Elusive and Intangible
Eva Karczag finds resonance with a more poetic approach to a martial art. Turning Silk: A Diary of Chen Taiji Practice, the Quan of Change by Kinthissa. Lunival, 2009. ISBN: 9780956284600
Kinthissa has a lot to say about a subject that has, until now, not had much said about it. In her book, she aims to describe the elusive and intangible. She does this through a moment-to-moment approach.
She delicately records for us the subtle states of internal experience during her journey of healing herself from an injury. We learn that, rather than misfortune, injury can be opportunity, a great teacher, forcing us to return to the simplest, most essential building blocks of movement. With a knowing mind, we can rebuild our structure and composition anew. We can re-imagine ourselves.
Kinthissa began her studies of Yang-style Taiji in 1976, with Gerda Geddes, who pioneered its teaching in England. In 1995, she met Chen Xiaowang, the leading exponent of Chen Style Taiji Quan, and embarked on her study with him. In the book’s eleven chapters, she explores her practice of Chen Style, which is notable for its explosive actions. Yet it is the art of standing in stillness that is at the heart of the book, and at the heart of Kinthissa’s practice.
She quotes Master Chen, “Natural – first principle!” and continues: “Daily, you look for a suitable stance and fine-tune your way, letting breath and qi work inside you, until one day your posture is impeccable.” She tells us, “It is good to be sparing with the explosive actions, to let the power pool, to store it. Power is creative. Power stored makes one a contented person.”
Kinthissa hones her physical understanding within her writing. We can follow her thought processes as she tracks events and impressions throughout the ‘daily-ness’ of her practice. Her train of thought leads us into each changing experience, as she links inner life and internal focus with the wider world outside of the self.
The valley where she lives and practises – its birds, beasts, vegetation and weather – is present in her practice and her writing. Observing the subtle details of inner movement is not so different from perceiving the natural world in all its complexity. Both are miraculous simply as they are, when we really listen and see what is happening.
She documents the words of her teachers – so important, since, especially when coupled with touch and movement, words become embodied experience, sinking deep inside us into our cells and atoms, to echo in our physical memories. The many sources and explanations in the Notes and References section also helped to widen my understanding of Eastern philosophy and culture.
Kinthissa’s analysis of video sequences pictured in the book is detailed and objective. Her writing is filled with beautifully articulate accounts of inner movement. Descriptions like “the core ripples”, “a charged flowing”, breathing that can “saturate the body” and “alert tranquillity” provide the reader with tangible images that create physical change through the power of the mental pictures they generate. When she makes the observation “Mindful that I need to relax, I let go of effort”, I feel my whole being give way too.
Kinthissa constantly reminds us of subtlety; how in this work we need to give time for the unfolding. “Much can be moved simply by breathing and awareness”, by listening, waiting, observing, allowing, so that undoing and reintegration can happen. Then when we do make an action, it rises out of more profound understanding. She shows us how the qi, as delicate as it is, is an effective force that requires “scrupulous attention and accuracy” in order to be contained and directed.
I could feel that this is a woman writing – the quality, a poetry of sensation, gave me a sense of the feminine aspect. And in a field dominated by men, it is refreshing to hear the way a woman approaches the practice of a martial art.
In my own experience as a dance artist and educator, I have found that it is the presence and materiality of the body that is the most potent source of movement – hands and feet, spine and breath, fluids, and impulses traversing the nervous system – which, when attended to with patience and awareness, gives rise to energy, the fundamental mover. Kinthissa’s book resonated with my own encounters and observations of internal flow and the channelling of energy – the great dance – and will speak to anyone interested in inner work who wishes to deepen their own understanding and practice.