Learning is Letting Go

A Zen Master on the road to Edo, encountered a man bent nearly double by the massive bundle of sticks he carried on his back. “Brother,” he said, “perhaps it’s time for you to discard part of your bundle; trade a few pieces for food, or burn some at your roadside camp to survive the coming freeze...”

“No,” said the man, “for each stick represents a lesson I learned along my path from childhood. Here, the meaning of hard work,” he said, turning a burled twisted limb of oak – well polished and free of bark. “This supported me through my 12th year with a broken leg,” displaying a well formed crutch of yew wood. “And this” he said, pulling a dark curve of poplar from the bundle, “is the self-reliance which carried me through my wife’s illness and death. Each is a life truth learned in difficulty which sustains me against the scars of fortune. To discard any of them would weaken me, though, at times, I despair of reaching the monastery in Edo, where I hoped to study with the new Master, Basho – for my burden grows heavier each day...”

Weak and chilled, he accepted the monk’s gift of food as they settled in together to camp through the bitter night.

Came the morning. The man awakened, stretched and stood, marveling at the snow and ice outside the tent and at the contrasting warmth that suffused his bones – until he noticed the substantial fire just outside. He quickly turned and discovered his worst fear. During the night to stave off the freeze, his companion had built a fire of the bundle. Through the long hours, he remained awake and dutifully tended it – preserving them both safely into the dawn.

“Betrayal!” cried the man, reaching for the monk’s throat.

The monk, reacting swiftly, struck the man's shin forcing him to collapse into an angry but helpless heap. Said the Monk, “Being struck by a staff, or by an idea: Both require your full attention! You’ve been blind to the weight of your ‘Bundle of Lessons’ – A burden which made it impossible for you to learn – or move – any further. A fortunate thing though, because the blaze which preserved us both through the freezing night also released you from your burden! And here you sit – safe, independent, and experienced."

"I bid you farewell sir, for I am off to assume my duties in Edo.”

Experiencing the flash of clarity, the man bowed and took up the way of Zen.


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Something hidden. Go and find it.
Something lost beyond the ranges.
Something lost and waiting for you.
Rudyard Kipling

Tai Chi
Tai Chi Chuan
TaiJi Quan
Qui Gong
Kung Fu
Gong Fu
Chuan Fah
Shao Lin
Wudang Shan

It's a mystery.
It's a club.
It's a business. ( A rice bowl...)
Sometimes a scam...

And, It's a gift.
A puzzle of a thousand pieces. It may require a lifetime to assemble...
Not all teachers are scoundrels. Not all Masters are mean.
Don't buy the legends, don't sell the story short.
Proceed and unearth the Truth.

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In Plain Sight


"There are no secrets." But much is hidden; in plain sight. Shifu Jennifer St.John
Shifu Jennifer St. John

Chi. It's right there. All around you -- you're swimming in it.
The Force. The Energy of Life.
Yet, all this time, you've been noticing -- well, everything else.

Like a fish, unaware in water, like a bird, unaware in air
You move and exist within the life force, unconscious.

Until, in a moment of enlightenment, Chi reveals itself to you.
That subtle heat, the little tingle, the pushing back against your query...
"Are you there?"

And Chi responds, not with a voice, or a pronoun
But a presence, a ripple, a push back, a feeling.

It was always there, before words, or names
The thing un-namable, which dissolves when labeled...

Lost it? Mislaid it? Forgotten it?
Go back! Stand! Stop Looking!
And slowly, quietly wait... for the re-union...

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Entrust Your Future


Selecting a Master is not hard. Just find someone to whom you'll entrust your future!
Shifu Jen
House of TaiJi

I went to Taiwan some years ago.
A blue-eyed Quai-Lo girl with no language skills and white-white skin. I was unsure about it. But Grand Master had invited me. I asked Master if he'd come along. With his assent, my fears dissolved.

Such a trip requires the ability to confront changes in everything at once, because everything is upside down: Language. Time Zones. Martial Skill. Money. Philosophy. History. Politics. Custom. Gender. Clothing. Food. Social Expectations. Culture.

While things were for the most part upside down, I wasn't concerned. I was safe with my Master: Three of them, actually...

We collaborated on little things like food, practice schedules, transportation, locations, colleagues, coaching sessions, meetings, laundry. Then too, we worked on big stuff: museum tours, monastery visits, chop carving, doctor visits, philosophical discussions -- and the life changing experience of finding my chi...

There is in the highest sense, no more intimate, life-affecting relationship than that with a Master. Such a bond influences everything that you are, and much of what you hope to become.

So choose carefully. Embrace fully. Give yourself completely. And then; be prepared to discover that your Master is just a human being. Flawed, tortured, ill, jealous and cranky -- like any other member of the species. So entrust him with your future, but recognize that though it may be influenced or directed, it can never be given away. In the end, your Master can but point the way. You must get to that higher place on your own two feet.

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Illiterate Masters


In earlier times, wisdom was "demonstrated."
They didn't talk, write, make movies or take pictures.
They didn't look like much, but then; they didn't have to.

We hold "literacy" and "literature" in high regard in the modern world. So much that we've started to equate a knowledge of literature and the ability to read and write with intelligence itself. As in, "Well, if that guy can't read and write, what kind of a useless dude is he?" Of course, in contemporary culture, our access to information is pervasive to the point of being overpowering. Everyone can access everything, and anyone can access anything; so we're all genius Masters! Or... perhaps, Not!

To have access to something is not the same as actually knowing it. Merely knowing it is not the same as having Mastered it. Seeing lots of movies and reading magazines is not learning, knowledge, or wisdom. Having information in your culture is nice. Having good information in your home is better. But having wisdom in your heart, mind, spirit -- acquired through direct experience and practice -- that is Mastery. Then, of course, there's teaching it!

In earlier times, before paper, writing and portable screens were everywhere, wisdom was passed with great care, from someone who was wise; directly to someone who wanted to become wise -- over time. The transfer was by word of mouth, but also through repeated demonstrations -- hand to hand, mouth to ear. To "study" the Martial Arts meant to live within reach of the teacher, and to talk, practice, watch and do the arts personally, daily, for years -- absorbing the lessons while being steeped in the art, the philosophy, the culture -- Living a Life in TaiJi.

Today we take classes twice a week

And we call those old masters "illiterate..."

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Coming in First


Coming in First! Might mean “winning a foot race.”
Coming in, first; might mean “arriving before the mob.”
Who knows what lesson might appear in the early hours?

As a young player, I came to the dojo early one day and found the door ajar. Up the flight of stairs, I turned the corner onto the practice floor and found Master kneeling in front of a low platform at the front of the room, apparently dusting and re-arranging items. A few minutes later, I emerged from the changing room and encountered him again, in the process of unrolling a scroll. Responding to his quiet gesture, I assisted as he un-mounted the earlier item, and hung the new scroll in its place. He had a flower, which took its place on display. I was detailed the job of rolling the first scroll, and placing it in its storage container for safe keeping.

As I was engaged, I asked, “What's this all about?” He said, “In our culture, we place an ‘altar’ in our practice space (maybe at home as well...) which is a special location, where we display things of importance to keep them ‘in the center’ of our lives and practice. Perhaps a picture of an elder teacher, a calligraphy scroll with an important lesson, a singing bowl, a bell, a candle, a book, etc. Maybe we also burn incense, to recognize this special time.”

I realized that the altar, and Master’s humble maintenance, was a labor of love and a signal of his dedication. Coming in first revealed an aspect of our practice that had been obscured by my rushed and unconscious comings and goings. He invited me to help after that, and in those special hours, I found the path and began my journey to the center of the art.

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Swimming in TaiJi


“We are waves. IT, is the sea”


TaiJi is an Ocean.
The student is a castaway in a small boat, with no path to safety.
The purpose of the Teacher, is to limit the exposure to the art.
To expose only what the student might first comprehend...

TaiJi Quan is very old. Nobody knows all of it.
On any given day, one can touch just the merest fraction
of a sliver of what it encompasses.

So the teacher selects a "path of exposure"
which shows the student a way into the heart of the study --
and provides confidence in her own ability to learn, swim, sail and survive.

Teaching of Unknown Origin

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Brewing (and Drinking) Ignorance


"The best of tea in Asia consists of the entire leaf, finished (perhaps scented) to perfection, and vacuum packed immediately to preserve the freshness and flavor which begin instantly to degrade when exposed to oxygen. In this ‘QualiTea’ culture, the pure, unadulterated flavor of the extract, or the finely ground full leaf, is what's at issue. Then brewed and consumed in the context of an artful, aesthetic ceremony. The aesthetic adds to the experience. At S******** on the other hand, it's shavings, fragments and dust from the factory floor, packaged in a bag, tossed into the hottest water, capped and served in a waxed paper cup. The Leftovers, served for convenience. Well, it's hot -- and wet."

Mom started me out with L*****. It was bitter hot swill; sugared and lemoned to some degree of bare palatability. Who would drink this stuff?

The later experience with English "Tea" was a small adventure with cozies, pots and British pomp and ceremony. All right, but the food and presentation was the best part, which somewhat eclipsed the "bitter milk soup" with biscuit crumbs. It was a small, though elegant meal with a drinking beverage...

I really didn't grok TEA, until I experienced the Tea Ceremony with a Japanese Master. Kneeling to enter the Tea House, sitting humbly on the floor, admiring a small pottery and flower arrangement, and taking in the atmosphere of tranquility and warmth in the rough-beamed but perfect environment. The simple elegance of the Cha No Yu left me absorbed, satisfied, pleased and challenged with its contrasting simplicity and sophistication. It tasted wonderful, it felt wonderful and was presented in excellent, restrained taste.

Then Taiwan. Two hours to the mountain top plantation. Walking among the manicured bushes. Breathing the immaculate air while absorbing the incomparable chi. Watching the harvesting, treating, finishing, packaging and ultimately the serving to my boisterous group of TaiJi Tea pilgrims. Gongfu Style, is high conviviality, a happy giggling group, multiple varieties of tea, many pots, many tastes, much joy and a view of forever. And the true sense that tea is best taken with joyful friends.

It's not merely the leaf, but the quality, the packaging, the ceremony and the love!

Dessert: Here’s a story of what’s in those Teabags…

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Gold Star TaiJi


“The old masters began with their village style, perfected their practice then went on to acquire more information and expand their skills... As they moved and learned; their students followed and began to use family and village names to label and distinguish one “flavor” from another. Today, a single lifetime is not sufficient to encompass the entire range of the art. But in the end, it remains TaiJi.”

—Master Pikshan Ko Portland, OR

Advertising changes (some say “Pollutes!”) everything it touches.
In ages past, TaiJi was a well known art which reflected the individual style, touch, taste and family history of every practitioner. With sufficient exposure, one could tell the family style, teacher, line, region and focus of a player. They were all different, but all part of the family.

But as the great wide world extended and expanded, advertising found its way into the art. Artificial distinctions and “Associations” became the order of the day. Now, it's not just Tai Chi or Tai Chi Chuan or TaiJi; it's “The Most Popular Form of TaiJi!” Perhaps it's “TaiJi from the Original Wudang Temple.” Maybe it's “Taoist Tai Chi!” “Robert Alexander’s Original Tai Chi Chuan at the Main Street Temple.” (“Robert Alexander” is in this case an artificial name to make a literary point. Any resemblance to a real person, living or dead, is purely co-incidental...) Of course, “Beijing TaiJi” would have a powerful claim to center stage, if not for the fact that the Party frowns on Chi...

Can “Gold Star TaiJi” be far behind? Red Stripe? Black Robe?
Oh, and let's separate out Chi Gong, Tao Gong, Boxing and Weapons. All separate, branded, artificially distinct products to be shrink-wrapped, advertised and sold.

One of the classic strategies of advertising is the invention or isolation of distinct features, then claiming them first in public! As in “Quaker Puffed Rice: Shot from Guns!” All puffed rice is “shot from guns!” But because David Ogilvy’s agency claimed it first for Quaker -- it was true! “First to Claim, owns the Name!” So be prepared for increasingly shrill claims to have originated Peng Energy, Unique High Frequency Chi, Resonant Chi, Fah Jing Retreats and Condensing Breathing. “You heard it here first!”

As in all things, beware of the advertisement!

To find your genuine teacher, ask around, Google it, then make a list and prepare to visit schools -- many of them!

Happiness with your school depends on four things:
* Time: Can they be there when you want to study?
* Place: Can you be happy in this place? The look, sound and feel of the school have a profound effect on your attitude, and sense of safety.

* Teacher: You have to respect, trust and be willing to accept instruction from this person. They will guide your study, provide an example, demonstrate the skills and push you to excel. They have to be more than a mere mortal, and someone to whom you can entrust your future.

* Style: There are so many flavors, and so much to choose from: You have to like the style in all its quirky ancient uniqueness.

Suggestion: Disregard all the advertising and promotion. Stick with 1-4 above and you'll find a good place. Consider that TaiJi takes a lifetime -- at least, so it's not going to give up all its secrets in six weeks. Now put aside all your gwai-lo criticality, settle in for a while and let it grow on you!

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The Proposition

Let's Do This! Together!

There's a lot of TaiJi out there... And much of it claiming to be "The Only! The Best!" It's an art (and a skill) whose ancient origins are obscured by the passage of time and the profusion of competing marketing messages and national, regional, racial and familial branding attempts! It's myth, legend and a lot of selling: making it hard to find the truth.

Our workshops provide context, access and comparison for our Students, Friends and Honored Guests. It's an atmosphere of friendly, neutral, open exchange; free of hype. TaiJi is served too, as everyone discovers more of the great art.

Our Home Teachers: Aaron, Jen and Tom are here every Saturday at 9:00 AM for Beginning and Advanced Class and Tea with the Masters. Let's build a solid foundation, and lay the groundwork for lifelong study, and expand our world by being great hosts.
Our regular workshops with Honored Guest Instructors will allow you to see the best, teaching the best; in great surroundings. Each quarter, we'll be hosting a workshop with a standard format, allowing you to expand your awareness of the art, and broaden your exposure and understanding. Accommodations and restaurants are in walking distance, so the commute is minimal and the exposure is great.

Honored Guest Instructors:
Can you use a little help? How about powerful teaching tools, nice hosts, and comfortable accommodations? Your life is about teaching TaiJi! But the schools, hotels and countries can become a blur... Consider us a safe haven to gather and charge up your Chi, while demonstrating your mastery -- assisted by helpful people, in an elegant and comfortable place.

House of TaiJi:
Students, Friends, Teachers and TaiJi

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Summer of Discovery


“Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pâté.”

—Margaret Eleanor Atwood
Canadian Poet & Novelist
1939 --

I read Tao Te Ching, Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain and Tao, the Watercourse Way in 1974, just after graduating from University; wanting to find the secret to life and tremendously unsatisfied with what a formal education had to offer.

To my mind, Lao Tsu, Alan Watts and Chungliang Al Huang were all equally exotic -- distant and mythical creatures who wrote from Ithaca and sent their writings into the universe as encouragement to me that wonderful things can indeed come about, and that I could play a personal role in making them happen.

To my experience, Shakespeare, Watts, Lao Tsu and Huang were all equally distant celestial bodies, shining down on my humble experience and encouraging me to dream...

Authors were Gods. People were people. New Graduates were hungry, unemployed people, searching through the history of the martial arts, the human potential movement and Asian philosophy like a beggar seeking sustenance...

It never occurred to me that any of these Godlike creatures ("Authors") might yet live... It never occurred to me that I might simply pick up the phone and contact one (or more) of them in person.

Call Chungliang? That took another 40 years...

When the coin dropped, I was -- at sixty two -- less deferential to "Gods", and less impressed by authors, because I had become an author myself out of necessity -- one word, sentence, article and book at a time... Books were what intelligent people do to pass along the wisdom the muse -- at her discretion -- makes available...

Also, after a lifetime of martial practice, I was more inured to Sifu Worship, more accepting of human ego and the tendency to keep the kids in the dark. I had my heroes, all of whom were not only great, but also alcoholic, addicted, misogynist, egotistical, financially strapped, narcissistic, manipulative, greedy, lazy, filthy, demanding and self absorbed... Let's say my expectations had been "annealed" by a lifetime of up close and personal experience. Gods may yet live on Olympus, but human beings write, and live right here... Experience had suitably evaporated the distinction.

So it was that I picked up a treasured old book and discovered, in a moment of curiosity and internet "explore-action" that Chungliang Al Huang was both mythical and alive, but also teaching, in two weeks time, a mere seven hundred miles south of where I was re-reading Embrace Tiger... (When the student is ready...) Which led to that phone call...

Assembling my gear, I packed the car and set off down the Oregon coast to visit Living Tao, meet the Master and sample the pâté...

To be continued...

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In the Shadows


The bullies were behind the fence as I came home. Returning from a birthday party, I had a balloon, a piece of cake on a paper plate, and some still wrapped take-home goodies.

It was a fun day. Lots of other kids, games, food. Not a care. Then came the two block walk home. I collected my things and was on my way.

At the halfway point, two of them got between me and home, looming in that way bullies do, looking big and mean and hard and intimidating... I slowed to a stop.

The third one hit me from behind with a rock. I fell down and watched dully, as they grabbed and ate the cake while groping through my goodies and breaking the balloon.

There was a last kick to the stomach, and they ran away laughing as I gathered my wits and walked home.

Mom was heartbroken and kind. Dad was outraged.

I was shocked that such a thing could happen. But it didn't take long for me to form a thought: "Never Again!"

I found a book in the library, Judo Boy, by John Ball. It was about a young man who was beat up by bullies and looked for a way to defend himself...

Judo, Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, Ai Ki Do, TaiJi... A long, martial path which began with the vow, "Never Again!"

When I met my teacher, he said, "Why are you here?" I told him about the bullies and the book. He stopped me, smiled, and said, "Wait! Judo Boy? Me too!

Surprised by what's in the shadows? Never Again!

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Wisdom isn't Stolen


“Thieves can only steal what they can see. Wisdom isn't stolen.”
— Jen Roshi Temple of the Immortals

While Jiayi, the old Monk was bathing, a thief sneaked into his hut and made off with his robe, staff and begging bowl.

Several days later, a man entered the baker's shop and selected a loaf of bread for which he offered up a bowl in exchange. Having seen the bowl a hundred times (even at his own table...) the baker gravely accepted it in payment and kept it under his counter — to be returned to the Monk.

A few days later, a man came to town wearing the Monk’s robe. Approaching him from behind, a lady called to him, "Jiayi! I have a riddle for you, old friend!" Yet the man, knowing himself by another name, kept walking. The old lady picked up her pace, insistently saying, "Jiayi! You are old certainly, but are you deaf? Why not stop and speak to me?" Finally catching up, the lady caught the man’s shoulder and spun him around. "I say, Sir! How came you by this robe, the only possession of our treasured monk?”

At this, the thief shed the robe and dashed away, clad only in his undergarments. The robe was lovingly washed, patched and returned to Jiayi, when he came to town the next day. He gladly donned the soft old garment and resumed his daily routine, stopping, conversing, teaching and listening his way around the town; visiting each of his charges and being lovingly graced with meals and extra food.

A few days later, Jiayi answered a hail at his door and found the thief bowing before him, surrendering up the missing staff in offering. As he bowed in return, he reached for the new staff, standing by the door. Leaning upon it, he said, "Sir, why not keep my old friend with you as wise counsel against the quick and easy path? I'll keep this new gift from the townspeople, and we can both be reminded of the importance of community.”

The thief bowed lower and that day became Jiayi's disciple...

Years later he explained to a novice, "Jiayi kept what I couldn't steal."

The novice answered, "But you stole his bowl, his robe and his staff!"

"Yes!" said the disciple. "What can be seen can be stolen: A robe, a staff and a bowl! But the integrity, the honesty and compassion of the man who owned them, I could not steal — nor could I counterfeit them. They were what compelled people to look twice at the robe, the bowl and the staff. Some of his wisdom rubbed off on his humble belongings, and that property was eventually returned to its rightful owner."

"What I could see (and steal) was somehow linked to what I could not. Over time, I hope, some of that wisdom has rubbed off on me as well..."


1. Personally
The wisdom of Jiayi was in focusing on his charges: helping, teaching, listening, serving — and being honestly served in return. The difference between serving and selling is hard to identify, but with the passage of time; the true quality of one’s interactions reveal themselves. Were they merely self-serving? Or did they prove to be the best for all concerned?

2. At Home
It's a fast moving world. Even magazine titles proclaim it. In the family, we have to deal with fast partners and fast children, who can't wait to acquire fast "food," faster toys, and the fastest network goodies. But at the same time, we need to remind our children (and perhaps ourselves) of the virtues of slow relationships, slow compounding interest for college and the slow and steady "acquisition of wisdom" vs. the "quick access to information."

3. At Work
It's one thing to have an idea; another thing entirely to think through its applications and slow development from "a Story" to "a Reputation" to "a Brand." If you present it in a way that makes it unique, the wisdom and its presentation become one thing — inseparable. Over time, your intelligence, and the way you package and deliver it become your Signature: something that cannot be stolen — only admired. Many people attempt to "appear smart" at work. But true wisdom, integrity and service are not appearances; and must be demonstrated over time.

Focus on acquiring and delivering wisdom that can't be stolen, and your bowl will never be empty!

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Sweeping the Dojo

Sweeping the Dojo

Sweeping the temple outside of Chiya Yi City, Taiwan

"You can buy an hour of Teaching. But Interest is much more expensive, and must be exchanged for in kind."
— Shifu Jennifer

Yuki-San visited our Dojo, and being the perfect guest, he arrived early to help set up, then stayed late to sweep up the tatami. That evening, Master made an announcement about some needed maintenance. As the rest of us were leaving, Yuki remained behind. When I asked why, he said he was taking a look at the work required, in preparation for tackling it in the morning.

I was surprised, and said so! "You're our guest. We'll take care of it..." He replied, "Master pointed out a problem, and it is our job as students to see that such things are resolved without being asked. Yes, we pay for lessons, but the privilege of making the dojo a "place of living responsibility" lies with us. Because I am your guest, there is more reason for me to demonstrate my commitment."

As Yuki left the following month for home, it was revealed that he was an advanced master in his home dojo. Neither the white belt he wore as our guest nor his humble demeanor gave away his rank. His stature however, was demonstrated by his commitment to sweeping up every night.

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Gathering Chi

Gathering Chi

"Most people are simply Cut Flowers.
Severed from their root, they slowly and continuously expend energy until, in the end, they wither and die."
—Chungliang "Al" Huang
Founder of Living Tao Foundation
Chinese-American Philosopher, Teacher and TaiJi Dancer

So why do we practice TaiJi?

Because the movement, the slow speed, the meditation -- the discipline of it, acts as a "net for life energy." It's all around us of course, but the practice allows us to gather it and steadily, slowly recharge our reserves and enhance our lives.

Consider that our contemporary life habits are (in many cases) not built to enhance our energy, but actually to expend it. Every thought, action, practice, meal and relationship either adds to our store of life energy -- or depletes it.

TaiJi is an ancient system of wisdom and practice which allows us to add to our store of energy and use it in ways which benefit not only us as individuals, but also our families and communities.

As we study and eventually master the art, we become more and more aware, and part of the subtle energies which comprise the living system. "Self Cultivation" is the phrase we use to describe "Gathering Chi," learning about the art itself and its root culture, and the myriad of things which enhance our abilities to live and serve ourselves and others...

As you grow as an individual, and a TaiJi player, your life becomes not only fuller and healthier; but more deeply connected to Tao.

Reach out and Gather Chi!

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