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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Short series Tai Chi workshops: Can you really benefit from them?

It is common for some Martial Artists to attend periodic seminars or workshop series to enhance their skills or to learn from well known Masters. Usually, these workshops will most likely have a relationship to the art they're already studying, or have a subject that the student has been interested in.

Seminars are meant to present a bulk of information over a specific period, be it hours or days. Most times (but not all times), seminars are meant to enhance skills in a field you're already familiar with.

But what about workshops that your teacher recommends, on a subject you've never done before? Namely, if you're used to the world of "ground n' pound" of MMA, or if you're a staunch believer in heavy workouts every day (running, weights, etc.), will these workshops on subjects you have no familiarity with, actually do you any good?

Let's take....TAI CHI, for example....

I teach a program called "BreatheTao-Taiji on the go", a 6 session series made specifically for very busy professionals, stay at home parents, and martial artists who are interested in the stress-reducing, body aligning, low impact exercise, and yes, even the self defense benefits of Tai Chi. The series is not meant to teach a full curriculum of Taiji, but instead to give busy people tools for stress reduction and self awareness that they may use in their everyday lives. It gives them an introduction to solid Taiji principles, should they decide to study Taiji in a formal manner under a qualified instructor.

On more than one occasion, I've been met with comments such as: "Can you really defend yourself moving so slowly?" or "How is Tai Chi a workout? It seems too easy to do me any real good".

Well folks, that's where the benefit IS easy...on the body, that is. Many of us are so into the belief that if exercise doesn't hurt, its not doing us any good. Proper Taiji practice, however, focuses on good structure and alignment, so as to not cause undue strain to joints and muscles. Through the seemingly "too easy" movements, the deeper muscles of the legs and core come into play, and our sense of proprioception and self awareness is enhanced. However...this is not to say that real Taiji practice is a walk in the park either. Like all martial skills, Taiji is a form of "Kung Fu"....."skill gained through time and hard effort".

In all the series I've presented, people ask me how I can remember all the movement of such "long" Taiji routines. Some people have mentioned that they wouldn't be very good at Taiji, because they wouldn't be able to remember all the moves and the names of the forms. However, the true benefit to a short series of Taijiquan workshops is not necessarily having a rote curriculum to remember, but rather allowing the body to "feel" movements that the body naturally attunes to, and to let oneself move with those freely and with relaxation and no stress about forgetting something. :-) I don't care if people remember the 10 form or long as they walk away with even ONE movement to practice and fundamental breathing and de-stressing techniques. After all, if you're taking only 6 lessons, don't expect to be a Taiji master. You'll need to actually find time to commit to studying under a good teacher for years to get really "good" at Taiji and to discover all its other techniques, applications, and benefits.

When thinking about undergoing a short series of Taiji workshops, first think about the main benefits you'd like to gain (stress relief? Physical therapy?A break from hectic schedules? Did your doctor advise Taiji for a physical ailment?). I am teaching a friend right now, that if she benefits from the body alignment to help her back pain (and in trickle down effect, helps her knees, quadriceps and hamstrings to aid her back), then wonderful.....doesn't matter if she remembers the whole yang 10 form or if she's even really interested in Taijiquan itself for further long as she can get some beneficial tools to work with, that's the benefit.

The kicker is....with the workshops series I've done for several venues, I tell all participants to not worry about not remembering form. I ask them to "feel, breath, experience opening the body to the odd activity of not thinking about work,... experience total focus on self, nevermind the project due in 5 days or where you'll get your next latte." You'll be surprised at how many people prefer to dwell in their little cacoons of overactivity and stress...many thinking they're being productive if they multitask and feel the stress. I called some people out about their stressed out sense of productivity at a series at a local YMCA, saying "You're so addicted to the feeling stress in multitasking, and what happens? Lots of stuff gets started quicly but never gets done as quickly. Is that really productive?? Just because you're in downtime doesn't mean you're being less productive."

People even get stressed out about their recreation! Can you believe that? They feel they have to do something "recreation wise"..., tennis lessons, gym, bridge club, basket weaving 101...whatever. I had a student so stressed out he'd freak out if he was late to tai chi class! He'd speed through the streets in his car just to get to Taiji on time...we could hear his car screeching to a halt in front of the studio, and he would come bursting through the door gasping "Sorry i'm late!". Wow. Stress out to be on time for a class meant to de-stress you. What's wrong with this picture?

In a nutshell, you can reap benefits from short workshops. Keep these points in mind when at a workshop.

1) What benefits am I looking to gain?

2) Can I relate any of this information to things I'm already familiar in?

3) Am I willing to say "I will not overwork to retain every bit of information"? (Relax!)

4) Am I willing to attend this workshop without preconceived notions? (Come to seminars with an open mind)

5) Am I ready to have fun and enjoy myself? (seminars can indeed be fun, you know!)

6) Can I refrain from being over analytical and asking too many questions? (Being overanalytical just occupies the brain to think up questions and prevents the brain from listening to the real information.)

7) Can I take just one or two aspects of this seminar, and practice it on my own? Even if its merely a new way of breathing or a new way of looking at the definition of "self awareness"?

8) Am I willing to look "not as skilled" as others in the seminar? (come on now...if everybody else if trying concentrate on their own movments in a Taiji seminar, they're certainly not going to be judgemental and snicker at your "less-than perfect form" )

If you can think about and apply these things to your attendance at a Taiji workshop, then you'll gain many benefits!

Good Qi to you!!

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