中 Zhōng: Within, during, amidst, centre, in the middle, often seen on T shirts and skateboards to represent Balance. The Red Dragon as it is known in the tile game Mahjong has become an often seen character in daily life now with a real cool factor for marketing. The message of balance however seems to get little traction when it really needs to. With all the people in the martial arts / qigong world chasing ridiculous magic powers, death touches, and laying on hands healing abilities it just seems that someone needs to scream STOP and possibly slap some of the people who are out there propagating the stuff. Seriously, it makes me want to get all slap happy some days.
Balance is the key to life, happiness, martial arts and all of it. Too much or too little of anything causes problems and in the world of the arts specifically it cannot only create fantasy and qigong bing (Qigong sickness) but the worst of it all is that there are people out there teaching, taking disciples, and passing on their sicknesses to others. With no checks or balances available anymore in the world of martial arts and no way to regulate it this has gotten completely out of hand. At least in the days before everyone holding a video recording device in their hand, or litigation being the norm martial artists could call one another on their bullshit readily. They did so even more often if you go back farther in time as the arts were more and more important in a world before guns became a simple way to kill anyone.
In the Qigong world it is even easier to get away with selling fantasy as a product for people to buy, especially since not getting the right feeling or results is simply put aside with “needing more time and practice.” While this can be a true statement, it can also be the ultimate dodge for a teacher who really does not understand what they are teaching or professing to know. I personally always thought that the answer of “train longer, you will understand” was a total BS answer until some of those predictions from my master’s came true, another reason the slippery slope of Qigong teaching is so easy to be recognized as a “teacher” or “master”.
But the key to either side of this coin of the martial or qigong training is balance. Simply giving the idea of balance lip service however is not enough – one must look and study deeply the idea since it is a bottomless well that everything hinges upon in the end. I feel that simply passing by some of the more common references to Chinese thought or Medicine during our study is something almost everyone is guilty of on some level. It makes sense at first glance and so we do not look any deeper at it and instead move on to something we are really interested in, like kicking or punching or magic.
Balance in all things is the concept but leaving it simply at that is misleading. ALL things are a LOT of things to balance and to find where the balance exists, what do we balance one thing with or against? What is the yin/yang pairing in every single case? Exhausting work! But without it we simply end up unbalanced and that is where people end up delusional about their skills and understanding and pass on those issues to students. So, I want to dig into it a bit.
“If there is movement there is no pain, if there is no movement there is pain.” This adage from Traditional Chinese Medicine is taught in the very early stages of medical training and it seems simple. If there is free movement of the body and its fluids and energy pain has no place to land. Sit sedentary day after day at work and see how that feels after a few weeks, months or years. The balance of course here is that one cannot simply move all the time, rest is as important as exercise and when done in balance with one another we recover and heal and regain our energy, our potential to once again move and exercise. Too much or too little becomes a problem on either side of the equation. To take this into the realm of martial arts it makes the same sense move or you will get hit and beaten – pain. Train or you will lose your skills – pain. Rest and recover from you training or you will cause damage and create pain. I have even had a student who wanted to get this as a tattoo on their wrist as a constant reminder for life. Not a bad idea for ink!
“Do not eat too much or too little, do not drink too much or too little, do not smoke too much or too little.” Another adage from Chinese Medicine speaking to moderation and balance in our lives. What people usually find interesting or shocking is the references to drinking and smoking and assume that those activities are bad for us and thus this is antiquated thinking. But again, jumping to conclusions can make a person misunderstand the lesson. Let’s assume it is taken literally that one should drink and smoke in moderation – what would this mean? Could it be referring to the body dealing with toxins to keep itself and its immune system exercised? Is it a reference to stimulants and depressives used at appropriate times?
I like to make the argument that it has not only to do with the physical but the mentality of living a balanced life. Smoking and drinking are activities done at leisure, when celebrating or resting and those are important parts of balancing ones work life. It is important to not go overboard in these kinds of indulgences certainly but without rest, recreation and celebration life becomes a very dull existence. It is why we have various holidays that we celebrate throughout the year regardless of their religious origins – people need a reason to rest and celebrate and gather. Ritual is important to us as humans and gathering with our chosen tribes is something that warms our hearts and feeds our souls. When Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius) wrote about what it meant to be Chinese he was not dictating but observing the practices of the people and writing them down. We gather for events, we act certain ways and because of it we are refreshed and ready to go back to daily life. Without these events we lack the balance between seriousness and festivity. “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”
Physically when we practice we need to look at the balance in the body and its movements. If one reaches through the fingers on the right hand what is the left hand doing? What is the left foot doing? Examples may include in Heavy Hands how the fingers extend in penetrate the mountain passes posture and the back retreats and extends backward simultaneously. Or in Lohan Palm how the opposite leg and heel will reach downward while the hand reaches outwards through the fingers creating a long tension through the body that crosses the torso. Physical balance rather than simply movement.
Mentally the challenge is much harder in training. A fighter will simply not gain all the skill he or she can from only thinking about aggression, damaging the opponent or techniques. This will breed tightness, fear and anger things that are from a combative point of view detrimental and make one easily manipulated. In the Qigong side of things pursuing sensations or powers is a flawed mode of thought as it disregards reality, the present moment. If you are not feeling/observing something right now, in the present then it does not exist. Looking and searching for things is the future, pining for a feeling that once took place in training is the past, neither of which exist. Liken this to anxiety or depression in a person’s mind and heart. Both can be said to be deviant thought patterns and not healthy. Neither is residing in the present moment either – anxiety is fear about the future and depression is pining for the past, again not balanced. Residing outside reality cannot be said to be balanced can it? Certainly, there are times and places for planning ahead or looking back, but it is simply meant to be kept in balance with one’s life. You cannot reside in your memories always and still be able to pay your phone bill on time.
The duality of mind and body is something qigong and martial arts training seeks to resolve as well. Balancing the inner and outer aspects of ourselves which we tend to think of as two different things. At the beginning of training we seek to bring the mind and body together as one unit. Unifying our minds intent with our bodies adaptation to that intent. Intermediate training sees our mind and body become one mind/body which removes the duality and the idea that they are different things. They are not different things at all! The mind affects the body and the body affects the mind or to reference back again to Chinese medicine once again “To treat the body, treat the mind. To treat the mind, treat the body.” Headaches for example can be a result of stress, but stress in the mind creates tension in the head and neck (the body) which causes lack of movement, stiffness and pain. Remove or deal with the stress and the body too will relax.
I know it may seem like I am flogging a dead horse with this paper, but I see so often a lack of the understanding of the importance of balance in the world of martial and qigong arts that it seems multiple points of view could be useful to practitioners out there new to their path. Perspective is everything in this path and to not be willing to try and widen your perspective and see other points of view is like a frog living in a well, it will always think the sky is a small round circle. Most of the plateaus people hit in training are invisible and it is hard to understand how to overcome them because of it. The more perspectives one must cycle through when looking at a problem the more likely it is that a solution will be found. A person who thinks martial arts is about being bigger, faster, and stronger will limit their ability and find out quickly how the physical deteriorates over time. A person who only thinks about their martial arts behind their keyboard and has never picked up their hands will become delusional about their ability and never become even competent as a fighter. BALANCE.
All I ask is to have people look at both sides of the coin and see if they need to balance the two more. Don’t fight too much or too little. Don’t stand post too much or too little. Don’t put up with too much, or too little.
Hope this helps.
Neil Ripski 2018