Sunday, July 15, 2012

"After Finishing the Lessons...A Beginning"

After finishing the lessons...thunder, lightning...a real "jolt"...a "shock"... but upon further reflection...a beginning...

51. Chên / The Arousing (Shock, Thunder)I Ching

 SHOCK brings success.
 Shock comes-oh, oh!
 Laughing words -ha, ha!
 The shock terrifies for a hundred miles,
 And he does not let fall the sacrificial spoon and chalice.

As a human I have spent my share of anger.  As a Tai Chi instructor I have also seen my fair share of anger “coming and going” as the saying goes.  There is a baseball adage  wherein one figuratively acts as “pitcher” and “catcher” at the same time, thus my own saying “As a teacher, I see anger coming and going”.  My student and fellow teacher Mike F. tells me that as a professional musician he swims in a sea of perpetual criticism.  Such criticism he says comes from his fellow musicians as well as orchestra leaders and conductors.  Yet, he states  that he does not lash out at the conductor or his colleagues.

I recall an incident in 2004 which happened right after meeting my present teacher, Master Stephen Hwa. I was in the throes of patting myself on the back because I had learned the Classical Tai Chi form with quite a bit of ease.  What I failed to perceive is “that I was moving a certain way, but in fact I was not moving that way” at all. After all, I thought,   I had finished the lessons from the Classical Tai Chi video series. Master Hwa wrote that when he observed me trying to internalize my movement away from the arm and shoulder, my movements initiated from the chest area.  He stated that I would scrunch my chest to start an upper body movement. 

I recall being admonished quite vehemently by him on this “scrunching”.  The  critique came during one of my private classes with him at a local park in Rochester, NY in the Summer of 2004.  I admit being surprised by the vehemence of his correction but did not feel angry. 

In October of 2004 I recall reading the Classical Tai Chi Forum 10 which was called : “After Finishing the Lessons, A Beginning”.   There I came across a complete written account of the critique.  First I read “You need to remember, sometimes the appearance of reality is actually an illusion”.  This was followed by an admonition to use “ a fresh eye to review the lesson video which can uncover any misinterpretation of movements”.   Then I read a synopsis of my meeting with Master Hwa and my “scrunching” when I thought I was moving correctly.

Where I did not feel “angry” upon receiving admonition in person, I did feel angry when reading the admonition in writing.  My thought was: “How could my teacher put my mistake in writing for all the world to see”?  I initially felt sullen and angry because I felt my teacher was being condescending and insulting and I felt shocked by what I read.  After all, I thought (even though he did not use my name but simply said “one student”) who else could it be but me, me, me.  Insert the melody and additional lyrics for:  "You are so vain, you probably think this song is about you" here.

After stewing on this for some time, I began to reflect more calmly.  During the “hottest” moments of that incident however, I refrained from making any angry retorts to my teacher.  As I “cooled” down however, I began to realize that I had been proud and arrogant thus thinking more highly of myself than I ought to.  Upon further reflection my  initial angry thought was “I have studied Tai Chi before this for a long time, I am a good student, how can he say this to me”?.   After further consideration however, I realized that it was I who had contacted Master Hwa and asked him to teach me, not the other way around.  If I wanted him to teach me why was I not being humble and gracious about what he had said or wrote about “me”? After further reflection, I realized that he had provided a great talking point and lesson for a hundred other students who could benefit from my mistake. 

I realized I was being “Egotistical” and perhaps one might well ask what is egotism,  what does it have to do with learning Tai Chi or you for that matter?

Here is a "story" that may help:

“The Prime Minister of the Tang Dynasty was a national hero for his success as both a statesman and military leader. But despite his fame, power, and wealth, he considered himself a humble and devout Buddhist.

Often he visited his favorite Zen master to study under him, and they  seemed to get along very well. The fact that he was Prime Minister apparently had no effect on their relationship, which seemed to be simply one of a revered master and respectful student.

One day, during his usual visit, the Prime Minister asked the master, “Your Reverence, what is egotism according to Buddhism?” The master's face turned red, and in a very condescending and insulting tone of voice, he shot back, “What kind of stupid question is that!?”

This unexpected response so shocked the Prime Minister that he became  sullen and angry. The Zen master then smiled and said, “This, Your Excellency, is egotism.”

Author Unknown


 Thunder repeated: the image of SHOCK.
 Thus in fear and trembling
 The superior man sets his life in order
 And examines himself.

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