Friday, October 27, 2017

Japanese Zen and chi

Traditional Japanese art disciplines like Noh (能 theatre), kado (花道 Japanese flower arrangement), shodo (書道 Japanese calligraphy) and Sado (茶道 Japanese tea ceremony) are Zen like, as in some traditional martial arts, like kyudo (弓道) and kanto (劍道). Their graceful movements are activated by chi. Those of us who have learned practising tai chi as moving meditation may wonder: How can quick movements be conducive to chi generation rather than chi dissipation? How can Japanese geidō (The way of arts 藝道) be called Zen-like or meditative-like? Isn’t Zen as a mind-body discipline should be practised as seated meditation?

In the Western world, when a person likes to have some Zen experience, chances are that he will attend a Zen meditation session/class, or go for a Zen-retreat (if he belongs to the middle-class) where he will spend a few days, with his cell phone locked and his mouth shut, doing seated meditation and having vegetarian-meals. The original idea of Zen, as it came from China, was for a Zen-practitioner to be able to practise Zen 24/7: in Zen (Chan 禪) lingo it is called: “Zen in walking, living, sitting and sleeping”. How to accomplish this?

The Japanese way of doing it is through rituals practised into perfection. During such ritual (assuming practised into perfection), a Zen practitioner can free his mind from logical, rational or worldly constraints. In Japanese Zen-lingo, the ability of doing so can be understood through the concept Jo-ha-kyū (序破急), roughly translated to "beginning, break, rapid", it essentially means that all actions or efforts should begin slowly, speed up, and then end swiftly. It is important that in the “beginning” chi will be internally generated (how it is done is another story), and then break/release/explode, and finally a sudden stop. The break is the movement with chi, and the final stop is used to stop chi from further release and hence facilitate the effectively regeneration of chi by retaining chi, and (very importantly) by storing or trapping chi which was generated by the momentum of movement itself! One example, in Noh theatre, one way of forward movement is use small steps in which each foot moves forward with sole touching the ground (like Yi-chuen’s friction steps); and in the end of the small forward movement, the toes will tilt the foot slightly upward and then gently tap back on the floor to stop the chi.

Needless to say, to perfect a Japanese geidō, repeated chi-training with great patience is required. “How to ritualize one’s daily life into Zen” will be another story of a future post. Stay tuned.

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