Sunday, June 29, 2014

Tai chi

I took tai chi early in my druid studies, July 2010-April 2011.  I took it to fulfill a requirement for the AODA curriculum.  At that we had to choose one from a list of areas of study.  One area of study was healing, and one of the requirements was to study a healing art.  I chose tai chi as my healing art.  In December 2010, the AODA curriculum changed, and allowed greater freedom for choosing an area of study.   It  required that we spend at least 20 hours studying our chosen area.  I had already spent more than 20 hours on tai chi.  I did continue with tai chi at that time, but that when we got to the end of the 24 forms, I chose to quit.  I think one of the things that bothered me was that the teacher seemed annoyed at me for not being better at it.  I didn't really feeling paying someone to act annoyed at me.

This summer, they started offering tai chi on lunch hour at my workplace.  I have been to two classes so far.  So far, so good.  I have also been feeling very healthy the past few weeks.  It is possible that the tai chi is the reason, but it seems unlikely that such a small amount of tai chi would have sudden and dramatic effects, especially since it did not have that effect when I was doing it before.

The renewal of my tai chi practice inspired me to take another look at a book I bought when I started tai chi a few years ago, Tai Chi for Beginners and the 24 Forms by Paul Lam and Nancy Kaye.  Much of what I see in the book is like druidry, but there are also places where I feel a sense of cultural incompatibility.  The stories that don't resonate with me culturally:
Chen Fa-ke was sickly and weak as a child....Chen was supposed to be learning too, but he didn't.  He was either too lazy or just not interested...Chen's physical weakness had become an embarrassment to him....Chen used every available minute to practise....Chen had done all the hard work on his own.
Chen style was not taught to outsiders.  But Yang was so eager to learn that he pretended to be a starving beggar and....was then taken in and accepted as a servant in the Chen household....Yang would peer through a crack in the wall to watch Chen-style tai chi practice, and then practise in secret....In those days, Yang could have been legally executed for such and act....Yang Lu-chan remains an extreme example of how one can become so addicted to tai chi that one is willing to risk one's life.
What bothers me in these stories is that they are trying to teach the lesson that you can do anything if you are really dedicated and work really hard at it.  To me, these particular stories have a distinctly Chinese flavor to them.  In American culture, we have a similar idea, it just has a different flavor.  In Chinese culture, it seems there is more of an emphasis on dedicated study, while in American culture, there is more emphasis on bold risk-taking, but either way, I don't like it when cultures perpetuate the idea that you can do anything you want if you try hard enough.  That's demeaning for the people who actually can't do something.

Now, what are the things I did like in the book, things that sounded to me much like druidry?  Meditation is part of druidry, and tai chi is a form of meditation.  Both tai chi and meditation include consciousness of breathing and being present in the moment.  The section in the book on qigong breathing reminded me of druidry's Sphere of Protection.  Both are about standing, doing some basic movements, and feeling the life force within and around you.  The concept of yin and yang in tai chi is like the concept of giamos and samos from The Apple Branch.  Druidry is about seeing the world in a cyclical way, the way the year turns from season to season.  The tai chi book says on page 106:
Nature goes in circles.  Fast complements slow.  Full moon alternates with no moon.  It's in our nature to be stressed and relaxed, depressed and happy, moving fast and slow -- as long as appropriate balance is achieved.

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