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.

Advertisements

Question about changing directions in Wu Style Tai Chi Form

Sometimes, I get questions from learners that merit sharing. This question is about whether we should pivot on the heels or the balls of the feet when changing directions in the Wu form.
QUESTION: When you turn doing Tai Chi, is it always on your heels?
ANSWER: This is a good question. By “always,” do you mean outside of class or inside? I learned in Wu style training, of which two lineages exist, to turn on the heels … except when the teacher does something else, such as turning on the bubbling well.
The point I try to convey in class is to cultivate enough control to do what you intend to do, such as pivoting on the heel, which is a hallmark method of changing directions in Wu style, either lineage, as well as Yang. This entails developing concentration and sustaining it long enough to see your skill evolve.
To me, this is the deeper training. To learn move sequences is one level, learning how to do them is a deeper level and learning to control mind intention and sustain concentration are even deeper.
My point has always been to learn a technique, become familiar with it, then through practice become more at ease with it. The ultimate practice is one in which you continually refine what you have been exposed to. So if turning on the heel is what you’re asked to do, then do that all the time in and out of class as a way of refining your skill.
I think it’s fun to keep it in mind and do when you are reminded of it.
Figuring out stances and foot work in the form is one challenge beginners face because coordinating upper and lower body simultaneously can get confusing. I think it helps to focus on one activity at a time until you familiarize yourself with the move.
The position of the feet and how you move them merits special attention until you’ve become more familiar and comfortable with the method used in whichever form you’re doing.
Different teachers follow different methods, probably because that’s how they learned it from their teachers; but also, according to its effectiveness in a martial application. I learned from my teachers to pivot on the heels when changing directions. This is common enough and you can get pretty technical when it comes to how you’re weighted in gravity and where your zhong ding is at each stage of a movement. These are things I try to cover when practicing this activity.

BACKGROUND

I learned my particular way of doing the Wu style slow form from six, either in person or through video. My first teacher, was Wang Hao Da (Wu Jian Quan lineage), but he passed away soon after I began. Then I learned more from Susan Matthews, who worked with Master Wang for about four years in a number of training camps.

Then I went to China in 2004 and trained with Xu Guo Chang (Wu Yu Xiang lineage). More recently, I studied videos of Grandmaster Ma Yueh Liang, his wife Wu Ying Hua, Wen Zee. They’ve all passed away now. I’ve found perhaps one video of Grandmaster Ma doing slow form, since he preferred the fast form.

Over a couple of weekends in spring 2016, I met Yan Yuan Hua (Wu Jian Quan lineage)  in Tucson, AZ and Temple City, CA and practiced with him and several of his students in both cities. He gave me a video of his forms to watch and learn. His approach differs from others I have been exposed to.

I try to incorporate what I’ve learned in such a way to simplify the process of learning of students and make their progress a steady one. Sooner or later in training we all are exposed to different ways of doing things.

I highly value the ability of a practitioner to be fluid and open to change as they encounter new information. It keeps things lively by challenging our assumptions and the tendency to develop just another habitual way of moving without questioning. Good the the brain, good for the body.

A goal in tai chi

There is a progression to tai chi. First is to relax places where we’re tight (often painful, too). Often it can be described as “clenching.” For most of us that is true. The next step in the progression is to move. Move around and through the tight places with a mindful intention to dissolve the tension. The moves are designed to help you to relax. Moving changes the body.

We use different methods to get that change to happen: loosening, stretching, and single basic exercise. Repetitive, rhythmic, single moves, in which we employ awareness of and intention to the six directions, and then in shapes and patterns. The six directions are up down front back left right and the shapes are circles, figure 8s and spirals.

Begin with circles and visualize with your mind intending to circle inside your abdomen. This location is particularly important in the beginning, but you can move in circles anywhere in your body with the intention.

Moving the abdomen and the hips are key to relaxing and loosening the tightness in the lower back and spine.

Your tai chi goal

My goal in teaching tai chi is to show you the process. A secondary goal is to help you to realize that you can do it.

The question of what is tai chi lies at the core of all learning in tai chi. You’re in the process of discovering what tai chi is for you every time you stand up and start moving. No one can do that other than you. Isn’t that a remarkable thing to realize? …that you are the only one on the planet who knows what tai chi is, and can be, for you?

Master George Xu Introduces “Ling Cong Shen Si Men”: A universal martial arts system

Taiji Workshop Participants, Cortez, CO July 2016

In his Annual Weekend Workshop to Cortez, Colorado July 15-17, Master George Xu introduced his system he entitles “Ling Cong Shen Si Men” (Light, Agile, Empty, Spiritual, Invisible, Indirect Potential System). He describes it in a July 15th lecture in Cortez, Colorado that will be made available on streaming video at mastersfromchina.com. We first heard his term for the system last April during a one-day workshop in San Francisco, CA.

“I finally can say that I have a system I can talk about,” Master Xu said at the time.

We’ve heard bits and pieces of his predator theory out of which his system is developed, but never so clearly organized until now. This Cortez workshop, the latest in 20-plus years of Master Xu visiting us, consisted of Master Xu elucidating some basic concepts of the Ling Cong Shen Si Men System in lecture and exercise drills which he led throughout the workshop, with a review Sunday morning of the many single basics that he had been showing the groups of at least 24 students.

He also led a power-stretching segment and beginning learning of the Lan Shou Quan broadsword section known as “Hold the Moon” or “bao yue dao.”

These latter two were specifically requested by Susan Matthews, workshop host and Shanti School of Taijiquan founder and teacher. We began learning the Lan Shou Men as early as 2002 when Master Xu gave us the Cao Quan Form and the Bau Yue Dao form with a stem-by-step instruction of each segment of both forms (both of which are available on video).

The Cortez workshop is a return to Lan Shou requested by Ms. Matthews who has studied with Master Xu since before 2000, when she was introduced to Lan Shou Master Ye Xiao Long. In 2004, Master Xu introduced us to Wu Jie with whom we studied for several days at Master Xu’s China Camp ’04 and ’07.

Equipped with the videos and learning directly from such accomplished master practitioners, it made good sense to keep practicing that system and fine tune our skills and expand our experience of the Lan Shou Men.

To get a taste of the workshop, you can request youtube.com video clips available from Susan Matthews or P. Tim Richard by contacting either. Look for full length instructional streaming videos sometime soon at mastersfromchina.com. They will cover Master Xu’s overview lecture, single basic exercises, testing examples, some power stretching, and beginning Lan Shou broadsword, “Hold The Moon.”

—Paul Tim Richard, July 20, 2016

Five (maybe six) questions people (might) ask before deciding to learn tai chi

You have to learn tai chi to see its effects. It doesn’t seem easy to do, but it’s simpler than many people think. People make a choice to learn when they start tai chi. They understand it takes effort and commitment. They can see that much about it.

I identified five (maybe six) basic questions you can ask if you’re thinking about doing tai chi. As a teacher, my answer is yes to all, but you might not agree. Ask them of yourself, read my remarks, which hopefully will help, then decide for yourself on a course of action.

Can I do it?
Am I able to meet any requirements. Am I big enough, strong enough, quick enough, smart enough? Do I have to pass tests? In tai chi there are no requirements beyond having the desire to attend classes and learn. If you can listen and learn, then you’re able to do tai chi. The biggest effort involves remembering what you learn and then practicing at home in your spare time. The teacher can help guide your learning. You can grade your progress if you want. There is no performance rating, no quizzes, no expectations—other than to make an effort. Beyond that it’s all discovery and accomplishment. Just experience tai chi to the degree that you are able. That feels good, too. We constrain our possibilities by thinking we don’t have the time.

Do I have the time?
This is a big question for busy people. Often, though, we think we’re busier when we’re actually not. Makes us feel important that we’re doing important things. Life goes on…and on some more. From a tai chi practitioner’s point of view, having time is not the optimum question. Key to successful learning is how much energy you’re willing to put into learning. Time, in this case, is effort. If you are willing, there is always time because it’s your effort that matters most. Two minutes a day is nothing in terms of time, but in terms of effort, it could make a huge difference . . . . over time, of course.

Can I afford it?
Can you afford not to be healthier? You just have to decide what you’re willing to spend in order to change something? Most of us can easily afford, and readily spend our wealth on, things that we know are not good for us. Go figure.

Is tai chi for me?
You can read blog posts, articles, talk to people who do tai chi and who tried and quit, then decide whether to take a few classes, or many classes. But the only way to know for sure is to do tai chi. And I would add that that is not going to be enough. Tai chi is for everyone in one way and in another way it’s only for those who are not just willing to go through the process of learning, but those who actually do. There is always a new thing to learn. So maybe another question to ask is: “Is learning new things for me?” Science research findings show that learning new things, particularly as we age, is healthy for the brain. Tai chi is healthy for the brain and the body.

The problem with learning new things is that we don’t really want to. That’s why overcoming inertia is the main objective in opening yourself up to new learning. Even when you know it would be good for you and likely for those people in your life you care about, we resist learning, much like we resist change. We see it as disruption in life’s routines. Steady as she goes, you know.

Tai chi often is more than a lifestyle choice, rather it’s a healthcare choice. You could think of it as building an identity out of your practice, because it is a process of self-discovery. Learning is that way. You build knowledge as though building a bridge from a previous you to a more-evolved you. That essentially is what you engage in by learning and doing tai chi.

Do I need tai chi?
How do you know what you need if you don’t already have it? Maybe it’s a cynical way of approaching the issue, but tai chi is one of those things that you have to experience in order to see its effects.

People don’t know what tai chi is, really. They couldn’t be expected to see it as something they need. However, you can read the articles that report research findings and accept that it’s quite likely an excellent preventative activity, as well as a treatment for illness. Maybe that’s what you need.

You could watch practitioners, listen to their stories, maybe witness the changes they go through over time; but that would mean you’re not doing tai chi yourself and possibly missing out on its benefits for yourself.

Asking if you need tai chi, in a manner of thinking, leaves open the idea that maybe there is something better. Or maybe it’s the last resort for a desperate person. I would be an example of that.

Quite often, people look into tai chi in response to a chronic condition or an acute injury. In my case, tai chi helped me more than anything else I tried. I tried many things, too. Like many other people I’ve seen, it was just about the last resort. But in my case I didn’t know about tai chi at the time, and when I discovered my teachers, I was pretty well on my way. That was in 1999. I was quite ill when I began, and I am much healthier now. A nice thing for a 64 year old person to be able to say.

One thing that appealed to me was that tai chi allowed me to do for myself rather that to rely on some professional to “help” me, or provide me “healthcare.” I’m a more or less self-sufficient person. I like to do things myself for myself. You could say that I “need” tai chi in that respect. I also like to turn people on to tai chi so they can do the same. Which I hope this post does for those of you asking the question, “Is tai chi for me?”

 

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.

Play the pipa and the real thing

ptrichard-playpipa_w

Students new to taijiquan often ask what is a pipa when they learn the “play the pipa” posture in the Wu style tai chi form. I found this video on facebook.com of Wu Man playing the instrument, the four-string lute, with Haruka Fujii playing Japanese symbols. View and then see for yourself what a pipa is. Also check out the Silkroad Project, Yo Yo Ma’s current project.

https://www.facebook.com/rsrc.php/v2/y4/r/-PAXP-deijE.gif

You don’t have to learn it all at once

I think many would-be tai chi practitioners quit or don’t even get started when they see how much there is to learning it. It certainly takes some effort to learn, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. I learned about the concept of “tiny steps” from the Institute of Wellness Education, where I’ve begun working on earning a wellness coach certificate. I think tiny steps applies to anyone considering learning some tai chi. Check out this link to read more about it on the institute’s blog.