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A lot of tai chi practitioners begin by studying an external martial art for some years before switching to tai chi. Both Rachel & Sifu Waller did this.
The danger with training an external martial art first is that it encourages the student to see things in a certain way.
Conventional martial arts usually involve rigorous, punishing warm-up routines, challenging stretches, extended body postures, high repetitions... Demanding exercise is pretty much standard.
Willpower and forceful behaviour drive the body into condition.
Qigong can be performed externally or internally. Tai chi is the same; although in the case of tai chi... external training renders the art inauthentic and martially non-viable.
External practice might be more accurately considered 'performance art tai chi'. It is possible to perform tai chi in an external manner that is aesthetically pleasing but not actually internal .
The way of the Tao
is like the bending of a bow:
As the bow is pulled,
the top lowers and the bottom rises.
Because the ends are connected,
the extremes are reduced.
Dancers often use their bodies in an extended manner. They tense muscles. They perform extreme stretches. They stand on tip toe...
Tai chi is not dance
A dancer is often fit and strong, so their method seems appropriate for their practice. But, a dancer is not engaged in combat. Their way of moving is entirely different to tai chi.
Applying dancing methodology and body use to a martial art is suicidal.
A different way
Tai chi advocates moderation in all things. e.g. over-training is as bad as under-training. If you do not train enough, there will be very little fitness benefit and no martial development.
If you train too much, the body will become tired and there is an increased risk of injury.
It is so tempting to stretch, to extend, to reach. To force, to push. Don't do this. Just do what you need to do to accomplish the result and nothing more.
Aim for this ratio: minimal effort achieves maximum results.
Programs for fighters should
of compound exercises. These allow for intense work on a maximum number of
muscles in a minimum time.
There is a point where something is weak, then it becomes strong, only to become weak again. Like a 'bell curve'... The human lifespan is like this: a baby, to adulthood, to decrepitude and death.
Seek to do only what is necessary to find that optimal point of strength. Sometimes it requires just an inch of movement.
A key feature of tai chi is the use of 4 ounces of pressure. It prevents you from exerting, from getting tired, from doing too much.
Tai chi is intended to improve health and wellbeing through frequent, regular practice using low effort.
Don't stretch too far
Philip Maffetone maintains that harsh stretching is problematic; a balance must be found between too little and too much. There must be play in the joints. This enables folding.
Tai chi is about relaxing and releasing rather than over-stretching. Remember the 70% rule?
If you do 5 repetitions per side of any given qigong exercise, it is probably enough. Similarly, if you do one set of moving qigong exercises, it is adequate. But what happens if you do more?
Lets imagine than you did 20 repetitions and/or multiple sets of qigong... Will there really be a marked improvement in skill? Maybe. But not a great change. Also, you may over-work the joints.
Set a limit
Lets say you do 5 repetitions of a given exercise and it starts to feel too easy, what should you do? Do you increase the repetitions to say 8 or 10? What do you plan on doing when that also becomes easy?
Increase again? Unless you plan on spending all day doing the same exercise, set a low limit from the onset e.g. 5 repetitions per side and leave it at that.
Dr Michael Greger (author of How Not To Die) recommends 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day.
The three doctors who wrote The Okinawa Program maintain that tai chi - with its ancient origins and incredible health benefits - is the ideal workout for modern people.
If this sounds like a lot of exercise, why not chop it up into smaller increments spaced throughout the day?
Instead of doing more and more of the same thing, it is wiser to vary what you do. High repetitions and multiple versions of the same type of exercise yield less results than doing something different altogether.
Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Do your work, then step back.
27 June 1998
Last updated 14 August 2023