How I came to learn Tai Chi
by Ching Tuan Gim, Kym
I was introduced to the world of Taichi as a child when I observed my father practicing taichi every morning. His movements were graceful but at that tender age where speed is a constant distraction, I never seriously considered picking up the exercise. It is not till many years later, after experiencing pain in my knees from all those high impact workout that I thought I’d better start looking for an exercise that will take me to old age. What would be a better choice than Taichi.
Very often one hears of Taichi being dismissed as an activity that occupies only the elderly. I was never put off by the “softy” reputation that Taichi suffers in this modern day. How can an art form like taichi, that transcended over hundreds of years and is known to have health benefits, be of little value? The fact that Taichi has survived so many years only demonstrates its worthiness. All it takes is for the ignorant modern man to delve deeper and then will he find the treasure within.
So here I am, I have been practicing Taichi for almost two years now. I must admit, the initial months were slow and painfully boring. The exceedingly slow movements and the step by step demonstration of posture did not gel very well with the inpatient and the uninitiated. Then again, what’s the rush? My work life has enough stress, attending Taichi classes is a form of relaxation.
My office work has been very challenging and I’m perpetually late for classes and sometimes I had to skip classes due to heavy workload. Despite having an affinity to picking up postures and movements quickly, missing classes too often means missing out in learning a particular segment of postures. Shifu was wise to send me back to the induction class again, of which I humbly resigned myself to pick up the elementary sets of postures all over again. This proves to be a blessing in disguise; Xiao Chen is really good in teaching elementary taichi. His meticulous counting of each and every step ensures that every critical step is accounted for. I particularly look forward to occasions when Xiao Chen and sometimes Shifu explained the rationale of defence behind each movement. That made every single step really meaningful.
My thoughts on Taichi
Because of the demands to modern day living, we are constantly bombarded with stress. We strain ourselves in this fast-pace lifestyle, meeting deadlines and bottomlines for our companies. Eventually, there will come a time when our bodies begin to display telling signs from these daily grind and we only reward ourselves with aches and pain in our old age.
The philosophy of balance between yin and yang behind taichi teaches one to apply the concept of balance in his daily life. Learning Taichi, I feel, does not just impress me with the importance of exercise but that having balance in one’s life is equally important. Eating right, exercising and ensuring enough sleep at night are just part of sustaining our bodies to meet the grinds of tomorrows. I balance aerobic exercise like boxercise and running, which provide good cardio workout, with the “softer” yoga for better flexibility and muscle toning. But somehow, it still wasn’t enough. I wanted an activity that not just benefit my health for now but also, one that I can follow through to old age when hard driving activities like running and aerobics are no longer good for me.
Learning Taichi requires commitment. Taichi is indeed a journey towards an awakening of our senses. It is not good enough just to learn the sequence of postures. This is only the beginning. Taichi is about observing and sensing the movement of our body and energy that generates from within. Each intricate movement and minute angles of the hands and legs brings beauty to the total form of taichi.
Taichi is not for the fainthearted. It is not a slow motion exercise for the weak. In fact, practicing the ma-bu (horse stance) makes your legs shiver with pain! Learning Taichi requires a huge appetite for perfection. Perfecting the art form is compulsory to practicing Right Taichi form. Yes, I learned that there’s a Right taichi and a Wrong taichi. Observe a taichi practitioner in action: is the movement graceful? Is he calm? Is his hand movement soft yet firm? Is his footwork steady? Does he perspire after the session? In what I’d called practicing Right Taichi means to be mindful that every posture transitions retain fluidity and flow in the minute movement one makes. Shifting of weight from left to right qua, feeling for the qi and channeling this energy from the legs and qua to the palm of our hands, to the top of our skull as we move from posture to posture. The warmth of our body and the sweat after each session is telling if a taichi practitioner has understood the basic concept of taichi.
Practicing taichi martial is like practicing the art of deception in the world of martial arts. Strength and agility are hidden in the seemingly slow and powerless movements. It is in this interesting show of external softness that “protects” the exponent from aggression. If attacked, the fury of taichi is revealed through its ease in foiling the attacker’s punch. To understand and practice this, one has to progress beyond the 37-steps to tui-shou. This is what greatly interest me.
How Taichi affect my life
My lifestyle, though still not perfect, has improved. I still work long hours but practicing taichi has made me conscious of keeping balance in my life. I am mindful to rest when I’m tired. As I travel quite a fair bit for work, I sometimes practice taichi at the hotel in the early morning. Sometimes out in the cold temperature of 150C and once even in 80C. It may be cold at the beginning but somehow, when I finish my 37-steps, I feel nice and warm. The only time it didn’t work very well is when I have jet-lag. I keep losing my balance! In this instance, it is important to apply the one of the principles of taichi – rest. In this case, only sleep helps.
Though my knees are better, my shoulders are still hurting from the hours of computer work. But I know, I’m getting somewhere. There’s more heat in my palms as I practice taichi. Hopefully, I’ll learn to channel this qi to “heal” my shoulders.
Eventually, I hope to practice taichi for the rest of my life to help maintain a strong body and the only way to ensure this is discipline.