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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Video: 徐紀老師 伝統北派武術技撃秘訣 後編

Came across this excellent video depicting applications of movements similar (if not the same as) the style of taijiquan I study with Sifu David Wong. Interestingly the title refers to “northern school.” Sharing this here, as I plan to study it with greater attention when I get a chance at home.

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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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Anger & Warrior Spirit

“There is a saying of the elders that goes, ‘Step from under the eaves and you’re a dead man. Leave the gate and the enemy is waiting.” ~ Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure

“Alas! The world is a nuisance!” ~ Takuan Soho

(Minneapolis Institute of Art, photo by Tom Delaney, 2014)

During my normal commute yesterday morning, I was almost rear-ended by a speeding aggressive driver while I was changing lanes to the right, with my blinker on, nice and slow, with all possible care. Luckily no contact happened as the other driver resorted to speeding down the parking lane on my right with their horn blasting and I let them pass. But the trigger in me had already been pulled.

For a long time I have been one of those guys who walks around with an invisible chip on my shoulder that can sometimes be the size of a railroad tie. I have been working on getting the chip off my shoulder by seeing my short temper and anger as an expression of fear and ego, the same two forces that tear apart our world on a daily basis from the level of homes to the level of wars between nations. There are plenty of injunctions against anger in Chinese and Japanese traqditional martial arts literature. The one I always find easiest to remember is…

“Let anger be your enemy.” ~ Wang Foudeng, Bubishi

Anger, along with greed and delusion, is another one of the “three poisons” of the mind identified in Ch’an and Zen Buddhist tradition. It is an obstacle to establishing an enlightened view of things and way of life and inevitably leads to causing suffering for others and oneself. You cannot walk around as an angry person for a long time without causing a lot of damage to self and others. On this point, I can sincerely attest that I do not feel good when I am angry or ever feel good about having been angry. Later in the morning after my commuting encounter, as angry as I was at the driver I became just as disappointed with myself at having lost my temper. I began to think that I needed to really nail down the alternative to anger and put it into action that day! The warrior’s path is the path to true victory…and “true victory” in this case meant victory over myself and my anger.

“Greater in battle than the man who would conquer a thousand-thousand men, is he who would conquer just one — himself. Better to conquer yourself than others. When you’ve trained yourself, living in constant self-control, neither a deva nor gandhabba, nor a Mara banded with Brahmas, could turn that triumph back into defeat.”
~ Siddhartha Gautama

“I do not know the way to defeat others, but the way to defeat myself.”
~ Yagyu, quoted by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure

“To win without fighting is the highest achievement of a warrior. Never forget this wisdom, and live your life according to the principles of the warrior.”
~ Sun Tzu, Art of War

“Using the orderly to deal with the disorderly, using the calm to deal with the clamorous, is mastering the heart.”
~ Sun Tzu, Art of War

I thought about it a lot and concluded that this true warrior spirit, this true path to victory, lies in being a person who restores and preserves harmony in the world. A very good Native American friend whom I met for lunch that day described this higher path of warriorship as a path of “healing,” and I think that when you consider that healing is about restoration of harmony (as in when a scratch or bruise on your body heals) then we are talking about the same thing. When I began thinking that this was all well and good as a concept but needed to look like something in terms of action, I remebered reading once somewhere that the antidote to anger is doing acts of compassion. For example, on a few occasions my gongfu teacher David Wong prepares a meal for all of us students. I now understand that this preparation of a meal for all of us, this act of community-building, is a demonstration of true warrior spirit. Then I understood that what I needed to do was acts of compassion, kindness, generosity — no matter how small or in what way — and I would whip my anger.

(David Wong, photo by Tom Delaney, 2014)

The other lingering issue was my own disappointment and impatience with myself. I need to remind myself to be patient, believe in my own potential, and take small steps. Mistakes and stumbles are going to happen, and are maybe even necessary for real growth. When asked to describe the life of a zen master, the great teacher Shunryu Suzuki would quote Dogen and humorously declare, “Shoshaku jushaku! One mistake after another! Life is one long continuous mistake!” With this and a few other admonitions in mind I can cut myself some slack and instead just allow mental calmness that is free of impatience and perfectionism.

 “The jeweled sword of Taia was originally raw iron.” ~ traditional Japanese ichigyomono (tearoom scroll)

“One must edge forward like the inch-worm, bit by bit.” ~ Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure

“Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today. This is never-ending.” ~ Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure

“This one word, ‘patience,’ is the gate to myriad wonderful accomplishments.”
~ Lu Pen-chung

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Play the Pipa

During our taijiquan class at Oakdale Wing Chun Club last night with teacher David Wong, we had a little bit of discussion about the movement “Play the Pipa,” which is part of the Yang style taijiquan form, and other related taijiquan forms.


This video presents a performance on National Public Radio by pipa master Wu Man. In this video, she plays and explains this Chinese musical instrument with ancient origins and a long history. She starts off with a real classic entitled Ambush from All Sides!

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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 Admiring the Moon