Category Archives: inspiration

Exploring the Myth of T’ai Chi: T’ai Chi People are Like Zen Masters or Something

One piece of folklore that most T’ai Chi practitioners relish is the notion of the wise, zen-like Master, who is always in command of his or her emotions. A Master who always lives in the present and has deep philosophical insight into the problems that afflict everyday people. This Master wanders through life like the fictional monk, Kwai Chang Caine, played by David Carradine in the 70’s  TV show, Kung Fu.

Caine is the mythical ‘Zen-Master’ uses martial arts skills to fight off the  bad guys and help others, while maintaining a calm, serene presence at all times.

If you practice T’ai Chi long enough, the myth goes, You too will achieve this kind of enlightened temperament. T’ai Chi practice will make you calm in the most stressful situations. You’ll be able to serenely defeat the bad guys without ever losing your cool or letting your emotions get the best of you.

As much as we all wish this myth was true, unfortunately, it’s not. T’ai Chi people also get upset about silly things, we have arguments, and we feel stress just like everyone else. T’ai Chi practice doesn’t give us any super powers and it doesn’t make us immune to emotional problems or frustrations.

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Thich Nhat Hanh & T’ai Chi: The Mindful Dichotomy

Inspirational quotes are a great source to help us stay motivated to practice. The best quotes are the ones that act as gentle reminders for the principles of breathing, movement, and keeping a mindful attitude while training.

On the subject of T’ai Chi, one author who really seems to speak to me is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and Peace Activist who has written extensively about the philosophy, practice, and art of Mindful Meditation. It’s a bit odd that I choose Thich Nhat Hanh for T’ai Chi inspiration because his personal philosophy admonishes any kind of violence, either in thought or action. It’s doubtful that he would advocate the practice of a martial art in relation to any of his teachings.

Thich Nhat Hanh was born in Central Vietnam in 1926. As a young Buddhist Monk, he was confronted by the war that engulfed his country during the l960’s. He opposed the war and traveled the throughout the world, calling for peace and exchanging ideas with writers, scholars, and the activists of the time.

He met with the Civil Rights Leader, Dr. Martin Luther King and discussed the ways non-violent action could be used to change political thought and oppose injustice in the world.

He eventually led the Buddhist delegation at the Paris Peace talks in 1969 in the hopes of ending the hostilities in his Homeland.

After the war, Thich Nhat Hanh continued to travel and teach, opening monasteries and meditation communities so that he could spread his message of peace. He has written well over 100 books and articles on meditation, mindfulness, and Buddhist practices. He continues to be a voice for political and environmental injustice, as well as a Spiritual Leader in the Mindfulness Movement.

While age and an unfortunate stroke in 2014 prevent him from traveling and speaking, Thich Nhat Hanh continues to practice mindful meditation at his Plum Village communityy in France.

It’s difficult to reconcile the non-violence philosophy of Thich Nhat Hanh with the martial aspects of T’ai Chi; However, both adhere to a mindful approach and a reflective awareness that is difficult to ignore.

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How to Own your T’ai Chi Form

T’ai Chi is beautiful. There’s nothing quite like watching the grace and power of a talented T’ai Chi practitioners as they effortlessly float from one posture to the next. The strength, flexibility, and dexterity demonstrated can be awe inspiring.

Unfortunately, for most of us, our form doesn’t quite live up to the aesthetics found in a gifted performance.  Try as we might, our bodies just don’t seem to be able to bend or hold the positions the way we’d like them to. It can be terribly discouraging, especially after you’ve spent years studying the art only to see someone much younger, and more limber, easily execute a move that you still have difficulty performing.

But, is a pretty, aesthetically pleasing form really what we should be striving for? Isn’t T’ai Chi designed as a martial art? -As a method for moving vital energy through our body to improve health?

How can we make the T’ai Chi form our own, even when we fail to perform the movements the way we imagine they ought to be done.

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The Best Place to Train T’ai Chi

Every time you see someone practicing T’ai Chi in a book, magazine, or website (even this one!), you’ll likely see someone standing outside on a beach or in a lush garden, striking a perfect pose. Usually they’re practicing on a clear day with the sun rising  behind them. It’s no wonder those people in the photographs always look so happy.

But it’s that picture perfect image of T’ai Chi training at all realistic?

Let’s face it, picture perfect T’ai Chi is kind of like the way we imagine going on a picnic with a loved one. We’d like to think it will be all sun, fun, and even a bit romantic; But, when you get to the park, you realize that the ground is hard and uncomfortable, there’ are bugs everywhere, and if you don’t wither from the heat, there’s sure to be a raincloud heading your way. Meanwhile, the food gets cold, the drinks get warm, and you start to feel lucky to survive the whole ordeal without catching salmonella. Picnics just aren’t as much fun in real life as they may seem in a magazine -All in all, it’s much easier to drive to the nearest Hot Dog stand and grab a bite!

But, how does this relate to the training experience of T’ai Chi? I mean, shouldn’t we be outside, ‘becoming one with nature’ as we find our our ‘Center’? Doesn’t the fresh air and sounds of nature help us relax and to become rooted into the Earth around us?

The answer is “YES,” outside training, close to nature and fresh air is best for the T’ai Chi experience. But there are a few things to consider before you head out to that sunrise beach…

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What is Moving Meditation? …and how to achieve it!

T’ai Chi is often called a moving meditation… but what does that really mean?

You probably already know that meditation is a process of focusing your thoughts and projecting your mind’s intentions in order to achieve a desired state of consciousness. However, when most people think about meditation they usually imagine someone sitting in a ‘lotus’ position or kneeling for ‘zazen’  meditation. Sitting, or even laying down, is often used so the person can completely relax the body and give their thoughts full attention. Movement, it would seem, distracts the mind, making it harder to achieve the desired state.

What we have to understand is that movement can be an important part of our meditative evolution. Performance specific movements like those found in T’ai Chi, Yoga, or even certain types of prayer can actually help the practitioner in a variety of ways.

First, for those who have difficulty staying still, the movements give the body something to do while the brain focuses on the task at hand. A body that moves slowly and with purpose in a controlled, rhythmic manner can calm the mind, in much the same way a stage hypnotist might use a swinging pocket watch to lead someone into a trance. By giving the mind something to concentrate deeply upon, the subconscious this free to explore and relax.

Secondly,  movement helps us visualize energy, or chi, moving through the different areas of our body. As we raise our arms, it becomes easier to imagine the arm meridians filling with energy and nourishing our body. Standing allows us to visualize Earth Energy rising up from the ground and into our center as we ‘root’ into our stance.

Finally, movement is necessary for us to allow the meditative state to become a conscious part of our everyday life. Meditation in a quiet, candle-lit room, under the smell of incense and soft music is great for giving yourself time to de-stress, heal, and discover spiritual insights. But, true Mastery comes when you can achieve this state on a noisy, traffic filled street. It happens when you can stay calm, centered, and energetically efficient throughout your day, no matter what life happens to throw at you.

But, is this kind of Mental Mastery really achievable?

Well, it will take a lot of personal growth to attain this type of control, but yes it’s totally possible.

Here’s a short overview to help get you started on the path…

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