Reference Points

Postby twc » Sun Nov 15, 2009 1:44 pm

Now when I do the long form I find I am always thinking more in terms of what I want the form to do, not in terms of how to do the form.
____________________________________________

Excellent point. The different forms offer the practitioner a set of exercises to practice the various taiji principles. The bigger objective is to master the principles, not just the forms.

cheers,
twc
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Wed Nov 18, 2009 9:02 pm

Wow!
Even I can get one right every once in a while!
Woo hoo!

I love the "gist" of the Yang Zhen Duo translation Jerry.
I clumsily tried to teach the same general idea to some students just last night.
I wish I had read this first!
Next week I will have a more clear way of telling them.
Thank you.
And thanks, as always, to Yang Zhen Duo.
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Postby Audi » Fri Nov 27, 2009 7:23 pm

Greetings everyone,

Thanks for your thoughts. I think there have some excellent ideas; however, I think I have badly expressed myself.

My questions may sound like they are about details, but they are not. I absolutely do not belief that one should do Tai Chi by stitching together a bunch of details to try to make a perfect form. I do, however, think that you cannot do a perfect form without a deep, deep understanding of the details of the form. You don't get a deep understanding by learning all the details, but by learning principles that will be reflected in many, many details.

I also believe that many of the principles are very subtle, hard to understand, and hard to describe; as a result, one way of discovering them is to see them reflected in some concrete details.

I think we are also dancing around the relationship between Qi, Yi, and Shen, and so let me express more directly what I have been assuming about these.

For this purpose, I like what I understand to be Zhu Xi's formulation of Qi. In this context, Qi does not mean breath or internal energy, but means anything that Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein would escribe as matter or energy. Zhu Xi divided up all of existence into Qi (matter/energy), which is the stuff of the Cosmos, and Li (principle/natural law) which determines how that stuff is organized.

When the Classics say not to concentrate on Qi, this is what I understand the reference to be. We should not concentrate either on physical things or even on energy.

When the Classics speak of Yi (intent), I find it most helpful to think of Zhu Xi's Li (Principle). In other words, Yi has no physical or energetic form whatsoever. It is not something that the mind creates or can "breathe" into the motions of the limbs.

According to Zhu Xi, Qi and Li cannot exist without each other, and so it makes no sense to talk about one without the other being present, at least in the background. Similarly, for Newton or Einstein, a principle like gravity cannot exist without matter/energy to act upon, and there is no matter/energy that gravity cannot act upon.

In Taijiquan, some people talk about Yi as if it can exist outside of Qi. I do not believe this. To me, Yi is merely a subcategory of Li and a way of explaining the organization of Qi and the rules that governs its interrelationships.

Now, according to Zhu Xi and his followers, Shen (Spirit/focus/expression) is merely the most refined form of Qi. It is not Li (Principle). We are not using mind over matter. We cannot alter gravity with our minds. We are not even using Shen to organize our own bodies. We are using Shen to accord with some part of Li (Principle) that will dictate how our bodes move.

In my view, when the Classics talk about: "Use Yi (Intent), do not use Li (strength)," this has nothing to do with using the mind to directly control the body (which is Qi), but rather to focus the mind (Shen) on understanding how Li (Principle) is directly relevant to the situation or the purpose at hand.

[Note to those who understand little or no Chinese. There are two different words (actually, many more than two) that can be spelled Li. One means "strength," and one means "principle/reason." They are pronounced with different tones and written with different characters.]

The Association has a standard or semi-standard way of beginning to teach Pluck. If you understand the principles, you can make your partner stumble away behind your back. If you know more principles, you can make your partner leap up behind you. If you know even more, you can make your partner crash head first into the ground or even injure him or herself directly. Although these may require different amounts of energy, they are really distinguished by using different principles. Once you are clear on all the relevant principles, you will naturally put forth the right energy.

My original post was directed toward getting a greater understanding of principles. Someone might answer that the Ten Essentials should be enough. Let me explain why I do not think this is the case.

There can be many reasons why we do not do the form perfectly, but I think it is useful to distinguish between at least four of them:

Ignorance--We do not have the right information.

Bad habits--Without specific attention the wrong habits produce incorrect results.

Lack of skill--Insufficient familiarity, practice, and/or ability do not allow us to perform to standard.

Lack of understanding--We cannot accurately identify the standard to conform to.

In my view, this last issue is a major issue with many practitioners.

We may know that the elbows should be "down," but we do not fully understand what this means and so put them in the wrong place. We know that the waist should lead, but we end up twisting the waist too far, or at the wrong time.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Perhaps it is my own failing or my inability to adopt concepts that are alien to me but I have never truly incorporated feeling/or intention to martial taijiquan practice. I do not recall any of my teachers (whether "old school" or "new school") making an issue of feeling or intention unless they were pointing out references to acupuncture meridians and their location or routes.</font>


Below is an example from elsewhere on this site about the usefulness of feelings, translation courtesy of Louis Swaim.

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>The special characteristics of "seated wrist upright palm" are that when the palm extends forth it must always have the wrist seated and the palm upright. As for its technique, above all, the wrist of the hand must sit solidly. Then, allow the palm of the hand to stand up; that is, lift it upwards, and gradually let the fingers point up and the heart of the palm face forward. When the standing up of the palm reaches a certain degree, it will then produce a kind of internal sensation (nei zai de ziwo ganjue). This type of sensation is called "energy sensation" (jin gan). If the practitioner's physical training has a firm foundation, this type of "energy sensation" can immediately thread throughout the entire body. Beginning students, however, may manifest a local sensation of stiffness (the hands and arms ache or become numb).

The above two categories of sensation are entirely different. In light of this, beginning students should above all avoid raising the palm insufficiently, with the production of weak, hollow, and nebulous sensations. However, a stiffness or dullness produced by an excessive lifting upward is also not the goal of our pursuit. If you can only feel the sensation of energy, then if it is not right, you can correct it. But if you can't sense it then it will be empty, and cannot be self-adjusted. This palm method controls, in a clearly established order, the containing of energy (jin), the expression of vital spirit (jingshen de biaoda), and the achievement of hardness [within] softness, with the result that it will penetrate [or 'thread'] from joint to joint (jie jie guan chuan), and the entire body will be coordinated. In order to train well in Yang Style Taijiquan, you must seek this "energy sensation" in the upright palm.</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Here is another passage, courtesy of Jerry:

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Relaxation and training should both be conscious (or purposive). That is just what our predecessors meant by "consciously (purposely) relax and unconsciously (unintentionally) create hardness". If one can really achieve relaxation (fang song), it will be transmitted into the combining of the body activity with the ten essentials, naturally creating the material conditions so that 'energy' (jing) will arise according to the requirements of the moves. If you try to create 'energy' (jing) directly, paradoxically you become limited by 'energy' (jing). When we say "use intent rather than strength", the main idea is that you should not use 'coarse strength' but rather 'energy' (jing).</font>


<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>Consciousness is like this:

0

Everything outside of a narrow circle is excluded. To focus is to exclude.</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
I think I understand you point, but is this not the exact opposite of refining Shen through 格物?

Whenever I have asked somewhat to really concentrate the Yi and show me the punch of Deflect Downard, Parry, and Punch, I have seen more rather than fewer departures from what I understand to be the standard. They break the energy. They over-rotate the waist. They shift too much weight from one leg to the other and so bring the hips out of alignement and move the energy diagonally, rather that straight.

To me, using more Shen, does not mean focusing on less, but letting it penetrate further and into more. I might agree to representing Shen with a cone rather than a small circle, but even that sounds too limited.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I think probably some additional explanations of the inner work in YCF style particularly and in neijia generally from your teacher would be helpful - in neijia before one " really uses internal energy" as you mentioned above one needs to get something inside - that's one of the reasons it's called neijia. The spine may play certain role but if one has nothing inside then it would be more like a boat without wind IMHO</font>

I think you are right about this, but I do not think this was what my teacher was pointing out to me. I think he was saying that I was missing out completely on an important principle and so did not know how to make small, but important alignments to my body. According to my understanding, when we talk about "internal" things, we are talking more about something in lign with something I quoted above and which I repeat here:

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">If one can really achieve relaxation (fang song), it will be transmitted into the combining of the body activity with the ten essentials, naturally creating the material conditions so that 'energy' (jing) will arise according to the requirements of the moves. If you try to create 'energy' (jing) directly, paradoxically you become limited by 'energy' (jing). When we say "use intent rather than strength", the main idea is that you should not use 'coarse strength' but rather 'energy' (jing)</font>



<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Isolate this piece of the form and practice it over and over.</font>


I think this can be excellent advice, but not in this particular case. I believe that I have done the posture correctly for years, since I had already checked on the possibility of this mistake before. When I discovered that I now was doing this alignment incorrectly, I realized that something was wrong with my intent. In other words, I was deliberately and consciously doing something that resulted in an incorrect posture.

I have occasionally been able to correct mental mistakes by merely making physical adjustments, but I find this rarely works. This is different from examining a physical difference that leads you to make a mental change.

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>For reference he sent me a link to a Youtube clip of Yang Jun doing a form somewhere in China (go to youtube, type "Yang Jun" in the search bar, it shows up on the first page). If you watch the form, it is amazingly detailed and accurate.
But...
It is NOT any of the traditional Yang family forms.</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
Bob, thanks for this reference. It was interesting watching. I can see how doing this would be helpful to some folks, but I will wait until one of my teachers recommends this to me. What I am concentrating most in my practice and teaching is in making connections and fine distinctions so that it is easier to see the form in push hands and push hands in the form.

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>Now when I do the long form I find I am always thinking more in terms of what I want the form to do, not in terms of how to do the form.
____________________________________________

Excellent point. The different forms offer the practitioner a set of exercises to practice the various taiji principles. The bigger objective is to master the principles, not just the forms.</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
I agree wholeheartedly with these points and have used this as an assumption in all of my posts. My question is not really about where to put a hand or foot, but how to be sure that the hand or foot actually is placed according to the correct intent.

In my view, most practitioners who have been doing the form for many years do not make mistakes because they are using insufficient intent, but because they are using the wrong intent. Their purpose is unknowingly wrong.

You can often do the elementary single-hand horizontal push hands circle with people with substantial experience, and yet somehow the energy does not feel quite right. Sometimes, I feel a hook, regardless of whether they actually form a hook with the wrist. I feel them trying to lever my arm from the left side of their body to the right. I feel them trying to protect space in front of their body. What I do not feel is someone using Nian (sticking) to neutralize my push.

I struggled with these very things for years until I was able to understand what I was doing wrong.

The issue is not even that what they are doing is wrong, but rather that what they are trying to do is wrong. For me, this is why Taijiquan is hard. The movements are mostly quite easy. Understanding what you should try to do is very hard.

Early in my Tai Chi studies, I encountered the principle "Don't let the knee pass the toes." I almost dismissed this, because I had already learned to do this in a style I studied prior to Tai Chi. As I practiced more and tried to relax more, I began to realize that it felt wrong and that I was flirting with injury to my knee. The postures felt anything but strong. What I then realized was that what I had in mind was an external description, not a "principle" or internal "method." I then completely changed what I focused my mind on and now feel very confident and happy with the result. Now, when I teach, I try to distinguish clearly between the result and the method.

Sorry for the long and confused post, but I wanted to make sure I got some ideas out and clarify the intent of my post.
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Postby JerryKarin » Sun Nov 29, 2009 11:16 am

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Audi:
<B>
-snip-

I think we are also dancing around the relationship between Qi, Yi, and Shen, and so let me express more directly what I have been assuming about these.

For this purpose, I like what I understand to be Zhu Xi's formulation of Qi. In this context, Qi does not mean breath or internal energy, but means anything that Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein would escribe as matter or energy. Zhu Xi divided up all of existence into Qi (matter/energy), which is the stuff of the Cosmos, and Li (principle/natural law) which determines how that stuff is organized.

When the Classics say not to concentrate on Qi, this is what I understand the reference to be. We should not concentrate either on physical things or even on energy.

When the Classics speak of Yi (intent), I find it most helpful to think of Zhu Xi's Li (Principle). In other words, Yi has no physical or energetic form whatsoever. It is not something that the mind creates or can "breathe" into the motions of the limbs.

According to Zhu Xi, Qi and Li cannot exist without each other, and so it makes no sense to talk about one without the other being present, at least in the background. Similarly, for Newton or Einstein, a principle like gravity cannot exist without matter/energy to act upon, and there is no matter/energy that gravity cannot act upon.

In Taijiquan, some people talk about Yi as if it can exist outside of Qi. I do not believe this. To me, Yi is merely a subcategory of Li and a way of explaining the organization of Qi and the rules that governs its interrelationships.

Now, according to Zhu Xi and his followers, Shen (Spirit/focus/expression) is merely the most refined form of Qi. It is not Li (Principle). We are not using mind over matter. We cannot alter gravity with our minds. We are not even using Shen to organize our own bodies. We are using Shen to accord with some part of Li (Principle) that will dictate how our bodes move.

In my view, when the Classics talk about: "Use Yi (Intent), do not use Li (strength)," this has nothing to do with using the mind to directly control the body (which is Qi), but rather to focus the mind (Shen) on understanding how Li (Principle) is directly relevant to the situation or the purpose at hand.

[Note to those who understand little or no Chinese. There are two different words (actually, many more than two) that can be spelled Li. One means "strength," and one means "principle/reason." They are pronounced with different tones and written with different characters.]

-snip-
</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Oh dear. I hardly know where to begin here. But let me make a stab at responding. Imagine a hypothetical situation where a Chinese person is studying American basketball. He is reading up on the sayings of a celebrated coach of a legendary, winning basketball team. In coaching his players, the coach talks about the role of the unconscious, for example how the players of a rival team might unconsciously signal the direction they are going to go, and so on. He might refer to the role of ego in team sports, or even talk about the players behavior after hours and how the id or the libido might induce them to break training or do stupid things... Suppose this Chinese student of basketball were to read this. He might say to himself, oh my God, this is all right out of Freudian psycho-analysis! He might even jump to the conclusion that the theories of Sigmund Freud could be a Rosetta Stone for understanding this coach's approach to basketball. So where is he going wrong here? He does not have enough familiarity with American language and culture to realize that elements of Freudian psychology have, in watered down ways, been adopted into the culture and taken on a life of their own which is not the same as the very specific, technical usage of these concepts by Freud and his followers. When we reverse this situation and look at the relation of Neo-Confucians like Zhuxi and others to taijiquan, the circumstances are even more misleading because of a cultural habit in China of lending new things authenticity by linking them to old things, the more ancient the better. In America, we would tout a new medicine by talking about latest scientific discoveries and so on, whereas in China an appeal would be made to ancient family recipes handed down over the generations. It is true that taiji theoreticians at the end of the imperial period adopted some Neo-Confucian terminology, but we must remember that these terms had already been assimilated into popular culture, much like psycho-analytic terms have made their way into American culture. It would be wrong to regard Zhuxi as a Rosetta Stone for taiji theory, tempting as that may appear. In my humble opinion the Neo-Confucian strain is only a thin veneer cast upon martial arts theories to give them weight and authenticity. It is important to understand that figures like Yang Luchan, probably had very little understanding of the intricacies of the world view of Zhuxi and his followers. He was an indentured servant, probably illiterate, who went to work for the Chen family and "stole" their martial arts secrets. In my humble opinion we are wisest if we stick to what the Yangs actually teach us, and be very wary of trying to impose philosophical systems like Neo-Confucianism upon their art. Even though the terminology they use to describe their art seems redolent of Neo-Confucianism, it arrived there via the incorporation of Neo-Confucian terminology and concepts into popular language and culture, and must be understood in the context of their place in popular culture rather than strictly as their inventors conceived of them many centuries earlier.

Confucius had a saying which is somewhat apt for this situation: to be aware of what you know and what you don't know, that is true knowledge! When we are discussing Yang style we must be very scrupulous and clear about the things we have actually gotten from the mouths of authentic teachers and distinguishing them from ideas, theories, speculations, etc. that may occur to us. If we don't, we risk repeating what happened with the first wave of taiji teachers to appear in the West: after a couple of generations their teachings became all mixed up with other martial arts, new age ideas, and speculations supplied by students who did not have the necessary background.
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Postby JerryKarin » Sun Nov 29, 2009 11:40 am

To generalize this a little bit further, we must avoid the temptation to devise a sort of permanent scaffolding which we use to support and explain what the actual teachers in the lineage are giving us. There is a reason why they have kept their teaching quite spare and rely on a few general principles rather than lots and lots of detailed rules. Whenever they explain details, they refer back to the general principles and show how those play out in specific situations.
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Postby twc » Sun Nov 29, 2009 3:15 pm

One of the simplest lesson I learned from my teacher is that there is no "right or wrong" when it comes to practicing taiji so long as we are mindful of the principles.

A taiji beginner may not be able to relax his shoulders. That does not mean he is doing it wrongly; it simply means at his current ability, he is only able to incorporate the principles in his practice with a little stiffness in his shoulders.

What I find useful with the above is that it takes the tension off my mind. I come to accept my current level of proficiency, and not be unduly stressed out by what I am currently unable to do in terms of my taiji practice.

My teacher often warned me that I am too ahead of myself intellectually, taiji-wise. I get distracted easily with new ideas, and this affect my taiji progression, as I didn't invest enough time doing the bread and butter of taiji, which is many hours of practice.

As I settled down, accepting where I am (along the taiji journey), I begin to understand taiji by experiencing the minor changes it brought to my physical body. How my joints seem to become more flexible and flesh more supple? How I become more rooted and my taiji push-hands partner find it difficult to uproot me? And aside from all these changes physically, what I really cherish is the fact that my mind is aware of these minute changes. I begin to understand the reason why taiji is also known as "meditation in motion".

There is a saying along the line "taiji form practice is to know yourself, push-hands practice is to know your opponent". Now I know this is true.

Another $0.02

cheers
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Re: Reference Points

Postby Audi » Sun Mar 14, 2010 9:18 pm

Hi everyone,

Thanks for the replies, which I appreciate.

According to my understanding, theory and practice, thinking and doing, should go hand in hand. Depending on the situation and the person, these two aspects will combine to different extents, but should always be present. For every aspect of theory that I give much thought to, I have a physical example or practice that I use to guide myself and that I can show to others. For each aspect, I also try to attach a specific application or use in which I can explore the reality and depth of the theory. I also try to base everything I think and do on something I have read or seen from one of my teachers or have read in books written by authorities. For me, theory is something I want to make immediately practical. For example, theory is something I apply physically during the execution of a Push Hands counter. It might take thirty minutes to explain the theory, but it takes only a half-second to use it.

If I cannot apply or relate a theory to such a situation, I do not use it much or pay it much attention. If you read anything in my posts that sounds only theoretically and not practical, then I have expressed it badly and have unintentionally allowed an ambiguous meaning to appear. If I change my theory, I have to change my practice, since I try to apply all my understanding of theory. The reverse is not usually true. I often change my practice as my understanding of theory deepens, as I discovery inconsistencies in my practice, or as I receive corrections.

I recently came back from some truly fantastic Push Hands training at an Association seminar. During the training, I had indirectly confirmed many of the "reference points" that I have been working on recently and was taught a few more. Although I may be idiosyncratic in focusing specifically on this issue, these are not things that I am making up.

One of the somewhat new things I learned was about how to orient my palms on my partners wrists. From this "reference point" or external rule, I feel I am able to practice my understanding and ability to make use of a number of internal principles. From the posts above, some might consider this too much theory, but this is how I have been taught, and each part of the theory has a practical purpose that I feel I can demonstrate. In other words, doing a movement or application without applying the theory gives one result and doing it with the theory gives another. Below are some of the principles I feel I can study through this one external rule. I will try to quote the Chinese to try to show that I am not just making up my own rules:

letting the elbows droop (垂肘)
extending the fingers (伸指)
following/linking (随)
relaxing the wrists (松腕)
forget yourself and follow the other (舍己随人)
if your opponent does not move, you do not move; if he moves even slightly, you should be ahead of him (彼不动己不动;彼微动己先动)
the Jin seems loose, but it is not loose; though stretched, it is not stretched; if the movement is broken, the intent is unbroken (似松未松将展未展;动断意不断)
Seizing/grabbing (拿)
Distinguish full and empty (分虚实)

In my own practice, I try to apply all these principles when I concentrate on this one principle of palm orientation; however, I do not literally go through them all at the same time. When coaching others, I may not refer to any of them or may refer to a few, depending on the person and the situation.

I fully understand that many people would not like this approach; however, it works for me. In fact, it works so well for me that I use it quite often. The above principles I quote are mostly lofty bits of the classic writings; however, I find many other mundane things quite helpful.

At the seminar, we received instruction about using the forearm to do a certain rolling action when apply our standard Ward Off application. I feel a similar rolling action in horizontal rollback and in another version that is applied with vertical rollback. I also feel it in doing our standard Split. I feel it again in the both directions of the elbow circles that we practice. But it is not only Push Hands, I feel it in many postures of the Form and so can use Push Hands and Form practice to support each other. This is only one of many commonalities I feel and try to use.

Someone could criticize my approach as external; however, I have been taught repeatedly that external and internal should support each other. I use external things to get at internal realities, not to replace them. For instance, I am occasionally asked about the meaning of "full" and "empty." I try to demonstrate using a Push Hands counter to Ward Off that depends almost entirely on exchanging full and empty. The other person can counter, by also exchanging full and empty. Who will win is determined by skill, not by theory; however, you cannot even play if you have no understanding of the theory. This again is not something I made up, but something one of my teachers physically showed and explained to me.

One of the ways I have learned more about the theory of full and empty is to read Sunzi's Art of War. I guess someone could say that this is going beyond the relevance of the theory as the Yang family has taught it; however, the same teacher that showed me about full and empty in the Ward Off counter has quoted Sunzi in front of me on more than one occasion. If I recall correctly, he did not mention Sunzi specifically; however, I recognized the quote and knew that the reference was to Sunzi's writing. Again this is not just something I think about, it is something I actually physically use to guide my movements.

A taiji beginner may not be able to relax his shoulders. That does not mean he is doing it wrongly; it simply means at his current ability, he is only able to incorporate the principles in his practice with a little stiffness in his shoulders.


This is true for many practitioners, but I think I learned this lesson too well when I first began practicing and that my progress suffered as a result. I have found that years of practice doing the wrong thing does not necessarily lead to the right thing. It can also lead to habits that are very, very hard to fix.

I also have a strongly held, but perhaps idiosyncratic view of what it means to "relax." For some practitioners, it primarily means something that one works on and that is developed and deepened only by years of practice. In my view, this is not the best way of thinking of the Association's approach. To me, "relaxing" is primarily something that someone either does or does not do. If someone does not do it in a particular joint when directed to so, it is usually not because he or she inherently cannot, but rather because he or she does not understand what to do. This kind of "relaxation" is natural to human beings and is not complicated in itself. It is not something that requires training. The degree of relaxation may require training, and the ability to consistently relax all the joints will definitely require training, but the action is not difficult in itself.

I find challenging and reassuring that most of the essential Tai Chi techniques are things that are ultimately natural and that anyone can experience, at least in isolation. Mastering them is another matter entirely.

Take care everyone,
Audi
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Re: Reference Points

Postby Louis Swaim » Mon Mar 15, 2010 5:58 am

Greetings Audi,

You make a strong case for the importance of thinking through taiji theory. A good appreciation for theory begins with the understanding that theory is not merely knowledge that, but is knowledge how.

Take care,
Louis
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