Friday, December 11, 2015

Tai Chi Tip: The Right Way and the Wrong Way - Part 1

One of my most memorable experiences from teaching Tai Chi classes was when a student brand new to my class simply refused to practice the basic movements I had shown her.  She insisted on following along with the students who were practicing a form.  I tried to explain that the reason I was showing her basic movements was to help her avoid building bad habits and possible practicing incorrectly.  After I finished my explanation, she shook her head, looked at me and said, "No, there is no right way or wrong way to do Tai Chi."  At first I thought she was joking, but when I realized she was serious, I simply nodded, said, "okay" and let her do whatever she wanted to for the rest of the class.  Looking back, I wish I had asked her a few more questions and engaged her in a conversation to find out what that statement meant to her, but at the time my only thought was that, with her mindset, there simply was not room for an instructor in her training.

However, I would like to address her comment here, as it is one I have heard repeated by various people on the subject of Tai Chi practice.  Let us start by establishing a distinction between Tai Chi (Taiji 太极) and Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan 太极拳).

Tai Chi is a concept that refers to the interactions and relationships between Yin energy and Yang energy.  It is a concept of balance between these energies as well as an understanding of how one neutralizes the other and also turns into the other.  It can be applied to pretty much every aspect of life.  For an oversimplified example, think of an extremely active person as being Yang and a sleeping person as being Yin.  If a person is always on-the-go and never stops to rest, he/she is out of balance and the results will be less than favorable.  Therefore, and active (Yang) lifestyle can be balanced by adequate rest (Yin).  To live a long healthy life, balance is necessary and, in a similar manner, the concept of Tai Chi can be used in nearly every aspect of a person's life.  In this regard, I would almost agree that there is no right way or wrong way to do Tai Chi, so long as one is seeking balance.....although, to be fair, it would not be a very strenuous mental exercise to think of ways in which even the concept of balance could be used incorrectly in daily life.

Since Tai Chi is a concept, why do we say that people are practicing Tai Chi when they are doing a set of slow movements or practicing push hands?  The answer is quite simple.  What those people are actually practicing is Tai Chi Chuan.  The term "Chuan" in Tai Chi Chuan means "fist" or "fighting style."  It is a term that is added to the names of many Chinese martial arts to identify them as fighting styles.  Shaolin Chuan would mean the Shaolin (A Buddhist monastery) fist, or the fighting style of the Shaolin Temple.  Wing Chun Chuan means, the fighting style of a woman named Yim Wing Chun.  So when we say Tai Chi Chuan, what we are saying is, "The fighting style based on the concept of Tai Chi."  One of the most popular concepts of Tai Chi Chuan is to yield and redirect (Yin) an opponent's attack (Yang), thus demonstrating the interplay between Yin and Yang in the concept of the maritial art.  When we say that people that are practicing slow movements are practicing Tai Chi, we are really saying that they are practicing movements based on the martial art Tai Chi Chuan, whether they are practicing for martial training purposes or simply for health.  Now, the actual physical practice of Tai Chi (Chuan) is where "correct" practice is very important.

To be continued...


To Your Health,
Shifu Andrew Plitt


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