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POWER

HARD AND SOFT

This is the first in a series of nature photos with sayings by Bob Klein.  You can print these as posters or to create a notebook of photos.

POWER OF TRANSFORMATION

“The inside and the outside – they are made of the same flesh”.  This is reportedly the cry a student of Chan (Zen) cried out when he reached enlightenment.  It is an apt description of the basic principle a Tai-chi teacher tries to teach to his students to bring them to their first perceptual breakthrough.

Every discipline of personal development is based on the principle that, to change one’s life, you need to change what is going on within yourself.  What else can we do?  We can’t change the whole world around just to our liking.

And so we learn how perfecting proper body mechanics allows us to perform physical tasks easily.  Learning about the mechanics of our attention (mind) allows us to be effective in interpersonal relationships and in navigating our lives.

As we discover the physical and mental behavior patterns that presently fill us, learn which ones are effective and which interfere with our power in life, we can reconstruct the very mechanisms we use to live our lives.

And then we discover that much of the way we perceive the world around us is really a reflection of the patterns of behavior within us.  As we become more creative in gaining Tai-chi skills, the world itself seems to change and not be as threatening or as cold.

The student discovers that much of what he took to be the cold reality of life was just the projection of a story he was telling himself, onto the world outside.

At this point he realizes that part of that story was his identity.  To really gain power in life, to be able to drop the behavior patterns of battle and self destruction, you have to allow that story about your identity to change.

And then you become just a simple person.  In another Zen story, a Buddhist student brags to his Taoist friend that his Buddhist teacher can create miracles.  “With a movement of his arm he can make an entire dinner appear in the middle of the forest.  He can knock over a band of robbers with one breath.  He can clear a valley of fog with one in-breath.”   The Taoist student was not impressed.  “That’s nothing compared to my teacher,” he said.  “What can your Taoist teacher do?”  The Taoist student replied, “When my teacher is hungry, he eats.  When he is tired, he sleeps.”

To what degree do the stories we have been told, affect our perceptions and our behaviors?  We trust that pieces of paper (money) have great value and then numbers in computer memory have great value and then learn, as we have lately, that there is nothing really backing up that value.  These are stories we tell each other to help our lives run smoother.

But we have all learned what happens when some of us no longer believe those stories.  Perhaps we need to base our lives on stories that are not “built on shifting sands”. 

In the novel, The Doubting Snake, I suggest this battle of stories is the basis for the underlying drama of our times and that those who become the new story tellers, can lead us into more meaningful lives.

But we must begin by understanding the stories that we have based our lives on.  To what degree is health, loving relationships, and a feeling of connection to the earth important in our lives?  And to what degree does the quest for money overshadow these values?

If you tell yourself a new story, a healthy one, that story may resonate with others and become their story.  The power of life is to be the story teller and not just the actor portraying someone else’s story.

Transform the inside to transform the outside. This is what every Tai-chi student must realize at deeper and deeper levels.

THE POWER TO CONTROL YOUR LIFE

It may seem that we have lost the power to improve our lives in these tough economic times.  Many people have heard that Tai-chi and Zookinesis help you develop more power in your life.  This training was developed at a time when everyday life was hard, without the benefit of modern conveniences.  It developed the strength and power within an individual so he could be more powerful in his everyday life. 

Yet the teachings seem mysterious to us in modern times because we have a different understanding of what power means.  We think of power as just earning more money, controlling the behavior of others or developing larger muscles.  When a potential student hears that Tai-chi teaches you to develop internal energy (“chi”), he immediately thinks of science fiction stories of shooting rays of energy to conquer enemies.  We take very sophisticated ancient training and make them seem silly. 

The term “internal energy” refers to the way that what is going on inside of you influences what happens in your life.  It means that your state of health and emotional balance is the most important influence on your power to improve your life.  I show below a way of explaining this that I use in my classes.  It hopefully retains the flavor of the ancient way of writing while making the principles described above, understandable to our modern minds.

Some students want to learn to concentrate and direct their energy.  I teach them to release their energy and let it go where it wants.  The students wants to gain power.  I teach them to stop interfering with their natural power.  Some want to win the heart of a lover.  I teach them to release their heart and let it go where it wants.  Some want to live in a beautiful house.  I teach them to become alive in their bodies. 

When you are alive and vibrant, your consciousness seeks to expand and to connect with the world around you, and so you live in the world, and are alive in the world.  It is your living energy, merged with the world around you that makes that world beautiful.  When you withdraw your feelings from the world around you, the world itself feels dead.  When you withdraw your feelings from your body, your body feels dead. 

Your life then becomes divided, one part withdrawing, and the other part wanting to be released so it can join the world.  You then seek to acquire things of the world.  In this way you can remain separated from it, yet claim ownership over part of it. Owning something takes the place of really being part of it.  

Your relationships with people are no longer based on releasing yourself to the other, and receiving them, but rather on agreements and arrangements.  You originally withdrew to protect yourself from the unpredictable behaviors and intentions of others, yet wound up damaging yourself by being disconnected from the vibrancy of life.  Tai-chi and Zookinesis teach us that the state of withdrawal is so prevalent in our society (and in many others past and present), that we have forgotten how it feels to be connected.  Some of us have even forgotten how to let another person completely into our souls.  We have “hesitant” relationships. 

Tai-chi and Zookinesis teach the art of “letting go” (releasing).  At a certain point you feel the flow of energy within the body.  You realize that you are “holding” that energy, or we say, “locking it up”.  Even our attention (consciousness) seems to be locked into patterns of thinking.  At another point in the training, that energy suddenly “jumps the fence” and seeks to merge with your surroundings.  It is a startling moment because you realize how much “locking up” the energy has hurt you previously. 

Your consciousness now joins the “consciousness of nature” just as the water of a stream joins the water of a river and then the water of the ocean.  You feel a member of life.  Your thinking and behaviors are no longer so patterned, but are more creative.  Once your consciousness fills your body and the world around you, your life is felt more intensely.  Every cell of your body is like the string of a stringed instrument, which is played by the beauty of the world around you.  Your attention is attracted to beautiful things and thoughts rather than to worries and anger, and so your life goes in a new direction. 

This is all accomplished by learning how to release your energy (“chi”) and consciousness and let it go where it wants.  You will feel like you were a caged animal that has now been let loose into its natural habitat.  The cage of fear is no longer your home.  I have a rabbit who lives in a cage in the house during the winter.  When I let it loose from time to time, it seeks the “shelter” of a stool I use to hold a plant.  The rabbit stays within the four feet of the stool.  It has been let loose yet seeks the security of something that looks like his cage.

When the student’s energies have finally been released, there is a tendency to seek a new “cage”.  He seeks philosophies and “truths”.  Tai-chi is not really a system of truths.  It is a way to become re-connected to nature and to other people.  It is a simple, practical teaching that does not get involved in abstract philosophy. 

The goal is to understand yourself – to see yourself.  There is a saying, “See yourself, be yourself, appreciate yourself.”  See all your patterns and see your creativity.  Don’t try to twist yourself into someone who is “approved of” and turn into a fake version of yourself. 

And then appreciate all the efforts you have made in your life to survive in this world, to understand the world and to be creative in the world.  Appreciate your biological aliveness and how you are connected to nature.  Appreciate the creative efforts of others and be sympathetic to their lack of perfection (as well as to your own). 

Understand that other philosophies are also a way of understanding yourself and releasing you from self-imposed prisons.  Don’t seek them as the security of yet another cage.  Seek nature in your surroundings and in people.  Step out of your own way so that the now invisible world of creative energy can be perceived.  Let that be your new home. 

Remember that nature is creative.  Nature is vibrant.  Tai-chi also teaches that nature is conscious. The qualities that you seek for yourself are already in you because you arose from nature.  When you release your energy, your attention, to nature, you enter the flow of creativity, vibrancy and consciousness.  As much as you release, that much and more flows back.  So the teaching of “letting go” is the path to power.

GREAT WEALTH AND POWER

The many ancient cultures I have studied all seem to agree on the secret to obtaining great wealth and power.  They also agree as to how we have been robbed of our power as individuals.  Even nature, herself blatantly reveals this power to us.

When I used to travel through the jungles of Central America to study animals, my favorite animal was the red-eyed tree frog.  This crazy frog is about three inches long, bright green with white spots.  Its sides are banded yellow and blue.  The inside of its legs and arms are bright orange.  Its eyes are bright red with a bright gold lace pattern.  Normally it stays curled up on a branch, showing only the green and white, which is a camouflage. 

If an animal tries to grab it, the frog jumps, opens its arms and legs fully and leaps onto a nearby branch.  The predator, faced with a moving flash of color, throws its attention to where he expects the frog to land, several feet away.  Red-eye’s trick is that it sends the predator’s attention far away while it actually curls up on a close-by branch.  In this way it control’s the predator’s attention.

The secret to great wealth and power is the ability to control peoples’ attention.  The secret to your own happiness is to understand that process and not to be controlled.

We all know that packaging sells a product.  Many companies have spent most of their initial start up money on developing packaging.  Celestial Seasonings tea is an example. The manufacturers fight each other to have the stores place their product at eye level which makes it easier for you to grab the product and plop it right into your shopping cart. 

We are trained to pay attention to the packing. It is much easier to make pretty packaging than it is to make a good product.

The key to great power and wealth, though, is not in manipulating people to buy your product.  It is really in being able to discern the packaging from the product when it comes to who you are as a person. 

In any ancient system of training such as Tai-chi and Zookinesis, you find that you have many behavioral habits, in movement, posture, thinking and emotional patterns.  These patterns have been picked up throughout your life until you think of them as being part of yourself.  Eventually the patterns become your very identity.

We learn in the Push Hands exercise, for example, that the body is so finely designed that it takes very little effort and movement to toss your partner several feet into the air.  It is only the extraneous movements, such as tensing up your shoulders as you are about to push, that subvert your own efforts.  In an attempt to feel powerful (by tensing up), you are actually robbing yourself of power.

In the thinking process, we are used to thinking in words.  We may have an initial “jolt of thought” but can only understand the inspiration if they are translated into words.  A Zookinesis student would practice paying attention to the initial jolt of thought and refrain from translating it into thoughts. 

He does this because the words are only a label of the real thought, which is much more complex and complete.  By being aware of the actual experience of inspirational thinking and not merely the labels (packaging), he has access to the full power of the inspiration.

We learn in Tai-chi that the body is a conduit for the energy of nature.  A student will soon feel tremendous energy flowing through him which enlivens every cell of the body and heals the body.  He soon learns that we, as a society, have been taught to become disconnected from that energy and even to deaden ourselves so that we don’t experience it.  Once filled with energy, we no longer regard the body as just packaging for the mind, as a vehicle to carry the head around.  The vibrancy of the body, the balanced joy of the emotions and the inspirational thinking process all work together in a more powerful way.

Then you will be more effective in everything you do.  You will understand that wherever your attention goes, your life follows.  If it goes to its energetic connection to the vibrant energies of nature, to the experience of sharing your life with the human community, your life will be different than if your attention goes to the bright, flashy representations of value.

Yet, being in a more powerful, aware, integrated state, impervious to manipulation, you will be more successful in the material sense as well. 

The development of your attention has been recognized as the key to success throughout the ages.  My novel, The Doubting Snake, is an attempt to express this in an entertaining way.  The specific training of the attention is hidden in the story line.  Many ancient texts can be better understood as attempts to express this same idea.  As the hero of The Doubting Snake asks:

“And if both the sorcerers and the people who run our modern societies have such power to affect peoples’ minds then what hope does the ordinary citizen have?”

BATTLE OF THE TIGER AND DRAGON

The battle of the dragon and tiger is a common theme of Chinese art.  Hidden within these drawings is the secret of how to access power unknown in the modern world, especially the power to heal, to find great joy in every moment of life and to free yourself from control by other people. 

The tiger represents external (Yang) power such as physical tension and force over other people.  It is like the angry response to the actions of another person.  Unbalanced anger and tension can affect you by raising your blood pressure and freezing the movements of your body.  Yet a tiger in reality is very flexible and relaxed, even when fighting.  I can attest to the fluidity and relaxation of wild cats due to my many years of experience importing and working with wild animals. 

The tiger is not completely external in its power.  It blends the external, physical force with internal fluidity and relaxation, which is Yin power.  Yin or internal power is represented by the dragon.  Its very depiction in drawings is of a long, swirling, graceful body yet you can see that it has great power. 

The dragon is the power of internal awareness.  When your attention is completely connected to your body, when you are fully aware of the dynamics of your emotions and thinking mind and can keep them in balance, you possess a power that is unstoppable.  If you are acutely aware of what is going on inside of you, then it is easier to understand what is going on inside of other people.  You can see their internal dynamics clearly and thereby be able to avoid being controlled by them.

In martial arts, fluidity allows you to explode your force from your root in the ground (the weight of the body sinking through the legs), up through the hips and out your striking fist or foot.  Your force is explosive, penetrating the outer layer of the opponent (their skin, bones and external muscles) and explodes within their body cavity.

If you are a healer, you can extend your own attention and internal energy (“chi”) into the person receiving your massage, for example, and take control over their behavior of tensing up their muscles.  This allows you to be more aware of and have more of an effect on their bodies than the patient has of his own body.  You can then teach the patient how to become more aware of his body and gain control over his own healing.

Yet if you become too relaxed and your mind becomes too unfocused, you can become “wishy washy”.  You might become too easily controlled by others.  The tension of the patient might cause you yourself to tense up.  You might lose your drive in life.  So even the dragon needs some “tiger energy”. 

Think of the dragon hiding in his lair – a deep cave within a mountain.  It is a vast, empty cave yet you can smell and feel the presence of a dragon within it.  While the dragon is hidden in emptiness you dare not disturb it. 

The tiger’s home is the forest itself.  He wanders about and when tired, just lays down and sleeps right there.  The tiger’s power is “in your face” while the dragon’s power is hidden. 

Yet to be a whole, powerful person you need to blend the two kinds of power.  The teachings of Tai-chi and Zookinesis use movement to train you to blend external and internal power, not only physically, but in relationships, in business and in your approach to life. 

Using relationships as an example, the external power would be how you view the other person using your senses.  How do they look, how do they talk, how do they feel, etc.?  Yet we all know that there is an invisible connection between people which we call “chemistry” and it is not only sexual.  It is a connection among all people.  Much of how we react to someone is a result of the feeling we get through this connection. 

This would be the “internal” connection that is not obvious.  It is the job of proper training to make this connection as obvious and clear as the other senses.  You will then discover a whole new world of dynamic activity of “chi” which is the energy connecting all living things.  Once you understand this energy and how it relates to the “external senses” such as sight, life becomes a lot easier and more effective.

So the battle of the tiger and dragon is not really a battle but a constant dynamic blending of our external awareness of the world and the internal awareness that is missing in modern cultures. 

In the articles below you will find much information about how to develop this awareness but of course, a competent teacher is also necessary.

You may already realize that your personality is more Yin or more Yang.  You may pay more attention to what is going on inside of you or more attention to external activity.  You may be more passive or more aggressive. 

Your power as a human being is at its maximum when the internal and external power is most balanced.  A person who is mainly external wears himself out.  A person who is mostly internal has a hard time organizing himself to actually get anything done.

In the drawings, the tiger’s and dragon’s eyes are both wide open as they stare at each other and you can feel the energy flowing between them.  It is this magnified energy, flowing between Yin and Yang, that we can tap to become powerful. 

Rather than a battle, it is a dance – the dance of life itself – the dance that empowers life.  Ancient art encoded great principles of ancient teachings even before there was written language.  A teacher who is part of a direct lineage of training understands the principles behind the outer appearance of the training. 

Tai-chi forms, for example, are not just a question of memorizing a sequence of movements.  Each movement is a deep reserve of layer upon layer of meaning.  These exercises are the ancient libraries, but you have to know how to read them.

And so Tai-chi and Zookinesis exercises are like the dance of the tiger and dragon.  They are right there in the open but their true significance and power lay hidden.

MARTIAL ARTS STRATEGY FOR EVERYDAY LIFE

Tai-chi-Chuan uses a fundamentally different fighting strategy than any other martial art.  When this strategy is applied to everyday life and to conducting business, it provides a more powerful and effective approach.  This is just one example of that strategy.

“Yield to Yang/fill in Yin”.  The aggressor concentrates his force in a particular area.  If he strikes with his fist, he has a target in mind.  You learn to automatically retreat from his target and to find the most empty and unguarded spot on his body to move into and strike.  The retreat is not away from him but rather, towards his unguarded area.

In everyday life the defeats we constantly experience are like the strikes of an aggressor.  If we focus on the defeat, we are like the fighter who blocks the incoming strike, focusing on the aggressor’s power.  If we are thrown by the defeat, we are like the fighter who moves away from the strike.  If we contemplate the change in our life situation caused by the defeat and re-adjust our focus to take advantage of this change, then we are like the fighter who moves around the strike and delivers his own strike. 

As a fighter you know that the aggressor will not just stand there and take your punches and kicks.  Most of your efforts may never reach their target and some of his efforts will reach you.  If you thought of each of his strikes as your defeat, you could never psychologically muster the nerve to practice sparring.  Your own emotions would destroy you more than would the opponent.

Much of the impact of a defeat is not the effect of the situation itself.  It is more that it hurts your self image.  It is your self image which is being beaten, more than your body or your life.  Once you realize that your self image is not you, then you are on your way to victory. 

True humility is not acting as if you were a lowly human being.  It is the understanding that your self image is not you.  Your behavior no longer is controlled by needing to maintain that image. 

If, while sparring in class, someone strikes you, you can appreciate their skill and be happy for them, even though you got hit.  In life you can appreciate the challenges you need to overcome and the skills you gain as you turn each defeat into an opportunity. 

One of the high level achievements in Tai-chi sparring is to substitute your self image with the principles of Tai-chi, mainly yielding to Yang and filling Yin.  You can only be defeated if you don’t allow your self image to grow into a wider perspective. 

In business it is well known that you should not argue with a customer.  Instead of arguing that your product is indeed a good one, you ask the customer how you could improve your product.  You not only make him feel that you care, but you may actually get some good advice.  Customer complaints are the best source of good ideas.

If you are competing with other companies producing similar products, you could throw more money into advertising or spend more hours in the day promoting the product.  Or you could ask yourself, “What real needs of people are the competing products not meeting?  How can I adjust my product so that it will fill those needs?”  In other words you can compete in a “Yin” area, in a niche market that the other products are not reaching.  It would wear you out to meet head on with large companies with big advertising budgets. 

To be “nimble” in business in this way, the self image of the business has to be flexible.  You think of your business as providing a product to the customer.  Now you switch your viewpoint and think of your business as fulfilling a need of the customer.  It’s not the same and that switch changes the way you do business. 

When I began producing the “Zookinesis” exercise series of DVD’s, I approached the series as providing exercises to keep you strong, flexible and energized.  I noticed a great change in my older students through the years.  They looked, acted and felt much younger.  In fact, these exercises are supposed to keep you young, but I never explained that in my advertising.  Now I call Zookinesis “Age Reversal Exercises” and market them to seniors.  I knew all along that they are supposed to reverse aging but never thought to promote that aspect. 

Looking back, I realized that I thought that since most of my students were not seniors, I wanted to promote the fact that Zookinesis keeps you vigorous, athletic and toned.  I didn’t think age was an issue for non-seniors.  But it seems that no one wants to feel that they are getting older, whatever age they are at the moment, if by older it is meant that the body deteriorates. 

So at the beginning, I thought that I was teaching exercises just to keep you strong and flexible when the need of the students (at least in their own minds) was to stay young.  I didn’t change the exercises at all but just got better at explaining what they are in a way the students could appreciate. 

Perhaps there was yet another factor.  If I were teaching people to reverse the aging process, perhaps that means that I, myself, am getting old and that age reversal was an issue I needed to address myself.  Not wanting to think of myself as getting old, I avoided using “age reversal” as an advertising point for Zookinesis.  My vanity interfered with my business.  Yet I, of all people, knew that age is not a matter of years but of health and attitude.  This is an example of how issues of self image can interfere with business as it can interfere with everyday life.

When I first started to learn to spar with Grandmaster William C. C. Chen I couldn’t help but concentrate on his fists and feet.  Which one would hit me next?  After gaining some skill I found that I was more interested in the spaces between our body parts.  Which space could I use to deliver my own strikes?  I found that emptiness (space) was equally as important as form (the body, the strikes).  I needed to know where I could move into to avoid his strikes. 

I realized that sparring was not about maximizing hardness but rather maximizing balance. When you are not willing to change and when you invest all your hopes in one particular outcome, that is like hardness.  When you invest in developing your attention to follow and adjust to change, when you accept change as part of life and when you learn the strategies of change to always look for opportunity, then your life is based on balance.

You maximize hardness when you try to defeat hardness by blocking rather than ducking.  That brings up another related issue.

“If you think of winning and losing you are already defeated”.  In Tai-chi sparring, you concentrate on the details of the aggressor’s body mechanics and the pattern of his attention.  You are so connected to him that you feel that he is part of you.  Your ability to remain connected to him in this way is essential to how you spar.  You don’t think of defeating an “enemy” but of finding a weakness and striking that weakness.  It is the weakness you discover at any one moment, that you are sparring against, not the person.  The aggressor and you are one unit.  The weakness are the target. 

In everyday life there is a tendency to think of yourself as fighting against the world.  According to Tai-chi principles, the world you experience is, to a large extent, a reflection of the world you have created inside yourself.  Through the Tai-chi forms, push hands, chi-gung, Zookinesis and other practices you can examine that inner world and see exactly how the weakness there can distort your view of the world around you.  You are no longer battling the world but correcting that balancing mechanism that creates your outer life from your inner dynamics.  Sparring is actually the most effective practice to give you this insight and the skills to make the corrections inside of yourself. 

The world around you is no longer your “enemy”.  Defeats are just changes.  The only real defeat is when your attention becomes rigid and you can no longer adapt to changes.  You are defeated when you let yourself become old, no matter how many years you have lived.  When you are no longer able to adapt to change, you are old.  Flexible in body, flexible in mind – you stay young

THE USE OF MINIMUM FORCE

This principle applies to everyday life as well as practicing forms, push hands and self defense. It is the main factor eliminating excess tension and keeping the mind and emotions calm while still being active. In Zookinesis training, this principle is called, “Start at the End”.
When you begin an activity, you would normally  judge how much effort and time it will take, and you gear yourself up for the task. If you were to push against a heavy object for example, you might tense up your arms and body to prepare for the resistance of that object and then begin to push it.
The principle of minimum force works mechanically as follows: You approach the object, or the task at hand with relaxation. As you feel the resistance of the object or of life’s tribulations, you firm up your energy only as much as is needed at each particular second. You do not tense yourself up in preparation for what your mind anticipates. The reason this is called, “Start at the end” is that at the beginning, we usually tense up and at the end, when the task is completed, we relax. If we start the task by relaxing, we are approaching the task in the same state as when it is finished and when we can take a break.
Push Hands is a great exercise for developing this ability. The tendency is to tense up when you are about to push and this lets the partner know what you are about to do. This is called, “telegraphing”. You are expressing your intentions before you even begin the task. If you push by placing your hand very gently on the partner and then gradually increasing the pressure, it is much harder for him to deflect your pressure. You can much more easily “stick” with him and re-orient your angle of push so that your force continues to aim at his center. If you tense first, you lose your sensitivity and cannot adjust to his deflections and neutralizations.
In every day life, if we worry about the upcoming task, we wear ourselves out by anticipating every possible outcome. This means that we don’t trust in our ability to deal with the situation. We don’t trust in our power. Trusting in our power is necessary for relaxation in life. Even if you feel you don’t have much power, trusting in yourself is required to act. Otherwise, you will equivocate and create a situation in which you rob yourself of power.
But you may say, “Why act if I know I don’t have much power?” The key is your understanding of the word, “power”. Power, in the sense of Tai-chi or Zookinesis, is not raw muscular strength or behavioral aggression. Power is attention. It is the ability to pay attention to the fine details of what is going on and the changes taking place second by second. When you have the power of attention, you can adjust second by second to place yourself in the most powerful position at each second. Then you don’t need to be overtly aggressive physically or behaviorally. You act lightly but efficiently.
In Phantom Kung-fu for example, we don’t waste our time blocking the partner. That also wastes energy and can bruise our arms. We may also fail in blocking and get hit. We just quickly move away from the incoming strike and strike an unprotected area. In this way we don’t waste our energy combatting the partner.
In life we can analyze our reaction to situations and ask ourselves, “How much energy do we spend combatting (even if only in our minds) and how much do we spend actually doing something useful?” Once we see this in various situations, we can use different tactics to be more effective.
As an example, instead of creating conflicting stories in our minds and rehearsing our battles, we can pay attention to what is going on right now. This brings us back to reality and also gives us practice paying attention to what is right in front of us. If you fill your mind with combat then a lot of your lifetime will be spent in combat.
How much time do you spend in these negative mental stories and how much time do you spend practicing exercises that make you more healthy and aware? Can you transfer a couple hours of the mental combat to going to class? Minimum force means that you trust your awareness more than your tension. You trust your relaxation more than your combative attitude. Your life then becomes easier and more enjoyable.

USING INTERNAL ENERGY

The use of internal energy (chi) as power is a very difficult subject to understand and to use in actual sparring. We usually associate power with muscular tension and with forcing the opponent’s strikes out of the way. Internal martial arts systems are based on a different concept of fighting. I was trained in Tai-chi-Chuan (“the Grand Ultimate Martial Art”) and in Zookinesis which is my translation of the particular type of chi-gung training I teach. I combined the two into what I call “Phantom Kung-fu”. The principles of this system are as follows:
1. Move away from the incoming strike and move into an unprotected area of the opponent. You learn to perceive when the opponent is about to strike so that you can move at least as soon as the opponent moves. Your strike is delivered at the same time as his would have landed on you. There is no attempt to knock his strike out of the way. You move your own body out of the way.
2. When you strike, your force should come out of you like an arrow coming out of a bow. The bow (body) has the energy and the arrow (arm or leg) transmits the energy. The arrow does not generate the energy. When you send out the bow, it is a release of the stored energy of the bow. You let go of the string. In the same way, the stored energy of compressed springs of the body, stretched ligaments and tendons and the internal energy which is connected to an inbreath, is what shoots out the force. 
3. Your physical tension maintains the structure of the body; it does not generate the force. Your force is stored in the structure and is released from that structure. If you try to use muscle tension to generate force you have to tighten up the body to maintain your structure and strike at the same time, which in turn, blocks your force from coming out. We train to use our muscle tension to maintain the body structure and to use compression, stretching of the connective tissue, breath etc., to store energy. 
4. The explosion of the outgoing force must have the floor as the base. In external styles, the tension of the body is the base against which your strike emanates. In internal styles, the floor is always the base. The explosive force presses as much into the floor as into the partner. So your legs press into the floor as you strike and release your energy. This results in the upper body expanding spherically outward. It is the structure of the body which channels this force specifically in only one direction – towards your strike. Tension is like a pipe. Your energy is like water or air flowing through that pipe.
5. Internal energy (yang) flows through the yin parts of the body. The yin parts are the front and the insides of the arms and legs. The yang parts are the back and the outside of the arms and legs. We channel force through the yin areas and use the yang areas as the structure. In external styles, muscle force is channeled through the yang parts. 
6. Power comes from the balance of yin and yang. There is a tendency to feel that the more yang you are, the more powerful you are. In Phantom Kung-fu it is the resilient springiness of the body and the connection of body, breath and attention that results in power. We do NOT magnify anger to stimulate us to fight as in some styles. We must stay in a meditative state.
7. Force is generic. We deal with the opponent as force and do not bring emotions into the interaction. We do not view the situation as some big, strong person is about to beat me up so I’d better beat him up first. We view the situation as dealing with force and we use the Tai-chi and Zookinesis principles (Taoist principles) to deal with that force, through neutralization, letting the force slip by or re-directing the force back to its source. This is done with complete calm (in order to be effective). Our attention remains completely connected to the behavioral patterns and intentions of the opponent but we do not allow those behavioral patterns to stimulate similar patterns inside us. We just use his patterns to our advantage.
8. There is no opponent. In this way, you deal with force as you deal with the everyday events of life. You do not view force (or situations) coming at you as an opponent attacking you but live your life second to second through Taoist principles of living in harmony with nature. Each action on your part is an attempt to create maximum harmony. In a sparring situation, that may have to be achieved by striking the other person with force but it is not done with anger. In our classes, when someone does get hit, the person who got hit usually laughs and contratulates the partner who hit him. Yet the strikes are done with great force. (We use padding).

RELAXATION IS POWER

The power in Tai-chi-Chuan sparring comes from relaxation with a minimum use of muscle tension. This contrasts with “hard” or “external” styles. The power of the punch, for example, originates in the foot as it presses into the ground. Each joint expands sequentially from there so the force emanates upward. The force moves through the leg and hips and then directly to the elbow and fist, bypassing the upper body. The upper body sits loosely on the lower body. To the extent that the upper body tenses, this detracts from the force that moves out into the opponent’s body and increases the amount of force that stays in the puncher’s body.

At the moment of impact, the body must not tense up any more than is minimally necessary to maintain the firmness of the body’s structure (including the punching arm). Any tension beyond that point decreases the amount of force moving into the opponent. Your fist is not completely tensed up as you strike.

In the fraction of a second it takes to impact, your body must perceive the balance and alignment of the opponent so that your body can re-align itself to take the opponent’s situation into consideration. Your body aligns itself to deliver the most effective punch according to the alignment of the opponent. Your muscles and joints must re-align, all at the same time, instantly. And of course, your body must have the knowledge of how to sense the opponent and re-adjust. If your body were stiff, you would sense nothing and not be able to re-adjust.

Your force must move out equally into the floor, through the foot, as into the opponent. In external styles. the tension of the body is used as the “floor”. You punch out from your own tension. In Tai-chi-Chuan, the actual floor is used as the floor. This releases the body to be flexible and responsive.

As the front part of your body expands to deliver the punch, your back must relax and sink into the floor. Your front cannot expand if your back doesn’t relax. And if you expand your back and front at the same time, you just lift yourself out of your root (your connection to the ground). There need to be an equal amount of you sinking as expanding.

In this way, your center remains still, and the stillness of the center is necessary for power. It is like jacking up a car to change a tire. If you place the base of the jack on marbles or on slippery mud, it will slip and the car will fall down. If your center moves about, the structure of the body cannot remain aligned to deliver the maximum power.

Even the arm itself remains relaxed until it makes contact. Only then does it tense and only enough to prevent the collapse of the arm. The arm does not create the power. The body creates the power. Any attempt to add more power by using the arm muscles to punch actually cuts off the body’s power.

So relaxation is a vital ingredient to developing power in sparring. And in life, relaxation allows the body to remain strong and not be worn out. Your training in sparring helps you to deal with life in a more realistic way. You no longer feel you are battling your way through life.

TAI-CHI-CHUAN – THE “GRAND ULTIMATE MARTIAL ART”

Tai-chi-Chuan is a unique self defense system due to its basic principles. STICKING – You remain connected to your opponent, following every nuance of his movements with your own body.  To him, it seems that you are like wet clothes, clinging to him.  As he tries to move back, you move back with him.  As he moves forward to you, you move back to maintain the same relationship.  
He controls the movements and you follow the movements.  But you control the relationship. That relationship consists of mirroring his movements and then your strikes emane from the flow of movement. You do not block his strikes because that would mean that you are disconnected from him in the first place.  Rather, you remain connected even to his strikes, keeping a light connection between you.  He feels as if he were punching or kicking into the air.
REMAIN CENTERED – All your movements should revolve around your center. When you respond to your opponent, seek your own center first and then his.  This means that your response should emanate from your center (the tan-tien, an area about 1 ½ inches below the navel and in the center of the body). More generally, movements should originate from the hips and power originates from the legs and hips. You then direct your power to the opponent’s center of gravity to create the maximum effect.  By keeping the dynamics of power at the centers, you need the least strength and the least amount of movement for the maximum effect.
There is a tendency to expand your body and to bring your attention up to the top of the body. In this way you may feel more powerful but you are actually the least effective. Each of your strike’s power must pass through the center. There is a tendency, after the first strike, to keep striking without returning to the center. This is a mistake because a strike that does not come from the center is ineffective.
BOTTOM HEAVY, TOP LIGHT – This is called, “aligning heaven and earth”. The air is light. The ground is solid and heavy. We arrange our bodies in the same way. The legs are heavy and provide a solid support. The top of the body is light and fast. The hips are rubbery (in between light and heavy) to allow for the transfer of energy from bottom to top and vice versa. Yet, as shown in the Yin/Yang symbol, within Yang there is the “eye” of Yin. Within Yin there is the “eye” of Yang. Within the heavy legs there is a springy energy created by the compression of the body. This allows for fast leg movement. Within the light top of the body, the power of the legs and hips flows through, providing solid strikes. This is the meaning of the phrase that a Tai-chi fighter is like steel wrapped in cotton.
STRIKE THE INSIDE – We do not focus the strikes on the surface of the opponent’s body. Neither do we focus past the opponent’s body. If we are striking the torso, we focus on the inside surface of the opponent’s back. Thus our attention is already within the opponent’s body. When we strike, we are already past his defenses. Focusing our force on the inside of his back causes a reverberation of the force within his body cavity for maximum effect. The idea is to pass by his front muscle and bone layers and create the effect within his body. Many people have strong muscles and are used to taking strikes. Furthermore, they may have practiced types of chi-gung that toughen the surface of the torso. We penetrate that layer as cleanly as possible. When we do focus on the muscles themselves, we focus on the interior of the muscle.
THREAD THE STRIKES – We train to narrow the force as much as possible as it is being delivered. We are usually not trying to damage the surface but want to penetrate that surface. The more narrow the force can be made (while still maintaining the actual amount of force), the more easily it will penetrate the surface (either the surface of the torso or the surface of a muscle if you are trying to injure the muscle). It is like threading a needle. You can’t thread a needle if the thread is frayed.
YANG FORCE FLOWS THROUGH YIN PARTS OF THE BODY – The Yang parts of the body (back and the outside of the arms and legs) serve as the conduits of force, like a pipe serves as the conduit of water. The Yin parts of the body (front and the inside of legs and arms) should be kept “empty” (relaxed), so that force can flow through them. Force should never move through your back or the outside of your arms and legs. The Yin parts of the body are like the inside of the pipe, which is empty so the water can flow through it. The Yin parts of the body even stays empty at the moment of impact so that the force cleanly moves out of your body and into the opponent’s body. The force is thus contained so that it doesn’t dissipate. The result is that you (the striker) hardly feel the strike (but your opponent certainly does!).  All the force has left your body. If you tense up the whole body as you strike then much of your force goes into your own tension and you block your force from moving into the opponent.
STRIKE THE ORIGIN OF THE FORCE – If the opponent punches, we do not have to strike his arm but usually strike the origin of his force, which is usually the shoulder. The shoulder may be the origin of the force because many people bring their energy up to their shoulders and then strike using the strength of their arms. This is not effective, of course. But if the shoulder is the origin of the force, then we strike that shoulder, weaving our bodies away from the strike at the same time. If he kicks, we may gently re-direct his kick with our palm but at the same time, strike his hip. We look at the opponent in terms of how the force is being generated and directed. We strike to interfere with that force as much as possible, rendering the opponent’s actions ineffective.
In grappling, direct his force into your center. This brings the arena of action into your center where you have the most control. As he grabs you, notice each contact point and the direction of his force from each contact point. Re-arrange your body so that the force from each contact point goes to your tan-tien, and into your hips and legs. Direct the interaction from there. If he twists your arm to lock a joint, notice the direction of his forces. In this case, align his forces with both your own center and with his shoulder. Receive his force in a spiral manner towards your center and then back outward into his shoulder. This is an advanced training which is hard to contemplate without direct instruction from a teacher (as is the case, really, with all of Tai-chi-Chuan training).
MOVE AWAY FROM YANG AND INTO YIN – When the opponent strikes, we call that “Yang”. That is where he is concentrating his force. We move away from Yang and into the “Yin” areas of his body. We never move away from him (we stick with him), except in rare cases to create the element of surprise. We are always moving into his “Yin” and striking. If we were to move into his “Yang” (as in blocking his strike) then we would be placing our attention at the focal point of his power. This puts us into a vulnerable position. Blocking also wastes a move and if the opponent is big and strong, your arm may get hurt. Let him strike. It is your job not to be where he is striking, but not to move his arm or leg out of the way. Let him wear himself out.
STAY ROOTED – Each joint must sink into your root. The root is the weight of the body, sinking into the ground. Each joint individually connects with the ground so that every point in the body has an active connection to the ground. When you strike, your weighted leg presses into the ground as you strike. This creates a pressure within the body which then explodes into the punch or kick. The strength of a grappling opponent is drained through each of your joints into the root and provides you with even more compressed force. Furthermore, this draining of his force then provides you with a direct “route” back into the origins of his force.
These are some of the basic principles of Tai-chi-Chuan (and Phantom Kung-fu) sparring. There is an excellent movie showing Tai-chi sparring – “The Tai-chi Master”. While the plot and the editing of the film makes it a bit hard to follow, the sparring is genuine (though exaggerated) and is a rare opportunity to see how Tai-chi is truly the “Grand Ultimate Martial Art”.