T’ang Dynasty poem
Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.
~ Wu-men ~
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Wang Shu Chin was a giant in Chinese Internal Martial Arts. If you click on the title of this post, or the link over on the right, you'll be directed to a new blog that has just been started by a direct student of his, Kent Howard.
Please pay a visit.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Remember the old Kung Fu TV series? Remember the description of a Shaolin monk?
Listened for, he cannot be heard.
Looked for, he cannot be seen.
Felt for, he cannot be touched.
Well, a Japanese inventor came up with something. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. An excerpt follows. Please follow the link, as you'll want to see the pictures. I didn't want to spoil the article by putting any of the pictures here.
Fearing Crime, Japanese Wear the Hiding Place
TOKYO, Oct. 19 — On a narrow Tokyo street, near a beef bowl restaurant and a pachinko parlor, Aya Tsukioka demonstrated new clothing designs that she hopes will ease Japan’s growing fears of crime.
Deftly, Ms. Tsukioka, a 29-year-old experimental fashion designer, lifted a flap on her skirt to reveal a large sheet of cloth printed in bright red with a soft drink logo partly visible. By holding the sheet open and stepping to the side of the road, she showed how a woman walking alone could elude pursuers — by disguising herself as a vending machine.
The wearer hides behind the sheet, printed with an actual-size photo of a vending machine. Ms. Tsukioka’s clothing is still in development, but she already has several versions, including one that unfolds from a kimono and a deluxe model with four sides for more complete camouflaging.
These elaborate defenses are coming at a time when crime rates are actually declining in Japan. But the Japanese, sensitive to the slightest signs of social fraying, say they feel growing anxiety about safety, fanned by sensationalist news media. Instead of pepper spray, though, they are devising a variety of novel solutions, some high-tech, others quirky, but all reflecting a peculiarly Japanese sensibility.
Take the “manhole bag,” a purse that can hide valuables by unfolding to look like a sewer cover. Lay it on the street with your wallet inside, and unwitting thieves are supposed to walk right by. There is also a line of knife-proof high school uniforms made with the same material as Kevlar, and a book with tips on how to dress even the nerdiest children like “pseudohoodlums” to fend off schoolyard bullies.
There are pastel-colored cellphones for children that parents can track, and a chip for backpacks that signals when children enter and leave school.
The devices’ creators admit that some of their ideas may seem far-fetched, especially to crime-hardened Americans. And even some Japanese find some of them a tad naïve, possibly reflecting the nation’s relative lack of experience with actual street crime. Despite media attention on a few sensational cases, the rate of violent crime remains just one-seventh of America’s.
But the devices’ creators also argue that Japan’s ideas about crime prevention are a product of deeper cultural differences. While Americans want to protect themselves from criminals, or even strike back, the creators say many Japanese favor camouflage and deception, reflecting a culture that abhors self-assertion, even in self-defense.
“It is just easier for Japanese to hide,” Ms. Tsukioka said. “Making a scene would be too embarrassing.” She said her vending machine disguise was inspired by a trick used by the ancient ninja, who cloaked themselves in black blankets at night.
To be sure, some of these ideas have yet to become commercially viable. However, the fact that they were greeted here with straight faces, or even appeared at all, underscores another, less appreciated facet of Japanese society: its fondness for oddball ideas and inventions.
Japan’s corporate labs have showered the world with technology, from transistor radios to hybrid cars. But the nation is also home to a prolific subculture of individual inventors, whose ideas range from practical to bizarre. Inventors say a tradition of tinkering and building has made Japan welcoming to experimental ideas, no matter how eccentric.
“Japanese society won’t just laugh, so inventors are not afraid to try new things,” said Takumi Hirai, chairman of Japan’s largest association of individual inventors, the 10,000-member Hatsumeigakkai.
In fact, Japan produces so many unusual inventions that it even has a word for them: chindogu, or “queer tools.” The term was popularized by Kenji Kawakami, whose hundreds of intentionally impractical and humorous inventions have won him international attention as Japan’s answer to Rube Goldberg. His creations, which he calls “unuseless,” include a roll of toilet paper attached to the head for easy reach in hay fever season, and tiny mops for a cat’s feet that polish the floor as the cat prowls.
Mr. Kawakami said that while some of Japan’s anticrime devices might not seem practical, they were valuable because they might lead to even better ideas.
“Even useless things can be useful,” he said. “The weird logic of these inventions helps us see the world in fresh ways.”
Sunday, October 21, 2007
As a beginner in the Wu family style of Taijiquan, what should I be working on; where should my head be at? It's easy to read newsgroups and get caught up in discussions of taiji theory which I'm totally unqualified to partake.
The main focus of the beginners class is to simply learn the sequence of the 108 standard form. Some corrections are given along the way, but the focus is to learn the sequence and get it reasonably correct.
In addition, I should be trying to make certain qualities of movement habitual. These are relaxing, being weighted 100% on one leg or the other, and whenever it's called for, moving my upper body by moving my hips.
These qualities are reinforced by not only practicing the form, but the warm up exercises.
These warm up exercises are considered so important that the class format has changed to give them their proper due. All the students, no matter what level, show up at 6:30. We spend the next 30 minutes thoroughly working on the warm up exercises as a group.
At 7, we break up into beginners and non beginners. The beginners work on continuing to learn the sequence, while the non beginners seem to usually work on form refinements. At 8, we do the form as a group, with the beginners dropping out as they get to the end of the movments they know.
After that, the beginners leave and the intermediate and advanced students continue to train.
Friday, October 19, 2007
In addition to the Dao De Jing, and Zhaung Zi, another pillar of Daoism is the I Ching. If you click on the title of this post, you’ll be directed to the Wikipedia article on the I Ching. I’ve extracted some sections of that article and present them below.
As an introduction to the I Ching, I’d recommend The Philosophy of the I Ching by Carol Anthony, for some background information.
I’d also recommend The Portable Dragon by R.G.H Siu. The late Dr. Siu was a Chinese gentleman who was immensely educated in Western Literature and Science. I believe he was a Chemistry Professor at MIT. In this book, he uses quotes and excerpts from Western literature to help get across the meanings of the hexagrams to our Western minds.
The I Ching (often spelled as I Jing, Yi Ching, Yi King, or Yi Jing; also called "Book of Changes" or "Classic of Changes") is the oldest of the Chinese classic texts. A symbol system designed to identify order in what seem like chance events, it describes an ancient system of cosmology and philosophy that is at the heart of Chinese cultural beliefs. The philosophy centres on the ideas of the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change (see Philosophy, below). In Western cultures, the I Ching is regarded by some as simply a system of divination; many believe it expresses the wisdom and philosophy of ancient China.
The book consists of a series of symbols, rules for manipulating these symbols, poems, and commentary.
Traditionally it was believed that the principles of the I Ching originated with the mythical Fu Xi (伏羲 Fú Xī). In this respect he is seen as an early culture hero, one of the earliest legendary rulers of China (traditional dates 2800 BCE-2737 BCE), reputed to have had the 8 trigrams (八卦 bā gùa) revealed to him supernaturally. By the time of the legendary Yu (禹 Yǔ) 2194 BC–2149 BC, the trigrams had supposedly been developed into 64 hexagrams (六十四卦 lìu shí sì gùa), which were recorded in the scripture Lian Shan (《連山》 Lián Shān; also called Lian Shan Yi). Lian Shan, meaning "continuous mountains" in Chinese, begins with the hexagram Bound (艮 gèn), which depicts a mountain (::|) mounting on another and is believed to be the origin of the scripture's name.
After the traditionally recorded Xia Dynasty was overthrown by the Shang Dynasty, the hexagrams are said to have been re-deduced to form Gui Cang (《歸藏》 Gūi Cáng; also called Gui Cang Yi), and the hexagram Field (坤 kūn) became the first hexagram. Gui Cang may be literally translated into "return and be contained," which refers to earth as the first hexagram itself indicates. At the time of Shang's last king, Zhou Wang, King Wen of Zhou is said to have deduced the hexagram and discovered that the hexagrams beginning with Force (乾 qián) revealed the rise of Zhou. He then gave each hexagram a description regarding its own nature, thus Gua Ci (卦辭 guà cí, "Explanation of Hexagrams").
When King Wu of Zhou, son of King Wen, toppled the Shang Dynasty, his brother Zhou Gong Dan is said to have created Yao Ci (爻辭 yáo cí, "Explanation of Horizontal Lines") to clarify the significance of each horizontal line in each hexagram. It was not until then that the whole context of I Ching was understood. Its philosophy heavily influenced the literature and government administration of the Zhou Dynasty (1122 BCE - 256 BCE).
Later, during the time of Spring and Autumn (722 BCE - 481 BCE), Confucius is traditionally said to have written the Shi Yi (十翼 shí yì, "Ten Wings"), a group of commentaries on the I Ching. By the time of Han Wu Di (漢武帝 Hàn Wǔ Dì) of the Western Han Dynasty (circa 200 BCE), Shi Yi was often called Yi Zhuan (易傳 yì zhùan, "Commentary on the I Ching"), and together with the I Ching they composed Zhou Yi (周易 zhōu yì, "Changes of Zhou"). All later texts about Zhou Yi were explanations only, due to the classic's deep meaning.
Western ("Modernist") view
In the past 50 years a "Modernist" history of the I Ching has been emerging, based on context criticism and research into Shang and Zhou dynasty oracle bones, as well as Zhou bronze inscriptions and other sources (see below). These reconstructions are dealt with in a growing number of books, such as The Mandate of Heaven: Hidden History in the I Ching, by S. J. Marshall, and Richard Rutt's Zhouyi: The Book of Changes, (see References, below).
Scholarly works dealing with the new view of the Book of Changes include doctoral dissertations by Richard Kunst and Edward Shaughnessy. These and other scholars have been helped immensely by the discovery, in the 1970s, by Chinese archaeologists, of intact Han dynasty era tombs in Mawangdui near Changsha, Hunan province. One of the tombs contained more or less complete 2nd century BCE texts of the I Ching, the Dao De Jing and other works, which are mostly similar yet in some ways diverge significantly from the "received," or traditional, texts preserved by the chances of history.
The tomb texts include additional commentaries on the I Ching, previously unknown, and apparently written as if they were meant to be attributed to Confucius. All of the Mawangdui texts are many centuries older than the earliest known attestations of the texts in question. When talking about the evolution of the Book of Changes, therefore, the Modernists contend that it is important to distinguish between the traditional history assigned to texts such as the I Ching (felt to be anachronistic by the Modernists), assignations in commentaries which have themselves been canonized over the centuries along with their subjects, and the more recent scholarly history aided by modern linguistic textual criticism and archaeology.
Many hold that these perspectives are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but, for instance, many Modernist scholars doubt the actual existence of Fuxi, think Confucius had nothing to do with the Book of Changes, and contend that the hexagrams came before the trigrams. Modern scholarship comparing poetic usage and formulaic phrasing in this book with that in ancient bronze inscriptions has shown that the text cannot be attributed to King Wen or Zhou Gong, and that it likely was not compiled until the late Western Zhou, perhaps ca. the late 9th century BCE.
Rather than being the work of one or several legendary or historical figures, the core divinatory text is now thought to be an accretion of Western Zhou divinatory concepts. As for the Shi Yi commentaries traditionally attributed to Confucius, scholars from the time of the 11th century A.D. scholar Ouyang Xiu onward have doubted this, based on textual analysis, and modern scholars date most of them to the late Warring States period, with some sections perhaps being as late as the Western Han period.
However it must be noted that the value of modern interpertations is still questionable to many people. Since Western civilization did not create the I Ching it can be said that it's interpertations of the book are next to irrelevant to those who believe only a work's original culture can truelly understand it's meaning. On the other hand an alternative view does give variety and life to a work and may be equally as relevant. The relevancy of this view as with the traditional one is up to the person reading it.
The text of the I Ching is a set of predictions represented by a set of 64 abstract line arrangements called hexagrams (卦 guà). Each hexagram is a figure composed of six stacked horizontal lines (爻 yáo), where each line is either Yang (an unbroken, or solid line), or Yin (broken, an open line with a gap in the center). With six such lines stacked from bottom to top there are 26 or 64 possible combinations, and thus 64 hexagrams represented.
The hexagram diagram is conceptually subdivided into two three-line arrangements called trigrams (卦 guà). There are 23, hence 8, possible trigrams. The traditional view was that the hexagrams were a later development and resulted from combining the two trigrams. However, in the earliest relevant archaeological evidence, groups of numerical symbols on many Western Zhou bronzes and a very few Shang oracle bones, such groups already usually appear in sets of six. A few have been found in sets of three numbers, but these are somewhat later. Note also that these numerical sets greatly predate the groups of broken and unbroken lines, leading modern scholars to doubt the mythical early attributions of the hexagram system (see, e.g., Shaugnessy 1993).
Each hexagram represents a description of a state or process. When a hexagram is cast using one of the traditional processes of divination with I Ching, each of the yin or yang lines will be indicated as either moving (that is, changing), or fixed (that is, unchanging). Moving (also sometimes called "old", or "unstable") lines will change to their opposites, that is "young" lines of the other type -- old yang becoming young yin, and old yin becoming young yang.
The oldest method for casting the hexagrams, using yarrow stalks, is a biased random number generator, so the possible answers are not equiprobable. While the probability of getting either yin or yang is equal, the probability of getting old yang is three times greater than old yin. The yarrow stalk method was gradually replaced during the Han Dynasty by the three coins method. Using this method, the imbalance in generating old yin and old yang was eliminated. However, there is no theoretical basis for indicating what should be the optimal probability basis of the old lines versus the young lines. Of course, the whole idea behind this system of divination is that the oracle will select the appropriate answer anyway, regardless of the probabilities.
There have been several arrangements of the trigrams and hexagrams over the ages. The bā gùa is a circular arrangement of the trigrams, traditionally printed on a mirror, or disk. According to legend, Fu Hsi found the bā gùa on the scales of a tortoise's back. They function rather like a magic square, with the four axes summing to the same value (e.g., using 0 and 1 to represent yin and yang, 000 + 111 = 111, 101 + 010 = 111, etc.).
The King Wen sequence is the traditional (i.e. "classical") sequence of the hexagrams used in most contemporary editions of the book. The King Wen sequence was explained for the first time in STEDT Monograph #5, where it is shown to contain within it a demonstration of advanced mathematical knowledge.
Gradations of binary expression based on yin and yang -- old yang, old yin, young yang or young yin (see the divination paragraph below) -- are what the hexagrams are built from. Yin and yang, while common expressions associated with many schools known from classical Chinese culture, are especially associated with the Taoists.
Another view holds that the I Ching is primarily a Confucianist ethical or philosophical document. This view is based upon the following:
- The Wings or Appendices are attributed to Confucius.
- The study of the I Ching was required as part of the Civil Service Exams in the period that these exams only studied Confucianist texts.
- It is one of the Five Confucian Classics.
- It does not appear in any surviving editions of the Dao Zang.
- The major commentaries were written by Confucianists, or Neo-Confucianists.
- Taoist scripture avoids, even mocks, all attempts at categorizing the world's myriad phenomena and forming a static philosophy.
- Taoists venerate the non-useful. The I Ching could be used for good or evil purposes.
Both views may be seen to show that the I Ching was at the heart of Chinese thought, serving as a common ground for the Confucian and Taoist schools. Partly forgotten due to the rise of Chinese Buddhism during the Tang dynasty, the I Ching returned to the attention of scholars during the Song dynasty. This was concomitant with the reassessment of Confucianism by Confucians in the light of Taoist and Buddhist metaphysics, and is known in the West as Neo-Confucianism. The book, unquestionably an ancient Chinese scripture, helped Song Confucian thinkers to synthesize Buddhist and Taoist cosmologies with Confucian and Mencian ethics. The end product was a new cosmogony that could be linked to the so-called "lost Tao" of Confucius and Mencius.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I just finished reading "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova.
All in all, it was a very good book, and I'm glad I took the time to read the 600+ pages. The plot is a modern day extension of "Dracula." It is very well written, and provides a lot of insight into the legends of vampirism, as well as the history of SE Europe in the late middle ages, when the Ottoman Turks invaded.
Having said that, I thought the author's sprinkling "young girl coming of age" bits throughout the story was gratuitous and didn't advance the story at all.
I was disappointed with the last 100 pages or so. It was as though the author ran out of ideas in providing an explanation for the behavior of one of the major characters. The ending was not satisfactory. It was like she just got tired of writing and wanted to end it.
The elipogue was the one bright spot at the end of the book.
As I said above, I'm glad I read it, but I probably won't read it again.
If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the Amazon page for The Historian.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
In addition to being a world classic, the Dao De Jing is one of the foundational documents of philosophical Daoism. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of the complete text.
Straighten yourself and you will not stand steady;
Display yourself and you will not be clearly seen;
Justify yourself and you will not be respected;
Promote yourself and you will not be believed;
Pride yourself and you will not endure.
These behaviours are wasteful, indulgent,
And so they attract disfavour;
Harmony avoids them.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Below is an excerpt of an article in the New York Times, regarding tea in India. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.
High Tea, India Style
THE Himalayas rose almost out of nowhere. One minute the Maruti Suzuki hatchback was cruising the humid plains of West Bengal, palm trees and clouds obscuring the hills to come; the next it was navigating a decrepit road that squiggled up through forests of cypress and bamboo. The taxi wheezed with the strain of the slopes, and the driver honked to alert unseen vehicles to our presence — one miscalculation, one near miss, could send the little car over the edge and down thousands of feet, returning us to the plains below in a matter of seconds.
For an hour or more, as we climbed ever higher, all I saw was jungle — trees and creepers on either side of us, with hardly a village to break the anxious monotony. Finally, though, somewhere around 4,000 feet, the foliage opened just enough to allow a more expansive view. From the edge of the road, the hills flowed up and down and back up, covered with low, flat-topped bushes that looked like green scales on a sleeping dragon's flanks. Tiny dots marched among the bushes and along the beige dirt tracks that zigzagged up the hillsides — workers plucking leaves from Camellia sinensis, the tea bushes of Darjeeling.
Flying to a remote corner of India and braving the long drive into the Himalayas may seem like an awful lot of effort for a good cup of tea, but Darjeeling tea isn't simply good. It's about the best in the world, fetching record prices at auctions in Calcutta and Shanghai, and kick-starting the salivary glands of tea lovers from London to Manhattan.
In fact, Darjeeling is so synonymous with high-quality black tea that few non-connoisseurs realize it's not one beverage but many: 87 tea estates operate in the Darjeeling district, a region that sprawls across several towns (including its namesake) in a mountainous corner of India that sticks up between Nepal and Bhutan, with Tibet not far to the north.
Each has its own approach to growing tea, and in a nod to increasingly savvy and adventurous consumers, a few have converted bungalows into tourist lodging, while others are accepting day visitors keen to learn the production process, compare styles and improve their palates — a teetotaler's version of a Napa Valley wine tour, but with no crowds.
Still, such a trip requires a certain amount of fortitude, as I discovered when I set out to blaze a trail from estate to estate last March, during the “first flush” harvest, said to produce the most delicate, flavorful leaves. (The second flush, in May and June, is really just as good.) It wasn't just the roads — once marvels of engineering, now tracks of terror that produce daily news reports of fatal plunges — that made the journey a challenge. It was the egos.
The men who run the estates are royalty — and they know it. When visiting their domains, you are at their disposal, not the other way around. At times, this can be frustrating; at others, delightfully frustrating.
I HAD my first such encounter — the latter sort — at Makaibari, an estate just south of the town of Kurseong, around 4,500 feet above sea level. Founded by G. C. Banerjee in the 1840s, during the region's first great wave of tea cultivation, Makaibari remains a family operation, run by Banerjee's great-grandson Swaraj — better known as Rajah.
Rajah is a Darjeeling legend: He's arguably done more for Darjeeling tea than anyone else in the district. Back in 1988, he took the estate organic; four years later, it was fully biodynamic, the first in the world.
Today, it produces the most expensive brew in Darjeeling, a “muscatel” that sold for 50,000 rupees a kilogram (about $555 a pound, at recent exchange rates of around 41 rupees to the dollar) at auction in Beijing last year. You won't often spot his logo — a five-petaled flower that resembles the underside of a tea blossom — on grocery store shelves, but you'll find his leaves in boxes marked Tazo and Whole Foods.
After checking into one of the six no-frills bungalows he has erected for tourists, I marched into the Makaibari factory (opened in 1859), climbed the wooden steps to Mr. Banerjee's office and sat down across the desk from a vigorous patrician with thick gray hair, a clean-shaven angular jaw and black eyebrows in permanent ironic arch. What, he asked, smoking a borrowed cigarette, did I hope to accomplish at Makaibari?
“Well,” I began, as the smell of brewing leaves wafted in from the adjacent tasting room, “I guess I'd like to see how tea is made.”
“Ha! You've come to the wrong place for that,” Mr. Banerjee declared with an eager grin. “This is the place to see how tea is enjoyed!”
Then he poured me a cup — bright but mellow, with a faint fruity sweetness that lingered on my tongue. It was to be the first of many perfect cups.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article on YiQuan for a eZine, the Jade Dragon. A friend of mine based another article upon that, adding ideas we have discussed since then, and put me down as a co author. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to that new article. Please give it a read.