From October 2014 Training Trip
High-pitched barking dogs penetrated my sleep all night long in Chenjiagou. These scrappy little fellows fight for shade and food during the day and at night, just fight. I have not seen any large dogs here, nothing that even approaches the approximate size of a Corgi. They are skinny and sort of ratty with tufted steely hair. Come to think of it I did see one precisely groomed poodle; he seemed completely out of place. Most of the dogs I have seen are dirty white or brown and white, running around close to what might be their home. Some are roamers, it appears, these guys like to forage in neatly piled garbage heaps waiting morning pick up. They look up at the American tourists walking by and then go back to their hungry work. Once or twice I’ve seen a couple eating from a bowl. It is tempting to pet them, to pick them up and hug them but we dare not; I’m not sure they actually would want us to. They seem fiercely independent and I respect that.
We have two more days of training left and are mentally coming down the home stretch. I have already packed up my purchases – the extra small duffle I brought for new training clothes and shoes worked out great. Most people have at least a few new t-shirts and in Nina’s case, several lovely designer non-training outfits from one of the new shops in town. We are definitely feeling it, our group, the other Chinese training with us and perhaps even our teacher, though he continues to pour out generous repetition after repetition. I am shoring up my reserves. Visions of hot baths and home routines threaten to distract me from staying present enough to draw the last bit of marrow out of this incredible Taiji meal.
The one thing I am not packing up is an Iphone full of video clips or training pictures. This is a specialized, “old school” training and from the beginning I said no pictures or filming. Knowing you must be absolutely attentive to the lessons, knowing you will never see the demonstration again in the same way brings a much stronger degree of concentration to the training floor. This is not a Taiji tourist trip. This is training at the source. We have no mirrors either and I noticed the mirrors in the main school have also been taken down. I for one am grateful. Those of us who have been training for decades were never chained to mirrors, DVD’s, YouTube’s and camera phone recording devices for our learning. I have to admit when people ask for all of these tools, I feel it might be more of a crutch and less helpful than one thinks it is. Training oneself to not just be in the moment but to see in the moment, with no thought of seeing later, is its own profound practice.
Grandmaster is demonstrating more this trip than I have ever seen him do. He repeats any given movement sequence sometimes a dozen times. A newer learner might think well of course, its his job to teach but those of us who harken back do not see it like that. It is our job to learn. And to learn this art one must observe, imitate what we see, and then do what no teacher can do for us: internalize it through infinite repetition. We are most fortunate to also be with a teacher that is a genius with hands on correction. This type of learning is not common in the West. We have been trained to be end-goal oriented, self critical and impatient. That type of learning may produce a certain satisfaction when a goal is achieved but it is also a ravenous dog. Any satisfaction is temporary, there will always be another goal to be had and the cycle goes on. Doug said of the type of learning we are here to experience, the rigors of attention, the constant corrections, the patient practice, “I figure this non-western style of education is where most of the time you get it wrong!” And yet, as hard as it can be on ego and expectation, this style of learning allows us to put ourselves back into an innocent wholly receptive state, like a child. It is such a relief.
Sometimes when I watch GMCXX, his beauty of Taijiquan expression blinds me. It is as if a light flashes and all I am able to capture is the after image. I’m glad I have no words to adequately express what I am encountering; it would diminish the experience. I remember it took me a few years to begin to understand what I was feeling when I watched this teacher. He is so subtle, so nuanced and so utterly relaxed I didn’t really have a context. After many decades of study in the Martial and Energetic arts, and with very good teachers along the way, one day I knew I wanted to commit to studying with him. I knew if I really wanted not just to “do” Taijiquan, but to learn Taijiquan, to embody Taijiquan, I would need to yield to his lessons.
As I continue my study with him, with Taijiquan, I also know these are not “his” lessons, but my lessons. I continue to reference my training as a way to evolve out of stressful goal orientated living and self-diminishment through self-criticism. I continue to recognize more useful tools for living a peaceful compassionate life, the tools I am learning to embody through seeing and mirroring and practicing. Perhaps these are humanity’s lessons as well. Though Taijiquan and Qigong are my way, for millennium many practices have evolved with the intention of open this Way for us. These Practices invite us and teach us how to be slower, more pliant, softer, more nuanced and thoughtful, how to feel and see more, not through the head but through our bodies and our hearts. Are these practices not worthy of our complete attention?