Author Archives: playingtaichi

Tai Chi at PRO Martial Arts

The primary instructors at PRO Martial Arts teach Tang Soo Do karate, but as the audience drawn to a martial arts school does not always desire to learn karate, other disciplines are offered.  At PRO Martial Arts in Cranberry Township, classes in Kickboxing, Krav Maga, and Tai Chi Chuan are also provided.

While the principal aim for teaching Tai Chi Chuan at PRO Martial Arts is to develop a lasting group of students desirous of progressing through the ranks of the Tai Chi curriculum, we are also interested in developing martial arts enthusiasts who like to try different arts simultaneously. That’s the beauty of the PRO Martial Arts program: karate-enthusiasts can go up the interaction ladder to Krav Maga, or up the meditation/flexibility ladder to Tai Chi, or up the extreme cardio ladder to Kickboxing.  Tai Chi enthusiasts would do well to include karate or kickboxing level cardio in their exercise programs, although the primary customer for Tai Chi is usually over the age of 50 and may not yet have enough conditioning or mobility to engage in a more heavily-cardio program.

Many Tai Chi students and masters feel that the Tai Chi forms are all you need for complete exercise…and in a sense, that is true.  But the Tai Chi forms can be extensive, and once all are learned, then together they can really ramp up the heart rate.  But reaching a level of cardio needed for health improvement and maintenance may take longer than if karate or kickboxing were also included, so a student should seriously consider the other arts has he/she looks into learning Tai Chi.

..Alex.

Tai Chi Class at Cranberry Township Community Center

Tonight, Tuesday, February 25th, is the first night of a six-week Tai Chi class at the Cranberry Township Community Center.  The class will introduce my “Video Taiji Form 1″ over the six classes.  This “Form 1″, based upon the Yang Family style of Tai Chi Ch’uan, was developed as part of my Video Taiji YouTube video series for the purpose of providing those of limited movement, or with limit room in which to move, to have a short sequence of exercise and meditation movements available.

The form consists of these six named postures:

1. Commencement
2. Part Wild Horses’ Mane
3. White Crane Spreads Wings
4. Fair Maiden Works Shuttles
5. Snake Creeps Down the Tree
6. Cross Hands/Embrace the Tiger

Like most Tai Chi forms, while the named postures are few in number, the actual movements number many more. With repetitions, there are 15 primary movements/stances in Video Taiji Form 1, with many interstitial or transitional movements, along with associated breathing patterns and hidden self-defense applications.

The primary movements in this form which relate to Tai Chi’s 13 underlying postures, Ward Off, Pull Back, Press, Push, Shoulder, Elbow, Split, Pull Down, Left, Right, Forward, Backward, and Center, are Ward Off, Split, and Pull Down.  Ward Off is found in both Part Wild Horses’ Mane and Fair Maiden, while Pull Down is found in Snake Creeps Down. Unlike most other Tai Chi forms, however, the 13th primary movement, “Center”, is actually the primary movement in this form, as the form continually moves from a centered placement, never moving more than two or three feet in any one direction.

See YouTube for my representative videos:

“Video Taiji Sixteen: Our Form” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcpMo383IqI
“Video Taiji 48: Video Taiji Form 1” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APphQWQqymc
Class document: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zD1J_8OyTm3rByoDWvyMNm7jf0kOGjF2rjhL5cmaR8E/edit?usp=sharing

..Alex.

Extend Your Life

John Wesley wrote in his book “The Desideratum: or, Electricity Made Plain and Useful”, published in 1759, “there cannot be in Nature any such Thing as an absolute Panacea: A Medicine that will cure every Disease incident to the human Body.” Today, 254 years later, we still find our culture obsessed over panaceas–ways to cure all of our ills, especially that of mortality.

Tai Chi, that wonderful set of Chinese exercises which evokes images of energy, golden health, and long life, is frequently billed as a panacea for many physical issues in modern life. This idea of curative properties of this ancient art is scattered throughout much of the literature supporting the art, and is echoed across the internet.  Search either Google or Bing the words “tai chi cure”, and you find loads of articles about Tai Chi being the best thing for Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, Cancer, and of course, Old Age.

Naturally, many of these headlines are meant to draw eyeballs to the articles themselves, which may go on to explain some new ideas called “yin”, “yang”, and “chi/qi” or reference the use of Tai Chi exercise in some medical study which has subsequently been published in a leading medical journal. The truth of the matter, though, is that Tai Chi itself will cure nothing, other than perhaps the empty purse of the person seeking to teach it.

How can I say this horrible thing, flying in the face of centuries of Tai Chi/Qi Gong practitioners and Traditional Chinese Medicine healers, educating the West on this rich history of cure? While this next statement may appear obvious, it is the last idea that anyone arrives at: Tai Chi and related arts _are_ potentially curative, but only as one facet in an over-all curative lifestyle change or focus.

Ahhh. Lifestyle change. Yeah, that’s what all the soothsayers say. But I’m a modern person. Surely I just need to pop some antioxidant pills to ward off disease and early death. Oh, and a glass of red wine, too, right?

Wrong.  Lifestyle change means more than seeking the latest fad, and Tai Chi can be seen as just a fad, if it is not part of a sweeping change to the way we live and view our lives. Our lives are cyclical month to month, season to season, year to year, and react to environmental effects of water, air, food, climate, and human society. HFCS aside, our children are actually on the right track by pursuing all sorts of sports alongside education – a high level of exercise along with good diet and strenuous mental challenges are the three legs of an ideal lifestyle.  If you include Tai Chi in your “high level of exercise” leg, then it can be seen to be “curative”.  But if all you focus on is Tai Chi, and stick to an unhealthy diet and no mental challenges, the Tai Chi is just as effective as the latest antioxidant craze.

So, here is your recipe for using Tai Chi to extend your life, in three parts:

1. Develop an overall exercise plan, to include
- a continuous movement art like Tai Chi, dancing, Karate (other martial art), swimming, bicycling, etc.
- a cardiovascular-specific workout to enhance heart health, increase endurance/stamina
- some form of meditation to give your mind wakeful rest

2. Develop an overall dietary plan, to minimize heart disease potential and cancer potential
- high in fiber and protein, using least-processed foods
- low in alcohol (1-2 drinks per week, instead of per day, if any at all)
- higher than normal consideration for water

3. Exercise your mind more than average
- learn an art, like writing, painting or Tai Chi (learning the Tai Chi forms can be very challenging)
- full-time employment or volunteering much of your time allows you to interact with other people and accomplish tasks which will keep your mind active
- attend social activities weekly, such as a church, club, volunteer group, or business/breakfast group.

Implementing these three legs, while time-consuming, is absolutely imperative to not only extending your life (whatever that means), but also enhancing the likelihood for you to actually say “Tai Chi did it for me!” or “my new diet did it for me!” or “joining XYZ social group did it for me!”.  The goal here is extending “the quality” of life by building in disease-avoidance.  After all, it’s the journey itself and not the destination that is the goal.

..Alex.

 

Perseverance

Perseverance is a fancy way of saying keeping walking forward toward your destination despite naysayers and blinding snowstorms. Sometimes the effort will pay off, others it won’t. But, you will have accomplished something that few others can admit to: having set a goal and journeyed towards it.

Perseverance can be about achieving a personal goal, a community goal, a national or a global goal, against all apparent odds. Say you have heart disease, and you’ve had a quadruple bypass and subsequent stents. Are you achieving your goals, or just lucky to be standing at this point?  It depends on your goals.  If you’ve no goals beyond continuing to exist moment by moment, keep up with your current diet.  But if your goal is to push through to the next decade or so, consider vastly altering your diet, to the tune of cutting out any source of dietary cholesterol.

Perseverance is a great word, but applying it day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month takes continual changes in your attitude.  Changing your attitude one day does not work…you have to work the change into your overall lifestyle. For heart disease, just cutting our red meat ain’t enough. Consider removing all meat, learning to love beans and greens, limiting salt, limiting dairy, and generally adopting a whole new you. For job loss, if a new gig is not immediately apparent, consider needing to re-write who you are, what you need, where you are going.  When new arrows are put into your quiver, new paths become much more possible.

Interesting that the post “Color” had barely anything to do with color and Tai Chi.  That’s the danger of starting a blog post one day, and then actually writing it days later. Ideas morph. My original thoughts ran along the lines of the application of the color spectrum to the concept of weight distribution changes.  Tai Chi deals with constant change. Do no become married to one color or color combination.  Open yourself up to all possibilities. Become more adaptable.  Tai Chi is not the solution to your problems, it is merely a facet of the overall solution.  All of your tools should follow that doctrine too: they are each merely parts of the over plan you need to once again forge ahead successfully.

..Alex.

Color

Age, Change, Color, Movement, Perseverance, Love.

Those are the topics for my six Tai Chi classes at the Hampton Holistic Center this Fall. I’ve done the first four, with “Perseverance” occurring tonight.

Perseverance is the mark of the student who has lasted through more than one class.

Perseverance is the mark of the teacher eager to teach new students.

Perseverance is evident with every newly finished work of art: a book, a painting, a play, a contractual agreement, a building.

While perseverance in Tai Chi can be the completion of a set of exercises, the real deal shows if you are still doing the same (and new) things 5, 10, or 20 years down the road.

Are you?  Will you?

..Alex.

Change

It’s certainly cliche, but change is all around us. If you’re new to Tai Chi, perhaps change brought you to the first step on this path. If Tai Chi is “old hat” to you, then you’re many steps down a path that really has no ending, and exemplifies finding your way without needing to arrive.

Tai Chi represents change in many ways: we study changes in weight distribution forward and backward, up and down, left to right, and between ourselves and our assailant; we study the nature of our body’s movement – how the arms and legs move, how the hips/waist direct movement of the limbs; we study changes in how we perceive our surroundings as we learn the art – at first focusing close to monitor footwork and movement, and then focusing further afield to monitor our imagined adversary; we study how we breathe when we move, as we learn to visualize breath movement and seek to access the meditational levels of Tai Chi; and we seek to study how an adversary moves so that we can learn the self-defense aspects of each and every movement in this art.

Change continues outside of us as we learn Tai Chi, and it is this change perhaps to which we need to pay closer attention.  Tai Chi is hopefully teaching us to be more calm and philosophical in the face of change: the ways in which our family’s grow and adapt, the ways in which we personally grow and adapt to work and society, and the ways in which society changes to ongoing ups and downs.

We each pay attention to different arena’s of change: some have a focus on the social scene, some on politics, some on sports, some on the comedy in life situations, and some the business side of life.  Of course many people are able to blend a couple or several of these areas, in varying depths of understanding.

Looking to the business side of things, I recently heard news that in addition to increased (five-fold) foreign investment, Myanmar, a.k.a, Burma, is experiencing workers organizing for better work conditions. Adam Smith’s invisible hand generally needs help from the visible voice of concerned workers. I believe that worker organization will run its course in the Asian economies, bringing about worker-focused reform, while encouraging even more investment.

The “developing” economies of the world are in many cases are only now going through the industrial revolution and work-life revolution that the long-industrialized sectors of the globe began to work through long ago.  This is change on a huge scale, on a scary, in-person scale, to be sure, but it is change that must occur: if these economies are to catch up with their peers, they must (or should) also learn to work with their employees for the betterment of all.

Note that the binoculars of social change looks not only outward to the rest of the world, but must also look back to the long-industrialized parts of the globe.  As life is in constant flux, America for instance is not perfect: we have many labor and business issues that are in dire need of resolution, some of which are rearing their heads right here in Pittsburgh, PA as the long road from manufacturing-based employment continues to shift over to service-employment.

Does your study of Tai Chi, whatever the intensity, give you greater perspective as you move through life?

..Alex.

Age

I saw a plaque nailed to a wall the other day that read “Your Life is comprised of two dates and dash. Make the most of that dash.”  I didn’t fully comprehend at the moment what the word dash meant.  Was it that everything goes so fast, that is dashing back and forth everywhere we go on a daily basis? Or, perhaps that the life that we live follows a line, though I admit that the line is seldom straight.  Then, reality caught up with my brain: “Date – Date”, e.g., “1872 – 1925″.  Oh, that kind of dash. Everything I do or do not do is reduced to a single character representing the correlation between the year I was born and the year I died.  On a tombstone.  In a public records book.

Sobering.

What the heck? What am I doing to make the most of that dash? What part of my life, or what is it about my life that deserves expansion beyond a simple dash?

Nothing.

Well, not nothing – I have an awesome family which I love very much and am loved by – but nothing Earth-shattering.  I haven’t found a new continent, discovered a vaccine for cancer, led anyone in combat, or given millions of greenbacks to charity.

I’ve had many excellent friendships, have an amazingly loving family, have worked 9to5 jobs and have paid bills to creditors for decades. The primary thread that has developed, aside from much unproductive day-dreaming, has been a habit of studying martial arts, particularly Tai Chi.

How can merely studying a martial art lead to mention beyond a dash?  Lao Tzu and Confucius already performed the hard work of developing the underpinning philosophies of Taoism and Confucianism. Countless others have commented expertly on these writings, and/or translated them into their own languages. Others have documented the biggest and smallest details of Tai Chi itself: Wen Shan Huang’s Fundamentals of Tai Chi Ch’uan, Wang Peisheng and Zeng Weiqi’s Wu Style Taijiquan, or Zhang Yun’s The Complete Taiji Dao.

My unique contribution is a positive attitude, blended with study of Tai Chi Ch’uan, and my “new” art of Tang Soo Do.  By bringing a positive attitude/outlook to the study and the teaching of these arts, I can make a difference in the lives of my family, students and community. Time will tell whether history will remember me as well as those above, but what matters today is how I interact with family, friends, teachers and students … and a positive attitude is critical to achieving positive relations with everyone. Positive attitude will embody the dash between my years.

..Alex.

The iPad’s Magical Energy

When Apple, Inc.’s CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPad tablet as “a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price” he was certainly talking about the iPad’s ease of use. Like any great statement, however, many translations exist. I prefer to see Steve talking about the iPad as the amazing translation of Apple’s perseverance in developing the optimal computing device for every global citizen.

While perseverance is the key word here, the translation of that word is also very important. Had Apple merely stuck with the tried and true desktop PC model and come out with an evolutionary product, that would certainly have been both an understandable result of vision and perhaps have augmented the global supply of desktop computers.  But here the translation was to a device which did not need a keyboard, a floppy drive, or even a power cord, and yet provides nearly all the computing power a person needs. Note that previous attempts at a tablet computer by other companies did not take the world by storm, so this unique recipe of perseverance was indeed magical.

In the I Ching (Yijing), the Book of Changes, the meaning of perseverance can go many ways, but the general idea is that perseverance, or continual hard work, generally brings good fortune. This good fortune can appear to others to be what I’ll call “magical energy”, or simply “magic”, but in the end it is always the result of somebody’s hard work.

The I Ching’s hexagram 30, Li — The Clinging, Fire, yields several different translations. The judgements vary thusly:

“Let (its subject) also nourish (a docility like that of) the cow, and there will be good fortune.”
– trans by James Legge, 1882, (c) University Books, Inc., 1964, 1986

“The clinging. Perseverance furthers.
It brings success.
Care of the cow brings good fortune.”
– trans by Wilhelm/Baynes, (c) 1950, 1971

“Compliance with the shifts of fortune assures survival. Symbol of docility, a cow was also an important capital reserve for farmers.”
– trans by Kerson and Rosemary Huang, (c) 1985, 1987

The Wilhelm/Baynes “Perseverance furthers” is the most widely quoted phrase from the various interpretations of this trigram, meaning that hard work over a long time generally yields good results. Just as the ideas, technology, and implementation of Steve Jobs and company yielded a “magical and revolutionary device”, anyone seeking a goal must turn away from distractions and work hard toward the attainment of that goal. I. A. Smalis puts it best in his book “Money: Only a By-Product”: “Turn off that blasted television and concentrate on your goals!”

..Alex.

 

Yin and Yang Changes Everything

“Okay, yeah, I’ve heard of this yin and yang thing…it’s that strange black and white swirly symbol, right?”

“Ying and Yang, you mean?”

“Uh, no, never heard of them…”

Whether you have heard of Yin and Yang or not is not important, but that they exist in every facet of your life is important, and more to the point, you have a large amount of control over how they impact you. These two concepts that we borrow from the Chinese philosophy known as Taoism (pron “Dow-ism”) go hand-in-hand to describe a great number of systems with which we humans interact.

Yin and Yang represent two opposite ideas such as cold and hot, wet and dry, black and white, less and more, light and heavy, etc. I propose to you that the versions of Yin and Yang that may describe our individual lives are generally controllable, and beneficial if we can control them appropriately.  The ways that we feel, eat, act, and live we generally have control over.  Excesses and deficiencies in these areas are what drive us to feel good or bad, behave appropriately or not, and perform well or not well.

Food and drink are a prime example.  While periodic over- or under-eating is not going to greatly affect us, consistently eating too much of some foods and not enough of others may, if our body is unable to withstand that activity over a long period, adversely affect us. We have learned that drinking too much alcoholic beverage over many years can lead to weight gain, systemic diseases, or even death.  We are now learning how eating too much meat, sweets or grains over time can lead to health complications.  And while coffee and tea have driven civilization forward over the past several hundred years, increased caffeine intake over many years can exacerbate various health conditions.

In studying Tai Chi, we learn that a constant interplay of changing balance from one side to the other, from Yin to Yang, helps us move forward on generally an even keel. Your life can similarly have an even keel, moving forward without running into major problems, if you learn how to maintain an adequate level of exercise, learn to hydrate your body consistently with the correct liquids, and seek to maintain a more calm or less caustic personality such that our interpersonal relations do not stress us out.

Can you now see this interplay of Yin and Yang in your life? What in your life could you do more of, or less of, to seek to regain your balance going forward?

..Alex.

Creative Destruction and Learning

It struck me, in reading the I Ching yesterday, that #48, Ching / The Well, is followed intentionally by #49, Ko / Revolution, signifying the need for both strong fundamental structures and periodic tearing down of those structures. Schumpeter’s creative destruction of capitalism is the modern embodiment.

When you are learning an art as complex as Tai Chi / Taiji, the structure of the series of exercises must be broken down into elemental portions, just as to learn to apply the quadratic equation, you must start with addition and subtraction.  Once you get to the level of putting the elemental parts together, you have to destroy your concept of what the Tai Chi movements mean.  Instead of being a series of distinct exercises, the Tai Chi forms or patterns are now a vehicle for several higher functions: meditation via breathing, self-defense via applications, and a basis for weapon and two-person activities.

Where does the added function of Qi come into play?  Is it in the exercises, in the self-defense applications, in the meditation, or in the weapons/two-person forms?  The answer is all, and none of the above. The Qi must be “found” by the Tai Chi player as he/she learns to weave everything together.  The player builds the foundation, the superstructure of the forms/patterns, and as fluidity improves, knowledge of how the body moves coupled with how the body interacts with other bodies allows the player to begin to see what expression of Qi actually means.

Once you get to a very high level, it is very instructive to step back and see how to teach all this to a total beginner.  Only if the player is successful in that translation exercise will he/she be able to destroy the foundation previously built so that the true value of Tai Chi can be found. Hint: the true value is different for every single player, which as it turns out is true for most of life’s endeavors.

..Alex.