In martial arts, including Tai Chi Chuan, skill and strength are two of the importantant criteria for success. Skill can maximize strength and strength can maximize skill.
In Tai Chi Chuan skill and strength are cultivated in different ways from many other martial arts. There are the practices of slowness, relaxation and internal energy through repetitions done correctly.
In this issue there are two articles that can help our understanding of these training methods.
Jie Gu, an engineer at General Motors in Detroit, writes about explosive strength and sequential strength in great detail.
Dax Howard of Phoenix, AZ, who has studied Tai Chi in the US and in China writes about the progression of his understanding of softness and strength.
The learning process that occurs when one begins to learn Tai Chi is the key to developing movement and self-defense skills. In part it comes from the teacher but it is mostly achieved through the student's own practice and what he learns from that practice. Over time the student learns how to develop strength, including explosive strength, depending on his or her ability to develop song (relaxation) with integrated strength. A lot of this occurs through trial and error. The teacher can only take the student so far.
Some students feel that the teacher should teach them everything they need to know. This is incorrect. The responsibility always is with the student's effort. Tai Chi is an art and the artist is always learning and creating through his own efforts. A famous teacher from China told me his responsibility was to prevent the student from going off in the wrong direction in his practice.
Everyone comes to Tai Chi with different skills and assets. Some people are naturally very strong. Most are strong without flexibility in the joints. Some people are very relaxed but lack intregrated strength.
These can all be corrected through practice based on Tai Chi's classical writings.
One does not necessarily have to be perfect in one's form practice. One teacher I met was extremely relaxed and very strong when I did push hands with him. It was a case of arms of iron wrapped in cotton.. But his form was not what one would call precise.
In both of the articles by Jie Gu and Dax Howard there is important information to be used in practice.
Karl van Bronkhorst of Woodland, CA, writes about the use of Tai Chi for Post Traumatic Stress. Writing from his own experience as a war veteran, he describes what it is like to experience Post Traumatic Stress and how he found that learning and teaching Tai Chi helped him and others.
It is a moving article that shows how Tai Chi can help a person who has experienced trauma.
Similarly, the article by Michael S. Carey, M.D., describes how people with Parkinson's disease are benefiting from a class he teaches.
Dr. Carey of Winter Haven, FL, studies with Dimitri Mougdis and Dr. Carey teaches a 22-movement form.Tai Chi form and qigong developed by Vincent Chu of Brookline, MA. He reports reduced stress, increased energy and significant improvement in balance and muscle tone.
Just from looking at the photos of the students in the class you can see they are making serious efforts, perhaps more than students from the general public who often are more casual in their efforts.
Dax Howard writes of his difficulty dealing what he feels is the strength of his teacher during push hands and his own inability to make relaxed adjustments.
This is a problem of communication and self understanding. Many teachers can not explain what they do or how they do it. Dax Howard feels he has solved the problem through dealing with a translator and discussion with his teacher. Many aspects of Tai Chi are non verbal. One has to penetrate its secrets by trial and error and only after having reached a non verbal solution can one attempt understand verbally.
Tony Burris, L.Ac., of Boise, ID, who writes about Taoist meditaton has been practicing the healing, spiritual and martial traditions of China for nearly 20 years. This has including training with Taoist masters. He owns Eagle Acupuncture in Boise, ID. His patients have included many professional athletes.
Meditation is not for everyone. But Tai Chi and Chinese martial arts incorporate many aspects of meditation that are helpful in daily life. Although many religions find meditation useful, meditation in itself is not necessarily religious since it is based on experience rather than faith.
Wickmann organizing classes
Jim Wickman of Eugene, OR, was a student of Choy Kam Man of the famous Choy family in San Francisco. In the Spring issue he wrote about how to learn Tai Chi. In this issue, as he nears retirement from teaching, he writes with advice for young but experienced practitioners who might be contemplating teaching.