Tai Chi Chuan : a way of life

Tai Chi draws upon the simplest of principles, but mastery does not come as easily

Anyone who has visited China and found themselves on the streets in the early morning will be familiar with the sight of people practicing the slow and graceful movements of Tai Chi in unison. Tai Chi Chuan or Taijiquan is an internal Chinese martial art, and literally translates as "supreme ultimate fist".

All styles that have emerged over the past 100 years can trace their roots back to a family boxing, or fighting, style developed in a small village in the Henan province of China during the 17th century, although where the exercises came from before then, is somewhat open to conjecture.

More recently, Tai Chi has found global fame due to its health-enhancing benefits. However, while many people today may practise Tai Chi solely for its physical benefits, it has at its core the ancient philosophy of Taoism, a philosophy that goes back around 6,000 years.

Tai Chi works on the principles of Yin and Yang – which in Taoist philosophy represent the two opposite forces in action in the Universe, from which all things stem. The Taoists believe that the human body is a reflection of the Universe, and it can be used as a gateway to understanding and achieving the Tao— which means the ‘path’ or the ‘way’.

This interplay of opposites within the Universe is reflected in every movement within traditional Tai Chi Chuan, as you change constantly from Yin to Yang — from closed to open, passive to active, empty to full, soft to hard, slow to quick, each part, each side of the body is engaged in this dance that mirrors the nature of our internal ‘selves’ as well as the Universe outside.

The more you practice, the more these opposite forces of Yin and Yang become balanced and a part of yourself, leading to a greater sense of harmony and fulfillment.

Seems simple? In a sense, it couldn’t be easier — you are following the natural laws of the Universe, forging balance and harmony out of performing seemingly simple physical movements. But it may seem contradictory that this supposedly easy ‘path of least resistance’, as many people think of Tai Chi training, actually requires considerable effort and dedication to follow.

To become proficient at Tai Chi, the training requires the student to practice daily, and the skills don’t come easily. Despite the primary principle being to just relax and move comfortably, it takes considerable work to achieve this!

Just as a proper foundation has to be laid for a house to stand firm, so must a proper foundation be laid within the body for a solid practice to take shape. And just as it is physically hard for us to re-learn how to relax and follow our natural way of moving, so it can be just as difficult to find the ‘way’, and find balance and harmony within life.

Stephanie Fowler first began learning martial arts in 1992 at the age of 17. Her training in Tai Chi Chuan began a year later. She has trained with many top masters from all over the world, including the current Chen-style lineage holder Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. She has also practised Qigong and another internal martial art, Bagua Zhang.
Picture: ANDRÉ CARRILHO
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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left