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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Protecting and Nurturing Your Spirit

The practice of Taijiquan and Qigong should not be confined to the classroom or the training ground because these arts art not just a classroom exercise; they are a way of life. By living according to their principles, you learn how to develop your physical health and strength, to cultivate and accumulate your vital energy (Qi), to calm and concentrate your mind, and to nurture and strengthen your spirit. By spirit, I mean everything from the state of your morale up to and including the energy entity that survives the cessation of physical life. The strength of your spirit affects all the other aspects of your being—your physical health and strength, your mental health and strength, and the quantity of your Qi and the quality of its circulation. Developing a strong spirit requires a long time of nurturing and cultivation during which time the spirit is fragile like an infant and can easily diminish and even perish if not properly nurtured and protected. Properly nurtured and protected, your spirit will eventually become strong and self-sustaining. In trying times like the present, nurturing and protecting your spirit is especially important.

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Preparing for autumn’s arrival

As you know, autumn will be arriving soon.  The Yin organ that bears the burden of the seasonal changes from late summer to autumn is the lungs, and the corresponding Yang organ is the large intestine.  Past experience shows that the over-worked, stressed-out residents of the DC area will soon start experiencing respiratory and intestinal illnesses.  It is time to begin lung Qigong to help your lungs adjust to the change.  You can find my video of Lung Cleansing Qigong on YouTube here.  In addition to Qigong exercise, you might want to try herbal supplements.  Two that I have use and believe are effective are:  Respiratory Defense by Nature’s Secret and Clear Lungs by Ridgecrest Herbals.  I don’t benefit in any way if you purchase them, so there is no conflict of interest in my recommendation.

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What every young girl should know

If there is a teenage or pre-teen girl in your life that you love, please consider showing her the video at this link and having a discussion with her about what to do if she ever is faced with a situation like that shown in the video.  Video of abduction.  The video shows a man confronting and leading away a girl in Sarasota Fl.  The girl’s body was found a few days later.

Two important points to make in discussing the video are.  First. if you see a stranger approaching you who makes you feel uneasy, you should turn and run to a place of safety, which can be a place where there are people or traffic, an open store, a lighted house.  Do not worry about the stranger’s feelings.  The important point is: your safety first, the stranger’s feelings second.

Second, if a stranger attempts to take you somewhere, do not go with him.  Scream, claw, kick, poke and punch, but whatever it takes, do not go with a stranger.  He may say, “Just do what I say, and you won’t get hurt.”  Do not believe him.  Do not go with him.  Do not let him take control of you.  This is the consensus advice of law enforcement and personal safety experts.

In the next few months I will shoot and post videos on techniques that can be used if a stranger grabs you.  But the best defense is not to let a stranger get close enough to grab you.

Yes, the odds of these things happening are small, but if it were to happen, you will be so much safer if you are mentally prepared for what to do.

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Centering, like other combat training exercises in Taijiquan, should not be practiced as though it were an end in itself. Always keep in mind that it is a step in a progression to building skills in Taijiquan fighting. When I participate in or watch centering, I often see gross violations of Taijiquan principles, which will become dangerous bad habits if allowed to continue into subsequent levels of combat training.

One common violation is the departure from the principle of centered and upright (no tilting, no leaning). Here the partner contorts himself forward or backward to avoid losing his balance and “losing” the centering “contest.” These contortions expose the groin when bending backwards and expose the back of the skull when tilting forwards. Very bad habits indeed.

Another very common violation is resisting, the use of force against force creating mutual stagnation and turning centering into Sumo. The skilled practitioner will quickly resolve mutual stagnation by turn Yang to Yin, but this if difficult to accomplish when the rules do not allow stepping.

Butting, the use of excessive force as noted by Yang Ban Huo, is another common mistake. When a partner attacks with excessive force–in effect throwing his center into the attack–a skilled practitioner can send him stumbling across the room by directing his attack to the side, but practice is necessary to develop effective reaction and timing.

Finally, there is the failure to give up ego and accept Cheng, Man-ching’s principle of “invest in loss.” Don’t look at centering as competition. Look at it as training. You are supposed to make yourself vulnerable so that you can increase your skills. Thus, the suggestion to stand high rather than low. If you consistently “win” at centering–and especially if you resort to violation of essential Taijiquan combat principles to “win”–you learn nothing except that your partner is not skilled enough to make you improve.

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Who controls your life?

Master Yang often asks, “Do you control your life or does your life control you?” I think that for most people the answer isn’t either or but a question of degree. I think that there are some people that have very little control over their life. Their life mostly controls them. On the other hand, I find it hard to imagine that anyone would be able to have total control over their life, unless they have isolated themselves from society and all attachments.

During my previous career, I set my life up so that my job controlled only 40-50 hours of my life per week, except as I like to say, when tanks were in the streets of Moscow. Now, as a Taijiquan and Qigong teacher and school owner, my life controls most of my time–teaching, training, and studying. But I set my life up and made my choices so that my life would control me in that way. For example, this morning I taught my Qigong class with only one student, but we did 1/2 hour of Primary Set, 10 minutes of liver Qigong, 15 minutes of White Crane Qigong and 20 minutes of Taiji form. If no students had shown up, what would i have done–train or not train? Maybe not train.

Having set my life up to control me in this way helps me deal with another of Master Yang’s frequent observations: “The hardest thing is to conquer your own laziness.” With the help of my students and the way I have set my life up to control me, I can say, “yes, I can conquer.” Does your life control you in ways you approve of or not? If not, maybe you should make some changes.

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