Where effort, struggle and hardships are necessary to reach the pinnacle of Tai Chi attainment? Or is Tai Chi a journey of discovery where every now and then you pause to look and reflect on your achievement?
Like most things in Tai Chi the answer is not straight forward, perhaps a little story from my own experience will be helpful.
Some time ago I went to the Lake District, Keswick actually. Whilst enjoying the view near the lake I turned round and looked at the hill behind me. I pondered on how much better the view would be if I was on top off that hill looking at the view from that vantage point. So enthused did I become that I felt compelled to climb it to see. So off I went and being a hot and windless day I was soon sweating and out of breath. But I had started and was not about to give up.
Eventually I reached the top and turned to see my prize, the view. And I was not disappointed, it was magnificent. Sitting on a rock, I relaxed and gazed at the scenery in total wonderment at the beauty and diversity of our wonderful world.
Sometime passed, how much I will never know, for at such times as the beholder of such splendour I find time somehow becomes obsolete. On days such as these whilst enjoying a little rest and relaxation I like to leave my watch behind so as not to be influenced by. Seeing the sun was getting lower in the sky so aware that perhaps I should be moving on I glanced backwards and was surprised to see another hill bigger than the one I had just climbed. The sight of this had been unavailable to me from my original vantage point down by the lake. I pondered again what the view from this one would look like. Oh! What the heck. Off I went to climb this one too, soon dripping with sweat again and panting heavily.
As I reached the top in the distance I saw yet another hill, again higher than the one I just climbed. As I stared at this sight for a minute or so I was felt irritated, was there no end to this struggle to reach the best position. My wish to arrive at this place to see what others who shunned the effort could not. This effort, my struggle had yielded nothing more than the knowledge that there is more, always more, requiring more movement, more endeavour necessary to reach a higher understanding.
In my disappointment I turned and was again struck, almost violently, with the magnificence of the vision before me. This achievement had rewarded me with a prize unsurpassed by my previous view, the result of that first effort from the foot of the hill near the lake. Had I chosen to stop at there, this standpoint would have been hidden from me.
So I sat there basking in that glorious spectacle. The sun shinning down on me from the beautiful blue sky above, as I enjoyed my prized view, I suddenly realised the commonality of this experience to my training in Tai Chi. At the outset of my training in Tai Chi I had no idea of the multitude of benefits I would receive. My health and general wellbeing had improved in leaps and bounds.
Remembering a conversation with a fellow Tai Chi practitioner, who had many more years to his credit than I, during my very first advanced training day in Dunstable near London way back in 1976. I had been practising Tai Chi for three years and this was my first day training at the special class held by my Master Chee Soo for his personally invited students, a real honour. He recognised my enthusiasm and gave me some advice. He told me that this was a special art and it would take me around 15 years before I would be proficient. On my way home back to Yorkshire at the end of the training day I was rather depressed. 15 years before I would be any good, a lifetime or so it seemed at that time. Fortunately for me I continued with my studies and I have been rewarded beyond my expectations.
Before setting out on my journey I could have never known what benefits laid ahead, nothing from my previous experience could have hinted at the brilliance it would add to my life. Like no one could have described the revelation I now gazed upon, the direct experience had no comparison. Feeling a part of nature, feeling being in tune with the world, feeling I was in the right place, following my personal path.
Was its effort worth it, oh, yes! Was I pleased I had made that effort, oh, yes. Did its majesty enthral me, OH! YES!! Am I talking about the view from the hill or the benefits of Tai Chi? Both!
I do my best to enthusiastically encourage others to make the effort to experience this beauty I have found in my life. But only they can make the journey. They need to want to know more. To make the effort to arrive at this place, this panoramic view that is laid bare before me, my reward. Its splendour can only be discussed with others who have made this or similarly journeys themselves. Tai Chi is not a goal to be attained but a never ending journey to be experienced, and that experience will enhance the lives of all those who practice it.
I wish you all I wish for myself.
© Copyright 2012 Howard Gibbon – all rights reserved
As a student and teacher of Tai Chi for the past 42 years one of the greatest benefits to my general health and well being has been to learn that resistance is futile in the sense of trying to overcome a force greater than yourself, physically or mentally, because it inevitable leads to injury, physically and or mentally.
When something or somebody resists you, the wise yield, others resist/fight.
The resistance you are encountering is not for you, it is a condition suffered by the other person or thing blocking your present path. The fact that you are in its path is just a coincidence. It is just something passing through, a temporary situation or state. Do not take it personally. See it as it is, something outside of you.
Don’t let it in, if you do it will infiltrate and destroy, eat away at your inner being, consume your mind. Keep it where it belongs outside, separate.
See it as you would see the rainy day when you wished to go walking or play tennis or some other outdoor activity.
Distinguish it as merely an irritation that can be dealt with by taking control of your mind and then finding another exciting indoor activity to do instead.
You have this power within you. You are the controller of your destiny, but only if you believe it, and only if you use it
Henry Ford who brought the motor car to the working man and women, and who amongst us is not grateful for that, once said,
“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right”.
Life is often like a storm arriving, an unfathomable natural condition of forces beyond your control. Let it pass. If you resist it will build in power and cause much damage, if you can let it pass through the disturbance will be minimal. And when harmony returns you will be unscathed and able to move on towards your dreams and goals.
The story of King Canute is usually misrepresented as an example of the King’s arrogance. The truth is King Canute set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. The King wanted to show his people that even though he was a King, he was powerless before nature and God.
The King continued to command the tide to halt. However, the tide continued to rise and washed over his feet and legs without respect to his royalty.
Then the king moved backwards, turning to the watching crowd and said: “Let all men know, empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.” He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again “to the honour of God the almighty King”, the ruler of all nature. It is a shame that his actions have been distorted for the true story imparts much wisdom.
If you fight the storm when it enters your life you will probably sustain mid to severe damage or worse as a result. And when the disturbance passes, waste much time returning your life to its position before the calamity hit.
Day to day minor and occasionally major aggravations infiltrate our lives at work, within our families and through our own beliefs systems.
How we react to those disturbances affects the quality of life we experience.
by Howard Gibbon
© Copyright 2012 Howard Gibbon – all rights reserved
Great at last a fine day. I took my laptop into the garden to do some work on our monthly Tai Chi newsletter whilst getting some welcome sun on my face.
Then it hit me my laptop has just done Tai Chi!
You see, I needed a file from my other computer in my upstairs office, and here I was now downloading a file onto my laptop from my computer upstairs in the house. No Wires, no obvious link between the two computers, and Bob’s your uncle, there was the file. No trekking upstairs and sifting though the desktop computer’s files then transferring it to a pen stick (a small storage device making it easy to transfer from one computer to another).
The very thing that separates Tai Chi from most other forms of exercise is the way it works on and builds up the energy system of the body. Students new to Tai Chi are usually concerned with improving their physical health and enjoying the relaxing feeling Tai Chi practise brings. Through the regular practise of Tai chi and its sister arts of Kai Men and Dao Yin the benefits to your health are many and long lasting.
But if they are still around in a few years time.
Students usually become fascinated by the energy side of Tai Chi. Now before you think I am one of those aerie fairy types who are off their rocker on cloud nine. Let me point out that science now states that everything is energy. It is just that those solid objects vibrate at a different level to us and other things. Everything all around us inside and out is energy vibrating at different frequencies. Just because we can not see that does not mean it is not real.
If you care to read a book about the fascinating things that scientists are working on at the moment. The ‘Dance of the ‘WU LI MASTERS’ by Gary Zukav An overview of the new physics is one amazing book. There others to choose from ‘The Dao of Physics’ an Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism is a book by physicist Fritjof Capra is another I found informative and thought provoking.
Al Chung-Liang Huang a Tai Chi Master
Among contributors to the ‘Dance of the WU LI Masters’ is Al Chung-Liang Huang a Tai Chi Master. For me this books technical explanations were not always easy reading, but in most areas things are explained in language that is easily understandable and totally fascinating. I drove my poor Tai Chi students mad for months afterwards as I linked things from the book to my lessons in Tai Chi, the comparisons were amazing. After 42 years studying and teaching Tai Chi, to me the principles inherent in Tai Chi appear in everything I learn about everything else. And how could it be not so. Tai Chi is based on the natural laws of the universe and everything in the universe must adhere to these principles in Tai Chi also.
When we think – We activate our energy – Energy moves the body
So when we practise Tai Chi, we must first calm the mind, bring it under control and direct it to our purpose. If you haven’t got a purpose for learning Tai Chi, it is doubtful you will continue for long. The mind untrained is like an unruly child. Undisciplined it will runs into trouble sooner rather than later. Controlling the mind is one of Tai Chi’s necessary traits and also attributes. So if you haven’t got a purpose for your practise, bringing your mind more under your control may well be a good one for you.
Although your initial purpose does not have to be so lofty an ideal to start with, just wanting to relax more or get out the house and meet other people is enough to keep you going to you Tai Chi class to start with.
Getting back to the computer: when you want to use it to accomplish a task you open the required program and start the work. But first you had a thought, a purpose, something you wanted to achieve. Once you have that you can find the tools i.e. program in this case to start the work. A computer will not work unless it has energy (electricity). Then driven by your purpose, you can produce an email, edit a photo, create a drawing, write an article and send that out into the world to whoever you choose to. Or print out a hard copy and send it via snail mail.
Our brain is rather like a computer, it has a memory section (hard drive). The ability to analyse data with its processor assisted by its loaded programs, not unlike our power of reason that allows us to analyse information which we pass through our past experiences to come to a conclusion of the way forward.
Our brain then gives out instructions and our energy mobilises to give fuel to our muscles and thought processes so we can carry out the task at hand. Without energy none of this is possible.
However, most of us never give this subject any thought, like our breathing we take it for granted, we assume it is an automatic function of our existence, and it is. But if for some reason we struggle to breathe or suffer a lack of energy. We soon realise that a lack of either is very restrictive indeed.
So it would seem to me to be a good idea to learn a little about our energy systems. Not because we are in short supply now but to ensure that if in the future should we become deficient we will always have a way of ensuring we can build up adequate reserves again.
My teacher Master Chee Soo use to say when you are born you have a bucket full of chi when you use it up you die, so don’t waste it.
When we are young we think we are indestructible and often flitter away our energy in unhealthy practises and behaviour. As we get older and develop we learn to conserve our energy and to the extent we do this we keep our health into old age.
Tai Chi teaches us to relax and conserve our energy and also how to replenish it, prolonging its life and keeping the quality of our chi good. Like the computer needs electricity to function, we need our chi. The quality and quantity should be of great concern to us. Healthy exercise such as Tai Chi along with breathing exercises and good quality healthy food can make a vast difference to the quality of life we experience.
There are many forms of exercise available today but not many that have been around for as long as Tai Chi. Tai Chi survives because is it as perennial as the earth under our feet. Based on nature itself, a tool for self-development and in my opinion Tai Chi is the best health exercise system there is, bar none.
I wish you all I wish for myself
© Copyright 2012 Howard Gibbon – all rights reserved
Howard has been practising and teaching Tai Chi for 44 years. A student of the late Grand master Chee Soo for 21 years Howard teaches Tai Chi, Dao Yin (respiration therapy, Kai Men (Chi Gung) Feng Shou (Lee Style art of Kung Fu), An Mo (massage techniques)
Tai Chi conjures up images of hundreds of elderly Chinese, practicing slow and flowing movements in unison. In fact it is practised to such an extent that, in the past, it has drawn the bewildered attention of tourists.
All over China many families rise early to complete their Tai Chi movements in the park, on the rooftops, in car parks and on balconies, in fact anywhere they can find a bit of space, before they go off to work or carry on with the rest of the day.
Who can benefit from the practice Tai Chi exercises?
The answer is just about everyone can improve their general health and well-being with Tai Chi. Regular practice reduces stress levels, relaxes the body, develops dynamic mind control and promotes good health. Tai Chi should was not designed to be used to fix specific health problems. Instead it treats the whole person on a continual basis, each individual regains lost vitality and movement due to their whole system working more efficiently. Tai Chi is an extraordinary tool that rewards its practitioners with improved good health that can be sustained by continual practise.
Health is not the same as fitness, you can be very fit but still unhealthy, and you can be healthy but not necessarily extremely fit. Again balance is the key. This is where Tai Chi leaves other forms of exercise way behind and why it is becoming more and more popular, and equally, why more and more people in the medical profession are sending their patients to Tai Chi classes.
Many are under the impression Tai Chi is just for the elderly, this is incorrect. Tai Chi should ideally be taught from an early age. Traditionally the art has always been passed from generation to generation, parents teaching their children almost as soon as they could walk. It is, however, such a safe exercise system that even the elderly benefit, which is why it is so popular amongst the older age group. Balance, the circulation within the various body systems and breathing all improve with practice, which makes Tai Chi perfect for those who suffer from stress or effects of poor posture, for those with joint problems or for those recuperating from illness. For the perfectly healthy it is an ideal exercise to stay that way!
Another incorrect view it that there are only two or three styles, there are many, many different Tai Chi styles, which were and are still being passed on as family traditions, a bit like ‘Grandmother’s best recipe’. So it is not surprising that all are a little different, some longer than others, some more health than others, some more obvious as a martial art. While in China the various styles are practised next to each other in the parks, in the West there are some Tai Chi schools which proclaim that their style is ‘best’, which of course is nonsense. At present, in England, mainly the Yang Style, the Chen Style, the Wu Style and the Lee Style the later sometimes often called Li Style and the main styles practised.
Is Tai Chi a martial art? It is true that Tai Chi movements were originally developed as extremely effective, precise, yet flowing self-defence movements, which made good posture, balance, sure footing, breath-control, and self-control over one’s emotions necessary. These are precisely the requisites that make Tai Chi useful as a health art and also as an art of self-development – the complex movements must be carried out accurately, learned patiently, the slow balance and correct breathing continuously practised.
Tai Chi is a low impact exercise. The slow movements and your attention to the practice means you can feel when you are putting undue strain on joints and muscles so you know when enough is enough – unlike fast and high impact exercise when injury is only recognized after the event has taken place. Tai Chi does not leave you dripping with sweat. You can practice Tai Chi in your tea break or any other suitable time, 15 minutes will refresh your mind and rebalance your body. You can practise in your work clothes, in your pyjamas or when and wherever you like – just give yourself a little time and space to get back in tune with your body – the mind and spirit connection will follow.
Practising Tai Chi at the start of the day will focus your mind and relax your body, and that feeling will stay with you throughout most of your day. Therefore each new day should mean a new time of practice, after all, you cannot keep drinking constantly from the same cup without replenishing it. The regular health maintenance and renewed sense of well-being is what keeps those who stick with Tai Chi enthusiastic – there is a lot more to it all than just learning some movements by heart.
As Lao Tzu said: “Deal with things while they are small”- health care is no exception. To feel really well a healthy diet, proper sleep and fulfilling relationships at work and at home are essential. Somehow your Tai Chi practice will encourage you to look for those things that are good for you, and leave negative situations and habits behind.
Learning Tai Chi allows you to release tensions and reduce unnecessary movement. You keep simplifying and going back to your essential self – the real you. Tai Chi restores the balance by calming the mind whilst relaxing and rejuvenating the body. Many people find they sleep better after Tai Chi practise.
Science tells us we are constantly renewing cells, nearly all of the body is replaced every 5 -7 years. Some cells are renewed every minute of the day. So change within the body and without is inevitable. Life is perpetually in flux. Dance along with the flow while keeping an eye out for obstructions.
Tai Chi will help you unravel the wonders of life – enjoy!
Download your Free Beginners Tai Chi book and watch the video clip demonstrating the moves by entering your details in the box (top left) and give it a try yourself. Go on you will be glad you did.
© Copyright 2012 Howard Gibbon – all rights reserved
Tai Chi practise has helped me in so many ways. Tai Chi always restores my balance physically, mentally and spiritually
It is not often I experience a feeling of being totally overwhelmed but a few days ago I woke feeling this way. Probably you have had the same feeling yourself sometime. There were family health issues, disputes, unhappiness in abundance. I had a DVD to finish that had had its share of technical problems. I had a newsletter to get out in a few days. Admin work was piling up on my desk. Decisions to be make over course dates. The list went on and on…
It was 10.30am. I had answered phone calls and dealt with urgent emails already. But I had not done my regular Tai Chi practise yet. My wife called out as I passed her office and asked me to help her with a small task. I had to stop myself barking a reply. Something on the lines of I am too busy.
I was stressed, what no not me surely, an experienced Tai Chi teacher with many years under my belt teaching other people how to bring peace and harmony into their lives.
Am I a hypocrite?
Should I not be above all that sort of thing? Well Tai Chi is a tool not a panacea for all ills of the body and mind.
Tai Chi is no quick fix and like all tools it is only useful when it is put to use.
Time for my Tai Chi practice.
I stepped out into our back garden onto the patio, my usual exercise place. As I looked down to check I was standing on the correct spot I noticed a ladybird to my front. It looked quite dead; I considered that I had probable in my poor mental state, plagued with so many problems, stood on it as I walked onto the patio. Out of dejection and irritation I, gently mind you, flicked it toward the grass with the edge of my shoe. It slid towards the grass rolling over twice in the process and then to my surprise came alive and started walking back towards the spot I expelled it from. Now my focus turned to the safety of this ladybird. It was still full of life heading back to its original spot at a fair number of knots. Filled with remorse for the treatment I gave it I looked around and seeing a dead leaf that had fallen off the ivy climbing our garden fence. I picked it up and tenderly placed it in the path of the ladybird and when it crawled on the leaf, lifted it and placed it amongst the ivy.
Now feeling a little better about myself I set to work on my Tai Chi practise. And work it turned out to be because my mind was still consumed with my worries and waiting tasks. I persevered, completing the Tai Chi long form. This was not the real Tai Chi I had come to know after many years of dedicated practise. This was mere mechanical movement. My mind slipped in and out of control, drifting back and forth from my movements to my problems and concerns and back again to my practice. This was the way I used to perform my Tai Chi in my early years. It had its value in the physical exercise and the brief moments of clarity when I was focused on my Tai Chi. In touch with my physical reality at the very moment of its conception. Then I quickly lost that connectedness again as my mind moved too far in front to think of a forthcoming movement or returned to one gone and analysed it. Both pastimes fruitless for the future has not arrived and the past has gone, forever, never to return.
I perform the Tai Chi long form a second and third time in this very state. Exercising my body, no doubt moving my energy in a sluggish kind of way and struggling to control my thought processes. Then suddenly, remarkable quickly, everything fell into place. The physical flow, that place I have come to know where, I become the watcher and the watched, my being in harmony, body, mind and spirit working together as one, no separation only the essence of being. No more distractions, no more disturbances. The muddy waters now clear and calm. I continued my Tai Chi practise clocking up 1 hour and 10 minutes, more than twice my usual training time for the Tai Chi form and I wanted to go on. It felt so good I did not want it to end. But I knew that balance must be the overruling principle. So I stopped my practise, now calm in spirit and smiling at the ladybird still on the ivy, it and I, happy to be alive. What beauty we have around us and how often we miss it in our obsession to achieve goals. I made a mental note to allow myself more time to exist in my natural state of individualism whilst appreciating the beauty of my surroundings. Now refreshed and ready to tackle those tasks I went up to my office and started work.
Oh! what a blessing the practise of Tai chi has been in my life and continues to be. A true gift from the Dao.
© Copyright 2012 Howard Gibbon – all rights reserved