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Strike a Balance

Balance. It's not just a word reserved for the out-there self-improvement crowd. Though, by mountains of vague articles available that try and describe what it constitutes, you'd never know it. There are many articles on the virtues of eating a balanced diet, finding a work-life balance, balancing our individual needs within our relationships with others, striking a balance between strength, cardio, and flexibility in our exercise routine. The list goes on. And on.

From all that's out there, an alien from another planet might think we are so incredibly bad at "finding a balance" that we are constantly searching for the answers to what "balance" is from others. And I wonder whether 1) that's achievable and 2) whether we really need to try that hard.

In our Shaolin training, we have two classes: our internal tai chi class and our external kung fu class. Two classes that seem to become more closely interconnected as we progress. They are thought of as separate, but really this is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich - an incredibly amazing combination which compliments one another! It can sometimes be hard to see how they work unless we look a little deeper.

For me, initially, I could see the connection/importance of going to tai chi class to develop my kung fu. How being sensitive and yielding could unlock opportunities for attacks in our external sparring rounds. I had a hard time realizing the connection and importance of my external training on my internal training until fairly recently, the light bulb illuminated.

I happened to walk in on a chi kung class locally and was asked to join. Sure, I thought, good time to practice my hsien tien chi. So, I'm doing my chi kung thing, getting all into it. And then... we were asked to break down into groups and practice pushing someone's hand while in single whip. Our instructor asked us to "send our energy" through our partner into the wall. I'm sorry guys, but while I've felt tingling and something in my body when doing hou tien chi class and hsien tien chi as well, I was at a loss for how to shoot my chi out through this guy into the wall. This is maybe the best I can come up with...

But in learning about hsien tien chi this past week, I had a particularly powerful experience after we had finished working on one of the brown belt forms and my heart rate was elevated. As we sat down and started going through the small circle of heaven, it was simple enough to find my heart beat and focus on it. Then, while doing the crane postures, balancing there while also trying to breathe correctly, I thought, huh, it's like these two classes go together.


You need a balance between the two. The external focus on the physical keeps us grounded so we're not so airy-fairy with our material that we're trying to develop a practice that understands nothing about where the energy is developed. We are physical beings and we live in a physical world. Being too caught up in the more spiritual aspects of the practice can leave us with a false sense of the world. You end up thinking you can throw chi balls at people like Ryu. Get too external in your focus, however, and you loose all the sensitivity and awareness cultivated in internal training.

"Everything in moderation," says Aristotle, and in training, it's no different. No sooner do you start to completely focus on one area of training, and you lose another. It's a continuous dance. It's less about "achieving" some sort of equilibrium when trying to "become balanced" then being constantly aware and making slight course corrections.

A friend of mine told me recently that life is all about adjustments, and I think those words of wisdom are very apt when thinking about internal and external training and what your focus "should" be on. It's different for everyone, but the training is all designed to compliment one other. So, what are you missing out on lately? Have you been slacking on your tai chi class attendance? How does that affect the rest of your training? How can you course correct?

For instance, I'm starting to work more on practicing applications in push hands sparring. I've been so focused on being sensitive lately that it's probably just a mess of waving hands around to spar with me. Focusing on applications in real time has me experimenting with how I would actually try to use some of the postures in the 24-posture tai chi form. The focus I placed on sensitivity previously is not lost either. While doing push hands, I'm able to sense or feel like I might be able to execute a particular move. Rather than throw away my previous focus, it's actually enhanced because I'm adding something to it.

Within any kind of pursuit towards balance in your life, there's always an ebb and flow. It's a continual process that's not strictly defined by what's missing. It's important to differentiate between "balance" and "perfection" here as well. Sometimes, it's as simple as moving with whatever is naturally pulling you in a certain direction rather than forcing a kind of regiment because we think it must be good for us. It's paying attention to our whole lives holistically, and not just one area.

Take notice of it next time you come to class. It may lead you down an interesting path of discovery!

2 thoughts on “Strike a Balance

  1. I enjoyed your article on balance and learned I’m not the only one struggling with blending the in/external.Thanks for the insights……as a novice blue belt/yellow sash,I have a long journey ahead of me,but articles such as yours,illuminate the way quite nicely….thank you!

  2. Dan,
    Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed the article. You’re absolutely right. We’re not alone in our training. I think some of these things that come up resonate with a lot of folks! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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