The Tao of TI: Doing by “not doing.”
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on October 13th, 2009

Julie Friedeberger, a TI Swimmer from England, posted this excerpt from the Tao Te Ching on the TI Discussion Forum: ”Practise non-action. Work without doing. See simplicity in the complicated. Achieve greatness in little things. In the universe the difficult things are done as if they are easy and great acts are made up of small deeds.”

My curiosity piqued, I googled the phrase “Tao and Doing by Not Doing” and found this on Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

Wu wei is an important tenet of Taoism that involves knowing when to act and when not to act. The aim of wu wei is to achieve a state of perfect equilibrium, or alignment with the Tao, and — as a result — obtain an irresistible form of soft and invisible power.

TI has evolved steadily over the years toward being an aquatic expression of Tao or Wu Wei. When one considers the nature of water – elusive, unstable and uncooperative – it makes perfect sense that Wu Wei can help anyone swim well. And then there are the recent revelations (from DARPA engineers conducting research for a swim foil for the Navy Seals) that human swimmers (non-TI of course) are only 3% energy efficient. When 97% of your energy is diverted into creating drag, waves and turbulence, the case for wu wei swimming becomes utterly compelling.

Here’s a partial inventory of our freestyle focal points – working from leading to trailing edge of the swimming body. Note how all have clear links to wu wei, “doing by not doing,” as we sometimes say:

  • Hang your hand. Keep it relaxed, not stiff.
  • Hold – don’t pull – the water.
  • Minimize pressure of hand and forearm on the water.
  • Release your Head – rather than “position it.”
  • Cooperate with gravity (sink into balance) rather than fight it.
  • Take the path of least resistance, rather than power through the water.
  • Alternate streamlined-right and streamlined-left body positions, rather
    than pull and kick.
  • Propel with gravity and body mass (weight shifts) – rather than muscular effort.
  • Release from the armstroke with an “elbow circle,” rather than “push
    past your hips.”
  • Recover with a “marionette (or rag doll) arm.”
  • Think of the kick as “active streamlining.”

And moving from TI technique focal points to TI training philosophy:

  • Decrease energy waste, instead of increasing energy supply.
  • Practice! Don’t “work out.”
  • Let conditioning “happen” while you practice efficient swimming.
  • Pursue Flow States instead of “Pushing through Pain Barriers.”
  • What feels good, is good.
  • Swim fast rather than hard.
  • Speed is a product of higher level coordination, not swimming hard.

I’ve probably missed as many TI-Tao connections as I’ve listed (not even considering focal points for the other three strokes). How do you practice wu wei while swimming?

3 Responses to “The Tao of TI: Doing by “not doing.””

  1. kale says:

    this is a great article!

  2. Jim Walters says:

    This is terrific stuff for me moving forward Terry. Its funny how todays technology works but I feel its easy to work with the TI program and the points here are ones I will water proof and sit by the pool as I move to the next level in my swimming. TI has made it so much easier for me to be able to swim many,many laps without feeling exhausted. I can believe it cos I’ve felt it. Thanks for these blogs Terry. I’m doing a refresher in late November and it will only help me in the journey to one day swim a solo to Rottnest Island 19ks of the coast of WA

  3. Jim, I hope to join you for Rottnest myself. Looking at Feb 2011.

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