Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Look Behind You

Zen's Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings.
By Andy Ferguson. Foreword by Reb Anderson.
Boston, Wisdom Publications, 2000. Glossaries, name lists, bibliography, index, 518 pages. ISBN: 0861711637.

A monk asked, "What is Tongan's arrow?"
Daopi said, "Look behind you."
The monk asked, "What's back there?"
Daopi said, "It's gone past already."
- Zen's Chinese Heritage, p. 257

I started reading the literature of Zen (Chan) when I was fifteen. Fifty one years later, I still can sit up straight after grappling with a clever retort, a puzzling non-sequitur, a zany twist on some allusion, a bold example, an illogical brain-lock, or a slap of cold water on the face provided by a confident Zen man. I still like to smile when pondering the mystery of whatever "It" is. I treasure the Chan playfulness, practicality, humor, and seriousness.

Anyone studying Taijiquan and Qigong will quickly come into contact with the legends and lore of Taoism and Chan Buddhism (Zen). A quick look at the sidebar of this blog points to some of my own studies in these areas. 

"Looking behind you" is used as a metaphor for considering your past, being ready for surprises, seeing if somebody has got your back, something we cannot do easily, etc.  

At another level, "looking behind you" or keeping attention on what is behind you is important in martial arts practice.  Consider this:

"When you are in a matching situation with your opponent, there are three circles of offensive and defensive domains or territories. These circles are large circle (Chang Ju, i.e., long range), middle circle (Zhon Ju, i.e., middle range), and short circle (Duan Ju, i.e., short range). These circles are also called rings. In a battle, you should not stay in the same rign, which allows your opponent to set up a strategy against you easily. Your rights should be variable, random and confusing to your opponent. Not only just the size of the rings, but also the height of defensive and offensive actions should vary as well. When this happens, you will generate more confusion for your opponent and this will allow you to execute your techniques effectively and efficiently."
- Yang, Yu (Ban-Hou) 1837-1892
Translated by Yang, Jiwng-Ming, Tai Chi Secrets of the Yang Style, p. 24

Most people doing Tai Chi will be concerned about the following three circles. The first circle is the area in which you are standing. Where are you rooted? How is your footing? Are you stable, balanced, and in control? Are you safe? It includes the spherical area your arms and legs can extend to while keeping at least one foot rooted. What is the surface like upon which you are standing?  Is it soft, hard, slippery, uneven?  
The second circle is the area into which you are stepping next. Is it safe to step? Will you be able to stay stable, balanced, and in control as you step into one of the eight directions? It includes the spherical area your arms and legs can extend to as you step and move in a new direction. Will the first circle support your full weight on one leg as you move into the second circle? What is behind you?  What is the surface of the ground like ahead, behind, and to either side.  
The third circle is the area into which you can walk, move freely, and move around in safely. It may be the whole area of a park, the dojo or kwoon, your backyard, your back porch, or as far away as you can walk.

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