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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Moving Clouds and Flowing Water – 行雲流水

Yesterday I purchased a copy of Chan Heart, Chan Mind by contemporary Chinese Buddhist monk Guo Jun. The book begins with Guo Jun’s account of his first teacher Songnian. As Guo Jun described the rough personality and teaching style of Songnian, it reminded me a great deal of my own kung fu teacher. More importantly, as Songnian taught the principles of grinding ink for use in calligraphy (shu fa), the essential principles reminded me of the important lessons my own teacher imparted to me especially with regard to the “pushing hands” exercises (tui shou) of taijiquan. Luckily, this chapter is also available online as a publication of Tricycle magazine, and I am able to share it here: http://www.tricycle.com/feature/calligrapher%E2%80%99s-apprentice.





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New Year Shufa Video: 陳冠宏大師妙筆生花為年畫揮毫

I came across this excellent video of a shufa (Chinese calligraphy) master creating a beautiful depiction and characters for the Year of the Ram. His skill and flow exemplify the broader meaning of gongfu. Celebrations of the new year are already underway in China, Viet Nam and other Asian nations and cultures. It is my understanding that the exact date of the lunar new year is this coming Thursday. My own Wing Chun and Taiji Quan school will be having its celebratory dinner this coming Saturday night. It should be a very good time! Wishing you all a very happy New Year!

~ Tom Delaney

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Video: Chinese Calligraphy & Martial Arts with Qianshen Bai

The oncoming of winter finds me reinspired to sit by my kitchen window with a good cup of tea, and practice my Chinese calligraphy (shufa) again. In this video clip, shufa master Qianshen Bai discusses the similarity of calligraphy brush movements and dynamics with taijiquan and other martial arts. He makes an interesting point how everything in taijiquan is about making a circle, and to go left you first go right, and to go up you first go down, such as in the movement of circles. Conicidentally, I was just this morning having a good laugh with a friend as I explained how that for any shufa brush stroke you frequently have to begin and end in the opposite direction of your intended stroke, in order to begin well and finish well. When I heard Qianshen Bai describe this, I also thought of the circle walking of baguazhang, which Lu Shengli describes so eloquently in Combat Techniques of Taiji, Xingyi, and Bagua:

“Because bagua is about change, the main idea of Bagua Zhang is bian or changing. It is said that wherever there is movement, there is change that never ceases. Change in this context refers to the changes of yin and yang. Physically, all change is said to come from and return to the crossing of the arms or the walking of the circle.”

Qianshen Bai goes on to talk about movement with a natural opening, and always followed by a return. He adds that movement should be efficient, meaning that it should be logical and consistent. No less importantly, he describes that movement should also be organic and treated as a whole. He goes on to provide some some good pointers on shufa brush technique.

I found it paradoxical to learn from watching Qianshen Bai as he practiced on a newspaper article entitled “Teaching by initimidation,” which has been the opposite of my experience in learning shufa. The only initimidation I have felt studying shufa always arises from within my own mind, in the challenge to overcome self-doubt and boldly press the brush to the blank paper in front of 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 “Stonehouse” painting by Shi Tao, 17th cent. CE)

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第981字 | Character #981: 池

Today’s traditional Chinese character is “pond” or “pool”. There is an old Chinese proverb that also became a popular saying in ch’an and zen: “One moon shows in every pool; in every pool the one moon.” Something to think about…or not to think about! 🙂
Have a good day!
– Tom Delaney

來學正體字 Learn Traditional Chinese Characters

The character 池(ㄔˊ) means pond or pool.
池 at moedict.
Evolution of 池.

水(ㄕㄨㄟˇ)池(ㄔˊ) – a pond
游(ㄧㄡˊ)泳(ㄩㄥˇ)池(ㄔˊ) – swimming pool
城(ㄔㄥˊ)池(ㄔˊ) – a city wall and moat

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Book Review: The One Taste of Truth by William Scott Wilson

To put it simply, this is an awesome book! The title The One Taste of Truth: Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea does not really describe this book adequately. This book is very much about the lessons of zen. The introduction does a good job of exploring the historical connections of tea drinking with zen in Japan, but the bulk of the book is comprised of examples of ichigyomono, short phrases from famous poems and platitudes on tearoom scrolls that are linked to the zen tradition in Japan, and many to the ch’an tradition in China. Each example is explained and usually accompanied by at least one good illustrative and entertaining story. To me, this is the kind of book that you read all year round, one chapter a day. The writing and lessons are dynamic, and each time I visit a chapter I find a little deeper meaning. The text also includes examples of the ichigyomono written in kanji (Japanese calligraphy) and also related Chinese characters and their concepts. Good information if you are interested in shodo (Japanese calligraphy) or shufa (Chinese calligraphy). Seriously, I can’t recommend getting a copy of this book highly enough.

(my photo of the Japanese teahouse at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts)

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第977字 | Character #977: 懂

Here is today’s traditional Chinese character — “to understand.” I found this quote from the Tao Te Ching (tr. Stephen Mitchel) to think about with this character today:

The Tao is like a bellows:
it is empty yet infinitely capable.
The more you use it, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you understand.

Have a good day!
– Tom Delaney

來學正體字 Learn Traditional Chinese Characters

The character 懂(ㄉㄨㄥˇ) means to understand.
懂 at moedict.

懂(ㄉㄨㄥˇ)事(ㄕˋ) – sensible

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