Shang Lee wrote an interesting post about how to tell others about taiji. This is something I’ve encountered and thought about a couple of times myself and wanted to expand a bit on it here as it’s more than a couple of sentences.
What I generally do is to tell people the are many reasons for practicing taiji, whether it be for health, meditative (spiritual), or martial reasons (in that order). This way, I don’t scare people away with the martial stuff off the bat but to focus on the health aspect (most common reason and understanding of taiji) and talk about how it helps to lower blood pressure, decrease stress, increase balance and can be a pretty good leg workout!
This is usually enough to “plant the seed” and let it germinate for a bit before they come back for more. If they are still interested, then I generally bring up the meditative aspects of the art and how it helps with awareness and mindfulness in movement. How it can be thought of as “moving meditation” or a way to get in touch with oneself. If the person is really into the meditative aspects, I’ll usually go into how I feel taiji is like 30% physical and 70% mental and describe the following scale:
- Zazen: 5% physical, 95% mental
- Zhan Zhuang: 15% physical, 85% mental
- Taiji: 30% physical, 70% mental
- Yoga: 50% physical, 50% mental
I then generally go over how I feel the hardest things to do are those that are the “most mental” due to the concept of the monkey mind and ways to tempt this. It can be done gradually and start with something a bit more physical and transition to something more mental upon comfort level. This is not to say that one practice is higher level than the other, but it serves different goals, and as such, they are different vehicles for the various goals.
Then I get into the martial chatter. But then again, this all depends on the type of person I’m talking with and their own levels of experience and I try to approach as such (upaya – buddhist term roughly translated as skill in means or teaching at various levels of understanding). This is generally the hardest part to describe and explain, especially if the person is from an external martial arts training background as the common preconception of taiji is for health.
But if it get here, I generally ask if they subscribe to the notion that the amount of power one can generate is directly proportional to one’s ability to relax? If not, I describe it in terms of physics and acceleration and perhaps even plot things out on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most “tense”) and how a route of 2-10 would generate more power than a route of 8-10.
If they’re still with me, I then start to bring up the sensitivity aspect of it and how taiji trains that. I may even show a slight demonstration on the effectiveness of sensitivity and maybe show an application of grasps swallows tail to demonstrate the concepts.
Whoa.. that was a bit more long winded than I had expected but this is the route I follow 🙂