Tai Chi Chuan Instruction
‘There are many ways to the top of the mountain.’
Tai Chi Chuan Instruction takes on new meaning when you understand the meaning of Tai Chi Chuan (also known as Taiji Quan). It translates as ‘The Grand Ultimate Fist.’
Simply, it is the top of the Martial Arts experience.
This is quite a claim for Tai Chi Chuan instruction, and the only way that this could be true, aside from Martial and Energetical implications, is if the peak is nothing more than the opening of one’s perceptions. This is to say that one achieves the ability to learn unhindered by the context of one’s experiences, or the limiting of one’s imagination.
To be honest, when all the Chinese Martial Arts Masters start talking about ‘Chi’ (Intention and the ability to move masses of Energy) and ‘Jing’ (usable Chi) they are really only describing the same perception and phenomena from different points of view.
If one understands this then there is no mystery to the mystery of Tai Chi Chuan Instruction.
Well, if you’re still with me, let me describe certain exercises I practice to open my ‘Tai Chi eyes,’ and which I teach to my Tai Chi Chuan classes. This is a very comprehensive look at the form of martial arts.
Before I describe these procedures let me make one point.
Many Tai Chi practitioners are snobs. They have little Martial ability and intend only to espouse new age feely good sensations.
Please be warned that anything I say or claim is based upon the ability to develop fighting ability, and the ability to enhance one’s perceptions even in the middle of combat.
The founder of Chen Tai Chi was an aged general.
The founder of Yang Tai Chi was a hard core practitioner who was allowed into the Chen school solely because he could kick some Chen butt.
So, if you haven’t decided I am trapped by my martial context, and are still willing to move forward, come along.
Tai Chi Chuan Instruction in the Snake
Tai Chi is supposedly based upon the movements of the Snake and the Crane.
Obviously, the snake twines and moves in quite slinky fashion.
This is appropriate to Tai Chi because as the practitioner moves through the range of body motion in non impactful manner he can explore the nook and crannies of his body by inserting awareness into the stretch and twine of maximum extensions.
The real quality of the Snake is that he is connected to the ground. This connection, called ‘Rooting’ by most, ‘Called ‘Grounding’ by those with some knowledge of Physics, is crucial to the real Art.
Simply, can you do the whole Form and never, through any transition of Stance, keep your Ground intact?
But this is the point of all good Tai Chi Chuan instruction, so I don’t want to take to long on this. After all, what is there to learn from the same old same old?
Of course one should practice for twenty or thirty years before taking my dismissal of contemporary practice to heart.
This, really, is the heart of Tai Chi Chuan Instruction.
But it is not just balance of being able to stand on one leg with your eyes closed. It is not being able to go through the form blindfolded and end up in the exact same spot.
It is not going through the Form blindfolded taking free steps and still ending up exactly where you started.
Balance refers to an internal awareness.
Balance of the sides of the body over the support leg.
Balance smoothly shifted from one leg to the other with no twitches or imperfections of the snake like flowing.
But, and here is where the boys become men, balance is when you appreciate the muscles on both sides of the arm, and can achieve exact and equal tensions on both sides of the bone.
Perfect balance, if you are getting good tai chi chuan instruction, results in stillness of motion.
And the concentration necessary to create stillness of motion in posture throughout all postures also creates a stillness of motion within the mind.
Perfect balance, aside from being able to do the form without any lurchings either external or internal, means that you, the human being, have nothing pulling you from the exact center that you are.
You refuse the imprecations of the Universe, and have stilled that within which would move you off balance.
I know, there is no monkey. It is the Leopard that I should be talking about.
Except that I have always felt that the Leopard is too much like the Tiger. And when I was told by the fellow who taught me Shaolin that there are some people who ascribe to the monkey as replacing the Leopard I quickly jumped on the bandwagon with my Tai Chi Chuan instruction.
The monkey teaches agility.
Try putting four cinder blocks on end in a square and do the Tai Chi form on top them.
Do not let them move under your foot. Do not let your connection with the ground break.
Within a short time your Tai Chi, to risk a bad pun, will become elevated.
You will learn awareness in your feet that will rival the sensitivity of your hands.
Thus, when somebody attacks you will be capable of moving around them efficiently without losing your grasp of the earth.
And grasping the ground during combat is quite important.
Simply, the fellow who can hold his ground the best is going to be considered the stronger. And the fellow who can take the ground away from another fellow is going to be the strongest.
By the way, don’t put too much significance upon the different definitions of ‘ground,’ and ‘Grounding’ (rooting). simply practice your Art and let your abilities manifest.
As the Masters say, ‘Up the legs from the ground, controlled by the waist, and manifested by the hands.’
Tai Chi Chuan Instruction in the Tiger
Here is where a lot of Tai Chi instructors lose it. Inspired by the heady sensations of the Chi within their body they forget that Art of the Martial variety is defined by function.
Do the Form with the mind. Let your Intention guide your movements.
The problem is that when people accept this tai chi chuan instruction they want to do it for health and to experience those ‘Feely good’ sensations.
There is nothing wrong with that, but they shouldn’t call it Tai Chi, or should be quite forceful in defining it as ‘Health Tai Chi,’ or some such, which is quite different from martial Tai Chi.
You think you can learn Tai Chi Kung Fu without learning how to fight? That would be like the clouds learning to move through the skies without wind. It is possible, but it would take a smarter cloud than now floats over our heads.
You see, resistance sows the seeds of qigong (Chi Kung) growth.
I push on my student’s bodies, and if they fall I now they haven’t got it.
This ‘Body Testing’ defines alignment, and forces the body to fight back on a core level. Simply, grass grows out of the cracks in a sidewalk, and life will strive to grow under the push of a well trained hand.
When somebody is first taking tai chi churn instruction any pressure applied should be gentle and extremely knowledgeable.
Wrong push equals wrong alignment equals bad Tai Chi.
If the student is allowed to learn Tai Chi Chuan without any pressure except of the verbal variety he ends up being a paper tiger. He knows about, but can’t do.
Interestingly, though this may offend some players, I have sometimes seen better Jing in people who have practiced Karate for a couple of decades. While Karate is ‘Lower on the mountain’ than Tai Chi, the training methods, if the usual ‘Drill instructor’ methods of training can be outgrown, define Jing a lot better.
Of course who can put up with a Tiger attitude for twenty years? It’s a lot easier to just float along with the clouds, searching for updrafts of hot air.
To grow the Tiger I practice a lot of dynamic tension within the stances.
Once I reached the point where I could balance the muscles on each of my bones I began to deliberately push them against each other so as to grow them.
I know there will be some that speak against this style of tai chi chuan instruction, and if it was the only one which I practiced they would be right. But I try to balance all methods in practice so that I don’t lose strength, or balance, or agility, or flexibility, and so on.
This brings us to the heart of the matter. The Dragon is the highest expression of Art in Tai Chi Chuan Instruction.
The reason? Because it doesn’t exist.
It is a composite of the other creatures.
The Dragon is comprised of the sinuousness of the snake, the wingful balance of a crane, the agility and shiftiness of a monkey, the strength and claws of a Tiger, and yet not defined by any one animal.
Talk about the three blind men describing an elephant.
This makes it a creature of imagination.
Imagination is Art.
Art is the expression of Imagination.
The Dragon, to be truthful, would represent anybody of any Art who could move freely, creating motion in the moment, as he (she) needs it.
Simply, it is the manifestation of the Martial solution to the problem of physical (and mental or spiritual) attack.
Tai Chi Chuan Instruction Conclusions
The real point of this article on Tai Chi Chuan instruction has been to provide comparison and contrast in viewpoints of training methods. If you disagree with the Shaolin shadings I have introduced, then try applying other methodologies to your training.
How do the animals of Hsing I relate to your Tai Chi Chuan style?
How can the movements and theories of Tai Chi be impacted by the concepts of Aikido, or Escrima, or some other Art?
In the beginning of this article I spoke of the highest expression of Art being the ability to learn without internal or external limitations.
Creation is the breakdown and synthesis of the old into the new.
That is the Art, and you can use it to improve your tai chi chuan instruction.