Thursday, July 2, 2015

Why Yi rather than XingYi?

The best interpreter of internal martial art Master Wang Xiangzai called his style YiQuan (意拳)instead of using the style name he learned from his master: XingYiQuan(形意拳). Xi means visualization and internal sensation. Xing means external form. Why he dropped the word Xing? Did he simply use a different name with no specific meaning, or did he regard form (xing) as unimportant? Below is my interpretation or "one-point-advice".

Internal martial arts deal with both form and internal sensation. The question is which is primary. This question of the primacy of form and internal sensation looks academic at first sight. Isn't it that it is all about form AND internal sensation? Take another example in tai chi. What is the primary concept in tai chi? Relaxed/open and heaviness (鬆沉) is the answer.

Master Wang is a great teacher. His primary concern was to teach and to teacher most effectively. In teaching the internal arts, Yi is of primary concern while Xing is a secondary concern. Same for Yiquan, same for tai chi. For example, when doing zhan zhuang, a student should NOT follow the form "faithfully" (such standard forms can be easily Googled nowadays for free), instead he should follow his internal feeling or Yi (in  the lingo of chi kung, it is called Chi-feel 得氣感). And the primary input of a good teacher, as far as my teaching is concerned (which I believe the master shared the same), is to feel the chi of his student by chi-touching his arms/hands and adjust his internal chi according to "what is there".  Since the initial conditions of each student will likely to be different, the insistence on perfect form will be counterproductive to good progress.

Master Wang said it clearly in this statement of his: 但求神意足,不求形骸似 , translated as "(you should) only seek fullness in your internal sensations and visualization, no need to seek for form perfection."

In tai chi Relaxed/open and heaviness (鬆沉)  are also internal sensations.

Monday, June 29, 2015

One point advice for the internal arts

In Japanese TV series Midnight Diner, there is a "one point advice" for making the dish mentioned in the episode. No such advice in the manga, and no such advice in the move. Midnight Diner started out as manga, became so successful that three mini-TV series were made and ultimately this year a movie is released. Different medium demands different contents. Individual magazine manga series asks for distinct comic elements in each issue (three stories in each issue for Midnight Diner), so that readers will come back to buy the next issue. TV mini-series caters to a broader audience, in Midnight Diner the producer added one extra element: "one point advice" (or more appropriately called "key point advice") for the housewife or anyone interested to a featured dish, which itself forming part of the plot. And there are many webpages on the internet (in Japanese and Chinese) featuring how to make such dishes, sometimes with additional advice! Movie industry is different. Here you need an impressive or sustainable theme to tie everything together, scattered pieces of individual stories won't work in movie.

Book is more like a movie. An attractive theme is asked for. For example, you can write on tai chi, or better yet, part of tai chi (like standard form, tai-chi as healing, tai-chi nei gong, tai-chi pushing hands etc) as a single subject. An author cannot ramble on different subjects. The author can choose a theme, but once he has chosen a theme he cannot divert from it without raising some negative comments from his readers.

Blogging is different. True, good blogging also needs to write around a specific subject, and better yet, on a specialized subject in which the author knows a lot about, being an expert on the subject. Yet blogging can ramble around individual areas of a defined subject almost randomly. Chances are that most readers jump into a certain area of a subject through a search engine. With the overflow of information, an online researcher (defined as anyone who intends to find particular information on the internet using search engines) typically look for information from different sources. He or she has limited time to read an article in a particular blog. For this reason, the contribution of blogs and bloggers lies in whether they can shed some sights onto the mind of a researcher, on first reading. This is de-facto the requirement or contribution of "one point advice" or "key point advice".

I hope my blog posts can give researchers relevant one point advice or key point advice on the subject matters of internal arts, namely tai chi, chi kung, nei-gong, and meditation.

One point advice for Japanese egg roll: "use rectangular pan, pour egg, fold into small rectangle, pour another egg, fold again..."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The concept of Fringe and Chi Kung

Chi kung, and its related disciplines such as tai chi and meditation, is a popular exercise nowadays in Chinese communities, and is getting more and more popular in other countries among people with different nationalities. It belongs to mainstream. It was however far from mainstream in old Dynasty China. More fringy perhaps than characters in Japanese mini-drama Midnight Diner, whose patrons include yakusa members, gay bar owners, strip dancers, crooks, minor policemen, "overtime" OLs, and socially misfit of many kinds. The difference is that these fringy patrons are not persecuted in modern Japan, not so for chi healers in old Dynasty China.

Chinese history of the previous Dynasty was written by official historians of the current Dynasty. Historical writing, or history for short, was primarily written to serve as "administrative case studies" for the better management of the current Emperor and his administrators. For this reason, not withstanding the fact that the historians were truly professional, certain subjects were considered not relevant to their studies. Therefore related historical documents and records laid dormant in royal archives rather than being used or referenced. During the past decades, such archives in Beijing and Taipei were being made public to qualified academics of major Universities in China and overseas. Histories from new perspectives and on new subjects began to be written for the consumption of interested members of the modern public. Among these publications is a book called "Millenarian Rebellion in China - The Eight Trigrams Uprising of 1813" by Princeton's Professor Susan Naquin.

In Dynasty China, there were three relevant provinces around Beijing (current Shandong, Heinan and Heibei province - the last one being similar to a larger area formerly called Zhili [means "directly ruled" and indicates regions directly ruled by the imperial government of China, including the capital]). The three provinces were the land of chi kung healers, groups and followers. Meaning that the people and the environment were conducive to the creation, practice and propagation of chi healing.

A typical development pattern of chi healing in society was narrated by Professsor Naquin as follows (paraphrased by me):

Chi kung healing in the area was passed down through family lineage, not necessarily along the male line. Healers were liberal rather than orthodox. These healers because of their "magical power" and usual affiliation with fringy religious sects of either Taoism or Buddhism were officially forbidden by the Emperor. Such masters would be jailed/executed and groups disbanded. Emperor's law though was not necessarily being carried out by local rural administrators who, when a healer was not very influential, i.e. only with a small number of followers and carried out his trade discretely, would tolerate him, afterall, these healers were doing a proven practice to certain members of the communities usually the lower class countrymen who could not affect legitimate medical care. Rural administrators were also limited by the resources of administration (and persecution!) at their disposal.

Problems arose when these healers became too successful. With successful healing records (and perhaps coupled good personal publicity on the part of the master), some people in the upper class began to follow a healing master. It was easy to understand from a modern perspective in that chi healing and chi kung exercises are more beneficial than mainstream Chinese medical practices in many long term ailments.

These groups met periodically, once a month or once every few months. Becoming successful and with more upper class followers, some of these masters became quite rich. And a sizeable group of mixed sex adults meeting in private could easily arouse the curiosity and therefore suspicion of local rural people. And that in its turn attracted the attention of the local authority, which eventually ended up in persecution, sometimes local authority would request manpower support from the provincial authority. The smarter ones of the masters fled away before a crackdown, some masters being executed or jailed (but their descendants secretly carried on with now a much smaller group), while one or two bravest masters revolted against the Emperor with disastrous results. The professor documented some of these uprisings in her book.

Master and his patrons

Friday, June 26, 2015

Zen and the Japanese personality

Japanese has a personality propensity to Zen experience. By Zen experience, I don't mean Zen as written by D. T. Suzuki who spoke primarily to Western audience with a rationalistic mentality with an analytic approach to philosophy. Zen experience is an internal (empirical) perception. Midnight Diner (Shinya Shokudō  深夜食堂), the movie-TV series-manga that I speedily became fan, inspired me to look at the issue, once more.

Zen is acceptance rather than endurance. For the Japanese personality, it is not by any philosophical analysis, it is experiencing life as complete, rather than half-full and certainly not half-empty. In Midnight Diner, the patrons were living in the margin of society. Some of them had very little money to spend on meals. There was this meal called butter-rice. A middle-aged part-time singer (and part-time factory labor) would sing a song in the diner for a bowl of butter-rice (黃油飯 バターライス) and a small bowl of Tonkotsu broth. The master accepted this deal and the singer came once every week. The singer was serious about his butter rice. The rice must be very hot, the butter must first be buried inside the rice for 30 seconds (during which time he closes his eyes in a meditative mode), and after that add just a few measured drops of soy sauce. Itadakimasu! Zen like and at one with as simple as a bowl of butter rice. Simple focus with deference. The essence of a Japanese bath. A willingness and ability to submit oneself to a defined structure - without the need for rational explanations or justifications. The gist of Zen experience. A state or condition that I can see many Japanese have a propensity getting into without much effort, while westerners sweating themselves with endless arguments as to what is the true meaning of Zen.

If you are not a Japanese, probably you have to seek other routes, such as chi cultivation through chi kung or meditation - assuming that you want to experience Zen in the first place.

The Zen way of butter rice

Monday, June 22, 2015

Inspired by Midnight Diner

Shinya Shokudō (深夜食堂 Midnight Diner) is a Japanese manga series by Yarō Abe. It won the 55th Shogakukan Manga Award for general manga and it was nominated for the 2nd Manga Taishō. It was adapted into a 10-episode television drama in October 2009, followed by second season in October 2011, and then third season in October 2014. In 2015, a film was released by director Joji Matsuoka starring Kaoru Kobayashi as The Master, released in Japan in Jan 2015. The movie is currently showing in Hong Kong. The show is about a late night canteen in the side street of Shinjuku opening from midnight to 7 am and the stories of its fringe patrons as portrayed under the relaxing and supportive ambience created by the Master (chef). Each episode in the television series featured a special meal. One-point advice will be given to the preparation of each featured meal.

Popular and very entertaining. To pay tribute to the Shokudo and the artists who made it all happened, I shall write a few posts as inspired by Midnight Canteen.

The first post I shall write is "One point advice for the internal arts". The second post I shall write is "The concept of Fringe and Chi Kung". The third post is "Zen and the Japanese personality". Stay tuned.

Both the manga and the television series are available free on-line, for those who can understand either Japanese or Chinese.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Combat stance zhan zhuang and visualization

Visualization plays a pivotal role in the internal arts, including chi kung, internal martial art and meditation, the subject matter of interest in this blog. Without visualization, meditation is just passive resting while internal martial art becomes external in essence. Meditation is all about visualization and oftentimes comingled with religious or spiritual belief. It is a vast subject that I shall leave for future posts. Here, I shall only tackle physical visualization using combat (zhan zhuang) stance as illustrative example.

In chi-disciplines, one essential objective is to have a chi-filled body (and mind too, as it is about mind-body exercise). Combat stance in my definition includes all kinds of stance at combat readiness, which means including Master WangXiangZai's combat stance, tai-chi's seated and bow stance and the popular San-ti stance. Here, I shall use Master Wang's combat stance as example, because it is more structurally rounded and individually complete.

Zhan zhuang trains good structure. Combat stance, as an advanced zhan zhuang form, is more so in its structural training.  Internal martial art trains from the inside. A practitioner has to "listen" (in tai chi lingo: ting jing 聼勁) deeper and deeper into his body to activate power from the deepest part.  In addition to a meditative mind, a practitioner's "bag of tricks" includes the powerful tool of visualization. With vivid visualization of "external event/action acting upon one's body", a practitioner then digs deep inside to activate far-away muscles and tendons to direct energy to counteract such visualized "external event/action acting upon one's body". The internal feeling is chi or jing traveling from deep inside to outside contact points - made vivid through visualization of events "outside one's body". Such outside event can be situated quite far away (in deep meditation, it is from Big Dipper for certain practice!)

In order to cultivate a strong structure, chi or jing must flow out to all directions. Meaning that if force is applied to one part of the body (like when blocking a punch), the whole body will be engaged to serve the objective of neutralizing the external force (and deflecting it in the process). Good visualization needs to serve the above objective. There are many visualization methods. The following are two that I commonly use in my teaching:

1. Visualize pushing a cart downhill.
2. Visualize oneself being push or pull separately in six directions (the XYZ axis).

One last question: why use the method of internal martial art? Why don't we just pick up a Muay Thai kicking pad and ask a training partner to kick? Isn't it easier to teach and learn that way?

The benefits of training from the inside are that firstly it can be used for all levels of initial structural strength, without risk of injury, and secondly, the internal method can serve a much wider spectrum of healing and training purposes for all walks (and all phases) of life.  Having said that an internal martial art student should not mystify on the super-powerfulness of internal power (Jing). The training method of the internal art is smarter rather than more mythical. It is a mind-body exercise, and therefore it can also be called thinking (in the sense discussed above) body conditioning art. A student needs to think (engaging mind) and need to experience (engaging body) at the same time for good training results.

Good luck with your training!

Combat stance - a famous student of Master Wang

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Inspired by Tao Te Ching - Chapter 46



My translation of Chapter 46 of Tao Te Ching:

If society is run according to Tao,
Horses will have nothing to do but eat and defecate.
If society is not run according to Tao,
Pregnant war horses will have to give birth in the field.

The greatest misfortune is caused by discontent;
The greatest trouble is due to covet.
Therefore be contented with what you have
And you will be contented at all time.

Paul’s comment: The Taoist concept of “be contented with what you have”, and its variant "content and always happy" (知足常樂),has become a core component of traditional Chinese culture.

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