Archive for the Spirituality Category

10 Questions with Chungliang Al Huang

Posted in 10 Questions, Internal Arts, Peace & Wellbeing, Philosophy, Spirituality, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2015 by Combative Corner

Chungliang Al Huang

Chungliang, Al Huang was one of my earliest experiences in Taijiquan with his book, Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain.  I read it again when I decided I was going to teach the art form.  His philosophy and playfulness in what is often an “atmosphere of seriousness,” a breath of fresh air.  Allowing music, nature, and dance to enhance and revitalize the spirit and influence the direction of your practice – these are just a few things that I took from his example.  But here are some of the questions that both myself, my students and our CombativeCorner readers had to ask Master Chungliang….

How did you come to first play taijiquan?

As a child in Chinese villages hiding from the war, observing nature’s flowing movement, and inspired by EveryMen and Women of China, believing in waking up the bodies first thing in the morning, in the “Watercourse Way” of organic Tai Ji moves, cultivating the Body-Mind-Spirit entity. I embodied my Tai Ji playful-ness through osmosis naturally.

What did your friendship with the philosopher Alan Watts entail, and did he have any influence on your teachings of the Tao, Taijiquan, etc?

We met by destiny, Chinese call it Yuan 緣。Mutually appreciating the opposites in each other for personal inner growth and outer balance. As he wrote in the Foreword of my first book, “Embrace Tiger, Return To Mountain”, “For us, the East and West have truly met.” He was my mentor, colleague, and kindred spirit; he helped instilling self-awareness, confidence in myself of my unique potential and integrity, to become a lifelong student and teacher of TAO. He put me at ease to be an intellect, the scholar/philosopher, and I helped him to trust his spontaneous dancing self. His words made my dance more sublime; my dance helped his words to soar. We were blessed to be partners when we taught together—but sadly for such a short few years before he passed on. Now, more than ever, his writings, words continue to grow in me and in my teaching. His legacy lives in me and will perpetuate on and on for everyone who reads him and still can hear his voices on recordings he made. I feel blessed to have known him and learned from him, and shared our explorations of “TAO: The Watercourse Way” together.

As taijiquan players we seek for balance and rhythm in our lives. How does music shape (and/or enhance) your taijiquan practice?

Tai Ji resonates with the Music of the Spheres, especially the rhythm and the organic patterns, Li 理 in nature. When we dance Tai Ji, we reverberate the “Silent Sound of CHI/QI”. We also have such vast repertoire of great Music from all around the world and all ages, to play with and find inspirations in. Music is a great guiding force to dance to and flow with, allowing structured sound and natural rhythms to fine tune us in our movement practice. But the best and the most inspiring music is in the Sound of Nature, such as the roars of Ocean waves, the soft quietude of changing tides in the River, the bird songs and its ethereal silence in the forests and woods… on and on… Music is everywhere, shaping and forming our Tai Ji dances of Living.

Most masters of taijiquan that I’ve come across are very self-controlled, unmoved in a sense. Especially those teachers who teach taijiquan with an emphasis on form, application and pushing-hands, tend to have a unemotional response to their artform. If you agree with this, could you answer why might this be? If you disagree with this statement, could you answer why? (Part 1)

Studying forms is a necessary discipline, nothing wrong with this emphasis, but it can also be very dry, even robotic in fixing our practice too rigidly. We must not forget we are human beings made of flesh and blood, filled with raw emotions and feelings. We cannot ignore this multi-dimensional consciousness of being a Whole Human Person when we focus on the discipline of forms and structures. Both form and genuine expression of human emotions are important. They are inseparable as Yin/Yang can never be separately regarded as only Yin or Yang with the “and” in-between the two integral, embracing halves. Simply meditate on this marvelous “YinYang Tai Ji” sign and you will be instantly transported, to embody this never-ending, ever-changing transformative Polar Dance, to realize the ultimate ONENESS in yourself, to be Fully Human.

(Part 2) Being such a well-connected teacher (bridging music, dance, philosophy and taijiquan), have you encountered a lot of resistance within the taijiquan community (and even other taijiquan teachers) as to your approach to teaching and your emphasis on more “free”, dance-like movements and creating emotion and a sense of “oneness?”

In the early years, perhaps my approach to the creative freedom of Tai Ji practice and teaching might have raised a few eyebrows from the traditional Tai Ji teaching community. In fact, a few even criticized me for using music, improvising the motifs, and just being too joyful—smiling too much! Their critical but gracious comments came with this, “Oh, he doesn’t do Real Tai Ji. He only Dances Tai Ji! “, which was the perfect description of what I was hoping to do in my philosophy of practice and teaching. I bowed to them with this compliment. Now, nearly half a century later, I think I have proved myself to have been actually Doing the Real Tai Ji after ALL. Time always tells the truth and reconfirms the real “Tao” Way in the end.
Why hasn’t taijiquan been able to bring a younger crowd, like other exercise forms like dance and yoga?

In our hyper-active youth oriented Western society, perhaps it was the superficial prejudice on the slow moving Tai ji which was thought to be only suited for seniors who couldn’t manage to pump their muscles anymore. Also, the subtlety of the practice and benefit can only be appreciated by thoughtful observations patiently. It grows on the person who is also maturing. It takes deeper understanding to find the practice gratifying in the long run. The youths who seek immediate results and instant gratifications, can be disappointed with the slow progress in Tai Ji. Since I often refer to my Tai Ji the Creative Dancing Moves, even “Tai Ji Boogie”, I haven’t had much trouble attracting younger people in my seminars. I trust the subtle learning will grow with these young people as they mature in themselves, gradually, in due time. As we say in China, “When the students are ready, the teaching appears!”
What is your primary teaching message?

Learn about The DANCE of LIFE and DANCE in the TAO with its perpetual FLOW in Time of Now and Space of Here. Stay open-minded, open-hearted and Be a perpetual Beginner in Lifelong learning, always have the ability to Be Amazed with the mystery of Life, and in what we are constantly discovering day by day. Become a TAI JI DANCER of LIVING!
You’ve written some amazing books, and taught a lot of people over the years. What are a few things that you hope people will remember? (either about you, or your teachings)

As I still keep on learning and exploring, I can hardly think in that way for a fixed legacy to be remembered. I have always empathized the fact that I have continued to transform and grow, therefore never the need for my students to copy me as if it is the ultimate. When my students blame me for changing my forms after a period of their absence, I would chide back to say to them, “Are you still doing the same Tai Ji I taught you so long ago. But in the meantime, I have transformed and improved. Are you still doing the same old Tai Ji from way back then, getting fixed and stuck?” It is the same about my teaching which will continue to grow and transform and become more in the Here and Now, as I grow and mature and, hopefully become wiser and purer– in the Tao sense of “returning to being a child again; to return being the ‘uncarved block 樸 and unbleached silk 素’ “. Don’t forget that the author of the classic, “Tao Te Ching”, called himself Lao Zi, the “Wise Old Child”.
Is there a myth in Taijiquan, in Taiji/Tao, that you’d like de-mystified?

Yes, do not fix on any ideas of how Tai Ji Quan was first invented in some legendary fantasies. Never put them into a box or on the altar to worship and imitate. The “original tai ji” is for all people, and for all times, needs to be re-invented every day, anew. Tao must not be “ismed” and be put into a box, the same way we cannot quantify and sectionalize the Watercourse Way which is always flowing and changing. There is also no such a fixed person as a Taoist. Take the “ist” away and simply live as a human person, following the Tao in daily living. “Living our Tao” is not the same as Being stuck within TaoISM, and trapped by being a TaoIST.

Do not concretize metaphors literally. Learn to read and understand metaphoric symbols such as “Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain” and not literally naming the “tiger” as the wild beast, such as the “Dragon” needed to be slain by heroes in the West; or measure mountains with quantitative heights to climb. We embrace the symbol Tiger, our “Crisis” as both our “Danger and Opportunities” in our lives. What one must embrace is “My Life So Far” with courage, equanimity, honesty, completely and fearlessly; and Return to Where We ARE, Here and Now, as our current grounding, our personal Mountain Top. We shall endeavor to rise and elevate accordingly, timely, not to strive mindlessly for more height or attempt to fly higher. We need to learn how to land safely and properly before we take flight and soar, and wisely prepare for our soft “Happy Landings” every time in our “Heroic Journeys” by “Following our Bliss”. For this important awareness, as I get older, continue to gain a little wisdom, my gratitude goes to two of my mentors/colleagues, Alan Watts and Joseph Campbell. And, of course to the sage-teacher Confucius, who happily claimed in his final years to be able to finally, “follow my heart’s desire, without going astray!”

What do you hope to accomplish in the upcoming 5-10 years?

Keep on doing what i am inspired to do, keeping up with my joyful creativity and my Dance of Living. Life is much too ephemeral and brief. 5-10 years can slip by in an instant, or become suspended in the “Stillness in Motion” of the DANCE, in “The Eternal NOW”, depending on how we live the years still given to us. Be grateful to being Truly Alive each day. It is not the goal in the end that counts; it is always what and how we experience the journey we are taking in everyday living. Each moment well lived with joy and gratitude is the ultimate accomplishment.

Interviewed by: Michael Joyce

ChenCenter.Com

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Creating Joyous Practice with the Five Animal Frolics

Posted in Health, Internal Arts, Internal Development, Qigong, Spirituality, Styles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2012 by Combative Corner

Qigong is a unique & ancient Chinese exercise and healing system that allows you to enhance health & prevent illness by aligning the mind & body with Qi (“Chi”/Vital Energy).  Qi is the vital energy that we are born with, the energy that we receive into our body by the food we consume and through nature (e.g. the air we breathe). 

THE FIVE ANIMAL FROLICS

The 5 Animal Frolics (五禽戲, Wu Qin Xi) is a complete qigong system, and the most ancient qigong system still practiced today.  According to Kenneth Cohen, author of The Way of Qigong,”As story has it (Daoist Legend) Hua Tuo [110-207 AD/CE] received this text as well as instruction in Five Animals from two recluses living in a cave on Mount Gong Yi.”  The “more recent” teachers whom are credited with spreading qigong (and Five Animal Qigong, in particular) are Madame Guo Lin (1906-1984) and Feng Zhiqiang (who learned this from his teacher, Hu Yao-zhen)*.  The series of exercises that comprise the Five Animal Frolics not only help to keep the body sprightly and strong, but it engages both the mind and spirit as well.  The Five Animal Frolics helps to create depth to your practice by allowing your body to communicate in different ways.

“When you practice the animals, do not imitate the animals, become them!”

(Kenneth Cohen)

TIGER – Strong and ferocious, the tiger is skilled at pouncing and quick at snatching prey.  When practicing the tiger form, it is necessary to keep eyes alert and “paws” flexible at times and sometimes with great power at the fingertips.  [Organs: yin/Liver, yang/Gall Bladder]

DEER – Practicing deer play helps to develop grace and relaxation through stretching the legs and spine. [Organs: yin/Kidneys, yang/Bladder]

MONKEY – Practice the monkey form to develop suppleness and agility.  It is encouraged to not only do the large movements, but to squint and purse your face as a monkey would. [Organs: yin/Heart, yang/Sm. Intestines]

BEAR – Practice the movements of the bear to develop strength/power.  It fortifies the bones and develops energy in the kidneys, your fundamental source of vitality. [Organs: yin/Spleen, yang/Stomach]

CRANE – Light, agile and balance are qualities of the crane.  Becoming the crane, you stretch the ligaments and helps to release tension/compression in the spine. [Organs: yin/Lungs, yang/Lg. Intestines]

“Feeling is a language.  This language allows your body and mind to communicate.  But if you don’t pick up this feeling, the effectiveness of exercise becomes shallow.”

(Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming)

We encourage everyone to find the various movements/exercises of each animal that work for you.  Adding this to your training will keep you feeling young, invigorated, and well-balanced.  For more information on the Five Animal Frolics you can check out any of these suggested titles:  The Way of Qigong (K. Cohen), Five Animal Sport Qigong DVD (Dr. Yang), Five Animal Frolics Qigong (F. Fick) or Wu Qin Xi (Chinese Health Qigong Association).

Check out Master Jesse Tsao’s video for an introduction to Bear Play

*According to Kenneth Cohen, The Way of Qigong.

Informational sources:

Five Animal Sport Qigong (dvd), Master Jesse Tsao (Youtube Channel Videos), Wikipedia.org, The Way of Qigong (Cohen), Animal Frolics (Garofolo, Michael P.), Life Balance (Zhuang)

Related Articles

Standing Three Circle Qigong : Eli Montaigue

A Few Words : Master Chungliang, Al-Huang

Living 100 Years, Re-Learning to Breathe : Joyce

Martial Effectiveness of Wuji : Rodney Owen

Sifu Lee on Life’s Purpose

Posted in Peace & Wellbeing, Philosophy, Spirituality, Teaching Topic with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2011 by Sifu Freddie Lee

Thinking about your life and it’s purpose is one of first major steps in your spiritual development. It is a very important question to ponder and it shows your maturity, this spiritual aspect of yourself is a very important aspect to gain in order to complete your development to become a Martial Artist, without it, you can be nothing greater than a Fighter.

Your basic question is “what is the point of working so hard if you die and lose it all in the end?” That is the basic question that Buddha had such a hard time figuring out. Realize that he was a prince, and he could not stop thinking about this question. He had to search for the truth and in the process he decided to renounce his status as Prince & all the attachments that came along with it. He went searching for the truth but in the end he discovered that the truth was within himself the whole time. He figured out the answer to this question and he shared his discovery with the world. His teachings are the foundation to the Martial Arts and to Eastern Philosophy. In order to achieve a high level in the Martial Arts, you must deeply understand his teachings.

My feedback is this, you shall live in the current moment, in this moment only, not thinking of the future, nothing thinking of the past. You should not be working hard, you should be playing. Playing is when you enjoy. You should simply enjoy your life, enjoy the moment for what it is. Do not think about the next world, simply enjoy this world.

Δ

Sifu Freddie Lee

Thoughts via FMK’s Facebook

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Sex, God, and Violence

Posted in Philosophy, Self-Defense, Spirituality with tags , , , , , , , on August 9, 2011 by hybridfightingmethod

Self-defense is more than just punching and kicking. In fact, it encompasses much more than physical defense overall. While it is of utmost importance to have a skill set that enables you to physically overcome violence, there are deeper issues that must also be addressed.

Self-defense begins with the self. If the human race is to ever end, or even minimize violence in our species, we have to be able to understand it. Only then can we ever hope to predict and prevent it. How we can do this is by looking at our ancestors (primates) and studying the evolutionary biology and psychology that causes certain violent behaviours. By doing this we can understand the dynamics of social violence, asocial violence, and their causes and deterrents.

A problem exists, however, with the entertaining of Salvationist and/or creationist religion(s) – such as Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism (to name a few). While these Abrahamic religions may not directly advocate the use of violent behaviour in our day-to-day interactions, they do prevent us from understanding ourselves and thus understanding and preventing violence in humans. Now I realize that being a follower of these religions means different things to different people – but I assert that unless you willingly believe in and follow the texts of these religions to the best of your ability, then you are not deserving of the nomenclature thereof.

My familiarity is mainly with Christianity, as I spent over a decade as a committed Christian. I have read the Bible cover to cover at least 3 times, and I know it well. A creationist narrative like this one separates humans from the rest of nature as special beings that were created in the image of their creator. If we did not evolve, but rather were created via intelligent design, then we can never hope to study animal/mammal behaviour to find answers to our deepest questions about ourselves. If we embrace creationist myths, then we can never hope to predict and prevent violence.

Furthermore, Salvationist religions like those mentioned above, deem us as broken, sinful, and hell-bound, until we accept and follow the dogma of said religion. The problem here is that as followers of these religions we suppress our dark thoughts and urges rather than face them head on. It is a “sin” to lust, to envy, etc. and so we push those things far from our mind. When we try to deny their existence, or when we try to avoid them at all costs, they come back to bite us is the proverbial ass.

To illustrate my point, here are some statistics taken from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (United States):

Atheists, who make up about 14% of the United States population, make up just 0.2% of the US prison population.

Christians (of all denominations), on the other hand, who make up about 81% of the United States population, make up 84% of the US prison population.

Now, I know I seem to picking on Christianity specifically here, but I want to be clear that my problem isn’t with Christianity – my problem is with Christianity AND all other creationist/Salvationist ideologies.

The same problem exists in human sexuality. We tend to socially condition ourselves with our own ideas about marriage, monogamy, the nuclear family, etc. – ideas taken largely from religious and/or patriarchal societies. The better thing to do would be to look at our counsins (chimps, bonobos, etc. with whom we share greater than 98% of our DNA) and observe their behaviour to discover what is natural human behaviour. Why do you think so many marriages fail? Why is the pornography and sex industry booming? Why do so many couples cheat on each other? Our artificial values are next to impossible to live by. And even for those that can – they will likely do so miserably. And for the very few who can – happily – live by them, good for you…but you are minor exceptions to a huge rule.

Don’t believe me – look at more statistics:

Christians, like adherents of other religions, have a divorce rate of about 42%. The rate among religiously unaffiliated Americans is 50%. (USA Today)

Annual Worldwide Revenue for the Pornography Industry = $97.06 Billion

http://www.familysafemedia.com/pornography_statistics.html

Approximately 50 percent married women and 60 percent of married men will have an extramarital affair at some time in their marriage. And since it is unlikely that the people having affairs are married to each other in every case, the current statistics on the percentage of married couples who cheat on each other means that someone is having an affair in nearly 80 percent of marriages. (Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy)

In his book, Sociobiology, author E.O. Wilson argued that evolutionary theory is “the essential first hypothesis for any serious consideration of the human condition” and that “without it the humanities and social sciences are the limited descriptors of surface phenomena, like astronomy without physics, biology without chemistry, and mathematics without algebra.”

By embracing religious myths like the need for salvation, or that we come from a creator – you keep me as a self-defense instructor in business, because you ensure the perpetuation of violence. These world views are enablers. But if we begin to look at ourselves as we truly are – not much different from our hairy ancestors – then we can really begin to predict, prevent, and fingers-crossed…maybe one day eliminate violent behaviour altogether.

That’s my 2 cents.

T.J. KENNEDY

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Mindfulness Inside Out

Posted in Peace & Wellbeing, Philosophy, Spirituality, Teaching Topic with tags , , , , , , , on March 11, 2011 by mindbodykungfu

In a prior post, I wrote about the value of thinking inside the box. Working from within the box, we can come to recognize the bounds of the box and begin to understand the framework it establishes. It is after coming to understand the box that we can begin to think outside of it. In a similar fashion, mindfulness training takes an inside to outside developmental route. Though there are a lucky few people in the world who can immediately reach enlightenment and perceive the world with unclouded vision, most people will need to journey through a path of self-discovery first.

Our minds are partly formed via luck of the genetic draw and partly forged through environmental and societal influences; our life experiences and interactions with family and community shape our identities. Starting from childhood, we discover patterns of understanding in our everyday existence and use our life experiences to form a framework for understanding the world. Formulating patterns from our experiences allows us to establish coping strategies to survive life. For example, we learn or are taught early in life not to touch hot objects or stay out of the path of large moving objects. On the other hand, we also develop mental frameworks which only serve to color our perceptions. For a multitude of reasons, we may come to like or dislike certain foods, people, style of clothing, etc. The mental constructs we forge become filters through which we perceive the world.

These mental constructs that we form obscure the true nature of the world we perceive. Our sense of self–our egos–assign labels and values to things based largely on preconceptions. By relying on preformed labels and values, we bias our perceptions. We can’t see with fresh eyes, listen with attentive ears, or taste with a cleansed palate. We constrain ourselves in what we allow ourselves to perceive. Our preconceptions form the walls of box which limit our ability to see things as they are, and our egos become the guardians of those walls.

Due to the imperfections of the mind, we are prone to revert to thinking inside the box. In mindfulness training, we strive to expand our awareness to perceive the world as it truly is, but the constraints of our boxes hinder our growth. Often, we may not even know that we view the world through tinted lenses. Part of the challenge in mindfulness training is to focus our attentions our thoughts so that we can come to recognize the mental boxes which bias our perceptions. After recognizing the box formed by our preconceptions, we can begin to understand the box and recognize the walls which trap us.

Recognition of the box and acknowledgement of our egos is prerequisite to breaking down the walls of mental ensnarement. Mindfulness training teaches us to recognize our mental boxes so that we may learn to look past them and perceive with greater clarity. Mindfulness starts from within and expands our awareness outward as we learn to let go of the mental frameworks that our egos so closely guard.

Johnny Kuo

Thinking Inside The Box

Posted in Peace & Wellbeing, Philosophy, Spirituality, Teaching Topic with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2011 by mindbodykungfu

We often hear people talking about “thinking outside of the box.”  Usually what is meant by this metaphorical box is the boundaries defined by some line of thought.  By exploring new possibilities different from the previous ways of approaching something, whether it be a business or artistic pursuit, we hope to leap past the confines of the old ways using a novel approach.  Without people pushing through the boxes of convention, society would stagnate and we would never have the pioneers and leaders to inspire us and drive us to improvement.  We recognize Gandhi, Einstein, Martin Luther King, Amelia Earhart, and Bruce Lee as pioneers who have made their mark in the world; their excellence came about from their willingness to push past and eventually redefine the “box.”

The ability to think outside the box is a valuable skill and is requisite for improvements.  However, that doesn’t mean that thinking inside the box is useless or even undesireable.  The framework of the existing boxes have their own values. Previous established frameworks are often in place for good reason: they work.  The human mind is very good at finding structure in things and working from within developed structures.  Even without a previous framework in place, we will try to establish an underlying structure to achieve understanding.  Currently existing boxes can provide a prebuilt framework to serve as a launching point to facilitate the process of understanding.  Using pre-existing boxes saves you the time and effort of building your own model of understanding, and possibly even saves you the unnecessary effort of duplicating existing frameworks.  The conventional boxes can get you up to speed faster, particularly in pursuits that require being able to do things (for example, computer programming, painting, or even writing).

Though the box is often depicted as a constraining structure, the box paradoxically often empowers creativity and the ability to change.  With no reference framework, our perceptions of the task at hand consist mostly of unknowns.  With so many things unknown, we become uncertain, tentative, and possibly frozen into inaction.  It is here where working inside the framework of the box becomes most valuable.  The box provides a model which either explains the unknowns or defines a course of action to break the cycle of uncertainty and inaction.  The box framework provides the starting point for exploration, and it is from this process of exploration that creativity and change can arise.  You can hand a child paints and brushes, but the child probably won’t become the next Picasso without some framework for learning how to use the paints.

It is the exploration of the box that eventually leads to the recognition of the limits of the box.  Being able to think outside of the box requires that we know what inside and outside the box actually mean.  Thinking “outside” of the box is meaningless without the context of understanding what defines the box; understanding the box and being able to work from within the box gives us a starting point to learn to recognize and perceive the box.  Recognition of the box is the first step needed to move beyond the box and push outside of it.

While we may ultimately wish to break through the confines of the box and become one of the innovators thinking outside of the box, we cannot completely discount the value of thinking “inside” the box.  Thinking inside of the box complements the ability to move beyond the box.  As long as we can learn not to be confined by the box, we can find value thinking both inside and outside the box.

Johnny Kuo

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