Taiji has been a major part of my life for over 30 years now, and teaching it has been over 17 years with temple time among those years. At the age of 74 (nearly, at the time of this writing), my taiji has never been better, and my legs remain strong. I know this will not always be the case, and my body will begin to fail a bit. In the meantime, though, taiji and qigong are a daily part of my life.
I consider myself to be as good an advertisement for what I teach as any words. I teach 6 days per week, and I train 7 days, in all weather, year-round. I play low, and am able to do so as a result of strong legs. My stamina gets me through at least 4 classes and sometimes 5, each day.
Qigong is another discipline I teach and play. It opens up the joints and stretches the tendons and ligaments so that qi can flow freely throughout my body. It keeps me healthy, and it improves my taiji play. Meditation, a third skill, stills me, grounds me, calms me, and allows me the opportunity to send qi with intention to where it may be needed in my body to soothe an injury and to settle an upset stomach or quell a headache. Together, these skills and taiji comprise a Daoist Longevity Practice.
It’s easy for me to say these things, words on a screen, and although they are true, further proof may be needed to convince you of the efficacy of the life I live – simple, ordinary, in the moment, quiet, and filled with the Practice. I have such a case study, in fact, to share with you.
One of my students will be completing two years of study with me in January. We spoke of this in our most recent class. The student came to me following two hip replacement surgeries, a suggestion by her surgeon to learn taiji as a part of her recovery.
The first exercise I teach every student is a figure-8 movement, a swaying from side to side that involves weight shifts and hip turns. Each is an integral part of a good taiji form. Her hips were the stiffest I had ever encountered with a student over my years of teaching. This was not surprising, given her surgeries. Her hope was that taiji and qigong would loosen her hips a little bit, allow greater flexibility in them and in her core, and help establish a strong mind/body connection.
In the two years we have worked together, she has learned two forms of taiji – the Yang Style Short Form, one I learned 30 years ago, and the Water Taiji Form of my temple in China. Among the qigong routines she has learned are The Eight Brocades, the Heavenly Horse Routine, the Bear Frolics, and Dragon Spine. We have also examined together some Traditional Chinese Medicine basic concepts, as well as three ancient scrolls – The Law of The Heart, The Dao de Qing, and The 49 Barriers to Spiritual Growth.
Those hips that were so stiff two years ago are now loose and flexible, giving her an ability to turn them a full 180 degrees from left to right. She has convinced her body that a weight shift and a hip turn are a single thing, something essential to taiji play in moves like Brush Knee, elbow strikes, and various punches and kicks.
Her flexibility has improved, her core has been strengthened, and her balance is keen and confident. Her taiji is beautiful to watch.
All of this has happened as a result of her dedication to learning and daily practice. Her hard work has brought great balance and coordination to her body, and enhanced her mind/body connection.
Soft, slow, and smooth are the rules of taiji, and she has mastered them. What was stiff and hard has become soft and flexible. Soft always overcomes hard in time, and for her, that time was two years. She will have these skills and disciplines with her for the rest of her life.
This is taiji, and taiji is life. It has been wonderful over these two years to watch her progress and to see the pleasure she takes from playing taiji on the deck in the garden with me each week. Hers is a terrific and meaningful taiji story, and I am happy to be able to record it on this page.
She is not the only student who has made such progress, but she certainly has made it. And she understands clearly what I tell all of my students in their very first class – – Taiji is Life.