Friday, September 26, 2014

On killer instinct

Let's face it. We don't need to train our "killer instinct". Every animal has that killer instinct - aroused most for the two most important survival elements: food and sex (not necessarily in that order). One important point, however, we sometimes seem to forget in our discussion of the subject: survival is above food and sex (excepting those species die after the act of copulation, yet they won't act suicidally trying to achieve impossible copulation).

Now for martial art training. Some schools are fond of advocating the training of "killer instinct". They have a point and they do not have a point.

Let's face it again. An animal's response to conflict situation is either fight or flight. When an animal, for example a lion, is in a strong position, its animal killer instinct will be aroused. It will fight! When the situation is not clear as to who is stronger, for example contending for the lucrative position of being the dominant male, a contender will try its luck, testing its own strength against its opponent, and "kill him" when the situation is favorable, and "fleet from him" when the situation turns out to be unfavorable. A contending lion will not fight "to the last drop of his blood", that would be stupid. Contrary to the claim of some martial artists, an animal will NOT fight to the last drop of his blood.

Running away, in the natural order of things, is not cowardice. It is the best option in the animal world when one is in a weaker position. And we humans have such instinct too. Here comes the "trainers do have a point in cultivating killer instinct". In contact or combat sports, our natural instinct will be "flight" while a facing a (much) stronger adversary. A coach will therefore be needed to instill a "killer instinct" at all times - whether or not his trainee, the fighter for example, is going to face a stronger or weaker opponent. Afterall there are rules and referees, the risk of injury will be minimized. A weaker opponent (in strength or technique) may actually win through luck! And we applaud, the best moment of spectator sports, the underdog wins.

And how about self-defense in the street? I would say it is not a good idea to arouse "killer instinct" under all circumstances. Oftentimes, walking away will be a much better option. Needless to say, it shall be an informed judgment after the testing of strength (and techniques), either in real or mentally. As lions know about it in all ages. A final words, it pays to train ourselves to increase our strength and techniques, both physically and mentally. Worst case scenario: one might need some strength and techniques to walk away from a conflict situation. Who knows?

The stake is high

Taoism and anarchism - with a new translation of Tao Te Ching chapter 80

The political manifestation of Taoism in society is anarchism. My contention.

Lao Tze put a high values on personal freedom, and when extending the community level, community freedom. He put forward his political vision in chapter 80 of Tao Te Ching:

小國寡民。使有什伯之器而不用;使民重死而不遠徙。雖有舟輿,無所乘之,雖有甲兵,無所陳之。使民復結繩而用之,甘其食,美其服,安其居,樂其俗。鄰國相望,雞犬之聲相聞,民至老死,不相往來。

My rendition of Chapter 80 of Tao Te Ching, emphasizing its contemporary relevancy:

Divide a city into small communities with few people each
Let people use tools just good enough to serve their purposes
Let them value longevity, that comes from doing meditation at home, and therefore no need to seek for better lives further away
Let there be boats, but nobody finds any need to use them
Let there are armors but no community finds any necessity to show them off
Let people enjoy simple lives -
in which a few knots are good enough to note down important events
Let them have natural home-grown food
Let them have natural home-made clothes
Let them satisfy themselves with cozy dwellings
And let them preserve their cultural heritage
Each community helps one another only when in need
though each is proximate enough to hear one another's morning calls of roosters and the barking of dogs
Let people of each community age and die to their well-deserved natural age
and find no need to communicate with people outside

Lao Tz's anarchism was a revolt against autocracy, whereas modern anarchism, for example the anarchism of Noam Chomsky, is a revolt against liberalism of Western democracy. Lao Tz and Chomsky shared similar thoughts. Chomsky believes that autocracy is much worst than democracy. Autocracy puts suppressive power on a single person (or party) whose power will filter down to every (or almost every) aspect of citizens' life while liberalism puts it away from the government, but put it onto the hands of wealthy private individuals, companies or individual government agencies. It is easy to see that the former is much worse than the latter. In liberalism, a thinking subject like Noam Chomsky will have his freedom to develop and express his thoughts while in autocracy thinking subjects will likely be considered as enemies to the state (or party etc). For example, a former Nobel Peace Prize winner is still jailed in China today and his wife has been under house-arrest for years (for no other reason than being the laureate's wife!)

One interesting thing to note is that both Lao Tz and Chomsky put community to be the basic unit of structure of governing. It is a practical solution. We can hardly imagine a place able to be governed by individuals who decide on everything collectively on each tiny issue. But than it raises another practical issue: how to organize a community? I suppose Chomsky will say "by individual case, but a general rule will come one day".

My contention is: the danger of abuse of power in the power delegating or sharing process is forever a never-ending issue waiting for future sages to tackle. It will be there as long as we humans have that selfish genes, but then why complain? Our selfish genes made us survive and grow to this day. I can only hope our genes will not drive us to extinction one day.

Noam Chomsky - linguist and anarchist

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Taoism and Inferno

The scare approach had often been used a method to prevent mass-believers to abide by morality rules, in both the East and the West. For people with intellect, this has never been necessary. A typical modern man is with intellect, like a typical reader of Dan Brown's Inferno who will find its plot more interesting than its reference to Dante's Inferno. Nobody can arrest and torture you indiscriminately and a religious leader has no power to decide who goes to Purgatory amount almost to the same thing. The scare approach does not work for the modern man.

Before it gets better it has to get worse is an intellectual insight rather than part of a scare approach.

I enjoy reading Dan Brown, primarily because of the excitement of his plot together with his mastery of the English language. Not blank business language, not everyday mass-spoken language and not "get-ready-with-an-encyclopedia" poetic language. His cannot be considered as literary, which makes for both good and bad reading depending on one's mood at the particular moment. He covered most (if not all) popular themes. He even talked about martial art in Inferno with Sienna Brooks being an expert in Dim Mak! Since this is not a book review, I will not be dealing with every single theme he visited. Besides his coverage of each theme is superficial at best, though it saves readers a lot of money and time when compared to reading popular book authors like (intentionally omitted) who uses a single theme for a complete book; the chosen theme being of no real significance but is just there to reassure the readers they are smart - having a best-selling author sharing the same view as them - and therefore they can get back to work tomorrow free from frustration. A dosage of psychological healing for the common folks.

One theme, however, I found most interesting, Brown's mentioning of the concept of context in popular debates. Context can also be understood as assumptions or more usually value assumptions or moral framework. In our debates with people sharing the same context, we take the context for granted. We seek a better option under the same context. And it creates no intellectual problem. However, when a debate is between people who might not share the same context, one needs to clarify the nature of our debate: whether it is a debate on different contexts or a debate on difference in opinions under the same context.  Brown made the point succinctly, in this case a debate on context is required. In this case the characters were talking about a debate on the ramification of genetic engineering in the form of a air-borne vector virus changing the genome of a portion of humanity - for good or for bad:

...any meaningful debate about.....will require context. ....(they) will need to develop a moral framework to assess their response to (this crisis).

Recently in Hong Kong, there is a heated debate on the implementation of universal suffrage in the city in 2017. On the surface there is the central government approach of selecting (by the government) of 2-3 (definitely loyal) candidates for HK people to choose from and there is the pan-democrats' approach of allowing open, or civic, nomination. The underlining context is that the former believes that Hong Kong people should only be given rights to make money while the latter believing that Hong Kong people should also have political and human rights of a modern democracy. The former aligns with the authoritarian context in mainland China while the latter aligns with the context of universal human rights currently upheld in modern democracies of the industrialized West.

Needless to say, both kinds of debates (on context and on options) are conducive to human progress.

Readers who are interested in the Hong Kong debate can read this interview of 17 year old student activist Joshua Wong in CNN . Incidentally the central government is using some form of scare approach...


Joshua Wong

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A chi interpretation of tai chi

Different tai chi lineages and masters interpret chi differently. Some put more emphasis on it, some put less, a few frown upon it, as if a mentioning of chi diminishes tai chi's rightful place as a martial art.  In my opinion, there will be no tai chi without a proper activation of chi. And the best chi interpretation in the literature is by late master Wu Tunan (吴图南). In his life time he published an important article on tai chi's interpretation chi and the internal personal sensation (feeling) of chi generation. This article has been reprinted in two publications by his different students. It is not that famous masters were withholding important information, it is that it demands an informed reading of such texts, plus actual training experience under an informed training method.

The following extract is the core of master Wu Tunan's teaching on chi kung (as used in tai chi). The original Chinese is posted here for those who can read the language. After that I shall explain the gist of Wu's teaching using the English language, for the majority of my readers.

在太极拳气功中,以宗气为主,气能随我所运,渐而达到听我使用之效,故能运能使,方为太极功气功之目的,否则气功何需锻炼哉?当太极拳初练气功时,并无若何感觉,只觉练习后,身体略感轻快耳。练至相当之时日,则腹内肠胃略有肠鸣,渐至有如龙吟虎啸之势,此时坚持锻炼,持之以恒,则能阴阳分,顺逆匀,盈虚消长,渐能掌握,所谓气分阴阳者此也。

然后培其元气、守其中气、保其正气、护其肾气、养其肝气、调其肺气、理其脾气,闭其邪恶不正之气,勿伤于气,勿逆于气,勿忧思悲怒以颓其气,升其清气,降其浊气,使气清而平,平而和,和而畅达,能行于筋,串于膜,以至通身灵动,无处不行,无处不到,气至则膜起,气行则膜张,能起能张,则膜与筋齐坚固矣。然后自然气由内脏到分肉,由分肉到腠理,由腠理到皮肤,由皮肤到毛细孔,营皮肤呼吸,则能减少肺脏之劳动,所谓太极拳之气能全体发之于毛者即指此也。然后再能延长出来,通过体表之等电离子层和生物电离子层,能使这种气,达到(推手时)对方之身体,而且使这种气跟对方之气结合到一起,来指挥对方之呼吸,这就是我们所说的太极拳的气功。

The gist of the matter (underlined part) is through the activation of chi, our body's chi activated tissues will be "raised up" or "expanded". The primarily focus is tissues around our joints, in particular our shoulder and pelvic joints. Only with chi activated tissues around our joints can our muscles be connected and our body structure strengthened. And only with chi activated tissues around our joints can joint rotation (silk reeling) develop meaningful training results. Such chi connectedness will eventually reach the extremities our body. In pushing hands the internal sensation and reach the inside of the your opponent's (training partner's) body.

In short, the focus is on muscles and body structure, instead of on chakras. The latter is the primarily focus for meditators, which will necessarily be the subject matter of another post in future.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Suppression of natural instinct

An essential concept of the internal arts is suppression of our natural instinct. Tai chi as martial art suppresses our natural instinct to tense, rather than relax, our muscles during conflict/combat situation. In situations where our survival is as stake, our adrenalin shoots up, and our natural response takes over. The naturalness of internal arts rests upon the unnaturalness of its practice. Let me explain my contention further.

Natural response represents an activation of energy, in a very specific manner. When we are being offended, we got angry. And anger is a an arousal of special energy. A natural response. Those who can control their anger usually forcefully suppress their anger. A welcoming response to the situation - without letting it into uncontrollable, and oftentimes reciprocal in nature, response on either party. Yet, suppression is, firstly bad for health, and secondly, such stored or suppressed energy may explode one day into an truly uncontrollable and irreparable situation, as far as cordial human relationship is concerned. Everybody can appreciate such possibility, and probably knows some folks are that too.

The internal art is a physical training. It trains a person the way to sublime such energy. With a successful training, such sublimation does not involve our cognition, we "naturally" (a newly created naturalness) respond in such a way that our energy of anger is transformed into an energy to open our internal blockages. A seasoned and observant practitioner can feel the "un-believability" of such self-response. Unbelievable because it is not our natural response. "How come I can feel so calm in such situation?"

In the limiting case, a seasoned practitioner can even suppress the natural instinct facing the situation of death. Religious masters are said to be able to control their natural instinct in face of death. Those of us having the experience of witnessing the death of a relation (in death bed) can appreciate the powerful (though unsuccessful) human instinct of survival against an approach death. Yet, some religious leaders trained in the internal art can die peacefully in a folded leg posture. How? By suppressing his life instinct in face of death. The mummified body of the Sixth Zen Patriarch Hui Neng is still kept in a Buddhist temple in China, although the worship of which had not been the original intention of our master (by the way, it is superstitious to do so, and not true Buddhism).  The Dalai Lama once said in his practice, he will "die" a few times a day.  Our Holiness was talking about same thing as discussed in this article.

Closer to modern rational understanding, a seasoned free diver learns the same thing as our religious masters. The free diver can suppress his natural instinct to suck in air (which will kill him when he dives), and of course at the same time will need to manage to economize his use of oxygen. The interesting thing is that if the free diver does not properly plan the length of his dive against his use of oxygen, he will die "peacefully" without any physical struggle. Like our religious master, but of course our free diver will not be mummified.

For those who are interested in sex (who doesn't?), they might be interested to know the sublimation of sexual energy is also the same thing.

Master Hui Neng



Monday, September 1, 2014

Inspired by Tao Te Ching - chapter 43

道德經第43章

天下之至柔,馳騁天下之至堅。無有入無間,吾是以知無為之有益。不言之教,無為之益,天下希及之。

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"


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...