Archive for the ‘Tai Chi’ Category

Stop thinking or your brain will freeze like that!

March 13th, 2009 2 comments

I think too much.
(Maybe I also say “I think too much” too much.)

In classes past, while teaching me a move, Ben would say that I should stop thinking so much. Part of that admonishment stuck with me, but i also pushed back a bit, because I have this attachment to being clever … or to this image of myself as a clever person. But, in an attempt to follow Ben’s direction I would think less (and practise more), but only when doing that move. That class. Then I’d get all clever again, thinking of clever ways to find the “key” to another move, to discover the pattern linking it with other moves, the best way to describe it to someone else, and so on.

Then last night, on a visit to Doug’s class, we were discussing another student. Doug said to me “he’s too much in his head. Like you.”


Now we weren’t working on a move, we were just talking. So I had no alternative but to apply Doug’s statement (echoing Ben’s admonishments) to my entire Tai Chi and Lok Hup practice. Hey, probably my squash, too. So without an exit strategy where I could continue to be clever about whatever move we weren’t discussing, I had to actually consider the statement and reflect upon it more deeply.

Hopefully, with one of my last thoughts on the matter, here’s what came out of that:

Being clever won’t help me with Tai Chi.

In fact, it’s detrimental. For a number of reasons. When I think I’ve solved a problem through reason (“good for me!”), I don’t practice it to make it internal and natural, I move on to the next problem. Alternately, if a problem is difficult to solve through reason, I keep at it … using reason. “There must be a way to solve this!” Bottom line: I’m getting in the way. I’m slowing things down. Believe it or not, the natural pace of things may be faster than the pace when we intervene! So in my impatience, I’m actually making things more difficult.

Not very Zen. Nor Dao.

So, naturally, I felt chuffed when I figured this out. Oops. Bad Steve.

So what to do? Nothing? Ehhrrmmm … maybe not. How about: watch, listen, enjoy the activity, whether I improve or not. Listen to the body because I enjoy listening, not because it will help me improve. And I shouldn’t do this non-doing because I want to improve. That’s faking it, and is just propagating the original situation.

I have to really, really not care so much. Maybe that’s it. Take a holiday from thinking. Don’t use words. Don’t compare. Don’t try to make sense of it. Just sense. Maybe relax the jaw. Drool. Okay, no drool.


Categories: Lok Hup, repetition, Tai Chi, Zen-like stuff Tags:

What about Qi?

February 26th, 2009 1 comment

I’ve developed a bit of an aversion to the idea that Qi (ch’i) or Qigong (ch’i kung) is magic. I think that something as old as Qigong, or as natural as Qi, is no more magical than life itself. Now it’s nice to be in awe of life and nature, but I find it more useful to be grateful and respectful.  To me, something real can be magical only as long as it’s a novelty. Yes, childbirth is a miracle, magical, but you might get two different opinions from a first-time pregnant mom-to-be and a mother giving birth to her seventh child.

Also, being in awe of something distances us from it. Along those lines, a friend of mine once referred to specific artists and writers as “gods”. Given that my friend is extremely intelligent, dynamic and creative, I felt that he was selling himself short, and if I recall, I told him so. As long as he thinks of these men as gods, he’ll never be as good as them. However, if he sees that they are just men, possessing talent and perseverance in some measure, he’ll see that their accomplishments are possible, given an adequate mix of talent, perseverance and luck.

If you’ve ever gained new abilities such as those that derive from an increased level of fitness, you’ve found that tasks that might have seemed beyond your reach are now possible, or even trivial. You probably don’t feel like a super-being — things are just easier, as if that ability were always there. Those stairs don’t seem so high. The walk seems shorter.

And Qi is like that. If we think it’s magic, we might never embrace it, and if we do encounter Qi, we might not believe it. If we think it’s a natural part of life, we’re more likely to embrace it and learn to use it. And it will seem quite natural, as if it were always there.

So what do I think Qi is?

I think it’s the thing that drives natural processes, such as blood circulation or muscular movement. We see it by studying those processes, not unlike the way we study wind forces by measuring the movement of air.

(In fact, I’d venture to say that we never measure the forces of the universe, we only measure their effects. Then we calculate the forces.  Physicists, please feel free to comment.)

The Chinese say that the Yi leads the Qi. This means that by concentrating the mind (Yi), we can increase the amount of energy (Qi) in a part of the body. It is the mind that moves the limbs, but also the mind that makes us sick or dizzy. Imagine your greatest fear, and check in with your physical response. Me, I imagine standing on the edge of a great precipice, and my body often reacts the same way whether I’m there or not.

Now … can we send Qi across a room? Does it flow down streets and stagnate in a bathroom with bad Feng Shui? I don’t know. One thing at a time. If, under favorable conditions, I can turn my hands pink by concentrating my mind, I’m happy for now.

Categories: Lok Hup, Tai Chi, Yiquan, Zen-like stuff Tags:

Tai Chi and … squash?

February 14th, 2009 No comments

Yin and Yang are everywhere. The push and pull, give and take  can be found in nature, relationships, negotiations, traffic flow and Tai Chi, of course. But squash?

When I took up squash (seriously) to burn calories and keep potential diabetes at bay, I thought it would complement my Tai Chi by adding something hard and fast to something soft and slow. I also wanted to see what would happen if I brought a Tai Chi player’s perspective to a game generally played by Type A executives.

Then something happened. Barbara Cooper happened. Barb is the Pro at Mayfair Lakeshore club, and The Squash Coach. Not just at the club level, but at the National and World level. We’re damn lucky to have her.  I took a lesson with Barb a few months ago, and aside from the gems she shared with me (in that lesson) that have taken six months (it seems) to gradually incorporate into my game, she showed me a very important thing when stroking the ball:

How to relax.

It was stunning. Instead of tightening up, I should relax into the shot. Drop into it. Use gravity.

Sound familiar?

For anyone who swings a bat, racquet or club for fun, this should come as no surprise. Swing it, don’t push it. Relax. Then comes power. When I relax and stroke the ball, it feels bloody therapeutic. There’s a smooth flow to it. I feel the ball on the strings as it sits there just a little longer, and I get to know the ball. And to have that kind of power without excessive tension … what a revelation.

One more thing. The best position to be on the court is in the center, on a spot called the “T”, because the lines on the court make a “T” there. Naturally, both players want to be there, but they can’t be there at the same time. As a result, they perform a complex dance as they make a shot, retreat to the T, avoid the opponent, make a shot, and so on. When viewing two expert players doing this from above, they remind me of …

… a fluid, dynamic yin/yang symbol.


Categories: interdisciplinary, squash, Tai Chi Tags:

Relax harder?

February 12th, 2009 2 comments

I’ve been made aware of a student who seems to be taking a “no prisoners” approach to learning Tai Chi, uttering phrases such as “I’ll learn this if it kills me!”

This brings to mind one of those little master-student stories. The student travels a great distance to learn Tai Chi from the master. He is granted an audience, approaches the master and with great enthusiasm, says: “Master, I desire to learn Tai Chi. I will work very, very hard at it. Tell me, how long will it take to master the art?” The Master replies, “ten years”. The student desperately pleads “but Master, what if I put my heart and soul into it, concentrating as hard as possible, infusing Tai Chi into my very being with great effort?” The Master replies, “twenty years”.

I’ll bet you’ve never heard that one before. The point is, Tai Chi is about yin and yang. Making things happen and letting things happen. If the student is all about harder, harder, harder, that’s all yang yang, yang. How will the student know soft? How will the student know yin?

The way to practice is practice often, practice with awareness and intention, but practice gently in order to keep our mind open, able to accept new things, things we didn’t expect to find. If we’re bogged down with expectations, we will only find what we expect to find.

Enough talk. Let’s practice.

Categories: Tai Chi, Zen-like stuff Tags:

The stages of Tai Chi progress

February 2nd, 2009 No comments

Most students go through a series of stages as they progress in their Tai Chi practice. This is my current impression of the order of the stages, which may be revised at any time. The order of the stages is also fluid, with students flowing in and out of a stage at different points in their progress.

Stage 1: gentle movement. At this stage, the students go through the motions pretty much like a slow-motion dance. At first, they may feel awkward, but eventually become accustomed to their own interpretation of the motions and postures of the set. 

Stage 2: relaxation. Once the students have an idea of which moves come next and how they want to perform the moves, they begin to actually enjoy doing the set and begin to relax as they do the slow-motion dance. It would be great if the student started practicing on his/her own at this point.

Stave 3: correction of structure. If the students continue to attend class, they will no doubt receive some correction from the instructor regarding their movements and postures. This is not meant to bring the appearance of the student’s performance closer to that of a particular master, but to help the student feel more connected while practicing. Usually these corrections teach the student to move from his/her core, to connect body parts through roundness and to remove extraneous motions.

Stage 4: internal sensitivity. Given that how the students feel is more important than how they look, at this point they need to evaluate their own postures and movements through increasing proprioception, or internal sensitivity. The students learn to better sense where their weight is, to sense whether they are moving limbs in isolation or in concert with the body core, or to sense where they are keeping tension in their body.

More advanced stages will be covered in a future post.

Categories: Tai Chi Tags: , ,