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Tai Chi
Do you Tinkle when you Tai Chi?

22 Nov 2014


Do you tinkle when you Tai Chi? For the last month I have practiced with my late dog Stogie's collar on my wrist, in his memory. The collar has two aluminum tags that used to tinkle when he walked, so I always had a good idea what he was up to without having to look. When I started wearing the Stogie Memorial Bracelet I was both comforted and saddened by the familiar sound of the tinkle.

Within a few sessions, however, I realized a deeper truth: the better my practice, the less the tinkle. If I practice smoothly, evenly and without interruption, the tags will travel together and never meet, so there will be no tinkle. Can you do this? Create your own dog tag bracelet, or a near equivalent, and practice with it on your wrist. Can you at least reduce the amount of tinkling? Before I continue, let me back up.

A recent Facebook post on my blog Tai Chi and Music got some attention from a Tai Chi practitioner who indignantly proclaimed his preference for practicing with music, which I generally advise against (Invest in Silence). Clearly frustrated with the idea that Tai Chi should be done without his favorite entertainment providing accompaniment, he tried to be generous by saying "to each his own".

Tai Chi Chuan is not a "to each his own" practice. It has standards and principles, one of the most fundamental being the cultivation of stillness. Music is movement; stillness cannot be cultivated while it is playing. Stillness can be maintained by those with a high degree of cultivation already, but such people are not common.

Despite these principles, many Tai Chi practices really are a matter of preference, to a point, which brings me back the Tai Chi Tinkle and "to each his own". A lot of teachers, and I am among them, are not fixated on the idea that movement needs to be stuck at a single routine speed. Chen style, for instance, is full of powerful whipping moves that defy that single-speed approach. My own style, the old medium frame of Yang Jin-hou, retains those Chen characteristics. No power issues from perfectly even speed. We learn this lesson from physics: Force equals Mass times Acceleration. When speed is even, acceleration is zero, so force is zero (yes, there is momentum that may be transferred, but that is not force). To whip, to strike, to create fa-jin, you must accelerate. And that which accelerates must surely decelerate. You go faster and you go slower.

The choice of even speed versus more aggressive movements is little different from the choice to practice "for health" and the choice to practice as a martial art. Both choices are reasonable, but stillness and quiet are required for deep benefits. In my own experience, both are required for the best result. To tinkle or not to tinkle? To play music or not to play music? The answer to those questions is yes.


You may also like this related article: Tai Chi and Music (190)
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