Anyone who has seen the incredible Ang Lee film ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ will have an idea of the amazing grace, poise and power associated with wielding a sword (and I am very happy to hear that there is a sequel coming!). Contrary to popular belief, such weapons training should comprise an integrative part of any traditional Tai Chi syllabus. While we are unlikely to ever wield a traditional Chinese weapon in our modern world they still serve as highly effective training tools for anyone who would like to improve their health, fitness and overall ‘body intelligence’ in a fascinating and functional way. Moreover, for anyone who already practises Tai Chi and is yet to enjoy weapon training, weapons can offer a refreshing and challenging addition to ones bare-handed form practise.
In Tai Chi we see any weapon, such as a sword or staff (or indeed chair-leg) as being a mere extension of the body and it is in this sense that a ‘weapons form’ (i.e. a set sequence of movements), seeks to train the unique Tai Chi movement principles into the body and mind. Awareness, stability, mobility, agility and a relaxed whole-body movement and power that emanates from the body’s centre epitomises such Tai Chi motion.
Normally when learning a weapon form one initially practises basic, core movements slowly and carefully in order to get a good tangible sense of how to move in a connected way that is smooth, natural and relaxed. The additional length and weight that a sword, for example, provides gives one not only a great new proprioceptive challenge but also invaluable feedback into ones economy of movement through the body. For what we want of course is that the entire body, from the feet to the hands, move together as one connected unit rather than just mindlessly swinging a sword around with one arm. So as you can see the main idea to begin with (and that’s a long time in Tai Chi terms) is to first train the body and mind rather than trying to chop each other into little pieces…
Simply learning how to move well whilst wielding a sword or spear can be quite a challenge and it is worth adding that one always starts off with a blunt wooden training weapon so that there is a minimal risk of injury. Usually, once one has a good grasp of the basics that are integral to everything else more advanced, then the speed of practise can be increased and more demanding techniques incorporated such as vigorous jumps, leaps, spins and kicks. It forms an extremely enjoyable and satisfying workout that engages the mind as much as the body.
By far the best thing is that the basics of weapons training can be learned and enjoyed by anyone who is keen to learn and not just gung-ho types or indeed people who are already ‘fit’. Go to any park in China of a morning and I’ll bet that you will see hundreds of Tai Chi players enjoying their sword practise. Many of those will be well into their 70s and beyond, and if they can do it so can you.
On the weekend of 2/3rd March, I will be running a Tai Chi Sabre workshop in Chichester from 10:30 to 16:30 each day at the Newell Centre, Tozer Way. Known as the tiger of Chinese weapons the workshop will cover the whole Chen style Tai Chi Sabre form as well as basic warm-ups and core exercises. For those who already know the form more advanced and demanding corrections will be given. All abilities are welcome! Booking is essential for the course as the number of spaces is limited. The fee for the two day course is £80 and all the details are on the website.
Sam Moor is the senior instructor for Sussex Tai Chi and teaches classes and workshops in Chichester, Lavant, Midhurst and Arundel. See the website: http://www.sussextaichi.co.uk/