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Training Partners

“I want you to teach this stuff, not cause you know anything, but because I want you to learn it.” My teacher lives 5000 miles away and I was blessed to be able to travel and study with her every other month for a few years. But she knew nothing lasts forever – so better make training partners in your hometown, and teach this stuff so you can learn it.

Well, I am happy to say, as I sit and reflect on where we are today, I realize I have indeed made some training partners. Where once there was not, today there is a group of keen taiji players, interested in the principled study of the full traditional Yang style curriculum willing and interested in playing with me. Together we are continuing to grow this art. ( and grateful, too,  for our teachers, Jan Parker and Sam Masich)

As Jan also has said, many times: “training partners are gold. ” And I am rich!

There is still much to learn, so I will continue to teach. But today I want to acknowledge: I have training partners in Western Massachusetts.

(Of course, I am always looking for and welcoming more!)

Resist my resistance

I cannot at the same time connect and resist. So I must choose.

In the past, I have chosen resistance or unconscious connection and on a few lucky occasions, I chose conscious connection. Today, it is my practice:  I choose consciously to connect.

In order to connect resistance doesn’t work.  Or it only works partially – it creates a shallow connection at best. What I want is a deep connection.

How to have a deep connection? Soften, relax, breathe, center, root, let the energy flow – this creates the condition I need for deep connection.  To self and to partner.

And from here I can listen, understand, receive and transform. Without connection, I can do none of those things.

I am left only with my resistance.

 

A Taste of China

I attended my first “Taste of China” in 1999. I had not yet begun my Taiji journey in earnest, but I attended for a couple of reasons. The event was held in the small rural town in Virginia where I was born, and Janice and I were visiting my Mom, 15 miles away in Strasburg. Janice had been studying Taiji for a few  years and was very interested. Since I was a martial artist who figured one day that I would learn taiji, why not spend some time at the conference and make the family visit easier, too?  Turns out, that would be the last time I saw my Mom before she died.

I remember Janice learned a fan form, I think from Madame Wang JuRong and Master Helen Wu. I took a push hands workshop with Chris Luth and Elaine Waters. But what I remember most was the Saturday night Friendship Demonstration at the local high school – especially William C.C. Chen and the physical flexibility of his son, Max, pushing hands and bending backwards, and the way Nick Gracenin astonished me with his chain whip form ( really? tai chi? wow? ). The funny thing to me today, is that I don’t remember seeing Sam Masich at all ( though I know now that he was not only in the demo, but the emcee too!)

This Year’s Theme: Transformation

Fast forward 13 years, and more than a few taiji lessons later, and wow……what an amazing weekend I just had at the Grand Finale event.  After 30 years, Pat Rice is retiring the event. Read more about this year’s event on Sam’s home page) In this final year, many of the great masters attended, and the turnout of participants was more than twice what was expected. My teacher Sam Masich, and two of Sam’s teachers Master Liang, Shou-yu, and Dr. Yang, Jwing Ming, were there.

That’s me with Dr. Yang, and Sam

Also, Master Wei-lun Huang, Master Helen Wu, Nick Gracenin, Jose Johnson, Kathleen Cusick, Jay Dunbar, Yang Yang Ph.D., were there.  I enjoyed many great workshops – beginning the weekend with Taiji for Transformation with Jose Johnson,  on to Wuji and Daoist Qigong with Master Liang, and Martial Grand Circulation and Taiji for Health with Dr. Yang, and the Five Animal Frolics with Kathleen Cusick, and of course, workshops with Sam Masich – his newfangled PengLuJiAn method -for partner and solo practice.

But the best parts for me were the demonstrations and discussions both nights. I learned so much about the breadth of internal arts and I loved hearing the personal stories of these dedicated and top-level masters of these arts.  The other really wonderful part of the weekend was seeing so many of my taiji friends and making new ones. And of course, I definitely have a recollection of seeing Sam this time!

I only wish I could attend again next year…….alas,  I must say Happy Retirement!

Til the next move

enjoy your practice,

Dorian

They Say It’s Good for You!

Have you checked out all the health benefits of Tai Chi? 

OMG!

There are studies showing that tai chi improves balance, flexibility, strength and motor coordination….yeah, we knew that….

No wait, there’s more….

Today I read about a study that shows that practicing tai chi makes your brain bigger! Apparently that means less dementia as we age.  Geez, what else? Tai chi has been shown to reduce the symptoms of arthritis, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease and I don’t even know what else.

I am interested in what science is discovering about tai chi – and accumulating the evidence to prove the health benefits are ‘real.’ If you are curious to learn more, I am keeping a list at RESEARCH CENTRAL. Check it out.

Meanwhile, I am also just as happy to know that when I practice, I feel better.  Glad the science proves it!

til the next move

enjoy your practice,

Dorian

SLOW Fitness

“Slow Fitness” means taking a more reflective approach to exercise and fitness; an approach that is mindful of impacts on the body, joints, and muscles, and that incorporates resilience – our ability to ‘bounce back’ from the consequences of old injuries, poor posture, habits of rushing about, multi-tasking and other stresses. It’s about slowing down and becoming more mindful of our basic connection with gravity, with mind, body and spirit, and with each other. [Adapted from SlowLivingSummit.org ]

Sounds like a Tai Chi practice to me!

Til the next move, enjoy your practice
Dorian

I KNOW THAT

Jan Parker first told me that these are three of the most debilitating words to any practice. And she was right!

In seven years, I have learned the 108-move solo form three different times from my two taiji teachers.  This most recent time was an 8-day intensive with a focus on principles and applications.

Of course, the first time I learned the form, I knew I knew nothing, so I was a sponge. It took me nine months and much practice every day. Everything my teacher said was the first time I’d heard it, considered it, looked at it, or thought about it. Maybe it reminded me of other things I’d learned in other arts, but still it was new. That was great. I loved it. I couldn’t stop practicing, because there was so much new to experience and embody.

The second time I learned the form, three years later, I was, of course, not the same sponge. I was looking for new information, something to add to what I already now knew. (uh oh….there’s that idea that ‘ I know that’ feeling).  And what I found is that my teacher was right about “I know that’; there really is nothing like already knowing something to shut down the mind to the possibility of going deeper in one’s understanding of something, or even of really receiving correction.   I lost something real important in my practice, some enthusiasm or something. I kept it up, but I had a little too much of the “I know that” mind. This is why the zen masters talk so much about beginner’s mind.

Sam makes corrections on Single Whip

This third time learning the 108…..for whatever reason, I felt much more like a sponge again. And lucky me! I feel like I have a brand new form…from the inside out.  There are some moves I will do the same with a different understanding of what I am doing. And there are a few moves that I will practice quite differently from how I ever did before. And in one or two cases, I am correcting a misunderstanding that has actually kept me from moving forward in the practice of my art. So glad, I didn’t know that!

If you are one of my students reading this, I hope you are excited about the new aspects of the 108 practice that I will share with you. And I invite you to notice the power of believing “I know that” to close your mind to the possibility of what is still to discover in another person, in a field of study, or in an art, or even in a form you have learned.

And for me,…. I am inspired again and again to cultivate beginner’s mind every day. (Thanks for the lessons, Sam). Not only in seminar with my teachers, but in my practice, and in my teaching. And everyone else, beware of those three little words: I know that!

‘Til the next move

Enjoy your practice

Dorian

 

Practice Wrong

What? Really?

“I don’t want to practice, cause I am afraid I don’t know what I am doing, and I don’t want to practice wrong. “

How many times have I heard a new student tell me this?

And I understand the sentiment. I do.

Learning something new, we all want to do it well, we want to get it right.

But in reality, when we are just learning something – how can we practice in anyway other than wrong?  And then, by practicing we discover how to learn. We see where our questions are, and where we enjoy the movement, and what part is hard for us. Practice becomes our exploration. And the exploration is the journey. The journey of taij.

It’s like saying I want to live, but I don’t want to make any mistakes, so I won’t start living until I am perfect. Well, none of us would have learned to walk or talk, much less become functioning competent adults in the world.

Same thing with Taiji   – you can’t wait until you are good at it to practice it. You have to start where you are.

The only caveat……don’t hurt yourself. Practice, practice wrong, and if it hurts, stop and talk to your teacher to find out what is wrong so you can correct it. And then go back and practice your new learning some more.

 

Til the next move

Enjoy your practice

Dorian

Dandelions

I hold onto some things too tight.

Not setting suns, or the taste

of chocolate melting in my mouth;

but resentments. And then, not even

 

resentment for what was done and

forgiven at the time;

but resentment,

that it happened at all and that

I even had to forgive it.

 

And they feel like something solid

and real, like rocks in my hand

or sticks I can grip and swing

at enemies or ghosts; substantial

Until one day

 

someone suggests that it might just

be a story I like and not really

even true any longer or even useful;

and as I nod my assent, they melt away

 

dissolved. Like chocolate, they don’t

even leave a bad taste, they just

slip below the horizon, carried

away in the evening breeze

 

like a dandelion, dead and grey

blown in a thousand directions;

no more resembling the yellow flower

it was, then that resentment

 

resembled the hope from which it had sprung.

 

Sometimes I write poetry, and for better or worse,  I will share some of it on this blog of mine. Til the next move, 

Enjoy your practice
Dorian

We Did It, All By Ourselves!

I had one of those moments the other day in practice, when my arms and legs just seemed to know what they were doing, and they just did it in the most easy and perfect manner.

Daodejing

And it reminded me of  chapter 17 from the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching).

When the master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists……The master doesn’t talk, she acts. When his work is done, the people say, ‘Amazing, we did it, all by ourselves!’”  ( Stephen Mitchell, translator)

The Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) is a guide for both the microcosm and the macrocosm, seeing how it is in heaven and earth, describing principles of governance for political systems, we can see this also applies to human social activity, and even to the activity within each of our own bodies.

Regarding my body’s movement in the taiji form, if I replace ‘master’ with ‘mind’ and ‘people’ with ‘limbs’, this is the feeling I had moving in the form. If the arms and legs could speak, they might’ve said , ”Amazing, we did it, all by ourselves!”

Let the mind reside in dantien

We learn the choreography of the form, so that the deeper taiji lessons can be practiced. One of these deeper lessons involves teaching the heart-mind, the Yi, to govern with less effort, to act and not talk, to reside in stillness, at center. The mind must learn to let the limbs move according to their inherent structure, in accord with the shape and function of the joints, muscles, sinews and tendons of the limbs themselves, without hindrance from the mind’s ideas.

Wu Wei

The mind’s job is to lead without leading; wu wei.  Wu wei refers to the Daoist notion of ‘doing without doing” or “non-action action” Wu wei refers to the state of being in which our actions are effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world. This alignment allows us – without even trying – to respond perfectly to whatever situations arise.

In this case, it is natural for the heart-mind to lead the body, and so it must be the organizing force around which the limbs coordinate.  The mind must hold the shape of the form, but it must back off, and let the body express the form according to the natural tendencies and structures of the body.

At least that is what it felt like for a moment or two.

Til the Next Move, enjoy your practice –

Dorian

The Breath that Cleanses

Peggy La Cerra PhD writes a column in Spirituality & Health Magazine, and I really enjoyed this excerpt from the May-June 2012 issue:

“Although we rarely stop to think about it, we are cleansing and revitalizing ourselves with each and every breath we take. Our bodies are designed to expel an impressive 70 percent of their toxic load via respiration. This cleansing process begins at the cellular level. As our cells convert sugars unto a simple form of usable energy, carbon dioxide is generated as waste. This toxic gas is then absorbed into our bloodstream, transported to our lungs, and released into the atmosphere, when we exhale. Then the plants, with which we share the planet, take in our expelled carbon dioxide and use it to create the energy that fuels their existence. And, fortunately for us, they then release the waste product of this photosynthetic process into the atmosphere – the oxygen that sustains our own existence. “

You remember, it is the science of life we learned in elementary school.

But read on, for she so eloquently illuminates and describes the web of life that this simple lesson reveals:

“In this unparalleled display of the elegance of co-evolutionary design, the plants and animals of the earth are cleansing and nourishing and renewing each other, every moment of their lives – a quintessentially physical phenomenon that displays all the hallmarks we usually ascribe to acts of divine grace and spiritual love.”

I love this reminder that we are always already giving and receiving such nourishment and grace – with every breath we take and give!

So keep breathing, and bring to you what you need.

Til the next move,
Enjoy your practice

Dorian