Disciplines related to Tai Chi Chuan by Principles

The Alexander Technique

Many of the Principles (of T'ai Chi) were discovered independently by Frederick Matthias Alexander, an Australian stage performer in the 1890s, by means of the scientific method of observation, hypothesis and experimental confirmation. His method and the results it produced have been studied by reputable scientists and their efficacy has been verified.

Alexander's method differs from T'ai Chi in three ways: The Primacy of the Head as the origin of movement, the method of teaching through daily activities and the method of breathing. These differences may seem significant, but they are not as great as they may seem at first. In the Alexander Technique, the impulse to move is inhibited until the body is correctly structured (by the inner suggestion to release the neck and allow the head to move forward and up) and by retaining that structure as the movement to follow is kinesthetically visualized (until the actual movement appears spontaneously). This is completely consistent with the T'ai Chi body structuring and the Taoist (and T'ai Chi) "wu wei er wu bu wei" (without DOING yet without failing to do) and accomplishing action through mind rather than forced doing.

The Alexander Technique breathing methods can differ significantly from T'ai Chi. These seem to me to be chest centric rather than belly-abdomen-back centric as in T'ai Chi. These differences are consistent with the origins of the art. Alexander wanted a clear, melodious voice that could fill a theater. T'ai Chi breathing is slow, smooth, quiet, fine, and most important, allowed to go where it will. When a person sheds habitual tension, the breath tends to go to the abdomen, as in an infant. The Primacy of the belly-abdomen-back in breathing and controlling movement is consistent with the needs of a Martial Art, but not entirely necessary in daily activities like climbing stairs, getting out of a chair or filling a theater with your voice. The primacy of moving the waist in T'ai Chi supports generating physical power and evading or guiding the power of incoming attacks.

Vipasana (Mindfulness) Meditation

This is probably the method of meditation used by Sidartha Gotama. When a person does the T'ai Chi as a meditation practice, for all practical purposes they are doing a form of Mindfulness Meditation.

The Systema of Ryabko

Systema attracts a lot of T'ai Chi practitioners because of how closely the principles of Systema overlap those of T'ai Chi. Systema teaching recommends that the student leave the martial arts they may have already studied "at the door" so that their practice can incorporate spontaneous, creative, principled responses to every situation. This is consistent with T'ai Chi when it is applied as a martial art. I think that Professor Cheng's injunction that it is a mistake to "adhere rigidly to fixed forms" and that san shou is without form and may have no (obvious) resemblance to the form is well served by the Systema exercise of "Slow Sparring." I also think that the Systema exercises that are structured the same way that psychotherapeutic exercises for de-habituation, disinhibition and desensitization are structured can be useful in bringing the relaxed, aware, neutralizing and discharging of T'ai Chi into the physical repertoire of a student.

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Liam Comerford
September 13, 2011.

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