We’re all searching for stability in a constantly shifting world – and tai chi is a good place to start finding balance. Lessons learned in training can help when you lose your job, your beloved pet rabbit dies, or when some jerk in the grocery store parking lot cuts you off.
1. Take Down Dudes Twice Your Size
Ashe Higgs, a tai chi instructor on Thumbtack, spent three years searching for the right teacher. He finally found Ruey Chen giving a demonstration in I Liq Chuan, the martial art of tai chi, at a Chinese New Year festival. “Due to an illness as a young man, Ruey was average height and very thin. I’m kind of a big guy, yet Ruey was able to throw me around and control me easily,” says Higgs. “I knew I had found what I was looking for.”
2. Find Your Balance
“Tai chi is really about maintaining balance,” he says. “If you’re balanced, you can flow with change, rather than getting caught up in it.” As humans, we are constantly shifting – getting sick, getting better, growing older. Even the motions we go through on a daily basis serve as change at the most basic level. “Movement is a physical change that we can easily observe,” explains Higgs. “We start with training physical balance and, by observing that, training becomes a kind of meditation and we develop mental balance as well.”
Tai chi teaches you to settle your brain and breathe through challenging circumstances.
3. Get a Pony
Wild animals seem drawn to it. During one training session, a wild bird flew out of the sky and landed on Higgs’ shoulder. It perched there, watching students train in the morning sun, and then it flew off again.
During a series of intense partner exercises Higgs was performing in Sopisko Valley in Slovakia, he caught the attention of a nearby pack of semi-wild horses. “They came running over to line up along the fence and watched what we were doing very intently,” he says. “Simple experiences, but somehow very powerful.”
4. Take Your Time
“There are stories of people becoming enlightened after just a single lesson from a grand master, but most of us won’t be that lucky,” notes Higgs. “I’ve been training for more than ten years already and I see no end in sight.”
Learning how pieces move around the board isn’t the same as being a master chess player. Most people assume the term ‘kung fu’ means martial arts, but any great master of any skill – whether it’s basketball or lute playing – is said to have it. “Kung fu means something like ‘skill from lots of effort over a long time’,” explains Higgs. “If you really want to get something of value from tai chi, you should anticipate a longer term commitment. Everything else can be fast, quick and easy, but tai chi practice is something we can take our time with.”
5. Go Mental
The physical benefits are great – think improved coordination and balance, as well as better physical health and less pain – but the greatest long term benefits are mental. “Part of tai chi is recognizing limits,” says Higgs. “As living beings, our life and health has a limit. We can’t avoid old age and illness forever, but through training we learn to flow with change rather than resist it. This kind of training lets you maintain your peace of mind, even when the body is becoming less robust.”
6. The Secret To Happiness?
No promises, but if you stick with it, tai chi will put you a lot farther down the road to happiness than you started.
“In I Liq Chuan, we train martial arts as a tool, not a goal,” Higgs explains. “When you use your training as a tool, it opens up your whole life. You see life and people differently. You become much more calm, much more happy from this point of view.”
Tai chi can give you a sense of direction and purpose. “I know what I want my time on Earth to mean. I think that’s something many people are lacking and I want to help others find it,” he says. “This art gives me a chance to do that.”
What do you think? Would you ever be interested in trying tai chi?