How to benefit from ‘Diversity’

Dr Paul Lam
Like many other things in the modern world, we are overwhelmed with too many choices. When you go to the grocery store, you see twenty perhaps a hundred different types of cereals you can have for breakfast alone and everyone is saying very loudly through advertisement and marketing techniques that theirs is the best. So exposed to diversity in Tai Chi can be like having too many choices, it can be confusing, it can be so overwhelming it may put you off learning Tai Chi. Let us look at it positively, take it as a challenge and benefited from the choices available to us.
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Like many other things in
the modern world, we are overwhelmed with too many choices. When you go to the
grocery store, you see twenty perhaps a hundred different types of cereals you
can have for breakfast alone and everyone is saying very loudly through advertisement
and marketing techniques that theirs is the best. So exposed to diversity in
Tai Chi can be like having too many choices, it can be confusing, it can be
so overwhelming it may put you off learning Tai Chi. Let us look at it positively,
take it as a challenge and benefited from the choices available to us.

The Guiding Principles

It is helpful to have some
guiding principles to steer us from the overwhelming choices, to find the right
things for our own needs. A principle is something that is always true despite
change of time and circumstances. For example love is a better bonding for relationship
than hate is a principle, which holds true always. A set of guiding principles
will help us to work through the diversity to find out what is beneficial to
us.

Another way to look at diversity
is that in one way these differences are telling us that perhaps they are not
so important; therefore they are not the principles that stay true no matter
what. For example different styles have different ways to shape our hands, Yang
style has open hands, while Chen Style has closing hands (the fingers closer
with the little finger pressing toward the thumb with a inward wrapping force).
The difference with stepping is, Yang Style not touching the ground in between
each step and in Chen Style we drag our foot on the ground.

It doesn't mean that the
minor details are not important, once we understand the big picture. Once we
see the elephant as a gigantic animal instead of a wall or a tubing (see the
previous article Diversity – good or bad?), then the minor differences will
make sense. For example, once we understand Tai Chi was originally a martial
art with emphasis in internal development of qi. Then we can look at each movement
and each step to see whether it is effective as a martial art and for qi enhancement.
We can then see all different ways of shaping hands and stepping have their
own and unique advantages at these aspects. Then because we understand this
big picture, different ways to do things become different and useful techniques
that can be quite useful, depending on which style we are more suited to, or
have more talent for, or more liking to.

I would like to outline
a few guiding principles.

Past the Superficial.

The very thing that sets
Tai Chi apart from other martial arts or other exercises, like running or walking,
is that Tai Chi is an internal art. It involves the mind, the inside body and
the inner power – the qi. Being internal means we have to constantly use our
minds to focus on what we are doing. To focus on our movements helps us to integrate
our mind and body. We have to constantly use our minds to analyse the movement
that helps us to practice intelligently, find out what matters and effective.
We constantly use our minds to check if the movements fulfilling martial art
principles, the mind over body principle and that the mind power is more important
not just harsh force. We use our thinking ability to see if these particular
steps and movements have helped us to improve our qi – our inner power. For
example the Yang's open hand shape are more effective for qi to flow through,
while Chen's close hands are effective for combat. Both ways are important and
useful, in the long run stronger qi will give you strong inner power and more
effective martial art ability. With the stepping of Yang style it train better
balance control and subtlety while the dragging foot in Chen style is useful
to place foot in strategically position in combat, and also train stronger lower
limb muscles.

Another example is when
you deliver a Chen style punch; there is a clear difference between it and a
Karate style punch. The Chen style punch is powered by an inner force and is
elastic with the force travelling in spiral. It has to be soft outside and strong
inside (cotton exterior and steel inside). Whereas I imagine a Karate punch
would emphasise on a straightforward force and speed. Whatever a punch is executed
properly it generates more qi and more body awareness for you.

Integration

Integration means whenever
you move, is your mind and body are integrated. The hand, trunk, foot all fully
coordinated, at a given point of time, are part of the body should be at one
position and then move in coordination with each other. One part of the body
moves the rest follow. Internally qi flows smoothly integrating with the movements
and their martial art intention. Any single movement without integration throughout
the body and with the internal body is not Tai Chi.

Balance

The very core of Tai Chi
is balance, balance of movements, of yin and yang and of internal and external.
Too soft or too harsh are both not well balanced; a movement that stretches
so far that you nearly fall is not good Tai Chi.

For example, last article
in diversity, I mentioned that with Wu style the body tends to lean slightly
forward, does it still give you good balance? Are you maintaining better balance
with your body vertical to the ground? I believe learning 5 to 10 degrees forward
helps to issue power. If you are totally upright it can be harder to push forward
with power. On the other hand even though you lean slightly forward you're still
capable of maintaining balance. I do not want to imply which is right, in fact
I practise several styles of Tai Chi except Wu style. I believe that different
people have different structures of bodies and for many people to slightly lean
forward may a good thing for them so long as the principle of being in balance
is achieved.

Another example is too much
emphasis on relaxation. This is very important but if you are so soft and so
relaxed like a jelly, then there is no strength. That to me is imbalance with
only too much yin and not enough yang.

Dantian

Dantian is three fingerbreadths
below the belly button and slightly inwards. It is the centre of the body and
is the centre of qi. No matter what style you practice the awarness of Dantian
and the training of sinking qi to the Dantian is an essential part of Tai Chi.
If a particular technique does not help you to be more aware of the Dantian,
nor to help you sinking qi to the Dantian then you will need to think very carefully
about that technique.

Practise

One of the absolute 'always
stay true' principles, is practice. No matter how bright you are or how good
your method of Tai Chi is and how much you understand the theories, if you do
not practice, if you do not sweat enough, you will not truly understand the
inner meaning of Tai Chi and you will not benefit much from it.

In Conclusion

Don't let diversity overwhelm
you. I believe the best things in life are simple. Understand simple truth.
Venture out, try it out, test it out, use your mind to figure it out. You will
be fascinated by different styles, forms and interpretations and discover what
suits you best.

It is important to be aware
of your need in learning Tai Chi. Most people are learning Tai Chi for better
health. I believe the criteria for better health is no different from better
martial art. Being healthy means you need to be stronger inside and out and
have more clarity in your mind. Together with stronger qi, better balance of
body and mind, works well both for health and martial arts. Once you know your
needs you can gravitate your learning towards what is more effective for your
goal.