Tai Chi is a very hard soft style

As I told you yesterday, this week has been all about new beginnings and muddles getting sorted.

The big thing yesterday was rationalising my martial arts regime with the help of my long-suffering Kung Fu instructor, Neil Johnson. As I reported in yesterday’s blog, we have decided that I should, at least for now, concentrate on our soft forms and maybe leave the hard tiger-crane kung fu style as it still seems to effect my brain which is, I hope, recovering gradually, from the brain haemorrhage I suffered in late 2008.

This business of soft and hard styles is often misunderstood.

I am not giving up hard, macho, in-yer-face kung fu for weedy, teddy bear hugging taichi. Soft and hard are more specific terms than that.

In the so-called hard style, one of the most important techniques is when you “draw up” your internal body into a position of inner strength whilst trying to keep the external body relaxed. This is difficult to achieve and, for someone of my ability ( or lack of ability), it is easy to over-do. Then I get a rush of blood to my head with all the consequent symptoms associated with my brain injury.

In tai chi the emphasis is on physical softness but, of course, to achieve that appearance of relaxation and ease of movement, you have to have, as do ballet dancers, extreme physical control and therefore muscular strength.

Our tai chi form, called Suang-Yang, is really, in English, White Crane Boxing. It is absolutely related to the hard style of White Crane Kung Fu. Also, it is both extremely difficult and demanding to do at an advanced level.

I have not gone for an easy option.

Put into martial practise, it is a devastatingly effective form of defence and attack with the moves practised to a level of as near perfection as is possible by repeating the moves endlessly in slow motion.

Anyone who has tried to do any slow motion approximations of normally fast actions, like say certain football techniques, will know how much more difficult the movements are to control at an extremely slow speed.

Recently, I have tried to minimise my concentration on Suang-Yang. I have only just realized that I was resenting the fact that I will probably never be safe doing full contact kung fu again after my brain damage so I have been taking it out on this wonderful and complicated form.

Yesterday I accepted my fate, well to a certain extent, and I have gone back to my love of this absorbing style with real enthusiasm.

I spent an hour doing it with my instructor yesterday morning and then went to a one hour class at the Kung fu club in the evening.

In case you still think it is easy, let me tell you that when I got home from the club, I lay on my sofa and fell instantly asleep. I woke up again, of course later but when I went to bed last night I slept the sleep of the unconscious and awoke this morning with a body complaining that almost all my muscles had been pushed to a level they had not felt for some time.

So I am planning to go to class again tomorrow night and, hopefully also return to the club at the end of the evening for the half hour weapons practise where I can use my Chinese straight sword and seven-and-a-half foot staff. These patterns too are really soft forms as in the above definition and they too are not to be thought of as easy. They are not but they are a lot of fun and I am very happy that I will be able to continue with them.

In time, again as I said yesterday, I should be able to resume Kung Fu Dog Style with its exciting rolling and shouting but which also does not demand that internal drawing up and, who knows, if I got good enough at the soft style, I might even, one day, get to see how the so-called hard style really needs you to understand it well enough to make it a soft style too.

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