When it comes to destructive behavior it really doesn't matter whether the human condition is called an addiction, compulsion, irresistible urge or uncontrollable impulse. Treatment for these conditions vary widely, and this was nowhere more evident than in China where compulsive and uncontrolled behavior has been recognized and treated for over two thousand years. While the methodology has varied, all the Chinese principles were founded in the harmony of Yin and Yang; and corresponding Taoist principles expressed in Buddhism's Three Poisons, greed, anger and delusion.
These principles were centuries old when Opium addiction began to plague China in the 1700s, and different treatment methods were well established by the time Great Britain and France imposed Opium trade on China in the mid 1800s.
Regardless of treatment method or philosophy, the Chinese recognized the first step in any addiction was detoxification. Cold turkey was the most common and was followed by a variety of substance substitution, ranging from acupuncture, exercise and numerous herbal remedies, with tobacco being the most popular substitution after its introduction in China.
This led me to the realization that "self esteem" was as much a part of my nature, or for that matter everyone's nature, as any internal or external factor; and, the lack of self esteem rests at the heart of most depression. It doesn't matter whether there is a chemical imbalance that causes the depression, or whether it is the psyche that causes the imbalance, the depression is the same. Anti depressant drugs are well suited for those who can tolerate their side effects, but I question whether there would still be an underlying problem with self esteem that can only be addressed by confronting it. It took me several years to balance the mental control of pain with concentration on physical and mental activities, and the first step in this was to recognize my depression and confront it.
While physical pain can be debilitating, psychological and emotional pain can be equally devastating, and quite often these types of pain lead to drug and alcohol dependency that foster addiction and destructive behavior. Tai Chi Chuan by itself cannot relieve pain without years of practice. But for the beginning student, it can be useful, when combined with other methods, in coping with some of the cause of physical and emotional pain.
Yang Cheng-fu spent many hours teaching recovering addicts in clinics where the patients lived full time. His method was simple and direct and his opening statement to these students can be translated, "I only speak Tai Chi," meaning whatever the students' problems, whatever their emotional state or their position in life, all that was left outside the class. He was there to teach Tai Chi and his words and every action were to that end and that end only. Additionally, although Yang Cheng-fu was paid well for teaching Tai Chi in his schools, he never charged for teaching at these clinics. This tradition was handed down to his students, and on three occasions I accompanied his son, Yeung Sau Chung, when he taught at a private Hong Kong live-in clinic; and he emphasized to me that a recovering addict must know he was there to help, that he had no other motive, and his sole purpose was to transmit the moves and traditions of Tai Chi that his family had developed.
I was nineteen at the time, and asked why he was so selective in the students he accepted, and why he charged for lessons in his apartment, but taught for free and accepted everyone at the clinic. It was many years before I fully understood what he told me, which is essentially this: The addicts are preyed upon by thieves. Opium is a thief that robs them of their senses, and they harbor a den of thieves within (their emotions) that rob them of rational thought. Payment for lessons for the recovering addict in the clinic would be nothing more than payment of ransom, a ransom that would be demanded time and time again. The addict commits himself to rehabilitation and that is quite different from committing himself to learning Yang Cheng-fu Style Tai Chi Chuan. His teachings at the clinics were only an opening for the addict to see a path. When one commits to learning Tai Chi it is no longer the addict, but the person who seeks this path.
As for teaching everyone at the clinic, Sau Chung told me he did not accept any patients who had been committed by their family, and only those who wanted to learn Tai Chi were permitted. The clinic did not make Tai Chi a requirement, and the clinic could not charge its patients for the training. When I asked Tung Ying Chieh, whom Sau Chung considered to have been his father's best student, if he taught at opium clinics, he responded by taking me to the clinic where he also taught for free. This was the tradition handed down by Yang Cheng-fu and carried on by these two masters under whom I had the privilege of learning a small portion of Tai Chi. It was also a tradition carried by my three Yang Cheng-fu Style instructors who held faithfully to his style, and it is a tradition that I accepted when I came to accept my responsibility to teach Yang Cheng-fu style as I learned it. Unfortunately, to my knowledge there are no rehabilitation clinics like those in Hong Kong, but rather they espouse programs that are contrary to Tai Chi.
Two years after the death of Yang Cheng-fu, the Japanese invaded China and the country was in chaos. After the war (1945) many of the opium recover clinics reopened in Hong Kong and Macao, but Sau Chung and Tung Ying Chieh were the only Yang Cheng-fu students who taught at the clinics. Seeing the success Yang Cheng-fu had with recovering opium addicts, many clinics began hiring Tai Chi instructors, but with limited success, and often with disastrous results. In those clinics, Tai Chi was little more than an exercise, but when their patients were released from treatment, many of them found photographs of Yang Cheng-fu postures and realized that what they were taught as Tai Chi, was not Yang Cheng-fu's style. A seed of dishonesty was planted in their fragile, addictive minds; they were not learning true Yang style but rather an imitation. The stronger of these, sought out Yeung Sau Chung or Tung Ying Chieh, but most gave in to their addictions. Some clinics recognized the problem, and stopped calling the Tai Chi they taught "Yang Style," but few, if any of those learning Tai Chi in those clinics ever took Tai Chi beyond an exercise and none achieved what those who had studied Yang Cheng-fu's style had accomplished.
The Chinese recognized the difference between the physical addiction, of Opium and other substances, psychological addition and compulsive behavior and treated each differently. They also observed that a small percentage of all addictions and compulsive behavior was self treated. That is, the individual simply decided to give up the habit, whether it was opium, alcohol, or some other destructive behavior, and never returned to it. This of course gave every treatment method a small (1% - 3%) success rate, no matter how ridiculous or ineffective the method may be. However, the one thing recovery methods had in common was a commitment of the addict to the program of self awareness and self healing.
Without a desire to change, no program would or could work. However no treatment employed those portions of what in the west has become known as 12 Step programs, where the individual declares himself powerless to overcome the condition and instead relies on an external, higher power or god, however it is perceived. .
The most successful Chinese treatment programs helped the individual put his mind and body in harmony without concern for external conditions. That is, the potential power to change came from within with self transformation coming through the guidance of the practitioner, or in the extreme, on harmony with nature and I Ching.
The two most successful methods came to be known as internal and external. The internal method employed breathing and meditation to condition and teach the mind to control the body and psyche, while the external method trained the body in specific exercises and breath control, which in turn changes the mind and psyche. And of course there was the combining of internal and external.
The external method utilized physical diversion, which included physical exercise, Kung Fu training as well as arduous mental and physical exercises against natural obstacles, such as climbing mountains, challenging dangerous situations, and other activities that required physical strength and a keen mind.
These and other forms of exercise were transitions that took the individual from an addictive or compulsive state to self control through mental diversion, substitution and mental stimulation. This of course only had a short term effect, and it was reasoned that once the physical addiction was overcome by withdrawal methods, the mind still craved the drug; and, that craving could be replaced, or rather supplanted, by the energies supplied through exercise and mental and physical diversion. However, exercise, like opium required an ever increasing quantity to meet the brain/mind's demand. That is, the brain quickly became accustomed to the elements and stimulation supplied by exercise, and this required a greater amount of exercise to fill the brain's need. Likewise, diversions not only required constant change but they were time consuming.
The internal/external method employed mind and body coordination, where the physical movements were reflective of the mind. Calligraphy was the oldest and most successful internal/external training method. By training the body to move in harmony with the brush, the inner attitude and psyche could be changed, and conversely, by changing the mind and psyche the brush stroke would graphically reflect the subtle change on paper. In the martial arts the brush became an extension of the body and was applied to the sword as well as the empty hand.
The concept of the mind controlling the body and emotions was, like the wheel, reinvented in the 1950 as behavior modification and its prodigy, Cognitive Therapy and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.
In 1925, Yang Cheng-fu's style of Tai Chi Chuan began to be used to supply the (chemical/enzymes) energy in a different way for recovering opium addicts. After the initial purging of the body and brain from physical dependency, Yang Cheng-fu's Tai Chi Chuan was found to not only provide the brain with the chemicals it needed to fight the mental dependency, but it supplied the mind with a constant renewal of energies. This fit well into the treatment methods of the day and even altered them for the better
The typical opium addict would arrive at the Chinese clinic in a debilitated state. Withdrawal was usually followed by light exercise, and as the body recovered from the ravages of physical neglect, the exercises increased, making both the body and mind stronger. However, in time the body reached its physical limits and as the stimuli provided by exercises diminished the mind began to crave the drug that had previously plagued the body and brain. Yang Cheng-fu Tai Chi Chuan on the other hand, was ideally suited for exercising even the most weakened body. But the mental aspect of his Tai Chi style added a new dimension to exercise. Learning the physical movements of the Tai Chi Form required concentration and once learned the physical exercise also changed according to the abilities of individual. Instead of providing the brain with the chemicals of exercise, Tai Chi Chuan supplied the mind with the stimulation required to produce its own chemicals. However, if exercise was all the Tai Chi Form offered, then mental stimulation would end, and the recovering addict would revert to his former dependency. Yang Cheng-fu Style Tai Chi Chuan, however, provided the constant mental stimulation needed to satisfy the brains demands.
This Tai Chi mental stimulation is rooted in the physical movements and progresses to mental relaxation so what is produced is both physical and mental relaxation, rather than agitation. As the body grows stronger memorization of the postures sequence gives way to natural (learned) controlled movement. Next comes coordinating breath control with the movements, and again the mind is challenged; and in being challenged, it produced the natural chemicals for the brain. The mental stimulation continued as the recovering addict became a "student" of Tai Chi Chuan seeking to learn its depth. The raising of the back, abducting the chest, sinking the shoulders, dropping the elbows and standing the wrist, coordination of upper and lower body inner and outer and direction of move, distinguishing substantial and insubstantial (weight of one foot compared to the other and force of one hand over the other), the rising of an insubstantial energy to the top of the head, using mind/intention, and not force, developing Chi to sink, each and all of these mental challenges stimulate the mind which in turn stimulates the brain. But there was more. The postures are not just movements in Yang Cheng-fu Tai Chi Chuan. Each move has a martial aspect; that is, it is part of a self-defense technique which gives meaning (and application ) the inept mind seeks to free itself of substance dependency or destructive behavior.
The failure of alcohol, drug and other recovery programs is for the most part due to the failure of the practitioners (whatever they call themselves) to understand human behavior and the complexity of the individual. They believe there is no such thing as a recovered addict, but rather only recovering addicts, in which recovery is for a lifetime which must be sustained second by second, minute by minute, day by day. This concept is belied by those who "kick" their addiction through self-control, and without any help or program. The best example being the 100% success rate of certain Zen sects where the adherents purposefully become alcoholics for a long period then stop and never take another "drink" again. But one does not need to be religious to have this same self-control
My stepfather was a brilliant man, and I owe much of what I learned in my youth to him. He was not religious, but was well versed in religion. I knew his childhood friend who had gone to high school with him, gone into the Army with him, was in business with him, and knew him until the time he married my mother. During that entire time he never drank. He was married to my mother for ten years, and during the last three years he became an alcoholic. His alcoholism destroyed a very successful real estate business, and played the major roll in my older brother and I joining the military when we became of age. Then after divorcing my mother, he stopped drinking and never drank again. I can't say what caused this change. I know he used alcohol as an escape from an intolerable situation, and the three essential elements of recovery came into play. First, he physicall removed himself from the addictive enviornment. Second, he mentallly removed himself from the compulsive desire; and, Third, he mentally and emotionally, through sheer willpower determined never to drink again. It was his will, that led him to recover, and it was his will that never allowed himself to return to drink. His mental stimulation came from within, and his path to recovery occurred almost overnight. He is not typical, but his path to recovery is similar to most who overcome addiction and compulsion.
That is why Yang Cheng-fu was so successful in this area. As recovering addicts replace the mental dependency for drugs or alcohol with the mental stimulation of Yang Cheng-fu Tai Chi the student moves towards a level where "self" is forgotten and a new mental state approached.
Unfortunately, as Chinese (and later American) Tai Chi instructors began to change Yang Cheng-fu's form by modifying, shortening and/or simplifying it, they failed to recognize the admonition of Yang Cheng-fu that "Any further modification of the Form will lead to disaster." These modifications have made Tai Chi Chuan little more than an exercise that too often lack the essence of Tai Chi. When practiced by the recovering addict, as the mental stimulation these modified Forms wears off there are little left to overcome the addictive mind. The addict who learns what is promoted as, "Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan," will often find a temporary benefit in the training, but that wears thin in time. My observation of this effect in Hong Kong (1956-57) revealed these styles relied on the Yang Style tradition, without its essence, and when the student came to the realization that what he was being taught was not what Yang Cheng-fu taught, there was a feeling of betrayal, and more often than not, the addict reverts to his dependency of drugs.
Both Yeung Sao Hao (Yang Cheng Fu's son) and Tung Ying Chieh (one of Yang Cheng Fu's disciples) had several students who were former opium addicts where part of their recovery had been Tai Chi Chuan. Their recovery went well for a few weeks, until they discovered what they were being taught was (in their words), "fake." Fortunately they found one of these masters and found no further need for opium.
It's for this reason that I give every recovering addict I teach a set of the Yang Cheng-fu photographs and tell them that if I or anyone else teaches the posture differently, it is not Yang Cheng-fu Style; and, I tell each student that for every posture there are no less than three self-defense techniques that any Tai Chi master can teach them. However, Tai Chi Chuan cannot be forced or coerced and it must be taught without the student feeling frustration. Those who are compelled to seek treatment will find only the limited value of exercise in Tai Chi. I therefore do not teach anyone the courts have ordered to seek help. One must truly want to change his/her life, and must seek help in doing so, by committing himself/herself to full-time treatment with practitioners who teach the concept of self. Tai Chi Chuan can then, and only then, be used in conjunction with other treatment procedures in the path to recovery. The addictive mind must confront truth, and the recovering addict must know he or she is learning Tai Chi Chuan as the original Tai Chi master taught it. This is important because one does not just practice an exercise; one practices a way of life.
However decades before some in Europe had seen the link to personality traits in handwriting and Klara Roman would later contend that handwriting not only revealed the inner self, but as the inner self changed so did your handwriting; and, by changing your handwriting you could change your personality trait.
Rudolph Laban used the mind/body principles in Movement Psychology, where each movement expressed an external and inner attitude as well as participation and motion, and with the proper inner attitude and mental participation, the body movement changed correspondingly.
Tai Chi and Pain
I have personally never had an addictive problem with alcohol or drugs. I don't like the way they make me feel. In the late 50's and early 60's Audie Murphy was one of my Kenpo Karate students. Audie had suffered numerous battle wound during the Second World War, and lived with constant pain. He had been introduced to to Kenpo by my first Kenpo instructor, Ed Parker, and Kenpo was a distraction from his pain. He told me that as long as his mind could concentrate on something new, something different, he could forget the pain. I don't know if Audie used pain killers. I never saw him take pills or injections, but if he did I believe it would have only been when the pain was so great he could not block it out.
Forty five years later I suffered a serious back and neck injury that left me paralyzed from the waist down for a short period. When I regained sensation in my legs, I found myself in constant excruciating pain. An operation that fused my lower back eliminated the potential of paralysis, but I came out of the anesthesia with ringing in my ears, massive hearing loss, considerable memory loss, and extreme back and neck pain. Medications and pain killers left me disoriented and virtually useless, so I lived, and still live with that pain. I was put on every pain medication imaginable, and while they relieved the pain they left me virtually senseless. The pain kept me from concentrating for several months, and I was unable to practice Tai Chi which I had practiced for nearly sixty years prior to the accident. I could not concentrate on the moves and also perform the form because attempting to recover lost memory made the pain of movement excruciating. I went to several Tai Chi instructors, hoping they would be able to provide the mental stimulation, that is, by going through the moves with the class. But that was equally painful. None taught Tai Chi as Yang Cheng-fu had taught it, and it was not until I realized that the power was within that I finally overcame the pain. I had relearned what I had practiced for decades, and I finally understood what Audie Murphy had told me years before, that distraction eased pain. For me distraction from excruciating pain required only that I forget self and approach the Void.
Tai Chi and Depression
Prior to my operation I had no feelings of depression. I was optimistic and considered the pain and occasional paralysis a temporary inconvenience. After the operation, I still was not depressed. I was under the best medical care. My psychiatrist was for me little more than a drug pusher. He said I was suffering from depression, and he had a drug for everything. But I wasn't depressed. I had problems sleeping, I couldn't think or concentrate, I put on weight, I was agitated at nearly everything, I got tired easily, I considered myself invalid (without validity) but all this was obviously due to the pain, ringing in my ears, hearing loss, and memory loss. I was depressed, and didn't even know it. The treatment was a far cry from what I had learned from my association with Nathaniel Branden. Today's answer is a pill. The problem was I couldn't tolerate any of the anti depressants. Rather than depressing my system, all elevated my blood pressure. This was not just an elevation, but homicidal elevation with my blood pressure reaching 260/190 and more within half an hour of taking any of the medications.
The Chinese learned that tobacco was a good substitute for opium, and I've noticed over the years that many of the Kung Fu masters I've known are heavy smokers. I never smoked, and as I stated, my only use of drugs has been prescription pain killers for which I do not take except for unbearable pain. Not long ago I was stung in the mouth, tongue and lip by a wasp when I picked a glass of water to drink. Within half an hour my tongue was swollen twice its size and I knew I could be in big trouble. I wasn't sure whether I could make it to a hospital before my mouth and tongue were so swollen I would not be able to breathe. Fortunately I had a powerful herb for just such an occasion - chewing tobacco. I had never used it before, but within ten seconds of putting a pinch of tobacco under my swollen tongue, I began having the same sensation I got from opium based pain killers. Five minutes later I was in a complete narcotic state. (I use the general term narcotic, meaning loss of feeling or paralysis, and not the pseudo legal definition.) My tongue immediately began to stabilize and within half an hour it was beginning to shrink back towards normal. But my neck was continuing to swell and two hours after taking the first pinch of tobacco, the entire side of my face was three times its normal size so I put a pinch of tobacco inside my cheek with the same reaction of a narcotic state built on the narcotic state I was still in. And again the swelling began to subside. Two hours later I had to take a pinch of tobacco under my lower lip and I was so out of it I had to be led to my bed where I slept for a full eight hours. When I woke, the swelling was completely gone, the narcotic state continued in a diminishing form for the next three days. The taste of tobacco remained in my mouth for a week, and it was ten days before the smell of tobacco was gone from my nose.
I can't say that others would have the same or even similar reaction to tobacco, but it is not difficult to comprehend what a person who has been smoking for years would have to go through in both time and mental effort to detoxify. Likewise alcohol and drugs would be no less difficult to clean from the body, while the psychological dependency effect could be even more difficult to overcome without competent help.
The Three Poisons or Banes of Buddhism, Greed, Anger and Delusion, cannot be minimized especially in understanding the compulsive or dependent personality. These banes have also been characterized as Attachment, Aversion and Ignorance, and however stated, each encompass a myriad of expression. Greed ranges from selfishness to complete possession or denial of needs of others; while Anger can range from slight irritation through hurt, harm, hate, fury and uncontrollable rage. Delusion can be and often is more than ignorance. Delusion causes one to think dishonestly and clouds or completely overcomes the rational mind. Delusion is expressed in the compulsive gambler who believes the gods, fate or luck will allow him to win, the lovelorn who believes another person loves them when the other person is often oblivious to his or her existence. Delusion is the force driving the masses to adore music, stage and film stars; and delusion clouds our perception of all around us. We must therefore follow the principle of Miamoto Musashi: "Do not think dishonestly."