One of the most common questions I get asked back home is, "What's with the hair?" It is an obvious first question, especially to those who are uninitiated to the ways of Wudang and the Daoist culture that resides there. China has a long history of traditional hairstyles. Each has its own meaning. Some are fashions. Some are traditional. Some are functional. Some were even used to show submission to those in power. Over time, others have been given meanings. So what is the story behind the topknot?
To answer that question, we have to take a look at the Daoist practice itself. Daoism gets its core belief from the idea that one should work together with the natural flow of energy within all things. As opposed to gaining salvation from overcoming the natural world and its difficulties, Daoism works to mend the correct flow of positive energy throughout the world. One of the ways we approach this goal is by understanding that the natural world has a way of balancing itself despite our iteration. Instead, everything is viewed in a state of constant transformation through growth, destruction, and rebirth.
Following this idea, traditional Daoist practitioners in the old days refrained from getting their hair cut. Instead, they vouched for the natural growth of their hair to go untamed and free. Much like keeping from unnecessarily cutting branches from a tree were the Daoists in the practice to let their hair grow long.
Another point to keep in mind in the location of the BaiHui. The baihui is an acupuncture point on the crown of the head (where your topknot would be). BaiHui in English means 'Hundred Convergences." This is the point where energies of the body and spirit meet. This makes the BaiHui a very important point in your body for practice, especially for the internal alchemy of qigong. Through the BaiHui, being as it is the uppermost point on oneself, an individual can connect to Heaven. A balanced BaiHui is also used to help clear the senses and calm the spirit.
I am reminded on a story that I came across numerous times in Wudang. When asked about the meaning of the hairstyle, Master Yuan would tell about how it symbolizes a bull's nose. Looking into this I found a lot of symmetry within the iconic imagery of the bull. In one of the integral texts of modern Daoist thought is the Dao De Jing. The legendary author of this text is said to have ridden all over with his water ox. This is represented in countless artworks throughout China. In this way the ox is already close to the core of Daoist practice. Although there is a further innuendo to be gleaned from such a story. Combining a few theories, the ring in the bull's nose can be represented by the hairpin traditionally used to hold the hair together and up. This is how the bull would be led. This directly is a manifestation of the practice of cultivating one's Qi in order to connect with Heaven. We must 'lead' such energy to the BaiHui by balancing yin and yang (the cross twisting of hair and ribbon) and in turn bind our energies with that of the primordial energy of the cosmos.
Personally, I enjoy the imagery between the branches of a tree and our own hair. Yet another way Daoism strives to relate us to the natural order of things. But it still doesn't really answer our question. In my research, I have found many contrary points on the true origin of the topknot. There are those diehards that claim Daoism is the home of this symbolic style. Yet there are others still that argue the original location was somewhere in Japan. The argument being that the topknot is just a variation of their traditional 'chonmage' hair style.
However, wherever the true origin comes from, I feel that the topknot has been completely adapted into the Daoist lifestyle. As martial arts became more and more prevalent in the history of Daoism, so did this functional hairstyle. Nowadays, the topknot is an iconic trait of those who practice and pray in the temples at the Wudang Mountains. Through my own practice, I have grown accustomed to having my hair tied up and out of the way during training. The topknot serves a clear purpose in this way.
With all this in mind, the topknot is much more than simply the 'hippie' side of Daoism. Those who spend time under a Wudang Master, as I am with my class, easily fall into this style and let our hair grow out. Falling into the natural way of things is one way to put it. There are those of us that place meaning with it, those that derive a lesson in the practice of it, those that learn it as an example of Daoist culture, and those that just use it functionally. But whatever the reason, the topknot is most definitely a trademark of those who bring, not only the Daoist beliefs, but also the practice of them into their lives. With time, these practices become as much as part of us as our ever growing hair.
Follow these steps for a clear guide on how to style your hair after those descending from the Wudang Mountains. It may be different for people with different hair lengths, volumes, etc.. But it is possible for anyone, as long as you are working on getting some lengthy locks!
A few last minute tips:
- It does work better and easier if your hair is a little greasy. Gel, a little water, or just some good old fashioned all-natural greasy hair are all great ways to get a snugger topknot.
- It will most likely take a few attempts the first few times. It takes a little time to get into the feeling of doing it.
- Make sure you have everything, and don't be to rough on your hair.
- Sometimes having a partner to help out is a good way to getting started.
Follow these step by step instructions to put your hair into the traditional topknot!
Before we begin, you are going to need a few things. You will most definitely need long hair. At least long enough for a regular ponytail. A good hair elastic is essential. For a hairpin, unless you want to get fancy, a simple chopstick will do. Just cut it down to the appropriate size. You will need a cloth ribbon to keep everything together. There isn't any specific size, but something around 110 cm (43 in) is pretty average. Once you got it all, we are ready to get going!
First, you need to put your hair into a ponytail on top of your head. To make it easier, lean over and comb your hair to the center. Try to get your hair tied right on top of the crown of your head.
Second, get your hairpin of choice. A basic chopstick cut shorter is a great simple hairpin. Although, there are many different ones to use. Just make sure to use one that is bigger enough to wrap your hair under. Then, push the hairpin through your hair and under your hair elastic. Try to get it as centered and even as possible.
Then, you simply take your hair and divide into two equal halves. When working with each half, try to make sure the other doesn't get mixed in or tangled up with what you're doing.
Step Four: Right Side
It doesn't really matter which side you start with, but we will start with the right side for consistency. Take the right half and bring it behind the hairpin and under on the right side.
Step Four: Right Side (finish)
Make sure that you keep the left side separate and wrap the right half counterclockwise. While wrapping, all of the hair should be under the hairpin. This way the hairpin holds the hair down. Wrap until the end, and tuck the end under itself. When you finish it should look like the picture, with the left half still free.
Step Five: Left Side
Start the left side the same as the previous one, except in the opposite direction. From behind the hairpin, work the left half forward and clockwise.
Step Five: Left Side (finish)
Continue to wrap until the left side is tight and tucked under itself as well. From here you should have all of the hair tightly under the hairpin and in a 'naked' topknot look. Depending on your hair, you may have to keep a hold of the bun until the next steps are complete so it doesn't become loose.
Step Six: Ribbon
Next, use you cloth ribbon starting from behind. Leave a little extra from the middle of the back of your topknot. This will be used later to help tie everything together. When wrapping, if you follow the order above (right to left side), it is best to alternate again with the direction. So our ribbon will go under and forward from the right side.
Step Six: Ribbon (wrap)
Work counterclockwise and keep the ribbon tight and under the hairpin as well. If your ribbon has a seam on it, make sure that you keep it towards the inside and out of sight. Also make sure as you wrap to keep the ribbon smooth and untangled. It depends on the length of your ribbon as for how many times you circle around.
Step Six: Ribbon (wrap part 2)
Keep wrapping until a little overlaps in the back. It may take a few tries to get the right balance between sides for this step. Just be patient and try a few different starting points. By here, your topknot should feel relatively secure and your hairpin should be even on both sides.
Step Six: Ribbon (finish)
Lastly, simply take the two ends and double tie them to each other. Refrain from pullng too tight as it can force the hair up. Instead just tie it snug. At first it might feel a little tight. But, with time, you will find a better balance and get better at making your own topknot.
Now your topknot is finished! Congrats! For a finishing touch, you can drag a string up and under the ribbon. This can help push some of those loose hairs under the topknot. Do some follow up checks in the mirror, make sure every thing is snug and you are ready to go!