Tai chi is about feeling the flow. Going with the grain, not against it. Naturalness. Smoothness. Receptivity. Ease.
You need to be in touch with these things. If your urge is to tense-up; physically, mentally, emotionally - then you should not teach anyone anything. You need to work on yourself more.
Forcing is just not tai chi. In fact, it is as far removed from tai chi as you can get.
There is a danger in believing yourself to be calm, relaxed, open and composed. But are you? How do you respond to pressure, to crisis? Does being thwarted cripple you? Tai chi students commonly imagine themselves balanced only to lock-up horrendously when surprised. Force is not the way...
Working on yourself is where you should begin and where you should end. Gain the knowledge, the experience, the skills, but also go further and make sure that you are balanced and in tune. Get third-party assessment. Listen to people. Learn not to take life too seriously. Or yourself. Especially not yourself.
Real composure comes from being detached and a little laid back about life.
You stop taking things quite so seriously, especially yourself.
Being emotionally honest with yourself is crucial. You should not suppress or pretend.
Feel whatever emotion comes your way and if it is adverse, contemplate the cause.
Dig deep and find out the source of your upset. Work to remedy the problem if you can.
The beginners syllabus is an introduction to tai chi. You are not expected to understand it straight away. Understanding takes time.
People often try to understand tai chi in terms of something else: boxing, judo, karate, wing chun. This is like considering Paul in terms of Peter.
A beginner initially lacks context. As they practice, the pieces slowly come together and the art makes sense.
After 20 years of tai chi chuan and baguazhang practice this is a long-overdue acknowledgement from a very difficult teacher to learn from.
Once this is comfortable, work for a whole-body action such that the movements come from the feet, right through to the fingertips.
You must work at stretching out your tendons and ligaments, reaching further without strain.
Be careful not to lift the sternum.
Eventually, you lead from the centre, which is an experienced-level skill.
They assume to know.
This is like the notion of 'mastery'.
The word 'master' suggests an end, a conclusion. But is there such a condition? Surely all students of tai chi are evolving.
If you are not growing and changing, you become stagnant and stale.
Taoism and zen recognise the significance of process. Everything is changing.
There is no still point, no end.
How we see things is changing as we change.
Are your current thoughts and beliefs the same ones you held as a toddler/a young child?
Everything is provisional. Existence is protean.
In terms of people, the aesthetic appears to be that of a television celebrity teenager: wrinkle-free, smooth-skinned, pubescent body and straight hair.
Television uses make-up and lighting, as do magazine photographers.
What you see is not real.
Adults actually turn to the butchery of cosmetic surgery in the hope of looking like a teenager again.
There is a danger in believing illusions and attempting to re-shape your looks to fit them.
Knowing your material is not enough. Helping others encourages you to see the art in a very different way. Practicing is one thing. Explaining is another. It makes you re-consider the art and how it operates.
If a student with no teaching experience in class suddenly sought to be a teacher, I'd seriously question their motives. What makes them convinced that they have something to teach? Also, with no demonstration of a helping nature, what makes them imagine themselves capable or willing? It is a little naive.
A good student teacher has fun teaching. There is humour, rapport, skill present at all times. They know how to adapt, change and improvise. How to turn things on their head.
Students are asked to offer commentaries on koan, Tao Te Ching and martial theory before being taught new material.
You are invited to notice things, to examine, explore, see further and find things out for yourself.
If you do not see the details, how can you progress?
However, many would-be instructors have something in mind that requires a shorter-term commitment.
Herein lies the problem.
Are the prospective instructors already skilled at tai chi?
If they cannot do it themselves, how do they expect to teach it?
To teach, you must have experience.
And experience takes time.
To perform tai chi skilfully requires decades of training and ongoing corrections and development.
It is not akin to keep fit or yoga.
At its heart it is a Chinese martial art, and even if your intention is 'health', a thorough grounding in the principles of the art are necessary.
Popular culture gives the impression that people can qualify to be a tai chi instructor in 2 years or so.
This is ridiculous. And unethical.
How long does it take to learn how to play the piano, to dance, to pass a degree?
A person may learn how to drive a car in a matter of months, but are they then a driving instructor also?
To teach, you must possess the skills.
Possessing the skills demands time and daily practice.
Attempting a shortcut is unethical, ill advised and dangerous.
Who will insure you?
If someone is injured because of poor quality tuition, you may be liable for malpractice.
At first glance such a request may sound reasonable, until you consider one essential point: to teach a subject, you must know the subject thoroughly and comprehensively. And this takes time.
Until you can do tai chi to a high standard yourself, you are not fit to teach. In fact, you have nothing to teach. Passing on bad habits, misconceptions and mistakes is unwise. Only experience can prevent this from happening.
There is more to tai chi than can be learned in a short course. It is an ongoing endeavour. To become good you must make a deep investment. To become a instructor you must be good at tai chi, be capable of teaching people, and have rapport with people.
This is called gratification.
Yet, there is great danger in dismissing things on the basis of gratification.
Not everything in life is there to please us.
Indeed, much of existence is not about us and has no bearing on us.
We are not the centre of the universe.
Embracing the unknown inevitably means doing things that are not necessarily pleasurable.
This is like drinking green tea.
The taste is bitter and unpleasant, but you drink anyway, and eventually the bitterness no longer concerns you.
If you watch the old black and white movie Harvey, you appreciate the value of just being nice to people. Being nice is a lovely alternative to the bitterness we so commonly encounter in our culture.
You may even find that you enjoy it...
A person passes comment, and in so doing reveals the inner workings of their mind.
How we see things and what we take the information to mean will vary from person to person.
In truth, we do not see things as they are, but as we are.
Our perceptions are coloured by our upbringing, our education, our memories, our bias, our opinions, our culture, our desires and expectations.
A reasonable reply might be: "How can you tell?"
This simple question is extremely penetrating.
On what basis is the new starter assessing the tai chi performance?
How are they measuring the skill?
What criteria are being applied?
Which qualities do they consider to be valuable?
Yet, instead of selecting this or that option, we can simply be.
There is no need to look, to seek, to actively do anything. We can simply remain calm and do nothing.
We do not try to change the situation into something else, or accomplish anything.
Instead of doing, we stop doing. We come to a halt. At this point, we are relaxing.
A student who is absorbed in the doing is said to be in a condition of 'shen', where no division exists between the art and the individual.
Our school advocates a zen approach to the study and practice of tai chi.
If you are not sure what this means, read Zen in the Art of Archery - it reflects our approach very well.
The petty, cowardly aspects of modern culture should be beneath the martial artist.
They have no desire to stoop to gossip, malignant conduct and abuse. A martial artist is better than that. They leave unpleasant behaviour to people who need help.
It is unlikely that you will get it right first time.
A syllabus is a work in progress. If you find a method that works for everyone, regardless of age, gender, experience, background, then great - stick with it. Otherwise, you'll need to review it regularly and figure out what to improve.
To create a syllabus, you need guidance from another instructor. Or you need to attend an instructor training course.
The process of formalising zen is a contradiction in terms, as it removes the natural simplicity of the flower sermon.
Zen is a sensibility not a religion.
Was cutting up an ox.
Out went a hand,
Down went a shoulder,
He planted a foot,
He pressed with a knee
The ox fell apart
Beyond all methods!
He has done a great job and I'm hoping to able to continue updating the website over the next few days.
If you want multi media/technology advice or would like to create your own exotic tropical fish environment, ask Brian. His fish tank is amazing.
Admitting their own mortality forced the warriors to accept that life is a precious and fleeting gift.
They regarded the cherry blossom as a symbol of this insight.
Cherry blossoms bloom for a brief period and then fall at the very height of their beauty.
To the samurai this was a melancholy reminder of death amidst life.
It was an example of great beauty and sadness.
Aim to drop the elbows; not just lower them, but actually feel the weight and allow them to hang.
Rather than stretch at all, feel what your natural range is and stay within 70% of that.
Your frame may look and feel much smaller, but the emphasis will be taken from the shoulders and arms, and placed back upon the centre; the muscles around the waist, hips, groin, sacrum and spine.
Make sure that you remember that muscles move your body, not bones. Stretch too far and the joints will be sprained. Keep the joints loose and open, relaxed.
Who wants to hear ugliness, malice, insults and sarcasm? No one who respects other people.
Is anger constructive? Anger is about force, destruction, bullying and frustration. It is the emotion of impotence.
Can you find peace through conflict? Hostility perpetuates itself.
Once the moving qigong is familiar, it is necessary to imbue every exercise with power, such that the entire body is involved. A wave-like flow of softly-connected tissue is required, and the ability to focus the force in a clear direction. The ability to work with gravity is fundamental.
The next task is to do the same with form and silk arms. Consider each posture very carefully and ask yourself: what do you need to do to produce power from this posture? How does the movement work?
Avoid local muscle usage and pay attention to the opening and closing of the joints and vertebrae, the turning of the waist and the spiralling of the body. Finding the correct body mechanics is essential - until you can move in a flowing manner (with power) your form will remain empty.
When your moving qigong and form can both produce jing, you are ready to consider applying those form movements.
Health comes first. Everything else is secondary. We teach a very comprehensive curriculum that exercises your body in a wide variety of ways. Everything from self-massage to stretching is addressed.
You cannot teach or even practice in someone else's style or manner. You have to find your own.
This will entail periods of doubt, confusion, frustration and joy. Being the teaching means that you are out on a limb. Yes, people will help you, but ultmately, all decisions must come from you. Classes require a leader not a democracy.
If you train for long enough, you'll develop a flavour that is distinct to you. Otherwise, what is different about your classes? Without uniqueness, you are interchangeable. That unique quality comes from you. Let it flourish.
Eventually, your syllabus becomes an expression of you.
Every physical action you perform in life involves connecting and aligning your body such that the movement can produce an effect. Pressing a light switch requires accuracy, balance and the correct degree of pressure.
Tai chi is the same.
If the postures are too static or inflexible, your ability to shape movement will be impaired. Movement must pass through your body.
If you like to see other people being harmed, what does this say about you? Nothing good, surely? Gaining pleasure from the misfortune of others is extremely ugly.
When things thwart you, bring you down, compromise you, put you out… good. Overcoming hardship builds strength of character.
If things are difficult, do not despair.
It is not enough to simply learn the art. You must know how to teach it as well. Teaching is an entirely different skill.
Our school makes no guarantee that every student will one day become a teacher.
Beyond degree is mastery. Yet, this too is still within the same small degree of expertise.
The more advanced your skills become, the greater your awareness of the unknown. When you can truly see the magnitude of your own ignorance, humility is immediate.
What is one droplet of water relative to the ocean?
In tai chi, there is no true mastery. It cannot be mastered. Mastery refers to the removal of division between yourself and all else. It is not the art that is mastered. It is you.
In reality it is a behavioural habit learned in early childhood; a means of exhorting pressure through emotional upset.
Children denied toys or fast-food often have tantrums. They unleash their anger…
If an adult loses their temper with you, do your best not to grin at the pantomime. Give them a rating out of 10.
You must have boundaries. Otherwise you will burn out. Students can be very trying at times, demanding and occasionally offensive. It is necessary to step-back. To have some distance.
Training by yourself is one thing. Running a class/school is something else entirely. You will have a lot of different personalities to deal with. This is not easy.
This is not healthy. You are who you are. You are the age that you are. Your feelings are real. The pain is real. Your age is real. Pretending is dangerous.
Not everyone is 'sorted' and happy with their life. If you are spending your time slouched in front of a computer screen, gleefully insulting people, you may have a few problems in life.
Running away from your problems by finding an outlet is not necessarily healthy. It may feel pleasant to express your rage, but does it solve anything? The rage is still there.
It takes courage to switch off the computer and seek out a real person. Do not be afraid. No one will judge you.
The pressures of media, culture and the greedy acquisitive lifestyle leaves husks of humanity wandering around weary and tired.
Chuang Tzu wrote a story about a man who refused to ‘invest in loss’ called "Flight from the Shadow."
Rest should be seen as an investment not a chore. Unless you see rest as being more important than your new sports utility vehicle, nothing will ever change.
- Chin na
- cavity press
- sealing the breath
- dividing the muscle
- misplacing the bones
- Conditioning exercises
- seasoning the body to combat
- strengthening joints, bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments
- Countering punches, kicks and grapples
- solo attacker
- multiple attackers
- Countering a knife
- Energy work (qigong)
- Escapes- from a wide variety of holds, locks and situations
- Floor work
- Form application
- Gangs/multiple opponents
- Internal power- neigong- reeling silk
- Self defence
- fa jing
- using body weight
- striking bags, target pads and people
- punch, palm, finger, elbow, shoulder, knee, kick
- sticks, knives, swords
- improvised weapons
- modern weaponry (rather than ancient)
The training must be varied. Pushing hands, form and form application is not enough. Although set patterns and drills are an acceptable training method, they should only represent a small portion of the actual practice. Unpredictability, surprise and disadvantage need to be addressed thoroughly and regularly.
Be careful not to exert, strain or compromise the posture.
It is common for people to lose their shoulder alignment by lifting the arm too high, or the hip alignment by swaying the pelvis .
This story inspired our syllabus with regards students over 50.
Young and old alike work through an extensive range of qigong and neigong partner and solo exercises.
Form is not the focus of our Age Concern classes.
We do teach form but address internal strength first. Awareness, balance, mobile joints, soft muscles and a healthy psoas are more important than choreography. Connection and gravity replace the use of contracted muscles.
Since tai chi uses no actual strength in the conventional sense, older students find themselves becoming very strong in a matter of months.