Taiji training memoirs


I found (2018, no date)  these two writings of my taijiquan and -jian training, written in the year 2016.

Beginning. Body-mind wisdom. Taiji. 3/5/2016.

 I have been reading Finnish Book on internal Chinese (and Japanese) martial arts. The book is  by Tarmo Hakkarainen  (2015) Polku sisäiseen harjoitteluun: mieli, hengitys, keho, tunne ja energia, ISBN 978-952-286-964-7, Germany: Books-on-Demand (in Finnish). As I have  been  long-term practitioner of taijiquan and -jian, and have written article of my experiences (you can article in Finnish find it here) I was interested to understand how he describes his developmental path and progress in various  Chinese-Japanese internal arts training.

Before I will start to write read review of this book (which may take some time) I just found this excerpt of  body-mind integration and its relationship to wisdom from the University of Chicago's Wisdom Research Network page:

"One of their areas of study is the relationship between wisdom and meditation. Nusbaum explains that meditation involves certain practices, such as taking control of our own minds. “Many people seem to believe that consciousness just flows along and they have no ability to change the direction of that flow,” he says. In meditation, however, one seeks to control the flow. That control can help us choose how we “direct attention to our thoughts and to the world.”  


In addition to it, meditation involves a level of self-calming and may help us to develop “epistemic humility,” the understanding that “while we may know a lot, we do not know everything, and there is always more to be understood and learned in the world.” Since it can be hard to reflect deeply on a situation if one is anxious or driven by physiological states, “meditation may be an aid in developing the ability to reflect more deeply, to persevere in working at intellectual struggle, and to control impulsive responses that could overshadow a wise consideration of a situation.” A paper recently accepted for publication demonstrates that there is a significant relationship between wisdom and the long-term practice of meditation. -----While we often associate wisdom with the mind, there appears to be an important relationship between wisdom and the body. For example, Patrick Williams and his University of Chicago colleagues have found that “years of ballet practice are related to increased wisdom,” Nusbaum says. He has been told by some psychiatrists that “you cannot be anxious if you do not tense your muscles.” If we can get our bodies to relax, we reduce our anxiety. Nusbaum is quick to point out that though relaxing and reducing anxiety are not the same as wisdom, these things may “open the door for wisdom to operate.” When we are anxious or driven by our physiological states, we “cannot reflect deeply on a situation.” (italics and  bold by EK)


Training push-hands. (c) Olli Syrjäläinen & Jigotai taiji


I started to think if taiji - which is classified as movement meditation and partly also as mindfulness excercise - can be identified to have these qualities mentioned, as control one's mind, direction of mind's flow, beside other factors. Been 16 years of taiji trainer (with only 2 longer breaks) there is at least subjective understanding which are the basic elements in it. I'll continue to reflect this question.

The abstract of the above-mentioned study: The Relationship between Mental and Somatic Practices and Wisdom. Williams, Patrick ; Mangelsdorf, Heather ; Kontra, Carly ; Nusbaum, Howard ; Hoeckner, Berthold,  PLoS One Feb 2016, Vol.11(2). In this study we sought to explore how experience with specific mental and somatic practices is associated with wisdom, using self-report measures of experience and wisdom. We administered standard surveys to measure wisdom and experience among four groups of practitioners of mental and somatic practices, namely, meditators, practitioners of the Alexander Technique, practitioners of the Feldenkrais Method, and classical ballet dancers. We additionally administered surveys of trait anxiety and empathy to all participants to explore possible mediating relationships of experience and wisdom by characteristics thought to be components of wisdom. Wisdom was higher on average among meditation practitioners, and lowest among ballet dancers, and this difference held when controlling for differences in age between practices, supporting the view that meditation is linked to wisdom and that ballet is not. However, we found that increased experience with meditation and ballet were both positively associated with wisdom, and that lowered trait anxiety mediated this positive association among meditation practitioners, and, non-significantly, among ballet dancers. These results suggest that not all practices that are purported to affect mental processing are related to wisdom to the same degree and different kinds of experience appear to relate to wisdom in different ways, suggesting different mechanisms that might underlie the development of wisdom with experience.

Pause in taiji training. Negligence. Afterwards...8/7/2016

I have not had  been taiji training  for at least 2 weeks,  and visited  about half week ago my group again. I didn't expect much  of  training session. Came straight from my work, it was very hot summer day, had been doing routine work and  was tired. In the beginning of the session one of the training friends came and hugged me. I had a feeling that it was spontaneous gesture, even if I do not count her as my friends as such. But there had been some time we haven't seen each other, and I felt I was welcome to the group again. Others came by dropping, in summer we do not care if we come later and not in strict time. I started to talk about forthcoming summer  camp and noticed that six persons were keen to leave for it. Surprise. During the latest yin-phase of club, some persons have had been in camps coincidentally. During theyang-phase a decade ago we traveled to summer camps by two cars, with five to six trainers. Activation to leave for camps made me wonder, are we again close to yang contrasted to yin phase. These phases cannot be forced to come to exist. There is just some unintentional existence of activity and passivity, one following another.  As kind of law, or rule, which operates in the background. It is a process, ups an down, as heart's rate. If there is of no rate, no pulse, there is no life. Always this binary logic: plus / minus, up / down. Yin and yang, or whatever terms you like to use - as you like it. In any case, you refer the same phenomenon, dynamic polar opposites in life.

So, as I started to warm up in the training, I felt  no special feeling or emotion regarding taiji in itself. I felt training  was nothing special. Boring repetition of foot work: put strength dynamically on either of your feet. My mind wondered, I thought my  works, articles to be written, my tiredness in the work, my plans of future. But I knew based on my experiences that it will change later, if  I just continue to do the warming up. I made singular movements as warming, just which came to my mind. I made several "Brush you knee and push", feeling just boredom an wandering mind. After some time, our teacher asked us to do 24 Yang style Form , a classic, which I have been practicing for 15 years (it is the basic form everybody must learn first).  During it, I do it always from my guts - from long-lasting, hidden bodily memory. It is in deep layer in me. I know exactly which movement to do next. I know the routes of movements, and I can focus only on them, but some times, like in this training time, my mind was far away... I knew what to do, like automate, but my mind focused on troubles and feelings of the passed workday. After 2 or 3 times of repetition of Yang  24 I felt more comfortable and I started to get some ability to focus on things in that moment. My mind became more relaxed, memoirs of days started to disappear. Also, the sign of energetic blood circulation emerged. My hands became hot, as always is the case if I totally concentrate on training.

After 24, I suggested we do qigong, Yi Jian Jian form.  I imitated the movements, as I am not expert in it - have had only one course in it, after that, coincidental training. I like this qigong form as it concentrates more on the upper part of the body, as taiji seems to strengthen feet. In my fantasies, I love to train both  forms to get  balance to train the whole body, not just rooting  into ground by feet, which taiji obviously seems to increase. Finally, after qigong, I joined for a while to some who started to train classical Yang sword form. I am a newbie in it, and insecure how to do the movements. I can do Yang 32 sword, but this classical competition is new to me. I felt envy as I  saw  the others to do the form so well. I didn't remember most of the movements and felt clumsy. It raised inferiority feelings and envy of others  and promise to myself that I'll train this in my free time, though  I was skeptical if I'll have time.



Taijiquan Yang 24-form, "Snake". (c) Olli Syrjäläinen & Jigotai taiji


As I biked to my home from the training, the familiar feeling  of strange happiness, calm and positive attitude emerged.  As always, i wondered  question why - which are the causes of this change of my mental state. But is this always-emerging question of cause-effect relationship just learning outcome of our culture? Why to ask why? Why we ask causes? Why are causes so important? Can phenomenon be described  or explained  in another way? 


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