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Taijiquan aims to cultivate:
practice, very few exponents every achieve this. How come?
By the time people reach adulthood there are often a number of bad physical habits present. Slouching, stooping, leaning, hunched shoulders, inflexible legs, tight elbows. Many adults cannot even squat.
These actively impede natural, free movement. Essentially many of the joints are incapable of accomplishing a healthy range of movement.
This is further restricted by residual muscle tension throughout the body.
In motion the whole body should be light and agile,
with all parts of the body linked as if threaded together.
(Chang San-feng, Wudang Mountain)
The older you get, the worse it is
Older adults often step very heavily. Their legs are locked and immobile. There is a sense of clumsiness. They frequently walk in an agitated manner; over-striding and erratic.
The lower back is inflexible and the sacroiliac does not move correctly. The back is stooped, the neck stiff and the hands are tight.
In addition to the physical problems, older people tend to be quite stubborn and fixed in their ways. They have found a rut and intend to stay there.
Charles Darwin said that it is not the fittest or the strongest who survive, but the ones most able to adapt, change and improvise. To do this you need a very flexible mind.
Being stubborn is the opposite of this; leading to fixity of both body and mind. Stubbornness is the act of resisting change. Yet, everything in life changes. Change cannot be avoided.
Contrast with youth
A youthful body has a sense of ease. No struggling, grunting or groaning, no pain in the back or the knees. The body responds instantly to the dictates of the mind. A young person is spontaneous and free.
All things being equal?
If the goal of taijiquan is to train the body to accomplish whole-body strength, whole-body movement and whole-body power, there is an obvious problem facing the average adult.
Can the student's whole body even move properly? The answer of course is NO.
Every taijiquan beginner - whether they are interested in tai chi for health/fitness or taijiquan - must address the fact that their body is simply incapable of whole-body movement.
Many people try to ignore this and let their ego run wild. They imagine that they can perform complex martial arts skills when by contrast the stark reality is somewhat humbling.
The solution to limited physical ability is to undertake remedial training designed to increase your range of movement and reduce unwanted muscular tension.
It requires both patience and dedication.
Taijiquan uses the body in a manner that conserves the use of energy. This is accomplished in a number of ways:
No excess muscle tension is used
The movements are functional and economical
Good postural muscles support the weight of the skeleton
The larger muscles of the torso and legs do most of the work
Whole-body movement is employed rather than local limb strength
Beginners are encouraged to use less and less muscular strength; reducing
This also calms the mind and relieves stress. But
only if you practice...
90 minutes a day
Dr Michael Greger (author of How Not To Die) recommends 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day. How many people read Dr Greger's expert advice and immediately dismiss it?
Quality of life
It is wise to consider the origin of Dr Greger's advice. He's not saying it to be bossy or unreasonable. His insight is the outcome of many years of professional research, exploration and study.
His suggestion echoes what three doctors wrote in The Okinawa Program after an exhaustive 25 years of study and practical research. The Okinawa study was investigating longevity.
Now ask yourself a single important question: given that four doctors are giving professional advice backed up by many years of experience, can you simply dismiss it? And on what grounds?
Have you any credible, professional, provable basis to debunk these doctors?
The problem with following your own opinions/views is that these opinions are precisely what led to your physical deterioration in the first place. True?
People at birth
are soft and supple:
they are hard and stiff.
When plants are alive,
they are green and bending;
When they are dead,
they are dry and brittle.
Soft and bending is the way of the living;
Hard and brittle is the way of the dying.
a great strength
that is inflexible,
Will break in the wind
like an old dead tree.
So the arrogant and the unyielding
And the humble and the yielding
When faced with the challenge of a major physical overhaul, most people assuage themselves with a pleasant fantasy/idea of being fit. They don't actually do anything.
Supporting this myth is a whole range of viable seeming excuses: no time, no money, too tired... OK. It's your life and these are your choices. Just don't pretend that you're a victim here?
I don't have time to practice...
Marcus Aurelius (2000+ years ago) said that "not having time" was one of the most pathetic excuses a person can give. It was considered lame back when the Roman Empire was at its peak.
We all have the same amount of time. What we do with it... this is the issue.
A taijiquan teacher will tutor each individual student to the best of that student's ability. Factors such as physical condition, flexibility, listening skills, commitment and attention span are relevant.
People are frequently over-confident or in denial. The teacher does what they can with what they have to work with.
In taijiquan is quite common for a student to reach a rudimentary level of skill and simply remain there. They may learn many new forms and exercises. But everything is performed in a simplistic manner.
The problem with training long-term at a simplistic level is that the training is intrinsically incorrect. Provably so. Remaining a beginner forever is pointless.
No matter how much you learn it is still being performed at the first level of skill. Years of practice don't mean anything if you're still a beginner. There's been no progress.
Your beginner's misconceptions remain. At best, your practice is merely crude and inept. At worst, it is potentially injurous.
These training methods are systematically taught as the student works through our curriculum:
Standing qigong (various)
Moving qigong (4 sets)
Solo drills (various)
Partnered drills (various)
Weapons drills (various)
Balls & grips
Leg stretches (2 sets)
Psoas exercises (4)
Core strength (3 sets)
Taoist Yoga (3 sets)
They offer the student the opportunity to potentially
undo a lifetime of bad habits. But the teacher
cannot perform miracles and the
student must do
all the work...
Our kung fu syllabus offers all the tools necessary to rehabilitate a student's body to the greatest extent that they can accomplish.
How far you get will depend upon what you started with and how earnest you are about improving. Hopes and dreams are nice but they won't lead to any physical improvement at all.
Instead of creating a fantasy wishlist of ambitions, why not invest in your body and take concrete, tangible action? You need to exercise.
Case study - Karen
When Karen first came to class she had very stiff elbows and really bad back/shoulder ache from her job as a screenwriter.
After working with Sifu Waller (and taking responsibility by practicing every day) Karen was able to release the tension from her elbows entirely and rid herself of the back/shoulder pain.
As a consequence of her enthusiasm, Karen has significantly increased her strength, suppleness, flexibility, vitality, balance, as well as improving her poise and mobility.
Sifu Waller offers workshops every month. Some of them are specifically designed to encourage whole-body strength, movement and power.
Many of these workshops target physical areas of weakness and neglect e.g. Taoist Yoga, Core Strength, Qigong in Detail, Biomechanics and Joint Health.
Every beginner would benefit significantly from attending these workshops and then applying the insights to their home practice.
When a student practices daily at home and shows an increased degree of flexibility, the teacher is able to show them more refined body skills. These provide a stronger, deeper workout.
Instead of crudely moving one or two joints, an entire series of joints and muscles are involved. This takes the student notably closer to whole-body concerns.
Freedom to move
Once the student has finally prepared their body for whole-body training, they can begin earnest work on neigong.
18 April 2005
Last updated 12 July 2021