Impression of Tai Chi
by Low Giap Thong
One big watermelon is cut into halves; send one to you and save the other for myself. My family and friends teased me when they knew I was going to take up Tai Chi lessons. I think Tai Chi is not well understood and thus, not treated with respect by people unfamiliar with it. Most dismiss it as a slow and soft form of exercise for the elderly. I must confess I once shared the same impression.
When I was a child, my godfather used to bring me to Elizabeth Walk when he went for his early morning exercises. I remember observing old folks practicing Tai Chi at the break of dawn. Uncles and aunties dressed in Polo T and long track pants, moved in unison with oriental music in the background. The gracefully beautiful movements were tenderly warm to look at; even in the cool morning atmosphere.
During my pre-U days, one of the favorite pastimes was chasing after TV serials such as the Tai Chi Master Zhang Shan Feng starring Alex Mann. Years later, Jet Li portrayed the same character superbly on the big screen. I admired the fluid hand movements and the inner peace even in the face of adversity. The hero always managed to overcome his larger and more powerful opponents with his formidable ‘soft’ skills. Of course, most people recognized these impossible action movements were merely cinematographic make-believe and special effects.
The Tai Chi culture soon spread to the neighborhoods as community centres started to conduct morning and evening classes. I too was bitten by the Tai Chi bug in 2010. I met my Shifu, Master Rennie Chong and began my learning journey of Yang-style Tai Chi.
Besides Peng, Lü, Ji, An, Chai, Lie, Zhou and Kao, the meaning and application of the various movements were explained. I learnt about rooting, balance, coordination etc. Movements have to be continuous, smooth and spiral in nature. We should always practice with Yi (meaning and intention) not focus purely on the form or style.
Tai Chi is very difficult to learn; let alone master. The lower body has to be rooted in order to provide strength and stability. On the other hand, the upper body must remain soft and supple so as to yield, dissipate the opponent strike and counteract. The waist (kua) is main driving force. The form must be accurate and the execution precise.
There are many intricate things to take note when practicing Tai Chi. These include deep breathing, sinking, upper and lower coordination, waist power, using Yi but not force. On top of these, one has to remain calm, relaxed and ‘song’. A challenging task indeed!
Reading books on the grandmasters of Tai Chi, has motivated and inspired me to practice more. Stories are about their passion for the art and the relentless pursuit of excellence even from a very tender age. Noting could deter them from their daily routine of Tai Chi; not even revolution or sickness. One elderly grandmaster bedridden by his ailment practiced using his mind (Yi Da) until he was well enough to walk.
Another motivating factor is the feeling of Qi in my arms when I practice Tai Chi. Initially I dismissed it as my imagination or some placebo effect. However, this warm, tinkling sensation has come to stay. The Qi has brought about a new level of awareness and perception.
It is not uncommon to find phrases in books that seem contradictory and ironical. Achieve power by not using force, derive excellence from slowness. Feel the movement in stillness. The beginner may become confused, lost and doubtful. Only with patience, constant practice and guidance from a good teacher, can one slowly understand and see some light at the end of the tunnel.
Ten years from now, what will be my impression of Tai Chi? Hopefully, Tai Chi will become more recognized and respected by everyone. The quality of Tai Chi will be raised through diligent and intelligent practice. On a personal level, I strive for better Qi flow and smoother movements. Perhaps with enough night porridge and bitter drinks, I might find the needle in the cotton. Have faith.