Journal

Tai Chi and the “Wall of Resistance”

A learner told me she didn’t want to continue doing taichi form any more because it reminded her of her Christian background. She said a belief system was thrust upon her as a child and at some point she rebelled and left the congregation to pursue her own path.

So when a different tai chi teacher does form, which is all she teaches in her class, my friend, who attended her class, felt like she was narrowed into a Christian-like expectation she experienced as a little girl.

Similarly, in her mind, the (Chen Manching) form reduced her down to no other options but very specific moves that she had to memorize. Almost like brainwashing. Maybe a bit extreme, but there you have it.

She said that I don’t do this as an instructor. When she told me this, I said that form is something that old-time practitioners developed as martial artists and for demonstration purposes.

I said that the understanding of qi and learning to direct it is all that matters. Whatever you do in that context creates a “form,” or a shape by virtue of the movement itself. It doesn’t have to be a martial application developed by someone, some time in the past.

I can see how she could react to the tradition and the propensity of students to accept the form without question and move into acceptance of the way things are done. …to accept the “authority” of it unquestioned.

Energy is creativity at its core and has little to do with traditional ways of movement, … in essence anyway.

I do things a little backwards. Often, form is taught without being shown the internal secrets. I teach the internal secrets as I know them first, then form.

Still, form is fun to put all you know into a shape that you memorize and within which you can be as creative as you may imagine. It becomes free even though it begins with a specific thing handed down over time. It’s good for an aging mind to exercise the memory facility.

My friend and student has reached a wall of resistance in herself. Everyone who goes upon the path of learning will run into a time in which they are challenged to work a little harder to overcome some resistance they find within themselves. Whatever they think it comes from or wherever it comes from.

My response to her is to just do tai chi in whatever form it avails itself. To stop is not wise after once making the effort to begin. The practice itself will show her the path to understanding.

Buddhism and Taijiquan

I heard the Dalai Lama or a Rinpoche visiting my town explain what concentration, mindfulness and contemplation are. Taiji is very much a practice of this, due to its meditative nature. Read on…

Concentration is simple. For example, focus on a shape, or a letter, in your mind’s eye.

Mindful. Mindfulness. The mind wanders. Mindfulness is the effort to catch yourself or see that your attention has wandered away from what it had been intending to become more aware of.

Contemplation. You are able to hold the image of whatever your attention is focused on and receive insights into its nature.

A Rinpoche told a group of us once that Tibetan’s do not distinguish a separation between mind and heart. They are one. This agrees with discoveries in scientific research, as I read on mindfulmuscleblog.com (http://www.mindfulmuscleblog.com/heart-has-consciousness/).

We learn to apply this in practice with Chinese internal martial arts, such as tai chi, xingyi, liuhebafa, bagua. Xingyi translates as “heart-mind.” I would add that the whole body can become aware and conscious in addition to the heart-mind. In all of these internal styles, effort is made to silence the mind of thoughts. You clear the head by placing attention elsewhere in the body, than the “brain” and by giving yourself the task of moving from that point (the dantian). With concentrated, conscious, and deliberate action, you get the mind out of the head and give awareness to the whole body. Every part moves in unison with the whole and the whole moves as the results of the parts moving in harmony. This is tai chi.

Susan A. Matthews has merged her tai chi practice with her studies in how the brain works and many people are benefiting from it. It’s good to know that these things are happening in our world despite the presence of forces that intend the contrary.

What do young people think of tai chi?

(Recent CNN article on millennials doing tai chi.)

Young people in China have told me that tai chi is just something that old people do. “But do you know what taiji is?” I would say and they would reply, “Yeah, something old people do.”

True enough, but if they began practicing tai chi at a younger age they could probably prevent many of the ailments that older people have after a lifetime of beating their bodies up.

Even in the USA, many think that tai chi is for “seniors.” That’s a nice euphemistic term considered appropriate for “old people.” Tai chi is where people go when they’ve washed up on the shores of “retirement.” Of course, when you reach a certain age, as everyone will, you realize you have misused, overused, and otherwise abused your body to the point that you do feel old and weakened.

As a tai chi practitioner and instructor I take comfort in knowing what the practice has done for me and can do for others. Young people don’t know what they’re missing.

I shouldn’t say all young people share the opinion of tai chi as an old person’s practice. A few young people do practice tai chi, part of a refreshing trend. I was interviewed by a few young Web journalists when in China in 2009. Although they were not tai chi practitioners they were fascinated with the fact that “foreigners” were. We had some wonderful conversations during our time together. I came away from that fascinating country understanding that China’s young associate less with old China than with old people. They respect the elderly even though some of them do that tai chi thing.

This coincides with my take on tai chi having universal value for being human beyond culture, society, location, etc. Particularly related to being a life-long practice to maintain health and well-being, it’s a gift to the world that happens to have originated among people who lived in a place we now call China (Zhong Guo).

I happen to have been born in the great technocratic society of “America” where everything new shines continually, even while so much is left rusting in some field along some superhighway. Despite our love affair with the idea of New, the world is getting cluttered with old stuff left in the wake of our restless attention. As far as I’m concerned, taijiquan (as well as qigong) is always new and always has been throughout the time we’ve known about it. It’s a way to discover unknown things—of which there is plenty—about our mind-energy-body connection. Even though its from an older time and older people do it, enough younger folks are paying attention—whether or not they eschew it, because more and more don’t. And that confirms my certainty that it’s going to be around for a long time to come.

Does this topic interest you?

Other posts about young people doing tai chi:

For more, type “young” in search box top right of posts page.

Paul Tim Richard studies and writes about Chinese internal martial arts, and produces instructional videos for MastersFromChina.com. He also teaches fundamental principles of taijiquan, qigong, and other principles of Chinese internal martial arts. He is available for seminars and workshops worldwide. He lives near Durango, Colorado USA.

A few tai chi practice tips

Collage of several of Gray's muscle pictures, ...
Image via Wikipedia

In taiji there are concepts that you want to understand. One is “get out of muscle.” For many this is a little difficult to understand at first, but once you do it is relatively easy to apply. The concept of “empty,” as some of my teachers refer to, means in part to have no jing in the muscles, no tension, no clutching. “Qi flows through” is another concept. When learners feel it happening, they are elated. It feels good.

How do you practice these concepts? Do single, basic moves with the intention of “getting out of muscle.” Repetitive, rhythmic movement is a valuable means of freeing up your mind and allowing you to perceive the more subtle features of your movement and body…to distinguish what is not moving from what is. You want whole body movement, harmonious and flowing. With practice you learn to turn your gaze away from muscle by focusing on the movement of bones, ligaments and tendons as you repeat the moves. This is a good idea for many practitioners, not just beginners. Many more ways exist, but this is a start.