Monday, September 1, 2014

Inspired by Tao Te Ching - chapter 43



My translation of Chapter 43 of Tao Te Ching

The softest of the world
freely move about the hardest of the world.
Void can travels through the seamless,
and so we can appreciate
the benefits of invisible acts.
Teach without lecturing,
a benefit derived from an invisible act,
Superior to any other way!

Paul's comment: Influence but not command. PR rather than selling. Let them (think) they owe the project rather than following orders. Let everybody be free man rather than slave....

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"White horse is not horse" vs " A deer is a horse"

This blog is about Tao and Zen - as meditation, internal art and everything, in the perspective of Eastern (primarily traditional Chinese) culture under the scrutiny of modern (western) knowledge base. A better understand of Tao and Zen (which is, in many respects, very similar in Chinese cultural context) however cannot be have without a comparative understanding of other, non-Tao/non-Zen traditional Chinese concepts.

Both "White horse is not horse" (白馬非馬) and "A deer is a horse" 指鹿為馬 are popular stories in traditional Chinese culture. The first is fine logical argument. This aspect of genetic trait of Chinese is still flourishing today, as can be seen by sound academic and professional achievements in areas demanding finely argued, self-contained logical systems, for example accounting. The argument can run either of the following two ways:
  1. White horse is a subset of horse, hence cannot be equivalent to horse (or white horse implies horse but horse does not imply white horse).
  2. White horse is a specific horse that the speaker is pointing at. And that particular horse is not equivalent to the concept of horse, by definition, is devoid from or over and above, any concrete reality.
Clever argument.

The "cleverness" when extended to the political arena becomes "A deer is a horse". The story goes like this (in essence): "When the minister brought a deer to the young (inexperienced and naïve) emperor, to the emperor's surprise, he called it horse, many in court said it was a horse (to the greater surprise of the emperor), those who said it was a deer were later killed/persecuted by the minister". Smart move for an authority figure. Result: those who uphold the truth will be persecuted, those who prosper will be people who take personal benefits above public good and rights, and who prefer to be slaves than to be free men. Genetic traits die hard.

"I'm Hongkonger. I want genuine universal suffrage"

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The elderly oil peddler - a Song Dynasty fable

陳康肅公堯咨善射,當世無雙,公亦以此自矜。嘗射於家圃,有賣油翁釋擔而立,睨之,久而不去。見其發矢十中八九,但微頷之。 康肅問日:「汝亦知射乎?吾射不亦精乎?」翁曰:「無他,但手熟爾。」康肅忿然曰:「爾安敢輕吾射!」翁曰:「以我酌油知之。」乃取一葫蘆置於地,以錢覆其口,徐以杓酌油瀝之,自錢孔入,而錢不濕。因曰:「我亦無他,惟手熟爾。」康肅笑而遣之。

賣油翁: 宋歐陽脩 。

My translation of the fable "The elderly oil peddler"  (aka: "Nothing great") - written by famous writer Ouyang Xiu of Song Dynasty:

Honorable Chan was proficient in the art of archery, came second to none, himself proud of this too. Once when he practised at his back yard, an elderly peddler of edible oil rested down his shoulder-pole, stood there and looked askance at him, for a long time. Having seen Chen hit the mark eight or nine times out of ten, yet he only slightly nodded his head. Chan confronted him, "Do you know the art of archery? Did I shoot badly?" "Nothing great, simple practice." Chan was angry, "You dare to look down upon my shooting skill!" The old man said, "I understand it through pouring oil". He then took out a bottle gourd and put it on the ground, the he put a coin to cover its mouth. Slowly he poured oil through the center hole of the coin into it. He did it without wetting the coin. He said, "It's also nothing great for me, simple practice." Chan laughed and bid him farewell.

Paul's comment:.....(and keep on writing).

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Defensive martial arts as competitive sports?

Defensive or passive martial arts are defined as martial arts that train only on defensive moves. The most notable styles are aikido throws and tai chi free-style pushing hands. Although there are practitioners claiming to uphold, and therefore trained accordingly, the old roots of the arts as both offensive and defensive practices, they are the exception rather than the rule, and their training, if effective, certainly goes beyond what are now trained in the dojo or public park. (Indeed in Hong Kong there was this one sifu who once bought a short TV commercial and showed himself doing boards breaking technique, common demonstration among karate practitioners).

In competitive sports (like the one-to-one sport of boxing/Sumo wrestling/MMA or many-to-many sport of American football) there are tough physical contacts played under well defined rules (and with forbidden moves). Under these rules, both sides are encouraged to "attack" as this is the best way to score. If both sides choose to defend at the same time, the referee (and the audience!) will very likely to urge both side to "attack". For example, in Mongolian wrestling where there is no time limit for each game, in some rare cases, in particular in important title matches, both wrestlers might become too cautious, they therefore choose to “test out” each other without real engagement in grabbing the other’s gear, sometimes for over an hour! The current rule is that the referee can “make” both wrestlers to re-start their game from the position of each grabbing the gear of the other, to make them easier to launch an attack.

Because of the above inherent limitation of the defensive art, training in that art has to involve a compliant partner (in tai chi free-style push hands compliance is effected by the requirement of arms stay touching with maintaining a light and connecting force (不丟不顶) which effectively turns the game into one that cannot be played without one being compliant). With enough momentum self-generated by his compliant partner, a practitioner can execute spectacular throws. As far as physical training and mind-body healing practice is concerned, it is a perfectly fine way to practice. In particular, without competitive physical contacts, the sports will be much safer, and therefore much "healthier" (I am not making it up, master Wang Xiangzai held this same view and looked down upon competitive sports as being "unhealthy"). There is nothing inherently negative about aikido and tai chi. They are simply different practices. And they are highly effective in achieving their physical and mental conditioning objectives.

However, issues arise from using these practices as self-defense, without supplementing them with other offensive practices/training. Sometimes it is argued as follows:

We are peaceful people. We do not train ourselves to attack; rather we train ourselves to defend against attack. Therefore our art is perfectly good as a practice of self defense.

The main problem with this argument is that those who are not trained with a competitive (which is non-compliant-plus) partner fail to grasp the real-life situation, in particular the fact that your opponent will more likely to cheat than not, trying to win the game (as the old Chinese saying goes Cheating is a normal part of warfare 兵不厌诈). And he does! A competitive sportsman learns it in the hard way, like faking a move, or faking the power supposed to be used in a move. An almost instantaneous correct reaction to a fake move has to be learned in real life, in competitive situation. Even in lawn bowling without physical contacts, older folks are said to be fond of using psychological warfare to outwit the physically stronger young opponents - psychological warfare in addition to physical intimidation. An angry face may be faked, as much as faking tiredness or minor injury. These are all part of a competitive game and participants enjoy playing them! On the other hand just imagine what would happen next when in an aikido dojo or tai chi pushing hands class, a junior practitioner fakes a move (that is supposed to be compliant), throws his sensei or sifu and therefore makes him looks stupid!

In competitive sports, even veteran practitioners got tricked once in while by faked moves and lose their game. In the recent July Sumo Game (Basho) held in Nagoya, a more junior Egyptian sumo wrestler Osunaarashi (Maegashira #3 前頭三), who had not been doing particularly good in this game, surprised everyone by winning two yokozunas 横纲 (Kakuru and my favorite Harumafuji) in two consecutive days (there are a total of 15 days in a tournament with each wrestler fighting different opponent each day). How did he do it? By perfectly legal fake moves. And the two yokozunas accepted their loss with grace.

In conclusion, there is nothing negative with defensive martial art, just that it is incomplete if it is used for training towards confidence in competitive situations.

In a coming post, I shall discuss the excellent healing effect of the defensive martial arts.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

The theory behind sexual abstinence in the internal arts

“100 days foundation building (百日筑基)” is a common saying among internal practices that advocate the necessity of doing micro-cosmic circulation as a foundation practice. Despite differences in the practice method, during this period, sexual abstinence has oftentimes been said to be an essential requirement. So much so many said that lest there will be a leakage of chi and the practitioner has to do the 100 days again (poor guy, who can’t control his sexual urge for 100 days). Recently I came across a Shalin Nei kung book published by a lineage of Shalin monks in Mainland China (nowadays they on regular students to be lineage students and gave them Buddhist title 法號). The author, a lineage holder, disclosed that there are also such practices in Shaolin. It seems that such method is quite prevalent in internal martial arts, if not all of them spoken out as such publicly.

No pain no gain. As most athletes believe it to be so. But what is the rationale behind. What is wrong with letting our natural urge finds its natural way?

It is interesting to note that in classic text of Taoist meditation (for example the famous Taoist Yoga translated into English by Buddhist Charles Luk) there is a common assertion “The natural way turns into man, the opposite way turns into Immortal”. A riddle (like Zen riddles) that has been puzzling many readers and practitioners for generations. What is the natural way and what is the opposite way?

Like every “secret” of the internal arts, one has to turn to empirical evidence. In other words, only practitioner who has the experience of the practice process can possibly understand what the classics were talking about. Hence what you are going to read below will be an “opinion” if you have no such experience, but if you have practiced the art in any meaningful way, probably under a tutelage of a learned practitioner, you would probably say “So THAT is what the classics are talking about! (irrespective of whether you agree with it or not, at least you know what I am talking about)” Hence I am not disclosing a secret, which cannot be disclose anyway without proper initiation, but simply pointing out an empirical fact that practitioners might not notice previously.

Before I confuse you further, the gist of the simple empirical fact is as follows:

Irrespective your training method, the first objective in your training is to build up chi in your lower abdomen: from the Dantian (a point a few inches behind your belly button) downwards to your pelvic floor muscles and backward to your kidney. When such chi energy is built up to a certain magnitude, your lower abdomen will have a burning sensation (the classics mentioned the burning sensation in your kidneys as an empirical evidence to seek for). In chakra terminology, you have opened your chakra(s) there (whatever name your particular lineage names the chakra(s). When you progress further, the powerful chi accumulated in your lower abdomen will try to seek an outlet. When it is blocked at the pelvic floor, it will rise up and move the diaphragm, which initially can absorb some chi. As more chi builds up the diaphragm will bounce back the chi. In chakra terminology, the heart chakra is not opened and therefore chi cannot pass through (the heart charka cannot be opened by chi coming up alone, chi has to come three-dimensionally).

Now different systems will have different methods. To do what? To open the spinal cord to allow the compressed (and powerful) chi to go up the spinal cord. It is the “moment” in practising microcosmic circulation in Taoist meditation, the details of which I will not go into here. Instead I will like to point out a practice of opening the spinal cord through pure physical means: it is jumping up and falling down on one’s buttock with crossed legs, as in “flying” of TM or some Tibetan practice.

How does this related to sexual abstinence? When the pressure is high around our groin area, physical pressure will arouse our sexual instinct (and in seated meditation, erection may arise in some practitioners). Such feeling may become unbearable, seeking a natural release (and a practitioner’s otherwise calm mind will be disturbed). If a practitioner follows his natural instinct, his internal pressure will be released. If however, he can make use of this internal pressure to open his spinal cord (with any method including the TM one mentioned above), he can both got his internal pressure released AND move a step forward in his practice. Once his strongly compressed chi can be channeled to go up his spinal cord, it is easy for him to move it down the front part of his body and back to his abdomen. With success and successive (powerful) microcosmic circulation, he is now ready to open his heart chakra.

PS: Is it necessary to do so? Judge it by yourself.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The theory of chi generation in tai chi slow movement

The way I train myself and my students, with good results, oftentimes amazed my friends who train themselves in the gym, oftentimes under private coaches (some are coaches themselves). The question has always been "how can you folks condition your muscles and realign your structure through slow movements without weight resistance?"

"Learn from me and you will know the answer", I always told them. They won't listen. But most likely they will listen when they get older and can no longer endure the tension arising from periodic adding weights in their training regime.In a gym training environment, weights have to be added periodically to stimulate the muscles. If a muscle is conditioned to a certain resistance, training effect will be lost (safe for endurance training).

In tai chi slow movements (or 24 styles tai chi nei kung, my favorite workout routine) a practitioner also needs to add weight. But instead of adding a fixed amount of incremental weight (which will necessary be too much in the beginning), a tai chi practitioner adds weight in a continual process, stimulating isokinetic muscular contraction. He increases the power of his, say, push in one direction; and at the same time he increases his own resistance in the opposite direction - in approximately the same amount. The outward result is maintaining the same slow movement without external weight increase nor observable internal weight increase, because the weights balance out each other.

How to do it need some good practice. The prerequisite is the activation of chi. The key fact is: Chi will be activated when opposing muscle groups contract in similar magnitude. The first step in learning chi generation in tai chi is through the practice of zhan zhuang - with progress being faster for those who understands a simple theory behind chi generation and then consciously (and with mindful focus) acts upon it.

After some initial training in chi generation through zhan zhuang, a practitioner shall practice the a movement form with a definitive move of tai chi - a push (in 24 styles tai chi nei kung, it is called White Ape pushing). The way to do the definitive push is focus on your biceps when pushing out and focus on your triceps when pulling back in. And if you're an advanced practitioner, you can apply the above theory to do slow movement push-ups.

"Is that so simple?" Yes, but you have first to learn chi generation through zhan zhuang (well, don't need to do "one hour this and one hour that" tiring ones as some old school teachers might suggest...)

Master Yu doing zhan zhuang

Monday, August 11, 2014

The most neglected tai chi method - Kuo

The tai-chi eight methods are: Peng (棚),  Luo (捋), Ji (擠), An (按), Cai (採), Lie (挒), Zhou (肘), and Kao (靠).  In tai chi pushing hands drills, usually the first four methods are trained. Kao (literally means leaning on) sometimes has been interpreted in tai chi books at "strike with the shoulder" which confuses rather than elucidates things. In DaLui (大捋) "friendly" pushing hands, where the four other methods are supposed to be taught, the force of Kao ("like" striking with the shoulder) is not actually executed but rather evaded by one's partner.

Question number one: what is Kao? Question number two: How to train kao (for combat purpose)?

Let me tackle the second question first. What I was a kid, I saw isolated people striking their bodies against trees. My father told me "they are training kao". Nowadays I don't see people practicing that way any where in HK. Perhaps some practice it behind closed door, I don't know. In the literature, I see a Wu-style master called Li Liqun 李立群 wrote about it, in details, in one of his many Wu-style tai chi books (Li teaches in USA). In his photos, he demonstrated his ability of bouncing people away using his back, shoulder, body side, all through activating his whole body momentum. Whole body power-externalization or fa jing 发劲. Impressive.

Now the first question: what is Kao? Kao is fundamentally a way of charging your body (shoulder, back, body side, and sometimes forehead too) at your opponent. The objective is either to tackle him down (like BJJ) or to bounce him away (like Sumo), as far as combat is concerned.

Kao is an important combat technique supplementing the seven other techniques of the tai chi eight methods.

Although tai chi is nowadays practiced mostly as a mind-body exercise, an understanding of its martial art origin can make the art more interesting and meaningful for a practitioner. Needless to say, a vigorous training on Kao (like the Li's way of striking one's body against a tree) is not needed (nor recommended) for mind-body exercise.

Kao in Sumo

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