Wednesday

After a long day at work I might commit 45-60 minutes to watching something we've rented or bought on DVD. Occasionally a movie. It is supposed to be relaxing; a way to unwind from dealing with the trials and tribulations of my day job... Yet, so many modern films are really quite miserable. Last night we tried to watch Collateral Beauty. Big mistake. It was a bunch of actors talking about bereavement and cancer. Hey, I encounter the real thing at work. And worse. Why do I want to watch an actor pretend that they care? DVDs should have more detailed classification on the back of them. If you rent/buy Moana, it's going to be pretty safe. But even a so-called 'rom-com' nowadays involves trauma/upset/death/misery... Why? If I wanted to be miserable I'd watch the news.

Sifu said that he thinks that films/TV should either entertain, educate or enlighten. I agree with him but it is exceedingly rare to encounter anything that educates or enlightens.

 
(Rachel)

Monday

We will be closed Monday 9th October as the hall is unavailable.
Another reason to move slowly and gently is to allow yourself time to approach movement in an exploratory and curious manner, and to put a great deal of attention on the subtle details of the movement. Becoming more coordinated is essentially a matter of rewiring the neural circuits that control movement, which is an example of a very fashionable process called “neuroplasticity.” Neuroplasticity simply means the brain’s ability to change. According to Michael Merzenich and other prominent neuroscientists, attention and awareness are major preconditions for neuroplasticity to occur. In other words, your brain is much more likely to get better at a certain activity if you are paying close attention while doing it. Slow movement can help your ability to pay attention to exactly what you are doing when you are doing it.

 (Todd Hargrove)

Wednesday


Form application

Students usually find taijiquan form applications to be difficult to understand and learn.
The reasons why are straightforward:
  1. They don't know the form itself well enough
  2. They are not using their body in a whole-body way
  3. Applications are being perceived as techniques
  4. The student is attempting to employ 'external' methodology to an internal martial art
  5. The mental representation of the taijiquan principles/combat approach etc is not fully formed 
These problems can best be remedied through diligent study and practice.

Monday

5 mins = £100?

Imagine if you were told that 5 minutes tai chi training would earn you £100...
Would you do the exercises? Of course you would.

Yet, people are told that daily home practice = good health, fitness and better quality of life... and they dismiss it.
Curious?

This illustration shows how many people value an obvious monetary reward but are unwilling to appreciate the value of health, vitality and fitness.

Sunday

Losing the natural curvature

Instead of relaxing the lower back and allowing the pelvis to remain neutral, many people shorten the lower back.
The spine loses its natural curvature and becomes weaker; more vulnerable to injury.
They are typically unaware of this habit because it is 'familiar' and seems 'normal' to them.
Releasing the lower back is easy. However, you need to monitor it repeatedly throughout the day until it becomes an established habit.

Wednesday

THE TOPS OF the mountains beyond the lake were in dark, heavy clouds, but the shores of the lake were in the sun. It was early spring, and the sun wasn't warm. The trees were still bare, their branches naked against the blue sky; but they were beautiful in their nakedness. They could wait with patience and certainty, for the sun was upon them, and in a few weeks more they would be covered with tender green leaves. A little path by the lake turned off through the woods, which were mostly evergreens; they extended for miles, and if you went far enough along that path you came to an open meadow, with trees all around it. It was a beautiful spot, secluded and far away. A few cows were sometimes grazing in the meadow, but the tinkling of their bells never seemed to disturb the solitude or take away the feeling of distance, of loneliness and familiar seclusion. A thousand people might come to that enchanted place, and when they had left, with their noise and litter, it would have remained unspoiled, alone and friendly. That afternoon the sun was on the meadow, and on the tall, dark trees that stood around it, carved in green, stately, without movement. With your preoccupations and inward chatter, with your mind and eyes all over the place, restlessly wondering if the rain would catch you on your way back, you felt as though you were trespassing, not wanted there; but soon you were part of it, part of that enchanted solitude. There were no birds of any kind; the air was completely still, and the tops of the trees were motionless against the blue sky. The lush green meadow was the centre of this world, and as you sat on a rock, you were part of that centre. It wasn't imagination; imagination is silly. It wasn't that you were trying to identify yourself with what was so splendidly open and beautiful; identification is vanity. It wasn't that you were trying to forget or abnegate yourself in this unspoiled solitude of nature; all self-forgetful abnegation is arrogance. It wasn't the shock or the compulsion of so much purity; all compulsion is a denial of the true. You could do nothing to make yourself, or help yourself to be, part of that wholeness. But you were part of it, part of the green meadow, the hard rock, the blue sky and the stately trees. It was so. You might remember it, but then you would not be of it; and if you went back to it, you would never find it.

(Krishnamurti)

Sunday

Motor learning

For many people, their fitness regime does not take into account 'motor learning'.
Motor learning is about the process of using the body, rather than simply exercising the body.

Agilitymobility, relaxed spontaneous movement, balance, structure, alignment, biomechanics, efficiency, ambidextrous body use, joint health, coordinationskillemotional wellbeing or psychological flexibility.
The balanced approach is to combine exercise with motor learning.

Saturday

There are several excellent reasons to use slow and gentle movement as a means to develop coordination. Probably the most interesting reason (I'll start with that one) is based on an obscure principle called the Weber Fechner rule. The Weber Fechner rule describes the relationship between the magnitude of a particular stimulus and the brain's ability to sense differences in the amount of the stimulus. The basic rule is that as you increase the stimulus, the ability to tell a difference in the amount of the stimulus decreases. This is a very common sense idea. Imagine you are in a dark room with only one candle lit. It will be very easy to sense the difference when one additional candle is lit. But if you are in a room with two hundred candles, you will have no idea when an extra candle comes on.

 This rule works for all varieties of sensory perception, including sensations of muscular effort. So, imagine you are holding a one pound potato in your hand while blindfolded. If a fly landed on the weight you would not know the difference, but if a little bird landed you would know. Now imagine holding a fifty pound potato. You wouldn't be able to feel the little bird landing. It would have to be an eagle. The point is that when you increase the weight from one pound to fifty pounds, you become about fifty times less sensitive to changes in the amount of muscular force you are using to lift the weight.


 (Todd Hargrove)

Wednesday

We learn by doing. If you desire to master the principles you are studying, do something about them. Apply these rules at every opportunity. If you don't, you will forget them quickly. Only knowledge that is used sticks in your mind.

You are attempting to form new habits. You are attempting a new way of life. That will require time and persistence and daily application.

(Dale Carnegie)

Friday

Physical understanding

Beyond reading and study there needs to be an immense commitment to productive, mindful daily practice.
Taijiquan is a physical art.
A well-cultivated mind is essential, but it must be complimented by an equally adept body.
Nothing beats informed practice; both solo and partnered.

Tuesday

Be honest

Ask yourself honestly why you want to train with a sword...
Because it looks cool?
You have some romantic notion of being a samurai?
You've watched a lot of Highlander, The Last Samurai, Braveheart or Gladiator?
Or are you preserving the heritage? 

Visit other classes

It is easy to assume that your martial art is 'the best' and to dismiss all other arts.
This is also naive.
Have you been to other classes?
What are they teaching? How are they teaching it? How skilled are the students? Is their technical knowledge advanced or simplistic?

Go find out for yourself.

Saturday

Katz: How do you know all this stuff?

Bryson: Well, there's these things called books. They're like TV for smart people.
(A Walk in the Woods)

Friday

Mental framework

Imagine a bookshelf in your mind filled with books, folders, resources and information about taijiquan...
The more densely filled your bookshelf is, the more relevant and useful new information will seem.
You will be able to cross-reference, discern, add to existing knowledge and challenge any preconceptions or misconceptions.
Ideally, your bookshelf wants to be filled with anything and everything that might conceivably have a bearing on taijiquan.

Thursday

Yielding

Last nights 'yielding' workshop was terrific. Sifu Waller neatly illustrated the scope and value of understanding what yielding constitutes and applying it skilfully.

Everyone felt great.

The session also served to debunk the idea of 'pushing hands competitions' - as we discovered that the adequate degree of physical flexibility on the part of the defender made it impossible for the aggressor to actually push anyone. It was like pushing against water.

We ended with seeking to apply holds, locks and various attacks. All to no avail. Even when the attacker did their level best to mess you up and be non-cooperative and awkward.

Our only enemy proved to be our own physical tension.

Wednesday

Can anything be stupider than that a man has the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of a river and his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have not quarrelled with him?
(Blaise Pascal)

Take an interest

Instead of just doing what your teacher tells you to do in class, invest in the Art.
Take a much deeper interest in how the human body operates, Asian history, culture, martial arts in general, biomechanics, fitness, strength, health, nutrition, meditation...
The list is endless.
Don't assume anything. Continually question what you know and find out more.



Context

If you read an article about taijiquan but have no interest in taijiquan - and no foundation knowledge - then your ability to make sense of what you read would be limited.
Most likely you'd quickly lose interest and you wouldn't remember much.
In order to make sense of what you read, you need context.

Monday

Consider this: Most people live lives that are not particularly physically challenging. They sit at a desk, or if they move around, it's not a lot. They aren't performing manoeuvres that require tremendous balance and coordination. Thus they settle into a low level of physical capabilities - enough for day-to-day activities or maybe even hiking or biking or playing golf or tennis on the weekends, but far from the level of physical capabilities that a highly trained athlete possesses.

The reason that most people don't possess extraordinary physical capabilities isn't because they don't have the capacity for them, but rather because they're satisfied to live in the comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it. The same thing is true for all the mental activities we engage in. We learn enough to get by but once we reach that point we seldom push to go beyond.
(Anders Ericsson)

Wednesday

Sick or hypochondriac?

If you are genuinely unhealthy, then don't go to a martial arts class. It is stupid and naive in the extreme. 
If you are a hypochondriac, this is the wrong attitude for martial arts.

The outcome

The quality of your taijiquan is directly proportionate to the degree to which you invest in the Art.
If you are a 'toe dipper' - a tourist - then you will never get very far.
Only by plunging fully into the training can you hope to gain real skill
.
An understanding of taijiquan requires commitment, sincerity, humility and a lifetime of practice.

Tuesday

Sickness society

We live in a world where people really enjoy complaining about ailments or comparing medical histories.
Many people engage in this kind of conversation with competitive fervour: eagerly listing their medication and seeking to one-up each other.
Such an attitude has no place in a martial arts class.

Monday

Martial arts are dangerous

The British Medical Association Guide To Sports Injuries states:
 
Combat sports such as kung fu make tough demands on the body; training is intense, and participation requires all-round fitness. Regardless of the fitness of the participants, however, the aggressive blows traded between opponents means that these sports always carry a serious risk of injury.

Saturday

Using a sword

If you chose to use a sword to defend yourself in the 21st Century, you will most likely go to prison.
This is a simple, unequivocal fact.
Yet, people spend hours training with swords, and many even practice cutting things with a sword, as though they may one day come to use the weapon in martial contest.
What is the point?

You could spend those same hours on some more relevant.

Training a sword may enhance your self defence skills in some vague, indirect fashion, but practicing shuai jiaochin na and jing with a partner would do so much more.

Thursday

Aesthetics

Sword forms may well be beautiful to watch and entertaining. This is fine.
As such, they represent an art form. In much the same way as dance.
However, it is quite another matter to train a sword as though it represented some measure of self defence.
We are not living in the past.
Modern times require modern methods of combat.
A sword is not a viable means of defending yourself in the 21st Century.

Common

Virtually every tai chi school in the UK is teaching 'tai chi for health'.
Usually there is no real syllabus and the material is simplistic.
Some classes may advertise themselves as 'taijiquan' but are in fact teaching tai chi for health.

Wednesday

Contemporaneous

Sword forms were invented to address the needs of the 16th Century not the 21st.
Your modern urban opponent carries a baseball bat, knife, screwdriver or gun. Not a sword. 
You will not be carrying a sword either.
Swords were once the favoured combat weapon.
The martial arts which grew around swordplay were a necessary and relevant area of study.
The sword skills were literally a matter of life and death.
Not any more.

Tuesday

Finding a class

When a new starter scours the web looking for the Art they are faced with an array of approaches that are all called 'tai chi' but are often quite dissimilar.
In truth, there is often little consensus
.
It is important to find out for yourself what taijiquan really means.
There was a samurai who had a rat in his house and could not get rid of it. He acquired a superb cat, stalwart and robust. But the rat was quicker and simply made a fool of it. Then the samurai got another cat, more cunning and astute. But the rat was on his guard and hid except when the cat was asleep. Then a Zen monk from a nearby temple lent the samurai his own cat, the most ordinary-looking cat you could imagine, that spent all its time drowsing and napping and paid no attention to anything around it. The samurai shrugged and said the cat was no good, but the monk insist he keep it. So the cat stayed and slept and slept, and soon the rat grew bold again and began trotting forth right in front of the cat, which showed absolutely no interest in it. Then one day, with one swipe of its paw, it caught the rat and pinned it down. Strength of body and technical skill are nothing, without vigilance of mind!

 (Taisen Deshimaru)

Friday

Wide awake

In order to awaken your mind you simply need to be here and now
Nowhere else. 
At any given time, nothing else in the universe matters more than what you are doing right now.
The cars outside, the neighbours, the music, the humming of the computer, the smell of food are all part of the moment, and you are nowhere but here.
It is all happening at once and you are totally immersed in it.

Thursday

Impediments to meditation

• TV• Politics• The news• Alcohol• Drugs• Gossip• Egotism• Phoney behaviour• Self-promotion• Passive aggressive traits• Anger• Talking rather than doing• Hurrying• Mock humility 
• Social games/role play e.g. "I have no time" "I'm too busy"• Self-gratification• Exoticism• Fantasising/daydreaming• Lack of commitment• Insincerity

Wednesday

Alive

Taijiquan does not exist apart from you.
It is not separate - like a car.
It cannot be inked onto you - like a tattoo.

Your own body brings the Art to life and the quality of what you produce is created entirely and only by you.

Tuesday

Ability

Taijiquan is akin to playing a piano.
The Art exists to the degree that you can produce the skills using your own body.
If you cannot move in a graceful, nimble, coordinated, agile, functional and pragmatic manner... there will be no music.
The quality of the taijiquan is entirely determined by you. It cannot be bought or bullied into existence
.

Monday

  How long do I need to train? Many people have asked me. And I answer, "Until you die. " They're not very happy with that answer. In the West people want to learn fast; some people think once is enough. But the dojo is not like a university. You have to practice until you die.

(Taisen Deshimaru)

Skills

Skills are not like commodities.
They cannot be bought.
If you buy a piano it doesn't just play itself. You have to do the work yourself.
The quality
 of the music is entirely contingent upon how skilfully you personally can play that piano.

Friday

Delusional

People love to show off their tattoos.
Why? Did they design them? Did they ink them?
Unlikely.
They simply purchased them.
The artist may deserve credit, but not the consumer.

The same would be true if you bought a 'prestige car' - did you design it? Build it?

Thursday

Commodity culture

We live in a world where people are used to buying things.
If you want a tattoo, you pay someone to ink it for you.
If you want a flashy car, you go out and buy one.

The drawback with this is that people mistakenly believe that buying something means more than it does..
.

A balanced approach?

For many people, their fitness regime does not take into account agility, mobility, relaxed spontaneous movement, balance, ambidextrous body use, joint health, coordination, emotional wellbeing or psychological flexibility.
Often, injuries arise and bodies are pushed too hard.


Taijiquan is not like this.

Wednesday

How much does Sifu Waller train?

Sifu Waller trains over 2 hours a day of taijiquan, baguazhang & qigong, 365 days a year. He has been practicing since 1975.

Monday - balls & grips, massage, ba duan jin, leg stretches (set 1), psoas exercises, sword forms (2), Long Yang (empty form) (regular & mirrored), pao chui form (regular & mirrored), small san sau (regular & mirrored), silk arms (regular & mirrored), pre-emptive methods (regular & mirrored), knife drills (regular & mirrored), small stick drills (regular & mirrored), pushing peng exercise, chin na applications (solo), sealing the breath (solo), 3-tier wallbag, mother palms, baguazhang palm changes (regular & mirrored), Taoist Yoga (set 1, 2 or 3), constructive rest - ideally two to three times a day, reading, walking or cycling

Tuesday - balls & grips, massage, reeling silk exercises, leg stretches (set 2), sword forms (2), Long Yang (empty form) (regular & mirrored), pao chui form (regular & mirrored), small san sau (regular & mirrored), silk arms (regular & mirrored), pre-emptive methods (regular & mirrored), knife drills (regular & mirrored), small stick drills (regular & mirrored), double pushing hands (solo), chin na applications (solo), dividing the muscle (solo), 3-tier wallbag, direction changes, baguazhang palm changes (regular & mirrored), cardio work (set 1), weight training (set 1), Taoist Yoga (set 1, 2 or 3), constructive rest - ideally two to three times a day, reading, walking or cycling

Wednesday - balls & grips, massage, moving qigong, leg stretches (set 1), core strength (set 1), stick drills (set 1), stick forms (3), Long Yang (empty form) (regular & mirrored), pao chui form (regular & mirrored), small san sau (regular & mirrored), silk arms (regular & mirrored), pre-emptive methods (regular & mirrored), knife drills (regular & mirrored), small stick drills (regular & mirrored), da lu (solo), chin na applications (solo), cavity press (solo), 3-tier wallbag, circle walking, baguazhang palm changes (regular & mirrored), Taoist Yoga (set 1, 2 or 3), constructive rest - ideally two to three times a day, reading, walking or cycling

Thursday - balls & grips, massage, stretches & joint work, leg stretches (set 2), stick drills (set 2), sword forms (2), Long Yang (empty form) (regular & mirrored), pao chui form (regular & mirrored), small san sau (regular & mirrored), silk arms (regular & mirrored), pre-emptive methods (regular & mirrored), knife drills (regular & mirrored), small stick drills (regular & mirrored), penetrating defences, shuai jiao applications (solo), sealing the breath (solo), 3-tier wallbag, figure of 8, baguazhang palm changes (regular & mirrored), cardio work (set 2), weight training (set 2), Taoist Yoga (set 1, 2 or 3), constructive rest - ideally two to three times a day, reading, walking or cycling

Friday - balls & grips, massage, ba duan jin, leg stretches (set 1), core strength (set 2), stick drills (set 3), stick forms (3), Long Yang (empty form) (regular & mirrored), pao chui form (regular & mirrored), small san sau (regular & mirrored), silk arms (regular & mirrored), pre-emptive methods (regular & mirrored), knife drills (regular & mirrored), small stick drills (regular & mirrored), reflex drills, shuai jiao applications (solo), dividing the muscle (solo), 3-tier wallbag, 9 palaces, baguazhang palm changes (regular & mirrored), Taoist Yoga (set 1, 2 or 3), constructive rest - ideally two to three times a day, reading, walking or cycling

Saturday - balls & grips, massage, reeling silk exercises, leg stretches (set 2), sword drills, sword forms (2), Long Yang (empty form) (regular & mirrored), pao chui form (regular & mirrored), small san sau (regular & mirrored), silk arms (regular & mirrored), pre-emptive methods (regular & mirrored), knife drills (regular & mirrored), small stick drills (regular & mirrored), double pushing hands (solo), shuai jiao applications (solo), cavity press (solo), 3-tier wallbag, baguazhang palm changes (regular & mirrored), cardio work (set 1 or 2), weight training (set 3), Taoist Yoga (set 1, 2 or 3), constructive rest - ideally two to three times a day, reading, walking or cycling

Sunday - balls & grips, massage, moving qigong, leg stretches (set 1), core strength (set 3), stick forms (3),Long Yang (empty form) (regular & mirrored), pao chui form (regular & mirrored), small san sau (regular & mirrored), silk arms (regular & mirrored), pre-emptive methods (regular & mirrored), knife drills (regular & mirrored), small stick drills (regular & mirrored), da lu (solo), shuai jiao applications (solo), dividing the muscle (solo), 3-tier wallbag, baguazhang palm changes (regular & mirrored), Taoist Yoga (set 1, 2 or 3), constructive rest - ideally two to three times a day, reading, walking or cycling

Sifu Waller also trains partner work with his wife Rachel (that's me).
We are checking our smartphones on average 221 times a day. Recent research found that 80 percent of millennials look at their phones upon waking; this addiction is a strong one. As a result, our cognitive processing has become shallower and we have become so distracted that we play directly into the hands of the autopilot. Digital devices are the modern day equivalent of tranquillisers. They instil a trance-like state almost immediately as they are anchors for our subconscious to take over. 

 
(Chris Barez-Brown)

Friday

They muddy the water, to make it seem deep.

 
(Friedrich Nietzsche) 

Wednesday

A lot of hobbies are just mental and you have to get exercise by some other means. But if you study a martial art, not only is it mental, it's physical as well, which keeps it interesting. People also like the whole idea that it was invented by ancient civilisations, that there's a history to it, and there's a whole culture involved. The idea that some old Chinese guy up in the mountains made something up, or used this on a battlefield in ancient China, is appealing.

 People do it even if they don't really care whether they ever get good at it, or if they are ever going to be able to fight. A lot of people just enjoy the art of it. The Chinese martial arts have a lot of nice forms, they are good exercise, and they're more interesting than calisthenics. You could just do jumping jacks and toe touches, but there's a whole artistry to the form, like a dance. So, there's a lot of different reasons why people practice.

 
(Tim Cartmell) 

Friday

Little & often

Rather than train for a lengthy period of time, aim to practice little & often.
20-30 minute increments, with rest breaks in-between is ideal.
Instead of pushing your body hard and putting it under duress, just do a little exercise.Resting will keep your concentration sharp and offset fatigue.