Friday, August 20, 2010

Moving With the Wind: Magick and Healing in the Martial Arts

Book Review: Moving With the Wind: Magick and Healing in the Martial Arts by Brian Crowley and Esther Crowley (Llewellyn 1993)

This book provides a nice overview of the variable martial arts traditions with special emphasis on healing, magick, and meditation. Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Shinto (in Japan) are often woven together in the lives of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese people and very much so in the martial arts.

The legendary Indian traveling monk Bodhidharma (Daruma in Japan) is also the legendary founder of the martial arts in China. He was the bringer to China of the Mind Transmission Lineage known as Zen and also the martial arts via fitness exercises to the Shaolin Monastery.

There is an interesting discussion of Chi – the internal energy in its many forms and manifestations. The art of transferring Chi is paramount in the martial arts. In the Chinese healing context there are said to be six types of chi:

“primal or original ch’i: nutritional energy derived by way of the kidneys through food, drink, and oxygen.

organic ch’i: ch’i subsisting in the human body as a harmonizing factor controlling the bodily organs (I assume this is what they are referring to in TCM when they say liver chi or kidney chi)

circulatory ch’i: related to the meridian energy system throughout the body that can be stimulated or corrected through the use of acupuncture needles.

blood ch’i: carried by the blood and also derived from food and drink; the supplier of nutrients to the body and an internal defense system against disease.

electromagnetic ch’i: this form of protective energy operates just beyond the surface of the physical body, regulating body temperature, associated with the concept of the aura.

vital energy ch’i: related to the respiratory system and the heart cardiac function; controls physical stamina.”

Chi is also related to the five elements – or five evolutionary phases of physical energy – which in the Chinese version are: wood, metal, water, fire, and earth. Chinese Earth Magick or Geomancy is of course called Feng Shui (literally wind/water) and is based on the chi of nature or the environment and keeping it circulating healthily. Chi control is achieved by the martial artist through breath control, body movement, meditation and relaxation. Chi is practiced with hsing-i – the exercise of will. Actually the three energy-principes in Taoism are chi, jing – the essence, and shen – the spirit of primal concsiousness – or the soul that shines out through the eyes. The Taoist ideas of Wu-wei – non-action in action and yuan chi – ultimate stillness – are utilized in the so-called soft-school martial arts such as Tai Chi.

Along with chi there is yin and yang – the feminine/darkness/passive/cool as yin and the masculine/light/active/hot as yang. There is also li – the immutable law of the universe (strongly emphasized in Confucianism) and so – “the mathematical principle behind all creation.”

The shout of power – or kiai in Japanese – refers to projecting chi - or ki in Japanese – and is translated as something like ‘spirit meeting’. The shout is projected from the dan tien just below the navel. This is known in Japan as the hara. The gathering and forceful ejection of this power is called kime (as I learned in karate). The hara is basically where one focuses the mind while watching the breath in zazen (Zen sitting meditation ).

In their discussion of Bodhidharma and his influence the authors mention an Indian form of martial arts characterized by spectacular leaps and postures similar to those in classical Indian dance. This was called kalaripayit and was said to be practiced by the warrior class in India. Bodhidharma was said to have taught a sequence called Lo-han kung – or the 18 Hands of the Arhats – which developed into the kung fu of the Shaolin Temple. The Shaolin monks developed the so-called animal forms of kung fu –the tiger fist, the crane and monkey styles , etc.

There is a chapter devoted to Aikido, or the way of harmony – the system developed by the Master Ueshiba Morihei in the 20th century. He was influenced by Shinto, Zen Buddhism, as well as Confucianism. Ki and nen, or concentration are emphasized as one simply moves the opponent’s energy along in the direction it is going without countering. These techniques were found to be very effective and are used by lots of police and military units.

Doshin So was a Japanese man that learned the Shaolin Temple Fist method in China and brought it to Japan as Shorinji Khempo – strongly associated with Zen Buddhist practice. Also practiced in this trad is a form of Japanese traditional medicine called seiho that includes massage similar to shaitsu based on acupuncture. The author states that this method as well as Aikido are the most spiritually grounded of the martial arts.

There is a rather fascinating discussion of the influence of Shinto on the martial arts. Particularly the Japanese practice of Sumo wrestling is strongly grounded in Shinto ritual. The whole structure is based on Japanese mythology and ancient history where bouts were originally fought to the death. Offerings are made to the kami-spirits as Shinto is considered to be animistic. Training includes a special diet to concentrate weight in the lower half of the body. There is a section where the opponents stare each other down for four minutes before the bout which typically is over in one minute.

Many Japanese Martial arts were strongly influenced by the bushi or the samarai warriors. After losing their right to carry arms in the 1800s they adapted ju-jutsu to their needs. Along with the samarai were the stealth warriors called ninja who are said to develop magickal and psychic powers as well as fighting abilities. Several strange practices are attributed to the ninja including sideways walking (to avoid footprinting), sleeping in trees, walking on the hands in the dark to avoid tripping, various escape tactics, various diversionary tactics, and methods to stay hidden. This ninjutsu is said to be a very complete martial arts system. Ninjutsu developed among a mix of Shinto animists and Shugendo Buddhist magicians and was also influenced by Mikkyo or Shingon Buddhism which was a tantric form that came from India and Tibet via China. Mandalas, mudras, and mantras are common to this tradition.

Next there is a discussion of Korean martial arts. They are very similar to the Chinese and Japanese although there is evidence that the high-kicking forms that developed into Tae Kwon Do – the way of the foot and fist – were utilized in conflicts between ancient Korean kingdoms. Hapkido and the slightly more mystical tang-soo do are also discussed.

Next are introductions to ju-jitsu and judo – the gentle way, developed in the 19th century, and karate – the way of the empty hand (or China hand) which was developed on the island of Okinawa where both Chinese and Japanese lived. A ban on weapons in the 1600s forced the locals to develop ways to simulate weapon strikes with their hands which developed into Okinawan te technique. Afterwards the Chinese brought the Shaolin style and the two mingled to form karate. Karate is also grounded in Zen Buddhism. Sitting seiza – on the feet with knees bent is a common meditation position in several martial arts as are the ceremonial bowing and various other positions.

Next there is discussion of the shindai combat – the ancient Japanese art of pillow fighting on a bed. This done rather ceremonially by couples to resolve disputes followed presumably by lovemaking.

Several introductory exercises are given for breathing, various stances, centering the ki, and the simulation practice of the kyudo archer. Also given are some practices for moving the chi through the various energy centers/chakras and one for Shingon mantras and corresponding mudras.

Some healing arts are covered such as shiatsu/accupressure and there is a discussion of some exercises reputedly from – The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine – written down in 200-300 BC but said to be thousands of years older. Here is explained the system of the 12 Meridians where six are yin and six yang. Later the eight forms of Chinese healing arts – or Eight Strands of the Brocade came about as:

“1) Natural dietary therapy; 2) Herbal therapy; 3) Heat treatment; 4) Massage; 5) Acupuncture; 6) Acupressure; 7) Physical exercise; 8) Ch’i control”

Next are given some exercises from the Yellow Emperor’s Classic and some acupressure and shiatsu cures as well as a discussion of the five elements in healing.

Finally there is an interesting section about a kendo master Koji Yada. Kendo - the way of the sword - is the method of combat with a samarai sword, or katana. This section however portrays a little known healing technique involving transferring ki through the blade and point of the sword with special kiai shouts.

Overall, a great overview of martial arts history, technique, and various styles as well as being very informative about oriental healing arts.

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