One of the challenges of learning Tai Chi Chuan is experiencing the contradictions of internal and external energies that we encounter. In the beginning it is mostly an external challenges of learning the physical forms but ever present are the challenges to emotional and mental abilities.
In this issue we have an article by Gu Xin Fa of Tianjin, China, translated by Cheng Xianhao of Philadelphia, who has contributed to T'AI CHI Magazine in the past.
Gu talks about establishing the weight center and balance, including dynamic balance.
He is said to be quite skilled in push hands and discusses valuable subtleties.
Steven Doob of Durango, CO, writes about the interaction of the inner and outer energies. As one progresses in the study of Tai Chi there is often a subtle understanding of the progression of how the energies and body interact for health and self-defense.
The key, however, is to always be trying to understand how they interact. Some interactions are easy. Others are not so easy. What Steve Doob is talking about is not so easy.
As one practices one begins to understand how different parts of the body interact, sometimes in surprising ways. As one practices and becomes familiar in the ways different parts of the body interact, we learn of different and beneficial options for moving in the right way with good central equilibrium and energy.
The good thing about Tai Chi is that all the abstractions can be instantly verified by how one feels when one does the movement. How the weight feels, how the hips sink, the kua opens, and how the weight and energy descend to the feet.
The energy can all be felt by the various parts of the body as they interact together. And, of course, it all depends on how well they interact together.
Thomas Bailor writes about his method of an inner dialog that helps to convey key principles to the body during practice.
It involves talking to yourself as you do the form to imbed certain important principles to your movements. Talking to yourself about what you are doing as you do your movements is an excellent way of practice. It is a way of learning to be your own teacher.
It is a way of reinforcing your intent and maintaining mindfulness. And by strengthening your mindfulness you help to stay aware, focused and less
Bailor began studying Yang style in 1987 at St. Mary's College of Maryland. He later learned Chen style and Xingyi from George Xu beginning in 1994 and continuing until the present.
Mak Tinghei has been practicing Tai Chi for the past 40 years and he has done extensive research into its history and theory.
Understanding the theory is not easy because of the difficulty of finding the right words to express certain feelings. Sometimes it takes a long time to be able to relax various parts of the body enough to become aware of the feelings in the feet, legs, hips, back, etc.
In a letter to the editor in this issue, David Newman reports being told to relax his lower back. But not everyone can do that.
Sometimes it can take years to become aware of the tension in the lower back and how it is inhibiting correct movement.
Even then, relaxing the lower back involves not just relaxing the lower back, but using the feet, the legs the hips, the torso and even the neck to loosen the lower back.
Even then the process can require multiple stages to achieve relief. And even after achieving some measure of relaxation, it can slip away if you don't continue to pay attention.
That raises the question of is learning faster better or smarter?
Confucius dealt with that question when he said: “If two people learn something and one person learns after 10 times and another person learns after a hundred times, if they both learn, then they are equal.”
One might say that the person who learned after 100 attempts learned more through having to make a greater effort.
Steve Doob has been practicing Tai Chi a long time and is also a long time student of George Xu of San Francisco. In his practice and his studies with Xu and Qian Zhao Hong has led him to an understanding of the separation of the internal and external.
This is an important insight into how to use the body and mind and how they work together, even moving in separate directions.
One of the powerful ways that Tai Chi learning works is that if you apply your mind to what you see and experience you can get new insights and experiences. But not all the time.
A teacher can be very good at setting an example and explaining methods and techniques, but at some point in the learning cycle, the student has to achieve his own insights based on his own experience.
Some of those insights fall by the wayside but other will be inspirational.
Many of the masters practiced endlessly. Chen Fa-ke was said to have practiced his Chen style 30 times a day.
Without pursuing insight to every step of the way, it would not have been as productive.
Sometimes it is necessary to practice to become more relaxed and set the stage for the next insight. Muscles, ligaments and tendons change as we learn to move them in a relaxed way.
But being open to insights that occur or are prompted by your individual efforts makes practice more productive and enjoyable.•