My Taiji Experience
by Kenneth Liau
I first came across Taiji when I was in the primary school. At that time, a school teacher was a Taiji practitioner and I would often see him practicing his Taiji at the school field early in the morning before lesson started. I remembered as I watched the teacher practiced his Taiji, I was always struck by his gracefulness. It was as if time had suddenly slowed down and we simply entered into a world of slow motion. From then on, the image of Taiji as something graceful was perpetually etched in my mind. I did not think too much of Taiji subsequently, although it had always remained as something positive in my mind, probably because of this early encounter and the pleasantness of the experience.
I started thinking about learning Taiji very much later in life. The thought arose as I began to feel a lack of general wellness despite the fact that my annual health screening results continued to be good. I tried taking various types of health supplements, but the effect on my general wellbeing was very limited and I continued to feel as lethargic and fatigued as ever. Although I did not know anything about health and nutrition, I could not help but suspect that the root cause of the problem was from within my body and that the cure probably had to come from improving my internal wellbeing instead of simply taking health supplement. As I tried to analyze my problem and look for a solution, I somehow began to think that Taiji could perhaps be the solution.
The Search for a Taiji Master
When I started to think about learning Taiji, the first obstacle that I encountered was in finding the right instructor. While most community clubs offered Taiji classes, I was not convinced that they were teaching true Taiji. After trying to find the right instructor for sometime without any success, I eventually gave up as I was too busy and the idea of learning Taiji faded away.
It was only many years later that the thought of learning Taiji recurred to me and that prompted me to search again for Taiji instructors in the internet. This time, the search threw up many interesting results and after reading through them carefully, I narrowed the results down to two which I thought were reputable. One was Rennie Chong Taiji Training Centre by Master Rennie Chong. The other was Ba Fang Wushu Training Center by Master Ge Chun Yan (戈春艳).
I read through the materials at Master Chong’s websites, including testimonies from his students and I was convinced that Master Chong was a real Taiji teacher. I was equally impressed by Master Ge’s credentials. She was in the same national wushu team as 李连杰 (Jet Li), was the captain of the women’s national wushu team and had won numerous individual championship awards at the national level in China. I had a long chat with her over the phone and was convinced that she was a true wushu exponent. Although her specialty was Ba Gua Zhang (八卦掌), she had also won the China national championship for Taijiquan and was planning to conduct classes in Chen Taiji at Marine Parade.
After carefully considering between Master Chong’s class and Master Ge’s class, I finally decided to attend Master Chong’s class and thus began the first step of my Taiji journey.
Lessons Under Master Chong
Before I started learning Taiji, my idea of Taiji was that it was something slow, graceful and did not require much strength. I was thus surprised when I began my Taiji lessons at Master Chong’s class.
The various exercises that we had to do were very vigorous and caused muscle ache all over. Master Chong was a serious Taiji teacher and he was not happy with just teaching something that merely looked like Taiji but was not really Taiji. He paid a lot of attention to the details of the form and was very insistent that we should get the basics right. Because of this, we found ourselves learning the basics over and over. Hence, while others would probably have learned the entire 108 forms of Yang Style Taiji over a 3 months period at a community club, we found that we had only learnt a few forms under Master Chong even after 3 months. For people who only wanted to learn Taiji as fast as possible and were not too concerned about the kind of Taiji they learnt, this could be very discouraging. It was therefore not surprising that a number of students from the class that I attended started to stop coming one by one. Nevertheless, while the progress was very slow and the exercises were tough, I was convinced that Master Chong was teaching us real Taiji and was determined to continue.
The persistence paid off and after a number of months, I began to see some results. I was able to practice the first few forms of the Taiji on my own and I also found that the exercises had helped to strengthen my body, particularly the lower body. Once I overcame the initial hurdle, I found that I began to enjoy Taiji and this gave me more and more motivation to continue. After slightly more than one year, we finally completed learning the 37 forms of Zheng Zi Taiji (郑子太极). This, however, was only just the beginning. Even though he emphasized the correctness of the form, Master Chong did not just teach the outward form. He put equal emphasis on the theory of Taiji and taught us that Taiji was not a performing art, something that we performed like a dance. It was not just the outward movement of the body but more importantly it involved the inward flow and cultivation of the qi.
Having learnt the basic, elementary forms of Taiji, we have continued to benefit from Master Chong’s detailed explanation of the principles and essence of true Taiji as well as his continued correction and refinement of our forms.
Benefits of Taiji
Having been learning and practicing Taiji regularly for about 1 year and 9 months, I find that Taiji has benefited me tremendously. The following are some of the ways in which Taiji has benefited me.
I used to feel very lethargic throughout the day because of the poor quality of my sleep. Despite getting enough hours of sleep each night, I would often wake up each morning very tired because of the constant interruption of my sleep at night. As a result, I would yawn throughout the day. When I first started learning Taiji, I thought the problem would disappear instantly but to my disappointment, it did not. However, after sometime and without me realizing it, I suddenly found that I had stopped yawning during the day. At the same time, I found that my sleep quality had improved tremendously, most of the times waking up only once to use the bathroom and sometimes sleeping through the night without waking up at all. Because of the significantly better quality of sleep, I have been able to sleep fewer hours and yet feel less tired.
Taiji has also helped to strengthen my body, particularly my lower body. I was walking down the staircase one day and because of inattentiveness, I missed the steps. I have experienced similar incidents before and without fail, I would either twist my ankle or at least suffer a fall with varying degrees of seriousness. To my surprise this time, however, I found that I was able to gain my footing and stabilize myself very quickly. I could not help but attribute it to a stronger lower body as a result of regular practice of Taiji. Besides helping me to avert what seemed to be an inevitable fall, Taiji has also helped to improve my weekly soccer games. I play soccer every Saturday morning with a group of people, most of whom are much younger than me. Because of my age, a problem that I would often experience in the past was that halfway through the game, I would find that I had no more strength in my legs, causing me to fall without any apparent reason. When I challenged for the ball, I would often lose because the opponents invariable seemed stronger than me. After practicing Taiji for about a year, I found that I no longer experienced the problem of sudden loss of strength in my legs and I no longer fell without any reason. I have also been able to win the ball when I challenge for it against even younger players. Again, I cannot think of any reason for this dramatic improvement other than regular practice of Taiji.
A not so obvious benefit of Taiji is actually in the non-physical aspect. I am by nature quick tempered and impatient. I get annoyed and lost my patience easily if things do not go my way, or if I do not get the result I want. After learning Taiji, I find that I have been able to control my temper better and get angry either less frequently or with a lesser degree of emotion. Even if I do lose my temper or become impatient, I find it easier to calm down and to regain my composure nowadays.