To appreciate Tai Chi Chuan, we should consider that it is not an activity where you are learning new stuff. It is what you are, but have forgotten, it is an awakening of innate qualities of what it is to be human.
We can refer to the teachings of F. Matthias Alexander - the creator of the Alexander technique. When refining the aspects of his technique, Alexander upon considering his observations of his own habitual actions (resulting in bad posture) and their origins, the culture of China may have either endorsed his thinking or influenced it.
“The Alexander Technique is not a method to accumulate information nor the art of learning something new. It is, instead, the art on unlearning, which is much more subtle and, sometimes, a more difficult endeavour - unlearning that which is habitual, instead of natural; letting go of old patterns and of those repetitious opinions arrived at in times and circumstances totally different from those of the present.” (*1)
This indeed is applicable when engaging in the art of Tai Chi Chuan.
When one is in the early stages of practicing Tai Chi Chuan, the brain takes on its habitual role of analysing every unfamiliar action and attempts to adjust your action back to a habitual action, a familiar, “comfortable” action.
The brain is wonderful in problem solving and all the neurological tasks that the brain is required to perform. The brain is not so good at recognizing the habitual, due to the fact that quite often it fails to recognize its own inappropriate habitual thought processes.
When the brain is engaged with Tai Chi Chuan, the brains analytical skill is best used to create memory trigger points when a new move is introduced, which can be referenced when you go home and attempt to replicate the move or moves without the assistance of the instructor.
In time the muscle memory will supplement the brains conscious memory and it will eventually be replaced. The habitual muscle memory (inappropriate action) will be replaced by the concordant muscle memory.
The challenge for the student is to take the brain out of the role of back seat driver and put it in the passenger seat. Analysis is then replaced with an awareness of the delicate natural internal body rhythm, which Tai Chi Chuan will in time inhabit to give it form. This is the Chinese way and if nurtured one will realize it to be the natural way.
In summary: when we were young we were in concord with our natural body rhythms but as we immersed ourselves in the world and life’s experiences the subconscious brain developed bio-mechanic reactions inappropriate to the stimulus we confronted.
Tai Chi Chuan provides the blue print of appropriate actions and reactions for both mental and physical responses.
“Focus your breath until it is supremely soft. Can you be like a baby?”
Assist Instructor – Brighton/South Yarra
(*1) Laura Huxley forward to “Body Learning. An introduction to the Alexander Technique" by Michael Gelb.