by Richard Farmer
Dr Chi was sitting on the porch of Cheng Man Ching's house after their morning session. It was a weekend and so they did not have to rush off to work, instead they sipped tea and told Tai Chi stories. A man approached, stopping short of the porch, bowed and then stated his name, where he was from, Singapore, and the name of his teacher. He then issued Cheng Man Ching with a request and formal challenge to test his Kung Fu with Cheng's. Disdainfully Cheng Man Ching refused but offered the man the chance to test his skill with two of his best students, and looking around chose Dr Chi and one other. It was agreed that they would meet the next day in the early light of dawn at a local park.
Later that day Dr. Chi and his classmate met to discuss tactics. Dr Chi's classmate was full of confidence boasting how great Cheng Man Ching was and so therefore how great their Kung Fu would be. Dr Chi agreed that his classmate should go first the next day seeing as he was obviously the best student.
The next morning Dr Chi told me how he saw his classmate humbled by the power, skill and ferocity of the Singapore man and how he felt really frightened as the man beckoned him to approach. "I very afraid," he said, "I not want to get hurt, so decide just to yield. Singapore man, he try everything, I just yield, he get very angry, he not win. I very happy I not get hurt."
As Dr Chi told me this story I was struck by how innocent he was. There was no sense of bragging, in fact he made no suggestion that he had in fact "won". He was just happy not to get hurt. There was no sense of him doing it for Cheng Man Ching, for the power and status of their Tai Chi. He did it because he was told to and because he did not want to get hurt.
Invest in loss. Loss of what? Pride, victory, winning, losing and instead, for this is the purpose of the story, invest in the spirit of vitality. To fight power with power is a mugs game - ultimately it is about size. But Dr Chi put his faith and practice in aliveness so that he could meet another's strength and power with speed and vitality. He knew only some people can be strong but everyone can be alive because everyone has a spirit.
I can remember when the Berlin Wall came down, I wrote an article for this newsletter. In it I shared how I felt that some inner wall had come down in me. The outer world reflects the inner world. So it is with September 11th. The outer world reflects the inner world. Something that was hidden is shown. How do we deal with it? How can we help?
Can you hear the fundamentalist in Dr Chi's classmate? Can you hear the fundamentalist in the man from Singapore?
How we can honour and help this outer situation is by looking for the fundamentalist terrorist within. How does this manifest? It manifests when we take a position that has no heart or understanding in it, only belief. It happens when we make human beings things. It happens when we make ourselves a thing.
Where does this happen? Lots of places but it can and does happen when we face the issue of practice and the practice of practice. When I make something an enemy without being in relationship with it, I make it a thing. This could be the ill health that propelled me towards Tai Chi. It could be the sense of inadequacy that made me want to do something to build myself up. It could be the sense of the meaningless of my existence that forced me to borrow an authority from an ancient tradition. Just keep in mind the story I began with and the relationship between the various players in that scenario.
One of the key attributes of Rising Dragon Tai Chi arises out of an understanding that the Chuan is only a method, and what makes it Tai Chi is who does it and how it is done. It is not the sequence that makes an action Tai Chi. In that story it is Dr Chi's investment in loss, his innocence and humility combined with his practice of feeding his aliveness that allows him to meet the oncoming force and neutralise it. He is not part of the problem he is part of the solution. When I cover up insecurity with the superiority of this Tai Chi instead of that Tai Chi, I am part of the problem.
In this School we encourage you to not do that. We want you to use the Chuan to become the Tai Chi. To do that, the Chuan shows us where we make this path a fundamentalist path and that is the tiger that needs to be embraced in order for us to return to the mountain.
How do we do that? We let go of that place that forces us into practice, "I MUST do it like this or like that", and replace it with an invitation to "play" Tai Chi. What does that look like? Practice is about reminding ourselves that we are alive, it is not about putting another suit of clothing over the one we are already wearing. Practice is about using the Path of Tai Chi, the exercises, the Form, to feed aliveness every day. It is not about the "have to" of playing a whole Form, although that can be good. It is not necessarily about playing the Form at all but using practice to explore and support the spirit of aliveness. On one day because I feel a lot of mental tension it can be about playing with just one exercise, breathing in expansion and breathing out tension for a few minutes in order to walk towards something more whole. On another day it can be about using an exercise to meet the need of the body that is tight or stiff in a particular place. When I am alive enough I may get the feeling I really want to use the Form to understand the structural dynamics of a particular posture or sequence, perhaps after that one exercise. It can be about relaxing the thinking mind so that the awareness begins to feel the velvet caress of the Chi. When the welcome to play a whole Form or even two is present it is the most natural thing to do. I may feel the invitation to play some Tai Chi every day because it feeds me. Although I may not practise the whole thing every day, I do practise Tai Chi every day and that feeds my spirit.
All of these examples are examples where instead of discipline and force, an invitation to relationship with how I am is used in order to move closer to Tai Chi - to wholeness and to balance. Each time I stand before my practice I am different. I have a different mental stance, the day is different, my body has different needs and I use my Tai Chi to engage it and rebalance the imbalance. By doing this I liberate my aliveness, the living of the Tai Chi.
In the legends of Tai Chi and in the stories coming out of the family dynasties such as the Yang Family, a senior student would be severely reprimanded, even beaten, if they so much as creased the garment of the partner they were working with. They did this because the culprit used force and strength when they could have used vitality and Tai Chi skill. Within Tai Chi partner work and especially in Rising Dragon Tai Chi there is the opportunity to meet and heal the fundamentalist. It was this way of looking that allowed Dr. Chi to meet the force of the man from Singapore. It came from months and years of replacing force with aliveness, technique with body as one unit. If you do not already attend a Duo class then I strongly suggest that when you have more time - you do. If you already do attend a duo class watch carefully to see where the fundamentalist is in you and in others, and learn from this. Invest in loss. Do not become a bigger fundamentalist in order to save face or win. Instead root, stick and yield and meet your partner with your aliveness. Time is on your side.
Just learning not to use force is not enough, learning to lose is not enough. It is your choice to feed the spirit of vitality over force. To exercise this muscle until it is fit enough to meet the oncoming force, that is what makes the difference. It does not matter if you are weak, it does not matter what gender you are, it does not matter what age you are, if you choose alive relationship over a fundamentalist attitude, you will eventually be able to meet the oncoming force and then live with it. When that force is met, you can communicate with it. In that movement there is stillness and within that stillness you can understand what is happening, it will be revealed to you and because you are still, you will have plenty of time to do what you have to do.
It is this way of looking that has been passed from Dr Chi to you through the Rising Dragon Tai Chi School. The answer starts here. Practise invest in loss, feed the spirit. Practise Rising Dragon Tai Chi wherever you find it.
I want to finish with a dream that I had. Early in the morning of Tuesday September 11th I dreamt I was looking through the windscreen of a jet as we crashed into a vertical structure at full speed. Out of the impact, I floated heading in the same direction, but just me alone, flying horizontally above the ground, it may have been a city. I have my arms outstretched in front of me, my hands are cupped, and in them is my heart, still beating.
I feel this tender organ, I feel its warmth in my hand, I feel it beating, in my hand. I know I must put it back in my body if I am going to live.
I feel the empty space in my chest and I am struck by the paradox that around this empty space there is a living body, like a fire without a flame. I know I must put the heart back in the body but I cannot physically do it.
In that moment I felt terribly vulnerable and alone. I knew what must be done but I did not know how to do it.
Since I learnt, later that day, of the attack in New York, this image has been with me. It strikes me that it is an image of how we are, right now. Vulnerable with our heart in our hands, knowing the solution is to ground the heart back into the body but not knowing quite how to do it.
I feel for the USA. I feel for the world and its ways. I feel for that flame that is so vulnerable and exposed and I pray that it may be put back into the body of the world that we might live and not just survive, that they might know what to do to truly heal this illness.
This is a time to hold you, your country and this world in your thoughts and in your hearts. Hold those that did this in your hearts. Hold those that are in positions of power and responsibility in your hearts. It is an important time and we can make a difference - put the heart back in the body.
To finish I would like to share another moment with Dr Chi. I was once involved in a disagreement with my ex teacher, John Kells, who was also Dr Chi's adopted Tai Chi son. Dr Chi said to me concerning my difficulty, "Jesus said love everyone. So I love everyone."