Some Thoughts about Tai Chi Quan
There are many different styles of Tai Chi Quan. As time goes on, there will be more and more Tai Chi Quan styles appearing. Often students ask me what style of Tai Chi Quan is the best. Also, between Yoga and Tai Chi Quan, which one is better? And are there are some special ways or tricks to practice Tai Chi Quan?
First, all the styles of Tai Chi Quan were originally from the same family about 600 years ago based on the Tai Chi theories that span thousands of years of history. The only big difference is the variety of forms with their different styles, but they all have the same requirements for the body when it comes to maintaining health.
What is more, I consider Tai Chi Quan to be a moving Yoga. Whether practicing Yoga or Tai Chi Quan, people should not just practice the outside forms and simple movements; they should study the theories and philosophies of these disciplines. By understanding the principles of Yoga or Tai Chi Quan, people can improve their physical and mental well being and ultimately lengthen their lives.
I have some feelings and thoughts to share with you about how to best do Tai Chi Quan. I will center my comments on three challenges: nurturing calmness, practicing slowly, and seeking stillness in movement and movement in stillness.
- The cultivation of calm and the demonstration of calm
The ways people do Tai Chi are also very important. If the ways are not correct, the effects will not be good. Doing Tai Chi Chuan correctly will enable people to master the motion orbit of each movement, experience the feeling of Tai Ji, complete the movements by breaking them down into smaller and smaller points, and achieve calm as well as good health.
As I have often shown in class, there are no straight lines in the Tai Chi forms. The motion orbit of Tai Chi Quan is formed through points, lines, and arcs. When you practice Tai Chi Quan, you need to feel that whenever there is a move, there is a Tai Ji and Tai Ji is everywhere. [In Chinese, Chi and Ji are actually two different words. American people always use “Tai Chi” instead “Tai Ji”, but “Tai Ji” is relevant here.] As I said, whenever there is a move, there is a Tai Ji as well as a Wu Ji. This means every move is the process from Wu Ji to Tai ji, so Tai Ji is everywhere. As you realize this, you can experience the feeling of Tai Ji.
What is the Tai Ji feeling? The Tai Ji feeling results from the process of moving from Wu Ji to Tai Ji. This process stems from the philosophy of Taoism. In Tai Chi, “nothing” moves into “having”, and then “having” moves into “nothing”. “Ji” is an extreme point and if one moves over the Ji, he will be on the other side “Wu Ji”. Every change in the universe follows this principle. Wu Ji moves into Tai Ji; Tai Ji returns to Wu Ji. Likewise, Yin will become Yang; Yang will become Yin.
This principle requires people to practice from a number of “points” each time they complete a move. That is, every move in Tai Chi can be divided into a certain number of small moves. If people can work hard on these small moves, adjust their mind and body, find the feelings of “Tai Ji” and do these moves constantly during the entire time, they can reach the level where their heart and mind are relaxed and sense that “Tai Ji” is everywhere. Subsequently, people can divide a big move into smaller and even smaller moves and find peace and calm in that way and ultimately experience “Tai Ji” feelings.
Once people divide each move into smaller and smaller moves and are able to maintain a calm and peaceful state, their Tai Chi levels will be higher and higher and their health will be better and better.
Of course, there is no ultimate limit to doing this; this is one of the reasons why no matter how long people do Tai Chi, they will always need to constantly practice and study, so they are always constantly improving their level and health. This is also why practicing the details in Tai Chi is important. Likewise, this process is the same in our life. Our whole life is combined with countless small things like the points in Tai Chi. When we deal with everything in life, the small things (details) always reflect our character and personality. Therefore, the key is to maintain a good mental outlook all the time and to deal with everything in a calm and peaceful way. The “point” exercise of Tai Chi can help people maintain the Tai Chi status all the time, which will further help them successfully master the details involved in life tasks.
Nowadays, people live in a blundering world, which makes them confused and nervous. Worse, people are getting used to living in an environment like this. Practicing Tai Chi Quan can help people change some of their bad habits they acquire after they are born. Changing habits is very difficult. However, there are still some to change bad habits. First, people need to have the willingness to change, which is the most fundamental requirement. Because changing habits will make people lose some things they have been enjoying such as hobbies, desires, and pursuits, such as going to night clubs very often, watching TV for a long period of time, eating a lot of “tasty” food. People already know those habits are not good for them, but they are just so used to living this way, they may not be willing to make a change. Thus, if people want to improve themselves in all ways and make a change, they should always decide to have a strong willingness because if they give up at any point when they are changing their habits, they will go back to the original point where they started. Nonetheless, as they focus on changing their bad habits, they will find more calm and peace in life, and this will further help them do Tai Chi Quan better.
As I said, modern people’s bodies and minds are subconsciously in a nervous status. If people want to relax their body and mind, they need to relax until the bones are separated from each other. When the bones and muscles are separating from each other, the whole body feels empty, relaxed, and calm. However, if people cannot concentrate on each point; keep the spirit in the body; and make the body more open, empty, and relaxed, it may be difficult to maintain peace and calm.
If people do not work on these aspects, they will end up just doing gymnastics instead of Tai Chi and cannot enjoy the real effects of Tai Chi Quan. If people practice with each point, it is easier for them to do Tai Chi Quan better and enjoy the effects in their lives, but it takes a longer time to complete each move from one point to another. It is very important to complete the moves slowly in order to move from Tai Ji to Wu Ji and achieve the Tai Ji feeling. If people practice Tai Chi Quan with each point well, they will do each arc, circle and move well and eventually do the whole form well.
On the other hand, the range between each point is not very big, so it is too easy to make the error of going too fast form one point to another. Therefore, if people practice with each line, arc circle too quickly, of course, they will learn all the moves, but they may not be able to enjoy the life benefits of doing Tai Chi Quan. That is, if people cannot do each point well in a calm and peaceful manner, how can they do the whole move and whole form well? How can they find the calm and relaxation in Tai Chi Quan or even in life?
The purpose of doing Tai Chi Quan is to pursue the calm and peace in the body and mind, which will further enable people to achieve better physical and mental health because attaining a calm state is an accomplishment and a form of wisdom. In this state, people will get rid of the blundering mind.
A calm state is a magic weapon that strengthens people’s spirit and helps them deal with life’s challenges better. Achieving a calm status results from every little practice we have, it is reflected in everything we do, and the “point” Tai Chi Quan exercise is not only the cultivation of calm but also the demonstration of calm.
- Practice slowly and realize the philosophic theory during the slow speed
As I said, it is very important to complete the moves slowly. If people want to realize the Tai Chi philosophic theories, they have to practice Tai Chi Quan with the speed that is as slow as a ladder. Practicing slowly has many benefits. For example, it helps people find mistakes, correct movements, and keep the Qi down easier. It can also help people achieve a calm state, which is the main goal of Tai Chi. People can only enter into the status of Tai Chi when their hearts are calm. When people are in a deep state of calm while doing Tai Chi, their breathing is very fine. In this stage, maybe there is some breath; maybe there is no breath. Also, the mind is very quiet. Maybe there is some mental awareness; maybe there is not.
When people first begin to practice Tai Chi Quan, they tend to complete the moves too quickly. However, the faster the speed, the faster the breathing, the more distracting the thoughts, and the further away they are from meeting the objectives of Tai Chi. As people practice Tai Chi Quan, they should try to make sure their breathing speed is the same as their movements. The faster people go, the longer it will take to meet the requirements of Tai Chi. Thus, if they really want to enjoy the benefits of Tai Chi Quan, they must practice slowly and do it very well before they do it quickly. (Not everyone can do Tai Chi Quan fast and still meet all the requirements of Tai Chi. It usually takes people years to do Tai Chi well enough to do it fast.). Once people do Tai Chi Quan following these guidelines on speed, they will have mastered Tai Chi as an internal martial art.
- Seek stillness in movement and seek movement in stillness
Finally, Tai Chi Quan was named after Tai Chi, which requires people to seek stillness during the movement and seek movement during stillness.
When people perform Tai Chi Quan or compete with Tai Chi Quan, they need to try to do it faster but continued without interruption. But if they want to improve their personality or increase their life span by doing Tai Chi Quan, they should always practice slowly and try to seek stillness in movement and seek movement in stillness because stillness and movement are related. (According to Confucius, gaining mental “awareness”, stopping, and achieving stillness promote a state of true peacefulness). If the mind can not be focused, the heart cannot be stopped, and the heart cannot be calmed. People practicing Tai Chi nowadays all know they need to do the moves continuously without interruption. But the premise of continuity without interruption comes from a state of calm, which is the root of Tai Chi Quan. It is the level that cannot be described with words exactly. If I have to describe it with words, reluctantly, I would say it is the place where there is no “I”, there are no others, there is no mind, and there is no consciousness. Moreover, everywhere there is emptiness, and everywhere there is relaxation. At last, the mind and body are united. There is no tension in the whole body, and there are no distracting thoughts at all.
According to some traditional Kung Fu theories, calm [stillness] is the place where there are no certain forms or certain moves or sequences anymore, but one does whatever it takes, like a conditional reflex, to react with opponents or nature. However, it is not easy for the novice to get to this level because it takes a great deal of practice for the novice to realize the role of the mind: The mind should always lead the moves. Moreover, while doing Tai Chi Quan, one must constantly adjust the mind, breath, and everything inside of the body. This process is fundamental if one wants to achieve the ultimate stage of calmness.
Moreover, according to the traditional Chinese practice, people’s moves have breaks, people’s minds have breaks, and people’s breath has breaks. If people make the breaks long, they can enter into stillness and calm easier.
When they find their body, breath, or mind is not right, they should always stop the moves to make adjustments and enable the body to be consistent with the mind. Also, if people adjust the body, breath and mind all the time when they practice Tai Chi, they will seek stillness during movement and seek movement during stillness naturally.
Practicing Tai Chi is like climbing a topless mountain. It requires people to pursue and work hard constantly so that they can reach the new heights and see different views, feel different artistic conceptions, and enjoy a better life!!!!
May every Tai Chi fan have a happy, healthy, and long life!