meant to bring awareness to vanity, so that one can practice discarding it.  But I teach my students to develop maximum explosive vanity!  I want them to be adept at displaying hotness and coolness!  Peppy-le-Pew meets 007.  Strong and heroic on the outside, empty on the inside.  This is what is meant by balancing yin and yang.  Being the master of one's own vanity is one of the keys of self-empowerment.

Monday
Aug172015

Reverse Breathing

What exactly is reverse breathing?  Is it actually baby-like breathing?  Do the kidneys actually "grasp" the qi from the lungs? Does the mingmen (lower back) expand to suck air in?  Does the bellybutton go in with the inhale or in with the exhale?  And what does it actually do? Why breath in reverse?

It is actually quite simple.

Normal breathing happens in the lungs, the diaphragm goes down, the ribs open to the sides, and the bellybutton doesn't change much.  When it is conscious, we just think "suck in" and "breath out."

Reverse breathing is when we move the body first, movement forces the breath inward, and then movement forces it outward. The breath begins by expanding the ribs to the sides. Most people can get this far on the first try.  

Cheetahs can run fast because ligament structures connect their diaphragm to the action of their legs, which passively forces huge amounts of air into their lungs.  Humans have this ability too, but it requires a particular engagement of the legs.  It is more than a simple bending of the knees or squatting.  To make this process conscious requires relaxing the legs and sinking downward while paying attention to the passive effects on the breath, and then playing with the result until it can be coordinated with the active-conscious opening of the ribs.  It isn't hard.

What is challenging is the exhale.  Once the lungs are expanded, an autonomic or habitual forcing of the air outward tends to take control.  So the inhale is "reversed," but the exhale is just normal.

To get fully reversed breathing, the spatial mind must initiate the inhale from outside the body.  (Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with this idea.)  In this case a simple way to proceed is to look at the canopy of a tree above one's head.  Imagine that the leaves are breathing, going up and down, and out and in.  The visualization must sync up with the actual movement of the body.  

By this method it is possible to delay the exhale without creating compression.  The spatial mind (outside the body) can easily delay the exhale if it is more than six feet away from one's actual body.  If the spatial mind is too close to the actual body, it will force a compression of the ribs.  Compression involuntarily forces the breath outwards.  

Anyway, that's it, that is reverse breathing.

Why do we want to avoid the involuntary compression of the ribs? There are probably a lot of reasons, I will try to address a few. First, that exhale is used to solidify our identity, and the goal of acting and martial arts (as enlightenment) is to free oneself from any fixed identity--especially identity fixed by rigidity in the physical body.  The second, is that communicative social-methods of communicating power, all tend to rely on this forced compression exhale.  We want simple power, not socially expressive power. Socially expressive power is used for domination and submission.

That is what I have to say on the subject, but I would like to open it up to others who may have something to contribute here.

Here is a wonderful article about, vagal tone and the vagus nerve: http://mosaicscience.com/story/hacking-nervous-system

Vagal tone is measured by the ratio of the heart rate during the inhale over the heart rate during exhale.  A slower heart rate during exhale indicates greater vagal tone.  

Vagal tone is associated with a better functioning immune system. So that is the big question, how does reverse breathing effect vagal tone?  And I'm sure readers can think up all sorts of related questions.

Go for it!

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Perhaps a little more contextual explanation will help explain the confusions about reverse breathing.  In the early twentieth century in China, there was a big push to medicalize Chinese healing practices.  Concepts of health were as much about religion as martial arts were; that is, they were a single subject.  Both were squeezed into anatomy and physiology.  The Red Cross and the YMCA were models used in China to make tradition seem more modern.  Reverse breathing was probably connected to Daoism, and Daoism was trying to make itself into a philosophical practice by discarding content related to gods.  This was framed as a search for "essence" or "refinement," this may have made the practices more accessible (especially in the West), but it also diminished them.  

Originally there were two gods, Heng and Ha.  Not a lot of research has been done on them, but I suspect they were weather gods (technically a type of "thunder god"), one who breathed in "heng" and one who breathed out "ha."  Naturally people knew about these two gods because there were comic stage routines based on the hilarity of someone who can only breath in or only breath out. Somehow this relates to reverse breathing--medicalized versions of Heng and Ha as "exercises" can be found in numerous modern qigong books.  

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Here is a cool tid bit I just grabbed from Chinese History Forum:

As for the name "General Heng and Ha 哼哈二将", they originated from Ming dynasty novel Fengsheng Yanyi 《封神演义》 (The Investitures of the Gods). The author based them on two Buddhist door guardians. Both of them were fierce and brave. They generally became Chinese folks figures because of this novel [Editor's note: most likely the "novel" is a collection of rituals that already existed].

One was called Zheng Lun 郑伦. He was able to spit out white breath from his nose to kill the enemy. The other was called Chen Qi 陈奇. He was able to spit out yellow breath from the mouth to kill the enemy. [Editor's note: Extreme nose phlegm and halitosis?]

You can see these figures in many Buddhist temples of China [Editor: Most of these were made in the last ten years]. Shown below the figures outside the door of Buddhist temple Eastern Mountain in Beijing 北京東嶽廟 [Editor: A key temple connected to Fengshen Yanyi, and most likely the history of Baguazhang.]

General Heng from Chuxiong temple (楚雄土地庙)General Ha from Chuxiong temple (楚雄土地庙)

Thursday
Aug132015

Ghost Month

Just wanted to warn people that ghost month starts tomorrow.

http://focustaiwan.tw/news/aedu/201508130025.aspx

I'm now on a strict blog-every-Monday schedule, mark your calendars accordingly.  

And I got a new MacBook Air.  Old one was making ghost sounds.

Monday
Aug102015

What is Power?

People ask me, "Scott, why do you hate power so much?"

I don't actually hate power, but every type of power obscures access to other types of power.  Readers may respond that certain types of power can be added together to create composite powers, so it isn't necessarily true that one type of power obscures access to another.  But even with composite powers, it is smart to separate them into distinct forces, so they can be perfected individually. 

The primary method of Daoist martial arts is to reduce power, or to discard as many types of power as possible.  What is left when power is discarded?  Mass, structure, perception, awareness, balance, the capacity to change, density, fluidity, mobility, pliancy, and expression.  

Daoist martial-theater uses expression to imitate the appearance of power, both as patterns of movement, and as techniques for moving other people's bodies.  But power is not necessary, the techniques and appearances are all illusions of the theater.  I may look tough but I'm actually empty.  My toughness is fake.  I my look wimpy, but my wimpiness is an illusion, I'm actually tough.  (Fake things can still have real world effects.)

A pattern of toughness which is held as stored power, even if it is just a mental strategy, will limit the range of one's expression.   The key is to stop carrying around strategies for domination.  The simple effort of carrying around ideas about power, obscures access to the purest, most innate forms of power.  

Thus, the daily project of Daoist martial-theater becomes the practice of cleaning or clearing out power from the body.  To do this one must fully comprehend each type of power.  At first this seems like a paradox, because one will not be able to fully comprehend any type of power unless he or she practices using it.  In the Taijiquan Classics, this practice is actually called dongjin, literally: comprehending power.

The implication is that once power is fully comprehended it is no longer needed.  This needs further explanation.  

There are countless types of power used in Chinese martial arts, some of them obvious, some hidden. Generally the term jin is used to denote all these types of power, while the term jing is used to denote just the physical body without intent.  So jin are all the ways intent is used to move jing.  

Daoism's golden elixir practice (called jindan) has been a constant of Chinese culture for a couple thousand years.  It uses the idea of qi as the intermediary between shen (the spatial mind) and jing (the physical body). Shen moves jing, but only in directly, qi is like a buffer which is released from jing whenever intent in the body is reduced.

For example, if I slap a student in the face, qi will float off of the student's face.  Whether he or she associates the slap with love, or hate, or a comedy routine, is a process of the imagination, we call that shen.  Theatrical content is created by simultaneously linking the experience of the qi (we call it heat or "a stinging sensation") to the location of the slap and the imagination.  Qi is the intermediary between jing and shen (the "sting" is the intermediary between the physical body and the imagination).  

That is what we call in Daoism jindan, the golden elixir of immortality.  

To develop this, one has to re-learn how to move.   Although cosmo-physiologically speaking, this is our original state, our self-empowered predator state (before we became appendages of our tools).  

The process is different for everyone because we each come to the practice with different types of developed power.

Each type of jin (by definition: using intent within the body) will make the body more dense in some way or other-- if it is practiced as power.   But if a type of jin is simply practiced as a pattern of movement expression, without attempting to accumulate power, it has a cleansing or purifying effect.

So one could say that every type of imaginable power fixes or cleans the physical body in some way, as long as it isn't used as power.

The cleaner the body (jing) becomes, the more readily qi is available as an intermediary.   And thus, the more readily, and expressively, the imagination can move the body. (Rory Miller's crowd is now calling this effect "plastic mind.")  

All those types of power become underlying integrity. This is most obvious with structure training, but is true for all type of power. This is very simple to explain in the case of "good" structure.  Once it is established it simply supports other movement, it does not need to be used in any direct way.

This is why, for instance, I teach the four basic taijiquan powers (peng, ji, lu and an) until students can move with them in a continuous flow; and then I have students drop them. They represent interior structure and efficiency. What I don't do is encourage students to perfect these powers as techniques past the point of being able to simply do them and identify them in themselves and others.

Once a type of power is established it can be used to clean the jing, to purify one's form. This is done by practicing power as movement patterns using only the spatial mind, with no intent in the body.

Actually, the body can be cleaned by simpler movements, like shrinking and expanding.  The golden elixir of immortality (jindan) practice does not consider martial power development essential.  However, students of martial arts who fail to develop power(s) will likely lack the ability to apply advanced spatial mind connections to fighting games or against tricky opponents.

So go ahead and develop power, just practice not using it.  

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For reference, see the Daodejing, chapter 28, The Uncarved Block.

Monday
Aug032015

From and Emptiness in Art

One of the major obstacles to seeing martial arts as theater and religion is that North Asia and the West have different aesthetic dichotomies.  The West's dichotomies became international during the 20th century, so we often refer to those dichotomies as "modern," rather than Western.*  

The primary aesthetic dichotomy in the West is form and function; in North Asia it is form and emptiness.  The difference is visceral; one is a tool, the other is a cloud.  

Form and function is the notion that there is an organic reciprocal feedback loop between form and function.  Thus, the utility of an object determines its form.  And form changes as utility changes.  The need for an object to perform with variation creates variation in form.

But if we are looking at a "form" for which there are countless affordances, this dichotomy is not a good fit. 

For instance we can look at the use of self-mortification by Tangki in Taiwan and South East Asia. (YouTube Video by Fabian C. Graham)(pay-option by Margret Chen)  Why are they doing it? What is the purpose?  What is the meaning? If that question uses the form and function dichotomy, then we will want to know the function specifically and we will keep looking at the form expecting it to fill that function. But those explanations are often trivial or dismissive, or perhaps romantically reverent.  But that approach makes the Tangki's look crazy or stupid.  

If one asks the same question about purpose and meaning but framed by the aesthetic notion of form and emptiness, the results are quite different. The form is simply empty by default, we don't ask "what is its utility?" we ask, "what kind of meanings and purposes could it possibly fill?"  We look at the meanings all together. Physiology, warfare, entertainment, healing, magical trance---some of it is just labeling, some of it is a weak association which ties it to other cultural forms with stronger resonance, some of it is felt, some of it is fantasy, some of it is emotional, some of it is indeed rational functionality.  But it isn't utility that defines it.  It is defined by it's affordances, preferably infinite affordances, unbounded purposes. This is what the aesthetic of form and emptiness does to art and expression.

If we look at the work of Monet, we see his intentions; he wanted to accurately represent light and was willing to give up figurative accuracy to achieve a specific type of utility. It is utterly clear. It was made with form and function in mind, so it follows that logic.

If we look at his work with the form and emptiness dichotomy in mind, we see something different.  There is automatically religious resonance there--the light of god--nostalgia for farm life and all that implies politically, this water invokes water spirits (hidden nagas), as fengshui the watery image cools the room, and the light's reflections slice through psychic demons or conflicting emotions.

Try looking at form as just form, with no content.  Content can be infinite and utterly transcend form.

Now try thinking about martial arts this way.  

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Some credit goes to Sophie Volpp for getting me thinking along these lines.

Hat tip to Douglas Farrer, for the Margret Chan article linked above, and for his discussion of great martial arts movements taught with the wrong application: he calls it "captivation," being stuck in broken logic.  

And thanks to Fabian C. Graham, who has been shooting fantastic documentary footage of Chinese rituals (I met him at the Daoist Conference in Los Angeles in 2008, where he showed a film about how to open the eyes of a god.)

*Note: I'm making an argument about characteristics of culture, not the outer edges of what subgroups or individuals might be thinking.

Sunday
Jul192015

Self-Defense Dance Styles

 A few hundred years ago, martial arts may have had a self-defense component and it may be recoverable.  But few martial arts classes teach self-defense directly.  Dance can solve this problem.

Self-defense involves situational awareness, scenario training, practice overcoming social-emotional barriers, verbal articulation skills, applying legal knowledge; and context specific movement skills for escaping, scaling force, and neutralizing a threat.

Here is my list of people who teach that: Marc MacYoung, Rory Miller, S.P.E.A.R, IMPACT, and especially check out Protective Offense. There are probably lots of individual martial arts schools that emphasize self-defense as a moral position, but unless they are teaching all the skills I listed above I wouldn't put them on such a list.  (Please feel free to add to the list in the comments below.)

Martial arts as we know them today, did not develop to teach self-defense, certainly not women's self-defense.  I enjoy trying to re-discover and invent self-defense in traditional martial arts.  However, if we want people to develop self-defense skills, martial arts are not the obvious choice.  Martial arts are often a poor choice because they condition complexity. Self-defense should also represent a break from the long training curves of most martial arts classes--self-defense should unleash people from hierarchies of learning and empower them immediately.  

"If he gives you any trouble, Waltz him out the door."  

If the problem is that men or women have been socialized to be nice (or compliant and caring), then the solution is to socialize them to be violent.  The best way to do this is with what I call the "I'm playing" hormones.  The "I'm playing" hormones feel familiar to almost everyone, people say to themselves, "I feel like a kid again!"  

One of the more common forms of violence people encounter is a social situation with a very badly behaved drunk, horny, or angry dominant partner or family member.  It turns out that statistics on domestic abuse are gender equal, just as many men beat women as women beat men (I had heard this from Marc MacYoung, but it was recently verified in a conversation I had at a party with a social worker who works with domestic violence advocacy state-wide in Colorado.)

There are two skill sets that were well known in the 19th century for dealing with this type of violence in many parts of the world:  1)  Improvisational theater, and  2)  social dances like the Waltz and the Samba.  

Good theater skills will teach one how to change the scripts and the social dynamics.

Learning to dance with the assumption that some of the people you dance with are going to be dangerous a--holes, will quickly enable the development of these skills:

 

  1. breaking holds
  2. striking vulnerable areas with whole body momentum
  3. taking control of momentum for making an escape 
  4. breaking the freeze 
  5. injuring and escaping from a threat who attacks from behind  

 

There are problems with dance "classes."  Social-dance classes are often about courting, feeling awkward or "doing it right,"  none of which are helpful for self-defense.  But the original movements of these dances were designed from the beginning for self-defense so the only thing that has to change is the intention.  The methods don't need modification the way they do in martial arts, because these historic dances all developed from martial games, they are already designed for self-defense. Just take out the modern inhibitions and add intent.  

Waltz his face into the wall.  Fun.

Two hundred years ago in Europe, if a person wanted martial skills he or she went to a dance master--who also taught etiquette.

The other half of self-defense is improvisational theater; developing, changing, taking control of, breaking, dropping, and re-writing social scripts on the spot.  One version of this I call "meet the Buddha," and involves a lot of personal insults and complements.  I then progress to slapping games, my goal is to make slapping joyful again.  

I got a chance to work with this material during the workshops I taught in Portland, in the UK, and in Amsterdam--and it was awesome.  Video in the works.  

Wednesday
Jul082015

How Fast is the Nervous System?

I just saw this article and I thought I'd post it.  It is about how fast the mind works.  There isn't much there but it serves to get the conversation going.  Many martial arts tricks and high-level techniques work by getting the "dupe" to respond on a slower nerve pathway then the "trickster" who triggered the reaction.  It can also work the other way, get the dupe to respond so fast they don't even realize they have already responded to the trickster creating an illusion of enormous power.  

Here is the wiki page explaining it:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerve_conduction_velocity

I also recommend the book The Illusion of Conscious Will, by Daniel Wengner, it covers this and many other similar subjects.  It is directly applicable to martial arts.  

Tuesday
Jul072015

Chicago this Weekend

This weekend, I'm teaching again at an advanced year-long Shiatsu Program in Chicago run by Michael DeAgro.  This is exciting stuff, I get to translate ideas about bodywork into movement training and personal practice.  The conversations, the depth of knowledge, the spontaneous interactions, and the experience base of the students, is inspiring.    

I teach the mornings of July 10th, 11th, and 12th.  If anyone in the Chicago area would like to meet with me for a chat or for a private lesson in the afternoon of one of those days, please send me a message.  

Saturday
Jul042015

Cardiff Keynotes

Here are some links to the Cardiff Martial Arts Conference Keynotes.

http://martialartsstudies.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/martial-arts-studies-conference-keynote.html

Watching video lectures is hard for me personally, but they are all excellent!  If I had to pick a favorate it is the one by D. S. Farrer on the changes in anthropology.  Farrer has almost single handedly invented the field of Martial Arts Anthropology.  All of the lectures attempt to make bridges between different focuses of inquiry, showing broad possibilities for new ways of thinking about martial arts.  

Friday
Jul032015

Xilam a Martial Art from Mexico

One of the highlights of the Cardiff Martial Arts Studies Conference was the idea that martial arts are being used for identity transformation.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, this notion is being pioneered by women and is very exciting.  Since the early 20th Century people have been trying to change their identities.  The Boy Scouts come to mind, as do the less rigid journey-into-the-wilderness Outward Bound programs, created as New Age coming of age rituals. Psychotherapy, and psychology in general, have dabbled in this notion with limited success.  Psychedelic drugs are defended on this basis in some circles. But the notion that there are specific tools of culture conceived specifically for the purpose of transforming identity may be a new idea.  

Xilam is a new Mexican martial art created by Marisela Ugalde.  I learned about it in a video presentation by George Jennings (adademia.edu).  The name Xilam means removing the skin!

This art obviously draws on Asian martial arts, but it has been reconceived.  Watch this video on Vimeo.

Or this slightly longer one on Youtube:

Here is their website.  http://www.xilam.org/

 

Friday
Jul032015

Armor

This is Daniel Jaquet who I met at the Martial Arts Studies conference in Cardiff.  He smokes a pipe.  He got a $20,000 grant to have this armor made for him so he could do scholarly experiments.  In order to become at ease with the armor he wore it when he went out to Starbucks, out on walks, and to places like the library or to do his laundry.  This is the kind of alternative lifestyle that is available to people these days.  It is a great example of the freedom available to creative people in the world we live in today.  Daniel is one of the fascinating and exciting people I met at the conference who are investigating and practicing traditional Western martial arts.  They were a large contingent at the conference and have something fascinating to offer the world.  There is something very satisfying about being around people who dream big, the very nature of what we call art is changing.  We have a name for this already, it is called "the culture of makers" and it is changing the way we see, hear, and move.  It is changing what it means to learn and study.  

For the economists out there:  Speaking in historic monetary terms, at the time this sort of armor was worn by knights it cost the equivalent of a house, about half a million dollars.  

Here is Daniel Jaquet's academia.edu page.

Friday
Jun192015

Saturday Workshop Change

It looks like rain tomorrow, so the workshop has been moved:


The tai chi/martial arts event that was taking place from 2-4pm has been moved to a different (indoor) venue. If you'd like to attend this, (which is going to be pretty exciting and fun (see details here: http://www.meetup.com/Lishi-Chinese-Daoist-system-of-mind-body-spirit-training/events/223086052/)) let me know or RSVP to the event.

We are meeting for this at 1:45 PM at Bethnal Green Station and I will bring the tea for a tea break in the middle!

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And I'm excited about teaching Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1547093382219214/

@ Eastbourne House Arts Centre, Bullards Place, Bethnal Green, London

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Had an awesome day, will report soon.

Monday
Jun152015

Cardiff-Amsterdam

A week ago I arrived in Cardiff, Wales, UK, for the first Martial Arts Studies Conference.  I went straight from there to teaching a two day workshop in Amsterdam with Alex Boyd.  Over the next week I hope to have some time for reflection.  Until then, here are some undigested bits of excitement.

Paul Bowman deserves enormous credit for organizing the conference, and doing a wonderful job of it.  I admit, I worried beforehand that we might have disagreements, but Paul gets my highest praise:  He is the kind of guy one can disagree with and feel the bonds of sworn-brotherhood grow deeper.  His character, thus set the tone for the entire conference.  This is the first academic conference I have attended where everyone present had the ability to kick me in the head.

This is a dream network.

I taught in Amsterdam at a converted shipyard with a vegetarian restaurant and artist studios, will post a video.  The students taking the workshop practice Lishi, a Chinese Daoist collection of martial movement and ideas--I'll post more on it later.  It is very worth researching.  It is connected to Daoist thunder rituals and was brought to the UK in the 1920's, so it is a window into the past as well.  Some excellent training, and orthodox Daoyin.  They were very open to what I have to share, it is a good fit.  (And Alex Boyd is a great teacher.)

Snibits:

Martial Arts Studies--will it become a discipline or not, how about an "indiscipline?"  I think the point here is that martial arts stretches the boundaries of many categories, and at the moment is in need of some working definitions.

Considerations of authenticity must be included in the definition of martial arts.

There is much support for the notion that dance and acting were closely related to western martial traditions. Dueling was expected to up hold standards of beauty.

Do we need a theory of history?  How do we know what questions to investigate?  Is it enough to follow what is intreging?  Probably not, we need to consider metaphors, and make lists of differing views, perspectives and conditions.  Yes, theory is dangerous, it can obscure or become an obsession.  Theory is powerful, we need to be able to put it down, it should not become part of our arm.  Sometimes great questions seem to come from nowhere.  

There are Japanese Kata, that tell stories.  I didn't know that before, a new subject to investigate.

We need more people from the "outer edge," (that's the sharpest bit of the sword).  So much of the work on Martial Arts Studies up until now has been outside of academia, those people need to be included and rewarded.  I suspect this field is going to explode now because there are people out there who have been sitting on research for more than 30 years.  Up until now, it has been career suicide for academics to seriously take up the study of Martial Arts.  The commercial world in film, religion, and sports is a huge potential source of funding and interest.  

Open minded enthusiasts can accomplish a lot.

Project:  Understanding what sovereignty is by looking at differences in notions of individual self-defense.  

Shiva, lord of the dance, is the destroyer of illusion.  In the South Asian world view, dance is closely related to destructive power (perhaps).  

"One should avoid making sweeping generalization."--a view held by people who don't seem to notice that they are in the habit of making sweeping generalizations.  Better, in my view, to do it, and know you are doing it.  It makes it easier to take it back later.  

Bruce Lee was defiantly killed by talismanic magic.

Plate steal armor was easy to move in, do flips and rolls, hop fences, climb, swing, and wrestle in.  It just requires wearing it a lot--some wise men tested this out.  I hope this means that we stop seeing people move like stiff robots when they wear armor in the movies.  And I hope we see more people wearing plate steal armor to the movies, driving google-cars and drinking coffee at Starbucks.

Zhang Sanfeng texted me several times during the conference to clarify his positions.

Anthropology has changed from representing (peoples, events, milieus) to making.  This was obvious when I was in college, and partially accounts for me dropping out.  

Martial arts is a very potent tool for identity transformation.  This position was promoted particularly by women at the conference, but I think there is a consensus

The desexualization of confined spaces.

One can not teach self-defense/counter-assault scenarios without acting, and the better the acting is--the better the training will be. 

 

 

 

Saturday
May232015

Tickling and Enlightenment

Meditate as if you are being tickled, but don’t respond to the tickling, pretend you are immune.  If you’ve ever been the victim of tickling over an extended period of time, years in my case, you probably noticed at some point that it is possible to use Vulcan-mind-lock to feel the tickling, but not respond to it.  I developed this skill because I had to deal with my older sister tickling me.  She tickled me mainly because she hadn’t ever heard about water-boarding.  The basic goal of tickling is to get one’s sibling’s organs to explode.  

Once I developed the Vulcan-mind-lock skill, my sister quickly discovered that tickling me was boring, and she moved on to more sophisticated forms of torture.  

This is why people have trouble meditating.  Meditating is a lot like being tickled. People often think the tickling experience is going to stop when they get better at meditating.  When it doesn’t, they think they have failed, and quit.  If anything the tickling experience is likely to become more profound.    

Widespread confusion about meditation also explains why many people find the golden-elixir (jindan/neidan) practice so mystifying.  Judging by the number and variety of descriptions of neidan and jindan--and we are taking about tens of thousands before the twentieth century--I think it is fair to say neidan is an enlightenment practice invented by people with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

A great direction for scientific inquiry in the next few years would be to explore the relationship between ADHD and tickling.  The mindfulness-meditation in the schools movement is great because it is directly addressing nervous system re-orientation problems. Basically, we can think of it as a way to trick disruptive kids into tickling themselves.  Very cool.  

Given all this, and my own self-induced ADHD, let me try (again) to explain jindan (the golden-elixir).  Once the experience of emptiness has been established by giving-in to the experience of being tickled all over one’s body for an hour every day for a year, then it is possible to transition to maximum explosive felt spatial imagination, called shenling (神靈), in Chinese.  Maximum-explosive-felt-imagination, that’s a lot of words strung together!  Well, if that doesn’t work, I give up. You may be on your own.  

Here is the monster in the room--people get good at meditating, standing or sitting, whatever; just like people get good at sitting in a chair in school and shutting off the learning hormones, known colloquially as playfulness.  Don’t get good at meditating!  That was the whole freaking point of Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.  Instead give-in to being tickled on every spot of your body, inside and outside, that is what perfection feels like.  Surrender, not retreat; in the moment, not in-control.  

Of course, I’m not pushing perfection.  Maybe you don’t want that?  Maybe it isn’t right for you?  Perhaps you like to walk around art galleries with your nose upturned sipping wine and nibbling cheese.  That’s cool.

It is a bit like insults.  I encourage students to insult each other early and often.  Complements too.  I also jibe my students towards mastery of the self insult and the self complement.  See, this is what enlightenment looks like when it is expressed and performed.  It isn’t neutral, dead, or boring.  It isn’t all blissed-out.  Daoist enlightenment, and I suspect most other types, too, identifies the fruition as: without preference.  

The practice of meditation is to experience the way things are without preference.  The expression of that experience is to act without preference.  I mean, how do you know a Buddha when you meet him?  He has gangly arms so long they touch his knees, he has been sitting still so long his hair is full of snails, his ear lobes are long enough to bat flies off of his shoulders, when he walks through mud, lotus flowers bloom in his footsteps.  

Seriously, if you want to be enlightened, start seeing these qualities in the people around you and commenting on them.  Why not start by telling the stranger sitting next to you on the airplane that you fart rainbows, and then ask them if they like being tickled?  Or perhaps enlightenment is just too creepy for you?

For my martial arts readers who don't practice meditation, think about it this way, there are two major obstacles to learning martial arts: 1) Fear of being hit; including fearfulness before, during and after being hit, and 2) Fear of hitting; also before, during and after.  Meditation is similar, there are two obstacles: 1) Fear of stillness, and 2) Fear of movement.