How can there be movement and yet be stillness? And, if one is still, how can there be movement? The answer is not found in words or precepts, but rather in the experience. What path one takes in seeking the Way is of no consequene as, when a correct path is taken, it will merge at a central point where all other paths meet. That point is neither the Void (Wu Chi) nor the physical, but is that state known in Taoism as the Grand Ultimate, or Tai Chi. Every person who has entered, or come close to the Way will understand this. Those who seek, but do not arive at that state, will believe they understand, but they do not, because they have not yet acheived stillness. There is stillness of movement when the mind leads Intention, while one's Intention is to have no Intention. However, when one's Intention is to have no Intention, it can not be lead by the mind. It is at this point that one exists on the threshold of the Way.
This means stillness of motion, which is different from those who wrongly interpret Dong thong Qiu jing to mean "seek stillness in movement," or, "seek tranquility in motion," or "tranquility in movement," or "movement meditation." Each is a different process, or state, and each is usually experienced in progression toward the Way, or Wu Chi. Yet there are few in Kenpo who aspire to, let alone attain, even the lowest state, of "tranquility in motion."
This may be due in part to Kenpo being a hard (as opposed to soft) external system, but Hung Gar is also an "external system", and it moves are more hard than Kenpo. Yet Hung Gar masters like John Leong exhibit Chi more powerfully than any Kenpo master. The answer therefore, most likely, lies in the mental state (or lack thereof) of Kenpo training. Too often the meditative state gives way to force and speed of movement within the techniques. As one progresses, some Kenpo students feel something is missing and turn to Yoga for meditation. This was the direction James Mitose took when he stopped teaching, but while Yoga opens the joints, leads to relaxation, and can lead to the Way, it is basically static. That is, the movements are limited, with a beginning, a meditative state an ending. This is, of course, diametrically opposite of Tai Chi, which is continuous, without interruption.
Fortunately, there's no need to practice sitting or static meditation to learn movement meditation. To the contrary, for the beginning student, Yoga and other static meditation practices may hinder progress in movement. What Yoga teaches, however, is breath control, and breath control is the most important aspect of training. It is also the most recognizable difference between different martial arts styles. Taoist breathing (sometimes called reverse breathing) is employed by Kenpo, where the abdomen expands when you exhale. Buddhist breathing (sometimes called natural breathing) is deeper, diaphragm breathing, where the abdomen expands on the aspiration and exhaling is controlled not be the lungs, but by the abdomen and diaphragm.
One can attain tranquility in motion using either breathing method, but it is easier if one learns, and employs both methods. Yet, even in Tai Chi some believe because it was developed as a Taoist fighting style it employs only Taoist breathing. Yang Cheng-fu, however, used both styles, as did his father, Yang Jain Hao, and both breathing methods are, or should be, learned by advanced Tai Chi students, as well as Kenpo students. Additionally, Yang Cheng-fu taught his later students to breath in through the nose and out through the mouth, while his early students, and those of his father and grandfather, were tought, Buddhist style, to breath in and out through the nose - and this is the method used in the Body Set. Unfortunately, most Tai Chi instructors simply tell their students to, "breathe naturally", and go no further.
Kenpo students are notoriously poor at learning Yang Cheng-fu style Tai Chi Chuan. My brother Al Tracy recognized this in 1967 when we created "Kenpo for Self-Defense; Tai Chi for Life", because two years of Kenpo was better for self-defense than 25 years of Tai Chi. The stances of Yang style are often contrary to Kenpo, with the body leaning into the moves, instead of remaining erect, and the movements are too expansive to fit into the Kenpo style. Chen Man Ch'ing's adaptation of the Yang style was far better suited for Kenpo, and this was the style Al Tracy chose to teach. The style is, however, little more than an exercise and seldom advances one beyond movement meditation. I, however, have retained Yang Cheng-fu's style, holding to the same standard that I apply to Kenpo, to master the original style first, and eschewing styles that abridge or limit the style.
Seeking stillness of motion is an arduous process even in the best of training, and even more so in Kenpo. It's for this reason that I espouse Yang Cheng-fu style Tai Chi, which, when properly practiced, develops the mental faculties for Intention, the development of Chi and directing the movement of Chi. I've advocated teaching Tai Chi in Kenpo schools for some time, not just for the health benefits, but because the Baby-Boomers will soon number between 50 and 60 million people over the age of 55, and there will be a market for Kenpo for Self-Defense, Tai Chi for Life.
NOTE added by Roarke Tracy: It took my father four years after his accident in 1999 to be able to concentrate on Tai Chi moves to where he could complete the form. He now practices every day and tells me it is the only way he can control pain.
That aside, once the form is memorized and the student can mimic the instructor, the process of developing the mental and spirit state, where a "insubstantial spirit rises to the top of the head", begins. This is probably the easiest aspect of Tai Chi to learn, yet I've seldom found an instructor who can explain it, let alone a student who can exercise Xu ling ding Jin. This, like intention, can be demonstrated, and most students can experience it in less than ten minutes. There is, however, a conflict in maintaining the "insubstantial spirit" once Chi is developed, and moving Chi. But until one has developed Chi, this is not important, because the purpose at this point is not to develop Chi but to develop stillness.
There are 108 postures in the Yang Cheng-fu form as it was taught to my brother Al Tracy, and me. I counted 242 moves in the form back in 1967, and may have missed some by combining one move with another, but the exact number was so trivial I never revisited it because 108 is a mythical number, representing the 36 beneficial spirits in the north and the 72 malevolent spirits one faces to the south. The beginning student will perform the 108 postures in about 15 minutes, while the advanced student will take 30 minutes or more, and when one's breathing is mastered, the form will take close to an hour. But this requires complete relaxation and a meditative state.
There are three Yang Cheng-fu forms, traditionally called the body form, mind form and spirit form, and each has 108 postures that are done differently from each outer. The traditional from is the spirit form, and many Tai Chi instructors say this form should be practiced three time, once for the body, once for the mind and once for the spirit. While this may be good practice, it is not the same as practicing the three different, Yang Cheng Fu body, mind and spirit forms; and to facilitate meditation, and move beyond meditation to stillness it's best to also practice the mind form.
Memorizing the form takes time, and in the process, every student will experience "monkey brain". That is, a state where you are lost and don't remember the next move, or forget what move you have just performed. The lesson one gains from this is to become more focused. It's really not until one has committed the form to memory that correct breathing can be fully practiced. But the student should practice proper breathing whenever it comes to mind; while walking, sitting, resting, before going to sleep, etc. After breath control is modestly achieved, Xu ling ding Jin is practiced and coordinated with your breathing. This will require a great deal of practice, and once the insubstantial spirit can be felt and maintained, one should begin to coordinate it and breath control with intention.
Kenpo students are usually aware of coordination of upper and lower body, but Tai Chi, and stillness requires distinguishing between substantial and insubstantial; that is the amount of weight on each foot, when one leg is full and the other empty, or partially so, and which corresponding hand movement is substantial or insubstantial; that is, the amount of extension or force of each hand, arm, shoulder or back movement. With this one must be aware of where movement emanates. For instance, most Kenpo students begin the punch with the fist moving forward. But the actual movement must first come from the elbow; yet the elbow cannot move without the shoulder behind it; and, this is where most Kenpo students get their speed. Tai Chi, and stillness, require the movement to begin with the waist as transmitted to the back, and it is for this reason one of the ten essentials of Tai Chi is, Han xiong ba bei, (sink the chest, lift the back). But all this is done in a relaxed state, with the waist (which leads the back), hips and chest relaxed so the back is extended. This is in contrast to the erect posture found in Kenpo. But anyone who has ever seen an NFL game has seen a running back who, after a strenuous play, goes to the bench where he sits hunched over with his chest sunk, his shoulders dropped and his back raised as he naturally relaxes his body to grain strength.
There are ten important elements generally considered essential in Tai Chi, but those, and the dozen other important elements not listed in Yang Cheng-fu's essentials, must eventually be mastered. However, they are not necessary here for the purpose of explaining stillness of motion. Once the form is committed to memory and the frustration of memory and movement have been overcome, - where muscle memory replaces brain memory - the student must practice being quiet.
The Yoga student will learn this from the beginning, but both in Kenpo and Tai Chi the purpose of being quiet is secondary to proper movement and technique and posture. Being quiet is a meditative state where the noises and physical environment are blocked or ignored. We do this every day in our lives without realizing it, and only recognize that we have blocked out common sounds when, for some reason, they stop. The most striking examples of this are experienced by sailors who become so accustomed to the drone of the ships propellers they no longer notice them until there is a change in speed, or when they stop. But the Kenpo student must go deeper and quiet his thoughts. Each student will discover the best method for doing this. But the Tai Chi student first learns to concentrate thought on a single element, and then combine the thought with multiple elements of the form, and when the mind is clear and movement is harmonized, one reaches the first level of tranquility in movement.
There is a fine distinction between tranquility in motion and tranquility of motion, but those who achieve this understand. When the mind is calm, the Tai Chi movements are harmonized and flow from one to the next. But when the movements flow with intention the motion is itself tranquil or calm. When one can distinguish the difference, the next step goes contrary to what is generally accepted in Tai Chi training, to forget self.
To forget self means exactly that, to stop thinking, stop the mind from directing intention, and allow the movement to proceed without thought. This is a difficult concept, but it can be understood when your mind is like walking across a bridge over a rushing river, you stop, but the bridge moves on. When you have reached this state, there is stillness in motion. When your mind is void and is like walking across a bridge over a rushing river, you stop, your movement stops, the waters stop, the movement of water stops, the bridge is no more and you are on the other side of the river, you have experienced the stillness of movement. The form is no longer important. Your hand and feet can move however they wish, for like the archer drawing the bow, the arrow releases itself, and you step into the Void, Wu Chi.
©1996, 1999, 2006 by W. Tracy. All rights reserved. No portion may be reproduced without permission. The Law Offices of Michael Tracy.
Back to home page