In the history of the Shaolin kung fu studies, a young man would spend
the first ten or more years learning what we would call "hard style"
martial arts. He would learn to blcck, kick, and punch. He would learn
correct stance, timing, gauging distance to his opponent, and he would
do drill after drill -- improving his speed, coordination, and timing.
He would learn "katas" (if in the Japanese martial arts) or
other "forms;" preset (think "choreographed") displays
of fighting against multiple opponents. And he would have many, many
rounds of "fighting" experiences -- some supervised, others
not. And he would have "performances" -- fighting does draw
a crowd! And he would even participate in competitions.
Over time, and in the natural course of things, he would get injured. This
just comes with the territory. Also, after numerous fights, and establishing
his position in the world, the testosterone surge of youth would ease off a bit.
And eventually, if he was not a complete fool, he would
sit there, nursing his latest injury, and say to himself, "There has to be
an easier way to do this."
At that point, he would be ready to learn what we now call the "internal
martial arts." There are several such; most of us are familiar with
Tai Chi Chu'an (translating as "Grand Ultimate Fist"). Far from being
just an exercise system that old folks do in the park, Tai Chi is actually
a very powerful martial art. And like the tip of an iceberg, what you
see is definately not all there is to it -- there are many
"internal energy" practices that complete the Tai Chi experience.
Think of the kung fu movies that you have seen. (Some of you may be old enough
to remember the "Kung Fu" television series of many years ago.) In these shows,
the lead martial artist uses the power of his mind to do things well beyond what
even his highly trained body can do. He uses the force of his "chi", or internal energy.
These "internal energy" skills are something that can be learned. They go along with
certain physical practices, and often these practices are different from the ones that a
person learns during the early stages of a "body art" (e.g., blocking, kicking, striking).
It is learning and mastering these "internal energy" practices that make a body art a true
integrative pathway -- for both men and women.
Now as the author John Grey likes to say, Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus.
Men practice a martial art -- the art of Mars, the art of war. They fight to get dominance.
If they are treating their "fighting art" as a pathway for personal growth, they get some
life experiences. (Think of "Grasshopper;" those of you who are old enough to remember.)
The challenge that we have as women is that there has not been -- in society, as we know it today --
a comparable pathway for women.
Think about it. Our "Western," or European-based (and Judeao-Christian-based) culture does not have
anything that emerges as a true, mind-body-energy "integrative pathway." We do have something for men,
imported from Eastern cultures (ranging from China up to Japan). We do have something that is a bit
more "gender neutral" -- yoga -- imported from India. But neither of these are intrinsically female.
We are missing the corrolary art; the "Venusian" art that would provide us with a comparable, lifetime study
and mastery and growth experience.
Was there ever such a "women's path"? And if so, what happened to it? And if there is such a thing, why
hasn't it shown up in the past few decades? It's not that there has continued to be a huge repression; over
our lifetimes we have seen a huge emergence of women's studies and
women's arts in many and various forms. (This including Wicca, which is a largely feminine effort to recapture an
intrinsic human connection with natural and seasonal life-force energies.)
The fact that there is no "cultural mystique" surrounding a comparable women's mind-body-energy
integrative pathway does not mean that such a pathway doesn't exist. Rather, it means that we have to
re-build it; to re-create it. This is something that we can and must and will do. And fortunately, there is
a lot of work, already done, that we can build upon. Also, because many of the "internal energy" practices
cross gender boundaries, we can assess and carefully, judiciously, incorporate practices from other body
art forms. (This even includes martial arts.)
So the really telling, pertinent questions are: How do you know when you are ready? And how do you know how
and where to start? And once started, how do you get the resources, the teachers, the support system, and the
feedback? How do you know when you're doing this right?
First things first: How do you know that you're ready?
The answer is in three parts.
First, you'll be really, really interested. As in, maybe a little obsessive
at times. You'll have tried many things, with some degree of success. Regardless of outcome, you have been
actively experimenting with whatever you can find and learn about "internal energy" awareness. You've also
done some things to support your studies; maybe tried yoga, Wicca, Tai Chi, anything that seems close.
Second, you'll have had some kind of "energy breakthrough" experience already.
There are many kinds of internal energy experiences, and what I am most directing you towards is identifying
an experience of "chi" energy. My best analogy is a feeling that a spring of something like water -- but not
really water -- opened up inside your body. Something started to flow, and it felt life-giving and good. It
may not have lasted long, and you may not have been able to re-create the experience easily, but you have
Third, you'll have already come to the point of being ready to move on. Your
feeling about your Level 2 practice is: Is this all there is? One more dance (one more kata).
One more performance. (One more fight.) One more new toy. (Weapon.) The important thing is: You've already
mastered the basics, and the intermediates of this art-form. There is no point in trying to learn a
mind-body-energy pathway if you haven't already mastered at least the "body" part of the path.
As a side note, you have also done a lot of Level Two "release work." This is essential.
If this describes you, you are in the right place, at the right time, to be learning Level Three of women's dance,
or transitioning to the "internal energy art form."
The Level Three Letters over these coming months will be intended for you.