Well, not exactly how much do you weigh. But, are you balanced? I use this technique in virtually all of my classes. Try this at a practice session or class. To start, you will need two scales calibrated identically. You will also need one other person to measure the results. Then place both scales on the ground about shoulder-width apart, then stand on them, one foot on each scale, now staring straight ahead tried to place 50% of your weight each foot. Don’t look at the scales. When you think you are balanced let your friend know and they should measure the difference between both scales. So, if one scale measures 65lbs. and the other indicates 80lbs. they would write down 15lbs. Then, continue with your Tai Chi session like normal. At the end of the session perform the same procedure. I have found that 93% of the time (yes, I actually measure the results) the difference in practitioners’ weight has decreased more than 50%.
If you use the numbers from the example above The practitioner was putting 15lbs more on one foot each step they took prior to class. Not to mention all the alignment issues of the joints. After the Tai Chi session, the difference is less than 7lbs. This is tangible evidence that Tai Chi has immediate benefit for those who practice
This is obviously a play on the Frederick Nietzsche quote, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”. This is obviously a very positive way of looking at struggles. Most motivational speakers will also say things like “it’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity” or “a problem is a chance to do your best”. But, sometimes a problem is just a problem. When I was growing up in grade school only focused on science so I didn’t develop much of an interactive skill with people. In high school and college, I was only focused on running. I spent years spending most of my free time alone on the roads of Nevada and Oregon running tens of thousands of miles. This beat my body up pretty good. From there I went into the military and volunteered for special forces that training all but destroyed my feet, back, and knees. After I was discharged I started to compete in triathlons again tearing down my body due to excessive use. I have been the poster child of the idea that you need to be the best, train the hardest and sacrifice the most in order to achieve your goals. All of these things that I strived to be the best at required significant sacrifice. Now that I have grown up a bit can take a clear look at how I have lived my life and there is one clear activity that has the benefit without damage, the practice of tai chi. I find that the more I practice my tai chi drive for competition is replaced by peace of mind and my need for approval from others is slowly dissolved as my body and mind are reintegrated. My credo for living life has changed from “be the best” to “be complete”. And from experience, I can tell you it hurts a lot less.
Many of the folks who I have taught Tai Chi to in my career have moved over from external martial arts. They have seen the exhibitions of great strength and Olympic quality gymnastics from the Masters, and they trained diligently to see how far they could advance in the arts. These martial artists come to Tai Chi usually when they are a little older and still want to participate in the arts but have lost a little range of motion, gained a pound or two and realize they will probably not need to pummel four thugs at the same time.
However, most of the people who walk through my doors have no martial arts background and just want to improve their quality of life and they have heard that Tai Chi can help them. One hurdle is that the media including me, promulgate the stories of Tai Chi masters pushing people through walls, breaking bricks without touching them and actually changing the weather just to name a few! Now, how is this going to motivate “Mr. Greene” to join my class who is rehabilitating from back surgery. Well, it won’t. This brings me to a recent TV commercial about some drug where an elderly couple are standing in a sand trap of a golf course, the husband states that he plays golf badly and he wants to continue to do so and this drug will help him. Being a golfer myself I totally understand. I was fortunate enough in my younger days to have a job photographing pro golfers in tournaments. What they could do with a golf ball and club was almost magical. We can compare this almost directly with Tai Chi. The benefits of Tai Chi for most of us our enjoyment, better balance, coordination and inner peace. Anything beyond that is gravy.
Jack London’s credo was:
I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out
in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom
of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.
This is a great quote. However, it doesn’t work too well for tai chi. In tai chi we want to be a sleepy and permanent planet. Many students have come into tai chi expecting to be the master in six months or less. Hey, there are some martial arts schools that promise that, why not tai chi? Well, I call that, “taking the Bruce Lee pill”. People start and they want to know how they can change every aspect of their lives to improve to learn and to experience this mysterious art. They want to change their clothes, change their diet, change their gods, these are the “meteors” of the tai chi world. I do my best with some success in slowing them down. I tell them what they need to do is to go to a local nursery and buy a little tree. Then I tell them to put that tree where they’re going to be doing most of the training. They are still very excited at this point. Then I tell them their tai chi will grow as fast as that tree. This is when I usually get some resistance. Tai chi develops over a period of years. You can’t rush it. If you try speed up the growth of that tree by pulling on it you will only uproot it and it will die. That’s the same as our tai chi evolution. It is a journey. I was once asked by my first mentor, you’ve heard the expression “the ends justifies the means, and the means justifies the ends”. He continued, “but I urge you to live by this phrase, the means is the end”. This idea that each day we practice is our goal. What comes tomorrow is based on today. So, let’s focus on the now. Put 100% of yourself into your project right now. I challenge you to be a uni-tasker. Multitasking is not what it’s cracked up to be.
While practicing tai chi you may find yourself thinking, and my doing it wrong. This is natural. You just need to refocus on your tai chi and try to be in the now. I am reminded of the times my Buddhist friend would come by my home at four in the morning and tap on my window to wake me up for our session of meditation. At the time I was teaching at three schools and working a full-time job at a restaurant. My mind was very full. He told me it was natural for my mind to be full of doubt as I meditated. When that happened I was to refocus on meditation, that was it. He encouraged me that I would be able to focus longer the more I practiced “no mindedness” during our meditation. As soon as I stopped worrying that I was meditating wrong it became easier and I was able to focus. It is natural to feel that your movements are different than your instructors while practicing alone in your backyard. The most important thing is that you are practicing. Even if you are practicing your movement differently than the instructor showed you, it is a lot easier for them to correct you versus teach you the movement again. Because most likely they will be learning a new movement during your next class and having to learn the old movement again plus the new movement you could feel overwhelmed and the urge to quit will enter your mind. So, in summary practice, practice, practice. Right movement or wrong movement both are right.
I am often perplexed by those individuals who need noise around them the entire time they are awake. The subtle awareness needed to experience the vastness of how tai chi can benefit us comes through a sense of peace and quiet. I say this not to preach but because I need to practice it myself. I have plenty of my own demons. I need to practice tai chi. Some of the scariest times I have experienced have been looking into myself. I have tried to learn from them. But I can only get to that point when my mind quiet. My mind is like a mud puddle. When I can’t see clearly through the mud the only way to attain clarity is through peace, quiet and time. The particles settle to the bottom of the puddle. Then clarity is achieved. Take the time the quiet. Avoid distraction. You might be surprised at what you find.
Sorry, I was distracted by a shiny thing
This may seem counter intuitive, but this website could be doing more damage than good for your tai chi training. The most important thing about tai chi is practice. It is much easier to sit at your computer and listen to books, watch videos, and read articles about other people who have trained very diligently in the art. However, you will need to go outside and practice in order to achieve any level of expertise in tai chi. I have taught tai chi for several decades and I can divide just about all students into two categories, those who practice and those who don’t. When those who didn’t practice the lesson from the week before showed up for class there would be excuses that sometimes can be very inventive. But they still didn’t know the material. There was always some “shiny thing” that kept them from practicing. Try to stay away from the shiny things. I fell into that trap. Then I made a deal with myself. I could only research things on the computer after I spent 30 minutes outside practicing. I was always glad after practice because I felt I had earned my “playtime”.