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THE ANCIENT ONE

A student of any “internal” system of exercise begins his or her practice in a “catch 22” situation. He learns a series of techniques that should lead him to develop a connection of his mind and body. This connection allows him to become aware that there is an internal system of intelligence that can then take over his instruction. In other words, at some point, the awareness of his own body should itself, instruct him as to how to move and exercise. The catch 22 is that the more he focuses on the techniques he is being taught, the less he trusts his own body and the more he depends on those techniques.
The techniques, in Tai-chi and Zookinesis are considered as the “Zen raft”, that is, a raft that brings you from one side of a river to the other. Once you get to the other side, you abandon the raft and begin your journey on the other side of the river. The techniques of body awareness lead you to a living internal blueprint of the dynamics of the mind and body, of the emotions, will, memories, senses and all the other aspects of being human. You become aware of that internal intelligence and how it lies behind all aspects of your life. The techniques of Tai-chi and Zookinesis are still practiced and perfected but you become aware of how they are leading you to a greater awareness of how flesh and consciousness interact.
In our culture, we believe that everything starts with the physical world and that all other phenomena are a by-product of the interaction of atoms and subatomic particles. In most ancient cultures, the physical world was considered equal to all other human experiences. Each was considered to be an “element” of being human, so that the mind, emotions and consciousness itself were on an equal level with the physical world. The “balancing of the elements”, the main purpose of internal training, was to develop a balanced person who doesn’t obsess with any one element.
As an example, in Zookinesis, the sense of sight is considered to be one half of a paired sense. Sight gives us information about the exterior of objects – their color, shape, size, texture etc. It shows us how each thing is separate from each other thing. The sense of “chi” (internal energy) gives us information about the interior of things and about how everything is connected to everything else with energy. In our culture, the sense of chi is not recognized, so that we don’t feel it. Yet as we learn any internal system of exercise, we need to regain this sense so that we can become more balanced.
Practitioners of the internal martial arts are well versed with chi and use it to strengthen their health, to increase the power of their strikes in sparring and to be able to withstand strikes from an opponent. A student of mine once asked me if I could stop using chi to protect myself from strikes. I explained that I am so used to protecting myself with chi that it was hard for me to stop doing it. But I figured out a way to “turn off” the chi. He then punched me and it really hurt! I told him I would never do that again. He reminded me that since he had not yet developed this protective ability, I should take it easy on him. He made his point.
Often as people practice “Push Hands” (a two person exercise in which each tries to throw the other off balance), or sparring, they will come up with a very creative technique they had never learned before. This will surprise them because it is as if another person inside of them made them do this new technique. As they get used to these new techniques arising spontaneously out of them, they realize that they arise out of their own creativity. Then they come to “know” their creativity as a living energy within them. It is this body intelligence I mentioned above. This awareness will make them feel uncomfortable at first because they realize they are more than they thought they were. There is a power inside of them which seems stronger or perhaps just “smarter” than the students themselves. How can their “weak” little personalities stand up to this powerful ancient intelligence?
An artificial competition begins to try to keep the “genie in the bottle”. It takes time for the student to develop a harmonious relationship with his own inner intelligence. Push Hands is great training for this because it deals with the relationship between two people on a physical level. You can’t use force and tension in Push Hands or you yourself will get pushed over. You really have to merge with the Push Hands partner, uniting your energies until you find a weak point in his alignment or attention and then you can push.
In the case of the internal intelligence you learn to blend and connect your personality with that ancient body intelligence to form a greater self. In those old cultures there was a name for people who successfully accomplished that merging. It was called being “an elder”. We don’t have many elders in our culture and that concept isn’t admired as it used to be. We now feel that each generation knows more than the previous one. We feel that the ancient cultures were ignorant just as we feel that our parents are dumb compared to ourselves. Yet it is not the accumulation of material knowledge that developed an elder, but the type of knowledge that is always at our fingertips.  I find that my best students begin their practice just to improve their health, or to get better muscle definition or to learn self-defense. Yet as they learn there is much more depth to this training, they become even more interested. They realize there is a whole other world out there – the world of internal awareness.
The student is led to this awareness by continuing to practice the techniques until he realizes that simply doing the techniques faster or stronger is not getting him anywhere. He comes to a plateau in his training. It is only when he lets that internal intelligence (the “Body-Mind”) take over that he can continue to progress. At that point, he feels that the person he thought he was, can just sit back and let this new being take over. His exercise becomes effortless and much more rewarding. The old cultures called Body-Mind “the ancient one”. They might ask the confused student, “Let me see the ancient one”, meaning that they wanted to see the student let the internal intelligence take over his exercises. So the point of this week’s lesson is not to let the techniques become the whole of what you learn. Realize that they are leading you to an internal awareness and continue to watch out for hints of the ancient one. When he (or she) comes you will be rewarded.