Monday, March 7, 2011

Take out your notebooks

posted by Melissa
statue on Westlake, Seattle
I am just starting the movie "The Curse of the Golden Flower" by director Yimou Zhang.  (a visually stunning movie)  I know all these martial arts movies I am watching this month, like the Bruce Lee one I started the other night, "Enter the Dragon", aren't about tai chi.  But these are movies I never would have watched and from what I can tell tai chi has it's place in martial arts, so I do feel like I am expanding my cultural horizon, in a way.  

I composed this the rest of this post earlier, taking notes from a tai chi book while listening to Jamie play some jazz music at a cafe, Forza, near the University district.  It was a family event, all three kids were there doing homework and the like....even Amy's husband, Bob, was there helping Tallulah with her workbook.  

As promised, I am going to offer my rendition of the history of Tai Chi, as well as some other important factors about the practice.  I stopped into one of the Seattle Public Libraries today to get some books on tai chi, and the only one they had at the branch was “The New Life Library Tai Chi, Flowing Movements for Harmony and Balance” by Paul Tucker. 

Since I am a novice at tai chi, I claim no authority as to the knowledge found in this book.  I assume since it is a published book with the title it carries that it does have some pretty accurate information…but you never know.  I am sure some hard-core tai chi-er (is there such a thing?) out there may have some better information.  Nevertheless, here you go:

Tai chi purports to give many benefits that bring people worldwide to its practice.  It gently tones and strengthens the organs and muscles.  It improves circulation and the posture.  Tai chi also relaxes the mind and body.  These wide benefits, along with its slow movements make the practice not only accessible to a wide range of people, but attractive to those people as well. 

The practice that Amy and I participated in on Saturday was Yang style short form.  This practice was developed by Cheng man-Ch’ing (1901-1975) and is the most common form practiced in the west.  But tai chi was around for much longer than just the past century. 

Some sources claim that tai chi started 6000 years ago.  More conservative estimates say it goes back a few centuries, and most people believe that Chang San Feng (b. 1247), of the Sung dynasty, was the founder of tai chi. 

The story quoted in many sources, not just the book I am citing this evening goes like this:
            “As a Taoist monk, Chang San Feng saw a crane attacking a snake.  He was inspired by the soft yielding nature of the snake, which out-maneuvered the hard attacking beak of the crane.”

It is said that a man named Yang Lu-Ch’an (1799-1872) spent some time watching others practice Chen tai chi and became so good that he started his own form, the Yang form.  (I intend on explaining the difference between these two major branches of tai chi in another post)   Cheng man-Ch’ing, whom I mentioned before, took some of the repetition out of the Yang form while retaining its essence, creating the short form.

Following the Cultural Revolution in China, Cheng Man-Ch’ing brought tai chi to New York, as did many other great teachers to many other parts of the world.  It was at this time that the practice of tai chi spread to the world and became more popular. 

Two important terms in tai chi are

·      Chi – the driving force of human life.  It flows through the body along channels called meridians.  When chi is blocked, there is no flow to the organs, which causes illness and disease.  Tai chi restores the flow and release blockages, restoring the flow and wellness.
·      Tan tien – this is the area just under the navel and 1/3 of the way from the front ot the back.  This is the center of gravity in the body.  In the practice of tai chi, all movement  comes from the tan tien. 

It is recommended to find a class to learn tai chi.  (Amy has some interesting findings that I hope she shares with her adventures in trying to find a class for the month)  When you do find your class, wear loose clothing and keep bare feet or socks to practice. 

And lastly, to sum it up, here are some principles of tai chi to keep in mind as you take on your own tai chi practice:

·      Relax and keep a loose body.  Allow any tension to sink through the body, from the shoulders all the way down through the feet and into the Earth.
·      Bring the mind and the chi into the tan tien.  Let the upper body be light and flexible, and the lower body draw downward and be heavy and grounded.
·      Establish a solid “root” into the ground.
·      Keep the joints aligned and never lock any joints.  (quite different than the Bikram yoga I am thoroughly involved in)
·      Let the tongue rest upon the roof of the mouth.
·      Each movement begins in the mind, and then it rises up through the legs, is directed by the waist and flows out through the fingertips.
·      Be in the present moment.  Do not dwell in the last movement or in what is coming next.  (So very much like my BIkram classes)
·      Never use force, force wastes energy.  Be light and nimble.
·      “Seek stillness within movement.  Seek serenity within action.”


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