Monday, October 25, 2010

How to Understand the Tai Chi Diagram

Where does the word “Tai Chi” come from? And what does it really mean? The word “Tai Chi” means “Ultimate Superior” or “Grand Primal.” The word “Tai Chi” originates from the I-ching, or “Book of Change” an ancient divination text attributed to Zhou Wen Wang, or Wen, the Duke of Zhou, during the Zhou Dynasty (1045–256 BC).

The Book of Change tells us about the origins of Tai Chi: “...Therefore there is in the Changes, the Great Primal Beginning (Tai Chi). This generates the two primary forces (Lian I). The two primary forces generate the four images. The four images generate the eight trigrams. The eight trigrams determine good fortune and misfortune. Good fortune and misfortune create the great field of action.” (tr. Wilhelm and Baynes 1967:318-9)

As we read the words above we understand that Tai Chi only means the beginning. Lian I means two forces, otherwise known as Yin and Yang. The diagram of Tai Chi we are used to, the one we see everyday on our T-shirts, shows two forces. However, it is not really a diagram of Tai Chi, but a diagram of Lian I or rather how Tai Chi generated Lian I (Yin and Yang). Sometimes I tell my students, “you don’t necessarily have to know which chicken laid the egg for your breakfast” but in this case I have found that chicken for you!

Now that I’ve shed some light on the origin of our Tai Chi diagram, on a lighter note, I’ll share the following aside: The Duke of Zhou, who was one of the greatest rulers of China, also really believed in fortune telling. There is a section of the Tong Shu or Chinese Almanac on interpreting dreams called “Zhou Gong’s Book of Auspicious and Inauspicious Dreams.” It explains fifteen different types of dreams and how to use them to predict your future. Although we cannot be entirely certain, it is widely believed that Zhou Gong is the same Duke of Zhou who assisted significantly in the development of the Book of Changes. However, in Chinese when students joke about “dreaming about Duke Zhou” they are referring to napping during a lecture, which is, of course, certainly not allowed in my Tai Chi class!

Copyrighted by Huan's Tai Chi 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tai Chi, Confucius, and Dao

[ Chinese painting of Confucius meeting with Lao Tzu ]

I have had new students ask me if it’s possible to learn Tai Chi through DVDs and books. It reminds me of the story of the incident between Confucius and Lao Tzu.

After Confucius had turned 51 years old, he still didn’t understand the concept of Dao (Tao). So he traveled South to the city of Pei to see Lao Tzu.

Once there, Lao Tzu asked him, “I have heard you are a very intelligent man from the North. Have you found out about Dao?”

“I haven’t found out yet,” Confucius said. “I tried to find it through methods and numbers for 5 years, but I couldn’t find it. Later, I tried again to figure it out through the changes of Ying and Yang for 12 years, and yet I still couldn’t do it.”

Lao Tzu responded, “Yes, if Dao can be administered, then people would administer Dao to their superiors (such as their supervisor or emperor); If Dao can be offered, then people would offer it as a gift to their parents; If Dao can be explained, then people would explain it to their family; If Dao can be passed on, then people would pass on Dao to their children; Yet all of the above are impossible. If you don’t understand Dao, then you can’t have it in your mind. If you can’t prove Dao, then Dao won’t show. If you can’t hold Dao deep down in your heart and mind, then you can’t become a saint… There is no other reason why such things are impossible.... ”

The ideas of Dao are also found in Tai Chi. You can’t give Tai Chi to your boss, parents, family or children. You can introduce them to a class, a reference DVD or book, but they still won’t understand it unless they learn it in their own way and put their own effort into really understanding it. You can’t show Tai Chi to someone unless you really understand it yourself. Sometimes it’s within reach; sometimes it’s far away. As long as you begin to learn, practice and make your first step, you are closing the gap. You are one step closer to the Dao of Tai Chi.

Copyright by Huan's Tai Chi 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

What Every Tai Chi Student Should Know About Spear

The Chinese Spear is the king of Chinese Weapons. It is considered to be the oldest military weapon in China, and is incorporated into many martial arts forms. When performing a spear set, you are moving your whole body together, coordinating both hands, and upper body and lower body. These movements sound very similar to Tai Chi. When we practice Tai Chi we also move our bodies in unison, coordinating both hands, and upper body and lower body.

Why they are so similar? The answer lies in the fact that many Tai Chi moves originated from spear movements. Many Tai Chi styles such as Chen style also include a spear set, or what is called a “long staff form.” The three basic forms of the spear set are the block, the catch and the stab. We see comparable forms in the Tai Chi set: open, close and release.

A short while ago, I met an old classmate, Ren Yuan Zhen, for lunch. He had studied Tai Chi under my father for a quite a long time. I asked him how things were going in his Tai Chi.

He told me: "I have been practicing some basics, but I have been doing spear stabs three hundred times on each side everyday." He then added: "It’s easy to break the regular spears you get from Chinatown. They are so skinny!"

I agreed: "It’s hard to find a good one with some good weight."

Ren Yuan Zhen had some advice: "I got a long pipe from Home Depot, filled it with sand and I wear gloves when I practice with it. My high blood pressure goes down significantly after practice."

Practicing spear can really help you to have a stable root. It also helps train your whole body to move together. Understanding the three basic moves of spear will also give you a better understanding of Tai Chi. You can incorporate Tai Chi into your spear set and spear moves into your Tai Chi.

Copyrighted by Huan's Tai Chi 2010