Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I Can Be So Dumb...

So dumb…

I can be so dumb. It was about 20 years after first hearing "The Beatles" that I got the pun in their name. Seriously, I just thought it was a funny spelling.

Here is a list of some of the things I discovered or suddenly figured out, well after turning 50 years old:

Sudafed? Uh…that's short for "Pseudo-Ephedrine".

There are little indentations on the ends of boxes of plastic wrap that hold the tube in place so that the roll doesn't pull out when you use it.

 “Arby’s” is a way of saying “R.B.’s” which stands for Roast Beef.

The word “car” is short for carriage or horseless carriage.

Cops are called “the fuzz” because of the sound their police radios make when they’re nearby.

Nat “King” Cole has the nickname “King” because of the association with the song “Old King Cole”. 

Cardinals, you know the red birds common to the Midwest, the ones the St. Louis baseball team is named for, are called “cardinals” because they look like cardinals, the religious kind.

And it's also recently been brought to my attention that love is in fact the answer.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The T'ai-Chi Body*

Is The Goal Of My Teaching And Practice

(*My friend and student Joe Fichter told me about one of his teachers in Takenouchi Ryu who taught that the goal of the training in that art was to develop a “Takenouchi Ryu body” rather than simply to memorize and master a bunch of techniques. This resonated strongly with me and I borrowed this phraseology to apply to T’ai-Chi. In the past I’ve referred to my approach as “principle based” rather than “form or technique based” but I like the “T’ai-Chi body” concept better.)

For me, the purpose of training in T’ai-Chi is not to perfect a bunch of forms, exercises and techniques. The purpose of training in T’ai-Chi is to develop a “T’ai-Chi Body”. The forms and exercises are important, to be sure, but not to the extent that they must be endlessly, obsessively perfected. The forms are not “rules” to be obeyed slavishly, but rather bridges that lead me to understanding the underlying principles of the art which can then be expressed as a “T’ai-Chi body”.

A T’ai-Chi body is neither hard nor soft but combines and balances the best qualities of each. Not to put down people who have hard bodies. Hard bodies are great for certain lifestyles. They are very strong, tough, powerful and tight. Soft bodies too, are very good for certain lifestyles. They are soft, tender, yielding and loose. But to bring the hard and soft together in one body, that’s what I’m after.
Here are some qualities of what I would call an ideal T’ai-Chi Body. These are the qualities that we aim for.

A T’ai-Chi body is all about unforced balance and is therefore responsive, adaptable, aware and “ready”. Since everything is in motion and constantly changing, and since maintaining balance means making the proper corrections, a T’ai-Chi body must be alert to when and how big a correction to make moment to moment. The difference between a novice and an advanced practitioner of any art is the size and frequency of the corrections. Beginners make a small number of large corrections. (Picture a beginner walking on a tight rope…the bar they hold tips high one direction and then high the other…) Adepts make many more much smaller corrections. (An expert tight rope walker’s bar is practically vibrating with tiny corrections that are almost invisible.)

A T’ai-Chi body is primarily rooted in the feet. That is to say, the feet have a firm and solid connection to the ground beneath them. They slide, adapt, lift, turn, twist and kick but they are always seeking a return to a neutral, flat, solid and rooted connection to the Earth.

A T’ai-Chi body has springy legs that are like pistons. Not twisting and “spiraling” but primarily driving in relatively straight lines out of the Earth.

A T’ai-Chi body has fluid knee/foot alignment. That is to say, the knees and the middle of the feet are always moving towards pointing the same direction. If the foot twists the knee follows. If the knee twists the foot follows. This is fluidly maintained regardless of the what else the body is doing.

A T’ai-Chi body has a loose relaxed waist that turns easily. Sometimes it moves with the hips, sometimes not. It can be very firm and strong but also very loose and pliable. Generally, it’s somewhere in between, waiting for what the body needs to do next.

A T’ai-Chi body has a spacious slightly lifted spine that is not tight, numb or compressed. There is always a bit of space and motion in the vertebrae.

A T’ai-Chi body can be very strong in the legs or mid-section or upper body, but not necessarily so. If strong though, that strength is always subordinate to the overall relaxed, loose and ready state of T’ai-Chi. It is never tight or bound up.

A T’ai-Chi body is centered in the lower belly, not top heavy. The lower body leads the upper body and the inner body leads the outer body.

A T’ai-Chi body works in this sequence generally: There is an intent to move. It might be an idea in the mind or a response that is needed to outside stimulus. This intent flows out into the body via the nervous system and connects to the entire systemic awareness of the body. This overall feeling sense of the body than leads the bones and muscles into action. The intent does not go from mind to muscles. It goes first to the overall felt sense of the whole body.

A T’ai-Chi body’s home-base is movement. It is in motion and occasionally takes a break and rests or sits. It is not sitting or resting and occasionally “getting up” to do something. Resting is the break. Motion is “home”.

A T’ai-Chi body is mobile, agile and graceful. Its movements are efficient and purposeful, not wasteful and random.

A T’ai-Chi body seeks the neutral, or “mid-way in the dimmer switch”. Firm when firm is needed, soft when soft is needed, but always returning to neutral when the time for firmness or softness has passed. All of its capacities are on dimmer switches so the proper amount of energy can be dialed in.

A T’ai-Chi body has tools to reach, to push back, to strike, to run, to jump, to kick, to avoid, to approach, to be sensitive, to be firm, to lift, to set down, to pick up.

The T’ai-Chi body is relaxed and alert…to danger…to beauty…to change…to currents…to events…to trouble…not in its own world, especially when out in the world.

When it comes to self-defense situations, rather than trying to apply a bunch of memorized specific techniques, the T’ai-Chi body brings all of its tools to bear on the situation at hand. Sometimes “not being there”, sometimes avoiding it, sometimes defusing it, sometimes getting physical. If physical, it does the best it can to defend itself and keep its balance while doing so.

These are some of the qualities of an ideal T’ai-Chi body. I’m sure there are many more, but these are the ones that come to mind first. To me, all the training games of T’ai-Chi are directed towards developing this kind of body.