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Return To Centre - by Richard Farmer
We come to Tai Chi, because at some level we are broken and wish to be mended. We come because we are ill, we come because we are in pain, we come because we wish to understand why things are the way they are. We come to find wholeness, wellness, safety and understanding. We come to something ancient, we come to something which has been tried and tested and is held by someone from our own culture, namely, our teacher. We know at some level they have trodden the path before us and have used this method and found that it has worked for them and therefore can work for us.
So what is this path that we have embarked on? Is Tai Chi Chuan the process of learning a sequence of moves and then repeating them in the hope that something will happen? Is Tai Chi Chuan a philosophy? Is Tai Chi Chuan a technique? Is it a series of medical exercises? Is it a martial art? Is it a way of Life? The answer to all these questions and many more is yes, it is all of these things. I would like to address the development of one of them and that is in answer to the question How are the Solo and Duo Forms of Tai Chi Chuan related and what are the stages of development that this School, the Rising Dragon Tai Chi School uses?
I am aware that this article is quite thick and technical to read but if you take the time to read it again and again you will find that there is stated here a road map for you to follow which leads you home and allows you to stay home even when you are in a foreign land. So take some time to sit quietly and receive this piece.
The first stage of development is learning the sequence, followed by the second stage - putting the body back together again into natural movement. Natural movement is so because there is a correct balance between the yang parts of the body and the yin elements. The body moves like a wave, all of one piece but dynamically moving at different rhythms, one part lifting, the other following, one part pushing the other.
This is really where the work begins but the awareness is still based on the physical element and we want to shift this to the energetic. We do this by focussing on the sense of a sphere that arises and surrounds the body, out of the Tan Tien or belly area. In the Micro Form exercise, we shift our attention from where we put our hands and arms using an outer alignment to one that uses this inner feeling that the arms and the legs rest on. If we focus on the feeling between the hands, of connection, and allow this feeling to expand to include the belly, we can have the feeling of holding and being held by a sphere or ball of energy. This stage of movement Cheng Man Ching called, “Swimming in Air”. Once this has been felt it is simply a matter of allowing this model into the Solo Form posture by posture. Eventually the whole Solo Form is supported by this energetic sphere. When this is done we have rebuilt the Body/Mind into a state of wholeness or unity. Our daily practice becomes an exquisite reminding and strengthening of this state and when necessary a means of repairing the tears in this structure that occur from time to time. It is this return to wholeness that Dr Chi called the Tao of the Solo Form.
To restate then, First stage, is sequence, the second stage is structural integrity, the third stage energetic unity.
The Long Form is the second major Form that we learn. When we play the Short Form the sequence of creating a posture goes something like, I think it, I command my body to do it and then I do it. This is usually unconscious and what actually happens is we usually discover what we are doing by doing it. We know we have gone from ward off left to ward off right because we see it, feel it.
In a way the practice of the Long Form is to make conscious that process of intention and then to let the Body follow an intuitive understanding rather than a thought command. To do this the dynamic patterns of each move are intimately understood through the use of applications. These are the martial meanings of the postures, each posture has a direction of force that it is dealing with and a reply to that force that it is answering with. Usually based around a sphere or circle. As we come to understand this we build up a shape map of the Form, posture by posture, in the same way as we built up an idea of the sequence, posture by posture. So as we rest between postures we have a feel of the shape of the next posture as it were in the space that we are about to move into. Like wind that makes movement with mist that we can see, so the mind makes a shape with the chi of the body and then the body follows that. The sphere which we developed in the Short Form is like an ocean and the postures are like waves, what we are beginning to look for and to create are the currents that make those waves. When this happens, we have moved from the body being commanded by the mind to the energy or chi being moved by a felt intention or perception which creates an inner movement that the body follows. No thinking or commanding required. This is the fourth stage of development the body follows the energy, the energy follows the intention.
Something similar also occurs in the duo aspect of Tai Chi Chuan. The first stage is Single Push Hands, (SPH). We use this model to understand our reactive patterns which propel us into inappropriate and sometimes inharmonious responses. When confronted with an oncoming energy that is threatening, most people will be propelled to action following one of two responses, to fight or to flee. These come out of us before we know it resulting in us saying things and doing things we regret later. The first stage in SPH is to build back that structural and energetic wholeness, to bring what we have learned from the Short Form into relationship with something outside us. We have learned to unify ourselves in the Form and now are taking this into the relationship with another. So when we stand in front of another, especially if we are threatened by them, these reactive states of flight or flight will be present and will effect what we do. They get in the way of us understanding exactly what is going on. In SPH we learn to see them and replace them with Rooting, Sticking and Yielding. Instead of running, we root, instead of fighting we yield and we use sticking to stay present. Once these reactive patterns are let go of, we are once more one unit and because we are not reactive we can feel what’s going on and so act accordingly. This freedom from the reactive mind is first stage of Duo Tai Chi.
The second stage is to create a circle that as I am receiving I am reply, one creates the other. They are part of one movement, the reply is simultaneous. The Form that is used here is Two Hand Push Hands. Often things happen in life very quickly and we don’t have time to think it through, to feel it and then respond correctly and this is where this second level comes in. To live Tai Chi in daily life, especially the busy part of daily life, requires two things, that we rest in the centre of our circle and that we respond as it happens. The Tao Te Ching says even difficult things are easy to handle if they are caught at the beginning. This is easy to say and difficult to do but this understanding makes it possible.
This second stage is where the Long Form and Two Hand Push Hands come together, especially in the perception of a problem and the subsequent reply. In the Solo Form it is to do with the movement of my body in relation to a posture, in Duo Tai Chi it is how I respond to a physical question from another. In Life it is how I respond to any oncoming force, mental or otherwise. How do I know what to do? The Solo Form is in relation to me and my movement, the Duo Form is me in relation to another and their movement. In both cases I make the two one. What does this mean? It means I am joined, and to take a silly example, I cannot surprise myself if I tried to slap myself because I know what I am doing. In the same way if I am connected with another they cannot surprise me, we are one, we are of one circle. It means when I am in a situation, because I am united, present and open, I can see it as it comes and because I feel its shape, even if it is a mind shape, I can find the other side of the circle and respond. This is very high level Tai Chi and not one we usually think about or even allow ourselves the thought that we can achieve but we can and it’s important that we know it’s here.
The purpose of the Solo Form is to make me one unit within myself and the Duo Form is to make me one with another. Why? So that I may move freely, expressing myself with integrity and what comes out of me is harmonious with the world around me. As this world gets to be more complicated and busy it requires a deeper listening and a deeper level of connectivity so that we may make actions that are part of the solution not part of the problem.
I encourage all of you to think seriously about exploring Duo Tai Chi, it is what allows you to take the lessons of the Solo Form and in a safe and supportive atmosphere apply them in relationship to another.
So we come wishing to be mended, we come wanting peace and understanding, we come wanting to re-find health. Illness and injury arise out of unconsciousness, we are disturbed because we have become divided, we do not know what’s going on because we are not present. To learn the Form and to follow the paths of development we have to become conscious of what we are doing, to refind energetic wholeness we heal the division and when we are in one place we are present. In the art of Tai Chi Chuan we use the body to understand the mind. In this School we use Tai Chi Chuan as an art to understand the Living Life so whilst we use applications in the Solo Form and Duo Forms to explore these things in relation to another, for us it has nothing to do with fighting or learning to fight. It is about dealing with problems as they happen, it is to become a Martial Artist of Life.
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