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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“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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Video: Memories from the Fall

I have secretly been excited at the imminent onrush of my favorite season here in Minnesota. Today, a good friend and “kung fu sister” of mine shared this inspiring video with me, and I would like to also share it here. It is entitled Memories from the Fall, and the man behind the camera was Felipe Rojas.


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Meditation Prevents Cognitive Decline in Aging

The positive effects of meditation practice have received much more attention from scientific researchers in recent years. Books such as Buddha’s Brain have moved the practice of meditation from the realm of the exotic and esoteric to public awareness as a research-validated approach to mental health. Recently, the National Institute of Health posted a publication alert for an article published by the New York Academy of Sciences. The authors completed a review of studies examining the effects of meditation practice on age-related cognitive decline. The authors reports, “Studies involved a wide variety of meditation techniques and reported preliminary positive effects on attention, memory, executive function, processing speed, and general cognition.” You can access the original abstract and article HERE.

 

Grandmaster


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Quality not quantity is the true way of mastery!

In my gongfu (kung fu) class at Oakdale Wing Chun Club today, teacher David Wong took a few minutes to make some observations about greed. He explained that in learning gongfu, sometimes students get into a mental trap of wanting to learn more and more techniques, without really taking the time to become competent with techniques they have initially learned, and having a feel for the depth and efficacy of those basic techniques. Sifu Wong said, “They always ask for more. ‘Show me more! Teach me a few more movements!’ They do not work with what they have.” In the end, the mental greed actually becomes an obstacle to mental clarity and reading. The alternative is patience, and a feeling for what is sufficient to learn and work on for now.

Greed is traditionally understood in Buddhism as one of the “three poisons” that derail the pursuit of enlightenment. The other two are ignorance and anger. I am convinced that fear and ego have a relationship with the three poisons, maybe in a chicken and egg kind of way. For myself, this means that the key to removing greed as an obstacle to learning, is to drop self-centered thinking and adopt an attitude of humility, letting the teacher run things and trusting the teacher instead of asserting my ego and trying to run my own show. One of the interesting things that spins out of having humility, is the openness to learn something at all times and from anyone, regardless of their level of experience or mastery. Coincidentally I read a story today that relates to this point:

Because Master Dempei of the Shamisen (three-stringed instrument) was always listening attentively to other players his pupil asked him, “Why, Master do you listen so eagerly to such boring  paying?”, to which the Master replied, “With such an attitude you cannot make any progress. However bad the player, there are aleays a few good parts that other players do not have. It should be interesting to listen to them.” (from Immovable Wisdom:  The Teachings of Takuan Soho, by Noboku Hirose)

As far as fear, the other thing I do is track down any fear I may have concerning my own rate of learning and mastery, publicly displayed or held within my own mind. To sever the fear, I find it helpful to remember that I got into studying gongfu or shufa in order to get away from frantic thinking and behavior. Therefore greedy behavior defeats the point of my own intentions at the start! I actually enjoy the feeling of relaxation that comes over me in setting aside frantic thought or what Chinese Buddhist monk Tsung Tsai called “hurry worry” in George Crane’s Bones of the Master. Then it becomes clear to me, and is only confirmed when I look at the people who I consider as having mastery, that the path of progress never lies in the accumulation of techniques or anything else, but rather in the quality of even what few things are known, performed and lived. I think there is a very big and important difference between the life of quantity and the life of quality.

 

“Be happy without cause and make the best of what you have!”

~ Wang Foudeng (gongfu master), quoted in the Bubishi

hotei_hakuin_boot

Hotei Admiring the Moon


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Book Review: T’ai Chi Ch’uan & Meditation by Da Liu

$T2eC16NHJHgE9n0yEi3MBRW7I-Q0(Q~~_35T’ai Chi Ch’uan & Meditation by Da Liu explores the historical origins of taijiquan and explains its connection to other methods of meditation. Da Liu also details taijiquan as an exercise in qigong (i.e. meditation aimed at generating and circulating energy in the body) and provides some introductory qigong meditation exercises. In writing this review I thought I would look up some biographical information on Da Liu, but found scant biographical details on the web. The short version seems to be that Da Liu immigrated to the United States and began teaching in 1954 after having studied both Sun and Yang style taijiquan in China, as well as possibly qigong from the famed elder Li Ching-Yuen. This book is an excellent introductory text to some very deep and detailed topics in taijiquan and meditation. I especially liked the clarity of the first two chapters detailing some concepts in Chinese cosmology and the I Ching in terms that are easy to understand. There are some rather enigmatic diagrams included in the classic Taoist text Cultivating Stillness (T’ai Shang Ch’ing-ching Ching, translated by Eva Wong), and Da Liu’s explanations gave me an immediate understanding that I can take back when I revisit Cultivating Stillness. Just reading those first two chapters and having that historical awareness of tradition in my mind was enough to put some deeper focus on my taijiquan practice. In terms of actual qigong practice, Chi Kung: Health & Martial Arts by Yang Jwing-Ming provides a more detailed guide to practice.