道场 Dào·Chǎng

Notes of a lifelong learner and perpetual beginner on martial arts, mindfulness, Chinese calligraphy…and many, many cups of tea.


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“It is about everything!”

“Preparing food is not just about yourself and others. It is about everything!”
– Shunryu Suzuki

It’s true that if I had a lot more time, or when I do have the time at all, I like to invest it in cooking a good meal to serve in my household. Yet when I ask myself why, the answer is elusive, not because I do not know the answer but because it is too difficult to get down into words. The one word I can think of is “joy,” although watching me you would see plenty of focus and no shortage of frustration here and there. Perhaps this is what any act of creation looks like as we learn that we cannot exactly control things, but we can do our best to set things up so that they will naturally happen of their own accord, out of their own nature. When we think about how interconnected everything is, we might also feel that our efforts to set things up from the outside are also futile, unless we realize that we are not working from the outside, but rather are ourselves just as connected. So in the end, we are in a very good position to set things up after all, as we set ourselves in place within ourselves and at the stove, set the prepared ingredients, and set the places for our guests doing our best to anticipate their needs (omotenashi). The result is halfway decent tuna steak with tapenade…at least that’s what it was last night. Tonight……who knows?

irori

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Green Tea Leadership

I have been studying and thinking about leadership styles recently. Driving home from work, I came up with the idea of “green tea leadership.” It goes something like this…

Green tea leadership style:
Too strong, it is bitter to the taste.
Too weak, it will not invigorate the senses and spirit.
In between, the work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it.

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Small Vessel

This past Saturday my kung fu teacher David Wong taught his first class since returning from his visit to Hong Kong and China. I was conscious of how much I had missed his personal flair, humor and guidance in my life. My morning thoughts on the way home were about my estimation that I could never learn and be as skilled at kung fu as much as my teacher. I fear that I could ever learn only a fraction of what he has learned in  his lifetime. If I ever became a kung fu teacher, everything I know would only be a snapshot, a sample of what my teacher knows. Thinking about it as I drove, these thoughts came to my mind: You might think to yourself, “I will never be great. At best I can only hope to be a small vessel.” But it is important to remember that even a single drop of water contains the essence of all water. Small things contain the essence of great things. Conduct yourself accordingly.

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Featured Film: Amongst White Clouds

One of the books that has had a huge impact on my life is Bones of the Master, George Crane’s account of his travels with Chinese zen (ch’an) master Tsung Tsai. Tsung Tsai himself came from to Woodstock (New York) from a remote mountain monastery, and the book narrates his journey back to that monastery in order to properly retrieve the bones of his deceased master. Crane’s narrative of his travels with Tsung Tsai include absolute gems of simple wisdom from Tsung Tsai, who seems to have one foot in the ancient past of the mountain mystics of China, and the modern day world. It is Tsung Tsai’s demonstration that ancient wisdom has a place in the modern world that makes this book one of my all-time favorites.

Tsung Tsai

Tsung Tsai

Since even before the time of legendary poet Han Shan, men (and perhaps some women too) have been moving into the mountains of China in pursuit of both spiritual insight and poetic inspiration. More recently, translator and author Red Pine traveled to the remote habitations of modern day mountain mystics and wrote about it in his book Zen Baggage: A Pilgrimage to China.

I find it inspirational to know that the mountain mystic traditions of China are not a thing of the past, but continue to be practiced in our time. Far from exercising a form of spiritual self-indulgence, the mystics of China’s mountains offer a much-needed alternative perspective of the challenges we all face in our daily lives, including alternative solutions.

Recently I came across the documentary Amongst White Clouds by Edward Burger of his travel to the remote spiritual communities of the Zhongnan Mountains in China. It is both informative and inspiring to watch, and imparts some wisdom that a person can immediately apply in their life. I know I will.


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“Food repairs the essence. Rest restores the spirit.”

I am taking a day off from work to take care of my mother today, and took the opportunity to turn off the alarm clock. Yes, of course the disciplinarian in me was not approving, but sometimes I like to see just exactly how much I would sleep if I let my body just take what it wants. In my case, it was about 10 hours of sleep!

I also recall reading the story of an American who went to China to study with a Taoist priest, and who became frustrated with himself because he spent many of the first weeks of his retreat napping and sleeping. When he brought it up with the priest, the priest responded that all of his western students went through the same thing, and that it was typical for all of them to need time to catch up on sleep and rest before they could begin establishing a daily practice requiring less sleep. The priest described that westerners are more fatigued, sleep-deprived and burnt out by their daily living schedules and environmental pollutants than they realize, and that a dedicated period of rest and detoxification is absolutely necessary and nothing to be disappointed with or ashamed of. I have always appreciated that story……just wish I could remember where I read it!

Recently Scott M. Rodell, a very respectable master of the Chinese jian (sword) also made an informative post on Facebook for his Great River Taoist Center that also highlights the importance of rest, as well as the importance of a healthy diet. Although written specifically in refernce to jian training, I believe it is relevant for all martial arts training, and for life in general. Scott M. Rodell shared this excerpt from the Essentials of the Wudang Sword Art by Huang Yuanxiu (translated by Paul Brennan):

FIVE THINGS TO AVOID WHEN TRAINING IN THE SWORD ART
from 武當劍法大要
ESSENTIALS OF THE WUDANG SWORD ART

第四戒過分
Fourth Prohibition – EXCESSIVENESS

劍術之妙用無窮。而一身之精力有限。故一日之練習。以一日之飲食休養為衡。飲食以補其精。休養以復其神。精神飽滿。則功夫亦隨而長進。故大飢大飽之時。不宜練習。練習疲勞之時。則宜散步換氣。靜座調息。如是調節。庶不致進鋭退速也。
The wonders of the sword art are limitless, but the body’s vitality is limited. This is because one day’s practice is based on one day’s sustenance and rest. Food repairs the essence. Rest restores the spirit. When your essence and spirit are abundant, then your skill will naturally develop. But when you are either overly hungry or overly full, you should not practice, or when you become fatigued in your practice, then you should go for a walk to get some fresh air, or quietly sit to regulate your breath. Moderating in this way, all of your practice will not end up a situation of rapid progress leading to rapid regress.

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Daoist Immortal Lü Dongbin
Artist Unknown
16th cent. Ming Dynasty, China


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Integrating Xingyi Quan with Taiji Quan Practice

Based on the close connection to Taiji Quan that Lu Shengli describes, I am integrating some Xingyi Quan practice into my training program. Specifically, I am working on santi shi (“three bodies alignment”) and will be doing some flexing exercises with the 84″ staff. In this video clip from Kung Fu Quest 2, both of these exercises are explained by venerable master Song Guanghua. I have to say that the initial scene of Guanghua practicing shufa (Chinese calligraphy) in his shadowy is also pretty inspiring to me.


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Book Review: The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse

The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse is a translation and compilation of poems attributed to Ch’an Buddhist monk and hermit Shiwu (石屋 “Stonehouse”) written during two periods of his residency at Xiamu Mountain, during the early to middle 14th century. The edition I read was translated by Red Pine and included the original Chinese text, translated English text, and explanatory notes for almost all of the text. I appreciated this edition as a shufa (Chinese calligraphy) student because it enabled me to see the original Chinese text and see the correspondence between Chinese characters and the words, images and concepts they are meant to convey (at least as translated by Red Pine). Red Pine’s explanatory notes were invaluable for understanding the subtle references, allusions and cultural contexts embedded in the poetry of Shiwu. As for the poems themselves, they are not overt and direct lessons in dharma, but rather consist mostly of Shiwu’s observations of nature, his living arrangement and daily activities as a mountain hermit, and the profound detachment from the world of contrivances and frantic thought that he had achieved. Then again, I have to consider that Shiwu’s observations are in fact overt and direct lessons in dharma after all. Reading the poems was very much like paying a personal visit to Shiwu, and perhaps that is the the real beauty of this book. His personality definitely courses through each verse, and his descriptive abilities easily draw you through time and usher you into a seat by his modest stove and teapot. I mostly read this book at the end of my day, and it really was a very good way to step out of my own daily urgencies and worries, and refocus on the ultimate importance of very simple and natural things.

Tom Delaney, dao-chang.com

shiwu

(Shiwu “Stonehouse” painting by Shi Tao, 17th cent. CE)