Tuesday, June 5, 2007

When Does A Class Become A Cult?

While browsing through Bagua videos I came across this one of Jerry Alan Johnson, who is demonstrating some applications of the animal forms of Bagua. It's a very theatrical production, with the participants wearing long Taoist robes and some cleverly edited slow motion for effect. As I often do, I found this guys website and gave it a look. I found it interesting for various reasons.
First, it appears that the Bagua this group practices is secondary to their practice of Taoist magic and sorcery. I actually have no problem with this, though I'm sure it scares the crap out of people who practice Evangelical Christianity. Taoism mimics the cycles of nature, which may be our best instructor. Let's face it, man's attempt to be dominant over the earth has brought us to the tipping point of global warming, war for resource extraction, and general degradation of the non-human life on the planet. His website lists classes and books on Talismans and charms, ritual, and some more esoteric practices such as use of intoxicating herbs and sexual magick.
Not exactly my cup of tea, but upon reflection, it is no different than any other shamanic practice found all around the world.
Take the Catholic Church for example; it is the largest organization practicing "White Magic" in the world. It includes ritual cannibalism, eating the wafer (flesh) and wine (blood of Christ). The ritual chanting is in ancient language, a new Shaman (Pope) is chosen with symbols such as puffs of smoke coming from the Vatican indicating selection. The whole mythology about Christ rising from the dead and appearing in the flesh is an attempt to preclude Gnostic self-enlightenment within the Church. Enough of that though...
Years ago in Portland, there was a woman's self-defense school called "Pokulain" (spelling?) which means "A rose with thorns". They practiced an Indonesian art that specialized in ground fighting, which assumed that women had a better defensive position in a low crouch very close to the ground. It became rather controversial at one point, with a few former students claiming that the school had become a cult. There were candlelight rituals, with oaths and sharp knives being passed among the members. Undoubtadly, this type of ritual is common in Indonesian arts which often delve into esoteric mysticism. On the front side, that's not so bad. However, there were some women that just wanted to learn effective self-defense. This practice offended them, and they made their opinions public.
Two thoughts: If someone teaches a martial arts school, they should make clear what the students should expect. In this respect for instance, informing students about Aikido founder Uyeshiba's spiritualism adds context to the art. Same with the concept of Yin and Yang in Chinese arts. But candlelight ceremonies with sharp knives may be too much for the average student.
And the students responsibility is to have enough self-respect to know where to draw the line. They should survey the potential class, become informed about it and decide if it works for them. If some instructor, through ego or abuse or esoteric ritual causes conflict, move on. That's the beauty of practicing the martial arts, at any level. We analyze and decide for ourselves.


Hand2Hand said...

While it's a good idea to understand the cultural or philosophical roots of a given art, you should be able to practice a martial art without having to give up your own religious views or background.

Paying respect to the traditions, like bowing, using proper titles, wearing the appropriate uniform, following a certain hierarchy, etc. is one thing.

But I think once you involve prayers, invocations, religious ritual, it does create a risk of becoming a cult.

I remember one sifu who was a practicing Buddhist. One of my sihings was an observant Jew. I'm a Christian.

We used to have some of the greatest philosophical discussions on when it was just the three of us at practice on a given night.

I really miss that.

José said...

I agree in general with all that is said. The basic thing is for instructors to be upfront about their practice. Like saying that the performance of some Taoist rituals is important for the practice and the class is expected to follow along. That's OK, if people are given the info to be able to make an informed decision, and leave if they feel they should practice somewhere else.

I should also point out that, re. Jerry Alan Johnson, there is a time gap in your appreciation of these videos. The vids are really old, ie. late 80's and and very early 90's (and that particular video is pretty good, too, IMHO), whereas JAJ greater focus on Taoist magic dates from the early 2000's when he was empowered as a lineage older in some lineage of Taoist school. So, his website reflects his current interests and focus, whereas his older focus was much more on the fighting aspects of Bagua.

Dojo Rat said...

Thanks for the timeline on the Bagua video. His website doesn't say much about martial arts right now.
Have you seen anything else from him? I'd be curious if you have any other info.

JoseFreitas said...

Hi Rat! (guess I'm one too, a Dojo or Kwoon Rat!)

JAJ is a well known guy in the internal martial arts scene, although he sort of dropped out of sight since the mid-90's. Lately he is involved with Qigong medicine, and wrote the definitive text on that, the 1000 page Chinese Medical Qigong Therapy. He seems to be more and more involved with energy healing practices. His alternate website is at http://www.qigongmedicine.com/. The book he wrote is a milestone (IMHO).

I have never met him, but I've met some french practitioners who know him and speak highly of him. Take with a grain of salt, as usual, but the videos speak for themselves.

Back in the days he was a relevant guy, he wrote some of the only books that were available in the 80's on Bagua: Masters Manual of Pa Kua, a so-so book with lots of exercises and stuff in a slightly disorganized way, and Classical Pa Kua: Fighting Styles and Weapons (?) which was cowritten with Joseph Crandall, a well-known practitioner who has translated dozens of important martial arts texts from the chinese, from classical books to modern ones. It was an important book then. Nowadays, with the internet, Youtube, 30 issues of Pakua Journal and a bunch of books out (including Crandall's translations) it's a much less important book, but at the time it had tremendous impact.

He has six videos out, which can be bought from the website above. I have them all except the staff video. They are three videos on barehand sequences of Bagua (1, Sun Lutang form, basic exercises, some two person drills, qigong, 2, Original Form of Jiang Rongqiao, plus some advanced drills and exercises, 3, two different Dragon Forms, from Chen You Long and Chen Panling, 4, Bagua Broadsword Form, 5, Bagua Staff form and 6, Bagua fighting theories and applications. The forms videos are OK. Generally he doesn't perform and leaves it to students who do an OK job, but not very good. They have a strange and sort of robotic circle walking method where they drag the feet on the ground which REALLY irritates me (although JAJ does it well). You can actually learn a bunch of stuff from the videos, they are quite clear, but not exceptional. But he really shines in the vid 6, where he organises things by trigrams, using the Sun / Yin method attribution of animals to trigrams to show various strategies, drills, etc. The video you posted is the Phoenix system of fighting I gather. It's a good video in my opinion, not "instructional" but "informational".

I think JAJ is a very credible and competent martial artist, who sort of has been losing interest in the martial aspect in favour of healing stuff (although he still teaches Bagua and Taiji). You can find his martial resume at http://www.qigongmedicine.com/info.php?i=2140

He has a couple of books that recycle some of the info from the earlier Bagua books (Essence of Internal Martial Arts) which are really good IMO, but since they delve extensively on "qi stuff" it's hard to know wether to recommend them, since some people are bound to hate it.

Hope this helps!

Dojo Rat said...

Thanks Jose'--

I would like to know if you think his Sun-style Bagua video is that useful, or if you can reccomend another on the Sun style. I have a mish-mash of Bagua from a couple of teachers, but just had a Sun Bagua seminar with Tim Cartmell and would like to explore it further. Thanks for the links, I'll check it out.
P.S., We're all Dojo Rats!

JoseFreitas said...

Hi Rats,

Well, before I actually comment or recommend videos, I should say you might go to shenwu.org discussion board and ask Tim or any of his students for advice. The thing is, even in Sun style Bagua there are variations between teachers, and one video might not be as useful to you as another, if it deviates from the forms you've been taught. Also, caveat emptor, I don't practice Sun style, therefore might not be the best guy to give you advice, but I have seen tons of stuff on it, so.... not being the shy kind of guy, I'll fire away!

Jerry Alan Johnson's video is pretty useful IMHO, more for the supplementary stuff it has than for the forms. I went and reviewed it again and here is a detailed breakdown of what it includes:

He starts off with a series of supplementary exercises. They are strung together, one following the other, but you can break it down and practice each separately. You have a series of silk-reeling drills ("serving teacups" exercises, it might mean something to you), followed by some basic palm striking drills, whole body conditioning exercises and some pointers on standing meditation. All pretty good, plus you can really learn them from the video. I don't like the way they do some of the exercises, too wide and low stances and large moves, but that's probably because the guy on the video (student) is about 18 and looks fairly athletic, whereas my knees sometimes hurt, I am all of 42 and have a small potbelly, and prefer softer more compact moves.... Then you have circle walking explained (no mud wading steps, Sun doesn't emphasize them), including a circular walking qigong set, pretty OK (I actually taught myself to do it and practiced it a lot at one time). Next the ten palm changes are shown: Single and Double Changing Palms, and the eight animals. Next, some push hands exercises and two person drills, one of which is easy to learn, very good, and damn hard to master and do well (ie smoothly, relaxed and alive) and IMO really pins down part of the usage of what Bagua should be. Finally, applications for the palm changes. In my opinion, good, solid, unexceptional, straightforward apps. Stuff that seems like it will work but at the same time isn't too complex or sophisticated. I have seen much better apps from other teachers, but it is arguable that you would have a hard time learning those from a video. IMO, a bunch of clever rats like you can use his apps as "seeds" and improvise a whole lot more with time on your own.

There's a lass in England who gets a lot of flack (for non-martial arts reasons... you need to check her site...http://www.martialtaichi.co.uk), Joanna Zorya, she has a series of videos on Bagua Sun style. Havent seen them, but there are excerpts of these on Youtube:


Again, I am not sure about the variations, but the applications she shows are pretty good. I mean, I wish she would use a more... impressive... partner and they would put a little more uuummmph on their stuff, but what she shows is pretty good and well done. Some people I know and respect for their martial abilities do recommend her videos (notably Ted Mancuso over at Plumpub) and so these might be a good choice. Plus she is funny, check out her Iron Shirt video on Youtube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HdqtIsf-dI

DVDs at: www.plumpub.com/sales/dvd/dvdcoll_baguavarious.htm

But I can also recommend a chinese VCD which I found extremely enjoyable and informative: Deng Fu Ming's Sun style Linking Palms Practice.


This is a pretty impressive VCD, but many people will pass it over. It isn't really "polished" in the sense many modern videos are, his performance is more organic and spontaneous, with less emphasis on speed than on showing correct alignments, etc... In a nutshell, real gong fu (IMHO). This is not a form video, it's a video on spontaneously improvising palm changes, and on usage. He shows tons of apps, many done in such a way that you can actually generate little continuous two person drills. It's all pretty good, and one of his students also does the ten palm changes in the middle of the video, the "formal" forms, pardon my redundancy. It's slightly different than Jerry Alan Johnson, but the underlying structure is the same. The delivery here is more straightforward, less twisty, and done in a low-key fashion. You can probably tell that I liked it! But JAJ is more explicit, plus it's in english, which helps a lot.

I suppose budget constraints might be a factor. For price nothing beats the chinese VCD. For the price of JAJ video you can buy 4 or 5 of the chinese ones (and the whole of Deng Fu Ming is pretty good, I highly recommend his Bagua Sword video, and his Xingyi is also very good). Otherwise I'd buy at least both, the chinese stuff and JAJ video, because you also get some foundational material which is always helpful. But again, you might want to check out Shenwu discussion board before buying anything (although the chinese VCD is cheap enough that you can probably buy it regardless).

If you go to Plumpub tell them I sent you (Jose from Portugal), Debbie'll like to know that I am still up to my old tricks!

Hope this helps.

Dojo Rat said...

Thanks Jose''
I should have thought about Tim's board for a Sun Bagua DVD, I'll check it out . Thanks for the plumpub link also

Scott said...

I'm inspired to comment but I wish I knew more about JAJ. Wow, where to start? My first teacher Bing Gong went to study with him a bit in the early 90's and so I got to do some of his drills. I think his martial arts skill is great, and I like the explainations in the video.
I've never been able to bring myself to buy one of his books. What ever vibe the early ones were putting off made me think it would be a waste time. Then the Qigong book showed up in the College library and I read it, if you can call it that. I have to respectfully disagree with you Jose, I think the book is garbage. The book is an encyclopeadic fantasy, full of statements with no context or connection to anything varifiable. JAJ has been the man behind the, thankfully, failed movement to Medically Certify all Qigong. For a long time his Medical Qigong college was illegally calling everybody doctor on the website, whatever.
He first killed me when I went into a healthfood store in Santa Cruz and saw his video on the counter advertising a cure for breast cancer and it had a picture of someone rubbing their breasts. He will forever be the titty massage guy to me.
Cults and Daoism, that one is close to my heart. Most martial arts classes have some cult qualities. I must admit I almost order JAJ's book on Daoist walking techniques. The problem is his whole Zhengyidao, Maoshandao, Zhejiang lineage thing doesn't fit with the history of a tradition which has been very discreet, secret. Why is he publishing everything in English? He seems to have gone mad. I'm all for his conversion to Daoism + Christianity, cool man do your own thing, but at least tell us why you think it's a good idea to publish all these Daoist documents. Sooo weird.

JoseFreitas said...

Hi Scott,
I cannot comment on his Daoism stuff, since I don't know anything about it. I had noticed some of his combining Christianity with Daoism, which I found... excentric, to say the least, but it doesn't really interest me. The point of my posts and Rat's original one is: are his MA videos good? (I think they are) and how to avoid falling into a cult, and as far as a I know, JAJ seems to be upfront about his teaching and involvement with Daoist practices (ie, people should sort of know what they're getting themselves into). I met and talked with some french practitioners who studied with him back in the early 90's, and they were deep into Daoist studies, but struck me as sensible, smart people. They liked JAJ and were doing Bagua as well as energetic practices they learned with him, and they were pretty good.

I respectfully disagree with you re. the whole Qigong Medical Therapy book, which I find quite impressive; but in any case, he did study Medical Qigong at a well-known hospital in China, and for the record, they are "doctors" as per Chinese curricula. I saw some impressive qigong therapeutic stuff once, many years ago - I filed under "really weird shit that requires further explaining" (a guy doing acupuncture anaesthesia for an open abdomen surgery, but not using needles... using his fingers!). A lot of what JAJ says echoes what those practitioners (interestingly all military officers in the PLA, with medical and qigong training) told me at the time. Obviously, I am aware of the fact he may pull things his way, especially when he talks of being told things and instructed in secret stuff by people who are afraid of authorities and therefore he can't name them. Maybe, maybe not. But, truthfully, I don't care either way. I like his videos but
I'm not a student or friend of him.

What's the story on this attempt to medically certify qigong?


Scott said...

It's not really up to me to comment on the veracity of what he is doing. It will suffice to say, he is a qijock. If the subject is cultivating qi and he is projecting it from a distance-- well qi is not a laser, at best it wafts out in clouds,--so by projecting it he is actually wasting it. Most of it does not reach the target. Well fine, if he's got enough to waste. But what message are you sending to everyone else who is trying to store and cultivate qi? I've got so much qi and you're all losers? Who is that helping?
About 8 years ago JAJ wrote a bunch of articles in Martial arts magazines talking about Medicalizing Qigong. I think that's a bad idea. Taking a bath is good for you too, should we medicalize it?

JoseFreitas said...

I sort of agree on some points, but disagree on some others. How do you explain acupuncture without needles? Except by the ability of "projecting qi" (I am open to the idea this is just a sentence describing a paradigm, not a "reality")? (I am also open to the suggestion that what I witnessed was bogus, faked, but I assign it a low probability)

Also, how to explain the results of the infrasonic devices (referenced by JAJ as well as other researchers), except in terms of "projecting qi"?

On the other hand, that guy (who did the anaesthesia with his qi) was thoroughly trashed afterwards, he had to rest and "cultivate qi back" for days. He also said that this was a pointless thing to do, since you could just as well hook up some needles to an electric stimulator and get the same results. But, yes, you have to have cultivated your qi to a higher level to use it to heal, I believe. Doesn't make anyone else losers, I think.

Re. Medicalizing Qigong, I assume you're talking in general terms, in which case I strongly agree with you. Qigong can on some levels be categorized as "just one type of exercise", and should be free to be practiced (and taught) with much looser standards than medical acts. I would add that it is on this particular (somewhat restrictive) definition of qigong that we will find the best results for health, ie. I think that the day to day practice of simple, movement based qigong is more important to your health long term than more esoteric systems of energy cultivation methods.

On the other hand, in China, Medical Qigong is a specialty of regular Chienese Medicine - you need to take three years of regular TCM courses before proceeding to become a Qigong doctor, defined in China as someone who can prescribe specific exercises to patients based on prior diagnostics, as well as someone who can use his qi to heal others (ie. project qi in a therapeutic way to patients). In this definition, although I do not agree with Medicalization of Qigong (much as I don't agree with Medicalization of acupuncture, since it would bring TCM under the control of westernized medicine), I am in favour of more strict standards and certification.

Sarah said...

Well we're almost on the same page. I highly recommend Elizabeth Hsu's book Transmissions of Chinese Medicine, and Nancy Chen's book, Breathing Spaces. Your ideas about what is happening in China are not quite correct, there is a fair amount of upheval and outsider desparation around qigong. But it would take a long time to explain.
I don't know where I stand on certifications and standards. Ethical standards? Yes. Even punishments are ok with me. But I really can't think of a qigong certification I would want to have.
I frankly don't want to be grouped with all those freaks!

Name/URL said...

Jerry Alan Johnson? Nah, he's a fake.

Anonymous said...

Here is a better link to Dr. Johnson's Martial art Info. http://daoistmagic.com/daoist-internal-martial-art/

خدمات الشرقية said...

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شركة تنظيف بالخبر
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شركة تنظيف منازل بالجبيل

شركة تنظيف منازل بالقطيف
شركة تنظيف بالقطيف
شركة تنظيف منازل بالاحساء
شركة تنظيف بالاحساء

شركة مكافحة حشرات بالجبيل
شركة رش مبيدات بالجبيل
شركة تنظيف شقق بالجبيل
شركة تنظيف مجالس بالجبيل

خدمات الشرقية said...

شركة تنظيف منازل بالدمام
شركة تنظيف بالدمام
شركة تنظيف مجالس بالخبر
شركة تنظيف منازل بالاحساء

شركة المثالية للتنظيف
شركة المثالية لمكافحة الحشرات
شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالخبر
شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالدمام

jaki said...

عزيزنا العميل هل تبحث عن شركة نظافة تقدم لك كافة الخدمات التنظيفية بكامل الكفاءة والجوده ؟ هل تبحث عن شركة تقوم بتنظيف شقتك او فلتك او مجلسك ؟
هل تبحث عن شركة تقدم لك خدمات تنظيف الموكيت والسجاد والوجهات الزجاجية وغيرها ؟
اذا فانت علي موعد مع شركة النظافة المثالية والتى تقدم لك خدماتها بجودة متناهية النظير واسعار لن تجد لها مثيل في اي شركة اخري
تهتم شركة النظافة المثالية بكسب ثقة عملائها الكرام والعمل علي تلبية كافة احتياجاتهم بالشكل المرضي والمقنع
اتصل بنا عزيزنا العميل ولا تتردد في الاستعانة بشركتنا
مايميز شركة ا لنظافة المثالية
تهتم الشركة بتقديم خدمة علي اعلي مستوى كما ان خدماتها لا تقتصر فقط علي اعمال النظافة فقط بل تمتد لتشمل خدمات العزل والمكافحة وغيرها
تتميز الشركة بالكفاءة والجودة في اداء العمل
الشركة لديها خبره واسعة وباع طويل في مجال التنظيف
فريق العمل المتكامل
الشركة لديها فريق عمل مميز ومتكامل من المخصصين والفنيين والعماله المدربة
تقدم الشركة خدماتها بأسعار مناسبه وفي متناول جميع العملاء
تستخدم الشركة المعدات والالات الحديثة والمتطورة في التنظيف
رد فعل العميل
تهتم الشركة بمعرفة رد فعل العميل عن الخدمة المقدمة من قبل الشركة
مجتمع العمل
تهتم الشركة بدراسة مجتمع العمل ومعرفة ماينقصه من متطلبات
تهتم الشركة بتلقي شكاوى العملاء والعمل علي فحصها جيدا
تتلقي الشركة مقترحات العملاء الكرام وتعمل علي تنفيذها بقدر المستطاع
شركة عزل الاسطح بالخبر
تقوم الشركة ايضا عزيزنا العميل بعزل الاسطح سواء العزل المائي او العزل الحراري باستخدام المواد الكيميائية التى تعمل علي نجاح عمليات العزل
وتقوم بكشف التسربات للمياة اذا كان لديك اى عطل سوف نجده على الفور
كما اننا موجودون بالخبر فى جميع الخدمات التى قد تحتاجها لنيل حياة مريحة بدون تعب وباقل الاسعار مثل افضل شركات تنظيف فلل بالخبر و افضل شركات تنظيف كنب بالخبر و افضل شركات مكافحة النمل الابيض بالخبر و افضل شركات تنظيف مجالس بالخبر و افضل شركات تنظيف مجالس بالخبر