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Dancing,Kickbiking, Running: oh the chi of it.


Twenty years ago I was a Tai Chi Chuan practitioner -- Yang style.
Yang family-style (Chinese楊氏pinyinyángshìt'ai chi ch'uan (taijiquan)
This wasn't my first foray into Tai Chi but at the time I  mastered the form and even help teach it.

There is a lot  to be said for tai chi-ing the decrepit bod. It racks up good consequence and I miss the ready centre-ing that being tai chi aware gives you.

Contrary to its supposed health benefits I was disappointed in its impact and over time got tardy and ceased to practice the form.

I guess I was too demanding (says he, 20 years later). My pain and stiffness staid very painful and very stiff.

Nonetheless, at the time I was studying various movement awareness regimes and was using and teaching some simple Feldenkrais exercises as well as doing Tai Chi.

I had also trained as a massage therapist and was earning a sort of at-home income from my interventions.

My front gate had a sign: Dave Riley , Massage Therapist.

Aside from the occasional request for 'hand relief' the professional excursion was instructive of what bodies can get up to.

So the years roll on by...and of late  I have moved back to an interest in movement studies.


Ironically, I have harnessed greater benefit from the dancing than  these other investigations.

My ruling is clear: dancing and learning choreography to music is more beneficial for me than doing Tai Chi.  

But dance too is 'movement awareness'. Being conscious of what you are doing when you are moving it/doing it can be achieved  via many different routes and while I greatly respect Tai Chi I think it is overrated and obscurantised by all its chi-energy mysticism.

You have to put up with a lot of yin and yang malarky when you do Tai Chi. 

If you want to believe in 'chi' energy go for it, but spare me the lecture. I used to study body sciences with chiropractors  and I know physiological spin when it is being spun.

Nonetheless, regardless of 'theory' what works is gonna keep on working despite the handicap of its  explanation.

In this regard I have been reading Danny Dreyer's book, ChiRunning -- and it is an useful movement awareness manual.

It's a brand of course but after delivering oodles of workshops and training so many runners, Dreyer has honed his method into a very useful DIY that transcends its Tai Chi Chuan origins. It is a quick way to get to the Tai Chi good oil without having to spend years learning the form.

I have referred here before to similar methods offered by Esther Gokhale: glidewalking.

Many roads can lead to Rome I guess....but what interests me is that the quest to develop a  method  for the way you move is very useful for controlling pain and stiffness ; and ameliorating muscle fatigue.

It's about being aware -- conscious of what you are doing when you are doing it.

Previously I had discussed how I thought kickbiking contributed to the way I walked or ran. In light of this 'chi' study I came back to those considerations and think there is indeed a point to them. A very similar approach to Dreyer is offered by Nate Fagan with his Tai Chi Running franchise. To me, the Fagan approach makes a bit more sense...


...More sense, that is, from the POV of a kickbiker (such as moi).
  • kickbikers lean into the kick
  • kickbikers crouch to kick
  • kickbikers kick from the gut/abdominals
  • kickbikers stamp light on the earth
  • kickbikers stamp the souls of their feet  flat on the earth
  • kickbikers kick square with their feet shoulder length apart
  • kickbikers kick with a regular cadence and speed up by extending the length/reach of their kick
That's my ruling, anyway. All I have to do now is transpose what I know about kicking to running. So I have to be more aware while kickbiking and think how I can adapt what I do on two wheels to what I do on two feet alone.

There's also another relevance, one that affirms the Tai Chi perspective.

The exercising I do now is very slow. There's no explosion, no grunt. The lift and return of either my body or a weight is synchronous with the pace of a Tai Chi move.It may take me up to 10 seconds to slowly and consciously lift a weight (kettlebell or dumbbell) and a similar period to bring it back down again. But unlike Tai Chi I'm trying to reach muscle fatigue so I am seeking burn at some stage during the repetitions and the slowness of the exertion serves to hasten the onset of burn and fatigue

Tai Chi is performed without weights -- in fact weighted Tai Chi would upset the 'balance' of the form. Nonetheless, using weights and lifting them slowly has been proven to be much more effective exercise that  lifts a la the explosive clean and jerk.

Aside from these considerations, doing it slow and with utmost movement awareness isn't the nub of the business. At stake is harnessing core driven  impetus, core control. 

While we may think of dancing as so many arms and legs moving in time with music  I find myself addressing the irony that my dancing challenge isn't so much where I put my feet but where the music  begins inside of me. 

This is something of a revelation. At a time when I am stepping into more intricate footwork I find myself obsessed with the Southern Two Step -- a basic  step that can be counted as One and Two - Three and  Four. In Zydeco it can be as simple as a slide two steps one way and two steps return.

Easy right? Anyone can do that. But then this is where Soul meets Tai Chi Chuan. Taking two steps to the right or four steps to the right is going to be a move with many possibilities. If you think it is simple about keeping up with the beat you'd sentence yourself to  facile dancing.

Like Chi running, like kickbiking or Tai Chi Chuan your Two Stepping should start in your gut: its inner to outer. In Opelousas, Lousiaina, the local Creole community  passes on the Zydeco culture by drilling the youth in Two Step-ology: two steps to the right/two steps to the left/two steps to the right/two steps to the left/two steps to the right/two steps to the left/...it is an obsession insisted upon until the youngsters get so fed up with it they improvise how they get from a to b within the space offered by two steps.

Something so simple can be so crucial to  the whole caboodle. I watch videos of this two stepping business and am amazed how significant a simple  One and Two - Three and  Four can be. That may underline how creative the simple Rhythm and Blues form can be, but at its heart -- its  soul -- is the very same principles that animate the chi-ness in the running, exercising or kickbiking I've been describing.

So in a sense there aren't x number of studies  to pursue but the one focus.
Addendum: In my later life -- after Tai Chi -- I still used elements of the form and always taught a few simple exercises as preliminary to other stuff I offered. For instance I taught kids Theatre Improv for a time and would begin each workshop by utilizing the basic set-up moves for Tai Chi -- the initial descent and shift  of the pelvis and the formation of the ball in the arms followed by a left and right turn -- with concentration on the breathing cadence. It got  the children settled and quiet while encouraging them to focus on what was to follow. I've got half a mind to introduce the same introduction to my dance classes....



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