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Exploring Taiji by Torben Bremann - 8M ago

It is been a while since I wrote my latest post. I have spent my time concentrating on my own practice – and my students. During the last year I have had more and more students coming from outside Denmark to visit for a couple of days or more, to learn. Most of them are already signed up on exploring taiji – which speeds up the learning process quite a bit. Some of them are long time taiji practitioners, some of them just started out recently. Others again are from other martial arts lineages but have a wish to start learning or understanding the internal principles. Everything is fine – everyone is welcome, as long as the focus are on learning.

As you might have experienced in my online teaching program, I start out with focusing on letting go and building a strong connection to the ground – physically as well as mentally. Later I incorporate this strong connection and focus more on lightness and the horizontal approach. As for the learning approach, it is actually the other way around – starting out with a more “horizontal” approach – and with more experience going more “vertical” – digging deeper.

In this blogpost I will write a bit about the learning process, a bit about honesty and authenticity, a few more hints to standing meditation, and I will include a bit about my very recent meeting with a teacher from Taipei. I will finish off with a bit about the possibility to book Skype meetings or email consultation and info about next year´s Summercamp as well as the likelihood that I will do workshops in Germany and England next year.

The horizontal and vertical circle in relation to learning
With exploring taiji you start out by being presented to the vertical circle (and I use the system of Master Huang Xiangxian to that) to create a good and solid connection to the ground.

In relation to your development, the horizontal circle describes the phase where there is an interest in learning as many Forms and drills as possible. The vertical circle describes the point where you dig deeper into what you have already learned, experiment, analyze and try to develop even further. It is a challenging phase, since you really have to be focused when you practice – or as Sam Tam puts it, “Don´t repeat – redo! Way too many people still believe that it is the amount of time, the repetitions that you do – which makes the difference. It is not.

Yes, when you learn some new movements you have to get the skeleton, the framework first, but after that, it is what is going on inside your body and mind that is important. Total awareness is the key.

When did you last time do let´s say a whole Taijiform with full awareness without any disturbing thoughts?  Try it out next time you practice, and I am sure you will get surprised. Both Master Huang and Master Sam Tam have said, once you know the Form, the first section is enough. And both of them have added that actually half of the first section is enough. It is not the number of Forms you do or the repetitions of it – it´s what´s going on inside and in your mind. You want the Form to come alive and you want to become capable of applying the movements in the Form – otherwise it is just choreography. Which is fine if that’s what you aim for. If you aim for doing Taiji then it´s not enough.

Just like with the standing meditation – the Forms are there to serve YOU – not the other way around.

Honesty and authenticity
I know some of you know that quite a few “well known teachers” come and learn from me “secretly” and/or use me as a stepping stone to get the chance to learn from Sam Tam directly. That´s fine with me. I knew it even before I met them from their mails or phone calls. It is very often the same individuals that later post on social medias or when they give talks while running seminars, things I told them. Like one of the sentences that I have said again and again: “Don´t take something that you don´t understand and bring it down to your current level of understanding. It is the surest way NOT to learn something new. Accept you don´t understand it for now. It is ok to feel a bit insecure. Open up for the learning process. Learning is accepting”. Take a look at the social media – you know who I mean.

Or – they tell stories like my personal experiences with Sam Tam when I first met him, and he gave clear and convincing demonstrations in his home, where we both did standing meditation on his thick carpet and him basically not leaving footprints where mine was deep – and he did the same demonstration the day after on the beach, leaving close to no footprints in the sand.

It is my stories – my experiences – but I told them openly to others, who later made them to theirs … It´s ok – it is just human nature for some. Or stories from my many trips to Taiwan, learning from different teachers there, once again taking ownership on my personal experiences.

Does it really matter? No. I am not here to break anybody´s ricebowl. I am happy they somehow got something out of the stories.

What does concern me though is – that I really want to help people develop in Taiji. Therefore I teach completely open. To get the most out of my teaching, you have to let go of your own assumptions and leave the ego in the garage, or even better – throw it out.

When students come, I allow everybody to “touch” me. When I do partnerwork with people, I only do myself what I am teaching them. I don´t teach them one thing – and do something else I didn´t teach them yet, just to show them “how good” I am. I know my level, I have no need to prove myself. When I teach I want to transmit – and I also put myself in vulnerable situations while doing so. I want the STUDENT to succeed. When I practice myself it´s another focus. But when I teach – I teach. There are no in betweens.

A student who came recently for some days to study, told me, how in his former system that whenever he asked a question the answer would be: “You must follow the authentic method”.

What a stupid answer! How will that help the student progress? And since nothing was added in that kind of answer – what is the authentic method? Anyway – be open and receptive when you learn. Don´t compare to something that you already “know” in the learning process. If you do so – then you are not learning. You can analyze and compare way later!

Respect the teaching and the teacher. And even more important – as a teacher, respect the student! Be honest, teach openly and help the student to develop.

This is one of many reasons I created Exploring Taiji. I don´t see myself as anything special or that I am the only one who has something to offer, or are the “special” student of my teachers, or that I am the beholder of the Holy Grail, etc. I am a teacher – that´s it. And I do my best when I teach. And I have some experience and have had quite a few detours in my own learning process, which is why I have created Exploring Taiji the way I have. To help you develop the fastest and most direct route according to my understanding by now.

Standing Meditation:
No matter where you are in the program, you have been introduced to standing meditation. If you are in the beginning of the program the focus is more on the vertical circle – being connected to the ground, working with melting sensations, become aware of deeper layers of tensions and dissolving them, the three levels in the body – base (up to the hip joint and pelvis, the body (torso), and shoulder girdle including the arms, hands and fingers. Being capable of separating the three levels in let´s say the flying exercise and/or up and down movement and integrating the whole body in movement (the Form) and maybe even experiences of just how fluid your body is. That muscles work in chains once you start moving and maybe even a feeling of the small stretches that takes place in different parts of the body – both when you move, but also when you practice your standing if the visualization of melting has taken place.

We start out with switching off the superficial part of the mind and have a greater awareness of ourselves and our bodies. We learn to “separate the flesh from the bones” – just like if you pulled up an overcooked chicken from a pot and all the meat was still in the pot while you only had the skeleton in your hands.

All these things and more are important phases you have to go through to reach the next stages in your practice. How long they take – is up to you, literally. It depends on your body awareness, your tensions, your posture (which is why I address working on getting a more beneficial posture right from the beginning in the program), your mental state, your breathing, how you live your daily life to mention a few. For some it takes some months with daily focus and practice – for other´s years. But don´t worry, you are a work in progress no matter how long it takes.

Later in the program we start to focus on the horizontal circle – both in the Form and in the standing, becoming full, expand, a balloon feeling, becoming even, light, etc. But I will inject a little warning here: If you don´t go through all the previous phases first, then you will most likely end up building tension upon tension. I suggest that you now and then re-read the blogpost about standing meditation. Like I have said and written many times before – there is a reason I have build the program the way I have. Here we could talk about the importance of “following the method” – maybe even “authentic” – at least my authentic teaching method. Think about the following sentence one more time:

“The standing is there to serve you – you are not here to serve the standing”

Just like we shouldn´t repeat but redo instead, how about you re-think and re-experience your approach to the way you do your Standing Meditation. Are you really letting go? Are you really connected? Do you experience your Standing as effortless?

Maybe you remember that I once wrote that when I first started learning from Sam Tam, I began too fast to quote his quotations without really having the essence of them under my skin yet. The above one was one of them. I loved to tell others that they should aim for the essence of that quote, where I was doing the exact opposite myself: If I was told that I should stand for let´s say 20 min, I went for 40. If I was told it was ok now and then to go a bit lower in my positions – I did it every day. I was greedy, and I was stubborn, and in some way also both ignorant and arrogant (“I know best” kind of guy). I will tell you a little story:

Some years ago when I once again was in Sam Tam´s house for a period of private tuition, I asked him one morning if he could check on my standing. He agreed. So during the morning session I put myself in a standing position, while Sam Tam was reading something on his computer with his back to me. A couple of days before, I had asked him my usual question – how long should I stand during a day. He had answered me the same way he had at that point done for some years, “don´t stand more than 20 minutes at a time, but if you have room for it in your daily life, you can do it 2-3 times a day”.

After I had standed for about 15 minutes, I started to get a bit annoyed that he didn´t get up and correct me. Not an unusual situation though. Many times over the years when he taught me some new things – for instance the stickform or the swordform, he would only show me the movements twice, and often with his back to me, and then tell me to “do it”. In the beginning I said, “do what”, since it didn´t make sense to me that he didn´t do the movements more times, slowly, explaining, maybe do it together with me, etc.

His answer to this was: “I am not here to spoonfeed you. You learn movements fairly fast and your intelligence is above average, so you have to work harder. On top of that he could go on for half an hour telling me how our western teaching style was hopeless (where I would have preferred that he spent the time doing the movements with me instead). That we expected to be taught from A-B-C, etc., where he was showing the full picture and thereby teaching more holistic. And if he spoonfed me I wouldn´t be capable of remembering the movements once I was back in DK.

As you can see, it wasn´t new for me being taught more traditional. Anyway – back to the standing. When half an hour had passed I changed from being annoyed to thinking and decide, that no matter what happened, I would stand there until he corrected me. One hour went. 1 hour and 15 minutes went. At 1 hour and 18 minutes he got up from his chair, went to me, pulled down my arms and threw me against his mattress on the wall a couple of times and said: “Let´s go for lunch”.

Late in the evening that day where we normally sit down and talk in between he is throwing me toward his mattress, he all of sudden said to me: “ I had the feeling that you somehow felt a little uncomfortable earlier this morning while you were doing your standing”. I said to him that I didn´t understand why he so often had said to me that I shouldn´t stand for more than 20 minutes at a time, and he had let me stand there for 1 hour and 18 minutes without correcting me. His answer was: “It´s because you are stupid and stubborn. How many times did I tell you not to stand for more than 20 minutes? And how many times did I tell you your standing was ok?

Well a bit of a different teaching style than the western, but I got the point.

So I want you to ask yourself the question once more: Are your standing serving you, or have you become a slave of it, rigid in your approach? Think about it! During the exploring taiji programme I re-visit standing meditation many times. Bringing in new perspectives, new approaches, new things to explore.

Nowadays when I stand I have more “focus” on setting the body and mind free, opening up, expanding to the surroundings, having left the introvert stage of mind and becoming more and more aware of what surrounds me, being “out of my mind” so to speak and more. And that leads me to the last piece of this post, where I will tell you a little bit about my “accidentally” meeting with a teacher from Taipei who visited Denmark recently.

 “Accidentally” meeting a teacher from Taiwan:
As you know I have been traveling to Taiwan many times to train with different teachers there. Both in the system of Master Huang, but also in other systems as well as previously a bit in Baqua. Last time I was in Taiwan was April this year. Once back in Denmark teaching again, one of the new private students was an Aikido guy who was referred to me – by a teacher in Taiwan. Off course I thought that it was one of the teachers from Taiwan that I already knew. It wasn´t.

The person in Taiwan had read an article written by me about grounding, and had said to the Danish guy, it was the best he had read in English on the topic.

I didn´t know the Taiwanese guy but my curiosity was turned on. To make a long story short, the Danish guy was to conduct a workshop with the Taiwanese guy in DK this September and I decided to participate two of the four days the workshop took place (I had students myself coming over from England the first two days and therefore I couldn´t participate there).

The two days I did participate, we were only 4 people the first day, and 3 people the next day, so I had a lot of hours with “hands on” experience. The guy was – and is – skillful. Really skillful! Due to problems with his visa he ended up being stranded in DK for another week, and I ended up training with him for the whole period and arranged a 4-hour mini workshop for some of my senior students. It turned out that the Taiwanese guy knows my teachers in Taiwan and that his own life story in martial arts in many ways are quite similar to Sam Tam´s. He has been raised in a martial arts family and trained since the age of 4, and a lot of the “big” Sifu´s (many of them have passed away by now), used to come in his father´s  house and train or exchange ideas. After having spent many decades training martial arts – being a feared and respected martial artist, he decided that it wasn´t really what life was about, being feared and/or beating people up. He therefore decided to train one more year, and if he didn´t find a GOOD reason to continue – he would quit. (Quite similar to what Sam Tam did, when he withdrew from public and decided to find a new path to follow, which was when his tremendous yielding capacity developed).

The Taiwanese guy DID find a reason and a new path to travel down and changed his whole approach and teaching. And his skill took a giant leap. His yielding is very, very good! He has a lot of power, and his qinna´s are soft, irresistible and convincing. Just like it is the case with Sam Tam, he also is in a league of his own. He uses different words and explanations in his teaching method than Sam Tam does, which in a way is fine, because it supplements very well and give a different perspective – to the same. He does also include eastern philosophy in his teaching (he is a very intelligent guy and well read), which my students liked.

It is strange that I have gone to Taiwan for so many times, have had the great fortune to learn from some highly skillful teachers there which I am grateful of, and at the same time never ran into this guy. And the other way around, that he reads an article from me and recommend a Danish student of him to go see me. And then by “accident”, he ends up being stranded in DK for a period, which creates the possibility for him and I to meet – and connect. You know the different saying like “when the student is ready the teacher come along”, and there are also a few ones the other way around. I feel quite sure that this is the beginning to a longer relationship. And his teaching and approach go so well hand in hand with Sam Tam´s teaching and some of the teaching I have received from other teachers. He will be visiting DK again February/March 2019. But first I am going to Sam Tam once again in a bit more than a month.

Interview:
As some of you know I gave a more than two-hour interview on Taiji and Internal Martial arts some months ago. I first released the interview in minor blocks, focusing on specific topic in each block, and now the full interview is released. When we did the interview´s I wanted it to be so “authentic” as possible, so I didn´t know the questions beforehand, and we did it all in one take. That´s the way I like it, and that is also the way I filmed the different lessons on Exploring Taiji. I got a lot of nice feedback on the interviews – and that I am thankful of. It always makes me happy when somebody finds a little value in what I do.

You can watch the full interview here.

Interview FULL - YouTube

Skype meetings and mail correspondance:
As more and more people have signed up for Exploring Taiji, of course questions arise as people progress. Some people have written me a few questions – some a lot. I love to be at service in any way I can, but it is also quite time consuming for me. And my working days very often get very long, since I also have to make a living besides free email support. I thought for a while how to adjust to that since it is still my main concern to teach open and affordable. I came to the conclusion that offering the option to either book an email consultation or Skype meeting (more people already do that), is a fair way to do it for all. It is still ok to write me a minor question now and then, but if you have more on your heart, please choose one of the other options. It is quite affordable for people who have signed up to Exploring Taiji.

Summer Camp:
The last 3 years I ran my very intensive Summer Camp here in DK  in my house and garden. It was my intention to do it in Greece in 2019, but I will do it once again in DK. It is a very intensive course, with 8 hours teaching (from me) for 8 days. Just like the other years, it will be possible to sign up for the full camp, only the weekend(s), only one, two or three days. It will probably be in the beginning of July like the former years – but it might also be that I change it to August due to traveling plans.
I will release the dates around Christmas time and will at the same time open the doors for early bird registration.

Workshops abroad and private Tuition in DK:
2019 will also be the year where I start doing workshops again outside DK. I have talked to interested people in Germany, Holland and England, but haven´t decided yet. If you think it could be something for you to organize – please feel free to contact me.

In 2018 I have had students coming to Denmark for 2 – 4 days for private tuition. Either one person only, or 2 or 3 people together. I will keep on doing that and you are more than welcome to ask me when it is possible to book sessions. And for the people who are already signed up on Exploring Taiji, I do it cheaper. It speeds up the learning process which is beneficial for everybody.

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For about the last month I have had the privilege of living and practicing taiji with grandmaster Sam Tam. This was my third stay with Sam and the longest so far (I have written a bit about my previous experiences on this blog). I have largely only been out of the house to eat or to take short walks in the local area, as my days has looked something like this:

7.30: Get up
8.00: Practice
9.00: Breakfast
10.00: Practice
13.00: Lunch
14.00: Break
16.00: Practice
19.00: Dinner
20.00: Break
21.00: Practice
22.30: Go to bed

It has been quite amazing to have so much time to dedicate myself to the practice, but it has also shown me with great clarity that a lot of practice is needed. Sam has pointed out many things that I can improve and I have had the pleasure of touching hands with quite a few other students, which has every time led to some new discovery – for example that I am not turning enough from the center when rolling back or that I am really fooling myself when I think that I can yield to strong physical force.

This blogpost of course only reflects my current level of understanding and should not be seen as any kind of “truth” about what taiji is or how to practice it. It is simply my best attempt at communicating my understanding of the art, as I am seeing it right now, based on what Sam has tought me over the last month.

My experience of Sam

Sam is a friendly and nice teacher, but you feel that there is deadly power behind the soft surface. When he goes from “teaching mode” (where he obviously slows down so I understand what is going on) to showing a little bit of his fighting skill it feels quite overwhelming (terrifying even), even though he has never actually hurts me.

Very casual right?

Sam yields effortlessly and without any tension, and that means that he can return the force to me at will. When he stops guiding my movements to help me out and shows a little bit of his fighting skill instead it feels like i am only “in the fight” for a brief moment after which I am in full retreat and bodily panic – I imagine this is what it feels like to be mauled by a tiger.

Respond. Technique is subordinate to the principles.

Sams system is a combination of taiji and yi chuan. When touching him he can feel very dense or very light depending on what he wants to show. Sam can convincingly demonstrate many different aspects of yielding, from something that feels very firm (his arms become hard as steel and completely impossible to move) while still being “suspended in the air” and without direction, to being so soft that I am barely able to touch his skin. Furthermore he is in complete control as soon as we touch and obviously knows more about what is going on in my body (and mind?) than I do.

When doing pushhands with Sam a very common experience is that he “fills up the space” and limits my freedom of movement when I don’t am collapsing or using force. It feels like being “herded” into a limited movement space. This usually ends with me standing in an unbalanced position or going into some sort of lock.

When they come forward, you yield. When they go back, you follow.

Sams can also demonstrate issuing at many different levels. Simply shifting the weight with a solid frame, sinking the chi into me (feels like being pinned down in my own center), softly bouncing (which feels like being sucked in and thrown like a ball) and more Yi Chuan based bouncing (which feels like having your insides punched) are some examples. All involve some degree of yielding, sticking, frame and shifting, but the levels are different.

One thing that is imporant to note is that his power doesnt come from the feet. Sam can convincingly demonstrate issuing while sitting down with his feet of the floor. It i all about expansion from the center. I still don’t feel that I fully understand how “chi” works, but what I can say with great clarity is that it works for Sam and that he can convincingly demonstrate the “sinking of the chi”.

Sam doesn’t “do” taiji, he embodies it. He moves effortlessly in the spectrum between soft/firm and fighting/teaching and inspires a holistic understanding of the art.


 

Standing meditation

I have focused a lot on standing meditation during my stay. According to Sam, the standing meditation is what makes it possible to work with the chi and he attributes his own power to working with the standing. The analogy is that the standing is like putting money in the bank, so you have something to use of when you are fighting.

One of the first things Sam pointed out how I was not connected in my upper body – something I have worked a lot on during my stay. Sam has helped me correct my rather crooked standing meditation, where I had gotten used to standing with my left hand around 5-10cm closer to my body than the right hand. This has led to a lot of interesting experiences with tensions and pains at different spots in my back, but also to a sensation of being able to sink more inside the chest. This feels like an important start of a longer process as I still feel quite tense around the ribs. Sam says that my chi is stuck in the ribs and around the solar plexus.

Sam emphasizes that the standing meditation is meant to be a tool for developing and cultivating chi, lightness and expansion – and for distributing chi evenly in the whole body. This also implies that you should not sink physically when in the standing meditation, but focus on sinking on the inside –  to the dantien (the center). A good focus for me has been to imagine “shrinking” and chi going to the dantien on inhalation and expanding chi to the whole body (“to the fingertips”) on exhalation.


 

Form

I will give you a pass for the mechanical part, but you need to bring in more of the chi.

We started off from this statement. The outer physical movements in my form was ok, but it was (and largely is) lacking that which makes it useful for martial art. Of course there were lots and lots of details to correct that I won’t go into here and Sam has shown me many applications for the movements that, although I can’t remember most of them and wouldn’t be able to perform them anyway, is helping me to understand important details of the individual movements. At some point Sam mentioned about “waiting for the chi” rather than moving with external force. For me this implies a sense of feeling into waves of softness in my body that seem to make my movements feel lighter when I manage to hold this focus.

I have worked throught the whole form a couple of times with correction and gone into particular depth with a few movements – grasp sparrows tail, cloudhands and single whip.

When I asked Sam how I should work on my form when getting home, he said to 1. do the mechanical right (he says that I am doing around 70{5f54c39356704ba21868e0cfe81ad3b433a9ecfbeaf34a2baba388ade82df33d} right now, which for me feels pretty good) and 2. focusing more on the chi in the parts that are right. He also mentioned that heat (“raising of the yang chi”) is a good sign.

My work on the form in the year to come:
– Bringing the standing meditation in. Only move the upper arms in accordance with the upper body (it seems obvious, but it is making a big difference for me to focus on this).
– Not holding the breath. (again a bit obvious, but that doesn’t mean that I am not doing it.)
– Moving from the dantien and shifting from the center instead of using the hands to push.
– Stepping out before I shift the weight.
– Hand and foot coordination. The shifting should be timed with the application.
– Sinking the chi instead of sinking down physically.
– Keeping the back straight rather than leaning forward.

Furthermore, Sam has made it quite clear (when doing pushhands) that “holding the ball” in the form translates to holding your partners wrist and elbow. So I need to remember that. Another nice little detail, that I had not understood before, is that there are many places in the form (single ward off, grasp sparrows tail, brush knee etc.) where the heel of the foot should be placed where the toe was before. For me this has given a greater stability in the form.


 

Pushhands

A big part of the daily practice has consisted of doing Sams single and double hand pushing hands exercises, experiencing his yielding by pushing his body and being bounced to the mattress on the wall a few hundred times.

For me these experiences has given a lot of insight into my own limitations when it comes to yielding and also how much there is to learn from the exercises if I do them with full consciousness and not just as external exercises (which I realize that I have often been doing). I have had many experiences where I have noticed how I use force, lean or change pace in the single hand pushhands exercises and have again and again failed in issuing from these without using force (it still doesn’t work for me – very frustrating). Similarly, doing the pattern (rollback, press, push) I noticed how much work my rollback needs as I am simply not able to yield if a good measure of force is applied.

Sam has several times demonstrated different ways of doing the single hand bouncing:
1. From using some handforce (to show me how it feels).
2. To yielding completely (where i can’t feel him at all).
3. Adding some chi in the hand (where his arms get very heavy to move)
4. Sinking the chi to partners center (where I feel pinned down in my center).
5. Bouncing the partner by shifting the weight (where I don’t feel him coming before I am moving backwards).

In the following sections I have written a bit about some of my core learning experiences, when it comes to pushing hands and yielding.

Getting “under the radar”
Sam emphasizes “evenness” when doing the pushhands exercises, as you will otherwise be felt by your partner when you change your speed, pressure etc. You should be able to match the energy of your partner, nothing more, nothing less. For me something has gotten clearer around responding to the whole situation/relationship when doing pushhands. Speed, angle, direction, force etc. must be constantly responded to, so when Sam says “I only move when you move” he is referring not only to external movement, but also to pressure, leaning etc. Thus there is a greater level of detail/sensitivity that has opened up for me. Furthermore this means that you don’t stop moving while doing pushhands unless your partner does. Stopping most often implies that you are readying yourself to attack instead of yielding.

I think I now have understood how it is the softness and evenness that makes it possible to “get under your partners radar”, meaning that they don’t feel that you are coming and thus have no inclination to respond, and why it thus doesn’t make sense to use force as it will be noticed and possibly countered.

Furthermore Sam tells me that his experience when I feel him as very heavy is that there is “nothing” in the arms and says that when you feel light it means that the heaviness is on the partner and conversely that if I am heavy, nothing comes out to the partner.

Sticking
Sticking makes more sense to me after my stay with Sam. It is clear to me now, that as long as I am not sticking I am either fighting or fleeing from the force, and thus not really yielding. Consequently collapsing means “not sticking” and makes it impossible to return or counter your partner. I often noticed how Sams yielding is always perfectly timed and that my own is almost always to fast (running away), but also often to slow (using force). Sam has an almost magnetic effect when he brings the chi to his hand. It becomes impossible to move away. When he “sinks the chi” to his arm i cant move it at all. It feels like a rod of steel hanging in the air.

Always yield to the dantien.

I notice that I, especially when my arms are pushed upward, have a tendency of forgetting/loosing the connection to the dantien. On the other hand I have found that it really improves my yielding to always try to yield to the dantien, but that is not as easy as it sounds.

The center of equilibrium
Of some reason it only dawned on me, when Sam explained it, that center of equilibrium is not the same as the centerline. The centerline is physical and static where the center of equilibrium is moving and dynamic depending on your relationship to another body.

All positions and moves has a counter. That is why you have to move continously.

During my stay I often noticed how I have to move physically to get into a position to push, where Sam can push from any position, because he is connected at all times.

Some pointers for working with the center of equilibrium is:
1. Keep the back straight
2. Fill the body (For me this is better experienced as the opposite – don’t “forget” parts of the body. I have a tendency of being empty in large parts of my body – especially when having my full weight on one leg.)
3. Move the center for equilibrium (You can move to positions that are not straight, but only if you stick to the hand that pushes you. You have to keep the center of equilibrium.)

When pushing hands the core challenge is to permanently be in a state of resting comfortably (as in the standing meditation) while responding to the partner.
 

Developing my yielding

There is a lot of stuff to work on for sure. I move (much) more than necessary when I try to yield, I lean (brace up, use force) when pushed and when I want to push, I have a tendency of putting weight on my partners and should look for a more suspended feeling in my arms, I also have a tendency of “folding” my body forward when pushed. I have also begun to notice how I, even though I am not actively conscious about it, have a tendency of “locking my mind” into an idea of what is going to happen and investing in that. My body then follows and I fail to respond to what is actually there.

 
My leaning edges:
– Be vulnerable and allow my partner to push me rather than leaning forward or bracing up to try to avoid it.
– Practice lightness, sinking of the chi and shifting rather than force, leaning and sinking physically.
– Always yield to the point with the most force or to the point closest to the body.
– Always yield in a curve.
– Don’t move the arms to yield or push. When doing the pushing hands the arms should only move within the frame of the standing meditation (unless pushed somewhere else) and the upper arms shouldn’t move (much).
– Don’t try to sink physically and then push to “get under” your partner. Sink the chi instead. If your partner sinks the chi, you respond/yield by sinking the chi.
– Keep the back straight and either turn from the center or shift the weight.
– Don’t move down or back without being pushed.

And something that resembles a process:
1. Finding my center of equilibrium (through standing meditation)
2. Learning to move my center of equilibrium (through the form and pushhands)
3. Finding the right balance between firmness and softness (through pushhands)
4. Learning to do the same in awkward positions (through pushhands)
5. Learn to do it when meeting a lot of force. (through pushhands)

You need to stop using tricks to get people. It will set you back.

Sam warns me against being triggered to use force in my pushhands practice as it will set me back a lot.
I have too much intention when I push, so my partner feels it. In other words I need to stop trying to push my partners, but focus on the yielding instead. Yielding is not a “doing”, but rather a “responding”. I tend to want to do too much. As long as I want to fight (or “get”) my partner, I will be using force. He also encourages me to get as many people to push me as possible – and then yield instead of using force.

So when I get home from Copenhagen, this will be my project: “Do not fight and do not let anyone fight you. Just respond effortlessly to what is there.” The problem of course, is the “just”.
 

Learning taiji

Learning taiji is difficult. Not because it there much to learn, but rather because what needs to be understood (or rather embodied) is very simple. The core problem is that merely thinking that I have understood it is not enough – the understanding needs to pervade my body-being. Furthermore, the practice is holistic. You cannot yield if you are rigid or using force, you cannot be soft and “stick” without having a frame and none of those elements are attainable without working with the “chi”. That means that I can change my focus to understand one aspect better, but I still need to be able to do it all at once.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

The western exoteric (you give the student the right answers) and the eastern esoteric (the student should ask the right questions) forms of teaching have very different approaches to how you learn best.

For me a combination seems to be useful. It can be helpful to compartmentalize and analyze, but in the end everything has to go together. So on one hand it can be helpful to get exoteric pointers about which direction to go in, but on the other the best way to learn for me will be constantly revealing my uncertainty to the teachers, so they can help me to improve – asking the questions which enable the teacher to understand what I need to be shown. In other words, practice beginners mind.

If something is not working. Go back to the basics.

Learning taiji is not about understanding something abstract or “getting it”. Neither is it simply “doing something differently”. Learning taiji implies that I (as in my being) needs to be transformed – or maybe even “purified” if we are talking alchemy. Practicing taiji should make my practice more finely tuned and precise. After staying with Sam for almost a month I feel that I have access to a lot of unexplored territory and that there is space for exploring in all parts of my practice. In other words, some doors have been opened an now it is up to me to discover what is on the other side.

As another student of Sam that I met during my stay said: “taiji is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do”. I fully agree. Luckily it is also a practice that seems to make other aspects of life much more pleasant – at least I give my taiji practice credit for a lot of the happiness and ease I have found in my life.

Leaving Canada soon, I have a lot of work to do developing my practice. It has dawned on me that the Yi (mind) part of Yi Chuan implies a deep focus when doing the practice, but also a state of non-distraction outside of the practice. At least I notice how often my mind can fly away from my body-being and I have a desire to bring the stillness of taiji even more into my everyday life.

Luckily I have a great friend and teacher in Torben Bremann, one of Sam Tams senior students, who can follow up on the guidance where Sam left off.

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Exploring Taiji by Torben Bremann - 8M ago

This blogpost is a small excerpt about push hands – tuishou – from my book, “Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Standing meditation”, which will be out in English Summer 2017. In the book, I divided the part about pushhands into several different sections, depending on whether it is aimed at the beginner, the intermediate or advanced student. Although it is only a small excerpt from the book (focusing on the beginner and intermediate) and I left out all the exercises that follows the written word on the subject, it covers quite a bit, and I hope that you have the patience to read it and hopefully get some benefit from its content.

Pushhands
Where you in your taijiform work on yourself, you must continue this work while being influenced by an external force – a partner. These exercises goes under the English term pushhands (Chinese: tuishou). The English translation (and it is even worse for the Danish one) is in fact misleading because the focus is not on pushing, but on being pushed and listening (to your own body at first, then to your partner’s body).

A competitive mindset arises for many people as soon as they start to do pushhands. They want to avoid being pushed by their partner at all costs, and will do everything they can in order to get to push themselves. It is the exact opposite of what you should do. Remember, in Taiji you never meet hard with hard. In your form, you train using minimal muscle power to the greatest effect. You should continue doing this in pushhands.

Taiji master Zheng Manqing often said: “You must invest in loss.” This means that you must accept the push without offering resistance. You must follow your partner’s push and thus develop the ability to yield.

Yielding
To yield is to follow, to give in. When you yield, you accept your partner’s push and follow the direction of the force. At no point do you resist the push, but stay connected to and follow it. You must “Invest in loss” I.e. allow yourself to “lose”, to move backward and accept your partner’s push. If you don’t and instead try to resist your partner’s attempt to push forward, it isn’t Taiji anymore. Remember, your base – hips and legs – move you backward, with the rest of your body balanced on top. You do not just bend your upper body backwards while the legs stay still. If you do, then you are already violating one of the basic principles of using your whole body as an integrated unit.

When Taiji is used for self defence, we never meet hard with hard. For most people this is one of the hardest things to get used to. If someone grabs us, it is natural to tense up and resist. In Taiji, we do the opposite: Relax and follow the direction of the movement. It is said that “softness overcomes hardness”. You will not do that by resisting, but by accepting, connecting and relaxing. By yielding you follow the direction of the force – extending it – and thereby lessening its power. When you can’t yield any further, it is time to neutralize.

Neutralization
Neutralization is best described as changing direction and dissolving. When you yield, you can extend the force and decrease it somewhat. However, it is still targeted on to you. When you neutralize, you change the direction of the force and dissolve its effect. From here, the force goes through your body into your feet and into the ground (in the beginning, later you only take it to dantian). If this is done correctly, you now have complete control over the situation. You can send the force back towards your partner. You can issue.

Issuing
To issue means to release or return. Once you have extended (yielded) your partner’s force and neutralized (changed direction and dissolved) it, send your partner’s own force back towards him. You do not do this by tensing your muscles and pushing back hard. On the contrary, you allow the force that you have yielded and neutralized to return to your partner. You do this by being relaxed in your body and sending melting sensations in a continuous flow down toward your feet (later dantian, and instead of melting, you expand like a balloon). Issuing – returning – your partner’s force can be difficult to understand. When a skilled Taiji practitioner does it correctly, it looks like magic or a rehearsed play. Neither is of course the case. It is the natural result of a well-trained, integrated and well-coordinated body, a relaxed mind and coordination between mind and body.

There are no shortcuts in learning how to issue. Your form is your alphabet, your scales. There are many who would like to learn this “supernatural force” when they start to learn Taiji. Rarely do they continue for long. Taiji requires patience and an understanding and acceptance of the process involved.

“It is three times harder to learn to yield than it is to learn how to neutralize and issue”.

Yielding is the main process of the above three. If you are not able to yield 100{1466cc28306583af1cb2d9adfc3b4fb918a850a03ef18c7d56180375c75c165b}, you will not be able to neutralize and there will be no force to return. According to my teacher, Master Sam Tam, it is three times harder to learn yielding than it is to learn how to neutralize and issue.

In the beginning, there will be a clear distinction between when you are yielding, neutralizing and issuing. Later this gap will become smaller, and in its most sublime expression completely disappear. It will all take place simultaneously. This is where it looks magically: Sending an opponent away without any obvious movement. The processes, previously described, have all taken place. They have merely been refined.

Not everyone who trains Taiji wants to work with pushhands. As justification, it is often said that the self-defence aspects are not interesting, and therefore pushhands is not something they wish to spend time working on. It is clearly a mistake and usually based on a lack of understanding. Pushhands is not just for people interested in self-defence. Pushhands can and should be seen as a tool for understanding your form better. Your partner helps you feel and sense your movement and your body on a deeper level. You learn to decode your body and mind, keeping both from tensing up in stressful conditions. This means that you, even more so than through the form training, will be able to relate your Taiji practice to your daily life, where you must constantly relate to outside forces, both at work and in private life.

Yielding – in Taiji and in life
Yielding is one of the key elements of Taiji. In relation to the self-defence aspects, but also – and in particular – in relation to daily life.

On a physical level, you move in the direction that the force comes in while you stay connected and centered. One of the biggest challenges in this regard is to sense exactly which direction a given force has. Be off-line by just a little bit, and you will end up resisting and thereby doing the exact opposite of yielding. Yielding requires sensitivity to learn. In the system of master Sam Tam, we have some partner exercises, which according to me, are the best ones to develop that skill.

Relaxation is the foundation of yielding and allows you to receive and follow the direction of the force, and thus avoiding a conflict. Both in regards to self-defence and everyday life interactions with other people.

Some people equate yielding to being weak, and they do not think that the real world leaves time and space enough to yield. Nothing could be further from the truth.

First, that assumption most likely occurs as a product of internal tensions and uncertainty, as well as an inability to yield at the right time, which requires timing. Secondly, once you have developed your ability to yield, you will find that you neither need space and time – you can yield anywhere and at anytime.

At the internal level, remove all intention and tension from the part of your body that is exposed to a resistance or force. You “empty” your body at the contact point, removing the power, so that it disappears from your center and your body into the ground. In the same way as water is drained out of a bath with increasing speed.

Both physical and mental yielding is needed. As a beginner, you will first learn the physical part. Later, internal yielding and gradually emptying will take over.

External and internal martial arts
External martial arts are, roughly put, based on the energy produced by movement, where the internal arts are based on the movement of energy. The external martial arts are based on strength and movement, the internal on awareness and immobility. The external martial arts are based on the idea of the best defence being an attack – the internal on the best attack being a defence. In the external martial arts, a blow is designed to penetrate the opposing defence, no matter what the opponent does to block it, and is therefore independent of the opponent. In the internal martial arts, the practitioner uses having control over the opponent’s strength, responds to an action made by his opponent, and is therefore dependent on the opponent.

Push Hand and competitions
If you use force – you lose (the) force.
– Sam Tam

The growing number of push hands competitions seen around the world is a misguided development. It is a very common misconception that pushhands is the self-defence aspect of Taiji. Nothing could be more wrong. Pushhands – or the more correct translation – sensitive hands – has in fact very little to do with pushing. It is about practicing your sensitivity to another human being and external forces. There is obviously an aspect useful for self-defence in becoming more sensitive – and there is especially a philosophical aspect that affects and changes the way you interact with other people.

Push Hands is not the strong overcoming the weak; the fast beating the slow. It is at odds with the underlying principles of Taiji: “The weak can overcome the strong, the old can overcome the young, and the woman can overcome the man.” Now that is a self-defence art – the opposite part is simply a fact of life and not worth spending 30 years training on!

Furthermore, a mediocre wrestler or sumo wrestler would win the majority of so-called pushhands contests, where technique, body weight and muscle strength are at the forefront.

Taiji is – if learned properly through a competent teacher and a good system – one of the very best self-defence systems. If it is learned from an incompetent teacher and a poor system based on brute force, it is one of the worst.

Taiji develops over time through continuous, diligent and proper training of the basic principles. It is not so much about acquiring many techniques; it is more about letting go of tension and reconstructing the body and the mind. And that takes time.

Pushhands exercises
There are hundreds of different pushhands exercises. From stationary to mobile, from pushing directly on the body to exercises where it is either one hand or both hands that are pushed on.

The whole idea of having predetermined patterns in pushhands is that it provides a method through which you can practice fundamental principles. Initially, single-handed pushhands exercises are used to understand and train the different circles, and achieve some basic ability in not providing any resistance yet being connected to the opponent (sticking). Next comes double-handed pushhands, where the same things are developed and further refined. And for both single- and double-handed pushhands learning to feel the direction of the force ( 8 out of 10 even experienced practitioners don’t do that!).

In the beginning, work slowly and with big circles, and in order for development to take place it is important that you cooperate with each other. Later, the circles get smaller and the pace can be either fast or slow. From there you move into more freestyle pushhands, i.e. there is no predetermined patterns, you only need to be sensitive to one another and work on moving away from action/reaction towards responding.

Sensitivity
Pushhands exercises are, as mentioned before, a way to develop sensitivity. Often when I introduce push hands exercises to new students, I start with exercises where there is no focus at all on pushing the other person or trying to find the other’s center. Instead, they focus on being sensitive and aware. If I say to you: “Relax your shoulders”, it may be difficult for you to feel your shoulder, and therefore close to impossible to relax it. But if I put my hand on your shoulder, then you have something useful to guide your intent. A partner exercise where you carry your partner’s arm with both hands and move it around in different positions is a good place to start.

First, you ask your partner to let you carry the whole weight of his arm while he lets go. Then move your partner’s arm around in different positions and at different speeds. If you sense that your partner would like to control or move the arm himself, you can change the tempo. If you find that he tenses or holds the arm up, you let go of it so it falls down. At first, move your partner’s arm around in positions lower than shoulder height, where it is easier to let go and feel gravity, then you move up to higher positions, which are more challenging for the shoulders, and where most people find it difficult to let go. Your partner is forced to direct all his attention towards his arm, bringing it into his consciousness via the sensory nerves and via the motor nerves telling himself to let go of all action and movement. The contact and the movements are made conscious.

Later – with more practice – it will all take place as an automatic, natural response. It is a bit like learning to ride a bike: First, it requires deep and focused concentration and lots of energy, but once learned, it is done automatically and does not require much energy.

Intention versus attention
Once you have an intent to do something, then your attention (awareness) is busy and you will not able to “listen” to your partner. For many, what happens when they train push hands is that they mistakenly become so focused on pushing and winning that they completely forget what pushhands is all about: learning to listen to your partner, sensitivity, noting the direction of the force, relaxing the body, etc. If you are focused on doing something specific (like pushing), you cannot simultaneously be fully attentive and responsive.

To train your intention and to have a strong intention is fine when you want to develop certain things – for example certain mental imagery or release internal force – Fajin – in a certain direction. However, when you are training pushhands exercises with a partner, it is far better to dial down your intention and increase attention.

Tension, yielding and neutralization
External or superficial tension in the muscles often has its origins in external conflicts, where inner tension comes about from inner conflicts. Internal tension prevents deep relaxation, making it difficult to learn yielding. Profound relaxation is the foundation that creates the opportunity to learn yielding and later neutralization. Small babies obviously do not have much inner conflict and therefore no inner tension. There is a saying in Taiji: “Become like a child again.”

Yielding – true or false?
One of the major obstacles in the development of genuine yielding is – yourself.

At a conscious level, there can be a great desire to learn yielding, but on a subconscious level, the reverse may be the case. For example, after having felt Master Sam Tam many people express, that they really want to learn to yield as he does, but they are unaware that the real motive behind their desire to learn yielding is that they just want to win. This inner – perhaps unconscious – conflict means that it will never be possible for them to master it.

Elastic strength
In most external self-defence systems and most sports, the primary focus is on developing muscle strength. In the internal martial arts, we aim to build elastic strength through our connective tissue, tendons and fascia. We develop this elastic quality throughout our body and frame, so that we are able to absorb a push or blow and subsequently return it to our opponent without any physical action from our side. When our connective tissues, tendons, and fascia stretches, they subsequently return to their starting point, and thereby send our opponent back in the direction from which he delivered his push. Just like a trampoline.

Sticking
Learning to stick is an essential part of your pushhands-development. Without the ability to stick you will never be able to develop yielding, neutralizing or issuing beyond a very limited level. The moment you make contact with your partner, stick to him like glue or like two magnets where the poles fits.

Your partner can feel you, but not push you. Just follow your partner’s push in whatever direction it might come. You provide no resistance at any time. You maintain contact right up until the point where you have issued or returned your partner’s force. Only then do you lose contact. It is impossible to learn to stick if you have not first developed your sensitivity up to a certain level and are able to yield without either offering resistance or collapsing your structure.

Remember, yielding is neither to resist, nor escape. Yielding is to follow the direction of an external force, extend it and gradually dissolving it until neutralizing it. You can only do that effectively by sticking to your partner.

Uprooting
In pushhands, you will always uproot your partner before issuing. You can compare it to removing weeds. To succeed, you must catch the roots. You uproot by first yielding and neutralizing your partner’s power and connecting to his center. Then you issue. Both your partner’s feet lose contact with the ground when they are uprooted, and he is sent back through the air in the direction that his push or force came from.

I remember many training moments with Master Sam Tam, where he, while sitting at his computer with his back turned, suddenly says to me: “You’re doing it wrong. You don’t uproot.” If you practice in front of a mattress hanging on a wall, you can hear from the sound your partner makes when he hits the mattress, whether he has been properly uprooted or not. Properly done, the partner will fly through the air. If not, he will just stumble lightly or take a step backward, one foot constantly in contact with the ground.

“Fill up the gap”
If your partner in pushhands suddenly collapses his structure when you try to issue, and quickly pulls his arms towards himself close to his body, follow immediately and “fill up the gap”. When you start training free pushhands, where there is no fixed pattern, you will from time to time meet people who collapse and think that it is yielding. It is not, and in a real confrontation with another person, it would be a disaster!

I remember one of my former teachers, Master Yek Sing Ong, telling me one of the first times I got the opportunity to train free push hands with him, that I should always imagine that my partner’s hands were knives. You do not want two knives to get close to your body!

On another occasion, several years later, during one of my first visits to Master Sam Tam, I tried, in frustration over not being able to yield properly, to collapse. Immediately – which he later explained – he chose to fill up the gap and placed his hand around my throat as were he a pittbull. He stressed that I should never use a substitute method in a vain attempt at “winning” and that it would have disastrous consequences during a real confrontation with another person. I should always do the right things – yielding, sticking, neutralizing – even if it did not work right here and now against him. Like a bow is stretched and unstretched but does not collapse, we too do not collapse when yielding.

“Substitute method”
“I’m not a meat rack, why do you hang your meet on me?”
– Yang Chengfu

In addition to collapsing, there are many who use other unintended solutions in free push hands, violating all the fundamental principles of Taiji. They focus on not losing, rather than on learning. It is possible that they manage to train the principles, as long as it is in predetermined movement patterns, but as soon the switch to free push hands occur, they forget all about it. They lean their entire body towards the partner and use their bodyweight, or they use segmented force where they push with their hands, use arm muscles or they choose to “noodle”.

“Noodle”
“Noodle” is a term that is often used for people who violate more or less all Taiji principles when they train pushhands: Everything from the straight back to being connected in the body and everything in between. Just so that they can remain standing on the square their feet are planted on, as were they defending a piece of land. They can be difficult to push if you use brute force. However, if you do not succumb to the temptation of using strength and power – and of course you don’t, why else learn Taiji? – but instead use sensitivity, sticking, awareness and sink the qi to dantian, you can walk right through them.

If they start to “noodle”, then immediately stop having any power whatsoever in your hands. Just maintain a connection through touch. When they subsequently move and try to escape, they end up tensing their muscles, and then you can move them completely effortlessly. Or as Master Sam Tam puts it: “The noodle becomes spaghetti before cooking.”

Various training partners
It is important to have good training partners, if you want to grow and develop your skill. And it is important to train with different people. By training with partners who are more experienced than you, you get the opportunity to follow their movements and experience their quality. Allow them to move in any direction they want, but try to follow their movements without resisting while remaining centered. Do not “noodle”. Be sensitive.

Training with someone who is less skilled than you are, on the other hand allows you the opportunity to experience what it feels like when you perform the movements correctly and with relative ease can control your partner. It allows you to experiment, making small improvements and refinements. You have to trust the process and the relaxed state – otherwise you risk being tempted to use brute strength and lean your bodyweight toward your partner, should he tighten up or block, while you lack the inner strength needed to move him. It will come in time – if you trust it!

Training partners you should kindly reject are those that continually correct you. One moment, they do everything to ruin the drill, using physical strength and resistance. The next moment they jump backward just by a small touch of your body or arm – of course after having corrected you based on how they think the exercise should be performed. They rarely have time to listen to the teacher’s instructions and directions, and are more concerned with their own ideas and showing everyone how talented and clever they are. There is often no hope of any real learning or development taking place, and you are wasting your time practicing with such a person.

Stretching muscles
When a muscle contracts, it gives power in the same direction as the movement is performed. Stretching of the muscles on the other hand produces force in the opposite direction of the movement. In relation to Taiji and push hands, it means that when one partner pushes in on you and you simultaneously stretch and expands, you will yield and return at the same time. The prerequisite is a relaxed structure, where..

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In September 2016 I was feeling that I had stopped developing in my taiji practice and doubted how I could move forward. At that time I had been playing around with the I Ching for a while and asked how I should approach my taiji practice to improve faster. What stuck to me in the answer was “to connect and seek mastery with a great person”. This inspired me to contact master Sam Tam to see if it was possible to organize another stay with him. I spent a week with Sam in 2015 and was overwhelmed with his skill and willingness to teach (see my blog from back then here).

Before going (as Sam generously agreed to have me again) I asked the I Ching what I should be aware of during my stay. My interpretation of the answer (“seeing” or “contemplation” depending on the translation) was best framed in the question “if you had no presumptions, what might you see” and the sentences “need nothing, but remain committed” and “stay with uncertainty”.

I went to Vancouver on the 4th of January. Sitting in the airport on my way back to Copenhagen, these two answers from the I Ching seems like a good context for my stay with master Sam Tam. I have tried to describe the central elements of my experience here.


Learning
The first days of my stay were not all that easy. Sams comments on my practice were quite clear although not exactly what I wanted to hear:
– “You are leaning”
– “You are holding your breath”
– “You are using force”

In addition I again experienced how skilled Sam really is and again I found myself completely helpless in his hands, unable to move him at all, while he could throw me completely effortlessly from every position. However, after the initial humbling experience I found myself opening for learning.

“You would not come here to learn if you were better than me, so why do you experience it as a problem that you can do nothing against me?”

During my days with Sam I started noticing how I hold my frame with relatively stiff arms, holding myself up to be balanced. At the same time I hold my breath (just a little bit) to keep the position. I do this to stabilize myself, but I also lift myself in the process, ruining my grounding. I also found myself in many (many!) situations where I was leaning forward to brace myself from being pushed, which of course does absolutely no difference when you are in the hands of Sam. After some time I also started noticing how I have a tendency to use hand force to (try to) push my opponent when doing pushhands, something I now realize will be a constant struggle to let go in the coming times.

Yielding
Before I arrived Sam had asked what i wanted to focus on during my stay, and I asked for “the basics”. In practice this translated into learning how to yield.

Yielding is the foundation of everything in taiji and implies moving with and neutralizing the force that is moving towards you. Yielding is not “giving space” for the will of the other but rather recognizing that we are 2 in the space no matter what and putting yourself in the beneficial position of the relationship. Paradoxically you don’t do that by trying to move the other into a position which is beneficial to you, but rather wait for them to move and then yield until they have to adjust – and then you are in the beneficial situation without much effort. You don’t try to decide what the other person does, but allow them to do whatever they want without allowing them to “lean on you” or connect with your center.

As Sam says “If you have 1000 techniques, you will need to practice them all to be good. I only have one trick. Don’t let them lean on you.” If you are able to yield, you can move with whatever comes at you and you don’t have to think about what to do, you just allow your opponent to do whatever they want and then yield to their force.

Yielding implies that the body moves as a whole unit and that you do not make any unnecessary movement. To do that I need to let go of my premeditations of what is going to happen (how I am going to be pushed) in the attempt to react properly and instead relax and respond to whatever is actually there – in other words stop trying to control the situation, relax, and trust that I can yield to what is coming, or allow myself to be pushed.

When yielding you stick to your opponent from the moment he touches you and do not let go again. You keep the point of contact (what Sam calls “bone contact”). When they move, you move and fill out the gaps in the space between you.

One of the many experiences of being thrown to the wall with Sam using no external force.

Yielding is also the requirement of issuing (or “pushing” without using force). Without yielding you will meet force with force and the strongest (or fastest) will win. When doing pushhands I found myself struggling with not “coming out” or using force and thus revealing my intention and planned direction. Gradually i got a better hold on how to shift, sink and expand instead. Shifting implies moving the whole body as one unit. Sinking the chi implies expanding from the center which is not easy at all.

Thoughts and reflections
I have realized (again maybe?) that the biggest potential to develop my taiji practice is to stop cheating myself by not recognizing the mistakes I make, because it seems too much work to deal with them (a realization which connects to many other aspects of life than taiji I guess). The notion of “good enough” is holding me back from learning something new and improving. The taiji shortform in Sam Tams system felt quite short before I arrived. Now it feels very long. I think that is a good measure for how much I am learning while doing it.

“Practice means weeding out mistakes, not just repeating the same movements over and over again.”

If I knew what I should learn I wouldn’t need a teacher, but just practice. After visiting Sam I feel like I can improve my private practice, but I will also focus more on receiving guidance from my Danish teacher Torben Bremann.

My focus for the coming time will be to let go of my desire to use force (and to win). When doing the form some central elements (apart from the many many small and large corrections I have received) will be to work with “sinking the chi”, shifting and investigating how I can use less force to hold up my arms and hands and “use the chi instead” as Sam has adviced.

“Don’t let taiji run your life.”

Taiji is a philosophy meant to contribute to life, not dominate it and I was very pleased to hear master Sam talk about taiji as a practice meant to teach practitioners about life. When talking about how to practice at home Sam emphasizes that you should see taiji as an art and treat it that way – keeping it precious. For me the challenge will be to remember what I have learned during my stay in Vancouver and allow that to remind me on how to develop my practice.

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Exploring Taiji by Torben Bremann - 8M ago

In this article on Tai Ji Quan I have chosen as point of departure my own experience with the art. As such it is not a theoretical discussion on the art of Tai Ji Quan. As I assume the reader has some basic knowledge of Tai Ji Quan and similar Martial arts, familiarity with basic concepts and principles of these arts will be taken for granted.

Starting off…
Out of curiosity and not yet fully committed to the Quest, I started out on my Tai Ji Quan Journey in 1987 by taking lessons in the Yang style from a Danish teacher who was a student of Master Chu King Hung. Master Chu King Hung is a student of Yang Shao Shung and he is also a skilled Xing Yi Master. From 1988 to 1990 I received lessons directly from Master Chu. Whereas I was less than fully committed in the beginning, my interest in Tai Ji Quan strengthened around 1990 and has been persistent ever since.

In these initial years my knowledge of Tai Ji Quan was obviously quite limited. Due to the lack of actual knowledge and in accordance with the rise of the New Age movement there was, at least in Denmark, a tendency to shroud Tai Ji Quan in a veil of mysticism and make believe. Not so from the Masters who frequently visited Denmark to teach – Masters Kai Ying Dong, Chu King Hung and others, but especially from some of the Danish teachers. These unfortunates were compensating for their lack of actual knowledge with tales of mysteries and secrets.

Some of these stories related how Tai Ji Quan was a Panacea and contained the answer to all of life’s questions. Likewise stories circulated of how one should practice the Tai Ji Quan form, facing this or that way, 20 or 30 times at various times during the day in order to excel in the art. All of this was probably natural, considering Tai Ji Quan in Denmark at that time was in its infancy. The will to practice and learn was abundant, but the actual knowledge was limited.

Acknowledging this to be the case I quickly realized that if I really wanted to gain an understanding of, and proficiency in, the art of Tai Ji Quan it would take a lot of ground breaking effort on my part. It would require an open mind, studying the Classics and the related Martial arts and the willingness to start as a beginner every time I met a new teacher. And first and foremost, of cause – a stern commitment, physical as well as mental.

After a few years studying with Master Chu King Hung followed by a brief encounter with Master Kai Ying Dong’s Yang style, I was fortunate enough to meet Chen Guan Ming, who taught Lao Jia Chen Style Tai Ji Quan. He stayed in Copenhagen twice and I took lessons from him on both occasions in the early nineties. Later my Tai Ji Quan friend Tal Rosenzweig went to Shanghai and established contact to Chen Guan Ming’s teacher, Master He Gong De. Master He Gong De was one of Master Chen Zhaokuis close students and he had also studied with Master Feng Zhi Qiang for an extended period. In addition he had practiced Tui Shou with renowned Yang style master Chen Wei Ming, who was one of Yang Cheng Fu’s close students. From 1994, when I first met with Master He Gong De, and to his death in 1999, I developed a close relationship with him and he accepted me as his disciple. In 1998 I met Masters Yek Sing Ong and Wee Kee Jin, both close students of Master Huang Xiang Xian. From 1999 – 2007 I was a close, private student of Wee Kee Jin, and continued having briefly contact to Yek Sing Ong and visited him whenever I was in New Zealand.

2001: Private teaching situation at Torbens house.

Besides my main teachers mentioned above, I have learned for longer or shorter periods from the following masters – Patrick Kelly, James Lau King, Jeng, Shen Shen Yuan, Wu, Shu and a few others – all of them close students of Master Huang. Together with Wee Kee Jin and several of his students I have traveled around in Malaysia, visiting Master Huangs schools. I have also met and learned from Master Feng Zhi Qiang, Peter Ralston, master William Chen among others.I mention my teachers, past and present, for a number of reasons.

Having several teachers
I believe it is necessary to have more than one teacher, if you want to continue developing your Tai Ji Quan skills. Initially one should visit different teachers, ask about their background, maybe talk to some of their students and try, if possible, to take a lesson or two before committing to the classes. When you have chosen a teacher, hopefully the right one, you have to commit yourself to the instructions of that teacher until the basic concepts of Tai Ji Quan are understood and integrated. This will probably mean an initial period of several years.

In the search for a teacher it is important to realize what you want from practicing Tai Ji Quan. Do you seek health benefits, martial prowess, decrease of physical and mental stress, something else, or all of it? What ever it is you are trying to gain from Tai Ji Quan you should make sure that the teacher masters it himself, and is willing to teach it to his students. Today there is a fair amount of good teachers worldwide, so it is definitely possible to receive good and reliable instructions.

It is also a good idea to read a few books on Tai Ji Quan and related subjects. Get your teacher to recommend some books – unfortunately there is an abundance of very poor books on the subject, so guidance will save you a lot of time. If your interest in the art does not fade there will, after some years of committed practice, come a time when it would be a good idea to seek other teachers. But this point is only reached when your practice have given you a thorough understanding of the system you have been a student of. When a new teacher is found it is essential that you consider yourself a beginner, otherwise the new teacher will not be able to teach you. You will have to “empty your cup” in order to receive new knowledge. In regards to Tai Ji Quan it is essential that you always consider yourself a student. No matter how long you have been practicing, it is always possible to improve your skill. There is no end to the art.

2006: Wee Kee Jin and Torben joking around.

If the interest is keen and the commitment firm, the need to learn from several teachers will inevitably arise if the student is to advance. But it is a gradual development, in order to benefit from a new teachers instructions the student must have acquired the proper level of understanding. And even with a gifted student and a skilled master this takes time, indeed it should take time – slow is fast and fast is slow.

The importance of touch
This article was not meant to deal exclusively with the teacher/student relationship, even though there is a lot to be said on that subject. Equally important is the way the teaching is conducted. If your teacher wraps Tai Ji Quan in mysticism, elusive knowledge and tales of secrecy you may rest assured that he has a very limited understanding, if any, of the subject. Tai Ji Quan is no mystery and there are no secrets!

Everything can be explained and demonstrated, provided the teacher has the proper level. But it takes time to reach that level of skill. Initially you have an intellectual understanding of the principles and with diligent practice it will slowly be absorbed by the body. Time after time I have received corrections from my teachers which it subsequently has taken me months and years to integrate physically. But at the time they were given it only took me a moment to understand them intellectually. And in this connection touch is crucial.

In the older Tai Ji Quan literature you often encounter the expression “secret transmission”. Everyone who has practiced an internal martial art has probably heard of these Secrets. Maybe you have yourself had the “luck” to receive such secret transmissions from teachers who were fortunate enough to posses them. But there are no secrets, and if you one day happen to meet a teacher who claims otherwise you will do well to seek guidance elsewhere. There are only two secrets: Touch and practice!

2012: Peter Ralston trying to get through to the students during a workshop in Copenhagen.

And as time goes on and you slowly proceed from the superficial level to the profound the importance of touch increases. When I am being taught by my teachers we are more or less constantly in physical contact. During my latest visit to Sam Tam I was almost constantly in physical contact with him, except from the time I was in midair between him and the mattress on his wall. When Wee Kee Jin used to stay with me in my house, we always practiced pushing hands and related exercises, 2 – 4 hours a day, not including the practice that took place at his workshop. Physical contact is of paramount importance if you really want to learn Tai Ji Quan. Anything else is just monkey see monkey do, and will amount to nothing even remotely close to an internal martial art. For this reason alone you can not justly call yourself teacher of Tai Ji Quan unless you have received hours of instruction on this one on one basis.

Tai Ji Quan is not Aerobic, dancing or some spiritual ritual. As responsible teachers of the art we need to limit our teaching to things we have been thoroughly instructed in by skilled masters. If we teach Tai Ji Quan with no deeper understanding than forms and exercises we are not honoring the art and we will be deceiving our pupils.

Forms
A recurrent statement in Tai Ji Quan literature is “Everything is in the Form”. This is basically true; a correctly transmitted Form does contain all the fundamental principles of Tai Ji Quan. Sadly, a vast number of Teachers, and consequently their students, do not work with or acknowledge the existence of said principles. This is a deplorable fact and one of the reasons why Tai Ji Quan as a martial art is on the brink of extinction – along with similar internal martial arts such as Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang. The Form should never be made to be more than it is: a tool to help you understand the basic principles of Tai Ji Quan and as a channel for the Teacher to pass on his knowledge.

The same thing applies to Zhan Zhuang or Standing Meditation. As my teacher Master Sam Tam said to me recently when we were discussing Zhan Zhuang practice: “You must remember that the Standing is there to serve you – you are not there to serve the standing”. This remark illustrates the fact that Zhan Zhuang, the Tai Ji Quan forms and various related exercises are mere tools to help obtain skills and ease the understanding of principles – which then has to become an integrated part of every movement. The object of the practice of Standing Meditation, Zhan Zhuang, is not endurance (“for how long can I remain in this position”?) and regarding Forms; it is not very important what specific set pattern of movements you practice. As Zhuangzi states in the chapter “External Things”: “The fish trap exists because of the fish, once you’ve gotten the fish you can forget about the trap”.

Do not think of the Form as something sacred, handed down from antiquity, imbued with the knowledge of the ancient masters – an enigmatic wonder that has to be practised in a specific way in order to yield its hidden knowledge. Actually the practice of set patterns or Forms, is a relatively recent thing in Tai Ji Quan, probably no more than a couple of hundred years old, whereas the art itself has roots that go much further back. But while Form practice has been a part of Tai Ji Quan, the Form has never been a rigid thing. Every Master has, deliberately or unconsciously, left his individual mark on the set of movements he received from his own Master. Obviously the various Forms have also been influenced by related martial arts, hard as well as soft, internal as well as external. In time this has created a multitude of differing forms, all rooted in the original “SanShi Shi” – the 13 methods.

And that is the natural state of things. Like all other tings the Form is impermanent. It has to change according to the level of understanding at any given time, otherwise it will be nothing but a static prison for the student and there will be no progress. The Form is the outer shape the principles of Tai ji Quan may assume, and as such it is not important which Form you practice – if it’s the Yang, Wu, Chen or Sun style. But it is important that you practice in accordance with the Tai Ji Quan principles as they are found in the classics, and it is obviously important that your teacher understands these principles and is able and willing to pass it on to you. Some systems may eventually prove to be developing the student faster than others – but that’s another story.

Why do Standing/Zhan Zhuang?
Zhan Zhuang or Standing Meditation; the exercise of keeping a certain posture for an amount of time – ranging from a few minutes to an hour or more, is a basic exercise in most Tai Ji Quan systems and in Xing Yi, Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang as well. In the Tai Ji Quan lineage it was mostly the “Ru men” students who where taught Zhan Zhuang. The only teacher of mine who did not practice Zhan Zhuang was Patrick Kelly, but both his teachers; Huang Xiang Xian and Ma Yue Liang practiced and taught Zhan Zhuang. Feng Zhi Qiang has practised a great deal of Zhan Zhuang, Wee Kee Jin does it a lot and it is the basis of Sam Tam’s system. Zhan Zhuang is practiced in a variety of way and the goals of the practice vary. In the following I will outline a few of the goals.

Primarily Standing Meditation is practiced in order to achieve a connected body structure as opposed to a segmented or unconnected body structure. The connected body structure is a prerequisite for the achievement of whole body power – the effortless transmission of power from feet to hands. An important part of working on the connected body structure is the alignment of the Pelvis. In order to align the Pelvis and thus straitening the back, tension around the Coccyx must be released. This will allow the Coccyx and the Pelvis to align naturally with the gravity of the body structure. It is often said that the Pelvis should be tucked under, in order to straighten the back. I believe this is wrong as it creates an unnatural tension in the Pelvic area instead of relaxing it.

And the ability to release unnecessary tension is essential if one is to gain anything from the practice of Standing Meditation – “don’t fight yourself when you stand” Sam Tam says. Otherwise the practitioner will just be building up tension, stiffening the body and breaking it up into segments, achieving the complete opposite of the initial goal. None the less, some Tai Ji Quan and Yi Quan teachers are primarily focused on the duration of the exercise, emphasizing the physical and mental endurance of the practitioner instead of the quality of the exercise. Standing Meditation is an exercise that demands a lot from the student, both physically and mentally and it is rarely suitable for the beginner, an exception being the Wu Qi standing. Only when the student through other exercises has learned to work with the releasing of muscle tensions and the ability to practice mindfully is the time right for this exercise.

Maybe the most important aspect of the Standing Meditation is the integration of Mind and Body through introverted attention. The student must learn how to observe the body structure with an open and attentive mind, feeling the weight distribution, balance, sensitivity and tension pattern in the body.This attentive observing can then be used actively to correct any imbalances, increasing sensitivity and releasing tensions, for instance by visualizing a flow of melting warmth that releases tensions and restores balance in an imbalanced area of the body.

Any distracting thoughts are not subdued by focusing on external things such as light or objects, but simply accepted and neutralized by not giving them any further attention and letting them pass by on the river of consciousness. At a higher level the student will be working with this open mindfulness and interchanging it with a strong focus on obtaining certain specific skills.

As I suggested above it is important not to make the Standing Meditation or its duration a goal in itself. It should be instrumental in the development, comprehension and integration of basic principles in Tai Ji Quan. As such there are a variety of different Standing Meditation exercises that aim at achieving these goals. Amongst these it is futile to try and single one out as being the superior exercise. The usefulness of the exercise depends on the teachers approach, the student’s background and what specific skill the exercise is supposed to help developing.

The qualities we seek to refine when we are doing the Standing Meditation should also be present when we start to move. But the Standing Meditation is, with its lack of movement, an easier place to refine subtle skills than the form or other exercises that are performed in motion. Having said this it is important to remember that even though the Standing Meditation is confined to one position, it is by no means locked in that position. During the exercise slight adjustments will continuously occur in the bodily structure of the practitioner, some consciously sought, while others come by themselves.

To the on looker unfamiliar with this kind of practice, it would seem that the person doing the Zhan Zhuang is indeed standing still as a post. But the skilled practitioner will notice the minute changes taking place. Remember “In stillness there is movement and in movement there is stillness”. The integration of body and mind that is sought in the Standing Meditation should also be made part of the Form. In this transition between the seemingly immobility of the Zhan Zhuang to the fluency of the Form, Master Huangs Xiang Xian’s 5 relaxing exercises are very helpful. Obviously there is an abundance of exercises that can help in this process, but of all the different exercises I have come across during the years the 5 relaxing exercises are the most complete.

Chen Style Tai Ji Quan has the “Silk reeling” exercises and Master Feng Zhi Qiang has developed his own equivalent of these, many of which are excellent. Master Sam Tam also does exercises, partly from Yi Quan and partly from Yang Style Tai Ji Quan. Master Huangs 5 relaxing exercises are really exceptionally well put together, having been tested and developed for a period of more than 40 years. Each one of them contributes to the understanding and integration of the basic Tai Ji Quan principles. As excellent as these exercises are, it is important to realize that they themselves are not the goal. They were meant to help develop the students understanding and skill and should not end up being a trap for his mind.

Basic principles of Tai Ji Quan
The basic principles of Tai Ji Quan, the principles that are unique for this martial art and thus separate it from other martial arts, internal or external, are neither secret, mysterious nor unattainable. Generally they are easy to understand intellectually but hard to put into real life practice, both mentally and physically. To do this takes a lot of time and effort.

In the following I will go though a few of these basic principles. As I mentioned earlier it is crucial to make the body a functionally whole and to create a strong body – mind connection. Both the body and the mind of the practitioner should be as relaxed and effortless as possible. Having said that, it is obviously not possible, as some teachers claim, to be entirely without muscular tension. Only the dead are without muscular tension! If we did not have functional tension in our muscles, we would collapse like limp noodles. What we can and should do, is to let go of all unnecessary tensions and activity in body and mind. Our aim should be to use only the adequate amount of strength and attention to deal with the matter at hand, whether it is practicing the Form, doing relaxing exercises or facing an opponent.

During our practice we should seek to build and strengthen a strong contact throughout the whole body, from the feet to the fingertips, being relaxed and connected from the crown of our head to the soles of our feet. When we start to create these connections we realize how every movement has its origin in the Dan Tian and rely on the rootedness of the feet and legs for power. We also come to realize how the hips determine the direction of our movements.Thus we can combine the horizontal circle with the vertical, creating an infinite number of directions within this functional sphere.

2012: Master Wu and Torben during a pushhands session in Peace Park, Taipei.

In the beginning these movements will be quite slow and the circles applied will be large and easily visible. This enables us to clearly define the various stages of Yielding, Sticking, Neutralizing and Issuing. But when time and practice have made the players proficient it would be natural to pick up speed and minimize the size of the movements up to the point where the onlooker only sees one movement. At this sophisticated level we are working with intercepting force, which is unique to Tai Ji Quan and can be refined to a level where it would seem that the practitioner uses no force at all – people simple “bump off” him when they apply force to his body. This way of developing skill is characterized by listening to yourself and your partner, by paying attention to subtle changes – “Ting Jing”.

When the Issuing is applied it gives the “victim” a soft and pleasant feeling – until he lands somewhere! As Master Sam Tam says when demonstrating his prowess in issuing with no force: “You enjoy the journey – not the destination”. But far too often you see people pushing forcibly and tearing at each other when they do push hands. This is certainly not Tai Ji Quan, not even bad Tai Ji Quan. It is slightly more sophisticated to move away from your opponent as he advances, maybe parry his punch softly and then pounce at him like some wild beast. You see a lot of that at competitions. Such people apparently pay no attention to developing their skill or refining the art, they only care about winning a contest. This is bad wrestling at best, and still not Tai Ji Quan. These so called Tai Ji Quan fighters have no level of skill and would easily be bested by any wrestler, Jiu Jitsu or Karate ka with even modest experience. Tai Ji Quan is not a sport where you win the match by counting points; it is a martial art and should be treated with sincerity and..

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Exploring Taiji by Torben Bremann - 9M ago

It is been a while since I wrote my latest post. I have spent my time concentrating on my own practice – and my students. During the last year I have had more and more students coming from outside Denmark to visit for a couple of days or more, to learn. Most of them are already signed up on exploring taiji – which speeds up the learning process quite a bit. Some of them are long time taiji practitioners, some of them just started out recently. Others again are from other martial arts lineages but have a wish to start learning or understanding the internal principles. Everything is fine – everyone is welcome, as long as the focus are on learning.

As you might have experienced in my online teaching program, I start out with focusing on letting go and building a strong connection to the ground – physically as well as mentally. Later I incorporate this strong connection and focus more on lightness and the horizontal approach. As for the learning approach, it is actually the other way around – starting out with a more “horizontal” approach – and with more experience going more “vertical” – digging deeper.

In this blogpost I will write a bit about the learning process, a bit about honesty and authenticity, a few more hints to standing meditation, and I will include a bit about my very recent meeting with a teacher from Taipei. I will finish off with a bit about the possibility to book Skype meetings or email consultation and info about next year´s Summercamp as well as the likelihood that I will do workshops in Germany and England next year.

The horizontal and vertical circle in relation to learning
With exploring taiji you start out by being presented to the vertical circle (and I use the system of Master Huang Xiangxian to that) to create a good and solid connection to the ground.

In relation to your development, the horizontal circle describes the phase where there is an interest in learning as many Forms and drills as possible. The vertical circle describes the point where you dig deeper into what you have already learned, experiment, analyze and try to develop even further. It is a challenging phase, since you really have to be focused when you practice – or as Sam Tam puts it, “Don´t repeat – redo! Way too many people still believe that it is the amount of time, the repetitions that you do – which makes the difference. It is not.

Yes, when you learn some new movements you have to get the skeleton, the framework first, but after that, it is what is going on inside your body and mind that is important. Total awareness is the key.

When did you last time do let´s say a whole Taijiform with full awareness without any disturbing thoughts?  Try it out next time you practice, and I am sure you will get surprised. Both Master Huang and Master Sam Tam have said, once you know the Form, the first section is enough. And both of them have added that actually half of the first section is enough. It is not the number of Forms you do or the repetitions of it – it´s what´s going on inside and in your mind. You want the Form to come alive and you want to become capable of applying the movements in the Form – otherwise it is just choreography. Which is fine if that’s what you aim for. If you aim for doing Taiji then it´s not enough.

Just like with the standing meditation – the Forms are there to serve YOU – not the other way around.

Honesty and authenticity
I know some of you know that quite a few “famous” – or as Sam Tam calls it, legend in their own minds” – come and learn from me “secretly” and/or use me as a stepping stone to get the chance to learn from Sam Tam directly. That´s fine with me. I knew it even before I meet them from their mails or phone calls. It is very often the same individuals that later post on social medias or when they give talks while running seminars, things I told them. Like one of the sentences that I have said again and again: “Don´t take something that you don´t understand and bring it down to your current level of understanding. It is the surest way NOT to learn something new. Accept you don´t understand it for now. It is ok to feel a bit insecure. Open up for the learning process. Learning is accepting”. Take a look at the social media – you know who I mean.

Or – they tell stories like my personal experiences with Sam Tam when I first met him, and he gave clear and convincing demonstrations in his home, where we both did standing meditation on his thick carpet and him basically not leaving footprints where mine was deep – and he did the same demonstration the day after on the beach, leaving close to no footprints in the sand.

It is my stories – my experiences – but I told them openly to others, who later made them to theirs … It´s ok – it is just human nature for some. Or stories from my many trips to Taiwan, learning from different teachers there, once again taking ownership on my personal experiences.

Does it really matter? No. I am not here to break anybody´s ricebowl. I am happy they somehow got something out of the stories.

What does concern me though is – that I really want to help people develop in Taiji. Therefore I teach completely open. To get the most out of my teaching, you have to let go of your own assumptions and leave the ego in the garage, or even better – throw it out.

When students come, I allow everybody to “touch” me. When I do partnerwork with people, I only do myself what I am teaching them. I don´t teach them one thing – and do something else I didn´t teach them yet, just to show them “how good” I am. I know my level, I have no need to prove myself. When I teach I want to transmit – and I also put myself in vulnerable situations while doing so. I want the STUDENT to succeed. When I practice myself it´s another focus. But when I teach – I teach. There are no in betweens.

A student who came recently for some days to study, told me, how in his former system that whenever he asked a question the answer would be: “You must follow the authentic method”.

What a stupid answer! How will that help the student progress? And since nothing was added in that kind of answer – what is the authentic method? Anyway – be open and receptive when you learn. Don´t compare to something that you already “know” in the learning process. If you do so – then you are not learning. You can analyze and compare way later!

Respect the teaching and the teacher. And even more important – as a teacher, respect the student! Be honest, teach openly and help the student to develop.

This is one of many reasons I created Exploring Taiji. I don´t see myself as anything special or that I am the only one who has something to offer, or are the “special” student of my teachers, or that I am the beholder of the Holy Grail, etc. I am a teacher – that´s it. And I do my best when I teach. And I have some experience and have had quite a few detours in my own learning process, which is why I have created Exploring Taiji the way I have. To help you develop the fastest and most direct route according to my understanding by now.

Standing Meditation:
No matter where you are in the program, you have been introduced to standing meditation. If you are in the beginning of the program the focus is more on the vertical circle – being connected to the ground, working with melting sensations, become aware of deeper layers of tensions and dissolving them, the three levels in the body – base (up to the hip joint and pelvis, the body (torso), and shoulder girdle including the arms, hands and fingers. Being capable of separating the three levels in let´s say the flying exercise and/or up and down movement and integrating the whole body in movement (the Form) and maybe even experiences of just how fluid your body is. That muscles work in chains once you start moving and maybe even a feeling of the small stretches that takes place in different parts of the body – both when you move, but also when you practice your standing if the visualization of melting has taken place.

We start out with switching off the superficial part of the mind and have a greater awareness of ourselves and our bodies. We learn to “separate the flesh from the bones” – just like if you pulled up an overcooked chicken from a pot and all the meat was still in the pot while you only had the skeleton in your hands.

All these things and more are important phases you have to go through to reach the next stages in your practice. How long they take – is up to you, literally. It depends on your body awareness, your tensions, your posture (which is why I address working on getting a more beneficial posture right from the beginning in the program), your mental state, your breathing, how you live your daily life to mention a few. For some it takes some months with daily focus and practice – for other´s years. But don´t worry, you are a work in progress no matter how long it takes.

Later in the program we start to focus on the horizontal circle – both in the Form and in the standing, becoming full, expand, a balloon feeling, becoming even, light, etc. But I will inject a little warning here: If you don´t go through all the previous phases first, then you will most likely end up building tension upon tension. I suggest that you now and then re-read the blogpost about standing meditation. Like I have said and written many times before – there is a reason I have build the program the way I have. Here we could talk about the importance of “following the method” – maybe even “authentic” – at least my authentic teaching method. Think about the following sentence one more time:

“The standing is there to serve you – you are not here to serve the standing”

Just like we shouldn´t repeat but redo instead, how about you re-think and re-experience your approach to the way you do your Standing Meditation. Are you really letting go? Are you really connected? Do you experience your Standing as effortless?

Maybe you remember that I once wrote that when I first started learning from Sam Tam, I began too fast to quote his quotations without really having the essence of them under my skin yet. The above one was one of them. I loved to tell others that they should aim for the essence of that quote, where I was doing the exact opposite myself: If I was told that I should stand for let´s say 20 min, I went for 40. If I was told it was ok now and then to go a bit lower in my positions – I did it every day. I was greedy, and I was stubborn, and in some way also both ignorant and arrogant (I know – best kind of guy). I will tell you a little story:

Some years ago when I once again was in Sam Tam´s house for a period of private tuition, I asked him one morning if he could check on my standing. He agreed. So during the morning session I put myself in a standing position, while Sam Tam was reading something on his computer with his back to me. A couple of days before, I had asked him my usual question – how long should I stand during a day. He had answered me the same way he had at that point done for some years, “don´t stand more than 20 minutes at a time, but if you have room for it in your daily life, you can do it 2-3 times a day”.

After I had standed for about 15 minutes, I started to get a bit annoyed that he didn´t get up and correct me. Not an unusual situation though. Many times over the years when he taught me some new things – for instance the stickform or the swordform, he would only show me the movements twice, and often with his back to me, and then tell me to “do it”. In the beginning I said, “do what”, since it didn´t make sense to me that he didn´t do the movements more times, slowly, explaining, maybe do it together with me, etc.

His answer to this was: “I am not here to spoonfeed you. You learn movements fairly fast and your intelligence is above average, so you have to work harder. On top of that he could go on for half an hour telling me how our western teaching style was hopeless (where I would have preferred that he spent the time doing the movements with me instead). That we expected to be taught from A-B-C, etc., where he was showing the full picture and thereby teaching more holistic. And if he spoonfed me I wouldn´t be capable of remembering the movements once I was back in DK.

As you can see, it wasn´t knew for me being taught more traditional. Anyway – back to the standing. When half an hour had passed I changed from being annoyed to thinking and decide, that no matter what happened, I would stand there until he corrected me. One hour went. 1 hour and 15 minutes went. At 1 hour and 18 minutes he got up from his chair, went to me, pulled down my arms and threw me against his mattress on the wall a couple of times and said: “Let´s go for lunch”.

Late in the evening that day where we normally sit down and talk in between he is throwing me toward his mattress, he all of sudden said to me: “ I had the feeling that you somehow felt a little uncomfortable earlier this morning while you were doing your standing”. I said to him that I didn´t understand why he so often had said to me that I shouldn´t stand for more than 20 minutes at a time, and he had let me stand there for 1 hour and 18 minutes without correcting me. His answer was: “It´s because you are stupid and stubborn. How many times did I tell you not to stand for more than 20 minutes? And how many times did I tell you your standing was ok?

Well a bit of a different teaching style than the western, but I got the point.

So I want you to ask yourself the question once more: Are your standing serving you, or have you become a slave of it, rigid in your approach? Think about it! During the exploring taiji programme I re-visit standing meditation many times. Bringing in new perspectives, new approaches, new things to explore.

Nowadays when I stand I have more “focus” on setting the body and mind free, opening up, expanding to the surroundings, having left the introvert stage of mind and becoming more and more aware of what surrounds me, being “out of my mind” so to speak and more. And that leads me to the last piece of this post, where I will tell you a little bit about my “accidentally” meeting with a teacher from Taipei who visited Denmark recently.

 “Accidentally” meeting a teacher from Taiwan:
As you know I have been traveling to Taiwan many times to train with different teachers there. Both in the system of Master Huang, but also in other systems as well as previously a bit in Baqua. Last time I was in Taiwan was April this year. Once back in Denmark teaching again, one of the new private students was an Aikido guy who was referred to me – by a teacher in Taiwan. Off course I thought that it was one of the teachers from Taiwan that I already knew. It wasn´t.

The person in Taiwan had read an article written by me about grounding, and had said to the Danish guy, it was the best he had read in English on the topic.

I didn´t know the Taiwanese guy but my curiosity was turned on. To make a long story short, the Danish guy was to conduct a workshop with the Taiwanese guy in DK this September and I decided to participate two of the four days the workshop took place (I had students myself coming over from England the first two days and therefore I couldn´t participate there).

The two days I did participate, we were only 4 people the first day, and 3 people the next day, so I had a lot of hours with “hands on” experience. The guy was – and is – skillful. Really skillful! Due to problems with his visa he ended up being stranded in DK for another week, and I ended up training with him for the whole period and arranged a 4-hour mini workshop for some of my senior students. It turned out that the Taiwanese guy knows my teachers in Taiwan and that his own life story in martial arts in many ways are quite similar to Sam Tam´s. He has been raised in a martial arts family and trained since the age of 4, and a lot of the “big” Sifu´s (many of them have passed away by now), used to come in his father´s  house and train or exchange ideas. After having spent many decades training martial arts – being a feared and respected martial artist, he decided that it wasn´t really what life was about, being feared and/or beating people up. He therefore decided to train one more year, and if he didn´t find a GOOD reason to continue – he would quit. (Quite similar to what Sam Tam did, when he withdrew from public and decided to find a new path to follow, which was when his tremendous yielding capacity developed).

The Taiwanese guy DID find a reason and a new path to travel down and changed his whole approach and teaching. And his skill took a giant leap. His yielding is very, very good! He has a lot of power, and his qinna´s are soft, irresistible and convincing. Just like it is the case with Sam Tam, he also is in a league of his own. He uses different words and explanations in his teaching method than Sam Tam does, which in a way is fine, because it supplements very well and give a different perspective – to the same. He does also include eastern philosophy in his teaching (he is a very intelligent guy and well read), which my students liked.

It is strange that I have gone to Taiwan for so many times, have had the great fortune to learn from some highly skillful teachers there which I am grateful of, and at the same time never ran into this guy. And the other way around, that he reads an article from me and recommend a Danish student of him to go see me. And then by “accident”, he ends up being stranded in DK for a period, which creates the possibility for him and I to meet – and connect. You know the different saying like “when the student is ready the teacher come along”, and there are also a few ones the other way around. I feel quite sure that this is the beginning to a longer relationship. And his teaching and approach go so well hand in hand with Sam Tam´s teaching and some of the teaching I have received from other teachers. He will be visiting DK again February/March 2019. But first I am going to Sam Tam once again in a bit more than a month.

Interview:
As some of you know I gave a more than two-hour interview on Taiji and Internal Martial arts some months ago. I first released the interview in minor blocks, focusing on specific topic in each block, and now the full interview is released. When we did the interview´s I wanted it to be so “authentic” as possible, so I didn´t know the questions beforehand, and we did it all in one take. That´s the way I like it, and that is also the way I filmed the different lessons on Exploring Taiji. I got a lot of nice feedback on the interviews – and that I am thankful of. It always makes me happy when somebody finds a little value in what I do.

You can watch the full interview here.

Interview FULL - YouTube

Skype meetings and mail correspondance:
As more and more people have signed up for Exploring Taiji, of course questions arise as people progress. Some people have written me a few questions – some a lot. I love to be at service in any way I can, but it is also quite time consuming for me. And my working days very often get very long, since I also have to make a living besides free email support. I thought for a while how to adjust to that since it is still my main concern to teach open and affordable. I came to the conclusion that offering the option to either book an email consultation or Skype meeting (more people already do that), is a fair way to do it for all. It is still ok to write me a minor question now and then, but if you have more on your heart, please choose one of the other options. It is quite affordable for people who have signed up to Exploring Taiji.

Summer Camp:
The last 3 years I ran my very intensive Summer Camp here in DK  in my house and Garden. It was my intention to do it in Greece in 2019, but I will do it once again in DK. It is a very intensive course, with 8 hours teaching (from me) for 8 days. Just like the other years, it will be possible to sign up for the full camp, only the weekend(s), only one, two or three days. It will probably be in the beginning of July like the former years – but it might also be that I change it to August due to traveling plans.
I will release the dates around Christmas time and will at the same time open the doors for early bird registration.

Workshops abroad and private Tuition in DK:
2019 will also be the year where I start doing workshops again outside DK. I have talked to interested people in Germany, Holland and England, but haven´t decided yet. If you think it could be something for you to organize – please feel free to contact me.

In 2018 I have had students coming to Denmark for 2 – 4 days for private tuition. Either one person only, or 2 or 3 people together. I will keep on doing that and you are more than welcome to ask me when it is possible to book sessions. And for the people who are already signed up on Exploring Taiji, I do it cheaper. It speeds up the learning process which is beneficial for everybody.

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