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A personal wiew on Tai Chi!


What is Tai Chi

I started to learn Tai Chi in the summer of 1975. The first year I practised just a short sequence of the form called "little Tai Chi". In the following summers I learned the 37 posture, Yang stile short form from the french teacher Jacques Dropsy who in his turn had learned Tai Chi as it was taught by the chinese teacher Cheng Man Ch´ing. In the way I learned Tai Chi it was always taught in combination with Zen meditation (Zazen) and the two practises have been a very important part of my life ever since. I have however not been practising regularly every day. I have had periods when I practised Zazen and not Tai Chi and vice versa. I have also had some periods when I have not practised either diciplin.

The emphasis in my Tai Chi learning and practise has been on the rythmic relaxing flow of the form and on its meditative and balancing qualities. I have learned a few of the applications, but as I have not had much posibility to practise them. I have instead put all energy into the form. During the years of training I have occasionally showed the the form to others and in some cases also helped people to learn some of the movements. I have however not felt ready to teach the complete form until 2005.

The form has been an important part of my life. It has taken 30 years to reach a point where I feel that I have something to give that is not just a copy of what I have learned myself but something that I have discovered and thus can add to the teachings.

As said my emphasis is not on Tai Chi as a martial art. This however does not mean that my practise of the form excludes the use of Tai Chi for self defence. The origin and tradition of Tai Chi is so intermingled with the aspect of self defence that it would be impossible to do the form without being aware of this.
Doing the form regularly it changes and has a life of it´s own. Some days it is more vital and living and some days it can be dull and almost lifeless. As every movement has an application where there is an imagined opponent You can not do the form without sometimes be very aware of this fact. On some occasions it can actually be as if someone is really there challenging and moving together with you like a dancing partner.

The tradition is to do the form slowly. This can seem non functional if you want to use it for self defence. However it is instead very wise and functional. By training and practising in slow motion your body will adapt to the movements and integrate them in your subconscious mind. As a matter of fact they are already there. The movements of Tai Chi are adapted to the natural movement patterns of your body and thus they "fit" perfectly into what is natural. The ultra rapid training helps to make every movement part of you and to become reflexes that will just be there when youm need them. The hope is of course that they will never be needed, but if for some reason you must fight they will be there and hopefully be sufficient and help you in the right moment. Believing this the emphasis on self defence takes another meaning. Fighting for practise or for fun or competition will lose some of it's temptation and might even feel unnecessary. It is of course a fact and in some aspects very good that Tai Chi is used as a sport and for competition, but more than beeing a sport it is a "real life practise". You train for life itself and as for using Tai Chi for self defence the training is for the real thing, for the moment when challenge is real and not for fun. The ultimate goal of your training should however be to never have to fight but to be able to avoid it.

It is utterly important to always remember that as a martial art Tai Chi is purely and solely for self defence. This is the heart of Tai Chi and it is without exception. The moment you compromise yourself and leave this "ground" and become an attacker you are lost. You will have lost moraly and you might win some fights but you will in the end always loose in relation to an opponent who stays on his or her safe ground and who has enough skill. A counter attack as part of the self defence might of cource be nescessary, but to be the agressor who starts a fight is never ever ok.

There are three things to aim at in Tai chi self defence. The first is to be able to stay out of fights and/or to have the attitude and skill nessecary to stop a fight without using violence. The second is to minimise violence if it becomes unavoidable. The third and last is to be the person standing in the end of a fight you cannot avoid.

As for myself I am a very peaceful man. I did not fight much as a boy although I had my share of conflicts. As a grown up I have avoided fights mostly out of self preservation. After starting to learn Tai Chi I have never had to really use it in a serious way. I consider this a victory and this "victory" might possibly be a result of my training in Tai Chi as well as Zazen.
I have however experienced a few occasions where fighting could have been necessary. In one of these incidents a man was attacking a shop owner and then my intervention using words/voice and eye contact was enough to solve the situation. In another situation I was attacked and I reflexively deflected a blow and after this talking was sufficient. The most serious incident included three opponents who really were about to attack me. When they however by my behavior realised that the fight could cost them something they backed of and again we ended up talking. I count myself lucky not to have been forced into anything more serious than this.

Having learned Tai Chi and Zazen together means that focus is on balance as an essential part of the teaching. Balance of body and mind are central in both diciplines. In Zazen the emphasis is on the balance of the mind and in Tai chi the emphasis is on the balance of the body. The difference is however minimal, especially in Tai Chi because mind and body must always go together if you want to be in harmony.
In Zazen there is a constant experience of losing your balance mentally. This often happens many many times during a "sitting" and this goes for the new adept as well as for those with more practise and experience. The periods of being in balance will however grow and the losing of mentally balance will change in quality and happen less often. In time you will feel more and more aware and start to experience the place in your mind where the mind balances as on a knifes edge with intent lurking as a trap all around you to lure you into some thought pattern or inner action.

In Tai Chi the emphasis is on balance, on moving in a way that makes every movement as "safe" as possible in respect to loosing your balance The form is built and taught in a way that always makes balance possible. Balance is however a relative thing and doing the form in absolute perfect balance is as hard as always being balanced in your central mind. There is always some small thing or some small part of your movement where unbalance lurks and where an opponent might be able to unbalance or uproot you.

That balance is essential in Tai Chi does however not mean that you have to be in perfect balance all the time. You can compare this with life itself. Life is not always balanced. As non perfect beings we make mistakes and sometimes we even might want to be "unbalanced" if it happens in secure circumstances like for instance when making love or playing. Total balance is hardly desireable, except in certain circumstances and it can selldom be kept for very long. The conclusion to make of this is that in Tai Chi, although it might be desirable to be in very good or perfect balance the emphasis should be on the ability to regain balance if it is lost. This quality is at least as desirable or maybe even more so than keeping perfect balance all the time.
There might always for everyone come a moment when your mind and / or your fot slips for some reason. When this happens there should be no regret and no dwelling upon the mistake. It might be fatal, but if not, the emphasis must be on how to regain balance and what to do next.
The form should be practised with this in mind. You might always slip. You might always make mistakes. This is however not something that should be seen as if you are doing a "bad" practise. Nor should it be used to make you feel bad about yourself. The movements in the form are linked together in a constant flow and the movement that you are just doing is history a millisecond later. A slip, a bad move or an unbalanced or less balanced movement should be taken for what it is, namely something that has already happened and therefore is of no consequence except as something to use as a learning experience. You should always follow the flow and go on trying to do your best. To dwell on a misstake is like spitting against the wind. Be kind to yourself and dont use mistakes to feel bad about yourself not in Tai Chi and not in life itself.

Learning and training Tai chi

You should try to find a teacher whom you like and feel comfortable with. Learning Tai Chi is hard if you dont have a teacher. From a book it is almost impossible to learn at least if you have not seen someone doing it. From a video it is possible but very difficult.
When I started in 1975 there were very few persons in the western world who were skilled enough to teach Tai Chi. This has however changed and today it is rather easy to find a teacher. Different teachers of course have their own approach. Some are very focused on self defence and others like myself on balance and on the meditative and harmonising aspect of Tai Chi. Some teachers put a great emphasis on details and one movement can take a long time to learn. Others like myself find it more important to see to the flow of movements. I think it is important not to "judge" different approaches. Every approach has it´s own value and will fit for someone. I like my own view on Tai Chi, but it is of course not certain that it is the best approach for everyone. I think it is wise to be open and to stay with a teacher that makes you feel good about yourself and who makes you feel good about Tai Chi.

There are many different forms and stiles of Tai Chi. When you have learned a Tai Chi form or part of a form it is good to practise it regularly. Doing it each day can be a very good habit. This will benefit you physically as well as mentally and you will probably incorporate the movements into your being rather soon.
It can however be just as good to do Tai Chi periodically and to mix it with one or more of other kinds of practises. If you are open to the form and if you have learned it so that you know the movements good enough they will stay with you and work inside you even in periods when you dont practise the form. When I have let the form rest for a long time there has almost always been something new to it when I have taken it up again and sometimes I have also been able to understand why this happens and see the connection to other things in my life.

There are a few things that I want to point out as valuable.

  • Having a teacher
  • Finding ways to sometimes train together with others
  • Not to be discouraged when the form seems dull and boring or when you loose balance.
  • Sometimes you should Train on uneven ground for instance in a forrest
  • Try to sometimes do the form in small spaces
  • Sometimes it is good to do the movements separately and maybe train one movement for a while
  • It can be good to mix the movements in a different way from the form you have learned
  • Change speed. Do the form very very slowly or faster than you usually do.
  • If you have not yet learned to do the form both ways, left and right you should do this
  • Dont force your breathing to go with the rythm of the form. Instead let the breathing adapt itself to your movements. In time this adaption will harmonise movements and breathing
  • If you are a little more experienced with the form and know it rather well You should try to do it while using your peripheral vision. You do this by defocusing your eyes slightly and then your field of vision will widen. If you find this difficult you should do the form very slowly while defocusing. This practise will help your brain to integrate the form into both brainhalves.
  • Try to do the form mentally now and then by visualising the movements in your mind or inner eye. This will help you integrate the form and might add new understanding.

Lastly I will say something about Chi.

There is a force acting in every beeing and in everything around us. The chinese call it Chi or ki. In other languges it has other names.
The flow of Chi is vital and the more freely it flows the better. Chi and your breathing are intermingled and affect each other. Chi is also directly intermingled with our "feeling system", meaning the "chanels" in your body where your feelings of joy, anger, sadness and love, etc are active.

It is hard but not impossible to consiously affect the flow of Chi. Affecting it indirectly is what is most practical and easy for most of us. Tai Chi can be a way to help Chi flow more freely. This might take it´s time and it is very different for different persons how easy changes will happen. Some people are more blocked than others or have blocks in the flow of Chi that are harder to deal with.
In the text above I have pointed out the importance of feeling good about the form and the way you learn it. This is very important because it will affect the flow of Chi and help to losen up eventual blocks in your constitution.

Affecting the flow of Chi directly is more difficult and often takes a lot of practise. To train yourself in this aspect, doing the form regularly is very good. There are different training methods to learn to feel and even see the Chi force which can be applied and many of them can be found in different books and seminars dealing with shamanistic practise. Others can be found in books and seminars dealing with body oriented healing methods and different massage techniques. One of the most popular and common of these is Reiki healing.

Working with healing, body treatment and massage is probably one of the best ways to learn about Chi, the importance of Chi and the way it flows through our bodies as well as the effects it has on our daily lives. I strongly suggest that you train yourself this way. It will help you understand and feel Chi and it will also teach you the importance of love, empathy and how we are all connected with each other and the world around us.
Reiki is probably one of the most common and accessible of these methods and it is also suitable for the purpouse of learning about Chi. To learn about Reki and things connected to Reiki the page behind this   link   is a valuable source.

The Chi force flows through your whole body and the soles of your feet and palms of your hands are important areas where the flow is strong.
One way that might be a good start to learn to feel Chi is to realise that in Tai Chi You almost always direct the Chi force in your hands outwards away from yourself. This has to do with Tai Chi being designed for self defence and always relating to some imagined or real opponent.
To feel the difference you can try to direct the Chi with your hands towards your own body. Doing this and feeling the difference you might start to feel Chi.
Directing Chi inwards through your hands is good for you. This is what You do in Chi Gong (Qigong) which is a practise more directly designed for supporting the body and affecting health.
Doing Chi Gong You often start a movement by taking /recieving Chi from outside yourself and then you direct it inwards in rythmic movements similar to some of the ones you use in Tai Chi. Learning Chi Gong is something that can be very good for You and a valuable complement to your Tai Chi practise

I whish you a joyfull and beneficial relation with Tai Chi


Per-Otto Sylwan


Tai Chi is offered as part of my work with individuals and groups and also when working with leadership training and staff support. Separate courses in Tai Chi might be given on request. Back to my main Tai Chi site

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