Friday, July 1, 2016

Tai Chi Tip: Music?

A question that has come up a lot in the past is whether or not one should listen to music while practicing Taiji. Some people say it's fine, some say it doesn't matter, and other shun the idea of listen to music while practicing altogether. Does it really matter all that much? If you listen to music while training is it actually going to hinder your progress, or will practicing in silence really advance your training at an increased rate?

It is very common for new Taijiquan students to prefer listening to music while training. It helps them find the flow in the movements, keeps their minds more focused, and helps drown out the mental and emotional noise pouring in from the outside world. In fact, while I was teaching I always had tranquil, instrumental music playing in the background during each class. I found that it helped set the mood for the class and allowed my students to stay focused a little better.

With such obvious benefits arising from listening to music while training, why would anyone discourage this practice in training? There are many reasons that could be given, everything from it hindering your ability to focus on your own without musical aid, to it creating an artificial sense of flow that stunts you in finding the flow of the movements within yourself. However, instead of giving a list of reasons why music should or should not be used during training, I would like to view music as a tool that can be used during training and examine the point at which music becomes a stumbling stone in training.

Using music during practice is an excellent starting place for a beginner, for all of the previously mentioned reasons. The focus, the flow, the tranquility it provides, aid new students in letting go of everything else and becoming present within their training. However, this tranquility is artificial and as a student progresses it is important that they learn to develop tranquility, to find their flow, and to become present without the aid of music. A sort of weening period may be necessary, in which music is used less and less during training, until the student is able to find all of the flow, tranquility, and presence within her/himself. When a Taiji practitioner can find all of these things within, then music does not matter because the art is coming from inside and the presence or absence of music will not effect the source of the student's abilities.

For beginners music may be necessary, but for students who have been training a while, music becomes a hindrance at the point at which it is a crutch used to find a flow externally, that should be coming from within. But why does it matter whether the peace that one experiences during their Taiji training is because they have developed tranquility and flow through training his/her mind and body, or whether it is because she/he has some really good music on? It matters because finding things that are easy to find is not a skill worth training to acquire. In other words, if one can become peaceful in a peaceful environment, then he/she has not learned any new useful skill that can be applied in a stressful environment. When soft music is playing, it is easy to feel tranquil and stay focused, but when soft music is not playing it can become more difficult and when the environment as anything but peaceful it becomes even more difficult. Therefore, if you want to be able to use your Taijiquan skills to manage stress levels at work, handle social situations, or even to defend yourself, you need to train yourself to access those skills and draw them up from inside of you in any setting. This can be done by learning to train without the use of music and even can be carried further by occasionally training in noisy or busy areas.

In conclusion, I recommend the use of music during Taiji training, so long as the practitioner does not become dependent on it. So long as music does not become a crutch, it should not hinder any advancement in training and beginners will probably benefit more from the presence of music during training, than it's absence, while they are becoming familiar with a whole new world of movement and ideas that is wrapped up in Taijiquan.

To Your Health,
Shifu Andrew Plitt

P.S. If you don't enjoy taking pills, but you do enjoy taking vitamins, like me. I highly recommend that you try the liquid multi-vitamin Daily Complete on my online health store.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Update to Terminology Page

We have posted the Yang Tai Chi 13 Saber Form poem as well as links to the instruction videos for each segment of the form on our Chinese Terminology page.  We hope this will make it much easier to access this video series.  Stay tuned for more updates over the summer!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Tai Chi Tip: The Right Way and the Wrong Way - Part 2

....(continued from last post)....Most people that practice Tai Chi Chuan (hereafter simply referred to as Tai Chi, which is the commonly used nickname.) are doing so for the health benefits associated with Tai Chi training.  So we will address Tai Chi practice for health, first.  When a person is learning Tai Chi movements for health it is true that many of the fine details that are important for the fighting applications of Tai Chi are not a major point of focus in their training, but rather the focus is placed on large scale movements that are going to promote movement of the body in ways that will promote increased balance, coordination, etc.  So it is not necessary to follow a specific partner of movements with a high degree of precision to receive many of the health benefits of Tai Chi.  However, even when practiced for health, the basic Tai Chi principles should be adhered to for better results.  For example, proper alignment should be emphasized to avoid injury and to aid balance.  When a new student practices the movements of a Tai Chi form, it is not uncommon for knee injuries to occur due to poor knee alignment.  If it were true that one cannot practice Tai Chi incorrectly, this could not happen.  However, as with any other physical activity, there is a "right" (safer) and "wrong" (more dangerous) way of performing the movements.  So, the statement in question, does not hold true for Tai Chi when it is practiced for health.

How about for the fighting applications of Tai Chi?  Is it possible to do them wrong?  Oh yes, it is possible, and you will know immediately when it happens.  However, there is a high degree of variability in how each techniques is applied because every person with which you practice will be different and the technique must be adapted to fit each situation.  However, the fundamental principles of the technique do not change, only the way in which the principles are applied.  Even in Tai Chi form practice for martial arts there are a number of variations in how each move is practiced, and these variations are simply ways in which to emphasize a particular aspect of the fighting technique.  So long as the basic principles are correct, and we are only considering variations of correct techniques, then I believe it is safe to say that there is no right or wrong way to practice, because each variation serves its purpose.  However, without those restrictions, it is very possible to practice wrong in the case of Tai Chi training for martial purposes.

So, from where would such a statement come?  Why would it be passed around so often and repeated so frequently by Tai Chi players?  There are a few of different applications for this statement in the world of Tai Chi, but they are not without specified boundaries.

One such application is, as I mentioned before, when referring to different technique variations, or even different styles of Tai Chi.  Saying that there is no right or wrong way serves as a reminder that while there may be some methods that are preferred by some styles over others, as long as they are useful, and adhere to the principles of Tai Chi, they are valid.  It can be used to unite Tai Chi practitioners of different teachers and different styles, because we are all practicing Tai Chi here.

Another application of this statement is in reference to mastery.  When one has sufficiently internalized the principles of Tai Chi, to a point at which they no longer have to concentrate on maintaining those principles, because they have become second nature, then they are no longer confined to specific "right" techniques.  They are free to be creative and adapt to any new situation, by inventing their own techniques if necessary.  For them, there is no right or wrong way of doing...... it is just a matter of doing, because their mastery of the basic principles opens up a whole new world of possibilities to them.  However, few people truly reach a place in their understanding of Tai Chi where they can actually improve on the generations of training and experience that have gone into the creation of the various styles of Tai Chi that we know today.

Saying that there is no right way or wrong way to practice Tai Chi has its applications, beyond what we have even discussed here.  However, as with any skill, there is a great amount of time and training that must go into developing a deep understanding of the basics before the practitioner has a firm enough grasp on the skill to begin to truly express herself/himself in an new ways.  And in Tai Chi, as with any skill, there are correct ways to practice and incorrect ways.  So, appreciate the uses for such a statement, in appropriate settings, but do not let it become an excuse to ignore foundational principles that are necessary for good Tai Chi training.

To Your Health,
Shifu Andrew Plitt

P.S.  If you don't enjoy taking pills, but you do enjoy taking vitamins, like me.  I highly recommend that you try the liquid multi-vitamin Daily Complete on my online health store