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By Richard Seymour
The Star Wars series is a classical warrior story, but it's not generic. The movies were specifically modelled on Taoism with special emphasis on Taoist Chi Kung training and philosophy. A mentor of mine, a very old Taoist master, was friends with the late Joseph Campbell, who was an adviser to George Lucas, and they discussed the movies together.
There are many schools and sects within the Taoist tradition. The types of schools that we are dealing with here are some of the more esoteric schools of Chi Kung, Nei Kung, or internal alchemy. They are the spiritually oriented, powerful self improvement systems, commonly called cultivation, in the branch of Taoism sometimes called Hygiene Taoism.
The goal of Chi Kung is to be able to live to a very advanced age while still being strong, healthy, and full of energy. Obe-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, Yoda, and the Emperor are all very old yet they are still strong, healthy, and full of energy.
Listening to energy is the first of the three steps in energy cultivation that a person takes as they progress slowly along the Taoist Way of Energy. As it says in the Tai Chi Classics, the three steps are: 1) Listening energy, 2) controlling energy, and 3) knowing energy.
Many times Obe-Wan and Yoda tell Luke to feel, and listen to, the Force. In Chi Kung, one of the first rules is to listen to energy. You must be soft and relaxed in order to feel Chi and you 'listen' to it in yourself, in your environment, and in other people.
When Luke was a student of Yoda he was shown balancing and doing a handstand while practicing levitating rocks. This is representative of the common Chi Kung practice of holding strenuous standing meditation postures while doing energy work at the same time.
The Force represents Chi and the Jedi represent chi kung masters and adepts.
This was illustrated by Luke practicing sword fighting blindfolded. It was also demonstrated by Obe-Wan and Darth knowing where and who each other were prior to their last duel. Darth even mentions this, that he could feel him. By this he means feel the energy, as in a tactile feeling, not a psychic feeling. (My Chi Kung teacher has so much energy, and my Yang Tai Chi teacher, Andy Dale, is so sensitive to energy that he, standing inside a large building, can tell when my Chi Kung teacher is standing outside, and he can follow this feeling to locate him.)
The casual, informal way the Jedi dress and act towards each other and strangers is typical of Taoism. Teachers and students are learning with -- and from -- each other; and there are no ritual acts of formality, such as bowing. There are no ranks or belts or graduations within Taoist Chi Kung (excluding religious Taoism); all are students. All that really matters, and the only way rank can be determined, is by who has the most Chi power (the most Force) in them -- as when Obe-Wan and Darth Vader talked to each other about who was the most powerful just before their last duel.
Taoist masters were often hermits, wandering, like Obe-Wan and Yoda, in the wilderness; but sometimes, as with Darth Vader, they were the closest advisers of the emperors. (There possibly was one Chi Kung master who was an Emperor: the legendary Yellow Emperor of China.)
Many of the very advanced Chi Kung masters traditionally had very few students, oftentimes only one, and if more than one it was often one at a time. Also, those who become very advanced usually start their training at a young age. (When Yoda started training Luke he said that Luke was too old.)
Some of the abilities portrayed in the movie are decidedly unusual. These abilities are cultivated by only a very few of the most advanced masters. However, it is not so difficult for most of us to cultivate some of those abilities to a lesser extent.
This was demonstrated many times by Darth Vader. This explosive burst of energy can be transferred through the air without touching but it commonly accompanies a physical strike. Someone who is not sensitive to the energy may not feel the energy shock but they will still be injured. Someone who is advanced in Chi Kung may experience pain but no injury, as was demonstrated when the Emperor was attacking Luke on the Emperor's spaceship. A true master, someone who can handle the extra energy due to their practice, won't be injured but be made stronger, which is why (as in the movies) advanced masters won't use these energy techniques on each other.
The place where George Lucas was in disagreement with Taoist philosophy is that, in Taoism, people on the dark side do not have the ability to cultivate really high levels of chi power. High power can be attained only by people of the highest ethics. However, Star Wars is an adventure movie, and what good is an adventure movie without a powerful bad guy? I'll leave it to you to try to figure out why only people of high ethics can cultivate high power. The kind of power I'm talking about here is not political power but Chi power. The kind of ethics I'm referring to are not 'rules' but internally validated values concerning what is best.
Energy is normally used for healing and rarely used for fighting in real life. This is partly due to most Chi Kung practitioners preferring to lead quiet peaceful lives and partly due to the fact that it is an effective spiritual practice, for as a person advances spiritually along the Way of Energy they experience more and more synchronicity. It appears that synchronicity causes you, if there is a fight, to 'not be there'.
Most of the people in old China studied martial arts. This was because it was a matter of survival. Generally, the people who pursue these esoteric energy practices are also advanced martial artists. Keep in mind that the above abilities are really just 'side effects' of the cultivation which is intended primarily for spiritual growth.
Steve Gray is a Taoist sorcerer’s apprentice and chi kung adept living in Seattle, Washington. He has been teaching the path of the sorcerer, a Taoist health and spiritual practice, for about fifteen years. He spends days at a time far from the nearest road, deep in the wilderness in the nearby mountains, which are the steepest in the world, to practice his arts, which include sword. Visit his website here.
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