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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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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