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T'AI CHI - An Essential Practice
T'ai chi is an internal martial art that teaches its practitioners to be as still and rooted as a tree, as powerful as a rushing river, and as balanced as yin and yang. T'ai chi is the most beneficial when it is physically practiced each day and when its principles are applied in everything one does. More about t'ai chi and why I practice it is in my article about t'ai chi and the practice of law.
My attraction to t'ai chi did not come from anything new age (it is curious that the new age movement has embraced so much that has very old roots) but from a realization that it made no sense to leave it out of my life. I came to t'ai chi in a haphazard way. After hearing about it from time to time and seeing images of people practicing it in parks at the crack of dawn, I saw t'ai chi being performed by one of the characters in Peter Wang's A Great Wall (1986). It was hilarious that this character even used t'ai chi when he danced to pop music.
I owe a big thanks to t'ai chi practitioner and trial lawyer Victor Crawford for influencing me to learn and practice t'ai chi. The late Vic Crawford was a brash, hard-fighting trial lawyer who incorporated t'ai chi into his life without making any effort to proselytize for it. He fought for criminal defendants, lobbied for the tobacco industry, smoked and got stricken by and died from cancer, and eventually switched sides against the tobacco industry.
One day I asked Vic his advice for learning t'ai chi. Vic sent me some brochures about classes given by Ellen and Len Kennedy, (who became my teachers) and some other local instructors. He attached a note foreseeing amazing doors that were about to be opened through learning t'ai chi; what an understatement.
I started going to the free Saturday morning t'ai chi practice sessions at Glen Echo Park, and then signed up for lessons there with Ellen and Len Kennedy, who are great teachers and who are former students of Robert Smith, who was Cheng Man Ching's first western student. I've taken the beginner through intermediate course progression, try to practice every day, and have a long way to go.
A natural skeptic, I have been amazed to see the physical power of skilled t'ai chi practitioners. A few times, my teacher Len Kennedy would call on me to demonstrate a t'ai chi move; I don't know if that was because of my interest or to quiet my many questions about why t'ai chi really worked. With little physical effort, Len would give me a side bump that felt like he'd mysteriously thrown 200 pounds of force behind it, or he would grab my hand off him while causing substantial discomfort to my wrist. Cheng Man Ching's senior student Benjamin Lo once had an otherwise strong person repeatedly try to move Mr. Lo's outstretched arm while it was in a relaxed position; it couldn't be done. This was after the man was able to move Ben Lo's arm while in a stiff position and then in a limp position. Ben Lo also showed us a film of Cheng Man Ching as a "senior citizen" sparring with much younger opponents; with apparently minimal effort, Professor Cheng would send his opponents far backwards.
I've been told that there are important benefits of practicing the t'ai chi exercise with others -- that this is a way to tao -- and that everyone should be moving in unison. The group I infrequently join does its best to always practice outside, no matter how cold. When people see me practicing t'ai chi solo, the reactions are often interesting. One day, my friend's two-year-old daughter started following my moves, and I'm told she was following along rather well; children are great learners, and don't have the obstacle of the fear of failure. If you see somebody practicing t'ai chi while waiting for a plane or for something else, it might be me.
T'ai chi is best practiced when it is followed twenty-four hours a day. For t'ai chi is not only composed of physical t'ai chi movements, but of practicing t'ai chi's principles physically, spiritually, and psychologically. T'ai chi's principles are simple to understand, but profound and often difficult to apply.
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