What is Self-Cultivation?

By Joshua Neuhaus

One of the Chinese terms for self-cultivation is xiu-shen (修身) which means to strive to raise one’s own standard of virtue and morality. Another phrase for it is xiu-xin yang-xing (修心养性), it literally means rectifying one’s mind and nurturing one’s character. The term is used in ancient Chinese philosophy and if viewed in more detail takes different shapes in the schools of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, even within one school of teachings it varies slightly from author to author. As this is just an introductory article it will take a less differentiated approach and try to give you a general idea about the term and – as it is the topic of our blog – will relate to the practice of martial arts.

Just as the schools share the motive of self-cultivation they also share the idea of a sage, a figure that has become the epitome of its schools moral and wisdom. Self-cultivation is an autonomous way of raising yourself to become much like such a sage. It is a process of self-finding and self-observation that will ultimately lead to the achievement of the perfect state of mind and body. Steps this might include are familiarizing oneself with the Chinese classics to the point of understanding their deepest meaning. In order to achieve this kind of understanding, you are expected to read those classics over and over at different stages of your practice and your life. Interestingly enough, another crucial step to self-cultivation is meditation – and that is valid even within the Confucian school, which out of the three might be the least spiritual.

Characters say: “Yijing”, a Chinese classic (Engl.: Book of Changes)

Just as writings of Chinese scholars show an awareness of the lack of language and words in conveying the deeper meaning behind their teachings, they are convinced that once you embark on this journey you will naturally come to see its value and necessity. The encouraging outlook on self-cultivation that Chinese scholars have given over centuries suggests that you will come to be in harmony with yourself and naturally will be able to interact with your environment in a way, that you are able to help others and bring health to the world, without harming yourself. One of the strongest arguments to encourage you to commit to self-cultivation might be how it really puts you first. Even a lost person that doesn’t understand their own unhappiness and is trapped within perpetually gasping for momentary escapes from this desperate state of self is supposed to grow to have a strong heart filled with enduring happiness, perfect emancipation, autonomy, and health. The Chinese teachings take this process of finding your middle and explain, that it goes hand in hand with becoming a cornerstone that will benefit the whole world.

 

Meditation and Qi

 

As for Chinese martial arts, they are deeply integrated into the idea of self-cultivation and can be considered one of its methods. In general, a practice that is common to almost every martial art is to calm the mind and to stop thinking. What this leads to is not numbness and stupidity as one might think, but rather it gives you nimbleness and the ability to adjust to any situation with unmatched ease. Things can be seen as what they are, and fear or other emotions will not cloud one’s judgment. Depending on the detail of each martial art, there are many more crucial practices. Any martial art will give you autonomy. Strength and skills achieved in martial arts will help you overcome fear and give you confidence, that there is something no one else can ever take away from you. If we took Tai Chi for example there even is the practice of being able to achieve one’s goals without exhausting oneself using force or going directly against others, these skills can be transferred to real life situations and are actually crucial skills of the sage.

If you enjoyed this article, I would be much obliged if you left a Like. Any comment you give will be answered by me and I really hope you do, because there is so much more to say and learn from each other.


About Interact China

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters, and tailors, along with 12 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speaks English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team! 
If you have the passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

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Internal vs. External Martial Arts

by Joshua Neuhaus

When talking about Chinese martial arts, there are many ways of categorizing them, and calling them internal or external is just another way to do so. One might, for example, ask if a martial art is from the north or the south, from the Wudang or the Shaolin temples, Buddhist or Daoist, for real fight or for competitive sport. Categorizations, most of the time, are but a shallow casing we try to use, to store our knowledge. They might be helpful, but never perfect. And yet, let’s throw some light onto the meaning of internal and external martial arts.

All Chinese martial arts are a practice of accumulating skill. When mastered, those skills are deadly weapons used for self-defense or to kill on battlefields. In turn, when witnessing a true master of martial arts, no one can tell if what he does is internal or external. That is because any truly mastered martial art has the perfect balance of inner and outer.

The categorization of internal and external is as such actually a differentiation of how one specific martial art is learned. We either start from the inside and work towards the outside or the other way around. We either take a seed and nourish it to grow strong, or we take a barren of steel and hammer it to perfection. The result in both cases is strong, flexible, adaptable and precious.

Differentiating Internal and External Approaches

Starting out, internal as a term refers to that which is on the inside, such as our Qi, spirit, and mind. External refers to physical aspects such as body, muscles, tendons, and bones. An external martial art as such believes in raising speed, physical strength and reflexes first. First, you will reach the limits of your body and then you will look to the inside, to understand how to surpass those physical limits. It believes that you first need to do the correct movement with your body, and then slowly understand the internal process behind it, such as how Qi can lead the movements of the body. In the external approach, you might even force your breath to match your movements until eventually they naturally match up.

External fighting: young people, strong bodies and absolute reliance on techniques and strength.

An internal martial art, on the other hand, will rarely spend any time purposely strengthening your muscles or forcing your breath. While aware that our body at first has many limitations, the goals of practice are such as first finding relaxation. Only having achieved initial relaxation you move on to try and maintain relaxation in physically more challenging situations. In its most extreme form, an internal martial art will ask you to never move more than that, which you are able to back up internally. They say that intention leads the Qi and Qi leads the body. Meaning, what you actively put to use is your intention, not muscle. If you cannot, then relax better. Perfect relaxation eventually yields a quality that is often called steel wrapped in cotton, because while the touch of your body might be gentle and soft, upon closer inspections there is something deeply rooted, heavy and strong seated underneath it.

 

Internal arts: age doesn’t matter, physique might appear weak, reliance on perfect understanding of oneself and the opponent.

 

Which Is Right for Me?

In the end, both approaches can yield a similar level of skill. Furthermore, almost every martial art combines internal and external approaches even throughout the learning process. And yet, if forced to answer the question which approach is better, there is a tendency to pick internal martial arts. One reason is simply that internal martial arts are less straining for your body. While an external martial art might strain you to the point of ruining your body. The selectivity of external martial arts ruins many talents before they can come to flourish. Either way, you need an immeasurable amount of dedication to master any martial art. If you have the dedication, you might as well pick the way where your body is more likely to last through until the end.

Leave a comment to discuss this topic with me and check out this post on Quora, if you want to read further into it.


About Interact China

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters, and tailors, along with 12 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speaks English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team! 
If you have the passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

The 5 Elements in “The Art of War”, Knowing Yourself and the Enemy

By Joshua Neuhaus

Sunzi is a scholar and a military commander of the warring states period in China. That puts him into the same period of scholarship that also Confucius and Laozi are said to have participated in. In “The Art of War” he compiled strategies that cover in considerable detail how to be victories on any battlefield. The format he follows in doing so is to bring up a problem and then offer a method for solution. He teaches which criteria you need to analyze and how to evaluate the input you gain. Furthermore, he covers the qualities a good leader needs and many psychological components, such as how to make your troops follow your command or how to make your opponent pull back.

“Who knows himself and the enemy, does not need to fear the outcome of a hundred battles. Who knows only himself, but not the enemy will win as many times as he fails. Who knows neither himself nor the enemy, will lose without exception.” Sunzi

To know yourself or the enemy cannot be achieved without developing a holistic view. The social and emotional climate of your troops and your people might change any time. A change in this climate might, for example, be caused when the ground you are acting on is lacking in providing foods or shelter for your people. If your people are starving anger might arise in their midst. Keeping in mind that you will want the climate to be peaceful and productive and supportive of your own goals you will need to set your mission accordingly. When you know what your mission is, then you can understand what kind of commander is suited for it. The command needs to be able to establish authority and lead your troops, it needs to understand which moves are necessary to accomplish the mission. This means that the command is in charge of designing methods. The quality of your methods and the assertiveness shown in applying them will decide over loss and victory of ground resources. And that is where one complete circle is drawn, as now you might have new ground to life off, which offers foods for your previously starving people. Success has come, your people now are not angry due to starvation anymore. On the other hand, your territory might be too great and your police forces too small to keep up with suppressing criminal activity. That is when your climate will make another change and you will have your next mission.

This flow of climate -> mission -> command -> method -> ground is one possible interpretation of the 5 elements model. While Sunzi does not emphasize this terminology himself, his book does indeed apply the idea just as the above-described way. To be precise the above is not just any 5 Elements (wu xing 五行) model, it is the 5 Elements in its flow of creation and nourishment (sheng). Originally it would read as earth condenses to create metal. Metal dissolves to nourish water. Water is absorbed to nourish wood. Wood burns to strengthen fire. That which is burned by fire returns to the earth.

In the application of “The Art of War” to the 5 elements, one might go further to reverse the flow. The reversal of the above flow (Sheng -> Cheng) is called flow of information, it follows the idea, that if you know if you know the opponent’s mission, then you know the needs of his people. If you know the troubles their climate has, then you know which resources their people are lacking. This flow emphasizes the need of concealing yourself from your enemies because if you don’t, they can easily learn all about you and anticipate your moves.

The 5 Elements interpretation of “The Art of War” can help you to understand yourself and your enemy. You could try to find a few parallels in your own martial arts system. Or even go as far as to apply this method to your business or personal life. While the original texts might have been about war, it’s application is universal. It is a study in its own right.

Your ideas and thoughts are always appreciated, please share them!


About Interact China

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters, and tailors, along with 12 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speaks English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team! 
If you have the passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

 

Yamada Mumon Roshi – Finding the Self

By Joshua Joshua@InteractChina.com

Yamada Mumon during his time was a monk of Mahayana Buddhism. In a collection of his words, Zen and meditation are explained in an easily comprehensible way that resonates with the broader masses of people. “Yamada Mumon Roshi’s Words” gives us insights into the role that Zazen (Engl.: sitting Zen meditation) plays in everyday life. It also emphasizes the hope that Zazen will not only be practiced for the benefit of oneself but also would come to benefit everyone. Lastly, his words even give detailed instructions on how to practice Zazen.

This article focuses on the meaning of Zazen and how Zen can help us to learn more about ourselves.

Yamada Mumon

Zazen and the Role It Plays

Yamada wants to clarify that Zazen first and foremost describes a certain mentality, and actually, body posture has less significance. Yamada explains the mentality of Zazen humorously, telling an anecdote from the Second World War. It is said that there was a line of people and more continued queuing up, as everyone expected to find something interesting with so many people gathered there. It turns out, at the end of the line there was a stranger’s funeral waiting for them. This anecdote is intended to convey the need for investigating our own self. We should avoid following a way just because others before ourselves took it. How to find and walk your own way, that is the question Zazen starts with.

Answering this question is not about conceptualizing or taking a scientific approach. On the contrary, it is about surrendering instinct, habit, and intellectual judgment. The “real self […] sees, listens, laughs and cries”: emotions come without thinking. Meditation can give rise to an inner clarity in which the real self can be perceived.

Mentality and Physical Posture

As mentioned, mentality takes precedence over physical aspects of meditation. Provided we have the right mental practice, we can, in fact, do Zen-Meditation regardless of whether we’re sitting, lying, standing or walking. That said, a beginner’s preference should be to do sitting meditation. Out of the four postures sitting is the calmest, yielding an inner calm as well.

Yamada Mumon instructs us to find both physical and mental calmness. Just like clouds in water will only go away when one stops stirring, the real self can only become visible through practicing tranquility.

As for how to enter the right mentality, we are instructed to cut all ties with the world surrounding us. We must separate ourselves from our sensual impressions. The Chinese monk Hui-Neng said, “not to move from seeing self-nature inwardly is called Zen.” By detaching oneself from the outer world, one can find tranquility.

Lastly, Yamada remarks that one should not be tempted to believe a dark surrounding could ease the difficulty of practice. Rather, a dark environment can cause illusions, daydreams, and might also lead you to fall asleep unintendedly. So, we should keep our eyes slightly open and stay in a well-lit place.

How to Find the Self?

Yamada’s instructions on meditation go into deep detail describing the correct lotus posture and how to ease the breath and heartbeat, among other things. However, the core principle remains tranquility yields transcendence. Yamada’s advice to beginners simply is: pick a bright and calm environment and sit down in the lotus posture. Do this as often and committedly as possible and the inner fog clouding our view from our inner self will slowly clear. This practice might even become an inspiration for others, teaching them to stop getting in lines that we don’t really belong in.

Source: http://onedropzen.org/uploads/Yamada_Mumon_Roshi.pdf


About Interact China

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters, and tailors, along with 12 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speaks English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team! 
If you have the passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

The Common Heritage Between the 5 Major Tai Chi Styles

Written by Joshua Joshua@InteractChina.com

Chen

The originator of Tai Chi (Pinyin Taijiquan), according to legend, is Zhang Sanfeng of the Wudang mountains. When witnessing the fight between a snake and a crane, he is said to have found the inspiration to create what has come to be called Tai Chi. Historically, however, the origin of Tai Chi can only be traced back to the Chen-Family about 300 years ago. The Chen Style was founded about 300 years ago by Cheng Wangting in Chenjiagou. The other four major styles of Tai Chi are Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu, and Sun. They are all related and often influenced by each other.

Zhang Sanfeng witnesses the fight between a snake and a crane

Yang

For a long time, Tai Chi was rarely taught outside the Chen family. Yang Luchan, the founder of Yang Style Tai Chi, was one of the early exceptions. He learned from Chen Changxing, of the 6th generation in his family, the Chen Style. Yang achieved great skills and came to develop his own style. Whereas Chen Style combines fast and slow movements and incorporates jumping and stomping techniques to a greater extent, Yang Luchan’s style was slower, more even and flowing.

Wu/Hao

The Wu/Hao Style, also called the first Wu Style, has been shaped by both Yang as well as Chen Style. The founder Wu Yuxiang learned from Yang Banhou (the 2nd generation Yang) and Yang Luchan, and then he learned from Chen Qingping (the 7th generation Chen). It is said, Yang Luchan introduced Wu Yuxiang to the Chen family. The movements of the Wu/Hao style may be characterized as slow, flowing, and small, with a narrow stance and tall body posture.

Wu

The second Wu Style, which is simply called Wu Style, was jointly founded by Wu Quanyou and his son Wu Jianquan. Wu Quanyou learned from Yang Banhou. Wu Jianquan, in turn, learned from his own father. A striking feature of this style is the sideward-leaning body posture. While raising the upper body is considered crucial in Tai Chi, the Wu Style internalizes this principle. In practice, this means they are still raising upwards, even though their body is leaning to the side.

Sun

The Sun Style connects Wu/Hao Style Tai Chi, Xingyiquan, and Baguazhang. Tai Chi, Xingyiquan, and Baguazhang are known to be the three most influential internal martial arts. The founder of Sun Style is Sun Lutang. He first learned Xingyiquan and Baguazhang and then moved on to study Wu/Hao Style Tai Chi under Hao Weijian (3rd generation of Wu/Hao). The Sun Style is similar to the Wu/Hao Style, employing a narrower stance and a taller body posture. It prioritizes gentleness and steadiness, consciously avoiding any surplus muscular tension.


About Interact China

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters, and tailors, along with 12 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speaks English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team! 
If you have the passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Sparring in Tai Chi – Tuishou and Sanshou

By Joshua Joshua@InteractChina.com

Is Tai Chi really a martial art? Does what you learn really enable you to defend yourself? The short answer is yes, Tai Chi is a martial art. Progress in Tai Chi brings you crucial skills for self-defense.

While Yang Chengfu more than a hundred years ago was teaching this martial art to selected soldiers of the imperial palace in Beijing, Tai Chi nowadays has been opened to the masses. As Tai Chi was introduced to a society that has little need for martial skills, it’s immensely positive influence on physical and mental health has certainly become a compelling factor leading to its popularization. But health is not the only reason to be fascinated with Tai Chi.

One Turns into Two

When practicing Tai Chi, fighting is often the last thing we draw into consideration. However, one who truly wants to explore the deeper sides of Tai Chi will need to develop an understanding of its martial meaning and capacities, for which one will need a partner to practice with. Training alone and with a partner are two complementary units like Yin and Yang.

Establishing a strong basis is the first thing to do: the body needs to get used to ideas like opening the joints and the Tai Chi specific term relaxation. Having completed this initial stage, you are ready to start learning Tuishou.

Tuishou

Tuishou means pushing hands and upon learning it, it might very well be the first time a student is challenged to accommodate not just him or herself, but also a partner, to find a harmonious and meaningful exchange. As Tuishou is only one method of practice, with its own set of rules, one of the prerequisites is to not punch or kick. Its physical aspect is limited to pushing and yielding. For Tuishou, you first learn the upper body and then the lower body. For training the arms, each partner raises one arm, using the wrist as a contact point. The arms start circling: first simple circles, then more complicated circles. Each partner will add in his or her second hand and start adding more different contact points. Contact at first is only the wrist-palm area and then later moves towards the elbows, shoulders and even the entire upper body. First without any footwork, then in a fixed stance moving the weight forward and backward. Only after becoming comfortable with the preceding stages may one move on to moving steps. The practice of circles is eventually extended into the practice of applications: such as pushing, rolling back, warding off, etc.

Preceding in this order, with relentless practice you will slowly develop your skills. Alongside Tuishou you will also start learning Fajin-exercises, which cover striking, pushing, and kicking techniques. When the body and mind can transition smoothly to meet all situations, without being hindered by the necessity to think, then once again the challenge can become more complicated. This is when you start learning Sanshou, which means free hands, a term for free fighting and sparring.

Sanshou

If the student is not advanced enough to learn Sanshou, then he or she will not be able to profit much from the practice. He will become tense, his Qi moving upwards and his body becoming unrooted. He will try to use muscular force to overcome his partner and defend himself. This wrong use of force needs to be avoided, as within the Tai Chi philosophy it is seen as something weak, that can easily be abused by one’s opponent.

At its pinnacle, Sanshou may include every little thing one has learned throughout his/her entire practice. The amount of discipline required to study Tai Chi to such completion is immense and that is exactly why in the hands of most people, Tai Chi will be a health program, rather than a martial art. However, if practiced as a martial art, there are no limitations. One can grow beyond his or her own style, and even grow to be able to meet, study, and spar with masters from other martial arts like Shaolin or Karate. What one intends to do with such a skill, in the end, is up to the individual.

Check out this video to see Sanshou choreography from a competition in 1980:


About Interact China

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters, and tailors, along with 12 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speaks English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team! 
If you have the passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!