We start from the outside and move within when we begin practicing any of the internal martial arts. We learn angles, stepping, and weight shifting. After we have these basics, we learn what tiger’s mouth is in our hand and arm structure as well as the bubbling spring and alignment of our weight. Over time these things become more natural leaving us to experience what’s happening when we have proper alignment and skeletal structure. These externals allow us how the movement feels inside. With guidance the internal feelings are expanded and verified via feedback from the groups we practice with or an instructor. This tuning into the internals is where the internal martial art begins.
With this said, I must share a cautionary note. There are many people who have an innate ability to feel things more than others. Often these are the folks drawn to the internal martial arts in the first place. Within the beginning class, they share how they can feel the movement inside. The caution is this, that feeling is ephemeral and changes as the fundamentals of the form have not taken root. It is extremely important to ground ourselves in the fundamentals of our arts before we start exploring the internal “feels.”
The angles, stepping and weight shifting come first. The mechanics of the form is critical. With the foundation in place, we can then place the girders of bubbling springs and tiger’s mouth. we can then start erecting the walls and ceilings of turning, extension, contraction and lateral movement of the spine after we have the skeletal structure in place on top of our foundation. This external home is where we can then start exploring the internal nature of our forms. This process can take anywhere between 7 and 20 years depending on the individual and some don’t ever get there. Being in a class for a couple of months and feeling internals is like walking through a model home. It’s not until you put forth the resources including time and energy in building the home can one start to live there.
It’s of utmost importance to revisit the foundations If we lessen our practice for whatever reason life brings us. When new instruction comes our way it is up to us to understand how it fits into our home and if it’s appropriate to integrate where ever we may be in our development. Hopefully our guidance and new instructions come from individuals who have a deep understanding of our form and its many different applications.
I once had the chance to work with Master Moy and Dr. Elliot Kravitz who watched an individual perform some Dan-yus for roughly ten minutes in front of a group of instructors. Elliot asked the group what instructions we would give. There were various answers. After feedback was collected, Elliot said, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” He went on to say the person was moving appropriately and not damaging anything. Sometimes we simply need to practice a while before we move on to other levels in our forms.
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.
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.