The Three Levels of Tai Chi Training:
Article by Robert Coons:
We all know that Tai Chi is good for you.
Studies have shown that it can strengthen bones, improve range of motion, and prevent falls in the elderly, but few people know what it can do at a high level.
In today’s Tai Chi Corner, I’m going to explain the Three Levels of Tai Chi Mastery, how they work, and what they can do for you.
Other than the hand form, Tai Chi has many steps of training from beginner to advanced to Master levels, but in total there are three big levels you need to master in order to transform your health.
Changing the Bones:
Changing the Bones is the first step of Tai Chi Mastery and involves using correct biomechanics and movement training to restructure the body.
By following principles such as:
- Being upright,
- Withdrawing the abdomen,
- Concealing the chest,
- Relaxing the back,
we can transform the posture of the skeleton and joints during movement so that we become stronger, more stable, and improve our stamina.
This is the first step of Tai Chi Mastery and takes between 1-5 years to complete.
Changing the Bones has the following benefits:
- Make the legs and hips stronger,
- Increase stamina, muscle tone, and cardiovascular health,
- Improve balance and reduce falls,
- Integrate body and mind,
- Reduce stress of joints,
- Relieve pain in many parts of the body,
- Reduce emotional stress,
- Make the mind strong and improve will power and resolve.
This level of practice is the most demanding physically since we have to redesign our relationship with posture and fix old habits that lead to back, shoulder and neck pain, shallow breathing, and other issues. By repairing our posture, we give the muscles and internal organs a framework to rest on, sort of like hanging clothes on hangers.
When we master the postural requirements of Tai Chi we begin to feel lighter, more free, able to breathe better, and able to withstand the stress of daily life with ease.
Changing the Sinews:
This is the level of practice where we become fully flexible and as the name implies, we are not only stretching muscles at this stage, in fact we are readjusting our relationship with our tendons, ligaments and fascia.
Tai Chi is based on full body movement, that means all parts of the body move together and no part moves independently.
When we get good at this, the deep tissue of the body begins to open and relax.
Practically speaking, our acupoints and meridians begin to stretch open, but many Tai Chi teachers who do not have a background in Traditional Chinese Medicine prefer to explain this from the perspective of the Fascia of the body becoming more flexible.
Either explanation is fine, but if you know acupoints, you will recognize when they open and how to open them, speeding up this stage of training.
The benefits of Changing the Sinews are:
- Relaxing the whole body,
- Improving circulation of blood and Qi,
- Improving digestion,
- Gaining whole body awareness,
- Learning to be strong while staying relaxed,
- Generating effortless power,
- Becoming stronger and more flexible than normal people.
The kind of flexibility gained in this stage of training is unusual since it is not the same as being able to do the splits, but instead it leads the body to become open, soft, and youthful, making it possible for blood to flow better in the body and nourish all tissues including organs, skin, and nerves.
This level of practice is already very high level, taking between 5-10 years to obtain and few people get there, but there is one highest level of practice above it.
Changing the Marrow:
In Chinese Medicine Marrow is another word for the brain and nervous system.
At the highest level of Tai Chi, people gain the ability to transform their entire nervous system, gain more power of perception, intention and will, and become different from ordinary people.
This is not only a physical level of practice, it is actually psychological and even somewhat spiritual.
This level begins when the spine gradually relaxes and softens, allowing a sensation of connection and energy to penetrate the skull and enter the brain cavity.
Some people say that this is the Qi moving from the kidneys to the brain, while others say that the deep relaxation of the spine causes hormonal release which creates a pleasurable sensation that further relaxes the body, but either way the outcome is profound relaxation, comfort, and increased perceptual awareness.
The benefits of this level of practice are:
- The body and mind move as one,
- You may feel your body is very light and when you walk it almost feels as though you are flying,
- You become much more aware of your surroundings and inner environment,
- You do not experience aches and pains that normal people experience as they age,
- Your thoughts slow down and your mind becomes more clear.
This high level of practice takes between 10-20 years to cultivate and it is usually a well kept secret which Masters only divulge to their senior students after great trust has been generated between them.
Overview of the Three Levels:
The key point is that you need to start with posture, gradually become strong and flexible, open the body, and finally achieve the connection of mind and body.
Most people who practice external martial arts such as Karate, Judo, and Boxing have to slow down as they age because of injury, but Tai Chi practitioners can keep getting better and better, becoming stronger as they age.
In order to master the Three Levels, you need a teacher who has already experienced them.
A teacher who has mastered the first level of changing the bones can lead you to the ability to change the bones, while a teacher who has mastered the other two stages can lead you to those abilities.
If you can’t find a teacher who has completed all three levels, even just learning level one is already better than not learning at all.
The only fear is that there are many teachers who have not even mastered the first level, and they often inadvertently injure their students because they do not have sufficient detail to help them find the right path.
If you want to learn high level Tai Chi skills, come visit us in Alexander Muir Memorial Park in uptown Toronto on Saturday Mornings starting April 20th.