More random thoughts on a Tuesday morning

6 Sep

The martial art I teach begins instruction with a technique known as the “penetrating strike” (穿搥). The correct execution of this technique requires learning to turn both the hips and shoulders, engaging in a practice referred to as the “wheeling body” (車輪身). Ironically, while today most would classify my method as “external,” this practice is similar to the Taiji Quan concept “the waist turns like a wheel” (腰如輪轉). Learning to turn correctly and developing thoracic flexibility allows us to develop “waist power” (腰力). We refer to our strikes as “shooting star fists (流星拳). In Xing Yi Quan there is the saying “punch like a shooting star” (拳出如流星).

If I have a student who has studied Indian yoga, they will inevitably observe that the execution of the “penetrating strike” and the exercises to prepare the body (練功) are similar to many Yogic asana such as the “virabhadrasana.” Based upon their experience, this is how the student relates to my martial art. It does not mean that my martial art has origins in India, in Yoga, or a relationship to Hinduism. If I decide (and I have) to also study Yoga, it gives me a different perspective on my martial art, it teaches me new methods and approaches to teaching flexibility. In the end, I have absorbed Yogic techniques which allow me to better teach my martial arts students how to execute the strike. In addition, if practicing my martial art also strengthens my students’ bodies and makes them healthier, I am still teaching them my martial art and not Yoga.

At this point, I will further complicate my story by letting you know that the martial art I teach is called “Mi Zong Lama Pai“ (密宗喇嘛派), or “Tantric Lama Sect.” My method is not called this because the individuals in my lineage were particularly religious, they were not. One worked as an armed escort and engaged in a number of public challenge matches, several were military officers and a number were members of secret societies and/or involved in organized crime. The method is named Mi Zong Lama Pai simply because the ethnic Chinese who learned it in southern China in the mid nineteenth century learned it from a Buddhist monk affiliated with the Tantric Buddhist Sect (密宗佛教). That Buddhist monk also engaged in challenge matches and may have used a hooked sword to kill a few people. As I have already discussed here, Buddhist monks in Imperial China frequently did not conform to our contemporary understanding and expectations. We’ll return to that monk a little later.

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