The essence of "Li" in a wooden Dao

There is something special about the beauty we see in the grain of a piece of wood. It speaks to us on a different level to the kind of artistic beauty that can be created by a human being. The Chinese have a word for this — "Li". There is no simple translation for the word "Li". It is deeply connected to the ancient tradition of Taoism, which celebrates nature and emphasises the natural flow of things. 

Alan Watts, who did an excellent job of untangling the mysteries of Eastern philosophy for western minds, explains thus: “The tao is a certain kind of order, and this kind of order is not quite what we call order when we arrange everything geometrically in boxes, or in rows... In the Chinese language this is called li, and the character for li means the markings in jade. It also means the grain in wood and the fiber in muscle. We could say, too, that clouds have li, marble has li, the human body has li. We all recognize it, and the artist copies it whether he is a landscape painter, a portrait painter, an abstract painter, or a non-objective painter. They all are trying to express the essence of li. The interesting thing is, that although we all know what it is, there is no way of defining it. Because tao is the course, we can also call li the watercourse, and the patterns of li are also the patterns of flowing water. We see those patterns of flow memorialized, as it were, as sculpture in the grain in wood, which is the flow of sap, in marble, in bones, in muscles. All these things are patterned according to the basic principles of flow. In the patterns of flowing water you will see all kind of motifs from Chinese art, immediately recognizable, including the S-curve in the circle of yang-yin…”  Taoism by Alan Watts

This is a wooden Dao, or Chinese sabre, used for Tai Chi practice. It is a nice piece of red oak and I have been polishing it occasionally over the last 20 years with our Traditional Beeswax Furniture polish. The pattern in the grain is amazing and it just gets better with more applications.

Here at Cambridge Traditional Products we are proud to be creating products that enhance the natural beauty of wood. We use only pure gum Turpentine as a solvent. Gum Turpentine is made by distilling sap which is tapped from pine trees in a sustainable fashion. Along with the beeswax, it feeds the wood, rather than drying it out as man made solvents such as white spirit can do. This is why our products are the best of their kind available today  we use the best quality natural ingredients. When the aim is to enhance the appearance of something so naturally beautiful as wood, its the only way to go...

Steve Whatling2 Comments