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It is common for people to see taijiquan as just being another night school class, 'alternate therapy', a martial art or perhaps even dance.
Taijiquan is far more than this.
It is not an alternative to yoga, karate, Zumba or line dancing.
If you were to study Pilates for decades it is unlikely that the system would fundamentally change your temperament, world view, relationship with others and provide a viable system of combat.
Pilates may improve your quality of life, health and posture.
But that is all.
Taijiquan begins where the other exercise systems finish.
The physical work is just the start of your training; most of the real work is psychological.
Learning the system may completely change the way in which you live and to regard it as purely exercise is to see only what you want to see.
The training is also concerned with replenishing your life energy (qi).
Wear & tear
Suppose you buy a car in 2010 and use it very rarely. In 2016 you decide to sell the car and take it to a dealership.
The mileage is unusually low for a car of its age. Yet the car is still 6 years old chronologically.
In terms of wear and tear the car is 6 months old.
Taijiquan is about spending your life energy (qi) frugally.
That way, as you get older, your wear and tear is unusually low for a person of your age.
Professional swimmers don't have
perfect bodies because they train extensively. Rather, they are good
swimmers because of their physiques. Similarly, female models advertise
cosmetics and thus, female consumers believe that these products make you
beautiful. But it is not the cosmetics that make these women model-like.
Quite simply, the models are born attractive and only for this reason are
they candidates for cosmetic advertising. As with the swimmers' bodies,
beauty is a factor for selection and not the result.
Your body, your choice
Beginners can exercise however they choose to.
The problem lies with sabotaging their taijiquan.
There is no point in paying for lessons and then undermining the training with bad habits acquired elsewhere.
Running, lifting weights, drop handle cycling and working out at the gym are likely to hinder progress in taijiquan - they are way too harsh.
Most runners run with extremely bad posture:
• Elbows are stiff and locked (often raised)
• The body is leaning forwards or stooping; either at the neck or collapsing at the bottom of the rib cage
• Shoulders are lifted; often one higher than the other
• Considerable tension in the upper body
• Frozen sacroiliac; immobile
• Knees twisted (the foot flicks out sideways)
• Weight is bearing heavily down into the knees
• The skeleton is not moving freely, naturally or comfortably
This would be bad posture for any form of exercise. It causes serious fatigue and adverse wear and tear on the body.
The tension in the body uses energy and tires you out.
Many runners have careworn faces with deep lines caused by emotional stress.
They don't look happy when running.
They look deeply upset.
Their approach to running is causing them to suffer.
Over-training, pushing the body and pursuing unnecessary goals is harmful and leads to pain and injury.
There are many other ways to get fit.
Gym work typically shortens muscles and promotes patterns of tension and fixity in the body.
Taijiquan does the opposite: it allows muscles to lengthen, releases tensions and encourages good skeletal use.
The muscle work that takes place in taijiquan is principally geared towards whole-body movement and training the body to rely more upon postural muscles.
The health benefits of taijiquan are quickly undermined by weight lifting, exertion and forcing.
Drop handled bicycle
The human skeleton is aligned to resist the downward pull of gravity. The shoulders are positioned above the hips.
On a drop handled bicycle, this is not the case at all.
The body is held in a slanting posture.
The arms are stretched and the shoulders are positioned in front of the hips rather than above.
In order to see the road ahead, the cyclist must lift their head and compress the back of the neck.
Although road bikes are very popular and certainly offer a cardiovascular workout, this causes notable muscular tension.
Body building and weight lifting are fashionable
activities today. The emphasis is upon developing external muscles which
creates an armouring effect that can eventually distort the bony structure.
It is the over developed musculature that actually torque's the bones and
discourages them from bearing additional weight. The body attempts to
compensate and problems arise.
Running does not necessarily in and of itself improve posture that is already poor and constricted. It often exaggerates problems due to the substitution of inappropriate muscles. The repetitive inappropriate development of the musculature (as in body building or weight lifting) often leads to diminished sensitivity. Stress occurs in the knees and lower back, encouraging injury.
Swimming is an activity that can either create structural problems or release them depending upon the way it is taught and practiced. Professional swimmers are known to develop shoulder tendonitis and kyphosis. Overriding head/neck righting reflexes (as occurs when the head is repeatedly turned but the body does not follow) eventually result in overdeveloping shoulder muscles, pinching nerves and distorting the rib cage.
Various sport activities emphasize strength, endurance and speed. Development of muscle control rather than skeletal balance takes precedence. Gaining speed at the expense of mounting tension, is too often the goal.
The majority of mountain bikes sold in the UK appear to be used on the road rather than off road.
People seem unaware of the fact that the gears are not suited to road use.
They pedal frantically and go no faster.
Have you ever seen a Dutch bicycle?
They encourage an upright posture, no strain on the arms or shoulders, and use gravity more effectively than UK bicycles do.
Find out for yourself...
Jack of all trades?
Personal trainers encourage people to improve their health.
Gullible individuals aim to cultivate a 'suite' of diverse physical abilities.
They simultaneously chase multiple avenues of study and gain no deep understanding of anything.
Facile, superficial answers satisfy shallow minds.
Depth requires sincerity.
What can I cross-train?
Walking and mild cycling (on a 'sit-up and beg' cycle) are good ways to exercise your body in a different way without the risk of tension.
The key thing is to keep it light.
The same applies to yoga.
A modest routine after training taijiquan can be a nice way to gently release the muscles.
Too much stretching and it will start to interfere with benefits of the taijiquan.
Little & often
The taijiquan way is to train little and often.
Instead of pushing your body hard and putting it under duress, just do a little exercise.
Taijiquan advocates moderation; not taxing or tiring the body.
Rather than train for a lengthy period of time, aim to practice little & often.
20-30 minute increments, with rest breaks in-between is ideal.
Resting will keep your concentration sharp and offset fatigue.
Taijiquan training is like saving £1 a day. It does not sound like much but in a year you have £365.
In three years you have saved over £1000.
What if you saved £5 a day?
How do I get good at taijiquan?
If you want to become adept at cutting down trees, chop down trees.
If you want to be good at the piano, practice on a piano.
Doing something else will not help your taijiquan. Skill at taijiquan only comes from training taijiquan:
When you do taijiquan, you shouldn't sweat.
Sweating is a sign that the qi (life energy) is being dissipated.
It comes from tension and it's as if you are depleting your bank account.
Doing taijiquan, you want to accumulate qi, not spend it.
So, if you sweat, you should stop and rest.
(Cheng Man Ching)
23 September 1995
Last updated 15 December 2016