So, as I was walking to the park to practice my Tai Chi routines the other day, I realized that the 15 year anniversary of my Tai Chi practice had passed me by without me fully realizing it. So I thought I’d make a blog post about it, especially as I’m sure some folks have questions.
When I was 11, I did an assessment with a physiotherapist, who found my flexibility was severely limited. I also avoided most physical activity, as dyspraxic kids are wont to do. Thus, my Mom talked me into joining her at a Tai Chi class taught by a friend of the family. I thought this sounded like a terrible idea, but I gave it a chance.
The first class I went to included a demo for all of us beginner’s–and even though we only saw half of the set, I was instantly in love. I wanted to learn how to do it, and was drawn to the beauty of it. So, in Grade 7, I started studying Taoist Tai Chi and continued my study through high school.
When I came to university in 2009, I wanted to try learning a more traditional form of Tai Chi, and was connected with a Chen style Tai Chi instructor. I attended two classes before my first year of university went off the rails.
However, I did continue studying Taoist Tai Chi through university and college–and indeed, my practice improved immeasurably due to a greater sensitivity, awareness and control of my body I developed in university. I loved Tai Chi, but I still felt a lack and there wasn’t much more I could learn.
Then, in the spring of 2015, I remembered that Chen style Tai Chi instructor, and sent a message. Thus started my instruction under James Saper at Stone Lantern Martial Arts in Guelph. The past 4 years have seen a huge improvement in my Tai Chi practice. Chen style is the oldest form of Tai Chi, retaining the martial roots, and includes bursts of fa jin. I learned how to do things I never dreamed I could (the first probably being the double-jump kick in the first routine which sounded like sorcery to me at first). I’ve now learned the First and Second Routines of the Old Frame and the Saber and Sword routines–my second routine of the Old Frame is, admittedly, a work in progress, but I’ve got a good chunk of it down pat, and a lot of it is a matter of refinement.
During the spring, summer and fall, I’m often found going through my routines on the banks of the Speed River in Royal City Park. I go through all my routines, and for Saber and Sword that does indeed mean practicing with weapons in the park—fortunately, the saber and sword are pretty obviously practice weapons, and it doesn’t take long for people to realize I’m doing Tai Chi or something similar. There’s also enough LARPers in Guelph, that people don’t tend to panic at first by somebody swinging a sword around.
People have often expressed two particular questions which I thought I’d address here. The first is why I often practice shirtless. This is, quite simply, because I do not deal well with heat–it increases my emotional deregulation severely. I also sweat excessively, and wearing a shirt becomes rather unpleasant when the sweat really gets going.
The second thing people may wonder is: why practice with sword and saber at all? The answer is manifold. Apart from being the closet thing to Jedi training I’m ever likely to get (which on its own would be enough) saber and sword both have a whole heap of health benefits. Saber and sword are both really good for the upper body, as you’re adding weight to your practice and they’re particularly good for the back and shoulders. They also both require a significant amount of awarness and concentration and you have to learn how to project your intention out through the blade rather than stopping at the hands like we do in the bare-handed routines.
Additionally, saber is quite acrobatic when done ideally. One move involves a series of spins, followed by a jump to the side where you land in a cross-stance. So you’re dealing with dizziness and demanding a fair bit of leg strength and flexibility. Saber also involves fairly precise set-up so that you can ideally launch from that set-up position with no effort–but if you don’t set up properly, you’ll be in trouble.
Sword, on the other hand, is more delicate and precise which has its own challenges. The grip is a lot looser, often being held by a couple of fingers, and it thus does a lot to increase my dexterity which has always been a weak point. Ideally, the sword can rotate around a fixed point at the tip or the distal third of the blade, which is useful for pulling a surprise move on an opponent. The sword involves some tricky footwork of its own as well with a few jumps and skips designed to close distance and set an opponent up for a quick stab. One of the moves I’ve also been trying to improve is a back-bend designed to lure an opponent in and then slice the tendons on both wrists. I’m still not the greatest at that as figuring out how to bend back involves different body mechanics than I’m used to.
What I do know is that Tai Chi has been of immense physical, emotional, and spiritual benefit, and has helped me to learn to love my body, and develop confidence in and control of it. 15 years is only the beginning as I intend to continue my Tai Chi practice until the day I die.