Thursday, November 26, 2009

Less Mystery, More Power: The New Nine Dragon Curriculum

Shifu Robert Castaldo tells the Jiulong Journal about recent changes to the Nine Dragon Baguazhang curriculum.

The modern “Rolling the Pearl” curriculum removes some of the mystery and the trial-and-error, to make this esoteric art more down-to-earth so students can grasp it more quickly and apply it sooner. Same ancient principles, same techniques, same power; but hey, this is the twenty-first century. We’ve learned a thing or two.


The whole purpose of changing the curriculum is to make it more easily understood by everybody ... There’s less mystery involved ... a more direct approach to our goal of being able to apply these principles in practical application.


From my standpoint, the most complicated thing for students to grasp—not merely to understand intellectually and feed back to you in a question and answer session, but to understand in their daily practice—is the way that the process builds from the simplest skill, which is the Quiet Sitting—quieting the mind—through the standing, which has very specific skill sets and engrams that it begins to develop, and how to carry those into moving. Students were not making all those connections all the way. They were looking at each of these modules, these skill-sets as separate entities. Eventually, somewhere farther down the line than we would like, the light bulb would go off, the epiphany would happen, and the pieces would come together. So, now we’re trying to make it as clear and simple and easy as possible for body and mind to come to understand how the standing translates into the walking and the walking translates into the circling.

... you have to continually look to your standing and incorporate what you learn there into everything else. That’s a key element. When you can do it in standing, take it into shifting. When you can do it shifting, take into walking. ... All the movements are merely physical shells if you don’t have that undifferentiated, whole-body feeling attached to them. So, when I wedge through you with my arm, if I have any feeling that it’s my arm pushing through you, I’m not doing it correctly. I should feel like my whole body’s moving through you. If I do it correctly, it’s effortless. If I feel stress in my deltoids or my back, I’m not doing it correctly. If I’ve engaged all the muscles of my body, if my shifting has provided power and my waist turn has transmitted up through my torso, then where my arm makes contact is irrelevant. I am just easily moving my 200 lb. mass through you, and that’s a key element for the basic program.

But there’s more! So much more. Go ahead, read the whole thing.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How To Start Training

In the wake of my article on Tibetan energy work, I have been asked how a beginner can get started with this sort of training.

Here are several things you can do:

Learn More

Visit The Gompa online.
The center of Daoqiquan training, with descriptions of the major courses of study. Also see Come To The Gompa.

Read The Jiulong Journal.
Your online portal for the martial art of Jiulong Baguazhang, also called Nine Dragon Baguazhang. Very beginner friendly, including a page on the curriculum and how to start training.

Join the Daoqiquan Yahoo Group.
Covers all aspects of the Daoqiquan system. Follow and contribute to ongoing discussions, search the archives of past discussions. Includes how-to lessons. All are welcome to join and participate.

Join the Jiulong Baguazhang Yahoo Group.
Like the Daoqiquan group, but specific to the martial art of Jiulong Baguazhang, also known as Nine Dragon Baguazhang. All are welcome to join and participate.

Buy the book Combat Baguazhang Nine Dragon System: Forms and Principles, by Dr. John Painter.
The authoritative, unabridged description of this art by its current lineage holder.

Start Quiet Sitting

To get started on your own, buy the book Combat Baguazhang Nine Dragon System: Forms and Principles mentioned above, and read pages 70–74 on Quiet Sitting practice. When you have mastered the breathing technique and posture described, join the Jiulong Baguazhang Yahoo Group and read the post called Challenge of the Nine Dragons.

If you do not own the book, you can probably find equivalent information at either of the Yahoo Groups. Unfortunately, Yahoo’s search facility is not entirely working at the moment, so you will have to hunt through the group’s archives, but full lessons on Quiet Sitting technique have been posted in the past. Once you are a member, you can even post a question asking for help locating these lessons.

Attend a Class or Workshop

If you can visit The Gompa in Arlington, TX, you will be in the heart of the Daoqiquan organization with our most experienced instructors.

For announcements of upcoming workshops at other locations in the U.S. and Canada and in London, England, join either Yahoo Group and watch for announcements.

To find a Jiulong study group near you, review the list of branch schools (see left margin). Contact a school’s leader to ask about workshops and classes.

Find Another Style in Your Area

If you cannot visit a Daoqiquan location, you can probably find other systems of internal martial arts or qigong in your area, even in the Yellow Pages. Look for the following keywords: tai chi, xing-yi, bagua, kung fu, qigong, meditation, internal power, internal martial arts, healing arts.

You will need to be clear about what you want (effective self defense? tournament sparring? relaxation and health?), and ask your prospective instructor whether he or she teaches that. It might be best to ask, “what is the goal of this class?” to get an unbiased answer, before you have said what you are looking for.

Once you start training, watch how the curriculum is presented. A solid system should include general principles that you can understand and apply in a variety of situations, rather than a grab bag of specific techniques to memorize (especially if those techniques seem to embody conflicting principles). A solid system will also pay attention to your breathing and posture. If your instructor teaches you how to sit and stand before anything else, you are definitely on the right track!

Unfortunately, it is very hard, especially for a beginner, to judge the quality of a system or teacher from the outside. There are no “industry standards,” and even words like “kung fu” or “qigong” are extremely general terms that include many, many different systems that can vary greatly. On top of that, you may not be able to clarify your goals until you have begun training and discovered what appeals to you and what doesn’t. In the end, it is simply up to you to use your own judgement and common sense.

Life is short, so if you are drawn to this sort of training, get started! Find something that looks appealing and fits your schedule. If you like it, and it improves your life, and you are not getting hurt, then ... you win!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Walloped By a Tree!!

My article has been published in Kung Fu Magazine's ezine:

“Lessons Learned From a Passing Tree: a first experience of elemental energy,” by Bernie Jackson

It recounts my experience this past June at the annual Gathering of the Circle workshop in upstate New York. While meditating in front of a tree, something really weird happened to me!