The form is not the goal-Tai Chi and calligraphy
May 26, 2009
Magda, a Tai Chi friend and I were sitting outside in the late spring sun at a wonderful sheltered café yesterday after class. We were talking about the discipline of learning Tai Chi.
I keep seeing parallels between tai chi and calligraphy. But I get stuck on the fact that Tai chi demands a traditional repetition of form, as does calligraphy, but with calligraphy I find this restrictive and with Tai Chi it is not. I guess I feel that the goal of learning calligraphy is to not just parrot the letters but to eventually use them to express yourself. So creativity is a goal for learning the technique. With Tai Chi, creativity isn’t a goal, but still something similar is at play here .
Magda commented that the deeper you get into Tai Chi practice, the more you realize that learning to do the form (Tai Chi ‘form’ is the sequence of movements) is not the end goal.
She pointed out that through disciplined practice of Tai Chi, you move beyond the form. You no longer have to think consciously about the movements, the movements become a channel for the energy as it moves through you and around you. But to experience this one first has to master (to some degree) the movements.
Our whole class is at the point where we can all do Tai Chi in a flowing decorative way that would impress anyone who knew nothing about it. And every new student aspires to this goal of external appearance and achievement. But once there, you either quit because as a goal in itself it is dead ended. Or you hit a wall because you realize how little you really know.
If you stay with the practice regardless, and just keep going, eventually it all opens out again in a new way. Your teacher points out how the tineist adjustments to thought and movement can radically change your experience of your own body and thus the form. It becomes an ongoing journey of learning and deepening. The form is not the end goal, but the medium for discovering about energy as it flows up from the earth through your body, or from the stars down to your toes. It teaches you about how your joints function, and how to use them better, You learn how to distribute your weight, how to hold your head, how to maintain a relaxed tension deep in the muscles, so every gesture is loaded with grace and power. Tai Chi touches on so many aspects of life: your health, your emotional well being, your balance, how your body uses energy, your concentration, your mental picture of yourself, how you relate to the space around you, how you stand and walk, how you relate to others, your weak and strong points. It is endless.
I suppose calligraphy too could be approached as a spiritual practice of sorts. Because in the end, all these disciplines- Tai Chi, calligraphy, dance music, writing, alternative therapies, etc, are just keys to universal truths that seem to run throughout all of life. You just have to be alert to them, and practice seems to be one effective way of achieving that.