Learning and teaching taiji
It is been a while since I wrote my latest post. I have spent my time concentrating on my own practice – and my students. During the last year I have had more and more students coming from outside Denmark to visit for a couple of days or more, to learn. Most of them are already signed up on exploring taiji – which speeds up the learning process quite a bit. Some of them are long time taiji practitioners, some of them just started out recently. Others again are from other martial arts lineages but have a wish to start learning or understanding the internal principles. Everything is fine – everyone is welcome, as long as the focus are on learning.
As you might have experienced in my online teaching program, I start out with focusing on letting go and building a strong connection to the ground – physically as well as mentally. Later I incorporate this strong connection and focus more on lightness and the horizontal approach. As for the learning approach, it is actually the other way around – starting out with a more “horizontal” approach – and with more experience going more “vertical” – digging deeper.
In this blogpost I will write a bit about the learning process, a bit about honesty and authenticity, a few more hints to standing meditation, and I will include a bit about my very recent meeting with a teacher from Taipei. I will finish off with a bit about the possibility to book Skype meetings or email consultation and info about next year´s Summercamp as well as the likelihood that I will do workshops in Germany and England next year.
The horizontal and vertical circle in relation to learning
With exploring taiji you start out by being presented to the vertical circle (and I use the system of Master Huang Xiangxian to that) to create a good and solid connection to the ground.
In relation to your development, the horizontal circle describes the phase where there is an interest in learning as many Forms and drills as possible. The vertical circle describes the point where you dig deeper into what you have already learned, experiment, analyze and try to develop even further. It is a challenging phase, since you really have to be focused when you practice – or as Sam Tam puts it, “Don´t repeat – redo! Way too many people still believe that it is the amount of time, the repetitions that you do – which makes the difference. It is not.
Yes, when you learn some new movements you have to get the skeleton, the framework first, but after that, it is what is going on inside your body and mind that is important. Total awareness is the key.
When did you last time do let´s say a whole Taijiform with full awareness without any disturbing thoughts? Try it out next time you practice, and I am sure you will get surprised. Both Master Huang and Master Sam Tam have said, once you know the Form, the first section is enough. And both of them have added that actually half of the first section is enough. It is not the number of Forms you do or the repetitions of it – it´s what´s going on inside and in your mind. You want the Form to come alive and you want to become capable of applying the movements in the Form – otherwise it is just choreography. Which is fine if that’s what you aim for. If you aim for doing Taiji then it´s not enough.
Just like with the standing meditation – the Forms are there to serve YOU – not the other way around.
Honesty and authenticity
I know some of you know that quite a few “well known teachers” come and learn from me “secretly” and/or use me as a stepping stone to get the chance to learn from Sam Tam directly. That´s fine with me. I knew it even before I met them from their mails or phone calls. It is very often the same individuals that later post on social medias or when they give talks while running seminars, things I told them. Like one of the sentences that I have said again and again: “Don´t take something that you don´t understand and bring it down to your current level of understanding. It is the surest way NOT to learn something new. Accept you don´t understand it for now. It is ok to feel a bit insecure. Open up for the learning process. Learning is accepting”. Take a look at the social media – you know who I mean.
Or – they tell stories like my personal experiences with Sam Tam when I first met him, and he gave clear and convincing demonstrations in his home, where we both did standing meditation on his thick carpet and him basically not leaving footprints where mine was deep – and he did the same demonstration the day after on the beach, leaving close to no footprints in the sand.
It is my stories – my experiences – but I told them openly to others, who later made them to theirs … It´s ok – it is just human nature for some. Or stories from my many trips to Taiwan, learning from different teachers there, once again taking ownership on my personal experiences.
Does it really matter? No. I am not here to break anybody´s ricebowl. I am happy they somehow got something out of the stories.
What does concern me though is – that I really want to help people develop in Taiji. Therefore I teach completely open. To get the most out of my teaching, you have to let go of your own assumptions and leave the ego in the garage, or even better – throw it out.
When students come, I allow everybody to “touch” me. When I do partnerwork with people, I only do myself what I am teaching them. I don´t teach them one thing – and do something else I didn´t teach them yet, just to show them “how good” I am. I know my level, I have no need to prove myself. When I teach I want to transmit – and I also put myself in vulnerable situations while doing so. I want the STUDENT to succeed. When I practice myself it´s another focus. But when I teach – I teach. There are no in betweens.
A student who came recently for some days to study, told me, how in his former system that whenever he asked a question the answer would be: “You must follow the authentic method”.
What a stupid answer! How will that help the student progress? And since nothing was added in that kind of answer – what is the authentic method? Anyway – be open and receptive when you learn. Don´t compare to something that you already “know” in the learning process. If you do so – then you are not learning. You can analyze and compare way later!
Respect the teaching and the teacher. And even more important – as a teacher, respect the student! Be honest, teach openly and help the student to develop.
This is one of many reasons I created Exploring Taiji. I don´t see myself as anything special or that I am the only one who has something to offer, or are the “special” student of my teachers, or that I am the beholder of the Holy Grail, etc. I am a teacher – that´s it. And I do my best when I teach. And I have some experience and have had quite a few detours in my own learning process, which is why I have created Exploring Taiji the way I have. To help you develop the fastest and most direct route according to my understanding by now.
No matter where you are in the program, you have been introduced to standing meditation. If you are in the beginning of the program the focus is more on the vertical circle – being connected to the ground, working with melting sensations, become aware of deeper layers of tensions and dissolving them, the three levels in the body – base (up to the hip joint and pelvis, the body (torso), and shoulder girdle including the arms, hands and fingers. Being capable of separating the three levels in let´s say the flying exercise and/or up and down movement and integrating the whole body in movement (the Form) and maybe even experiences of just how fluid your body is. That muscles work in chains once you start moving and maybe even a feeling of the small stretches that takes place in different parts of the body – both when you move, but also when you practice your standing if the visualization of melting has taken place.
We start out with switching off the superficial part of the mind and have a greater awareness of ourselves and our bodies. We learn to “separate the flesh from the bones” – just like if you pulled up an overcooked chicken from a pot and all the meat was still in the pot while you only had the skeleton in your hands.
All these things and more are important phases you have to go through to reach the next stages in your practice. How long they take – is up to you, literally. It depends on your body awareness, your tensions, your posture (which is why I address working on getting a more beneficial posture right from the beginning in the program), your mental state, your breathing, how you live your daily life to mention a few. For some it takes some months with daily focus and practice – for other´s years. But don´t worry, you are a work in progress no matter how long it takes.
Later in the program we start to focus on the horizontal circle – both in the Form and in the standing, becoming full, expand, a balloon feeling, becoming even, light, etc. But I will inject a little warning here: If you don´t go through all the previous phases first, then you will most likely end up building tension upon tension. I suggest that you now and then re-read the blogpost about standing meditation. Like I have said and written many times before – there is a reason I have build the program the way I have. Here we could talk about the importance of “following the method” – maybe even “authentic” – at least my authentic teaching method. Think about the following sentence one more time:
“The standing is there to serve you – you are not here to serve the standing”
Just like we shouldn´t repeat but redo instead, how about you re-think and re-experience your approach to the way you do your Standing Meditation. Are you really letting go? Are you really connected? Do you experience your Standing as effortless?
Maybe you remember that I once wrote that when I first started learning from Sam Tam, I began too fast to quote his quotations without really having the essence of them under my skin yet. The above one was one of them. I loved to tell others that they should aim for the essence of that quote, where I was doing the exact opposite myself: If I was told that I should stand for let´s say 20 min, I went for 40. If I was told it was ok now and then to go a bit lower in my positions – I did it every day. I was greedy, and I was stubborn, and in some way also both ignorant and arrogant (“I know best” kind of guy). I will tell you a little story:
Some years ago when I once again was in Sam Tam´s house for a period of private tuition, I asked him one morning if he could check on my standing. He agreed. So during the morning session I put myself in a standing position, while Sam Tam was reading something on his computer with his back to me. A couple of days before, I had asked him my usual question – how long should I stand during a day. He had answered me the same way he had at that point done for some years, “don´t stand more than 20 minutes at a time, but if you have room for it in your daily life, you can do it 2-3 times a day”.
After I had standed for about 15 minutes, I started to get a bit annoyed that he didn´t get up and correct me. Not an unusual situation though. Many times over the years when he taught me some new things – for instance the stickform or the swordform, he would only show me the movements twice, and often with his back to me, and then tell me to “do it”. In the beginning I said, “do what”, since it didn´t make sense to me that he didn´t do the movements more times, slowly, explaining, maybe do it together with me, etc.
His answer to this was: “I am not here to spoonfeed you. You learn movements fairly fast and your intelligence is above average, so you have to work harder. On top of that he could go on for half an hour telling me how our western teaching style was hopeless (where I would have preferred that he spent the time doing the movements with me instead). That we expected to be taught from A-B-C, etc., where he was showing the full picture and thereby teaching more holistic. And if he spoonfed me I wouldn´t be capable of remembering the movements once I was back in DK.
As you can see, it wasn´t new for me being taught more traditional. Anyway – back to the standing. When half an hour had passed I changed from being annoyed to thinking and decide, that no matter what happened, I would stand there until he corrected me. One hour went. 1 hour and 15 minutes went. At 1 hour and 18 minutes he got up from his chair, went to me, pulled down my arms and threw me against his mattress on the wall a couple of times and said: “Let´s go for lunch”.
Late in the evening that day where we normally sit down and talk in between he is throwing me toward his mattress, he all of sudden said to me: “ I had the feeling that you somehow felt a little uncomfortable earlier this morning while you were doing your standing”. I said to him that I didn´t understand why he so often had said to me that I shouldn´t stand for more than 20 minutes at a time, and he had let me stand there for 1 hour and 18 minutes without correcting me. His answer was: “It´s because you are stupid and stubborn. How many times did I tell you not to stand for more than 20 minutes? And how many times did I tell you your standing was ok?
Well a bit of a different teaching style than the western, but I got the point.
So I want you to ask yourself the question once more: Are your standing serving you, or have you become a slave of it, rigid in your approach? Think about it! During the exploring taiji programme I re-visit standing meditation many times. Bringing in new perspectives, new approaches, new things to explore.
Nowadays when I stand I have more “focus” on setting the body and mind free, opening up, expanding to the surroundings, having left the introvert stage of mind and becoming more and more aware of what surrounds me, being “out of my mind” so to speak and more. And that leads me to the last piece of this post, where I will tell you a little bit about my “accidentally” meeting with a teacher from Taipei who visited Denmark recently.
“Accidentally” meeting a teacher from Taiwan:
As you know I have been traveling to Taiwan many times to train with different teachers there. Both in the system of Master Huang, but also in other systems as well as previously a bit in Baqua. Last time I was in Taiwan was April this year. Once back in Denmark teaching again, one of the new private students was an Aikido guy who was referred to me – by a teacher in Taiwan. Off course I thought that it was one of the teachers from Taiwan that I already knew. It wasn´t.
The person in Taiwan had read an article written by me about grounding, and had said to the Danish guy, it was the best he had read in English on the topic.
I didn´t know the Taiwanese guy but my curiosity was turned on. To make a long story short, the Danish guy was to conduct a workshop with the Taiwanese guy in DK this September and I decided to participate two of the four days the workshop took place (I had students myself coming over from England the first two days and therefore I couldn´t participate there).
The two days I did participate, we were only 4 people the first day, and 3 people the next day, so I had a lot of hours with “hands on” experience. The guy was – and is – skillful. Really skillful! Due to problems with his visa he ended up being stranded in DK for another week, and I ended up training with him for the whole period and arranged a 4-hour mini workshop for some of my senior students. It turned out that the Taiwanese guy knows my teachers in Taiwan and that his own life story in martial arts in many ways are quite similar to Sam Tam´s. He has been raised in a martial arts family and trained since the age of 4, and a lot of the “big” Sifu´s (many of them have passed away by now), used to come in his father´s house and train or exchange ideas. After having spent many decades training martial arts – being a feared and respected martial artist, he decided that it wasn´t really what life was about, being feared and/or beating people up. He therefore decided to train one more year, and if he didn´t find a GOOD reason to continue – he would quit. (Quite similar to what Sam Tam did, when he withdrew from public and decided to find a new path to follow, which was when his tremendous yielding capacity developed).
The Taiwanese guy DID find a reason and a new path to travel down and changed his whole approach and teaching. And his skill took a giant leap. His yielding is very, very good! He has a lot of power, and his qinna´s are soft, irresistible and convincing. Just like it is the case with Sam Tam, he also is in a league of his own. He uses different words and explanations in his teaching method than Sam Tam does, which in a way is fine, because it supplements very well and give a different perspective – to the same. He does also include eastern philosophy in his teaching (he is a very intelligent guy and well read), which my students liked.
It is strange that I have gone to Taiwan for so many times, have had the great fortune to learn from some highly skillful teachers there which I am grateful of, and at the same time never ran into this guy. And the other way around, that he reads an article from me and recommend a Danish student of him to go see me. And then by “accident”, he ends up being stranded in DK for a period, which creates the possibility for him and I to meet – and connect. You know the different saying like “when the student is ready the teacher come along”, and there are also a few ones the other way around. I feel quite sure that this is the beginning to a longer relationship. And his teaching and approach go so well hand in hand with Sam Tam´s teaching and some of the teaching I have received from other teachers. He will be visiting DK again February/March 2019. But first I am going to Sam Tam once again in a bit more than a month.
As some of you know I gave a more than two-hour interview on Taiji and Internal Martial arts some months ago. I first released the interview in minor blocks, focusing on specific topic in each block, and now the full interview is released. When we did the interview´s I wanted it to be so “authentic” as possible, so I didn´t know the questions beforehand, and we did it all in one take. That´s the way I like it, and that is also the way I filmed the different lessons on Exploring Taiji. I got a lot of nice feedback on the interviews – and that I am thankful of. It always makes me happy when somebody finds a little value in what I do.
You can watch the full interview here.
Skype meetings and mail correspondance:
As more and more people have signed up for Exploring Taiji, of course questions arise as people progress. Some people have written me a few questions – some a lot. I love to be at service in any way I can, but it is also quite time consuming for me. And my working days very often get very long, since I also have to make a living besides free email support. I thought for a while how to adjust to that since it is still my main concern to teach open and affordable. I came to the conclusion that offering the option to either book an email consultation or Skype meeting (more people already do that), is a fair way to do it for all. It is still ok to write me a minor question now and then, but if you have more on your heart, please choose one of the other options. It is quite affordable for people who have signed up to Exploring Taiji.
The last 3 years I ran my very intensive Summer Camp here in DK in my house and garden. It was my intention to do it in Greece in 2019, but I will do it once again in DK. It is a very intensive course, with 8 hours teaching (from me) for 8 days. Just like the other years, it will be possible to sign up for the full camp, only the weekend(s), only one, two or three days. It will probably be in the beginning of July like the former years – but it might also be that I change it to August due to traveling plans.
I will release the dates around Christmas time and will at the same time open the doors for early bird registration.
Workshops abroad and private Tuition in DK:
2019 will also be the year where I start doing workshops again outside DK. I have talked to interested people in Germany, Holland and England, but haven´t decided yet. If you think it could be something for you to organize – please feel free to contact me.
In 2018 I have had students coming to Denmark for 2 – 4 days for private tuition. Either one person only, or 2 or 3 people together. I will keep on doing that and you are more than welcome to ask me when it is possible to book sessions. And for the people who are already signed up on Exploring Taiji, I do it cheaper. It speeds up the learning process which is beneficial for everybody.