Simple everyday Qigong exercises to improve health

Mount Qingcheng, one of China’s mystical mountains, has been the birth place of discovery, realization and preservation of the recipes that stimulate the deep potential of the human body for generations. This is the book of a Daoist master and spiritual guide Wang Yun as a young seeker and tells the tales of his inner journey, which now guides the reader on a path of healing, rejuvenation and actualization of the body’s innate potential through Qigong and meditation.

Climbing the Steps to Qingcheng Mountain brings Wang Yun’s knowledge and wisdom to the West for the first time – and below we have shared some simple Qigong exercises from the book that both beginners and experienced practitioners can try.

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Master your technology or it will master you

Noel Plaugher shares insight into the martial arts exercise featured in his new book, Standing Qigong for Health and Martial Arts – Zhan Zhuang, and encourages readers to be more present in the moment.

“My book is about a still form of exercise that incorporates mind and body, and I hope that aside from the physical, readers will take heart and embrace the idea of being in the present. It sounds cliché but it seems all of us are involved in everything but the world in front of us.

In our hectic and busy lives we forget that there must be moments where we stop for a time and look around us, or simply close our eyes and be in the present. I am not talking about having a full blown meditation on a commuter train, although what the heck, you may want to try it. I try often to do this, to have these small moments (not full blown meditation on a commuter train) as I work extraordinary hours and small breaks are nirvana to me. Even for a minute or two I have found it beneficial to walk outside look at the sun and sky, take a deep breath, and think about what is happening at this moment in time. It seems like the enemy for these moments are those devices which were sold to help us save time and make things easier. I haven’t really seen that materialize. Have you?

I am disappointed that all of the science fiction movies and TV I watched as a kid that painted such a rosy picture of the future, didn’t happen the way they described. I don’t mean the flying cars, which I guess, will never happen, I mean the promise of the ease of daily activities. The one thing I noticed in science fiction was that no one was ever in a hurry. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Dr. Floyd is briefing the others on the space station, they were completely relaxed. They were talking about other life in the universe and they could have been discussing color swatches for interior décor. “Open the pod bay doors, Hal,” And this is when Bowman is facing death in the vacuum of space! Sure, Star Wars has some excitement, but they are shooting lasers at each other. I don’t see that I have more leisure time because of technology, and that machines are doing things for me, so I can relax on the couch. Like most people I have ended up serving the machine! Now we work everywhere. Is that an advantage? Only to the work, I think.

We are all tethered to devices that are merciless task masters. ‘Ding!’ There is a text! ‘Swoosh!’ That is the email asking about the text. ‘Swoosh!’ There is that Facebook post from the kid who sat in back of me in high school. He found me on Facebook and now I look at his posts of his family vacation and ‘like’ pictures out of some kind of bizarre obligation. ‘Ding’ a text reminding me about something that I didn’t forget, but the text requires that I respond so that the other person doesn’t get offended. Now I insert the proper emoticon and…’Swoosh’ email arrives notifying me about a picture of a plate of food that someone thinks is incredibly important. With the internet, you can read just about everything ever written by Joseph Conrad, but we use it to send pictures of plates of food. For some reason we do all of this while life is streaming by and we give it barely a notice. What the heck!

These devices are so insidious they have wrapped their tentacles around our children as well. (or did we do the wrapping?) We are often found staring stoop shouldered at our palm size czars while our children are enthralled by a screen encompassing their entire field of vision, and we all MUST HAVE IT! What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Look at this device! Look at all the things it does! Perhaps we need to be asking if we need it to do all of these things.

I have stood talking to people looking at a phone, with earphones in their ears, and they have told me: ‘Don’t worry, I’m paying attention to you.’ Really? I beg to differ. Two of their senses are occupied and tasting me is out of the question.

Usually, we think of the phone or other device as our connection to the world, when in fact it is the exact opposite: It is our disconnection from the world. The world is happening in front of us and all around us. Do we even notice? Often I am criticized for not taking pictures of events. But I refuse to do it. I don’t want to document my life for myself or anyone else. I want to experience and live it. Not to mention the fact that I don’t think my life is all that interesting to anyone but me. A few events, may be worthy of note, but a daily dose of minutiae?

So are we disconnected? How disconnected can we be? Laws have had to be passed so that we don’t type one fingered messages to others while driving a one ton death machine on a public road! Now THAT is disconnected.

So what do we do? I don’t suggest turning your back on technology. That is unreasonable. I only think we need to be prudent in its use. Give attention to what is important, and realize that what you give your attention to, whether we realize it or not, is what is most important to you at that moment. Once when I was pushing my son on a swing and checking my email on my phone, I realized that what I was looking at was the most important thing to me at that moment. That really struck me, so I put it away and when I am interacting with my son I make sure I give him the same attention I demand of him.

What about emergencies? Let’s face it if we ever only used our devices for emergencies they would be dusty and full of cobwebs. If we put them away for a moment nothing will happen. Sadly, we all must realize that we are not as important as we think we are, and we are really only important to those close to us. How often do we give our time and attention to others at the expense of the ones that care about us?

So what do we do? There are small things we can do, and I have provided some suggestions below. However, having an overall awareness of the fact that we are making choices is important. We are not helpless, unless we choose to be.

These are some things that I have found useful.

  • When you are by yourself, periodically, at least once a day, turn off your phone, or at least the volume, and be alone with your thoughts. If you have to ask what you should think about, do this more often than you were originally planning.
  • Require full attention of those that interact with you. No checking texts while speaking with you. No glancing to see if anything came in. I have instituted a “walk away” policy for myself. If when speaking with someone they choose to do other things, so do I.
  • Do the same as above for others. (How often did I catch myself doing this stuff? Too often.)
  • Look in the night sky and try to find a constellation of any kind.
  • Look at the daytime sky and observe the clouds or anything that is there.
  • Stop and think about how you are right now. What do you feel?
  • If you don’t like your child spending so much time on a device, then make it stop.
  • Breathe deeply by inhaling for a count of 5 and exhaling for a count of 5.
  • Choose to use technology to make your life easier and realize that nothing is an emergency but an emergency.

When I was writing my book I tried to talk about being present, as standing qigong is definitely something that helps cultivate this practice, but I wouldn’t want someone to think that they can’t simply start being present immediately. I hope you read my book and the others that are coming. Now, turn off your ringer and try the suggestion where you take in a breath for a count of 5 and then exhale for a count of 5. Do it now. Breathe in: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Great! Now, without holding your breath, breathe out for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. There, that is it. Look around you. Look up, look down. This is where you are. Doesn’t that feel good? This is where you are.”

Yiquan General Standard Requirements

In this extract from Tang_Complete-Book-o_978-1-84819-225-6_colourjpg-webThe Complete Book of Yiquan, Master C S Tang outlines the essential requirements of the Yiquan stance. Detailed images of hand shapes, leg shapes and body shapes illustrate the how to practice the static stance as a whole. Training involves not only poses, but also controlling the joints and muscles, utilizing the tension and relaxation of weights.

Read the extract…

The book is the first complete guide to the rarely taught martial art, Yiquan, still shrouded in mystery. With clear photographs and explanations, this comprehensive illustrated book fully describes the postures and movements of Yiquan and provides information on Yiquan’s origin, weapons, programs, grading, and more.

Master Zhongxian Wu provides an introduction into the history of the Dai Family Heart Mind Six Unions Martial Arts

Wu_XinYi-WuXing-He_978-1-84819-224-9_colourjpg-printIn this article for Tai Chi Chuan and Oriental Arts magazine, Master Zhongxian Wu provides an introduction to the Dai Family Internal Martial Arts by deconstructing the components of its traditional Chinese name and how each affects the spiritual practice.

He explains the traditional Chinese meaning of each component and how it effects the spiritual practice.

Read the article…

Master Zhongxian Wu’s DVDs ‘XinYi WuXing’ and ‘XinYi BaGua’ are available from the Singing Dragon website.

New books on martial arts and qigong – 2014

The Singing Dragon Martial Arts and Qigong catalogue is now available to view online and download. We hope you will find something in here which inspires you to try a new martial art or take your practice to a new level. In this catalogue you will find books on Chinese martial arts, tai chi, bagua, qigong, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, Daoism and enlightenment.

 
All the titles, author names, and covers are interactive; just click on them to be taken to the book or author page on the Singing Dragon website.

Michael Davies on the benefits of the gentle exercise known as Jiangan – The Chinese Health Wand

Michael Davies is a senior instructor with the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain. He has been practising Chinese internal arts for over 30 years and teaching Tai Chi Chuan for 13 years. He runs a Tai Chi club with regular classes, workshops and seminars in Tai Chi, Qigong and Jiangan. He lives in Hertfordshire, UK.

Here, Michael answers some questions about his new book, Jiangan – The Chinese Health Wand.

Video: Click to see Jiangan in action!


When did you first come across the Chinese health wand?

I saw it performed by an elderly Chinese man while on holiday in Malaysia in 1982, then later read a copy of the book by Bruce L. Johnson, the man who discovered the system in Shanghai in 1945. I had only just begun learning Tai Chi, which I took up mainly for the martial and meditation aspects. So although I was intrigued by the ‘Chinese Wand’ I was not sufficiently motivated to study it at that time. It was thirty years later, after working in an office and experiencing a sedentary lifestyle for much of that time, that I become more interested in the health aspects of Asian arts. I had become a Tai Chi instructor but felt that there were areas of conditioning and fitness that even this Chinese treasure was lacking. I decided to revisit Johnson’s book and experiment with the exercises, and was so impressed that I wrote this book.

What does Jiangan mean?

In Chinese (pin-yin) ‘Jian’ means health and ‘Gan’ means pole or wand. Jiangan can therefore be translated as ‘Health Wand’. Although there is no direct mention of Jiangan in Chinese written records, such exercises have been traditionally passed down from teacher to student orally for many generations. Dr Cheng, the Chinese Grandmaster who taught Bruce Johnson, claimed that the art was as old as Yoga and Qigong. But unlike other Asian mind-body systems that developed health aspects as by-products of spiritual advancement (Yoga), martial skill (Tai Chi) or healing specific illnesses (Qigong), Jiangan was specifically devised as a daily health and fitness maintenance routine for the gentry and imperial family who had unique health problems caused by their sedentary lifestyle. So for this purpose only the exercises evolved, the less effective and less safe exercises being replaced by more potent and safer exercises through countless generations. This makes it a scientific and comprehensive daily work-out.

Did you find Jiangan easy to learn, and have you found that the practice has expanded over the years?

It is very easy to learn but deceptively so. It possesses hidden subtleties and can be as simple or as challenging as you like. People tend to start practising physically but when the body adjusts there is less need for physical exertion. Eventually you realise that it is very much an internal exercise and you focus more on the deep diagrammatic breathing and develop a meditative frame of mind which greatly enhances your practice. The book takes the reader through the exercises in great detail and suggests traditional mental imagery based on the Chinese element system which helps to link the physical movement to spiritual concepts.

What are the health benefits, and how long each day do you need to practice?

The benefits include a sense of well-being, a clear tranquil mind, deep restorative sleep, increased energy, sexual vitality and fertility, increased circulation, clear skin, more efficient metabolism and improved digestion. But in addition Jiangan stretches and strengthens the physical body and is capable of delivering body-shaping results associated with vigorous gym workouts. It is therefore a holistic internal-external exercise. Many people separate health and fitness but Jiangan regards both as the same. Although there is stretching and strengthening similar to Western exercises these are performed in the style and spirit of a Tai Chi or Qigong routine. We approach stretches in gradual stages, always returning to the beginning posture with each breath and not holding a stretch for longer than a breath. Every movement is cyclic, gradual and gentle. So physical goals can be achieved at the same time as ‘internal cultivation’ because they are both part of the holistic joining of mind and body. Perhaps the systems’ most crucial contribution to health is its capacity to improve posture and help with a whole range of back, shoulder, and neck problems.

Twenty minutes a day is adequate to avail oneself of the many health benefits.


VIDEO: Michael Davies demonstrates some Jiangan exercises.

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Is this a purely ‘health’ practice or does it, like other Chinese energetic movement forms, carry within it a deeper spiritual practice?

The unique esoteric aspects of the art are based on Chinese traditional medicine and more obscure ancient practices, particularly involving the Gan itself. I discovered that the length that Johnson and Grandmaster Cheng specified for the Gan is approximately a ‘Golden Ratio’ longer than the length of an average person’s arm, which is probably the basis of the intriguing esoteric principles surrounding the Gan (‘Wand’ is an apt, rather magical term). Holding the Gan at each end – one hand considered ‘Yin’ and the other ‘Yang’ respectively – may relate back to the Healing Rods of ancient Egypt. Continuing with the Egyptian theme, this wide grip creates a symbolic pyramid shape with the body. As we continually circulate Qi around this ‘pyramid’ its vertex or tip repeatedly focusses on and stimulates the body’s two ‘polarity points’; the Yang (Baihui) on the crown of the head and the Yin (Huiyin) at base of the spine. This process relates to the important Chakra centres of Yoga and can also be seen as a simplified way to perform the ‘Microcosmic Orbit Meditation’ of Taoist alchemy. The ‘Yin-Yang’ concept is also an important influence on body mechanics. In most exercises the Gan acts as a fulcrum or lever. In many of the exercises, one part of the body is motionless (Yin) while another part is in motion (Yang). This creates a resistance that causes beneficial stretches and also massages internal organs. It is a methodology in stark contrast to Tai Chi where all the body moves as one unit.

Why do you think it is not very well known?

Bruce Johnson said that Dr Cheng was the last Chinese Grandmaster. When he introduced it to the West in the 1950’s there was little enthusiasm for Asian arts. By the time Tai Chi and Qigong became popular Johnson had given up teaching for religious reasons. The art was left behind. Though a few people kept it alive using Johnson’s out-of-print book as a reference point. But the internal, philosophical side of the art was not being taught. In recent years it seems to have been relegated to the role of a ‘quirky physical exercise with a stick’.

Using my experience in Chinese internal arts I wanted to rediscover the internal philosophy and present the art as originally intended so that a new generation can reap the health benefits. In fact, it was the way Jiangan effects the physical body that was the catalyst for writing the book. Even though I had been practising Tai Chi for over thirty years, like many men my age I had developed a middle-aged spread. There seems to be a consensus amongst Tai Chi and Qigong practitioners that it is possible to have a middle-age spread and still be healthy and to regard exercises that focus on physical improvement as somehow inferior and cosmetic. But an expanding waistband is often a sign that visceral fat – the fat that sits around the major organs and linked to diabetes and heart disease – is accumulating in the body. After practising Jiangan for several weeks my middle-ages spread was gone and I felt fitter, leaner and stronger, more supple than I had for years. I hope that my book will be particularly useful to people attracted to internal Chinese health but who also need to reduce weight and keep fit.

How does this practice fit within the Chinese martial arts tradition, and how might you integrate it with martial arts practice?

Jiangan is not a martial art and there is no evidence that it evolved from martial techniques. However, the dimensions of the Gan itself is approximately the same as the Chinese short staff (sometimes called the ‘Gun’ or ‘whip staff”) used for some martial forms.

It is a complete and integrated warm-up, a stretching, strengthening and Qigong-energy type practice that can be utilised to support any martial art training. It enriches training sessions and makes them more effective.

Now that the book is published, what is your next challenge?

I would like the art to become better known and more widely practised – particularly in the areas where it’s unique qualities can make a significant contribution, such as tackling obesity and weight-loss – especially in seniors and helping sedentary people overcome problems associated with their lifestyles. As it is simple to learn there is great opportunity for a wide range of people to teach themselves without long-term commitment to lessons or classes. Johnson wanted his own book to be in every nursing home, every hospital, every physical therapy room, every doctor’s office. I would like to see Jiangan practised by workers in offices and factories to increase productivity and the health of the workforce. I would also like to see it practised in schools and colleges, where it could not only help maintain student’s physical fitness but also be an accessible introduction to Chinese internal arts.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

Qi Gong as a “process”: Journeying from dynamic movement to inner stillness

By Michael Acton, author of Eternal Spring: Taiji Quan, Qi Gong and the Cultivation of Health, Happiness and Longevity.

I came to Qi Gong through Taiji Quan, which is considered in China to be both a high level Qi Gong and a highly respected traditional martial art. I started Taiji in London back in 1976 when there were very few serious and knowledgeable instructors around. I had already dabbled in Japanese martial arts. Taiji was like a breath of fresh air, I found it both fascinating and fulfilling. It also reflected more accurately my growing interest in Buddhism and Daoism and their expression in Chinese art and culture. My first important teacher was a Malaysian Chinese and he introduced me to Wu style Taiji Quan. After several years he returned to Malaysia. I visited him there and learned and saw aspects of Taiji I had not seen in the UK. I also saw Thai and Malaysian martial arts whilst in Southeast Asia.

Back in the UK, I continued to practice with some students from my old group but I also began a more earnest investigation of new teachers and other styles of Chinese martial arts, notably Chen Style, Ba Gua, Hsing Yi and Traditional Yang Form. I also spent six months in Dharamsala, Northern India, painting two pictures for the Office of the Dalai Lama (see below) which gave me an opportunity to study meditation and Buddhist philosophy. This had a significant impact upon my personal development and my inclination towards Qi Gong as a therapeutic and spiritual path. It also inspired me to seek out a high level teacher in China.


Michael Acton's painting of one of the great teachers of Buddhism, Shnatarakshita, displayed in the Namgyal Temple in Dharamsala.


In 1992 I went to Shanghai, the home of Wu Style Taiji and met Master Li Liqun, a fourth generation Taiji master and a senior disciple of Ma Yueh Liang. Master Ma and his wife Wu Ying Hua, (daughter of Grandmaster Wu Jian Quan who developed the Wu Style as we know it today), were the gatekeepers of the Southern Wu Style martial system of Taiji Quan and were both renowned for their skill and knowledge. Master Li was a life long practitioner of Chinese martial arts and was a highly respected Taiji master and Qi Gong doctor. It was my good fortune to meet him and I considered myself lucky when he invited me to study with him.

From Master Li I re-learned everything I thought I already knew about Taiji. I studied the weapons and martial strategies and learned the rare Kuai Quan (Fast form) – said to be the original hand form. I also had the chance to study Qi Gong in depth. I studied Master Li’s methods and his widely acclaimed 5 Yin Organ Back Step systems. It was a profound introduction to Qi Gong as a therapeutic/health practice and a cathartic experience for me. I stayed in China for nearly four years and have subsequently been back for a year’s stay plus many, many visits, including my recent visit in late 2010 when I was invited to visit the graves of Ma Yueh Liang, Wu Ying Hua and Wu Jian Quan, to pay my respects as an ‘apprentice’ of Master Li’s. Master Li has always been generous in his teaching and believed that everyone should have the chance to practice and study Taiji Quan to cultivate their vitality, health and happiness. He also encouraged me to teach in the same spirit and I have been teaching now since 1996. In 2006 I founded the Wu Shi Taiji and Qi Gong Association UK with Master Li Liqun as our Honourary Chairman. Its aim is to teach the traditional Wu Style Taiji Quan as passed down by the founder Wu Jian Quan as well as the methods and principles of Qi Gong as passed to me by Master Li Liqun.

The Qi Gong course I teach has evolved over many years of teaching, studying and investigating Taiji and Qi Gong. I confess: it has taken me a long time to acquire the maturity and depth needed to teach Qi Gong properly as well as position all the developmental stages of Qi Gong practice in an intelligible and sequential way. My course addresses the difficulties many Westerners find in accessing what I call the Qi Gong ‘experience’. I deliver a broad syllabus of principles, methods and strategies used in therapeutic Qi Gong.

The syllabus covers four main Qi Gong strategies:

  •  Dynamic movement
  • Medical/Therapeutic Qi Gong
  • Qi Absorption/Emission, and
  • Meditation

I offer both an understandable syllabus and relevant theoretical framework. My emphasis always remains true to my Masters’ with its primary emphasis on the therapeutic and healing aspects of Qi Gong rather than the mystical, martial or even religious. Generally I follow the Chinese medical paradigm as expressed in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and although this can present problems for many students who are unfamiliar with the principles and theory, I always seek to explain the Chinese ideas in a digestible and experiential way.

Many of my senior Qi Gong students are either therapists, osteopaths or acupuncturists and they find that the therapeutic methods I teach both enhance their level of treatment and give them the means to manage their own health. I also teach many students who have medical conditions, some quite serious, that need managing. It is this context that has propelled and informed the syllabus and the depth to which I teach. I believe that serious students, especially those in the healing professions, need a full range of Qi Gong methods to be useful in their practice and relevant to their patients as well as to themselves. I have come to see the principles, methods and strategies as being intimately linked and interdependent, each providing a stepping stone for a deeper and more profound experience. Qi Gong is about Nourishing Vitality which requires far more than learning a few sets of movements. Nourishing Vitality means the practice of ‘conservation, restoration, nourishment and transformation’. Qi Gong should be seen as a ‘process’ and as such it unfolds progressively as you journey from dynamic movement to inner stillness. It is why in China the practice of Qi Gong is often referred to as a ‘way’ or the ‘Dao of Qi Gong’.

I have recently started running a beginners’ workshop at the Crouch End YMCA in London. It is usually held on the last Saturday of each month. There are still places available since we are still at the beginning phase of the syllabus. However, once we pass this phase it will not be easy for beginners to join this group, so call or e-mail if you are interested as soon as possible. My aim is to create a dedicated group which can progress together through the whole syllabus. Group cohesion and commitment is important in cultivating the right context for study.

Key Components of my syllabus:

  • Postural Dao Yin – Eternal Spring Qi Gong – (Yong Chuan Dao Yin Fa Gong) Dynamic Movement and posture based method.
  • Mental Dao Yin – The 5 Yin Organ Step Back Method of Master Li: Dan Tian cultivation, Energy circulation, Energy gate method, 12 Meridian method and Self Strengthening method.
  • Qi Absorption – 3 Opening and 9 Rotations, Heaven, Earth and Man Qi Gong, Qi Emission and Qi Absorption techniques.
  • Meditation – Respiratory techniques, Dissolving, Visualising Method, Blending and Transforming, Small Heavenly Circuit, and Entering Stillness.

For more information, contact:

Wu Shi Taiji Quan and Qi Gong Association UK
Tel: +44 (0)1225 832 292
msi.yuan-acton@macunlimited.net
www.wutaijiandqigong.co.uk

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

The Yang Tàijí 24-Step Short Form – An Interview with Singing Dragon author James Drewe

James Drewe is Vice-Chairman of the Longfei Taijiquan Association, a member of the British Council for Chinese Martial Arts (BCCMA), and is a registered instructor with the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain (TCUGB). He currently teaches Yang, Chen, Sun, and Wudang styles of taiji, including various sword and fan forms, and is the author of Taiji Jian 32-Posture Sword Form, published by Singing Dragon.

Here he answers some questions about his new book, The Yang Tàijí 24-Step Short Form: A Step-by-Step Guide for all Levels.

How did you come to practice Tai Chi?

Back in 1975, I was running back home because I was late for something, and banged into a guy who was coming out of a betting shop. He’d obviously lost rather badly, because he ran after me. When I slowed down for a breather he caught up with me, grabbed me by the front of my shirt collar, and was probably only stopped from thrashing the daylights out of me because I turned into a gibbering wreck. I decided that I didn’t like how that felt and should therefore do something about it.

Within a few weeks of this meeting with the unsuccessful gambler, I took up Kung Fu, which I ended up doing for 5 years. There was a t’ai chi class that followed after the Kung Fu, and I joined this the next term as well.

I didn’t do the 24-Step until many years later. I was very impressed by its succinctness and by its clarity. I was teaching the Yang Long Form at this point, and realised that the 24-Step was a much more approachable form for beginners.

Why did you decide to write this book, and who is it for?

I wrote the book because I enjoy teaching, I enjoy trying to describe how to move, and from a more practical point of view, because I’m always being asked to recommend a book for the 24-Step.

The book is for several levels, and is divided into a ‘Brief’ description, a ‘Detailed’ description, and there are then ‘Notes’ at the end of every movement.

A beginner will possibly find the ‘Brief’ the most useful – this acts as a reminder only of the movements.

As you might expect, the ‘Detailed’ goes into slightly greater depth, explaining the coordination of the movements, angles of the limbs and body, etc.

The ‘Notes’ are more advanced points, often showing variations (not everyone teaches it exactly the same), and explaining how the body functions within each movement – rotations of elbows, knees, connections between the joints, the opening and closing of the limbs and torso, rotations of the centre to produce the movements effortlessly, etc.

Who is the ‘modern tai chi student’, and how does your book cater to them?

The ‘modern’ tai chi student is the person who is trying to cram a thousand things into his/her week, whilst holding down a job, and possibly a relationship/family.

The longer forms take up to 20/25 minutes to perform, and many years to learn, so the 24-Step form is great for those with less time to spare, but who would still like to do some t’ai chi.

The book caters for them because it explains the movements, and hopefully will serve as a reminder after learning the moves in a class.

Grounding, posture, balance, etc. – which areas usually require the most practice and attention for new and for experienced practitioners of the Yang Tàijí 24-Step Short Form?

This is a very difficult question, because everyone is different. Some people are naturally well-grounded, others have a natural grace of movement, others could balance on one toe if necessary, some are tense, others relaxed.

For beginners, the most common problem is coordination of the arms and legs with the torso – for example, a movement may require the left foot (which is already placed ahead of you) to move back alongside the right foot, at the same time as the body turning to the right, the right arm bending at the elbow, whilst the left arm pushes down towards the floor. Beginners find this difficult.

More experienced practitioners may well be able to manage the limbs successfully, but find that making the movements come from the centre is particularly difficult; many experienced practitioners are ‘disconnected’, in that their joints do not operate in a coordinated way with the rising and falling, turning left and right, and opening and closing of the centre.

This book tries to covers all of these aspects as far as it is possible with words. What is particularly hard to explain with words is the feeling of the various movements; I have tried to do this by using analogies, but am aware that this very much depends on the reader. For example, if I use sailing as an example, this might not work very well for those who haven’t had the experience of using the wind to move a small boat; on the other hand, some people have vivid imaginations, so….maybe it will help!

What do you mean when you say that thai chi is “Understanding the Absolute by practising in the Relative”?

For me this is what t’ai chi is about. If everything in the world is a microcosm, then ‘life’ should reflect Divinity, and anything that happens in our lives (any skills that we learn, all interactions, etc.) should reflect Divinity and ‘life’. Therefore, t’ai chi should be able to explain 1) Divinity, and 2) how the structure of ‘life’ operates (although, these are probably the same, as it’s arguable that ‘life’ is ‘Divinity’ in process), and how best to function within this structure of ‘life’.

It is said that we live in a world that is ‘relative’; everything is relative to something else (i.e. we have yin and yang – up/down, left/right, deep/shallow, yesterday/tomorrow, etc., etc. …the list is endless), and that, in order for us to be able to experience, this is the way that it has to be. In other words, without those opposites, experience is impossible.

It is also said that, in a state after death, we cease to experience in the same way – time no longer exists, and neither does up/down, in/out, forward/backward etc. We are just in a state of ‘being’ – the ‘Absolute’.

So, to understand the ‘Absolute’ (God/Heaven), you need to study the ‘Relative’ (Earth), and in order to understand both Heaven and Earth (i.e. the way that God ‘functions’ and the way that ‘life’ operates), you can study t’ai chi because it is a microcosm.

Having said that, I think you can probably study absolutely anything and come to the same conclusions. Mine just happens to be t’ai chi, and writing music!

In the book you talk about different kinds of teachers. What kind of teacher do you aspire to be?

I’m not a performer, and in fact have absolutely no desire to be one; but I would like to be a good teacher. I trained as a teacher (class music) in the 70s, then taught music in schools for 11 years, and very much enjoyed the challenge of explaining, and trying to understand the way in which individuals learn. Whether it is music or t’ai chi, the challenge remains the same; different people have had different experiences, and therefore will learn in different ways. Trying to find the right way of explaining something is like searching through a bunch of keys to find the right key for the lock. Hopefully the book will help some people!

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2010.