Shoes for Tai Chi

Show me your shoes.

Show me your shoes.

What to wear when you do tai chi is a common question for (and from) beginners. Loose, comfortable clothing is typical. Shoes are perhaps more important for tai chi and martial art attire. Flat, low volume shoes are the best.

I prefer something I can wear in practice and on the street, but it’s not easy to find a good compromise. A good and light indoor practice shoe will fall apart pretty quickly out of doors. I found a pretty good middle ground with the Bushido (http://www.shopbushido.com/bushido-shoe/) that I have gotten at Valley Martial Arts in Glendale, California. The soles in the front are flat, smooth rubber and the rear has a herringbone type of tread. “Shaolin” is stamped on the sole in the case of my pair. The drawback for these is that they have a mesh construction over the top, so dust and sand can get inside. I actually don’t have much trouble with that and I still like them for their durability and lightness.

Of course, the ol’ standby from Shanghai, Feiyue (“flying forward”), is probably one of those shoes that every martial artist owns at some point. Bushido makes a Feiyue type shoe with their name on it that sells for $20. I find them to be hot in summer and cold in winter, but I still have a pair and where them around the house all the time to practice. Easy to get at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Tiger-Claw-Feiyue-Martial-Shoes/dp/B00MH2QMWO).

I’ve had Tiger Claw shoes, too, which lasted a long time (tigerclaw.com). They sport a cool Chinese tiger character on the top. The have only one model and two colors: black and white)

The Onitsuka Tiger by Asics shoe is very close to the same thing as the Bushido. There are many models to choose from, including suede and leather, which presumably would last longer on the street. Check it out and let me know what you think.

http://www.zappos.com/onitsuka-tiger-by-asics-ultimate-81-exclusive-black-stone-grey. These Asics cost about $20 more than the Bushidos ($55) for what I think is about the same quality.

Adidas makes a martial art shoe that I wore when I first began studying tai chi. I like them because they lasted so long and they have a slightly higher top than other martial arts shoes. However, they are not lace up. The have an elastic, slip-on feature that’s cool, but I prefer lace up because I can tie them as tight or loose as I like. Still, the Adidas shoe is pretty good. Unfortunately, they are sold out a the Martial Arts Mart where they were recently on sale (http://www.martialartsmart.com/a90-sk.html).

Skechers (http://www.skechers.com) makes some shoes I’ve seen others wearing and I think they look really good, but I’ve never tried them out and I think they are overpriced.

You’ve probably gathered that there are a lot of options for martial arts shoes out there. Choosing can be a bore, so my rule of thumb is go with inexpensive as possible and see what works best for you.

Tai Chi Central Equilibrium Training Notes

Get connected. Practice central equilibrium.

Get connected. Practice central equilibrium.

… third leg and zhong ding practice.

Zhong ding, or central equilibrium, is a pivotal aspect of tai chi practice. A few years ago, George Xu incorporated the concept of “third leg” to describe zhong ding in motion. The concept of third leg helps to refine the movement by focusing on a point from which to move and how to move. Biomechanically, the motion pivots at a leverage point inside the hip assembly at the base of the spine. The femur and sacrum are connected in motion if not physically. This is from where you pivot and turn. Everywhere else is “loose, open” as Master Xu says.

Weighted in gravity is another concept to help incorporate the third leg in movement. You let the body’s gravity rest on the leverage point while moving. You feel your body’s weight sit there like a rock would on the ground.

Susan A. Matthews’ “Backwards Bicycle” motion (learn more) that she describes is another good application of zhong ding biomechanics. While it may sound simple, incorporating it in practice is a little awkward at first try, especially for unpracticed individuals.

Mind intention is necessary to refine the zhong ding movement, utilizing third leg and backwards bicycle. The mind directs the flow of energy in circle motions, figure eights, or spirals. The body wants to move in these configurations and the mind’s job is to allow it, intending the result, then enjoy the ride while directing it in those shapes and patterns.

No hard corners. Continual focus on movement or the sensation of motion, or flow. Spiraling motion results. Matthews described it once as two cones whose tips are touching and the circling is moving in a figure eight around the outer edge of the cone. You have two points: one fulcrum and the outer circling or waving action. They are always connected, no letting up, no pushing down; just weighted in gravity and in motion. This works well, but when you add the third leg to it, you have an added power-generating activity. More stable and refined. While learning and practicing, I find it fun to focus on incorporating these techniques into the form or basics.

The “I know you, you don’t know me” saying in martial arts

GeoXu_w

Xu Guo Ming (George)

George Xu says, “I know you, you don’t know me,” to describe a key characteristic of his approach to martial awareness. Whether you’re practicing tai chi or qigong, or taking a walk in a park, his refrain applies to how you listen to yourself and to others, even to things. I don’t grasp this fully in practice, but I can tackle some of what he means. Obviously, for one thing, if you don’t know yourself, you are vulnerable if someone else knows your weaknesses. This is true in martial arts and in life.

Master Xu is referring to how you are configured energetically and what is the status of your “qi.”

What is the shape of your energy? Where are you empty, full, concave, convex? In taijiquan, with enough exposure, you hear about peng, liu, qi, an and the other “13 Postures” which refer to these concepts. However, Master Xu is not so formal and traditional, because it can make learners complacent and stiff. So, where are you stuck and stagnant? Where are you too light when you should be weighted and vice versa? What is meant by weighted in gravity? Are you double weighted? Are you clear on the difference between being connected and being stiff, or agile and locked? Are all the parts of your body contributing to the whole? Where are you stiff and sluggish when you should be quick and agile? On and on it goes…

How do you know these things? By listening to the energy, Master Xu would say. Chinese martial artists refer to “ting jing,” listening energy. It is more of feeling performed with the whole being, not just the ears. Perhaps “sensing” is more accurate.

Actually, I like to think that it’s really learning to learn, which is the foundation of taiji training and, I suspect, for training in any mind-energy-body work. You’re taking in information and interpreting it in ways that are tangible, applicable within the context. You’re making sense out of what you feel as a result of engaging all of your senses and maybe one or two you’re not sure you possess, or even exist. Ting jing is a special skill that can be developed through the practice of taijiquan.

For 16 years, I’ve had the fortune to train with Master Xu who has allowed me to videotape many of his lessons, which I’ve compiled in a series of videos for DVD and online streaming. What stands out for me about them as a group is the many ways Master Xu constantly offers learners to imagine the essence of what he is referring to, through, for the most part, metaphors and analogies. If you can relate the concept to something that you are familiar with then a bridge can be built from learning to knowing.

Often his descriptive metaphors have a dramatic quality to them, like “I know you, you don’t know me.”  He often refers to predatory animals, such as a tiger, or even a house cat, who “moves inside his skin as he stalks,” and who covers you with its energy body, which you feel powerfully, before the physical body strikes you down.

Master Xu’s many images from the natural world effectively trigger my imagination and makes learning a little more fun. Not easier, of course, because his terms are often mysterious and esoteric. His martial results are very real and effective, however, so there must a whole lot more to his specialized language than meets the ear at first. So I keep listening.

 

Knowing yourself in tai chi: Advice from a poet

Yes, know yourself, but what is knowing? I like the way e.e. cummings describes it as a feeling that is as unique as the person feeling. What he says in A Poet’s Advice applies well to the art of taijiquan. As George Xu says, “martial art, not martial work!” Cummings writes:

“A lot of people think or believe or know they feel – but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling – not knowing or believing or thinking.”

“Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.”

I also like this…

“And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world – unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.”

Continue reading

“Knowing yourself” in tai chi

QuestionMark

What you don’t know about yourself is what you seek in practicing tai chi. That’s why I say not to be yourself when you practice. We choose to learn tai chi to change that part of ourselves that resists change and holds us back from accessing our fullest potential as human beings. Lofty ideal? Maybe. Many practitioners who choose to delve into tai chi are acting on intuition, perhaps an outright conviction, to wake up the stagnant parts of ourselves.

Old martial arts saying: “Know yourself to know your enemy.” I like this with a twist; i.e., we are our own enemies because we don’t know ourselves. We fight against ourselves. I’ve seen this during practice in myself and others. When we realize this is happening, we have reached a new level of awareness. We may never realize it without training. It is an unsavory feeling. We don’t like it. We want to change it.

Often, we don’t know how.

I say just keep doing the moves, practice. They will show you. Tai chi is like opening a door, except it is a door that is very difficult to open due to its massive size and the strange materials out of which it is made. It will open only very slowly and only with great, conscious effort, but once it begins to open it will not close again.

Best Place Tai Chi

Tim_lazy tying-webIn front of Bear Creek Falls a three mile hike up from Telluride, Colorado, USA. A nice Chen style form should do the trick.

 

 

 

 

Tai Chi Tip: Don’t be yourself

TAI CHI TIP

You have to not be yourself . . . . the self you have become familiar with that you no longer want to be friends with. You like your old self, but you have to get away from it in order to become your new self as you journey towards your true self.

Mind-Body Connections: Our bodies have a mind of their own

I recently wrote about how we learn to walk incorrectly as infants and that we usually have to relearn, in a way, to walk when we learn taijiquan. I found an interesting article along those lines about research that shows that our bodies have a mind of their own and the body has much more to do with how the brain processes information than we might be aware of.

“Your body’s posture and expressions are not just reflections of your mind — they can influence your mood. Stand tall to help give yourself confidence and to send a signal to those around you that you have brought your “A” game to the table,” is a wuoate that caught my attention. Sounds like tai chi to me.

Read the Science Daily article here and about Prof. Sian Beilock, who wrote the new book How the Body Knows Its Mind.

Learn tai chi young and slow the aging process

taijiquan_WebFrom my tai chi perspective, young people are just as bad off as older folks in many ways. The reason why is because we all learn to move incorrectly from the very beginning. We learn to walk wrong. We learn to use our bodies in ways that expedite decrepitude.

Young bodies in the teens and twenties are still relatively new so they don’t show the wear and tear of, say, fifties and sixties. Their bodies are strong and they heal more quickly. Of course, we take all that for granted when we’re young. But the young are doing the same things that old folks were doing during those years of life … misusing, abusing, overusing, underusing, and so on.

One sign of this, for example, that I’ve noticed is in the position of the ankles in many young people. So many kids at very young ages have crooked ankle joint positions. Their ankles are caved inward, sometimes outward to a gross degree. Even very young kids have flat feet, weak arches. This throws off their postures and eventually leads to various chronic pain issues, poor balance and who knows what.

Shoes we wear as infants are one source of this problem. They force the feet to conform to the hard unyielding structure and materials with which they are constructed. Also, we simply don’t learn to walk properly from the very beginning when we learn to balance ourselves upright on two legs and start propelling ourselves forward in space. It’s such a wonderful feeling that we can’t help but run around, joyous in our newly found freedom of movement. It’s especially great after being bound by wretched immobility for the first several months of life.

Basically, what happens is we learn techniques for movement that place uneven pressure on bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. After a lifetime of moving with incorrect posture, your body wears out and you feel pain and discomfort. If you’re an athlete, injuries will occur probably due simply to overexertion; extending beyond the limit of your body’s ability to withstand the strain. But it could just as easily be from simple misalignment that was learned through incorrect usage. If you’re an average person of average active daily living you are merely extending the timing, but you inevitably wear out by old age from usage or injury.

I don’t believe this should be an accepted reality of aging. That’s not a way to live nor a way to die.

Could it be that many of our bodily issues stem from how we learn to walk in the first years of youth? A sign that this may be true is the fact so many people have trouble with their balance as they age. It had to start somewhere in life. It doesn’t just happen because you’re older. Many are turning to tai chi because it is known to help improve balance and reduce or even overcome chronic joint and muscle pain. Tai chi definitely can help. This is known and accepted by more and more people across the world.

What if you could avoid these age issues by starting tai chi earlier in life? You would learn that these problems are not as inevitable as commonly assumed. If more people recognize the promise of tai chi later in life, why not while young? Why wait until you have time to do it once you’re retired? That’s only putting off the inevitable when you are closer to desperation and in great need of a cure for old age, like so many of us experience.

Believe it or not, tai chi is a remedy for old age … and young age.

Learning new things

I just downloaded a new app onto my iPhone, a popular calorie counter. When I told my friend I had downloaded it, she said, “Why would you do that? You don’t need it. You’re as thin as you need to be.”
“So I can help other people,” I replied.
“Oh, I see,” she said.

Our exchange got me thinking about how I’m just interested in learning new things, which make sense in my case, because tai chi is all about learning new things. My friend’s assumption was I wanted the app for myself, that I needed, or thought I needed, to lose weight. But I really just want to know how that stuff works; in this case measuring, categorizing and inventorying nutritional information. You might like the app, too, whether you need it or not. You just be able to help someone. MyFitnessPal at the App Store.