The Journey of Wu Chi
We begin all classes with Standing Post Chi Kung (Qigong). The first posture is Wu Chi (Wuji), which is a type of meaningful, meditative standing. Then we bend our knees, raise our arms and get on with studying the full traditional curriculum. As such it is rare to find someone spending a lot of time on Wu Chi position, unless they are in that moment too tired or sick to do other aspects. Simply, it isn’t very exciting for the beginner and does not seem to be Tai Chi exercise.
However, although it is often neglected, that does not mean it is simple or obvious. Even within the idea of Wu Chi there are myriad ways in which it can be practiced. This is indicative of human mind. Yet it is not to be condemned as even this issue represents the rainbow of possibilities that nature unceasingly intends. Even if we turn to the scholars to ask definitively what Wu Chi means we quickly run into difficulty. It is a Taoist concept and who is it who said that the "Tao" can be expressed in words? Not the Tao. In fact, the opening of the Tao Te Ching, the most important text in Taoist philosophy, dictates the opposite as it states, "Tao called Tao not Tao". Difficult for the scholar, because what power does a scholar hold without words? This highlights a major pitfall of scholarship - it can become a tendency to accumulate and analyse facts and opinions with the closed intent of supporting a scholar's own opinions. A sage, on the other hand, is one who speaks from lived experience. Their beginning point is wordless, their life is a journey, their destination the moment.
If we dig into the history of the Tao Te Ching, many agree that it extends thousands of years further back than when it was first written down, or when Taoism was formally recognised as a philosophical movement. They propose that it bears all the hallmarks and economy of an oral tradition polished over a surprising number of generations, part of a living wisdom that guided us before the written word. Kept and honed because it works, it does the job, it produces change in those who study it, applicable for living one's life at the pace that life unfolds.
The Tao Te Ching is therefore a text worthy of scholars, yet does not feed scholarship, but rather your lived experience. This is the original purpose of almost everything, including scholarship. But who remembers this? We get lost in the technique of study and forget to allow its journey.
So how do we in Master Ding Academy practice Wu Chi? The same way we practice everything we learn - as a journey. "If you are practicing the same way in five years’ time, something has gone wrong", is a typical Master John Ding quote. Yet we must start somewhere and so we begin with structure. This has several main points:
- it is to be strong and withstand testing
- it is to have the potential to allow internal energy flow
- the whole of mind and body should be doing it
Arguably the third point is what truly begins the internal journey, whereas the first two have the job of keeping you on course. When dealing with development of one's internal energy it is very important to harness the body's energy through focus, or intent (Yi). Therefore, if you are doing Wu Chi, you should be fully invested in it. If all your body parts know their role and have a job to do in the structure being held, there is a chance of everything coming together for the intent being performed. So, we ask our students to stand with legs shoulder width apart, lifting the spirit, hollowing the chest, tucking the tailbone, sinking the kuas, balancing over the bubbling well acupuncture points in the feet, placing palms on the side of the thighs and arranging elbows slightly bent and turned out to the sides. Like being pinned out on a board. It is then up to the student to turn all this into one harmonised flowing energy through repeated practice. In doing this they learn about their mind and body and how the energy channels open up and circulate the Chi. We also work on extending this Chi beyond the physical, out into the distance. Over time our minds and bodies change. There is a journey.
Once this part of the journey is sufficiently developed, not just whilst standing in Wu Chi, but through all that you study within the curriculum, there is the possibility of moving on. If you stay at this stage your expression of Tai Chi will remain too structural, obsessed by the right and wrong of ideas, too hard and unable to feel how to adapt and change in the moment. To move on one must evolve one’s ideas and training approach. The right direction leads to increased softening and relaxing within the structure. It is likely that you will begin asking questions of oneself, such as what it is to be relaxed? What is the right tone of Chi and intent? What is enough, what is too little, what is too much? Many, many questions that rely on whole body focus just being there, surrounding the subject of how to be in greater softness, yet greater strength. If the journey is occurring you will find that although testing may be more varied and difficult, the response from oneself seemingly takes less effort. From this, greater assuredness of using one's sensitivity and feeling will come. Once these qualities are developed enough and become trusted enough, your journey will travel still further. Perhaps you will then be closer to entering into the state of Wu Chi.
Wu Chi in Taoist philosophy is explained as meaning the primordial state of the universe before it becomes manifest as Tai Chi, the Universe we journey in. Therefore, conceptually, what we do in Tai Chi is somehow linked and manifest out of Wu Chi. So when we stand in Wu Chi.....what is it's nature? Lately I have been telling my students that there is a link between Wu Chi and the Taoist concept of Pu. Pu means 'unworked wood, inherent quality, simple'. I say, "just stand with your legs shoulder width and let your hands rest on the sides of your thighs. Just stand and allow yourself to forget any ideas of what you were doing before, any ideas of what you are and any ideas of what you are going to do in the future. Stand like uncarved wood. Just stand and feel what it is to stand, just the intent of standing, right here, right now. Empty of any purpose other than to stand. How is your body standing? How does it want to stand? If you were to imagine you have just stood up, how have your joints unfurled to their position? How can the energy rise and fulfil far beyond the crown of your head? What other movements are stored within your body? What ideas? What desires? Let them go. Just stand, like uncarved block, just as nature, no past, no future, just the energy of standing". Yet at the same time the original qualities of being over the bubbling wells, structure supporting intent in all directions, hollowed chest, tucked tailbone, etcetera should be identifiable to oneself, if one were to find oneself checking.
I then tell them to develop this underlying technique of Pu within attempting Wu Chi. That it is a hidden technique that is of upmost importance. Imagine, I say, if you could just apply this technique at will like Ward Off or Rollback? What if you could just become as nothing as uncarved wood in any moment simply because you chose? Can you just apply the technique of uncarved wood and through that enter into the complex simplicity of Wu Chi? Can you be nature with no doing beyond nature?
This brings us very close to the Taoist idea of Wu Wei, or effortless action. The idea that there is a way for things simply to occur and everything runs fine, the doing is done almost as if something else took care of it all for you, all in a beautiful harmony.
The truth is that even if we stand in Wu Chi we are still happening. We cannot literally be the state before Tai Chi. But all these concepts point the way (Tao) to a deeper being. Wu Chi, Tai Chi, Pu and Wu Wei encircle something. Perhaps we could say that Wu Chi is our simple existing, Tai Chi is our action borne of our intent, Pu is our guardian to remain linked to the nature of naturalness and Wu Wei is the result of our hamonised action.
For us to represent Wu Chi we must have a clear understanding of the energy of standing (lifting the spirit). This is a fantastic practice during this time of social isolation. Stand like a living mountain, or a mighty tree, being just what we are in that moment. The truth, if there is any, is that to perform Tai Chi, or to be Tai Chi, each moment of our movements should be as if Wu Chi is becoming Tai Chi, Pu in nature and resulting in Wu Wei.
To explain another way, try emptying of anything other than the intent of standing. This is our Wu Chi. Then as heart desire rises to Ward Off, this new intent can be the merest addition to the constant energy of standing, forming the cleanest idea of what we are choosing to do. So to form an intent to do Ward Off, we simply have the thought and our standing energy is ward off. Looked at this way there is little difference between the energy of lifting the spirit (or standing) and ward off.
Once you begin to get this, things can change a lot. For example, last year my wife and I were at a swimming pool. She is also a Tai Chi practitioner, but came to the Art later than I did, so is at a different place in the journey. I said to her that I could now root floating in water and push her away if she tried to push me. She said that this shouldn’t be possible, that we should both push each other away. So, I showed her. I did it the way you would root on land and the result was as she expected. Then I felt how to root against the water and I stayed where I was as she was pushed away, to her genuine surprise. This can only happen from being on an evolving journey.
At the journey’s beginning Wu Chi, Tai Chi, Pu and Wu Wei have no meaning. Then they become words. Then they become concepts, then they become very different things to practice, diverging in their nature. Then they become forgotten and other things are worked on. Then they are remembered, except now they are puzzling in a new way. Not from not knowing, but instead from looking again and suspending one’s knowing. Then they seem to drift closer together, swirling like paper burning in a fire, lifted on the wind. Then they disintegrate and are felt. Then they are all part of what is, interchangeable. Each with it’s own definition, yet each the same as one another. Just different facets on a carved diamond. Then perhaps they simply are, resting in an uncarved state, fully realised, yet empty, like diamond just as it is, somewhere in a greater rock. Now one can ask, what next?#
So practice one’s Wu Chi, develop the technique of your standing. Practice your Tai Chi, develop your technique of doing. Practice your Pu, develop your technique of being just as created. Practice Wu Wei and watch your journey unfold. So until next time, do take care and stay safe.