Monthly Archives: May 2011

Preparations

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I don’t believe in any of the nonsense about Mayan Calendars, ancient prophecies, or suchlike. Not one bit. Nevertheless, actual economic and scientific data does increasingly indicate that 2012 is going to be a crunch year.

Here in Europe, the sovereign debt crisis totters onwards, with various countries totally unable to pay off what they owe. However, to admit this would bring the banking system crashing down. Already, mass protests are underway, and those will get worse as governments cut spending harder. The dry weather in April is causing crop failures here in the UK, and perhaps elsewhere. Local government is redefining what a ‘pothole’ is, because they haven’t actually got the money to repair the roads.

In North Africa and the Middle East, things are getting less and less stable. I learned this week that as of next year, Saudi Arabia will run out of fossil water, and as a consequence will cease all domestic production of wheat and other irrigated crops. That means that all 30 million Saudis will be totally dependent on imported food. Not exactly an incentive for them to see lower oil prices, is it? Next door, Yemen is about to collapse completely, having run out of both water and oil. That means the approach to the Red Sea, and thus the Suez canal, will be flanked by two totally failed states.

China? Drought, crop failures, and nationwide shortages of electricity. Inflation. Rising wages and violation of intellectual property leading to manufacturers moving out of China to other countries. Rampant corruption and abuses of power. Rising expectations meeting limits to growth causes dissent and increased repression.

The US? A political system unable to engage with the real world. Huge unemployment. Unpayable debts and a still-collapsing property market. Fossil water also running out in the mid-West. A great unravelling.

Plus, the International Energy Agency confirming that we’ve hit peak oil.

If there’s a way for this to all come right, I hope someone can direct me to it. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening.

I don’t say all this as a cry of despair. It’s just that, looking clearly at the available data, it seems inescapable that the economic system that we have developed over recent decades has gone as far as it can. A change is coming, a great simplification. It’s going to be a difficult transition. (if you have 90 minutes available, I recommend watching Dmitry Orlov’s presentation to the Long Now Foundation, Social Collapse Best Practices).

As I’ve been saying for a while now, it’s a time to be building up social networks; to be learning how local production of food works, and to be doing what you can on that. It’s a time to be building up skills, and knowledge, and inventory.

Let me be clear, I’m not a survivalist! I don’t advocate bunkers full of ammo and tinned food. What’s coming is what John Michael Greer calls ‘Catabolic Collapse‘, a radical simplification – but not a Mad Max-style total collapse. We’ll still have government, we’ll still have our systems, but they’ll be much less complex than they are today.

Rather, I think this is the time to be stocking up on the things you might need, and won’t be able to get, once global trade, and the banks, stop working. In my case, as I’ve mentioned before, it means getting in training and qualifications that might be useful once the Higher Education system collapses. Planting trees, and stocking up on seeds. And, most relevant to this blog, acquiring knowledge in the form of books, DVDs, etc that will help me to continue expanding my knowledge while they’re still available. Thus, I’ve been spending a lot of money lately. I’ll start putting up some initial reviews soon. This is all happening faster than I originally expected – I thought a year ago that 2015 would be the crunch year, but it seems not.

Of course, I could be wrong about this – it could all work out and, indeed, I know that I tend to look very much at the negative side of things. But hey, if I’m wrong all that happens is that I will have rapidly built up a collection of skills, resources, and material that I wanted and would probably have acquired at some point anyway. And if I’m right, good luck to anyone who hasn’t prepared.

And now, I’m going to dig up more of the garden for planting 🙂

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Dojo Rat has just put up an interesting post about soft xingyiquan. I’ve never seen xingyi performed that way before although Lina, a colleague of mine when I first started work as an MBA intern during my Tsinghua days, showed me a soft form that was similar in some ways.

Anyhow, DR’s post led me to write this as a form of thinking aloud, since xingyi was on my mind anyway.

As I mentioned in a recent post, xingyi boosts the practitioner’s yang energy, being so aggressive. When Madam Ge started a xingyi class in Singapore, I was a bit leery about joining it, for precisely that reason. At that time my yang energy was very strong, and I was wary of boosting it further; during my days in politics, I’d learned what that could be like. As it was, I did join the class, and enjoyed it, though I didn’t take it beyond that introduction. Funnily enough, not long after returning to Wales, I went through quite a bad patch of low energy and low spirits; I found myself spontaneously trying to remember the 5 Elements linked set that Madam Ge had taught, as if my body knew how to boost my will and mental strength.

Not long after that, I was asked to recommend a martial art. An acquaintance, who is a teacher of meditation, was feeling that she was too nice, and people were taking advantage of her as a result. She wanted to try a martial art in order to boost her assertiveness. Of course, I had to recommend xingyi!

I was searching around for a resource to which I could direct her, and it took a while. This morning, I found this clip on YouTube:

Of course, there are lots of good clips of the 5 Elements form on YouTube, but few are suitable as a resource for a complete beginner. However, this clip is the trailer for a DVD, which actually looks pretty good – to the extent that I might order a copy for myself.

That’s in addition to Ken van Sickle’s DVD on the Zheng Manqing Sword Form, which I plan to get after my next pay cheque!

Actually, I’ve been spending a lot of money lately. More about that in my next post.

Journeys


Yesterday, I drove up to the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts for the day. Hay-on-Wye is an interesting place, a small town full of bookshops. It’s separated from my part of Wales by the Brecon Beacons, which makes it a lovely drive.

When I left home, the weather was cold, very windy, and raining; a pattern of weather that we’ve had for a few weeks now, and which has finished off most of the sunflowers I’d planted. I think my sweetcorn and French beans are in danger of going the same way 🙁 Once I’d crossed the Beacons, though, it was quite different – beautiful sunshine all day!

I almost immediately bumped into a couple of old friends, which was great. I moved on into the town to browse for books. I picked up a few that are really interesting, including Primitive Revolutionaries in China. A Study of Secret Societies of the Late 19th Century by Fei-Ling Davies. Published in 1971, it’s a fascinating insight into the society and power structures of Qing-period China, in which the poor and/or low-status professionals and merchants combined to protect themselves. It also inspired an article, Tong Aesthetics, by Hakim Bey who, as you’ll see from the About page, has been an inspiration of mine for quite some time.

The reason for going up to Hay was to catch a talk with Colin Thubron, the travel writer. He was discussing his latest book, To a mountain in Tibet (review, review). The mountain in question is Mount Kailas, sacred to three religions. I’ve been fascinated by this mountain for years. During my MBA, I dated a Chinese girl, a Han who had grown up in Xinjiang. During her teens and early twenties I gather she’d been a bit of a tearaway, and had travelled around Western China and Tibet with friends, hiking and moving around in the backs of trucks, drinking around bonfires in the desert… In the course of her adventures, she had circumnavigated the holy mountain, and was obviously moved by the beauty of Tibet. She recommended Kekexili to me, as it reminded her of the Tibet she knew. I really should watch that again soon.

Thubron did this journey when he was 70. travelling into Tibet from Nepal with “a sherpa, a cook, and a horse”. It was really fascinating to hear his account of it all. It really was a spur-of-the-moment decision to go, having just bought a ticket online that morning. For some reason, it wasn’t sold out, but it deserved to be! When I collected my ticket at the box office, someone mentioned that Julian Assange had just been added to the speakers for next weekend, so I quickly bought a ticket for that. The modern jianghu…

Animal mind

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I was practising zhan zhuang in the garden yesterday morning. Heavy but broken black clouds were low in the sky, allowing golden moments of sunlight to break through and illuminate the tops of the saplings I planted last month. As I stood, the blackbirds landed close by my feet, scraping caterpillars against the path to rub the hairs off. A robin came to investigate me, lost interest, and went to the next garden. A squirrel ran along the top of the fence at the end of the garden, paused for a short while to survey the territory, and then leisurely went back the way he came.

It occurred to me that this was the experience of those Daoists who developed the neijia styles. In their silent, stationary, meditations, they would have observed the life around them, just as I do; having stilled their minds, they project no emotion, no intentions, that would alert the beasts and birds around them. Thus, in the mountains, they would have seen the bears and the tigers, the storks and the snakes, going out their business with no fear of the observer.

That led me back to something I’ve mentioned before, the naming of taiji movements. In the West, names such as ‘Parting Wild Horse’s Mane’, ‘Fair Lady Works Shuttles’, ‘Stork spreads wings’ are regarded with amusement. How flowery! How poetic! But silly, after all; shouldn’t we give them names that explain how they’re used? What’s the, you know, practical application there, man? Of course, the answer is no, the names are perfect. They come from a close observation of nature, a clear understanding of the energies, the principles, the flow involved in that movement. It’s only our dysfunctional society, where children think milk is produced in factories, that is so alienated from the world of nature, that doesn’t get this.

Moreover, the ability to observe that nature, and the ability to express these energies in one’s own body… that comes first and foremost from control of one’s mind. To achieve that stillness. To know the body from inside. To understand how that flow of energy moves the human body to achieve that end… It’s the mind. All in the mind.

For me, I got that through yiquan, though of course I had a background in taijiquan before I got to it and, of course, I had completed several meditation retreats. For me, yiquan and taijiquan complement one another; the exact same principles, but expressed with yang energy in yiquan, and yin energy in taijiquan.

Thus, I agree with an awful lot that Tabby Cat writes about on this topic. I don’t agree that CMC-37 is the best, though of course I do also practise that form. He’s lucky, in that he found a teacher who led him to this insight. Not everyone gets that luck, and for them that form is not better than yiquan is for Tabby. For myself, it was with yiquan that I had the breakthrough. Horses. Courses.

But he’s right, though: it’s all about the energy. It’s all about the mind.

A dance in Japan


I have a bad habit of opening up interesting links in a new browser tab and then forgetting about them. I just found this in one such tab; I have no idea where I got the link from originally – possibly it was someone I follow on Twitter? Anyway, I like it, so I thought I would share it with you…

Kathy’s Cinematic Dance Reel – by Chibi Moku from Chibi Moku on Vimeo.

Not quite a stranger

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I have no idea why, but as I was sitting at my desk grading assignments, I suddenly found myself thinking of Joanna Zorya.

I mentioned Joanna in a couple of posts on the earlier version of this blog, while I was still living in Singapore. I followed the blog of one of her students, Kenny, until he stopped maintaining it, and Joanna and I exchanged comments a couple of times.

She’d come to my attention when her philosophy of rejecting the concept of qi, and teaching neijia purely as functional martial arts caused a stir for a while; looking back now, I’m not sure I remember why exactly people got so worked up about it.

Anyway, I quickly googled her to find her school’s website, and was startled to see this message at the top of the page:

Joanna Zorya passed away peacefully on Sunday 6th March 2011. Her memory lives on through this website, through her articles and videos, and in the hearts, minds, and movements of her students and her friends.

I never met Joanna in person, and I don’t know what happened to her. It seems from her website that she’d had a tough couple of years. I suppose all I can say is that we briefly made contact, and she impressed me with her passion and commitment to her arts, and her determination in fighting her corner. I’m sorry to learn that she isn’t with us any more.

Category: Martial Arts

TAG

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Once again, not a huge amount to report; have been head-nodding tired of late, so off my practice a bit. Today’s energies have been directed at clearing a long-neglected greenhouse of bindweed and thistles; the earth inside is now ready to be dug over and manured ready for the tomatoes, basil and chili… Also got a frame half-full of compost, with the remainder to be topped up with manure, and that’s for mushrooms 🙂

CMC Book Cover

A day or two ago, I was looking at Mark Hennessy’s translation of Zheng Manqing’s book “Master Cheng’s New Method of Taichi Ch’uan Self-Cultivation“. Not for the first time, by any means – I’ve had this book for years – but I haven’t read it for quite some time, and maybe the tiredness made me look at it from a different angle.

The thing about the Zheng Manqing form is… why 37?

The translator, Hennessy, notes that in Zheng’s various books the forms are counted differently, and yet always add up to 37 movements:

In every book Cheng himself published, he manages to count the postures differently and yet makes absolutely sure that the final count is thirty-seven. (p x)

In the next paragraph, we are told:

The question remains as to why Cheng labored in fitting his simplified Form into an uncompromising thirty-seven-posture model. He never wrote of any reason, nor alluded to the possibility of a correlative cosmological interpretation. […] We can only assume that if this question was important he would have left us a clue.

What struck me as curious, though, was this, in a later part of the book, Discussions:

There are three distinctions of ch’i. The first is inside your body – blood ch’i; this is our foundational ch’i and it must be kept at thirty-seven degrees Celsius. The second form is outside your body – air ch’i; this is the stuff we breathe and it can be connected to the tan-t’ien, the so-called Sea of Ch’i, or Room of Stored Essence. Nourishing your ch’i by sinking your breath to the tan t’ien warms your essence ch’i into the third form of ch’i – yuan ch’i. This ch’i connects the body’s membranes and permeates the bones. (p22-23)

Now, I’d be the first to admit that this is a tenuous link, but there we are: the only place where Zheng mentions thirty-seven in any context other than the length of the sequence. In the context, it’s actually unnecessary to mention it at all, to be honest, since “body temperature” would have been as easy. (Of course, perhaps this is what the original says, and it’s only a translator’s phrase – but I don’t think so, since I gather the translator is American, and the Americans don’t use the metric system…).

In a way it makes complete sense: 37-degree blood qi is the foundational level of qi, the 37-sequence form is the foundational level of self-cultivation…

I’ve googled it, but I don’t find this hypothesis anywhere. Has it been discussed to death and discarded so that no-one talks about it now? Is it crazy? Let’s bear in mind that Zheng is not exactly shy and retiring in his style of writing; it would seem perfectly in keeping for him to make an analogy between his new taiji style and the fundamentals of life…

Your opinions?

Category: Cheng Man Ching, Taijiquan

TAG

Long pig

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Not too much to report at present. Sometimes when wake up at night, my fingers hurt from being tensed during zhan zhuang. I’ve started using the steel rings on my wrists in some postures.

The pair of blackbirds nesting nearby are getting pretty used to me now, especially the female. She darts around my feet while I’m practising the ba mu zhang (slowly, of course). She’s even coming within a few inches of me while I dig up the lawn to become a vegetable plot, hopping here and there in search of fresh, juicy worms. The male is more cautious, and won’t come near. This evening, the female landed right in front of me, and pulled a large worm halfway out of a large clod of earth, held it for a while, and then hopped off. She was looking at the male, perched nearby on the ridge of the greenhouse, as if to say “Look, it’s OK! It’s safe, and there’s good eating!”. I think she’s mentally classified me as strange but useful type of livestock; good at churning up earth, but not dangerous. A pig, perhaps.

There are times when I’m standing in zhan zhuang, maybe in the morning with all different kinds of birds flying about, and the sun just creeping into the corner of the garden, or in the evening with the mud from the garden drying on my fingers, when I simply don’t want to do anything else. I think of the hermits that Red Pine met in China, and I think to myself, this is how they live. Meditation, martial arts, growing their own food, close to nature and in harmony with the wildlife. Could anything be better?

Well, that isn’t an option for me at this time, but I’ll tell you what: these sessions of practice, morning and evening – nothing else comes close…