I’ve practiced tai chi for 25 years, religiously pursuing an almost daily exercise to improve health, balance and mindfulness. It seems to be working within those parameters, but it may be too early to tell. Eventually, I will fall down and lose my mind. It’s just a matter of time, no matter how hard I work to prolong it.
More recently, I’ve begun to understand how this 200-year-old Chinese martial art form can take you further than simple health and vitality, both physically and mentally. Those ideas began to crystalize during a recent weekend seminar conducted by Sifu Mark Rasmus, a martial artist and former clairvoyant who brings that mysticism to the teaching of tai chi, as I’ll explain later.
Tai chi chuan translates to “extreme, ultimate boxing (or fist).” This form of Chinese boxing (yes, these guys were flexing their muscles during the “Boxer Rebellion” in China at the turn of the 20th century) evolved from the martial arts form and practice of the Yang and other families in the 1800s. The Yang form was refined to 37 basic postures and popularized in the United States by Cheng Man-Ch’ing, a renaissance man renowned as the “Master of the Five Excellences” – poetry, calligraphy, painting, Chinese medicine and tai chi.
My teachers descended from the group of Americans, particularly Robert E. Smith, who were schooled by Cheng, a man of small stature who easily dispatched them in his New York studio. My teachers have explained that the power of tai chi comes from inside the body and is guided by a mind (yi) that is sensing the “center” and “root” of opponents, and then purposefully directing energy (chi) to neutralize and then dispatch them.
Anyone can develop these martial arts skills, as witness Cheng, a sickly young man who healed himself through tai chi. When you look at him on video, with his wispy sideburns and goatee, you think he could not possibly be a fighter. But using tai chi principles, he would outmaneuver and defeat larger men in America. Check out Cheng displaying his martial abilities through push-hands exercises:
When Cheng is at his best, he doesn’t extend his arms in propelling his opponents – or “bouncing” them, as modern tai chi practitioners describe the process the Chinese refer to as “fajin,” or issuing explosive power. He is able to absorb the energy of his attackers and to send it back at them. To understand this process, you really must feel it. Now, after 12 hours of training with Sifu Mark Rasmus, I have a new appreciation for this internal power.
Mark Rasmus (sifu is the traditional Chinese honorific for “teacher”) came to tai chi after extensive experience as a wing chun fighter. He also studied Hermetics, an occult pursuit of magic and mysticism by training the mind and body, as popularized in Europe by Franz Bardon’s “Initiation into Hermetics.” Mark fondly recalls his work as a clairvoyant, with and without Tarot cards, and today still practices psychic healing through chi kung, literally “life energy cultivation.”
“Usually when I touch them, I can separate and remove the energy that is causing the sickness,” Rasmus says, “as long as they are receptive to the touch and the idea of healing through transmission of chi. The mind controls this energy.”
In tai chi, the concepts of chi, as the “life force” you can cultivate with breathing and meditation, and yi, the purposeful mind that allows you to direct this life force, suggest a power that at least borders on the metaphysical. The workshop title, “The Science of Elastic Force” could not disguise the mystical and magical tenor of the teaching of Sifu Mark Rasmus.
Tai chi has long had the allure of the mystical, the “secret” behind the underlying power of the internal martial arts. In the Chinese culture, however, these are hardly secrets, just the expression of Taoist and even Confucian belief systems. The concepts of Yin and Yang, for example, are essential Chinese identities, opposite forces that are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world. Understanding this duality in nature and humanity is an ancient road to knowledge in China.
Rasmus teaches a western perspective on this duality, drawing from Hermetics, referring to the yin quality as magnetic, the yang quality as electrical. These polarities serve as the springboard for his practice, and his training. As we learned, they intersect neatly with tai chi principles, and they work in the real world.
Next: Into the Mystic.