Philosophy Tuesday

There was a funny thing that kept happening.  We* would ask Sifu a question about some move in the Tai Chi form, usually a move somewhere near the end of the form, and he would say, “Well, go back to your Wu Ji.”

Now, Wu Ji is the first move in the form.  It’s not even really a move – you stand in it.  Translated literally, it means something like “Empty” or “Nothing” stance, though the more proper meaning is “Harmonious” stance, with the idea of bringing your body and body tension together in evenness and harmony, like a circle.  It’s the starting position.

Which is why we would usually protest.  “No Sifu, I meant this move here…” and we would demonstrate.  “I know,” he would reply, “But go to Wu Ji.”

Despite our frustration, it does (Of course it does!  He was Sifu!) make sense.  If you don’t have your Wu Ji, you can’t “have” anything – your moves are all deficient** in some way.  We are thinking and asking to tweak something on this one particular move when really a) the problem doesn’t start there b) we apparently don’t even fully grasp the depth of the problem c) tweaking that move won’t really fix the issue and d) if we can adjust our Wu Ji, then we won’t need to fix the problem because the problem goes away.  Moreover, it doesn’t just go away, it e) creates a whole bunch of positive outcomes everywhere, in every single move we do.

It is a great way to express the concept of returning to the primordial.  Whether martial arts moves or societal systems, whether cultural or our own personal views and realities, or our own identities and who we see ourselves and others to be, it’s hard to poke and prod something so deep and at the end of a long chain and have it be all that impactful.  At best we can struggle and strain and maybe keep it (or our Tai Chi structure) from collapsing.  But the issues remain, and often compound on each other.  But when we get something fundamental and come from first principles, from the primordial, and adjust our Wu Ji so that we begin from a place of proper connection and intent, then massive shifts are possible.  Everything sings, compounds harmoniously, and we come to those places of strength with ease, naturally.

All wrapped up in a simple small phrase.  Thank you Sifu.


* While it would happen to all of us it seemed to happen to Steve the most… so much so that it has become our affectionate running joke now (and a way for us to remember and honour Sifu)

** Not bad, or wrong, but just missing something.  Something to discover, get, incorporate, and grow.

Architecture Monday

A city can be made or unmade by its civic centre, and a grand city hall can do wonders to create a locus for civic activity, both mundane and the ceremonial.  And no surprise in such historical cities with a strong social conscience, the Scandinavian city halls were something to behold.

Let’s start in Stockholm, where the city hall is, among all its other roles, the host of the annual banquet for the Nobel Prize winners (well, except for the Nobel peace prize, as that’s presented and hosted in Oslo – why?  No one is sure… “Maybe Nobel thought Norwegians were more peaceful,” joked our tour guide).  But before we get inside to see the grand halls, the outside and its courtyard is nifty on its own, starting to display the building’s curious mix of rugged brick, planar and bold in its geometries, punctuated by both subtle tracery and highly visible ornamentation.  It sounds like an odd mix, but it really works, creating something very down to earth yet still ceremonial, capped by a series of expressive towers, including one with a beacon lantern.

Inside, we first get to the Blue Hall, an interior courtyard of sorts where the banquet is held and the recipients walk down that grand staircase after being introduced.  If you’re noticing it’s not blue, well, yes… during the design the architect removed the blue tiles he had originally planned, but the name stuck.  But best of all, hidden in the band of wood near the ceiling is a pipe organ!  (For a 360 degree view of the hall, click here)

Overlooking the Blue Hall is the Golden Hall, and well, the name doesn’t disappoint here.  Nor does the mosaic that forms that gilding, filled with abstract allegories to Swedish history.  (This hall was originally going to be used for the banquets, but they moved it downstairs for more space – which means the waiters need to carry the food down that same stairway… and hope no one trips)

And no, this one is not called the Red Hall, but the council chambers is equally impressive, especially with its amazing painted ceiling.

On the whole it’s a great design, bold and approachable, with spaces that feel great and filled with great little details and sculptures and carvings.  A perfect centre for a city.

The Stockholm City Hall by Ragnar Östberg