A song of Push Hands

Be conscientious in PengLuChi, and An.

Upper and lower coordinate, 
and the opponent finds it difficult to penetrate.

Let the opponent attack with great force; 
use four ounces to deflect a thousand pounds.

Attract to emptiness and discharge; 
Zhan, Lian, Nian, Sui
no resisting no leting go.


The Treaties on Tai Chi Chuan

T’ai Chi [Supreme Ultimate] comes from Wu Chi [Formless Void] 
and is the mother of yin and yang. 
In motion T’ai Chi separates; 
in stillness yin and yang fuse and return to Wu Chi.

It is not excessive or deficient; 
it follows a bending, adheres to an extension.

When the opponent is hard and I am soft, 
it is called tsou [yielding].

When I follow the opponent and he becomes backed up, 
it is called nian [sticking].

If the opponent’s movement is quick, 
then quickly respond; 
if his movement is slow, 
then follow slowly.

Although there are innumerable variations, 
the principles that pervades them remain the same.

From familiarity with the correct touch, 
one gradually comprehends chin [intrinsic strength]; 
from the comprehension of chin one can reach wisdom.

Without long practice 
one cannot suddenly understand T’ai Chi.

Effortlessly the chin reaches the headtop.

Let the ch’i [vital life energy] sink to the tan-t’ien [field of elixir].

Don’t lean in any direction; 
suddenly appear, 
suddenly disappear.

Empty the left wherever a pressure appears, 
and similarly the right.

If the opponent raises up, I seem taller; 
if he sinks down, then I seem lower; 
advancing, he finds the distance seems incredibly long; 
retreating, the distance seems exasperatingly short.

A feather cannot be placed, 
and a fly cannot alight 
on any part of the body.

The opponent does not know me; 
I alone know him.

To become a peerless boxer results from this.

There are many boxing arts.

Although they use different forms, 
for the most part they don’t go beyond 
the strong dominating the weak, 
and the slow resigning to the swift.

The strong defeating the weak 
and the slow hands ceding to the swift hands 
are all the results of natural abilities 
and not of well-trained techniques.

From the sentence “A force of four ounces deflects a thousand pounds” 
we know that the technique is not accomplished with strength.

The spectacle of an old person defeating a group of young people, 
how can it be due to swiftness?

Stand like a perfectly balanced scale and 
move like a turning wheel.

Sinking to one side allows movement to flow; 
being double-weighted is sluggish.

Anyone who has spent years of practice and still cannot neutralize, 
and is always controlled by his opponent, 
has not apprehended the fault of double-weightedness.

To avoid this fault one must distinguish yin from yang.

To adhere means to yield. 
To yield means to adhere.

Within yin there is yang
Within yang there is yin.

Yin and yang mutually aid and change each other.

Understanding this you can say you understand chin
After you understand chin
the more you practice, 
the more skill.

Silently treasure knowledge and turn it over in the mind. 
Gradually you can do as you like.

Fundamentally, it is giving up yourself to follow others. 
Most people mistakenly give up the near to seek the far. 
It is said, “Missing it by a little will lead many miles astray.”

The practitioner must carefully study.

This is the Treatise

Attributed to Wang Tsung-yueh [Wang Zongyue] (18th Century)

Songs of the Eight Postures

The Song of Peng

What is the meaning of Peng energy?
It is like the water supporting a moving boat.
First sink the ch’i to the tan-t’ien,
then hold the head as if suspended from above.
The entire body is filled with springlike energy,
opening and closing in a very quick moment.
Even if the opponent uses a thousand pounds of force,
he can be uprooted and made to float without difficulty.

The Song of Lu

What is the meaning of Lu energy?
Entice the opponent toward you by allowing him to advance,
lightly and nimbly follow his incoming force
without disconnecting and without resisting.
When his force reaches its farthest extent,
it will naturally become empty.
The opponent can then be let go or countered at will.
Maintain your central equilibrium
and your opponent cannot gain an advantage.

The Song of Chi

What is the meaning of Chi energy?
There are two aspects to its functional use:
The direct way is to go to meet the opponent
and attach gently in one movement.
The indirect way is to use the reaction force
like the rebound of a ball bouncing off a wall, or
a coin thrown on a drumhead,
bouncing off with a ringing sound.

The Song of An

What is the meaning of An energy?
When applied it is like flowing water.
The substantial is concealed in the insubstantial.
When the flow is swift it is difficult to resist.
Coming to a high place, it swells and fills the place up;
meeting a hollow it dives downward.
The waves rise and fall,
finding a hole they will surely surge in.

The Song of Ts’ai

What is the meaning of Ts’ai energy?
It is like the weight attached to the beam of a balance scale.
Give free play to the opponent’s force
no matter how heavy or light,
you will know how heavy or light it is after weighing it.
To push or pull requires only four ounces,
one thousand pounds can also be balanced.
If you ask what the principle is,
the answer is the function of the lever.

The Song of Lieh

What is the meaning of Lieh energy?
It revolves like a spinning disc.
If something is thrown onto it,
it will immediately be cast more than ten feet away.
Have you not seen a whirlpool form in a swift flowing stream?
The waves roll in spiraling currents.
If a falling leaf drops into it,
it will suddenly sink from sight.

The Song of Chou

What is the meaning of Chou energy?
Its method relates to the Five Elements.
Yin and Yang are divided above and below.
Insubstantiality and substantiality must be clearly distinguished.
Joined in unbroken continuity,
the opponent cannot resist the posture.
Its explosive pounding is especially fearsome.
When one has mastered the six kinds of energy,
the applications become unlimited.

The Song of K’ao

What is the meaning of K’ao energy?
Its method is divided into the shoulder and back technique.
In Diagonal Flying Posture use shoulder,
but within the shoulder technique
there is also some use of the back.
Once you have the opportunity and can take advantage of the posture,
the technique explodes like pounding a pestle.
Carefully maintain your own center.
Those who lose it will have no achievement.

Attributed to T’an Meng – Hsien as researched by Lee. N. Scheele

Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan

My next seminar is looking at the Yang Style Short Form (the easy one) and Bone Marrow Qi Gong, so I thought it would be a good time to ask

What represents Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan?

  • Longevity
  • A full grasp of all the martial and health aspects of the art
  • Ability to tackle multiple adversaries
  • Walking on Water
  • A healthy body and mind
  • Good energy flow and levels
  • Feeling connected for 24 moves, all Tai Chi moves, ever.
  • Being better than Bruce Lee
  • Time to myself…..
  • Being alive and happy

Advancement in any martial art is about developing a fuller feeling for the art and life. This may in part be facilitated by a greater academic knowledge but the foundation is in feel and practice. There will always be discussions within Tai Chi and Martial Art circles as to the real merits of Tai Chi. The key component is you, your understanding and what you are looking for from your art. What is right at one time of your life, measured daily, weekly, monthly or yearly will not always be what you need to develop on a physical or spiritual level. The dichotomy of Tai Chi is comprehensive. As your life evolves so will your practice.

There will be times when you tick some philosophical boxes for development:

Fully committing whilst remaining grounded

There will be times of confusion…

Engaging with an open mind

There will be times of confusion…

Engaging with a directed mind

There will be times of confusion…

Not engaging

There will be times of confusion…

Feeling for full movement and expression

There will be times of confusion…

Feeling for the softening and connection with expression and contraction

There will be times of confusion…

Remembering without clarity in Xin and Yi there is nothing to move the Qi.

For it to be empty it must first be filled, for it to be free it will require guidance, to accept guidance requires trust, to trust you need to be open, to be open you need to know how to whack someone who betrays that openness (hence the need for the health and martial element of Tai Chi!)

There will be times of confusion…

From all of this confusion will come clarity… I think! Culminating in a healthy, balanced (of course advanced) understanding of Tai Chi and how best to live your life.

What I love about my martial arts is that they evolve with me, my life, my understanding, how much I train, how little I train and how often my kids provide me with creative challenges, and how I overcome them….or not as the case may be. It’s all a measure of progress and advancement, what seems advanced now won’t in a while. It’s a wonderful thing but sometimes it makes teaching a real challenge, I rest assured that all students take what they need at the time and in so doing give back to the world.

Many Tai Chi practitioners are often too harsh on themselves, (Tai Chi teachers less so). Lets take a moment to positively reframe the whole passionate but balanced outlook – practice a bit, feel for it, think a bit, have a brew, practice and feel some more and think a little less whilst advancing gently into happier times.

My next seminar is looking at Bone Marrow Qi Gong as well as Yang Style Tai Chi 24 Step, they compliment each other beautifully and you’ll be pleased to know Bone Marrow Qi Gong is a lot easier to grasp than that Tai Chi business! 🙂

Lineage, A Teachers Responsibility

The essence of the art lies with the individual, the history of the art lies in its Lineage. Highlighting lineage helps ensure respect is shown to teachers and those who went before them, those who committed time and energy to an art that you now enjoy.

Dedicating a life to an art has significant implications and should not be underestimated. I have heard stories of how teachers and their families were persecuted in China because they studied and taught, yet they continued to practice and impart their knowledge so that others could enjoy it. A short film I saw recently Be strong, Be gentle, Be beautiful highlights the dedication and challenges faced by Keiko Fukuda, in spreading her art of Judo, now enjoyed by millions.

A Teachers influence is far reaching, how they behave reflects upon their teaching, their art and therefore their Lineage. Reality often crushes our romantic ideas. The global development of Tai Chi Chuan, Karate and Judo highlight the intricate involvement of Martial Arts in the history of and politics of their birth nations. The survival of some arts and extinction of others has been decided by influential families with strong political and social ties.

An honest Lineage should be underpinned by the integrity of the individual.

Unfortunately, many people use Lineage to achieve their own ends, to make them seem more credible, to fill in their gaps, to create a history, to justify the money they paid…. In short, to satisfy their marketing or personal ends thus neglecting their responsibility to both their Lineage and their students.

For the purpose of this blog, I feel compelled to draw a line between traditional martial arts and sports. For the latter the sporting and competition elements are the primary aims, where as in Traditional Martial Arts guiding principles are laid down as a way of life.

It is an important distinction because it cuts to the heart of traditional martial arts, on the internal, external and spiritual level. I always encountered less ego in a boxing gym than I did in a Tai Chi class. On reflection I think I encountered a greater manifestation of fear and insecurity in a Tai Chi class than I did in a boxing gym. The boxing gym was less academic and a more physically honest environment. In my twenties I spent a lot of time teaching martial arts, working in bars and clubs and practicing boxing and martial arts, the perceived and actual energetic differences were striking. Tai Chi classes often fed peoples insecurities, creating greater uncertainty and reliance on the teacher. Weakening not strengthening the Shen of students.

There is ego in all walks of life, sport and martial arts are no different you need a bit of it if you are striving to improve or be the best. It does not need to define you as a person, dignity and integrity shape how we live and how we behave as human beings.

A good teacher should want to develop their students – physically, energetically, spiritually, as a martial artist and person. A strong teacher/student relationship requires trust, this requires the student to open themselves to the opinion and outlook of the teacher.

How a person lives their life is a matter for them to decide but a person who chooses to teach and bring students into their life, as is often the case in Traditional Chinese Martial Arts, has a moral and ethical responsibility. Abuse of a position of influence or other people’s good nature lacks all integrity and contradicts the fundamentals of being a good teacher, person or martial artist.

During the last 30 years I have met a lot of highly respected martial artists, some briefly others I got to know well. Unfortunately there were those who spoke of respect, integrity and honesty but demonstrated little, teaching one message but practicing another. There often seemed to be a deeply ingrained need for manipulation and control that far exceeded any of their other responsibilities as teachers.

The philosophy of internal health and martial arts would support the idea that total unanchored dedication to any one thing is in itself unbalanced and therefore unhealthy. You see a lot of unhealthy, unbalanced individuals practising internal martial arts, unfortunately this is from the top down as well as bottom up.  All full time teachers have to balance paying the bills with class numbers which will at times affect who is being taught what but it does not explain deeper issues.

A friend made me laugh recently when he said he lost all respect for a Chinese Internal Arts teacher when he saw him smoking behind the bike sheds. This was a teacher who made all students promise never to drink or smoke, allegedly in line with his beliefs, yet it was the first thing he did when they got off the mat. Male teachers seeking the sexual attention of women in their classes is another example that can be levelled at many. It seems there is always a ‘get out’ clause when in pursuit of the Dao but regardless of how such teachers justify their actions, their behaviour reflects on them as individuals, the essence of the art they teach, and it’s Lineage.

The idea that martial arts informs a way of life means teachers should be good human beings, supporting and helping others develop and positively sustaining their Lineage. A teacher’s knowledge of form and technique is not an excuse for being a weak individual.

Martial, health, fitness and life knowledge go hand in hand. It is good to remember and think about those who have contributed to our life, whether it seemed positive or negative at the time it has helped inform us as people. I learnt as much about being a good person and coach from a man who fixed bikes in France as I have from many a renowned martial arts teachers. For the integrity of our Lineage it is worth remembering that we all age, it’s what we do in life that determines if it’s gracefully.

A complete martial system, why practise Qigong?

(In this blog I refer to martial systems in general terms with no specific reference to geographic origin.)

Perception is a wonderful thing. Qigong is perceived in a myriad of ways, for many in Chinese Martial Arts it was always seen as the ‘good stuff’, the secret that unlocked all the mystery of internal power. I like that idea and I love the fact that there is still a little bit magical remaining in the world. However, the secret is that the magic comes from informed diligent practise, with this in mind there is no denying Qigong can significantly develop your mind and body.

I believe Qigong reflects everything we do in life, the practice of Empowering Qigong exercises enables us to develop a greater understanding of our bodies and minds helping to develop our health and clarify our outlook. I also believe that it is important to put Qigong into a martial context for people to better understand where it fits into all traditional martial arts.

Waigong (external) Neigong (Internal) and Qigong are all part of the same whole, a complete martial arts system, mutually supportive and dependant for health and martial outlook.

Traditionally every young martial artist, regardless of their chosen system, created a solid foundation on which to build through the practise of Waigong. The simplicity of physical grounding enabled them to prepare the mind and body for more complex skills in Nei and Qigong, allowing the body to gain strength and understand the fundamentals of movement. For me my Waigong foundation was created through Kung Fu and Karate.

Traditional thinking highlighted that through Waigong we gain an insight into Neigong, through Neigong we gain insight into Qigong and completing the circle through Qigong we gained greater insight into Waigong.  Without a grounding in each of these areas a practitioner will struggle to understand the other areas of their art.

In simple terms Waigong is the external element of martial arts training.  Balance, agility, speed, strength, flexibility, stance and posture both static and moving come under this heading. The context for Waigong practise is development of the external fighting elements of the system.

Neigong practise aims to refine and develop the skills learnt during Waigong practise.  With a view to creating natural and efficient movement, breathing and relaxation techniques are introduced. Giving the practitioner a greater understanding of the mind and body whilst working to develop parts of the body not previously developed. The mind body connection starts to shape intent, practice and the positive flow of Qi.

Qigong further develops the body and mind through breath, visualisation, meditation, movement and stillness through structured and spontaneous practise. Fundamentally Qigong developed the internal and external strength of the body whilst developing the focus and application of the mind. The strength of martial Qigong lies in its simplicity to tap into and build on a solid foundation created through diligent practise of Nei and Wai Gong. As stated before the incorporation of Qigong into the practise of any martial art will lead to a greater understanding of the art as a whole and is a fundamental part of any complete system.

We regularly meet good practitioners of specific arts who carry serious injuries as a result of their practice, or practitioners who are more academic in outlook. This is often an unfortunate reflection of over focus on a part of a system and not the whole.

I met one of the best advertorials for a full system in 2010 in the form of a 70 year old practitioner of Chinese Internal Arts of Bagua Zhang, Liu Jin Ru. A master of Xing Yi Chuan, Tai Chi Chuan, and Praying Mantis, he embodied a complete system, healthy, strong and happy with devastating explosive martial skill. He like all other experienced practitioners I have met was clear a martial artist must never overlook the bitter with a view to basking in the blossom.

All arts work towards generating physical and mental health, through conscious practice whether that be martial arts. The importance of the Dantian or Hara is as important to calligraphy, or the tea ceremony as it is to Karate or Tai Chi Chuan. To be able to act from a strong centre requires a full, balanced flow of Qi.

Practitioners find their way to Qigong for many reasons. The key to good practice and teaching is understanding what is relevant to personal development. If a complete system is truly successful the result should be a good person. The responsibility for this lies with us.