One of the many highlights of our China tours is the opportunity to visit and train with highly accomplished masters of the Chinese internal arts. Last year (2006) in Wudang, we trained with the Head Coach of the Wudang Taoist Martial Arts Institute for four-morning sessions. In 2005, we trained with Chen Xiang, Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang’s most accomplished disciple in the Hun Yuan Tai Chi system. Chen Xiang kindly shared with us his insight into some of the Tai Chi principles and practices.
Chen Xiang explained how the Tai Chi form is used to train the body, mind and spirit. Concerning the mind, the Chinese make this distinction – the original mind and the everyday mind. The everyday mind is full of conditionings, tainted with beliefs and is ego-driven. In Buddhism and Taoism, the original mind is called the true self or true heart. Through the regular practice of Tai Chi, we learn to quieten the everyday mind, thus allowing the original mind to surface. This is similar to cleaning the dust off the mirror.
The essence of Tai Chi is stillness in motion and motion in stillness. When the body moves, the mind is tranquil. Out of tranquillity, movement is born. Tai Chi is a combination of intention, qi (internal energy), spirit and method. Intention leads the qi to guide the movements. The intention is the product of good concentration or focuses without tension. The method is the Tai Chi form and its principles – relax, move the body as one unit, distinguish Yin Yang, open and close from the Dan Tian (the body’s energy centre) and so on. Spirit shines through when mind and body are in harmony.
When you are practising the form, use the mind (that is, intention), not force, to direct the body. For example, in a punch, the mind directs the qi to the fist. When the arm that holds the fist relaxes, the mind returns the qi to the Dan Tian. Even when a movement appears to have stopped as it comes to its end, the intention needs to continue. Chen Xiang used the example of Chinese calligraphy. An expert can see where the brush stroke stops. When the mind wanders during practice, it is the same as the flow of the brush stroke not being continuous. It stops and starts in various places. If the mind is not focused when we relax the arms and body or close in the form, qi cannot return to the Dan Tian. Chen Xiang used the analogy of guarding a treasure. This is the kind of attention we need to place on the Dan Tian. This is the state of the mind that enables us to nurture our qi.
In daily life, we are constantly consuming our qi because of work, study, tension, stress, emotional ups and downs, etc. Food and sleep are not enough to replenish our internal energy. Through the practice of Tai Chi and Qigong, we strengthen the qi to rejuvenate the body and the spirit.
During practice, we calm our mind and focus our attention, thus eliminating all unnecessary thoughts and thereby conserving and cultivating our qi. When we enter into a state of tranquillity, our breathing and heart rate naturally slows down. Normally, we have little awareness of our breathing. We use only the lungs to breathe. In Tai Chi, when we relax, we breathe with our diaphragm and abdomen. Tai Chi focuses on cultivating qi at the Dan Tian. When we have reached a good level in training, we begin to breathe using the Dan Tian. It is similar to a fetus in the womb. The fetus breathes through the navel, receiving nutrients and oxygen from the mother. At higher levels, the skin breathes as the pores open more. At these levels, the organs also breathe. Cell oxygenation is boosted. Our bodies will naturally function more efficiently in terms of eliminating toxins and taking in more nutrients.
Tai Chi uses the mind to direct the qi and connect the internal with the external. Chen Xiang said, “The more you practise, the more you understand and are transformed by the art. In the end, it is your mind that becomes Tai Chi.” When you train with Tai Chi, the more you practise, the stronger and healthier you become.
Chen Xiang himself found that he was able to understand the Tai Chi method of training after three years of diligent practice. He has now entered the door and knows the correct road to higher levels of development. Chen Xiang has been training in other martial arts since he was a teenager. Before he began practising Tai Chi, he was an expert in Ba Ji (Eight Ultimates Boxing or commonly known in China as the Bodyguard Style) and Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling).
The road to Tai Chi mastery requires patience, perseverance, consistency and correct practice. The journey is the result. Qualities that are necessary to achieve higher levels will be developed through sincere practice. One day at a time. Training in this art will enable you to come face to face with your original mind. Wishing you a rewarding and joyous journey!