“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray
The “Mindfulness Movement” has become a popular trend among many people trying to improve their lives.
Yoga, meditation, and T’ai Chi are among the most common ways people strive to achieve this mindful state. And while all these practices can help us achieve this elusive frame of mind, there is one important difference between them… T’ai Chi is a martial art period.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Everyone wants to do T’ai Chi in order to be “Mindful“; To be One-With-Nature, to find Inner Peace and Contentment, to be in Harmony with the World around them… well, screw that!
Look, you’re walking down the street, minding your own business, thinking about all the things you’ve got to do… pick up bread at the store, pay the electric bill, plan a birthday surprise for Grandma, and have someone check into that funny noise your car’s been making lately. When suddenly someone jumps out at you from behind a corner. “Give me your money”, he yells as he comes rushing towards you… then you see a punch heading straight towards your face!
Moments ago you were thinking about Grandma’s birthday and now and you’re suddenly fighting for your life.
Your attacker on the other hand, has had time to prepare. He knew when he woke up this morning that he was going to sneak up on someone, beat them up, and take their money. He’s been watching you and pumping himself up for the attack. He has adrenaline and ‘bad intentions’ surging through his veins.
If you knew he was coming, if you knew what was going to happen, you also could have got ready. If you couldn’t somehow escape, you would have at least built up your resolve to fight and prepared your mind for the combat ahead.
But it’s too late now. There’s no way you can match his energy or intensity as he comes rushing forward. You simply can’t go from ‘Grandma surprise’ to ‘ Vicious Street Fighter’ that quickly. -So what do you do?
The answer is easy… you Relax.
Without thinking about it, you accept the situation, you breathe, and bring yourself immediately to the Present.
There’s no time to ponder the situation as his fists comes flying towards your face. You yield your body out of the way. Without thought, your hands effortlessly passes his punch out to the side as you step lightly behind his front foot and your knee sinks naturally against his leg, trapping it. Your left arm magically presses his punching arm down across his body, breaking his structure as you unconsciously ’Root” into your stance.
As you settle, your torso twists from its center and your right palm finds the attacker’s jaw, striking him with more power than you would have thought possible. The would-be mugger crashes backwards onto the ground, unable to get up.
It all happened so quick, you can hardly believe it happened at all. It isn’t until you run safely away from the scene that you realize your body remembered to use the T’ai Chi posture ‘ Brush Knee, Push’ just as his punch came towards you.
That my friends, is T’ai Chi mindfulness!
It’s not about finding ‘ Inner Peace’ or ‘Harmony’, (Though those states
certainly can occur while training) it’s about training yourself to be Present when the sh*t hits the fan.’
T’ai Chi is relaxed and meditative because that’s the most resourceful state for us to respond to an attack. Trying to match an attacker’s emotional intensity is difficult because it takes time to ‘work up’ that kind of mental energy.
Besides, who wants to walk around angry and excited all day just ‘in case’ they’re attacked. -It’s exhausting.
Better to train yourself to yield, relax, and divert the negative energy away. Properly practiced, this takes absolutely NO effort on your part, yet allows your technique to be incredibly powerful.
Even more important, it calms the mind, allowing you to process the trauma of a violent encounter much easier. ( Afterward, less sleepless evenings, nightmares, depression, or panic attacks!)
So how can you actually attain this kind of ability? well, here’s three training strategies to get you started.
1st. Practice Often
Don’t just practice the moves, practice executing the moves with calm awareness. In your mind’s eye, imagine an attacker coming at you and your response successfully stopping his momentum.
The World famous kickboxer, Benny ‘the jet’ Urquidez would often say, “The way you train is the way you react.” -The same goes for T’ai Chi.
T’ai Chi is practiced slowly so that you can visualize every action in great detail. Obviously your technique will be a bit unsure and hesitant when you first start learning. (Remember, you probably didn’t just hop on the bike and start doing wheelies when you first learned to ride!)
You also need a good Martial application for all of your T’ai Chi postures. If you’re going to practice this art, you might as well have relevant and sound reasons for all of the movements. T’ai Chi was originally designed to martial art and it’s a mistake to leave out the martial applications when training. (If you don’t have any good applications for your movements don’t worry. Just stick with this blog and will show you plenty!)
Also remember to remain serene and relaxed at all times during your training. This will help you stay calm, even during a real combat situation.
2nd. Try ‘Not Thinking’
The Japanese Samurai had a name for this mental state, they called it ‘Mushin” or “no mind.”
It’s kind of like driving a car on a long journey. After a while your mind starts to wander, and you can actually start to forget that you’re driving. Before long, you’re in your own little world. Thoughts and ideas pop in your head while you forget about steering, braking, or even where you’re going. But, if another car were to suddenly swerve into your lane your subconscious brain would instantly take over and you’d move out of the way without hardly even thinking about it.
Your training should pretty much be the same way. Try to practice being Mindful… Alert, aware, and responsive, without any judgment or attachment to what you’re actually doing. Of course, I know this is easier said than done; Just keep practicing and before you know it it, your technique will just start to flow without any conscious thought.
3rd. Don’t allow yourself to become Attached to what you’re doing.
Probably most difficult of all, try to become aware of your own ‘self-talk’,. There’s a lot to pay attention to while practicing T’ai Chi and it’s very easy to become critical of yourself. Try not to pass judgment and don’t be too hard on yourself while you’re learning and experimenting with the art.
Observe yourself as though you were a friendly outsider watching yourself train. You can give yourself helpful advice and constructive criticism, but don’t be harsh or critical, especially if you’re having trouble with a particular posture or concept.
Look, if it was easy, we’d all be Masters, each of us walking around like some kind of mythical Shaolin Monk. But T’ai Chi practice is tough, really tough.
There are so many details to pay attention to… Breathing, Structure, Body Mechanics; Even your own internal chi flow! -Don’t make it harder than it has to be! Let your internal dialogue be positive and encouraging, You’ll need that kind of ‘internal coaching’ if you ever have to use your skills for real.
Mindfulness in Action
The thought of fending off an attacker is scary – terrifying even!
It’s a lot different then slowly dancing in a pretty garden or contemplating your navel, but T’ai Chi represents the way mindfulness reveals meaning in our actual lives.
Practice is not only about taking a stress break from our day. It’s not only about low blood pressure, improved balance, flexibility, or brain cognician. It’s not even about making you a happier, more relaxed, creative person.
These are all, true benefits of the practice, and it’s easy to be all ‘T’ai Chi’ when things are going good, when you’re healthy, safe, and secure.
But, T’ai Chi, true T’ai Chi Chuan, is about training yourself to respond when things get tough; when that guy comes out from around the corner, when your doctor tells you she has “bad news”, when your boss says the company has plans to downsize, or when you get a phone call telling you a loved one has been in an accident. That’s when your true practice is needed.
It’s these times that your training will be challenged. And it’s these times that Mindful Response will be most beneficial.
The ability to stay calm, aware, and effective while everyone else is freaking out is what makes T’ai Chi people special. You can find mindful practice in many other types of art, but T’ai Chi is designed to be there when things get messy.
Cover Photo – Can Mindfulness help you prepare for life’s punches?