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Animal Push Hands

The Tayra - a powerful and playful animal.

The Tayra – a powerful and playful animal.


When I studied Tai-chi-Chuan with Grandmaster William Chen I was a zoologist. One of my jobs was to import animals from around the world for captive breeding programs. Most of my time was spent working with hundreds of species of animals.

They were often much stronger and quicker than I and were sometimes in a bad mood. I had to learn the dynamics of their movements, attention and their body energy to survive day to day. There was something they all did that took me a while to understand. That dynamic is the basis of what I teach in the Tai-chi exercise of “push hands”. This makes my push hands different from that of other teachers.

We talk about “energy” in Tai-chi. The animals were doing something with that energy. In most push hands interactions you will see each partner trying to keep the other partner away from them. Hands are flying and each tries to impose their force on the other. In some cases a partner may be mechanically well grounded and very fast and so it goes well for him. Their attention is always on counteracting the partner and imposing their will.

The animals were doing something very different. They were extending their energy into me, and allowing my energy to enter them. They were certainly not trying to “keep me away” in the normal push hands sense. Yet they were very powerful and I could do nothing with them – until I learned their method.

When I watch push hands competitions, my main interest is in the “orientation” of the joints of the body. If each joint was an arrow, pointing in the direction of its energy, to which direction would the arrow be pointing? What I see in most push hands is that the orientation is downward into the partner. It is as if each partner is falling onto the other.

When I worked with the animals, the orientation of each of their joints was upwards, in an approximately 45 degree angle. In addition, they seemed to absorb my force, which in turn, was fed back to me. With further study, I found that they were absorbing my force into their ligaments and tendons, which they used like a bowstring. My own force, stored in their bodies, was then released back into me.

My degree in “ethology” (the evolution of animal behavior) came in handy, as I had learned how to study animal behavior in a systematic way. My training in Tai-chi-Chuan, including push hands, gave me another approach to understanding this behavior, that of thinking in terms of energy flow.

I realized that they were manipulating my energy within their bodies, and their energy within my body to control me. We became in essence, a single energetic system and their attention was at the center of that system. Mine was not. It was only on my side. Furthermore, they could place the fulcrum of interaction at any point that was must beneficial for them. The fulcrum in this case, refers to the reference point their joints use to pivot around. For example, I can move my body pivoting around my tai-tien (about an inch and a half below the navel at the center of the body) or around my sternum. Just by placing my concentration at such a point, the joints function with that point as their reference.

As I fought or played with the animal (depending on its disposition), it could constantly change that fulcrum point which confused the heck out of me. Tayras and grisons were my favorite. These Central and South American weasel-like mammals are about eight to fifteen pounds. They are like little wolverines. There were many species of cats, monkeys, honey bears, coati mundis, anteaters, as well as pythons up to thirteen feet, monitor (dragon) lizards up to eight feet long, many birds and others. Each had its own way of using energy and I had to learn them all.

When I practiced push hands with the other students, I would use these methods of using energy, and push hands became more fun than competition. Many of the animals could throw me off just by using their breath and I brought this into class. When I learned something in class, I brought it back to the animals. Eventually, the animals all learned to do push hands with me and their moods were always good.

So now when I teach push hands to my students, I substitute for the animals, using one dynamic in one class and another dynamic another day. When I still had the animal importing set-up, I used to bring the animals themselves into class. Now I just bring in the energy so my students can get a similar experience.

I found dozens of energy dynamics in the many species and integrated them into what Grandmaster Chen taught me. Today my push hands is not so much about how many times a student can push over another student to get points. It is about learning these energy dynamics, which can then be used in everyday life. These dynamics don’t necessarily require physical contact. They can be done even in a verbal interaction, because there are always energy dynamics going on underneath.

My students regularly tell me how they used a particular dynamic in an interaction, often at work. Translating push hands dynamics into everyday life is the greatest benefit of this exercise. It is also humbling to realize that animals are so much smarter in certain ways, than people.

Pushing Hands

The Tai-chi exercise of Push Hands teaches you to let other people into your “space”. While the goal is to push your partner off balance, you also have your hands and arms connected and you move towards his center of balance to push.

This creates an emotional tension. You don’t want your partner getting into your space to push you, yet you want to move into his space to push him. The unique Tai-chi resolution to this tension shows the genius of Tai-chi’s creators and also explains many of our society’s modern problems.

Some push hands players will tighten up and spend most of their energy keeping you out. They are not really paying attention to you (your balance, movements and state of attention) but just to their own mental strategies. When they push, the movement of the push is disconnected from the flow of movements that came before. This reflects their internal state, that of the thinking mind ordering the body around but keeping the body at “arms length” from their own thinking mind. It is similar to the politics of isolating people according to their differences and setting them against each other.

The Tai-chi approach to push hands is to consider the partner’s actions and your responses as one single unit. You allow the partner to make the decisions of movement and you stay connected with them, but offering little resistance. Whatever position they put you into, you are happy to be in that position, but you concentrate on being properly aligned and centered in that position. Part of that alignment is that you are in a good position to push the partner off balance. You use his movements to set up your body in proper alignment, rather than trying to take control and force his body to move according to your will.

The forceful, disconnected approach gives you the feeling you are strong and in control. But if you are partnering with a good push hands player, your own feeling of strength and control always leads you to being in a weak position. The good push hands player fills the spaces within your power, preventing you from functioning. Yet he does this lightly.

When two good push hands players are partnered, each tries to bring the forces within his own body. When his partner pushes, he absorbs the force, distributes that force among all his joints and into his root to empower his own response. In this way, the forcefulness of the partner is experienced as “raw material” you can use to add to your own power and return the combination back to your partner.

Push hands then becomes an attempt to connect to, and transform forces rather than to build barriers to those forces. You become part of the flow of forces rather than a blockage to that flow.

We are living in an increasingly “external” culture, in which we see each other as isolated physical objects battling against each other. We see the natural world around us as a store, providing products on its shelves, rather than as a living system that we are part of.

When I practice push hands with most people and softly merge into their “space”, they harden up and resist, desperately trying to maintain their isolation and to them, Push Hands is a game of maintaining your isolation and feeling physically strong (tight).

If the two partners can both merge, then Push Hands becomes a game of integration balanced with the attempt to push. It is a balance of merging and being an individual, a skill needed in any kind of relationship. Push Hands used to teach people that skill, but in a world of increasing isolation, this game too often reflects its host culture.

If we can embody that skill in our everyday lives, then we can begin to heal the rift between the body and mind, allowing them to merge, which brings us internal peace.

Remember the “Principles of Tai-chi Forms with Applications to Push Hands” workshop on Sunday April 17th 2016. Call (631) 744-5999 for more information. At the Tai-chi-Chuan School in Sound Beach, Long Island, N. Y.

TAI CHI TRAINING TIPS

Bob Klein

These training tips for Tai-chi practice are the result of over 45 years of training and teaching. My students at the Long Island School of Tai-chi-Chuan in Sound Beach, N. Y. have told me these are the tips that are the most useful.

1. The first thing you are taught is to relax. Relaxation though, is not as easy as it sounds. After many years of being tense most people have not only forgotten how to relax, they have forgotten that they are tense. The key is to understand that to relax any part of the body, there needs to be “space” under that part of the body to sink into. If your chest and ribs are tense and you try to relax your shoulders, the shoulders have no place to sink into. First relax the muscles of the feet so they sink into the earth like wet clay. Then relax the knees, hips, ribs, etc. Allow each part of the body to sink like sand sinks into a hole you dig in the beach. The sand sinks into the hole from the bottom up.

2. When you shift weight from one foot into another, don’t push yourself into the front with your back foot. Allow the weight to sink into the front foot as though sand was sinking into the front foot from the back foot. This releases the back leg, making it “empty”.

3. When you step, don’t use the muscles of the stepping leg. Use your sinking and turning to move out the stepping leg. You can slightly straighten out the stepping foot to make the heel land first. Keeping the stepping leg off the ground is done by relaxing the rear of the pelvis so that it tilts slightly forward, slightly raising the stepping leg.

4. Keep the eyes gazing forward or at a slightly raised angle. Never look down. Imagine you are a waterfall and the water comes towards you, flowing down your eyes into your belly and then your root. You are receiving energy and NOT grabbing with the eyes.

5. Each movement starts from your center and NOT from the top of the body, head, arms or legs. Make sure that at the beginning of each movement, the middle moves first as if someone were pulling your belt. Then each joint of the body follows in sequence.

6. “Whole body movement” does not mean you keep all your joints locked. Even if you move your whole, stiff body smoothly, this is still not Tai-chi. Each joint should move, in sequence, from the bottom up and each should relax in sequence from the bottom up. Watch the way animals move. We have joints for a reason.

7. When you breathe in, your diaphragm pulls downward. So the initiation of an in-breath feels like breathing down into the ground. The bottom of the belly (below the navel) expands downwards. When the maximum downward breathing pressure is reached, then the breath expands forward and the upper belly expands (above the navel). Finally the breath then fills the upper lungs. So breathing in also begins at the bottom (at the root). When you breathe out, you relax the bottom of the lungs first, then middle and upper lungs.

8. The arms, legs and head move as a result of the breathing and the sequential expansion and relaxation of the joints. They don’t move by their own muscular power. But of course, you have to hold the arms and legs in particular positions according to your postures. You use the minimum energy possible to hold the arms in their positions, just enough so that if you used just a little less, the arms would fall down.

9. If your front expands, the back relaxes. If the right expands, the left relaxes. If the bottom energizes downwards, the top floats upwards. Each part of the body counter-balances its other side. This gives rise to the expression “power is a directed relaxation”. This means that relaxing releases power, but that power does not just dissipate. The breath directs the power. If you breathe downward and forward, for example, the power roots and from that root, moves forward. If you breathe into the right side of your lungs, the energy moves right. But if you first breath into the upper part of the lungs, the energy pulls you up out of your root.

10. Imagine you are sitting on a diner stool with wheels. You can move forward and back, left and right, but you are still sitting on the stool. To stand up you press your foot down, energizing your Achilles tendon and quadriceps, relax your back and breathe in. Try sitting down and standing up in a chair and keep your chest and back straight. Don’t bend forward. This requires that you stand up from the bottom up and you don’t pull yourself up from the top.

I will provide more if these tips in the future if you are interested. Hundreds of such ideas are in the dvd series “How to Learn and Teach Tai-chi” available at:

http://store.movementsofmagic.com/belevi.html

TAI-CHI LESSONS FROM OUR MONTHLY WORKSHOP

The smallest changes in how we use our bodies can lead to much greater health, physical skill and longevity. In our last monthly Tai-chi workshop we learned important lessons that will help in our Tai-chi practice and any other sport.

Rotation of the joints: We often mistake moving a joint around in space for moving the joint itself. For example if we wanted to push we might thrust our hip forward rather than rotating it in place. The sequential movement of the joints within the body, along with the even expansion of the breath, leads to greater force than just throwing your joint at the object you want to push.

But it is hard to feel the difference between these two actions, let alone to sequentially move the joints in the proper order to perform the task. This issue is at the heart of learning any sport or activity. The human body is designed to be very powerful in the intricacy of its movement. We tend to substitute brute physical force for the lack of fine motor coordination.

Your attention needs to be within the joint itself to move it properly. To often we think of a joint as “over there” because our attention is in our head. Human beings are capable of moving the center of our attention within a part of the body to make it function properly. This is an essential part of Tai-chi training.

Movement of the low back: I call the low back the “control panel” because its flexibility is essential in initiating any movement. Even the sacrum, whose bones are fused, should be flexible and the coccyx bone (last bone of the spine) should be very active in your movements. But most people have frozen hips and low backs. All their attention to movement is in the upper body.

In Tai-chi movement begins at the center of the body and then emanates out into the rest of the torso, legs, arms and head. It is like dropping a pebble into a calm lake. Waves then ripple out in all directions. This keeps the movements centered and the body stable. We pay attention to the central area of the body first, especially the low back and create the movement there so that this part of the body moves first.

Our chi-gung system, “zookinesis”, is very effective for developing awareness of and flexibility of the center of the body. There are many exercises that create specific patterns of movement or vibration at the center, which you then allow to flow out through the rest of the body.

Relax the abdomens: The degree of relaxation and tension of the abdomens is vital for proper movement. As an example, when you begin to step, the abdomens (on the side of the stepping leg) relax at an even pace. This relaxation helps to extend the leg. You do not extend the leg by using the muscles of that leg. Stepping is a result of the rotation and relaxation of the opposite hip and the relaxation of the abdomens on the same side as the leg.

Pelvis as shovel: When you shift from back to front the pelvis acts as a shovel. It first circles back as you shift back, then digs in towards the ground as you begin to shift forward (breathing out). Then it lifts as you finish the shift (breathing in) as if you were throwing the dirt from the shovel on a pile in front of you. This rotation of the pelvis during shifting energizes the center of the body and provides grounding in push hands.
It also allows the energy from the torso and legs to interact so your efforts are more efficient. Even walking becomes easier.

We learned much more but you will need to come to the workshops to get the full depth of training.

FIGHTING YOUR SHADOW

Tai-chi-Chuan Sparring #3

Tai-chi-Chuan Sparring #1

Tai-chi-Chuan Sparring #2

Tai-chi-Chuan is a strange mix of health exercises, meditation and fighting. While most people practice Tai-chi strictly for health and exercise, the “Chuan” in the name reminds you that it is a martial art. Yet there is no blocking and the movements are relaxed and fluid.

The basic principle of Tai-chi-Chuan is to shadow your opponent. Where he strikes, you move away from his strike but into an unprotected area of his body. Where he moves away, you follow him so that you are like wet clothes he is trying to get off. You exhaust him and undermine his power.

You don’t allow him one second to recover from his series of strikes. We train to sustain our attention so that we don’t need that second to evaluate the effect of our actions. We act and perceive at the same time so that at every moment we can change and adapt. If our strike is blocked, the arm just circles around and still comes in. Since the power doesn’t come from the arm, but from the whole body, the strike still has power. We remain calm and centered throughout the sparring due to our training in forms, chi-gung and push hands.

This training of sustaining the attention, adapting at every moment, being aware of the effects of our actions as they happen and the ability to remain calm and centered in the midst of being attacked, helps us in our everyday lives. It teaches us that we can’t control the actions of others or the circumstances of the world we live in, but we can control how we react to all that.

The principle is that we let the attacker move as he wants to. We don’t interfere with his actions. But we control the relationship between us. If he wants to strike our head, we move our head and go to a spot he is not protecting with our own strike. He does what he wants; we do what we want and we are both happy (except that he gets hit).

We become his shadow and our strikes come out from his actions. Which gets me to another subject – Monsanto. This company is copyrighting patents on genetically engineered food and getting the large “factory farms” to use their seeds. Since they own the seeds the farmers are not allowed to keep seeds to replant. They have to buy their seeds from Monsanto every year. The attempt is to copyright organisms and own them.

Many people think this is outrageous. If a farmer is using natural seeds and Monsanto pollen enters his fields through the wind, then Monsanto automatically owns the rights to his crops and he can no longer save his seeds to plant.

This is why I think that we all need to become farmers. Even if we just plant a few tomatoes or peas in a plant pot we are helping prevent a company from owning life itself. We also are assured of healthy, tasty tomatoes and peas.

I see Monsanto’s “ownership” of life as a sort of strike against humanity. They are trying to become God. While we certainly need to fight against that through legislation, simply planting food plants is a way of undermining Monsanto. It is a shadow form of farming that makes them less powerful. Let they try to investigate everyone who has peas growing in a pot in their window to see if it is one of their copyrighted peas. Let them exhaust themselves. Let them fight the shadow farming.

Remember to save some peas or tomato seeds for next year. Keep them dry and in a dark place. Use paper envelopes – not plastic bags – to store them.

My garden is so prolific that I weed hundreds of tomato plants each year. The tomatoes fall on the ground and the next year they grow like grass. I compost with kitchen waste, grass clippings, dead leaves (not oak!) and ashes from my wood stove. If you have a rabbit or hamsters (or a horse or cow of course), you can use their waste in the compost as well.

Let’s all be shadow fighters in the fight for the right to grow our food. It is one of the most fundamental rights of humanity.

VINTAGE FOOTAGE OF TAI-CHI MASTERS

I am going through my old archival footage and finding gems of Tai-chi masters demonstrating their skills. The videos are going up on our youtube.com channel which is called zookinesis49. Plug in zookinesis49 into the search bar.

Here is an example of my teacher, William Chen, performing his Yang style form with voice over. It is very old footage and the video quality is not the best. But it is really worth watching.

TRADITIONAL MARTIAL ARTS TRAINING

One of the discussions going around in the world of martial arts is whether there is a value in traditional martial arts. Lately the “systems” of Mixed Martial Arts and Ultimate Fighting have become very popular. Students don’t want to go through the long process of traditional learning but would rather start fighting right away.

There are also discussions in the field of education about traditional or “classical” education vs. vocational training (just learning to do a job). On another front, students who are used to texting are having trouble being able to write essays in school or even letters.

In each case there is a devaluing of developing a student as a whole human being. It is a fulfillment of the trend begun in the industrial revolution of turning people into parts of the machine. It seems strange to me that just as we have unparalleled access to information and educational opportunities and as teachers of many styles of martial arts, exercise and healing make their training easily available, we are moving more towards a dumbing down society. The goal is just to make the money or knock out an opponent.

Traditional martial arts training teaches you to live in peace with other people and to feel part of all living things. It teaches you to consider all life to be sacred including the life within your own body so you would strive for a healthy lifestyle.

It teaches you to understand the underlying philosophy of the training and to appreciate education in all its forms. Most importantly, you learn to understand your own behavior and put it in perspective so you can grow as a human being.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t practice fighting. You certainly learn to defend yourself. You also spar as exercise and sport.

Many people recently have asked me to open new martial arts classes, but when they realize that I teach traditionally and expect a well rounded martial arts education, they are less enthusiastic.

I wonder, what is it about this particular time in our society that has changed what people have come to expect of the martial arts or of education in general.

TRAINING WITH GRANDMASTER WILLIAM C. C. CHEN IN THE 1970s

I have been asked to recount my experiences of studying with Tai-chi-Chuan Grandmaster William C. C. Chen in the 1970’s. When I first saw his form, its fluidity and lightness amazed me and I knew I would continue studying this art for the rest of my life.
He began each class doing the entire form once through. I remember one particular time when he was moving so beautifully that I had to stop and step to the side to give him my full attention. I noticed that none of the other students saw anything unusual in Master Chen’s movements. In fact, the other students never really watched him doing the form. They were always in their own world.
Master Chen peeked around at the students at one point and saw me watching him and he laughed under his breath. I asked him later what he was doing differently but he said he was just doing the form as usual.
In another case he was trying to get me to relax when he kicked me in the gut. I couldn’t relax and always tensed up. At the end of the class we were all in a tight circle listening to Master Chen and he said, “When you kick, you have to kick like this” and he kicked me right in the gut. Of course, I wasn’t expecting it so I was relaxed. He turned to me and said, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you standing there”.
At this time I owned an animal importing company and tried out what I learned with the animals. Then I took what I learned from the animals and tried it out in the class. From time to time I brought in an animal to show Master Chen. When I brought in a tarantula, I put it right onto his arm to see what his reaction would be. He just calmly watched it walk around on his arm and said it was “cute”.
On my first day of fighting class, he had me punch him in the face to get the feeling of punching (I was wearing boxing gloves). I was hesitant to punch him in the face as his only protection was little pieces of paper towels curled up into his nostrils. He insisted that I continue punching him and urged me to hit harder. After about 30 punches, I stopped and he asked me why I stopped. I explained that my wrists and arms were hurting.
My interest was not to learn fighting but to learn for health purposes. But Master Chen insisted that I take at least two months of fighting classes. At the end of the two months, Ed Scott (one of his instructors) punched me into a corner and kept punching. I hid under my arms and peeked out hoping to get Master Chen’s attention to deal with this situation. Master Chen was watching us but he was laughing. My only hope was to wildly try to punch back and then Ed backed off (not that he really had to. My punching wasn’t very good at that time). But something snapped in me and from that moment on I loved sparring. I continued going to sparring class.
The emphasis of his training was on allowing force to flow through the body while using minimal movement. He brought in a simple hygrometer – a bowl half filled with water, with a sheet of rubber stretched out on the top. A hollow glass tube pierced the rubber sheet and went into the bowl. When he pressed down on the rubber sheet, the water shot up the tube. He explained that when you step down you should feel as if you are stepping on a rubber ball. The compression of the ball creates an energy which shoots up through you. It is as if you are the hollow tube.
Before fighting, he would tell us a story which seemed to be leading to a lesson. It was hard to understand him at that time as his accent was thicker than now. So we strained to understand him. Then when he got to the conclusion, his “lesson” seemed to have nothing to do with the story. He immediately paired us off to spar. But our heads (at least mine) was spinning with confusion as to what he was getting at with the story. As I sparred, my mind was all bound up and I found I could spar much better. Did he confuse us on purpose? I don’t know.
He always told us to ask him questions, but in all the years I went to his classes I don’t remember anyone asking him anything. I always came in prepared with at least one question. It made me have to analyze what he had taught us. Most of his students were from the city and didn’t have cars. I came in from Long Island. So I drove him home after the classes. There I could ask him lots of questions. He once told me about the time he tried to get into a parking space. Another car tied to swerve in to get the space. Master Chen and the other guy got out of their cars. There was an argument. Master Chen knocked the other guy down, who then ran back to his car and drove away.
I asked Master Chen, “Isn’t Tai-chi supposed to be peaceful? And now you’re telling me you knocked that guy down!” He replied, “It was peaceful after I knocked him down.”
His studio at that time was on 23rd Street, near 7th Avenue. The floors were marble and the air conditioning didn’t work. There were no windows. It must have been 120 degrees in the class during the summer. After fighting class I felt the punches to my head for a full day, as if someone were still punching me. We always started sparring by punching each other in the head a few times to warm up. I remember that when “Big Bob” and Ed Scott (both over 6 feet tall and around 250 pounds) punched each other in the head to “warm up” it lasted about 10 minutes. They would pound each other without protecting themselves to get used to being hit. (In those days we didn’t wear headgear). The sound of their poundings were so loud that you couldn’t hold a conversation until they finished.
The walls of the studio were covered with quarter inch paneling (no sheetrock). If you were thrown against the wall during push hands, you hoped you would land between the studs, in which case the paneling bowed in, rather than directly onto the stud.
Priscilla had her Amway storehouse in a little room off the entrance hall and would keep the students supplied with soap and other products. Right after that room was a little counter and behind that Master Chen’s office. At a certain point (I think in the early 1980’s) I stopped attending class. I had moved further out on Long Island, so the trip was difficult and had taken on other responsibilities such as writing my books. After a few years, I visited Master Chen. I walked into the studio and up to the counter where he was looking down at his paperwork. He looked up and just started talking to me as if we had been in the middle of a conversation.
Nothing ever surprised or upset him. When we went to the movies one day Priscilla got upset about someone in front of us talking too loud. She was going to complain but Master Chen said, “Take it easy. Relax.”
His fighting was very quick and evasive. At a certain point I realized that if I aimed for where he was I would never hit him. So I learned to strike to where I thought he would move to and was much more successful in getting my strikes in.
His form always seemed to me to be like dripping water. He almost moved into position and then relaxed to move into the next position. Yet you could see that his energy completely finished the move even if his body “understated” the move. If you could divide your mind into two parts – one following the body’s movements, and the other to the natural completion of the momentum, you could understand the way Master Chen “blended” the two in various ways.
That is what taught me the most. I analyzed the components of his form both on a body mechanics level and an energetic level. That allowed me to understand what he was saying when he tried to explain the principles. So when I practiced push hands in class for example, I tried to extend the “mind” into the part of the partner’s body which had the least awareness or the least fluidity and then let the mechanics of my body create momentum to move along the pathway that my intention laid down, leading to that vulnerable part of the partner’s body. The expansion of my breath then caused the push itself.
I think that you cannot just take what Master Chen says and try to duplicate that within yourself. You have to see him, analyze the role of body mechanics, mind and energy and apply it in innovative ways so that it works for you. I think that is what he expects of you. He used to say that he is just interested in body mechanics, but I notice on the workshop dvd that he is now talking more about mind and energy.
I don’t think you can separate mind and energy dynamics and only work on body mechanics and hope to gain the kind of skill that Master Chen has. He also seems to concentrate on a different aspect of Tai-chi-Chuan in each decade. You need to know the whole range of his teaching from the beginning when I studied to now, to get an appreciation of the whole. I wish he had done a workshop dvd each decade so we could see the evolution of his approach to teaching.
I should also mention that I originally studied with one of his students, Herb Ray, who also had this analytical approach, taking apart every nut and bolt of the training in excruciating detail. The emphasis on how I teach now is identifying and letting go of all unnecessary behavior patterns so that there is no excess of movement – that the goal is accomplished with the movement of energy and the minimum movement of the body. I think this is the essence of Master Chen’s training.
He once wrote me a saying in Chinese (which I still have) that Master Chen, Man Ching taught him. “Tai-chi means not moving arms. If it is moving arms, it is not Tai-chi”. This means of course, not moving arms by themselves. At least that’s what he told me it means. I don’t speak or read Chinese.
These are some of my recollections and I have devoted my life to promote what I learned from Master Chen and from my other teachers. One thing I personally feel very strongly about, and this comes from my other teachers. Without really understanding Taoist alchemy and the teaching of the elements, it is very hard to progress in Tai-chi. You just get to a certain point and you can’t seem to get any further. Just thought I would throw that in, now that I have your attention. I would also suggest getting involved in acupressure massage as this really gives you an understanding of how the flow of energy in many people has become so entangled in a mess. It helps to understand that when you do push hands. If you can perceive the dynamics of the partner’s attention and energy flow, then push hands becomes very easy to do. (Or I should say that it becomes very clear what you need to do. “Easy” is probably not the proper word.)

PUSH HANDS CLASS

Take a look at clips from one of our push hands classes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsXq_S9WIAU

EMPTINESS IN THE MARTIAL ARTS

Internal of “soft” styles of martial arts require a radically different use of the attention than do external or “hard” styles.   In hard styles (e.g. Karate, TaeKwonDo and many Shaolin styles) your attention is drawn to the power of the opponent. You meet their incoming force with the force of your block.  Whoever is more powerful, wins.

In internal styles (Tai-chi-Chuan, Pakua (Bagua) and Hsing-I), your attention is drawn to the empty spaces where the opponent is not concentrating his force.  You (very quickly) melt away from their force and move towards an empty space next to him to deliver your own force.

In order to train to not have your attention captured by an opponent’s force, you must first learn not to have your attention captured by your own habits.  These habits were programmed into you or were just repetitive behaviors that you fell into.  They are the opponent of your creativity.

The slow forms teach you how to make your attention more liquid so that it cannot easily be grabbed.  You learn to connect your attention to the ground by starting each movement from your “root” so that your attention is not easily pulled out and controlled.

Push Hands teaches you to be creative with your attention and use it in a dynamic way in relation to another person. You learn that force is not “his” or “yours” but lies in the relationship between you.  If his fist is moving towards your head and you move your head slightly away, then there is no force, at least none of consequence to you.

Once you are empty of your own habits, including the habit of letting your attention be grabbed by other people, then you are free to be creative in your fighting and in your life.  You pay more attention to the empty space in which you can move.  You pay more attention to the moving a relationship in positive ways, rather than butting heads.

Emptiness becomes the central focus of your “internal” martial arts training.  The tighter you are and the angrier you are, the less “space” there is.  Without this kind of space, you are forced to fight in a robotic way, becoming tighter and angrier.  If you can give up your inefficient habits, let go of anger and spar in a relaxed way, then the martial arts can be very enjoyable and you will be very effective.

While you are “empty” of habits, you are full of life and vitality