Friday, December 5, 2008

Core Values

My Alma Mater has for the last ten-plus years been re-defining itself, and hence establishing itself for bigger and better things. It has been an impressive transformation to witness. But without transgressing into the change itself I wanted rather to emphasize one of their chosen tactics. The school, a 120 year old Catholic University, is rooted in the Benedictine tradition. As part of their new 'mission and goals statement' they formulated their core values based on those of the Benedictines. Specifically, they are as follows:
Excellence; Community; Respect; Personal Development; Personal Stewardship; Integrity.

I have thought about how these apply to those of us interested in personal and spiritual growth. As an organization's core values they take a different meaning than those of an individual. This is what they mean to me individually:

Excellence: Seek excellence in all you do. Look for it in creation. Always strive to be better. Revere it and bless it wherever you encounter it.
Community: We all have different communities we are engaged in. These should be valued and nurtured as one values and nurtures oneself.
Respect: Respect all living things. Respect other people, their feelings, their property, their values, their culture.
Personal Development: This is the biggie. This is what this is all about. Personal development is mental, physical, and spiritual. And there are no lines dividing these categories.
Personal Stewardship: We have all been blessed to varying degrees. We should be thankful for our blessings and good stewards of our gifts. As we do these we open the door for more and greater blessings.
Integrity: There is an old Quaker saying, "let your yea be yea, and your no be no". This sums it up. I should be as good as my word and my word should be as good as I can be.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Primordial Qigong

The Primordial Qigong form is one of the oldest Qigong practices known to man. It is believed to have been developed by Zhang San Feng, the creator of Taiji. I have been practicing this form for over four years now. It is one of the most powerful practices I know of and has been immensely beneficial to me. I learned it through my Taji school, the founders of which are associated with Michael Winn, likely this form’s biggest proponent. The Primordial is an inner elixir form. In other words it is an “Inner Alchemy” practice. Inner Alchemy is an advanced practice concerned with a spiritual medicine known as the golden elixir. The primordial Qigong is purported to act to reverse time in the practitioner, leading to a reversal in the aging process and a long life. Rather than leave the reader with the impression of mystical mystery I will here quote Roger Jahnke a Doctor of Oriental Medicine from his book The Healing Promise of Qi1:

“This alchemical fire [the Qigong process] burns away the illusions of our conditioned life, self-sabotaging habits, and compulsions to reveal what the ancient life scientists called true reality (Quan Zhen) and the true person (Zhen Ren). At this point, in the highest levels of Qigong, pure spirit is revealed and the practitioner is considered an immortal or a fully realized being. In chemistry, in the purification of gold, fire is used to burn off all impurities. In Inner Alchemy, all of the complexities and conditioned factors of the self are refined in the fire of personal cultivation to reveal the pure gold of the essential nature.” Pp. 80

Jahnke describes the Primordial Qigong as a form of Wuji Qigong. Wuji is the mother of Taiji. Wuji can be translated as the void or abyss, or as no extreme, as opposed to Taiji, which is grand extreme. So in Wuji there is no Yin and Yang, no differentiation, just the void, all that there is but at the same time no thing. Hence Wuji is in essence spiritual. In the particular lineage of Chen style Taiji that I practice Wuji practice is fundamental, and primarily experienced through Zan Zhuang, standing meditation, and Da Zuo, sitting meditation. Additionally, I Liq Chuan, my other primary martial art, premised on Taji and Buddhist principles, places prime importance on Zan Zhuang, and is itself considered a moving meditation. So, while the Primordial Qigong is not formally a part of either of these two systems, it is complimentary and an appropriate addition to either or both systems.

As noted above this is a powerful practice. But it is much more than a physical exercise designed to stretch and strengthen muscles and ligaments. This is a spiritual practice and by extension a medical practice as well. But don’t take my word for it, try it. I recommend Jahnke’s book to anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Qigong, and Michael Winn’s approach to the Primordial form specifically. The only things you have to lose are time and possibly ill health and aging. You may gain more than you imagine.

1: The Healing Promise of Qi: Creating Extraordinary Wellness Through Qigong and Tai Chi. 2002. Roger Jahnke. Contemporary Books.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

This is I Liq Chuan

This is I Liq Chuan
I Liq Chuan is an internal martial art based on Taiji and Zen principles. It places a strong emphasis on awareness, which is of course preceded by mindfulness. I Liq Chuan in America is directed by Master Sam Chin. I have been studying this art for a couple of months now and just attended a workshop with Master Chin. It was amazing. I Liq Chuan does not focus on applications or choreographed martial simulations as much as it does skills and priniciples. Yet it has a much stronger martial focus than most Taiji schools, at least as we know them in America. I am finding this to be a great compliment to my Taiji studies. For the time being I can only devote a small amount of time to I Liq Chuan training, primarily because of logistics and distance. But I see this as real discovery for me. Stand by for more.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Judo Frustrations

I tried to keep up with the Judo events in the recent Olympics, but it was difficult. I never did see where it was broadcast on television. If it was it must have been at 3:00 am. I did get some live video streaming from and they had some replay videos available. But all-in-all it was difficult, unlike swimming, volleyball, or the Equestrian bouts. What I did get to see explains, at least to me, why it didn’t get much airplay. The rules structure of modern sport Judo, especially Olympic Judo, is choking the sport out. Judo provides some of the most intense and technical sparring of any martial arts-based sports, if allowed to play out. However, there is such an emphasis on minute rules, the points system, and the strategic advantage to working these in favor of all-out randori that the action continually stalls. Rather than the dynamic sport Dr. Kano envisioned, modern sport judo reminds me more of a baseball game. You calmly watch and wait for something, anything, to happen. And then as soon as it does it’s over. However, there is some hope. I read that the Olympic committee is considering a re-write of the rules to try and address these very issues. We can only hope that they do. Judo, the martial arts community, and the sports world at large would only benefit.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Priorities of Taiji Practice

Yang Yang, in his book Taijiquan: The Art of Nurture, The Science of Power says that the most important component of Taiji is nurturing, or acquiring gong. My first Qi Gong teacher, Master Yong Zhou, taught something very similar. Master Zhou’s English is limited so he never went into much detail. But what he did say was something to the extent that gathering Qi, read Qi Gong exercises, was good. Depleting Qi, through running or hard martial arts for example, was bad. Accordingly, I have read other writers and teachers in the internal arts claiming that the soft, nurturing exercises of Taiji form or Qi Gong were enough in themselves. Hence, the flabby shape often found in many Taiji practitioners. Further, it has been my experience that many Taiji teachers emphasize little to none of the martial side of the art. I am myself first and foremost concerned with nurturing, but I still believe the martial side of the art should be emphasized and developed and that some degree of physical conditioning is necessary, commensurate with the individual’s physical abilities and limitations. Thinking on this has led me to develop my own prioritized list.

My list is in terms of importance or priority, but I should say there is little room between the rankings and even the lowest is important to me and not to ever be disregarded.

1) Meditation

2) Qi Gong (including Taiji form)

3) Physical Conditioning

4) Advanced form and interactive (two person) work

5) Martial ability

Meditation: I attended a workshop with the Zen priest, Vietnam Veteran, and Peace Activist Claude Anshin Thomas a couple of years back. In discussing Zanzen, or meditation, he said “Why wouldn’t you? What is more important than waking up?” What indeed? My definition of meditation includes the Wuji Zhuang (standing meditation) and Da Zuo (sitting meditation) associated with Chen Style Taiji, along with Buddhist mindfulness practices and Christian contemplative prayer. In this regard I believe all roads lead to home, but the road is infinite. This is the most important practice, but it should always be practiced. Even enlightenment, once gained, has to be maintained.

Qi Gong: The practice of Qi Gong, including the Taiji form, constitutes the best part of what Yang refers to as nurturing. Meditation is of course part of this as well. In fact, Wuji meditation is considered to be sitting or standing static Qi Gong. While meditation is crucial for mental and spiritual health, Qi Gong encompasses the total being, mental/spiritual/physical. Qi Gong is the cornerstone of Traditional Chinese Medicine and is my personal prescription for health preventive maintenance. For me, Qi Gong precedes any other physical engagement, and time always can be and should be made for Qi Gong practice, just as it is made for bathing, brushing our teeth, or any other maintenance activities.

Physical Conditioning: While I think Qi Gong precedes physical conditioning, it does not supersede or replace it. As noted above, ones level of conditioning is determined by health and physical limitations. There are those who simply can’t do cardio-vascular exercise; for those who can it should be an important part of our routines. It is not necessary that one be able to compete in triathlons, but our strength and endurance levels should exceed our daily, normal activity requirements. In this, as in all things, moderation is key. Each person should have an idea as to how much external muscular strength and endurance they wish to build. But for me, physical conditioning is a key component of my health practice.

Advanced Form and Interactive Work: This is a broad category. I consider advanced form to be the more physically challenging forms, such as the Chen Second Routine Pao Chui, XingYi, or Karate Katas, as well as two person forms such as the Yang Style San Shou, Aikido, and I Liq Chuan. The last three also qualify as interactive work, as well as push hands, sticky hands, spinning hands, and Aikido interactive Ki exercises. The Pao Chui, and the forms of XingYi and I Liq Chuan are not as nurturing as the slower meditative Taiji forms. But they are crucially important to individual growth and the practice of the arts. Push Hands, Aikido, Yang San Shou, Sticky Hands, and Spinning Hands offer us the opportunity to help nurture our partners, develop interpersonal skills and compassion. This is a crucial component of the internal arts, and something that separates these practices from sparring, and true martial application. As noted above, the lines dividing these categories are weak and ambiguous, as I see these as advanced but very important aspects of the practice of internal martial arts.

Martial Ability: What I mean by martial ability is quite simply the ability to fight, or better, the ability to defend oneself, to handle an attacker in such a way to neutralize or stop the attack—preferably without causing harm to the attacker. We don’t live in the kind of world where the people who invented many of the ancient martial arts lived. Ours is a more peaceful world by a long shot. Most of us can and will go through the best part, if not possibly all, of our lives without a significant physical conflict. But that is not a 100% guarantee. The world is still a relatively dangerous place, or it can be. It is in everyone’s best interest to know how defend themselves. Note that I am talking about defense here. A true martial artist will avoid conflict if at all possible. My choice in following the internal martial arts means that the learning curve for martial ability is steep. The technique is true and efficient, but it takes many years to learn. I am comfortable with that. I have supplemented my training with techniques from other arts. I feel confident in my ability to defend myself, and in the possibility that I likely won’t ever have to. This component is for me like all the others, a way to personal growth and improvement. That is the utmost reason for any of it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Symptoms of Inner Peace

The Symptoms of Inner Peace was written by Saskia Davis in 1984. It was recently published in the Winter, 2007 issue of the Peace Pilgrim Newsletter.

Below is a copy, with regards to the author and Peace Pilgrim:

Be on the lookout for symptoms of inner peace. The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to inner peace and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.
Some signs and symptoms of inner peace:
A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.
An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
A loss of interest in judging other people.
A loss of interest in judging self.
A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
A loss of interest in conflict.
A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)
Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
Frequent attacks of smiling.
An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.

Would that we might all catch it

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Kata of Peace

There is much confusion over the nature of martial arts. A first and uninformed look would render the perception that the martial arts are all and only about violence. But there are many of us who practice for peace. Granted, the early martial arts were developed for hand-to-hand combat, for soldiers, and for self defense in a dangerous and violent world. In many instances they are still practiced with these same fundamentals in mind. In many cases we supplement competition for combat so we can continue to practice hard and still live. However, as the martial arts developed, particularly in China, they took on aspects of the healing arts such as Qi Gong and TCM, and incorporated religious philosophy, primarily Taoism. Fundamental to Taoism is the concept of going with the flow, not forcing things to happen. In Chinese martial arts we have the concept of zou, ju in Japanese. Zou is yielding. The Taiji Classics define zou as overcoming the strong and hard the gentle and soft way. The Japanese art of Jujitsu is translated as the gentle art, or the art of yielding. Aikido, which takes this distinction a step further, is known as the art of peace. The goal of Aikido is the unification of the fundamental creative principle, ki (Qi, or Chi, in Chinese), of the universe, with that same principle in each person. Such a unification is the antithesis of conflict. Whereas conflict identifies separate individuals, subject and object, unification sees all as one. In such a state conflict is not possible. Aikido, which came to real fruition post World War II, seeks to provide the student with the discipline of martial training, and the goals of spiritual practice, without the conflict of combat or competition.

Many of the tenets of Aikido are found in the ancient art of Taijiquan. Taijiquan is translated as Grand Extreme Boxing. Taiji, or Grand Extreme, is also known as Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are the two primary forces of the universe. They arise from Wuji, or the void. Taijiquan practice seeks to work with these two forces and with the primordial Wuji. The return to Wuji is accomplished through meditation and a state of mind that seeks to find the empty in the solid, action in non-action, stillness in movement, and movement in stillness. This is the ultimate goal of Tajiquan. Master Jou, Tsung Hwa says to “aim to be peaceful inside in order to affect the outside. Gradually, the outer movements will reflect inner direction and total awareness (1).” This is a high spiritual awareness that is realized through a combination of movement and meditation, or better, meditative movement. Through the movements of the Taiji form we find ourselves in rhythm with the pulse of nature, and consequently identification with all creation. Again this provides an absence of us and them, subject and object, the root causes of conflict within the individual. If we see ourselves as one with others it is hard to be in conflict.

As practitioners of peace we still must recognize the existence of violence; the violence of the world, and the violence that is within us. Anything less would be foolish and contrary to our goal: a peaceful existence, a peaceful world. The individual forms and interactive practices of the martial arts provide a way to accomplish this. The tenets of Tajiquan and Aikido, yielding and non-aggression, are not natural reactions in times of stress. These are learned behaviors. We each have this wonderful, yet complicated built-in system we know as “fight or flight”. In times of stress or conflict, fight or flight is automatic. Sometimes it is best. But ultimately it is best controlled. Jesus preached to turn the other cheek, but the Bible doesn’t say how hard that can be. It doesn’t have to, we all know. It is difficult. But turning the other cheek, or yielding, can be taught and learned. External conflict often arises from internal conflict. And we all experience some degree of internal conflict. Even if we aren’t experiencing internal conflict, we can run headlong into another’s internal conflict, manifested externally. Rather than fighting fire with fire, we can fight fire with water; we can extinguish the flames. Internal and external conflict can be diffused with the proper approach. But this takes more than blind faith. It takes action as well; at least for some of us. Some of us have to unlearn our fight of flight responses and re-learn better, saner approaches to the conflict we encounter within, and may encounter without. We need to know how to diffuse, how to yield, and how to bring it to a quick and peaceful ending if it gets out of hand. This is not easy. This is the Kata of Peace.

(1) The Dao of Tajiquan, Way To Rejuvenation; Jou, Tsung Hwa; Tai Chi Foundation, 2001; pp. 201.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Irony of Simplicity

The practice of simplicity should be, well, simple. And I guess in actuality it is. It's us, the people attempting the practice, who are complicated and inconsistent. I have been interested in simplicity as a personal and spiritual discipline for some time. I first considered it because it is a cornerstone of my primary belief system, Quakerism. As I investigated it and attempted application in my life I found other disciplines related to and reliant on simplicity, primarily Buddhism and political anarchism/individualism--in the vein of Thoreau. Understanding and living the tenets of Quakerism are challenge enough for anyone, especially a borderline ADD, pseudo-packrat, ex-soldier, ex-honky tonk hero. So I naturally had to expand my horizons and explore other related disciplines to fully understand and apply simplicity. Discipline somehow got lost in the process.

Actually, while I have my challenges with trying to fill my life with as many interests as there are hours in the day (thus complicating things), I have applied many of the tenets of simplicity as I understand them. From my studies of Taoism and Taijiquan I have applied the idea of yielding, going with the flow, to many areas of life. Instead of trying to lay out and follow ridiculous plans, I now rely more on faith and right-mindedness. And while I'm sure I need to work at it, I do try to make time for my family, and for adequate down time.

Researching simplicity has given me reason to remember that we work to live, and shouldn't live to work, and that life is short and should be savored. That has inspired me to do things that I have wanted to do but have resisted for all kind of ridiculous reasons, such as take a class every now and then--just for the sake of doing it, get in a band--or two, take up martial arts, ride my motorcycle more, start a blog--or two. And before I know it my practice of simplicity is not so simple any more.

I think the key is in being mindful and cautious with desire. In the meantime I need to clear some of the clutter off my desk and coffee table and reading table and dining room table and dresser and workshop..... Perhaps I don't get it at all.

Monday, June 30, 2008


This is a beginning of sorts. It is my first post on this blog. But all beginnings are but continuations of some other previous beginning, or a return to some previously entertained idea. Thought is not as linear as we may believe. While Western tradition presents it as so, with the "I think, therefore I am" orientation, Eastern thought is grounded in a more universal, infinite foundation; in a world of no real beginnings or endings. This is the philosophy behind the "Enso" of Zen thought. Taoism says that we come from "Wuji", or the void, and will always return. Rather than "I think, therefore I am", Eastern philosophy posits "I am, therefore I think."

I am, needless to say, intrigued by and interested in Eastern philosophy. I am sure that will manifest itself in this journal. However, I do not and can not discount Western philosophy. I have another blog at that is concerned with reason, economics, and politics that reflects my firm belief in rational thought, individualism, and human possibility. While many will see a dichotomy, I see none. Personal philosophy is just that, personal. The philosopher's goal is to search for synchronicity. My findings to that end may show up in these entries. But more likely this will serve as a forum for my thoughts of a mystical nature.