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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.

TAI CHI HEALING

Tai-chi Yang Form with Bob Klein

Tai-chi Yang Form with Bob Klein

The medical field is based on military strategy. We are attacked by micro-organisms and we defend ourselves with weapons (medicines) or surgery. Tai-chi is based on a different strategy so its concepts seem strange, or low tech.

My main job as a Tai-chi teacher is to develop an even distribution of attention in the student. The modern human is trained to withdraw attention from the body and concentrate it in the head. This weakens the body and over stimulates the head. The result is an “empty cleverness”.

We are taught to rely on the thinking process to interact with our world and to depress other means of interaction. The Tai-chi teacher’s job is to remind students of their original state of attention and of the ways we can connect with and interact with the world around us, rather than just thinking about it.

When we do push hands, for example, we have to be able to feel the state of readiness of every muscle and joint in the partner and the ever-changing pattern of attention from moment to moment. In this two-person game of “pushing” each other off balance, using tension by just shoving with the arms puts you at a disadvantage. The only way we can be this aware is by keeping our own attention completely calm and even, even though we are being pushed and shoved around. We then use this awareness to easily take advantage of the partner’s inefficiencies.

The Tai-chi forms teach us to generate all movements from the center of the body, and then, like a wave, allow each joint and muscle to flow out from that wave. The initiation of that wave is a relaxation – just like a pebble dropped into still water, creates circular waves.

It is very difficult to bring the student to this natural state of attention but it is the basis of healing in this system. As long as the attention is “trapped” in the head and thinking process, all the drugs and surgeries in the world, will not bring him to great health.

Yet, even these ideas about attention seem meaningless to someone who has not experienced them. You have to be brought to that experience by a teacher in order to even understand what it is and how powerful the experience is. It has been described as feeling like you jumped off a steep cliff. We are, indeed, standing high up on a steep cliff, struggling to stay on top of it and wearing ourselves out.

It is this struggle that wears out our minds and bodies and leads to disease. Yet the student asks, “If I let go of the dominance of my mind, how can I function?” In reality it is the even balance of mind and body that is required for true creative functioning, rather than just robotic functioning.

Tai-chi practice leads you to this very gently, yet it is a tough practice – very exacting and specific. The journey leads to freedom from fear and stress and a healthy way of interacting with people and situations, which in turn, results in a joy filled life.

Suggested training aids:
The books, “Movements of Magic – the Spirit of Tai-chi-Chuan” and “Movements of Power – Ancient Secrets of Unleashing Instinctual Vitality”
http://store.movementsofmagic.com/msbose.html

The dvd series: “How to Learn and Teach Tai-chi”
http://store.movementsofmagic.com/howtoletetap.html

BREAKING DOWN THE WALL

Push Hands

When you visit another culture you realize how differently other people see the world. We tend to feel that our “modern” world-view is the most correct because we are the smartest people who have ever lived on the earth. And yet, the fact that we are willingly destroying the life support system of the earth creates questions about how smart we really are. The way in which our life-style is destroying the life support system within our bodies also calls into question even our dedication to survive.

Tai-chi practice is a way of introducing into the modern world, the concept that each of us is an ecological environment, completely connected to the larger ecological environment. How we balance the internal ecology with the external ecology should be a large part of our “personal culture”. If we can experience our bodies as living and conscious, rather than just a machine that carries our head around, we can begin to restore our health.

Our modern culture is based on the isolated individual, each of us fighting against all the others. To maintain this feeling of isolation we “condense”, that is, we tighten ourselves physically and mentally, turning ourselves into a walled city. We feel that, as long as our lawns are green, the rest of the environment doesn’t affect us.

According to Tai-chi principles, the destruction of the natural world and the destruction of our own physical health, arise out of the same mind-set. When we practice the two-person exercise of push hands, for example, there is a tendency to use physical strength to push the “opponent” over. It is common for someone, being pushed, to grab the arms of the pusher to avoid getting pushed and thereby be able to say that he didn’t really get pushed.

Push Hands is a game of transformation. It is based on not using tension but fluidity. It is based on allowing the push of your partner to be absorbed by your body, the force distributed among all the muscles and joints, and then transformed to go back to the pusher. Your role is to transform the force that comes to you. In this way you learn the connection between your inner self and its connection to the forces around you.

When you learn Tai-chi forms, it is not just a question of memorizing movements. You learn to generate movement from the relationship of the hips and legs to the root (your connection to the ground). The rest of the body then expresses that relationship. So forms teach you how to express your relationship to the earth.

There is a tradition, in Zen practice, of expressing your feelings at the moment of enlightenment. One student expressed it this way, “The inside and the outside – they are made of the same flesh”.

Every time you tense up and isolate yourself, you damage not only yourself, but also your connection to the earth, and even the earth itself. Every time you set yourself against others in anger, you do equal damage.

Tai-chi practice teaches you how to live an ecological life in the modern world. Practicing Tai-chi this way is a powerful way to transform your life.

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.

RESPECT

The relationship between mind and body should be the same as the relationship between yourself and another person. Each of you wants respect and wants to know the intention of the other. Each wants to maintain its individuality and also its connection to each other. Each wants to enjoy the interaction and benefit from it.

When you gain a skill, you reach a certain point where you have to let the body do the work (in riding a bicycle for example). You trust that the body knows what it is doing without the intervention of the thinking mind. But it is difficult for the thinking mind to let go of control.

It is difficult to accept that another person thinks differently than you. As an example, it is difficult to accept that an aboriginal culture may want to maintain their way of life, with perhaps, just a few well chosen modern advances. If there are “resources” beneath their land (oil, coal, gas for example), it seems to us unreasonable that they don’t allow another culture to come in and tear apart their land to acquire those resources.

As we learn Tai-chi, the mind thinks us through the movements. We remember all the advice from the teacher on proper mechanics. We “push” our bodies through the movements so they are done properly.

But then we learn the push hands exercise, in which there are no pre-set movements (in free-style push hands). The thinking mind could not possible keep track of all the spontaneous movements and be able to respond.

The student has to let go of the absolute control of the thinking mind and trust the creativity of the body. This creates a fear of dissolution in students whose whole identity is centered in the thinking mind. At this point it is important to examine your relationships with other people. Are those relationships based on respect of their individuality and intelligence?

If you can respect that another person can be intelligent and yet disagree with you then you can more easily accept that the body can have an intelligence that is different in its nature than the thinking mind but equally as valid. You might also be willing to accept that the body can be more intelligent than the thinking mind.

To allow the Body-mind to have equal sway in one’s life as the thinking mind is like courtship. You want the other to be part of you but you don’t really know who she or he is at first. Is she intelligent or does she just parrot what she has heard? Is she kind? Will she treat you well? You look for signs within your interactions that will answer these questions. Yet somehow, you know that for better or worse, she is part of you and you cannot grow as a human being without her. You look for ways of working together in harmony.

The point at which the student “allows” Body-mind to be equal in power to Thinking-mind means giving up absolute power. You no longer “shove” the body from move to move but yield to an inner knowing of the form. You find the Body-mind wants to do the form differently than the ideas in your head, and you yield to that. You allow them to be part of you. You actually listen to what they are saying.

More importantly you allow yourself to change, to be affected by the qualities of the consciousness of others. The two lovers grow mentally and emotionally, from knowing each other. Thinking-mind and Body-mind each grow from having to interact with each other.

So respect, a form of yielding, allows growth. Without growth we deteriorate physically, emotionally and spiritually. We engage in battles both within and outside of ourselves.

What is the degree of respect and yielding in our culture today? Are we becoming more rigid or relaxed and fluid? Where are we headed?

There is a Zen saying that “The inside and the outside are made of the same flesh”. I believe that Tai-chi practice can be a great help to our modern world by encouraging respect on all levels.

TAI-CHI SCHOOL SUMMER PARTY

We invite everyone interested in healing, exercise and the martial arts to our annual summer party taking place at the Long Island School of Tai-chi-Chuan – 87 Tyler Avenue, Sound Beach N. Y. 11789 (corner of 8th Street). Saturday, August 22nd 12pm to 6pm. You will see demonstrations of Tai-chi forms, chi-gung and push hands, and meet others with similar interests in relaxing, natural surroundings. Refreshments will be provided. For more information call 631 744-5999 or send an email to info@movementsofmagic.com

The Long Island School of Tai-chi-Chuan

IS TAI-CHI DYING?

Is Tai-chi dying? Are there still teachers teaching the intricate mechanics, the physics, the dynamics of mind and energy that underlies the beautiful movements? Or are we playing “Simple Simon”? Simple Simon says, “do this”; simple Simon says “do that”.

Are we, as teachers, worried that if we actually ask students to learn the principles that they will leave our classes and switch to a simpler form of exercise? Has Tai-chi become a collection of “techniques” or is it still a transformative experience?

These are the questions I ask as I look around at the practice of Tai-chi as it is today. I see push hands players standing in tense, misaligned positions and knocking their arms around. I see people doing forms with all their energy bound up in their heads and upper backs, with locked hips.

I hesitate to bring this up because each Tai-chi teacher feels he or she is doing Tai-chi the “right way”. It is just those other people over there who are doing it wrong. We should be open minded and allow for variations of practice, I am told.

In this post, I am asking other Tai-chi teachers this question, to answer just within yourself. Do you feel that you are aware of, feel and practice the internal practice? Is your mind connected to each muscle and joint? Is your mind evenly distributed throughout your body or can you pay attention to the body only from the head? Is each part of the body independently conscious and is it in a creative relationship with each other part of the body or is this question meaningless to you?

Tai-chi is a practice designed to lead you to an experience of, and healing of your internal state which then affects your relationship to the rest of the world. Has it been that for you and have you found ways of transmitting that experience to your students so they actually feel it?

What do you feel is the state of Tai-chi practice today?

HOW TAI-CHI CAN SAVE THE WORLD

Demonstration of Chen Style Tai-chi

How can the ancient Chinese exercise of Tai-chi save the world? It transforms individuals, improving their health, eliminating stress, helps them let go of self destructive behaviors and feel more connected to their community. By transforming individual people in this way, the world can be transformed.

HEALTH

Tai-chi strengthens each cell of the body. The movements promote the movement of intercellular fluid, which brings oxygen and nutrients to the cells and removes their waste. Without the type of intricate movement you get with Tai-chi, the cells receive little nutrients and oxygen, food is stored as fat and cellular waste is not removed. The cells metabolize poorly and degenerate quickly, which leads to early aging. Tai-chi prevents these problems.

Tai-chi keeps the connective tissue flexible. This tissue surrounds all the organs, muscles body cavities and bones and forms ligaments and tendons. It tends to shrink and lose elasticity with age, which condenses the body. It is as if each part of the body is slowly being crushed. Tai-chi movements keep you young by keeping you flexible and maintaining full range of motion of the joints. You are also able to breathe more easily.

The National Institutes of Health lists many research papers showing that Tai-chi helps with arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease and other conditions as well as improving balance. If we can be healthier as a society, then we will need less medical intervention and the cost of health care will be less. Our productivity will increase because we will be more energized and spend less time being sick.

COMMUNITY

Our lives are becoming more disconnected. We interact through our cell phones and computers and less through face-to-face interaction. We don’t see our food being grown but purchase prepared, chemically enhanced, nutrient poor food, and just warm it up. We need body skills less and less, except for our thumbs for texting and so we live in our minds, considering our bodies to be “down there”. Our floors and streets are perfectly flat so we don’t even need to be mindful of how our feet interact with the ground.

Tai-chi works by first connecting our minds and bodies. We become aware of how every muscle and joint works in an intricate and beautiful harmony. Our awareness is in every part of our bodies, not just in our heads. When we step, or breathe or smile, it is with full awareness and full participation of every part of us, connected and alive. When we speak with another person, we learn how to really listen, rather than just argue. The Push Hands exercise teaches us to be completely aware of what is going on inside of another person so that we understand their behavior. This allows us to be comfortable with them and appreciate their individual spirit. Can you imagine if everyone felt like this?

We learn to move slowly and smoothly so that our attention flows like water. Rather than our minds ordering our bodies what to do, both mind and body flow together and work together. The mind doesn’t sit on its throne in the head. Each part of the body becomes conscious and consciously participates in the movements. This eliminates the master/slave relationship of the mind and body. It is said that the relationship between the mind and body is the basis of our relationships with other people. Isn’t it the mind, sitting on its throne, which argues that my way is right and yours is wrong?

Yet that very mind has been filled with attitudes and behaviors from outside influences, with their own agendas. What we take to be our identity is to a large extent, pushed into us. It is as if we were forced to wear a suicide vest as we go through life. When we practice Push Hands we have to let go of these attitudes and programmed behaviors, because that is what our Push Hands partner uses to push us off balance. Instead, we have to resort to our creativity and sharpness of attention. We learn that many of our patterns of tension just set us up to get pushed and so we learn to let them go. Letting go is a large part of the training. We even let go of fear itself by examining what fear feels like and understanding that it is just a pattern of tension.

What would the world be like if everyone could let go of self destructive behaviors? What if our identity was no longer based on our intellectual differences and fears but on realizing that the consciousness that flows inside of me is the same energy as that which flows inside of you? We may each be creative with that energy in a different way, but we are all “swimming in the same water” of consciousness. We learn this in Tai-chi.

ENDING CONFLICT

We even learn this lesson in Tai-chi-Chuan (the fighting training of this art). At the beginning we may see sparring as two opponents each trying to win. But the result of proper training in this martial art is to flow with the “opponent” so that there is only one flow. While there is action, your goal is to take control of the interaction so there is no opposition. You are always in a position of power but with no anger. This allows you to feel confident, yet not aggressive, not only in sparring, but in any interaction in everyday life. You are no longer battling your way through life as if you were always on the outside of it. Creativity takes the place of battling.

We say that we cannot take control of the sparring partner’s body – only his mind. If your mind is free and creative, as it is through Tai-chi training, it can never be trapped. As an example, if someone is grabbed, they usually tense up. This just makes it easier for the grabber to control his victim. But if you are loose you can easily slip out of the grab. And so sparring teaches you how to avoid getting trapped in life.

While most people do not learn the martial aspect of Tai-chi training, each part of the training teaches all the principles. You can learn slow forms (movements), aerobic forms, chi-gung (simple exercises), Push Hands – just learning as much as you like. You can also learn healing (Tai-chi Body-work). There is something for everyone in this system of exercise and healing.

HEALING

There are several types of healing that are connected with Tai-chi practice such as acupuncture, acupressure, Tai-chi Bodywork, herbal medicine and more. This type of healing is based on the idea that the body is an ecological community of many types of cells and organs that work best when kept in balance. There is a biological energy that flows through the body called “chi”. When chi flows evenly through every cell and organ of the body, the body is in the best health.

The healing principle “The inside and outside reflect each other” means that we are part of the ecology of the planet. When we heal ourselves we are healing part of the planet. Since each part of the planet is connected to each other part, healing our self really helps to heal the whole living planet.

Tai-chi helps to heal the “chi” that flows through all of us and through all living things, heals the relationships among people and heals us as individuals. What would happen if everyone did Tai-chi?

JOY

When we were little we found joy in movement, singing and in other simple things. We don’t do much of that anymore. Tai-chi reminds us how simple movements can bring the feeling of joy back into our lives. Some types of chi-gung are based on the movements of animals and are great fun (“Zookinesis” is one such series of animal exercises).

By eliminating habits of tension and worry and making each part of the body more aware and sensitive, Tai chi allows us to experience more joy. We can feel the beautiful things around us – art, nature and the human spirit – more intensely. The movements of Tai-chi are an art that weaves the beauty of our biological nature and human spirit into a life of joy that can be shared.

We learn to become connected to the earth, to other people, to our own spirit and body and to a great history of teachers who passed this training down through thousands of years. While originating in China, Tai-chi is not just about one kind of people or one religion or one political party. It is about how we are all part of the same consciousness and the same system of nature. It is about becoming healthy and comfortable with the great variety of life. It is about letting go of the fear that holds us back from joy.

What would it be like if everyone did Tai-chi?

RELAXATION IS POWER IN PUSH HANDS

Push Hands

When I do push hands with new people I often find that the fear of losing causes them to tense their muscles and lock their joints in an effort to present a strong, solid front. They lose their ability to move and connect. It becomes all about muscle.

To be able to let go of the tension and joint locking allows you to connect with the push hands partner so that you can interact in a deeper way. This two-person exercise teaches you that your well-being depends on becoming part of the interaction rather than resisting the interaction. It teaches you that paying attention to what is going on and adapting to it is more powerful than isolating yourself from what is going on and paying attention only to your resistance.

At first the student fears that if he puts down the armor of tension he will lose the push hands volley and get pushed. He will remain loose only up to the point where his partner has him at a disadvantage and then will tense every muscle in his body to avoid getting pushed. That of course, doesn’t make mechanical sense. If you are tense, you are more likely to get pushed because you can’t react properly. But tensing is a habitual reaction.

To be able to remain loose, connected to the ground (“root”) and to flow exactly with the partner’s movements requires years of practice. It requires that you are aware of the activity of every muscle and joint in the body, your balance and alignment and the way your fears interfere with your proper mechanics – both within your own body and that of the partner.

If you were to use tensing and locking as your main mechanics (as in “competition push hands”) you would never be able to achieve the awareness described above. And so a student has to decide if he is practicing push hands to improve his life, health and awareness or to better be able to push people off balance. If it is the former, then you have to sacrifice your tension and your fear. Making that sacrifice is very difficult for most people yet it allows you to change to such an extent that the world around you seems to change as well.

There is a Taoist saying that “the inside and outside reflect each other”. When you change the world inside of you, the reactions of other people to you change as well. Your mind is clear enough to see new opportunities. You feel more enthusiastic about your life, have more energy and participate more in the world around you. You are happier.

It is typical of Tai-chi that the greatest changes in your life result from the simplest acts. Nothing could be simpler than relaxing, yet it is so hard to relax. So much of our behavior and attitudes are tied to tensing. One act of relaxing begins the path of profound change to a healthier and more powerful life. This is why we say that “relaxation is power”.

THE KEY TO SKILL

Any student of movement struggles to make their skills automatic, so they don’t have to “think their way” through their activity. While long hours of practice are essential to develop skill, another factor is necessary for high levels of achievement and that is what this post is about.

We each have a “vantage point” – a place where we feel we exist. Usually this vantage point is in the head because that is where our eyes, ears, nose and mouth are located. We see and hear from the vantage point of the head.

In Zen training there is a saying that the five senses are like five thieves that rob us of the ability to use other senses. In pre-modern cultures other senses are recognized, so that Tai-chi speaks of sensing “chi” and other cultures speak in similar ways.

In Tai-chi training we are taught to “center our attention” in the center of our bodies, like a spider lying at the center of its web. From this vantage point we can perceive in a different way because the strength of the senses on the head are no longer predominant.

The difficulty is that we are so programmed to believe that we have no other senses that we resist even the idea that we do. Yet we learn from practicing Tai-chi that we have a proprioceptive sense – the sense of momentum flowing through our bodies and how the parts of our body line up with each other. As we practice the push hands exercise (a two person interaction), we learn that we can sense the state of balance within our partner and even how his body prepares to carry out an intention to push even though our eyes are closed.

And so it becomes easier to accept that we also have a “sense of chi”, that is, the intelligent communication among all the cells and organs of the body that keeps everything running effectively. We find that our “head-oriented” vantage point battles against the “body-oriented” awareness.

This is because the head-oriented awareness works in one dimension. It is aware of one thing at a time. The body-oriented awareness is aware of everything that is going on at the same time. It is three dimensional.

In order to achieve great skill the student must develop a harmony between these two types of awareness. You can think of it like a map of a mall. The map shows where all the stores are located and also shows where you are in that map. You need to know both in order to get to your store.

We have become a society of “where we are” awareness but have lost our awareness of the “map”. Our schools don’t teach labor history, womens’ history, art history, the history of the human mind (cultural anthropology), financial history, etc., and so we don’t know where we came from. The history of religion and its interaction with science would be too controversial to teach in schools.

We certainly don’t learn how we humans have become so stiff, so sick, so angry, so stressed, so anxious, etc. But when we practice Tai-chi we have to delve into these issues and recognize the patterns of behavior and tension that have been programmed into us. We have to recognize how they have power over us and by doing so, we learn who “we” really are.

We have to learn how the dreams we had as children have become co-opted by the agendas of those who control our society. The path to achieving great things is to let go of the ropes that bind us to the their agendas and allow your dreams to empower your life.

This doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your job. It means understanding your own behavior. Which behaviors are a reaction to your fears and which emanate from your creativity and your joy?

This is true even when practicing your Tai-chi form. Are you pushing yourself through it to feel you have accomplished something or is the form organically emerging from inside of you and expressing itself? In the latter case, the thinking mind has to sit back as the audience and allow the play to take place without interference.

In many cases it is NOT the lack of skill that holds you back from a beautifully performed form but the unwillingness of the vantage point of the thinking mind to yield its one dimensional control.

The reason I mentioned the importance of understanding our many histories is that all of them contributed to the behavior patterns that we think of as being who we are. In order to achieve an “escape velocity” to become independent of those patterns, I have to believe that there is a “me” that is more creative, more connected to feeling and connected to the world around me in a more powerful way our present society allows.

That awareness is what is achieved through the sense of chi. The world experienced through that sense is described by many pre-modern cultures in many different ways. If you have the experience then you can hear each of those ways and understand that they are describing the same thing – the world as perceived without the coercion of the prejudice of your society’s training.

It is the “you” who is part of that world who does the form, or plays music, or lives one’s life. And the form or the music or the way one lives one’s life is the path to experiencing that world. Each of these art forms is also the way of showing others that there is another way of being. So when you see someone performing a Tai-chi form you should ask, “Is he just going through the movements or is this an expression of something greater?”

Tai-chi practice is more than martial arts, more than a performance art, and more than stress reduction. It is a path to liberating the full potential of your health and creativity. It allows you to become aware of the intelligent “dance of biology” within your body and how you are connected to the rest of the “dance of life” around you. We no longer “exist” just in our heads – in our minds. We exist in the full continuum of life.