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 ~


Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Aging Budoka


I just ran across a new blog that resonates with me, "The Aging Budoka." Boy, can I identify with that!

If you click on the title of this post, or look for the link over at the right, you'll be directed there. Please pay a visit.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wu Style Taijiquan Push Hands Applications


I've just been introduced to push hands. I've been told that there are 12 types of push hands practiced in the Wu style, from very basic, to free style. I've been introduced to the first two.

This clip, which came from Youtube, shows a senior Wu style teacher, Tony Chan, demonstrating applications from push hands. Enjoy.




video

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Studying, Not Just Reading, the Classics


There is an article on the blog, The Collaborative View, entitled Learning Leadership from the Amateurs, when quotes an article entitled The New Mandarins. The topic has to do with not simply reading a classic book (in this case it was The Art of War), but truly studying it. It's a very good read on what it is to really study something.

Below is an excerpt. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the whole thing. Please pay a visit.

December 16, 2007
Phenomenon
The Newest Mandarins
By ANNPING CHIN

Lei Bo is a philosophy graduate student in China whose faith is in history, and by habit he considers the world using the thousands of classical passages that live in his head. Three years ago he was studying in an empty room in the School of Management at his university in Beijing when students began to amble in for their class on Sun Tzu's "Art of War," a work from either the fifth or the fourth century B.C. Lei Bo decided to stay. He had taken two courses on "The Art of War" in the philosophy and the literature departments, and was curious to see how students in business and management might approach the same subject. The discussion that day was on the five attributes of a military commander. Sun Tzu said in the first chapter of the book, "An able commander is wise (zhi), trustworthy (xin), humane (ren), courageous (yong) and believes in strict discipline (yan)."

The students thought that a chief executive today should possess the same strengths in order to lead. But how did the five attributes apply to business? Here they were stuck, unable to move beyond what the words suggest in everyday speech. Even their teacher could not find anything new to add. At this point, Lei Bo raised his hand and began to take each word back to its home, to the sixth century B.C., when Sun Tzu lived, and to the two subsequent centuries when the work Sun Tzu inspired was actually written down.

On the word yong (courage), Lei Bo cited chapter seven of The Analects, where Confucius told a disciple that if he "were to lead the Three Armies of his state," he "would not take anyone who would try to wrestle a tiger with his bare hands and walk across a river [because there is not a boat]. If I take anyone, it would have to be someone who is wary when faced with a task and who is good at planning and capable of successful execution." No one ever put Confucius in charge of an army, said Lei Bo, and Confucius never thought that he would be asked, but being a professional, he could expect a career either in the military or in government. And his insight about courage in battle and in all matters of life and death pertains to a man's interior: his judgment and awareness, his skills and integrity. This was how Lei Bo explored the word "courage": he located it in its early life before it was set apart from ideas like wisdom, humaneness and trust. He tried to describe the whole sense of the word. The business students and their teacher were hooked. They wanted Lei Bo back every week for as long as they were reading "The Art of War."

Scores of men and women in China's business world today are studying their country's classical texts, not just "The Art of War," but also early works from the Confucian and the Daoist canon. On weekends, they gather at major universities, paying tens of thousands of yuan each, to learn from prominent professors of philosophy and literature, to read and think in ways they could not when they were students and the classics were the objects of Maoist harangue . Those inside and outside China say that these businessmen and -women, like most Chinese right now, have caught the "fever of national learning."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Shogun


One of my favorite books is the novel by James Clavelle. It is set in the 1600's in pre-Tokugawa Japan. Much of the story revolves around the historical incident of an Englishman and his shipmates being washed ashore.

There was a lot going on in Japan at that time and the addition of the foreigners (at least in the novel) only stirred the pot. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the page on http://www.answers.com on the novel Shogun.

If you go here: you'll find a scholarly (and long) paper on Shogun.

http://www.columbia.edu/~hds2/learning/

Finally, here is a link to the book on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Shogun-James-Clavell/dp/0340839945/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1197928328&sr=1-1

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wu Ming, the Cucumber Sage


Some recent absurdities of life reminded me of this Zen story. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the website I got it from. Enjoy.

THE RECORD OF THE LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF WU-MING

Compiled by Master Tung-Wang
Abbott of Han-hsin monastery in the
Thirteenth year of the Earth Dragon period (898)

My dear friend, the most reverend master Tung-Wang,

Old and ill, I lay here knowing that writing this note will be my last act upon this earth and that by the time you read it I will be gone from this life.

Though we have not seen each other in the many years since we studied together under our most venerable Master, I have often thought of you, his most worthy successor. Monks from throughout China say that you are a true lion of the Buddha Dharma; one whose eye is a shooting star, whose hands snatch lightning, and whose voice booms like thunder. It is said that your every action shakes heaven and earth and causes the elephants and dragons of delusion to scatter helplessly. I am told that your monastery is unrivaled in severity, and that under your exacting guidance hundreds of monks pursue their training with utmost zeal and vigor. I've also heard that in the enlightened successor department your luck has not been so good. Which brings me to the point of this letter.

I ask that you now draw your attention to the young man to whom this note is attached. As he stands before you, no doubt smiling stupidly as he stuffs himself with pickled cucumbers, you may be wondering if he is as complete a fool as he appears, and if so, what prompted me to send him to you. In answer to the first question, I assure you that Wu-Ming's foolishness is far more complete than mere appearance would lead you to believe. As for the second question, I can only say that despite so benumbed a condition, or perhaps because of it, still more likely, despite of and because of it, Wu-Ming seems to unwittingly and accidentally serve the function of a great Bodhisattva. Perhaps he can be of service to you.

Allow him sixteen hours of sleep daily and provide him with lots of pickled cucumbers and Wu-Ming will always be happy. Expect nothing of him and you will be happy.

Respectfully, Chin-Mang

After Chin-mang's funeral, the supporters of his temple arranged for Wu-Ming's journey to Han-hsin monastery, where I resided, then, as now, as Abbott. A monk found Wu-ming at the monastery gate and seeing a note bearing my name pinned to his robe, led him to my quarters.

Customarily, when first presenting himself to the Abbott, a newly arrived monk will prostrate himself three times and ask respectfully to be accepted as a student. And so I was taken somewhat by surprise when Wu-ming walked into the room, took a pickled cucumber from the jar under his arm, stuffed it whole into his mouth, and happily munching away, broke into the toothless imbecilic grin that would one day become legendary. Taking a casual glance around the room, he smacked his lips loudly and said, "What's for lunch?"

After reading dear old Chin Mang's note, I called in the head monk and asked that he show my new student to the monk's quarters. When they had gone I reflected on chin-mang's words. Han-hsin was indeed a most severe place of training: winters were bitterly cold and in summer the sun blazed. The monks slept no more than three hours each night and ate one simple meal each day. For the remainder of the day they worked hard around the monastery and practiced hard in the meditation hall. But, alas, Chin-mang had heard correctly, Among all my disciples there was none whom I felt confident to be a worthy vessel to receive the untransmittable transmitted Dharma. I was beginning to despair that I would one day, bereft of even one successor, fail to fulfill my obligation of seeing my teacher's Dharma-linage continued.

The monks could hardly be faulted for complacency or indolence. Their sincere aspiration and disciplined effort were admirable indeed, and many had attained great clarity of wisdom. But they were preoccupied with their capacity for harsh discipline and proud of their insight. They squabbled with one another for positions of prestige and power and vied amongst themselves for recognition. Jealousy, rivalry and ambition seemed to hang like a dark cloud over Han-shin monastery, sucking even the most wise and sincere into its obscuring haze. Holding Chin-mang's note before me, I hoped and prayed that this Wu-ming, this "accidental Bodhisattva" might be the yeast my recipe seemed so much in need of.

To my astonished pleasure, Wu-ming took to life at Han-shin like a duck to water. At my request, he was assigned a job in the kitchen pickling vegetables. This he pursued tirelessly, and with a cheerful earnestness he gathered and mixed ingredients, lifted heavy barrels, drew and carried water, and, of course, freely sampled his workmanship. He was delighted!

When the monks assembled in the meditation hall, they would invariably find Wu-ming seated in utter stillness, apparently in deep and profound samadhi. No one even guessed that the only thing profound about Wu-ming's meditation was the profound unlikelihood that he might find the meditation posture, legs folded into the lotus position, back erect and centered, to be so wonderfully conducive to the long hours of sleep he so enjoyed.

Day after day and month after month, as the monks struggled to meet the physical and spiritual demands of monastery life, Wu-ming, with a grin and a whistle, sailed through it all effortlessly. Even though, if the truth be told, Wu-ming's Zen practice was without the slightest merit, by way of outward appearance he was judged by all to be a monk of great accomplishment and perfect discipline. Of course . I could have dispelled this misconception easily enough, but I sensed that Wu-ming's unique brand of magic was taking effect and I was not about to throw away this most absurdly skillful of means.

By turns the monks were jealous, perplexed, hostile, humbled and inspired by what they presumed to be Wu-ming's great attainment. Of course it never occurred to Wu-ming that his or anyone else's behavior required such judgments, for they are the workings of a far more sophisticated nature than his own mind was capable. Indeed, everything about him was so obvious and simple that others thought him unfathomably subtle.

Wu-ming's inscrutable presence had a tremendously unsettling effect on the lives of the monks, and undercut the web of rationalizations that so often accompanies such upset. His utter obviousness rendered him unintelligible and immune to the social pretensions of others. Attempts of flattery and invectives alike were met with the same uncomprehending grin, a grin the monks felt to be the very cutting edge of the sword of Perfect Wisdom. Finding no relief or diversion in such interchange, they were forced to seek out the source and resolution of their anguish each within his own mind. More importantly, and absurdly, Wu-ming caused to arise in the monks the unconquerable determination to fully penetrate the teaching "The Great Way is without difficulty" which they felt he embodied.

Though in the course of my lifetime I have encountered many of the most venerable progenitors of the Tathagata's teaching, never have I met one so skilled at awakening others to their intrinsic Buddhahood as this wonderful fool Wu-ming. His spiritual non-sequiturs were as sparks, lighting the flame of illuminating wisdom in the minds of many who engaged him in dialogue.

Once a monk approached Wu-ming and asked in all earnestness, "In the whole universe, what is it that is most wonderful?" Without hesitation Wu-ming stuck a cucumber before the monks face and exclaimed, "There is nothing more wonderful than this!" At that the monk crashed through the dualism of subject and object, "The whole universe is pickled cucumber; a pickled cucumber is the whole universe!" Wu-ming simply chuckled and said, "Stop talking nonsense. A cucumber is a cucumber; the whole universe is the whole universe. What could be more obvious?" The monk, penetrating the perfect phenomenal manifestation of Absolute Truth, clapped his hands and laughed, saying, "Throughout infinite space, everything is deliciously sour!"

On another occasion a monk asked Wu-ming, "The Third Patriarch said, "The Great Way is without difficulty, just cease having preferences." How can you then delight in eating cucumbers, yet refuse to even take one bit of a carrot?" Wu-ming said, "I love cucumbers; I hate carrots!" The monk lurched back as though struck by a thunderbolt. Then laughing and sobbing and dancing about he exclaimed, "Liking cucumbers and hating carrots is without difficulty, just cease preferring the Great Way!"

Within three years of his arrival, the stories of the "Great Bodhisattva of Han-hsin monastery" had made their way throughout the provinces of China. Knowing of Wu-ming's fame I was not entirely surprised when a messenger from the Emperor appeared summoning Wu-ming to the Imperial Palace immediately.

From throughout the Empire exponents of the Three Teachings of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism were being called to the Capitol, there the Emperor would proclaim one to be the true religion to be practiced and preached in all lands under his rule. The idea of such competition for Imperial favor is not to my approval and the likelihood that a religious persecution might follow troubled me greatly. But an order from the Emperor is not to be ignored, so Wu-ming and I set out the next day.

Inside the Great Hall were gathered the more than one hundred priests and scholars who were to debate one another. They were surrounded by the most powerful lords in all China, along with innumerable advisors, of the Son of Heaven. All at once trumpets blared, cymbals crashed, and clouds of incense billowed up everywhere. The Emperor, borne on by a retinue of guards, was carried to the throne. After due formalities were observed the Emperor signaled for the debate to begin.

Several hours passed as one after another priests and scholars came forward presenting their doctrines and responding to questions. Through it all Wu-ming sat obliviously content as he stuffed himself with his favorite food. When his supply was finished, he happily crossed his legs, straightened his back and closed his eyes. But the noise and commotion were too great and, unable to sleep, he grew more restless and irritable by the minute. As I clasped him firmly by the back of the neck in an effort to restrain him, the Emperor gestured to Wu-ming to approach the Throne.

When Wu-ming had come before him, the Emperor said, "Throughout the land you are praised as a Bodhisattva whose mind is like the Great Void itself, yet you have not had a word to offer this assembly. Therefore I say to you now, teach me the True Way that all under heaven must follow." Wu-ming said nothing. After a few moments the Emperor, with a note of impatience, spoke again, "Perhaps you do not hear well so I shall repeat myself! Teach me the True Way that all under heaven must follow!" Still Wu-ming said nothing, and silence rippled through the crowd as all strained forward to witness this monk who dared behave so bold a fashion in the Emperor's presence.

Wu-ming heard nothing the Emperor said, nor did he notice the tension that vibrated through the hall. All that concerned him was his wish to find a nice quiet place where he could sleep undisturbed. The Emperor spoke again, his voice shaking with fury, his face flushed with anger: "You have been summoned to this council to speak on behalf of the Buddhist teaching. Your disrespect will not be tolerated much longer. I shall ask one more time, and should you fail to answer, I assure you the consequence shall be most grave. Teach me the True Way that all under heaven must follow!" Without a word Wu-ming turned and, as all looked on in dumbfounded silence, he made his way down the aisle and out the door. There was a hush of stunned disbelief before the crowd erupted into an uproar of confusion. Some were applauding Wu-ming's brilliant demonstration of religious insight, while others rushed about in an indignant rage, hurling threats and abuses at the doorway he had just passed through. Not knowing whether to praise Wu-ming or to have him beheaded, the Emperor turned to his advisors, but they were none the wiser. Finally, looking out at the frantic anarchy to which his grand debate had been reduced, the Emperor must surely have realized that no matter what Wu-ming's intentions might have been, there was now only one way to avoid the debate becoming a most serious embarrassment.

"The great sage of Han-hsin monastery has skillfully demonstrated that the great Tao cannot be confined by doctrines, but is best expounded through harmonious action. Let us profit by the wisdom he has so compassionately shared, and each endeavor to make our every step one that unites heaven and earth in accord with the profound and subtle Tao."

Having thus spoken the Son of Heaven concluded the Great Debate.

I immediately ran out to find Wu-ming, but he had disappeared in the crowded streets of the capitol.

Ten years have since passed, and I have seen nothing of him. However, on occasion a wandering monk will stop at Han-hsin with some bit of news. I am told that Wu-ming has been wandering about the countryside this past decade, trying unsuccessfully to find his way home. Because of his fame he is greeted and cared for in all quarters with generous kindness; however, those wishing to help him on his journey usually find that they have been helped on their own.

One young monk told of an encounter in which Wu-ming asked him, "Can you tell me where my home is?" Confused as to the spirit of the question. The monk replied, "Is the home you speak of to be found in the relative world of time and place, or do you mean the Original Home of all pervading Buddha nature?"

After pausing a moment to consider the question, Wu-ming looked up and, grinning as only he is capable, said, "Yes."

Monday, December 10, 2007

Passing on a Meme


I’ve been tagged by Zen from Zen’s Sekai I (http://zensekai.wordpress.com/).

Zen is an interesting guy. Martial arts of course (Tai Chi Mantis and kyudo), but also Zen, Music, Sailing, and Art. He’s planning on moving to Japan in a couple of years and teach Tai Chi Mantis there.

So I’ve been tagged, and I’ve accepted. These are the rules:

  • link to the person who tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
  • share 7 random or weird things about yourself.
  • tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs
  • let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.


1. I’ve been interested in martial arts since I was 15 or 16, and have trained on and of over the years. With my youngest daughter now driving, I have more time to myself and have begun studying the Wu style of Taijiquan. I am also lifting weights and spending time on a treadmill.

2. I’m a voracious reader. I tend to get more reading done in winter than any in summer. I used to get all bunched up about this, but I’ve learned that is is just the rhythm of the seasons.

3. While I am a practicing Catholic, I am also very much interested in Zen and Daoism.

4. My plan for retirement is to live in a house on a lake, in between wherever my kids end up settling, so I have an attractive nuisance to draw them back to me.

5. I work for a Japanese company, and have been studying the Japanese language. I can understand the meaning, if not always able to remember the pronunciation of about 500 kanji.

6. I used to be a software engineer. Now I am in the sales and business development of semiconductors in the automotive industry. It’s not so much the technology I enjoy (although it is very interesting), but dealing with the people.

7. Another topic that I find utterly fascinating is the study of strategy. I have recourse to apply what I learn in my capacity of sales and business developemtn.


I shall tag these 7 people. I hope they find the time to join the game at some point.

Anthony at http://www.wujimon.com

John at http://MartialViews.blogspot.com

Chris at http://www.MartialDevelopment.com

Lisa at http://PeoniesFrogsWine.blogspot.com

Michael at http://Collaboration360.blogspot.com

Shang Lee at http://www.ShangLee.com

And Robert at http://www.taikiken.blogspot.com

Let’s see what happens.

Beijing


Below is an excerpt from a travel article in the New York Times, on Beijing. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. Do yourself a favor and take a look, the pictures that accompany the article are great.

December 9, 2007

36 Hours in Beijing

BEIJING can feel chaotic and sprawling, especially as it races to finish Olympic construction before the Games begin on Aug. 8. But there's an ancient order to the place, a cosmology, and you can follow it. The palaces and temples line up like stars on the city's south-north axis. The government chose to build the Olympic Stadium on the axis, too. All over town there are digital billboards with a countdown to the Games. Down to the second. But wait. Besides the cranes and compact cars and floating particulate matter, everything essential about the city — its tall vermilion walls, its septuagenarians flying kites on bridges, its pigeons — has been there all along.

Friday

3:30 p.m.
1) GREEN GETAWAY

Once the private garden of Ming and Qing emperors, Beihai, set beside the Forbidden City, may be the most beautiful public park in China. There are Buddhist temples by the lake, the footpaths lined with willow trees, and the provincial tour groups wearing identical baseball hats. The northern entrance to a private garden called Jingxinzhai (24 Dianmen Xidajie; 86-10-6406-2279; www.beihaipark.com.cn) closes at 4 p.m. in winter and an hour later in summer, so first visit this private world of pavilions, fish ponds and rock gardens. Sometimes an orchestra gathers by the big lake, and the locals sing songs, drink tea from thermoses and read about the stock market and price of eggs in the Beijing Evening News. There is an inward tendency in the Chinese character, and these walled gardens were designed to shut away the outside world.

5:30 p.m.
2) THE CENTER OF THE WORLD

After your respite, see the heart of the city on foot. After taking in the scale of the Forbidden City from outside the north moat, follow the narrow street, Beichang Jie, under the dark leaning scholar trees. You'll pass by What? (72 Beichang Jie; 86-133-4112-2757), a tiny rock bar that affords sidewalk wicker chairs and a glimpse of street life: migrant workers, high school students, young soldiers and black Audis with tinted windows keeping watch over the sealed leadership compound of Zhongnanhai. At the southern end of the street, turn left onto the Avenue of Eternal Peace, and walk east along the boulevard, past past the soldiers clearing Tiananmen Square, and the lovers in the shadows of the big trees . You are in the center of the city, which, in the Chinese mind, is at the center of the world. And it feels that way.

8 p.m.
3) DUCK FOR DINNER

The headless ducks hang from black hooks, ready for the brick ovens. Eleven Chinese cooks in dark pinstriped pants handle them with long poles, with a grouping of little porcelain ducklings looking on. The dining room of the Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant (22 Dongsishitiao; 86-10-5169-0328) is rowdy, as Chinese restaurants are supposed to be, and the braised eggplant is sweet and good. The skin of the lean bird is crisp, and its meat — wrapped in a thin pancake with spring onions and a sweet dark sauce — washes down nicely with red wine or beer.

10 p.m.
4) ANTIQUES AND SANGRIA

Beijing's best known bar strip, the Sanlitun neighborhood, is a playground for hookers, expatriates and Nigerian drug dealers. Instead, take a cab to the Drum and Bell Towers, and slip into the hutongs, or historic alleys, heading north, toward Bed Bar (17 Zhangwang Hutong; 86-10-8400-1554). Look for a red lantern down a long, quiet lane. A converted machine-parts factory decorated with antique furniture and paintings of the old city, Bed is a pleasant place to drink sangria, talk with friends, and drink more sangria. If you're with a group, reserve a private room overlooking the courtyard.

Saturday

9:30 a.m.
5) RITUALS, OLD AND NEW

Built by the Ming emperor Yongle in 1420, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a masterpiece of Chinese religious architecture. The hall was one of many altars inside the kingdom's largest complex for ritual sacrifice, the Temple of Heaven, or Tiantan (86-10-6702-8866; www.tiantanpark.com/cn). Twenty-two emperors came here to make sacrifices to heaven, affirming their divine role as ruler and shaman. Nowadays, in the Long Corridor through which ritual offerings once passed, crowds of retirees play poker, Hacky Sack and the two-stringed erhu.

Noon
6) DOSE OF REALITY

The government understands that the sacred axis of the imperial city will also be the axis for tourists this summer and is preparing accordingly. Go north from the west gate of the Temple of Heaven and you will be impressed by the tidiness, the fresh paint, the grassy lawns. But wander down any of the hutongs of the Qianmen area, south of Tiananmen Square, and you may have a different — and more textured — impression. A battlefield between developers and conservationists, this famous neighborhood of provincial guilds, opera houses, bordellos and hot pot restaurants is in epic flux. Some hutongs have been razed, and some still bustle with cheap restaurants, backpackers, butcher shops and crowded courtyard homes. The nearby Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall (20 Qianmen Dongdajie; 86-10-6702-4559; www.bjghzl.com.cn) puts the conflict in context.

Friday, December 07, 2007

What a Blast!



I had a great time at my Taiji class last night. As usual, the first 30 minutes was a group warm up, the next hour was spent on either learning the sequence of the form, or on form refinement if you had already learned the whole sequence. Finally, the ongoing class took up the last hour.


The first hour of class was spent on form refinement. One of the senior students asked me if there was a sequence I wanted to work on. Most people who have just learned the form want to go over the last several movements, because they simply haven’t been practiced as much.

I said I wanted to work on a sequence that appears many times in the form, that I was having a little trouble with. My thought was that since it appeared several times, it contains a lot of fundamental movement that has wide application throughout the form. I was right.

There is a sequence called Wave Hands Like Clouds, that ends with a movement called Single Whip. Getting from WHLC to SW seemed sort of awkward to me. Sure enough, there were some details in the footwork of which I was not aware, as well as some body parts moving and stopping at the same time.

Also, as a more advance detail I learned about how the hip folds during WHLC. This relates directly to one of the warm up exercises. I can see how this relates to many movements in the form.

I doubt that I was doing it right, but just being aware of what was going on with my hips made a difference. I’ll be working on it on my own.

Several weeks ago, the school purchased some mats to work on throwing techniques. Even the senior students have only been working on falls and rolls for a few weeks. Having only a few weeks of practice, many of them don’t look half bad.

When the mats were laid out on the floor, I had to take shot at doing rolls. I hadn’t done any rolls or breakfalls in about 15 years. This was something I was really looking forward to.

My first half dozen or so were a little creaky. I didn’t roll straight, and I was a bit like a wheel with squared off edges. After that though, I was hitting on all cylinders. Towards the end, before they took the mats up, I tried a few advanced falls from my memory, and did them just fine. It really is like learning to ride a bicycle, or maybe falling off of one. What a blast.

Finally we got into push hands practice. I worked with two different partners on the same beginning style of push hands I learned last week. Each of them were pretty senior students, so I got to work with people who knew what they were doing.

What was driven home to me again and again was how relaxed and loose each of them was in comparison to me. I consider myself to generally have a pretty relaxed body, but there are levels and then there are levels. Also, again, the hip folding that I worked on during form refinement became even more clear in this application, because it was precisely because of the hip action that made the push hands technique work.

What a good class. Man! Did I have a lot of fun, and did I ever get a lot of things to work on in my own practice.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The 36 Strategies: # 24 Borrow the right of way to attack the neighbor


The 36 Strategies: # 24 Borrow the right of way to attack the neighbor

You secure the temporary use of another party's facilities in order to move against a mutual enemy. After having used these facilities to prevail over the enemy, you then turn and use them against the party from whom you borrowed them.

This is really kind of cold blooded, and it’s just the sort of thing that you don’t want to happen to you.

The examples from old Chinese wars used for this strategy usually discuss a situation where A is at war with B. A has an ally C, from whom A borrows some valuable resource to finish off B. However, in lending A the resource, C becomes weaker, and A takes advantage of the situation to take over C as well.

In much simpler terms that we can relate to in a modern setting, imagine a co worker asking you to some sort of work as a favor. He then uses the work to advance himself …at your expense.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Livin' the High Life


From AP via ABCNews. Click on the title of this post to go to the original story.

Dublin Beer Bandit Raids Guinness

Irish Police Hunt Beer Bandit Who Stole 450 Kegs From Guinness Brewery

By SHAWN POGATCHNIK

The Associated Press

DUBLIN, Ireland

Irish police were hunting for a beer bandit who stole 450 full kegs from the Guinness brewery the largest heist ever at Ireland's largest brewer.

National police said a lone man drove into the brewery a Dublin landmark and top tourist attraction on Wednesday and hitched his truck to a fully loaded trailer awaiting delivery to city pubs.

Diageo PLC, the beverage company that owns Guinness, said the brewery had never suffered such a large-scale theft before in its 248-year history.

Police said the raider took 180 kegs of Guinness stout, 180 kegs of U.S. lager Budweiser and 90 kegs of Danish beer Carlsberg. Guinness brews both of those foreign brands under license for sale in Ireland.

Police declined to say whether the theft had been captured by closed-circuit surveillance cameras. No description of the suspect was issued, suggesting that nobody got a good look at him.

Each keg holds about 88 British-sized pints, the most common serving size in Ireland, equivalent to 20 ounces each. The total theft involves 39,600 pints with a retail value exceeding $235,000.

Police said it would be difficult for the thief to sell the stolen beer without attracting attention, unless he has criminal associates who own a network of pubs.

But customs agents say it is common for pubs to sell stolen or smuggled cigarettes and alcohol, particularly counterfeit-labeled supplies of vodka, to avoid paying hefty taxes.

In the past, the outlawed Irish Republican Army and other gangs have hijacked truck shipments of alcoholic beverages and cigarettes for resale in pubs run by sympathizers or friends. Those raids typically happen in rural areas, never in the center of Dublin.

The Republic of Ireland, a country of 4.2 million, has more than 10,000 pubs and bars. The Guinness brewery in Dublin is the biggest supplier, producing more than 5 million kegs annually.

A New Phase


Five months ago, I began training at the Wu Style Academy in Ann Arbor. On that first day, I learned the opening movement of the Wu 108 Standard Form. Last night, I learned the closing movement.

I’ve been concentrating on learning the correct sequence, remaining relaxed, and keeping my weight 100% separated.

The way classes will work for me now: the first 30 minutes is group warm ups. Word has come down from HQ in Toronto to really work these as they help develop the flexibility and looseness required to do the form well. They also drill the real fundamentals of all the movements – keeping the weigh 100% on one foot or the other, turning from the hips/waist, being relaxed, and so on.

The next hour that had previously been spent learning the sequence of the form will now be spent on form refinement.

The group will do the form together, then the intermediate class begins. As posted at the Wu style website, the intermediate level consists of push hands, break fall training, power generation, and some applications, in addition to ongoing form refinement. As new material comes up, I’ll post what it is I’m learning.

In my first intermediate class I learned the first of the twelve types of push hands that is practiced at the school, the most basic one. This is a cooperative exercise between two people. At the other end of the spectrum is free style, where you're trying to push the other person over.

At the end of class, I sat while the rest of the students then did the 54 Competition Form (which I don't know yet, hence my sitting). As opposed to my "square" form, this one is very round; that is, it looks more like what you'd expect Taiji to look like with respect to one form flowing into another. They also did it very quickly. I don't know if this form is technically a "fast" form, but they really flew through it. I guess in competition, you have very limited time for your performance.

Stay tuned. The adventure continues ...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hip Hop in Japan to Promote Cultural Awareness


Below is an excerpt from an article on Yahoo. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

Japan's Ainu fuse tradition, hip-hop for awareness

By Yoko KubotaTue Nov 27, 7:28 PM ET

When Tsubasa Okitsu was growing up in northern Japan, he was ashamed of his heritage as an Ainu, an indigenous ethnic group that has long suffered discrimination in a country where many take pride in cultural homogeneity.

"In the past, I rejected myself as an Ainu," he said, recalling on how his classmates teased him for looking different.

Now the 27-year-old Okitsu has come to terms with his identity as a member of a group of young Ainu musicians and dancers who blend traditional strains and modern hip-hop in hopes of boosting broader awareness of their rich culture.

"We wanted to do something new and cool to improve the status of the Ainu people," Okitsu told Reuters during a recent performance of the group called "Ainu Rebels."

"The way we do it is by playing music and adding our own arrangements and ideas," added Okitsu, clad in a full-length navy Ainu cloak adorned with white scrolling -- and trendy diamond studs sparkling on each ear.

A hunting and gathering people thought to be descendants of early inhabitants of Japan who were later displaced mainly to the northern island of Hokkaido, the Ainu have a culture and language distinctive from those of ethnic Japanese.

Deep-set eyes, muscular bodies and heavier body hair for men distinguish their appearance, although the differences have blurred through intermarriage.

Okitsu, a half-Japanese, half-Ainu lover of hip-hop, founded the Ainu Rebels with other young Ainu living in the Tokyo region over a year ago, creating one of the first performance groups of its kind mixing traditional Ainu culture with hip-hop and rock.

The group plays traditional Ainu instruments such as the mukkuri (jaw harp), sings Ainu poems in the native tongue, raps in Japanese about the harsh experiences of being Ainu and arranges traditional dance steps to rock and hip-hop beats.

The group's only rap song in Ainu is based on a traditional 'yukar' song, an epic about totemic gods and ancestral heroes.

FUSING OLD AND NEW

The fusion of old and new has sparked criticism from some who favor a more pristine approach to preserving the culture.

"Some people say that this is not traditional, that this is not Ainu culture," said Mina Sakai, the 24-year-old leader of Ainu Rebels.

"We think that culture is something that constantly changes. We are confident that we have the spirit -- the spirit that we want to do something, to express something about the Ainu."

Beginning in 1869, the government forced Ainu to change their names, banned traditional hunting and started encouraging ethnic Japanese to settle in Hokkaido.

About 24,000 Ainu now live in Hokkaido, although numbers are imprecise since many still hide their heritage, but their native language is nearly extinct, with just a handful of fluent speakers. Ainu Rebel members are taking language classes, but still have to look up words in a dictionary when writing lyrics.

Despite decades of intermarriage and assimilation, discrimination remains strong in Hokkaido.

Surveys show persistent gaps in income and education, and members of Ainu Rebels still recall being bullied as kids.

"Most of the group's members used to hate the fact that they are Ainu and had a complex," Sakai said.

Performing in the band is a way both to accept their own ethnicity and raise social awareness of Ainu culture.

"Now we are confronting ourselves," Sakai said. "We want people to know the Ainu are here and to know more about the Ainu, and see that we are full of life and proud to be Ainu."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Common Sense


Ben Stein, economist, actor, lawyer, raconteur, bon vivant, and man about town, is a font of clear thinking and common sense. If you click on the title of this post, you’ll be directed to his web site.

"The indispensable first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want."

Right now, I’m reading one of his books: How Successful People Win: Using Bunkhouse Logic To Get What You Want In Life. (ISBN 1-56170-975-1)

Here’s the Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/How-Successful-People-Win-Bunkhouse/dp/1561709751/ref=sr_11_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1196104757&sr=11-1

The best descriptions of the book comes from that page.

From Publishers Weekly
While the cowboy life is basking in the Brokeback spotlight, Stein (How to Ruin Your Life) believes the mindset of these romantic figures-the cowboys' "bunkhouse logic"-is the ultimate guide to fulfillment in life. But don't let the stature of this breezy book fool you: Stein dispels wishful thinking and exhorts readers to figure out what they want and then to ask for it. Unlike most entries in the self-help field, Stein's writing is dark, funny and devoid of sunny aphorisms: readers should accept that life is a series of potentially debilitating blows, forego "illusions that anything will work out in a just or decent or proper way," realize that "constant ass-kissing is so demeaning to the ass-kisser and the ass-kissed that it cheapens life" and always "dream your biggest dreams." Stein's bunkhouse thinking revolves around realizing the stark facts of life and then acting accordingly, so associating with lucky, successful people is good, but choosing perfection over persistence is bad. Readers may be disheartened to read Stein's flip affirmation of their fears about how the world works, but this guide to playing the game will help those feeling hogtied.

Book Description

How Successful People Win is a serious self-help book using as its central metaphor the life of the cowboy and his behavior as he leaves his bunkhouse. Based upon a lifetime of observation of the successful and how they got that way, Ben Stein suggests that you imitate the determination, inner mobility, activity, flexibility—and the refusal to indulge in self-pity—of the cowboy in order to get what you want out of life.

The idea is that if you never indulge in making excuses, refuse to let other people’s hangups get in your way, and move deliberately toward clearly thought-out goals, you will get where you want to go. Just as the cowboy refuses to allow himself to get sidetracked by trivia, so can you refuse to allow life’s inevitable challenges and distractions mar your own success and happiness. The choice is yours.

------------- Me again.

Clear thinking; seeing life as it is, rather than how we wished it would be has always resonated with me. I think it also resonates well with what Zen and Daoism, while very different things, has to teach.
We create our lives. We live our choices.

The next time you’re at the bookstore, take a look.
You may find that the time it took was a few minutes well spent
.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Teahouse in Hang Zhou


The current post at Martial Views is about energy drinks. It reminded me of tea and kung fu, which reminded me of a post I made a long time ago, about a teahouse in Hang Zhou which has a unique way of serving tea.

Kung fu is expresed in may ways. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a NY Times photo essay on this unique and fascinating expression.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Grand Strategy



A friend sent me this. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to his blog, The Collaborative Vew.


What this concerns is an interview that appeared at
Sonshi.com. “Sonshi” is the Japanese pronounciation of “Sun Tzu.” The website is dedicated to Sun Tzu, and his classic, The Art of War.

On this website is an interview with Robert Greene. Greene, together with Joost Elfers, have produced three outstanding books on Strategy. They are not only well written, they are among the most beautifully produced books that I own. What I especially like about these books are their inclusion of counter examples of strategies, and stories which illustrate various strategies. Among the most engaging stories are of colorful scam artists from the past. One of my favorites was the story of a man selling the Effiel Tower in Paris.

Here are URLs for the books on Amazon:

The 48 Laws of Power

http://www.amazon.com/48-Laws-Power-Robert-Greene/dp/0140280197/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1195227636&sr=1-2

The Art of Seduction

http://www.amazon.com/Art-Seduction-Robert-Greene/dp/0142001198/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b

The 33 Strategies of War

http://www.amazon.com/33-Strategies-War-Robert-Greene/dp/0670034576/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1195227705&sr=1-4

Below is an excerpt from the interview with Robert Greene. He speaks of “tactical hell”, strategy, and grand strategy. In Daoist thinking, these correspond with Earth, Man, and Heaven respectively. Good food for thought.

Sonshi.com: One of the most outstanding concepts you wrote about in "33 Strategies" was number 15, "Control the Dynamic," a strategy that does not have a reversal. Central to Sun Tzu's Art of War is always being active and taking a proactive stance: from planning ahead in the temple to initiating the time and place of battle. In your opinion, of the 33 strategies, which one do you think applies most often in people's lives?

Greene: It depends on your circumstances. It's all relative. If you are dealing with stressful situations, chapter three on maintaining your presence of mind would be particularly helpful, as would chapter 4 if you find it hard to motivate yourself. Chapters 5 and 6 are particularly relevant to leaders of any group. I make the point that structure is strategy—how you organize your group will determine its mobility, efficiency, morale, etc. Chapter 8 is very important—it is about operating with economy, finding the perfect level between your means and your ends. The center of gravity chapter is critical for attacking any problem. But I suppose if I had to elevate one chapter above the others, it is the longest one in the book—chapter 12, on Grand Strategy. This to me is the apex of strategic thought—the ability to think in terms of a campaign, not battles. This has great relevance to daily life.

I make the point that most of us live in what I call tactical hell. We are constantly reacting to what others give us, managing the battles that confront us day in and day out. We rarely get control. Our minds become dominated by tactical thinking. We can only focus on details. We argue and nitpick about this battle or that battle. It is hell .

Strategy is a kind of mental ladder you climb to get above these battles, gain some perspective and plot your moves. It is a mental purgatory. Grand strategy is simply this idea taken further— gaining a perspective that encompasses months or years. It is incredibly liberating and powerful when you have clear idea of where you want to be in five years, or can focus on what you see as your destiny in life. It helps you manage your daily decisions . "It is not important I fight this battle because it does not serve my overall goals." On and on.

Grand strategy is heaven, one we rarely reach, but must always aim for. It is the ultimate form of rationality. The word is misused nowadays, and I try to correct this in the chapter. I wish everyone would read it. And it is my modest homage to the spirit of Sun-tzu.


http://www.sonshi.com/greene.html

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tang Dynasty Poems, #25: ASCENDING THE PAGODA AT THE TEMPLE OF KIND


The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems anthology is considered a classic of world literature. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an on line version.

From that website:

"
In Chinese literature, the Tang period (618-907) is considered the golden age of Chinese poetry. Tang Shi San Bai Shou [300 Tang Poems] is a compilation of poems from this period made around 1763 by Heng-tang-tui-shi [Sun Zhu] of the Qing dynasty. ...

...
Nearly every Chinese household owns a copy of Tang Shi and poems from it are still included in textbooks and to be memorized by students. We would like to make this World Wide Web version of the poems as a testimony to its compiler's intent : " Learning Tang poems three hundred by heart, you can chant poems though you know not the art ."

ASCENDING THE PAGODA AT THE TEMPLE OF KIND
FAVOUR WITH GAO SHI AND XUE JU

The pagoda, rising abruptly from earth,
Reaches to the very Palace of Heaven....
Climbing, we seem to have left the world behind us,
With the steps we look down on hung from space.
It overtops a holy land
And can only have been built by toil of the spirit.
Its four sides darken the bright sun,
Its seven stories cut the grey clouds;
Birds fly down beyond our sight,
And the rapid wind below our hearing;
Mountain-ranges, toward the east,
Appear to be curving and flowing like rivers;
Far green locust-trees line broad roads
Toward clustered palaces and mansions;
Colours of autumn, out of the west,
Enter advancing through the city;
And northward there lie, in five graveyards,
Calm forever under dewy green grass,
Those who know life's final meaning
Which all humankind must learn.
...Henceforth I put my official hat aside.
To find the Eternal Way is the only happiness.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Women and Martial Arts



I found this video clip on YouTube. It's a jujutsu demonstration from England, from before WWII. The demonstrator is a delightful young woman. Notice how well she moves in a dress and heels.


video

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wang Shu Chin Blog


Wang Shu Chin was a giant in Chinese Internal Martial Arts. If you click on the title of this post, or the link over on the right, you'll be directed to a new blog that has just been started by a direct student of his, Kent Howard.

Please pay a visit.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Looked for, he can not be seen ...


Remember the old Kung Fu TV series? Remember the description of a Shaolin monk?

Listened for, he cannot be heard.
Looked for, he cannot be seen.
Felt for, he cannot be touched.

Well, a Japanese inventor came up with something. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. An excerpt follows. Please follow the link, as you'll want to see the pictures. I didn't want to spoil the article by putting any of the pictures here.


Fearing Crime, Japanese Wear the Hiding Place

TOKYO, Oct. 19 — On a narrow Tokyo street, near a beef bowl restaurant and a pachinko parlor, Aya Tsukioka demonstrated new clothing designs that she hopes will ease Japan’s growing fears of crime.

Deftly, Ms. Tsukioka, a 29-year-old experimental fashion designer, lifted a flap on her skirt to reveal a large sheet of cloth printed in bright red with a soft drink logo partly visible. By holding the sheet open and stepping to the side of the road, she showed how a woman walking alone could elude pursuers — by disguising herself as a vending machine.

The wearer hides behind the sheet, printed with an actual-size photo of a vending machine. Ms. Tsukioka’s clothing is still in development, but she already has several versions, including one that unfolds from a kimono and a deluxe model with four sides for more complete camouflaging.

These elaborate defenses are coming at a time when crime rates are actually declining in Japan. But the Japanese, sensitive to the slightest signs of social fraying, say they feel growing anxiety about safety, fanned by sensationalist news media. Instead of pepper spray, though, they are devising a variety of novel solutions, some high-tech, others quirky, but all reflecting a peculiarly Japanese sensibility.

Take the “manhole bag,” a purse that can hide valuables by unfolding to look like a sewer cover. Lay it on the street with your wallet inside, and unwitting thieves are supposed to walk right by. There is also a line of knife-proof high school uniforms made with the same material as Kevlar, and a book with tips on how to dress even the nerdiest children like “pseudohoodlums” to fend off schoolyard bullies.

There are pastel-colored cellphones for children that parents can track, and a chip for backpacks that signals when children enter and leave school.

The devices’ creators admit that some of their ideas may seem far-fetched, especially to crime-hardened Americans. And even some Japanese find some of them a tad naïve, possibly reflecting the nation’s relative lack of experience with actual street crime. Despite media attention on a few sensational cases, the rate of violent crime remains just one-seventh of America’s.

But the devices’ creators also argue that Japan’s ideas about crime prevention are a product of deeper cultural differences. While Americans want to protect themselves from criminals, or even strike back, the creators say many Japanese favor camouflage and deception, reflecting a culture that abhors self-assertion, even in self-defense.

“It is just easier for Japanese to hide,” Ms. Tsukioka said. “Making a scene would be too embarrassing.” She said her vending machine disguise was inspired by a trick used by the ancient ninja, who cloaked themselves in black blankets at night.

To be sure, some of these ideas have yet to become commercially viable. However, the fact that they were greeted here with straight faces, or even appeared at all, underscores another, less appreciated facet of Japanese society: its fondness for oddball ideas and inventions.

Japan’s corporate labs have showered the world with technology, from transistor radios to hybrid cars. But the nation is also home to a prolific subculture of individual inventors, whose ideas range from practical to bizarre. Inventors say a tradition of tinkering and building has made Japan welcoming to experimental ideas, no matter how eccentric.

“Japanese society won’t just laugh, so inventors are not afraid to try new things,” said Takumi Hirai, chairman of Japan’s largest association of individual inventors, the 10,000-member Hatsumeigakkai.

In fact, Japan produces so many unusual inventions that it even has a word for them: chindogu, or “queer tools.” The term was popularized by Kenji Kawakami, whose hundreds of intentionally impractical and humorous inventions have won him international attention as Japan’s answer to Rube Goldberg. His creations, which he calls “unuseless,” include a roll of toilet paper attached to the head for easy reach in hay fever season, and tiny mops for a cat’s feet that polish the floor as the cat prowls.

Mr. Kawakami said that while some of Japan’s anticrime devices might not seem practical, they were valuable because they might lead to even better ideas.

“Even useless things can be useful,” he said. “The weird logic of these inventions helps us see the world in fresh ways.”

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Beginning Wu Family Style Taijiquan


As a beginner in the Wu family style of Taijiquan, what should I be working on; where should my head be at? It's easy to read newsgroups and get caught up in discussions of taiji theory which I'm totally unqualified to partake.

The main focus of the beginners class is to simply learn the sequence of the 108 standard form. Some corrections are given along the way, but the focus is to learn the sequence and get it reasonably correct.

In addition, I should be trying to make certain qualities of movement habitual. These are relaxing, being weighted 100% on one leg or the other, and whenever it's called for, moving my upper body by moving my hips.

These qualities are reinforced by not only practicing the form, but the warm up exercises.

These warm up exercises are considered so important that the class format has changed to give them their proper due. All the students, no matter what level, show up at 6:30. We spend the next 30 minutes thoroughly working on the warm up exercises as a group.

At 7, we break up into beginners and non beginners. The beginners work on continuing to learn the sequence, while the non beginners seem to usually work on form refinements. At 8, we do the form as a group, with the beginners dropping out as they get to the end of the movments they know.

After that, the beginners leave and the intermediate and advanced students continue to train.

Friday, October 19, 2007

I Ching



In addition to the Dao De Jing, and Zhaung Zi, another pillar of Daoism is the I Ching. If you click on the title of this post, you’ll be directed to the Wikipedia article on the I Ching. I’ve extracted some sections of that article and present them below.

As an introduction to the I Ching, I’d recommend The Philosophy of the I Ching by Carol Anthony, for some background information.

http://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Ching-Carol-K-Anthony/dp/0960383220/ref=pd_bbs_sr_4/103-1104095-2784624?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1192814495&sr=8-4

I’d also recommend The Portable Dragon by R.G.H Siu. The late Dr. Siu was a Chinese gentleman who was immensely educated in Western Literature and Science. I believe he was a Chemistry Professor at MIT. In this book, he uses quotes and excerpts from Western literature to help get across the meanings of the hexagrams to our Western minds.

http://www.amazon.com/Portable-Dragon-Western-Guide-Ching/dp/0262690306/ref=sr_1_1/103-1104095-2784624?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1192815480&sr=1-1

The I Ching (often spelled as I Jing, Yi Ching, Yi King, or Yi Jing; also called "Book of Changes" or "Classic of Changes") is the oldest of the Chinese classic texts. A symbol system designed to identify order in what seem like chance events, it describes an ancient system of cosmology and philosophy that is at the heart of Chinese cultural beliefs. The philosophy centres on the ideas of the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change (see Philosophy, below). In Western cultures, the I Ching is regarded by some as simply a system of divination; many believe it expresses the wisdom and philosophy of ancient China.

The book consists of a series of symbols, rules for manipulating these symbols, poems, and commentary.

History

Traditional view

Traditionally it was believed that the principles of the I Ching originated with the mythical Fu Xi (伏羲 Fú Xī). In this respect he is seen as an early culture hero, one of the earliest legendary rulers of China (traditional dates 2800 BCE-2737 BCE), reputed to have had the 8 trigrams (八卦 bā gùa) revealed to him supernaturally. By the time of the legendary Yu ( ) 2194 BC–2149 BC, the trigrams had supposedly been developed into 64 hexagrams (六十四卦 lìu shí­ sì gùa), which were recorded in the scripture Lian Shan (《連山》 Lián Shān; also called Lian Shan Yi). Lian Shan, meaning "continuous mountains" in Chinese, begins with the hexagram Bound ( gèn), which depicts a mountain (::|) mounting on another and is believed to be the origin of the scripture's name.

After the traditionally recorded Xia Dynasty was overthrown by the Shang Dynasty, the hexagrams are said to have been re-deduced to form Gui Cang (《歸藏》 Gūi Cáng; also called Gui Cang Yi), and the hexagram Field ( kūn) became the first hexagram. Gui Cang may be literally translated into "return and be contained," which refers to earth as the first hexagram itself indicates. At the time of Shang's last king, Zhou Wang, King Wen of Zhou is said to have deduced the hexagram and discovered that the hexagrams beginning with Force ( qián) revealed the rise of Zhou. He then gave each hexagram a description regarding its own nature, thus Gua Ci (卦辭 guà cí, "Explanation of Hexagrams").

When King Wu of Zhou, son of King Wen, toppled the Shang Dynasty, his brother Zhou Gong Dan is said to have created Yao Ci (爻辭 yáo cí, "Explanation of Horizontal Lines") to clarify the significance of each horizontal line in each hexagram. It was not until then that the whole context of I Ching was understood. Its philosophy heavily influenced the literature and government administration of the Zhou Dynasty (1122 BCE - 256 BCE).

Later, during the time of Spring and Autumn (722 BCE - 481 BCE), Confucius is traditionally said to have written the Shi Yi (十翼 shí yì, "Ten Wings"), a group of commentaries on the I Ching. By the time of Han Wu Di (漢武帝 Hàn Wǔ Dì) of the Western Han Dynasty (circa 200 BCE), Shi Yi was often called Yi Zhuan (易傳 yì zhùan, "Commentary on the I Ching"), and together with the I Ching they composed Zhou Yi (周易 zhōu yì, "Changes of Zhou"). All later texts about Zhou Yi were explanations only, due to the classic's deep meaning.

Western ("Modernist") view

In the past 50 years a "Modernist" history of the I Ching has been emerging, based on context criticism and research into Shang and Zhou dynasty oracle bones, as well as Zhou bronze inscriptions and other sources (see below). These reconstructions are dealt with in a growing number of books, such as The Mandate of Heaven: Hidden History in the I Ching, by S. J. Marshall, and Richard Rutt's Zhouyi: The Book of Changes, (see References, below).

Scholarly works dealing with the new view of the Book of Changes include doctoral dissertations by Richard Kunst and Edward Shaughnessy. These and other scholars have been helped immensely by the discovery, in the 1970s, by Chinese archaeologists, of intact Han dynasty era tombs in Mawangdui near Changsha, Hunan province. One of the tombs contained more or less complete 2nd century BCE texts of the I Ching, the Dao De Jing and other works, which are mostly similar yet in some ways diverge significantly from the "received," or traditional, texts preserved by the chances of history.

The tomb texts include additional commentaries on the I Ching, previously unknown, and apparently written as if they were meant to be attributed to Confucius. All of the Mawangdui texts are many centuries older than the earliest known attestations of the texts in question. When talking about the evolution of the Book of Changes, therefore, the Modernists contend that it is important to distinguish between the traditional history assigned to texts such as the I Ching (felt to be anachronistic by the Modernists), assignations in commentaries which have themselves been canonized over the centuries along with their subjects, and the more recent scholarly history aided by modern linguistic textual criticism and archaeology.

Many hold that these perspectives are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but, for instance, many Modernist scholars doubt the actual existence of Fuxi, think Confucius had nothing to do with the Book of Changes, and contend that the hexagrams came before the trigrams. Modern scholarship comparing poetic usage and formulaic phrasing in this book with that in ancient bronze inscriptions has shown that the text cannot be attributed to King Wen or Zhou Gong, and that it likely was not compiled until the late Western Zhou, perhaps ca. the late 9th century BCE.

Rather than being the work of one or several legendary or historical figures, the core divinatory text is now thought to be an accretion of Western Zhou divinatory concepts. As for the Shi Yi commentaries traditionally attributed to Confucius, scholars from the time of the 11th century A.D. scholar Ouyang Xiu onward have doubted this, based on textual analysis, and modern scholars date most of them to the late Warring States period, with some sections perhaps being as late as the Western Han period.

However it must be noted that the value of modern interpertations is still questionable to many people. Since Western civilization did not create the I Ching it can be said that it's interpertations of the book are next to irrelevant to those who believe only a work's original culture can truelly understand it's meaning. On the other hand an alternative view does give variety and life to a work and may be equally as relevant. The relevancy of this view as with the traditional one is up to the person reading it.

Structure

The text of the I Ching is a set of predictions represented by a set of 64 abstract line arrangements called hexagrams ( guà). Each hexagram is a figure composed of six stacked horizontal lines ( yáo), where each line is either Yang (an unbroken, or solid line), or Yin (broken, an open line with a gap in the center). With six such lines stacked from bottom to top there are 26 or 64 possible combinations, and thus 64 hexagrams represented.

The hexagram diagram is conceptually subdivided into two three-line arrangements called trigrams ( guà). There are 23, hence 8, possible trigrams. The traditional view was that the hexagrams were a later development and resulted from combining the two trigrams. However, in the earliest relevant archaeological evidence, groups of numerical symbols on many Western Zhou bronzes and a very few Shang oracle bones, such groups already usually appear in sets of six. A few have been found in sets of three numbers, but these are somewhat later. Note also that these numerical sets greatly predate the groups of broken and unbroken lines, leading modern scholars to doubt the mythical early attributions of the hexagram system (see, e.g., Shaugnessy 1993).

Each hexagram represents a description of a state or process. When a hexagram is cast using one of the traditional processes of divination with I Ching, each of the yin or yang lines will be indicated as either moving (that is, changing), or fixed (that is, unchanging). Moving (also sometimes called "old", or "unstable") lines will change to their opposites, that is "young" lines of the other type -- old yang becoming young yin, and old yin becoming young yang.

The oldest method for casting the hexagrams, using yarrow stalks, is a biased random number generator, so the possible answers are not equiprobable. While the probability of getting either yin or yang is equal, the probability of getting old yang is three times greater than old yin. The yarrow stalk method was gradually replaced during the Han Dynasty by the three coins method. Using this method, the imbalance in generating old yin and old yang was eliminated. However, there is no theoretical basis for indicating what should be the optimal probability basis of the old lines versus the young lines. Of course, the whole idea behind this system of divination is that the oracle will select the appropriate answer anyway, regardless of the probabilities.

There have been several arrangements of the trigrams and hexagrams over the ages. The bā gùa is a circular arrangement of the trigrams, traditionally printed on a mirror, or disk. According to legend, Fu Hsi found the bā gùa on the scales of a tortoise's back. They function rather like a magic square, with the four axes summing to the same value (e.g., using 0 and 1 to represent yin and yang, 000 + 111 = 111, 101 + 010 = 111, etc.).

The King Wen sequence is the traditional (i.e. "classical") sequence of the hexagrams used in most contemporary editions of the book. The King Wen sequence was explained for the first time in STEDT Monograph #5, where it is shown to contain within it a demonstration of advanced mathematical knowledge.

Philosophy

Gradations of binary expression based on yin and yang -- old yang, old yin, young yang or young yin (see the divination paragraph below) -- are what the hexagrams are built from. Yin and yang, while common expressions associated with many schools known from classical Chinese culture, are especially associated with the Taoists.

Another view holds that the I Ching is primarily a Confucianist ethical or philosophical document. This view is based upon the following:

  • The Wings or Appendices are attributed to Confucius.
  • The study of the I Ching was required as part of the Civil Service Exams in the period that these exams only studied Confucianist texts.
  • It is one of the Five Confucian Classics.
  • It does not appear in any surviving editions of the Dao Zang.
  • The major commentaries were written by Confucianists, or Neo-Confucianists.
  • Taoist scripture avoids, even mocks, all attempts at categorizing the world's myriad phenomena and forming a static philosophy.
  • Taoists venerate the non-useful. The I Ching could be used for good or evil purposes.

Both views may be seen to show that the I Ching was at the heart of Chinese thought, serving as a common ground for the Confucian and Taoist schools. Partly forgotten due to the rise of Chinese Buddhism during the Tang dynasty, the I Ching returned to the attention of scholars during the Song dynasty. This was concomitant with the reassessment of Confucianism by Confucians in the light of Taoist and Buddhist metaphysics, and is known in the West as Neo-Confucianism. The book, unquestionably an ancient Chinese scripture, helped Song Confucian thinkers to synthesize Buddhist and Taoist cosmologies with Confucian and Mencian ethics. The end product was a new cosmogony that could be linked to the so-called "lost Tao" of Confucius and Mencius.