Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The importance of focus

The two main reasons for practicing Tajijquan are health and self-defense. It cannot be stressed highly enough the importance of focusing your thoughts on your desired outcomes when practicing the form. Practicing martial arts is the cultivation of a state of mind, as well as a desired fitness. Many people refer to this as Evolution of Consciousness.

So what is consciousness? Thomas Campbell defines, it as the information that your brain holds. This should not be confused with the physical brain - even though the brain is important, we are concerned with the information it holds - or your consciousness. Why do we have a consciousness? A consciousness is required if you are to experience reality. The better your consciousness, the better you can deal with life in general.

Take the example of a car battery. When is it fully charged, all the molecules have their poles in line with each other and it is able to discharge power. Physicists call this a Low Entropy state. As the charge is released by the battery, the molecules become more and more disorganised, until the battery can no longer send out any more electricity (or High Entropy state). In this case, entropy is a measure of the organisation of the component parts within a greater system.

Martial arts are a practical way of lowering the entropy of your consciousness, with specific emphasis on the body-mind connection.

To lower the entropy of your consciousness in line with your goals is then quite simple. If you wish to focus on health benefits, concentrate on correct movement and the flow of the force and energy going through the body. For those who wish to concentrate on self defence, start with the above and then move on to focusing on the practical applications (striking etc).

All Tai Chi forms are designed to be a moving meditation to lower the entropy of your consciousness and unify the mind-body connection. So consider your train of thought while you practice. Do not play taijiquan form while under the influence of negative thoughts. If you are angry and want to practice, calm yourself first or your movements become a meditation on anger. Anger is a disorganised mental state, so if you practice the form whilst being angry the entropy of your consciousness will be raised, and your ability to objectively deal with reality will diminish.

High entropy states to avoid: Anger, Fear, Jealousy, Hatred, Need, Infatuation, Control, Power, Addiction, Selfishness, Ego, Arrogance.

The lowest entropy state is love. When in a state of love, the body is nurtured and moves correctly; the mind is calm and all is good in the world. For both health or self-defense, love is a valuable state to focus on. If you think that love is a bit too wishy-washy-touchy-feely for a tough martial artist like yourself, start with philanthropy....

... and work your way up.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Are your knees trying to tell you something?

After many years of teaching, the most common physical complaint by far is aching knees. It's not a sharp pain, but more reminiscent of dull toothache. Practice seems to exacerbate the problem until you are forced to rest for a few days. The pain stops for a while, so you resume practice only for it to return as though it never went away.

There can be a number of reasons why you may be feeling pain:

This generally affects people over 50, however, if you have had a history of high impact exercises you may have torn your meniscus or suffered ligament damage. Such damage can also bring on early arthritis in the knees. There also appears to be a genetic predisposition towards arthritis of the knee, so check your family history. Ask your doctor for a diagnosis.

Incorrect usage:
Very often people who practice tai chi do not have their knees correctly aligned. Start by checking that your knees are pointing the same direction as your feet in your postures. If that is ok, check that you are not bending them too much. The yang knee should NEVER extend beyond the tip of the toe (i.e. if you draw a vertical line upwards from the toe, the knee should not cross that line). If that is OK, check your movements. Are you over-twisting the knees, by not letting your ankles relax. Thoroughly warm up the ankle before starting. Another common problem is caused by not being supple at the hips. This causes the knees to over-compensate.

Treatments should go in this order:
1. Consult your doctor. Make sure you do not have arthritis or any other injury. A doctor will be able to recommend surgery or injection etc that will definitely help. You may not need any of these, but it is good to rule out the big problems first.
2. Study your form and find out which movements give you pain, then ask your tai chi teacher. They should be able to correct you.
3. Take supplements. Glucosomine and Cod liver oil are great helps to get the joints moving.
4. An acupuncture specialist will be very effective at helping you to reduce pain. Seriously, it works.

However, there is a more profound way of reducing knee pain, arthritis and general stress on the body. It has a greater impact than most eastern and western treatments. It requires no specialist equipment, and can be done in the privacy of your own home with just a little bit of self control. However, in this modern age of political correctness, recommending it is a little controversial. It has lost me more students than I care to mention by saying it. But I'm trusting you to be strong and not take it personally.......

.....lose weight.....

No really........ lose some weight.

There I said it. We're all still alive and no harm has been done. Not so bad, was it? Not only will it increase your energy, lower your cholesterol, improve mobility, improve sleep pattern, prevent angina, reduce risk of heart disease & stroke, but it will also reduce the stress on your knees.

So are your knees (or ankles or hips) trying to tell you something?

Friday, 4 December 2009

Surviving Christmas

The festive season will soon be upon us all. For many Christians it is a time of contemplation and worship. For most of us, there is a lot of peer pressure towards partying and excess. It just takes a little too much indulgence to tip a perfectly good Christmas over into a downward spiral.

Alcohol: Remember, one unit of alcohol takes (on average) one hour to be filtered out of the body. If you really have to drink, take the following precautions.

1. Get a good night's sleep before your party. Tiredness exacerbates the effects of alcohol.
2. Eat well before you drink. Food absorbs some of the alcohol and acts as a buffer to stop you getting drunk too quickly.
3. When partying, drink a glass of water between each alcoholic drink.
4. Don't drive. Book a taxi, stay in a hotel, anything. Just don't drive.
5. Before you go to bed, get a large drink of water.
6. Get plenty of sleep afterwards to recover.
7. Do not party two nights in a row. Give your body time to recover.

Martial Artists: Be extra careful about getting drunk in bars and public places. You have been trusted with important skills that are not to be wasted on drunken fools. Many of the great Chinese masters liked a drink. But more often than not, they drank at home behind closed doors with close friends. Don't disgrace your Sifu/Sensei.

Exercise: I lose more tai chi students over Christmas than at any other time. It is such an all consuming activity that we often forget to exercise. The longer you stop, the more difficult it is to start again. So make sure that you stick to your regular exercises - whatever they are. They will also help you to digest your.......

FOOD..... peer pressure is very powerful at this time of year. "Oh go on, have another mince pie." If you don't want something, say no and mean it. Real friends will understand and respect your wishes. Whatever they may say, people do not judge you by the capacity of your stomach. Stick to your guns.

So plan carefully, pick your parties wisely and have a great festive season.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Chen Zhenglei Seminar

Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei is the 19th generation inheritor of the Chen Family, and the 11th generation direct-line successor of Chen Style Taijiquan. He has been officially recognised as one of China's top ten martial artists.

He started competing in 1974 and by the end of 1987, had won more than 10 gold medals in the Henan province & National China Martial Arts competitions.

I was fortunate to catch up with him for an advanced workshop in his family form of taijiquan. Master Liming Yue is a senior student of Grandmaster Chen, and has enjoyed a long association, bringing him over to the UK to conduct lessons.

I first met him in 1999 when he came to the UK for seminars in Manchester, and have learned from him in China, and in England many times since then. He as always delivered an outstanding class.

I think it was Barbara Raskin who said "When love & skill work together, expect a masterpiece." You can say the same about Grandmaster Chen's skill as a tai chi player and teacher. Every nuance of taijiquan is conveyed with a simplicity and power that eclipses men half his age. The energy in the room was astonishing, with everyone taking away valuable lessons in the art.

If you practice your tai chi seriously, I highly recommend a lesson from Grandmaster Chen. it also goes without saying that Master Liming Yue must be applauded for bringing him to our shores and providing translation. Long may it continue.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Culture Shock! - Tales from China

The first time I went to China (1999), I went with Master Liming Yue and a group of his senior students. (Incidentally, if you ever get a chance to go to China, GO! You will not regret it.) Many of us were students from different classes, so we did not meet until the airport.

One chap was a proper northern lad called Keith. He was a larger-than-life character, who had done a lot of martial arts and was discovering tai chi. Keith was a tough guy. He did not do breakfast. He liked to get up early and go for a run. Generally, we did not see him until after breakfast.

After staying in Beijing and Jiang Jia Jie forest park, we met up with Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei in Handan. We were to undergo a week of training in a hotel there.

None of the hotel staff spoke a word of English. Most of us did not know Chinese. Generally, we got through the language barrier well, until one morning. We were having our breakfast in the hotel restaurant, minding our own business, when there was a loud commotion in the entrance hall. The next thing we saw will stay with me for the rest of my days.

Keith was being comically dragged into the restaurant by five small chinese waitresses. The noise was quite amazing. keith was shouting: "Tell them.... will someone tell them I don't do breakfast..... I just want to go for a jog".

They just didn't understand. They were only worried that he was going to miss his breakfast. Liming hastily explained to them. They finally let Keith go.

I laughed so hard, my ribs ached for the rest of the morning.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

First Steps

Let me take you back to the middle-to-late 1970's. The Bionic Man, Scalextric and Evel Knievel were the number one boys toys. My first "best friend" was Paul. He was a whole year older than me and lived around the corner from my house. I attended the local state primary school and he went to the catholic school. We spent many good times getting into scrapes.

When I found out that he went to karate classes, I was intrigued. He used to show me his moves while I kept nagging my parents to allow me to go "Karate? What do you want to do karate for?". Finally, after weeks of begging, my father relented, and gave me the £1 for my first class.

The Roe Street Mission was a dark, dusty place. We would wait outside for our sensei, Brian, to arrive and open up. Once inside, the warm-ups would begin. But when his back was turned, we used to take it in turns to spin each other around by the ankles and let them go sliding on our backs along the polished wooden floor. Fantastic fun!

Then the classes would start. I don't think I was the best student Brian had ever seen. But I worked hard - press-ups on the knuckles, sit-ups, crunches, stretches - it didn't matter. I was so small and light, they were all easy. The sparring used to frighten me, but I gradually got used to it.

But good things don't last. Firstly, Paul's family moved across town, which may as well have been across the world for a seven year-old. Then we moved further away still. My peers changed for the worse, and my life changed completely. I looked at local judo and karate classes, but they did not have the spirit or character of Brian's class. I gave up martial arts completely.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge since my first Karate classes. The Roe Street Mission is now a fully-renovated, beautiful silk museum with a posh cafe and shop. It took twenty years to discover the richness of Chinese martial arts and taijiquan. I am now a taijiquan teacher and a father of two.

If there is anything that I have learned about martial arts from this meandering journey... there are a lot of things that make up a good class. It can be great friends to train with like Paul or charismatic teachers like Brian. But for a martial art to really catch you, to inspire you to improve, it has to be the content of what is being taught. It took me along time to find the right content, so don't be disheartened if you don't find what works for you immediately. There is a martial art for everyone. Just keep searching.

To those who have found it, you know how it feels. This article is in response to another teacher in London who has obviously found his content. You can view it Here. Thanks Neil for sparking off the memories.

Friday, 6 November 2009

My Tai Chi Experiences by Natalie Weiner

I am your archetypal ‘rubbish at all sports’ kind of person. I hated PE at school (yes, I was the one who always got picked last!), and have never enjoyed going to the gym or going to fitness classes. But I reached the point where I thought I ought to make some kind of effort at getting fit, and Tai Chi seemed to be a gentle way in. I think it appealed to my slightly lazier side, I thought it looked easy, gentle and effortless, and I reckoned that with my lack of coordination I wouldn’t last very long anyway!

I was so wrong.

Although it looks gentle, Tai Chi is still a martial art, and not only does it require physical exertion but mental focus too. As a result of going to classes for so many years now that I don’t even remember how long it’s been, I’ve realised that Tai Chi has slowly started to infiltrate my daily life. My posture has improved hugely. It seems that my coordination isn’t as bad as I thought. And the breathing exercises which help focus the mind have been invaluable - on my wedding day, in order to stay calm, I encouraged my chief bridesmaid to join me in some ‘Tai Chi breathing’, despite the fact we were both in our dresses, fully made up, carrying flowers and about to go down to the ceremony! I dread to think how it looked but it definitely helped me!

One of the key points for me about Tai Chi has been that you are never perfect, and that’s not a bad thing. You can learn for years, and still spend time refining your posture here and there, working on it all the time. It’s given me a huge sense of achievement to be able to say that I can do the first 11 moves, plus a chunk of the sword form (on a good day!). But it’s a work in progress, and an enjoyable one which allows me to switch off from the daily grind whilst also keeping fit. If only they’d taught this at school!!

By Natalie Weiner

Saturday, 24 October 2009


It's time to talk about balance fundamentals. One of the reasons why Taijiquan is practiced slowly is so that you have time to feel your balance. To describe balance, Tai Chi teachers use the scale of yin and yang, with the emphasis on yang (substantial).

So with reference to your feet, if you are standing, and your right foot is 0% yang, then no weight is on it. If your left foot is 100% yang, then all your weight is on it. Got it?


When doing the form, beginners and even some intermediate students often have problems stepping. Their feet don't come down gently on the floor. They tend to move too quickly onto their new foot. They often wobble while they are picking up the trailing foot. The reason why this happens is because they are not correctly balanced.

When people walk normally, they are almost permanently off balance. Walking is about falling over, but stopping yourself by stepping forward. Tai Chi aims to improve the balance by reducing the need to overbalance when stepping.

Although correct posture plays a part in balance, the fundamental reason why people don't step comfortably is that they are not distributing the weight between the feet in a correct manner.

The solution is simple. We are going to walk two steps. If you are stepping out with your left foot, make sure that your right foot is 100% yang before you move. You can then place your left foot exactly where it is meant to go. Place the heel down first, then the toe. Once your left foot is appropriately placed, you can slowly shift your weight onto it until the left foot is 100% yang. Here is the important bit. DO NOT RAISE THE RIGHT FOOT UNTIL THE LEFT FOOT IS 100% YANG. If you do, you will most certainly overbalance.

How do you know that the left foot is 100% yang? Because you will not be able to feel any weight on the right foot (0% yang). Now the right foot is raised, pause a little bit to check that your balance is good, then step out with the right foot. Now transfer the weight to the right foot. Remember, don't raise the left foot until you feel that there is no weight left on it.

Repeat a few times until you get the hang of it......

Now do it again without looking at your feet.

If your posture is poor, your balance may also be affected. As well as Tai Chi, you could also try Alexander Technique exercises to supplement your training.

Saturday, 17 October 2009


Challenges happen all the time. Life throws all kinds of obstacles at you. But the kind of challenges that I'm referring to in this article are the martial kind. Someone wants to fight. They want a fight with you. No-one else will do. They make it entirely personal and they won't take no for an answer.

Every serious martial artist must consider that if they achieve a good reputation, they may be challenged. The challenge could happen at any time - in a bar, at your place of work or where you practice. It could come from anyone - even your buddies that you train with.

Being a Tai Chi teacher means that I get very few challenges. The kind of students who go to Tai Chi classes are rarely into fighting. However, I do occasionally get someone turning up and wanting to test me. Let's examine the probable motives for someone wanting to challenge you. (I will refer to them as 'he' - just for speed)

1. He wants to test his own martial skill.
2. He wants to elevate his status at your cost.
3. He wishes to prove that his chosen discipline (usually different than yours) is better.
4. He is another teacher who wants to take your students.
5. He has a severe inferiority complex, and only pummelling you will relieve it.
6. You may have done or said something that offended him.
7. He wants a free lesson.

There may be no single reason, but a combination of the above. Never rule out number 6. By advocating your own techniques, people will become insulted because they believe you are rejecting theirs.

If you choose to accept the challenge there are many risks to consider. If they have no skill you may do them severe damage. If they have different rules of engagement you risk being attacked while you are going through any ritual preparations you may have. An unknown fighter without scruples may not quit when others with more sense would stop. The video below is disturbing, but illustrates what some people will do for the sake of their own egos:

As you can see, if you choose to make or accept challenges, you run the risk of escalating violence to the point of severe repercussions. You tube is full of people getting hurt in fights over which martial art is best. They are all missing a fundamental dichotomy within the martial arts contest.

All official martial arts contests are artificial in nature due to the imposition of rules designed to protect everyone involved. Contrarily, the very nature of martial arts is for defence only. Ergo if two true martial arts masters were to walk into a ring together, they would wait for each other to strike first, hence a stalemate and they would both walk out without striking a blow.

Respect for the diversity across the different martial arts will go a long way to reducing the friction between disciplines. Manners and respect for all go a long way to reducing friction between individuals. While you cannot always dissuade challenges completely, walking away from them will not injure anyone in the long run.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Tom Campbell - A new perspective on consciousness

Tom Campbell was one of the original explorers to work with the late consciousness pioneer - Robert Monroe. He was one of the original scientists to use binaural technology to explore altered states of consciousness. His work with Robert Monroe turned from exploratory to educational, with the foundation of the Monroe Institute.

A Physicist by trade, Tom has now moved forward with an expansive 3 volumes of work, mapping out his Big Theory of Everything. The trilogy is called "My Big TOE", and is available on amazon:

On October 10 & 11th, Tom was in London to give two lectures on his theories. It was with a little trepidation that I attended. Very often people who set themselves up as gurus get caught up in their own self-importance, leave yawning gaps in their logic and surround their methods in pointless ritual. I was prepared for a let-down.

As Tom went through his theories it was evident by his anecdotes, he had done a lot of personal exploration. Many of his stories deeply resonated with my own experiences. For two whole days, he clearly and precisely took us all through philosophy, advanced quantum physics, metaphysics, consciousness, existence, healing, remote viewing, clairvoyance and out-of-body experiences. He explained the rationale behind the fundamentals of existence and shot down one or two long-held myths.

And what about his "Theory of Everything". Is it true? Only time will tell. I personally think that we as individuals will discover the truth way before mankind ever turns the scrutinising eye of science in that direction. Tom's wish is that people don't follow his theories blindly, and that the only way to be sure is for everyone to discover for themselves and make their own "T.O.E.".... or as Chinese Taoism put it:

"Do not follow the great masters..... seek what they sought."

The energy in the room was outstanding. From my personal perspective, the workshop rekindled my desire to explore the greater consciousness and continue to learn more about myself and how I fit into this universe. Not bad for a weekend in Camden.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Spiritual Crisis

It has become increasingly evident that many people are experiencing episodes of extra ordinary states of consciousness. These episodes are usually accompanied by emotional stress, anxiety or hyper - aroused states of being.

Spiritual or transpersonal crises, can occur spontaneously. They can be triggered by emotional stress, physical exertion and disease, accidents, intense sexual experiences, childbirth, or exposure to psychedelic drugs. However, in many instances the catalysing factor is meditative practices, which are specifically designed to activate spiritual energies. As spiritual disciplines are gaining in popularity in the West, an increasing number of people are experiencing transpersonal crises that can be traced to their practice of Yoga, Zen, Taoism, Tai Chi, Qigong, Pranayama, Kundalini Awakenings, Tibetan Buddhist psycho-energetic exercises, and other forms of intense and focused self-exploration.

Never was this more apparent than at a funeral I attended this week. It was a friend who succumbed to cancer at a very young age. When advised of her imminent death, she was forced into spiritual crisis. Following advice, meditation and prayer with her chosen faith, she was able to transcend her fear and pain and rose to a higher state of being. At her death many friends testified to her state of grace. During her funeral, it was also evident that many people were also in spiritual crisis as a result of their anxiety and loss. Their beliefs were being severely challenged and they (understandably) were functioning with some difficulty.

Traditional psychiatry would recognise many people's spiritual behaviours as being 'psychotic'. This is because it does not distinguish between mystical and psychotic experience. As a result, it labels spiritual crises as 'wrong' and seeks to suppress them with chemical therapies - and also does not accept the transformational and beneficial effects.

However, not all unusual states of consciousness can be categorised as spiritual. It takes input from doctors and clinical psychologists to ensure that there are no underlying malfunctions of the body and brain. Not everyone is neurologically typical (NT), and there are many psychiatric disorders that can produce similar experiences. The difference with these non-NT cases is that they are not transformative, and severely inhibit normal social activity.

On a broader scale, modern tension and anxiety within society can catalyse into mass spiritual crises. Recent events like Princess Diana's death, the World Trade Centre and the Boxing Day Tsunami place many thousands of people into states of altered consciousness as they seek for meaning to tragic news. The majority of these experiences are shared amongst the neurologically typical with no long-lasting effects, and in many cases, people learn and grow and become higher functioning people as a result.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Is the ground letting you down?

A sports surface's performance can be described in a number of measures:

Rolling resistance: How it stops a ball rolling. (i.e. a bowling alley versus a soccer pitch.)

Rebound resilience: How much it cushions to a blow (i.e. a concrete screed versus a crash mat.)

Grip: How rough the surface is so you can grip it (i.e. an ice rink versus astroturf)

The best martial arts flooring has good grip to prevent slips. It also should have moderate rebound resilience to reduce hammer on joints.

But no matter how good your flooring, if it is not kept clean, it will become slippery and dangerous. The Japanese know this very well, and keep their wooden floor dojos spotless.

If you go to China, the majority of their martial arts halls are carpeted so that they do not become slippery when dusty. I have lost count of the amount of times a good class has been undermined because the students can't keep their grip on the floor.

Fellow martial artists, join with me and insist that the floors we use are clean and safe. Don't give in to the excuses of your centre manager and ensure they are aware of the risks of classes on slippery floors.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Don't Limit Tai Chi

I have read dozens of articles from tai chi instructors; all claiming that they are reclaiming tai chi by focusing primarily on the self-defense aspects. They all expound the virtues of their own personal systems, saying that they are the only shining beacon of martial intent in a sea of retired, wimpy, tree-hugging, lentil-eating hippies.

I'm going to make a bold admission here. When I started teaching Tai Chi, I made similar claims to my students. These claims were largely based on the fact that I only saw my own teachers training methods. When I saw other styles, they were at competitions, where I could only observe the external sense of peoples forms. Combat was only within the severe restrictions of pushing hands competitions.

But as my experience of teaching grew, I began to comprehend other systems and styles. I began to recognise a core set of principles that they all adhered to. I had to swallow my pride and realise that there are quite a lot of good teachers - all patiently teaching valid systems.

Even within the same style, teachers repeat the same traditional practices - just calling them by different names. Take Silk Reeling (the traditional family name for fixed step Chen style movement training)- I have heard it called "Silk Winding", "Winding", "Reeling", "Powering in Circles", "Spiral Training" and "Silk Twining". There seem to be minor variations on elbow position, based on different practical applications, but the exercises are all the same.

There are many forms of tai chi that concentrate on the medical and spiritual aspects of tai chi quan. To reject these practices is to completely discount an important part of the martial journey. By all means, split the disciplines into different exercises, but don't reject them. A martial arts teacher should be able to enable their students to look after themselves martially, physically, mentally and spiritually. It is worth remembering that all Chinese martial arts came from the establishment of Zen buddhist and yogic practices in China.

As well as tai chi, my teacher taught me aspects of first aid, diet, cooking, meditation, business, etiquette, Buddhism, Chinese culture and history.

I understand that all professional Tai Chi teachers need to establish a unique selling prospect - or "marketing". But to do this at the expense of other valid lineages or by rejecting spiritual practices is at best a lack of understanding of how other systems work - and at worst, betrays a severe inferiority complex.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Women in Martial Arts

For many generations, the Chen family produced highly adept female martial artists. For it is commonly known that Kung Fu is about skill, rather than brute strength. Women - like men can be equally skillful at anything. But one incident was to shape Chen family history for many generations:

Chen Ziaoniu had two older brothers, and trained along side them diligently, until she became better at the Chen family form of Taijiquan than they were. When she became old enough to marry, the son of a wealthy family made advances towards her. Ziaoniu's parents rejected him in favour of an honest young man called Zhao.

The spurned wealthy young man possessed considerable martial skill, and proceeded to persecute and harrass the Zhao family, damaging crops and attacking individual members. Before she married, Ziaoniu had made a promise to her father that she would not show her martial ability to her new family - and she stuck to this promise for a good number of months. But a person can only bear so much torment, and finally, she drew her sword and dealt with this bully and his entourage with considerable ease.

Now, if Ziaoniu's husband had any self-respect, he would have thanked her for helping his family out, and cherished her as a valuable asset. But instead, he blamed her for causing the trouble and waited until his father died before sending Ziaoniu back to the Chen family - disgraced. It is hard to believe in these modern times, but back then, this was the ultimate dishonour to be brought onto any woman.

Vowing to never practice Chen Taijiquan, Ziaoniu broke her sword in two. She was inconsolable, and after an extensive period of mourning, hung herself. She was buried with her broken sword. Following this horrible incident, Chen Xunru decreed that Chenjiagou Taijiquan would not be taught to women.

There are many things wrong with the way women are treated around the world - but looking at this tale reminds me that we have moved on a great deal.

London olympics will now hold women's boxing - for the first time. I am overjoyed. Up until now, the given reason why women weren't allowed to box in the olympics was "Women are unstable and cannot control themselves."

Perhaps we haven't moved far enough - yet.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Feet and Shoes!

One of the first tweets I made on twitter was as follows:

"Once you start Tai Chi, you begin a lifelong search for the perfect pair of shoes."

The post received a great deal of replies from the tai chi community - and rightly so. The feet are fundamental in the Tai Chi dynamic of rooting to the floor, and are pushed against the ground to create a "rebounding" force that travels up the body for release of energy for martial purposes.

Your toes should slightly grip the ground, and the heels should be in contact with the floor. This makes the foot substantial at the front and back, but hollow in the middle. The arch works as a spring, so it should not be pushed to the floor. This is achieved by keeping the foot relaxed, and not straightened.

Your foot should also remain upright, and should not roll, rock or twist. So before practicing, ensure your ankles are loose and warmed up.

To support the unique Tai Chi requirements, making sure you have the perfect pair of tai chi shoes is really important. They should:
  • Support the foot, without constriction or padding the arch too much.
  • Allow you to feel the ground.
  • Improve the grip on your chosen practice ground.
  • Cushion the sole without losing feeling of the ground.
So pay attention to your feet when you train. Take time to find the perfect pair of shoes. They really do make a difference.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Youthful Tai Chi

Tai Chi is concerned with nurturing pre-natal chi. This is the original life energy that we all receive from our parents at conception. As we get older, this pre-natal chi gets depleted or replaced by other, less vital forms, and the body decays as a result.

Now, this may seem far-fetched. You can choose to believe in the concept of chi energy or not. However, the concept of Chi is based on real measurable, experiential phenomena that were observed by traditional Chinese doctors over many generations. one things you cannot argue with, is the outcome.

I mean, how many octogenarians in the UK can do this?

Be happy.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Tai Chi Breathing

One of my tai chi teacher friends had a student who was very diligent in his practice (let's call him 'Bob'). When asked whether he was happy with the move he had learned, Bob would say the same thing...

"It's ok, but I will get it right when I learn the breathing."

He went to a seminar with Chen Xiaowang and asked "How can I breathe correctly?"

Master Chen said "Breathe in."

Bob breathed in.

Then Master Chen asked him to breathe out. Bob breathed out earnestly.

"Breathe in," Master Chen said.

Certain that he was on the verge of some great discovery, Bob breathed in again.

"Breathe out," said Master Chen.

As Bob exhaled, a smiling Master Chen said "You've got it." and returned to the rest of the lesson.

Some FAQ's about breathing

How to breathe?

Breathe from the stomach, like singers do. If your chest is being expanded and contracted, you are breathing wrong. As you breathe in, your stomach should expand, and as you breathe out, the stomach should return. There should be no excessive effort to the breathing, and there should be no point where the breath is held.

When to breathe

If you are practicing your form, you should breathe out when you are releasing energy - even if your movements are slow. Inhaling should be done when you gather energy for a strike. The speed of breath should indicate the speed of the movement. So an understanding of the self defense aspects of your movements is key to getting the breathing right. As most moves have more than one practical application, you can choose which point to exhale and inhale.

What if I forget where I am with breathing?

Believe it or not, this is a very common mistake amongst beginners - especially when they are concentrating hard. My advice is... If in doubt, breathe out.

What about reverse breathing?

This is not something I can teach you without one-to-one direct tuition. My advice is to seek out someone who can train you properly. Also, understand that reverse breathing, while excellent for training, can cause damage if you keep doing it outside the training room.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

What is Hsingyiquan?

Hsing yi is a compact, effective internal martial art developed by Song dynasty General Yue Fei. It is a dynamic system involving moving forward and occupying the space of your opponent.

To strike, the practitioner pushes forward with his/her trailing leg and strikes before the leading foot hits the ground. This ensures that the landing of the front leg does not cushion the force of the strike.

Hsingyiquan forms are characterised by their linear movements and direct stepping. However, this 'direct' style disguises the 'soft' internal power that is the cornerstone of all internal styles (taijiquan, qigong, baguazhang and hsingyiquan).

The 5 elements of Hsingyiquan are as follows:

SplittingMetalLike an axe chopping up and over.
PoundingPàoFireExploding outward like a cannon while blocking.
DrillingZuānWaterDrilling forward horizontally like a geyser.
CrossingHéngEarthCrossing across the line of attack while turning over.
CrushingBēngWoodArrows constantly exploding forward.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Nature of Conflict

One of my twitter friends @Trevoke (follow him... interesting, thoughtful, mindful posts) asked me about the nature of conflict.

From an anthropological viewpoint, conflict is how nature selects the strongest, most successful attributes for survival. Conflict - at it's most basic is the struggle for life against the forces of nature and competition for procreation and scarce resources. It is driven by the need to survive and tempered with a fear of death. It is commonly known as the survival instinct.

Sometimes, we forget how things are. We perceive our environment to be more dangerous than it is. Our eyes and ears were designed to detect immediate threats. But with an international media industry, mobile phones and computers we are informed of every mishap around the world. As we become more knowledgeable, the more threats we will perceive. The more threats we perceive, the more our survival instincts will be triggered.

In a modern society, our survival instincts are expanded by technology and intelligence. This is a great source of inner and outer conflict. But your survival instinct can also be distorted. Consider money. Can you eat it? Can it protect you from the elements? No. Yet every day, people kill each other, fighting over money. Their survival instincts have been distorted by modern values.

Taoists have a name for distorted or expanded survival instincts. They call it "failure to see things as they are". Another Taoist teaching is to "put aside comparisons". For the more we compare one things to another, the more we risk being disappointed, angry and depressed.

In the basic natural struggle to survive between competing species, there is no absolute morality. However, we live in an organised society where are actions can provoke the survival instincts of others, which cause repercussions. One single action can send ripples that extend well beyond our immediate field of view.

Reflect on conflict for any period of time, and the enlightened mind has to acknowledge that as everything is connected, the cycle of violence, suffering and retribution has been rolling on since before recorded history. As we have become more analytical in our thinking, we have sought to exert ever more control over our environment and also each other. The resultant conflict has been inevitable.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Teacher - why do I have to stand like this for ages?

During most of my taijiquan classes, I will have a section where we practice form until we reach a posture, then stop like statues. Then I go through the class adjusting everyone's posture. It is probably the least popular activity amongst my students. I regularly get questions as to why we do this.

Posture practice does not only teach you to stand in an anatomically correct position. It allows you to recognise where unnecessary tension is, and relax into the posture. This may seem boring to practice, but your balance and rooting will improve dramatically as a result.

When I was in China, I became good friends with a stocky guy called Feng. As we practiced, I could not help noticing that his form was 'unorthodox' to say the least. A less polite remark would be 'rubbish'. His head weaved, his body leaned like a galleon in a hurricane and his shoulders were all over the place.

When the training moved to pushing hands and san shou, we teamed up. I expected he would be a pushover, but as the lessons continued, he swatted me around like a rag doll. My 'superior' technique was nothing against his rooting and power.

Later I asked Liming Yue if he knew Feng, and what his training methods were. Liming said that Feng did not do much form or pushing hands work, but he would stand in Zhang Zhuang and other postures for at least 2 hours every day!

Two hours - sheesh!

Standing in postures requires only standing room and zero equipment. Your rooting and power will go through the roof. So, next time you practice your form, stop a while, breathe deeply, relax all unnecessary muscles and pay attention to your posture. Standing postures can also be used as a meditation, therefore instrumental in the calming of the nervous system.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Using NLP to Manage Anger

Most people have a problem with anger these days. Maybe it's because there are so many demands on us and our mind gets pulled in many directions on a daily basis making it difficult to keep a peaceful mind.

So what practical steps can we do to help us remain more in control of our mind and maintain more peace? Here are ten time-tested techniques for effective anger management provided by
NLP Toolbox:

1. Reverse the Feelings

This is a very interesting method that was discovered by Dr. Richard Bandler. It works on the fact that to experience feelings such as anger you will feel feelings moving in your body somewhere: Feelings are never static or stationary.

Begin by thinking of an occasion where you experienced

A. Become aware of where those feelings are in your body.
Where does the feeling start and where does it go?

B. Now take the feeling and push it out a couple of feet in
front of you. (I know this sounds weird. Just act as if you
can do it, because you can.)

C. Turn it inside out and spin it the other way and bring it
back inside. If it helps, pretend you can do it and so it

D. Keep it spinning fast whilst imagining doing the thing
that used to make you feel anger.

2. 'Micky Mouse' those Critical, Angry Voices!

A. Think of that internal voice you sometimes get that is
overly critical of yourself and others. You know the one!

B. Listen to it go on and on as you change it into a cartoon
voice. How does your reaction to it change by hearing it in
the voice of Porky Pig? Silvester The Cat? Daffy Duck?

C. Try speeding the voice up or slowing it down.

D. Have fun with this.

Imagine several future situations that this critical voice
may arise and imagine 'Micky Mouse-ing' the voice in that

3. Positive intention?

A. Think of an occasion where you got angry.

B. Ask yourself, "What was the positive intention behind the
anger?" And then ask, "and what was important about that?"
Keep asking the question until you discover a genuine
positive intention.

C. "In the future how can I express this intention in a
better way?"

4. Disassociation

A. Remember an experience where you got a bit irritated.

B. Now disassociate so you can see yourself in the

C. Push the picture further off into the distance. So you
literally "get some distance from it," and have a new

D. Notice how you can now look at the experience more
objectively and gain new understanding and insights. And
what happens if you were to ask yourself, "What was the
positive intention of myself and the other people involved?"

5. Double Disassociation

This is the same as the above technique with another added

You imagine watching yourself watching that you in the

You got to give this a go, it's really amazing, you can even
reduce that most retched of emotions, jealousy, with this
simple visualisation!

6. Patience for the Future

Just think any time we get angry it's due to a trigger or
stimulus. There is a gap between the stimulus and our
response. It's in this gap that we choose our response.
Often though it happens quickly. Automatically.

We can 're-train' our minds to have a more appropriate
response that will enable us to be more resourceful.

A. What's it like when you experience a feeling of patience?
Remember a time that you patiently accepted what ever was
happening. What did you see, what did you hear and how did
that feel?

Notice how the feelings move.

B. Think of 3 future situations where it would be likely
that you would experience annoyance or irritation.

C. What is it that you see or hear just before you know when
to feel the agitation?

D. OK shake that feeling off and now remember the feeling of
patience from step A

E. Now imagine taking this feeling of patience into those
future situations.

How's that feel?

7. Reframing a Picture Literally

A. Remember an occasion where you got angry.

B. Disassociate: See your self in the picture.

C. Now put a frame around the picture.

How does your response to the situation change when you put
a wooden frame around it? What about a metal frame? A multi-
coloured frame. An oval frame? How about a colourful frame
with balloons hanging from it?

8. Perceptual positions

It's always useful to gain other perspectives on things.
More often than not, when we're angry we are stuck in one
perceptual position.

A. Remember an experience where you were angry with someone.

B. Notice what you saw and heard and felt.

C. Now step into there shoes: Pretend to see through there
eyes, hear through there ears and feel the feelings. Notice
that you in front of you. What else can you discover and
learn from this perspective?

D. Imagine stepping into a 'neutral observer.' So you can
simply observe that you and the other person over there.
What can you learn from this position?

E. Step back into 'you' again and notice what new learnings
and insights you now have. Chances are good that you now
have more understanding and empathy with the other person.

9. Collapsing Anchors

A. Select an angry feeling you want to change. As you feel
it squeeze your finger and thumb on your left hand to anchor
this state.

B. On an intensity scale of 0 to 10, where is this feeling?

C. Break state. Now think about what you would like to feel
instead. What would make you remain in a more resourceful
state? Relaxation? Humour? Etc.

D. Now choose one of the resourceful states you have come up
with and remember a time you felt that resource strongly.
What does this resourceful state feel like?

E. Remembering that resourceful state, anchor it to your
right hand by squeezing your finger and thumb together. (If
you want you can stack resources together by going to step 4
again and anchoring a different resource state.)

F. On an intensity scale of 0 to 10, where is this feeling?
Important: Make sure that this resourceful feeling is more
intense than the angry feeling.

G. Break state. Now squeeze your left hand finger and thumb
anchor, hold it, at the same time as you squeeze the right
hand finger and thumb anchor. Keep both anchors on for a few
seconds, say 7 seconds. (Note: Many people get a sense when
the anchors have 'collapsed' or integrated, often by a
noticeable shift in breathing.)

H. Release the left hand anchor and just hold the right hand
anchor for a couple of seconds.

I. Break state. Now think of the original fear you selected
in step 1 and become aware of how it's changed!

10. Circus/Cartoon Movie Music

A. Think of a memory or a future situation where you want to
lighten the mood.

B. Look at it like a movie so you can see yourself whilst
hearing loud circus (or cartoon) music in the background.

C. Run the movie backwards, from the end, with the music
playing loudly.

D. Now notice how your mood has lightened about the
situation you choose in Step 1.

Why not do this on several memories and/or future events?

If you have applied some of the techniques, above, you will
have re-programmed some of your 'bad habits' and can look
forward to a more peaceful, anger managed future! And the
great thing about many of these tools is that you can use
them right away and experience effective results within

Letting go of conflict and difficult emotions

Following my recent blog entry about conflict, I mentioned how difficult it is to let go of it. Your mind turns it over again and again as you try to come to terms with what went wrong.

As a result of conflict, your survival instinct becomes amplified. You perceive threats everywhere. You lash out with the minimum of provocation, and when people avoid you or fight back, it justifies your distorted viewpoint.

Meditation can really help you to find your centre. The following exercise developed by my friends in the Monroe Institute helps you let go of negative emotions: CLICK HERE for a link


And be happy.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The Monroe Institute - Start of Something Special

Earlier this year, I contacted The Monroe Institute, giving them my details and asking how I could support them. I had been buying and using their tools from the hemisync website for a long time, and was looking for a way to engage at a more personal level. Imagine my surprise and delight when I was asked to attend their retreat on the creation of a network of "Chapters" throughout the world.

When meeting the rest of the group, it was very clear that I was in the company of some truly exceptional and grounded people. After a brief introduction, we got right down to business. We discussed ideas and issues. Then we would adjourn for solo hemisync exercises to focus our energies and consciousness. Upon our return, the energy of the whole group dynamic would change, and we kept moving forward like this at an astonishing pace for the whole weekend.

It is my opinion that if the business community adopted the relaxed, creative, focused way of working that the hemisync process engendered, then ego would be put aside and people would work quickly and efficiently to build relationships, resolve problems and manifest the best for their customers. Time after time, I witnessed levels of physical, emotional and spiritual synergy that have surpassed any other environment I have experienced.

All I can say is.... when can I come back?

Visit their site to find out more - http://www.monroeinstitute.org

Friday, 29 May 2009

Hard and Soft Qigong

There are many different styles of qigong. However, they can usually be placed into one of two distinct categories - "Hard" and "Soft".

Hard qigong is the cultivation of chi energy and utilising it to reinforce the body to resist physical punishment. Typical training involves deep breathing, high tension movements and repeated striking of the body; gradually building up the force over a long period of time, until the body becomes hardened. Here is an example of hard qigong by the famous Shaolin monks.

Hard qigong should generally be practiced while you are young. It places great stress upon the body, and over a long period of time can cause damage. Many martial artists who practice hard qigong while young, move naturally over to soft qigong.

Soft qigong is more familiar in the west as the slow movements and deep breathing exercises practiced by the older generation in parks across China. It is the cultivation of vital pre-natal chi, that is said to reduce illness and extend life.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Chen Tai Chi Practical Applications

If there needs to be any more proof about the efficacy of Taijiquan as a self defense system, see the following:

Master Chen Yu

Master Liming Yue

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Martial Arts - A Journey of Discovery

I want to tell you a story about astronomy. Famous astronomers (Lovell and Pickering) had noticed that there was something that was affecting the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. They knew something was there, but on-one could find it. It became known as "Planet X".

Clyde Tombaugh was a research assistant working at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona US. His job was to look for planet x. He had no formal degrees, yet through hard work and perseverance, he discovered the planet "Pluto".

You can argue that he did not really discover anything. It was common knowledge that 'something' was affecting the movements of Uranus and Neptune. He merely uncovered what many knew was there.

If someone was to tell you that you have great hidden qualities, would you believe them? Would you believe them if they told you that you could be so much more than you are, and that all you needed to do is look in the right place?

This is the journey a martial artist undertakes - to uncover what - in the end - was always there to begin with.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Martial Virtue

All traditional martial arts have a code of conduct. When people are taught how to fight, it is extremely important that they are able to keep out of trouble. For a person who is trained to fight can easily resort to violence unless they are disciplined. The Chen family are no exception, and they have twenty disciplines:

1. Do not bully others.
2. Do not oppress the weak.
3. Do not be a coward; help those in peril.
4. Do not engage in unlawful acts.
5. Do not use skill for immoral acts.
6. Do not be arrogant.
7. Do not sell/exhibit skill indiscriminately.
8. Do not join illicit gangs.
9. Do not waste time in idleness.
10. Do not be conceited and boastful.
11. Do not compete with the arrogant.
12. Do not argue with the ignorant.
13. Do not be influenced by worldly possessions.
14. Do not seek undeserved wealth.
15. Do not indulge in alcohol and lust.
16. Do not be in public or personal debt.
17. Do not obstruct public or personal efforts.
18. Do not hunger for power and position.
19. Do not be a traitor.
20. Do not neglect your training or waste your skill.

So when you start a martial art, ask if they have a code of conduct. Does it make sense? If there are no rules for conduct, consider that you may be putting yourself in danger.

And be happy.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Letting go of conflict

Spending a good deal of my 30's in a deprived, violent inner city - I have seen more than my fair share of conflict.

I have been attacked in the street - by a gang of teenagers because I would not buy booze for them. I have thrown violent drunks out of the pub I was working in. People have tried to mug me - once with a knife - the other unarmed. I have been shot at and I've seen someone shot to death point-blank with a machine gun. Gentle reader, I have seen too much.

When I started learning martial arts, it was to defend myself. I started with Karate as a youngster, then moved to Tai Chi because I feared physical assault and wanted to protect myself. As by first teacher, Brian used to say....

"Karate is a pain trade-off. A regular small amount of pain over a long period of time to stop a huge amount of pain in a short time."

I remember laughing and agreeing. It was a great slogun that kept me training and pushing myself.

By the time of my first conflict, I was embarrassed at how easy it was to defend myself - he had no training, and as he tried to take my wallet, he certainly did not expect anything from a skinny guy like me. It was too easy. I don't think I even broke sweat.

Yet as I walked away, casually feigning nonchalance, my mind was racing. What if he was armed? Why didn't I try to arrest him? He would now probably pick himself up and find someone else. Over the following weeks, I could not get it out of my mind.

It has been the same with all conflicts that I have experienced - the physical challenge is nothing compared to the mental turbulence that is created by violence. There are many martial arts that teach you how to destroy the assault and repel the attacker. But do they teach you how to calm yourself, and focus? Do they teach you to let go of the negative emotions that can plague you for weeks, months and sometimes years after the event?

There is pleasure when you scratch an itchy rash... but it's better still - to have no rash. It is the same with fear. Your martial arts teacher should not only teach you how to defend yourself physically, but also mentally.

I will soon be publishing how to detach from negative emotions and heal yourself to your core. Watch this space....

....and be happy.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Wu Wei in Society

Following my last post on Wu Wei, C Maggi (visit his website - http://www.camaggi.com/) asked me about how it could be applied to the society in a broader context. It brought to mind the Taoist phrase:

"Ruling a country is like cooking a small fish."

Okay... stay with me here.... It doesn't mean we need a high temperature and lots of oil !!!! (Oil has got us into enough trouble as it is!) The analogy of cooking a small fish is that if you turn it over too often, it will break up into smaller pieces. So if you make too many laws, dictate and meddle too much, the country will become confused and fall apart under the weight of legislature. Never has this been more evident than in the UK, with our present government. They really are trying too hard. They do not know wu wei. Our current government is obsessed with measurement, targets and prescriptive procedure. Our present situation with MP's expenses is a prime example, with the excuses that the "system needs changing."

No matter what system is in place, if people want to cheat it, they will. Changing the rules will not stop people from stealing. You have to change the people. In America, they have the ultimate punishment for murder - the death penalty. Yet people still kill each other. Why?

... because they don't value their own lives. We must teach each other to value ourselves - not by our wealth or fame, but by our intrinsic individuality. Education is the key, and we are getting it SO WRONG.

Education has been designed to prepare our children for work. Nothing more. It has sought to make our children acquire the next set of skills demanded by industry. Since the late 1800's we have been exploiting the minds of our children, cramming perfectly natural circular pegs into symmetrical, uniform, square holes. The result is a society that lives for sex, mindless celebrity and souless consumption. There is no time for a child to discover who they are. They are measured, categorised, told what they want and forced into into jobs where they continue to be measured and categorised. The average worker lives in mortal fear of mistakes and redundancy - and those who don't have jobs are made to feel like they have failed - because life has no other options other than crime.

So what's to be done? When children go to school, ASK them what they want to learn about - and teach them accordingly. A curious child will learn far faster than a bullied child. Let them use their wu wei to discover their path for themselves and shape their own education. When a child grows up doing what they instinctively know is right, they live happily with a natural goodness.

Religion - should only deal with what happens after death. All religions should move away from prescriptive laws and rules governing the living. Once again, fear of death is a great driver for pain, anguish, and crime. This is where religion serves a useful purpose. When you remove people's fears, you allow them to revert to their natural goodness.

Sensitivity to the environment - a fundamental requirement of wu wei is only just being discovered by our scientists. We are starting to understand the affect we are having on this planet. But this sensitivity is not yet being taught properly to our children, so the ecological change that is required will probably not happen in my lifetime.

I will leave you with a final thought.... A successful country may have weapons of war, but they ought to lie rusting in fields - unused.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

What is Wu Wei

Pronounced "Woo Way", this is the concept of how things can be done. The literal translation is "Action without action" or "effortless doing".

This is not a slackers mandate - far from it . Underpinning wu wei is the fundamental principle that there is a natural order and flow to everything. To be aware of this flow, we all need to be as sensitive as possible, or else any action that is not wu wei will either have the wrong outcome or not work at all.

So we need to be sensitive and receptive, and act spontaneously in a non-interfering way. When we listen to our inner voice and allow ourselves to learn and grow naturally, our actions become effective with the minimum of effort. The modern saying is "go with the flow". The Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu called it "Purposeless Wandering."

To let go of our relentless clinging on to controls and measures can be terrifying. It goes against everything our modern society and many of the most basic assumptions of life. But allowing the natural flow of things to take care of themselves, and acting fearlessly in accordance with your physical and mental instincts produces breathtaking synchronicity and greatly reduces the level of stress.

If you want a safe go at it, hide all the clocks and watches in your house, and spend the day without a plan. You'll be surprised what gets done - and what doesn't get done.... and also how un-stressed you are at the end.

Be happy.

Control - Do you need it?

I was on Twitter the other day, and I put out a tweet that went something like this:

Finish this sentence... "The world would be a better place without...."

I had a big response. All of the usual suspects were there - politicians, tax inspectors, traffic wardens etc. Some were quite entertaining and a little too colourful to put in this blog.

However, there was a chord running through all of the replies - all of the people named had jobs or characteristics that were in some way controlling. It seems that we don't resent people having money or fame, but we hate being controlled.

As students, we start our martial arts for the first time, and quickly realise that we do not have complete control over our bodies. This can be a disconcerting time, because as a result, if we can't control our bodies, how can we have a hope of being able to control other things around us, like our finances, friends, family, work etc?

To put aside the illusion of control is a major spiritual step for any human being. Letting go is the most empowering thing you can do. This is called "Wu Wei", and I will explore it in greater detail in future posts.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Crimes to Tai Chi

There has been a trend of advertisements using Tai Chi as a 'hook' upon which to give the impression of a healthy lifestyle. Pictures like this....

....which really annoy me. Because instead of finding someone who actually can do Tai Chi, they wheel in some airbrushed model who does "Tae Bo" (boxercise) at best.

So when I get a bunch of students who want to look like her, they are going to be pretty disappointed, because Tai Chi is not about attaining an aesthetic. It is about quality of movement, posture and rooting. (none of which are exhibited above.)

All physiques are welcome, and no-one is asked to change.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

10 tips to improve any martial art

1. Practice.
2. Practice more.
3. Practice when you feel like it.
4. Practice when you don't feel like it.
5. When the weather's good, practice outside.
6. When the weather's bad, practice indoors.
7. If you are on your own, practice alone.
8. If you are with friends, practice with them.
9. If your friends don't know your martial art, show them.
10. When you're tired, sleep.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Programming fear for profit

"People are being kept in a state of fear and consumption" - Marilyn Manson

There is always a buck to be made out of fear. Whether it is the sensationalist newspaper articles about how much danger your children are in or the insidious little comments about personal hygiene or social status of the cosmetics industry.... We are constantly manipulated by our fears. Those who wish to be voted into power or make money from us (or both) know this well enough.

Why do we hate being afraid? Quite simply, it is how we have survived. Fear is our instinct for survival. It is the natural impetus that drives us away from pain and suffering.

Every marketer knows that to completely move our desires towards a product, it is not enough to tell us how much of a benefit it will be. They must also make sure we are moving away from pain - either real or imaginary. Take this is a quote from a recent deodorant advertisement. I desensitised it to avoid lawsuits.

"If you worry about personal hygiene, [product name] with it's unique formula [description of formula and how it works]...... [product name]... reach out with confidence all day long."

Words written in Red are designed to instigate fear. Words in Blue instigate positive attachment to the product. Usually these controlling words are said with emphasis, within a larger sentence that softens the message. These language patterns are cleverly placed to control feelings and desires.

Language patterns are common knowledge among neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) practitioners and the advertising industry, but the general public are unaware that it is happening most of the time. Another person who uses language patterns is Barrack Obama. His speeches are literally full of very carefully placed leading statements, interweaved into sentences to soften or completely disguise their meaning.

So how do you avoid your emotions and survival instincts from being manipulated? Television is the primary delivery device of NLP. Reduce your consumption of this insidious media. You will find yourself becoming more calm and relaxed as a result. The less exposure you have to NLP, the more aware you become when it does happen.

How do you know you are being manipulated? As marketing is about "raising the stakes" around the purchase of a product, it gives you extra stress. Do you ever feel undue stress and worry when in a supermarket? You are being made to think that all those rows of product on the shelves are far more IMPORTANT than they actually are. You have been programmed. There's no use castigating yourself about it. Marketing is inevitable in our modern society. But you can do something:

1. Switch off the television.
2. Switch off the radio.
3. Be careful what you read. Become aware of political and commercial influences in everything.
4. Meditate.

Why is meditation so important? It allows you to rediscover yourself. To find yourself again after being repeatedly told what you "need" is this product and that product... you owe it to yourself to cut out all the NLP and find out what you truly want.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Don't call me Master

The title Shifu is often translated in English as Master. In China, it actually has two meanings. In martial terms, it conveys a person of exceptional skill. However, it has more common usage in China as a professional person or a learned scholar or teacher.

If you ask any of the top tai chi masters in China for a translation of Shifu, they will say 'teacher not master'. It is this humbleness that conveys their true skill.

However, it is hard not to notice in youtube and other forums, a form of 'master worship' in conversations. It is characterised by people arguing about how their master could beat another master (or anyone else for that matter). Such hiding behind your teachers skill is unrealistic, deeply vulgar and embarrassing for your teacher.

I have seen classes where students literally elbow each other out of the way, so they can practice next to their 'master'. While someone may receive personal validation from such behaviour, the real damage comes in their lack of skill. For when it comes to sparring and pushing hands, their selfish competitiveness is likely to result in them getting less-than-honest feedback from their fellow students. I have seen this kind of behaviour literally drive classes apart and destroy a professional teachers earnings.

So before you announce your master's greatness to the world, think for a while. Are you saying this because they are invincible, ................or is it just because you want other people to say it about you?

Don't call me master - I am merely an instructor.


Saturday, 18 April 2009

Why all the quotations?

Anyone who has been to my classes knows that they are sensible, pragmatic and practical. There is very little in the way of psycho babble, and we all get on with it. However, I occasionally use quotes where appropriate. On twitter (follow me - my id is @taijirich), I have been using more and more quotes. So I guess you all deserve an explanation.

We all have a fight or flight mechanism that is constantly looking for danger. However, as we all know, the more dangers we focus on, the more trouble we will find ourselves in. One of the main aims of all martial arts is to dispel fear. You learn how to defend yourself and you condition your body for combat. These attributes give you a certain calm and ease in situations where untrained people would panic.

Some of the external martial arts have rites of passage. People who practice Karate and Taekwondo break wooden boards; Shaolin monks break sticks over their backs and lie on beds of nails. This is all great, but to quote Bruce Lee, "Boards don't hit back." And he is right. Breaking an inanimate object is not about winning fights. These are all achievable feats of strength and skill that are designed to give you a certain level of courage and confidence.

So without breaking boards, how can you empower yourself?

That's where the quotes come in. By telling stories and quoting famous people, your teacher can undermine any limiting beliefs, motivate the class and build up self esteem.

Just another reason why you should find a martial arts class and get stuck in. You don't need to be built like Arnie Schwartzenegger. As Henry Van Dyke said :

".. the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best."

See what I did there? ;-)


Friday, 17 April 2009

Tai Chi is more than waving hands in pyjamas and hugging trees

Check this out. It is Pao chui, which in English means "Cannon Fist". The New Frame is a style of Chen Tai Chi, and there are two sets

1. Xinjia Yi Lu (New Frame first set)
2. Xinjia Er-Lu (New Frame second set)

This was filmed at Chenjiagou - the birth place of Taijiquan.

Monday, 13 April 2009

What is Qigong?

Qigong is pronounced "chee gung", and is the cultivation of chi energy throughout the body. Chi is the energy that all life is dependent on. It is even more fundamental than oxygen. To have a demonstration of what chi is, have a look at the following video:

I was fortunate enough to meet a true qigong master in Zhiang Zhia Zhie national forest park in the 1990's. Master Li was just as elusive and careful with what he showed. I was cured of a recurring hip problem that I had sustained in my late teens.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Education - Is it right?

The present education system was developed in the late 1800's and has changed little since. It has been designed to do two things:
1. Create workforces to the demands of industry.
2. Create a self-perpetuating reward system around academic attainment and achievement.

Watch this vid. It's 20 minutes, but worth it.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Are you scared?

The maternity ward where they were keeping my new daughter Mia and my Wife on was particularly dark and stuffy. We decided to give Claire a rest, and I carried Mia across the ward to where the sun was shining through the windows. Mia had a touch of jaundice, and the sunlight would do wonders in taking the slight yellow pallor out of her face. We were enjoying the view of the sunny day from the window, when I was confronted by a nurse.

She was very 'concerned' that I was carrying my baby. Babies weren't to be carried, as it was a health and safety risk. I could possibly fall and injure myself or the baby.

This kind of fear was motivated, not out of any genuine care for the patients, rather that they might be found negligent and liable for compensation.

These fears are counter-productive. They actually end up doing worse. If parents can't practice carrying their babies in a safe environment, they are more likely to drop their babies at home, where care is likely to be delayed. Without advice, they might carry their babies incorrectly and inadvertently hurt them. But no... the hospitals tell you to wheel them everywhere.. and you remain incompetent.

We are a terrified society, full of reactionary overkill that is driving a wedge between us all. Don't rise to it. Whether it is an advert for deodorant ("Worried about body odour???") or a defense minister after a budget increase for his department, there is always money in keeping people scared or worried.

So, what fears are holding you back? Are they rational? What are they preventing you doing? What advantages can you see to resolving this fear?

And be happy.


Thursday, 9 April 2009

What is Tai Chi? Free Video Demonstration

Tai Chi is undoubtedly one of the greatest gifts that Chinese culture can bring to the world. Not only is it an effective self-defense system, but it brings unique levels of fitness, flexibility, strength, posture and relaxation to the practitioner.

Enjoy the video. I'll see you at the class!


Wednesday, 8 April 2009

New Arrival

On 3rd April at 10:17pm, my daughter, Mia April Northwood was born. She is beautiful.

To say I am happy is the understatement of the century.

Normal service will be resumed. I am also on twitter, so follow the link below:

Be happy,


Saturday, 28 March 2009


Sincere apologies for not adding posts.

Will catch up with you all as soon as the baby is born.

Thanks for being so patient. :-)

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

What handicap?

This is what happens if you just seize the moment, and accept what is given.....

There are opportunities everywhere. But we rarely accept them. We can get to thinking that we are not worthy and that good things happen to other people.  

Let me tell you.... Contrary to every self-help and marketing guru on the planet.... you have a right to be who you are. You are enough. You can choose to recognise and accept the gifts life presents to you every day.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Happy New Year!!!

Yes, happy Chinese New Year. It's the year of the ox.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

What's important

With the news full of the credit crunch, it really goes to show how little our media know about people.  Money, money, money...... hmmmm!

Is that really all we think about? Is that all we ought to be thinking about?

Why is the media is so down? Perhaps because the media is a soulless enterprise, dealing in commercial tittle-tattle and mindless celebrity. The poor fools who buy into the media lifestyle are down because they can no longer take solace in buying crap to fill the void in their lives.

Perhaps this is a time to discover what's important.....
  • Plasma screen televisions? 
  • Four-by-four bling cars?
  • Smart phones?
  • Must-have houses?
  • Granite kitchen work tops?
Or is it something else?

This credit crunch could be the best thing that has ever happened to us - if we let it. We can use this as a reason to stop living like mindless consumers.  We can finally lay the shopping and sh@gging mentality to rest and search for what is truly important.