Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Closer to eternal youth and immortality - Baguazhang

Baguazhang (translated as "The palm of the eight trigrams) is one of the most important internal martial arts from China. It was created in the early 19th century by Dong Haichuan and is based on the ancient Chinese concept of eight trigrams and an ancient form of Tibetan circular walking meditation.
The movements of Baguazhang are characterized by circular steps and the fighting is done by using palm strikes and kicks (never punches). The style was especially designed for fighting with several opponents at once and was most suitable for bodyguards.
After 1870 Baguazhang became so famous because of its fighting efficiency that all the personal bodyguards of the Chinese emperor had to be Baguazhang masters.
In our times, most people practise this art mainly for health benefits, although lately its fighting side has been emerging again.

Sun Zhijun is one of the most famous Baguazhang (Cheng style) masters of our times. Although he is over 70 in the clip, the video shows the movements of a young man with amazing physical and technical skills, beyond the abilities of most of the young people. Apparently, old age is more a state of mind than a real biological process!
Another impressive demonstration, by Lu Zijian (age 93 in the clip, now he is 115 and still alive) can be seen here.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Taijiquan and the empty mind

Taijiquan (traditional Chinese: 太極拳; simplified Chinese: 太极拳; pinyin: tàijíquán; Wade-Giles: t'ai4 chi2 ch'üan2) is, together with Liuhebafa, Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, Yiquan, Taikiken, Aikido and many others, an internal martial art.
The daoist master Zhang Sanfeng is credited as the creator of Taijiquan in the 13th century and the famous Five Dragon Temple from Wudang Mountains was the first place where the style became a daily routine for the daoist monks.
The Mandarin term "taijiquan" literally translates as "supreme ultimate fist", "boundless fist," or "great extremes boxing" and comes from the daoist philosophy.
Although the style used to be one of the most impressive and effective combat martial arts, Taijiquan is typically practised today mainly for health and longevity. Unfortunately, even in this aspect, the exercise that became very popular in the West and is called by most of the people "Tai Chi" is a very watered down version of what the art used to be in the past, with low benefits for both health and self-defence compared with the original. The long traditional forms have been replaced by shorter, "modern" forms which barely resemble the original movements. The people in the West, who want to learn a form in a few days, are also guilty for this situation. To learn the movements of a traditional form would take between 2-6 months and after that another 2-3 years for a decent execution, but the benefits for health and self-defence are worth the effort.
Although some people in the West, like Master Erle Montaigue have been working hard for many years to promote the original aspects of Taijiquan, most of the general public is not aware yet of the real effectiveness for health and especially self-defence of this art. As these two faces are interconnected, one cannot learn one without mastering the other. So, as a consequence, there cannot be such a thing as "Tai Chi for Health" without the fighting aspect.
With its long forms executed in slow motion, Taijiquan acts as a powerful moving meditation, circulating the qi energy through all the body channels during the practise. The mind empties and connects to the fundamental levels of the Universe with the body moving (at an advanced stage) only by the power of the thought. The practitioner feels invigorated and full of energy after finishing the set of movements.

At the Five Dragon Temple from Wudang Mountains, Taijiquan is still practised and taught today in the traditional manner (the students try to imitate the instructor practising the form until they master it). The video presents a typical class and a demonstration by one of the masters, the priest Yuen.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sonam Wangmo - an amazing Tibetan voice

Sonam Wangmo comes from a little village in northern Tibet and sings mainly traditional Tibetan music. Mixing her native talent with long years of study and training, her voice is a real wonder, with an incredible flexibility, making the young Tibetan one of the most impressive singers in the world. And, like most of the contemporary singers, she is also very beautiful.

The song in the clip is called "Golden Country" (Sok-shen Lung-pa in Tibetan) and brought her a well deserved fame in Tibet and China. One can remark the traditional elements of Tibetan culture on the scene with the Potala Palace image on the background and the traditional clothes she is wearing. This unusual way of singing (mixing of harmony and falset - technically very demanding) is specific mainly to the Kham area of Eastern Tibet, but can be met, at some extent, in most of the traditional mountain cultures from around the world. A typical example of the kham-lu can be also heard here, in a concert given by Sonam Wangmo at Payul Monastery (Payul Gompa) in Tibet.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chongshol Dolma - Out of the Himalaya

Chongshol Dolma, originally from North-Eastern Tibet (Amdo area), is a new voice in the contemporary Tibetan music. Her single "Out of the Himalaya" became quickly famous not only in Tibet and China, but also internationally. Although this song is in Mandarin and not in Tibetan, one can see a lot of traditional Tibetan elements in the clip: the khata, the prayer wheel, prayer flags, chortens (stupas), traditional clothing and important Tibetan pilgrimage places.
An interesting detail: the image of the Potala Palace shown in the clip is from the 1940's, before the Chinese occupation.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Distribution Area of the Ainu People

This is a map with the modern geographical distribution of the Ainu people (in the Ainu language, "ainu" means "human"). Historically, Ainu may have lived in the whole northern area of the Honshu island during the Middle Ages and even more to the South in Antiquity. A more detailed map bellow (dating from 1999) shows the detailed "official" distribution of the Ainu on the Hokkaido island.

Because of the sometimes negative connotation of the Ainu term among the Japanese people, many individuals of Ainu ancestry actually preferred not to declare themselves Ainu, so the real percentage of Ainu ancestry must be higher than shown. In 1945, after the Russian occupation of Sakhalin and Kuriles Islands, the Ainu population from these areas fled to japan, so that after 1945 no more Ainu were officially registered in Russia. Please click on the maps to see them in full detail.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Vajra Sky Over Tibet - Part 9

The last part of the documentary focuses on the Thanka Festival and the revival of the Buddhism in Tibet and China. An emotional portrait of the Tibetans' spirituality.

Vajra Sky Over Tibet - Part 8

A visit to Tashilung Monastery and a description of the sufferings of the 11th Panchen Lama under the Chinese communist administration. Scenes from the monastic life are shown plus images of the Brahmaputra River.

Vajra Sky Over Tibet - Part 7

From Gyantse, to the Nomads' land - interesting elements from their life. Shalu monastery is the home of some of the greatest Buddhist paintings. Next city visited, more to the West, is Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet. The Monastery Tashilung used to be the living residence of the second highest religious authority in Tibet - the Panchen Lama.

Vajra Sky Over Tibet - Part 6

From Norbu Lingkar near Lhasa, the trip continues West, to Gyantse, the thirs biggest city in Tibet. The most impressive monument in the area is Kumbun, A 3-dimensional Mandala. It was spared by damage during the Cultural Revolution.

Vajra Sky Over Tibet - Part 5

The journey continues inside the Potala Palace, then we see some of the Tibetan traditions and more of the every day life in Lhasa. This part ends with a visit to the Norbu Lingka ("The Jewel Park") - the place that used to be the summer residence of the Dalai Lama.

Vajra Sky Over Tibet - Part 4

The trip continues with the visit to the nunnery, showing the nuns making cult objects and prayer wheels, then the Tibetan religious art is described, including a presentation of Chenrizi (Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit). The destruction of the temples, especially during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the authorities control over religious practice is shown further. The 4th part ends with a trip to the Potala Palace, the most famous building in Tibet.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Vajra Sky Over Tibet - Part 3

In the third part of the documentary, the pilgrimage to the Jokang Temple continues, with description of Buddhist symbols, monk debates and a visit at one of the nearby nuneries.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Vajra Sky Over Tibet - Part 2

The second part from the documentary "Vajra Sky Over Tibet", directed by John Bush (2006). Lhasa and Jokang Temple here.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Vajra Sky Over Tibet - Journey Into the Tibetan Buddhism - Part 1

This is the first part from the documentary "Vajra Sky Over Tibet", directed by John Bush. It is a religious pilgrimage to the holy places of Tibet, hold in 2005.
Vajra is a Sanskrit term meaning the thunderbolt of awakening, and Tibetan Buddhism is known as the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition. Bush traveled to Tibet with a two-person crew and a Tibetan guide and driver. They went as pilgrims and didn't ask permission of the Chinese authorities to film.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Hutsuls in Bucovina - Past and Present

The map above shows a distribution by ethnicity of the people living in Bucovina in 1910, under Austrian administration (please click on the map in order to see it clearly). The Hutsuls occupy the north-eastern corner of the province.

In 2002, a new map published by Frederic Beaumont shows a distribution of the Hutsuls similar to that from 1910 in the Romanian part of Bucovina. He called the region inhabited by them "Pays Hutsule" ("Hutsul Country" in French). Please click on the maps in order to see them full size.

Traditional Cultures

"Traditional cultures" does not plan to be an encyclopaedia of cultures based on a traditional way of life (information about any culture can be found easily enough by doing a simple google search), but plans to write short posts reflecting various aspects of these, which cannot be found in other places, including customs, maps, music, fragments of history, videos and so on. Our western civilisation emphasizes too much the use of technology, which, in turn starts hindering our own develompment as humans. This blog will try to show alternatives to this way of life.