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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Taiji Cane

During the past two years I have been developing a Taiji Cane program for Qi Elements Taijiquan curriculum. We have been teaching Taiji Saber for a while, but our saber lacked foundation. I have to admit to a serious prejudice when it comes to turning martial arts into modern dance, which is the outcome when bare-hand or weapons are taught without martial foundation. Of course, some people may say that learning the martial foundation of saber or sword is not a productive direction for kung fu (time and effort) in the modern age. After all, in some places carrying a sword or saber is illegal whereas carrying a firearm is not. But you can carry a cane legally everywhere. So kung fu applied to Taiji cane is very practical.

If anyone has developed fundamental training for Taiji cane, I have yet to find it. I took the techniques of Taiji saber and sword from Master Yang and other sources and employed them in Taiji cane. The vast majority of weapon and supplemental hand techniques of Taiji saber and easily applicable to cane. Even some of the sword techniques like dian and beng (flick down and flick up) can be used with cane.

We demonstrated our Taiji Cane at World Tai Chi Qigong Day last week, and it attracted a lot of interest. The demonstration of le zha (rollback and poke) evoked several gasps from the audience. Yes, it is nasty.  Our simple level one beginner cane form is on our You-Tube channel qielements1 as are our techniques from level one and level two. I am still working on creating a more complex form incorporating all of the level one and two techniques as well as a cane vs cane matching set (you know, for when we are all in the old-folks home jockeying for place in the dinner line).  Go to Qi Elements’ You-Tube Channel

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Regulating the Spirit: Moderation in attachments

If you want to build up and maintain a calm and steady spirit, it is a common tenet of philosophy that you have to avoid attachment to the things of the world.  This is why monks retreat from society and go to the mountains for self-cultivation.  Of course when most people think of detachment from the things of the world, they think of material things, but it is also necessary to avoid excessive attachment to living things.  They are all subject to the cycles of growth and decay. In the case of a pet, the cycle of growth and decay can be as fast as 10 or 20 years.

In addition, people are subject to their own fate or destiny.  People can change their own destiny with effort, but most don’t make the effort.  You can help someone change their destiny, but you can’t do it for them.  If you become attached to changing someone’s destiny, you are likely to suffer disillusionment.

Excessive attachment to another person or a pet can make your spirit vulnerable to their fate.  Thus we must be moderate in our attachments.

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Regulating the Spirit

If you wish to maintain a calm and steady spirit, you must embrace the fact that the world moves in cycles of growth and decay.  The cycles may last days, years, centuries or millennia, but they are inevitable and unavoidable.  During my visit this weekend to my former home town, I was reminded again of how this little city, once bustling, is now decaying.  Experiencing the cycles during your lifetime, you will see things that you love bloom and decay.  You will see things that you hate, rise and prosper.  You yourself will rise and then fade away.  If you cannot train yourself to accept these cycles with equanimity, how can you maintain a steady spirit?

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Staying Healthy

Rats!  I caught a sore throat over the holiday break.  I don’t regard it as normal to get sick, and if you accept the principle that you are responsible for your own health, as I do, then if you get sick, you look for the reasons why.  What did I do and what did I neglect to do that caused this illness?  What lessons can I draw from the experience?

In analyzing the experience, I find on the “what did I do” list first of all is that I was traveling.  Eating every meal in a restaurant and neglecting to specify no ice in my iced tea.  Since I should have kept in mind that my throat has always been an Achilles heel for me, I should have specified no ice, which is what I do when I eat at my familiar local restaurants.  Second, for one meal I had black pepper chicken, another assault on the throat, this time by hot spices.  I did stay hydrated, got enough sleep and took my herbal supplements, which usually protect me, but on this occasion were not sufficient.

On the “what did I not do” list, I have my daily nasal rinse, which is another effective means of cold prevention.  The rinsing device is bulky to pack and requires distilled water, which is not available everywhere.

Bottom line–if you, too, accept the principle that you have a tremendous influence on your health, be careful about your daily activities, particularly when you are away from your usual habitat and usual routine.  Remain aware of your vulnerabilities and protect them.

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Prevention vs. treatment

Every October, breast cancer awareness month, I am reminded that the American approach to illness is still heavily biased toward an attitude that goes something like this: “first I have the bad luck to get sick, then I go to the doctor and it is up to him or her to fix me.”

Most of the discussion about breast cancer in the media focuses on early detection with very little if any attention given to prevention. The Chinese approach is focused on prevention of illness. There was a doctor in the small city where I grew up who had a reputation as a very good physician. His waiting room was full of sick people, coughing and looking miserable. Wall to wall, when you came in you could hardly find a chair. My first Taiji teacher told us that when she went to Taiwan with her teacher, they visited a village doctor’s office. The waiting room was empty. Her teacher said, “see, here is a good doctor. His patients are not sick. He has taught them how to stay healthy.”

Getting sick has little to do with bad luck, and if your attitude is that your doctor is responsible for your wellness, you are making a big mistake. If you want to stay well, you have to take responsibility for your health and make your own luck by following a healthy lifestyle. This concept is slowly catching hold in America, but still has a long way to go.

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