|Are you a martial artist?
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The era of the absurd
Modern culture/media/movies present people with the illusion that great skill can be gained overnight.
New starters are guaranteed a black belt within a year or two of starting their training. Kids are given a black belt before they can drive a car or leave school.
Self defence courses show a limited range of techniques designed to provide the illusion of genuine martial competence against a real life assailant...
It is common for beginners to train a martial art for a number of months or even a year or two and then quit.
Some may even last until black belt, only to leave then (as though black belt marked the end of their training). In the scheme of things, a few years of practice really amounts to nothing.
The long haul
A student is thinking in terms of decades. They are aiming to train for a lifetime... They train patiently every day. Their expectations are realistic.
Neither lazy nor complacent, the student works through the many challenges and obstacles, becoming stronger, calmer and more adept.
The difference between
experienced fighters and beginners is the speed of muscle relaxation, which
is 8 times faster in champion fighters. For an inexperienced fighter, the
speed of muscle relaxation is too slow for the leg or the fist to gain
enough speed when striking a blow. Keeping the antagonistic muscles
contracted automatically slows down the movement.
A martial athlete?
Combat is not easy and there is a risk of injury if the student is unfit. This is true of any martial art. To reach a high level of skill, the student needs to take a lesson from sport.
They must become a lot fitter, but not necessarily a martial athlete.
All martial arts require the student to be fit for combat.
Tai chi students train: massage, leg stretches, qigong, neigong, form, partnered work, martial sets & drills, combat and weapons.
The training is done carefully, gently - in a controlled manner - without exertion or strain.
Tai chi for health
Faced with a major health crisis in the 1950's, the People's Republic of China turned to the old/classical Yang style tai chi for a solution.
They wanted a form of exercise that could be performed by students of all ages. The simplest way to achieve this was to remove the more demanding fitness component and the combat.
Most modern tai chi classes are teaching an art that an old person could cope with... By definition this cannot conceivably be a martial art.
Skill is the outcome of time, of practice, of study, of experience. Tai chi does not use brute force, contracted muscles or aggression. Its skills are accomplished quietly, and without fanfare.
To gain these skills you must work hard.
Attending is not practicing
Tai chi lessons are about offering the student material for practice. Whether or not the student goes away and practices the tai chi is their concern, not the instructor's.
Attending is attending, and nothing more. Practice is what you do between lessons.
Without long practice one cannot suddenly
understand tai chi.
The earnest student is honest about their degree of commitment. They recognise that progress is their own responsibility. You get out of tai chi what you put into it.
If you only plan to attend once a week and never train at home, progress will be slow. It is wise to be modest with your ambitions. Aim to gain skill within a limited sphere of understanding.
Rather than spread your time thinly, focus on the preliminaries and become adept with those few concerns.
The keen student - burning with curiosity - needs no prompting to train, needs no incentives or encouragement.
The unknown beckons and they approach the mystery eagerly. Self-reliance and self-discipline may seem necessary, but they are not.
When you are alive with interest and passionate to know, you have no need of self-discipline. People always make time for the things they want to do.
How do you spend your life? Working? Watching TV? Are you a spectator or a participant?
How many people suffer from a mid-life crisis? And what exactly is a mid-life crisis? Surely it is the realisation that there is more to life than earning money.
Life is fascinating, mysterious, exciting. Yet, sitting at your desk or on the sofa... this seems somewhat dull.
Instead of fading slowly within the confines of their own life, the rare individual undertakes a journey of intimidating difficulty.
They do not withdraw in fear from the uncertainty ahead. Nor do they question the need for a quest. Learning tai chi is an intensely personal adventure.
There will be startling insights, unexpected joy and occasional moments of considerable fear.
It is a mistake to think that we are just fighting/engaged in combat training or doing some sort of Chinese health exercise.
We are undertaking something far more significant and meaningful. To understand our training you must gain a more profound understanding of existence.
Tai chi students are required by their art to see a different world. A major cognitive shift is necessary. Everything changes.
Most people live lives that are
not particularly physically challenging. They sit
at a desk, or if they move around, it's not a lot. They aren't performing
manoeuvres that require tremendous
coordination. Thus they settle into a low level of physical
capabilities - enough for day-to-day activities or
maybe even hiking or biking or
playing golf or tennis on the weekends, but far from the level of
physical capabilities that a highly
trained athlete possesses.
The reason that most people don't possess extraordinary physical capabilities isn't because they don't have the capacity for them, but rather because they're satisfied to live in the comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it.
The same thing is true for all the mental activities we engage in. We learn enough to get by but once we reach that point we seldom push to go beyond.
A spiritual life
There is something simple and wholesome about a life spent cultivating grace, awareness and calm. It is an almost monastic existence.
You practice, study, contemplate, meditate, experience insights, and reflect.
What's the point?
Training tai chi is an endeavour that will enrich your life. You will experience:
These qualities will affect
your everyday life and enable you to live more fully and consciously.
Additionally, combat skills will help to provide a sense of ease and harmony in a culture filled with conflict and adversity.
1 August 1998
Last updated 16 June 2023