Sunday, June 8, 2014

Tai Chi

Martial arts are often portrayed as mere pugilism. It is easy to regard them purely as methods of violence, but such a view is woefully incomplete. The self-discipline required of serious martial artists can actually make them mature, level-headed, friendly individuals. In fact, many students of one particular fighting system are not even interested in combat. They learn how to punch for the sake of bodily health and mental tranquility. They learn taijiquan, or tai chi.

Taijiquan (tai chi chuan, t'ai ch'i ch'uan) is commonly translated to "supreme ultimate fist." It is a martial art that emphasizes yin-yang philosophy and efficiency of movement. There are several main branches or styles of taijiquan: Chen, Yang, Wu (Hao), Wu, and Sun. Each style is named after its founder and reflects his particular mindset concerning martial arts.

Taijiquan is an internal martial art. As such, practitioners focus on sensations within the body. Moving slowly allows them to carefully study how their muscles and bones work together. They ask themselves questions like "Do I have correct posture? Where do I feel tension or pain? Am I coordinating my whole body in unison?" They also think about yin and yang in the context of fighting. Hard and soft, push and pull, rise and fall, slow and fast, advance and retreat. This inward focus leads to heightened physical awareness and peace of mind.

Taijiquan's slow, meditative method of practice makes it a well-suited exercise for sick and elderly people. These practitioners may not be concerned about combat readiness, but they reap benefits for their health. Taijiquan promotes many things: deep breathing, good blood pressure, increased balance and coordination, a calm and focused mind, and increased blood circulation. Far from being just a fighting system, taijiquan is studied as a tool for longevity and personal growth.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Chinese New Year 2014

January 31 starts the Chinese New Year which corresponds to the lunisolar calendar. The holiday is also called the Spring Festival and is celebrated by Chinese communities around the world. Festivities around this time are driven by a desire for prosperity and good will. For instance, houses are cleaned in hopes of expelling bad luck and making way for good luck. Debts are paid. Grudges are forgotten. Encouraging messages (such as which means good fortune) are hung up everywhere. Presents are given. On New Year's Eve, it is customary for families to reunite and enjoy dinner together.

As the new year begins, firecrackers and fireworks are set off in multitude to cast out evil spirits and celebrate a fresh start. On this day (the first of fifteen) dragon and lion dances are performed. Elders are visited by their descendants. Gifts of money are given to younger family members. People try to get as much good luck as possible.

Further festivities can be enjoyed for the next two weeks, including several birthdays. A couple examples are the God of Wealth's birthday on the second day (Feb. 1) and the “common man's birthday” on the seventh day (Feb. 6). On the fifteenth day (Feb. 14) the new year's celebration is concluded with the Lantern Festival. For this last day of the Spring Festival, candles are lit and lanterns are paraded through the streets.

As you may have heard, 2014 is the year of the horse. More specifically it is the yang wood horse. In Chinese astrological beliefs, birth years follow cycles. The twelve-year zodiac cycle goes like this: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and then pig. The ten-year elemental cycle is as follows: wood, wood, fire, fire, earth, earth, metal, metal, water, and then water. The two-year yin-yang cycle is, obviously, yin then yang. These patterns combine to form one overall sixty-year cycle. Astrologers use these cycles to determine the character traits and fortunes of a person based on birth year. According to the sixty-year cycle, 2013 was the year of the yin water snake, and 2015 will be of the yin wood goat. The astrological beliefs are so widespread that Chinese communities experience an increase in birth rates during dragon years. Parents try to have their children born on those years because the dragon is the best zodiac animal. If you are born in a year of the dragon, so the astrologers say, you will be smarter, luckier, and more successful in life than if you were born any other year.