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Just Do It - by Richard Farmer
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Make one decision to practise and just do it!
When I first started Tai Chi Chuan I really needed something to help me. I followed the recommendation of a friend having seen him moving in a very mysterious way. I was mesmerised by what I saw and later that day asked him what he was doing. He gave it a name, “Tai Chi Chuan” but that did not mean anything to me. I had never been interested in the martial arts.
I decided to follow the intimations of fate; after all as far as I was concerned, one thing was as good as another. I attended an interview for a new class, passed whatever test had been set for me and began two weeks later.
I borrowed some karate trousers from a friend and nervously made my way to the class along with 25 other equally nervous people. By the end of the class I was none the wiser. Would this help me? How could this help me?
It was then that I decided that the only way to find out was to commit myself totally for a period of 10 weeks. I would practise every day, 7 days a week, for ten weeks. That way I would know if it was doing me any good. I made one decision - to practise - and committed myself to it. That was 26 years ago.
Practice can be broken down into two kinds, the formal and the informal, and for the purposes of this article I am going to set out what this means, so that you might be clearer in what to practise and how to practise.
To practise means to take some time to explore the art of Tai Chi Chuan. Practice can be broken down into two parts the warm ups (Chi Kung) and the Form itself. Warm ups can be further broken down into:
1. exercises for warming up and stretching the body,
2. exercises for highlighting the structure of the body,
3. exercises for emphasising the Chi Body,
4. exercises that have a universal or symbolic quality.
It could be said that the practice of the Form has similar divisions:
1. the physical structure or science of natural movement,
2. the exploration of the Chi Body within the form,
3. the exploration of the mind and intention,
4. the expression of the sacred through inclusion of our personal attention, awareness and heart.
A good session includes all of the above one way or another. To have a good session, to some extent you need to have a sense of what your body/mind/spirit requires to nourish it. Are you in a technical mood and ready to explore a more formal approach? Or are you in need of nourishment, holding and inspiration, in which case you need a more informal prayerful approach?
So what is a formal session? It includes warm-ups, probably around 15 to 20 minutes or more. I would spend some time using the exercises I know to fully warm up and stretch my body all over. In this I might include some exercises that are going to work with improving my sense of alignment. Next I would work with some exercise that are going to amplify that sense of the Chi, especially in the arms, hands and in the front of my body. Having connected these together I would take an exercise like the Micro Form, or Pushing Waves, and explore the symbolic nature of these exercises to link my spirit with the body/chi/mind. Having done all of these things or allowed myself at least to stand in front of them, I would commence a form.
Dr. Chi recommended practising one form for fun, just to play with movement, for the enjoyment of feeling the body move. Then another form looking at the technical structure of the body, say alignment, Yang & Yin Cycles, placement of the foot, position of the waist etc. To move slow enough to really take these in. Then to play a third time exploring a combination of enjoyment and technical excellence.
This whole sequence might take an hour or more. Of course using the same sequence but with fewer exercises and perhaps just one Form this could be reduced to say 20 minutes: 10 minutes to warm up, engage the chi and finish with say Pressing the Palms in Calmness, then a Form. If I had limited time, one day I might just play, the next I might get technical and still another I might try a combined form. As I said earlier the art of practice is to know what you need to do, so it would depend on my mood.
Some days, however this kind of structured approach just does not work. It can be because my spirit is not engaged, I am tired, I am not inspired by the thought of studying Tai Chi, in fact what I want really want is a more nourishing and meditative approach.
On this kind of day I would follow what feels good. After a long day what I might want to do is lie down on the floor, just letting go of the day. I might listen to some music. Then I might get up and just let my breath and body harmonise with a simple breathing Chi Kung exercise. When I felt into it I would let myself slip into the Form with a sense of personal expression. If I was in a quick move I might move more quickly in my form than usual, enjoying the sense of rhythm and dynamics. Another day I might just do the minimum because what I want to do is just relax. Another, I might feel really constricted so I would ensure my movements become linked to the breath and use the gestures of the form to open the weave of my body.
On this kind of day, to insist on a technical approach can be counter productive. Unless practice is nourishing and supporting I am not going to want to do it. I don’t need another hassle on a busy day. But if I have made the one decision to practise and I stick to it, even to stand in the attention posture for a moment before rushing out the door to work is a good thing to do.
So informal practice requires that I give myself permission to use this time to feed myself so that I might become more balanced and therefore a more useful human being - whether at work or when I get home so that I might be there for my family. The informal practice can take anything from 30 seconds to hours!
The art of practice is just that, it is an art. I feel a lot of people firstly don’t make that one decision, to practise. Because they don’t do this they continuously have to remake the decision. This is very disruptive, time consuming and exhausting.
Secondly students insist on a formal practice session, discover that they don’t have time for it and don’t do anything at all. Because they don’t allow the gift of informal sessions, the nourishment disappears and sessions become dry with the resulting loss of interest.
Of course no matter what you do there will be periods of flatness, but in my experience these are periods when the practice is getting ready, building up energy if you like, to make the next leap. It is vital in these periods of flatness that you just do it. Just do it. Just keep doing it. Practise when you want to and practise when you don’t want to. Just do it. By doing this you will feel good about yourself. You will feel good about your Tai Chi. You will feel a genuine player and that in turn will inspire you to practise. Practice builds up a real spirit of vitality. A sense of being in charge of your life. This in turn rubs off on those around you.
A good practice harmonises. It is like giving yourself a treatment. The exercises are like a box full of tools that are there to help you. Each one has a different use for a specific problem or area of the body/mind. A good practitioner understands this and uses them accordingly.
In addition we also have the videos of the Short Form and now Shibashi. These are excellent tools to deepen your understanding. Study them from time to time, they are there for you. Soon there will be a Long Form video and a Sword Form video. In the longer run there will be videos for different sets of exercises to help you when the inspiration is dry.
This year’s summer gathering, “Root, Relax, and Rejuvenate” is designed to take your practice to the next level. Alec Jones and I and one other RDTC teacher as yet undecided, will be exploring issues around practice and what to practise so that you get the most out of your time. We will be looking at the three main areas of warm-ups/stretching, chi emphasis and the symbolic quality. I really recommend that you come if you can and use this rare event. It is not often that I take the time to focus in a more technical way. I feel it is going to be really good. Bursaries are available.
So just make the one decision. All you want out of Tai Chi Chuan will come out of your ability to use it. This is what practice is about. So make the one decision, and just do it!
Just do it!