Tai Chi Class

Welcome to WholenessInMotion. Tai chi is a whole body and mind exercise that combines meditation, martial art and health tonic in one. This particular form is the Yang style, 37 posture short form as taught by Prof. Cheng Man-ch'ing. This fascinating and intricate exercise has many benefits and just about anyone can practice it.

Take a look at this site and consider the study of relaxation and how it can benefit you in your daily life. I look forward to working with you. Tom Daly


 

Archive for May, 2010

Tai Chi Chuan – The Push-Hands Dialogue

Posted By Tom Daly on May 31st, 2010

PLEASE NOTE:  I am going ahead with posting this one despite some hesitation.  It is hard to find the right language to describe a complex interaction when words are being used to help each other.  I may update this one from time to time.  In addition, each verbal exchange has a context.  There are infinite contexts.  Clearly I’m choosing a context here but not explaining it.  Hence the ambiguity of language, intention, personality, etc. cannot be elaborated in great detail.  Tom Daly, 6/24/11.

Tai Chi Chuan –The Push-Hands Dialogue

Again, because I believe this is very important, I want to explore what we say to each other when we are working on push hands. (First things first: I’m assuming you and your partner are comfortable with exchanging views. I am assuming you want to help each other. I am assuming you want feedback, at least some of the time. This is not always the case. Some simply like to experience whatever comes their way and work from there. I think that’s also a great way to work on push-hands.)

Which of the following statements is not helpful and may be counterproductive?

a) You didn’t take my force into the ground.

b) You pulled your arm away from your body while neutralizing.

c) You are using your arm to protect yourself and block me.

d) You were twisting in the torso.

e) Your push is too hard.

Have your answer? (If you are confused about how to approach this, try my blogs on Critique, or Fact vs. Judgment.)

Let me elaborate on these statements:

a) This is a specific item that needs to happen in creating a return (yield-return) to the force received. An observable fact.

b) Your arm was not moved by your body, but separated from the body and did its own thing. Another observable fact.

c) The arm is stiff and protective, instead of inviting and listening. Therefore, it stops me from coming towards you. We don’t block in tai chi. We invite them in. A fact.

d) We want the torso full and aligned at all times. A turn in the hip joint is where rotation comes from. Twisting the torso is adding some sort of tension in the torso. We push tension. A fact.

e) This describes your subjective experience. Often there is a hidden linkage of “hard” and “bad” fused together here. The statement is a value based assessment (hard=bad) of my subjective experience (the “hardness” of your push.) An unspoken judgment goes into how you feel about this (good, bad) from how you experience it (soft, hard). If this is what I want from my partner, fair enough. But in general, I think this is a serious mistake. (At face value, a “hard” push is the result of some other error. Oddly, I could be hard, but you may not experience it that way. )

Helpful push-hands discussion, your verbal communication, is not music appreciation where opinions reign supreme – where what you hear is your experience and sharing your feeling is the point of the statement.

If you are looking for pushes that feel good to you, you may be in the wrong arena. Most of us have to start somewhere and generally it takes a long time to learn how to do a push without force.

Yes, that push may have felt hard. Yes, in fact it may have been hard. I’m noting that this statement doesn’t help anyone. I learn that your experience of my push felt hard to you. This may not be the case with someone else.

That “hard push”. It is almost impossible to actually measure this because if you feel hard to me, I am hard to you. So who is “hard” and who is being “bad”? I’ve heard it said that when students complained to Professor Cheng Man’ching, “his push was too hard”, Professor would reply it takes TWO to be hard!

“Your push is too hard” might set up a relationship that you don’t want to create between you and your partner. If I make such a statement, by inference, I am superior. Besides the power of being the Judge, it also assumes I know a “soft” push from a “hard” one in my own body. Without any proof, I am saying I understand a hard push vs. a soft push.

No, you say, you have felt a good soft push from someone else and therefore you know the difference ‘tween soft and hard in pushes. But your second hand experience is not enough. It does not confer on you judging rights. You are an expert when you can do a soft push and you can explain it to someone else.

Here is my favorite passive aggressive judgmental statement – a hidden “you are hard” statement.  Your partner tells you “When Master Cho-Chi pushed me, I didn’t feel anything.  I was just flying.”  True or false, you may as well tell me Bill Gates is a billionaire.  Really what they are saying is “Your push doesn’t compare to a perfect push.  Your push is hard, or bad, or not very good, or…. You don’t feel like Master Cho-Chi.”  Now, is this helpful?

Again, if you experience that push as hard, you had to be harder in resisting it. A more honest statement would be, “I must be VERY hard in comparison to your push. If you are hard, I must be harder.” That, of course, would be a self judgment. Even this statement is not so helpful because again you are assessing something so personal and subjective that it won’t help you progress your skill. But at least it puts the onus on you and not on them.

To embrace your experience of helplessness by a hard push is very frustrating. The experience may mean that this push frightens me, or frustrates me because my skill is too small to work with it, or I don’t like to “lose”, or simply feels uncomfortable for whatever reason.

Let’s face it, if you could neutralize that hard push, you would not say “Your push is too hard!” More likely you would laugh with delight and say, “Do that AGAIN.” You would want to continue practicing your wonderful neutralization. And those hard pushes wouldn’t feel hard to you at all because you did not offer any resistance. You didn’t get in the way. You let them in. Your hard partner would then be forced to ask, “How is it that I can’t seem to get you?”

To say “Your push is too hard” is really saying STOP THAT! Who, besides you, does that help? In fact, it doesn’t even really help you.

True, the pusher may not be aware of the strength being used to push. But your judgment doesn’t give the pusher a clue as to what to do next. “Be more soft”? How much “more soft”? “Be totally soft”? How does soft pushing do the job in the first place? What is needed to accomplish that feat?

It’s very complex. If the words “be more soft” were really helpful, everyone could do a good push. But most of us can’t. For most of us, being “more soft” is an empty gesture. It seems to me that a good push, while it is soft, has many elements that create that sensation of softness. The words hard and soft do not specify what is needed to achieve the effect of being soft. Some partners, in an attempt to be soft, don’t push at all when they push. There is no there THERE.

“Soft” or “not using force” is the sum total of many aspects that happen simultaneously to create a push that does not rely on force. It relies on good timing, direction, listening, following, no intention to push, sticking and whole body movement connected to and into the ground and connected to the partner. When I hear the suggestion “be more soft”, it reminds me of those who suggest to some sad person to “be more happy.” Great idea. Like, has that ever helped anyone?

To add nuance to that last paragraph, yes, you want the total experience of your push to be more “soft”. That is a big goal. We need to embrace that goal, but at the same time, it is not a tool for criticism of the other. It’s far too vague, too loaded with judgment, and complex.

So what do you do if you can’t deal with that force? A few options are: simply continue to get pushed, but focus on the feeling in your body (and soul), not their arms/hands.

Or, tell your partner you simply don’t have the skill to deal with that (perceived) force and ask if we can take the game down a notch.

Or, another way is to ask the partner to explain what they are feeling when they push you. This may tell you what you need to work on to alleviate their pressure and to improve your neutralization.

Or, ask the partner what they are doing when they are pushing you.

Or simply excuse yourself from the game. Walking away can be the best option at times.

The hardest lesson in push hands is that what they do is not the point. It is your reaction or action to what they do that is the point. And what you do is in the realm of your choices. Are they limited? We study push-hands, among other reasons, to give ourselves more choices.

Please, don’t tell them their push is too hard, or that it didn’t feel good. Find something else to say that’s helpful and specific, or just be quiet.

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Tai Chi Chuan – Process, Not Product!

Posted By Tom Daly on May 29th, 2010

Tai Chi Chuan – Process, Not Product!

I sadly saw a good beginning student quit tai chi class. Something wasn’t working out for her despite her expressions of appreciation for the class. One particular note was that she didn’t want to spend two years to learn it.

Actually, we can take even three years to learn it. This is not because the moves are so difficult but because true relaxation and the functionality that emerges is so hard to understand. Even after three years most students do not have that. Only the inkling of that. It takes that long to begin to see what might be there if you keep at it. Generally Americans do not want that type of discipline. We are in a rush.

I began in 1982 and I want to quit tai chi every three months. My fantasy is that by finally getting it, I will feel a victory and have something in my hand that I can show for my effort. But that is the wrong road to take because tai chi is about the process of going through movements in a relaxed manner and then applying them to a situation of combat. OK, we hardly make it combat at all in the beginning, but that is generally the end game. The form itself is a template for relaxed movement and the discovery of how relaxation itself facilitates movement. This is a process.

This notion of practicing a process, not fixing a product, is extremely hard to involve yourself in, understand, and want to continue. My own desire for product inhibits my growth. To be so involved in process often feels like something I need to get past, so that the result of all this process is a product fully formed and NOW I can practice this product that gives me X, Y and Z.

But in fact, it is the process that gives me X, Y and Z. Oops!

Just to illustrate how much this gets in my way, I often begin my own practice sessions with some little isolated tai chi moves that focus on some small aspect that I’ve identified as worth accomplishing. Then I go ahead and do the form. But during this transition to actually doing, and accepting, the form, I begin to internally fidget. I hesitate. I get frightened. I don’t want my own product to disappoint me. I might go get something to eat or start to read something to give me a few more moments of avoidance. I’ve had this feeling for years.

Once I actually begin to do the form, the resistance goes and the fascination with all those tiny and often satisfying moments begins to unfold. Of course there are also disappointing moments in the form for me. Some parts have not evolved to where I want them to be, and I may simply miss other moments and do them in a less than satisfactory way on any given day. But in the middle of it, there is enjoyment. Whatever I have mastered in my process takes over and I’m practicing process.

In that sense, you never really learn the form. You learn process.

A while back, I was having a terrible time at work. The department was not unified, the management hostile, old alliances were reinforced and unity amongst the group was an unobtainable goal. There was change in the air, and abrupt expectations were made for which you were held responsible. The past was not to be brought up. We were on a new track and if that track was linked to the past, the past was not a subject for re-examination. Only “what is”, as if it came from some sort of existential vacuum, was cut up and dissected. The why’s and the wherefore’s were expendable, giving all us an odd sensation of being out on some limb of a tree that had no tree trunk. We were accountable for the current situation without any relational cause with the past. There was no ground beneath our feet, no one to work through all the myriad issues so that working order could be achieved. I sort of think that was the point on the part of those in charge. The ONLY thing one could lean into was “process”. To just being present and attentive as the waves and wind moved you about. Process was the ONLY key in this situation. It doesn’t guarantee success, but it is one tool you always have access to.

So I treasure this place where the whole point of the exercise is process and not some final product. That should be freeing. Can I call this a luxury of sorts?

Incidentally, I’ve seen some students “finish” the form and, at least in their eyes, think they have something and then quit class. They are no longer involved in process. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to practice tai chi after that.

One thing that keeps me going is curiosity. When I plateau in progress and each day starts to feel like the day before and my sense of improving my product is being thwarted, I really want to quit. But I am too curious to see what will happen next. And it always changes after that. Revealing more process.

Although I can’t say for sure, I would guess that even Professor Cheng had more he wanted to learn in the form — and most regarded him as an unqualified master.

If you keep at it with openness and a desire to see more, it will change. And the endlessly fascinating process of learning process kicks in.

For me, that’s a key experience in tai chi.

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Tai Chi Chuan – You Have to be Carefully Taught

Posted By Tom Daly on May 9th, 2010

Tai Chi Chuan –You Have to be Carefully Taught

One of the interesting things that goes on when you learn tai chi is that you are learning more than just a form. You also learn How To Learn the form.

Who we are is what we bring to tai chi. So who we are is what comes out in tai chi, at least initially. We tend to think tai chi is a collection of some type of artful movements. So we stiffly imitate what we see.

Oh, yes, then we hear the word relax.

Oh, but then we hear a bit more about a Center.

Next comes connection to ground and air, heaven and earth.

Then comes rooting. Then internal balance.

After comes listening and sticking and following and….

Behind all of this is an essential ingredient which is HOW to learn. Tai chi is not what we think it is, and we need a new way to approach it. I see in my own teaching how often I have to go back to the same essential suggestion with each student. They are approaching their understanding of what I am saying with tools that they already have. Tai chi requires new tools. Or changing the tools you have.

This was true for me as well. I would get the same correction again and again and again in a variety of ways. It never really occurred to me that in order to grasp the new information, I needed a new way to absorb it. So I didn’t absorb it, I just went back to the old me and the old ways while imitating the movements as I saw them. I wasted a lot of time this way.

If I were to start over, I would give a much larger part of my attention on how to absorb the information and look for a new way to learn. This may slow down the learning at first. It might feel like more time spent on something that feels peripheral to the main event. But it is actually taking time to find the key to discover what tai chi is all about.

I didn’t know that “how I approach anything is how I approach everything”. This can be a huge stumbling block when it comes to tai chi. It is also something that frustrates many students – consciously or unconsciously – and why so many quit tai chi before they ever get it to bloom. Whatever it is they wanted to get doesn’t come. Tai chi then feels like everything else, so why bother?

One reason we need a new way – and this will vary for each individual – is that tai chi itself is a new way of existence. The old you has limited access to a new way of existence. It’s that simple and that complex. It helps to take a moment and look at how you normally learn what you learn.

How fast do you feel you need to master this before you lose interest? Are you comfortable with not knowing? Do you feel your way into situations or think your way into situations? Do you take notes? Does military-like repetition feel best to you? Do you like to throw out all the rules and see what comes? Does sort of making yourself dead to discovery feel comforting? Are you afraid of actually learning something new? What holds you back from new experience or knowledge? Is your way the best way? Does discipline feel good to you or restraining to you? Can you take one step back to go two steps forward? Do you always need to be going straight forward?

All of these have value. All of these can be impediments.

What might you change? What would feel appropriate to an experiential exercise that offers a new way to inhabit your own skin? What needs to happen so that you do hear what your teacher is telling you?

I practice push hands with one individual from time to time and I have to note that he rarely makes any improvement. The conversation often comes down to how bad his push is and how bad my push is and how bad everyone’s push is and no one can really push well and once you have felt the push of some master you have to face the fact that we just can’t do it and to this day it is still a mystery and what the master has we simply don’t understand or don’t do….

Well now!

I don’t see how anyone can progress with this difficult process with such an elephant on their backs. The judgment and comparison is literally crippling. It robs him (and me) of any way of working on this challenging puzzle. His learning has to include learning to stop with the comparisons and judgment. This is how he approaches all of life: How you do anything is how you do everything. A result of all this is that he hasn’t made much progress. It’s the all or nothing approach to push hands. You either have it, or you don’t.

I spoke with a student of perhaps two years. A dancer, she had felt for some time that she hadn’t been getting much out of tai chi. Then she changed. A dancer likes technique and precision, preparing for performance with the ultimate purpose of being viewed by others. She decided to approach tai chi class without any goals and without any expectation. The result? She has found class to be totally exciting and she loves it. Tai chi is mostly about process, not result. It helps to align your learning mind in the direction of discovery.

To see ourselves from a distance with real honesty is a big task. It’s not a natural thing for us to do. We have to separate from ourselves and look with a microscope or a telescope to gain a different perspective on the issue. When is the last time you did this? Mostly we look out at the world through our rose colored glasses. It’s an “in-out” view with our conditioning getting in the way. Oddly, we have the capability to do the opposite which is what I’m suggesting. I don’t think we can live our lives from the “out-in” view, but we can stop for a moment here and there and see what we might see.

A new view could be a jolt of lightening. In fact, in addition to taking on a sort of universal distant (possibly objective) view of yourself, it may be helpful to take on a view of yourself from the perspective of someone else. That is, how does X, Y, or Z view me from their perspective? Take on their viewpoint, their conditioning, their assumptions and look at you as if you are them. See how they see. See what they see.

You might learn something new.

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