Student's Viewpoint

"Every profound spirit needs a mask: even more, around every profound spirit a mask is continually growing."

Lionel Chan

Greetings to my fellow Taiji practitioners and prospective practitioners, 

I have tried a few martial arts before but nothing I took very seriously - I was always too lazy and/or weak willed to push through the necessary boundaries in those paths and I didn't stay with any of them for very long (my new Taiji-influenced perspective now makes me very thankful for this character "flaw" actually...).

My story is, I heard about Ric through my Chinese herbalist who heard through one of his patients that learnt from him (typical Chinese grapevine thing going), and the idea of spending a lifetime in the patient refinement of an art that had no limits has always held appeal, so here I am.  That's about it really, but then again the best things in life often end up being gifts that you never asked for, but were blessed with anyway, aren't they?



Sent: Tuesday, May 01, 2007 8:55 AM
Subject: Taiji Diary

Thursday, 26th of April, 2007
Some effects I have noticed that I currently interpret as resulting from not doing Taiji as regularly:
1) Energy levels more uneven during the course of the day.
2) General muscle tone decreased.
3) Not as focused or self-disciplined.

Tuesday, 24th of April, 2007
I have a feeling the next part of my body in line for Taiji-style transformation will be my ankles. They are a part of me that I have paid scant attention to, but today I realised how important relaxing them is to being able to really drive that knee down in "leaning back" manoeuvres.  I have found this makes a huge difference in the feeling of (pushed into the) grounded-ness.  Also the timing of the pivot comes much more naturally.
My ankles seem to be happier for being recognised for their importance finally.  There is an aliveness and buzz there at the moment that I can't remember ever feeling before.

Saturday, 14th April, 2007
For various reasons, I have decided to stop attending classes for a while. I think it will be good for me to continue writing this diary during this period, to see what sort of things happen when I am not practising as much as I have been.

Thursday 12th April, 2007
Before I did Ric's Taiji, I didn't notice how much it disturbed the state of relaxation of my whole body to just move my arms in doing things. I didn't realise it was possible to have the movement of my arms initiated and co-ordinately either from my feet upwards, or from my posture outwards, and that things flowed much more smoothly and efficiently when done this way. If this is the direction that Taiji training is taking me, just how far down/inside does it go?  Will I be able to initiate the movement of my arm and smoothly co-ordinate the entire chain of action from the mere thought? Or from the mere intent? Or even further than that? The mind boggles.

Wednesday, 11th April, 2007
"The definition of victimhood: being unwillingly controlled by the assumptions you don't know you are making."

More stuff on my elbow and front shoulder came to light today.  As I was driving home, I realised that when I steer the wheel I tend to keep my elbow in, and I noticed the tension this caused the front of my shoulder.  It is a rather unusual way to drive, and I didn't always do it this way. 
It was in thinking about this that I realised why I hold it in such a weird position - previous martial arts training (specifically, in doing Wing Chun Chisau-"Sticky Hands"). I was told by my instructor to always try to keep my elbows in to protect from centre-line strikes, whilst still being able to make attacks myself. Also for me, there was previously a tendency to raise the top and back of my shoulders when raising my arms, and keeping the elbow in effectively allowed me to more efficiently lift the whole arm with minimal usage of those other muscles.
It's not that I now think the principle is wrong. The point is that if the student (i.e. in this instance, me back then) is not ready to "see" it, the mechanical insistence on a particular way of doing things may create blockages that stifle long term development. The confusing thing is that there will be immediate instrumental benefits for the student in making the change anyway. Unfortunately, without the flexibility that earned perception affords, the tendency is to overdo what they are instructed to do compared to what is contextually appropriate. The upshot in the long-term is to merely shift the problem to somewhere else (in my case, relaxed top and back shoulder, but tight front shoulder, upper arm and elbow), and also to make it more stubborn.

I wonder... how many other things are there that I have been taught in the past and/or currently think I know, and have served me well in the past, but are now acting to chronically block my progress?

"You must unlearn what you have learned."
-Master Yoda, "The Empire Strikes Back"

Wednesday, 4th April, 2007
As a follow on from yesterday, in combination with a focus today on "Repulse Monkey", I am discovering how stiffly I am/probably always have been using my elbow, and therefore have not really been using the whole limb as efficiently as I could be.  The consequence of this is now very clear - the shoulder is forced to take on the jobs that the forearm/biceps/triceps are much better positioned to do so, and chronic tension in that area is the result.  If I want to improve the condition of my shoulder in the long term, learning to relax it is but one half of the equation.  Bringing more life into my elbow, being more aware of the tension there and thus being able to let it drop and better use the leverage it has, is the other.

Tuesday, 3rd April, 2007
The next discovery always comes from where you least expect it seems.  Today I realised how the changing of the angle of the back during the "push" moves has a very important role to play, as it allows the arms and shoulders to relax into extension, minimising tension in those areas. The experience of the whole form changed significantly for me when I could see that my arms did not have to be used in such a blunt manner as I have been. I have a hunch that there are implications for this in the way that I use these parts of my body every day.

"If you want to be heard, listen."


Sent: Tuesday, April 03, 2007 11:43 AM
Subject: Diary March 2007

Tuesday. 27th March, 2007
There was a fullness in the lower dantien building up, as we slowly repeated a few times the push at the end of Section 1 today.  I think that, from the weight back position, the push start with a slight twist in this lower abdomen area first before the weight shifts to the other leg.  I found that this way felt a lot smoother anyway.

Wednesday, 21st March, 2007
Today was the first time I was asked to lead someone in their learning by myself.  The experience of doing the form whilst doing so is quite different... there is a sense of responsibility of course, but I also felt less concerned with my getting everything right, and my movements felt much lighter as a result.

Tuesday, 20th March, 2007
Observations from today, as we specifically practised a few of the fundamental movements very slowly in section 1.
"Raising Hands": the effect of this simple act is to feel more grounded, like there is a force from the sacrum that is driving my legs into the ground. Also after doing this a few times, my hands felt significantly fatter/full of blood.
"Grasp Bird's Tail": I know this is very vague, but it felt like this movement cleared the path of feeling between my lower abdomen and my chest, like they could more effectively communicate afterwards. Also this "energy" raised from the lower belly felt like it was bathing my elbows and lower hands in a magnetic force.

Friday 16th March, 2007
Just something I came up with today for fun, after attending one of my economics and business management lectures:
"Taiji Chuan has decentralised management systems in my body and mind. Local decisions are thereby allowed to contribute more effectively to the organisation and function of the whole, working more bottom-up rather than purely top-down. The organisational stagnation that often results from the mismatch of preconceived plans and the perception of immediate realities are thus minimalised, raising total efficiency.
In addition, decentralisation has the seemingly contradictory result of increasing the respect for the appropriately applied top-down view that is able to see, subtly orchestrate and adapt to the big picture."

Strangely appropriate, donchathink?

Saturday 10th March, 2007
A few small things:
1) The "spare tyre" is rapidly receding! Yay!
2) My left pectoral muscle, which was always a bit smaller than the right, seems to have evened up in size to it's partner, just in the  past few days.
3) Have started using a pair of Dunlop Volleys instead of the cotton soled kungfu shoes when it is raining/has recently rained.  The contrast between the two in terms of how clear the message for me to pivot the waist when shifting weight is now very obvious to me.
4) My energy and attention levels are very even throughout the day, quite a contrast to how my previous uni days have been (btw I've gone back to study, I don't think I've mentioned that here before, doing Economics - actually very appropriate in a lot of ways for Taiji Chuan, I think).


Thursday 1st March, 2007
Not too much to mention, except that today I received the first real inkling how easily Ric could destroy me if ever he felt the need!  A quick "shoulder lean" to my sternum had my heart miss a beat, leaving me breathless and a little befuddled.  This was with my arms crossed over my chest as protection, and little real momentum and no "internal" energy added on top of the blow.  I am beginning to appreciate what Ric means when he says that the people who came up with these gently lethal movements must have been scary scary people.


Sent: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 10:52 AM
Subject: Feb 07 Diary

Wednesday 28th February. 2007
In the past week I've noticed that my experience of training has involved a lot more strenuous use of the muscles in my hips and thighs compared to before. It's the power of letting the knee drop in guiding pivoting movements, which I suppose gives much better grounded-ness and stability.  My centre of weight feels lower, with my upper body and arms free to flop around as they like a bit more.


Saturday 17th February, 2007
A few months ago I had a conversation with Mei about my developing "spare tyre" around the waist, just over my kidneys and below the navel.  She said that since doing Taiji Chuan with Ric, the tyre slowly became more and more prominent, to the point where I now have very definite "rolls" visible from the rear view. The thing is, the rest of my body is getting more muscular, relaxed, aware and with improved circulation and I am definitely not gaining weight, if anything it is the opposite.  My hunch is that something like the expression of a rash or a whitehead is occurring - that is, the first step is the differentiation of the "pure" from "impure", and the next will be re-integration/absorption.  I'll just have to look back on this entry in a few months to see if my hunch proves to be correct or not.
At any rate, today it was very noticeable that I have a blindspot of bodily awareness around this area.  When I move from a leaned back position to a forward push, it is quite obvious that I do not yet have the control of the lower abdomen to make the right adjustments in the angle of my torso at the right time to make this transition a smooth one. I think that now that I can "see" the blindspot, "I" (i.e. my body) will then be able to apply more resources towards gradually filling the gaps, and my "spare tyre" will be on it's way out. Fingers crossed :)


Sunday, 11th February, 2007
After today's class, all of what I would normally call my "muscles" were very relaxed, and I felt a post-exercise kind of soreness in what I can only describe as my "internal muscles".  Please excuse the imprecision of language here; I am trying to describe a feeling in a location inside my body that I didn't really know existed before!
My theory goes something like this - there are external muscles that are very easily accessible to conscious control, and internal ones that are more subtle. If we don't learn to relax our external muscles, we can't strengthen the internal ones and they may even atrophy. Perhaps this is a manifestation on the physical level of why/how we can become stronger when we are able to let go.


Saturday, 10th February, 2007
I need to thank Janaki for reminding me today that Taiji Chuan practice can be performed as a devotion to the Absolute. What better way to just be with what is and put aside any concerns?


Sunday 4th February, 2007
Today is the first day back at class after our holiday. Again, I am amazed that Taiji Chuan with Ric can be so physically involving as my thighs and upper abdominal muscles are quite sore, similar to the feeling as if I had just finished a gruelling gym workout.
I don't know the name of the moves yet, but the one where you pull both wrists up your centreline, keeping elbows at the same level as you shift weight to your back foot and straighten the front foot, torso and neck into one line. I think that is the feeling people are generically trying to recreate when they tell you to "stand up with your back straight and shoulders back", in order to improve your posture. But if you just try and follow that command without understanding the rest of the alignments that this move can teach you, you don't realise it can be done in a completely relaxed fashion, and are likely to hyper-arch the lower back in trying to do so. This is the beauty of the elegant simplicity of this Taiji Chuan that I am continuing to appreciate.



Sent: Saturday, November 25, 2006 10:51 AM

I have noticed that when I first learn a new move, I feel a kind of thrill in my body/mind. It is asked to do something or co-ordinate itself in a certain kind of way that it has probably never done so before, so I guess this has something to do with an endorphin reward my brain is being provided with for learning something new.
The thing is, after I have more or less the hang of (a certain level of) it, the thrill is gone. It's so unfair! It's like the endogenous brain drugs are there to reward doing new things badly rather than old things well.  Maybe there is some wisdom in that however…
I also sense lately that certain intellectual check-points that I have had to rely on in order to know/assure myself that I am doing a certain move correctly are starting to drop away.  The brain/mind is a wonderful thing for learning, especially at the beginning, but beyond a certain point it just gets in the way.

Never doubt the experience, always question the interpretation.


Sent: Wednesday, November 15, 2006 9:01 AM

Newest observation of change that I attribute significantly to Taiji practice: I am less addicted to thinking.

One way this manifests in my body/mind is that sometimes I find it very hard to let go of a certain line of thought and see from others' perspectives, and at these times a lot of attention tends to get stuck in my head and lost in my legs, waist and lower abdomen.  Also I have noticed that my chest and upper arms feel contracted when this happens too.
When I compare how my body/mind feels now to before learning Taiji with Ric, I find myself able to be much more objective, relaxed and compassionate whilst thinking deeply about something, and am therefore actually more effective (wider perception) in thinking. I don't think it is purely coincidental that when I think now, awareness of my lower body is stronger and my chest feels larger compared to before too.


Sunday, 22nd October 2006

Modernity's greatest flaw: without that which is hidden and must be discovered for oneself, depth does not exist.
A corollary: the more perfect the system, that will 99% work independent of the integrity and intelligence of the individuals in it, the greater the likelihood for the integrity and intelligence of those individuals to gradually atrophy to the point that the system collapses.

Following the class yesterday completing all three sections was different this time. For a start I did not feel any of the tiredness that has hit me in the past two weeks doing so. I suspect this has a lot to do with what Ben helped me to understand during the week – there is no need to fear being wrong, no point in exhausting yourself trying to get everything objectively perfect (if there is such a thing), just relax and observe and learn.

The second unusual thing has to do with the immediate aftermath. This one is a little hard to explain… there was a powerful urge to just sit down and meditate, not try to do or be anything and just see what arose in consciousness. I excused myself from the usual post-Taiji Chuan social chat and went back to the park to just sit. I did so with my eyes closed for a good 20 minutes or so, though it seemed much shorter, and just blissfully watched my bodymind do its thing.
Now the class this morning this feeling did not come back, in many ways it was almost the opposite.  Following Ben once again in the next part of section 2 I am learning, by the third repetition of the slow and gentle movement I felt a sudden urge to run around and jump and kick and punch the air and make Bruce Lee noises. I did not do so, though nor did I suppress the feeling, just tried to ride with it whilst attempting to ground my awareness in my feet as an anchor, and it gradually subsided.

Meanwhile, the blockage at my left shoulder/upper arm continues to get more and more obvious. In many of the movements, particularly where the arms are moving from an above the head position down to chest level, there is a very audible "click" in that area that I do not currently have the awareness to know how to avoid. I do not yet know what this is all about, but I guess that really is the point…


Saturday 14th October 2006

Here is a run down of other physical differences I have noticed since doing Ric's Taiji Chuan…
1) A wart on my left index finger that has been there for at least four years is now gone.
2) My hands are warmer.
3) My skin is generally softer and healthier, particularly on my hands and on the nail beds.
4) Driving home after class today, the muscle under my left eye twitched in a very strange way, like it was spasming under an electrical pulse. It stopped after a minute or so and the whole side of the head felt lighter afterwards.
5) My left pectoral muscle started intermittently spasming in a similar way about a week ago and is still at it.


Monday 9th October 2006

What I have noticed in doing nothing lately is how much of a junkie I have become in my life to "doing". What I mean is that it is becoming more and more obvious how reliant I am on exercise, stretching, daily Taiji Chuan practice, even meditation, etc as a kind of self medication to feel "right" or "normal", that may be blanketing other deeper truths.

For example I may be tired in the body, so I will do a Taiji form, or I will feel tense in the head with erratic thoughts, so I will sit in meditation. There is even a doing often involved in "relaxing", when we intend to do it as an objective. So just like we say that western medicine can often just "blanket symptoms", and I reckon an acupuncture practice that just aims at moving unblocking stagnation will rarely lead to long term change, at a deeper level I think that exercise, even subtle ones like Taiji Chuan, qigong and yoga, can sometimes play the same role in circumventing evolution.

So you have normal blood pressure on daily blood pressure drugs? The real test of your physician's perception is whether these drugs alone will improve your ability to have normal blood pressure without them. So you feel healthy and fit when you are doing regular jogs in the morning before work? Does your jogging teach you to feel the same when free of jogging? So you are calm and even-tempered when you have sat for half an hour in your meditation at the start of your day. Is your practice helping you not need the practice?

Non-doing is the greatest mystery and the most obvious thing in the world.  Sometimes there is no better teacher than just being with what is, and letting that, which arises, self-liberate. As Ric says, "It is easier than you think, and easier if you don't think"….


Thursday 5th October 2006

After following the class in doing the entire 3 sections for the first time last Saturday, I was wiped out for 3 days.  I must have slept an extra 4 hours above normal for that time, lucky it was the long weekend!  I'm still amazed that something that seems so uninvolved physically could cause such a reaction…

Meanwhile, a tension in my left shoulder, feels like just over where my scapula meets my arm, is beginning to show prominence.  Ric suggested earlier that this blockage is related to the intricate intellectual frameworks that I have, knowingly or not, built around me to understand my world, and that relaxation of one will likely lead to relaxation of the other.  I have no reason to dispute this; we'll see how it goes…


Sent: Saturday, October 21, 2006 12:45 PM
Subject: My new favourite quote for Taiji Chuan

 None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.


Sent: Saturday, September 30, 2006 7:04 PM
Subject: "Open Sky"

If you're not amazed by how naive you were yesterday,
you're standing still.
If you're not terrified of the next step,
your eyes are closed.
If you're standing still and your eyes are closed,
then you're only dreaming you're awake.
A caged bird in a boundless sky.
-Jed McKenna-


Sent: Thursday, September 28, 2006 7:39 AM
Subject: My(1st) "Student’s Viewpoint"

I've only been doing Ric's Taiji Chuan for just over a month now, and I already notice the significant change it is having on my ability to stay centred and "not attached to small ego" during otherwise stressful situations. And I seem to be getting bigger despite doing minimal strength training lately, or at least I feel bigger and this subjective state is somehow making an impression on how people see me.
I also stand straighter, the difference most significant around the front and sides of where my thighs meet my hips, and find it quite difficult to walk at an overly fast pace, because it seems just so forced and unnecessary.
Also for some reason, I keep wanting to elbow things...

Hey, that was fun. Just did my morning session, think I had my first "spontaneous qi" thing happening! I've had some funky experiences from meditation and just even thinking deeply about things, but I've never had what I would call a "spiritual" experience while completely in my body.  Basically after the second time round doing what little I know so far of the form, I suddenly felt like slowing down and it felt like the body was in more control than "I" was. It only lasted a little while but the calmness of mind that came from it is still with me. Curious to see what happens next :)...


"The more certain the context, the less complete the picture."


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