The floating world

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What is the floating world?

The 'floating world' refers to the twilight culture of mystery, shadow, glamour and danger. In the past, the world was a much darker place at night, with limited illumination.
Shadowy and strange; the night was a place of uncertainty. Glimpses of colour, snatches of sound, movement and activity... Mystery dominates.


The floating world is concerned with things that are not obvious or revealed. Secrecy reigns.
In Japan, the residents of the floating world included samurai, sumo, geisha, kabuki actors, craftsmen, poets, calligraphers, merchants and prostitutes.


The artisans of the floating world are people who have dedicated a considerable portion of their lives to their unique art. They are not casual, flighty or fleeting.
To gain great skill, they have sacrificed much. Immense discipline, endurance, faith and hardship were necessary for the journey they took.
Silent, unnoticed, subtle... they exist in the quiet places of the world and they walk alone.

The poet needs to be up at night, when the world sleeps;
needs to be up at dawn, before the world wakes;
needs to dwell in odd corners, where Tao is said to reside;
needs to exist in dark places, where spiders forge their webs in silence;
near the gutters, where the underside of our dreams fester.

Poets need to live where others don't care to look,
and they need to do this because if they don't
they can't sing to us of all the secret and public domains of our lives.

(Ben Okri)

Shadows & secrets

The Ancient Chinese martial arts are veiled in mystery. Each class teaches its own unique approach to the experience of combat.
Historically, the training methods and applications of the different schools were closely guarded. The most secretive and inaccessible were the internal martial arts schools.


The mystery is what makes authentic tai chi interesting. People ask: how do you do those things?
If you are curious and have the heart to endure a lengthy journey of intense discovery and practice, then those mysteries will be answered.
Should you expect an overnight payoff, please reconsider your expectations.


Sifu Waller will teach anyone who has the desire to learn, but the road is long and the experience demanding. Tai chi will not push you to the limit or ask you to do more than you can manage.
It is a gentle way. Your challenges will be psychological as well as physical - for all changes stem from the mind.


In order to comprehend the mystery you must realise that you are part of the mystery; and this requires immersion in the Tao.
Your vanity and ego must subside and you need to become quiet and calm within. You must peer into the shadows of your own being and question the very nature of your life.
When you move with what is happening and let-go of your wilfulness, you find the Way.


Master level taijiquan combat skills are not remotely showy. They are impossibly understated. The attacker is felled without any real sense of what happened.
They may not even recall being touched at all. But they were touched. They simply did not notice. This is not magic. But it looks like it.

The unknown

Even if an instructor sought to share their every secret with a new student, that knowledge would fall on deaf ears. The apparent mystique is not a poise or an image. It stems from the reality of learning.
We move from the unknown to the known. The wiser student recognises that the small portions of information known to them are only a glimmer of what might potentially be known. Humility is inevitable.
The new starter may be frustrated by the magnitude of what is unrevealed. They are often impatient and arrogant. They seek a conclusion when it is in fact the process that matters rather than the result.
Inevitably they drown in shallow water.


Uncertainty lies at the heart of the floating world. What is real and what is illusion? Can you tell the difference?

Let-go of the familiar

Wisdom and pragmatism walk together in the floating world, as do dreams and reality. Sometimes it is important to let go of your sane responsible rational life and step into the unknown.
Knowing what will happen usually removes all the fun. Life would be boring without uncertainty. Be brave and step off the familiar path...

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 19 November 2018