Posts Tagged ‘chen style’

Most of the practice has fallen away, leaving only Qigong. It’s been there from the beginning of course, learned along with a decade’s worth of Tai Chi, then Kung Fu. I still watch the masters, admire the fluidity of their forms, but these days experience in my self only a resistance to it, as if in the absence of attaining such perfection myself, I would sooner shun the effort. This is not skillful thinking.

Through Qigong, I’m hanging on, but only by my fingernails.

It’s a meditation of sorts, a medley of mindful moves, synchronised to the rhythm of one’s breath. But when your head’s so far outside the box as mine is now, the moves become automatic while the mind roams, sifts through the fetid entrails of the day, or ruminates on what may or may not yet be. There is too much past and future, not enough presence. We catch ourselves half way through an hour’s session still thinking back upon the day. We have yet to settle in, yet to still the mind, to become,… mindful of what we’re doing, and where we are, and why.

We close with ten minutes of simple meditation, thighs aching from a fading familiarity with the lotus. We count with each breath silently from one to ten, then down again. If we lose our way, lose focus, if the mind wanders, we start from the beginning. I  can barely make it past four. I have one eye half open, then I can see the teacher’s temple bell, alert for the move that will ring an end to yet another half-assed  session, spill me back out into the dark of night.

It’s been a long day, a rushed day, one problem after another, one damned fool question after another to be answered, demands for ever more pieces of me, when all that’s left feels like this fragile husk, ragged, frayed,  head zig zagging like a stray hound in the forest chasing rabbits.

But driving home, gone nine pm now, I realise I’m feeling better than when I set out into my day at seven a.m., out into the rain streaked murk of a January predawn. Yes, it’s an evil night, cold, black, and lashing with hail. Idiots are flashing past on the dual carriageway, doing a hundred miles an hour. I’m on cruise control, keeping to just below the limit, listening to  Smooth radio.

ABBA are singing, “Knowing me, Knowing you”.

1977, I think. It was the year I first set out on that long commute, out into those first days of manhood. Back then I rode a dodgy moped of dubious reliability, little knowing how long that road would be, that I would still be travelling it forty years later, though fortunately not on a moped. But as I listen, I’m not nostalgic for any of that,  nor regretful, my head slipping free of the myriad snares of the past. All of that simply was, and as for the future none of it might ever be. Instead, I catch myself for once in a state of relaxed attention. It still happens. Sometimes.

Practice in martial arts, in Yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, whatever, is not about success, not about perfection or grace or power in forms. It’s not about feeling the chi or entering the zone. Sometimes it’s more about simply recognising the imperfections in oneself, of not minding them, and turning up anyway.


[The opening video is a breathtaking demonstration of the twenty four form Chen style Tai Chi by JoJo Hua]


Read Full Post »

Longquan Practice JianI don’t know about other styles of Tai Chi, or indeed other schools of the same style I practice –  namely Chen, but I guess they’re all slightly different. It’s a human thing, dictated by the character and experience of your teacher, by the character and nature of the group you’re a part of, and by your own nature as well – but one thing I noticed when I began practicing the long sword form was that I began to lose touch with the fundamentals of Tai Chi more or less right away.

It was clear to me that the moves I was learning had a martial application. We practiced slowly, but the intent was obvious and you’d only to speed it up a little, call your sword green destiny and you were no longer this middle aged geezer with a cheap Lonquan practice jian – you were a  ninja –  or at least an overgrown kid, pretending to be a ninja.

The long sword form is the first of the long forms one encounters in Chen, after the shorter, introductory eleven or eighteen open-handed forms. There are forty nine moves. At first it seems impossible anyone could remember that many moves, and if you watch it on your instructional DVD, it seems to go on for ever, but if I can pick it up, anyone can, and it really doesn’t seem as long in the actual doing of the form as it does in the watching of it. But the danger in picking up a long form is that one begins to concentrate on the form itself and not on the feeling of the form.

When I began Chen style, I seemed to progress very slowly. It took me three months to learn the first five moves. I would repeat them over and over, and I would drive home afterwards bathed in sweat, and in a state of supernatural calm that drew me back week after week, hungry for more of the same. But once I began on the forty nine, I think I forgot what I was doing Tai Chi for.

I forgot the basics.

I still drove home bathed in sweat afterwards – but somehow, I was no longer quite as supernaturally calm as I had once been.

I do not do Tai Chi to learn how to fight people  or break bones. However, with Chen, the application of the moves become more obvious as one progresses. It’s an energetic, and occasionally explosive form that’s a joy to practice, but as a beginner, like me, I think it’s easy to lose your way with it, and it’s probably fair to say the sword form threw me off completely.

In the I Ching, Hexagram 22 talks about Adornment. When I read the Wilhelm translation of this ancient book, I fancy I detect the hand of Confucius here, more than Lau Tzu. To my possibly ill-informed, western mind, Confucianism seems concerned with correctness of form, of order, of etiquette – and the idea that such things should reflect or give expression to the underlying beauty of things. However, the I Ching also tells us that these things are essentially adornments, and not the underlying essence – that sometimes they can disguise a hollow sham, and it’s important to be able to recognise the difference. Likewise, forget the basics of Tai Chi, and no matter how well you know the form, it’ll look ridiculous.

I once filmed myself doing the sword form – for the sake of self correction, but I looked so silly, I deleted it. There was nothing worth correcting. It lacked something so fundamental and completely beyond the moves I was performing it wasn’t even worth adjusting. Adjustment was not the issue. Essence was the issue, and you cannot practice essence – you must discover it, tap into it, feel it.  I’ve watched many a westerner on You Tube doing the form, and they all look ridiculous.

Only the Chinese masters seem to have it.

What is it?

I think I understood it once, vaguely, in the early days, when things were simpler, but have since lost it. It’s something to do with breathing and intention, I think. This is easier to maintain when you’re doing a  short form, or a Qigong set, but the longer forms require the support of one’s ego simply in order to persevere with the practice long enough, month after month, year after year to complete them and remember them. In the struggle for it we forget the idea of intention, because intention is a ridiculous concept to one’s ego, as is energy or Qi.

Things only became worse for me after the sword form. I moved on to the Chen Old Frame, the Lao Jia, seventy two movements, then the Broadsword form – and before I  knew it the Pau Chui or Cannon Fist. My instructor tells me I’m coming to the end of the course, now, and if that’s true then I feel like I’m further away from knowing what Tai Chi is at the end of it than I was at the beginning.

At the moment I’m trying to slow down to the point where my imagination and my concept of reality meet, to the point where I can feel the resistance of the air as I move. I don’t know if this is correct, but it feels right at the moment.  I close my eyes. I try to feel it. I try to remember the form and practice it deliberately. I try to develop an awareness of my body and the feel of the sword – its minute vibrations, its weight, its coolness in my hand. I put my mind into my arms, my fingers, my torso, my legs. It’s an imaginary thing, but I try to read myself, concentrate on what I’m feeling, what my nerves are telling me  – and I try to remember that what I’m doing is trying to achieve a state of moving meditation.

I understand meditation.

In meditation we close ourselves down and hang our mind upon the feel of our breaths. Mostly we breathe in a coarse way. If we focus, we can hear our breath – this is coarseness. But if we can slow down,  there eventually comes a point where we cannot hear our breaths any more. This is the sound of the silent breath. We are breathing, but only in our imaginations, and it is also through our imaginations we become aware of the movements of our body, and the movement of this imaginary stuff called Qi.

I read somewhere recently – I wish I could remember where – about a student who turned in exasperation to his teacher and said: this is all in my mind – it’s just imaginary, and the teacher said: Well,  tell me what is not imaginary! Tell me what is not all in the mind!

So,.. what I’m trying to say, as a beginner, as we rush on with our practice of the form, we should try not to forget our first lesson: the position of Wu Wei, of nothingness, nor the way the breath measures every move – breathing in as we draw in, breathing out as we push out, or strike. The form that can be described, like Dao, is not the real form. The real form comes from within and cannot be described – only experienced. For now I’ve completely lost it – just like Dao and life in general – but with patience and practice, I hope I can regain it.

* One more thing! Uncle’s delightfully annoying verbal tick from the 2000 animated cartoon series: The Adventures of Jackie Chan.

Michael Graeme


Read Full Post »