Tai Chi – Out of the Dojo

Man with intense focus during tai chiTai Chi is a serious martial art and martial arts are practiced in a dojo – right? Well, not exclusively. You may see photos or movies showing large groups in China practicing in the park.  At a school in Wiltshire, England you might find elementary school students doing Tai Chi in the classroom.  The teacher, Anne D’Souzza, reported that Tai Chi assists students in calming down and preparing for their work.  In her classroom students begin every school day with Tai Chi.

Another interesting Tai Chi program operates in prisons, rehab centers, and elementary schools in Utah. An organization called Tai Chi Youth was started by Master Zhen Shen-Lang.  He volunteered to teach 15 inmates at Decker Lake Maximum Security Youth Prison in 1992.  The inmates demonstrated significant improvement in their communication skills.

The basic goals of the Tai Chi Youth Program are:

  1. To balance the body – health, coordination, exercise
  2. To balance the mind – emotions, creativity, intellectual pursuits
  3. To balance the life – contentment, individuality, ambitions
  4. To expand abilities – increased physical potential, increased mental potential, increased expectations
  5. To expand awareness – new abilities create new abilities, better self understanding, and able to better understand others
  6. To benefit society – decide individual path within society, become self-sufficient, help others
  7. Lessen violence in the world – be at peace with self and personal history, spread contentment and confidence to others, discourage violence in others
  8. Live a good life – constantly strive to improve all aspects of self, enjoy and appreciate living and respect all living things, make the lives of others as good as possible

Many other schools, dojos, and community organizations are learning the value of Tai Chi practice.  Although the physical movements are the method, the real focus is on developing character, respect, and self-control.  These skills can then be transferred to many other situations including home, school, and social activities.

Isshin, Mushin, and Zanshin

Image of tree inside glass ballI’m a planner.  In fact, my standard mode of operation has always been to try to anticipate every possible complication or contingency and plan for it.  I’m the classic “if he does this, then I’ll do this” kind of girl.  Since beginning to study the principles of martial arts I’ve been intrigued by the possibility of letting go of such rigid thinking. In theory it sounds like a great idea. In terms of fighting or martial arts it even makes some sense to me.  I had the opportunity to test this a while back in my real life.

The best part of this story for me is….I didn’t pre-plan it. It wasn’t one of those times when I said, “hey I think I’ll see how these principles would work here.”  I was scheduled for a meeting with a lot of different professional people.  In the past these meetings have always felt quite adversarial. I’ve always gone into the meeting wearing my very best power suit and armed to the teeth with copies of the current applicable legal statues, braced for a fight. Typically I would have spent the night before rehearsing in my mind everything that I thought I should say and appropriate responses for any and all objections.

I woke up on the morning of the meeting and had actually forgotten that the meeting was scheduled. I put on a rather feminine (aka “girlie”) dress and went to work. There was only a slight moment of panic when I realized I was deviating from my plan. On the way to the meeting several things happened that weren’t in my game plan, including a change of meeting location and awful traffic. During that drive I reflected briefly on what my desired outcome was and set my intention to reach that goal.

When I arrived in the room I spent a few minutes listening to the mood of the other individuals that had arrived. I paid some attention to the energy that each was giving off. Normally I would have just assumed them all to be hostile. What I found was that most of the people in the room had the same objective that I did. I made a mental note. I also chose to position myself nearest the person who was most likely to be my major opponent. Again, this was in sharp contrast to anything I might have done before.

When my adversary attacked (verbally) I countered. I relied on my previous experience and training to allow me to respond, not some pre-orchestrated response. This worked so well I was amazed. Each time there was a new objection or a diversion I focused again primarily on my objective. I was able to adapt and continue working toward what I believed was the inevitable goal.

The meeting actually went well and my objectives were met. In the past I would have turned tail and literally run away. Instead I stayed and connected with the individuals that were present and made sure that there wouldn’t be any stray items to deal with later.

While all of this was happening I certainly wasn’t thinking of Isshin, Mushin, and Zanshin. It wasn’t until I was driving back to my office that it occurred to me that my meeting is some ways paralleled these principles. I was very excited. While I have studied martial arts principles in the dojo, I was excited to experience the principles in the rest of my world.