1.THE TEACHINGS OF ZHANG SANFENG
“I understand the idea that the three doctrines are basically the same: they are each a study of life, each take the mind to be controller of the body, and are purposed to maintain mind and body, to bring longevity to essence, energy, and spirit. With essence, energy, and spirit, we can be calmly civil and boldly martial. Calm and bold, civil and martial – as these things are expanded and have a transformative effect, there will come wisdom and spirituality. The earliest discoverers of this found their way into truth and then took it to another level. Later students then imitate what they did in order to achieve their awareness. Such awareness is innate in everyone, but to get at what they were doing, it is nevertheless necessary to follow in their footsteps. Civil and martial are inherent to human ability. The seeing of eyes and hearing of ears are inherently civil while the dancing of hands and prancing of feet are inherently martial, and so both aspects are clearly inherent. Having achieved the layers of civil, martial, wisdom, and spirituality, the forefathers advanced the teaching of self-cultivation by way of physical training, though not by way of martial arts.
“When the teachings reached me, I grasped the receive/oppose [counterbalancing] nature of the dancing prancing, in which the passive aspect of the other person’s body is borrowed to build up the active aspect in one’s own. The active aspect is the masculine quality. The passive aspect is the feminine quality. The body has both qualities. While the maleness is active and the femaleness is passive, the femaleness receives the active aspect to counter her own passive aspect [as the maleness receives the passive aspect to counter his own active aspect]. Thereby the active or returns to its initial state [of being in balance with the other]. The passive feminine aspect within the body means more than a young woman being developed enough to become pregnant. There are countless ways in which a woman may enact counterbalancing, and this is not about the bodies of men and women being somehow corrected. It is said that taking advantage of the skyness and groundness in one’s own body is what makes the counterbalancing of the passive and active aspects. This means that a man may make use of the passive aspect of his masculine side as a way to counter his own feminine quality. [However, this work of balancing the masculine and feminine qualities within oneself] is not as efficient as the self-cultivation of two partners making use of their masculine quality to work at balancing their passive and active aspects [through the constant exchanging of passive and active roles during the pushing hands exercises].
“Seeing as I have placed these teachings into a martial context, martial arts must not be viewed as something trivial, but as a part of physical education, a method of self-cultivation, a practice of life-enhancement, a category of wisdom and spirituality. The work of counterbalancing between two partners is no different in principle from the counterbalancing within your own body, but when working with a partner, it is like counterbalancing between mercury and lead. [In the context of two partners pushing hands, the role of the attacker is solid and heavy, like lead, while the defender is fluid and yielding, like mercury.] When fighting, the four primary techniques are a matter of active opposing passive, while the four secondary techniques are a matter of passive receiving active. The eight trigrams supply the eight techniques. The body and feet stand centered. To advance is to oppose actively. To retreat is to receive passively. To step to the left is to receive actively. To step to the right is to oppose passively. The five elements supply the five steps. Combined, they are the eight techniques and five steps.
“These teachings of mine you may make use of for your entire life and yet never be able to use them up. What I have gained and am passing down is to be taught as a martial art of self-cultivation. As to the method of cultivating the self, it does not matter if it is approached by martial or civil means, for the achievement is the same. The three doctrines, at any of the three levels [greater, middle, lesser], are all inescapably based in the concept of the grand polarity. I wish for the next generation of students to examine the theory in the Book of Changes within themselves and that it be continued by succeeding generations. That would be a good thing.”
2.ZHANG SANFENG ON USING MARTIAL ARTS TO ACHIEVE THE WAY
“Before there was the universe, there was the principle which governs the passive and active energies. This governing principle by which the universe exists is the core of the Way, and the way these energies flow is in the manner of complementary opposites. For passive and active to oppose and yet complement each other is a mathematical principle: to be [zeroed out in a half-and-half state of] one part passive and one part active is the Way. ‘The Way that cannot be described is the origin of the universe itself. The Way that can be described is the source of all things within the universe. [Daodejing, chapter 1]’ Before the universe existed, there was merely nothingness, and thus nothing to be described. Once the universe existed, there was finally somethingness, and thus things to be described. Before the universe existed, there awaited the principle of existence. Once the universe came into being, there was then the creative principle.
“Pre-beginning, it was the principle of existence that brought about the balanced passive and active energies. Post-beginning, the creative principle then gave rise to the ways of coming into being: gestation in a womb, hatching from an egg, spontaneous generation from water, and metamorphosis. The Way is the way of neutrality, nourishing all things by being in a balanced position between skyness and groundness. The sky and ground are your greater parents, of the pre-beginning. Your mother and father are your lesser parents, of the post-beginning. When we are born, we are the recipients of the energies of passive and active, of pre-beginning and post-beginning, and on such a basis we begin. When we are born, we are given by our greater parents our life-force and disposition, and are endowed with reason. From our lesser parents come our physical essence, blood, and bones. By the merging of the life-force and body of the pre-beginning and post-beginning, we each then become a person. For us to align with the sky and ground, taking our place as one of the three substances, we cannot ignore our fundamental origin [as a product of both].
“As long as we are able to follow our nature, we will not lose touch with our origin. By not forgetting where we come from, we will not lose touch with where we are headed, for if you want to know where you are going, you must first know where you are coming from. With our origin mapped out, our way ahead is a clear route that will be traversed by way of instinct. We all, whether smart or stupid, worthy or worthless, have an instinctive awareness that will point us to the Way. If we cultivate the Way, we will be able to know our origin and can fulfill our destiny. To know our origin and fulfill our destiny lies in being able to cultivate the self. Thus it is said [in the Da Xue]: ‘From king to commoner, it all comes down to self-cultivation.’ The way to cultivate the self is through instinctive understanding and ability: eyes keenly seeing and ears acutely hearing, hands dancing and feet prancing, martiality and civility. ‘Broaden your understanding by studying things deeply, thereby improving your intellect and smoothing your emotions.’
“Since mind is in charge of body, the intellect should be improved and the emotions smoothed in order for the feet to perform the five steps and the hands to perform the eight techniques. The hands and feet amount to four, and they can be used in such a variety of ways, but instinct is able to retrieve their basic state [of unity]. The eyes see as a union of three [what the left eye sees, what the right eye sees, what both eyes see by triangulating together] and the ears hear along the six paths. The eyes and ears amount to four, but within they function as one, instinct again regaining the basic state. Ears, eyes, hands, and feet – they each are divided into two, making two polarities, but each functioning as a unity, totaling a grand polarity.
“Gathering inward from without, expressing outward from within, all of it in this way can be reached, inside and out, specifically and in general, all understood thoroughly, and we will naturally attain the hoped-for achievements of the worthies and sages, their vision and knowledge, their wisdom and spirituality. This is what they meant by fulfilling one’s nature and facing one’s destiny, taking spirit as far as it will go and thereby causing transformation. The way of both Nature and mankind is sincerity and nothing more.”