Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

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 ~

Friday, May 31, 2013

How to Master a Martial Art

Perseverance alone does not assure success.
No amount of stalking will lead to game in a field that has none.
-                      I Ching, Hexagram 32, Fourth Line.

An old saying that was attributed to Cheng Man Ching is that mastery requires three things: Natural Talent, a Top Teacher and Perseverance. In other words, nature plus nurture.

Without natural talent, a knack for things, all the hard  work in the world isn't going to make the difference. If you could achieve greatness by hard work alone, you could repeat your first lesson 10,000 times and voila!

Without a good teacher and hard work, the talent will only get you so far as well. 

A common misinterpretation of Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 Hour Rule" is that simply putting in the time will do the trick. 

My friend at the Dao of Strategy blog sent me an article from which I am publishing an excerpt below. Please pay a visit. The original article may be read here.

What immediately caught my eye was that one of the authors was Temple Grandin, a true renaissance woman. Dr Grandin is autistic and rather than be relegated to the short bus, went on to get a PhD in Animal Behavior and has been at the top of not only her field, but in many others.

Your Genes Don’t Fit: Why 10,000 Hours of Practice Won’t Make You an Expert

By Temple Grandin and Richard Panek

“In recent years, the relationship between nature and nurture has been getting a lot of attention in the popular press.

In particular, the 10,000-hour rule seems to have captured the public imagination.
New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell didn’t invent the rule, but he did popularize it through his best-selling book Outliers. The principle actually dates to a 1993 study, though in that paper the authors called it the 10-year rule.

Whatever name it goes under, the rule essentially says that in order to become an expert in any field, you need to work for at least x amount of time. I don’t know what all the fuss was about. But I guess a big round number brings the equation to life or makes a formula for success sound scientific in a way that simply saying “Practice, practice, practice” doesn’t. Still, that interpretation of the rule seems reasonable to me. Talent plus ten thousand hours of work equals success? Talent plus ten years of work equals success? Sure!

But that’s not how the rule often gets interpreted.
Consider this article about the 10,000-hour rule that opens with the example of Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest people in the world: “As Buffett told Fortune not long ago, he was ‘wired at birth to allocate capital.’ … Well, folks, it’s not so simple. For one thing, you do not possess a natural gift for a certain job, because targeted natural gifts don’t exist. (Sorry, Warren.)” Maybe the issue here was the word targeted.

Was Warren Buffett born to be a CEO specifically? Was he born to run a behemoth corporation like Berkshire Hathaway rather than, say, to work as a day trader? No. But was he born with a brain for business — a brain that would lend itself to number-crunching and risk-taking and opportunity-identifying and all the other skills that go into becoming the leading investor of his generation? I say yes. Certainly Buffett put in his ten thousand hours or ten years of work. He bought his first shares of stock at the age of eleven, founded a successful pinball-machine business with a friend at the age of fifteen, and before he graduated high school, he was wealthy enough to buy a farm.

This is not the career trajectory of someone who’s interested in business and is putting in his ten thousand hours. This is the career trajectory of someone who lives to do business. You might say it’s the path of someone who was born to do business. You might even say it’s the path of someone who was wired for business at birth.

By putting such an emphasis on practice, practice, practice at the expense of natural gifts, the popular interpretation of the 10,000-hour rule does a tremendous disservice to the naturally gifted.

But wait. It gets worse.

Some interpretations of the 10,000-hour rule leave talent out of the equation altogether — like this description of the 10,000-hour rule on Squidoo (like Wikipedia, it allows users to create brief entries on popular topics): “If you want to become an expert in your field, be that art, sport or business — you can. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not always innate genius or talent that will make you a success, it’s the hours that you put in, which means that ANYONE can do it.”

Well, no. Not everyone can do it. Let’s go to Gladwell’s example of Bill Gates. In the late 1960s, when Gates was still in high school, he had access to a Teletype terminal, and his math teacher excused him from class so that he could write code. Computer code became something of an obsession with Gates, and ten thousand hours later — well, you know the story.

Now let me tell you the other side of that story. In the late 1960s, when I was a student at Franklin Pierce College, I had access to the same terminal as Gates — the exact same Teletype terminal. The school’s computer system tapped into the University of New Hampshire’s mainframe. So I had as much access as I wanted, and I had as much firepower as I wanted, and it was all free. And you’d better believe I wanted to spend as much time as possible on that computer. I love that sort of stuff; I love to see how new technology works. The computer was called Rax, so when I turned on the computer, a message would type out on paper: Rax says hello. Please sign in. And I would eagerly sign in.

And that was it. I could do that much — but that was all. I was hopeless. My brain simply doesn’t work in a way that allows me to write code. So saying that if I’d spent ten thousand hours talking to Rax, I would be a successful computer programmer, because anyone can be a successful computer programmer, is crazy.

I say: Talent + 10,000 hours of work = Success. Or to put it another way: Nature + nurture = Success.

Others say: 10,000 hours of work = Success. Or to put it another way: Nurture = Success.

Stated so baldly, this interpretation of the 10,000-hour rule looks ridiculous. It does an injustice to the naturally gifted.

But it also does a tremendous disservice to the naturally ungifted. It raises hopes to an unrealistic level. All the hard work in the world won’t overcome a brain-based deficit.

I’m certainly not saying we should lose sight of the need to work on deficits. But the focus on deficits is so intense and so automatic that people lose sight of the strengths.

If even the experts can’t stop thinking about what’s wrong instead of what could be better, how can anyone expect the families who are dealing with autism on a daily basis to think any differently? I’m concerned when ten-year-olds introduce themselves to me and all they want to talk about is “my Asperger’s” or “my autism.” I’d rather hear about “my science project” or “my history book” or “what I want to be when I grow up.” I want to hear about their interests, their strengths, their hopes. For me, autism is secondary. My primary identity is as an expert on livestock — a professor, a scientist, a consultant.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Walk in the Park

A lot of people study martial arts in schools; that is, inside of them. Indoors. A lot of people, when they practice on their own also practice inside. I usually practice in my basement.

Sometimes martial arts is taught and practiced outside, in parks. I always thought of this as a way to control costs by not having a building to pay rent for or maintain. A secondary reason, I reckoned, was the fresh air.

Maybe there is more to it than that. Below is an excerpt from an article I found at the New York Times. The full article may be read here.

Easing Brain Fatigue With a Walk in the Park

Scientists have known for some time that the human brain’s ability to stay calm and focused is limited and can be overwhelmed by the constant noise and hectic, jangling demands of city living, sometimes resulting in a condition informally known as brain fatigue.

With brain fatigue, you are easily distracted, forgetful and mentally flighty — or, in other words, me.

But an innovative new study from Scotland suggests that you can ease brain fatigue simply by strolling through a leafy park.

The idea that visiting green spaces like parks or tree-filled plazas lessens stress and improves concentration is not new. Researchers have long theorized that green spaces are calming, requiring less of our so-called directed mental attention than busy, urban streets do. Instead, natural settings invoke “soft fascination,” a beguiling term for quiet contemplation, during which directed attention is barely called upon and the brain can reset those overstretched resources and reduce mental fatigue.

But this theory, while agreeable, has been difficult to put to the test. Previous studies have found that people who live near trees and parks have lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in their saliva than those who live primarily amid concrete, and that children with attention deficits tend to concentrate and perform better on cognitive tests after walking through parks or arboretums. More directly, scientists have brought volunteers into a lab, attached electrodes to their heads and shown them photographs of natural or urban scenes, and found that the brain wave readouts show that the volunteers are more calm and meditative when they view the natural scenes.

But it had not been possible to study the brains of people while they were actually outside, moving through the city and the parks. Or it wasn’t, until the recent development of a lightweight, portable version of the electroencephalogram, a technology that studies brain wave patterns.
For the new study, published this month in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh attached these new, portable EEGs to the scalps of 12 healthy young adults. The electrodes, hidden unobtrusively beneath an ordinary looking fabric cap, sent brain wave readings wirelessly to a laptop carried in a backpack by each volunteer.

The researchers, who had been studying the cognitive impacts of green spaces for some time, then sent each volunteer out on a short walk of about a mile and half that wound through three different sections of Edinburgh.

The first half mile or so took walkers through an older, historic shopping district, with fine, old buildings and plenty of pedestrians on the sidewalk, but only light vehicle traffic.

The walkers then moved onto a path that led through a park-like setting for another half mile.

Finally, they ended their walk strolling through a busy, commercial district, with heavy automobile traffic and concrete buildings.

The walkers had been told to move at their own speed, not to rush or dawdle. Most finished the walk in about 25 minutes.

Throughout that time, the portable EEGs on their heads continued to feed information about brain wave patterns to the laptops they carried.

Afterward, the researchers compared the read-outs, looking for wave patterns that they felt were related to measures of frustration, directed attention (which they called “engagement”), mental arousal and meditativeness or calm.

What they found confirmed the idea that green spaces lessen brain fatigue.

When the volunteers made their way through the urbanized, busy areas, particularly the heavily trafficked commercial district at the end of their walk, their brain wave patterns consistently showed that they were more aroused, attentive and frustrated than when they walked through the parkland, where brain-wave readings became more meditative.

While traveling through the park, the walkers were mentally quieter.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Chinese Martial Arts in the Early 20th Century

There is another great article at Kung Fu Tea. This one has to do with what the Shanghai Police had to deal with in the early 20th century, by examining the weapons confiscated from the bad guys. An excerpt is below. The whole article may be read here. Do yourself a favor and click through.

Through a Lens Darkly (9): Swords, Knives and other Traditional Weapons Encountered by the Shanghai Police Department, 1925.

Introduction: Practical Martial Arts in the Age of the Gun.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, when thinking about the traditional Chinese martial arts we have a tendency to assume that these systems were created in an era without firearms.  With the coming of the almighty gun they either became obsolete or were preserved for their spiritual, philosophical and traditional value.  This theme became a troupe in countless Kung Fu movies, novels and newspaper stories.  Of course it is totally untrue.

Worse than that, it is almost exactly backwards.  The current complex of ideas and institutions that we identify as the “Chinese martial arts” seem to have first arisen and come together in the middle or late Ming dynasty.  This was a time when both early rifles and artillery were coming to dominant the battlefield’s of Asia, the Middle East and Europe.  China was no exception to this trend.

As social order disintegrated in the 19th century the Chinese martial arts once again started to gain social momentum around the country.  This was a period characterized by banditry, urban crime, and the rise of organized narcotics smuggling (first opium, later morphine and heroine).  From the mid 19th century onward criminals and bandits had disturbingly easy access to both rifles and handguns.  During this same period the Colt revolver became the preferred weapon of many “armed escort” companies.

Of course this is exactly the same time that the foundations for the modern Chinese martial arts were being laid.  Many of the most popular styles practiced today were invented during the end of the 19th century, and other older styles were reformed and repackaged to make them appealing to a new generation of students.  Rather than martial arts and firearms being substitutes, they are actually complimentary goods.  The consumption of both goods actually rose at the same time.

This should not be a huge surprise to modern readers.  After all, firearms are a plentiful feature of the modern world.  For that matter crime and a pervasive feeling of insecurity are still with us today.  These are some of the very factors that drive individuals in the West to study martial arts in the first place.  Nor has the plentiful supply of modern firearms led police, intelligence or military organizations to abandon hand combat training.  Far from it.

I want to reiterate this point because it reminds us of a fundamental, but often overlooked, truth.

The martial arts, as they exist today, are a fundamentally modern phenomenon.  For all of the rhetoric of  “traditional culture” and “ancient customs,” the truth is most of the arts of Japan and China that are actually practiced are a product of the late 19th or early 20th century.  They survive and thrive today because at least some of the tactical and cultural issues that they were attempting to address at that time are still problems that we face today.  The feeling of vulnerability in the face of social decay, or the need to find a means of self-actualization in an increasingly hostile world, are not problems that any one culture has an exclusive monopoly on.  That is good news for students of the traditional fighting arts.  It means that we can find new ways to adapt and stay relevant.

The Weapons of the Chinese Martial Arts as Encountered on the Streets of Shanghai.

I recently ran across a set of wonderful photographs that really illustrated this tension between the coexistence of multiple types of violence during the Republic of China era.  This was a time when the martial arts were experiencing rapid growth in China.  In fact, these different technologies of violence did not just coexist, rather they interacted with and fed off one another, leading both to evolve and change in the process.

Nowhere is this mutual give and take more apparent than in Shanghai during the 1920s and 1930s.  We are quite fortunate as a number of good studies of both the cities various police efforts and its prodigious supply of organized criminal factions have been written over the years.  Other research has focused on the importance of the foreign concessions or the different intelligence agencies and secret police forces in shaping life in the city.  I have only investigated the question briefly, but I have not been able to find a similar literature on police and crime for any other Chinese city, or region, during the 1920s.

Students of Chinese martial studies are often interested in the relationship between law enforcement and criminal groups as these two sectors of society were among the largest, and best funded, employers of martial artists.  Police departments hired martial arts instructors and were interested in the creation of new hand combat skills to solve concrete tactical problems.  Likewise the various secret societies and criminal factions of urban China also employed boxing instructors and used these skills in both their business ventures (gambling, protection, prostitution) and their frequent disputes with one another.  By the 1920s and 1930s it was not uncommon for the Triads and other gangs to use both martial arts schools and lion dance associations as fronts for their criminal enterprises.

This created something of a problem for the police.  On the one hand most serious criminal gangs were armed to the teeth with modern rifles and handguns.  At this period of time basically anyone who could write a large enough check could buy a tommy gun through the mail.  As a result the police also began to carry automatic handguns, flak vests and carbines.  The photograph at the head of this article is of a set of police officers in Shanghai in the 1930s.  In most respects they look exactly like any modern unit that you might see today.

However, the older modes of violence never totally lost their place in the criminal order.  Swords, knives and daggers continued to be commonly encountered weapons, and they were used to kill people on a routine basis.  A wide variety of other weapons were also encountered by police officers in the course of raids and arrests.  These weapons are interesting as they give us a glimpse into the milieu that the modern Chinese martial arts came of age in.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Translation of The Science of Nei Jia Quan

We have another guest post by Jonathan Bluestein, who is the author of two of the all time favorite posts at Cook Ding's Kitchen: The Versatile Whip of Pigua Zhang, and Master Zhou: The Man, The Artist, The Teacher.

Today he brings us a translation of an important book on Internal Chinese Martial Arts from the 1920's, The Science of Nei Jia Quan by Zhang Naiqi

The Science of Nei Jia Quan

By:  Zhang Naiqi
Translation by:  Nitzan Oren and Jonathan Bluestein
Forward by Nitzan Oren

As I was strolling the used book markets in China when I was living in Tianjin, I encountered a book (more of a booklet actually) whose name caught my eye: “The Science of Nei Jia Quan” – published in 1928. I hurried to purchase this piece, which turned out to be a real treasure. The next day I showed it to my teacher, master Zhou Jingxuan, who had remembered reading it long ago, back when he was younger. Zhou was enthusiastic about me reading and researching this book.   

The Science of Nei Jia Quan is one of the most fascinating books that I had read on the subjects of Qi

Gong and Nei Gong (Internal Skill). It describes the benefits from training internal methods in a language which is coherent to any reader. Unlike in many other Chinese martial arts books (back then and nowadays as well) who use all sorts of complex lingo related to Traditional Chinese Medicine and Chinese Cosmology, the author of this book had attempted to provide scientific explanations to the beneficial results which arise from training Internal Methods. Even though the content of this book is relevant for us even today, it is important to take into account that the book was written over 70 years ago, and the knowledge we have now is slightly more advanced than it had been back in the day.
To better understand the contents of the book and in order to read more materials published by its author, Zhang Naiqi, I began to look for more information about his life, his education and his practice in the traditional Chinese martial arts. Most of my efforts came up in vein, and I couldn’t find much – neither on the Internet, nor in martial arts circles. From the little written in the forward of the book itself it appears the author had trained in Xing Yi Quan, Bagua Zhang and Taiji Quan. Recently I’ve managed to find out he was also involved in the revolution in China in the beginning of the 20th century, and that he had written an additional article on Qi Gong.

In 2006 I reread the book several times, and decided to translate it into Hebrew, so the Israeli reader could also benefit from its content. The book was later further translated into English, under my supervision, by my student – Jonathan Bluestein, in May 2013. As the book includes lots of descriptions, stories and explanations which I did not think were so important, I chose to skip them and only translate the parts which I felt were meaningful and useful to the reader.

The Science of Nei Jia Quan

Internal Skill and Fatigue

The Internal Skill eliminates fatigue in the following 3 ways:

1. During rest, the Chest and Abdomen, which contain the vital organs, are completely relaxed and flaccid.

2. While moving, the tension is transferred from the Chest into the Abdomen area.

3. By avoiding unnecessary tension in bodily areas which remain static.

Wu Ji – Full Body Relaxation at Rest

Before you begin to practice movement in the art of internal skill, there is a preparatory stage consisting of a static posture, in which the entire body is brought to a relaxed state. This preparatory position is very important for the whole practice. First, one should stand in a frontal stance or slightly facing sideways, while the entire body is in harmony with the mechanical principles of a fulcrum. Discomfort does not exist at any point in the body, and all the joints are naturally slightly

folded. Afterwards, one should use his Yi (Intention) to conduct an orderly inspection of the body: from up to down – head, neck, shoulders, chest, arms, abdomen, buttocks and feet – and feel whether there exist any unnecessary unconscious tension at some place or another. Tension created by improper posture should be corrected, and tension which was originally unconscious (created by mental causes) should be consciously released. Now, one should sense whether the breathing is natural and without disturbance, and make sure it is calm. Afterwards, the whole body, together with all the loosened and relaxed organs, should be allowed to drop down by the influence of Gravity. This dropping and sinking should become unconscious and completely natural.
The positioning of the skeleton is based on the laws of mechanics and that of the fulcrum, and the structure need not necessarily lean upon the muscles and tendons to keep itself together. The muscles and tendons should be as ‘hanging from a coat-hanger’, while the breath is in parallel light and calm like trail of smoke coming up from incense. Natural breathing is completely dependent upon the expansion and contraction of the lungs without directed intervention. 

At this time, it should not be allowed for the eyes or ears to notice the outside world, because as soon as they become aware of what is going on around them, an unconscious tension appears in the chest. One should only focus on keeping the relaxed state of all bodily parts, and especially make sure the breathing is natural. This sort of focus helps one avoid what goes on around oneself. Sometimes the breath is vocal and heavy. This is many a time a result of undue tension in windpipe, and not because of fast breathing. All that should be done to resolve this is to avoid any tension in the mouth, nose, neck and chest, and as a result the windpipe will expand and the breathing becomes easy.

One could notice that unlike adults, children do not have any tension in their chests. Among children, the abovementioned relaxation of the muscles and breath are natural. Their chests and bellies slightly protrude outwards. In this state, the stomach and intestines are lain rather than hanged. Even though practically and physically we are not really ‘hanging’ them, psychologically there is a feeling of ‘having no safe place to lay them, so one is forced to hang them up in order to prevent them from dropping. This also works the other way around – the feeling of the stomach and intestines being hung also produces the anxiety of their possible dropping in the unconscious, and this anxiety in turn produces a pressure from the abdomen upwards, supposedly ‘providing support for the stomach and intestines’. These two phenomenon produce and create each-other. Further,

the tension in the chest contracts the chest muscles and the internal organs.    
This cycle of anxiety and tension in the chest leads to fatigue. An upwards pressure of the intestinal wall is extremely fatiguing – anyone could feel it. Because of the fatigue, once in a while one has to loosen-up. But as soon as a thought arises, or there is a will to perform some sort of action, the upward pressure immediately returns. These cyclical contraction and release lead to a lot of excessive movement of the stomach and intestines and lead to fatigue.

(Jonathan:  Albeit being fairly accurate, the word ‘Psychologically’, which was used in the last paragraph, is a modern translation and interpretation to what Zhang was saying)

We must aspire to a state in which the entire body is free from any undue tension. This state of release from tension and the looseness of the body is in Daoist literature referred to as ‘Wu Ji’ (Without Poles), or: “Yin and Yang have yet to be determined”. What is Yin? It is Absence/Emptiness. What is Yang? It is Fullness. At this time, the entire body is free and loose. The chest and the abdomen too are in a state of complete looseness. When we start to move we should keep the belly full and the chest broad. Of this was said: “Emptiness and Fullness have yet to be determined”. All these names bear the identical meaning:  “Pre-heaven”, “Wu Ji”, “Yin and Yang not yet determined”, etc. It Buddhist literature this is called “Serenity”, or “Existing Naturally”. At this time, the inside and outside of the body accept the authority of gravity and sink downwards without the tiniest bit of resistance. At this time, all the ‘bodily cells’ (not to be taken literally) are separated from each-other, unrelated and care not for one-another – each of them exists by itself and for itself.   

Fullness in the Abdomen, Openness in the Chest

When we rest, our body is relaxed and loosened, but it is no longer so once we move. There are two reasons for this. First – to move our body we have to lengthen and shorten our muscles. Second – for us to be able to produce power we have to change the tension within the muscles and the intensity of their contraction. Therefore, tension in the muscles is unavoidable.

Like what we had now described as a form of more ‘external’ tension, so do the more ‘internal’ parts need hold some kind of tension. This can be easily felt – when issuing a punch, a momentary tension will appear in the chest and solar plexus areas. There are four reasons for the appearance of this type of tension:

1. Recoil, or a counter-force to the movement.
While operating force with the hand or the leg to the outside of the body (away from it), a counter-force reacts upon the body. While throwing a movement in the air, the air itself is resistant with a tiny amount of force. When firing a cannon, for example, the body of the cannon is pushed in the opposite direction when a shot is fired. This recoil affects the internal organs, and it is natural that it would create some tension there so they can resist.
2. The connections between all the nerves. Even though the limbs and internal organs are connected to different nerves and nerve-systems (sympathetic and parasympathetic), a command given through one nerve commonly affects others. So, when we command the body, through our nervous system, to issue a punch, the spinal nerves commands the arm muscles to contract, which also affects the sympathetic nerves and causes tension to appear in the internal organs.
3. The movement of the lungs. When the limbs issue force to the outside of the body, the lungs are stimulated to ‘blow’ air, which helps produce that force. The action of the lungs contributes to the creation of pressure within the chest.
4. Tension in the intercostal muscles (the muscles between the ribs). This tension is directly affected by the onset of tension in the arms, because both the arm muscles and the intercostal

muscles are connected via the nerve plexus of the spine, which yield mutual influence. Tension in the intercostal muscles shrinks the volume of the chest cavity, which then creates a sensation of pressure in the heart and lungs.
Most people will feel this sort of tension in the chest area. For many, this tension in the chest is unavoidable even when doing nothing, and as soon as they use outwards-driven force, the pressure levels rise significantly.

Unification between Awareness and Movement

When the body is active, the tension reaches the limbs. Because of the nature of various movements, sometimes the left side is loose and the right contracted, or vice-versa, or they can both be contracted. Contraction means Fullness, or being ‘Yang’. Loose means Absence (lack of Fullness), or ‘Yin’. The mutual relationship between contracted and loose, between Fullness and Absence, is one of the five rules that explain the ancient principle of Tai Ji (same as ‘Tai Chi’ in ‘Tai Chi Chuan’ or ‘Taiji Quan’).

A lack of uniformity between movement and Intention (Yi) can point to a state in which the Intention predates bodily movement, or that the body reacts before one has the Intention for it to do so.

When we practice one movement for a long time in succession, it often happens that the bodily action comes ahead of one’s intention For example, among Xing Yi Quan practitioners, when they practice one of the Wu Xing (Five Fists) for a long time in a row. It can happen that before one had the intention to throw a punch, it already came out.    This is a state in which the intention chases the limbs instead of commanding them. In a state in which the intention has noticed the limb movement only after the movement has already began, the intention loses its ability to command the body, and is instead commanded by it.    

There can also exists a state in which we strongly strive towards a certain goal or target, and the intention very prominently projects itself even before we move (Jonathan: A good example would be what has been referred to in Western martial arts as ‘Telegraphing’ one’s strikes to the opponent).
Because of impatience, there results a situation in which the bodily movement is still half-way, but the intention already rushes ahead towards the target. This does not mean that the intention can really physically get ahead of the body, but that in our imagination and thought it is already there (too soon). Inside the body, this causes the feeling of a tendency and momentum forward, as the skin is some exterior shell we yearn to break through.

Awareness Towards the Inside and Towards the Outside

In the previous chapters I have explained that attention must be given to the state of the abdomen, and that one should be aware of the tensions in that area. I have also explained that in movement, one should pay attention to the hand and its outwards-driven power/force. Meaning – one should command the force with Awareness, or Intention (Yi). In this state, the Intention has to make two actions simultaneously, in opposite directions. How is that possible?

In fact, it is impossible for the Intention and Awareness to be directed at two opposite directions at

the same time. Therefore, the direction should alter interchangeably, and flow from an outwards focus to an inwards focus and back again. How can this be done?
While moving the hand away from the center of the body, the Intention commands the hand outwards. When moving the hand towards the center of the body, the intention commands the hand inwards, and at the same time, the intention should move towards the abdomen area. Inhaling air while the intention moves towards the abdomen area assists the intention to follow. One’s awareness accompanies the air that is sucked and moves inwards with it, because the distance to the abdomen is short. When pointing one’s direction outwards, the blowing of air guides it, and the direction of one’s stare helps a lot as well.

In movement among many people, the act of breathing becomes loud and vocal. As I have explained in previous chapters, this results from the narrowing of the windpipe due to excess tension. So one has to loosen the muscles of the mouth, nose, back of the neck and chest cavity, and reach a state in which albeit the breathing being heavy, it is not loud.

This unification between Awareness, Movement and Breathing is what is called ‘The Three Internal Harmonies’, or the harmonies between Qi, Yi (Intention) and Li/Jin (Power). What is called ‘Shen’ (Spirit), which is expressed in one’s gaze, is affected by this. Interchanging between inside and outside awareness aids in the concentration of intention and prevents one from becoming scatterbrained or being easily distracted. In case one makes a movement with the hand towards the center of the body, but forgets to aim and keep the intention pointing to the inside, then the following movements would be intentionless.

When the ancients said ‘The Real Power of the Dantian’ they were utterly wrong. They were mistaken to think of Intention as a type of power by itself. They were mistaken to think that the gathering of intention and concentrating inwards is ‘collecting power’. They were mistaken in that the thought that outwards concentration equals a release of force. The lower abdomen which they called Dantian is nothing but what  I have referred to earlier as ‘Fullness in the Abdomen, Openness in the Chest’ (as something which manifests downward pressure).  

(Jonathan: I don’t think Zhan Naiqi was trying to say that the Dantian is useless. He probably meant to suggest that the Dantian is a physical thing which could and ought to be explained with physical actions and language rather than a metaphysical one). 

The Importance of a Steady Posture, and the Vigor of Muscles, Tendons and Bones

Important posture is very important. First, when standing, the limbs should be in harmony with the principle of the fulcrum. The purpose of uniform movement of the hands and feet in the Internal Martial Arts is to find the correct fulcrum. When we release a punch outwards with all our might, if the hand and foot are not sent ther, the body loses balance because it loses the fulcrum.

Additionally, (it loses balance) because there is created a fear of slipping even before one has slipped, which prevents one from using all his power. Outwardly, the sending of the punch should be accompanied with sending the foot to provide as fulcrum. Inwardly, there is growing firmness in the belly, which supports the generation of downwards power vector. This way, the body gains stability.

In the Nei Jia arts there is a very interesting saying: “The three tips point at the same direction”. The three tips are the edge of the nose, the edge of the hand, and the edge of the foot. When the edges of the nose and hand point in the same direction, one’s eyesight is directed at the hand, and the Will and Intention are focused. When the edge of the hand and the edge of the foot simultaneously point at the same direction, the body gains a proper fulcrum.

In Nei Jia arts one should maintain the hand and leg joints slightly bent. This way, springiness is maintained when the tendons and muscles near the joints are flexed or extended. This helps assure that an outwards pressure cannot break the joint. Additionally, a state is created in which the tension in the muscles and tendons is low, which enables one to produce more power. Attempting to use any sort of force while the arm is fully extended can lead to the breaking of the elbow joint. On the other hand, insisting to overly flex the joint inhibits the initiation of forward-driven movements.

Wherein you liked this article, please take a look at shifu Bluestein’s ground-breaking book – Research of Martial Arts:


Jonathan Bluestein is best-selling author, martial arts teacher, and head of Blue Jade Martial Arts International. Check out his website for more information about his books and the martial arts taught by his organization:
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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Up the Yangtze

A friend sent me an article from the NY Times about traveling up the Yangtze River. The full article may be read here. An excerpt is below. Enjoy.

Up the Yangtze River With a $50 Paddle

As the Hai Nei Guan Guang 2 blasted its deafening foghorn and pulled into the Yangtze River port of Fengjie, I brimmed with confidence. Two days earlier, I had nervously boarded a similar workaday passenger boat along another leg of the Yangtze, no idea what was in store. But now, I knew the routine. I’d say san-deng (third-class), hand over some cash, receive a handwritten slip with my cabin number, step over sunflower-seed-spitting passengers camped on the floor and settle into whatever rock-hard bunk remained in a room of instant-noodle-slurping Chinese passengers.

Soon enough, the ship would arrive at my destination — in this case, about 24 hours later in the mega-city of Chongqing.

But for novice travelers in China, there is always a surprise. I entered Cabin 2012 to find its four bunks overflowing with a family of five and a fluffy white cat with butterscotch splotches. I returned to reception, typed “cabin full” into my Google Translate app, and a woman accompanied me back to the room. She addressed the slumbering family — did I mention it was 4 a.m.? — in Chinese. This prompted a boy to vacate his bunk and climb into one with his sister. His bed became mine. There was no apology or change of sheets.

The mistake was mine: four beds didn’t mean four people.

By the next morning I was in a better rhythm, making stunted conversation with the family via a phrase book and accepting a free meal in the ship’s dining room from a young physical education teacher who ordered a whole fish in pungent sauce from a menu on the wall I did not even know was a menu. From the deck, I gazed through a ubiquitous haze at new Yangtze River cities, the result of the Three Gorges Dam project, completed in 2006. I posed for cellphone photos with passengers amused by the presence of a non-Asian.

I was an ignorant, hapless and occasionally clownish first-time tourist in the world’s most populous nation, and one of its most mysterious to Westerners. And I was enjoying (almost) every minute.

Here was the daunting mission: a 10-day trip up the Yangtze River, taking trains and boats, for $50 a day, enough to pay for food, bottom-end hotels and public transport, but not enough for the organized tours and cruises that travelers commonly take through this part of the country.

Along the way, I learned some key lessons that will help travelers avoid my mistakes. Don’t worry: you’ll still make plenty of your own.

Monday, May 13, 2013


 - Thoreau

I saw the angel in the marble and  carved until I set him free.
 - Michelangelo

Small movement is better than big movement. No movement is better than small movement.

 - Wang Xiang Zhai

A few years ago when my oldest daughter moved out of the house, we under took a big project in clearing out a lot of stuff. Stuff we had accumulated. Stuff we had in boxes that we haven't opened since we moved into our home 16 years ago; or even when we moved into the last house! 

For a regular person it is hard enough to get rid of your stuff, but how about if you have a LOT of stuff? How about if you have everything?

I ran across an interesting article from which I posted an excerpt below. The full article may be read here.   

March 9, 2013

Living With Less. A Lot Less.

I LIVE in a 420-square-foot studio. I sleep in a bed that folds down from the wall. I have six dress shirts. I have 10 shallow bowls that I use for salads and main dishes. When people come over for dinner, I pull out my extendable dining room table. I don’t have a single CD or DVD and I have 10 percent of the books I once did.

I have come a long way from the life I had in the late ’90s, when, flush with cash from an Internet start-up sale, I had a giant house crammed with stuff — electronics and cars and appliances and gadgets.

Somehow this stuff ended up running my life, or a lot of it; the things I consumed ended up consuming me. My circumstances are unusual (not everyone gets an Internet windfall before turning 30), but my relationship with material things isn’t.

We live in a world of surfeit stuff, of big-box stores and 24-hour online shopping opportunities. 
Members of every socioeconomic bracket can and do deluge themselves with products.

There isn’t any indication that any of these things makes anyone any happier; in fact it seems the reverse may be true.

For me, it took 15 years, a great love and a lot of travel to get rid of all the inessential things I had collected and live a bigger, better, richer life with less.

It started in 1998 in Seattle, when my partner and I sold our Internet consultancy company, Sitewerks, for more money than I thought I’d earn in a lifetime.

To celebrate, I bought a four-story, 3,600-square-foot, turn-of-the-century house in Seattle’s happening Capitol Hill neighborhood and, in a frenzy of consumption, bought a brand-new sectional couch (my first ever), a pair of $300 sunglasses, a ton of gadgets, like an MobilePlayer (one of the first portable digital music players) and an audiophile-worthy five-disc CD player. And, of course, a black turbocharged Volvo. With a remote starter!

I was working hard for Sitewerks’ new parent company, Bowne, and didn’t have the time to finish getting everything I needed for my house. So I hired a guy named Seven, who said he had been Courtney Love’s assistant, to be my personal shopper. He went to furniture, appliance and electronics stores and took Polaroids of things he thought I might like to fill the house; I’d shuffle through the pictures and proceed on a virtual shopping spree.

My success and the things it bought quickly changed from novel to normal. Soon I was numb to it all. The new Nokia phone didn’t excite me or satisfy me. It didn’t take long before I started to wonder why my theoretically upgraded life didn’t feel any better and why I felt more anxious than before.

My life was unnecessarily complicated. There were lawns to mow, gutters to clear, floors to vacuum, roommates to manage (it seemed nuts to have such a big, empty house), a car to insure, wash, refuel, repair and register and tech to set up and keep working. To top it all off, I had to keep Seven busy. And really, a personal shopper? Who had I become? My house and my things were my new employers for a job I had never applied for.

It got worse. Soon after we sold our company, I moved east to work in Bowne’s office in New York, where I rented a 1,900-square-foot SoHo loft that befit my station as a tech entrepreneur. The new pad needed furniture, housewares, electronics, etc. — which took more time and energy to manage.
AND because the place was so big, I felt obliged to get roommates — who required more time, more energy, to manage. I still had the Seattle house, so I found myself worrying about two homes. When I decided to stay in New York, it cost a fortune and took months of cross-country trips — and big headaches — to close on the Seattle house and get rid of the all of the things inside.

I’m lucky, obviously; not everyone gets a windfall from a tech start-up sale. But I’m not the only one whose life is cluttered with excess belongings.

In a study published last year titled “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century,” researchers at U.C.L.A. observed 32 middle-class Los Angeles families and found that all of the mothers’ stress hormones spiked during the time they spent dealing with their belongings. Seventy-five percent of the families involved in the study couldn’t park their cars in their garages because they were too jammed with things.

Our fondness for stuff affects almost every aspect of our lives. Housing size, for example, has ballooned in the last 60 years. The average size of a new American home in 1950 was 983 square feet; by 2011, the average new home was 2,480 square feet. And those figures don’t provide a full picture. In 1950, an average of 3.37 people lived in each American home; in 2011, that number had shrunk to 2.6 people. This means that we take up more than three times the amount of space per capita than we did 60 years ago.

Apparently our supersize homes don’t provide space enough for all our possessions, as is evidenced by our country’s $22 billion personal storage industry.

What exactly are we storing away in the boxes we cart from place to place? Much of what Americans consume doesn’t even find its way into boxes or storage spaces, but winds up in the garbage.
The Natural Resources Defense Council reports, for example, that 40 percent of the food Americans buy finds its way into the trash.

Enormous consumption has global, environmental and social consequences. For at least 335 consecutive months, the average temperature of the globe has exceeded the average for the 20th century. As a recent report for Congress explained, this temperature increase, as well as acidifying oceans, melting glaciers and Arctic Sea ice are “primarily driven by human activity.” Many experts believe consumerism and all that it entails — from the extraction of resources to manufacturing to waste disposal — plays a big part in pushing our planet to the brink. And as we saw with Foxconn and the recent Beijing smog scare, many of the affordable products we buy depend on cheap, often exploitive overseas labor and lax environmental regulations.

Does all this endless consumption result in measurably increased happiness?

In a recent study, the Northwestern University psychologist Galen V. Bodenhausen linked consumption with aberrant, antisocial behavior. Professor Bodenhausen found that “Irrespective of personality, in situations that activate a consumer mind-set, people show the same sorts of problematic patterns in well-being, including negative affect and social disengagement.” Though American consumer activity has increased substantially since the 1950s, happiness levels have flat-lined.

I DON’T know that the gadgets I was collecting in my loft were part of an aberrant or antisocial behavior plan during the first months I lived in SoHo. But I was just going along, starting some start-ups that never quite started up when I met Olga, an Andorran beauty, and fell hard. My relationship with stuff quickly came apart.