Taiji Qigong for Better Balance

Its very surprising  how as we all get older our sense of balance seems to go, obviously this can be done to general wear and tear of the body or it could be due to illness or accident. I was once talking to a very elderly student of mine and he mentioned that he had to go and see his doctor for health check up. He told me that the doctor asked him to stand on one leg and to the doctors amazement he could stand for a long while without losing his balance. The doctor then told him that many individuals of his age which his 65 years old would not be able to stand for a few seconds without losing their balance, he then told the doctor that he has been studying the traditional Chinese mind & body exercise of Taiji/Tai Ch Qigong.

Even within my own classes I have seen certain individuals struggle with being able to stand on one leg as part of the Taiji Qigong exercises that I teach only to see them improve their leg strength and confidence to gain better balance after a few weeks of regular practice. Through the practice of Taiji/Tai Chi or Qigong any individual, irrespective of age can develop and strengthen their balance as the exercise it performed slowly in a relaxed manner with gracefully flowing movements that are co-ordinated with deep breathing.

Certain individuals who suffer with Osteoporosis would also benefit from practicing Taiji Qigong not to just strengthen their bone density through the weight bearing actions of Taiji Qigong. But to develop their confidence to gain better balance,as obviously falling over could seriously cause them great damage. In fact there is an illness called “Falls Syndrome” and affects thousands of people who simply fall due to blacking out from high blood pressure, weak legs etc.

Simple Taiji Qigong exercises that each individual can learn and either practice by attending a regular weekly class, or even to practice them at home can greatly benefit  everyone  by increasing their leg strength and joint flexibility, plus help them to become more relaxed and release their anxiety and stress levels and improve their over-Al confidence and  independence to rely on themselves to walk around without any aids.

  

Taiji for Back Pain Relief

Today many individuals suffer with upper and lower back pain, irrespective of how old you are if you do not look after the health of your back it can effect you no matter wether you are young or old. The obvious causes for general back pain are.

1). Poor working conditions sitting at a desk for two many hours. 2). Manual labour the lifting of heavy objects as part of your working conditions. 3). Injury due to an accident, 4). Sporting injury from over training or poor training methods, 5). Old age wear and tear of the back muscles and spine.

Many of the back pain that individuals suffer with can be either chronic or acute and with correct training each individual can help to cure , prevent the back pain or learn how to manage and control the discomfort and still be able to live a active lifestyle. The practice of Taiji/Tai Chi is a well known holistic exercise that  is very beneficial towards treating back pain, it’s movements are performed slowly and smoothly without any jarring movements that can cause the back  or spinal column to tense up. Through its gentle turning of the torso from side to side and slight leaning forwards movements Taiji/Tai Chi gentle stretches both the upper and lower back and causes a traction on the spine to stretch and open its joints. Another aspect to learning Taiji/Tai Chi that can greatly benefit suffers of back pain is the development of correct body alignment, some individuals suffer with back muscle tension which can mis-align their spine making the muscles on one side of the back to fully contract causing one shoulder to be slightly higher than the other. Or it can cause the hip joint to mis-align by the tension in the back muscles pulling it up higher than the other side.

Through the alternating movements of Taiji/Tai Chi which are repeated on both sides of the body, the back muscles are gently stretched allowing the tension within the back muscles to gradually to be released, relaxing the whole back muscles and allowing the body to re-align itself. Obviously this takes time and plenty of practice on behalf of the individual who is suffering with the back pain. But once you have taken up the practice of Taiji/Tai Chi you now have a better understanding and awareness of looking after the health of your back. As the Chinese say “You are as old as your back” and for those who have suffered with severe back pain it can make you feel very depressed, irritable  and old.

  

The Taiji Energetic Pole

No matter wether you study or practice Taiji/ Tai Chi, Qigong, Tui Na Bodywork,  Bagua, Xingyi or any other style of Chinese internal arts of health, healing or martial art they all involve the practice of correct body alignment to maintain and improve the circulation of your own internal energy ( Nei Qi).

Running directly through the centre of our body from the top of our head from the (Bai Hui) Spirits Door energy point (Qi Xue)  down to the (Hui Yin) Meeting Yin energy point which is located between our anus and testicles is an energetic line what we call the ” Taiji Pole”. On this Taiji Pole are found the three elixir energy centres ( Dan Tians) of the upper Dan Tian which is located in the head, the middle Dan Tian located in the chest and the lower Dan Tian located in the abdomen.

Plus the Taiji Pole also has three major energy channels that connect to it which are the Govenor channel ( Du Mai) which travels up the back from the tail bone to the roof of the mouth and is considered a Yang channel. The Conception channel travels from the tip of the tongue down the front of the body to the ( Hui Yin) energy point between the legs is considered a Yin channel. The third and properly the most important energy channel that is also connected to the Taiji Pole is known as the Thrusting channel (Zhong Mai) which travels directly between both the Governor  and Conception channels.

During our practice of Taijiquan, Qigong , Bodywork Massage or Gongfu any misalignment of our posture can greatly affect the smooth flow of internal energy around our body, especially through our Taiji Pole and into our extremities. The maintenance of an upright posture for the cultivation and circulation of energy is vital on many occasions I have come across many individuals who practice either Taijiquan or Qigong and simply over lean their torso forwards or side wards rather than maintaining  a good upright posture, another example is a student will turn their head side to side but will not turn their body from the waist, this can cause tension to develop in the back muscles  

 as the torso is held rigid. It is important to also turn the torso side to side to help stimulate the spinal column and the energy channels to fully activate the energy within the Taiji Pole.

Lishi Wai Qi Sensitivity Exercises

Due to the popularity of Master Chee Soo’s energy work ( Wai Qi) teachings and demonstrations many individuals within the Li family Taijiquan, Daoyin and Dao Yoga classes all practice the many variations of feeling the sensations of their  own energy and their training partners energy when working as a pared practiced. Sadly some times these exercise are introduced to early to beginning students who have had little time to cultivate their own energy and are then expected to feel all the correct sensations that the teacher is telling them what they should be feeling.

I have seen many beginning student get very frustrated that they cannot feel their own energy (qi)  sensation when performing a Wai Qi exercise. I have learnt now not to introduce these types of energy work until each student as been practicing either Taijiquan or Daoyin cultivating exercises for at least a year. After a years study an individual should at least have the beginning sensations of energy movement  like tingling, warmth,fullness or a feeling of heaviness, once a student as these particular sensations (De Qi)  that’s when I introduce students tto the External energy work ( Wai Qi) exercises.

The practice of the external energy work (Wai Qi) exercises are important in judging a students development of strength of mindful intent (Yi) , strength of their own energy (qi) and there body alignment and movement. Everyone can practice cultivating energy, but how can you judge the strength of your energy development after years of Taijiquan or Daoyin practice, hence why we practice the many external energy work exercises. It’s the only way you can judge the strength development of your energy in being able to emitt your energy (Fa Jing) and to also receive, sense energy coming towards you from all directions.

My teacher Master Chee Soo taught both solo practices, plus partner and group exercises as a way to test each individual’s mind, body & energy strength. He would also mention that the essence of all of the Daoist arts that he taught where all about the cultivation, circulation and transformation of energy into spiritual development  ( Shen Gong). 

 

Feng Shou-Gongfu Three Star Principle

The Three Star Principle of Feng Shou-Gongfu is basically based on the Daoist three powers ( San Cai) of Heaven, Human, Earth or Essences (jing), Energy (qi), Spirit ( Shen). It is used in Feng Shou-Gongfu to apply the principle of Attack, Defend and Counter which can be used both defensively or offensively. During the 1970’s my teacher Master Chee Soo used to teach the Three Star Principle ( San Xing Yuan Li) openly, but sadly in the 1980’s decided to stop teaching it. Sadly there are many individuals teaching and practicing Feng Shou-Gongfu who were never taught how to apply all of their fighting techniques together through the practice of the Three Star Principle.

Three Star Principle is the key factor for practitioners of the Feng Shou-Gongfu to combine all of their strikes, kicks, joint locks and throws together in a vast variety of fighting techniques, allowing themselves to fully express their martial art to the full. A highly skilled Feng Shou-Gongfu practitioner uses all parts of his or her body to be used to either defend or attack with, which includes the use of the head, shoulders and hips for example. Because our Gongfu style involves the use of Yin & Yang theory this means that the use of Three Star Principle can be used defensively, absorbing your assailants force of attack then either manipulating his or her balance or simply dodging or evading his or her attack and then counter back forcefully and powerfully. Or you could choose to attack aggressively forcing your assailant to block or defend themselves and you then counter his or her defence with powerful counter attacking fighting techniques.

When I look around at the many individuals teaching and practicing Feng Shou-Gongfu I see many of them adding in techniques from other martial arts like kick boxing and boxing etc. which gives the appearance of their Feng Shou-Gongfu style moving like a kick boxer and not a traditional Chinese internal martial art. This properly is because they were not taught Three Star Principle and hence not fully able to put their fighting techniques of Feng Shou-Gongfu together in an effective way and attain its unique style and appearance of moving. On the other hand there  are those practitioners who demonstrate their Feng Shou-Gongfu in a too much of a relaxed fashion with their arms hanging down by there sides of the body with no thought of fully protecting themselves by keeping their hands up.

The ultimate aim of all practitioners of Feng Shou-Gongfu is to be able to fully apply all of their fighting techniques together, moving effortlessly from one technique to another learning to adapt to any situation that may occur. Without the learning and practicing of Three Star Principle many practitioners will suffer in being able to combine techniques together and develop the Feng Shou-Gongfu unique style and appearance. My teacher Master Chee Soo would always mention ” A reflection in a pool of water never revels its depth” This means to fully understand the depth of knowledge that can be found within the Feng Shou-Gongfu style you need to fully emerge your self in your study and practice by finding a good quality teacher who can teach you the Three Star Principle and teach you how to fully develop your Feng Shou-Gongfu Another favourite saying of Master Chee Soo was ” Do not read a poem to a fencing master” meaning words are useless action speaks the loudest.

Feng Shou-Gongfu is a Chinese internal martial art that offers physical, mental and spiritual development. It is not just simply an alternative to gentle exercise. It is a martial art that stands alongside all of the other Chinese, Japanese, Korean and other martial art styles. I personally believe that since Master Chee Soo stopped teaching the Three Star Principle in Feng Shou-Gongfu a lot of practitioners out there lost or never fully developed their own confidence and skill to totally believe in themselves in using their Feng Shou-Gongfu as a martial art, one thing you deffenetly need to develop in oneself is ” Courage” to stand up for yourself and your Feng Shou-Gongfu  if taught and practiced correctly should develop each individuals confidence to do just that. As the saying goes Do not read a poem to a fencing master. It is the skill you achieve in your actions that talks for you and not words. 

 

Taijiquan “Where the waist turns the eyes follow”

In the practice of Taijiquan/Tai Chi there are many guiding principles that one is taught to help each individual attain a high standard of Taijiquan practice and development. One of these particular sayings is the “Where the waist turns the eyes follow”. In the practice of Taijiquan it is said that the waist guides the energy (qi) into the arms and hands and the eyes follow the hands.

Many individuals who practice Taijiquan tend to keep their head rigid by just looking ahead no matter were the waist or hands move to. This simply stiffens the neck muscles and shoulders causing the individual to feel a constant build of tension and makes the over-Al enjoyment of their Taijiquan practice not  very good. When the waist turns it guides the hands out in the same direction the eyes will then follow the hands which allows the whole of the spinal column to gently twist from either side. This gentle turning of the spine helps to release tension throughout the spinal column and also gently stretches the back muscles improving the feeling of relaxation.

Learning to allow the waist to guide the hands and eyes in the same direction stops the neck muscles and cervical spinal column from stiffening up and causing tension which can hinder the circulation of blood and energy to flow smoothly. A major mistake by many beginners is to simply do what we call ” hand & leg” Taijiquan. This is where the hands and legs are moving at the same time in all directions giving the impression of being clumsy, whereas if you allow the body to move first and let the hands follow giving a much better impression of smoothness, gracefulness and control in your Taijiquan movements. This is only achieved by allowing the waist to guide the hands and eyes, by having your eyes follow the movement of your waist and to watch the hands keeps the mind/ intent (yi) from floating off into a day dream state. As the practice of Taijiquan is both an exercise of developing the physical, mental and spiritual levels of each person. 

 

Master Chee Soo’s  Energy Issuing ( Wai Qi)

Since and before Master Chee Soo’s death many individuals have been fascinated by his many demonstrations of issuing energy ( Wai qi). I myself alongside many others of his many students have participated in Master Chee Soo,s demonstrations and I can  only talk about my own experiences of being involved with these energy issuing exercises, and I can honestly say that on my part I never intentionally helped Master Chee Soo by deliberately being told to move in a certain direction. On the many occasions that I was used to participate in his issuing of energy did he ever tell me what was going to actually happen, sometimes it would be a group demonstration or I would be standing on my own.

On one occasions I was participating on my own and was told to stand in the middle of the hall, while Master Chee Soo went outside opposite  the wall that I was told to face. After a short while I could feel myself being gently pushed backwards, forcing me to take a step backwards. I was then told to re-position myself back into a good aligned posture and again after a few seconds could feel myself being pulled forwards and not backwards. All of this time Master Chee Soo held a stance with his arm raised with his palm pointing directly at me on the opposite side of the wall that I was facing. Just to add more to this particular demonstration some of the students who attended this particular Tai Chi course told me he was actually pointing to them the direction he was going to guide me towards.

The question is how was Master Chee Soo able to cultivate and project such strong external energy. He once told me that I should practice my Tai Chi, Daoyin & Dao Yoga exercises regularly alongside regular meditation practice of no longer than 10 minutes in duration as he believed that any longer and the concentration gets weaker. He felt shorter periods of meditative practice but on a day to day basis was the correct way to develop strong mind intent (Yi) and strong energy (qi) cultivation. During the  many  Tai Chi classes or courses  that he would hold he would always have his students participate in what he would call Daoist Wand exercises, which where basic energy sensitivity exercises, which could be performed by yourself to test your own sensitivity and energy (qi) strength or he would have you partner off and have both of you to take it in turn to receive each other’s energy issuing to judge how strong your own development of energy issuing was becoming. Obviously it was down to how often you practice cultivating your own energy (qi), plus how good your posture was and especially your mental focus (Yi) intent. 

To become successful with these energy issuing exercises (Wai Qi)  all comes down to regular practice of cultivating  and circulating your own internal energy on a day to day basis. Loads of students attempt these energy exercises and get frustrated with them because they cannot feel or do these exercises correctly. This is mainly down to lack of regular practice on their side. Simply practicing your Tai Chi once a week in your local class is no where near to the level of practice that you need to fully strengthen your concentration, posture and energy to achieve success in the energy issuing exercises (Wai Qi) as taught and performed by Master Chee Soo.

 

Qigong for Martial Arts

All traditional Chinese Gongfu styles incorporate some form of Qigong practice into their Gongfu practice. This can be for both health, wellbeing and self defence usage, the way Qigong is practiced for health & wellbeing is different for martial arts. Usually when practicing Qigong the aim is to co-ordinate the breathing and the movements together, this is done slowly so that the mind and body can connect, plus the body and mind can relax which greatly helps in stimulating the blood (xue) and energy (qi) to increase their circulation throughout the whole body, this method of Qigong practice can also involve both passive or vigorous actions that can also stretch the bodies joints, tendons and ligaments releasing muscle tension , joint stiffness and negative energy. This particular type of Qigong practice is often used for the maintenance of health and wellbeing. And is also used in various Gongfu styles to promote strong movement of energy storing and circulation.

As for the practice of Qigong for martial arts then the foundational practice is the same as explained above. It is important that your body has good blood and energy flow into the extremities and that you also concentrate on cultivating and storing your energy. But you must now incorporate  fast, explosive actions that involve the whole body, the legs, torso, arms, breathing and concentration. In Chinese this particular practice is called “Issuing Energy” ( Fajing)  and the aim is to combine both your external strength ( Li) with your internal strength ( qi) to issue a kind of combined strength or force into your hands or feet.

In Feng Shou-Gongfu a Chinese internal martial art when we practice our martial arts qigong practice we firstly perform them slowly. As mentioned above this is to allow the body and mind to relax and to develop accuracy within your whole body movement. Then after a few months of training and once you can sense or feel the energy and blood increase into your extremities you then are taught to move to Issuing energy. This is done mainly on the outward breath and the extremities increase their speed in releasing a great force, this produces a strong sensation of energy movement and must be practiced after several months of practicing the martial qigong slowly.

The development and cultivation of internal energy within various other associations that teach the Feng Shou-Gongfu system is usually down to just practicing one Qigong exercise in a weekly class. This is really inadequate as it will take an individual a very long time to even to begin and feel there energy, never mind be able to produce enough power into their martial art techniques. It is important that more martial qigong exercises are connected together in a form like sequence to give the practitioner of the Feng Shou-Gongfu a method that they can also practice outside of their class training. As it will only improve their ability to produce powerful striking, kicking, wrestling and throwing techniques, plus improve their health and wellbeing.

  

Feng Shou-Gongfu Foot Flow Patterns

All those who have trained under Master Chee Soo himself or under any of his instructors in the Li family martial art of Feng Shou-Gongfu are all familiar with the term ” Foot Flow Patterns” this was Master Chee Soo’s speak for Kicking techniques. Within the Feng Shou-Gongfu as taught by the Late Master Chee Soo the foot flow patterns where and still are taught by a numbering system with over 140 kicking techniques being taught, today some practitioners use less or more of these foot flow patterns.

It still amazes me that after so many years of studying  Feng Shou-Gongfu that certain practitioners teaching and practicing the many foot flow patterns within Feng Shou-Gongfu still do not combine defensive or offensive hand techniques with their foot flow patterns. To this day I still see teachers and students practicing their foot flow patterns with their hands down by the sides of their body, with no thought of defending or adding attacking hand techniques alongside their foot flow patterns.

Above are some LFIAA students practicing the Feng Shou-Gongfu foot flow patterns using both defensive and offensive hand techniques in combination. This is the way that the foot flow patterns should be practiced  with the intent of martial art usage and not just simply exercise. Those who are practicing their foot flow patterns with their hands hanging down by the sides of their body are simply using these many foot flow patterns as an exercise for developing fitness, balance etc. but they are not using them correctly as a martial art. The ultimate aim of learning how to perform kicking techniques is to use them to defend yourself and for these particular kicks to work in harmony with your hand techniques to either flow into wrestling or throwing techniques.
Combining defensive or offensive hand techniques alongside your foot patterns allows the practitioner of Feng Shou-Gongfu to disguise his or her kick giving themselves a greater chance of landing their kicks on their assailant. Plus once you have landed your kick you then immediately follow up with good striking techniques to finish the situation. Learning to add hand techniques alongside the practice of the foot flow patterns also develops the individuals co-ordination and concentration levels.

Qigong for Wellbeing.

One of the most important Chinese Mind & Body Arts to have come out of China is the practice of “Qigong” which translates as Energy Work or Working with yours or some else’s Internal Energy for the purpose of health, healing or wellbeing. Especially now in today’s fast,stressful modern lifestyle where many individuals are suffering with diabetes, obserty, dementia  etc.

Many of today’s ailments that many individuals  suffer with can be easily controlled or managed I think through the regular practice of Qigong. Most people are involved with some kind of western physical exercise like jogging, football, cycling or just simply going along to a local gym to either do weight training or circuit training etc. this is all good for the physical body, but what about the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of each individual. 

Qigong practice takes in the whole holistic aspects of each individual. It gently strengthens each individual physicality by strengthening the tendons, ligaments and muscles of the legs, back and shoulders,plus it stretches and opens the the bodies cavity’s through dynamic stretching of the joints, tendons, ligaments increasing the individuals range of mobility and relaxation. It strengthens the mind through timing of certain actions of the body with the breathing. This in- turn then has a great connection to developing the awareness of the an individuals emotions and being sensitive enough to release pent up sadness, anger, fear or joy and release this excess or deficient negative energy out of the body through the actions of your Qigong practice, bringing the body, mind and emotions back into a better state of equilibrium.

The spirituality aspect of Qigong training comes after many years of study and practice gradually cultivating your energy (qi) and strengthening your concentration allowing your mind to become calm and still. This stillness will then develop your consciousness to a higher level of awareness and sensitivity to the world around you  where you show kindness, humility, benevolence, respect to those around you be they animal, human or plant.

Qigong practice is a wonderful exercise where the young can be energised with greater vitality and the old can feel younger with a more relaxed ,supple body and a sharp mind. As Zhuang Zi the great Daoist philosopher mentions that the men of old would breath from their feet, whereas today many breath from their throats. This was down to regular Qigong practice.