By Rodney Owen
The theme for the CTS 2015 Taiji Camps is “The Purpose of Life.” For those of us invested in this art, Taiji is the key to finding and refining purpose. Exactly how that happens is not always easy to understand, much less explain to the outside observer. We have all had those questions: “So, Tai Chi, huh? What’s that all about?”...”Isn’t that just for old people?”…“Is Tai Chi like Yoga?”...“Is that like Tae Kwon Do, or Tae Bo, or Tofu?”…”Can you break bricks with your head?” And while I still don’t have easy answers to the above questions, after attending the 2015 Pao Cui Camp in Blowing Rock, I feel I better understand how Taiji helps us to live purposefully.
Over time, Yang, Laoshi has refined his teaching paradigm much to our benefit. As a 19th generation master, he passes on the wisdom of those who came before. But at the same time, he makes it relevant for our Twenty First Century world. By applying knowledge gained through research and from the practical experience of teaching different workshops over the year, Yang, Laoshi integrates new insights with the ancient wisdom of our lineage. The result is a powerful practice that does indeed inform our lives with purpose.
The format for the 2015 Pao Cui Camp began with the typical Qigong and meditation every morning as the sun came up over the mountains. I am frankly amazed at the power that is inherent in the simplicity of the Qigong we do in the morning sessions. The agility training and dynamic Qigong movements, taken directly from the EBQ (Evidence-Based Qigong) program, are few in number and relatively simple in execution. Yet the power of these practices is off the chart. These dynamic practices are smartly balanced with static standing and sitting meditation. Practiced outside in these mountains, this practice is even more powerful. On many mornings the fog is so thick that it appears as if the mountain Qi is visible and flowing all around us as we practice. Sitting in the stillness, you can sense your oneness with nature.
The daily class format was structured with a good balance between movement and stillness. We began each session with work on the form. In typical fashion, form work consisted of several demonstrations/explanations followed by partner and small group practice. This format is enhanced by the collective knowledge of the many senior students available to share and assist with implementation and understanding. The beauty in form practice is not found so much in the performance of the form as much as it is in the integration of the many components such as the cognitive growth from learning the choreography, the toning aspect of agility training and core strengthening, the immune building function of the underlying Qigong, the circulation improving aspects of silk reeling, and the stress reducing aspect of learning to relax and go with the flow. Although the Pao Cui is a complex form that is often performed vigorously, Yang Laoshi’s emphasis, as in all things, is the underlying essential energy. So the teaching is not intended to lead one to have a pretty form as much as a functional, energetic, and properly executed form.
After working a section of form, we always took a break and returned to spend some time on our mats with recumbent Qigong. This may be the most important and sadly often-overlooked component of this training. Lying Qigong is meditative, restorative, nurturing, and crucial to the prevention of injuries. This year we were taught a few simple stretches and lying movements to supplement the basic practices. Like all Qigong practice, it is amazing the amount of power that is inherent in these simple practices. I make it a regular component of my training and teaching.
The stillness of lying Qigong prepares the body for the training transition to push hands. It is notable that the instruction for this year’s camp utilized push hands much more than many past years. Even more, in typical Yang, Laoshi fashion, the push hands techniques presented were direct martial applications from the particular aspect of the form we were working on in that session. Also typical was the fact that the application placed heavy emphasis to the essential energy and the relative simplicity of the application. Push hands does not have to be heavy or difficult. Push hands is an opportunity for nurturing of self and partner. And yes there is martial intent and application underneath. But the wisdom is in the presentation and teaching intent. For the modern practitioner, push hands is a method for learning to maintain central equilibrium in the face of whatever happens to be challenging. Certainly the martial skills are good and applicable. But the reality is we are much more likely to face difficult traffic jams, co-workers, or weather than we are Ninja muggers on the way home from the market. Either way, the ability to relax under duress, to maintain balance (physical and emotional), and properly utilize vital energies will serve us well.
This week of training sped by, as they all do. But at the same time it was if time had stopped. In typical Taiji paradox, it seemed it was time to leave way too soon concurrent with a deep internal feeling of having been there forever. There is in this practice an unimaginable stillness that is always underlying and supporting the movement. This is intensified by the power of these mountains. The natives who inhabited this region considered the mountains to be as alive as any animal. If you open yourself to it, you can sense the primordial energy that falls from the clouds and seeps up from the ground. One morning as we were doing Qigong and were squatting low to open our lower backs, I looked down at the grass below my feet and I could sense the Earth energy rising. Much like the morning fog, it was almost visible. There is something that drives those little green shoots upward toward the sun. That same something is in each of us. It heals us, strengthens us, encourages us, and gives us a sense of purpose. I guess that is what all that Tai Chi stuff is all about.