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).

 

 

 

Tai Chi Autumn term start back date change.

Posted September 1st, 2019 in Courses, News, Newsletters and Notifications by Phil Vickery

I hope you all have been enjoying the sun aspects of the Summer break (Yang) and making do with the days that it has been rainy (Yin) constructively and leisurely.

I have made a change to our start back date by one week and the classes will recommence on Thursday 12th September and hope this isn’t an issue for anyone, as I’m sure everyone is eager to return? I will also send around a text notification to all in case it isn’t picked up on the website here.

We will continue the classes as we left them in Summer but will embark on the 3rd Da Lu in partner work learning and assessing the movements with a partner and solo to understand the form and applications this term.

We will also, as we have done so before, run through the short form every week and re-examine the applications, hopefully 2 postures a week both for extra partner work and to remind and galvanise posture applications from the martial art point of view too.

There will also be an overarching aspect of deeper internal work in every class whether it is partner work, form or qigong to deepen the practice and gain further insight into the internal dynamic of Tai Chi principles as a whole. This will be with particular emphasis on Yi (Intention) and how the mind is the primary developer/enabler of all Tai Chi movement.

So again, the first class back will be:

Thursday

12th September

7:00pm

I hope you’ve all enjoyed the Summer break and will see you then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter break in classes

Posted April 1st, 2019 in Holidays 2019, News, Newsletters and Notifications by Phil Vickery

Just as a reminder the last class before we break up will be Thursday 5th April and we will be coming back to classes on Thursday 26th April.

I will remind all students in class this week and contact those who are absent of the dates.

I will also send a message round to all before we come back as a reminder too.

 

Phil.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Back to school….

Posted September 5th, 2018 in News, Newsletters and Notifications, Push Hands, Short Form, Sword Form by Phil Vickery

I hope everyone enjoyed their summer break and are ready to come back to classes which are commencing tomorrow Thursday 6th September – 7:00pm.

I thought I’d outline what to expect as a reminder of what has been and what will be. We will continue to practice the Long Form as our major form exercise and also continue to embed and refine the Da Lu we have all learnt as a rule for this term.

  1. Whilst doing solo and partner practice over the break I thought it would be helpful to re-introduce the concept of weekly applications revision with a chance to review in order, hopefully every week, the applications of the Short Form postures on an ongoing basis. This will seek to both remind us all of the function of postures (which is vital to understanding the Jin level the 3rd level of practice in Dr Chi Chiang-tao’s levels of Taiji). Jin level is important to comprehend because it helps us understand the internal structure of how the body moves in order to perform the function of the application.
  2. We will continue with the Da Lu we have learnt to further refine it but between now and Christmas I would like to start teaching the next Da Lu too which is the first one I learnt and is 7 postures long, and again is a 2-person exercise helping us to understand Taiji application concepts with pre-arranged movements.
  3. I would like to take Push Hands further so all students feel able and well practiced at Roll-back, Press and Push as a standard practice of Push Hands.
  4. Between now and Christmas I would also like to take my lead from the Taoist and Traditional Chinese Medicine line of though of teaching The Crane qigong exercise as with Taoist thought Autumn is the season of the element Metal and relates specially to both the Lower Intestine and the Lungs.

As ever the classes are yours and the direction is aided by myself to help all students develop and advance in Taiji for the benefit of your own personal mastery. Regular practice and repeated practice are the key in Taiji and after the first term back I will also re-visit for one 10 week term Yang Cheng-fu-‘s 10 essentials of Taiji which we will nimbly slip into every lesson.

If you have not practised as much as you have wanted to over the Summer have no fear as Thursday class will also offer up a good opportunity for revision and questions on basics as well as specifics as ever.

I will text you all as well and hope to see you all tomorrow.

Much Love

Phil.

 

 

 

Tai Chi at 10pm…

Posted July 22nd, 2018 in Uncategorized by Chris Hill

I’m finding health benefits from doing Tai Chi as the night draws in, 10pm ish. It’s Improving my sleep and it feels like I’ve had a body massage upon waking.  The air is fresh and the stillness aids my practice-may I suggest you try it.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Dr Chi Chiang-tao: Push Hands and Da Lu

Posted March 25th, 2018 in Course Material, News, Push Hands, Videos by Phil Vickery

Here is some footage showing Dr Chi performing Push Hands with his students, the most notable was Alan Peck’s first teacher Master John Kells.

The Da Lu you see in this footage is the one we are currently learning and therefore it is of good note to study it and absorb the dynamics and quality of application.