Just What IS Tai Chi?

Tai Chi, for me, is a mix of exercise and meditation. It is mindfulness of motion and breath, purpose of motion and stillness. All we do is based on energy flowing through the body, allowing the muscles, tendons and ligaments space to move as they should.

Class practicing a Tai Chi form

Class practicing a Tai Chi form


Based on hard martial arts applications, our movements can be defensive or offensive in nature. But done slowly, we build strength, tone the body, gain balance and understanding of what our body is doing at a particular point in time.

During many of our daily activities we move arms and legs without thought, we gesture with our hands as we speak, but we’re not totally conscious of the movements. We walk, without thought of where our weight and balance is, we’re on auto-pilot. Tai Chi helps us to be more aware of ourselves. And that helps us to be more aware of those around us also, of our surroundings, of life itself.

Here’s a video I found recently that gives another view of what is Tai Chi.

Awareness

A couple of thoughts on alignment and tension come from a post by Christoph Eberhard that I found on LinkedIn. He says, “… tension hides our misalignements, our blockages, our unbalances. It is only by relaxing that we can get aware of our postural problems.” So awareness of our body, the tensions within, leads to correcting our alignments, posture and energy flow. He also states, “General awareness leads to the awareness of details.” We start by becoming aware of the overall, then we can notice the details. Are we noticing all the details around us?

When you do a form, where is your mind? Does it wander like a loose monkey, checking out objects in the room, or thinking of things to be done later? Or are you focused on the flow of energy thru the movements of the body, the balanced stepping, the harmony of arms and legs in motion? Start with the outside, then move in. Notice where the hands and feet end up. Notice the curve or straightness of joints. Notice the suppleness of movement. Notice the easy, smooth breath. Notice the calming of the mind. And see where this leads you. What are you aware of?

Tai Chi class at Austin Drive Senior Center

Showing the form "Golden Rooster stands on one leg"

Showing the form “Golden Rooster stands on one leg”

At an open house for senior citizens at the Austin Drive Community Center, I had the opportunity to present with my class some of what we do in our Tai Chi class there on Tuesday mornings. Some of the ladies in my class have been doing Tai Chi for over 20 years. The age ranges up to 88 years young! They show up every Tuesday, practice the forms with me, get their energy flowing, and go out with a smile.

Even those who can't stand can get into Tai Chi

Even those who can’t stand can get into Tai Chi


The lady who is seated is recovering from a stroke. She credits her son, who also teaches Tai Chi, with her recovery. She started doing Tai Chi in the nursing home during rehab, it helped her with both arm and leg movements, and building strength and stamina. I applaud her for her courage and determination!

Showing the Brush Knee form

Showing the Brush Knee form


After the class demo, the audience got a chance to stand up and get moving, doing some of the warm-up and qigong exercises we also include in the class.
Getting the audience participating

Getting the audience participating

Tai Chi Sword

Wudong Tai Chi Master Chen was in Atlanta this past weekend, teaching Qigong forms and the second half of the Wudang 64 form Tai Chi sword set. He had  taught the first part last March. This is a very cool martial art form, with many thrusts to the throat, between the eyes, and cuts and slices in most painful spots. Fortunately, we don’t practice to kill, but knowing the application is part of the form. And our swords are not sharp!

Master Chen is on the far right in the front, to his right is Michael Issa, who teaches class at Kaikudo in Dunwoody. Most of the class practice with Michael, and are looking forward to perfecting the second half of the form in the next few months.

Tai Chi sword class

I’m there, in the back, on the right, with the red tassel from Master Chen’s sword covering my face.

Meditation by Master Chen

Meditation
by Yun Xiang Tseng (Chen)

Meditation to many around the world consists of quieting the mind, sitting still, regulating the breathe and visualizing a happy thought, all in the effort to find peace and tranquility to entertain the spirit. Although meditation can bring a sense of peace, the true value of this practice is rarely understood. Meditation has the ability to not only regulate and harmonize the body, mind and spirit but it can also prevent and cure disease to achieve healthy longevity and, at its highest level, direct one into the portal of immortality.

Meditation has many benefits, but in particular three stand out:
As discussed above, meditation harmonizes the body, mind and spirit allowing for a feeling of joy and peace. This is a wonderful benefit, however, at this level of meditation it will not get you healthy.
Meditation prevents disease. Through meditation, the body self regulates qi (life force) and blood which improves health naturally without medicine. This is the reason why a good meditator will have a good immune system and suffer no disease.
Meditation activates and develops the hidden potential of the human mind and body to achieve healthy longevity which upgrades human ability from ordinary to extraordinary, allowing one to potentially find a portal to immortality.
Theory of meditation

The ancient Daoist definition of meditation is to internally observe and naturally allow qi to produce mystical phenomenon (physical, internal, and spiritual phenomena). A commonly used phrase regarding meditation- Jing Zuo Nei Guang Tu Na Tiao Xi Zuo Wan means to sit still, regulate breathe, forget about time, space, detach from: emotion, sickness, ambition, desire. Through regulating breathe one moves qi, then begins to accumulate qi, then transforms qi to allow qi to produce phenomenal results.

The basic theory of meditation can be explained with the phrase “Tian Ren He Yi Dao Fa Zi Ran”. All together it means man united with heaven as one. Man can unite with nature and unite with primordial qi around us and spirit. To achieve this unity, man must have no concept of time, space, or anything during meditation- just observe the phenomena of nature in body.

Stillness is the root of the Dao, so the body must sit still during meditation. Void is the body of the Dao. Once you become the void then the physical body and original spirit become one and detach from reality. Reality and mysticism unite, one finds unity with their ancestral and spiritual lineages, as well as harmony with eight metaphors and five elements around us. Truly one merges into the Dao. At this level, energy from nature and the universe charges you up and upgrades the quality of your being. One is able to discharge all negativity and energetic blockages and find their body completely upgraded from physical to mental to spiritual level.

Dao Fa Zi Ran: Translates to “Dao follows its nature” and should be interpreted practically, not only philosophically. It means Dao lives in the moment and in simplicity- which is living your true nature. Mediation is in the moment- sit still to regulate your breathe, body and mind.

Breathe
Below are a few techniques to regulate your breathe during meditation:
Beginner level technique: breathe naturally, deep, slow, even, and gentle.
Reverse breathing technique: when inhaling, contract your anus and abdomen. When exhaling, release your abdomen.
Hair pore breathing technique: visualize your skin and hair pores breathing in. Each hair pore is a portal and every portal of the body can breathe and intake energy to quickly charge up quantity of qi in your Dan tian.
Embryonic breathing technique (Pre-heaven breathing method): During your prenatal existence, you do not use your nose, mouth, lungs, nor hair pores to breathe as you do post- natal. Breathing prenatally is connected with mystical nature with qi rising between heart and kidneys. This is advanced level meditation.
Posture

There are many types of postures in meditation. For example: standing, sitting, laying and walking postures. Specific meditations have different posture requirements. In sitting meditation, full lotus position with left leg on top for men and vice versa for women is the best form.

The principle of posture is to learn to relax and be natural. If you have no ability to get into lotus then don’t try it because you must be relaxed. You must have good physical conditioning for meditation, just as you would need if you were running a marathon. To achieve good conditioning, practice Dao Yin daily to stretch and prepare your tendons, ligaments and joints to be flexible.

Mind

The mind is the greatest challenge for every meditator. Daoism has simple guidelines: return all senses inward, observe, bring spirit within. Eye looks at nose, nose looks at the heart, heart starts to vanish- there is nothing when you look out. There is no heart when you look inward, therefore one obtains emptiness. Emptiness within emptiness, one enters the void. These are the ancient Daoist guidelines for meditation. Ch 3 Dao de Jing translates to weaken ambition, empty your heart, fill your belly, and strengthen your bones. When you weaken ambition, empty your heart and release emotion then you are capable of gathering qi into your Dan Tien and improve your quality of qi to achieve microcosmic orbit, and eventually macrocosmic orbit. A great metaphor for meditation is to visualize yourself sitting on the bottom of the ocean floor becoming one with your surroundings. The mind is so still that it creates no ripples in the water and even a little shrimp or fish is not scared to swim by- this is meditation.

Unexpected phenomena during meditation

It just it- let things take its own course. One might experience their “6th sense”, see, hear, smell, taste or experience touch sensation. Be a good companion for this natural phenomena and don’t let curiosity carry you away, instead detach. By detaching, one enters the state of void and mystical level. To practice Dao you must practice ‘de’. De is to follow the principle. Only when you practice virtue does one allow to maintain stillness to be able to meditate.

Ultra ego cannot get into stillness. If your life is careless, self-centered, take advantage of others, unconscious not kind, not willing to forgive, self-pity, victim attitude, egoistic, hateful, deeply judgmental then you will “scare the little fish away” during mediation. When you cannot detach from desire then you cannot meditate.

To achieve lower quality meditation is easy. To achieve higher quality meditation takes entire life.

Meditation requires changing attitude. Regulate the mind requires you to change attitude. Attitude comes from regulating food and water to become alkaline (vs acidic) because acidic blood and qi cause acidic mind and attitude.

Tai chi with music by Bach

Saw this video online, had to share it with my Tai Chi friends. So beautiful!

This is slow to load, but be patient, it’s worth it. Or, go to the site I found this on, https://vimeo.com/109624358

Teaching Tai Chi to Robert De Niro

Here’s an interesting article about Robert De Niro learning Tai Chi for his latest movie, The Intern.

The article points out that Tai Chi is not the easiest thing to learn, and that the routine was customized for filming. We tend to customize a lot of moves in Tai Chi, not for filming, but for more practical purposes, making the move safer and easier for those who have a more limited ability or range of motion. If a move feels wrong or uncomfortable for you, please ask your instructor for ways to modify the movement to fit your body.

Remember, if Robert De Niro, who is 71 years old, can learn Tai Chi, it’s not too late for you to start!

Tai Chi demo at North Springs Charter High School

Gathering, part of the closing form

Gathering, part of the closing form


Jiaxing Weng, Mandarin Chinese Teacher at the North Springs Charter High School, invited members of the Kaikudo Studio to do a martial arts demonstration at the school’s international fair. 9 of us participated in the tai chi demonstration, showing the Yang Style 24 form to students and parents.

Shown below are from are practice session before the actual demonstration. Participating, in no particular order, are Jiaxing Weng, her parents, Mike Shallow, Teresa Chapman, Farida Shums, Jan Miles, Pam Hoback and myself, Jan Stittleburg.

Fan Thru The Back form

Fan Thru The Back form

single-whip

Single Whip form

ward-off

Ward Off form

Celebrate World Tai Chi Day April 25th

Saturday, April 25th, at 10AM, people around the world will be going outdoors to celebrate World Tai Chi day. Come join us at Mountain Park Park, 5050 5 Forks-Trickum Rd, Lilburn, GA 30047. We will meet behind the tennis courts, close to the children’s play area on the Pounds Road side. This is free and open to all, beginners or those with lots of practice. We will start with the Yang style 10 form, go thru the Yang style 24 form, and then do some Wudang styles too.

If you’ve never done Tai Chi before, this is a great opportunity to try it yourself. Practicing in the part is very energizing! World Tai Chi day is celebrated in 100s of cities, spanning 80 nations, people come together, to breathe together, providing a healing vision for our world.

Note, the weather forecast is not particularly encouraging, if it’s raining, stay home and dry. But we’ll meditate on generating a nice morning for Saturday.

Ta Chi Fan

My latest endeavor in learning Tai Chi has been doing the Tai Chi Kung Fu Fan style. It’s been a lot of fun, even though as the only non-Chinese speaker in the class I missed out on a lot of the commentary, I did learn a lot just by watching Master YunXiu Yang.

One of her other students came by and recorded a portion of the form, you can watch it here. I’m the red blob way in the back – it was a bit blustery and cold out that day.

The whole form starts with a slow section, then 2 fast sections, a very brief break, another fast section and ends up with another slow section. Some of the forms are similar to the forms in regular Tai Chi, such as Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail, and Snake Creeps Down. I don’t know Kung Fu, but I expect many of the forms relate to that art. I don’t know the whole history of the fan in Tai Chi, it appears that this set of forms was developed in the past 50 years. Tai Chi fan has been used in the past as a weapon, with blades attached to the tips of the bamboo strips. As a short weapon, it can be hidden easily in the clothing, and then used to block or parry sword or staff blows, and even used to thwap someone on top of the head.

Here’s another video, this time of people who know the form and do it quite well – I hope to be in that class someday. Maybe I’ll post a video of myself then.