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Archive for January, 2016

WILL TAI-CHI SURVIVE?

Bob Klein

Tai-chi teachers who actually expect their students to learn Tai-chi fear that they will lose students. Tai-chi is a very exacting practice and requires awareness of each muscle and joint of the body, restoring full function. While many people would love to learn Tai-chi, few are ready to do the work.

So the teacher must decide how much he or she asks of the students. The less he asks, the more students he has. The more he asks, the higher quality of students he has. Sometimes the decision rests on how many bills he has to pay each month, unless he has a “real job”.

To the degree that the decision is based just on paying the bills, the students get a “make-believe” version of Tai-chi and that version is passed down, as that teacher’s students themselves become teachers, believing that they are really practicing Tai-chi. That teacher may defend himself by saying, “If I didn’t dilute Tai-chi, these students wouldn’t come to class. At least they are moving. That has to help them a little”.

These are the issues in the back of each teacher’s mind. I bring this issue up now because I have been hearing the same issue raised in the field of Pilates exercise. Some Pilates teachers say that they don’t mind if a teacher changes the training as long as they don’t call it Pilates.

My choice is to require that my students learn Tai-chi. They sometimes complain that I keep teaching new principles and they can’t keep up with the pace of learning. Yet I am teaching the same thing all the time even though I may explain it differently. They may ask, “Why didn’t you ever say that before” even though I say it all the time. When you are presenting the deeper aspects of Tai-chi training, the body of the student has to learn. The brain may feel that it is not “getting it”, but the brain doesn’t have to get it. The body learns and the student has to become comfortable with and learn to perceive that level of learning. Yet the brain always feels that if it hasn’t learned something then it hasn’t been learned.

When you really teach Tai-chi you bring the student through a transformation in the learning process. The student learns about his body and attention (how they work), then learns from the body and attention and then body, attention and the world around him all become connected.

Make-believe Tai-chi, of course, is just memorizing as many forms as you can and learning to say spiritual clichés. This may seem like a cynical attitude but the schools that emphasize this approach really irk sincere teachers. While the students of these schools certainly enjoy their classes, the downside is that the reputation of Tai-chi as transforming peoples’ lives just comes down to parroting phrases and movements.

Is there a danger that Tai-chi will become a cartoon of itself? If this is happening to other disciplines as well, are we all simply slipping into cartoon lives?

I have heard the argument that during most times in history, a few people really practiced each art and the rest practiced a shallower version and yet these arts survive. These times are no different from any other. I hope that is true. What do you think?

MORE TAI-CHI LEARNING TIPS by Bob Klein

How to Learn and Teach Tai-chi DVD

1. “The feet are the gateway to consciousness”. When you walk in a natural area, the feet conform to the shape of the ground, which is formed by the geology, botany and weather of the area. As your feet conform to the ground, each joint of the body adjusts to keep you aligned and in motion, thereby also participating in the natural history of that area. Our flat floors deaden the feet and also the whole body and cut us off from participating in nature. So when you step, allow each joint and muscle of the foot to individually settle onto the floor, to help enliven the foot.

2. When you breathe out and the upper body settles downward, its weight sinks through the hip area and into the feet and “root”. When you breathe in and expand upward, that expansion has to pass through the hip area. If the hips are rigid, these transfers of energy cannot take place. Keep the hip level open, like an open pipe, so that momentum can flow through it.

3. The head is part of the body. We do not consider it to be the “seat of consciousness”. The whole body is the seat of consciousness. There is a tendency to keep the head and neck rigid, as if it were a stone throne that the king sits in, ordering the body around and judging the results. “Think” with the feelings of the whole body and allow the momentum, created by your form or chi-gung, to flow through the neck and head. While the head does not flop around, it moves in circles about an inch in diameter. If the head is rigid, the body will be rigid.

4. Release energy at the beginning and end of each breath. If you are not yet familiar with the experience of “chi”, think of energy as momentum. At the end of the in-breath, when the momentum flows up and out, let that momentum go, never to return. Then allow the body to begin sinking back down, drawing into it “new” energy until the end of the out-breath as you sink into your root. At that point, allow the chi (or momentum) to be released into the ground, never to return. When you begin to breathe in again, expanding upward, allow new energy to fill the body from the bottom. If you hold energy within the body, you will not get the health benefits of Tai-chi.

5. At the end of each in-breath, expand the palms and feet. Allow them to relax as soon as you begin to breathe out.

6. Once you are comfortable with the sequence of movements, don’t think of the movement before or the next movement. Allow the form to unfold, as the mainspring of old watches, unwind during the day to move all the little gears of the watch, allowing “time” to unfold. If you have been trained how each part of the body participates in each part of the form, your form will have been imbedded into each part of the body, like a mainspring ready to unfold.

7. Practice one thing at a time. Your teacher may have presented you with a hundred principles and you can’t keep them all in your mind at the same time. Practice just one or two for a while and then switch to another one or two principles. Trust that such practice will add up; that the body will store skill you have gained in each practice session.

8. Don’t “hold yourself together”. Most of us start all bound up, tied up in knots, as if we would fall apart if we relaxed. For each posture, notice which muscles are “holding” more than they have to. Can you allow that muscle to use less tension? Even less? Use the minimum tension possible just before the arm or the whole body starts falling down.

9. There is an intelligence within your body that is greater than your thinking mind. Yield to it. It may be hard to notice at first. The forceful, thinking mind is like the sun, overpowering all the stars in the sky. Yet those stars are still there, even during the day. The “Body-mind” is always there but requires inner quiet to be noticed.

10. Don’t forcefully try to quiet the thinking mind. That is only the thinking mind trying to quiet itself. It is just a trick. Rather, pay attention to the flow of momentum and allow your attention to ride the flow of momentum like a surfer rides a wave. Yield to the momentum. Yield to the breath that helps to create the momentum. Yield to the relaxation that helps to create the momentum. Yielding to life quiets the thinking mind and strengthens the Body-mind.

These principles are described more fully in the dvd series “How to Learn and Teach Tai-chi” by Bob Klein available at:
http://store.movementsofmagic.com/belevi.html