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October 28, 2006

Non-dissension

One of the most important steps for mature warriors to take is into fearlessness where they cultivate the mind-of-no-conflict as their general base of reference.

“The principle of non- dissension demands a strong spirit constantly filled with ki and constantly radiating ki back into the universal, a spirit whose ki is in perfect conflux with that of the universal.”--Koichi Tohei Ki In Daily Life, p. 106

Non- dissension (the hallmark of the virtuous) allows free association between all manifestations of ki but conflict or dissent between seemingly competing energies interrupts the ki cycle. The same principle applies to the contention we harbor within ourselves, maybe even more so. At the very least, we should look within for a contentiousness that insulates us from the world, and conquer that for the sake of ki flow.

“There are no contests in the art of peace. A true warrior is invincible because he or she contests with nothing. Defeat means to defeat the mind of contention that we harbor within.” --Morihei Uyeshiba, translated by John Stevens The Art of Peace, Shambhala Publications, 1992 p. 63

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October 21, 2006

Doing by not doing


Wu Wei is the Chinese concept that behavior can be the result of nature, an effect without a personal causal agent acting in self- interest. It refers to the paradoxical way of doing things after losing the despotic, conscious doer. Wu Wei is behavior originating from a mental state of harmony with all things; not motivated by the rewards or outcomes such behavior will secure. It’s innocent of the desire for compensation in life or for status after death even in the performance of virtuous acts. Wu wei is to surrender to deep nature.

Martial artists who have trained their active selves to feel comfortable and confident enough to stand aside may find their behavior resulting from a transcendent power, one that’s above right and wrong, but they get no credit for it, having done nothing but lose to get it. This resulting state is called “Grace,” and is defined by the paradox of gaining by losing.

“...Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not you must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess,
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.” --T.S. Eliot

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October 14, 2006

Movement is kinetic chi

Matter itself is solidified movement. Physicists say that vibratory movements compose the smallest units of matter (super strings) that pulse with a frequency that determines the string’s identity. They make up each individual thing, every single person, but as Jean Paul Sartre said, “The diversity of things, their individuality, are only an appearance, a veneer.” Nausea, P. 127

The fundamental characteristic of the universe is movement. No thing or place is ever motionless (not in life or in death). All places, whether they’re filled with “stuff” or seem to be empty, vibrate wildly with quantum jitters, pulsing with an energetic rhythm that permeates and composes everything, substantial and insubstantial alike. Knowing this, martial artists approach the heart of stillness through impeccable movements, because only through movement is movement resolved.

Imagine someone standing in a swimming pool. Every movement he makes generates a pattern of waves radiating outward along the surface of the water. Now suppose that for some reason you have to still the surface of the pool while leaving the bather in the water. Is there any way to still those waves?

Probably the first thing that occurs to you is to have the bather stand still, but that wouldn’t work because no matter how still he becomes the bather still moves enough, just by breathing, to cause miniscule swells or currents.

Obviously, if you get in yourself and try to smooth the surface of the water manually you’ll just add another source of agitation to the pool, stirring it up more. Your own wave pattern would interfere with the other person’s causing higher crests and deeper troughs in the combined waves.

Theoretically, there is a way that one person’s movements could bring the pool (or field of chi) into perfect stillness although it’s not possible for a human to move so precisely. To pull that off something totally unexpected and barely reasonable must occur.

If you were able to bring your movement/wave pattern into perfect, complementary harmony with the other person’s, then on one line (a beam wide) your troughs would cancel his crests and your crests would merge perfectly with his troughs smoothing the surface of the water between you. Movement is the only way to pacify movement, and so “stillness” is not the cessation of movement but the perfect pitch of movement, the tuning of kinetic energy, and we can extrapolate that the same theory applies to the movement of energy.

We begin to investigate such extraordinary, perfect, movement by distilling common movement and then training it into your body through slow, deliberate, form practice.

“On a larger scale, the physical world is nothing but accumulated chi. Practicing Tai Chi in the midst of air should feel just like practicing in water. When you imagine the thin air to be as heavy as water, the air offers a little resistance in your movements. With slow practice you can one day approach the realm of softness.” --Cheng, Master of Five Excellences

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October 09, 2006

Silence can be reached by moving slowly

When we move so slowly that we don’t have to continually anticipate the step or movement coming up, then we can luxuriate in relatively large gaps in the turbulent stream of consciousness. During long, slow transitions between full frames in the form the mind takes breaks, and during these moments chi can be drawn out of the deep and brought to the forefront of awareness. The mind eventually learns to balance the senses and expand the silence. It begins to take longer breaks from discursive thoughts, and then, during these interruptions in confusion, the chi radiates freely in the silence.

Slow motion balances

Beside the meditative and energetic advantages of ultra slow training, the body’s balancing mechanism gets a real workout and our empty steps become sure. Slow motion form practice defines the postural alignment from which steps originate and finish.

Long ago, a martial master (maybe Cheng San Feng) slowed parts of his martial forms down to create Tai Chi. He must have known that fast and chaotic training is counter- productive.

“Fast action when learning is strenuous, leads to confusion, and makes the learning unpleasant and unnecessarily tiring… " “Slowness is necessary for the discovery of the parasitic, superfluous execution and its partial elimination…” --Moshe Feldenkrais.

Slow form practice, if done correctly, is the best way to find and eliminate the impurities in a movement. “Parasitic execution” refers to the extra, unnecessary add- on movements that suck the life out of our martial forms. Add-on parasites such as hitches, leanings, and wind-ups that attach themselves to a movement, leech power, speed, and efficiency from its intended use, and seriously compromise a movement’s efficiency, drastically wasting chi.

If Cheng San Feng hadn’t had the prophetic, revolutionary realization about the benefits of slow training, there wouldn’t be tai chi, and although many modern practitioners go slowly they’ve missed a very important lesson. The purpose of slow training is to learn to move with near- miraculous speed.

When moving quickly, we can plunge into a movement without balancing on one foot, but not when moving slowly. When stepping very slowly, balance must be impeccable to keep the foot flat, the ankle stable, and the posture upright. The slow, empty step reaches out in such a way that it can be easily retracted if the floor falls away. The best way to judge the empty step is by monitoring how much the ankle of the weighted foot wobbles while slowly stepping. The purpose of perfecting balance is to learn how to move quickly between fixed, balanced points.

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