New (old) order

Posted November 10th, 2019 in 2019 by Phil Vickery

My favourite line from Lao Tzu’s book which initiated the whole school and thought of Taoism the Tao De Jing (translated as “Virtue, and it’s way”) is “The Sage does nothing, yet nothing is left undone”.

When I first started Tai Chi I dove into Taoism and read many translations of this book and other canonical texts and always considered that this line was of high mystical proportions. My Master, Alan Peck,  one day gave me a more pragmatic interpretation and said it meant the most powerful outcome came from the earliest intervention. He said a Sage intervenes at the earliest moment and makes the most subtle of inputs to a situation so their efforts literally go unnoticed when the result came to full bloom. It made better sense to me even it it was less theatrical or esoteric.

Taoism and Tai Chi are inextricably related, and a lot of Tai Chi masters often use Taoist references and quotes to highlight the meaning of Tai Chi principles when teaching. This line in particular though relates very well to Push Hands or in fact any two-person interchange in Tai Chi. My Master would often say when yielding for example in Push Hands you must turn your partners force as soon as possible after sticking and listening to the incoming force they presented. This of course is not done against your partners force but in alignment to it so as to lead it away and not to its target.

When it comes to issuing or attacking your partner we must also make the first move on the subtlest level so as to go undetected, or at least so when it is apparent it is just too late for your partner to neutralise or yield to it. There are 3 aspects to conider and in fact execute in order to successfully attack your partner in Tai Chi and when combined they can be issued very swiftly or slowly both with successful outcomes:

  1. Yi – mind/intent where we make a decision to initiate our idea to attack/issue;
  2. Qi – to make sure the idea translates into a whole body movement with the posture/application we choose to use in the attack both open, relaxed and aligned with co-ordinated movement;
  3. Jin – the act of the whole body force internally translating the idea into an action of postural attack

All movements in Tai Chi start with the Yi and a decision to initiate some kind of action internally. This can arise within a split second, if the training and conditions are correct, and feels like a loose yet concentrated direction of thought to initiate action internally in the body (which mostly always starts with the feet). This amplifies from the source ( again usually from the feet, but can be directed anywhere in the body) which creates a wave of whole body movement, the qi, to then be directed out through the limbs (or any part of the body’s surface area) which is recognised as jin, and then to have an effect on your partner. Very internal to internal to extenral. This is the order that correct Tai Chi goes through when executing applications. If we miss out the Yi level it is said our qi sits there dormant and has no hope of externalising the jin in attacking a partner. If the qi aspect is missing then our thoughts to attack maybe confused or too intense and we usually end up just using Li (external force of localised tense muscles and tendons) to perform the attack. Finally, if we leave out the final aspect of the jin manifesting to actually attack our partner then the qi remains inside the body and misses it’s opportunity to discharge and make the attack. This final scenario however is precisely what we do in qigong, so it does have its benefits in our Tai Chi practice but never manages to train the martial aspect of Tai Chi.

The same order occurs in yielding too. We use constantly our Yi in reference tofeeling the beginnings of our partners attack on us with what is referred to as Ting Jin (“Listening” force, a relaxed yet heightened sense of any incoming subtle movement). When the incoming force of the attack is clear the qi aspect of the whole body moves internally to sink and open to receive the incoming force, and then the jin aspect is to appropriately respond with a yielding action ( and quite possibly followed up quickly with a counterattack too) to neutralise your partners efforts.

Early in our Tai Chi studies it is all too easy to see yielding and attacking as two different things, when in fact they are the same thing. They follow the same internal order in their attempt to interact with a partner.  Yi, qi and jin are the correct order for both modes in two partner exercises. This order has always been recognised as the correct method for internal arts as it is considered an act of nature as a seed under the ground takes root to develop the stem and then the branches above the soil and finally produce fruit as a result.

So like the Sage we must make our first move at the subtlest level (the mind) if we are to set in motion (the qi and internal movement inside the body), to out of nowhere, deliver the most appropriate and successful result ( the jin discharging the internal wave of force to our target).




Can you stand it?

Posted March 18th, 2019 in 2019, Long Form, Push Hands, San Sou, Short Form, Sword Form by Phil Vickery

In the Tai Chi tradition, apart from breathing exercises, there are 3 main types of movement exercises which facilitate development:

  1. Form: Solo/Partner/weapons work
  2. Qigong
  3. Standing Postures

Form is very important in developing all aspects of Tai Chi and can encompass all the teachings of Tai Chi. Qigong has specific function towards both health and developing the internal for mind, body and even spirit too. However Standing postures can produce a love/hate relationship in as much as they can be demanding yet require no real movement externally and really does ask a lot of the internal workings as well as the mind.

In every posture of the form the requirement is to learn the physical shapes and order of postures so we can string them along into an elongated set of movements as practice to make the body healthier and stronger and also to examine the internal function to help us understand the function of postures (again for health but also for martial application). However the principle of internal : rooting in the feet; directing the force up the legs to the base of the spine; ascending the spine and separating between the shoulder so as to direct the whole body force out the arms to discharge through the hands, is exactly the same for Standing postures too. The single exception is that one is done with the application of external movement and the other is done with the application of  internal  movement.

The effects of Standing postures at first may seem small and time consuming by just standing there apparently doing nothing however the results of it are to unblock the stagnation and closed body habits of posture so the whole body force can consistently flow freely and unobstructed. Standing postures may be seen in this way as a foundation to the form, and a good method to return the body back to its original open state maybe after injuries or illness. This aspect shows that standing postures are a powerful yet simple Qigong exercise to aid health.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the simple idea is that good robust health is obtained by balancing all systems in the body by maintaining a smooth and consistent even flow of whole body force. This same condition is what we employ every time we do form or partner work, so again it is the foundation of all of Tai Chi.

One of Yang Cheng-fu’s 10 essential points of Tai Chi is “Stillness within movement and movement within stillness” which is explicit in terms of Standing postures in that the external is still whilst the internal beavers away unblocking stagnation and allowing the infrastructure of our body to adjust and improve. The quote also is referring to whilst the external is moving we should have no tension but an even flow which is devoid of dense strength from the muscles thus creating internal stillness. The same movements that occur in standing postures occur in all form work too. This is why the form is considered a high level and complex qigong in its self.

Therefore good practice is when we relate to different modes of exercise within the Tai Chi portfolio, we can carry the same thread of practice through them all and gain overall benefits which are the same (despite some exercises being stylised towards specific purposes e’g’ health, martial art, meditation etc).

When we see some exercises of Tai Chi practice less favourable than others we are in effect denying all of the components of Tai Chi as they all lead to the same goal. Standing postures are simple in practice but demanding in patience usually because the muscles wear out quickly and start to ache. This is only a phase as the body recognises stagnation in the muscles and old habits in posture and seeks to correct them with alignment and opening the joints of the body. When the walls of obstruction gradually wear away and crumble the effects of standing posture and their practice can be quite powerful and satisfying. The results of them can be immediately injected into our form work to speed up our development.

If you find yourself standing in a queue for a period of time always try to employ the principles of relaxing the whole body, “stretching out the bones” more commonly known as not allowing the joint to close tight, and sinking the heavy down in the body to allow the light to rise up. Externally it looks like nothing is happening but if you can stand it you’ll find a whole world of curiosity waiting to be discovered inside.








The eyes have it

Posted February 26th, 2019 in 2019, Newsletters and Notifications, Push Hands, San Sou, Short Form, Sword Form by Phil Vickery

I rarely cite whole articles from other sources in teaching but a topic that has arisen in 2019 so far is the use of the eyes in Tai Chi.

The eyes are said to express Spirit (Shen) and Intention (Yi) when doing Tai Chi meaning the Spirit shows aliveness and Intention shows awareness and content of the Tai Chi being done. This is important in the same way when we meet people inn life we looks to their eyes for a number or reasons maybe to check that they are engaged with us when we speak; to identify their sincerity in responding to us and also to maybe see register the quality of their conscious mind which is usually in Chinese Medicine and Internal arts referred to as Shen Ming ( quality of consciousness).

Dr Chi Chiang-tao said that the eyes can assist us in leading our intention when we do form and Push Hands and that with the mind we can mobilise the whole body movements on a deeper level.

So from Peter Lim’s wonderful website on Tai Chi I present a short article on how the Yang Family style of Tai Chi views the use of the eyes in Tai Chi, and I hope this increases our vision in all aspects of practice of our Tai Chi too.


Yang Style Eye Usage
By Yang Zheng Ji
Translated by Peter Lim Tian Tek

Yang style Taijiquan is very particular about the method of using the eyes. Tradition has it that when Yang Cheng Fu pushed hands or engaged in combat, when emitting jing would look at the opponent and the opponent on receiving the strength would fall in the direction which he looked. Looking at Yang Shao Hou’s precious image, his eyes appears to have brightness shooting forth, this is a result of long term training fully concentrating on the eyes as well as the internal qi.

Yang Cheng Fu said: ” The eyes though should look forward levelly, sometimes following the body and so shift, the line of sight though may be fixed on emptiness is an essential movement in the change, this compensates the body method’s inadequacies.”

Yang style Taijiquan’s requirements regarding the eyes are:

  1. The eyes should look forward levelly. In normal circumstances, the eyes look levelly forward, looking through the hand in front towards the front, caring for the hand, but not fixed dead on the hand. The eyes can also look downward to the front, it must follow the boxing posture’s main hand movement and so determine the direction to look.
  2. The expression of the eyes is in accordance to the movements, the principle of the eyes’s turning follows the body’s movements. The body moves the eyes follow, the body faces what direction, the eyes gaze towards that direction. Taijiquan’s practice has continuous forward advancing backward retreating left and right turns, when forward advancing backward retreating, left turn right rotate depends on the waist and body turning, the eyes in left looking right glancing must follow the waist and body’s turning to turn.
  3. The eyes and the intent are consistant. The eyes are the mind’s focal point, what the mind is considering, the eyes is concentrated upon, if the eyes and the movements are not in accordance the internal and external are also not in agreement, the usage of the eyes have an important use in push hands, necessary to observe the opponent’s upper and lower portions, closely observing the direction of movement of the opponent’s back, in the course of movement catching hold of the opportune time to cause the opponent to be in a predicament.
  4. The method of the eyes must be natural. When utilising the eyes, do not stare, do not close the eyes, keep the spirit held within. The correct use of the expression of the eyes has a relationship with the energy at the top is light and sensitive (xu ling ding jing), the energy at the top is light and sensitive, then the spirit can be raised, then the eyes will naturally have expression.