Is Tai Chi a Martial Art or a Peaceful Meditation

balancing rocks on the beachA recent conversation on a LinkedIn forum discussed whether Tai Chi should be taught as a martial art, emphasizing the fighting aspects of the movements, or just as a gentle moving meditation. Certainly it is both, but how much does one lose by focusing only on the gentleness?

This quote by Peter Stephen Williamson struck me as how the martial art can be used in our daily life, without any actual fighting. “When we talk about “self defense” could we consider it as “defense against one’s own weaknesses, ego, desire, ambitions etc? Thus, if we look at ‘self’ defense, then we become calmer, find inner self-reliance and self-confidence, and subtly exude an aura of quiet confidence which may often preempt any potential “assault” – be it verbal, psychological or otherwise.

Like wise, when we face an “opponent” who feels intimidated by this aura, and who exhausts him / her self in heaping insults, we are able to “ward off” and be non-confrontational, and are able to continue our day without allowing such “assault” to stick to us.
When we have no consideration of “win” or “lose” are we not indominatable, undefeatable?”

This correlates to my own personal growth. Without having analyzed it to this extent, I’ve noticed that I am calmer when faced with an uneasy situation. Drivers who cut me off are let go without the curse and single finger salute of my younger, more aggressive self. I am better able to see the larger picture of, say, politics, without getting sidetracked by the obnoxiousness of one character. Knowing the yin and yang of situations, makes it much easier to stay centered. Being more balanced physically, I am also becoming more balanced emotionally.

Tips for bettering your Tai Chi practice

White Crane pose

White Crane spreading its wings in Hawaii

Your tai chi practice will improve greatly once your body learns to move gently, your breath slows down, you stop forcing the movements and learn to feel the natural movements. Basic skills of movement, made deeper by awareness of the body. Know where you have tension, that your body is rooted yet able to move gently and smoothly. This list is a great reminder of the first steps to improving your Tai Chi.

It’s not how deep your knees bend, how low you get to the ground, or how high you can kick. I used to admire the graceful long fingers of my teachers, thinking my hands would never look as graceful as theirs. I’ve come to realize it’s not the long thin fingers, but the internal grace of movement that I was missing. Feeling comfortable within my body, feeling the energy flow through the fingers and joints, rather than stressing the muscles to move.

Relaxing the fingers doesn’t mean leaving them limp, it means allowing the energy to flow naturally. Relaxing the body doesn’t mean slumping into a soft chair, it’s loosening up the tension in the muscles and joints. Allowing the body to breathe naturally, deeply.

Start with the breath, breathe slowly, deeply into the abdomen, a gentle, smooth even breath between inhale and exhale. Move in time with your breath if you can. Don’t hold your breath, or move too slowly that your breath doesn’t feel natural. When the breath is natural, add one movement, either a step, or an arm movement. Practice until that is as smooth as silk. Let the mind focus on being calm and still, feeling the body move. Take it one small bit at a time. When you are ready to add on, take another small bit and practice that. Slowly. Or as Alfredo Rolando Ortiz says, slowlier. Your practice should be at your own comfortable rhythm. Enjoy your practice!