Friday, April 12, 2013

5 Years of Taiji

Today marks my 5th year of studying Taiji. My practice currently consists of doing Taiji for an hour most mornings and going to 3-hour classes twice a week. I've been asked why I put so much time and effort into my practice, particularly since I never expect to use the martial capabilities or have a career as a martial artist. Given that Taiji is such a big investment in time, it's worth considering whether the benefits make the effort worthwhile - so here are my thoughts on what I get out of my practice:
  1. Health Benefits - The obvious reason to practice Taiji is for the physical benefits and is certainly why I got involved in it in the first place. Practicing Taiji on a daily basis has built up my strength, increased my flexibility, and improved my balance. As an exercise, the better I get at Taiji, the more challenging it becomes and so the physical benefits continue to increase.
  2. Long-Term Viability - The stereotypical image of Taiji is that of a large group of older people doing the form slowly in the park. That's not all Taiji is but it is an exercise that can be done by older people and, given it's health benefits, it is something I'd like to continue into my old age. I could wait until I'm older to study Taiji but it's a lot easier to gain the skill now rather than trying to take it on later. Also, there is some incidence of arthritis in my family and the evidence indicates that doing Taiji helps alleviate or even prevent the onset of arthritis.
  3. Conflict Resolution - One of the main tenets of Taiji is that you don't meet an external force head-on but instead sublimate it with force in different directions - this deals with it in a more effective and efficient manner. Much of the training in Taiji - both forms and push-hands - is learning to recognize external forces, understanding their effect on you, and figuring out how to deal with them without running away from them (a common misconception about Taiji is that you run away from incoming force but, in two-person training, you quickly learn that's as ineffective as meeting the force head-on). As you start to understand these principles, you recognize how they apply to other aspects of life when dealing with conflicts so that you don't run away from them or get overwhelmed by them but instead understand them for what they are and figure out how to deal with them effectively.
  4. Perspective - Like everyone else, my life has its ups and downs that include periods of great stress and some mornings I wake up feeling overwhelmed by all the things I have to deal with. Going through the form in the morning shifts my focus off of those immediate concerns and puts them into their true perspective, which allows me to see them a lot more clearly for what they really are i.e. minor annoyances.
  5. Time Outside - Some time ago, I started practicing outside (taking advantage of one of the benefits of living in CA). It feels really nice to be outside - breathing the fresh air and feeling the sun - for at least part of the day on a regular basis.
  6. Challenge - As I get better at Taiji, I realize how much more I have to learn. Far from being discouraging, this makes the study of Taiji continually more interesting, which is why I practice more now then I did when I started.
  7. Community - People who practice Taiji regularly tend to be pretty nice folks. I have made some great friends through my practice and, when I travel, I often drop in on other Taiji schools for a visit and meet some very good - and sometimes very skilled - people.  

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