How I Have Benefitted from My Training in Tai Chi and Wu Dao Gong
Instructor Lis talks to advanced student Monique.
When did you start Tai Chi and why?
I started Yang style Tai Chi in 1998, in my 30’s. You were my first teacher, Lis! Since then, however, there has been a series of fits and starts, including the birth of my child along the way.
Reasons for starting were both physical and mental. I had developed a creaky neck which came as a bit of a surprise, and I wanted to do something about it. I had also been looking for a way to get fit for a while and this was a trigger to finally start something specific. I had also developed an interest in and a respect for mind-body medicine and was very curious about Tai Chi in this regard.
You’ve been practising for a long time now. What makes you keep going?
Reasons for continuing include basic enjoyment and definite positive results. When I first saw the Yang style, I was instantly captivated by the beauty and fluidity of the movements. The naming of the movements was also fascinating, with the knowledge there was always more to learn behind each. (Tai Chi is like a window to another culture and another time.) This made Tai Chi so interesting, especially when compared to the one-dimensional names and approach of something like the 5BX / XBX exercise routine. Tai Chi is addictive in a good way. In some ways, especially in the beginning, I feel I have been making up for the absence of childhood extra-curricular activities (e.g. ballet or callisthenics, with Tai Chi as a kind of slow choreography).
What benefits have you discovered from your training?
Physical benefits: strong legs, better flexibility and good balance.
Mental benefits: strong sense of calm, especially after a good session, feeling light in body and mind (a natural high). In the first year of practice, there was a very noticeable improvement in my flow of thoughts for a research report I was writing at the time; my appetite also seemed to be very healthy.
Some students find the Qigong (meditation) the most difficult part of learning Tai Chi. Others love it from the start. Do you enjoy the Qigong?
Yes and No. It really is the hardest part of the training. When I attend more regularly to it, I feel more calm and focused (and virtuous for having done it!). Enjoyment comes more often after the training, but sometimes during it as well. It demands correct posture like nothing else and really helps in this regard, along with its other benefits. I found the earlier grounding in Qigong, with the sequential checking of points of relaxation down through the whole body a great help.
The Academy offers many extra courses to enhance and deepen our students knowledge. Have you taken advantage of any of these?
Various extra courses I have done over the years include (aside from
straight Yang and Hun Yuan Tai Chi classes, or Wu Dao Gong classes):
Yang style special workshop with Grandmaster Fu Sheng Yuan
Taoist Qigong with Fei Wang
Tai Chi Sword with Fontane
Ba Gua workshop with Grandmaster Ma Chuan Xu
Hun Yuan Qigong with Brett
Hun Yuan Cannon Fist 32 Form with Brett and Fontane
Silk Reeling with Fontane
Bang (Stick) with Fontane
Yang refinement with Chris
Yang refinement with Brett
Guarding the Temple Form with Chris and Justin
Wu Dao Gong, the martial arts training, is much more demanding physically than Tai Chi. What made you want to try it?
I wanted more of a challenge, to extend myself and realize more of my untapped potential; would I be able to cope? Also a basic curiosity about and interest in the training, learning more in-depth about Tai Chi and its allied arts; getting closer to the source.
And how are you coping with it? How is it?
Vigorous and demanding; initially quite exhausting. It has opened the way to strengthen and flex the upper body much more, as well as the lower body. My hand/finger strength has been a noticeable improvement, the fingers feel more solid. Wu Dao Gong has brought to the fore the importance of pacing oneself, of cultivating reserves of energy, and of good nutrition as fuel and as an aid to recovery.
Have you found the training beneficial?
Benefits include an increasing ability to cope with the training, enjoyment in learning new forms and techniques, having an outlet to let fly! The commitment and inspiration of the teachers also rubs off. I find I am exercising muscles that I haven’t been aware of previously. After some years of the slow, gentle Tai Chi movements, doing movements at least with the intent of speed and force is a lot of fun. It’s a great outlet for the tensions of life. The body contact aspects of Wu Dao Gong have opened up a whole new area for development and I am becoming increasingly comfortable with this aspect.
Has the Wu Dao Gong training helped your Tai Chi? In what ways?
The Wu Dao Gong has helped my Tai Chi and vice-versa, so I see it as a 2-way street. Wu Dao Gong has made the Tai Chi seem more purposeful and shows the power or force behind it. It helps place the various Tai Chi forms in a bigger context of a range of training types and options. Rather than leave Tai Chi behind, it makes me value it all the more. On the other hand, Tai Chi (along with all the extra courses done) has provided a series of basics that translate well to Wu Dao Gong: e.g. the central role of Qigong as underpinning all else; good posture, a certain degree of strength and flexibility to be worked on further, particularly leg strength, and basic stances. With the proviso of course that the mental knowledge of all these things is one thing, translating it all into the physical body is entirely another.
(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)