My Saturday mornings are reserved for Tai Chi. Often when I enter the studio I think “First learn balance“, the rest of the quote is “Balance good, karate good, everything good. Balance bad, might as well pack up, go home.” as Daniel was taught by Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid (1984 release).
I try to find balance in my form and balance in my mind – both of which are not easy.
Following warm-up we get to practice some techniques and martial art applications of the form.
With today being Super Saturday where people get to try out any class they like, there were quite a few visitors. While our teacher, Tim Gnazale, gave the visitors an introductory talk and demonstration, one of his advanced students, Bob Dari, gave us warm up exercises and a techniques session.
We covered three key areas 1. the gates, 2. redirection and 3. rolling.
Tim always refers us to the “basic model” which involves standing in a grounded relaxed posture. All other movements rely on the basic model being firmly in place. This reminds me of another lesson by Mr Miyagi “First learn stand, then learn fly.”
Interestingly Tim is also the author of the book “Tai Chi for Stilettos“, a percentage of the book’s profit will be donated to Born This Way Foundation, supported by Lady Gaga and her mother, Ms. Germanotta. Using the power of Tai Chi, Tim, unveils simple external and internal techniques to heighten one’s mind/body integration.
There are 8 gates associated with Tai Chi and they represent characteristics or special movement patterns for a particular objective. Every posture of tai chi has at least one of the eight gates (or, bamen) dominating the movement and each of the 8 gates has a certain martial “energy.” Centering, holding to one’s center, maintaining equilibrium, settling, moving downward, and staying balanced at one’s centre was what we focused on yesterday.
We needed to note where our centres of gravity were and recognise our partners gate to identify where it would be easiest to get them off balance. We also needed to feel when we were off balance and to practice rolling to regain our centres or redirect applied forces. In essence for me the lesson felt like applying the Law of the Lever by Archimedes “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Tai Chi shows that small forces can move large weights when you have the correct leverage.
Learning to get these movements to be intuitive in real life situations to prevent falls or injury will take time and practice. Each student learns at their own pace and needs to discover how their body works and when it is grounded and balanced.
Bob said that he used to enjoy BART surfing to practice maintaining his balance. As the carriages rock and pitch from side to side on the uneven tracks and grind to a stop at each station, he would stand in a good posture while not holding on to anything and keep his balance. An interesting exercise.
Martial arts is a journey of self discovery and in Tai Chi being able to centre yourself is key, that’s how we roll.
How do you roll?