Written by a 2004 Sept. Edmonton Full Time student
On a drive through my neighbourhood, you pass a church which always has cheesy homilies that frequently bring on a personal gag reflex, but seem to provide inspiration for others. This time it decried “To achieve joy, one must experience it through the birth of pain.” After contemplating the usual negative thoughts about this sign it was possible to apply this platitude to Taiji.
One has many reasons to initiate a program such as Taiji. It looks beautiful and relaxing; it has many health benefits and contains the mystery of the Orient. What starts as a seemingly superficial involvement suddenly grabs your attention when you are in the presence of an incredibly experienced, approachable and knowledgeable teacher, mentor and friend. By having to immerse oneself in “The Form” you discover body parts that are protesting their new (and better) usage.
The kua gradually relaxes, stretches and allows better movement as you are able to attempt useable lower stances. The gravity which naturally pulls you down eventually becomes your ally and your stability increases. Shoulders, knees and the rest of the body are worked to comply with the essential rules of the form.
All these new actions generate at best some initial discomfort and at worst, intense pain. The body parts you thought were your friends are now seemingly in rebellion. This pain can be ruled by the practitioner by knowing your own body limits and challenging them gradually. The pain eases only if you are able to prepare properly and to continue to slowly strengthen the afflicted areas. A comedy skit about exercise actually put it correctly: “work hard until you feel pain, then pull back from the pain to where you just have discomfort.” Whenever you challenge your body (and mind) there is bound to be some pain, discomfort or anxiety. Judge your own body’s capabilities and use common sense and restraint to allow you to continue. Strength and flexibility and clarity of movement gradually increase as you persist with your training. Last year’s Full Time students had a saying “The Form cures everything.” Strains, pulled muscles and tendons as well as illness were seemingly magically alleviated by continuing to correctly pursue Taiji.
This leads into a critical topic – perseverance or why people don’t continue to practice Taiji. Western society has developed largely into a class of people who demand instant gratification. Donald Trump once stated after another failed relationship something to the effect that if you have to work at a relationship, it isn’t worth it! This is frequently the attitude for learning a new task. If it isn’t mastered quickly there must be something wrong with the teacher or the subject and therefore not worth pursuing. If learning is not possible with little effort and minimal time, that learning is abandoned and something else sought that is easier, quicker and trendier. Unfortunately to achieve excellence in anything you need a strong work ethic, determination and time.
Understanding Taiji is not easy for the western mind or body. We must have time to focus intently on the task to understand the movement required and its applications. Interest can be easily deflected from Taiji study with the proliferation of distractions in modern society. Our attention is bombarded from all sides, but two strengths focus our attention correctly: one is family (which may seem a distraction but actually can provide the most solid support and stability in your life and an even better reason to stay healthy) and the other is the joy of pursuing a subject that can provide a strong pursuit of knowledge and health for your entire life.
If you stop learning, all your progress stops. When you are not progressing, you are retrogressing which leads to stagnation and death. Life must have a long term focus, and Taiji can provide that perfect focus with numerous benefits because it works – it’s that simple. It is not necessary to give up everything for the pursuit of Taiji, but it is necessary to do everything that is essential to continue to progress for your life. Regular practice is vital.
We are promised that the more we practice, the better we will achieve as long as the basic principles of Taiji are followed. This is an amazing promise! Quantity actually leads to quality, but as can be expected with practice the demands on body and mind can be tremendous. Skill is gradually built through a life of practice but there must be guidance through proper instruction or the task would be completely daunting.
Through time your body and mind strengthens. This is usually not a sudden process but it is evolutionary, improving overall health, confidence and mental agility as well. Taiji while initially uncomfortable or even painful gradually eases from pain as your body begins to function correctly. Previous physical and mental health problems can also be gradually lessened. The only qualitative statement needed is that one must start and continue to practice Taiji on a regular basis – the longer you continue to practice, the more received benefits. At first progress and benefits may seem minimal except when looking back over time you realize what a formidable improvement and progress you have actually made.
Taiji is an Art that can provide great joy while enabling actual health benefits for the life of the practitioner even to extending the quality of that life. One can experience true progress physically and mentally and also be able to apply that knowledge for true Martial Arts. One is initially attracted to Taiji for its beauty and health effects, but stay to pursue this life giving Art under the guidance of a truly gifted Master. For those starting Taiji, persevere through pain to a better quality of life and allow time to develop your skill and do not become deflected from your focus by meaningless attention seeking distractions. As some philosopher’s say, life is but an illusion; we can say the benefits and joy of Taiji is real.