Sunday, December 11, 2011

Winter wear!

It is turning cold in the mornings now. Twenty degrees today, so time to wear the warmer taiji kit. Layering is the key. Loose layers, but lots of them. Warm as toast!

Gathering energy

Part the wild horse's mane

Single whip

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Yang Long Form

Yang Chen Fu — Ward Off
My practice since the summer has been to concentrate on the Yang Long Form (108 forms). It has been a delight and is now my daily practice.
It was daunting at first to think about learning 108 forms, but less problematic when I got down to it. Many of the forms I had already learned in Yang Short Form, and Simplified 24 Form. There are also a number of repeats during the routine. They occur like a chorus and weave into one another.
It has proved very satisfying ... more so than the short forms. I am pondering why this might be the case. Best guess is that, as the long form takes about 17-20 minutes to complete, you enter a deeper meditative state. It is also the traditional form and so I assume that the masters who designed and refined it did so for a reason.
It has also been good too to have my postures looked at and corrected by Master Jesse. He can spot issues in a second or two and the corrections he gives make so much sense. It serves to show that to have a good teacher is so important.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A new cane

Baby blue eyes
Shark fin and handgrips, with the
designer's name in Chinese
I have enjoyed the taiji cane form as taught by Master Jesse for quite a while. I have been thinking about getting a nice cane and discovered one designed by Shaolin monk Shi Xing De (name is on the cane) and made in the USA by master canemaker Merle McAlpin. So, I suggested a birthday present from Jane!
I am so pleased with the cane. It is made of hickory with heartwood (very nice grain), has a "shark fin" on the back edge, several hand grips, and is finished in non-toxic tung oil. The pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance is that it has a pretty face. Blue eyes and all!
Detail of the fin
A very solid cane!
It is perfectly balanced for cane forms and a great walking stick when out with the dogs.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Summer play

It's been a while since I blogged about my taiji practice. A short update required then.
The summer has been once of consolidation. Rather than learn new forms I have concentrated my attention on consolidating things I have already internalized, practicing between an hour and an hour and a half each day. Master Jesse had given me some valuable tips on knees and waist, and I have given this attention with some good success. The taiji classics say that all begins in the feet and legs, controlled by the waist and then to the arms and hands. Flexibility and relaxation of the waist (dantian area) is of the utmost importance.
Forms I have been using regularly are: Simplified 24 Form, Eight Immortals Cane Yang style (see separate blog) and taiji bang (short stick). I have also enjoyed qigong Eight Pieces of Brocade and meditation for self-healing.
Much is mundane, but enjoyable and taiji play is an important part of each day.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Five "Regulatings"

The ultimate goal of all all religion, all philosophy is enlightenment. But, what a mysterious thing enlightenment is (if it is a thing at all—is a state of being a thing?). Is enlightenment something that happens to you? Or can you work toward enlightenment? I think it must be both/and. The great traditions all provide disciplines and habits, preparations for enlightenment. But when enlightenment happens, it comes as a gift.

In taiji there are "five regulatings," each deeply interconnected. Habits to work on, preparations to make. To regulate is to bring into harmony with the whole.

Tiao Shen ... Regulate the body
Tiao Xi ... Regulate the breath
Tiao Xin ... Regulate the mind
Tiao Qi ... Regulate the energy
Tiao Shen ... Regulate the spirit

The goal of taiji is to bring to harmony body, breath, mind, energy and spirit. In our unenlightened state these five are in disharmony. Body unruly, breath shallow, mind unsettled, energy weak and spirit flat. Qigong (of which Taijiquan is a form) works on all these at the same time.

Random thought 1. It interests me that the body is included. In western philosophy we have lived with the twin legacies of Platonism (where ideal, spirit, is all and the body ignored) and Cartesian Dualism (after Descartes, who radically separated mind and body). With this legacy, enlightenment is purely spiritual. In taiji, body is integrated with mind and spirit. There is no enlightenment without the body.

Random thought 2. In taiji philosophy there are two minds. The wisdom mind (Yi, the horse mind) and the emotional mind (Xin, the monkey mind). Both are important. Yi leads Qi. Xin needs to be calmed. Taiji exercise involves both. Students consistently find their minds calmed through qigong meditation.

Random thought 3. As body, breath, mind and energy are harmonized the spirit is raised. That is the way of enlightenment.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, May 13, 2011

New Videos

Here are a few new videos just added:

Congratulations Students!

Classes have finished. Finals for the students. Mountains of grading for me!
It has been a good year for students learning taijiquan with me. I had the great honor of presenting Katie with her third level belt and certificate. Over the two semesters Katie has completed 100 hours of taiji training. Well done Katie! Jonathan has completed about 70 hours. Both have shown perseverance and dedication. Great students to have. See videos of them both doing the Simply Tai Chi 9 Form under the videos tab.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Silk Reeling

Silk reeling is a great set of exercises from the Chen tradition. Good for developing qi. Good for breathing. You don't need a lot of space as these are stationary exercises. Enjoy!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Eight Pieces of brocade Qigong

I have been practicing the Eight Pieces of Brocade Qigong for a while. It is eight qigong exercises that are repeated at least eight times each. It can be completed in about 15 minutes. Of course, you can do more repetitions of each exercise. It is said that if you do the exercises for 100 days you gain health and well-being, not to say immortality!
I have recorded it on video, but not with the required number of repetitions. To learn the form I recommend the teaching DVD of Master Jesse Tsao. Enjoy, and become immortal!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Eight words for regulating the breath

Words to ponder:

1. calm
2. slender
3. deep
4. long
5. continuous
6. uniform
7. slow
8. soft

from Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, Tai Ch Chuan Classical Yang Style

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Learning the taiji classics

The motion should be rooted in the feet,
released through the legs,
controlled by the waist,
and manifested through the fingers. ...

If the timing and position are not correct,
the body becomes disordered,
and the defect must be sought
in the legs and waist.

Chang San-Feng (Lo/Inn/Amacker/Foe tr.)

The taiji classics are a very simple collection of sayings containing the essence of the taijiquan system. Simple on the surface! I have to admit when I first read them, having heard about them (often spoken in hushed tones, with reverence) I was disappointed. Where was the depth? "Step forward, step backward, look left, look right." Hmmm. All a bit too simple. Coming to the classics having just read Scottish philosopher David Hume, well ... if you have ever read (or tried to read) David Hume you will get the picture.
The fault was all on my part not the classics.
The classics are a different kind of writing. It is not about learning with your head. It is learning with your whole being, body, mind and spirit. Recently, I had a "whole being rvelation." It is contained in the simple phrase "controlled by the waist." I had read this many times in different books on taiji. I had heard my teacher master Jesse say it often. I did not "know it." Then all of a sudden, it clicked. My taiji took a major leap forward.
On a physiological level, the dantien is located a couple of inches below the belly button and an inch or two inside the body. The "waist" is shorthand for the dantien. Here is the center.
In meditation I have been used to placing intent on the dantien, but it had not translated into my moving forms.This week it did! The quote at the start of this blog became a whole body reality.
It makes sense on a spiritual/existential level too. A life lived from the center is a life well balanced. When life is out of balance, resort needs to be made to recover the center. A life lived from the center is a well-lived life.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Summary of the taiji classics

I found a concise and profound summary of the taiji classics in Petra and Toyo Kobayashi's Classical T'ai Chi Sword.
The book is well worth reading, even if you do not intend practicing sword forms. The underlying principles are the same.
Important Principles of Tai Chi Ch'uan

relax - release (let go) - sink
root - yield - follow - join (connect)
lively - light - natural
even - slow - continuous
directed - balanced
movement from the center
curved movement
upright-straightening from within
not going to the extreme
full and empty
open and close
keeping the essential
deep breathing
meditative state of mind

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A helpful myth

So let me tell you a story. A myth really. But, I'm not using myth in the popular sense of "something that isn't true, but which many people believe" (as in "urban myth"). I'm thinking more of a way of telling that is true but not necessarily literally or scientifically true. A myth is a story that helps us make sense of life.

Once upon a time you were born. And you were born with a certain deposit of  life force, essence, vitality. Let's call it qi (and pronounce is "chee"). Each day of your life you use some of this qi until one day, after a long and happy life, when all your qi has been used, you will die. The quality of your qi when you were born depends on a bit of luck, on karma, on the health and vitality of your parents when they conceived you, and when your mother carried you in the womb. You couldn't change your inherited qi even if you wanted to or tried very hard to.
But, there is another kind of qi that you acquire each day of your life. You derive this qi from the air you breath, from the food you eat, from the quality of your life and relationships. Good food, good exercise and good relationships add to you store of qi. A poor quality of life consumes qi faster than you acquire qi. 
There is good news. If you acquire qi faster than you consume it, you store your qi and this stored qi acts as a buffer between your acquired qi and your inherited qi. In this way, you use your inherited qi at a slower rate. You live longer and the quality of your life is better.
When illness strikes, it takes a large toll on your qi. The more acquired qi you have stored, the better you will fare with illness. If you develop the skill, you can even transfer some of your stored qi to others when they need it. You can be an energizer of others. You can help them be well.
Of course, you cannot escape death when all your inherited qi is finally used, but you can have a long and fulfilled life.

Not a bad myth as far as myths go! Where does taiji fit in the myth? Taiji is a wonderful way to acquire qi. Taiji is energy work. As you develop taiji practice, you can feel qi in your body. You can feel its movement. You can feel where there are blockages of qi It takes time. It takes daily discipline. But, it is well worth the effort.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Full and empty, double-weighted

In the various books on taijiquan there are many references to the concepts and practice of full/empty and double-weighted. I had taken them to be the same thing (and much that I read seemed to use the terms interchangeably). Yet, it was not always clear what was meant. I asked Master Jesse, and his explanation was very helpful.
These are two very different ideas in Chinese, and though the English translation sounds like the same there is a mjor difference.
Tai Chi Colorado Springs Boxing Association
Golden Rooster Stance
First full (yang) and empty (yin). This is the relative weight distributed between the feet. For example, if you stand on one leg (in say, Golden Rooster stance) the foot on which you stand is full (100%). If you stand in bow stance, the front foot is about 70% full and the back foot about 30% full. As you "sit back" the rear foot becomes more full and the front foot empty. In "Play the Guitar" is more like back foot 90% and front foot 10%. Much of taiji is the movement from full to empty in slow and graceful movement. The foot that is full does not move, only the empty foot. This is the way of balance.
There are good pics of the basic stances on the Tai Chi Colorado Springs Boxing Association web site.
What then is double weighted? Though it sounds the same in English is refers to something different: the relationship between the right side of the body and the left side. There is a correspondence between the right hand and the left foot, the right knee and left elbow and vice versa. In taiji form, if  the correspondence is between the right hand and right foot, that is said to be double-weighted and unstable. So, for example, in "Part the Wild Horse's Mane" the stance is bow, with, say left foot forward. The left hand has moved in a circle low to high; the right hand has blocked down palm facing down to the right side. Qi moved from the right foot (back) through the hips, to the left arm to the left hand. The forward left foot corresponds to the right hand blocking down. In this way there is a crossing of qi and great stability.
The key is the intention. Qi follows Yi. Energy follows mind. I take this to mean that as the form progresses, the mental intention is for the energy to flow in the spiraling manner.
Since Master Jesses's lesson I have been practicing this and found it very beneficial. I would say it takes practice to another level again.
Stay balanced!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Go with the flow of the seasons

I have always enjoyed the seasons. It bothers me when folk complain in summer, "It's too hot!" or in winter "It's too cold!" or in spring, "Roll on the summer!" or in autumn "This is dreary!" Life is too short, too precious, to wish it away, to not enjoy the present.
Taiji philosophy has enhanced my enjoyment of the seasons. In taiji the advice is to go with the flow of the seasons. Watch what happens in nature. Don't fight nature. Find nature's Dao. Modify life and practices according to the Dao.
This is from the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine, the Neijing. This ancient text comes form the third millennium BCE:
"During the winter months all things in nature wither, hide, return home, and enter a resting period, just as lakes and rivers freeze and snow falls. This is a time when yin dominates yang. Therefore one should refrain from overusing the yang energy. Retire early and get up with the sunrise, which is later in winter. Desire and mental activity should be kept quite and subdued. Sexual desires especially should be contained, as if keeping a happy secret. Stay warm, avoid the cold, and keep the pores closed. Avoid sweating. The philosophy of the winter season is one of conservation and storage."
Ancient wisdom indeed! In the modern world we have devised many different ways of overcoming nature. Much of this is beneficial—warm clothes, warm houses to name two. Yet, according to the Yellow Emperor, we go against the flow (the Dao) at our own peril. There is much sensible advice in the ancient text.
In taiji exercise, the Dao requires a gentler, softer, more yin approach in winter than the other seasons. I am enjoying the winter. I am looking forward to spring when I can take my practice outside once again. But for now, conservation and storage feels good.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Anniversary (of sorts) reflections

At the beginning of 2010 I has the notion of "deepening my practice." Part of that was to take taiji more seriously and to practice daily. This weekend I completed a full year of daily taiji. Well, almost daily. I missed two days: one because of illness and the other because I was traveling and had a very early start and a full day. All in all 424 hours. I had determined to average an hour a day and I exceeded that goal. It has been quite a year and I thought I would post a few reflections.
What have I Learned?
I have learned how to breathe, how to stand and how to walk! Besides that I have learned 122 different taiji postures and how to get from one to the other. This has been great fun. Taiji postures have wonderfully picturesque names. Among my favorite are: "Blue Dragon Out of Water," "Scoop up Moon From Ocean's Bottom," and "Wind Scatters Plum Blossoms." Use your imagination to ponder what they might be!
Much that I have learned I have already posted to this blog. The philosophy underlying taiji has fascinated me. I have benefited greatly from focusing on how to live with constant change, how to recognize seasons and to find peace and balance in them. Taiji philosophy has added to my understanding of nonviolence. One of the hurdles people face when thinking through nonviolence is what to do when someone attacks. "Surely, you wouldn't just let them walk all over you?" is a common response. Nonviolence is about rejecting all violence, even from the aggressor. It is unloving to allow an aggressor to cause violence. Taiji neutralizes the aggression of the adversary, preventing the violence the aggressor is attempting. Taiji is profoundly nonviolent.
How do I feel?
Physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually very well indeed! Physically flexible, energized, strengthened, less tired. I have suffered for over ten years with a hereditary heart issue, "lone atrial fibrillation." My dad had it. My sister has it. For me it has been a minor inconvenience, with an episode about once a month. Over the last year I have had only two very minor episodes. My cardiologist in my recent annual visit said, "everything has calmed down." Good low BP, good heart rate, perfect EKG. Emotionally less stressed; more chilled.
What now?
Continue the daily practice. Continue teaching students in the Cortland taiji club and in my philosophical meditations class. In the fall I will be teaching a course on Chinese philosophy. After consultation with my most excellent and gracious teacher master Jesse Tsao, I will continue mostly Yang style taiji until I have completed 1000 hours. I will then turn my attention to Chen style. So really, more of the same. I keep you posted.
Play well!