Lionel Speaks!

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?

CHAN Tze-tzu

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  1. *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.”

  2. *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” towards 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.

  3. *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.

  4. *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.

  5. *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?

  6. *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.

  7. *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/-

  8. *Sent*: Thursday, September 28, 2006 7:39 AM
    Subject: *My(1^st ) “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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