Thursday, September 29, 2011

Non-violence, 武道, laughter, and hypocrisy

Once again, a post on Nathan's blog and my recent experience with Wing Chun has provided grist for the blog.  That post points to this post at the "Interdependence project" by one J. Brown.  I quote:

I have only been in one fight. It was in the third grade. I don’t recall what the impetus was but it ended up in a war of words between me and another boy on the basketball court. I remember deciding to hit him but when I went to strike my arm went slack. It was as if my body overrode my minds directive and I was incapable of trying to harm him.
The other boy did not have the same issue and I was quickly pinned and squirming to be free. The only black girl in our class, Latisha, came to my aid and pushed him off of me before he got any punches in. We were friends and no one messed with Latisha.
I can trace my inclination for yoga back to that day. I learned something important about myself. I am not naturally inclined towards violence. Even as a boy, I recognized that this was not true of everyone. As an adult, it makes sense that I embrace a life philosophy that puts a premium on nonviolence.

 Well, my history was different. My siblings and I were subject to bullying as a young kids, and I don't know about J. Brown's history otherwise, but the point where a kid fights back is where the bullying generally stops. Like J. Brown, I too don't think of violence as the first  thing when in an altercation, and in the intervening years between the time I fought back against a bully and now I have learned very much about the proper applicatoin of power.

Power, authority, and responsibility are a three-legged stool of a metaphorical sort; you can't have any two legitimately  without the third, and to abjure any one of them, as Rollo May pointed out, is inherently unhealthy for people.  Understanding this and embracing it is an important key to healthy relationships, organizations, and societies.

And at some point the proper application of power may need to be the application of violence to eliminate the possibility of greater harm. That is the principle of budō (武道), and why for a very long time I've understood that there was an undercurrent of unrecognized hypocrisy or at least ignorance in the dogmatic pacifist.  I too was a dogmatic pacifist once, one who thought he was "unlucky" to have been bullied as a young kid, perhaps as a means of rationalizing or forgetting the fact that real abuse had been done to me.

Somewhere along the line I realized that there were entire strains of human experience unknown to me in the manner that Henry Miller noted that where he came from,  Brooklyn, the notion of temperate climates was unknown.  Long Island, my home region, borders Queens which borders Brooklyn.  The notion that you can walk down any street, and firearms notwithstanding, nobody will mess with you and you have no need to mess with them is a very temperate climate indeed.

J. Brown, and Nathan later in his post  get to the point that there is aspects of harm to one's self that arise from a yoga practice from time to time.  I had to really chuckle at this bit from Brown:

I remember a particular occasion when I was teaching one of my trademark power vinyasa classes. I was barking out my well prepared sequence and, instead of my usual attention to everyone’s alignment, I happened to be noticing the facial expressions of the people in my class.

They looked miserable. They were filled with struggle and strain, just doing their best to get through and not enjoying themselves much in the process. There was a distinct lack of joy.

Afterwards, several students came up to thank me and tell me how great the class was. It made me feel uncomfortable. Walking home, I kept thinking: “What am I doing?”

 One of the most temperate aspects of the martial arts training I've been receiving is just how very very different it is from the "regimented" types of martial arts practice (forms, uniforms, etc.)  that's so common in other schools.  But the thing that really hooked me on this way was not just that (though at 54, with my own Zen teacher, and with the forms of Zen, I don't need more excuses for forms).  It was the attitude of teacher and participants.

There was frequent from-the-belly laughter. There's laughter because the old sifu can take somebody twice his size and three times his weight and throw him across the room, everyone knows it, the guy is as gentle as a kitten, but in the course of showing one how and why a particular move should be done exactly a certain way there's this weird mechanical magic that is just astounding.  There's laughter because we're so much younger than he, and we're so incompetent at this (and I am among the most incompetent).  And there's laughter because we incompetents occasionally see that we've had this power all along; we just didn't know how to use it, and when we get a glimpse of it, a glimpse of being able to practice this magic, it's knee-slapping funny because it makes a mockery of all the preconceptions we've had about ourselves all our lives, at least those regarding how we were physically present in the world.

In short, I have fun doing this. And I don't know about yoga, but I do know that the only way to get better at what I'm doing is practicing, but practicing without expecting perfection in each attempt, just attempting an iota of improvement.   I feel sorry for those Marine boot-camp yoga and martial arts ways.  They have too much extra baggage, I think.  But I do also think embedded into their harm situation may be a condition of a distorted notion of power, authority and responsibility.

I don't know, maybe I'm lucky; (see "unlucky" above); I think I am to have at least once in my life, found a teacher who can do this, and fellow students who are patient with my incompetence.

It's also interesting to read Brad Warner's piece on juggling and Ken Wilber and prowess on the "Suicide Girls" site (which I got from his regular blog).  I share his displeasure towards someone "like Ken Wilber who does tricks — ones that nobody can ever even verify he’s accomplished, by the way — [and makes]  tons more money than that street juggler down on Venice Beach who does something far cooler."  But I would part ways a bit with Warner based on what my Zen teacher's my the Wing Chun teacher's attitude towards the student, and heck, any good teacher (which, I think Warner may think he is). That is, the whole point of Rinzai teaching practice - and Wing Chun teaching, (that is, what the teachers do in teaching) as I've experienced it is, physical and mental disabilities notwithstanding in the latter case, you can do it too!  That's why it's often very funny - because I never really thought it might be possible  to heave a big linebacker across a room with my hand. But today I realize it might not entirely be out of the question someday, given the right confluence of circumstances. And that's funny.

The juggler and Ken Wilber, and the yoga marine drill sergeant  - imply what they do is way, way beyond your skill.

But it isn't.  It's just likely that you never studied juggling, Wing Chun, or fancy electronic brain tricks.

You know, it's like magicians' magic. You don't have to kill yourself or make tons of money to do something, but you can have fun, become more mindful, and more psychologically whole.  And you can laugh, too.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Physical Activity and Cultural Deformation...

Humans do pretty strange things.  Many of them center around balls.   Many of them do not.  But regardless - or perhaps another instance of strange - is I'm still thinking about Nathan's post here as well as NellLou's pointing to this bit here on "Yoga and Exclusion."

Here in America, it has become "football season."  Football is the biggest cult in the United States. It is an absurd sport, in that there is a degree of artifice that is byzantine at a level present in no other sport, to my knowledge.   It is also absurd in that there is, to me, a most limited degree of body types for which this sport can really be effectively played, and they mostly center on attributes of brute force, with the exceptions of the quarterback and the guy they bring out to kick field goals, although the former must have the minimum brawn to be able to survive being tackled by a couple or three thousand pounds of beef-fed humans.
I am just 5'6" - about the height of Dustin Hoffman, about 1 inch shorter than Bruce Lee was.  I know, for my demographic, I'm not in the mode; I'm at the tails, and I have survived these 5+ decades of my life knowing that I was never cut out to play for the NFL.   Of course, I knew that in high school, and could not then for the life of me understand why some of my  classmates could not understand that their their lives were going to go all downhill after being tagged as "varsity."  There's tragedy throughout  high school, we all know.  I'm not sure it gets better for those whose high point of their life ended at homecoming and are now bouncers. I hope it does.

And yet, despite the tragedy, despite the ill-fitting nature of football to the rest of Americans' lives,  the American media sells football non-stop as an ideal for sport in order to piggy-back the sale of all kinds of crap to Americans...and they buy it!  It is sold so much that politicians feel they must connect themselves to it,  (see here, here, and here).

Football is sold to Americans as something that transcends class and ethnicity, but that's absurd, and everyone knows it, and yet still the pretense is observed and rarely questioned.  Basketball does a better job at transcending ethnicity, which is why it's wildly popular in China.  What we call "soccer" does a better job at transcending class and ethnicity, which may be why you're more likely to read about a riot following a non-US "football" game than a US football game.

 Why am I writing about this, when it all seems so obvious? 

To  a certain extent I would submit that most sports have some weird kind of cultural deformation, and when you think about it, it's kind of quaint to think that a "liberal" endeavor like yoga might be immune.  There's no reason it should be, other than that, hey, it's "liberal" and therefore we should see more faces and gender than we might from the U.S. Polo Association!

As I wrote earlier on this, the martial arts world has some weird representations in our culture. But there are martial arts and there are martial arts, to be sure. Boxing has been for so long in America a "last chance" for the poor, but has recently had some emergence as a yuppie/health club fad. If one is a great practitioner of kendo, and one wants a great sword, there's a money issue.  But in all of this, and I suspect this is a class issue too, the less well-off do not have as many resources to find a great teacher.

All of that said, I wasn't well aware when I was younger that there were ways of doing martial arts physical practices that are not only well suited to my body type, but actually give me an advantage over larger opponents.  Though I was not really bullied at all in high school after October of freshman year, it has simply never occurred to me the degree to which folks with even my body type are marginalized, to which people who are not small compared to football players are thought of as "less athletic" and all that (despite the fact that folks shorter than I have played for the NBA).
And this brings me to my final point: Football is inherently conservative. That's why there must exist a massive media machine to continue to sell it and sell its cultural relevance, at least the pro-variety.  And full disclosure: I have enjoyed playing in quite a few games of touch football in my life.  I stopped getting picked last when the more physically appropriate kids figured out I was blazingly fast compared to them.  But I stand by my points about how US football appears in US culture.

Martial arts can be revolutionary. One of the interesting aspects of the recent movie "Grandmaster Yip Man" and its sequel is the fact that Yip Man's martial art disseminates across classes in effect as a societal gesture of national survival.  That is, kung fu, "功夫" - the cultivation of a man (sorry that's what it means ladies, but please accept it as inclusive for my purposes) - is the cultivation of the nation.  The intermingling of class issues with personal development have been a staple of these movies for decades (see "The Karate Kid," e.g.)  but the idea of 功夫 as something building cultural and social solidarity is something relatively new to cinema, even though at least that part of Yip Man's life was true. 

American football pretends to be a broad positive cultural endeavor, but it is but a pretense.  The only things I can think of to compare "Yip Man"  are films like "Rudy," but to be honest, it was "The Longest Yard" that came to my mind first.

I think the apotheosis of bad American culture can be summed up in this thought: Vince Lombardi's "motivational speech" "What It Takes to be Number One" - is thought of  as motivational!  And people sell framed versions of it! I quote:

Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.
There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that's first place. I have finished second twice in my time at Green Bay, and I don't ever want to finish second again. There is a second place bowl game, but it is a game for losers played by losers. It is and always has been an American zeal to be first in anything we do, and to win, and to win.
Every time a football player goes to ply his trade he's got to play from the ground up—from the soles of his feet right up to his head. Every inch of him has to play. Some guys play with their head. That's O.K. You've got to be smart to be number one in any business. But more importantly, you've got to play with your heart, with every fiber of your body. If you're lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he's never going to come off the field second.
Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization—an army, a political party or a business. The principles are the same. The object is to win—to beat the other guy. Maybe that sounds hard or cruel. I don't think it is.
It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That's why they are there—to compete. To know the rules and objectives when they get in the game. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules—but to win.
And in truth, I've never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn't appreciate the grind, the discipline. There is something in good men that really yearns for discipline and the harsh reality of head to head combat.
I don't say these things because I believe in the "brute" nature of man or that men must be brutalized to be combative. I believe in God, and I believe in human decency. But I firmly believe that any man's finest hour—his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear—is that moment when he has to work his heart out in a good cause and he's exhausted on the field of battle—victorious.

This is why America loses wars, folks: they think like Vince Lombardi, but their fellow-world game players are thinking like Sun Tzu.

And  finally, as for yoga, it has its place, but in terms of liberal social sins, this is hardly a noticeable blip on the scale of things.  And I hope all beings get to enjoy physical activity...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Frederick Lenz's Dark Materials...

As of today, over $36,000 has been raised in something called the "Rama's Materials" campaign. And what's the payoff? "When we reach the donation goal of $100,000, $200,000 of funds will then be available for the marketing of Rama's Materials." 

Another link helpfully reminds us to "Pay Now for the September 22 - 25, 2011 Lenz Foundation's Soul of Money Fundraising Conference and Workshop  [in] Park City, Utah."  

It looks pretty shabby to me given the current state of things, even if the Lenz cult foundation is using money to give money to Peace on the Street," though their goal in this funding is to use "Frederick Lenz' approach to meditation and life success."  I wonder if that includes suicide and overdosing of downers.

"Class Warfare" and the Rectification of Names

To an electrical engineer, a rectifier is a device that permits current to flow in only one direction; a.k.a., a big diode.  It's used to convert AC to DC in what (even more inexplicably) is called an "inverter."  The dictionary defines "rectify" as to put or set right.  It was because of my familiarity with the electrical definition and my recent visit to Qufu, the hometown of Confucius, that I was drawn to the Wikipedia entry on "The Rectification of Names."

Wikipedia quotes a translation of the Analects:

A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.

Now as Buddhists we might be able to  take issue with the details of the philosophy behind the rectification of names,  but in both traditions right speech is important.

So it is with some interest - and the fact that I like reading about history - that I have seen that any proposal for getting the wealthier to actually contribute a fair share to the cultivation of American society is described as "class war" or "class warfare."

Look, if the revolutions in Russia or China are the basis for rhetoric, we should at least know what the rhetoric actually means.  In this case, "class war" waged from the left is where the workers seize the means of production, and tell the indolent wealthy they have a choice of working for a wage more representative of what the rest of society is making or consider being treated as enemies of the people.

Now I'm not suggesting such things, really, though where I live over a quarter of the children in my county are deemed food insecure. But I would encourage the right wing to be more careful in their speech; some of these hungry people might actually think - and be encouraged to engage in - the kind of class warfare that hurts those who are waging such quiet violence upon the poor.  And make no mistake, under such class war jobs would be created.  Somebody would have to oversee Rush Limbaugh & David Koch's work in the rice fields.  But it'd be a hell of a lot easier and a hell of a lot more harmonious to get them simply to pay their fair share to contribute to society.  As Thers over at Eschaton quotes Elizabeth Warren, whose words need no rectification:

I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.”—No!
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.
You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear.
You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for.
You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.
You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.
You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea—God bless. Keep a big hunk of it.
But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
 Seems pretty sensible to me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

More water...

I generally like Brad Warner's blog posts; he's sincere, and he actually has some knowledge of what he's doing, even if there are some subtle differences in what he does and was taught versus me. But....

 Let's first go where I largely agree...

I've said several times that I feel like Buddhism is sort of like advanced physics. Albert Einstein pioneered so much of advanced physics it might be considered appropriate to call it "Einsteinism." But if we did that we would not want to stop all of advanced physics at the point of Albert Einstein's death and say anything that came after is not legitimate.

Same with Buddhism. Buddha never claimed to be a prophet or messiah. So to say Buddhism stops with the death of the historical Buddha would be a grave misunderstanding of Buddhism. Westernization and modernization of Buddhism is inevitable and helpful....

 Yeah, Buddhism continues with the Buddhist practitioner, and the Buddha can be made into an idol even by iconoclastic Westerners in the same manner as Che Guevara or Bruce Lee.  This "nowness" of Buddhism is one of those things that was extremely attractive to me, and resolved some of the conundra of Christianity, viz. the issue of dead folks before "Jesus," people at "Jesus'" "time" in history, and us now...and yeah, it resolved those conundra by saying there was too much myth and thinking overlayed onto what might have been - or not - a reformer of Judaism.  

And then...

 I was going over the galleys of Nishijima Roshi's translation of Nagarjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. It's due out in about a month. In the translation, Nishijima Roshi insists upon translating the Sanskrit word shunyata as "the balanced state."

Everybody knows that the word shunyata means "emptiness." This is the accepted translation of shunyata and has been for many years. Nishijima himself is well aware of this. But he also felt that the word "emptiness" in English really did not convey what Nagarjuna was talking about when he used the word shunyata...

"Balanced state" is an improper translation of shunyata. No doubt about it. But it may convey more of the meaning of shunyata than the word "emptiness" is able to. That was Nishijima's feeling anyway.

The translation is idiosyncratic. It does not match other English translations. But there are several more standard versions easily available to anyone who wants them. There is no reason for yet another one of those.

People worry themselves far too much about the Westernization and modernization of Buddhism. It's nice to have faithful versions of ancient texts. But we also have to be aware that even the most faithful versions we can produce are not faithful. Even if we read the texts in their original languages, we come from such a different place culturally we still won't be able to get what the people who wrote them meant exactly. Even the people who read those texts during the authors' lifetimes may not have fully understood what their writers meant.

It's hopeless!
Brad, I know you must defend your master (oh, no, I quoted Uma Thurman's character in Kill Bill Vol. I!) but really there's no excuse for an inaccurate  translation, and "balanced" simply does not convey shunyata, especially either to Westerners or Japanese.

His post goes on to quote Nishijima-roshi on these things, and I am pretty sure he gets the science all wrong here.  For example,  the autonomous nervous plays a large role in the "fight or flight" response, and it's actually the conditioning of both nervous systems that allows us to do stuff like swim, abstain from bodily functions when necessary, and so forth. It's not in any way a "balance" of these nervous systems so much as a training of them to be able to function in the world in a manner that's more effective for all beings.  And of course to say that "Nagarajuna appears to me to be saying here that until the autonomic nervous becomes balanced, it is impossible for the real universe to become clear," mixes anachronism into it.  I've read Nagarajuna, Brad, and you can't find a whiff of neurophysiology in his Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way.  You will find deep precursory thought to the existentialists and post-modernists, but not neurophysiology.

And yet despite all of the above, I still have a great admiration for Warner, and via him, his teacher Nishijima-roshi.  They've actually done the practice, jumped off the 100 ft. pole and all that stuff. It's not so much that I don't care that they're wrong; I care more for who they are, so that even when they're flat out wrong, I can still write the above with that level of respect.

But I tell you, there's more science in Wing Chun - namely mechanical physics, and yes, behavioral psychology - than there is in any of the above. Much more.  We don't need to overlay pseudo-scientific gobbledygook into Zen practice, especially when there's enough empirical evidence to show that, regardless of the "spirituality" involved or not, it's helpful.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

We don't see the water in which we swim, and we don't know how we appear...and what is this "privilege" anyway?

And of course I fit in the same boat...

  • I'm told by my wife that in general Chinese view "intellectual" pursuits as superior to those of learning martial arts, and I'm sure that's true.  It used to be true that the "intellectual" pursuits were viewed as superior to athletic pursuits (complementary wasn't a word used in this area)  in various sub-groups in the United States, including folks descended from Eastern Europe.
  • A lot of folks on the right probably have no idea why Europe might look condescendingly at US "advice" on their economic problems
  • I don't go to places to do yoga.  If my wife's with me, and circumstances permit, and we're staying at a hotel we might have gone to a spa once, where there was a yoga class.  And while I am a stretching/mindful/etc. person who yeah, understands the relationship between meditation & yoga, and I mean no animus towards any of the avid practitioners of yoga in the Buddhist blogosphere, the whole "yoga movement" thing always came across New Agey...with all the baggage that imples.
    • So when someone points out the weird classism that is presented in "yoga media" I'm not surprised. (HT NellaLou)
    • But frankly, when a guy - who's heart is in the right place - but when a guy starts critiquing with an academic "privilege" in yoga - a guy who I'm almost certain is not living a particularly privileged existence save for his sex and skin color it comes across as more concerned with identity politics than actually fostering uh, solidarity.   To me at any rate. I'm a guy who's probably more privileged than most, though, unlike Blaise Pascal, I own not a carriage and 6 horses. 
    • But as I've noted, I have  started doing martial arts recently.  If you haven't already done so, click on the "yoga" media link above,  and click on the "kung fu magazine" link here.
      • Pretty cheesy looking, eh?
      • But it doesn't fit the image I have of the practice I do. And I'm sure  it's not the image - of  myriad practitioners of Aikido, Shorinji kenpo and other martial arts.
      • My teacher is pretty much "off the radar" (though not entirely).  My Zen teacher is pretty much the same way.  If you're doing something genuine it doesn't matter in the least as to how others portray it. You don't know how you'll be portrayed, but whatever, it will  be an inaccurate representation because of the very nature of the representation.
      • And that's because we can't be fully cognizant of how we appear to others. 
  • So basically, find a good teacher and don't worry about how the media portrays your stuff or whether they portray it  at all.  They'll portray it wrong at any rate.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Stop fighting! You're fighting!" or, "What's Chan got to do with it?

I'm thinking a bit more about the Shaolin/Buddhism/commercialism issue and Barbara's recent post here on this subject, and I think it might be a bit useful to expound a bit on the martial arts from my rank beginner point of view.  It might inform the discussion on why folks might flock to Shaolin and why folks at Shaolin might seek to protect their name.

I don't come naturally to martial arts, and I suspect most folks don't.  One has to seriously practice to get to a level of skill.  It seems part of the "fight or flight" response, triggered by the rush of adrenalin, is that "fight" tends to mean a tense hyper-vigilance.

One of the aspects of Wing Chun, which, I think is shared in other martial arts (it's too profoundly useful not to have been exploited by others), is the notion that force and tenseness are not usually used to the exclusion of relaxed action.  In fact, the vast majority of such moves are made in a relaxed, smooth, flowing manner.  This can be quite difficult when one has been conditioned from late toddler-hood to expect a "fight" simply because someone is facing you who is going to punch you.

In fact, it is so conditioned that folks, myself included don't even know how to punch effectively at first.  Even experienced students in my class will hear the sifu chiding them with a chuckle, "Stop fighting! You're fighting me now!"  All well know the guy is pretty much impenetrable when it comes to actually, uh, fighting. And it's not the point of the exercise anyway.

If you're "fighting" you're not going to be applying the iota of force in the right place and time that makes it all devastatingly effective.

All of the above is to say that martial arts can, and if practiced will teach aspects of ourselves that we didn't even know we needed to learn.

Of course it's the same with a Zen practice as well; thus in John Daido Loori's book The Eight Gates of Zen a chapter is devoted to "body practice," an application of Zen practice in the awareness of the body which might otherwise be called "body kung fu" (功夫) perhaps.

To me, it's an extremely important thing to learn because it has implications for pretty much near everything I do from day to day, most of which I'm not remotely aware of at this time.

And it goes beyond this: it calls into question (just like good Zen practice should) the most basic preconceptions and conditioning I have about myself and others.

If what they do at Shaolin is remotely related to the above, I could see why they would want to make sure it's not ripped off by cheap knock-offs. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cringe inducing...

That's how I'd describe this recent article on  the Washington Post website on "Shaolin" films and "spirituality," by way of introducnig “Shaolin,” a "new" movie starring Jackie Chan and Andy Lau.

“Most people don’t realize kung fu is internal and external, a peaceful and a martial application, and a Shaolin movie will include both, while most kung fu movies are about anger and shooting,” says Ric Meyers, author of “Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Book.”
“Shaolin is all about spirituality, karma, your well-being,” adds Doris Pfardrescher of Well Go USA, which is distributing “Shaolin.” All other martial-arts films are “ just about action, fighting,” she adds, “but Shaolin is about religion, spirituality, being with Buddha.”

 It gets worse.

But Shaolin did not become just an Asian phenomenon. The 1970s TV series “Kung Fu” featured David Carradine as a Shaolin monk. Wu-Tang Clan named their first hip-hop album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” — the 36 Chambers being a reference to a Shaolin movie. The animated hit “Kung Fu Panda” was influenced by Shaolin martial-arts styles. In the “Kill Bill” movies, Uma Thurman is taught martial arts by a Shaolin monk. And even the cartoon series “The Simpsons” helped establish the monastery’s cultural bona fides when Homer visited it during a trip to China.
Since the Shaolin craze began, martial arts have become fairly ubiquitous in movie fight scenes — hits such as “The Matrix” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” helped popularize the form — but Shaolin remains an iconic name and style all its own. “A lot of other martial-arts films are just throwing out different styles,” says Reid, “but when you see a bald-headed monk in a martial-arts film, you know it’s a Shaolin monk. Other movies are just entertainment. The Shaolin movies are a way to tell the audience about the Shaolin martial arts.”

 It might be a bit much, I know, to expect the Washington Post to actually produce an article evocative of what kung fu actually is, let alone why a Buddhist might do such things.  But 2 minutes of googling would have told the author that Pai Mei wasn't a Shaolin monk.

And the "new" movie "starring" Jackie Chan (he has what is almost a supporting role but isn't quite the main point of interest in the story)  is most notable for its implicit flavor of Chinese nationalism more than anything, which, as far as I'm concerned, is not a problem, but would otherwise be expected these days.  Perhaps more to the point, though, is why this film has a Buddhist message (which is more explicit than the nationalist message): because of a warlord's greed, a violent struggle ensues which ultimately takes the life of his daughter, and the only way the warlord can ultimately live with himself is to renounce his past and take up a life with the Shaolin monks, on the eve of their temple's (latest) destruction.  And that story is poignant regardless of any branding.

Then again, the whole story of Buddhism in China in the past century or two is rife with struggle and endurance that people in America barely understand at all, myself included.

Ah, well whatever.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Did James Bond read pulp novels about spies?

Did Agatha Christie's fans go on to commit elaborate murders? Was Theodore Sturgeon influenced by Kilgore Trout?

I dreamt last night that I had disarmed Osama bin Laden; I've no idea why.

Maybe because it's easy to disarm a dead guy...but then again, he's at the bottom of the ocean, right?

I'm just saying.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 will eventually be forgotten

The man in the ranks of Tuthmose Ill's army of Armageddon was deluded about the importance of his death, but the man in a Chieftain tank (or a T-62) in Germany today is not. And I am the Queen of Sheba.  - Gwynne Dyer
 The works of Thutmose III, or Sargon of Akkad, or even for that matter Genghis Khan are not mourned at all today - and in the latter case, the conqueror of Asia's deeds are celebrated in Mongolia to this day.

This is not to minimize what happened that day - it was evil, and it was an evil whose origin we, as Americans, have not come to terms with; instead we have substituted raw jingoism.

But in another sense, 9/11 - like the Black Plague, like so many other horrors of history, is increasingly experienced in its dependency with other phenomena; and in 5 generations will be thought on as the Great Influenza is thought of.

It is simply the mandate of the process of humanity's memory and forgetting.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"...In such an ugly time the true protest is beauty." - Phil Ochs

9/11 happened when my son was just over one month old.  To be honest, the memories and emotions of what happened that day have in me been conditioned by what has come to my awareness since then.  In one sense I have noticed the growth of a both a profound empathy towards those who lived through that first hand, and a profound horrific repugnance at those who would exploit this as just another lurid tabloid tale in which to play their demagoguery.

That day,  though, it all seemed surreal - it was just one more thing on TV.  And besides, the overwhelming fact was my wife and son.

There are many unanswered questions about 9/11 - a few of them do indeed involve some Saudi Arabians, money sent to al Qaeda, and  the Bush regime.

But in such an ugly time, it's best to cultivate beauty in  cultivating our selves, our relationships with others, and with where we live, in all that means.

If ever we needed wisdom beyond wisdom, it is in this very moment.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Fittring it all in a day...

Oddly enough - or perhaps not surprisingly - over the summer when my wife & son were in China, I found myself much shorter of time.

Perhaps it was adjusting to the schedule...schlepping to Beaverton twice a week.  But it's worth it.

One of the interesting things about a martial art like Wing Chun is that you get a lot more feedback about various aspects of your body's coordination compared to some other physical practices (including the ones I'd been doing, e.g., swimming, running, weight training).  I'll let Nate respond w.r.t. yoga. :-)

But it's good to have the family back after their travels...and thankfully we're starting slow now...

Sunday, September 04, 2011

It ain't that way with martial arts...

This post and the comment on Uku's blog post   it points to deserve a response.  They're right, but there's an aspect to martial arts as adults may adults that it doesn't cover.

That's still ethical and Buddhist, but not supine.

An adventurous nature walk with odd results...

Sometimes, your son's Nintendo DS becomes a plaything of paper wasps...sometimes there's a forest fire 60 miles away creating an ugly brown tear in the sky.

It's all fleeting and finite of course.

There's a lot of life in the ten directions.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Been back in the USA for a week already...

And I haven't written a blog post! Nothing!

Well, to catch up:

My trip back from Athens was via Newark, and there was this hurricane thing that delayed my trip.

Luckily I made it back around 1AM Monday morning...but I was wiped.

I did manage to get in a mini-retreat before the trip though...

Anyway, I really will have more to say later...just perhaps nothing more profound than this...