How to think about eight pieces of brocade

Eight Pieces of Brocade drawing
Image of Separate Heaven and Earth posture from a Qing Dynasty text

Eight pieces of brocade (ba duan jin) is an ancient Qigong that incorporates powerstretching, spiraling, open/close, up/down, left/right and energetic realignment. It seems to be a physical exercise at first, but it is more. It is a medical qigong, since each move positively affects an organ, such as liver, heart, lungs, stomach, kidneys, and central nervous system. It is an energy qigong because as you learn to do the postures through practice you relax the muscles and allow energy to travel in previously unused channels. It is a martial qigong because it incorporates many, if not most, of the essential  configurations of tai chi internal movements.

Eight pieces of brocade is ultimately a path of becoming aware of qi (energy) and learning to move it, and directing it at will. This healing aspect of this qigong is its true power.

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You have to do tai chi to know what it is

Learn tai chi and reexperience the feeling of just being.
Learn tai chi and reexperience the feeling of just being.

I would say that most people who have heard of tai chi have no accurate idea of what it is, so they’re reticent to try it without knowing more. But no one knows what tai chi is without doing it. You cannot know it second hand. You must experience it first hand. If you’re not already doing tai chi and you’re curious, get the real story yourself … if only to make sure you’re not turning down something you may find rewarding.

I think a lot of people don’t do tai chi because they feel it would be a full-time job to learn. They’re right; it is a full-time job, at least for those who choose to make it one. But it doesn’t have to be so involved for everyone. You can do tai chi at whatever regularity that feels good. Whether you do more or less, the effects are cumulative. The more you do, the better off you are; especially if you focus fully on learning during the time you devote to practice.

What is not an option to not to do tai chi at all.

What everyone should seriously consider is to put in enough practice time when you first begin to get enough basics so you will have something to work with at home or in the park, or wherever you are inspired to practice. This spring I am offering a multi-week, seasonal session in which learners get a block of exercises that can be learned, remembered and practiced on their own or in a group.

While many people have made a lifelong pursuit of tai chi, they are still employing the same universal, fundamental concepts and principles in their movements as every other learner (check Dragon Journal archives for several posts on fundamental concepts and practices). While regular, consistent practice naturally produces the best benefits, once you have a working understanding of the fundamentals, and as long as you apply them, it’s possible to benefit. Of course, being motivated to get up and practice is another challenge that many fail to overcome. You still have to move beyond your usual comfort zone, at least in the beginning.

This place is good for me

It’s Friday…the rest of the country is heading for happy hour. It’s been happy hours for me since this morning and I’m still celebrating. The day isn’t done and the night hasn’t begun. The sun still hangs over the horizon of a blue, blue Colorado sky and I still have time before day wanes and night waxes. It’s gonna be a dark one tonight. I mean the moon won’t be out. But the Milky Way galaxy and a billion stars will stand out in all of their glory. And I will go out and gaze at it all for a few minutes. And when I get cold I will go back inside to the warmth of my home where a piñon fire glows in the fireplace. Yes, this place is good to me.

Expose yourself to taiji early in life

200069253-001I began doing yoga at the age of 36, Shotokan karate at 44, and tai chi at 46. I wish I had been exposed to tai chi sooner in life. I wish the same for everyone else. I was always active in my work, physical labor, for most of my life, but during my mid-thirties I had become disillusioned with seasonal work and hourly wage jobs. I was beat up physically with injuries from accidents and the usual misuse/abuse of my body common to this society. Early on, the career I thought I was working towards failed, so I drifted around for years looking for I don’t know what.

One day, I enlisted in college courses, got a four-year degree, got an office job, got a master’s degree, kept working in the office. My health waned and waned some more. Yoga helped to some degree, but I wasn’t practicing it enough. But I was so busy anyway. Sound familiar? I hear that from people about tai chi often. We have to make choices from among competing interests for our time. So healthy activities that slow the aging process lose out.

Then one day a physical therapist told me she couldn’t help me anymore with a pulled “groin muscle” that I had injured in karate. “Do tai chi,” she said curtly. Strangely, a co-worker was actually practicing tai chi with the only teacher in town. So I went with him to class one evening. Long story short. I’m still practicing tai chi 15 years later. I’ve been to Shanghai China to train three times. I’ve been to training camps many times and have hosted many training camps in my town. I go to the doctor once a year for the annual check up instead of many times a year for one debilitating problem after another. I’m healthy for my age of 61. But there is a long way to go, meaning the rest of my life. Some people are lucky that way.

But nowadays we’re entering a new phase in the history of tai chi. Young people, millennials, are discovering it’s something that could work for them to prevent many of the health problems us old guys are experiencing as a result of injuries, habits, and aging processes that took root when we were in our twenties and thirties. Three millennials have contacted me during the past year or so to learn tai chi and that gives me hope for the future of tai chi and for the health of the younger generation. Also, parents of kids under 12 have contacted me to start their kids on tai chi. This is very unusual. Furthermore, more and more discussion can be found on the subject of young people learning tai chi and integrating it into their lifestyles. This is very heartening to see.

Does Man of Tai Chi cover up the real message with the usual plot elements of a martial arts film?

Man_of_Tai_ChiI recently viewed the new film, Man of Tai Chi directed by Keanu Reeves, who also stars along with Tiger Chen. Critics rated it poorly and it went to Netflix very soon after release. Not much play in theatres in the US anyway. I don’t know about Hong Kong or China. I imagine it is a popular movie there. The fight scenes are so uniquely choreographed that any martial art enthusiast should enjoy the film just for techniques. Yes, they use the blue screen and invisible ropes and pullies, but even that is done pretty well.

The predictable usual plot, of course, is not what drama-oriented viewers will rave about. The protagonist starts out honorable, goes against his honorable teacher’s warnings, so the bad guys entice him into bad ways, but for a good cause. He meets the enemy and it looks like he’s going to lose, but he returns to the honorable way at the last minute, beats the bad guys, and gets the girl in the end. Whew.

But that’s not what the film is about. The film is about the fight scenes. It’s also about the notion of the deep significance of the taiji principle of humbleness. What? You’re kidding! Well, to a degree anyway, which keeps the faith to taiji cosmological principle. Not in the sense of Christian piety, but in true release of the self in order to flow with the source of all things in your movement through space and time. Of course the film does not go into such esoteric detail but it’s still included in the film, The film of course is marketed to the masses and in these times of trite mass appeal, even a little superficial attention to the lasting principles of mind awareness and internal equilibrium have some value. I recommend readers watch it and reply with your thoughts. I would love to hear them.

Two more memory aids to learn a tai chi form

24 form chartResearch has shown that your brain registers the same impulses whether you mentally go through actions in your mind or actually do them with your body. So it goes without saying that you can learn the tai chi form you’re working on by going through it in your mind.

This technique is a “mnemonic” tool for improving memory.  Mnemonic is a Greek word for a memory tool, or techniques for remembering information difficult to recall.
The process is simple. See it in your mind’s eye, feel it in your body as you move step by step through the sequence.

The classic Taijiquan Lun says the the whole body should move if any part moves. This is the “whole body moves as a single unit” that is so often referred to. If you practice this completely you would make sure you integrate your mind, or the brain’s mental processes, into the activity of moving as a single unit. So, it makes sense to practice using the mind to learn and recall tai chi form or any other activities associated with tai chi.

Using the visualization mnemonic to learn is something makes tai chi an excellent practice for helping to improve other areas of life.

You can find many websites providing tips and other information on improving your memory skills.

Another helpful tool is to play music while you do the form. Many tai chi practitioners do play slow music while they do form, such as Chinese guzheng instrumental music or non-percussion flute music.

Many practitioners spend a lot of time and effort remembering the names of moves and postures, but I have not done that. Other than to remember main postures, such as single whip or wuqi and so on, at least at first, early practitioners get caught up in remembering the names of moves rather than the moves themselves. That is a major distraction. I recommend learning the moves first, then worry about the names later when you are very comfortable with recall.

One more tip: if the thought arises then that moment is the time to practice tai chi. I often ask learners what they have practiced since the last time we practiced together. And often they say sheepishly, “Well, not much.” I get nothing at all regularly. Then I ask, “Did you think of tai chi at all during the week?” and often the answer is yes. Then I say, “That is the time you should practice, because it is the spirit talking and reaching out and giving you a chance. Don’t pass it up next time you hear it speaking.”

Back to the (tai chi) basics

taiji tuBack to the (tai chi) basics. Breathing practice. Postures. Zhong ding. Dantian gong. Chan si qin. Qi go through. Whole body moves as single unit. Develop spine power and sensitivity not only for balance, but even more for energy refining. Develop dantian for both of those benefits and with more volume energy than a linear alignment. These are the things we focus on in class. I call this developing our tai nature. We are developing awareness then cultivating ability and refining both. It doesn’t matter which form you do or even the kind of martial art … hard, as well as soft. This will soften you though and improve longevity, too.