Everything starts with imagination

Imagination is deceptive: It looks like nothing’s happening

‘The doubters said, “Man cannot fly.” The doers said, “Maybe, but we’ll try.” And finally soared in the morning glow. While non-believers watched from below.’ Bruce Lee


As a taiji practitioner, I am frequently surprised by the wisdom and the insights that form the background to this and other martial arts practice. It is not all about spinning through the air and beating off opponents with amazing head spinning moves. It is about control and managing energy – being illusory, making something look like nothing and distracting the eye.

The forms themselves appear slow to onlookers making them assume that it takes little effort and strength to perform the series of moves. When done well, it is smooth and each stance flows into the next like a river.

Those who have tried to do taiji, and I am sure it applies to other martial arts, soon realise how deceptive that slowness is and how effective it can be in a defensive situation. The application of those slow moves can throw someone off balance within a split second. They won’t know how it happened and won’t even register the sleight of hand that caught them off guard. It is as if it came from nowhere.

Newcomers miss the fact that, while one part of the body appears to be moving, it is in fact still and is driven from somewhere else. This sleight of body or mind is like imagination.

While it appears nothing is happening the imagination is building and creating something which may be realised as an idea, expressed as words or realised as objects. We see what the thought became but not the power generating it.

Many people are surprised by how complex each move in taiji is and how much concentration and skill is required to maintain balance and control. Years of practice build the layers that build on the first fumbling efforts.

This same metaphor can be applied to the power of imagination. To fully utilise its power we need experience, confidence and knowledge to take an idea to where it becomes fully realised. Practice and regular exercise is the only way to keep imagination alive, enthusiastic and positive. Imagination at work can appear like the still surface of a pond teeming with fish.

When I do taiji, it feels as though I have become a river as I flow from one position to another. No movement is rigid but it is also not relaxed. The closest term I can come to is that it is controlled. In a way, practicing taiji is paradoxical.  

The greatest surprise for me was when I discovered muscles I had hardly ever used of energy called the Dantian. Learning how to keep it fully charged was life-changing.

What I love about discovering this centre of energy is that I am reminded my body, spirit and thoughts are interlinked. If one aspect gets out of balance, I pay a price in either my mental or physical fitness.

So what does all this have to do with the quote from Bruce Lee? Those who have the courage to find the power to dream and allow their dreams to take shape discover that moment when they create something out of what appears to be nothing. That is how imagination works. It is like the body gathering its own energy and directing it to mould a form that to others appears effortless but in fact is extraordinarily difficult.

A body becomes a mountain, a river, a needle pointing to the bottom of the sea, a white crane; all poses within the form. Each one, although it looks harmless, can defeat an aggressor or achieve a massive undertaking that begins in the imagination.

We are not robots who mechanically go about our daily lives. We are complex, complicated beings. Almost everything of significance that we achieve begins as a kernel, a tiny seed no-one can see, called a thought. It takes root in our imaginations and becomes whatever we want it to become . . . big, small or it can wither to nothing for lack of nourishment.

Imagination is what causes it to germinate or lack of imagination is what causes it to wither and perish.