Monday, October 06, 2008

A Sweet Embrace -or- Form Correction with Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang

Taiji Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang recently taught a five-day workshop at Seattle's Embrace The Moon school where I practice. [I wrote a bit about a workshop with his nephew Master Chen Bing, referenced in Yang Within Yin, Yin Within Yang....] Grandmaster Chen is the 19th-generation lineage holder of Chen-family Taijiquan. He has spent his entire life developing mastery in taiji (videos: 1 2 3). While many people train and learn the principles of taiji, it is clear that he lives them. He is also a master calligrapher and performs his calligraphy is if it is taiji, and taiji as if it is calligrpahy. He is happy and easy-going. He faces the world with a balance of seriousness and humor, with strength and relaxation. Just watching him have a seat or drink a cup of tea is a lesson in grace. He flows.

I pampered myself by training for the whole workshop, to watch, train from, and interact with the Grandmaster. Taiji is an unfathomly subtle art. Even after a lifetime of training, a trained teacher will still make many possible corrections to the form. Form correction is a wonderful thing. The better one's postural form, the more that qi can flow through the body. For someone as new to it as I am, having the chance to be corrected by Chen Xiao Wang is a real treat.

Receiving form correction by the Grandmaster is a rare treat, though a lifetime of form correction is needed. I need to learn how to correct my own form, so I asked him "how do I know when my form is correct?" He answered (paraphrased): it's the same as knowing that a circle is a circle. At first, you don't know. Then you are trained what a circle is and you copy others. But by copying others, you don't realize that a circle can take slightly different shapes and can vary a little for each person who makes it. Over time, you begin to know the essence of a circle, you can feel it. Then he pulled me up in front of the room and pointed at my shirt which had the letters ODST on it. He asked me if the O was a circle, I nodded (a bit unsurely), then he asked me if the D was a circle, and he laughed a big, hearty laugh. Just as we recognize circles, we will one day all recognize what makes the right form and what does not. With that lesson learned, I continued my practice.

A lot of spiritual teachings tell us that the material world is a fiction of the mind, and to transcend the physical world is to abandon illusion and get closer to really. This was my first time in front of a Grandmaster, so I had the opportunity to ask him profound questions about the nature of qi. The seeming contradiction to me is, if the body is a fiction, why is the form of it so important for qi flow? I asked him about it, shouldn't qi be able to flow regardless of the body? He answered that the body is qi, qi is in the body. The body needs to be in the right position for qi to flow. When he asked me if I understood, I knew that understanding would be a life-long pursuit, and I said so.

My instructor Kim Ivy smiled to me and told me to get my form corrected as much as possible by the Grandmaster. Ever the glutton for form correction, I made it a point to do so and had several opportunities.

On the third day, while practicing the laojia (long form), Grandmaster came to me and corrected my form. As always, I had already felt that I had the posture "correct", and realized how mistaken I was--I always feel like a total goof in this moment. If you know the form, it's the posture right after the third Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds the Mortar fajin motion, the first part of White Crane Spreads Wings, feet are shoulder width apart, arms rise up to waist height on the sides, palms facing inward toward the dan tien (the hub of the body, a few inches below the navel). As the Grandmaster began correcting me, he first took me out of my deviations, then brought me back into the right positions. As he corrected my arms, they felt like antennas or solar chargers bringing energy into my body, I felt warmth flowing through my periphery. Then he corrected my dan tien to relax, and as it did, it felt like a battery collecting the energy that I brought inside. When he finished the correction, I felt that I was holding the sun inside of my arms, then the moon (I now understand the name of the dojo) and the stars--the universe. Although, I realize that every step of the form must feel this way to the Grandmaster who can do it all so well, I spent much of the rest of the workshop wanting to only practice that one position.

This experience helps me to recognize the truth in his first second answer. This quote that Kim cites nails it:

"Your body is precious.
It is your vehicle for awakening.
Treat it with care." Buddha (563-483 BC)
During the class, Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang taught us "Natural is the first principle." Truly a profound statement, I found a whole new meaning to it while holding the entirety of nature within my body. It is euphoric. Reliving this experience in my mind, I am serene. These simple words entered my mind as I went to lunch that day:
The breeze is cool.
The sun is warm.
The qi is flowing.

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