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Friday
Sep282007

Irreversibility

Kitchen GodThe reason for discipline is to make a practice irreversible.

There is a gongfu rule of thumb, "one day missed, ten days lost." If you start a practice and miss a few days of practice right at the beginning, you basically lose your momentum and have to start over. If you learn something new and don't practice it the next day, it is usually lost by the third day, you'll have to re-learn it. If you have been practicing everyday for nine months and you miss three days of practice, you've basically set yourself back a month.

Chinese martial arts work by momentum, that is why discipline is so important. In English we often say, "Practice it until it becomes second nature." This is a similar idea.

Problems arise when we don't really understand why we are doing a particular practice. Kinesthetic learning often starts out with a method that is supposed to reveal some type of fruition over time. Once the fruition is revealed it can be integrated into everything we do. Sometimes this means we can drop the method. Sometimes the method is itself part of the fruition.

Kitchen GodFor example, the Kitchen God lives over the stove in Chinese homes. He represents an irreversible commitment to keep the house clean. The method is cleaning on a regular schedule. When cleaning becomes "second nature" the method can become more spontaneous, but it can't really be dropped. The fruition is living in a cleaner, simpler, healthier environment, where things are easy to find, easy to store, and easy to get rid of.

But discipline itself is a hook with out a worm. If the fruition does not reveal itself, or if the fruition we thought we were going to get doesn't materialize, the experiment is a failure--the discipline should be dropped. With kinesthetic practices expect to have a clear idea what fruition will eventually become irreversible after about two months. It sometimes takes a little longer to get the idea. A method can easily take two years to truly become irreversible but you should know long before that what the method is doing and how it is changing you.

Kitchen GodMost Daoist inspired methods reveal something about your true nature. Often it is an appetite of some kind. The most obvious example is that sitting or standing practices reveal an appetite for stillness. After about two years of discipline your appetite should be strong enough to direct your practice, rigid or militaristic discipline will actually hold you back. I know my morning standing practice is irreversible because if some anomaly or emergency disrupts my practice, the rest of the day I feel myself being pulled toward stillness--At the end of the day I jump into bed and savor the thought of waking up to my practice.

The rule of thumb is this: We are doing experiments which reveal our true nature; we are not signing up for self-improvement.

Reader Comments (2)

Thanks Scott. Very true sentiments and wise words to practice by.

September 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commenteradz

Juts wanted to add a bit here. When I first started learning yi quan I picked up a lot of the techniques/feeling intuitively and without much effort, I carried on practicing like this for a few months, utnil I got lazzy, lost the required feelings and promptly gave up after trying to get the feeling back for a few weeks. I ended up just training my tai chi for a good while. A year or so later I decided to give the yi quan another go, this time the going was much harder and I had to really battle against myself for every bit of feeling and intention. However, this second time around my understanding of what produced the required feelings was much greater (it was probably non-existent before), but now I can get the feeling despite stopping training for weeks on end, so I'm hoping that the process has become somewhat ingrained in me, or perhaps even "irreversible", though I am by no means an expert and still have miles and miles to go, but I like traveling.

October 1, 2007 | Unregistered Commenteradz

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