In my previous blogs, I have spoken extensively about the health benefits of tai chi, also known as taijiquan, but there’s more than just health benefits. As many people know, martial arts have many lessons to teach us. These lessons not only transform the mechanics of our movements but they also instill life lessons.
Sometimes, we may not notice the transformative effects of these tai chi philosophies until a few years into the practice. So, let’s review some of the key advanced concepts of tai chi. Learning tai chi well means we aim to learn and master these concepts which will not only advance our mastery of tai chi but it will also permeate our lives.
Internal Discipline and Focus
Like other martial arts, tai chi also teaches discipline. It’s not an external discipline like most of the other martial arts but an internal discipline of movement. Unlike other external martial arts, tai chi requires a quiet self-discipline, there is no one shouting or pushing you to go beyond your limits. Instead, we dig deep inside your own mind and body to find the focus and inner strength to achieve the requirements of the tai chi moves.
The internal discipline of tai chi means movements start from the core of the body which is the spine and abdomen. Intentionally being able to move from the core often looks too subtle to mean anything to the untrained eye. However, after years of practice, a tai chi practitioner will use internal discipline to generate stretches and an intense flow of energy which will result in powerful movements which are deceptive looking.
The real world benefits of effectively harnessing our internal power results in not only effective martial arts performance but also improved health for the body and improved sports performance.
The Balance of Yin and Yang
One of the key principles of tai chi is the balance of Yin and Yang in our posture, stances and all movement. This balance is not just a point in time or a certain move or a certain posture. It is the constant attention to maintaining balance in your whole body through every single movement. When you find this balance, movement will feel effortless.
It’s the balance between hard and soft as well as external and internal. We typically go from being unrelaxed with muscles tensed to learning how to achieve a balance of both relaxed / soft external muscles and engaged / strong internal muscles. Most of us find it more difficult to achieve relaxed muscles. It takes work to realize we are contracting our muscles unnecessarily. We often lose our balance because we are unaware of muscles which are over extended or moving our centre away from our core.
As we master our awareness of how we occupy space with our bodies, we will gradually move from having our centre of balance all over the place to an effortless yin yang postural balance around our dantian or core almost all the time. When we are able to manage the combination of strong, engaged internal postural muscles with relaxed external movement muscles, we will be able to better reduce the stress our body experiences.
Reduced stress is one of the benefits of balance and understanding yin yang within our tai chi movements as well as body.
Tai Chi Elasticity
The principle of elasticity in tai chi allows us to harness the power of our bodies. This principle is known as “peng jing”. To achieve elasticity, the prerequisite is to be supple or flexible.
Just like the bow and arrow, the power of the arrow comes from the elasticity of the bow to launch the arrow forward much further than the bow itself would flex. Another more Canadian example is the hockey stick with its ability to flex to propel a hockey puck further and faster than just the strength of the hockey player’s power due to the elasticity of the materials of the stick’s shaft.
Tai Chi training involves developing just the right amount of flex in our body to maximize power in our movements. In life, being flexible does not mean you are weak. Instead, it can be a sign of hidden strength. If you apply this principle in how you interact with others or situations, it can have a profound impact on your life.
The key is to have the right amount of flexibility. Be too accommodating and you are a pushover. Be too inflexible and you are rigid and breakable. To acquire the right amount of flexibility in dealing with people or situations means taking a look at the big picture. Similar to how we achieve elasticity in tai chi, it must be presented as a whole and not as isolated parts of the body.
Success in Life as in Tai Chi is a Life Long Journey
The joy of learning tai chi is in the journey, not the destination. Sometimes the discoveries in tai chi are subtle and other times it can be enlightening. For me, all the discoveries are fulfilling and joyful. The personal growth and development from tai chi practice have always been a combination of physical, mental as well as emotional.
Too often, we live our lives trying to go somewhere instead of remembering to enjoy the moments as well as the companions who accompany us on that journey.