The profound level materialises after years of training and ripens with age. It looks and feels very different to the manner in which other martial arts manifest and are manifested. It has more in common with Daoist martial expressions – but is reliant upon Buddhist mind expanding practices. There is a deep sense of peace emanating from within a profound and limitless void. Power manifests – and fades away in a cyclic motion. There is no rush and yet the power manifests according to the urgency of need – as if the required power is being extracted from the surrounding material conditions as the need arises. This lack of urgency coupled with the immediacy of the required power gives the false impression that a) nothing is happening and b) nothing will happen. These false impressions flash across the surface mind of the opponent and then there is the blinding flash as the power hits home. As there is the minimum of conflict – the highest levels of attainment seem very different to the more commonly available martial arts. Nothing is happening and yet everything is unfolding. Years of preparation generate the maximum conditions that dissolve as their function is performed. This process can repeat itself as many times as is required and in as many different ways as is needed. Winning is not the objective – but rather a cyclic survival. The feeling of a deep and permanent peace is similar to floating in space free of a gravitational pull and yet gravity is fully mastered and is under complete control. Seeing beyond that which needs to be created is the essence of being nowhere all at once. Freedom is a lack of artificially imposed barriers that have no place during the birthing or dying processes. Being at one with the empty mind ground is to be at one with empty space in all places and at all times. The mind expands because these (inner) false barriers are removed. As these (inner) false barriers are removed – there can be no (outer) false barriers. This reality is devastating for the opponent to encounter and ‘healing’ for the practitioner to attain.
If a practitioner of traditional Chinese martial arts spends twenty, thirty or forty years perfecting his or her art – then such an individual will experience many different levels and layers of reality as the ageing process unfolds. Of course, much of this will be circumstantial and culturally conditioned (varying from place to place, country to country) - but the ongoing experience of observing the inward biological and psychological process will always possess a certain universal reality common to all human beings. This is true despite many modern people linking their physical activity to the notion (and vagaries) associated with modern sport, commercialism and entertainment, etc. Therefore, many people living in the modern age often think that any sustained physical activity should cease around the age of thirty years old – as the first glimmer of the ageing process begins to make its presence felt! This idea seems to advocate the passive ‘giving-in’ to the ageing process and simply settling for a body that can no longer function as does the body of an eighteen-year-old – and which gets less able as the decades pass due to a terminal inactivity.
A genuine martial artist seeking mastery of body and mind must acknowledge and accommodate the ageing process. As the inner processes and the outer structures of the physical body transform, the traditional Chinese approach has always presented the ageing process as a doorway to a higher form of awareness, perception and physical ability. The modern, Western approach states that the human body becomes weaker the longer it lives. The onus upon this thinking is that this is the most meaningful interpretation of the ageing process and that no other view of the ageing process is required. Linked to this idea of a decrepit body is an entire medical industry offering expensive mechanical devices that assist the body as it weakens – together with entire rafts of various medicinal treatments designed to lighten the ageing process. This is only for the wealthy, of course, and although the scientific alleviation of the ageing process may well be a valid and important one if it were not so exploitative – my point is that as functioning individuals – we are responsible for our own awareness as it functions throughout the biological body and permeates the physical environment.
There is nothing wrong with being ill, disabled or otherwise incapacitated. Ageing and illness are biological inevitabilities and should not be denied in anyway. The awareness capacity, however, as far as I am concerned (as I enter my 55th year of life) – is the only way a human being can adjust him or herself to the ever-changing circumstance that defines the ageing process. Not just being ‘aware’ in a passive manner but being ‘aware’ in a proactive manner that permeates the atoms and molecules of the physical body, and which strives to moderate behaviour throughout the physical body. Ironically, being ‘still’ in exactly the correct manner is an important part of traditional Chinese martial arts, which is the foundation of an enhanced (and evolutionarily) advanced ability to manifest the human body within the physical environment. This means that the manner in which the inner human body is perceived changes completely when the ageing process unfolds. Indeed, the ‘internal’ and ‘integrated’ methods of advanced Chinese martial arts practice are dependent upon being ‘old’ and the experience of getting ‘older’.
As the out of date (and ‘lazy’) habits of youth fall away, then ‘new’ and more ‘intelligent’ methods of generating stability and power must be cultivated. Extraordinary amounts of stabilising power must be generated and sustained with as little conventional effort as possible. Conventional effort is the driving mechanism of youth which changes as the ageing process advances. It does not ‘disappear’ as many think but transforms and evolves – but many remain completely unaware of this developmental process. This is where the shallow (commercial) culture of the modern West fails the very individuality it creates. This is exactly where the ancient ideas of evolving conscious awareness and physical abilities come into play. When striking the heavy bag, the torso and limbs feel simultaneously ‘light’ for speed and ‘heavy’ for stability. The body is ‘relaxed’ whilst the limbs and torso are positioned perfectly so that the dropped bodyweight can be effectively rebounded from the ground and channelled into the target through the centre of the bones (which feel ‘hollow’ when performing this function). Furthermore, the ‘weight’ of the heavy bag can be momentarily absorbed into the bones and joints of the attacking body (that is the ‘hollow channels’) – before being dramatically expelled back out and into the heavy bag itself – being added to the bodyweight and effortlessly increasing the all-round impact of the punches, kicks, elbows and knees, etc. Meanwhile, as the ageing process unfolds, a tangible sense of space is permanently perceived as existing throughout the inner body which is filled with an energy that is vibrant, full of light and is a combination of physical bodyweight properly used – and an enhanced sense of psychological ‘awareness’ (which also expands outward and into the physical environment). I believe that this is a preparation for old-age and the eventual dying process – whereby the physical body drops-away and the psychological awareness folds-in upon itself.
We will 'scan' the crystal-clear paper edition of my published article for free access as usual. The point is for everyone to make use of all good quality translations for personal development, understanding and growth! Of course, this is a multi-dimensional experience involving the mind and body. That is psychological and physical growth within the context of understanding 'existential' reality and the making sense of the 'ageing' process. When young, it is the 'existential' reality that appears to be eternal and go on forever! Those who are older understanding that this 'existential' reality changes in both quality and meaning as the chronological age increases! All of this experience is held together with 'awareness' or what is today often termed 'consciousness' studies. Whatever we like to call 'being alive' (religious people call it by all different names), we must develop the conscious awareness functionality so that it profoundly 'penetrates' the very essence of material reality! This ability (and experience) can only 'deepen' with age and cannot do anything else! This is the basis of 'Mastery' which has nothing to do with the vigour of youth - which must be fully enjoyed, understood and explored, before the next and far more profound stage of development occurs when older age sets in! Getting old is 'good' and essential for the wisdom-essence of all genuine Chinese martial arts practice! All young people will get old and it is advisable that they prepare for this experience by studying all the Classical Texts that have been written by older people for the youth to benefit from!
The search for 'truth' is like looking continuously for an non-existent abstract concept! Everyone seems to be saying it is 'here' - but very few people actually possess anything like a working definition of reality! Why is this? It is because reality cannot be 'seized', 'controlled', 'possessed' or 'limited' to human perception! The capacity to be 'aware' is very much concerned with the concept of 'time served'. This is to say that the older we get - the longer we have been 'looking' at reality! We 'look' - but we must also 'penetrate' the fabric of reality (which seems to confront humanity like an unclimbable wall)! The martial arts forms we practice are part of the reality our minds come into contact with every day. The external fowns are desiged to exist 'this side' of the wall - whilst the 'internal' forms exist 'that side'! Yes - this is because human perception must be 'first 'stilled' - and then 'expanded' so that the entirety of reality is both penetrated and enbraced! The Taijiquan Classic facilitates this entire process!
As human beings we exist (and have evolved within) a gravitational field. Most traverse their entire lives unaware of this fact in its practical and/or theoretical basis. External martial arts are the product of young people using their will-power to move their torso and limbs through this gravitational field in an inefficient but useful manner which sees the generation of a great force (only at the highest levels) which is far beyond the level of energy expenditure used to manufacture it. To achieve this the cardiovascular system must be made efficient (through running), whilst the bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons must be 'toughened' through regular usage. The mind is strengthened and focuses through repeated arduous training and familiarisation with the corresponding (physical) pain. The mind learns to use the body very much like a 'slamming door' with no regard to the state of the inner body or the health of the inner organs. At the external level (which must be mastered), the physical body is 'forced' through the gravitation field and it is the resulting 'resistance' which can generate substantial force. This type of power is entirely dependent upon the body being at a continuous peak of physical fitness - which is a state very difficult to maintain without the body structures being allowed regular periods of complete rest (so as to recover). A problem with this method involves illnesses and injuries getting in the way of achieving peak levels of fitness - and the ever-present problem of the ageing process. Within ancient China, the external training for combat could produce confident and solid soldiers in around three-months of continuous and systematic training. However, if an individual survived both the training and the combat experience on the battlefield, then what? The ancient Chinese understood that with age came both enhanced understanding of reality and a much more subtle appreciation of the human body and the environment it inhabited. This is how 'internal' training was established often hinted at by Confucian and Daoist ideology - and later Buddhist thought. This involved the mind being trained to be aware of how gravity operates through the bone-structure of the skeleton. The ancient sages realised that without any muscular effort (or corresponding psychological angst) whatsoever, gravitational 'force' effortlessly drops down through the centre of the bones (stimulating the bone marrow in the process), and enters the ground ('rooting' the practitioner) before a 'rebounding' reaction occurs which sees a corresponding 'force' travel back up through the centre of bones to the top of the skull. This process occurs simultaneously without interruption, contradiction, or paradox. It only ceases when the human body leaves its familiar gravitational field. (Chinese Cosmonauts have been experimenting in the zero gravity of space to see if a modified Taijiquan can assist in the preventing of soft bones during long space flights). The internal practitioner trains their mind to become aware of this free reservoir of energy and to propel it throughout the body, regulated by the martial techniques of Taijiquan, Baguazhsng/quan and Xingyi, etc. This means that without having to move to generate power (as in the external model) power is immediately available 'here and now' whilst standing on the spot. As virtually no undue effort is required to produce it - this power is far stronger, penetrative and destructive than its external variant. The nature of internal power is like a spinning vortex whilst remaining free of any contrived violence. This is deployed in combat not through any form of aggression, but rather as a matter of gentile timing and positioning. Providing this skill has been thoroughly learned, then there is no need for any undue effort. At the highest levels, quite often it is the case that elements of the external and the internal are deployed simultaneously without contradiction and allows from the higher ground of the internal perspective. This is why old Masters with considerable health problems are still unbeatable in the training hall - even days or hours prior to their deaths! I wanted to make it clear that by mastering the internal method - poor health due to age, injury or genetics is transcended. Where many cannot detach themselves from their physical characteristics, the internal Master 'has already left' so-to-speak. Either way, and whatever the case, there is only love in the process with the internal giving the maximum chance for a possible recovery of poor health - even if it is unlikely. Seated meditation, by the way, is essence 'internal' and this is why the old Masters practiced it. Life can be preserved and prolonged even within illness and poor health. For some people this is needed because they have unfinished business to complete.
My personal preference is inner development through the life of a hermit (i.e., ‘eremite’) – rather than through the ‘coenobitic’ (i.e., ‘community-based’) life of a monk living in a cloistered - but interacting community. This may stem from my upbringing as a Chinese-Buddhist and my experience of being a Buddhist monastic attached to a Ch’an lineage in Hong Kong – but ordered to spend hours, days, weeks, months and years sitting alone in the local Name Temple of a Hakka village in the New Territories. This also included a period of some months sat in the isolation of the Devonshire moors in the UK – where the weather (and culture) was very different! The details do not really matter – what matters is the quality of the ‘inner gazing’. Whilst experiencing further and higher education in the UK, for reasons I cannot fathom, I was befriended by a number of Irish Roman Catholic priests and at least one Anglican vicar. As I do not believe in a theistic god – this was something of a surprise to me and them! Those I knew were good people – despite others not being so good (due to their conditioning) – such is life and there is no judgement on my part. People are human-beings and life does not always unfold slowly or as we would like it to.
I would say that what is important is the ‘quality’ of the ‘gaze’ as it is turned within. Many have endless problems perfecting the ‘gaze’ and so cannot ‘look within’ clearly. This is a common problem – East and West. Once the ‘gaze’ is perfected – it becomes vast and all-inclusive like a wide wall! Bodhidharma spoke of this but it is a concept often mistranslated or misunderstood. A mature mind is expansive like the surface of a wall-face that never ends – as if a practitioner is sat meditating with ‘open-eyes’ in-front of a wall – the edges of which cannot be perceived when the gaze does not ‘wobble’! An external wall (that does not ‘move’) is like the ‘empty mind ground’ that lies deep within! If a practitioner spends hours contemplating an external object that stands as a metaphor for an internal level of attainment – then eventually the internal level will spontaneously ‘materialise’! This is why Bodhidharma came from the West – at least this is what the Caodong (Japanese: ‘Soto’) Masters say.
I was taught Chinese martial arts from a young child as a cultural pursuit which equated to the necessity of ‘communal defence’. This was the ancient Hakka tradition – with our Great Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) - being the son of the Chan Family Name Clan Leader. He – and the Chan Family Clan – fought the Imperial Japanese invaders of Hong Kong from 1941-1945 – after the British Army was over-run in the region. The Sikhs in the Hong Kong Police changed sides and joined the Japanese and assisted in the massacre of ethnic Chinese and Europeans. For this treachery the Sikhs were forever expelled from the British Police and Military! Japanese soldiers stormed through hospitals raping nurses and bayonetting the ill and the wounded in their beds! At least 10,000 Hakka men, women and children died as a consequence of those years of resistance! The returning British even raised a monument praising the bravery of the Hakka people! I do not support warfare and would prefer a world without it – but as long as some humans use force to persecute other groups of humans – we must defend ourselves or die-out.
Master Chan Tin Sang possessed a progressive mind-set and believed in developing a better world – this is why he decided to bring his family to the UK in 1956. It was a difficult time of transition – but transition he did. Coping with the very real problems of the outer world is a skill a true spiritual martial artist must acquire. In this regard, this path is very much like that of Vimalakirti – the enlightened lay-man who was a contemporary of the Buddha. He had four wives and plenty of children – and yet never broke the vow demanding celibacy! He taught that the ‘Mind Precept’ is the essence of ALL monastic and Bodhisattva vows (a Chinese monastic must take and uphold the Vinaya and Bodhisattva Vows)! This is the penetrating and realising the ‘empty mind ground’ or that part of perception – non-perception that is the basis of all human ‘awareness’. The ‘empty mind ground’ is what the ancient Greeks refer to as the ‘psyche’ - or ‘breath of life’. It is interesting that the ancient Greeks understood that ‘breath’ and the ‘essence of conscious awareness’ are one and the same at the deepest level of perceptual attainment. Later, the Christian theologians re-interpreted the Greek term ‘psyche’ to mean ‘soul’ (possibly of Germanic origin) to refer to a movable spiritual entity that enters the mind and body at conception – and leaves the body at the point of death, etc.
As I get older it becomes ever clearer to me that martial arts mastery is not ‘physical’ but rather conceptual. It is a mind-body nexus of permanent and intimate association. Such an attainment is no longer limited to designated periods of physical training – but is present whether awake or asleep. It exists as the backdrop to everyday life and influences opinions and behaviour. It is an innate awareness of the ‘position’, ‘alignment’ and ‘interaction’ of the joints, the long bone-shafts and the solid ground. Every position and movement are permanently ‘powerful’ with no hesitation, fore-thought or doubt present. The seated meditation position is as combatively perfect as standing in stance, sat in chair or lifting up a weight, etc. The consciousness is calm, vast and unruffled like a perfect seascape at sunset! Always available bodyweight grants instant ‘power’ without any sense of weakness or problem with attitude. Each moment naturally folds into the next and there is no worry, contradiction or complication. There is only the eternal perfected moment of being – clear and vast for all to see!
Being a hermit means that a spiritual practitioner does not get entangled in the world he or she happens to exist within. Sitting ‘still’ and ‘clear’ means that the essence of being in the world is understood to be nothing but an all-embracing ‘void’ of reality that has no beginning and end. The material body exists within this ‘void’ and seems to be ‘nothing’ when it is required to ‘disappear’ in an instant. This happens when an opponent cannot ‘perceive’ your presence when stood in-front of them. On the other hand, when the ‘void’ needs to manifest with the heaviness of a mountain – then the body becomes ‘solid’ and ‘immovable’ for all concerned. This has to be the case as there is no longer any duality to befuddle understanding and certainly nowhere for ‘hatred’ or ‘anger’ to manifest and sully the situation. Indeed, the underlying frequency of human love continues to ‘colour’ the entire situation regardless of the nature of the encounter. This is what happens when the seated meditation posture is assumed correctly and the empty mind ground penetrated. This is what it means to be a monastic who practices the hermetic path of self-development and material transcendence!
Probably from around 35-years onward, a serious practitioner of traditional Chinese martial arts should be beginning the slow transition from purely ‘external’ to predominately ‘internal’ training methods, exercises and understandings. The point of this is purely age-related – as we get older, we see more in different ways to a younger person – who naturally possesses a different type strength (which changes as age progresses). If a practitioner does not possess access to correct instruction, then he or she will not ‘understand’ how to accommodate these age-related changes, and almost always will ‘give-up’ their practice. Another factor that needs to be considered is the age that training start for an individual, as this will affect what objectives should realistically be sought-after. However, prior to 35-years old, a practitioner of gongfu should have experienced much of the ‘hard’, ‘external’ training, understand psychological and physical suffering (through direct experience), and ‘know’ how to defend themselves during a violent encounter. External ‘sensitivity’ training is very different from ‘internal’ sensitivity training. The latter example involves the turning of the mind’s awareness ‘inward’ so that a) the blood flow can be sensed, and b) after a deep-breath, the oxygen can be felt as it distributes throughout and around the entirety of the body! The point of ‘external’ and ‘internal’ training is a perfect ‘integration’ (zagong) of the two aspects so that qi-power can be manifested at anywhere on a scale from imperceptible to ‘massive’ and ‘highly destructive’. If none of this makes any sense, then train harder!
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.