Don’t be Intimidated

We had a visitor to the morning class – a nice young man. I asked if he had Tai Chi experience, and he answered he had some, not a lot. The first class was “Open the Gates Qigong” which he enjoyed and could easily follow along. The second class was third section of the long form. We worked on Parting the Wild Horses Mane, followed by Grasp the Bird’s Tail. He did well following. After class he came up to me and said that he never knew the movements had applications. His previous teachers had not mentioned this fact. He was surprised, yet excited about his discovery.

I cannot tell you how often this happens. It happened to me in my early studies. I thought I was learning a meditative movement routine, more or less. On rare occasion, Master Choy would show an application, but it was not a regular part of the lessons. In fact, his wife, who would sit in on all classes and knit, would scold him (in Chinese so we didn’t know what she was saying) if he showed applications. Nowadays, most instructors teach an application free course. I can’t figure out why, if they really want to impart the internal aspects of the internal arts.

As I’ve shared many times, I was a peace loving hippie when I started Tai Chi, and previously I was a peace loving young person, mild of nature, and had never been interested in fighting of any kind. So, if you have ever looked at my videos or attended my classes, how did I get so knowledgeable about applications, and Tai Chi martial principles? The answer is simple.

I made them up! As my teaching evolved, I needed ways to explain what the body was doing and why. I practiced and thought, and worked with students, and the form applications started coming. I wasn’t taught this information, it came from within after years of practice and thought.

I was trained as an actor, and that was going to be my vocation up to about the age of 24. When preparing for a play, the actors first must learn their lines. This is like memorizing the Tai Chi moves. When learning lines, a good actor will visualize what is happening around himself. Whom am I speaking to? Where are they? How do I feel about that person or circumstance? Am I angry, sad, happy, etc? All of that helped me to visualize someone I am interacting with. Where in relation they are to me and what are they doing to make me interact. Same as Tai Chi.

We learned pantomime and improvisation. When doing the form, I am pantomiming real moves, and in push hands exercises I am improvising actions that have no set script.

The Tai Chi form is a dialogue between two, or possibly more people. We are taught by our parents, teachers in school, religious leaders, how to behave in order to bring harmony to our lives. There are certain principles, like “do unto others as you have others do unto you”. In Tai Chi we have classics, like “don’t use force agains force”, or “balance yin with yang, and yang with yin”. These principles are simple and straight forward. The more you study and practice, the more your life will reflect these classic teachings.

So, when I say “Don’t be intimidated”, I mean that if I can do it, you can do it. I want my students to feel free to change whatever they want as long as it is based on the classic writings of Tai Chi Chuan, and reason. Tai Chi is Tai Chi because of these solid teachings. But don’t change the form when you are in someone else’s class. Wait till you are on your own and then let your imagination run free. All the forms you see today on YouTube or elsewhere, were made up by someone. Even the Yang Family form is different each generation. There are videos to prove this. So learn what your instructor has to offer, read books, watch videos, think and practice, and you will attain your goals.