Why Practice Tai Chi?
I have been practicing martial arts for over 36 years, and I can’t recall ever being asked why I practice Jiu-jitsu or Muay Thai, but often I am asked why I practice Tai chi. I could list many reasons, but I will often respond with, “If the only benefit from the practice was yielding, it would be enough for me to want to do the practice.”
What is Yielding?
Yielding is an elusive concept, frequently manifesting in ways that words are inadequate to describe. Often the workings of yielding are invisible and seem mystical. The warrior traditions define yielding as the mental and physical act of identifying and using the least amount of resistance necessary to accomplish the desired outcome. Yielding does not mean giving up—quite the contrary. People skilled in yielding have heightened their internal and external awareness to such a degree that they can transform ineffective resistance into a response capable of achieving their end goal with the least amount of effort.
There are three different categories of yielding- physical, mental, and emotional. Below I will give a brief explanation of all three.
This is essential for development in martial arts, sports, and a myriad of other physical activities. A simple example of physical yielding would be if I squared up with someone and placed both of my palms against both of her palms, and we started to push each other. In most cases, the bigger, stronger person would always prevail. With yielding, you use strategy and sensitivity rather than seeing who the bigger meathead is. When you are pushed, you redirect that force, so it is not pushing your center line. As the energy from the push passes by you and your opponent is off balance, you can push them with minimal effort to get the advantage. This is obvious how this can be beneficial in athletics.
In order to be good at this skill, we have to increase our awareness to notice subtleties within our body so we can still respond without resistance. To be good at yielding, you have to be well rooted, the lower part of your body needs to be strong and flexible so you can change your central equilibrium without getting tight, you need to remain relaxed, the breath needs to be even and calm, and the mind needs to be present. It takes years and years to get to a high level of yielding, but we can benefit immediately on multiple levels.
Once you start to notice these subtleties within yourself is where yielding starts to get interesting. This increased internal awareness will also help us to see things more clearly in other people. Say you are having a conversation with another person, and you say something that unsettles them. Maybe you notice a slight change of breath or tension in their shoulders, a subtle change in their tone there are many ways to pick up on their sense of unease. If we see it immediately, we can adjust the conversation to keep them feeling relaxed and comfortable. If we did not pay any attention to their discomfort, it could lead to a confrontation.
This heightened awareness teaches us to become more considerate, allowing us to be more in tune with whoever we interact with. You might be saying yes, I always do that, and I would agree everyone does this to a degree. In sports, we always say if you have a disciplined athlete, it is relatively easy to get them to reach 80% of their potential. How many though, will reach 90 or 95%? Not many. If you or I were to walk into a crime scene, we would notice a few things, but a good detective would see much more than we could ever hope to without proper training. This is what I mean. Yielding helps us to be so in tune with others during conversations that we can easily guide our interactions towards the path of least resistance leading to a positive outcome.
This direction of yielding is very much like mental yielding but focuses on our internal self-talk and ability to direct how we choose to process our emotions. Often in life, things will happen, and we will immediately respond only later to realize maybe we could have made a better choice. Using yielding with our internal processing will help you to break things down as they occur and see them from a wider perspective. This can help us make better choices in life situations as they unfold.
There are many examples of how we can use these three forms of yielding. In fact, I believe that yielding can be used in everything we do. Again, while I believe there are hundreds of benefits that come along with practicing tai chi, yielding alone is worth the effort. If you are interested in learning more about this practice, please call the academy at 503-235-3435 or check out our online program at Portalndtaichiacademy.com/online.