from NPR.com by Christianna Silva
The content of this report resonates with the growth of millennials who do tai chi. I think, however, that they are not finding tai chi as easily as I wish they would. The article stresses the role of the internet in promoting self-care among millennials, though self-care has been around forever. Tai chi is ultimately self-care that contrast with the consumer approach to self-care mentioned in the report. Many people buy products (self-care kits) or subscribe to a twitter bot to remind them to take care of themselves. Just do tai chi, I say.
In 2015, according to the Pew Research Center, more millennials reported making personal improvement commitments than any generation before them.
“Maybe in the past, you thought someone was crazy or lazy, but now we’ve learned more,” Im said. “It’s a continuum. A lot of those things [like increased Internet access] allow you to become more sensitive to others.”
This is about emotion words for which no English equivalent exists.
I like this quote from Dr. Lomas who has been researching these cool words and has built a “dictionary” of 1,000 words from all around the world and from diverse cultures. …especcially the final sentence, which reminds me of tai chi learning.
“In our stream of consciousness – that wash of different sensations feelings and emotions – there’s so much to process that a lot passes us by,” Lomas says. “The feelings we have learned to recognise and label are the ones we notice – but there’s a lot more that we may not be aware of. And so I think if we are given these new words, they can help us articulate whole areas of experience we’ve only dimly noticed.”
Dr. Lomas’s website
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.
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.
Another view from a young woman discovering tai chi
Renown Zen master DT Suzuki writes in the introduction to the little book entitled Zen in the Art of Archery that describes something that I’ve discovered about tai chi. He writes that a significant feature of the practice of archery is not “… for utilitarian purposes only or for purely aesthetic enjoyments, but … meant to train the mind; indeed, to bring it into contact with the ultimate reality.”
This is la raison d’etre for tai chi for me—to train the mind. Training the body is equally key to balancing the dynamics of yin and yang in motion, of course, but Master Suzuki touches on a very core notion of tai chi practice that takes a little extra effort to grasp. Technique and application are subsumed by training the mind.
“If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge of it is not enough,” he continues. “One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an ‘artless art’ growing out of the Unconscious.”
He intrigues the reader with this rather abstract statement, but his next statement, for me, speaks directly to what I try to arrive at in my understanding of taijiquan, qigong, and Chinese internal martial arts, in general.
“The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull’s-eye which confronts him. This state of unconsciousness is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, …”
This may still appear rather abstract to most tai chi practitioners, but it does speak to what you experience after practicing long enough. That is, when you seek and find silence in your thoughts, the act becomes one of balancing thought with non-thought, or the “unconscious.”
Master Suzuki writes, “As soon as we reflect, deliberate, and conceptualize, the original unconsciousness is lost and a thought interferes.”
If you experience this in tai chi practice, then please share your thoughts with me and others. I recommend reading Zen in the Art of Archery (Eugen Herrigel, 1953) if only to read the introduction by Master Suzuki. I found a copy at White Rabbit Books on the River Trail in Durango.
It’s not a sense of urgency, but rather a sense of need that establishes the pace of learning in tai chi. It takes time and patience. When you need something, it comes only as fast as it is possible …. often slower than we wish. We just have to go that speed as possibilities become available …. or as we become aware of them.
We move slowly in tai chi. Why so slow depends on the practitioner. A beginner goes slow because that is how they develop control and take time to listen to their inner being and realize that slow movements result from moving more artfully.
At first you can measure your activity by moving slowly. Later you are more clear on what you want to direct the body to do internally. Ever-deeper views into the many levels of your being leads to unknown knowledge and ability. At first slow movements are a place to begin and use to guide yourself; then your focus moves to deeper details of movement. For example, from where the move initiates. What leads the body—the arms and hands or the center of your being?