Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Dear Mr. Ralston.
My name is Renaud (pronounced "Reno") Vanderlinden. I've been doing T'ai Chi Ch'uan for about 10 years now. I'm currently living in Port Elizabeth, South Africa although my family and I are originally from Belgium. When I started here in Port Elizabeth I found the teachers to be rather dull and non-helpful in their approach to the art. I've since been teaching myself and I am currently starting to teach others. My Mom bought your book on "The Principles of Effortless Power -- the teaching of "Cheng Hsin." I knew immediately that this was what I was lacking in my training. I consider myself very good at T'ai Chi and I can grasp concepts very quickly.
There are, however, two things that I feel I seem to be stuck on and I was wondering if perhaps you could give me some guidance. After reading your book I feel that if there's anyone who can help me it's you. The first is that I lack a lot of sparring to put into practice what I am learning, although this should hopefully change when I start teaching others as I can spar with them. I would like to know if there's any exercises I can do which will help my confidence and my sparring while I don't have anyone to spar with?
The second and bigger problem is as follows. I started reading your book and followed your words with great enthusiasm. All your teachings of centering, balance, relaxing, grounding, sinking, etc., helped me a great deal. It was without a doubt the greatest eye opener I've ever experienced. I also do QiKung as a form of muscle stretching and breathing exercise. I feel, however, that I'm blocked or stuck at the moment. Although I understand everything mentally I can't seem to extend it to my physical actions. Is there a meditation or some form of exercise I can do in order to release me, to calm myself and focus? To be completely at one and at peace? I find myself when I spar to be attacking, even in my training. Maybe I'm too aggressive or I'm not understanding your teachings well enough?
My Mom ("Michele Mistler") and I have been avid followers of your teaching and her T'ai Chi master in Belgium (I don't have his name) just spent three weeks with you recently. I feel that you can definitely help me if you so choose.
One thing to watch out for in working out the "functional" aspects to the art (via sparring or whatever games you may invent or play) is not to turn it into just another kung fu type "application." Many t'ai chi teachers do this since they don't know how to participate in real internal martial interaction. Make sure to relax, don't block or resist, but find other ways to handle another's force (yielding is the main one); work on using intrinsic strength, keeping calm, listening and joining these are things that set such an art apart from the "external" arts. Grasping these things mentally is a start, but all this must be trained "into" the body.
Regarding your last question: to address this domain I think the work that we do in ontology and contemplation is appropriate. You can begin to contemplate for yourself, and I recommend attending the ontology workshop here in the spring if you can. The books I have out that relate to this domain of work are "Reflections of Being" (a series of essays written a long time ago and never meant to be anexplanation or complete information in any way, but may give you some direction); and "Ancient Wisdom, New Spirit" -- transcriptions from actual workshops and groups doing this work, but once again it isn't instruction, nor complete. I am currently working on a book that will be complete in this way. Other than that, try questioning yourself and contemplating on what is true within your experience. There may also besome direction available through reading through the old IDA (original newsletter) available in Archives on the website. www.chenghsin.com
Good luck and hope I've been of assistance. Maybe I will meet you one day.