More t’ai chi lessons

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May 25, 2009 More t’ai chi lessons

Long ago, I learned that t’ai chi ch’uan is essential for my life and law practice. Consequently, I decided to incorporate the t’ai chi symbol in my above-displayed law firm logo, after having toyed with a tidalwave or my initials in bamboo shape. The tidalwave symbolizes t’ai chi’s lesson to be as hard to push against as water or air, but as powerful as a tidalwave or hurricane. Bamboo symbolizes the t’ai chi lesson to be yielding to an attack but always strong. My final logo enabled me to incorporate the scales of justice of the law field into the t’ai chi symbol.

In the Washington, D.C., area, I know of four weekly t’ai chi practice gatherings, aside from the many classes available during the week. They are the Capitol Hill t’ai chi group, which I have been joining for several weeks; the Cabin John Park group; the Glen Echo Park group; and the McLean, Virginia group. I started in 1994 with the Glen Echo Park group, before starting to take lessons there with my teachers Ellen and Len Kennedy. Only the first two groups include sensing/pushing hands practice, and the Capitol Hill group meets more consistently than the Cabin John Park, and at a more reasonably early hour. All meet on Saturday morning. After returning to the Glen Echo Park group, I have found much more benefit with the Capitol Hill gathering.

At the Saturday morning t’ai chi practices is a man who has been practicing t’ai chi much longer than I, who starts his t’ai chi practice each day at 4:30 a.m. He suggested the very real extra benefits of my practicing t’ai chi for ninety minutes daily instead of my previous average of fifteen minutes.

Yesterday and today, I followed his advice. The ninety minutes gives me time to self-practice several rounds of the t’ai chi form; perform standing meditation; hold t’ai chi postures for several minutes each -= no burn, no earn/no pain, no gain, as t’ai chi master Ben Lo happily says; and circle my house like a cat, so that the front foot is empty when first landing on the ground, to prevent tripping on obstacles and losing balance if an opponent kicks the leg that is off the ground.

Ben Lo emphasizes the importance of relaxing and practicing, and advised me to practice t’ai chi in the morning and the evening when it was an accomplishment for me to even do one round of the form each day. Through reading Wolfe Lowenthal’s Gateway to the Miraculous and talking with the 4:30 a.m. practitioner, I have learned of the importance of spending at least ninety minutes daily with t’ai chi practice. I have also learned about the importance of such practice to get not only the upper body relaxed, but the legs relaxed enough so that I will be using not more than four ounces of force even to perform the kicking parts of the t’ai chi form. Practicing t’ai chi for ninety minutes daily is a realistic time commitment when considering that this is the minimum time usually consumed to exercise at the gym and to travel there and back When the weather is good, I practice on my backyard patio. In bad weather, I can practice inside my house, or can drive to Cabin John Park, where an extended roof by the mini-train station protects against the rain.

Here are some further t’ai chi lessons I have learned, in addition to my dozens of blogpostings on t’ai chi ch’uan:

– The 4:30 a.m. t’ai chi practitioner recommends Robert Chuckrow’s t’ai chi books, which are here and here. He also recommends reading Peter Ralston on t’ai chi, but so far I have only found Ralston addressing t’ai chi in book form through his preface to Ron Sieh’s T’ai Chi Ch’uan: The Internal Tradition. (UPDATE: The 4:30 a.m. t’ai chi practitioner confirmed that he recommends Ralston’s Cheng Hsin: Principles of Effortless Power; here is Ralston’s Cheng Hsin page).

– Some beneficial t’ai chi videos:

— Videos of Fu Zhongwen, who was a student of Yang Cheng Fu. Fu Zhongwen later married one of Yang’s family members; I am wondering whether the family relationship led Yang Cheng Fu to share even more t’ai chi secrets with Fu Zhongwen than if the family relationship had not existed. Yang Cheng Fu taught t’ai chi to Cheng Man Ch’ing, who taught Robert W. Smith as his first Western student, who taught Ellen and Len Kennedy, who taught me starting in 1994. Fu Zhongwen videos are here, here, here, here, and here,

— Videos of Fu Sheng Yuan, the son of the above-discussed Fu Zhongwen: Fu Sheng Yuan and Fu Zhongwen sensing hands together. See also here, here and here.

Cheng Man Ch’ing doing t’ai chi sword practice.

Yang Sau Chung, eldest son of Yang Cheng Fu.

– Internal martial artist Fong Ha included t’ai chi study with Yang Cheng Fu’s eldest son Yang Sau Chung and Yang’s student Tung Ying Chieh. Fong Ha also studied yiquan with Han Xing Yuan, who was a student of Wang XiangZhai. Videos of Fong Ha are here, here, here, here, and here,

– I am currently reading Jan Diepersloot’s Warriors of Stillness Volume I: Qigong of the Center, Essence of Taijiquan — The Teachings of GrandMaster Cai Song Fang. Diepersloot studied with the above-discussed Fong Ha and Cai Song Fang, both of whom eventually focused heavily on the martial and meditative benefits of standing meditation and holding t’ai chi postures rather than doing the t’ai chi form as interconnected movements. Diepersloot focuses heavily on the wuji posture. Wang Tsung-yueh wrote that: “Taiji (The Great Ultimate) comes from Wu Chi (Undifferentiated Oneness) and is the mother of yin and yang. In motion Taiji separates; in stillness yin and yang unite and return to Wu Chi.” The Nine Dragon Baguazhang page further discusses the relationship between wuji and taiji. Whether accurate or not, here is diagramming of the wuji symbol and t’ai chi symbol. As I understand it, the wuji posture is the starting t’ai chi posture in the Cheng Man Ch’ing-style t’ai chi ch’uan that I practice.

– Wolfe Lowenthal recommends Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching, which influenced the Tao Teh Ching. Taoism heavily influences t’ai chi ch’uan. Links about Wilhelm are here and here. This page purports to present Wilhelm’s I Ching translation. I have ordered Wilhelm’s translation in hardcopy.

– Practicing t’ai chi ch’uan helps one loosen attachment to one’s body, to desires, and to material things, in that in t’ai chi one must deflate the ego, softness is valued and muscular strength is not sought, and this martial art is suitable for practitioners of any age and any level of physical health or lack thereof. As the above-discussed Jan Diepersloot writes in Warriors of Stillness: “The accomplishment of the training in the meditative and martial arts is precisely the ability to transcend and suppress the functioning o the sympathetic, pituitary-adrenal system and continue to operate with calm equanimity in the face of extreme danger, including, ultimately, the encounter with death itself.”  Jon Katz

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