February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

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Frog
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February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby Frog » 01 Feb 2011, 21:38

About two years ago, I was given the opportunity at my work to learn Tai Chi. Whilst there had been opportunities in the past, the timing of the sessions meant that I was unable to take them up, so I had reluctantly let them go. However, as seems to be the case, nothing is ever “just let go” and when the opportunity for a morning course was presented I took it up eagerly.

Over the first year I learned the Yang style short form. This consists of 24 steps and takes about 5 minutes to complete from start to finish. There is a long form of 108 steps and takes over 20 minutes; although this would be something to achieve, it was simply not practical to try and teach this in a half hour morning class. As I progress through the second year I have also added the Tai Chi Ruler to my practice and am just completing the Traditional Sword Form as well.

As well as the practical aspect of Tai Chi which I will discuss here, there is a spiritual aspect which isn’t always adopted or learned by students; however my experiences within OBOD have almost encouraged me to explore this side as well and this is something I would like to explore here. I would certainly strongly say that I am not an expert in Tai Chi, just someone with a keen interest; similarly within my OBOD work I would loath to say I am an expert or knowledgeable in Druidry (even with a druid badge :D ); so this can only be taken as a personal exploration, complete with personal assumptions and perceptions – and if I have misrepresented something, I am always keen to learn.

One feature that I like about Tai Chi is that unlike Judo, Karate there is little need for the student to buy the traditional uniform – comfortable, loose-fitting trousers and normal trainers is OK. Additionally it can be practised almost anywhere – provided you are comfortable in “shutting out” distractions such as people walking by (I once spent half an hour going through the Short form repeatedly next to a hotel swimming pool; when I stopped and took stock of the world around me I’d found that most of the empty chairs now had towels on them… I had not seen the people come down to claim them!).

From a practical aspect, Tai Chi allows the practitioner to enter a state of meditative calm. Each focused step or movement is performed slowly and gracefully, combined with a movement of both arm and leg whilst a slow, regular breathing pattern is adopted (whilst moving through the positions, a slow “one-and-two-and-three-and-four” count will regulate the movements – breathing in for four and out for four. Certainly in my class, as we move together through a graceful “White Crane Spreads its Wings” or “Hands move like Clouds” there is a group calm of chi energy flowing. There are some steps to the Yang style form which are not unlike Chi Gung practice in their way of calming the body. At the end of this essay I will describe the opening step “Raise hands”; when performed at proper pace can introduce an element of calm to the body and mind – so is useful as a general calming tool to any meditative practice.

Image
moving to White Crane

The movements also generate an internal massage of the vital organs as the body twists and rotates. With the focus on careful movement, I often find that an ambient temperature room can quickly warm up as the energy is generated through movement. I do appreciate that tai chi is something that can be learned at any age – and if you understand the dynamics can be adapted to for any level of fitness and flexibility.

Whilst Tai Chi is considered an “internal martial art”, both the Yang Form and the Sword Form have practical self defence martial art elements (but you do need to work a bit quicker!); it is no surprise that Tai Chi has been referred to as Chinese Shadow Boxing. Indeed, the translation of Tai Chi is Supreme Ultimate Fist. For those interested in Tai Chi more for the gentle exercise or meditation, both the Ruler form and the Chinese Wand Form (sometimes referred to as the Chinese Health Pole) have little in the way of martial art defence practices – and both are excellent systems for those who are less mobile or flexible (the Ruler form for example is used in some elderly care homes to provide some exercise to the residents). Unfortunately though information on these forms is quite limited as they are not considered as “mainstream” as other forms and styles. For more information on the Ruler practice, I would suggest looking at the page in Taichido.com http://www.taichido.com/chi/styles/ruler1.htm (who also have some excellent resources to assist you). The Chinese Wand’s principle material source is from a book by Bruce L Johnson, written in the 1970’s. The best location on the web for more information is here: http://mgpd.org/jiangan/

Without putting undue presentation effort on the martial arts aspect, I think it is something which should be considered – it isn’t just about waving your hands whilst shuffling along. But, Tai Chi isn’t about attacking the opponent – but indeed using the opponent’s own energies against them. This may be by moving out of their way (a side step), or using the opponents own momentum to redirect their energy, or simply knowing how people will react given certain situations. But there is also the use of the Chi energy that is generated in the body.

Chi – the directed energy – is not unlike the druidic term of Nwyfre. In the same way that we use our ritual and practices to summon and direct the flow of Awen energy or Nwyfre we can also use tai chi to summon and direct Chi. Focusing this energy can allow us to perform what appears to be great examples of strength (an example I recently read was of the Tai Chi Master Zheng Man Qing who could demonstrate sending a 200 pound man flying across a room, but found that a bowling ball was too heavy for him to use!).

Studying any form of Tai Chi is something which will take the practitioner a lifetime as they move from making the movements, through understanding the purpose of the movement to refining and defining the movements. Ensuring that the body is “held” so that the head does not bob up and down is a common learning point as the practitioner develops their style; correct foot placement complementing effective hand movement is also a major learning step, as well as developing a solid contact with the ground to aid balance.

Image
holding the Chi Ball

The image was taken just after I had moved from “Raise Hands” before “Parting the Wild Horses Mane”. The cupped hands are held as if I was holding a beach ball – but in fact this is considered to be a storing of chi energy before sending out through the next movement.

As I started on this seminar, I made reference that Tai Chi has a spiritual aspect, Taoism. Taoism does not have a specific book to define what it is or how a follower should act or behave, although the book “Tao De Ching” by Lao Tzu is considered to be the definitive document on the subject. However, like all good mythical books it contains 81 verses which mean it could be read in an afternoon – but will take a lifetime to understand. As an example, the opening verse goes:

The Tao that can be known is not Tao.
The substance of the World is only a name for Tao.
Tao is all that exists and may exist;
The World is only a map of what exists and may exist.
One experiences without Self to sense the World,
and experiences with Self to understand the World.
The two experiences are the same within Tao;
they are distinct only within the World.
Neither experience conveys Tao
which is infinitely greater and more subtle than the World.

On a personal journey point, I see the Tao (pronounced “Dow”) is effectively a name for bundling all the energy that exists into one manageable lump. As we are all energy, that includes us – and this (for me, anyway) neatly links to the interconnected nature that we live in, and includes spirits, guardians and elements of this world and others. If it’s made of energy, it’s in there. For me, the link between Chi and Nwyfre is a very strong one; Awen as an energy process could be included within the Tao, but it is slightly more complicated for me to make that connection.

The Tai Chi forms focus on movement in one of eight directions; these neatly link to the “Ba Gua” which translates to the 8 trigrams which represent the fundamental principles of reality. For those learning rituals within OBOD, you may be able to see the link from the Ba Gua to the quarter and cross-quarter ritual points of the circle – again, something which resonates with me.

In one of his presentations, our Chosen Chief made reference to how spiritualism today could be likened to a river, picking up on tributaries of different spiritual paths and coming together to make one flow. For me, I have found great synchronicity within my Tai Chi practice and Meditation; and also my druidic belief and Taoism.

Earlier on in this essay, I said I would describe the opening form and the first step “Raise hands”, so here it is:

Shake yourself down, so you can mentally be in a calm state. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, both pointing forwards (rather than angled in or outwards – although at first it may feel like the heel is pushed out a little). Feel yourself drawn upwards by a chord attached to the top of your head, but bend your knees slightly. Your arms should be straight down by your sides, but the back of your hands should be facing forward.

Before you begin, breathe out.

As you breathe in, raise your arms and hands to shoulder height. This should be a slow steady raise, taking 3-4 seconds. Your breath should be “in your belly” rather than just in the upper part of your chest. The hands are a little loose – a good analogy is to imagine that you are raising a garage door with the back of your hands. The door rises easily, but there is a little resistance to control your speed.

When your arms reach should level, allow your fingers to “catch the wind” before you lower your arms again.

As you lower your arms, (palms slightly before fingers), slowly lower your body, bending your knees a little and breathe out. Then as you breath in, you repeat the exercise.

I uploaded a short video to Youtube= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYJF9Xhu84Q

A full video of the yang short form can be found on the web – I quite liked this clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUBqtIUHd-g

Bob Fremor (who recorded the clip) has several martial arts clips. This is him demonstrating the Traditional Sword form:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQgpgnu6MWM

Thank you for reading all the way to the end here! I should stress again that I am not a qualified instructor – just someone who has started on this exciting path and was keen to share with friends!

Links:

A little on the Tai Chi Ruler can be found here: http://www.taichido.com/

A little on the Chinese Wand can be found here: http://taichiinherts.com/ (need to click the Chinese Wand Initiative)

The Tai Chi Union for Great Britain can be found here: http://www.taichiunion.com/
Last edited by Frog on 02 Feb 2011, 18:45, edited 2 times in total.
"Don't look to the end of the rainbow for the pot of gold; it's already under your feet"
Enjoy this life. It would be a shame if we looked forward to the next, only to find we forgot the one before.

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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby Cosmic Ash » 01 Feb 2011, 23:34

thank you for posting this, Frog. It really is quite interesting. I didn't know you could use swords in Tai Chi - it looked cool, but I don't think I would be comfortable with it myself. I like the look of the Wand form though. I'm quite jealous you got to learn this at work! I've tried to learn from a book before and it was too confusing. I've recently been contemplating trying a dvd. I know there's no real substitution for an actual teacher, but my work pattern makes attending classes difficult.
thanks again for an interesting seminar, it is a pleasure to read. :applause:

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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby Serenity » 02 Feb 2011, 09:00

Frog
Thanks for sharing your insights into Tai Ji. I've been studying Tai Ji and qigong for many years now and I like to hear about the experiences of others. My group talks about 'cultivating' , 'nurturing' or 'building' qi, rather than 'summoning' qi. Qi energy inspires all and is not really an entity separate from us to be summoned. Qi can be strong or weak depending on the individual (place, organism etc). It can be strengthened or weakened by lifestyle, mental focus, physical habits, emotional preoccupations and such. It can be strengthened in ourselves by following particular practices and by consciously linking to energies - drawing on earth energy for example. I agree that qi and nywfre do seem to be one and the same.

The opening form that you describe so well is perfect for feeling the presence and movement of qi energy in the body. The act of standing with feet together is a centering and stabilising movement. It allows us to draw in our usual scattered focus and pull in our energy field in readiness for the meditation. And as well this, the position also fosters an awareness of the practitioner as a focus for the energies of earth (di) and 'heaven' (tian).

In shifting the left foot I become aware of qi moving out from my centre to fill the body and the limbs. The movement of the arms up and down brings an awareness of qi circling vertically around the body, up and down the two main meridians. The horizontal shift of the arms to the left at waist height brings in the 'yao' (waist) and the qi begins to circle very actively. The whole tai ji form is a transferring of energy - an offering and a receiving of energy, experiencing the cycles of energy creating fullness (yang) and emptiness (yin). My favourite form is Cloud Hands - it's perfect for feeling the balance between yin and yang, especially in the legs.

It works in well with Druid practice!
Blessings
Serenity
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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby Bartholomew » 02 Feb 2011, 11:23

Thank you Frog that is very interesting and you are certainly looking very good on it. I took part in a Tai Chi demonstration in the summer and found it very relaxing and had meant to join a class but haven't done so. I think I will now, I have been toying with yoga or Tai Chi, I could probably do both.
My eldest daughter has practised Martial Arts since the age of 12, she is 23 now, she does Kung Fu, Judo, karate and kick boxing but has said that of all the Martial Arts Tai Chi is considered the most powerful even though it is the most gentle.
I always see a connection with Reiki (universal life force) and and Chi,the energy being the same, but used in a different way. I can't comment on the Druid path and Awen as I have no experience.

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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby DaRC » 02 Feb 2011, 11:57

Thanks Frog - a very interesting seminar.
Before coming to Druidry I was fascinated by the Tao Te Ching and spent many an hour reading and meditating on it. I used to work with a martial arts practitioner and we often compared training notes and recognised the similarities in commitment and training between martial arts and cycling.

I've always thought that Druidic practice is complemented by some form of core physical conditioning that has a spiritual energy or focus within it. In my particular case I chose Yoga rather than Tai Chi but it is great to hear your experiences of the path I didn't travel

Holding the Chi Ball always reminds me of the Japanese cartoon Dragonball Z (my middle son loved it when he was young).
Most dear is fire to the sons of men,
most sweet the sight of the sun;
good is health if one can but keep it,
and to live a life without shame. (Havamal 68)
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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby Frog » 02 Feb 2011, 18:44

Thank you all!

A quick note on the swords - I have only been learning sword form for about a year now. The swords are not your "standard" variety (i.e. sharp!). the Standard Sword form I have been learning is the Broadsword (there is also a straight sword form). I do have a straight sword - it is telescopic and collapses into the handle! My metal Broadsword is a very thin, "whippy" foil blade - when we move through some of the "thrust" positions, the chi energy is "fired" along the blade (this is known as Fa Jing). It is quite peculiar to the novice when they see it for the first time and the blade "whip cracks" with the energy (it is a pleasing sound when I can get it to work!)

The only difference between "hands" forms and "sword" forms is that you have another item in your hand; as always it's not what you have, but whether you know how to use it. The disadvantage to sword form (in my house anyway) is the increased likelihood of damage to the ceiling, the sofa - or the TV! Definitely not one for the living room!

Blessings
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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby Donata » 02 Feb 2011, 20:49

Thank you for this post. I practice Chi Kung exercises and also find it an aid to my spirituality. I've done this, not at all as an expert, for over 20 years and find it good for health and inner peace. It's a form of meditation IMO. It's an excellent way to become aware of and enhance personal energy. I join you in recommending Tai Chi or Chi Kung!

BB
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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby Heddwen » 04 Feb 2011, 12:36

The movements and the whole process looks so relaxing. Great seminar, Frog :applause:

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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby Paul Mitchell » 04 Feb 2011, 14:02

Nice one Frog!

I'm looking forward to continuing my Tai-Chi practice by undertaking an instructors course with an organisation called Ta-Chi Nation. This starts in March and rund for 18 months, utilising the Yang style compact form as its basis for exploring a whole host of Tai-Chi raltaed things (traditional Chinese Medicine; qi gung...). I'm really looking forward to it.

I am advised by the more martial arts inclined Tai-Chi practitioners that the whole benefits of Ta-Chi can only be experienced through the understanding and application of the martial aspects of the art. I also study Taekwondo and, in some aspects of that training, have found myself applying simple Tai-Chi applications with some quite stunning effects whilst "pressure testing". However, I am less convinced by the argument than others. Where would such an approach leave qi- gung, for example? What are your thoughts? Do you also practice neigong?
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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby Frog » 04 Feb 2011, 17:33

Thanks Heddwen - yes, it is a wonderful mental state to enter - in order to properly practice it you need to "step away" from the world, and the whole pace is at what seems to be a slow pace (an inbreath can last 4 seconds) and yet because you are focusing on the detail of the whole to the practitioner (feet, hands, body, position) time just flies by.

Hi Paul - I love the idea of the course and I hope you enjoy it; perhaps this may be something I take up later on (I quite enjoy passing on what I know to other people, a rich reward in itself).

The comment by your Martial Arts colleagues is interesting and I can see their view. In a similar context, I also enjoy archery and air rifle shooting - the sport encourages a calm focus to enable accurate, consistent results. In our Tai Chi, this is the health benefits that it provides. Of course, Tai Chi is a martial art - and archery and shooting use weaponry - so there is the fact that you are learning or using tools which can hurt and harm - so there is something to be said about recognising the whole aspect, even if we decide that it is not something we would want to progress.

To highlight this a little, there is an exercise called Push Hands. It is a two person exercise, teaching how to feel, deflect or absorb attack and respond. As an exercise, practitioners will increase their flexibility (it's great for trunk rotation) - but the potential is incredible. This clip of Bob fremor demonstrates this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76GNTdi7NV0
"Don't look to the end of the rainbow for the pot of gold; it's already under your feet"
Enjoy this life. It would be a shame if we looked forward to the next, only to find we forgot the one before.

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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby Paul Mitchell » 06 Feb 2011, 14:15

That's some awesome, and very gentlemanly, push hands!
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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby Huathe » 06 Feb 2011, 19:29

Frog,

I have a friend who is into Martial Arts and also has an interest in Druidry. He's a Black Belt. He will love this. :tiphat:
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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby reilz81 » 12 Feb 2011, 16:20

how odd never looked at this part of the forum and about 2 hrs ago i was practising some tai-chi i use to do just out of the blue id like to actually learn it properly expesially if you get to use swords :yay:

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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby mantis » 12 Feb 2011, 21:51

Hi enjoyed you're thread.Is that the same Bob Fermor of creative form and nunchaku fame?As I have competed against him many moons ago.
I have been practiing martial arts for just over 35 years,in various forms.

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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby Frog » 14 Feb 2011, 16:46

Hello Mantis - yes I believe it's the same one!
"Don't look to the end of the rainbow for the pot of gold; it's already under your feet"
Enjoy this life. It would be a shame if we looked forward to the next, only to find we forgot the one before.

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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby merryb » 16 Feb 2011, 21:03

Love your post Frog - got to - go bit of a slacker on the practice last week will practice NOW.

With blessings and thanks

MerryB

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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby mantis » 16 Feb 2011, 22:22

Small world :yay:

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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby Frog » 17 Feb 2011, 16:09

Yes, I'll tell my instructor next week when I see him; I'm sure he'll be interested!

So glad the weather's improving so I can get out into the garden and practice!
"Don't look to the end of the rainbow for the pot of gold; it's already under your feet"
Enjoy this life. It would be a shame if we looked forward to the next, only to find we forgot the one before.

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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby mantis » 17 Feb 2011, 16:33

I'm glad the weather is brightening up a bit as the private lessons I teach are normally taught on the patio,otherwise we have to shift the dinning room furniture.Lol.I did some tai chi with the wudang school,they use to do competive push hand competions on a raised stage,good stuff.

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Re: February 2011 - Tai Chi & Druidry - a personal journey

Postby Frog » 19 Feb 2011, 16:05

I'm glad the weather is brightening up a bit as the private lessons I teach are normally taught on the patio,otherwise we have to shift the dinning room furniture.Lol.I did some tai chi with the wudang school,they use to do competive push hand competions on a raised stage,good stuff.
I know that scenario! If I have to 'work' indoors at home, I need to incorporate a number of 180-degree turns mid flow (as I haven't learned to walk through walls and the sofa :) ). I was banned from using the swords in the house (when I managed to take a nick out of the ceiling plaster!)
"Don't look to the end of the rainbow for the pot of gold; it's already under your feet"
Enjoy this life. It would be a shame if we looked forward to the next, only to find we forgot the one before.

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