Your gongfu reflects your knowledge of your body

Your gongfu is only as good as your knowledge of your body and how all the parts work: the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, organs, and the spaces between them. Their range of motion, their limits, their shapes, their functions. Your potential depends upon everything you know about everything you don’t know, and all that you discover about your body and its parts, and their functions, and what you may discover. 


Tai chi and alcohol dependency

Sometime ago, a fellow contacted me to learn some tai chi. I showed him some things, but he had difficulty focusing. I knew he drank too much and had for a long time. Too long.

He was hitting 50 years and had a physically demanding job. People were not taking him seriously because he was a drunkard. His uphill struggle intensified, because of that kind of lack of support. That became another obstacle in his life. Lonely as life can be, it really became lonelier for him and less fulfilling. He was in a rut. Things he had always done weren’t working. If they ever did. He didn’t know how to get out of it. 

But you can. It’s the same process as when you initially stepped onto that path. You did it to address a problem and it worked for you. Ultimately, you have a different challenge now. It’s time for a new rut. If you figure out you are in a rut you are doing better already. At least you are aware if something that may lead to escape. 

The challenge is compounded, however, because you have depleted your energy. It is easy to expend excess energy that it takes to drink too much, and beat up the body when you are younger. But as you age and deplete, it is more difficult to rebound.

This is where tai chi comes in. Developing a practice helps you to focus your attention on specific goals and achievements. Simple as they are they are powerful. Energy builds back as a result. You may not get it all back, but you learn to do more with you have to work with. A tai chi practice helps you to see your path out of the rut.

The Art of Following in Tai Chi Learning

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Learning tai chi requires following the teacher, monkey-see, monkey-do, which takes effort to grow proficient, and learn more quickly and accurately. Improving how you follow is part of a well-rounded practice.

It is difficult for many at first, mostly because you are trying to do two things at the same time: watching what the teacher is doing and doing it yourself. Multi-tasking. You are using the sense of sight mostly, but also that of feeling with the mind and body.

Keeping up is harder if the teacher doesn’t move slowly, or if he embellishes moves with additional, subtle changes. What the teacher is doing on the outside may seem obvious, but what he is doing on the inside may not be visible at all.

Following is a test of memory, where you try to see the next move from any point in the sequence. It’s like navigating through a strange neighborhood, or city, or wild place unfamiliar to you. You are trying to remember which way you have come so you can find your way back. You have to utilize senses in ways not used regularly. Not knowing the moves is not the issue for the beginner, really. Not knowing how to remember is.

A little more instruction from Master Xu

“You must try different styles of tai chi in order to learn which you are best suited for,” Master George Xu once told us. Distinct styles match the five elements: wood, water, fire, air, metal. Metal is the most martial of all. Chen Style, for example is a fluid style, while Wu is like a snake—concentrated, connected. He didn’t say which is more metal in nature.

Also, you must go from one level to the next in your training. It is common that while you train at one level, you are preparing yourself for not only the next, but for all. The levels that Master Xu named are physical, energy and spiritual. There is no worthwhile physical without spiritual, he said. But you must train the physical to it highest level of attainment in order to reap the greatest benefit of the spiritual. (from 8/25/2002)

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?