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LIFE AS AN INTERNAL MARTIAL ART

The internal martial arts train the student to become more powerful in his everyday world, not just in fighting itself.  They were a way of encoding ancient secrets of keeping your body and mind young throughout your life and developing magnified vitality.

The first principle is the use of minimum movement.  While you duck away from a strike, you move only an inch away from the opponent’s fist.  When you strike, you tense your arm only as much as needed to prevent the arm from collapsing.  Your power comes from the sequential expansion of your joints and muscles from the ground up.  The power is a surge through the body and the body as a whole stays still. 

In everyday life you change your perspective from reacting to the negative qualities of other people to letting go of the “handle” that other people seem to have on you that allows them to affect you with their behavior.  Your mind and emotions become like a still lake.  The lake reflects the scene around it but is not disturbed by that scene.  In the same way, you are fully aware of all that is going on around you but you have dropped the internal mechanism that makes your “internal waters” choppy.

This does not result in losing your emotions.  It just means that your emotions don’t get churned up because of the behavior of other people.  You are still affected by the beauty around you and your connection to nature.  The result is that you can be the calm in the middle of the storm and clearly see how to be effective in any situation.  In our modern world the “storm” never seems to end.

In grappling, you can maneuver the part of the body the other person grabs while keeping the rest of the body calm.  Your whole body is not thrown by the force of the opponent.  If he grabs your arm, your arm joints, including the shoulder, move and rotate to deflect his force.  If he grabs you from behind, a small shift in the hip joint can break his connection to the ground (his “root”) and allow you to throw him. 

Your body becomes a collection of many parts and you have control over each part individually.  When confronted with force you don’t tense up the whole body.  Instead you direct his force through your body into your own root and use it to strengthen your foundation.  Once the opponent’s force has been drained in this way, you can throw him.

In our everyday lives we have many “parts”.  There is the physical part, the emotional part, the mental part, the spiritual part, etc.  The study of how to keep all those parts in balance is called, “The Elements”.  In this training we learn to be a “passive observer” (of our own behavior) as if we were an audience member watching a play.  We ask ourselves, “Does our behavior make any sense?”  Then we play the part of the director and adjust the script.

In this way we don’t have an investment in any particular pattern of behaviors.  We realize that we are not those behaviors – that we are so much more.  We are a beautiful, natural creature connected to the rest of nature.  So much of what wears us out in everyday life is our investment in a set of behaviors that hurt us.  Even though we know that our addictions and negative behaviors hurt us, we feel they are us and we don’t want to change who we are.

The key is to learn who we truly are – not a set of damaging behaviors but an incredible interaction of many parts, all of which are connected to every other part of nature.  We learn to become like an orchestra conductor harmonizing many instruments to play a beautiful piece of music, and that music is our lives.

When I listen to Public Broadcasting programs of the oldies groups, I am still amazed at the talent of those groups.  It used to be all about the music.  While there is still talent to be found now, it is more about the money now.  I don’t hear the kind of talent there used to be (or at least that kind of talent can’t seem to get commercially successful).  We use a lot of throw away products now that are cheaply made.  Is that what is happening to our lives? 

Even our religions, which are supposed to guide us, are more cheaply made.  If you are a member of this religion you will go to heaven.  If you are a member of any other, you won’t.  So religions are based more on the fear of going to hell than on spiritual development.  That to me is “cheap” religion.

The cheapening of lives wears us out.  When we yearn for value in our lives, to develop ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, we continue to grow and improve throughout life.  We become healthier, stronger, smarter and happier.  The quality of our lives reflects the quality of our products and our art. 

Martial arts are called an “art” because they really train you to improve your everyday life.  The internal martial arts teach you how to let go of unnecessary movements and behaviors, to stay calm in the midst of turmoil and to become intimately aware of the balance of your “parts” so that you stay in harmony within yourself.  They teach you that sparring is not a struggle but the art of remaining calm and centered and yet effective. 

You strive not to conquer the opponent, but to conquer your own ineffectiveness.  You learn that your power comes from your awareness of what is going on around you and your stillness – reacting only as much as is necessary.  In this way you don’t wear yourself out by living life as a great struggle. 

As the minutes and hours go by in your life ask yourself if you are enjoying those minutes and hours.  How much of the day is spent being aggravated and worried and how much enjoying life?  Isn’t it worth investing time to change that proportion?  Life goes by quickly and time can’t be recovered. 

While ancient knowledge can’t help us with modern technology it can help us change that proportion.  It can help us stay healthier and more active throughout our lives, enjoy each day and become more effective.  That is the kind of technology some of the ancient cultures were good at.  While Tai-chi and Zookinesis may seem just like physical exercises or a martial art, they really teach so much more.  They are a treasure of ancient knowledge.

THE PUSH HANDS PARTY

During our “Push Hands” party this Saturday, many issues came up.  A new student wondered about the “magic” of the use of chi (internal energy).  Several asked why we breathe in when we strike in the martial aspect of Tai-chi while other martial arts styles breathe out when they strike.  This brought to mind what my chi-gung teachers taught me when I mentioned that some chi-gung teachers teach you to move the chi in the “microcosmic” and “macrocosmic” orbit in the body. 

They asked me if I thought I was God.  They explained that the body itself knows how to channel the chi properly and the only thing I could do was mess up that flow.  They said that what they were teaching me was to stop messing up the flow of chi and then the chi would flow just fine.  They explained their view that in the West we love to push and shove things around to fix them.  This was true of even Chinese teachers in modern times. 

But what good does it do to shove your chi in what you are told is the “correct” movement when you are still filled with habits of pushing chi around in improper ways.  You would just be creating a conflict between your different habits of shoving, some supposedly good and some bad.  Just stop shoving the chi around, they suggested.

The student who wondered about the “magic” of chi wanted to be able to knock someone down at a distance by holding up his hand.  There are several ways to approach this issue.  The main point is, why do you want to be able to knock someone down?  What are the inadequacies in yourself that cause you to want to be able to knock other people down? 

The second point is that these teachings require very detailed, long term study.  The mechanics of chi are very exacting and specific.  The relationship between chi and the physical body takes years of study and practice to understand, feel and master. 

When the term “magic” is used, it generally means, “How can I do this without any effort on my part?”  It is a sign of laziness.  You just want to be able to use a magic word, for example, and not put in the years of study. So a real student would need to examine his tendency toward laziness.  Magic is only magic when you don’t understand the mechanisms behind the result.

I met a couple of teachers who claimed that they could knock someone over at a distance.  They even demonstrated it on their own students.  But onlookers insisted that he do the same with them.  The teachers did not want to demonstrate their skills on anyone but their own students.  After much insistence these teachers did try to demonstrate this “chi at a distance” on others but failed. 

The point is that this chi at a distance is a training exercise.  The student must be very sensitive to the teacher’s chi.  When the student feels this chi, he allows his body to move according to the characteristics of the chi he feels.  The chi doesn’t knock him over but the student cooperates via his reaction to the chi.

There is great magic in chi training.  It is NOT the magic of seeing great things and not knowing how they happened.  It is the magic of being able to see simple things and KNOW how they happened. 

When an experienced teacher practices his form the onlooker will see the slightest movements with barely any effort.  A beginner at learning a tai-chi form will use exaggerated movements and seem to use a lot of effort and tension.  Most onlookers will think the beginner’s tai-chi is spectacular because it is big and “loud”.  The experienced teacher barely looks as though he is doing anything and is not very exciting. 

Magic in this case would consist of being able to see the incredible control of internal movement (within the body) resulting in such slight external movement (movement of the body in space) of the experienced teacher.  Magic is the ability to see the great in the insignificant.  It is the ability to let go of all the habits of tension, mental patterns and chi blockage to arrive at the simple, natural state of being. Magic, in the real sense, should not be a compensation for feelings of inadequacy that appeal to your laziness. 

Another discussion later in the day centered around this question:  Should you lead the student on by promising great magic (in the sense that the student understands it) in the hope that he will eventually get and appreciate the real training?  There was a story told by the Buddha.  A man came home to find his house burning with his three little girls inside.  He called out to them, “Come here at once.  I have wonderful presents for you.”  When they came out they were upset that there were no presents.  But the father just wanted to save his children.

For my part, I cannot play games like that.  I have to tell the students the bare truth.  My feeling is, “What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”  The result is that I have few students but they are wonderful students.  It may take them a long time to “get” things but they understand that I am not playing games with them.  I don’t give them any room to hide in fantasies.  There is nothing wrong with fantasies but I prefer to leave that to Hollywood. 

Another point that was brought up dealt with acupuncture points.  I was taught that every point on and within the body is an acupuncture point.  Every cell and even every part of every cell is a center for the transformation of energy.  The acupuncture points that you see on the charts are just useful points for healing purposes.  If you work a specific point it will have a specific result.  But this doesn’t mean that only those spots marked on the charts are acupuncture points. 

I believe that in any good Oriental healing school this point is brought out.  But the students often fail to appreciate or even to hear it.  Many such students think that chi only runs through the meridians and not everywhere throughout the whole body.  My teachers emphasized that chi must flow through every organ and cell of the body. 

I showed a chart I had made to bring out what I felt was an essential point to understand the principles of tai-chi and of chi-gung.  If you truly understand the chart, a lot of the tai-chi principles will make more sense.

The chart basically explained that there are two substances in the world and two forces (according to these principles).  The two substances are matter and consciousness.  These substances are part of everything in the universe.  This means that consciousness flows through all matter and is not just a by-product of chemical reactions of the human brain.

Consciousness expresses itself differently depending on what it is flowing through.  Yet the consciousness within a plant is the same “stuff” as our own.

The two forces in the universe are the yin force, pulling towards the center (gravity) and the yang force, flowing outward from the center.   Both forces work on both substances.  When we speak of the yang force in terms of matter, we use the term, “chi”.  When we speak of the yang force in terms of consciousness, we use the term, “creativity”. 

In its most fundamental state, matter and consciousness are one and the same.  But the two forces “play” at creating an apparent separation between the two (the yang force separates matter and consciousness).  The variation of influence of the yin and yang forces on the two substances at any particular moment is one meaning of the yin/yang symbol.

This is the same as an artist who steps away from his canvas to get a better overall view of his painting.  When matter and consciousness appear to be separate, we have a stronger feeling of self or individuality.  When they merge, when the force of gravity takes over, the two blend together.  Your consciousness (which I call attention) and the world around you merge and you loose track of time and even of yourself. 

When you relax, the force of gravity allows your body to sink to its center (the tan-tien).  Since the earth is so large and exerts such a large gravitational force, our center then sinks to the center of the earth.  This is called, “sung”.  It is translated as “sinking” but more specifically it is the sinking of every point in the body into its center (tan-tien) and also the sinking of the center of the body to the center of the earth.   It is yielding to the gravity of both the body itself and of the earth. 

In this way when you yield to gravity you seem to merge, not only with the earth but with your body and with all the natural surroundings.  I learned these principles while learning Zookinesis and that made learning tai-chi much easier to understand.

So now let’s get to the issue of breathing in and out.  When you breathe in, this corresponds to drawing energy upward from the earth and expanding.  Breathing in is yang and expansive.  Breathing out corresponds to yielding to gravity and sinking into the earth.  When you expand, energy flows outward which results in the punch or kick or push.  When you sink you absorb the opponent’s force and ground it or circle it around back to him. 

At the moment of impact your fist “feels” the alignment of the opponent’s body.  This creates a trained effect in your body to line up all your joints in such a way that the upward, expansive force is directly aimed at the opponent and the opponent’s resistance is absorbed by your body.  This re-alignment of the joints takes just a fraction of a second and takes a lot of training to accomplish.  But it allows us to use the ground as our “floor”, to expand upward from the ground. 

In hard style martial arts, their own body tension is used as the ground from which the punch issues.  So their body tension fights against the strike and only a fraction of their potential force is released.  The only tension used in tai-chi fighting is in our movements and just enough so that the arm (or leg or elbow etc.) doesn’t collapse when we strike.  We want an exponential explosion of force shooting into the opponent.  This can only be done when the body is as relaxed as possible.  Hard styles breathe out and then hold their breath when they strike to achieve the maximum tension of the body.  That’s why they’re called “hard styles”.

These are the types of issues we go over at the push hands parties at the Long Island School of Tai-chi-Chuan.  We show how Taoist principles apply to our Tai-chi practice.

SPARRING LIKE THE OLD DAYS

I recently had the opportunity to spar with my original instructor, Tom, in Grandmaster William C. C. Chen’s school in New York City.  It was like the old days again and reminded me why Tai-chi-Chuan sparring is so different from other styles.  We flowed in between each other’s strikes, slipping each other’s strikes to the sides. 

I also sparred with a young man who was practicing for the tournaments.  He seemed hesitant to strike me with full force.  I had to just stand there and ask him to keep hitting me as hard as he could to convince him I would not break.  When you are used to sparring with full force, the little taps that some people give you can be annoying.  You need to know that the partner is at least trying to hit you with full force so you are sure that if you felt just a tap it was because you successfully neutralized his strike. 

One of the main features of Tai-chi-Chuan sparring is that your full focus of attention is inside the partner’s body.  His strikes are just brushed aside.  You don’t focus on them because you don’t block them.  Rather, you are fully aware of the spaces between you and him and slip your body into those spaces to evade the strikes.  From there you can deliver your own strikes.  Whoever is the master of the spaces controls the sparring.

The strikes emanate explosively, exponentially increasing in force as they move outward, like a cannonball being shot out of the cannon.  As quickly as they shoot out, they bounce back into place setting up the next punch.  Each strike has the full force of the body behind it and the power comes from the legs and hips.

Any strike has to have a solid base to shoot out from.  In Tai-chi-Chuan that base is the floor.  In most styles of martial arts the base is the body’s tension.  In those styles strikes emanate from the tense back and shoulders.  The strikes are not bouncy and explosive but are used like battering rams.  The body cannot slip into empty spaces because it is needed to serve as a “floor”, a base for the strikes. 

By using the real floor as the base you free up the entire body.  You can stay within the striking distance of the partner but remain “invisible” because you “exist” only within the spaces.  Once you leave the spaces, to block for example, you are exposed. 

The orientation of your sparring strategy is  tied to the partner’s tensions and force if you block, rather than to the empty spaces which allow you to move, and to the body of the partner, which you strike as is the case in Tai-chi-Chuan.

Another strategy of some styles is to hold the arms in front of the body and face at all times for protection.  In Tai-chi-Chuan we allow the arms to flow and be functional.  Although they remain close to the body and face, they are allowed to creatively interact with the partner.  If the arms are held rigidly, then you can just punch his hands into his own face.  You can also strike the sides or the top of his head.  I can tell you from much personal experience that full strikes to the sides and top of the head are very effective.  The striker must use a loose fist when striking the skull so he doesn’t hurt his fingers.  Since the strike is explosive, the force is not just felt at the surface but penetrates the head and body. 

If your partner holds his arms in front of his body you can feel free to strike his arms.  The arms can only take so much before tiring from the beating.  You can certainly add grappling and just pull the arms away so you can punch or kick.  Pulling the arms also destabilizes him so that you can more easily deliver a strike to the legs.  (We usually kick mostly to the legs and a bit to the midsection.  Kicks higher than that make the kicker too vulnerable). 

It is important to notice where the partner is focusing his attention.  If he if focused only on your torso, for example, you can punch his legs so that he will no longer be sure that your strikes will only be coming to his upper body.  The legs can only take so much striking.  Usually when you spar with kicking, the partner cannot focus only on the torso and head because his legs are constantly being kicked. 

Yet many styles kick mostly to the torso and head so the partner doesn’t need to divide his attention.  He can disregard the lower part of the body.  Tai-chi-Chuan uses this vulnerability by striking the legs, torso, head and arms so the partner must keep his attention on all these areas.  We train to develop our attention, as described in many of the other articles in this section, so we are comfortable with an expanded and sustained attention.

As we are aware of the pattern of the partner’s attention, we focus our strikes to areas of his weakest attention at that moment.  This requires us to develop the sense of attention so that we can perceive how strong his attention is at any point in the sparring area.  We keep our bodies in the areas of his weakest attention so it is difficult for him to hit us.  

My wife Jean also had the opportunity to spar with Tom and she enjoyed it.  We vowed to practice sparring more with each other.  We each have not sparred for many years.  This is because fewer and fewer people are interested in traditional training anymore and we ended our sparring classes. 

When they find out that they must first learn a Tai-chi form, the Zookinesis chi-gung exercises and push hands before sparring, prospective students lose interest.  They can go to a martial arts school down the block and start sparring after only a few months.  These schools also offer colored belts, while Tai-chi-Chuan, and my own fighting system, Phantom Kung-fu, do not offer any belts. 

The internal systems at my school require that you let go of tensions, inefficient behavior patterns and bad attitudes before beginning sparring.  Most people get involved in martial arts to reinforce their behavior patterns and attitudes, not to go through a transformation.

After the class, Tom and I talked about the “old days”, when there was much more excitement in the martial arts and when people were willing to experiment with alternative approaches and ideas.  The traditional schools used to be filled with students. 

Part of me is waiting for those days to return but I know that you can’t just wait for the times to be right because life will be over too soon.  And wasn’t the lesson of those more creative times that we each need to create our own lives no matter what is going on around us?  The “eternal flame” of the traditional training is fed by continued practice.  Jean and I continue to visit Grandmaster Chen’s classes whenever we can to remind us of that.

THE SPIRIT WORLD

The concept of a spirit world, common to almost all pre-industrialized cultures, lies at the heart of developing and learning to use internal energy (“chi”).  Zookinesis explains this concept very simply.  We humans have senses that we do not use anymore.  The way we have been trained to use our attention no longer allows those senses to function. 

If we were to fully develop our attention, all of our senses would work again.  We would then see the world very differently – more fully.  The world we would see once our senses were restored is called “the spirit world”. 

Two of those senses are the sense of internal energy (biological energy) and the sense of the dynamics of attention (how consciousness flows through the body).  The difference between an “internal” martial art and an “external” martial art is the ability to perceive and use these senses. 

Each part of the body becomes more functional, alive, active and yet relaxed.  You can move one small part of your body out of the way of a strike, for example, without moving the entire body.  When you are grappling you can absorb the force of the partner through your body either into the ground or around back into the partner.  Your body is able to absorb, use and transform energy instantaneously. 

In Taoist terms this would be called, “Taoist alchemy”.  To many people Taoist alchemy is known as training to increase longevity or to increase sexual energy.  But its benefits go far beyond these things.

Taoist alchemy restores our biological consciousness which every animal has, while allowing us to retain that special human consciousness we cherish so much.  Early humans developed a way of developing the thinking mind.  “The elements” were a way of categorizing the world they experienced into five distinct groups.  I have written about this in other “weekly lesson” articles.  Our civilization rests on this particular development of the human mind.  And so we divide our world into matter, space, energy, time and consciousness.  We divide our personal lives into our bodies, minds, personal drive or energy (“will”), emotions and again, consciousness.

But in modern times our educational system has concentrated so much on this categorization or thinking process that it has ignored developing other aspects of our human nature or what I would call our “animal nature”.  We pride ourselves in being superior to animals.

But I think we can all agree that something in our civilization is missing.  There is an inner awareness and a deep inner satisfaction with life that seems to have gotten lost.  In my many years of teaching I have found what I feel is the basis of this lost “animal awareness” or animal nature.  It is the fear that if we perceive fully, if we can see the spirit world and function within it, then our thinking abilities will weaken.  There is a deep-seated illusion that full awareness competes with full ability to think clearly.

The root of that illusion is our weak attention.  This is the root of all the problems.  Our attention is just not strong enough to think and to have our bodies function well at the same time.  If we do not maintain an animal awareness in which attention is distributed evenly throughout the body, then attention actually weakens.  When the attention is so concentrated on thinking as it is today, then the rest of you suffers. 

Attention (or consciousness) is experienced (by Tai-chi students) as an energy which flows through each living thing and therefore is connected to all other living things.  By concentrating it in the thinking process you cut attention off from the rest of your body and the rest of nature.  It becomes like a lake, usually fed by a stream that suddenly is cut off from the stream.  It then turns into a smelly swamp.

Attention that is not connected to the rest of nature decays.  Just see what happens when our political leaders think they know so much that they don’t listen to people who disagree with them.  They don’t consider all views and facts.  The result is poor leadership.

On a biological level all our cells and organs need attention flowing through them.  For most people the body is just a big thing below our brains that carries our brains around.  Tai-chi and Zookinesis teaches the harmonious relationship between the thinking process we have developed and the animal consciousness.  The two don’t have to be competing.  They can re-enforce each other.

In the internal martial arts, for example, you need to fill your opponent with your attention so that you feel every action and intention of each of his muscles and joints even before they emanate as a strike.  You flow with the opponent, allowing him to control the movements but you control the relationship between you.  That relationship is that you move away from his incoming force and into his open, unprotected areas.

Internal martial arts training requires that you can perceive the spirit world before you even start to learn the actual martial arts techniques.  If you can’t see inside your own body and that of your opponent, then you have no business even beginning to learn the fighting.

In modern martial arts schools the students want to fight right away and not have to go through any internal changes at all.  “Just show me the techniques”.  Modern martial arts schools (with some exceptions) are all about the techniques and not about the heart of the martial arts. 

Martial arts is a personal path, much like a religion or a philosophy.  The fact that you are learning to punch and kick people is just the method of teaching the path.  You are actually learning about your own desire to be violent, about its roots and about how to resolve those issues.  You are also learning how to see inside the opponent and understand him on an internal level.  While effectively defending yourself you can still remain calm and not have the violent emotions of the opponent duplicate themselves inside of you.  If the opponent has transferred his pattern of violence inside of you then you lose, even if you have won that particular fight.

And that’s how it is in everyday life.  There are many angry people walking around.  Many of my students are doctors.  One told me that many doctors nowadays are “practicing angry”.  This means that patients are angry at doctors and ready to sue them.  Medical insurance companies look for every excuse not to pay the doctor because perhaps, the patient’s name was misspelled on one of the papers.  This makes the doctors angry.

Our culture is a reflection of our nature as individuals.  We put all of our attention into our calculating minds and fear allowing that energy to connect with the rest of our body and the rest of nature.  Then our culture is composed of closed individuals who fear their connections to other people.  We fear being connected, letting our attention, our feelings merge.  Relationships are strained. 

I remember as a child watching situation comedies on television.  They seemed to all be based on the same premise.  The husband and wives conspire against each other to get what they want.  I wondered, “Is this what a relationship should really be about?” 

Have we become a culture of fearful people conspiring against each other to get what we want?  I guess it’s silly to even ask the question.  But is this what you want for yourself?

The martial arts seem to be so much about fearful people conspiring to hit each other to “win over” each other.  Yet, whether an internal or external martial art, this training is supposed to be about self awareness and the ability to live in harmony with other people.  It is really about spiritual development as defined by becoming a fully developed human being.  Your thinking mind must be involved in learning the martial arts but when you spar you use the animal attention. 

When animal attention combines harmoniously with the thinking mind you are in the spirit world and you are fully human.  You can then perceive the energies behind the physical manifestations.  As an example you can feel the dynamics of attention and internal energy that leads to a person’s behavior.  You feel less fearful because you can perceive the origins of a person’s behavior before they manifest physically and you can be ready.  You don’t get taken by surprise.

In Push Hands practice, you begin to neutralize the partner’s incoming force at the exact same time as the force begins to come in to you.  You saw the origins of that force in the preparation of the partner and know what to expect.  Push Hands then takes place in real time.  Yet as a beginner you didn’t realize the force was coming in until it was right on top of you and then it was too late to neutralize it. 

Imagine if you could see things coming at you much earlier and prepare for them.  Many people can do this economically.  They study the economic trends and know that a recession or that good times are around the corner.  They can then prepare for the future.  They use their thinking minds to see into the future.  We can do this with our animal attention as well.

Just for a moment, think of the trends of how the behaviors of people are changing.  Then look into the future.  Are you happy with what you see?  All we can do as individuals is to develop ourselves.  Our nature as individuals can then affect those around us.  Each interaction with another person is a chance to decide the future of our culture.

I always ask myself, “Am I in the spirit world right now?”  Have I let the angers and conflicts of the world around me program my own behavior or do I have some say over my behavior?  The concept of the spirit world helps me to maintain my direction in life.

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

A MORE POWERFUL LIFE

In an internal martial arts system, the smaller your movement, the more powerful it is.  The goal is to send your energy into the other person.  If you can do that without using up that force in your own movements or in tensing up your body, you can send almost all of your force out.  In external martial arts systems, the body tenses up to provide solidity.  There can be no small subtle movements within the body and so the body moves in a stick-like fashion resulting in large movements.

In an internal system such as Tai-chi-Chuan and Phantom Kung-fu each muscle is under your control and is kept relaxed.  You can move several muscles and joints just a tiny bit each to result in the strike so that the overall movement of the whole body is very little. 

Power comes out in a spiral pattern from the ground up through each joint.  This spiral pattern magnifies the force.  At the moment of impact the body tenses just enough to prevent the arm from collapsing and to allow the force to flow through the arm.  The internal martial artist is aware enough not to tense up even the slightest bit more than is necessary.

It is the degree of his or her awareness, to be able to make such subtle adjustments in just a fraction of a second that results in power.   If the martial arts student can make his concentration fine enough to make these tiny adjustments, he can be powerful.  And so there is a general saying that the smaller you can make your attention, the more powerful you are. 

As an example, if you think that a punch is the thrusting of the arm forward or turning the whole body to thrust the arm forward, then you are only aware of the arm as a whole or only the movement of the whole body.  If you think of a strike as a quarter turn of the spine and a slight upward quarter turn of the hip, your movement will be much faster, more connected to the body and to the ground and more powerful.  As far as your attention is concerned, you will be striking from the ground up and from the inside of the body out, which is the proper mechanics for sparring.  External stylists generally keep their attention on the outside of the body, keeping their bodies rigid.

When you can bring your attention to a point you become very powerful.  When you can work with many of these points at once then you can really start to learn.  Internal stylists also learn to bring their attention into the joints and muscles of the sparring partner so that he feels completely connected to the partner.  In this way he can feel what the partner is going to do before he actually does it.

The martial arts practices have their greatest benefit in everyday life.  If you can take this training into dealing with other people, with business strategies, with goals in life and with your health then your life can become powerful.  A few examples will explain.  It is very easy to get caught up in the emotional patterns of other people.  This is because most people cannot bring their attention into the subtle changes of feeling inside their bodies.  If your attention were everywhere inside of your body and at the same time was inside of the other person, you could tell how the other person’s emotional patterns were affecting you.  You could see the mechanism of how your own feelings and reactions change due to the other person.  You could then take control of that mechanism so that you do not copy their emotional patterns or even react blindly against those patterns.  You can remain centered and examine how you can be most effective.

In the martial arts, each partner tries to control the behavior of the other, confusing them or freezing their attention.  In everyday life, most peoples’ emotional and mental patterns are so chaotic that they constantly damage the people around them.  It is important to be so aware that you are immune to that damage. 

On the other hand, your own behavior patterns from the past, may have taken control of your present behavior.  When you react to a situation it may not be in the most effective way or even the least bit logical.  If your attention is so pinpointed that you can feel how your own patterns are affecting you, then you can get beyond them.  They only have control if you can’t see them, if you feel you ARE them. 

That is the most powerful effect of developing the fineness of attention.  We have come to believe that our identity is the patterns of behavior and reactions that have programmed us.  Most people have really lost the awareness of themselves.  When you reach your original creative, connected self there is great calm and joy.  But most people are trying to follow the “breadcrumbs” home, meandering through the thick forest in search of themselves. 

The finer your attention, the more you can see the mechanisms that control your behavior, the more you can see what is not you and the quicker you can discover the source of your creativity, of what makes you a unique individual. 

At that point you can see that while we are all unique individuals, we are also completely connected to each other and to nature.  At that point we can finally love fully and let go of anger and resentment that may have been seething inside us for many years – about issues long since gone.

I have also found that in business, you are able to get to the heart of any negotiation and better understand the issues that bother the other person.  Very often in business negotiations the other person is not saying exactly what they want.  They’re trying to be coy.  It is important to sort out the issues so that you immediately understand where the other person stands.  This makes for more effective negotiations for both sides.  If your attention is strong and can follow many lines of discussion at the same time, it is easier to sort out the underlying themes and get to the heart of the issue.

Training the attention in this way is not easy.  The Tai-chi forms and Push Hands exercises and the Zookinesis exercises teach the attention to seep into every crevice of the body, to follow many patterns of energy and movement at the same time and to constantly re-adjust the body and mind to changing external conditions.  It is said that it takes five years of Push Hands training to be able to consider yourself to be a beginner.  This is because the condition of our attention in modern times is so poor.  Our attention can be considered to be in critical condition – almost dead.  To bring it back to even normal health takes a lot of work.  But the result of that work is not only a more effective life but great health and joy. 

There are two reactions to practicing Push Hands among my students.  The first is laughter.  They laugh at how dead their attention is compared to how healthy they know it can become.  The second is shaking their heads and saying that they can’t believe how stupid their bodies are.  They know what they should be doing, but the attention is so rigid and so programmed with useless patterns that it is a great struggle to free the attention.  It is as if their attention is entangled in a net. 

And yet, as a teacher, I see that they are making great progress in every lesson.  It is just such a long journey back home!

You can go through the rest of your life knowing and being yourself and enjoying the thrill of living or trying to follow the breadcrumbs through the forest as if you are lost.

ANIMAL STYLES OF KUNG-FU

Kung-fu systems such as Tai-chi-Chuan and Phantom Kung-fu are based on the way animals defend themselves.  The student learns to copy the body mechanics and skills of several species in his sparring. 

In the 1960’s and 1970’s I owned an animal importing company to provide wild animals to organizations and individuals that were studying how to breed them in captivity and develop captive breeding populations.  Every few years, I traveled through the jungles of Central America to study the animals and for adventure.

Up until the 1990’s, I kept a collection of over 150 reptiles, many of which were part of breeding populations and some were used for educational programs.  My sparring students were required to work with these animals to get a feeling for their power and body mechanics. 

It was exciting to introduce new students to the animals.  They had never seen these species before in person.  The black, rough necked monitor lizard sat in its own huge cage.  At six feet long, thirty inches tall (when straightening out its legs) and about two feet wide (when puffed up), it was an impressive animal, especially when hissing and whipping its tail.  Its long neck, covered with large spiked scales and long, narrow head and nose gave it a bizarre appearance.  It was as black as Darth Vader. 

The students had to enter the cage and, while the dragon lizard hissed and whipped its tail, the student had to pet it to calm it down.  Soon the lizard’s hiss changed to what was obviously a hiss of ecstasy.  The ability to walk right over to what seemed like a live, angry dragon, changed the perspective of the student.  It allowed him to overcome his fears and spar better. 

I found that each encounter served to alter the state of consciousness of the student, gradually bringing him or her to be able to connect better with the animals, and with each other.  It allowed the student to be able to perceive the consciousness of the animal and understand how he could control his own behavior to control the behavior of the animal so it would calm down.   This is an essential skill in sparring.

The pine and bull snakes were great teachers.  Their hiss was so loud it seemed like you were standing right next to a steam locomotive.  You would walk near the cage and the incredible hiss would suddenly be upon you.  It was very hard not to jump into the air with fright even though you knew it was just a harmless snake.  The student would pick it up and the snake dug the tip of its tail (which was fairly sharp) into his arm as it stared at him.  It looked like it was saying, “Now take that!” 

The students soon realized that as frightening as the animals seemed at first, they were very gentle when handled correctly.  I once bought a thirteen foot reticulated python from someone because it was too vicious for them to handle.  I thought this would make a great animal for my students to handle.  But when I brought it into the Tai-chi studio the snake became very tame.  We couldn’t get it to misbehave if we wanted to.  I had played up this snake as being very tough to handle.  I guess it sensed the peaceful atmosphere and felt safe. 

I used to have a very large African python.  This species is very active and very intelligent.  As you hold it, the snake brings its face right next to yours to see you (snakes’ eyesight isn’t very good).  Its movements are sudden.  It will quickly turn around, come right up to your face and then just stare at you without moving (just sticking out its tongue).  I have found that there are some people who don’t like that (though I can’t imagine why. It seems endearing to me) If you can get used to the African python, you can get used to the intensity of sparring. 

I used to bring in many species of monkeys and to keep them from getting bored, we would play fight with each other.  I got into the cages and just started mixing it up.  The monkeys loved it so much that each time I stopped fighting they would complain loudly to keep playing.  So many hours were spent fighting with the monkeys that it was easy for me to spar in their “style”.  The same was true of snakes and lizards of course.  But I worked with many strange animals as well.  The best fighters were the tayras and grisons which are related to the weasels but much larger.  Each species loved to play fight and they had more strength and endurance than I had.  Raccoon-like animals like the coati mundi were also a lot of fun.  I probably spent two hours a day fighting with various animals to keep them amused. 

Sparring with people then became easy.  No person was as quick or had as much endurance as the animals.  The animals were my real sparring partners.  It would be impossible to duplicate the training you get when working directly with animals.  Yet few people have this opportunity.  These days I have too much work to maintain a large collection of animals and so my students don’t receive that kind of training anymore.  I hope one day to create a training center where people can learn directly from animals as well as from human teachers, as I did many years ago.  Wouldn’t it be a great experience to learn martial arts and healing exercises from both a human and from animal teachers? 

My students and I used to have long talks about what we learned from our experiences with animals and how to apply them to sparring or to healing.  I could tell which animal the student had been working with from how he sparred that day. 

You always have to respect the animal’s power, though.  I remember working in the Bronx Zoo one summer.  I worked with the small mammals, the monkeys and the apes.  I opened the shift case for a gorilla.  This allows the gorilla to move to this separate cage so you can clean its main cage.  After he entered the shift cage, he sat down.  I then began to close the large iron door.  It weighed five hundred pounds and was closed by pushing an iron bar.  It took all my might to gradually push it closed but about one inch before closing, the gorilla placed his finger on the door and flung it back.  The door came crashing open.    I believe the gorilla gave me a little smirk.

When I spent two months in Nicaragua we had to catch our own food.  The townspeople were going on a caiman hunt (caiman are a type of alligator) and I was invited.  At night you can only see their eyes reflecting back from your flashlight.  The head caiman wrangler used a forked stick to catch the caiman’s neck and he and another man flung it into the canoe.  He turned to me and said, “Grab its head and close its mouth”.  Now, this 10 foot caiman was snapping its jaws and thrashing its tail.  I wasn’t prepared to move towards the snapping jaws let alone to grab them.  But the alternative was for us all to just stand there with a snapping caiman in the canoe.  So I jumped on top of its head and bear hugged its jaws.  The head wrangler then tied the mouth with a rope.  We ate well that night.

If you can jump towards the snapping jaws of a Central American alligator, you won’t fear sparring or for that matter, doing anything else in life.

The animal forms of Kung-fu give you a taste of fighting like wild animals.  I believe that a teacher of animal styles should have extensive experience with the animals of those styles.  Otherwise you are just doing “empty” movements with no real experience of what is behind the movements.  When the student spars with the teacher, the student should really feel that he is sparring with an animal because the animal spirit is indeed, in the teacher.

As our civilization moves further away from nature, the Kung-fu forms can help us keep a feeling for the wild so that at least, our bodies can remain natural.

HOME OF ATTENTION

This week’s lesson at the Long Island School of Tai-chi-Chuan is about the home of the attention. We usually experience our attention as originating from our head and then going to what we are paying attention to.
In Tai-chi, each part of the body has attention. Attention is experienced as an energy flowing through us. The energy of attention brings each cell and organ alive so that each part of the body is aware.
Rather than moving our attention from the head to the foot, for example, our foot must be aware of itself. When we practice Push Hands or Sparring (Free Fighting), each part of the body is like the member of a basketball team. Each is independent and full of skill and awareness. Yet each is also very aware of every other member of the team and functions in harmony with the team.
Our job, in Tai-chi, is to magnify the attention of each part of the body and to connect each part to the rest of the body. Then, we become more spontaneous in our activities and skill seems to come when needed. In this mode, we do not need to switch our awareness first from one thing, then to another. The whole body is aware of all the intricacies of the situation, the state of readiness of each muscle of your and your partner’s body, the state of balance in each of you, etc. One part of the body can do one thing while another does another thing. Your body is a team.
I find the Zookinesis exercises to be essential in teaching this type of awareness. Without that training, Tai-chi would be very difficult to learn on a higher level. So the “home” of the attention is in each cell, each muscle, bone and organ of the body. We call these “homes” of attention, “Body-Minds”. In Zookinesis mythology they are called, “The dragon’s lair”.

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).