When my trip to Daqingshan, a mountain in the Shandong province of China came through, I was delirious with joy. It not only gave me an opportunity to further my development in the art but also fulfilled my ultimate fantasy to dissolve into T’ai Chi while experiencing the fresh chi of the mountain. I was seized by an overwhelming urge to realise my full potential while soaking in tranquility and serenity.
My resolve to undertake the trip was strengthened when, after learning about Master Chen Zhonghua, an international torchbearer of the Chen Style Practical Method, it dawned on me that there were still many missing parts in my training — there was still so much further to go before I can claim to understand the art in its entirety.
Patience Does Pay
Learning a different version of the Form and understanding the separation between the yin and yang aspects during the Form was my main goal. The kind of focus I needed to achieve this was profound. I had to achieve a deep sense of stillness and approach the subject with an uncluttered mind to unravel the mystery.
Learning the Form is hard work as one not only has to learn each step in detail and in much depth but also grapple with numerous principles. There is no substitute to patience but the rewards can be beyond measure.
I practiced hard in the days leading up to the trip. The day my trip began, I couldn’t be more excited. One doesn’t get to learn from a maverick teacher of Master Chen’s stature every other day. As the car I was travelling in turned to the approach road to reach the top of the mountain, I found myself reliving some of the phrases I had come across over the years like ‘Stand like a mountain and move like a river’ and ‘nature doesn’t suffer fools gladly.’ My curiosity was at full throttle.
When I finally reached the top, I felt a wave of emotion. I had never seen such a scene. While I stood near the cliff, inhaling the oxygenated chi, staring at the vast expanse of the surrounding mountains, I was overcome by a strange sensation. Starting from my feet, this sensation rose through my body almost like kundalini rising, leaving me supercharged with energy and peace. It was a moment that cannot be taken away from me.
Spiral, Stretch, Practise
It was emotional attending the first session. I had taken the biggest gamble of my life by choosing to learn this Practical Method. Prior to the trip, I had everything going for me and I was in a happy space. Yet, something was troubling me. Even after devoting 14 years, a clear understanding of the art’s martial aspect was still eluding me. I wanted to train at the highest level and learn the art in a complete way. If I couldn’t pull through, I’d be devastated.
My first priority was to learn the circles, the positive and the negative which make the Form. The circle signifies the supreme force.
Through circles, you learn to spiral and stretch and find the connections within your body. To learn circles may be easy but to master them is a different ball game. The steps aren’t as important as finding your alignment. The body position and how the body keeps the line and moves is the tough part. For this to happen, you have to practise hard.
My next target was learning the Long Form. This is a set of skills consisting of movements and postures. It not only allows you to explore the art fully, but also enhances the practice of meditation.
As you sow, so you reap when it comes to learning the Form. Having the right kind of attitude is the key. You not only have to put in time but you have to give everything of yourself to excel at it. The longer the Form, the more commitment it demands. The trick is to gently bring your attention back to the present every time it begins to wander. Then it gets easier all the time.
Form training, like meditation, extends every faculty and takes you away from the mundane world. Every time you practice the Form, it offers something that you may have never experienced before.
My main concern was to first learn the major components and pick up the rough choreography. After weeks of vigorous training, the struggle suddenly overwhelmed me and I began to lose steam. My habit of doing the things the very best way started taking its toll on my mental composure.
In an effort to come back stronger, I turned to the serenity of nature. I meditated most of the time, drawing from the spirit of the mountains. I also accepted my limitations, which to my amazement, gave me the power to transcend them. Soon, I was rewarded with mental clarity and increased stamina. I stopped using myand started experiencing with the body.
The trip was nothing short of a spiritual expedition, a journey of contemplation and inquiry. I learnt I am never alone. The divine providence in the form of nature is always with me. It was a deeply soul satisfying experience for me.
In our hurried, troubled lives, we are fast losing the art of communicating with nature. Those who are alienated from nature are caught in a vicious cycle which makes them unable to connect to their lives on a spiritual level.