Facebook Postings by Martin Inn
March 31, 2016
THE AXIS OF T’AI CHI CH’UAN AND CHINESE MEDICINE
The brilliant acupuncturist, Kiiko Matsumoto, in her research into Han Dynasty texts, discovered that the second character, “chi” as found in the name T’ai Chi Ch’uan, means “pole”, and is the same character that is used for “axis”, the imaginary line around which something rotates. If the character is used as a verb, it means “absolute”. In Chinese philosophy and medicine, “absolute” means absolute yin turning into absolute yang as described in the Su Wen chapter 5. An example of absolute yin turning to absolute yang is the phenomena of a hurricane where the eye of the hurricane is still (absolute yin) while the outer winds (absolute yang) is violent and destructive.
In T’ai Chi Ch’uan, this concept is clearly demonstrated in movement. The T’ai Chi Classics state, “Seek stillness in movement”, “Stand like a balance and rotate actively like a wheel,”and “The waist is like the axle and the ch’i is like the wheel.”
In Chinese Medicine, this concept is displayed in the layout of the pulses in the right and left wrists and how they correspond to the internal organs of the body. The spleen pulse is on the rt. wrist while the organ is located on the left side of the body. The liver pulse is located on the left wrist while the organ is located on the right side, opposite to the pulse. The ch’i originates in the lower Tan T’ien and spirals upward to the head in the pattern of the double helix as it circulates through the different internal organs moving from one side of the body to the opposite side. The axis that acts like a pole is the Ren Mai (Conception Vessel) and the Du Mai ( Governing Vessel) which is the same pole in T’ai Chi Ch’uan.
Along with the concept of the central axis or pole in the body, is the axis that the earth rotates around. In Chinese philosophy and culture, the outer world always mimics the internal body, the macrocosmic and the microcosmic. In Han Dynasty times, the world was not thought of as round and rotating around an axis. Their concept of the world was that the Earth was sitting on top of a giant turtle. Instead of an axis there was the North Star, which was central to navigation and a standard which the civilization utilized to oriented itself. The Big Dipper and Little Dipper are arranged in reference to the North Star. Direction is very important to Feng Shui and the 8 Directions are important to the martial arts. The Emperor’s throne was always arranged so that the Emperor faced toward the south and the North Star was behind the throne. In the T’ai Chi sword there is a movement named “South Pointing Compass”. The concept of the North Star being the center, represents something that is quiet and stable. It is still while the other heavenly bodies move in relation to it. In the body, according to Han Dynasty medical texts, the area below Ren 3 is considered to be the North Star of the body. It is the quiet center, or eye of the storm that will influence the rest of the body. The energy that emanates from this quiet center below Ren 3, increases in strength and speed as it reaches the extremities. In T’ai Chi, this is the basis of T’i Fang discharge. In Chinese Medicine, this area below Ren 3 can be a useful point to relieve pain in the hands, fingers, toes, and head. Therefore anything that disturbs the North Star of the body such as C-sections or hernia operations has a negative effect on the rest of the body as the ch’i tries to radiate outward from the North Star. In T’ai Chi to “Sink Ch’i to Tan T’ien” is one of the most important internal practices. It means to gather the ch’i at the North Star. By strengthening the North Star, you can attain better health and longevity. My teacher once told me that Yang Cheng-fu had 3 abdominal operations for obesity. He died after the third operation.
February 1, 2016
T’AI CHI PRINCIPLES
The Single Movements and Sword Form are just a medium to practice the principles of Tai Chi as expressed in the Tai Chi Classics. The movements have no inherent value without these principles.
September 11, 2015
STRUCTURAL IMBALANCES IN TAI CHI AND CHINESE MEDICINE
In the history of great masters of T’ai Chi, most of them were not well educated and often illiterate. Prof. Cheng wrote the preface and perhaps the whole classic of Yang Cheng-fu’s “T’i Yung Fa” None of the great masters were trained doctors or practitioners of Chinese Medicine except Prof. Cheng. Therefore the relation T’ai Chi and Chinese Medicine was never clearly understood or how one affects the other. The T’ai Chi Classics state that “the head top should be suspended,” “ the body should be upright to support force from the eight directions” and the “waist is like a millwheel”. This means that the hips must be level at all times or it will not be able to rotate well. If you comprehend the meaning of these three parts of the body, they correlate with the three Tan Tiens. The upper Tan Tien is the suspended head top, the middle TanTien is the up right torso, and the lower or true Tan Tien are the hips and the pelvic girdle. In Tai Chi, the proper alignment of the body of the spine, the hips and shoulders are essential to the correct circulation and internal balance of the Qi. Kiiko Matsumoto, the brilliant acupuncturist and theoretician discovered in her study of the Han Dynasty medical classic, the inner meaning of the ancient Chinese character for the Jen meridian (conception vessel). Since Chinese characters are essentially pictograms, the character of the Jen meridian is actually a schematic of the meridian itself and a code for the treatment of structural imbalance. The character for Jen is made up of three horizontal lines intersecting a vertical line. Kiiko discovered that the vertical stroke of this character represented the Jen meridian which vertically bisects the anterior torso of the body and the lower horizontal stroke represents the “horizontal bone” line just above the pubic bone at K11 ( heng gu), the wider middle horizontal stroke represents“the great horizontal “ line at the level of the umbilicus represented by SP 15 (da heng), and the top sloping line represents the ” horizontal tongue” which is a sloping line that links Du16 at the base of the skull with the tongue at ST9. It was from this discovery that led her to understand the importance of the structural alignment of the body and how it affects the internal organs and circulation of Qi. She discovered that the structural imbalance of the body is not just a physical defect but it also pertains to an energetic imbalance that is created by the physical misalignment of the body. When there is an energetic imbalance, that can lead to many problems in the functioning of the internal organs and their pathways. Some examples of the problems that can arise in the middle Tan Tien are heart diseases such as irregular heart beats, chest pain, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and hypertension; the problems that affect the lower Tan Tien are usually gastric problems such as poor digestion, mal absorption of nutrients, gas, and abdominal pains such as diverticulitis. The extremities can also be affected and results in arm and leg pains.
There are many factors that contribute to structural imbalances. The main reasons are surgeries on the torso such as C-sections, appendicitis, hernias, tummy tucks, laparoscopic surgeries, gall bladder removals, spleen removals, heart surgeries, spinal fusions, breast augmentation, and lower back surgeries. Even distally located surgical scars on the body at the head or feet can still have a strong effect on the structural balance of the body. I have had patients who have had bunion removals, facelifts, shoulder operations, and head injuries display profound structural imbalances. Another reason for structural imbalances can be related to the alignment of the jaw. If a person has had braces, TMJ, or grinding of the teeth at night, this will reflect in the misalignment of the hips. Strangely, the structural imbalances usually don’t show up until later in life when the Yuan Qi (Original Qi) becomes depleted with age or when other chronic health conditions impinge on the general constitution of the body.
When you practice Tai Chi correctly, according to the principles stated in the Tai Chi Classics, you are employing a form of physical therapy to correct the structural imbalance of the body by suspending the head top (Horizontal Tongue at St 9 and chin), keeping the torso upright (Great Horizontal at SP15), and the hips level (Horizontal Bone at K11).
May 28, 2015
THE TRIPLE BURNER IN CHINESE MEDICINE AND T’AI CHI
The Triple Burner is often referred to as the San Jiao in Chinese Medicine, and it should not be confused with the three Tan T’iens. There is the upper Jiao which is the chest, the middle Jiao, the stomach area, and the lower Jiao, the lower abdomen. The lower Jiao also happens coincide with the true Tan T’ien. The San Jiao could be thought of as a process of a fire cooking food and the resulting vapor rising from this process to be the essence that nurtures the body. The lower Jiao has what is often referred to as the Tan T’ien fire. The image is that of an ancient Chinese tripod cooking vessel with a fire under it. The middle Jiao , the stomach, is like a steamer with the food in it to be cooked. The fire from the lower Jiao steams and cooks the food, as it is part of the digestion process. The micro essence from the cooked or digested food rises like a vapor to the upper Jiao where it is absorbed and circulated. For this process to be successful, the Tan T’ien fire in the lower Jiao, must be strong to cook the food in the middle Jiao or the result would be poor digestion and a lack of nutrition. Any dietary habit of eating or drinking food that is cold, raw or cooling would put out the Tan T’ien fire and should be avoided. As you can see, the lower Jiao and the concept of the Tan T’ien fire is very important in maintaining ones health. So anything that would stoke the true Tan T’ien fire in the lower Jiao such as the practice of sinking the qi and the cycling of the hips in T’ai Chi makes the digestive fire stronger and the health better.
April 30, 2015
The way I practice and teach T’ai Chi is the same way I practice acupuncture, there has to be magic. Otherwise it is stale and without inspiration. It has no life.
February 25, 2015
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE TAN TIEN IN T’AI CHI AND CHINESE MEDICINE
One of the most important phrases from the T’ai Chi Classics is, “Sink chi to tan t’ien”. We talk a lot about the tan t’ien in the martial arts and Chinese Medicine, but little is known of it. The first mention of the tan t’ien is in chapter 8 of the Nan Ching, the Han Dynasty classic of Chinese medicine. It talks about the “space between the kidneys that vibrates”. It didn’t call it the tan t’ien but was later given that name by the Taoist, who were the scientist in ancient China. There are three tan t’iens. The upper tan t’ien is located between the eye brows and is referred to as the “spiritual tan t’ien”. The second tan t’ien is located in the chest between the nipples and is considered to deal with the emotions. The third tan t’ien is the lower tan t’ien, which is located in the area below the navel and is considered to be the “true tan t’ien”. The true tan t’ien is linked to the kidneys, the brain, the adrenals and the immune system. The Han Dynasty Chinese medical practitioners believed that the true tan t’ien was like a map of an inverted head where the nose was represented by the navel, the eyes to the side at ST25, and the brain in the lower abdomen at CV3. Because of these associations, the tan t’ien is further linked to ones longevety, the bones and the building of blood, and ones sexuality and libido.
With respect to T’ai Chi Ch’uan, the first internal martial exercise is to “sink ch’i to tan t’ien”. This action is to accumulate the ch’i and fortify the tan t’ien. As a therapeutic function, this tonifies the kidneys and adrenals, strengthens the immune system and bones, and fortifies the sexual organs. In T’ai Chi all movements must originate from the tan t’ien. This means that with the shifting of the weight and the rotation of the pelvic girdle, the movements move outward like concentric circles to the arms and legs giving us the characteristic coordinated movements of the postures. The three aspects that make the tan t’ien powerful, are the sinking of the ch’i, the rotation of of the pelvic girdle which stimulates the acupuncture points, and the shifting of weight which acts like a pump to circulate the ch’i.
I often say to my students that when you practice T’ai Chi Ch’uan, you are giving yourself an acupuncture treatment. More specifically you are giving yourself a tan t’ien treatment.
Because of its importance in Tai Chi Ch’uan, we should really call it Tan T’ien Ch’uan.
January 23, 2015
HOW FAST SHOULD YOU DO THE SINGLE MOVEMENTS?
This is a question that is often asked from beginners who are not sensitive to their internal world. They just learn the movements and follow the speed set by their teacher. However for the beginner, this may not be the correct speed of doing the form according to their stage of development. When I first leaned the form, I noticed that I was doing the form a lot faster than my teacher. As I watched my teacher do the form, it seemed like his shirt was rippling whereas my movements did not have this kind of flavor. I realized the difference was that my teacher had a lot more changes in his movements than me, and that is why he would take a longer time to execute the form. Through the years of practice, and the cultivation of greater relaxation, my movements began to take on the flavor of my teacher and his changes. Not only did it take longer for me, I had to simultaneously pay attention to more parts of my body as I executed the form.
So what determines the speed of doing the form? At one time, I thought that the slower I did the movements, the more I got out of it. However I discovered that by doing it too slowly it caused stagnation. On the other the hand, doing it too fast did not allow the body to relax and just promoted more muscular tension. Then I thought that the breath would be the central factor in determining the speed of execution. One would coordinate the inhalation and exhalation with the movements. This concept is not incorrect however it didn’t go deep enough. On the inner energetic level, the speed of the movements should depend on the rising and sinking of the Qi. What governs the timing of the shift of weight from one leg to the other is the sinking of the Qi into the feet. As the Qi rises, the weight can begin to shift from the substantial leg on to the insubstantial leg. If the Qi has not reached to the bottom of the substantial leg and the practitioner begins to prematurely shift the weight, the movement becomes uncoordinated and external. This is the lack of coordination of the internal and the external and can result in being double weighted. So the cadence of the single movements should depend on the rising and sinking of the Qi. This is also matched by the inhalation and exhalation of the breath. The rising of the Qi is more easily achieved by an inhalation and the sinking of the Qi an exhalation. This is also matched by the rise and sink of the external body in the movements. In the beginning, the student is taught that the form should be executed so that the body moves on one level plane. However, as the practitioner develops more of the internal, he begins to feel that the body naturally rises and sinks with the inhalation and exhalation of the breath, and it also naturally matches the rising and sinking of the Qi in the internal body. The more practiced the student becomes the deeper the Qi sinks and the more changes he has in the movements. When your Qi sinks into the feet, you will also develop root. This requires years of dedicated practice. The 37 movements short form should take about 8 minutes to execute. (see my thoughts on “Sinking the Qi”, Oct. 1, 2014)
November 14, 2014
Seeking the Upright Posture: The Tai Chi Classics states, “The upright body must be stable and comfortable to be able to support (force from the eight directions”. In the “Lun”, the Classics further state, “Don’t lean in any direction”. Many practitioners have no idea of what the Upright Posture means and so their practice becomes a futile attempt to become internal. There are three things to pay attention to when seeking the upright posture. 1) “Sink the chest”. This means the chest ought to be relaxed down but not caved inwardly. When this occurs, the diaphragm relaxes and in turn allows the “Qi” to sink. As the chest relaxes downward, then you can do abdominal breathing. 2)“Sink the Qi to Tan Tien”. This means that the abdomen is so relaxed that the energy sinks below the navel with the dropping of the center of gravity. This gives you greater stability and root. 3) “In moving, the Qi sticks to the back and permeates the spine”. This is one of the most difficult aspects to practice since it depends on the two previous conditions. When the Qi sticks to the back, the lower back becomes straight and relaxed with no sway in it at all. In other words the Qi fills up the lower back. What happens is that the abdominal breathing begins to appear in the sides and lower back just below the kidneys. Instead of the inhalation and exhalation movements occurring in the lower abdomen, it appears to the side and lower back. The Qi circulates to the back via the Dai Mai meridian, which is the only meridian in the body that runs horizontally and not vertically. With the Qi running to the lower back, it stimulates the kidneys which holds the immune system of the body as well as ones longevity. When the back is straight, the sacrum and coccyx will naturally drop under the torso. It would be grave mistake to tense up the abdomen in order to achieve this. Practitioners sway their back for one reason, their legs are too weak to support the body and by swaying the back it takes the pressure of the thighs. In the long run this will cause damage to the knees.
When all three conditions are fulfilled, the body is put into a position which will promote it to be in a parasympathetic mode. This is the healing aspect of Tai Chi. Each of these three steps will take time to develop and can not be achieved in a couple of years.
October 22, 2014
If you are interested in the history of Tai Chi, and especially the Cheng Man-ch’ing lineage, I recommend that you go to the Via Media website and buy the ebook on the Professor. These are all the articles that were written and published in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts. The book gives a wonderful insight into who Cheng Man-ch’ing was and how he developed the form of Tai Chi that we practice today. There are a number of interesting stories and facts about that I had not known.
Li (external force) comes from the muscles and bones.
Chin (internal energy) comes from the sinews.
October 1, 2014
Many people talk about the internal, internal exercise, or the internal martial arts but few have any idea of what they mean. A visitor came to our school the other day because he told me that he was interested into the internal martial arts and he wanted to study Tai Chi. When he came to visit, he walked into the school, paused at the door, did a semi bow, took off his shoes, and sat down to watch the class. He watched us do the warm up exercises and the form intently for the first several minutes, and then he took out his mobile phone and spent the next 10 to 15 minutes looking down at it.
In the middle of the second round of doing the form, he quietly got up and walked out. While doing the form, I couldn’t stop laughing inside because I knew that he had no idea at what he was looking at. He must have had a previous concept of what the internal exercise was but when he saw us doing the internal exercise, i.e., the form, it did not match up to his expectations.
So the thought became apparent to me that most people do not understand what internal exercise means.
In Chapter 4 of “Cheng tzus’ Thirteen Treatises on Tai Chi”, Prof. Cheng talks about two things that comprise the Internal: mind and Qi. Internal exercise means the exercise of these two aspects of what makes up the internal body. It is internal because it is not part of the physical body. The physical is easy to regulate because it is material. The mind and the Qi are difficult to regulate because one is energetic and the other mental, and they can not be easily controlled or manipulated.
The Tai Chi Classics state that “The mind mobilizes the Qi, and the Qi mobilizes the body”. In motion, the mind initiates the action and the Qi becomes the medium through which the body is brought into action. If we examine this process carefully, it is evident that this must take a kind of meditative process in order to make this happen. This process is the control of the mind to join with the Qi to a motivate the body to a particular action.
The first internal exercise, in Tai Chi is to “sink the Qi to tan tien”. This may not be as easy as it seems. Many practitioners, who have practiced Tai Chi for many years, still can not do this simple exercise. This first step is also a fundamental exercise in many forms of meditation.
The phrase, “contemplate your navel”, which is often used to refer to meditation, is none other than “sink Qi to tan tien”. Since this is an internal process, it is difficult to assess whether you have been successful or not. It is not a sudden accomplishment but a slow and gradual process that will take many years of deep relaxation and practice of the single movements.
Many students have mentioned to me that their trainer, health practitioner or physical therapist have told them that they need to “strengthen their core” to become more healthy. This is a concept that probably came from Pilates. According to my understanding of health and Tai Chi, this is the most contrary idea to the development of the internal practice. I see it in just the opposite way. I say “you must develop your 'core relaxation’”. In order to sink the Qi and circulate it throughout the body, the muscles must be totally relaxed and not obstruct the flow.
To know whether you have been successful or not, you must test your softness and root in push hands practice. If practiced correctly and with patience, your softness and root will continue to grow through the years. This is why when someone tells me they want to study Tai Chi, I sometimes roll my eyes and say to myself, “you have no idea what you are getting yourself into.”
So I encourage you to come to class as often as possible to continue to nurture your softness and root.
February 12, 2014
The “T’ai Chi Lun” states, “Stand like a balance and rotate actively like a wheel” and the “Expositions of Insights into the Practice of the Thirteen Postures” states, “The upright body must be stable and comfortable to be able to support (force from) the eight directions”. Both of these statements indicate that the body must be upright and not lean in any direction. In terms of health “why is this so important?” In a form of acupuncture that is practiced by Kiiko Matsumoto, an innovative and brilliant acupuncturist, the alignment of the body must be perfect so that the Conception vessel or Ren and the governing vessel or Du meridians, that separates the left and right sides of the body, are not misaligned. The Ren meridian starts at the root of the tongue and goes down the front of the body to the perineum. The Du meridian starts at the base of the skull and goes down the back of the body to the anus. The tongue connects the Ren and Du meridians so that there is a connected circuit. If there is any misalignment or disturbance of these channels e.g. surgeries or injuries, Qi stagnation will occur, and the circulation of Qi will be compromised. Many different health conditions can occur from this misalignment, that will affect not only the torso, but also the limbs and head. Kiiko discovered that many distal problems of the body, such as ankle pain, knee pain, headaches, carpal tunnel pain, shoulder pain, or even lower back pain, can be cured by re aligning the body so that the Ren and Du meridians are straightened and then the yin and yang energies of the body can be balanced. This re aligning of the body means that the hip must be level, the shoulders level and the head top be suspended. Through her research in the ancient Chinese Medical Classics, Kiiko discovered that the ST9 acupuncture points in the neck is called the “Horizontal Tongue”, the SP15 points that are lateral the navel are called the “Great Horizontal” and the points above the pubic bone, K11 are called the “Horizontal Bone”. She found that by using these points, she could re align the Ren and Du meridians and thus begin to cure many health conditions of the body. With the perfect upright posture, and the head top suspended, the hips at SP15 and K11 act like a balance or scale and can easily rotate like a wheel. With this perfect balance and alignment there is no double weightiness in the circulation of Qi throughout the body. This is why practicing the form and forming the habit of not leaning, can not only lead to better health but also having the advantageous position in the martial arts and life.
February 1, 2014
When I first began my study of Tai Chi over 45 years ago, I was a graduate student of Chinese Philosophy at the University of Washington in Seattle. I read the Tai Chi Classics and I was astounded at how the principles of Tai Chi and the underlying ideas of Chinese Philosophy were identical. I felt that by practicing T’ai Chi one can actually and physically recreate Chinese Philosophy in ones own body. In other words, Chinese Philosophy became a living entity instead a bunch of abstract notions in a difficult to decipher text book. The idea that one could actually feel and manifest Chinese Philosophy, and yes, even breathe it, became an exciting concept. Recently, while teaching a push hands class, the concept of the Tao came back into focus. We can become like theTao by manifesting its qualities in our practice of T’ai Chi. The Tao is “mysterious”, “soft and yielding”, “feminine”, “The Mother”,“empty”, and “powerful”. When we practice push hands, we practice stealth by being soft and being mysterious. We “suddenly appear”, and we “suddenly disappear.” “The opponent doesn’t know me, I alone know him.” “Being still, when touched (by the opponent), be tranquil and move in stillness; (my) changes caused by the opponent fill him with wonder.” The Tao is soft and yielding. In push hands, “The softest will become the strongest”. Push hands should have the soft but powerful qualities of water. The T’ai Chi Classics say, “Ch’ang Ch’uan is like a great river rolling on unceasingly.” “Be as still as a mountain, move like a great river.” In push hands, “When the opponent is hard and I am soft, it is called tsou (yielding).” “Originally it is giving up yourself to follow others.” The Tao is feminine and the Mother of all. “T’ai Chi comes from Wu Chi and is the mother of yin and yang.” When we empty the mind and body of all strength and ego, we practice the yin or receptive qualities of the Tao; we yield and become the emptiness which is its function. The T’ai Chi Classics says that in push hands, we should “Attract to emptiness, absorb, and discharge.” By continually practicing and manifesting these qualities in our push hands, we can imitate the Tao and we can understand what the ancients were seeing. We can see that human nature hasn’t changed much and what was important then is still relevant today. Therefore the Tao no longer remains just a philosophical concept but by our practice of T’ai Chi, the principles of the Tao can become a practical strategy for living today.
May 3, 2013
“WALK LIKE A CAT”
Most practitioners of Tai Chi think they understand what this phrase from the Classics mean; however they do not practice it. When they take a step in the single movements, the step is clumsy and double weighted. I have seen “masters” and advanced students with many years of practice stumble about and break their alignment when they step out during the execution of the form. Here is their mistake. When they take a step, say from ward off left to ward off right, the practitioner juts out the right hip in order to push the right leg outward to take the step. At this moment the right hip is tensed and thrown out of alignment with the spine; so for a split second you are double weighted. Not only is the hip thrown out of alignment with the spine, but in this case it is raised to pick the leg up for the step. This contradicts the Classics which says that the hips must be level at all times. The remedy to this is counter intuitive. When you take a step, you must sink the insubstantial hip in order to facilitate the stepping leg to raise. This allows the foot to float up and the hips to remain level. When you place the foot down the hips and spine are in perfect alignment and the step is like that of a cat. Of course this is all predicated on the fact that you are 100% on the substantial leg and you remain 100% until the insubstantial foot is placed on the ground. You will feel relaxed and have a sense that you have all the time in the world to take that step.
April 3, 2013
REAL ROOT OR FALSE ROOT?
In push hands, when you encounter a partner who is really grounded and is difficult to push out, you often attribute this to his having good root. In my experience this is often not the case. He is just experienced enough to use his leg strength to resist your push and at the same time, your push is too hard (you are using too much muscular strength to push). To over come this situation, you must quickly release your push to see if your opponent falls forward. This means that he is bracing against your push by pushing back against you with his strength. I call this “leaning Qi”. This ends up to be a “double weighted” condition where force meets up with force. True root is when the body is empty of all strength so that it could receive the force of the opponent and channel it to the ground. False root is when the body is full of strength to push back against the opponent’s push at the moment of his push. If you are one of these practitioners who use leg strength to push back, do not despair. If you recognize that you are using strength, this is a steppingstone to realizing real root. All you have to do is have confidence that you can empty the body and still have real root to respond to the “eight directions”.
March 22, 2013
WHAT QUALITIES SHOULD GOOD PUSH HANDS PRACTICE HAVE?
In practicing push hands, there should be softness, sensitivity, lightness, and liveliness. Unfortunately the majority of push hands practitioners tend to be heavy handed and hard. In yielding, they use more than “four ounces to deflect a thousand pounds” because this is due to their lack of sensitivity in listening and interpreting. When they finally comprehend what to do, it is too late to be effective. The practitioner ends up wiggling about; hoping to neutralize by chance. In pushing, if they can’t topple the opponent with a light push, then they often make the mistake of continuing with the same technique by using force instead of changing to another attack or direction. To develop the sensitivity, you must practice with someone who has softness and a light touch. Lightness means that your “ch’i” is not committed or leaning in any direction, and it is ready to respond to force from all directions. This will lead to liveliness and quick responses on your part. “It is said, If others don’t move, I don’t move. If others move slightly, I move first.” Remember, a slow response or a lack of response is stagnation and resistance. It is also a reflection that the spirit is not raised and is a kind of depression of the “ching shen”. The sensitive, light, and lively practice has a very beneficial effect on the health. It causes the “ch’i” to be active and stimulated, and the circulation of “ch’i” and blood to be full. This light and lively practice can also benefit the spirit. The T’ai Chi Classics say, “The Ch’i should be excited, the shen should be internally gathered.” Students often laugh and giggle while practicing in this manner. A good push hands practice should raise the spirit, lift the mood and promote a playful exchange.
March 20, 2013
By congesting the “Qi”, it is meant that the Qi gets locked up in the muscles because the muscles are utilized in the exertion of strength or “li”.
March 20, 2013
Using strength in push hands is promoting a kind of stagnancy in the body by congesting the “Qi”.
March 13, 2013
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DO THE SINGLE MOVEMENTS?
Whenever I watch people do the form, I can see directly into their cultivation of “Qi”. In the beginning the form looks crude and without grace. The steps are clumsy, the arms look stiff, and there is no flexibility in the body. When the body moves, big sections of the body are stuck together and there is a lot of stagnation. This is the exact reflection of the inner state of their “Qi”. The “Qi” is like raw or crude metal that has not been tempered and refined. However as the years go by and the body relaxes, the form becomes more smooth, more elegant, and more refined. The steps are smooth and empty, and the body seems as if it has no bones. This begins to reflect a more refined state of the “Qi”. The “Qi” mobilizes the body and it easily follows the direction of the mind. There is excellence of roundness and smoothness and it is nurtured without harm. The “Qi” moves as in a pearl with nine passages without breaks and spreads throughout without hinderance, so that there is no part of the body it cannot reach.” Practicing the form everyday is gathering, refining and tempering the “Qi”. This is the inner practice of T’ai Chi.
July 11, 2012
SPEED IN T’AI CHI
When you first watch T’ai Chi being practiced, it is a slow, deliberate, set of movements, and you wonder how can this be an effective martial art? It isn’t until you practice push hands, will you understand how fast and quick it is. The speed of T’ai Chi is not in how fast you can move, but it is the reality you have already gotten to your opponent before he can move. It is what the T’ai Chi classics mean when it states that you should “move last but arrive first”. This is achieved by always maintaining the “advantageous position” with respect to your opponent. By doing so you are always there before he realizes it. Whether you are yielding back or moving forward, you are always juxtaposing yourself into the advantageous position and you are never vulnerable. If you are at the finish line, is there any need to hurry? If you are not there, you will always have to play “catch up” by trying to move fast. This is not the real T’ai Chi.
July 4, 2012
San Shou is a 2-person exercise that teaches the application of T’ai Chi movements in a continuous and flowing form. The movements are separated into Side A and Side B, with each side responding to the other’s attacks using a T’ai Chi movement from the single form. It is considered one of the most advanced practices of T’ai Chi Ch’uan because it not only teaches application but also how to step and coordinate with an opponent while maintaining softness and adherence in close contact.
June 8 2012
MUSCLES VS. SINEWS
Whenever you study with a good T’ai Chi teacher, the frequent admonition is to relax. From Yang Cheng-fu, to Cheng Man-ch’ing, to Ben Lo etc., the idea to relax the muscles of the body and the mind is the most fundamental principle to practice. What is the teacher really saying when he says to relax? He is saying “do not use the muscles when you practice”. How is this possible? If you don’t use the muscles, then how do you move? How do you stand and remain upright? This responsibility is placed on the sinews of the body, the connective tissues that attach the muscles to the bones at the joints. The transition from the use of muscles to the use of the sinews is a very long and gradual process, and is not accomplished overnight. This transition has taken me over 40 years to understand and then to begin to realize. We can make a simple equation. The use of muscles equals external and the use of the sinews is internal. Whenever we use muscles to push, the force is hard and brutish. Whenever we use the power of the sinews, the feeling of the power is soft and gentle. It comes from a deeper place of the body and utilizes the complete body to manifest. The force from the use of the muscles usually comes from the local source of the body such as the arms and shoulders, and it is short and narrow in scope, easily detected, and quickly neutralized. The power from the sinews is long,broad and soft, and more difficult to detect and neutralize. When we give up the use of our muscles, we become more sensitive and our “listening chin” is more acute. When our muscles relax, we can respond more quickly and our movements become fast. We move last but arrive sooner. Being more internal, our movements become smaller and less externally detectable. The power of the sinews is much stronger than external muscular strength. When we use our muscles, there can be a double weighted condition in the limb where one set of muscles work against another. For example, if we tense up the muscles of the upper arm, the biceps will work against the tricep muscles and diminish the power of the whole arm.
Often the use of strength is tied up with our ego and the fear of loosing. This is the reason Prof. Cheng used the phrase, “invest in loss”. We must give up boosting our ego and then we will give up the use of strength and our muscles. Only then will we succeed in switching over the use of muscle power to the use of sinew power. This can be a kind of spiritual practice and a meditation of the physical body that ultimately reaches the “shen”. How about it?
June 7, 2012
I was discussing the single movements with Ben Lo one day and how the principle of T’ai Chi movement is the circle. All T’ai Chi movements must be circular. Then I started to narrow down the postures to see if there were any movements that were not circular. I ventured to say that “double push” was not circular and perhaps “shoulder”. He said “you are wrong.” There are only two movements that are not circular, “double push” and “beginning Tai Chi”. All the other movements are circular. (By circular, we mean that the hips rotate when you shift the weight.) So what does this mean to our practice? It means that in every moment of our movements, when we shift the weight, the hips must simultaneously rotate. Many advanced practitioners do not do this. They normally shift the weight then rotate the hips at the end of the movement but not simultaneously. Of course this is more difficult to do because you must be aware of doing several things simultaneously or together. I have found that this leads to a more effective reaction response in push hands because you are able to listen and respond to many directions at once because of the practice of being able to do multiple things at the same time. This also is more powerful because of the acceleration of the energy in the circular movement.
June 1, 2012
“WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE DOUBLE WEIGHTED?”
Answer: “Double weightedness” can manifest on many different levels. On the simple physical level, it means that you can not differentiate the weight effectively between the left and right legs. This leads to confusion in the control of your balance and center, and you end up loosing control of your movement and root. On the energetic level, the “Qi” is in the wrong place in the body and there is a lack of internal balance. For example, there is no cross substantiality in the movement and when force is exerted on the body, you can easily be toppled. There can also be “double weightedness” between two people. In push hands, if there is no coordination with your partner and you both push at the same time, the locking of the two forces results in being “double weighted”. This image is often referred to in Chinese as two bulls locking horns. There is also “double weightedness” in the mind. When you can’t quickly make a clear decision or when your thinking is clouded by conflicting thoughts, this is “double weighted” or as one of my teachers use to say, “double thinking”.
May 30, 2012
A student asked me, “What does it mean to separated yin and yang?” This question can be answered on different levels. Basically, it really means to “differentiate substantial and insubstantial”. On the physical level it merely means to be able to shift the weight 100% so that you can take a step without stumbling and that you have complete control of your center of gravity. On the energetic level it means that you are not double weighted internally, and you can move the energy cross substantially so that when you are substantial on your left leg, your right arm has the most power and is substantial.
March 18, 2012
In form correction class, the beauty of a good correction is that it can effect your whole life: you realize IF you change your posture in this part of your T’ai Chi form, you can make the same change in how you hold yourself up and move, all day, every day. Applying the change both in class and outside of class may create a profound shift, impacting how you relate to yourself and the world around you.
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