“Ritual is the husk of faith”
– Laozi – Dao De Jing, Chpt 38
Ritual marks the end of every Jiulong class. It involves a reading from the Dao De Jing by the instructor, followed by a simple recitation to honor the memory of those who passed the art to us and state our intention to develop ourselves through the practice of the 4 virtues: honesty, humility, patience and sincerity. As we recite, we turn, fist in palm, and bow to each of the 4 cardinal directions. In fact, each class also begins with ritual, including bowing as we enter the classroom and the sounding of a gong or Tibetan singing bowl before we sit quietly, the first training practice of the class.
These rituals, I like to see them as punctuation marks, are small and take little time, but are nevertheless significant. I remember Shigong John Painter, my teacher, telling us how performing these rituals was a way of keeping the art alive. He had seen many schools fail when teachers and students turned completely away from their roots.
I’ve already written how Jiulong practice can produce high level combat skills through rigorous mental and physical training. Our little rituals are an integral part of that training. Of course, it is easy to brush these traditions off as relics of the past. One can easily recite our 4 virtues mindlessly or bow like robots to each other and the teacher. None of it is necessary to become a badass fighter.
However, I like to think that our students can become better badass fighters and better people than they otherwise would be by attending to the words and actions of our traditions. I believe that many come to understand that our bows are not only signs of respect for the art, but also reminders to engage fully with it.
For the student who reflects at all on our traditions, especially if encouraged by class discussion or a talk by the instructor, such reflection can be a form of critical self-examination. If I keep saying I’m going to work at being honest then maybe I can start by honestly evaluating my own skills, the better to improve them. I bow when I enter the class to remind myself I’m entering a special place and to be completely focused on my training.
Years ago, when talking about Laozi, Shigong Painter reminded us that the husk protects a seed. It has a necessary function, without which the seed might die and there would be no plant to produce more seeds. I suspect Laozi understood this. Whenever I see new students bowing out of class respectfully and mindfully, my teacher’s point is driven home.