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.