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Taijiquan and Shakuhachi

Kinya and I have been studying with Master Chen Peishan, 20th generation successor of Chen taijiquan, for nine years. (This is Xiaojia taijiquan.) The natural and effective movements of this style have helped our shakuhachi playing enormously. We breathe more easily, we have better concentration, and it is easier to hold the instrument and move our fingers. Most of all, the quality of our energy has changed.

Being a musician means being an athlete. Yes, the music comes from your soul, but you need your body to make the music actually resound in the world. Shakuhachi players can have difficulties in many areas. The instrument is heavy, bamboo
doesnft give you much traction to keep it in place, and a lot of the weight is borne by the thumb and middle finger of one hand. Repeated rotary finger movements of (only!!) five of the digits can lead to problems like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Poor shoulder position and the stationary squeeze of the middle finger and thumb can lead to problems like tennis elbow and other forms of tendonitis. Not to mention tired jaws, shoulders, and neck from prolonged tension, and tired kidney muscles from inefficient breathing.

The most important principle of Taijiquan is fangsong, which is a physical relaxation that also requires intentional concentration, and an understanding of the complemetary forces which balance the body, the spirit, and the universe.

Any athletic program that can help you relax into your best physical and spiritual form will enhance your shakuhachi playing. Pilates-based workouts are great, so are the Alexander and Mitzvah Techniques. Kinya and I have found that Tai Chi naturally addresses many problems related to long-term stress and blockages. For us, the movements of Chen-family Taijiquan seem very similar to the flow of classical Honkyoku music, and we are delighted that we have found these two wonderful ways of expression that positively reinforce each other.

Click here for some good stretches for the elbow. Remember, your body is a vehicle for your music! Treat it well. Stretch before and after playing, and move toward fangsong.


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