Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Process of Learning

Following on my last post, I want to share this video by Sam Chin on the process of learning.  "There is nothing to learn."  What we learn is to be.  To realize.  What we don't want to do is build new habits, new conditions.  We simply realize things as they are and change with the change

Simple enough?  Yeah, right.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Dancing into '13

This year is almost over.  All-in-all it has been a good one for me.  Specifically, I have increased my focus on the Chen 48 form and have taken my meditation and Qigong practice to new levels of depth.  Of course, I have also spent time with the various other aspects of my path, but I put particular emphasis on these components.  The benefits are obvious and profound.  If I merely maintain what I have developed so far, my life will be all the better.  Of course, I will aim higher.  That's the idea.

At the same time, I think it is important to realize that it is not so much a process of gain as it is one of realization.  We already are immortal, we just typically don't realize it because of all the levels of ego.  The practice is a process of peeling away the ego, much like the layers of an onion.  At the core is The Self (Dharmakaya; Tao; Christ Consciousness; Buddha Mind; Brahman; I Am): pure, healthy, enlightened, aware, and awake.  Until we make that connection, we dance.

From Wayne Liquorman, of The Advaita Fellowship:

"Life is a dance. We are dancing...we are being danced...we twirl and spin and leap and exalt in the sheer joy of this dance. There are no wallflowers here. It is all dance floor. It matters not if we have a partner dancing opposite us. We are joined in the dance by all the other dancers. We are all in this ballroom together, bound by the music and compelled to move to its rhythm.

No it is not always graceful. We bump into each other, trip over feet...others and our own. Sometimes we fall.

Funny thing about this dance of ours...the harder we try the more clumsy we become. Our grace is in the letting go. When we surrender to the music it is free to move through us unrestricted. Our bodies and minds sway freely, smooth and effortless. It is ecstasy, in its purest, simplest and most mundane form.

We are blessed indeed to hear the divine choruses, even though
those who hear not the music, think we dancers are mad!"

So, dance your dance and peel your onions.
Peace and many blessings in the coming year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Warriorly Advice

From Buddhist Monk, Pema Chodron:

"Many of us prefer practices that will not cause discomfort, yet at the same time we want to be healed. But bodhichitta training doesn’t work that way. A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it’s also what makes us afraid." Excerpted from her book, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Monday, December 10, 2012

Classical Bushido in Modern Japan

The practitioners of Katori Shinto Ryu are preserving the art of true Bushido in modern Japan.  Members of the dojo take a blood vow to live by the virtues of Bushido.  Such discipline is key to personal transformation.  Would that there were more examples of such virtue, dedication, and discipline here in the 21st Century.

From Empty Mind Films:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

An Easy Guide to Meditation

Several, several years ago I started my spiritual/healing/personal growth adventure after listening to Roy Eugene Davis speak.  Davis was a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda and is the president and director of The Center for Spiritual Awareness.  That one event was life-changing for me.  Over the next couple of decades plus, I ventured into various aspects of this adventure and still find myself firmly on the path.  Over the last five or six years I have been revisiting Davis' and Yogananda's teaching, which has further served to introduce me to the philosophy of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.

Ramana Marharshi is a Buddha/Christ figure, in that like these Masters he realized full enlightenment without following a specific teaching, having a guru, or sticking to a prescribed path.  As such, his teaching is unique and sincere and there is not a single trace of ego-inflation.  His teaching is simple and direct and does not require anything from the practitioner other than sincerity.

I have been spending a lot of time with Ramana's teaching and his method of Atma Vichara, Self Inquiry.  Ramana's approach speaks to me like nothing has since that time back in the eighties when I first heard Mr. Davis speak.  However, I still find inspiration and much grounding and advice from the works of both Yogananda and Roy Eugene Davis.  To that end, I thought I would share one of Mr. Davis' books on meditation, available for free on the internet.  This is a really good book and is instructive regardless your favorite method of meditation, or even if you are a novice and don't have a favorite just yet.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Superb Budo

Christian Tissier is one of the most talented martial artists I have ever seen.  His immediate control of his training partner and his dynamic technique are unparalleled.  But rather than follow my marginal compliments, observe for yourself.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Finding Padma in North Georgia

In keeping with my focus for The Year of the Dragon, I have been working more on Qigong and meditation. To that end, I just participated in a Neigong workshop with the folks at The Rising Lotus in Atlanta, GA.  It was a great experience and I recommend them to anyone interested in learning more about Qigong, Medical Qigong, Neigong, and associated practices.

As anyone who knows me or reads my blog can attest to, I am and have been a big proponent of Qigong.  However, I have found that in-depth study in quality Qigong is not that easy to find.  Many Taiji and Kung Fu schools offer some Qigong practice, generally related to the martial arts.  And my experience with this has been good.  However, it is rare to find a school that focuses primarily on Qigong that offers real, deep, solid instruction.  Qigong practice in the West has unfortunately attracted many New-agers and the associated quirks that go along with that thought: Angels, levitation, aliens, tarot, etc...  There is obviously a market for this in our world, it's just not my thing.  I have a background in well-grounded, scientifically sound Taiji and Qigong practice.  Accordingly, when I go looking for further training, I expect a similar environment.  This is what I found at The Rising Lotus.

The Rising Lotus is operated by husband and wife team, Peyton and Christina Barea Young.  They offer Qigong classes, Medical Qigong Therapy, and Medical Qigong training and certification via The International Institute of Medical Qigong.  They offer spiritual Qigong practice, as Peyton is a Buddhist priest and Christina a Taoist priest, and they are both martial artists and offer martial training as well.  So in keeping with solid Taoist principles, they see no distinction between Qigong for health, spiritual growth, or martial skills.  For them it is, like all of life, all Qigong.

So, last weekend a Taiji brother and I made our way south to their studio north of Atlanta.  While many of the external Qigong movements were immediately familiar to me, the focus of the workshop was Neigong, or internal Qi development, which was not as familiar to me, but something I have been needing instruction in for some time.  The class was a mixture of folks with much Qigong experience and rank beginners.  Regardless, our teachers expertly guided us all through the movements and into the depth of Neigong practice.  On the second day of the workshop we worked on Qi emission and basic Qigong healing technique. This was all brand new to me.  But again, the level of instruction was superb.  I not only learned new skills, I left energized and satisfied, which is the benchmark of any good Qigong.

I don't really ever see myself being a full-fledged Medical Qigong practitioner.  However, I consider this practice to be a major part of the path, and something I have been needing and wanting to do for some time.   I not only benefited greatly, I look forward to further study in the future.  The Youngs have further plans for developing a Buddhist/Taoist monastery that will serve as a holistic space for spiritual, health, and martial growth.  There is definitely a need for something like that in the Southeast US.  I hope for them, and the rest of us, that it comes to fruition soon.  In the meantime, if you are interested in solid in-depth Qigong training, you will find The Rising Lotus hard to beat.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The True Transmission

I recently ran across someone interested in the true transmission of Taiji.  So, what is and how does one obtain this mystical "True Transmission"?  Is it only available to a select few?  Is it shared through touch, energetic presence, authentic family lineage?  I wonder.  I'm not even sure what "True Transmission" means.  I do know there is one sure way to take your Taiji to the highest level: hard work.  Practice, and lots of it.  But the ironic thing is, once one reaches a certain stage in his/her Taiji training, he/she can't help but practice a lot.  Taiji is addictive.  The more you do, the more you want to do.  Consequently, the more you do, the better you get.  Perhaps a sincere practice of Taiji is in itself the best transmission one could ever receive.  By following your chosen system you are taking advantage of honest transmission.  The transmission from teacher-to-student(who becomes a teacher)-to the next student, and on...  And even better, Taiji is a system that to some degree is self-evident.  Once we learn a form we can practice alone and learn from the form itself.  We still need corrections and exposure to teachers, but there is a lot that can be gained through solo practice.

And perhaps exposure to a good, well-trained, well-qualified teacher is the essence of this "True Transmission".  That I can understand.  As subjective as that could be, there are surely grades of Taiji practice and teachers.  And there are folks teaching something called Taiji, that is arguably a weak representation.  But typically, the transmission one speaks of is referring to or is synonymous with the concept of spiritual transmission, where the depth and breadth of knowledge, or even enlightenment itself is obtained immediately, transmitted directly from guru to follower.  I am in no position to doubt this practice or to call any such spiritual event into question. However, I don't see this with Taiji.  Not because I doubt the spiritual aspect of Taiji practice.  A quick survey of this blog will indicate otherwise.  However, Taiji in its totality is a mind body practice that delivers results through practice.  Solid teaching from a good teacher and lots of practice will over time reveal the true essence of the art.

There are lots of promises in the field of Internal Arts.  Everything from basically increasing your health and longevity to levitation and no-touch punches.  I'll take the improved health, you can keep the magic.  Honestly, the practice of Taiji has a lot to offer and the benefits are solid and backed by sound research.  I not only doubt the new age promises often attributed to Taiji practice, I see no need for them.  Rather than seeking a teacher who can pass knowledge along to you by touching you, or throw you without touching you, look for a teacher with solid knowledge and skill who will work your ass off and keep raising the bar.  That is as true a transmission as anyone will ever receive and a damn good one to boot.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Warrior's Way

                             The Warriors Way, Sort of..

The name for this site, Nagual Time, comes from the teachings of Don Juan Matus, via Carlos Castaneda.  I chose the name because these teachings have been influential to me for a long time.  Castaneda was an apprentice to Don Juan in the shamanic tradition of the Yaqui Indians that he referred to simply as the Warrior’s Way.  Many cultures throughout history have utilized similar methods of self-cultivation.  In China the Warrior’s Way is known as Kung Fu, in Japan it is Budo.
            The crucial thing about the Warrior’s Way is the depth and breadth of the path.  It’s more than training to be a “warrior” in the sense of one who fights to protect the tribe.  It’s really more about intensive self-cultivation.  In Don Juan’s words, it is living impeccably.  The Warrior doesn’t engage in foolishness; doesn’t make mistakes; is always at the top of his/her game, so to speak.  The Warrior lives his life impeccably because death is always just over her left shoulder; death is always at hand and the Warrior knows this and is motivated by this.
            I don’t differentiate the specifics of my path.  For me, Taiji and Qigong are the same as meditation, which is the same as Hapkido training, which is the same as prayer, which is the same as cardio and/or weight training, which is the same as getting enough sleep, eating properly, and resting when I need to.  It is all practice.  I prefer Budo as the description of my path, even though my primary practices are not Japanese in origin.  But I also don’t like to focus much on country of origin, family or style, denomination, school of thought, or any other titles and names we use to define and separate ourselves.  I look for practices that resonate with me and adopt them if they work for me.
            The martial artists who inspire me the most are Bruce Lee, O’Sensei Ueshiba, and Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang.  These men all fused different styles to create new practices.  I not only appreciate their arts, I appreciate their insights and the spirit they brought to practice.  More importantly to me, they were not afraid to break the mold, to follow their hearts.  What they bring to the arts is priceless.  Lee gave us a focus on finding the true path, taking what really works and discarding what doesn’t (and yes, that is very subjective).  O’Sensei said he found the secret to Budo, which is ironically peace.  And GM Feng emphasized Qigong and nurturing above all else.  The approach these men founded is at once counterintuitive and innovative, each in its own way.
            Accordingly, my own practice is reflective of these three approaches.  I appreciate the ecumenical nature of Lee’s Jeet Kune Do and utilize those principles in my practice.  I have an eclectic approach to martial, spiritual, and health practice.  I am constantly looking and adapting.  My main practice is the Hunyuan Taiji of GM Feng, and accordingly I place the highest value on Qigong and meditation.  Before all else we must be healthy and awake—or at least working on waking up.  And I approach it all as one practice, the practice of peace.  The goal is first inner peace, then peace with the world; all the pieces of practice work together to accomplish this.  But, in keeping with Don Juan's Warrior's Path, he also described it as the path of knowledge, knowledge being the crucial thing here.  And it's not just knowledge in the day-to-day sense of that term.  For Don Juan, knowledge is much deeper and esoteric.  It is mystical but includes all knowledge and all impeccable practices are approaches to knowledge. 
            When asked about my religion or spiritual practices, or style of martial art, I always hesitate to answer.  I just don’t like labels.  Typically, I will come up with some answer, but it will rarely explain my practice so much as satisfy the questioner and get me off the hook.  But I really think that most of the time, most people hear what they want to hear rather than what we say anyway.  And the more complicated or convoluted the answer, the less interested they are.  It's not my intention to be complicated as much as it is to be true, true to myself and my practice, whatever that may be.  It would be easier to pick one way, perhaps something popular that everyone is familiar with and leave it at that.  But the easy path is rarely the most rewarding

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Magic of Titles and Outfits

A little while back, I had a potential student contact me about training with me. He had just moved to the area and wanted to resume his Taiji training. Our first conversation was energetic and engaging. He appeared to have a solid grounding in Chinese martial arts and enthusiasm for training. He promised to drop in on our next class, but never made it. We talked again a couple of weeks later and he assured me again that he was coming to my class. Then we proceeded to discuss particulars of my training approach. All seemed to be going well until he asked about sashes. I politely informed him that while I do use a curriculum, I don't award rank and we don't wear colored sashes. "Well, what about uniforms?" he asked. "At my old school we wore the silk Kung Fu uniform." Again, I informed him that we don't do that either. At this point he was surprised. "No? Really? Well what do you wear?" "Um, I don't know--street clothes. In the summer we usually wear shorts and T-shirts; or sometimes jeans; or whatever one would wear to play basketball or go for a walk around the block. I mean, everyone is welcome to wear whatever they want. We just wear comfortable clothes fit to work out in." The other end of the phone got silent. After an agonizingly long wait, he asked if my students referred to me as Sifu, or Master. At that point I laughed. I know, I shouldn't have done that. It was extremely rude and inappropriate. But I couldn't help it.

I attempted to salvage the conversation by telling him that, while I really understand the cultural significance of those terms, I don't use them in my classes nor expect my students to. No Sifu, or Laoshi, or Master, or Mister, or Sir, or anything else. My name is Rodney. I teach in the US to American students. In that aspect of things, we follow Western customs. I do respect any Chinese teachers I have or have had, who wish to be addressed this way. The same goes for American teachers I have had who teach Japanese and/or Korean arts and have asked to be addressed as Sensei, Master, or Sir. I don't have a problem with the concept, in context. It just doesn't apply in the context of my classes.

The potential student never showed up nor ever called again. I suspect he found a Taiji teacher with silk pajamas, and possibly even an Asian-sounding name with a high-ranking prefix. I don't know. There are plenty around here. But, that will never happen in my classes. I have made rank with colored belts in other systems and the belts mean nothing to me. It's the knowledge that counts, and the humility that should go with the knowledge. Such humility has no desire for anything that pumps the ego and sets any of us apart from each other. I am no master. I know some things, and I share them with the folks who wish to attend my classes. At the same time, I am still a student. I am still learning. I hope I always will. And I endeavor to maintain the humility of a student. Beginners Mind and all that.

As far as the clothing, I say whatever works, works. For me, comfortable clothing works. I don't own any silk pajamas, but I do sometimes wear cotton Kung Fu pants. They are comfortable, durable, and practical. But then again, so are the blue jeans, basketball shorts, and athletic jogging pants, that I also wear. I also have a large selection of martial art T-shirts. I usually wear them to class as well. I also wear boxing shoes in the colder months. In the summer, I usually go barefoot or wear sandals. But I don't require my students to wear anything other than what they feel is comfortable. When I played Judo and Aikido, we wore the Judogi. But it is very practical in the dojo, and arguably necessary and preferable for those arts. There are no such requirements for Taiji clothes. In fact, since I emphasize the practical aspects of this art, everyday clothes are better and preferred, so one never has the idea that Taiji, Qigong, meditation, or defending oneself requires anything other than what one is wearing at any given moment.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Discipline and Simplicity in the Year of the Water Dragon

The Chinese New Year is upon us again. After much thought and consideration, I have decided to participate in the 100 Day Challenge again this year. It has been a very good thing for me the last couple of years. I have been able to finish training goals I had started but could never quite bring to fruition. Taking the time to work on a single skill every day, for 100 days, will take one's game to the next level.

This year in general my focus is on simplicity. I want to contain my practice a bit so that I can better focus on certain skills that I feel are necessary. I have already begun this, but the 100 Day Challenge allows me to narrow my overall focus to certain skills. This year I will be working on Zhan Zhuang, standing meditation. Since that is already a crucial part of my practice, one could say I'm not setting the bar very high. But, on the other hand, it's not always a process of learning a new skill. It's also a process of instilling discipline. While I do practice standing often, I'm not always as diligent as I could be, especially on the days when time is short. And since I have a day job that is not Taiji, I have to make time to practice. Most of the time that's not so hard. And I always find some time to practice. However, on the more challenging days, I may only do the form or sitting meditation, or just a little dynamic Qigong together with aerobic, weight-bearing, or martial training and never get to standing at all. For the next 100 days, at least, I will find time every day for at least some standing.

Concurrently, I am going to re-read Warriors of Stillness, one of the best books I have ever read on the discipline and practice of standing meditation. Also, to instill discipline, I will keep a record in my journal of my practice, insights, challenges.

The crucial and important thing about the 100 Day Challenge, is it's not simply a New Year's resolution. It's a practice. For those of us who are already practicing, it is, or should be, an adjustment to our practice. Since it is life, I expect some changes, some challenges, some new insights to arise by the time it's all over. In the meantime, let's saddle up and take a ride.