2012年8月2日 星期四

From the Bible to Tai Chi (12) The Cross

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.
On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because
to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”
1 Peter 3:9

Is it against our natural instinct?  If I were being bullied or insulted, my spontaneous reaction was to resort to ‘an eye for an eye’.  To repay evil with blessing?  No way.

However, repaying evil with blessing is the exact quality of spiritual life which will not be contaminated by hatred.

When you are combating in a ring, seeing the fist of your opponent throwing to your eyes, can you relax and Song?  No, you will tense up and fight back normally.  At that time, you are using energy of Li.

However, according to Kung Fu of Qi, you are required to act against your natural response.  Instead of tensing up your muscles to fight, you should Song more to release stronger Qi energy.

To make this happen, a lot of hard work and perseverance are needed.  You must practice so hard that the Song requirement becomes your natural reaction in any combats.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

For Kung Fu adventurers, they must deny themselves in using energy of Li in their daily Kung Fu practice.  This is ‘their cross’.

From the Bible to Tai Chi (11) To Return

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
 in quietness and trust is your strength,…”
Isaiah 30:15

In Biblical Hebrew, the idea of repentance is represented by two verbs: שוב shuv (to return) and נחם nicham (to feel sorrow).

On the road to excellence in Kung Fu, the practitioners need to abandon using Li when he discovers the innate energy of Qi.  This is the process of ‘repentance’.

This process may be accomplished in either one of the following scenarios:

Scenario one is that the learner is practicing Kung Fu so hard that he runs out of all his ‘Li’ energy. Despite being extremely exhausted, he keeps practicing with strong will.  Having no more energy of Li left, he is forced to find a new kind of energy which he used to overlook, Qi.  And this is the point when he ‘returns’.

Another way may cause him to return is through direct contact with a Kung Fu teacher with Qi energy.  Through direct experience, the learner perceives teacher’s Qi and knows what it is.  This is the point when he is inspired and returns.

After this point of return, the learner will enter a new horizon.  He will deny his past habit and use less and less Li energy.

From the Bible to Tai Chi (10) Kung Fu Development

‘He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.’
Isaiah 53:2

Compared with King Saul and King David, it is surprising that Son of Man was not so attractive and charming in appearance.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

Let me show you two video clips on Youtube, which one do you prefer?

In Kung Fu world, not many people like to watch someone practicing Kung Fu of Qi.  The movements are so slow and boring that you would lose patience and interest quickly. 

Kung Fu of Li is much more impressive and spectacular in term of rhythm, flow and presentation.  It is easier to win burst of applause in performance or competitions.

Moreover, Kung Fu of Li is much easier to master.  No matter how difficult, challenging the postures is, the player can give a perfect performance after organized, well-planned training in a few months. 

On the other hand, Kung Fu of Qi needs to go through an ‘ugly duckling stage’ for years.  It is an embarrassing stage that your Kung Fu of Qi is not strong enough to defeat ordinary Kung Fu of Li. 

Kung Fu of Li, like many traditional arts such as music, has already developed a systematic, mature and institutionalized inheriting arrangement.  It has been introduced into the formal education system.  The curriculum is clear and continuous.  The assessment system is open and reliable.  Professional qualifications in this respect are recognized.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for Kung Fu of Qi. Its existence is questioned. The curriculum is hardly available. Let alone the assessment and recognition systems. Inheritance of this skill remains outside the formal education system. Without open and reliable assessment system, it is hard to differentiate between the authentic and the fake for outsiders.

In the past, traditional Kung Fu masters would strive for enhancing their Kung Fu level by changing their concern from tangible aspect to intangible aspect, from use of Li to use of Qi.  This is the small and narrow gate. Only a few find it. 

Nowadays, most of martial artists are striving for enhancing their skills by changing from easy, simple physical postures to more difficult, complicated physical challenges.  The level of Kung Fu refers to its level of difficulty and complexity, just like gymnastics.  This is the wide and broad road.  Many follow.

Can we call it advancement? 

I believe we can hardly call it advancement in technology when we use horses to replace donkeys to pull the cart, though the speed does increase.  But if we use electricity to replace mechanical force, that is a real breakthrough.

From the Bible to Tai Chi (9) Enjoy being Present

“When I run I feel His pleasure.”

To be perceptive is crucial to learn Kung Fu of Qi because feelings in direct contact are so elusive and erratic sometimes.  So, you need to keep practicing day by day to keep them fresh on your mind.

Don’t rely on your self-discipline.  It will be painful struggles for you because everyone is believed to have only a limited amount of self-discipline.  The more effective way is to make your practicing time ritualize. 

Make your practice as a new daily routine.  Set a timer or an alarm device when you practise.  Before the alarm rings, “you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know anybody owes you.  This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.  This is the place of creative incubation.”[1]

When you practice, your mind, your soul must be present.  Tai Chi can be seen as a kind of meditation in movements.  There is no room for anger, worries, anxiety and rush.   They are sources of your tension.  And the tension locks your Qi up. 

“Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?”  He who has clean hands and a pure heart may.

Yes, he who has a peace of mind may enjoy being present.  If you do, Qi will be present in your moves.  And you may enjoy peak experience in which eureka may come.  Insights on Tai Chi may dawn on you during practice.  And this will form a positive reinforcement circle that will help you keep this ritual easily. 

You are the active agent for change.  “Your strength will equal your days.”

[1] Joseph Cambell, see Youtube ‘Positive Psychology, Lesson 11’ at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDvS7WLuJnU

From the Bible to Tai Chi (8) To be is to Perceive

“To be is to be perceived” is the key statement in George Berkeley’s philosophy.  However, as a Kung Fu practitioner, to be is to perceive.

Since Qi is invisible and intangible, you can only learn it by your ability to perceive. 

The start point of acquiring intangible aspect of kung fu is to catch feelings you get from direct contact with your teacher.  These feelings make you know what ‘Qi’ is and how ‘Song’ is like.  You experience how to direct Qi back and forth with your spirit.  These feelings will be guiding you when you practice.  They become the lamp for your feet and the light on your path. 

In solo practice, you need to perceive if your Qi is present in your every movement. You need to perceive that your Qi fill the space around you, expands, falls in, and expands again.  Your Qi grows stronger through this process.

In real combating situation, you need to perceive and discern how your opponent’s Qi moves and then give the appropriate response.

In ancient times, some people could feel the subtle changes outside without any instruments, such as weather and climates.  They perceived the changes with Qi.  As for them, emptiness in space did not mean nothingness.  The empty space was filled with something invisible, like energy.  They used Qi to interact with the energy in space and cultivated stronger Qi.

Three factors are interrelated: amount of Qi energy, perceiving sensitivity and learning ability. The more sensitive perceiving ability you have, the faster you can learn, and stronger Qi you can get. With stronger Qi energy, your perceiving ability will be more acute and sensitive and you can learn faster.

From the Bible to Tai Chi (7) Visualization

‘… the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.’
Genesis 1:2

There's a saying in Tai Chi Classics: “Navigate Qi with the heart, move the body with Qi.”

This involves high level of mind-body coordination.  An effective strategy to accomplish this is through visualization.

For example, in performing the first movement of Tai Chi Chun,

imagine you were a piece of cloud, floating
and stretching leisurely, freely in the sky.
Fill the space created after stretching with Qi.
Song your shoulder and back, let your Qi flow down to your waist like water,
then Song your waist and let Qi flow down from your waist to your feet.
Then spread your Qi on the ground like ripples across the lake.
Song your feet, as if your were standing on two pieces of still floating wood.
Feel the floating power and let your Qi ascend naturally.

Your spirit commands Qi through visualization.  When you visualize your spirit sinking onto the ground, your Qi follows.  And in your perception, spirit and Qi seem to go hand in hand and co-exist.  There is your spirit, there is your Qi.  How magnificent it is to visualize ‘the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters’.

Through visualization, your spirit directs stream of Qi to flow forward, backward, to ascend, descend, expand or fall in.

There are no definite images suitable for visualization.  You should find your own.  It is personal.

From the Bible to Tai Chi (6) The Spirit: the commander of Qi

“Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9

There is a common interaction pattern among God and His people.  God shows the way. People follow. God is with them.  They enjoy the blessing.

Qi energy does not have direction itself.  The spirit or will shows it directions.  When you ‘Song’, Qi energy is free and expands.  The field of Qi is created around you.  This is a spherical field.  The spirit can lead the flow of Qi to anywhere within this field.  It can navigate Qi to attack any point within this field, just like the laser beam navigates the missile. 

Like Qi, the spirit is invisible.  Its navigation is expressed through your eyes.  The Qi energy will run into the target where your eyesight stays and focuses.  It can also express via your mind’s eye to direct Qi flow to somewhere behind your back.

For effective navigation, there is no room for doubts, hesitations or any analytical attempts.  If you intend to keep Qi staying there for your to appreciate or analysize, or if you disbelieve in yourself, lack confidence, have negative emotions, your spirit will lose ability to command at once.  Qi will seem to vanish right away. 

For effective navigation, the spirit should command with faith, confidence and determination.  Your body should perform as Song as possible at the same time. 

From the Bible to Tai Chi (5) Direct Experience: The Password to Unlock Secrets of Qi

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet,
you also should wash one another’s feet.”
John 13:14

How is God’s love like?  No one knows until you have experienced it.  Then you would exclaim “It is the Lord!”  Then your life is being transformed.

In traditional Kung Fu classics, there are several key concepts like ‘Song’, ‘Qi’, ‘Yi’ and so on.  They summarize direct experiences of masters throughout generations. 

Direct experience is unique and concrete.  However, it becomes abstract and general when it is put in words of concepts.  The language itself raises the level of abstraction and creates barrier for beginners to inherit traditional skills on their own. 

As a teacher, he is the one who should be able to transform abstract concepts into unique and concrete experience for students. 

“Teacher, how can we acquire ‘Qi’ in Kung Fu?”

“All of us have ‘Qi’ since we were born.  ‘Qi’ is innate.  We ‘forget’ its existence because we get used to using ‘Li’ energy in our daily activities.”

“Then how can we feel its existence?”

“Well, language seems to be powerless and useless at this point.  Come on, touch my palm.  Now I ‘Song’ my muscles and joints, lift up my spirit, Qi is released.  Can you feel it?  Grasp this feeling and save it in your memory.  Re-play it whenever you are performing ‘Song’.  Now is your turn to show me the ‘Qi’.”

This was my first lesson with teacher, Mr.Tan Jing.  “The value and significance of my role is that I can teach you not only with words, but also with my Kung Fu.” He said.

There are two dimensions involved in learning intangible aspect of Kung Fu—knowledge dimension and experience dimension.  And the experience one is more vital.

Let me elaborate with an analogy of software programme.

If you want to install a software programme in your computer, the first and most important file you need is ‘setup.exe’.  Without this file, the programme is totally useless. 

Direct experience from your Tai Chi teacher is the ‘setup.exe’ file in your process of learning Kung Fu of Qi.  Without this direct experience, you are still an outsider of this field, no matter how much knowledge you have in your head.

When you learn a new skill, sometimes you learn it by watching demonstration, sometimes you learn it by listening to the instructions.  As for Kung Fu of Qi, it is invisible and intangible.  You can only learn it by sense of touch.  And only teachers with this kind of Kung Fu can provide you the opportunities to feel it.  With this direct experience, the mysterious concepts concerned become bright and clear.  It ignites and activates learners’ previous and new knowledge just as the ‘setup.exe’ file initializes the software programme.  And the learning process thereafter is to catch feelings in each direct contact experiences and perform accordingly in your routine Kung Fu practice.

So, the crucial factor for you to acquire intangible aspect of Kung Fu is not secrets you read in Kung Fu manuals, but your opportunity to meet a teacher with Kung Fu proficiency in this respect.

“Only those Kung Fu teachers with Neijing can make learners inherit this kind of Kung Fu.” Sifu Tan Jing said.

From the Bible to Tai Chi (4) ‘Song’(鬆): The Key to Activate and Cultivate Your Energy of Qi

 “Let no debt remain outstanding,
except the continuing debt to love one another…”
Romans 13:8
How to activate your energy of Qi within?

The key is ‘Song’[1].

‘Song’ does not have exact English equivalent.  Most writers in English on Tai Chi translate the term literally—to relax, loosen.  But this is only partly correct.

Qi is stored in our cells.  When you tighten up your muscles to generate your strength, Qi is locked and blocked inside.  You cannot feel it.  If you want to perceive Qi, you have to set it free first.

So, you should get rid of tension in your body, postures and movements by using force of Li as little as possible.  This is why your Tai Chi coach keeps reminding you to relax.

However, getting rid of negative element does not guarantee the positive factor arises. De-tension alone does not guarantee the release of Qi energy. 

Relaxation can be in either positive sense or negative sense.

Relaxation in negative sense is passive in nature.  Imagine that you are exhausted after office, sink yourself onto a sofa.  You are relaxed, but slack, sleepy and passive.  This is another way to lock up Qi energy like that of the state when you tighten up your muscles.

Positive relaxation is what you need.  Physically, you loosen your body, muscles, joints and remain tensionless.  Meanwhile, you raise your spirit and keep wakeful, mindful and being present.  Then, you can experience a sense of expansion in your consciousness.  That means Qi is free and radiating from within.  If I touch you at this moment, I can perceive this sense of expansion too.  This is what ‘Song’ means.  Only under this state, Qi is ready to receive the command from your spirit.  Your spirit can direct stream of Qi to flow forward, backward, to ascend, descend, expand or fall in.  The higher level of ‘Song’ you can achieve, the stronger and quicker the stream of Qi can flow under your spirit’s command.  The ultimate objective of Kung Fu practice is to achieve optimal level of Song.

The benchmark of the learning outcome of ‘Song’ is that you succeed to release your Qi energy.

‘Song’ is also the key touchstone that differentiates between the genuine and the fake Kung Fu of Qi.  If someone shows his Kung Fu with stiff muscles and full of tensions, you will be 100% certain that this is not Kung Fu of Qi.

As your Kung Fu progress, you will grow deeper understanding of Song.

For Christians, there is no limit in developing virtue of love.  “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another,…”

For Kung Fu practitioners, there is no limit in developing Song.  There is always a higher level out there.

“Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”  [2]

Qi can flow, crash too, more powerful than water, only when you can ‘Song’.

[1] In Chinese, the part of speech of a word is context dependent. ‘Song’ can be a verb or an adjective.
[2] See Bruce Lee’s interview at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tl3Y8T_HBHs

From the Bible to Tai Chi (3) The Nature of Tai Chi Chun

“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
 John 3:6

The verse shows two kinds of life—life of flesh and life of spirit.  They are totally different in nature.  Life of flesh never becomes life of spirit by means of improvement or modifications.

In traditional Chinese Kung Fu, there are two fundamentally different kinds of forces. The mechanical force is called Li () which derives from joined efforts of muscles, bones and tendons.  Li is commonly observed at elementary level of Kung Fu. This is what we are familiar with and called ‘strength’.

In contrast, non-mechanical force is ‘energy of Qi’ or called ‘Neijing (內勁)’ which derives from joined efforts of spirit and Qi.  It is the source of power employed in advanced Kung Fu.

Just like life of flesh and life of spirit, these two forces are completely different in nature.  Li can never become Neijing by increasing its amount or by enhancing its skill level.

Proficiency in martial arts is not determined by the level of difficulty or complexity of forms per se, but by the nature of the force employed.

Although both Li and Neijing co-exist in our body, they are mutual exclusive in use.  They cannot be applied at the same time.  The more Li energy is being used, the less Neijing can be being released, and vice versa. 

This is because the ways they generate and use follow different, or even contradict laws, just like life of flesh and life of spirit.

The amount of Li force you can be employed in Kung Fu depends on several variables such as resilience of muscles, strength of bones, speed and timing of attack and so on. An effective way to enhance the Li force is to exercise your muscles and bones by applying increasing pressure on them (weight training, gym exercises, etc.).  

On the other hand, the amount of the Neijing force depends on the degree you can ‘Song’ relax in positive, active sense.

The Li force is observable when it is employed. At the point of attack, you must tighten up your muscles to unite your strength and create an explosive power. In this process, the state of your muscles changes from soft and loose to tight and tense. The effectiveness of Li follows the principle of leverage. In combat, the point of contact is the point of attack. The combatant who can make better use of this pivot point has a greater chance to defeat his or her opponent.  The muscles, your fists and legs, are weapons themselves.

Unlike the Li force, Neijing is invisible and hence unobservable when employed. The pivot point is not necessary. At the point of attack, you must ‘Song’ yourself to release all Qi energy and direct it towards the target.  The contact point only represents the gateway to conduct Neijing to the target.  Your muscles are channels of Qi only. 

The Kung Fu component of Li force is limited by your physical condition. When you pass your prime age, your Kung Fu ability will pass the optimum level, too. The degree of Kung Fu will decline when muscles and bones are not as strong as they used to be. On the other hand, the Kung Fu of Qi continues to grow as long as one lives. Qi energy becomes stronger despite the aging process.

Tai Chi Chun is the kind of Kung Fu with energy of Qi. 

Tai Chi Chun was first made known not due to its values and functions to keep fit or stay healthy, but its powerful effect as Kung Fu.  With Tai Chi Chuan, Yang Lu Chan defeated all competitors and became the Chief Kung Fu Coach of royal guides and personal coach of the royal family of the Ching Dynasty hundreds years ago.  He got a name of ‘Invincible Yang’. 

Nowadays, millions of people in the world practice Tai Chi.  But persons who know its Kung Fu function are rarer than pandas.

From the Bible to Tai Chi (2) The Existence of Qi Energy

 ‘Then the Lord God formed a man
from the dust of the ground
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,
and the man became a living being.’
Genesis 2:7

In traditional Chinese medical system, it is believed that Qi energy flows and circulates along the channels and meridians within the body.  This perspective is quite commonly shared among authors on Tai Chi inside and outside China.

However, my teacher Tan Jing proves with his Kung Fu that he can direct his Qi energy out of the body to attack the opponent.  He believes that Chinese Kung Fu theory on Qi actually goes beyond Chinese medical theory. 

Within the framework of Chinese Kung Fu, Qi is inborn. Every person is believed to possess this innate energy.  Martial artists can cultivate the force of Qi to the extent that it is strong enough to be applied in combats.  It is non-mechanical, invisible and intangible.  When it is being directed by one’s will, it is called Neijing(內勁).

Unlike the Emperor's New Clothes, Qi can be perceived through sense of touch.  Although we have different level of sensibility toward Qi, all of us have inborn ability to sense it. 

Qi is stored in our cells.  It is like the treasure “in jars of clay”.  This is the force that still remains unexplored for natural scientists.  I have a dream.  Scientists can provide its scientific specifications some day.

Playing Tai Chi without Qi is like leading Christian life without Holy Spirit.

From the Bible to Tai Chi (1) An Introduction to the Intangible Aspect of Kung Fu

Nowadays, books about Tai Chi are many.  Most of them focus on its tangible aspects like standards and requirements on postures and movements. 

Most writers on Tai Chi have either maintained an embarrassing silence concerning energy of Qi, the intangible aspect of Kung Fu, or just put it in a marginal place and leave it un-elaborated. 

However, the greatness of Tai Chi lies in its intangible aspect. “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” [1] This is the diamond on the top of the crown of Kung Fu.  What a shame if we present the crown to the world and find that the diamond has gone.

Energy of Qi is not unique in Tai Chi Quan.  Many Kung Fu varieties aim at it at their advanced level.

Terms and jargons in traditional Kung Fu theories are usually loan words from traditional religion or philosophy classics.   The cultural content density creates high barrier for westerners to understand. 

In the following articles, I try to summarize what I have learned from Mr. Tan Jing, my Kung Fu teacher.  In these articles, I try to present a general introduction to intangible aspect of Kung Fu with least of those traditional Chinese terms and jargons.

Here I need a scaffolding framework that westerners are familiar with.  I choose Bible.

However, the verses quoted in the articles may not be equivalent to their original message because they are used as analogy for scaffolding purpose.  Therefore, Bible verses in this context are like bridges that facilitate western Tai Chi learners to cross from known to unknown.

2012年2月1日 星期三