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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Being in Time

“He always took the time to do everything. That’s being in time” (David Chadwick, writing about zen master Shunryu Suzuki).

The snow has arrived in Minnesota. Now my Kung Fu training will move from my teacher’s driveway to his basement, where we will practice in much more small confined spaces. In these little corners, we will learn that there are possibilities for movement and change no matter how tight circumstances become. This is also the time of year where the added difficulty of snow, ice and cold will teach us to give things (inside and outside of ourselves) the time that they need in order to happen, evolve, renew…or even just be as they are. I appreciate this time of year very much.

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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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蛇拳 Snake Fist

Last night I was doing some light sparring with Michael Hubbard at the Oakdale Wing Chun Club and busted a Snake style move out of nowhere…and it worked as an effective “moving” block! I can only think that it is a memory I have from the little bit of work I did on a Shaolin Five Animals form years ago. Anyway, it got me doing a little research on Snake style and I found this video. The interesting thing is that many of the moves in this form will look familiar to my fellow students from the Wing Chun forms we learn at Oakdale Wing Chun Club. I wish I knew who the teacher is in this video, his form is very good. Check it out!


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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

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Hotei Admiring the Moon


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Chinese Notes: Buddhism Vocabulary

fishing_wuwei_medzhongwenChinese Notes is an excellent website that offers Chinese terms related to Buddhism written in Chinese and translated to English. The website also offers tools and translations of some classic poetry. This site will be a helpful resource to me for both studying he abstract and esoteric concepts of Chinese martial arts, as well as for my work in learning shufa (Chinese calligraphy). This is a very good website!