Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tai Chi Chuan - A Koan Like Mu

Tai Chi Chuan – A Koan Like Mu

Buddadharma had a review of a collection of essays discussing the famous “Mu” Koan from Zen. A fellow tai chi player (I had lent the article to him) noted that one commentary discussed the approach to Mu through six strategies and these six strategies are useful for solving the tai chi koan. That is, for practicing the tai chi form.

Who knew? I think he’s right….

Without going into Mu, Koans or Zen, let me put forth these strategies and make a note or two of my own. Let me replace the word “koan” with the word “form.”

1. Finding the form by eliminating distractions – The word distractions does not mean that you practice in perfect isolation from outside disturbances. It means that they are not so prominent that you can’t ignore them. You do need to be able to focus on what you are doing and not attend to other activities. I think a second meaning might also be to eliminate tension, often an unconscious habit based distraction. A third meaning here would point to poor structural alignment which is crucial in tai chi. With a poor alignment, you are not doing the form. You are maintaining the poor alignment. Lastly, you are focusing on your form. Not your laundry list….

2. Seeing that any part of the form contains the whole – Every part of the form is like every other part of the form in that each one is complete, relaxed, open, grounded, centered, balanced, etc. All of this happens at every moment. What changes are the shapes themselves. But each posture has the same essential quality as the next posture. The overall energy of each shape will vary however.

3. Accepting your various mental states – You don’t ignore where you are mentally and emotionally. You don’t control it. You relax the mind and put it in the tan t’ien (center.) But if mental distractions arise, you allow them to come and go. Generally, by not fighting them, you are not fighting yourself. If they stick around, that’s the way it goes for this round! Don’t fight it!

4. Relaxing or not trying too hard to solve the form – Clearly relaxing is what we are practicing. Trying too hard is another way to be tense and to fight yourself. So JUST relax, but don’t force relaxation. This is the middle way.

5. Minding your own business by staying focused on the case – While a group form requires that we pay attention to others in terms of the overall timing of the form, we don’t get involved in judging other practitioners. We just stick and follow the group chi. We do allow the energy of the group to inform our own energy. But to focus on others removes the focus on you. Again, we are not ignoring others or excluding them from our own experience of the form. A side bar to this occurs in push hands practice. We often blame the partner for our own inadequacy. We need to stay focused on the case – ourselves – in order to solve the situation. Stopping them from what they are doing to us is not the solution. You are the solution by way of relaxation, structure and being alert. But we can’t exclude them – particularly if they are providing us with the push hands problem to solve. (That being stated, note you may not have the skill today to solve this particular push hands situation. You may need to put it on hold, or work on it through static or ultra slow motion simulations.)

6. Timing, remaining patient while the process of working with the case gradually unfolds – This is exactly how to work through the form. Allowing it to unfold, not forcing it in any way and to see where it leads you. The form is very much like an amoeba morphing into different shapes. Internally, you are still. In one sense you are in control, but in another, you are not in control. You are following the internal forward motion and it moves you. You can interfere with this if you want to or need to, but in the form that will disrupt your energy, your chi.

Let me summarize this by way of the tai chi classics:

“T’ai Chi Ch’uan is like a great river rolling on unceasingly.”

And now become one…

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