Posts tagged with "Tai Chi"

Tai Chi/Taoism Paradoxes

Another cor­re­la­tion between the phys­i­cal expres­sion of Tai Chi and philo­soph­i­cal ideas of Taoism is the ubiq­ui­tous exis­tence of para­dox­es in both. There are con­tra­dic­to­ry answers to many ques­tions, and at the same time, the answers are very sim­ple (a para­dox in itself).

An exam­ple from Tai Chi is the pos­ture of the p’eng shape. If you’re too stiff, you can be pushed over eas­i­ly. If you’re too relaxed, you can be col­lapsed eas­i­ly. People make the mis­take of think­ing that you have to be one or the either — that you’re either resist­ing a force or let­ting it move you — with­out under­stand­ing that there exists a “some­where in between”. It’s dif­fi­cult to explain how some­thing can be struc­tured and relaxed at the same time.

A Taoist exam­ple is the idea of wu wei, or “action with­out action”. Practically speak­ing, it’s the con­cept that you don’t do any­thing that isn’t nec­es­sary, and by remain­ing reac­tionary you let nature (or the inter­ac­tion of Heaven and Earth, as Taoists roman­ti­cal­ly say) run it’s course. In doing so, “noth­ing is done yet noth­ing is left undone”.

Last class, my teacher said “Tai Chi is easy, that’s why so few peo­ple do it well.” His words remind­ed me of verse 70 of the Tao Te Ching.

My teach­ings are very easy to under­stand
  and very easy to teach
yet so few in this world under­stand
  and so few are able to prac­tice

The answers remain elu­sive and dif­fi­cult to explain because they must be felt, as in Tai Chi, or expe­ri­enced, as in Taoism, a char­ac­ter­is­tic of the para­dox­i­cal nature of both the ancient Chinese mar­tial art and phi­los­o­phy.

Developments and Denouements

Lights down, sound up, for this one. Maybe some tea and a pas­try if it’s not too late.

I had Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs play­ing here.

Stripped down, the beat alter­nates between triplet-three-one-two-three-one-two and one-two-three-one-two-three-one-two, fool­ing the lis­ten­er into think­ing it’s in some sort of com­plex time-sig­na­ture. It’s actu­al­ly based in com­mon time, but with the triplets in there and the down-beat (marked by the open snare) falling on four and then three of the next bar, the song takes on a syn­co­pat­ed rhythm. This isn’t what makes the song good, though. It’s all Karen O and her voice.

I’ve been so moody late­ly. Up and down. Developments and denoue­ments. Most like­ly a result of my over­think­ing and over­plan­ning over every­thing. Still try­ing to take things one day at a time, with­out rush­ing head first, with­out falling head over heels.

It’s all a mix­ture of good and bad. Sometimes, I don’t even know how to feel.

I’ve begun see­ing my psy­chol­o­gist on a ses­sion-by-ses­sion basis (instead of on a sched­ule — an indi­ca­tion of progress). In between, my Tai Chi class­es have become my ther­a­py. There’s some­thing about class that cen­tres me; the cama­raderie, the move­ments, the breath­ing, the con­tact, the feel­ing that I’m improv­ing a part of myself, bit by bit, even if it’s sub­con­scious­ly. A time where I can total­ly focus, a place where I can for­get every­thing else.

Afterwards, it’s a dri­ve home in the dark with the win­dows down, and the rustling of wind in my hair.

The seren­i­ty car­ries for­ward. I’m recharged again. Then I’m strong enough to be myself. I’m strong enough to accept these feel­ings.

They don’t love you like I love you.

Tai Chi Progress

My under­stand­ing of Tai Chi seems to come in the form of a sine wave: the more I learn, the more I real­ize I don’t know, and as I adjust for more and more details, oth­er details get lost.

For the last few months, I felt like I was get­ting nowhere. The con­cepts made sense in my brain, but not in my body. My teacher has said that Tai Chi is already too intel­lec­tu­al­ized, and as a per­son who’s nev­er been very phys­i­cal­ly co-ordi­nat­ed and tries to com­pen­sate in SHEER MENTAL POWA!, this holds true espe­cial­ly for me. Until I’ve mas­tered telekine­sis, how­ev­er, I’ll be reliant on more tra­di­tion­al means of move­ment.

In the last cou­ple weeks I feel like I’ve reached anoth­er lev­el of under­stand­ing, as rudi­men­ta­ry as it may be.

One thing that helped a lot is when a senior stu­dent showed me what ward-off (peng) felt like. As he stood with struc­ture in his body, I tried to push him1, but end­ed up push­ing myself off him and falling over. In order to move him, I was forced to use the prop­er tech­nique (since he’s con­sid­er­ably big­ger than me), and expand with my entire body — legs, waist, arms, chest, lungs — instead of sim­ply try­ing to move through him.

Then we reversed roles and he pushed me until I could chan­nel his ener­gy through my feet. It was the first time I ever felt ground­ed, instead of sim­ply under­stand­ing the idea. I still don’t real­ly under­stand it, inso­faras I could­n’t explain it to some­one else.

Adapting this all to the form is some­thing else. I try to focus on one thing at time2 but it falls apart in oth­er places. At this point, I’m just try­ing to get all the gross mechan­ics to be nat­ur­al with­out hav­ing to think about it, hop­ing that I’ll even­tu­al­ly be able to fine tune every­thing else.

  1. It remind­ed me of the feel­ing of squeez­ing a rub­ber stop­per, some­thing with give but not much, that becomes expo­nen­tial­ly dif­fi­cult to com­press. []
  2. Such as stay­ing at one lev­el with­out being rigid (con­sid­ered “breath­ing”), relax­ing my low­er back, think­ing of my body being anchored through my legs, and keep­ing struc­ture and intent in my palms. []

Becoming Pat

At the core of our beings, Pat and I are the same per­son.

What sep­a­rates us is our emo­tion, or lack there­of. Pat’s the log­i­cal one, I’m the emo­tion­al one. I’ve always looked up to him — his strength, his morals, his per­son­al­i­ty — with­out real­ly under­stand­ing why.

It’s only in the last year that I’ve come to real­ize Pat is a Taoist. This comes with the real­iza­tion that I’m a Taoist myself, and explains why I try to be more like him.

The inter­est­ing part is that he does­n’t even know that he’s a Taoist — sort of like Winnie the Pooh — which is exact­ly what makes him a true Taoist.

One of Chuang Tzŭ’s para­bles illus­trates this point. In an abbre­vi­at­ed ver­sion, Knowledge seeks a con­scious reflec­tion to know the Tao, and asked Silent Do Nothing and Reckless Blurter, before ask­ing The Yellow Emperor (ahhh, the Romantic per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of Chinese fables):

Knowledge said to The Yellow Emperor, “I asked Silent Do Nothing and he kept qui­et. Not only did­n’t he answer me, but he did­n’t even know how to answer. I asked Reckless Blurter, and though he want­ed to tell me, he did­n’t, and even for­got my ques­tions. Now I’ve asked you, and you know all about it. Why do you say that you’re far from it?”.

The Yellow Emperor said, “Silent Do Nothing was tru­ly right, because he did­n’t know any­thing. Reckless Blurter was near­ly right, because he’d for­got­ten it. You and I are far from right, because we know far too much”.

The same is true for Tai Chi1, or any mar­tial art for that mat­ter. Dissect it too much, and you lose the mean­ing. Think about it too much, and you don’t react. As Michael Babin wrote in his arti­cle on self-defense train­ing:

It is sad but true that real skill comes from seem­ing­ly end­less drilling of the basics and then learn­ing how to transcend/forget most of what you have so patient­ly learned.

In oth­er words, learn­ing struc­ture is essen­tial to learn­ing to react to a com­plete lack of struc­ture (i.e. a real fight); but if you focus on struc­ture for too long it becomes counter-pro­duc­tive to “being with­out struc­ture” in mar­tial terms. One of the many annoy­ing para­dox­es in the inter­nal arts.

One of the many para­dox­es in the Taoist phi­los­o­phy as well. As much as I try to study it, learn it, and apply it, I find myself think­ing about it too much. As a result, I occa­sion­al­ly stray from being cen­tered, and lose my bal­ance.

It’s the con­scious reflec­tion which Knowledge is seek­ing that pre­emp­tive­ly dooms his search. This is my prob­lem as well. I buy Taoist books with a thirst for knowl­edge, but they’re all telling me the same thing now. Not that the books haven’t helped at all, but I feel like I’ve reached a lim­it. Perhaps even the sim­ple act of writ­ing about this is counter-pro­duc­tive.

I have the under­stand­ing, but I can’t apply it with­out think­ing about it first, and it’s the attempt to apply it that ruins the point. I’ve yet to reach a stage of pure reac­tion and spon­tane­ity, like Pat.

But I’m get­ting there.

  1. Yet anoth­er exam­ple of how Tai Chi is the phys­i­cal expres­sion of the phi­los­o­phy. Or per­haps this could be reverse-gen­er­al­ized, and said that the Taoist phi­los­o­phy is reflect­ed in every­thing, such as mar­tial arts. []

Hurts So Good

I’m exhaust­ed. It’s late. I should be going to bed, but I want to write. Here I am.

Vanilla chai, this time. I nev­er drink this tea, so it seemed some­what appro­pri­ate.

My limbs are sore. I’ve been prac­tic­ing my Tai Chi on a reg­u­lar basis, and my under­stand­ing has sur­passed my phys­i­cal abil­i­ty. I’m start­ing to over-exert myself. I’ve also been using my arms instead of my whole body when advanc­ing in sin­gle push hands, caus­ing my arms to work more than they should. Tonight, it got to the point where they were com­plete­ly weak. I sus­pect Elizabeth could feel this, and she switched arms before I had the good sense to do it myself.

It’s get­ting cold in the house1. The ther­mo­stat says 20, but it feels more like 18. I stood in the show­er for a good 15 min­utes, let­ting my skin burn under the hot water, to the point where I stepped out of the show­er into the cold air and start­ed to sweat.

No edit­ing. No back­track­ing. Just type, and pub­lish.

I hap­pened to come across a video today by the Grass Roots.

When I think of all the wor­ries peo­ple seem to find
And how they’re in a hur­ry to com­pli­cate their minds
By chas­ing after mon­ey and dreams that can’t come true
I’m glad that we are dif­fer­ent, we’ve bet­ter things to do
The oth­ers plan their future, I’m busy lov­ing you

One, two, three, four
Sha-la-la-la-la-la live for today.
Sha-la-la-la-la-la live for today.

And don’t wor­ry ’bout tomor­row, hey hey hey hey.

Maybe I’m just read­ing into it, like a born-again, but the lyrics struck me as very Taoist, and the idea of detach­ment in par­tic­u­lar2. Darren jokes that I’ll start preach­ing to him the next time I vis­it him because our con­ver­sa­tions always stray to Taoism.

I’ve been feel­ing decid­ed­ly dark, decid­ed­ly yin, late­ly. Not sad or upset, but in an ener­getic way. I’m boun­cy. Maybe this is the way my brain adjusts to my pre­vi­ous­ly cheer­ful upswing. The fun­ny thing is that I’m no less cheer­ful, just in a dif­fer­ent way. I feel more bal­anced. It’s as if the mind aches from some unknown force, expressed through an emo­tion­al state, yet rel­ish­es and wal­lows in this.

And I’m lov­ing every minute of it.

  1. I’m try­ing to wait as long as pos­si­ble before turn­ing the heat on []
  2. Something I’ve only recent­ly been able to achieve to any rel­a­tive degree of suc­cess. []