Wisdom and Power: A Philosophical Approach to T'ai Chi
Foreword to the Online Edition
This book was written nearly 30 years ago, in 1974, with minor revisions in 1984.
Of course every writer is critical of his or her early work, and I am no exception ... but the subject matter and presentation is so directly relevant to the Conscious Evolution website that I decided to bite the bullet and put it up here, warts and all.
Actually, on re-reading it after many years I was pleasantly surprised. While some of the writing is a bit awkward and immature, the ideas it presents are still a pretty good description of my current thoughts. Perhaps its biggest flaw is simply that it was written at a time when few people in the Western world had even heard of T'ai Chi, and many of the "New Age" concepts that we take for granted today were unfamiliar and radical. As a result, it sometimes labors points that seem "obvious" and are widely accepted in today's world.
Unfortunately, I was not able to reproduce the photographs and illustrations in a web-friendly format, so they are missing, but every word of text is here. Hopefully the lack of illustrations will not be too troublesome, as the book does not rely heavily on them.
North Bend, Washington
In recent years T'ai Chi has seen a tremendous spurt of growth and interest. Celebrities are studying it, magazine articles are being written about it, psychologists and medical doctors are using it as an adjunct to therapy, and new T'ai Chi schools are popping up all over the country, in much the same way as Karate schools did more than two decades ago.
A large part of this sudden interest is due to the rapid growth of the "human potential" movement. Recent discoveries in many branches of science - quantum physics, brain/mind research, general systems theory and molecular biology - have uncovered startling facts about the unused potentials of the human body and mind. Responsible scientists are now saying that the basic "stuff" of the universe is consciousness or intelligence, as opposed to inert matter and blind mechanical forces; and the role of the human mind in the creation of reality is suddenly seen to be far more decisive than heretofore suspected. Some workers in these exciting new "holistic" fields believe that mankind is on the verge of an evolutionary leap in consciousness, to a whole new way of thinking and living that will put us as far above our present concept of "man" as modern man is above the stone-age savage!
But it is an ageless wisdom that says all things unfold in cycles. The same discoveries about human potential that are getting banner headlines in today's scientific journals were already made thousands of years ago in "pre-scientific" cultures that are now lost to history, and have been passed down through a variety of disciplines and spiritual paths.
T'ai Chi Ch'uan (literally "Supreme Ultimate Boxing") is such a path. Though its roots go back over five thousand years, it is a state-of-the-art technology for transforming the human nervous system, to tap its potentials to the fullest. What is more, it is a system that has been tried and tested over centuries, and it works.
Given the blessings of Nobel-prize physicists and other hard-headed "empirical" scientists, many Americans have begun to investigate alternative lifestyles, spiritual disciplines, other ways of knowing and experiencing that were previously taboo (if one did not want to be branded a mystic or a kook). Holistic healers, Gestalt therapists, "new age" seminar leaders, Yogis, Rolfers, Zen masters, biofeedback researchers - and T'ai Chi teachers - have all been benefited by this shifting tide of consciousness.
As a T'ai Chi teacher I am, needless to say, delighted by this surge of interest. At the same time, however, I must admit to being just a little concerned for the preservation of the deeper and more subtle aspects of T'ai Chi in the midst of this almost violent influx of attention. Americans, for all their admirable qualities, have a tendency to strip things down to the "bare essentials," to package and encapsulate the complex into the easily grasped.
But T'ai Chi, in its entirety, is not easily grasped; and to try to make it so is to change it into something that it is not. I have met many leaders of T'ai Chi groups who had no real understanding of the art at all, beyond having memorized the form. I have no personal complaint against such teachers, because I can remember when I was one of them. But still, I am aware of how much T'ai Chi has to offer to our world torn by strife and despair on one hand, and reaching out for new visions and new hopes on the other; and I am reluctant to see it degenerate into a set of merely "beautiful" movements, when it is actually an extraordinarily profound system of personal transformation, fully equal to the most optimistic dreams of the boldest holistic thinkers.
Thus, this book.
This book does contain the exercises and training methods you will need to develop the legendary powers and abilities of the T'ai Chi master. But it also contains much that will not be easy to assimilate with a light "once over": discussions of Yin and Yang, an examination of the theory of acupuncture and Ch'i, and a good deal of "philosophizing" that may not seem immediately relevant. If you are serious about the mastery of T'ai Chi, I urge you to suspend judgment and simply read, with as much open- mindedness as you can muster. To reach the higher levels in the practice of Supreme Ultimate Boxing is not difficult in itself, but it does require shaking up a lot of your old ways of thinking; of looking at yourself and your relationship with the world in new ways that may seem quite strange and bizarre at first. This is not easy to do, but I can promise you that the rewards are well worth the effort.
As you work through the exercises and ideas contained in this handbook, you will begin to have the inkling of an insight into the possibility of a way of life more positive, powerful, loving and free than you may ever have conceived. Once the seed of this insight has been planted, you need only water it with perseverance to be assured of its growth.
We are indeed, as the holistic prophets assert, on the verge of a transformation of human values and potentials such as this world has never seen. May this little book, with all its shortcomings, assist in some small way in the awakening of some few individuals to the capabilities of MAN, truly conceived.
Should it do so, it will have exceeded my greatest expectations.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana