Everett Chiropractic Center Blog

May 24, 2013

The Harvard Medical School Guide To Tai Chi – A Book Review13

Transition into Single Whip

Transition into Single Whip

The bird's beak.."small circle"...

The bird’s beak..”small circle”…

How The Eight Active Ingredients Framework Was Developed

“Like most Tai Chi ‘cross-trainers,’ at first I noticed the difference between styles. But, after a few styles and multiple teachers, I started to appreciate what the styles had in common.”

[There is a classic Tai Chi joke that asks how many Tai Chi people does it take to screw in a light bulb. The answer? 100. One to screw in the light bulb and 99 to say “We don’t do it that way in our school.” The point being that there are as many different ways of doing Tai Chi as there are Tai Chi people. With the long and convoluted history of Tai Chi and given it’s colorful “mysterious” marketing approaches, finding a decent teacher who has something real to teach is not easy. Most people go to a lot of seminars held by different people, take various classes by teachers (or students) or various hybrid Styles, read books, watch DVDs and do the best that they can. For me there was way too much confusion, way too many mutually exclusive doctrines and practices, and way too much eclectic teaching. When I realized that the instruction I had been getting for my first eight years of Tai Chi was less than what could be considered high-level. I went in search of a Master who could teach a full syllabus of Traditional Tai Chi skills and had a resume` to back up his talk. It was also clear to me that if a person put in all the time, effort, energy and money it would take to actually learn any Tai Chi, they might as well have some real transferable self-defense skills to go with all of that hard work: and it is extremely rare to find a teacher who can provide that in today’s world of Tai Chi. I did find it though, six thousand miles away, and while it isn’t convenient, I don’t regret my decision at all. Once you grasp the concept of which “Style” of Tai Chi you are learning, the “school” you are in, the “lineage”, and the place your teacher holds in that construct, you have a solid sense as to whether you can trust the teaching and results.

That said, within our school and among the students of my teacher and his contemporary tai chi brothers, it’s common for students to talk about the apparent differences between how one guy does it and how the other guy does it (the substrate for arguments over the “right” way to do something). I, like this author, preferred to try to appreciate what they had in common – even if it looked different. I am fortunate that everyone considers my teacher and at least one of his elder Tai Chi Brothers as well as their teacher to be Masters of the highest order. I also categorically have avoided much outside learning from practitioners of other Tai Chi Styles. For one thing there is only so much time, energy and money. For another, having to try and sort it all out and come to some conclusions about good or bad, right or wrong isn’t something I want to do. I know little enough as it is. I study the Classics as translated by my teacher and I study the commentary of my teacher, his elder tai chi brothers, their teacher, and very few others. Tai Chi is the ultimate mixed martial art with a comprehensive syllabus of skill sets taught in our school by accomplished, experienced teachers. That is more than enough for me. Every once in a while I venture into the worlds of other Tai Chi folks for various reasons, almost always it helps me to understand my own Tai Chi better and adds to my appreciation of Tai Chi principles where ever they appear.]

“My curiosity led me to formal training in Eastern manual and energy-based therapies such as shiatsu, tuina, and Reiki, which highlighted principles of body alignment, energy flow and the links between body and mind.”


“I was asked to design a 10-week study to compare Tai Chi to a traditional physical therapy control group for patient with inner-ear balance disorders.”

[Here is where he began to create his own versions of short simplified Tai Chi-like exercises.]

“This questioning further encouraged us to think about and shape our Tai Chi training around the active ingredients.”

“I realized our beginning curriculum was inefficient and often frustrating, for both students and teachers. Many students do not have the patience required to learn the choreography easily…”

“Inevitably, we lose a large number of these students before they ever get a real taste of the deeper Tai Chi experience.”

[Everyone wants the results, few want to put in the time and energy. There is a phrase somewhere that applies to this situation: it goes something to the effect that if you want what we have you have to do what we do. To get the benefits you have to do the practice. Given all of the constraints and challenges, it is totally reasonable to take pieces of something and focus on those small pieces, then add to those if and when the student is ready, willing and able. In fact that is how all Tai Chi has always been taught, in effect. it’s a question of which pieces and how fast they are taught. Sort of.

There is a balance that must be struck. If the teaching is too easy it becomes boring; if it is too challenging some folks will get depressed at their slow rate of progress and quit (usually it’s the one’s who need it the most). And that spans all aspects of the training. Sometimes it’s a physical challenge; sometimes it’s just mentally hard to keep track of all the details at once while you are moving. It’s always hard for everyone in the beginning but with effort and practice, everyone improves… a lot.

The Tai Chi Hand Form for hundreds of years was taught as a Long Round Form with over a hundred postures, in all the major Tai Chi Styles. There is a reason for that. In addition, traditional long Forms are not symmetrical and once a student learns a right-handed Form, they eventually learn a left-handed Form. There are many many reasons for this, but to mention just one, think about the rich mental stimulation involved in learning a long Form verses a short symmetrical one which by definition must have a lot less “stuff” in it. The point is, once again, once you have gone to the trouble to learn something, you might as well have something worth learning.]

About the Photos

Here there is a lot of tricky stuff all going on at once, but it’s a transition from the Press (a push) of Grasp The Bird’s Tail to forming the beginning of Single Whip. Here the weight is shifting briefly back to the left foot while the right foot pivots on the heel as the right hand forms the birds beak shape. The right foot is not coming all the way back to face straight ahead, but it comes back a ways into the spot it wants to be in for the famous “Horse Stance” which forms the bottom part of the Single Whip Style.


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