Munching Mulberry Leaves

December 7, 2015 1 Comment

Mulberry leaf Post (1 of 1)

“With time and patience, the mulberry leaf becomes a kimono.”  -Chinese Proverb

Chinese legend gives the title Goddess of Silk to Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih, wife of the mythical Yellow Emperor, who was said to have ruled China in about 3000 BC. She is credited with the introduction of silkworm rearing and the invention of the loom. Half a silkworm cocoon unearthed in 1927 from the loess soil astride the Yellow River in Shanxi Province, in northern China, has been dated between 2600 and 2300 BC.    History of Silk

You are probably familiar with silk production.  Silk worms munch on white mulberry leaves.  When they are fully nourished, good and fat, they spin their cocoons.  The cocoons are collected and unraveled.  The filaments are twisted together to make silk thread.  Silk thread is spun, woven, dyed and sewn into the finest kimonos.

Tai Chi is kimono making for me.  It takes many steps to make a kimono, the same is true for learning a Tai Chi form. Whether practicing or teaching,  I want to produce silk kimono-like results, smooth, silky, without flaw.   But, I want them quickly.  And so, I continue to remind myself “With time and patience, the mulberry leaf becomes a kimono,”  and with time and patience the Tai Chi apprentice learns the lesson.

The Lesson:  Double Rainbow Fan Form, created by the late Mme Wang Ju Ron, and taught by her daughter, Master Helen Wu is my current lesson, my kimono.

The Process:  Six Steps of Learning in Tai Chi.

Step One:  I observe Double Rainbow Fan Form either in a video or with a skilled practitioner.  This is me, munching the leaves.

Step Two:  I break down the form in to smaller segments and learn the flow.  At this point, my goal is to memorize the sequence, small piece by small piece, while learning any new movements. Continuing to munch leaves, “getting fat” practicing bits and pieces over and over until they are familiar, my silk worm is nourished.  I’m not focusing on perfection of sequence or form in this phase, I am gobbling “mulberry leaves” (the macro movements) and memorizing them.

Step Three:  When I’m satisfied that I have memorized the flow, it’s time to build muscle memory.  I have become familiar with the routine and am ready to make more detailed corrections in transitional steps, foot placement, lifts, turns and form correction.  Having a teacher is a real advantage, and some would say essential.  A burst of confidence usually comes to me at this point.  I can feel the progress in my understanding, I am spinning my cocoon.

Step Four:  Just as the worm is sacrificed to harvest the silk fiber, ego and pride must be surrendered for the student to let go of outcomes, of the urge to hurry the process, take shortcuts, or even walk away in frustration.  The steady diet of mulberry leaves and endless spinning starts to get old, but at last the form is memorized, internalized and the most egregious missteps are eliminated.

Step Five in my metamorphosis is smoothing out the form.  I practice what I’ve learned until the entire sequence is smooth, flowing, coordinated and relaxed.  There is much introspection and practice in front of a mirror as this step requires tedious observation and adjustment.  Our silk master has begun unwinding the cocoon delicate fibers and twisting several filaments together into thread.

Step Six:  The Silk Master moves in to weaving the fabric, dying the cloth and constructing the kimono. The Tai Chi student and teacher refine the results. Through careful and meticulous study each posture is examined. For example, can the stance be lowered to increase stability, is each posture supported in all directions, is the lower body strong, is the upper body light?  Are nose and belly button, shoulders and hips, wrists and ankles aligned?   Are the feet grounded?  Does the whole body move in unison?

Begin Again:

The silk master examines the final product and begins to plan his next garment.  The cycle always begins with hatching eggs and envisioning ideas.  As the Silk Master is planning, the silk worms are munching.

I am not a Tai Chi Master.  I must continue to practice and strive for that one day–that one perfect run-through when everything is smooth, silky, and instinctual. There are instances of perfection, but most times I find myself thoughtfully returning to munching mulberry leaves and spinning my cocoon.

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