Shawn Stoffer (Home)

My Experiences in Tai Chi Chuan

    As I said, I am a student of Charles Willow.  While a student of Tai Chi learns much from his or her Sifu (teacher) not everything is learned from that teacher.  Some ideas/revelations come from figuring out things by oneself.  In the same thought though, most everything comes from the source of the teaching, whether or not you realize it or not, so with that I leave this first paragraph as an acknowledgement that everything I say may, or may not have come directly from Charlie, so, I may have some things incorrect that he taught me, and some things that he does not agree with, though much of what I have learned has.  Further, as is the standard practice, I will be referring to only the Yang style of Tai Chi Chuan, taught by Master Dung, as Tai Chi, this may or may not have relevance to any other style or form, as each different type typically has its own different idiosyncrasies.

    Tai Chi is a gentle and slow excersize, which can be used for self defense, with sufficient practice.  Often sufficient practice means ten or more years of practice.  That means that while Tai Chi is technically a martial art, it does not have application for a very long time, and then only to advanced students.  That is the first lesson that one should learn about Tai Chi.  It is not only slow movement, but it is also slow in progress through it.  To further emphasize this point, a student is not even acknowledged to have learned the form until that students third year of Tai Chi.  Typically it is taught much faster, such that one year is sufficient for a student to learn the movements of the form, but the practice required in order to truly know the form often takes three years.  Further, one should never learn from someone who has not been practicing Tai Chi for at least three years.
    The reason for this is part of what Tai Chi is about.  Tai Chi is not about thinking about a response to something.  It is about knowing a response to something.  In essence simply reacting, not thinking about the reaction.  To this end, most often it is said that a student of Tai Chi has not truly learned the form, or experienced it until his or her third year.  At this point, the student truly should have a grasp of what Tai Chi is about, and should have felt what real Tai Chi is like.
    So, given this, what is it like?  The only answer is that I cannot tell you.  It is like nothing you have likely ever experienced, with the possible exception of altered states of consciousness.  The best way that I can describe it is that you need no strength to move.  You will not get tired, you will not feel your muscles flexing, you will simply move, and while moving, there is no object, or other thing that could prevent your movement.  Honestly, I have only get that feeling every once in a while, but when it happens, you could move any object, regardless of size or mass, without straining.  Why??  I have no idea, but you can.  Though that is not what Tai Chi is about, and it should not be thought of that way, though that is the experience that you may feel.  The reason that I say this is that it is a byproduct of getting it right, not a goal that one should shoot for.
    Planning in Tai Chi is bad, as it locks you into a particular action, which once you complete the action may seem foolish, or indeed have been foolish.  The idea is that you should not commit such that you cannot change your idea when necessary.  Though in the same thought, you must be committed enough to the current action to, if nothing else happens, make it work.  This is actually only the first step of Tai Chi though.  At this point you are still initiating actions.  At the later, more advanced steps you simply wait until you feel that the other person starts something, and then you let them move, following them in such a way as to gain advantage.  In essence, if they are moving in a certain direction, you simply help them go in that direction.  The ultimate idea to be avoided is to be "against" in Tai Chi, in other words, to be resisting another person's force.
    This resistance, one would think would be good at certain times, but it turns out that this commits you to an action, and ultimately, if the other person is following your actions, to not resist, and allow you to pass harmlessly by.  This is, in essence part of the philosophy of Judo and Aikido, in that you do not resist another person's force, you use it for your own purposes.  The difference is that in Tai Chi, we do not consciously use the force, we allow the force to continue, thereby allowing the other person to be their own undoing.  By that token, Tai Chi is not even really reactionary, we are more of the opinion that we are not really there, and the other person is doing this to themselves, and indeed, in the end, that is what they are doing.

    The idea, while one is doing the Form is that one should be relaxed entirely, though you should always have your concentration on a particular area.  This concentration will bring Chi (your life force, or energy) into a part of your body, making it warm or hot, and also giving that part of your body a rigidity.  This rigidity is not your muscles becoming tense, and therefore does not change your sensitivity, but does give that part of your body a "Unbendable" quality.

  Another key idea to Tai Chi is the Tao.  This is the symbol of the realtionship between the Yin and Yang.  The Yang is the bright area, and symbolizes active energy,  is associated with Fire, and is generally attributed to the male, dominant energy.  The Yin is the dark area and is typically associated with water, and resting energy, it is generally attributed to the female, passive energy.  Each has its benefits and problems, and each has a small area of the other within it.  We are mainly concerned, in Tai Chi, with the interesting fact that there is a small part of each in the other's primary area.  In Tai Chi, we regard this as the difference between being relaxed, Yin, and tense, Yang.   Whenever we are relaxed, there is always a part of us that is tense.  In essence you cannot be entirely relaxed, and still able to react to something.  Similarly, you cannot be entirely tense, part of you must be relaxed.  This is what we look to the Tao for.

Last Modified: 2001 April 13



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