"Every profound spirit needs a
mask: even more, around every profound spirit a mask is
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
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?
Tuesday, May 01, 2007 8:55 AM
Subject: Taiji Diary
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.
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.
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
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.
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
must unlearn what you have learned."
Yoda, "The Empire Strikes Back"
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.
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.
want to be heard, listen."
Tuesday, April 03, 2007 11:43 AM
Subject: Diary 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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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).
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.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007 10:52 AM
Subject: Feb 07 Diary
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.
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 :)
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.
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?
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
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
Wednesday, November 15, 2006 9:01 AM
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
greatest flaw: without that which is hidden and must be
discovered for oneself, depth does not exist.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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?
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
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…
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
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
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.
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
"The more certain the context, the less
complete the picture."