Tailoring Change

There is an intriguing phrase in the Dazhuan, the Great Treatise, the largest of the ten ‘wings’, or primary commentaries, of the Yijing. It is about the nature of change. It reads:

Hua and cai are called bian.1Dazhuan 1.12 化而裁之謂之變。

Translated directly it says:

Transformation and tailoring are called change.

The standard words for change in the Yijing are bian and hua.2The character Yi 易 also means ‘change,’ as well as ‘easy’ and ‘chameleon’. As well as being used separately, they are often employed together as a cover-all term (bianhua) for all forms of change. While there is a great deal of overlap between the two, hua generally means ‘transformation’, the changing of one thing into another, whereas bian generally means the less permanent change associated with alteration and alternation, such as that of the seasons.

The phrase is interesting because it introduces a third, less common and seemingly more specific term: cai, which means ‘to cut out cloth’, ‘to make clothes’. Clearly, the ramifications of this use of cai require some exploration. From the basic meaning of ‘shaping cloth,’3The cloth/clothing radical yī 衣 is embedded in the character 裁 cai. cai came more generally to mean, ‘to fashion’, ‘to fit a pattern’, ‘to trim, pare, cut out’, and subsequently, ‘to regulate’.4The Analects uses cai in the sense of ‘to prune and shape’ behaviour (Analects 5.22). The Huainanzi uses cai in the sense of ‘to measure or judge the appropriate degree’ of something (Huainanzi 9.27 & 10.118). The Guanzi uses cai in the sense of ‘to fashion, to make’ (Guanzi《形勢解》3:34:13, 64/7b6 ), and in the sense of ‘adjust appropriately to’ (Guanzi《心術下》2:67.6). Xunzi uses cai in the sense of ‘to regulate’ (ICS Xunzi 9/39/12).

Tailoring is about making and adjusting clothes to fit someone specific. When the Dazhuan says that ‘transformation and tailoring are called change,’ it is highlighting the importance of adapting to circumstances. ‘Change and transformation’ (bianhua) is not random. It is about adjusting very precisely to the present conditions, internal and external.5This is one of the many meanings of the phrase ‘neiwai xianghe’ 內外相合, meaning ‘the internal and external unite,’ from the Taiji Classics. It is about finding the right fit, right here, right now.

If we consider the metaphor more closely, the paring away aspect of tailoring also resonates with the dropping away of all that is extraneous, which is so important in Daoist practice:

In practising Dao one loses daily.
Lose and lose until you arrive at not-doing
Not-doing, yet nothing is not done.6Laozi 48. See Study Not Studying.

In this sense tailoring is about trimming away whatever does not allow a person to fully adapt and move with the current situation, whatever that may be. The answer to the question, ‘what is it that gets in the way of the ability to change in this way?’ is: whatever is not natural (ziran 自然, literally ‘self-so’).

One of the classic descriptions of adjusting to conditions is in the Zhuangzi. It is most likely the first recorded iteration of the now hackneyed slogan, ‘go with the flow’:

Confucius was at Luliang contemplating the water falling thirty ren (forty fathoms), its froth flowing for forty li (fourteen miles). Turtles, alligators, and fish could not swim there. He caught sight of a gentleman swimming there. Thinking that the man was bitter and wished to die, he sent his disciples down to the flow to rescue him. However, several hundred paces further down the man hopped out and leisurely strolled along the bottom of the bank, singing, with his hair draped like a blanket.
Confucius followed and spoke to him, saying, ‘I thought you were a ghost, but clearly you are a man. May I ask, do you have a special way of treading water? ’
The man answered: ‘No, I have no way. I started with what was familiar; I grew with what is natural to me; and am fulfilled with what has been man- dated (for me).’ I go in where it swirls together and get out where it rushes and tumbles everywhere, I go along with the way of water and do not do my own thing to it. This is how I tread it.7 ICS Zhuangzi 19/51/27 – 19/52/1.

The key terms come at the end of the passage, the swimmer ‘goes along with’ (cong 從) the way (dao 道) of water without any interference, without doing his ‘own thing’ (si 私) to it.8Si 私 means ‘personal’ or ‘private’. He has no way of his own, he simply follows the way of the water. Not imposing one’s private agenda on the world is an important element of the Daoist understanding of naturalness (self-so-ness), which confers the ability to follow along with reality and by so doing remain healthy and whole.

It is precisely the ‘personal’, all of our likes and dislikes, our expectations, that get in the way of our perceiving reality as it is. It is only by seeing clearly that we can adjust to and go along with what is actually occurring.

What is so challenging to us is that this cutting away, this removal of what is not natural to us, is the removal of all the ‘personal’ desires and aversions that we mistakenly believe we are. It is only by going beyond the personal, beyond ‘yes’ and ‘no’, ‘like’ and ‘dislike’, that we can get out of our own way and properly become ourselves.

In the context of practising the internal arts, there are many ways of making adjustments to best suit external and internal conditions. For instance, externally, seasonal adjustments are crucial. There are at least three main ways to make them:

First, and most obviously, the size of our movements can be altered to suit the season. Everything being equal, our bodies are relatively more open in the spring and summer and more closed in the autumn and winter. If we make use of the middle – the 70% rule – the size of our stances will change as our ‘Goldilocks range’ naturally follows the seasons.

Second, within our forms, we may move our emphasis to the relevant element as the seasons change. A Taiji form done to accentuate the water element (kidneys, lü jin, absorption, fluidity – tong 通) in winter, will feel quite different to a wood element form (liver, peng jin, expansion, rising, springiness – tanxing 彈性) in spring.9And just to complete the list, fire element (heart, ji jin, projection, twisting and spiralling – zhuan 轉) in summer; metal element (lungs, an jin, compression, alignment – zheng 正) in autumn; earth element (spleen, zhongding, smoothness – shunli 順利) in long summer and throughout the year.

Third, one might emphasise different neigong forms with the seasons: Fundamentals (Energy Gates) in the winter, Heaven and Earth in the spring, Spiralling Energy Body in the summer, Immortals Cloud Playing (Gods) in long summer and throughout the year, Bend the Bow in the autumn (Dragon and Tiger also works very well in the autumn, but since it is not as elemental it is not as seasonal).10We should remember that, while seasonal adjustments are the general context for our practice, there are many, more subtle levels of change, such as that made for more immediate changes in the weather, for different times of the day, and even for different phases within one’s practice. For instance, exactly where we change from opening to closing through a particular movement in the form can change depending on what produces the optimal flow of energy (qitong 氣通) at that moment. Eventually bianhua can be manifested moment to moment.

Adapting our practice to the seasons is an effective way to tune back into the world around us. It allows us to move with the currents rather than being drowned by them. Returning to the world, becoming more present and being able to see what is in front of us as it is, is the much needed antidote to the hi-tech, distracted age of anxiety that we are presently living in.

Internally, there are three primary contexts that will transform the way we practise: health, the martial arts, and meditation. These three fundamental applications can and should interweave with the external adjustments that we make.Which is also part of ‘naiwai xianghe’.

Bruce, a natural fighter himself, reminds us regularly that, ‘not everyone wants to fight, but everyone wants to be healthy and strong’. The health applications of these arts apply to everyone and are the reason why the vast majority of people take them up in the first place. This being so, and since physical strength and stability are the foundation of the martial and spiritual applications of the internal arts, we’ll focus on health here.11For information on the martial side of the internal arts see: Frantzis, B. K., The Power of the Internal Martial Arts, revised edition (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2007). For information on the spiritual side, the realm of Daoist shengong, see Frantzis, B.K., Relaxing Into Your Being (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2002); Frantzis, B.K., The Great Stillness (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2001); Frantzis, B.K., Tao of Letting Go: Meditation for Modern Living (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2009).

In terms of the body, one of the most important aspects of tailoring is that of the form itself. One’s form needs to fit one’s body and its specific capacities. This is the opposite of the ubiquitous ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching forms, where people try to force their bodies into a stylised configuration, usually that of a specific master. What is forgotten with such stylisation is that the master’s form is correct for his or her particular body and skills. This is why different masters develop different looking forms. For instance, Wu Jianquan had an extraordinarily open body and was particularly skilled at throws, and both were reflected in his Taiji form.

Tailoring the form in this way does not mean that anything goes, one cannot just do one’s own thing, but within any form there is far more possible variation than most practitioners realise. Taiji is an embodiment of certain principles, not an external shape.

An important aspect of realising the nature of change and transformation is that it can help us let go of the desire for perfection and the inevitable frustration that accompanies it when we never get it ‘right’. In a world of constant flux, how can there be a single, perfect configuration that holds true for all time? Doing a form correctly means get- ting as much neigong working as possible, given our present level of integration, here and now. It will be different tomorrow.

Beyond fitting the form to one’s capacities, particular health conditions require additional modifications. Doing a form generally for health will not necessarily be the same as doing it for a specific ailment, although there is likely to be a great deal of overlap. The way one does the form to tonify or heal an internal organ, for instance, is not precisely the same way that one does it for improving blood flow, or healing joints, or nerves.

Transformation and tailoring are called change, and change is the way that we constantly adjust and pare away what would otherwise get in our way. Change is the ability to go along with reality, with that which is so-of-itself. The internal arts are essentially bianhua practices. They teach us how to change and transform along with circumstances. Initially, the tailoring is physical: how to move from one position to another with- out getting stuck. Gradually our practices show us how to change in ever more subtle ways.

If we learn to tailor change we can be like the swimmer at Luliang, leisurely strolling next to the turbulent rapids that he has just effortlessly negotiated.

Text and translations © Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2017.

Notes   [ + ]

Making Use of the Middle

or
Goldilocks was a philosopher

 

There is a short phrase in the Taiji Classics that is easily glossed over. If we take the time to look at it a little more closely, it reveals surprising richness, depth and relevance to our practice of the internal arts and, beyond that, to the art of living. The phrase is: wú gùo bù jí 無過不及, which we will initially translate as:

Neither gùo nor bù jí.

A standard translation for gùo 過 is ‘excess’ and for bù jí 不及 is ‘insufficiency’. Translating these terms in this way is accurate, but it does not tell the whole story. Any traditionally educated Chinese reader will immediately recognise this phrase as a reference to a passage in the Confucian classic, much loved by the Daoists, the Zhongyong 中庸.

Zhongyong is often translated as The Doctrine of the Mean.1Following Legge’s 1861 translation. Later in 1885 he opted for The State of Equilibrium and Harmony, for the “Sacred Books of the East” series, but returned to Doctrine of the Mean for the second revised edition of “The Chinese Classics” series of 1893. Zhōng means ‘middle’, ‘centre’. The Chinese name for China is zhōngguó, ‘Middle Kingdom’. Yōng, means ‘ordinary’ as well as ‘use, employ’ and ‘constant’. A very direct translation would be ‘the middle of the ordinary’ or ‘the constant centre’. Both terms evoke the central place (zhōng) of balance in any situation, place or state. What is ‘ordinary’ (yōng) if not the absence of extremes, whatever the circumstance? It is also possible to read this title as ‘making use of centrality’. The phrase zhōngyōng first appears in the Analects where it seems to follow this last meaning: ‘Becoming virtuous by making use of centrality (zhōngyōng), that is attainment!’2Analects 6.29.

Our phrase from the Taiji Classics is actually a direct quotation of the explanation of the meaning of the phrase zhōngyōng by the Neo-Confucian scholar Zhuxi. He says:

Zhōng is the name of that which is not one sided, does not lean (bù piān bù yĭ), which neither gùo nor bù jí. Yōng is level and constant.3Zhong Yong Zhang Ju 1. The phrase bù piān bù yĭ also made its way into the Taiji Classics. Swaim translates it as: “No leaning, no inclining.” (in Fu Zhongwen: Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan). Oddly, the two phrases of this sentence do not appear together in the Taiji Classics.

Let’s look more closely at these terms before turning to the Zhongyong. Gùo 過 means ‘to pass by, to go beyond’, jí 及 means ‘to arrive at, to come to, to reach, to attain’. Bù jí 不及, then, means ‘not reach’. Our phrase from the Taiji Classics now reads,

Neither go beyond nor do not arrive.

The Zhongyong, can fill out its meaning for us:

The master said: ‘The Way (dào) is not traveled (xíng), I know why: those who are knowledgeable go beyond it (gùo); those who are foolish do not come up to it (bù jí). The Way is not made bright (míng), I know why: those who are worthy go beyond it (gùo), those who are unlike (the worthy) do not come up to it (bù jí ). No one does not eat or drink, but few are able to know flavour.’4Zhongyong 4.

The dominant metaphors of this passage are of travelling along xíng 行, and illuminating (making bright and clear) míng 明, the way dào 道. The word translated as ‘attainment’ in Analects 6.29 above, zhì 至 ‘arrive’, is the same word that Zhuangzi uses for one who has attained the Dao: literally, ‘one who has arrived’. Arriving somewhere necessarily involves neither going beyond it nor failing to get there. The language of ‘going beyond,’ ‘not coming up to,’ and ‘arriving in the middle’ is intimately bound up with the fundamental metaphor of Chinese philosophy and practice: that of the Way.

Those who acquire knowledge and the worthy are usually exemplars and paragons in the Confucian tradition, but in the Zhongyong Confucius warns that such people fail to attain the way because they go beyond it. Theirs is the mistake of overreaching, of excess. The foolish and those unlike the worthy (usually just translated as ‘the unworthy’) fall into the opposite error of not coming up to the Way. Theirs is the mistake of falling short, of deficiency.

If we are in any doubt about this reading of the Zhongyong, there is a passage in the Analects where Confucius makes it absolutely clear that gùo and bù jí equally miss the mark:

Zigong asked, ‘Who is more worthy, Zizhang or Zixia?’ The Master replied, ‘Zizhang gùo (goes beyond it), Zixia bù jí (does not come up to it).’ (Zigong asked,) ‘So then is Zizhang better?’ The Master replied, ‘Gùo (going beyond) is the same as bù jí (not coming up to).’5Analects 11.16.

The pursuit of the middle is equally important to the Confucian and Daoist traditions, though the focus of each is somewhat different. Confucians emphasise the Dao of man, which to them means the realm of human relationships. They employ the mean within the lĭ 禮, a term usually translated as ‘rites’, but which includes what we would recognise as etiquette. Greeting your friends and how one behaves in public are equally part of the Confucian rites.

Daoists, emphasising the dao of Heaven, make use of centrality on all levels of one’s being: the physical, energetic, emotional, the mental, and so on. Our passage in the Taiji Classics is primarily concerned with the application of not going too far and not falling short physically, energetically and martially. It is unlikely that it is being used in reference to the rites, despite the phrase having been borrowed from one of the greatest of the Confucian masters of the Song dynasty renaissance.

In the Daoist classics, one of the most important images of tending towards and attending to the middle is that of drawing a bow:

The dao of Heaven is like drawing a bow.
What is high it draws down, What is low it lifts,
What has too much it lessens, What does not have enough it adds to.
The dao of Heaven lessens what has too much
while adding to what does not have enough.
The dao of men is not so, it lessens what is not enough by offering more to what has too much.6Laozi 77.

Making use of the middle, then, is directly related to the art of knowing what is enough:

Calamity: there is none greater than not knowing what is enough
Error: there is none greater than desiring gain
Thus knowing enough of what is enough is always enough!7Laozi 46. For an application of this principle see, The Great is the Enemy of the Good.

Considering these passages from the heart Chinese philosophy, it becomes clear how true to tradition Master Bruce Frantzis is when he refers to making use of the middle as finding the ‘Goldilocks point’: neither too much nor too little, but just right. This is what he means by the 70% rule. In this regard Bruce often tells the story of the man from Sung, the classic version of which is found in the writings of Mencius:

Gongsun Chou asked Mencius, ‘May I ask in what you are most developed?’
Mencius answered, ‘I understand words, and I am good at cultivating my flood-like qi.’
Gongsun asked, ‘May I ask what you mean by ‘’flood-like qi”?’
Mencius answered, ‘That is difficult to explain. Qi can be developed to great levels of quantity and stability by correctly nourishing it and not damaging it, to the extent that it fills the space between Heaven and Earth. […] One must work at it, but not rigidly. Do not forget about it, but do not help it to grow either. Do not be like the man from Sung.
There was a man from Sung who was worried that his crops were not growing, so he pulled on them. Wearily, he returned home, and said to his family, ‘Today I am worn out; I have been helping the crops to grow!’ His sons rushed out to look, but the crops had already withered.
Those in the world who do not help their crops grow are few indeed. Those who abandon them, thinking it will not help, are those who do not even weed their crops. Those who help them grow are those who pull on their crops. Not only does this not help, but it actually harms them. Mencius 2A.2.

This is a beautiful illustration of finding the Goldilocks point in any endeavour: neither helping our crops grow, nor neglecting them; neither going beyond what is needed nor not coming up to it.

While Goldilocks may not set a very good example when it comes to breaking and entering, she is a great exemplar of the principle of avoiding the extremes of too much and too little.

Making use of the middle is the ultimate principle of balance that we can apply to any aspect of life: from exercising or working in the garden, to finding the balance between work and home. Within Tai Chi, neigong and qigong, finding and maintaining balance is practiced on progressively more subtle levels. The first concern is with physical balance, which is not just about standing on one leg but also includes balancing the left and right sides of the body, the top and bottom halves of the body and the blood, lymph and nerve flow throughout the body etc.. The next level is energetic balance, followed by emotional and mental balance and so on. At each level of refinement the principle is the same, only it is applied to more of who and what we are.

The seemingly innocuous phrase from the Taiji Classics with which we started, ‘neither go beyond nor do not arrive’ is truly one of the most important subjects in our practice of the internal arts and in life.

 

Text and translations ©Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2011 & 2017.

Notes   [ + ]

Why So Slow 2

There is a sentence in Wang Bi’s essay on the Laozi,1Laozi weizi lilüe The Structure of Laozi’s Pointers, translated in Wagner, A Chinese Reading of the Daodejing pp.82-106 and Lynn, The Classic of The Way and Virtue pp.30-41. which beautifully expresses the importance of not rushing. It is actually a direct reference to the Great Commentary (Da Zhuang 1.10) of the Yijing.2The original passage reads: 唯神也、故不疾而速、不行而至。(繫辭上 10). Only (through) spirit (can one) thus not hurry yet be fast, not go/force yet arrive (my translation). Lynn’s translation: It is the numinous alone that thus allows one to make progress without hurrying and reach goals without forcing one’s way. (The Classic of Changes p.63). Wilhelm’s translation: Only through the divine can one hurry without haste and reach the goal without walking (I Ching or Book of Changes p.316).

Wang Bi’s sentence is: 善速在不疾,善至在不行。 We shall initially translate it as:

Being good at sù 速 lies in not jí 疾, being good at zhì 至 lies in not háng/xíng 行.

Because of the nature of the Chinese language the key terms in this sentence have a broad range of meaning. Exploring these meanings and producing and extended translation proves to be surprisingly rich. If we take the first phrase,

Being good at sù 速 lies in not jí 疾,

The meaning of sù is fairly straight forward: to move, fast, rapid. Although, interestingly, it also means to awaken. Jí, however, has a more involved set of meanings: urgent, swift, rapid; be anxious, detest, hate, anger; to burn, to smoulder, destroy by fire, be inflamed, feverish, to be in rut; sickness, pain, disease, suffering. The root meaning of this word is to do with inflammation of all kinds, from physical speed, to having a fever, to being hot headed etc.

While the primary meaning of jí in the phrase is clearly ’being urgent, rushing , hurrying’, echoing the primary meaning of sù, there are many relevant overtones in the root of the word: Our progress will be hindered by the negative emotions of anxiety, anger and hate, such emotions inflame and disturb us, they are a sickness from which we suffer. Thus an extended translation of the phrase could read:

Being good at being fast lies in not rushing, in not being inflamed and made ill by anxiety, anger or hate.

An interesting secondary reading, which ties into the second reading of the second phrase, which we shall consider below, is:

Being good at being awake lies in not rushing.

Let’s move onto the second phrase:

Being good at zhì 至 lies in not háng/xíng 行.

Zhì has the range of meaning: to come to, get to, arrive at, reach; to bring about, effect; accomplish, achieve, establish, settle. While 行 when read as háng means: hard, strong, force. Hence the phrase can be translated as: Being good at achieving (things) lies in not forcing one’s way, in not being hard or forceful.

However there is also a more subtle reading. Zhì can be seen as an echo of Zhuangzi’s 至人 zhì rén literally ‘person who has arrived.’ This is in the same realm as Laozi 47:

No need to leave your door to know the whole world
No need to peer through your window to know the way of Heaven
The farther you go, the less you know.
Therefore the Sage knows without going
Names without seeing
And completes without doing a thing.3Henricks, R. G., trans., Lao-Tzu Te-Tao Ching: A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-wang-tui Texts, p.116

One who is completely present, who has arrived, does not need to leave his house in order to know all under heaven. The arrived man is, literally, everywhere. There is no need for him to go anywhere. With this reading, 行 can be read as xíng: to go, to walk, to do, to travel. Then the phrase reads:

Being good at arriving lies in not going.

‘Not going’ here means both ‘not leaving the present’, and ‘not doing’ as in wu wei, non action, which is so highly prized by the Laozi. Hence, our extended translation can read:

Being good at being fully present lies in not leaving the present, in practising non action.

As indicted earlier, the secondary reading of the first phrase as ’Being good at being awake lies in not rushing or not being inflamed’ fits well with this reading of the second phrase. Wakefulness has long been a metaphor for being fully present.

Our unpacked translation, while lacking the elegance of the original ten characters, gives some indication of the multiple meaning the sentence carries:

Being good at being fast lies in not rushing, Being good at being awake lies in not being inflamed and made ill by by anxiety, anger or hate. Being good at achieving (things) lies in not forcing one’s way, in not being hard or forceful. Being good at arriving lies in not going: being good at being fully present lies in not leaving the present, in practising non action.

Wang Bi, following the Yijing and the Laozi, associates speedy progress and wakefulness with a lack of haste, which is at the same time a lack of dis-ease, a lack of emotional inflammation. This is the yin method of the Daoist tradition that does not force or push. It is as relevant to achieving our goals in the world as it is to becoming present and arriving here and now at that which we truly are.

Notes   [ + ]

Why So Slow 1

When people first join my classes they often comment on how slow they are, even compared to other Tai Chi classes, punctuated as they are by regular tea breaks. There are several reasons for this deliberate lack of haste.

The first reason is obvious enough. The breaks give your nervous system time to absorb whatever we have just done. It makes it much easier for the body to retain the new information and then to integrate it. If the class just kept moving on to the next thing without any pauses, only a fraction of what was taught would be retained. It is the equivalent of the famous tea cup that, once full, overflows. There is only so much that it can hold and until it is emptied, the tea is drunk and made part of the drinker, it simply will not be able to hold any more. The least beneficial aspect of such a way of doing things is the impression left that you have learned much more than you actually have. Being in the room when something is being taught is not the same as truly learning and embodying it.

The second reason for the easy pace is to encourage us to let the mind slow down. We live in a frantic world, in a culture where everything is rushed: everything must be done instantly. We have reached the point where we get frustrated at waiting a couple of seconds for the computer to perform tasks that would have taken hours or even weeks to accomplish just a few decades ago.

These days, we rarely even stop for a cup of tea . Instead we drink it on the run, in the car or while we are working. And we view this a progress! Pausing in class for a cup of tea is the opportunity to do just that: it is a chance to become present, even if only to enjoy a cup of tea with no other demands on us.

Being present is one of the fundamentals of Daoist practice. The first step is to be in the body. The more present we become to the body, the more our minds penetrate and merge with it. This can only be achieved by slowing down the mind to the same speed as the body.

The mind can move much faster than the body. Think how quickly your mind can move even from one end of the room to the other; much faster than you could run the same distance. Your thoughts can run so far ahead of something you are saying that you fall over your words.

In order for the mind to saturate the body it must first slow down to match the speed of the body. Otherwise its attention endlessly flies off in other directions. These other directions are most often into the future or the past: thoughts about what you’ll do next or this evening, or next week or on the other hand memories of this morning, yesterday, last week, last year. These days people spend most of their lives in the past and the future and very little of it in the present. It is one of the contributing factors to our age of anxiety.

I regularly have students who want to know what’s next before they have engaged with what I have just shown them. This is the mind racing into the future and neglecting the present. Overcoming the ‘what’s next’ syndrome is part of the antidote to our lack of ease in the world. Slowing down the mind to the point where in can saturate the body with awareness brings us into the present and brings about calmness and stability.

The third reason for going slowly follows on from the first two. Once we have allowed our nervous systems to absorb the new pattern and our minds have slowed down enough to be in the body to whatever degree we are able at the moment, we can begin to integrate what we have learned. This involves making the new element that we have learned a part of the way the body works rather than something we do only when we focus our attention on it. It is of course only through practice that we are able to integrate new skills.

On a deeper level, integration (the sixteenth element of neigong) involves bringing together all of the different parts of ourselves. At first it is physical integration; aligning and connecting the limbs and torso to the point where the body works as one thing. The root meaning of the word ‘health’ is ‘whole’. Using the body as an integrated whole makes one healthy. This same principle applies to all of our other bodies: the energy body, the emotional body, the mental body etc.. As each body becomes integrated within itself and with the other bodies we move towards ever greater wholeness, balance and presence.

These are the reasons why in class we do something and then have a cup of tea and a chat. It allows our nervous system to absorb what we have just done before moving on to the next layer. It gives us the opportunity to relax into the present and over time it gives us the space to integrate the various elements of our practice and ourselves.

 

©Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2010 & 2017.

Nurturing Life

or Paying Attention to Why We Act

Why do we do what we do? This is rather a big question. If we get into specifics we’ll be here forever. However, one answer to the question is that generally we do what we do because it is necessary or because we think it is a good thing to do. Put another way, we do things because they make life better than if we did not do them. In the Daoist tradition, the subject of making life better, yangsheng 養生 or ‘nurturing life’, is considered to be rather important.

Fundamental to nurturing life is knowing what to be careful about:

Those who do not know what to be careful about have not yet begun to make the distinction between those things that lead to death and those that lead to life, those things that lead to survival and those that lead to destruction, between what can and cannot be done. … This is called great delusion.1Lü Shi Chun Qiu 1.3.

Whether we move in the direction of life or in the direction of death is a matter of understanding what is of true value and what is of value only when put in the correct perspective. Warnings such as the passage above from the Lü Shi Chun Qiu, China’s earliest philosophic encyclopaedia written c. 250 BC, are also found in the Zhuangzi, one of the great classics of the Daoist tradition. The following anecdote concerning ‘making the body whole and nurturing life’ is found in both texts:

In today’s modern world people do too much with their bodies and throw away their lives, martyring themselves for things. Is this not sad? Whenever sages make a move, they are sure to consider why and how they are acting. If today someone were to use the Marquis of Sui’s pearl (a famous jewel) to shoot at a sparrow eight thousand feet away, they would be laughed at. Why? Because that which they used was important and that which they sought was unimportant. How much more precious is life than the Marquis’s pearl!2Lü Shi Chun Qiu 2.2; Zhuangzi 28. The word I translate throughout as ‘body’ also means ‘life’ and ‘self ’.

Another passage that is shared by these two texts is more specific about what to be careful about:

One who can honour life, though noble and wealthy, will not allow the pursuit of that which nourishes to injure the body; though poor and humble, will not allow the pursuit of that which profits to tie up the form. People of today, who hold high office and honoured rank, all think only of how serious it would be to lose them. Eyes fixed on profit, they recklessly destroy their bodies. How is this not delusion?3Lü Shi Chun Qiu 21.4; Zhuangzi 28.

Guarding against the pursuit of profit at the cost of our health and well being is a fairly straightforward and clear message. We see people chasing money and burning themselves out all the time. It’s the all too familiar competition to be the ‘richest man in the graveyard’. The Japanese have even coined a word for it: karoshi 過労死, which means ‘death from overwork’. The term is now international and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2001; an ominous word for the beginning of the new millennium.

However, the idea of not allowing the pursuit of that-which-nourishes to injure us, needs a bit more reflection. ‘What is it that nourishes us?’ is a question with endless answers: food, exercise, work, shelter, music, art, things that we like; which is to say, anything that enriches our lives on all levels. How is it that going after such things can cause injury? The answer is: through lack of moderation. Even the best things, if taken in excess, can cause harm. Water, the most life-giving of substances, will kill you if you drink too much if it. This is one of the primary laws of yin and yang: if you take yang to its limit it will flip to yin and vice versa. For instance, if you do too much, it will exhaust you and you will find that you cannot do anything at all: yang has changed to yin. Extremes damage.

If we use up our bodies, our energy, our lives in chasing those things that nourish us, we achieve exactly the opposite of what we intend. This is because we have reversed the relationship: rather than using things to nourish life, we have spent our health, our lives, on acquiring things. These ‘things’ that damage our lives are not simply material possessions. It is the same with exercise. Take the present craze for extreme sports such as marathon running and Iron Man events. After a marathon a person’s immune system is suppressed for about a month and, more seriously, the heart is damaged. It is the same with everything from food and sex to study and meditation. Too much of anything comes down to one thing: the delusion of using a pearl to shoot a sparrow, of not knowing what to be careful about.

Yao yielded the rule of all under Heaven … to Zizhou Zhifu, who said, ‘To make me the Son of Heaven, that would be alright. However, just now I have a worrying illness, which I am trying to put in order. I do not yet have the leisure to put all under Heaven in order.’ All under Heaven is of the utmost importance, but he would not harm his life because of it. How much less for anything else! Only one who would not use all under Heaven can be entrusted with all under Heaven.4Lü Shi Chun Qiu 2.2; Zhuangzi 28. See also Laozi 13.

If we cannot be trusted to take care of our own bodies then we cannot be entrusted with anything else. Such a lack of care demonstrates that we have a distorted relationship, not just with our own bodies and selves, but with the whole world. One that is out of balance and extreme. This is what Laozi calls the ‘dao of man’, the opposite of the ‘dao of heaven’:

The dao of Heaven is like drawing a bow.
What is high it draws down,
What is low it lifts,
What has too much it lessens,
The dao of Heaven lessens what has too much
while adding to what does not have enough.

The dao of man is not so,
it lessens what is not enough
by offering more to what has too much.
5Laozi 77.

The ‘dao of man’ is a distortion that compromises one’s perceptions and interactions with everything. This is delusion indeed! The Lü Shi Chun Qiu, makes this point with particularly vivid and unambiguous metaphors:

The body is that for which things are done, all under Heaven is that by which things are done. Attend to that by which things are done and an understanding of the light and the weighty will be obtained. Now, if there were those who cut off their heads in order to change their hats, or that killed themselves to change clothes, everyone would certainly consider them confused. Why? Because hats are for adorning the head, clothes are for adorning the body. If you kill that which you want to decorate and make the decoration all important, then you do not know the reason for acting! These days those who go after profit are like this. They endanger their bodies and injure their lives, cut their own throats and chop off their own heads in order to chase profit. They also do not know why they act!6Lü Shi Chun Qiu 21.4.

A surprisingly common instance of not knowing why we are acting can be found in the internal arts. It is very easy for us to get stuck on making a posture or movement absolutely correct. All too often we push or force our movements and postures in the attempt to do them flawlessly. The result is that we injure ourselves or we simply rob our practices of all benefit and enjoyment, and we give up. This is the equivalent of cutting off one’s head to change hats. The whole point of our practices is to nurture and enhance our lives, not to do them perfectly for their own sake.

Doing neither too much nor too little is the path to making the body whole and nurturing life:

Wrong: there is none more abundant than excessive desires,
Cause for blame: there is none more grievous than desiring gain,
Calamity: there is none greater than not knowing what is enough,
Knowing enough of what is enough, this is constantly enough.7Laozi 46. This is the Guodian version (the oldest extant edition c. 300 BC), which, in my view, is the most complete and internally consistent, though it is not as regular as the received version. This passage builds its series of warnings in a way that the later versions do not. The first caution is against the all too common misdeed of having too many desires. The next is against the source of immense suffering: the error (jiu 咎 means both ‘fault’ and ‘blame’) of desiring gain. The final warning is against the disaster of not knowing what is enough. The last line of the passage offers the antidote to these closely related ills: know when enough is enough.

Text and translations ©Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2015&2017.

Notes   [ + ]

Do Not Let the Great be the Enemy of the Good

I don’t know whether Bruce is intentionally referring to Voltaire’s famous phrase, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien,” “The best is the enemy of the good” but he often warns students, “Do not let the great be the enemy of the good.”

By this he is cautioning against the trap that many fall into of not doing what they are able to do, because they cannot to do it perfectly or at least as well as they would like to be able to do it. In this way the ‘great,’ which is to say the desire to do something much better than one’s capacities presently allow, prevents people from gaining the benefits of the ‘good,’ which is doing what they can.

This impediment to practice is not new. The Huainanzi, the most sophisticated articulation of the philosophy and statecraft of the Han Dynasty, considered this very question over two thousand years ago:

If someone waits to harness a Yaoniao or a Feitu [legendary horses], then in this age they will not drive a chariot; waiting to be matched with a Xi Shi or a Mao Qiang [legendary beautiful women], then to the end of their life they will not have a family. So, without waiting for the brave and talented of ancient times, people themselves are enough, because what they have they also use.
Indeed, Qiji [a legendary horse] could cover a thousand li [over three hundred miles] in one day; a tired, old nag needs ten rest stops, but it ten days it will also get there. 1Huainanzi 11.17.

We of course have not heard of Yaoniao, Feitu, Xi Shi, Mao Qiang or Qiji, but it is easy enough to replace them with modern equivalents, such as the most expensive sports cars for the horses and our favorite actress or actor for the beautiful women: If we waited until we owned a Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita (I just looked it up) we would never drive a car, and if we waited to date Gisele Bündchen or Dwayne Johnson (also just looked up) we would remain single.

Qiji, the fastest and strongest horse in ancient China, is a particularly good metaphor in the practice of the internal arts. In our instant, want-everything-yesterday culture many want to cover a great deal of ground at once, and when they find that they are not progressing as quickly as they would like, they give up. This is a great shame. In order to progress, all that any of us needs to do is to use what we have. That will be enough. This brings us, as always, to Laozi:

Calamity: none is greater than not knowing what is enough
Error: none is greater than desiring gain
Knowing enough of enough is always enough! 2Laozi 46.

In this context, the error is to desire to accomplish our goals faster than we are able to and then to give up when we cannot do the impossible. This is not to know enough. Such an attitude will guarantee that we fail. That is the calamity. The remedy is simply to do what we can. By using what we have we will get there. This is to know enough. It is much better to do something than nothing. And it is only by practising at our present level that we will ever attain the level of skill that we desire. The attainment of any skill is like climbing a ladder: there are no short cuts. It is impossible to miss out rungs. The good news is that, whatever rung of the ladder we are on, provided that we have adequate instruction, we have enough to make progress. What we need is always right in front of us: the next rung. It is the only step that we can actually take. This view is encapsulated in a saying from the Tai Chi Classics, which is found throughout Chinese philosophy and practice: “Many mistakenly forsake the near in pursuit of what is far away.” It is only by doing what is near at hand that we will get anywhere.

The internal arts are not fast practices. It is not possible to go on a weekend course and become a master, this is true of any authentic craft or art, but with regular practice the benefit to our lives can be profound. One of the keys to success is not to let the great be the enemy of the good.

 

Text & Translations © Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2010 – 2017.

Notes   [ + ]

What We Teach

D&T 6
Dragon & Tiger Qigong, Movement 6

Where To Start

Tai Chi Fundamentals

We generally recommend Tai Chi Fundamentals as the place to start. This ancient neigong set teaches all of the essential alignments and movement principles in the most simple format possible. It is the foundation of the internal arts and it makes learning any Tai Chi form much easier.

Dragon & Tiger

Another place to begin is with qigong. Dragon & Tiger will quickly give you a sense of the body’s energy. It is like giving yourself acupuncture (without the needles). The beauty of this qigong is that you need learn only seven movements to practise a complete set that will balance and strengthen all of the major meridians (energy channels). It is particularly good for healers of all kinds as it protects against and clears the negative energy that they are often exposed to in their work with others. Dragon & Tiger is good for those who are only interested in qigong, whereas Tai Chi Fundamentals allows you to move on to Tai Chi more easily.

Longevity Breathing

Matthew has often heard B.K.Frantzis say that if he could only teach one of the many disciplines that he has mastered for general health it would be breathing. It follows that if you only ever learn one aspect of the internal arts breathing would be an excellent choice. With relatively little effort you can learn the most essential practice for letting go of stress and gaining optimal health. It can be done anywhere, any time.

The Next Step

Wu Style Tai Chi Short Form

The Wu Style, as taught by Grand Master Liu Heng Jie to B.K. Frantzis, is taught entirely in terms of the 16 components of neigong. It is the only form that I know of that does so. This form is specifically designed to contain all five of the neigong systems, of which Tai Chi Fundamentals is the first and most essential. Its effect is to amplify the power of any neigong that you practise. It is considerably more difficult to learn than the neigong, but having studied Tai Chi Fundamentals for some time, you will be able to practise the form with content from a very early stage.

Heaven & Earth NeiGong

Heaven & Earth is the gateway to all higher level Daoist energy and meditation work, including high level Tai Chi and Bagua. It is taught with the expectation that you are familiar with the material from Tai Chi Fundamentals, without which your progress will be limited.

And beyond …

Wu Style Tai Chi Long Form

You will need a firm grasp of the Short Form (Matthew’s recommendation is at least three years) before taking on the Long Form. This class is significantly more demanding than any other that Matthew teaches. In order for a person to really benefit from the Long Form over the Short Form, they must be willing to invest much more practice time.

The minimum experience required to join this class is that you have done at least one cycle of the Wu Style Short Form.

Please contact Matthew if you are interested in attending.

 

Immortal Cloud Play (or Gods Playing in the Clouds)

This is the advanced neigong set, the bridge into genuine moving meditation.

The Three Swings

Swing 1 MB
The First Swing

Tai Chi Fundamentals Part 2

The Three Swings complete the ancient neigong set the first half of which includes Standing, Cloud Hands and the Spinal Stretch. They build directly on the alignment and movement principles of Standing and Cloud Hands.

It is important to have the basic alignments of each swing in place before moving onto the next, otherwise it is possible to damage your knees or lower back. This is why it is not a good idea to try to teach yourself the Swings from the book without the guidance of a properly qualified instructor.

In this course we build up each movement with preliminary exercises that, if followed, will protect you from such dangers and help you get the movements working.

The Benefits of the Swings

1) The First Swing opens up the hips; stimulates and strengthens the qi of the lower jiao, which extends from the lower dantian to the floor (that part of the body cavity that controls the function of the kidney, urinary bladder and the intestines: those organs responsible for the filtering and removal of impurities from the body). It also allows the deep relaxation of the arms and shoulders.

2) The Second Swing is the basis of all stepping in Tai Chi (Hsing I and Bagua), it teaches how to turn the waist and legs from the kua; stimulates and strengthens the qi of the middle jiao, which is between the lower and middle dantian (that part of the body cavity that controls the function of the small intestine, spleen, stomach, liver, gallbladder and pancreas as well as the adrenal glands: those organs responsible for the transportation and transformation of food into energy and blood).

3) The Third Swing completes the work of the first two swings; makes the spine open and springy; opens up the shoulders and the neck; and stimulates and strengthens the qi of the upper jiao, which extends from the middle dantian to the crown (bai hui) (that part of the body that controls the function of the heart, lungs and brain: those organs responsible for the circulation of blood and chi).

Experience in Standing and Cloud Hands is needed for this course.

Recommended Reading

Frantzis, B.K., Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body, 2nd edition (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2006). ISBN 1-58394-146-0.

Frantzis, B. K., The Power of the Internal Martial Arts (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1998).

Frantzis, B.K., The Chi Revolution (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2008). ISBN 978-1-58394-193-5.

Qigong

D&T 2
Dragon & Tiger Qigong, Movement 2

The difference between ‘Qigong’ and ‘Neigong’

‘Qi’ (or ‘Chi’) is the Chinese word for ‘energy’ or ‘life force’. It is what differentiates a living body from a dead one. The modern term ‘qigong’, meaning ‘energy work,’ is used to cover all forms of Oriental energy exercise, however there are actually two distinct forms of such exercise:

Qigong – which starts outside the body and works inwards.

Neigong – which starts inside the body and works outwards.

Although Qigong (pronounced ‘chee-gong’) is an old term, it has only come into general use over the last fifty years or so. In that time it has come to be used as the general designation for all energy practices. However, when used as a technical term (as it is on this web site) it refers to those exercises which affect the energy meridians on the surface of the body and through these affect the energy deep inside the body. Qigong uses the breath to move the qi, and activates only one or two energy lines at a time.

Neigong (pronounced ‘nay-gong’), meaning ‘internal work’, is an ancient term (over three thousand years old) for those practices that are the original source of all exercises that are today covered by the general term qigong. It focuses on the deepest energy channels, which then open and strengthen all the meridians of the body. In neigong the qi is moved directly by the mind and many energy channels are activated simultaneously. In total there are 16 components of neigong.

Strictly speaking, everything we teach is neigong, with the exception of Dragon & Tiger which is a meridian qigong system.

Both qigong and neigong work differently to Western forms of exercise.

Practice principles

Wu Style Taiji, Single Whip

 

The teacher leads to the door,
The practice is for the individual.

The Golden Mean: Strain is not gain

The most important principle in the internal arts is the Golden Mean. This means that you should not do anything to the point of straining yourself physically, energetically, emotionally or mentally. When you begin to feel any kind of tension, strain or pain you have gone beyond your comfortable range. Whenever you reach this point you have gone too far, next time do less. Going slowly allows you to notice when you are nearing the end of your comfortable range so that you can change direction before moving into strain.

Staying within your comfortable range will allow your body to release open. As it does so your range will grow. The golden mean is about being like an energy efficient light bulb: producing the most light (maximum flow/power) for the least possible expenditure of energy.

Not demanding perfection

It is quite common for people not to practise because they feel that they will get it wrong. This is a one of the largest barriers to improvement. Practise whatever you can remember, even if you know that you are not doing it quite right. As long as your knees are not hurting whatever you do will benefit you.

If you practise what you know regularly you will quickly have something to work on and improve. Whenever you come to class you will learn or be reminded of another piece of the puzzle. This will allow you to correct what you have been practising at home. You will soon find that you remember more each time and can practise more accurately.

Remember you do not have to do these postures and movements perfectly to get a great deal of benefit. In fact no one has ever done Tai Chi, Neigong or Qigong perfectly. It is working slowly and gently in a certain direction (towards the ideal of balance, openness and connected flow etc) that will make our journey smoother, happier and healthier.

The best time to practise

The simple answer is any time is better than never. Traditionally two hours before dawn is considered best. Whatever time you choose, try to do it at about the same time each day. Find what works best for you. Usually it is better not to practise just after eating.

Practising before bed

Some people find that if they practise too close to the time they go to bed that they cannot sleep. This can be anywhere from five minutes to two hours or more. Others find that it can help them get to sleep. The only way to find out is by trial and error.

How long to practise

At first it is easiest to get into the habit of regular practise by doing a few minutes each day. Do it when you are waiting for the kettle to boil or when the ads come on when you are watching TV. Over time as you find that the body likes it, gradually build up the time according to your comfortable range. A little every day is much better than a lot once a week.

Why Tai Chi Fundamentals?

A complete health and healing system in its own right, Tai Chi Fundamentals (TCF) is the easiest and most effective way to learn all of the essential alignment and movement principles of Tai Chi, making it much easier to learn a Tai Chi form. Learning TCF first will save you from many of the bad habits that people develop when they only learn the Tai Chi Form. It will also help you protect your knees and spine. If you have already learned a form, TCF will help you to stabilise your alignments and to embody many of the more subtle aspects of the form that often elude many people.

Special note for women

Tai Chi, Qigong and Neigong increase blood circulation. You may find that practising while you are menstruating increases the flow. If so it is better not to practice during your period.

Making the most of relaxation

The internal arts are some of the most effective relaxation methods available. Many people have told us that they have never felt as relaxed as after one of our classes. This is the power of letting go.

Relaxation brings innumerable benefits including increased circulation, stress reduction and strongly enhancing the body’s ability to heal itself.

To make the most of these benefits, especially when something significant happens, we recommend that you take things very gently for the rest of the day. Allow your system to adjust to and deeply absorb its new level of openness. If you give yourself the time early on, and practise what you learned for the next few days you will greatly increase the likelihood of making the change permanent.

If, however, you take your new body and use it to do something very strenuous (work or play) you will use up what you have newly acquired and you will end up where you started. This is a very short term approach, which will prevent you from gaining the profound benefit you could have had. Worse still you may injure yourself since you have opened up your system and then put great strain on it before it could stabilise itself at its new level.

Releases

As your system opens up, things that have been stuck can begin to move. As the tissues of the body open, parts of the body may involuntarily twitch or shake. This is similar to water starting to move through a blocked pipe that is beginning to clear.

Moving and opening the internal organs can cause toxins that have built up in them to be released and you may feel a bit nauseous. If this happens, rest and drink plenty of water to flush the toxins from your system. Blocked emotions can also be released and you may suddenly feel waves of anger, fear, grief, anxiety or even joy. These are emotional memories that have been trapped in your body. Allowing them to play themselves out, without getting caught up in them again, will free you of them.

Drinking Bird

When learning the “Drinking Bird” exercise in the Tai Chi Fundamentals classes it is relatively common for people to experience extremely vivid dreams. If this occurs reduce the number you do (which should never be more than three in a day) and the degree to which you do it. The dreams are a form of clearing and releasing and do not tend to last for many nights.

More about emotional releases

It is quite common for these practices to bring up old feelings from your past. Emotions, at the end of the day are a specific type of energy and the internal arts free up the energy of many different layers of your being. The good news is that if you keep practising and letting these feelings go, they will be cleared from your system and you will be free of them. The bad news is that while you clear them you will feel them – good, bad and indifferent.

While this work is not particularly comfortable, it might make it easier if you think of these feelings as emotional memories (which they are). You felt these things a long time ago and they got stuck inside you, just as an old injury can get stuck inside you. When someone feels an old injury release they don’t tend to confuse it with a present injury, since there is usually a wound that they can see and touch. But it is a bit trickier with emotional blockages as they are harder to distinguish from something that is happening right now, but it is possible to make this distinction. Over time you can get to a place where you can watch (and feel) the emotions release without being caught up in them. Remember, you are not your emotions, just as the sky is not the clouds.

Do your best not to act on, or speak from, these emotions, you do not want to practise them, as that would strengthen them and embed them deeper into your system. Also try not to blame anyone for how you are feeling, even yourself. That is just a distraction that will keep you from letting go of what is coming out. These are very good opportunities for practising compassion with yourself and then with others.

Neigong

Gods MB
Immortal Cloud Play

The 16 elements of Neigong

Anyone who has read any of Bruce’s books will have come across his list of the 16-Part Neigong System, these are the basic components of Daoist neigong. They are:

  1. Breathing methods, in increasing complexity.
  2. Feeling, moving, transforming and transmuting internal energies along the descending, ascending and connecting energy channels of the body.
  3. Precise body alignments.
  4. Dissolving physical, emotional and spiritual blockages.
  5. Moving energy through the body’s meridian channels and energy gates.
  6. Bending and stretching the body, from the inside out and the outside in, along the yang and yin meridians.
  7. Opening and closing all parts of the body’s tissues, including the joints, muscles, soft tissues, internal organs, glands, blood vessels, cerebrospinal system and brain, as well as all of the body’s subtle energy anatomy.
  8. Manipulating the energy of the external aura.
  9. Making circles and spirals of energy inside the body, controlling the body’s spiraling energy currents, and moving qi in the body at will.
  10. Absorbing and projecting energy to and from any part of the body.
  11. Controlling energies of the spine.
  12. Controlling the body’s left and right energy channels.
  13. Controlling the body’s central energy channel.
  14. Learning the capabilities and uses of the body’s lower dandien.
  15. Learning the capabilities and uses of the body’s upper and middle dandien.
  16. Connecting every part of the physical body into one unified energy.

Each of these can be viewed as a major heading for a category of internal gongfu (practice and accomplishment – the ‘gong’ in neigong is short for ‘gongfu’). Each category has a great many layers.

Of the literally hundreds of neigong and qigong sets that Bruce learned in Japan and China he chose six (five neigong sets and one qigong set), which together can lead to the mastery of all sixteen components or categories.

The hall mark of these sets is that they are all very old (Dragon & Tiger is the youngest at 1500 years). They have been tested over millennia and have been found to work. They are also highly efficient, they give you extraordinary out-put for relatively little input. And finally they are all very safe when practiced sensibly.

The five neigong sets are: Energy Gates (which I call ‘Tai Chi Fundamentals’), Heaven & Earth, Spiralling Energy Body, Bend the Bow and Gods Playing in the Clouds (which I call ‘Immortal Cloud Play’). The qigong set is Dragon & Tiger.

Each of the sets has many of the 16 components in it. For example, Tai Chi Fundamentals can contain virtually everything – eventually, but each has its particular focus. For instance, alignments (#3) and outer dissolving (#4) are best learned, initially, through Tai Chi Fundamentals. It is easiest to learn opening and closing (#7) from Heaven and Earth. Feeling and moving energy along your acupuncture meridians and manipulating the energy of the external aura (#8) are most easily learned through Dragon & Tiger.

Several of these components span the different neigong sets and you learn progressively more subtle aspects through them. For instance controlling energies of the spine (#11) begins with the spinal stretch that is learned in Tai Chi Fundamentals, it continues with Heaven & Earth and is highly developed in Bend the Bow (which is its primary focus) and is completed in Immortal Cloud Play. Without the spinal stretch you cannot do the spinal work in Heaven & Earth, without Heaven & Earth you cannot do Bend the Bow etc.

Bruce used to teach the breathing (#1) in Heaven & Earth, where it is most effectively integrated into movement. But he found that most people just weren’t getting it. So he now teaches it separately as Longevity Breathing and this is later put into Heaven & Earth and the other sets. More complex types of breathing such as reverse breathing are also taught separately (at level 2 of Longevity Breathing) and then are put into Bend the Bow and Immortal Cloud Play. It is worth noting that Bruce considers any natural breath (at seventy percent) that is shorter than two minutes insufficient for reverse breathing.

Tai Chi Fundamentals and Heaven and Earth are the two core practices. Without them the more difficult and subtle components (9-16), which are developed by Spiralling Energy Body, Bend the Bow and Immortal Cloud Play cannot be attained. But Tai Chi Fundamentals and Heaven and Earth (and Dragon & Tiger) will give the vast majority of people all they ever need or want. There is no requirement to learn all six sets. In fact Bruce often advises people to do one or two practices well rather than many badly. From my observations most people who try to do it all too quickly end up with much less than they would have had, had they spent their time focusing on the basics.

In terms of the internal martial arts and neigong Bruce has this to say:

“The alphabet of Ba Gua is neigong. The alphabet of Tai Chi is neigong. The alphabet of Xing Yi is neigong. The alphabet of qigong is neigong. The alphabet of Daoist Meditation is neigong. You can look at Tai Chi and Bagua as types of writing based on these fundamental letters of the neigong alphabet.”  (O’Brian, J., Nei Jia Chuan: Internal Martial Arts Teachers of Tai Ji Quan, Xing Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang, p.116)

Dragon & Tiger

Our Qigong set

Dragon and Tiger is a 1500 year old traditional Chinese medical Qigong system consisting of seven movements that are performed as a sequence. As it does not require precise body alignments, Dragon & Tiger is relatively easy to learn.

The Benefits of Dragon & Tiger Qigong

  • It quickly gives you a recognizable feeling of qi in your body.
  • It increases your energy levels and vitality
  • It opens and clears the majority of your body’s energy meridians.
  • It increases your defence against invasion from viruses, the elements and negative qi.

You will learn

  • to feel and work with the qi in your aura and acupuncture meridian lines
  • to project qi from your hands for healing and/or physical power
  • to stretch and move your joints, release tension, stress and pain
  • to release stagnant qi from, and then draw fresh energy from the environment back into your system
  • to stimulate the protective layer of qi on the body’s surface
  • To pull and push qi

For health

In China, Dragon & Tiger is known for its powerful preventative and healing effects for cancer, and for mitigating the effects of radiation and chemotherapy. More generally it protects against and speeds up the recovery time from many illnesses.

For Healers

Techniques from this highly effective qigong system have been applied in Qigong Tui Na bodywork for centuries in China to heal others energetically by clearing blockages in the energy aura.

For those in the medical and healing professions Dragon & Tiger is an excellent way to understand how medical qigong works, and it is especially beneficial to their own health because of its protective and clearing effects.

For Everyone

Ideal for any age or fitness level, B.K.Frantzis recommends Dragon & Tiger (along with ‘Tai Chi Fundementals‘) as the best introduction to his system.

Why this Qigong?

The most complete qigong systems have hundreds of movements that take over an hour to perform (this is one of the differences with neigong, which focuses on few movements with a great deal of content). Dragon & Tiger will give you the vast majority of the health benefits of the best qigong systems in a much simpler and shorter format.

“Of the hundreds of qigong systems, which I have personally studied or researched, in my opinion Dragon & Tiger is the easiest complete system to rapidly learn and gain great benefit from. Even when done imperfectly and by people who have limited range of motion or are wheelchair bound, the exercise is immensely beneficial.”   (B.K.Frantzis, Dragon & Tiger Instructor’s Manual, 2003. p.ii).

Recommended Reading

Frantzis, B.K., Dragon and Tiger Medical Qigong: Develop Health and Energy in Seven Simple Movements (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2010).

Frantzis, B.K., Dragon and Tiger Medical Qigong Volume 2: Qi Cultivation Principles and Exercises (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2014).

Image copyright ©Matthew Brewer, 2019

Canterbury, Faversham & Whitstable

All of the classes below are running, but online via Zoom (video conferencing) rather than at the venues.

If you wish to join these classes please contact me.

Canterbury

Special Topic: Circularity in the internal arts

Day: Thursday

Time: 6.30 – 7.45pm

(from 3 Sept 2020)

Details:

We’ll be looking at circularity through exercises taken from many of our neigong, qigong and Tai Chi sets. The idea is that you won’t have to learn a new form/set. Once we get circles working, we will look at how to apply them to the form(s) that you already know.

Prerequisites: (Ideally) familiarity with Tai Chi Fundamentals or any of the other neigong/qigong sets.

[Location: The Friends Meeting House, 6 The Friars, Canterbury CT1 2AS.]

Tai Chi Fundamentals

Day: Thursday

Time: 8.00-9.00pm

(from 3 Sept 2020)

Join any time

Location: The Friends Meeting House, 6 The Friars, Canterbury CT1 2AS.

Faversham

Tai Chi Fundamentals

Day: Saturday

Time: 10.00-11.30am [online time: 10.15 – 11.15am]

(from 1 Feb 2020)

Join any time

Location: Fleur de Lis Hall, Gatefield Lane, Off Preston Street, Faversham ME13 8NS.

Wu Style Tai Chi Medium Form

Day: Saturday

Time: 11.45 – 1.15pm

(from 5 Sept 2020)

Details: New cycle begins 5 Sept 2020

One cycle takes 18-20 months.

Prerequisites: none

Location: Fleur de Lis Hall, Gatefield Lane, Off Preston Street, Faversham ME13 8NS.

Whitstable

Tai Chi Fundamentals

Day: Wednesday

Time: 6.30 – 7.30pm

(from 8 Jan 2020)

Join any time (there’s no need to book, just show up)

Location: St Peter’s Church House, 154 Cromwell Rd, Whitstable CT5 1NA.

Wu Style Tai Chi Long Form

Day: Wednesday

Time: 7.45 – 9.00pm

Presently closed. Not suitable for beginners.

Recommended Prerequisites: Three cycles of the Short Form.

Please contact Matthew if you wish to attend.

Location: St Peter’s Church House, 154 Cromwell Rd, Whitstable CT5 1NA.

Instructor: Dr Matthew Brewer

Term dates

Charges

Pay for classes (Paypal)

Gift Certificates

What to wear

Articles & Interviews in PDF

Articles

For those who like properly formatted articles, here are all of the articles from the blog (and some that have not yet made it there) in PDF format.

Embodied Philosophy

Being Way Oriented

Do Not Let the Great be the Enemy of the Good

Making Use of the Middle

Nurturing Life

Rounding Off the Corners

Study not Studying

Taiji and the Procrustean Bed

Tailoring Change

Why So Slow 1

Why So Slow 2

Seasons

Autumn

Winter

Spring

Summer

Long Summer

Bibliographies

Laozi (Daodejing, Tao Te Ching)

Interview

with Master Bruce Frantzis on the Tai Chi Classics.
Reproduced from Tai Chi Chuan & Oriental Arts, Vol. 35, Autumn 2010,
with kind permission from the editor.
Bruce Frantzis on the Tai Chi Classics

Chronic Pain

This article is written for teachers who are interested in this aspect of Tai Chi for health preservation and rehabilitation.

Teaching Tai Chi for Chronic Pain