Diagnostic essay: Tai chi and Me

The young fool in the quote, “It is not I who seeketh the young fool, the young fool must seek me, only in this way can instruction take place – in the right manner and at the right time[.]” by I Ching, I’ve come to realize is me. In the years since high school I have become a full time gardener, also a part time partier, the toll that this lifestyle has taken on my body has caused numerous physical problems. I was taught yoga by my gardening partner and found that it not only increased my flexibility but the chance of pulling my back out. What I needed was something or someone to teach me how to properly move my body and discipline me into getting my life together.

My Step-father, Gord, was a competitive kick boxer until a kick in the head damaged his inner eardrum. His balance was lost as a result. He changed fighting styles from external kung fu to internal tai chi and studied Yiang style in Minnesota, Seattle and Winnipeg. Gord worked as a computer programmer until the company downsized and he was laid off. He never enjoyed sitting in front of a computer all day and through some connections he learned another form of Tai Chi, called Chen style, coming from the Chen family’s tradition. Gord found this style to be superior and could apply what he had learned from the Yang form to the Chen style. He went to China, with Master Chen, competing in a tournament with the other disciples and was awarded a Mastership in the form. He has been teaching both Chen and Yang styles in Victoria for four years and has a class of about thirty people.

I ignored the available Tai Chi instruction that was at my disposal, I had equated it with lawn bowling or something only seniors did, and thought it was just a series of slow movements with no actual benefits. As my lifestyle of hard labor and hard partying took its toll on my body I realized that Yoga was doing me more harm than good I turned to Gord for something that could help my back/hip condition. He showed me a few exercises that targeted the areas my pain was coming from but said that if I wanted to increase my pain tolerance, balance, and inner strength to go and participate in one of his classes. I had figured that it would be too much effort for me to make it to his class after a long day of mowing lawns and gardening but I mustered up enough energy one Monday to make it happen. The class consisted of a warm up, a portion of the Yang form, an application of the form as a partner drill and a cool down/ shake out.After that first class I felt as though I had stepped on to the first rung of a ladder climbing towards the correct usage of my body and I hadn’t even tried the Chen style.

The difference between Chen style Tai Chi Chuan and Yang style is as old as the art itself. Both forms are traditionally passed along, the Yang style by the Yang Family and the Chen form by the Chen family, but the origins are connected through a tale Gord told me about a young fool that was going into town drinking and chasing women. His father became concerned about this and locked him in their basement for six years (this was acceptable way back then) forcing him to do the family’s style of Tai Chi until he had become a master. When he had achieved this feat he went and taught this skill to the proletarians of his village. After word had gotten out about his Tai Chi Chuan style, or in English his Grand Ultimate Fist style, the Emperor requested that the young fool come and teach this style to him and his court. If he refused he would be beheaded but he didn’t want to teach the true style to the Emperor so he taught them a watered down version, that has come to be known as Yang style, he did this because as he put it,”Rich people don’t want to work hard”. That may be true but both styles are accessible to anyone who is willing to become disciplined in internal martial art. The Chen form focuses on creating strength from the Kua, or intergroinial region, and Dang, the circle around the knees, while keeping muscles relaxed by using the body’s frame to generate strength.

As mentioned before, I am only on the first rung of the figurative Tai Chi ladder and my knowledge of this art is in the beginning stages but with every breakthrough I am starting to understand the desired outcome. When I asked Gord about mentoring a keen student he said that there is a level of skill that an individual must reach on their own before he can show them what they are missing and improve on their own learned technique. I am in my sixth month of practicing Tai Chi, but with each class I notice improvements. Learning the art is starting to seem less like a slow boat to China and more like the path to creating increased strength and confidence. By inquiring into Gord’s knowledge of martial arts I have begun a transformation from the young fool in I Ching’s quote into a mature man with an amazing practical skill to aid on my path of life.

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  • JWinter

    The feedback that I recieved after handing in this essay made me bury my nose in my Strunk and White. As I re-edited the essay and studied more Tai Chi I realized that I was off on some of the theory but that is not the main message behind it, it was my experience becoming involved with Tai Chi. Initially, I was surprised at the high mark and the positive feedback but that soon faded as I saw all the comma splices and errors in grammar. I think I have improved over the last few months and I hope to master my former mistakes!