Saturday, May 26, 2012

Lead a Horse to Water

I have not had a local teacher for most of my tai chi life. I have had to travel to workshops to learn my tai chi. Lessons were few and far between. I was taught the basic techniques and it was completely up to me to correctly practice the techniques to acquire the needed skills until I was able to see my teacher again.

If you are able to attend a weekly class with a good teacher, you are really lucky. Practice daily and ask lots of questions. Don't be one of those students that only practices during class. You may get some benefit of practicing for a few moments once a week. However, tai chi provides so much more for those who practice regularly.

You must practice tai chi daily to gain the benefits of tai chi. Perseverance is what truly makes a difference. Your teacher can provide structure and direction. You must do the work. A teacher can't do that for you.

© 2012 Eric Borreson

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Cup is Full

There is an old parable about a man that wanted to learn Zen. Translated to modern language and concepts, the story goes like this.

There was a rich and famous man that always got what he wanted. The man was not very well-educated about anything, and he especially didn't know much about Zen. He read a little bit about Zen and decided that he should learn more. Since he was rich and famous, he wanted to learn from a famous Zen master. He approached the master and inquired about learning Zen from him.

The master asked the man to sit while he prepared tea for them to share. While the master was preparing the tea, the man talked at great length about how rich and famous he was. He talked about many things of which he knew little.

When the tea was ready, the master gave an empty cup to the man. The master began to pour the tea slowly into the cup. The man kept talking. The master kept pouring. The man kept talking. Eventually, the cup overflowed and the tea spilled all over. The man exclaimed, "Stop! The cup is full."

The master explained, "Like this cup full of tea, you are already full of your own ideas. There is no more room. When you have emptied your cup, come back and we can discuss Zen."

I first heard this story years ago. I still love it. I hope I haven't been like this too often in my own life. I know that I have had students like this. They are difficult to teach because they already know everything. How about you? Do you approach opportunities to learn with an open mind or do you already know it all?

© 2012 Eric Borreson

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Any Pain, No Gain

In traditional Western exercise, you are encouraged to push through your limits. "Feel the burn." "No pain, no gain." "Pain is just a sensation." These thoughts may possibly be appropriate if you are a teenager learning Kung Fu and running bags of rocks up a mountain or playing barehand catch with concrete blocks. It is not appropriate for anyone else.

Tai chi (and qi gong) is entirely different. It took me a long time to realize this. I had to learn to relax and let go of tension. I had to learn how powerful tai chi can be at reshaping my body and mind without the tough exercise of Western exercise.

I am not an expert on traditional Asian medicine, but I believe other people when they talk about how qi flow affects our health. Pain indicates damage to your body and blocked flow. Tension blocks flow. Tai chi forms work your body and mind in ways that enhance the flow of qi and how it connects all parts of our body. It restores and strengthens flow.

Sun Lu Tang wrote a book, A Study of Taijiquan, in 1924. In it he said
"Those of you who are weak, who suffer from fatigue and injury or illness, or who have weakened your qi from the practice of other martial arts to the point that you no longer have the strength to train, all of you may practice tai ji quan. With practice, the qi will quickly return to a balanced state and will become strong, while the spirit naturally returns to a state of wholeness. Disease will be eliminated and the length of life increased." (Translated by Tim Cartmell, p. 60.)

If you feel any pain during your tai chi for health practice, you are not getting any gain. However, that is not to mean that you won't be working hard. You may be tired after practicing, but you should not feel any pain.

© 2012 Eric Borreson

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Tai Chi in the West

There are many Eastern arts that have made their way to the West, like tai chi, yoga, and qigong. Many people claim that these arts have lost much of their original meaning. They claim that there is an over-emphasis on the external movements without much understanding of the internal character that made these arts so effective.

It is important for all of us that teach to remember that these arts are more than just the simple movements. If that were all there is to it, we could just recommend that our students take a slow walk in the park and wave their arms around at random.

Don't misunderstand me. Forms are important, but they are not the most important part of tai chi. It's not the movements that makes tai chi what it is. We need to remember to teach the movements and then continue to develop the student's ability to develop focus and a calm mind. It's the deeper principles that matter (read more here).

© 2012 Eric Borreson