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  logo-new-grey  Autumn  2019 

Coming in from the cold


As we move into October it is looking like we have a wet autumn in store. For me this makes training difficult as I rely on being able to get outside to practise the form. Wet weather requires a whole new routine. More chi gung and exercises: tai chi circles, our warm-up routine, threading the nine holed pearl. I practise it all slowly, focus as I would doing the form. Mind you, if you have even a bit of space, it is worth practising a few moves. Maybe the first part of the form, that doesn't require much space, or work on a sequence that you are struggling to get right or just practise your favourite moves.

Recently Dame Sally Davis, the chief medical officer, came up with some guidelines on various exercise routines for different age groups. For over 65s tai chi was top of the list. It usually is whenever anyone talks about exercise for 'older' people. This largely goes to demonstrate the chief medical officer – or more likely her advisors – hasn't a clue about tai chi. However, it is a small comfort to know that at least one of the chief medical officer's many guidelines fits my lifestyle. (Or should that be the other way round?)

With the holiday season over, the class seems to have settled into a useful number. Over the summer we had a couple of new students start. Only one of those stuck, (welcome Ian) but not a bad ratio when the tai chi saying is 'It takes 1,000 to start for one to finish'. Dame Sally steps down from the post of chief medical officer this month, perhaps some one should point this out to her successor.

The article below talks about the form and what it means. Regardless of what you are personally looking for from tai chi, this is the core of our practice.  Telephone 07967 666 794

There is a tai chi saying: 'It takes 1,000 to start for one to finish.' This acknowledges that tai chi is not for everyone. So think; if you stick to tai chi it must mean that you are one in athousand!

T. T. Liang said: "If you rely too much on teachers, better to not have a tracher. If you rely too much on books, better to not have books." *

Remember a teacher can only point the way.

(* T'ai Chi Ch'uan for Health and Self Defence
T T Liang, Vintage Books.)



Finding form

The public face of tai chi is the 'form'. The sequence of dance-like movements that are unique to the system. Performed well, and perhaps by a group of people, it can look almost mystical. It is what attracts people to tai chi. Indeed some people think that it is tai chi.

It is easy to understand why this might be. There are schools of tai chi that teach nothing else; do not check positions for structure or the transitions for power. They never consider the potential applications of the moves. So tai chi chuan – the great ultimate fist – becomes just 'tai chi'.

Whatever you are looking for, whatever you want to do, wherever you want to go with tai chi learning the form is crucial. The first instructors' course that I took was, rather to my disappointment at the time, all about the form. I had expected much more but for a whole week we just worked on the moves. We tested the applications and we looked at the yin and yang values of the positions.

As much as some people think that the form is all that tai chi is about others regard it as just a nuisance, something that is unnecessary in the pursuit of the more esoteric side of the art; the development of 'chi' which can effortlessly send someone flying across the training hall. But understanding the form and its function is critical to practising tai chi at any level, particularly if you want to explore its higher aspects.

In fact practising the form will give you everything. It is a perfect exercise. When you move you shift your weight from leg to leg, you turn, you bend, it involves kicking and transitioning to change direction. So, while it is almost non load bearing it moves and stretches pretty much every muscle in you body, including some inside that you don't usually think about.

After a while you find that you become more aware of your body, how it moves and how it becomes more connected. Yang Chen Fu says: “If I move my little finger my whole body is engaged in the movement.” It isn't something you consciously develop, over time it just happens.

When I started I filled in a registration form for the academy I was joining. It included a question for new students: what are you interested in – exercise, meditation, martial arts? I ticked 'exercise' and 'meditation'. Martial arts? Not interested in fighting; completely non-violent me. Then one day, after about three years I guess, I realised that I had learnt the principles of the martial art without ever setting out to do so.

A student once said to me: “When I practise the form regularly I feel as thought I am living in my body rather than in my head.” He meant, I think, that he felt more grounded, more in touch with himself. And here is the problem: we all, to a degree, live in our heads. Our mind is our master. Once we learn to connect with our body we feel more in control and this is where we find that feeling of 'well-being' everyone talks about, we learn to trust our body and our balance improves. Most people, I think, if they feel that they have a balance problem try to control their movements, focus on how they walk, always look at the ground in case they trip, but this only makes the problem worse. You need to be grounded and trust your body to do the job.

In the beginning learning the form is an intellectual exercise. T.T. Liang says: “In the beginning you use your mind.” You are trying to remember how to do this move and then the next move. It is hard, and you are trying hard to learn something that is very different. But if you stick at it, without realising, you will get to Liang's second stage: “Next you use your body,” he says. Gradually the form becomes 'body memory' and you no longer need to think about it.

So whatever you want from tai chi just practise the form. If you can't do all of it – it is pretty long and there may be time constraints – do what you can, what you know or a few favourite moves. Don't worry about making mistakes, in the immediate term they don't matter, they will get sorted in the class. The main thing is to do it; as often as you can but don't beat yourself up if you miss a day or two.

And, one day, it will be perfect! Well not really, none of us achieves that but it will feel good and you will feel that all that hard work was worth it.


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The Bonsai Tai Chi Academy
Tai chi chuan at The Woollard Centre, Loughton Way, Buckhurst Hill, Essex IG9 6AD

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