Tai Chi Class Report
February - May 2013
Previous Background in Tai Chi
Previously, my wife and I studied Yang Style Tai Chi in the United States. We studied two forms: the Simplified Yang 24-Form and the Yang 108-Form. Our first class was an 8 week course based on the 24-Form offered by the local adult and community education in April 2011. The class was a good introduction but I did not learn enough to do the 24-Form on my own. Shortly, after the class was completed, we left the United States to live in Hungary for several months and I did not practice the 24-Form. Upon returning to the United States in January 2012, we became members of a Tai Chi studio and started attending several classes a week. After, several weeks, we knew the order of the 24-Form and could concentrate on improving our moves. At this point, my wife decided to start learning the 108-Form and I decided to also start learning it. We continued attending classes in the United States until December 2012 at which time we went to Taiwan.
Interest in Tai Chi
Tai Chi has always intrigued me from a young age. The reasons that Tai Chi appealed to me were varied. First, I have always preferred physical activities that you can do on your own as opposed to being on a team. Second, Tai Chi did not seem aggressive like other martial arts. I liked the fact that you are not sparring with a partner. Third, I also liked that Tai Chi focuses on continual self- improvement. Tai Chi has many layers that can be continually refined. Finally, Tai Chi looked elegant.
Why Tai Chi at This Time?
As stated I was intrigued with Tai chi from an early age, so why did I decide to start studying Tai Chi in my mid 40’s. There is not a simple or single answer to why I started studying Tai Chi. One factor was that I was at a stage in life that I could concentrate on things other than my career. Another factor was that I started to notice that I was becoming stiff and inflexible. My work involves working on the computer so I needed to do some physical exercise. I had been doing cardio work outs for several years but was not doing anything that stretched my muscles and joints. Tai Chi has helped me become more flexible. Finally, after attending Tai Chi classes, I found that I enjoyed the fellowship of Tai Chi practitioners. People who practice Tai-Chi tend to be kind and sharing people and I enjoy their company.
Cheng Style Tai Chi Class
My wife’s work provided an opportunity to stay in Taiwan for 6 months. We both felt that this would be a great opportunity to learn more Tai Chi. We were attempting to find some group to join and when we found that an introductory class to the Cheng Style Tai Chi was being offered at Academia Sinica. Neither of us knew anything about the Cheng Style Tai Chi. The initial reason for taking the class was convenience – the location and times were ideal for us. Also, taking a beginners class that taught the entire Cheng Style Tai Chi from the basics was very appealing. It was our good fortune to meet林老師 (Lin Laoshi’s) and take her class. It was also very kind of林老師 (Lin Laoshi) to allow let me join the class since I did not speak Mandarin, the language in which the course was taught.
In one of the first classes, 林老師 (Lin Laoshi) gave me a book Tai Chi Chuan by Cheng Man-ch’ing. Cheng Man-ch’ing states that correct teaching is of primary importance and I agree with this statement. The first thing I noticed about the class was the quality and number of the instructors. Besides林老師 (Lin Laoshi), we had three other instructors in the class. All the instructors were of the highest quality and by having several instructors placed throughout the room, you could easily see an instructor at all times. I had the disadvantage of not speaking Mandarin and had to rely heavily on my wife translating and simply observing and mimicking the instructors. One of the instructors, Sandy, speaks excellent English and did a great job explaining to me how to correct my postures and movements. She has knowledge and experience that exceed her years. 林老師 (Lin Laoshi) was excellent at demonstrating the postures and moves. She also used touch to help me understand the movements. She allowed me to feel how her body moves and would also physically adjust my postures and moves. Using touch was very helpful and something that I had not experienced in the United States. 小林老師 (Xiao Lin Laoshi) was also very helpful. If she saw that I was doing something wrong or having problems, she would come over and break down the movement step by step. All the instructors were excellent at observing you and making very concise comments about what you were doing incorrectly and more importantly telling you exactly what you needed to do to correct your movement of posture.
The other thing that was very good about the instruction was the continual stress on the basics. Here are some basic things that I developed some feeling for during the class. First, the importance of鬆 (Song) became clearer and its all-encompassing importance. 鬆 (Song) does not have a good translation into English but I have heard it referred to as softness. Before taking the class my impression of鬆 (Song) was that it made the form look more graceful, but I did not understand that it was fundamental to Tai Chi. The class and Chen Man Ch’ing’s book helped make clear to me that鬆 (Song) was of great importance. I am still struggling to with the concept of 鬆 (Song) but feel that I have developed some feeling of 鬆 (Song). More importantly, I now know that is fundamental to Tai Chi. Second, the emphasis on weight shifting or solid and empty in the Cheng Style and the movement of the胯 (kua) was drilled into me.Now, I try to remember for every move: step with no weight and sufficient space between the feet, shift your weight to the foot that just stepped out, 沉(sink) the胯 (kua) and turn to face forward by rotating the胯 (kua). Following these basic rules, I felt that I was more balanced, could go down lower and my knees were not stressed. If I do not move the胯 (kua) properly, I discovered that I tend to put too much pressure on the knee joints which results in sore knees. The use and movement of the胯 (kua) was a revelation. I feel that the Cheng Style Tai Chi forces you to use the胯 (kua). The backward step with the feet parallel to one another in the倒攆猴 (Repulse the Monkey) is an example of being forced to use the胯 (kua) in the Cheng Style. Prior to the class, I knew that you had to use your lower body in Tai Chi but did not quite understand how to move the lower body. Part of the problem may be due to translation of胯 (kua) as the waist in English. I feel that a better English term for胯 (kua) is pelvic girdle. Finally, I also learned that although Tai Chi emphasizes using the胯 (kua) and legs, the whole body especially the spine is involved and that the movements of the body must be linked together. I like working on the貓走 (Cat Walk) since it requires you to link your body movements. The胯 (kua), breathe, lower spine腰 (yao), upper spine and the rest of your body must work together in a coordinated manner when doing the 貓走 (Cat Walk).
In summary, the class was excellent and exceeded any expectations that I had. We learned a lot in a brief period of time and had a good time. My only regrets are that I cannot continue taking classes with 林老師 (Lin Laoshi) and that I cannot speak Mandarin. In the future, I hope to return to Taiwan for an extended period of time to study Tai Chi. Finally, I would like to thank林老師 (Lin Laoshi) and the other instructors for their guidance, patience and wisdom.