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.”

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“Knowing yourself” in tai chi


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


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.