Full circle: Last episode of my Tai Chi course is out!

Here’s the last episode of my 8-week course in mindful Tai Chi movements. This week we bring things full circle back to the first exercise we did in week 1 and take a closer look at the back bow.

 

 

 

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The negative circle

Here’s part 7 of my 8-week Tai Chi course. This week we look at the negative circle and experimenting with making our circles smaller while trying to keep the connection we’ve built up already.

 

Natural movement in Chinese martial arts

I just wanted to say a few words about natural movement, and what we mean by it in Chinese martial arts, before I post part 4 of my 8-week course on Tai Chi movement on Sunday.

If you’ve been following the videos you’ll notice that I did a kind of ‘universal’ open and close exercise in part 1, which cycles between two phases

Open:

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and close:

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From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fV3DaNZz3hI

If you’ve been following up to week 3 you’ll know by now that it’s not a case of just mimicking these postures – you need to be going into and out of them using the elastic connection you’ve been developing by doing the arm circle exercise.

You can see these open and close postures in nature all the time, in movement – when a squid or octopus swims it kind of pulses between open and close.

Octopus:

Open:

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Close:

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From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxawhfXGGt8

The classic example in the animal world is the Cheetah, since it’s the most majestic animal when it comes to running. It cycles between open and close quite obviously too, which helps.

Cheetah:

Open:

screen_shot_2018_06_01_at_9_28_44_am

Close:

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From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8vejjVgIHg

In the Chinese martial arts, all the ‘internal’ martial arts like Bagua, XingYi and Tai Chi should be using open and close. The martial art that best exemplifies it though is XingYi, as all the 5 element fists go through a very obvious open and close cycle.

For example, in Pi Quan:

Closing:

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Opening:

screen_shot_2018_06_01_at_9_36_44_am

Closing:

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from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HNML_k9a-s

When we say “natural movement” is used in internal arts, this is what is being talked about.

Of course, you can use the open and close sequence in everyday life too. Just yesterday I was kicking a ball about with my kids in the park and I started to play around with open and close as I kicked the ball, rather than just doing it with my leg in isolation. When you use open and close your whole torso and back get involved – I was quite surprised by how much extra power and direction I could give the ball when I started to use open and close to kick it. Like everything, it starts off big and clumsy and first, but you soon learn to remove the excess movement and refine it.

Look out for part 4 on Sunday when we’ll be taking a look at how breathing factors into the whole thing.

The inner body

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Standing Chi Kung exercise, or Zhan Zhuang, as it’s known in Chinese is one of the most powerful exercises for developing your inner power.

There’s a brilliant series of videos on YouTube on the subject of Zhan Zhuang taught by Master Lam Kam Chuen. They’re presented in a very ‘easy to follow’ manner, and they’re a great way to get started with standing exercises.

Here’s the first episode:

One question people often have is “what should I be doing in these postures?” Well, “it’s complicated” is probably the best answer. It depends what you’re working on.

But if you have to start somewhere then I think the following words written by Eckhart Tolle from The Power of Now, (and apologies in advance to anybody who gets offended by even the merest whiff of anything New Age) where he talks about connecting to the inner body, are a good start:

“CONNECTING WITH THE INNER BODY

Please try it now. You may find it helpful to close your eyes for this practice. Later on, when “being in the body” has become natural and easy, this will no longer be necessary. Direct your attention into the body. Feel it from within. Is it alive? Is there life in your hands, arms, legs, and feet — in your abdomen, your chest? Can you feel the subtle energy field that pervades the entire body and gives vibrant life to every organ and every cell? Can you feel it simultaneously in all parts of the body as a single field of energy? Keep focusing on the feeling of your inner body for a few moments. Do not start to think about it. Feel it. The more attention you give it, the clearer and stronger this feeling will become.

It will feel as if every cell is becoming more alive, and if you have a strong visual sense, you may get an image of your body becoming luminous. Although such an image can help you temporarily, pay more attention to the feeling than to any image that may arise. An image, no matter how beautiful or powerful, is already defined in form, so there is less so there is less scope for penetrating more deeply.

The feeling of your inner body is formless, limitless, and unfathomable. You can always go into it more deeply. If you cannot feel very much at this stage, pay attention to whatever you can feel. Perhaps there is just a slight tingling in your hands or feet. That’s good enough for the moment. Just focus on the feeling. Your body is coming alive. Later, we will practice some more. Please open your eyes now, but keep some attention in the inner energy field of the body even as you look around the room. The inner body lies at the threshold between your form identity and your essence identity, your true nature. Never lose touch with it.”

My FREE 8-week Tai Chi Notebook course has launched!

Good news! I’ve started filming a short 8-week Tai Chi Notebook course, and you can get it here, for free.

As usual things come together by chance (or maybe a it’s fate) but either way, a friend asked me to show them how to do “this internal stuff“, so I was about to shoot them a simple video on the basics, then I realised that there’s too much to cover in just one video, so I planned out 8. Then I started to get creative and made it look a little bit professional, and the end result is what  you’ve got here – a short YouTube course called Pulling earth, pushing heaven.

In week 1 of the course we cover the concept of “maintain and extend”. Each week will focus on a different aspect until we get to the point where you’ve got the basic idea of “Tai Chi movement”. Of course, this is just ‘foot in the door’ stuff, but I’d like to think that after following along for 8 weeks, and doing it every day, you’d at least have the correct foot inside the correct door. Look out for part 2 next week.

Taijiquan vs Taiji Gymnastics

Great video by Chen Zhaosen on putting the internal into your Taijiquan practice so that it becomes Taijiquan not Taiji Gymnastics. Of course, it should already have been there, but we all know that already, right? 🙂 The secrets are all here, hidden in plain sight. Chen Zhaosen on breathing:

https://vimeo.com/63562043

Master Chen Zhaosen is a highly accomplished Tai Chi master from Chenjiagou (Chen Village) in China. Here is his “old form routine number 1”.

Review: The Taijiquan & Qigong Dictionary (Angelika Fritz, 2017)

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It’s impossible to study Taijiquan or Qigong without butting up against a barrier of confusing Chinese terms like Yi, Jin and Qi. Frustratingly, they seem impossible to do without because they often don’t have a direct English translation, or because people simply like to keep a connection to the Chinese origins. This can make anybody’s initial attempts to read up on the new Taijiquan class they’ve just started a bit of a struggle. Of course, you can look these things up on the Internet in a matter of seconds, but The Taijiquan & Qigong Dictionary by Angelika Fritz is (as the name suggests) is a printed collection of all those terms, pulled together in one publication, so you have easy access to them without the need to be online.

“Even though I can search and find anything online these days”, says Angelika in the introduction, “I like to have a real book in my hands”.

That’s the essence of The Taijiquan & Qigong Dictionary. It’s a slim volume at 132 pages, and quite small at 140x210mm (it’s P5 size, which is a Canadian paper size similar to A5 in the UK ), which makes it handy to put in a bag to carry with you.

You’ll find it contains names of Taijiquan moves in both English and Chinese, like “Hidden Thrust Punch/Yan Shou Gong Quan”, names of famous practitioners of the art, like Fu Zhongwen and parts of the body mentioned in connection to QiGong, like the Gallbladder, which don’t have a medical description, just  “Yang organ associated with the element wood”.

The definitions are straightforward and to the point, but perhaps too straightforward at times. For instance, the aforementioned Fu Zhongwen is described simply as “one of the creators of the Taijiquan 24 form”, which is true, but he was more famously a disciple of Yang Cheng-Fu. Perhaps the brevity cuts down on the possibility for conjecture to creep in though, as it’s hard for anybody to agree on anything in the Taijiquan world.

I’ve found The Taijiquan & Qigong Dictionary really useful to have next to my computer when writing blog posts and I need to double-check the spelling of a Chinese word. Fuller explanations of the terms would have been welcome, but as a quick reference, it’s hard to beat.

You can buy The Taijiquan & Qigong Dictionary on Amazon. (I earn no money from the link).

Angelika runs the Qialance blog.

 

Taoist Baduan Jin (8 section brocade)

This set of eight exercises is a popular Qi Gong exercise in China, probably the most popular. There are hundreds of different variations. This one I particularly like because although the reeling movement she’s doing is hidden to the point of invisibility, the arm movements are being used very obviously to enhance the subtle tensioning from fingers to toes throughout in a way you can see. Very nice.