Snap

One of the concepts of taiji which I am trying to learn (and I don’t know if I can explain any of this correctly yet, so this is my best approximation of the moment) is that motion starts from the core of the body and moves outward.  When first starting out in taiji, I know that what I mostly paid attention to were the movement of the arms and hands, and where to step, where to put my feet.  I’ve since learned this is backwards; the hands are one of the last things to focus on.  I believe one of my coaches said it this way: if the rest of the movement is correct, then your hands are going to end up where they belong.  Focus more attention on the core, the center of gravity, the center of energy.

Yesterday I worked briefly on a movement called Grasp the Bird’s Tail, which begins with a strike, a quick forward jab with the right hand.  It’s a motion that actually begins at the right hip, with a circular flick that is transmuted up through the shoulder and down the arm, culminating with the hand darting forward.  The hand and arm move the farthest, but they are actually carried along and amplify the energy that comes from elsewhere, they are not what powers the motion.  It seems very similar conceptually to the cracking of a whip, or snapping at something with a dishtowel (an activity my brothers and I have a passing familiarity with — hey man, how’s your cheek?)  If I were to snap a whip at a target, assuming I actually knew how to do that, it would look on the surface that the whip does the cracking, that it’s the flick on the end that performs the strike.  But a whip, on its own, is a totally passive thing.  If I held the business end of a whip up in the air, it would just dangle.  Nothing dangerous about it at all.  It’s the energy of a whip-crack that does the striking, the energy imparted to it by the person holding the handle.  The whip itself is merely a conduit for delivering that energy.

So I was working on this idea of keeping my arm relaxed while performing this striking motion (which I am still not very good at).  My thoughts wandered laterally, as they do, into real life and the things I’ve been mulling over lately.  I’ve written some things here recently about being unhappy with actions that I do or don’t do, things that I don’t like about the way I’m living life, and it came to me that my external actions are like the whip-snap of intentions and energy that start far within, that come up out of who I am and what is important to me, out of what I set my mind to doing — or don’t set my mind to doing.  The motive power behind a life is the energy and intention of the mind, heart, and spirit.  But what we see are the externals, the literal and concrete actions that are performed out in the world.  When those actions are off target, that’s where we want to focus our attention, where we start trying to make changes.  But changing the externals directly can be like trying to keep a whip in mid-strike from hitting its target.  You can’t just catch the end of it; it’s very small, very fast, and I bet trying to catch it would either fail completely or hurt a lot.  Once that energy is in motion, it’s going to be really hard to stop.  A much more certain way is to control the energy at the start — to redirect the snap by taking hold of the handle, to keep the whip from cracking wrongly by just not cracking it at all.  To let it crack rightly, by learning a better aim.

This isn’t a new idea, exactly, I’ve heard it before in different contexts over the years — that in order to live well and effectively, it’s important to have clarity at the center, to know what your values and goals are, to know what you want to aim for.  This image of the cracking whip brings it home to me this week — that I’m muddled at the center, and so my energy is flying in all directions and I’m hitting things nearly at random, smacking the things I always smack just by habit.  I don’t know what I want in life, and so how am I going to grasp the handle, how am I going to strike true?  How do I even know what constitutes striking true?  This image helps me see where to focus: inside, and what to work for: clarity, about who I am, and who I want to be.

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4 comments so far

  1. sarah on

    YES.

    :-)

  2. Naomi on

    Interesting comparison. Something to ponder over lunch…

  3. Mardi on

    I like this image.

  4. brother on

    My cheek is fine, thank you, and that was a lucky shot.


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