personal practice

Relax and move – everything follows from this:

Relax everything
Move from the centre
Everything moves together

Where there is a suitable environment such as an extended community of Tai Chi players to train with then it is certainly possible to work with the above principles and simply immerse in daily practice, self-learning and working with others. We should appreciate that in the land of its origin large groups gather every day to practice together for between two to eight hours in parks and in martial arts schools where this is both possible and convenient. Conversation about this practice is an integral part of the training, between teachers and students and among students sharing continuously so that the learning process becomes osmotic as understanding is passed around and everyone has the chance to work with many other players – use of language and close even intimate contact is fundamental to this. It is important to remember that human beings are a physical and social species.

Where you have daily access to a good teacher and/or a support group of others then of course you should take the opportunity wholeheartedly, using the experience to learn by trial and error and with the guidance of others from their own experience. However, for many of us elsewhere such an environment simply does not exist, nor does it fit the western culture or lifestyle, and so we may seek other more solitary approaches. I have sought to describe a way of augmenting training where immersive physical practice is not available or where time is limited, or perhaps where culturally what may be considered intimate contact is not acceptable. In this case then we can support our physical Tai Chi practice with frequent attention throughout the day in our normal tasks, in our walking around and in our thinking. It is important that this is closely involved with focused physical practice and not simply an intellectual exercise.  The aim should always be integration – each physical or mental exercise being seen as part of the whole – like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle building up the full picture.

Working with a teacher and on your own loosen the body, then reconnect using tai chi exercises, forms, meditation, analogies, models and visualisations such as those derived from Taoism and Buddhism eg Yin/Yang, calming the mind. Some understanding of human anatomy, physiology and psychology would be helpful. Consider inputs from all other areas as well and incorporate what is useful.

Consider and explore the meanings and especially the physical expressions of the following in any order:

Observation

Attention

Connectedness

Sequential segmented movement

Posture

Balance

Self-alignment

Structure – and the concept of Tensegrity

Flow/fluidity

Softness

Fear – the meaning and utility

Finding the centre of oneself and of others

Practice

Being in the moment

Calming mind and body

Observe differences and similarities

Force and control

Working with your internal body feelings:

– eg muscles stretching, contracting, twisting and relaxing,

Learning your way around your own body

Where do bad feeling go

Consider your body usage

Passive elasticity

Opening and closing

Weight shifting

Sensitivity

Resilience and bounce

Sinking and turning as one

Smaller and smaller circles

Turning circles into straight lines

Balancing forces

Leverage – mechanical, psychological, temporal

Gravity – one degree, one dimension

Partner/opponent – 360 degree, three dimensions

Learn your way around other bodies

Immersive physical contact

Mapping personal space

Fear and trust

What is Chi

What is Tai Chi

What is Tai Chi Chuan

Martial – more complex, more softness, more speed, more power

Finding martial applications through the movement

Using the mind – conscious and unconscious

Movement, flow and intent

Moving without force

Observation and attention

Congruence in mind, body and emotions

Communication – physical and otherwise

The concept of chi

Is there an established path

Does tai chi exist

 

Which can lead on to considerations of:

Humanity

Reality

Consider the implications that languages are simply models to describe reality – whether French or Mathematics. With Tai Chi we are in a learning transition from reliance on eastern language models to ones that fit western, English language ones. The map is not the territory and of course the object remains the same regardless of the model we use or the perspective from which we describe it.

We should understand these labels are only individual parts of mental models or maps which represent the tip of an iceberg – we need to explore behind each of these labels to find what these words really mean and feel like to us internally and as individuals, to find more and to learn how they all fit together in the real world. Tai Chi allows us to do this by using the physical experience of our bodies in real world relationships. Regular frequent practice of Tai Chi forms and patterns allows us to explore all of these questions – do your intellectual thinking on the side lines, perhaps on a quiet walk so that your actual physical practice can be undertaken with a quiet mind and body.

In a very personal sense, each of us must travel the same path as our Tai Chi predecessors in creating an original synthesis of the many inputs, shared experiences and teachings available, so as to establish our own understanding and expression. The path is the same – how we walk it is up to us.

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.

A few thoughts for those of us doing personal practice in our gardens: –

Clear your mind and quieten your body

Relax your hips – sink slightly before you transfer weight and on the leg you transfer to

Allow your pelvis to sink under you when you move so it can stay beneath your upper body

Relax your trailing hip and leg

Relax your shoulders – allow them to move passively and softly at all times

Read good books on the subject and watch good practitioners on video.

I watched a Japanese TV program recently about slow squats as an exercise for lowering blood sugar and burning fat.

They say that a series of 10 sec squats in reps of 10 repeated 3 times per session  then done in two sessions a week for three months can reduce blood sugar levels as a treatment for diabeties and leads to weight loss.

The explanation is that slow reps change fast twitch white muscle by increasing the number of mitochondria in the muscle – the muscle turns pink and burns much more energy.

See here  https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/special/episode/201903160810/

It’s a bit like Chi Kung exercises – I have been doing it for a couple of weeks and my legs and knees are feeling much better, and actually it is not too hard work.

Thoughts on right and wrong

9 May 2020

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 […]

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Light and limber

8 May 2020

One of the benefits I have found from lock down has been the opportunity to do my own daily practice during which I have been reminded of the saying from the Tai Chi classics that one’s Tai Chi should be “light and limber” – especially when watching videos of master Chen Yu who has a […]

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Tai Chi Under extended lock down

3 May 2020

This has been an excellent time to explore Tai Chi on a personal basis – to spend time on individual practice looking deeper into the exercises and the form, so I am delighted that many people have been following the exercises and the form on my Alternative Health Exercises website – if you haven’t found […]

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The human body as a mechanism

22 April 2020

We all know that a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, we probably know Archimedes idea that given a solid place to stand on and a lever long enough he could move the earth. But how do we connect these two ideas? Well let us think of the human body as a […]

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Welcome to glacial Tai Chi!

22 April 2020

No not an ancient technique taught to me by a monk in the ice and snow of Tibet – just a suggestion from my teacher Karel Koskuba that I am finding very rewarding. Simply practice the form as slowly and as smoothly as you can – it may surprise you what you notice. Perhaps the […]

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J-J-just jiggle it as Ronnie Barker said

16 April 2020

I find that shaking is an excellent way to loosen the body – quite vigorous to get the whole body loose and then soft and small shaking to relax the small muscles and gently open up the joints. When doing our form this is also a useful technique – a bit like trying to fit […]

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