squeezing blood out of a stone


Over the Christmas period, I was watching an old comedy sketch by Morecambe and Wise from the 1970s which is the one with Andre Previn. After playing the piano really badly Morecomb turns and says to Andre  “ I am playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”! Anyway, the reason why I’m mentioning this is because it made me think about my recent visit to see my teacher Edward Obaidey- sensei in Tokyo after a gap of nearly 5 years.

During my busy time there we were looking at a couple of chapters from the Nan Gyo 難経 or Classic of Difficulties. Chapter 71 is very short and is a discussion about the lying needle 臥鍼. Within this very short chapter, there is a lot of information that can be applied in any meaningful and useful context. Edward was emphasising that we really need to squeeze as much as we can from it. I have read this chapter many times but I hadn’t really looked at it like this rather, I just saw it as what it said as opposed to what was actually behind it. I had almost let it rest in stone as something that I “knew” and had already learnt. In other words, my thought process had almost destroyed and killed it.

As a practitioner of the art, I find myself reading in cycles. It’s not really about reading something from beginning to end and reciting it- but it’s more about the inspiration that is gained -which adds to the way I develop my skills and practice in the clinic.

In the West, we have a very focused way of learning that is usually done in a fairly orderly fashion. You start at one point and finish- file it underdone and then move on to the next level! In the end, what is gained at the first level is often forgotten while you are busy with the “higher level”. Actually, and I’m speaking from experience here, an advanced method of learning is more about grasping the basics through repetition. Let’s say that there is a degree of flexibility when you apply something and have a general principle* in mind. When I was in Edwards Tokyo clinic I realised how it’s good to look more closely at the seemingly mundane, to a point where it is almost as boring as hell. Actually, what I have found by doing this over the years (which includes years of fairly mundane and boring Tai Chi practice) is that what I thought was interesting per se isn’t actually that interesting at all and learning something new or old for that matter- then its better to adopt an attitude of flexibility and experience. People do lots of things mechanically, without actually experiencing the process at hand.

I have chosen the above title “ to squeeze blood out of a stone” to emphasise this as it suggests that something isn’t possible yet paradoxically some things aren’t always as they seem**- and shouldn’t necessarily be written in stone ( pun intended ). By analysing something in detail it isn’t necessarily done from a narrow frame of mind but is more like looking at something in” soft focus” and seeing all the detail at the same time. This is actually experiencing something and shouldn’t be confused with just doing. In order for this to happen it helps to have a fairly broad knowledge of the subject which isn’t just gained by reading lots but is an interpretation through actual experience of doing something and then reading about it with a little of experience under your belt. It’s probably what the authors of the original Chinese classics did. Through worldly experience, they actually observed phenomena and then recorded their experiences. In other words, they didn’t just think about it as a kind of imaginable concept -but rather they were the doers (experiencers) or hard workers in life and in some respects, the outsiders of society!


I find this method of maintaining a flexible mind is relevant in daily activities and lets you engage more and accept the mundane as a kind of learning experience. There are gems everywhere in life. It’s just a question of actually being able to see it and not being too restricted by the past or being so rigid in your interpretation. I have just started teaching a small Tai Chi group here with people who come to the clinic. I am working only with the first part of the old Yang Style Tai Chi form, as taught by Sifu Grandmaster Sam Tam. He always emphasised that it is best to know a small bit in great detail and do it well, rather than a little bit of lots of things and do it poorly. People can waste 20 years of practice doing this!

I hope this leaves you with a small taste of the pie and may your day be filled with the little experiences that make you happy.

*Edward Sensei coined the term POG or Principles of Generality and speaks about it in the first volume of his book An Acupuncture Travelogue.