About two years ago, I was given the opportunity at my work to learn Tai Chi. Whilst there had been opportunities in the past, the timing of the sessions meant that I was unable to take them up, so I had reluctantly let them go. However, as seems to be the case, nothing is ever “just let go” and when the opportunity for a morning course was presented I took it up eagerly.
Over the first year I learned the Yang style short form. This consists of 24 steps and takes about 5 minutes to complete from start to finish. There is a long form of 108 steps and takes over 20 minutes; although this would be something to achieve, it was simply not practical to try and teach this in a half hour morning class. As I progress through the second year I have also added the Tai Chi Ruler to my practice and am just completing the Traditional Sword Form as well.
As well as the practical aspect of Tai Chi which I will discuss here, there is a spiritual aspect which isn’t always adopted or learned by students; however my experiences within OBOD have almost encouraged me to explore this side as well and this is something I would like to explore here. I would certainly strongly say that I am not an expert in Tai Chi, just someone with a keen interest; similarly within my OBOD work I would loath to say I am an expert or knowledgeable in Druidry (even with a druid badge
); so this can only be taken as a personal exploration, complete with personal assumptions and perceptions – and if I have misrepresented something, I am always keen to learn.
One feature that I like about Tai Chi is that unlike Judo, Karate there is little need for the student to buy the traditional uniform – comfortable, loose-fitting trousers and normal trainers is OK. Additionally it can be practised almost anywhere – provided you are comfortable in “shutting out” distractions such as people walking by (I once spent half an hour going through the Short form repeatedly next to a hotel swimming pool; when I stopped and took stock of the world around me I’d found that most of the empty chairs now had towels on them… I had not seen the people come down to claim them!).
From a practical aspect, Tai Chi allows the practitioner to enter a state of meditative calm. Each focused step or movement is performed slowly and gracefully, combined with a movement of both arm and leg whilst a slow, regular breathing pattern is adopted (whilst moving through the positions, a slow “one-and-two-and-three-and-four” count will regulate the movements – breathing in for four and out for four. Certainly in my class, as we move together through a graceful “White Crane Spreads its Wings” or “Hands move like Clouds” there is a group calm of chi energy flowing. There are some steps to the Yang style form which are not unlike Chi Gung practice in their way of calming the body. At the end of this essay I will describe the opening step “Raise hands”; when performed at proper pace can introduce an element of calm to the body and mind – so is useful as a general calming tool to any meditative practice.
moving to White Crane
The movements also generate an internal massage of the vital organs as the body twists and rotates. With the focus on careful movement, I often find that an ambient temperature room can quickly warm up as the energy is generated through movement. I do appreciate that tai chi is something that can be learned at any age – and if you understand the dynamics can be adapted to for any level of fitness and flexibility.
Whilst Tai Chi is considered an “internal martial art”, both the Yang Form and the Sword Form have practical self defence martial art elements (but you do need to work a bit quicker!); it is no surprise that Tai Chi has been referred to as Chinese Shadow Boxing. Indeed, the translation of Tai Chi is Supreme Ultimate Fist. For those interested in Tai Chi more for the gentle exercise or meditation, both the Ruler form and the Chinese Wand Form (sometimes referred to as the Chinese Health Pole) have little in the way of martial art defence practices – and both are excellent systems for those who are less mobile or flexible (the Ruler form for example is used in some elderly care homes to provide some exercise to the residents). Unfortunately though information on these forms is quite limited as they are not considered as “mainstream” as other forms and styles. For more information on the Ruler practice, I would suggest looking at the page in Taichido.com http://www.taichido.com/chi/styles/ruler1.htm
(who also have some excellent resources to assist you). The Chinese Wand’s principle material source is from a book by Bruce L Johnson, written in the 1970’s. The best location on the web for more information is here: http://mgpd.org/jiangan/
Without putting undue presentation effort on the martial arts aspect, I think it is something which should be considered – it isn’t just about waving your hands whilst shuffling along. But, Tai Chi isn’t about attacking the opponent – but indeed using the opponent’s own energies against them. This may be by moving out of their way (a side step), or using the opponents own momentum to redirect their energy, or simply knowing how people will react given certain situations. But there is also the use of the Chi energy that is generated in the body.
Chi – the directed energy – is not unlike the druidic term of Nwyfre. In the same way that we use our ritual and practices to summon and direct the flow of Awen energy or Nwyfre we can also use tai chi to summon and direct Chi. Focusing this energy can allow us to perform what appears to be great examples of strength (an example I recently read was of the Tai Chi Master Zheng Man Qing who could demonstrate sending a 200 pound man flying across a room, but found that a bowling ball was too heavy for him to use!).
Studying any form of Tai Chi is something which will take the practitioner a lifetime as they move from making the movements, through understanding the purpose of the movement to refining and defining the movements. Ensuring that the body is “held” so that the head does not bob up and down is a common learning point as the practitioner develops their style; correct foot placement complementing effective hand movement is also a major learning step, as well as developing a solid contact with the ground to aid balance.
holding the Chi Ball
The image was taken just after I had moved from “Raise Hands” before “Parting the Wild Horses Mane”. The cupped hands are held as if I was holding a beach ball – but in fact this is considered to be a storing of chi energy before sending out through the next movement.
As I started on this seminar, I made reference that Tai Chi has a spiritual aspect, Taoism. Taoism does not have a specific book to define what it is or how a follower should act or behave, although the book “Tao De Ching” by Lao Tzu is considered to be the definitive document on the subject. However, like all good mythical books it contains 81 verses which mean it could be read in an afternoon – but will take a lifetime to understand. As an example, the opening verse goes:
The Tao that can be known is not Tao.
The substance of the World is only a name for Tao.
Tao is all that exists and may exist;
The World is only a map of what exists and may exist.
One experiences without Self to sense the World,
and experiences with Self to understand the World.
The two experiences are the same within Tao;
they are distinct only within the World.
Neither experience conveys Tao
which is infinitely greater and more subtle than the World.
On a personal journey point, I see the Tao (pronounced “Dow”) is effectively a name for bundling all the energy that exists into one manageable lump. As we are all energy, that includes us – and this (for me, anyway) neatly links to the interconnected nature that we live in, and includes spirits, guardians and elements of this world and others. If it’s made of energy, it’s in there. For me, the link between Chi and Nwyfre is a very strong one; Awen as an energy process could be included within the Tao, but it is slightly more complicated for me to make that connection.
The Tai Chi forms focus on movement in one of eight directions; these neatly link to the “Ba Gua” which translates to the 8 trigrams which represent the fundamental principles of reality. For those learning rituals within OBOD, you may be able to see the link from the Ba Gua to the quarter and cross-quarter ritual points of the circle – again, something which resonates with me.
In one of his presentations, our Chosen Chief made reference to how spiritualism today could be likened to a river, picking up on tributaries of different spiritual paths and coming together to make one flow. For me, I have found great synchronicity within my Tai Chi practice and Meditation; and also my druidic belief and Taoism.
Earlier on in this essay, I said I would describe the opening form and the first step “Raise hands”, so here it is:
Shake yourself down, so you can mentally be in a calm state. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, both pointing forwards (rather than angled in or outwards – although at first it may feel like the heel is pushed out a little). Feel yourself drawn upwards by a chord attached to the top of your head, but bend your knees slightly. Your arms should be straight down by your sides, but the back of your hands should be facing forward.
Before you begin, breathe out.
As you breathe in, raise your arms and hands to shoulder height. This should be a slow steady raise, taking 3-4 seconds. Your breath should be “in your belly” rather than just in the upper part of your chest. The hands are a little loose – a good analogy is to imagine that you are raising a garage door with the back of your hands. The door rises easily, but there is a little resistance to control your speed.
When your arms reach should level, allow your fingers to “catch the wind” before you lower your arms again.
As you lower your arms, (palms slightly before fingers), slowly lower your body, bending your knees a little and breathe out. Then as you breath in, you repeat the exercise.
I uploaded a short video to Youtube= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYJF9Xhu84Q
A full video of the yang short form can be found on the web – I quite liked this clip:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUBqtIUHd-g
Bob Fremor (who recorded the clip) has several martial arts clips. This is him demonstrating the Traditional Sword form:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQgpgnu6MWM
Thank you for reading all the way to the end here! I should stress again that I am not a qualified instructor – just someone who has started on this exciting path and was keen to share with friends!Links:
A little on the Tai Chi Ruler can be found here: http://www.taichido.com/
A little on the Chinese Wand can be found here: http://taichiinherts.com/
(need to click the Chinese Wand Initiative)
The Tai Chi Union for Great Britain can be found here: http://www.taichiunion.com/