This video clip of Wu Style Grandmaster Wang Hao Da demonstrating his form shows his unique style. I’ve seen only one or two others who move like him and no one pinged opponents like he did. He was a student/disciple of the Ma Yueh Liang.
Tai chi doesn’t have to be something you schedule to do. With a little knowledge you can practice a simple technique anywhere, anytime. Here’s one idea.
Standing in Wuji . . . . or Being Like a Mountain
One way to begin tai chi is simply by standing. For example, Wuji is the first posture in a tai chi form. You return to Wuji when you finish form. It basically means to stand quietly but alive and agile. It’s sometimes called “standing like a mountain”; silent, expansive and powerful. “Empty” is another term used to describe the state of being in Wuji. Quiet, without thought, without tension, even without mind.
The Classics say that Taiji was born out of Wuji and from Taiji came Yin-Yang, or the separation and movement of things in the world. So when you stand in Wuji then move, you are expressing a universal principle of Taiji, the supreme ultimate expression of movement.
Here is a little pointer on beginning form by standing in Wuji. Stand facing forward, arms at sides, feet parallel and shoulder width, a straight line from ear lobes to ankles, chin downward, not up. Abdomen loose, shoulders relaxed and “sitting on the hips.”
Breath should be natural, even and full, but not strained. Place your attention on your feet. Feel the surface of whatever you are standing on with the soles of your feet. Feel the muscles. Feel the weight. Feel warmth or coolness. Shift your weight slightly to one side then the other. Feel how your body as a whole responds and adjusts to the shifting.
Visualize something like water or a breeze flowing into the ground through the point behind the ball of the foot. See how far you can project the flow into the earth. Now, visualize the flow rising from the earth through that point all the way to the top of your head and back down. Feel how the rising force causes your body to rise with it.
That’s it, that’s all you have to do. Just standing in Wuji and visualizing a flow is good practice any time you like.
I’ve read more than a few times that globally more people do tai chi than any other exercise. More than yoga even. You can go to parks in any reasonably sized city in the world and find groups of people doing tai chi, as well as qigong. Tai chi is the most popular exercise in the world. I don’t know if that’s so true.
When I started showing others how to do what I had learned after five years of active tai chi study I assumed that just saying I taught tai chi would be enough for many people to join. That’s not the case where I live. Tai chi just doesn’t resonate. I’m not sure why only a few people are interested in learning it. I’m guessing, however, that competition from other activities, such as sports and outdoor recreation are bigger. Yoga is huge. Aerobic exercises with new names (Taebo) that combine dance and martial art moves are popular; as are hard martial arts, such as karate and tae kwon do.
I also think that there is a misconception that tai chi as a slow meditative movement is boring. This is in a town where the median age is 35. At least one time in a class a 30-something person blurted out that what we were doing was boring.
I find, however, that many people actually discover that tai chi is not as easy as they thought. They actually give up trying. That tells me something. You see real tai chi, or Taijiquan, which is its true name, is a real martial art and a very sophisticated one in which every cell of your body and mind is engaged in constant challenge to evolve out of an old self into a new more vibrant, capable being. In more ways than you can count it is deeply mindful movement when done properly. Achieving mindfulness is what the practice of Taijiquan is all about. That is only one thing. It’s all about many other things, as well.
I started a meetup.com group recently and gave it the name of Dragonfly Internal Movement Arts. The dragonfly is a symbol of transformation in many cultures and a favorite being of mine, because they have always appealed to a deep sense of beauty and movement in me. Where I was raised there was a phenomenon called “le dance des cigales,” the dance of dragonflies. Hundreds of dragonflies gathered in a tight formation of frenetic flight above my head, flying endlessly in energized unison. It is a wild and beautiful sight. It was as though they were just enjoying the power of flight, having fun.
The last time I witnessed the dance des cigales was as an adolescent. I think it is rarely seen now. But this summer I witnessed a sort of one for the first time in almost 50 years! Hundreds of dragonflies in a half-acre field flying back and forth feeding voraciously on insects. So I named my new meetup in honor of this wonderful symbol of new hope for doing what I love with like-minded others who also seek some sort of transformation in themselves and the world around them.
Its been a couple of months now. Eleven people have joined to date but only one has attended any meetups. I’ve announced 14 so far. I initially said little about it being related to tai chi. But I’m afraid that the cat is out of the bag. No one seems to want to do tai chi because I fear they assume it’s slow, boring stuff.
They don’t realize that I’m not teaching the tai chi that they think I’m doing. I am actually teaching the art of movement itself. The essence of movement that I have distilled from Chinese internal martial arts; which have thrived for centuries, not just because they were martial arts, but because they are comprised of something mysterious that awakens our human attraction to movement itself—the art of movement itself. It actually is not boring and can be quite a workout as well. You sweat on warm days, your muscles get toned, your heart rate can even increase substantially. The way I do it anyway.
This is what I want to delve into with the Dragonfly meet up group; to immerse in the mystery of moving with new awareness with mindful intention. It’s a powerful path to transforming the self, believe it or not. It’s so much more powerful with others in a group. A group of people can generate a lot of energy working together.
You can do the slow meditative exercise or you can do a “workout” tai chi. It mostly depends on your age and physical ability. I usually set the tone of a practice session depending on who attends. If there is a mix of ages and abilities, I have a plan to make sure everyone gets something to practice and go home happy.
The magic of what we’re doing at Dragonfly applies to any kind of movement you may do: dance, swimming, skiing, running, hiking, walking, skating, even sitting in meditation. That’s what I like about it. I wonder if this appeals to anyone else.
Paul Tim Richard