Spirit in Taijiquan

This week in Qi Elements’ Taijiquan classes we have been focusing on a combination of three of the Taiji Essentials—an intangible and lively energy lifts the head upward, match up inner and outer, and seek quiescence within movement. All three concern the intent and spirit in Taijiquan. When the spirit is raised, and the movements are performed with correct manifestation of the martial intent, the Qi can be abundant and circulate freely. The raised spirit and the abundance and smooth circulation of Qi are critical to manifesting Taijiquan’s martial power and to achieving the full benefits of Taiji for maintaining and improving health.
It is very difficult to raise and maintain a high spirit if your head is not lifted and your gaze level. Try it sometime. Try to raise your spirit while looking down. It’s difficult if not impossible. I think this is why the common folk were forced to bow their heads to the nobility in ancient societies. Doing so would lower their spirit and keep them aware of their subordinate position in the society.
In Taijiquan the spirit is raised but contained within. That is to say, the spirit is evident but not overly obvious. It is said that such a raised but contained spirit shows through the eyes. This inwardly calm and contained spirit in Taijiquan contrasts with the externally manifest spirit in other, hard-style martial arts. Watch an old kung-fu movie, and you will probably see examples of externally manifested spirit—an angry face, tense muscles and loud sounds. These are correct in the harder styles as performed by younger people, but not correct in Taijiquan. External manifestation of spirit consumes energy, Taijiquan conserves energy. The need to conserve energy is one reason why many aging martial artists move from hard styles to internal styles.
In regard to matching up inner and outer, it is said that when practicing postures your internal intent will manifest spirit. Without knowing the intent of the Taiji movements it is difficult to raise the spirit and move the Qi strongly. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for Taiji to be taught as simple choreography without an understanding of the internal intent of the movements. When you see Taiji performed in such a manner, it looks lifeless and limp.
The gentle lifting of the head to maintain a level gaze and the raised but calm and contained spirit are two of the most important transformations that most people should achieve when they begin and continue to train Taijiquan. The habit of lifting the head will help maintain correct posture and prevent the decline that accompanies advancing age in many people. The raised spirit will help in the constant battles we fight with stress, illness and premature aging.

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More about adjusting to Autumn

The growing Yin of autumn means increasing focus on contraction and storage in the natural world. Harmonize your daily life with the growing Yin of autumn by becoming less active and going to bed earlier. It is a good time to examine what’s going on in your life to sort out what is important and what is dispensable.

Another way to help your body adjust to autumnal changes is by adjusting your diet. Drink more water to counter dryness in the lungs. Eat fewer spicy foods because spicy foods have a drying and sweat producing quality. Sour foods are gently moistening and hold in sweat and other fluids. Increase your intake of vinegar, pickled vegetables, and plums. Other foods such as soy milk, and fruit juices (particularly apple and pear) also help to prevent excessive dryness. Start to reduce your consumption of cold foods, which burden the spleen and stomach when the weather becomes cooler.

Starting about the second week of September, you will notice that although the afternoons can still be very warm, the temperatures will be noticeably cooler in the mornings and evenings. Take care to dress appropriately for the cooler times of day. It is a good idea to dress in layers that you can put on or take off as appropriate to the temperature.

Wishing you good health throughout the year.

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Start Preparing Now for Fall and the Cold and Flu Season

Ever wonder why we mark the start of summer on the longest day of the year (the summer solstice), and the next day the days start already to get shorter? In Qigong and Chinese medicine, we mark the seasons differently. Accordingly, the summer solstice marks the middle of summer, not the beginning. This way of marking the seasons is more in tune with nature, and when we are in tune with nature, we stay healthier. We can stay in tune with nature by changing behavior, such as sleep patterns; changing our diet; and even changing our mental attitude with the seasons.

For several years now I have been sharing with my Taiji and Qigong students an acupressure routine to help ward off common colds and flu. I started out publicizing the routine in late September, but after a few years, I began to realize that by late September some of my students, particularly those whose immune systems were run down by overwork and stress, would already have suffered a round of cold or flu. The Qigong system marks the beginning of autumn already in August (August 7th this year). With that in mind, I realized that if I want to help my students stay healthy during the cold and flu season, I need to start early in August.

Although in Northern Virginia it is still hot and damp at this time of year, it is a good time to begin taking greater care of your lungs. They will soon be under attack by autumn allergens and in time the dryness of Autumn will also put your lungs under stress. You can perform the Lung Cleansing Qigong shown on our You Tube channel qielements1. In additions you can begin to apply acupressure to tonifying points such as St 36 and Sp 6. I have also found that herbal supplement formulas help keep the lungs healthy. I have used Respiratory Support and Defense from Nature’s Secret and a general formula called Wellness Formula from Source Naturals. (I don’t sell supplements so there is no conflict of interest here.) This is the time that I will begin taking supplements to strengthen my lungs.

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Don’t outsource your emotional center

One of the principles of the Taoist Qigong exercises Six Healing Sounds and Inner Smile that we started in our Wednesday evening Qigong classes two weeks ago is that persons should accept responsibility for their own emotional state. Whatever the external event that triggers the emotional experience, you should experience the emotion, resolve it, let it go and return to a state of emotional calmness or equilibrium.

You may know people who seem to like outsourcing the responsibility for their emotional state.  They say,  “I can help it. It/he/she makes me so angry/sad/frustrated/worried/fearful/etc,” but the Taoists would say that you have a responsibility for the sake of your own health and the health of  those around you to eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later, resolve those emotions.  We all should be aware that emotional overloads or negative emotions held for a long time are damaging to our health.

The Taoist exercises that we are now working on Wednesday evenings provide techniques for relieving emotional stress and for transforming negative emotions into positive virtues. Another technique for achieving such transformations is “Functional Meditation,” which I have mentioned in previous posts.

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More on Giving Up Ego in Taijiquan

We spent some time on Wrist Na training in today’s Taijiquan class. In Wrist Na, you try to keep your palms on top of your partner’s wrists. Your partner uses the Yin and Yang coiling of the “snake climbs over the branch” exercise to move his hands to above your’s. You try with light and agile movements that originate in your root and waist to prevent partner from coiling over and if he succeeds in coiling over, to in turn coil back over his hands. The Taiji classics say, “light then agile, agile then variable, variable then neutralize.”

Many beginners try when they first practice Wrist Na to prevent their partner from coiling over to atop their hands by tensing, resisting by using force, and even by grabbing and holding the partner’s wrist. This response maybe a symptom of having one’s ego invested in “winning” at Wrist Na. They tend to take the same approach to other Taijiquan training exercises such as pushing hands.

But Wrist Na, pushing hands and other Taijiquan training exercises are not ends in themselves where it is meaningful to think in terms of “winning” or “losing.” Although it might be fun to engage in win/lose competition in these exercises, it will be counter productive if such an approach leads to the building of bad habits such as using excessive force or resisting instead of yielding and following. Such bad habits will be very detrimental to the student’s progress in higher levels of Taijiquan training.

When the student’s training moves to higher levels, habits of tensing, resisting, or grabbing developed if the student attempts to “win” at Wrist Na will result in the student remaining slow and clumsy and becoming vulnerable to Qin Na. If your partner in Wrist Na is so skillful that you are unable to keep your palms atop his or her wrists with light and agile movements, then the proper response when your partner coils over is to follow partner’s coiling with your own.

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What is Qigong (Chi Gong)?

World Tai Chi and Qigong Day will be celebrated on Saturday April 28 with events world wide beginning at 10 AM in each time zone. Here in Herndon, VA, Qi Elements Center for Taijiquan and Qigong will have an open house with demonstrations and workshops on Taiji and Qigong exercise from 10 AM to 12 Noon, followed by a pot luck lunch from Noon to 1 PM.

Chinese Qigong has existed for over 2,500 years.  Qigong exercise involves the coordination of mind, body, breath, internal energy or Qi (Chi) and spirit.  There are many different types of Qigong exercise.  Nei Dan or internal Qigong involves exercises such as meditation, cultivation and circulation of internal energy.  Wai Dan or external Qigong uses physical movement to cultivate and circulate internal energy.  Qigong is divided into several types, including Medical Qigong aimed at improving health and treating illnesses, Scholar Qigong aimed at achieving longevity and Martial Qigong aimed at cultivating internal energy for fighting.

If you want to learn more about Qigong, please come and join us on World Tai Chi and Qigong Day at Qi Elements, 464 Herndon Parkway, Suite 215, Herndon, VA 20170.


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What is Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan)?


World Tai Chi and Qigong Day will be celebrated on Saturday April 28 with events world wide beginning at 10 AM in each time zone. Here in Herndon, VA, Qi Elements Center for Taijiquan and Qigong will have an open house with demonstrations and workshops on Taiji and Qigong exercise from 10 AM to 12 Noon, followed by a pot luck lunch from Noon to 1 PM.

Translated from the Chinese, the name means something like “supreme ultimate empty-hand fighting.” When we try to put the sounds of the three Chinese characters that spell Taijiquan into English letters, confusions might arise because there are several different ways to do it. In the modern, Pinyin system used in China, the sounds are written “Taijiquan.” In older systems that are still more widely used in the West, the sounds are most often written as “Tai Chi Chuan.” Either way, it all means the same—an ancient Chinese martial art that relies on internal energy and technique for effectiveness rather than on the size, strength or speed of the practitioner.

The art is based on the Taiji (Tai Chi) philosophy and the principles of Yin and Yang found in the I Ching, the classics of Taoist philosophy such as the Tao Te Ching and other sources such as The Art of War. Taijiquan trains the practitioner to move his or her body as a single, integrated unit and to coordinate the body movements with breathing, mental focus and circulation of internal energy or Qi (Chi). The movements flow continuously in circles and spirals. When engaged with an opponent, the practitioner of Taijiquan never attempts to overpower the opponent, but instead to use the opponent’s movement and energy against the opponent.

Most Americans, if they have seen anyone practicing Taijiquan at all, have only seen old people practicing slow movements in a park mainly for health. In the beginning Taijiquan is practiced with slow movements, but the movements become faster as the practitioner progresses and begins to practice the martial applications with training partners. The bare-hand techniques of Taijiquan include striking with feet, hands and elbows, takedowns and throws as well as joint locking. Taijiquan practitioners may also train with traditional weapons including, saber, sword and staff.

Taijiquan has been revered for centuries in China as both an exercise for maintaining and improving health and as a highly effective martial art.

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Applying Taijiquan in daily life

I had a life lesson yesterday, but I am embarrassed to say that I failed to use my art. After my morning class, I received a phone call purporting to be from our local electric power company. The speaker told me that in 45 minutes a technician would be arriving at my location, which he correctly identified, to shut off the power because, according to him, the company had not received any of my payments for the last four months. He told me that I had to be sure that someone would be at my location to let the technician in.

Well, feeling a bit tired after teaching and performing for 1 1/2 hours and a bit annoyed at the prospect of tax season and all the paperwork on my desk, I exploded. There followed about an hour of my giving the people on the other end of the phone a litany of what I was going to do to them if they shut off my electricity and forced me to close my school while the “company” “investigated” my account and determined why they had not received the payments that I had made.

Only later did I realize that I had forgotten the lessons of Taijiquan and Yin and Yang. I met force with force, threatening to hire a lawyer, sue for damages and almost telling the people their technician was never going to get into my property in one piece.

When the opponent is Yang, Taijiquan dictates that we become Yin. What would Yin have looked like in this situation? A Yin response would have been to stay calm and analyze the situation. Calm analysis of what the caller was saying should have led me to think, “why does the company need me to be here so that they can turn off the power?” The meter is outside. Also why would the power company operate this way with a good customer of 12 years. If instead going to my account page on the company website and reading off to them the amounts and dates of all the payments I had made, I had scrolled down the home page of the site, I would have seen the warning about exactly the scam that these people were trying to run on me.

Fortunately, I did eventually go into Yin mode. I even apologized to one of the people for yelling and swearing at him. I was about to go to purchase a gift card in the “minimum amount” they said would prevent the immediate cut off, when I thought to check the home page of the power company’s site, and saw the scam warning. I then went to visit the local police, who were already aware of the scam. When the scammers called back, I told them I was still at the police station. They hung up.

While I saved the $255 dollars they wanted to stop the cut off, I still payed a price. I was exhausted, That’s the cost of using Yang against Yang, and the older we get, the more difficult it is to sustain that cost. Next time I need to remember the power of Yin.

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Do Women Really Need a Firearm for Self-Defense?

The other day, exercising my curiosity, I googled “Webley Bulldog self-cocking pistol.” I was reading the book Son of the Morning Star about George Custer. According to the book, Custer carried the Webley at the Little Big Horn rather than the standard issue cavalry sidearm. As I was reading a site about the Webley, an ad popped up on the topic of women’s self-defense. The ad video featured anatomical charts and other illustrations endeavoring to prove that women are weaker than men and therefore cannot defend themselves against men without the use of firearms. The ad was obviously intended to sell firearms to women.

I am not anti-gun, but I do have several concerns about relying on firearms for civilian self-defense. First, when you rely on a firearm for self-defense, you escalate the threat directly to deadly force. Deadly force is appropriate in some situations, but not in all situations. Second, when you rely on a firearm for self-defense, you have to be prepared to use it.

If you are at all squeamish about using deadly force against another person, relying on the firearm for self-defense can put you in a more dangerous situation. Firearms have no loyalty. If the attacker is not intimidated by your deploying your firearm and continues to approach and threaten you, must shoot or the attacker will take the firearm away from you and perhaps use it against you. Firearms linked to the owner by devise or biometrics would help mitigate this problem, but for some reason they are controversial. You would be better off with a big dog, who is loyal and intimidating, or with training in unarmed self-defense.

Of course, the ad video did not consider the potential of unarmed self-defense. Skill in unarmed self-defense has several advantages. First, the assailant cannot take away your skill and use it against you. Second, skill in unarmed self-defense can allow you to manage the process of escalation without your having to go directly to deadly force. Third ou can take your skill in unarmed self-defense and the air of self-confidence it gives you everywhere, even places where firearms are prohibited.

Those who know and practice Taijiquan would scoff at the video’s premise that a woman cannot defend herself against a man unless she has a firearm. Taijiquan doesn’t rely on bodily strength and trying to out muscle an opponent. True, it takes longer to become proficient in Taijiquan than to learn to shoot a firearm. But the acquisition of skill in Taijiquan has many other benefits because it will improve every aspect of your life.

As for Custer’s Webley, it is still not clear to me why he made such an unusual choice.

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Protecting and Nurturing the Spirit (continued)

Root and center are the keys to our physical stability. In Taijiquan we train to strengthen our root and refine our center. Root is our connection to the earth. Center is the area of the body that when a strong force is applied might cause us to lose our balance and thereby destroy our root. Untrained people have a very large and unrefined center. If you push untrained persons on the shoulder, it is likely you will uproot them.

Taijiquan training enables us to refine our center to make it firm and less vulnerable to outside forces. With practice, we can refine our center to a point in the lower abdomen. Push such trained persons anywhere else and you will not find their center and not be able to uproot them. Some are able to hide their center even when pushed directly on the lower abdomen. Training on bricks enables even more refinement of the center.
The upper and lower Dan Tians are the keys to our energetic center. When you train to keep your mind focused there, you will be able to conserve and increase your Qi. If you want to learn more about this process, see Dr. Yang’s book on Embryonic Breathing.

Preserving and nurturing our spirit requires that we strengthen our spiritual root and refine our spiritual center. Let’s say that our spiritual center is our sense of self: who we are and how we behave; recognition and awareness of our self-worth; recognition and acceptance of our strengths and weaknesses; and setting and pursuing our goals for self-development to build on our strength and reduce our weaknesses. For example, a person with an unrefined center, when called a “moron”—let’s say it’s the verbal equivalent of a push on the shoulder–might become unbalanced and lose his center and root. He might feel hurt and cry. He might feel anger and lash out.

A person with a refined center will not be unbalanced and uprooted by such a remark. A person with a refined sense of self-worth and strengths, might react with an internal voice that says “nonsense, I’m no moron!” He won’t feel the need to verbally counter-punch or even reply with a dismissive gesture. Alternatively, the internal voice may say, “true, I am not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I am aware of my weaknesses and have learned to accept them.” It is even possible that the internal voice might say, “yes, I am no moron, but I just did something that could be called moronic and I should make amends.” In that case, the person with a refined center will make amends and feel no loss of center by so doing.

Next strengthening the spiritual root.

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