-From Form to Formlessness-
Wushu as a Tool
The first lesson I teach my students in any practice is correcting the jia zi 架子, or frame. Without a proper foundation and strong roots, the practice will be empty and without ground. 树是根，根是树 – the tree is the roots and the roots are the tree. A correct frame provides a correct framework to build with. Wushu practice is just like building a house – one must begin by establishing a strong and correct foundation in order to build a sturdy and lasting house upon; you cannot get to the second floor without first building stairs.
When practicing something such as forms training, a student must learn the form precisely as taught; mimicking the movements, stances, and techniques exactly in order to learn all aspects of the practice as transmitted by their Master/teacher. One must accurately focus on all aspects of the form’s expression – 手眼身法步. In Daoist wushu practice this all culminates via the intention in the expression of shen 神 (very loosely translated as spirit). Once the fundaments of the form have been digested and have become inherent in the way a practitioner moves, one must move to the next step – “playing” the form and embodying the spirit through the intention. Once a practitioner has cultivated their body to be able to practice the technique and express the power flawlessly within the practice, it is time to transcend the form and play it similar to a master musician playing music. At this point the body becomes a vehicle for the expression of the spirit via the Six Harmonies or liu he 六合.
Once the Three External/Physical Harmonies (Shoulder and hip/waist, elbow and knee, wrist/hand and ankle/foot) have been achieved and the body has no hindrance in its maneuverability, support structures, and coordination, the Three Internal Harmonies (heart/mind and intention, intention and qi, qi and power) can then be fully expressed as the whole of one’s being works in unison. There is no adversity, hindrance, or stagnation blocking the body. Once the qi is sufficient and the circulation of the meridians is smooth and robust; stagnation and pervasive influence is expelled and ceases to be present. One’s practice then becomes a true manifestation of their cultivation; a reflection of Dao. A powerful ceremonial performance of cultivation as the body becomes a physical conduit for the expression of the cultivated shen 神. The body becomes an essential and indispensable tool for cultivating Dao and returning to the root, gui gen 归根.
The establishment of basics, principles, and techniques and their combination in forms practice is one of the most useful tools for personal cultivation in the San Feng Lineage. Once a form has been engrained in a practitioner, it is then time for them to move to the next stage – an internal understanding of the form and a personal embodiment of it. One must move beyond a performance of the practice and into an embodiment of the feeling – one must play the form. A form is played via one’s understanding of its essence and one’s shen and intention. One moves beyond external performance and into internal feeling via gazing within, xin mu nei guan 心目内观.
The Qing Jing Jing says dong zhe jing zhi ji 动者静之基: movement is the foundation of stillness. As one goes deeper into their practice, they recognize the necessity of stillness for internal cultivation. In our system when one first learns Taiji practice, their movement must be performed correctly and to the standard, but overtime it is expected that one go deeper into the practice on their own and as a result the “form” may take a much different route in how it is embodied in an individual practitioner. A deeper feeling of the practice and the body allows for a greater internal stillness and a vice a versa – until one returns to the greatest of our practices, internal alchemy – the keystone that so many of our practices are based on and where they all work to return to.
We practice forms for the cultivation of the formless. The goal of our practice is returning to the root and merging with the Dao 归根合道. The root of our practice is the cultivation of Dao. Much of Daoist practice focuses on the cultivation of the physical body as we recognize the inseparable connection of the spirit and the body 性命双修. There are many profound forms practices within our lineage and their own two things to never forget in practice:
1. Cultivation begins with the first step, not with the 50th. The establishment of basics is paramount for moving deeper into the practice. Establishing a strong foundation in fundamentals and practice principles is indispensable.
2. A practice of only forms without working toward the internal cultivation necessary for their true embodiment is an empty practice.
Practitioners on the path of self-cultivation use wushu as a tool for the cultivation of Dao. The Qing Jing Jing says “I do not know its name, I only call it Dao” 吾不知其名，强名曰道. Dao was given the name Dao only for the purposes of teaching others. The Daoist canon is a tool, a physical manifestation of Dao for the use of understanding it. But do not confuse the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself. When we are done with tools, we do not continue carrying them around. We retain the knowledge of how to use them and pass this knowledge onto others. Our practice of Daoism is a tool that we use to liberate ourselves from suffering 但凭慧剑威神力，跳出轮回无苦门. Find the tool that works best for you and the right Master to show you how to use it.
Attachment to the tool itself is a dangerous path and one that leads to contention, suffering, and fundamentalism – all weapons of the ego. Practice is not about who created what when where. It is not about politics and bureaucracy. Practice is about the cultivation and liberation of the self and others.
If one can live in tranquility, they will gradually enter the True Dao,
They will truly have cultivated Perfection and become Perfected,
Although they are called Perfected, they are not as yet attained,
They must relieve the suffering of all living things, only then will they be Perfected.