Saturday, June 16, 2012

Opening Dao: An Internal Gongfu Perspective

As the western understanding of Dao has changed over the centuries, I view the recent film "Opening Dao: A Documentary Film on Taoism and Martial Arts" as another contemporary understanding that reflects both the perspective of the filmmaker's project and the perspective of the selected interviewees.

I was raised in a western culture, in a mono-theistic religion, with a mechanistic, causal, orientation to life. This stuff is in my bones! So even though I began reading about Dao thirty years ago in college philosophy classes, there is still much of the Chinese philosophy of Dao and the broader Chinese cosmology that is completely alien to the way I fundamentally view and move in the world.

That said, regarding the practice of internal gongfu, I particularly like what one of the four interviewees in this video, Master Yuan Xiu Gang, says about how to understand Dao:
(time 6:12 in the movie)
"You want to understand Dao... you have to understand your body... The Dao treats the body like a small universe. So if you don't understand your body, how are you going to understand the universe?... So we practice kung-fu... to understand yourself, your life."

(time 11:20 in the movie)
"Anytime the body has pain, sore, problem... it's because (Qi) blocked. Why blocked? Maybe injury. Maybe your body is too stiff. You know, cannot move well... So we need soft. Soft is easy to understand now because when soft, the blood, Qi is easy to move. Make it better circulation."
(Note: the full interview with Yuan Xiu Gang, from which this is extracted, is also available at LifeArtsMedia.)

Now, without getting hung up on "Qi talk", I like this because I think he's saying to keep your practice practical. Don't get lost in the various aspects of Daoist philosophy and mysticism. To the extent that "becoming one with the Dao" means connecting to a greater whole of life, the most practical and functional place to begin is within your own body. How deeply you connect with and within your own body lays the foundation of the process to connect with others and the world outside yourself.

When you are able to soften (relax without going limp) and connect the feeling of your own legs to your own pelvis to your own chest to your own occiput, then you will have developed the ability to connect to the greater whole in a functional way.

However, if you have not identified and resolved your own muscular tension and stiffness and you persist in believing that you are connecting with or flowing with the Dao of the universe, then you are fooling yourself. A lot of people fall into this trap. I fell into this trap too at one time.

And so now I like to practice Wujifa because it is a western oriented system using functional methods to develop the feeling of whole body connectedness. Practicing Wujifa is helping me discover where I hold tension and stiffness and through my Wujifa zhan zhuang practice and other Wujifa exercises, I am slowly developing the feeling of fascial connectedness throughout my body.

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