The Tao of the Zone
I am here to present something we have likely all heard of, but few really understand. So I am attempting to break through a veil of misunderstanding, to usher us into a more realistic perspective of the many cross-over sports benefits to be realized through the practice of T’ai-chi Ch’üan. Every aspect of human life is benefited by this practice and certainly any sport activity will realize enhanced performance by adopting the slowly executed, accurately balanced movements of T’ai-chi Ch’üan, into their sports program. There are many physiological reasons for the muscular control and stamina that is a natural outgrowth of this practice, but possibly the most important aspect is the way slow repetition of these postures, stabilizes the mental attitude and exerts a profoundly positive influence on the abilities of the athlete to impeccably express the skills they’ve developed in their sport of expertise.
Typically called The Zone, it is a prize sought after by athletes and coaches across the spectrum of sports, and it is the neurophysiological realm that T’ai-Chi is asking its practitioners to reside in during actualization of the sequence. The Ancient Taoists called it The Mysterious Pass and explained it by saying, “When the mysterious pass is open, the strings of the great marionette can cleanly actuate the animations of our bodies, so as to appropriately and completely align our actions with the needs of the task at hand.” This is a body that is no longer inhibited by the constraints and fears of the individual ego, but is instead freed up into the impeccable performance of that selfless realm. When a person has spent several hours in this place of balance between mind and body, the mysterious zone becomes more accessible to them and gradually becomes the normal mode they perform in during play in their sport, facilitating in them an ability to stay calm, focused and balanced, so that the body, as a whole, can relax and become, innately reflexive and accurate in its rapid responses to external stimulus.
Acquisition of these T’ai-Chi skills will be an adventure into the realm of pure movement, via the principles and postures of this refined martial art form and even though martial abilities are a natural byproduct of these basic postures, the focus and result of our effort is harmony, health, peace of being and impeccable reflexes. It is these flowing, perceptive and impeccable reflexes which makes T’ai-Chi Ch’üan a martial arts marvel, and it is these same abilities that enhance sport performance. Ultimately, T’ai-Chi Ch’üan is seeking to free the practitioner from the form itself, into the formless realm of free expression of abilities, understanding that the body knows how to perform the action perfectly, that only the doubting mind can miss the shot and that the unaimed arrow never misses its mark. The essence of pure movement is balance, the essence of balance is relaxation, and relaxation cannot be achieved without true balance. Together they restore confidence in one’s abilities. This is why even just working on balance and chi flow as in, I Ch’üan, standing meditation, increases these abilities. So when I Ch’üan is coupled to the martial foundation of thirteen postures boxing forms with the balance and athletics required to properly actualize those movements, as in a discipline like T’ai-Chi, you move further and further into a body that responds naturally to the chaotic reverberations of the world, with grace, balance, flow and excellence.
The Sport Form is a pure adaptation of the moves of the Yang Style 108 Long Form, but it emphasizes the foundation postures and principle moves, along with the more technically advanced transforms, and it leaves out the complicated and difficult to learn kick sequence and the multiple reinforcement repetitions of the foundational postures, that can be achieved by simply repeating the Sport Form up to five times to equal the same amount of meditative T’ai-Chi as would be experienced in one long form sequence.
Your weight should be completely on your right leg and a much lesser amount, on the ball of your left foot capable of gently lifting off the ground. You must reach this point of balance over the right leg, before you initiate lifting the other leg. This is true of either leg, in all transformations, between all postures. Everything must be considered to be a transformation between any of the infinitesimal positions we move through during a sequential actualization. This is what you are trying to learn and where poor balance is most obvious. Typically, your body may shake with correction twitches, when you try to slowly lift one foot, while balancing on the other. This is your body learning to correct its balance. Your awareness of balance may likely be, very macro at your current point in this practice, which is designed to eventually develop a micro-sensitive awareness of center and how to balance on it, so that the body, as a whole, can relax and become, innately reflexive and accurate in its responses to external stimulus.
We will be working on the fundamentals of posture and balance that allow grace and flow into movements, as well as learning the first moves in the sport sequence, Lotus Blooms in the Fire and Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail. This class will be an adventure into the realm of pure movement, via the postures of this refined martial art, but the focus and result are harmony, health and peace of being. I hope to see you there.