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?
Swords have always fascinated me, I’m not exactly sure why. There is something about the beauty and the power they yield and the potential to be destructive and deadly while also being aesthetically pleasing. As Taylor Swift sings in Blank Space “Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream“.
Due to my fascination with swords it has always been a goal of mine to complete a martial arts sword form. I started learning a Tai Chi sword form about 12 years ago but my Sifu relocated and I never got to complete the training. It has always felt like unfinished business.
I loved practicing my form with the sword outdoors and watching the blade gleam in the sunlight. It felt like an extension of me. Beautiful and deadly. Graceful and unflinching.
At the end of last year I finally had the opportunity to start Tai Chi again and found a great teacher in California named Tim Ghazaleh who has been teaching Yang Style Tai Chi for more than 25 years. He was taught by late master Wu Ta-yeh, a disciple of the late Tai Chi master Tung Hu Ling. I was told that in 2-3 years I could become proficient in the sword form and that filled me with excitement!
Then I had a conversation with my children’s Kuk Sool Won instructor, Master Saidi and he said that with hard work I could learn a black belt sword form in three years! It was music to my ears! My Green Destiny was calling!
For those of you wondering about Green Destiny I discovered it in the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that tells the tale of Master Li Mu Bai a great warrior and swordsman. His sword, the Green Destiny, is legendary, powerful and mystical and he decides to retire and give the sword to his old friend as a gift – only it gets stolen.
I was also thrilled to discover that the sequel, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend is going to be released this year! An interesting convergence of thought…
My Tai Chi sword has been tucked away in its hockey case for 12 years. Today I took it out for a photo for this post. I still enjoy holding it. I have plans for it.
At my first Kuk Sool Won class I thoroughly enjoyed the sword play even though they were padded training versions. With Tai Chi I never had someone come at me blade in hand, we trained side by side in harmony. In Kuk Sool Won I had to strike and block and get out of the way and I wasn’t really fast or controlled enough but it rocked!
At the end of the class one of the senior black belts named Rick commented that I went “all bushido” on him and I had to smile. Bushido was the code of conduct followed by Japan’s samurai warriors.There is a sad but beautiful Japanese legend retold in the movie the 47 Ronin. It’s a story of honour, courage and loyalty.
Unfulfilled dreams and unfinished business can either be catalysts for regret or stepping stones to help us crystallize our visions for our futures.
What will you do with yours?
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Master Saidi or that of the World Kuk Sool Won Association.