Stalking

ARKive image GES016859 - Lion

In the animal kingdom, the only other kind of behaviour that can be compared to tai chi movements is that of a stalking big cat

I have seen lionesses move with such precision and stop-motion viscosity that it appears they are moving in slow motion, their head gliding perfectly in a line as their rippling legs perform steps of such delicacy they are able to creep up to twitchy ungulates, their own lives one of almost permanent heartburn and angina, primed to stott and flare away with hair-trigger nerves on permanent alert.

Are we not stalking ourselves in our practice?

Do we not seek to “catch ourselves out” in the moment of what we are doing when we do the Form? It has to be a personal perambulation, a hunt for errors in the archetypal Platonic movements that we are trying to blend ourselves into. This requires all the skills of a hunter; listening to our internal monologue to dim it down, lest it piper us away to dreamy realms, and thus body-reversion to Default Dysfunction, with its energy inefficiencies, possible pain and fascial unplasticity leading to hardened silhouettes, and maybe hump-backed marionettes of bitter dotage, condemned to groundstare.

Sensing the difference between Ideal and Habit,  and then remembering it through keen Repetition; seeing, using the mirror and eyes to become accustomed to the Body Self of Ideality and how far you are deviating from that ( a teacher is indispensable for this). I have to emphasise that this is only for people who wish to practise tai chi to a good or high level, or who wish to attain a better posture; millions may do tai chi with errant imperfection but there is enough in the totality of movement to satisfy baseline desires and accrete adequate results. It is a shame the standard of teaching is usually low.

“Looking for yourself” has accrued a scornful meaning for some, and an ontological fear for others, as some beliefs posit that we have no real sense of self,  that consciousness is just a mechanical  “hologram” from the brain; these are areas beyond this essay. Here I am referring to the capacity to observe one’s movements, thoughts and habits of posture. The Form is a path that becomes familiar, but should never be boring. Hunters know their territory well; the terrain becomes part of them, such that a snapped twig or subtle change in vegetation can alert them to potential prey. In the same way, the Form should be traversed with all the skills of a stalker, senses alert to any deviation from the ideal, mind constantly searching for internal “prey”: lapses of structure, attention and tension. Mastery coheres in enmeshed environments; inside and outside merge into one, predator and prey blending into a beautifully-patterned gestalt.

 

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Ragnarök

Ragnarok

The modern westerner, cut off from sources of nutrition, nature, and soil; shackled to a desk and a boulder called a mortgage; conditioned and bred to obey the norms of capitalist diktats; harangued, wooed and intimidated by advertising executives who distort truth and facts to sell non-essential, obsolescent trinkets with money made from the drudgery jobs they begrudgingly trudge through, enslaved to their taste buds, such that the rest of the body starves while the buds get more and more jaded, demanding more intense flavours, which the lab rats concoct robotically; burgeoning latitudinally, with system shutdowns several times a year, chronic slow diseases that attack the body, inflame the gut, poison the blood, infertilise the gonads, weaken the foetus, and propel the youth into drugs to keep them still, the middle aged into drugs to keep them awake, and the elderly into drugs for everything. All from a planet being shaved, beaten, gouged, scooped and sucked dry into a desert to supply The City.

 

This is insanity. This is Ragnarök.

 

I, for one, have a hard time adapting. And I have only glimpsed alternatives.
Change must come from within.

Do I have any kind of response to the degradation, the degeneration around me?

Well, I knew I needed to solve my energy problem first before I could help anyone else. I suffered from endless leg fatigue, a consequence of the metabolic syndrome I had due to the endless sugar that is in everything. My cells were not getting enough energy and I was in constant leg pain after my teaching. My mornings were spent recovering and my efforts to learn other things and do my research was stymied.

I needed to recover first.When I did that, I was able to think clearly. I could not think clearly! Clear thinking, plus calm lateral vision leads to planning, foresight, optimism and determination. All around me are sick people. Recovering from illness, vertically ill, feeling weak, tired, sleep-deprived. I now see my job as one of helping people see the system they inhabit and looking for another way.But first they must conquer themselves. In an age of absolute indulgence, this is the north face of the Eiger.

But it can be done. The easiest way to approach it is probably to start Standing practice. Standing requires discipline, but you can start with 5 minutes.

While you are standing, you need to send exploratory expeditions into your Deepest Darkest Congo, your inner “silent” Lost World. Follow the rivers of blood into the canyons, abysses, and ravines of  your body. Listen, eavesdrop, trek, hike and abseil through the internal wilderness that is keeping your sputtering system alive and listen to its language, the creaks and cracks of collagenous ropes, the neural tentacles transmitting tidal pulses,  all the sensations of pressure, temperature, weight, soreness numbness and the rhythmic breath.

When you practise with eyes open, the merging of Inner and Outer slowly coheres with the breath as a link. You feel rooted, still and have no desire to move.

Slowly, you soften. Slowly, your “baggage” starts to melt. ( I will explain this process in another post). Your mind starts to live less in the past and the future. Awareness of self leads to awareness of others. It is hastened by simple meditation practice to promote empathy ( the article is not the whole story, but is useful)

Empathy leads to less egotistic behaviour. And thus, to an awareness of other sentient beings.

The planet will live without us, will shrug us off. We are boorish guests, and will be booted out by our own fantastic, unbelievable self-abuse unless we do something radical to ourselves.

“Evolution, not revolution, is the answer”

Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, public talk, London, 2013.

 

“And as we are — the world is. That is, if we are greedy, envious, competitive, our society will be competitive, envious, greedy, which brings misery and war. The State is what we are. To bring about order and peace, we must begin with ourselves and not with society, not with the State, for the world is ourselves … If we would bring about a sane and happy society we must begin with ourselves and not with another, not outside of ourselves, but with ourselves”

 J.Krishnamurti Online, JKO Serial No. 440521, published in Authentic Report of Ten Talks, Ojai, 1944 (1945)

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Arthron αρθρων

Joints

 

I remember well the day when the cartouche of a Fact branded itself into my brain.

I learned how joints remain healthy.

After my mental supernova at the fact, the rueing of my ignorance, and the fact that it took me until I was 35 to find it out, was the shingling irritation that this information should be taught to everyone in school, but isn’t.

Glibly, with no real attention to what they are saying, many people blithely honk the  tired cliché that their joint pain is the result of years of “wear and tear”; and yet if you ask what they do for their job, the answer is more than likely to be an arse one. How then, have they been wearing and tearing, if they drive to work, sit all day, watch tv on the sofa, and then lie in bed? Do they pound the concrete at night secretly? Inactivity, immobility causes the joints to age, to dry out ( of course, I am not discounting actaul injury, but more often than not, there is no specific accident that they can pinpoint for their pain).

The term I elicit from them most is the collocation“stiff joints”. Joints stiffen when they are not lubricated, ergo, they are not being hydrated. A mark of old age is the stiffening ( calcification) of joints, but this is more than likely due to inactivity. People who sit all day look forward to retirement when they can presumably sit even more. But by then, their joints will be rusty hinges and it will be probably too late.

How do the joints get hydration? I often ask students if they know anyone, or have experience of someone who had torn or damaged a ligament or tendon. Someone always does. I then ask them if they have ever cut themselves shaving or with a knife. Everyone has done this. But the cut heals itself in a few days. Ligament or tendon injuries take a long, long time to heal. Why the difference?

When you cut yourself, you see blood. The blood appears quickly, bringing clotting factors, white blood cells and macrophages. When you injure a ligament, is there blood? No, but there is a ballooning of the joint, which is essentially fluid rushing to the scene with all the immune response chemicals. Pain is designed to make you immobile so it won’t get worse. But does the fluid travel through arteries? Apparently not. The joints have few arteries. I guess the reason is that they open and close, so that the arteries might get chomped. They come near, but they do not deliver their payload into the centre of the joint. So how, then, does the material needed for joint cellular health- nutrients, oxygen, chemical messengers-get in? The answer is movement. More specifically, compression and release of the joint through opening and closing.

The constant opening and closing of the joints in tai chi and qi gong bathe joints in this nutrient bath when the joint is opened, and then extrude the waste products of cellular metabolism when the joint is compressed.

This is assuming, of course, that you are eating a diet with all the correct nutrients, something which is not guaranteed at all in our polluted, nutrient deficient, processed western world. Many cases of auto-immunity with the concomitant inflammation are caused by proteins like gluten, and then hyper sensivity to otherwise ok proteins.

It’s not my place here to expatiate upon nutrients, I will stick to what I mostly know, but tai chi and qi gong can only alleviate these symptoms if you are eating garbage.

And you are probably eating garbage because nutrition is not being taught in schools beyond medical school dogma of vitamins and minerals, so restrictive and  moronically short-sighted, that the fact of doctors dying from the same diseases they treat is not just an existential joke, it is a karmic joke, and highlights the fact that you can be highly educated, yet exist in a state of hidebound egotism, with little capacity for self-awareness, compassion or competence to see beyond the paradigm. But of the medical system, I shall treat elsewhere.

So, the joints can work more efficiently if the interstitial fluid bathes them constantly.

All exercise, all movements do this to a greater or lesser extent, but only the opening and closing of qi gong and tai chi ( and ba gua, and no doubt good yoga) can effect a bodywide tidal movement that waxes and wanes the planktonic elements inside our Inner Sea, deep currents influenced by the subtle pulse and hydraulic torsion of the joints.

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Vulcan, Aesculapius

vulcan

 

“ Uncured natural rubber is sticky, deforms easily when warm, and is brittle when cold. In this state, it is a poor material when a high level of elasticity is required. The reason for inelastic deformation of unvulcanised rubber can be found in its chemical structure:  rubber is composed of long polymer chains. These chains can move independently to each other, which lets the material change shape. Crosslinking introduced by vulcanisation prevents the polymer chains from moving independently. As a result,when stress is applied the vulcanized rubber deforms, but upon release of the stress, the article reverts to its original shape” Thus Wiki.

Ligaments are not rubber, nor are they vulcanised, but the effect of constant training is to make them perform as if they are, especially in the realm of not getting injured.

I  walked onto a hole early this year, my entire weight pressing down on the outside of the left ankle joint. This is one of the most common types of causes of ankle sprains, the outer, or lateral ligaments are stretched too much. The anterior talofibular and calcaneofibular ligament are the most commonly involved ligaments in this type of sprain. Approximately 70-85% of ankle sprains are inversion injuries of this sort. Yet, besides the sulfuric epithets in yellow clouds that erupted from my mouth, no damage was sustained. I was very surprised. A recurring series of events 25 years prior had seen me magicked into a hobbledehoy on a stick and put paid to my dreams of being of a sprinter and long jumper. I am now 46. I should be more prone to such injuries.  I guessed that the constant figure of 8 movements of the Hun Yuan had turned my ankle ligaments into extremely strong, but flexible hawsers. Of course, I can’t exactly prove this by forcing an experimental group to wrench their ankles after a year of tai chi, but I can visualise it very well.

This silent benefit is just one dramatic example of the many that accrue to constant tai chi and qi gong practice. Results are not flashy, they are strong, silent and consistent; a Gary Cooper effect.

Students tell me of things they notice that didn’t happen before: less pain, more power, energy and stamina, endurance, alertness, awareness and strength. Pain reduction in injured areas is a common report. I roll my eyes at those demanding rigid trials and who dismiss these reports as “anecdotal”; by that criterion, the sayings of Jesus are also “anecdotal”, as is the entire corpus of philosophy. Truth has to be generalised and replicable etc etc. Yes, YES, I get it.

They feel better, ergo something has improved, and, removing all other possible influences, the tai chi is the one factor that seems to be the agent of improvement. Imagine how great they would feel if they practised more! Me, I teach all day, and I’m knackered by 9.30pm, but that’s because I haven’t learned to dole out my energy correctly. But I rarely get sick, and I don’t get injured, bar occasional punches to the face during explanations when I am talking and the enthusiastic student has a go before I look at him;  and knives mistaking my finger for an onion.

Not getting sick, alert mind, and an abundance of energy, determination to carry on, a calm cheerfulness in the face of the sickening cruelties of randomised Nature- these are my goals. I falter, slide backwards, veer sideways, trip and fall into shit every day, but I always get up. I am becoming aware of the effect all modern foods have on me, and it is enervating and enfeebling. Healing my body through movement and feeling has led to me to face the facts of my existence in a supramundane way. A coalescence of irrefutable “facts” is making my behaviour change, via experimentation and seeing the results on others. For Nietzsche, “the basic human condition was actually a person’s relationship with himself. He is not a harmonious being, but a discordant one, both condemned and privileged to conduct experiments on himself. Individual life as well as the life of cultures as therefore a series of self-experimentation”

( Safranski: Nietzsche APB, page, 184, line 8 passim)

Freedom to choose can be terrifying. Thus, we slide into habit, inertia, the sub-species of depression which is laziness, and eventually, blundering from one stimulus to another, terrified and rueing our wasted span, we chute down into a box, to return to the soil.

Thus, Physiology may beget philosophy. Awareness and cultivation of one’s body has always been a cornerstone of advanced spiritual practices from yogis to shamans.

Ligaments are connected to bones, and are part of the entire fascial network which comprise the entity Me, intertwined with the freeways of arteries and lymph, the conglomerates of organs and the neurological superimposition of cognition and consciousness. Not getting sick allows me space and time to reflect more, to stay well, and work on oneself, to be vigilant against the relentless seductions of decay in an over-stimulated world.

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Q and A

mandelbrot

Heidegger made a distinction between what is merely Fraglich, “questionable”, and Fragwürdig, “worthy of being questioned”. In the first category are mere facts, which we know through repeated checking, like the distance to the sun or the formula for water. In the second category, as George Steiner relates, “ That which is “worthy of questioning”..is literally inexhaustible.There are no terminal answers, no last and formal decidabilities to the question of the meaning of human existence or of a Mozart sonata or of the conflict between individual conscience and social constraint. The Fragwürdige dignifies the question and the questioner by making of the process of interrogation and response an ever-renewed dialogue and counterpoint. But if there can be no end to genuine questioning, the process is, nonetheless, not aimless. ‘The wandering’, says Heidegger, ‘the peregrination towards that which is worthy of being questioned, is not adventure but homecoming’. Man, in his dignity, comes home to the unanswerable. And that, of course, which is most fragwürdig, is Being” GS, Martin Heidegger, pps.56-57.

There seems to have been, in Heidegger’s later years, a brush with the Orient.

Ultimately, he conceded that only art could answer unanswerable questions. Faced with the limitations of language, he resorted to Holderlin and Van Gogh.

One is reminded of Jesus writing in the dust, or Zarathustra dancing his answer.

I am once again pained at the belated reaction of western science to the results of oriental discovery, practiced, codified and written down for generations. Ways of changing one’s psyche into a state commonly called “enlightenment”. Why a double blind placebo-controlled trial cannot be performed on this process is obvious; it takes decaces of practice. And how do you  measure enlightenment? Is there a series of boxes you tick? “ Feel oceanic?” Tick. “Can see the future?” Tick. “Love All Mankind?” Tick. As I have said elsewhere, tai chi is not a spiritual practice, despite the heroic efforts of Jason C and others of his Milky Ilk to promote it as such to gullible gulls paying wads of moolah for platitudinous pap and sub-standard nei gong.

The approach to the Ineffable, the veil to the Other World, diaphanous it may be, but it is dense and almost impossible to penetrate, else we would dabble and exist in two dimensions and get nothing done. We are insects in amber, and the hardness can only melt and release us when we alter our interiority. Tai chi cannot do this, capisci?

You can however, use tai chi or qi gong as an aide-memoire to being present, call it an Undergrad program in Being Conscious, because it helps you to activate and sensitise billions of nerves to your brain, which is ultimately responsible for any change in your internal ambience, the brain and all its dangly bits, the pineal gland, amygdala et al.

I have a spiritual practice, but for the last 15 years my level has remained barely above rutting goat. Clarity of mind and control of the body are two very different things. I can claim some territory in the latter, ragged flags stuck in the viscous lava of progress, but clarity of mind, lack of distraction from the multitudinous insects of pleasure buzzing my Inner Satyr, well, that is more difficult.

Faces pressed against the glass darkly, we turn away from the silence in fear, from “ the undiscovr’d country, from whose bourn no traveller returns”

All philosophy must address this basic question, the one Spinoza asked:

“Why is there not nothing?”

Perhaps the Anthropic Principle is one guide towards that question.

Meanwhile, I will continue to move ever slower, until time slows down and my mind is held in a bower of Mandelbrot beauty.

“Men’s habits of mind differ, so that some more readily embrace one form of faith, some another, for what moves one to pray may move another to scoff, I conclude … that everyone should be free to choose for himself the foundations of his creed, and that faith should be judged only by its fruits… “

Spinoza

Theological-Political Treatise (1670)

 

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Sein und Zeit

alice-rabbit

“The clock is a piece of power machinery whose “product” is seconds and minutes: by its essential nature it dissociates time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences: the special world of science. There is relatively little foundation for this belief in common human experience…In terms of the human organism itself, mechanical time is even more foreign..the beat of the pulse, the breathing of the lungs, these change from hour to hour with mood and action, and in the longer span of days, time is measured not by the calendar but by the events that occupy it: the shepherd..from the time the ewes lambed; the farmer measures back from the day of sowing or forward to the harvest..and while mechanical time is strung out in a succession of mathematically isolated instants, organic time..is cumulative in its effects…moves in only one direction-through the cycle of birth, growth, decay and death.. Abstract time became the new medium of existence..one ate, not upon feeling hungry, but when prompted by the clock; one slept, not when one was tired, but when the clock sanctioned it”

Mumford, “Technics and Civilisation”,pages 15-17

The tyranny of the clock continues, as it coolly and relentlessly beats out the time for modern degenerate man to haul his sorry carcass through the exhausting day to his exhausting family life in the burbs, where he is too tired to do anything except to fulfil his family obligation and retire early to the clock so that it can drag him out of bed again at 5.30 to begin the nightmare all over again.

My day, although partially enslaved to GMT, has periods of clocklessness where I attempt to do the things I want to do that do not require squirting stress hormones into the bloody Yangtze of my body. And my teaching regimen too,although paying lip service to a sequence of Stretch, Stand, Form ( 10, 10, 40) often meanders in and out of these borders like a lazy Greek cat, and we often spill over the dot. Tai chi also has its own internal time, its rhythmic tempo, and it can be done at many different speeds, depending on the collagenous state of the body, the endrocrinological state of the mind ( and thus body), and the time of day, the ambience (cold weather tends to brisk up the tempo) and whether it is inside or outside. Once again, my efforts here to outline, to demarcate distinct zones of what tai chi IS inevitably morphs into other zones, other “cells”. The whole is the particular, gelled together.

Organic time has to tick in my studio, but there are limits. Dawn is the preferred time for practice, but I teach mostly evenings, and now, when Winter’s fractal white fingers creep through the panes, and I must needs become Electric Man, and resort to false light. There is no doubt that the circadian rhythms of our species have been hugely disrupted by travel and light pollution, on top of all over the woes of modernia.

The zero point of ecstasy for many, the ne plus ultra for thrill-seekers, the Ultima Thule for many meditators, is the point where time stands still. Memories are etched during moments of powerful import, either traumatic or ecstatic, and become wells of comfort during periods of frantic freakout. The point of Stillness, the lack of Rush, is a drug for many, and they seek it out again and again, in drugs, art, booze, although it is often mistaken for Self-Forgetting. Once experienced though, the moment of Time Standing Still is never forgotten. Marijuana smokers know the moment well, when they gaze at something, seemingly seeing it for the first time,  “ Marijuana..does so by making us temporarily forget most of the baggage we usually bring to our perception of something like ice cream, our acquired sense of its familiarity and banality.For what is a sense of banality of something if not a defense against the overwhelming of that thing experienced freshly?..The cannaboinoids are molecules with the power to make romantics and transcendentalists of us all.By disabling our moment-to-moment memory, which is ever pulling us off the astounding frontier of the present and throwing us onto the mapped byways of the past, the cannabinoids open a space for something nearer to direct experience. By the grace of this forgetting, we temporarily shelve our inherited ways of looking and see things as if for the first time, so that even something as ordinary as ice cream becomes ice cream! There is another word for this exremist noticing..and that word, of course, is wonder. Memory is the enemy of wonder, which abides nowhere else but in the present’”  Pollan, ‘Botany of Desire’, pages 182-3

 

The reality of life for many, and not just in our spoiled wilderness, is the harrying shadow of Time as predator, chasing you down like an African wild dog, relentlessly hunting you to exhaustion until the coffin beckons. Heart attacks are not just about clogged arteries. Stress is a cardinal player. And much stress blooms on “account of” the event horizon called, not without irony, Deadlines.

 

“People in a hurry cannot feel..the purposeful life has no content, no point. It hurries on and on, and misses everything. Not hurrying, the purposeless life misses nothing, for it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world” Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, page 176.

 

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Sober Drunken Masters

chan-drunken-master

 

Pedantry and mastery are opposite attitudes toward rules. To apply a rule to the letter, rigidly, unquestioningly, in cases where it fits and in cases where it does not fit, is pedantry… To apply a rule with natural ease, with judgment, noticing the cases where it fits, and without ever letting the words of the rule obscure the purpose of the action or the opportunities of the situation, is mastery.

George Pólya

Watching videos of masters is a risky venture. They can do things which, if you tried to imitate, would fail to get the same effects. How do they do this? The answer is in the old adage, “Follow the rules to break them”. Easy to say, but for something as complex as a human body, what does it mean?

When I teach, I insist that students follow a set of rules designed to maximise power output. These can easily be tested by pushing down on the structure, looking for the unmistakable “bounce” of being pushed away by the ground. The body’s joints compress and the incoming pressure is grounded via subtle movements to let it pass to the earth and the body then becomes a lightening rod and vulcanised rubber ball all at once, as the incoming pressure is immediately rebounded back to the pusher and if they are even 1% forward in their weight-which attackers or pushers usually are- then they are vulnerable to uprooting. The initial force is disrupted, and then the follow-up movement is used to uproot. This is the sequence which is used to devastating effect in the Snake Style utilising the breath and opening and closing,  and also in Master Ma’s Three Words- Relax, Follow, Change. Different, but similar.

The capacity to unthinkingly  manifest such skills relies on instant neural recall,  a thoughtless state of relflexivity drilled through slog and drudgery.  The distance of the attacker, the angle of attack, the speed at which you extend your arm to meet their arm, the deflection involved- all such multi-factors are happening simultaneously in more-than-real time. The focus of “ gap space” wherein you can see time slow down in their eyes as they lose awareness briefly before they attack requires a capacity to go into the Stillness- a space where you can see their intentions and move before they do ( “if the attacker moves, I move before them”)

All of this is required before good tai chi can become excellent tai chi. But when the master is able to manifest excellent structure, it means that the training forces that he has followed that have allowed the fascia to melt and remould the body into a position approaching a sphere and  a pyramid at the same time are now almost neutral in their stability. In other words, the master is incompressible and behaves the same no matter where you push on him- you get pushed away, often violently, and the effect is like touching a spinning planet- you spiral off into space ( much like Peter Sellers in one of the Pink Panther movies when he leans on a spinning globe)

 

It means that he can now Break Structure. He may lift his shoulder blades, extend his elbows, stick his neck out, all cardinal faults to someone who cannot stay within the ambit of internal space boundaries. In other words, the interior of a joint creates enough space so that the joint can be extended to a boundary layer that appears to be in breach of structure but is actually not, because of the unification of the whole body into a connected tensegrity structure like a round cell that can allow local eruptions on the surface that are still connected to the cell wall through the crystalline and collagenous matrix of the trabeculae.

 

I have demonstrated and taught this easily enough. If you adopt the position of a drunk, you are much harder to push over because the internal relaxation creates the cohesion for a dead weight. In most confrontations though, there is compartmentalisation of tension and thus ease of control. An angry drunk is therefore more dangerous than a scared black belt. The goal of tai chi is to become a sober drunk, able to create even more power through the judicious and timely application of spirals, twists, reverse torques, leans and drops, kicks and joint locks from the command centre of a stable core of a spinning top, the eye of a hurricane.

That is one reason masters look fluid, soft and smooth. The other reason is that they can feel their bodies to a high level

I find now that when I Peng a punch, my power is even stronger when I am out of alignment ( although, to muddy the waters more, when I master the Snake Back, I will be stronger this way)  How is that possible? The answer seems to be that a perfectly aligned body creates a minimal moat of movement for the practitioner, who then becomes like a silken squid with the ability to switch on density and lightness at will- heavy on impact, yet mobile and very fluid. It is predicated on extreme relaxation, and a mind that is able to see intentions and move before the punch is even starting. Peng intervenes at optimal length. Lu intervenes at shorter distances. Ji follows a successful Peng disruption.

This bag of gel which is me needs to keep standing though, so the gel doesn’t fall into bad habits. Gravity and weight still relentlessly press down. It’s just that now, the ideal poise having been obtained, there is room for the Master to “play”, and morph out of alignment to within the borders of the moat. Like a macrophage engorging a pathogen with pseudopods, the body becomes a fire blanket, snuffing out danger with a silken reeling ellipse, a wet electric bag.

So, don’t follow they master when he is “playing tai chi” as they say in China. He is more than likely breaking all the rules for fun. The rules are necessary for neophytes until all tension is released via softening of the fascia; maximal joint ROM is attained; structural integrity via holding postures is stabilised; grounding due to leg strengthening and opening is reached; mental awareness developed; breath control mastered, and spatial, aural, reflexive and visual integration via peripheral vision merging into a sensory field of almost amniotic totality.

 

Thus does a Master gestate.

 

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Vitruvius

Leonidas

 

Every day we pull in to port many times, as the smooth functioning of our organism requires inputs from food, water and then more complex additives like shelter, sex, status, meaning, and so on. The physiological needs are balanced by autonomic adjustments every second in the chemical bustle of the cell and the level of the organ, with exquisite fine-tuning to maintain what is called Homeostasis, but it is a state that is not static at all, hence homeodynamism should be the preferred title. Even in the doldrums of a day, in the backwoods of your house, as you sit in silence reading a pleasure tome, you are burning with formulae that clash and cleave to make up the proteins and hormones and other man-named substances that flow through the pipes, ducts and gutters of your plumbing; the fuseburn of signals streaking through the neurons; the moment-to-moment bartering of oxygen for Co2 in the deep webs of the lungs, the vigilant listening to every scroll received from every Pheidippides that runs, breathless, to the brain, recording every Marathon battle that clashes in your immune system. Meanwhile, floating above and beyond the Rabelesian throng, your conscious mind is serenely looking at squibbles of black ink arranged in a certain manner, and interpreting the inner life of another organism through the decoding of this sequence.

 

Is this not astonishing.

 

Wherein is the link to qi gong and tai chi?

 

Homeostasis, in our insane society, is almost dead from exhaustion. The tiller is unmanned, the rudder is locked and fatal reefs are ahead. The ports are full of denatured food, the water is poisoned, the muscles are turning to either granite or dough. Millions of beings are serried in ranks to stare all day at tiny arabic numbers or write polite reports in a mantis position, eventually assuming the exoskeleton of Joseph K, Kafka’s hero,  a drone in a hive, a worker termite, a cypher, harassed in his “spare time” to “become an individual” and buy crap produced by other drones in other mounds.

They stumble into my class, blinking and limping.

I see them as desperate flotsam from the wake of the factory ships, dumped overboard as they can’t keep up, and the fiats of the whitecoats to take more drugs or this or that crude exercise propels them into the eddy and calm pool of my studio, where many can’t take what I say, where the silence is too much, where noise is default for the nerves. Homeostasis is burnt off, survival is now the command issued by the listing ship. Deaths from cancer, heart disease and neurological disorders are now of epidemic proportions, but only feeble questions are being raised, brusquely brushed aside if you do not possess the wand of the Accepted Questioner with the insignia of the Assessed and Stamped.  Granted, this is necessary for so-called objective and professional enquiries, but humans are not objective and the professionalism is sculpted towards Profit Uber Alles.

As the climate-deniers are now demonstrating with impeccable stupidity, if you pay enough money to enough people to peddle a lie, it becomes Dogma. But the burning of Earth is hard to ignore like an economic theory can be. Likewise, the streaking decline of health in the general population is burdening the “Health” system to eyeball-popping levels of strain. Shrieking avatars of Economic Growth At All Costs must know that Economy Equals Ecology, but they are determined to flush out every last buck from the blasted planet before they seek shelter in their “country” retreats ( where their is land somehow immune from climate change?) while we little folk buy their carcinogenic crap and blow up inside.

Start with your body, then with your town, then with the country. Get the balance back. Fight back. Homeostasis cannot deal with the human caprice to self-annihilate. The trillions of Athenian city-states that are your cells need to fight together to reclaim your internal polis, and then, when you are strong and clear, fight for Gaia herself.

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Gestalt

 

Gestalt1

“ No individual is self-sufficient; the individual can only exist in an environmental field. The individual is inevitably, at every moment, a part of some field. His behaviour is a function of the total field, which includes both him and his environment”…”the neglect of the total field, makes problems out of situations which are in reality indivisible..there is no sight without something to be seen. Nor is anything seen if there is no eye to see it. Yet by splitting experience into inside and outside in this way, and then dealing with theie abstractions-as if they were experiential realities, scientists had to find some explanation of each”..but “ the environment and the organism stand in a relationship of mutuality..is actually that of dialectical opposites”…”the inability to concentrate is a frequent complaint of the neurotic” “The neurotic has lost the ability ) or perhaps he never developed it) to organise his behaviour in accordance with a necessary hierarchy of needs. He literally cannot concentrate..he must learn how, at every moment, to become totally involved in what he is doing; how to stick with a situation long enough to close the gestalt..”

Fritz Perls, The Gestalt Approach, pages 17-18.

 

Gestalt therapy, as practised by Fritz Perls with his wife Laura, is an existential/experiential form of psychotherapy that emphasises personal responsibility, and that focuses upon the individual’s experience in the present moment,( my italics) the therapist-client relationship, the environmental and social contexts of a person’s life, and the self-regulating adjustments people make as a result of their overall situation… Gestalt therapy focuses on process ( what is actually happening) over content ( what is being talked about). The emphasis is on what is being done,thought, and felt at the present moment ( the phenomenality of both client and therapist) rather than on what was,might be, could be, or could have been. GT is a method of awareness practice ( also called ‘mindfulness’ in other clinical domains), by which perceiving, feeling and acting are understood to be conducive to interpreting, explaining and conceptualising ( the hermeneutics of experience). The object of GT is to enable the client to become more fully and creatively alive and to become free from the blocks and unfinished business that may diminish satisfaction, fulfilment and growth, and to experiment with new ways of being.

“ From the perspective of (their) theory of self, neurosis can be seen as fixed predictability-a fixed Gestalt-and the process of therapy can be seen as facilitating the client to become unpredictable-more responsive to what is in the client’s present environment, rather than responding in a stuck way to past introjects or other learning. If the therapist has expectations of how the client should end up, this defeats the aim of therapy”

 

Like the proverbial goldfish ( my nickname in university due to my chronically bad short-term memory) who finds his tiny bowl fascinating every time he swims around, because all is new, one of the psychological goals of tai chi movement is a forced consciousness of the present. I have found, through sitting and moving practice, that my mind finds it incredibly difficult to laser in on one thing without the object being focused on not connoting something else that sparks a thousand fuses of references in my hyper-active psyche. Each mental string of associations can lead to universes of non-presence, mental absences that, when coldly considered, make you realise that the preponderance of humans you see in everyday life, who you pass on the street, are not conscious at all, but are asleep, or else are looking at you with a filtermask whose root colours, semantic shading along a continuum and deep psychic mineshaft of experiential references to the things they see and hear  you can never apprehend. So much of daily life is composed of neuronal cruise control and autopilot that we long for the weekends and holidays when we can “feel alive” or we pine for retirement so that we can “do what we really want to do” which means we are not alive for most of of our lives. Including sleep, a third on average, we seem to sleepwalk unconscious and then plump for alcoholic unconsciousness whenever we have spare time.

Raw presence seems to be unbearable to us, else we would all be sober and wise. Whenever we DO face up to reality, in the spasms and spurts of our daily “process”, we need to prioritise our needs, as Perls says, and focus on “closing the gestalt” or else we become more and more neurotic. Speaking as a neurotic cum laude, I can attest to the benefits of tai chi and meditation on this aspect of cold analysis. Even more than personal practice, having to teach it, verbalise it while doing it, has helped me more than anything to look at the Medusa of Quotidiana,the Gorgon of Banality, every day “hereness” which stares at you with the accusing silence that a  Sunday afternoon has to a Protestant bred to work.

Boredom is dissipated attention. As is anxiety bred with poor posture.

It may seem that I am attempting to stick an associative hook into the ideas of Great Men and Women to burnish my intellectual credentials, and elevate what could be construed as a mere exercise into a pseudo-intellectual theory worthy of nothing but posing French structuralists. An amusing thought, and one I would delight in seeing as parody, but it is not my Yi, my intention. My Yi in propounding these tangential links is to root what I think tai chi is capable of into the pre-existing matrix of influential ideas that have surfaced during our appalling tenancy of this planet, to shatter the lazy conceptual gestalt of seeing tai chi as a monotypic genus, an endemic oddity, last of its kind, a platypus, a hoatzin, a Wollemi pine, something strange, nice, but definitely “this” in its zoological case, stuffed, moth-eaten, with a fading yellow label. It is time to Escherise it, time to look again, to see the Mandelbrot possibilities of infinite regress, the plenitude of life in a Still Life, and the world within the world.

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Platonic Forms

plato

“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.

The Hun Yuan’s spiraling Beng Quan is devastating and more than enough to finish most attacks. The Snake’s hanging arm like a mace that you swing with deadly power off a fixed brace can swat away a lot of attacks with minimal effort. In the end, I have found that being very soft with a capacity to contract only those muscles neeeded for any given counter-attack can manifest huge power. But how much do I need to constrain myself within the Rules of Structure? I need to test it more. 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, yet allow the Form to be a sinuous blurring of those self-same boundaries, and also in sparring.

 

But I am not fooling myself nor is this self-delusion. I cannot claim to be a serious martial artist because I do not spar professionally nor have I had to use my abilities to save my life. The average farming Viking on a raid had more scraps in a summer’s raiding. I cannot imagine how strong they were. I have two students ( one Danish mountain) who grew up lifting sheep and foals. Even now, sitting in an office all day, they have immense strength. One of them punched me in the guts last week and I reeled, contusion-stamped. Normally I can take most shots.  Seeing a 7-foot Viking running at me with a blood axe, screaming in Old Norse would be more than enough for me to dissolve into a pool of urea.

 

So is this insistence on martial prowess just puffing up one’s self-importance?

No, the ability to manifest power shows that you are maximising bodily cohesion and keeping to the tradition, not allowing the discipline to degenerate. Despite the Pax Europea ( Or Americana, for as long as that may last), daily life is still filled with random attacks, yet more danger coheres in Sloth and Gluttony. But of that, another essay. 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 persistent motif. The closer we come to the “Ideal” the better 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 judgements based on a visual comparison with me and a residual loathing of the body that thwarts them feeling anything beyond crude sensation.

Freedom of movement comes from muscular and mental release, acceptance of limits, and progress measured in holographic tectonic shifts. This is The Supreme Ultimate, or Tai Ji; nothing less than a self-perfected acceptance of Everything As It Is.

 

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