Category Archives: issue-30

SPIRIT within TAI CHI CHUAN

by Ian Cameron

Some time ago, a student asked me “When do you get good at this?” This was someone with quite a bit of experience. My answer was, -Practising is more important than being good at it-. Everyone, obviously does their best when practising, becoming proficient comes with the practice, to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon the person.You do not have to be -good- at it to have the right spirit. We always seem to equate the physical side of Tai Chi Chuan with being good or not. But, the spirit of Tai Chi Chuan isn’t exclusive to those that are physically more gifted. It is the forging of the spirit, that is to my way of thinking much more important, this is the beauty of Tai Chi Chuan. If done with the right spirit then everyone can benefit from it. I remember two of our class members, sadly no longer with us, but what courage they showed. Both were very ill but still came to class and gave everything they could. We can all learn so much from these great demonstrations of spirit. This also showed me another side of having a firm internal core.

Iancameronsword

Take any aspect of Tai Chi Chuan, although quite differerent, they all in the end, come down to training the mind and spirit.

With time, we will all know our way through the various forms. There must however come a point where Tai Chi Chuan feels comfortable, in other words, it fits. Where the gap between the doer and the thing done disappears. At this point, you have stillness in movement. You know where the form is going, well, allow the form to go there. This allows for the free flowing movement of the forms, it is not so much a technical exercise, more a feeling process. It is very important to feel your form. Cheng Tin Hung always said that it was about feeling. Intuition plays an important role in this respect. I do think that Tai Chi Chuan should be learned from the ground up, and not from the head down. Intelectual understanding is not the experience itself. The direct experience of physically doing Tai Chi Chuan is where the learning is. Understanding, comes through the physicality of practice. If it is always of a technical nature the spontaeneous aspect will never show through. Get yourself out of the way and become one with the flow of Tai Chi Chuan. Spontaneity means that there is no outside influence. To practice until you can be spontaneous, does not mean that you do anything you like. It takes discipline. It must mean that thought and action are one, with no concetpual thought to interfere. To constantly practice is a way of emptying out, letting go, not holding on to anything, so that there is no division between you and what you are doing. Absorbing the principle of Tai Chi until it is very much a part of you. I don’t mean this in any psuedo mystical way, it is after all just practice. Saying that, why you practice/teach, influences how you practice/teach.

To maintain stillness of mind, does not mean in any sense, a type of rigidity where you hold your mind in a state of constant tension. It means that the mind is flowing with whatever you are doing and, not getting caught up with what is past or what is to come. It is simply reflecting the moment, just as the Tai Chi Chuan forms express the moment. There is no dwelling on anything during the form, it is a constant flow. This flowing mind must be maintained when faced with an adversary, (or any situation for that matter). Not allowing the mind to be caught up with what the opponent might do, but as a reflection of what the opponent does, maintaining all the time, a clear and flowing mind. There should be no break in continuity between dealing with one opponent, and the next. Any break would suggest a space where you leave yourself open to attack.

Any expression of Tai Chi Chuan must as far as possible be devoid of ego (Who can you impress in your back garden?) Genuine expression comes from within, from a realization that anything done for show, in reality means nothing at all, it is here that you have the separation between the doer and the thing done. Spirit is not concerned with this in the least. Pure action is the thing that I am interested in. This I believe comes from having nothing attached to the practice other, than the art itself.

Whatever the reason for practising Tai Chi, it still remains a thing of beauty. A thing of beauty for the person practising. Never for the watcher, they have nothing to do with it. It is not for the outer appearance that you practice, by that I mean that there should be no decoration added to the forms to please anyone. Everything lies within the practitioner, if you just have the spirit to quietly persevere.

We are thinking beings, and will always have thoughts. It is no use trying to eradicate thoughts, this won’t happen. It is the attachment to thoughts that create distractions. That is why, as with any discipline, it is the focus on the activity or -one point- that allows thoughts to pass by, and not get caught up in a train of thought. Let them come and let them go. Thoughts are like tools, pick them up when you need them.

It is the small mind that gets in the way, that clutters up and distracts you from the going deeper into self examination. It is easier to be -out there- showing, teaching, and getting a reputation than it is to face yourself. What we are expressing is a motiveless universal principle, which will always be greater than the performance of it.

Being a beginner in what you are already doing, is a way of furthering your practice. The thing that is farthest away always seems more atractive. The classics constantly warn against this way of thinking. The oft quoted classic -The longest journey starts with a small step- is so true it has become a cliche. To my way of thinking, it means, that this small step, is every step you take. The Chinese arts are very attractive, where the choice can appear limitless. If you are practising a comprehensive system, it too is limitless. There is of course nothing wrong with gaining experience, but you must have a core practice. Being a beginner means that what you already have is always fresh.

-Will to one thing- (Erich Fromm, The Art of Being) This is an important principle to keep in mind.

As you get older, and we all do, your Tai Chi Chuan becomes a very great friend, something you can practice, and take with you anywhere. The spirit to carry on, no matter what, gives you a vitality for life, a resilience,and a life long interest. Being -tough- isn’t always what it seems. Toughness, is doing a practice all of your life, no matter what that practice might be. True spirit is not for show, it is impersonal, it lies within.

When, through time our physical abilities diminish, it is the mind that is important. To still practice in old age is a priceless gift. It mentions in the Classics, about an old man defending himself against many attackers. My way of interpreting this is, that it is pointing to the mind/spirit. Through training over time, it is use of the mind/spirit that overcomes an opponent, and not just physical ability.

To develop and train the mind until it becomes a clear mirror, reflecting and not grasping, is the way of Tai Chi Chuan.

Meet Steffi Sachsenmaier

Steffi Sachsenmaier

How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi? Very few years! I never like being asked this question when I teach, as I feel that if I am being honest, my skills and quality might be doubted by the students. So my answer always is: for a few years, but I have been training basically every day! I only teach beginners at this stage in our academy.

What stimulated your interest in Tai Chi Chuan? When I lived in Paris a few years ago, having a bit of a difficult time, I often saw tai chi practitioners in the park nearby which I lived, the Jardin du Luxembourg. I thought, this is what Ineed to do!I was taken by the sense of internal connection of the movement, and was longing to be able to practice a ‘form’ as such, by myself, which I could investigate on a daily basis. I could see it was something that would give so much back.

What does Tai Chi mean to you? It has become pretty much the ‘framework’ of my life, very quickly. I am discovering ‘questions’ for life in it, as well as ‘answers’. Through training I constantly discover ‘principles’ that I can apply to other parts of my life, which is a great treasure. Also in the practical sense it structures my day, as I train on a daily basis, even if I can’t get to class at my academy. No matter what else happens in life, I always feel that my tai chi progresses, so it is a very positive part of my daily life.

What is the most important aspect for you? The wisdom that is in the art, which is inexhaustible.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi? To practice on a daily basis with humility, for the rest of my life!

Who or what inspired you? Apart from somehow just having ‘clicked’ with the art, it is my Sifu, Gary Wragg, who is my strongest inspiration. I feel through him I aspire to the highest standards, and I admire him for what he set up and makes possible. Our academy is open every day, and it has become a strong part of the lives of a large group of his students. What he seems to have achieved personally in and with tai chi chuan is inspiring, specifically in the sense of integrating it into his work as an artist. I can relate strongly to this, as I also work creatively (in the performing arts). He is an amazing teacher, and without his constant presence and invested teaching I would not have had the chance to make tai chi such a strong part of my life.

What do you make of Tai Chi Chuan’s current popularity? I am supportive of a growing awareness and interest in tai chi chuan, but would want to see it happening for the right reasons. I myself have witnessed before I found our academy a way of teaching and promoting tai chi chuan that makes no sense to me anymore, for its lack of martial attention and bad teaching for money overall.

As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspects of Tai Chi? Tai chi is a martial art! Every class I teach includes training applications, and how those relate to the form. I am also intrigued by discovering from Sifu Gary Wragg how the martial aspect and health are always related. He keeps saying, what is good for martial is good for health!

What are your views on competition? They are a great incentive to train, to achieve smaller goals, and to test yourself in a specific moment, on many levels, including skills, technique, calmness of mind, humility… Everything has to be there at a precise moment that is not of your choice. Training for such an event brings another level to your practice. It becomes about training to ‘be in the moment’. I have learned so, so much in competitions that I could not have gained from normal training. Everything becomes just a little more ‘real’ when you are doing pushing hands competitions for instance, and it is not easy to recreate this sense in a training session. The same goes for the forms. Also I find competitions important events for an exchange of knowledge and awareness of different practitioners, practicing different styles and techniques, and in this regard they are an integral part of fostering some form of a ‘tai chi community’.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi going in the future? I would like tai chi to be widely recognised for the rich internal martial art that it is. It would be amazing if it were to become an Olympic discipline, as it would give the art the status and recognition it deserves as an authentic, traditional as well as modern discipline.

Meet Richard Small

Richard Small

How long have you been practicing Tai Chi?
On and off I have looked at Tai Chi since about 1980, seeing several different teachers whose names I mostly cannot remember but whose skills I still admire. I started to practice regularly, what I then thought was Tai Chi, about 1996. In truth I think only now am I beginning to practice what I currently believe is real Tai Chi. So to answer the question, I could say, over twenty years ‚’ that‚’s for image and ego, but better to say it‚’s only a few months that I‚’ve practiced ‚’real‚’ Tai Chi. Another question might be, ‚’how long have you been learning Tai Chi?‚’ then the answer would be, ‚’for ever‚’.

Who or what stimulated your interest?
Firstly, the TV series ‚’Kung Fu‚’ in the 1970s, after which I sought a class and found Aikido. A growing interest in the martial arts led me to look further and notably in Tai Chi I found an experience and pleasure that interested me.

What does Tai Chi mean to you?
It‚’s inherent part of my life; it means discovery, excitement, friendship, peace; it means travel to China, culture; one foot in history the other in the future ‚’ sort of yin and yang. It leaves me in wonderment at the seemingly ‚’magic‚’ power that senior practitioners can exhibit ‚’ a power hidden to all but the receiver. Tai Chi means association with great masters whose skills demand world recognition yet in their humility they ask for nothing. Tai Chi puts you in touch with yourself; it puts you in touch with kindness, gentleness, devastating power and an energy powered peace. Tai Chi is a journey, a journey for life, in life, and a journey to enjoy.

What is the most important aspect for you?
Discovery, body awareness, the chance to share ‚’ there is no one important aspect really.

Who or what inspired you?
We gain inspiration from so many places, people and events. I remain grateful to all my teachers, be they Master or student.
In my 20s I met a lady called Iris who was in her 60s with arthritis, but her Tai Chi was graceful, balanced and seemingly pain free, she used such wonderful expressions like, ‚’Carry Tiger to the Mountain‚’ . Others include, my Aikido teacher, Tony Sargeant who travelled to China to further his martial arts studies, Simon Watson for his skills and excellent teaching, his father, Richard whose congenial, generous nature conceals years of extensive effort in search of perfection in the martial arts. Master Wang Yanji, Professor Li DeYin, Alan Smith, Kung Fu man that taught me lots of Tai Chi form, Mick Leslie for his kindness and generous teaching, Tary Yip of the Deyin Institute for his calm fortitude in the face of any disaster. Trees growing on mountains, elderly students that skip in to class with a smile, the list is endless.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
To keep going and keep learning, to free the body and mind from tensions and find that beautiful power the masters have ‚’ and when I have I‚’d like to share it with others.

What do you make of Tai chi‚’s current popularity?
I wish it was actually more popular than it is; it has so many benefits to offer so many people. Many ‚’popular ‚’exercisesystemshave crowded classes, yet they do not in my opinion touch the essence as Tai Chi does. If I advertised a new class where people could learn the latest fad, ‚’Pilats-Chi-med‚’ , a rich combination of Pilates, Tai Chi and Aborigine dream time meditation, all done to new age Swaziland Bongo drums, then a million people with handfuls of money would queue for a place. Tell them it‚’s an ancient well proven exercise system, virtually guaranteed to improve your life and health called Tai Chi and you‚’ll struggle to pay the hall fees.

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
How can it possibly be ignored? How can it possibly be Tai Chi if we don‚’t recognise where it came from and why it existed? The martial aspect, even at a cursory level aids the focus of energy, creates a semblance of confidence, gives a sense of power, and creates interaction with others ‚’ real or imaginary. All have their place, surely?

What are your views on competition?
I know little about it, but have admiration for those who seek to test their skills after dedicated practice. No doubt competition makes for a more rounded Tai Chi student as they come closer to what there was in the origins of the art.
‚’To master others is partial victory, To master self is total victory‚’ The competitor can do both.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi go in future?
It needs a national boost in awareness, there are things going on but in a fragmented and sometimes insular way. TCUGB do an excellent job, particular credit to the magazine, and we should support them. What a shame the Chinese couldn‚’t persuade the Olympic committee to give Tai Chi more prominence in 2008.

Tai Chi is good, it has no enemies …whatitcoulddowithisafew more friends. Sadly our material world has pushed the spiritual to the edges. I hope in some way my classes and web site site will make a difference, just like anyone could. ‚’ remember that it only takes one seemingly weightless snowflake to add to the others to break the branch … be that snowflake.