Once again, not a huge amount to report; have been head-nodding tired of late, so off my practice a bit. Today’s energies have been directed at clearing a long-neglected greenhouse of bindweed and thistles; the earth inside is now ready to be dug over and manured ready for the tomatoes, basil and chili… Also got a frame half-full of compost, with the remainder to be topped up with manure, and that’s for mushrooms 🙂
A day or two ago, I was looking at Mark Hennessy’s translation of Zheng Manqing’s book “Master Cheng’s New Method of Taichi Ch’uan Self-Cultivation“. Not for the first time, by any means – I’ve had this book for years – but I haven’t read it for quite some time, and maybe the tiredness made me look at it from a different angle.
The thing about the Zheng Manqing form is… why 37?
The translator, Hennessy, notes that in Zheng’s various books the forms are counted differently, and yet always add up to 37 movements:
In every book Cheng himself published, he manages to count the postures differently and yet makes absolutely sure that the final count is thirty-seven. (p x)
In the next paragraph, we are told:
The question remains as to why Cheng labored in fitting his simplified Form into an uncompromising thirty-seven-posture model. He never wrote of any reason, nor alluded to the possibility of a correlative cosmological interpretation. […] We can only assume that if this question was important he would have left us a clue.
What struck me as curious, though, was this, in a later part of the book, Discussions:
There are three distinctions of ch’i. The first is inside your body – blood ch’i; this is our foundational ch’i and it must be kept at thirty-seven degrees Celsius. The second form is outside your body – air ch’i; this is the stuff we breathe and it can be connected to the tan-t’ien, the so-called Sea of Ch’i, or Room of Stored Essence. Nourishing your ch’i by sinking your breath to the tan t’ien warms your essence ch’i into the third form of ch’i – yuan ch’i. This ch’i connects the body’s membranes and permeates the bones. (p22-23)
Now, I’d be the first to admit that this is a tenuous link, but there we are: the only place where Zheng mentions thirty-seven in any context other than the length of the sequence. In the context, it’s actually unnecessary to mention it at all, to be honest, since “body temperature” would have been as easy. (Of course, perhaps this is what the original says, and it’s only a translator’s phrase – but I don’t think so, since I gather the translator is American, and the Americans don’t use the metric system…).
In a way it makes complete sense: 37-degree blood qi is the foundational level of qi, the 37-sequence form is the foundational level of self-cultivation…
I’ve googled it, but I don’t find this hypothesis anywhere. Has it been discussed to death and discarded so that no-one talks about it now? Is it crazy? Let’s bear in mind that Zheng is not exactly shy and retiring in his style of writing; it would seem perfectly in keeping for him to make an analogy between his new taiji style and the fundamentals of life…