I often wonder about the connections—or lack thereof—between some interesting and potentially mind-blowing metaphysical claim and what might be called (although I don’t like the phrase) “real life.” Lately, that wonder has been directed toward ways in which training in a practice such as taijiquan that at least purports to be meaningfully Daoist might inform and be informed by academic study of Daoist metaphysics.
I’ve had a bunch of different taijiquan teachers over the years. Some of them were widely read about Chinese culture and history. Others, not so much. For whatever it’s worth, only one them—my first taijiquan teacher, who taught Yang family style in Chapel Hill back in the late 90’s—was Chinese, and though I never found out how well-read he was, I have come to appreciate how deeply knowledgeable that old man was about both taijiquan and Chinese traditions. I feel like I learned a great deal from some of my teachers and that I managed to learn a bit less from others, but I’m grateful to all of them for offering me something important, and I suspect that I could have learned more from each and every one of them than I did, had I understood how to be a better student. In each case, the teacher taught with sincerity.
As I’ve tried to learn taijiquan, I’ve had various moments when I’ve had the opportunity to think about the connections between the practice I was learning and the Chinese philosophy I work on academically. Let me share two such incidents. Continue reading