Action, Satisfaction, Wellness: What Tai Chi Means to Me

Dec 18, 2021 5 min read
Action, Satisfaction, Wellness: What Tai Chi Means to Me
Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Post by Kurt Halfyard T’ai chi ch’uan, The Grand Ultimate Fist, and energy work in general have altered all aspects of my life and philosophy.

Post by Kurt Halfyard

T’ai chi ch’uan, The Grand Ultimate Fist, and energy work in general have altered all aspects of my life and philosophy. To accept difficulty, embrace it as necessity for growth, a part of Sensei’s lessons, augmented my own more theoretical pursuits on the subject.

A Story

My son, Willem, was born in 2003; my daughter, Miranda, one year later. Shortly thereafter, they grew from infants to toddlers with all the myriad tasks, trials and joys in those first years creating a maelstrom of activity for new parents. Where ‘just get ting things done’ can (too often) push into the place of enjoying the process. On one of these days, while trying to reach into the back of our car to pull Willem out of his car seat, I twisted my back. The pain was sudden, intense, and fleeting. Recovery from the surprise of my muscles and posture not obeying what I told it to do was, fortunately, fast. The lessons on mortality (and fragility) offered, but not well assimilated, in this in stance registered in only a blip; life went on.

Several months later, I was at work installing an electrostatic probe into an experimental fixture – literally, measuring the energy on the surface of polymer materials. I leaned down to check the spacing of the probe, only to feel my back give out. The pain was much greater this time. It was not so fleeting as before. I had to lay down for the better part of a day for the muscles to relax and the pain to diminish. Again, life went on.

What started out as the pursuit of, to put it simply, a ‘normal day’ – to not be in pain on an increasingly regular basis – after several bouts of (humbling) adversity, has evolved into a larger worldview of ideas, concepts, and most significantly: action. A journey of the kind that is both proactive, and accepting. Hardship is a kind of gift, if one considers it from a certain point of view.

Months later, a sudden turn and my spine screamed again. Recovery was 48 hours with very little calm or sleep. Not so long after, while bending over to pick up a leaf that had fallen off one of our houseplants, the pain returned, and I was left on the kitchen floor for several hours. Only a single awkward position would alleviate the pain. My family went about their daily routine while I was conscious, but incapacitated in the middle of the centre of our home, useless. Eventually, it was clear that things were not going to fix themselves. An ambulance was called and I was taken to the hospital, ad ministered strong opiates (“dilaudid”), X-rayed, prodded, tested and held overnight. It was now apparent that the episodes were were increasing in intensity, and the time-gap between ‘back-incidents’ was shrinking. I was only in my mid-thirties! My wife, who had been practicing Tae Kwon Do for several years, and had recently enrolled our growing children, suggested I do something. Indeed, doing nothing but enduring appeared to be a road to ruin.


My First Class

A short time after (perhaps, shamefully, longer than it should have been) I found the Yume Da Po School. I donned my wife’s spare pair of white Tae Kwon Do pants, no shame in that, and walked in cold to the Dojo. My first class showed me that I did not even know how to stand properly. Flow, motion, stillness, these were not things I thought about, but would eventually become critical towards personal health and growth.

T’ai chi ch’uan, The Grand Ultimate Fist, and energy work in general have altered all aspects of my life and philosophy. To accept difficulty, embrace it as necessity for growth, a part of Sensei’s lessons, augmented my own more theoretical pursuits on the subject. The current writings of Levantine thinker and author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in particular, focus on aspects of society and the human existence which benefit from stress, disorder, volatility, and turmoil. His book, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, is an examination of things, including human bones, that require stress, not only to merely survive, but also to flourish and prosper. This is Qi, or rather how we work with it through our body.


Mindfulness in Motion

To do energy work for and on oneself, to understand the value and power of stillness, or rather mindfulness in motion is what Tai Chi is coming to mean to me; at this time. Working key points along the body’s meridians and pressure points, both as the process of warming up, as an exercise of shedding many distracting elements of the modern world, and in the oxford dictionary definition of mindfulness, “A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” The power of calm, minimalism, and awareness cannot be understated in the world of distraction, complication and demands for our time – our energy being pulled from every space (and increasingly wirelessly online in our private spaces via devices and the internet of things.) Training, like music or art, becomes a personal, soothing space, one that if considered fully can grow to displace distraction.

The power of calm, minimalism, and awareness cannot be understated in the world of distraction, complication and demands for our time – our energy being pulled from every space (and increasingly wirelessly online in our private spaces via devices and the internet of things.) Training, like music or art, becomes a personal, soothing space, one that if considered fully can grow to displace distraction.

What started out as the pursuit of, to put it simply, a ‘normal day’ – to not be in pain on an increasingly regular basis – after several bouts of (humbling) adversity, has evolved into a larger worldview of ideas, concepts, and most significantly: action. A journey of the kind that is both proactive, and accepting. Hardship is a kind of gift, if one considers it from a certain point of view.

Three years have passed since the day I walked in the door. Three years absent an incident. Is this a scientific study of cause and effect? Certainly not, as I am a population of only one, and there are a host of other variables to consider. However, this is a situation that feels correct; indeed, in a way that offers both motivation and calm. In terms of action and result, there is satisfaction. Perhaps a better word would be, wellness.


Infinite Cycles

I am not a poet, nor an artist with pen or brush. I do however, often work in the art of appreciation or criticism, and so I offer the first verse of Dylan Thomas’ timeless poem on the infinite cycles (and re-cycles) of the universe, which is to me, the nature of Qi, in all of its forms.

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
- Dylan Thomas


Guest article by one of the Dapo senior-ranking tai chi students. Originally submitted in 2016 as part of the requirements for Instructor Certification, Level 1.

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