This time we hear from the quiet man of our Tai Chi Classes. You may have seen him demo’ the Broad Sword at World Tai Chi Day and he helps out with Monday night’s class. So it’s over to James…
A wise martial philosopher – it may have been Chuck Norris – once wrote: “Know yourself and you will win all battles”. I’m not all that keen on battles, but there’s one way that Tai Chi Chuan classes have helped me to get to know myself better.
My job is not quite the most exciting job in the world. I have to get on with people and tasks that I totally disagree with – and since the mortgage won’t pay itself, I can’t get into too many skirmishes. 43 months ago (give or take a week) I realised I needed to do something to avoid getting stressed out or turning into a corporate zombie. The adult education brochure dropped through my letterbox, and I figured it was time to find out what the Tai Chi Chuan class was all about. I mean, how hard could it be, waving your arms around really slowly?
In those early Taiji classes I soon realised why it was called “long” form. I progressed through the first section, and I’d then watch Steve and others complete the form, and wondered how many decades it’d take to learn the rest of it. But during each Taichi class I’d feel the tension drain out of my shoulders, and the week’s work-related garbage trickle out of my mind. At home, I’d use the time waiting for the kettle to boil to practise each week’s new moves. And gradually, it became less a process of incorporating new postures, and more a way to refocus.
But wait – there’s a second way that Taichi classes have helped me to get to know myself better. I don’t think ours is a particularly violent society (Chuck might disagree) but in my late teens I had a few unsolicited encounters that used to hauntme – what could I have done differently – and what would I do if I were set upon by footpads now that my sprinting days are far behind me? I could hardly rely on physical strength – if I turned sideways, people thought I’d disappeared. And I really didn’t fancy the Vladimir Putin school of bare-chested wrestling or the humourless karate on offer locally.
I knew that the slow movements in taiji class were a method for training the body to be able to fight without relying on muscular strength. It didn’t seem to be reliant on a set of rehearsed techniques (which might work well on a training mat against predictable partners, but could put me in greater danger on the proverbial street). Going along to some of Steve’s weekend tai chi chuan classes, my eyes were opened to just how much more there is to taijiquan beneath the surface of the form. And I feel much more confident that, if I’d failed to evade a confrontation out in the wild world, I just might avoid a further 14 stitches to the inside of my lip.
Hang on – there’s a third way that Tai Chi Class has helped me to get to know myself better – this is getting like that Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch. As well as being a stressed out neurotic, I also used to come down with a cold every month. I needed an exercise regime, but was too old to play football, too poor to afford gym fees, and too lazy to go jogging. Years ago, I’d learnt some Aikido which introduced me to the basic concept of chi.
As a natural sceptic, I wasn’t sure what the health benefits of Taichi class might really be – some people’s claims about chi are frankly embarrassing – George Dillman, I’m looking at you. But after a few weeks of regular Zhan Zhuang and seven of the eight fine reasures, I’d had no colds and felt a lot more energised. I could stretch without fear of snapping a hamstring, and felt much more relaxed.
Reduced stress, basic self defence, better health – oh, and amongst the ways in which Tai Chi Chuan has helped me to get to know myself better are such elements as, well, a realisation that none of these things happen without putting in the work. Kung fu is often translated as long or hard work. And you have to be prepared to put the effort in – to practise between lessons, and to read at least some of the books on Steve’s recommended reading list.
And there’s so much still to learn. I’d never imagined that as an allegedly grown man I’d spend my Sundays in Tai Chi classes waving sticks and swords around – but it’s fun, and it reveals so much about how to move efficiently and powerfully. It’s a shame that the neighbours took out the restraining order, but it’s a small price to pay.
I still won’t be leaping into any battles in a hurry, but I’ve learnt a great deal from Taiji classes thanks to Steve, other students, the odd book and some practice – and I feel better equipped to take on the occasional scuffle that life throws my way. Like Chuck – or was it Sun Tzu – says: “You have to believe in yourself.”
Thank you very much to James for his contribution to the blog! There are more success stories coming up soon. For further info on our Taichi classes, and whether there’s a taiji class in your area, please see our classes page, or contact us.