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 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.

Being Way Oriented

The beauty of Tai Chi is that anyone can do it. There is an old saying: “Tai Chi can be done by anyone: male, female, young, old, strong, weak, intelligent and slow, healthy or ill.” It is one of the few forms of exercise at which you can improve continuously as you age. Tai Chi masters are not found in their teens, twenties or thirties, but in their sixties, seventies and eighties. Traditionally, one cannot be recognised as a master until the age of sixty. Of course you do not need to become a master in order to gain profound benefits, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual from this practice.

As well as proper instruction, there is only one quality that anyone needs in order to benefit from Tai Chi, and that is perseverance. While perseverance sounds rather hard and dogged, it really doesn’t have to be. All it means here is that one continue to attend classes. Just keep coming.

Sadly, this is what many people do not do. Even though they obviously enjoy and benefit from the classes many people stop. There are all sorts of reasons why this happens, circumstances change etc., but there is one reason in particular that accounts for a large proportion of those who drop out.

The way it goes is something like this: Someone joins a Tai Chi class and enjoys it. They find it is interesting and challenging, and that it shows them a new way of connecting and moving their body. They begin to let go of some of their tension. They make friends and enjoy the tea breaks. But some way into the form they have to miss a week or two and when they return to class they find that they have missed a move. Now they have a gap in their form. This gap flusters them and they begin to feel lost in the sequence. Fairly soon they decide to stop attending the class and to wait for the form to start again. They are never seen in the class again.

People hate having gaps in their forms. They would rather stop than keep going and fill in the gaps when they go through the form the next time, or when there are revision classes. This attitude points to one of the dominant fixations of our culture: the desire for perfection. If you can’t do something right it is not worth doing at all. Ironically, Tai Chi is an antidote to this fixation, but you have to give it time. Or rather you have to give yourself time to adjust and recognise the benefits of letting go of perfection.

Tai Chi is not a perfection practice. It is a letting go practice.

After studying Tai Chi for some time, it will gradually dawn on you that there is actually no end to the form. Just like the seasons, each round allows the opportunity to explore further the nature of change and free flow. Learning the sequence of the form, beginning to end, without obvious gaps does not mean that you have completed the form, only that you are ready to explore the next layer. This is true of everyone, no matter how many times they have been through it. Each round shows you that bit more, allowing you to get connected at deeper and deeper levels as you let go into yourself.

At the same time, you come to realise that there will always be gaps in your form, the only thing that changes is the level of subtlety involved. At first the gaps are large and obvious with whole movements missing. Then the gaps start to shrink as you notice that only certain elements of a move are missing. Once you have the moves clearly, you notice more subtle gaps: places where all or parts of you stop moving. More subtle still, you start noticing that various elements of the sixteen basic components of Daoist neigong are missing. Then within each component aspects are missing and so on. As you penetrate deeper inside, you find gaps in your emotions, in your mind and your spirit. Consider the Daoist maxim that if you could stay fully present (without any gaps) for the time it takes a leaf to fall from a tree, you would be enlightened.

Becoming aware of these gaps is only disquieting or off putting if you maintain a goal orientation, which is to say the doing of something to have done it, finished, perfect. Such an orientation is not conducive to being comfortable, at ease and happy in the world. With such an attitude one misses out on enjoying the world, on enjoying the banquet rather than eating on the run.

One of the phrases that Daoists have for the alternative to being goal oriented is xiao yao 逍遙, which means ‘happy wandering’, ‘free and easy rambling’ or ‘sauntering carefree, at one’s ease’. It is, in fact, the title of the first chapter of the Zhuangzi, one of the great Daoist classics.

Xiao yao is about being way oriented. It is to find the value of something in how you go about doing it as much as in the result. It takes into consideration the state you are in during and after each cycle. It also makes clear that where you end up has a great deal to do with how you went about getting there, and who you are when you get there, because you become what you practise.

Paramount in the internal arts is not getting stuck. Thinking that you have done the form, completed it, mastered it, is to get stuck. Just as demanding or expecting that you be perfect at anything is to be stuck. As you get comfortable with this practice that has no end, but which is endlessly fascinating, you can apply it to the rest of life. Life is not a race to the end. The first one there does not win. It is a journey to be enjoyed. Tai Chi can show you how to relax into the journey.

Here are some useful questions to ask yourself about your practice. Is what I am doing moving me in the direction of letting go of my tensions and frustrations? Or am I winding myself up further? Plenty of people use Tai Chi as a torture device, as another reason to beat themselves up and practise their usual tense habits. There is no sense in getting stressed over your relaxation practice.

Continuing with your Tai Chi, neigong or qigong, regardless of the gaps, can help you let go into life and to enjoy your stroll along the way.

 

© Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Art, 2009 & 2017

Winter: the Dao of Storage

藏之道

The three months of winter are called closing and storing.
Water freezes, earth cracks.
Do not disturb the yang at all.
Early to bed, late to rise. (You) must await the daylight.
Make that which is of the heart/mind as though hidden, as though concealed,
as though (you) have a secret intention, already obtained.
Leave the cold, seek warmth.
Do not leak the skin.
Urgently hold onto the qi.
This is the winter compliance of qi;
the cultivation of the Dao of storage.a
To oppose these principles injures the kidneys.
(Consequently) spring will bring paralysis and fainting
(and) there will be little to offer (your) sprouting.1Neijing Chapter 2.

Winter is the time of the kidneys, which are the basic source of energy in the body. They act very much like batteries. At this time of year we need to recharge them by protecting and nourishing them. This is done by storing our energy rather than expending it.

This is the most yin of the seasons. When the weather turns cold, everything in nature goes to sleep. As the Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic, the Neijing, tells us, ideally we should reduce our activity, go to bed earlier, and get up later, so as not to ‘disturb the yang at all’. Like fish sinking to the bottom of an icy pond, or like a daffodil bulb in the cold ground, we should let our energy sink deeper inside us. It is only by storing its energy in winter that the daffodil can flower in spring. Similarly, it is only by resting and storing our energy now that we will be able to ’sprout’ – have the energy to increase our activity – when spring comes. So, this is not the time to start jogging, doing aerobics or anything else that will bring our energy to the surface and make us sweat, or, as the Neijing puts it, ‘leak the skin’. We should avoid rushing around. Instead we should go to bed early, get up late and stay inside where it‘s warm.

The mind also needs to rest. The kidneys are closely associated with the fundamental drive that is called zhì 志 in Chinese. Zhì is often translated as ‘will power’. At its most basic level, it is the survival instinct; that which keeps us going in the darkest times. In less extreme situations it is that faculty which identifies and works towards goals and towards attaining the things that we want. It is the zhì that is spoken of in the line: ‘Make that which is of the heart/mind (zhì) as though hidden, as though concealed’. Now is not the time to activate the zhì. To do so would call on the energy of the kidneys. Rather we should put away our desires in winter and let them rest. In this time of letting go and quietening desire, chapter 46 of the Laozi, the great text of Daoism, is worth contemplating:

Calamity: there is none greater than not knowing what is enough,
Offence: there is none greater than desiring gain.
Thus knowing enough of what is enough is always enough!

Knowing enough of enough is reflected in our passage from the Neijing in its instruction that we should make the heart/mind ‘as though (you) have a secret intention, already obtained’. It is usually with the attainment of our desire that we are, if only briefly, satisfied and able to truly relax. These passages point to a more subtle option, that of letting go of desire itself, which leads to a much more profound and enduring stillness.

Basho, the great master of the Japanese poetic form now known as haiku, who was deeply influenced by writings of the Daoist master Zhuangzi and Chinese Chan/Zen Buddhism, beautifully invokes the importance of stilling the heart-mind at this time of year in his winter poem 1687:

First let us cherish
the plum blossoms’ heart
winter dormancy.2No. 341. The original is: まづ祝へ梅を心の冬籠り (mazu iwae / ume o kokoro no / fuyu-gomori). My thanks to Rachelle Allen-Sherwood for her help in translating this poem. Any mistakes are my own.

Just as in Chinese, the ‘heart’ in Japanese is also the ‘mind’. It is the core of who and what we are. This poem celebrates the flowering of plum blossoms in the spring, which is possible only because they conserve their essence through the cold of the winter. In the terms of the Neijing, by observing the winter compliance of qi and cultivating the dao of storage, the plum blossoms have plenty to offer their sprouting when spring arrives.

Autumn is, ideally, the time when we gather that which nourishes us and let go of that which is no longer of use to us. Now, in winter, it is time to store what we gathered and to allow our systems to rest in stillness.

The dominant element now is water, which naturally flows downward, cleanses, nourishes and goes very calm and still when not disturbed. When water becomes still, it is able to let go of what it is holding in suspension, allowing the sediment to settle out of it. It then becomes clear and reflective, like a mirror.

Both Daoism and Buddhism use this image of still water becoming clear and reflective as a metaphor for the stilling of the emotions and the mind through breathing and related mindful practices.

Tai Chi Fundamentals (Energy Gates) is a powerful winter practice. It activates the water element in the body. Standing is very yin, as is Cloud Hands when we focus on the downward flow of energy. Both practices strengthen the kidneys and help them to store energy better. One way of complying with winter in our Tai Chi or Qigong, is to allow our form to go as smooth and liquid as possible, attending more to the inward and downward flows. To this end we should avoid stopping to correct ourselves. Instead, we should simply note any mistakes to adjust the next time around while maintaining the flow of our movement as best we can, without strain. The closing and bending actions of any form are the ones that encourage the storing of energy. It is also useful to focus on allowing the hands and feet to become very soft. This is the time to let go of the desire to accomplish anything in our practice.

At this time of year, it is best lie down and rest for a while after practice and gently put our attention on the kidneys, letting all of our energy collect there. During the day 3.00-5.00pm is a particularly good time to rest as it is the time that the kidney system is strongest.

Eating what is in season is always a very good way to comply with the qi of the time. Nuts, especially walnuts and chestnuts, are particularly good for the kidneys, as is lamb. Avoid cold food and drink as your body must burn energy to warm it up before it can be used. This is part of ‘leaving the cold and seeking warmth’.

Text and translations ©Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2017-18.

Notes   [ + ]

Wu Style Long Form

The Long Form of Liu Hongjie

The Long Form class is only available to those who have advanced sufficiently in the short form, and who are willing to put in the extra practise that is needed. It is not a drop in class.

The Wu Style Tai Chi Long Form contains the full internal development of Tai Chi – all of the 16 components of neigong. It takes twenty to thirty minutes to complete.

B. K. Frantzis learned this form from his Daoist lineage master, Liu Hongjie. Liu lived and studied with Wu Jianquan, founder of the Wu Style, who made him a lineage disciple.

The Liu Form

What makes this form different to others is that Liu transformed his Tai Chi practice into an authentic vehicle for Daoist Meditation. Although Tai Chi is often described as a form of moving meditation, genuine meditation was never practised in traditional Chen, Yang or Wu Tai Chi. Many people confuse the ability of all well-designed Tai Chi forms to promote relaxation and manage physical stress with actual meditation.

Liu Hongjie spent his life in the study and practice of meditation, Buddhist and Daoist. After being declared enlightened within the Tien Tai Buddhist school, Liu spent a decade in the mountains of Western China living and studying with Daoist masters. There he became the head of an important Daoist lineage.

While in the mountains, Liu learned long moving neigong forms. Some of these were similar in many respects to Tai Chi forms. These ancient Daoist long forms were designed as vessels for moving meditation. Having learned the specific energetic and meditation methods within them, Liu altered his Wu Style form to make it completely consistent with the energetic and meditation parameters of the Daoist long neigong forms.

The Age of Anxiety

Unlike previous ages when the threat of physical violence was much more common, ours is an age of anxiety and distraction, where most people are under far more emotional and mental strain. This is why our focus in Daoist Internal Arts is primarily on health: firstly physical, but increasingly emotional and mental. This is where Liu Hongjie’s Wu Style plays such a vital role. For as well as being a superb healing form, it has specific methods for managing emotional and mental stress.

“What good does it do you to have lots of material things if your mind and body are constantly miserable? This is the case for many of us much of the time.
If Taijiquan can simply help you slow down and enjoy the life you are living more, then that is benefit enough. I have also seen that down the road, after a lot of practise, Taijiquan has very real spiritual benefits provided that a person has a really sincere interest in meditation.
In China, I have only ever heard of two traditions regarding Taijiquan, and addressing what Taijiquan is.
One tradition says that Taijiquan is a superlative martial art that uses Daoist energy practices and strategies as the support base to develop power and fighting skills, with the secondary benefits of good health and calmness of mind.
The other tradition considers Taijiquan to be a Daoist body practice, which is the support base for strengthening and healing the body so as to be able to learn meditation correctly, with the secondary benefit of self-defense ability.
When l was younger, I was interested in the former tradition. As I have gotten older, I have become more interested in the latter.”
(B.K. Frantzis, ‘Martial Arts Odyssey: Fact vs. Fiction’, T’ai Chi Magazine Vol. 11, No. 3, June 1987, pp.7-8.)

Attending the class

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 to really benefit from the Long Form over the Short Form, you 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.

Recommended reading

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

Frantzis, B. K., Tai Chi: Health For Life (Berkeley: Frog Ltd., 2006).

Frantzis, B.K., Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body, 2nd edition (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2006).

Wu Style Short Form

The Short Form

The Wu Style Tai Chi Short Form is a series of gentle flowing movements which takes about four minutes to complete.

Some of the Benefits of Tai Chi include:

  • It can be practised by anyone, young and old, strong and weak, healthy and sick.
  • It develops a high degree of relaxation
  • It releases physical and emotional stress
  • It promotes mental and emotional well being
  • It improves balance, physical coordination and flexibility
  • It tones and exercises every single muscle, ligament, tendon and joint of the body
  • It massages every lymph node and internal organ
  • It makes the arteries and veins springy and elastic, keeping them open and healthy
  • It energizes all the body’s internal pumps and improves circulation
  • It heals and reduces injuries and improves reflexes
  • It smooths out and regulates the central nervous system

Tai Chi balances and strengthens the flows in your body and thus improves your energy levels and increases your range of motion. The Wu Style is renowned for its healing and meditative qualities, and it contains many important healing elements that are rarely taught, even in China. It gives you the majority of the health and spiritual benefits of much longer Tai Chi forms.

B. K. Frantzis designed this short form with the help and encouragement of his Daoist lineage master, Liu Hongjie. Liu lived and studied with Wu Jianquan, founder of the Wu Style. We are very lucky to have such a direct and powerful lineage.

Tai Chi is more than a martial art and more than most forms of exercise. It has a deep philosophical and spiritual perspective. Its gentle, slow-motion movements and sophisticated methods of moving life force or chi within the body teach you to relax and open up to your full human potential on all levels – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. (BK Frantzis, Tai Chi: Health For Life p.16)

On-going Tai Chi Short Form classes are being run in Faversham.

Recommended reading

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

Frantzis, B. K., Tai Chi: Health For Life (Berkeley: Frog Ltd., 2006). ISBN: 1583941444.

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

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.

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.

Minster-On-Sea & Rainham

From 15 March 2020 all live classes cancelled due to the virus.

Minster-On -Sea

Tai Chi Fundamentals

Day: Monday

Time: 11.30am-12.30pm

Starting: Join any time

Location: New Road Community Centre, 55-57 New Road, Minster-On -Sea, Sheerness, Kent, ME12 3PT

Rainham

Tai Chi Fundamentals

Day: Monday

Time: 9.30 – 10.30am

Starting: Join any time

Location: St Thomas of Canterbury church hall, 63 London road, Rainham, ME8 7RH.

Instructor: Gary Short

Term dates

Charges

What to wear

Deal & Folkestone

Deal – live from 2 September 2020

Tai Chi for Relaxation & Health

Day: Wednesday

Time: 1.30-2.30pm

Starting: Join any time

Location: The Landmark Centre, 129 the High St, Deal CT14 6BB.

Folkestone – staying online September – December 2020

Tai Chi Fundamentals and Qigong

Day: Thursday

Time: 1.00-2.00pm

Starting: Join any time

Location: Bar Invicta, Cheriton Road, Folkestone, CT19 5JU.

Instructor: Dave Willis

Term dates

Charges

What to wear

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