Stability and staged performances
This is a small excerpt from my upcoming book – Taiji, Qigong and Standing Meditation.
Apart from a lot of instructional material, both in written and videoclips in the book I also address again and again views on learning, teacher/student relationship, thoughts to reflect on and much, much more. The following is a small example of that.
Stability – to be like a bag of rice
“Be still as a mountain, move like a great river.”
Sometimes you see Taiji practitioners, who are too focused on learning to take all the force down to the ground and being stable and almost immovable. They become like a big bag of rice – heavy and firm. They confuse this condition with the much higher level, called intercepting force, in which yielding, neutralizing and issuing happens at one and the same time.
With intercepting force, it looks as though the practitioner is standing completely still. He does not. The movements have just become so small that it demands a trained eye to see them happening.
On a journey around to different Taiji schools in Malaysia I witnessed myself how one of my former teachers had a healthy lesson of not just standing still in the same position and seek to take all the force into the ground as an unknown (and actually inexperienced) pushhands opponent came at him with great force. My teacher, who was far more skilled than the other who pushed him, had become too used to it only being his own students who pushed him. And in pushhands confrontations with them, it worked. It did not work in this case, and he was pushed back by his opponent.
Afterwards I trained pushhands with the same person and by drawing experience from what I had just seen happen to my teacher, I merely yielded my partners push, which brought him out of balance and threw him backwards. Not that I was better than my teacher, but because I had just witnessed what happened to my teacher – and learned from it.
By trying to stand still and immovable and receiving pushes can be excellent training to train the sense of your body functioning as an integrated unit. But it is an exercise directed towards developing sensitivity in relation to exactly that. It is not the goal in itself. Imagine that it was a punch or a kick, and you were just standing immovable and received – you would be like the punching bag at a boxing gym.
Some teachers fall to the temptation of doing staged performances when they have workshops or upload video clips to YouTube. I.e. they do pushhands demonstration exclusively with their own students, who hop and jump around in all kinds of possible and impossible directions as though hit by magical forces. It is a scandal to witness and deeply discrediting to Taiji!
On many occasions I have been one-on-one with one of these “masters” or teachers, and it did not work on me! Not because I am someone unique whom very few can handle, but simply because these masters or teachers cannot, in reality perform these miraculous things. And staging just covers up for an insecure person, who knows that he is living on a lie and is afraid to be exposed. And what does this create? Tensions!
It is OK to use your own students to demonstrate some specific things that you work on developing and momentarily can do, as long as you at the same time acknowledge, that you have not quite yet reached the level to be able to do this to everyone and under any given condition. But it is not OK to create an illusion and myth of yourself, that is just waiting to be uncovered. Be honest and let go. Anything else is just giving Taiji a bad reputation.
It is possible to develop these skills and make them work on everyone. Master Sam Tam, and a few others I have met are examples of this. But accept, if you are not quite at this level yet. Only then is the possibility open for you to develop in that direction.
Typical errors at training
“Knowledge is learning something every day. Wisdom is letting go of something every day.”
Zen proverbAt the beginning of your Taiji training you will of course use some amount of energy on learning various forms and positions and making the body move softly and fluently, and on being connected from feet to fingertips. But to continue being solely focused on positions and movements will at a later time hinder your development. An old proverb goes: “first learn, then forget.” In Taiji the whole essence is, that the exercises and movements are used to learn and understand some principles. Once they have been understood and integrated, you move on to the next level.
Being too emotional about your training is not very appropriate either. A lot of people experience calm and ease and perhaps even tranquility as they practice. While these experiences are natural and a part of the process, they are just positive “side-effects”. If you solely focus on and strive to bring yourself into this state of mind, it will in the long run, keep you from developing and increasing your attention within yourself, various sensations of the body, your sensitivity etc.
Visualization, fantasizing, music and such can all be useful methods to calm the emotions. They can help to give temporary easing of physical and mental imbalances, but will not build lasting strength and sensitivity.
Furthermore, these methods can assist in camouflaging physical and mental tensions, and move your attention from inner sensations thus hindering you in becoming aware of them – and then letting go of them. They can become an escape from reality. Having too much attention on the underlying philosophy, or over-intellectualizing it without balancing it with a good portion of persistent and continuous physical training, does not lead to much other than the illusion of practicing Taiji.
Your own ideas, thoughts, assumptions and conclusions belong to the superficial part of the mind. If you are too focused here, it will only lead to you not gaining access to the subconscious and so does not get in touch with, or allow you to work with, some of the deeper aspects of Taiji.
It is not uncommon, that people with an academic background have a tendency to fall within this group, as they can be of the perception that intellectual understanding primarily is what leads to inner development. Nothing could be further from the truth.