“Cycle Walking”

“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.”        Euclid

“Define your terms!”                                Richard Lewis

The Chinese are said to be the only major group of people without a creation myth.  And the few creations myths the Chinese do quote are borrowed from folk culture and India.That shows an amazing degree of independence if you really think about it. Even science has the universe starting someplacetime else.

Just imagine for a second thinking in these terms. No beginning and no messianic conclusion to history, just everything in endless revolution. Sure, there are things that change over a period of time like human progress but it doesn’t come in a straight line as most of us see it but in wide sweeping arcs.(which is logical since progress really never occurs in a straight line.)

cycles2When it comes to the topic of Time the special Yin and Yang of it is called Expansion and Contraction. Things start,  then get complicated, then they simplify. As in life you gather and gather but you have to clean out your closet some day. As far as human fate goes they have a  saying, “Shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations.” The forefather earns, the child benefits and the grandchild squanders the family fortune, expansion and contraction. Cycles just keep cycling.

How does this relate to a martial career? The martial arts enthusiast is forever acquiring information. Hence expansion. At some point, though, he has to assimilate all that knowledge. That’s when the shrinkage occurs. It’s only natural. We see it in government, science, art, philosophy and every other human endeavor.  Some times we fool ourselves that we can move smoothly forward through life but the first time we feel our mortality with something as simple as forgetting that name we always knew, then we see that expansion and contraction means us, too.

Take Bagua Zhang as an example. A lot of people now love and appreciate this style but certainly individual levels of perception will differ. For instance, advanced martial artists like it because it compresses so much information together. As one famous teacher told me, “Bagua is a later style and it benefited from everything that came before it.” Every move of Bagua is liked practicing ten movements from normal martial arts. It certainly doesn’t mean Bagua is better, just that you are clicking things off your checklist faster than before. But this compression of information isn’t exclusive to Bagua. There are examples scattered through martial history.

Tong Bei Quan, a great art, has in the last few decades consolidated PiGua, Liu He, some Xing Yi and other resources. Even more definitive  is the presently popular art of YiQuan a very strong movement away from such things as forms and many patterned approaches to Chinese martial arts. ZiRan Men, which predates YiQuan is also a style based on consolidation of information. Many of what we now consider coherent styles, such as the Praying Mantis, were attempts to “cherry pick” the best from previous arts. The Mantis is said to come from 18 different sources. The two forms of Chen Taiji evolved (or devolved if you will) from an original ten styles. Speaking of ten the Ten Road Tan Tui was once Twenty-Two roads. Jeet Kune Do is obviously a cherry picked style with a Wing Chun core. All this is particularly relevant to Long Arm which, for centuries, kept accumulating and accumulating so much information that it is stuffed to the gills and therefore almost unworkable. Many top Chinese teacher shake their head, knowing that though there is a treasure trove of information hidden in Long Fist it is almost irretrivable right now.

Just as a side note: Mixed Martial Arts can be easily placed in this context. It contains a lot of information but in this context the risk has been managed. More and more information about punch, dive, takedown can be compressed when you eliminate everything like forms, weapons, etc. The point is that almost all major movements in the history of martial arts have fallen into this cycle. After all the Chinese are well aware that even great dynasties fall, so why should martial arts be any different?

The interesting thing is that the entire cycle is unavoidable. Bagua was first made public in the early 1880’s. Dong Hai Chuan, it’s creator, had ONLY eighteen core students  throughout his teaching career. Now there are said to be over 150 styles of Bagua. That’s almost one a year. Of course these styles are assimilating much of their information from other styles and the weapons sets borrowed from Long Fist and Xing Yi are the bulk of the Bagua arsenal. So this highly compacted style is beginning its expansion cycle all over again. And yet, as in all discussion of Yin and Yang, both things are going on simultaneously. More and more styles will disappear and be absorbed as Bagua just as the Bagua style expands. The Lau style for instance is just a few sets at the beginning of Hung Gar training.

cycles1I enjoy Begua because when I walk my Bagua circle I don’t have warm up or go through the basics. I’m doing the basics and the apex of the style simultaneously. It’s nice. The thing I do have to remember  is to concentrate as though what I’m doing actually subsumes all those other skills. I have to do the hardest thing one CAN do when practicing this Taoist art and that’s to actively treat one’s actions as recursive and cicular. It’s not just repetition it’s self-aware repetition.  In this type of progress you take wide sweeps at “progress”.  Eventually, as whirling around becomes a familiar state, you realize that the only journey you can actually take is a journey of return. And that, I find, is a skill in itself.

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the fist time.
T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding

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