The book, by Andrew Townsend, is entitled “Cultivating the Civil, and Mastering the Martial: The Yin and Yang of Taiji Quan“, and I highly recommend it. It is not intended to be a “how to” manual (itself a problematic idea for any kinesthetic endeavor) but rather a three part discussion of the theory, philosophy, and practical goals of the art. Studying taiji quan, even with hands on access to a teacher, is always difficult, and it is wise to take advantage of any help one can find. And while my teacher’s translation and commentary of the Taiji Quan Classics, is clearly the definitive work to date; it is a bit daunting when one is first starting out. Townsend’s book is a very accessible distillate with a great deal of good advice and information. The Kindle edition, which I have, is quite affordable. You can find it here on Amazon.com.
2018-8-5: Hour of the Dragon
So two stories from my visit with Shifu yesterday.
Taiji, because it seeks to replace natural and instinctive reactions with, well, new natural and instinctive reactions, is very difficult, and very small mistakes with the essentials at the beginning, can make the entire endeavor miss the mark, even after many years. Whatever level of skill I may, or may not have (the latter, more probably) I am continually frustrated by Shifu’s ability. Feeling thus after not being able to reproduce a skill he was demonstrating, I asked him at one point if, was I at least on the right path? In respons Shifu told me a story about his son, who is a musician. He had a Chinese piano teacher (who was old school, from China) and an American cello teacher. The Chinese teacher would always exclaim how Shifu’s son did everything wrong and his skill was very bad, and he needed to work harder. By contrast the American teacher would say that there was some progress, but that perhaps more work was needed on this, or that. “So”, rejoined Shifu, “do you want an American taiji teacher or a Chinese taiji teacher?” “A Chinese teacher”, I declared. “Ah! Your skill is not so good, so work harder”, he declared.
At a different point in the training I was asking his assistance on explaining how, during a seminar with a visiting teacher last week, that teacher was able to capture my shen so easily. The gentlemen in question is very skilled, and I learned much, but still though there was something going on besides just a differential in experience. Shifu explained quite nicely the mistake I was making, and how when working “in someone elses house” (my expression) you need to be careful. “Essentially”, he said, “you were too yin, and running away.” Then with a smile he added, “That is surprising, since it is almost always too much yang you have a problem with.”
But as he has also said in the past, “You didn’t drive three hours just to find out what you’re doing right, did you? Indeed, I did not. Thank you, Shifu.