Feng Zhiqiang was a famous Tai Chi Master from Beijing who was a major influence on my teacher Bruce Frantzis. Master Feng did some teaching in the West as well and we are fortunate to have access to a transcript of a 2001 workshop he taught in the Bay Area (thanks to the folks at SilkReeler.com for making this transcript available and thanks to Igor for sending it my way!).
Tai Chi is becoming ever more popular in the West but the Art itself has some catching up to do. The best books on the subject are written in Chineses and the number of recognized “Masters” that are from the West can be literally counted on one hand. The only Grand Masters are China and it is extremely rare for a Westerner to be invited to study with them. But if the Art is to be truly understood, if Westerners are to get the most from tai chi, this cultural gap must be bridged.
Allow me to share with you a Tai Chi principle so simple and clear that it is often overlooked, even by practitioners who have been doing Tai Chi for 10 years or more. The Five Movement Centers is a template for understand HOW you move and applying it to any form you know or any repetitive movement you can perform, like going for a walk, is going to have a serious impact on how grounded, fluid, and connected you feel.
When my first Tai Chi teacher, Bruce Frantzis, came back to the US forty years ago to spread the Tai Chi he learned in China, he found out that many basic Tai Chi concepts were not being taught, either because of communications issues or lack of knowledge. Only a fraction of the vast potential of the art was being shared. Bruce set out to teach the Inner Form of Tai Chi and that’s what I have studied for the last 15 years.
If you listed to the recent Qigong Radio episode on Rooting, Central Equilibrium, and Balance, you probably want more insight into how to put Tai Chi balance training to work in your practice. Now you can start Tai Chi balance training with our new eBook, “An Introduction to Rooting and Stability,” where you will take the Tai Chi Way to re-gaining, one of life’s simplest yet most essential treasures–the gift of balance.
In Tai Chi, the “Dragon” refers to the twisting and turning motions made with the body, usually in support of the turning of the head and neck, as when we change the direction of our gaze. Learning to turn the head correctly, supported by a rooted stance and a flexible torso, is an essential component of good balance. The following exercise is the beginning version of Tai Chi Dragon exercises, suitable for all levels.
This exercise also works very rapidly to give you the sense of having a strong centerline, like a tentpole with guy-wires supporting it on either side. This is the Tai Chi quality called Zhong Ding, or Central Equilibrium. In daily life we move, carry, hold, catch, and transfer objects of varying sizes and weights, and these pose a unique type of challenge to our equilibrium, as the body has to adapt to an additional weight outside itself.
Tai Chi masters are known for maintaining vitality, balance and mobility well into old age. Don’s first Tai Chi teacher, T.T. Liang, lived to be 102, and in his mid-eighties was still throwing young, large guys around in the Tai Chi game–somewhat akin to upright grappling or sumo–called “push hands” (tuishou). His consummate skill with Chinese weapons—sword, cutlass, staff, spear—was still evident well into his 90’s. Don says: In the ten years I studied with him, I cannot say I ever saw Master Liang lose his balance.