Confucius – Analects (Lun YU) 2:4
“At age fifteen years of age I set my heart and mind upon learning (whilst transcending inner confusion and outer chaos). At thirty, I planted my feet firmly upon the ground (and achieved ‘rootedness’). At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities and doubts (as the mind and heart were ‘stilled’). At fifty, I fully understood the Will of the Divine Sky (as the mind and heart were all-embracing). At sixty, I clearly perceived reality through a docile ear (as none of the ‘senses’ discriminated). At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart and mind; for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of what was right in the Divine Dao.”
Confucius – Analects (Lun YU) 2:4
This is a famous blue-print that the Great Sage Confucius (Kong Fuzi) constructed during his lifetime (551-479 BCE) within ancient China. It is a remarkable set of observations that have stood the test of time. There is a natural ‘mastery’ of mind and body which unfolds providing the aspirant is a) ‘aware’ and b) is ‘seeking’ such an achievement of mind and body maturity. If an individual merely fumbles aimlessly through life with no grounding or higher yearning, then these stages often remain unrecognised and unfulfilled. As I get older, I find a deep sense of ‘certainty’ pervading my mind and body. This is a permanent state that does not fade or intensify but which is forever present – still and shining. It seems to be the underlying reality of sensual and psychological existence. It is comforting, empowering and healing.
When the mind is permanently ‘stilled’ and has become ‘all-embracing’ - a certain ‘wisdom’ (Prajna) is activated which allows the mind to naturally (and instantaneously) perceive reality and understand exactly what physical action is required in a particular situation. This is true for help others with education, healing, housing or feeding, etc, as it is during times of human conflict. Within the limitations of martial arts practice, such mastery manifests in the expert manifestation of ‘action’ and ‘non-action’ and vice versa. Moving forward (with tremendous generated force) or seeming to ‘disappear’ inti thin air by a radical ‘withdrawing’ from direct contact and-or confrontation. As every moment is both ‘identical’ and entirely ‘different’ without inner or outer contradiction – all momentary decisions emerge in a pristine and timely manner.
Such a state of being is not fleeting but always present. The nature of such an awareness is both peaceful and tranquil. It is like a permanent sense of inner ‘Spring’ whilst stood in a beautiful forest clearing. All animal and plant life understands this directly – with other humans perceiving that something is present that is out of the ordinary. Although ‘nothing special’ this sense of mastery is exactly the same for all of humanity regardless of life activity, culture or time-period, etc. It is like a might river that all martial arts systems quite naturally flow into. Masters do not argue despite their very different life-paths and distinctive martial schools. The state of true Mastery sits quietly in the centre of the universe and attracts all things to itself. All is ‘healed’ and ‘reconciled’ and there is no ‘conflict’ or ‘contradiction’.
It is best (or most advantageous) to perfect martial movement during the first half of your life – say aged 0-50 years – and then use that experience to integrate with the changes that happen to the mind and body from 50-100 years, etc. This is the ideal model. However, many people are not in a position to achieve this for various reason, and so a more serious attitude of self-organisation is required. The distractions of youth are interesting and enjoyable, but even when young there should be an inner core of training-attitude that is isolated from the worldly life. This oasis of peace, quiet, tranquillity and harmony will allow for the development of a deep and profound state of mind, the awareness of which will thoroughly ‘penetrate’ all aspects of bodily movement within the martial context. This is the traditional way which becomes ever more important the older a practitioner becomes. Do not become distracted by the ego-accomplishments of worldly-markers as these things, although interesting within their own context, do not give you any understanding or ability to cope with the ageing process. Those who become enmeshed in worldly concern may win this medal, that belt or this competition, etc, and although there is nothing inherently wrong with this, many people involved in such a superficial path simply ‘stop’ training at around 30 years of age because no one ever taught them about ‘what happens next’. If a practitioner must become involved in combat-derived competition, participate quickly, prevail swiftly and leave, as there are much more important martial elements to master.
Form movement is the key to mind, body and environmental mastery. A Form passes on the physical and psychological aspects of the martial lineage concerned. Intense practice when young allows for the dialectical elements of training to continue to permeate (and penetrate) the body and mind long after physical practice has ceased. The physical movements coupled with their reflection in the mind generate spiralling cycles of growth throughout the body-cells that eventually continues even outside of times of formal training. Ageing happens for a reason, and has many positive elements to it, as even young people age. With age comes maturity, experience, understanding, mastery, appreciation, wisdom, compassion, loving-kindness and selflessness. There is a certain ‘joy’ to giving-up the tyranny associated with youth! The other side is that physical abilities change. Within youth orientated societies it is said that abilities are ‘lost’, but this is not entirely true. It is better to say that physical abilities ‘change’, ‘evolve’ and ‘mature’, and manifest in a manner that is ‘different’ from that of the mindless years of youth.
Chinese martial arts are an interesting subject that has historically emerged from within Chinese historical experience. If a barracks, community, homestead or temple, etc, is attacked by a ruthless enemy, then everyone (men, women and children) are expected to ‘resist’ in one way or another, irrespective of ‘age’ (at least within Hakka Chinese family tradition). Between times of communal self-defence, people practiced the movements of martial forms to a) keep-fit and healthy (through preventative exercise), b) to perfect martial technique (i.e. retain ‘grace under pressure’ during intense combat experience), and c) deepen psychological and emotional maturity (or what might be more broadly referred to as developing a more profound sense of ‘spirituality’). Although there are numerous stages that an individual must traverse throughout their life, a paradox occurs whereby an elderly master moves with both ‘lightness’ and ‘speed’, whilst retaining massive striking-power with any part of the body that happens to make contact with the opponent. A mature practitioner knows how to correctly and appropriately ‘give things up’ without losing strength of mind or suffering any kind of detrimental reaction. Certainly, as the ageing process unfolds, the ‘physicality’ of youth is slowly replaced with the ‘psychological’ awareness of maturity.
As we get older, our perception of our training changes. This is not only crucial, but also essential. Getting old is important for Chinese martial arts mastery. Getting old is not an error or a failure. We must give-up all of our younger perceptions as they are now out of date. Younger perceptions are for younger people as that is where they belong. Ego ad its ‘giving-up’ is the key. Young people are taught that ‘winning’ is everything in this (Western) culture, but in China the prevailing attitude is that ‘cooperation’ and ‘assisting’ one another are the glue that holds a civilised society together. Even ‘sparring’ in the Chinese cultural sense is very different to its ‘hate filled’ Western counter-part. An opponent exists, within the training context, to assist you to develop, they do not exist as cannon-fodder for the ego! Training to boost the ego means that when the body ages and changes, the practitioner quite naturally ‘gives-up’ as he or she can no longer muster the required aggression to train or fight! What a pointless waste of time all this is! Grace under pressure is what Westerners should be aspiring to achieve. Psychological and physical relaxation in the face of potential violence and danger is the standard once the physical techniques of combat have been mastered! Getting older is important to deepen understanding and develop a more profound perception of reality. Fighting is awareness and understanding which manifests evenly through both ‘stillness’ and ‘movement’ performed at the right moment! Most people find it very difficult to be ‘still’, although generally people think they can ‘move’ around quite well. Both assumptions are false. Clearing and deepening perception will lead to correct ‘stillness 'of body and mind. Again, age leads to an enhanced awareness through which the body moves with an almost divine capability regardless of circumstance! This is why getting older is important and to be welcomed!
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.