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Yiheyuan Martial Arts

Real Tai Chi in Leeds, UK

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Tai Chi Transitions

Learning Tai Chi is a fascinating process. It normally begins with a period of intense concentration which may be expressed in the faces of students. Some frown, some grit their teeth, some bite their lip or stick out their tongue, some roll their eyes in panic and watch other people as if they are terrified of getting lost and need someone else to hold onto, especially during the transitions.
Occasionally somebody "gets it" and you see them relax and start to go with the flow. They start to trust themselves, trust the principles and begin to enjoy the movements without trying to “do” them.
Obviously, the technical structure and principles are important, but once you know how to drive a car you don't have to consciously decide to move the steering wheel or press the accelerator or change gear every time you do it, you can just relax and enjoy the process of driving.
Eventually you are not even aware that you are driving, you just enjoy the journey. But obviously you are still driving, you are in control. If you were suddenly to find yourself standing outside the car while it hurtled along, the car's journey wouldn't be the same as when it was being directed by you!
 When you are in control, the car has momentum and it has its own way of moving but once it is has started to move, you can consciously slow down, speed up or change direction, yet the overall fluidity of motion at any instant has to take account of what went before it.
It's the same with the Tai Chi form.
It also has it's own momentum and it's own way of moving. Once it starts to flow, you can speed up, slow down, flow in new directions, using the waist like the steering wheel, powered by the engine of the dantien, fuelled by the energy of the entire universe, of which you happen to be a part, and driven by your will, overseen by the conscious self which observes and directs the process, but the movement at each instant is a continuation of what went before, that's why there's no stopping and starting or hesitation: you feel the momentum of the stream and the eddies within it and continue to flow with these.
Let’s examine the Tai Chi form more closely. It has a beginning, an end and a fluid bit in the middle. It also has bits that go on the same for a while, (three brush knee and pushes, three wave hands, four repulse monkeys etc.) We can practice these repeating bits as an exercise in themselves, over and over again until we feel really comfortable with them, and when we really master them we can learn a lot from them in terms of underlying principles and ways of moving.
But then we have to get from one familiar bit to another, we have to make a transition.
These are the complicated bits, there is no set pattern to follow. But they still follow the principles and, when we learn to do them well, we find they have a grace, fluidity and logical process of their own.
Try an experiment.
Take any two moves from a Tai Chi form which do not normally follow each other and find a way to connect them.
When you have fully internalised the Tai Chi principles you will find that this can happen quite naturally, without too much interference from the rational brain.
Your transition may be a unique way of moving from one position to the other but by following the internal principles, you will still be doing Tai Chi, in fact this may provide you with a glimpse of Tai Chi in its purest sense: the spontaneous state for which prescribed forms can be seen as preparation.
Again, Tai Chi can be seen as a metaphor with wider implications.
Think of your own journey through life. It started. One day it will end. Meanwhile there's a fairly fluid bit in the middle. It has periods where everything stays relatively settled and you have a feeling that you are more or less in control. These "stable" periods can even make you feel bored sometimes, but eventually you will encounter a period of transition.
Change is inevitable and often unplanned, and trying to hold onto things exactly as they are is a sure way to end up frustrated and stressed.
When you are going through a period of change, you can sometimes do it through your own conscious choice and feel relatively in control, but at other times the whole thing comes at you out of the blue and you can feel that the ground has dropped out from under your feet and you are out of control for a while until you regain your bearings.
But when you look back at these links in the chain, you see that they were often the points in your life that made the greatest contributions to your growth, just as the transitions in the Tai Chi form are not just there to tie the good bits together, they are potentially the bits that can teach you the most about what Tai Chi is really about.
They are not just random movements, they obey principles, and you can trust these principles and trust yourself and this allows you to flow through them seamlessly. Just as you can in life. You learn the principles during the quiet times, the orderly times. Then, when the going gets tough, you can trust yourself and your principles (like honesty, integrity and compassion) to help you through and keep you afloat until you reach the quieter waters up ahead.
The important thing isn't getting what you think you want, it's looking at what you actually get and learning something from it. And that means every moment, right now. Observing everything that is presented before us.
You don't detach yourself from everything, any more than you get out of the car while it's still moving, but you have an overall wide perspective and from this you observe and go with the flow, directing the movements as you go.
Life in the moment is a pretty amazing ride. It's like being on the crest of a huge tidal wave.
The wave is transient but while it's in motion it's awesome and magnificent and it has apparent consistency and a kind of relentless power as it flows. We observe it from the leading edge of the wave front, not in a detached way, like a surfer, but like a small ripple in the water there. The molecules of our particular ripple change constantly as the wave crosses the ocean, but we somehow preserve our identity as a ripple.
The wave goes forward with the momentum of the cosmos and we ripple forwards on the surface of the wave with our own momentum, created from all that has gone before in our particular existence.
Our lives are fluid and continuous, just like the Tai Chi form, and although we have free will, conscious choice, and the power of intention, which allows us to speed up, slow down or change direction and attract to us those things to which we pay the most attention, we still go forward on the crest of the wave and our little ripple moves and feels its own inner eddies and currents along with the greater eddies and currents within the wave (in fact those create our ripple). We can't deny or suppress these currents any more than the wave can suddenly stop in its tracks. We can go with the flow.
And once we truly understand and feel at one with this flow, we can transform it in a creative, yet co-operative way and achieve not only our own little potential but also the potential of the wave and the potential of the ocean which is our true identity.
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