Today I left a sequence of the taiji form out. I reversed through the next few steps I’d done — clumsily, it must be admitted — in order to reach the place where the missing piece should have gone. Then I proceeded forward, as if I were a video tape or a rewind function, to do the pieces that I’d left out the first time around.
I don’t wish readers, especially taiji practitioners, to think that this was graceful. When we train our body to do moves so that they become second nature, it’s difficult to reverse the order. One has to learn a new flow, rather than stopping and saying, “Now what comes before this?” or “Wait, where do my hands move to next, if I’m going backwards?” or “God that was awful.”
There’s a place where Socrates is talking to a professional rhetor in the dialogues of Plato, and Socrates asks the rhetor to recite from memory a certain passage in the Iliad or the Odyssey. Being a professional, the rhetor instantly complies, because this is a party trick he knows how to do. He recites the piece as a trained professional does, and then, when Socrates asks him, he stops.
Then Socrates asks a much more difficult question: “what came just before the section you just recited?”
The rhetor cannot answer. Socrates can. He gives the previous line, and the line before that, and the line before that, and then rewinds his brain to the point where the rhetor is again able to pick up the thread of the story, and recite the passage which ends with the lines that Socrates was looking for. The rhetor has been trained to master line-code in the Iliad and Odyssey, but he does not know how to search the whole text in both directions.
I’m more like the rhetor in the story than Socrates. You can tell me where to start, and I can move forward from that point in the form. But I can’t yet flow in either direction, like Socrates could in his own particular realm. And in that direction, true mastery lies.
In a slightly different example, yesterday I went to see the Kavad of a Sacred Geometer, a kind of unfolding storyboard, and saw (at a different time) David Kelley’s talk about Creative Confidence. Both examples show what that kind of true mastery can accomplish — a means for non-creative people to become creative, and a cabinet of wonders that can be folded or unfolded in order to reveal the mysteries of the universe. Taiji, in all its various forms and flows, is kind of like that.