Tui Shou Test: A New Beginning

tuishou with Matt

This was my first tui shou (pushing hands) match (more like a test) in over 15 years. It was an non-compliant, yet friendly, freestyle match. Striking was not allowed. The gentleman in the video with me is Matt Stampe from Virginia. I met him for the first time just 2 days prior. This match took place on June 1, 2014. I have included video at the end of the article.

I practiced and competed in taiji and pushing hands in the 1990s when I was also an external stylist, but there was nothing internal about what I was doing then. It has only been the past 4 years that I have revisited a previous teacher of mine and started focusing on internal skills.

So, I took a much different approach with this match than I had done in the past. I had no idea what to expect because I know Matt has a lot of experience, both in taiji and in other arts. My main goal going in was not to try to beat Matt, but rather to see if I could adhere to the principles that I teach.

I wanted to remain upright and relaxed, avoid bracing the ground, and keep resistant tension out of my arms. I know I made some errors in those goals, but overall, I felt pretty good considering the circumstances.

Basically, I took almost no initiative with offense. I decided to just see what Matt was going to do and continue to try to neutralize and follow him. Overall, I was happy with how I managed. There were 3 good times when he took me by complete surprise and I could not neutralize. There were other times when I had him neutralized, and it seemed like he was giving up the attack, so I let up, and he would immediately take advantage with a fast push that would semi-get me, as seen with the occasional “heavy” back steps I had to take rather than me just stepping due to following. Lastly, at times I underestimated what Matt was doing, thinking that I could completely neutralize without turning or stepping and I held my ground a little too long at times, again making me take a heavy step back.

From this I learned several things:

  1. I should not let up. I should always stay “on” the opponent, even in a friendly match.
  2. I should pay attention to match the speed of the opponent even when the rest of the match seems to be kind of a steady speed. I was stuck in that slower mode and foolishly did not adjust when he did those faster attacks.
  3. I need to relax even more so that I can operate even more from awareness. Had I been more aware, I would not have overestimated my neutralizing abilities at times. That shows me that I was a little too much in my own head.
  4. I should definitely take initiative with offense at times.

Though the match was over 11 minutes long, my breathing felt good. I was not tired even though I had just previously finished attending a very physical 6 hour workshop. This is quite a contrast to my experiences from the 1990s when my tui shou was still externally based.

I thought that Matt did an excellent job in this match. He kept it friendly, but he was able to maintain an almost continuous offense, making me work at my skills the entire match. He was able to exploit my gaps and weaknesses fairly regularly throughout the match which shows both his experience and how much he was paying attention. Additionally, even though he tried to “get” me almost continuously, he did well at not exposing himself, giving me little to work with in that regard.

I have been avoiding tui shou in general because I am still working on my basic skills and getting my body proper for the internal work that I do. I did not want all of my “bad” external habits creeping in because of a competitive engagement.

However, I felt comfortable with my level of error in this match, and I want to work more on tui shou given what I have learned from my mistakes in strategy.

It is official. I have caught the tui shou bug.

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Upcoming Workshop on Joint Opening and Loosening Exercises, Saturday 6/28/14

For additional information, please visit the event page for this workshop, and indicate your plans for attendance.

Here Are the Basics:

Topic: Joint Opening and Loosening Exercises
Date: Saturday, June 28, 2014
Time: 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
Location: Oriental Medicine and Health Services, 1201 Philadelphia Pike, Suite D, Wilmington, DE 19809
Cost: $65 for the workshop which includes my instructional DVD on the topic (for details on the DVD, click here)
Registration: You must be registered and paid by Thursday, June 19, 2014. Call me at 302-792-2831 or email me at info@omhs.biz for more information. Space is limited, so it is first come first served.

Workshop Content:

You will learning the set of Joint Opening and Loosening Exercises. Below is a video of me doing the set, but trust me, the movements are not as they appear. During the workshop, you will be given very detailed instructions on how to do the movements. You will find yourself learning a very different way of moving than what you are used to. In addition, you will learn how to pressure test the movements so that you can be certain that you are doing them correctly. Remember, you will also be given my instructional DVD on the topic to serve as a reference for your practice at home.

It is Qìgōng (氣功).

The joint opening and loosening exercise set makes for an excellent daily qìgōng routine. It is relatively simple to perform and only takes between 10 to 15 minutes to complete depending on pace. By opening and loosening the joints, you are also helping to open the acupuncture channels in the body, thereby aiding in the circulation of your and blood. There is a saying in China that roughly translates to “a used door hinge never rots.” Regular practice of this set while working on becoming more correct in how you do the set will bring you many worthwhile benefits.

It is also Jīběngōng (基本功).

Jīběngōng translates roughly as basic exercises. This set of joint opening and loosening exercises serves as a set of basic training exercises for developing foundational skills in tàijí. Having open and loose joints is a requirement in tàijí, and in my opinion is an important part of the “sinking” that is also part of tàijí. Doing this set regularly and correctly will help build part of your martial arts foundation.

Additional Benefits

If done conventionally, this set has value in that is keeps you moving and able to maintain range of motion into your old age if practiced carefully and daily. However, I do these movements in a specific manner driven by awareness. Done this way, this set is a vehicle for discovery of what it means for a joint to be open and how to maintain that openness. Having open joints, in my opinion, is not only a basic requirement for internal martial arts and for allowing forces to pass through the body, but it is also an important part of good qìgōng, allowing for better circulation of the and blood. I feel that if physical forces can get stuck in your body at certain points, then the and blood flow can be negatively affected at those points as well. Therefore, not only will regular correct practice of this set help bring about many health benefits including more freedom of movement, but it can also improve your practice of ANY martial art.

A FREE Bonus

Though the workshop ends at 1:00 pm, we will be breaking for lunch and returning at 2:00 pm to watch a kung fu movie. I have not yet decided which movie to show, but as a workshop attendee, you are welcome to watch the movie with me. If you are a kung fu movie fan, then you know it will be fun.

The Flyer

Click on the flyer for a larger, printable version.

JOLE workshop 140621

Click this link for a PDF file of the flyer.

Video of the Set of Joint Opening and Loosening Exercises

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Thanks for taking to the time to look at all of this. I hope to see you there.

Soft Does Not Mean Weak

soft

In martial arts there are two very different types of systems: soft, internal styles and hard, external styles. There are others as well and those that purport to mix, but I want to focus on those two, and in particular, the soft, internal styles as a contrast to the hard, external styles. The words “soft” and “hard,” as commonly used in English, are opposites, polar opposites in fact, representing a continuum of strong, resistant solidity. I feel this common usage of those terms has clouded the meanings and roused misconceptions, particularly of “soft” as used in internal martial arts. Note that in this article, I will be, for ease of explanation, over-simplifying a bit, but not to the point of error.

There is a common phrase from Chinese philosophy that states that “softness overcomes hardness” or that “the soft overcomes the hard.” People often look at this as philosophical mumbo jumbo. I have listened to someone say that if they took their hard finger and poked someone in their soft eye, the finger would win. That statement says a lot. It pokes (pun intended) fun at ancient wisdom and shows that soft things have a weakness that is ready to be exploited by hard things. It also highlights a major misconception which I will expand on later. As a counterpoint, the classic example of water is given: water erodes rock and creates things such as the Grand Canyon. However, this is not practical in a fight. Am I to drool on someone continuously over centuries, patiently awaiting victory? No.

Is it the case that the phrase should not be taken literally? Is soft weak? No, and no. The phrase is very literal, and soft does not mean weak. In martial arts the term hard is used in the common way. It means solid, strong, powerful. Of course, within the broad category of external martial arts there are styles that are considered hard and those that are considered soft. However, the word “soft” as used in external styles does not have the same meaning as “soft” as used in internal styles or T’ai Chi in particular. Even within internal martial arts, there are styles that are seen as hard and those that are seen as soft. However, “hard” as used in internal styles does not have the same meaning as “hard” as used in external styles. I am not going to cover all of those variations. I will stick to the original contrast.

If soft is not weak, then why is it perceived as such? I feel it is the result of two very closely related issues. One is that people have trouble getting away from the preconceived notion of soft and hard as being polar opposites. The other is widespread incorrect practice of soft, internal martial arts.

Hard is simple to do. It is how we would normally react. I tend to use the phrase “conventional strength” when talking about hard strength as used in external martial arts. Kids fighting in the playground or adults fighting in a bar are examples of hard, though not necessarily trained or skilled hard. External martial arts train hard to become harder, stronger, and faster through use of good structure, strength training, more stamina, and efficient strategies. There is much overt and visible strength in these hard styles.

Let us return to soft now. Hard seems clear and much strength is used. If soft is the polar opposite of hard, then much less strength must be used, right? This is where the problem is and can be seen in bad T’ai Chi all over the world. There is a saying about T’ai Chi that goes something like this: “Done right, T’ai Chi is the best martial art. Done wrong, it is the worst.” Best and worst are both extreme, and I am not going to get into that, especially the idea of T’ai Chi being the best. I do not want to start that kind of argument here. However, done poorly, T’ai Chi is a very, very bad martial art. This is because those people want to be soft without really knowing what soft is. They relax because they know they should relax without really knowing what the right kind of relaxation is. They give up using as much conventional strength as they can because they know they are not supposed to be forceful. So, what happens then? The person ends up being relaxed in a way that still has the joints closed even though the joints should be open. Because they lack clarity as to what soft is and they have tried to give up conventional strength, what they end up doing is using tiny bits of conventional strength in order to move around. Being “relaxed” and using tiny bits of conventional strength may seem radically different than methods employed by hard external martial arts, but it is actually the same, still hard, just much, much less hard. This is why bad T’ai Chi is not effective as a martial art. What we end up having is someone being hard and strong against someone being hard (without knowing it) while at the same time being passive and weak (tiny amounts of conventional strength).

This is not what soft is supposed to be in internal martial arts. The soft of internal martial arts is not the polar opposite of the hard of external martial arts. They are not on a continuum. You cannot get to one from the other. They are different things, even though they both use the human body in similar shapes performing similar techniques. When encountering a force from an opponent, if being hard, there are 2 main possibilities: resist or withdraw. For those not trained or skilled, this can be blatant; resisting becomes hard clashes and withdrawing becomes moving out of the way or even running away. For those with training and skills, it becomes more subtle, resisting and withdrawing are done at angles to the force, and timing becomes very important. However, conventional strength is still being used to either do something to the force or to get away from the force, and because conventional strength is still being used, it is hard and external. What, then, is soft?

In T’ai Chi, it is said that one should neither resist nor withdraw. Those 2 options are so typical and ingrained that it is difficult for people to even fathom that there is a 3rd possibility. However, it is this 3rd possibility that is the realm of softness. When teaching beginners, I refer to it as option 3 or door number 3. Furthermore, it is because option 3 is something very different than the other 2 options that I can say that this kind of soft is not on a continuum with that kind of hard. In fact, engaging in resisting or withdrawing keeps option 3 from happening. So, what is option 3?

Option 3 is allowing the force to pass through your body without it adversely affecting your balance or stability. This cannot happen if you withdraw from the force. If you withdraw, then the force does not enter in order to pass through. This also cannot happen if you resist, even if you use just a tiny bit of conventional force as your resistance. If you resist a force, then the force will land on and / or in you depending on various factors. If the force lands on and / or in you, then, once again, it cannot pass cleanly through you. For instance, if someone strongly grabs you and you hold strongly against it (resisting) so as to remain upright and in control of yourself, then the force of the interaction lands in you and will be felt in the areas of tension in your body. Your muscles would be strongly stabilizing your joints so you could try to be stable, and other muscles would be engaged in order to act out against the force. In this kind of situation, the bigger, stronger, faster person wins because the forces involved have less of an effect on their balance and stability, and therefore, ability to generate power, than the smaller, weaker, slower person. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, hard external training aims at making you stronger and faster, but also teaches strategy involving angles and timing in order to minimize the effect of the strength of the opponent on your stability and balance. However, by neither withdrawing nor resisting (option 3), you allow the force to enter your body and pass cleanly through it without it affecting your stability and balance, thereby preserving your power base and upsetting the power base of your opponent. The opponent’s power base gets upset because in most cases (depending on specifics regarding intention and technique of the soft internal practitioner), the power is returned to the opponent using various methods (depending on the style and branch of soft internal martial art). The harder they are and the more direct force they use, the more force that gets returned to them. It is as if they are fighting themselves. Furthermore, it confuses them to some degree because they are not getting the tactile feedback that they are used to getting.

All throughout life, the norm is using conventional force and either withdrawing from or resisting against forces that your encounter. Your body and mind are conditioned to what that all feels like. It becomes your sense of physical reality. If you are being hard and strong and your opponent is doing option 3, that will feel very different from what you are used to feeling. It is that odd feeling that is labeled as “soft.” That is the meaning of soft, and it is not weak. In fact, ideally it is as strong as whatever force is being manipulated.

So far, I have only touched on using the opponent’s force, but there are various ways of creating a force from the core of your body near your center of gravity (different styles and branches of internal martial arts may use different methods) that do not require you to brace hard and strongly against the ground in order to impact your opponent. When that force you create is “released” it passes cleanly through through your body in the same way that your opponent’s force passes cleanly through your body. This force is in addition to any force that your opponent is unwittingly supplying to the equation. Again, because this released force does not have a background of resisting or withdrawing to it, the way it feels to an opponent does not coincide with his normal sense of feel in a physical contest. It has that same odd feeling that is labeled as “soft.”

Other than feeling odd, what else is soft? The main characteristic seems to be that it is difficult to detect where the force is coming from. The “softer” the practitioner is, meaning the more cleanly the forces can pass through them, the more difficult it is to detect where the force is coming from when they apply it to you. Because your normal sense of physical interactions involve you either resisting or withdrawing from a force, when you encounter a force but cannot feel where the force is coming from, you cannot resist it because you cannot properly align against it. Also, depending on how well the internal martial artist can stick to and follow you, it can be also become very difficult to withdraw from them.

How does one become soft, allowing forces to pass through? That is a different discussion for a different time. However, I hope that I have given you a sense of what soft is and why it feels odd. Furthermore, I hope you now understand that this soft is not the polar opposite of and on a continuum with hard and so should not be considered as weak. It is the internal practitioners who do not enter door number 3 or who do enter but never get sufficiently skilled at it (the overwhelming majority of people who practice internal martial arts) who end up still using tiny bits of conventional strength and evasively withdraw from forces that have allowed the perpetuation of the misconception that soft is weak. Me? I keep working on becoming a clear conduit for forces, stripping away the errors little by little.

Trailer for Joint Opening and Loosening DVD

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Below is the trailer for my DVD on Joint Opening and Loosening Exercises. The release date for the DVD is set for June 1, 2014.

There is also a dedicated Facebook page for the DVD.

Total running time of the DVD is 1 hr 57 min.

The price is $20 plus S&H. It can also be purchased directly at my business location in Delaware.

For ordering information, email me at info@firstchoice-acupuncture.com or call me at 302-792-2831.

Please subscribe to my YouTube channel if you have not done so yet so that you never miss a new video of mine.

 

The Hips and Stretching – 4 Weeks Progress

I have started stretching again recently. I am pleased so far with the results, but I will get to that a little later. Be sure to watch the video at the end. In the past, while doing external martial arts, I was very flexible and strong with my own body. After switching my focus to internal martial arts, I realized that my flexibility and strength were no match for the type of relaxed looseness that my teacher had. During that time period, I never did catch on to how my teacher was able to do those stretches the way that he did, and it took all I had just to try to keep up with him, a pale external imitation. In 2000, going back to school had me change priorities, and stretching took a back seat.

Though I continued to practice t’ai chi and qigong since then and did joint opening and loosening exercises the whole time, because I was not actually stretching, I lost quite a bit of range, especially in stretches that involved my hamstrings. I could no longer do the splits or bend straight down with my body flat to my legs, just to name a few.

About three years ago, I decided to start stretching again. I used the exercises / stretches that I learned from my teacher. I also added a few that I used to do back in my external martial arts days. It was rough going. I was worse off than I thought. I did try a different approach, though, based on my new understandings.

I knew I had to loosen and relax rather than to stabilize and stretch. Stabilizing part of the body and literally stretching another part of the body away from that was how I had always stretched. It seemed to fit in well with my former external martial arts paradigm. However, that method was no longer appropriate for my body, and I needed to find another way.

I had done a lot of work on loosening, relaxing, and extending my spine in my t’ai chi and qigong practice, so I made sure I was doing that while doing the stretch routine. That did help some, and I was able to increase my range, but I was still nowhere close to my former flexibility. Furthermore, my hamstrings never, ever stopped feeling tight. On top of that, the stretching left my hamstrings painful, and I mean painful every day. I was stretching every day for the first few months, then I switched it to every other day. After a while, I tried two times a week. Still, my hamstrings were not recovering between workouts. I finally gave up.

It had been over two years since then with no stretching and losing flexibility and range. For some reason, I decided to undergo the process once again, hoping for better results this time, and better results I got.

About four weeks ago, I decided to start stretching again. I basically went into it with the same mindset of needing to loosen and relax rather than stabilize and stretch. I also decided to do this two to three times maximum per week. The first week was horrible. It was just like my attempts a few years ago, except I had even less range, and my hamstrings hurt even more.

I was discouraged, but I did not give up. On week two, I decided to really slow down the process and listen to my body. I needed to figure out what was going on that was keeping me from getting into these stretches.

I realized that my hips were playing a huge role in my lack of progress. Because I felt relaxed, I assumed that my hips were relaxed when I was trying to bend at the hips. On the contrary, there was a bit of stabilizing going on in my hips that I did not notice until I really paid attention. This kind of stabilizing caused me to fight against myself which amplified the hamstring issue. My remedy was to specifically release the hips while loosening and relaxing into the stretches. This made a notable difference. I instantly gained more range with much, much less hamstring discomfort during the stretches, and I had very little to no lingering hamstring pain between stretch workouts.

I do have to be mindful that releasing the hips once is not going to do it. I have to keep releasing the entire time during a stretch. I have also noticed that even while releasing the hips, my hamstrings can still be problematic at times. When they tighten up and inhibit my movement like that, it means I am fighting myself somehow, and because I am already releasing my hips, it must be somewhere else. What I discovered is that if I place my attention on the front of my thighs while releasing the hips, I can get into the difficult stretches more easily. Very simply put, the muscles on the front of the thighs oppose the muscles on the back of the thighs. So, while releasing the hips, if I also release the front of the thighs, my tight hamstrings behave better.

This is week four now, and I can fairly comfortably get into the splits which I have not been able to do in well over ten years. I filmed myself last night and have included the video below. In watching the video, I can see that I need to do more work on loosening and releasing the low back, but at least now I look forward to stretching, and I am not in constant pain because of the stretching. In just four weeks, I have made a lot of progress stretching only two to three times per week for about 15 minutes per session. I think I am finally on the right path with this.

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My Recent Radio Interview

WDDE me needlingI was recently interviewed by WDDE 91.1 FM, Delaware’s Source for NPR news. The story, which I have as an mp3 file, appeared on air on April 18, 2014 . The article which I have as a PDF file, appeared on the website. Yes, those are my hands in the photo. All three can be accessed below.

Overall, I think it was a positive treatment. I was asked far more than what ended up in the pieces. I understand that the depth that I provided may not have been appropriate for that venue. I am fine with that. However, I do have one complaint. The article attributes the word “energy” to me. I do not use the word “energy” as a substitute for the word qi, and I did not state that “it is more about energy than it is about physicality.”

It has been a few weeks since the broadcast, and so far no one has contacted me as a result of the radio broadcast or website article. Luckily, I had no expectations. I think it is good, however, that these kinds of broadcasts and articles are becoming more frequent and more popular. It does good for the profession as a whole. We need that kind of general marketing.

Click the link to read the Published Article. The article’s links to the audio and video segments no longer work, but I have them both below.

Here is a recording of the Radio Broadcast.  Click the play button to start.

Here is a copy of the video.  Click the play button to start.

My T’ai Chi Lesson on March 30, 2014

rootengineballoon

I had a lesson with my T’ai Chi teacher on Sunday, March 30, 2014. It was raining and my training partner was the one driving. He made a wrong turn, and we ended up being 30 minutes late. Chung-jen was kind enough not to count that against us, so we still had a full two hours for our lesson.

For about the first 40 minutes of the lesson, we did jibengong (basic exercises). In the past six months, I have been working more on specific skills and less on my physical conditioning. As a result, my legs gave out from exhaustion several times. This has only happened to me a few times before. I usually get to the brink of that each time, but I manage to hang on. This time, I could not. Though these are called basic exercises, they are grueling. Always, within about 10 minutes, I break out in a light, full body sweat, and I do not sweat easily. This time, Chung-jen added something new, something to help loosen the shins and ankles. It is a great exercise, but is extremely difficult for me. I will only be able to practice that with the help of someone else, though Chung-jen does it fine by himself. I also sought clarity on one of the exercises, and Chung-jen offered corrections on a few others. When we were done with the jibengong, my heart was pounding, my breathing was noticeable, my body was sweaty, my thighs felt thick and heavy, but I was ready for the rest of the lesson.

In general, there are 3 main things regarding trying to improve skill that are at the heart of every lesson I have with Chung-jen: 1) more emptiness; 2) better structure; and 3) less doing. Each of those topics are rather deep and are outside the scope of this article, so I will not be touching on those here. I only mention the list because this lesson was no different in that regard. However, the context in which those ideas are presented have varied among the lessons.

I mentioned in a recent article that I both wanted to and needed to get back to basics and work on my foundation. After all, the better one’s foundation, the easier it is to do things that depend on that foundation. One can know how to do high level things, but without an equally high level of foundation, the success rate of one’s techniques will be less than desired, particularly when one has an opponent or training partner that is not being direct with his power or purposely feeding his center.

The first thing I requested that we work on was root. I am still a bit baffled by Chung-jen’s root. I understand, at least on some level, how to root, and in training situations and with people of lesser skill, I appear to have root. However, when Chung-jen softly pushes on me, my root is not there, and my body cannot help but to resist. My mind does not appear to be pushing back, and I know that I neither want to nor intend to be pushing back, but I can clearly feel my legs and / or other parts of my body engaged in resistance, pushing back into him. He tells me that I am pushing back. I almost laughingly say that it is not me pushing back, it is my body doing it; I do not want to do it, but it is doing it anyway.

When I asked about root, he said, “Oh, that’s easy. Just drop off.” The “drop off” is an exercise that he gave us to do several years ago. Practicing that and getting some skill with that is responsible for quite a bit of the T’ai Chi martial application skill that I have. However, over time, because of using it in application, I got away from the original intent of the exercise and came to depend on at least a small amount of movement in order to start the process of the application. It is that small amount of movement that has been causing a reaction in my training partner or practice opponents, which I was then able to borrow and use to complete the application. It is that small amount of movement that someone song (relaxed) such as my teacher interprets as me pushing or moving. I now have a better sense of just how still I must be in order to actually be still. No external or visible movements means just that, not a tiny movement that people miss because of the larger movement that follows. So, I was using the drop off to move people instead of using the drop off to increase my root and level of song (relaxation). In those cases, my drop off, and therefore my root, only had to be good enough to be better than my opponent’s errors when engaged in a drill. Through my seeking clarity, Chung-jen mentioned that dropping off is the same as releasing or song(ing), and that it should be happening during both the “roll up” and the release. “Roll up” is what we call it when the intention of tailbone is causing the lower abdomen to sort of roll up on the inside. Release is when we let that go. However, in letting that go, things should still remain “rolled up.” All the while, dropping off is happening. It is a very subtle process and if one involves one’s conscious mind to keep track and check up on any one aspect, the whole thing gets messed up. As usual, Chung-jen said that to work on this skill, just practice the sequence; it is all in the sequence. Yes, it is all in the sequence if I do it the way he taught me. So, I must not forget that dropping off is root. When he demonstrated on me, Chung-jen was perfectly still, touching me, but not pushing into me at all, and off I went, simply from him dropping off. I have been aware of this phenomenon for some time, but in my haste, I started to jump ahead before fully developing it, depending upon other skills to make up for my lack of root.

Because the topic came up, I also wanted more clarity on this dropping off / releasing. I asked if dropping off / releasing was always done the same, regardless of where I was being touched or what I was trying to do, or if I change it based on those parameters. Chung-jen stated that I should always do it the same way. I had suspected that, based on my previous experience, but I just wanted to make sure. I started to get a sense for it again, and Chung-jen warned that I not wait too long before returning for another lesson, or I would lose the sense again and go off in another direction again: off by an inch, miss by a mile. I will state at this point that the roll up and release while dropping off is the specific “internal engine” used in the type of T’ai Chi on which I am working. There are other internal engines out there, and jin manipulations can be done without a specific type of engine; one need only have open and loose joints and a certain degree of song.

The rooting topic led nicely into and was intertwined with the roll up and release topic, two of the three topics I wanted to cover. I then brought up the third topic, how to move my arms around. He laughed and said that I have been all along, but that I just needed to get better at it. I told him that I did not want to keep practicing incorrectly, so he got serious again and went on to explain. Up until this point, I have been moving my arms in a way that allowed freedom of movement and conduction of forces. Basically, I have been keeping my joints open and loose and releasing tensions in my torso that would otherwise form due to changes in limb positions. It feels like they float around where I want them to be based on what I think in regards to where they should be. You could say that I was hua (neutralizing) my own limbs and their movements. If someone put hard force on one of my limbs, I just did the same thing. It was no different than if my limb weighed more; I treated it the same. The connections from the limbs to the rest of body were from the sinking and hua. From an application point of view, this method seems to work well until I practice with someone who has better internal skill. Then, they perceive it as me using force, the wrong kind of force. My teacher uses the word fake: “Your movement is fake;” or “Your touch is fake.” Basically, I was not completely whole, somewhat disconnected.

So, how I am supposed to be moving my limbs? Well, it is tied directly into the internal engine that I mentioned above. Chung-jen used the word balloon quite a bit during the explaining. He has mentioned to me before about the head being like a balloon, but this was more inclusive. Although I am not sure they are the same thing, it brought to mind something that I have read on various internal arts forums that Mike Sigman writes about: the balloon man. Admittedly, I have not read his more in-depth expositions on the balloon man found in his blog. I will, however, be reading that soon. Although the internal engine behind his balloon man is a little different than the internal engine that I am working on, I think the balloon man aspect is probably very similar to the balloon that Chung-jen mentioned. Mike provides solid information in a very readable way, so I look forward to it, and I recommend his blog to you as well.

Let me get back to my lesson with Chung-jen now. He stated that the roll up from the tailbone, which connects huiyin (Ren-1 acupuncture point at the perineum) to baihui (Du-20 acupuncture point at the crown of the head), starts the “inflation” process of the balloon. At this point let me say that I have no doubt about this connection from huiyin to baihui. When I roll up, especially with an inhale, I can feel a sensation at huiyin that almost simultaneously “hits” the top of my head. Chung-jen instructed that as the balloon inflates, my yi (mind intent) should connect that to my fingertips (in the case of moving my arms). This will raise them and my arms to where I intend. During the lesson, I was able to do this, and I must say, it felt very different than what I was used to doing. It felt even more like I was doing less. I was psyched from that new experience. I was even able to do it against his pressure on my arms. This got me thinking.

I know in T’ai Chi, we are supposed to hua (neutralize) our opponents. Because they are alive and have nervous systems, they can be manipulated in ways that inanimate objects (such as a heavy box) cannot. Would the balloon hold up against inanimate objects? I asked if the balloon could be trained to become a very strong balloon so that you could lift or move objects with it, and he said yes. I also asked if that strong balloon could then be used to move a person as if they were an inanimate object, just moving their mass away from you with raw balloon power, and he said yes. Of course, that is not how he approaches things, and that is not how he teaches me. Remember those 3 things I mentioned above: 1) more emptiness; 2) better structure; and 3) less doing. Emptiness and hua should be the focus.

Still, I am going to isolate this balloon thing so I can get used to moving my limbs that way. After I get comfortable with that, I will add inanimate resistance to the training in order to develop a stronger balloon. I will still be working on emptiness and hua, trying to be as soft and subtle as possible, but it is good to have a backup plan.

I did ask another question about the balloon feeling just for clarification, and I think it is important to mention here. I told him that when I am practicing and I inhale, I can feel a sensation in my limbs as if they are being filled, and that when I exhale, that sensation dissipates. I asked if this was related to the balloon thing. He said, “No. That is just your feeling of things.” I knew just what he had meant by that because he had told me that before in other situations. He was letting me know that what I was feeling was just my mind’s interpretation of the qi sensation in my body that I have linked with my breathing. Qi in this sense has to do with the kind of qi used in healing or the channel qi in acupuncture. That is different than the martial qi talked about in T’ai Chi.

Time was up for the 2 hour lesson. I wish we would have done more. As is usual for us, we three continued with discussion over lunch at a Chinese buffet. I overate, partially because I like the food so much, and it is “all you can eat,” and partially because Chung-jen is able to eat so much and he jokingly remarks, wondering why we cannot eat that much. After lunch, we hugged and said our goodbyes. Chung-jen told us to not wait too long for our next lesson because he did not want us to lose the sense of correctness that we obtained during that lesson. I understand and agree. I would see him weekly if I could. I think I will try to see him again in the first week of May.

Overall, I am pleased with the lesson I had. As usual, I left there feeling like a dummy, knowing how little I knew (in my body) and how much I needed to work. I do remind myself, though, that it is relative. I am certainly not a beginner, but I am far from Chung-jen’s level. I gained some good clarification on rooting and the internal engine that we use. I will work a lot on this, however, I know I will encounter problems. When I isolate an internal mechanism like that, I tend to lose sight of all of the other things that my body is supposed to be doing correctly in order for the engine to be able to be expressed. If the engine is working but there are tensions in the body and forces are not conducting well, then the effects of the engine do not come through. Likewise, if I am just open and loose like I used to be, conducting forces, but with no real engine, I will be lacking and not doing what I am supposed to be doing. I have to combine those, and it is going to take some time. Those things are not new to me, but my understanding is a little different. Each lesson, things make just a little bit more sense to me. I also must work on awareness of the balloon phenomenon in regards to moving my limbs, and I must work that and the engine into the T’ai Chi form sequence so that I have a vehicle for regular solo practice. As usual, I will continue with my training partner so that we may test one another and provide increasingly difficult challenges.