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Thursday, January 3 2019 22:21

Practice Every Day

There are some things that are easy and some that are not so easy. One of the ‘not so easy’ type, is to do anything that ‘reeks’ of exercise on a daily basis.

Beginners to Tai Chi, may find it quite difficult to train daily and some instructors hardly mention the ‘P word’, PRACTICE, at all, for fear of scaring students away. So, what’s to be done?

Well I’ll address this problem from two viewpoints, that of the instructor and that of the student.

As an instructor, it is really important to mention to your students that the maximum benefits from Tai Chi come not when you are doing it in a group but in your own private practice. There you can align your body’s movements with both your breathing and with your mind in a way and to a depth that is just not possible in a class.

Students need to know that the deep deep relaxation, the meditative aspects, will generally only reveal themselves in solo practice. They also need to have it explained that it’s the deep deep physical relaxation that allows the body to reach new heights of health and regeneration, and they are a gift that you give to yourself.

Now, obviously Tai Chi is not a magic potion and it can’t prevent or cure all diseases (wouldn’t it be great if it could) but it does do a lot of wonderful things. The most basic (and maybe the most important) of which, is that it helps de-stress you and that allows your immune system to function better. Or, if I am being picky - it stops stress from impairing your immune system.

There are of course many other benefits that an instructor should explain including self-defence. In particular, explaining that if you intend to use Tai Chi (or any martial art) for self defence then daily practice is really the only way to develop and keep a useful level of skill and co-ordination.

As a student: The most difficult thing with any new thing that needs to be done regularly is making it a habit. The majority of us are creatures of habit, we brush our teeth every morning or we have lunch at our favorite restaurant or ... 1001 things that we do repeatedly for no particular reason other than they have become a habit. Old habits are generally taken for granted and it’s the new ones that are problematic. Your Tai Chi practice needs to become a habit, something that you do almost every day, virtually without thinking.

How do you make something a habit? I’m reminded of the old gag - ‘How do you eat an Elephant?’ to which the answer is ‘One bite at a time.’ - In other words to build your habit, start by dedicating yourself to do TWO MINUTES of Tai Chi every day - yes, just two minutes. Once that becomes regular and easy, then increase to 3 minutes, then 5, then 10 and before you know it, you will find that 30 or 60 minutes a day (or even more) is natural and easy.

Start slow and get the ‘Tai Chi’ deep into your body, mind and ‘soul’. Once it becomes part of you, you will find that its benefits become more obvious as well as easier to maintain.

Oh yes, what if ‘GASP, HORROR’ you forget and miss a day or a week or whatever... Don’t worry, Tai Chi will forgive you, just simply start doing it again.

Tuesday, January 1 2019 22:17

The Onion Theory of Tai Chi

Most of my students have heard this and I’m sure other instructors’ use the same or a similar metaphor but here goes...

Whether it’s Lemons or Onions or Marmite.... some people love it and some hate it. Tai Chi is like an onion. Whatever you are doing it will probably feel as if you are learning a complete art and you will be happy with what you are doing and the progress that you are making...

I used to have a lovely instructor, and he would come along and say “Very good, but....” and you knew that the ‘but’ wasn’t going to be a correction as in ‘but your foot placement is off’, or ‘but you need to relax more’ or etc... no the ‘but’ was going to open up some line of training and thought that you simply hadn’t been exposed to before.

Like an Onion, it’s complete, but if you peel one layer off of it, then inside there is another ‘fresh’ onion. Fresh, and perhaps with a sharper taste.

So, if in your Tai Chi practice, you are looking to just train for an hour a week and meet a few nice people and relax a bit, then if you are lucky, your instructor will never help you to peel a layer off of the onion and you will continue happily doing the same-old same old. But, if you want to really understand Tai Chi then you and your instructor working together can peel open that ‘new’ onion and your practice will develop.

Tai Chi can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be, and it is nobody’s business but your own as to what your aims and objectives are or should be. An instructor should be a guide not a drill sergeant and as such, they should point out that there are opportunities and outcomes that you may not have noticed, but they should not insist that you do as they say.

Tai Chi can be something that is interesting and challenging not just as a beginner but for every day of practice. Something that will keep you vital and young and interested not just in Tai Chi but in everyone and everything in your life.

Tai Chi isn’t magic.... it just seems like it is.

Sunday, December 30 2018 22:10

Tai Chi Myth - The Old Master

I started doing Tai Chi in the late 1970s, so I’ve been doing it for a while and since I’m now 65 - I could be near to becoming an ‘Old Master’.... Gosh I hope not. I don’t want to ‘master’ anything, I want to keep on learning and developing for at least another 65 years.

Now you may be wondering about what is a ‘Master’ and the answer is that I really don’t know. Sure, I’ve met and trained with a number of people who are described as being a ‘Master’ but they vary so much. Some have wisdom, some have knowledge, some have the ability to teach, some have awesome skill - but the mix of those and other qualities varies enormously as does what is to me the most important aspect that I look for in a ‘Master’ - are they actually a nice person.

Age is confusing, there are people who have been training longer than me and/or who are older than me who are much better than me, but there are also people who have been training longer than me and/or who are older than me who are not as good as me. Equally, there are people who are younger than me and/or not trained for as long as me who are either better or worse than I am.

The point is that it doesn’t actually matter. Tai Chi is NOT NOT NOT a competition between you and anyone else (except when it is, and I’ll talk about that in a moment). It’s a competition between who you were yesterday and who you are today. The goal of Tai Chi should be to improve yourself, in one or another way, every day, every time you practice.

Now, ‘hang on’, you say... ‘There are Tai Chi COMPETITIONS - what about that?’ Well with the utmost respect for many people, that I know, who are brilliant competitors in either Tai Chi forms, push hands, or other Tai Chi related disciplines. That’s not ‘Tai Chi’ - you see Tai Chi was developed as a way of actually fighting when the outcome was potentially ‘life or death’ - which is not anything at all like a competition.

Competitions are what arise when societal changes mean that fighting skills are not used anymore for actually fighting. So, if you want to compete, do so, it’s fun and indeed can be a bit addictive. Whether you are young or old, competitions have lots of positive effects, like improving self esteem, improving confidence, gaining prestige, winning stuff, including, if you are good enough, money, and much more. But it’s not ‘Tai Chi’.

Now back to Old Masters and masters of old, yes some did and do compete and yes some eschewed the idea of competitions completely. So who is right and who is wrong.... the answer is that they were all right and you will be right too if your practice of Tai Chi is done with ‘Hou Sum’ (Cantonese for a ‘good heart’) - do what you do with a friendly and lively spirit and to please yourself (not others) and you will improve your Tai Chi day-by-day until you too will be an ‘Old Master’.