Saturday, February 04, 2006

Tai chi is more than an exercise

Tai chi is an exercise, which defies description. Calling it an exercise is an understatement and shows the inadequacy of the English language. Jumping jacks and push-ups are exercises but tai chi is a whole other animal, a whole other life form. It has existed for over 2300 years and is considered a type of kung fu.

This ancient and continually refined slow motion martial art has several cosmologies. One school of thought has it coming from chi gong that came from yoga. Another school of thought has it being invented by a Taoist monk who had observed a crane and a snake fighting. Still another version of this story tells of a Taoist monk observing two cats fighting. Then, there is the concept that tai chi was birthed during a time when kung fu had become outlawed. In order to keep practicing, the martial artists began to do it in slow motion. Whatever the case, I think there is a bit of truth in each of these anecdotes. Each one provides insight and a piece to the ever growing puzzle.

The beauty of all of these explanations is that they each embody the elusive nature of Taoism. For example, as a consequence of the suppression of kung fu, this amazingly powerful martial art was born. It demonstrates indomitable spirit and creativity.

There are so many positive effects that come with a tai chi practice that it is nearly impossible to keep track of them all. In this day in age, this alone sets it apart from 99% of the ways in which human beings spend their time. Sadly, the grain of our time goes in the direction of self-destruction. It seems to me that dis-ease with one’s body has become systemic in our culture. The signs of this are every where. Denial and ignorance perpetuate this trend and war is the collective result of our individual state of alienation.

When some one starts talking about being positive and actually backs it up with their actions, then it makes them an easy target for mockery, jealousy and contempt from the walking dead, the zombies. Thus, when this does happen, it is just another sign of the times.

When I studied tai chi boxing, it allowed me to apply this moving meditation in an unexpected manner. It opened my eyes to new ways to process attacks whether verbal or physical. My teacher, Rolly Brown, told us to look at a punch to the head as a massage, to relax into it. He explained that our tension and resistance made it worse.

I realized that boxing was an incredible opportunity to relearn how to respond to situations that pushed my buttons. I began to redefine victory as self control and self respect. Thus, every altercation, whether verbal or physical, became an opportunity to grow.

I have begun to believe that the better I get at tai chi, the less likely that derision can occur around or near me. I certainly have a way to go. After 10 years of practicing, I think I know next to nothing.