Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Count of One

When we were learning applications to the form, John Kells broke down the movements so it was possible to work on the different components and energies of the technique.

So Step forward, deflect downwards,intercept and punch could consist in stages of a low kick to the shin of the attacker, followed by scraping down it and stepping on their foot. At the same time the right hand would arc up making a fist to meet an oncoming fist, draw it back and down whilst the left hand came up to trap the oncoming elbow. Finally the right hand could punch forwards as you stepped in. This is just a general idea as there are variations.

In this manner techniques were broken down into different counts. Whilst this was useful for learning what was going on, the application would eventually have to be done on the count of one, having absorbed the different stages to make it a whole. There can be no hesitation, no stopping to think about it. This is too slow.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Left Side

After we had finished the right side long form, John Kells taught us the mirror image form or left side.

At first this felt really strange. But after a while it felt more natural than the right side form. Some say you shouldn't do a left side or mirrror image form as it will make you Ch'i run backwards and you will die. I've never heard such a complete load of rubbish! Perhaps we should only walk leading with the right foot at all times.

I guess we all instinctively favour a particular side but working on the left side helps to develop your understanding of T'ai Chi principles further and  achieve a certain balance. This is my personal opinion. I'm sure practitioners with more experience than I can shed some light on working both sides of the body/brain.

The left side taught by John was also interesting in that it contained postures and variations not in the right side. Stupidly I never asked why. The idea was that we would put them into our right side form, which I did.

Anyone have any thoughts/comments on doing a mirror image form?

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Fa Jin

Having fun looking at some methods for relasing energy to uproot my training partner. It's a demonstration so naturally he is compliant. Let's not get carried away!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

T'ai Chi Breathing

I have learnt 2 forms of T'ai Chi - one based mostly on Ch'eng Man Ch'ing and the other is traditional Sun style.

In Sun style there is no specific breathing in the postures except for the open/close movement, where we breathe in as the hands open and breathe out as they come back towards each other.

I asked John Kells, my main teacher for many years, about breathing in the form. Good idea was his answer.

Natural breathing was the advice given by both my teachers. By contrast others practise reverse breathing and coordinating the breath with the form. I have an open mind on this but find myself in sympathy with the following from " Imagination Becomes Reality " by Stuart Alve Olson, Dragon Door Publishing 1992 on the teachings of Master T.T. Liang ( one of John Kells' teachers).

The advice given is to forget the Breath and instead pay attention to the Mind - Intent, which is focused on the Spirit of Vitality. If we focus on the Breath we will have stagnation. The Breath and Ch'i will develop naturally.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Technique or Energy

John Kells told me there were two approaches to T'ai Chi.

Technique or Energy.

Technique in the sense of learning applications and perfecting them. This is a common approach and not to be slighted.

Energy in the sense of working with the Mind-Intent and joining in this special form of communication.

This doesn't mean we just wave our arms about. Working with Energy requires Technique.

It has taken me a long time to get just a little glimpse of this. It is out of time.

It is internal to the internal.

Thursday, 8 December 2011


Sticking, joining, adhering are integral aspects of T'ai Chi.

On the physical level, we practised a simple partner work.  Pair up with a partner. Place your hand lightly on the back of their opposite hand. Don't cling to them as if they are a meathook. The touch should be light and sensitive. Close your eyes. Your partner then moves his hand around and you follow, maintaining a light touch. Listen with all your senses. You then swap to the other hand and after that change roles, in which you become the leader. There is to be no talking during this exercise.

This exerise builds up a familiarity with touch and develops listening and sensitivity. As with pushing hands you need to practise with lots of different people to appreciate the differing qualities of contact. This approach is then carried over into your pushing hands and also your form. Even though the form is a solo practise, you can listen to what is around you, imagine moving with a partner, be light, sensitive and spirited.

Then there is joining and sticking to the energy of another person. The process begins before the touch. You enter and join with their energy immediately. There must be no delay, no conscious deliberation. You become a part of them.

Sticking is active, not passive. Sticking becomes part of yielding. This is a deep topic and I will come back to some of my experiences in a future post.

Have fun!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

About Posture

The posture in Tai Chi, if executed correctly in accordance with the principles, is complete in and of itself.

There is no need to do something extra such as add in additional force.

The other is part of the process and is repelled or countered.

This is something we need to study deeply.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011


A lot of people prattle on about their Tai Chi fighting skills, how so and so beat such and such, how this person or that person is the real deal.

They have taken their art to the Street. Would that be Oxford Street perhaps? Plenty of combat to be had on a busy shopping day as hordes of people descend on the space you occupy.

John Kells told me - never underestimate a desperate man with nothing to lose.

Back to my practise !

The First Lesson in Self Defence


The First Lesson in Self Defence


Sunday, 27 November 2011

Rush, Rush, Rush

Sometimes we feel as if there is not enough time to do our tai chi. So we end up rushing through our form.

This is not good for our energy. It is better to practise quality rather than quantity, although I've done my fair share of the latter.

At the beginning of your form,stand quietly, letting everything settle and sink. Let thoughts come and go. You are formless, empty. This is the void. When ready, we move, creating the ten thousand things ( code for lots of things/large numbers ) as we generate postures/shapes. At the end of the form, again stand quietly as before. Don't rush off, thinking that's it, I've done my tai chi.

Sometimes you can just stand in the beginning posture as a standing meditation. It is often overlooked in the rush to do the form. For me, the beginning and the end of the form are really important.

I'll leave you to play with that.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Dancing Inspiration

We can draw inspiration from many sources. It can be from your teacher, friends, films, books, philosophy, biographies, nature and endless other sources.

Many years ago my father bought me a german copy of Chungliang Al Huang's classic book, Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain. This book is more about living and being in accord with principles of Tai Chi than the Martial Art. His books have recently been reissued by the Singing Dragon imprint.

In 1991 I had the opportunity to do a 2 day workshop with him in London. It was a great weekend. The course participants learned some movement patterns and partnerwork to give form to principles. There was also a lot of movement to music. It was a world away from what I had learned about Tai Chi.

There was an important lesson for me. I was stuck in my feet. My Tai chi was nothing more than some dull, clod like movement, lacking in life and spirit. It gave me a new purpose in my own training.

Outwardly there may not be much to see, but inside I am dancing to the energy.

Are you?

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Swimming in Air

I believe the phrase " Swimming in Air " to describe T'ai Chi is attrubted to Ch'eng Man Ch'ing.

When I first heard it, I though little of it. I could understand it intellectually but my attention was elsewhere. Probably the exquisite pain in the legs as I tried to remain single weighted and sunk.

But a few years ago I had a different insight. When my eyes are open, I can see where I begin physically as I can see my skin. Close your eyes and that boundary is no longer so clear.

Instead of looking at "me" filling up space and swimming against the imagined resistance of air, it's the other way around. I can be defined by the space around me that creates my shapes and supports/nourishes me.

So when I practise, I focus on the space around me. Suddenly I am "swimming in air". I am released to connect.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Matter of the Toes

When stepping in our t'ai chi we usually place the heel down and then carefully shift the weight/

I've just watched a Yang stylist on Youtube do exactly this. Very clear and very precise. Great stuff!

This was the approach taken when I was learning the short form. When it came to the long form, though, John Kells introduced another element.

As we took a step, we pointed our toes. Not in a deliberate toe/heel manner. Rather it was more like a glide, with the toes pointing and leading, then the heel being placed down.

This meant that you had to endure another second of agony on the supporting leg. It also made it clear where your weight was and that you didn't just dump it into the front foot.

Try it and see what difference it makes.

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Power of Three

Three is a significant number in Tai Chi.

There are the three stages of development, Heaven, Earth and Man. The three outer coordinations and the three inner coordinations, which form the Six Harmonies. In Martial arts we have the Head,Hands and Feet.

In his seminal book, " The Tao of T'ai Chi Ch'uan ", the late Master Jou Tsung Hwa describes an exercise to help with remaining balanced, utilising three phases.

First, let your weight settle down.

Second, put awareness into the lower Dantien in the belly.

Third, put some light energy at the top of the head.

I found it very useful.

The Power of Three

Things seem to be about the number Three.

Three stages of development, Earth, Man, Heaven.

The Three Outer Coordinations.

The Three Inner Coordinations.

Energy, Breath and Spirit.

The Santi posture in Sun style Xingyi - corresponding to heaven, eath and


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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

More Long Form Stuff

The short form takes anywhere between 6 -10 minutes to do. It is great if you are short of time and unable to do the long form. Instead of falling into the trap of rushing, you can give 10 minutes of quality focus to your form.

Once I had learned the long form, this became my main practise. The length and duration of practise generated increased energy, exploring a deeper connection and rythm.

Practise 3 forms - once to enter, twice to delve deeper and the third one for spirit. After my third form I always felt wiped out. I had to sit quietly for a while, letting the new energy wash over me, gradually settling.

Practise the long form to increase your energy and to develop greater focus. Become aware of the deeper connections within and without. Try not to just go through the motions.

Be alive.

Sunday, 13 November 2011


Amidst all the technical jargon, the exposition of principles and other esoterica, we should not forget one simple thing.


There is a magic inherent in T'ai chi that draws us in and nourishes the spirit.

Forget everything and enter the stream of magic in your daily practise.

Friday, 11 November 2011


Giving in T'ai Chi is important. I'm talking about giving energy.

Giving energy is giving whole heartedly. Without this there is no development, no sincerity, no creation.

I once asked a student to push me on my arms held in press posture. He pushed me just with his arms at first, so I could only move him slightly. The next push was with more force but still came from the arms. He was holding back within himself. I was looking for the full committment from him, mind, body, energy. When he did, I was able to uproot him cleanly. Because he gave from himself without holding back.

The interaction and exchange of energy is part of the learning process. It is a transmission. By holding back, nothing can be gained or learned. Except , perhaps, how to be dull. It is the same for all martial arts.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Long Form

The long form delved deeper into the principles of Tai Chi. In terms of the sequence it pretty much followed the classical Yang style.

We began to explore cross energy, applications, where to put the mind in the posture and more. Some postures differed from the short form, such as single whip, in order to explore the emphasis that John gave them.

It would take me anywhere between 18 - 30 minutes to complete the long form depending on factors such as speed and sinking. If I had time I would practise 3 forms, one after the other. Even though I now mostly practise traditional Sun style, I always do 3 sword forms and 3 empty hand forms.

By the time you get to the third form you find a deepening practise of spirit.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Be Tai Chi

We are not "doing" tai chi.

That is for the external, egotistic type of person. For them it's a case of performance as they seek the admiration of others.

Instead, surrender. Practise, investigate. Tai Chi is life.

Be Tai Chi.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Mind Intent

When practising your tai chi the focus is on the Mind Intent.

The aim is not to use a stiff physical force. Instead, the Mind directs the movements so there is an undeniable intention.

In this way we gradually build up a type of power that is not tense or stiff.

As the late T.T. Liang said, " Imagination becomes Reality ".

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Cross Energy

Cross Energy refers to the dynamic connection that exists between opposite foot and hand.

I stress the word " dynamic ".

You are shifting weight from one foot to the other in varying degrees, utilising gravity and expressing the energy through the hands or any part of your body that you desire.

You need a teacher to demonstrate this. It is fundamental to your practise.


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Saturday, 29 October 2011

Double Push Hands

Students were usually introduced to fixed step double push hands once they started learning the long form. As if one hand pushing wasn't complicated enough, we now had another hand added into the equation.

The type of double push hands we learned is the same as in the Ch'eng Man Ch'ing style. The style is not really important;what is are the principles being explored. Typically these are the four sides, ward off, rollback, push and press. The four corners are  pull ,split, elbow and shoulder. Together with the four sides these make up the eight energies along with central equilibrium ,gaze left and right, step forward and back. In total these are the 13 postures or strategies of Tai Chi Ch'uan.

These 13 postures / strategies are in pushing hands and the forms. The practise is about understanding these.  The understanding gained from pushing hands feeds back into the form, from where further insight feeds back into pushing hands.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Laying Alongside

As part of his teaching of pushing hands, John  Kells introduced the concept of laying your energy alongside that of the other.

This means not to be in opposition to the other person and to yield in such a way that you have entered forwards and are alongside them. So instead of presenting a ward off posture which effectively is in opposition, your hand and forearm are alongside the incoming push as part of the yield.

To be honest, although I understood it in a conceptual, intellectual kind of way, I could never do. It wasn't until about 12 years ago when working with John on his developing Heartwork that I began to get a glimpse.

The key moment came when he berated me for not being able to do anything. Actually he used slightly different words.It was a crisis moment for me where I had to give up / let go of my assumptions and just go for it. And it happened. It was a key insight for me in my own development. Beyond Time. Beautiful!

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Hole Thing

One of the key concepts John Kells taught was to make a hole to draw in the energy of the other person.

It happens immediately upon sensing the intention of the other, before the physical action. Sink, relax, turn the mind so you can enter forwards.

The corresponding return of the energy appears out of time.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Other

Always put the other person first.

Without this, you will always be using force to impose and one day this will not work.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Beginning and the End

We were gathered in the basement mirror room at the Tai Chi centre in Upper Wimpole Street ( sadly long gone )

John Kells explained carefully about two important aspects of single push hands.

Pay attention to the end of your push. Don't just abruptly turn your arm into ward off. Instead, it is as if your arm is being pulled slightly so you enter into the other person to meet their push before it has got going and ward off to catch it.

Pay attention to the end of your Yielding. Don't just abruptly turn your hand over in your eagerness to push. Instead keep the yielding going as if you were going to pull the incoming hand. In this way you are sucking them in to push them.

Suddenly the boundaries become blurred.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Fixed Step Pushing Hands

Fixed step pushing hands means you don't take steps. You have to learn to yield on the spot.

I've come across a lot of people who gloss over single push hands in their hurry to do double push hands and push hands with steps.

They all have their place and value. Single push hands explores quite clearly the energies of ward off, roll back, push and press ( or squeeze). This needs to be practised with lots of different partners to get a feel for how different people are in terms of energy and physicality.

If you don't investigate and understand the energies of single push hands, what chance do you stand in the rush to do double push hands etc.

Whilst single push hands looks simple, it is actually very advanced.

Play with that!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Pearls on a String

The Tai Chi classic writings mention that the joints of the body should be joined as if they were pearls on a string.

Each joint should be able to rotate naturally. For example, if your arm is pushed upwards towards you, it should be able to rotate naturally at the shoulder and redirect the force back towards the attacker.

Each " Pearl " is capable of independent rotation or they can be linked in sections or as a whole.

Discharging Energy

To discharge your energy requires total relaxation.

If you are not totally relaxed, you will trap some of that energy inside you and it will eventually harm you.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Matters of the Foot

The foot makes contact with the Ground.

How do we approach that contact?

There are different approaches which can also depend upon the Tai Chi style you practise.

Here is one to try. Be aware of the sole of the foot contacting the ground and soften it. There is no seperation of foot and ground. Notice how you walk. Is your foot hammering into the ground?

Soften. Relax. Be kind to yourself and the ground.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


The whole point of uprooting the other person is to get them up off the ground, out of their own control, so you can hit them on the way down.


Sticking begins long before the touch.

Monday, 10 October 2011

On the Rise

As we sink and relax, we root our energy.

As this happens, pay attention to the energy rising.

Otherwise you are collapsing.

On Teaching

After I had been assisting in classes for a while, John Kells asked me to be the assistant instructor for a new class. Teaching people was not something I had ever considered or sought.

Actually I was perfectly happy just assisting in classes during the week and helping others during the Sunday catch up sessions.

It is nerve wracking to stand in front of a bunch of strangers who are scrutinising your every word and move. The format was that John would teach the class the new material and I would then go through it with the class. There were other students there to assist me.

But teaching allowed me to develop myself and confirm my understanding ( or lack of it). It was a great opportunity to listen to John and watch him carefully. I learned so much from this process. Much of this learning had nothing whatsoever to with the postures of Tai Chi. It was more about the transmission of energy. More on this important aspect in a future post.

What stood me in good stead was the fact that I attended classes every day and did lots of practise (Good and bad).

And this is perhaps one of the most important aspects of teaching people. You need to have gone through a form of "apprenticeship" with a teacher. Just because someone can parrot a form does not make them a teacher. Neither does reading a few books on something and then gushing forth with well prepared material. This is just superficial, egotistic garbage, however well intentioned. A real "appprenticeship" is frightening, exposing you to your core. It is bloody uncomfortable and disconcerting, to say the least.

Teaching Tai Chi or any spiritual discipline goes deeper. What we have learned , what we are and communicate comes from our heart and the energy we are part of. I don't actually do any teaching at all.

Of course, opinions will vary in the pick n mix spiritual marketplace so prevalent today. Tough!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Ward Off

As part of Ward Off the chest must be softened where the front deltoid meets the pectorals.

This is an integral component of hollow chest, rounded shoulders.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

On Stilts

We do not want to be on top of our legs.

As we sink and relax, we should be in our legs.

Let go in the hips especially. Allow the legs to support the body.

Do not walk on stilts.

Monday, 3 October 2011

On Normality

Normality is a social construct.

On Normality

Normality is a social construct.

Travelling Root

Sometimes it can be helpful to look at rootedness from a different perspective.

The Earth is travelling through Space and Time. You are travelling with it, held by Gravity.

Picture yourself as stuck to this spinning, travelling Globe. You are small, almost insignificant, a part of this greater whole.

When someone pushes you, they are trying to push this greater whole which is reflected through you.

We are not seperate from the Earth.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Invest in Loss

From time to time I come across fellow tai chi students who tell me that all they need to learn is to fa-jing, to discharge energy.

To be powerful is a kind of obsession to these people. They mistakenly focus on the far, ignoring all the heavenly glory that lies before them.

Power is contained within the postures when in accordance with the principles. We have natural power. Just walk into a table and ponder carefully the power that went into it without trying.

John Kells used to quote his teacher, Dr. Chi Chiang Tao " Twenty years learning to yield, one year learning to push".

The power obsessed want to spend  10 minutes learning the form and then get powerful as quickly as possible.

The true student will diligently practise investing in loss to realise the principles of Tai Chi. The poor student pays lip service to this in their quest to be somebody.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Turn the Mind

Turn the Mind was an instruction given as part of our pushing hands practise.

When pushing hands, most will move backward onto their rear leg and turn their waist to yield. Whilst this has the effect of taking the body away from the oncoming force it does not completely yield to.

The mind needs to turn so that you are not leaving a part of yourself behind which will cause you to somehow be stuck. Not turning the mind means that the oncoming force will find that part of you and all will be lost.

So sink, relax, shift, turn the waist, turn the mind.

Make it part of pushing hands. Make it part of your form.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

More Waist

Integrate the three waists.

This is truly profound when you realise it in your body.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Breaking In

Sorry to disappoint anyone hoping for tips on breaking into things.

There is all sorts of terrific advice about how to practise tai chi, how much, how long, in which direction to face and so forth.

Quality of practise is important and prescribed in preference to doing lots of forms etc just for the sake of it.

Certainly the quality of what you practise is vital on your journey but as a beginner I feel there is a need to do a lot of spade work as part of the breaking in process.

For me it felt that there had to be a sufficient volume of practise to take me past a certain point in my development.

John Kells told me in 1983 that he had never had a student who practised so much and that I should continue to do so, regardless of what others might say. I have endeavoured to live up to this as much as possible. In fact, the more I practise the more I feel that the breaking in process is, in fact, neverending.

Thursday, 22 September 2011


" The waist must be sunk if it is to be the master of the body. It is necessary to have a root in the foot so one can pass the energy up the legs and into the fingers by means of the waist. A loose waist links upper and lower body naturally so they move in co-ordination. This co-ordination is vital if one is to use the body as one unit, relying on internal energy rather than external muscular force to execute the commands of the mind. This relaxation is brought about by use of the mind to begin with and then naturally."

B.T.C.C.A. Handbook for the 2nd Term.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Assisting is a Lesson

After a while I began to assist in the beginners' short form classes. Assisting meant helping the instructor and new students by being there to help others go through the postures, leading by example.

John Kells told me to wear a black martial arts uniform. Uniforms convey an aura of knowledge and status. In my case I was probably just one step ahead of the beginners after hastily reading the handbook on the tube.

But assisting is a lesson in itself. It is not about showing off to others that you know more than them or are better in some way. Far from it. Assisting is forgetting self, a reminder that you are there to help others and share your energy on the path we were all taking. Assisting is taking a step back to put yourself in the place of the beginner.

To assist is a lesson in humility.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


Steven Moore's blog is well worth reading and provides an insight into tai chi as a spiritual path. Steven is a former student of John Kells and now resides in Israel.

One of his posts reminds us that the jaws are the hips of the head.

Just as we relax the hips, so we should also relax the jaws to let go of tension that we hold in the head. Focus on the lower jaw hinges,soften and relax.

Let the feeling cascade downwards. Play with it.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Not like a Brick

There should be a sinuosity in our movements. Coiled and powerful like the mythical Dragon.

John Kells remarked that we should be like a brick but with some jelly in it.

How to achieve this? We need to relax and soften so that our joints can loosen. Many people mistakenly pay a lot of attention to the juncture of the hips and torso. This is called a kwa and is a major juncture. However, all joints are a juncture / kwa which should be loose and able to rotate freely and naturally. All joints operate together but not like a rigid brick. This does not mean that we become limp and collapsed though.

We need to investigate this and realise the idea of body as one unit in a very real sense. The knees rotations are especially interesting in generating spiral energy.

I remember watching John Kells doing his form. I have never seen anyone else so alive. It really was as if there was a Dragon coiling / uncoiling in his movements. What an inspiration !

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Yielding to the Pole

We were gathered around John Kells in the basement room. He was demonstrating an exercise to help us understand more about yielding which involved the use of a pole.

A partner held a long pole, the tip of which rested on your forearm which was in ward off. As the pole was pushed slowly towards your centre, you had to follow and empty  it without pulling to the side. If we used force to deviate the path of the pole it could be seen immediately.

To yield we need to accept, entice, empty. Make a hole for the incoming energy.

This was a great exercise for working on those qualities.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Yielding Moments

To yield is to accept in the first instance.

Never mind all the pushing hands exercises you may know. Try yielding in a busy supermarket to:

1) Two trolleys and a swinging handbasket, all converging on the space you occupy almost simultaneously.

2) Three small kids running amok around you.

3) The person in front of you who stops dead in their tracks without apparent reason.

4) The person and their trolley who block the aisle with complete disregard to anyone else.

5) The two people who round the corners of their respective aisles and realise they must have a catch up whilst blocking all space, leaving you no choice but to execute a backflip over the top of them

6) The person who reaches the checkout and halfway through the process decides they have forgotten some obscure item that can only be obtained from the foothills of the Himalayas during a full moon by a blind person. Needless to say it is out of stock.

7) The person who pays with vouchers that don't add up to the correct value and then spends 35 minutes plumbing the depths of their bag/purse/wallet for some small change whilst desperately hoping that a despairing and stressed checkout operator will find a way out of it or a kind hearted samaritan will help them out.

These are just a small selection of opportunities to practise yielding in the wider world :)

Friday, 9 September 2011

Propelled Movement

In Tai Chi we try not to use brute strength.

The principle is to use the mind, not force. This means to have the idea of using strength, so that the body movement follows the intention.

Our movements are fluid and softened. The mind propels the energy. The energy propels the body.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

All Together Now

The title of this post reminds me of the lyrics to some song I can't remember. Perhaps someone can remind me.

What I wanted to touch on is the special nature of doing tai chi as part of a group. Whilst it is true that a large amount of practise is done on your own in order to investigate the principles and embody them in your tai chi / in you, the nature and energy of groupwork should not be lightly dismissed.

The energy of the group can nourish and support you. You might be struggling in class to understand a posture yet somehow the group carries you through it. You forget self to become part of the group. There is no seperation. You feel whole and replenished. You have been fed energetically.

I remember an occasion when we were doing the long form in Regents Park and a young boy was encouraged by his parents to run through our group, laughing loudly. Afterwards Ed,one of the advanced students, commented that the boy would never be the same.

Perhaps I am a bit far out. Who knows? What is your experience of long term groupwork? How does it make you feel? Anyone with serious experience of Zazen retreats will understand the nature of the group experience and it's value.

Keep an open mind.

Sunday, 4 September 2011


It is all to easy to place your teacher on a pedestal.

Don't make that mistake. It will lead to tears. Your teacher is only human and has weaknesses / foibles just like the rest of us.

Concentrate instead on the teaching and work on the principles.

Deep Moment

The Heart of the Tree knows in which direction to grow.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Spiritual Progress

Spiritual progress can be likened to going up the mountain until we reach the top. That's one way of looking at it.

Another is that we already on top of the mountain. All we need is the courage to step off it.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Ideokinetic Facilitation

When Channel 4 first started it ran " The Body Programme " with Yvonne Ocampo. It was there that I first came across the term " Ideokinetic Facilitation "., which was about using mental imagery to bring about postural change.

Tai Chi is full of imagery - root, iron bars wrapped in cotton wool, embracing the tree and so forth. Working with imagery achieves better results than trying to force the body into a position. An example might be to imagine that when standing straight you are in the middle of two slices of bread, like a sandwich. The front slice is sliding upwards whilst the rear slice is sliding downwards. This has the effect of stopping you from slumping and promoting a more upright posture.

A really useful book is A Tai Chi Imagery Workbook by Martin Mellish, a Singing Dragon publication. It's full of good exercises. Imagination becomes Reality?

Monday, 29 August 2011

All in the Mind

Tai Chi is mostly mental training. OK, I would be lying if I said that the physical is not important.
There is a fair share of hard physical training to be done. You can't get away from it.

However, the mind plays a key role. The mind directs the movements, it directs the intention and much more. As an example, each posture has a beginning and end. The mind must link the postures together smoothly without fudging the beginning and end. The mind provides the continuity. When issuing energy the posture may stop, but the mind must keep the intention going. The saying is that the lotus root may be broken, but the mind intent is not.

The external ( form ) and internal (mind intent ) must co-ordinate.

More Ego in the basement.

The question was on the tip of my lips. Should I ask it? The desire to know was enormous. I was burning to ask it.

I wanted to know how I was doing, if my Tai Chi was ok.

Before I got any further, John Kells said to the class that we shouldn't worry about how we were doing. Just to follow the teaching and practise sincerely. It was if he knew I was going to ask the question. His back was turned to me. I swear he was psychic!

We shouldn't worry about how we look or are progressing. With humility and sincerity, the practise of Tai Chi is its own reward.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Single most useful piece of advice

One of the most important teachings from John Kells.

Keep your bum in.

Steps - the long and short of it

Initially, we take longer steps to open up the lower body, to develop flexibility and strength. After that the steps should be natural. The waist controls the legs, they do not move independently.

This allows easy stepping in which the cross energy can easily be accessed and applied. The danger with a long step is that you can find yourself stuck in one leg, unable to sink quickly into the other one. Smaller, more natural steps allow for greater mobility.

The application of cross energy is a dynamic process, with energy stored in the legs and controlled by the waist. This can get lost with long steps.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Hard Work

Tai Chi is hard work.

Daily practise with purposeful intent is needed to understand and progress, whether doing the solo forms or working with a partner.

The following quote from John Kells sums up the deeper meaning:

" Throught dint of hard work all is revealed

  When all is revealed then all is concealed

  When all is concealed then principle is revealed

  When principle is revealed then inclusion is revealed

  When inclusion is revealed then nothing is revealed "

Monday, 22 August 2011

Curiously addicted?

When I started with John Kells, we had a 2hour class once a week. Then there was a 3 hour Sunday afternoon catch up session. This was followed by a Saturday intensive once a month. In addition I tried faithfully to practise 1 hour every day.

After 9 months we had finished learning the short form. Whilst waiting for a long form class to start we could attend other short form classes for half price. Pretty soon I was assisting in the classes. Then I would get to the Tai chi centre an hour earlier to practise and assisted for 4 hours. Eventually I was allowed to stay behind for another hour or so which meant rushing to catch the night bus back to Heathrow Airport, which was near to my home.

It was only a matter of time before I was attending classes every day of the week and getting there early to practise. It would not be an exageration to say it took over my life. This continued for around 5-6 years before other commitments meant I had to cut back going to the centre. I think I was notching up around 36 - 40 hours per week. My mother was aghast, especially as I had managed to wear away part of the lawn. When would I get a proper job and stop all this nonsense?

Thirty years later I am still addicted/enthralled? by Tai Chi. I enjoy it so much. There is so much to still learn and understand.

Perhaps Tai Chi should carry some kind of warning. It is curiously addictive!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Root

Everyone has a root. It is our connection to the ground beneath our feet.

The feeling of that connection can differ greatly. A person who carries themselves high up in the chest is more likely to have a weaker connection that a person who is relaxed, sunk, soft and aligned with the flow of gravity.

A strong root in Tai Chi allows a person to absorb a force down through their body to the ground without being unbalanced. It is a strong platform for returning or issuing force, for psycho/physical stability and ease of movement.

How to develop the root? It is important to relax the body and mind and soften. Some people visualise roots emerging from their feet or sacrum which go deep into the earth. Another image is a ball and chain, hanging from the base of the torso or a third leg ( a la Jake the Peg ).

John Kells taught a different approach. Instead of penetrating the ground, he allowed the ground to come up through him. To do this requires an accepting mind. Echoes of this can be found in the discipline of Eutony, where the performer/dancer feels the support of the earth through their bones and works with that feeling.

There are no quick results. Practise until it is part of your body/mind feeling.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Ten Co-ordinations

1)   The head must co-ordinate with the cocyx.
2)   The neck must co-ordinate with the waist.
3)   The shoulders must co-ordinate with the inside of the thigh where it joins the body.
4)   The elbows must co-ordinate with the knees.
5)   The shin of one leg must co-ordinate with the shin of the other leg.
6)   The toes of one foot must co-ordinate with the toes of the other foot.
7)   The spirit must co-ordinate with the mind.
8)   The mind must co-ordinate with the energy ( Chi ).
9)   The energy must co-ordinate with the strength.
10) The inner aspect (spirit, energy) must co-ordinate with the outer aspect ( the external form).

B.T.C.C.A. Handbook 2nd Term.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Mindfulness Factor

Mindfulness is a good thing. Jolly useful. So what is it we want to be mindful of?

As Tai Chi practioners ( I detest the word "player" because we sure as heck aren't playing) we want to be aware of our bodies. This is so we can feel the principles, feel if we are relaxed, surrendering to gravity.

The opposite is to cut off feeling and pretend intellectually. I've been guilty of this on occasion but something always happens to rudely remind me to stop being up myself.

So feel if you are relaxing, sinking, softening, moving the body as one unit, not leading from the hand etc.

Mindfulness is rooted firmly in the experience of the physical body.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Embrace them like a Lover

When John Kells taught Pushing Hands there were the usual set of instructions. Maintain ward off, sink, relax, yield, turn the waist and turn the mind.

But one aspect stood out. To be interested in the other person. I have studied other Tai Chi styles pushing hands methods and none of them contain this approach. but then John Kells didn't teach a traditional approach.

What is interesting about it is that if we are not interested in the other person, then we are busy remembering self and causing a disconnection between ourselves and the other person. We use our clever techniques in isolation, demonstrating, in my opinion, a tense and fearful mind.

To be interested in the other person is to forget self. We need to open and embrace them, welcome them in. In this way a push can be accepted and transformed. Be so interested in the other person, use all your senses to listen to them. Be interested in the other person as if their touch was that of a lover. Then real communication can take place.

It may sound like a load of new age gobbeldy gook. It takes real courage and strength to be able to stand in front of another person in this way. Much easier, of course, to remember our habitual self and continue in ignorance.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Trying Hands

Any Tai Chi teacher worth their salt will teach pushing hands and partnerwork. It is an essential part of the discipline. Some teach it from the very beginning whilst others will introduce it at a later stage.

Pushing Hands can also be called striking hands. I came across the term " Trying Hands " which I like because it conveys a different flavour than that implied by pushing or striking, which might make a person think they have to be more " Martial " and tense up.

That is not to say that Tai Chi isn't a martial art, because it is. It is not a health practise, buddhist meditation, a new age fad or anything else. It is complete in itself and worthy of serious study. Other disciplines may inform your practise but are not a substitute for it.

Partnerwork allows you to work on the principles of Tai Chi with other people. It challenges you to understand softness and relaxation in the face of pressure. There are specific techniques to be understood which I will discuss in another post.

Trying Hands allows for an exploration of how different we all are, of touch, softness, hardness, strength, weakness and all that we bring to that moment. It is lively and dynamic.

So don't be put off from working with partners in class. Change your approach and Try their Hands!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Sink

Sorry to disappoint those who thought this might be a post about sinks. I don't think I can handle recent plumbing trauma at this point in time and space.

So I'm standing in the basement classroom, trying to work out what the teacher meant when he said we had to sink. Sink where? Into what?

To sink is the other side of the coin from relaxation. These two qualities go hand in hand. When we can relax, there is a corresponding release in the body. The joints loosen and the body can settle downwards. This is the first step. Further stages in sinking and relaxation take place over time.

An important Aikido principle is to keep the weight underside. This is a product of relaxation and sinking. C.M Shifflett provides the following visualisation in his book, Ki in Aikido ( ISBN 978-0-9778702-1-9 Round Earth Publishing).

Imagine a shaft of light, like a fireman's pole going through the centre of your body, from the head deep down into the ground. Then imagine yourself gently sliding down the shaft or taking the elevator down as deeply as you can.

How does it make you feel? Play with it. Investigate it at different times.

Imagery is a key part of Tai Chi and is a powerful aid to posture, performance and more.

Monday, 8 August 2011


A small postcard was propped up in the fireplace of the basement classroom. It showed a traffic sign with the word " Yield ".

To yield means to give way. A simple example is if someone pushes your shoulder. Do not resist, do not run away, but remain in contact with the push and give way. It's a bit like trying to stroke a cat that doesn't want to allow it. Note how the cat remains in contact but gives way to your contact?

But at a deeper level to yield means to accept. Accepting means to forget self, which is relatively easy. The hard part is the constant reminder of self. By accepting, we open to connect, to communicate, to embrace. Not accepting is rooted in fear and tension.

The practise of partnerwork in Tai Chi provides an excellent opportunity to investigate acceptance. But to yield does not imply a passive, helpless, limp state. It is a dynamic process that allows a meaningful interaction with your partner, with others, with your environment, with life and death.

I'm sure there is more that could be written but it would never be enough to capture the experience. Aaaargghh.... this is getting too deep so I'm off to bed!

Seven Minutes in the Morning

I recall reading that Tai Chi would give you the strength of a lumberjack and the pliability of a young child. Apparently all that was needed was 7 minutes practise every morning. How magical that seemed!

The truth, of course, is very different. In his book Bounce, Matthew Syed explores the connection between sporting success and the thousands of hours of practise that seperate top performers from the rest. The practise must also contain purposeful intent. This is directly applicable to Tai Chi.

My teacher, John Kells, practised relentlessly. Tai Chi is his life. He taught me that if I was serious about Tai Chi, I would need to practise for a minimum of 2 hours every day. This is quite a commitment if you have a job and a family. The great Yang style Tai Chi master Yang Cheng Fu is reputed to have practised 3 long forms 5 times per day. One form takes between 20 - 35 minutes depending on the speed.

This dispels the myth of seven minutes a day. But Magic? Yes, there is Magic to be discovered !

Friday, 5 August 2011

Humility to succeed

I like a compliment. I expect you do as well.

When my teacher gave me positive feedback about my tai chi postures in front of my peers, I glowed with egotistical pride. Clearly I was doing well! The attention from the teacher continued over several weeks.

Then it stopped. Completely. Utterly. Why? Was I no longer doing well? Couldn't the teacher see me? Instead, others in the class were receiving attention and praise.

Ego duly dented, I thought about giving up. I'm glad that I didn't. There was a valuable lesson I had to learn. Drop the Ego and false pride. Look beyond that. Learn Humility. Humility is vital to success.

To learn Tai Chi, two things are required:

1) Start Tai Chi.
2) Continue Tai Chi.

Do you have the Humility to succeed?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

So what's the deal with Relaxation?

Relax, said the teacher. But I am relaxed, I thought, as the teacher tried to gently move my resistant arms into a better shape for the posture we were learning.

Go to any T'ai Chi class, pick up any T'ai Chi book and you will be told that is important to relax. But what exactly does this mean? Is it the same as drinking 6 cans of Lager or half a bottle of wine whilst draped over the sofa after a day at work? No, this is approaching a state of collapse. Relaxing to the point of falling to floor is not what we're after.

We need to work with Gravity. Work with it, not against it. Instead of fighting to pull ourselves up, we surrender to the pull of Gravity. Drop tension, both in the mind and the body. Soften the tissues of the body. It is a process of transformation. We gain energy as we let go of tension. We are able to move more freely. We are supported by the Ground and are more stable.

The first posture of the short form provides a method. Stand with the heels touching, feet turned out slightly. Your weight is over the whole of your feet, not back on the heels or too far forwards on the balls. Arms hang loosely by your side, hands gently open, not clenched. Look straight ahead, a level gaze, not tilting up or down. the tongue touches the gum behind the front two teeth, as if trying to say  " Luh " . The molar teeth touch gently and the mouth is lighty closed. Have an enigmatic, Mona Lisa smile. The eyes can be open, half open or closed.

The shoulders don't hold you up, so let them drop. The elbows are unlocked. Don't push the chest out or let it slump. Take a deep breath and sigh as you breathe out. Feel the chest relax. Don't pull in the stomach or clench the buttocks. Be aware of the hips and let go. The knees are not locked - tighten and let go a few times to get the feeling. Feel the ground beneath your feet and soften them, not pushing or trying to grab with your toes.

Breathing naturally through the nose, do not try to control the Breath. Imagine you have a flow of warm water down the front of the face, throat, chest, belly, hips, thighs, shins, flowing down into the Earth. Follow this down gently with your awareness. Soften downwards. Stand quietly for a minute of two to work with this. If you feel uncomfortable then stop. If dizzy, lie down and put your feet up higher than your head.

With practise I found that I had a better connection/root to the Ground and had dropped tension , especially in my upper body. My breathing deepened and my personal energy improved.

Relaxation is the foundation.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Learning in the Basement

In early 1982 I moved back to London. Keen to continue learning Tai Chi I searched for another teacher. Nowadays it seems as if there is one hanging around every street corner but back then they were few and far between.

I had been referred to Paul Crompton but he wasn't teaching at the time. I thought about going to Master Chu King Hung but came across an advert in Time Out for the British Tai Chi Ch'uan Association. It contained a short quote from a student about the beautiful feeling of the form.

I duly signed up and began my relationship with John Kells, which continues to this day. He taught in the basement of his father's house. 30 people crammed into the small space to learn warm ups and the short form, admonished to sink, relax, try softer. Everything is contained in the first lesson, that first contact, first moment, first touch. This is a lesson for life if we can be open to it.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Bloke on the Path

Welcome to my Blog, an attempt to explore the journey of an ordinary bloke on the path of Tai Chi and other disciplines. It is part biographical, part musing, probably the odd rant, fumbling to find the words. The Tao that can be spoken of is not the true Tao.

I started Tai chi in 1981 in Manchester. The teacher was the late Danny Connor, a well known Martial Artist who ran a shop called Oriental World, situated behind the Arndale Shopping Centre.

We were learning the 24 step form. Hooked on the magic and energy of the movements, I knew I had come home.