A question from a beginner

Postby Michael » Sat Oct 26, 2002 5:50 pm

Hans Peter,

Audi is indeed correct. If you focus on straightening the spine in a localized area the muscles do take over, creating unwanted tension. Then again we focus attention on an area such as the shoulders to reduce tension found there. But because we are working a string of joints (the spine) this localized attention tends to achieve just the opposite. By focusing on the top of the head with the lifting of the top of the head (some say it is the Bawei [spelling?] point) and the loosening of the pelvis muscles, we let gravity take care of what is in between. It's like pulling on two ends of a string. But here unlike with the string, the result is resiliant elastic strength in the muscles that hold the spine together as the spaces between the vertabra are increased slightly. Without this, legs are not connected to the shoulders. Here it is "imagination" that allows us to overcome tension in the entire spine at once rather than having to try to deal with each "joint". It simply works.

Concerning "straightening the Lumbar curve". The "neutral spine" is not accompished by muscle strength. It is done by "loosening" the hip muscles, not by tightening them. Tighten up your Glutes and everything in your pelvic area. You find that the top of your pelvis pushes forward and rotates slightly downward. Now relax them and they fall back and "square" themselves with the demands of gravity---creating a "straight" (neutral) spine and allowing the force of gravity to continue it's descent to the feet.

What Audi means by "lifting the pelvis" I am not sure. Maybe that the top leading edge of the pelvis rises as the rest rotates back and down with "loosening"?

Gene,

You make a good point. Down here at the lower levels we do indeed have to be aware or watch all aspects of our moving structure. To become truly aware of any part of our bodies we have to focus on them, muscles included.

How much strength one needs to use ideally comes from the contact we have with our opponent but what does it "feel" like to use the "proper" amount of muscle strength? When pushing or delivering a palm strike from a Bow stance, awareness is needed on how much force is coming back from the front leg and how much is coming from the back forward or we tend to lose our root. We then find ourselves compensating for the poor lower structure and movement by inappropriately using more muscle strength in the shoulders and the arms.

It takes a lot of attention for us to arrive at doing things "naturally" again and to keep our use of strength appropriate ("only as much as needed"). We pay attention to "relaxing" or "loosening" the muscles in various joint areas but we must also be just as aware of how much to contract them. Once we get to a certain point, our conscious attention is no longer needed. But until that time, it is not a bad idea whether we are talking form or pushing. This is one area where "single movement" practice is very useful.

As one of my teachers used to say in answer to a number of questions: "More standing!"

mcquagger,

Jerry says it simply. The trick is not to focus on those "extraeneous thoughts" nor to try to forcefully stop them. Just observe them as they arise and let them go while trying to keep focus at the task at hand. There is a balance here to achieve.

Be patient. The more you practice, whether it be taiji form or sitting or standing meditation, these thoughts will arise less and less. After awhile they may still come but they are no longer a distraction because you are training your ability to focus. The key here is not to "try" or "force" anything. Things come and go "naturally". If you put significance on stopping thought it can be as defeating as focusing on the thoughts themselves.

Consistant daily practice is the key here as with everything else whether it be taiji form or sitting or standing meditation (both I highly recommend). You have got to work at it to let it go. That yin/yang concept is pretty all encompassing is it not?
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Postby Hans-Peter » Sat Oct 26, 2002 6:25 pm

Hi Michael,

thanks very much for your comments. I like them and would enjoy to discuss them deeper with you and Audi - particularly concerning the lumbar spine curve - but in a few hours I have to leave for South Africa for 2 weeks and I'm very busy at the moment. After returning I'll come back with some additional arguments and questions concerning spine (also in combination with breathing). I look forward to this.
Take care
Hans-Peter
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Postby Eulalio Silva » Mon Oct 28, 2002 10:32 pm

Hello Hans peter!

Thank you for your response regarding my simple advice that is "fairly standard" to you. It is "standard"
when it is about someone who is having problems concentrating and beginning to understand Tai Chi as for most of us. Tai Chi is really a simple philosophy but very hard to apply tangibly. Moreover, if one is already plagued with problem of centering oneself into an integrated self with the TAO, then obviously, the most basic and the crux of all internal arts is first learning how to have "song." As you know, it is not just superficially relaxing the physiological being but also the calming of our emotions, turmoil…etc. That alone is a tantamount of tasks just to center ourselves and so, reconfirming that is the"standard" way to do as oppose to complicating things with movements and techniques that would only make a setback on cultivating CHI to the utmost.

You also said:

Shaolin arts the main goal is to develop the inner chi to it's maximum. Every real Shaolin master would say this.

I disagree with you for many reasons. Shaolin arts only supplemented their physical conditioning after learning the internal arts such as Chi Kung, Bone-marrow Washing and meditations to "pack" it and making it more internalized. I agree with you though regarding most people's contention and connotation about "HARDNESS"= external and "softness"=internal. It has nothing to do with just the physical tension. One can be "HARD" internally while having a soft, plumb and flexible body or vice versa. But to remain true to the internal cultivation, it is advisable not to rely on muscle tension at all.

I also agree with you that Shaolin's physical conditioning and regimen is the YANG side of the training while meditation is the YIN side of the training, but True internal does not rely on the physical at all! If you have read Chen Man Ching's book, he was interviewed by Robert Smith (the writer and student of his responsible in publishing and disseminating Tai Chi here in the U.S. in the late 50s) regarding Shaolin. Master Ching responded (to paraphrase):

"If I believe on the Shaolin martial arts, then I would have taken it up already" then he elaborated the use of muscle tension used with the Shaolin regimen as something other than internal cultivation". Can "external arts" be supplemented with the internal cultivation? Sure, that is what the Shaolin martial arts have done. Not to say that their internal cultivation methods are inferior, but having the CHI internally would nullify the function of physiological conditioning.

And to quote you from your own response:

"...Which weapon you choose to learn is not as important as the inner chi that controls the weapon"

Exactly that. Any other extraneous movements form, techniques, weapons is considered as secondary towards the cultivation of CHI. For the inner chi is the issue within the true foundations of internal martial arts. That is why all the NEI JIA's (sister internal arts) commonality is the simple NEI KUNG of different postures…..The collection of CHI to their Dan Tian, to their bones through Chi Kung, and the many exotic flavorings of CHI through different means of disseminating it.

Ba Gua harnesses the CHI through literal use of the Circle and the Ba Gua Triagrams and I-Ching, Hsing-I uses the I or mind intention through simple 5 animal forms and Tai Chi, through yielding and attack modes……over all, the key word here is RELATIVE.|

Chi can be developed in infinite ways, but remaining true to the internal arts, with the lack or absence of relying on brute force and tension is the only way to maximize your CHI, you said:
"also in Shaolin arts the main goal is to develop the inner chi to it's maximum. Every real Shaolin master would say this…"

When Bodidharma came from India to "enlighten" the early Chinese Monks, his CHI cultivation didn't first come from movements. It is the "purely" internal stuffs, again, relatively internal as in no movement or just the mind and body integration. This is NEI KUNG. And within NEI KUNG the more sophisticated use of Macroscosmic and Microscosmic orbit, Bone Marrow Washing and storing CHI into our Dan Tian and bones, refining it into JING and ultimately perfecting it into the SHEN.

All of these can be done even without moving! Let alone movements and techniques. That is the most basic and prerequisite of all internal arts before starting to study the movements. Movements are just the application to disseminate CHI or JING but can be issued with just the MIND. YOGIS of India, thru Kundalini YOGA, can do just that, they just don't call it CHI KUNG but Pranayama.

So if you say that I don't trust the YANG side of internal then you don't understand that YANG doesn't necessarily mean the physical part of our faculty to activate. YANG can also mean assertive, aggressive, and initiation of our mind, a positive, whereas the YIN is the other side of it. In other words, the RELATIVITY OF ONE'S ACTION TO YIN AND YANG must be acknowledged. I hate to hear practitioners say that the SINGLE WHIP is a YANG technique or such….In fact, in can be both! You can have both relative amount of PENG and LU on the technique or totally distinguish it as YANG or YIN but no matter what, there is still some part of the other. That is YIN and YANG.

To understand Yin and Yang further, look at the Ba Gua triagrams or the I-Ching….it is still Yin/Yang philosophy only extended through the many if not infinite variety of the the flavors of Yin/Yang. So imagine what a true master of Tai Chi can do with the infinite ways of the SINGLE WHIP!

But in short, to remain Yin and humble in our discussion is the utmost thing I want to achieve for I am nothing like the TAO. To refute each other's claim is such a BRAVADO and so YANG that we miss the whole issue. We must YIELD in our philosophy as well as in Reality to totally understand the wholeness. For to YIELD (YIN) first and show dignity (YANG) and show aggression towards helping each other is the Yin and Yang of our lives.

Humbly,
Eulalio Fabie Silva
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Postby Michael » Tue Oct 29, 2002 4:32 pm

Eulalio,

I would differ with you on a point. You wrote earlier "Wu Ji or the nothingness". Others can correct me if I am wrong as far as translation, but here I am speaking of the "essence" of the state itself.

If you meditate you may know that "nothingness" is a trap and not the goal. This is misunderstood by many. I think that "Wu ji" is better described as the "place" or the "condition" from which "all possibilities arise". "Nothingness" is dead, "Wu ji" is very much alive. I borrowed those words from somewhere but I know the truth in them.

I expect this is what you meant, but I just wanted to make sure.

Also, "Warriors of Stillness...." Has many things to offer. I just wish he had not got so "artsy" with the photos.

"Sit" before you do form and "stand" afterwards. Can't do this everytime but it works VERY nicely when I have the time.

Practice HARD! joke.

Michael
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Postby DavidJ » Tue Oct 29, 2002 8:43 pm

Hi mcquagger,

The idea of meditation is to force nothing and allow it to happen, that is, let the thoughts arise and let them to drift off rather than answering to their usual insistance. By doing this and withdrawing from the concerns of daily life one's spirit can rest and recognize itself again.

The channeling of one's nervous energy can also respond to a different approach.
Often it is either necessity or interest that focuses the mind, but rather than put oneslf in danger, as adrenaline junkies do, go with interest.

There are many things in life that your energy would be welcome to be spent on. All this takes is clear decisions from you as to what you really want to do. Basically it's your energy, do with it what *you* want.

The meditation can help you get into the space to make such decisions, but you may find that space in other ways.

These ideas are expressed in the I Ching. The superior man goes into his courtyand and doesn't see anyone. Make up your mind without letting anyone pull you this way or that. This was the ancient way for people to stay true to themselves.

Regards,

David J
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Postby Eulalio Silva » Tue Oct 29, 2002 10:42 pm

Hello Michael!

Thank you for pointing out the "definition" of Wu JI or Wu Chi as "essence" that is leading towards possibilities and in our discussions or interests, it is the distinction of YANG and YING….the separation begins as any movement happens. The definition I am talking about however is the relative meaning of Wu Ji which is "nothingness" compared with the YANGNESS or the YINGNESS of any act or movement. But you are definitely right about that.

About meditation of calling for the Wu Wei or Wu Ji, it is also a relative term of "not doing anything" and therefore not goal oriented or in this case, not too YANG. To have a goal is considered an intuitive or aggressive and object oriented partaking instead of the Wu Wei, which is the total succumbing to the TAO, which means: "we don't really do anything but integrate ourselves to the TAO".

There are much discussions even amongst the masters the true definition of Wu Wei. Some masters are too YANG to a point due to the advent of developing CHI through I or Yi (mind intention or will) but others refute that integrating ourselves with the TAO would require "nothing."

I would like to interject however, that as "internal arts students"; we often neglect this Wu Ji stage and eagerly start the forms and movements. Whereas, in real practice and concentration, the reality transcended from this philosophy of "Wu Ji to Tai Chi then Wu Ji" is materialized and actualized. That is why I recommend the book, "The Warriors of Stillness" by Dan Diepersloot (and yes except for the stylization of photographs what you deemed as "artsy" would make this book more effective with simple illustrations of photographs) because, the stillness is emphasized not in favor of forms, but where the start of collection of "CHI then Jing then Shen process" This process from the "stillness" is the micro second before one leads to (in your own words)

the "place" or the "condition" from which "all possibilities arise".

And so in a fight, it is the discriminating distinction of energies in the form of YIN and YANG.

Though if you have read my response previous to this one, I would to reiterate that in any given technique (say SINGLE WHIP) it can either be a YANG or YING SINGLE WHIP or the infinite varieties and subtleties of YANG with YING or vice versa SINGLE WHIP. A master can do all the flavors of CHI using the same technique.

Nevertheless, I thank you for clarifying something in terms of labels, names or definition. For realizing your contribution is necessary for us all to realize how bountiful and beautiful this art of TAI CHI is about when Yin and Yang partake in any discussions as well as in Push Hands or fighting.

Thanks,
Eulalio Fabie Silva
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Postby Michael » Wed Oct 30, 2002 8:34 am

Eulalio,

Don't be mistaken that we here are a bunch of "yang" (yin/yang) junkies. I am sure no one here neglects the yin side. And if I or others at times seem to focus on a more "yang" technique in let's say Single Whip....please interject with a "yin" possibility for the same point or place. The possibilities are endless and no one person can come up with it all.

I usually have little to offer here but have learned many things here from David, Audi, Gene, Louis, Jerry, Steve, Michael C,.... Language, method, correct form, variations, techniques, both yin and yang. We each come with our own experience and viewpoint...."right" or "wrong" it all has value. I for one, have changed a number of things in my practice due to their knowledge and different perspectives. I know "technique" is not really a big point with you, which is fine, but be careful not to give too little attention to the "yang" side either. It has much to teach also. One cannot exist without the other. One can be too yang as well as too yin.

Concerning your words on Wu Wei... "we don't really do anything but integrate ourselves to the TAO." As David and I both pointed out concerning stopping thoughts that to "force" something or to "try" is self defeating. If some people reading this thread do not understand "not doing anything" (it causes confusion for many)....It is a very active experience. It is basically acting or responding to situations in life in a "natural" way without the influence of personal "desires". People make this "being one with the Dao" thing so complicated with ritual and chi gung of every imaginable shape, exercises,.... It is really very basic and simple...but very hard to let onself (fear, desire and righteousness) go. AND it is basically the same with taiji.

I know I am being picky here, words are interesting but lend themselves readily to confusion. I think I know where you are coming from with "nothingness" but from my own meditation practice I know that "nothingness" is dead. Ask any Buddhist about "the void". The two are the same. Meditators often settle for it rather than go beyond it to what one could call "reality" which is very active. If there was "nothingness", there would be no Dao.

Do I remember correctly that you do "Taoist" taiji? Was it taught by Moy? Or am I thinking of someone else?

good practice,

Michael
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Postby Audi » Fri Nov 01, 2002 4:35 am

Hi all:

Glittalogik,

My wrists do not hurt, because I do Taijiquan of course! However, I do agree that my posts are almost always too long, since I compose them over days or weeks. I have too much ego, enthusiasm, or just plain argumentativeness to stick to two-line posts or to merely “lurking” on the Board.

Be that as it may, would you prefer an epic commentary on a 17-syllable haiku or a 17-syllable commentary on an epic poem? I would argue that both have their place. In any case, beware of straining your eyes, because this post will be yet another long one.

I plead an inability to bring out the simplicity of Taijiquan without simply repeating things said much more eloquently in the classics, by the masters, or by other practitioners. More to the point, a major part of my Taiji journey has concerned repeated discoveries that people use the same terms to describe what I perceive to be different things. I have often found the differences to be subtle on the surface, but extremely important to the course of my practice.

To write short posts to express what I intend to say invites misunderstanding. For instance, I have grown to be extremely wary of references to terms such as “tension,” “relaxation,” “internal,” and “qi.” I have slowly come to the conclusion that even my teachers have not meant the same things by these words and that my practice has suffered through confusion of different principles and different intentions.

For people who prefer short pithy discussion, I would suggest readings from the classics; but beware how much meaning and confusion can lie behind short words, especially in languages like English and Classical Chinese.

Gene,

Your question has two parts: one concerns theory and the other concerns practical procedure.

For the very reasons you posted, I have become more and more of the view that concentrating on limiting levels of force is counterproductive in the system taught by the Yangs. They talk about having relatively heavy legs, a medium middle, and relatively light arms during push hands; however, they also view “giving the impression of having heavy arms” as a complement. How do I use talk like this to calibrate the appropriate force of a “push”?

During a seminar, Yang Jun refused to adopt the “eight ounce” approach, merely suggesting that using high amounts of upper-body force would tend to make one’s movements and those of one’s push hands partner wobbly, top heavy, and awkward. I see the Yangs as trying to describe desirable tendencies, rather than trying to set boundaries.

Another point is that I think the Yangs do not focus so much on what should not be done as focus on what should be done. I believe they view “fang song” or “relaxing” as something one should do to one’s joints by the action of the tendons, not as something involved with eliminating use of muscles generally. The two concepts are related, but actually lead to different types of practice and different results.

At the moment, I have a theory of how this actually works at the joint level. If I have time, I will try to post it some day. Basically it involves the fact that in normal circumstances, the design of our anatomy requires that the use of certain muscles in certain ways normally precludes the use of other muscles. In short, one need not worry about which muscles not to use, but rather only about how to use the other muscles. Nature can then simply take over.

From a practical viewpoint, I believe I myself make the mistake of looking to freestyle push hands as a basic learning vehicle. During this type of push hands, I believe the unfortunate process you describe takes over. While under the pressure of competition, the ego, or even the desire to demonstrate learning, we go with what “works,” rather than exploring new paths. The better we are at the old ways, the worse this temptation becomes. Denying this probably goes against several million years of developed instinct and can certainly be described as “unnatural.”

Lastly, let me say one thing I especially like about what I understand of the Yangs’ methods, which is that they do not seem overly concerned with limits. I can almost never recall them using teaching methods at seminars that involved limiting motion or energy, so much as being sure to channel them correctly. As long as this is done, they do not seem to care much about levels of force. I think this applies equally for how they look at the motion of a single joint as how they view Taijiquan at a very general level.

Eulalio,

I respect your viewpoint, but honestly believe you are discussing what amounts to a different art than me. Which art more deserves to be called Taijiquan or which is “better” is an interesting question; however, I am more interested in finding out what is good, than what is “better” or “best.” I take to heart the saying that “the best is the enemy of the good.”

I have only a little experience of the methods you describe. Because of this, I do not feel qualified to comment on your ideas in detail. The only thing I feel strongly about is that, at least at the beginning and intermediate level, those methods are not compatible with mine.

Let me give a linguistic analogy, because that is my interest and because your name suggests to me that you may have personal acquaintance with this sort of situation. Spanish and Portuguese are both wonderful languages and even mutually intelligible to a large extent; however, one does best by not trying to speak both simultaneously. Do not tell the father of a Spanish-speaking girl that she has been embarrassed (“embarazada” in Portuguese) by a friend’s actions. He will believe he understands every word, but wrongly conclude that the friend has made his daughter pregnant (“embarazada” in Spanish). You and I may both speak of Qi, Jing, Yi, and Jin, but I am not sure that we are really speaking exactly the same language. Some of the misunderstandings can be subtle, but catastrophic to productive communication.

Eulalio, you also spoke of Wuwei (non-action), which others have commented on. I think that many incorrectly see this concept as being the same as “inaction.” My understanding of it is that it means “no-action contrary to the Dao.” To paraphrase the Dao De Jing/Tao Te Ching, I would define Wuwei by saying: “We do nothing, but leave nothing undone” or “By doing nothing, we do everything.”

A kayaker paddling in a raging river can use the same general type of strokes to paddle across the river, downriver, and even upriver. However, every tiny patch of the river has a different nature and requires its own different treatment. By paddling according to that nature, the kayaker can go just about anywhere with minimal effort. This is what I understand to be Wuwei. I do not understand it to mean that the kayaker must treat the river like a lake or, worse yet, act like a log and merely float with the current. Wuwei is harnessing the power of the Dao. We do nothing, in order to allow the Dao to do everything. If we attempt to do anything on our own, we work against the Dao and encounter unnecessary difficulty.

One other point I would like to make and that has been made before on this board is that many do not view Taijiquan as a Daoist art at all. I believe Chen Stylists in particular do not espouse this view, since the founder of Chen Style did not seem to come from this viewpoint. In saying this, I am not arguing that Daoist thought cannot be used in Taijiquan or that it cannot be applied to Taijiquan, but rather that some would argue that the art is not designed according to Daoist principles.

I, myself, do take what I understand to be a “Daoist” approach to Taijiquan. I also do not feel the need to validate any Yang Style practices by referring to Chen Style practices or writings, however sophisticated they may be. I raise this point only to clarify why you may get fewer takers than you might expect on some of your points.

Peter,

You asked about my concept of the Chinese waist. First, let me say that if one is speaking with total accuracy, I do not believe that anything important in Taijiquan can be discussed independently of movement energy. This energy is expressed through physical tangible things, but is somewhat independent of them.

I think elsewhere I used the analogy of a lasso. A cowboy wielding a lasso never achieves a perfect circle with the lasso; nevertheless, the circularity of the movement energy is evident from the movement of the rope. Indeed, the circular movement of the energy can manifest itself as soon as the rope leaves the cowboy’s hand and long before it even approximates the shape of a circle. The properties of the circle of energy manifest themselves even if the rope is temporarily moving in a wobbly or ragged shape. On the other hand, if one cuts even 1/8 of the loop in the rope, the circular energy is completely destroyed. Also, if one lays the rope on the ground in the shape of a circle, the circular energy is again completely absent. (If a mind and tendons are involved, I would argue that “energy” can circulate even during periods of apparent stillness.) In other words, the shape of the rope does not cause the circular energy manifested by a lasso spinning in a circle. The shape of the movement energy can actually determine the shape of the physical.

Applying this logic to Taijiquan, I believe that the Taiji waist is actually the “length” of movement energy that unites the circuit of energy flowing from one leg to the other with the circuit of energy flowing through the arms and across the upper back. Because of the arrangement of the muscles and tendons in the back, I believe that the most critical part of this energy is centered in the lumbar region (or the small of the back), more or less where the “Mingmen” or “Life Door” is said to be. If one cuts through all this esoteric talk, I think one can say that the relevant muscles and tendons are those that control the gaps between the lumbar vertebrae or that allow them to twist.

Another aspect of this is that I believe Taijiquan deals with structure mediated by the soft tissue of tendons and sinews, rather than structure determined directly by bone alignment and constricting muscle fibers. I think Jerry makes a similar point to this in one of his footnotes to his translation of the Ten Essentials elsewhere on this site, under Tai Chi Info/Essays. He says: “In Chinese thought the waist tends to be regarded as the space between two vertebrae, rather than a circle girdling the middle of the body.”

Speaking strictly linguistically, I can add that in one of my dictionaries, the Chinese word commonly translated as “waist” (i.e., “yao”) is also used as the equivalent of the English terms “lower back” or “lumbar region.” Thus, the term “lumbar vertebra(e)” is translated in my dictionary as “yao zhui,” and ”lumbar pain”/”backache” is translated as “yao tong.” I cannot speak for German, but “waist vertebrae” and “waist bones” are nonsense expressions in Standard English. Even “waist pain,” and “waist ache” would be taken as referring to the muscles at one’s side, rather than to anything related to the spine or the vertebrae.

Rather than be misleading and just talk about the “waist” and rather than making my post even longer than it was, I settled on the practical solution of identifying the Taiji waist as the lumbar vertebrae.

Peter, you also asked about the natural curves of the spine. Here again, I plead that what I was trying to describe was movement energy, not physical anatomy. To try to straighten out the natural curves of the spine would be very unnatural and unhealthy. In fact, achieving a perfectly straight spine might actually result in paralysis or at least in severe nerve damage. All that is necessary is that you push up and pull down, lengthening the spine. The process is important, not really the extent of the physical result.

I also agree with Michael’s response about why local strength is not an issue, but let me add a couple of clarifications about the physical and about “tension.”

My view of the Taijiquan taught by the Yangs (although not of that taught by some others) always involves an element of the physical and always involves muscular effort. Pulling on both ends of the string of pearls requires muscular effort. Spinning the lasso requires muscular effort. However, if one talks about moving energy through the rope without even touching it, one is entering a realm where I am not comfortable. To be clearer, I do not believe the Taijiquan taught by the Yangs is outside of the laws of physics as articulated by such people as Isaac Newton.

As for “tension,” I strongly believe that different practitioners mean different things by this and that this difference matters very much in shaping one’s Taijiquan. For instance, more than once I have heard, been taught, or read that one should “eliminate all tension from the spine” and allow the vertebrae to rest on each other “like a pile of bricks joined together by gravity.” In my opinion, this is not at all the way the Yangs practice Taijiquan. They seem to open up the vertebrae by gently pulling them apart. The top of the spine reaches toward “heaven” and the bottom toward “earth.” This requires use of the muscles and thus could be thought of as a type of muscular “tension”; nevertheless, this process has nothing whatsoever to do with squeezing joints into rigidity. Instead, this process unites the vertebrae into one system of movement energy.

Some would argue that Taijiquan is about minimization of effort and that I am articulating a model that relies on “muscle power.” I would say in response that in my model, any deliberate calibration of the amount of muscular exertion is either irrelevant or counterproductive. It is in total conflict with Wuwei. Instead, one naturally does what is necessary to the task at hand. If no specific task is at hand, clarity is the only requirement. The level of tension can be as subtle as what can be apparent from the process of breathing. By breathing in, the ribcage is expanded and the air pressure causes the vertebrae to separate slightly. If one is sensitive to this movement and one is trying to “fangsong” in the style articulated by the Yangs, I believe it should lead one to make a few millimeters of adjustment in the hip joints, the pelvis, and perhaps in the space between the shoulder blades. As one exhales, one would again make a natural adjustment.

A cowboy does not consciously calibrate or memorize the force necessary to spin different sizes and weights of rope in the form of a lasso. He simple visualizes the circle in his mind, starts the motion of his hand, and automatically adjusts the speed and power according to the natural feedback provided by his senses and his requirements of the moment. Deliberately applying more or less muscle power to the process is either pointless or catastrophic.

Peter, you also asked about “lifting the pelvis,” an expression which also puzzled Michael. I used this phrase after stating the caveat that I think different people experience the effects of “suspending from above” in different ways. What I tried to articulate was what I physically feel, independently of “theory.” If it is helpful to relate this to “theory,” I can point to the references in the classics to “Threading Qi through the ‘nine crooks/bends of pearl(s).’”

The nine crooks or bends, as I understand them, are the major joints or sets of joints in the body. In my not so original analogy of the string of pearls, the static part of each joint or set of joints can be thought of as a pearl and the movable part can be thought of as the string in between.

When I push up through the Bai Hui point in the top of the head in opposition to the “platform” formed by my shoulders and the base of my neck, I feel no particular sensation in my skull that is important to my practice. I do, however, feel the vertebrae in my neck open up. Although I feel that this action is connected to my shoulders and upper back, the openness of my upper back does not feel as if it is controlled vertically, but rather laterally by my shoulder muscles and tendons. In other words, I must “pluck out the back” independently of “being suspended from above.”

As I follow the alignment process down my spine, I feel as if the small of my back opens up between the two pearls of my pelvis and my shoulders/upper back. As I continue downward, the opposition between my pelvis and my thighs/knees opens up my kua’s or inner hip joints. This latter is what I meant by “lifting the pelvis.” In other words, one lifts the pelvis in opposition to the sinking of the legs.

In actual fact, I think one needs to tilt the top of the pelvis toward the rear and angle the tailbone a little downward and forward to acquire the necessary sensation. Again, the physical amount of this is not an end in itself, but rather the sensation that sets up the right “force vectors” and unifies control of the relevant tendons. If you feel the correct structure through the tendons, I believe you will establish the correct angle for the bones. The elastic structure created by the tendons is what is important, not really the ultimate alignment of the bones. In this case, any level of muscular force you apply can be made to work. Think of ratios, rather than absolutes.

As one improves, I believe one feels less and less of a need to use high levels of force without specific reason. Once one learns how to stand up, does one think about standing with “greater” or “lesser” effort? One just stands. Standing is harder in high winds than in still air, but one does not have to worry much about “practicing” to calibrate the different levels of muscular effort necessary. One simply focuses on staying on one’s feet and lets one’s body do what comes naturally. Muscular effort is not really a relevant parameter to one’s intent in this context.

Peter, you also asked about what copying intent has to do with the mind leading the body and the Yi leading the Qi. My belief is that the Taijiquan taught by the Yangs does not deal much with manipulation of Qi, but rather with manipulation of Yi. In my opinion, the teaching they reveal (at seminars at least) does not have the flavor of Qi Gong or meditation. Some would say that this must necessarily mean that they are dealing primarily with externals, but I do not believe this to be the case. I think their method is an indirect one and therefore somewhat subtle.

By having the mind relate to the body in particular ways, more is accomplished than if one tries to proceed directly. On one occasion, I think I was able to demonstrate this concept to a group of my friends at a Taiji class. I led everyone in a little exercise I came up with. The exercise was impossible to perform while using the first mental concept I asked everyone to apply. When I asked people to apply a different concept of the exercise, many found it quite easy, at least in my opinion. This is why I believe Yi matters so much to this method of Taijiquan. Correct Yi makes for easy application of Qi and Jin. Incorrect or even insufficient Yi leads to sluggish movement of Qi and Jin. Trying to work directly with Qi or Jin does little or nothing for Yi.

Consider another string analogy. Imagine that you and I have identical lengths of string with knots at equal intervals along them. Imagine that I lay mine down while pulling on both ends and that I challenge you to arrange the knots of your string exactly next to the knots on mine. If you try to place your knots one by one, you cannot succeed. Placing any individual knot in place will cause you to pull any previously placed ones out of alignment. One way you can get around this would be by nailing the knots in place one by one. If you did this, however, the knots would never quite line up in a straight line, since your eye would always do this imperfectly. Another way to proceed would be to cut the knots out and then place them individually. While this might work, it would be a laborious process and the knots could never form a single unit of energy. The best way to proceed is to copy my procedure rather than to try to directly copy the result. You simply tug on both ends of your string and miraculously the knots will line up in a perfect straight line at the exact same intervals as mine.

Notice that in my analogy, the process of tugging on both ends of the string applies movement energy to each individual knot; however, this is done in a holistic way. It is integrated force, rather than local force. The question is not whether to use force or how much force to use, but how to use it.

Notice also that calibrating the amount of effort one uses in tugging on the string is almost irrelevant. The only caveats are that one must tug hard enough for one’s pulling energy to reach each knot and that one must allow the string to move freely. On the other hand, any attempt to hold a portion of the string and place an individual knot will not succeed, no matter how “gently” one proceeds. Cutting the rope and disconnecting the knots eliminates all “tension” in the system, but is less efficient in lining them up than applying movement energy to the system as a whole. Think of the knots as the joints and the string as the tendons and sinews. Think of nailing the knots in place as using the muscles to force the bones to stay in particular alignments. Think of cutting the string as letting the muscles go slack and trying to use no muscular force at all.

I began this post in a philosophical way and now wonder whether this was the best approach. Rather than wipe all this out and start afresh (and risk carpal tunnel syndrome), I may at some later date try to walk through a portion of a “simple” posture like High Pat on Horse (Gao tan ma). I think I can explain how that posture can be performed in a way that is physically different from what a practitioner of an “external martial art” would do and how trying to copy the externals without attending to internals such as Yi will not succeed in methods like those taught by the Yangs.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Michael » Fri Nov 01, 2002 5:45 pm

Audi,

Do your wrist stretches everyday, several times a day. Very important for sword....and carpel tunnel. Short is good and so is long.

I must say I agree with most of what you say, where I differ it only amounts to shades of the same color.

I agree also with what you say about the "Daoist" approach and taiji. I would agree that both Daoism and taiji have many, many things in common. But was it by design or due to the fact they came from a culture that has certain basic concepts? What is "Daoist" and what is culture? Daoism and "Confusionism" (Daoist joke) utter the same lines very often but are very much opposed. In reality it doesn't matter where one believes taiji came from.

I almost started a new thread on the focus of "moving chi". I won't need to now. Your comments on "yi" and "chi" were on target. As it is said "intent moves the chi". I agree with what you say about yi. Practically, we need to train intent, chi will follow.

I am NOT saying this about anyone here but if one's main focus is on moving chi, it CAN be self deceiving. If you are taught in the beginning about chi, what to look for, how it feels, what it does, how to move it, it can be for many, only an imaginary experience. It feels very real but it is just what one wants it to be. This can be a huge stumbling block that may not be overcome.

Now with that said, standing etc where no instruction is given will yield "true" results just as focus on yi in taiji practice will. But all too often we are told to "imagine" the chi moving from here to there and back again...and what many are left with is nothing but imagination. When I close my eyes I can conjure up any picture I want and hold it there. I see it and maybe can "feel" it...but it is not real. I think the Yang family's approach is a sound one. But not the only one.

I am always skeptical about things that I "force", or "will". Personally, I always get better results with the opposite action or viewpoint.

Ancora Imparo!

Michael
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Postby DavidJ » Fri Nov 01, 2002 6:55 pm

Hi Audi,

Terrific post. I especially like your string analogy, and what you said about intent.

Thanks for the glimpses of training with the Yangs.

Regards,

David J
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Postby Audi » Sat Nov 02, 2002 8:55 pm

Hi Michael and David:

Michael, I am curious. What do you get out of doing standing that you do not get out of doing form practice? I am not arguing against standing practice, but just curious about your personal "cost-benifit analysis." Every minute of doing standing is a minute you could be using for standing.

Take care,
Audi

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Eulalio Silva » Mon Nov 04, 2002 3:01 pm

Hello Audi,

Without disrespect to you, you ask what is the benefit of "standing meditation"?...

Audi, Tai Chi Chuan, Ba Gua, and Hsing-I...The three major internal arts have forms, like Kata if you will...fall under the category of CHI KUNG. The other is NEI KUNG.

Chi Kung, as you very well know already is the art and science of CHI work or study or effort (Kung. It is dependent from breathing coordinated with movements. This breathing, is the CHI or "vapor" or "Air" literally translated from the Chinese word: "CHI" is used to "pump" and flow through movements....it is the YANG aspect of the internal arts. Forms are meant to interpret and disseminate CHI into the finer form JING. In other words, assuming that you have the "stored" CHI in your dan tian, the movement is an applied art. The movement, form and technique is the way of our CHI to disseminate. In so, practicing the Forms and movements makes our YANG side finer and more refined coordinated with our breathing (CHI KUNG or pranayama as in Kundalini Yoga)

The Standing still meditation is the Yin aspect of the art. It is the stillness that is being practice so as to "store" CHI in our Dan Tian. It is the Absorption and storing without dependency of the breath like Chi Kung. It is dependent however from the stillness of the mind and the Yi. The intention and will to store CHI from our surroundings (earth, air, sun, trees and moon or other people (more advanced level)). Chi Kung however, is the cultivation of the current and present CHI within our body.

So Nei Kung and Chi Kung overlaps. The standing Still meditation is the Wu Wei or the Wu Chi practiced. It is the minute before you move....the potential energy filled with possibilites is the precursor of tai chi. Once movement happens, then Yin and Yang separates....and once stillness happens, Yin and Yang harmonizes again.

In so, standing still meditation (and sitting) would not only still the mind but harness that internal energy just before explosion (an analogy). The characters used in Chinese writing would show that NEI KUNG, NEI is like "a man going inside a house"...that ideogram is the CHI coming home or being absorbed into our Dan Tian. Pre-birth.

Standing STill meditation or sitting meditation are often practiced by yogis of India. They can issue JING with their minds and therefore a "higher" form of energy cultivation than Chi Kung. But where Chi Kung ends that leads to Nei Kung practiced is not clearly defined for they are one practice.

Tai Chi Chuan practices NEi Kung with several postures. Please read these recommended books to make your Tai Chi "higher"

1. MAgus of Java by Kosta Danaos...Kosta, a scientist finding the last magus..A chinese Taoist living in Java.

2. Empty Force by Paul dong

3. Warriors of STillness by Dan diepersloot

I hope this would clarify your question of stillness meditation.

Eulalio Silva
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Postby Michael » Mon Nov 04, 2002 11:09 pm

Audi,

First I won't describe anything for reasons I have mentioned earlier---the effect of imagination and desire. So I never address "chi" when talking about standing. My teacher would refuse all questions about it. I will say that what you get in standing that you can't get in sitting is incredible root. This is hard to develop as intensly in the moving form. What you learn here however is easily applied to form practice. You also learn to fine tune structure, often to deal with pain---usually in the shoulders (sounds fun eh?). And no matter what anyone says, it also is a form of strength training--mental and physical.

There is more to it. So if you are so inclined to give it a try you have to stick with it until you know why you are doing it. Nothing I or anyone else says means anything until YOU know yourself.

Sorry I can't be more clear.

Michael
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Postby Eulalio Silva » Tue Nov 05, 2002 5:48 am

Audi,
With the same response that you have just written:

I have only a little experience of the methods you describe. Because of this, I do not feel qualified to comment on your ideas in detail. The only thing I feel strongly about is that, at least at the beginning and intermediate level, those methods are not compatible with mine.


Then this clearly shows that it is your part that is lacking instead of stereotyping me according to my name and ignorantly “miss-guessing” my “Spanish” background just because my name sounds Hispanic. Yes, my name is a Spanish or rather Italian (take your poison) but I happen to be a “mutt”. I am an American who is of Filipino, Spanish, and Chinese descent. I grew up from the Philippines learning Filipino Kali, which is a distant cousin of Pencak Silat or Kuntao Silat (Indonesian, Malaysian and Filipino martial arts, if you haven’t heard of it) consequently; it is also an internal-external art with the same or similar CHI cultivation as well as dissemination. And now on my way in learning Temple-Style Tai Chi here in Chicago, (style which was prevalent from Taipei.) I also cross train with other internal arts such as standing meditations from the I-Chuan (a derivative of Hsing-I, which is a sister art of Tai Chi)

I am CHI-literate if you will, and I speak the same language as you do but it is your single-mindedness that keeps you within the strict discipline of Yang Tai Chi and not understand others. While I am speaking to you within the realm of Yang Tai Chi, you eloquently speak of Tai Chi as if you know the whole thing.

Tai Chi is an art and lifestyle wrapped up in one. It is also of science. While it can be a literary subject and can be expressed as beautiful or as technical and empirical as anybody can refute, it is still an art based on FEELINGS and EXPERIENCES. To be blunt with you, you can master the literary part of Tai Chi and doesn’t know how to fight using Tai Chi as an applied art. It is funny how “westerners” (if you want to play this stereotypes you have started) deem Tai Chi as their own creation based mainly from classes and seminars attented from their hobby and have the nerve to be authoritative in this life long discipline.

In Asia, the testing ground is not forum such as this. You pit your skill and knowledge on reality based platform instead of discussing it intelligently. While I can discuss this with you scholarly, it won’t matter since the ultimate test of your skill must be verified on real life situation. Can you tell me what is Wu Wei if you are faced with a Kris wielding adversary? Can you tell me how you are going to do your SINGLE WHIP with thug who has ill wishes to take your head off? Bluntly, I don’t so.

If want to know Tai Chi, you have to look at outside of Tai Chi to understand how Tai Chi was transplanted in Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines and how it was transformed (Form-wise and technique-wise) to accommodate what is real and practical. Chen and Yang Tai Chi Chuan are wonderful and complete in their own right but it is not without faults or rather “perfect”. I wonder if you are still going to do the identical SINGLE WHIP form you discussed and analyzed intelligently when faced with a real adversary? Well guess what, that’s why masters cross train and realized that they can learn from others too.

But if you are going to insinuate that I am “Portuguese or Spanish” and that I speak of different arts, then you don’t know your own art.

As you know, Bodhidharma, an Indian (and some even claim a Persian) monk who visited China and taught the Chinese:

1. Chi Kung
2. Nei Kung
3. Bone Marrow Washing
4. Organ Cleansing
5. Spiritual Enlightment by refining the Chi into Shen

Tai Chi is generally regarded as one attributed to the great sage, Chan Sang Feng. But that is only a “general consensus” amongst the historians because he is the most recognizable and verifiable of all figures and therefore endorsing this art.

But in reality, there are countless arts that are equally great or probably greater than Tai Chi but were never unearthed in our modern times. My point is that, there is a common denominator from all of these Nei Jia (or sister internal arts). Without these, the art will not be considered “internal”.

Any internal art has Chi Kung and Nei Kung components. Chi Kung as in Energy through Breathing and work, study and effort in the discipline of YANG cultivation and dissemination of CHI from within our own body. Forms and movements arise from these Chi Kung meditations. Chi Kung is similar to the Pranayama being practiced within Kundalini Yoga. Nei Kung, on the other hand is the Yin aspect which is rarely taught or not being taught. It is not dependent of the breath as in Chi kung but the stillness of the mind and the Yi or I being emphasized to store and absorb CHI into our Dan Tien. And so, in regards to Chen Style and Yang Style Tai Chi, both components are present in different degrees and levels.

One cannot take a piecemeal of reality from the art and deem it as a solitary reality that is independent and a stand-alone model. Like Chi Kung, Nei Kung and External movements all are comparable to Ice, snow, and steam. All of it are different phases of water but it is still water in the beginning and will still be water later. Tai Chi Chuan is one of the many forms of the TAO but nevertheless a manifestation of the TAO. So are Hsing-I and Ba Gua Zhang.

Most are really skeptical of the standing meditation because in this commercialized world, trying to sell and idea such as “just standing” will not cut it. Even in China, the art has evolved and the only way to look and explore is to look at its neighboring countries that still harbor the same Tai Chi as it was many centuries ago while evolving into a hyper-modern art at the same time. This process cannot materialize here in the commercially oriented place and wherein life is not inherently within the TAO.

It can be transplanted and practiced but it cannot be applied superficially into a society that is not conducive to the creativity and flourishing of such art.

And so, to be a serious student of Tai Chi, you should be able to look into every stone unturned but best to practice it diligently without using all your efforts into arguments on what is Tai Chi and what is not Tai Chi. Tai Chi should be experienced and talking about it would too much without much self research is dangerous.

The Chens and the Yangs are institutions of human self-development but it is neither “supreme” nor “complete”. The martial arts is only one of the manifestations that one can study to understand the TAO and to be in sync with the TAO. But when one expresses the TAO, it cannot be trivialized, fragmented and dissected. For one’s Tai Chi is of another’s useless and baseless philosophy.

I see that you are very eloquent and intelligent. That is good. But you don’t know who you are talking to and their own backgrounds and experiences and encourage that you practice humility and right judgement. Supress the ego and invest in loss. Even if I am not as eloquent as you are within the literary expressions of Tai Chi, it does not mean you know Tai Chi. It has to be lived, breathed, ate, slept and toiled with. It has to be running within your veins and governing in your sleep. In other words, you don’t put on a Tai Chi shirt to know it. It has to be lived.

PEACE,
Eulalio Silva
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Postby Michael » Tue Nov 05, 2002 8:25 pm

Audi,

I should add---"Cost benifit..." I can't even consider this concept in that one would not use the time if a certain amount of benifit was not gained. How much is the cut off point? Simply, the more time you spend the better your understanding, the greater ones progress.

You can "stand" in the time you normally waste, you can "stand" watching TV---but I would find other times to do it as well. Start with as little as five minutes on each side---helps with the shoulders, or do ten minutes in the Standing Post. Increase the time as you would increase reps in weight lifting.

Any time spent is worth it. I often go from one one room to another doing single movement training...stepping alternating right and left press or, brush knees, Part wild Horse, etc. I practice while driving the car (internally). My family has gotten use to my strange behavior.

Eulalio,

Thanks for sharing your background, it helps in understanding your viewpoint. I think however you may have got a little defensive. Intent and words do not always "jive". I know I should keep my mouth shut---a failing of mine (among many others)... With your Daoist or Buddhist take on things, remember that those "feelings" or one's reactions to anothers words are our responsibility. No one makes us "feel" anything. Just as often words can be chosen more "wisely". And assumptions are usually dangerous or at least, often wrong. I don't know that the intent of Audi's words were entirely as you viewed them. Assume that you may have created some mis understandings of your own. It is NEVER one or the other.

Approaches to internal work, standing, etc are many. And words on the subject of "chi" can often lead to many misunderstandings. Some use more "esoteric" words some express themselves in a more "mechanically" or "structurally" orientated manner. Often they are talking about the same things in essense...sometimes not.

I agree that "internal" ("Yin") training is all too often neglected in our structured classes. But I also feel that the "Yang" side is even more neglected in most classes. Some may disagree, but that is my experience.

And you are right that things like standing are "a hard sell". It is mainly due to people's lack of patience, our quick results "neediness" in our "advanced" culture. That is why most people quit taiji and standing before they begin to get a clue. I stopped standing several times as it seemed an "empty practice". I would try again as my former teacher was emphatic about it's value. Then after months and months I understood why I was putting myself through what at times (early on) seemed like torture. I also came to realize why he kept his mouth shut about the practice itself. The simple things are the hardest to understand and talk about. Words often just complicate things.

My best to you both and good practice!

Michael
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