thoughts on a Tai Chi class from a newbie
My previous experience in martial arts is minor. In fact, this is the only class in this general field of discipline I have taken. For a short time in 2000, I had a friend who was taking Escrima (Filipino stick-fighting) classes, and twice a week we would meet up so he could teach me what he had learned, and then practice with me. That’s about the extent of my martial arts experience.
Escrima and Tai Chi are similar in that the movements are precise and graceful. I often find myself likening martial arts to a dance, in which one can never quite reach the pinnacle of perfection, but must always strive for it. Unlike Escrima, however, Tai Chi keeps at a slow, deliberate pace throughout the entirety of the form.
Escrima, as I recall, stepped up the pace – the goal was to be able to retain the muscle memory of the movements and respond instantly. Of the two, I found Tai Chi more difficult because I had force myself to go slowly. I have a tendency to rush through the form, especially when I’m agitated about something. In addition, the measured pace of Tai Chi makes it more difficult for me to keep my mind on the form. Instead, I often find myself listening to the conversations around me, or thinking of what my to-do list for the day is.
Escrima was easier for me to give my entire focus to and concentrate on, because there were large sticks whirling around my face and body. If I didn’t concentrate completely on the form, I felt it, and not pleasantly. Although it was very physically demanding, at the time that I was involved in it, I was in much better shape. I can’t say I’d do as well today.
As far as preconceptions go, I have always thought of martial arts as an ongoing discipline.
I don’t know where I first stumbled onto the idea that you could never truly “master” a martial art, but would rather spend your entire life continually improving your technique, but that is the preconception that I had. This has only been reinforced by what we have been taught in the class, and through the short weeks we’ve spent moving through the form.
I think this idea has been addressed in martial arts films, though I’m not entirely sure. I don’t watch many martial arts films. I’ve seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon;Kung-Fu, Enter the First; and most recently, The Forbidden Kingdom. I suppose the Matrix trilogy could count as martial arts, too. Since most martial arts movies use wires and blue screen to achieve the on-screen affect, martial arts in the media is really just a highly technical, choreographed dance. It’s very pretty and completely unrealistic.
However, sometimes the accompanying plotline has some applicable tidbits of knowledge. For instance, in The Forbidden Kingdom, there’s a scene where Jason Tripitikas, played by Michael Angarano, is speaking to his impromptu teacher, played by Jackie Chan. Jason is presented as a martial arts movie buff, and the backstory has presented us with the information that he’s familiar with pretty much every martial arts film out there. He approaches Jackie Chan, asking about various moves from the films, and when he’ll learn them. In response, Jackie Chan starts pouring hot wine into the boy’s cup. When the steaming liquid pours over the boy’s hand, he says, “It’s full, it’s full!”
“That’s right,” says Chan’s character. “It’s full. How are you supposed to fill the cup if it’s already full? Empty your cup.”
Presumably, this means that you can’t approach Tai Chi, or any martial arts discipline, assuming that you know everything about it, even if only theoretically. You must approach any opportunity to learn with an open and willing mind. An empty cup, so to speak.