What Tai Chi Chuan Means To Me
The 20th Anniversary Year
What does Tai chi chuan mean to me? Well I'm not so sure anymore.
At first, it was an exercise that the elderly practiced to keep healthy (I was a wee lass then).
And then it became a form of physical exercise that was better (to me) than yoga for back strengthening, joint mobility,
stress reduction and rehab for the injured (I am a physician by trade). Eventually, it crept into my core, nagging to be learned,
only because it was a part of my ancestry, heritage, and tradition (I am part Chinese by ancestry). And here I am now, a student of the Classical
Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan with Sifu H. Won Gim, finding out that all of the above only scratches the surface of what Tai Chi Chuan encompasses.
In today's world, our physical, mental, and spiritual beings are unfortunately fractured, scattered about. At this point in my life,
I am hoping that with true intentions, perseverance, and practice, Tai Chi Chuan will close those gaps one day and that all can be One again.
Thank you Sifu.
Ever since I was young, I have been fascinated by Wuxia stories like the Condor Heroes,
the Smiling Proud Wanderer, the Duke of Mount Deer, etc. These fantastic tales drove me to learn more about various martial arts.
Having studied external martial arts (i.e., Tae Kwon Do and Shaolin Kung Fu), I learned a lot, including: physical conditioning,
self defense techniques, etc. However, it wasn't until I first stepped into H. Won Tai Chi Institute that I really saw power and techniques
that paralleled those of the Wuxia characters I grew up with.
The Classical Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan system integrates many key components of martial arts, from the external to the internal and beyond,
and develops all areas simultaneously. The more I study in this school, the more meaningful Tai Chi is to me. From starting off as a form of
exercise/hobby, transcending to a change in my state of mind and lifestyle, with a supportive network of friends and family,
it is difficult to express Tai Chi's significance in words. One has to experience it to even begin to understand.
It is a great honor to study under SIFU H. Won Gim, who teaches Classical Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan as a Disciple under the direct lineage of
the great SIFU Yang Sau Chung. Despite the profound nature of Tai Chi, SIFU H. Won Gim is very knowledgeable and has a deep understanding of the art.
Just like the great Masters in Wuxia stories, his experience, wisdom and power allow him to adapt to each student's unique situation and help them grow.
Congratulations to SIFU H. Won Gim on 20 successful years of teaching at the H. Won Tai Chi Institute! It is truly an honor to have found
a Master who is willing and able to guide students through this rare, lost art form.
I consider myself very lucky to be a part of this Tai Chi family.
Thoughts on Tai Chi Chuan
For most of my adult life I have been seeking knowledge in different realms. I sought to develop physical strength and power,
where my path took me from powerlifting to CrossFit to advanced gymnastic strength training.
I was drawn to the martial arts where I studied karate in college followed by many years of Chinese kung fu training.
I wanted to cultivate energy and spiritual development which led me to qigong, Tibetan Buddhism, kundalini yoga and several forms of meditation.
When I found Sifu H. Won Gim and started learning his art, I slowly began to realize that Tai Chi Chuan encompasses all of these goals in a
highly integrated, precise and infinitely intricate system, while adding new forms of skill and attainment which I had never encountered before.
One example is the dynamic power push hands, which is hard to describe until one experiences it - some combination of physical conditioning,
internal power development, and therapeutic energy healing. This aspect of the training is almost completely unknown to the world but is a highly
effective and magical experience. Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan as taught by Sifu H Won Gim is a very demanding art that requires vast amounts of
patience, dedication, precision, and insight. But it is a path that leads one's mind, body, spirit, and entire life on a grand journey of
exploration, growth, and profound development. After many years of seeking and exploration I have found my home.
Focus, balance, patience, diligence, dedication and harmony; these are some aspects of Tai Chi Chuan training.
As such, it is an art form that offers a gateway into a lifelong practice of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development.
The affect of this kind of development has thus far transformed my life in numerous ways.
It has redefined the relationship between my body and mind, and opened me to awareness of both shortcomings and strengths.
Developing and refining subtle energy gives us a glimpse under the hood of life, a peak into the infinite...
In the beginning, Tai Chi was boredom. I kept repeating the same movements again and again and again and again, for reasons unknown (to me).
My motivation then was also unclear. I was there (in class), but I wasn't' sure why.
And what was it that I am to find (through training)? I had even less clue.
Then Tai Chi was confusion. There were no answers anywhere. No one can help make the confusion go away.
I had hit a plateau (or so I thought). Every day was the same: boredom, and now, plus the pain (from pushing).
At this point, pure stubbornness forced me to stay; I've been at it this long, something has to happen to make sense out of all of this.
And then Tai Chi was despair. I understood some of the principles by this time, but my body was changing too quickly and
I couldn't hold onto anything. Worse, my body was getting weaker and weaker. I found pushing my juniors difficult.
It felt like everyone was zooming ahead of me.
And then Tai Chi was freedom. I stopped caring about my advancements. I stopped caring about the next lesson,
I stopped caring about my performance when compared to others, I even stopped caring about my own feelings (so what if I feel bad? Live with it,
it won't kill me, I'd think to myself). I did what I could, understood what I could, and all of a sudden, one day,
I found joy in the little advancement my body would make. Soon after that, I was happy to receive any advancements, no matter how little.
And here is where I found I've always been making little advancements,
only I wasn't sensitive enough to realize it...that and my ego didn't know when to say enough,
because even if I did notice the small improvement in the past, I would deem it too small to feel any appreciation for it.
With that understanding, I soon turned my Tai Chi attitude towards my life. Pressure from others (during the work day),
pressure from friends and family members, life troubles - they're the same as the (enormous) pressure (not to mention the fear)
I feel from my Sifu during pushing. And if I can relax then (during pushing), then I can also relax when things go wrong in my life.
And what I found through doing that is stability. Not stability on the situation outside,
but stability in my being able to keep my head during stressful moments (stillness in emotion?)
Today, Tai Chi is still confusing. Not much has changed, only my thinking has. I still don't know what I'm doing (in Tai Chi) as a whole,
and I have absolutely no clue as to what will happen to my body next through the course of training. But it is okay.
This is the natural state and this is what I have to get used to. It is being comfortable within being uncomfortable.
It is being stable within being unstable. This is letting go, and for me, it is the way to find peace.
I, of course, realize I still haven't answered the question of, What Tai Chi Means to Me..
I don't think I can; it's like asking what I mean to myself or what my life means to me.
The principles of Tai Chi have expanded to cover all areas of my life.
The teachings has given me a new place in the world -- a new point of view and a new goal (for now).
I feel like I am living a new life within a new body, and with each day, I am going in deeper and deeper into this new realm.
And so, perhaps, Tai Chi, to me, is a journey...a journey that's been mapped out by the wisdom of the past for us to follow...the Ultimate Journey..
To me, Tai Chi Chuan is certainly more than just a hobby, martial art
or fitness activity. And while Tai Chi Chuan has elements of all the things
that I just mentioned, to me Tai Chi Chuan is a way of life.
I feel very fortunate to have found SIFU and the school (all of you
guys!). And it feels great when I am sitting in my office as a
"pen-pusher"��and I summon this energy into my arms and body. When I
get in touch again with that "thing" that I try to nurture inside of
me ("Peng Kieng") and I feel more alive.�
Maybe, that's what is called the "here and now," I don't know.
But first and foremost, my reasons for practicing Tai Chi Chuan are
philosophical: I see Tai Chi Chuan as an enlightened way to cultivate
the body, the mind, our emotions, and ultimately, the Spirit.
For I am convinced that there is an spiritual aspect of Tai Chi; something
that goes back to ancient Taoists (and perhaps Buddhist's) practices and
teachings. That is the main reason why I continue to practice Tai Chi
Chuan, despite the distance and my shortcomings.
It's not what Tai Chi means to me...it's what it means to my WIFE ....
If I can put into words
what Tai Chi Chuan means to me it would fill a library or two.The
thoughts and feelings that are my experience with Tai Chi Chuan runs
so deep ,from the subtle to the sublime .They span the spectrum of the
sense of cradling a baby to free falling through space...for those who
have experienced some of Sifu's pushes you may know what I mean.It is
for me a love affair....an exploration of my self ....a slow and
interesting journey to the Source...with a Master teacher and
I came here due to my search for the truest and oldest Tai Chi tradition I could find. In particular I wanted to learn the old Yang Lu Chan form (our fast form). If someone had told me that it would take me eight years (eight whole years) to get there (which happened due to this, that and the other reason), I might have reconsidered. However if I had also been told of what I would finally experience through that form I would have said, 'You're kidding! Are you serious? Sign me right up! Here, Sifu, let me pay you double.' (No, no, no, don't ever offer to pay Sifu double.)
WHAT TAI CHI MEANS TO ME
Every time I have written a paragraph about what Tai Chi means to me this past week, something completely different comes out. Is that because I am so ignorant about Tai Chi that I haven't gotten a clear understanding, or because it is such a vast subject? Perhaps a bit of both. Initially my approach to Tai Chi is as a means to achieve health into old age, as well as an insight into the foundations of Chinese philosophy, (not that I am claiming any authority on either subject!). It is just unavoidable that one doe get to understand some basic concepts of Chinese philosophy as embodied in Tai Chi if one spends any time studying the forms, the applications etc... since the foundations of Chinese philosophy are beautifully pervasive in all aspects of Chinese culture: art, music, feng shui, medicine, (acupuncture, tui na, herbology, qi gong), astrology, as well as martial arts. It is amazing. But in the most immediate sense, Tai Chi has shown me a greater sense of control over myself --- over proprioception, (alignment, balance, centering and relaxation), as well as emotional and mental control. This is in contradiction to my nature which resists any outside influence as a kind of threat; yet, in submitting, comes out the better for it. Part of the meaning of Tai Chi for me is also included in the 'Tai Chi community'. Our SIFU and the senior members, who form a kind of loose bond of a brother- and sister-hood, do not have any other agenda than to promote better insight into the particular stage of the subject of study in which one is engaged at the time, in a friendly atmosphere without any sense of competition. Sharing such a clear vision of the overall subject as handed down through the generations of the Yang family is perhaps the reason for that lack of aggressiveness or assertiveness. There is no ambiguity, (for ambiguity, read 'mediocrity'), in any aspect of the subject, owing to the completeness of the Yang FamilyTai Chi system and SIFU's knowledge and dedication to Tai Chi for which I am so grateful and which gives me the sense of what I am here to achieve.
I started training in the Chinese Martial arts when I was 17. I learned Northern and Southern Shaolin styles, and at one point I even learned the 24 move mainland Tai Chi form as part of the curriculum in one school. At the time, I didn't really care for it but a few years later I discovered one of the NY Tai Chi schools that engaged in "free fighting". I was intrigued - I signed up and got hooked in short order. I studied what was ostensibly a Yang style and I was happy and oblivious of everything else. Back then there was no Internet and you found things out the old fashioned way - by word of mouth and by reading books and articles in the various publications. Then came the world wide web and one day I stumbled on Rene Navarro's piece "In Search of Yang Cheng Fu" (it is somewhere on this site and in the gstaichi.org site as well). I was stunned to discover that there was this whole other world that existed within Tai Chi. I was very intrigued about the direct lineage to Yang Cheng Fu. I knew I wanted to study the system, but I had a young family, and as is sometimes the case, my dreams were overtaken by events. I stored the information for future reference.
A fortuitous juncture in my life came in 2006 when I fractured my hip in a fall. The ER doctor broke the bad news to me by saying that my quality of life was about to change drastically for the worse. He said I would probably never walk normally again! Well, my bones did heal after several months and once I could, I started doing my old Tai Chi form, determined to prove that doctor wrong. My condition improved by leaps and bounds and I continued to seek more ways to get better. Rene urged me to seek out Sifu's school in NYC and one day I did just that. I remember those first months - by the end of class I was barely able to walk. I hobbled most of the way to Penn Station on my way home. Without a doubt, this has been the most difficult training I have ever undertaken. I have had to take breaks here and there when the physical challenges became a bit much but I continue to persevere. Sifu checks that my hip is feeling ok from time to time. I progress, but as with everything else, I take things as they come one day at a time.
As much as my Tai Chi journey was beset with external and physical issues, it has been a deep journey inward as well. Much has been said about meditation in motion, the stillness in the practice, self cultivation and the Dao so I will not dwell on those topics. As they say, there are many paths to enlightenment. In the road I have taken, Tai Chi has become an integral part of the whole. It has gotten me to many destinations and I know it will help lead to the final one. As you are reading this electronically, you are living in the age of instant gratification. If you are new to Tai Chi Chuan, I hope you can appreciate and benefit from these stories. The easy access to information in this era can only help you learn and grasp ideas more quickly and easily. It certainly helps me now but how I wish I had it when I was starting out!
I have little other martial art experiences to compare with other than a brief study of the Yang Family long form from another teacher.
Tai Chi, for me, brings a sense of peace and quiet power. I enjoy the challenge of learning the fine points of control as I ask my body to move carefully and consciously. It is also something I can internalize and use to bring stillness and sensitivity to my life and my work.
Part of learning tai chi is the studio environment, which I appreciate because it is quite supportive and essentially non-competitive. Thank you
The main paradigm in the theory of evolution states that; the one who adapts to changes in the most effective ways will survive. Well,
my life went through many significant changes. I moved from a small tropical island with a stable job, surrounded by family and friends,
to a city considered the Capital of the World with no family, nor friends. Moreover, before arriving to NYC I had to stop in Boston for three months.
I decided that as part of my evolution I was going to practice tai chi, so that I could relax and enjoy my new life!!! To relax!!!
(I should've considered sitting in Central Park's Great Lawn, drinking a tall glass of ice-cold lemonade!!!).
In deciding on a tai chi school I narrowed my search for one with classical and authentic lineage located both in Boston and NYC.
That is when I came across and joined the Gin Soon Tai Chi Federation with hopes of transferring all the approved credits from those
three months to the H. Won Tai Chi Institute. Well, my experience in Boston was very positive. However none of the credits learned in Boston
were transferred or maybe none of my credits were approved!!!
Upon entering the H. Won Tai Chi Institute I was immediately introduced to the principles of centering, alignment, balance and relaxation.
I had NO idea of what Sifu was talking about!!! As I learned the form and later went through the very revealing and humbling process of Corrections!,
more and more information was given to me such as, Nine Pearls, the four directions and the four corners, full and empty, Stillness in Motion
(stillness in motion??? ...)
Push Hands happened ...Relax but do not collapse, striking your energy, feel it on your back leg but do not go back.
Soon after Cham Zhong was added to the training repertoire. As we were chamzhonging Sifu would shout, your mind should not quit before your body,
force yourself, what is good for your legs is good for your soul. I again, had NO clue of what he was trying to accomplish, kill us??? ...
There was only that burning pain, and LOTS of it!!!
Two and a half years later, I am still clueless!!! However, every day that I train is of great value.
Every time I am in contact with Sifu I get multiple lessons, experiences, knowledge, etc. that are allowing me to effectively adapt to the changes
in my life.
So what is tai chi to me??? Too much to be expressed in words, but I am convinced that Darwin forgot to mention in his theory of evolution
that nature equipped us with the physical, mental and spiritual resources to effectively adapt to changes.
And that those resources can be unlocked with the proper keys. I am quite certain that I have encountered one of those keys in
classical Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan within the rendition of the H. Won Tai Chi Institute.
Doing some clean-up this week I came across an old notepad with various martial art websites listed, including a little place called nytaichi.com scribbled at the bottom. I laughed out loud, recollecting at how much I had actually been wandering 3 years ago and the impression that Sifu's words had on me as I first read from the website. I had studied different martial arts for years, gravitating towards the idea of soft-overcoming-hard and following Bruce Lee's theory of adapting and integrating all types of styles and techniques. I'd always felt particularly drawn to tai chi chuan (there must have been something special hidden in those slow motion movements, right?!). The stories of Yang Luchan the Invincible were a marvelous point of inspiration, and I eventually began studying at a school in New Jersey that supposedly emphasized the true martial applications. I was taught to integrate tai chi chuan with other styles as well... wing chun, jujitsu, long fist, eskrima, whatever... Because it's all the same human anatomy and there's only so many redundant movements, right? Sure enough, it threw me for a loop reading Sifu's FAQ recommending absolutely NOT bringing in other arts. The system itself has no need for adjustments by outsiders, and it was amazing to hear this supreme traditional martial art is not only perfectly intact but so readily accessible! Previously I had been taught the form was variable, and details were left ambiguous to tweak it to your own interpretation of applications. It's more clear to me now that no one else in tai chi really has any idea what they're doing... they make it up for themselves as they go along, bringing in any theory they want, and everyone's opinion is equally valid. These people had no one with any substantial knowledge to guide them, were left to their own devices, and attaining the fabled internal power has quickly fallen out of their grasp. Thankfully, my drive to seek further answers and understanding led me to Chu Sifu's Dynamic Push Hands Youtube video. Always skeptical, I had watched with fascination... there was definitely something special going on there that couldn't be dismissed, and I made it a point to research the affiliated school in NYC.
Visiting the school for the first time, Sifu was easily able to field my confused questions and poke holes in all of my old assumptions about tai chi. His boldness and confidence is truly a testament to his skill and understanding. Honestly, from the first trial lesson I noticed a change in myself that I never felt with 1.5 years of tai chi before. Then as I finally observed the other students train with a critical eye, I realized I had struck a gold mine. The prospect of emptying my cup and commuting to NYC was certainly met with apprehension and stubbornness, but I knew there was no looking back. It took me a couple months to visit and a couple more to finally join, and I still kick myself for not acting on my gut sooner! Training here demands committing time and effort, an absence of ego, and a little faith, but the rewards you'll reap are precious. The past two years have brought nothing but continuous satisfaction... I feel great improvements in myself martially, mentally, physically, spiritually, and in my interactions with others. Practicing the form is a constant source of joy and energy, and stress melts away to nothing. The fundamentals and groundwork laid down from the first day continue to be built upon methodically and precisely in a way I've never experienced in any other school, with no room for leftovers in my old cup. It is a true system of martial arts in every sense of the word. The intact lineage and tradition is amazing, due to the unwavering hard work and diligence of Sifu and many others before. It's a humbling experience, and I'm so fortunate and grateful to have this opportunity. My passion for this art is so great, I can't even comprehend how anyone in the world would not want to study here... some stubborn folk just don't "get it." At the old school I had gone on practicing tai chi chuan and qigong with blind devotion and the strength of Mickey Mouse because I thought I was supposed to, just like everyone else. I shiver at the thought of where I'd still be, fumbling in the dark, if it hadn't been for Sifu, my supportive older tai chi brothers, and this wonderful school.
In the words of that great philosopher Shrek the Ogre: Tai Chi "is like an onion ... it has layers". LOL
Actually studying Tai Chi is like waking up in the middle of an onion and you have to eat your way out. Every layer is delicious and satisfying, but each layer gone leaves you hungry for another. And the next layer is always bigger and juicier than the last. From the inside, it is not obvious how many layers there are until you have consumed them all.
Gorge yourselves my brothers and sisters !!!
Humans have the capacity to perfect ourselves (or to seek to perfect ourselves) in multiple areas: physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. There are not many ways to effectively develop all these things at once.
Tai chi is a darling of a martial art because it is a way. It is different than many other martial arts because for us even the physical part has a not-physical. The study requires mastery of both the full and the empty, both the motion and the stillness, both the soft and the hard, etc. etc. It is complete. It includes everything.
Its expansiveness makes it a challenge to learn however, but Sifu has a deep understanding, a great skill and is an engaging teacher.
Good things come to those who work for them !!!
I started studying Tai Chi in my 20's. I had different teachers due to the fact I was in different locations in NY.
I even got into a push hand competition. When I got there, I was excited to apply what I learned. As I observed how the push hand tournaments went,
I was confused. They looked nothing like the two man sets I learned. The push hand looked and felt more like a wrestling match - who could throw the
other off balance. It didn't match what I truly felt tai chi push hand to be. Mind you, at this time, I had no idea what push hand was like,
but I envisioned a sense of effortless power to push someone, and it definitely would not feel like a wrestling match.
I remember saying to myself while I enjoyed learning Tai Chi, I felt there was more to it - the true idea of how to generate power - not the idea of
learning a slow movement without witnessing the power that I heard comes with the training.
I remember meeting a friend I hadn't seen in a while. We both trained in different styles of martial arts. We got to talking,
and I mentioned that there's more to what I was learning, and he told me about Sifu Gim. He figured I might find what I was looking for.
He was right.
When I went to see Sifu Gim at his studio, I saw the form being done - same as I learned, but different, no flowery movements.
It seemed very basic. I also saw the videos of the push hand and I was sold. The beauty of this school is that it focuses on Yang style Tai Chi
- that's it. My other schools had many martial arts forms where Tai Chi was one of many.
Since Sifu only focuses on Classical Yang Style Tai Chi, there is much deeper understanding and embodying of this true Art form.
For what I saw was what I envisioned push hand to be, looking like you didn't even push, and a person is traveling distances.
I trained until Sifu felt I was ready for push hand training. The push hand is beyond what I envisioned. There is no explanation for how it is done.
I thought I would understand when I got to this point, but there is no understanding - just experiencing and living it.
The first time I met Sifu, I knew that he was my teacher, and even though I am a distance away, I make sure to stay close enough to keep in contact.
If you are serious and you want to experience this awesome power, you have to practice, practice, practice and practice some more.
Stay close and listen to Sifu. Consider yourself blessed to learn from him, trust me, and I have gone through several instructors and schools to know.
Tai Chi to me is a way of life. It is learning the internal power residing in you and magnifying its existence.
In doing so, you harmonize your mind, body and spirit with the Source.
Having a great teacher who understands the principles and lives them makes the studying more worthwhile.
It means the embodiment of CHANGE! I was going to write an exciting and funny story about my journey of how
I got here but the more I thought about it the longer it got. Maybe
I'll write a book someday, lol. There's more change to come I'm sure as
I ascend through the never-ending metamorphosis that is the solo form, push hands, weapons and drills. What ever
I learn never stays the same in so many aspects. I'm sure all of my higher ranking brothers can attest to that! The physical feeling, emotions, mind and soul all change as you progress beside the sought after power
I can see no greater reward. Change is a truly wonderful thing when embraced whole heartedly...for the most important aspect Tai Chi Chuan has changed in me is my heart. I can expound so many changes that I'm sure those will change
too. Sifu used to always ask me in the beginning, "Juanito, you think you are going to be riding the clouds with the immortals?" and
I never answered but always laughed. Inside secretly thinking...OH MAN!,
I'M GOING TO BE KICKIN ASS WITH THE COOLEST CATS THAT WALKED THE EARTH!!! lmao! Lao Tzu, Lu Dongbin, Jesus, Bodhidharma and Muhammad. I look up to these guys like people look up to sports figures and movie stars, and
I still do but now with a much more profound aspiration...CHANGE is a BEAUTIFUL thing! Embrace it brothers...