The Balance of Spiritual Essence, and Martial Application in Art

I came across this the other day. It is a philosophical exploration on Tai Chi. Below the quote I have applied the theories to the creation of art.

In the “Forty Chapter” t’ai chi classic text supplied by Yang Banhou

The spiritual is the essence, the martial is the application. Spiritual development in the realm of martial arts is applied through the ching (metabolic energy), ch’i (breath energy) and shen (spiritual energy) – the practice of physical culture. When the martial is matched with the spiritual and it is experienced in the body and mind, this then is the practice of martial arts. With the spiritual and martial we must speak of “firing time,” for their development unfolds according to the proper sequence. This is the root of physical culture. Therefore, the practice of the martial arts in a spiritual way is soft-style exercise, the sinew power of ching, ch’i and shen. When the martial arts are practical in an exclusively martial way, this is hard style, or simply brute force. The spiritual without martial training is essence without application; the martial without spiritual accompaniment is application without essence. A lone pole cannot stand, a single palm cannot clap. This is not only true of physical culture and martial arts, but all things are subject to this principle. The spiritual is internal principle; the martial is external skill. External skill without internal principle is simply physical ferocity. This is a far cry from the original nature of the art, and by bullying an opponent one eventually invites disaster. To understand the internal principles without the external skill is simply an armchair art. Without knowing the applications, one will be lost in an actual confrontation. When it comes to applying this art, one cannot afford to ignore the significance of the two words: spiritual and martial.

When I read this, I had to take a breath to ponder it, it then proceeded to hit me like lightning. This is key to making art that is meaningful. Art that is full of love, full of the spirit. My main vehicle for artistic creation are the technological wonders of cameras. Naturally, one must lean some of the mechanical skills needed to manipulate and create images using this device. This is the “external skill” that Yang Banhou is talking about This alone can make art, but it is a construction made of only technique. On the other side of the equation, you have the internal spirit, what gives work life, and spiritual content. Like Yang Banhou says, “the practice is the application of the spiritual.” I wonder to myself, and think back my life as an artist. So long I struggled to find that spiritual side, so long I have searched, and practiced my technical skills needed to manifest that spiritual energy into a work of heart, art.

I have over the years encountered all kinds of creations. Ones that are only on the side of technique, engaging to look; however, lacking in a expression of a higher spiritualness. Then I have encountered the spiritual, and only spiritual that lacks the skills needed to fully express themselves. I myself have fallen victim to these extremes. I need, and seek out the balance of the two. The melding of the spiritual that is manifested into a physical construct. This physical construct is what we call art.

Jacob Schere


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