My teacher, Tom Baeli, told me that the question, “Is the master at home?” was asked in reference to whether the practitioner being addressed was in command of their chi.
As I understood this, it acknowledges that some days are better than others in how we feel in our practice. There are days we do our chi kung or form and they feel clunky and others where things couldn’t be better. Those days where they seem to flow are the days the master is home.
I look at the opening of the form, the “begin tai chi” movement as being a barometer of the day. Just the simple act of placing the feet, sinking, raising and lowering the arms with the breathing is telling. I’ve had days where I didn’t think I could find my behind with both hands. It felt “off”. What to do?
Sometimes I didn’t think forcing it was the way to go, so I left it for the next day. Others, I made myself do it until I smoothed it out, often taking two or three repetitions to get it feeling right. I relate this feeling as being similar to a barometer because it’s a measure of the day and provides a trigger to consider what to do about it. I have to ask myself why I think it’s not quite right today. Something I ate? Work or family pressure? Lack of sleep, or maybe even too much? The list can go on. It has given me the opportunity to be more conscious of what I do, how I eat or sleep.
Did I have too much sweet stuff or drink an extra cup of coffee? If I moderate that next time and catalog the result I learn a bit more about myself and how this changes as I age. I think it’s good information. Then I can make that decision as to whether I should push it or not.
Some will tell you to force it, do it until it is smooth. This develops discipline, they say. Others will tell you to let it go until later. A story to reinforce the point. An Olympic judo coach was lecturing his team hopefuls. He told them that some days he’d get up and not feel like working out. He asked them what they thought he did. “You did it anyway!” Another said “You forced yourself, even though you didn’t want to” and others made similar statements. “No” he said, “I went back to reading the paper, but I made sure I got back to it the next day.” That too takes discipline. But it also takes a self-knowledge. It’s easy to start down the slippery slope of letting it go and days become weeks which turn into months. It’s harder to come back than it was to get there in the first place.
Until next time,