21ST CENTURY TAI CHI
Ideas to bridge the space between thought and action
Bruce Lee and the Role of the Waist
Back in the 80s I started learning with Sifu Yin Yang Eyebrow and a style that was so flowery that you could have planted it in a window box. I loved its exotic hand and wrist moves that appeared to have been borrowed directly from flamenco dancers. Eventually, I dropped the style, it was poorly taught and I slowly began to realise that the arms appeared unrelated to the moves. They reminded me of a back alley fight from Way of the Dragon and as much as I wanted to imitate Bruce Lee, doing so would not help me understand the role of the waist.
Sifu Yin Yang Eyebrow
So I dropped the classes with SIfu Yin Yang Eyebrow, who had looked great doing his flashy moves, but when I asked "Don't the arms derive their strength from the waist?" he said stop asking stupid questions and to keep practising my Inner-Aardvark breathing..
At home, I looked at the Tai Chi Classics and read that the waist followed the mind, but this didn't help much. It might as well have been written that the waist follows the whim of Neptune's Trident or the breath of Saturn's rings.
In the next class I looked at Sifu Eyebrow and wondered if his waist followed nothing more than his rather dubious dietary habits. He scoffed at the idea (as he did with pies and puddings before each class) and pointed out that his belly was full of Qi. At that point I changed classes..
Exercises to Connect Your Arms to Your waist
Connecting the movements of the limbs to the centre axis of the body makes sense to me. Forget thinking about it, just relax and let your waist express itself through your limbs. If you want to really understand this, try practising with a sword, as - paradoxically - using an object in your Tai Chi really helps you take your mind out of your limbs and back into your centre.
And being centred will help with any mind/body activity - and by that I don't just mean tai chi, yoga or meditation, I mean washing the dishes, walking the dog or overthrowing a corrupt regime.
Obviously, some may point out that the easiest way to connect your arms to your waist is though birth. This is true but If that's out of the question, then surgery might help. Failing that you could try these few simple exercises that will help reconnect your disparate limbs to your body.
Water, Friends and Liking them all.
What is the next step for teachers and students of mind/body practices such as Tai Chi, Qigong, Yoga and many of the martial arts? Faced with restrictions on traditional class sizes, locations and with a "hands-off" curriculum how is the community responding to these new challenges? After six months of experimentation there are two broad responses - the first has been to try and reproduce the classroom experience, using all the new technology available, and the second, to listen to our hearts and rethink it through from scratch.
A short history of technology and the arts
Not too long ago, "serious" Tai Chi instructors spat on the screen of online schools, mocked their methods and swore that only marketeers would dane to step in front of camera. These critics felt that they should only teach in the same way they had been taught - unwavering from the original 18th century scrolls, or engraved tablets by grandmasters from generations long passed. Consequently, new schools were created based on a photocopied list of attributes, copied and then pasted onto the lives of new students,
However, it was only ever the expression of an art from another time, another place. Some of course loved it, others questioned it, asking themselves, "where is the beating heart of this ancient art?"
That Was Then
Now, of course all has changed for everyone has to adapt. These schools still hope that yesterday will return tomorrow, but in the meantime, they reluctantly offer Zoom classes or private Youtube channels. But is it a worthwhile effort? In trying to simply reproduce the classroom online, are we missing something important? Could we not rethink not only how we do the things we do, but also why we do them the way we do? After all, our arts are meant to symbolise the notion of change. It is, let's not forget part of the lifeblood and energy of everything we teach.
When everything fragments
Even before our present dilemma, some argued that Tai Chi practice had stagnated. This was due mainly to teaching methods culturally and chronologically appropriated that proved incapable of responding to the needs and circumstances of diverse communities. What was relevant in 17th century feudal China, may not be so relevant in an urban 21st century city.
So now is a good time for revaluation. Now, when we can no longer simply reproduce the old structures, we have time to ask ourselves what were are trying to teach? What are the lessons behind the forms and can they now be taught in other, more creative and relevant ways?
If ever there was evidence that something needs changing, you'll find it in the ferocity and defensiveness of the old order. When concepts are tenaciously clung too irrespective of changing circumstances, then that is the red warning-light. If our training methods, teaching practices, language, means of communication are not updated with each new generation, then complacency and stagnancy inevitably creeps into the art.
This doesn't mean ditching the old, rather than engaging with an ongoing process of evaluation. And let's be honest, arts like Tai Chi have a tendency to wallow in such pools, shrouded by mysticism, shackled by rigid structures of lineage and styles for a simple reason: it sells well on these very qualities.
But now times they are a changing.
It is no longer valid (if it ever was) to judge competency by the ability to emulate someone further up the hierarchy of authority. The closer you resemble Sifu, should not be a shortcut for obtaining that sash or teaching certificate. Unless you get your kicks from authoritarian regimes and practices cleverly concealed as ritual and tradition. Let go of the nonsense. Diversity and individual expression are the new kids on the digital block and it is this that will feed the spirit of the curious practitioner. in these challenging times.
Opportunities in Teaching Online
Evolution is long overdue.
Let's not wait for the return of yesterday, but instead grasp the moment now and make that the best of it. Let's do it with enthusiasm, energy and a sense of play. For who amongst us, be honest now, ever wanted to teach or Ward off Left, ad infinitum? (insider tai chi joke).
Now, technology enables us to record it once and let our students play it back as and when necessary. And the time that is restored - can be invested in sharing knowledge, skills or exploring in greater depth the idiosyncrasies of our practice. We can connect with each other, spend more time with new students, dismantle the walls between schools and slowly learn to build new bridges.
Where lies the beating heart of Tai Chi?
Listening to Your Heart
If you are like me and see more benefits in cooperation that competition, then there are no limits to what we can do together. There is a wealth of ideas and practices springing up everywhere that we can all benefit from. Join the FB group or add your contact details below and I'll get back to you with details of how we can connect. One of the first proposals is to bring people together in an online conference to hear how everyone is adapting to the new times. Real strength was never found in individual campaigns, but in the sharing of ideas, help and support given to one another. If this is you, and you want to connect with a wider and more diverse world, then get in touch.
Flow is an evasive concept in Tai Chi, and one that teachers often talk about as though it will simply occur at some point, like a credit card bill or getting old. But it doesn't. Flow needs to be teased out, prised open and encouraged to play. But what is it you need to encourage and what is it you need to develop?
8 qualities to develop your FLOW.
1. Ligament Strength:
This may seem obvious, but you need to work on holding those tai chi postures, gently moving through the transitions and trying to slow down. They won't strengthen with speed, you'll need to take it easy. But that's what we are trying to encourage, so that the ligaments and tendons in the ankles, the knees and the hips will get stronger and enable you in time to glide, rather than stumble from move to move.
2. Movement and Breath:
Coordinate the two. If they are out of sync then your movements will be fragmented and you will always shift from one position to another like kangaroo rather than a dolphin.
3. Be HERE now:
Obvious really, but your teacher can tell if you are thinking about the next episode of Peaky Blinders rather than the next posture. Focus!
In order to find flowing movement, look to the quality of stillness. It may seem a contradiction, but it is only in stillness that our minds quieten and the nonsense bubbles to the surface. When it arises, let it go, let it slip slide away. Glide on.
5 & 6 Echoes of others
When the mind is quiet, and the nonsense far away, you will hear your own voice coming clearer and clearer. The nonsense that makes up the echos of our mind, and even the words of our teachers (mine too...watch out!) begin to fade when we are quiet. Once more, when you practice , just practice. Don't get distracted by that last tweet you read.
7 & 8 Laugh and Play
If we study too much, we only become stiff and unyielding. When we play, we experiment and taste the pleasures of both success and failure - two sides to the equation of learning. When we let go of "trying to be good" and just "do" we live in the moment and we laugh and we play. And in those qualities, we discover the torrent of energy within us to glide over the obstacles of life.
Enjoy the video below. If you want to learn Tai Chi in another way than through the echos of others, and discover the Tai Chi within you trying to come out, then this may be for you. The video is extracted from a small documentary on FLOW, PLAY and STRENGTH that is part of just one of the 12 Workshops on practice and theory that make up the Tai Chi Home Study Course. Find out more here.
Here are two simple exercises to help you explore and develop your sense of Spirals in Tai Chi.
What is Spiral Energy?
The energy of a Spiral can be found within our DNA, within the expression of a galaxy or the shape of a lightbulb. And that should be a clue for us to take with a pinch of salt the claims by many in Tai Chi that the use of spiral energy is something bordering on the mystic. More often than not, this is just a fanciful demonstrations of structure and compliant students rather than a special energy force generated by secret practices. Spiral movements simply prioritise actions that are curved rather than angular and they prefer to utilise the opening and closing of the joints in sequence rather than all together. In effect you get something that resembles a snapping force, like that of a whip as opposed to that of a hammer or a stick.
Irrespective of style, temple, cult of the personality of satin suit, you can work on sequencing your joint action by taking things slowly and adding movements one by one, until you feel comfortable with the technique. Take a look at the two video snippets below. They are part of a session I gave on Spiral Energy as part of the Single Whip Workshop. (Find out more below).
Want to learn the secret of Tai Chi? Well, it's all in the waist and I'm going to teach you 2 exercises that will not only bring back a flow to your form, but by extending the practice elsewhere, will unite everything you do .
Want more exercises to help with your Tai Chi? Check out this post on Energy Work Video Exercises too.
"Hey mOnk! What style do you practice?"
Over the last 30 years I have had more people ask me this than I have had hot dinners. My answer is never to name a style or a school or a lineage, for that would be playing into the game of comparisons and judgements. That is not the Way.
Instead, my answer is to talk about the waist in Tai Chi, for although the classic texts talk about the importance of the waist, rarely do you see it demonstrated.
THE WAIST AND THE DIFFERENT STYLES OF TAI CHI
I began my Tai Chi journey back in the early 80s and with a flowery style (that shall not be named) overflowing with gentle wrist moves and arm swinging, finger-circling and Buddha smiles, but all unrelated to the waist. I loved it, until I began to wonder where the strength for the moves came from.
From there I flirted with other styles, more powerful and demonstrably energy packed. Feet were stomped, fists pounded and even little energetic shouts accompanied the explosive moves. But I'd only just left a decade of karate classes and had had enough of all of that. I was looking for another expression and another source of energy.
It was then that I discovered the basis of what would be my practice for the rest of my life: the power of the waist. I learned 3 simple exercises that I could then relate to all the moves, the footwork, the arms and all the Tai Chi postures. I suddenly realised how to move as a connected human being.
Try them yourself. Note that when you turn, your upper body is soft, and flexible and your lower half heavy and grounded. Note where the sense of connection comes from and look for that sense of momentum and swing that I talked about in this post
And note that the waist leads, the body follows and the rest all alls into place. Remember, Tai Chi is not just about technique, it is also about principles that can also be applied to almost any other physical practices, from tying your ponytail into place, to cooking a dhal or even to walking (or gliding) down the road.
So here they are, (well here are 2/3, but you'll find the other on my web site tucked away somewhere) Exercises that once learned, you will be able to apply to life itself. These exercises feature as just one small part of one exercise video of over 100 in the Complete Tai Chi Course. You can learn more exercises here and here, download the Beginners Guide PDF for even more exercises or just jump right in and start your training at home today. Enjoy and don't forget - apply the principles beyond the exercise. (That, if anyone asks, is the real secret to tai Chi)
Learn other great Tai Chi Exercises in this video series
Or jump straight in and start learning at home today in the best course online in the known Solar System: The Complete Tai Chi Course - guaranteed to not only teach you Tai Chi, but all the related areas of study too. And Check out all the ebooks you get too (see below)
How is it that Tai Chi practitioners seem to glide, effortlessly as though their joints have been injected with Virgin Olive Oil? Why does a good practitioner, irrespective of style or suit, lineage or look, move like a smooth operator?
But how is it obtained? Where does it reside? What are the ways to build this art of movement into your style? The concept of swing and return is spoken of in some styles, in others as as spirals and circles. But it all amounts to 3 things:
Forget about everything else...
Forget everything else.
Forget notions of internal fire energy and explosive jin.
Forget diagrams with arrows and geometrical positions.
Forget anyone that says its all about tapping into Ley-lines or Qi rivers.
More on Momentum and Swing in Tai Chi
These 3 short videos are excerpts are taken from longer videos on this theme, each exploring in greater depth the idea of Swing and Momentum. They are taken from the Complete Tai Chi Course - 12 months of exercises, Tai Chi breathing, Form practice, applications, poetry, music, art, and documentaries. Find out how more here.
Jim Kelly, the martial artist and actor in Enter the Dragon died on June 29th 2013, aged 67. Kelly will be remembered for not just his charismatic fighting role, but his superb lines and presence on screen. Like Lee, he too was often typecast by a myopic Hollywood inhibited by its own prejudices.
“THE ROUND TABLE DEBATE: WORKING WITH THE LITTLE DRAGON
TRANSCRIPT OF RADIO SHOW: THE INTRODUCTIONS
Gerald Greene: Good evening and welcome to this week’s episode of Alphabetical Legends. My name is Gerald Greene and on this week’s show we are focusing on the letter L - for popular culture has indeed been blessed with some superb actors that have carried the letter to legendary heights: Christopher Lee, Spike Lee, Lee Van Cleef, Lee Majors and even Jet Li. But over and above all these, there has been one Lee that perhaps defined a whole genre of entertainment and social activities: The Little Dragon himself, Bruce Lee; actor, writer, producer and acknowledged King Of Kung Fu.
On tonight’s Round Table Discussion we will be discussing his impact on the lives of so many people across all the continents of the world and to do so, we have invited an esteemed panel of guests.
So let’s get on with the introductions: On my left - wearing a well-cut suit as always - I have Mr Williams - How are you Mr Williams?
Williams: Busy, very busy. But, hey, still looking good…
Gerald Greene: Next to Williams, we have the infamous opponent to Lee in the unforgettable Coliseum fight, Mr Colt. What are you up to these days Colt?
Colt: Oh, you know. Loads of TV work, films, endless series. Political campaigning, religious fund-raisers…
Gerald Greene: Fascinating, fascinating…maybe we can come back to some of that in another show? To my right side, I have the amiable and admirable Mr O’Hara, star of two films with the little Dragon. Welcome Mr O’Hara.
THE BOUNCE FACTOR
Gerald Greene: Colt, can we start with you. Perhaps, more than most of us here, you worked intimately with the man on his third film. The coliseum fight has gone down in the annals of martial history as one of the greatest fight sequences ever filmed. What is your outstanding memory of that Lee during that fight?
Colt: Well, he was bouncy. Not very hairy, but extremely bouncy.
Gerald Greene: Williams?
Williams: Yeah, Tigger had nothing on that cat. He was bouncy, Colt’s right about that.
Gerald Greene: O’Hara?
O’Hara: A bit bouncy. Though, not so much off screen.
Gerald Greene: Mr Han-Man?
Han (Luke): Mr Han says that he is in agreement with the general bounciness of the conversation but would like to add that Lee’s Style was unorthodox too.
Williams: But effective.”
Gerald Greene: Maybe we could leave the ‘bouncy’ discussion a moment and just go back to the coliseum fight. What does the panel think of the symbolism - classicism versus formlessness, Asia versus America or just the Japanese karate Gi versus the Chinese black trousers? Colt…?
Colt: Well, I’d have to return to the bouncy argument because I remember, after we watched the first out-takes, I said to Bruce: “Hey Bruce. Don’t you think I’m looking a bit rigid compared to you”, and he says that’s ‘cause you are rigid Colt. So I say “Can’t we change it?” and he says, “It’s your legacy Colt, it’s all you have to work with.”
More interviews, transcripts and conversations with the dead
Some of you will know that last week I completed a series of Live Broadcasts on social media. The aim was to try and teach the 10 basic steps of Tai Chi without using words: Gestures, demonstrations and repetitions. Each session was filmed in portrait mode (narrow) for Facebook and Instagram and lasts just 5-8 minutes. For anyone that missed the experimental series and would like to catch it, then I have saved all the videos and uploaded them to a short course from my site. Although it asks for a payment, with this code you can get FREE access to the course and accompanying PDFs.
Why Learn Tai Chi in Silence?
Originally the idea behind staying quiet, was to try and address the needs of both English and Spanish students, using gestures only. I had run one short course in Spanish and the other in English, and quickly go tired of switching back and forth. So I proceeded without words at all. Feedback so far, has shown that by not using words, students could better focus on the moves and not get distracted by explanations whilst learning. So at the end of each session, I recorded brief explanations for each of the moves - what they mean and how best to learn them - as a separate series of endings that are optional to watch or download. You'll find links with the first set for anyone who wishes to go further with their Tai Chi practice.
The Quarantine Challenge: 10 Steps and Beyond.
See how you get on, use the button below or this link here to get access to the mini course for free. Challenge yourself to learn in silence, and - if you want more, after that, well, there are 2 more levels to work through. Enjoy, stay safe and keep practising a little each day.
FREE LIVE TRAINING
For the last 2 weeks I've been going live on Facebook for 10 minutes (Mondays to Fridays) to practice a little and share the experience with anyone who wishes to join in. Now I'm going to take this up a notch and invite everyone, intermediate students, teachers or absolute beginners to join me from Monday 30th March 2020 for a new 2 week live session. If you'd like to join me, then read on...
CATCH THE PREVIOUS SESSIONS
Previous sessions include 10 minute introductions to Flow, Balance, Coordinations, Foot work and Arm Work . You can catch up with those on:
Facebook : These Sessions go out live in the UK at 17.30 (GMT) and in Spain at 18.30 (CET) 13.30 (New York) 10.30 (Los Angeles). You can ask questions, leave comments and connect or share with other users.
Instagram TV: Uploaded the following day or day after.
Youtube: Uploaded the following day or day after. .
SOMETHING TO LEARN OVER THE NEXT 2 WEEKS
For the next 2 weeks I’m going to be teaching you the Short 10 Step Form. You can see it in the video above. (in the video I repeat the Form twice - did you notice?) In these Free Online Sessions - I'm going to be showing you a new posture each day - mostly in silence - few words, so you can concentrate on the moves, not the explanations.
I'll be demonstrating each move from every angle and showing you how one flows together. One move a day - for 10 days.
To get all the written instructions and well as photos of each move - you'll need to acquire a copy of the book in the link below. But don't fret! The book is free too! See, it is all easier than you think.
HOW TO GET YOUR COPY (SORRY, THIS OFFER IS NOW OVER)
To get a copy all you need to do is out a '0' in the box to get the book for free.
I know that in these moments, many of us are struggling and uncertain as to our economic future. If, like me, you have lost a lot of business and clients, these last weeks, then I understand. Honestly, I do. I'm in a similar position. But you can download the book for free. And you can do the Live course with me for 2 weeks for free. Right now we have to adapt to a new economic order, and I want to do what I can for others, and no-one should have a financial barrier put in the way of their health.
Having said that, if you have something to spare, your income is still secure, or you want to support this project, then please Pay What You Can. Everything helps to keep these sessions alive and running. To everyone that joins, I’ll create a student list. Those people on this list will additionally get copies of all the live video sessions for the next 2 weeks (to back up their training and to support the instructions in the book.)
WHAT YOU WILL LEARN in 10 DAYS
In the months ahead we are all going to face the prospect of training alone as the Coronavirus spreads across the globe. I'm in Spain and here we cannot leave our houses unless to buy food or medicine. We cannot socialise in person, we cannot go out for exercise and we obviously cannot attend our Tai Chi Classes. But there is still a lot we can do at home.
I’ve compiled a list of resources and ideas for working from home, that includes reading matter, audiobooks and practical courses. I've added a combination of free books/audio/classes for those that find themselves out of work or having had to close their businesses. If this is you, then fear not, there are still a lot of things here to do.
Let me know if you have other suggestions and I’ll add them to the list.. Stay at home. Stay safe, and keep practising.
Read and Learn
One way to fill your time is to broaden your knowledge of a subject. Here is a link to a post I wrote about the best books on Tai Chi. available from all online books stores and in some cases even digital libraries too (check your local library website for access details).
Additionally, I have some links to free PDF’s that I give away for something to read. You can download:them all here:
Train at Home
If your classes have been suspended (and if they haven’t, believe me they will soon) then talk to your teacher about running online classes. He/she can use a Youtube private channel or more openly, a Facebook Live stream for a free quick solution.
LIVE SESSIONS FREE ON FACEBOOK (AND OTHER PLATFORMS)
I've been running a free daily Live session on Facebook Live. In the Uk at 5.30 (GMT) and in Spain at 6.30 (CET)
The day after I'm uploading edited versions of the videos to Instagram TV, and the day after that to Youtube. But it's important to try and connect and do it Live with me. Not only do you get longer and more complete sessions, but you get to share and connect with others at the same time. Setting up a routine is important when you self-isolate. Want to join in for 10 minutes a day? Just come over, to Facebook (use a relatives account if you don't have one) find me on Facebook here (Paul Read).
The classes are building up towards learning the 10 Step Form. If you'd like to learn this over the next few weeks, then join me Live on Facebook for the details, extra notes and links to special videos.
FREE INTRO STARTERS PACK
If Facebook is not your thing (and who can blame you?), then you can download this free course of mine: that comes with extra reading matter too. Don't want to learn with me - why should you? Ask your teacher to organise something the same or look out for notifications from other teachers, as I’m sure we will see an explosion of online instructors over the next few weeks.
Listen and Learn
If it's rhythm that moves you, then you might like this 2 part series on Music and the martial arts Or Rest your eyes and switch off for a while by tuning in to the world of podcasts.
There are some great podcasts to entertain and educate out there - for example
If you are curious why my 3 series of podcasts are not listed, it's because they are difficult to come by now, though I have compiled the final series in this audiobook - 10 Ways Podcast Series
There is also this additional free PDF on Audio Resources
If you prefer a longer listen then I am not sure how many Tai Chi books are in audio form. I have 2 that you can listen to samples of:
Create new Contacts
Probably the most important factor is staying positive and nurturing your spirit. Contact your fellow students and create a WhatsApp group. Share videos of your practice, insights, reading matter films suggestions, share a Netflix doc.
My Tai Chi class here in Spain keep in contact and share resources through a WhatsApp group. I can throw resources, videos and links as well as check on what they are doing. At times like this, when all other means of contact are strictly limited, it can be an important thread. that binds us together.
It is also possible to do the same with groups on FaceBook or other messenger apps - the important thing is to maintain a dialogue and keep the channels open during the months ahead.
Finally, the Free Ranger Taoist Facebook group is sharing other peoples live sessions too, so come over and join that.
So thats' it! I hope it's be useful. Keep well, join me on Facebook for the free sessions if you wish, otherwise - keep practising and do connect with people. Keep your spirit strong and let me (and others) know how you are doing.
Thanks for visiting. Take a look at the best Tai Chi articles, introductory courses and complete courses, books and music videos. If you have a question, or looking for private classes, affiliate links, drop me a line here. or subscribe for some great Tai Chi stuff delivered to your inbox.