A STUDENTS JOURNEY THROUGH THE MARTIAL ARTS, FINDING MEANING AND PURPOSE THROUGH MARTIAL DISCIPLINE AND THE STUDY AND PRACTICE OF TAI CHI CHUAN
| A collection of lectures by Dr. Gregory Lawton at the Blue Heron Academy
A Students Journey through the Martial Arts, Finding Meaning and Purpose through Martial Discipline and the Study and Practice of Tai Chi Chuan A Collection of Lectures from the Blue Heron Academy Dr. Gregory T. Lawton Copyright 2013, all rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without written permission from Gregory T. Lawton. Dr. Gregory T. Lawton 6757 Cascade Road, SE Suite 172 Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546 616-464-0892 Art and Photography â€“ Dr. Gregory T. Lawton Layout and design â€“ Muyblue Productions
Dedication In my book, “Scent of a Forgotten Flower” I stated that power is the ability to change a human heart. That ability is only possessed by the Great Teachers that pass this way every few thousand years and who are the true Educators of humankind. I owe the changes in my life to one such Teacher and to the Bahá'í Faith. If my life and work have any substance or value, it is due to the Bahá'i Faith. Like a flower I receive the gift of life from the light and warmth of the writings of Bahá’u’lláh. The second force for change and growth in my life is due to my wife Ginny. The positive dynamic between a man and a woman, as husband and wife, is like the orbiting of the planets or the gravity between the earth and the moon, and can serve to keep us on a constant and steady path. The third important force for change in my life is the result of my daughters Megan and Jaime. The gift of children in a life serves to show you your possibilities for goodness and innocence. The fourth dynamic force for change in my life is my grandchildren. We are leaving this world in such a mess that the least that we owe our children and grandchildren is to try to leave a road map for them to follow. I would also like to thank the late the late Hand of the Cause of God, Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum for teaching the importance of finishing what you start and to Jeane Plastino-Wood for reminding me of that truth. And finally, the last positive force for change in my life has been my teachers and mentors. I am blessed to have had several remarkable people in my life who selfishly shared their abilities and wisdom with me. These teachers include Professor Huo ChiKwang, Dr. James Schleichert, Joan Laird, and Mr. Kikrullah Khadem.
About the author Dr. Gregory T. Lawton began his martial art training as a child. He has trained in western boxing, wrestling, and Asian martial arts such as Aikido, Jujitsu, Kenpo, Tai Chi Chuan, Pakua Chang, and Hsing Yi. He is an 8th degree black belt in Kosho Ryu Kenpo Jujitsu and was awarded the title Yudansha Taigu. Dr. Lawtonâ€™s main and most noted Tai Chi Chuan instructor was Professor ChiKwang Huo. Professor Huo, the renowned Chinese scholar, artist and calligrapher. Professor Huo served as Taiwan's ambassador to France, was a personal friend of Pablo Picasso, was a master martial artist, and was a student of Yang Shao Hou of the Yang Family. Dr. Lawton is a health science writer and the author of many books, manuals and educational products ranging from manual medicine and martial arts, to health promotion, and from alternative medicine to conventional medicine. He is an award winning artist and photographer. Dr. Lawton is a Vietnam era veteran and was honorably discharged from the US Army in 1968 with the rank of Sergeant E-5.
Table of Contents The Blue Heron Academy Mission Statement, Page 7 Simply a Teacher, Page 9 Tai chi at the Blue Heron, Page 10 The Master, Page 15 Transcendence, Page 17 Lessons of Lozen, Page 19 Giri, Page 22 Running with Deer, Page 24 In Such Deep Silence is My Soul Awake, Page 26 The Old Man and the Sly Fox, Page 29 Light of the Spirit, Page 32 The Five Excellences, Page 35 Understanding the Grand Ultimate Tai Chi, Page 38 Awakening the Spirit Within, Page 41 Teacher, No Teacher, Page 45 Grasp the Bird’s Tail, Page 50 Unity, Page 58 Awakening the Energy Within, 56 Beginning Again, with Tai Chi, Page 60 Tai Chi from the Heart, Page 63 The Matrix of Personal Transformation, Page 69 Death of the Sifu, Page 75 Tai Ji Qi Shi – the Beginning, Page 80 Lan Que Wei – Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail, Page 84 The Sword of Wisdom, Page 88 Tai Chi at Horseshoe Lake, Page 90
ABOUT THIS BOOK The following material is taken from a selected series of lectures, transcripts, notes, and student handouts on Tai Chi Chuan and the martial arts provided by Dr. Gregory T. Lawton at the Blue Heron Academy continuing from 1980 to 2012. This edition is a rough and uncompleted draft that is currently used by Blue Heron Academy martial arts students in their study of the martial arts and Tai Chi Chuan. Much of the material in this book was written in the 1980s and 90s and appeared in another book by this author entitled, “Old Style Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan. The author began to edit and to reformat that book in 2010, and then “misplaced” the manuscript while working on several other writing projects. Finally, this book is appearing in this rough draft format.
The Blue Heron Academy Mission Statement The purpose of our training in the art, science, and philosophy, as well as, the science, physical, moral, and spiritual disciplines of the martial arts is: •To see ourselves and others as spiritual beings. •To trust that which is the highest in ourselves, and in the Universe. •To concentrate on our wellness. •To experience and explore our innate healing abilities. •To accept our inherent right to defend ourselves. •To live without harm to others •To integrate with others, and still remain true to ourselves. •To accept each other’s experiences with love. •To spiritualize our lives. •To experience our oneness. •To show forth a compassionate and personal responsibility for our own lives. •To realize we are free to change our lives as we choose. •To fully appreciate the blessedness of life in all its aspects. •To share love with others. •To be detached from all save that which is the highest in ourselves. •To be grateful for the gifts we receive. •To find our highest reward in service to others.
SIMPLY A TEACHER I am simply a teacher, only moments ahead of you on this journey, and yet I lead. I cannot change you. I cannot give you what you will not accept. I cannot teach you what I do not know. I cannot pass to you a gift I do not possess. If you will not accept what I can give, what purpose is there to this? I cannot give you all the love you long for, the love for which you so desperately search. I can only point you in the direction of true love and hope you will take that path. I cannot be all the people in your life you hoped would love you. I am a teacher. I am not God. I am here to encourage you, to assist you, to simply point the way for you. My responsibility is to lift you up, not carry you along. Therefore, lift up your burden, arise and struggle. Take the steps along the path of your life, your special life. Find your truth, your goodness, your gifts and use them no matter what the cost, no matter what the sacrifice. The truth is this - life lived without knowing yourself and acting on that knowledge is a sad, faded dream of what your life might have been.
TAI CHI AT THE BLUE HERON By appearance, Tai Chi Chuan is a dance in slow motion. But this unhurried grace is simply a mask to be lifted away layer by layer until reaching the seed of spiritual and physical energy within. The gentle dance of Tai Chi is poetry in motion. Tai Chi is an expression of the most beautiful thoughts and beliefs brought from the intangible into the actual. Tai Chi allows us to actualize our spiritual self through the demonstration of physical form and technique. Tai Chi is not a mere philosophy of words but rather a test of words through application of Tai Chiâ€™s intrinsic principles. Tai Chi is not a religion but a tool for the attainment of universal spiritual attributes. We desire discipline and our dedication to practice teaches discipline, we desire self-esteem and the beauty and accomplishment of Tai Chi grants us self appreciation and the appreciation of others, we desire to learn spiritual mysteries and deep meaning within our lives and Tai Chi guides us to deeper understanding and discovery. Tai Chi is a tool toward our own "naturalness" which means to be free from physical, emotional, and mental stress. We were not created to live unexamined lives, or to be alienated from our true selves. When we obtain "naturalness" we have emotional and spiritual balance, or simply health. Tai Chi slowly will lead us toward personal health as it improves respiration, circulation, digestion, and the strength, tone, and flexibility of our bodies.
The statement "Be still as a mountain, move like a great river" describes, in poetic language, the meditation in stillness and flowing motion that is achieved through the practice of Tai Chi. This is a real ability. "That which is essential cannot be spoken of with words and that which is spoken of with words is not essential." That which is essential cannot be spoken of with words; this is the dilemma of teaching. The teacher cannot directly show to the students the inner realities or truths that are spiritual. The only aspect that can be seen is the material or physical act, which in the mind of the student becomes confused with the essential truth. The essential truth can be somewhat described, but the words are hollow like a dried gourd, empty but for the seeds which, if planted in the soil of a fertile heart, will grow over time into a strong fruit-bearing plant. "The strength of the tree is not perceived through its bark." The teacher cannot reveal to you truth, creativity, and reality. Students discover truth, creativity, and reality in the natural course and organic process of becoming fully human and a true human being. The path to truth, creativity, and reality is the path of purity. Purity emerges and unfolds in your life like a flower blooms. The teacher is the gardener, your life circumstances are the garden, and as the sun of spirit and rain of guidance fall upon you, you grow, or if you deny yourself the sun or rain you wither. The meditative art and science of Tai Chi is not learning a dance, it is not how many techniques you know or how beautifully you move. The martial arts are not about the endless quest to learn more and more and more. This ambition to learn more and more and to demonstrate it like a badge or trophy is not truth and does not mean anything, it is superficial. Martial techniques are tricks, constructions of the mind which endlessly flow from the mindâ€™s imagination. They are illusionary and shallow. Students and teachers pride themselves on these tricks; these martial techniques are products of the intellect and not the spirit. The techniques can be endlessly modified and rearranged and they constitute most of what is currently taught as marital art. Students collect these techniques as if the sheer magnitude of their possession will lead to spiritual truth, self knowledge and mastery. This cannot be. Why are you studying this art and science, to appear graceful, to be powerful, to be important, or to gain attention? If these are your motives you may be able to fool others with your superficial obtainment of mechanical abilities, but you cannot fool yourself forever, nor will those you meet who possess real abilities be fooled. The silk flower had great beauty but, alas, no fragrance.
Arts and sciences such as Tai Chi, Yoga, meditation and the martial arts are a serious path to self knowledge, a human becoming a human being. Please understand that what you understand on an intellectual level to be accomplishment is not accomplishment but a theory that you have formed about accomplishment. What you identify within yourself as ability is not ability but an idea in your mind about ability. Spiritual qualities cannot be fully understood by the mind nor expressed in words alone. The imperfection and limitation of this life and your human nature can never hope to copy perfection and that which is without limitation. The best that we can accomplish is to mirror or reflect the perfection through action. Actions. Actions, spontaneous, creative and pure, reveal the nature of the spirit, like a flash of light in a darkened room. When our demonstration of Tai Chi reflects this inner light then we rise above the mere mechanical and the tricks of technique and mirror forth the true reality. This is the goal. The studentâ€™s role, the true seekerâ€™s path, is a path of humility, diligence and patience. Do you think that these are just words? The student cannot buy understanding and the teacher cannot sell it. The student can purchase the privilege of attending classes and taking time from the teacher, but enlightenment cannot be purchased by monthly payments or awarded with a sash or certificate. The teacher cannot package and sell understanding nor guarantee that the student will succeed. The teacher can only derive livelihood in an honest manner through guiding the willing student down a difficult path. This is high seriousness. This is not a sham or a trick. This is the most sacred creation of God, the human soul, its training and your discovery of its attributes. This is your inner self, your true self, your reality or being, that god-like creation that once tempered by the fire and ice of life returns in purity and glory or impurity and dimmed to its Father. The teacher is a guide on the path to steer you from pitfalls and danger. The teacher does not see the vistas for you, gaze upon the majestic view for you. The teacher attempts only to awaken you to fully use your senses to see, hear, and feel the spiritual world around you and within you. Students typically fall into two categories. One category claims to know "everything" and only requires "technical" knowledge about the art remaining blind to the greater gifts available. The second category of student will study diligently but mistakenly identifies forms and techniques as the truth. The first category of student comes and goes in a continuous stream of curious bystanders to an event they do not fully comprehend. Their rational critical minds find many reasons for inadequacy, fault or shortcomings in the teacher or the school. The second group, however, is more tragic. This group stays close to the flame, feels the heat, but never sees the light. Five years, ten years, twenty years may pass and their technical ability may greatly improve, evidence to them of their deepening knowledge and obtainment. This perception is self deceptive and delusionary. Their very improvements and satisfaction with their accomplishment becomes a barrier and a veil to knowledge of their true self. There is of course another student who defies categorization, that all too rare individual who puts aside ego and self delusion and with perseverance, humility, and acquiescence follows the path all the way to the goal. There is a written tradition which says, "The students laugh and the teacher cries, the teacher laughs and the students cry." The teacher wants the student to succeed. True
perception of reality is rare and is a lonely journey. The teacher wants companions along the way. The intimacy that exists in a true teacher-student relationship can be compared to that of family and the breakthroughs that a student achieves on the way, to those family events characterized by celebrations of marriage and birth or the grief of a death when a student loses their way and quits the path. The teacher’s role is to give to you all the guidance that you need, when you are ready for it. The teacher’s responsibility is to create a home and a family for you. The school should be a place of welcome and for the student, a family, since, although needs and experiences may differ, the goal is the same and shared by all. Like a wayside inn, whether seeking shelter for a night or staying on until summer, all are welcome. All are welcome no matter at what level or condition of awareness, whether drinking a cup of water or consuming the entire meal. The school should be a place of happiness and laughter, of discovery and learning, of growth which is not without pain, and of obtainment. The school should symbolize that place where you go to find your true self, the self that is always with you no matter where you go. The student’s role is to humbly, patiently and diligently pursue the goal. There is no time limit placed on this endeavor, but be alert to your own readiness to advance, often expressed in disillusionment and frustration with the process and beware not to hide in the security of the school and the familiar as a means of avoiding the fear of facing the unknown changes ahead of you. The only impediment to your growth and development is you. Standing within you, strong and radiant, is your true self, a powerful, but peaceful warrior possessed of wisdom and desirous of manifesting itself through outward acts of service, charity and kindness. The beauty and grace, peace and calmness, sincerity and sacrifice of this true self inspires awe and our awareness of the truth of this radiant inner light is the motive force that drives us on in our struggle to discover and reveal our divine reality, our spirit. When we gather together to study this art and science as a group, and do so leaving our personal issues outside the school door, as we meditate and become peaceful within we join spiritually, even as we have come together physically. Our spiritual selves, which are only possessed of our goodness, our divine gifts and attributes such as love, perception, healing, compassion, mercy, merge into one body, like drops of water in a wave and waves in an ocean and we in this condition represent one ‘body,’ the spirit of unity, a divine unity called oneness. The ‘greater’ spirit has a profound and invisible influence upon each of us and is the secret reward of studying in a group. The greater our capacity as individuals to calm ourselves and be our true selves, the stronger and more profound is this influence. When we join together in our Tai Chi dance for the pure purpose of sharing together this spiritualization of our art, this ‘magic’ is most likely to occur, but only when we humbly acquiesce to the experience without pretense or artificial intent.
The presentation of this is to assist you to more fully understand the goals and responsibilities that some of you have assumed in the study of this art and the wondrous gifts of insight and peace that wait the patient, the diligent, and the humble. Once again words cannot and do not convey the true meaning, descriptions and demonstrations cannot impart the true reality. What you perceive to be real is probably not real. Now is the best time to reevaluate your beliefs, your principles, your opinions, and attitudes and with true dedication and humility strive to begin again, and to never give up but to continue until the goal is achieved and to settle for nothing less.
THE MASTER As he turned and walked away she called out, "Is it God that has bidden you to do this?" He spoke only one word, "Yes", and walked away leaving behind the woman and her child. The woman he loved. The woman and child he would never see again. His name was Abraham. He stood high upon the mountain at the hour of dawn and gazed upon the land that he had led his people to. The land he would never enter. He would be buried here in a grave lost forever. His name was Moses. They came for him in the garden, mocking and coarse. The time of his death had arrived like a morning sky streaked with blood. They would curse and revile him, hang him upon a cross. In the end he would forgive them. His name was Jesus The broken and bloody body was discarded on the ground for the animals to eat. Even in death a final insult. His body was stolen away by a few faithful followers and hidden throughout the years until at last it was safe to place it at rest. His name was the Bab. Many men, many places, many times, the same priceless spirit, we call the Master. God sends a pure and gentle soul to teach us. For this precious gift he is rejected, imprisoned, beaten, exiled, tortured, and killed. The Master pays a high price for bringing truth to mankind. It is common in the martial arts community for men to call themselves masters. There are masters and there are "Masters." Perhaps those who so easily use the title master possess some great secret that allows them to elevate themselves over other men? It takes more than robes, a belt, and boastful claims to make a master. This Light few have been given and if you had â€œitâ€?, could you pay the true price to be a Master?
TRANSCENDENCE Is a secret which if told to you, and you forget it easily, still a secret? Imagine this. You awaken at dawn and bathe yourself. You rub sweet oil into your skin, perhaps jasmine or rose. You rinse your mouth and comb your hair. You do not eat. At the hour of dawn you pray. You linger in prayer and you meditate. After finishing your prayer and meditation, but still remaining in this special state, you begin your tai chi. You train as if your movements and efforts were prayer, indeed no different than prayer, and your meditation, the listening for Godâ€™s answer, is both your guidance and your grace. This is transcendence. It is the nature of true training and spiritual advancement in the martial disciplines. The lowest and most common level of training in the martial arts is technical training: the physical repetition of techniques, postures, and forms. Men and women can reach high levels of athleticism, but there are higher levels yet of true ability. The martial arts and certain fine arts like painting and music invite this level of high obtainment because they allow the mind, body, and spirit to unite in a single expression of beauty and to transcend the ordinary. You have been created for a high means, why convince yourself otherwise? When you are gold, why remain burnished? When you are a gem, why remain unpolished? Your heart has a gateway, why not open it?
LESSONS OF LOZEN She sat on a folded blanket in the shade of an adobe wall. Unconsciously, she had adapted her own natural protective coloration, for she was almost invisible against the earth and adobe. I was drawn to her. Lozen sat surrounded by the small crafts that she made and sold for her living. As I stood over her she suddenly reached out and offered me a bunch of dried grasses that she had tied together to make a whisk broom. "Here," she said, without looking up, "this is for you. It is to brush off the people who stick to you!" A woman who I had never met before, and had never spoken a word to, had just indicated that she understood why I had traveled 1800 miles to this Mexican village. Her name was Lozen and she said that she was a descendant of the only woman to have fought beside Geronimo the Apache. She was one of those remarkable people who I have met from time to time and who always have a surprising impact on my life. Like a cloudburst on a clear day. In my book Scent of a Forgotten Flower, I talk about the people in my life that, although unknown to me at the time, quietly passed a precious gift to me, a gift of the heart, a gift of the self. Some gentle wisdom that shaped my soul like pottersâ€™ hands on moistened clay. 19
I spent some time talking to Lozen and her words helped to quiet my inner agitation. As we were walking together that day she suddenly stopped and exclaimed, "What is the difference between you and me?" I hesitated, what did she mean? My mind passed over many differences between the two of us. Appearing impatient, she exclaimed, "The difference between the two of us is that I am grounded to the earth and you are not." Since that conversation with Lozen, I have thought about her words to me many times. How was she so able to so clearly see the roots of my inner conflict and confusion? How did she deduce the causes? I can only suspect that because she is so balanced and centered herself that she was easily able to perceive the imbalance in me. To her I was as obvious as a false note in a song. Later I could only reflect that the journey that I had taken to Lozen’s home had been for the purpose of learning something about balance in life, being grounded to the earth, being centered in life. Yet as much as I long for the simple wisdom of Lozen and the balance of her life, I don’t live in a Mexican village in the desert, and I am not content making brooms. Lozen was right about me, I need to struggle to stay grounded. But I also must fly because I am not content to sit woven into the fabric, to the earth, waiting for anguished souls to find me. Rather I have entered the heart of the battlefield where the fallen cling to me in the hope that with the surgical perception of Lozen, I will cut to the heart of their pain. After I left Lozen, I traveled into the Black Range Mountains. It was the afternoon of New Year’s Eve and I had been directed to a party at the Black Range Lodge. To this party would come many of the artists and musicians of the Southwest. As it turned out, once the party hosts figured out that I was not a musician or a cook, they needed me to treat several people who were ill with the flu. So I was put to work healing the sick. I treated the flu, low back pain, whiplash, and profound sadness of the soul, all night long, until dawn. Then I quietly and humbly went home. I had had my second great lesson. First, you must keep yourself centered. Second, you must be true to your destiny. Wherever you go as your true self, you will be your true self. A teacher will find students, and a doctor will find patients. This was Lozen’s lesson to me. If you don’t understand and live with this, you are like a coma patient on life support. Your body is alive, but you are asleep. Lozen didn’t just make brooms; she taught people how to brush off their souls. I just try to strike a spark of truth that will bring a little light into your life. Live in a coma and on life support, or start to breathe on your own. Lozen didn’t brush me off, she offered me a broom so that I could brush off myself. I offer you a spark to
start your own fire. Do the blind know when the lamp has burned out? What you imagine to be life is death. Then again, maybe Lozen was just a silly old woman who needed to sell brooms and talked in riddles. Maybe you can continue to convince yourself that you are not dreaming and sleepwalking through life, but that you are awake and alive, grounded and on your true course. Are you?
GIRI Many years ago I was taught that once you learn or gain knowledge and ability that you should always return to the source, the fountainhead, from where you first drank deeply of that knowledge. Knowledge is like water that revives and nourishes your body and the purest water is always found at the source, the original spring or fountainhead, the school and teacher who taught you. Perhaps it is just an accident that the Academy is named after a bird that is most often found by the shores of ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers, a water bird. Not all Blue Heron Academy graduates are aware that the Academy started as a martial arts school mainly teaching the martial arts of Kosho Ryu Kenpo Jujitsu and Tai Chi Chuan, or that the Academy got its name because Blue Herons frequently visited these early classes - and still daily grace our campus with their presence. Not all graduates know that the Academy began as a free school and a free clinic that offered instruction and healing to female victims of sexual trauma and crimes, or that in the 1980s we offered free treatment to the terminally ill, as well as, HIV/AIDS patients. I recently started a new Tai Chi Chuan class, one of many over several decades, and in one of the first classes I talked about the concept of giri, or sacred responsibility. The word giri has no exact translation from Japanese to English but a poor explanation would be the concept of a sacred responsibility to ones teacher or the source of knowledge from which one derives a trade or profession. I was early raised and trained with the concept of giri and I have great respect and gratitude to my teachers, all of them, for the knowledge, training, and skills that they imparted to me. I am grateful for the
opportunity that I had to drink at the fountainhead of knowledge of a number of remarkable teachers. What an amazing blessing. The concept of giri, sacred responsibility, also places the sacred obligation of sharing of the knowledge an abilities gained, with others. What you have received you must pass on, whether in your daily life, or as a teacher. Just as you have benefited from this knowledge you must also benefit others. If you are true to this responsibility, you will enjoy great success and happiness. That is just how it works!
RUNNING WITH DEER They materialized from the pre-dawn twilight shadows like apparitions. A troop of seven deer entered the area where since four in the morning I had been practicing Tai Chi Chuan. Deep in the woods of the Ludington State Park, I was in my favorite valley surrounded by the old dunes and towering trees. Dawn was just arriving and with it came the deer. They seemed totally unconcerned about me as they slowly filed by. They browsed awhile and then began the steep climb up a steep dune. The thought came to me, "Why donâ€™t you go with them?" Two of my earliest martial arts teachers had been U.S. Army special forces instructors and one of them, part Native American, had once remarked to me that it was possible to walk right up to deer in the wild. I had always wondered if this was true and if this was true, how it was done. This was the day I would find out. The deer were quickly up the hill and over the top. As I climbed up after them I marveled at their strength and stamina. After all, this was a very high dune, one of a whole day of dunes for the deer. As I reached the top of the dune I saw the trail they had gone down. I followed it. Immediately, I saw the deer and they saw me. What should I do? Instinctively, I knelt down, I slowed my excitement, and I did not make eye contact with them. I sent them warm and fuzzy deer thoughts.
It worked. At least they did not run away. They watched me warily, and continued to browse. As they moved away from me I stood up slowly and carefully followed them. They stopped and looked back at me. Once again I knelt down, relaxed, and did not make eye contact with them. Again, they did not run. The deer and I repeated this sequence of maneuvers for about forty-five minutes. Each time they moved, I followed. Each time they turned to look at me, I knelt down. Each time we did this, I got closer. After one hour I was right in among the troop of deer, only two to three feet away. Now I was a part of them. On we traveled through the forest sometimes browsing, sometimes walking, and sometimes running together. In difficult areas where I fell behind they waited for me and after I had made my way around deadfalls or wetlands, on we would go. I cannot put into words the feelings I had that morning. Amazement, joy, appreciation, gratefulness. What gentle, beautiful creatures they are. I spent four hours running with the deer crossing deep into the woods and dunes. I felt I could have remained with them forever. Deer boy, living on acorns and wild herbs. I knew that it was time to leave them, the peace of them, their gentleness, their acceptance or at least toleration of this ugly, clumsy man-deer in their midst. Standing close enough to lay my hand on a does neck. I looked into her warm brown eyes and said a sad goodbye. Could I ever do this again? I have. On one beautiful fall day, full of blue sky and livid color, a warm Indian summer day. I dressed in tennis shoes and shorts and I ran with the deer again led by a young buck across the sandy dunes, along the beach, and through the woods. Once startled by "tourists" the whole wild group of us bolted in unison and charged straight up a dune. I ran laughing at the sheer spectacle of me running with, and in the middle of a herd of wild deer! I remembered a different feeling that day. I was intoxicated by the sheer physical power we shared in our mad runs and dashes through the dunes. Deer boy runs wild! Nature is so beautiful and can be so delightfully unexpected. Locked away from it in our cars and houses, our lives and matters of consequence, we lose so much of our life and ourselves. Somewhere, right now, there are deer waiting for you.
IN SUCH DEEP SILENCE, IS MY SOUL AWAKE I am a teacher, but I cannot explain everything to you. Not everything is meant to be explained. Let us not dwell on the ordinary. I am a warrior, and my enemies think that I am insane. I am a teacher and my students think me wise. Student or enemy each would kill me in his or her own way. Better then to live each moment expecting death, and rob them of the satisfaction. There are many simple hidden truths that are meant only for you to find. If I tell you everything, as if I could, it would be like a mirage to you. If you experience it yourself, it becomes your deepest truth. In Tai Chi Chuan we seek perfection. It is impossible to obtain, but not to try means we never experience Tai Chi at all. Practice, practice, practice, we practice until our breath, our stance, our body and mind are constant Tai Chi. We practice until there is no beginning, no end, no commencement, no closing to our movements and motions. Tai Chi, like a millstone turning, is constant effort, and it grinds us into humble flour, and kneads us into common bread for Godâ€™s table.
Why look to me? Doesn’t the crutch weaken the leg? Consider this instead: Practice Tai Chi as if God is watching you. Practice, practice, practice, technique. Never use it! On the morning that you leave this world, will the earth mourn the loss of your Tai Chi? How hard we strive for achievement in Tai Chi, how many hours of practice, how diligent the effort, and then tired and weary, downhearted, and short of the mark, yet again, it comes to us, drawn to us, simply by the purity of our effort. How unlike the unruffled composed master I am. My Tai Chi is like a temper tantrum, agitated, angry and sad. I strike out in a blind frenzy of motion. I ache, I sweat, I strain to release the pain inside. Once again I feel the gentle hand upon my shoulder, the calming presence, the undeserved assistance. Is Tai Chi simply grace? To me it is just a dance. You call it Kung Fu, Wushu, Kuoshu. Tai chi, Pakua, Hsing Yi. You have so many names. You measure it, and yourself, by rank, by years, by names, by titles. To me it is still a dance. I cannot add "it" to myself, like a jacket or belt. I must be "it." It must be in me, the dance, each moment an essential part of me. It is not a history or an autobiography, it’s not a who’s who. It is a dance. Can you do it? This moment, now, are you in the dance? Can you be it? If not what do you have? Let us finish the dance, let us dance until dawn, dancing our whole life long, and if we tire? Time enough to lay our selves down, tucked in tight, in our blanket of earth, and to dream of dancing, and dancing, dancing until dawn. In such deep silence, is my soul awake.
THE OLD MAN AND THE SLY FOX Once upon a time in a land not so far away, there lived an old man. This old man was remarkable. His white beard and hair were not remarkable. His wrinkled skin and toothless smile, these were not remarkable. What was remarkable was his knowledge of how to become invisible. Now not far from where the old man lived, there lived a sly fox. This sly fox thought, "If I could become invisible the farmer would never see me steal his chickens." So the sly fox went to see the old man. "Old man," said the sly fox, "I want to learn your secret of invisibility." "Why?" asked the old man. "Old man, I am a fox, and many animals fear me. If I could become invisible I could observe my fellow creatures and I could learn more about why I am a fox," said the clever fox. The old man pondered the foxes words, he was not fooled by the fox and he knew that the knowledge of how to become invisible had a mysterious power to change the heart of even a sly fox. There was just one condition to this change of heart; the recipient of the knowledge of invisibility must possess the virtue of sincerity. Somewhere in the heart of the fox, there had to be even a small drop of the essence of sincerity.
"Fox," said the old man, "I can’t teach you how to become invisible so that you can observe life in a quiet way. I can only show you my technique, but you must discover the invisibility in your own heart!" The fox thought, "So I can trick this silly old man into showing me his technique of invisibility. Now I will have all the chickens I want. I will pretend to be a sincere student and once I know his tricks, I will just disappear!" The fox said, "Yes, old man, you are right, I will be a true and dedicated student. I will learn the essence of what you teach; and if I am a worthy fox I will move among my kindred creatures in peace." "Let us begin," said the old man. "First, fox, you must find your true compassion: your compassion for the little fox within you and the fox nature you see in all living things. This is your link to the love of creation and to the God that created you." "What dribble," thought the fox, "Who does he think he is, this old fool! He doesn’t know any more than I do. I will pretend to listen to learn his real secrets. This is just like stealing chickens from the farmer, ha, I am a sly fox." The old man was not fooled by the fox. Many of the forest’s creatures had come to him in the past wanting his knowledge of invisibility, the timid bunny, the fierce wolverine, the insidious snake, the graceful swan, and the greedy raven. Many had come, but only a few found the true gift the old man taught: knowledge of the invisible soul. Others came and acted the role; thinking that the techniques the old man taught would make them invisible. Some of the creatures left alone, having failed to find the gift, and others joined together to blindly celebrate their false sense of success. "See," they would exclaim, "I am invisible! I have learned the old man’s tricks! See how remarkable I am. I learned so quickly. There is no secret to this; I already knew most of this stuff. Now I have even created my own techniques of invisibility. I am better than the old man, after all he is ‘old’ and his forms are not as good as they once were. I think that he is losing his ability.", or so they would think. Of course they were not invisible at all, and as they danced about playing with their socalled invisibility, the hunter and the predator had easy work killing them and feasting on their flesh. Well this is a simple tale and it does end sadly for the fox, for the fox came to think that he had stolen the knowledge of invisibility. The old man had tried over and over again to reach the heart of the fox. But the fox, being a sly fox, could not overcome a predatory heart. The fox used the training to become even more practiced in insincerity and the art of argument. He became so practiced in fact, that he could not hear the truth in the old man’s simple words.
One day the fox, with a false sense of invisibility, went to the farm to steal chickens. "Ha!" thought the fox, "There is the farmer, I can steal chickens from right under his nose!" And so the fox began to steal chickens. The farmer, being a practical man, looked at the fox stealing his chickens in the plain light of day and thought, "What a stupid fox.", and then raised his gun and sent the insincere fox to absolute invisibility. The fox had learned at last. "Too late!" thought the old man, "Better to learn here by choice, than â€˜thereâ€™ with remorse. The nature of a fox is to be a fox, but with sincerity, God is greater than nature." The old man regretted the loss of his student, the fox, but soon another fox or perhaps an elephant (now that would be a trick!) would come asking to learn his secrets. The old man fondly remembered all of his students, the sincere and the insincere. But for him the hard work of teaching invisibility was more important. And somewhere, and soon, he would find a true and sincere student who would learn the secret of invisibility. (Now that made it all worthwhile) This is what gave the old man joy. As he thought of this his wrinkled face lit up, and he smiled his toothless smile, and said, to no one in particular, "Thank you." So ends the parable of the old man and the fox!
LIGHT OF THE SPIRIT How should a teacher breathe life into a corpse? Tai Chi Chuan is martial, physical and spiritual discipline that when practiced with great diligence will bring life to the dead. Life will flow from the graceful movements of the Tai Chi Chuan into the body, mind, heart and soul of the student. Tai Chi Chuan may not change the world, but it can change you. It may not overcome evil in the world, but it can vanquish evil in your heart. Tai Chi Chuan is a method of taking responsibility for our lives through the processes of observation, perception, and understanding. Tai Chi Chuan requires the committed discipline of training, and through this discipline we shape ourselves like a sculptor releases the true form within stone. The true student should see this higher path, because the way of virtue is right because it produces goodness. You do not follow this way because of the expectation of good but rather because it is the right thing to do. The reward lies in the action itself, because the action is life, a way of life, it is our life; it is the precious moments of our life. It is our experience. Virtue is right because it is alight that reflects our true reality. In order to improve at your Tai Chi Chuan you need to practice, but practice is not enough, your practice must have heart, it must have passion, it must have intensity, it must have heat, and fire and flame. Your passion must be your faith, your belief. Without 32
this your training is empty and shallow, it is devoid of power. Your actions may be correct and your movements correct, but the essence will be missing. If you are tired and worn down, if you cannot find your passion - your faith, what has happened to you? The true essence of Tai Chi is an attribute of the human spirit, powerful, ever changing, and unique to every human being. Your spirit may be deadened by life, it may be dormant from a lack of use, it may be numbed by excess or pain, but it can be revived through training and discipline. While the spirit is unknown and mysterious, it can be best glimpsed through sacrifice, hardship, and through the disciplined human expression of high artistic achievement. When you enter the study of Tai Chi Chuan you are making an investment in yourself. Investments also have a certain amount of risk. You are hoping that your investment in hard work will result in some tangible gain. In Tai Chi Chuan you are investing not in financial growth but in spiritual growth. If you want to have a large shade tree growing over your house, when is the best time to plant the tree, when you are eighty, or when you are twenty? You must plant the seeds of growth as early in life as you can so you can see and experience the growth! When you fall off of your training, when you miss classes when you fail to do your best, and to put forth your best effort, it is worse for you than being a beginner and knowing nothing. At least the beginning student, by starting at the beginning, will make a steady advancement, but when an advanced student falls off the mark it is a sign of a weak or a lacking spirit. Our failure to follow the discipline that we have begun, to finish what we start, cuts us off from the natural flow of energy from our own spirit. Most arts teach that in order to keep our spirit strong we must practice a discipline by which thought and action becomes the same thing. In other words, by learning to become our true self, our thoughts and our actions are one thing. We simply act as we are. What is spirituality? It is faith or conscious knowledge. It is not superstition. It is not some comfortable philosophy that is a product of your own imagination. Faith and spirituality have a positive influence on your life and the lives of those around you that is measurable and visible through action and result. While Tai Chi Chuan is not a religion, it is a pathway in the search for truth. For the true student it is also a way of service to God and others. Always seek to make your practice of Tai Chi Chuan as perfect as possible, God is always watching. Just as the unity of your physical movement in Tai Chi Chuan teaches you the essence of Tai Chi Chuan, it should also teach you another important secret, God is Unity, and where there is no unity in a thing, there life and energy will not be found. In Tai Chi Chuan you will discover the light of your spirit.
THE FIVE EXCELLENCES My teacher Professor Huo Chi Kwang, scholar, calligrapher, artist, and student of Yang Shao Huo, was trained in the Confucian tradition of the five excellences. This system of education recognized that mankind is endowed with a noble spirit and that careful systematic training can elevate the man or woman to a being of virtue and nobility. The five primary excellences are: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
Intellectual attainment through diligent study of the arts. Spiritual perception through prayer and meditation. Refinement of the personal through the fine arts. Compassion through the healing arts. Self empowerment through the martial arts.
At the Blue Heron Academy of the Healing Arts and Sciences we assist the serious student in the development of these higher virtues and spiritual verities. We recognize that the achievement of this level of personal maturation is: -
Fundamental to personal happiness Strengthens our loving personal relationships Contributes to a stable and peaceful society Deepens our knowledge and awareness of God
The five excellences are a model for positive human behavior, and no matter what our race, creed, nationality, religion or no religion we all benefit from these principles of self development. The essence and the purpose of training and teaching at the Blue Heron Academy of the Healing Arts and Sciences is the obtainment of the five excellences, not as some abstract, esoteric ideal, but rather as action, through the dynamic force of example in our personal lives. It is this "virtue in action" that separates us, as students of the five excellences, from those who make great claims to ability, but who cannot demonstrate it. Many are those who claim greatness, few are those who can show it in action. Deeds are far more powerful than words. For example, if a person makes a claim to power, say the manipulation of Chi or Ki, it stands to reason that this person should be able to demonstrate their ability in a tangible form. Currently, such special abilities are a popular claim. However, from our judgment as trained martial artists these people usually cannot demonstrate the following: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
Proper breath technique and control Meditation, concentration, and mature mental focus The manifestation of physical power through either a single technique, or through martial forms The manipulation of body energy such as defensive Chi The physical attributes of speed, coordination, flexibility, and agility Simple relaxation of the muscles and joints
Just taking as an example one of these basic requirements of Chi Kung or energy control, breath, if you canâ€™t even breathe properly how can you claim to have mastered energy? In the course of my training I have met and been trained by men and women who have come to personify the five excellences. These people are very few, far fewer than those I see who claim or advertise to have achieved this knowledge and ability. I came to meet these people by fortune and grace, and I have come to understand that they are ordinary people who quietly work to develop themselves, their skills and attributes. They do not boast, they do not advertise, they do not have videos. They are humble, they live simply, they donâ€™t even, for the most part, understand what they have become. About mankind I once wrote, "Mankind is but the twinkle of a distant star, the blink of an eye on the morning of God, a soft whisper of the pale moonlight peeking through a cloud, the caress of the gently flickering candle upon the wall of hope." Time is short. Time for attainment is short. Weep gently all, weep gently all, the passing of your opportunity to change.
UNDERSTANDING THE GRAND ULTIMATE, TAI CHI The practice of Tai Chi Chuan is the study of the harmony of the universe. Consider that the complexity and the enormity of the universe make complete knowledge of the universe impossible to obtain. We are limited in our search for understanding by time and space, we are limited to approximately eighty years of experience and the universe is too vast a space to travel in a lifetime. How then can we even begin to understand the universe? Tai Chi Chuan, which can be translated to mean grand ultimate power, is not a religion; it is not a philosophy. Tai Chi Chuan is a personal and subjective experience in the harmony of the forces of the universe. Our body literally becomes our ship within which we sail the energies of the universe. Our body is the tool with which we discover the revelation of the energies of the universe. Whether in solo practice, in forms, in techniques, with the sword or staff, in standing Chi Kung or seated Dao Yin, we experience and learn and come to understand at least a small piece of the great universal mystery by doing Tai Chi Chuan. The process of profound understanding begins within us as we embrace the harmony of nature. This harmony has a few simple rules: 1. 2.
The path of true intention merges with all paths of the universe and leads to the same source. The grand ultimate power is a vast ocean within which all things are contained; we are the drops of that ocean.
4. 5. 6.
There exists a knowledge that will join humanity to the grand ultimate. This knowledge must be combined with action or there is no movement toward the grand ultimate. We individually become whole when we discover the source of the grand ultimate power and conform our actions in harmony with the grand ultimate. When this universal truth is applied to our lives, we become a mirror that reflects the energy of the grand ultimate. The elemental components of the universe are combined and united by the force of universal love. We are the highest expression of this love.
The world we know, Earth, first began with the birth of the sun, first light, then the shadow. The universe is composed of polar forces, light and dark, yin and yang, good and evil, male and female, hot and cold, and so on. We have all been placed in the same world and provided with the intellect and powers of discrimination to discover the nature of the universe. It is seen in the smallest and the largest aspects of nature from the atom to the sun, from a drop to an ocean, from birth to death. Tai Chi Chuan, the grand ultimate power, is your path to true knowledge about yourself, it is a tool to change yourself, and it is ultimately a way to become yourself, your true self. Do you understand that Tai Chi Chuan is not just a hollow form of exercise? It is rather a commitment to a life of deep study, of learning and applying knowledge through service to others, through the expression of love to humanity, through humility, through true intention to good, through healing of all ills of humankind, through thoughtful speech and kindness of word, through the promotion of peace and unity, through assistance to every brother and sister, the weak and the poor, through illumination and a vital vibrant spirit, through a heartfelt and intense desire to uplift all humankind. To be a candle, to be a light. Did you think that less was expected of you? The grand universal power will flow through your life, through you, if you have but one thing, faith, the conscious knowledge that it will be. This is your center. This is the balance. Deep within your heart, there is a still point, here God waits.
AWAKENING THE SPIRIT WITHIN Like a moth to a flame and iron to a magnet, many of us are drawn in an irresistible urge to seek out or discover our spiritual nature. Tai Chi, the Grand Ultimate, is a method of physical, mental, and spiritual training that provides a juxtaposition from which, stepping outside our normal life, we can grasp at a different hold on our life. Isnâ€™t death described as a time of judgment, a time when we perceive the meaning and purpose of the events of our life? Tai Chi, meditation, is the "little death" that provides us with moments of deep meditative perception and personal insight. Tai Chi meditation might take us to a place of relaxation from which we can simply process certain events or problems in our life. Tai Chi meditation might take us into a slightly deeper stage of mediation in which we experience certain mental impressions or meaningful thoughts. Tai Chi meditation might take us to a place of profound silence within which "we" and "I" do not seem to exist. But what does all of this mean, these impressions, thought, insights and feelings? How much of this is pure ego, imagination, or foolishness, and how much is genuine spiritual experience? Honestly, this is very hard to determine. Many individuals make grandiose claims regarding their meditative and spiritual experience. If we are to believe the claims that are being made, people with very little training or experience are achieving deep states of meditation and profound penetration of the spiritual mysteries. If this is true then it should be both measurable and objectively observable. If a person claims to have had ongoing profound meditative and spiritual experiences wouldnâ€™t you expect their life to reflect that experience? What after all is the point of these experiences when they do not
translate into daily action and behavior? Oriental mystics, yogis and monks are capable of demonstrating profound control, so it stands to reason that anyone claiming profound experiences in meditation should also be capable of such proof. Anyone claiming "spiritual contact" with a greater teacher or saint should be able to express some profound and meaningful result of that contact. If you fairly consider the matter, you will realize that many people who claim such experiences are incapable of such demonstrations of the validity of their experiences. A fair conclusion to this would be that these experiences are, many times, simply imagination and ego. So how are we to determine what is real and what is imagined? Often times during meditation or prayer some impression, image, or thought will be experienced, sensed or felt. These impressions are subtle. First ask yourself if what you perceive makes sense. This does not mean it will be easy to do. Frequently the impression might seem impossible, the ease or hardship of the impression does not measure its sensibility. Once you have answered the first question accept that what is suggested can be done. Then get up and do it. Donâ€™t stop until it is done. Many, many people have thoughts and impressions that result from meditation and spiritual insight but they never act upon them. What is the point? Many people come to Tai Chi like they would to an aerobics class with only a very superficial understanding of the spiritual roots of this art and science. If these students stay, their understanding will gradually increase along with their spiritual growth. The very name Tai Chi, which means the Grand Ultimate, indicates the vital link in Tai Chi between the physical and spiritual nature of men and women. Tai Chi is the study and application of the essential principles of the oneness of all things in the Universe. Tai Chi empowers because it increases insight into the true reality of ourselves and our relationship to nature and creation. The more we realize our true divine nature and goodness the less we feel weak and valueless, but rather feel our true power and beauty. Many of us suffer from physical and emotional illness. Do you realize that this primarily stems from spiritual illness? Self realization, meditation and spiritual growth have the ability to heal. This is not to indicate that this is an easy process. It is not. Neither is it quick. The better that we become at realizing and expressing our true nature the healthier we become both emotionally and physically. This is not to indicate that spiritual people donâ€™t get sick, they do, it is the nature of man and woman to experience suffering and then to die. Such experience is part of our growth and transition to another state of being after physical death. What this does mean is that physical and emotional illnesses result from an inability to love ourselves and to express that love to others, from too much self love, from sorrow and anger related to past injustices that we perceive in our lives, and many other causes that are contrary to our true loving energy and unconditional forgiveness. Tai Chi is a method or tool by which we learn more about our true reality and how that reality relates to the universe and forces of nature around us. It teaches us how to heal ourselves, how to be strong enough to heal ourselves. Think about it. If in our deepest innermost heart we are ill, how can our body or mind reflect wellness or wholeness? In those all too brief and fleeting moments of loving satisfaction, real happiness, havenâ€™t
you felt well and whole? How then do you string those brief moments together to form a mature life? There is a profound difference between a spiritualized life and the blind adherence to a dead dogmatic religion. Many people have become so hurt and disgusted by "organized" religion that they have closed their hearts to any spiritual or religious path. This is like denying yourself food and water for a lifetime. Just because you burned your hand in the fire does not mean that you stop cooking with fire or heating your homes. Spiritual education, prayer, and meditation are absolute needs. Without benefit of spiritual experiences your life is dead and meaningless and that self that you feel as "you" cannot be happy or well. You need to discover a spirituality that you can be comfortable with, that nurtures your true self, that uplifts you, that brings you happiness and a purpose in life. Why deny yourself the good things because of bad experiences in a creed that did not express the goodness of true spiritualization? Allow me to say this, it is my sincere hope that anyone who comes to this school will discover within themselves their own spiritual beauty and that they will find a way to express that beauty whether as a Christian, Moslem, Buddhist, Bahaâ€™i, or without any affiliation or religion whatsoever. If we all honored our true spirit, what differences would be between us? Studying Tai Chi without realizing its spiritual power and history is like selling candles without wicks.
TEACHER, NO TEACHER Along the path of my search for knowledge I have been blessed by the presence in my life of several remarkable individuals who have served as guides in my life. These special individuals have been my teachers. While I am a martial artist and many of these individuals have been martial arts instructors, not all of them have been. It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I would disagree, based on my experience, when the student is ready, he or she, will have to do a lot of searching to find the teacher, this sometimes takes many years. My "discovery" of a teacher usually results from an internalized sense of longing for assistance with a particular question or desire for knowledge. I usually formulate the question in my mind and feel a sincere desire to find the answer. Sometimes I will find a certain book that will answer the question or I will find the answer in my personal training, but some questions require the presence of a teacher who possesses the particular knowledge that I need. There are several qualities that I try to possess in my search for answers to these questions. One quality is persistent expectation; I expect that eventually the answer will present itself, one way or another. Other qualities are humility, patience, and openness. Humility because I am a beggar asking for help, patience because answers to prayers are often not served up like fast food, and openness because the teacher and the answer usually are unexpected, it is like knowing your doorbell will ring, but jumping when it finally does. My teachers have not been perfect beings; they have all had their rough edges. But they possessed some gift of knowledge that helped me in the course and direction of my life. I
over looked their failings, their weaknesses, their faults or sins and accepted even the most humble crumbs from the table of their life. I am not looking for a god, just some help struggling with some questions in life. I keep my balance, and my boundaries. I know that I and only I am responsible for how I live my life. Each of us faces our own judgment at the end of this life. No teacher, no guru, no minister, no leader - no one answers for us. It is without a doubt true that remarkable teachers have and do exist. These are men and women with the gift of insight and leadership. Association with them always leaves you with more than you gave and somehow in some way, a form of alchemy occurs that changes the dross of impure emotions into perceptions of pure gold. I often ask my students if they have ever experienced this gift in their life, some say no. This response makes me sad because it is like hearing that they had no parents, that they are orphans in life. One of the lessons that I have learned from this teacher/student relationship is discernment. Discernment is the attribute of being able to perceive or recognize truth or reality. I hope this doesnâ€™t sound easy to you, because discernment is a rare ability; at least it seems so because so many people appear to lack discernment. Why is it so important? Discernment is a faculty of the human spirit that is our compass toward truth, toward reality, toward knowledge of God. Without discernment we simply do not know or recognize truth or fiction, the spiritual from the superstitious. I always hope that my students are developing the attribute of discernment so that they can cultivate out the weeds from the flowers of true knowledge. There are many opinions, they are as numerous as grains of sand, and they vary. But what is truth? How do we discover it? How do we know it when we find it? These questions are very important to the student, after all who wants to spend a lifetime studying the wrong thing? Of the hundreds of martial art styles all around the world, not just in China, which is the right one? Is there a right one? Which teacher is the right teacher? Which stance, which punch, which kick, which, which, which? You get the idea. I have had many wonderful, generous, sincere teachers, all gifted men and women. I love and respect each of them. But each of them thought that they were right, and only they were right. In my mind this created a dilemma. If they all taught and did different things, how could they all be right? I struggled with this conflict for many years, until I finally figured it out. They were all, each one of them, right! How? They were all well trained. They all had great abilities. They dedicated themselves totally to their art. They had sincere passion. They possessed mastery. They were all part of the song, just different melodies. Even this is not the answer, just part of it. What is the best part of a human being? What is it that elevates human beings to saints, angels, the human spirit. Our spirit is created in the image of God. When we use our spirit
in the impassioned prayer of movement this is the essence of all art. Now being able to say this doesnâ€™t mean that you will either understand what this means in reality or that you will be able to do this in action. For example, if you pray, when was the last time that you really prayed, with your whole heart and soul? Well if you can rarely achieve even one good prayer how do you expect to be prayer in motion? Let me say all of this in a different way. Simply put, although there are many diverse martial arts on earth, they are all unified in their essence. It does not matter what the physical characteristics are, if the art elevates the student from mimicry of form, to the level of creative spontaneous art, the results are most remarkable. It is ignorance of this simple truth among students and teachers that results in so much misunderstanding and disunity among the martial arts. You need discernment. If someone, even a well-regarded teacher or a student from another school seeks to correct your practice or understanding, ask yourself this, what is the spiritual principle here. In other words what is the essence? All technique can be broken down to basic physical mechanics and the study and science of the laws of physics. But the human being is more than a body, the mind has infinite complexity, and the spirit is a great mystery. All of the masters and scholars that I have read agree, first the foundation of basic technique is built, then the framework of years of hard work and effort is added, and finally the roof of wisdom shelters the structure. Where is your roof of wisdom? It is built with discernment. You are responsible for acquiring knowledge, to learn truth. Discernment is how you protect your mind and spirit from attack and error. Learn to use discernment like a sword, cutting like a razor through false doctrines. This is what you are training for. When you readily give in to foolish superstition, to so-called martial art authorities, no matter how popular, when you give away your discernment you give away an important part of yourself. I hope that I have helped you find your discernment, that you have learned the importance of independent investigation of truth and that you have learned to stand in the center in a Tai Chi way. But most importantly, I sincerely hope that you have learned that first comes the spirit and from the spirit comes the art. This is the secret. Truth is never lost, it is in the heart, and it is a gift from God. True martial art is everywhere on earth, it always has been, it always will be. The Chinese did not invent it any more than any other culture did. Before the Chinese "found" it, the people of India had "it", and before them the Greeks and the Egyptians. Before them, who knows? "It" is universal, all pervasive, and everlasting. A culture discovers it, shapes it, and gives it a name. Do they own it? No one does. "It" is so basic, so fundamental that animals instinctively know how to use it. Strengthen your spirit, purify your heart, illuminate your life, and you will have "it" in abundance. Swordsman, poet, artist, teacher, merchant, cook, doctor, whatever a human being is or does, the purpose of the lamp is to hold the flame!
If you have no discernment, if your spiritual light is weak, if you are confused, if you are easily led by others, who can you blame other than yourself? Every soul has a different journey and a different capability. Some are content with very little, and some require more. Experience is the training field of the soul. This difference between us is called capacity. While everyone is equal in worth, not everyone is equal in capacity. Whatever your capacity you can obtain greatness in your journey toward self improvement. Capacity, however, will define our level of achievement in the art and science of the martial arts. If a student has a small amount of capacity, then they should keep their training simple and seek to perfect the most basic movements and forms. If a student has great capacity, then that student can expand their experience to include a vast array of forms and techniques. Whether of lesser or greater capacity, neither should say of the other that either way is best. The path for either of these souls is the same and leads to the same destination, to God and to the Center of all things. Learning this, then doing this leads to mastery. As you put forth an effort, so shall your rewards be and an effort in improvement of the self, is a gift kept forever.
GRASP THE BIRDS TAIL Several years ago I rode my motorcycle north to a party to listen to some music and visit with friends. When I arrived at the party I pulled my motorcycle under a tree and got off of it. As I was placing my helmet on the bike I caught a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye. Moving spontaneously and without thought I ducked under a punch that was directed at the side of my head. I had no idea what was going on. What happened next occurred in mere seconds, but seemed timeless, not unlike the stoppage of time that occurs in an automobile accident. After ducking under the punch I stepped around behind the attacker and placed him in a chokehold. At this point, if I had followed my early training in Kosho Ryu Kenpo Jujitsu I would have crushed the attackerâ€™s throat before dropping him to the ground. I found myself unable to do this. As I took the attacker down to the ground I had other opportunities to execute several maiming or lethal techniques, I chose not to harm my attacker. The attacker indicated the desire to give up and I asked him to explain why he had attacked me. The attack turned out to be based on a case of mistaken identity. When I was a child I often played "war" with my friends. I remember one day, when lying on my back in the grass after being "shot", I said a prayer to God that I would never have to go to war and harm another human being. Later, when I served in the U.S. Army
during the Vietnam Era that prayer was answered in a very unusual way, rather than serve in Vietnam I was given the choice to participate in human chemical warfare experiments at Edgewood Arsenal, the Army’s chemical warfare center. During one of several experiments I suffocated and was clinically “dead” for a few minutes. While "dead" I had a very profound experience that helped me to find my future direction in life. Unlike the many men of my generation who either died in Vietnam or suffered years of psychological trauma and dysfunction as a result of their Vietnam experience, I had "given my life for my country", but returned to live it. In my early years of martial arts study, the training was both violent and brutal. The techniques I was taught by men of war were lethal. When I was attacked that afternoon, by "mistake", I realized that I was still that sensitive little child who while playing war, did not have the heart to harm another human being. Since that day several years ago, I have worked to develop my own” method” of self defense that allows me the power and dignity of protecting myself, while also attempting to preserve the safety of those who might attack me. I call this Shen Wu, or spirit dance. In Tai Chi Chuan there is a movement called Grasp the Birds Tail, by grasping the birds tail perhaps we can lift ourselves a little higher and fly above the violence and confusion that so permeates life. It is far better to heal, than to harm anyone.
UNITY Many teachers and practitioners of Tai Chi attempt to strip away its history and particularly its spirit. I was first attracted to Tai Chi, not because it was a martial art, but because it taught nobility and unity. The Chinese have historically believed in a Supreme Being called Shang Ti and a Heaven (Tien) with the Highest Reality being the Tao or the Way of Heaven. The words Tai Chi are a description of the creation of Shang Ti and the heavenly laws that it obeys, as well as our relationship to the workings of creation, particularly what we call nature. The Chinese believe that prophets come from Shang Ti or Tien and that they do so progressively in cycles of about every five hundred to one thousand years. They view the prophets as equal and as great teachers who come to assist mankindâ€™s development through successive stages of growth, much like progressing through grade school. Because of these beliefs, the Chinese have been able to peacefully accept the teachings of three successive religions and integrate these teachings into their culture and society. "The operation of Heaven and Earth proceed with the most admirable order, yet they never speak." Chang Tzu The Chinese learn about nature by patient observation and they believe that by observing nature they are able to learn about themselves and Heaven. They see in nature an order that reveals an Overseer or Creator. "The names are different but the source the same. Call the sameness mystery; mystery of mystery, the door to inwardness." Lao Tzu
The Chinese recognize the essential oneness of all religions. That is, they all come from the same source Shang Ti, the Supreme Being. They call these teachers Chiao Tsu or teaching master. The Chinese have a concept called Jen which means "living the life." Aspects of Jen include: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.
Moderation- "to go beyond the mark is as bad as to fall short of it." Non Violence Honesty Humility Work as Worship- "can a man who is loved be exempt from work?" Forgiveness Actions are better than words
The Chinese also have a concept called Li which means "holy." They recognize courtesy and ceremony as observances of holiness. The Chinese have strong beliefs in the value of education and learning. They do not view this education as an event, such as a college education, but rather as a lifelong process of training and refinement of the body, mind and spirit. "At fifteen I set my heart upon learning. At thirty, I had planted my feet firm upon the ground. At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities. At fifty, I knew what the biddings of Heaven were. At sixty, I heard them with docile ear. At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right." Confucius Menicus stated that the foundation of empire is the state and the foundation of the state is the family. Teachers and tutors are very important in China and are considered a part of the family, another father or mother. Frequently Chinese Tai Chi masters will adopt a senior student into their own family and the criteria by which students are accepted into a school was based on whether or not a teacher would "adopt" the person into the family. In other words, if you would not accept them into your family why would you teach them these arts? To all things there is a season. "Buddhaâ€Śestablished a new religion, and Confucius renewed morals and ancient virtues, but their institutions have been entirely destroyed. The beliefs and rites of the Buddhists and Confucians have not continued in accordance with their fundamental teachings." Spring, summer, fall and winter, birth, growth, and death in an endless cycle. As in all things the cycle has turned for these three religious forces and the practice of their truths is not as it was. â€œBut in the winter, beneath the fallen snow, lies the seed, that in the spring becomes the rose.â€? The Chinese believe that the unity of nature and religion indicated the unity of all mankind and the oneness of all humanity.
"Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother…all people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my companions. In life I follow and serve Heaven and Earth, and in death I will be at peace." Chang Tsai The Chinese believe that man is inherently noble or righteous. It is believed that through spiritual and material education, the arts and sciences, including Tai Chi, that the virtues of man and woman are illuminated. They have a concept of "natural equality" which expresses that each man and woman has the potential for moral growth.
AWAKENING THE ENERGY WITHIN Why is breath so important in Tai Chi Chuan? The breathing patterns of Tai Chi incorporate the conscious use of the lungs, diaphragm, abdominal, and intercostal muscles, nose and mouth to facilitate the flow of chi throughout the body. Chi, life force, or energy is conceptualized as a subtle but powerful force that governs the processes of cellular growth and maintenance and which imparts stamina, strength, and wellness. The relationship between movement and breath is a struggle against the normal state of disruption and dissipation that characterizes much of our daily life as we attempt to achieve a state of inner-harmony or balance between mind, body and spirit. The daily activities of life form the substance of our daily tests and difficulties which test both our resolve and ability to obtain this inner-harmony or balance. Our goal is to become still, quiet, and peaceful and our tool to accomplish this task is Tai Chi Chuan. Since I would be, and look, silly to do the Tai Chi forms as we walk down the street or on the job, it is the principles of Tai Chi that we must constantly cultivate in our lives. These principles include: 1. 2. 3. 4.
Use soft to overcome hard Use calm against agitation Use small energy to neutralize big energy Retreating is better than resisting
Other basic Tai Chi practices involve physical skills like rooting to the earth and total body relaxation. Tai Chi Chuan is a science of behavior that attempts to quiet the mind and relax the body by concentration on breath. Pause for a moment to consider the implication of this. Agitation and causes of anxiety exist all around us. Through the continual practice of breath and Tai Chi principles, we learn how to focus our energies toward calmness and stillness. You become like the eye of a hurricane, a calm center surrounded by whirling forces of destruction. The practice of Tai Chi Chuan not only benefits the body and the flow of life energy, it offers us a center of focus, a retreat to enter when faced with fear, anxiety, and agitation. Breath is love in action. The Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh said, "Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment." In order to manifest calmness through Tai Chi try the following process: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.
Stand in the "Hold the ball" position Review the basic principles of Tai Chi and follow them Become aware of the sensation of Chi throughout your entire body Feel that your body is full of pulsation and Chi Experience pulsation and Chi as a magnetic attraction Shift your awareness of your body completely into the feeling of this magnetic attraction Feel that life and light are flowing from you and to you Feel that you are a drop in this vast ocean, a part of this ocean, as you form it and it forms you Feel the power, the love, and the freedom
The Tai Chi Chuan that you are studying is far different than aerobics or stretching classes. It is far more profound; it is not simply exercise. The movement of Tai Chi will transform your mind, body, and spirit. How does it do this? By helping you strip away the illusion of your false self and becoming your true self. My teacher the scholar Professor Huo; he studied Tai Chi for over ninety years and taught for over eighty years. In size, he was diminutive, in power, he was immense. In movement, he would flow like water or he could stand as firm as a mountain. If you tried to reach for him he was not there and if you tried to withdraw from him he followed you like your shadow. One moment he was a curtain in the wind and the next moment a burr on velvet. Raised in China and provided with a classical education he studied with Yang Sho Hou of the illustrious Yang family, he was trained as close to the fountainhead of Tai Chi Chuan as anyone could get. To learn Tai Chi Chuan it is important to understand that Tai Chi is the physical manifestation of the essential truth of the Divine. Tai Chi is a mirror of the essence of Universal Truth. Tai Chi is therefore by nature mysterious and elusive. Tai Chi is like a rose. The existence of the rose is proof of the creative power of God, the shape and
beauty of the rose is like the form and beauty of Tai Chi, and the fragrance of the rose is like the invisible but perceptible power of Tai Chi. As an art, Tai Chi reveals the depth of your creativity, much as a sculptorâ€™s hands reveal the magnitude of her ability. As a martial art Tai Chi tests our ability to manifest action as opposed to mere words and baseless claims. Tai Chi is not only a mirror of spiritual truth but it is also the dance that flows from the inner music of the True heart. There can be no false claims of power here, for the dance of Tai Chi will strip away illusion and delusion. The search for meaning and fulfillment that we embark upon is an attempt to struggle against the mountain of pain and the ocean of tears that we accumulate in life, the labor pains of rebirth. Tai Chi is the midwife of your delivery to reality. Tai Chi is slow dancing with your spirit to the rhythm of your breath and the music of your heart. Through meditation we embrace our true reality and through the dance of Tai Chi, we learn how to actualize that true reality in daily life. In silence we listen, in stillness we see, in movement we become. The spirit of Tai Chi is expressed through the power within you. Most choose to ignore this power and choose instead illusionary powers like wealth, position, and status. The true power of Tai Chi is a peaceful heart at rest and content, uplifting the fallen and healing the broken, free of fear and surrendered to love. Look around you. Have we become so complicated that simple truth no longer satisfies our longings? Why prefer knowing to being? Only the courageous will surrender to love. Tai Chi will awaken the "energy" within and make you strong enough to surrender self to Self. If we call enlightenment true knowledge we can say this about it, those who so strongly hold to knowledge which enslaves them and from which their lives show little power to love and heal, are not enlightened, but darkened, and those whose lives demonstrate the power of love and healing know in their hearts that they borrow this power like a neighborâ€™s tools, or the mirror steals the image of the Sun.
BEGINNING AGAIN, WITH TAI CHI This is a new year, so let us begin again. As you stand poised to move forward into this year it would be wise to establish some well defined goals for yourself. Not fuzzy wishywashy â€˜I hope to goalsâ€™, but clearly defined specific objectives with measurable achievement, for example, not a goal of "I hope to be a better person," but rather "I will pray and meditate and perform one simple act of kindness every day." To keep track of this goal I will keep a journal and I will record my behavior by taking account at the end of each day before I go to bed. So reflect. What is it about yourself that you wish to change? What do you wish to learn? What do you wish to accomplish? In the Tai Chi class, I wish to create a loving supportive environment that is conducive to positive personal growth and spiritual maturation. It is my goal that more and more students will become aware of the basic principles of Tai Chi and how they reflect both material processes in nature and our spiritual reality. It is my goal that each student learn that it is not who your teacher is, or how long you have studied, but how well you understand the philosophy and persist in the study of Tai Chi that leads to personal transformation. No teacher can transfer awareness; you must discover it on your own. My goal is that you realize the importance of this and that now more than ever, it is vitally important that you become as healthy as you can.
Allow me to review some of the history and basics of the Tai Chi that we study. Stories regarding the Yang family reveal that training in the original secret family style was so rigorous that family members felt the need to simplify the forms. This was accomplished by Yang Cheng Fu. As a young man, Yang was very strong and was without peers in Tai Chi. However, as he aged he became overweight and de-conditioned. He died at the age of fifty. As a young man he practiced Tai Chi twelve times per day, in later life his travel schedule often prevented regular training. Cheng Man Ching whose form many of us learned was an amazing Tai Chi push hands player, a poet, artist, chess player, and doctor. He attributes Tai Chi for curing his rickets, rheumatism, and tuberculosis. For most of this life he was also an alcoholic, he developed hypertension and died at the age of seventy-four. Is there a lesson here? The words of Tai Chi refer to harmony of and within the universe, not simply an exercise form. The way of this harmony and centeredness within it is very difficult. What is essential is the whole heartedness of our striving to stay upon the path, we donâ€™t count how many times we stop and fall, but rather that we consistently arise and struggle onward. I have returned to you at the beginning of this new calendar year a different person than the one that left. Once again I have experienced, from my own perception, events that have transformed my understanding. And once again these things are difficult to express in words. Perhaps if I describe the events that occurred you will glimpse the meaning. Upon rising at dawn on the first day of my vacation, I walked to the reef on the ocean where I practice Tai Chi. This is a large coral reef that juts into the ocean. As I practice, crashing waves send thunderous ocean spray into the dawning sky around me. I feel the whipping salted air. As I began to practice the forms I also began to hear music. Perfectly harmonious tones, in perfect musical scale, high and low, intoning with each posture of Tai Chi that I performed. Each posture of the form has an individual and distinctive note. I had never experienced this before, I have never read of it or heard of it. Since it seemed appropriate, I began to hum the tones drawing them together into kind of a song. And so beneath the sky of dawn, upon the thunderous ocean shore, I danced and sang a song of Tai Chi. Each day of my trip offered new insights and breakthroughs of awareness. I will now skip from the first to the last day. As I sat by the ocean studying and meditating, a strong rainsquall passed over me. As the rain began to subside, from the reef to the ocean before me a vivid double rainbow appeared to teach about unity. From this rainbow I have perceived a truth inherent in the martial arts that is far beyond style or form, it is a master thread woven into the fabric of these arts, it is a thread of thought, it is a thread of light. Tai Chi is a form of consciousness, spiritually uplifting, higher thought, a pure note, an impulse of light. When we dance our Tai Chi we cannot remain separate from it, we become it. But if the Tai Chi sings to us and captures our hearts like a sirens call, will we not sing back to it? And so the utterance of the Soul sings to us, and back and forth soul to soul, we sing sounding forth in the stirring melody of love.
The rainbow left, followed by sunset as the sky changed from blue to lavender, and the palm fronds and I danced within lavender waves of light. And night fell, a silken scarf from heaven. It is said of enlightenment this, "Before enlightenment, the mountain is a mountain, with enlightenment, the mountain is not a mountain, and after enlightenment, the mountain is a mountain." In the oriental tradition, the word teacher means, "The one who goes before" and the characters that are used represent a herder leading a flock. Take my hand, I invite you to walk a little further down the path with me.
TAI CHI FROM THE HEART When I was a child I loved to end the sweetness of a warm summer day by swinging on my swing-set as the shadows lengthened and the evening darkened. I was fascinated by stars. As I swung to and fro I would patiently await the appearance of the stars. As the stars came out at night, I would sing my songs and say my child’s prayers to God and angels. I would do this until my mother’s call would draw me home. I have never lost my child’s awe and love of God and angels, or my awareness of the many evidences of Divine power and order in the world around me. Simply put this is why I love and dedicate myself to the study and teaching of Tai Chi. The beauty and peace of Tai Chi is my prayer and one way in my life that I have found to thank God. I cannot say this any more clearly. Words are poor tools to express the secrets of Tai Chi, which is known as the Grand Ultimate or Peaceful Energy. We have all experienced those profound God-given moments of beauty, of insight, the answering of prayers, or the gift of grace of God, and so you know to what I refer when I talk about these joyful, magical moments when God is our best friend, deepest lover, and playmate in the unfolding mystery of life. When we talk about Tai Chi we talk about energy, Chi. What is this energy? It is both the animating force of the body and its cells and organs and it is our spirit as seen as a Divine creation and joined within the fabric of the universe by the Unseen Weaver.
When we talk about the meaning of Tai Chi we are attempting to understand and to define ourselves. We are Chi, our spirit is peaceful energy. When we think or realize that we are Chi, it follows that we are Peaceful Beings. So, we have a new definition of Tai Chi, the art of discovering ourselves as Peaceful Beings, as Tai Chi, as one with this peaceful energy, as one with the Grand Ultimate, and as one with all things within the immediate world that we call home and the broader world we call Universe. In writing this I am aware that you may be uncomfortable with my references to the greater spiritual truths, to God. Such is the shame and curse of our age that men and women have lost their affection for God. Many have not grasped the deeper truths inculcated within true religion and do not recognize the benefits of insight and wisdom that religion can bestow. When religion is dead, man is dead; when religion withers, civilization withers. When the Spirit of religion is renewed, man is reborn. When the law of religion is rewritten, civilization is recreated. Look to summer, the miracle of growth. Nature cries out its teachings to you, but you must listen. Tai Chi helps you to listen. The basic principles of Tai Chi teach us about nature and nature taught us the basic principles of Tai Chi. Tai Chi is nature, both inner and outer. You are Tai Chi. Consider the order of the Universe, the movement of planets, sun and stars; the seasons, the cycle of day followed by night. This is order; this is Tai Chi. Consider the flight of the bird, the fall of the leaf, the ebb and flow of the tide and the timeless advance and retreat of the surf. This is natural rhythm; this is Tai Chi. Consider the whirling leaves, the falling rain or flakes of snow, the blowing sand, the bending branches. This is yielding, this is Tai Chi. Everything around you is here to teach you Tai Chi, about being a Peaceful Being. Even the patient stones beneath your feet. As I talk to you of the greatness of Tai Chi you must understand that Tai Chi is a journey, not a destination; a humble prayer and not a religion; a method of approaching God and begging to be shown a greater secret. Most of you know that I am a Baha’I, a follower of the writings of Baha’u’llah. When I think of what I have learned as a Baha’I, I realize that I was nothing before becoming a Baha’i. When people appreciate what I teach or write or speak I want to state that all of this is what I have borrowed from the Baha’i Faith, that I myself am nothing. I am only grateful for the opportunity to serve, grateful to you for providing the opportunity to share it. The unexamined life is death. The life lived without purpose is waste. The life without faith is hell. All around us are teachers. All around us are the evidences and gifts of God, and Tai Chi allows us the bounty of celebrating this. If you understand these things, you recognize the need to share your gifts, your Peaceful Being with others. This is the purpose of this age, the age of Divine Unity, the Oneness of Mankind, the age of the dawn and rise of Peace. You must become through Tai Chi, instruments of peace. Once you understand the harmony of life and experience your part in this harmony, your purpose, you must obey it, you cannot resist. The joining in
harmony with life, world, nature, mankind, and Universe, means simply to accept and follow, to yield to a greater wisdom, to move with the Divine wind, to flow with the gentle river downstream and to dance in the radiant light of God’s great plan for mankind. Think for a moment. What is the Heart of God? Peace and love for all mankind and creation. What is the Will of God? "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven." Peace on Earth. As students of Tai Chi, Peaceful Beings, how can we either ignore or resist the Heart and Mind of God? Once you understand this you become a willing servant of Divine purpose dedicated to an individual contribution to harmony, peace and unity. To resist is typical, but foolish. The river gradually erodes the rock and a canyon is carved through the heart of the mountain. The tree standing deep in the forest, unyielding to the wind, falls to decay. Use your Tai Chi to train your mind and spirit to yield to the invisible forces that created you and your destiny. Use your Tai Chi to guide the movement of others toward their realization of peace and acceptance of purpose in the great peace plan of God. Of course our true reality is spiritual. Of course we are Peaceful Beings. Of course we have a responsibility to live in harmony with nature and our fellow Beings of Peace. Of course we should love each other. Of course we should serve each other. So why don’t we? What prevents you from accepting this and from acting upon it? Who is responsible for your hesitation and delay? Tai Chi was born from both the revelation and inspiration of God. It is a gift of gentle insight to all mankind. It is not the only path to knowledge of self, spirit and God, but it is a beautiful way. As students of Tai Chi we bear a responsibility to strive to understand the concepts and to put thought into action in service to humanity, so that peace and universal harmony will become the Sun and Moon of this world and the flowers of the garden of mankind. In everything we do we must embrace beauty, in thought and action, in work, in leisure, as individuals, as parents, as husbands and wives, in receiving and giving, in teaching and learning, in repose and in movement. We must flow out to mankind in beauty as examples of peace, as shining beacons of God’s light and promise of unity and harmony in the world. Let it begin with each one of us. Begin it now! As students and teachers of Tai Chi we have been given a gift of beauty, we move with grace in thought and action, we are moving expressions of art, creation. We have been privileged, and it is our obligation to work toward a universal family of man that mirrors true human potential. We have been given life and beauty so that we might share these gifts with others. This is true Tai Chi, to take the beauty within and to manifest it around ourselves. Remember, Tai Chi is protection, it is healing and health, it is communion with God and nature, it is creation, it is art, it is the voice of the spirit in dance, it is a gift of beauty, it is our teacher and our guide and it is our steed on the journey to God. The mystic poet, Rumi, in the Song of The Reed, sings this verse: "Listen to the reed and the tale it tells, how it sings of separation; ever since they cut me from the reed bed."
Baha’u’llah of the Baha’i Faith calls man a hollow reed and says, "I have breathed within thee a breath of My own Spirit, that thou mayest be My lover." The sound of Divine breath through the hollow reed is music, a song of longing, lament, and separation; as the child cries in the night for the loving arms of his mother. So the reed becomes the flute, and the breath of Spirit a fire, and man is the Fire Flute of God. Rumi says, "This Flute is played with fire, not with wind and without this fire you would not exist. It is the fire of love that inspires the flute." Allow the fire of love to animate your heart and fill your limbs with the energy of Chi. The beginning of Tai Chi is called the Commencement and that which commences moves forward. Move forward in beauty, peace, and love, practice discipline and diligence, embody patience, sacrifice, and service, bring joy to others and uplift their hearts, aid your fellow man, bring healing to those with sorrow, and be a strength to the weak. This is the true spirit of peace. Does it seem like a lot to ask, too much to accomplish? We begin slowly one move, one action at a time, first with faltering steps then with a deepened stride. Steadily we gain skill and confidence. We join together and practice Tai Chi, appearing as the moving branches of the forest bent by the wind or the waves of the sea moving in endless succession. As we join together in the Dance of Peace we are transformed, becoming Peaceful Beings. I speak strongly here for peace. Many who are not familiar with the history of martial arts are confused as to how martial arts can lead on to peace. It has been a long tradition. Those who have followed the warriors’ path have found it better to save a life, to give life; rather than to take life, to end life. The words that I share with you have nothing to do with me. At the beginning of my training I was more ignorant than the poorest of my students today. I am still a student, still learning, still facing victory and defeat. The words and thoughts in this letter have been previously spoken by many others. Prophets, poets, visionaries, philosophers and priests. There is nothing original here. This is a distant echo of the heart inspired messages of many who seeing war have prayed for peace, who seeing hatred and anger have hoped for love and understanding. It is not the role of the warrior to kill but to protect, to prevent war, and if war comes then the warrior has failed in the true mission. Rumi in the Mathnawi speaks: "For the sake of God, the Real, whose slave I am, I yield this sword." And again he speaks: "And so I must put down my sword; that my name might be he loves for Gods sake,
that my desire may be he hates for Godâ€™s sake, that my generosity may be he gives for Godâ€™s sake." I am now at a loss to know what else to say to you, or how better to say these things so that you will understand that through Tai Chi we dedicate ourselves to peace. That through Tai Chi we strive to embody the spirit of peace. That through Tai Chi we seek to offer to mankind the gift of peace. It is finished with this. Be at peace within yourself and all will join you in Tai Chi, the dance of peace.
THE MATRIX OF PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION If you desire peace and happiness in your life, know this, you are the only impediment to change. Throughout the world, there is a growing awareness among people of the need for unity and peace. Conflict by conflict, humanity is slowly and painfully learning the lessons of peace through suffering and tragedy. This difficult and dangerous process of change could be eased and mitigated if individuals understood the reason and purpose of their existence and the contribution they can make to this evolutionary advancement towards world peace. I founded the Blue Heron Academy for the purpose of guiding people towards an understanding of themselves, their true self, and their role as contributing members of a world society. The tragedy and human suffering portrayed in current world events speaks to the crucial need for a greater understanding and love for ourselves as a first and critical step to the prevention of hatred and war against others. People who are their true selves do not commit acts of violence against others. You cannot be unified on Earth, if you are divided within. In the matrix of world transformation you are the chief instrument by which the unification of the human race will take place. If progress from world turmoil and conflict towards world peace is to continue, human beings and social institutions will have to undergo radical transformation. Beliefs and perceptions based on ethnic, racial, religious, or any form of prejudice, will have to be changed into attitudes of love and universal cooperation.
Many people worldwide are now vitally interested in how such a transformation can be brought about. To the astute mind it is evident that there is a revolutionary force at work in the world that is shaping the affairs of humanity. This force has both personal and practical effects. Personal transformation is the key to full personal potential, the obtainments of a higher joy, and self worth. Hatred, fear, and hostility evaporate from the transformed individual like rain on a warm sidewalk. In the wake of this personal transformation comes a compassionate social consciousness. The purpose of true religion is the development of true human potential. Religion, animated with the force of transformation, maximizes this human potential. Never is true religion the cause of national hatred and animosity between peoples. What is the best of what one can potentially be? The highest station, to which a person can obtain, in the eyes of God, is servitude to humanity and humility of person. These are the only two qualities that we can possess which are the opposite of the characteristics of the glory and the majesty of God. Any other characteristic or virtue that we possess is a quality that God already possesses to perfection. As we increasingly recognize and become our true selves, our innate capacities, virtue and goodness, can be released through service to humanity. This service strengthens and magnifies our talents and capacities. It is only through service that this transformative and self-empowering process can occur. It is only through this process of service that we can be happy. The daily decisions and actions which reflect this "becoming" are religious in nature. This involves the daily marriage of work and worship. It is a living spirituality. Those individuals who see and connect with the religious nature of "becoming", will understand and adopt a profound process of self-actualizing work and worship. Religion will take on a new meaning and will be associated with a daily practice of feeding the forces of personal transformation. Activities such as daily prayer, meditation, acts of service and charity, career, exercise, solitude, and all of lifeâ€™s moment to moment activities will be performed with a profound new understanding of their transformative power. Religion will be experienced as a force to facilitate personal transformation. Both the depth and the character, quantitative and qualitative, value of the service to humanity are determined by the capacity of the person performing the acts of service. The release of this innate capacity is mainly determined by the degree to which the individual has mastered these two prime qualities, knowing and loving God. All other virtues come from these two qualities. Becoming your true self means developing your capacity to know and to love God in service to all humanity. This knowledge put into action is spirituality. A spiritual person is a person who is committed to the process of knowing and loving God for service to humanity, not for self-gratification or personal reward. Not for the self-serving and selfish motivation focused on achieving baser needs. The negative attributes of people are based on not knowing and not loving God or ourselves. Prejudice, for example, is not knowing the truth about other humans and acting on our distorted perceptions with injustice. When we are close-minded and we willfully block the process of knowing, we are spiritually ill or stunted. The loving capacity of our true nature includes not only loving but also being able to receive love, for if we cannot receive love we block other peopleâ€™s ability to practice their
loving attributes. The knowing capacity includes both learning and teaching. Each capacity is interwoven in a matrix of mutuality; each one amplifies and supports the other. True education involves the training and maturation of the mind, the body, and the spirit. They cannot be separated. In our school we attempt to create an experience within which the individual can experience the integration of their true being through esoteric curriculum. This experience, however, must be actualized by the individual in daily life. The mere attendance of classes to observe teaching, as if looking from the other side of a glass wall, will not serve to inculcate these values, perceptions, and attributes, or these abilities, consciousness, faith and action within the individual. Without the development and use of the capacities of knowing and loving God, the individual will not progress spiritually in this existence. It is one thing to describe the matrix of transformation and another thing to actualize it. There does exist a mysterious power of force, found only in true religion that does release this profound human potential. It cannot, however, be found in association with any form of prejudice, hatred, injustice, superstition, or ignorance. Any individual, minister, church or organization that promotes these practices cannot guide individuals to this transformative power. We all share the same fundamental need; it cannot be denied. We all inwardly long to know the mystery of our relationship to the universe, the infinite. What is faith? It is a love of that which cannot be known, the unknowable. But it is not blind; it is rather the empowerment of the perceptive capacities of the human spirit in the spirit/mind knowledge of consciousness. Faith is the use of the intellect, spiritual perception, and confirming experience with the unknown. People of faith experience confirmation of their faith through life events and creative inspiration. In a way this is a form of scientific evaluation, the process of trial and error in experimentation, but at the same time, "it" is not meant to be proved. That is why it is called faith. The great universal mystery of the unknowable, God, has been the great mystery of all mankind since the beginning of time. This hunger to know has been filled at times by the great teachers who come at different times, to different people, and in different places. But rather than serving to unite us, people to people in our quest, mankind has used the "differences" in outward appearances from teacher to teacher as a cause for disunity, and war. Mankind has collectively failed to comprehend, or to appreciate, the oneness of these teachers and their spiritual message to all mankind. None of us can truly appreciate the attributes of capacities placed within us by a loving Father. If we are created in his image and he is unknowable, then there must be some unknowable aspects within us. What is our unique individual capacity to love, to know? Some people have given up on their capacity to "become", they deny their heritage and gifts. They have betrayed their own potential to be fully human and blocked the process of personal transformation. They will experience lives of dysfunction. They will find that their relationships with others are disturbed and unsatisfying. If you cannot accept your personal capacity to know and to love, if you cannot accept that a part of you is unknown, then how can you know and love and accept the unknowable mystery in others? You may not like or love another person, you may find their actions
objectionable, but if you donâ€™t have faith in that personâ€™s innate capacity or that they also possess certain unknowable attributes you rob that person of the opportunity to grow and to mature. Your human potential is a vitally important part of your reality as a human being. When you play the game of life by the rules, that we all have the potential to grow spiritually, you empower yourself and others to realize their capacity to know, love, and serve. People who become this, do not wage war. Just as strong steel needs the contrasting forces of heat and cold, we too need tests that strengthen our spirit and measure our commitment to the path of transformation and service. Facing the unknown is not easy. Change produces anxiety and external unknowns are often perceived as a potential threat to our well being. Anxiety has all of the psychological and physiological characteristics of a fear reaction, except that is has no specifically identifiable object. Both fear and anxiety produce mental and physical stress. The only way to effectively deal with anxiety provoking tests is to treat the energy associated with the test as a gift. The Chinese define crisis as opportunity. Each anxiety provoking test that we face, a new job, new responsibilities, changes in job or organizational structure produces anxiety, fear, doubt, and uncertainty. Each time we face this "crisis" we face the risk of the unknown, but we also face the opportunity to be brave, to learn something new about ourself or our limitations. Being attracted to the process of personal change, through personal challenge, is a form of faith, because it takes faith and courage to proceed through our greatest fears and worse doubts about ourself. All of these components faith, doubt, anxiety, fear and courage are a natural part of discovering our spiritual capacity and unleashing our true human potential. These "tests" are the firewood that builds the flames of change, flames that burn away the old false self, revealing the splendor of the true self hidden within. The mysterious force that transforms human beings is the creative word of God, its recitation, prayer and meditation, acts of kindness, service and charity to humanity. In addition, the higher acts of life; the arts, the sciences, medicine and healing, poetry and literature, exploration of nature, sports and physical achievement, all of these things and more constitute the vehicles by which the human spirit can be released and uplifted. The more and the greater the degree that a person immerses themselves in these thoughts and acts, the greater the effect will be upon that person and that soul. Our immersion in this experience, a gentle and nourishing experience of life, changes our view of ourselves and of life and the world we live in. We slowly, step by step, begin to behave differently. Behaving differently is tangible proof of the life-giving matrix of personal transformation at work in our life. We break our chains asunder and free ourselves of the bondage of the lower self, the false self. If we believe, and are changed, is this not sufficient proof of the value of this path? If we do not believe, and continue to
revolve on the wheel of suffering, is this not confirmation of the worth and value of the power of knowing and loving God? Happiness is not a life free of tests and difficulties. What is such a life but boredom. Happiness is the discovery of the true self and the unveiling of it to release its potential and capacity. Happiness is carrying on with the struggles of life, not with slumped shoulders, fear, and loathing, but rather with a fierce determination to succeed, to change, and to serve. These life-changing experiences become the belief, the faith, and the awareness of the mysterious power of force that created us. It becomes our personal conscious knowledge of the divine. He, who is not himself united, cannot unite. The unity of all mankind cannot be achieved until you are united within yourself. We cannot be united on earth until we can put aside our petty prejudices and find our common unity as children of God. If your personal capacities of knowing and loving are in conflict, due to prejudice, then you are not spiritually mature and you are in a state of internal disharmony. You are in conflict, your mind says based on prejudice, â€˜this person is not worthy of love,â€™ yet Godâ€™s love and teachings say love is universal and absolute. It is unconditional. How then do you reconcile the prejudice toward or hatred of any human being based on race, color, creed, religion, or by any arbitrary or artificial means of evaluation? Prejudice is a false belief about someone or a group, combined with an emotional response; it is the opposite of knowing and loving. If you are prejudiced you are engaged in a belief that is an energy that blocks the release of your own human potential. Prejudice prevents the realization of your true self. It is a belief that distorts the matrix of personal transformation. This is where your personal role in world peace lies. Until you release the energy of prejudice within yourself, you cannot contribute to the advancement of world peace. You are in fact an impediment to the evolution of that peace process. The mysterious unknown within you is the image of God, the virtues of God placed within us. If on the personal level we refer to the image of God as our divine birthright, then the greater kingdom of God refers to that mysterious unknown, the birthright of the society of mankind. The kingdom of God represents the potential of mankind, just as the image of God represents your personal potential as a human being and member of the human family of God. When your individual potential is released, and the human potential of humanity is released, that will be the kingdom of God on earth. This kingdom is not impractical, it is practical and achievable. It is not the destiny of mankind to wage war, but to evolve and to mature towards peace. Whether that peace is achieved through untold suffering and destruction, or rather through the personal transformation and spiritual maturation of all people and the coming together of leaders and nations in an act of the consultative will to build peace, is partially in your hands and in the daily decisions that you make regarding your life and conduct. What are you doing to help achieve it?
DEATH OF THE SIFU The origin of the traditional martial arts is shrouded in mystery and myth. At the fountainhead of the history of martial arts, and in the majority of martial art systems, is the story of a great teacher. This great teacher, or sifu, is the martial arts warrior, or sage, who is credited with creating the body of knowledge that late, becomes a martial art system to be passed down through oral tradition and rigorous training to successive generations of students.. Occasionally, written materials such as a master training manual were also passed down through traditional lineages. In addition, when the lineages were broken, the knowledge of that martial art system was lost. For individual martial art students, the sifu likely served as a father, teacher, trainer, priest, and role model. Every nation and cultural group in history has had their heroes and all cultures have romanticized and exaggerated the abilities and exploits of these heroes. From the heroic stories of Greek mythology, we have heroes like Hercules, Achilles, Jason, Odysseus, Perseus, Theseus, and the Amazons. In the recorded chronicles of their lives and exploits, there is found a history of civilization, war, love, philosophy, myth, whether fact or fiction, interwoven within the fabric of a single story. In more contemporary times, we have grown up with stories about heroes like Robin Hood, Davy Crockett, and Daniel Boone.
In Asian historical literature, we find a similar blending of fact and fiction, perhaps to an even greater degree. Western readers usually expect that the books they read are classified as either fiction or non-fiction. In Asian literature; however, this distinction is usually not made, especially in works of ancient and modern literature that pertains to the martial arts. Just as Western historians blended fact with fiction in the stories of great civilizations and heroes, Asian historians and writers have done similarly throughout recorded history and, in particular, over the past two or three centuries. As Charles Holcombe states in his book Theatre of the Martial Arts, “Before the Tang dynasty (617907) the Chinese literary tradition made no clear distinction between the modern categories of fiction and non-fiction, although elements of what we would call fiction were present.” To say that the traditional martial arts were confused by the merging of fact and fiction would be an understatement as the written manuscripts and oral traditions led to major disagreements among the martial artists. To understand the scope of the problem, different people reading the same material would draw different conclusions depending on whether they felt the information was fact or fiction. The combining of fact, myth, and superstition within the martial art literature was further confounded by the general lack of written historical information. Detailed information about key historical figures in the Asian martial arts was missing, which led some historians to “fill in the blanks” on their own. Many of the “historians” of the martial arts were also martial artists, studying with a “sifu” and this makes their accounts and conclusions less objective. Their research was likely biased and frequently lacking in scientific rigor. In addition, poor verbal and written Asian language skills, a lack of knowledge about Asian history, and a lack of awareness about the cultural and social milieu of Asian nations, especially the caste system, were complicating factors. Noted contemporary martial artist and author Harvey Kurland commented that, “The senior students of Yang Shao-Hou, who did not become disciples of (Yang) Cheng-Fu, were written out of the Yang family lineage after the death of (Yang) Shao-Hou and for that reason are not as well known.” Some sifu’s make greatly exaggerated claims about their abilities and promote psychic and metaphysical beliefs to impress and manipulate their students. As a result, a sifu may achieve personal recognition and fame and benefit financially. Due to modern information sharing, that is both rapid and transparent, the credentials and claims of some ranking martial artists have been shown to be fraudulent. Such fraudulent claims commonly include false claims about studying with noted teachers, claiming to have an unearned rank or lineage, and exaggerations about the number of years studying with a particular teacher, or within a system or style of martial arts. Some of the fantastic and exaggerated claims made by martial arts teachers have included: the ability to render opponents unconscious without physically touching them; the ability to psychically transport a body from one location to another; the ability to levitate; and the ability to dodge bullets or to become impervious to gun fire. Numerous examples of
these claims have been produced by past and current martial artists. Indeed, many modern students of the martial arts believe that a goal of their training is to be able to perform these supernatural feats. Within the lineage system, myth, superstition, metaphysical and occult practices are inculcated and transmitted via an unhealthy system of dogmatic “blind faith”. After all, the lineage student is charged with retaining the system’s “knowledge” intact from the masters who preceded him. Certainly, if the body of knowledge is based on scientific principles of training and conditioning, and proven methods of combat, then retaining this knowledge is valuable, but if the system is permeated with superstition, metaphysical beliefs, and occult practices, the system will be without merit. The traditional martial arts are in an area of human knowledge where knowledge of the past is felt to be more important that modern discovery or innovation. At the beginning of the 20th century, martial art reformers, such as Chen Pan Ling, attempted to “modernize” the Chinese martial arts. Chen Pan Ling, in the preface of his original book (Tai Chi Chuan Chiao Tsai), states: “If we can but standardize nomenclature, theory, postures, and movements, our martial arts will rapidly increase in popularity, not solely in China, but throughout the world.” Another concept commonly seen in Asian culture is filial piety, which is the devotion and obedience by younger members of a family to their elders. Although this concept existed in Asian cultures, prior to Confucius, it is often identified with his teachings, and in The Analects, Confucius said, "A young man should be a good son at home and an obedient young man abroad…” In The Classic of Filial Piety, we find, "The services of love and reverence to parents when alive, and those of grief and sorrow to them when dead – these completely discharge the fundamental duty of living men." Within the lineage descendents of teachers of the traditional martial arts, we still see evidence of behaviors and beliefs associated with “ancestor worship” and “filial piety”. These behaviors and beliefs exist because the teachers of the traditional martial arts also taught varying degrees of Asian philosophy and religion. Some contemporary Western students of Asian martial arts have personally adopted Asian philosophies and religions, blending them into their study and application of the traditional martial arts. The adoption of Asian philosophy and religion by traditional martial artists, in combination with the acceptance of aspects of ancestor worship and filial piety, contributes to the manifestation of a cult of personality within the traditional martial arts. Every style of martial arts has its fountainhead and some claim that their martial art began with a mystical figure or perhaps a Taoist immortal in the Wudang Mountains. For example, in the martial art Baqua, its founder Dong Hai Chuan is claimed to have related the origin of this martial art to a mythical Taoist immortal. In an essay by Gu Lieu Xing (In Memory of Tang Hao), Gu states, “In the 1930’s, people in the martial art circles of our nation clung too much to the idea and the importance of lineage, and this caused major disputes…” Rigorous research by scholars and historians, such as Tang Hao, have shown that at the fountainhead of every martial art is a common man who, through hard
work and effort (kung fu), and by building on the work of predecessors, he was able to achieve innovation, and contribute to the evolution of knowledge and advancement of the martial arts. If we strip away the esoteric, psychic, metaphysical, occult, superstitious, and fictitious elements of the traditional Asian martial arts, what is left? In most cases, the central theory, which allows for advancement and the evolution of a particular martial arts system, is the remaining element. In Baqua, for example, the central idea was to use continually changing postures and positions, accompanied with moving behind the opponent, which led to the systemâ€™s fighting concept as seen today. Why then are the contemporary innovators and creators in the martial arts community denigrated and criticized? The answer seems to stem from the ignorance about the unsubstantiated, conflicted, and shaky history of the martial arts. Over time, falsities and facts have become blurred in the minds of the ignorant or gullible. The abilities of teachers became exaggerated or were moved into the realm of the supernatural. As a consequence, these kinds of beliefs make it impossible for living breathing men and women to live up to the fiction. Another evolutionary step occurring in the martial arts is taking place in two areas. First, the emerging and developing sport martial arts are quickly adapting modern scientific methods of human performance testing and conditioning, as are derived from exercise physiology, biomechanics, and sports science. Second, knowledge and skills are expanding in relation to the combat martial arts. Because of the high degree of athleticism and physical risk involved, these areas rely on no nonsense pragmatic approaches in the martial training and fighting applications. Of course, some limitations are used in the rules of engagement for sports martial arts, in comparison to combat martial arts; where the objective is to maim or kill an enemy, but todayâ€™s sport martial artist is generally a well-conditioned, multi-skilled athlete. The modern fighting arts are now evolving into the kind of scientific martial art that was envisioned by Tang Hao in the 1930â€™s. Nevertheless, continuing to promote false historical information and superstition in the martial arts community and especially among martial arts teachers is counter-productive to the advancement of the martial arts. This article was published in Combat and Healing, Volume 65, September 2012. Many thanks to Nasser Butt.
TAI JI QI SHI â€“ THE BEGINNING As we continue our explorations into Tai Chi Chuan, in our classes, we are investigating the Chinese calligraphy and language used to depict and to describe the postures and techniques of tai chi. Native Chinese speakers of course understand the names and meanings of the ideograms and logographs used to describe and to explain the postures and techniques, not so for non Chinese speaking students of tai chi. Of course even Chinese Tai Chi Chuan students have to study the calligraphy, different calligraphy styles, and the history of the ideograms in order to delve into the deeper meanings of the language of Tai Chi Chuan. Understanding the ideograms and logographs used to name and to depict the various movements of Tai Chi Chuan can be an invaluable asset to comprehending the layers of meaning from superficial to deep that like a seed within a shell are combined with the names and words used to describe the postures and techniques of tai chi. Just as a student of Tai Chi Chuan must know the applications of the postures and techniques they practice they also can derive deep insight into the correct application of a posture or technique by understanding the language used to describe the essential nature of the movements of tai chi. A student of Tai Chi Chuan that neither knows the applications of the postures and techniques (and cannot effectively apply them) nor the true meanings of the names, ideograms, and logographs used as part of the language of description of the tai chi
postures and techniques is like a silk flower which while looking pretty has no essence or fragrance. At our last tai chi class we looked at the ideograms associated with two tai chi postures; the beginning of the tai chi form, Commencement, and the series of movements called Embrace Tiger and Return to Mountain. We explored the ideograms, their shapes and components and the various literal and symbolic meanings, both contemporary and modern, that are attributed to these names and ideograms. The students began to understand and to comprehend the significance in terms of the correct performance and execution of Tai Chi Chuan that comes with this deeper understanding. By understanding the meaning of the names of Tai Chi Chuan postures and techniques we can gain a profound understanding of the “intent” of the posture or technique which when applied to the practice of push hands and sanshou helps to develop a fully competent tai chi player. In Commencement or Beginning Tai Chi, we have a movement called Tai Ji Qi Shi and of course the various ideograms that depict these words in the Chinese language. If we refer to a Chinese dictionary (or Google) we find that depending upon the context in which the ideograms are used there are many different meanings for these words. When we use the description Tai Ji Qi Shi in the context of the Tai Chi Chuan form we find that the ideogram for tai can be understood to mean highest. However, just as in the English language the word highest can mean the highest person on a stairway or the highest being in the Universe (having an entirely different context), the same is true in the Chinese language. So putting tai in context with the opening of the Tai Chi Chuan form, the word here may be interpreted to mean that which is highest in ourselves or that which is highest in the Universe. If we look at the tai ideogram in an “artistic” sense we may see within the character a person opening themselves up to that which is greater than themselves and next to that person is a divine spark of energy. In our class and exploration of the word ji and its associated ideogram we investigated meanings which indicated words and concepts related to “the utmost”, “extreme” or “polarity” and in further examination of the ideogram for this character we might find a solitary person standing between heaven and earth and awaiting judgment. In the word qi we find meanings and concepts related to beginning, rising up, and the initiation of movement which we might interpret symbolically to mean that we have the choice to begin and to move upon our own journey in life, or not. Finally, in the word, ideogram, and concepts attributed to the word shi we find perhaps the most interesting meanings inherent within its possible interpretations in that this ideogram is depicted as representing strength and skill acquired through hard work and effort. In my book, Scent of a Forgotten Flower”, I have described this process through the analogy of a potter. In this analogy the Potter is either God shaping the clay of our soul or we are both the potter and the clay being shaped, in which case we shape ourselves through work and effort. All of this information is of course subject to our own literal and figurative interpretations but when we combine these possible meanings and string them together in the same manner as our Tai Chi Chuan form, we begin to see a story emerge, a story that describes
our personal struggle to find meaning both within ourselves and within the greater world around us. Tai Ji Qi Shi, therefore, might mean, “I seek that which is highest both in my self and the Universe through hard work, hardships, and trials". As we progress through the Tai Chi Chuan form, through its numerous techniques and “108” postures we travel along a path of self discovery and interconnectedness with the “Universe” and that Great Being that created both it and us. And so it begins, the journey.
LAN QUE WEI – GRASP THE SPARROW’S TAIL As we continue our Tai Chi Chuan form we move from Tai Ji Qi Shi (Commencement) through Cross the Heavens, Close Up/Hold the Ball and Ward Off Left and into a group of movements and techniques collectively referred to as Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail. Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail is comprised of both a singular posture known as Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail, as well as, five movements (most tai chi practitioners think four) that include; Ward Off (Peng) or Immortal Waves, Rollback (Lu) or Double Dragons Play with a Pearl, Ji (Press) or Pushing a Boat, Sink (Chen) or Sitting Bear, and Push (An) or Tiger Holds a Ball. Each of these names suggests several possible interpretations or applications for these techniques. The posture Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail is thought by some to have originated with either Yang Lu Chan or Yang Cheng Fu. Whatever its origin Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail is a wonderful group of movements that perhaps more than any other Tai Chi movement captures both the essence of, and the principles of Tai Chi Chuan. Within the Yang family style forms there is not another movement that incorporates so many of the foundational movements and techniques of Tai Chi Chuan. There is a bit of mythology surrounding Yang Lu Chan and the movement Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail. As the story goes if a bird (sparrow) landed on Yang Lu Chan’s hand they would not be capable of flying off because to do so they had to push with their feet 84
and Yang Lu Chan would neutralize the bird’s effort by yielding (sinking) with his palm. The sparrow would not have anything to push off against. Whether the story is true or not it suggests that Yang Lu Chan had profound skill. The Chinese ideogram for the word lan (Lan Que Wei – Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail) may be translated to mean to grasp something but it may also mean to hold something and to pay close attention to it. The word que or sparrow like the symbolism that may be applied to any bird could be considered to represent our connection between earth and heaven. The fact that the sparrow is chosen to depict this movement may connate paying attention to the smallest detail, even more so considering that we are asked to direct our attention to a small part of the sparrow called wei (tail). So perhaps the lesson inherent within the posture called Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail is the admonition that on our journey between earth and heaven – that we should pay attention to even the smallest detail. As we mentioned above peng (Ward Off) is one of several movements also associated with the collective group of movements called Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail. Peng is a very old and obscure word in the Chinese language that has been associated with many meanings including expanding, releasing, and shooting a bow and arrow. In addition peng has been associated with the mythical Chinese Phoenix and the Roc. Because Tai Chi Chuan is a very practical form of martial art and is based upon mechanical physics lets set aside the more esoteric meanings and instead concentrate on peng as a way of using our physical and biomechanical attributes to expand our physical force or power in a manner which deflects physical assaults against us. There is an interesting story regarding Yang Lu Chan that illustrates the application of this physical force. The story suggests that Yang Lu Chan was able to neutralize and to repel two assailants on a small boat by bowing his back and expanding his chest and by doing this he was able to “ward off” their attack and repel them into the water. Lu (Rollback) is another ancient and obscure word for which the meaning is uncertain. Clearly within the Chinese ideogram is the character for hand and its use here is fairly obvious. Less understood are the other character strokes that make up the ideogram. Personally, I see some similarity in the Chinese ideogram for the word capture and this meaning and use matches very well with one of the first applications of the technique rollback that I learned which was to intercept, parry and to trap an opponent’s attempt to strike or grab. When we think of the physical movement ji or to press we might superficially think that the movement simply implies pressing against something, but here again the Chinese ideogram has a much deeper connotation and instead implies the concept of pressing into something with the “intention of joining into it” or merging into it. This meaning suggests that as we press into the opponent we do so in a manner that is like dancing with a partner to the point where we move as one harmonious whole.
The word chen connotes the idea of sinking, but not just sinking like a rock in water but the idea of sinking with a pulling/sucking force, like a whirlpool or stepping into mud. Many Tai Chi Chuan practitioners do not include chen in their description of the movements associated with Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail but I do. This concept and physical technique is employed throughout the Tai Chi form and is seen wherever a movement is used that correctly requires a sinking or lowering of the body on to the “seated” (weighted) leg. One such technique is called Pull Down and of course chen is used prominently in Tai Chi Chuan push hands practice. An like most of the words used to describe the Tai Chi Chuan techniques, movements, and postures is a word with many meanings. An can mean massage or it can mean to examine something while pushing/pressing down into it. Once again we have a word whose meaning implies not only to push/press but to do so in a manner in which we merge into the body part, region or person that we are contending with and in a way that harmoniously joins “us” to “them”. Many Tai Chi Chuan practitioners simply employ An as a push to uproot or to throw an opponent off balance when in fact a careful interpretation of the word, its meaning, and ideogram imply a more profound meaning that once understood leads to a higher level of understanding and application. There are two components to the An ideogram and the first, once again, represents the hand but the other represents a woman (feminine aspect) in peace and tranquility. …and so as we continue with our Tai Chi Chuan form – the journey continues.
THE SWORD OF WISDOM This morning like many weekend mornings I retreated into the woods to play my solitary tai chi and in particular a sword style called Shadow Hand. I drink deep of the inspiration that I find in nature. I call this form of practice shen wu, or spirit dance. I once had these thoughts about tai chi, “In Tai Chi take the Hand of God and allow yourself to be lead through the dance following like an obedient partner. Step by step, the dance. It is only by following, not leading, that we find the center, ourselves. No intent. No direction. No will. We follow, we relax, we yield, we soften, we comply, we find our true nature and define it in a lover’s embrace as we stand on the shoes of our Father as He foot-steps us through eternity. This morning, alone in the woods, deep in the winter snow and embraced by the cold I heard music in the wind and remembered this, “In the highest heaven, nearest to the Throne of God the sweetest music is sung by love struck angels in the Choir of Light. How can we not dance to the music?” There is the age old question as to whether the tree falling in the forest makes a sound if there is no one there to hear it. In the same regard when you dance your kata in the forest, who is watching? Like any form of creative endeavor tai chi is prayer, and it is God that is watching our dance. He after all sees all… This morning it was my sword that led the dance spiraling with the wind and snow, snowflakes falling on its mirror blade and melting like ashes from a fire. I strive to polish the blade of my sword to a mirror like finish with the burnish of daily life. When you feel
dull and blunted return to your center, train harder, and raise a mighty cry to summon divine assistance to your aid. The assistance always comes, and in the swirling winds and winter cold I feel the warmth of another place, and the light of another world, and the words of another language which says, “No sword cuts as keenly as a spirit centered and surrendered to God.” Rumi in the Mathnawi speaks: "For the sake of God, the Real, whose slave I am, I yield this sword." And again he speaks: "And so I must put down my sword; that my name might be he loves for God’s sake, that my desire may be he hates for God’s sake, that my generosity may be he gives for God’s sake." All of this, and these thoughts, is first and foremost inspired by the greater writings of Bahá'u'lláh - “Say: The sword of wisdom is hotter than summer heat, and sharper than blades of steel, if ye do but understand. Draw it forth in My name and through the power of My might, and conquer, then, with it the cities of the hearts of them that have secluded themselves in the stronghold of their corrupt desires.” …and finally I am reminded – “The foolish have usurped the swords of valor and courage and laid claim to the warrior craft, but the heart of error can never prevail. Stand strong within your circle, Red Lions, Black Dragons are we! Have you not heard that the poor shall inherit?”
TAI CHI AT HORSESHOE LAKE The trip was billed as the last ride of the “summer” but the trip got delayed, delayed and delayed until early October. Cold weather had set in early that year but we were hoping for a few Indian summer days. The three of us were on a bicycle trip in northern Michigan. The route that we planned had us ditching the car in Gaylord and following off road trails into and through the northeastern corner of Ostego County, Michigan. Almost immediately we got off to a bad start. Our heavily loaded bikes outfitted with front and back panniers stuffed with tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear, food for several days, clothes, and every other convenience that we could possibly fit into the panniers, or somewhere strapped on the bike, quickly bogged down on back country trails that were mostly deep loose sand. Ninety year old geriatrics could have easily outpaced us as we agonized with each labored turn of the pedals. To add insult to injury (literally) the temperatures dropped drastically, it began to sleet, and we pedaled into a relentless head wind. Not exactly the idyllic Indian summer trip we had visualized. Because of the laborious pedaling and the nasty cold wet weather we threw our meticulously planned schedule, directions, and map away and began to “wing” it. When one of our companions broke down mid afternoon and began to cry we started thinking about setting up camp and giving the weather a chance to improve. We also needed to find a route that was not through sand.
As luck would have it we ventured upon a remote “rustic” campsite and quickly began to unload the bikes and set up our tents and camping gear. The weather began to improve and we momentarily saw the sun peering between the clouds. As the weather improved so did our perspective. Unfortunately, this condition did not last long as a long line of Harley motorcycles began rumbling into the campgrounds. It appears that we had set up camp in the middle of a motorcycle club camping trip. Within minutes of their arrival the heavy metal music began blaring. I decided to hike deep into the woods and to set up my tent as far from the “biker” clamor as possible which did serve to tone down the heavy metal volume a few decibels. Once again, unfortunately, I picked an area where the bikers decided to hold target practice with their hand guns. After a sleepless night punctuated by raucous yelling, music, the sounds of breaking booze bottles, and gun shots the morning could not have come early enough and we got on the trail at first light determined to leave the campground and the bikers as far behind us as possible. This is how we finally ended up at Horseshoe Lake. Horseshoe lake is a small lake hidden away off of dirt roads and deep in the woods. The lake is, of course, shaped like a horseshoe. The lake is surrounded by pine trees, moraines, elk and deer tracks, friendly trails leading to beautiful meadows and one very impressive sinkhole. But most importantly we had the lake to ourselves, and it was quiet. Once again we unpacked and set up camp. We were so numb from the weather and the biker “festival”, that after a brutal first day and a sleepless night we fell asleep almost immediately after supper. I woke up before dawn in the twilight space before the first glimmers of sunrise. The only sound was the quiet of the ending night and the snoring of one of my companions. I stepped out of my tent and immediately felt the early morning chill. On impulse I decided to practice tai chi by the lake and walked a few yards to the water’s edge. Once reaching the shoreline I chose to wade into the water and practice my morning tai chi standing in the very cold water immersed up to my neck. The water was bone numbingly cold and soon I lost complete sensation (other than, “Heck this is cold!”) I began with chi kung practice and concentrating on increasing blood flow into my skin, arms, and legs. Rather quickly I felt comfortably warm and acclimated to the cold water and the chill of the air on my exposed head and neck. After achieving a level of relative comfort in the water I began to practice tai chi and was soon lost in the moving meditation of the tai chi form. I found that the cold water and the numbness that I felt help me to “blend” into the environment.
This is how I greeted the sunrise. I watched the sky slowly brighten and the clouds turn into a pastel pallet of colors. I watched as the lake began to reflect the clouds and their colors like a perfect reflecting pond. The air, the water, the sky, the clouds, my body, mind and spirit all felt connected. Just when I didn’t think that this moment of unity with nature could be any more profound a troop of nine deer walked to the water’s edge and began to circle the lake. Now all of the elements were indeed perfect as the sky and clouds, the colors of the sunrise, the trees around the water’s edge, the deer and me were all reflected in the lake at the same moment. It was a stunning moment of unity and oneness.
A Students Journey through the Martial Arts, Finding Meaning and Purpose through Martial Discipline and the Study and Practice of Tai Chi Chuan A Collection of Lectures from the Blue Heron Academy Dr. Gregory T. Lawton Copyright 2013, all rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without written permission from Gregory T. Lawton. Dr. Gregory T. Lawton 6757 Cascade Road, SE Suite 172 Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546 616-464-0892 Art and Photography â€“ Dr. Gregory T. Lawton Layout and design â€“ Muyblue Productions
Published on Mar 30, 2013
A collection of stories, lectures, essays, and student handouts from the martial arts training program at the Blue Heron Academy of Healing...