Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Learning Tai Chi Chuan - Semi-Independent Study

The most frequent question I am asked is "Where I live there are no Taijiquan teachers of the the Taijiquan style X that I want to learn.  How do I go about learning Taijiquan Style X?"

You always need to learn Tai Chi by observing someone doing the Taijiquan form you are studying, and listening carefully to their instructions.  Fortunately, in 2015, for most Taijiquan forms, you have from two to ten different choices of very knowledgeable instructors or Masters who teach the Taijiquan form that you are learning by means of good instructional DVDs or videos.  Also, for some popular Taijiquan forms there are excellent books or manuals available for the form you are learning, or very good online webpages on the form.  Sometimes there are VCDs that can be played on a home computer.  Finally, there are some online courses and UTube demonstrations of the form you are learning.  

You are learning the "basics" from a good live teacher and/or a good writer.  All Taijiquan is learned this way.  

My own webpages provide extensive bibliographies of these many learning resources.  I also provide many suggestions and remarks about learning specific forms using DVDs, videos, and books, e.g.,  Standard 24 Taijiquan Form.  

Instructional DVDs come in NTSC and PAL formats, with NTSC format being used on DVD players in the United States.  If you are purchasing your DVD from outside the United States it is most likely in the PAL format and will not work properly on your DVD player.  Caveat Emptor.  

I use a small desktop DVD player.  My Vzon model, playing the NTSC format, has a hand held DVD controller and controls on the machine.  I no longer use instructional VHS videos, because you can't as easily cue as with DVDs. 

You want to purchase a DVD that teaches the Taijiquan form.  You want an instructional DVD, not a demonstration DVD.  Advanced Tai Chi students can sometimes learn from a demonstration DVD, but not without much difficulty.  All Tai Chi learners can benefit from a good instructional DVD that breaks the form down into discrete sections (lessons, blocks) and provides detailed verbal instructions on how to perform the movements in each section.  Sometimes a section is called a "lesson" and might include three or four movements of the form.  The best instructional DVDs feature frequent repetition of a movement, clear voice over narration, the use of different camera angles for showing a movement sequence, sectional performance demonstrations, and complete demonstrations of the form from a front and back view.  It is essential to get the narration in the language you use, because it is very hard to read subtitles and carefully study the the movements visually at the same time.   

Study each DVD lesson carefully, make notes, memorize the names of the movements in that lesson, then immediately practice each lesson until you can perform the movement sequence in the lesson on your own.  Repeat, repeat, repeat!!  Don't move on to the next lesson until you can perform the movements in the lesson you are studying on your own.  Give yourself a little slack and accept being just "satisfactory" at performing each lesson.  Over time you will refine and perfect your performance.   

After learning the first lesson, then proceed in the same manner to learn the second lesson.  Then combine the first and second lesson and practice them together until you can perform them on your own.  Don't move on to lesson three until you can easily and smoothly perform lessons one and two combined.  To "learn" means to me to be able to remember and easily, consistently, and smoothly perform a sequence of movements on your own.  Study Lesson 1, practice and learn Lesson 1; study Lesson 2, practice and learn Lessons 1 + 2; study Lesson 3, practice and learn Lessons 1 + 2 + 3; study Lesson 4, practice and learn Lessons 1 + 2 + 3 +4, etc. 

As with all learning the keys are: daily study, careful study, paying attention, remembering, daily practice, patience, repetition, visualization, verbal cues, making notes, and confidence.  Take your time, don't rush, be patient.  The process of learning might take months. 

Here are some suggestions from Robert Chuckrow: 

"Whereas a form-instruction video is no substitute for a qualified teacher, those who live far from any teacher are still better off learning from a video than if they had no instruction at all. For those who have a teacher, a video can augment and accelerate the learning process. Finally, those who have had prior instruction in internal arts should be able to attain a substantial benefit from a video.

One method of learning a form from a video is to repeatedly do the entire form or blocks of the form along with the video. However, this method is not efficient because there is insufficient opportunity to reinforce each movement. A better way is to refrain from doing movement while watching the video. Rather, it is good to choose a small block of material, watch it a few times. Then, without any major physical action, visualize the sequence of movements as clearly as possible. Next, go back to the beginning of that block of material, and view and visualize it again a few times. Only after clear and complete visualization is achieved should the movements be attempted physically.

At first it will seem extremely difficult to work this way. With persistence, however, it is possible to achieve a level of visualization so intense that the imagined movements are almost as vivid as those seen on a TV screen. The dividends of the process of visualization are twofold: (1) By subduing the physical aspects of movement (e.g., balance, coordination, kinetic sense, timing), you can completely focus the mind on the details of the movement. (2) By cultivating the ability to visualize and mentally encompass complex details, you become increasingly able to observe and learn new movements quickly, especially in situations where it is not feasible to move while observing (e.g., dreams, teacher showing movements while the class watches). Referring to the dimension of self-defense, the more you can observe and mentally encompass the movements of the opponent, the greater the advantage achieved."
- Robert Chuckrow, The Tai Chi Book, YMAA Publication Center, Boston, MA, 1998, pp. 119–120

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sitting Becomes Tiresome

A typical American watches and average of 34 hours of television each week.  A few people don’t watch television and, of course, many people watch television more than 40 hours a week.  Neilsen surveys report that children aged 2-11 watch over 24 hours of TV per week, while adults aged 35-49 watch more than 33 hours a week. The average American watches more than five hours of television every day. Once we pass 65, the typical person watches more than seven hours a day.


Sitting and watching television for seven hours each day?? ... how tiresome.  And, sitting for long periods is very bad for your health.  Even more, most television programs and their incessant commercials are, for me, just boring, repetitious, and tiresome. 

So, a secret revealed:  You will get, on the average, 21 hours of “free” time every week by not sitting and watching more than 2 hours of television each day.  Even better, turn off your television for a month and you will get 136 hours of free time in that month.  And, another benefit is that by not sitting you will improve your health. 

"A monk asked Hsiang Lin, "What is the meaning of the Patriarch's coming from the West?"
Hsiang Lin said, "Sitting for a long time becomes tiresome."

-  The Blue Cliff Record, Case 17, Translated by Thomas Cleary and J. C. Cleary, 2005, p 110

Standing Meditation

Walking Meditation


Taijiquan Moving Meditation

Monday, March 23, 2015

Actualizing Emptiness in Standing Postures

"Great emphasis is paid by some practitioners in achieving Wuji (or obtaining emptiness or the void) at the beginning and/or end of any Taijiquan practice session.  Since Wuji means to embrace a limitless form of emptiness, some try to literally achieve an empty state and ignore their predisposition and position before they embark on practicing the Taijiquan form.  As such, this may be difficult for some who don't get the leap to nothingness, and cannot relax their breath or slow down their pulse enough to begin such contemplation.  Therefore, seeking equality throughout the practitioner's standing structure is one approach to achieving an "empty state." 
    At the onset, stand straight from the top of the head through the perineum point, with the feet parallel and separated one shoulder's width.  Suspend the top of the head, as if by a string.  Let the hands hand down at the sides.  Stand still and quiet.  The legs are straight but the knees are slightly bent, and an equal amount of weight is placed on both feet.  Let the chest be full, but relaxed, and allow the upper back to lift, but do no raise the shoulders or tighten the neck.  Release the tailbone, and sink the pubic region.  Center the tailbone under the length of the spine and relax in order to straighten, forming one vertical reference line from top to bottom.
    Look out and down on a 45 degree angle towards the earth, about 10 meters (approximately 30 feet) in front of you, and tuck the chin slightly.  As you stand, release any tension or stress, but remain erect.  As you stand quietly, balance the energies in you body without over exertion of thought.  Start by balancing left and right on both sides of the brain and what you hear in either ear, see in both eyes, and the quality of breath in the nostrils.  Relax the shoulders and balance their tensions.  Relax the ribs, elbows and hips and the stress in either side.  Carry this attenion all the way down through the soles of the feet, and in effect, "empty" while balancing the lateral aspects of the organism.  Taiji is finding substantiality within insubstantially (and vice-a-versa), while Wuji is emptying through actualizing equality, and, as much as one can accept (or let go of), dispelling any differentiation whatsoever.  If the practitioner wishes to be thorough, this process is then repeated through the ventral and dorsal, superior and inferior, and inner and outer aspects of the practitioner's standing structure. 
    Once the practitioner has counterbalanced all aspect of their organism, emptiness can be actualized.  Because there's less (or no) differentiation, there is nothing for the practitioner to hold onto.  The mind does not have to engage in any activity, because the practitioner has processed going though and releasing all that was pent up, all that was asymmetrical, and as such, the mind has nothing to grabble with─even minutely─and, therefore, the practitioner can let go and give way to emptiness."
Up and Down Hands": The Alpha and Omega of Taijiquan Practice.  By Gerald A. Sharp.  Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health and Fitness, Volume 25, No. 1, Spring, 2015, pp. 18-24. 

Standing Meditation: Lessons, Guide, Bibliography, Quotations, and Research.  By Michael P. Garofalo.  Information about Wuji, Tadasana, Zhan Zhuang (Stance Keeping, Standing Post), San Ti Shi,  Embrace the One, Open Hands and Close Hands, Hold the Magic Pearl, Yi Quan, Hugging the Tree, Bear Posture, Empty State, and other Standing Meditation Postures.  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Lao Jia Yi Lu Taijiquan

Chen Style Taijiquan, Old Frame First Form, Lao Jia Yi Lu
By Michael P. Garofalo.  

This webpage includes a detailed bibliography of books, media, and articles.  Extensive selection of Internet links. 
List of movement names in English, Chinese characters, Chinese Pinyin, French, German, and Spanish; and citations for sources of the movement names. 
Detailed list of DVDs and videos available online.

Extensive notes on the author's learning the Old Frame, First Routine, Lao Jia Yi Lu; and on learning Chen Style Taijiquan. 
Record of performance times of this form by many masters. 
Breakdown by sections of the form, with separate lists for each section.  General information, history, facts, information, pointers, and quotations.  

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Dao De Jing, Laozi, Chapter 20

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
Chapter 20

"Give up learning, and put an end to your troubles.
Is there a difference between yes and no?
Is there a difference between good and evil?
Must I fear what others fear? What nonsense!
Other people are contented, enjoying the sacrificial feast of the ox.
In spring some go to the park, and climb the terrace,
But I alone am drifting, not knowing where I am.
Like a newborn babe before it learns to smile,
I am alone, without a place to go.
Others have more than they need, but I alone have nothing.
I am a fool. Oh, yes! I am confused.
Others are clear and bright,
But I alone am dim and weak.
Others are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.
Oh, I drift like the waves of the sea,
Without direction, like the restless wind.
Everyone else is busy,
But I alone am aimless and depressed.
I am different.
I am nourished by the great mother."
-  Translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English, 1989, Chapter 20  

"Get rid of "learning" and there will be no anxiety.
How much difference is there between "yes" and "no"?
How far removed from each other are "good" and "evil"?
Yet what the people are in awe of cannot be disregarded.
I am scattered, never having been in a comfortable center.
All the people enjoy themselves, as if they are at the festival of the great sacrifice,
Or climbing the Spring Platform.
I alone remain, not yet having shown myself.
Like an infant who has not yet laughed.
Weary, like one despairing of no home to return to.
All the people enjoy extra
While I have left everything behind.
I am ignorant of the minds of others.
So dull!
While average people are clear and bright, I alone am obscure.
Average people know everything.
To me alone all seems covered.
So flat!
Like the ocean.
Blowing around!
It seems there is no place to rest.
Everybody has a goal in mind.
I alone am as ignorant as a bumpkin.
I alone differ from people.
I enjoy being nourished by the mother."
-  Translated by Charles Muller, 1891, Chapter 20  

"Cease learning, no more worries
Respectful response and scornful response
How much is the difference?
Goodness and evil
How much do they differ?
What the people fear, I cannot be unafraid
So desolate! How limitless it is!
The people are excited
As if enjoying a great feast
As if climbing up to the terrace in spring
I alone am quiet and uninvolved
Like an infant not yet smiling
So weary, like having no place to return
The people all have surplus
While I alone seem lacking
I have the heart of a fool indeed so ignorant!
Ordinary people are bright
I alone am muddled
Ordinary people are scrutinizing
I alone am obtuse
Such tranquility, like the ocean
Such high wind, as if without limits
The people all have goals
And I alone am stubborn and lowly
I alone am different from them
And value the nourishing mother"
-  Translated by Derek Linn, 2006, Chapter 20 

唯之與阿, 相去幾何.
善之與惡, 相去若何.
人之所畏, 不可不畏.
我獨怕兮其未兆, 如嬰兒之未孩.
衆人皆有餘, 而我獨若遺.
我愚人之心也哉, 沌沌兮.
-  Chinese characters, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 20

wei chih yü a, hsiang ch'ü chi ho.
 shan chih yü wu, hsiang ch'ü jo ho.
 jên chih so wei, pu k'o pu wei.
 huang hsi ch'i wei yang tsai.
 chung jên hsi hsi.
 ju hsiang ta lao.
 ju ch'un têng t'ai.
 wo tu p'o hsi ch'i wei chao, ju ying erh chih wei hai.
 lei lei hsi jo wu so kuei.
 chung jên chieh yu yü, erh wo tu jo yi.
 wo yü jên chih hsin yeh tsai, t'un t'un hsi.
 su jên chao chao.
 wo tu hun.
 hun su jên ch'a ch'a.
 wo tu mên mên.
 tan hsi ch'i jo hai.
 liu hsi jo wu chih.
 chung jên chieh yu yi.
 erh wo tu wan ssu pi.
 wo tu yi yü jên, erh kuei shih mu.
 -  Wade-Giles Romanization, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 20  

"Leave off fine learning! End the nuisance
Of saying yes to this and perhaps to that,
Distinctions with how little difference!
Categorical this, categorical that,
What slightest use are they!
If one man leads, another must follow,
How silly that is and how false!
Yet conventional men lead an easy life
With all their days feast days,
A constant spring visit to the Tall Tower,
While I am a simpleton, a do-nothing,
Not big enough yet to raise a hand,
Not grown enough to smile,
A homeless, worthless waif.
Men of the world have a surplus of goods,
While I am left out, owning nothing.
What a booby I must be
Not to know my way round,
What a fool!
The average man is so crisp and so confident
That I ought to be miserable
Going on and on like the sea,
Drifting nowhere.
All these people are making their mark in the world,
While I, pig-headed, awkward,
Different from the rest,
Am only a glorious infant still nursing at the breast."
-  Translated by Witter Bynner, 1944, Chapter 20 

"Renounce knowledge and your problems will end.
What is the difference between yes and no?
What is the difference between good and evil?
Must you fear what others fear?
Nonsense, look how far you have missed the mark!

Other people are joyous,
as though they were at a spring festival.
I alone am unconcerned and expressionless,
like an infant before it has learned to smile.

Other people have more than they need;
I alone seem to possess nothing.
I am lost and drift about with no place to go.
I am like a fool, my mind is in chaos.

Ordinary people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Ordinary people are clever;
I alone am dull.
Ordinary people seem discriminating;
I alone am muddled and confused.
I drift on the waves on the ocean,
blown at the mercy of the wind.
Other people have their goals,
I alone am dull and uncouth.

I am different from ordinary people.
I nurse from the Great Mother's breasts."
-  Translated by John H. McDonald, 1996, Chapter 20 

"Suprime el adoctrinamiento y no habrá preocupaciones.
¿Qué diferencia hay entre el sí y el no?
¿Qué diferencia hay entre el bien y el mal?
¡El dicho “lo que otros evitan, yo también deberé evitar”
cuán falso y superficial es!
No es posible abarcar todo el saber.
Todo el mundo se distrae y disfruta,
como cuando se presencia un gran sacrificio,
o como cuando se sube a los jardines de una torre en primavera.
Sólo yo doy cabida a la duda,
no copiando lo que otros hacen,
como un recién nacido que aún no sabe sonreír.
Como quien no sabe a dónde dirigirse,
como quien no tiene hogar.
Todo el mundo vive en la abundancia,
sólo yo parezco desprovisto.
Consideran mi mente como la de un loco
por sentir umbrías confusiones y críticas.
Todo el mundo brilla porque solo las luces buscan,
sólo yo me atrevo a transitar por las tinieblas.
Todo el mundo se conforma con su felicidad,
sólo yo me adentro en mi depresión.
Soy como quien deriva en alta mar,
voy contra la corriente sin un rumbo predestinado.
Todo el mundo es puesto en algún uso;
sólo yo soy un ermitaño intratable y aburrido.
Sólo yo soy diferente a todos los demás
porque aprecio a la Madre Naturaleza que me nutre."
-  Translation from Wikisource, 2013, Capitulo 20  

"Give up learning, and you will be free from all your worries.
What is the difference between yes and no about which the rhetoricians have so much to say?
What is the difference between good and evil on which the critics never agree?
These are futilities that prevent the mind from being free.
Now freedom of mind is necessary to enter into relation with the Principle.
Without doubt, among the things which common people fear, there are things that should be feared; but not as they do, with a mind so troubled that they lose their mental equilibrium.
Neither should one permit oneself to lose equilibrium through pleasure, as happens to those who have a good meal or view the surrounding countryside in spring from the top of a tower with the accompaniment of wine, etc.).
I, the Sage, seem to be colourless and undefined; neutral as a new-born child that has not yet experienced any emotion; without design or aim.
The common people abound in varied knowledge, but I am poor having rid myself of all uselessness and seem ignorant, so much have I purified myself.
They seem full of light, I seem dull.
They seek and scrutinize, I remain concentrated in myself.
Indeterminate, like the immensity of the oceans, I float without stopping.
They are full of talent, whereas I seem limited and uncultured.
I differ thus from the common people, because I venerate and imitate the universal nourishing mother, the Principle."
-  Translated by Derek Bryce, 1999, Chapter 20 

Chapter and Thematic Index (Concordance) to the Tao Te Ching

Taoism: A Selected Reading List

A typical webpage created by Mike Garofalo for each one of the 81 Chapters of the Tao Te Ching (Daodejing) by Lao Tzu (Laozi) includes 20 different translations or interpolations of each Chapter in English, 3 Spanish translations for each Chapter, the Chinese characters for each Chapter, and a Wade-Giles and Hanyu Pinyin Romanization of the Mandarin Chinese words for each Chapter; indexing by key words and terms for each Chapter in English, Spanish, and the Wade-Giles Romanization; recommended reading in books and websites, a detailed bibliography, some commentary, research leads, translation sources, and other resources for each Chapter. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Vernal Equinox Celebration

Spring Equinox Celebration, March 20, 2015

Karen is headed up today to visit a sacred location at a campground by the McCloud River, in the Shasta Lake area.  She is going with four members of her Reiki Group - a Metaphysical Club with New Age and Neo-pagan roots.  

"Oh, what a catastrophe for man when he cut himself off from the rhythm of the year, from his unison with the sun and the earth.  Oh, what a catastrophic ...  This is what is the matter with us.  We are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and starts ...  We plucked it from its stem on the Tree of Life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table."
-  D. H. Lawrence 

March: Poetry, Quotes, Sayings

The Green Man: Myths, Legends, Lore

Seasons and Months

One Old Druid's Final Journey



Quinquatria, Roman Festival in honor of Minerva, March 19 - March 23.  Minerva is the Roman Goddess, and the Greek Goddess with similar attributes is Athena, Patron of Athens.  This ancient Goddess is associated with civilization, wisdom, strength, strategy, poetry, weaving, magic, music, crafts, justice, and skills.  Her totem is the owl.  She is a virgin goddess, Pallas Athena, where she is one of three virgin goddesses along with Artemis and Hestia, known by the Romans as Diana and Vesta.  Minerva/Athna is featured on the great seal of the State of California.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Sqawk of the Jay Opened My Mind's Eye

"The smell of the sea hugged the fog in the redwood trees,
All cool and dank, dimly lit and rank with green,
And in shadowed limbs the Stellar jays jabbered free,
And me, standing silently, an alien in this enchanted scene.

From behind the mossy grey stumps
the sounds of footsteps crunching fronds of ferns
caught my suddenly wary mind ...

"Hello, old friend," said Chang San Feng.
"Master Chang, what a surprise," said I.
Master Chang sat on a stump, smiled, and said,

"Can you hear the Blue Dragon singing in the decaying tree;
Or is it the White Tiger roaring in the wilderness of your bright white skull?
No matter!  The answer is in the questioning; don't you Chan men see?

In the red ball flesh of this decaying tree
Sapless woody shards of centuries of seasons
Nourish the new roots of mindfulness sprouting. 
Yes, Yes, but how can it be?
The up-surging waves of life sprout forth from the decaying tree,
As sure as sunrise rolling over the deep black sea. 
Coming, coming, endlessly coming; waves of Chi

Tan Qian's raven roosts for 10,000 moons
     in the withered branches of the rotting tree;
     then, one day, the weathered tree falls,
     nobody hearing, soundlessly crashing
     on the forest floor, on some unknown noon. 

Over and over, over and over, life bringing death, death bringing life,
Beyond even the miraculous memories of an old Xian like me;
Watching, watching, sequestered from the strife,
Turning my soul away sometimes because I cannot bear to see. 

Even minds may die, but Mind is always free
Bounding beyond, beyond, far beyond you and me;
Somehow finding the Possibility Keys
And unlocking the Door out of the Voids of Eternities."

Master Chang somehow, someway,
slowly disappeared into the red brown heart of the decaying tree.

Then the squawk of the jay
opened my mind's eye to the new day -

-  Michael P. Garofalo
   Meetings with Master Chang San Feng   
   Remembering Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Naked Against the Sky

"Have you ever noticed a tree standing naked against the sky,
How beautiful it is?
All its branches are outlined, and in its nakedness
There is a poem, there is a song.
Every leaf is gone and it is waiting for the spring.
When the spring comes, it again fills the tree with
The music of many leaves,
Which in due season fall and are blown away.
And this is the way of life."
-   Krishnamurti

Trees: Quotes, Poems, Sayings, Lore

"Larger and finer meanings are read into the older legends of the plants, and the universality of certain myths is expressed in the concurrence of ideas in the  beginnings of the great religions.   One of the first figures in the leading cosmologies is a tree of life guarded by a serpent.  In the Judaic faith this was the tree in the garden of Eden; the Scandinavians made it an ash, Ygdrasil;  Christians usually specify the tree as an apple, Hindus as a soma, Persians as a homa, Cambodians as a talok; this early tree is the vine of Bacchus, the snake-entwined caduceus of Mercury, the twining creeper of the Eddas, the bohidruma of Buddha, the fig of Isaiah, the tree of Aesculapius with the serpent around his trunk." 
-   Charles M. Skinner, Myths and Legends of Flowers, Trees, Fruits and Plants, 1911    

"Because they are primeval, because they outlive us, because they are fixed, trees seem to emanate a sense of permanence.  And though rooted in earth, they seem to touch the sky.  For these reasons it is natural to feel we might learn wisdom from them, to haunt about them with the idea that if we could only read their silent riddle rightly we should learn some secret vital to our own lives; or even, more specifically, some secret vital to our real, our lasting and spiritual existence."
-  Kim Taplin,  Tongues in Trees, 1989, p. 14.     

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Singing for St. Patrick's Day

A auditorium full of middle school students in Ireland help bring out the "Irish" in all of us.  Teamwork epitomized!  Smiles and Joy!  A "Cup Song" (Amhran na gCupan) in Irish or Gaelic or Gaeilge: