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Life Patterns and Flexibility

Life Patterns and FlexibilityEvery day we are faced with challenges of routine, whether it is creating a routine, maintaining a routine, or changing a routine. More often than not, these happen without intervention, and the results present themselves whether you designed them or not.

The Morning Routine

The day breaks either at whatever time your body clock is set, or the time of your alarm clock. The latter is not ideal because it is an unnatural rising and you’re off into a forced routine. The trouble with this is that you will undoubtedly feel stiff, and your day starts with a ‘forced’ movement, and muscles can stiffen accordingly.

I was on this path for a long, long time, and never considered myself a ‘morning person’ – and always battled with normal, every-day flexibility when starting my day.

The solution: I decided to buy a “Lumie” alarm clock. This was designed to wake you up without noise, without sudden rising, and mimics ‘real light’ to gradually wake you up. The result? By naturally waking up, your body automatically adjusts over 20-30 minutes without you having to do anything at all; the result being you reduce and even remove the standard stiffness you can feel in the morning. Check the light out here:
Lumie Bodyclock ACTIVE 250 Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock with Extra Audio Options

Once you’re up, you must, must, have a quick morning stretching routine, to get the muscles moving, blood flowing, and generally loosen up. If you don’t do this on a daily basis, or even miss a few days, you perpetuate a stiffness that will lock up your joints, muscles, and hamper any of your sporting and martial arts. My morning routine consists of me pressing myself against the skirting board (!) to push my legs wider and gain myself that bit of leverage. It doesn’t take long before I’m pressed fully against the wall and have full flexibility once more.

All Sit Down?

We’ve all seen the evolutionary picture of ending up crouched over a computer desk, typing away with a hunched back. This is, unfortunately, extremely common and very true. The truth of the matter is, we are more certainly not designed to sit in a chair. Chairs are destructive to our mobility, flexibility, and our overall posture. If you are sitting in a chair, set yourself a simple timer for 15 minutes every day to ensure you get up out of your chair, move about, loosen up, and stop those joints from stiffening up. If you ca, get a standing desk – they will increase your productivity, improve your muscle tone, even burn more calories, but most important they will stop your spine from becoming compressed and causing disc and sciatic injuries.

If you are already in the unfortunate position of having back pain, please check out these videos for relieving sciatic nerve pain.

Beware the Slow Tense

Regardless whether you are in a chair, standing, leaning, kneeling etc. Be very conscious of your body and its positions. Again perhaps use a timer such as a “ring timer” (see below) to force you to check every 5-10 minutes until you make it a habit. What you’re checking for is any constant tension in the shoulders, arms, elbows, buttocks and particularly lower back. Modern day work demands hours and hours of constant work and tension, which too often results in over-tightness of particular areas, which in turn leads to over-compromised positions, disrupting your natural posture. These are very difficult to break unless you pay particular attention to it.

Check out a round-timer to force yourself to check every few minutes for it:
Boxing training round interval timer. Perfect for Boxing MMA Interval Tabata Training Kettlebells by Athlete Technologies

Stretching Before Sleep

Just as you should stretch when you wake up, it is equally important that you stretch yourself out before going to sleep. This will ensure that any tensions you have picked up throughout the day will not stiffen further overnight, and cause the typical and all-too-familiar trapped nerve sensations and full-body stiffness syndrome of the morning.


These routines are not exercise, they are not training, they should be part of every day of your life, and are indeed mandatory in many Japanese companies, where they have the best employee health and fitness ratios in the world.

You need to concentrate on them and do them mindfully, otherwise naturally bad patterns will creep into your life and compromise your body, flexibility and fitness.

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The New Economics of Taiji Quan in China

The key to Taiji Quan’s success in China is the upper middle class, who find that taiji fulfills several of their core demands.

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The Philosophy Of Samurai Swords

Samurai Swords represent moral values like patience, discipline, honor, loyalty and determination. The modern world has forgot some very important codes, but their symbols still exist as a reminder in the Japanese works of art that distinguish some homes or offices.

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Imagining the Chinese Martial Arts without Bruce Lee: Sophia Delza, an American Taiji Quan Pioneer.

Introduction: Different Visions of the Chinese Martial Arts

Assume that we find ourselves in a very specific, recognizable alternate universe.  It is almost exactly like ours, but in this world Bruce Lee never came to America.  Maybe he got along fine with his father and simply followed him into Taiji and the Hong Kong film industry.  Would this have affected the development of the traditional Chinese martial arts in the west?

I think there can be no doubt that the answer would be yes.  On the one hand I still believe that the Chinese martial arts would have been introduced and popularized without Bruce Lee.  Other Asian arts, like Judo and Karate were growing and finding a receptive audience.  It is clear to me after conducting an extensive literature survey of the period (including every article published in Black Belt Magazine in the 1960s) that readers were interested in and actively seeking out information on other traditional fighting systems.  Given the importance of the Chinese arts to the development of the more popular Japanese systems, and the large number of Americans coming into contact with them in Taiwan, it is clear that eventually they would have found a following in the west.  I do not think that individuals like R. W. Smith or Don F. Draeger would have had any trouble finding an audience for their books without Lee.

Yet what would the Chinese martial arts community in America have looked like?  Who would have been attracted to these arts?  What arts would have been popular?  Would there still have been a Kung Fu craze in the 1970s?

As we delve deeper into our counter-factual scenario the questions become harder to imagine.  Yet I suspect that this is a very worthwhile exercise.  The inherent richness of the Chinese martial arts means that they could have possibly become many things in the west.  What we see before us today is only one of those possibilities, shaped and crystallized by the economic forces of consumer culture.  The image of Bruce Lee interacted with American popular and consumer culture in profound ways.  Without him the movement that emerged might have looked very different.

SEE ALSO: How Bruce Lee changed Hollywood
Tai Chi Chuan: Body and Mind in Harmony (1961) by Sophia Delza.

Tai Chi Chuan: Body and Mind in Harmony (1961) by Sophia Delza.

Sophia Delza an American Pioneer of Chinese Opera and Wu style Taiji Quan

To get a sense of what might have been I would like to turn to trends that were already developing in the middle of the 1950s and the early 1960s, just before Bruce Lee appeared as Kato and really started to redefine the western discourse on the traditional Chinese martial arts.  This means that we need to think about some of the earliest individuals to publicly teach the Chinese martial arts in America.

As we saw in a previous post Lau Bun is generally credited with being the first individual to open a public martial school.  However, given the racial atmosphere of the country, initially he only taught Chinese students.  Further, the martial arts did not yet have a broad-based appeal within even the Chinese American community, so throughout the 1940s enrolments were light.

Slowly attitudes began to change in the 1950s.  It is in the middle of the 1950s that we start to see the first real signs of openness in the Chinese American community.  It is also when the first truly public schools, open to all individuals regardless of race or gender, start to appear.

One of the earliest of these was Sophia Delza’s (1903-1996) school of Wu style Taiji Quan taught out of her dance studio at Carnegie Hall.  She also taught regular classes at the Actors Studio and the United Nations building in New York City.  Given that her teaching career began in either late 1953 or 1954, she was one of the very first Chinese martial artists to operate publicly in the United States.  But who was she?  How did she become a student of Wu Taiji and what was her approach to the Chinese martial arts actually like?

Sophia Delza lived the sort of life that would make a good movie.  She was born in 1903 to a family of some means and distinctly liberal political views in Brooklyn NY.  She had a number of very accomplished siblings, including one sister who was an early pioneer of modern dance, a brother who became noted documentary film maker (he was later black-listed by the McCarthy Committee), and a younger sister who became an early practitioner of psychoanalysis in America.

Sophia was bright and majored in the hard sciences in college.  She graduated from Hunter College in 1924 and was accepted into a graduate program at Columbia University.  However, a trip to Europe derailed her initial career plans. Sophia had always been attracted to dance and had trained informally with her sister for years.  She had even performed in some community events.  While in Europe she decided to dedicate herself to the study of dance and did so exclusively for the next several years.

Upon returning to the states she encountered the hard economic realities of life as a professional performer.  Yet undaunted she worked her way into the vaudeville circuit and became a regular performer.  In 1928 she even danced opposite James Cagney in the Follies.  Once her career was established she began to experiment with her performance and moved in the direction of modern choreography.  She achieved some level of recognition for her work in this area and was booked for multiple seasons at the NY Guild Theater.

During this time Sophia met her future husband Cook Glassgold (1899 – 1985).  In many ways he had lived the same sort of exciting and artistic life as his wife.  Also a native New Yorker Cook had graduated from City College in 1920.  He was a talented painter and taught art at the City College until 1932 when he became the director of the Whitney Museum.  His career took a distinctly political turn after that.  From 1936-1941 he was an editor of the Index of American Art for the Works Progress Administration.  During WWII he served with the Federal Public Housing Administration.  After the war he was sent as a diplomat to Germany to help with the rebuilding and resettlement problems.  In 1948 he was assigned as a United Nations diplomat to go to Shanghai and assist in the refugee resettlement situation there.  This last assignment was an unexpected turning point for his wife Sophia, and it marked the rest of her career.

Sophia was interested in the intersection of culture and dance.  She had formally studied Spanish dance, and had actually toured as a performer in that style on occasion.  An extended stay in China (almost four years, 1948-1951) opened vast new horizons.

Upon arriving in Shanghai in 1948 she initially found an audience that was receptive to her work.  She gave a number of concerts and lectures, and was the first person to teach modern dance in Chinese dance academies and number of traditional schools in the city.  This quickly developed into a two-way exchange.  Sophia was fascinated by traditional dance and opera, including its more energetic and martial roles.  She studied with leading performers in the city and counted Wang Fu-Ying and Cheng Chuan-Chien among her teachers.

She was also introduced to the martial arts while in Shanghai.  Ma Yueh Liang and his wife Wu Ying Hua, a unique husband a wife team of martial arts masters, defined what for many was the golden age of Wu style Taiji.  Sophia had the good fortune to be introduced directly to the pair and became a student of Ma sometime around 1949.  She was able to receive about 3 years of pretty regular training directly from one of the most talented martial artists of his generation before returning to the United States in 1951.

Upon returning to New York the couple rented a suite at the Chelsea Hotel which they called home for the rest of their lives.  Cook resumed his career, ending up a union administrator, before an eventual retirement where he restored Chinese antiques for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and resumed his career as a painter (putting on multiple successful shows before his death in 1985).

Sophia’s career moved in a more radical direction.  She started to tour the country giving lectures on Chinese theater and physical culture.  These were well received and it seems that while Taiji came up in this period it was not her exclusive focus.  Things started to shift in 1954.  In that year she gave her first official Taiji Quan demonstration at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art (the MoMA) in Manhattan.

It is interesting to think for a moment on how this historic event was being staged.  In 1954 there were virtually no public performances or demonstrations of any sort of Chinese Martial Art at all.  Catching a glimpse of Lion Dancing at the Lunar New Year was the closest that most American might ever come to seeing the Chinese martial arts.

The MoMA houses the works of modern masters, individuals like Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock.  From the moment of its first introduction Taiji Quan in America was not accepted as counterpoint to western boxing, but as an expression of sophisticated and progressive culture.  It is hard to come up with a more striking contrast to Bruce Lee’s reimagining of the Chinese martial arts through the medium of pop culture entertainment (like his role in the Green Hornet).

The MoMA demonstration was a critical success, enough so that she went on to open the Delza School of Tai Chi Chuan at Carnegie Hall where she would continue to train students for decades to come.  Nor was this the end of her attempts to promote Taiji.

In 1956 Sophia staged another high profile demonstration of Wu style Taiji at the UN building in Manhattan.  Again, her presentation was well received and she opened a second school on the premises of the UN where she taught classes to delegates and staff from around the world (including Asia).  Apparently in this early period she also opened a third class at the Actors Guild.

Sophia Delza in Popular Mechanics

Period photos of Delza leading a small class at the UN. Popular Mechanics, October 1960.

It is interesting to pause for a moment and place all of this in its proper historical context.  Ed Parker, opened his first commercial Kempo Karate club in Provo Utah in 1953.  Bruce Lee would not start to teach in Seattle until 1959.  But already by that point Sophia Delza had hosted two very high profile public demonstrations and started three schools, all in New York City.

In 1960 Sophia gave the first televised Taiji Quan demonstration in the United States.  Audience response was good and it led to greater popular interest in her work.  In October of 1960 Popular Mechanics published an article on her teaching (complete with a photo of her running a class of Asian men at the UN) titled “Tai Chi for your Muscles.”  This was important for a variety of reasons,Black Belt Magazine, which would become the publication of record for the martial arts community, did not start publication until 1961.  Popular Mechanics, on the other hand, had been running articles and advertising campaigns for Asian martial arts (mostly Judo) since the middle of the 1940s.  If you were looking to promote a martial art, this was where you wanted to be seen.

It is also interesting to note that in this article Sophia goes to some lengths to argue that Tai Chi Chun is an aspect of Chinese boxing.  While she teaches the art as a form of physical conditioning (as opposed to energy work or dance), she discusses the fact that various Wu style boxers in Shanghai have defended the honor of the art with the boxing skills that they mastered.  Given that Delza is so frequently criticized in certain Taiji Quan circles today for not emphasizing the “martial” value of the art, or not seeing Taiji Quan as a “complete art,” this is worth some consideration.

It is certainly true that many of the masters of Taiji Quan, especially those who came into their own in the 19th century, were competent fighters.  They often had careers that demanded as much.  Yet when the push was made to start to teach these arts more broadly in the 1920s and 1930s it was obvious to everyone that this would no longer be the case.  The Nationalist Party wished to “strengthen the nation” and make them better able to resist foreign aggression.

Yet it was never imagined that the people would resist by fighting the Japanese with their bare hands.  That only happens in Kung Fu movies.  China had a fully modern military by the 1920s, and it was not afraid to use it.  Rather, the new goal of the martial arts was to improve the actual physical health and welfare of the nation.  This was a public health and hygiene program as much as anything else.  Its goal was to make the people “strong” and “healthy” not is some abstract sense, but in a very real and practical one.

This then was the task that martial reformers from the 1910s-1930s set for themselves.  New types of forms were invented, and new modes of classroom instruction were created, so that the reimagined traditional fighting arts could be brought to the masses.  This did not just happen in Taiji community, it happened in many places and it was supported by groups like both the Jingwu (Pure Martial) and Guoshu (National Arts) movements.

Ma Yueh Liang and his wife Wu Ying Hua were both trained under brutal conditions to be effective fighters.  Further, they did pass that skill on to a small number of students who were both trusted and interested in learning it.  But the truth is, all talk of “secret indoor techniques” aside, very few students in the 1940s-1960s were all that interested in Taiji as a form of boxing.  That just did not fit the world view or expectations of this new generation of students.  And it is still the case today.

Adam D. Frank has conducted extensive research on the Shanghai Wu style Taiji clan under Ma and Wu.  His research found that only a small fraction of the students of these two renown boxers ever expressed interest in anything like serious push-hands training.  Nor is this restricted to Wu clan.

Period photos of Delza leading a small class at the UN. Popular Mechanics, October 1960.

Period photos of Delza leading a small class at the UN. Popular Mechanics, October 1960.

Frank estimates that in China today there are literally tens of millions of individuals who have studied Taiji casually.  Of these maybe a few million have really dedicated themselves to the art.  Of those maybe only a few tens of thousands have ever actually taken up a serious study of Taiji as boxing.  It’s a topic that is just not all that popular in China, even among relatively dedicated students.

That is important to remember when evaluating Sophia Delza’s understanding of the nature of Taiji.  She very much viewed it as a form of physical culture that was part of China’s long boxing tradition, but at the present moment it was taught to “strengthen the nation.”  It seems that most of her classmates back in Shanghai probably would have agreed with that sentiment.  American martial artists of the period were often looking for more sparring precisely because they were coming out of other, more physical disciplines, such as western boxing, judo and karate.  Yet in that sense they were pretty atypical students by the standards of China in the 1940s.  Increasingly Chinese Taiji students were office workers or shop keepers worried about their health and wanting to stay young.  They had no prior experience in the martial arts and no interest in boxing. This was the demographic that Delza tapped into most directly.

In 1961 Sophia released the first English language books on Taiji.  In fact, it was one of the first English language books on the Chinese martial arts of any type.  It was titled T’ai Chi Ch’uan: Mind and Body in Harmony, an ancient Chinese way of exercise to achieve health and tranquility.  The book was published by the Good News press and enjoyed a rather large run, including multiple reprints.  The subtitle more or less describes the content of the volume.

Throughout the 1960s she continued to teach, lecture and write on Taiji.  Most of these later pieces were shorter magazine articles.  Further, as immigration standards were relaxed Sophia met other Taijiquan players and continued to learn new forms.  She wrote a number of letters to the editor of Black Belt Magazine, two of which were published in the 1960s.  It also appears that she sent them at least one manuscript but nothing came of it.

In 1970 some European students took an 8mm film of a class inside her Carnegie Hall school.  It is an interesting record of an early period of Chinese martial arts instruction in America.  In 1973 she returned briefly to China.  This was at the nadir of the Cultural Revolution, so I am not sure how much traditional dance or Taiji Quan she would have been able to observe, but it seems likely that she caught up with old friends.

A number of her articles and books continued to circulate in the 1980s, though by this point she was a less well-known figure outside of Wu style circles.  Her more philosophical approach to the Chinese martial arts as a field of physical culture had lost out to the rough of and tumble of the “Kung Fu Craze.”  Her husband of many decades died in 1985.

Still, Sophia had many projects to work on.  In 1996, the year that she too passed on, the State University of New York Press released her final volume and statement on the Taiji system.  It was titled the Tʻai-chi Chʻuan Experience: Reflections and Perceptions on Body-mind Harmony.

[vimeo id=”8620532″]

Conclusion: Better Understanding of an American Taiji Pioneer

Today very few individuals outside of the Wu Taiji clan remember the remarkable life of Sophia Delza or the many contributions she made to popularizing and promoting the Chinese martial arts in the West.  Still, even this brief review of her career shows that it was studded with a remarkable number of “firsts.”  She was a very early figure in the history of the Chinese martial arts in America, and everywhere she went, she had to break new ground.

I suspect that there are a few obvious reasons that she is not more widely acknowledged.  I think a lot of modern martial artists are uncomfortable with her background in dance and theater, and very much do not want to see “boxing” associated with dance.  The fact that she did not care to teach the martial applications of her art are also seen as suspect in a number of circles.  Simply the fact that she was an older woman probably did not help.  Much of the discourse around the Chinese martial arts in the later 1970s focused on redefining and promoting masculinity.

In short, Delza crafted an interesting image and approach to the Chinese martial arts, yet it did not win in the marketplace of ideas.  Drawing off her experience in Shanghai, she saw them primarily as a form of physical culture that was both modern and progressive.  Yet the arrival of the “Kung Fu Craze” of 1973 changed the terms of this discussion in the Western market.

If Sophia Delza had succeeded, what would the Chinese martial arts in America look like?  They would probably look remarkably like the cleaned and sanitized arts of the Central Guoshu Institute or the Jingwu Association.  Possibly wushu would be much more popular now than it current is.  Her approach, while still coming out of the Wu Shanghai clan, fit more neatly with these modernist movements.

At the same time I expect that such a Chinese martial arts movement would have been smaller, more elite and confined to those who had a serious interest in China.  The lack of serious fighting may have made it more accessible to females.  Yet without Lee’s charismatic ability to reach across racial lines and speak to the dis-empowerment and disappointment of modern urban life, it seems likely that the Chinese martial arts community would be less racially diverse than it is today.

Still, in reviewing her life and legacy we have not only reclaimed an early pioneer of the Chinese martial arts, but also seen a different aspect of how Chinese martial culture might have emerged in modernity.  I should also point out that in many ways Sophia Delza’s life remains an unfinished story.  I don’t think anyone has yet undertaken a major biographical evaluation of her career within the martial arts.  That could be a very interesting project.  Further, she left no fewer than 95 boxes of documents to the New York Public Library including letters, journals, ephemera and unpublished manuscript drafts.  I am sure that as this material is studied other aspects of the forgotten history of the Chinese martial arts in America will be brought to light.

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Chen Style Tai Chi

Today tai chi chuan is typically practised for a number of widely varying reasons: health, external/internal martial art skills, aesthetics, meditation, athletic/competition sport (sometimes called “wushu tai chi”).

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The Mythology Of Chi – Asking For Evidence

Dr. Tom Morris is an expert in philosophy and religion. He got a Ph.D. in both at Yale University and he was a Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame for 15 years.

In one of his books, Philosophy for Dummies, he writes about the power of belief and tells the story of when he bought a gas grill. The Sears delivery crew wouldn’t hook up the propane tank because of liability concerns. As Tom hooked it up, he held his breath so he wouldn’t breathe any propane fumes. After a minute he would walk away and breathe clean air, then go back to the grill. He accidentally took a few breaths while at the grill and almost got sick from the powerful smell of propane. The fumes began making him light-headed and he began feeling sick, and even when he hooked the tank up, he could still smell the gas.

He called Sears to report the problem. They asked, “Where did you fill up the tank?” He hadn’t filled up the tank, and didn’t realize that Sears delivers a new grill with an empty propane tank.

See Also: The big lie in Martial Arts

Tom’s family got a big kick out if this, and as a philosopher, it drove home the power of belief. He thought the gas was there, he could smell it and he felt ill. “The mind is a powerful thing,” he writes. “And false beliefs can have a big impact on us.”

And there you have the “science” of chi. People have a tendency to automatically believe a black belt or a chi “master” without questioning, and when they tell you that you will feel something, you are conditioned to feel it, and then you believe it’s real. It’s a gigantic leap of faith, and quite a leap of logic.

If you are lying in bed at night unable to sleep, do this experiment: close your eyes and pretend you are on a small raft on a lake. Within a few minutes, you’ll feel the gentle bobbing of the waves and it will feel as if you’re on a raft.

This doesn’t mean you’re really on a raft, but it does show that the mind is a powerful tool and you can feel anything you want. If a teacher tells you that you will feel tingling when you do a chi kung exercise, if you try hard enough you will indeed feel tingling.

That does not mean chi is real any more than it meant that you were on a raft while lying in bed.

In 2001, there had been several articles in national martial arts magazines showing “chi masters” knocking down their own students without touching them. I offered $5,000 to any chi “master” who could make me even wobble without touching me. Inside Kung-Fu put my offer on the front page of the magazine and I waited for a chi master to accept my challenge. It would only take them five minutes to earn $5,000 — all they had to do is knock me down without touching me, or just make me wobble.

No chi “masters” ever took me up on that offer. I contacted one by email — Richard Mooney, who had made a lot of money taking fees from gullible martial artists who thought they could learn the “No Touch Knockout.” Mooney did not like the fact that I didn’t believe he could do this, and I received insulting emails from him and a couple of his students.

Still, no “chi master” took me up on my offer. The reason–they understand that without a willing partner — without someone who played along with the gag — chi doesn’t work.

People say, “But Ken, chi has been around for thousands of years. What do you know?” I reply, “Astrology and witchcraft have been around for thousands of years. Some people believe each of them.”

Chi is a great mental visualization tool. You can use it when doing chi kung to relax the mind and get your mind off of distractions. You can use it as a mental visualization tool to align proper body mechanics in martial arts. But as far as science goes, it has never held up to real scrutiny, and no chi master has ever been able to duplicate his feats under double-blind conditions.

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The Randi Foundation has one million dollars in escrow that they will give to someone who proves a miraculous claim. The Randi Foundation tested Richard Mooney to see if his claims were true, but they removed the ability to cheat by conducting the test in what are called “double-blind” conditions. In other words, the people he was trying to move did not know what he was trying to do so they could not play along.

More than a dozen people were put before him — one by one — and he failed to move any of them. It was a complete failure. And yet, people still are willing to believe and magazines will print fantastic stories. Tai Chi students and teachers will tell stories of the long-dead master who had amazing chi powers. And people will relate personal anecdotes about how a tai chi master or chi master touched them and it felt “like an electric shock” and knocked them back 10 or 20 feet.

There is nothing mystical about Tai Chi or other “internal” arts such as Hsing-I or Bagua. These are martial arts that rely on physical skills (not metaphysical).

There is nothing mystical about Chi Kung (qigong). It is a method of calming the mind and body to ease stress — nothing more.

Never automatically believe a miraculous claim made by someone who is making money off of that claim. Always look for the “trick,” because there is always a trick. And just because you feel something, make sure that feeling isn’t the result of your own expectations. It takes a lot of emotional and mental strength to overcome this very human tendency.

Chaucer wrote, “many have died from mere imagination.”

It’s a lot like an empty propane tank, if you believe the gas is there. And people will always believe if they choose to believe, no matter how flimsy the evidence and no matter who is making money off of their beliefs.

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Tai Chi have it's downside? NONE

The graceful, dancelike progression of meditative poses called tai chi originated in ancient China as a martial art, but the exercise is best known in modern times as a route to reduced stress and enhanced health. After reviewing existing scientific evidence for its potential health benefits, I’ve concluded that the proper question to ask yourself may not be why you should practice tai chi, but why not.

More Personal Health ColumnsIt is a low-impact activity suitable for people of all ages and most states of health, even those who “hate” exercise or have long been sedentary. It is a gentle, calming exercise — some call it meditation in motion — that involves deep breathing but no sweat or breathlessness.

It places minimal stress on joints and muscles and thus is far less likely than other forms of exercise to cause muscle soreness or injury. It requires no special equipment or clothing and can be practiced almost anywhere at any time, alone or with others.

Once the proper technique is learned from a qualified instructor, continuing to practice it need not cost another cent.

The many small studies of tai chi have found health benefits ranging from better balance and prevention of falls to reduced blood pressure, relief of pain and improved immunity.

The latest and perhaps best designed study was conducted among patients with debilitating fibromyalgia, a complex and poorly understood pain syndrome.

See Also: Tai Chi Chuan Instruction Five Animal Style

Dr. Chenchen Wang and colleagues at Tufts Medical Center in Boston reported in August in The New England Journal of Medicine that tai chi reduced pain and fatigue and improved the patients’ ability to move, function physically and sleep. The benefits persisted long after the 12 weeks of tai chi sessions ended.

The study was financed primarily by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health. To be sure, documenting tai chi’s purported health benefits is a challenge. As an editorial in the journal noted, it is virtually impossible to design an ideal study of tai chi. There is no “fake” version that could serve as a proper control to be tested against the real thing. Thus, researchers have to rely on less-than-perfect comparison groups. In the fibromyalgia study, for example, the control group was given stretching exercises and wellness education.
And unlike evaluations of drugs, tai chi studies cannot be double-blinded such that neither patients nor researchers know which group is receiving which treatment. Those guided by a tai chi master would undoubtedly know who they are and could be influenced by the teacher’s enthusiasm for the practice.

Still, scientists have come to better understand and appreciate the mind-body connection, which for too long was dismissed as nothing more than a placebo effect, and most doctors are now more willing to accept the possibility that stress-reducing activities can have a profound effect on health.

A Stress Reducer

There is no question that tai chi can reduce stress. As the study authors described it, tai chi “combines meditation with slow, gentle, graceful movements, as well as deep breathing and relaxation to move vital energy (called qi by the Chinese) throughout the body.”

If nothing else, this kind of relaxing activity can lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve cardiovascular fitness and enhance mood. For example, a review in 2008 found that tai chi lowered blood pressure in 22 of 26 published studies.

Thus, it can be a useful aid in treating heart disease, high blood pressure and depression, conditions common among older people who may be unable to benefit from more physically demanding exercise.

Regular practitioners of tai chi report that they sleep better, feel healthier and experience less pain and stiffness, though it cannot be said for certain that tai chi alone is responsible for such benefits.

Yet as Dr. Wang and co-authors noted in an earlier report that analyzed the literature on tai chi and health, a majority of studies have been small and poorly controlled, if they were controlled at all. Therefore, the tai chi practitioners could have been healthier to begin with or could have practiced other health-enhancing habits.

Perhaps the best-documented benefit of tai chi, and one that is easiest to appreciate, is its ability to improve balance and reduce the risk of falls, even in people in their 80s and 90s. The moves are done in a smooth, continuous fashion, as weight is shifted from one leg to the other and arms are moved rhythmically. This can improve muscle strength and flexibility, and enable the muscles in the legs and hips to function in a more coordinated and balanced manner. Thus, practitioners become more stable and sure-footed.

Another benefit, again especially important to older adults, is the apparent ability of tai chi to improve immune function. In a 2007 study also financed by the Complementary and Alternative Medicine center, those who practiced tai chi had a better response to the varicella zoster vaccine that can help prevent shingles.

Talk to a Doctor First

Tai chi is not a substitute for professional medical care, but rather an adjunct to such care and a way to keep debility at bay. As with other forms of alternative medicine, it is best to consult your physician before signing up for instruction.

This is especially important if you are a pregnant woman or have serious physical limitations, joint problems, back pain or advanced osteoporosis. While such conditions do not preclude practicing tai chi, you may have to modify or avoid certain positions.

Although tai chi is a gentle exercise, one can get carried away. Overdoing any activity, including tai chi, can result in sore or sprained muscles. On its Web site, the Complementary and Alternative Medicine center notes that “tai chi instructors often recommend that you do not practice tai chi right after a meal, or when you are very tired, or if you have an active infection.”

Also important is assurance that your instructor is well qualified. Instructors do not have to be licensed, and the practice is not regulated by any governmental authority. There are many styles of tai chi — the yang style is most commonly practiced in Western countries — and there are no established training standards.

Traditionally, would-be instructors learn from a master teacher. Before choosing an instructor, you’d be wise to inquire about the person’s training and experience.

Learning tai chi from a qualified instructor is critical. The Complementary and Alternative Medicine center cautions that trying to learn it from a book or video is no guarantee that you will be able to perform the moves safely and correctly. Reliable sources of instructors include Y.M.C.A.’s and Y.W.C.A.’s, and well-run commercial gyms.

Finally, attending a few sessions or even a 12-week course is not enough to guarantee lasting health benefits. As with any other form of exercise, tai chi must be practiced regularly and indefinitely to maintain its value.

Source: The New York Times
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Tai Chi Chuan Instruction Five Animal Style

Tai Chi Chuan Instruction

‘There are many ways to the top of the mountain.’

Tai Chi Chuan Instruction takes on new meaning when you understand the meaning of Tai Chi Chuan (also known as Taiji Quan). It translates as ‘The Grand Ultimate Fist.’

Simply, it is the top of the Martial Arts experience.

This is quite a claim for Tai Chi Chuan instruction, and the only way that this could be true, aside from Martial and Energetical implications, is if the peak is nothing more than the opening of one’s perceptions. This is to say that one achieves the ability to learn unhindered by the context of one’s experiences, or the limiting of one’s imagination.

To be honest, when all the Chinese Martial Arts Masters start talking about ‘Chi’ (Intention and the ability to move masses of Energy) and ‘Jing’ (usable Chi) they are really only describing the same perception and phenomena from different points of view.

If one understands this then there is no mystery to the mystery of Tai Chi Chuan Instruction.

Well, if you’re still with me, let me describe certain exercises I practice to open my ‘Tai Chi eyes,’ and which I teach to my Tai Chi Chuan classes. This is a very comprehensive look at the form of martial arts.

Before I describe these procedures let me make one point.

Many Tai Chi practitioners are snobs. They have little Martial ability and intend only to espouse new age feely good sensations.

Please be warned that anything I say or claim is based upon the ability to develop fighting ability, and the ability to enhance one’s perceptions even in the middle of combat.

The founder of Chen Tai Chi was an aged general.

The founder of Yang Tai Chi was a hard core practitioner who was allowed into the Chen school solely because he could kick some Chen butt.

So, if you haven’t decided I am trapped by my martial context, and are still willing to move forward, come along.

Tai Chi Chuan Instruction in the Snake

Tai Chi is supposedly based upon the movements of the Snake and the Crane.

Obviously, the snake twines and moves in quite slinky fashion.

This is appropriate to Tai Chi because as the practitioner moves through the range of body motion in non impactful manner he can explore the nook and crannies of his body by inserting awareness into the stretch and twine of maximum extensions.

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The real quality of the Snake is that he is connected to the ground. This connection, called ‘Rooting’ by most, ‘Called ‘Grounding’ by those with some knowledge of Physics, is crucial to the real Art.

Simply, can you do the whole Form and never, through any transition of Stance, keep your Ground intact?

But this is the point of all good Tai Chi Chuan instruction, so I don’t want to take to long on this. After all, what is there to learn from the same old same old?

Of course one should practice for twenty or thirty years before taking my dismissal of contemporary practice to heart.


Chen Man Ching shows fine balance


This, really, is the heart of Tai Chi Chuan Instruction.

But it is not just balance of being able to stand on one leg with your eyes closed. It is not being able to go through the form blindfolded and end up in the exact same spot.

It is not going through the Form blindfolded taking free steps and still ending up exactly where you started.

Balance refers to an internal awareness.

For instance:

  • Balance of the sides of the body over the support leg.
  • Balance smoothly shifted from one leg to the other with no twitches or imperfections of the snake like flowing.

But, and here is where the boys become men, balance is when you appreciate the muscles on both sides of the arm, and can achieve exact and equal tensions on both sides of the bone.

Perfect balance, if you are getting good tai chi chuan instruction, results in stillness of motion.

And the concentration necessary to create stillness of motion in posture throughout all postures also creates a stillness of motion within the mind.

Perfect balance, aside from being able to do the form without any lurchings either external or internal, means that you, the human being, have nothing pulling you from the exact center that you are.

You refuse the imprecations of the Universe, and have stilled that within which would move you off balance.


I know, there is no monkey. It is the Leopard that I should be talking about.

Except that I have always felt that the Leopard is too much like the Tiger. And when I was told by the fellow who taught me Shaolin that there are some people who ascribe to the monkey as replacing the Leopard I quickly jumped on the bandwagon with my Tai Chi Chuan instruction.

The monkey teaches agility.

Try putting four cinder blocks on end in a square and do the Tai Chi form on top them.

Do not let them move under your foot. Do not let your connection with the ground break.

Within a short time your Tai Chi, to risk a bad pun, will become elevated.

You will learn awareness in your feet that will rival the sensitivity of your hands.

Thus, when somebody attacks you will be capable of moving around them efficiently without losing your grasp of the earth.

And grasping the ground during combat is quite important.

Simply, the fellow who can hold his ground the best is going to be considered the stronger. And the fellow who can take the ground away from another fellow is going to be the strongest.

By the way, don’t put too much significance upon the different definitions of ‘ground,’ and ‘Grounding’ (rooting). simply practice your Art and let your abilities manifest.

As the Masters say, ‘Up the legs from the ground, controlled by the waist, and manifested by the hands.’

Tai Chi Chuan Instruction in the Tiger

tai chi chuan tiger style movement

tai chi chuan tiger style movement

Here is where a lot of Tai Chi instructors lose it. Inspired by the heady sensations of the Chi within their body they forget that Art of the Martial variety is defined by function.

Do the Form with the mind. Let your Intention guide your movements.


And bullpuckey.

The problem is that when people accept this tai chi chuan instruction they want to do it for health and to experience those ‘Feely good’ sensations.

There is nothing wrong with that, but they shouldn’t call it Tai Chi, or should be quite forceful in defining it as ‘Health Tai Chi,’ or some such, which is quite different from martial Tai Chi.

You think you can learn Tai Chi Kung Fu without learning how to fight? That would be like the clouds learning to move through the skies without wind. It is possible, but it would take a smarter cloud than now floats over our heads.

You see, resistance sows the seeds of qigong (Chi Kung) growth.

I push on my student’s bodies, and if they fall I now they haven’t got it.
This ‘Body Testing’ defines alignment, and forces the body to fight back on a core level. Simply, grass grows out of the cracks in a sidewalk, and life will strive to grow under the push of a well trained hand.

When somebody is first taking tai chi churn instruction any pressure applied should be gentle and extremely knowledgeable.

Wrong push equals wrong alignment equals bad Tai Chi.

If the student is allowed to learn Tai Chi Chuan without any pressure except of the verbal variety he ends up being a paper tiger. He knows about, but can’t do.

Interestingly, though this may offend some players, I have sometimes seen better Jing in people who have practiced Karate for a couple of decades. While Karate is ‘Lower on the mountain’ than Tai Chi, the training methods, if the usual ‘Drill instructor’ methods of training can be outgrown, define Jing a lot better.

Of course who can put up with a Tiger attitude for twenty years? It’s a lot easier to just float along with the clouds, searching for updrafts of hot air.

To grow the Tiger I practice a lot of dynamic tension within the stances.

Once I reached the point where I could balance the muscles on each of my bones I began to deliberately push them against each other so as to grow them.

I know there will be some that speak against this style of tai chi chuan instruction, and if it was the only one which I practiced they would be right. But I try to balance all methods in practice so that I don’t lose strength, or balance, or agility, or flexibility, and so on.


Wu tai chi chuan style

Wu tai chi chuan style

This brings us to the heart of the matter. The Dragon is the highest expression of Art in Tai Chi Chuan Instruction.

The reason? Because it doesn’t exist.

It is a composite of the other creatures.

The Dragon is comprised of the sinuousness of the snake, the wingful balance of a crane, the agility and shiftiness of a monkey, the strength and claws of a Tiger, and yet not defined by any one animal.

Talk about the three blind men describing an elephant.

This makes it a creature of imagination.

Imagination is Art.

Art is the expression of Imagination.

The Dragon, to be truthful, would represent anybody of any Art who could move freely, creating motion in the moment, as he (she) needs it.

Simply, it is the manifestation of the Martial solution to the problem of physical (and mental or spiritual) attack.

Tai Chi Chuan Instruction Conclusions

The real point of this article on Tai Chi Chuan instruction has been to provide comparison and contrast in viewpoints of training methods. If you disagree with the Shaolin shadings I have introduced, then try applying other methodologies to your training.

How do the animals of Hsing I relate to your Tai Chi Chuan style?

How can the movements and theories of Tai Chi be impacted by the concepts of Aikido, or Escrima, or some other Art?

In the beginning of this article I spoke of the highest expression of Art being the ability to learn without internal or external limitations.

Creation is the breakdown and synthesis of the old into the new.

That is the Art, and you can use it to improve your tai chi chuan instruction.

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5 Tips For Tai Chi Players To Maximize Their Health

Tai Chi is the application of energy and also balancing that power within the body as well as its surroundings. The concept of how the body responds to outside stimuli (environment, weather, strain) is what eventually establishes whether or not the body and thoughts could maintain or deteriorate. This internal martial art concentrates on taking advantage of the body’s energy, building it up or reinforcing it, and then practicing the capacity to move this energy around the body, pointing it to a make-believe attacker or opponent.

In order to begin to understand the art of Tai Chi, one have first to learn the basic notion of a rooting posture. With feet apart and also aiming ahead, the specialist should find out ways to sink into the feet, placing all the weight of the body into the feet as well as picturing that the feet have extensions that go into the solid ground an extra few feet, offering the body the sensation it is secure to the earth. This rooting supplies the base from which the body uses the energy to disperse this power to additional regions of the body with a solid core of sturdiness, as well as, power.

Master Chen (no relation to the family of Chen Style taijiquan), was a tutor to the children of the famous tai chi grandmaster, Yang Cheng-Fu. Chen was also a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine. From his extensive background, he shared five essential tips that help tai chi practitioners protect and increase their life force energy (called “qi” in Chinese).

Master Chen

1. Avoid eating at least 30 minutes before and after practice. The same advice is given for anyone who is a light smoker or had ingested beverages containing alcohol. This will allow your blood circulation and qi circulation to function at its optimum.

2. After practice, avoid eating cold food, fruit, or downing cold beverages. Avoid cold drafts and showers, and avoid thinking too much. Let the body and mind relax an hour or so. This will avoid what Chinese doctors call “cold damage” or “wind excess” to your body and qi energy.

3. To avoid spikes in your blood pressure, slowly walk around immediately after practice until your pulse returns to normal. Even if you feel tired, do not immediately sit or lie down. This is especially important for people with hypertension.

4. When engaging in a regular practice of tai chi, your body may generate and use up more energy while internal changes are occurring. You must make sure to get an adequate amount of sleep to protect your qi. However, sleeping in late on a regular basis is considered to be worse, as this damages the willpower. Master Chen, Yang-Ling warned us that, “late sleepers give up easily because of a corrupted spirit.” Traditional Chinese Medicine encourages us to protect our health by following the diurnal circadian rhythms, which is the natural state of healthy human qi function.

5. Do not practice if you are exhausted. However, Chen suggests that you can “mentally” practice while lying down. If seriously “burned out” the best thing to do to protect your qi is to do some simple qigong or breathing exercises and get the rest and nutrition that your body needs.

The following essential practice that needs to occur is the idea that power from within the body begins and also finishes with the Dan Tien. This part of the body is below the navel and also is the central of the body’s power reserve. Engaging in relocating the stomach muscles in circles, with repetitions in each direction, constructs this built in energy storage as well as establishes the physician to be able to relocate this power from the Dan Tien to some other parts of the body. Discovering how to breathe: imagining that inhalation relocates the energy from the Dan Tien up back to the top of the head and also with exhalation the power moves down the top of the head down the torso to the Dan Tien. With the stability of the ground and the power of the internal organs, the body is presently able to relocate energy around to where it wants.

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Tai Chi: The Smoothest Martial Art

In China, Tai Chi is an ancient martial art which has already been practiced for centuries. Tai Chi is a martial art which involves exercises and ways to improve the flow of the inner energy inside our body. This art helps you emphasize the correct form of martial art. Each movements of this art show off the comfortable feeling inside you. This is the reason why Tai Chi is practiced in the smoothest and gentlest way.

When you train Tai Chi, your body is moving smoothly to eliminate the physical impacts. This way, you are developing flexibility, stamina and strength. Tai Chi method fuses your mind and body as a whole, which helps you enhance your balance and coordination. Moreover, the method of this art helps you to relax your entire body and stretches your joints smoothly. Probably, this method is a martial art so it certainly involves defensive and offensive techniques. Using its unique breathing method the art helps you to improve your muscles and joints in your body. In addition, it helps you create a smooth flow of inner energy inside you. This energy is usually called as ki or chi. The Chinese believe that the chi is the energy which can heal all kinds of diseases.

When you train Tai Chi, your body is moving smoothly to eliminate the physical impacts. This way, you are developing flexibility, stamina and strength.

If you train this art, your body will remain relaxed and soft. From head to toe you will feel that your body is as soft as the water. Your mind will be focused in every movement that you are executing. This helps your inner energy to flow smoothly without a single hindrance. When you are relaxed and focused it is easier for your inner energy to flow into your entire body. The flow of the chi inside your body is continuous and it never stops, even for a second. If you are able to use this art correctly, you won’t need so much energy just to make a simple movement. When you are using your chi everything around you, especially your body seems to be very weightless.

See Also: Who Created Tai Chi Chuan?

The method of Tai Chi uses your opponent’s energy against him. As you execute the technique you should believe that it is very much possible for you to use your opponent’s energy. You don’t need so much energy to counter his attacks. So, when he is tired and worn out, then it’s your time to do the offensive techniques. Your attacks are certainly effective sense your enemy already loses his energy.

Tai Chi is one of the oldest styles of Chinese martial arts. Nowadays, this art is rarely practiced but, its benefits are certainly useful. This art helps you improve your spiritual well-being. Subsequently, as you train this art, you will definitely learn more things about yourself and the people around you.

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