• Michael Gilman’s interview by Robert O’Block in The Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association


    In 2008, I was interviewed by Robert O'Block, the Founder and Publisher of The Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association.It is a magazine published quarterly for psychotherapists. The title of the article was“Understanding Tai Chi and Why it is Helpful for Therapists and Clients Alike”. I figured not many would have much knowledge of the history and philosophy of Tai Chi, so I wanted to make my answers simple, yet complete. The article is quite long so I am breaking down into at least two weeks. We'll see. I look forward to your feedback on these. The article appeared in the Winter 2008 volume.




    For those readers who aren’t familiar with Tai Chi, can you briefly explain what exactly it is?  


    When I am asked what Tai Chi is, I am reminded about the story of the three blind men who, never having encountered an elephant, are asked to describe what it is. One touches the trunk and says,” An elephant is like a large snake.” Another touches a leg, and says, “No, an elephant is like a tree.” Another, touching the flank says,” No, an elephant is like a wall.”


    They are all correct, yet their answer is incomplete due to their not having all the information necessary to make an informed decision.


    Talking about Tai Chi Chuan is much like the elephant problem. Tai Chi Chuan is a very complex art, with three main roots that go back hundreds, if not thousands of years into Chinese history. If you ask someone who is interested in martial arts, he might respond that Tai Chi is definitely an effective self-defense system. If a person on a spiritual path were asked, he would probably respond it is a meditative art. And if someone who was involved with health and wellness were asked, he might answer that it is a physical culture/healing practice.


    All are correct, yet Tai Chi cannot, and should not, be limited to one field of study. All of the roots are of equal importance and make Tai Chi Chuan one of the most popular physical activities in the world.


    The name, Tai Chi Chuan, literally means Supreme Ultimate Martial Art. Today, in order to gain popularity worldwide, the art generally is known as “Tai Chi”, eliminating the word Chuan, which means martial system. I can understand the reason. Most people are not interested in martial arts, and would certainly turn their backs on this marvelous exercise. But to fully understand its evolution, we must include the Chuan aspect.


    The first root is the Martial Arts. People have always needed to defend themselves, whether from animals, or other humans. China is a crowded place, with much chance for confrontation. Many martial systems evolved. Tai Chi Chuan, as a martial art, emerged from the Taoist Wudang temple sometime between 500 to 1000 AD. The distant past is clouded, partially because of the idea that mystery and myth will add to its appeal. Because it was very effective, it was passed from father to son, and never shared with strangers. It was not until the introduction of guns that hand-to-hand martial arts lost their effectiveness. At this time, in the early 1800’s, Tai Chi started to move into the general population and gain popularity as a physical exercise.


    The oldest root, going back several thousand years, is Traditional Chinese Medicine, or the health and rejuvenation aspect. The Chinese have been using exercise to maintain wellness, cure disease, and strengthen the body for many thousands of years.


    TCM theory is based on the idea of balance – balance in all aspects of one’s life. Overall fitness and well-being is not just the absence of disease. It derived by a balance between the physical, mental and spiritual. TCM sees the whole person and uses various modalities as a way to eliminate the blocks in our system which tend to cause excess or deficiency. Balanced, relaxing exercise is one of the ways. I remember one Tai Chi instructor telling the class, “Don’t make your heart sweat.” This relates to the Chinese belief that internal balance is favored over physical appearance. This approach is quite different than the traditional Western idea of fitness.


    The third root is Spiritual Development, namely Buddhism, Confucianism, and especially Taoism. These philosophical systems have played a major part in the lives of a majority of Chinese people and their cultural development. The Taoists look to what is natural, a blending with the forces of the Universe, to achieve supreme health, and a long life filled with a strong feeling of contentment. In much the same way that TCM achieves physical health through eliminating tension and extremes, Taoism eliminates beliefs as an obstruction to seeing reality. Meditate, relax, find your inner balance and all will become clear. Decisions will be based on seeing what is, not acting on how one thinks it should be. The Taoist didn’t have a creed, an all-powerful God, or rules. Each person is responsible for his or her own personal achievement.


    The Taoists developed the philosophy of Yin and Yang and Tai Chi. By observing nature, the Taoists saw that nature was a manifestation of complimentary opposites – day and night, up and down, hot and cold, sun and moon, male and female, firm and soft, etc. It is this interaction of forces or expressions of energy that cause movement, and movement indicates life.


    If we look at the yin and yang of weather, barometric pressure, there are two forces, high (yang) and low (yin) pressure. It is the interaction of these two forces that causes different conditions. For example, a light breeze is caused by only a slight difference between the yang or high pressure and the yin or low pressure. A greater pressure difference might result in high winds or even a hurricane. The greater the difference of pressure, (the higher the high and the lower the low), the greater the resulting movement of air.

    The Taoists realized that health and long life was influenced by this yin and yang theory. Chi (life force) and blood moved in the same way and for the same reasons that all the external natural forces do. If their bodies and minds maintained a balanced state and did not bounce between the extremes, health and contentment would result.


    Tai Chi Chuan is a blending of relaxed exercise from TCM; non-action and a spiritual goal from Taoism; and finally self-defense skills. It is hard to really separate these various roots, as they are very twisted and co-mingled. The body needs to be strong to fight off disease as well as intruders. The mind must be clear to see the workings of the Universe, as well as beginnings of an emotional problem. The practices, studies, and exercises for good health, martial skill, and spiritual attainment are all the same.



    Note: The other questions I responded to are: 


    *How did you become acquainted with Tai Chi? Please decribe your particular background with the practice and how you got to where you are today.


    *Annals reaches out to a large readership of professionals in the psychotherapy field. Can Tai Chi be useful for therapists working with clients?


    *What sorts of general health benefits coincide with a scheduled Tai Chi regimen?


    *Tai Chi is often seen as a means to achieving overall wellness. Along with the physical health benefits, will Tai Chi help to reduce psychological problems in any way?


    *What sorts of participants typically visit the studio? Is Tai Chi for everyone?


    *Michael, thank you for your time. Are there any last words you'd like to leave with our readers? How about advice for first-time Tai Chi participants?


    Part Two of the interview I did with the Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association 


    * How did you become acquainted with Tai Chi? Please decribe your particular background with the practice and how you got to where you are today. 


    I have decided not to share the answer to the question here about my background with Tai Chi, etc., as I have shared so much about myself in the past, plus I have covered that information on my web site, and, in the interview, I delivered rather a long response to the question. I am moving onto the next couple of questions.


    Annals reaches out to a large readership of professionals in the psychotherapy field. Can Tai Chi be useful for therapists working with clients? 


    Tai Chi is a great tool for therapists. Firstly, for work on themselves. I feel people can only give what they have. If the therapist isn’t centered, the client will know it or soon realize it. If the therapist is coming from a centered place deep inside, a calm, relaxed place, the client will also relax and open.


    A person seeks help from a therapist because he or she is out of balance on a physical, emotional, or mental/spiritual level, or a combination of all three. It doesn’t take long for the committed individual to regain balance given the proper instruction in Tai Chi. It has proven itself for hundreds of years to help people on all levels, as it did for me.


    It is my opinion that many mental health problems occur because the client is stuck in his or her head. According to Tai Chi, the body/mind is a bioelectric system. The universe is energy, the human body is energy. If we could look closely enough inside the body, we would see that there is nothing solid, only energy. This energy forms itself into shapes with various functions, like digestive organs, circulatory system, thinking mind, etc. This energy moves, and collects in places where needed. When one eats, for instance, the body heats up as the energy moves to the digestive system. When doing physical exercise, the muscles heat up as the energy move to them. When problem solving, the brain lights up. This is all easily proven with current technology.


    So when I say a person is stuck in their head, it means that much of their energy is in the head and they are top heavy, out of balance. It is as if the television set is on and the person can’t figure out how to turn it off.


    Tai Chi study is designed in such a way that the energy system of the body is rooted and grounded at the beginning. We concentrate on the health and healing aspects of the art. Since most people seem to be top heavy, thinking too much, they are out of balance. It is like a pyramid placed upside down. It wouldn’t take much to cause it to fall. In the beginning stages, we turn the pyramid back onto its base. We build support from the ground up, allowing relaxation and a sense of the earth providing the support. The earth in Chinese medicine is the mother, the source of nurturing energy needed to feel confident and loved.


    After the body is rid of self-limiting, physical manifestations of past problems, the student then works on building strength, flexibility, sensitivity, awareness, mind/body communication, and an understanding of the martial root of the form.


    Finally, when the body/mind is healed and strengthened, the student learns to transcend the body and unify with the life force. Tai Chi becomes Chinese spiritual philosophy in action.


    There is a saying in Tai Chi. “To know yourself is wisdom, to know others is enlightenment.” The first few years of Tai Chi study, students learn about themselves - the correct functioning of the body and mind. Only when one has mastered himself, do we move the student into situations where they have the opportunity to understand other people at the deepest, energetic level. The Tai Chi classics state this simply. “When the opponent (other person) is still, I am still. If he moves, I move first.” This implies the complete openness of the body/mind and sensitivity to the energetic field surrounding all of us. This is the ultimate goal of all martial artists, healing masters, and spiritual teachers.


    *What sorts of general health benefits coincide with a schedule Tai Chi regimen? 


    If we look at what it would take to be a successful martial artist, or athlete, that is what we can expect. As the body is strengthened and rooted, blood pressure is stabilized. The arteries and veins open as inner tension is reduced, improving circulation, taking much stress off the heart. Circulation also improves vision and hearing. Because the circulation improves, the lymph system improves so colds, flu and other viral and bacterial invasions are lessened or eliminated. Joints are exercised, without the damaging effects of heavy impact. Bones are strengthened because the slow, relaxed movements are done in a semi squatting stance and the weight is placed on one leg at a time. Breathing is slow, relaxed, and controlled in Tai Chi practice so the lungs can clear and function at their maximum. The mind is focused at all times on the here and now, eliminating internal chatter and distractions. One becomes present and able to see a situation more clearly. Posture is improved, strengthening and aligning the spine, thus eliminating many back problems.

    There are many special exercises in Tai Chi study that involve moving energy consciously inside the body. Many involve working with the internal organs – cleansing toxins, and strengthening the function and interaction between the various organs. This idea might be quite foreign to most Westerners but has been practiced in the East for many thousands of years.

    Tai Chi is generally regarded as a general, tonic exercise. It helps the entire body in a very balanced way. For special problems, the Chinese tend to use Chi Kung, as it can be more directed towards specific targets.


    Note: I will finish the last three responses next week. I hope you are enjoying this as much as I did in answering the questions. It is always interesting for me to see what comes out of my mind when questions are asked. That is one of the wonderful benefits of teaching and sharing from deep inside.

    Tai Chi is often seen as a means to achieving overall wellness. Along with the physical health benefits, will Tai Chi help to reduce psychological problems in any way?


    My own story illustrates many of the ways a person can benefit psychologically from Tai Chi practice. I was depressed because I had too much stress and didn’t have a physical outlet to help balance that destructive energy. I was in a very negative state, filled with worry about the future. I felt uncomfortable in groups, mostly comparing myself with others. My mind would not shut down. I couldn’t hear what people were saying to me through all the mind chatter. I was ready to end my life. I just couldn’t see a way out of the pain.


    My practice quickly helped me to feel better physically. That was an important step. The physical imbalance is easiest to cure. It gives a person a bit of room to take a breath and start to relax. Non-stressful, easy, relaxing exercise soothes the body and mind.


    The rooting and grounding exercises of Tai Chi allow the emotions to become more stable. The highs and lows become less extreme. There is a very strong sense of Self developed, along with a strong sensation of being centered in the body.


    The mind is calmed since most of the time the practitioner focuses on the body center, located in the lower belly. The communication between the body, emotions, and mental functions is strengthened through constant, conscious movement of energy between these three centers.


    In the usual group-learning situation of a Tai Chi class, students learn to interact with others on all levels. Students learn to touch others and be touched in appropriate ways and to receive the support of others. Students learn to work together to achieve goals, to understand their inner workings, and to notice the energy of others. The student’s focus moves from me to us. He or she welcomes and actually absorbs the energy of the partner.


    The final stages of Tai Chi study encourage the senior students to help others who are making their way along the path of self-discovery. This leads to compassion and a caring for others. The individual has moved from isolation into the community of people whose goal is self realization and openness for the good of society. The thought pattern has moved from me, to us, to all of us.



    * What sorts of participants typically visit the studio? Is Tai Chi for everyone? 


    I live in a fairly unique place in the U.S. There is a high concentration of retired people who are health conscious and have the time for study and practice. I offer two main types of classes – Chi Kung and Tai Chi Chuan. The Chi Kung (Energy exercises) classes appeal to the people who are attracted to more traditional exercise programs, but with less stress and effort required. The ages tend to range from 40’s to 80’s, mainly women. These students mostly come every morning for a non-stress workout to get their energy moving and get centered for the rest of the day.


    The Tai Chi Chuan classes appeal to the younger, 20’s to 60’s, group. Many come only once a week to class and then practice on their own the rest of the time. Tai Chi is more demanding physically and mentally, so the student is more committed. I make it clear from the start that learning Tai Chi requires a minimum of a year, and is really a life long study and practice. Also the martial aspects appeal more to the younger, fitness group.


    It has been my practice to offer free classes to all people of high school age. On occasion, I offer an after school class for teens. It is fun, and the young people are enthusiastic.


    Most of them have a hard time carrying through with all that is required to completely learn the system, as their lives are so busy. I have had a few teens that have stuck with it, and have gone on to teach. That really brings me a feeling of satisfaction, to be a part of their possible future career. I always thought that Tai Chi was for everyone because I enjoy it so much. I have come to realize that many people are just moving through life too quickly to take the time to learn something as complex as Tai Chi.



    * Michael, thank you for your time. Are there any last words you’d like to leave with our readers? How about advice for first-time Tai Chi participants? 


    Thank you for this opportunity to share with your readers some of my ideas about Tai Chi. Tai Chi is a vast study, and like the elephant story, I can only tell you about it from my perspective, which will be different then other teachers and practitioners. For people who are interested, use the Internet. It provides all the information, and more, that a person would need to find out about this ancient Chinese system.


    If one decides to attend a class, make sure to sit in on a class before committing to a lengthy program. Each teacher has a different way of approaching the art, and as wonderful as the teacher might be, it might not be the information you need to accomplish your goals. If you are young, you probably won’t want to be in a class with all seniors. If you are looking for a meditative approach, make sure the instructor isn’t a martial arts instructor from some different type of school, like karate, who has taken one Tai Chi class and now teaches it. Check on a teacher’s background, how he or she learned and how long it took before gaining an instructors certificate. All this really makes a difference in what and how you will learn.



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  • Propos de Yang Chen Fu

    rapporté par Zhang Hong Kuî

    Tiré du livre « Yang style Taichi chuan » de Yang Zhen Duo

    Traduit de l’anglais par Michel Le Gac



    Propos de Yang Cheng FU



    Il y a de nombreuses écoles de Wushu (arts martiaux) chinois et leurs exercices techniques sont tous basés sur des principes philosophiques. Depuis les temps les plus reculés, nombreux sont ceux qui ont consacré leur vie et leur énergie à expérimenter la nature et l’essence même de cet art et à tâcher d’en maîtriser la technique, mais bien peu sont parvenus à leur fin. Malgré tout il est possible de s’améliorer en persistant dans la pratique pour, un jour, devenir un expert.  Comme l’explique le dicton : » une goutte qui tombe constamment au même endroit peut finir par percer la roche. »


    Le Taijiquan fait partie du riche patrimoine culturel de la Chine. Ses mouvements lents et souples cachent vigueur et puissance, comme l’illustre bien le dicton chinois « Dans le coton se cache l’aiguille d’acier. » Ses qualités techniques, physiologiques et mécanique ont toutes une origine philosophique. Les apprentis auront besoin des conseils d’un bon professeur et de discussion  sur la technique et la pratique avec les autres pratiquants. Ils auront surtout besoin d’une persévérance inlassable. Il n’y a en effet rien de mieux que la pratique et les nouveaux élèves, hommes et femmes, jeunes et vieux, obtiendront les meilleurs résultats s’il s’y tiennent tout au long de l’année.


    Ces dernières années, le nombre de candidats à l’apprentissage du Taijiquan a augmenté de façon significative. C’est là un présage du brillant avenir du Wushu. Beaucoup d’apprentis font preuve de conscience et de persistance dans leur pratique, ce qui leur permettra d’atteindre un haut niveau. J’aimerais cependant vous mettre en garde contre deux tendances néfastes. La première est que de jeunes pratiquants talentueux qui apprennent plus vite que la moyenne, font vite preuve de complaisance et s’arrêtent à mi-chemin. Ceux là  n’auront jamais beaucoup de succès. La seconde tendance est l’impatience dont font preuve certains de connaître un succès rapide pour un bénéfice instantané. Ils veulent tout apprendre en très peu de temps, de la pratique de la Forme à celle de l’épée, en passant par celle du sabre et d’autres armes. Il finissent par connaître des bribes de chaque discipline sans en maîtriser l’essence et leur pratique est constellée de fautes, au regard d’un spécialiste. Il devient difficile de les corriger car une remise à niveau complète serait nécessaire et, la plupart du temps, ils prennent une bonne décision qu’ils ne tiennent jamais. Un vieil adage court dans les milieux de la boxe à ce sujet, qui dit : »Apprendre le Taiji quan est facile, corriger les mauvaises habitudes est difficile. » En d’autres termes, trop de hâte empêche d’avancer. Le problème devient très dommageable quand ces personnes se mettent dans la tête de vouloir enseigner.


    Dans l’apprentissage du Taiji Quan, il faut tout d’abord commencer par le « Quan Jia » ou « Forme » de la Boxe. Il convient de se conformer aux séquences successives, de copier chacun des gestes du maître soigneusement et de les mémoriser. En même temps, il est nécessaire également de respecter les nei, wai, shang et xia. Nei signifie utiliser l’esprit plutôt que la force. Wai  signifie relâcher les membres, les épaules et les coudes en effectuant des mouvements doux et continus qui naissent dans les pieds pour monter dans les jambes puis à la taille. Shang veut dire pousser la tête vers le ciel et xia enfoncer la respiration dans le bas ventre.


    Le débutant doit considérer  comme essentiel de se conformer à ces critères, d’en saisir l’essence et de répéter encore et encore chacune des séquences, sans jamais viser à un succès rapide et un bénéfice immédiat. Il est préférable de progresser lentement mais sûrement. Pendant la pratique, il est nécessaire de relâcher toutes les articulations du corps pour que les mouvements soient parfaitement naturels  et libérés. Il convient également de ne pas retenir sa respiration (cela peut mener à perdre le souffle.)  Ces points sont bien connus des experts, cependant,  beaucoup de pratiquants ont du mal à les respecter.


    Le débutant se doit de garder à l’esprit les points suivants :


    Garder la tête bien droite, ne l’incliner ni en avant ni en arrière. Il est dit : « C’est comme si l’on portait quelque chose sur la tête en faisant bien attention à ce qu’il ne tombe pas. » Il ne faut cependant pas tenir la tête trop raide et, bien que les yeux regardent droit devant, ils doivent suivre les mouvements des membres et du corps. Les yeux regardent dans le vide, ils restent cependant un composant essentiel du corps en ne formant qu’un tout avec lui.  La bouche doit rester mi-ouverte, mi-fermée. L’inspir se fait par le nez et l’expir par la bouche de façon naturelle. S’il y a production de salive, il faut l’avaler.


    Garder bien verticaux le torse et la colonne vertébrale . Pendant la pratique, la poitrine est creuse et le dos s’étire. Il convient de bien garder ces règles à l’esprit sinon les mouvements risquent de devenir pures formalités ou inesthétiques et les progrès inexistants, même après de nombreuses années de pratique.


    Relâcher les articulations des deux bras, laisser tomber les épaules et s’arrondir les coudes, les paumes légèrement étirées et les doigts légèrement fléchis. Se concentrer dans le mouvement des bras et faites venir le Qi dans les doigts. Si l’on se concentre sur ces points, le succès viendra.


    Faites bien la différence entre les deux jambes qui se déplacent très souplement comme le ferait un chat. Quand le pied droit  est solidement ancré dans le sol, le pied gauche est vide et vice versa. Le pied bien ancré au sol ne signifie pas qu’il faille mettre trop de poids sur cette jambe car, dans ce cas, le corps se penchera en avant et l’on perd son équilibre.


    L’action des pieds se divise entre coups de pied vers le haut et coup de pieds vers le bas. Dans le cas d’un coup de pied vers le haut, porter l’attention sur les orteils, dans le cas d’un coup de pied vers le bas, sur la plante du pied. La conscience de l’action sera suivie par l’énergie vitale et l’énergie vitale sera suivie de la force. Ce faisant, il convient de relâcher les articulations et d’éviter toute contraction.


    Dans la pratique du Taiji Quan, il convient tout d’abord de maîtriser la « Forme » comme il a été dit plus haut (la Forme à mains nues), telle que la boxe de l’ombre et « changquan » (la boxe de l’ombre longue). On peut ensuite passer successivement à la poussée des mains à une seule main, à pas fixe, à pas mobile et puis au combat libre. Par la suite, on peut commencer la pratique des armes comme l’épée, le sabre et le bâton.


    Les débutants doivent pratiquer chaque matin ou avant d’aller se coucher. Il est préférable de pratiquer sept ou huit fois durant la journée. Si on est à court de temps, alors au moins une fois le matin et une fois le soir. Ne pas pratiquer aussitôt après un repas ou après avoir absorbé une boisson. Les meilleurs endroits pour pratiquer sont les jardins ou les parcs ou l’air est pur et l’environnement propice à la santé. Ne pas pratiquer les jours de vent ou dans des endroits insalubres … 

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