Improve Your Balance

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Don’t lose you balance

One of the big longterm benefits of Tai Chi is that it helps us improve our balance. Especially as we get older, it becomes harder and harder to maintain good balance and if we don’t deliberately focus on improving it, we will lose it. That leads to a higher rate of falls which, together with lower bone density, leads to more fractures and secondary health risks.

Improving balance in Tai Chi is not about standing on one leg and kicking – although we occasionally do that as well. Much more than that, it is about building a stable base on the ground from which all other movements originate, whether we are practicing a form or just going about our daily lives.

Push into the ground

To improve the balance of our stance, we start by getting rooted. Rather than struggling to balance the upper parts or our body, we try to push our feet into the ground. We remember the eight points and we try to sink them into the ground as deeply as we can and get ‘rooted’.

An extreme example of this is when we try to balance on one leg. Try focusing on your upper body and balancing that, and you will find it pretty hard. Then try to forget about your upper body and instead focus solely on pushing your standing leg down as much as you can (while lowering your hips) and you will find balancing a lot easier.

If you want to go up, you need to put your focus in pushing down!

Like a pyramid

Once you have laid the foundation through rooting, the second important piece is to build a strong base to stand on.

Make sure that your knees are in a straight line with your toes at any time. You can visually check this as you practice. Your knees need to be pointing straight to your toes or just be covering them visually.

Now make also sure, that you have a little outward tension on your knees. Don’t let them drop inside. Feel like you have little rubber bands that pull your knees outward. You want to feel like a pyramid, that has a pointy top and then consistently grows outward and larger towards the bottom.

Think of tent lines. The first step in pitching a tent is to firmly lock it to the ground with the base tent nails. That still doesn’t provide maximum stability though. In the second step you now need to take the lines on the tent skin and pull them outwards where you fix them in the ground to maintain proper tension.

Be a tent that has proper tension. Don’t be a soggy tent without stabilizing lines that will fall apart at the first blow of wind or leak as the raindrops fall.

Keeping your knees in line with your toes is essential for stability, but it is also critical to keep your knees healthy and avoid injury. Remember: avoid torque or tilt on your knees!

 

 

Stability creates confidence. Confidence creates calmness.
Alfons

Strengthen Your Core

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The Chinese say that if you practice Tai Chi correctly and regularly, you will gain the pliability of a child, the health of a lumberjack and the peace of mind of a sage.

In Tai Chi we are not pushing weights and we are not focusing on pumping up our biceps or shoulders. However we constantly move our body. We shift and twist, we stretch and bend.

In order to do so, we leverage proper posture to support our body without the need for excessive muscle support. However, we constantly engage our core muscles to stabilize and center ourselves.

Tai Chi is a great exercise to learn the proper body mechanics and postures that are self-supported and keep us pain-free without tiring. It’s also a gentle, yet effective way to train the core muscles that support our body.

Our arms are just extensions in Tai Chi forms. Power and energy are created from our feet, our legs, up through our core and only as a last step through our arms. If you want to be really strong and unmovable, you need a strong foundation and core.

Gain the pliability of a child, the health of a lumberjack and the peace of mind of a sage through the practice of Tai Chi.

Loosen Your Joints

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The Yang style is expansive. We try to reach out into the universe, and then come back to our core (open and close).

Create space between your joints

One of the things we try to do, is to create a little space between our joints. Imagine that you are opening up, let’s say when creating a big circle with your arms. Now imagine that you pull your bones apart a tiny bit further, so that you create a little space between your joints.

As you come back, you compress that space again. Think about your cartilage tissue and your discs like sponges. You compress them, and then you release them again.

We do this with all our joints as well as with our spine as we stretch out and then come back again. That movement squeezes and extends our discs and cartilages. It twists and compresses. We create movement and activate energy and drive out staleness. By squeezing and twisting we pump fluids through discs and cartilages and nurture them.

Squeeze like a sponge

It really is like a sponge. If you want to clean it, you need to squeeze and release it and then rinse and repeat.

Like for a clogged pipe, we remove blockages by twisting, pressing, pulling and shaking. We release blockages and get our energy flow unstuck.

The same effect works on our inner organs as we stretch, twist and bend our body. Tai Chi movements provide and gentle massage and vitalization for our inner organs, discs and cartilages.

Stretch Gently

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Contrary to many other sports, we are trying to not ‘try too hard’ in Tai Chi. That sounds funny, doesn’t it?

What I mean by that is that we give ourselves time to develop balance, flexibility and strength. We don’t go to the point where we think we achieved something because our body hurts.

I’m not saying there is no value in cardio and strength training that pushes and expands the limits of our body. What I’m saying is that this is not how we do Tai Chi or what we want to achieve with Tai Chi. Having a different approach to how we exercise is also the main reason why we can practice Tai Chi and gain health benefits from it, no matter our age or abilities.

In Tai Chi we don’t push too hard. Rather we discover our boundaries and gently and slowly push against them. We gently stretch and make sure we don’t strain any muscles by trying too hard. We slowly lower our stance over time, making sure that we are not harming our joints by trying to go too deep too quickly, before our muscles had a chance to develop properly. We are gentle and soft instead of hard and inflexible.

Every time I show in class what pushing too hard means, even for basic exercises like connecting heaven and earth, I come home with some strained muscles in my back. Some day I will learn to just not show wrong execution any more…

Think of the flower fists. We’re not making a board-breaking fist, but rather imagine that we hold a precious rose in our hand and we certainly don’t want to squish it.

In Tai Chi we gently push our limits. We develop new abilities slowly but consistently, without interruptions by strained muscles or unwanted knee surgery. We’re in for the long run and for lifelong practice.

The next time you feel frustrated because you can not stretch as much as the person next to you, you can not lower you center as easily as your teacher, or your balance is wobblier that everyone elses – let go! Practice Tai Chi within your own limits and abilities. No one else matters. Don’t push it too hard but give yourself the time your body needs to develop.

The constant flow of water breaks the rock over time.

Our book now on Amazon

We moved our book to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and used the opportunity to update our title and cover.

Go here to get the paperback and Kindle version. Let us know what you think and leave a review if you liked it.

“To find and to understand the principles means to find the heart.”
Hilmar Fuchs.

 

 

 

Uli and I have been practicing various forms of martial arts for over 25 years. We learned Karate, Kobudo and Tai Chi from our teacherHilmar Fuchs. We studied Aikido for a while with a friend. We explored Jodo with one of the leading experts in North America. We spent some time learning the Yang family style teachings in the school of a direct decedent of the Yang family and current leader of the style. We learned how defensive shooting techniques and empty hand fighting can be combined into a coherent system.

In my day job, I studied physics and learned the importance and effectiveness of understanding first principles and describing the world from there. At the same time, I worked high responsibility and high-stress executive leadership jobs at Microsoft and Amazon for almost as long as I studied martial arts, making it critical for me to understand the balance and flow between focus and relaxation.

Uli is a Medical doctor and by trade has always been very focused on healthy living and nurturing our bodies and minds. She also worked in high-stress environments and has painful firsthand experience as to what that can do to your wellbeing.

All of these experiences come together in this book. We did not want to write a book about how to perform a specific technique or form in a specific style. Rather we wanted to talk about and explain underlying principles that hold true across styles and will lead you, so we hope, to deeper understanding and a richer path through your martial arts journey.

Most of the principles and thoughts in this book come from what we have learned over the years from our teacher Hilmar Fuchs. Some were inspired by other leaders in martial arts and outside of that realm. And yet another set was driven and inspired by questions from students in our classes. Occasionally we had some insights on our own.

My spirit animal is the horse, which, together with the love of Uli and our daughter for horses, inspired the name of our school, Kicking Horse TaiChi (Keru Uma Budo). It also reflects my need for freedom and finding my own way, which you can probably spot in a few of the thoughts and recommendations we’re giving. We truly believe that you need to develop strong roots but then find your own way.

Uli’s spirit animal is the mouse. Like a mouse, she is curious and looks into all corners of a problem to come back up with an unexpected insight that she found. Like a mouse, she also likes to be grounded and stay out of the limelight. Uli is a passionate artist and art teacher at our kid’s school. Being a visual person, she loves using imagination and pictures to support her teaching. Look for her thoughts on visualization and imagination throughout this book.

With that, we hope you will enjoy the book, find a few things that make sense to you and maybe enrich your own practice. We cannot teach universal truths, but we aim to offer ideas for your own explorations.

Have fun, practice, reflect and enjoy every day!

“In western cultures, we often look at martial arts more as a form of acrobatics. Few people look at what is behind the outer shell. To find and to understand the principles (the essence) means to find the heart.

Furthermore, those principles are the basis for a life of morality, humanity, justice, acceptance, and wisdom. This book tries to offer those principles as a foundation for the student who embarks on the journey to discover the art on a deeper layer. Understanding the essence will provide a solid foundation to further develop the technical movements of the art of Tai Chi. 

Alfons and Uli have found their path and shared their personal emotions, sensations, and thoughts in this well-written book.”

Hilmar Fuchs, 2018