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Tai Chi and The Power of Practise

Russell Poldrack, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Los Angeles, has conducted a number of brain-imaging experiments to trace the transition from explicit to implicit monitoring that occurs over many hours’ practice. He has discovered that the prefrontal cortex is activated when a novice is learning a skill, but that control of the stroke switches over time to areas such as the basal ganglia, which is partly responsible for touch and feel. This migration from the explicit to the implicit system of the brain has two crucial advantages. First, it enables the expert player to integrate the various parts of a complex skill into one fluent whole something that would be impossible at a conscious level because there are too many interconnecting variables for the conscious mind to handle. And second, it frees up attention to focus on higher-level aspects of the skill such as tactics and strategy. This transition between brain systems can be most easily understood by thinking about what happens when you learn to drive a car. When you start out, you have to focus intently in order to move the gear stick while keeping the steering wheel in the right place, pushing on the clutch, and keeping an eye on the road. At the beginning these tasks are so difficult to execute simultaneously that the instructor usually starts you off in a car park and slowly helps you to integrate the various elements. Only after some hours practise can these various skills be performed effortlessly, without any conscious control, so that you are now able to arrive at your destination without even being aware of how you got there, your mind having been on other things. Your skills have moved from the explicit to the implicit, from the conscious to the unconscious, and your ability has graduated. These are the skills that allow the Tai Chi practitioner to perform their routine with such flow and precision. Initially the Tai Chi students focus is on perfecting the various hand, arm and leg movements. After many hours of practise these are integrated into the unconscious. Now attention moves to the flow i.e. blending the movements into one harmonious structure.

As a teacher I have been privileged to witness this marvel on many occasions; watching a group of experienced Tai Chi enthusiasts practising, seeing them harmonising their Tai Chi together as one flowing majestic movement. Confirming to the beholder, that with concentration and a willing heart all people can work together to lift the spirit so we can live together peacefully.

There are other aspects of Tai Chi practise that deepen the understanding on a personal and group level but these are best learnt through attending a class conducted by an experienced teacher. Many of these attributes unfold themselves gradually over the years.

The dedicated hours of practise are also an absolute requirement to gain a high level of skill in the art of I Fu Shou (Sticky Hands), too.

Check out Howard’s Article: Tai Chi/Pushing Hands

Recommended Reading: Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice HarperCollins Publishers. Available on Amazon Books


Should I go to Tai Chi class if I am tired?

Watch the video to see Howard's thoughts.

Why do we face South when practising Tai Chi

Why do we face South to start practising Tai Chi?

A great question asked by Morgan from Leeds

Firstly what I say here applies the Lee Style Tai Chi as taught by the late Master Chee Soo. If you practise another Tai Chi Style I suggest you check with your instructor to see there are no contradictions.

Taking into consideration your available practice space any direction that is suitable will be fine.

However, if you have the choice, as Chee Soo says in his Tai Chi book, stand facing South with your back facing North. East should then be to your left and West to your right.

I am fortunate that my living room, my practice area in bad weather, allows me to face South but when the weather allows I prefer to train outside.

The Chinese Five Elements System places North under Yin and South Yang, well to be accurate, South is Lesser Yang and North is Greater Yin.

So we start facing South and perform ‘Gather Celestial Energy’ drawing in Li energy in the process. At the end of the form set 41 we perform ‘Gather Earth’s Energy’ drawing the Chi up the body into the chest and then letting it sink (Set 42) to its natural home in the Dan Dien. Between the sets of the Tai Chi form we move through Greater Yang (East) and Lesser Yin (West) passing through Lesser Yang (South) as we absorb oxygen energising our body.  Stretching and relaxing muscles, moving the weight from one leg to another exploring and perfecting our balance in the process. Then learning to circulating our Chi and allowing in Li energy from heaven, letting it pass through us revitalising us, providing it is unimpeded by tense muscles and a busy mind.

So by facing South to start our Tai Chi practice allows the Li energy to reach us more easily as we perform our movements

These benefits only come when one puts in the the practice on a regular basis for the benefits of Tai Chi have to be worked for. Having a goal to attain these gifts is not enough the Tao (The Way) must be walked step by step.

I hope you found this helpful. Any questions please ask.

The only stupid questions are the ones you didn’t ask but wish you had.


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