Archive for June, 2010

What is Tai Chi?

Posted in Internal Arts, Martial Arts with tags , , , , , , , on June 29, 2010 by mindbodykungfu

Is it a mystical ancient art?  Is it a health panacea?  Is it a black and white circular symbol?  How about an ultimate fighting system?  What about a philosophy or conceptual framework?  Depending on who you ask, tai chi could be any one of the above mentioned possibilities.  There is a joke that goes “How many tai chi practitioners does it take to screw in a light bulb?  100.  One to screw it in, and 99 to say ‘that’s not how I was taught to do that.'”  Similarly, if you ask 100 different people what tai chi is, you’re liable to get nearly as many different answers.

To simplify the question, we need to differentiate between tai chi as a health practice, tai chi chuan (taijiquan) as martial art, and tai chi as a concept.  At the most fundamental level, tai chi is a concept; it is the state of harmony between yin and yang.  The yin-yang symbol is an illustration of this idea.  The whole is neither yin, nor yang.  Rather, tai chi encompasses both yin and yang.  It is the balance between yin and yang such that both are present and can evolve one into the other.  Tai chi chuan, in all its glorious variants, encompasses martial arts based on the principle of tai chi.  Tai chi as a health practice borrows pre-choreographed forms from tai chi chuan and removes most of the martial aspects of training.  Tai chi practiced for health instead focuses on improving health through a blend of body movement, qigong, and meditative exercises.

With the multitude of tai chi practices in the world, there are some common misconceptions.  A complete list would be impractically long, but we can explore a few examples:

Tai chi is not defined by circular movement.  Circular movement is a natural consequence of the joints of the human body.  No joint in the body allows linear motion.  Every joint works by allowing movement in arcs.  Harmonizing the yin and yang in the body makes the circular movement more obvious and links the arc across multiple joints.  Integrated and curved movement result from applying the principle of tai chi to body movement.  However, it is entirely possible to perform circular movements which do not manifest the yin-yang tai chi harmony.  Curved movement is an effect rather than a prerequisite of tai chi.

Tai chi is not just softly yielding to force.  “Four ounces deflects a thousand pounds” is a common tai chi saying.  Unfortunately, a lot of people misinterpret this as meaning that you must use no force and become limp to deal with incoming force.  Dealing with a force by just yielding and dropping back is just a yin movement.  Directly fighting back against a force is a purely yang movement.  The tai chi occurs when the force is met and dealt with using simultaneous yin and yang movements.  (note: “meeting” the force is matching the force and not fighting back against it)  If there is yielding to the force at one section, there must be an advancing force elsewhere for balance.  A common example of this is absorbing a force with one hand to project force with the other.  The concept also applies equally well to a single point of contact.  If one side of the point of contact yields, then the other side of the of the point of contacts advances–much like moving on a pivot.  When this harmony of yin and yang occurs, then the force can be deflected as a “rollback” where the opponent feels like they are touching a spinning sphere.

Tai chi is not shifting weight.  Shifting the weight is a training tool to understand movement at the hips.  Just shifting the weight translates the body weight from one leg to another.  Some people claim that making one leg empty and the other leg full is manifesting yin and yang.  That’s true in a sense, but that doesn’t make the weight shift tai chi; it makes the weight shifting either a yin or yang movement.  The tai chi occurs when the yin and yang are both present and harmonized.  It is more important to understand the coordination between flexors and extensors and between the anterior and posterior chain.  This yin-yang harmony can happen just as readily from an equal-weighted stance as from a split-weight stance.

Ultimately, tai chi as either a martial or health practice must manifest a harmonization of yin and yang.  The yin and yang in the body structure and body movements must be balanced to truly practice “tai chi.”  Tai chi practiced for health, taijiquan practiced as a martial art, or any art based on tai chi must be guided by this principle of harmonizing the yin and yang.

-Johnny Kuo

Roundtable Discussion 002: Meditation

Posted in Roundtable Discussion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2010 by Combative Corner

“How important is meditation in your discipline & personal practice?”

Lee:  Living a life of meditation is the highest state in the Martial Arts.  In “The Book of Secrets.” By Osho, there is 112 techniques of meditation.  Sitting meditation is just one of them.  When I first started practicing Martial Arts, I thought sitting meditation was the only meditation.  As I continued my study, I came to the understanding and realization that meditation can take place during ANY activity.  Meditation is a state of mind, of complete awareness, completely in the present moment.  Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” really helped me understand what meditation really is.  Once you disccover what meditation really is, your life will dynamically change, you will realize true happiness and bliss, there is no future, no past, no ego.  You are connected with everything around you, you are whole.  Meditation takes place throughout the entire day, sitting, standing, walking, cleaning the home, exercising, playing with kids, making love, reading, writing, speaking, etc.  Meditation is living life totally and completely aware.

Robert Lara: For me Aikido and Meditation go hand-and-hand.

Without a calm, centered mind we can never apply Aikido Waza in the proper way.

Only when we Meditate first can we hope to be able to fully have a relaxed mind, body & spirit. Meditation plays a very high role in my own training. I would never have made it to where I am today without it.

Joyce:  I’ve always considered myself an introspective person.  Even when I didn’t know specific forms or methods of meditation, I would find ways to bring myself to a place; a place as calming as a trickling brook.  As I became engulfed into the martial arts, and what I thought it meant to be a martial artist, my view of meditation became skewed.  I thought that, to be great, I had to sit or stand for long periods of time and somehow a great gift would be bestowed upon me.  There are sometimes, when I still think that.

My personal belief in meditation is that it’s the medicine to our soul.  Our form; what we practice with careful intention is our art.  The higher our souls happiness, the higher our form of art.  Meditation, the ability to find a tranquil spot within you, whatever the method is essential to health.

Vaughn:  I remember when I was taking Taekwondo back in middle and high school we used to meditate at the beginning and end of each class. We would kneel towards the front of the class and mediate, usually just for a minute or two. To to clear our minds of the chaos of the day so we could better focus on our training before class started and to relax after the workout and reflect on the techniques and drills that we had just gone over at the end. While the style I train in now doesn’t make mediation a regular part of the class routine I still do it in my personal life from time to time. Mainly as a way to help slow my mind down so that I can focus better on the things I have to accomplish or to to help calm myself when I get frustrated or agitated. Every now and then when I have a student that has trouble controlling their anger at school or at home I will show them how to use meditation and breathing, among other things, to help better keep their anger in check. I think meditation is a useful tool that people can gain a lot of value from, they just have to open their minds to it.

Davis:  The course structure for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is sparring intensive (what we like to call “rolling”) and, as a result, every class one attends ought to be adrenaline/sweat packed or your not doing it right. It may appear to the outsider to be much more like a wrestling practice than a traditional martial arts class and the crazy, hyper-aggressive wrestler-types we all know and love are not, generally, associated with the Zen mentality. However, the assumption that meditation must be performed while sitting cross-legged and eyes closed attempting to tap into the flow of “the Ohm” is not only selling meditation short but misplacing the profits you made from the sale too. Meditation is the pursuit of a state of mind which allows the pursuant to not only understand but also become a unique part of the natural flow of the world around them. Us BJJ guys and gals may not know much about Zen meditation but if there are two things we know better than anyone its the importance of proper breathing (we are always trying to choke each other aren’t we?) and of the flow from one technique to another. It is often emphasized that you hit a move inside the transition period, an odd but important concept I cannot do justice to in writing here. In the novella Siddhartha, the main character the book is named after becomes the Buddha (or one with the Buddha depending on how you interpret it) only when he comes to understand the transient but inevitable nature of the universe. If you are to understand the meditation which comes with the practice of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu you must understand the martial art is just that: transient and inevitable.

Kuo:  I-Liq Chuan is a concept-based art which centers on the principles of Taiji (Tai Chi) and Zen. Mindfulness forms the basis of martial skill. As such, meditation is an important part of I-Liq Chuan training. Meditation is both a practice in itself, like sitting meditation or standing meditation; it is also inherent in regular solo and partner practice. The practitioner’s attention should always be present (mindful) in whatever is being practiced. Meditative practices expand the mind’s ability to perceive. At first, the perception of the self is emphasized to facilitate unification of the body with the mind. At this stage, the practitioner is developing kinesthetic sense, body awareness, and body control. Then, the attentions are expanded outward to the opponent and environment. When the mind can see the conditions of the moment as they are, it becomes possible to harmonize with the opponent and flow with the opponent’s force. True skill manifests when movements are based on perception of the true conditions rather than anticipations (or guesses) of what will happen.

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Please shot us your comments in the comment section below and let us know your answer to this very interesting question.

The Combative Corner Crew

4 Principles of Self-Defense : Richard Grannon

Posted in Self-Defense, Training, Videos with tags , , , , , , on June 3, 2010 by Combative Corner

Richie Grannon of StreetFightSecrets.Com gives us a brilliant clip from his tutorial, “Context Focused Street Fight Training” available at his page.

* Video contains mild cursing.  Refrain from watching if its use offends you.  Keep in mind, that words carry power.  And sometimes harsher words carry a deeper impact on our state & learning.

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