In my two books on the martial arts, I shared how my early focus on taijiquan benefited me on multiple levels. I also shared how my related success led to pain from sitting with a computer for hours on end. My focus on taijiquan helped to create my success, and that success lead to the later pain. That same pain lead to my intense study of baguazhang and hours of circle walking every night.
After discovering Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming’s original, yellow Taijiquan book, practicing Taijiquan became everything to me. I moved outside, eating, drinking, and practicing under a Pin Oak tree. At heart, however, I am a skeptic, and seeing Taijiquan through the works of a single author did not satisfy my need to study more broadly. I later learned that the most ardent practitioners of Taijiquan suffer through the same phase.
My early passion with Taijiquan coincided with the earliest days of the Internet. At the time, there was little material online. The big box bookstores had a few titles, but for more detailed instruction you had to search the pages of Tai Chi magazine or other martial art magazines for VHS videos.
Vocabulary is the foundation to understanding a subject. The same is true with Taijiquan. For now, I am ignoring the translation problem and focusing on the basic vocabulary we need to communicate the Taijiquan routine.
Is the Taijiquan routine a sequence, or a routine? Is a static position a posture or a form? The interchange of the words form, posture, and stance creates confusion. For example, is it the Yang Style Taijiquan form, sequence, or routine? Is that the Ward Off posture or form? Are you in the Bow and Arrow posture or stance?
My process of learning Taijiquan is not unique. I know this because one of my earliest inspirations in Taijiquan study, Jou, Tsung Hwa, said so. Now, Jou was not talking directly to or about me, but he shared his journey with Taijiquan in his books, and those stories spoke to me and my journey.
The title of this post paraphrases the Zen Koan: "First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is."
Learning a new art or skill is like this. First you see the mountain, and think that others have climbed that mountain, and you would like to follow them. You start climbing the mountain, and the trail goes up and down, back, and forth, and you are not sure if you are on the right trail, or even the right mountain. You think back to when you decided to climb the mountain, how beautiful it was in the distance, but now, when you look around, you cannot see the mountain because you are too close to it. Finally, you reach the peak of the mountain and looking back you can see all its peaks and valleys behind you.
Martial art practice is more than the study of physical movement. It’s an exploration of the body through the mind and the mind through movement of the body. Martial art practice can expose humanity’s worst instincts, or reveal an inner nature that desires harmony.
The greatest martial artist of the twentieth century promoted the martial arts to a world searching for reason in the torrents of blood spilled around the globe. From the worst of those conflicts, masters arose that sought to restore balance and civility.