(Continuation of 'Tai Chi Speedometer' post of yesterday)
So now the natural question should rise up in your mind: If the fundamental speed guidance for Tai Chi is "go as fast as you can while never outrunning your CHARGE", then why do we sometimes/often see filmed or live performances of acknowledged true authentic masters of the art practicing quite slowly? Not always the case, I noted exceptions in Part I, but often even the greatest masters seem to be practicing very slowly.
Based on the Speed Limit Guidance (Part I) we'd expect the greatest authentic masters, who by hypothesis certainly have full-time CHARGE going which cannot be outrun, practicing and moving super fast all the time. Right?
No, it's not that way and the reason is the usual word that explains everything in Tai Chi: LEVEL.
If you want the TLDR summary, when the level is high, when it is no longer possible for master to "outrun his CHARGE" then they can back off the maximum speed thing and play for other effects.
The longer explanation requires us to analogize to nuclear physics. Consider the Manhattan Project. Basically they wanted the biggest blast they could possibly achieve (consistent with getting the thing to work at all). Just trying to maximize megatonnage, pedal to the floor. After all, if the yield was small the A-bomb wouldn't be the war-ending or Empire-building super weapon, it would be no better than any other powerful munition. So they strove for yield regardless of any other consideration.
Now compare that with the present day nuke weapons research. At present, the practical tested yields are thousands of times the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombs. Those early bombs are mere Chinese New Year firecrackers. Furthermore, supercomputers and other advances mean that the weapons guys know exactly how to rev the yield up to any limit they choose, almost planet-shattering. But flat-out maximal yield weapons would be politically and strategically problematic. They are dinosaurs. The focus shifts to issues like delivery systems, tactical effects, collaboration with conventional forces, anti-personnel but infrastructure safe (neutron bomb), etc. etc.
So to get back to Tai Chi, once you have the CHARGE always-on, then the training value of maximizing speed-under-condition goes away. That is a training condition which applies at the low end not something to fanatically pursue once the key objective is under control.
The CHARGE thing is like a sophisticated tactical flashlight. There is a first-order condition which is just ON/OFF. In Tai Chi it's not so easy to achieve the ON condition for CHARGE. But once you have that, then you can play with intensity under different conditions for different purposes. Just as a car needs to just get moving as a fundamental condition for having any use at all. But most of us own cars that go under ideal conditions achieve 130 mph or substantially more. In practice we just want to tune expressed power to conditions and that can be learned and applied more easily under less than maximal speed.
So. That's why you see the true masters working now slower, now faster, now stopped altogether, etc. They are playing with intensity, focus, shaping and other tactical blast effects.
Posted at 01:08 PM | Permalink
There's a perennial question in Tai Chi: how fast should we perform our set? It gets confusing. First of all, the signature property, probably the most striking, even defining feature of Tai Chi as perceived by non-practitioners, is the slow-motion thing. So speed is central to the discussion. However there doesn't seem to be an absolute guideline. The Tai Chi classic writings barely mention speed explicitly, though of course many of guidelines there can be interpreted as relating to speed. But there is little in-depth explicit analysis of the point.
So then we turn to the filmed demonstrations of the great masters. Here we generally find, at a gross macro level, the signature slow-motion thing happening for the most part. But people are still confused because when you look for written guidance outside the core Classics, you get all kinds of advice. There are people who seize on the slow motion thing assuming crudely that if slow is good then fuck it the slower the better. So the deccelerate to a tortoise pace. That is slowness just for it's own sake, motivated "from the outside". Just because that's what Tai Chi should be. In support of that they can point to long stretches of the performances of great masters where they are way slow. Then, countering these tortoise theorists, you have more pugnaciously minded types, who claim that after all Tai Chi was a fighin' art back in th' day, and you have to whip fast at least in certain techniques or moves of your practice to approach that Old Time realism. In support of this idea, they point to great master performances of particular moves, most obviously the fa jin strikes and numerous kicks and leaps and cannon pounding of Chen Village style, and then even Prof. Zheng Manqing seems to speed up on a few choice moves in his (overall) slow and steady performances.
Well, so what is the truth of it? Is it just a matter of style prejudice or blind aping of a particular master? Is it just whatever you want, like tonight's takeout Mexican tomorrow Chinese? No, there is an underlying absolute here and it covers all the confusing elements above. But it takes some explanation up front.
First you need to understand the idea of CHARGE. It is an outgrowth of the ARC idea. At root it's simple - at some point your arms become totally saturated with the internal power. Fully charged all the time. Before you quite reach that point, you have intermittent charge, mostly triggered while actually practicing. So the beginning practitioner goes from no-charge, to flashes of occasional charge while practicing, to consistent charge while practicing, to full-time charge even when not practicing. This charge thing is specific to the arms but it signifies that the full ARC is complete, including the head traversal (all the stuff in Juice and other books). But for purpose of this practical post I will refer to charge as an arm-specific effect as that's where you'll have the most fun with it.
The problem that most practitioners never get there no matter how much work they put in. Several problems. First of all nobody told them about it explicitly as I am right now right here in this post. Second of all, even if they grok the abstract idea of it, there is no EXPERIENCE for a long time. Why? Two reasons: too tense or too dead. 99% of people doing Tai Chi are one or the other (actually often both at once!) So their hands and arms are waaaay too tense, to grabby and involved and trying to 'do' something in their form, or else their hands and arms 'die' as they obsessively over-focus on their dantian or try to philosophically merge with the Universe or something else, or just concentrate on the sequence itself, as a dance or athletic performance, all the usual problems.
The ARC must be understood, must be EXPERIENCED, and must be the focus of all practice for a beginner. Actually there's a weird chicken-egg thing too, which is that one of very best ways to begin to understand and work with charge explicitly is through certain Xingyi practices, most especially, to get a beginner taste of it, with Tiger and Eage, starting with the Clawback work which I can't get in to here. But then the problem comes up that people learning Xingyi are way more excessively tense than even Tai Chi people, because of the greater speed and the overall pseudo-combative 'look and feel' of the art, from the outside. So that gate is close to most of us and the Tai Chi at least superficially slows us down enough that we have a ghost of a chance to relax sufficiently to begin to understand the arm charge phenomenon.
So probably for most people it has to be worked within Tai Chi frame. So let's say there's such a thing as CHARGE (Continuous Hand-Arm Reverberation Grounded Energy), a very specific state that you can learn to feel, trigger in yourself, control and maintain (and later use in push hands etc.) This CHARGE is our goal in Tai Chi practice. It is an extremely powerful, absolutely distinct and clear condition. It is not a visualization, concept, word, philosophy or any other such vague bs. It is a human EXPERIENCE.
Now you might be wondering what the fuck has all this CHARGE stuff go to do with the supposed topic of this whole post, which was supposed to be all about speed? What happened to the Indy 500 and all that blather up above?
CHARGE is intimately related to the speed issue, it is the defining criteria therefor that puts away the whole irrelevant argument based on meaningless external considerations like those listed above. Here is the answer the original question about Tai Chi practice speed:
Practice Tai Chi as fast as you can while never outrunning your CHARGE.
That's it. Note well please. You'll realize immediately that this means that different people, and the same person at different stages of development, will practice a different speeds. At first they won't grok this whole charge thing at all, and their speed will be all over the place, or else crudely dictated by teacher fiat, athletic considerations, stylistic convention, or other irrelevance. Basically at this stage its best to just go real slow, so that at least you have a chance to relax and begin to feel any CHARGE at all in the beginning. Once the CHARGE thing is experienced to some degree then still don't speed up too much or you'll lose it. You want to keep the CHARGE totally unbroken throughout your entire Tai Chi sequence. Basically it enforces a go-slow policy. But there's nothing inherently wrong with going fast, even super fast - AS LONG AS YOU DON'T THEREBY LOSE THE CHARGE. That's the key. So the Chen Village masters who speed up at points are totally right for themselves but this is totally wrong for beginners.
There is no external criterion. There is only that one invariant principle: if you go too fast, you will outrun your CHARGE. What that means is a break in the CHARGE due to physical motion and speed such that you must re-establish your CHARGE again in arms hands on the other side of the given move that broke it. Slow down as though you see a cop on the roadside when you feel you're in danger of losing your CHARGE.
But in the long run speed is fine, after all Xingyiquan would not exist as an internal art if speed inherently always killed CHARGE. In time you'll learn to go as fast as you need to any time and the CHARGE will always keep up with your physical motion. This is the true meaning of the constant adage in the Xingyi classics that 'external and internal must be harmonized and combined'. Most people take that to mean that sometimes you just gotta tense up and smack the fucker with physical force. But what it actually means is:
Move as fast as you can while never outrunning your CHARGE.
Posted at 10:15 AM | Permalink
Here is my forthcoming little article on Yi Quan long staff for energy training, which will appear in the August 2016 edition of Japan premiere martial arts mag 秘伝月刊. Nothing shocking here, all contents will be totally familiar to any reader of my English-language book Packing: Supercharge Your Hands. In fact, this article is just a teaser for the upcoming release (Sept 2016) of the Japanese language version of PACKING book. But anyway, FYI that's all.
For some reason when I first post PDF's to my site as in this case, although it works fine for me at time of posting, something goes haywire at some point and the link breaks. So please write me if you can't reach the article. Or no, wait - if you can't reach the article? Buy the fricking book instead.
Posted at 02:13 PM | Permalink
Q: All over Energy Arts (Frantzis) teachings is the instruction to “keep the armpits open”. When doing the quiet standing with the “Fair Lady’s Hand”, or the Xingyi “Tiger Mouth”, should I be concerned about keeping the armpits open? I believe the prime directive is to relax the shoulders; however, in order to keep the armpits open I need to apply enough “form” (= tension), i.e., rotating my arms medially, in order to keep them in a positon that keeps the armpits open. I apologize for the minutia of the question, but it really bugs me, and I covet your advice on this question.
A: Good question. Yes, the physics of this Standing pose can present a potential minor conflict in that the arms are basically hanging down, unlike all other Tai Chi poses, so that if left to itself that can result in the loss of openness in armpits to which BKF refers. The problem on the other side is that when most students see and hear such very emphatic directions to 'keep open', they will naturally tend to overdo and generally they end up with very counter productive tension along the arms and shoulders. Relaxation generally takes priority over everything else (unless you are completely oozed onto the floor, but most people have the opposite problem of being overly tense, at least that's what I always see).
Posted at 10:39 PM | Permalink
Neurons that receive information from our sensory organs (e.g. eye, skin) and transmit this input to the central nervous system are called afferent neurons. Neurons that send impulses from the central nervous system to your limbs and organs are called efferent neurons.
Therefore, as the afferent neurons convey the sensory stimulus to the brain (like burning sensation of a candle), the efferent neurons convey the motor stimulus to the muscles (moving the hand away from the candle). To sum it up: Afferent = Receive and Efferent = Act.
So anyway, feeling vs. acting. One extremely important key to internal energy training (which is NOT reducible to anything physiological, much as many of you are hoping I'll say it's nerves or fascia or small or large muscles or lymphatic fluid or whatever physio-flavor-of-the-month - NO you don't get that pass) is based on a working/training level awareness of this distinction. In other words, this idea can be put to use and pay cash in energy-centric Tai Chi.
Here's how you can use this concept to amp your actual, tangible ongoing intensification of the true internal power (which itself is non-anatomic and non-physiological).
It's very simple, and based on the ZMQ concept of hand-shape called 'Fair Lady's Hand'. If you don't know what that is you haven't read my books yet, come back when you have. This shape requires essentially no physical tension to maintain throughout your performance of the ZMQ set. Yet most people still have too much tension in their hands and arms. At the same time, we can't let the hands and arms go totally slack and die, that's not Tai Chi relaxation either. (See the classic '5 Tai Chi boys' illustration in my book Juice to instantly grok this point).
So what you do it, create the Hand at the start of your form (see my latest tutorial clip for notes on how best to do that). Then for all the rest of your performance of the set, you pretend in your mind that your hand, and in fact the entire wrist and forearm, have no motor nerves - only sensory nerves are present.
In other words, your hands and wrist and forearms can still feel - very intensely so, you would feel the slightest breeze or a fly's wing brushing - but they cannot act. You have full afferent or sensory nervous structure and activation paths in your arms but you have no efferent or motor system at all in those regions.
That's the idea. See, most people no matter how much the Classics talk about absolute relaxation, most people are still way too tense in their hands and arms. It's just so amazing to me. That's what our minds and our culture have done to us. Made us all up-tight like that. Yet we can't just droop either. Remember internal power comes from the simultaneous engagement of: Mind, Extension, Relaxation, and Grounding. Mind is in the mix!
But this simple imagery is extremely powerful. I know 99% of you will dismiss this cause it ain't exotically neidan-ish enough for you, is it? Needs more Taoist cauldrons and shit. Or alternatively, though its vocabulary sports an attractively medical flavor, many will dismiss or misinterpret this teaching as a physiological reduction thing. No! None of the above, this is an imaginary concept that will greatly intensify and accelerate your development the one thing we do care about, the actual reality of these arts, which is the non-physical real internal power. But we use this as a tool like any other metaphor, another finger taking our eyes up to the moon.
So when you do the ZMQ, form your hands at the start and don't change them til the end. You can't change them - you have no motor pathways, remember? Your arms become the equivalent of a 'dead' thing like a wooden short staff or a peg leg. But actually they are only half-dead! (undead?) They remain intensely aware, aware and sensitive in your mind alone, of the slightest zepher or air, brush of fly wing, all that. That means you need to keep that proper shape at all times, but your arms are moved strictly by the rest of your body - waist and legs primarily. It's partly false in purely physical terms of course but it's a huge training aid.
Posted at 08:29 AM | Permalink
I recently read the following dialog between two distinguished doctors (MD's). The first speaker refers to his own father who was also an MD:
Doc A: In Sunday school, the grown-ups talked of heaven, and I remember asking Dad about it. He dismissed the thought. He called it a fairy tale. He was a materialist - like most physicians, I think. His view was that when the brain goes, the mind goes, and along with it all awareness and perception, everything. Death is simply 'lights out.' You agree?
Doc B: I'm with your dad on that: I can't imagine a disembodied consciousness.
Their conclusions are wrong on several levels. First of all they make the usual mistake of conflating the concept 'post-mortem survival of consciousness' idea with heaven and religion in general ('Sunday school'). Where does this dumbass-yet-seemingly-inevitable linkage come from? Oh wait, I know, don't tell me...lessee... could it have arisen from 10,000 years of exploitative priestly scumbags fleecing, raping, killing, and scamming the moronic masses out there for their own fun and profit? Nah! That's a bit too far-fetched, isn't it? What could have given me that idea?
So ok, somehow the idea of survival has been press-ganged into service by a bunch of gangsters. But gangsters also wear double-breasted pin-stripe suits, don't they? And yet there's no essential, no necessary, no a priori reason why that particular style of haberdashery must be implicated in organized crime.
So let's just get that straight right now: to those of us with a few working brain cells and some experience with this stuff, there is absolutely no connection between any form of organized religious doctrine and the fact of survival of consciousness sans body.
Whew! Glad I was able to straighten that out at least. Not so hard was it? 10,000 years or whatever of bullshit dogma expunged with little more than a couple or three keystrokes and a mouse click or two.
Now let's get on to the serious discussion: the guy up there, Doc B, says he can't imagine a disembodied consciousness. That my friends is nothing but pure ignorance. I mean, he's admitting his incapacity right up front: "I can't imagine". Right. That's a statement about you, Doc, not a limitation on reality. Not only is the statement mis-aligned with the topic, but his premise is wrong to begin with. Notice how he slipped you a mickey there? He's assuming that post-death consciousness must be "disembodied". Whoa! Where did that assumption come from?
I'll tell you where: neither of these guys is experienced. It's like two dumbass peasants who've lived in a tiny village on a flat plain their entire lives, having heard some confused story about the Himalayas - I can't imagine an elevated heap of rocks. Fine. Thanks for cluing us as to your state of mind. But that says precisely nothing about the actual Himalayas.
The fact is the post-death consciousness is in fact 'embodied'. Not the same body but hey you don't wear the same suit of clothes day in and day out either do you? Clothes suit the weather and the occasion. Bodies likewise are suited to their surroundings.
You can easily not only 'imagine' but actually 'experience' this so-called disembodied consciousness thing for yourself. It's no less real than swimming underwater, is swimming underwater somehow unreal just because you personally may never have done it? No big deal actually. The after death body is one form or another of the energy body you have right now. You just aren't feeling it as such cause you haven't trained enough. But you easily could learn to both feel it and inhabit it consciously, with or without a physical body.
So there it is. I've cleared up two major fallacies these over-educated guys managed to bang onto in the course of that one single exchange.
For a darkly humorous but essentially accurate exploration of all these kinds of issues and experiences, with half the pomposity and twice the hilarity that any credentialed pandit or pundit could bring to bear on the subject, check out my magnum opus spiritual insta-classic Astral Advice Animal: The Insider's Reincarnation Playbook.
Posted at 12:31 PM | Permalink
Myself and a local host are considering/speculating that we might schedule a teaching thing (Energy Centric Tai Chi) in Phoenix area (probably Mesa/Tempe zone) for a weekend in early September 2016. No other details yet and even those sketchy bits are uncertain. But if you might conceivably have the slightest interest in being added to the notify list (no commitment at all) then please write me: seeotter at g---l dot c-m and I'll just add your name to the notify list for if this comes to pass. LAS and LAX people who've written me in past also welcome for this. Actually my teacher Ben Lo used to do PHX (Mesa/Tempe in fact) every year back in the day but all the people scattered out, so we're starting up fresh from scratch.
Posted at 05:33 PM | Permalink
I got a nice email from a Tai Chi guy who I've met up with a few times in the past, basically amounting to private lessons which, as often the case, I didn't charge for (but don't get ideas!) anyway he wrote me out of the blue saying he's very appreciative of my stuff, lately really feeling the juice, he particularly enjoyed Peng and Packing books, and he said he's also gotten a lot out of my Youtube clips and these TCGS blog posts. Then, very unusual, he asked - is there anything he can do to show his appreciation for the material I've passed along to him in one form or another?
That kind of floored me, as hardly anybody goes so far as to ask such a thing. Don't get me wrong though, I'm not bitching here today. Anybody who's bought even one of my crazy books or films, I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart for your interest (except those who've used their purchases to bash me on Amazon or the net for some trivial defect like appearing stoned on meth or whatever, without themselves ever trying out the content of the materials). Really, to every one of you good guys, NAMASKAR to the max and thanks so much. I grind my face gratefully in the mud at your lotus feet.
But.... well, what the hell, this guy actually asked me what he can do. And you'll be amazed to learn that I did NOT write back immediately requesting his ATM account and PIN numbers! (I did however advise him that my great uncle recently died overseas leaving me sole heir to $65 million USD that I'm having trouble re-patriating... )
All levity aside, I'm think how to respond to this guy. Classiest thing to do would be just to say "No worries brah, don't pay me back pay it forward in your own life ... blabbitty blah blah". That would be taking the high road, wouldn't it? But since when has TC ever taken the high road?
So I had to come up with something else. So now this applies to both my correspondent and to anybody else who ever comes up with a similar question (yeah right!).
The best thing you can ever do for me is to go to Amazon.com or your country's Amazon and order one copy of my novel NAGENDRA (Siddhartha 2.0).
I'm very embarrassed to write the above. But he asked! It's really very humiliating and not the done thing at all for an author to blatantly pimp his own work in this way. In proper, respectable literary circles, his publisher should be pimping his work for him. But I am my own publisher. Note that this is not 'vanity press'. I never paid a nickel to Amazon for printing these. It is strictly print on demand. It is self-publishing, not vanity press.
However it means I'm on my own. And I don't mind toughing it out, slugging against the big boys in my rightful field of martial arts education, even when I'm on the ropes against blandly powerful, establishment-approved books like 'The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi'. I will go toe to toe with anybody in that arena.
But Nagendra is a different case altogether. In a way I'm prouder of this book than any other, because of its origin story. I've re-read Siddhartha once every year since age 15. Siddhartha is the well-known hippie classic of search for enlightenment in ancient India. I have also greatly appreciated the Mahabharata epic of ancient India. I consider myself something of a closet expert on that, as I've done comparative reading of 10 different editions and translations, spanning the mid-19th century to the present. Most Westerners limit their exposure to one minuscule fragment of this elephantine (literally!) work, just the .001% of it covered by the Bhagavad Gita, or 'Song of God'. But the full epic is soooo much more interesting and cool than that much later sanitized add-on or plug-in.
So anyway I had no plan to write any other fiction book after the spectacular success of my completely gonzo work Astral Advice Animal: The Insider's Reincarnation Playbook. I was just getting on with my life.
By pure chance, on a long drive I happened to have on hand the audio CD version of Mark Twain's autobiography. As the miles rolled past, he got into the question of his approach to writing. Basically he said that he's extremely lazy as a writer. He said he got tons of ideas, and he would try out beginning to write up all of them, but within a day or two he would know whether the project was a go or not. The way he could tell? "The story must write itself." He said he didn't want to to any work on it other than transcribing it like dictation. Very honest! Of course we hear this kind of thing about real genius like supposedly Mozart never crossed out a single note in his first drafts, etc. Just a cliche really. And I'm no genius, whether literary or musical or anything else. So I thought it was interesting but really gave it no more than passing attention.
But that night *BLAMMO* - in a dream the entire story of Nagendra - lock, stock and barrel came to me. Every character, every incident! So in the ensuing days all I had to do was type it out. Of course the process was aided by the fact that the story in many ways parallel's the original Siddhartha, and key aspects and incidents of Siddhartha are replicated (with a crazy twist!) in Nagendra. But the main thing was that I really 'got' what Twain had been saying - it wrote itself.
Now. Look. I wasn't born yesterday. And my sister is a marketing whiz who has advised my how tough book marketing is, and given me great advice on how to push this which I've mostly ignored. So now you see me here today, utterly shorn of any pride, pimping my own stuff to my martial arts oriented blog readers here who could give less than a fuck about some crazy yoga novel based on Siddhartha... yes this is what it has come to. But I love this book and the story of Nagendra. In a way I don't even see it as "mine" it came from the ether, or you can view it as a reverent homage to, or gentle parody of, Siddhartha if you want. View it as you will. As I said LOVE HAS NO PRIDE. All I want is for this extremely cool, though somewhat dark, story to get the exposure it deserves.
I mean, just look at Amazon's "Mystical and Visionary Literature" category, where Nagendra ekes out a pitifully starved existence. The top 10 over there? Are the really so great, so much superior to Nagendra in either entertainment or edutainment value? I just can't buy that. They have reached the Top 10 by publisher pimping or just some cultural authority barking at people "you should get this". I get it. People are sheep and can never go for something that isn't respectable, presentable, approved and certified by some blandly powerful cultural authority. I know I'm asking too much for a wild book like Nagendra to come out of nowhere and make any kind of splash.
But my correspondent has asked me what he could do. So the answer is, just get a copy of Nagendra. Read it and/or pass it along to any spiritual or New Age or yoga friend. That's all. Is it too much to ask? Is The Hunger Games or Fifty Shades of Gray or the Da Vinci Code really all that much superior?
Besides being a totally crazy wild fun (though dark) ride of a yoga and martial arts story, Nagendra is an easy way to get some little taste of some aspects of the Mahabharata. How often do you have the chance to get into that, eh?
Well anway. You asked, I"ve answered. Now anybody who's gotten a pointer or a laugh from any one of my 65 Youtube tutorial films, my hundreds of blog posts, my free meetup lessons, my private email advice... ya'll know what you gotta step up to! Some of my Tai Chi associates, particularly some great guys on my Facebook group, have not only got the book but a few of them even wrote great amazon reviews. I'm not going so far as to ask for that. All I want is more readers, more circulation for this amazing cool story. But if you cannot, that's fine also. Fine either way.
Teaser clip for Nagendra is here:
Posted at 02:25 PM | Permalink