We slow. Athwart the room, a hive mind in synchrony. Slow. Tai chi is famous for it. It is the mark of it. A ward of coronary infarctions tell me they first saw it in Hong Kong or Shanghai in the morning, a silent, rhythmic slowness that had a narcotic effect. An opium dreaminess.
But also a yearning. To slow like a river smelling the salt up ahead, dallying among deep pools under willows pendulous. Many students meander for years before they arrive, laden with silted limps or a sold-by-date corps. For some, it is almost too late, but there isn’t anyone who can’t be helped. When you slow, you can feel. You can auto-correct as you move, you inhale in the right tempo, you access the battery of data that floods your mind, sifting and sorting at electric speed. Internally, murky then clear awareness of inefficient contractions, uneconomic tightness and superfluous holdings that must be jettisoned to achieve grace, flow and a pinch of panache in the pose.
Lucidity and lightness dissolve into each other to produce a cellular tidal rhythm, an opening and closing of hydraulic power and joint compression. The nerves learn better when they are seduced, not raped. The engrams are laid down like underground wire. Like adagio followed by andante, the Form can accelerate if the slowness forges tempered ligaments and tendons that strain like a ship’s ropes as the mast of you pitches, rolls and yaws through a waterless sea.
Slow makes fast. Premature speed shears the weak chemical bonds of movement memory and the body flies apart like whirligig. Slowth is needed. Motion with ears open, senses alert, calm, not frayed and suppurating with weeping stress at fracture point. Musical metaphors can be also strained, but the idea of recapitulation is valid. Many movements recur in the Long Form like motifs or themes, little islands of familiarity, and the slow repetition serves to make of them stations of Mnemosyne, places to orient oneself ( the pun is apt) and to re-feel the lineaments of motion. But they can easily become locked-in programs once the general tenor is in place. I see it in my students (and lament it in my quondam self) when they do not feel. They embrace the movement with self-satisfaction, unaware of their failings, happy to have, they believe, “mastered” this move, ready for the next one. A mania for collecting, for “getting” tai chi; just another bauble to parade. They like, and they do not like, with that faint annoyance of the half-mastered, to be told something they think they already know. I remember and catch myself with this swelling irritation when asked to change something I already “know”. We like certainty, we don’t wish to delve too deep, we are happy with approximation. But it’s not good enough. It is grazing, it is speed-reading by the body.
The envelope of physical security that enwraps a person who can do the Long Form smoothly is deeply satisfying; for smoothness is the blurred smudge hiding sub-skin pistons busting gaskets to keep the lanky limbs elevating and landing with balletic precision. Normal movements of quotidian life betray small signs of the power beneath. Speed is the hallmark of our society; rushing, stress and frantic hyperventilation to the graveyard. Long-lived animals are slow; nothing worth anything comes quickly. Adagio comes from “ad agio”, “at ease”, and this is what we are looking for; ease and smoothness in our movements, and, perhaps, in our anxious lives in this shredded world of hurtling news doom. Your Yin slowness might trigger reflection, a pause in the relentless Yang scouring of our world, and allow some breathing space for the other denizens of our little blue globe to recover and prosper. All roads lead to death. Let us, at least, walk calmly and slow with bright eyes and supple limbs on a hale frame to leave it better and more soothed than the hunched angst on scuttling claws that westerners morph into, disfigured by our deeply cancerous paradigm of modern life, long-lived yet rusting from the core; brittle and sheared from conditioned grooves of empty modernity.