Saturday, March 26, 2011

Summary of the taiji classics

I found a concise and profound summary of the taiji classics in Petra and Toyo Kobayashi's Classical T'ai Chi Sword.
The book is well worth reading, even if you do not intend practicing sword forms. The underlying principles are the same.
Important Principles of Tai Chi Ch'uan

relax - release (let go) - sink
root - yield - follow - join (connect)
lively - light - natural
even - slow - continuous
directed - balanced
movement from the center
curved movement
upright-straightening from within
not going to the extreme
full and empty
open and close
keeping the essential
deep breathing
meditative state of mind

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A helpful myth

So let me tell you a story. A myth really. But, I'm not using myth in the popular sense of "something that isn't true, but which many people believe" (as in "urban myth"). I'm thinking more of a way of telling that is true but not necessarily literally or scientifically true. A myth is a story that helps us make sense of life.

Once upon a time you were born. And you were born with a certain deposit of  life force, essence, vitality. Let's call it qi (and pronounce is "chee"). Each day of your life you use some of this qi until one day, after a long and happy life, when all your qi has been used, you will die. The quality of your qi when you were born depends on a bit of luck, on karma, on the health and vitality of your parents when they conceived you, and when your mother carried you in the womb. You couldn't change your inherited qi even if you wanted to or tried very hard to.
But, there is another kind of qi that you acquire each day of your life. You derive this qi from the air you breath, from the food you eat, from the quality of your life and relationships. Good food, good exercise and good relationships add to you store of qi. A poor quality of life consumes qi faster than you acquire qi. 
There is good news. If you acquire qi faster than you consume it, you store your qi and this stored qi acts as a buffer between your acquired qi and your inherited qi. In this way, you use your inherited qi at a slower rate. You live longer and the quality of your life is better.
When illness strikes, it takes a large toll on your qi. The more acquired qi you have stored, the better you will fare with illness. If you develop the skill, you can even transfer some of your stored qi to others when they need it. You can be an energizer of others. You can help them be well.
Of course, you cannot escape death when all your inherited qi is finally used, but you can have a long and fulfilled life.

Not a bad myth as far as myths go! Where does taiji fit in the myth? Taiji is a wonderful way to acquire qi. Taiji is energy work. As you develop taiji practice, you can feel qi in your body. You can feel its movement. You can feel where there are blockages of qi It takes time. It takes daily discipline. But, it is well worth the effort.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Full and empty, double-weighted

In the various books on taijiquan there are many references to the concepts and practice of full/empty and double-weighted. I had taken them to be the same thing (and much that I read seemed to use the terms interchangeably). Yet, it was not always clear what was meant. I asked Master Jesse, and his explanation was very helpful.
These are two very different ideas in Chinese, and though the English translation sounds like the same there is a mjor difference.
Tai Chi Colorado Springs Boxing Association
Golden Rooster Stance
First full (yang) and empty (yin). This is the relative weight distributed between the feet. For example, if you stand on one leg (in say, Golden Rooster stance) the foot on which you stand is full (100%). If you stand in bow stance, the front foot is about 70% full and the back foot about 30% full. As you "sit back" the rear foot becomes more full and the front foot empty. In "Play the Guitar" is more like back foot 90% and front foot 10%. Much of taiji is the movement from full to empty in slow and graceful movement. The foot that is full does not move, only the empty foot. This is the way of balance.
There are good pics of the basic stances on the Tai Chi Colorado Springs Boxing Association web site.
What then is double weighted? Though it sounds the same in English is refers to something different: the relationship between the right side of the body and the left side. There is a correspondence between the right hand and the left foot, the right knee and left elbow and vice versa. In taiji form, if  the correspondence is between the right hand and right foot, that is said to be double-weighted and unstable. So, for example, in "Part the Wild Horse's Mane" the stance is bow, with, say left foot forward. The left hand has moved in a circle low to high; the right hand has blocked down palm facing down to the right side. Qi moved from the right foot (back) through the hips, to the left arm to the left hand. The forward left foot corresponds to the right hand blocking down. In this way there is a crossing of qi and great stability.
The key is the intention. Qi follows Yi. Energy follows mind. I take this to mean that as the form progresses, the mental intention is for the energy to flow in the spiraling manner.
Since Master Jesses's lesson I have been practicing this and found it very beneficial. I would say it takes practice to another level again.
Stay balanced!