08 September, 2010

Finding my form - Taijiquan

There are a few Martial Arts that I’ve always wanted to try; Kendo, (because you get a sword), Judo (because in the seventies Brian Jacks always won Superstars) and Tai Chi (because it's just so different from all of the others).

I haven’t been able to find a taster session for Kendo in Leicester, and although I’ve been invited to watch a session at the Urban Martial Arts centre, I’m not ready to part with £65 for a full beginner’s course. With Judo, my attempts to find a class that trains when I’m available have so far not been successful but I will keep on trying. My friend Mahiee has just been selected for the National team so I’m inspired by him to do at least one class. As for Tai Chi, I’d tried to visit a club in Wigston but that had closed, however I kept in touch with Instructor Nasser who has just begun classes at a new venue off Narborough Road. Last night I went along to a 5.30pm form class to try it out.

I’ve always loved form, (or kata/ patterns) and enjoyed learning the execution and presentation and understanding the bunkai (application of each move) so I hope I’ll feel at home practicing Taijiquan. The Fa-Jing Chuan School based on the second floor of an industrial unit, is a large, well lit space which is slowly being transformed with panelling and paint into a large well-lit dojo. As I’m waiting for Nasser I meet up with long-term student who has been studying tai-chi for a couple of years and her son who has just started, and she is enthusiastic about the benefits of Tai Chi. The three of us make up the class and Nasser arrives at exactly 5.30 to start the class.

There is something both disconcerting and calming about moving so slowly. We start with some very gentle breathing exercises rather than a warm up and the whole session is relaxed and informal. This form has over 100 moves and these Tuesday sessions are designed to teach the first third of the form. There are other sessions to learn the second and third part as well as classes in the fighting arts. Each move is rehearsed over and over again with Nasser explaining the timing, subtleties of movement, alignment, balance and application of each. In over an hour we practice just six actions and two steps. At one point Nasser gives excellent explanations of why each step lands heel-first, so as not to commit to the step, and the generation of torque in the body. I’m confident that Nasser has a very good understanding of biomechanics and the fighting arts as well as the more gentle internal ones.

If anyone is interested in Tai Chi or just wants an activity that is low-impact and low-burn then this is an excellent choice and if you’re a perfectionist so much the better. I felt I would miss the work-out that’s offered from other higher impact classes and this would not be my recommendation for reward led or externally motivated people who want a shiny belt to demonstrate their skill and knowledge. What I would say is that as a Martial Artist this is a fantastic accompaniment to your weekly high-impact class. An hour focusing on how the body creates power and eliminating the flourishes and tells we all pick up when we learn kata for competition or gradings is an hour well-spent and can only complement other training. I hope Nasser fills his classes with a range of learners. I would particularly recommend this for black belts of any style who are between dans to broaden their horizons and to older or injured Martial Artists who can no longer rely on sheer power and need to hone their techniques.

My one and only complaint? The class over-ran by 30 minutes and I was late for my beer.

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