Experience in Learning Taiji
by Lim Kim Tong
I started learning Yang-style Taiji since 20 July 2009. That was more than one and half years ago. It took me more than a year to finally memorise and execute all 37 steps in one complete movement. I recall the slow and sometimes frustrating journey of learning each step in the weekly lessons. I refused to give up and even when we had to move to Bishan CC for these lessons because of the Youth Olympic Games, I still persevere.
I am now contented that at least I can complete the whole sequence of these 37 steps. I knew that there is much to grasp in Taiji and it will take more time to finally appreciate and understand each principle of Taiji. I highlight some of these principles below and am trying hard to internalise and execute on them.
Like the saying that some people have “two left feet” and cannot dance for all they try, I fall into this category of not knowing much about martial art except to see some kungfu movies such as Bruce Lee’s action films. Seeing beautiful strokes on film is not equivalent to one being to able mimic these actions. One still needs long training before one can step up the skill level.
Looking forward to weekly lessons
One driving force for me to attend these weekly lessons is the warming up exercises before formal lessons. I find them to be beneficial as they strengthen me physically and prepare me for the various movements in Taiji Quan.
I do not have a superb health record in the past. After each weekly lesson, I will return home energised and more ready to tackle stress. I sleep better in the nights of these lessons. The health benefits cannot be understated.
Taiji Principles picked up
Overtime with more practices and detailed explanation by instructors, I come to appreciate some key principles in Taiqi Quan. This is not exhaustive.
1. Keep your head and spine upright as if suspended by a single thread holding you up from the top of your head.
2. Loosen the “kua” (the connecting joints of thigh bones to the pelvis) before lowering the upper body. Do not bend at the waist.
3. All parts of body either move together or rest together. Waist should guide your movements. Every part of your body must follow your waist. Do not move your hands independently of your waist.
4. Mind is the commander that guides the movement of body parts. Concentrate on hands, body and feet before each move. Mind leads and body co-ordinates with mind.
5. Movement must be fluid and continuous and there should be no jerk or break in movement.
6. Taiqi’s prime directive is “concentrate your ch’i to become soft and young”.
7. Prepare to sink lower at each footwork, sitting on the “kua” is key.
8. Breathing during each movement must be fine, long, calm and slow. This allows concentration and no rush to complete each movement.
9. Focus on feet position and apply correct weight distribution of each foot on the ground. This is to achieve stability.
Benefits of learning Taiji
Before taking up Taiji, I am not always conscious of my body postures when sitting, standing and walking. I tend to hunch at the shoulders and my muscles are too tensed around that region causing neck pains. I often do not keep my spine upright when seated down causing back pains. There are too much tensed energies in my body that it caused stomach irritability and occasional headaches. Now I appreciate my anatomy better and make some effort to correct my postures. Taji movements emphasised the importance of correct postures.
Breathing is an important part of Taiji as stated earlier. Sometimes, my breathing is not calm and is laboured. I forget to breathe deep and exhale long to bring sufficient oxygen to parts of body. This causes stress to my system. Taiji helps in this regard.
The third benefit is that Taiji trains me to focus and to be mindful of every single action of my body from head to toes during Taiji practice. I will need concentration and to bring my mind to focus before moving to each step of Taiji. I will need to concentrate on my hands besides the other parts of the body. It is easy to forget my hands while trying to move my body and feet.
Lastly, Taiji taught me perseverance. Knowing that mastering Taiji is difficult and will take a long while, I will not give up even when I do not get the principles and various aspects of the Taiji movement right.
Focusing on the ch’i and understand how it flows is something to fully understand.
I read this in a book:
Ch’i is invisible but is to be felt. This will be my next learning objective.
In addition, the breathing aspect of Taiji will have to be co-ordinated with physical movements. I have yet to achieve the calmness of Taiji movements and hope through more practices, this can be achieved.
I will need perseverance, efforts and constant practice to master the beauty of Taiji. I always admire people who are graceful in their Taiji movement. It is a sight to behold and I aspire to achieve that same level of competency in the longer term, however long it takes.
Finally, I need to have faith in Taiji to enhance health and longevity. Hopefully, I can continue to be able to enjoy Taiji through to my later part of my life.
Taiji Quan Body of Knowledge by Rennie Chong and George Loo, 2004
Master Cheng’s New Method of Taichi Ch’uan Self-Cultivation, by Cheng Man-ch’ing translated by Mark Hennessy, 1999
12 April 2011