Learning from the Stone

Ink on cloud-dragon and cotton paper
With two seals of the artist: 水松石山房 Shuisongshi shanfang  (‘TheWater, Pine and Stone Retreat’), and 石石狂 Shishikuang (‘A Fool for Stones’).
189 x 214 cm
April 2012


It is said that Taijiquan was invented by Master Chen in the late-Ming dynasty, but I once met the drunken monk, Huaisu, in Changsha, and later came to question this conventional wisdom.  At the time, the Tang ruled the land and the capital thronged with people and ideas from far and wide, even from the end of the world.  He was already famous when I encountered him at an elegant gathering.   Perhaps he preferred to write while drunk to help him perform in front of so many fine and important men with their casual demands, but he was still in the first flush of his fame, so he seemed happy with it all.  After he had written out several poems suggested by his audience, his flying brush leaving wild traces on the paper and silk provided, I slipped quietly away to enjoy the extensive gardens with their fine ancient trees.  As I was sitting peacefully on a strangely shaped stone, I saw him pass in the distance, looking back over his shoulder as if to make sure he was not being followed, then disappear behind a group of ancient cedars.  When he did not return, I became intrigued and went to find him.  He was in a small clearing beyond the trees performing a strange dance, the likes of which I had never seen before.  It was very slow, and mannered, arms and legs moving like a hypnotized snake.  When he had finished he suddenly saw me and laughed, explaining that it was a dance he had learned at the monastery where he had lived before becoming famous.  It helped to calm him and restore his equilibrium after he had drunk too much.  He said he did it every day and felt it was beneficial to his health and strength.  I asked who had taught him the dance and he replied that no-one had taught him, he had learned it by watching some oddly shaped stones outside the monastery walls.  He particularly admired their apparent sense of balance and movement.  He explained that to a stone, a myriad years was not too long to make a single, graceful movement, and he imagined how that would look, and speeded it up to suit a more human time-frame.  The result was very much like the ‘Ultimate Fist’ attributed to Master Chen so many centuries later, although less structured, perhaps a little slower.  Maybe it is just a coincidence.  Maybe Master Chen was also a lover of strange stones, for by the time he lived, no garden was complete without its stones set as companions to the ancient trees, stone-tables and stools, and well-stocked fish ponds.

So I drink a little wine to keep the old monk company, pick up my brush, step outside of time, and inscribe a record of these ancient events while I still recall them.  The Master of the Water  Pine and Stone Retreat, spring 2012.