Friday, January 29, 2016

Tolstoy, Kutuzov, Sanders, and the Dao

I've been reading Tolstoy's War and Peace again. I've done this so many times that I've lost track. It must be something like a dozen times by now. I do this because it is something like a sacred text to me---every time I read it I find something new to think about. And, I find more depth to the wisdom of Tolstoy.

This time around I have been struck by Tolstoy's description of the Russian army and it's leader Kutuzov.   What I have finally become aware of is the contrast between the Marshall and the staff officers that surround him. Bye-and-large, these staff officers are of two types. Some are idealists who have grand theories about how the war should be fought. The others are careerists who are
General Kutuzov
moving heaven-and-earth to gain wealth and influence through politics. Kutuzov understands that most of these people mean well, but ultimately their value is pretty much zero. They are like flies that buzz around him and cannot be avoided.

The point that Tolstoy makes is that our understanding of warfare is fatally flawed. We tend to think of it like a game of chess that is played by "master strategists". But if it is like chess, it is a strange game where each piece has a mind of its own, there are severe time constraints, and, you cannot see the entire board. The only real power that even the most intelligent Field Marshall has is to not make catastrophically stupid mistakes. Beyond that, they are totally victims of circumstance. Any "genius" that they may manifest only appears so after a victory. The same decisions could also have resulted in defeat---and in that case would have been seen as mere folly.

What mattered far more was the will of ordinary soldiers to fight to their last drop of blood to destroy the invaders. Even more, the same could be said for all the members of Russian society. Greedy store owners gave away their stock to retreating Russian soldiers and told them to burn what was left rather than sell it to the French invaders. Wealthy aristocrats gave enormously of their personal wealth to raise new regiments of soldiers for the army and militia. Instead of selling fodder and food to French soldiers, the peasants hunted them down and killed them every chance they could. The Czar said he would retreat to Siberia and grow his own potatoes rather than sign any sort of peace treaty with Napoleon. Once a society decides that it will not capitulate, any invader is doomed.

Napoleon's soldiers, on their part, were horrified by this way of fighting a war. They were used to fighting a hard battle, doing a bit of looting, then settling down to a comfortable occupation after the peace had been signed---like had happened everywhere else in Europe (except, of course, Spain and Portugal.) When they realized the tar baby that they were stuck to, they ran as fast as they could back to Europe. Indeed, Tolstoy says that contrary to the popular opinion that winter killed off the Grand Army of Napoleon, most of the soldiers died of exhaustion because their officers couldn't get them to slow down their rate of retreat. Instead, they ran so fast that they couldn't properly forage for supplies, worked their horses to death, left hordes of stragglers, and destroyed the health of all but the strongest individual soldiers.

What is important for Tolstoy is to remember that we are all part of a grand historical process, one that manifests itself in spite of all our pet theories and careful schemes. IMHO, Tolstoy's vision of history is Daoist. The Dao manifests itself and there is nothing any individual can do other than agree to its dictates.


I see a parallel between Napoleon's invasion of Russia and our present political situation. Looking at the current American election I am struck by the huge number of "experts" who are offering many different opinions. They are like the staff officers buzzing around Kutuzov. They are either idealists with some grand idea about how the election can be won and the country revitalized. Or, they are opportunists who are trying to make money through consulting fees charged to either a candidate or a major news outlet.

The thing that they don't understand is that politics is also like that strange chess board that Tolstoy describes. Each individual in a political party has a mind of his own.  A low level worker can write something dumb in a leaflet. A candidate can get caught having sex with someone they shouldn't have. Some event in world news can overshadow a well-calibrated media event. All a political leader can do, ultimately, is try to avoid making a catastrophically stupid mistake.

I was involved in politics for years And I was often frustrated by two things.

First, I could never impress upon people that getting elected to office is primarily an issue of luck. Instead, people invariably believed that if they just worked a little harder and were a little more careful and "smart" that they would be able to get the job done. As a result, every election campaign routinely "burnt out" hordes of idealistic people who were told that if they totally killed themselves working that they would win. Of course, they lost and at that point they decided that it was too much work to be in politics and drifted away. If the party had told them the truth, they might have paced themselves a bit more, had some fun, and decided that politics was something that they should make a regular part of their life.

The second point I want to make is that people who feel that they have control over the world around them tend to become obsessed with avoiding mistakes. The problem with this was that it meant that party volunteers had all their freedom to be creative and expressive taken away.  Door knockers were told to not answer questions but stick to talking points. Politicians were schooled to avoid getting caught in a "gotcha", so they tend to become "mush mouths" incapable of answering simple questions. Any printed material became numbingly conventional advertising copy.

Both of these problems are unnecessary---because getting elected has a great deal to do with luck. They are also counter-productive because they push politicians and political parties into a mushy orthodoxy that is usually incapable of dealing with substantive problems or exciting voters.


Having written the above, I would also argue that once in a while a problem becomes so large that society "rears up" and collectively finds a solution. In the case of Napoleon, it was the sort of people's war that occurred in Russia. This isn't to say that it was inevitable that the Grand Army of Europe would be destroyed. The Czar could have signed a treaty. But probably if that had happened, there
An American Kutuzov?
would have still been popular uprisings and guerrilla warfare like that which was happening in Spain at the same time. Germany was also ripe for uprisings.

In Canada the neo-Liberal consensus under the Conservatives was overturned by the Liberals under Justin Trudeau. In England, the "new-Labour" created by Tony Blair was crushed by Jeremy Corbyn.  In the USA, it might just be that the political equivalent of General Kutuzov is Bernie Saunders.

This isn't to say that I believe Saunders is going to win the nomination---but he just might. It also isn't to say that I believe that he is some sort of political genius. What I do think, however, is that he is "genuine" or "real" in a way that most politicians do not allow themselves to be. This is an important point. It isn't that this is a quality that makes one successful in politics. But sometimes it is essential. And this is one of those times.

Tolstoy describes Kutuzov's behaviour at the battle of Borodino
By long years of military experience he knew, and with the wisdom of age understood, that it is impossible for one man to direct hundreds of thousands of others struggling with death, and he knew that the result of a battle is decided not by the orders of a commander-in-chief, nor the place where the troops are stationed, nor by the number of cannon or of slaughtered men, but by that intangible force called the spirit of the army, and he watched this force and guided it in as far as that was in his power. (Chapter  35)
I think that Bernie understands politics in the same way that General Kutuzov understood warfare. It isn't something that involves clever tactics or brilliant strategy. Instead, it is about understanding the times we live in and the spirit of an entire people. I don't believe he decided to run for the presidency because he thought he would "win", but rather because he felt it was the right thing to do. He doesn't calculate what the consequences of a specific word or action will be and as a result he acts in a genuine way that inspires people. He is who he is and he doesn't really care if people know it. He has shown that time and again in the primaries.

Is this because he is an especially brilliant or good man? No. I think he is both good and smart. But more importantly, I think that he is old and wise. I think some things are just invisible to people when they are still filled with youthful vitality. When you get old, however, and you start being thankful for the odd day when you really feel energetic, you begin to observe life a little more objectively and see settled patterns to the way things operate. Tolstoy mentions this in his novel by showing how old and tired Kutuzov is.

I mentioned that I have read War and Peace many times and each time I do so I see something new. When I was young and vigorous I would never have noticed Tolstoy's point about the way cleverness and activity can be overcome by authenticity and patience---the way Napoleon was beaten by Kutuzov. But when I am tired and can do nothing more than observe the world around me, I can look back on my past political activities. This gives me the distance to integrate my lifetime of experience and see things that I believe are invisible to others. This doesn't mean that I don't believe that young people should still be clever and hard-working. That is what we all should do when young. (Kutuzov was very energetic in his youth.) But our leaders need to be more than that. America needs a wise, authentic person right now.  It might have finally found one.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Ugly Canadian

I just got back from my annual Yule visit to St. Louis, where I visit with my dear, sweet, beloved Significant Other, Misha.


I often find myself going through periods of intense thought about a specific issue over a period of time. When this happens, the key point seem to be reflected in many of the events and discussions I live through. In this trip, these thoughts have even invaded my dreams. In this particular case, I've been intensely focused on my relationship to the "Other".  By the "Other", I mean to say the fact that each and every person I meet is profoundly different from me and sees the world very differently.

One of the events that caught my eye about this was a "long read" opinion piece that I read in bed one lazy morning off my smart phone. Titled "The White Man Pathology: Inside the Fandom of Sanders and Trump", I started off thinking that the essay was interesting and insightful, but ended up thinking it was silly and facile. Written by a Canadian from Toronto, it describes his travel from groovy, multicultural Toronto, to the blighted, racist hinterland of Iowa where he interacted with racist rednecks in a bar and goofy conservatives and liberals at campaign rallies. 

What set my teeth on edge was the fact that I found in the piece some very unsettling resonances with the way I see the USA. Primarily, my experience in the 'states is to see what seems to be to me a profoundly racist society that treats working class people of all races very badly, and, which seems to consist of nothing except crumbling inner cities surrounded by obscenely car-dependent suburbs---which are designed to separate the upper classes from having to have anything at all to do with the rest of the population. This sets my teeth on edge and I find myself routinely contrasting this state of affairs with my hip, environmentally-friendly, "walkable" downtown community in Guelph, Ontario.

I don't keep this to myself, and I have developed a tendency to make pompous, self-righteous comments about the difference between my country and the USA. I say my country is better---which is bad enough---but I also tend to suggest that the reason why it is better is because it's people are more socially and politically engaged. I opine, for example, that Canadians fought to preserve their unions instead of sitting idly by and letting them be dismantled. I have also said that people have to sometimes beat up scabs and sabotage workplaces in order to keep their union rights, which horrifies my American friends who think that any sort of violence is abhorrent. 


When I go through one of these "awakening" moments in my life, I find my consciousness sometimes splitting into different parts. That is, I find myself manifesting a specific type of behaviour, but at the same time a part of my consciousness is passively watching the train wreck while it happens. This recently happened at a dinner party where I got into a discussion with a friend who had significantly different opinions about politics. We were talking about "anarchism" and "democracy", and he took the tack of saying that the only thing we could talk about were his strict definitions of these terms. Since "anarchism" is defined on-line as "belief in the abolition of all government and the organization of society on a voluntary, cooperative basis without recourse to force or compulsion", he decided that there really was no such thing as what people call "anarchism". Instead, what they are talking about is just various different types of democratic societies or hopelessly utopian ideas that just degenerate into dictatorships or authoritarian regimes of one form or another. As for "democracy", since it is defined as "majority rule", it is very simple to understand and not really worth discussing either.

For me this was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. You see, I've put a lot of my life into thinking about, creating, and lobbying for both grassroots (ie. somewhat anarchist in nature) organizations and democratic decision-making systems. My finger-prints are on the decision-making system of both the Green Party of Canada and Ontario. So what I wanted to do was get this fellow to admit that there are different types of democracies and anarchisms---which are all approximations of an ideal.  Yet he was adamant in refusing to budge from a strict dictionary definition of each term, which meant that there really was no such thing in the world at all. Indeed, when I asked him what the USA is, if not a democracy, he said it was instead a "republic".

(Since the Google definition of "republic" is "a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch", I suppose I could have turned tables on him and said "how can you say that the supreme power is held by "the people" and not the elites. But that is a game that I didn't want to play.)

I could see that my dear sweet wife and one of her friends were appalled by the way this was spinning away from polite small talk into obnoxious argument, but I was helpless to stop myself from getting all pissy about it. After people left (on good terms I hope), Misha and I had a significant conversation about what had happened.


Misha tells me that like many big white men, I am oblivious to the privileges that I have had in life. Thinking about this exchange, I suspect that one of them is the feeling that I have a "right" to my own opinions and the ability to express them whenever I please. Women generally do not labour under this illusion because they have tended to be tasked with "social production" in our society. That is to say, that women tend to be the people who are responsible for holding families and communities together. They do this by smoothing ruffled feathers and performing the rituals (like the dinner party I mention above) that hold friends and communities together. I admit it too, that I went to her to discuss what had happened and she helped me work through the issues at hand. (Even though, I suspect that at least some of the time when she does this she'd rather use the time to do something else---even if only have some "alone" time to relax.)

One thing she says to me is "try to understand your audience". This is a very new and scary idea for me, as I have been trained to only focus on the ideas. In its bluntest terms, this means that if I think that I can show 1 +1 = 2, I should be appalled when someone says it equals 5. What Misha is saying, is that I should be willing to accept that for some people all they see is 5, and I should be trying to figure out why they see 5 instead of 2. This is not how people at university philosophy departments are trained to think, if only because it is difficult enough to figure out what 1 + 1 equals without having to find out why some people see 5.

And yet, she is obviously right.

There is no sense at all opening your mouth if you are not interested in having another person understand what you are saying. This is an important issue. The Dao De Jing says
When a superior person hears Tao,
He diligently practices it.
When a middling person hears Tao,
He hears it, he doesn't hear it.
When the inferior person hears Tao, he roars.
If Tao were not laughed at,
It would not be Tao.
Therefore, established sayings have it this way:
"The illuminating Tao appears dark,
The advancing Tao appears retreating,
The level Tao appears knotty.
High te appears like a valley,
Great whiteness appears spotted,
Expansive te appears insufficient,
Well-established te appears weak,
The genuine in substance appears hollow.
Great square has no corners,
Great vessel is late in completion,
Great voice has hardly any sound,
Great image is formless,
Tao is hidden and without name."
Yet it is Tao  alone,
That is good in lending help and fulfilling all.  
(Chapter 41, Ellen Chen trans.) 

Looking at this chapter, what I see is that there second stanza says that it is hard to see the truth (ie: Dao) because it often isn't what you think it will be. I think that if I were just seeing the surface of this issue, I'd leave it at that and say that my friend (and he is a friend) was misunderstanding the Dao.

But don't stop there. Consider the following third stanza too. There is De, but there is also high De. It is true that there are facts---1 +1 = 2. But high De consists in understanding that everything we say and do is an approximation. It is a simplification of complex terms and contexts. 1(x-y) + 1(z/q), so it may be true that in most cases, or at least most of the cases that I have experienced, the answer is 2. But in some people's lives, the answer really does appear to be 5 and it would be dishonest to simply accept that it is 2. And just because someone cannot articulate their reasoning doesn't mean that they don't honestly believe it. (False acceptance is no acceptance at all.)

Is a discussion supposed to be a pissing match where people try to brow beat the other into shutting up? Or is it an attempt to really understand the other guy?

I think that it is possible to understand the fourth stanza as referring to this idea. There is a small petty truth. 1 + 1 = 2. But the Great square/vessel/voice/image is not concerned about just one thing. It is also involved in the personal complexities of the people in front of you. It also concerns itself with the context. Is a dinner party a philosophy seminar? Is Canada the same as the USA?  Am I the same person as the fellow I was arguing with? We all bring different things from to the table. But the point is that we are at a table. We are attempting to be friends and negotiate the delusional world that we inhabit.

That's what the last stanza is all about:  "---it is Tao alone, That is good in lending help and fulfilling all."


Remember to embrace the Void. I forgot to do so on my trip to St. Louis. I hope that I will do a better job in the future. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

How Much Practice is Kung Fu?

In the Netflix series "Marco Polo" there is a scene where the blind Daoshi "Hundred Eyes" explains kungfu to the series namesake. It is interesting in that it is one of the few depictions of a Daoshi that I have ever seen in the movies, but also because he explains a much more sophisticated description of the Daoist principle of kungfu than I have seen anywhere else.

I will warn readers, however, that I think that Hundred Eyes isn't entirely right. He talks about "supreme skill from hard work" and "practice, preparation, endless repetition, until your mind is weary and your bones ache---until you are too tired to sweat, too wasted to breathe", "that is the Way, the only way, one acquires kungfu". This description is very common, but I would take issue with it, because I am of the opinion that the kungfu comes from effort and sometimes extreme physical effort is a strategy for avoiding the much more important mental effort that is really key to kungfu.


Many years ago I recall coming across a quote from the taijiquan master Cheng Man-ch'ing where he said that he didn't believe in a lot of practice. He was happy to only put in about 20 minutes a day.
Cheng Man-ch'ing
This is absolute, total heresy in most martial arts circles. but I think that there is a grain of truth in it that bears emphasis.

The first thing to understand that Man-ch'ing is a bit of an odd duck in martial arts circles. He was a polymath who was considered a master in poetry, painting, calligraphy, and Chinese medicine---as well at taijiquan. This is a very high order of kungfu indeed. If his mastery was the result of the "endless repitition" and work until he forgot to sweat or breathe, he probably wouldn't have had the time to become a Master at five different arts.

How can someone be both a polymath and a master?


Of course, part of the answer comes down to how you define "master". I know that a lot of folks have an exalted vision of the wise master who can make mountains tremble with the glance of his eye. But IMHO, that is a silly trope that comes from watching too many silly movies like "Star Wars". A better definition would be to say that a "master" is someone who has assimilated a certain type of knowledge to the point where they able to have real ability in its application plus insight into it's theoretical aspects, which she can then pass on to future generations. The insight is important, as for example in the difference between a "journeyman" craftsman versus a "master".

A problem comes from the fact that there is rarely a totally unambiguous certificate of "mastery" that allows one to be universally recognized in your field. My Master's degree from the University of Guelph is considered sufficient qualifications to teach at a university level almost everywhere in the world, for example. But were the standards at the school to decline sufficiently, the degrees awarded would decline in value. And because of the glut of university Doctorates on the market, in actual fact there are no universities that I know of that would hire a Master to teach.

When you get into something that isn't as closely regulated as Canadian universities, things get much more ambiguous. In martial arts and spiritual traditions, a "master" is pretty much someone that other people choose to call a "master". Personally, I'd like to get rid of the term altogether and just use "teacher". But that isn't a discussion I want to spend much time on here. For the sake of this post, I am content to restrict the term to simply "someone who attained a certain level of proficiency in a discipline".

With that in mind, the question is "how can you develop a kungfu in five subjects at the same time if the only way to get kungfu is through brutal, hard, long-term, training?"


To answer, let me me draw reader's attention to an interesting article I came across---"Why Skills Plateau"---by way of a medical blog I follow, the "Incidental Economist".  The article is about doctors and other medical professionals, but it starts with a survey of the literature on learning, which piqued my interest enough that I chased down the original article it was based one, "The Traditional View of Skill Acquisition and Professional Development: History and Some Recent Criticisms", by  K. Anders Ericsson. (It's behind a paywall, so unless you have access to a major academic library---as I do---it will be a pain to get a copy to read. The "Incidental Economist" does a pretty good job summarizing the important points.)

The key points that I saw in this paper are as follows:

  1. Learning suffers from a plateau effect where people learn very quickly up to a certain skill level. At that point, they cease to give their practice their total, undivided attention and then start performing the task "robotically". At this point skill acquisition ceases.
  2. Individuals who go on to become "experts" in their field find some way to avoid this plateauing effect. These strategies are what separate "masters" from other practitioners. 
  3. These strategies boil down to avoiding the transition from conscious learning to robotic behaviour. They included: creating a specific feedback system to be able to accurately measure improvement, creating theoretical strategies for constant improvement, acquiring mental short cuts that allow one to accurately predict behaviour instead of just reacting, and, adapting your practice habits to make maximum use of limited mental and physical abilities.

Let's look at these three issues from the point of view of a taijiquan student.

The first part of training is learning how to do the slow form, which is where the vast majority of people end their practice. It is very difficult to learn the gross movements and remember their order. This requires a level of concentration and practice that the vast majority of people decide is beyond their interest, so they quit. The vast majority of people who do learn the form usually stop trying to learn much more and are satisfied to practice the set sporatically and robotically like a form of exercise---like doing sit-ups and push-ups. These people never become "Yang the unbeatable".

There is a tiny subsection of students, however, who stick with the practice because they find themselves with significant health problems and taijiquan turns out to be a very useful way of dealing with them. This is so common that the school I trained in had a saying "only sick people stick with taiji". Our leader, Moy Lin Shin, the story went, was deathly ill as a child and his parents were told that his only hope of survival was to be taken in by a group of Daoshis. Cheng Man-ch'ing was very sick with what might have been tuberculousis. I had migraine headaches that only went away with taijiquan and come back if I go too long without practice.  People who have illnesses that have been cured by taijiquan have a very strong inducement to stick with the practice that ordinary citizens do not.

There is a second element to sickness. If you have taijiquan and you use it to cure yourself of an illness, I would suggest that you also have a specific type of personality. I routinely try to "fix" health problems through behavioural change, with some very good results. For example, I had a period where I suffered from very bad knee pain and after experimentation found out that hamstring stretches pretty much eliminated them over night. Similarly, I found that my shoulder pain could be dealt with by switching to a split keyboard and ergonomic mouse on my computer plus some chest stretching exercises added to my workout routine. My observation of other people tells me that the overwhelming majority of people would not only never have the discipline to do such things, they lack the intellectual curiosity to investigate problems, or, even the belief that it is possible to do such things. I suspect that Moy and Cheng also had this "scientific" attitude towards their personal health issues. (Indeed, I see that attitude as being intrinsic to both "kung fu" and "Daoism" in general.)

In terms of the article by Ericsson, I would say that the people who are sick and have the attitude of trying to fix their illness through thoughtful physical experimentation are people who have two different parts of the items in the third part of my synopsis:   "creating a specific feedback system to be able to accurately measure improvement", and, "creating theoretical strategies for constant improvement". The feedback are the health benefits. (I can certainly say that getting rid of migraine headaches is a tremendous inducement to further practice!) The theoretical strategy for constant improvement, is the idea of experimentation to find ways of improving your health. A third element that will flow out of trying to find ways to fix ailments, is the generalized idea that I tell all the people I have tried to teach taijiquan---that you have to dissect your body with your consciousness and feel what is happening within it as you do the set.


One thing that caused me problems when I practiced taijiquan occurred when I went to classes and tried to keep up with other students. The teachers would often have long, long marathon training sessions where we were supposed to do set after set after set, or do warm up exercises for long periods of time. I would usually be on the verge of mental collapse very early on in these sessions and as a result felt that the taiji I was doing was absolute crap. No one else felt this way, so I assumed that I was just horribly out of shape or something. It wasn't that I couldn't keep up with others. I'm actually in excellent shape for a man my age with significant wind for hard labour. The problem was extreme mental fatique.

I used to have the same problem at university where I seemed to see huge numbers of complexities around subjects that all the other students were oblivious to. One horrific exam in a classical text course so freaked me out with the general nature of the question led to me submitting a final exam written in symbolic logic because it was the only way I could compress my answer into a form that was less than a ten thousand page essay.

I mention this because one thing that jumped out in the essay on expert learning was the idea that in some types of learning people should only practice for a period of time that is not mentally tiring.  I summarized this point above by saying "adapting your practice habits to make maximum use of limited mental and physical abilities". This is because once one becomes tired, it is no longer possible to give a sufficient level of concentration to the subject. At this time a student begins to practice robotically, and opportunities for real learning cease. This is where I take issue with the definition of kungfu that Hundred Eyes uses in "Marco Polo". If you are going to practice to the point where you "forget to breath and sweat", odds are that your ability to concentrate on what you are trying to learn are long gone and in actual fact you are just going through the motions.


One last thing that I wanted to bring from Ericsson's paper involves pattern recognition (" acquiring mental short cuts that allow one to accurately predict behaviour instead of just reacting".) He discusses chess mastery and how people acquire it. People who start off learning chess usually get to a point where they try to "work through" all the different implications of a specific move. Given the way the human brain works, this only works up to a point. To really get good at chess, a person needs
A Knight Fork
to think in generalized terms. On the most basic beginner level, for example, this involves looking for things like "forks". These are situations where a piece can threaten more than one piece at a time. This means that the opposing player loses a piece because he will only be able to protect one piece at a time when his turn comes around.

In the figure I've supplied, once the knight moves to the green square he threatens the king. This means that black king will have to move, which will allow the knight to take  the queen without loss---a significant gain.

Chess masters spend several hours every day analyzing games by other masters and in the process begin to recognize patterns in play that are beyond non-masters' ability to understand. In the process, they also gain the ability to "see" games mentally in a way that is beyond ordinary people's ability. If I read the paper correctly (please correct me in the comments section if I am wrong) the ability to play many games at a time or to play blindfolded is not a specific skill that some masters can do, it is a by-product of the process involved in becoming a master in the first place. These two skills seem exceptional to non-masters because their minds do not approach playing chess the same way that masters do.

I mention this because many folks have the assumption that a taiji master is able to neutralize attacks because he is faster than any other attacker. I once saw a video of a capoeira master who was playing a training game with his students. It involved a small purse of money being placed in a way that the two people sparring had to grab it while keeping their opponent from doing it first. This guy always got the purse, even though he was old and looked quite frail. He did it by being able to strategically block his opponent even though both of them were in constant motion. (I tried to find it on YouTube, but unfortunately I couldn't.)

Another example of this comes from hockey. Wayne Gretzky is famous for saying that a good player goes where the puck is, a great player goes where it's going to be.  It isn't about how fast you skate, it's about where you skate towards.

In my own case, I can remember an example from having to arrest someone at work. Since I am not a police officer, my legal options are very limited. I did three things. I saw this guy pan-handling. (Which I usually don't mind much and just tell the person to leave. But in this case he was very aggressive and a female student told me she felt very threatened.) So I told him that he had to come down to the entrance with me and talk to the police. At that point, he bolted and ran for the entrance. (If he was arrested by the police, he would get a warning plus banishment from the building. That means if he gets caught again, he would get charged with trespassing---which involves a fine and possible jail sentence. But if he could get out of the building without meeting the police, he would be free to come back another day without any risk.)

When he bolted for the door, I ran after him and yelled loudly at the person manning the desk to call the police. This meant that everyone who was present realized that something was going on, and I quickly had 100 witnesses to whatever transpired. This effectively tied the hands of the person. (This fellow was a "jail bird" and knows what his rights are better than a lawyer.) If he hit me in front of witnesses, he would be in big trouble. If he said I hit him, I had witnesses to counter act his story. I cannot grab or hit anyone I arrest, so I just made sure that I stood in front of the guy and blocked his exit. He tried to get up close to me, which is dangerous, because that would allow him to "sucker punch" me. So I held my arm outstretched at full length and used just two fingers to keep him at arm's length. This allowed me to say that I didn't grab him, while protecting me from him hitting me.

He was stymied, looked around at all the witnesses, and ended up staying put until the police arrived. There was no sort of "force" or crazy "Buddha Palm" powers involved, but I used the patterns of the event to maneuver him into a place where he was neutralized. I am not a master of taijiquan, but I have done enough push hands to instinctively understand the dynamics of distance and the importance of never "leaving the front door open". IMHO, this is a tiny bit of what it means to be a taijiquan "master". And it isn't fantastic powers, but rather more like "skating where the puck will be" instead of just chasing it.

This pattern recognition is something that comes from repetition, so Hundred Eyes is right about the need to do hard work. But it is also comes from concentrated thinking about issues (what the chess master does), so endless hours of robot forms practice is probably not going to help. Push hands and open sparring are probably very useful. But I also suspect that doing the form using intense concentration thinking about how to use the moves in actual situations is very important too. And you cannot do that for more than short periods of time (less than an hour) without suffering too much mental fatigue and becoming robotic.


All of this comes back to how someone, like Cheng Man-ch'ing, can be both a polymath and a master. I would suggest that if a person develops a Dao of learning that allows them to focus deeply and efficiently on the key elements of learning identified in Ericsson's article, that they would be able to apply this to whatever interests they pursue. So, in effect, one's kung fu bleeds across your spectrum of activities. Moreover, I would suggest that the everyday type of meditation that the Celestial Master recommends---"holding onto the One"---helps one learn to focus that undivided attention that is necessary to learn complex skills and extend the learning process beyond the point where the natural tendency is to plateau and become robotic. In effect, I am suggesting that it is possible to learn a "kung fu of kung fu". Once someone has achieved this skill, then everything else would become that much easier to learn.