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2012 Retreat at SIBA
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As Calligraphy
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Interview

Searching for the Feeling of the Mind-Body Connection
interviewed by Instructor Lis

Back in the eighties, when Reg was in his early teenage years, he came across a book about Tai Chi in the library.  He can’t pinpoint why, but for some reason he borrowed it and tried to learn the movements from the pictures.

 

“I read the whole book and didn’t understand most of it.  I had the idea I should be feeling something after I’d done the sequences.  But I didn’t.”  Not surprising, considering he didn’t have an instructor.  But what he did have was a feeling that there was untapped power or energy –  something – in the body and he wanted to learn how to harness and instinctively control or channel it.

 

A few years later in high school, his school ran meditation classes for the stressed out senior exam students.  Reg realised this was perhaps the way to delve deeper into what he’d been vaguely aware of before.  He really enjoyed the meditation.  After leaving school, he set off travelling with the underlying desire to learn more, but didn’t know how to act on it.  He wanted to go to Tibet and visit the high mountain temples but the country was closed to foreigners at that time. So he headed for Nepal, travelling and enjoying the culture. 

 

Back in Canberra, in 1991, Reg started Tai Chi with the Academy at a class in Queanbeyan.  Still only in his mid-twenties, he was by far the youngest person in the group.  He attended for over a year learning the traditional Yang style but work and life got in the way.  In 1997 he started again with a friend, but again dropped out after a couple of terms.

 

In his earlier years, Reg practised karate.  From karate he learned reflex and response.  He had the idea there was an underlying intuitive way to connect the mind and the body in movement.  Later with Tai Chi experience, he saw how the movements should stem from an intuitive response.  As a young boy, wrestling and roughhousing with his mates, he discovered he knew how to use balance with minimal force to upend his opponent.  He could see Tai Chi also improves the reflexes but in a different way, through relaxation.  Bits and pieces of his search were coming together slowly but he didn’t understand how to make that next step.  “It didn’t translate into something I understood.”

 

Reg tried Wu Dao Gong, the Academy’s martial arts classes, in 2006 and again in 2009.  Here he began to have the “whole body” experience which comes from the combination of relaxation, meditation and the physical application of the movements.  Unfortunately the time and effort involved in maintaining the training was too much for him, due to the late night classes and his work commitments.

 

In mid 2010, over a period of about 5 or 6 weeks, Reg was afflicted with back pain which became suddenly worse. He was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease which manifests itself as acute arthritis style pain.  It develops in the lower back and can gradually work its way up leading to an eventually fused and rigid spine.  Only 0.1% of the population carry the gene and of that group, 1% might develop the disease.  Reg believes stress may have triggered the onset for him.

 

When he came back to Tai Chi in 2010 just after the diagnosis, he was in great pain with every movement an effort.

 

Like any arthritic condition, movement is the key.  “I have to keep the joints as flexible and mobile as possible or they will stiffen and cause significant pain. Tai Chi has helped enormously along with medication and diet.  I’m in constant pain but now it’s bearable.  Tai Chi helps relax the muscles which provides some relief.”

 

This third start at Tai Chi was two years ago and he is determined to stick to it this time.  He doesn’t have much choice because if he misses a few days practice, the pain returns at a high level.  Now that he is practising consistently and for longer periods, Reg has a new understanding of the sensitivity and awareness Tai Chi can bring.

 

“I think at a certain level you start to learn what it’s all about and that’s the incentive to keep going.  Meditation really helps deal with stress.  Now I can feel stress when it’s about to happen.  I can feel the chemical reaction and stop it.”

 

Reg has done several of the Academy’s extra courses – the Hun Yuan Qigong, Broadsword and Push Hands which he really enjoyed.

 

“In Push Hands I started to get a glimpse of the feeling I’d been searching for.  It’s applying the principles of response and reflex action in a practical situation.”  The whole body has to react instinctively without thinking or planning.

 

“The Broadsword feels like a natural extension of the Tai Chi form.  The momentum of the sword helps with the whole body connection but I’m still looking for something more to develop.”

 

I suggested to Reg that perhaps the answer to his quest is in practice and most of all, time.  Learning and understanding Tai Chi is a slow process as in any art form.  How good would someone be on the piano, no matter how talented, after only two years of lessons and practice?  He admitted he was impatient for progress.

 

The well known phrase is true – it’s not the destination but the journey that’s important.  Sticking to one thing of value and thoroughly practising and absorbing it, leads to a depth of knowledge completely missed when superficially skipping from one thing to another, constantly searching for a quick, easy solution.  Artists in other areas such as music know this.  It can take a lifetime and many great practitioners go to their deathbeds, feeling they still haven’t mastered their art.

 

For Reg, his quest now has an immediate and practical purpose, staying as flexible and as well as possible with Tai Chi as one strong weapon against this crippling disease.

 

(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)


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