Contradictions: Rise Above Them
The Thursday morning T’ai Chi Chih class began with a student sharing what a great new awareness she had at the last class. She has been an active student of T’ai Chi Chih for the past 17 years and always thought she had been shifting her weight fully in preparation for stepping out to the side. But as we worked on Pulling Taffy she realized that if she brought her underneath hand just a little bit farther across the body at the beginning of the movement it shifted the weight more completely into the weight bearing leg which was enough that she was now able to step to the side without committing weight into the heel. By moving her hand an extra inch farther it made a world of difference in her balance. The student was excited that after doing T’ai Chi Chih all these years she could still discover new ways to do the movements resulting in less effort.
In the beginning of learning T’ai Chi Chih we continually have big aha moments, big changes where we gain a new piece of information that makes our whole practice smoother or softer or flow with less effort. Then, as we continue our learning, the new awareness moments are fewer and much more subtle. This is much as it was in the beginning of the form of T’ai Chi Chih as it unfolded for Justin Stone.
I recently reread all editions of the T’ai Chi Chih photo texts starting with the original in 1974. As Justin continued to teach and give teacher training courses he refined the form based on his and his students’ experiences.In the beginning, the changes were many and some quite different. The form gradually settled into what we have today, the 19 movements and one pose. The Introduction in the T’ai Chi Chih Photo Text tells about this process and the changes in the form as it evolved, essential reading for all teachers.
Justin wrote, “These new developments had evolved from actual teaching experiences, and it is necessary that T’ai Chi Chih, like all growing forms, evolve and not remain stagnant. To remain unchanging is to die.” This statement has been in all editions of the photo textbook since 1984.
So how do we keep T’ai Chi Chih pure, yet in Justin’s words,” It is necessary that T’ai Chi Chih, like all growing forms, evolve and not remain stagnant”? Maybe we each have to find that answer for ourselves.
I can only speak as to how I understand those two statements to be compatible. Through his and his student’s experiences Justin evolved the form to what we have today. For it to continue to evolve and not remain stagnant is up to me in how I work with the form. If I just do the movements as I have been taught, it is dead. In a sense I would be like a parrot repeating what my owner taught me. I must take each movement and go inside it and feel all its nuances and curves and understand or feel how all the moving parts work together. Each movement must evolve inside me in understanding. The external doesn’t change. The awareness does.
We do not need to change the form or add to it. We have all we need. The T’ai Chi Chih form is complete. We have the tools, it is learning how to use them.
We actually have very little from Justin on the teaching of T’ai Chi Chih. He does talk about T’ai Chi Chih in some of his books, especially Spiritual Odyssey. He has written many articles for the Vital Force Journal on T’ai Chi Chih. We have the final 3rd edition of the photo text and the previous editions. We have available two of Justin’s DVD’s. These are the works of Justin that bind us together as teachers and students of T’ai Chi Chih. They are his final, you might say official, words on T’ai Chi Chih.
There have been requests over the years to have a new practice session that mirror’s the movements replace the one which is on the DVD now. Justin was there as the teachers filmed the practice for the DVD and at the end he joins them on the DVD with a few more comments. He also complements the teachers saying, “Well, now you’ve seen how T’ai Chi Chih is done.” I would not like to see this part of his DVD replaced.
Justin’s DVD is the only one I recommend to my students. It is teaching from the originator. I would not like one word changed or removed from it including the practice session at the end. He was there for the filming and chose those teachers for the filming and worked with them in preparation. His essence is imbued in the DVD right to the end.
The DVD may not be perfect. There are contradictions in the photo text, but I would be against any changes in either of these as they are the last works and words we have from Justin Stone on teaching T’ai Chi Chih. I feel contradictions are an invitation to explore.
I leave you with this last thought by Thomas Merton, “Contradictions have always existed in the soul of man. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them.”
By Sandy McAlister
Excerpted from The Vital Force