What is Embrace Tiger?
What does it mean?
In the Taichi Ch’uan style that I practice, the Cheng Man-Ch’ing form, one of the central postures is named Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain. I was immediately drawn to this posture and its name. I also loved practicing the movement, to step into this posture correctly -sticking to principles requires a tremendous amount of hip mobility, balance and focus.
When my teacher went on to discuss the meaning behind the name it had a profound impact on me. It became the central aspect of my personal philosophy and the way I aim to live my life. So much so in fact that half of my body is covered in a Tiger tattoo to represent the meaning of this teaching.
My teacher explained that in the Taoist idea, the Tiger is seen as both yang and yin. It is both hard and soft, light and dark, full and empty, moving and still, fire and water, ferocious and gentle. To embrace this aspect of ourselves, all aspects, to demonise no part of ourselves, is to return to Mountain. The Mountain can be seen in many ways, stillness, peace, our true strength, our majesty. I see it as being all of that, the greatest version of ourselves- whatever that means to each person.
The teaching from this is to be balanced, to find your balance. That balance will look different for each of us. The important thing is finding YOUR balance, not trying to emulate anyone elses.
For example, in my own training, I have discovered I need about an equal amount of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ training to be both happiest and healthiest. I need to do those all out, balls to the walls workouts, I need to do push ups until my eyes bleed, and sprint until my heart feels like its going to thunder out of my chest, and my lungs feel like they are on fire. Well….not quite- but you get the point, I have to do really hard workouts that challenge me greatly. I feel great joy in training like this and it makes my body feel great. Its one reason why I enjoy practicing traditional Shaolin, they say the spirit of Shaolin is like a Tiger rampaging down a mountain-side. This fire, this focus, is very much a part of me and I must express it. If I dont, I get sick.
On the other side of the same coin, I have to practice arts that have a softer, opening qulaity to them. It’s why I practice Yoga, it’s why I practice Qigong, it’s why I practice Taichi- If the spirit of Shaolin is a Tiger rampaging down a mountainside, then the spirit of Taichi is a Tiger sauntering through the forest. It’s still a Tiger, all its power contained within, able to unleash it at any moment, yet peaceful and serene. A Tiger can’t rampage all day long after all. It needs balance.
This is the teaching from this posture and its name, and the goal of the Taichi player, to have the ability to be anywhere on the yin yang spectrum. To be the softest of the soft or the hardest of the hard. Each energy always containing the seed of its opposite. To have the ability to express whatever energy any situation requires, without becoming imbalanced.
This balance extends to all aspects of our lives. I, for the most part find myself living in a gentle and harmonious way with other people. However if indruders broke into my home and threatened my family, they would be met with a ferocity that would shake the heavens. To demonise either gentleness or ferocity is to be stuck, and therefore out of balance.
Embracing the Tiger is simply about finding YOUR balance in YOUR life. In your training, in your work, in your relationships. It’s about being honest and true to yourself. Some people may need very little of the yang type of energy or activity in their life to feel balanced, happy and healthy, for others the exact opposite may be true. We all need balance, teachers, past and present may offer a guide, but ultimately you have to find it yourself.
Embrace your own Tiger – that wild part of yourself that knew what it liked and loved before it was told what it should like and love. Only you can know what that is. Only you can do it. Embrace all parts of yourself and come to your own place of balance, peace, and joy. Your Mountain.