Originally Published: January 12, 2013 by remingtoncooney |
For almost a month now I’ve been visiting my family in Singapore, and staying in the old family home. The day after my arrival, I decided it would be good to continue my Tai Chi studies, especially since I was now in an Asian country. So, like all eager Taoist students, I sought out a master. To my surprise, it didn’t take very long. A morning walk in the botanic gardens led me straight to her. Around the outdoor terraces and fountains, were numerous small groups practicing various Tai Chi methods. Some were practicing the very traditional sequences – Yang and Chen. Others were practicing slightly less traditional versions – since when did the Gangnam style dance become a tai chi sequence?!
Drawn to the more authentic styles, I spotted a group who had just finished and spoke to the master, clad in her formal, white tai chi gear. Alas! No english. But with the help of a kind student, my desire to learn was translated to her and we set a date: I would begin tomorrow morning.
My teacher was the perfect master. Firm but kind; ruthless but forgiving. She would laugh at my instability during my one leg poses, and reprimand me whenever I stuck out my butt during squatting poses (I was reprimanded a lot). On the week days I would do private lessons, one on one; but on weekends I joined the group and would do my best to fake my way through the remaining poses I was still yet to learn. Coming to the end of my holiday, I had my last lesson today. I’ve learnt far more in these last 3 weeks about Tai Chi philosophy and practice than I did in the 4 months of studying it in Vancouver. This is why sometimes it’s essential to go to the source of traditional teachings.
After one of my group classes, a classmate described to me the importance of feeling the “Ch’i” whilst practicing Tai Chi. But before I describe the importance of this “Ch’i,” let me give a brief intro to what Tai Chi actually is. T’ai chi ch’uan (tai chi for short) translates to “boundless fist” and is an internal chinese martial art form. Like many other Chinese martial arts, Tai Chi allows the body to emulate the movement of nature. Such movements attune the body to the Tao which serves two purposes: health and self-defense. Being a martial arts form, Tai Chi is based on self-defense methods, but they are slowed down…like, really slowed down. Like so slow that it actually becomes more difficult than it would be if it was really, really fast. Although there are some faster paced versions, the most traditional forms are the ones you would see your Grandmother doing in the park (in case you’re wondering, this does not include the new and “improved” Gangnam-style version).
But why so slow? The reason comes back to the fact that it’s an internal art; thereby, its key lies in cultivating internal power. And this internal power is gained by the building and movement of what is known as “Ch’i” – the chinese word for life force, or life energy. This life energy exists both internally within us, and also, externally, everywhere around us. This reinforces the Taoist belief that what is within, is also without. The reason for why Tai Chi is conducted so slowly is so that we can really feel the Ch’i that is moving within us. Moreover, Tai Chi is predominately a moving meditation, so by calming the body and not exciting it, it becomes easier to reach a heightened state in which feeling the Ch’i also becomes easier.
My fellow classmate taught me how, through your Tai Chi practice, you must concentrate on building the Ch’i and then allowing it to do the actions for you.
Instead of your mind being focused on the movements, it’s actually focused on moving the Ch’i in your body, which in turn creates the movements. This is the essence of the Taoist term Wu-Wei (non-action). The Ch’i is acting for you but you are still intending that action to occur. Ultimately, by gaining control of this Ch’i energy you can then cultivate it and use it for healing purposes both internally and externally. For example, I was taught how to create a ball of Ch’i energy and then place it over any part of my body that needed healing.
If this notion of Ch’i energy is still a little bit too difficult to imagine, let’s go back to my Star Wars analogy. In that previous post I described the Tao as “the Force.” In Star Wars, Jedi’s train by cultivating the force, so that they can work with it, and consequently, utilize it. Well, Tai Chi is similar to Jedi training in the fact that by learning to cultivate Ch’i, you are learning to move with the Tao. As you learn to move with the Tao, you, like the Jedi, also learn how to utilize it. This is why health benefits and calmness result from dedicated practice of Tai Chi.
I’m afraid to say that practicing Oppa Tai-Chi style, will not help you to cultivate Ch’i; however, if you videotape it and put it on youtube you may get 1,156,153,347 hits and some good T.V air time. Health? Or fame? Your call.