Newsletter #23 - June 2003
- The Differences and Similarities of Tai Chi for Martial Art and Health by Paul Lam
- Putting the Magic into Push Hands by Jay Van Schelt, master trainer
- What Is The Magic of Tai Chi? By Patricia Lawson, master trainer
- Tai Chi Haiku Poem - By Ruth Anne Plourde
- Andy expediting - sharon's dream and vision by Sharon Fultz
- Dear Dr. Lam by Robin Malby
- Comments by Debbie Leong
Most people who practice Tai Chi practice for health purposes. However, Tai Chi was originally a martial art, and there are still many people who practice Tai Chi as a martial art for self-defense reasons. Some of these people consider themselves "different", and regard Tai Chi for health as "not real Tai Chi."
In my mind, there's no major difference with the exception of practice methods. First let's look at the direction, the reason, and the end results of Tai Chi as a martial art. To be an effective martial artist, you need to think clearly, and your mind needs to be mentally balanced. You fight better if you have clarity of mind and assess the situation clearly, rather than hit out in anger.
To be a good martial artist, you need to have strong muscles, good flexibility, fitness, a good sense of balance, ability to transfer weight efficiently, good posture, and mind/body integration. The combination of the body, mind and spirit is very important.
If you look at Tai Chi for health purposes, the aims are exactly the same: better muscle strength, flexibility, fitness, posture, balance and transference of weight. The main differences are in the practicing methods. For martial art, if you think about it, when someone throws a punch at you or makes an attacking move towards you, you will have only a fraction of a second to respond, and to do this properly, you'll have to fall back on your training. Your reaction or responses are almost by reflex, so if someone punches you in a certain direction, you need to practice hundreds, thousands of times on how to deal with this particular attack. And the same holds true for any kind of attack. The problem with sparring is that you have a much higher chance of injury.
If you practice Tai Chi strictly for health, you should visualize that you're pushing hands or that you're in a martial arts situation. That way, you'll understand the purpose of the movement. Your body should be there; your spirit should be there. And your energy should be there because it's needed to develop your fitness and muscle strength. Creating and cultivating powerful inner energy (qi) is necessary for the right inner power along with the right martial art intention and the right body movement.
Let me give you an example about martial art and health. If somebody punches you, the first thing we do in Tai Chi is to "listen," meaning to feel the touch-the direction and quality-of the incoming force. To be able to feel the incoming force properly, you need to use some resistance with your inner wardoff (peng) force. But at the same time, you must yield and absorb some of the incoming force, understand its direction and quality, and then you can re-direct it. Re-directing is much easier than confronting it. After re-directing, you're then in a position to gain control at your discretion.
With other styles of fighting, people hit you and you hit back. Even if you win that fight, you really still lose because you could injure yourself or your opponent, and you could create bad will which can create future fight.
In the Tai Chi way, if you think about it, life is a fight. If you're facing a crisis situation, or if you're having a verbal fight, the least productive way is to confront, hit and retaliate. So if someone yells at you, yelling back louder is not going to solve the situation. It's only going to make it worse. Instead, if you touch base, listen (yield) to the incoming force, understand where the anger came from, you're absorbing the incoming anger and once you know the situation, you can then re-direct the anger, and find a way to control the situation. You will then have a choice to reach a win-win situation for both sides. All this depends on the way you approach the situation and on your mental balance. That's the Tai Chi way.
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Many people have heard of this special skill known by tai chi masters called "Pushing Hands." This is the mysterious power to get an opponent off balance with only a light touch. Or maybe it is the ability to throw your opponent far across the room with the same light touch. The tai chi classics say of push hands that the weight of a fly is enough to set the body in motion. What exactly does that mean?
From my experience over the last 20 years or so, there is no real magic to push hands. These skills must be learned and honed over time. They have a direct relationship to the forms we all know and practice everyday. So there is really only one magic to push hands: practice.
But what should you practice? The answer to that question lies in the process of discovery and awareness that is the essence of push hands. To discover, simply be aware of incoming force, and then using both your body and awareness:
· Yield to the force
· Understand the force
· Deflect the force
When you can do these three things, then something that seems like magic happens: You begin to feel control over your opponent's balance point. At this point, most people try to push their partner over, but the key to practice is to refrain from that and become more aware of this control point so you will be able to recognize it. True skill doesn't lie in pushing someone over. If you learn to yield, understand, and deflect your partner's force, he or she will know that they have lost their balance. You won't have to demonstrate that to them.
At the push hands seminar held at the 2003 Tai Chi Workshop in Connecticut, there were several key exercises introduced for the practice of these aspects of push hands. First were three one-handed, two-person practice sets used for discovering yielding and deflecting force in a smooth way. These patterns are set so you already know the basic direction of the incoming force. These preset patterns allow you to discover and understand the basics of forces applied in one direction, while also allowing you to uncover the more subtle changes in force that happen as it is applied. The three basic movements that we practiced were:
· Horizontal Circle
· Vertical Circle
· Figure Eight
The Horizontal Circle starts with one person receiving force on the back of their hand in the ward off position. The other person is issuing force with the palm, as in brush knee and push. As you yield to the force, your weight shifts to your back leg. The waist turns to deflect the force and your hand turns so that the palm is up. As the force is dissipated, you urn the palm over to the wrist of your partner and issue force from the back leg.
The Vertical Circle starts with the concept that one person is reaching toward the eyes of the other. The receiving partner yields and slightly deflects that incoming force out and down, and then begins to issue force toward the hip of the partner. The partner yields and deflects the force slightly out and again reaches up and towards the eyes.
The Figure Eight starts with the back of the palms touching, the person with the palm facing the sky is the issuing partner, the other is the receiving partner. As you receive that force, the palm moves outwards from the body and turns over, thus you're changing from receiving to issuing the force, which is directed at your partner's hip area as if to move him from his stance.
These three basic practice sets should be practiced slowly and softly to discover how force applied to your body can be directed into your joints in a way that creates a feeling of springing energy called peng, also known as ward off energy. Because of this springy energy, you'll feel like a soft resilient rubber to your partner.
These practice sets also help to develop the sensitivity of the body so you can the direction and strength of incoming forces. This sensitivity is crucial to developing the aspects of yielding and understanding force in Push Hands. Without this skill, you won't be able to deflect your partner or control his balance. Remember, the Classics say that to deflect 1,000 lbs. of force you only need 4 oz. That means that if the force is only 10 lbs., you need only .04 oz. to deflect it.
We also shared a two-handed practice using postures taken directly from the 24 forms tai chi practice set.
· Roll back.
To practice Push, stand opposite your partner place your hands on his or her forearm, which should for this exercise be held against the lower part of the chest. Gently practice the posture push. Begin with your weight shifted forward, using your back leg to push forward. Now try to uplift your partner, who should resist moving back. Remember, the point is to discover how to express force using your legs not your arms.
After practicing Push, your partner should begin to practice Roll Back, let the arm not being pushed lay along the upper arm with the hand near the shoulder. (Do not grab with the hand.) When your partner puts their hands on you, you should try to relax and sink. If you don't do this, it will be hard to respond correctly to the push force. As your partner begins to push, slowly yield to the force by moving backwards, listening with your whole body, and trying to understand and feel how your partner is pushing you. Is he/she pushing slightly up or down? Is the force more to the right or left of your body? Try to feel the direction and strength of the force.
As your weight passes the center of your stance, begin to slowly rotate your waist to the side opposite your outstretched arm. As the waist turns, slowly rotate your palm up towards the ceiling. This is the deflection, but remember that it should be done lightly. This doesn't mean that you are completely relaxed. As the Classics say, the body is soft to the touch but it is like iron wrapped in cotton. This is called song, relaxed yet with an inner strength (with Peng force from within) which can be expressed at this point in the practice.
When you understand this balance and deflection, you can experiment with your partner. Allow him to deliver force from different directions. To do this, simply stand in ward-off position and have your partner come from any direction in front of you. He should place his hands on you and not push immediately. This gives you time to watch your body's reaction to his hands on you. Try to relax and sink into your posture. When you're ready, he can push you. Again yield, understand, deflect and watch for the control point to express itself. Try not to worry too much about being pushed. As the Classics say, to win you must first lose. You're in discovery about your own body. If you lose in either position, you win by discovering your own balance points. This is truly a game where everybody wins.
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We all have some understanding of what tai chi is-"the slow-motion exercise, incorporating martial techniques, that originated in ancient China and today is practiced largely for health"-or something along those lines.
And what is magic? Simply put, it is sleight of hand. Something is there, and then it's gone. It moves before you can see it. It's wonder and discovery. But what is the magic in tai chi?
Often when I'm mentally stuck, I open my little book of I Ching sayings. I choose a page at random, looking for inspiration. So I put it out to the universe: "Please shed some light on the magic of tai chi," and here's what I opened to: "He Who Knows Doesn't Talk. He Who Talks Doesn't Know." Isn't that the way it's been in traditional martial arts here in America? "Don't tell-it's a secret-I can't teach it to you yet-no one outside our school can know this." Then it hit me:
Secrets; Looks easy but it's not: Requires much practice to do well; Involves the unseen and invisible; Something is in your hand but then it's gone; Something moves invisibly.
Am I talking about tai chi or magic? They have those things in common. Magicians even favor black outfits! Someone once told me he saw a tai chi class in China in the 1970s. The teacher wore white gloves so the class could watch his hands. Tai chi and magic have a lot of external things in common. But the big difference is that ordinary magic is merely illusion done with the hands and the mind. Tai chi is real.
I recall Dr. Lam once saying that he and his family went to Florida and saw Disney World's version of space shuttle and Cape Kennedy's real space shuttle. The later looks dull and worn compare to that of Disney World's.
"Which did you think is real?" he asked the children. Of course their enthused reply was "Disney World! Disney World!" What is real in the eyes of beholders?
The hand holds the magic of tai chi. We all have one. No special equipment is needed to make it work. It is simple and basic yet has intricate bone structure and an opposable thumb. How many emotions can a hand express? Anger, love, caring, comfort, to name just a few.
More than an exercise, tai chi is an expression. It is the expression of energy. And I do not just mean "communicate" express, but "move" express to move outward. It is in your hand and then gone, but not really gone, just moved. It is simple natural expression that results in better health and vitality. What could be more magical than that? Perhaps the feeling of the chi movement that we so enjoy. It is palpable, and it is real.
There is a price for this magic. The price that must be paid to nurture and grow the magic is PRACTICE AND DEDICATION. One master said, "The magic is in every day." It is as real as every day, but we must practice it every day to keep it.
I'd like to share with you a story told by Martin Bell in his book The Way of the Wolf. It's about a little boy who liked to walk in the woods and listen to the wind. One day he is thrilled to hear the wind talking to him. The wind says he want to share the secret of life with him: Everything that is, is good. And at the center of things, life belongs to life. The wind continues to say that no matter what else anyone tells him, and despite his own contrary experiences, anything that hurts another person hurts him, too. We cannot gain from another's loss, or lose from another's gain. We are all connected. And the little boy understands this. I think it is harder for adults though. This is the magic of tai chi.
The magic of tai chi is in our hands. Through tai chi we connect to each other and to the universe. We can listen to the wind. It is a hug, a handshake, a reach, a touch. The next time you practice, watch your hand. Express, Feel, Breathe, Connect. When we share our tai chi with others, let's avoid secrets of illusion and magic. Share the magic of every day, of improved health and vitality, of connecting to others. The magic is that the wonders continue to unfold at deeper and deeper levels for as long as we live and practice.
Tai chi is nourishment and beauty; it is exercise and prayer. This is its magic.
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Haiku Rules: each poem has only 17 syllables:
5 syllables in first line, 7 in second , 5 in third.
(Each poem is to stand on its own, here I have strung several together.)
Tai Chi Week Workshop.
Doctor Paul Lam U S A.
June two thousand three.
All modes of transport.
Plane, train, shuttle bus, cab, car.
New London we're here.
Tai Chi players stormed
C T College campus dorms.
One blanket, one bed.
Questions, answers, requests here.
Who to see? Anna!
What is your pleasure?
TCA, 24, 73,
Sword, 42, 36.
Tai Chi one two three.
Tai Chi training. Tea. Practice.
Tai Chi training. Tea.
Foggy night bus tour.
If you could see through the fog,
You'd see History.
Shake hands, make new friends
Join hands. Push Hands. Center. Ground.
New friends. Laughter. Food.
Great Masters: Paul, Kam, Ian.
Sunday Demos. Wow!
Next Tai Chi Workshop.
Doctor Paul Lam U S A.
June two thousand four.
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From: "Sharon Fultz" <email@example.com>
Dreamed of Paul Lam handing me a disk that I held up to the light in order to see the images. The photos were of people that I had met last week at the Tai Chi workshop at Connecticut College. The images were well developed yet in the miniature version they were all trying to give me a message. It seemed in the message that they were all telling me to go ahead and "develop" my own photos or perhaps to develop my own Tai Chi Vision.
Some of the images in the photo disk in the dream are masses of confusion and people. Some however, were sharp, clear, and well defined. One that was very well defined was the picture of Jay. He took the fear of pushhands away from me and replaced it with a sense of great fun and friendliness. He told me that people come into your life for A Reason, A Season, or A Lifetime.
I asked myself "What is the reason that Paul Lam was sent by the Tai Chi gods to my life"? Is it for a Reason, a Season, or a Lifetime? The answer could be all three. The reason is to help me develop my Tai Chi skills from hobby level, to the Season of helping make Tai Chi available to others while the Lifetime unfolds.
Pat Lawson smiles out at me from her place on the disk prompting memories of her talk about "Everyday Magic". I can see how moved those around us are by her words and her quote from "The Way of the Wolf". The Wind tell The Thajir "When you help one, you help everyone." "When you hurt one, you hurt everyone."
That night as I walked around the campus, that same Wind spoke to me. It is the Wind that is formed as the water droplets gather together into the fog and attracted to one another they become strong enough as they drop onto the leaves in the trees to become the Wind that calls to me and says, "Sharon, you are as the balmy mist that wafts from the manhole covers to join with the fog that hovers and covers the treetops. That same fog appears as my Tai Chi family. The family that is always there, always available, cheering me on to join them. Always warm and welcoming.
Welcoming me to my new Chen family, also in the dream, was Kam. During the workshop when I despaired of learning the form, our instructors, Kam and Dan, and my fellow students were there with encouraging words, support and relaxation methods. Wednesday night I dreamed that my hands were Kam's hands moving into the Perfection of the postures and my body settled into the spiral motion of the form. Again, in a dream. Following that dream, I knew that I could achieve not just proficiency, but excellence over time.
This was my subconscious working through my dreams.
Seeing the childlike delight that Paul Lam took in sounding the small gong in the hallway that signaled the beginning and ending of class, I asked him to walk with me to experience the much larger gong that was located a few blocks away. The large gong requires being struck by a ten feet long log on a chain before it will resonate. (There may be a picture of Paul banging the gong.) On the walk back from our adventure Paul and I spoke about dreams and the question that he put to me was, "What is a vision?"
In 1999 when I met Paul my plan was only to learn Tai Chi for Arthritis and to travel to Australia for the 2000 Sydney Workshop. I began to teach Tai Chi for Arthritis but was unable to achieve Sydney.
In 2001 when I worked with Paul again in Sarasota, Fl. My dream was to learn Chen Style after Paul demonstrated the Chen Form to Nancy Dellamura, Celia, and me. The Chen spoke to me much as the Wind spoke to Thajir in The Way of the Wolf.
The seeds were planted.
In 2003 I heard that everyone comes into your life for a Reason, a Season, or a Lifetime and now I look to everyone who crosses my path as a gem of possible knowledge. They exchange with me as I exchange with them. I don't want to miss that exchange. I saw myself as the mist joining the fog saying, "Help everyone, hurt no one."
Coming out of the fog I see myself on the photo disk and the caption above my photo reads…CHEN WOMAN.
I am Chen Woman. Achieving the dream. Creating the vision. Gentle Wind (Sun) is next.
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I was unable to fill out an evaluation of the Connecticut workshop due to leaving early. Thought I would pass on some thoughts to you.
I thought both Caroline and Elva did an excellent job of presenting the moves of the Sun 73. I thought the differences in their styles complimented one another. They made a good team. They used a lot of patience and encouragement in teaching each section. Everything about the class was organized and timely.
The workshop as a whole was very organized and interesting. I especially liked the morning demonstrations and extra evening classes.
I disliked the sleeping accommodations. I got very little sleep each night. I would rather pay a little more for upgraded sleeping arrangements. However, I have heard of camping tai chi retreats, so beggars can't be choosers. If this is the only way to keep costs down, I can put up and shut up.
Overall I had a fabulous time!!!
Robin Malby, CA, USA
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The first Workshop held in the USA was great! I learned a lot of things and met a lot of wonderful people. Made some long lasting friendships and business prospects. But I would like to let Dr. Lam know that there have been side effects from the event -- I dream I am practicing the 36 Chen. I wake in the morning and the first thing I automactically do is practice the 36 Chen. It is very contagious and I suspect it will be wide spread. I also notice 36 Chen influenses in all my other martial arts forms, techniques, and my Yang form now has a Chen flavor. Thank you Dr. Lam, Anna, the Master Trainers ( Kam you worked us very hard and thanks! Dan - Thanks for your patiences!) and especially to Jay Van Schelt and his team for making all this possible. I look forward to next year in Monterrey California. (I have been on cloud 9 ever since the workshop and I suspect I will be there for quite some time. I cannot resist talking about and sharing the wonderful experiences of the workshop with everyone I come in contact with.)
Deborah J. Leong
Rhode Island, USA
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