My friend, Enric, asked why I use Zen to talk about the internal part of Tai Chi. This is a good question.
I am not a philosopher in that I don’t like to write long discourses. Its not that I can’t. Its just that I don’t see the value of doing so. If anything, to write simply is more difficult than to write long explanations.
Consider this story from the book Zen Bridge in which Keido Fukushima received a question from his teacher :-
You have three kinds of white powder – one is sugar, one is salt and one is soda powder. But they’re all white. How can you tell the difference?
Fukushima said that as he was preparing for a chemistry test the next day he approached the problem academically. However, he wasn’t able to answer the question. To him it was a difficult challenge.
His teacher’s answer was simply “You would know if you tasted it“.
So my answer to Enric is since what I read about Zen resonates with what I learned and experienced in the Yang style method of Grandmaster Wei Shuren as taught by my teacher then it is only fitting that I write from a Zen-like perspective (not that I am a Zen practitioner) as I understand from what I read.
It is common to think of Zen Buddhism as a religion. However, I read somewhere that Buddhism is not a religion originally but simply a method of training the mind. So it is with our Tai Chi – a method of training the mind to control the body.
Fukushima wrote in Chapter 35 ” Tozan’s Hot and Cold :-
You who are listening, listen completely. We should concentrate completely on what we’re doing and experiencing in the moment.
On the surface this does not sound like it has anything to do with Tai Chi but it does. When you play the Tai Chi form you must put your focus on doing it. I can see when students moved their body but they didn’t realize that they moved it in a certain manner until I pointed out that this was going against the principles.
So they heard, they saw, they felt. Yet, in the next moment when they tried again the same inadvertent movement came up again. This is a manifestation of the mind being unable to concentrate completely.
Because of this we must persist in our form training. Treat it as a daily routine, a ritual, to be performed with concentration, in the now. As Fukushima wrote :-
Zen teaches us to realize no-self in such concrete experience. This is always the theme of Zen : here, now, I myself.
Further on, Fukushima pointed out :-
You watch yourself, but the content of the watching is realizing that the self does not exist. Its complicated when we try to explain it with words, but as a concrete experience in one moment of time, its not complicated. You watch this self, this myself, and in an instant you realize that you yourself do not exist. Experientially, you find the solution in an instant.
Fukushima’s explanation sounds so much like what I experienced at a certain point in my form training. I could expand on what I felt but I think there is no need to. If you the reader have had a similar explanation the above passage would strike a chord in you too. If not, then it just sounds like some abstract bullshit.
The interesting thing is that this can be experienced by anyone willing to put in the time and effort. If one day I have the chance I would like to run a 10-day immersion training for Tai Chi, somewhat like what Fukushima described about the training of Zen Buddhism monks.
It would be interesting to see how many can be tipped over into experiencing even for a second the feeling of no-self, in Zen a satori experience, in Tai Chi the first step into the gate of the internal.