Monday, April 26, 2010

How to Better Remember your Tai Chi Moves

I have had a few beginner students mention that they can’t always completely remember all the Tai Chi moves they have learned because each movement is often very detailed. I have 9 tips to share with you to help you better memorize each and every movement.

1. Repeat: I have heard there is a formula that calculates that if you don’t repeat what you have learned after 2 days, then you only remember 30 percent, and if you let a week go by, your retention drops to 10 percent and so on. What this tells you is that you need to repeat often and as soon after your class as possible. The few students who master the movements well are those who go home and practice what they learn right after each class.

2. Take Notes: I encourage my students take notes during class since when it comes to memory, a pen often works better then your brain. Because we offer free notes to our students, I also encourage students read these notes before each class and review them again after. In Chinese, we have a saying: Only when you have mastered what you know will you invent something new.

3. Draw Stick Figures: Don’t laugh at this idea. I did this all the time when I was learning Tai Chi and other martial arts. Stick figures are great reference charts and easy reminders of the movements, both their names and how they look. Stick figures can give us quick visual cues on how to do all the most important moves. And when you supply the correct name for each movement, this is a great way to link the pieces together. So let others laugh, just draw your stick figures. When you can out-perform your neighbor in the next class, then you will have the last laugh.

4. Organize: Many students get confused about which move has which name. Matching the names with the movements will really simplify things. Stick figures can be a very helpful way to give yourself easy reminders.

5. Ask Questions: Asking questions is a great way to review your movements. Only after you review well will you discover the right questions to ask. Asking questions will also benefit your classmates.

6. Associate each Movement with its Application: Ask your teacher to demonstrate a specific example or application of each movement as you learn it. This will really cement that movement in your brain.

7. Have Confidence that you can Learn: You can’t learn well if you don’t have confidence on yourself. If you think you are not Tai Chi material and you feel like quitting then you will never memorize the movements.

8. Partner up with a Classmate: Ask a classmate to partner with you after class or in your personal time, so you can help each other. Two brains are better than one.

9. Learn one Movement at a Time: Try to learn only few movements at a time. If you have too many things to remember, then you won’t remember them all well. It’s easier to learn just a few things at a time. Here’s what I often tell my beginner students: “We only have 85 movements in Yang Style Tai Chi. If you can master one at a time, one day at a time, you will have mastered 85 movements in 85 days.”

Copyrighted by Huan's Tai Chi 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Finding inspiration from Li Bai

Li Bai (李白) (701-762) also known to Westerners as Li Bo or Li Po is one of my favorite Chinese poets from the Tang Dynasty. He is as well-respected in the Chinese speaking world as Shakespeare is in the English-speaking world. However, when Li Bai was young, he was not very fond of going to school. He disliked the books of classics and history that his teacher made him read. He thought they were difficult and boring. Instead, he liked to skip school and hang around the neighborhood. He wanted to quit school and have fun and play with other kids all the time.

One day, when he was skipping school, he saw an old woman sitting down and grinding a thick iron bar on a big stone. He became very curious. He asked the old woman, “What is this for?"

The woman wiped sweat from her face and said: "I want to grind this rod into an embroidery needle."

Li Bai laughed very hard: "Are you kidding? How can you make this thick bar into an embroidery needle?"

The old woman said in confidence: "Young man, everything takes time. As long as I make enough efforts and do it every day, it can be gradually done."

Hearing this, Li Bai stopped laughing and was very moved. He immediately went back to continue his studies, and later became a very famous poet.

This story always reminds me of the importance of perseverance. Instead of simply imagining lofty goals for your life and your Tai Chi, starting small, and continuing to work slowly every day will bring you closer to your goals. Like the English writer Thomas Carlyle said, “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”

Copyrighted by Huan's Tai Chi 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tai Chi’s Silk Reeling Energy

Silk Reeling Energy, or Chan Si Jing, is a movement principle shared by many Chinese martial art styles, including Kung Fu and Tai Chi.The function of silk reeling energy is to unify the body by drawing energy from the Dan Tian (Red Field), or physical center of gravity, and using this energy to reinforce movements of the rest of the body. It takes its name from the idea of drawing or reeling silk from a silk worm’s cocoon. In order to draw out the silk successfully, each action must be smooth and consistent without jerking or changing direction sharply. Most people understand it as a twisting energy. To explain the concept in more detail, I will first explain the two basic energies, Horizontal Energy and Vertical Energy.

Horizontal Energy: Horizontal energy comes from the waist. It’s a twist of your body. It is generally a closed energy, meaning that the limbs remain generally close to the body to protect the central area and maintain balance. The most basic Hand-Push training routine is based on horizontal energy. Movements like Brush Knee also use horizontal energy. Horizontal energy comes from you Dan Tian, your center of gravity, located just below your naval.

Vertical energy: Vertical energy comes from your feet or the ground. It’s an energy that rises and falls. This energy originates from the sole of the foot in the Yong Quan (Bubbling Spring) Acupuncture point. We can practice vertical energy using the Vertical Hand Push move. Movements such as Lifting Hands also use this vertical energy.

When you combine both Horizontal Energy and Vertical Energy together, the result is Silk Reeling Energy, a twisting and turning energy. When you have mastered both Horizontal and Vertical Energies and can apply them well, try to work towards achieving Silk Reeling Energy. When you feel resistance while applying Horizontal or Vertical energy towards your partner during a Hand-Push exercise, try to combine both energies and link them in circles. Physically, this means linking the Dan Tian, to the waist, back and shoulder right through the arms to the hands, and down through the hips to the knees and feet. All of these movements flow together in a spiral. The spiraling of the waist creates spiraling of the shoulder, elbow and wrist as well as the hips, knees and ankles. The body should move as one unit. When one part of the body moves, the whole body moves. The result is the release of explosive energy, like a bullet shooting from a barrel. When absorbing Silk Reeling Energy, imagine a black hole in the universe sucking everything in. When you can both release and absorb using Silk Reeling Energy, your Hand-Push skills will advance to a new level.

Copyrighted by Huan's Tai Chi 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

6 Principles to Stepping Like a Cat

As we all know, Tai Chi is distinguished by the separation of weight. Single-weightiness is one of the fundamental principles of Tai Chi. In Tai Chi, moving in a single-weighted way is often referred to as “walking like a cat,” stepping carefully and softly so that if there were danger you would be able to take that foot back instantly. This means when you step down, your movements are slow and precise, but also quiet. The whole move should be done silently. No noise should be heard. Stepping like a cat requires understanding of the following 6 principles:

1. Don’t double your weight. You must support your entire weight on a single, full leg that is properly rooted. If both legs use energy at the same time you are double-weighted. The double-weighted posture in Tai Chi is the beginner’s most forbidden fault. Double-weight will make it hard to put down your leg as well.

2. Keep your body vertical. If your body is leaning forward or backward, it’s easy to let all of your body weight fall into your steps, causing you to stomp loudly as you walk.

3. Relax your waist and loosen your hips. Relaxing your waist and loosening your hips will make it easier to put down your foot gracefully and softly.

4. Sink first. You need to sink down low first and reach your whole leg out, either forward or back, before putting weight onto that foot. This way you don’t suddenly plunk your weight into your legs and feet. Your feet should never suddenly drop to the ground. Rather, you should reach your leg out slowly until your foot touches the ground.

5. Put your heel down first. Put the heel down first and then the whole foot to better transfer the weight little by little. Imagine you are putting your foot down on thin ice and you don’t want break the ice.
6. Step into a stable stance. If you have your foot position wrong, then you are not balanced and can’t transfer your weight smoothly. Make sure you have the right position in mind before you put down your foot.

All the 6 principles above teach you how to have control of every process of lifting, moving, and putting down your leg and foot. While applying these 6 principles, you must also pay attention to the whole body relaxation. Only when your whole body is relaxed, can you have Qi (Energy) flowing around. When you use Yi (Concentration) to control Qi in your body, then your body will not feel like a stone falling down with every step. Your body should feel like a balloon gently floating up and down. That’s the feeling we need in order to step like a cat.

Copyrighted by Huan's Tai Chi 2010