Sunday, December 24, 2006

It’s a li-li legend

Liang Tung Tsai, 45, was dying. The doctors had given him a mere two months to live. One of the highest ranking customs officials in China, his body lay ravaged by an excess of sex, drugs and alcohol. Liang was suffering from pneumonia, a severe case of gonorrhea and an infected liver. On 17 August 2002, TT Liang breathed his last, 57 years after the doctors had made their pronouncement, at the venerable age of 102. The architect of his recovery was a 3000 year old art called Tai Chi Chuan.

When Liang realised that his lifestyle was killing him and modern medicine could only do so much, he started practising the ancient Chinese art of Tai Chi that was renowned for its healing and restorative powers. In less than 3 years, Liang had recovered fully and devoted himself to the art that had saved his life. He went on to master and teach this life giving art. Master Liang remained a paragon of health, vitality and invincible martial skill even in his 80s and 90s.

Master TT Liang’s story is not exceptional. Neither the mid-life crisis that he faced, nor his astounding longevity and puissance. Professionals in every sphere today realise that the globalised globe is a minefield of opportunities and as long as they keep digging, they’re sure to strike gold even as they dig their own graves in the bargain. But life for us rat racers is often a replay of Tolstoy’s ‘How Much Land Does A Man Need?’ and since not every monk has a Ferrari to sell, nursing slipped discs and chronic ulcers while sustaining high growth careers and tumours has become an ever increasing phenomenon. We are the world, where 30 is the new 60. By the same token however, there are ancient, failsafe health and energy management systems that are practised even today, whose practitioners, almost without exception, live long, healthy and balanced lives. Tai Chi for instance, is an offshoot of the Taoist belief system that believes that life is energy and as long as energy flows unblocked, the body would remain healthy and strong.

“I can eat more than you, have more sex than you and I can fight better than you…” Show me a person who wouldn’t want to be able to say that at 80 to 25-30 year olds and I’ll show you a jack-fruit in a suit. Well, keyboard and client pushers of the world, rejoice, for there is such a man who was as good as his word (on most counts at least). Bruce Frantzis, in his surprisingly titled ‘The Big Book of Tai Chi’ talks about one of his teachers, Wang Shu Jin, who then in his 80s said these very words to a young Bruce, who attested the truth of most of what Master Wang claimed and chose not to question the rest. Master Wang claimed that the chi that bubbled in his body was a veritable fountain of youthful vitality.

Last but not the least of the Immortal Orientals is Master Li Ching Yuen. The Guinness Book says that Jeanne Calment, a French woman who died at age 122 in 1997 is the longest lived human yet, but the Chinese claim that Master Li Ching Yuen (born 1677, died 1933) at 256 years of age far outlived Madame Calment. Fit and strong all of his life, Master Li survived 14 wives and practised an art called the ‘eight Brocades’, a series of postures that set the stone for Tai Chi. Many gerontological experts question the authenticity of the records that vouch for master Li’s amazing longevity but even they would be hard pressed to deny the obvious benefits that accrue from the practice of Tai Chi. One of Master Li’s students, General Yang Shen lived to be 98 and would celebrate each of his birthdays with a marathon race up a mountain.

Some issues ago, I had spoken of the benefits of Yoga. Tai Chi shares most of those benefits with Yoga. While Yoga is perhaps slightly more potent because of the inversions and the strenuous nature of the practice, it is also a more intimidating and demanding practice which might be beyond the resolve of most new converts. Tai Chi, with its relatively gentler movements and accommodating life-style principles might just be the solution to sustaining a busy life-style that is currently a candle burning out at both ends. Once upon a time, Chinese emperors harnessed chi to keep their harems happy and their selves alive and today Tai Chi is a bona fide philosopher’s stone that promises to help those it touches live happily ever after... well almost.

The pretext and the text

Healing and martial arts are best learnt from a teacher, not only because they have a direct impact on health and quality of people’s lives but also because many techniques operate at a subtle level which a neophyte might not be able to fathom. Although, Tai Chi Chuan is a gentle art that even the old and infirm can start practising, most human beings have great creative ingenuity when it comes to causing accidental self-injury in even the most innocuous of circumstances.

Unfortunately, the Tai Chi that is being taught in India and most parts of the world is a diluted watered down version of the original martial art. Tai Chi has branched out into many different styles like Yang Family style, Wu Family style and the Chen Faily style but most teachers focus more on the superficial forms without learning or teaching the mechanics of developing subtle internal force called Jin.

But before one goes looking for a teacher, a theoretical understanding of the art would be invaluable. There is a lot of ‘noise’ that clouds the concept of Tai Chi and internal force which might confuse the initiate. However, there are some brilliant books on the subject which could be wonderful introductions to the art for beginners

Tai Chi Classics – This book is a combination of three ‘classics’ by three great masters, including Master Chang San-Feng, arguably the man who created Tai Chi.

Tai Chi for Health and Self Defense – Written by TT Liang, the one-time living embodiment of what miracles Tai Chi can work, this book would inspire readers and practitioners with the sheer intensity of the author’s experiences.


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