When someone asks me what Internal Arts training can do for them I usually have to pause before I give an answer; there are just so many potential benefits that it would take quite some time for me to outline them all. Normally I end up giving them a broad answer like this: there is nothing about the person or what they do that will not benefit immensely from regular training. Usually this isn’t the answer that they are looking for – but it should be. I am aware of course that this is quite a statement and yet I am deeply convinced that it is true.
Despite many depictions of Tai Chi being a little misconstrued, it is in it’s raw form of nuts and bolts body-mind training principles, an amazing resource for greatly improving all of the key systems that inextricably weave together to form the entirety of our human experience – something that we are never without and something, whether we realise it or not, that we all continually seek to improve in our own way (with varying degrees of success).
In fact, the strong point of internal arts done well are that they show us just how implicitly interrelated all of those body-mind systems are and offer a clear training framework to improve them step by step, from the ground upwards, both holistically and sustainably. Once someone has been training for while this should become quite obvious through the increasing content and acuity of their own body-knowledge and visceral body-mind experience.
I am all for hard work and putting serious effort into training – however, if these are done without the necessary amount of body intelligence and awareness to temper the process we can easily create more problems for ourselves to contend with. No matter how common or instantly gratifying it is there isn’t much point in smashing the body to pieces or creating neurosis to achieve short term goals.
Most of the people I teach know that I was already well into my martial arts and fitness training went I started Tai Chi at the age of twenty. While running, calisthenics, flexibility work, swimming and kick-boxing all provided me with a certain amount of satisfaction and benefit over the years, they gradually fell by the wayside as I started to get deeper into internal arts. All good things come to those who wait, or so the saying goes, and while not being immediately obvious to me as a youngster it took time to uncover and start to understand the natural principles and attributes of my own body and mind – and how to optimise instead of hindering them – from this fascinating old-school internal art. But when I did there was no turning back. I don’t deliberately go running anymore, unless it’s when I am playing with the kids, and when I do it’s far easier and more enjoyable than it ever was 25 years ago.
It’s the same with swimming, which is something I only ever do for fun rather than exercise. Each year as the summer slowly rolls around we head off to the coast for that first delightful sea-swim. I’m always pleasantly surprised at how much my swimming stroke has improved since the previous year – despite not having swum very much.
For calming the mind, releasing tension and building awareness and better whole-body movement/biomechanics really go a long way in improving everything we do as humans and proper Internal arts training does this in spades. I could give countless personal examples of the improvement of various skills in my life that I would essentially put down to Tai Chi and internal arts. These could range all the way from my guitar playing (better fine motor control and ability to pay attention) to all round movement skills, balance, power, posture and awareness, to having a calmer, present and more objective mindset and therefore better relationships with friends and family. I’m certain that many of my long term students could offer a plethora of their own examples that are personal to them.
Now that I’m in my mid 40s my training has been a normal part of my daily life for a long time. And just as we all eat, drink, work, move, rest and sleep my practise is an integral part of the daily mix. I wake up early and enjoy my training – standing and simple exercises – it’s as simple as that. It certainly isn’t a chore as it genuinely makes me feel superb: it calms and primes my mind and fills me with elastic ease, fluid strength and whole-body balance in readiness for everything that’s to come in the day ahead.
Furthermore, the whole process is enmeshed with learning organically from ones own present moment experience – which is all we ever have and something that is all too easy to miss. The body and mind are not fixed entities, they change constantly. Therefore there is always more to learn and discover. It is a deeply rewarding and fascinating process and to have such a practise then is a treasure in itself. It is only natural to want to share such a great resource which, as long as you practise, can offer so much benefit.
Via my own experience and from observing the development of my students over many years it has become obvious that the continual accruement of the wide range of inextricably linked physio-cognitive marginal gains that Tai Chi and internal arts provide makes them an invaluable resource – and a much wiser investment than a quick fix approach. And contrary to popular belief the sooner you start the better, although ultimately it is never too late if you’re ready to learn something new and put in the effort.