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 ~

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

8th Anniversary of Cook Ding's Kitchen

Today is the 8th anniversary of Cook Ding's Kitchen.

I began this blog in 2005 and it is still going strong. The most popular post, The Pugilist at Rest, has been viewed almost 3800 times.

For myself, my mind is clear, my health is good and my practice is stong.

Before writing about Cook Ding's Kitchen, I wanted to bring to your attention a brief post at Tai Chi Nomad. The original post may be read here. As it is brief, I will also post the whole thing below.

Training days are sacred days

It took a few days of haze to let the mind know how sacred a training day can be. It’s true what they say:

you don’t know it till you lose it.
The weather has been plagued by a deep shroud of ash, making breathing difficult, not to mention training. Any rigorous activities outdoors are highly inadvisable. Yet, it is during these days that I realize how sacred it is to be able to train on any single day.

The excuse of “there is always tomorrow” or “I will train more tomorrow” does not hold water anymore. If today is a good day, you train. In fact, the haze suddenly makes me realize that everyday is a good day.

Treasure your training days. You may not have a choice of when is a good day, so make everyday a good day.

Our training days are indeed sacred. There is a saying that goes something like this: the years of training are made up of days. If we lose the days, we lose the years. It is so difficult cultivate a good habit, like training regularly; and so easy to lose the habit.

On the one hand, there are times when you simply can't train. Just set your training aside for a while and don't torture yourself about it. Maybe your work has seasonal peaks which just require your full attention, like tax season for an accountant. For myself, between focusing on my family, aging parents and a career, I set my training aside for over a decade and don't regret one minute of it.

On the other, when you do have more time don't be lazy and waste your opportunities. They may not come your way again.

Zen Master Dogen said something like "that time is so fleeting should be motivation enough to practice as though your hair were on fire."

Some days, you just have to take off. You certainly don't want your training to overshadow your "regular" life (the tail wagging the dog), but you also don't want to look back at a long string of missed opportunities to have trained.

Every day, do something to move the ball forward, even if only an inch.

Recent readers may not be familiar with the name Cook Ding. Cook Ding was the name of a character is a famous story from the Inner Chapters of Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tzu). To me, he is the epitome of someone practicing Daoism in everyday life, someone we can aspire to be like.

  His cook was cutting up an ox for the ruler Wen Hui. Whenever he applied his hand, leaned forward with his shoulder, planted his foot, and employed the pressure of his knee, in the audible ripping off of the skin, and slicing operation of the knife, the sounds were all in regular cadence. 
Movements and sounds proceeded as in the dance of 'the Mulberry Forest' and the blended notes of the King Shou.'

The ruler said, 'Ah! Admirable! That your art should have become so perfect!'

(Having finished his operation), the cook laid down his knife, and replied to the remark, 'What your servant loves is the method of the Dao, something in advance of any art.

When I first began to cut up an ox, I saw nothing but the (entire) carcass. After three years I ceased to see it as a whole. Now I deal with it in a spirit-like manner, and do not look at it with my eyes. The use of my senses is discarded, and my spirit acts as it wills. Observing the natural lines, (my knife) slips through the great crevices and slides through the great cavities, taking advantage of the facilities thus presented. My art avoids the membranous ligatures, and much more the great bones.

A good cook changes his knife every year; (it may have been injured) in cutting - an ordinary cook changes his every month - (it may have been) broken. Now my knife has been in use for nineteen years; it has cut up several thousand oxen, and yet its edge is as sharp as if it had newly come from the whetstone.

There are the interstices of the joints, and the edge of the knife has no (appreciable) thickness; when that which is so thin enters where the interstice is, how easily it moves along! The blade has more than room enough. Nevertheless, whenever I come to a complicated joint, and see that there will be some difficulty, I proceed anxiously and with caution, not allowing my eyes to wander from the place, and moving my hand slowly. Then by a very slight movement of the knife, the part is quickly separated, and drops like (a clod of) earth to the ground. Then standing up with the knife in my hand, I look all round, and in a leisurely manner, with an air of satisfaction, wipe it clean, and put it in its sheath.'

The ruler Wen Hui said, 'Excellent! I have heard the words of my cook, and learned from them the nourishment of (our) life.'
-    Zhuang Zi, The Inner Chapters
-    Trans. James Legge     

Below is an excerpt from my first eBook, A Kung Fu Carry Out. I had hoped to be able to annouce the second eBook today, but that egg is just not quite ready to hatch.

To celebrate Cook Ding's anniversary, I am making A Kung Fu Carry Out FREE for five days (maxium allowed by Amazon). If you don't have a Kindle, you can also download the FREE Kindle Reading App.

Chapter 4 – The Master Mover

The practical Daoism of Cook Ding is found in the everyday things. Heavy things. Heavy things like pianos.

Have you ever moved a piano? It’s awful.

The late Edward Gong moved pianos. By his estimation, he moved over 7000 of them. He moved them with the ease that Cook Ding butchered oxen. In his own way, Edward Gong was a modern Daoist master.

Below is an excerpt from an article about Edward Gong. The full article may be read here.

Edward Gong, who moved 7,000 pianos, dies
Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, November 6, 2011

Legendary for his moving piano technique, Edward Gong of Berkeley was admired not for how he interpreted Mozart or played a concerto, but for how he moved pianos. Literally.

He did it single-handedly, although he sometimes called upon his astonished clients to roll a dolly or grip a corner.

"Almost everyone I know in Berkeley has used him or knows about him," wrote "Rinky N." on Yelp's urban legends section. "Years ago he moved a roommate's piano using the three of us weaklings as pivot points. It's like watching Superman or an optical illusion!"

"It's physics," Mr. Gong, who had a degree in that subject from UC Berkeley, would explain.

Mr. Gong died at 85 at the Veterans Home of Yountville, where he'd gone to live last year. He moved pianos until age 80 - more than 7,000 of them over 45 years - said his niece Miko Lee.

"He was the epitome of the word eccentric," she said, fondly recalling the man with the "serious giggle" she called Unc.

On the Berkeley Parents Network site, "Nicole" wrote: "He arrives with a little pickup truck and an amazing stair contraption, and uses brains and leverage to move these amazingly heavy and awkward objects. He's goofy as heck, and he chats a mile a minute ... but always manages to get the piano where it needs to go."

His piano-moving outfit consisted of checkered polyester shorts, gum-sole shoes and the bulging muscles he'd hone for hours, bench-pressing at the gym. When not working, Mr. Gong favored bedroom slippers, once showing up in snowy Munich carrying luggage filled with books but no shoes besides the pantofles on his feet.

He had gone to Europe for the World's Fair because he adored fairs, often hanging out for hours to watch a calf being born. He also danced ballet, sang opera, played instruments and studied Mandarin and drawing, making up in enthusiasm what he lacked in skill, Lee said with a laugh.

And despite limited funds, Mr. Gong attended stellar performances - often inviting his young relatives - by serving as an usher at the ballet, opera and Cal Performances.

Born Aug. 9, 1926, Mr. Gong was one of 11 children whose parents ran a laundry in Madera. An Army private in World War II, he served as a medical aide and chauffeur at Presidio Hospital in San Francisco.

Mr. Gong joined his family in Berkeley in 1947, where they opened the Victory Market at 1443 San Pablo Ave. to pay tuition at Cal for Mr. Gong and his siblings. His brothers and sisters raised families, went into business or became professors, scientists or teachers.

Mr. Gong did his own version of those things, too.

In 1988, The Chronicle followed Mr. Gong, then 62, as he maneuvered - in five minutes - a 400-pound upright piano from the rear room of a house into his pickup using a dolly, a wood box wrapped in an old rug, and an iron tube he'd laid across the truck bed.

For his second move, the story said Mr. Gong "stood on a stone step with 500 pounds of piano in his thick arms while three men half his age tried clumsily to wedge the dolly under the other end" as he schooled them in tilt and torque.

"He lived a remarkable life," said Harry Yoon, a Los Angeles film editor who shot an 11-minute short, "7,000 Pianos," about Mr. Gong at 75 in 2002.


Zacky Chan said...

Each little post has turned into a mammoth eight years monster blog! I'm realizing I've only been in touch for about 30% of that and happy to have found it. Besides that though, very interesting story about the piano man. Cook Ding and Dogen never get old. Thanks.

Rick Matz said...

Thank you. I think you have a great blog as well:

walt said...

" mind is clear..."

Not to be taken lightly in today's world.

And, eight years, eh? That's a long while. But it proves the point that a certain *longevity* is attainable through Practical Daoism.

Anonymous said...

Happy 8th Birthday Cook Ding...the blog! I feel like this is a birthday, though it's only a blog!

I have only skimmed the surface of the material on this blog, and I feel that I have learned so much already, yet there is still a long road ahead. Thank you for your great service - and your wisdom.

Rick Matz said...

Thanks guys. I appreciate your support.

I prefer the old fashioned, natural, analog type of dementia to the digital dementia, Walt.

Paul said...

Hi Rick,

Happy anniversary (again)! The Boxer of Quirinal as per your most popular post is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts (NY) till 15 July.

Look forward to reading all your coming posts...and your second digital publication.



Rick Matz said...

@Paul, thanks and that egg will be ready to hatch soon.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick,

Congratulations on the eight years of your blog, and the e-book!

Your site is an inspiration, and I always appreciate your words on the importance of practice and constant training. I tend to be a bit of a slacker myself... so it's good to have these reminders.


Rick Matz said...

Fencer, thanks. I'm always reminding myself too.

Compass Architect said...


Rick Matz said...

Thank you.

Time flies like an arrow.

... and fruit flies like bananas.