Tai Chi Will Make You Soft

Michael Joyce Tai Chi TaijiThe title is a bit provocative, and carries with it a double meaning. One being the ‘softness’ that is implied when someone normally speaks about Tai Chi (i.e. yin).  The other (viewpoint) being ‘softness’ as it is implied by many non-taijiers – especially those practitioners that put emphasis on physical strength.

What may infuriate many taiji players is that, in my opinion, both are true.

What many teachers will have you believe is that internal energy will improve internal health and thus, foster physical (external) strength.

Speaking from personal experience, I’ve noticed tremendous gains (over the past year) in fluidity, balance, coordination and power when supplementing my taiji training with jiu-jitsu, inversions (yoga), and various body-weight exercise (movnat).  These supplemental methods of exercise provided me with a mirror that showed several imperfections, the two most notable being; strength and control.  With these reflections, it allowed me to see that my so-called “perfect practice” was quite “less-than perfect.”

The late Grandmaster Feng said:

“If you are physically strong but can also work on internal strength, then that is the real strength.”

(Tai Chi Magazine, vol. 25, no.5)

Michael Joyce tai chi 2If you exercise using the tai chi forms, a strong standing practice and occasionally engage in pushing hands – how can you develop sufficient strength?  Why wouldn’t tai chi practitioners supplement their training with other methods if by doing so it: enhances your feeling of progress, improves confidence and body image, keeps the mind engaged & growing with new skills and movement patterns, aids in the management of pain and in the reduction of common injuries?

[We welcome your comments! Please let us know what you think.]

Focus

Many practitioners refuse to change focus, adhering to the classic myth of “A Jack of all trades, a master of none.”   Many studies have shown this to not be true.  On the contrary, those that dabble in different activities show more creativity, broaden their field of understanding and are generally less likely to become bored and/or unhappy with their life/practice.  Doesn’t this play into what GM Feng meant by “striving to reach the Big Tao?”

Tradition

Many choose not to supplement their art because they fear it will ruin the ‘purity’ of their practice.  If the masters of the past reached their level of skill because they did the form “X”-number of times, then surely I too will excel – right?  Well, we know this is not true either!  Taijiquan masters like Feng Zhiqiang and Hong Junsheng (teachers of Chen Zhonghua) are just a couple who have gained this ‘high skill.’  They had the genetics, strength and psychology to excel.  If you are missing just one thing, you are a thousands miles off course.  Could you practice and reach their level?  Would that be a futile chase?  Would you even want to try?  Not to be pessimistic, only realistic.  Remember though, it’s choice that pulls us through.  If we convince ourselves that ‘mastery’ is bleak, it’s easily done.  But if we take it as a challenge and proceed to take the strides with the pitfalls, and continue to progress towards our personal goals we are 100% assured of success. Agreed?

Another teacher of mine, Master Yang Yang said this at our Blowing Rock, North Carolina workshop (2004):

(Ultimately) Find what works for you & change… adapt.  Only stay true to the principles (of Taijiquan) while doing so.

The New Year

Michael Joyce tai chi 2

To start of the New Year, I would like to urge everyone, especially those people who diligently plug away at one style; internal or external, to add movement, more movement, different movement.  I know it’s cliché, but Life is about balance.  If you consistently practice tai chi form (without any supplemental strength training), I can guarantee that your overall fitness will diminish.  If you train in gymnastics, weight-lifting, wresting, parkour / freerunning, etc, you will likely wear your body down and thus, be more prone to illness and/or injury.  My advice to them would be to adopt a supplemental program that deals with internal development, i.e. yoga, qigong, transcendental meditation… maybe even some taijiquan.

I end with Chen Xin’s Song of Meaning:

With your entire being, develop your Life.

Health & Happiness Everyone!

Coach Michael Joyce

RELATED ARTICLE: BRING MOVEMENT INTO THE NEW YEAR

2 Responses to “Tai Chi Will Make You Soft”

  1. Michael;
    I agree with your philosophy, It makes sense from many points of view. If you are stuck practicing one piece of music, eating one type of diet, having friends similar to you, reading one type of literature, or being aware of one type of religion or philosophy, you will end up with fragmented knowledge. The broader your understanding is, the more educated you are and your life becomes full of purpose and fun.
    I practice Tai -Chi and I also have a serious yoga practice to work on strength and flexibility not only in my body, but in my relationships, my work, and life in general. I also practice active meditation when I walk, and still meditation when I am really tired.
    All this keeps me alert and entertained, the more I incorporate to my practice the more fun and the more progress I make. I am never bored.
    Thanks for your posting!

  2. Reblogged this on Roxie's HeaLinG Korner…. and commented:
    Softness is #Desirable <3 <3 ke ke….

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