RUNNING ON EMPTY
by Dan Docherty (Combat April 1994)
So there he is, that famous face from the magazines, a face which doesn't do justice to the photographs that appear with his articles. And here you are. After many years of reading about him and seeing his videos, the word is made flesh. You are at his seminar. He's Chinese; he's Japanese; he's Irish; he's a Filipino. He teaches Karate, Kali, Tai Chi, Qi Gong.
What is or what should be a seminar ? What, if anything, makes it different from a normal training session ?
In the early Seventies, back in dear old Glasgow, before seminars existed, there was the Karate course. Great; the big Japanese Shotokan master is coming up to teach us. We'd pay up in advance and sometimes he'd actually turn up to give the course and we'd march up and down, doing combinations of middle level block, elbow strike, backfist, reverse punch. Sometimes of course his busy schedule wouldn't permit him to appear until the time came to pick up the money and the grading fees, but we understood; after all we were abject insignificant beings, he was a god.
What made it different from normal training ? Well we'd get knocked about a bit more than usual and he'd talk less than our own instructor. But we knew that because he was Japanese this meant that we were really learning something.
Then neither he nor his assistants were available. So our instructor called in Yoshinao Nanbu. We knew that he couldn't really be a proper Japanese master, because he didn't hit us, because he taught us advanced techniques, because he was cheerful and courteous, because he explained things amd because he let us ask questions. Not surprisingly many of the senior grades had severe reservations about Mr. Nanbu.
Doran, my old Karate instructor, told us of the time he'd gone down to London to attend a course held by Masutatsu Oyama. They spent more than one hour practicing the inside block. Well, that's one way to make an impression on the students.
the years that have passed I have seen many teachers teaching. Some teach too little too slowly; some teach too much too quickly. Some are perfectionists in an imperfect world. Some believe that the best way of teaching is to try convince students that they know absolutely everything about absolutely everything. Of course most students believe this about their teacher anyway.
Seminar is jargon from the academic world, the same world that gave us "professors" of Ju Jutsu and Karate. I seem to remember from my days at Glasgow University that a seminar was a relatively informal meeting between lecturer and students where each of us would present our views or papers on a topic of study. I wonder how many "seminars" conducted by my distinguished colleagues in the martial arts fraternity would meet that definition.
In the martial arts seminar, I think there should be a balance. There is little point in overloading students with dozens of complicated techniques and telling them that this is how to learn "concepts". There is equally little point in talking at people. Proper teaching technique requires that not only is information sent out, but that it is both understood and acted upon. This in turn makes it necessary for the teacher to allow questions from the student and that he questions or tests the student to see whether what he has taught has indeed been understood.
I well remember that, when doing a Postgraduate Diploma in Chinese at Ealing College, one of the students in my seminar group was having great difficulty with the text we were working on which described "the Long March". Finally, after three weeks of unequal struggle, Patrick told Mr. Tang that he couldn't make head nor tail of it. It subsequently transpired that although Patrick had been reading the Chinese text from top to bottom, he had also been reading from left to right, instead of from right to left. For Patrick, Chinese was truly a Long March. There is no shortage of Patricks in the martial arts world.
In a normal class most teachers and students just get on with the training, there isn't the time to cover techniques or concepts in depth. In the Chinese martial arts such as Tai Chi Chuan there is the concept of inside and outside the door training. Many of the things my teacher taught me, such as the Six Secret Words of Tai Chi Chuan, he never taught in any class, but on a one to one basis; inside the door. It is very difficult to teach this kind of thing in a normal class. Stupid or lazy students don't understand; clever but unpleasant people - well, teacher isn't too keen on teaching them.
My master didn't give a seminar in the real sense until 1981 - after more than forty years in the martial arts. Why ? It wasn't the way things were done. People had to go to the teacher in the old days, or invite the teacher to spend a concerted period with them. Also in those days ordinary people were more conservative and less willing or able to travel than they are now. The seminars he subsequently gave proved very helpful in covering things we already knew, but in much greater depth, and helping to give some of the background to the inside the door training.
Not everyone can take 10 years out of their lives to live in the Far East and to learn Chinese, not everyone has ready access to expert tuition whether for reasons of distance or time and yet many people in this situation want to study Tai Chi Chuan in depth, in all its aspects.
I first started doing seminars back in 1986. Now I do dozens every year. It gives me direct contact with second and third generation students in Britain and abroad. It also enables me to meet their teachers regularly to improve their standards too. It also gives students who, for whatever reason, can't attend my regular classes the chance to train with me.
Many people have become my students after attendance at seminars. Some subsequently fall by the wayside, some move on to become certificated teachers, helping in their turn to pass on the art.
How many seminar students would consider a master to be their instructor after having attended a seminar ? How many instructors would consider a participant at a seminar to be their student ? I somehow don't think the numbers would tally. I remember Ian Cameron telling me of a relatively junior student of his, who, after attending one of our teacher's seminars, went to the USA and advertised herself as being Cheng Tin-hung's only female disciple. At least she got the female part right.
Seminars have also become a way of having contact with other instructors and other styles. For a number of years now I've been going to Karate and Ju-jutsu clubs in Scandinavia to do seminars; many of the instructors who attend have invited other foreign instructors to give seminars for them; people like George Dillman, and Joe Lewis, not so much to learn their art, as to listen to their ideas.
How much should it cost ? One teacher I know of teaches one Chi Kung move over the course of a weekend - for about £90. Well, at least he's thorough.
Recently, The Tai Chi Union has been putting on Joint Pushing Hands Seminars with up to six instructors from different styles teaching many different approaches. The seminars have proved popular with members and outsiders alike and have also broken down a lot of barriers. Not everyone can or wishes to take part in competition so the seminar can be a useful way to see other teachers, and to train with outsiders.
The most recent seminar in Manchester gave me the excuse to get the TCUGB Secretary, Chris Thomas, to take me and Neil Rosiak, one of my students, to see his old teacher, a living legend, a certain Mr. Danny Connor. Danny and I had a couple of bouts of intellectual judo with honours pretty even, I hope to interview him for Combat, but he's a very shy and retiring chap so it'll take a lot of gentle persuasion.
In the meantime, if any readers are interested in Tai Chi Union activities, including pushing hands seminars please contact one of the Regional Officers listed in Combat's classified section. You'll meet some nice people and might even learn something.
On Being a Master
by Dan Docherty
Combat May 1995
The term ‘master’ derives from the Latin root ‘magister’ meaning teacher or ruler; and by extension, it means a person of consummate skill in some area of activity, as opposed to a mere journeyman. It can also mean someone who inspires devotion or reverence on the part of his followers. However, a person can be all or any of these things and yet fail to be a good teacher. There is only one measure of a good teacher; does s/he produce good students?
The Golden Age?
Many Tai Chi books refer to a golden age when ancient masters were paragons of all the know virtues; invincible sages imbued with mystical powers. Yet these same masters lived and died like other men. Indeed some famous members of the Yang gamily died of illness in middle age. Although ghosted books on Tai Chi Chuan have been produced by members of the major Tai Chi families, little has been added to them to enrich the philosophy or literature of China. If such masters truly possessed the powers claimed for them, it is remarkable that they should demean themselves by descending from the astral planes to consort with ordinary mortals!
Just as philosophers and ideologues throughout the ages have attempted to justify their ideas, however perverse or wicked, by recourse to the actions and words of thinkers of the past, so many modern masters analyse every thought and deed in the light of their often twisted and erroneous interpretations of the Tai chi Classics. Refusing to accept that the Classics are not the sole repository of human wisdom on the subject of Tai Chi Chuan, they would cloak everyone in the straitjacket of their rigid orthodoxies no matter what the cost. They don’t know the concept of Zhong Yong and they don’t know that they don’t know it!
Mencius wrote that the evil of men is that they like to be the teachers of others rather than trying to reform themselves first. According to Mencius, Confucius denied that he was a sage and yet today, many third rate Tai chi teachers call themselves ‘Master’ or even ‘Grandmaster’. Some even dare to use the literary style ‘Tzu’ after their names in a vain attempt to equate themselves with the great philosophers of China, such as Lao Tzu and Sun Tzu.
Tai chi Chuan is often referred to as a Taoist martial art and in many a book much innocent fun is made of Confucianism and the importance which it placed on rites and correct conduct. It is ironic that many such authors exhibit a far greater degree of rigidity and humbug than Confucius and his followers ever did. A cursory perusal of the Analects of Confucius shows that Confucian thinkers emphasised a natural ease in applying the rules of propriety. However, they also emphasised that in exhibiting this natural ease, the rules of propriety should still be followed. So it is when interpreting and applying the guiding principles of the Tai Chi Classics.
The mad English king, George III, in one of his more lucid moments observed that much of Shakespeare is sad stuff, only one mustn’t say so. So it is with Tai Chi Chuan, save that in the strife-torn world of the internal martial arts, there is a much higher proportion of sad stuff than is to be found in the works of the Bard of Avon.
We have masters who pat one another on the back, endorsing one another’s sad books and articles and awarding themselves grandiose titles. We have masters without fighting experience speaking authoritatively on how to deal with opponents and debating technical niceties. Others claim to be able to uproot opponents without touching them and when their subtle skills fail to work, the fault is with their insufficiently sensitive protagonists.
Other masters put forward other people’s ideas as their own, denigrate teachers of genuine ability, but then lay claim to the same skills without possessing any of them. Yet others deny the existence and value of anything they don’t know, while fabricating and touting empty ‘secret’ techniques and training methods.
Having alluded to some of the more negative aspects of masters, I’d now like to suggest some positive ones.
A master in the true sense:
Leads by example;
Constantly attempts to develop his art;
Constantly attempts to challenge his students perceptions to improve their understanding;
Teaches honestly and sincerely;
Is sufficiently harsh and sufficiently gentle with his students.
By practising I mean that the teacher should spend some time training with the class and also privately. In particular he should do the more physically and technically demanding training with students to give them confidence. When teaching, it is not enough just to issue commands; a martial arts gym is not a drill square. Although we must practise drills, the students should be told the purpose of different exercises. Where the teacher does not know this, he should say so and attempt to find out, rather than misleading his students. Anybody who purports to teach in exactly the same way as his teacher can’t be considered a master, although he may be a competent instructor. Tai Chi is an art and therefore to be a master you must be able to make it your own art rather than merely copying another.
Experience is the greatest of all teachers and to be a master you must be able to use your experiences to develop your art. By the same token, you should provide your students with ways of developing their art. Competitions, books, videos, seminars all can aid in this process.
I believe that if a master does not wish to teach something to a particular student at a particular time, he should simply not teach it rather then prevaricate or pretend to teach it. An insincere teacher will produce insincere students. Great masters do not necessarily make good men; good men do not necessarily make great masters. The fact that a master has many flaws in his personality does not make him any the less a master. The fact that an instructor is highly moral in character does not necessarily make him a more effective instructor.
Discipline and Etiquette
Discipline and etiquette in Tai chi classes are thorny questions. If too harsh and rigid then the students live in fear of the teacher. Of course some martial art students occasionally need to be hurt by the teacher. This is particularly so when they are training in a way that is dangerous to themselves and/or to others. However, it is not usually necessary to break bones. Some students need strongly worded criticism from time to time; others require gentle encouragement. Students should not be treated the same unless they are the same.
In the Far East it is customary to address the teacher as ‘Sifu’ and to address fellow students as elderly/younger brother/sister depending on whether they learned before or after you. In my own classes, I don’t follow this procedure and students call me Dan or (rarely) Mr. Docherty. Some teachers require bowing both before and after each class and also when students take a partner for pushing hands or self defence. My teacher never had this practice and only required a student to bow to him and more senior members of the school when undergoing bai shi.
I much prefer this approach to that encountered in other schools where they seem to spend as much time bowing to one another as they do training.
by Dan Docherty
Combat May 1996
The word 'student has a latin root In the verb 'studere', meaning to be eager or diligent and by extension, to study. A student may just be someone engaged in the study of a particular subject, or s/he may be devoted to learning. Study itself Includes suggestions of examining, analyslng, thinking, interest and purpose. Yet how many students of Tal Chi Chuan practise with this attitude?
In Chinese martial arts there are various types of student. Firstly, there is a family structure, so students are classified as older/younger brothers/sisters according to when they started learning from a particular teacher. By the same token, one of your teacher's fellow students would then be your elder or younger aunt or uncle.
A general term for students of a master is 'tu di' meaning literally 'younger brothers who are followers'. More succinctly, we can call them apprentices. Students are then divided into inside and outside the door students. 'Inside the door students' are normally referred to as 'Men Ren' meaning 'door people', or more properly, 'disciples' because they have undergone a ritual ceremony with their teacher.
In Tai Chi Chuan we undergo this ceremony prior to being taught Nei Kung. Traditionally, only after the student and teacher have known one another for 6 years did the teacher offer to teach the Nei Kung but nowadays the period is usually much shorter (but still long enough for student and teacher to get to know one another properly).
Some teachers expect almost blind obedience from their students. This is not a healthy thing. Of course, the student should respect the teacher's greater experience and knowledge but this should not require him to ape the teacher's every action and opinion. Then again, some students are looking for a guru to direct their every thought and action, rather than a teacher. This is a path with dangers for students and teachers alike. It is as bad to question nothing as it is to question everything.
Many people say that the evolution from student to master takes 10, 15 or 20 years. They are all wrong: The measure is not in terms of time but in terms of ability. My teacher became a full-time professional Tai Chi instructor at the age of 19, after only 3 years full-time tuition from Qi Min-xuan. I know other so-called masters who have trained for 20, 30 or even 40 years who are still at best, mediocre.
Some say Tai Chi Chuan is more difficult to use than hard style martial arts. I disagree as regards the system that I teach. I believe it is easier to learn because the basic techniques are freer as well as more versatile. In particular, the defensive techniques are more efficient and require less physical effort on the part of the student. Also, many martial arts are taught as if the opponent can only be from the same art or as if he is a complete simpleton. I do not teach in this way.
Powerful students are not the best; intelligent students are not the best; talented students are not the best. The first requirement is spirit. With unquenchable spirit it is possible to beat stronger and better opponents. With power, technique and intelligence as well, such a student has the potential to become a master. How to acquire spirit? Practise. Really practise!
A good student :
Looks & listens
Thinks then asks
Is neither too harsh nor too soft with his training partners
Constantly seeks to learn both inside & outside the class
Trains and competes honestly
Too many students spend time talking rather than doing. Learn by watching and listening to others - not just the teacher, and learn to discriminate. If in doubt ask. It is a major weakness of many students that they don't ask questions and when they do, they ask the wrong question, such as 'What if..?' or 'How do I get out of..?'
No teacher can teach you everything, even if they wanted to (which many don't). However, by practising certain basic techniques which follow key principles, the student will not find it necessary to ask the wrong question so often.
If you know something, then be positive. Show that you know it. If you don't know something, then be positive. Admit you don't know it and seek to find it out. When learning something new, analyse it in the light of what you already know and, in turn, use new ideas and information to analyse your old knowledge.
There is no point in bigger and stronger students relying mainly on their strength against smaller opponents. On the other hand if techniques are not performed properly, perhaps out of a misguided sense of gallantry towards a female opponent for example, then that person is given a false sense of security.
It is a deplorable trait amongst certain male students to attempt to correct female students of the same or even of greater experience than themselves. I once saw a male student of six months' experience attempt to correct (wrongly) a female student with three years' experience.
However, experienced and capable students do have a responsibility to advise and encourage beginners. They must accept that they have no divine right to always defeat every beginner. It is not enough to turn up at a class once a week and expect the teacher to do everything for you. It is up to you to get the most out of your training in a class and to work on your own training. This is not just a physical approach but includes reading and analysing.
Training should be honest. If you feel you can beat someone, then do it. I have no time for instructors I've met in places like Taiwan who, wanting to impress Westerners with their skills and expecting to beat them merely because they have been training for a certain number of years, then get angry with those who fail to play the part and allow themselves to be thrown around. In their way, masters must be students too.
Knowledge Of A Lifetime
by Dan Docherty
James Abbott McNeill Whistler, the great Impressionist painter and etcher, was a contemporary and verbal sparring partner of Oscar Wilde. Ruskin, Professor of Art at Oxford University, once described one of Whistler's paintings as the first example he had seen of a coxcomb throwing a pot of paint in the public's face and demanding the sum of 200 guineas for the privilege. Whistler sued for libel.
In his book "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies", Whistler recounts how Ruskin's counsel asked how long it took him to paint the "Nocturne" in question. Whistler replied that it probably took two days. Counsel followed up with the charge that, for the work of two days, Whistler was demanding the outrageous sum of 200 guineas. Whistler replied, "Not for the work of one or two days; for the knowledge of a lifetime". Whistler won the case and was awarded a farthing in damages.
In the martial arts world, money is a difficult subject. If you charge too little, the common perception of students is that you are not very good. If you charge a lot, the common perception is that you are too greedy.
My teacher's grandfather was a professional martial arts instructor, a master of Hung Kuen, who taught the youth in his village. He was paid in rice and the fiery local alcohol. However, he strongly advised my teacher not to teach hard style martial arts because there was no money in it. Instead he said to my teacher, "Your uncle teaches Tai Chi Chuan; learn from him and you can meet wealthy merchants and officials who will pay you a lot of money to learn Tai Chi Chuan to improve their health."
My teacher followed his advice and began learning from his uncle. He found it very unsatisfactory as his uncle knew very little about the martial aspects of Tai Chi Chuan and taught it mainly for health purposes. The situation was remedied when his uncle heard from another Tai Chi Chuan instructor of a master, Chai Man-hin, from Hunan Province. In 1946 he invited Chai to Hong Kong to teach his sons and his nephew.
Chai taught Tai Chi Chuan as a fighting art. He taught the complete art to my teacher receiving in return his bed and board. Chai didn't care about money. He was a devout Buddhist who had lost everything, including his family in the war. In the winter of 1948, he left Hong Kong. My teacher never saw him again.
Before leaving Chai told my teacher that recent generations of the well-known Tai Chi families had no interest to teach the practical applications of the techniques so that there were few practitioners of high quality and this made others despise Tai Chi Chuan. He told the teenage Cheng Tin-hung that, if he wished to teach and develop the art, he had to be sound in mind and body and able to defend himself properly; because of this he did not dare to keep anything secret from him.
At the age of 18 my teacher became a full time professional Tai Chi Chuan instructor. With many old and famous members of the well known Tai Chi families teaching the art in Hong Kong, who would go to a teenager to learn Tai Chi Chuan ? But they did.
Some of the old teachers went to see my teacher and remonstrate with him for teaching so many aspects of the art so openly. In particular, they were angry that he taught the Nei Kung and other "inside the door" training from a fairly early stage and over a short period of time instead of waiting at least 6 years and even then teaching only a couple of techniques a year.
Until a few years ago there were very few people in Europe teaching Tai Chi weapons, self defence and Nei Kung; pushing hands knowledge was limited. At that time some teachers did not give value for money. They did not cheat their students, but they taught very little and asked a lot.
One teacher of high repute always tantalised students with the prospect that one day they might be taught the sword. That day has never arrived. Another always refused to teach the sword on the grounds that it was too violent.
I often get asked if I can make a living from Tai Chi Chuan instruction. Not just this, but why people invite me abroad to do seminars. In the last year, I've taught in Sweden, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Belgium and Holland.
Partly of course it is because nice things happen to nice people. The main reason however, is that it's like the ad for the AA on TV; if you can't do it yourself, find a man who can and will. The one thing that has struck me though is the great humility exhibited by some of those I taught. Many of these students have been teaching martial arts much longer than I have and are professional instructors.
In turn they have taught me a great deal by telling me about their methods and experiences. Whenever possible I like to watch them teaching, so that I can learn ways of improve teaching technique. These types of student are called part student, part friend by the Chinese.
The instructors who have influenced me most in recent years have been Finns. Ilpo Jalamo is a 6th Dan in Yuishinkai karate and runs a full time school in Turku. Chinese systems and in particular Tai Chi Chuan have interested him for many years. I first met him 3 years ago, when he invited me over to do a seminar. We have met many times since then in Finland and elsewhere and always I have learned something, whether in a gym, a sauna or a bar.
Ilpo has the idea to educate his students by taking them to exotic destinations in the Far East or elsewhere to learn and to compete. Now I do the same. He also has a formidable video collection featuring instructors from all over the world, many of whom he has also invited to Finland. I am grateful to him for many insights on all aspects of martial arts.
Ilpo is also keen on giving and receiving private lessons. Partly due to his influence, I've started to give more private lessons and to pay more attention to instructor training. I have also started to take private lessons, not in martial arts, but in Chinese.
I have been learning Chinese on and off for the last seventeen years, including doing a full time Postgraduate Diploma course, but the problem was that either the learning was formal, to pass examinations, or informal and unstructured. My teacher, Mr. Luo is a Chinese Postgraduate student of politics from Taiwan. He has that most vital of requirements, a sense of humour. In addition his rates are very reasonable.
There are many types of learning; I believe learning in a class is important, attending seminars is important, but to really understand a martial arts system there is no substitute for direct contact with a teacher whether through private lessons or accompanying him on trips to martial arts events. In the Song of the 13 Tactics it is written, "if you are to enter the door and be led along the path, oral instruction is necessary."
In other words there are many things that are not written down, that are not taught in open classes. This type of teaching is vital for students if they are to achieve anything approaching mastery. Over many years I accompanied my master to Singapore, Malaysia, China, Australia and other places. I often stayed with him. In many ways he treated me like a son; in many ways I treated him like a father. These experiences were far more instructive than any formal instruction I received.
Sometimes teachers ask for what seems like a lot of money whether for classes, for seminars or for private lessons. Remember though, what you are paying for, if you have an honest and able teacher, is not the work of one or two hours, but the knowledge of a lifetime.
by Dan Docherty (Combat Jan/Feb 1996)
The character for "Bai" symbolises two hands held down together. This is the pose adopted by Chinese when showing respect or reverence to the gods,or to a superior in status such as a teacher; by extension it can mean to worship. We know that in Cantonese "Sifu" is the formal term of address for an instructor of the Chinese martial arts (as well as for a skilled practitioner of any discipline). The Mandarin term is "Shi Fu". The character "Shi" is a drawing of one (the first) banner that stayed at the capital and by extension meant the one above the others and thus commander-in-chief, master etc.
There are two different characters which can be used for "Fu" in the context of Shi Fu/ Sifu. The first one means one who acts or arranges, ie a teacher or instructor. The second character for "Fu" means father and is composed of a hand and a stick or axe - the father was considered the chief and the instructor of his family.
Another term used for teacher is "Lao Shi", meaning literally "Old Master" - in traditional Chinese society the old were revered for their experience and knowledge. However, this term is more often used to refer to a calligraphy or painting tutor rather than a martial arts instructor. Since the Revolution, the Chinese government in its attack on "feudalism" has discouraged the use of these terms and encouraged use of the term "Jiao Lian" meaning coach/trainer.
Why the opposition ? Why do most practitioners of Chinese martial arts in the West know nothing of Bai Shi ? Why is it not more widely practiced ? What is its purpose ? Is it still relevant in modern society ?
Let us consider the cultural context out of which Bai Shi came. Firstly, every society sooner or later becomes hierarchical; with the influence of Confucianism and its concept of filial piety - i.e. respect for one's elders, Chinese society proved particularly prone to this. Secondly, there is the long and sometimes uneasy relationship which Chinese martial arts have had with Chinese religion and philosophy; this has led to the adoption of certain ritualistic, meditative and philosophical elements into martial arts practice. The use of the character Bai emphasises this.
So what is Bai Shi ? In the context of Chinese martial arts it is a ceremony with ritual elements conducted by a master in which one or more students "Enter the Door" and become disciples.
After the conditions of Bai Shi have been read or told to the students, they agree to accept them and the ceremony begins. Normally this would be at the master's home or studio where there would be a portrait of the founder of the style. Usually, but not always there is a fee paid by the student traditionally in a red packet as red is a propitious colour and it is considered indelicate to display money openly. The master then places an offering of fruit in front of the portrait of the founder and lights a ritual number of incense sticks which he gives to the student who then kneels down before a portrait of the founder of the style and gives the koutou (literally knocks the head) three times to show his respect to the founder's memory. The student then faces the master and again gives the koutou. The incense is then placed in an incense burner in front of the founder's portrait. The ceremony is over; the student has entered the door.
So what firstly are the implications of the ceremony ? The student by undergoing Bai Shi has made a commitment to the school, to the founder, to his kung fu brothers and sisters as well as to his master. The master recognises this commitment by allowing the student to enter the door and in turn makes a commitment to give the student the true transmission of the art and to start to give him inside the door training such as Nei Kung. The student can now be referred to as Men Ren, literally "door person" and is no longer a mere student.
This type of initiation ritual is mirrored in Chinese secret societies, in Buddhist and in Taoist religious orders. In all of these initiations the initiation ceremony was only the first step in a long process of transmitting the inner teachings to a disciple - a process which could take decades. The process was designed to produce a band of brothers (sisters in the case of nunneries)who could recognise one another as such by special jargon or knowledge of certain techniques.
The desire for freedom from an oppressive government is expressed in the phrase "Mountains high, Emperor far", meaning that in a remote place there was less chance of government interference. This led to martial arts being practised in monasteries and temples in the mountains; places such as Er Mei Shan and Wudang Shan. It is not surprising therefore that Bai Shi grew up in this type of environment.
How could a student merit selection for Bai Shi ? Traditionally he had to visit the master for three years and then the master had to visit him for three years. Then after 6 years, if the student showed sincerity and commitment he would be accepted. Naturally this meant that if these rules were rigidly applied many people did not go through Bai Shi. This is indeed true.
On a visit to China in 1995 at my teacher's villa in Zhongshan, I met a doctor from Shanghai who had trained for many years with Ma Yue-liang and Wu Ying-hua, who is the daughter of the great Wu Jian-chuan. He told me that he had come from Shanghai in the hope of undergoing Bai Shi with my teacher as Ma Yue-liang and Wu Ying-hua were unable or unwilling to teach. the 24 Tai Chi Chuan Nei Kung exercises. In fact Cheng Wing-kwong, my teacher's uncle, was one of only three people to undergo Bai Shi with Wu Jian-chuan in Hong Kong and even then he only learned 18 of the exercises. Fortunately my teacher was taught them all by his master Qi Min-xuan.
Why is it that great masters like Wu Jian-chuan gave Bai Shi to so few students ? I believe that part of the reason was a misguided belief that such things should be kept within the family, partly also so that there would not be competition.
It used to be that would be students of Tai Chi Chuan were taught Nei Kung first. This meant that they underwent Bai Shi at a very early stage; as Tai Chi Chuan was taught commercially this changed and the form was taught first and so it came to pass that the form was all that most people ever learned and that the form was all that most people were able to teach.
Now we live in a very complex Tai Chi world where many teachers in the Far East although they offer Bai Shi to students, they abuse it. Nigel Sutton told me of a a well known Cheng Man-ching style master who charges a lot of money for Bai Shi, but teaches nothing in return. Some people are happy to pay so that they can have a higher position in the pecking order and say that they are not just a student, but a disciple of the said master.
The converse is also true; many students claim to have trained with a master, or even to be an inside the door student when they have at best a nodding acquaintance with him. Often masters of one style will train also with masters of another style but not acknowledge the latter as their master. A case in point is Chu King-hung of the Yang style who learned some pushing hands and applications from my master, but they agreed between them that there was to be no formal teacher student relationship - it was essentially a commercial transaction. Occasionally people from other systems have done Bai Shi with me - this is subject to their being sincere and of good character.
Other masters, particularly when they get old, have students do the Bai Shi ceremony with them, but then do not teach them personally, delegating the task to a senior student. So many people who have actually learned Nei Kung or other "inside the door" training after Bai Shi have not actually had it first hand from a master.
It was only this year on my recent trip to China that I got the feeling of how it was to train Tai Chi in the days before Yang Lu-chan brought the art to Beijing. In 1984 I had visited Wudang Mountain where Chang had lived for some years, but following my reading of the fascinating Researches into Tai Chi Chuan edited by Ma You Ching based on the work and experiences of the late, great Chinese martial arts historian, Wu Tu-nan, I went to Bao Ji and the Chen family village.
Bao Ji is in Shaanxi province about 5 hours by train from the ancient capital of Xian. Chang San-feng lived there in the Taoist Temple of the Golden Pavilion. It was there that Wang Zhong-yue learned the art. It is interesting that the art was truly taught "inside the door" i.e. in an enclosed religious community and this goes a long way to explain the ritual ceremony and use of incense sticks.
In the Chen family village I visited the house where Yang Lu-chan was taught by Chen Chang-xing. This is now being turned into a museum with money from Taiwan. Standing outside the large wooden doors and the high wall which surrounds the house you can see nothing of what is going on inside and I believe that the training was done here rather than in an open area so that practitioners of the Chen family Pao Chui (Cannon Punch) method could not see the Tai Chi training.
Historically then it seems that Tai Chi training was only done in very small groups so the teacher and students knew one another intimately. the rule of waiting for six years before being able to start learning "inside the door training seems then to be a more recent one. It is one that my teacher refused to follow.
At the time he was in his early twenties teaching Tai Chi Chuan professionally in a Hong Kong with many famous teachers of the Yang and Wu families. People went to him for two reasons - because he could teach the art in a practical way and because they could learn quickly.
Unfortunately this led to a delegation of older masters beating a path to his door and telling him to stop this practice. He agreed to stop, but only if they took over the upkeep of his family. Naturally they refused.
We have dealt in some detail with who can receive Bai Shi, but who can give it ? Normally only when a master has given formal permission can a student give Bai Shi. Unffortunately there are many loose cannons in the Tai Chi world who want to be seen as great masters, but who lack the knowledge and ability.
I know in Canada a Chinese master of Tai Chi Chuan who trained both with my teacher and his uncle. He is a large and corpulent gentleman and is renowned for his ability to take punches to the stomach. Unfortunately he has had no correction since the 1950's. Some years ago he was approached by a master of Yang style Tai Chi from San Francisco who wanted to undergo Bai Shi and learn Nei Kung from our friend (who has only learned 12 of the 24 exercises). Our friend charged him a lot of money. The Yang master, believing that he now had Nei Kung then tried a demonstration which is done in my teacher's school of having a student jump onto his stomach from a height of six feet.
My teacher received a phone call from said Yang stylist who was bleedind from the rectum as well as coughing up and urinating blood. On hearing who the poor chap had learned from my teacher told him it was hardly surprising and sent him to learn anew from one of his old students who worked as a rubbish collector in Chinatown. This cured him.
In Tai Chi Chuan, in Bai Shi, in life the rule is caveat emptor.
Shuai Jiao, Die Pu and Qin Na
by Dan Docherty (Combat December 2000)
If you want to claim you practice Chinese martial arts, three terms you should understand are Shuai Jiao, Die Pu and Qin Na. All three of these skills are part of the repertoire of San Shou techniques used in Tai Chi Chuan and other Chinese martial arts; they are not separate arts in themselves, but can be seen as a useful way to group and analyse techniques. This is rather complex because many Tai Chi techniques such as Raise Hands Step Up have multiple aplications and can be combined with others to make even more. Thus, one technique with its different applications could legitimately be classified as belonging to Shuai Jiao, Die Pu and Qin Na.
In recent years Shuai Jiao has become a reasonably well known term through the Shuai Jiao tournaments held in the Far East and in more recent years in Europe and North America. It is not necessary to wear the special tournament pyjamas in order to practice the art and such tournaments are as representative of Shuai Jiao as Judo tournaments are of Jujutsu or as pushing hands tournaments are of Tai Chi Chuan. Likewise a lot of people think of Qin Na purely in terms of joint locks, and while this is certainly part of what Qin Na can be, there is a bit more to it.
The radical for the character Shuai is the character for hand while the phonetic represents a net with a frame such as is used to snare birds and a rope which is used to make the trap fall. The character Shuai by extension means to throw to the ground or to shake. Jiao is nowadays usually given as either the character meaning mutually, so mutually throwing to the ground is wrestling, or the character meaning the bones of the leg, suggesting the use of tripping and sweeping in wrestling. Another variation is the Jiao character meaning horn(s).
Other terms used to refer to wrestling include “Jiao Di ” which dates from the time of the Warring States (464-221BC) and Jiao Li. Here the Jiao character means “Horns” while Di means to resist, and Li means strength. It is believed that contestants originally put on horned headgear and tried to butt and gore one another, of course even without such headgear, butting could be a useful tactic.
During the Tang dynasty, Xiang Pu referred to wrestling contests. Xiang means mutually, while Pu is striking / leaning against / falling. This same Pu character is used in the Tai Chi Chuan technique Pu Mian Zhang, literally strike face palm, or more colloquially, Slap The Face.
As for Die Pu, Die means fall / stumble and while Pu again is striking / leaning against / falling. This suggests a little more than simple wrestling. In Tai Chi Chuan there are two parts to Die Pu. First we try to evade and / or to redirect the opponent’s attack and then to counterattack, throwing him to the ground and setting up the possibility of a follow up strike or lock. Another way is to reverse it as in Flying Oblique, whereby, if we are being held, we can use a strike or strikes (Pu) to distract the opponent and force him to release his grip or hold enabling us to counter him with a throw (Die). In the main Die Pu is a counter attacking method.
Qin Na means seizing and holding. Usually we are trying to seize and hold the joints, since these are also nerve centres and can be struck or used as levers to manipulate the opponent’s body, but such seizing can also be applied to the torso, hair, genitalia and clothes. The holding aspect can either be to control the opponent prior to using pressure points on him, or simply to restrain him as a police officer or security staff would.
Next there is the method of practice. In Tai Chi Chuan, we can practice Shuai Jiao techniques such as White Crane Flaps Its Wings, in a variety of ways. Hand form practice is important as in many instances movements which occur in the Hand Form either set up the next technique or are applied if the preceding technique is resisted. However, partnered practice is more important, taking turns to throw the attacker, or as part of an arsenal of techniques to be used in freestyle wrestling, or as part of an arsenal of techniques to be used in San Shou. Some Die Pu techniques such as Repulse Monkey and Qin Na techniques such as Single Whip can be practiced in these ways also. Many Die Pu and most Qin Na techniques can be also be practiced as part of Pushing Hand drills such as Four Corners, Four Directions, Zhou Lu etc. or as part of freestyle moving step pushing hands.
In addition to what I’ve just said, this means of course that one of the old names of Tai Chi Chuan, the Thirteen Posture or Tactics, should not be defined as narrowly as it is in many styles. For example, Pat The Horse High can be applied with elements of An and Lie and Looking Left or Right, while Single Hand Seize Leg can contain elements of Peng and Cai along with Advance or Step Back. These are quite different explanations of these tactics to those given in most books, which completely fail to explain such applications.
The main reason that most masters, whether Chinese or Western, have such conservative and limited views on these Thirteen Tactics is that their knowledge of San Shou is also limited. They are like the frog at the bottom of the well in the Chinese proverb, believing that the small stretch of sky overhead is all there is. Techniques and tactics have to be multi-dimensional or what is being practiced is not a martial art, but some kind of museum piece.
by Dan Docherty (Combat November 1993)
Pushing hands is a direct translation of the Chinese term Tui Shou. This is a misleading and unhelpful name for a wide variety of training drills which we use in Tai Chi Chuan. Pushing hands is a stupid name because most of these drills involve considerably more than pushing and the techniques used are not always restricted to hand movements. But until someone thinks of a better name, we're stuck with this one. Or are we?
When I first met Doc Fai-wong at the Chung Hwa Cup International Pushing Hands Championships in Taiwan in 1990, he told me that the method of pushing hands competition which I had introduced to Britain was not pushing hands, as it permitted throwing and grappling techniques. I encountered other strange ideas on the purpose of pushing hands and pushing hands competition in America which I recounted in this organ some time ago.
So what is the purpose of pushing hands ? What is the purpose of pushing hands competitions apart from making vast sums of money for unscrupulous promoters like me ?
Let's go back to the name. Many authorities including Ma You-ching and Wu Tu-nan state that Tui Shou was originally called Ka Shou or Da Shou. Ka means to scrape or grate, so we would have scraping or grating hands; while Da means to strike or to hit so Da Shou is striking hands, but a striking hand also, in Chinese, alludes to a fighter. Indeed, one of the Tai Chi Chuan Classics, the Da Shou Ge is often translated as the "Song of Pushing Hands"; it should more accurately be translated as the Song of Striking Hands" or the "Fighter's Song". So why the name change from Da/Ka to Tui Shou.?
I believe that the exercises which we now refer to as pushing hands were developed after the fighting applications to enhance skills that would be useful in fighting. Subsequently, as is the case today, some people learned only the pushing hand drills and not how to apply the skills thus acquired. The drills became an end in themselves, a kind of pointless, unscripted, partnered ballet.
Many people practiced pushing hands, while few did the San Shou, literally "Scattering Hands" which is the term used to refer to self defence techniques. So gradually many practitioners came to perceive Tui Shou as a separate entity, which, coupled with knowledge of the form, would give them a self defence capability. Not so.
I first heard of pushing hands competitions around 1977. Free pushing hands where one tries to push or pull the opponent off balance has long been considered by Tai Chi exponents as a genuine test of skill as it involves grappling skills, the ability to redirect the opponent's force and the ability to Fa Jing - to use force at close quarters.
The major problem with free pushing hands is the rules. First of all, are we going to do fixed step or moving step ? In fixed step the first to step out of his stance is the loser. Moving step is generally done in an area such as a large circle and the first to fall in the area or to be pushed out of the area is the loser. Then we have restricted step, where, under certain conditions, the competitors can take a sliding step forward or back.
What techniques are we going to allow ? Many of my Tai Chi colleagues will say in reply : - "Peng, Lu, Ji, An, Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kao combined with Step forward, Step Back, Step Left, Step Right and Central Equilibrium". Not me, not this soldier.
Are we really to believe that Chang San-feng awoke one morning with the brilliant idea of creating a martial art from eight techniques based on the Ba Gua - the Eight Trigrams and five types of footwork based on the Five Elements? My own theory is that Tai Chi Chuan is the Yin Yang theory made martial and that these eight methods of using force were a subsequent development. I believe that they were distilled from an analysis of the already existing Tai Chi self defence techniques.
Looking at the self defence techniques we can see that many of them do not fit neatly into any of the eight afore-mentioned categories nor is the distinction between these eight categories always entirely clear. The value of these eight techniques is that they do help us to understand and train in methods of using force and such training is largely done in pushing hands drills.
I ask again, what is to be allowed. Kicks to the testicles are out Although this did not stop a fat kickboxer trying said technique at a pushing hands tournaments in Aylesbury some years ago, thus earning for himself the distinction of being the first competitor to be disqualified from a pushing hands tournament in this country.
Are we going to allow pulling ? If not, why not? As a number of Tai Chi self defence techniques incorporate pulling, it seems strange not to permit it. The more restrictions there are, the more difficult the task of the officials, the more frustrating the competition for competitors as they are always being pulled up by the referee, the more boring the competition for the spectators, the less of a real test of martial skills.
Some people complain that pushing hands competitions are no way to test martial ability. In the case of certain types of competition this is true but the basic purpose of freestyle or competition pushing hands should be to get the opponent off balance. This is a crucial close quarters fighting skill which sets up situations for throws, locks and strikes. It is a skill which many practitioners of primarily striking arts such as Karate or Taekwondo do not possess. It is a major factor behind many of these practitioners taking up arts like Tai Chi Chuan which do train this type of skill.
I found these skills most useful as a police officer in Hong Kong and I am at present imparting them to security guard trainees. Once you understand the key concepts of "listening" for, redirecting and discharging force, it becomes much easier to control an arrested person, without necessarily having to whack him, although that remains an option.
Some Tai Chi practitioners are competent in pushing hands, but are still not martial artists. For the last couple of years members of the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain have attended the "rencontres Jasnieres" Tai Chi camp as instructors (in the case of Nigel Sutton and myself) or as students. In the afternoons three hours are devoted to free pushing hands. You can push with anyone for up to ten minutes before changing partners or taking a break.
On the final day of the camp in 1991, I was asked to push hands with one of the top French instructors. After a bit I asked him why he kept withdrawing one of his hands. He told me that this was so that he could suddenly use it to shove or pull. I replied that pushing hands was about training listening ability, that if he didn't have contact he couldn't listen, that he also couldn't control my free hand which I would therefore use to strike him.
His rejoinder was that he was a soccer player not a martial artist and that his teacher in Taiwan had told him that pushing hands training alone was enough for him to defend himself. In fairness I have to admit that he was pretty good at pushing hands, though not as good as he thought.
There is a degree of etiquette involved in pushing hands, so that if wrestling or striking techniques are to be allowed, this should be agreed beforehand. Unfortunately some people get a bit too enthusiastic at times.
In my second year at Rencontres Jasnieres, a large English gentleman from the Cheng Man-ching school asked to push hands with me. I agreed. We made contact and he immediately grabbed my legs to try to take me down. Not wishing to dirty my expensive clothes, I hit him in in the face with my forearm, breaking his glasses. After drawing this fact to my attention, he continued to push with me with great enthusiasm, but little success until I patted him on the shoulder, thanked him and walked away.
The same gentleman tried the same method against one of the American instructors the next day and they ended up rolling around the grass until the American eventually managed to pin my friend.
In one of my first Tai Chi classes, a young lady who'd been brought along by one of my students was doing free pushing hands, but was having problems with it. After I'd explained how to do it end why we did it, she said, "what if he does this?" and simultaneously kicked at my groin. Fortunately, I caught her leg and threw her fairly gently. I was later told that she felt she really needed to be thrown and that she was undergoing psychotherapy.
The bottom line is don't expect that the nice gentleman or lady with whom you are pushing hands is going to push hands your way; expect the unexpected. This is what pushing hands and listening are about. If people take or attempt to take liberties, they should have pain inflicted upon them, just enough to let them know.
I don't want to have students of mine to be surprised or to be hurt; that is why I teach pushing hands as part of an integrated system and link it from the beginning to the self defence and grappling applications. Finally Tai Chi pushing hands has almost nothing to do with "Chi", save that we all need to breathe. PS I also have videos available on pushing hands theory and drills.
My Point Exactly
by Dan Docherty (Combat December 1993)
Call it what you will, Dim Mak, pressure points, Atemi Waza, death touch, Tuite; it's out there now; it's hot, it's sexy and it's making some people a whole lot of money. Well what is Dim Mak? Is it effective? Can anyone do it? Is it Tai Chi?
Liu's Chinese-English (at over 1500 pages my largest)dictionary defines Dim Mak (Dian Xue in Mandarin) as hitting at selected points of the body, capable of causing internal bleeding and unconsciousness. Dim/Dian means a/to point/dot. Mak/Xue means a hole/vital point or to bore a hole.
So for a technique to be Dim Mak is it enough that it causes internal bleeding or unconsciousness? In my most recent video "Tai Chi Fighting Applications" there is footage of one of my international full contact fights back in 1980 showing me knocking out a much heavier hard style opponent in round number one. I did see his jaw was unprotected and I was aware that punching an opponent on the chin could cause concussion or even unconsciousness. I therefore hit him on the jaw rendering him unconscious for over five minutes.
Yet most books on Dim Mak refer to acupuncture points and purport to show the author striking these usually with finger strikes. So to apply Dim Mak do we have to know acupuncture? Should Dim Mak be applied through finger strikes?
I was recently in Finland visiting my friend Ilpo Jalamo, 6th Dan in Yuishinkai Karate. He has invited George Dillman to give seminars in Finland and has some interesting ideas of his own on Dim Mak.
He told me of one occasion when he was sparring with a strong opponent who was able with little difficulty to absorb his reverse punches to the ribs. Ilpo then changed the configuration of his knuckles so that the centre knuckle protruded making a "phoenix-eye fist". Again he hit the opponent with a reverse punch; the opponent went down.
Every Chinese martial art has techniques where force is concentrated in a very small point which is then used to strike the opponent, as in the Biu Ji or Thrusting Fingers form in Wing Chun.
In Tai Chi Chuan we also have examples of this in the form, e.g. White Snake Spits Out Its Tongue, Box the Ears; in the weapons, e.g. Pierce the Heart, Dot Red Between the Eyes; and in the Nei Kung, e.g. Leading a Goat Smoothly and Giant Python Turning Its Body.
Generally teachers of Dim Mak show their skills in a completely static situation, they simply have to hit a stationary opponent on the right points and down he goes. Applying Dim Mak in a real situation is something else. The opponent is not stationary, many points are hidden by his clothing and you the Dim Mak master are under pressure, having to fend off his attacks as well as having to locate and strike the points which would be most appropriate to strike given the level of violence used against you. If you make a mistake, the death touch could result in life - for you.
Six years ago when the Wing Chun wars were raging, I can well remember reading in this very magazine about Wing Chun Master William Cheung, the world's greatest streetfighter (according to Bruce Lee), the only man in the world to have been taught the secret Wing Chun footwork and of course Dim Mak. Well, he was doing very nicely, making a lot of money, when he was attacked at a seminar in Cologne by a challenger from one of the other factions.
I've seen photos of the incident and I've seen the video. What do you think he did, the world's greatest streetfighter, the only man in the world to know Wing Chun's secret footwork and Dim Mak? He skillfully allowed himself to be swept to the floor and then proceeded to bang his face against the Zhou Liao pressure point on his opponent's elbow. Funny, it seemed to hurt Cheung more than his opponent.
As for knowledge of acupuncture points and learning Chinese, well most people I've come across have difficulty telling left from right and speaking or writing English. My own feelings about acupuncture are that I wouldn't let most of these guys near my expensive threads with a needle, far less let them insert needles into my perfectly formed body.
To my mind there are two types of offensive Dim Mak. The first involves short or long range striking of an opponent's anatomy either to render him incapable of offering further resistance or to set up another technique. The second involves the sudden or sharp use of force on the opponent by gripping or twisting with a view to either rendering him incapable of offering further resistance or to set up another technique.
The first method can be seen in my new video. The second method needs a bit of illustration. I once had an American friend who learned Tai Chi with me in Hong Kong. He's still American as far as I know, but not a friend anymore.
As people will when you are kinder to them than they deserve, he made a few cracks behind my back including his belief that, after perhaps 4 months formal tuition, mainly from me over an 11 year period, his Tai Chi was as good as mine.
Came a day he was attending one of my teacher's seminars and he called me over telling me how the locking technique he had been shown was ineffective and his partner couldn't apply it on him. Well since Al weighed over 200 pounds stripped and was an ex-American football player, it wasn't surprising his poor partner couldn't apply the technique. I knew he was testing me and I knew the other students were looking to see what happened.
I started to apply the technique and sure enough he resisted. I pretended to loosen my grip then suddenly snd sharply twisted his joint. I could hear his tendons tear as he went down. It took his arm about six months to recover.
Some masters of Dim Mak publish tables giving the effect of Dim Mak on different pressure points. Well maybe. Under laboratory conditions, striking bound and emaciated Chinese civilians and prisoners of war as some Japanese masters did during World War II - I'm sure they found their techniques most effective under these circumstances. Were they to have tried the same techniques against living and moving top level Chinese martial artists, they might not have been quite so effective.
Dim Mak or the idea of Dim Mak is something that Tai Chi practitioners should be aware of, but rather than spending their hard earned money buying and valuable time watching or reading Dim Mak tapes and books they'd be much better off training their skills to the extent that no matter where they hit or grip or twist they hurt the opponent. Unfortunately too many people want a short cut.
If you really want to test the efficacy of Dim Mak you could do the same as one gentleman of my acquaintance who with one of his friends is gradually testing every point - on one another. So far they've worked out that it hurts to get hit on the nose. Dim or what?
p.s. 'Just seen the article in August's Combat about how Bruce and Brandon Lee were killed by Black Magic. I know this to be a total falsehood. I can categorically state that I have been eating these smooth dark chocolates for years with no ill effects whatsoever. Maybe the culprit was Milk Tray.
Tai Chi Self Defense For Ladies
by Dan Docherty
Tai Chi Chuan, like most Chinese martial arts, combines elements of striking, grappling and the use of traditional weapons. It also emphasises evasion, footwork and strategy. The combination of all these elements make it an ideal martial art for ladies.
Ladies have at least the same technical ability, spirit, intelligence and grasp of strategy that men have. They are inferior in one key area - strength. This can to some extent be remedied by specific strength and focus training, but it does mean in a self defence situation that the techniques and tactics adopted by an average sized lady should often be different from those used by a 200 pound male with the same amount of martial arts experience.
This factor of strength is also often a matter of size, which incorporates height, weight and reach. The situation is made more difficult by the fact that most ladies - and many men do not wish to have callouses on the hands from hitting bags. Even if ladies do this type of training, their fists are likely to be damaged if they connect with the hard bones in the face.
Grappling training is important for ladies in teaching them how to use their strength in a skilful way to manipulate a heavier male opponent. Mary Burton, twice British Open ladies Tai Chi pushing hands champion at lightweight and middleweight, is of the opinion that many ladies come into martial arts with far less confidence than male beginners simply because from a fairly early age girls are expected to behave like ladies and so tend to indulge in far less boisterous games than boys of the same age who are always wrestling or playing contact sports.
Mary and other ladies to whom I've talked believe that competitions and the training that they require are invaluable in helping to give them the necessary strength and confidence to defend themselves. It is encouraging to see an increasing proportion of Tai Chi competitors are ladies and thet they are well able to hold their own when competing against men in the forms events.
Let us look at some of the situations where a lady may need to defend herself. Firstly, robbery; it is my experience as a former Detective Inspector in the Royal Hong Kong Police, that unless you have a high degree of martial ability and experience it is better to lose a handbag than to risk getting cut, stabbed or even killed. Secondly, sexual assault; this could be anything from touching to an assault involving extreme violence. Thirdly, a physical assault; this could be from a man or another woman.
In all these situations you must consider:-
whether defending yourself is more likely to improve or exacerbate the situation;
whether you are prepared to hurt the opponent and if necessary be hurt yourself;
how much force is required by the particular situation.
In this context the Tai Chi theory of "the Jing (technique) is discontinued, but the Yi (intent/purpose) is not discontinued" is of great importance. This means that even though you have made contact with one counter, do not assume that that is the end of the matter; you must maintain the intent to defend yourself and follow up your first technique if necessary. It also means that, if your assailant's first attempt is unsuccessful, he may still have the intention of continuing his attack. I have the personal experience in Hong Kong of kicking an assailant twice with considerable force to the groin, but so overcome with anger was he that he continued to attack despite the pain.
When shooting the pictures for this article, it was interesting that Godfrey Dornelly, a former British Open and International Tai Chi pushing hands and forms champion, who plays the part of the assailant, suggested that Mary show quite different defences to the attacks than the ones we ended up using. I think the difference is often that men are thinking of 'beating' the opponent in a fight whereas the ladies, perhaps more sensibly, are more concerned with hurting the opponent enough to make their escape.
So in choosing techniques and tactics, we tried to firstly put the assailant in a position of disadvantage and then counter immediately with a focused strike or strikes to a vital point or points followed by escape.
While it is impracticable to go walking around with traditional Tai Chi sabres, swords and spears, we can make use of every day objects such as umbrellas, keys or even books to deliver traditional techniques such as 'Point to the to the Trousers with the Sabre' or 'Dot Red between the Eyes with the Sword'. This is one of the important arguments for ladies to learn weapon forms and applications.
Neither I nor any other instructor can teach effective self defence for ladies in a matter of weeks and personally I prefer not to teach self defence as a separate subject, but as a part of the whole art of Tai Chi Chuan and in mixed classes so that the ladies can practice with the men and sometimes separately. The key things to learn are evasion, coordination, balance, focus, and timing. The other factors are conditioning and tactics. Most of these skills should be taught from lesson one. The rest is down to practice.
by Dan Docherty (Combat March/April 1999)
Meditation is or can be "steady or close meditative reflection: continued application of the mind." Or, " a private devotion or spiritual exercise consisting in deep continued reflection on a religious theme." Or, a "spoken or written discourse treated in a contemplative manner and intended to express its author's reflections or to guide others in contemplation." (Webster's Third New International Dictionary).
What are we trying to achieve through meditation and how can we make such achievements? Normally there is some kind of ritual involved, before, during and after meditation; is this an essential element and if so why? Some people say (so it must be true - for them) that Tai Chi Chuan is "moving meditation". But Tai Chi Chuan can be static as well as moving. Before looking at specific links between Tai Chi Chuan and meditation, let's look at the mechanics of meditation.
Where should we do our meditation ? The first choice is outside or inside. If we are meditating outside then the time of day is relevant. It is common to practice Tai Chi forms in the early morning because that is when trees and plants give out oxygen, also there are fewer people around at that time. In many parts of China the summer months are hot and humid, making it unpleasant to practice during the day, so dawn or to a lesser degree, dusk are preferred times. If you are practicing a traditional Tai Chi long form outdoors in the morning, it is best to start off facing West; thus the sun will be in your face for a minimal amount of time. Many people in the Far East still prefer to do such practice on nearby hills and mountains. On a few occasions in the mid-1970s, when walking in the hills around Hong Kong with my master, we would come upon open areas in the hills which were quite clearly being used for martial arts practice.
If we are practicing a more static form of meditation, we are more prone to be disturbed by the wind, sun and other elements and even by birds and animals. That is why many Taoists and hermits such as Chang San-feng on Wudang Mountain and in Bao Ji and Bodhidharma on Songshan are reputed to have practiced in mountain caves. Then too, because caves were common dwelling places of wild animals, they were seen as places with very powerful Qi.
Why was meditation in Chinese society particularly linked with religious communities ? Of course some temples and monasteries were deliberately located in remote areas such as mountains and internally were specifically designed for meditation and contemplation.
Since the birth of Taoist and Buddhist religion, much meditation came to be practiced indoors, in monasteries and temples. A temple or monastery such as the White Cloud Taoist Temple in Beijing could be a very large place containing many buildings and courtyards. Even though it is situated in the heart of a huge city, you feel that you are in a secluded and tranquil place. Not surprisingly, the temple has long been associated with meditation and Tai Chi Chuan.
Meditation could either be done in individual cells or in communal meditation halls. Communal meals, work and other activities with like-minded individuals made it easier to go about meditating in an enclosed and disciplined community isolated from the temptations of the world of flesh outside.
Lao Tzu, in the Tao Te Ching, talks about the five colours making the eyes blind, the five notes making the ears deaf and the five tastes injuring the mouth. Thus the room should be clean, and not too bright, so that it is easier to concentrate. The door should be closed to prevent interruptions, with windows partially open to let in fresh air, but not to allow distractions. Clothing should be loose with belts and fastenings undone. Diet is important too and often in Taoistic communities, abstinence from meat, alcohol and strong flavours was observed, although it was believed certain drugs, whether vegetable or mineral, could purify the body and lead to serenity as a preparation for meditation.
Many Taoist communities such as the Complete Reality school in its earlier stages advocated celibacy, although others, while accepting the need to control sexuality, considered that complete celibacy was undesirable as it caused anxiety, making meditation difficult.
Let us move sideways now and consider synaesthesia, i.e. a so-called concomitant sensation; there is a sensation or an image of a sense other than the sense being stimulated. For example, chromesthesia is synaesthesia where colour is seen in response to non-chromatic stimulation (e.g. words or numbers). Phonism is likewise a synaesthetic auditory sensation while photism is a synaesthetic visual sensation.
So how can we produce a synaesthetic experience and why would we want to do so ? One way of doing it would be through ingesting certain vegetables or minerals to produce visions; another method would be to enter a trance as is common today in the Sun Da rituals practiced by certain hard styles of Chinese martial arts. In Sun Da incense is often used to stimulate the sense of smell so that is all you can smell, drums and music stimulate the sense of sound while blocking out other sounds, strong alcohol mixed with drugs and ashes stimulates the sense of taste so that is all you taste, while self-flagellation and piercing stimulate the sense of touch, so that is all you can feel. All this can make the adept believe that he is now a famous warrior such as Chang Fei or even a mythical character such as the Monkey King from the novel "Journey to The West".
Partially linked to this is the concept of kinaesthesis - which is a kind of sixth sense or feeling where you are in relation to your body and to external people and objects, whether you or they are static or moving. You can test this ability in various ways. For example, close the eyes and try to touch the nose with the index finger. Or time yourself standing on one foot with the eyes open then do the same thing with the eyes shut. In martial arts and in sport we can use kinaesthetic ability when we instantaneously judge our timing, distance and position in relation to a stimulus such as an attack or a ball being hit towards us.
I talked recently with Dr. Alan Peatfield of University College Dublin one of the leading scholars of Minoan religion and civilisation. He told me that he and his wife, Christine, had recently conducted experiments based around clay Minoan figures in ritual postures. They and some colleagues had gone to peak sanctuaries on Crete (as with many cultures including the Chinese, the ancient Minoans had the idea that the peaks of mountains were closer to heaven and thus to the gods.) and performed various of the postures while music was produced from rattles (the ancient Minoans used rattles and drums). One such posture involved arching the spine while standing with fists clenched, palms facing the chest with arms bent. Such a posture puts a lot of pressure on the spine and therefore on the central nervous system and brain and evokes the Tai Chi Chuan and Qi Gong idea of opening and closing.
Some members of the party felt the presence of warriors, others felt as though they were drinking water or hearing things. The point is that the different postures produced different effects of a synaesthetic nature on different people. I will try to relate these concepts to Tai Chi Chuan practice in Part 2 of this article.
In Tai Chi Chuan we have the Classics which are mnemonic in nature, i.e. designed to be chanted during Nei Kung practice. They are contemplative, they express their author's reflections and they are guides to others in contemplation of how better to perform Tai Chi Chuan. We can also practice the Nei Kung as a kind of private devotion (though not on a religious theme) and we can in such practice, as well as in other aspects of the art, use steady or close meditative reflection: continued application of the mind.
Many people when they hear the term "meditation" think of it as sitting in a lotus position contemplating your navel. Certainly this can be meditation, but Tai Chi Chuan comes from Taoism and there are many different methods of Taoist meditation just as there are many different aspects of and ways of practicing Tai Chi Chuan.
Beyond this it a matter of choosing the method.
Tai Chi Chuan firstly involves training the body in movement by learning postures, exercises, forms and drills; through this we learn to focus the mind or to put it another way, to develop intent. Focusing is necessary for effective practice of most aspects of the art. Next is the coordination of the externality of the postures and movements with the internal to develop and control Qi, Jing and Shen or in Western terms, respiration and circulation, vitality and spirit. It is also necessary to develop internal force or Nei Jin. Finally there is the ultimate Taoist and therefore Tai Chi Chuan goal of becoming empty, i.e. free of ego and delusion so that one can merge with the Tao; this can also be considered to be the attainment of No Mind (Wu Xin).
Taoists saw meditation as a way of cultivating health and longevity as well as a means of clearing the mind in order to attain the highest level of spiritual development, union with the Tao. There was a closing of the exterior world of the senses and of the interior world of emotion and thought connected to it, simultaneously there was an opening to the universe and to the spiritual world. I'd now like to look at specific meditation methods and to examine their relevance to Tai Chi Chuan concepts and training.
"Internal Observation" (Nei Guan) dates from the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD). Practitioners first try to observe and be aware of the existence and effects of thoughts, emotions and feelings. From this familiarity with the patterns of occurrence of their thoughts, adepts could anticipate them and therefore stop them arising. This would result in a clear and still mind, radiant with the inner Tao. Mantras, visualisation and focus were not used in this method and there were no specific postures. It was often practiced in a half or full lotus position, though it was sometimes done sitting or even standing or walking. It was one of the simplest methods and so required minimal supervision once it had been learned from a master. This method is not of any real relevance to Tai Chi Chuan practitioners.
"Focusing on The Centre" was an attempt to shun the sights, sounds and events of the outer world and withdraw to a fixed centre such as the Tan Tian or a metaphoric centre created by harmony with the Tao. This was a simple method with no postures. This concept has something in common with the Tai Chi ideas of internally hoarding Shen (the Spirit) and of stillness in the midst of movement (in the form of external distractions.
The Shang Qing (Highest Purity) sect practiced "Embracing The One", i.e. the Tao within. This originally involved visualizing images or manifestations of the Tao such as Lao Tzu to keep the deity/spirit within oneself. In Embracing the One, the adept tries to achieve oneness by dissolving the duality of himself and the world. In the early stages, one first filled the mind and body so no thoughts, emotions or sensations could arise. Then, once stillness had been attained, one could reach the path to immortality (i.e. the Tao) through the mind where all things can be seen as one. Although this method emphasised stillness of body and mind during practice because movement destroys the experience of oneness, there are no specific postures. This is, however, a more physically demanding method than Internal Observation and Focusing on the Centre, because adepts might hold one position for several hours. This obviously meant that the skeletal structure and especially the spine had to be strong.
Embracing the One is a direct quotation from Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching and is the exact name of one of the static postures of Tai Chi Nei Kung which might be held initially for a few minutes and later for up to half an hour with the eyes shut.
"Stopping Thoughts and Emptying The Mind" is similar in method to Zen meditation, requiring silent sitting with a mind empty of thoughts, desires and emotions. There was therefore no visualisation, or mantras or even passive observation. This was the method used by the Northern Complete Reality (Quan Zhen) school and the Prior to Heaven (Xian Tian) sects in their early spiritual training to attain stillness of the mind, after which other methods would be used to lead the adept through Internal Alchemy training. This method again does not quite accord with Tai Chi Chuan practice. Although Tai Chi Chuan founder, Chang San-feng, was a member of the Complete Reality School.
"Recovering The Real Mind" to the Complete Reality school is a real or original mind which can spontaneously comprehend the nature of the Tao after the mind has been emptied of thoughts and freed from analysing. In daily life the adept is not affected by events and does not wish any stimulation of the senses or arousal of his mind. The method was often used by those who wanted to improve their health or develop mental clarity, but didn't have the time or inclination for more demanding training. There were no specific postures, but the full or half lotus were often used or sometimes it was done seated on a chair and it is suitable for all. In Tai Chi Chuan Nei Kung we do use the half lotus, but otherwise this method is not relevant to our practice.
These first five methods of Taoist meditation mentioned, i.e. Internal Observation, Focusing on The Centre, Holding The One, Stopping Thoughts and Emptying The Mind, and Recovering The Real Mind can be learned fairly easily and are safe to practice after formal instruction.
The Way and Ways
Normally the term "Tao" is translated as The Way, so Taoists are followers of The Way, but there are many Ways and therefore many types of Taoism and not every Way is equally suitable and efficacious for everybody. One concept common to many types of Taoism and to some degree important in Tai Chi Chuan is that of Nei Dan, or Internal Alchemy.
The next seven methods of meditation all concern Internal Alchemy and can lead to the highest Taoist spirituality. They are:- Focusing on the Cavities, Visualizing The Valley Spirit, Emptying The Mind and Filling The Belly, Uniting Intention with Breath, Gathering and Circulating The Light of The Spirit, Drawing The Light Inward, and Returning to Earlier Heaven. All seven are usually done with techniques that strengthen the skeletal system and regulate the internal physiology which is precisely the function of the Tai Chi Chuan hand form and of Tai Chi Nei Kung. As is the case with Tai Chi Nei Kung, these seven methods are usually only taught after a disciple has undergone ritual initiation with a master and then require constant supervision.
"Focusing on The Cavities" ignored the external and focused the awareness and intent on a certain body cavity to calm the emotions, prevent stray thoughts and minimize sensations, or in advanced practice focused on directing the Qi to an area to break a blockage or to gather it in a Dan Tian to be refined and transformed. Different cavities were chosen according to health needs and to the level of spiritual development. The early emphasis was on the Ming Men or Life Gate and as the adept became more advanced, the focus went to each Dan Tian in turn. This method is especially popular with sects involved in Internal Alchemy and so frequent instruction and supervision are necessary to provide the correct physical and mental foundations including a relaxed body, strong spine, articulated joints, softened tendons and a mind empty of thought and desire. The postures are demanding, needing to be held for long periods to complete the alchemical process and so they are not suitable for beginners.
In Tai Chi Chuan there is a similar emphasis on relaxing the body, because if the body is relaxed, the mind is tranquil, likewise in Tai Chi Nei Kung certain static postures are specifically designed to strengthen the spine, while certain moving postures are specifically designed to manipulate the joints and tendons, while the martial nature of certain techniques trains focus and the intent, preventing the mind from wandering.
"Visualising The Valley Spirit Method" requires the adept to visualize an image and to merge with it. So energy could be sent through the spinal column if the Kun Lun Mountains were visualized or Qi could be gathered and transformed in the middle Dan Tian if the Yellow Palace was visualized or Jing in the lower Dan Tian, if Sea of Energy was visualized or, at the highest stage, Shen in the upper Dan Tian, if the Valley Spirit was visualized. Sometimes we can use visualisation when practicing Tai Chi Chuan form or when practicing with the eyes shut, or when practicing certain static Nei Kung techniques, but this is not quite the same as the type of visualisation used here.
"Emptying The Mind and Filling The Belly" was another Inner Alchemy method of meditation. It involved sinking the fires of desire and filling the belly with energy at the lower Dan Tian by controlling the breath and drawing the essences from sexual partners, from the sun, moon and stars etc. This method requires proper instruction and supervision. In Tai Chi Chuan practice we also have this idea of abdominal breathing - the Tai Chi Chuan Classics specifically tell us to let the Qi sink to the Dan Tian, we also have the concept of the Spirit being internally hoarded, of using a partner's or opponent's force against him and to practice outdoors to draw energy from nature.
"Uniting Intention and Breath" focuses on the movement and counting of breaths in order to focus the mind. After the mind is detached from the outside world, the breathing pattern changes. The mind becomes still, making the breathing slower, softer and deeper like a foetus. Next, the mind changes from stillness to movement, i.e. to the True Intention to stimulate the circulation of internal energy. When the intention is still, this energy is gathered and stored. At a more advanced level, the duality of the adept and the universal energy of the Tao is dissolved, so that there is no separation of external and internal and so there is only one breath, the breath of Tao which is the source of life. The whole body is one breath as opposed to breathing only with the nostrils, lungs etc.
Unlike Qi Gong which works with tangibles like the breath and internal energy, Uniting Intention and Breath works with the formless and there is no active manipulation of the breath. Instead the breathing pattern changes with the state of mind, using meditation to transform the breath and internal energy. This is a difficult distinction to make so constant supervision such as exists in a monastic situation is necessary.
In Tai Chi Chuan practice correct breathing does not involve conscious thought and the concentration is not on the breath, but on relaxation and correct posture. The breathing pattern is dictated by the speed and the nature of the techniques or postures. We also have the idea of using the intention for gathering then releasing force.
"Gathering and Circulating The Light of The Spirit" is a high spiritual level of meditation practiced by the Complete Reality School. The light of the "Original Spirit" or "Immortal Foetus" (an advanced concept of Internal Alchemy) must be born and developed before it can be gathered and circulated. However, it is first essential to tame the mischievous, scheming, analytical "Knowledge Spirit" which is attached to worldly things and emotions. To prepare for the conception of the Immortal Foetus and simultaneous birth of the Original Spirit, we also need to strengthen and soften the bones, to build up and transform Qi, Jing and Shen. The Light of the Original Spirit is dim at first but becomes brighter through the actions of Qi, Jing and Shen, until when fully developed it bathes the practitioner in a Golden Light, which circulates and is diffused inside and around the practitioner.
The concepts of Qi, Jing and Shen are familiar to us as Tai Chi Chuan practitioners, there is also the concept referred to in the Tai Chi Chuan Classics of the Qi entering the bones and medical research has shown that bone mass density can be maintained amongst older people by regular exercise, making the bones softer and less brittle. Though there is no concept of an Immortal Foetus or a Golden Light.
"Drawing The Light Inward" is another advanced meditation practiced after a foundation in Internal Alchemy and is a synthesis of the practices of the Complete Reality and Highest Purity schools. The Light is gathered into three spots, the eyes and the mysterious cavity or third eye. Thus the lights of the sun, moon and stars were united with the light inside, dissolving the barrier between the internal universe of the adept and the external universe of the cosmos, nourishing his body and making it weightless and the mind clear and empty. In the ecstatic state thus produced, practitioners merge with the primordial energy of the Tao. This method requires formal instruction and frequent supervision and a long term commitment.
There is no concept of Drawing the Light Inward in Tai Chi Chuan or of a third eye, though the ulitmate aim of merging with the Tao is similar.
"Returning to Earlier Heaven " was only practiced by the The Way of Earlier Heaven sect (Xian Tian Tao). There are seven stages, each involving focusing on and transforming a cavity. First is the lower cavity, the centre of the lower Tan Tian, about two and a half inches below the navel. Second is the front cavity, the Sea of Chi about one inch below the navel. Third is the back cavity, the Life Gate (Ming Men), a point on the spinal column between the kidneys. Fourth is the middle cavity, the centre of the middle Dan Tian at the solar plexus, also known as the Central Palace or Yellow Palace. Fifth is the upper cavity, at the upper Dan Tian, between the eyes, which is called the Bright Hall. These first five cavities open the Microcosmic Orbit. The sixth and lowest cavity is the Bubbling Spring cavity at the sole of the foot and when this stage is complete, the Macrocosmic Orbit opens. The final cavity is the original cavity, also known as the Mysterious Gate, Earlier Heaven Gate, Wu Chi (No Ultimate) and only materialises when the original spirit is conceived and it is the gate to union with the Tao.
The first six stages involve form and action in focusing on specific cavities and is called After Heaven (Hou Tian) Meditation because it acts on the body and mind after the separation of Heaven and Earth. In stage seven there is no form or action because the Original Cavity cannot be localised and focused on and it is called Earlier Heaven Meditation because it works on a body and mind connected with the Tao. Returning to Earlier Heaven requires specific postures and sitting cross legged in a half or full lotus. The postures are rigorous because equal importance is placed on cultivating the body and the mind. The hand positions include sitting with the hands on the knees and holding them together to form a Tai Chi symbol, or supporting the body on the knuckles while in a full lotus.
In Tai Chi Chuan meditation we also sit for a short time with the hands on the knees and hold the cupped hands together, as if holding a Tai Chi symbol or lotus. Also in Tai Chi Chuan we practice hand stands on the knuckles. Though there is no focus on the cavities as such, certain Nei Kung exercises involve opening and closing of cavities, while in Xian Jia Baduanjin Qi Gong (Immortal Family Eight Pieces of Brocade ) there is stimulation of cavities, including the Bubbling Spring point.
Let us look now at some of the terms used for Taoist meditation. It was often referred to as "Shou Yi" meaning Holding or Keeping The One, or "De Yi", Acquiring The One. This "One" is again the ancient Taoist trinity of Heaven, Earth and Humanity united harmoniously together as one, the Tao itself. My teacher often referred to Tai Chi Chuan as a way to "Shou Tao" - Hold or Keep The Way. In Tai Chi Chuan there is also the concept of "Tian Di Ren He Yi" Heaven Earth and Humanity in harmony as one, where we as Humanity composed of Yin and Yang, are rooted (usually by our feet) to the Supreme Yin of Earth and with Shen (Spiritual Energy) rising to the headtop aspire to the Supreme Yang of Heaven.
Later, meditation was referred to as "Cun Si", Storing or Preserving Thoughts and as "Xiang Cun", Thinking on Preservation. This suggests more the type of visualization or focusing on words or mantras common to both Tai Chi Nei Kung practice and to certain types of Taoist and Zen meditation.
A common term used to this day is Xiu Xin, to repair or to cultivate the heart or mind. Li Guang-xuan, writing in the Sung period on Internal Alchemy said that you shouldn't worry about becoming an Immortal,but just try to perfect yourself by practicing the techniques, then you will be sure to attain Truth. With form and moving Nei Kung exercises, my teacher emphasised the need to know the application and purpose of the movements, but to go beyond this and to concentrate on refining and focusing the technique. In addition he emphasised the importance of balancing the more Yang aspects of training such as Tai Chi Shuai Jiao, punching with weights, hitting the heavy bag etc. with more Yin training such as the meditative exercises in the Tai Chi Nei Kung.
A final term is "Zuo Wang". Zuo means to sit, while the character for Wang is in two parts. The upper part means to lose or escape, while the lower means heart or mind, for the Chinese, the heart was the source of the emotions. Wang therefore means to forget or to escape the mind. Zuo Wang is closer to the common conception of seated meditation. This only appears in the final Tai Chi Nei Kung exercise, which I practice most days when I've had less than two bottles of whisky or six bottles of wine (otherwise I practice reclining meditation).
Going back to kinaesthesis and synaesthesis, certain pastimes / occupations require one or more senses to be particularly acute. For example wine appreciation tests our palate and the senses of smell and colour; appreciating classical music our sense of tone and pitch and Impressionist painting our sense of colour, swordmaking our vision and sense of touch. Of course it requires both training and experience to know what our senses should be searching for.
More than this, the senses can be used externally or internally. For example we can look at the external world or we can visualize mentally; we can hear ambient or internal sounds; externally we can touch, feel cold or hot, wet or dry while internally we can experience sensations, emotions, balance (the mechanism is in the inner ear) and body awareness.
Ting or listening is an interesting term used in Chinese martial arts and Tai Chi Chuan in particular to refer to the situation where whether in Tui Shou or San Shou we are in physical contact with the opponent and thus should be able to listen to (i.e. feel) his actions and reactions the next stage being either to influence or respond to them. The character for Ting is a complex one and its components are:- ten, eyes, heart (i.e. mind) disciple, ear; the meaning being rectification of a disciple's mind by the ten times use of his ears and eyes. It is well known also that when someone is talking to us their body language is often more important than what they have to say.
So in what, in a martial arts sense, is a truly kinaesthetic process, we are training the regular senses as well as the sixth sense. The eyes by seeing the opponent, the heart or emotions by feeling and the ears by hearing him (his breath at least) are all involved as well as the sense of touch (perhaps we can smell him as well, though mostly we don't want to taste him). By listening in a Tai Chi sense we truly sense him. We can even try to sharpen this "listening" by closing the eyes during Tui Shou, as the primary senses on which we are relying at close quarters are touch and sight, rather than sight.
Practicing Tai Chi form with the eyes closed is similarly a way of sharpening the other senses. We have to feel our foot positions on the floor and orient ourselves according to any ambient sounds or vibrations, while visualizing the performance of the form as we do it.
In meditation as in all aspects of Tai Chi Chuan it is necessary to go through all four stages of the learning pracess. The first stage is unconscious incompetence where we don't know we don't know how. The second stage is after we have started to learn and to become conscious of our incompetence, though I regret that many Tai Chi Chuan practitioners at least despite years of practice do not even reach this stage. Next is the conscious competence stage where we can do it, but only with great concentration. Finally we become unconsciously competent, able to do it without thinking. This is the road to mastery.
Meditation is best done in a quiet place where you are unlikely to be disturbed. For their sitting meditation, Taoists used soft thick cushions, but a futon or bed are also suitable. You should remove tight or restrictive clothing and belts should be undone. The back is normally straight and erect so that the spinal column is correctly aligned and the lungs can expand. After meditation the eyes should be opened slowly and the limbs should be massaged or flexed to relax them if you are coming out of a half lotus position.
Contrary to popular belief it is not necessary to go into a full lotus in order to meditate, a half lotus or even sitting on the edge of a chair or bed with the ankles crossed and the knees facing out to open up the crotch are also effective positions.
The hands are often placed palm down on the knees or placed on one another, palms up, close to the belly with the thumbs interlocked. The head and neck should be erect and facing ahead. The eyes should be lightly shut to avoid distractions, while the mouth was closed with the tongue touching the palate to make a bridge along which Qi moved from the nose to the throat or vice versa - as is the case with Tai Chi Chuan practice, we breathe in and out through the nose.
Next is when to meditate. Whether walking, sitting, standing or reclining you can pay attention to posture, actions, breathing and thought, so you can meditate. It is best to meditate early in the morning or late at night, but the ideal minimum requirement is once a day. I personally prefer to practice the 24th exercise of Tai Chi Nei Kung as a meditation late at night because it helps me to sleep and I practice Tai Chi form in the morning to prepare me for the day ahead.
In certain professions, sleep is a real problem. Many years ago one of my new students who had been practicing Yang style Tai Chi Chuan for some years told me that as a printer he worked irregular hours and he had to have expensive acupuncture treatment once every couple of weeks to help him sleep. I taught him only the first four Yin exercises of Tai Chi Nei Kung and he had no further problems. Shift workers including police officers whom I have taught have reported similar benefits.
It is a peculiar paradox that the idea of abstaining from all thought is itself a thought. This is referred to in Chapter 11 of the Huai Nan Zi (2nd century BC), where it is said that those who seek to be emptied cannot be emptied, while those who do not seek it achieve it spontaneously. Some beginners come to believe that before they started meditating, thoughts were few and became numerous after taking up meditation, in fact all that has happened is that they become more aware of their thoughts, the more they meditate. Through practice the number of thoughts will decrease. Though many positive results and health benefits can come from regular meditation, we should concentrate on the practice and not worry or try to force the results as this can reduce the effectiveness of our practice. The Taoist idea of Inner Observation was that if the eyes were closed they would look inwards, likewise the hearing was turned inwards which made it easier to refrain from hearing distracting sounds. In one regard meditation (and martial arts) is like religion; success depends upon faith and practice.
In Taoist meditation as in Tai Chi Chuan the breathing should be deep when we inhale and long when we exhale. It should be slow, continuous and almost imperceptible. This is also why many types of Taoist meditation are preceded by breathing exercises - as is the case with the final Tai Chi Nei Kung exercise. There is an emphasis on abdominal respiration so that the lungs expand more than usual thus taking in more oxygen which makes the circulation and purification of blood more effective. In turn a higher percentage of carbon dioxide is breathed out or methane gas emitted. This goes back to the enhancing of the development of our Three Treasuses of Qi, Jing and Shen. Qi vitalises the body, while Jing in the form of semen, saliva and bodily secretions irrigates it. Shen was developed by the Yin Yang method of closing or shutting out the exterior world of the senses and the interior world of thought and emotions (which of course are affected by the outer world), while opening ourselves to the spiritual world of the infinite.
Some people say the longer the meditation the better, with a minimum of thirty minutes. I don't like to be so dogmatic. I have practiced Tai Chi Nei Kung for between fifteen minutes to three and a half hours most days for almost twenty five years, but when I practice Nei Kung sitting meditation, it is rarely for more than ten minutes. Maybe this is because of the large amount of Tai Chi Chuan practice that I do - indeed many forms of Taoist meditation are preceded by massage or stretching exercises which mentally and physically prepare the adept. I actually believe that long practice of sitting meditation can be bad for you, leading to drowsiness and lassitude as well as sometimes damaging the knees by cutting off the circulation.
Meditation as we have seen is not meant to be practiced in isolation, but as part of theYang Sheng (Nourishing of Life) practice referred to by Zhuang Zi in the 5th century BC. This term is interesting because the master / disciple relationship in Chinese culture is often referred to as one of father and son, because metaphorically, the master gives birth to (Sheng) and nourishes (Yang) the disciple Sickness arose from a lack, an excess or blockage of Jing or Qi, so many Taoists sought purification and tranquillity through ritual washing, fasting and withdrawal to the mountainous domain of the gods from a sceptical and impure world.
The Taoists saw meditation as a progress from movement to stillness and also from stillness to movement. We can see this when we practice Tai Chi Chuan hand form; we go from briefly holding the Wu Chi (No Ultimate) position (also known as Tai Chi at Rest) to holding briefly the Ready Style and then we commence the form. We finish the form by going from Tai Chi in Unity back to the to Wu Chi (No Ultimate) position (also known as the Completion Style). Sun Lu-tang, the master of Ba Gua, Xing Yi and Tai Chi Chuan wrote that before practicing internal martial arts, in the state of Wu Chi (No Ultimate), "No thought (and so) no intent; No form and so no shape." These formal and seemingly unimportant transitions are designed as triggers to induce the focus and concentration needed to do the form properly and likewise to unwind after the journey is complete.
The Tai Chi Nei Kung has similar in that there are ritual opening and closing sequences. Additionally after each exercise, except the last, we return to the Embracing The One position before commencing the next exercise. In the Nei Kung also, there are three levels for each exercise; for the beginner, for the adept and for the master. You can't suddenly attain enlightenment by going on a weekend meditation retreat.
In this series of articles I have referred to Nei Guan (Internal Observation), but there is also the term Ding Guan, meaning Fixed or Tranquil Observation. Ding refers to a Yin or earth like stability of fixed concentration, but this is only a kind of dull contentment, unless it is combined with a Yang or Heaven inspired intuitive wisdom produced by Guan. Likewise this intuitive wisdom, unless it is grounded in the stability of Ding spirals into a kind of holy madness.
This character Ding is important in Tai Chi Chuan, as Zhong Ding (Central Stability / Equilibrium) is one of the Thirteen Tactics and is identified with the element Earth. Just as the other elements are to be found in or on the earth, so going forward or back, left or right comes from Zhong Ding. Thus movement proceeds from and back to stillness.
So in this examination of Taoist meditation and its relationship to Tai Chi Chuan, it is clear that aspects of Tai Chi Chuan, and in particular the solo practice of forms and Nei Kung do have a meditative element although they are not solely meditative.
Lastly you will only benefit from Taoist meditation and from Tai Chi Chuan if you have the appropriate attitude and lifestyle and if you find a suitable teacher. In the words of Jacques Levi in his epic novel, "The Chinese Emperor", "An hour of study under a master is more rewarding than a lifetime of solitary meditation."