Chapter 2


Strider (Dragon Painting II)

Strider (Dragon Painting II)

9 [7.] ‘Strider’ (Dragon Painting II)

Oil on Canvas 5′ x 4′ 1974

The ‘dragon’ theme in these works is a reference to nature and our metaphysical, technological relationships with nature. St. George (Gk.)of dragon slaying fame is anthropologically the agriculturist or farmer who tamed nature by developing agriculture. He/She represents a major technological step in the human project. My interest in George, from the other end of a spectrum, is our understanding of our own powers and purpose in relationship to our natural and spiritual origin.

The title, “Strider”, is from the ‘motion’ of this nature painting that reminds me of the movement of a Water Strider, the long-legged, lightweight insect that flickers across woodland ponds and streams. Yet, as well, the painting still suggests a more cosmic ambiance.


In which:

-An approach to formal martial arts training is described and distinguished from the experience of the main character.

-Favor is shown to stillness, voidness, emptiness.


Later, I was introduced to the esoteric practice of Chinese Martial Arts. In particular, Bishop, I am about to champion the case of Chinese Internal Martial Arts in its relationship with Christianity, Buddhism, and Vedanta. My principal spiritual exercise is arduous pilgrimage with devotional intent.  “The Way of the Pilgrim” and “The Pilgrim Continues His Way” are two books that describe one form of Christian pilgrimage.  But for now.  Let me compare and contrast.  Unlike other forms of martial arts, the “internal” forms require setting aside one’s egotism. In order for the internal forms to have their greatest effect, they must deliver Chi with defensive to damaging or lethal impact. Ego can inhibit the flow of the Chi. That kind of challenge helps to prevent sloppy idealism, since distraction subjects one to physical violence. (Boxer Rebellion fighters deluded themselves to think that their esoteric “Iron Shirt” practice would shield them from Western bullets. A few were able, but not enough–many were great warriors though and dedicated ascetics.) The Chi must flow through the warrior like water through a turbine. The Chi is the vital energy of existence. It is not the same as the Spirit, but it is directly related to the Spirit’s creative involvement in the world. Egotism inhibits, mutates, can turn “cancerous” the flow of the Chi and the Spirit. One must overcome ego or suffer disastrous result.

One must be “empty,” kenosis in Christian circles or Sunyata in Sanskrit, Wu Chi in the Tai Chi form. “Seek stillness (emptiness) in movement. Practitioners of external systems consider leaping and crouching to be a skill. They exhaust their ch’i…. Tai Chi uses stillness to counter movement. Even when we are moving we remain still.”1

Some might complain about the violence of martial arts in general. One might also pause to consider issues such as latent or obvious chauvinism and problematic macho posturing. But I think that the ideal of the internal martial artist is honest about the violence that is involved in living in this world. Rather than repressing violence, aggression, and fear, he/she faces the problem squarely and with the nuance of ancient wisdoms, then moves beyond.2 That this is a violent world, a “vale of tears”, seems evident. We must eat other living things to survive, to start with. And though our own communities here might be more or less peaceful, they are so because of a worldwide system of political, military, covert and overt coercion. Even in our own church, there are many famous examples of political and spiritual violence that we need not detail here. Institutions can only model themselves on natural systems that are themselves cannibalistic… if we truly are one body.

Anyway, the real issue is that internal martial arts at their best, face this frightening reality in a remarkable way.

Here is a scenario from popular martial arts literature, followed by some basic instruction about one form of internal martial arts:

As Lee feared, three men awaited them. Saihung scanned their bodies by reflex. There was one large fat one, with greasy hair. The one standing in the middle was tall, heavily muscled across the chest and shoulders. The third was lankier, but had the cruelest face. Saihung noted their characteristics with satisfaction. The key to his way of fighting was to ascertain all his opponent’s weaknesses before words were spoken or blow exchanged.

“Hey, Chink! Brought a friend?” asked the tall one with a sardonic tilt of his head.

Saihung was quiet. He knew there was no way that Lee could understand what was being said to him. But threatening countenances were perhaps more traumatic than words.

“What’s the matter, Chink? Cat got your tongue? said the fat one.

“He doesn’t understand you, stupid,” returned the tall one. “Try ching- ching-chong-ding-dong!”

They laughed. “Come here, Chinaman!” said the tall man, grabbing Lee by the shirt. “Stop!” ordered Saihung, putting down his shopping bag. “Shut up, asshole! We’ll get you later.” Saihung liked to get close to someone when he fought. “I didn’t hear,” said Saihung, stepping right up to the man.

“Jesus Christ!” exclaimed the tall one. “This shithead doesn’t know how to mind his own business!” He let go of Lee and reached out to grab Saihung. Bringing his hand to intercept, Saihung laid his wrist on top of his opponent’s arm. One touch was all a good fighter needed to assess the strength of his adversary.

“Pretty bold, aren’t you?” shouted the man.

Saihung said nothing. He only looked steadily back. His eyes did not blink, but his face changed. A look of hunger and eagerness came over him. He was like a predator looking at a tiny victim.

“Hey, dumb shit,” continued the man threateningly, “I’m going to wipe that stupid look right off your face.”

“I don’t think so, ” replied Saihung as his eyes opened in anticipation.

The instant that he felt movement, Saihung’s forward hand struck the tall man’s abdomen with a blow so violent that it doubled him over. Saihung used the first as a shield. Dazed, the cruel man was easily maneuvered. Saihung dispatched the fat one with a rapid knee to the bladder followed by a blow to the heart. A thrill, a power surged through Saihung. There was a unique release for him when he fought. He stepped head-on as the hard-faced one charged again. Saihung blocked his blow, hit him hard in the ribs. He followed by stepping behind him and brought an elbow down. A satisfying thud smashed his opponent to the ground, but the man got up immediately.

“I’m going to kill you!” he cried.

Saihung stepped back. “Listen. I let you get up. That’s a first for me. If you come again, I’m putting you in the hospital!”

“You full of shit-motherfucker!”

He tried to ram Saihung with a head-butt. Saihung side-stepped and brought a forearm into the midsection. Elbow around the neck, Saihung threw him again onto the ice-layered cement. His kick brought the snap of cracking ribs.

The tall one grabbed a stick and brought it through the air. Saihung whirled around. He blocked the arm while it was still up and brought his knee up, stooping the man over. Two quick combinations brought a spray of teeth and blood.

He fell on Saihung, panting and heaving. By reflex, Saihung would normally have struck him ten more times before his assailant hit the pavement. Instead, he caught him involuntarily.

So adept at improvising movement, so sharp were his abilities, that his touch instantly registered numerous options for further mauling the man. He paused. The jaw, against his bicep, was slack. Blood and spit blotted through his sleeve. The head felt surprisingly heavy. If it had been China of ten years before, he would have removed this man from the world like an imperfect vase…

Saihung saw Lee to the door of his home before walking the three more blocks to his home. Though the fever to fight had worn off, he still thought about his confrontation. There was nothing heroic or principled about this type of fighting. He had not changed anyone’s mind, had not remedied anything. It had simply been a primitive assertion of will. But worse than regret for the battle, he disliked being forced to consider issues never mentioned in scripture, sermon, nor even in politics. Frankly, he had had few decisions to make on Huashan (his monastic mountain), and he liked that. The masters made all the decisions. They knew what was right and wrong. But since he had left China, he had had to make all his own decisions and make judgments with no precedence in his life.3

Of course, Bishop, this has not been my approach. And this is a popular rendition of a tradition much more vast and complicated than popularity usually allows. Such a knight “errant” is often compared to the monk and the pilgrim of medieval lore. I’ve traveled all over the world, hitch-hiking much of the way, and have never been harmed or even threatened, by people anyway. The above sequence is exactly what a real internal martial artist avoids. (It is certainly what I have avoided and I don’t think of myself as an adept!) What is involved in the training to be able to do this is what I think is important for my current presentation. I am now myself in training to acquire a deeper, practical understanding of these practices. This development will be the key to the heart and resolution of this story I am trying to tell.

How this key works is explained to some degree by this following passage from the same book as the fight sequence above.

Its full name, Baqua Zhang, meant that it was a palm system. Its exponents used only the palms to strike, seldom a closed fist. It was a more vicious pugilistic art than mere boxing, for the palm fighter achieved his effects by issuing his Qi (Chi ) at the moment of impact. In the same way that a healer sends his energy into another person for therapeutic reasons, the Bagua boxer sends his Chi to rupture organs.

But not all martial arts were practiced solely for destruction, and it was this unique dual nature that made Chinese martial arts special. Bagua had excellent results for its proponents. Since it was exercised by walking vigorously in a low squat around a circle while performing mock boxing moves with the arms, it stimulated the internal energy within everybody.

The energy could be harnessed, increased, and directed if one knew the methods. It could be used for healing, killing, or meditation–it only depended on the motivation of the practitioner. Since it moved in circles and spirals not in a linear fashion. Baqua’s circling and spinning movements stimulated the internal energy to spiral upward, nourishing the entire being.

Bagua was based on the eight trigrams of the I Ching. This classic was well known in Imperial China, and is still a popular book today. Ancient in origin, the book began its basic speculation with two simple lines, one straight, and one broken. The straight one represented yang . The broken one represented yin.

The early sages formed a rough symbolism of their basic metaphysical ideas by formulating a set of lines whereby all possible combinations of the broken and unbroken lines were ordered in groups of three. These eight combinations were given names. All straight was heaven. All broken was earth. One straight at the top was mountain. One broken at the bottom was the wind. One broken at the top was lake. One broken in the middle was fire. One straight in the middle was water. In this way, abstract symbols were correlated with the most basic natural phenomena that the sages could observe.

In order to arrange this grouping, they incorporated the directions. Fire was placed in the south, where the life-giving heat of the sun came. Water was placed in the north, where the cold north wind and the snows originated. Heaven was placed in the east, for the rising sun, and Earth was placed in the west. The other trigrams were then arranged around these to form the intermediate directions such as southwest, southeast, and so on. By doing Bagua, Saihung was performing a movement art based on these very ideas.

His raising of the internal energy was also expressed in terms of the trigrams. In this way of analyzing his inner process, he imagined heaven in his head, earth at this perineum.(Compare with Shrichakra realization mandala in conclusions, pg. 285) His heart was fire. His kidneys were water. He could easily see that the process of raising his internal energy was symbolically expressed by the broken lines of earth gradually being replaced by one straight line (water), then two straight lines higher in the body (fire), until the all-straight lines of heaven were achieved. Symbolism and actual physiological change were thus intermixed in his practices. In his mind, it was difficult to distinguish whether the practices proceeded from the speculation of symbolic calculations, or whether the trigrams were merely borrowed to express empirical discovery. His masters would not care for such a speculative question. In their minds, symbolism and reality were always interrelated because everything in the universe was a microcosm of something larger.

Saihung then practiced other martial arts that suited his mood for the day. His favorite was the Lost Track Fist, but he also reviewed his knowledge of such forms as Xing-yi, Tai Chi, and the forms based on the movements of animals in a nearly shamanistic way: Snake, Monkey, Crane, Panther, Tiger, Mantis, Eagle, Dragon, etc.4

As it was once explained to me there are three levels of attainment in martial arts. The first is Exoteric. That is, the physical development and alignments particular to your martial art form. Second, is Esoteric. This is the manipulation of the Chi , the “internal arts.” The third is Mysterious. These are those inexplicable happenings that transcend physics or Chi but seem to be built on the other two levels. Some teachers do not agree with this designation…

What is the nature of the Chi, Bishop, that this most fundamental element of creation, is neither good nor evil, can be used for either, to some degree at least? Or of Christianity in which the Christ as he is hanging on the cross, promises Paradise to the criminal dying next to him simply because this “low-life” had realized the Truth? Is such the way of the saints? Must be. But where does that leave normal, popular, moral religion? Where does that leave you, Bishop? Or me?

So what is the way out? Religions? They’ve had plenty of time to prove themselves. Science? Hardly. It can tell you how to do something, but not what to do. Technology hasn’t alleviated suffering in the world, it has amplified it.

So, “where can we go?” Martial Arts? Don’t mistake me. The human capacity for self- delusion is universal and nearly infinite. These practitioners are as virtuous or screwed up as anyone else I’ve met. But the ideal martial artist exemplifies an approach that faces the frightening reality of the world in a remarkable and precise way worthy of attention and is precisely the example I need to explain what I am trying to explain.

Such passive warriors as Jesus or Gautama by fulfilling their shamanistic roots as masters of the energies, ecstasy, life and death,5 suggested a different arsenal for fighting the unavoidable violence of creation: The Peace of Christ, the Silence of the Buddha; Stillness, then perfect, necessary action that wells up spontaneously from the “void” of the Holy. Such action might be best exemplified by the sacred drama of Holy Week or the Dharma that flows from the practice of Vedic Raj Yoga (Buddhist Meditation).