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, February 28, 2020

Archery for Self Development

We're all familiar with Japanese Archery, Kyudo, as a method of self development. It wasn't just Japan that used archery in this way. Cultures all over the world recognized that the practice of archery had positive characteristics.

Below is an excerpt from a post at Modern Stoicism on the use of archery by Stoics as a means of developing character. The full post may be read here.

I've recently taken up archery.

The Stoic philosopher Antipater is reported to have drawn an analogy with archery when trying to explain the goal of Stoic ethics. The good Stoic, Antipater suggested, is like an archer: he does everything he can to hit the target, but his happiness does not depend on whether he hits the target or not (Stobaeus 2,76,11-15). What matters is shooting well, for whether the arrow hits the target or not depends on other factors outside of the archer’s control.

In the ancient literature this led some to characterize the Stoic’s art – the art of living – as a stochastic art, like navigation or medicine, meaning that the outcome depends in part on factors other than the practitioner’s skill (Alexander, Quaest. 61,1-28). It also led to concerns about whether Stoicism in fact had two slightly different goals: to live a good life and to do everything one can to live a good life (Cicero, Fin. 3.22). In his discussion of this point Cicero wrote:

“Take the case of one whose task it is to shoot a spear or arrow straight at some target. One’s ultimate aim is to do all in one’s power to shoot straight, and the same applies with our ultimate goal. In this kind of example, it is to shoot straight that one must do all one can; none the less, it is to do all one can to accomplish the task that is really the ultimate aim. It is just the same with what we call the supreme good in life. To actually hit the target is, as we say, to be selected but not sought.” (ibid.)

For the Stoic, then, what matters is not always hitting the target but rather becoming an expert archer, with archery understood as a special kind of art in which expertise does not always guarantee success.

This Stoic idea shares something in common with the account of learning the Japanese art of archery in Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery (London, 1953). Herrigel’s book is a personal memoir recounting his own experience of trying to learn the art of archery from a Japanese master, something he tried to do in order to deepen his own understanding of Zen. Along the way Herrigel makes a number of remarks about Zen and archery that resonate with Antipater’s image of the Stoic archer and may offer a fresh perspective on it.

Herrigel begins by reflecting on the artificiality of learning a medieval military art taken out of its original context and turned into a hobby for people who have no need to learn how to shoot arrows. 

Archery is no longer a matter of life and death. Yet, he comments, “archery is still a matter of life and death to the extent that it is a contest of the archer with himself” (p. 15). It has become a “spiritual exercise” in which “the marksman aims at himself” (p. 14). The modern Zen art of archery “can in no circumstance mean accomplishing anything outwardly with bow and arrow, but only inwardly, with oneself” (p. 18). The goal, then, is ultimately one of self-transformation.

One of the greatest challenges Herrigel faced was to relax. His master made the art look effortless, and for him it was. The more Herrigel tried to achieve the desired result (hitting the target) the more he failed. It was a classic case of making a strenuous effort to keep relaxed. The key, his master told him, was to stop caring about the arrow: “what happened to the arrow was even more a matter of indifference” (p. 40). The less one cares about hitting the target, the more smooth and relaxed one’s shot will be, which paradoxically will increase one’s likelihood of hitting the target. So not caring about reaching the goal will in fact improve one’s chances of reaching it.

Far more important, though, is a shift in the very goal itself. The real goal should not be hitting the target at all; the real goal is something internal, not external. This “the right art [of archery] … is purposeless, aimless” (p. 46). One must become purposeless, on purpose. One must aimlessly aim the arrow. This will enable one to reach both goals, internal and external: to perfect the art of archery and to hit the target, but wanting to hit the target now looks like part of the problem rather than contributing to either goal.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The History of Ba Gua Zhang

Ba Gua Zhang is a fascinating martial art. Over at Ground Dragon Martial Arts, there was a reprint of an old article from the Pakua Chang Journal dissecting the foundation stories of BGZ and the best research of the time. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

The Origins of Ba Gua Zhang – Part 1

Written by Dan Miller, et al, Pa Kua Chang Journal Volume 3, Number 1, November – December 1992, Edited by Dr. Troy Schott D.C.
  The following blog posts will be selected articles from the illustrious Pa Kua Chang Journal. The Journal ran for about seven years, initially as the Pa Kua Chang Newsletter, it was a refreshing look into the actual current and historical state of baguazhang. I will do my best to give credit where credit is due, however, in some cases, the translator of material is not immediately known unless stated in the article. Also, I have edited the article in many places for relevance and have left notes here and there. If I make any grevious mistake in the rewriting of this material, please let me know. – Troy Schott, D.C.

Stories abound about how the art of Ba Gua Zhang was originated. The only clear lineage that exists is that of Dong Hai Chuan and so many feel that Dong was the founder. Dong rarely spoke of his own background. His relationship with his students was very strict and thus none of them dared to ask. Whether or not Dong invented his this art on his own or learned it from another is a common topic of debate in the Ba Gua Zhang community. Although there are dozens of stories and anecdotes, the various theories of Ba Gua Zhang’s origins can be boiled down to the following four:

  1. Dong Hai Chuan developed Ba Gua Zhang after learning Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang from Dong Meng Lin. This version of Ba Gua’s origin was published in the 1937 text Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang Fa written by Ren Zhi Cheng.
  2. The Unofficial History of the Indigo Pavilion (1818) talks about eight direction stepping, Li Gua and Kan Gua as Ba Gua that was popular prior to Dong Hai Chuan (pre-1813). From the writing in this text, some have deduced that this Ba Gua was the predecessor to the Ba Gua Zhang taught by Dong.
  3. Dong Hai Chuan learned his art from Bi Cheng Xia on Qiu Hua (Nine Flower) Mountain. A discussion of this theory would also include any of the various stories about Dong learning from an “unusual person in the mountain vastness.” When the Bi Cheng Xia theory is examined, we will include popular theories regarding other Daoists that Dong might have learned from.
  4. Dong Hai Chuan was the founder of Ba Gua Zhang. The individuals who subscribe to this theory believe that Dong spent his youth learning other martial arts and invented Ba Gua Zhang based on his early experience combined with circle walking meditation practice he learned from a Daoist.In addition to the theories mentioned above, some take Ba Gua Quan (other styles which have the name Ba Gua) that were not taught by Dong as Ba Gua Zhang; for example, there is a Shaolin-like art in Henan called Fu Xi Ba Gua and another in Shandong called Shaolin Ba Gua. Then there is also the other arm of Ba Gua (Tian Family Ba Gua), which the practitioners claim was hidden for 400 years and such other versions of Ba Gua’s origins.
  Since the exploration of each of the theories listed above will be in-depth, this post will be presented in serial over the course of several postings. The primary source of this information is taken from the work of Professor Kang Ge Wu of Beijing. While working on his master’s degree in 1980-81, Professor Kang wrote his thesis on the “Origins of Ba Gua Zhang.” When I visited with Kang last year in Beijing, he gave me a copy of his findings and the translation of his report forms the foundation of this article.
Professor Kang’s research was extensive and involved close examination of over 650 documents from the Qing Palace history books and over 230 papers written on martial arts. He also examined the situations of 413 teachers in 24 provinces and cities, personally investigating in 16 cities and counties, and 9 provinces. Kang interview over 256 people resulting in over 274 documents. Many of the people he interviewed were elderly boxers of the older generation who spoke openly about their martial art. While conducting his research, Jang was a motivating force in the effort to restore Dong Hai Chuan’s tomb and participated with over 400 others in the unearthing and moving of the tomb.

Although the research conducted by Kang Ge Wu was fairly thorough, there are some conclusions he arrives at in his final analysis that I would not be so quick to make. In his summary, Kang concluded that it was Dong Hai Chuan who originated Ba Gua Zhang (theory 4 above). His reasons for discounting some of the other theories (theory number 3 in particular) are weak in terms of the standards of scholarly logic we are accustomed to in the West. When these points arise in the article, I will discuss why I think Kang has jumped too hastily to his conclusion. My own research into Ba Gua’s origins, which includes examination of documents written by those with an opposing view to Kang as well as interviews with Ba Gua Zhang practitioners in the United States, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Mainland China leaves me with unanswered questions and thus no conclusion concerning Ba Gua Zhang’s true origins. 
Throughout this article, I will try to present both sides of the story and let the reader decide on their own how Ba Gua Zhang originated. The first theory we will examine is the one which claims that Dong Hai Chuan learned Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang from Dong Meng Lin, and then created Ba Gua Zhang.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

What Motivates Fakes Martial Artists

Today we have another guest post by Jonathan Bluestein. Jonathan discusses the motivation behind fake martial artists.

The Real Reason Why
Fake Martial Arts Exist

By Jonathan Bluestein

In recent years there had been much uproar over the Internet, concerning the existence of ‘Fake Martial Arts’. These types of frivolous activities have been around for centuries, but in the age of digital cameras, suddenly knowledge of them have spread like wildfire. With these fake martial arts, I speak of martial arts teachers, who may or may not possess real knowledge and skills, but nonetheless fool people with silly and worthless tutelage, to glorify their egos and wallets. They peddle deadly ‘death touch’ techniques, move the na├»ve around the room with mystical energies, and engage in strange dancing maneuvers claimed to be of self-defense value. The difference between mere unskilled teachers and full-blown martial arts charlatans, is that the latter are fanciful and nonsensical to the point of universal mockery. How do you define what a ‘fake martial artist’ is? Well, as the United States Supreme Court once defined pornography: “You know it when you see it”.

21st Century Western Culture, and American Culture in particular, have taken a liking to witch-hunting ‘perpetrators’, whilst elevating ‘victims’. Sometimes this distinction between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is indeed quite prominent and clear. Other times, no so much. In the case of fake martial arts, the tendency is, as usual, to chastise the wicked instructors, and shelter the poor souls who have fallen victim to their depravity. There are occasions indeed, when this is warranted, especially when children and teens are involved. After all, not only personal abuse is in question, but also that of ‘stealing’ one’s money and time, and teaching ‘skills’ which may result in serious harm to oneself. But is that matter always as clear-cut as it seems, and can we paint a picture all in black and white, with respect to this vile phenomenon?

In my books, I always write about the three things which all people covet in life:  HappinessMeaning and Continuity. When the martial arts are taught correctly, they can help one cultivate Happiness, Meaning and Continuity in their lives. But the fact of the matter is, that people will chase the attainment of Happiness, Meaning and Continuity by all means necessary or available, because they cannot feel complete without these three things. This is why many turn to addictions and self-abuse, when either Happiness, Meaning or Continuity is missing from their lives.

Fake martial arts instructors are charismatic individuals, who have the willingness to con others out of their money and wits. They oftentimes understand better than other, real martial arts teachers, that people covet Happiness, Meaning and Continuity. They understand this well, even if they do not necessarily have the language to explain it as eloquently. Therefore, they make these three things their selling point, and among the three, tend to focus on the subject of Meaning.

We would all like to have a meaningful life. How do you create a life which is meaningful? 

Commonly, you gain meaning by having something special – knowledge, skills or experiences, which other people do not have. But in this mundane and generic world of mass-production Capitalism, where could most people possibly find such Meaning?          
There are those who become specialists, in a trade or within the academia. But having such specialization takes lots of effort and education, and to really stand out, commonly over a decade or two of labour is needed. Others obtain Meaning via the path of becoming famous, via the venues of sports or politics. But here again is required a special effort, and are needed a character, a body or both which are uniquely suited for the task. Meditation and an authentic spiritual or religious practice are also viable and useful methods for obtaining 

Meaning, but alas, these too are not very commonly used by laypeople for that purpose. All of the above then, are measures of obtaining Meaning which are complex, lengthy and tiresome. This is why, many opt for trying to develop a sense of meaning by engaging in activities promising quicker rewards. Hence – fake martial arts.

What the Fake Martial Arts are, for the majority of participants (barring real victims), is nothing more than a ‘game’ people play. Yes, in case you are wondering – I am herein directly referring also to the brilliant psychological theory presented by Eric Berne in his 1964 book: ‘The Games People Play’.   
The entire phenomenon of fake martial arts is manifested by the need of various individuals to generate Meaning, in a culture which has been growing devoid of meaning over the past few centuries due to the loss of a spiritual backbone, and lackluster connection with the natural environment and a human’s role within it. Now you could say, that all martial arts are a part of people’s need for Happiness, Meaning and Continuity – this much is true!  But the difference is, that under the stress and duress of a society and culture devoid of meaning, the individual who feels empty on the inside, turns to the absurd and is willing to accept the irrational, if only in it there is the promise of salvation.

Examining this debacle from the odd angle presented herein, one could begin to cultivate a less-biased point of view. We can then start to realize, that fake martial arts are not entirely the evil creation of cynical crooks, but rather, a ‘product’ which has been designed to meet the needs of many potential ‘customers’. Surely, the victims would later complain of the exploitation, and the injustice done unto them. Society will then shelter and caress these poor souls, whilst demanding the harshest of punishments for the nasty culprits. But unlike in the case of rape, robbery or murder, the crime of soliciting fake martial arts is a more ambiguous venture, in which both sides play along willingly (in most cases at least), and sometimes almost equally bear the blame. Yes, there is truth in the notion that a perceived position of authority and dominance caries its own weight and sway (and is always negative with children and teens!). But as they say, ‘two are required for a tango’, and with a group of gullible willing students, you typically have more than just a duo of willing believers.

What else must be admitted, is that Meaning is sought by many people in Judeo-Christian societies, by appealing to miracles. Western Culture is dominated by the influence of the Old and New Testaments. These books, which I have read many a time by the way in the original Hebrew, are full of divine intervention, and countless acts of miracles, which we more commonly refer to in everyday language as ‘magic’.
The typical citizen of a Western nation is haunted by a paradox which arises from these texts. That paradox is, that the Old and New Testaments are full of great meaning, which is derived in part from ‘the literal magic’ in them, whilst in our time, no such magic has been known to take place, in the same manner or intensity as described. It is only natural then, for the person who has grown up in a Judeo-Christian culture, whether he be secular or religious, to subconsciously yearn to produce Meaning by looking up to the miraculous. 

Especially and in particular, some Christians are more drawn to find meaning in ‘magic’ which is to them reminiscent in some ways of the abilities of Jesus Christ.     
Here I must explain, that it is not exactly Jesus Christ himself whom the fake martial arts instructors imitate, or their followers aspire to learn from. Especially, as the great majority of fake martial arts instructors do not appear to mix religion with their charlatanism. Rather, inspired by Jesus Christ, there had grown in Western Culture the tradition of the charismatic priest performing magical feats to sway and awe his congregation. Some of these feats, by the way, include the moving of people around a room or a stage with mystical energies, or using pseudo-martial techniques on them as an expression of spiritual power. The fake martial arts instructors follow in the footsteps of that other fake tradition, and this makes their ‘show’ a type of sales pitch which delivers many themes that the student can subconsciously identify.    
The exact same psychological phenomenon and process, is undertaken among fake martial arts in the Orient as well. The only difference being, that rather than having Christian traditions as an inspiration, other religious folklore similarly fills-in the blanks.

In a sense, this whole phenomenon goes back to the times before Christianity and modern Asian religions. In some respects, the fake martial arts scene originates from not only the search for Meaning, but also the deeply-rooted human desire for a shamanistic experience. 

The fake martial arts instructor, as ridiculous as he may appear, tends to fulfill the role of the Shaman – a person of some spiritual authority, who is supposed to help the pupil transcend the mundane, and in so doing obtain Meaning. In Christianity, especially within its more orthodox modalities, the priests have to a great extent replaced the social role of the Shaman. But in a secular society, in which shamans and priests are absent, or are of weaker influence of some individuals, the human animal naturally seeks another authority figure to take over that important function in his or her life.

Nonetheless, as usual, the tendency in 21st century Western society is to blame, rather than to discuss. It is far easier to ‘burn the witches’, than take an honest look at ourselves and the delusions we have helped create. Would we have a better world, by admonishing the fakes, shaming them, beating them up, incarcerating them or the likes of these punishments? Surely, many more shall arise to take their place, like mushrooms after first rains. Why? Because as typical of 21st century Western culture, we have tackled the symptoms of the illness, and not its roots. Where might these roots lay, you may ask? They are to be found in education, and the very structure of our society. The ‘cure’ for fake martial arts is to be conjured via helping people grow with good values, and providing them with a healthy spiritual experience and outlet, be it religious or not. When this is put into place, then people would not feel the urge to find false priests or shamans, or make themselves into such dubious characters. Thus, the solution is unsurprisingly more so in ourselves, rather than in others. Especially for the sincere and genuine martial arts teachers – our own good work, is what keeps people away from the charlatans.

Shifu Jonathan Bluestein is a foremost teacher and author of the traditional Chinese martial arts. He published a number of best-selling books on the martial arts, including:  Research of Martial Arts and The Martial Arts Teacher. He is also the head of Blue Jade Martial Arts International. Learn and read many more free articles at: