What is Kungfu?

When I say the word kungfu, most of my White friends would start inmitating Bruce Lee sounds and pretending to be a martial arts master. But the word kungfu is not directly connected to martial arts in any way, as most tend to misuse it. The word “kungfu” in Chinese simply means “time spent (practicing something)” or “a learned skill”, most of the time it is use to desribed an amount of time/effort or to compliment someone’s skill in an area.

The word “kungfu” ‘s written form is very symbolic of its meaning, the writting is comprised of two horinzontal lines and two diagnol lines coming through them. It examplies the idea that it is simple to practice something, but to master it takes years upon years of dedication and creative ingenuity. People aren’t seperated by what form or techniques they use, they are seperated by their kungfu, their time spent in one area and their skills acquired in that area.

One can have kungfu in almost anything; writing, cooking, singing, even skills like chopping vegetables can be considered kungfu. More modern activites like skating or basketball are areas as well, most of the time kungfu is used to described mastery of “physical activities” (yes writing is a physical activity, a manifestation of mental thoughts).

China’s Implicit Social-Contract: The glue that keeps things toegther

When J.J. Rousseau wrote about social contracts in his “On the Social Contract” (which I am sure most of you have read), contemporaries reacted as if he had discovered Pluto. Though explosively genius in his writings and thoughts, Rousseau had simply pointed out an occurrence so ancient and obvious, that most people today seem to have forgotten it.

China being the “special” thing that it is, has it’s own version of almost everything; Socialism (with Chinese characteristics), the Chinese Calender, the Chinese Zodiac, the Chinese Basketball Association, Chinese “iphones”, etc. So of course it is only fair that it also has it’s own version of the “social contract”.

The most recent parties involved in this contract were the “Chinese Communist Party” and the majority of the Chinese population (mainly comprised of farmers without a middle school diploma), they say this document was officially signed in 1949, but no evidence remain. Like all things related to the Chinese Communist Party, it is best when kept on the DL, so this contract is an “implicit” one. More so than anyone on this planet, the Chinese people fear luan or chaos, it is something we inherit from our ancestors and pass down generation after generation through “Tiger Moms”. This fear of social instability or messiness in general is the main reason that despite having a lot less freedom and more injustice than all other world powers, China still garners one of the most stable and tranquil societies in the world, even if it’s a result of fists and not hugs. Lower educational standards and less creative classes help too, but as more and more Chinese are entering American colleges, things aren’t what they use to be.

But the thing about this contract is that as long as there is no “big shit going down”, like the farmer revolts that seem to plague China every 150 yrs or so, and the economy continues to inflate, the Chinese people won’t mind that their internet is more censored than in North Korea, or the fact they can’t go on facebook or own firearms. Because in this world, freedom can be bought while stability has to be fought (in most cases). Who knows if the contract will be rewritten in the decades to come, but for now as long as there is state-televised programs to watch, food on the table, and Japan is still “public enemy #1”, people will be content or so it seems.

Movements can be Zen: Why Shaolin Monks Aren’t Fighters

Most people tend to assume that if one practices deadly martial arts movements day after day, one is then obligated to use those skill-sets once in a while simply for the sake of having them. But that is not the case with Shaolin monks, which is why they are usually absent on the scene of MMA, Muay-Thai, and Kick-boxing stages. Many young fighters come to train at Shaolin and then go back to fight in their respectively leagues, but they end up missing out on a major part of Shaolin’s culture.

The spiritual or zen culture of martial arts is unique to Shaolin,  created by turbulent history. Around 483 A.D, Dharma first came to Shaolin from India to spread the thinking of Buddhism (it is rumored he meditated in a cave up in the Song Mountains for 9 yrs, a steep climb that we do every morning for conditioning). Back then, the monks in Shaolin were all fragile and saggy from sitting around all day, and doing nothing but meditating and reading texture, kinda like the really spiritual version of Asian video-game fanatics today. Dharma saw this and was like WTF, how can you reach Enlighten when your body is so weak and you are bedridden every other wk. So he started teaching the monks there what would later become the father of all martial arts, 13 simple breathing techniques that he derived from Yoga movements in India, they stressed the combination of movements with breathing and help to improve circulation of blood and chi throughout the body. These movements not only help to improve the physical and spiritual well-being of the monks dramatically, but also introduced a new way to reach Enlightenment, through quiet personal meditation and the practice of certain breathing directed movements.

During the centuries to come, the Shaolin temple would suffer countless raids from nearby bandits. Fueled by survival instincts, these breathing movements meant to direct chi and improve circulation through the body became deadly attacks meant to fend out enemies. Over time, more forms would be created based on the blueprint of its forefathers, some from observing the ideologies behind different animals’ way of attacking its prey, some from simple ingenuity of the monks, but their purpose remained the same. Shaolin monks still practiced martial arts in order to reach a personal peace that allows the mind to clear out all distractions, a prerequisite on the route to Enlightenment. But as the world is changing, and as Western ideologies of  capitalism and democracy becomes the norm, more and more Shaolin monks are learning to adapt to reality as they began to teach for money, practice for performances that have nothing to do with Zen or Buddhism, and slowly shying away from the spiritual wealth of martial arts and leaning on the monetary benefits of having those “certain sets of skills”.

Once a month, women go crazy for about 30 days

The series of articles called “Just Being Jerry” is back, along with a set of questions I have acquired about this “society” after spending months living with monks in an isolated monastery.

One of the main differences between living in the monastery and living in anywhere else “not there” is the amount of females I  get to meet and have to deal with on a daily basis.  There are females around the monastery, don’t get me wrong, but they number around the teens and decreases in number as the season changes. So in reality we don’t see or interact with females at all. In fact do we even see or interact with people all that much, other than the bother monks we train with.

Being back in the society and living with people everyday, I am observing a lot of new trends that I did not realize before when I was a HS student living in the states. One of the first things I notice is that people (of all backgrounds and income) love to complain; parents complain about their kids not studying all the time, mothers complaining about their daughters not getting married soon enough, workers complaining about their boss not paying them enough, and woman complaining about just every little thing possible. Man can be guilty of this at times too, but it is a skill in which woman tend to excel in, without much formal training.

It seems that this constant complaining combined with unpredictable mood-swings and a loud screeching scream are some of the main causes of headaches, high blood-pressure, and receding hairlines in the male population. I have been living in the mountains long enough to be smart enough to avoid experiencing the above causes first hand, but a counterargument I hear is that woman drive the man crazy, causing them to lose reason and do things they wouldn’t normally do (excessive shopping, need for expensive goods, and over-eating) and thus helps to drive the economy. So put that together, you get “woman who drive man crazy, helps to drive the economy”. But my momma once told me that “someone can’t drive you crazy if you don’t give them the keys”. people-cant-drive-you-crazy-if-dont-mike-bechtle-paperback-cover-art

Living with AIDS

Imagine getting terribly sick every other wk from the most minuscule of causes (not washing your hand, allergies, fatigue), imagine your body covered with enlarged lymph nodes, and your belly swollen to the size of 8-month pregnancy, now imagine your parents gone and family so afraid to even go near you, oh and I almost forgot to tell you, you are only 5 yrs old. This is the life of an AIDS-affected orphan, a life that no matter how much you try to learn about, will never fully understand. What I will attempt to do through my posts is to present an accurate account of their circumstances and the conditions I saw through my eyes, so that you may be able to not only appreciate your own life but also learn to respect others.

I recently visited the Fuyang AIDS Orphan Salvation Org. aka AOS, located in North Anhui Province, the epicenter of AIDS and poverty in China today. It is one of the few non-government affiliated salvation organizations in China, and the only one dealing with AIDS-affected orphans. The title” AIDS-affected orphans” is something of a novelty, for it didn’t exist in China until recently. From the late 90s to early 00s, many poor farmers in China’s rural villages resorted to selling organs (kidneys, spleens) and blood to acquire income in order to support their families. During this process it seems that not much attention was paid to cleaning the syringes involved, and the HIV virus became an travelling bandwagon of doom as it swept through the desolated villages in rural China. What remained after the storm was thousands of orphans (most born with HIV inherited from their parents) living in an environment completely ignorant in the education AIDS, and utterly penniless to receive any treatment.

Since the start of the organization in 2003, blood selling has been extinct in the area (credit also due to China’s rising economy), and over 6,000 orphans have been helped to sponsor families who have also lost members of its family to AIDS. With the comforts of a family, and a steady supply of medicine, most of the kids are now able to live just as healthy as every other kid, only difference is they also have to live with the discrimination and that discrimination will only get worse as they go on to the workforce. What I am trying to do is to change the perspective on AIDS starting with the education of their peers, which is the main source of their discrimination on a daily basis. And compound that with jointly held activities such as Nike-sponsored basketball tournaments and Johnson-Johnson sponsored summer camps to Beijing to show them that there is really no big enough difference between AIDS patients and healthy folks to warrant such discrimination, it should instead be respect oozing out of their bodies, not fear.

As you probably can tell, these past couple of days has had a huge impact on me. I will visit AOS again in the summer (around mid-June) before I head back to the USA for college, it would be honor if any of you would like to join me. The organization is currently working with graduate students from Harvard and MIT. Contact me if you are interested, my good friend Hong Chen has already send me his admiration for the organization’s work and interest in helping.

The Path Untraveled

It was the summer of 2007, and being the weirdo that I am I was home doing one of my favorite pastimes, watching movies (mainly documentaries). It was a summer that would shape my thinking and guide my action for years to come. It was the first time that I watched Al’s “The Inconvenient  Truth” that would later go on to win the Oscar for Best Long Documentary, and the first time I was really expose to the issue of Environmental Protection and the importance of Sustainability. I didn’t know the minor fabrications in data or the business implication behind it back then, all I knew was that there was a big problem with the way we were interacting with our environment and that I had to do something about it. Since then I have spent countless hours planning, thinking, organizing, and “doing something about it”. That one long-ass documentary has been rightly shown to me at a very impressionable time of my life, it was one of those forks in the road, and I decided to take the one on the left.

Now years later, I am thrust back into the path not taken, the right side of the fork, by a chance so freackin random. The Best Short Documentary of the 2007 Oscar is called “The Blood of Yingzhou District”, a film about an AIDS orphan in Anhui province in China, it was the documentary that I did not see back in that fateful summer, the right side of the fork in the road. I recently met up with a old friend of my mother who she hasn’t seen in more than 10 yrs, Mrs. Zhang, and apparently she has now become the Head Organizer of one of China’s only AIDS orphan organizations in Yingzhou District in Anhui Province, the most AIDS infected area in all of “the 1.3 Billion strong” nation of China. After hearing about her work, I immediately requested to go to the AIDS Orphanage with her today (which is a 2 hr  flight away), to better understand the work of her organization and more importantly to see how I help her and the AIDS victims in China by finding our more about them, first person and first hand.

I now sit on my train on the way to Yingzhou District, watching 2007’s Best Short Documentary, the one that I missed when I was 13 and the path not taken, until now.  I hope you can all watch the film, “The Blood of Yingzhou District”, not only to understand the journey that I have now embarked upon, but also to learn about the state of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” when concerning AIDS victims and orphans in China.

Chinese Wisdom: Your Body is the Universe

One of the new ways I will be sharing my experiences in China with you all is through the discussion of some of the “Chinese Wisdom” I am currently learning to understand and appreciate. For those of you who are Asian, these might sound “remotely” familiar to the “Confucius Says” jokes or even “rants” by your Asian parents and relative. I just hope that doesn’t get in the way of you enjoying my posts and trying to pry open the vault of wisdom it holds.

One of the first concept I learned from Chinese Medicine after I got injured at Shaolin was the intimate relationship with natural universe and our bodies. All the laws of the universe, from it’s patterns of growth to the Circadian rhythms of plants, are all exemplified in the human body in ways both obvious and unfathomable. Like nature, our body takes time to change such as growth in height and of body hair, but change is also happening constantly in our body such as when we produce proteins and renew enzymes every single second. The constant state of change and activity is one of the principle similarities, another is the balance of opposite, the Yin and Yang. Just as our bodies are constantly growing and changing, it is also constantly decaying and dying. For every new cell generated, waste of the dead ones must be transported out of the body, it is always working and striving for a state of balance.

Whenever one has a question about life or about the world around him, one has to look no further than ones own body, because all the answers to questions of philosophical depths to cutting edge science can be answered by observing and understanding our own bodies. Whether you believe that we are creations of Gods or a product of time and constant change, our body is the most intricate and enigmatic object known to man. Even the most advanced computing technology of today is no match for the human brain, a mere part of the human body, though a very important part. Until the day of Singularity comes, when Artificial Technology can reach the same efficiency of human thinking, I firmly believe that all the questions we have today (from chemistry to physics to psychology to math to even bio-fuel) can be answered by further researching and analyzing the human body.

That is how great I think our body is, which is also my reason for respecting all human beings no matter their background, ethnicity  sexual choices, income, education, or personal belief. Because I believe the human body is absolutely wonderful and beautiful, almost as beautiful as the human soul. So the next you disrespect someone, think of it as disrespecting yourself,  because respecting yourself and your body means respecting others who share the same human body.