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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Lessons from the Yin-Yang symbol and Taoist philosophy

yinyangThe Yin-Yang symbol tells us that nothing lasts forever.  The universe and human kind are in a constant state of change.  We can see this in nature every year as the seasons turn.  Things will sprout, flourish, wither and then die.  The same thing happens in human affairs.  Good times will be followed by bad times.  Progress will be followed by regress.  Remember that the Tao Te Ching tells us that the ugly and the beautiful are both natural because they give measure to each other.    If you are enjoying any current state of affairs, beware that within the current state is the seed of change (those little dots in the symbol), which sooner or later will take root and give rise to change.  Understanding and accepting the constant cycles of change talked about in the Tao and represented in the Yin-Yang symbol is an important step to succeeding in regulating your emotional mind and in creating a strong and steady spirit.  If your wisdom mind can understand and accept the cycles of change, then your emotional mind can remain calm and your spirit remain steady as you view and experience change.  It’s not easy, particularly not easy if you are attached to the things of the human world.

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Sayings of the Taiji Classics applied to partner work

Here is the handout I used today in the special Sunday class on pushing hands.  We went over the five learning points in centering and pushing hands exercises.  Many of the points, of course, also apply to solo form.

Sayings of the Taiji Classics in Application

Study wide and deep. Investigate, ask. Ponder carefully. Clearly discriminate. Work perseveringly. (The Five Mental Keys to Diligent Study, anonymous)
Point 1: No part should be defective . . . deficient or excessive and no part should be disconnected. . . . From the feet to the legs to the waist must be integrated and one unified Qi. (Taijiquan Treatise, Zhang, San-Feng). Qi should circulate and move through your entire body. (Three Important Theses of Taijiquan, anonymous; Taijiquan Fundamental Key Points, anonymous.) Take care that the Qi circulates through the entire body without the slightest stagnation. (Song of the Thirteen Postures, anonymous) You want the entire body’s Qi to circulate smoothly, it must be continuous and non-stop (Three Important Theses of Taijiquan, anonymous.) The entire body and all the joints should be threaded together without the slightest break (Taijiquan Treatise, Zhang, San-Feng).
Point 2: An insubstantial energy leads the head upward. Body central and upright. (Taijiquan Fundamental Key Points, anonymous.) An insubstantial energy leads the head upward . . . (Thirteen Important Keys, Gu, Liu-Xing.) Stand like a balanced scale, move lively like a cartwheel. (Taijiquan Classic, Wang, Zong-Yue.) An insubstantial energy leads the head upward . . . No tilting, no leaning (Taijiquan Classic, Wang, Zong-Yue.) How can you practice Taijiquan without paying attention to the body’s shape, the torso upright . . . the crown of the head suspended? If lacking any one of these, you do not have to put more effort into Gongfu [it will be in vain], (Forty Taijiquan Treatises, Yang, Ban Hou).
Point 3: If there is a top, there is a bottom. . . . If there is a left, there is a right. If the Yi wants to go upward, this implies considering downward. This means if you want to lift and defeat an opponent, you must first consider his root. When the opponent’s root is broken, he will inevitably be defeated quickly and certainly. (Taijiquan Treatise, Zhang, San-Feng). Suddenly disappear, suddenly appear (Old Taijiquan Classic of Qing Qian Long Dynasty, anonymous; Taijiquan Classic, Wang, Zong-Yue)
Point 4: If you fail to catch the opportunity and gain the superior position, your body will be disordered. To solve this problem, you must look to the waist and legs. (Taijiquan Treatise by Zhang, San-Feng).

Point 5: No excess, no deficiency. Following the opponent, bend, then extend (Taijiquan Classic by Wang, Zong-Yue). When the opponent is hard, I am soft. This is called yielding. When I follow the opponent, this is called adhering (Taijiquan Classic by Wang, Zong-Yue). When the opponent presses sideward or downward, then follow. When there is double heaviness (mutual resistance), then there is stagnation. Often, after several years of dedicated training one still cannot apply this neutralization and is controlled by the opponent. The reason for this is that the fault of double heaviness is not understood. To avoid this fault, you must know Yin and Yang. To adhere means to yield. To yield means to adhere. Yin not separate from Yang, Yang not separate from Yin. Yin and Yang mutually cooperate, understanding this is “understanding Jin” (Taijiquan Classic by Wang, Zong-Yue).  Butting means overdone (excessive force). Deficiency means not enough. Losing means separating. Resistance means using excessive force to responding to the incoming force. . . . The reason why it is so difficult to learn the skills of attaching, adhering, connecting and following is because it is not easy to avoid the faults of butting, deficiency, losing and resistance (Forty Taijiquan Treatises, Yang, Ban Hou).
Adapted from Tai Chi Secrets of the Ancient Masters, Selected Readings with Commentary, Dr. Yang, Jwing Ming; and Tai Chi Secrets of the Yang Style, Dr. Yang, Jwing Ming.

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Alertness and Awareness

My master often mentions the principles of alertness and awareness when he talks about martial spirit.  As an assistant Scoutmaster, I stressed the same ideas to the Scouts.  What I observe, however, is that many of us in the human race are forgetting the importance of those principles.  From distracted driving, to obliviously texting while walking, to dropping your guard too much at social occasions even when you think you are with friends, we are forgetting the need to remain alert about who is around us and what is happening and aware of potential hazards that might arise.

Today I watched the shooter’s video of his murder of the news people in Franklin County, Virginia.  I watched it because personal safety is my business as a martial arts instructor, and I try to learn and pass on lessons that can be drawn from violent events.  It struck me watching this video that the murderer approached fairly close and had his gun out and pointed at the people for many seconds before he opened fire.  They did not notice the situation until he opened fire.  They were busy interviewing and videoing the interview.  It is probably part of their training as news people to concentrate on the job at hand an ignore things going on around them, probably not when covering a civil disturbance, but maybe when doing a story on tourism by a lake in rural Virginia.  Even the person being interviewed, who is not a professional journalist, did not appear to notice the man approaching with the pointed gun.

News people should be able to do a story on tourism without worrying about someone coming up to them and shooting them.  A young college woman should be able to drink a bit too much and still safely walk the sidewalks of a college town.  Passengers on a DC subway or a European train should be able to relax on their journey and not worry if someone is going to shoot or stab them.  People in a church ought to be able to conduct their Bible study also free from such fears.  A Congresswoman ought to be able to meet with constituents in a shopping center without someone murdering those around her.  The world ought to be a safe place for all of us.  It isn’t.

The odds are slim, but real, that at almost any time and place about three seconds might separate any of us from life as usual and total mayhem.  Whether it’s a distracted, aggressive or incompetent driver or a terrorist on the train or a poisonous snake on the hiking trail or candle too close to a curtain or an obstacle on the sidewalk, we need to be alert and aware of our surroundings.

In a potentially violent situation, say a person with a drawn gun approaching, we have just seconds to decide what do to:  run and try to evade, take cover and hide or take counteraction against the threat.  (Freezing in place in not a decision but indecision.)  Being alert and aware will give you a bit more time to decide the best course.  It might make the difference between life or death.

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Hit the Books

I’m taking the opportunity of Monday’s day off at the YMAA Retreat Center to rest my body and hit the books.  Does “hit the books” sound strange for a post in a blog about Taijiquan and Qigong?  It shouldn’t.  The mind is important in both arts, and not just mental focus, but also mental understanding.

I brought two books with me to review and study:  The pocket book, Tai Chi Secrets of the Ancient Masters, and Taijiquan Theory of Dr. Yang, Jwing Ming.  I might have brought more but for the limitations of reading time during the seminars and the weight of my carry-ons.  I borrowed from the Center’s book shelves the book, Tai Chi Secrets of the Yang Style.  If you call yourself a student of Taijiquan and if after practicing for three to five years you are not reading these and other books, I don’t understand why.

In Tai Chi Secrets of the Yang Style, Dr Yang presents a translation and commentary on Yang Ban Hou’s, thesis on “The Interpretation of Taiji’s Scholarship and Martial Arts.”  It stresses the importance of intellectual study and physical practice in learning Taijiquan.  If a student studies (reads or observes) Taijiquan without sufficient physical practice, the result is a “core” but without “application.”  If a student practices the art physically but without studying and pondering the theory, the result is “application” but no “core.”  In either case, it is like trying to build a building with only one supporting pillar or to applaud with only one hand.

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Who are you?

Some people want to gain others’ respect, so they take out a mortgage and buy a big house. Since they can’t take their big house with them when they step outside, they take out another loan and buy a fancy new car. But when they park the car they can’t take it with them, so they pull out their credit card and buy a fancy suit to wear. Fancy suits are not appropriate attire everywhere, so they raise the credit limit on their card and buy a fancy, expensive watch. But, take away the house, the car, the suit, the watch and what’s left? Just an ordinary person. Maybe they have the respect of people who admire a fancy watch when they are wearing the watch, but how valuable is the respect of someone who “respects” you for your watch? Take a martial artist out of the house, out of the car, out of the suit and without a watch and he or she is still a martial artist, even standing in underwear; and he or she has respect that is really valuable, self-respect. Learn Taijiquan.

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Root and Fa Jin

It is very common for students of Taijiquan to lose their root when they begin training Fa Jin or power manifestation. When I watch my students first try punching the BOB (Body Opponent Bag) with power or striking with Taiji Cane, I often see their heels come up and sometimes even leaning that compromises their center. Pay attention when learning Fa Jin. Sink. Feel like your legs are sinking or being screwed into the ground with a spiraling energy. Note that when you sink not only will your root be stronger, the power of your punch or strike will be greater.

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Mutual Resistance and Double Weighting

The Taiji classics warn against creating a situation of mutual resistance, also called, less clearly, double weighting. What is mutual resistance? A simple illustration would be when in pushing hands one partner is pushing and the other is responding with a Peng that causes the pushing partner to feel a push against his push and causes motion to stagnate.

One important key to understanding how to resolve this situation of mutual resistance is the word “mutual” (or the word “double” in double weighting). Take the word mutual as an indicator that either partner can resolve the situation because it is mutual. The first partner to act to resolve the stagnation will gain a significant advantage.

The Taiji classics provide the solution to resolving a situation of mutual resistance. They say that when my opponent is Yang, I become Yin. If you are pushing your partner and you feel a push back, it means that both of you are Yang. Either partner can resolve the situation by turning Yin. The pushing partner can turn Yin by coiling over the opponent’s wrist, applying pluck and leading the opponent’s resisting force into emptiness, which likely will result in the opponent being uprooted. The partner being pushed can turn Yin by coiling over the opponent’s wrist, applying pluck and leading the opponent’s pushing force into emptiness, which likely will result in his being uprooted.

Another situation of mutual resistance can occur if one partner attacks high with backfist and the opponent meets it with Fair Lady. The first to change tactics to apply Step Back and Repel the Monkey will gain the advantage.

An astute practitioner of Taijiquan can attempt to create a situation of mutual resistance in order to exploit it. A sudden push can to lure out the opponent’s resistance can be turned into a sudden pluck to exploit the resistance. In the classics this is called “suddenly appear, suddenly disappear.”

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Can’t find the time?????

Sorry, I have neglected my blog recently. I could say that I couldn’t find the time to blog. You often hear people say that they “can’t find the time.” But that expression would not be accurate in my case just as it would not be accurate in any case. It’s a self-deception. Time is not found. If you open a page of a planner, you will see that all the time is right there on the page. Time is not found, it is allocated according to our priorities and according to the amount of energy we have to work the time. So yes, I had higher priorities and insufficient energy to work on blogging recently. It does sound nicer, however, to deceive oneself and others by saying “I couldn’t find the time” rather than “it wasn’t a high priority for me.”

Insufficient energy is a problem that can get worse with age. If you don’t have enough energy to use the time you have available, you might want to change your life style or see a physician to help restore your energy.

If you “can’t find the time” to do things that you really want to do, then maybe you should take a look at your priorities. Maybe you are allocating your time without even thinking about your priorities or allocating it according to priorities other people set for you. If you “can’t find the time” for Taijiquan, Qigong or some other self-care and development program, maybe you are really saying, self-care and self-development are not priorities for me. Or, it might be that you are letting your boss, spouse, kids or others allocate your time according to their priorities.  Whatever the case, let’s engage in self-awareness and not self-deception.

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Functional Meditation–Balancing your life

During our last discussion and meditation session before the holidays, we started discussing the principle of balance.  Life out of balance makes it hard to attain the quiet and calm mind needed for meditation and has many other detrimental effects on our lives as well, from potentially ruining our health and finances to wrecking our relationships with others.

We talked about many dimensions of balance in life such as work/play, self/others, expending/storing, activeness/passiveness, acceptingness/exactingness, materialism/spiritualism.  Someone asked if it was possible to achieve a permanent state of balance, but the answer seemed to be that external and internal factors are always trying to move us out of balance so that maintaining balance is a constant and difficult effort.  The difficulty of this effort is probably one of the major reasons why persons seeking tranquility of mind and balance in life abandoned lay society in ancient times and retreated to the mountains and monasteries.

Another difficulty of maintaining balance, we thought, is that many of the dimensions of balance involve our interactions with others.  Managing our interactions with others so that they do not put us out of balance can require us to disappoint others’ desires to draw on our resources of time, money or energy, which, when it comes to our bosses in a slow growth, low-job-mobility economy, is very difficult to do.

Tonight we will continue our discussion of functional meditation and the balance principle during our Wednesday 7:30-8:30 PM class.  Come join us.  It’s $18 to drop in and $60 to enroll for all four sessions in January.

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