|The T'ai Chi Ch'uan Study Center
of the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area
T'ai Chi Class Procedure
T'ai Chi is self-paced and non-competitive. Each student starts by learning his or her personal limits. For example, range of motion, how much the knees are bent and endurance are all personal factors. Individual awareness comes first. It may have taken many decades for our bodies to reach their present condition. We must allow a little time to gradually coax ourselves into positive changes. To try to change too fast greatly increases the risk of injury. The emphasis is on slow and sure improvement.
Each class begins with a few minutes of gentle warm-up followed by several repetitions of flowing through the form. Everyone begins the same way. You simply copy what you see to whatever degree is possible for you. Most of the hour is devoted to the details of learning the set positions (called postures) and how to move from one to the next. The importance of the proper stance, alignment, coordination and correct timing are explained. From the very first, there is emphasis on manifesting the T'ai Chi principles for these are the laws of nature articulated about human movement and they provide the student with a way of self correction.
Physical awareness is gained by precisely learning the movements and by focusing on the principles. This leads inexorably to energy awareness. For example, we pay great attention to the energies of the breath and the heart and the electrical life force which is called qi (aka ch'i and pronounced "chee") in Chinese. Beginners are taught two Qi Gong (aka Ch'i Kung and pronounced "chee gung": energy/breath work) exercises at the very first class in order to begin to learn to breathe more efficiently and to begin immediately to learn to integrate the body, the energy and the mind. The mind leads the energy and the energy leads the body. This chain of command, for learning purposes, is introduced with the emphasis initially on the body which then helps to awaken the energy and then, eventually, the emphasis is mainly mental.
The T'ai Chi postures are always done in the same order with each posture building upon the lessons of the earlier ones. In addition, each posture is learned from the ground up, that is, feet, knees, waist, etc. This orderliness makes the physical components relatively easy to learn given enough patience and repetition. Perseverance furthers.
Classes are seldom somber. We take T'ai Chi seriously, but we do not take ourselves too seriously. It's certainly easier to relax when the environment is light hearted. Natural grace is inherent in each person and rediscovering this innate harmony is fun, although there will always be a few wobbles along the way. T'ai Chi is not about the achievement of perfect balance, but rather about learning how to recognize and deal with these inevitable wobbles. Also, it is not about arriving at a certain place of learning or wherever, but about enjoying, enhancing and extending the journey.
What is a normal course of study?
Each individual is naturally unique in terms of attitude, aptitude, previous experience and intensity of interest and motivation. Most begin with one class a week plus the important daily practice at home. In addition, all students are encouraged to attend the free Saturday morning practices. The idea is for each student to find their own comfortable pace of learning as well as their own comfortable level of exertion while avoiding the likelihood of injury. Awareness, relaxation, balance and vitality will naturally and gradually increase.
T'ai Chi levels of study
Beginners start with learning the physical movements of the beginners set. In addition, the T'ai Chi principles and two basic qi gong (aka ch'i kung) exercises are introduced. The emphasis is upon increasing physical awareness and relaxation. Some are ready for Intermediates after one term of Beginners. Many, however, wisely choose to repeat Beginners in order to work on the coordination of the principles and the energy awareness with the physical movements. Patience pays off.
In Intermediates, the rest of the entire form is taught with more emphasis on manifesting the T'ai Chi principles. Additional qi gong (aka ch'i kung) exercises are introduced.
Refinements is the advanced, open-ended study where new perspectives are applied to the practice with increasing emphasis on energy awareness and meditation. It is important to maintain "beginner's mind," i.e., openness to learning.
T'ui Shou (push hands, aka sensing hands and more accurately called sensing centers) is practice with a partner to develop the timing and sensitivity to another person's energy that is the basis of self-defense. The idea is to neutralize incoming force rather than to confront it. In some cases, it might be appropriate to lead the other person off balance and let them fall into emptiness. This skill is very helpful in a wide variety of situations, not just physical encounters. When someone wishes to manipulate you, they will frequently try first to imbalance you physically and/or emotionally and/or psychologically. Neutralizing their attempt while keeping your balance is a valuable life skill.
Free Saturday morning practices provide a chance for newcomers to observe and try T'ai Chi and for current students to practice the beginner's material with a group.
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