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.



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



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.

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