Injury as Teacher

Practicing Tai Chi or any martial arts after an injury is an excellent opportunity to learn or relearn basic principles.  I recently sprained my ankle.  After a few days of taking it easy on my affected leg, I practiced some forms and was reminded of how important it is to connect with the bubbling springs.

Every time we bend our knees and hips to lower our center of gravity, being grounded in the sole of our foot allows the structure to carry the weight instead of the soft tissues.  A small deviation away from balanced structure is felt immediately with an injury somewhere along the chain of pearls connecting our feet with our spinal engine.  Moving slowly through the forms also allows us to listen to the rest of our structure as a small change outside of proper alignment can be felt with the injured tissues.

A couple of principles of martial arts apply here:

  • The fundamentals are always good to practice and relearn.
  • Listen with all of your senses to ensure alignment and connection.
  • Be mindful of injury, but do not allow the injury to define you or your movement.
  • We can learn our form from anyone, even someone who doesn’t practice our form, even from our own injured body.

 

Learning Tai Chi

Master Moy once told me during a major correction, “You should be able to learn tai chi from anyone, even someone who doesn’t do tai chi.” I was doing dan-yus in front of a group of about 30 people at a Fung Loy Kok Taoism workshop. He also said some things to me which seemed so militant to some onlookers that they left the Taoist Tai Chi Society. However, to me I never had the sense Master Moy was trying to control me. Quite the contrary, I had the experience of trust and attempting to peel my outer layers like an onion and show me what was inside of me. It’s as if he took my hand and showed me around my inner being. After what seemed an eternity of his lecturing me through an interpreter, I felt lighter and was able to do far more of the exercise I could do before we started. I also remember information about the physiology and physics of the exercise.

Many things stick with me from the correction. However, I usually return to his voice and the translation of “You should be able to learn tai chi from anyone, even someone who doesn’t do tai chi.” In the context a tai chi correction, this statement implies we need to be open to the learning all around us. I practiced the Taoist arts for over 15 years in an organized environment and instructed Tai Chi, Lok Hup, Health Recovery and gave classes in Taoism. After my wife and I started our family project, our involvement in the Taoist Tai Chi Society dropped off and faded away. Our interest and practice remains to this day. We continue to learn from each other and from the world around us. Our practice is sporadic which affords us the opportunity to observe and experience the fundamentals of the Taoist Arts in way unavailable to us while heavily integrated into the society.

The external form is just as we taught years ago with a strong foundation in angles reflecting body mechanics. A forty-five degree step is along with proper length of step is critical to the many aspects of the forms as is alignment of knees, hips and an ever shifting center of gravity. Internally, we return to connecting the bubbling spring and tigers mouth as well as dropping the coccyx to open the hips giving the internals freedom to move and connect to the movements. Deeper yet are the connections to the stillness learned in meditation and the non-judgmental awareness of both internal and external environments. Out of this stillness we stay over our emotional, physical and mental centers. We enable ourselves to learn tai chi from anyone and most especially those who do not even do tai chi.

My wife and I have the fantasy of returning in some fashion to the Taoist Tai Chi Society if life affords us the opportunity. If it doesn’t we still continue our quiet cultivation. We connect with ourselves, each other and those who pass through our lives. We learn tai chi from the world around us.

Be open to learn from the world around you.
Be open to learn from the world around you.

The Eye-See-Hand-Do Connection

To be, or to do that is the question. 
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a see of troubles,
And by opposing end them.  To act, to do
Get it done, and by doing to say we end
The heartache of open commitments and responsibility
That minds and spirit are heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d.  To act, to do,
To achieve perchance to create our vision: ay there’s the rub!
For in that sense of accomplishment what other dreams may come
When we have shuffled off our current toils
Must give us pause.  There’s the respect
That makes enjoyment of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When we ourselves might our stillness make
With a simple act of getting shit done. Who manages
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
Creates themselves through their actions,
Deeds and decisions and puzzles the will 
Of those without the connection between seeing 
What needs to done and doing it without question.
And thus the native resolution of those without passion
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises dreamed of die within,
Leaving regret and thoughts of other’s sin.  
With this regard their currents turn awry
And further lose the name of action.

To the great Shakespeare, I apologize for hacking and slashing what I think is one of the greatest creations in literature.  With that said, my point is thus.  Without acting on our decisions and observations we lose our connection with life.  Life is movement.  Without the action of our bodies, minds and spirit we atrophy, lose resilience and die. This is a critical internal to external connection we have the potential to nurture and develop with every conscious decision and unconscious choice of our lives.  To be or to do that is the question.

This fundamental connection can transform our lives.  Master Moy used to talk about it during his classes and workshops.  “When you see a dirty dish take it to the kitchen and wash it.”  “When you see someone has an empty water or cup of tea, offer to fill it.”  “If you see dirty floors, pick up a broom or mop and clean it.”  His focus was on helping others so that we can nurture our virtue and thereby cultivate our health through our actions. Essentially, if you see something needing done, then do it.  This applies to action in our individual lives, our interactions with others and our environment.  In this sense, my answer to the question of to be or to do, is quite simple.  Do or die, there is no try.

eye see hand do
If you see something needing done, then do it. It’s that simple.