Tai Chi Campfire Tales

The art of T’ai Chi is the art of consciousness. The slow, fluid movements of the art gradually blend with the flow of the mind and reveal things often buried in the silent forests of our minds. Most people associate T’ai Chi with the graceful motions of dance-like exercise without knowing the depths of concentration it requires and fosters. Perhaps the following will help illustrate T’ai Chi’s soul.

  tales2Two Masters
Outside Beijing one day two famous martial arts masters, Tung and Yang, were walking in a park, discussing their arts, philosophy and life in general. Both were highly skilled in their respective styles, Tung in Eight Trigram Fist – Yang in T’ai Chi. Both were trying to explain the essence of their different methods. Finally Tung, a thin small boxer, decided to show instead of tell. “See these swooping birds flying through the trees here? Wait a second.” He tensed, bent his knees and shot up his hand. An instant later he came down, with one of the birds in its grasp.

“Marvelous”, said the husky Yang, and took the bird from him. Then placing the bird gently in the middle of his palm he waited. The bird tried to flyaway but each moment when it pushed down on the palm, as it might do to a branch, Yang gently lowered the palm just enough, robbing the bird of the necessary resistance to make an initial
thrust. “That’s the essence of Tai Chi,” Yang said, “listening and softness.”

tales4The Dog Boxer
The Dog Boxer walked into the village one day and nailed up a challenge to all martial artists. “Anyone who can beat me wins five ounces of silver”. He then jumped up on the fighting stage and sat there waiting for any takers. They came. And one by one they were tossed from the stage without exception. The boxer’s dog style has imbued him with a grip of steel, like a pit bull’s bite. Once he had his hands on the poor fighters.,they invariably ended up flying. Finally, it had come to the honor of the village being at stake.

The son of famous Tai Chi master decided to mount the stage. The confrontation lasted longer than any of the previous. Whenever the Dog Boxer tried to grip the newcomer, he found himself gripping little more than air, so soft was the response of the T’ai Chi Boxer. Finally the crucial moment came and the T’ai Chi player took his chance, flinging the Dog fighter from the stage. Overjoyed the village celebrated and the T’ai Chi player was triumphantly escorted home.

Outside the gate he met his father, the famous T’ai Chi teacher, who had come out to see the cause of all the commotion. When the story was related, the defeat reenacted,the stern father pointed silently to his son’s sleeve. The son held up the sleeve and both men looked at a tear on the end of the cuff. “You call that Tai Chi?” the father asked shaking his head, and the son knew that more practice was needed.

A tales3Guitar Lesson
My friend, a Catholic monk, came to me after we had known each other for years.

”I’m too sedentary,” he said. “I need a form of exercise but I hate all the grunting and groaning types.”

“How about T’ai Chi ?” I suggested, taking the easy way out.

“Great. What’s T’ai Chi all about?” I looked at his quiet face, his thin body and his other-worldly expression. “Consciousness,” I said.

So we started. He was young, about 28, and seemed in good shape – until we began to move.

“This is tough,” he noted while we were investigating the stances and the basics.

“Consciousness always is,” was about all the help I could give.

tales1After a few lessons he stopped. He came to me and told me that the greatest opportunity of his life had offered itself. He was a guitar player you see, often accompanying church services. And now, through the grapevine, he had the opportunity to study under one of the top Spanish-style guitarists in the country.

“I can hardly wait, but I have to go to Texas.” He said.

It was months before I heard from him. But I knew him immediately when I picked up the phone because he never said hello, only his name very quietly.

“Brother,” I greeted him, “How are the lessons going?”

“Horrible. It was horrible.”

“What happened? Was the teacher bad ?”

“No. He was great,” I could hear something like disguised humor in his voice so I just waited, “I got there the first lesson with my best guitar and we talked. I expected him to start showing me some complex Castalian tune. But instead he had me hold the guitar and said, ‘I want you to feel the string all the way down to the neck. Slowly. Concentrate on the pressure. When you’re done with that chord, let it up
just as slowly and go on to the next. That’s how you get great’.”

“Sounds like a real teacher,” I said.

“I did it for an hour. And the next day when I came back he made me do it again. It was horrible,” he repeated. “It reminded me of T’ai Chi.”

Consciousness – I thought, but I wouldn’t have said it for the world.

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