Taiji Practice 太极心
There is one true Taiji, one set of principles. Human deviation gave rise to family styles (Yang, Wu, Chen etc) which each has strengths and weaknesses. Their strengths are where they follow the principles and their weaknesses where they deviate.
We train the waist movement (twisting wave) of the Chen Style, the advancing power (issuing transverse wave) of the Yang Style, the borrowing of partners force (neutralising vertical pressure wave) of the Wu style. We follow my teachers advice: "Return to the original principles, from before the styles diverged."
True Taiji Mind
Understanding the broad, deep and complex concept of "mind" has been the centre of my study and practice since the early days of my learning 40 years ago. Educated well in mathematics and formal logic, I presumed that all could be understood if only I had enough information and then thought hard enough about it. In those early days I was yet to learn the most important thing that only long, true and intensive training under an experienced teacher can reveal – that the everyday mind (brain consciousness), no matter how quiet, how concentrated, how peaceful, how knowledgeable, can never understand the realm of the Deep Mind. While scientific and religious zealots continue to debate whether consciousness is generated by the brain or the brain arises as a result of consciousness, my 40 years of dedicated research reveals that they are both correct – and both incorrect. Simply, Deep Mind precedes the physical brain, while superficial-mind is generated by the brain. Only because the external sensory receptors for sight, hearing, smell and taste are located in the head, people's superficial sense of self is felt to be in the head. In that state people are aware of the 5 internal sensations only as an indirect composite general feeling perceived by the superficial consciousness within the head. To understand the training of the Deep Mind it is essential to realise that the mind, on each of its levels has 3 distinct aspects – awareness, intention and intelligence. This is reflected in the brain to body functioning in that there are sensory nerves, motor nerves and processing neurons which intelligently generate motor impulses (intention) in response to sensory impulses (awareness). These 3 aspects give rise to 3 distinct but overlapping phases in the training of the mind – deep awareness, deep intention and deep intelligence.
Ideally, in growing up, people train the superficial-mind in a balanced way so that the mental, emotional and moving abilities – all connected with physical brain functioning – have been developed satisfactorily for normal daily life. But practically speaking, this process will not have been perfect. Taiji training, beginning with movement, requires an initial period of time to learn the exercises externally while developing the ability to move softly, calmly and quietly. For those hardened by life, it is also necessary to remove the 'double-contraction' (opposing muscles unconsciously contracted against each other) which is the result of unreleased physical, emotional and mental tensions and which provides some sense of protection against the pressures of the world – a temporary, ineffective substitute for the deeper strength that later provides this support. This level of training also releases the constrictions on the energy pathways, allowing a smooth and natural flow and circulation within the body. This brings positive benefits, curing minor ailments over time and warding off further sickness and injuries.
Then, before the brain to body functioning can be brought under the control of the Deep Mind, the body control must first be harmonised into one. This is when the movement of the peripheral parts of the body become subordinated to the movement of the centre, the stage of "whole body moves as one", when co-ordinated strength begins to appear. As all stages overlap, this preparatory level, develops some awareness of the 2 most easily discovered internal sensors – joint-position sensors together with muscle sensors for the simple states of contract and relax, a result of training extremely accurate movements while attempting to remove all double-contraction. Training these 2 while holding the idea of going deeper, may, if the instructor sets a correct example themselves, cause the student's mind to sink, when traces of the Deep Mind will begin to appear. As automatic concentration on the 5 external senses fades, consciousness may then begin to re-centre itself within the body at the source of these 2 initial internal senses. This phase is when people really begin to practise Taiji and is, as Master Huang explained, usually entered after 4 to 10 years of reasonable practise.
Training then becomes a mixture of listening within the 5 internal senses both in moving within the Taiji-form and Pushing-hands patterns, and to a lesser extent listening while motionless as in meditation. When moving slowly sensors for joint position, pressure and muscle state are used to regulate movement. When the movement is fast then pressure and muscle state sensors are used to regulate the much larger forces involved with complex calculations being performed to predict the arrival position of the body, there being no time for joint position information to be received before the movement is completed. When motionless, joint sensors – which are localised rather than spread throughout the body as are the other 4 – lose importance, apart from the detection of the small movements in the chest resulting from breathing. Muscle state sensors also decrease in importance, stimulated only by the small changes in the muscles associated with breathing and the more intense sensation of the muscle changes in the beating heart.
Pain, pressure and temperature sensory receptors are distributed most evenly throughout the body. When the body is resting quietly they give rise to sensations of tingling, fullness and warmth, in that order. The sufis also look for heart beat, pulse and body heat. The Yogis look for heartbeat, heat sense, smooth muscle digestive process, joint sensors within their Yoga postures. Buddhists use the sensations of breathing – rib movement, muscle change, pressure change in the chest to attempt the first step away from the superficial-mind. Note that the internal sensors are not connected with the 5 internal senses of Yoga philosophy which are just the mental correspondences of the 5 external senses. (Yoga philosophy enumerates 11 senses in total – 5 external senses, their 5 mental correspondences and the mind itself.)
In making effort to re-focus the mind from the 5 external senses to the 5 internal senses, people strengthen the mind on the etheric level. Looking for the 5 inner senses pulls the mind deeper, while concentrating on those 5 senses stabilises the mind on that level. When people stabilise there, they will also begin to become truly aware of the body's energy – the etheric component of the Personal-energy-field.
While in the first phase the Yi has been more passive and the internal sense of the awareness of the body has been building up, now what is required is the active use of the Yi to stimulate the flow and concentration of the Qi within and closely surrounding the body and also to motivate the movement of the body itself. It is important to realise that Yi (intention) issues from whatever level the mind is conscious on at that moment. Information is received and processed by the intelligence on the level at which the information is received, this level then issuing the intention.
Further, consciousness is a simultaneous mixture of several different levels, with various levels more active or more passive (contributing to the generation of Yi or only listening with awareness). In daily life, intention means will or wish and generates effort. Coming from the superfi cial-mind with its primary focus on the external world through the 5 external senses, this produces unconscious responses, mainly contraction in the body, with awareness only on the final outward movement, hormonal responses and thoughts or brain activity. Attempting to strengthen that intention – as do the teachings of Baihequan (Fujian White Crane) or Karate – while being good in itself, unfortunately increases all these outer responses.
Bringing the mind down to the level of the 5 inner senses first, then gives the possibility of increasing the power of the Yi without the external side effects. Also, only on this deep level will the Yi be able to directly regulate the stretch and unstretch phases of the muscles along with the energy circulation within the etheric energy field of the body. The methods used to strengthen the Yi within the Taiji-form are best taught directly by instructors who themselves have practised and integrated those methods into their being, over many years.
The main problem in training strong Yi is that the mixed levels of consciousness interfere, so that strengthening Yi on a deeper level also results in some strengthening on a more surface level, bringing in tension throughout the Mind–Energy–Body system. To avoid becoming stuck in an ineffective method I suggest switching practice between using a strong effort of Yi with its risk of tension and moving back closer to phase 1 where the letting go of the superficial-mind and the deep listening are more important, varying the ratio of these and mixing them so that self-experimentation can find the correct method for your stage at any particular time.
The Deep Mind is intelligent on each of its levels – etheric (deep body), astral (deep emotional) and celestial (deep mental). Beyond that the Intelligence of the Deep Mind issues from the Spirit itself and is beyond conception. The intelligence on the etheric levels is much higher than the superficial-mind and is the true intelligence of the body. This is the initial level that will suffice for the finest, remarkable body control including the most complex instinctive functioning. Merging with this aspect of the Deep Mind, phase 3 of training, is only really achieved after 20 intense years of practise – or 30 to 40 years of average practise – although people can experience flashes of it at any stage. Again remember that Master Huang said that he only truly began to understand Taiji when he was 65 years old.
At this stage, when the directing Yi becomes deep enough and strong enough that the body instinctively and unstoppably responds to it – and the directing Yi becomes natural enough that it combines with the deep awareness of phase 1 without interfering with it – then the Yi can be allowed to sink into and issue from the even more subtle levels of the Deep Mind in a seemingly automatic manner with awareness but no sense of control. Then every move becomes a deeply intelligent response to the perceived situation. Here the Yi seems to have disappeared and cognition spontaneously produces the appropriate action. This is Wuwei, the ideal of the Daoists – spontaneous action that springs from the depths of our being as a result of the everchanging stimuli in our surroundings, arrived at through decades of correct training.
Neither the person who exercises their intellect with too much control, unable to let go for fear of their emotions and subconscious urges interfering with their clear thought, nor the person who is over-dependent on their feelings and is afraid to think clearly for fear of interfering with their intuitive insights can hope to arrive at the above stage. Worse, foolish people misinterpret this high state, superficially assuming it means doing whatever you feel like doing, free from the fear of people's reactions, but this shallow self-centred understanding merely leads to domination of the person's mind by the instinctive desires of their body and the unconscious desires of their ego, leading them directly away from their Deep Mind rather than towards it.
Master Huang had discovered this way of "higher martial arts" based on Intelligence within the Deep Body Level but did not stop there. He continued deeper through the deep emotional levels to the deep mental and beyond. I attempt to follow the trace of his disappearing footsteps.