El registro de lo que nos sucedió siempre queda en nuestro cuerpo, en nuestra mente. En aquellos reflejos donde nos proyectamos. Y cuando vuelven nuestros recuerdos vuelven enteros con la plenitud de sus detalles. Inevitables como una ráfaga de viento.
Esto es algo que comprobamos todos los días con mis alumnos en el trabajo de taichi y también de idioma chino. “El cuerpo se acuerda”.
En el año 2006 escribí un texto sobre la memoria que para mi sigue teniendo vigencia hoy. Lo escribí en ingles pero en breve voy a traducirlo al castellano para quienes tengan interés en leerlo.
Since I was a little child, my teachers always told me not to study by heart. They said that if we only use our memory, we are not using our power of reason. So I never paid much attention to my memory, as I thought good training was not at that part of my brain.
I began to learn taichichuan. I was mesmerized by this chinese martial art and wanted to know more about their culture, so I began to study their language. Both of them are based on memory. The taichi movements are to be learned by heart, and so are the chinese characters and their sounds. A chinese poet needs to know five thousand poems by heart to be able to create his own. In fact, we measure the level in chinese language by the number of known characters. The average chinese person uses three thousand characters. And he has got to learn them by heart.
Traditional chinese medicine holds that the human body is crossed by several channels of vital energy with hundreds of accupuntural points all along them. They are also learned by heart. But, in every case, all of the things to be memorized are deeply interrelated, like the branches of a tree. You never remember isolated things.
To remember something means to keep it alive. If you don’t use a door, its hinges, will become rusty, and finally useless. In the same way, we forget what we don’t need or don’t want to use. So, practice is a very good way to keep things in our mind. And practice is also a very important feature of these disciplines. First, you have to learn to pratice them. Memory is essential and only after you have reached a certain level in your skill can you go into the theory. Oterwise, it is imposible to understand it.
The more you practice, the more skilled you become. Through practice you find the various and different connetions among movements, in the case of taichi, characters in the case of language. The skill you get through time and work is called “kung-fu”. The level of your kung-fu depends on how long and how much you have worked. This word can be used for a cook, a doctor, a painter, a martial artist. Most chinese activities, especially the traditional ones, are measured by kung-fu.
There is an old chinese expresion that has always puzzeled me and says something like “To achieve kung-fu (to do anything) you have to suffer bitterness”. Why bitterness? Now, I think that if you do something yourself, you feel it, you have learned from your own experience and mistakes to reach your conclusions and learn. There is no other way, no theory to get your knowledge faster. Memory is your support to get it all along. When you use it, you have to go through every thing, one by one. It’s practice. Memory and practice go hand in hand. It’s not only what you know, but how you get to know it and how you can do it.
There is a short story that Sancho Panza tells to Don Quijote and is supposed to be an old oriental one: A shepherd needs to take his three hundred goats to the other side of a big river. His boat con only take one at a time. Sancho tells how he takes one by one to the other side with detail. When he has taken the fifth, Don Quijote asks him to skip all that part and go on with the story. Sancho says that, as Don Quijote has made him lose the count of the goats, he has missed the thread of the story and cannot continue. He can’t remember how it goes on. And that’s that.
This story tells me that you have to suffer the passing of the three hundred goats. It’s the only way to get to know the story. It’s the way to build your kung-fu. You build it with your life. It takes time, energy, work. How can you avoid feeling? To go through bitterness is the hard part.
I think this is not easy for us, westerners, to understand and accept. This is not the usual way for us to study. China is an ancient culture. Through its long evolution has seldom had any interchange with the Western culture. Darwin describes the affinities of all the beings of the same class as a Tree of Life. The Chinese and the Western cultures are like two trees of different classes. Their differing evolution proceses brought different shapes, different ways of connecting and organizing their parts, different structures. If we want to get to know and understand this exotic and unknown tree of Chinese culture, I think we have to jump int our boats of memory and flow through its vessels of practice to find its connections, its flowers, its fruits. To do this travel, we have to suffer our kung-fu.
How memory works? I have recently read in the newspaper that science has not yet been able to answer this question. But I always bear it in mind. To me, memory has turned out to be a treasure I nurture every day.