A Lok Hup instructor once said, “You should be able to stop at any point in the form and be balanced.” This isn’t an easy task. I’ve been working on it for years. The more I work on it, the more stable and grounding the form becomes. It helps me connect with my surroundings more. It’s worth trying, no matter what form you practice. Obviously, if you are doing a flying kick, the instruction is not applicable. For the most part any of the internal martial arts can use this instruction to discover more connectedness.
Constellate this with the idea out of industrial engineering of walking the process. In the quest for continual improvement, a process is walked through. During this, someone sees what the actual work being performed is, asks questions and learns what is happening. This activity is then aimed at reducing waste and inefficiency. Process engineering of this nature is about making every step and movement of product count.
I’ve been living this for some time in my life. I try to optimize my activities so I can squeeze as much life as I can out of the time I have. Recently, my wife made an observation. We get up at the same time. She starts a shower while I go feed the dogs. In recent times, I’ve been able to get back up stairs by the time she starts her shower. One morning she said, “Do you even feed the dogs?” I laughed and shrugged it off, however, thought about it over the next few weeks. The thing is, I optimize my time by expending as little energy as possible so I can have more energy for other things like getting back up stairs in the morning to do a couple martial arts exercises, stretches or writing before I take my shower. The dogs just want their breakfast as soon as possible so my leaning of my tasks helps them and helps myself.
As in business, so in martial arts. If we can use the smallest amount of energy in our movements of the forms, we optimize them. The movements become more simple and easier to remember if you go without practice for a while. Forms become more efficient and thus more powerful. We are told many times by our instructors to keep the form simple or trust the form. Simple form is efficient form and has a greater impact on our ability to use the form for its intended purpose. When we move simply, we relax and enable ourselves to do more with what we have.
This is economy of movement. When we are aware of the energy our movements take, we can more readily take corrections and learn new aspects of the form. We can establish good habits quickly which then become the foundation of more advanced movements using the same form. When we get lost in all the things the form can do, it can quickly disintegrates into something other than what our instructors showed us originally. The key here is to keep it simple, balanced and use as little energy as possible thereby enabling us to use the form to discover more advanced aspects of the forms or deeper elements of ourselves. With enough economy of movement the form itself can take on a stillness of sorts where there is not thought required.
This is one of the experiences of the ancient art forms that can incrementally transform our lives. It occurs when stillness is born from our movements and movement is generated out of our stillness.
I was recently reviewing my notes from Master Moy Lin Shin and a few ideas ring today as much as they struck a chord with me when I first heard them. I’ve strung the ideas I jotted down with other thoughts but maintained the intent nonetheless.
You can actually cultivate your internals and improve your health by cultivating each of the five virtues associated with those internal organs. When we focus on kindness we support our liver like wood supports our houses. Practicing self-sacrifice stokes the fire of our heart. Through propriety we strengthen our lungs like metal reinforces a building. Sharing and learning new wisdom nourishes our kidneys like water brings life to our gardens. And, when we work with trustworthiness, we support our spleens like the earth provides for our lives.
Let the insides direct the movements.
Play tai chi. Coil and uncoil the spine, not too fast as you’ll lose control, and not too slow as you have to keep things going.
Taken together, these ideas for the basis of life long practice. First we must learn the movements for sure, but the movements are but the tip of the Arts. The art form is something we practice day-to-day in our interactions with people and our environment. Over time, our practice helps us connect with what’s deep within us. Once we establish these connections we further our art form by letting our insides direct our movements and interactions. And, most importantly, it is up to us to find the fun in our daily form. When we can play with our internal nature and express that through our movements and interactions, we cultivate the best in ourselves allowing our health, stillness, and connection with life to emerge.
Stillness, health and connection to live emerge as we cultivate ourselves through our daily interactions.
The efficacy of acupuncture another other ancient Chinese systems of health are being evaluated by modern medicine. Some studies show benefits. Others are inconclusive. Whether you believe in the ideas of the Taoist Arts or not, the ideas can help us learn by focusing our attention.
Take for example the idea of chi. Chi is touted as many things including the life force, energy, and spirit. Perhaps it is all of these things, perhaps not. After practicing the internal martial arts for a long time, one can begin to sense the flow of energy. It can feel like a spirit or alive-ness in the body. When practicing push hands and other interactive forms, this sense may be used to affect others.
One particular idea shared with me by a long time acupuncturist and Taoist Arts practitioner helped me understand how to use the idea of chi in my own movements. “Chi follows thought. Focusing thought, focuses chi. When chi accumulates without thought, it stagnates and creates pain.”
What I’ve learned from this is our attention and focus determine our ability to move, relax and achieve any sort of stillness. As I talk about in the bizofyou blog (see post on 13Aug15), our focus is a fire we can use to create the life we envision for ourselves. Our focus is our directed attention, attitude and action. This directed intention is energy. How we use our energy or chi creates joy or suffering. It’s up to us to decide how to use our energy.
This idea of energy can also be related to mechanical, electrical and thermodynamic energy as our bodies have all of these aspects. We can use the sense of physics or physiology to understand this energy no matter what it is called. Whether we believe in the ideas originating centuries ago or not, there is still usefulness in them. The utility of the ideas comes through practice and reflection on how it effects our lives. Those ideas having a positive effect should be shared. Those that do not should simply be let go in order to make room for discovering other ideas old or new.
Yang is clear and Yin is murky; Yang moves and Yin is still. Starting from the root and flowing to the branches, it gives rise to the myriad things. Clarity is the source of murkiness, movement is the foundation of stillness. When people can be constantly clear and still, heave and earth return to their places. . . .
. . .Although it is called attaining the Tao, in reality there is nothing to attain; But in order to transform people, it is called attaining the Tao.
These are some lines from the Taoist scripture of Clarity and Stillness. There’s additional information about how we are entangled in desires, cravings and ideas about banishing them. I’ve found some truth in the words within this particular scripture in my personal studies and experiences.
In the movements of martial arts, stillness arises after a lot of practice. The first time I experienced stillness emerging out of movement is after a day full of tai chi practice at a workshop when I was tired and past the point resistance. I found I hold my body in ways to prevent opening myself to others. After a lot of tai chi I learned to relax in ways unbeknownst to me before. My interactions with people became more authentic and open. Connections were more readily made. I found a stillness I had not known before. I liked it. I spent years chasing the experience attending workshops, learning new forms, giving more of my time, meditating and the like.
Then, life hit and I started a family project. Now practicing the art forms for hours at a time is a luxury. Even so, I retain the stillness within. This leads me to an understanding of sorts. Practice is a vehicle to transform us just like the concept of the Tao. Ultimately there’s nothing to attain. Stillness is something to be uncovered within ourselves. Sharing my experience with others in and out of the Taoist arts has lead me to understand stillness is something under the daily routines, our quest to be a hero or heroine, our religions, our gods and even under the god that rules them all. These things are not paths up a proverbial mountain but to the still point within where everything else dissolves leaving us alone in our our truest experience of reality connected with everyone and everything around us.
Joseph Campbell talked about finding that still point in our minds where things drop away. From this perspective the peak of the mountain is where all the paths up the slopes vanish to reveal our experience in it’s rawest form with no strings attached, no religion, no deities, no sense of ‘other’ committing us to the myriad things. Our movements and wandering in life beget stillness. Out of stillness, all of our movement, interactions and understanding emerges as the forms of our life.
We practice forms to discover stillness. Once found, our cultivation of stillness allows our forms to emerge. Stillness is the root of clarity, movement, transformation and ultimately the Tao.
The Taoist Arts and more specifically Tai Chi and Lok Hup may be practiced within a group setting or solo. Each practice has benefits and detriments. Often people connect with a group more readily than finding the connections going solo.
In a group you can:
let go of need to know next move,
learn different perspectives as people share their experiences,
be carried by the dynamic of the group into experiences difficult when solo,
Receive external feedback from an instructor or compare yourself to others.
By one’s self you can:
Let go of any performance anxiety
listen to your own experience without getting drowned by other perspectives,
learn to follow our own intention using our awareness,
find the flow of your own energy without reference to others.
Having talked to multiple people who have returned to a group practice after a long time on their own, the experiences vary from mind-blowing to not much different. Everyone connects in different ways and has different levels of awareness. One thing I find is an increased level of trust in the form itself. Often people experience something more within a group. There’s additional energy to align with and follow in a group setting. Without many years of practice, going alone can lead to going astray and fabricating movements not grounded in the fundamentals of stepping, sitting and keeping things simple. It’s easy to let ones sensations exaggerate little things in the movements. This expression is what One advanced instructs called getting “flowery,” and can lead to distortion. There’s another side of practicing solo. It can feel luxurious to immerse one’s self in the group. It’s comfortable to forget the need to remember what move is coming next. In the height of life where our responsibilities peak, simply having time to practice can feel like a luxury.
The comfort and flow may be found solo after years of practice when the body remembers without conscious deliberation. There’s a sense of letting the energy flow without thought and conscious direction. The form becomes a moving meditation. This aligning with the energies within is just as mind-bending as returning to the fold of the group dynamic. The more we practice in this way allows to understand the difference between our own energies and those external to us. This is immensely beneficial and amplifies what we can learn in group practice.
To be clear, I am of the mind both group and solo practice have their place and are beneficial. The thing is we have to align with the forces in our lives and practice in an appropriate way for where we are on or own path. No matter where we are it is imperative to have fun with it and keep things simple.
I recently discovered my manuscript I’m working on needed some contextual story or background to help readers connect with it. Having had a couple Tai Chi folk read it and not give feedback, I thought I should relate it to my background in the Taoist Arts. Thus, I’ve added some fictional characters to collaborate within a setting of a Tai Chi class with the result of writing a standard of living based on business called, “Managing the Business of You.” Some of the information from the manuscript is at http://www.bizofyou.com. Here’s an excerpt:
On one particular evening in class Emmet focused on using the same intention in every move. He first explained the acupuncture point called the “Bubbling Spring.” “It’s a point on the Kidney meridian on the center of the sole of the foot, at the base of the ball of the foot, between the pads. Although acupuncture calls it a point, it’s more of an area. When you place your weight in the area that’s one-third of the total foot length from the tip of your toes, the bubbling spring is stimulated.” Emmet went on to show how to use intention to place your weight in a specific area of the foot. He used the squatting type exercise where the practitioner opens the pelvis, bends the knees and lets the center of gravity drop in a straight line that points to a place between the feet. The line where the center of gravity drops can be adjusted. When the weight is spread throughout the feet, the practitioners feel their weight in the bubbling spring throughout the movement. Much of what Emmet showed was non-verbal. He showed it many times as each student sees different things and often has to see movement from many angles in order to learn what is expected of them.
Emmet had the class practice the exercise until most of the students had increased circulation evidenced by breathing deeply, flush faces or perspiration. Emmet is continually amazed at how simple movements can get energies moving. He let them take a break and started explaining how the same intention may be used in more than the 108 movements of the tai chi set. Starting with the bow before the movements he showed moving slowly allows one to focus their center so their weight spreads throughout the foot but remains localized around the bubbling springs. He allowed his spine to curve over like a fishing pole keeping his knees unbending. His hips had to move back as his spine went forward to counterbalance one another all the while keeping the weight centered in the foot. After his hands touched the floor, he reversed the process to return to a standing position. He turned his feet to start the first move of the set while keeping his weight centered appropriately in each foot. He kept going in the second move allowing his spine to stretch easily out. His weight moved from one foot to another as he stepped between moves. With any contact with the floor, his weight was centered around the bubbling spring. He repeated the movements a few times and explained a few key and critical points along the way like dropping the tail bone and maintaining balance between the push from the feet and the expression out through the spine, arms and hand movements.
The intent of the fictional story is to relate the principles of tai chi to our daily activities and principles of managing the business of you. It’s a work in progress so who knows how it will end up after the agents, editors and publisher get a hold of it.