Sunday, February 18, 2007
Taoism And The Martial Arts
I'd like to suggest anyone interested in the history of martial arts to get a hold of a copy of John Bracy and Liu Xing-Han's book, "Bagua: Hidden Knowledge In The Taoist Internal Martial Art".
Books that show technique are great, but the innovation of video has surpassed the book in that area. Books that describe the philosophy, motivation, conflicts, successes and goals of the ancient masters is where we learn the universal truths about our art. This unique book includes both.
Bracy describes in this book how the Taoists, mountain recluses with a history dating back to 500 B.C. influenced the Chinese intellectuals in 1800's China, and a new form of art was born.
In ancient times, warriors were often unkempt and crude, and looked upon with disdain by the upper class. In early studies, the Taoists were, like other alchemists, in search of the elixer of life. That external search became modified into a view that the human body was a microcosm of the universe, and internal yogic alchemy, or "Nei Tan" was practiced. The elixer of life, and rightly so, was believed to be achieved within ones own body. For many centuries in remote areas Taoists practiced this goal, and began to weave the martial skills necessary for survival in with their yogic health traditions, alchemy and mysticism.
It was in the chaotic times approaching 1900 that the intellectuals, generally Confucianist bureaucrats, realized that the "State" could no longer protect them and began to form secret societies and practice the martial arts. The deep analytical systemic thought of the Confucianists blended with the Taoist Yogic martial arts, (after all, why practice a mundane soldiers battlefield art?) and the clans of the upper class began a new level of martial study. It was at this time that the first publications about the internal arts began to emerge.
Communism cast a sooty grey pall over the continent for several generations, and in the late 1970's China was again "open for business". Martial arts had been supressed by the authoritarian government, many masters had been killed through the various conflicts, and many of the ancient skills were nearly lost. Bracy suggests in his book that "Although there are some exceptions, a comprehensively trained, true senior master living in mainland China today must have achieved base proficenicy before 1937".
In some ways, I believe it may at times be necessary to "re-invent the wheel". In our world today, we have more information available than at any other time in history. Our culture is not restrained any longer by narrow fundementalist thought and people are open to paths of enlightenment and deep introspective research.
With these tools in hand, I trust we will keep the old traditions alive and integrate them with new ideas, and our new "wheel" will be better than it ever was.
Bracy's book is widely published and available on Amazon.