The 7 chambers of Tai Chi.

Posted October 24th, 2021 in 2021, Reference Material, Uncategorized by Phil Vickery

When I first started out an interest in martial arts as a kid, myself and friends were wowed by the status of a black belt. It didn’t matter in what martial art as we, and many others, viewed this as mastery. It took me several years into Tai Chi to first hear about some schools employing a belt system. I could not comprehend it and still do not as Tai Chi has no discernible grades. However it does has levels of comprehension.

From within many accepted views from within Yang style, and definitely within the lineage from Dr Chi Chiang-tao to Alan Peck, there are 7 accepted levels of comprehension/competence. Let’s call them the chambers!!

1 – Force against Force

This is the stage where Tai Chi principles are not understood or employed and all action is purely physical and with exertion and the tensed use of  the muscles. It is usually dislocated in that the trunk of the body, the waist and the four limbs act independently of each other, and force is manifested through isolated muscle groups tensing up divorced from other muscle groups. This level deploys all action through Li or muscular contracted force and is 100% external.

2 – Correct Technique

This was the name Dr Chi Chiang-tao gave this level and implied that the antidote to the previous level was to make all movement unified and co-ordinated. The classic statement of the “body moves as one unit” exemplifies this. At this level the correct teaching is given to allow the beginnings of internal Tai Chi to naturally develop. A co-ordinated, open and relaxed state is developed (called Song) and maintained throughout all Tai Chi movement. This in many ways is still external as we are working on the outside of bodily movements to emulate, or facilitate the natural internal process to arise and develop.

3 – Qi

This level develops for as long as we practice correct technique. With the relaxed and open state referred to as Song, all the creases and crimps of our body, inside and outside, relax deeply and let go of enough to allow an accumulation of an empty yet full sensation throughout the body. It is considered that the body now has the opportunity for Qi to develop. The whole body connected feeling becomes more tangible filling up the empty spaces like a pool of water allowing natural waves of movement to be created internally. This is in turn is what is used to mobilise the body externally. The mysterious “Qi” relates to breath and the subtle end of spectrum of energy with its opposite between Li, brute strength.

This state also deepens concentration levels of the mind causing awareness to amplify and become sensitive to the subtler end of the spectrum too.

4 – Jin

Here is a continuation and development from the previous level. Here the internal accumulation of qi or whole body movement from the inside of the body, mobilises within each posture of the form and clearly highlights the shape, form and function of each posture, both for health and martial art applications. Jin, translated as internal force, is a level where the genuine martial art side of Tai Chi is realised and develops into what makes Tai Chi a formidable defence and/attack system. In the Yang style there are many different Jin’s or qualities/functions of moving the body from the inside and not the outside.

5 – Mind

This level closely overlaps with Jin level in that the mind directs and initiates all internal movement and commands the bodily movements in yielding and attacking.  Here in the internal movement is controlled by the mind. The mind or Yi has an idea of action and the command automatically creates the internal waves of movement to issue the Jin at any given time. AGain this will usually be actioned through a posture in the form, although at higher levels it can be refined where releatively little physical movement is required.

One of the other internal martial arts, Yi Chuan, focuses on developing this level quite early on as it is roughly translated as Mind Boxing. An idea arises in the mind and it is immediately carried out in the body but without the gross level of intellect and cognizance used in the Force against Force level. The mind and internal movement are inseparable and their action is immediate whilst still being open and relaxed.

6 – Shen (spirit)

This level is more advanced and more difficult to grasp. My own experiences are merely glimpses of it and I do not have a full enough experience or understanding of it. My limited understanding is that the command of the internal movement in the body is not grasped onto less by the general conscious mnd, but a more refined level of perception.

This heightened level of perception unifies the inside and outside of the body so we don’t feel like all our work is within the confines of the physical body. In the inside of our body and the external environment are harmonised into one. Our senses and perception operate at an expanded level internally and externally as one and there is no separation between the two.

7 – Natural

This level was obtained by Dr Chi Chiang-tao and Alan Peck and my understanding is that mind is completely let go of and one fully realises that there is no separation between self and other. More so it is not that you understand nature, or even learn to align with it, but you realise that you are nature and there is no duality. You have blended with nature and respond to the changes in all nature because you are nature.

 Dr Chiang-tao said he believed there were two higher levels beyond the mastery level of Natural level.

Alan had said Dr Chi had just entered into the next level which he called Nothing or Emptiness level. He said it was difficult to even begin describing it as it was difficult to articulate with intellect. An example of this level was a student of his once crept up behind him whilst Dr Chi was reading sat in a chair. As the student went to attack Dr Chi within a instant the attack was neutralised and counter attacked. The student said it was a split second experience and before he knew it Dr Chi was sat unruffled reading again in his chair as if he hadn’t moved. The student asked Dr Chi how he moved so quick and what did he actually do, Dr Chi responded that he didn’t know and barely aware of the incident himself. This example would denote almost a letting go of self and a submission not just to nature but what Buddhists would describe as the inherent emptiness of all phenomena.

The next level that Dr Chi mentioned was with even less information and can only be guessed at as complete realisation.

Two important points were also made about these 7 chambers of development and they were:

  1. you can gain entrance into the forthcoming level without fully completing the present level. However you could not go onto the one after that without mastering the previous levels also.
  2. Almost as a re-iteration of above Alan said you can get glimpses of a level or even two ahead of you at times, which is a good sign that your current development is going well.

As esoteric as some of these descriptions may seem, there is a clear thread that goes through them all. That is our Tai Chi development goes from the dense to the subtle in its development. This can be illustrated with the Tai Chi diagram signified by the two fishes where the heads connect to the opposites tail. Our Tai Chi starts off as substantial Yin (gross, tense. heavy, solid and slow) and this diminishes with development to become insubstantial Yin. This is what is seen externally with the body, whereas our internal development starts out as insubstantial Yang and through development becomes substantial Yang ( Soft, light, fluid and swift) internally.

The 7 chambers help us monitor our development over the years of practice, and help us see where we are going with it. On a final note I once asked Alan about these chambers/levels and how long it took to get them and what they felt like etc. He assured me the best mode to take is not to see them as grades to be achieved and won (like a black belt), but moments of realisation to let us know we haven’t fallen off the path.

All the time, every time.

Posted November 24th, 2018 in Newsletters and Notifications, Reference Material by Phil Vickery

An essential Tai Chi principle which is often espoused is moving the whole body as one unit, and like many concepts in Tai Chi it has a deeper meaning than on may imagine at first.

For some it may refer to linking up all movement so it seems combined or unified. Making sure the lower half of the body isn’t separate from the upper half. This is true but this idea is only part of the picture and one can feel they’ve achieved the goal of “body as one unit” when their external form looks like it’s all one continuous movement to bystanders watching.

However the meaning and function of this principle goes deeper and is more far reaching for our Tai Chi practice. This is because Tai Chi has many layers like the skins of an onion or a deeply plotted story of a book which then at the end reveals the essence of what it’s all about.

Why do we want all our movement to be as one unit or look connected? Well not because by doing it means we get all the benefits from Tai Chi or that our Tai Chi is correct, but rather the reverse. When our Tai Chi is correct and beneficial our practice will be “body as one unit”. Similarly like some practices in Buddhism for example the result is the method of practice to a degree and we practice the result in order at times to backtrack the experience to correct any faults as a whole.

However body as one unit means that the body is free of isolated tension to allow the smooth single wave of force/movement that is rooted in the feet; channelled up the legs; directed by the waist; discharged from the spine and expressed in the hands. To arrive at that state of practice more consistently we some times focus on areas of tension in our body to dissolve problem areas to clear the whole foot-to-hand pathway and thus allow the natural whole body movement unobstructed. Those tensions that block the way can be seen be viewed as debris on a motorway for example like maybe a tree that’s fallen onto the road or the result of motorway incidents that then slow down all oncoming traffic or even bring it to a complete halt. Injuries or isolated and concentrated exercises or lifestyle practices can contribute to these motorway blockages of the body if they go out of balance.

Tai Chi and Qigong can be seen as the clearing up process of the motorway which frees up the traffic to move back to it’s natural speed and capacity of movement again. So does this mean we should only engage in Tai Chi when there’s a problem with this issue. or only practice Tai Chi up until we do have body as one unit?

All roads are maintained regularly and constantly ( although in Bristol you may be forgiven for thinking otherwise!) and thus the practice for clearing the road and regulating the traffic flow in our bodies should be a constant practice even when we have good health. This also allows us to analyse and maybe refine our practice to develop better and deeper ways to maintain the path and traffic in the body for the future and enhance it further.

Solution:

  1. So in our practice we know the route all Tai Chi movement from ever posture takes therefore with our mind we can constantly run through the route as a fact finding mission to feel if there are any areas of stiffness or tension that regularly crop up. Doing this regularly everyday means we keep an eye on long term areas or difficulties that we can label as “under-construction” as we maintain our daily practice and new faults that occur that need attention.
  2. Once we recognise the area and issue along the route try to find the remedy/solution to it. If it is a facet developed through certain practices or postural off-sets then going back to the basic principles of central alignment, sung ( or sunk relaxation in the whole body) can help us in ironing out how the skeleton and muscles co-ordinate the flow of movement for many issues.
  3. Make you practice is regular of the remedy or antidote for the localised issue. Remember small amounts of constantly practice can bring about benefits quicker than large amounts done irregularly as Tai Chi’s benefit;s are considered to be accumulative and building upon repeated practice.
  4. Finally keep a watchful eye on how the practice  is developing. Improvements in Tai Chi should never really feel like a surprise or an accident that has suddenly occurs (however this can be the case sometimes). The result is the practice and it logically does the job it is set out to achieve in terms of clearing the blocks and strengthening the traffic, so the benefits that manifest should be embraced.
  5. As mentioned this shouldn’t be done only when we are developing or have a specific health issue, but this should be done all the time and every time, every day.

Constant practice may seem like a chore in order to receive the benefits of Tai Chi but in truth if we separate our Tai Chi from our day to day living of life it will seem exactly like that. Sometimes it may feel like once I get back to good health I can get back to enjoying my life and do the things I’ve always wanted to concentrate on for enjoyment and pleasure. However Tai Chi and its benefit’s ARE the pleasure of living life and are not a compartmentalised choice in life. They are one in the same thing and when Tai Chi principles are a habit they function the same way as breathing does for the lungs it is natural and doesn’t require any extra thought.

When you have body as one unit you can realise and feel very clearly why it is essential to maintain it and the benefit of having it all the time every time you make any body movement. It makes sense why it’s good for whole bodily health; it makes fighting application’s in Tai Chi clear to understand and appreciate and it also allows the mind to transform its understanding in the natural interconnectedness of everything external to the body as well.

As I said “body as one unit” isn’t about making the bodily movements look good enough to put out a DVD on Tai Chi and make it a best seller or to impress members of the public in a local park so that they view you as a guru or spiritually deep person. It is merely to be true in essence and clear away both the physical, emotional and psychological debris on the pathways to return back to free flowing internal traffic and get about with the business of being natural: all the time, every time you make a move in your life.

 

The Chinese clock

Posted May 23rd, 2018 in News, Newsletters and Notifications, Reference Material, Uncategorized by Phil Vickery

In Chinese medicine the concept of the Chinese Clock is that which splits the 24 hour clock into 12 2 hour segments where qi circulates at its strongest through certain meridians in the body. From the 15th Century onwards, or there abouts onwards, practitioners of internal arts who were generally both local or barefoot doctors analysed the functions and energy of the organs and began to register qi circulation and where it was prominent and deficient and realised the same time everyday their results were the same. From then onwards in medicinal texts and as practised today in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)treatments can be applied to certain times of the day to aid stronger results. These 2 hour segments also cater for emotional and mental health as well as the organ health and functionality too.

Image result for chinese clock

This diagram gives the basic idea of organs and their functionality in accordance to their allotted time’s in a 24 hour space.

It can be very informative to consider these times when doing your practice or even to view when best to perform certain daily activities to align with TCM principles of health. Traditionally in internal martial arts this knowledge would be used by fighting martial artists to ascertain what meridians would be at their weakest so to inform a fighter on how they should overcome an assailant or challenger in their pugilistic endeavours.

However today in TCM, Taiji/Qigong and even Taoist meditation this knowledge is often used to produce better results in development and health restorative issues more so.

When you practice Taiji or even consider your general activities of the day it can be useful to remind oneself of the time of day it is and how altering your practice can bring about more efficient results.

 

 

 

 

Hipsters of the world unite and take over.

Posted April 14th, 2017 in News, Push Hands, Reference Material, San Sou, Short Form, Sword Form, Uncategorized by Phil Vickery

In the  Tai Chi classics there is great mention of the hips or waist and the importance it plays in our Tai Chi practice. Yang Cheng-fu draws two of his 10 Golden rules of Tai Chi together to highlight this when he speaks of Loosening the Waist and uniting both upper and lower parts of the body. These 2 particular points have a special relationship in helping the body work as one unit.

This is not just for form practice but actually for all Tai Chi whether it’s open hand forms (Short and Long), Weapons forms and Push Hands too. Why are the hips and waist so important?

The hips/waist are at the bottom of the spine and therefore are the foundation for everything that happens in the upper body. However the hips/waist also sit on top of the legs and also act as the gateway to allow our root from the feet that then channels all movement up the legs to pass onto the spine. It’s like a lock-gate that you would see on a canal system on the river ways in that it controls what passes through it. Again the classics speak very clearly on how we transmit the force for all Tai Chi movement in our body when it says Qi is rooted in the feet; channelled  through the legs; directed by the waist onto the spine and then is expressed in the hands and fingers by way of the arms.

A common feeling in practitioners who cannot feel the whole body as one unit is that the legs move and the upper half of the body including the arms move separately. This is because the waist is closed and does allow the unification of upper and lower.

If we forcibly turn our waists with strength then we usually close it and we still keep the upper and lower separated. However if we sink our waist and hips, and like Tai Chi teachings make it feel like a ball on water i.e. frictionless, then we open it and can allow all the work we do with our feet connected to the ground to transmit naturally up through to the spine.

Push Hands is an excellent opportunity to learn how to loosen the waist and make it feel like a ball on water. In Push Hands we need to unite the sensitivity of the upper half of the body with the work done by the lower half of the body for yielding and attack to be successful. Yes, you’ve guessed it, the key to this is the loosening of the waist. In this way the hips/waist have 2 functions:

  1. As mentioned their looseness allows us to make 2 separated movements of upper and lower into one whole body movement through connecting them together.
  2. The loose turning of the waist is how we yield and neutralise an opponents attack.

When the lower lumbar of the spine is closed the backside protrudes a little and this is a physiological sign that the Tailbone/Coccyx known as the Wei-Lu in Tai Chi and Chinese Medicine has not sunk downwards to help lower alignment of the spine. Some Tai Chi schools of thought say we must tuck the Wei-lu down and in, which is not entirely correct. If we do this physically and with force tension can still be held and the waist actually can still remain closed. So we sink our mind intention or Yi down through the whole pelvis, and the effect can be felt very subtly at first of the Wei-lu dropping and an opening or greater connection from the legs up onto the spine. This opens up and connects upper and lower as Yang Cheng-fu instructs us. When we walk around in our normal lives it is a significantly valuable practice to sink the mind down through the pelvic region and let go of the waist all the time to open up the hips/waist.  This allows us to develop it as a good habit, and when we practice any form solo or with a partner we must try to do the same.

The other benefit of doing this, in and outside of our Tai Chi practice, is that it keeps the mind quite low in the body and thus naturally allows us to sink the Qi and reduce upper body tension, which is good for Tai Chi in general as well as our health. So in summary, the hips/waist help us to advance in our practice in all areas in Tai Chi and also help provide a better quality of health too. So make it your habit to loosen the waist, unite the upper and lower body into one and for Qi and internal force to take over tension and dissolve it so nothing obstructs your internal practice and experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use the force: from foot to hand

Posted November 29th, 2015 in Course Material, News, Push Hands, Reference Material, San Sou, Short Form, Sword Form, Uncategorized by Phil Vickery

In Tai Chi we always speak about various classical quotes from the canon of Tai Chi texts such as ” be rooted in the feet”, “the body moves as one unit”, “use the intention to move the body” and “keep the body sunk” etc. All these things are true and very important in Tai Chi and recognising them with actual experience helps us comprehend the teachings of the classics and what comes down through lineage teachers.

In order to assist us in developing our Tai Chi to the highest levels we all need to have clear instructions in what we are looking for as correct experience or else we never can tell if we have the goal in our sights.

So, attached here is an extremely useful pictogram of all the aspects one needs to get the Jin (or tai Chi intrinsic force) to come from the feet; through the legs; directed by the waist; up the spine and to separate between the shoulder blades to funnel out through the arms and hands. It simply splits down into the physical, energetic and mind aspects as a checklist of vital points one needs to get the force from foot to hand.

 

 

Middleway December 2014 newsletter

Posted December 14th, 2014 in Holidays 2014, News, Newsletters and Notifications, Reference Material, Uncategorized by Phil Vickery

please see the newsletter for the school for the Christmas period and news about classes in the New Year.

 

 

december 2014 Middleway Newsletter

Balance and a bike

Posted July 19th, 2014 in Course Material, Reference Material, Uncategorized by Phil Vickery

The skills in Tai Chi of balance and the decision of movement are not just for tai Chi but are transferable skills….even to a bike:

 

Summer 2014 Newsletter

Posted July 6th, 2014 in Holidays 2014, News, Newsletters and Notifications, Reference Material by Phil Vickery

Please click on the link for the newsletter: –

Summer 2014 Middleway Newsletter

Ground control to Major Tom

Posted May 4th, 2014 in News, Newsletters and Notifications, Reference Material, Uncategorized by Phil Vickery

Here’s a new article I’m posting based upon some experiences of practising outside which I will be arranging at the weekends soon, hopefully semi-regularly. The experience of outdoors practise can be more enriching than indoors practice and can actually be stronger for many reasons. As a result I decided to help clarify the importance of connecting to the ground through this short article:

 

Ground control article

 

Phil V

Yang Cheng Fu’s 10 Essentials Points of Taijiquan

Aswell as preparation for the Long Form classes starting back in the new year 2014, this reproduction of Yang Cheng Fu’s famous 10 essential points of Tai Chi/Taijiquan is a vital check list for all practitioners.

The school will be concentrating on one point in turn each week where we will effectively have a Yang Cheng Fu term so we can understand each point and how to develop it in our overall practice. Please note this will not replace our actual syllabus of Tai Chi merely that we can examine the essential point in the form of: a partner exercise, a standing posture, posture correction, stand alone exercise etc. It will be overlayed onto what we are already learning as a working experience of understanding the Tai Chi classics better.

Please see the reproduced translation below from Yang Cheng Fu’s chief disciple Chen Wei Ming:

YCF Ten Essentials Points of Taijiquan