Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tai Chi Twanky

I’ve been practising Tai Chi.

Actually, when I say “practicing” I think that needs some clarification.

Dentists practice dentistry. Doctors practice medicine. Lawyers practice law. ‘Practice’ implies some sort of knowledge, some sort of expertise. But if doctors or dentists or lawyers did their practice the way I practice Tai Chi, then the world would be a very scary place indeed.

Actually, in the case of lawyers, this is probably already the case. Lawyers already practice law the way I practice Tai Chi.

I’m not very good.

Tai Chi is a bit like that trick you learn as a child, patting your head while rubbing your belly, only more complicated. It is more like patting your head while rubbing your belly, while hopping up and down on one leg, while cooking bacon, egg and chips while reading the newspaper all at the same time.

It’s funny, because when you see it on the TV – all those old folks in parks in Beijing, doing their eloquent, stately movements in graceful unison – it looks so easy and so natural. And, indeed, when our teacher does it, it looks easy and natural too, like some slow-motion ballet.

When I do it, on the other hand, it looks more like a schizophrenic sumo wrestler fighting an invisible orang-utan. Usually the orang-utan is winning. I have a tendency to fall over.

Where I do it they also do Kung Fu and Kick Boxing and all these other martial arts.

In fact Tai Chi is a form of martial art. It is martial arts for cowards. The point about Tai Chi is to weave and shimmy out of your assailant’s grasp, to unbalance him so you can run away as quickly as possible.

So the place is full of young people, lively and enthusiastic, swirling and kicking like demons, in one room - leaping and spinning and hurrahing and making all these explosive, guttural, shouting noises - while us older folk are in the other, wobbling about and falling over.

One day one of the young kick boxers came into our room to collect her shoes. I was doing my Tai Chi walking. This involves a complex set of delicate steps, raising one leg, stepping out, balancing on the other leg, while doing these slow-motion hand movements like semaphore. And you could see it on her face. Her eyes went round and huge like saucepan lids. I was so useless. She thought she was watching Widow Twanky in Aladdin. It was more like pantomime than sport. If I’d have been wearing a wig and false bosoms I couldn’t have looked more insane. It was all she could do to stop herself screaming with laughter. I could see she was dying to tell her friends what she had witnessed in the martial arts club that night.

Actually Tai Chi is more than just exercise. The aim is the achieve balance in your life, between the opposing but complimentary forces of yin and yang. Yin is the receptive force, yang is the creative force. You cannot have one without the other.

The ‘Chi’ of ‘Tai Chi’ is understood as a sort of universal creative energy which you can breath in and store in your belly. Tai Chi is best practiced out of doors, in parks, near trees and waterfalls, while watching the clouds drift by.

And despite my difficulties, learning Tai Chi is actually very good for me, gentle on the old soul. How come Chinese people can do it with such grace? Because they practice it every day. And maybe, with a little practice, one day I can become graceful too.


Tony Stuart said...

i find tai chi becomes easier with practise, practise, daily practise. the body learns the movements in a kinetic memory and eventually you arent even thinking about the form anymore, it just happens, which feels wonderful.

Wendy D. Bradley said...

Where is the tree you are photographed by, in your avatar, please.
Is it real, there are some amazing shapes in it.

Aquila ka Hecate said...

Good to see you back, C.J.

Terri in Joburg