Power of Tai Chi
by Ngoc Thuan Ho
I have been studying Tai Chi Chuan with Shifu Chong since October 2013. Before studying Tai Chi, I did practice Karate, Taekwondo, and also MuayThai. My purpose of writing this paper is to summarize what I have learned about Tai Chi over the last two years with Shifu Chong and also explain some differences between practicing Tai Chi and other Martial Arts.
Tai Chi and Its Basics:
Tai Chi has brought me back to the basics. I have always thought that my stance is strong and stable since I do weight lifting regularly. However, not until I started learning Tai Chi with Shifu Chong did I realize how weak my stance is. It is very important to learn how to stand properly because it is the foundation of how we walk, run, jump and move around. As one said “We must learn to walk before we can run”, if we can perfect our stance then we can lower the risk of injury when performing other movements. Tai Chi definitely help me to improve the way I stand and walk every day, I have learned to grip the ground with my toes and control the centre of gravity of my body to prevent falls. The beauty of Tai Chi is that it can be practiced in everyday activities. I practice Tai Chi every morning, when standing on the bus I try to grip my toes, pay attention the centre of gravity of my body and adjust it accordingly so when the bus make a turn or brake suddenly I will not fall even if I don’t have anything to hold on to. When walking to the office, I pay attention to every step I take, when my right foot step on the ground it need to be firm and stable so when I lift up my left foot it will feel light and almost effortless. Walking in such a way has helped me a lot; I don’t easily slip like before and can safely avoid obstacles on the road.
Having a strong stance does not mean keeping the body stiff, I never know how powerful a calmed mind and a flexible body can be after I start practicing Tai Chi with Shifu Chong. When you are not calmed, your muscles tense up hence your whole body become rigid. A stiff body can be easily pushed down or broken because it cannot adjust its centre of gravity and/or yield the coming forces. Like what Jigoro Kanu has said “The pine tree fought the storm and broke. The willow yielded to the wind and snow and did not break” if one can relax and be flexible he or she can lessen or even neutralize the impact of the coming forces. By spreading the pressure of the forces and/or redirecting them, one can put the attacker at his weakest position then push back before he reacts. These are all very different and new to me because what I have learned from other Martial Arts is either to block and take the full impact or dodge.
Power of Tai Chi:
However, Tai Chi is not all about relaxing; from Shifu Chong I have come to know that Tai Chi can be very vigorous as well. Unlike other type of Martial Arts, Tai Chi emphasizes on the movement of the hips. For instance, when throwing a right hand punch in Tai Chi, the hips will twist to the left with right hip moves forward, the force and energy will then be transferred from the hips to the core, chest, shoulder, elbow, wrist and finally to the knuckle. The foot will remain firmly on the ground throughout the movement to ensure no waste force is produced. This will generate a greater force and speed than just punching using only the arm or the core muscles, it is like when you twist a rubber band. Tai Chi practitioners can choose to release the forces through his elbows or even shoulders to attack the opponents at close distance. Moreover, because the hips can turn, move forward & backward and side to side so the forces can be sent to any of those directions. Tai Chi Chuan also has other techniques such as taking down, pushing and joint locking however I have not experienced all of them since I am still at the beginner level. The hands in Tai Chi are also very important, they need to be soft and flexible to move freely at the same time strong and fast to grasp, pull or push the opponent.
Lessons from Tai Chi:
There are 3 life lessons which I have learned from Tai Chi.
First of all, although we have remembered all Cheng Man Ch'ing 37 steps, Shifu does not teach us the new style but helping us to revise and understand every single move. The reason is remembering the form is not difficult but to do it with correct posture to bring up your Chi and understand every move to express your intention are a lot harder. It is like a singer who not only can sing well but also can connect with the song emotionally and touch the heart of the audiences or a writer who put his heart and soul into the story not just write for the sake of making money. In short, you have to understand clearly what you are doing and when you decide to do it you have to do it sincerely then the result will come.
Secondly, Yin and Yang are emphasized a lot in Tai Chi. To my understanding, Yin and Yang represents the natural balance that one should always seek. For instance, when a person is walking, as his right leg moves forward, his left leg will stay on the ground to support the body. Simultaneously, the left arms will swing forward and right arms will swing backward to maintain proper balance. Similarly to Tai Chi, when you kick with your right foot, your left foot will stand on the ground to keep your stance firm; when your right hand attack, your left hand will defend and be ready to execute another attack if needed. Every part of the body plays a part in Tai Chi and there is no meaningless movement. Furthermore, Yin and Yang is also reflected in hard and soft movement of Tai Chi. Through practicing push hand with Shifu, I realized that it is very important to be efficient which is knowing when to exert force and when to relax. If one keeps using hard forces, firstly he or she will get tired quickly and then the opponent will be able to detect your weak spot and intention. When one is relax and calm, he or she can preserve the energy and anticipate the movement and intention of the opponent thus can react properly to the situation. It is like cat which is always calm but can be fast and forceful when being disturbed. In life, Yin and Yang is how one deal with the situation. One need to be decisive and assertive with his opinion but also keeps an opened mind to listen to other’s opinion and one also needs to know when to hold on and when to let go in life.
Finally, the 3rd lesson which I have learned is to always be humble and to learn from each other in Tai Chi. Different people from different background will look at Tai Chi differently. For example a chef will look at Tai Chi in a different way that a Physiotherapist will because the way that they apply Tai Chi is for different purpose. This is the major difference between Tai Chi and other types of Martial Arts which I have learned. A Tai Chi practitioner can apply it in everyday life. In short, Tai Chi is not only about self-defence but it is also about maintaining & improving the well-being of one’s life.
In conclusion, to me there are two aspects of Tai Chi internal and external. External is your form and physical condition whereby Internal is the coordination and link between your mind and body. External aspect can be improved through regular training of the forms and physical exercises like weight training, bodyweight exercise or cardiovascular exercise. The internal aspect of Tai Chi is the harder part if not the hardest of all hence it is not something that we can easily see or feel. I believe that the internal training of Tai Chi can be achieved from one’s life experience, his commitment in training and his capability in understanding the essence of Tai Chi.