Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Bob Klein’

THE TAI-CHI MIND

Tai-chi has a powerful effect on the way our minds work. We are used to using our minds linearly, as you would when reading words in a book, one word after the other. We are trained to use our minds in this way and cannot stop even in our everyday lives.

So when we practice Tai-chi it is very difficult to allow all our joints and muscles to move at the same time. We can only concentrate on one thing, then the next, etc. You may see Tai-chi forms in which the body is held stiffly but the arms and legs move gracefully. This shows the limitation of how many things the student can pay attention to at once.

The goal of Tai-chi practice of course, is to have no such limitations but to allow each part of the body to pay attention to itself, in coordination with all the other joints and muscles. This requires our thinking mind, delegating authority to the body. Yet the thinking mind thinks it is the only thing that can perceive and react to things. It can barely conceive that the body is intelligent.

The Gnostics tell a story of Sofia (representing the seeking for wisdom) trying to find God. During her journey she gave birth to the demiurge (lesser God) and then continued on her journey. The demiurge looked around and realized he was the only one there and thought he was God.

This is a way of saying that the thinking mind is not the King – that each part of the body is a center of intelligence. Tai-chi allows us to achieve this decentralized attention so that we can be better coordinated, healthier and have better relationships with other people.

If our attention is isolated in our heads, as if in a box, then all perception is related to the head. We feel isolated in that box and perceive other people as being boxes. Each of us wants to be a bigger box, or a more powerful, or smarter or braver box. Our identity is related to our isolation.

With decentralized attention, our identity is related to our connections – to other people, to nature, of the mind and the body, etc. We don’t feel opposed to others but connected to them, part of them.

Imagine if everyone in the world had a mind like this. Their very identity would depend on their connection to everyone else and every other living thing. How would the world be different? When a Tai-chi teacher teaches, he or she not only tries to improve his students’ health, but is laying the groundwork for a more peaceful world.

The body requires an even distribution of attention in order to maintain its health. When attention is locked up in the head, the body is starved of the energy of attention. Notice how you feel after finishing a Tai-chi class. Your body feels empowered and connected, relieved of stress. You feel more open to other people and to nature.

You are helping to heal the world every time you take a Tai-chi class or spend time practicing. Remember the principle: “The inside and the outside reflect each other.”

HOW TO TEACH TAI-CHI

Bob Klein in chi-gung posture.

I am putting together a dvd series on How to Teach Tai-chi. It will focus on the basic principles of Tai-chi form practice and how to convey those principles to the students. While someone may be skilled at a Tai-chi form, they may not be aware of the issues of teaching. I think this series will be helpful and may inspire people to dedicate themselves to teaching Tai-chi.

I like to say, “I’ve been around the block a few times”, meaning that at 64 years old and teaching for almost 40 years, I have become familiar with how to express Tai-chi to students in a way they can grasp and to appreciate their difficulties in learning.

First of all, each student comes to the class with his or her load of tensions, misalignments, emotional fears and mental programming. Tai-chi has to be taught to each individual differently, considering what they come in with. The teacher must develop methods to become aware of the state of the student in order to fashion a teaching approach for that student.

When you are teaching a group class and are correcting postures, for example, you have to remember what approach you are taking with each student as you move from one to the other. It is like playing multiple games of chess. You can’t make too many corrections at one time because the student will become frustrated and won’t remember what you did anyway. So you have to stick with a theme of correction (e.g. “relax the hips”) throughout the class, for that student.

You realize that the real benefit of Tai-chi training is not memorizing a form or chi-gung set, but that the student has worked through all of his or her issues, whether physical, mental or emotional and come out as a truly free and powerful individual. That is what the teacher should be going for, not just to teach people to memorize yet another thing.

The teacher must know how each principle of Tai-chi achieves that. While all the students will arrive at that same free, powerful state, they are each taking different paths through Tai-chi training. If you force them to take only the path you yourself learned, then they will never really learn.

And so you not only have to learn chi-gung, forms, push hands, fighting etc. to be a teacher; you also have to learn how to teach. You have to leave the limited path of your own journey to see the whole landscape and appreciate the many ways students can travel through it. In doing this, you gain a greater insight into the magnitude of the training itself and of the genius of the thousands of teachers who contributed to it.

I am a bit fearful of embarking on this project, which would include videos and writing, because I don’t really have the time for it. But I think it could make a positive contribution and will be worth pursuing even if I accomplish only a little of it.

In my book, “Movements of Power”, I introduced this subject in the last third of the book. I will also be putting up some videos about how to teach a Tai-chi form on our youtube channel “zookinesis49”. I would appreciate your comments about whether you think this will be a worthwhile project.

BREATHING TO HEAL

The breathing process is essential to understand in order to promote healing. Proper breathing organizes the posture and functioning of the entire body.

When you breathe in the diaphragm pulls downward. This inflates the lungs. When we practice Tai-chi, this pulling down of the diaphragm towards the feet not only aligns the body, but also provides some of the power of the movements. Breathing in requires relaxation of the abdominal muscles, which then promotes the relaxation and sinking of the entire upper body. As the neck and shoulders relax, the head can sit comfortably in its position. Breathing becomes easy and full.

The downward pull of the diaphragm also coincides with the broadening of the bottom of the foot through relaxation. As the foot relaxes and the diaphragm presses down, this creates a pressure that connects the feet to the ground. This and the general relaxation of each joint and muscle create the “root” that makes your stance solid yet your body loose and flexible.

Each in-breath creates a pulse of downward pressure into the root, which creates a wave of energy through the body upward. It is important to maintain the downward pressure even while the wave of energy moves upwards or else the wave will pull you out of your own root.

As your diaphragm pulls down, the lungs fill up from the bottom first, and only towards the end of the breathing in do the upper lungs fill. If you fill up the upper lungs too early you stop the downward pressure and the whole process of generating the wave of energy.

Imagine that your lower abdomen is a clamshell and that as you breathe in the lower part of the clamshell opens downward and presses into the ground. The breath then flows forward (as you are still breathing in) out of the opening in the clamshell.

Advanced Tai-chi students learn to breathe precisely so that the way the diaphragm presses down varies in order to create certain effects in posture and movement. In this way the form and push hands are really controlled from the abdominal area downward with the upper body just responding to the dynamics of that area. The result is that an intricate complex of “waves of energy” are created to give the form more substance and to make the push hands more effective.

Unfortunately most of our attention is in our heads and it is difficult for us to work with the dynamics in the lower area of our bodies because that area is “so far away”. So we say that you have to “live in your legs and pelvic area”. This means that your attention is not stuck in your head but can fill the lower area and operate from that area. The lower area of your body becomes the “home” of the attention just as much as your head is its home now.

For most people the attention is stuck in one location like a king sitting on a throne. In order to achieve the high level of health and awareness required in Tai-chi, the attention has to be able to move and flow just as the body moves and flows. The attention must be like water, not like a king on a throne. Achieving this change can be frightening. We are so used to the attention being frozen in place that we usually cannot even imagine it moving. Yes, we can pay attention to one thing and then to another, but the “seat” of the attention remains frozen.

This frozen attention then freezes the entire body down to the organ and cellular level and inhibits the activity on those levels. When we practice Tai-chi the fluidity of the body influences the fluidity of the mind and the fluidity of the mind releases the body.

It all starts with understanding Tai-chi breathing (natural breathing) and its role in “melting” the frozen mind and body. This can only be accomplished by working with a competent teacher. Make sure that your teacher understands these principles so that your Tai-chi practice will be truly a healing experience.

We had a wonderful weekend at the Tai-chi Park (successor to the Tai-chi Farm). There were many workshops on Chi-gung, forms and push hands. This is a 30 years old plus tradition started by Master Jou, Tsung, Hwa. The present incarnation is a 23 acre park in the woods with a beautiful stream running through the property, in Northern New Jersey.

It’s like a Tai-chi family reunion. Many teachers only meet each other once a year on this weekend. We are hoping to start our own traditions on Long Island with Tai-chi in local parks and the first annual Tai-chi workshop at our school (the Long Island School of Tai-chi-Chuan in Sound Beach) on Sat. Sept. 22nd. Maybe we can develop a closer Tai-chi community here.

I am also making plans to give workshops at other teachers schools. Hopefully the teachers can all visit each others schools and bring fresh ideas to our students. If you have similar Tai-chi get togethers in your area, please let me know (631 744-5999).

WHAT IF THE WORLD WERE FLUID?

One of the most important lessons I have learned from my training is that the condition of your mind and emotions greatly affect how you perceive your physical environment. Your senses don’t simply tell you what’s “out there”. The senses are in a fluid relationship with what is going on inside of you.

My wife Jean used to teach a class in the “foam roller”, a four foot long, eight inch thick piece of sturdy foam. At the beginning of the class you lie on the floor and notice how your back feels on the floor. Of course, the floor feels very hard.

After rolling on your back on the foam in various ways, you lie on the floor again and the floor feels as soft as a soft mattress. How you feel the floor depends to a large degree on the condition of your back – tense or relaxed.

After a push hands class, students feel very different than before. Push Hands requires you to relax and to be connected to your partner. Your attention must fill his body so that you know what is going on inside of him. In this way you will know if he is preparing to push you. Your attention must be “released” into the partner as well as into the ground, so that you are “grounded” or “rooted”. If you are rooted you are much harder to push over.

After class your state of connected attention is still with you. As you move in your surroundings, you seem much more connected to them, less isolated and more aware of what is going on around you. The world around you seems much more vivid. It seems to be part of your flesh and much more alive.

Now imaging feeling this way all the time. You would have to live in a “softer” (more natural) environment to be able to exist constantly in this state. Otherwise the “harsh” world would wear you down quickly.

And that is why we tense up and withdraw our energy from the environment. Our modern environment is not “biologically friendly”. It is friendly to machines. And so we must become like a machine and become dead to the relationship between our inner state and our perceptions. Our state becomes frozen so that we can feel comfortable in a frozen environment.

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.)

ENERGIZE YOUR BODY FOR THE SPRING

 

As we begin to see plants growing and leaves emerging from trees, remember that your own body is also going through a transformation.  According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the body is an ecological system which goes through natural cycles and is affected by nature’s cycles.

During the winter, the body condenses and slows.  In order to emerge from this semi-hybernation we need to “clear the channels” of energy.  This can be done through chi-gung exercises such as “zookinesis age reversal exercises” or massage such as “Tai-chi massage”.  These healing methods “wake up” all the parts of the body, strengthen them, allow blood, lymph and intercellular fluids to flow more easily and gear up the body for a higher level of efficiency.

Going directly from winter to spring without preparing your body can lead to becoming overwhelmed as the energy of nature becomes magnified.  This energy penetrates and connects to your body.  If your body gears up for this change, it can ulitize that energy for healing and for everyday activities.

This was the secret of longevity found in ancient Chinese healing texts.  If you understand how nature works and live your life accordingly, then you will always be healthy.  So do your zookinesis or other chi-gung, practice your Tai-chi forms and/or get a good Tai-chi massage.  This may be the best spring you ever had!

ANCIENT MIND

WEALTH