What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Discussion on the three big Chinese internals, Yiquan, Bajiquan, Piguazhang and other similar styles.

What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby origami_itto on Fri Apr 15, 2022 4:04 am

Somebody asked this question on Facebook and I liked my answer so I figured I'd use it to open the discussion here.

Worship is a bit of a loaded term. My first teacher spent 30 years with his teacher and has a deep and abiding love and respect for him.
I'm studying Dong style expressly to teach it, so in that case I'm learning new content developed by Alex based on what was put together by his great grandfather Dong Ying Jie.

I don't know if it's appropriate to tell someone how they should feel about their grandparents.

To express his love and admiration my first teacher wrote a book about his teacher, T. T. Liang, and another about his primary teacher since master Liang passed on, Wai Lun Choi.

Sifu Alex has written a book about the life and legacy of Dong Ying Jie.

I've read them all, I recommend them all.

The study of Taijiquan has enriched my life in immeasurable ways. Far beyond simple self defense, it's allowed me to better understand, be aware of, and exert control over my body, mind, and spirit. YMMV.

I'm a pretty smart fella, a literal genius by some measures, but I didn't invent this art. I may have what I have due to the path I've walked, but I didn't draw the map I used to traverse it.

We stand on the shoulders of giants, and it is a slight to the art, a slight to our teachers to whom we owe so much, to not recognize, honor, and venerate those that came before to shape the art into the practice we know and love today.

Because nobody else will remember them.

You won't walk into a school and see children studying a book about their lives and art and legacy. The world at large has never heard of these men and doesn't care one bit about them

Only within these traditions do we keep their names alive by approaching a greater understanding of the content and meaning of their legacy. Only WE can even understand that meaning.

You are not truly dead until you are forgotten. The best we can hope for as humans is to leave something behind that will keep the children of children born long after we're gone speaking our names fondly.

As the recipients of these systems we have a duty to not let their names evaporate into mist and blow away.

Is that worship? I dunno. It's how I feel though.
Last edited by origami_itto on Fri Apr 15, 2022 12:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby everything on Fri Apr 15, 2022 6:57 am

Great post. We of course inherited these arts, and it's fortunate other artists wanted to pass them down. I don't think we can reach the "golden generation" not because they are the "ancestors" but due to various conditions that could be its own thread.

On a personal "lineage" kind of note, my dad got me started by showing me the "outer form". He was an athlete, so his approach was more "athletic". That got me interested in "applications" in a "li" way. He sent me to Ben Lo's camp, and the "different quality" can give a lot of cognitive dissonance that can confuse us (for decades). Seeing my dad try to work on that puzzle maybe should've given me a head start. Unfortunately, it took decades before I feel I'm finally a beginner and some of that "authentic" teaching finally makes some sense. But without his interest, perhaps that wouldn't have happened at all. His grandfather was a tcm doctor, but we don't know much about that ... does help to make me more interested in the TCM neigong neijia overlaps. No "worship", but it's cool some interests were passed along.
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Re: What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby robert on Fri Apr 15, 2022 9:27 am

You have ancestor worship quoted, but many Chinese do worship their ancestors. FWIW.



Image
Thousands of people attend the ancestor worship ceremony during the Qingming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day, at AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong, April 5, 2018. (ROY LIU / CHINA DAILY)

Image

https://www.chinadailyhk.com/articles/170/234/151/1522911394744.html

At funerals it's common for certain family members to koutou to the deceased. Some Christian Chinese refuse to koutou to their ancestors because they consider it worship. That is, it's more than just a sign of respect.
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Re: What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby Doc Stier on Fri Apr 15, 2022 10:24 am

Here again, semantics becomes a stumbling block regarding the word 'worship', which is usually reserved for a perceived relationship with God, or a Higher Power, the Creator, and so forth. A more acceptable term for many people, therefore, would be the word 'commemoration'.

For me, it is always appropriate to commemorate those who have gone before us, with a respectful sense of fond remembrance, whether they were biological family predecessors or were martial art system predecessors, but I don't worship them, per se, as they were mortal beings like we are, not gods.
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Re: What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby robert on Fri Apr 15, 2022 10:54 am

Doc Stier wrote:Here again, semantics becomes a stumbling block regarding the word 'worship', which is usually reserved for a perceived relationship with God, or a Higher Power, the Creator, and so forth. A more acceptable term for many people, therefore, would be the word 'commemoration'.

Yes, and I don't know enough about the Chinese culture to know where the lines are drawn. I don't think many Chinese are worshipping their ancestors as gods. I suspect it's veneration, but that seems like quibbling. I don't know if it's true, but I've heard that the idea of a bashi ceremony is that the teacher adopts the person and it's like they are part of the family. I attended a bashi ceremony and the people involved did koutou to the teacher and a few other people as well. If people koutou to their teacher while they're alive wouldn't they do it at their death?

I don't think ancestor worship has any role in my training, but when I'm in Chen village I do visit the Chen family ancestral temple and offer incense and bow. I certainly respect the Chen family for sharing their knowledge.

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Re: What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby Doc Stier on Fri Apr 15, 2022 11:57 am

Agreed. Good points. For me personally, veneration is also an acceptable and appropriate term to use, rather than 'worship', in regards to remembering my martial arts predecessors in our SMT System.
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Re: What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby Ian C. Kuzushi on Fri Apr 15, 2022 9:25 pm

Doc Stier wrote:Here again, semantics becomes a stumbling block regarding the word 'worship', which is usually reserved for a perceived relationship with God, or a Higher Power, the Creator, and so forth. A more acceptable term for many people, therefore, would be the word 'commemoration'.

For me, it is always appropriate to commemorate those who have gone before us, with a respectful sense of fond remembrance, whether they were biological family predecessors or were martial art system predecessors, but I don't worship them, per se, as they were mortal beings like we are, not gods.


Hi Doc, I have to disagree. Your embracing of murkiness is only serving to convolute the issues. It is much better to be precise and clear in one's use of language. You might think that veneration is a better term than worship when it comes to East Asian traditions in regard to ancestors, but this is completely inaccurate. In premodern times as in modern, many East Asians absolutely worship their ancestors as well as other deified personages. Just as tincture isn't tea, the western notion of honoring one's ancestors isn't the same as the very real history of deification and worship of ancestors in China, Japan, and SE Asia.

It may be true that many in East Asia today are semi secularized and that traditions change, but there are still those who carry on the old traditions. Tomorrow, I will be visiting the Nikko Toshogu mausoleum where the first Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu, is worshiped to this day as a god head, Tosho Daigongen. The priests there, the current Tokugawa family, and many ordinary citizens travel there to worship and pray to the deity.
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Re: What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby Doc Stier on Fri Apr 15, 2022 10:30 pm

Hi Ian! My comments were directly related to the OP question "What role does ancestor worship have in your practice?", not to the existence or role of ancestor worship in Asian religious traditions.

As such, I clearly stated that I think it is always appropriate to remember our martial arts lineage predecessors, to commemorate and venerate the memory of their lives on the dates their birthdays, display their photos on a school shrine table or other place of honor, and so forth.

However, I personally do not worship my style predecessors in the ways you referred to, since I don't practice religious Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, etc, so Asian ancestor worship simply isn't a part of my personal training regimen or my teaching curriculum.

I think you simply misread and/or misinterpreted my initial response to the OP question, but no worries. It's all good.
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Re: What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby robert on Sat Apr 16, 2022 9:21 am

Ian C. Kuzushi wrote:It may be true that many in East Asia today are semi secularized and that traditions change, but there are still those who carry on the old traditions. Tomorrow, I will be visiting the Nikko Toshogu mausoleum where the first Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu, is worshiped to this day as a god head, Tosho Daigongen. The priests there, the current Tokugawa family, and many ordinary citizens travel there to worship and pray to the deity.

That's interesting. I suspect that would influence ideas about respecting one's elders and lineages and so on.
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Re: What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby Ian C. Kuzushi on Sat Apr 16, 2022 6:11 pm

Doc Stier wrote:Hi Ian! My comments were directly related to the OP question "What role does ancestor worship have in your practice?", not to the existence or role of ancestor worship in Asian religious traditions.

As such, I clearly stated that I think it is always appropriate to remember our martial arts lineage predecessors, to commemorate and venerate the memory of their lives on the dates their birthdays, display their photos on a school shrine table or other place of honor, and so forth.

However, I personally do not worship my style predecessors in the ways you referred to, since I don't practice religious Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, etc, so Asian ancestor worship simply isn't a part of my personal training regimen or my teaching curriculum.

I think you simply misread and/or misinterpreted my initial response to the OP question, but no worries. It's all good.


Hey Doc,

My apologies for the misunderstanding. In the spirit of the OP, I'll share another anecdote. My first long term MA teacher was well placed in the lineage of our Japanese jujutsu system. After the first decade of training with him, I started to visit other dojos of the same system but of different branches. One of the first things that struck me was the difference in opening the classes. Every other dojo I visited would open with a bow to a picture of the founder Seishiro "Henry" Okazaki. Then a bow to the senior instructors. There was no such image in my home dojo, but we did bow to the American flag! I asked my teacher about this and he said that, as a Christian, he would not bow to an image of the founder. I was a bit taken aback as I never saw it as worship, but rather veneration, just like we all bowed to each other before starting work with a new partner or at the opening or closing of class. But, I have been to dojo in Japan where there is certainly a feeling of connecting with the divine when bowing to the picture of the founders of various systems, and their pictures are usually placed on or over a shrine. I found the different approaches to be really interesting.
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Re: What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby Doc Stier on Sat Apr 16, 2022 8:44 pm

Ian C. Kuzushi wrote:Hey Doc,

My apologies for the misunderstanding. In the spirit of the OP, I'll share another anecdote. My first long term MA teacher was well placed in the lineage of our Japanese jujutsu system. After the first decade of training with him, I started to visit other dojos of the same system but of different branches. One of the first things that struck me was the difference in opening the classes. Every other dojo I visited would open with a bow to a picture of the founder Seishiro "Henry" Okazaki. Then a bow to the senior instructors. There was no such image in my home dojo, but we did bow to the American flag! I asked my teacher about this and he said that, as a Christian, he would not bow to an image of the founder. I was a bit taken aback as I never saw it as worship, but rather veneration, just like we all bowed to each other before starting work with a new partner or at the opening or closing of class. But, I have been to dojo in Japan where there is certainly a feeling of connecting with the divine when bowing to the picture of the founders of various systems, and their pictures are usually placed on or over a shrine. I found the different approaches to be really interesting.

Thanks, Ian.

I have had similar experiences in CMA schools. Most of the Chinese masters I studied with, primarily Cantonese and Hakka teachers, had a prominently displayed shrine table or altar in their schools.

Classes began and ended with both the master and the students performing a salutation facing the shrine together, followed by students toward the master. Photos of previous system lineage head masters were displayed on the wall behind the shrine, along with special calligraphy. The masters typically lit candles and incense on the shrine before each class, and also performed weekly spiritual shrine rites to honor and venerate the past masters who generously passed down the legacy of their life's training experience to us.

All of the above was very interesting and intriguing, as well as oftentimes mysterious and mystical, for a young non-Asian student like me.
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Re: What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby meeks on Sun Apr 17, 2022 10:17 am

I have framed images of my Shifu (Yang Guotai) who passed away about 10 years ago, and of a well known sketch of Dong Haiquan on the wall of my school or training space. While we don't bow to them at the beginning of class, the pictures are there intentionally to honor my shifu and for the 8 decades of training bagua zhang he carried with him. I am fortunate to have spent time with him and that he took me serious as one of his disciples and the LEAST I can do is put his picture up so my students can see who I hold a reverence for as a powerful influence in my life.
When I am teaching a class, I consider it 'holding space' for my students to train - almost in a ceremonial sense (if you've ever sat in a plant medicine ceremony you'll understand) - you're not just holding a class of "here, let me show you something". You're carrying a lineage of ancestors... and if you are paying attention to the spiritual aspect of your lineage ... do you consider whether or not those ancestors are paying attention to your class right now? That they may be holding some influence in how the class goes, what you're teaching and what you're learning by teaching? Perhaps they're having an influence and the shrine/alter/images are providing a stronger connection for that influence.
Perhaps your ability to teach a class carries a slight "lifting of the veil" that permeates into where those ancestors reside. Perhaps your presence (and skillset in the energetic aspect) IS the cotter pin to the influence of the ancestors.
My teacher had an altar that he showed us verrrry rarely in the room that he slept in. And when his wife passed away she too had a spot on that altar and we honored her when he first placed her photo on there by lighting incense for her and bowing 3x, expressing our gratitude for her (she was an amazing cook and fed us like her own children) and the love she showed us over the years.
I find the practise of altars in mainland China, while not completely exinct, is greatly reduced (perhaps from the cultural revolution?) where they now prefer concrete buildings and neon lights over traditional architecture and spiritual connections.
My first experience with a 'living' altar was a Japanese Aikikai school in North Vancouver I used to train at. You could sense its influence and participation in the training. When I asked the Sensei there he said "the spirit of Aikido" lives in that altar, and he had flown someone in from Japan to hold ceremony to set it up for him. That was a Canadian Aikikai master named Joel Posluns (I hope I spelled it right). That was someone I hold a great degree of respect for as a man that embodied traditional practises in Aikikai. It took me many years to wrap my head around the concept of "spirit of Aikikai" (a path, or way) vs "spirit of the founder" (a man) but now it makes so much sense to me it's almost a palpable concept. So yes, the spirit of Bagua (for example) is something that I also honor in my meditations and prayers, as I do my lineage of Bagua ancestors. My question is "why wouldn't you?". Are we so proud that we can think we don't owe any gratitude to those that cultivated this path before we stepped on it? (rhetorical question).
When you start looking at the spiritual influence of the martial art you embody, you begin to understand that what you are training is just the tip of the iceberg for the potential of what your training is doing for you on your path. Practising martial arts began 5 decades ago for me, and in the beginning it was "I don't want to get my ass kicked" or "I want to be an amazing martial artist". Now I see what it has really done for me is to help me understand myself, as a path to self mastery, self discovery, and clearing away ancestral and karmic trauma that we inherited. "I am a leaf on the wind" is my answer when people ask me what is bagua or how it has helped my life. It has helped me find myself and allowed me to be authentic. Now my practise of bagua has transformed into self mastery and self discovery... determining where the "I" or "me" ends and where the universe or "God's creation" begins. You'll find your Bagua in there (or whatever style you embody), and I'm pretty confident your ancestors are watching you fumble your way through that doorway too. They can't open it for you but their hints are always ready to be heard.

I don't post often, but when I do I feel I spoke too much...
Last edited by meeks on Sun Apr 17, 2022 10:18 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby origami_itto on Sun Apr 17, 2022 10:33 am

meeks wrote:I have framed images of my Shifu (Yang Guotai) who passed away about 10 years ago, and of a well known sketch of Dong Haiquan on the wall of my school or training space. While we don't bow to them at the beginning of class, the pictures are there intentionally to honor my shifu and for the 8 decades of training bagua zhang he carried with him. I am fortunate to have spent time with him and that he took me serious as one of his disciples and the LEAST I can do is put his picture up so my students can see who I hold a reverence for as a powerful influence in my life.
When I am teaching a class, I consider it 'holding space' for my students to train - almost in a ceremonial sense (if you've ever sat in a plant medicine ceremony you'll understand) - you're not just holding a class of "here, let me show you something". You're carrying a lineage of ancestors... and if you are paying attention to the spiritual aspect of your lineage ... do you consider whether or not those ancestors are paying attention to your class right now? That they may be holding some influence in how the class goes, what you're teaching and what you're learning by teaching? Perhaps they're having an influence and the shrine/alter/images are providing a stronger connection for that influence.
Perhaps your ability to teach a class carries a slight "lifting of the veil" that permeates into where those ancestors reside. Perhaps your presence (and skillset in the energetic aspect) IS the cotter pin to the influence of the ancestors.
My teacher had an altar that he showed us verrrry rarely in the room that he slept in. And when his wife passed away she too had a spot on that altar and we honored her when he first placed her photo on there by lighting incense for her and bowing 3x, expressing our gratitude for her (she was an amazing cook and fed us like her own children) and the love she showed us over the years.
I find the practise of altars in mainland China, while not completely exinct, is greatly reduced (perhaps from the cultural revolution?) where they now prefer concrete buildings and neon lights over traditional architecture and spiritual connections.
My first experience with a 'living' altar was a Japanese Aikikai school in North Vancouver I used to train at. You could sense its influence and participation in the training. When I asked the Sensei there he said "the spirit of Aikido" lives in that altar, and he had flown someone in from Japan to hold ceremony to set it up for him. That was a Canadian Aikikai master named Joel Posluns (I hope I spelled it right). That was someone I hold a great degree of respect for as a man that embodied traditional practises in Aikikai. It took me many years to wrap my head around the concept of "spirit of Aikikai" (a path, or way) vs "spirit of the founder" (a man) but now it makes so much sense to me it's almost a palpable concept. So yes, the spirit of Bagua (for example) is something that I also honor in my meditations and prayers, as I do my lineage of Bagua ancestors. My question is "why wouldn't you?". Are we so proud that we can think we don't owe any gratitude to those that cultivated this path before we stepped on it? (rhetorical question).
When you start looking at the spiritual influence of the martial art you embody, you begin to understand that what you are training is just the tip of the iceberg for the potential of what your training is doing for you on your path. Practising martial arts began 5 decades ago for me, and in the beginning it was "I don't want to get my ass kicked" or "I want to be an amazing martial artist". Now I see what it has really done for me is to help me understand myself, as a path to self mastery, self discovery, and clearing away ancestral and karmic trauma that we inherited. "I am a leaf on the wind" is my answer when people ask me what is bagua or how it has helped my life. It has helped me find myself and allowed me to be authentic. Now my practise of bagua has transformed into self mastery and self discovery... determining where the "I" or "me" ends and where the universe or "God's creation" begins. You'll find your Bagua in there (or whatever style you embody), and I'm pretty confident your ancestors are watching you fumble your way through that doorway too. They can't open it for you but their hints are always ready to be heard.

I don't post often, but when I do I feel I spoke too much...

Naw man that's frankly perfect, and I quoted it so this can't chicken out and delete it without abusing your mod powers.
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Re: What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby windwalker on Sun Apr 17, 2022 10:41 am

Due to the nature of the practice, it can be very much a spiritual pathway.
Although not an obvious one, nor something that would be apparent until one reached a certain level.

My teacher

While he had no formal "place" the place of our practice was the place...

Image

One day, he told me,,,

"I take all of the outside" as he raised his arms making a circle , over his body..." and bring it inside "


Echoes the practice


(十五) 追求無的境界

Pursuing the State of Nothingness

盤架子,無論是養生練法還是才技主擊練法,都要追求一種"無"的境界。要什麼都沒有,思想 上不追求什麼。只是松、散、圓,沒有目標,沒有對象。毫無迎敵之意。練得什麼都沒有"全身 透空" "周身合適"。

In form practices, regardless wether it is for health or for fighting, the aim is to achieve “nothingness.”
With nothing to want, and no goal to pursue. Just look to be Soong (relaxed), “dispersed”, and round.
No goals and no objectives. Do not hold the idea of defeating an enemy.
Practice such that “the body is as if ‘porous’ and empty” and “whole body in comfort”.


Interesting reading the posts, echoing many things I feel...

Every time I practice, his presence is there....at the end of the practice

I thank him
Last edited by windwalker on Sun Apr 17, 2022 6:43 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: What role does "ancestors worship" have in your practice?

Postby Appledog on Sun Apr 17, 2022 11:47 am

windwalker wrote:Every time I practice, his presence is there....at the end of the practice

I thank him


This is probably similar to the practice of making your sifu alive, so you are in his presence. It can be a wonderful reminder at times.

Nice photo :)
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