“Internal” martial arts – cultivating “CHI”

Tianmeng Shaolin Kung Fu Academy
Tianmeng Shaolin Kung Fu Academy

by Duka Nadja current student of Tianmeng Shaolin Kung fu Academy

The term “internal,” is referring to a type of training that focuses on developing of the life energy called “Qi”. We come across the term life energy in every great and antient culture of the world: “Chi” (Chinese), “Prana” (Hindu). Nowadays researchers and scientist are able to prove the reality of the “Chi” existence, using special technical innovations. The real problem is a subtle nature of “Qi”, so that most people find it really difficult to feel how “Qi” flows inside their bodies and meridians. Our modern lifestyle, which puts an enormous pressure on the nervous system, causes “stiffens” of our feelings. So we can not feel higher vibrations of “Chi”. We miss the “unit with the nature” and natural flow of movements. So the “Tai Chi or Kung Fu retreat” in the natural environment of Tianmeng Shaolin Kung Fu Academy could be a great possibility to “come back to roots”. If the mind becomes less distracted and less stressed, it would allow the body to relax, giving you a possibility to feel deeply and completely. That’s why Tianmeng Shaolin Kung Fu Academy pays so much attention to internal martial arts practicing Qigong (life-energy cultivation practices). Qigong and Tai Chi are best ways of practicing for beginners and older people. It is important to develop the internal power before learning any fighting applications or Kung Fu forms. Additionally we offer Meditation to balance your emotions. A relaxed body works better and is less prone to injuries. So, integrating “internal” rounder and softer movements in the daily practicing routine of every “external” martial artists and athlete is a smart idea to achieve best results.  Bruce Lee describes “internal” martial arts as following.

“Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo.”

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Why people choose us

At StudyMartialArts.Org we are passionate about Martial Arts and Travel. We believe that the combination of both provide a powerful catalyst for greater awareness. Our mission is based on connecting you to the right schools, masters or instructors.

Below you will find a testimonial from one of our past students Arvid Velt. Arvid first joined the SMA 1 month intensive martial arts travel and training tour. On this tour we combine historic sites fun and travel with training with a variety of high level masters throughout China. During that time we assisted him and advised him on the next move to bring his training to the next level.

Arvid at the time of the filming through our support and that of his Master studied in China for two years.

For further information contact us at info@StudyMartialArts.Org or visit our website. www.StudyMartialArt.Org Or why not view our other testimonials here.

Top 5 tips for surviving drinking in China

You owe it to yourself not to be the drunken foreigner and more importantly the wrong type of drunken foreigner and let yourself down. Remember the purpose of your journey is to Study Martial Arts. Heavy drinking won’t help you reach your aims and objectives and may cause you, your hosts or school and Shifu to loose face (embarrassment).

Drinking in China and smoking is common place. With cheap alcohol and cigarettes everywhere, this is not the best place to run away to if you want to change these bad habits. This must start at home.

Most social drinking in China is primarily associated with eating. Most drinking takes place around the dinner table and meals as a way to cement relationships and do business. As a topic this subject could easily have a series of blog entries but that will be a story for another day.

Here are my top 5 tips for surviving drinking in China in brief.

1. Showing respect when drinking is probably one of the first things someone will explain to you. When drinking tea or when drinking alcohol with a superior clink your cup/glass lower. Its super simple and easy to remember. But its much appreciated by your elders, fellow guests, shifu’s. The rest of the customs and rules need not be learnt straight away and are things you’ll pick up on or learn as you go. As a foreigner you’ll not be expected to know them or everything.

2. When inviting or being invited out for dinner or meals in China. The standard rule of thumb is usually the inviter pays unless stated otherwise.

3. When drinking follow the lead of others at the table in terms of speed quantity and times. Whatever you do avoid mixing baijiu and beer. You should remember drinking in China can start very slowly but once the individual toasting starts it can be rapid and all those small cups will start catching up on you especially if you’ve insisted on drinking out of turn.

4. If you don’t want to drink have an excuse prepared in advance or warn your host of this. Excuses related to health tend to be the best. Having tried many over the years these where best received by hosts and guests. If you’re not going to be drinking much but still want to show respect have tea ready in your cup and don’t empty the cup (ganbie) just drink as you wish (suiyi).

5. Eat, eat and eat. Show appreciation and be a good guest.

If you would like to learn more about how to survive in China why not check out my post on 10 Mistakes Foreign Martial Arts Students Make in China.

The Importance of Hard Qigong in Chinese Traditional Martial Arts

by An Jian Qiu

At An Wushu, we believe that if you want to use your kung fu in combat, you must train hard qigong.

(What is hard qigong? Breathing and conditioning exercises that make your body harder, more resistant to pain, and able to give and take more force without becoming injured. Breaking a brick with your hand is probably the most well-known example.)

Many schools don’t share this belief, so it makes sense you may be wondering why…

Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario: Imagine if you were to go and punch a brick wall as hard as you could, right now. What do you think would happen? You’re probably thinking about:

Hurting your hand badly, maybe even breaking your fingers or wrist
Losing your calm due to the pain
Instinctively hunching over your posture and holding your damaged hand to your chest
Why did this happen?

Obviously, the brick wall was much harder than your hand and wrist… or put differently: your body wasn’t strong enough to deliver your strike.

And what if you’d been fighting a live opponent? Losing focus so drastically can be the difference between life and death or victory and defeat.

Of course, hopefully your opponent isn’t as hard as a brick wall(!), but the difference is small when you’re both moving at high speeds and impacting at the strange angles of real combat, not “straight-on” like when you hit a bag. If you’re unconditioned, it doesn’t take a lot of force to become seriously injured.

Hopefully this has shown you why hard qigong is so important for offense.

What about for defense?

The example is obvious: imagine you get punched in the stomach so hard that you lose track of your senses. The next hit is definitely coming for your head!

At An Wushu, one of the things we recommend all new students do is ask Shiye (Grandmaster) An De Sheng if you can touch his stomach. No, we aren’t crazy… despite being 67-years-old, an age where most will have lost all their muscle mass, Shiye’s stomach is harder than steel from years of hard qigong. (The look of surprise on a new student’s face when they poke Shiye’s stomach is always a fun moment for older students.)

This is what days and days of hard qigong training does to the body: your body becomes not just firm like from working out, but literally hard like iron. This is where the name ‘Iron Body’ comes from.

As you progress through lower levels of training, you’ll find yourself taking less damage: receiving less bruises from sparring and watching them disappear much more quickly.

At higher levels of training, this protects you from even more harm, you heal amazingly quickly, and eventually, your opponent will hurt themselves by hitting you! The level of focus you can now have in training and fighting is what it needs to be for you to reach a truly high level of kung fu skill.

As a bonus, the hard chi that is packed into your body by hard qigong also greatly increases your physical health, your strength and your ability to fali/fajin (generate power). There are schools of Daoism that practice hard qigong purely for its health benefits.

These days, hard qigong isn’t so popular and has been lost from many styles, but in the years of true masters, hard qigong was a core part of all traditional kung fu systems. The ability to survive both your own offence, and your opponent’s, is a non-negotiable for a true fighter.

An Jian Qiu, is the headmaster of An Wushu International Martial Arts School in Dezhou, Shandong Province, China.

For further information on studying at An Wushu or other traditional martial arts schools in China visit www.StudyMartialArts.Org

 

Timing, Placement and Power

by Sifu Adam Mizner

When I am teaching classes or workshops on taijiquan I always emphasize the three principles of timingplacement and power.

These three skills are not only fundamental to acquiring real world taijiquan skills but are fundamental to the successful application of any martial arts technique.

TIMING

Timing Placement PowerBruce Lee and other famous martial artists often talk about speed as one of the most important attributes of a successful martial artist.  This is not untrue, though I would say that timing is more important than mere speed. It is certainly possible to miss the mark because one arrives too early or is too fast.

Understanding this we should strive to master timing rather than just speed. When we arrive “on time” in this way, our opponent is where we perceived him to be and our technique is neither early nor late.  In tai chi chuan this ‘correct time’ is when the opponent has “fallen to emptiness”, he is off balance and frozen or double heavy.  This is the right time to attack and finish the confrontation. Many attacks delivered with the wrong timing are not as effective as one that is delivered on time, whether it be delivered fast or slow.

PLACEMENT

The skill that is most often overlooked in modern martial arts training is the skill of being in the right place at the right time, not just applying the technique at the right time.  This is referring to the footwork, angle of attack, distance and also the impact area. The training to develop this skill of placement is honed and refined in tai chi chuan within the arena of push hands practice. It is here within pushing hands that we can investigate and ingrain all the different body positions and their advantages and disadvantages.

Push hands allows one to train this in a safe way and to get familiar with the up close and personal fighting range of tai chi chuan, a range that is shared by very few styles, somewhere between the clinch range and the striking range. This taiji range gives us the advantage of being able to strike or throw without changing range and keeps us in a range that most opponents simply are not familiar with.

When you placement is correct you naturally exploit the weakness in your opponent’s structure while capitalizing on the strength of your own.   The application of Da or Fa will leave you in a perfect structure, neither confined nor over extended and the placement and angle of the body and arms should make you as safe as possible, whilst still being able to apply your technique on the opponent.

POWER

It is said in Chinese martial arts that Gong Li or power is the most important skill a martial artist can possess.  I consider this to be absolutely true and in my teaching and training I place a great deal of effort into the development of power.

Just imagine fighting with a small child who has many techniques, has good timing and good placement but lacks power. The child would be unable to finish the fight and we, as grown adults could easily defeat the child simply with power, even with little technique.  This illustrates the importance of Gong Li or power in martial arts.

Waijia cultivates Gong Li with many methods, including various kinds of weight lighting and resistance training, striking bags to develop powerful full body coordination and conditioning of the body to make the body hard and resistant to impact.  Within the Neijia schools the development of Gong li is equally important, however the method to attaining it and the kind of force we generate is very different.  This is where the differentiation between Jin and Li becomes important.  While Li is generated by the contraction of muscle and the acceleration of mass, Jin is generated by the release of tension and the propagation of waves of force through the body.  This topic is beyond the scope of this short article, we can look at it in a future blog.

For practical purposes, in taiji quan the jin is cultivated through the practice of standing pole, form practice and sometimes heavy weapons.  Although the jin is cultivated in such solo trainings it is in the partner practice of pushing hands and fajin that we learn to refine this power and how to apply it with timing and placement. When these three skills of timing, placement and power come together, we have the almost magical looking effortless power that tai chi chuan is famous for.

In the below video you can see a demonstration of timing, placement and power.

Sifu Adam Mizner teaches Yang Style Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan), in the tradition of Huang Sheng Shyan and Yang Shao HouWith his Discover Taiji online training programme you will find one of the most complete and powerful traditional Tai Chi Chuan systems available today.  The programme openly provides all of the tools, methods and training secrets his personal students at the Heaven Man Earth Taiji school have been enjoying.

Martial Arts Focus: Kron Gracie

Kron Gracie is the youngest son of the legendary Rickson Gracie, the whole Gracie family are probably the most well known family in the world of JJiu Jitsu. The Brazilian fighter has continued on his family and country’s tradition in the emotional evolutionary martial art.

Kron shows the best chess like strategy approach to Jiu Jitsu with skilled maneuvers and angles that represents the purer movements of the martial art.

Learn more from the source by clicking the link below.

Source: Martial Arts Focus: Kron Gracie

An Family Martial Arts School

Here is our latest StudyMartialArts.Org Video. In this video you’ll see footage from our visit to An Wushu Family Martial Arts School.

An Wushu International Martial Arts School is a kung fu school steeped in family tradition. Located in Prefactured City of Dezhou within Shandong Province the school is just two hours from the capital Beijing by fast train. Dezhou and the School is therefore easily accessible for those wishing to experience traditional Chinese martial arts training.

The school offers both full-time and part-time classes to both Chinese and international students with the international students primarily being taught by An Jian Qiu.

Teaching at the school takes place in a picturesque setting and there is both indoor and outdoor facilities. This school offers a warm welcome to those who are serious about studying martial arts and learning about Chinese culture. Recent improvements to the school mean that it can cater for long term students providing both accommodation and food.

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Manjianghong Fist

This modern wushu form in the video below was created by Jet Li in 1989 and is based on one of his favourite poems Man Jiang Hong.

Mǎn Jīang Hóng (满江红; literally means All are red in the River) and it is the title of a set of lyrical poems sharing the same pattern. If unspecified, it most often refers to the one normally attributed to legendary Song Dynasty general and Chinese national hero Yue Fei.

Man Jiang Hong

My wrath bristles through my helmet, the rain stops as I stand by the rail;

I look up towards the sky and let loose a passionate roar.

At age thirty my deeds are nothing but dust, my journey has taken me over eight thousand li

So do not sit by idly, for young men will grow old in regret.

The Humiliation of Jing Kang still lingers,

When will the pain of his subjects ever end?

Let us ride our chariots through the Helan Pass,

There we shall feast and drink barbarian flesh and blood.

Let us begin anew to recover our old empire, before paying tribute to the Emperor.

(Traditional Chinese Original)

满江红

怒发冲冠,凭栏处、潇潇雨歇。

抬望眼,仰天长啸,壮怀激烈。

三十功名尘与土,八千里路云和月。

莫等闲,白了少年头,空悲切!

靖康耻,犹未雪;

臣子恨,何时灭?

驾长车,踏破贺兰山缺!

壮志饥餐胡虏肉,笑谈渴饮匈奴血。

待从头,收拾旧山河,朝天阙!

How an American Dancer Introduced Tai Chi to America

In 1954, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, a 51-year-old woman in loose, comfortable clothing moved through a series of movements. A crowd gathered amidst abstract paintings to watch her. With the grace of a dancer, she slowly raised and lowered her hands, shifted her weight from side to side, and bowed her head. Her face was calm and serene.

The woman’s name was Sophia Delza. She was a dancer of some renown in the world of modern dance. When she first performed solo at the Guild Theater in New York at age 27, the New York Times called it “a distinguished debut” that “revealed her as an artist of individuality and authority.”

Although the woman’s slow pace would have bored a concert hall audience, her practiced movements radiated power. She moved like a coiled spring, full of harnessed energy. To the MoMA audience in 1954, Delza’s demonstration was a novelty. Today, many Americans would instantly recognize that she was demonstrating tai chi, the Chinese martial art.

Americans often don’t think of tai chi, which is commonly practiced by senior citizens in public parks, as a martial art. Although many variations exist, tai chi fundamentally involves moving slowly and fluidly through postures with names like “The Snake Creeps Down” and “The Golden Cockerel Stands on One Leg.” Tai chi often looks more like slow yoga than judo or karate-two martial arts that involve kicking and grappling. For this reason, many people practice tai chi as a gentle exercise, without any interest in its martial component.

Photo by Jakub Haiun

Yet tai chi has been translated as “supreme ultimate fist” and “great extremes boxing.” As practitioners like Sophia Delza understood, tai chi’s slow pace represents control-not weakness. Mastering the movements allows devotees to develop strength, balance, and a unity between mind and action. This is useful for both longevity and self-defense-and tai chi training that involves sparring and weapons.

In the 1950s, Eastern martial arts, and particularly tai chi, were not well known. Sophia Delza’s 1954 performance at the Museum of Modern Art was likely the first public demonstration of tai chi in the United States. Delza had studied tai chi with a master of the Wu style while living in China. When she taught, demonstrated, and wrote about tai chi on her return to the United States, she was one of the first, if not the first, to do so extensively outside Chinese-American communities.

This makes Sophia Delza a pioneer of American tai chi. Although she never achieved the fame of martial arts legends like Bruce Lee, she is worth remembering. Like tai chi, she had a gentle side that hid a powerful will. Delza loved dance, wrote academically, and de-emphasized the martial applications of tai chi. She was also one tough lady: Although American women did not have the right to vote until Delza was 17-years-old, she engaged in radical politics that made her a federal person of interest, and burst through barriers to forge a career in dance and, ultimately, as a mother of American martial arts.

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

Long before Peggy Olson broke the glass ceiling at the Sterling Cooper ad agency in Mad Men, Sophia Delza lived the mantra “well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Delza was born in Brooklyn in 1903, an environment likely to produce an artist, but not a martial artist. She majored in the sciences at Hunter College, a women’s college, but pursued dance due to the influence of her older sister Elizabeth, who became a professional dancer and Sophia’s first dance teacher.

When Sophia followed her sister’s footsteps, she had to compete for a limited number of professional dance opportunities. She took a variety of jobs in plays and films until she triumphed with her successful solo performance at the Guild Theater in New York. When she next performed a series of original compositions, a New York Times reviewer praised her “strong feeling for visual line” and “general good taste.” Delza also developed a performance style that mixed monologues and dance, studied composition in Paris, and traveled to Mexico to study folk dances.

Her career was remarkable in an era when less than a third of women worked. It is downright daring when you consider that her work was very political-and that she kept at it despite the risk of rabid anti-communist backlash.

Delza did not study folk dance in Mexico merely out of artistic interest. According to scholar Ellen Graff, Delza associated with a close community of artists who supported socialist and communist causes. Delza studied folk dance to make a proletariat argument for embracing traditional dances by describing them as “mass dances” that could unite communities. When civil war broke out in Spain in 1936-and became a cause celebre among artists and intellectuals-Delza created and performed works that criticized the fascism of General Franco and raised money for the leftist forces in Spain that opposed him. Later in her life, Delza donated time in her dance studio to radical dance groups.

Today communism and socialism are only associated with the failings of the Soviet Union, but in the 1920s and 1930s, they represented progressive politics. The American Communist Party organized marches of tens of thousands to advocate for the unemployed. Nearly every intellectual, including George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway, admired or supported socialism.

The 1920s was also the beginning of the Red Scare and apocalyptic fears over the spread of communism in America. Both Sophia and her sister Elizabeth were the subjects of reports for the House Un-American Activities Committee, which investigated “disloyalty” and “subversive activities” among American citizens and leftist groups. Sophia’s brother Leo Hurwitz (Sophia had adopted Delza as a stage name), an award-winning documentary filmmaker, also appeared in the reports and was blacklisted by the film industry in the 1950s due to his political views.

This opposition to radical politics does not seem to have stopped Sophia or her siblings. In an interview, Sophia’s nephew explained that Sophia and his father Leo “felt… that they really could change the world.” The Communist Party in America, he continued, “spanned progressive causes like the desire to fight Fascism as it was growing in Europe, the growth of unions, the desire to stop people from being evicted from their houses, and the movement for racial justice.”East Meets West

In 1948, at age 45, Sophia Delza was married and moved to Shanghai with her husband, Cook Glassgold. China was recovering from its occupation during World War II, and Glassgold had a diplomatic posting as Director of International Refugee and Relief Operations. During the couple’s four year stay, however, Delza did much more than appear on her husband’s arm at official functions.

Delza engaged in a vigorous cultural exchange. She taught modern dance, which was novel in China, and studied and learned Chinese dance and theater. Her zeal for exploration changed her life during a trip to Beijing, where she discovered tai chi. Delza later wrote about the dramatic scene she stumbled upon at dawn in T’ai Mizo Park:

Dozens of people, young and old, were each doing his exercise, each clearly centered on himself. No outside sound of voice or instrument directed the movement. The slow, continuous flow of form and the impeccably even tempo seemed to come not only from some mastey within each one but also from the intrinsic nature of the action itself.

Delza was fascinated. “Looking amazingly light and stable at the same time,” she recalled, “each person’s movements seemed effortless.”

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In context, it seems obvious that a modern dancer would be one of the first outsiders to appreciate tai chi. When Delza described her “first unforgettable impression” of the Chinese Theater in Peking, she wrote, “The colorful creatures moved so quickly that it seemed the stage itself were revolving.” Her recollection of the next scene marvels at the same slow, graceful aspects that struck her when she saw tai chi:

A simple, elegant figure, entering from the upstage right corner, quietly took a deliberate pose. He balanced himself on one leg, and extended the other in easy lightness, head high. Then replacing his leg in slow motion, he moved diagonally across the stage with the restraint and simplicity and… grace of a fairy-tale god.

At the Beijing park that morning, Delza quickly realized that “it was not dance [she] was seeing.” Yet she wanted to know more. She was introduced to Ma Yueh-liang, a famed teacher of tai chi in the Wu style, and his wife Wu Ying-hua, his co-instructor. She convinced the couple to teach her, and took up regular practice.

As Ben Judkins notes in a blog post about Sophia Delza, this put her in the unique situation of receiving several years of training “directly from one of the most talented martial artists of his generation.” She came to appreciate how, in her words, maintaining “a consistently slow tempo” in tai chi “is an indication, not only that the body has acquired strength and control, but also that the mind is in harmony with the action.”

When Delza and her husband returned to New York in 1951, she had trained for years with a foremost authority on Wu tai chi, and knew more about the practice and philosophy of tai chi than almost any American.

Bringing Tai Chi to Manhattan

In the 1950s, the practice of Eastern martial arts existed in the United States, but it was not widespread.

Hundreds of thousands of mainly Chinese immigrants passed through San Francisco’s Angel Island from 1910 to 1940, bringing with them martial arts like tai chi and judo. American soldiers stationed in Japan after the war returned to open dojos. Gene Lebell-who is now a mixed martial artist famous for teaching Chuck Norris and allegedly choking out Steven Seagal until he soiled himself-won an amateur National Judo Championship held in the United States in 1954.

But Americans like Lebell-who learned Eastern martial arts despite being outsiders to Asian communities-were rarities. Choy Hok Pang, a well-known, early teacher of tai chi in 1940s America, taught almost entirely Chinese students until the 1960s. It was not until Bruce Lee and Hong Kong “kung fu” films exploded in popularity in the 1970s that Americans widely adopted martial arts training. Some casual histories of tai chi simply write that it was introduced to the United States in the 1970s.

When Delza returned to New York from China in 1951, it was in this environment in which martial arts, and particularly tai chi, were known but relatively unfamiliar outside Asian communities.

The cover of Sophia Delza’s book, the first tai chi book published in English

Delza acted as a cultural emissary on her return, lecturing, writing, and teaching tai chi and Chinese theatre. Ultimately tai chi became her main focus.

The initial response was modest. One early student at the tai chi school Delza opened in New York regretfully recalled that her classes were poorly attended. When Delza performed tai chi at the Museum of Modern Art, it was the first demonstration of its kind, but also seems to have been a minor event. The demonstration does not turn up in the MoMA’s archived schedules from 1954, and one author credits Delza with giving the first public demonstration of tai chi in the United States two years later at the United Nations.

This did not deter Delza, who kept teaching and writing. In 1961, she published the first English language book about tai chi. As the popularity of tai chi and martial arts increased in the 1960s, partially thanks to her efforts, she appeared on television and her tai chi school thrived.

Her influence can be seen in a 1960 Popular Mechanics article about tai chi that is unmistakably a trend piece. The author-who breathlessly writes that “In Shanghai, where matches have been held, no Western boxer has yet beaten a boxer who trained on T’ai Chi to get balance and power”-makes Sophia Delza the focus of his article. He notes that her television appearances result in hundreds of inquiries from around the country, and that her students include “stage and screen stars.” Another article from 1963 relates that tai chi schools are overflowing with more students than teachers like Sophia Delza can handle.

If Bruce Lee-who more than anyone popularized martial arts in America through karate competitions and action films-was a Hollywood blockbuster or comic book, then Sophia Delza was an art film or New Yorker article. Delza taught from a studio in Carnegie Hall, which members of the Actor’s Guild could attend for free, and instructed celebrities and famous actors. In a move that foreshadowed Americans’ adoption of yoga purely as an exercise, Delza de-emphasized the martial aspects of tai chi in favor of its health and concentration benefits. Yet she always retained her academic bent, writing about the philosophy and history of tai chi in journals and books.

Sophia Delza’s role was to be one of the first advocates for tai chi, and to translate it for a non Chinese-American audience. At a time when articles marvelled at an exercise that did not involve barbells, medicine balls, or even sweat, Delza told her students that “We in the West are apt to overexert ourselves in exercise and sports, believing that a hard, tense movement indicates strength.” In tai chi, she continued, true strength, energy, and balance comes from exercise that does not strain the muscles or leave one winded.

Delza also lamented that “Too often I am asked no question other than whether this or that movement will make one thin.” She challenged her American students to appreciate other benefits of exercise, including the mental challenge of perfecting the tai chi postures.

Despite her academic inclinations, Sophia Delza is remembered as a teacher more than a scholar. Today, former students leave warm comments on blog posts about Delza that praise her instruction. One man who studied with Delza when she was in her eighties remembered her as “a tough lady” who taught tai chi “the same way a ballet master would teach.”

In 1996, Sophia Delza passed away. It had been almost 50 years since she first saw tai chi performed at dawn in T’ai Mizo Park, and she had spent over three decades as an instructor. When Delza published her first book in 1961, she had to explain every aspect of tai chi. The year she died, the State University of New York Press published her final book on tai chi. By then, it was almost impossible to imagine an America where people did not know about tai chi or martial arts. Few people know it, but that is Sophia Delza’s legacy.

A guest post from www.udemy.com – We’re the world’s online learning marketplace, where 8 million+ students are taking courses in everything from programming to yoga to photography–and much, much more. Each of our 32,000+ courses is taught by an expert instructor, and every course is available on-demand, so students can learn at their own pace, on their own time, and on any device.

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Tibetan Sky Burial

by Kerrie Henderson

“Separation of the body and soul”

photo 1(2)This morning, in the hostel in Kangding a Chinese guy asked me whether I’d been to Sida or not. For a lot of young Chinese people it seems to be this years ‘In’ destination… “and did you see the ‘tianzang’ (i guess he didn’t know the right words in English…) ?… I really want to see…” I did, but at Sida I wasn’t that comfortable with it.

I’ve seen one before, 2-3 years ago whilst biking through Gansu province. A body was carried up a hill and a gathering of Tibetan relatives and lamas stood or sat watching. There were a few foreigners there too, but we all knew that our cameras were to be kept inside our bags. We stood watching for around an hour or so… in awe of the birds, their size, their grace and the way they sat on the hill silently, waiting for their turn to pick at the remains….

In Sida its very different. Around 12.00 a handful of drivers stood outside the hilltop hotel yell ‘去天葬吗 ?and Chinese tourists haggle over prices or ask around to find others to fill up their cars. Around 12.30 most of the cars have made their way down to the bottom of the monastery complex and are beeping at each other as they negotiate their way through the muddy bumpy truckstop village at the bottom. The beeping and racing continues as the cars go down the road, turn and go up a smaller narrower mountain road. Its raining but the car park is already half full and its hard to see the end of the line of cars still making their way up the mountain. There are already around a hundred or so tourists, all Chinese stood behind a rope when I arrive. A couple of lamas and nuns (maybe real… maybe tour guides dressed up… I’m really not sure now…) were telling people to stay behind the line and not to take photos of the body or of the people surrounding it. I pointed my camera at the birds, as awesome as I remembered sat waiting patiently on the top of the hillside, looking for the right moment to make their way further down.photo 2(2)

I have no idea when the ceremony started. There was a nun singing ‘o-mani…’ and lots of Chinese people talking. I guess the ceremony wasn’t quite what the Chinese were expecting as most had left within 1/2 an hour or so. I stayed watching the crowd thin, and staring at the line of vultures sat on the hill above me. I couldn’t help wondering why the the vultures were more interested in watching their friends than eating lunch, and then realised I was doing the same thing, not really watching the ceremony and the proceedings but the behaviour of the crowd, and the way the Chinese people reacted to what they were watching. There were a lot of ‘i’m very cold’ and ‘I’m hungry’ ‘s… There were people taking pictures of the birds squabbling over the body (the very thing the monks told them not too…. and, yeah I know I shouldn’t have taken 2 of the pics. here but my iPad doesnt have the same super sized zoom lenses that many of the Chinese photographers cameras do…) A few Tibetan people were gathered around the monument at the bottom, near the pit where the body and vultures were and a few more groups were scattered around the hillside sat quietly. I wondered what they thought about what they were seeing… their relatives death being turned into a macabre tourist attraction, and how westerners would react if a group of Chinese tourists turned up at a church burial wanting to watch when and how the coffin was lowered into the ground and to take pictures of it.  photo 3

I can’t help thinking that death and the ceremonies that surround it are a personal thing, for the families and friends of the person that died. In western culture funerals are usually sad events, but in other cultures (and sometimes in the west, but not often), they are happier occasions, a celebration of the deceased’s life… and that being invited to watch the ceremonies associated with it is a privilege, not something that people should expect to see when they go to a Tibetan tourist place.

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I wonder whether the monastery is deliberately encouraging the tourist crowds. The sky burial site has a large white monument and construction is underway to make it and the car park alongside it bigger. In Gansu, the ceremony and the place where it took place was simple, the surroundings natural. There was a weird beauty to the proceedings. In Sida there was nothing ‘natural’ about it. 10 minutes or so later when a young boy took my ipad off me to look at my photos I realised that the tour guide/nun had stopped singing and had disappeared. A few minutes later I saw her lead a group of people across the grass, one of the places where were told not to go. The people in her group were pointing their cameras at the vultures and the body below and no one was stopping them. By this time the crowd had thinned out. Horns were beeping as the cars were pushing past each other to make their way out of the car park. The vultures were still picking away or watching and waiting. I stayed a while longer, watching the birds, the snake of cars slowly making its way down the hillside and the small groups of Tibetans sitting in the distance. I couldn’t help wondering who were the vultures. I don’t think the monastery intended to promote this type of tourism, but now that seeing a 49 day old corpse being pulled apart by vultures is one of the latest ‘in’ things for Chinese tourists heading to Sida to see I don’t think it will be easy for them to control.

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But back to the story… I asked the guy why he wanted to go and see one. ‘because… because everybody talks about it. It sounds good. I really want to see. People say Sida is the best place to see it.’ ‘Maybe you should see it.’ I told him ‘It might make you think…’ but, judging by the group of tourists I watched 4 days ago… I doubt it.

The Tibetan sky-burials appear to have evolved from ancient practices of defleshing corpses as discovered in archeological finds in the region. These practices most likely came out of practical considerations, but they could also be related to more ceremonial practices similar to the suspected sky burial evidence found at Göbekli Tepe (11,500 years before present) and Stonehenge (4,500 years BP).[citation needed] Most of Tibet is above the tree line, and the scarcity of timber makes cremation economically unfeasible. Additionally, subsurface interment is difficult since the active layer is not more than a few centimetres deep, with solid rock or permafrost beneath the surface. (Wikipedia)

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