The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


An important type of training in internal martial arts is stance training. One of the forms is called the wuji stance.

So what is wuji? I’m sure you are familiar with the taiji diagram. Taiji is the moment that the universe begins to differentiate between light and dark, dry and moist, and so on. Wuji is the instant before that, which represents stillness and limitless potential.

One of the important benefits of wuji stance training is allowing oneself to relax and to let the “monkey mind” settle into quietness. This quietness is a well of great wisdom and strength. The quietness allows us to find our own center and to not be affected by what happens around us. This is the wuji state of mind.

In our Taijiquan class, there is a time when all the students, beginners and the more experienced a like, practice the standard form as a group. The beginners are in the process of learning the form and drop out as each of them runs to the end of the material they know. The difference between group practice and individual practice is that you have to learn to adjust to the space available and the pace of those performing the form around you.

The beginners move differently than the more experienced students. When one of them wobbles or moves off rhythm, you can feel it and even see ripples move through the whole group. It’s really noticeable when there are a ot of beginners. As they drop out, you can also feel the group become more solid in their form.

The beginners are beginners, and they have to become more experienced. What is happening with the more experienced students is that they have a varying grasp of their own centers. The ripples show how much farther the more senior students have to go. If each of them was really centered in themselves, they would be unaffected by what the person next to them was doing. In fact if they were well centered themselves, they would help stabilize the beginners!

In recognition of this, among other reasons, the teacher and the most senior students are placed at the “corners” of the group to help stabilize the whole.

This is fine for practicing in class, but there’s a whole lot more to life than practicing your form in class (unless you’re a dojo nerd). By finding your center and strengthening your ability to maintain it, you’re better suited to come face to face with what life has to dish out.

We live in tumultuous time. I recently learned of the wife of yet another friend getting cancer. Massive job layoffs are happening all around us. The financial world is in disarray. Not to stand like a post, but to be able to see everything around you calmly, so that you can think clearly and put the decisions and actions you must take in their proper perspective makes all the difference between being swept away by a tidal wave, or surfing it. Maintaining the wuji state no matter what you’re facing is a worthwhile goal.

Maintaining the wuji mind is a training goal for me, and tested easily enough whenever I go to my class. I can deliberately line up with some beginners when we do the group form practice and test how well I maintain my own center. I am making progress, but have room for improvement.

Let me close with a chapter from The Inner Chapters by Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tsu) . This is one of my favorites. The translation is by Thomas Merton, the famous Catholic writer and Trappist monk.

From The Way of Chuang Tzu, by Thomas Merton

The Fighting Cock

Chi Hsing Tzu was a trainer of fighting cocks
For King Hsuan.
He was training a fine bird.

The King kept asking if the bird was
Ready for combat.

"Not yet," said the trainer.
"He is full of fire.
He is ready to pick a fight
With every other bird. He is vain and confident
Of his own strength."

After ten days, he answered again:
"Not yet. He flares up
When he hears another bird crow."

After ten more days:
"Not yet. He still gets
That angry look
And ruffles his feathers."

Again ten days:
The trainer said, "Now he is nearly ready.
When another bird crows, his eye
Does not even flicker.
He stands immobile
Like a cock of wood.

He is a mature fighter.
Other birds
Will take one look at him
And run."


S.Smith said...

Someday I hope to become a hard cock with a monkey mind.

Hmm. Wait a minute!

Group form is most fun as if interactive: slowing when I turn that way, speeding a bit when I face that guy. The stone in the stream churns a bit without moving.

Great first picture, and I haven't seen that wiki link. I like it.

wujimon said...

Great post! I never connected the wuji mind with form training in class. You are right in that practicing the form alone is totally different than within a group! This was one of the greatest obstacles for me when I trained in the TT Liang Yang style. I was so used to going at my own pace, but totally got jarred up when I had to change the pace to match those of the group and the metronome ;)

Rick said...

If you can't adapt to a group moving is slow motion, what are your chances with a single person moving very quickly who means you no good?!

elf_man said...

^Lol, what? Apparently Rick's e-peen is bigger than wujimon's. It's a lot easier to react fast, on reflex, than it is to slow down (to the unusual extent that tai chi slows down) and deliberately match someone else's pace, never mind the pace of a whole group. It's like push hands, or slow motion sparring, the difficult thing is to not move fast!

elf_man said...

Sorry, my sarcasm was set to high.

Rick said...

Welcome to Cook Ding's Kitchen.

Zen said...

Excellent post. So true in life and in class. On the other hand, life is just another class.

Dadi said...

Very interesting.