Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Between Heaven and Earth

We are between heaven and earth. We are a mix of both aspects.

The dense physical, heavy matter of our body sinks down towards the earth. This occurs naturally as we relax. First we must align the body to allow gravity to pass centrally through from the top of the head to the centre of the feet then we can relate to the heavenly ch'i. This is the yang ch'i and it moves upwards when we raise the Shen.

How do we raise the Shen?

The Shen is an aspect of the mind. When we are interested and inspired there is a kind of excitment to the mind. So the Shen is similar to excitement yet not quite. When we have a sense of awe in the face of a natural wonder, or feel compassion for our friend, or can manifest creativity, these are all moments of increased Shen.

How do we cultivate Shen?

When I wake in the morning I remind myself that I am alive to the wonder of life on this planet. It is not something to take for granted. It is truely marvelous. Then after stretching a little, I try to get the feeling of ch'i, even if it is only slight. I reflect on the day ahead and inspire myself to do something useful and extend out to others as much as possible.

The feeling of aliveness and interest in connecting with one's experience is a way of cultivating the Shen. If possible train yourself to stay connected with the way of this. The happiness that comes from this simple practice will increase.

Dr. Chi's advice was to 'forget self and become one with the tao.'

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Central Equilibrium : How to develop naturally.

First it is necessary to align the body physically over the foot before taking a step. Only when the body is perfectly vertically aligned can you relax downwards to produce a force which passes through the centre of the standing foot (Kid 1). The fullness of the standing leg increases in this way and at the same time allows the stepping leg to empty.

When the fullness has increased sufficiently the other leg will empty and move with minimum effort.

To avoid the mind loosing contact with the t'ai chi force and to achieve a dynamic responsive attitude during the application it is important to relax the leg muscles completely. The muscles around the ankle and feet are the most difficult to relax. When the full and empty of the legs is achieved completely internally using relaxation and sinking the t'ai chi force and application will increase their function.
Bristol 24.1.09

Thursday, 22 January 2009


Sinking is the internal, downward movement of ch'i. It occurs as a result of relaxation and allowing a change in the substantial solidity of the body - the body softens and melts. It has a direct effect on the increase of substantial, solid accumulation, or storage, of force.

When a substance melts it transforms its state from a solid unmoving state to a fluid movement influenced by gravity.

The key ideas are : Relaxation, Transformation, Melting.
Bristol 22.1.09

T'ai Chi force is directly related to the Substantial.

What is the substantial?

When relaxation is sufficient and the body functions as a unified whole, when the ch'i is able to flow throughout the body, then it is possible to practise internally and move the substantial with martial application.

It is necessary to have a good habit to move according to t'ai chi principles in order to be able to pay enough attention to the internal experience. When the body is a unified whole and is able to move from the feet there is a quiet unified sensation. When the body movement lacks harmony the internal sensation is like noise. To bring complete quiet to the internal sensation requires a great care.

The substantial becomes apparent after accumulating as a result of sinking. There is an increase in the sensation of heaviness moving down towards the ground or to the feet. From the foot the solid heavy sensation can be directed to the appropriate place according to the application. When we practise we keep awareness of the solid feeling of force. It is moved using the mind intention.
Bristol 22.2.09

Contemplating the seven features of T'ai Chi

Dr. Chi Chiang-Tao recommended that we contemplate yin, yang, full, empty, open, close and central equilibrium.

You can say that yin, yang, full, empty, open and close are all aspects of the same principle of dynamic opposites. They have no meaning in isolation and are defined in relation to each other. One leg may be full in relation to the other. Central equilibrium is the central axis around which the other six qualities manifest.

How do we contemplate these opposites? In some traditions of chi kung it is important to separate yin and yang and it is true of t'ai chi. This means that they approach their extremes in practice. When one side of the body becomes full the other side is empty and we cultivate this difference so that the full becomes more full and the empty becomes more empty. At the beginning this separation is slow to manifest. It requires a very good level of relaxation and the patience to wait until the process of becoming full has reached a natural conclusion. Although this is a slow process there should not be any stagnation or stopping.

When taking a step it is a common mistake to try to move the leg before it is completely empty. If you do this you will need muscles to move the leg on its own, separately and not be able to move with the body as one piece. This fault creates clumsiness and prevents speed in martial application.
Bristol 22.1.09

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Coordinating the two sides of the body

When my opponent stikes I empty his or her force with sticking and neutralising on the appropriate side. In some postures the force can be taken into the body and returned through the opposite side. To achieve this the waist must be the commander and the feet rooted. As the body turns, the back is relaxed and open and the orbit of the turn contains the force and feeds it through the other arm.

The muscles at the top of the back need to be loose and the shape of the body through the arms will contain the forces if you find the circle.
Bristol 17.1.09

Forming the fist : punch down and brush knee punch

The coordination of brush knee punch downwards is timed with the stepping leg. The fist should not be formed too early. Every movement is timely. When deflecting and sticking the hand does not begin to form the fist. When stepping the left wrist is substantial as you stick to your partner, as the substantial feeling moves through the leg as you shift your weight, the puch is formed and the force increases as the weight shifts.

In brush knee push, again it is the hand that brushes the knee that has a substantial force during the step. The force for the push arrives during the weight shift. When the shoulder relaxes the elbow feels substantial as the hand moves forward. The downward movement of the elbow creates a spiral to the hand movement.

The spiral force moving through the forearm is common to many postures although has different functions - not always when a force moves through the arm to produce a strike.
Bristol 17.1.09

Moving the Sword with agility.

In the sword form some of the transitions between one posture and another require long steps. It is often an unconscious habit to bring awareness to the stepping leg and break the connection with the t'ai chi force.

The correct way is to move the force from the foot and extend beyond the end of the sword according to the application. The mind intent moves the force and does not pay attention to the stepping leg. If you pay attention to full and empty move the substantial feeling from the ground the stepping leg will follow the body movement and be directed by the waist. In this way the movement will be agile.

If you move the body before it is balanced and before the substantial has sunk through the standing leg your movement will be clumsy and the force will break. The body will have external force not internal.

At a later stage it will not be necessary to sink before stepping. When the body and mind are relaxed and the headtop is lifted the body is naturally sunk.

White Crane Spreads Wings

Thursday, 15 January 2009

From 'lifting hands going into shoulder stroke.'

When the arms come down from lifting hands position they do not move independently.

Our habit is often to experience the arms as something separate from the body. When they move this feeling of separation can be increased. This is a mistake.

We should adjust the feeling sensation in the body and arms so that, on a feeling level, they have an unbroken sensation. The body and the arms do not feel as distinctly different. This adjustment can be achieved in part by making the arms feel a little bit more solid or substantial and the body lighter or less substantial - so they feel roughly the same.

When you wish the arms to come down to begin the pull before shoulder stroke, sink the substantial feeling in the body towards the feet. As you begin this allow that force to transmit to the arms and hands. There is a slight delay. First the substantial feeling sinks and then slightly later the arms move.

The arms function as an expression of the downward sink that you have created in the body. If the arms feel different from the body you will not be able to transmit the force through the hands to pull down.
Bristol 15.1.09

Question : what does "drawing out the bones" mean?

"drawing out the bones" is part of the technique to get the ch'i. It literally means that you extend through the body in such a way that the bones are separated.

To achieve this there is a feeling of extending outwards from the centre of the body in all directions. First the body must be 'rooted.' This means that the weight is allowed to sink after body alignment and deep relaxation. The downward sensation accumulates in the lower body centred around the lower tan tien (roughly three finger widths below the navel and three finger widths distance into the body). This creates a heavy feeling that one can draw from in an upward direction through the top of the head. The spine is lengthened in this way, or you can say the bones are drawn out in an upward direction.

In a similar way the body is opened laterally - so the upper body feels broader. The arms are lengthened away from the spine, through the shoulder, elbow, wrist and finger joints and out beyond the fingers.

All of this is achieved using the mind because it is important to extend in a linear way, outwards and upwards simultaneously. After you have done this the body feels expanded and is relaxed into this expanded state.
Bristol 15.1.09

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


When we anticipate we lose openness.

We expect things to be the same as they were before but they are not. We cannot rely on events unfolding the way we suppose they will because they will not.

Our brain sees patterns and similarities otherwise we would be bombarded with sensory overload and yet, at a deeper level of perception, nothing is ever the same as any previous moment. We cannot see these changes and so our unconscious conclusion is that they do not change then we have a habit to think things do not change.

From a martial point of view and in our daily life this is a dangerous view. If an opponent does something that we do not expect then we will be surprised and may not be able to respond appropriately. Therefore it is better to not expect anything in particular. If our friend behaves in a way that we do not expect then we can be disappointed if we find it difficult to adapt and be flexible.

When practising the form, at the end of each posture move the mind to begin the next movement. Avoid anticipating the next posture until the posture you are practising is complete.

In daily life follow Dr. Chi's guiding principle 'Every way OK.'
Bristol 13.1.09

Yielding to the left and attacking on the right simultaneously

During the class yielding to your opponent's application of 'Fair Lady Weaves Shuttle,' some students were able to increase the force of their response by connecting the two sides of the body.

When yielding on one side, the force is emptied from your opponent, fed through your arm and body across your back, and out through the other arm. To achieve this it is important to relax across the back and control the movement with the feet and waist.

The students who were successful with this were able to stay connected to their opponent's force and not block their own. The difference was quite dramatic.
Bristol 13.1.09

Application of the movement after the first Fair Lady Weaves Shuttle.

From the final position of the first 'Fair Lady' the substantial feeling is brought down to belly and the feet as you empty your arms and bring them to a lower position. Here, you empty your opponent's grasp above your left elbow, and follow their force, turning to your right. As you turn, bring the back of your right hand onto your opponent's grasping arm and stick to their force whilst removing your empty left arm from their grasp.

Your left arm can now bring force to elbow as you turn to the left towards your opponent's head. This movement is not shown in the actual posture as practised in the form.

Bristol 13.1.09

Lifting hands

To achieve the application of 'lifting hands' you must pay attention to the rotation of force in the body.

During the first part of opening the posture the arms rotate as the elbows are lowered. The thumb side of the hands move up and the little finger side moves down. The force in the body moves up the front and down the back.

During the 'close' part of the posture the rotation of the elbows is reversed and the force moves down the front and up the back.

It is important to stay connected to the internal feeling of rotation of force and not get distracted by arms and legs. The force is finally directed through the hands towards the midline on the horizonatal plane. To achieve the direction of force the elbows must be raised.

If all this is little complicated try to recognise the movement of the forces in the body when you sneeze !

Standing on one leg

What can we do to correct unsteady balance?

The question can be answered in different ways depending on how you experience your practice. For a person new to t'ai chi it may be a physical issue. You try to get the body aligned over the foot and use muscles to hold the position rigidly. The problem with this is that it blocks the ch'i and if there is any leaning the muscles become tired unevenly and this causes more difficulty.

The second approach is to get a rough alignment of the body and then relax in a downward direction and sink the ch'i through the legs into the ground. This is still not ideal since the mind is preoccupied with method and cannot cultivate a natural expression of t'ai chi force.

When the body is aligned and you sink the ch'i, then suspend the headtop. Suspending the crown of the head is not achieved using muscles in the neck but comes from putting some awareness of feeling there which has an upward direction. The body feels as if it hangs down from this upward force at the crown. In this position, relaxed, with the bones gentle drawn out, you must get the ch'i. The ch'i enables the awareness to experience the body as one-piece; it is then possible to generate internal force. The intention moves the force - the balance of the body becomes effortless.
Bristol 13.1.09

Friday, 9 January 2009

Using t'ai chi force in step back to repulse monkey

With the left foot forward and the left arm raised, contact your partner's strike to the head with the outside of your forearm and lead their force down by emptying the whole of left side and sinking through the right foot. After rotating the left elbow anticlockwise, bring the left hand on top of your partner's right wrist and use the sinking force through the right foot to provide leverage for a pull as you step back. As the body turns to the left the root is transferred gradually to the back foot. As a result of the storage of force from you opponent an upward force begins to arise as you add the force of the turn of the waist to channel the combined t'ai chi forces from the back foot to the right hand.

It is important to listen to the movement internally. First as you empty you lead your opponent's force through your body to foot. There is an accumulation before you are able to direct the upward force to the hand.

At the beginning it is helpful to practice slowly and wait for the force to manifest but you need to understand how to maintain dynamic movement even when slow otherwise the force will stagnate.
Bristol 8.1.09

High Pat on Horse

A question arose about the difference between the two variations of 'high pat on horse.'

Stepping forward, adjusting the back foot, going into the posture : joining with your partner's punch from your right side, make contact above the elbow with a deflecting force into the path of the left hand. The waist is constantly turning to the left. Then whilst still turning to the left moving the weight back to the now adjusted right foot, apply a force to your opponent's elbow.

In the variation where the weight goes back, without any adjustment to the feet, the elbow is contacted without deflection. The movement backwards is evasive.

With both variations the ball of the foot contacts with the ground and enables the final turning of the waist to be controlled from the feet.
Bristol 8.1.09

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

How to gain insight into 'Natural.'

When we learn t'ai chi postures for the first time we need to think and get the body to move in the correct way according to the instructions from the teacher. Or, we may look and copy what we see. Later, when we have learned postures and know some of the principles of movement and can 'get' the ch'i and create forces in the postures we cannot think how to improve any more.

How do we develop our understanding? We pay attention to what we do but at the same time open ourselves to what we feel how the ch'i is moving when we practice. If we know that a spiral force passes through the arm when we lower the elbow in push we can bring awareness to that potential. If we feel something we can let go, relax more, and allow the sensation of force to manifest more clearly. Subtle sensations of force become more powerful when we become more aware of them and adjust our practice to stay connected to them. This does not require much thinking but relies on subtle sensitivity and carefully controlled practice.
Bristol 7.1.09


The sword form is very dynamic. This is not something that is expressed externally but comes from correct internal practice. Just as in the short form or any t'ai chi form, the movements originate in practice from the foot and are directed by the waist and expressed through the hands. When holding a sword there is a further extension to the flow of movement.

At the beginning the movement is loose. It is only as the dynamic force passes through the body that gradually the bones are drawn out and, in the final position of a posture, reach their greatest extension. In this way the body becomes quite stretched but not with the idea of stretching. It is a result of allowing the dynamic movement of the t'ai chi force to pass through the body and express through the sword.

Remember to relax the neck and shoulders.
Many postures have the sword held high and the shoulders will lift if you are not careful to develop a habit to relax and loosen them before moving from low to high. This mistake will bring the ch'i up.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Main Points from the Class

When we begin t'ai chi our experience is physical at a gross level - just arms and legs and so on. We use t'ai chi principles of movement to enable the body to move as a coordinated whole. Why is this?

The function of moving as one-piece is to allow the mind to experience the ch'i as an unbroken sensation.

To feel the ch'i you will need to relax deeply, draw out the bones and use the mind intent. To achieve the desired result is not straightforward and requires careful tuition with demonstation in support.

If the movement is coordinated from the feet then the body can function as a whole and will permit the mind to stay connected with internal feeling of force. Then it is possible to move the mind intent and direct the feeling of the force. Slowly the practice enables the body to follow the force. Therefore it is very important not to use external muscular effort in such a way that the ch'i is blocked.
Bristol 5.1.09