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Old 12-09-2010, 07:21 AM   #1
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Kung Fu for Philosophers

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In the art of kung fu, there is what Herbert Fingarette calls "the magical," but "distinctively human" dimension of our practicality, a dimension that "always involves great effects produced effortlessly, marvelously, with an irresistible power that is itself intangible, invisible, unmanifest."

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com...-philosophers/
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Old 01-03-2011, 04:47 PM   #2
C. David Henderson
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Re: Kung Fu for Philosophers

Update:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com...se/#more-74117,

excerpt:

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Several years ago, I was invited for lunch by a man named Wu Bin, who was the former martial arts coach of the kung fu movie star Jet Li. Mr. Wu and I did not know each other, and I had no idea why he invited me for lunch. I was more puzzled when I got there ��" Mr. Wu insisted that I be seated in the most prominent spot, and placed himself and all his associates at the table in lesser positions. With the ritual setting in order, he then humbly presented me a classic martial arts manual, and asked if I could explain the introduction of the book for him. “It is full of philosophical terms,” he said. “I have trouble understanding it.”

David Henderson
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Old 01-03-2011, 05:45 PM   #3
Mike Sigman
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Re: Kung Fu for Philosophers

I think one of the primary sentences in the first article was:
"As many scholars have pointed out, the predominant orientation of traditional Chinese philosophy is the concern about how to live one's life, rather than finding out the truth about reality." In other words vague, distant, and metaphysical goals wasn't the thrust of Oriental philosophy, as so many people in the West tend to think. The phrase that often arises is about cultivating the body... and that actually indicates a lot of the exercises, breathing skills, jin/kokyu, etc., almost beyond a doubt. The Mawangdui tombs had some pretty enlightening writings and pictures indicating breathing/exercise postures ... very much like many of the things still available today.

I used to just assume that a lot of the "philosophy" aspects found in the CMA texts was sort of a necessary embroidery that just had to be accepted. As I progressed I kept finding that many of the physical aspects of progress too conveniently matched some of the supposedly "philosophical" aspects of the cosmology. If the same basic cosmology is found in Japan, although often doctored with a veneer of Shintoism), then cultivated "kung fu" is actually a part of Japanese philosophy, too.

2 cents.

Mike Sigman
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Old 01-03-2011, 07:49 PM   #4
Thomas Campbell
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Re: Kung Fu for Philosophers

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Mike Sigman wrote: View Post
I used to just assume that a lot of the "philosophy" aspects found in the CMA texts was sort of a necessary embroidery that just had to be accepted. As I progressed I kept finding that many of the physical aspects of progress too conveniently matched some of the supposedly "philosophical" aspects of the cosmology. If the same basic cosmology is found in Japan, although often doctored with a veneer of Shintoism), then cultivated "kung fu" is actually a part of Japanese philosophy, too.

2 cents.

Mike Sigman
I think what you said in this regard is worth more than 2 cents, Mike. Whether it's Shintoism and Ueshiba's personal ritual and physical practices, or going back to China in earlier times with the Wu brothers and their nephew Li crafting the Wu/Li "taiji classics" based on their personal training, or Chen Wangting collaborating with his Li family cousins, or Chang Naizhou writing his IMA treatise . . . there are important historical examples showing that "cultivated 'kung fu' is actually a part of" philosophy in China and Japan.

The philosophy of gongfu extends not just to cosmology, as mentioned above, but also to health and longevity (viz. the story of Chen Wangting and his Li cousins weaving yangsheng into the training they developed.

Strategy is another philosophical element of gongfu training.

I just got William Scott Wilson's new (2010) translation of the Tao Te Ching/Daodejing, and he's got some interesting thinking about connections between that philosopher's wellspring, later Ch'an and ultimately Zen and martial arts.

http://www.palmbeachartspaper.com/Bo...f-sources.html

My two Renminbi.
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Old 01-03-2011, 08:22 PM   #5
Mike Sigman
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Re: Kung Fu for Philosophers

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Thomas Campbell wrote: View Post
I just got William Scott Wilson's new (2010) translation of the Tao Te Ching/Daodejing, and he's got some interesting thinking about connections between that philosopher's wellspring, later Ch'an and ultimately Zen and martial arts.

http://www.palmbeachartspaper.com/Bo...f-sources.html
Just a note about not only the translator William Scott, but this also applies to Chinese author of the NYTimes piece who is a "philosopher". Regardless of Mr. Scott's natural linguistic skills, very few people can make qualified guesses about the translations of most of the very early texts because they don't know the context and idiomatic usages, the references to fabled characters, and so on. This is a well-known problem and even the Chinese argue about who of their own scholars even has a potential chance of making an accurate translation from the ancient manuscripts, in too many cases. Many people, particularly westerners, base their translations on the literal meanings of the ideograms and totally miss the original intent. In fact, most modern-day Chinese (I've said this before) cannot translate texts about martial-arts because the context and connotations are meaningless unless the translator also has the skills, the knowledge of idiom, and so forth.

While the philosopher in the NYTimes piece is knowledgeable about philosophy, I wonder... if the actual cosmology is so much based on practicality... if his interpretations are all that accurate. I'd like to feel his qi.

Not trying to be negative. This problem with translating is a well-known one and one that is discussed often in China.

FWIW

Mike Sigman
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Old 01-04-2011, 09:56 AM   #6
C. David Henderson
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Re: Kung Fu for Philosophers

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your posts.

I think you make a very good point about the one of implications of a "pragmatic cosmology" being that individual contexts require specific contextual knowledge, much of it skill-based.

I wondered when I read the second article whether the need for a philosopher's interpretation reflected a prior disconnect between the subject matter of the manual and the cosmology....

I also agree with your take on the central point of the original article, the one Ricky posted. It reminded me of your recent observation that these traditional concepts are "explicative" (inherent in a pragmatic theory of truth, I'd guess), but non-scientific.

I was interested in the idea that the concept of "kung fu" parallels, but arguably adds something missing from pragmatic theories of truth in western philosophy (e.g., classic American pragmatists such as William James and much of current continental philosophy), with "good (skillful) practice" providing a compass.

Good hearing from you.

David Henderson
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Old 01-04-2011, 11:19 AM   #7
Thomas Campbell
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Re: Kung Fu for Philosophers

Quote:
Mike Sigman wrote: View Post
Just a note about not only the translator William Scott, but this also applies to Chinese author of the NYTimes piece who is a "philosopher". Regardless of Mr. Scott's natural linguistic skills, very few people can make qualified guesses about the translations of most of the very early texts because they don't know the context and idiomatic usages, the references to fabled characters, and so on. This is a well-known problem and even the Chinese argue about who of their own scholars even has a potential chance of making an accurate translation from the ancient manuscripts, in too many cases. Many people, particularly westerners, base their translations on the literal meanings of the ideograms and totally miss the original intent. In fact, most modern-day Chinese (I've said this before) cannot translate texts about martial-arts because the context and connotations are meaningless unless the translator also has the skills, the knowledge of idiom, and so forth.

While the philosopher in the NYTimes piece is knowledgeable about philosophy, I wonder... if the actual cosmology is so much based on practicality... if his interpretations are all that accurate. I'd like to feel his qi.

Not trying to be negative. This problem with translating is a well-known one and one that is discussed often in China.

FWIW

Mike Sigman
I think it's a salient point and one that WSW acknowledges at least in passing, in the introductory essay to the translation of the Daodejing noted above as well as in other translation work he's done, such as the Hagakure. That acknowledgment of limitation is more than many other translators are willing to make or may even be aware of. I am thinking in particular of Stephen Mitchell, who "translates" works from so many languages he can neither speak nor read.

The same precaution about translation of what amount to technical works (like the Daodejing) also applies to explanations offered with traditional terminology for the physical and internal skills of gongfu and budo. It doesn't help when a term like qi is subject to so many different interpretations. That allows the Stephen Mitchells of the budo world and Yahoo chat lists too much free rein . . .

But when the budo interpreter can also manifest the particular skill or phenomenon in hands-on demonstration, that lends a certain tangible credibility to the interpreter's understanding and explanations. Mahākāśyapa seeing the flower and smiling, etc. . . .
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Old 01-04-2011, 11:33 AM   #8
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Re: Kung Fu for Philosophers

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Charles David Henderson wrote: View Post
I wondered when I read the second article whether the need for a philosopher's interpretation reflected a prior disconnect between the subject matter of the manual and the cosmology....
I agree. I didn't want to be too cynical, but the story seemed awfully self-aggrandizing, to me, and the jump shift to make the kung-fu point didn't flow very well. There are some generally important points in martial virtue (wu de {woo duh}) that really disapprove of people that brag about themselves or who put others down (like trivializing other teachers, etc.) .... the author's comments about Wu Bin were fairly gratuitous and bordered on crossing the bounds of wu de.

Speaking of Wu Bin, here's a short clip of him as the hero in Wulin Ssu or the english title of "Pride's Deadly Fury". I always enjoyed the ending of that little scene:

http://www.neijia.com/PridesDeadlyFury.mpg

FWIW

Mike Sigman
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Old 01-04-2011, 11:44 AM   #9
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Re: Kung Fu for Philosophers

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Thomas Campbell wrote: View Post
But when the budo interpreter can also manifest the particular skill or phenomenon in hands-on demonstration, that lends a certain tangible credibility to the interpreter's understanding and explanations. Mahākāśyapa seeing the flower and smiling, etc. . . .
This is one of those comments that reminds me of someone asking an opinion about how good some teacher was on a video when the teacher was using Dive-Bunny uke's. It's just too hard to tell.

Similarly, what too often happens when some self-styled expert "manifests the particular skill or phenomenon in hands-on demonstration" is that we have no idea of the level of the student making that observation. Too often I think it's just too hard to tell because I don't know the level of the students (often with "years of experience", but no real skills) who are making observation of manifested skills. If at the same time out of a group of say, for instance, 30 people who are impressed with some skills, I get two people whom I know to be savvy in those skills telling me it wasn't much, I tend to go with the two experienced ones because over the years I've been sucked into to expecting something that doesn't pan out. I.e., I've been burned too many times. The rule of thumb is always "expect it to be more commonplace than you're led to believe by the wannabelieves". By commonplace, of course, I mean for people who actually have moderate skills and better.

So when someone says that a translator has certain skills, I'm delighted to hear it (seriously).... but I've been burned enough that I'd like to see it for myself. It's easy to jump on bandwagons; it's embarrassing to have to later jump off bandwagons when something you put your name behind turns out to be run-of-the-mill. Clinicism is the safest course, IMO.

FWIW

M
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Old 01-04-2011, 12:20 PM   #10
Thomas Campbell
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Re: Kung Fu for Philosophers

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Mike Sigman wrote: View Post
Similarly, what too often happens when some self-styled expert "manifests the particular skill or phenomenon in hands-on demonstration" is that we have no idea of the level of the student making that observation.

Clinicism is the safest course, IMO.

FWIW

M
Clinicism: I think you've just coined a new word, Mike.

What you mean seems pretty clear: a clinical outlook; approaching study or experience with a clinician's attitude of objective assessment of the facts and circumstances at hand; and in this particular context, not assuming anything about the skill level, ability and experience of either the demonstrator/teacher or the demo-dummy/student.

The observer needs to be clear about their own skill level, ability and experience and not unconsciously assume too much about their own level of ability to discern what is happening in an interaction/exchange (like push-hands) that they are watching. This is especially important for me to remember in watching and analyzing video clips or even in-person exchanges, and rendering judgment/interpretation about what is going on. It's helpful in that kind of discussion to be able to point to specific visible movements or actions of the teacher or student in offering an interpretation. Obviously the silk pyjamas or hakama can conceal what is going on. There oughtta be a law requiring martial arts demonstrations to be given in the nude. For purposes of philosophical clarity . . . .

But seriously, as you pointed out, the ability level of the student or person being demonstrated upon relative to the demonstrator needs to be considered. So does the level of the observer.

Hong Junsheng related an anecdote about Chen Fake, his Chen taijiquan teacher:

Mr. Shen San was the number one wrestler in China. One day Master Chen met him at a martial arts competition. Upon meeting, the two aged martial artists exchanged greetings of mutual respect while shaking hands. Shen then said, "I have heard that Taijiquan is famous for being soft. In the ring, competition is conducted through drawing lots. What will a Taijiquan practitioner do if he is to face a wrestler?" Master Chen answered, "I think there should be a way for a Taijiquan practitioner to compete against a wrestler. I am not experienced in this, but I know that when two parties fight, it is not customary to first ask in what style the other party is proficient." The respectable Shen then proposed that to answer the question he and Master Chen compare fighting techniques. Master Chen said, "I don't know how to wrestle but I enjoy watching wrestling as an art form. I know that wrestlers always grab the opponent's sleeve before applying any techniques." As he was saying this, he extended both forearms, which Master Shen then grabbed. At the time some students and I were watching them and were quite excited at the prospect of having the rare chance to witness two great masters compete. But, unfortunately, someone came to deliver a message to the two masters regarding a business meeting. They left right away, hand in hand, laughing. Two days later, Shen came with a gift when we were practicing in Master Chen's house. I invited him in. The respectable Shen said to Master Chen, "Thank you for not humiliating me that day." My master answered, "Not at all! Vice versa." When I heard their conversation, I thought that they had engaged in another match and felt unfortunate for losing the chance to see them compete after all. Seeing me absorbed in thoughts, the respectable Shen asked, "Didn't Master Chen tell you what happened the other day?" I replied that he had not. The respectable Shen was apparently moved. "Your master is the best. Especially his morals. You must learn from him! Experts can tell the level of kungfu by one single touch. When I grabbed your master's hands, I knew that his skill was far superior to mine because I couldn't apply any strength to him."

https://www.epsb.net/~jchen/chen_fake.htm
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Old 01-04-2011, 12:51 PM   #11
Mike Sigman
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Re: Kung Fu for Philosophers

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Clinicism: I think you've just coined a new word, Mike.
I did, too, dangit. I thought "cynicism" was a little harsh for what I meant, so I dropped back to "clinicism" and punted.
Quote:
Mr. Shen San was the number one wrestler in China. One day Master Chen met him at a martial arts competition. Upon meeting, the two aged martial artists exchanged greetings of mutual respect while shaking hands. Shen then said, "I have heard that Taijiquan is famous for being soft. In the ring, competition is conducted through drawing lots. What will a Taijiquan practitioner do if he is to face a wrestler?" Master Chen answered, "I think there should be a way for a Taijiquan practitioner to compete against a wrestler. I am not experienced in this, but I know that when two parties fight, it is not customary to first ask in what style the other party is proficient." The respectable Shen then proposed that to answer the question he and Master Chen compare fighting techniques. Master Chen said, "I don't know how to wrestle but I enjoy watching wrestling as an art form. I know that wrestlers always grab the opponent's sleeve before applying any techniques." As he was saying this, he extended both forearms, which Master Shen then grabbed. At the time some students and I were watching them and were quite excited at the prospect of having the rare chance to witness two great masters compete. But, unfortunately, someone came to deliver a message to the two masters regarding a business meeting. They left right away, hand in hand, laughing. Two days later, Shen came with a gift when we were practicing in Master Chen's house. I invited him in. The respectable Shen said to Master Chen, "Thank you for not humiliating me that day." My master answered, "Not at all! Vice versa." When I heard their conversation, I thought that they had engaged in another match and felt unfortunate for losing the chance to see them compete after all. Seeing me absorbed in thoughts, the respectable Shen asked, "Didn't Master Chen tell you what happened the other day?" I replied that he had not. The respectable Shen was apparently moved. "Your master is the best. Especially his morals. You must learn from him! Experts can tell the level of kungfu by one single touch. When I grabbed your master's hands, I knew that his skill was far superior to mine because I couldn't apply any strength to him."

https://www.epsb.net/~jchen/chen_fake.htm
I've posted the same anecdote before on AikiWeb... maybe twice... but I'm not sure it's particulalry relevant, although it's a great anecdote. Shen San was a Shuai Jiao player of good experience; often what we see is hobby-level martial-artists in the West making that claims about how good someone is or how much they learned or similar claims. Think back over the years of AikiWeb of who the current trend was, etc., and all the accolades, etc. I've had people I've met who tell me about so-and-so, how good he/she is, etc., and I always took people at face value for a long time. Nowadays, I listen to someone talk about someone and then I get a feel of what they can personally do. If they can't do anything passable in relation to, say, internal strength, then I tend to discount what they say until I can get to meet the person. I just shelve it. Point being that in western martial-arts there are a lot of noise-makers, social types, etc., who are not really serious about martial arts and I've learned to ignore all but the serious players.

Given that "self-cultivation" (and that also always includes I.S. skills) is a basic requirement of martial-arts, the "Tao", and so on, I don't consider someone is really working on "kung fu" until they can show at least a level of skills that indicates they are serious in that direction. And that's true in Asia, too.... if you don't have kung fu (gong fu) then you're not considered a serious player.

FWIW

Mike Sigman
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Old 01-04-2011, 01:21 PM   #12
C. David Henderson
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Re: Kung Fu for Philosophers

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Mike Sigman wrote: View Post
I've posted the same anecdote before on AikiWeb... maybe twice... but I'm not sure it's particulalry relevant, although it's a great anecdote.
I was certain I'd run across it before.

One point that it may have illustrated here (by comparison) is your observation about wu de, or what you perceived as a lack thereof, in the second NYT article.

Regards

Last edited by akiy : 01-04-2011 at 02:17 PM. Reason: Fixed quote tag

David Henderson
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Old 01-04-2011, 03:22 PM   #13
Thomas Campbell
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Re: Kung Fu for Philosophers

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Mike Sigman wrote: View Post
I've posted the same anecdote before on AikiWeb... maybe twice... but I'm not sure it's particulalry relevant, although it's a great anecdote.
Sorry, I ran out of time before to post why I included that story. I only meant to refer to the student observer (Hong Junsheng) not being able to understand the nature of what had transpired between his teacher Chen Fake and the wrestler Shen San. Hong seems to have been expecting the "exchange of skill" to be a dramatic match with throws, etc. This in turn was in reference to my (self-)admonition for an observer/interpreter of such a martial exchange (whether push-hands, demonstration of application or specific moment in a fight) to be aware of his/her own limitations to understand/interpret/judge what is observed. Clinicism applied to the observer as well as to the observed.

The anecdote has been online for at least 8 or 10 years. Chen Zhonghua seems to have included the translation in order to illustrate the "moral virtue" of Chen Fake, his grandteacher.
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Old 01-04-2011, 03:31 PM   #14
Mike Sigman
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Re: Kung Fu for Philosophers

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Thomas Campbell wrote: View Post
Sorry, I ran out of time before to post why I included that story. I only meant to refer to the student observer (Hong Junsheng) not being able to understand the nature of what had transpired between his teacher Chen Fake and the wrestler Shen San. Hong seems to have been expecting the "exchange of skill" to be a dramatic match with throws, etc. This in turn was in reference to my (self-)admonition for an observer/interpreter of such a martial exchange (whether push-hands, demonstration of application or specific moment in a fight) to be aware of his/her own limitations to understand/interpret/judge what is observed. Clinicism applied to the observer as well as to the observed.

The anecdote has been online for at least 8 or 10 years. Chen Zhonghua seems to have included the translation in order to illustrate the "moral virtue" of Chen Fake, his grandteacher.
Yeah, like I said, it's a good anecdote. Problem is, I am neutrally wary of doing much more than reading a lot of Hong's stuff because I'm not sure how true it is, how accurate, and so forth. Chen FaKe had a number of students in Beijing that all claimed to be (for various reasons) the only true vessel of real Taiji left on the face of the earth after FaKe Lao died. The two big-name players of that game are Hong JunSheng and Feng ZhiQiang. There are some pretty big holes in their claims that I'm aware of, but I just see it as politics that there is no need for me to be involved in and I let it go. I.e., I take stories from Hong and Feng about Chen FaKe with a neutral grain of salt. It's still a great anecdote, though, true, embellished, or not.

Mike Sigman
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