LEARNING BY FEELING WITH THIERRY BAË
By Heidi Wilm
July 16 at the rehearsal space of the Burgtheater, Arsenal,
hall E: 15 people trying to feel. Feeling what it means to stand. Feeling their
vertical position. Feeling the weight in their legs, balancing between back and
forth, feeling their feet, the shift between heels and front sole, feeling
their connection to the earth, feeling their kidneys, their centre, feeling the
fire, the warmth flowing through their body, feeling the power of their pushing
their feet into the ground.
Five days to get an insight into the basic principles of
Tai Chi are not a lot, just enough to get a glimpse of what it means to follow
this Chinese practice, of how to understand its main ideas. But what does such
an understanding involve? And what at all, could understanding mean here?
The key which Thierry Baë offers to his students is an invitation to feel the principles of Tai Chi, not just to "understand" them. At
least not in a sense of "understanding" that ascribes it to a purely intellectual
operation as we usually tend to do in western culture. For of course, if "understanding"
was detached from every sensual aspect, ignoring the importance of bodily
intuition as an essential part of every learning process, there would be no way
to ever teach a practice like Tai Chi. But what Thierry Baë is trying to reach in his class is a form of
understanding which exceeds our usual understanding of understanding: an
understanding through feeling.
„Feel!" – Thierry Baë keeps repeating his demand over and over again throughout the class
and he seems like a constant reminder to his students: whatever you do, in
every moment you are, in every movement and situation – never forget to feel.
There are rules in Tai Chi, Thierry Baë explains, such as starting every Tai Chi
practice facing to the North. For in Chinese tradition, the South stands for
fire and the kidneys are nourished by this fire coming from the backside.
Nevertheless, as always, there are different schools of Tai Chi and some of them
do it just the opposite way around. So the most important thing is: right, to feel. To feel which side is right for
you in the moment you start practising. If there happens to be a grey wall
right in front of you when you're facing the North and a green meadow in the
South, there is no sense in sticking to an empty principle.
"Try to FEEL the movement! FEEL the pushing! That's it!
Try not to first FEEL the weight, then pull, try to FEEL the relation!
Pulling is always! FEEL the centre, FEEL the centre!"
Thierry Baë talks a
lot, his words circle around the room almost like a guided meditation or
certain form of preaching, a mantra singing with the mantra "FEEL". He also speaks
of meridians, of Yin and Yang, the Chi energy, the meaning of earth and sky in
Chinese thought – a lot of metaphors coming from a philosophy so far away from
ours. Listening from the outside, it seems all very complicated, far too much
to know, too much to "understand" in just five days.
But the teacher knows what he is doing. After a lot of
talk and complex, twisted explanations he just turns the page and asks his
students to stand for a while.
Just stand there in silence for a couple of minutes.
Letting them breathe. Letting them feel ----------
And little by little, person by person, very slowly,
there is a place where understanding just seems to happen.
Sometimes it seems to take a lot of words to touch a
body. And sometimes it takes just 24 deep breaths for meaning to arrive.
(July 23, 2008)