The Tao Te Chin(g) of Skateboarding: A Guide to Stoke
The Tao Te Ching
is a mind-blowing piece of Eastern literature and philosophy. It was written circa 6th century BCE, and speaks to the true nature of the universe, and humans’ place within it. In English the title roughly translates as “The Book of the Way of Virtue.” Anyone who has ever ridden a skateboard, and read the Tao Te Ching, will observe that the Tao also speaks to some of skateboarding’s deeper “spiritual” aspects. In turn, these are guidelines for a meaningful existence. For a long time I’ve wanted to revise the original Tao text into a skater’s version of the Tao. This post is the first part of that project. The original Tao has 81 “chapters,” which are more like short poems. I will post these in groups of ten chapters at a time (e.g. one post containing ten chapters). My adaptations are all based off Stephen Mitchell’s translation
from the original Chinese, should anyone want to compare the original translation to mine. On this note, where Mitchell uses the word Tao, I use the word “Stoke.” Once I have completed/posted all 81 chapters, I hope to compile all of them into a ‘zine or booklet format. I’ll burn that bridge to the ground once I come to it.
NOTES ON SEQUENCING: When it comes to the Tao/skateboard comparison, parts of the Tao text almost rewrite itself. Other parts are much harder, if not impossible, to correlate to skateboarding without twisting, torturing, and bending the meaning of the original text. In such spots, I have no intention of distorting the original meanings by forcing a square peg (skateboarding) into a round hole (the Tao). For now, those chapters will not be included in my adaptation. I may rework them at some point in the future, but I do not want a few tough chapters to hold up the entire project. If a chapter is omitted, I will make note of it in my posts.
Onward we go…
The stoke that can be told
is not the eternal Stoke.
The session that can be named
is not the eternal Session
The unnamable first trick of a child is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.
Free from competition, you realize the mystery.
Caught in competition, you see only the manifestations.
Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all skateboarding.
When people see a style as beautiful,
others become ugly.
When people see tricks as good,
others become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short grinds define each other.
High and low ollies depend on each other.
Before and after a session follow each other.
Therefore, the Master
skates without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
New tricks arise and he lets them come;
some tricks disappear and he lets them go;
He has but does not possess,
skates but does not expect.
When his session is done, he forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.
If you oversteem great skaters,
others become devalued.
If you overvalue certain styles,
others begin to emulate, and lose their own essence.
The Master skates
by emptying people’s minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
And toughing their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know.
And everything will roll into place.
The Stoke is like a skatepark:
Used but never used up.
It is like an endless curb:
Filled with infinite possibilities.
It is hidden but always present.
I don’t know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.
The Stoke does not take sides;
it gives birth to all forms of skateboarding.
The Master does not take sides;
he skates all that is before him.
The Stoke is like an unridden deck:
It is unused, yet infinitely capable.
The more you use it, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you understand.
Hold to the center.
The Stoke is sometimes called Chin,
empty yet inexhaustible,
it gives birth to infinite sessions.
It is always present within you.
You can use it at any skate spot, in any way, you want.
The Stoke is infinite, eternal.
Why is it eternal?
It was never born;
thus it can never die.
Why is it infinite?
It has no desire for itself;
thus it is present for all skaters.
The Master stays behind;
that is why he is ahead.
He is detached from all skate trends;
that is why he is one with skateboarding.
Because he has let go of himself,
he is perfectly fulfilled.
The supreme good is like a curb,
that nourishes all skaters without trying to.
It is content with the low, gutter-places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Stoke.
In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work and skating, do what you enjoy.
On your board, and in family life, be completely present.
When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t skate to compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.
Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after fame, money, and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval of your skating
and you will forever be their prisoner, and the true Stoke
will never be found.
Skate your session, then step back, and roll away.
The only path to serenity.
Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original Stoke?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child’s?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love skaters and lead a DIY project
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from your own mind
and thus understand the Stoke in all things?
Giving birth to, and nourishing, your skating,
having style and tricks without possessing them,
skating without expectations,
leading and not trying to control;
this is the supreme virtue of the Stoke.