One of my problems as a teacher lately is that I’m having trouble finding the beginning. I can start a child where I started with Northern Shaolin, that is simple enough, but even with a child I’m doing all kinds of adaptation depending on aptitude and interest. We can go in a more acrobatic direction, or a more dance-theater way, or we can move toward a kinesthetic-emotional conversation about, identity, change and ethics.
With adults it is profoundly more challenging. 20 years ago I knew exactly what to teach and how to teach it. Now there are so many potential jumping off places, each one feels like a beginning. Choosing a beginning implies choosing a path, a curriculum. Choosing a beginning is made 10,000 times more difficult because the end result, the fruition of practice, is in contention.
What will you get out of it? What will you be at the end? Is there really an end? How will you know when you get there? How could you know?
If the subject were, “speaking French fluently” we have a pretty good idea what that might mean. You’d be able to talk to people, to get ideas across and understand complexity, perhaps get a job where you speak and write to people in French. But understanding a language doesn’t guarantee you’ll find anyone worth talking to, or that you’ll be able hear, or think clearly. It certainly doesn’t mean that you will be comfortable drinking wine and smoking cigarettes while discussing philosophy in the wee hours of the night! Especially if you hate wine.
Where was I? Oh yeah, the lost beginning.
So let’s talk about some possible endings.
I recently read Gavin DeBecker’s The Gift of Fear. I highly recommend it. It has lot’s of good lists to contemplate. It has a couple of dark sections and I suspect that is why they put the word fear in the title. But it is a truly optimistic book about intuition. It could easily have been titled: ‘Intuition, Your Best Friend.’
Intuition is an amazingly powerful and instantaneous. Through intuition we know things before we know how we know them. Could intuition be the fruition of practice?
The active aspect of intuition is qi, we don’t know where it comes from. It just happens! Qi has no pattern or memory. There is an inactive aspect of intuition too, it is our body's natural ability to heal and reproduce itself, called "jing" in tradtional Chinese terms. Jing is that unconscious aspect of our body which stores all patterns of growth, healing, injury and change. Rational actions and rationales are mixed, that is, they mix qi with jing. By mixing qi with jing, we create a way of storing qi in the body as tension. All fantasy requires this mixing of jing and qi. When jing and qi distill, as the result of internal arts practices, memory and fantasy have nothing to cling to, rational thought likewise has noting to build on.
So the “end” of learning internal martial arts is not even a state of consciousness or a trance, it’s movement without body memory which has no intent, no conditioning, and no restraint. Think about that. If a movement is unconditioned why would you remember it? If a movement has no resistance and no restriction, how could it be stored in the body?
This doesn’t preclude that we might have certain spontaneous creative, destructive or survival oriented ‘drives.’ It also doesn’t preclude perception or awareness. Our intuition about where the wall is behind us, how many people are in the room, and what can fit inside of a box, are all operative without having to remember them.
Even while fighting you’d have no sense of ‘acting’ or forcing. That’s the meaning of the Daoist term wuwei.
So what kind of beginning does this suggest? What kind of path? What kind of practice? Yikes, I’m lost!
Wait, I have an idea. Oops, I lost it. Oh no, there it is again.
Practice is finding what your body remembers and unraveling it, emptying it, cleaning it. The more one trains along this path the more etherial our movement memories become.