Tai Chi to improve my health
by Antony Lim
Before attending your classes, I had no background knowledge of Taiji Quan and came with the hope that it will help to ease my gastrointestinal problem and improve my health.
When I first started to learn the warm-up exercises and 37 Steps Form, it was a new experience for me and it took some time for me to get use to the movements and names of each step. Fortunately, we have excellent and patient instructors who demonstrated each step clearly and repeatedly during my entire learning process.
The combination of warm-up exercises, meditation and practice of the form help to release my tension and stress as the warm-up exercises help to loosen the muscles and joints, and focusing my mind on the acupoints on the fingertips and centre of both palms enable me to feel the "qi" flowing in my hands. The movements have to be supple and circular and through regular practice of the form, I found that my health, vitality and immunity to illnesses have improved tremendously over the past two and a half years.
I learnt that the ten essentials of Yang style Taiji Quan are as follows:
- We must keep our head upright and straight but the head must not be tensed so that the blood and "qi" can circulate freely. The head should feel natural and comfortable and we must have an intention which is empty, lively and natural. We must pay attention to our "yi" and keep it strong instead of using muscular force.
- We must hold in the chest and arc the back to form the "Peng Jin" or "wardoff jin". The upper chest must not be tensed so that the "qi" will sink to the "dan tian". If we can manifest "Peng Jin" correctly, we can store the "Jin" and be ready for emitting.
- The waist is the master of the entire body. We must practice to relax the waist so that the two legs have strength and the lower body will be firm and stable.
- Learn to discriminate between the substantial and insubstantial. If the whole body sits on the right leg, then the right leg is deemed 'substantial' and the left leg 'insubstantial'. If the whole body sits on the left leg, then the left leg is deemed 'substantial' and the right leg 'insubstantial'. Distinguishing between substantial and insubstantial will enable our turning and movement to be nimble and light and almost without effort. If we cannot discriminate between substantial and insubstantial, our steps will be heavy and sluggish, the self stance will not be steady, and it will be easy for an opponent to control us.
- Sink the shoulders and drop the elbows. Sinking the shoulders means the shoulders are relaxed and hanging downward. If we cannot relax them downward, the shoulders will be raised and then the "qi" will follow and go upward, causing the whole body to lack strength. Dropping the elbows means the elbows are relaxed downward. If the elbows are elevated then the shoulders are unable to sink. When we use this to push someone they won't go far. It is like the 'broken jin" of external martial arts.
- Use the "yi" or intent and not the "li" or force. We must let the entire body relax and not use any strength which would cause any muscle or circulatory blockage. The network of acupuncture meridians and channels throughout the body are like the streams and ditches. If the streams and ditches are not blocked, the water circulates and the "qi" will follow and circulate. If we use force, the meridians will be swamped and the "qi" and blood will be impeded, and our movements will not be nimble. If we use intent rather than force, wherever the intent goes, the "qi" will follow. After a lot of practice using "yi", because the "qi" and blood are flowing and circulating throughout the entire body and never stagnating, we should attain true internal strength.
- We must synchronise the upper and lower body such that the energy originates from the feet, emits through the legs, governed by the waist and manifest in the hands and fingers in one impulse.
- The inner spirit and external movements must harmonise and combine into a single impulse. If we can raise our spirit, our movements will naturally be light and nimble. When the mind is strong, the body can execute the mind's decision precisely and responsively resulting in an efficient fighting unit.
- Taiji is continuous, circular, unbroken and without interruption like the great river flowing endlessly. Unlike external martial art which has a beginning and an end such that the old force is used up and the new force hasn't arisen, Taiji uses the "yi" and not the "li" which enables us to respond to the opponent's action with continuity.
- Taiji uses calmness to overcome movement and in movement still have calmness. The slower we practice the form the better as when we do it slowly, our breathing becomes deep and long and the "qi" sinks to the "dan tian", and there will be no constriction or enlargement of blood vessels. It uses defense as offence and the spending of energy is thus conserved. Furthermore, we our mind is calm, our body is relaxed, the blood and "qi" circulation will be smooth.
The 37 Steps Form have many practical applications in self-defence where each movement and posture could be use to neutralize the opponent's attack by warding off and "sticking" to the opponent and bounce off the opponent by destabilizing the opponent's centre of gravity, causing the opponent to lose their balance resulting in the opponent being easily thrown off.
With my limited knowledge and understanding of Taiji Quan, I hope the above essay is sufficient for my elementary level certification.
I look forward to your feedback or comments on the above essay so that I can learn from you and improve my understanding and practice of Taiji Quan.