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 - 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.