Going solo

Tai chi is one of the best exercises. Experiences as a student and teacher have taught me that practicing in a group setting twice a week (at a minimum), along with some degree of practice at home is best for learning and improving memory, as well as for building lasting health benefits.

Tai chi is simple in some ways. In a group practice, you learn a form, or a set of movements that everyone performs in unison. Follow the leader, monkey-see-monkey-do. It gets interesting when there is no group leader to follow.

The goal of learning tai chi is also to develop a home practice or a solo routine, which does not have a “one size fits all” approach. It can be customized to the individual, too. Every person is different: different body, different circumstances, and different interests, needs and desires.

The challenge for many newer learners is where to begin. I suggest simply choosing a few appealing moves from among the many learned in class, then remember them at home. It can be as simple as breathing and opening the body with a simple stretch for a minute. Or it can be memorizing the whole form. Either way, you have at chance to make a difference in your conditioning if you try a more-customized practice, tuned to your unique situation.

Solo training is the seedbed of the master. Ultimately, the movement teaches you. You grow more aware of what it is telling you as you evolve. Then at some point you surpass the limits you had grown accustomed to expecting in yourself.

I read in a treatise

I read in a treatise on the Tao Te Ching that states to be fully human is to develop a power of attention that “allows the harmonious relationship of the forces of Yin and Yang to take place within one’s own psychophysical organism.” How’s that for a statement on the mind-body connection?

You turn around and expect to know

You turn around and expect to know what you will find. So much so that you don’t even look anymore. You walk always looking forward. You rarely turn around to see where you’ve been. You’re even bored by the thought. Maybe we would pay better attention to our surroundings if we knew a mountain lion was stalking us. Or a bear, perhaps a snake while we sleep, or death itself. We don’t see it coming. We don’t even look.

This tendency applies in martial arts—you cannot always say where your opponent will be or what he will do. If you are superior perhaps, but even then the practice always would have been to take nothing for granted and to focus on what is being presented in the fleeting moment. It could be anything, and uncertainty calls for vigilance, observation and preparedness. Be prepared for unknown things when you turn to see what is there, even if it turns out to be the expected. Quick wits and reflexes can stem from such awareness and understanding.

tai chi remind

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We think we’re standing up straight, but we’re not. We’re listing to the side. We think we are strong but we’re not. We think we’re agile but we’re not. Our thoughts about ourselves are not what it looks like from the outside. Maybe we should look at ourselves through the eyes of tai chi. No judgment. Just look. Adjust accordingly. Practice on.

the suicidal man

A man went to the park one day with a loaded pistol in his jacket. He sat at the edge of a pond contemplating suicide. He struggled for several minutes to build up with the courage to do it. While buried under a cloud of despair and confusion, an elderly Chinese man approached him and asked what was his problem. From across the lawn he had noticed the man was troubled. The suicidal man answered, “I can’t sleep,” not telling the old man everything. The Chinese man, who turned out to be the famous Taijiquan master, T.T. Liang, said, “If I could show you how to sleep, would you be interested in learning?” The man said yes, so Master Liang taught him one move, the first move of the form, for “what felt like days.” The man was so tired and sore from what Master Liang showed him that he eventually slept like a baby and forgot all about killing himself. Some 50 years onward, he still practices and teaches others “how to sleep.”

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