Xin Nian Kuai Le!* (Happy Chinese New Year!)
Well, it’s the Year of the Horse, so let’s xing xing. Let’s what?…..
惺惺 (Xing Xing): Depending on the context, this can mean “clears away” problems, or “clears the head” and awakens. Let’s hope we all get to xing xing any problems, and may good fortune and vibrant health lead our way at full gallop in the months to come.
* Thanks to Jian-Yang Rong for correcting my pinyin in the headine above.
A Nice Interview With Dr. Yang Jwing Ming
Dr. Yang Jwing Ming is a highly respected martial artist, teacher, and publisher of martial art and qigong media. Master Yao-Wah Chan has often cited Dr. Yang as a sterling example of someone who openly and generously shares his knowledge of the Chinese arts. In this interview, he talks about growing up in Taiwan and celebrating the Spring Festival (what we here in the U.S. call the Chinese New Year). He also mentions the 10-year martial art teaching program at a retreat location in Northern California, which he founded in order to pass on and keep alive the treasure of Chinese martial art culture. http://ymaa.com/articles/2014/01/chinese-new-year-the-year-of-the-wooden-horse
Interesting Scientific Findings on Tai Chi (courtesy of Michael Greenstein from our Saturday tai chi class — Thanks, Michael!)
In this article, researchers recount their findings on yet another benefit of practicing the best known of the nèijiāquán (内家拳), or internal martial arts. Young people were found to report better attention capabilities after practicing tai chi.
Mini-Lesson in Chinese
ch’i (氣/气) — The second character is the simplified Chinese version.
So, we can use the first of these two possible characters in forming the word “qigong”:
The second character in “qigong” is 功 — that is, gong, or work. 氣功, or qigong, is working with the chi. The character 功 is also part of 功夫 (kung fu). 功 refers to something that requires lots of time and practice…lots of work.
Here’s a Chinese character meaning “internal”: 内
This character: 家, jiā, means “families.”
拳 is quán, or “fist.”
Putting those three characters together, we get:
内家拳, nèijiāquán. This means “internal martial arts” or, more literally, internal families fist. (In the martial arts, people often speak of families, e.g., Chen family, Yang family. Here, it’s kind of like saying, “the internal family of arts.” Fighting arts are often represented by the term “fist.”) The most widely known nèijiāquán are taijiquan (太極拳), baguazhang ( 八卦掌) and xingyiquan ( 形意拳). (Do you see the “quan” characters in taijiquan and xingyiquan?) We’re hoping that Master Yao-Wah Chan will once again teach us some xingyiquan when Spring arrives and we can enjoy the Friday class outdoors. We’re also enjoying 八卦, or bagua, circle walking every Sunday morning with Master Chan.
Another Use of the Chinese character meaning “internal”: 内
内庭 is Chinese for the neiting, or “inner courtyard” acupuncture point, located on the outside of the second toe. (See the 内 there? Here it conveys “inner.”)
Master Yao-Wah Chan’s Bagua Walking Class: Session 1
Last Sunday’s class was a beautiful experience. We began with roughly 10 people walking the circle. Over the next two hours, it seemed that new people kept drifting in and joining us. What was interesting was the mix. There’s a Chinese school that is held at White Plains High School on Sundays, and that’s where our bagua walking class was held. We had everyone from Americans, male and female, younger and older; Chinese-American folks, again, very young to somewhat elderly, men and women. Nearby, a shaolin class was under way, with young Chinese-American children learning to punch and kick. The meditative music we listened to as we walked only heightened the aura of peace and calm. Present in the bagua group were members of Master Yao-Wah Chan’s Friday advanced tai chi class, as well as from the Saturday tai chi group. We had people from the Bodhi Meditation group, too. In fact, the class is part of the organization’s meditation and healing efforts here in the New York area. http://www.bodhimeditationsociety.org/
Some observations on bagua circle walking (taken from the foreword to Baguazhang: Theory and Applications by Master Shou-Yu Liang and Dr. Yang Jwing Ming):
“Baguazhang…if it is practiced often, can strengthen the body and increase longevity.” – Grandmaster Wang Jurong
“I am convinced that through dedicated practice of baguazhang, one can enrich every aspect of daily life, cure many chronic ailments and alleviate the stress that so often shortens life span and fosters the spread of many diseases…At the root of all…practice lies the changing nature of the universe, a concept centered in Daoist philosophy. The baguazhang student…learns to become one with the ever-changing moment, to give up all attachment, static thought patterns and rigid postures, and just go with the flow of the moment.” – Dr. John Painter
The quote above pertain to the martial art, baguazhang, which is based on circle walking. The art takes this practice as its foundation and includes myriad circling, spiraling, rising and descending movements to create fighting techniques. However, the following statement, which author Tom Bisio includes in his new book, Bagua Circle Walking Nei Gong: The Meridian Opening Palms of Baguazhang, says it all about walking the bagua circle. (By the way, there’s that word again: Nei [内]…and the other one, too: Gong [功].)
“Hundreds of exercises are not as good as simply walking: Walking is the master of hundreds of exercises.”
This bit of wisdom is from the great bagua master Li Zi Ming, who lived many years ago.
The Beatles, Meditation and Chanting
“Well, it was  years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play…”
In 1964, four Liverpudlians found themselves in Florida. As part of a publicity appearance, they met and clowned around with a young boxer named Cassius Clay. Clay was about to fight Sonny Liston in a much-touted match. After clowning with the four Beatles and striking poses for the photographers, Clay stood with one of his crew after the lads were gone. “Who were those sissies?” he’s reported to have asked.
Those four sissies changed the world.
What do meditation and chanting have to do with the Fab Four? Quite a bit, actually.
Thought Leaders for the Young
In the 1960s, practices such as meditation and chanting gained huge popularity in the West as a result of McCartney, Lennon, Harrison and Starr mentioning them in the popular media of the day. As comedian Robert Klein once quipped about the Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi, “The Beatles mentioned him once, so he became a millionaire.”
Not only would I not be a guitar player had the Beatles never reached our shores. But I probably would never have heard of or tried other Eastern disciplines, such as yoga, meditation, chanting, tai chi, bagua walking or xingyiquan. Think about it. What would have been the mechanism by which we would have become aware of these life-enhancing activities? Well, you might say, in a universe with no Beatles, celebrities such as members of Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple might have brought them to popular awareness. The only catch: There would not have been a Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple without the Beatles. No Rolling Stones (at least, not with the same popularity in the U.S.), no U2, no Nirvana. When you think about it, how many guitar, bass and drum rock groups were around in America before the Beatles — especially ones that crafted their own songs? (O.k… Buddy Holly and the Crickets, who were a major influence on the Beatles)
There’s an interview with George Harrison in which he speaks about chanting once for several days straight, saying that he started to feel so good, in a subtle way, that he couldn’t stop. I just read an interview with Ringo Starr, in which the interviewer comments on how Ringo could easily be taken for a man 20 years younger. The ex-Beatle attributes his good health and youthfulness to being a vegetarian for many years, working out every day with a personal trainer, and meditating daily. Not bad for someone who was so sickly and in and out of hospitals as a child that doctors had told his mother he’d be dead within a year!
A Terrifying, Nearly Fatal Encounter
Harrison’s wife, Olivia, once told the story of the near-fatal attack they suffered at the hands of deranged man at the time of the millenium (the attack occurred Dec. 30, 1999; it was widely reported on Dec. 31 — almost the couple’s own personal millenial Armageddon). When George came out of their bedroom and saw the psychotic individual holding a spear he had broken off of a sculpture in their yard, the assailant was in the living room below. George began chanting “Hare krishna” loudly, in an effort to pacify him. Unfortunately, it didn’t help. Olivia Harrison and her husband had to fight for their lives in a vicious encounter that left both with serious wounds, especially the former Beatle, who suffered multiple stab wounds and a collapsed lung. “What the hell was that?” Olivia remembered them saying immediately afterward, “I never tried to kill someone before.”
The really sad thing is that Harrison was making a good recover from lung cancer shortly before the attack. Friends say it traumatized him enormously. None of this could have helped in keeping the disease at bay. He passed away in November 2001.
Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney have also been active in promoting transcendental meditation over the years. They first learned about it in Rishikesh, India, in 1968.
Thank You, George
As most baby-boomer music fans know, George Harrison was the person who ushered in the late-60s U.S./Europe awareness and popularity of the sitar, an Indian instrument. He studied it seriously for a period with Ravi Shankar, a phenomenal musician of international renown. Once he realized that he could never reach the level he’d seen in scores of Indian sitarists, Harrison eventually drifted back to the guitar and songwriting.
But good old George also opened Western eyes to the wonders of Eastern culture. It was he who prodded the other three Fabs into heading to a lecture being given by the Maharishi on meditation. Beatle George became a life-long adherent of Hare Krishna, although one fellow devotee affectionately called him a closet Hare Krishna because he never shaved his head or otherwise altered his appearance.
Read George’s lyrics below. They’re from his song, “All Things Must Pass.” He must have written them at around the age of 25 or 26. I defy anyone to say that he wasn’t the deepest-thinking, deepest-writing Beatle. Thanks again to the great singer/songwriter/guitarist who also sang, “By chanting the names of the Lord, you’ll be free.”
All things must pass
None of life’s streams can last
So I must be on my way
And face another day
Now the darkness only stays the nighttime
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It’s not always going to be this gray
All things must pass
All things must pass away
Like I’m Five Years Old Again
I plan to celebrate the half-century anniversary of the first glorious night of the British invasion by watching the big special program on the Beatles and their impact, 8 to 10 p.m., Sunday, Feb.9. As Ed Sullivan might say, “For you youngsters out there,” there will be an impressive lineup of younger performers, too. So, at 50 years to the hour, I’ll be doing the same thing I was doing at age 5: watching and listening to the Beatles. How’s that for progress? At least the music makes me happy. 🙂
To quote Ringo Starr’s favorite greeting…
Peace and Love!
(And remember: All you need is love.)