Where Martial Art Marshals Heart
Featuring Professor Cheng Man-Ch'ing's 37 Posture Form of Yang Style T'ai Chi
When we think of meditation or contemplation, images of someone sitting closed-eyed in the Lotus position usually come to mind. Or perhaps we think of someone in prayer. Rarely do we imagine that contemplation can be enacted with eyes open and in motion, yet that is exactly what T'ai Chi is meant to be. While commonly known as a martial art, T'ai Chi is also known as "The Art of Longevity" and "Meditation in Motion."
Regular Practice Improves:
- Stress Manangement
- Blood Pressure
- Attention (Concentration)
- Peace of Mind
- Relational Skills
- Harmony with the Environment
Where Martial Art Marshals Heart
With well over 30 years practicing and teaching T'ai Chi, I've found it necessary to distinguish my instruction from the usual understanding of T'ai Chi as a martial art. I emphasize the "meditation in motion" and "art of longevity" aspects of this art, where the encounter is not with a threatening other, but with oneself. I take the traditional distinction between internal and external martial arts and really focus on the internal development of oneself. Fundamentally, our work in my school is with the encounter with one's attention, from body to emotion to mind to spirit.
Learning to See in the Dark
Within T'ai Chi's wholeness as a psycho-physical-spiritual practice, I move from martial, meaning war-like, to marshal, meaning to collect or gather together. The external vigilance of attention necessary as a fighting art is invested inwardly in cultivating acute attention to one's inner dimensions. I call this practice "learning to see in the dark."
Imagine you're watching TV at night and suddenly the electricity goes out, plunging you into darkness. As you get up to find a flashlight, you have to find your way through your furniture safely. As familiar to you as the room's layout is, you still pause for that short moment so your eyes can adjust to the sudden darkness. So too, as you learn to perceive your "interiors" and find your way through your vast world in there, from joints to muscles to energies to subtle sensations, you must pause and "tune in" and adjust so your inner vision can see that vast and intimate landscape.
We're so conditioned to seeing outwardly where our eyes tend to grasp at objects in their natural function of negotiating the external world, that we don't take the time to really turn our focus inward and learn about our interior worlds. This is one of the primary values of T'ai Chi's characteristic slow motion movements.
Standing Meditation: G.R.A.C.E.
To assist in learning this inner perception I begin every class with a standing, guided meditation and encourage its use in one's daily practice. I use the acronym G.R.A.C.E., which stands for Ground-Relax-Awareness-Center-Energize. I walk our attention from the ground up using multisensory language to help each of us focus inwardly in our own perceptual styles. Vision is only one of our sensory modalities, with auditory, and kinesthetic equally important to cultivate so we can fully perceive every dimension of ourselves.
Push Hands: From Adversary to Ally
The most transformative principle in my tradition's practice of T'ai Chi is also its most fundamental: Relax. That's both an instruction and an invitation. Seems so simple, seems so easy, seems so passive, yet this word makes for one of the most challenging, yet refreshing, practices in this art.
The principle of relaxation is complemented by another injunction "invest in loss." Between these two principles the fluidity of the T'ai Chi movements become more understandable. Watching them, you can see the quality of yielding and its capacity to neutralize strength. That's certainly a power of another order! Instead of power over, it is the power of moving while sustaining one's center, which becomes the source of the unique strength T'ai Chi brings to our bodies and minds.
It means in practice, whether in a difficult encounter that portends physical violence or in holding our opinions, we can move with the other in a way that reduces conflict. Instead of rigidity we meet others openly and fluidly with a confidence that we can dialogue instead of argue. Put more succinctly by my treasured senior colleague from Kansas City, Kim Kanzelberger "T'ai Chi is to martial art what mediation is to litigation."
In light of this you can see why push hands practitioners are often called players instead of fighters, shifting the engagement with each other from competition to mutual instruction, from adversary to ally. Thus, martial art can marshal heart in the skillful use of T'ai Chi principles.
Borrowing again from the wisdom Kim Kanzelberger offers at his own web site, I close with a quote that expresses all of the above more concisely:
This effort to attain the correct centre of gravity is the fundamental practice by means of which we are enabled to live in the world in the right way. Thus resting in the basic centre, we are relaxed and free and at the same time feel ourselves supported. In the truest sense, here, we can be said to be upright. By means of this practice, the belly, the pelvis, and the small of the back and their relation to each other form the basis of correct posture. When all movement flows from this relaxed, yet firm centre, all gestures, attitudes and postures – walking, standing, sitting – become, as it were, testimonies to true being. There is no aspect of daily life that does not provide opportunity for this practice. If for one moment we forget [the centre] – whether it be in walking, standing or sitting – we cease at that moment to be fully and personally present (emphasis added).
~ Karlfried Graf Von Durckheim, The Way of Transformation
More about Centered Heart T'ai Chi Ch'uan
When you have completed our beginners' month long introduction to T'ai Chi, your next step in training and practicing with us is to join our Sunday morning class from 8 to 10am. Classes are paid monthly at $70.00 for the month.
I'm not alone in my teaching. I have two senior students who bring the same dedication to teaching sensitivity and exactitude, Carrie Niewenhous and David Stetch.
Carrie is one of our teaching gifts. She is an advanced Healing Touch practitioner and a Postural Alignment Therapist. She truly enhances our T'ai Chi wisdom with her ten years of devoted practice of the form, complemented by her other arts. Her energy sensitivity and radiance sustains our space with deeply healing intention and energy. Her postural practice helps us work with our lifetime of wounds and compensated postures.
David Stech is another student who has devoted well over fifteen years of T'ai Chi study and practice, with the last eight serving as a trusted co-instructor. David has assiduously maintained acute vigilance to learning and teaching the form in strict adherence to our tradition. He's inspiring for his enthusiasm and creative understanding of T'ai Chi principles and his playfulness in push hands practice.
While our lineage traces back to its ancient origins, I will confine it here to our most immediate teaching influences. Our form comes from the late 20th Century Master, Professor Cheng Man Ch'ing. It was never my privilege to study with the Professor, but I've enjoyed tutelage from those who have.
Jonathan Gaines studied with the Professor in New York for seven years before moving to Denver. Jonathan initiated my formal T'ai Chi instruction when he passed his school on to me and a couple of other senior students, Steve Arney and Virginia Schultze who now teach in Boulder, Colorado at their own school, The Taijiquan Center of Boulder.
Master Benjamin Pang Jen Lo was one of the Professor's original students, studying with him for over 25 years. Jonathan introduced me to "Ben" in the late eighties, and I've enjoyed training with him many times over the years.
Kim Kanzelberger you've already met above. Kim is the Founder and Director of his own school, Center States Tai Chi Chuan, in Kansas City. He has studied with Ben Lo assiduously for many, many years. We bring Kim to Denver for weekend workshops on both the 37 Posture Set and Sword Form. All of us in our school deeply appreciate Kim for his unique way of making the deeper dimensions of T'ai Chi so accessible. I consider him my teacher and colleague who has deepened my understanding and capacities in all aspects of T'ai Chi, from teaching to Push Hands to the Form itself more than any other teacher. For this I'm deeply grateful for our alliance.
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