So, I’m finally here at my Tai Chi Chen school in Yangshuo – Yangshuo Traditional Tai Chi School, and I’ve been here for about 4-5 weeks. I haven’t blogged for a while; my goal leaving home was to blog at least once a week, but as I’m in this stage where it’s really hard and almost insurmountable with any types of demands, expectations and routines, this is where we are.
Besides, I have been pondering long and hard about what to do with this blog, what to really blog about, getting a niche and I think I have an excellent idea now, so more on that subject coming up…
I sincerely hope you can stand my randomness!
The Tai Chi doggie HotPot, named after the dish she escaped when two American tourists were so kind and liberated her from the market, and brought her home to the school. When they later on left for their own home Master Ping took care of the dog, which is by the way the most cuddliest doggie ever. The thought of eating her makes my stomach turn! Some vegetarians and vegans don’t really see it as a more horrible act to eat a dog than a pig, although I kind of do, don’t know why…
Anyway, I love the school, the atmosphere is completely charming, calm and relaxing. The school is kind of small (but has 3 large areas for practice!) and usually we’re about 10 students, which is great. That means small groups! Fantastic! Most of us are staying here and some of the students have been here for a really long time – a couple of them over 1 year, and they’re not ready yet – if you ask them! A quote from one of them: “The more I learn, the more I realise I have to stay!”
And sometimes people from the outside show up, e.g. tourists passing through, who booked an “introduction to Tai Chi course” or classes for a few days. Sometimes international schools from around China show up, too.
Every room at the school has a name from a Tai Chi position…
At the moment there’s a large group visiting from France, and they came to China to practice Tai Chi for a week.
Yangshuo Traditional Tai Chi School was founded by my Masters: Wu Heng Dong (Wu Kim) and Wu YuPing. The style they teach is Chen style, and Kim also teaches Kung Fu amongst other practices.
The school itself is situated in a very old house, so pretty often tourists show up during class to look at the old houses and to shoot photographs etc. I like the environment very much, and it was actually one of the reasons why I chose this school instead of others.
Master Kim and Master Ping have practiced Tai Chi almost their entire lives, and both of them inspire confidence, and as teachers they have equipped themselves with unlimited patience. They are incredibly skilled and I always find it fascinating watching them – it looks so easy when they perform the moves, so easy and effortless. Until you do it yourself – stiff as a refrigerator and clumsy as an elephant. Oh no, it wasn’t at all as easy as it looked!
Below you can see a typical class at my school; found it on the school’s YouTube channel: Traditionaltaichi
There are 5 main styles in Tai Chi (Chen, Yang, Sun, Wu and Woo), but I won’t dive into any ramblings of any of them, since I don’t really know the differences that well (or at all). If you’re interested in a comparison, it’s easy to find plenty of YouTube videos online showing e.g. comparisons between Chen and Yang styles. At times you can easily spot the differences, at other times it appears to be no difference at all. For the untrained eye.
Chen style Tai Chi – 陳氏太極拳 – is however the original form and the mother/father of all the other styles. It originated in Chen Village from the Chen family, the founders of the above mentioned village. The stories are somewhat fuzzy about how, why and when the Chen family actually developed Tai Chi, since there are no real documentation until the 17th century.
Who invented/developed Tai Chi – who is its Father?
There is this legendary man – Zhang Sanfeng, who was a Taoist priest. If you’re to believe the legend, he became 307 years old, and also managed to get superhuman powers and an enormous inner strength. According to this legend he is the Father of Tai Chi.
Then on the other hand there is Chen Bu, the founder of the village Chenjiagou (1374). He originally came from Shangxi and was really skilled in martial arts, so the village (his village) became famous for its martial arts. Chen Wangting, which was a ninth generation in this village, might not have invented the taijiquan (Tai Chi), but he added the Yin-Yang theory, amongst other parts, to the practice. What today is regarded as Tai Chi seem to have gotten its form during the 17th century, and it was formed by this Chen Wangting.
What is Tai Chi / taijiquan / t’ai chi ch’uan?
So many asked me this question before I left home and I proudly announced I was going to China to practice Tai Chi for 3 months. The answer is so much larger than: “Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art, which is practiced both for its defensive purposes and health benefits.” Or: “Tai Chi is an internal martial art.” What does that even mean – internal martial art?
The concepts within T’ai Chi ch’uan
Internal martial art (neijia) – this means the martial art is focused on the internal, the mental, from a qi-related aspect. Kung fu, for example, is an external martial art, because it focuses on the external, the strength. Also, in Tai Chi you don’t use your muscles – you cannot use your muscles – but you use the ligaments, and the strength comes from within.
The concept taiji means ”Supreme Ultimate” in regards to a Yin-Yang philosophy, a oneness instead of a twoness, a philosophy which is connected to the movements in Tai Chi. Taiji creates the Yin-Yang flow; movement creates Yang and when the activity reaches its maximum it becomes calm and through calmness taiji creates Yin. Taiji is the basis for Tai Chi, which is also based on Yin-Yang and Taoism.
The concept qi which is mentioned above – what does it mean really? Life force, “material energy”, energy flow, etc. Qi is the main principle on which Traditional Chinese Medicin (TCM) is based, where they talk a lot about qi energy, and Chinese martial arts. Qi is a somewhat fuzzy non-scientific concept, which I personally believe in, while others might not believe, and that’s ok too. You have to decide for yourself what to believe in this life. I’m working hard to let go of my prejudices… 😉 A closed mind does not belong in Tai Chi.
There is also a practice to balance the qi – qi gong, which is as old and ancient as 4000 years! A few years back, when I was hospitalised for pain rehab back home, we practiced some kind of westernised sitting qi gong every morning.
Yin-Yang – we all know the symbol. Popular for tattoos, jewellery, etc. The teachings of Yin-Yang is old, and it’s believed it originated somewhere during the 3rd century BC. Yin-Yang stands for a unity in everything, it shows how the world is connected, that everything belongs together. It is a twoness but also a oneness. Everything has its Yin and Yang equivalent, and it’s incredibly complicated – I won’t even put myself in that discussion, but as an example: the other day we got mixed up in a discussion about Yin-Yang in class – the Earth is Yin, the Sky is Yang, but upwards towards the sky is Yin, and downwards towards the earth is Yang. Eeeeh?
So, a lot of words about the school and about Tai Chi, but now some more about my own practice…
After 4 weeks of practice I still feel as if I’ve just arrived. I practice half-time, which means 2 hours/day. I chose this alternative because of my neck injury, since I was unsure how it would turn out, better to start slow and in case I noticed it worked out great I could always change my mind and start practising full time. However, I’ve skipped classes every week because of migraines – usually, and some time due to excessive neck pain, so thus far I haven’t started practising full time – and might not even do it this time either.
My body is constantly resisting everything!
But I’m having a hard time with breathing exercises and qi gong, a hard time with 20 minutes of standing meditation (although I more or less succeeded with standing meditation for 45 minutes last Friday!) – I get dizzy a lot and seems like I’m going to faint (which is a sign I’m breathing all wrong! No surprise there!), a hard time using my hips right – and I mean using my power from the hips instead of from my upper body, I’m really stiff when I’m stretching, stiff when I’m doing my Tai Chi form, and well so therefore… etc., etc., etc…
At the moment I feel I’m in some kind of vacuum where I absolutely cannot remember a specific sequence I learned last week – I perform it, i.e. “do like the monkey” – I watch either my shifu or another class mate, do it simultaneously with them. The second I finish it – completely gone! I don’t know if it’s because I’m not focused enough or just blocked or if I really really suck… like I said, I’m working hard to let go of my prejudices, even those about myself – not really there yet 😀
Rules on the school
Every day I feel like I’m going nowhere. Tai Chi is something you have to work with/on for years, so hopefully this will change and when I leave China I won’t have that hard of a time breathing, will be able to perform standing meditation for 30 minutes without feeling like a total loser, I will without a doubt manage to perform my form without memory gaps and I will be so relaxed, in all the right places.
But should I suffer from megalomania and believe I’m as relaxed as I ever can be, then I really need to remember my class mate Josh’s words:
“Never assume you can’t relax more!”
And so it starts all over… everything in life is a circle… breathe in, breathe out…
PS: I do appologise if I’ve gotten the concepts wrong and somehow am presenting information that is not quite correct, I’m still a newbie when it comes to Tai Chi, but I still hope, in some way, I at least managed to get the basics right…
“Traditional Tai Chi School – Yangshuo, China” was first published on my Swedish Blog.