June 28, 2016

Fortune Cookie II

"In time you will see that life is but a play....and you missed the dress rehearsal"

           Fortune Cookie - Quantus Airlines 1995

August 29, 2015

April 30, 2014

Friday Class: Empty Space

Four years.  Every Friday.  From 8:00PM unitl  ~.  Chinese language, art, history, science, philospohy - and Kung Fu/Tai Qi.

We would sit with tea at hand and Teacher would begin..."Does anyone have a question?"  And so our weekly lesson would begin.  The classes ended 7 1/2 years ago but the lessons have not stopped. 

I recently took a look at my notes - 2 completely full spiral notebooks - and I noticed something.  The notes have a pattern.  In the begining, the notes are sparse and appear a bit rushed.  The Chinese  characters are very large and ill-formed (out of balance and often missing strokes) - like you might expect from a child struggling to absorb and make sense of the outside world.  Over time the notes filled in, became more more organized and the characters began to look a bit more recognizeable.  Eventually, the pages are absolutely packed.  Every inch of the page is crammed with verbatim notes, characters, stories, explanations and navigational instructions to guide you through the thicket of thoughts.  Then...the notes begin to lessen.  They are still very well organized but they are no longer verbatim.  The narrative fades into reference and interpretation.  The characters are generally well-formed but they are joined by small pictures - abstract doodles that somehow reflect the topics of the day.  The final lessons have almost no notes at all.  There is a date and perhaps a sentence or two, maybe a drawing and lots of empty space.  The last page of my notes is blank -

The notes, and the pattern reflect our forms.  We begin with the pattern - the specific set of movements that comprise the form.  At first, our movements are big, clumsy and uncoordinated.  Our mind struggles to remember the pattern as our body struggles to execute what little we can remember.  Over time, we refine our actions.  We add skills, develop strength and improve our coordination.  The form becomes more organized and structured as our mind is packed with the details of every action complete with navigational arrows.  Then, the arrows fade.  The form remains but it is no longer verbatim.  It is cleaner, smoother, less cluttered.  The actions are full, well-formed, and balanced but there is an additional element - an abstract intangible that is our own within the form.  And lots of empty space.


December 16, 2013

A Lesson From Taichung Teacher

The following thoughts from Taichung Teacher were made available by two of his students.  Many thanks to them for their contribution to this blog and for furthering the lessons from Taichung Teacher.

Stop counting how many forms you have.  It is how well you know your forms that counts.  Quality is always more important than quantity.

Stop counting the hours you are training.  It is not so important to train for so many hours, but rather to make the hours of training count.

Just spend a little time with the movement until you feel comfortable with it and the problems will solve themselves.  The movements are meant to be understood.  They are not meant to challenge you your entire life, but to add quality and knowledge to your life.  Try not to make it so complicated and understanding will come.

The breath should be coordinated with the speed of the movement.  If the breathing is not right, then the timing is not right, and the form loses its meaning.  When the breathing is right, and the timing is right, it brings the movements to life.  Do not force the breathing or the movement, but let them happen naturally.

Over Training
If you push yourself and overdo it and hurt yourself so that you are unable to train, it is useless.  Know your body and how much you can do.  It is not Kung Fu that makes you great, but what you can do that makes Kung Fu great.

July 15, 2013

In Memory of Taichung Teacher

The Stone 

Like a stone into uncertain waters
Sending ripples to every shore
And then returning from whence it came
Leaving stillness in its wake
With Respect, Gratitude and Love

May 14, 2013

Elements of Style

A Kung Fu form, like any other creative expression can be measured against a deceptively simple three-point standard.

First, it should be aesthetically pleasing.  It is said that beauty is in the eye  of the beholder but I think it is fair to say that beautiful works of creative expression possess certain core characteristics.  They have balance: a mix of familiarity and surprise, stability and instability, even-ness and irregularity all of which conveys a sense of solidity with an element of movement.  They have energy: expressed through the medium via color, contast, texture, rythm, melody, tone, pace (among otherss) to the five senses of taste, touch, sight, smell and sound.  Most of us can only appreciate a narrow range of this energy; but people who are trained in a given art form or those whose senses are sharp (either naturally or through training) can appreciate a wider or even the full range of a creative work of art - so a trained musician can appreciate not only the sound of music but the taste, smell and texture as well.  Lastly, creative expressions have depth: reflecting the range of energies expressed within and between the the five senses as part of the whole.  So, the depth of painting reflects the range senses the work touches (sight, touch, taste etc.), the range within each sense (i.e. the number of colors) and sometimes the range within a range (i.e shades of blue, or light/shade).

In Kung Fu, the instrument is your body, mind and spirit, the medium is movement, and the canvas is the space around you.  Each of the elements must balance and support the others to create a seamless mix.  The result is a form and the aesthetic is flow.  The form itself might be described as a river with some actions flowing slowly and imperceptively while others dance over shallow rocks or roar with with explosive power.  It is the seamless mix of these elements within a balanced whole that gives beauty (and purpose) to the form.

Second, it should have a practical purpose.  In other words, your form should be more than a well choreographed set of kicks, punches and rolls.  It needs to do something.  The what can vary - but in all cases where there is a real purpose - precision is the key.  The most obvious "purpose" for most people is the form's (or an individual action's) potential in a fight (or self-defense scenario).  This is an accurate, and valid point of view given the obvious visual evidence of the martial arts' application as a fighting (or self-defense) skill.  If the form or action is not performed with precision - its purpose is weakened.  Another purpose that is much less apparent, but no less important (perhaps even more important) is the internal physical impact of Kung Fu.  The movements of a kung fu form provide a "internal massage" by moving bone, muscle and sinew - but they also activate and facilitate various physical, electrical and chemical processes that are key to keeping the internal ecosystem of the body in balance (I hope to address the concept of the body's ecosystem in a later post).  Again, precision is the key for this purpose to be realized.

So...whether your focus is on the external spects of fighting/self-defense or the internal aspects of the body, details matter.  Every form, every action must be performed with your full attention and precision every time - if not you are literally just going through the motions.

Third, it should come from the heart (it should be real).  When you practice your form, every ounce of your beings should be invested.  You form should be a physical, mental, and spiritual expression of your being.  I once saw a movie about a young girl training to be a concert violinist.  She practiced, and practiced, and practiced until her technique was flawless.  When she performed for her teacher, he told her that it was the finest display of techincal skill he had ever seen - but it had absolutely no heart.  It was flat and emotionless.  When you practice, when you perform, put everythingyou have into it and the result will be a work of art (errors included).

September 06, 2012

Meditation: Less is More

In meditation, Kung Fu and Tai Qi as in many other aspects of life less really is more.
  • The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said that frame of a window or door is important, but it is the empty space within the frame that makes it useful.
  • Ancient stone carvings were created by removing some portion of the material to create either a raised or depressed surface in the shape of a letter or word.  In both cases, the meaning - the usefulness is conveyed by what is is not there.
  •  A sculptor will look at a giant slab of rock and will release the figure within by....removing the surrounding (excess) rock.
  • We "read between the lines" because what is not said is often far more meaningful that what is said.
When you mediate - and Kung Fu and Tai Qi are forms of meditation, the meaning and usefulness of the practice lie in what is not there.  What is there for most of us is desire.  Well intentioned, but desire nonetheless - to do something correctly, well, or better.  That desire typically tranlates into an attempt to control the result rather than allowing it to flow naturally.  In meditation, we focus our thoughts on a single mental point or mantra while purging all other thoughts.  In Kung Fu we introduce speed or strength into out form, in Tai Qi we enforce an artifical "softness" into the form.  The result in each of these cases is typically the opposite of what we intend.

There is another way....

In meditation...don't focus your thoughts.  Focus is not a cause, its a result.  By consciously focusing your thoughts you are damming up a river, allowing only trickle to filter through and then calling it a stream.  It may appear calm and serene but the appearance is artifical because you are restricting the natural flow.  Instead, let your mind go wherever it wants to go.  Ten thousand thoughts, ideas, smells, sounds, memories, emotions are going to rush through.  Don't push them away but don't hold the either - just watch them come and go as if you were sitting on a park bench on Saturday afternoon.  At first, the pace will seem unmanageable as each one thought or idea approaches, announces itself loudly and demands your attention.  But then, a change.  The thoughts will continue, they will still demand attention - but they will appear do so politely, and quietly.  Eventually, it may seem that they are not demanding attention at at all as they present themselves silently.  In reality the thoughts will remain the same but your perception, and reception of them will have changed.  Your mind, now accustomed to the clamor of thoughts will no longer grasp at each one but will selectively give attention as needed.  Only then will your "stream" of thoughts be truly calm and serene.