Meditation, Zen and Tai Chi
To understand Zen is to understand life itself. Zen is about being present in the moment and perceiving the wonder and beauty of that moment whatever it is like. To walk a Zen path is to do everything with grace and beauty from opening a door, making tea and washing to writing poetry, painting, arranging flowers and performing martial arts. Even the most mundane of tasks takes on new and wonderful perspectives when approached in a Zen manner.
Zen teaches us to "wake up" and realise the truth of our own divinity. When we truly see our own buddhanature, we see it reflected back to us in everything we encounter.
"Zen is not thought, the path has no achievement... you transcend seeing and hearing, get rid of all dependence, and ride at leisure on top of sound and form, mastering that which startles the crowd" - Huai-T'ang
- from "Living the Zen Arts"
Taoist meditation places great emphasis on correct breathing. This means breathing deeply and evenly. Taoists measure lifespan not by counting birthdays but by counting breaths and heart-beats so every breath and heartbeat saved now prolongs life later. At the core of the entire breathing process lies the mind. The harmony of mind and breath is the fundamental key to meditation, exercise and energy control. Harnessing the mind is much like raising a child: you must apply a balanced blend of discipline and patience to the task, day by day.
Taoist masters refer to the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body as the 'Five Thieves' of breathing and meditation because they literally 'rob' you of the mental attention required to command breathe and control energy. Adepts must therefore learn to 'imprison' the Five Thieves internally by consciously directing sensory awareness inward and focusing on organ and energy centers rather than external objects.
The ancient sages suggested that when meditating one should 'Stand like a pine, sit like a bell, lie like a bow, and walk like the wind'.
Andy has been practicing Tai Chi for over 20 years & teaching for over 10 years.
A Short History of Tai Chi
The origins of Tai Chi Chuan (translated as "Supreme Ultimate Boxing") probably stretch back several thousand years but some of the first recorded records of the practice of martial arts similar to Tai Chi come from the Tang Dynasty (618-905 A.D.). During that time there was a hermit named Hsa Suan-Ming who lived on Tse-Yang Mountain and ate a diet of only raw foods. He developed a form consisting of 37 postures that were practiced individually one after another. After completing these postures, the player put all the postures together in a continuously flowing form "with the eight trigrams in the arms and five elements in the feet," which refers to the changes of moves corresponding to the changes in the I Ching.
Another master of the Tang Dynasty was Li Tao Tze who developed a long form called "Hsien-Tien Chuan." Hsien-Tien means "the stage before the universe is created." Legend has it that he lived for more than a thousand years, seldom talked and ate only a few pounds of grain daily. Yu Lieu-Chu, a student of Li Tao Tze, took on the form and his family carried on teaching it from generation to generation.
In the Liang Dynasty (907-921 A.D.) Hen Kon Yu developed a form called "Nine Little Heavens" which had fourteen movements including "Single Whip" and "Grasp the sparrow's tail" both of which are included in the modern Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan. Hen Kon Yu taught Chen Lin-Hsi who later stated that no-one can master Tai Chi Chuan without studying the I Ching. Another master named Hu Chin-Tze developed a form called Hu Tien Fa. Hu Tien means "the stage after the universe is created" and Fa means "method." The form has 17 postures including ward-off, roll-back, press, push, pull, split, elbow, and shoulder-strike; all of which appear in the Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan.
The origins of modern Tai Chi are accredited to Chang San-Feng (b.1247 A.D.) who studied at the famous Shao-Lin temple and then later created Tai Chi Chuan. There are various stories about how Chang San-Feng created Tai Chi including dreaming about it and observing an altercation between a magpie and a snake. Whatever its origins, Chang San Feng used the principles of the five elements, the Tai Chi symbol (yin and yang) and the I Ching to develop Tai Chi Chuan. After Chang San-Feng, there are many famous teachers through the ages including Wang Tsung, Chen Tun-Chow, Chang Sung-Hsi and Chiang Fah. Chiang Fah taught Tai Chi Chuan to the Chen family who are the originators of the modern forms we know of today. It was from the Chen family that Yang Lew-Shan (1799-1872) learnt Tai Chi and went on to develop his own form called Yang Family Long Form.
Chi is rooted in the feet
Springs from the legs
Guided by the waist
Expressed in the hands
Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan
The Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan is a slow, graceful and flowing form based on thirteen postures. The first four postures, Peng(ward-off), Lu(roll back), Ji(press) and On(push) represent the four cardinal directions and the next four, Chai(pull down or pluck), Lieh(split or rend), Jou(elbow stroke) and Kou(shoulder strike) the four corners. These eight postures correspond to the eight basic trigrams of the I Ching and are also called Pa-Men or the Eight Gates. The Five Steps or Wu-Pu are Jinbu (advance or step forward), Tuibu(retreat or step back), Jorgu (look to the left), Youpei (gaze to the right) and Juong Ding (central equlibrium), which are linked to the five Chinese elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth respectively.
Yang Family Sword Form
The sword form is the primary weapon form and is related to the Chinese element of water. It has just over 50 postures and the whole form lasts about 3 minutes. It teaches flexibility of the body and wrist creating graceful, soft and flowing movements. The beautiful unison of hands, body and sword is often referred to as "swimming dragon and flying phoenix." There are thirteen techniques in the sword form as follows: open, close, burst, split, dot, bind, poke, hold up, coil, lead, slip, intercept and stab.
Tai Chi Basic Principles
- ALL MOVEMENTS HAVE THEIR SOURCE IN THE WAIST: The movements of the limbs are short and limited, while the movements of the waist are free and long. Like cogs turning on their axes, one turn on a large axis is equivalent to many turns on a small axis. The waist is like the big axis while the limbs, palms, elbows, shoulders, legs, knees and heels are like the small axis. Those who employ movements originating from the waist generate more power than those who employ only the arms and legs.
- ALL MOVEMENTS ARE CIRCULAR: All movements in Tai Chi, both internal and external, are composed of circles. These circles can be plane or cubic, large or small, straight or slanting, singular or multiple. A circle or any point on a circle may form another circle giving rise to the idea of infinite, flowing movements. Circles may be yin (soft) or yang (firm), i.e. partly neutralising or partly attacking. The higher the level of art one attains, the smaller the circles and the less they show in the outer form.
- CIRCLES ALLOW FOR THE NEUTRALISING OF ATTACKS: A direct attack is rapid and forceful in a straight line. If it is faced squarely in the opposite direction, the one opposing will suffer the first injury and the ultimate outcome will be dictated by strength. However, if one allows the attacker in and then subtly shifts one's force to another direction, the force of the attack is greatly diminished. Furthermore through the use of circular motion, the attackers force can be re-directed back to its source.
- STRENGTH SHOULD NOT BE EXERTED IN TAI CHI: Strength exerted from the limbs and body originates in the bones and moves through the shoulders and back. It is restricted in form, superficial and easily scattered. It tightens the muscles, restricts the circulation and increases internal stress. To practice Tai Chi, one must let go of this strength. By developing softness every part of the body is set free and the whole body is at ease. After a long period of continual practice, one begins to develop "intrinsic energy". This energy is formless, concentrated and collected, circular and long. It comes continuously, is active and changeable, and leads to the development of "auditive energy" in the skin. This level is not easily understood by ordinary practitioners of Tai Chi.
- BALANCE MUST ALWAYS BE MAINTAINED: In every posture and throughout all movements, one's centre of gravity must be kept correct or balance is lost. The head is straight being pulled heavenward by the "Golden Thread", the trunk must not lean forward, the sacrum must not stick out and the knees must not go beyond the toes.
- ALL MOVEMENTS ARE SLOW AND EVEN: Just like the proper chewing of food, the movements of the form are slow and even. If one chews food in a slow and even manner, one fully appreciates the taste of each mouthful and efficiently digests each morsel. Likewise, the slow and even movements of the form nourish the body with energy and allow its revitalising force to flow throughout one's whole being.