Tai chi principles

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 is my hope that the following will help “first timers” better understand and enjoy their early Tai Chi classes since I frequently come across beginners who attend Tai Chi sessions with absolutely no knowledge or understanding of what it is or how classes work – and it seems that this sometimes can lead to an unnecessary disappointment, and that the problem is really about expectations brought into the class – perhaps this piece will help align those expectations with the reality of a class without scaring anybody off – there is no reason to be put off, Tai Chi really is a gentle, caring activity – but it is important to understand that Tai Chi is “what it is” and not what you expect it to be coming from the outside. One might reasonable expect that by going to a class one is going to learn about Tai Chi and indeed of course one will – but the subject is so large and the range of expectations/behaviours so great that it cannot all be encompassed in an introductory class – or possibly a lifetime.

Perhaps the best single piece of advice I can offer is to “learn to look after yourself” in all the possible ways that implies and learn to work within your comfort zone – but that is a lesson in itself.

Chen Taijiquan's Integrated Curriculum by David Gaffney

A great insight into Chen Tai Chi by a very experienced martial artist with long term connections to the school at the Chen Village. This piece covers important basic stuff in easily understood terms – I am looking forward to the rest of the series. Read the article …

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. I eventually settled on Chen Style Tai Chi when, having reached the level of 4th Dan, I found it made my Karate much more effective and was better for my body and mind.

Tai Chi is ideal in many respects – martial, health, physical, emotional and intellectual since it has the scope to bring together real world experience with movement and mental/emotional concepts.

Tai Chi is increasingly recognised as a formidable martial art and as a major contribution to continued personal health, e.g. in the realm of falls prevention – see the World Health Organisation. The emotional and spiritual concepts associated with Tai Chi are practical and well proven, e.g. Traditional Chinese Medicine, Buddhism, Taoism, psychology, neuroscience, bio-mechanics. They find much resonance today in helping us each achieve our own harmony with the increasingly stressed societies in which we live.

The end result is more effective movement in all areas – it is said that “you can put Tai Chi into anything – but you can’t put anything into Tai Chi”. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek really since Tai Chi has somehow managed already to hoover up what is useful and reduce it down to some simple principles.

There are many reasons for practicing Tai Chi, here are some of them:

  • Hit a ceiling in other martial arts practice
  • To become more effective as a martial artist
  • Develop a skill in managing health issues, e.g. balance, suppleness, injuries
  • Mental, emotional growth
  • Maintain health and ability into old age – excellent for aiding age related diseases
  • It’s really useful
  • Find the fun again!

Why Tai Chi works for the over 50’s

16 November 2016

Well there are many factors and to begin, as I understand it, during aging cellular replication slows down around 50 or so, that is the number of stem cells in our body start to run down. The 115 year old woman who died a while ago was found to have only two types of stem cell […]

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Residential at Belsey Bridge

12 September 2016

A small group of us with widely varying interest and background in Tai Chi had an interesting weekend at the Belsey Bridge Conference Centre near Bungay in Norfolk – the theme was around the whole idea of movement and how Chen Tai Chi forms and partner work can help us to develop this in a […]

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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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Tai Chi wellness at the RSPB Sandy

19 May 2016

I was recently asked to do an introductory Tai Chi session at the RSPB Sandy where they were having a staff wellness month with a variety of activities  – on what turned out to be the only rainy day of the week! – but despite this we had a delightful lunchtime session and it was great to do […]

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Chi and body mapping and muscle power

12 May 2016

It seems to me that when we pattern our bodies through practice – directed by thought – to work according to Tai Chi principles – then we set up an internal pattern of muscle and nerve activation which feels like (and actually is) a flow of movement within our bodies that will be experienced differently […]

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Mindfulness in Tai Chi

18 December 2015

Mindfulness is receiving a lot of attention in “alternative” circles at the moment – but it is worth reflecting that it is, and has been, a vital component of spiritual meditation and of martial arts for centuries – helping us to link mind, body and spirit on a daily basis. For example we use the […]

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