I had dreamed of China long before I set eyes on its shores. There's something unknown and perhaps unknowable about China - and I resolved to find this hidden essence in Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese internal martial art, as much moving meditation as self defence.
The concept of fate is intrinsic to Taoism, and I believe that I have a special relationship to its teachings. Somehow I felt compelled to discover China and to learn more about is mysteries. China greeted me with a nonchalant radiance from the ultra-modern interior of Guangzhou Airport. From modest rustic beginnings, the massive Chinese power is being unleashed - awaken the sleeping Giant. Who wouldn't want to find out more about this behemoth, and explore its depths, discover its closely guarded secrets?
After almost 24 hours crossing the country by train, I finally landed at my destination, Wudang Shan. The trains are long, and divided into three classes and apparently the most popular form of transport within China. I spent an uncomfortable night navigating my way through sleeplessness with Chinese workers, mainly bustling peasants. Incessant smoking, drinking, card games, loud honking train stops, fluorescent lights, and noisy eating was just the beginning. The train can seem like a market place at times, with passing salesmen loudly announcing their trade, from fruit, to toothbrushes, to napkins.
China is a country not afraid to face itself in the mirror. Rich meets poor on the street's edge, and there is little finesse or refinement. It cannot afford to be subtle. Babies are seen all over with naked bottoms unashamedly sticking out, even on public transport. There is no need to cover up their bodily functions. In fact, it's more common they will use the pavement or city square to relieve themselves. I am one for walking around barefoot, yet I was warned (perhaps wisely) that there are all sorts of alien parasites abounding.
The purpose of my travels was deeper - to discover the soul of the culture, the inner alchemy of Tai Chi.
Throughout China, you will find people of all ages performing exercises, stretches, movements, even standing still. All roads lead to Chi Kung (also written as Qi Gong).
Chi Kung denotes internal energy exercise - energy work that usually involves inner mastery, movement and breath. Yet Chi Kung can mean virtually anything involving Chi. "Kung fu" was so-named by Bruce Lee to denote excellence. It does not specifically refer to any particular pursuit of excellence, yet in common Western parlance has come to represent martial arts.
Tai Chi always involves a circle to promote the flow of Chi (or Qi). Chi involves increasing electromagnetic energy in the body, hence increasing oxygenated blood flow to the cells. The cells grow strong due to increased circulation of oxygen. When the cells grow strong, the organs grow strong, and health improves. Chi is translated loosely as "vital energy" based on "life" as oxygen is life.
Chi Kung exercises often involve breathing to the Dan Tien (navel) to raise internal energy. When you expand and stretch your lung capacity via deep breathing, the less you have to breathe, and the more relaxed you will be. One could view Chi as the electrical current that connects different channels within the body.
Jing is the vital essence of the body; Shen is the highest energy in the body. The ultimate is to unify Shen (life force spirit) and Dao (tao). Tao is the matrix of all creations. A Chi Kung practice involves collecting Chi from outside and bringing it into the body.
It is rare to find dependable sources for the study of Chi and authentic internal strengthening. For centuries, "Qi" held many secrets and mysteries, guarded by successive regimes as sacrosanct. Yet, with many aspects of Chinese culture, it was not just about preserving the sacred; it was also that foreign culture was treated with suspicion.
The internal strength of "building Qi" for health is now spreading across the world. In China, people come to be treated for a variety of illness that neither Western medicine nor TCM can cure, and find fabulous and often unlikely benefits from practising Chi Kung.
The secret to cultivating internal energy is to relax the nervous and musculoskeletal system simultaneously. Chi animates the body and makes it alive. This energy is networked throughout the body and especially strong circulations are to be found in channels called meridians. The Chi is a network of circulating energy. The Chinese discovered how to direct Chi in specific ways to promote longevity and vitality and prevent disease. This energy was used for healing, as well as in martial arts.
The goal of Chi Kung is to promote the flow of internal energy in the body so that the whole network of meridians is functioning optimally. Chi Kung teaches the student to be rooted to the ground like a tree, yet soft and relaxed enough to move effortlessly with the wind without breaking. The tree is calm and patient, yet ever attuned to its environment.
The Tao is like a well:
used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities.
It is hidden but always present.
I don't know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.
Wudangshan, the majestic
A brilliant jewel lies in the heartland of Hubei Province south of the city of Shiyan, Central China. What is it about this mountain that has inspired generations of travellers and pilgrims alike to explore its culture? Feeling the profound pure energy of the mountain, it is no wonder that visitors once described it as being without equal. These days, more and more Chinese tourists come here to soak up the energy, and perhaps walk the 1000 steps to the Golden Summit. If you watched the latest Karate Kid remake (which was actually about Kungfu), they filmed a few of the scenes on the mountain. You may remember the kid, played by Jaden Smith, walking up the mountain with his master, played by Jackie Chan, or the scene of him training on the summit. The magnificent Taoist palaces, temples and monasteries are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dating to the 7th century! Many of the buildings were built in the Ming Dynasty and are regarded as the best of Chinese art and architecture over a 1000 year period - some were apparently established by the legendary Zhang Sanfeng.
Mount Wudang has borne witness to cultural achievements informed by Taoism that have formed the fabric of this mighty nation, exemplified by Zhang Sanfeng. By legend an immortal, Sanfeng was a real or fictional Taoist priest - historical claims have him living over 200 years and even beyond. He is also described as being seven feet tall, with the bones of a crane, the posture of a pine tree, whiskers shaped like a spear, and the ability to travel over 300 miles per day.
Zhang Sanfeng is credited as having originated Taoist internal martial arts, specifically Tai Chi Chuan, as opposed to the "external" style of the Shaolin Buddhist martial arts tradition. As legend has it, Zhang Sanfeng once watched a bird attacking a snake on Mount Wudang. He was so absorbed by its antics that his whole world changed before his eyes. The snake remained patient, still and watchful as the bird attacked, waiting for its moment. Finally, it lunged and killed the bird. He was so inspired by the success of the snake's defence, that he developed the 72 movement set of Tai Chi. Sanfeng's legendary status in China shows no signs of dwindling, as he appears in many cult films, including Jet Li's recent masterpiece, Tai Chi Master.
The Tao is called the Great Mother:
empty yet inexhaustible, it gives birth to infinite worlds.
It is always present within you.
You can use it any way you want.
Following an inner calling
I came to China with the intention of learning Tai Chi, as well as the more internal alchemical principles of Chi Kung. I've ended up sometimes feeling I'm on a wild goose chase, yet it's mostly been both exhilarating and rewarding. That said, it is difficult to find good teachers who speak English, and the schools are largely commercial operations with the intention of making money.
My school, China Wudang Kungfu Academy is at the foot of Mount Wudang. The school is filled with fascinating people, and definitely some of the most interesting personal stories I've heard - real people breaking away from their lives to find themselves. For some, it is the fulfilment of a lifelong dream, others were inspired by kungfu movies as kids, or just followed an inner calling.
Noel, an intellectual from France, had an epiphany one day after a sleepless night; the software business he'd spent years developing was not all he was, not all he wanted for his life. He gave it all up that very day. Now he has embarked on a three year sojourn in China studying wushu.
A typical day involves a minimum of four hours' training in Tai Chi and Chi Kung with a Master or coach. There is group training as well as private training. All practice is performed in the school's Taoist Temple, which is the ideal backdrop for one's learning. The school is overseen by Master Chen, an imperious kungfu talent with an educational vision - plans are afoot to expand the school from its current 100 students to one thousand. When students are not practising the numerous forms of Tai Chi, they focus on building internal energy. The wushu (self defence) students train seven hours each day, starting with a gruelling early morning run up the mountain.
Some of the training can be relentless, yet they are gentler on the foreigners, who number about 10% of the school. This eclectic collective of internationals (men and women) from mainly US, Germany, Brazil and France, ranges in age from teens to forties - an eccentric crew of brave people in search of their dreams.
The Tao is infinite, eternal.
Why is it eternal?
It was never born; thus it can never die.
Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself; thus it is present for all beings.
I had never been to China and one hears many stories, some quite negative. There are so many scaremongers among us. Even a Chinese friend of mine kept sending me warnings of diseases and crimes and seemed to see everything as dangerous. The reality was quite different; pretty much all the negatives are grossly exaggerated. I felt safe 100% of the time, walking on my own at night, even walking in the mountain at night.
The really hard part is when you make the decision, when you have to face doubts. When you actually take the jump, it's often much easier than you imagined. I believe in following one's path and staying true to it. Everyone has things they know they need to do and experience. Sometimes it feels impossible. In time, opportunities appear as if by magic. And then the timing is perfect.
Seizing the Opportunity
Coming to China was taking a different path. The road diverted and at the fork, I took the "road less travelled". Instead of suppressing my dreams, I stepped forward right into them.
What is it inside a person that inspires him/her to take a different path? Overcoming a limited belief requires ignoring that little voice in your head that says, "I can't", "I'm not good enough", "Only so and so people can do that" - you could spend a lifetime coming up with excuses.
Society generally places limitations on what people perceive to be their range of possibilities. Most people are most likely to "play it safe." So we get pacified by entertainment, Facebook, smart phones, empty, addictive, high calorie foods.
How do we change limiting beliefs?
Start by disconnecting from the society that created the limiting beliefs. Therein lies the value of travelling to far off places, especially those with culturally differing landscapes. Do an internet fast. Go on a retreat. Do a cleanse. Get rid of newspapers and magazines. Educate yourself about food. Stillness creates the wellspring for expanded consciousness. Once you start to de-clutter, and retreat from the frenetic world, you will be amazed at what happens. You may even start to have surprising insights about yourself, your life, and what you're here to do.
What stops people from exploring their limits?
If you never take risks because you are too scared to fail, then you are not building your "dream muscles". You need to experience life first, live boldly, sometimes even on the edge if need be. Most of us are taught by our parents as kids to play it safe. If everything is about safety first that affects how we see ourselves and the world when we grow older. We take the same lessons from childhood and live out our life from the perspective of a five year old.
We are never our circumstances or our mistakes, or our past, or even our present. We just create that as our identity. We did something we thought was bad, and we make it our identity. We want to score "good" points - be a good team player, be a good citizen, a good wife or husband, father, mother, child, brother, sister. Yet we are always far more than our circumstances. With action and time, we can change almost anything about ourselves and our life. So there's no point in making our perceived failures our identity. Reality is that we are here now living our lives moment to moment. If we want to start pushing our limits, we have to be brave enough to start even if at first it's like pushing a truck uphill. It is not conducive to happiness to always follow the average of society.
Let your heart win. Listen to your dreams for a change, and start taking calculated risks. Stop suppressing your inner voice. We are something much greater than we ever imagined. Who you are is much deeper, far vaster and far more connected than this simple physical reality. So open your mind up to possibility. And start with a single step.
China's bountiful landscapes, sizzling modern technology and ancient history are punctuated by a distant memory of something intrinsic to Chinese cultural history - the way of the Tao. China taught me that the way of the Tao involves following one's heart. Following my passion is my way.
Man follows Earth.
Earth follows heaven.
Heaven follows the Tao.
Tao follows what is natural.
David is a channel for Divine wisdom. His intuitive coaching, speaking and healing sessions invoke purposeful shifts into deeper connection, confidence, self love, abundance and happiness. An empath, David's healing is focused on bridging the gap between addressing core wounds and reaching limitless possibilities, to living an extraordinary life. David’s passion for synthesising Eastern and Western approaches to spiritual wellbeing, has seen him immersing himself in the biblical tradition as a monastic, studying Western Naturopathic Medicine and Buddhist / Taoist Healing under three living masters － Master Chen in China, Grand Master Mantak Chia (Time magazine’s top 100 most spiritually influential living people) in Thailand and Ajahn Brahm (one of the world’s foremost masters of meditation) in Australia.