Adapt to change with tai chi

Tai chi is a tool for adapting to changing conditions. Change prevails wherever you look. The weather changes. The wind blows, doesn’t blow, blows hard, then is a breeze. The temperature is hot, cool, cold. It’s raining or it’s dry. Grass is green and moist, or brown and maybe tinder dry. A tree never stops growing. It’s always at some point of changing from a sprout to a tree. Even a desert plant that seems never to grow is active in its own way. Water flows in a stream or river. It is never the same river, they say. People change. We flow, or stumble, through emotions all day and even through our dreams at night. Change prevails. Tai chi is a method of adapting to change by focusing on the act of change itself.

It seems human beings are the only ones who want things to stay the same. Sometimes we call it the “status quo,” sometimes simply inertia. Not that it’s a bad thing—it’s serves its purpose. But some things we hold onto no longer have purchase in a ever-shifting world. They are not serving other than to hold us back from evolving. Staying the same will not always protect us from the onslaught of the constant flux that surrounds us. The whole universe is in constant flux. Time itself seems constant, yet it is nothing if not constantly changing, moving ever out of the moment into another. The present is not the same now as before.

We can change what and how we think and we do it all the time. Rather than thinking you want things to stay the same, you can want them to find equilibrium—balance. That balance is what taijiquan attends to.

Tai chi still requires adapting and shifting with the tides, but it gives you a way to do that.

Many beginners who give up before reaching a threshold of practice view tai chi as too much to learn. You tell yourself that you’ll never be able to learn all that. As a teacher, I have had many difficult moments trying not to blame myself for that thinking. I want to make tai chi available to as many people as I possibly can, but they quit before they learn enough to see what it offers them. I know now that tai chi hasn’t failed them, nor have I, rather they have failed to see the potential for themselves, electing to go the same route that has led them away from a personal evolution.

I don’t blame them, even though change is easier than they think. The key is to approach it with a mind of taking small steps and learning a little at a time and building a bunch of little pieces of knowledge and ability upon previous learning. One day you’ll look back and see a massive body of knowledge buoying you up.

It’s not a matter of overcoming inertia as much as acting in spite of it. Inertia seems much more overwhelming than possible to overcome. Too great of a mass of resistance. And yet, often the simple act of standing in Wuji, the first posture of tai chi, is enough to set you off on a new path of awakening.

 

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I like getting questions in class

“Every time we ask a question, we’re generating a possible version of a life.” – David Epston

Questions in tai chi group practice give me something tangible to relate to. They challenge me to delve into knowledge immersed just below the surface, waiting to emerge and bring light to a topic of interest. They bring teacher and student closer in shared experience and understanding. They bridge one story with another, thus creating a single story out of many.

Tai chi and getting some energy back

It is said that we are born with a finite amount of energy and that is all we have to make it through life. As life progresses that supply of energy is depleted through living: events, act, thoughts, points of view. It takes energy to live. Less of our original life force becomes available to us as we age. It becomes stuck, tucked away, or wasted upon others. We can get much of it back, however. If you knew this were possible, would you consider doing what it would take to get it back?

Yep. Martial arts are (virtually) popular, but here’s the (real) thing

With the popularity of martial arts in the movies and in gaming, wouldn’t it be nice to know what the real thing is . . . . and actually do it . . . . with your body? And wouldn’t it be best to learn from the best? That’s what you get if you were introduced to Martial Arts masters like Xu Guo Ming.

A 40-year-plus practitioner and teacher of a number of styles of Chinese Internal Martial Arts, Master George, as we call him, is well known and loved for his style of teaching and his knowledge of Chinese Martial Arts.

I just finished producing an instructional video of Master Xu lecturing and demonstrating his special approach to the theory and application of chan shi jing, or silk reeling, which sets the practitioner onto the path towards more-complex “spiral training.”

Silk reeling moves are easy to do. They are a foundational practice of kung fu. What I like about them is they give you a start on the real basics of internal martial arts.

Master Xu gives more than 20 individual movements that can be practiced to begin learning his system. His system is based on his theory of martial arts, which he refers to as “predator theory.” Tai chi, at its core, is based on the movement of animals, and Master Xu refines the concepts underlying martial arts to a high degree.

Just about anyone can learn the movements.

Begin learning the basics of spiral training and you can be on your way to learning the real martial arts that are so popular these days.

Master Xu & weekend workshoppers, Cortez, Colorado. I’m to his right, Susan Matthews to his left.

Tai chi as a strategy to relax

One of the first things you’re asked to do in tai chi is to relax. Not easy for many beginners, who seldom can relax on command. Actually, most of us forgot how, or even define what relaxing is for ourselves. Life is like that.

Tai chi offers a strategy for relaxing. My own approach is two-fold: mind intention and physical activity, both based on tai chi principles with which I have become familiar over time. It takes time, but more importantly, effort. You don’t have to work hard, rather calmly, regularly, consistently.

Breathing meditation, single-basics, stretching, moving meditation and taijiquan forms all combine to form a pretty sophisticated strategy for relaxing using these two core principles. Of course, if you develop a practice using these methods, you’ll not only cultivate relaxation, you’ll also evolve a more energetic, lively composure that will probably amaze you.

Tai chi and alpine climbing similiarites

I was talking with an alpine climber friend the other day. He spent some time in Switzerland as a guide and teacher. Mountain climbing, at least the way he describes it, sounds very familiar to tai chi. He was describing to me some of the things he would say when interacting with clients or students. One of the things he said that resonated with me was that a big key to alpine style rock climbing is the need to save energy. A big part of tai chi is to save energy, because we only have so much given to us to work with throughout our lives. We don’t make new energy, technically. We re-access what is stuck and we save what we have.

I think many people think of exercise as giving them energy, or perhaps, by rearranging energy by loosening bound up Qi and redistributing it to fill weak empty places in our being. But saving energy shouldn’t be overlooked. I mean, what do you do with the energy we do release and make newly available? I try not o spend it on unnecessary activities. I’d rather save it for when it comes in handy.

My friend brought other similarities tai chi and mountain climbing have in common. I particularly liked the idea of grabbing the cliff edge with the center of your body and mindfully attacking the rock. Look at it, connect with it from the center of your body, then carefully place your feet and hands in strategic points. This resembles using the dantian to move and connect internally and externally.

A conversation between teacher and learner

Here is a brief exchange over email between a DTC member and myself that reveals our thinking about a subject central to learning tai chi. I welcome questions and comments because it stimulates concrete conversation which serves as a knowledge-building activity.

Background: I returned after 10 days training retreat and exposed practice partners to using different muscles to feel more connectivity. I had usually been focusing on using mind to move, but also on changing the body in subtle ways of movement. Afterwards, B wrote:

“I have to say I am a little sore from the workout yesterday. … How in the world do you do it for 6 hours a day?”

Me: “You got me to thinking, or remembering, that we were using muscles that we don’t normally use. If you used them more you wouldn’t get sore. It’s just like the muscles you use everyday, say for walking, don’t get sore when you use them for longer periods of time. Same principle applies to using martial art/tai chi muscles. Make sense?”

B: “Yes. Makes sense. However if we are not supposed to use muscle what do we need tai chi muscles for? …

Me: Good question. Helps me to clarify. We rely on muscle tension to move out of sheer habit, practically unaware of other possibilities of movement and for focusing our attention. As we age we reduce usage of everything: muscle, tendon, ligament, bone and joint. In effect, we run out of energy to move, so we simply reduce the range of motion to accommodate our needs. Human beings are very efficient creatures. We do the least possible work to meet our needs. This is not bad, because it saves energy; but we cultivate a habit of not using our bodies and minds to their fullest potential and we begin rather early in life to atrophy or decline in ability.

Not to “use” muscle is not really the instruction. More like, free muscle up of its dominance and release tension (qi) that we have been carrying for a long time without realizing we have been. It also is to focus attention on moving different muscles as an exercise in changing the focus. It’s not just an exercise in muscle-moving activity. It’s one of reducing the dominance of muscle over the rest of the body and making more energy available to us that is stuck in muscle. We “wear” our tension in muscle for the most part, I think. Of course, it can be produced anywhere in the body. Changing the way we become aware of tension in the body and learn to release it is really the point. I just decided to focus on muscle. Has it made a difference in your connectivity and how you move?

The other point I would make is that at the beginning stages of practice the novice needs to have something somewhat concrete to focus on in order to “get connected”. Even while we focus on the more esoteric, elusive “energy” connection. This is what I’ve learned from my teacher, Xu Guo Ming (George), during the past couple of years. He was realizing that people were not getting the more esoteric lessons and decided to bring it back to the body, to the basics. That’s what the recently published Chan Shi Jing video is about, really.
Tim

10 tips for stimulating your tai chi practice

Whether you’re sure you want to do tai chi or not, here are things you can consider to help find out if it’s the right thing for you. But DO NOT take someone else’s word for it one way or the other. Which means, technically speaking, don’t take my word for whatever you’re about to read.

1
Find out what tai chi is. How? Be curious, and ultimately, just do tai chi.

2
Learn something and experience it. Draw a picture of it in your mind that is not based on second-hand hearsay or ideas you heard somewhere.

3
Find someone to do tai chi with. Don’t know anyone? They will appear. More and more people are taking it up.

4
Once you learn a little, practice what you know. You can’t practice what you don’t know, right? However, do try even if you’re not sure. Forget about telling yourself that you won’t do it “right,” and then not try. That would suck. Even wrong is right in this case. Later, test with me or someone to see how close you got.

5
Wear cool clothes. Naw, … just kidding. Tai chi is more fun in the buff, anyway. Not sure you would feel comfortable doing that? Then wear light, low-volume shoes, and loose-fitting shirts and pants that don’t constrict blood flow or range of motion. In fact, don’t let any constricting thoughts enter into the picture of your efforts.

6
Know your reason to do tai chi. Let your reason talk to you. Forget reasons not to, even legitimate ones. Question the tendency to think you should do tai chi because others say you should. I think we possess a subconscious tendency to resist such things as “should.” In that case, don’t listen to me—I think you should do tai chi. However, it’s okay to at least try tai chi because someone you admire does. It’s worth considering.

7
Take time to practice. Actually, don’t “take” time. Maybe you could “give” it time, but it’s more productive not to think of tai chi in relation to time at all. Think of it in terms of effort. For example, learn one thing (PS, I can show it to you) and practice it for one minute, then conclude one thing about that one thing, then one thing you learn from doing it. Notice the emphasis on the “one” idea. How much effort does that take? See what I’m getting at? Time is not the issue.

8
Prioritize. No, I don’t mean putting tai chi before all those other important demands in life. Okay, so you reached out to a tai chi teacher, you’re (sort of) motivated. You’ve reached out to the universe saying you think it may be important for you to look into learning tai chi, or at least looking into what all the buzz is about it. You’re acknowledging something important. Maybe you’re aging and feeling it. Who knows? In that case, I’m sure you can put off watching your favorite TV show for an hour of tai chi without suffering any major repercussions.

9
Find a place to do tai chi; like where you feel most comfortable and content. Oh, you mean, that’s on a beach in Bali? In that case, why not just feel being there? Call up the memory and move with it. To a great extent, tai chi is an act of visualizing possibilities. Like time, place is not a constraint, really. Sometimes, I visualize myself standing barefoot on the wet sand of a California beach moving slowly in time with the sound and feeling of the Pacific surf crashing and receding, then crashing and receding …. Of course, just remembering the feeling of doing tai chi itself is enough to make anywhere a good place.

10
Just do it. Simple, huh? Sometimes tai chi is easier to do with a group of people with similar intent. Sometimes, you feel awkward doing it alone, even when no one is around to see you. When I suggest “just doing” tai chi, I mean to see yourself doing it. To stand in the first position and begin to move. To feel the move. To teach yourself. Don’t wait for some one or some thing to determine for you whether or not to do tai chi. Just do.

Looking for more ideas about stimulating your tai chi practice. Read this related post.

Durango Tai Chi’s mission is to make tai chi available and affordable to everyone everywhere. Plain and simple. If you want to learn tai chi, we’ll find a way. Contact Teacher Tim for a free consultation by phone or in person. He’ll go anywhere on Earth where it’s possible to teach.  He donates his time and energy (at least until his savings run out). It’s like a non-profit without the tax-exempt status. Tuition goes to paying expenses for room rent, transportation, advertising, internet fees and printing. Teacher Tim’s private lessons help him with personal income, which he must rely on since he is not employed full-time at another job. Please share this post with friends you care about.