Before there was an Internet or YouTube, exposure to the Martial Arts came through movies. At that time, the biggest star was Bruce Lee who introduced a speed and action that film had never seen, in any kind of fighting, let alone in martial arts films. The interesting sounds, the flash and unique stance and style all punctuated with that natural charisma he brought to the screen. Who didn’t want to be like him, learn those moves and be just like Bruce Lee!
I was one of those young men and in 1994 sought out the closest thing I could to his style with a Wing Chun teacher, the same style that Bruce Lee made famous. One of the first things my teacher (Sifu) shared with me was the “internal side” of Chinese martial training or the “Yin to the Yang” in life and practice. As a twenty five year old young man, can you imagine what I said, or rather thought quietly to myself, when hearing about the art of Tai Chi? A slow moving, energy focused form of moving meditation that has innumerable health benefits for the mind and body. “I could care less about Tai Chi” but what came instead was “that sounds interesting, but for now I would like to focus on Kung Fu please”.
How could I know what I would be missing? Even if understanding the benefits at the time, would they have seemed important or valuable in my life? As an accomplished collegiate athlete, my interest was in what was most important at the time and would serve me best, more fuel for my already hot burning fire, becoming stronger and more capable. While Kung Fu actually helped to harmonize that fire, contrary to my expectations, I would continue to focus on the outside of my world which only provided more of the same stimulus with no interest in anything more. It wasn’t until much later, when one of my peers who was focusing on both practices, began to move and behave a bit differently. Subtle at first, I couldn’t put my finger on what was changing, but he was definitely different in some way and getting something I was not from the training. That something was the influence of Tai Chi on his life and body.
He began to move differently, smoother, and with what seemed like an awareness of working with the things around him instead of against them. His patience increased and there was a relaxation to his demeanor I couldn’t place, but it was infectious as he always seemed relaxed and centered in whatever he was doing or whomever he was speaking with. I would not understand until years later when I was forced to learn Tai Chi in order to increase my rank within the school. This put me on a path that began to change my life deeply.
Subtle for me again and without any intention of my own, the practice began to work its magic on me. The nuance and slow pace that is a hallmark of Tai Chi, enables the practitioner to slow down and actually “feel life” that is going on around them. In real time, we are trained to embrace this softness as a means to enhance our bodies energy flow by removing tension, calming the brain wave state and relaxing deeply through special breathing and movements all while being present and sensing deep within the body what is happening in each moment.
Our lives are full of externalization that demands “faster”, “more” and “harder” which we have been trained to embrace in order to accomplish things or make them happen. Tai Chi provides a balance to life by cultivating a side of ourselves which encourages restoration physically and mentally through the practices while still cultivating physicality, balance and coordination. The power of shifting a portion of your time toward introspection, intentional relaxation and an awareness to the present moment cannot be overstated. While the practice may not be for everyone, once this secret gets into your life, its lasting effects are undeniable. While I still have a passion for Kung Fu training and teaching, my greatest joy comes from the lasting impact on the lives of others most often stemming from the very thing “I could care less about”.