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 ~


Monday, August 25, 2008

300 Tang Dynasty Poems: #28 Setting Sail ...


One of the great works of Chinese literature, of World literature, is the famous anthology, the 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. The Tang dynasty was a golden age of culture in ancient China. Poetry was especially esteemed. There was never an occasion too small that it didn't deserve a poem.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of the 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. Below is #28. Enjoy.


Five-character-ancient-verse
Wei Yingwu
SETTING SAIL ON THE YANGZI
TO SECRETARY YUAN

Wistful, away from my friends and kin,
Through mist and fog I float and float
With the sail that bears me toward Loyang.
In Yangzhou trees linger bell-notes of evening,
Marking the day and the place of our parting....
When shall we meet again and where?
...Destiny is a boat on the waves,
Borne to and fro, beyond our will.

Friday, August 22, 2008

What a week!


What a couple of weeks it’s been! I’ve been running around at work like my hair (what’s left) is on fire. That and visitors, and meetings, and presentations to prepare, and more local travel. Whew! The worst is behind me for the moment, and it’s back to what passes for normal.

In spite of my best intentions to really work the supplementary exercises of the Wu family style of Taijiquan into my daily doings, I find that the real center of gravity for my personal practice is the 108 Standard form.

When it comes to working on the 108 Standard form, there is practice and also performance. What we would do in class as a group, when we all do the form together is what I am referring to as performance. Breaking the form down, trying to get every small piece of it technically correct is what I’m referring to as practice.

Up until I got back from Japan, when I tended to do is to run through the form once as a performance with the intention of working in the refinements I’ve been taught in the appropriate places. While I try to get each movement right as I go along, my emphasis had been on relaxation, alignment, and pacing.

What I’ve been up to lately, is to just slow down, and break each sequence down. I try to remember and implement every refinement I’ve been given, and work it into my movements. Yes I still put a premium on staying relaxed, because that’s a requirement of getting the movements right, as is alignment. I’ve been leaving the pacing for when I’m in class.

As a result, my form has not only improved, but I’m finding my ability to maintain the same pace as the rest of the class has improved as well.

I’ve also recently been introduced to the 4th of 12 forms of push hands practice that the Wu family teaches. You always are supposed to begin with #1, which is the most basic, and work your way through to #12, which I think is free style.

Even though I only get to practice push hands for maybe 20 or 30 minutes, about once a week (we practice push hands in class most of the time, but not always), I’m getting better at it.

My older daughter is still unemployed and very frustrated in finding work in her field. I still can’t fault her efforts. She usually makes it to the last round of call backs. She’s sending out tons of resumes, and applying on line all over the place.

For my youngest, high school volleyball season is just starting. They will have a very competitive team. All things being equal, they should go deep into the playoffs for the state championship. Several schools are looking at her to play volleyball in college. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we can find a good fit for her so she can continue to play at the next level without compromising her education.

My associate M.E. Hom of Collaboration360 Consultants [collaboration360.blogspot.com] recently developed a "Strategic Assessment" process that is based on the strategy principles of Sun Tzu's Art of War. Its general approach enables the implementers to use it in any situation.

Half of the game is being able to take stock of the situation around you. Once you really understand your resources, limitations, and can define the problem, you’re half way home in finding a solution. But how?

Sun Tzu said that the general goes into the temple and makes his assessment, then goes on to outline some of the major factors the general must take into account. Well said, but most of us mortals could use a little more guidance. That is where this Strategic Assessment process comes into play.This is the first time that I have ever seen Sun Tzu principles organized in a way that makes sense to a normal person. Take a look and see if this process doesn’t help you get a handle on some of the issues in your life that you’d like to develop a strategy to tackle.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shanxi Province

Shanxi province was the home of many famous Chinese martial artists. A friend sent me this article, of which I've excerpted a portion below. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. There is a very nice slide show which accompanies it which is worth taking a look at. Enjoy.

Bridging Generations on China’s High Plateau

AS our train from Beijing entered Shanxi Province in northern China, the land turned stark and blinding. Scarred by the chasms scratched out by brutally fitful rain, its sculpted, parched earth yielded only scrubby fields and poplars, as goats and donkeys sought lazy refuge from the relentless June sun.

My mother and I had arrived in her birthplace, our ancestral home. And as the train rolled past centuries-old Ming dynasty watchtowers, melting forlornly into the hills, I recalled the words of Zhang Jigang, the Shanxinese choreographer whom I had met in Beijing. “You’ll see how important Shanxi is to Chinese civilization,” Mr. Zhang, a director of the Olympic opening ceremony, told me. “In my opinion, you cannot know China without knowing Shanxi.”

As the train rumbled on, my mother was quick to agree. “See? Didn’t I tell you?” she said, in that Chinese mother sort of way.

With the Great Wall edging its north, towering peaks in its east and the Yellow River cordoning its south and west, Shanxi — its name means west of the mountains — is not the China of fertile rice paddies and lush bamboo forests. Instead, picture the arid plateau, heaved through the ages into clouds of dust by marauding Mongol horsemen, and still carved by the awesome monuments left by a millennium and a half of Buddhism.

From Shanxi’s political and spiritual crossroads arose some of China’s earliest dynasties. And in its courtyard mansions — the 1991 movie “Raise the Red Lantern” was filmed in one — you can almost make out the ghosts of the province’s famed merchants and bankers, clattering their abacuses among meandering, tranquil courtyards.

I, however, was in Shanxi to confront a few ghosts of my own. Growing up in Chicago, where my Taiwanese-raised parents had met as students in the 1970s, I was typical of many first-generation children in playing down — or, in my case, even shunning — my ancestry. Having been formed by Phase 1 of that classic, child-of-immigrants narrative, I was determined never to give in to Phase 2. But here I was, trying to rediscover my roots, as if seeking some kind of redemption.

Specifically, I had come to see where my maternal grandparents had lived and where they’re now buried — the province they left in 1949 as mainland China fell to the Communists. My grandfather was then a legislator in Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government, and like some two million other Chinese, he and my grandmother joined it in fleeing to Taiwan.

After six hours on the train, my mother, Wang Qihui, and I arrived at our first stop, the city of Datong. It was across this dry rugged landscape, blasted by Gobi Desert air, that my great-grandfather once traded livestock before retiring to the family compound in the Shanxinese capital of Taiyuan. Nowadays, Datong is the heart of coal country — Shanxi’s abundant reserves have made it a crucible of China’s boom — and, surveying the city’s mirrored high-rises and smoggy air, the blessings seemed mixed.

Still, Datong is known throughout China for its historic sites. And before long, my mother and I were wandering its pleasant temple district, joining the monks in golden robes as we ascended the millennium-old Huayan Temple, its cavernous upper hall presided over by five enormous Buddhas seated among magnificent Qing dynasty (1644-1911) frescoes.

With our hotel-arranged tour guide, Zhang Zhao, and his maroon Volkswagen Jetta, we also hit the sites just outside of town. We explored the majestic Yungang Grottoes, their deep niches and sublime chambers chiseled with thousands of Buddhist sculptures by the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534), and the fifth-century Hanging Temple of Mount Hengshan, its matchstick pavilions clinging perilously high to the side of a cliff. We stopped every so often at the remains of withered market towns and garrisons, while visiting sections of the Great Wall that you won’t find on postcards, their endlessly snaking coils of rammed earth eroding into a poetry of ruins.

When we weren’t scouting 1,000-year-old treasures — or dodging gusts of powdered coal — we were liberally sampling the celebrated Shanxinese noodles that my grandmother, a good cook, could only approximate in Taiwan: pinched, curled or sliced, usually seasoned with the province’s malty vinegar and always washed down with a shot of grappa-like Fen Jiu.

After one such meal, curiosity got the better of me and I asked Mr. Zhang, the tour guide, to take us to one of the traditional cave dwellings, called yaodongs, that dotted the hillsides. In a dash, we were in the tiny village of Donggetuopu, standing beside the arched entranceway of a whitewashed cave. Out popped a wrinkled man named Zhang Dehua (none of the Zhangs in this article are related); at 75, dressed in an olive Mao suit and cap, he still looked ready for revolution. “It’s 500 years old,” he said with a wide smile, clearly proud of his cool, tamped-earth den. “But I’ve only lived here for 30.”

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Budo Training


Below are excerpts from a very good article on Budo training. To read the whole article click on the title of this post.

Noticing requires no time and no thought. It is immediate.

The problem is that the clouded mind fails to notice that it has noticed and this is why so many warriors seek ways to the purification of the body-mind instrument, often referred to as enlightenment.

Training is not a pseudo-intellectual process, but a living, kinesthetic and complete process. This can be uncomfortable for beginners or the complacent. To progress, this pain has to be met. Frontally and full on.

The greatest secret is action. The next is noticing action. And whilst watching someone else work can be fascinating, the only way to walk in the shoes of the worker and attain the skill, is to do so. Do the work. Not once or twice but thousands upon thousands of time until the errors cannot be perceived by others but you know that there is still work to be done.

Instant gratification is a toxic and false belief. There are no short-cuts. Mystical mumbo-jumbo is fun in the movies for kids, but in the real universe everything has a price.

Mastery of true skill requires work. Lots of it and there is no way around this. Nothing changes without attrition. Evolution fine tunes through reduction by paring away the superfluous excrescences which have no value.

In other words to notice truly, you first have to approximate what you are noticing, become it through fire in the belly, intense desire backed up by real effort until every effort becomes ordinary and even effortless, because you are no longer wasting an atom of energy fighting yourself. Such would constitute the physical, mental and psychological purification: Misogi, required to directly apprehend the moment at each instant, with all its potentials, variables, nuances and possibilities, which then change in the next instant, without the mind dragging.


* Mitori-geiko, a noun, translates as: Learning and progressing by watching the keiko of others, and evaluating the strong and weak points of their example. Receiving with the eyes the style and technique of an advanced practitioner usually Budo but applies to everything that can ascend skill levels.

Whatever the Budo or skill, it is wise to sit quietly on the side just watching the training.

Basically there are three parts to practice or geiko.

1/ Mitori geiko - receiving with the eyes the style and technique of an advanced practitioner.

2/ Kufu geiko - learning and keeping in mind the details of the technique through contemplation and mental visualization.

And;

3/ Kazu geiko - repetition through which the technique as personified in one’s own art.

All three are essential to all training. Scientific research confirms that watching an activity in which you are trained, activates the neuro-muscular pathways involved and reinforces functional skill.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Strategy Applied


"Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning." - Thoreau

It's kind of pointless to study strategy unless you actually DO something with what you've learned. If you click on the title of this post, or follow the link for The Collaborative View over at the right, you'll find numerous examples of how the strategic lessons of Sun Tzu have been applied in our contemporary times.

Recent projects have included the organization of the 42nd Annual US Youth Games, and a book on strategic assessment.

Please pay a visit.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Modern Beijing, Old Beijing



Whew. I'm almost back to what passes for normal.

With the Beijing Olympics beginning, I thought it would be appropriate to post something on Beijing. A friend sent me this article. I've excerpted a portion below. As usual, if you'd like to see the whole article, which includes pictures, click on the title of this post.



Old greets new in modern Beijing



Sunday, August 3, 2008


(08-03) 04:00 PDT Beijing -- As the River Dragon boat chugs up the limpid Kun Yu River, the towers of new Beijing loom in the background, symbols of the Chinese capital's newfound modernity and prosperity. In the foreground, however, Old Beijing is very much alive: Elderly gentlemen dangle fishing rods in the water beneath soft-green willow trees; bathers in skimpy swimming trunks dive into the water; middle-aged ladies atop the riverbank make courtly dance steps to recorded ballroom music.


Old Beijing is slower, quieter and more culturally conservative than the glittering metropolis now anxiously putting the finishing touches on its preparations for the Olympic Games, which start Friday. Just as new Beijing is eager to impress the world, old Beijing is content to take tea, go about its business in traditional courtyard houses, talk things over and watch the world go by.


Old Beijing is not necessarily ancient. With 1,100 years of history, it is young compared with Athens, Rome or Jerusalem, and virtually no traces of Kublai Khan's 10th century capital survive here. Outdoor ballroom dancing, embraced as a form of morning exercise, dates only to the 20th century. Even the oldest sections of the Summer Palace, where the River Dragon is headed and where the emperor used to take his court in the beastly heat of summer, date from 1750 - fairly young by Old World standards.


But the vestiges of old Beijing that survive among the car-clotted 12-lane expressways, the throbbing discos, the mammoth shopping malls and the rowdy expat bars seem as if they've always been there. They do not endure in splendid isolation - as do major antiquities outside Beijing, such as the Great Wall or the Ming Tombs - but stand amid the high-rises and neon of the new city of 15 million.


The Summer Palace, on man-made Kunming Lake, is a popular green park near high-tech corporate campuses and elite universities. It seems to have nothing in common with its up-to-the-minute neighbors. Walkways lined with willows, stone buildings made to last, steeply arched bridges, pagoda-crowned hills, the half-mile Long Corridor covered promenade that connects imperial pavilions, the elaborately carved marble replica of a steamboat at the water's edge - they are more than the sum of their parts. Popular with both Beijingers and visitors, the Summer Palace rarely feels touristy.


On a warm morning, squadrons of uniformed schoolchildren scampered where emperors, court eunuchs and concubines once strolled. The children were having a grand time, unwrapping snacks and sipping bottled water. "They come here to have a picnic with their schoolteachers," explained Beijing guide Mandy Lu. "It happens every spring and fall. It's a tradition. It's meant to give the children a day off and let them enjoy themselves with their teachers."


Near the marble boat was a cozy bookstore with a small selection of English-language books. Also on hand were evocative photo books with black-and-white views of the Summer Palace when it was a royal retreat. After the 1949 revolution, the Communist government threw the grounds open to the public and installed the bookstore. Before that, it was a teahouse favored by the Empress Dowager Cixi, remembered today as something of a Wicked Witch of the North, and memorably portrayed as such in the Bernardo Bertolucci film "The Last Emperor." Another book on sale is "From Emperor to Citizen," the autobiography of Puyi, the boy ruler who was dethroned in 1911 and evicted from the Forbidden City in 1924.


The Forbidden City


The monumental, institutional side of old Beijing is best represented by the Forbidden City - officially, the Palace Museum, a national historic site.


Unlike the Summer Palace, there is no placid water approach to the Forbidden City, though it is easily reached on the subway from the Tiananmen East or Tiananmen West stations. Otherwise, visitors must fight their way through Beijing's increasingly epic traffic jams along Chang'an Avenue, the city's main east-west artery.


Historic Beijing was built along a north-south axis and designed to be a harmonious, geometric work of art. Much of that visionary urbanism has been lost, but in the Forbidden City, Beijing retains its historic air of grandeur.


Although it is nearly always swarmed by tourists trailing guides, their triangular flags and parasols held aloft, the Forbidden City cannot fail to impress. Dating from 1417, the place is vast. Courtyard after courtyard, historic pavilion after historic pavilion, dignified stone lions and gleaming marble staircases, the whole surrounded by a high wall and a moat, it is rivaled among big Asian antiquities only by Bangkok's otherworldly Imperial Palace and Cambodia's moldering Ankor Wat.


Even before you enter, the Forbidden City commands attention. The high balcony just in front of the palace grounds, from which Mao Zedong proclaimed the People's Republic of China in 1949, is fronted by a large portrait of The Great Helmsman himself. This is the very heart of what the West used to call Red China, when foreign media variously called the city Peking, Peiping, even Beiping.


Most of Old Beijing easily predates Red China, of course. Tiananmen Square hosts the kitschy, creepy Mao Mausoleum, which displays the embalmed body of the former leader, who died in 1976. But this windy, flat concrete expanse was, in earlier, smaller incarnations, a vibrant center of political life. Mao expanded the square by knocking down many of the twisty, funky alleyways and rambling compounds that bordered the south side of Tiananmen. Colorful fragments survive, with their crowded streets, and vertical signs overhanging narrow passageways.


During the 1960s, in a successful push to expand the physical limits of his growing capital, Mao demolished the city walls; today the second ring road hums where the walls used to stand guard. Mao's business-minded successors unleashed bulldozers to further modernize the city, first demolishing, then radically rebuilding it.


Fortunately, some major monuments escaped the wrecker's ball. So, too, have a handful of neighborhoods in the heart of the city that are essential to old Beijing.