The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Friday, September 30, 2005

On Cable tonight ...

Blazing Saddles.

Dao De Jing: Chapter 4


The Dao De Jing is one of the world's classics. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a online version of the complete Dao De Jing.

The Tao is like an empty container:
it can never be emptied and can never be filled.
Infinitely deep, it is the source of all things.
It dulls the sharp, unties the knotted,
shades the lighted, and unites all of creation with dust.

It is hidden but always present.
I don't know who gave birth to it.
It is older than the concept of God.

A Few Weeds in the Garden


In one of his lectures, Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki once said that as having a few weeds in one's garden would serve to make one a better gardener, having a few weeds in one's practice would improve one's practice.

I'm inclined to hink that having a few weeds in one's life isn't all that bad.

Several years ago, I worked for a different company than the one I work for now. The man I worked for and I had a terrible rift. I left the company. Years pass. He rose through some layers of management, getting divorced along the way; and not one of those happy, story book divorces either.

His promotions required him to move out of state, away from his kids, which he did; only to have a change in the upper management of the company cause him to lose his job.

Out of work. Away from his family. Nearly a year passes.

I'm asked to interview a candidate for a sales manager position in our office. Someone I wouldn't work for, but would be working with. Guess who I'm sitting across from.

We're both a little older, a little thicker, a little thinner, a little grayer. We talk about the past, and the future. I'm pretty blunt with the way I felt about the past, and I hear his side of things. He really is the best candidate for the job. I have doubts about his character, and I tell him so: both that I think he's the best but I have my doubts.

I tell my superiors what I think. It was within my power to torpedo him. The company wouldn't want to bring on someone new, only to lose someone they've invested time and effort in; someone they like.

We'll be starting to work together soon. I see this as a chance to see what kind of person I am.
To see if my philosophy of life so espoused means anything, or is just so much hot air.

A few weeds in one's garden aren't so bad at all.

Who needs fiction: Ward Churchill antics

A friend from Colorado sent me this:


Well, in a state that's cutting back education funding with a legislature that crying that our "tax payer bill of rights" is strangling them dry, old Ward pulled his yearly merit raise.

More importantly, his big yearly activist event is coming up in two weeks: Columbus Day.

It goes like this: ancient Italians, some in wheelchairs & rollators, hobble down a couple of city blocks. There are minimal amateur floats.

Ward & an Indian activist buddy inflate the subtext & bring out liberal sympathizers are a dozen or so actual Indians. They topple barriers, obstruct, threaten & try to prevent the parade from ever starting.

They actually succeeded one year. Ever since, the Italians have become more organized and demanded more police protection. They got some new laws passed to make convictions easier. *NOW* the parade consists of the protesters hurling vile & vulgar obscenities the entire length of the parade. Of course it offends the oldsters & scares parents with kids. It's
become a political statement.

This is an annual headache for the mayor. He claims *BOTH* sides are at fault. "Both" sides? One side exercises its first amendment rights by filing for parade permits, getting the proper insurance, following all the legal requirements to the letter. The other side exercises' ITs first
ammendment rights by doing everything it can to suppress the other side's first amendment rights ... chiefly through illegal means.

You can't make this stuff up. No wonder talk shows do well in Denver.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Baroque Cycle


The Baroque Cycle

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the Wikipedia entry for the Baroque Cycle.

I'm within about 150 to 200 pages of finishing the 3rd volume of The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. The first volume is entitled Quicksilver, the second is The Confusion, and the third is The System of the World.

The Baroque Cycle is a delightful work of historical fiction. It is set in the Baroque period, from roughly 1680 to 1720. The Enlightenment is taking place. Newton, Liebnitz, Hooke, Gresham, the Sun King, Peter the Great, The Royal Society, the Siege of Vienna, Pirates, the Barbary Corsairs, Turkish harems,the South Sea Bubble, witch hangings, early steam engines, and dozens of others all pass through the stage at one time or another.

The storytelling and craftsmanship of the author is first rate. The dialog is good, and the characters are whole. He knows how to tell a story that compels you to keep reading and turning those pages. You could tell that this was a labor of love because there is so much historical detail introduced in the storytelling. You can't help but learn a lot not only of the Baroque period, but about our modern world as well by reading it.

One of the main characters, Jack Shaftoe, is one Zhuang Zi would have liked. From http://www.metaweb.com/ a wiki dedicated to the Baroque Cycle: "Shit happens, challenges arise, we deal with what follows as best as we are able. But, how do we get to lead a life like this? This is NOT ordinary, despite how ordinary it indeed is, mabe it is just not normal, for most of us who have our heads buried up our nether regions most of our lives.
In Jack's life, we don't simply see difficult situations occurring, we see IMPOSSIBLE situations occurring, entire chains of events that stretch credulity.
What's worse is that Jack recognizes and grasps each opportunity that arises with precise timing, incredible cunning, yet an open heart, no trace of self-pity or self- importance. He seems to be exactly what you see, a simple person in a relatively simple life, and yet..."

One of the other main characters is Eliza, who was kidnapped from a beach of her native land as a child, and sold into a Turkish harem; who escaped, and having an astute acumen for business sets about finding her place and thrive in the no holds barred sort of capitalism that renewed Europe from it's epicenter in the Dutch Republic.

The third is Dr. Daniel Waterhouse. A Dissenter who witnessed Charles I's beheading (his father was an important member of Cromwell's movement), Newton's friend and roomate at Oxford, and one of the first members of the Royal Society. In his old age, it is around Dr. Waterhouse that the threads of this epic story are spun.

When I'm finally finished, I'll let the books sit for a while, then I'm looking forward to reading them again. There is so much in them that it would take many readings to squeeze them dry.

This is terrific reading. If you like historical fiction, please do yourself a favor and pick them up.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A couple more links while I'm thinking of it...

Over on the right, you'll find a couple more links.

One is Smiling Tiger Martial Arts. This website is the creation of Joseph Crandall, a senior West Coast Chinese Internal Martial Arts teacher. He has translated many important books on Chinese Internal Martial Arts from the original into English. Please pay him a visit.

Another very interesting site is Michael Crichton's official site. Of particular interest to me are some speeches he's given, which may be found under "Other Projects". This one, on EnviroReligion is very thought provoking:


http://www.crichton-official.com/speeches/speeches_quote05.html

Book Review: Carl Sagan's Demon Haunted World

I picked this review up off of 24 Fighting Chickens. No kidding. It's a website of a very thoughtful karateka named Rob Redmond. I've put a permanent link to 24 Fighting Chickens over on the right. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original on 24FC. Please visit his website. His essays are well worth reading.

The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan
by 24FightingChickens in Reviews , Philosophy Books Mon September 26, 2005

I am a spiritual person, and as such I believe it is important to remain open to possibilities. However, I once read that it is also important “to not be so open-minded that your brain falls out of your head.” Under the fluttering banner of being open-minded which flaps in the wind over our heads, we may find ourselves exposed to ideas or ways of thinking about the world which have little or no basis in reality. While spirituality might try to explain the “why?” behind the world, it does not show us how the world works, nor does it explain the rules of the world that we live in.

In the face of so many new age beliefs becoming main stream, Carl Sagan authored The Demon-Haunted World as an easy-to-read introduction to the basic concepts behind science. This book answers some of the more basic puzzlers in life that three guys sitting around a camp fire might discuss while having a philosophical discussion. Sagan’s writing is neither professorial nor condescending. He take a casual approach that anyone can enjoy and read to tackle historical and modern-day misunderstandings about what science is and what it is not.

I frequently find my eyes glazing over in boredom reading the average professor’s attempts to put words on paper that people will want to read. The best indicator I have that a PhD of something or another is not that great at writing interesting books is when the drool begins to trickle from the corner of my mouth as I snore. This book passed that test with flying colors. I was interested in it from start to finish.

Sagan approaches science as a tool that people can use to understand the world. He explains how it works, and then with many real-world examples of people making claims about the failings or successes of science that are incorrect, Sagan shows us what science can actually tell us.

Science works, Sagan says, and you know it does, because you are reading this text which was written using a computer. While exploring the meaning of life or pursuing a deep and abiding spiritual faith, many are tempted to throw the baby out with the bath water, thinking science to be out to prove that there is no God or anything else supernatural in the universe.

But that is not how Sagan approaches science. He sees it as a tool that allows us to understand this world and to demonstrate ideas to one another. It allows us to theorize about how things possibly work, and it creates a framework within which scientists can learn and test ideas until real technologies, medicines, surgical techniques, and other advances are produced.

Science allows us to separate “what works” from “what is believed to work.” It is not perfect, and sometimes it lets us down, but Sagan brings us much closer to understanding how it should be used by us to better understand our environment.

I found Sagan’s book extremely powerful. Some notions I had held onto as “possible” were quickly dispensed with after reading this book. Other scientific approaches that I had doubted were raised higher in my esteem.

This book profoundly changed my worldview in many ways, and Sagan remained respectful of people’s beliefs, particularly their religious faith, throughout his well-written, entertaining, and very important book.

Enjoy!

Squid Update

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the Science page of CNN.COM. On that page you'll find a link to a segment that shows some of the footage of the giant squid.

The 36 Strategies: #7 Create Something From Nothing


The first six of the 36 strategies had to do with your being in a position of strength. The next six, strategies #7 through 16, have to do with confrontation.

#7: Create Something From Nothing

You create a false idea in the mind of the opponent, and fix it in his mind as a reality. In partricular, this means that you convey the impression that you have what you do not, to the end that you may appear formidable and thus actually obtain a security that you had not enjoyed before.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Who needs fiction. Giant Squids

This story appeared on Yahoo. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original.

Squid's in -- and now it's on film

PARIS (AFP) - Japanese zoologists have made the first recording of a live giant squid, one of the strangest and most elusive creatures in the world.

The size of a bus, with vast eyes and a querulous beak, Architeuthis has long nourished myth and literature, most memorably in Jules Vernes' "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," in which a squid tried to engulf the submarine Nautilus with its suckered tentacles.

Until now, the only evidence of giant squids was extraordinarily rare -- from dead squids that washed up on remote shores or got snagged on a long-line fish hook or from ships' crews who spotted the deep-sea denizen as it made a sortie near the surface.

But almost nothing was known about where and how Architeuthis lives, feeds and reproduces. And, given the problems of getting down to its home in the ocean depths, no-one had ever obtained pictures of a live one.

Scientists went to extreme lengths, backed by TV companies, to be the first.

In 1997 the US National Geographic Society attached video cameras by a temporary cord to sperm whales in the hope that this would get pictures of a whale dining on one of the giant cephalopods.

In 2003, New Zealand marine biologists laid a sex trap.

They ground up some squid gonads, believing that the scent would drive male giant squids wild as the creatures migrated through New Zealand waters.

The hope was that a camera would squirt out the pureed genitals and a passing squid, driven into a sexual frenzy, would then mate with the lens -- a project that, some may be relieved to hear, never came to fruition.

The breakthrough has come from Tsunemi Kubodera of the National Science Museum in Tokyo and Kyoichi Mori of the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association.

Writing in a British scientific publication, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Kubodera and Mori describe how they also used sperm whales as a guide.

Whale watchers on the Ogawara Islands, in the North Pacific, had long noted the migratory patterns of sperm whales, observing in particular how the mammals would gather near a steep and canyoned continental shelf, about 10-15 kilometers (six to nine miles) southeast of Chichijima Island.

By attaching depth loggers to the whales, the watchers found the creatures made enormous dives of up to 1,000 metres (3,250 feet) -- just at the depths where the giant squid is believed to lurk.

They then set up a special rig, comprising a camera, stroboscope light, timer, depth sensor, data logger and a depth-activated switch attached to two mesh bags filled with a tempting bait of freshly mashed shrimps.

Suspended from floats, the rig was lowered into the water on a nylon line, with flash pictures taken every 30 seconds for the next four to five hours.

At 9:15 am on September 30 2004, squids as we know them changed forever.

At that moment, 900 metres (2,925 feet) down in the Stygian gloom, an eight-metre (26-feet) specimen lunged at the lower bait bag, succeeding only in getting itself impaled on the hook.

For the next four hours, the squid tried to get itself off the hook as the camera snapped away every 30 seconds, gaining not only unprecedented pictures but also precious information about how the squid is able to propel itself.

After a monstrous battle, the squid eventually freed itself, but left behind a giant tentacle on the hook.

When the severed limb was brought up to the surface, its huge suckers were still able to grip the boat deck and any fingers that touched them -- testimony indeed to the myths of yore, that spoke of monstrous arms that grabbed ships and hauled them to their doom.

Kubodera and Mori have carried out a DNA test from the tentacle, and the result concurs with that of other samples taken from washed-up squid.

Their deep-sea pictures suggest that the squid is far from being the "sluggish, neutrally buoyant" creature that it has traditionally been deemed to be.

Quite the opposite, say the Japanese duo. It is an active predator that attacks its prey horizontally, and its two long tentacles coil up into a ball after the strike, rather like pythons that rapidly envelop their prey in their sinuous curves.

Monday, September 26, 2005

So Now What?


Brad Warner is an American who went to Japan and was ordained a Zen Priest. His commentary on Zen practice is very accessible, and more than a little bit "in your face." His book, Hardcore Zen, and the articles on his website make for very refreshing reading. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to his website where there are a good number of his articles. If his articles resonate with you, get the book.

What follows is an article he's written a while back, from which we could all profit. Enjoy.







YOU WON’T GET AWAY WITH THIS…!

The other day someone stole my bicycle. It was in the underground garage below my apartment building. They broke into three cars, stole someone’s GPS, someone else’s amplifier and another person’s gym bag. Apparently they stuffed their loot into the gym bag and used my bike as their get-away vehicle.

The LA Police Dept. didn’t think the incident even merited investigation as far as I can tell. A bunch of us waited and waited for them to respond to our calls. I gave up after three hours, though a few of the others lingered longer. Chances are, we’ll never know who did it, nor will we be able to recover any of our stuff.

Whoever it is probably thinks he (and, face it folks, it most likely was a “he”) got away with something. But he didn’t. Because the Universe doesn’t work that way.

Now I’m not into all that “bad karma” stuff which says that Buddha or God or whoever punishes all wrong doers. We don’t need any supernatural force to mete out justice in cases like this. We do it ourselves. It’s not something that occurs on a conscious level. But it does occur. Here’s how it works.

When you do something wrong, you are always fully aware of the wrong-ness of your action. By fully aware, I don’t necessarily mean you are consciously aware. Yet full awareness exists. When you burn your hand on a hot stove you do not need to think about what has happened to be fully aware you’ve made a mistake. The mistake becomes apparent long before thought or what we call consciousness has a chance to enter into the picture. The awareness that you’ve committed a wrongful action is a lot like this. Most of us are too busy chasing our own thoughts around to notice stuff that’s as readily apparent as this. But that doesn’t mean we’re unaware of it.

Anyway, once you’ve committed such an action, that action sets off a chain reaction within your body/mind. Things are set out of whack and will stay that way until you manage to put right what you’ve done wrong. As long as these effects of your act continue, stuff will keep going wrong for you. Your thoughts become muddled, your physical condition becomes out of sorts, you make easily avoidable mistakes, suffer stress related illnesses and so on and so forth. It’s not God or Buddha or even the Universe punishing you, though. It’s you punishing yourself.

I have noticed this process within myself as clearly and surely as I notice the fact that I have a thumb on my left hand, and I do not believe I am somehow unique among humanity. Nor do I believe there are other people out there who’ve some way or another managed to be exempt from the processes which affect me. Nope. I have complete and unshakable confidence that this is how it works for everyone everywhere in the world.

Now we can all think of cases where it seems like someone has gotten away with some kind of dirty deed — a sleazy business man who makes a load of money, a crooked politician who gets re-elected a dozen times, a thief who never gets caught. And, of course, we can all think of plenty of cases where bad things happen to good people. It’s tempting to take this as evidence that the Universe acts in a random way, rewarding the strongest and ignoring those who make the effort to behave correctly. But I don’t believe it.

If you say a guy who gets rich or famous or powerful off of his disreputable acts has gained something of value through his evil action, you’ve fallen into the trap of believing that getting rich, famous and powerful are always and forever things of real value. Me, I have very serious doubts about that. As for bad things happening to good people, that’s a minefield I’d rather not step into. But I would say that we don’t really know the actual circumstances of those whom we commonly label “good” or “bad.” Nor do most of us know our own circumstances very clearly.

Of course there are plenty of people who play the role of the guy who’s gotten away with murder, or whatever. But people can play all kinds of roles. Some people play the enlightened spiritual master role really well, too. I don’t believe that one either. Yet, the more deluded you are the easier it is to fall for the image you’ve created for yourself. The universe always takes care of that as well.

When I talked about this in the Zen class I run in Santa Monica someone asked me if I didn’t feel anger and resentment towards the guy who stole my bike. I had to stop and think a second. It’s not that I’m so spiritually advanced or pure that feelings of anger and resentment never appear in my mind. It’s just that I’ve seen the futility of chasing such feelings around and lending them strength through repetition. So, for the most part, I don’t even bother with such thoughts much anymore. They don’t give me any pleasure. They won’t lead to the recovery of my bike. They won’t help me prevent another such theft in the future. Why waste time on that kind of thinking?

But I also know it’s not enough just to hear the words “it’s useless to think of such things.” I'd heard those words a hundred thousand times before I was 14 years old. But it was a long while before I could break the habit of doing it anyway. Without the practice of zazen it never would have come about, nor would I be able to maintain the few good habits I’ve managed to develop without continuing the practice every single day.

People are always interested in speculative questions about morality. Like, if a guy has no money but his darling little boy is dying of some disease is it moral or immoral for him to break into the local Walgreen's and steal the drugs the kid needs? I don't really see the use of speculation like that. You rarely run into penniless guys with dying kids who ask you such things anyway. What is far more useful is to develop a clear mind so that when you're faced with moral challenges that lie outside of those to which society has given easy clear cut answers, you can see for yourself what right action needs to be taken.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Untitled Moment


Leaves swirl around
a bench,
at the end
of a little
peninsula
in the middle of nowhere,
dedicated
to someone's memory.

300 Tang Dynasty Poems: #6 Drinking Alone With The Moon


The Tang Dynasty was a Golden Age of Culture in old China. Poetry, in particular, was an important part of the culture. Everyone wrote poetry. There would be no occassion, a homecoming or leave taking, a birth or death; any event of import would have composed for it, an appropriate poem.

I spent the last week travelling on business. If I were more clever, I would compose a poem to celebrate my return to my home.

As it is, if you would click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of an anthology of Tang Dynasty Poems, the famous 300 Tang Dynasty Poems.

What follows is one of the most famous, by one of the most famous poets of that era, Li Po (aka Li Bai).

Five-character-ancient-verse
Li Bai
DRINKING ALONE WITH THE MOON
From a pot of wine among the flowers
I drank alone. There was no one with me --
Till, raising my cup, I asked the bright moon
To bring me my shadow and make us three.
Alas, the moon was unable to drink
And my shadow tagged me vacantly;
But still for a while I had these friends
To cheer me through the end of spring....
I sang. The moon encouraged me.
I danced. My shadow tumbled after.
As long as I knew, we were boon companions.
And then I was drunk, and we lost one another.
...Shall goodwill ever be secure?
I watch the long road of the River of Stars.

New Article at Gregory Fong's site

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to Gregory Fong's website, where he's posted some new articles on YiQuan. Some of the very best articles on YiQuan to be found on the internet have been written by Mr. Fong.

New Articles by Brad Warner

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the website of Brad Warner, where he's posted some new articles. Warner is an American ordained as a Zen priest, who is very down to earth, and here and now in his discussion of Zen.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Tea House Reviews


I'm in the Bay Area this week on business. On Tuesday, I spent the day in San Francisco.

After my obligations were over, I hung out at the Ferry Building. I stopped into The Marketplace for an outstanding hamburger and a Guiness.

Then I went to the Imperial Tea Court to meet a friend, and had some outstanding Green Oolong.

Below is a review of three teahouses in San Francisco. I can personally vouch for the Imperial Tea Court. There is a link to the Imperial Tea Court over to the right.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original of this article.
===============================
June 13, 2004
Fine Teas Flower In the Bay Area
By ALLISON HOOVER BARTLETT

AROMATIC steam spirals from the thin spout of my tiny teapot. In only a minute or two, I'll pour the emerald-colored sencha tea into my cup and bring it to my lips. I've learned that waiting too long ruins the flavor, and I've discovered that when I refill that tiny pot with water, the next cup can taste even better. My education might better be termed immersion: I've become a tea zealot--a devotea, if you will--and I'm not alone. There are more and more like me. Maybe it's the fog, or a desire to slow down, or just another excuse to partake in one more sensory pleasure. Whatever the reasons, a number of new teahouses have opened in the San Francisco Bay area, the most interesting of which offer a range of Asian or ''world tea'' experiences.

I've been a green tea drinker for more than 10 years, but pathetically limited: I knew what I liked (Gunpowder and Dragon Well), but until recently hadn't ventured any further. But after one cup of Kukicha Hatsukura Supreme at the Samovar Tea Lounge, in San Francisco's Castro District, I decided to set out on my own tasting trek. It has taken me from one sumptuous teahouse to another, all of which offered food -- from light snacks to full meals -- yet also welcomed those simply interested in a cup of tea.

My first stop was the Samovar, where more than a hundred varieties of Asian, colonial, Eastern European and Middle Eastern teas are offered ($3 to $11 per serving). The food ranges from small snacks ($1.75 to $4.95) to a Russian high tea service from a samovar ($11 including such treats as tea toasts with caviar) to entire meals (tea, appetizer, main dish and dessert are around $20 a person).

Samovar's pan-Asian interior is elegant and cozy, and with the sun streaming through the windows and world music playing softly, people tend to linger. At one end of the restaurant is a raised platform with a long table, where people sit on straw pillows under the gaze of a large 400-year-old statue of Bodhisattva Kuan Yin, who looks especially relaxed, one arm resting on her bent knee. The crowd is varied, from young couples, to writers at their laptops, to grandmothers sipping with their grandchildren.

While I was there, a number of young women were taking part in another ageless but now popular pastime: knitting. And if the eclectic crowd doesn't provide enough entertainment, the magazine rack in the corner offers such offbeat choices as Giant Robot, Surfer's Journal and DestinAsia.

My husband, John, came with me, and both of us thought we'd try oolongs, which lie somewhere between the greens and the blacks on the tea oxidation scale. One of the most significant distinctions between varieties of teas is the degree to which they are oxidized -- that is, exposed to air while drying. The process is often assumed, incorrectly, to be fermentation, which usually implies additives.

In choosing our oolongs, we were swayed by nomenclature and the elaborate descriptions: I went for the Monkey Picked Iron Goddess of Mercy (''Kuan Yin's classic elixir offering transcendence via the tealeaf''), a smooth, full-bodied, slightly floral tea that is $6 for a small pot.

And John chose, predictably, Caressing Royal Concubine (''Sip by sip, all-consuming rapture'') for $7. It tastes the way tropical flowers smell: like honey. Later I learned the reason for this tea's potent flavor; farmers take caterpillars to the tea bushes and let them devour the leaves, which causes the plants to put all their rejuvenating energy into the next season's harvest: these are the robust leaves used for Caressing Royal Concubine.

I ate Asian -- the bento box with ginger baked mahi mahi ($8.95), and John decided on a grilled sandwich (Gouda and cured ham on rye, $6.50). While the menu features some English and Russian fare, the best of it--and most of it--is Asian. For dessert, we ordered two delicate white teas, which our tea server described as ''tea at its purest.'' Apparently, because of its very slow, controlled drying process, only this type of tea retains its leaf-bud color. Our Snow Buds ($5) and Wild Rose Silver Needle ($5.50), were lovely, but were overpowered by our decadent chocolate dessert choices. Oh, the art of matching tea to food. We should have asked for recommendations.

While tea's health benefits may be one reason places like Samovar are so popular these days, good taste is certainly another. A cup of Starbucks was enough to induce many to swear off Folgers -- and there are plenty of inducements to move beyond Lipton. In addition to oolongs, greens, whites and blacks, there is the Pu Erh variety from Yunan Province in China, a dark, almost espresso-like tea that's surprisingly low in caffeine.

Pu Erhs, I learned, are also the only aged teas -- that is, they are oxidized much longer than other teas. Some of the oldest are aged for more than 100 years. Like wine, Pu Erhs are stored in a manner (sometimes buried or put in caves) that enhances taste. And like fine wines, these teas are more prized the older they get, and more expensive. I tried a pot of Jingmai Mountain at a later visit to Samovar and concluded that with its intense flavor, it would have been a better choice with our chocolate desserts.

I also noticed that the service at Samovar can be slow, which turned out to be the case at every teahouse I visited. Yet rushing would be beside the point. We were there to savor, as were the throngs of customers lined up to order at the counter. Lovely pots, cups, teas and related accouterments are for sale here.

Our next stop took us to the edge of the Bay where Alice Waters was among the customers at the new Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco's beautifully refurbished Ferry Building Marketplace. For years, the Imperial Tea Court has been regarded as the quintessential teahouse in Chinatown, and this new branch, set in the city's bustling cathedral to cuisine (the Marketplace houses local purveyors of every imaginable gourmet food), is a refuge for weary shoppers.

Open on one side to the Marketplace, and hung with red lanterns and delicate bird cages, the Imperial Tea Court has the feel of an exotic, intimate, sanctuary; it seats about 25. We brought our kids, aged 10 and 13, who drank water instead of tea but thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

We ordered the gong fu tea service ($8 a person), which is something like a Japanese tea ceremony, but less refined.

Our waiter, a gracious young man in a silk jacket, arrived with a number of unglazed teapots of various sizes and explained (to our rapt children) that they were made from river-bottom soil. He ceremoniously bathed the cups and pots by pouring steaming water over them, which ran into the hollow tin tray beneath. He recommended the Old Bush tea, and although the political jokes brewed faster than the tea, we tried to stifle them.

Our waiter passed us a small vessel with the dry leaves, which smelled remarkably like cocoa. Then, after wetting them, he passed it again. The aroma had been transformed into something leafier, more subtle. He swept the wetted pot in a circle around the tray -- to wipe off the drips, he explained, and to move the leaves to the center of the pot. Then he poured one of the most flavorful teas I've ever tasted.

The staff at these teahouses is generally eager to impart knowledge, and I learned a fair amount while sipping (or slurping, as this waiter recommended). All kinds of tea, for example, come from one plant, the camellia sinensis. Differences in the soil, climate and topography of the growing regions, and in methods of harvesting and processing distinguish a Green Peony Rosette from a Lapsang souchong. And herbal teas are not technically tea, but rather infusions of herbs.

With the Old Bush, we ordered both the dim sum sampler ($6.50) and the snack sampler ($4). The dim sum included savory vegetarian steamed buns filled with chopped baby bok choy and shiitake mushrooms; subtly seasoned shrimp dumplings in glassy wraps; and delicately fried spring rolls, with shredded cabbage, carrot and coconut. The light snacks included ginger roasted almonds, flaky, short peanut cookies and lovely, green tea-dusted pumpkin seeds. Items can also be ordered individually ($2).

Tibetans call tea ''the water of long life.'' Based on the number of people hoping to get a table at the Imperial Tea Court, it appears many are betting on it. A steady stream of customers strolled into the restaurant with cherry blossom branches wrapped in newspapers and red mesh sacks of oranges from the Farmers Market outside.

Elegant teapots, cups and tea paraphernalia, including many beautiful gong fu services, are for sale.

Our last stop was Celadon Fine Teas, across the bay in Albany, a town next to Berkeley. It was an unseasonably warm spring day, and when we walked through the open doors, we stopped and slowly swiveled around to take it all in. A trip here is as much about architecture as it is about tea.

Designed by Fu-Tung Cheng, a Bay Area kitchen designer, Celadon radiates with subtle colors and handsome materials: grays, greens and browns shimmer through a balance of glass, wood, tile and metal. On this quiet Sunday afternoon, most of the tables were full, so we sat at the bar, an arc of olive-colored concrete, flecked with turquoise stone and inlaid with fossils.

Our waiter brought us menus and, after much ogling at our surroundings, we perused them.

While Celadon sells about 70 types of tea, the tasting menu features only about a dozen. They are listed according to variety and caffeine potency, and since John and I were both in need of a boost, we skipped over the whites and greens. I ordered a pot of Lichee Red ($4.75), a ''Cantonese favorite,'' according to the menu. Poured into a yellow porcelain cup lined in white, it was a beautiful shade of cedar and tasted faintly floral and quite sweet.

I asked the waiter what gave the Lichee Red its color, but as with other questions I asked here, I wasn't given much of an answer (''something to do with its processing''). While the waiters were courteous and friendly, they didn't seem as knowledgeable about tea as servers at other teahouses.

John ordered a pot of Taiwan Beauty ($5), a honey-colored tea described as ''floral, robust and spicy,'' but I found it more grassy, almost vegetal, with a little bite. Both our teas were exceptionally smooth, even after numerous infusions of fresh, steaming water.

There are a few selections of pastries at Celadon, ($2 to $4 each) varying from day to day. We ordered the pear ginger tart, a thin, rich wedge that was superb, and a couple of disappointingly bland mochi, Japanese rice pastries.

Between sips of tea, there was much to appreciate: the narrow river of water trickling down the center of one of the counters, the tea strainers made of small gourds with green silk tassels, the mushroom-shaped rice paper light fixtures, the antique tea tools--and many delicate tea services for sale.

Throughout my tea-tasting journey, I found alluring havens to sample tea. The only thing I didn't find was someone who could read my fortune in a cup. Once, I noticed leftover leaves that looked something like a kangaroo. At home, when I consulted a couple of Internet sources on tea leaf-reading, I learned that I can look forward to either travel to exotic places or harmony at home. I chose to believe both.

Three for tea

Samovar Tea Lounge, 498 Sanchez Street, San Francisco; (415) 626-4700; online at http://www.samovartea.com/. Open every day, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Imperial Tea Court, 1 Ferry Building Plaza, San Francisco; (415) 544-9830; www .imperialtea.com. Open Tuesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Monday.

Celadon Fine Teas, 1111 Solano Avenue, Albany, Calif.; (510) 524-1696; on the Web at http://www.celadontea.com/. Open Tuesday through Thursday, and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Monday.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Dao De Jing: Chapter 3


The Dao De Jing is one of the great world classics. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online, public domain translation.





If you overly esteem talented individuals,
people will become overly competitive.
If you overvalue possessions,
people will begin to steal.

Do not display your treasures or people will become envious.

The Master leads by emptying people's minds,
filling their bellies,
weakening their ambitions,
and making them become strong.

Preferring simplicity and freedom from desires,
avoiding the pitfalls of knowledge and wrong action.

For those who practice not-doing,
everything will fall into place.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Martrix


Martrix is a training company in Europe. They provide all sorts of training based around martial arts ideas for human development. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the website.

The website has links to all sorts of interesting material including free downloads. There are also links to many other interesting websites, including one dedicated to Taikiken, the Japanese version of YiQuan. I've also placed a permanent link over on the right sidebar.

The principals of Matrix, Ron Nansink and Nadja Kotrchova have a long history in martial arts training.

Please pay them a visit and take a look around.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

"If I Had A Million Dollars ..."


The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/gate/archive/2005/09/12/findrelig.DTL
---------------------------------------------------------------------
Monday, September 12, 2005
(SF Gate)
FINDING MY RELIGION/Born into great wealth, Tracy Gary finds happiness in giving her money away
David Ian Miller, Special to SF Gate

Most of us fantasize about wealth. We imagine what it would be like to own whatever we wanted, to be free from the burden of earning a living.

In America in 2005, the pursuit of wealth is a kind of secular religion. The rich celebrities and business moguls flaunting their worth on magazine covers and reality TV shows are the high priests. Money, of course, is a false god. Yet we cling to the idea that financial nirvana is attainable.

Then there's Tracy Gary. She had more money than most people dream of having, and she gave it all away. In her 20s, Gary decided that her family's inheritance could do more good helping others than buying hermore things.

That decision was rooted in her own eclectic spirituality, the purpose of which, she believes, is to serve others and to work for the public good.

Over the last 25 years, she's helped start many nonprofit organizations working for social change, such as the Women's Foundation of San Francisco and the International Donor Dialogue Network. She's also inspired other wealthy people to take up philanthropy through Community Consulting Services, which she founded in 1978.

Gary, 54, spoke with me last week by phone from Houston, where she was helping out as a volunteer with the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

So, you've been volunteering at the Houston Astrodome. What are you doing there, exactly?

Whatever is needed to help people rebuild their lives. I'm with the medical volunteers. We've been mostly registering people as they arrive and talking with them about what they need in terms of care.

After we see them, they're directed to a nurse, doctor or therapist.Basically, we're hearing their stories and doing a brief intake dialogue about their body, mind and spirit so they can get the help they need.

What kinds of stories are you hearing from victims?

There are so many stories -- it's overwhelming. I've heard tales of enormous grief -- people who are terrified they're never going to see their family members or homes again.

I've heard stories about families of 50 people who had only one car and had to decide who got to leave town and who had to stay. Now they can't find the rest of their loved ones.

A lot of these people have lost everything they own, all their worldly possessions. You're someone who voluntarily gave up most of your money.How does that affect your perspective on their loss?

I can't tell people what they should feel under these circumstances, but I can say from my experience that what matters is your family, your community and your faith, not what you own or don't own.

My family had houses in New York, Florida, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Paris, France. We had 36 people working for us. We owned helicopters, planes and Rolls Royces. But I realized that no amount of money could buy love, and no amount of money could buy faith and compassion. And many, many wealthy people that I knew and worked with in those years were very unhappy.

Why were they unhappy?

They were suffering from enormous isolation. They'd chosen that fate for themselves by living in 5,000-10,000-square-foot houses where, you know, the desire was to have space and a certain amount of privacy and solitude.

But eventually they realized it was making them miserable. They were craving something that money couldn't buy.

The idea of a rich person suffering like that is not the story you usually hear. Americans tend to glorify wealth and the good life.

Until they get the money and then they realize that it isn't fulfilling.

What I'm saying is that once you buy the toys that you have been wanting -- that car, that new computer, that whatever -- there is something that sets in that is just so vapid.

The question is, how much is enough? What's really important? If somebody asked me what I would choose -- whether I could have $500,000 and live as comfortably as I wanted or I could have a guarantee of knowing how to build a community with people who shared my values and try to change the world -- I would choose the community in a second.

Your parents came from wealthy families. Where did they get their money?

My mother was part of the Pillsbury family, but she didn't inherit most of her wealth. She made money as a stockbroker, beginning in World War II,and her second husband, Theodore Gary, was quite wealthy. His grandfather held the patent for the dial telephone. Because of the businesses that my mother and stepfather created together over the years, their wealth actually doubled and tripled in their lifetimes.

How much money are we talking about?

They had $30 or $40 million in 1970, so that would be the equivalent of maybe $60 to $70 million today.

Eventually your parents passed some of that money on to you as aninheritance, but you decided to give it away. Why did you do that?

When I came to San Francisco in 1973, I had just finished a degree in mythology from Sarah Lawrence College. Joseph Campbell, who was one of my teachers, had basically said, "You know, you really have to think about who you are."

And so I began asking myself, what does it mean to be a wealthy WASP in America in 1973? I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I started volunteering at different places, thinking that I would eventually get a job in San Francisco.

Where did you volunteer?

I volunteered for the public defender's office, for a hospital, forEdgewood Children's Home and for the American Friends Service Committee on farm workers stuff.

Eventually, you founded an organization where wealthy people could donate their money to create grants for nonprofits in Northern California.

At the age of 25, I made a plan to give away all my money by the time I turned 35. I decided I would also try to inspire other families who were thinking about giving their money away to become social-change donors. I realized that this money could do an enormous amount of good for these organizations.

So you gave away your inheritance. How much money do you live on these days?

I try to live on $35,000 to $45,000, depending upon the year. I also have a house in Marin County that I bought in the 1970s. So I have a good life. I have fun. I don't live like a monk. I live modestly so I can support local and global nonprofits like Changemakers, the latest organization I've help found with others.

Where did this desire to help people come from? Was it something you were taught to do?

There was a connection made for me early on by my parents that there is no greater gift than giving, sharing and being with another person. That was a given in our family. And so it did not feel like an obligation. The spirit just sort of moved us to be engaged.

What is the relationship between philanthropy and spirituality in your life?

They are very entwined. Philanthropy really is about volunteering your money and time for the public good, and I feel strongly that spirituality at its highest level has a similar focus. It's about extending care and faith to make the world a better place.

What is your religious background?

I grew up in a Christian environment -- my family was Episcopalian. I wasn't deeply into the Bible or Jesus Christ, but I see Jesus now as quite a servant, someone who did remarkable things for the community. If you look at the quality of the human being that Jesus Christ was, it's extremely inspiring.

Do you still consider yourself a Christian?

Well, I'm comfortable with some of the passages in the Bible, some of the Nicene Creed and some of the things that I grew up with as a kid. But over time, much of the church has lost its appeal for me, and it's been replaced by Buddhism and other teachings. In the 1970s I got into 12-step programs that were really a form of religion. To my mind, so is feminism, through which I've found an enormous spirit and community.

What appeals to you about Buddhism?

The idea that life is suffering, and the goal of learning to be present. Also the notion of simplifying one's life is extremely powerful, I think.

So you have kind of an eclectic spiritual identity. That's like a lot of people, especially in the Bay Area.

I think so. There are so many forums right now for letting spirit into your life and for allowing our hearts to be open. And I'm grateful for that.

I really have a vision of a world that I want to live in and that I want others to be able to live in, and it's a world that works a lot better than New Orleans is working, a lot better than the Astrodome is working. It's a world that is actually within our reach and a possibility, and Iwill work every day toward that, because I have seen what can happen with the power of people coming together and putting aside their self-interest for something that is greater.

When you talk about something that is greater than yourself, what do you mean? Is that your idea of God?

You know, I'm not sure. But it's not important to me to name what it is or what it isn't. I certainly believe in God. I believe in a higher force.But I find God in nature, and I find God in love, and I find God in lots and lots of different places, so I'm not a purist about that. I've found as much spirit sleeping under a grove of 2,000-year-old redwood trees, you know, as I have in the greatest cathedrals in the world in Europe.

During his far-flung career in journalism, Bay Area writer and editorDavid Ian Miller has worked as a city hall reporter, personal finance writer, cable television executive and managing editor of a technology news site. His writing credits include Salon.com, Wired News and The New York Observer.
----------------------------------------------------------------------Copyright 2005 SF Gate

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A Two Day Tour of Tokyo on $500


If you click on the link in the story, you'll be directed to the newspaper website where it first appeared. There is a short slide show at that site. The picture above is from the slide show.
==================
### http://travel2.nytimes.com/2005/09/11/travel/11frugal.html?ex=1126756800&en=5f0b8d6180861b2f&ei=5070
The New York Times
September 11, 2005
A Two-Day Tour of Tokyo, Stretching $500 Worth of Yen
By TOM DOWNEY

MENTION to any traveler that you're headed to Tokyo and be prepared to hear a litany of warnings: hotelrooms in Shinjuku equal to the cost of a month's rent in New York, breakfasts that can cost more than dinners at Per Se. Even the most in-the-know travelers persist in believing that Tokyo is a destination fit only for the superrich.

But given today's strong euro, Tokyo can actually be less expensive than some major European cities (and even cheaper than New York) - if you know where to go and what to avoid.

One weekend in June, I had a chance to test this theory. My goal was to enjoy two days in Tokyo on atotal budget of just $500.

One thing that would help is that low-priced hotels are surprisingly easy to come by in Japan. Most of them cater to Japanese businessmen and are clean, safe and conveniently situated; just don't plan on doing any jumping jacks in these tiny rooms. I opted for the Hotel Excellent Ebisu ($86 for a single, at 106.38 yen to the dollar, the exchange rate in June), a highly functional if slightly shabby establishment just 30 seconds away from a major transport hub in Ebisu, a popular stop on the Yamanote Line, the city's main transport artery.

I started my weekend with cash in my wallet fresh from the A.T.M.: five crisp 10,000-yen notes and some small change. The Japanese prefer cash, not credit cards;also, the notes would make it easier for me to track my expenses and know when I was beginning to reach the end of my stash.

My first stop, on Friday afternoon, was Restaurant Tan organic establishment opened by Shinya Tasaki,Japan's most famous sommelier, that serves only food grown in Tokyo prefecture. It has a serene setting:perched high above the city in the Atago Shrine complex, it felt miles away from the bustle below.

There were just three choices for lunch, which was helpful given that the menu was in Japanese. The bestTokyo bargains are found in places geared to Japanese customers, not foreigners, which means no English menus, price lists or written explanations. How to cope? I pointed, asked questions and hoped for the best.

The pickled fish served over a bed of rice ($14 for the set lunch) tasted like smoked salmon gone mad and came with a small sautéed spinach starter, a big bowl of daikon radish soup, unlimited iced tea and a final cup of strong coffee. Many restaurants offer free,unlimited hot or cold tea with the meal, but charge extortionate prices for à la carte soft drinks or coffees.

I finished with a walk in the garden surrounding the restaurant, wandering along a rocky path that circled a small pond filled with hungry koi. Supposedly salarymen are granted success if they sprint up the main staircase that connects this shrine to the city streets below, but I didn't have the energy to attempt that feat on a full stomach.

Navigating the trains and subways of Tokyo proved easier than navigating the menus, since every station had maps and signs in English. I took the JR Chuo line west to Kichijoji to visit Tokyo's hottest new museum:the Ghibli ($9.40 admission). On the edge of vast,green Inokashira park, the museum is devoted to the work of Hayao Miyazaki, Japan's master animator, whose Disney-distributed movie "Howl's Moving Castle" recently hit American theaters.

The museum chronicled the development of animation -from flipbooks, to spinning dioramas, to Claymation -with displays that transformed abstract history into tangible form. The desk and workspace of Mr. Miyazaki were meticulously recreated, though it seemed a bit strange that he had let himself be deified in this way.

Back in Shinjuku, I stepped into a Japanese dream ofthe 1970's: Samurai, a bar run by a haiku master who caught the jazz bug. The tiny bar has lucky cat statues everywhere, and the experience of listening to great and long-forgotten jazz tracks with thousands of little white cats staring me down and waving their paws was nearly mystical - especially after a stiff drink ($12 including cover charge). One thing to be aware of is that a cover charge is leveled at many Japanese bars and restaurants, which usually ranges from $4 to $10; service is always included in menu prices.

Later that night, I journeyed to Milk Wonton, inYurakucho. Set under the railroad tracks in a tiny storefront, Milk Wonton was a great place to sample home-style Japanese cooking. Regulars walked in and the omakase feast began: 14 small dishes cooked right behind the counter and served in a sequence that always comes around to the house specialty: milk wonton, handmade dumplings in whole milk ($25 for the meal, plus $7 for a large beer). Milk Wonton serves some challenging fare for the Western eater - things like grilled eel fin twirled on a stick, natto(fermented, stinky soybeans) and sticky yam - but these foods are well worth sampling.

After a huge meal, I made a mad dash for the subway;ending up stranded would have left me with the prospect of an extremely long walk or a $50 taxi ride back to my hotel.

I set up a Saturday morning rendezvous with a service called Tokyo Free Guide. (The name says it all.) The guides are English-speaking locals who want to show foreigners around their hometown and brush up on their language skills.

I met Kaz, the woman who founded Tokyo Free Guide, in Sugamo, a neighborhood she picked out when I told her I wanted to see an old-fashioned section of town. We wandered through the neighborhood, peeking into small shrines with tiny statues shrouded in bright cloth,browsing in miso-paste shops and watching the many clothing stores get ready for a big shopping day in a place known as the Grandmas' Harajuku. (The real Harajuku is a famous shopping area for teens.)

Next, we hopped a tiny train, the Toden Arakawa Line($1.88), a one-car affair, which navigated the worlds of the future and the past, snaking through backyards where grandpas tended their gardens, into a neighborhood with an ultramodern shopping complex.

After a few very Japanese meals, I needed a break.Tokyo's range of great global cuisine is surprising considering that Japan has one of the most ethnically homogeneous populations in the world. But Japanese chefs are brilliant and meticulous mimics and, in everything from pasta to pâté, the copy often outshines the original. I ended up at If, in Ebisu, where the cuisine (pasta followed by veal cheeks, $33.50 with two beers) was nearly as delightful as the cutting-edge interior design.

An hour later, after a much-needed nap, I awoke and decided to hit a hipster enclave called Naka-Meguro, a half-hour walk from my hotel. I walked whenever I could in Tokyo. Constant train transport makes the city disorienting, and even locals seem to understand Tokyo more as a series of train stops than as a unified whole.

Naka-Meguro is beautifully situated on the Meguro River, which is shaded by old trees that hang across its banks. At Cowbooks, a strikingly well-designed little bookshop, I found the perfect purchase: a smallcloth bag ($17.75) meant to carry just one book,embroidered with a barely English sentence:"Everything for the Freedom." A giant L.E.D. display flashed questions around the bookstore as earnest readers browsed.

I wanted to plunge back into the city center for Saturday night, so I rode the train to Shibuya. I stepped out into the Shibuya night, filled with over-made-up teenagers, Japanese hip-hop posers and gaijin like me. One of the primal (and free) thrills of Tokyo is being swept up in the crowds of people that parade through the neon-drenched streets and feeling the rush as you ride the human wave across the alleys and boulevards.

I had picked Kuu in nearby Shinjuku, a charcoal-grill restaurant towering above Tokyo on the 50th floor of the Sumitomo Building, for a snack with a view. A friend told me that the Japanese have a saying: "Stupid people love high places." Call me stupid, but the view from the top of Tokyo was breathtaking, and the illuminated high-rises that stretched far into the horizon on every side made New York, Paris and London all look like tiny towns.

At Kuu, the grilled chicken served with a yuzu paste was the signature dish ($26.85 including cover charge,food and two beers). The Japanese prepare their chicken medium-rare, still pink in the middle, so if you prefer it cooked well-done, ask.

The izakaya is Japan's answer to the tapas bar.Originally places to drink sake accompanied by some simple snacks, nouveau-izakaya cuisine is now sweeping Tokyo, incorporating fine wines, Western food and high-concept design into a traditional line-up of sake, shochu and Japanese standards.

Ofuro in Shimo-takaido, a wine-centered izakaya with masterful food, was hard to find - three blocks from the train, around a corner and downstairs. Like Ofuro,many Japanese bars and restaurants turn inward not outward and are in the basement or on an upper floor,making it difficult to assess places from the street -and making recommendations even more important.

When Iasked, in English, for a suggestion off the Japanese-only menu, the waiter pointed to one dish and said only "corn." Fluffy, sweet and delicious, this divine incarnation of the corn fritter was a perfect complement to the crisp Sancerre I was drinking (mealtotal: $34.75).

For the last morning of my Tokyo weekend I wanted to visit Yasukuni Shrine, which had been much in the news recently because every year Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi continues to visit this place, which enshrines Japan's most notorious war criminals. As I got closer,I saw some activists too young to have ever fought in the war dressed in old Japanese army gear, and a young family decked out in fatigues and camouflage.

The museum ($7.50 admission) was an interesting exercise in historical revisionism, observing, among other things, that the Japanese had in fact inspired the anticolonial struggles of Southeast Asia. My Japanese friend Miyuki was so sickened by this propaganda that she insisted we visit the near by tomb of the unknown soldier, Chidori ga Fuchi Senbotsusha Boen, which was a serene antidote to Yasukuni.

With transport, snacks, a few more meals and convenience store purchases totaling $131, I managedto come in $7 under my $500 limit.

I wrapped up my weekend convinced that even when experienced on a budget, Tokyo, with its speed, energy and constant flux, its local delights and itscelebration of the cosmopolitan, deserves a place of honor among the world's great cities of the 21stcentury.

TOTAL: $493

THE BOTTOM LINE

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Excellent Ebisu, 1-9-5 Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya-ku,(81-3) 5458-0087; http://www.soeikikaku.co.jp/. Singles are$86; doubles, $105.

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

Restaurant T, Atago Shrine, 1-5-3 Atago, Minato-ku,(81-3) 5777-5557. Closed Monday.

Samurai, Shinjuku 3-35-5, Shinjuku-ku, fifth floor,(81-3) 3341-0383.

Milk Wonton, 3-7-9 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku,(81-3)3215-1939.

If, 3-2-5 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, (81-3) 5739-0848.

Kuu, Nishi-Shinjuku 2-6-1, Shinjuku Sumitomo Building,50th floor, (81-3) 3344-6457.

Ofuro, 4-45-10 Akazutsumi, Setagaya-ku, (81-3)5300-6007.

WHAT TO SEE

Ghibli Museum, 1-1-83 Shimorenjaku, Mitaka Shi, (81-5) 7005-5777, http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/. Reserved timed tickets; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Tuesday. Tickets available at Lawson convenience stores in Japan or JTB Travel Agencies; www.jtb.co.jp/eng/ghibli/ticketsystem.html.

Tokyo Free Guide, http://www.tokyofreeguide.com/, hasEnglish-speaking residents who offer free guidedtours.

Cowbooks, 1-14-11 Aobadai, Meguro-ku, (81-3)5459-1747, http://www.cowbooks.jp/. Open noon to 9 p.m.,closed Wednesday.

Yasukuni Shrine, 3-1-1 Kudankita, Chiyoda-ku, (81-3)3261-8326, www.yasukuni.or.jp/english/index.html.Grounds open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily; museum 9 a.m. to5:30 p.m. (5 p.m. winter).

Chidori ga Fuchi Senbotsusha Boen, Sanbancho 2,Chiyoda-ku.
###

Mystery Men


Last weekend, on cable, I finally caught Mystery Men. I haven't seen it before.

It was hilarious. All sorts of good lines. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a page of quotes from the movie.

I thought it was going to be a Ben Stiller centerpiece. I've liked Ben Stiller movies, and I was looking forward to it. Stiller gave the rest of the cast plenty of room, and it was Bill Macy, a perenial supporting actor (The Shoveler) who stole the show.

The movie is a delight, and it's suitable for anyone. Check it out.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The 36 Strategies: #6, Feint east, strike west


The 36 strategies is a famous text from Asia, second only to the Art of War by Sun Tzu. Any literate Asian is familiar with the 36 strategies, not so much to try and manipulate others, but to recognise when someone is trying to apply these strategies on them!

For this reason along, they are worth the time and trouble to study. I don't know about you, but I'm not planning any hostile takeovers of multibillion dollar companies this week, but I do want to make it to the weekend with my peace of mind relatively intact. That's what the nuts and bolts of studying strategy is about: you and I getting through our daily lives, despite the efforts of some of those around us.

6. Feint east, strike west

You spread misleading information about your intentions, or make false suggestions, in order to induce the opponent to concentrate his defenses on one front and thereby leave another front vulnerable to attack.

A very famous example is from WWII. A phantom army was built around Gen. Patton in England, prior to the D-Day invasion. He had fake tanks, fake barracks, fake radio traffic. This was all set up to give the impression that he would lead the invasion near Cherbourg, which is the closest part of France to England. So convinced were the Germans that Patton was going to lead the heavy blow, that they delayed for weeks after the D-Day invasion, before transferring troops away from defending Cherbourg, waiting for an invasion by Gen Patton that never came.

To sum up the first six of the 36 Strategies:

1. Sneak across an ocean in broad daylight

This means to create a front that eventually becomes imbued with an atmosphere or impression of familiarity, within which the strategist may maneuver unseen while all eyes are trained to see obvious familiarities.

2. Surround one state to save another.

When a strong group is about to take over a weaker group, a third part can "have it's cake and eat it too," gaining a good reputation by attacking the aggressor in apparent behalf of the defender, and also eventually absorb the weakened defender to boot, without incurring the same opprobrium that would be leveled at outright aggression.

3. Borrow a sword to kill another

When one side in a conflict is weakening, it may draw it's own friends into battle, thus delivering a blow to it's enemy while conserving it's own strength.

4. Face the weary in a condition of ease

You force others to expend energy while you preserve yours. You tire opponents out by sending them on wild goose chases, or by making them come to your from far away while you stand your ground.

5. Plunge into a fire to pull off a robbery

You use others' troubles as opportunities to gain something for yourself.

6. Feint east, strike west

You spread misleading information about your intentions, or make false suggestions, in order to induce the opponent to concentrate his defenses on one front and thereby leave another front vulnerable to attack.

You might find a theme running through these first six strategies. The way they are organized, there are six broad categories of six strategies each. The six categories are:

ONE: Stratagems When Commanding Superiority
TWO: Stratagems For Confrontation
THREE: Stratagems For Attack
FOUR: Stratagems For Confused Situations
FIVE: Stratagems For Gaining Ground
SIX: Stratagems For Desperate Straits

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Thinking about Autumn


This is from a couple of years ago.

A friend of mine had sent me a note about how quickly his kids were growing up. I wrote this back, and I thought you might find it interesting...
=====
Empty parking lot,
Autumn has chilled the air.
Single leaf blows by.

With Ashley being a senior, and only months away, really, from departing to school, and never really coming back again, I am racked with nostalgia.

Every day is different. The bottom line is that it's truly a pleasure to watch them grow everyday. Each day that passes, however, is lost. With Ashley we had so many "firsts," and now with Katie, we are rolling along, collecting "lasts." We laugh with other parents about having done our time at St. Mike's (since Ash was in 2nd grade), and now WE'RE almost out. So many memories, so many good friends.

About every six weeks or so, for the last year, I've been going to funerals. I'm at the age where the parents of my friends are all dropping like flies. Lately, I've noticed that we tend to look at each other, wondering who will be the next host.

With these funerals, and my Mom in the nursing home right now, I watch the leaves blow off of the trees across the lot, feel autumn foreshadowing winter, and sense just how quickly time slips by.

Looking at old pictures - it seems like just yesterday that they were so small. The Mrs (mine) has constantly been taking pictures since birth, but stuffs the pictures away. I've always been puzzled. I've finally figured it out - when they're both gone, and we're faced with an empty nest, she'll have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pictures and memories to sort and and organize. I couldn't dream up a better activity for her.

Before you know it, they'll be on their own, collecting "firsts" and "lasts," and wondering about our health, as we watch the autumn wind blow the leaves from the trees.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Tang Dynasty Art


The Tang Dynasty was not only a Golden Age of poetry in China, but off all the arts. I particularly like the horse sculptures produced in that era.

Friday, September 09, 2005

An Early Autumn Evening



Quarter moon smiling
Down like Cheshire Cat, songs
Crickets sing at campfires.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Dao De Jing: Chapter 2


The Dao De Jing is one of the world's classics. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a public domain translation.

Chapter 2:

When people see things as beautiful, ugliness is created.
When people see things as good, evil is created.
Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.
Therefore the Master can act without doing anything and teach without saying a word.
Things come her way and she does not stop them; things leave and she lets them go.
She has without possessing, and acts without any expectations.
When her work is done, she take no credit.
That is why it will last forever.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

An Introduction to YiQuan


An Introduction to the YiQuan: A Pragmatic View into the Internal Martial Arts.
By Rick Matz

“The heart of the study of boxing is to have natural instinct resemble the dragon.”
---Wang Xiang Zhai

YiQuan is an internal Chinese martial art that does not rely on forms, techniques, or a theory of training based upon traditional Chinese medicine. YiQuan aims at the root of martial arts training: the pure expression of the practitioner’s intent.

YiQuan is often identified with its most basic exercise: standing still like a stake in the ground. The signature training method of YiQuan is the use of visualizations and imagery to train the body.

History of YiQuan

In China, during the 1920s Wang Xiang Zhai, an internal martial art master of XingYiquan became dissatisfied with the state of martial arts that was being practiced around him.
He felt that martial arts teachers and students, even his own, were more concerned with the performance of forms and development of techniques than with the emphasis of “developing one’s intent.”

Dispensing with the distracting forms and techniques, Wang Xiang Zhai developed an internal training system that worked directly at strengthening the student’s intention and ability to respond to that intention as the decisive characteristic of a martial art.

Wang Xiang Zhai taught a handful of exercises and a different way to thinking about them. The generation of teachers who followed Wang put their own emphasis on different aspects of the practice they had learned, as their disposition suited them and as their students responded. Some teachers today, for example, teach a small set of exercises and expect the student to develop and explore the variations on their own. Other teachers explicitly teach a large number of variations to deliberately lead the student through certain experiences in body movement.

Wang Xiang Zhai also taught each of his students how to discover their own unique art.

The Positives of YiQuan

YiQuan teaches the practitioner to relax regardless of the surroundings. As you become more relaxed, you accrue many common-sense health benefits. Nothing needs to be more complex than that.

The first thing you might notice is that you sleep better. When you sleep well, you feel better, are more alert, your body works better, you have more energy, and so on. You become more sensitive about what your body feels: the effects of what you eat and drink and your environment. As you relax, you have less of a need to eat to relieve stress, for example, and other nervous compulsions seem to drop away.

You create 'space' around you. In this space, the stresses of life become somewhat diffused, so you have less stress and can look at things more objectively. You become less worried about time. What is considered important becomes more refined. You will find it easier to drop things that don't add something positive to your life.

You’ll find that your reaction time becomes quicker. With the quicker reaction time and the psychological space, you can better respond to what happens around you, rather than just reacting.

A result of all of this is that you become … more relaxed and so set up a cycle of positive feedback, improving your physical and mental health.

YiQuan practice doesn’t require a special space, such as a training matt or special equipment. You can practice wherever you are. While partner practice is of huge benefit, you’ll spend most of your time training on your own so you don’t have to depend on the availability of someone else.

Training

The YiQuan training falls into one of the following seven categories:

Standing like a stake (“zhan zhuang”)
Gathering strength (“mo jin”)
Testing strength (“shi li”)
Walking exercise (“mocabu”)
Push hands (“tui shou”)
Issuing force(“Fa jin”)
Combat (“san shou”)

The foundational root of YiQuan training can be found in its mother art, XingYiQuan, and in the other internal martial arts, BaGuaZhang and TaijiQuan. Like these other martial arts, YiQuan puts a premium on relaxation and connected, whole-body movement.

Unlike the other internal martial art systems, YiQuan does not rely on the use of the Qi theory as a basis for teaching; but in no way does it contradict that theory.

Zhan Zhuang, The Basic Exercise

The first fundamental YiQuan training exercise is stake standing or “zhan zhuang.” The principal focus of this practice is learning how to relax to promote both good health and martial ability. After a good understanding of “relax” is reached, then you can work with visualizations. Learning “how to relax” is the common first step in all internal martial arts. Once this level of relaxation has been reached, the next step is to proceed toward advanced exercises.

During this standing practice, wherever tension is felt, just let it go. It’ll probably come right back in a microsecond, but that’s ok. The tension will be noticed and you will counter by just releasing it. Let it go again and again. Eventually that tension will subside and you’ll notice tension somewhere else. Repeat the process. As long as you are alive, it will never end.

The more you train and learn to relax, the more sensitive you’ll become to noticing tension. You’ll find that you notice how poorly other people are standing. They are reflections of you, past and present. Pay attention and let the tension go throughout the day. Constantly relax and let go.

As you progress, you will be able to feel any specific tension in you body with finer resolution. You will be able to identify individual muscles. The more relaxed you become, the more you can feel and become more relaxed. It’s positive feedback. Relaxing the tension is similar to that of the action of peeling the layers of an onion.

The interesting thing about concentration on relaxation is that once you get into a very relaxed state, your structure becomes very sound. It must be sound in order you to be relaxed. When you are truly relaxed, you'll feel as though you were expanding in all directions.

Being relaxed, balanced, and so on, isn’t some fixed point. It’s a dynamic point that’s always moving. When you stand, you’re basically physically still, but because this point is always moving around, you are intent with it and you always have the possibility of movement. You could support a mountain, but if a fly landed on you, you’d be in instant motion. You have the potential to be still or move.

How you train is a strategy. Think about what you are doing, how you are approaching it, and why. If you are not getting results, you are doing something wrong. Back up and examine your methods; then try again.

As mentioned previously, the basic purpose of standing was to learn to relax. That is the gateway to learning how to use the visualizations.

YiQuan uses vivid imagery to train the body to respond to the mind’s intention. Once the novice practitioners have learned how to relax, they will begin to focus on specific visualizations. With each incremental sequence of specific visualization, the muscles of the body will begin to respond in the development of a coordinated frame of whole-body strength.

The essential points of this Stake Exercise are: Focus attention, relax body, and breathe naturally.


Mo Jin, Gathering Strength

The next level of stance and visualization practice is called Gathering Strength or “mo jin.”

Where previously the student used very basic stances and visualizations, during mo jin, a fighting stance is used and the imagery has to do with manipulating heavy objects at a distance. The purpose is to train the mind to project the intent away from the body.

Shi Li, Testing Strength

During the practice of both zhan zhuang and mo jin, the student remained motionless or very nearly still. Through the Shi Li exercises the student learns to move while keeping the characteristics learned during the practice of zhan zhuang and mo jin—the collective practice of whole-body movement using visualizations of “overcoming heavy springs” or “strong currents.”

The student pushes forward and pulls back against them. The goal is to have coordinated movement with no breaks or gaps. At each instant, if stopped, the position would be balanced, centered, and relaxed.


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Producing a feeling with a fixed method
Giving up the method after getting the feeling
Letting the feeling follow into everything
Personal feeling leads to complete awareness

Han Jing Yu


Nothing in YiQuan training is done without a reason. YiQuan is meant to be pursued on a “scientific basis.” Practice, understand what you are practicing and why. Look at your results. If you aren’t getting the results you should be getting, examine what you are doing, your expectations, why you are doing it, and make adjustments.

There is a unity in YiQuan training. Once your practice has matured, whenever you practice any part of YiQuan, you are practicing all of it. Like a hologram, each part of YiQuan carries the image of the whole.

During the practice of any YiQuan exercise, the four words that any serious YiQuan practitioner must remember are: Song Huo Yuan Zhang. Song means Relaxation, Huo means Flexibility in movement, Yuan means Circle, and Zhang means Whole Body. This set of words encompasses the principles that define all of the exercises in Yi Quan. Any move that is executed must have these four particular(s) to be correct. Other YiQuan principles will be elaborated in future articles.

My previous YiQuan mentor used to tell me that “ … Daoism is a pragmatic way of looking at the world, but YiQuan is a pragmatic way of training one’s own being to be internal.”

A rule of thumb is that 50% of your time should be spent on the basic standing practice, known as zhan zhuang, and the other 50% on everything else. When in doubt, err on the side of spending a little more time in zhan zhuang. Standing for relatively lengthy periods regularly is helpful. If you only have a little time, invest it in zhan zhuang for most of your training.The use of visualizations is the signature of Yiquan training. With the visualizations, you can practice YiQuan virtually anytime, anywhere.

Conclusion

The emphasis of real internal martial arts is the attributes of centering, relaxing, sinking, and complete body alignment. Details on those attributes will covered in future articles. After each YiQuan exercise, the practitioner becomes more relaxed.

The focus of YiQuan is about releasing tension through the practice of proper internal principles and visualization. It is a good starting point for those who study other internal marital arts training. Currently, much of the internal martial arts teaching does not focus on the practice of relaxation through “still” posturing. Yi Quan is a technical return to that necessity.

From the constant practice of “Never stop relaxing”, my physical balance got better. My concentration was enhanced. My health improved dramatically. If there were other better reasons to practice Yi Quan and other internal marital arts, I do not know.

My previous Yi Quan mentor also used to remind me, “…Wherever you at. … Whatever you do, … always relax. …”

In future articles, there will be more specifics on the theory and practice of YiQuan.

References
http://www.yiquan.com.pl/ A popular source for YiQuan articles, history, links, etc.
http://www.yiquan.com.pl/englinks.html

The Way of Energy Lam Kam Chuen
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1856750205/qid=1093979790/sr=1-19/ref=sr_1_19/102-8587409-9472166?v=glance&s=books

The Way of Power Lam Kam Chuen
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1856751988/qid=1093979747/sr=1-6/ref=sr_1_6/102-8587409-9472166?v=glance&s=books


Other Favorite Internal Martial Arts Websites
English translation of XingYi and other internal martial arts system classics can be found at
http://www.smilingtiger.net/

Videos of YiQuan exercises can be found at “ChinafromInside.com” (http://www.chinafrominside.com/ma/store.html)

300 Tang Dynasty Poems: #5 Down Zhongnan Mountain


Five-character-ancient-verse
Li Bai
DOWN ZHONGNAN MOUNTAIN TO THE KIND PILLOW AND BOWL OF HUSI

Down the blue mountain in the evening,
Moonlight was my homeward escort.
Looking back, I saw my path
Lie in levels of deep shadow....
I was passing the farm-house of a friend,
When his children called from a gate of thorn
And led me twining through jade bamboos
Where green vines caught and held my clothes.
And I was glad of a chance to rest
And glad of a chance to drink with my friend....
We sang to the tune of the wind in the pines;
And we finished our songs as the stars went down,
When, I being drunk and my friend more than happy,
Between us we forgot the world.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The 36 Strategies: #5 Plunge into a fire to pull off a robbery


The 36 Strategies is a famous collection of strategies known throughout Asia. It's almost as famous as the Art of War by Sun Tzu. Almost any literate person is familiar with them, as these turn up again and again in folklore and literature. It's important to be famailiar with the 36 strategies, not so much to try and take advantage of others, but to recognise when someone is applying them to you!

The point of number 5, plunge into a fire to pull off a robbery means to use others' misfortunes to gain something for yourself.

As aid money starts flowing into the deep south, in response to Hurricane Katrina, con men and frauds will be crawling out of the woodwork.

Ba Gua Zhang, Eight Diagram Palms Boxing



This article is used by permission of the author...
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Baguazhang
Eight-Diagram Palms Shadow Boxing

By Cardinal
"The power of the eight diagram palms knows no bounds -- the palms seem to strike even before the hands move. When the hand threads upward, it's like a hundred birds paying tribute to the phoenix; when it threads forward, it's like a tiger swooping downhill. Walking round and round, he is like a stray wild goose that has drifted from the flock; but when the palms are thrust forward, they can move a mountain. Now dodging, now ducking, his body slithers in and out; using the opponent's force he delivers a counter, blow, with as little effort as pushing a boat down the stream."
Dong Haichuan, Founder of Baguazhang.

To most westerners, Taijiquan (TJQ) is the only Chinese exercise that teaches one how to integrate the mind, body and spirit into one unit. Wrong! There is another marital art system that not only shares the same principles and philosophy as Taijiquan, but it is outwardly simpler yet relies more on one's focus and concentration. This exercise is called Baguazhang (also referred to as Bagua or BGZ and pronounced as bah gwah jang. It is also written as Pa kua chang or PKC).

Baguazhang (BGZ) is one of the more famous of the traditional Chinese martial arts that possesses many distinctive practice skill methods and its palm method changes unfathomably. It also has a good balanced reputation in the martial arts community. From the time of Qing Chengfeng (1851-1862), when Mr. Dong Haichuan (of Wen'an County in Hebei Province) introduced it until today, it has been practiced daily and enjoyed by martial artists in China and overseas.

BGZ is an exceptionally beautiful martial art emphasizing the use of spiral movements and a sophisticated use of footwork and fighting angles. It makes the body extremely flexible and able to move with tremendous grace, speed and power. Bagua practice is vigorous and aerobic. Many consider Bagua to be the most advanced of the Chinese Martial Arts. The foundation of the system is a meditative circle walking practice and the "Single Change Palm" which was developed in Taoist monasteries over 400 years ago. As a meditation practice, Bagua allows one to produce a stillness of mind in the midst of intense physical activity. This esoteric system at its highest levels becomes a method of manifesting the energetic patterns of change described in the I-Ching or Classic Book of Changes.

Technically, the correct performance of this exercise increases the practitioner's energy through simultaneous circle walking, forms practice, and breath control.

The practice of Baguazhang is very Zen-like in its approach to calming and focusing the mind. The basics are a series of movements done while walking in a circle. The goal of this exercise is for the individual to understand proper body alignment and relaxation. Once this practice is consistent, the movements become faster and more intricate with turning and twisting, moving the body in all possible angles and directions for fitness, centering and agility. Baguazhang uses quick footwork and turns as part of as its self-defense strategy.

Baguazhang is literally translated as Eight-Diagrams Palm. This style is one of the three primary Nei Jia Quan or internal styles of China. The other two styles are Xingyiquan and Taijiquan. As with Xingyi and Taiji, the practice of Bagua generates Qi (internal energy) for both health and combat purposes. Baguazhang primarily uses palm techniques, and this is reflected in the name, Eight Diagram Palm. This makes Baguazhang distinct from XingYiQuan and TaiJiQuan styles, both of which incorporate fist techniques. (FYI - Taijiquan technically uses more palm maneuvers than fists.)

Its movements are based on the mobility of position and agility of body, BGZ proves itself to be a formidable style for many practitioners. Instead of directly attacking an oncoming force, BGZ 'melts' around the attack; either simultaneously redirecting the attack while closing the position, or by evading it and repositioning one's self to an advantageous 'doorway,' for finishing the opponent instantly.

This style of Chinese boxing was very popular during the time of Qing Dynasty's Emperor Dao Guang who reigned from 1820 to 1850. The story goes that Dong Hai Chuan of Wen'an County in Hebei Province came to Beijing in 1852 when Emperor Guang Xu ascended the throne and worked in Prince Su's mansion. There he began to teach his Baguazhang, which soon became very popular in Beijing, Tianjin and the surrounding areas, and he was acknowledged as the respected founder of Baguazhang.

Dong Haichuan had a large number of followers and he taught each of them in accordance with their aptitude, adapting movements to suit their ability and talent.

The Various Styles of Baguazhang

A hundred years later, Dong's Baguazhang has now branched out into various forms with some differences between them, each having its own distinctiveness.
Some of the major branches of BGZ are the Cheng style (after Cheng Tinghua), the Yin style (after Yin Fu), the Zong style (after Zong Changrong), the Liu style (after Liu Fengchun), and Liang style (Liang Zhenpu).

While each of those Baguazhang systems is based on the individual's whose background and previous martial training. Each style has its own specific forms and techniques. In essence, all of the different styles adhere to the basic principles of Baguazhang while retaining an individual flavor of their own. Most of the styles in existence today can trace their roots to either the Yin Fu, Cheng TingHua, or Liang Zhenpu variations.

The distinctive trademarks of the Yin Fu style are the large number of percussive techniques, multiple quick-strikes combinations, explosive movements and very quick and evasive footwork. (Yin Fu was said to "fight like a tiger," advancing forward and knocking his opponent to the ground swiftly like a tiger pouncing on its prey.

Cheng Tinghua styles of Baguazhang features movements that are executed in a smooth flowing and continuous manner, with a subtle display of power. Popular variations of this style include the Gao Yi Sheng system, Dragon Style Baguazhang, "Swimming Body" Baguazhang, the Nine Palace System, Zong Changrong's style (probably the most common form practiced today), and the Sun Lutang style.

Liang Zhenpu's system can be viewed as a combination of the Yin Fu and Cheng Tinghua styles. Liang's student, Li Ziming, popularized this style. All systems of Baguazhang possess a variation of a form known as the Single Change Palm (SCP). The Single Change Palm is the most basic form and is the core of the "eight change" palm exercise found in the Art. Besides the Single Change Palm, the other forms include the Double Change Palm (DCP) and the Eight Changes Palm (also known variously as the Eight Mother Palms or the Old Eight Palms).

These forms are the foundation of Baguazhang. Baguazhang movements have a characteristic circular nature with a great deal of body spinning, turning, and rapid changes in direction. Beside the Single, Double and Eight Change Palms, most but not all styles of Ba Gua Zhang include some variation of the Sixty-Four Palms.

"Circle Walking" Training

The first phase of Baguazhang training is walking the circle. Research has shown that there are medical benefits that are derived from this exercise. Benefits include the prevention of contracting premature osteoporosis to the avoidance of acquired deformity and chronic diseases in nervous cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive systems.

Abstract on The Single Change Palm (SCP) and The Double Change Palm (DCP)

After circle walking is taught, the 1st palm movement most BGZ players learn is the Single Change Palm (SCP). The SCP is the outgoing hand posture that is focused on striking at the body of the opposition.

Once that movement is mastered, the Double Change Palm (DCP) exercise is taught next. This movement is a continuation of the Single Change Palm, executing two or three consecutive strikes. There are six other palm movements that is the basis of Baguazhang (BGZ).
It has been said that 80-90% of Baguazhang fundamentals can be found in the Single Change Palm exercise (SCP) and the Double Change Palm (DCP) exercise. If one cannot perform those two exercises correctly, he would not be able to master the six other palms movements.

Theories of Baguazhang Combat

In combat, Baguazhang is similar to the other Chinese Internal Arts where it does not directly attack an oncoming force. The proficient BGZ players would dissolve around the attack; either simultaneously redirecting the attack while closing the position or by utilizing that same offensive move against the attacker. The technical distinction is the repositioning of one's self to an advantageous 'doorway,' for finishing the opponent instantly.

Those same expert Baguazhang players are noted for employing its unpredictable changing movements, feints and dexterous moves, which are combined to misdirect and wear down the opponent. Experts of this open-hand system are sometimes counter-offensive fighters. They often do not strike first, rather, they remain composed in the face of determined adversaries, conserving their energy and looking for positional openings that would allow a launch of an attack. While the force of the Eight Diagrams Palms action is sometimes indescribable, it can be found in other internal martial art systems.

From another combat perspective, it was also designed for combat with multiple opponents. This action can be accomplished by its footwork and changing motion motions, which ease the rapid change of direction.

In conclusion, the combat strategy of Baguazhang is based on implementing quick and continuous changes to avoid directly opposing force. Depending on the combat experience of the teachers, the BGZ student is supposed to be trained in the elements of positional mobility and physical agility. From my perspective, there are a few Baguazhang teachers that does instruct or even know with detail the principles and the exercises of Baguazhang.

Historical Trivia

During the Ching Dynasty, some of the Imperial bodyguards in Beijing were trained in Baguazhang at a time when large mobs of armed thugs roamed the streets.

Those same Imperial bodyguards were required to protect important government bureaucrats while also attending lavish parties and functions, all the while wearing formal robes. This special group of bodyguards therefore took a practical outlook and utilized thin and light weapons that were small and easily concealed in the long sleeves of their cloaks (changpao). Some of the weapons include the conical brass knuckles, deer horn sabers, (lujiaodao), iron fan (shanzi), Iron pens, metal yo-yos, and Rooster Head blades.

In addition to these stealthy items, Baguazhang players trained and use some of the largest martial arts weapons ever seen. The list includes ridiculously long broadswords, 9 to 12 ft spears, and the "fierce-looking" Wind and Fire Wheels (Popular with Liang ZhanPu system). More normal-sized weapons such as Eye-brows level staff, eye-level double-headed spear, the "General Kwan" Halbred (Guan Dao), and straight double-edged sword (jian) are actively practiced as well.

I have heard that some of the old time Baguazhang players practice their art by reciting the principles of BGZ (36 Songs and 48 Methods). Depending on the BGZ system, some of those combat principles (48 methods) possess the similar content to that of the famous "36 stratagems."

Miscellaneous Trivia

"Most students don't study Xingyi boxing because it is too difficult and they are afraid of failure. Most instructors don't teach Baguazhang because it is too difficult and they are afraid of failure." Peter Ralston

One day, when a group of pupils of Master Dong asked him about Baguazhang, he replied that "Grandmaster said: 'My way uses turning palms to make the root, it uses the fist tools to make the function, study and practice. Skill is created to its utmost. You will have no enemy under heaven. By itself it is good for the body." The above quote were translated and edited by Sifu Joseph Crandall from "Guang Xia" writing on the Records of Selected Dialogues between Dong Hai Chuan and his disciples.

Summary

BGZ is an exceptionally beautiful martial art emphasizing the use of spiral movements and a sophisticated use of footwork and fighting angles. It makes the body extremely flexible and able to move with tremendous grace, speed and power. Bagua practice is vigorous and aerobic. Many consider Baguazhang to be the most advanced of the Chinese Martial Arts. The foundation of the system is a meditative circle walking practice and the "Single Changing Palm" exercise that was developed in Taoist monasteries over 4000 years ago. As a meditation practice, Baguazhang allows one to produce a stillness of mind in the midst of intense physical activity. This esoteric system at its highest levels becomes a method of manifesting the energetic patterns of change described in the I-Ching or Classic Book of Changes.

Resources

What I have written here is just the basics of Baguazhang. Interested readers can find and purchase materials (books and videos) on the subject of Baguazhang and other styles of internal martial arts can be found at these seven web sites:

C.S. Tang's web site on Chinese Martial Arts http://cstang.www3.50megs.com/A great source for martial arts VCD's and books (mainly Chinese text)

Smiling Tiger Martial Arts http://www.smilingtiger.net/A great translator of "Chinese to English" Internal Martial Arts books.

Jarek Szymanski's web site on Chinese Internal Martial Arts http://www.chinafrominside.com/A great source for internal martial arts information, martial arts VCD's and books (mainly Chinese)

Yin Fu's style Bagua http://www.traditionalstudies.org/A great source for Yin Fu style of Baguazhang videos and books.

Andrew Dale's web site on Chinese and Japanese Internal Martial Arts http://www.wuji.net/ A great source for internal martial arts information.

Plum Flower Press http://www.plumflower.com/A great source for English books on internal martial arts and other Asian-related Culture topics (mainly English text)

Wing Lam Enterprises http://www.wle.com/Another great source for martial arts weapons, Instructional videos, books (Chinese and English text), etc.

(My Favorite) Martial Arts Forums are:http://www.emptyflower.com/ and http://www.Shenwu.com