Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How to taste your Tai Chi

Photo: Daveybot

Recently, I was having tea with a friend of mine at a tea shop. It is always interesting to see how different people drink tea in different ways. It reminds me of what the Chinese say about tea: “To consume one cup is to taste; to consume two cups is to drink; to consume three cups is to swill like a donkey.” It's a bit harsh to compare one who drinks three cups of tea to a donkey, but one must note the difference between swilling and sipping. When someone is really thirsty, he/she will swill, or guzzle the tea as if drinking a beer. There is no notion of taste. When one drinks to taste, one sips the tea, keeping a little bit of hot liquid in the mouth, bringing it to the tip of the tongue, letting it stay there for little bit and then making sure to taste before swallowing. One can feel the tea on the tongue and think about the taste afterward.

When we practice our Tai Chi as beginners, it may be helpful to remember this concept of taste. To taste something, you need to have patience. There is no hurry to get to the next movement. Do one little movement at a time. Let the posture stay with you for little while, and “taste” each movement before moving on to the next one. When you have patience and can taste your Tai Chi, then you won’t swill your Tai Chi like a donkey.

Copyright 2010 Huan's Tai Chi

Monday, June 21, 2010

In Tai Chi, what you see is NOT what you get

Photo: jasonr611

Many of my Tai Chi students can relate to the following:

When you try to follow your teacher’s movements, you think you are repeating what you saw. Sometimes you succeed in repeating the upper part of the body movement correctly or sometimes only the lower body movements, but you still don’t internalize everything that your teacher does. Sometimes you think you mastered both the upper and lower body movements but you just missed that small turn. Is there an end to learning Tai Chi? How do you know you have really learned something from your teacher, and that you are doing all the movements correctly?

Here is when I tell my students that there is nothing to worry about. Because in Tai Chi, what you see is NOT what you get.

You don’t have to internalize everything your teacher does; you just need to get the right end result. It is this end result that you need to be concerned about. For beginners, I use this analogy: there are a lot of trails that go to the top of Hua Mountain; you just need to find one of them. For intermediate students, you need to try more trails so you have alternate ways.

In class, you have heard me talk about “Qi” (Body Energy). Imagine Qi as being similar to electricity. Electricity is an invisible thing. When you see a light bulb light up, or a fan turn on, you only see the outward result of the electricity, just as you see the outward result of the invisible Qi. When your Qi is applied to people, it can bounce people away, redirect or absorb other’s energy. However, even more important than Qi is “Yi”(Mind Concentration). Yi controls Qi just like a light switch; it controls the direction of the electricity.

Everyone already has Qi in his/her body, but sometimes it is difficult to bring Qi out. If we go back to the electricity analogy, Tai Chi movements are like the wires for the light bulb, the wires you build for your Qi. It is nice if you have perfected every move that your teacher has taught, but it is first essential that you can turn on the light bulb. This means perfecting one movement at a time. If most wires are built right but one is built wrong then the light bulb won’t light up. Every time you learn a new movement, it is like adding a new wire.

Tai Chi is a martial art that comes with many mental health benefits. Make sure you are working your mind and applying your Yi to the Qi. Try each movement out on someone and see if it works. Then you will know if your circuit is working. Test your moves and have your teacher correct you, so you don’t waste time on a broken wire movement that goes nowhere.

Copyrigthed by Huan's Tai Chi

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ji Chang’s Way to Master any Skill

A long time ago, in the Spring and Autumn period in China (770-456 BC), there once lived a man named Ji Chang who wanted to be the greatest archer in the world. He decided to find the best possible teacher.

Gan Ying was a great master of archery. As soon as he pulled his bow, wild animals would drop to the ground, and birds would fall from the sky. Gan Ying taught his disciple, Fei Wei, who was said to be even better skilled than Gan Ying himself. Ji Chang heard that and was determined to learn archery from Fei Wei.

Fei Wei told Ji Chang: "You must learn not to blink. Only after you have mastered this task can you learn archery from me."

Ji Chang went back home. He crawled under his wife’s loom, watching as she wove. He watched the shutters move quickly up and down next to his eyelids and began training himself not to blink. One day, two days, three days passed. At last, two years later, Ji Chang mastered the skill of not blinking his eyes. Then he went to see his master, Fei Wei.

Fei Wei said: "This is not enough. You must now learn the ability to be able to see small, microscopic things as if they were very clear and large. Learn this and then you can come to me."

Ji Chang went to home and picked a tiny louse from his bed-sheets, tied up with a strand of hair and hung it in the window. He stared at it every day. Three years passed, and he was able to perceive the tiny louse as big as a car wheel. When he stared at other small things, he could also see them as if they were clear and big. Ji Chang brought a bow and arrow, and shot the louse. The arrow went through the middle of the insect, and the hairs around its body did not break. Ji Chang quickly went to find Fei Wei. This time Fei Wei said, "You have really learned the true archery skills now."

Whether this is a true story or a legend does not matter. The key is to realize that there are many times when you will do all the work toward achieving your goal all alone. A good teacher may show you the way, but it is up to you alone to do the important work. In the process of learning things, including Tai Chi, this is a valuable lesson.

Copyright Huan's Tai Chi 2010