Physical culture reaches its peak of perfection when based on the results of experience, observation and experimentation.
Philosophy and ideology should not take the lead in practical and logical affairs. In the culinary arts, hunting, fishing, war, farming, building and tailoring, experience, observation and experimentation result in intelligent design of methods.
How do we discover which plants and berries are good to eat, have certain medicinal qualities or are poisonous? How did Japanese chefs discover the correct method of preparing and eating Fugu, the deadly Puffer Fish? How did we discover the correct method of lifting heavy objects from the floor without injuring our backs? By philosophy? Meditation? Divination? By forming a think-tank committee? No. We discovered these things by experience, observation and experimentation.
A `best practice’ is a method that consistently shows results superior to those achieved by other means. A benchmark that evolves with improvements.
Best practice does not come from political or religious philosophy or individual ideas. It comes from culminated generations of experience, observation and experimentation.
Using the model of best practice modern society should be more efficient at managing human affairs than ancient societies. We should live our lives more effectively because of experience, observation and trial and error built up in previous generations.
This is why Eastern health arts such as Yoga and Qigong are superior to modern exercises created by individuals. But if you listen to many young fitness coaches who come up with new routines you would think that no human had ever worked on the problem of safe and effective exercise before!
In physical culture, it is important not to ignore experience of previous generations.
Religious and philosophical teachings about exercise – even existing for a millenia – are not trustworthy. There is a huge difference between an ancient religious idea and an ancient method of farming or building. Experience, observation and experimentation to achieve practical results should be based on evident and robust experience within the physical world.
In exercise we should choose practical experience over philosophy. We should take the lead from tangible and self-evident truths such as physiology and physics. To lift a heavy object from the floor we bend the knees and keep the back straight. Trial and error gave us this method, not philosophical claims.
Some Chinese internal health arts and martial arts treat a philosophical or religious dogma as if it was best practice.
This approach prevents new input, which is necessary for evolution. In the Chinese arts when someone comes up with an idea they are sometimes followed blindly with no deviation for generations. Methods arrived at by philosophy are frequently considered `perfect’ from the outset and so need no further development. If philosophy is behind a method evolution is difficult. Philosophy has told you what method is correct so why take notice of experience? Why bother to experiment?
Philosophical thinking can cause difficulty. There’s a claim that Tai Chi’s `Squatting Single Whip’ posture is intended to stretch the meridian that runs down the inner thigh. The posture requires placing most of the body weight on one squatting leg while stretching out the left leg. Most people find this very difficult. In addition, the overwhelming majority of Tai Chi practitioners perform this posture only on the right side, so the right and left legs receive a different stretch. This is neither efficient or safe. Jiangan’ postures for the inner thigh stretch are safer and more effective.
How do we know when an art has arrived at its peak of best practice? It should be based on self-evident practical considerations. The optimum methods for preparing and cooking the Puffa fish and lifting heavy objects has been achieved.
And exercise? Imagine you are looking for a single routine to provide a potent health and fitness benefit. You choose an Asian art because of Asia’s history and experience. But you are faced by a myrad of different types, styles and schools of Yoga, Tai Chi and Qigong. Could one fulfil that comprehensive role?
After thirty years of studying and teaching Tai Chi and different forms of Qigong I have found the closest to a definitive method of complete exercise. Jiangan has the most potent breathing method, safest bending and stretching, contains muscle strengthening, carido, gentle mindful focus on internal aspects. It is superior because of is physiological effects, not because of its philosophy. It is my best practice candidate for a daily comprehensive health and fitness routine.
Michael Davies is Hon President of the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain and author of `Jiangan – The Chinese Health Wand‘