Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What's good for you in Classical Tai Chi?

It occurred to me just recently that there is no one getting large stacks of money for research into Classical Tai Chi.  Of course, I have already stated in previous blogs that I am skeptical of the so called research in which claims are made about Tai Chi’s benefits.  Nevertheless, I still think some things can be said about the efficacy of Classical Tai Chi as compared and contrasted with exercise that does not use internal discipline.

For example, I really like what a new student said about internal discipline vs. external movement in his review of Stephen Hwa’s book Uncovering the Treasure:

This form uses "small circle" or "small frame" movements which rely on more use of "internal discipline" versus most other forms. Internal discipline in my humble understanding is the use of "core" muscles in the abdomen and back to add remarkable power to the already maximally optimized mechanics of Tai Chi moves. The small movements actually allow the core muscles to kick in and increase the power of the moves. Conversely large frame movements are great for strengthening the limb muscles but may dissociate their movements from the core. The core movements elicit an unusual sensation of flow through the torso and in the body which feels like stretching and tingling like an energy flow. The true health benefits and the foundation for martial arts application of Tai Chi can only be achieved when the practitioner incorporates "Internal Discipline". That is, using internal movements and internal power to direct and empower external movements into Tai Chi practice.

If there was anyone who had to rely on “strength of the limbs” it was Sophia Delza who taught both Wu’s style Tai Chi and an incredible dance curriculum in New York city for decades.  Delza wrote the book,Tai Chi ch’uan (Wu Style) and on page 15 she says: In his book “The Body” Anthony smith writes that in strenuous exercise the muscles need more and in fact get more of the body’s blood distribution but at the expense of the other organs: kidneys, skin, digestive system and stomach.  As one example, the abdomen which ordinarily receives 24% gets only 1% during supreme exertion. Classical Tai chi as an internal art increases the blood circulation and activity of the glands, nourishes muscles, facilitates joint action and stimulates the nervous system, all without increasing the activity of the heart or breathing rhythm.

Finally, we defer to a statement by Stephen Hwa in the book Uncovering the Treasure, page 17:

“modern exercise, including martial arts, is long on external movements and short on internal movements.  In other words , exercise the parts of the body which are already overused for an active person while neglecting the portion of the body which needs exercise. Worse yet, these routines often subject the shouldr, knee, back and other joints with ill conceived, repetitive, unnatural movements.  No wonder so many active people develop joint problems”

As a former long time practitioner of large frame Wu’s Style Tai Chi, I contend that it also is “long on external movements and short on internal movements”. What is said about the benefits of such “external” Tai Chi can without equivocation be attributed to Classical Tai Chi. My teacher, Hwa Laoshi has told me that a healthy nervous system is very prized in China.  In Classical Tai Chi the nervous system is tuned to a great degree, but not as a result of overall strength of the limbs.  For martial purposes the power comes from the moving part of the torso, while the remainder of the body is still and thus relaxed.  Relaxed, because its role is to remain still and provide the stability of the external limbs, not the use of their brute strength. So this is really quite a step up in the source and use of power and energy as opposed to the tension of isolated movements of the limbs and extremeties.

 As external styles and even such external Tai Chi (which looks like a “bad” Karate) uses back and forth straight line attacking, it results in blasts of power.  Such power has to be re-chambered by once again tensing the muscles before attacking.  As my teacher states, this results in “seams” or gaps in the attack and the power use is drained off in any attack.  We often see the practitioner being out of breath and panting, hence it is easy to see that the majority of blood distribution is headed to the limbs and not the internal organs.  How can this be good for you?

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