SNAKE, CRANE, MANTIS — STARFISH?!?!?

art_starfishNo, we are not dealing with some supposedly wonderful obscure esoteric “Form” that I have personally single-handedly discovered.(Sorry to disappoint some of you !)

What we’re dealing with is the “feeling” of one woman as she hits those “rare moments” of experiencing attributes of another animal. No one suggests that one actually becomes the snake, or crane, or mantis biologically — just that one experiences certain of the “qualities” of that animal. I’ve never been able to “relate” to any animals in my Tai Chi practice (except the snake to a limited degree for spiraling energy or certain “wrapping around” movements. Strangely enough, even though I’ve had horses for years, I don’t feel them at all even). Yet one day, clear as a bell in my mind’s eye, there appeared a starfish. Strange to think of a water creature since I hate swimming, boating, etc., have no interest in aquariums, etc. (Plus I live in the Las Vegas desert.) Yet there it was, so clearly, a starfish..

The first thing that struck me about the starfish was how it exemplified what Tai Chi people are always talking about: keeping the mind in the dan tian, all movement originates from there, being centered, etc. What more graphic example of a well-defined obvious “center” than the starfish! It is there that the starfish truly “resides” — its rays are just “useful appendages”, much like our arms & legs. (I’m gonna keep calling the starfish’s “arms” rays, so we don’t become confused between their arms & ours!) His center decides what it is going to do & the rays just do what they have to do to accomplish it. I’m like a “mutant” starfish — my 2 legs & upper torso being 3 rays, & my other 2 rays (“arms”) coming out of the torso ray rather than physically directly from my center. But, hey — I didn’t say I was a starfish, I just said I was looking for helpful qualities that I could relate to. If I could always “move from my center”, with my rays doing whatever they needed to do to support & enhance my movement & balance & “get the job done”, wow!

(To digress slightly for a moment, I think the “angle” from which someone approaches a task can make a big difference. Take, for example, the usual command to “bend your knees more” when striving to achieve a lower stance. I feel it “works better” for me if I think “lower you pelvis & have the rest of the body do whatever it needs to do to get out of your own way”. Either way results in a lower stance. But I get an entirely different “feel” when the bending of the knees is a result or “by-product” of the latter approach where the “origin of focus” has my center as the starting point, not my knees. Try it.)

How about the tremendous power ratio of all those little suckers on the undersides of the rays — a real “adhering” potential when needed. And the tough top/front of the starfish with spines — pretty good “armor”. Of course, there’s also the “soft underbelly” of the starfish that he has to protect, much like us having to “watch your back”.

Anyhow, I began to read about the starfish & it’s qualities. On the starfish’s center is a little spot we might be tempted to call an “eye”. Actually, it’s a little screen that draws the water in then sends it to the rays, both for locomotion & to empower the suckers. Aha! Kinda like sending out the chi, maybe? That it resides in the dan tian 1st, then is sent where needed?

The closest thing to an “eye” is a spot at the end of each ray, capable of sensing mainly light — which is energy. Is this similar to our finger tips “sensing”, then our arms follow thru? How about our feet sensing the terrain, as to whether we should shift our weight?

The starfish doesn’t “do battle” when he wants to eat. He quietly wraps around a clam or oyster (tough little buggers to open), applies a slight pulling pressure — and WAITS. Eventually “dinner” begins to tire, opens just a tiny bit & DINNER’S SERVED! The slow, steady relentless “pursuit” of the starfish weakens the muscle power of the “opponent” & he just waits for a tiny opening to occur. One book said that the starfish needs a crack of only 1/25th of an inch to drop its stomach down from the opening in its underbelly & enter into the “opponent” & begin to devour him. Once the starfish makes the initial destructive strike into the mollusk, further devouring occurs at a rapid rate. See any parallels — including the “strike” comes from the center? One picture in a child’s book was a gorgeous example of “rooting”. The starfish was up straight on a single ray, while his other rays were busy with preparing dinner. It is so firmly etched in my mind that I “see” it constantly when in a one-legged stance. As far as movement, thus far I’ve never seen a live one move. (I’m seriously looking at how difficult it would be to keep one healthy so I can study it.) All I know is that they extend a ray, latch on, & then “pull” themselves up to it. I really don’t like this “pull” idea — but if I can modify it into the idea that I adhere with that ray & then use my other rays to propel myself to “go with” the energy of the opponent, OK, I can buy into that. Most of the time, they just stay quietly on the ocean floor unless there’s what they consider a good reason to move. Isn’t that like “as little as possible, as much as necessary”? What I truly visualize as movement is what I have seen in cartoons, of the dancing starfish, able to move their rays in graceful ways totally oblivious to gravity and/or the resistance of the water because they are in such total “touch” with it, & at other moments to float serenely along in harmony with the currents. I have no idea how fictitious & literally incorrect these images are. But if they evoke a proper & productive response in me, are they really that “bad”? I found myself conjecturing as to why sea creatures seemed so omitted in the arts. The only things I could come up with were: 1. The majority of China probably knew very little about the ocean & its creatures in the days when one didn’t travel very far from one’s home; and 2. The dead or dying things that washed up on the beach obviously didn’t offer much in the way of “admired qualities” to be implemented for either fighting or health.

Kris Kovach

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