Practicing my Short Yang (Tai Chi form) this morning, I was struck by the many modifications, some subtle, some not, that my form had gone through over the years. Those changes had become even more apparent several years ago, when I started practicing with an individual I considered my current mentor in this field. I feel that I now have a deeper understanding, as well as connection, with the movement, and that I sense the motivation for each subtle inner and outer motion.
This has not always been the case. After practicing the form for about 20 years, when I started with my current mentor, I noticed his form had some variants on mine. He didn’t ask me to change my form but rather posed questions to me: why are you doing this move this way? Why is the spacing between your feet so narrow? Why is your Single Whip (a particular move in the form,) so wide open? My answer to most, if not all, of these questions had been – This is how I was originally taught. Uttering the words I already recognized it for what it was: a poor answer. My mentor did not insist on me modifying anything. Rather, I came to realize myself that I needed to alter some moves. That being said, certain individual form elements I was able to explain to him, and more importantly, to myself; those I kept as is. But other parts morphed into moves I can now fully inhabit and call my own.
As my form was changing within the realm of my own personal practice, so it did at my Tai Chi studio, where I teach a weekly class. Surprisingly, (or not,) a couple of the participants did not appreciate the ongoing modifications. They wanted the form they were learning to stay the same. Even when I explained the motivation for the alterations, and that this form was changed and modified by multiple Masters over the course of the many years it had been practiced, it did not help. Those students ultimately dropped out. I was sadden to see them depart but not sorry. Life is forever changing. The Tai Chi form reflects that quality, which is one reason why I like Tai Chi so much. It is also a primary reason why I choose to subscribe to the Taoist philosophy.
I wish I would never again utter the words “because this is how I was taught,” or, even worse, “because this is how it had always been.” These sentiments represent the greatest barrier to progress, to being in the present, for self-discovery and growth. “How do I feel about this right now?” and “Does it feel right to me?” on the other hand, are questions which hold the ticket for an adventure called life.
Learned from: observing my Tai Chi form in practice this morning.