The following article is speech was given by Steve R. Teller to a New York City business association in June of 2016
After performing a short demonstration of the Tai Chi Form, the speech began:
I’ve just demonstrated for you some simple Tai Chi movements. You’ve probably seen people practicing movements like this in China or in the park and on TV.
Today I will share with you the world of Tai Chi and how it relates to business. I will:
- Describe what Tai Chi is and demonstrate a little more for you
- Share my experiences learning Tai Chi, and
- Connect my business success to its practice.
As a child I admired Bruce Lee who popularized Ka-ra-tee and Chinese Kung Fu around the world.
Karate is a martial art developed in Japan. It is basically a striking art using punching (demo), kicking (demo) and open-handed techniques such as knife-hands (demo). While living in Israel, I invested a few years in progressing up the levels of Karate including breaking lots of objects with my hands and feet.
Tai Chi Ch’uan is an ancient Chinese tradition that today is practiced as a graceful form of exercise by hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Its synchronization of movements performed in a slow, focused manner and accompanied by deep breathing meditations. teach alignment of mind and body which result in focused concentration and clear thinking. Each posture flows into the next without pause, ensuring that your body is in constant motion while in a state of relaxation at all times.
Yang Family Tai Chi Ch’uan
Performed by the late Yang Family Grandmaster
Professor Cheng Man Ch’ing
Karate is strategically and tactically different from Tai Chi, in both body mechanics and philosophy. Let’s say someone had a bow and arrow and shot an arrow at you. In Karate, you take your hand and break the arrow (demo).
If you shot the same arrow at a Tai Chi expert he would stay still and at last second turn slightly to let the arrow pass by without resistance.
It was when I came to New York that I became interested in Tai Chi for health. I enrolled in classes with Robert Morningstar, a Yang Family Tai Chi Master, who had studied under Grandmaster Professor Cheng Man-Ch’ing and other renowned Yang family masters in the US and China since the early 1970s.
Studying with Tai Chi Robert Morningstar for many years now, I’ve learned from him the following 3 activities in the practice of Tai Chi
o Tai Chi Form – There are several different form sequences of 24, 36, and 108 different movements that are called “The Form.” We have now been practicing the Yang Family style together for more than 20 years,
Tai Chi Sword
“Dividing The Grass in Search of The Snake”
o Tai Chi Sword Form – This is a 32 movement form, which is very different from the basic Tai chi Form and is done with a sword. Beyond swordsmanship, the Tai Chi Sword Form teaches the adept how to conduct or channel ch’i (Life Force) into and through inanimate objects.
“The Dragonfly Strikes the Water”
“Rolling Up The Screen”
o Tai Chi Push Hands – This practice mimics a fight. This advanced teaching method is practiced by 2 opponents going through a prescribed routine of lightly pushing each other, using a set sequence of hand and arm movements in meditation to learn to sense the partner’s movements and in a certain way, to read the opponent’s intentions.
This is done to find a way to knock the opponent off balance, without using force.
It’s a tough discipline and depending on the amount of energy applied can be a rough exercise with you ending up either on the floor or winning, simply by standing and fending off attack.
There is no brute force used.
When Tai Chi Push Hands is done correctly, the Tai Chi player feels no “Push” at all. Instead he feels for a moment like he is floating, rising slightly and then suddenly falling into a hole in space (that leads straight to ground).
The secret is “gravity” and application of its opposite, an inverse “counterforce” that is conducted as a current of energy (called Ch’i) through one’s body to apply “Levity” to the opponent.
As I progressed through the forms, Robert introduced me to his applications of Tai Chi principles in Tai Chi Sports. You can always find us at 89th Street and Riverside Park (NYC) on Friday afternoon and Sunday mornings playing a couple of different games that are what Robert named “Tai Chi Sports.”
Tai Chi Sports
In Thunderball, We throw and pass La Crosse balls back and forth with each other. We start with 2 then 3 then with 4 balls, passing them in a random but a rhythmic manner.
At each higher level, new applications of Tai Chi movements are learned to deal with critical situations in which each ball represents a threat or a blow that must be intercepted without force and returned to the partner with the same energy .
At this point I’m a 6 – 7 ball player which means we are exchanging at high speed 6-7 balls with my partner or opponent.
Using Tai Chi principles in playing Thunderball, we can catch 1, 2, 3 or 4 balls at the same time and in some cases catch 3 balls with one hand, and then, without a breeak in the motion, immediately toss them back accurately in return so that the motion is continuous, unceasing and fluid throughout the game.
It is a game in which both sides win with cooperation, or lose by contention.
Thunderball lets you see how Tai Chi really looks like when you move fast, using the martial form in action.. Moving slowly is harder and enables you to move faster and more economically when needed in any critical or life-threatening situation we may face in life.
To he novice, Thunderball might look like juggling, but the funny part is that professional jugglers thought it was impossible before Robert developed it.. Philosophically, it is based on teaching theories of Herman Hesse described in his classic novel,“Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game.” Robert says:
“Thunderball is actually ‘The Glass Bead Game’ come to life.”
It cannot be called juggling because while there is rhythm, there is no set pattern to the exchange. Every motion is novel, and no 2 throws are ever the same. There is no repeat movement or prescribed motions as when 2 jugglers exchange balls while juggling, which is very patterned, restricted movement much like marching.
Jugglers always know exactly where and when the ball is going to be and to which hand. The Thunderball player does not know whether there will be 1, 2, 3, or 4 balls at one time nor where they will ben , nor in what sequence or clusters they’ll arrive. However, Thunderball training teaches the player reasoning and logic to analyze each exchange making it possible to catch them, sometimes in an almost supernatural manner, such as when we catch 3 balls with one hand in a single swoop or when we catch 4 balls at one time, either 2 in each hand, 3 in one hand and one in the other, and the highest achievement to date, i.e. catching 4 Thunderballs in one instant with a single hand.
In Thunderball, we never know where or when it’s going to be and we choose instantaneously which hand is best to use for any contingency, whether receiving a single, double, triple throw, or even 4 balls at a time. It’s all random.
o The other Tai Chi Sport we play is Tai Chi Double & Triple Disk Frisbee. We warm up with One, then we play with 2 Frisbees nested inside each other.
The nested disks are thrown as one and fly as one until a critical moment when they split into 2. We learn to catch one with each hand or 2 disks with one hand using various Tai Chi motions involving (at different times) leaping, lunging, sprinting and spinning (like an ice skater on solid ground) to make the catches.
Many times, we catch 2 Frisbees with one hand. Once we are warmed up, we throw 3 Frisbees nested within each other and sometimes even catch 3 Frisbees with one hand!
This Morningstar Tai Chi Sport develops stamina in addition to timing and coordination. Averaging 6 Double disk throws and catches per minute, we can easily throw and catch (6 X 2 X 30=) 360 disks in half an hour.
Tai Chi makes you quick, agile and fast to react by practicing super-slowly.
It is a paradox: The slower your practice The Form, the quicker you’ll be when needed in application. We apply Tai Chi philosophy and use Tai Chi movements to play both these games (and another called “Zen Soccer” with a martial variation called “War Soccer”).
So, how has all this Tai Chi helped me in business? Here are four ways.
First, there is a saying in Tai Chi that “when you see your enemy move, move first.”
Think about that for a moment. How do you move before your enemy moves? It’s all about sensitivity and anticipation.
Applied to business, Tai Chi theory is very practical, for example, anticipating the direction and speed of market changes is key in business.
If I can beat my competitors to a viable market, I will generate more revenues. If I anticipate a declining market faster, I can conserve and redirect resources.
Second, Tai Chi helped me to quiet my inner dialogue and external restlessness.
Calmness is essential for me as a business leader. If I get all worked up I wouldn’t think clearly and I will disrupt the emotional state of those around me.
Third, Tai Chi improved my concentration. It helped me to release my thoughts from the distractions all around me and focus on what is really important.
In business, the more focused I am, the more people in my company will be focused and it is through this focus that we identify opportunities faster and solve problems more quickly.
And Fourth, Tai Chi improved my decision-making ability.
When those Thunderballs started zooming towards me, playing with Robert Morningstar, I had to learn how to analyze and react fast or there were consequences, and I paid for the consequences.
If I got hit by a Thunderball on any vital part of my body or head, Master Robert would encourage me by saying something cheerful like:
“Hey, that strike was Death!’ Or “Did you notice? You were just killed!”
Or …” Your fault! Why did YOU LET That Thunderball HIT YOU?
Playing Thunderball, we learn that we need to see every danger in critical situations and every opportunity, as well.
Of course, in business, making good decisions is the beginning point for success. Every day, I make 100+ decisions. The better my decision-making, the more successful we will be as a company.
I have found that through improved anticipation, calmness, concentration, and improved decision-making, there is a strong connection between Tai Chi and business success.
So if you are looking for more success in business, I recommend you take up studying Yang Style Tai Chi Ch’uan.
Steve R. Teller
New York City