Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Survival Knife! Learning the hard way

On a plane heading to some islands off the Western coast of Canada, I met some guys who worked for a moving company. They had a large office move contract and offered me some work. I agreed and when the job was completed they asked me to come work with them in Vancouver BC. I ended up working for them for 6 months. After a few months of working with them, I did not meet many people, so I was excited when my boss at the moving company asked me to go hunting with him and a few of his friends.

We drove many hours to a place called “Hundred Mile House.” During the drive we were drinking beer and listening to the Eagles and being rowdy. On our drive we were pulled over by a policeman. As the policeman approached our vehicle, the driver (my boss), who had previously rolled his large pickup truck over a few months ago, totally cracking the windshield, greeted the police officer. I distinctly remember the policeman telling him that it was illegal to drive with a windshield that had a crack longer than 12.” My boss, said, “sir, I don’t think there is one crack longer than 12” on the whole windshield.” We all burst out laughing. The whole windshield was a like a spiderweb of tiny cracks. He let us go with a warning to fix the windshield. We began drinking beer again. Someone in the car said they left their flask in the back bed. I volunteered to climb out of the moving vehicle and retrieve it. Driving at night in the woods, I climbed out of the window and jumped into the back bed, grabbed the flask in his bag, and climbed back in. We finally and uneventfully pulled up to our motel. We were all pretty drunk. Next thing, I remember we were up at 4 am getting dressed and heading out into the woods.

It was a very cold, rainy November morning. My boss gave me a shot gun, pointed in a particular direction and told me go out there and if I see a deer, shoot it. I had never been hunting before. I had been walking for a hour or so when I heard a shot. I walked over and my boss had just killed a deer. As I approached I could tell the deer was still moving so I took out my knife and stabbed it in the throat. He was so impressed by that, he cut the deer open and removed its heart and said I had to take a bite because it was my first kill. I balked but he was insistent, so I reluctantly bit a chunk of the warm muscle. I immediately felt an adrenaline rush deep in my body. I now wanted to get my own true kill. Like a bloodhound in search of a fugitive, I charged off following deer tracks without taking my eye off the ground. I really do not remember how long I was searching but when I looked up the sun was just about to set.

An eerie chill went through my spine as the trees looked black and gnarled against the smoky pink sky. I simply didn’t notice where I was or what was happening weather-wise. My cotton jacket had a shell of ice on it from the rain that now turned to sleet. The winds picked up and I started screaming for help. Realizing I was totally screwed, I frantically yelled but no one could hear me. I yelled till my voice was hoarse and then I cried hard. The winds were so loud that it was useless even trying.

After a good bit of crying, A great fear hit me, I realized that wolves and bears could be out there stalking me. I searched for a clearing in the dark and I took a long hard look around and realized I needed some protection from the elements. I started to get cold, really cold, and I remembered I had some power bars on me. I knew if I ate them it would generate some body heat. I think I ate three. I felt around in the dark for a tree and cut off some cedar boughs with my Cold Steel SRK knife. It had a 6” blade and was barely adequate to cut through the boughs. I really had to use force. I remember the impact of those cuts on my wrist. As I started to make a crude shelter from the freezing rain, I found a piece of corrugated metal that was just lying a few feet away and I surrounded myself by it and the boughs. I was still cold so I would periodically get up and do some jumping jacks and martial arts strikes. Those martial arts strikes really felt empowering in that dark icy forest.

The thought of making a fire never entered my head. I think back then I knew so little that the fact it was raining, with snow everywhere meant it was impossible to make a fire. I am not even sure I had matches on me. I seriously doubt I would have made it through the night without becoming hypothermic. Luckily, after 6 hours or so the winds died down and I figured it would be a good time to fire the shotgun into the air as a signal device. After a short pause I heard a shot. We continued to communicate with each other through gunshots and I was finally able to find my way to them in the pitch dark. It was about 11 p.m. and they said they were just about to leave and notify someone. I can’t express how happy I was when I finally burst through that dense icy forest into an opening where my boss and his friends were.

Lessons Learned

Obviously, an experience like this is life-changing. I couldn’t help but think of how naive I was going in to the woods, and all the thoughtless decisions I made that led me into a life-threatening situation. There was a temptation to beat myself up, there was also a temptation to eschew ever going into the wilderness again. But as I thought it through, I realized who I was and I used it as a way to improve myself.

So I set out to take my outdoor skills to a deeper level. After much reflection there are three major areas that can get you into and out of a survival situation: Decisions, Knowledge and Skills, and Tools.


Now, after being a father of two young boys I realized just how stupid it was getting into a car that was already damaged from a previous drinking and driving accident. There was also the fact that I chose to walk out into a very unfamiliar forest in poor weather conditions without any training whatsoever. I am not beating myself up here but I am examining some of decisions I made leading up to my survival situation. Prior to that experience I hadn’t spent too much time in the woods. Being a city boy, I didn’t grew up learning how to survive in the woods. This is why we can’t always make the right decision I had always desired to go hunting but never knew anyone that did it. So I overlooked the bad cues because I really wanted to get out there and hunt. Still today, many people go for a hike and don’t even bring a water bottle or even carry a swiss army knife.

Knowledge and Skills

In short, I had none of either. Although, I never heard of hypothermia I did know enough to keep my wits about me. I was fit, my martial arts background had given me a way to keep my body heat up. Eating something really helped me with increasing body heat, comfort and keeping a positive outlook. Also I intuitively knew I should cut some cedar boughs down to protect me from the icy rain. I had zero knowledge of shelter building but somehow I made a crude shelter in the night without a flashlight. I also didn’t know anything about navigation and I lost contact with my hunting party. I am not sure I would have survived the night. I was not dressed appropriately for the weather. Back then, I knew nothing about gore tex and the difference between waterproof and water-resistance. Most wilderness survival sites and instructors will tell you that knowledge and training are the two most important things to keep you from becoming a tragic news story and I endorse that thinking here as well. There is a wise saying in the survival world, “the more you know the less you carry.“


If you search on “survival situation preparedness” you will find a ton of survival kits that talk about gear you need. There is certainly a bunch of things I lacked in that situation, however, I did get four things right: I had a shotgun and shells, a decent-sized fixed blade knife, really good boots and those power bars. I lacked a proper jacket, a fire starting kit, a whistle, a flashlight, and an emergency blanket. If I had all of those I have no doubt that I could have easily spent the night out there in the woods. I neglected to include a cell phone, since this occurred way before the days cell phones were carried regularly. If I had one, I would have called my boss and we would have found each other in probably 20 or so minutes. But it is important to remember that a cell phone doesn’t not obviate the need for solid skills and training; batteries run out and signals can be hard to come by in remote areas.

Going Forward

I should also mention that my experience was, typical of most survival experiences, a lost hunter, which is similar to getting lost hiking or fishing. It is important to acknowledge that while my experience was very challenging, it wasn’t as hard core as Robinson Crusoe or plain crash survivors in Andes. So I never would equate my 6 hour or so experience with people who were lost for days on end. But it does bring modest insights into the harshness of nature and what it takes to survive. I hope reading about my experience you learn from my mistake and get inspired to learn a few skills and ensure that you have at least a few items in your bag to prevent you from getting into a survival situation. And if you are an experienced outdoorsman, look to my experience as a person who did not have many opportunities to get out in the woods and jumped at the first opportunity to get out there way too early and reflect on possibilities to share your skills with people who do not have opportunities to get out there.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Importance of Naturalness in Tai Chi

Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu - chapter 53

If I have even just a little sense,
I will walk on the main road and my only fear will be of straying from it.
Keeping to the main road is easy,
But people love to be sidetracked.

When the court is arrayed in splendor,
The fields are full of weeds,
And the granaries are bare.
Some wear are gorgeous clothes,
Carry sharp swords,
And indulge themselves with food and drink;
They have more possessions than they can use.
They are robber barons.
This is certainly not the way of Tao.

When first studying Tai Chi, a common question usually arises about coordinating breath with the movements. That one question needs a little background before it can be answered. Let's start with a seminar, I attended in 1999 with Madame Gao Fu. She was 82 at the time. It was a seminar in which you could choose who you want to workout with. I was new to Tai Chi and did not know who was famous and who was not. There were other teachers there who offered exotic styles with even more exotic names.

But all this 82 year old Chinese woman taught was zhan zhuang (standing meditation), and chan ssu jin (standing and doing spiral movements) for 3 hours per day. I thought there must be something to this because her practice is so simple while the others at the workshop presented more complicated esoteric forms. I ended up practicing with her for the rest of the 5 days. Towards the end of each practice we got a chance to ask questions. Someone in the crowd asked about matching the breathing with the movements. Madame Gao Fu said it was not necessary to try to match them up. Adding that after continued practice they would come together naturally. During one of those question sessions I asked, "my connection to my Qi comes and goes; sometimes I feel really in tune and then it goes away." "Is that how it is supposed to be?" She said that the more you practice the deeper the connection until you are never disconnected.

What Madame Gao Fu espoused was a type of natural unforced but committed practice, while standing in place or moving. Now in 2017, 18 years later, I still remember that seminar and I am still deeply committed to the wisdom she passed on.

Often when simply being natural you are perceived as lazy and in America laziness is the enemy. To just be natural in America is difficult because so many experts want you to DO STUFF, ACCOMPLISH GOALS and ACHIEVE RESULTS. I have found a lot of conflicting messages being promoted by health experts in America, "you should diet," "go jogging," "think positive," "have social networks," "sleep 8 hours per night,""set goals," "be successful," "challenge yourself," "meditate daily" and "reduce stress." The problem is that people are lost and the experts are lost. The Tao just is. All you have to do is follow the current. Where is the current? It is everywhere but the best place to start is in your body.

Many years ago when I visited Mississippi. My wife wanted to take me to her family summer vacation spot, the Buffalo River in Arkansas. There my wife and I went in a canoe and her father and mother went in a separate canoe. My father-in-law is a very devout Christian in Mississippi and I was this Tai Chi practitioner who KNEW the Tao, After all I have been studying the Tao Te Ching since the 80s. But this very 'square,' in the 60’s sense, school district superintendent, put his canoe in the water as I did. As he entered the river he effortlessly glided towards the part of the river where the current was strongest, whereas I battled the water and huffed and puffed and shouldered my way to that same current then it changed, as currents tend to do, and I lost it. So I again struggled to get into the right path. I would look up and there was this old guy blissfully gleaming along. Granted it was my first and really only time canoeing in a river but it is a good example of how to find the Tao.The Tao is not exclusively found in China, it is not owned by Taoists it simply is. You don’t even have to do Tai Chi to find it, although, I find that the pace of Tai Chi and the movements themselves reveal a deep understanding of the spiral energy that is part of the universe and doing them assists in finding the current within yourself.

There are two parts to this naturalness, one is the release to the Tao, the state of which is wu wei. I have explained wu wei before. It is a type of thoughtful non-action. It is not simply doing nothing, which many interpret it as and it is not using force to make something happen either. The second part of naturalness is song. Song is a state of being, like being relaxed but with a slight level of attentiveness. So it is not standing at attention like a soldier nor is relaxing at a beach in Cabo. It is somewhere in between.

Song is also applied to parts of the body and it involves conscious releasing of control of the waist, neck etc. The hardest part of Tai Chi is to release these parts of the body where most people store their tension. You find when working on this release that you are more able to find your center of balance because many of us are living in a shell like body that is not even aware of our true place on earth.

So to attain song is the first important but hardest step because it allows for the energy to settle in your dan tian and then it can start is transformation process.

Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu - chapter 15

Who can wait quietly while the mud settles?
Who can remain still until the moment of action?
Observers of the Tao do not seek fulfilment.
Not seeking fulfillment, they are not swayed by desire for change.

There are a lot of hours, maybe a lifetime of work that goes into what was just described above. In fact that is the main practice, whether you chose to just sit and meditate or do the most esoteric ancient qi gong, song is the main activity to find the Tao. You can not find your center without song, you cannot do Tai Chi without song, and you can not attain wu wei if you do not song.

Note: Tai Chi could mean the series of postures most people think when Tai Chi is mentioned or it could be the balancing of yin/yang energies to canoe a river more adeptly or live to a ripe old age of 88 and still be teaching a physical activity.

"Madame Gao Fu died in Beijing January 17, 2005 at 88 years of age, following a brief illness."

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Holy Grail: A Literal Cup or Metaphorical Chalice of the Divine?

Finishing my undergrad in Psychology after years of Tai Chi, Qigong practice and other Asian practices, I asked my neuroscience instructor if there was a pathway between the perineum and the spine. He gave me the strangest look and that was the first time I realized that much of my knowledge from Tai Chi wasn’t going to hold up to anatomical scrutiny.

That said, there are still many important contributions to be gained from many ancient practices.

Anyway, I wasn’t a total idiot for asking about that pathway, here is a medical study that discusses Davinci’s thoughts on the subject and one of his drawings pictured.
Moreover, that pathway is ubiquitous throughout ancient texts from India to China and even in Catholicism, which is what captivated me. It is such a part of world knowledge and especially religious knowledge but it is rarely discussed. So I had to investigate it further. Experiential knowledge from my own practice with Tai Chi and internal alchemy led me to believe that the search for the Holy Grail was more about the dan tian and the kua than it was about a cup. I always found those stories about the search for the Holy Grail kind of dumb, although people are that dumb, ever watch antique road show? I mean seriously, what would be so significant about a cup that Christ drank from? Magical powers? It all just sounds so silly. Even the Davinci Code adds a spin on the theory of the Grail as a bloodline from Jesus that is still alive today. I find that hypothesis equally ridiculous. However, I would not put it past the multitudes of non-initiates who think they can attain religious growth or supernatural power from these comic book stories.

What I do find compelling and more believable is what if these ancient seekers of the Grail actually thought that Christ was a yogi or something similar, and that the Holy Grail was actually inside one’s body and spiritual development was attained through cultivation of the body? After all people are born from a woman’s womb which is located in that exact region that happens to look like a cup (see picture below).

To me the idea of self cultivation to bring about spiritual development is central to many Asian religious traditions to name just two, Indian yogic practices and Taoist bodily practices both of which were present during the time of Christ. However, it is not explicitly linked to Christianity but there is evidence that religious initiates did travel to India from Jerusalem. But you have to dig a little deeper and take into account that some how there is no documentation about Christ’s life between him at 12 and 33, early Christian symbolism has some evidence and some of Davinci’s drawings and writings do as well. Then maybe it is hidden in Christianity as well? This topic is interesting to me because as a Westerner, and the trend in the West for some reason is/was to separate the mind and body into two distinct halves, whereas the East chose to keep them unified. I am really not sure why but I think this is why so many Westerners pursue Eastern martial arts, and other mind body practices like Yoga. For a paper on the Cartesian mind body-duality and its role in medicine read here.

I believe that early Christian teachers actively sought to suppress body cultivation methods, like Yoga and Tai chi, and the idea that Christ may have practiced them, which is why we do not have any accounts of Christ’s missing years even though Christian writers have every last detail of his life documented except those 18 years. This might not be so outlandish when you include how secretive the church is and the mysticism of many of its sculptures,symbols, and texts for example, there is a pine cone in the courtyard of the vatican. Pine cones have long symbolized human enlightenment through the third eye or pineal gland and carvings of them are also found on staff of the Pope, the Egyptian God Osiris and in many religious motifs around the world (I will tie in the pineal gland to the dan tian in my next essay). Adding to this that St.Thomas began a church in Kerala, India, in 52 AD adds some credence that there was a connection between India and Jerusalem during Christ’s life and that the church knows more about internal alchemy than it shares.

Let’s not forget that the church actively sought control over people and knowledge and there are even accounts of people being killed for printing and translating the bible. It also shows that the West had access to this knowledge but sought to keep it from public view while in Asia it was more available.

Connecting it back to Taoism

In Taoism, there are what are called the 3 treasures, Jing, Qi, and Shen.
  • Jing "nutritive essence, essence; refined, perfected; extract; spirit, demon; sperm, seed"
  • Qi "vitality, energy, force; air, vapor; breath; spirit, vigor; attitude"
  • Shen "spirit; soul, mind; god, deity; supernatural being"
These need to be stewed in the cauldron to refine the elixir of life which is held in the dan tian along with the three treasures. Is it possible that the “caldron” referred to in Taoist texts is what the people in the West called the Holy Grail.

From Wikipedia: "The (late 16th century) Journey to the West novel provides a more recent example when an enlightened Taoist patriarch instructs Sun Wukong "Monkey" with a poem that begins:

Know well this secret formula wondrous and true: Spare and nurse the vital forces, this and nothing else. All power resides in the semen [jing], the breath [qi], and the spirit [shen]; Guard these with care, securely, lest there be a leak. Lest there be a leak!

Keep within the body! (tr. Yu 1977:88" 

Storing seminal fluid is also vital to Christian thought and Leonardo Da Vinci adds some credibility to this thinking as does the coitus interruptus views of the Catholic church. I think the reason is that to ancient peoples sperm was sacred and I can’t speak for the Catholics but beyond a shadow of doubt the Chinese thought that storing it was the only way for your spirit to leave your body and become immortal.

So if you are a spiritual person and believe that this earth is the place where you train to attain higher levels of consciousness then many religions point directly to your dan tian and my belief that it is also the Holy Grail as to where you cultivate your bodily essence and lead a spiritual life. Having said that, I have explored many aspects of these practices of self cultivation and I am certain there is some benefit to your health and longevity but I am uncertain as to whether bodily fluids are supposed to be kept internally and heated through mind-bodily cultivation which purportedly leads to immortality.  Next I will write more specifically on the whole process of attaining immortality.

For more information on this topic you can read:
Eva Wong's Cultivating Stillness
Stuart Alve Olson's The Jade Emperor's Mind Seal Classic

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Opening your kua increases the benefits of Tai Chi

Image result for chen zhonghua kua
One of the joys of teaching Tai Chi to older adults is that you can see progress as they develop. The people who come into my class for the first time have very little balance or coordination so if they decide to stick with it you can clearly and profoundly see your impact as a teacher.

Knowing the impact of falls on that population and helping some people avoid some of those negative outcomes is quite rewarding.

The major challenges I see in people when they enter my class is not knowing the location of their center. This becomes increasingly evident when they are constantly overreaching, which places a heavy load on the vertebrae, and makes them top heavy. They also do not have their feet flush on the ground, which can again result in a fall. Overall, there is little coordination between the upper and lower half. I am always discussing the importance of the top half and lower half moving in agreement with each other and that discussion leads directly to the person responsible for the popularization of Tai Chi, Yang Cheng Fu. Yang Cheng Fu promoted the health benefits of Tai Chi, and created a list of 10 important points to do Tai Chi correctly (below). An excellent book on his teaching can be purchased here.

Yang Cheng Fu’s 10 important points:
1. Empty Neck, Raise Spirit  
2. Contain Chest, Raise Back   
3. Loosen Waist  
4. Differentiate Empty Full
5. Sink Shoulders, Drop Elbows
6. Use Intention not Exertion
7. Upper Lower Mutually Follow
8. Inner Outer Mutually Harmonize
9. Continue without Interruption
10. Move from Centre, Seek Calm

One of those important points is, "Upper Lower Mutually Follow" where I see most people have difficulty when they are learning Tai Chi. Most older adults I teach think that the Tai Chi form is a series of choreographed dance moves and want to memorize steps and hand positions. I guess being American and older they come to class with their prior experiences from square dancing and other American dance forms they grew up with. What they are missing is their whole structure is a shell with little or any understanding of the internal work that Tai Chi demands.The one exception to this is a woman who was married to a Spanish gentleman and they did a lot of Latin dancing. She had a very well cultivated understanding of her dan tian and could root quite well. Currently, she is 82 years old and still going strong.   

I often share with my students Yang Cheng Fu’s important principles because I think they are essential to truly practice Tai Chi. In fact, my teaching of Tai Chi focuses on cultivating these principles rather than rote memorization of the 24 form, because if you can attain some level of proficiency with these principles it will be more beneficial to your health and well-being.

One of the things I continually notice in class as people age is they use their kua less and less, and those who have the most balance issues seem to be the most rigid in their kua (Pictured below). The kua is known anatomically as the inguinal crease or the grove where the femur meets the pelvis. In a quote from Zhang Xue Xin, a renowned Chen-style Tai Chi master, “Americans know how to use the hips and not the kua.” (this quote is from the hyper link to a paper on the kua above)

The kua and the dan tian work together to create a kinetic chain that:
  • Is the "glue" between the upper and lower halves of the body.
  • Keeps the center of balance aligned and sunk.
  • Provides better alignment of the body for smoother movement with less chance of sprains.
  • Creates a "mutable" joint that increases leverage and disperses force by tricking the opponent as to the actual location of your center.
  • Increases power output, i.e. force multiplier.

The dan tian is a Chinese term that means “Sea of Qi.” If you read ancient Taoist texts there is a lot of mystical abilities attached to this area. For an essay on that topic click here. Suffice to say, that the dan tian is the center of balance for people, it is located 1”- 2” below the navel and midway between the lower abdomen and the spine. Many people argue about exact locations but this is not meaningful to our purpose here.  There is no anatomical distinction for the dan tian. It is however your true center and that is the most important thing to remember. Every object has a center of balance because gravity makes it so.

One of the best explanations on opening the kua is by Chen style practitioner, Chen Zhonghua. He has a trailer for his video that can be purchased here. Unfortunately, I can not find anyone on youtube who explains it as clearly as he does. 

Training your body to move from the kua and its relation to the actual physical center of your body (dan tian) is a real game changer for your practice. If you were to go up to the average person on the street and ask them where their center was, they might point to their heart or to their stomach area but I will bet you most will not be close to knowing where it is. Imagine you have this body and every day you are walking around on this earth and you are completely clueless as its proper alignment with its true place in the universe? This awareness changes your life because for years you have walked, played and slept thinking it was way higher than it actually is and once you embody its placement your body is unlocked and you can experience so much more of life.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Yin-Yang of Survival: Toxic Masculinity, and Taoism

Once in awhile when I am resting on the weekends I will watch a reality TV show. Unlike many people I find of them interesting to see how people behave in certain stressful situations. Last week, I got caught up in the Naked and Afraid XL season. This latest offering featured 12 people who had already survived for 21 days in the wilderness with a single partner totally naked. So these 12 naked veterans were tasked with surviving in the wilds of the Orinoco river basin in Colombia with two other veterans, who were chosen by the producers. They were only given a knife, a bag, and each person got to chose one survival item: either a water container, a net, a fishing kit, or a fire making kit. So no one person had everything they needed to make it the whole 40 days. They were not given food, or water, or clothes.

There were four groups of three. The only group I am going to analyze is the one with a male, who described himself as, “The Alpha Male” and specifically said that he is not “an” alpha male but “The” alpha male. He was matched with two women, one of whom was a vegetarian. Literally within minutes of arriving the alpha male started cutting large trees down and building a massive shelter. The one item he chose to bring along was a bow and arrow. He tried hunting for food but was unsuccessful. In the first few days he expended lots of precious energy doing many tasks. He derided the women for being lazy and hurled other abusive insults at them. The women stood their ground and cautioned him against expending too much energy. At one point he moved into a separate camp, which he had to build himself. After he had completed that and expended even more energy, he realized he had no means of making fire, as the women had the fire starter. So he went back to them asking for the fire starter. He tried to make amends but he was not clear in his intention and could not resolve the conflict he instigated. This decision left him without the means to start a fire, a necessary part of surviving. Needless to say, the women chose a better survival strategy and they made it the full forty days by having a wise understanding of resource conservation and “the” alpha male tapped out early and was sent home.

The reason why I took the time to explain that show is because this is a clear cut example of how Taoist principles can work and how toxic masculinity can lead to one’s downfall. I say Taoist principles, but clearly the women in the show did not say what their philosophy was so I am kind of using their survival strategy as an example of Taoist principles in action. Come to think of it, these woman gave a better demonstration of Taoist principles than some old dude with a man bun posting his lecture on YouTube.

The alpha male in the show was the poster boy for toxic masculinity, with his need to be right, to not listen to “weak” women, and a vegetarian no less. He ignored numerous cautions, at his own peril. As a Tai Chi instructor who has been teaching older adults since 2001, I have seen this play out time and time again. In fact, most older males do not chose Tai Chi as their exercise and would rather drop their wives off to their “dance-like” exercise. Those women being dropped off have taught me many lessons about checking my own masculinity. I have learned that women are more likely to go to the doctor’s and older men who live with their wives go to the doctor more and live longer. Women are open to feedback and listen to others more and they live six and a half years longer than men in the U.S.. Whether by script or by personal choice the women in the show clearly demonstrated the qualities Taoists would characterize as Yin, or soft.

Taoist models of gender account for the fact that feminine qualities are important and even superior to male qualities. Before we go any further, it must be stated that Chinese culture did not bring about a gender revolution by any means and there are numerous accounts of women that have been persecuted. However, it must also be acknowledged that Taoism is unique in that it gave a highly significant placement of women and feminine qualities in its value system, especially when comparing it to other systems of that era like Christianity, and Buddhism etc..
The main symbol for Taoism is the Yin-Yang symbol, or Tai Chi doh, with a Yin half, that is soft, dark, and feminine, and Yang half that is hard, bright, and male. Yes, it is a binary view of the universe but it is important to note that each half has a bit of its other within it. That significant dot means that each has the other within them, meaning there is always a little masculinity in a female, and a little femininity in a male. The most important part of the symbol is that both aspects are intertwined and equal in the creation of the universe.

In chapter 6 of the Taoist classic by Lao Tzu, as translated by Gia Fu-feng and Jane English, he mentions the valley spirit,

Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu - chapter 6
The valley spirit never dies;
It is the woman, primal mother.
Her gateway is the root of heaven and earth.
It is like a veil barely seen.
Use it; it will never fail.

Stand by the door of any Tai Chi class in the world and you will hear talk about using hard force as opposed to soft force. Hard force is usually characterized as a male trait, which is in juxtaposition to the female trait of yielding, that is considered to be the highest level of internalizing the Tao.

The ultimate expression of Yin energy is in Wu-Wei, or non-action. I was always thrown off by that, and many Americans have difficulties grasping it, instead they see it as Jesus-take-the wheel, kind of non-action; totally letting go without any “human” help. I confess it took me a while to understand, but now I have come to understand it as “strategic” or thoughtful non-action. So the women in the alpha male’s group definitely exhibited Wu-Wei. They did it so well that the alpha male called them lazy but they were not lazy at all. Instead of cutting massive trees down they used a sparce shelter, even though they used the shelter the alpha male built, remember they did not ask him to build it, they would have made a simplier shelter. Additionally, while he was out hunting and climbing trees, they wove a fish trap and foraged for fruits and nuts. The vegetarian was practicularly smart in her awareness of her nutrient intake. She rationed her foraged food to make it until the 40 days. They also met up with another group which created a larger team effort. The women were able to work with in another group and therefore increase their chances of surviving.

The Yin, feminine trait of yielding allows clarity and opens up the opportunity of using the force of the earth. So in Tai Chi we relax so that we can use the force of the earth (gravity and leverage) more effectively. If we relax (let go) and don't force it, we can increase our impact. If we move with fear and tension Yang or male qualities, then we have to use even more non-Wu Wei force. Thus creating a non-harmonious trajectory. Often Wu-Wei is poo pooed by martial artists and fighters as weakness or fantasy. More on that in a few paragraphs but first I have to address the binary approach.

I can see that feminists might object to this binary approach because Taoism assigns traits to gender. But this is where the Yin-Yang comes into play, a female can have male traits, and a male can have female traits. So in Tai Chi, I consciously cultivate Yin- female traits to temper my Yang- male traits. Sometimes in everyday life, I get frustrated and become aggressive, which leads to as my wife says, me manhandling things. Tai Chi, helps me temper that Yang aggression and bring about a clarity of action and peace of mind. Just because we say that there are male traits and female traits doesn’t mean that gender assignment is rigidly in one group, the Yin-Yang symbolizes fluidity between gender and the transformation of energy from one group to the other.

All this talk of Yin energy does get dicey though, especially when it comes to martial arts, In combative situations things happen fast and there is a time and a place for the use of Yang force or violence. But right now in our time period violence is low but this could change. The alpha males of the world might rise again. This is why I see liberal idealism as too idealistic because it doesn’t acknowledge a world in which there are violent alpha males. All too often, liberals try to explain that behavior as it being socially constructed, where as the Taoist approach understands it is a way in nature, but not the best way, not the way of the Tao.

I grew up in Brooklyn in the late 60s and early 70s. It was not for the faint of heart. Men there were very aggressive, I witnessed my maternal grandfather beat up a guy and his wife after we left a restaurant. They had a disagreement about who had the right away and it came to blows. All this is typical male machismo of that era, but liberals seems to think this behavior is gone for ever. Unfortunately, I believe it is just dormant. I have a Hobbesian view of nature. So if the group from Naked and Afraid XL that I have been discussing were in a Hobbesian world, where there is no governing body, he could have cannibalized one of the women, taken the fire starter and made the other women his wife or in a less dramatic turn of events, the women might have seen him as more of an asset than an ass because of his 6 foot 5 stature and bold nature. So even the alpha male strategy is a viable solution in certain contexts and it is not socially constructed as many social scientists would have you believe. But again, following the Tao leads to a more fruitful relationship and even in a Hobbesian world working as a team with full support is better than cannibalizing each other. My point here is that hyper-masculinity is not socially constructed and it is important to practice martial arts because the Hobbesian world is never far from civilization.

This is why martial arts, especially Asian martial arts, like Tai Chi, Aikido, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Wing Chun and others preach tempering hyper-masculinity and using one’s mind to leverage the anger in others. Anger creates a loss of balance and a lack of clear vision, and tempering doesn’t only work on Yang energy, it also can bring up Yin qualities. My friend Bishop, who is a university policeman and a Wing Chun instructor, told me that he discusses the balance/blending of Yin and Yang energies to his students all the time. “Too much of one or the other is never a good thing, but when COMBINED in the right way, the result is greater than the two parts.”

My close friends in martial arts, Dave, Larry, and Bishop all work on using Yin traits when dealing with angry male behavior, specifically Dave and Bishop who work directly with that behavior in public settings as a bouncer and a university police officer. I have heard countless stories of how they have used their martial training, specifically leverage and a cool clear head to not engage in the heightened emotion that often happens when young males, who have been drinking alcohol, come in contact with the opportunity for sex. My other friend, Larry teaches younger professional fighters the discipline it takes to check your wildness and throw accurate punches that hit their target with brutal efficacy. Larry and I often discuss the difficulty many of his students, mostly males have with listening and controlling their hyper masculinity. He has said that the ones who do become great are the ones who don’t get trapped by their hyper-masculinity/overly aggressive nature.

Practising martial arts and internalizing the principle of Yin-Yang deepens one’s understanding of themselves. It shows one how to take control of anger and hyper-aggression so that one can think clearly and make better decisions that lead to positive outcomes. Moreover, it also gives us an insight into human nature because you have seen the ugliness become tame.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

I Literally Walked into Sacred Geometry

In teaching Tai Chi to older adults it is best to combine teaching the internal principles along with the form, which means you are basically reteaching people how to walk and move completely differently. After warm-ups, I have everyone pick a linoleum tile and place the feet heel to heel in a right angle on a corner on a tile. We stand like that for a moment and I have them take a step forward and 4" over with their left foot, leaving their right on the square. As you are reading this you might be trying to visualize a bunch of older adults assembled in rows standing on a grid-like pattern.

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I have been teaching Tai Chi to older adults since 2001 and it took me awhile to catch on how to difficult it is for older adults to get into a bow stance and especially when turning 180 degrees with clear aligned movement. After so many students having difficulty I started using the tiles on the floor along with a cardinal directional sign on each of the four walls. As I started to create these methods of teaching people to do Tai Chi I realized that there was a geometric logic to how we align ourselves to the earth. When looking at the illustration (above) you can see one possible way sacred geometry developed. If you stay in one place facing north and turn around in a complete circle it will be 360 degrees. Then going back to basic geometry you can divide that up an infinite amount of ways but typically we divide it up first in quarters and then in eighths, hence the origin of the bagua (Pictured below).
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That inspired me to seek out geometric relationships in Tai Chi, moreover, when I was exploring Tai Chi I became aware of Feng Shui and their usage of the bagua.  I also knew that the original 13 postures of Tai Chi are patterned off of the very same bagua symbol; eight main postures and five secondary ones (pictured below). These connections made me appreciate Tai Chi even more because the whole Taoist system worked in concordance with one another. There was not too many contradictions, although there are smaller discrepancies with certain assignments of what fits into which area, for instance, an animal and an emotion and actually everything in existence is prescribed to each cardinal direction.   

As the caption states in the 13 postures of Tai Chi, there are 8 energies and directions, which are also added to the elemental directions of the 5 elements, north, south, east, west, and center.

The early Chinese people created a compass (pictured below) that linked up the waxing and the waning of the moon with the 8 directions and this was used to predict floods and then more was added on to it. The I Ching or Book of Transformation was also created from there. The early Chinese people figured that significant events occur during the seasonal changes, i.e. floods, winter, harvest season etc. The idea is that by understanding the natural forces one could prepare ahead of time and avoid more acute emergencies.

Other cultures have discovered many of the same ideas, stonehenge follows same circular formations and the Kabbalah also has a similar numerical structure. So the phases of the moon are based in reality but the socially constructed aspect of attributing certain emotions, elements, animals to each phase is where there is not cross cultural corroboration. This doesn’t mean it is not worth studying. I view it more as an art form that deserves respect and consideration. An interesting fact is how deeply our psychology and physiology is tied to night and day. Circadian rhythms and seasonal patterns are strong determinants of hormonal secretions and

they play a major role in our psychological functioning as well of the well being of our vital organs.   

As you can see there are many connections with codified symbols found in Taoism that connect the heavens to man and to the earth. Another example of this intense connection is  the 64 hexagrams, 32 yin and 32 yang found in the I Ching, and their exact match with the 64 codons found in DNA.
Here is the conclusion of a paper on the connection between DNA and the I Ching:

“ —We defragged three I Ching representations of the genetic code while emphasizing Nirenberg's historical finding. The synthetic genetic code chromosomes obtained reflect the protective strategy of enzymes with a similar function, having both humans and mammals a biased G-C dominance of three H-bonds in the third nucleotide of their most used codons per amino acid, as seen in one chromosome of the i, M and M' genetic codes, while a two H-bond A-T dominance was found in their complementary chromosome, as seen in invertebrates and plants. The reverse engineering of chromosome I' into 2D rotating circles and squares was undertaken, yielding a 100% symmetrical 3D geometry which was coupled to a previously obtained genetic code tetrahedron in order to differentiate the start methionine from the methionine that is acting as a codifying non-start codon”

So the depth of early Chinese people is astounding even today this at least 4000 year old symbol still influences and explains phenomena in our lives. I think the reason why is that these early Taoist masters discovered a spiral network of energy vectors that determine all growth on this planet. They called these energy vectors “Chi” or “Qi,” admittedly the word Qi did not arrive until later years after the I Ching was created, nonetheless is it currently used in this manner to describe these energetic vectors and hence the 8 energies of the Tai Chi movement. So from a simple joint lock, to the structure of DNA to the Milky way solar system we are constrained by a spiral force that connects all life and all inanimate objects to the earth rotation and its evolution around the sun. Just to be clear that doesn’t mean EVERYTHING we do is determined. I know this kind of thinking has led to over use to put it mildly. I am speaking from a physical science perspective. That said it has an affect on us and it is hard to figure out just how much because there is no counterfactual ideal. We do not have another galaxy to measure its effect on the beings there. You may think I am starting to go off the deep end,  and I understand that. There are people who I have run into who love sacred geometry but end up tying the origin of it to aliens. Believe me it gets even weirder with when the illuminati conspiracies start piling up.

As with many of the phenomena I write about, I am able to parse out the wheat from the chaff and where there is unknown I simply leave it at that. I don’t need to believe in aliens or a personal god either to substantiate the physical reality of certain things. I also don’t need to deny it all and be an atheist either.
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Another thing that happened when I was teaching the 180 degree turns was I saw how the foot positions fit within a box grid and if you draw diagonal lines and add circles it can become a flower of life. The flower of life (pictured above)is something in many cultures together, even Leonardo Da Vinci drew this in his Codex. Of course explaining the relationship between Davinci, stonehenge, the Kabbalah, and the I Ching could be an endless exploration that is not suited to the purpose of this blog post. If you are interested there are hundreds of videos and books on this topic but be forewarned that you will be hearing some crazy theories.

Anyway back to Tai Chi
I have always wondered why all the Tai Chi forms don't sync up with the bagua (8 directions), wu xing (5 elements) (pictured below) and ultimately the I Ching. Fortunately, I found Tai Chi According to the I Ching by Stuart Alve Olson who brilliantly tackled my dilemma. Per usual for Olson, he breaks everything down and backs it up with the ancient texts to support his reasoning. I have been searching for a truly symmetrical form for years and thanks to Mr. Olson I finally have that..   
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One of the reason why I love Tai Chi is because there is this internal logic that starts really small like with a step and then expands outwards to encompass the whole universe, the Chinese call it the microcosm and the macrocosm. Is it scientifically sound? I  am not sure but I think it is worth investigating. Moreover, humans love symmetry we seek it out whenever we can and I find discovering the underlying symmetry in Tai Chi increases my love of it and enhances my personal practice.