Platonic Forms

Liuposter copy 3

“Do it as if you are doing it perfectly” Liu Hung Jieh


I am embarrassed to think of the years I taught and practised tai chi which was, according to my current standards, appalling. And yet, even approximations to the Ideal produced results. The Grail is to move your body as close as possible to movements that are “out there” so to speak; you are slipping your limbs into ghostly sleeves which represent Ideality. As argued elsewhere, and consistent with the holographic nature of these essays, you must reach a certain level of restricted movement in order to optimise fascial liquidity within optimum parameters, and then, and only then, can you go beyond them.You can bleed past the frontier whilst retaining connectivity, like an amoeba casually extending a pseudopod. But of that “breaking” aspect, elsewhere shall I write.

What is Ideal? The human body is encased in a heavy gravitational field, the physics of motion constrain and corset what is possible. We cannot sprint like a cheetah or stott and pronk like a gazelle. The wall of possible limits has been reached if judged by the quantum wafers separating gold and silver in the chemical-soaked Olympics. We can do certain things, and not others. Part of what qi gong attempts is to train the body to move the limbs in all possible realistic ranges of motion ( astanga yoga, I am looking at you here) that might possibly be encountered in a martial (or training)  movement. The Hun Yuan Qi Gong does this to prepare the student for Hun Yuan Tai Chi, but what my students and I are realising is how the qi gong gives the body the kind of deep totality of aligned twisting and strengthening that can only come from a life dedicated to working with adzes, scythes, spears, and a history of shinning up trees. In other words, it is a superior substitution for a weakened city existence that can do things that makes the standard physical fitness regimes look limited, halting and focused on isolating cardio-fitness and muscular development to the detriment of just about everything else.

I have found that being very soft with a capacity to contract only those muscles needed for any given counter-attack can manifest huge power. But how much do I need to constrain myself within the Rules of Structure?  How sloppy can my Form get without me losing power? I should be able, on an internal fiat, be able to snap into a powerful structure, conforming to “my” Platonic Ideal of how to maximise body alignment for expressing a physicality of raw power; this comes from endless practice and “knowing” where I am at any given moment. The Snake Form is relentless, as is the Hun Yuan; both are demanding in that they require rigorous, but relaxed control. The muscles that are being used are contracted appropriately, not tensed. It is getting the body to contract at precisely the right moments, in the right areas, which defines a powerful tai chi movement.

Platonic Ideal Forms may have chimed with Christian rejection of the body as impure, but the sense of the Tai Chi Form as having an insubstantial “Life” of its own outside of ourselves, that we then “Perform” as some kind of ritual attempt at earthly corporeality and reification, is a compelling and verifiable concept.  The closer we come to the “Ideal” the more we can wander from it, yet never lose sight of it.  I have lost count of the students who complain they cannot practise at home because they “ do not do it perfectly”. The self-censuring, probably stemming from that same Christianity ( at least here in Ireland) precludes acceptance of something less than perfect. As if they can “feel” what perfection is! They make judgments based on a visual comparison with me and, perhaps, a residual loathing-courtesy of Christianity-of the body that thwarts them feeling anything beyond crude sensations of sex, food or elimination.

Freedom of movement and excellence in tai chi and qi gong comes from a  precisely calibrated connectivity of total bodily muscular contraction and a mind that is open, relaxed and aware; acceptance and knowledge of one’s physical limits, and progress measured in layers of sedimentary corporeal and mental comprehension of oneself in one’s environment as precise motions are enacted.

This is The Supreme Ultimate, or Tai Ji; nothing less than a self-perfected acceptance of Everything As It Is.

Ideality is Now, my dear Plato. That roiling Greek mind of yours was none too calm methinks..

This entry was posted in Tai Chi. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.