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Kwai Chang Caine

In the early 1970's in the UK there were only 3 TV channels and few US series being broadcast so most people tended to watch the shows on offer.
David Carradine's Kung Fu TV series was very popular. It introduced many people to an Eastern life of martial arts practice, philosophy, peace, tranquillity, meditation, spiritual inquiry and reflection.
Many people were deeply impressed by the message and went in search of a martial arts class.

Beyond k
ung fu

The martial arts scenes in the Kung Fu TV show weren't very good. The fight choreographer tended to use judo not kung fu (Chinese boxing). Yet it did not matter. People genuinely did not care.
What they liked about the show was everything else.


The Kung Fu TV show was about how people live, the choices they make and the difficulty of living with the consequences of their decisions.
People enjoyed Kwai Chan Caine's journey, his attitude, his humility.

This journey I am proposing that we take together is not to the moon or even to the stars. The distance to the stars is much less than the distance within ourselves. The discovery of ourselves is endless, and it requires constant inquiry, a perception which is total, an awareness in which there is no choice.
This journey is really an opening of the door to the individual in his relationship with the world.


What is 'spiritual'?

Some people immediately think of spiritualism - a mishmash of sťances, psychics, mystics, ghosts, mediums, auras, the occult...
Others may think instead of religion, church, charity, community service, good deeds. Tai chi isn't concerned with spiritualism or organised religion.

Spirits and the supernatural

Some people are interested in ghosts and spirits, or they like to speculate. Tai chi is not concerned with this whatsoever.
Taoism recognises that most of existence is unknowable, so we do not imagine what may or may not be.
To understand your tai chi you must become a pragmatic person, a scientist and learn how your body works in relation to everything around you. You must begin with your feet planted on the ground.


In Eastern terms, the word 'spiritual' is about how we live. Not our occupation/our job, but our relationships. With each other. With the world around us.
Our thoughts. Our emotions. Our motivations. Our perceptions. Our conditioning. Gossip, the news, fashion, trends, TV, technology, politics, competition or popularity is not 'spiritual'.


Everyday life can be pretty tedious. Like Groundhog Day. The same routine; day in, day out. People get bored.
They get drunk, they take drugs or they fill their minds with other people's thoughts, opinions and ideas. All of these distractions take us further away from the reality of our lives and ourselves.

Mid-life crisis

People sometimes experience a mid-life crisis.
They work hard for many years, buy a house, get married and then suddenly wonder why they are doing all the things they are doing and what does it all mean.
This is the beginning of a spiritual awakening

At the very base of this health crisis is the cancerous spiritual malaise in the West, a fundamental disharmony that keeps people from positively engaging with life and relaxing in virtually any circumstance that life can throw.

(Bruce Frantzis)


Spiritual inquiry is about asking the big questions:

  1. Who am I?

  2. What do I want?

  3. Why am I here?

  4. How does it all work?

  5. What is all about?

  6. Why do people behave like this?

  7. Is my life meaningful?

  8. What sort of person am I?

  9. Do I love? 

  10. Am I enjoying my life?

  11. Is this really how I want to spend my time?

It is not about you

The really interesting question is this: are we equipped to understand the answers? Or will we just filter everything through our memories, opinions, bias, ideas, notions, misconceptions, world view?

We understand things in terms of ourselves

This has some major drawbacks, since most things in existence have nothing whatsoever to do with us... It is perhaps shocking to realise that you are not the centre of the universe.
Everything does not revolve around you.

Quality of life

Spiritual is about recognising that there is more to life than earning a living or getting drunk. The world is vast, strange and fascinating. It contains wonders and horrors.
But you do not need to travel the world in order to gain insight. The Tao Te Ching explains that we can know the whole world without even leaving our room...

A spiritual life

Instead of seeking to 'numb out' by watching TV or embracing contemporary trends, we want to wake up. This is the purpose of meditation and tai chi.
We become acutely aware of our minds, our bodies and re-consider the way in which we live our lives.


Taoism and Zen are not about experiencing magic phenomena or gaining special powers. They are rooted in the real. Earthy, tangible, concrete, practical.
You cannot work on anything unless you can see what is right in front of you.

The ordinary

In the TV show Kung Fu, the Shaolin monks gained acceptance, patience, humility, understanding and wisdom by learning to end conflict within themselves.
They observed the seasons, they grew crops and harvested them, they washed clothes, cleaned and cooked. They discreetly practiced their kung fu skills. Their lives were deeply rooted in the everyday.
No exoticism, no splendour, no excitement. Quiet, simple, rustic, basic.

Tai chi and spirit

In tai chi, the word 'spirit' usually refers to shen. Shen is about immersing yourself so completely in the moment that self-consciousness ends. You become one with what is.


People have an image of themselves, an idea. This is what they believe is real. Their thoughts and their actions may not actually be the same.
In actual practice, the individual might behave entirely differently to their self-image. This represents a contradiction. Between the fact and the idea/image.

Who are you?

Tai chi, Taoism and Zen help you to remove contradictions. Contradictions are usually exposed when somebody says something that runs contrary to the truth.
It is not the truth that upsets you, it is the contradiction. For example: a person believes that they are calm and friendly...
Yet, whenever events unfold in unanticipated ways, the person becomes annoyed. This is not calm. Nor honest. It is pretending.


If a person believes that they are usually calm and friendly but admits that they become annoyed at times, then they are not kidding themselves. For they see the truth. So there is no contradiction.


By removing the division between yourself and everything around you, oneness occurs. Being immersed in the here and now is vital to tai chi practice.
Thoughts end, memories stop intruding and we allow the world to unfold without consideration. There is a sense of great calm and wellbeing.
This is considered to be a 'spiritual' experience because you transcend the illusion of separateness.

Fix your eyes on Bobby Jones.
Look at his practice swing... almost like he's searching for something.
Then he finds it.
Watch as he settles himself right into the middle of it.
Feel that focus.
Now he's got a lot of shots to choose
- duffs and tops and skulls -
but there's only one shot that's in perfect harmony with the field.
One shot that's his - the authentic shot.
And that shot is going to choose him.
There's a perfect shot out there trying to find each and every one of us.
All we have to do is get out of its way and let it choose us.

(The Legend of Bagger Vance)


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Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023