Personal Development

Actually this post is more a speculation on way that things accumulate organically over long periods – the way we humans pass things down the generations as cultural knowledge. Which may help in both understanding and learning Tai Chi – especially if you find it confusing and start asking questions like “why?”.

It seems reasonable to assume from history that people and the ancestors of people have been fighting for a very long time indeed and that therefore some of them probably started to practice so as to increase their chances of survival if nothing else. One can imagine this practice as a sort of parallel activity to social or ritualistic dance – it seems pretty certain that once societies started creating armies then the idea of practice to increase effectiveness was common so perhaps was born the idea of exercises, techniques and strategy.

Fighting of course creates a lot of physical damage, but so does practice which one can easily imagine led to an interest in medicine – fighting itself doesn’t actually take long, leaving extended periods in between for study of other beneficial knowledge – such as medicine, philosophy, magic, psychology, science etc.

So in the early 1600’s in the middle of China a number of these practices and ideas came together at the Chen village in the person of Chen Wangting who created a unique synthesis of physical techniques together with many of these other areas of study including the philosophical world models of Taoism and Buddhism. This coming together of ideas and practices transitioned martial arts training from a base of individual specialist fighting techniques to a system of general training for the person to be able to deal with anything. It has stood the test of time in martial arts and  has since proven an excellent lens for wider personal development of all kinds. It is a cultural movement that continues to absorb new information from anywhere so long as it is useful.

So it is beneficial to think of Tai Chi as a practice for dealing with life, offering off shoots and byways of physical, intellectual and spiritual experience derived from the extensive traditional knowledge which has accumulated over the generations.

Welcome then to beginners – who can consider Tai Chi like any other form of specialist activity and can choose their level of involvement and direction of study dependent on their interest and needs. To compare with medicine for example one may well become a first aider, a para medic, a nurse, a doctor, a consultant? It really depends on how much you enjoy it, how rewarding you find it and so on. The training starts the same, a student only has to choose how far they wish to go.

For more on the history of Tai Chi – please see here 

It occurs to me that the learning which takes place in a class is very different to that which we experience practicing alone – both are important but we tend to prioritise the class or one to one tutorial because we see that as a “proper learning” environment – after all if we are being taught then that means we must be learning – right?

Not necessarily – practising alone for long periods – that is the “in the wilderness” part – is vital to allow our subconscious body/mind to sort out the pieces and to develop new patterns in a kind of meditation – making sense of what we already know without the confusion of taking in new material all the time. It allows us to consolidate everything we have learned to date and understand the truth of that old saying that ” the whole is greater than the sum of  its parts”

This lockdown has enforced a period in the wilderness for all of us – and I for one have found it beneficial – so please embrace the alone time and be at ease with the wilderness.

Right or wrong, correct or not correct? When we begin right at the beginning as Tai Chi first timers there is a tendency to think there is right way to do things – and to expect our teacher to know what it is. After all isn’t that the way the rest of life works?

Then we may notice that we can’t do it the same way our teacher is doing – even when we think we are doing it like the teacher we are often corrected – and notice that other students are doing it differently again but do not get corrected. We may notice that many top level teachers demonstrate differently and make different corrections, so let us instead call them adjustments. If we persist we may begin to think that we are making progress  – and you are, but possibly not in the way you think. It is difficult to let go of the idea that there is a right or correct way – while we focus on what goes where and how, it is unlikely that you have found it.

However do not be downhearted, you are simply learning about walking without understanding where you are going – but never fear you are on the right path ( there is after all only one, although with many diversions and false trails ) keep going and the path will be revealed – it is the natural path of being human in a human body and it is here that the concept of chi becomes useful.

It is probable that we each have within ourselves a model that we think is right, even if we suspect that it isn’t, but if we could just put right the faults then all would be well. That internal model is almost certainly wrong – or at least we regard it in a perspective that means it can never work properly until we change that perspective. So in private practice do not be afraid to experiment, even do things “wrong” – and observe carefully because you may find that in fact the “wrong” things are actually “right”. And of course the things you thought were right may be completely wrong.

I have been considering development of skill and how that accumulates with age – once you learn to ride a bike do you ever forget? Swimming, playing a musical instrument, in fact any skill once learned seems never forgotten. If not practiced we lose some measure perhaps but once a skill is acquired a little practice goes a long way. Tai Chi is the same, put in the work to learn it to a reasonable level then you can keep improving well into old age because it is largely dependent on our ability to pay attention and to feedback into an embodied skill.

Dealing with our fight, flight, freeze reaction with Tai Chi

15 April 2020

Hysteria vs reality – our current viral pandemic reminds me somewhat of those online viruses where the message itself is the virus and we all get panicked thinking that there is a danger we cannot see. The same is true of Tai Chi where our own worst enemy is our fight, flight, freeze reaction which […]

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Training on your own

5 April 2020

Some simple training tips I have found useful: Pick a part of your body to focus on – legs, arms, hips, shoulders or whatever then do your exercises and form while focusing on them trying to keep that part 50% relaxed. Then do the same while working with your lower abdomen – tantien. Read a […]

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Tai Chi – it’s one of those things that you can’t do until – you can

4 April 2020

This came up in conversation recently with my teacher Karel Koskuba in discussing how one progresses in Tai Chi – this constant process of practicing and noticing – paying attention to small things and following them – until suddenly there is a realisation of significant change and that something previously impossible is now relaxed, natural […]

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Changing direction in Tai Chi practice

30 March 2020

When I practice alone I have the freedom to work without a teacher – that is to say without anybody actively correcting me – I have the freedom to make mistakes and to try “the wrong ” way of doing and sometimes this really pays off. Because I paid attention at the time all my […]

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Tai Chi – globalisation and the effect of cultural niches in the social multiverse

4 March 2020
Thumbnail image for Tai Chi – globalisation and the effect of cultural niches in the social multiverse

Seen world-wide it is observable that special interest groups have their own mores, practices, language (jargon) and social norms which are often quite foreign to outsiders who occasionally enter them, either out of need or curiosity. We see this in our interactions with the professions of medicine, teaching, law and so forth – when visited […]

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Many worlds Tai Chi

27 February 2020
Thumbnail image for Many worlds Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a bit like one of those online computer games where you start in a small world and need to work out what it is all about so as to open up another level after level on an apparently infinite journey. But this is real and you need to find and to learn […]

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