Beginning tai chi at the end

You have to start somewhere so why not at the end?

To start somewhere in the physical, begin in wuqi and end in wuqi. So, you see, in taiji you could say that you start at the end and end at the beginning.


High blood pressure and Tai Chi

HBP signals that the heart is having to work harder to get nutrients and oxygen to the body’s cells. Our cells are where life itself is generated. Too often life cut short by things that we can actually do something about. We all have a lot of life left in us to live longer and more fully.

Plaque build up, cholesterol, clogged arteries, and all that may accurately describe what goes on in the blood vessels as a result of eating certain foods over time and doing too little about it. Often, it’s too late when we find out there is a problem. Yet for most of us, the human body is fully equipped at birth to heal itself. If it has the nutrients and right amount and kind of physical activity, we should function more optimally, feel better, live longer.

What is within your power to change? I know one thing you can do. In taiji, it’s quite simple. Just move the body in such a way that the heart opens fully and  blood flows more easily to the body’s cells. It’s easy to do with minimal training. You can feel the benefits in a single practice session. Stand in wuchi, take a deep breath, stretch your body, do a qigong move that you remember from class with attention and affection. Open the body so the blood will flow. Oxygen and nutrients will feed the cells. Be clear on the understanding that you are stimulating the life force within and signaling the body that you desire to be healthy and vibrant and you want to live as fully in each moment as possible.

Now, how many eight pieces of brocade are there?

Eight pieces of brocade (Ba Duan Jin) are a well-known and commonly taught set of qigong postures. They are very old and they contain many secrets. I don’t really know the historical approaches to doing them, teaching them, and what all the internal secrets are. I haven’t looked into it much. I assume there is a lot of knowledge being emitted from many masterful practitioners. One thing I’ve noticed is that different people describe different postures and call them the Eight Pieces, so it’s not exaclty clear what the original Eight Pieces are to me.

All I really feel strongly about is that if you perform each of the moves, whatever they may be, with as much serious attention to learning something from the move itself, even just a single posture can be extremely powerful. And if you perform it each time as perfectly complete as possible, then you are definitely going to get the fullest benefits. You will be filled , or injected, with so much energy that you won’t know what to do with it, how to direct it or how to even stand it. It’s on the edge of going out of control, it is so powerful.

Mindful techniques for performing basic tai chi exercises

A major goal for doing tai chi is relaxation: fang song. So, practice is a two-fold process of becoming aware of tension and releasing it. A single basic movement is a path to awareness and release. One technique to discern tight spots in the body is to focus on the movement of one part of the body at a time. Get a feeling for that. Shoulder rolls (kao) are good for working one leg and hip assembly at a time. I do this Wu style practice with beginners.

To make it less difficult to do at first, break down the move into its components. It takes more concentration than you might think. You can continually break it down like you would peel an artichoke or remove the layers of an onion. There is just so much more to know. Do the move and seek rhythmicity, flow, and precision in the alignment of the bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. Seek alignment in gravity and how you’re centered in gravity, weighted while remaining agile. Agile means that your root is there but it’s not defined by how stuck you feel to the ground. Root is defined by how energetically you’re connected and how your body goes with the flow in weightedness as opposed to holding on to any particular tension anywhere.

Pace yourself. Timing is really important. When exactly do you roll the shoulder over, then pull the shoulder back, roll the shoulder, pull the shoulder, roll the shoulder. Is it the shoulder that you should focus on or the hips? At what point in the circle do you shift or transition over? Where in the circle do you initiate the move, complete it?

Every move has a physical and an energetic element. So, you can achieve both a physical and energetic relaxation. The energetic element gives the physical motion a quality that it won’t have unless it is intended. Some refer to being mindful. The move has to be conscious and deliberate in order to realize what is meant by “energy.” Also, energy is one thing and mental intention is another. Too many presume what they’re thinking is actually what’s happening, but too often thought is burdened by assumption; which is not an accurate reflection of reality. So, we don’t see the results of our intentions in the physical, material world. We are bewildered and confused as to why we don’t see happening what we want to see. We’re holding everything that happens in our heads. In tai chi we become aware that something is happening outside of our heads and we practice that.

Train with masterful practitioners whenever you can

zhu tian caiZhu Tian Cai, one of the four tigers from the famed Chen village in Henan Province in China, has been visiting martial art schools across the US with his translator, Master Kam Lee. I drove to El Paso, Tx with Susan Matthews to train with them for a weekend of excellent training at Ray Abeyta’s Texas School of Taijiquan. GM Zhu is a lineage holder of the Chen family style taijiquan tradition that originated in Chen village so long ago. He’s practically royalty in the martial arts world that I have become part of in my pursuit of knowledge and health.

Grandmaster Zhu taught us his Silk Reeling (Chan Si) set, form, 42 fa jin form, and part of fan form. It was a packed weekend of hours of training at a time. He amazed me with his fun-loving teaching style and an obviously profound love of what he does. … not to mention his knowledge and ability.

To learn taiji movement in the presence of a recognized master, especially one directly descended from its origins is worth every effort to make the trip to practice with him or her. Master Zhu represents a long, storied history of China and some of the wonderful contributions that have come out of such recondite places as Chen Jia Gou. He sets himself apart by his willingness to teach international students. I am glad to meet and train with him and I hope to see him again when he returns. I wish him good health and safe travels so that we all will have the fortune of having back in the US.

Master Kam Lee who has studied with GM Zhu for years, translated  and led us in the sets alongside his teacher. He announced the launch of the International Tian Cai Taijiquan Federation. It looks like the home office will be in Jacksonville, Florida where Master Lee practices acupuncture and runs his own Kung Fu school. I look forward to hearing more about the new organization’s development.

Ray Abeyta is a three-time push hands champion, a great teacher and friend. He is unique in his community where he teaches a wide variety of people from 90 year old ladies to firemen and the UTEP college football team. If you’re ever around El Paso, contact him and visit a class.

Susan Matthews, ND, is a very high level taijiquan practitioner who incorporates neuroscience, anatomy and neurobiology into her practice as a healthcare provider/educator. Her Brain Workshop is of interest to people worldwide. You can learn so much from her that will improve your life in so many ways. Her high degree of energy is contagious. She’s one of those people that when you get around them you can’t help but feel energized. Her knowledge and ability are unmatched. I hope you are as fortunate as I am in having such talent surrounding you.