ACTORS AND PERFORMING ARTISTS
“If you want to succeed and enjoy a long career, you will need to be physically healthy, emotionally stable and mentally sound. Tai Chi provides the performer with the necessary tools and more.”
GROUND, CENTER AND BALANCE YOURSELF
REHEARSALS AND PERFORMANCES
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art, meditation and health practice based on the Taoist principles of balance and harmony.
"Training with Ron should be mandatory for any performer in any discipline who wants to improve his or her craft and life."
TAI CHI BLOG
Learning tai chi is an investment of time, energy and effort. It takes patience, practice and endurance to master tai chi, all valuable qualities that will serve you well through out your life. I began studying tai chi when I was twenty five, a time in my life when I was in desperate need of grounding and balance. I discovered tai chi by chance. While riding the bus along third avenue one day I caught a glimpse of a man standing in a vacant lot, he was practicing tai chi. It was a brief moment, just a second or two of this fluid, grounded presence passing by my line of sight, and in that moment I knew I needed that in my life. I was already proficient in several Korean martial arts and enjoyed the feeling of power and speed they provided, but I did not feel balanced. I was too high strung and needed to learn how to relax, not just physically, I needed to relax internally and I knew tai chi would fulfill that need and it did. Learning tai chi was not easy, it took time and a lot of practice to master the form and even longer to master the principles, but it was worth it. It was an investment that enriched and transformed my life for ever. Tai chi is more than a form of exercise and a martial art, it is a profound skill set that can be applied to all of life.
Through tai chi I have learned how to flow through life with less resistance. Where I used to be rigid, I am now soft and adaptable. Where I used to be fearful and defensive, I am now gentle and graceful. Where I used to tire and fatigue quickly, I now endure effortlessly. Where I used to feel lost, now I feel balanced. All this I owe to tai chi.
I believe everyone should learn tai chi, its so useful on so many dimensions, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Its the best gift I ever gave my self and even after twenty eight years it continues to fascinate, inspire and fulfill me in ways I never could have imagined. Its defiantly worth the investment of time and effort and its never too late to start.
Your first lesson in tai chi is a lesson in frustration. Learning tai chi is akin to learning a foreign language, in the beginning it is a slow, tedious process and is often awkward and frustrating. The language of tai chi is a non-verbal language of the body-mind, It is a language of sensing, feeling and being. This can be very frustrating for intellectual types who tend to live more in the realm of thought and concept than in the body, and for people who need to know "the what and the why" before they allow themselves to commit to experience. Depending on the school and the method of teaching, the student is often required to just jump in and follow along with little explanation or information. It is an immersive experience that requires one to open all of the senses in order to keep up and go with the flow of the class. Some students find this approach comforting, others find it frustrating and burn with questions such as, "what is this? and why do we do that? and what does this mean?"
Frustration is an opportunity not an obstacle. It is an opportunity to observe your habitual nature, how you react to your unfulfilled expectations of self and performance. This is not easy or comfortable for most people and as such they often resist the opportunity to see themselves more clearly. When i ask a student why they are frustrated they will often reply; "because I don't understand what I am doing?" Rarely do I hear some one say "because Im not good at this" or "because I feel awkward and I don't like that feeling". Why would you expect to be good at something you have never done before? Were you good at riding a bike the first time? Did you feel adept and comfortable your first day of work or school? Of course not and yet we often assume that proficiency in one area of our life will automatically transfer to all areas and experiences. The fact is, no one feels confident and secure in the beginning, that is a given. Accept this and allow your self to feel uncomfortable for a while without becoming self-indulgent and you will begin to understand the true value of patience. Patience is the cornerstone of self mastery and the foundation of self-cultivation. It is an exercise in self-acceptance, perhaps the greatest lesson tai chi has to offer.
TAI CHI VOCABULARY LIST
Here are some vocabulary terms I use in my tai chi class.
Tai Chi: roughly translates as Grand Ultimate Terminus or Supreme Ultimate.
Chi Qong: Breath/Energy Practice or Effort. The practice of activating, cultivating and expressing internal energy known as Chi.
Wu Chi: Before separation, the neutral state of total acceptance. Listening without judgement.
Dan Tien: Center of energy point. There are three major dan tiens in our practice, the upper dan tien located in the center of the forehead. The middle dan tien located in the center of the chest (heart center) and the lower dan tien located about 3 centimeters below the belly button. The lower dan tien is the main center and is used as the object of attention for meditation in the beginning stages of tai chi and chi qong energy cultivation.
Sinking: to bend the knees and drop ones center of gravity into the ground.
Grounding: to connect to the earth/ground by dropping the mind/awareness into your root. Grounding is a continuous downward flow of awareness and intention.
Centering: aligning the head, shoulders, and hips over the center of the foot. Being aware of ones center of energy (dan tien) and gravity.
Inner Smile: a soft focus in the eyes, to observe lightly, to be receptive with ones focus.
Sung: to sink and expand simultaneously. To drop into your root and fill the space with awareness and intention.
Command: to lead/direct with clear intention.
Listen: to observe with all of ones senses without judgment or expectation. The absence of inner dialogue.
Chakra: energy center/vortex. There are seven main chakras: Crown (top of head), third eye (middle of forehead), throat, heart (center of chest), solar plexus ( just below the sternum), Naval (belly button) and root (bottom of the pelvic bowel).
In our first class I cover the introduction, the objectives and the goals of the class which include; learning what it means to work well. To work well is to be professional, to show up on time, to be prepared, to be fully present without distraction and to be willing to receive and experience without judgement or expectation. To work well is also to work with sensitivity, awareness and commitment.
I introduced the first set of tools in the form of the basic chi qong warm up and tai chi walking. Emphasis Is placed on softening, smiling, breathing and expressing. Inner smile and the importance of focusing lightly and responding fluidly.
Introduction to the Yang Style first 13 movements of the long form (108 movement form). Emphasis Is placed on following and breathing and on being aware of what the experience felt like not on what we are thinking. We look at how to learn quickly not by trying to memorize the movements but simply to become familiar with the pattern and sequence. To allow yourself to connect and receive with beginners mind and to observe the breath and the feeling of each movement.
I ask the class to observe the form as if they were observing a character, the character of tai chi. How does this character stand, move, breathe and express himself? The goal is to embody the character of tai chi, to find the essence of this persona within ones self. This is what is means to work as an actor, to apply your tools and resources to the process of observing, listening and experiencing the truth of the present moment.
I recommend all new students keep a diary of their experience in my class, Before the day is over write down what you experienced, what you felt and how you reacted or responded in the class. Dedicate a note book just for tai chi class. Use this as an opportunity to practice your skills of observation and sense memory recall.
Practice conscious breathing and your inner smile as often as you can!
Your focus determines your reality. What ever you choose to focus on you will experience. If you focus on fear, you will experience fear. If you focus on your breath you will experience your breath. This is a simple and profound truth that many people do not value or understand and is essential to understanding the creative process. You create your reality, your experience and your state of feeling and being based on what you choose to focus on. The challenge when learning tai chi or any new task is to know what to focus on and how. For most people the focus is often on their reaction to the task, rather than the task itself. Judging ones performance or the performance of others leads to a myriad of thoughts and emotional reactions that have little or nothing to do with the task at hand. Criticizing ones self for not getting it right, or for being wrong leads to frustration and confusion and only serves to complicate the task.
I frequently caution my students to take note of their focus, what are they choosing to focus on, the task at hand or their reaction to the task? the difference between the two objects of focus is huge and not always clear to the beginning student. Another aspect of focus to be aware of is quality and intention. Quality and intention affect both the learning process and the overall experience.
There are two elements and three dynamics to be aware of where focus is concerned. The two elements are object of attention and quality of focus. You choose the object you wish to focus on, connect to and experience. You also choose the quality and intention of your focus. No one can truly control your focus, they can only lead it in the direction you allow. Understand this: you are in command of your focus at all times. The object of your attention and focus is always determined by your choice whether that choice is fully conscious or unconscious and habitual. You are also in command of the quality of your focus and attention. The two main qualities of focus we work with are hard and soft. A hard focus is ridged and is associated with over concentrating and excessive effort. A hard focus will produce tension and reduce sensitivity through resistance. A soft focus is fluid and light and is associated with being effortless. A soft light focus will promote fluidity and sensitivity and enhance your awareness and experience. As a rule the quality of focus in tai chi should be soft and light at all times, even under physical pressure. A soft focus is the product of the inner smile intention.
The three dynamics of focus are push, pull and allow. In regards to learning tai chi or in taking in any important information or experience, it is important to be aware of which dynamic you are using with your focus. A pushing focus is commonly associated with a hard/ridged focus where the direction of energy is outward and away from ones center. Pushing is aggressive with the intention of creating a distance/space between self and the object of attention; it is a form of repulse. Pushing is not receptive and is not conducive to learning, one cannot take in information and experience when one is pushing it away at the same time. Pushing with ones focus creates a form of attention/retention deficit that leads to frustration. If you focus too hard on remembering a movement, what you remember most is your hard effort not the movement itself. This creates frustration when one cannot recall the information clearly or easily. This is a clear example of where "less is more", using a softer focus with less effort allows for greater receptivity and retention. We have all been taught to over concentrate and to focus with too much force and effort from a very early age. Our ridged habitual focus is a form of military conditioning that was incorporated into our public schooling over a hundred years ago and has more to do with obedience training than it does with learning. It is a habit of conditioning that can be reconditioned through awareness and intention.
Pulling is also a form of aggression where the intention is to bind and hold. Pulling is often associated with the fear/belief of "not getting it" or of "not getting enough" and can also create retention deficit when the pulling is too intense. A person who pulls with their focus tends to suck energy from others and is often draining to be around. Push and pull are binary forces, opposite sides of the same coin. Most people employ either pushing or pulling as a subconscious way to fulfill their needs and learn this behavior very early in their lives, usually be the age of eight or nine years old by being aggressive or needy or both.
To allow is to accept and receive without agenda or resistance. Any experience you allow will imprint into your nervous system deeply and permanently. When one is in allowance/acceptance there is no agenda to push or pull or defend oneself. This is a rare and deeply confusing experience for anyone who has been conditioned to push or pull as their primary form of focus. Allowance rests in between push and pull in the neutral space of acceptance; it is neither for nor against, it is inclusive. There is an element of grace in allowance. To allow is to provide the space for life to be what it needs to be in the moment and in that space one can receive the moment with an open heart-mind.
It is important to observe the quality (hard/soft) and the intention (push/pull/allow) of your focus. Understand that pushing, pulling or allowing is a choice. Play with consciously choosing to push, pull and allow and feel the power and effect of each. Above all, remember that you are choosing your reality and your state of being with your focus and intention.
Intellect and Awareness
In the second class I discussed the difference between intellect and awareness and the role they play in learning quickly. Intellect is associated with informational storage, where as awareness is associated with experiential memory/retention. When learning a new skill set such as tai chi, it is more effective to process the experience through your awareness, to listen and observe from the greater part of your mind (awareness) than it is to try and process the experience through your intellect. Awareness is inclusive and intellect is exclusive, awareness encompasses and includes feeling and sensation, intellect does not. Intellect is the realm of thought and concept and as such is devoid of feeling. A degree of re-training is required for the beginning student in this area as most of us have been trained to use our intellect as our primary tool for learning, a process that academic learning requires and rewards. Academic learning is largely the process of memorization of facts and information, where as experiential learning is largely the integration of feelings and sensations. These two processes use different parts of the mind/brain. It is important for the new student to make the distinction between intellect and awareness and to consciously choose awareness as your primary mode for learning tai chi.