Philosophy

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.

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 at need these micro-cultural schools of expertise justify high fees often sustained by this very separateness and the enforced barriers to understanding which they promote.

Elsewhere, we see a similar situation with areas of personal interest – clearly the one considered here is that of martial arts.

Once we understand Tai Chi/martial arts as a specialist niche culture like the professions, then we can begin to expect some challenging issues in comparison to mainstream culture. Certain practices for example, or ways of perceiving human interaction are just as “foreign” as any medical training (complete with dissections, intimate examinations, drug ingestion, etc) or legal conversation replete with tortuous thought experiments and Latin notation.

Compare for example with dance and its suppressed sexuality (a vertical expression of a horizontal desire), its intellectualised definition of physical expression and its pre-linguistic emotional expression through wholly committed physical action. Consider also the physical, psychological and linguistic worth of sports.

So, when you join a Tai Chi class consider that you have entered a very old sub-culture based on millennia-old ideas and practices, many once common but today lost except to some specialist areas. Perhaps consider what it means to join such a group and allow for the fact that you are the (albeit welcome) outsider who needs to make allowances for the conflicts which may come about from your own expectations. Even for those of us with many years as part of this sub-culture we continue to find that the thinking and habits we were brought up with continue to hold us back in developing our Tai Chi skill set.

So we are all beginners and all seeking to find our place in this world of multiple sub-cultures.

I have recently taken to putting on the website articles which are not carefully crafted – rather they are what may be regarded as thought pieces – something quite traditional as one might recognise from the way the “Tai Chi Classics” were put together for example.

Once thinking about a topic after a while quite suddenly the thoughts just tumble out and it is all I can do to get them on paper – I simply don’t have the time these days to carefully craft them into well structured articles or to fill out the background on everything. So I must leave it to my readers to explore further. I expect that from time to time I will revisit and expand on points.

One that comes to mind is the reference to a difference between preventative and remedial Tai Chi when considering the health of older people. We can think that while a person has the ability to do normal Tai Chi exercises then this may be regarded as preventative of falls or other health issues – on the other hand once a person has reached a point where they can no longer do something like walk the length of a hall or stand for half an hour exercising then they are in need of remedial work. Preventative Tai Chi is simply exercising normally – but in the case of older people perhaps not so vigorously as we once did and can easily be accommodated in a normal beginners level class – this is why I often refer to them as “over 50s classes since  at that age people still have a good 10 years to learn and develop their skill  before they reach a point at which they would otherwise become vulnerable to falls. Start at 50 and one can hope to improve one’s proprioception, body mapping and Tai Chi skill to a point that staves off problems of falling.

On the other hand I sometimes see people with walking frames or in wheel chairs – or get phone calls from relatives who’s father/mother has just been diagnosed/admitted to a care home and  have seen that Tai Chi is good for their condition – and would I please go to the care home every day to teach their parent. Sadly it is expected that they have probably reached a point where more work is needed than either I or they can put in. It is possible they could do the work but unlikely if they do not already have the discipline, habit and skill  of doing it already. This is what I mean by remedial. In these case I suspect that some daily Tai Chi informed exercises and physiotherapy would be as helpful as anything else and would encourage physios and carers to learn enough to pass on simple exercises.

Recent examples of this sort of article include Thoughts on Tai Chi Movement and Martial Arts as a Philosophy also Managing getting Old with Tai Chi

Every now and again ( 10 years or so) I ask myself “why am I practicing martial arts?” and usually I get a fairly simple answer – this time I am grateful to a student who prompted me to ask it once again and this time to come up with a very much more complicated answer – for interest it was essentially a list of things I have found over the years in and around martial arts and continue to work on, in no particular order:

Co-operative working, working with partners, group working, appropriate response, flexibility, strength, resilience, difference between reaction and responsiveness, commitment and over commitment, balance, relaxed movement, falling into emptiness, leading and following, physically listening and asking questions, the language of physical contact, empathy, compassion, patience, modelling an activity, learning about the mind body emotional linkages, learning about the body – how it works and how to use it and how to look after it, awareness of self and others, respect for self and others, personal development, communication, negotiation, sensitivity, the art of listening, observation skills, understanding use and abuse of power, good/evil,  a mirror to myself, humility, developing a true lens to view reality, physical development, co-ordination, congruence of mind body and emotions, honesty, forgiveness, personal defense, fitness, health, openness, desire for learning.

To become comfortable with and learn to manage physical contact, to learn to deal with conflict and intimidation, to learn self-awareness and self-discipline and self-control and self-expression, to improve proprioception/special awareness, neuro-stimulation, circulation/metabolism, change management, learning to deal with bullying, managing personal space and intimacy, training in a place of safety/sacred space, training partners trusted persons, friendship/companionship, maintaining contact with our ancestry as human animals, finding the true meaning of our humanity, becoming a balanced human being – personal development, change habits of stress into habits of relaxation, managing health issues, develop strength and understand personal power, spiritual development, Taoism, Zen Buddhism, understand the breadth and variety of human activities and relations, giving others the opportunity to learn some of this for themselves, receiving the positive feedback of others who have benefited from my passing this on, potentially making a difference in helping others to look after themselves and to consider society from a wider perspective.

Also I enjoy it, so no doubt not a complete list – and with many overlaps – but a useful one. Good luck in finding your own answers.

Develop your journey with Tai Chi

21 December 2016

As a martial artist (since starting Karate in the early 70’s) and as someone interested in my own personal development, I have experienced many styles around the world and many approaches to personal growth. Now in my 60’s I try to share what I have learned in those areas and seek to facilitate others in finding their own path. […]

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A Western View of Chi

31 August 2016

Models for training, practice and life Many intellectual and emotional models all congruent with each other integrated in a body trained in their principles, which demonstrates the sum of those models and physical practice. Physically the ability to propagate waves through the body emanating from the centre by integrated segmental motion. This result could be […]

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Feedback and Education in Tai Chi and the human experience

26 July 2016

As a child in a post war western society of the 50’s feedback was a very hit and miss affair – sometimes literally – but rarely was there useful guidance. It is only in recent times that the growth and popularisation of western psychology has led to study of human behaviour in anything like scientific […]

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How Tai Chi links to Western models of medicine, biology, neuro-science, quantum physics, psychology etc.

10 September 2015

It is intriguing to find as one asks the questions – what is Tai Chi? – how/why does it work? – that there are often two answers – the culturally Chinese one and an “equal but different” western science one and that they are connected through the reality of the human body which enables a […]

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Visualisations, lists, labels – and direct experience

17 March 2015

It may be that direct experience of reality is something we are unable to achieve – equipped with a brain we spend our lives using it to filter our experience. Interestingly, it gives us the possibility of creating unreal things like visualisations, lists and labels as ways of manipulating reality. So, for example, we use […]

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Tai Chi and Reality

15 December 2014

One of the favourite sayings of my teacher Karel Koskuba is that “everything is otherwise” (attributed to Rabbi Loew of Prague) – and recently looking at my New Scientist I saw a piece on quantum weirdness that pretty much discusses the idea that quantum physics is weird only because we cannot understand it – sort […]

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