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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.

INVEST IN LOSS

"Snake Creeps Down" from Yang style Tai chi.

“Snake Creeps Down” from Yang style Tai chi.

Body alignment and posture have a profound effect on your state of health and emotions. We maintain “attitudes” within our bodies, which then affect the posture. The slumped shoulders express the attitude that we are so troubled that we are “carrying the world on our shoulders”. The prideful, arrogant attitude has the chest puffed out.

To many people, these attitudes are their identity. They are how we feel who we are. But they lock us into a set of behaviors that limit our ability to grow and be creative. Tai chi frees us from being locked into attitudes. It allows the creative person, who you truly are, to become the core of your life.

When you are locked into a posture, energy cannot flow through the body. Blood cannot flow freely. The inter-cellular fluid, which brings nutrients and oxygen from the capillaries to the cells, cannot move. The lymph, which takes waste from the cells to the bladder and lungs for removal, does not move. The body then deteriorates.

A body locked in attitude is a fearful body. It is afraid to let go of that attitude because that attitude is the only place it feels safe. Relaxing feels like jumping off a cliff. Yet if you take the chance and relax, you find that the cliff is only a few inches high.

I believe that most people are locked into these attitudes and that is destroying our health and our ability to enjoy our lives. Tai chi can be a lifesaver if you are willing to go beyond merely memorizing the movements of a form. Tai chi has been described as “investing in loss”. This means that you put time and effort into letting go of your locked attitudes. You stop investing in tightening up your muscles to express fear or “strength”.

Invest in health and relaxation. Invest in making the rest of your life the most enjoyable life you can imagine. Learn Tai chi.

WHAT IS MIND?

Bob Klein

Bob Klein

When practicing Tai-chi form (or any other activity in life), it is important to distinguish the two parts of “Mind” or what I call “attention”. A Tai-chi saying is that, “Mind leads, body follows”. This does NOT mean that your thoughts tell your body what to do.

This saying is a clue to the real relationship between Mind (attention) and body. There are two aspects of Mind when you are practicing. One is knowing the movements and mechanics behind the movements. The other aspect of Mind is the ebb and flow of attention, its expansion and relaxing. This aspect is like the ocean currents. The “knowing” aspect is like a scuba diver who wants to get from here to there and get things done. He still has to yield to the ocean currents, which are much stronger than him.

The flowing aspect of Mind is not fixed at one spot, such as in the head. It does not give orders to the body. It flows, and the body responds because that is its nature. I also want to make clear that I am NOT talking about imagining the movement in your head first and then doing it. Attention simply flows here or there, it sinks or expands. It is Yin. It is the job of the other aspect of Mind, Yang, to exert influence on the body so that the movements are specific. But Yang Mind does not interfere or overcome Yin Mind.

Another saying is that “The one begets the two, the two begets the three and the three begets the ten thousand things”. At a beginners stage of training, the two aspects of Mind and the body are fused. Everything is tight. There is no relationship among these parts of us. In order to have a relationship, each member of the relationship must be free and independent yet coordinated with the others. If any one member is frozen, there is no relationship. If each is completely independent, with no connection, there is still no relationship. When all three are fused and locked, there is certainly no relationship.

Yet that fused, locked state is the condition of modern people. In order to develop relationship you can practice the form in this way: First allow your attention to move towards where your body will go, and then move the body there. The attention will be like a bungee cord, pulling the body, or like a boat, pulling a water skier. The attention will create a pathway that the body will follow.

You will gradually become aware of the Yin and Yang aspects of attention and their relationship with the body. In fact, everyday the Yin aspect of attention tries to “break its chains” and flow but we are so unused to that that we tighten up right away to stop it. If you know this, and look for it in your everyday life, you can attempt to extend the time that Yin attention is free by not reacting against it. Then you will have a chance for a real relationship between the parts of attention (“Mind”) and the body. (Don’t do this while driving).

When you first begin your Tai-chi practice you bring to it the state of Mind you have. But that frozen state makes it hard to learn Tai-chi. So you either do Tai-chi stiffly, or you struggle to do it in a flowing way. The only way you can really do Tai-chi well is through a transformation of Mind itself, allowing for the relationship described above. That new state of Mind then stays with you all day. You bring it into your everyday interactions and you find that, not only does this new Mind help you in your Tai-chi practice, but in your everyday life as well. And that is one of the great benefits of Tai-chi.

BE LIKE VAPOR

Tai-chi is fluid.

Tai-chi is fluid.

Why do we tense up in response to stress? Tension makes us feel stronger and more present. When we are relaxed, we feel that we are like vapor, drifting away.

Tai-chi teaches us that we are more effective in defending ourselves when we are relaxed. Let the opponent fight a vapor rather than a solid object. When relaxed you can be quicker and more effective.

If the situation is not physical, such as a verbal argument or a life situation, staying relaxed will keep your mind clear and you will react more creatively. But how can we learn to stay relaxed when we are so programmed to tense?

Imagine a “black hole” (a collapsed star) that is so dense that even light cannot escape from it. If the entire earth were as dense as a black hole it would be the size of a peanut. So in comparison to a black hole, we are not very dense. We are almost not even here.

We tense (become more dense) in order to “feel more here” so we can be more formidable. Tai-chi teaches us that our vaporous nature also has power. It teaches us how to use the power of relaxation to get through life more easily.

The nature of a black hole with its immense gravity, is to pull everything towards it, to grab, to own. The nature of vapor is to merge with everything around it and to become part of the world.

Chi-gung, forms, push hands and Tai-chi bodywork are all designed to teach you the value of fluidity, the value of empty space within you, the value of merging. Internal space is defined as the ability of each joint and muscle to move. Even though the form is quiet, with minimal external movement, there is a free flow of internal movement, like waves flowing through the body.

This is the healthiest state of the body and it allows a relaxation of the mind and emotions as well. Embrace your fluid state and learn about its power.

Our dvd series, “How to Learn and Teach Tai-chi” discusses these ideas in detail. (See http://store.movementsofmagic.com/howtotetavo1.html for more information).

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.

WILL TAI-CHI SURVIVE?

Bob Klein

Tai-chi teachers who actually expect their students to learn Tai-chi fear that they will lose students. Tai-chi is a very exacting practice and requires awareness of each muscle and joint of the body, restoring full function. While many people would love to learn Tai-chi, few are ready to do the work.

So the teacher must decide how much he or she asks of the students. The less he asks, the more students he has. The more he asks, the higher quality of students he has. Sometimes the decision rests on how many bills he has to pay each month, unless he has a “real job”.

To the degree that the decision is based just on paying the bills, the students get a “make-believe” version of Tai-chi and that version is passed down, as that teacher’s students themselves become teachers, believing that they are really practicing Tai-chi. That teacher may defend himself by saying, “If I didn’t dilute Tai-chi, these students wouldn’t come to class. At least they are moving. That has to help them a little”.

These are the issues in the back of each teacher’s mind. I bring this issue up now because I have been hearing the same issue raised in the field of Pilates exercise. Some Pilates teachers say that they don’t mind if a teacher changes the training as long as they don’t call it Pilates.

My choice is to require that my students learn Tai-chi. They sometimes complain that I keep teaching new principles and they can’t keep up with the pace of learning. Yet I am teaching the same thing all the time even though I may explain it differently. They may ask, “Why didn’t you ever say that before” even though I say it all the time. When you are presenting the deeper aspects of Tai-chi training, the body of the student has to learn. The brain may feel that it is not “getting it”, but the brain doesn’t have to get it. The body learns and the student has to become comfortable with and learn to perceive that level of learning. Yet the brain always feels that if it hasn’t learned something then it hasn’t been learned.

When you really teach Tai-chi you bring the student through a transformation in the learning process. The student learns about his body and attention (how they work), then learns from the body and attention and then body, attention and the world around him all become connected.

Make-believe Tai-chi, of course, is just memorizing as many forms as you can and learning to say spiritual clichés. This may seem like a cynical attitude but the schools that emphasize this approach really irk sincere teachers. While the students of these schools certainly enjoy their classes, the downside is that the reputation of Tai-chi as transforming peoples’ lives just comes down to parroting phrases and movements.

Is there a danger that Tai-chi will become a cartoon of itself? If this is happening to other disciplines as well, are we all simply slipping into cartoon lives?

I have heard the argument that during most times in history, a few people really practiced each art and the rest practiced a shallower version and yet these arts survive. These times are no different from any other. I hope that is true. What do you think?

MORE TAI-CHI LEARNING TIPS by Bob Klein

How to Learn and Teach Tai-chi DVD

1. “The feet are the gateway to consciousness”. When you walk in a natural area, the feet conform to the shape of the ground, which is formed by the geology, botany and weather of the area. As your feet conform to the ground, each joint of the body adjusts to keep you aligned and in motion, thereby also participating in the natural history of that area. Our flat floors deaden the feet and also the whole body and cut us off from participating in nature. So when you step, allow each joint and muscle of the foot to individually settle onto the floor, to help enliven the foot.

2. When you breathe out and the upper body settles downward, its weight sinks through the hip area and into the feet and “root”. When you breathe in and expand upward, that expansion has to pass through the hip area. If the hips are rigid, these transfers of energy cannot take place. Keep the hip level open, like an open pipe, so that momentum can flow through it.

3. The head is part of the body. We do not consider it to be the “seat of consciousness”. The whole body is the seat of consciousness. There is a tendency to keep the head and neck rigid, as if it were a stone throne that the king sits in, ordering the body around and judging the results. “Think” with the feelings of the whole body and allow the momentum, created by your form or chi-gung, to flow through the neck and head. While the head does not flop around, it moves in circles about an inch in diameter. If the head is rigid, the body will be rigid.

4. Release energy at the beginning and end of each breath. If you are not yet familiar with the experience of “chi”, think of energy as momentum. At the end of the in-breath, when the momentum flows up and out, let that momentum go, never to return. Then allow the body to begin sinking back down, drawing into it “new” energy until the end of the out-breath as you sink into your root. At that point, allow the chi (or momentum) to be released into the ground, never to return. When you begin to breathe in again, expanding upward, allow new energy to fill the body from the bottom. If you hold energy within the body, you will not get the health benefits of Tai-chi.

5. At the end of each in-breath, expand the palms and feet. Allow them to relax as soon as you begin to breathe out.

6. Once you are comfortable with the sequence of movements, don’t think of the movement before or the next movement. Allow the form to unfold, as the mainspring of old watches, unwind during the day to move all the little gears of the watch, allowing “time” to unfold. If you have been trained how each part of the body participates in each part of the form, your form will have been imbedded into each part of the body, like a mainspring ready to unfold.

7. Practice one thing at a time. Your teacher may have presented you with a hundred principles and you can’t keep them all in your mind at the same time. Practice just one or two for a while and then switch to another one or two principles. Trust that such practice will add up; that the body will store skill you have gained in each practice session.

8. Don’t “hold yourself together”. Most of us start all bound up, tied up in knots, as if we would fall apart if we relaxed. For each posture, notice which muscles are “holding” more than they have to. Can you allow that muscle to use less tension? Even less? Use the minimum tension possible just before the arm or the whole body starts falling down.

9. There is an intelligence within your body that is greater than your thinking mind. Yield to it. It may be hard to notice at first. The forceful, thinking mind is like the sun, overpowering all the stars in the sky. Yet those stars are still there, even during the day. The “Body-mind” is always there but requires inner quiet to be noticed.

10. Don’t forcefully try to quiet the thinking mind. That is only the thinking mind trying to quiet itself. It is just a trick. Rather, pay attention to the flow of momentum and allow your attention to ride the flow of momentum like a surfer rides a wave. Yield to the momentum. Yield to the breath that helps to create the momentum. Yield to the relaxation that helps to create the momentum. Yielding to life quiets the thinking mind and strengthens the Body-mind.

These principles are described more fully in the dvd series “How to Learn and Teach Tai-chi” by Bob Klein available at:
http://store.movementsofmagic.com/belevi.html

TAI CHI TRAINING TIPS

Bob Klein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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?