Dantien is a Prison
What if Dantien is a prison? That was the question my gongfu brother asked me all those years ago and honestly I was shocked at his words. “What the hell does that mean?” I thought, he asked me to just think about it for awhile as was his way in everything. So I did.
That was in 2000 as I remember it, more than fifteen years ago now as we approach 2017. We had many, many discussions, testings and debates on this and many other subjects that sprang up from it. Honestly in my mind it was the beginning of me starting to really get somewhere in the internal side of training. It was rebellious, outside the box thinking from what our teachers had taught us. We both trained under Master Ma together but also had different Taiji and Qigong teachers as well from different lineages. It was the beginning of what we started to call the “Renegade Taiji Sect” 叛徒太極氏族and the beginning of some real progress for us.
What if Dantien is a prison? It is.
A prison of thought and belief. A belief system in itself that limits and idealizes a certain way of thinking and looking at the body and the arts and venerates a particular lineage in most cases. Dantien in internal martial arts practice is an important stage of training and has to be paid close attention to. It creates the origin point of movement and allows cascades of muscular contraction to take place from the centre of the body, rippling out the extremities, absolute necessity for internal power and real connectivity in the flesh. But that does not mean it is not a stage of training and not the end of it.
When a student starts training martial arts they are purely external since it is the human condition. Then using imagery and metaphor they start to become internal and the idea of Dantien becomes a method for them to accomplish this. Dantien however becomes a prison when one refuses to let the idea of it being the only method go and moves on from one stage of training to another. This is not to say that the cascade effect from this training stops being important, it remains. But the use of the mind only on this affect in training is a prison that does not allow for growth to other methods. Changing the way we think about training, about the body, about our art is how we grow and change, the way all the arts tell us we should be.
So if Dantien is a prison, then what changes if we look outside the box? Well, if the body always moves from the core without need of conscious thought constantly directing it then the mind is free to pursue other things while that is already happening naturally. I would argue that in something like Taiji, Bagua and the like it is the skills one has without having to “try” that one has really learned or mastered. As an example I always point out how in demonstrations of iron body there tends to be a theatrical build up of breathing and esoteric looking hand movements before the demo. Fine for demonstration but if the person really needs a minute or even thirty seconds to prepare to do an iron body demo then that skill is still not useful in combat when it needs to be completely unconscious and automatic and natural. All our skills in our arts we are working on must become like this. Peng Jin (expansion power), song jin (relaxation/accepting power), iron body, etc they all need to be simply a part of us. Dantien moves first is one of these skills that must become completely a part of us in the long run as well.
When my brother and I were testing our theories and ideas on each other as we tried to move past our old ways of thinking and training we had a few rules. One: Anything we dream up must be tested on each other without the knowledge of the other person. If they can stop it unconsciously then it is not likely worth pursuing. Two: When something works it must be taught to the other person to see if it can be transmitted and replicated. Skills that are not teachable may be useful to the person but not the art. Three: Touch and test with every single person you can get your hands on. Ask questions and seek out Masters for help and bring that info back to share.
Personally I think the arts are in our hands and hearts, not in the hands of the long dead famous names in the arts. It is alive right now, right here in us, the players of today. If we want to move forward with our skills we need to be pushing the boundaries at all times, not just waiting for Master to show us something new. If we want to try something, try it, but test it out and see what comes of it. Your Master will tell you if its a bad idea and most likely it will result in a great chance for him to teach you something new. I mean what is the meaning of “Traditional” anyway? I say it is “Trying to advance yourself and your art in every possible way.” The arts should not be museum pieces, left stagnant under glass. They should be evolving and alive, using everything you can bring to it to make it and you better in the long run.
I say the Renegade Sect needs more members.