Figure Eight Exercise

This diagram shows the sweeping actions the child goes through in practising the exercise. Standing with the feet twenty or more inches apart and the head and trunk slightly inclined, the hands are clasped and extended forward, and then by a long side to side sweeping movement they are made to describe the figure 8. The entire upper portion of the trunk is moved in conjunction with the hands, the weight alternately shifting from one foot to the other, and the work of bending, straightening, and twisting the trunk accomplished as nearly as possible by the muscles surrounding the abdomen. In practising this exercise one should avoid strain. Ten sweeping motions is sufficient exercise if practised regularly every day.

From Nutrition and Health, The Borden Company, 1924, page 46.

Wholly absorbed into my own conduits to
an inner nature or subterranean lake
the depths or bounds of which I more and more
explore and know more
of, in that sense that other than that all else
closes out and I tend further to fall into
the Beloved Lake and I am blinder from

spending time as insistently in and on
this personal preserve from which
what I do do emerges more well-known than
other ways and other outside places which
don’t give as much and distract me from

keeping my attentions as clear

Charles Olson, "Additions", March 1968—2



Fortuitously, Silliman's Blog was all about relaxation yesterday. He defined it:
relaxation - by which I mean, finally, that sense of giving the poem its head, letting it determine where it needs to go, rather than fixing it on any idea prior to (or otherwise outside) the writing
He's hit the nail on the head, I think, a measure of his intelligence & sensitivity - as Olson said "the poet is the only pedagogue left, to be trusted".

In TaiChi we have a Form - an external structure we impose on our time & energy, training our different aspects in a better way of doing things, hopefully replacing bad habits with good ones. However, a good habit is still a habit, is still a careless, unnatural action, with the implications of inappropriateness or lack of listening, lack of connexion. What we should strive for in our solo practice is to soften the edges, so to speak, to relax our imposed Form sufficiently for it not to strangle the lightness always wanting expression but often constrained by externals. We need to give the lightness a little head, let it inform our Form, and develop that internal aspect so often missing from TaiChi (and everything else).
Cease activity and return to stillness
And that stillness will be even more active.
Without this the TaiChi is just heavy & dull.

In Heartwork our movements (can't really call them postures) are so natural (almost gestural) & so fast (when we do them interactively) that complete relaxation is a possibility (& a necessity). What becomes interesting then is that a small movement done with the hand, say, invades every part of the body, so that the movement seems to be happening in the foot, the head, the jaw, the tongue, the eyes, the spine, the heart, the energy body, the mind, the emotions, etc. Each different movement also takes on a character & life of its own - it comes alive, almost independently alive, so that the flurry of our interaction lives on many different levels: reality in the heart is softly fractal. This means that the more relaxed we are the more activity can be crammed into an interaction, the intensity increases and surprisingly the thing gets even quicker, far too quick for the mind to comprehend or fathom. This is another consequence of our relaxation - the mind no longer controls or directs any aspect of our being - instead it all comes from spirit. Otherwise life is too slow and we always miss the boat - it's all happened before we get a chance to get involved. Working relaxedly like this you begin to seep into time, behind, before, through, beyond time. Then your connectedness becomes really interesting because it manages to influence itself through pre-emption and anticipation. Heart thinks ahead.


The Incorruptibles

One of the aims of both TaiChi & Heartwork is to be able to release your spirit at will. Freedom. This requires the spirit first to be developed into a strong, shimmering entity. This takes years of dedicated practice, sticking to the principles of the work, repeating day in, day out, developing the correct sort of heaviness which is really a deep sobriety and lack of self coming from years of service and years of practising correctly. However, without a feeling for connectedness (for others) a free spirit will be dangerous and undirected, or wrongly directed. My teacher has always said that his aim is to train Incorruptibles - spirits in the service of connectedness. This requires real intelligence, the intelligence & inquisitiveness to be willing and able to investigate the principles of the work in such a way that they come alive and develop and seep not only into your fabric but into the world around you through your intensifying relationship (connexion) with it. Internalisation. As John would say, practice not just to the point of the work becoming internal to you, but beyond, to the point of it becoming the internal of the internal. This requires love. The work, and everything it entails, must be embraced and taken into a willing heart. Resistance must be relinquished. Yielding. This is why some students who never seem to practice can progress far more quickly than others who practice all the time. It is all a matter of heart rather than work. Or, maybe I should say, heart comes first. Without heart there is no beauty because there is no connexion. With heart, everything is beautiful. The difficulty is to struggle on with what you have. If you are interested in what we do and are willing to put in the hours of work then you definitely have heart, underneath it all. It is simply a matter of uncovering it sufficiently for some of the threads of connectedness to untangle from it and connect and bring in sparks of inspiration to feed your enthusiasm. As I have said before, the struggle for any mediocre student is to become a good one. This is all a matter of motivation. What is it that makes you do what you do? What is it that makes you devote hours a week to the practice of something as strange as TaiChi or Heartwork? At the beginning a student may say they want to become more relaxed, more healthy, fitter, or may want to develop martial prowess, or may just be lonely and want company (I had one student years ago who came along to her first class saying, "I wanted to do Spanish but the class was full. Can I join your class instead?"). These are all mediocre students. To become good students they would need to gradually (and gradually is best) come to the growing conviction that this sort of work is the foundation of their humanity, and consequently is the most important thing in their life. The reality of heart is the truth, not the world we see with our eyes. The reality of heart underlies everything - "under-stands" even. It is our invisible 99%.
           I shall go on studying anatomy
a bundle of wire-like fibres
of which organs and organism are
to the periphery
a special task



Kenneth Snelson

In TaiChi we usually use the word tension to mean blocked energy, either within part of the body or in the mind. However, the word really means a stretching or pulling and is used in mechanics to describe such a force, as opposed to compression which is a pushing or pressing force. Kenneth Snelson (sculptor) and Buckminster Fuller (architect) have described and built structures from rigid struts held together by flexible & sometimes elastic cords (see picture above), or loosely jointed (geodesic domes). Such structures are held together by tensile forces in the cords or joints rather like our own skeletons held together by ligaments, tendons and muscles. Snelson and Fuller have discovered that as long as the tension in the structure is evenly distributed over the whole (relaxed) then the structure has remarkable (tensile) strength and can withstand external pressures (attack) by absorbing the energy and elastically deforming (yielding). Any blockage or concentration of stress within the structure will result in weakness and possible breakage.
The word 'tensegrity' is an invention: a contraction of 'tensional integrity.' Tensegrity describes a structural-relationship principle in which structural shape is guaranteed by the finitely closed, comprehensively continuous, tensional behaviors of the system and not by the discontinuous and exclusively local compressional member behaviors. Tensegrity provides the ability to yield increasingly without ultimately breaking or coming asunder.

The great structural systems of Universe are accomplished by islanded compression and omnicontinuous tension.

Tension is the great integrity.

Truth is a tendency.
Buckminster Fuller

Note that tension, tendon, and tendency all stem from the Latin tendere meaning to stretch (as does tent and tenuous, surprisingly).



The best way to release chronic tension from an area is to work it. Work is the healthy interplay of tension and relaxation. Power is the speed with which relaxed can become tense or vice versa. When something is worked it should have a rhythm like breathing lungs or a beating heart: an elastic give and take: an interplay of forces generally in equilibrium. This sort of work, free from constrictions or antagonisms, will benefit any living system by making it stronger and more fluid. A strong system is one that can tolerate greater stresses, one that has a large range between its relaxed state and its tensed one. Fluid means the movement between the two extremes flows like a liquid, the viscosity of which should be under your control: refinement. Working properly and becoming stronger will not only increase your maximal tension but will also increase your maximal relaxation.
Chronic tension sets in when the system refuses relaxation: when it chooses to remain in a tensed state: when it holds on. This could be due to stresses being repeated too regularly without allowing the system to properly recover/relax (not having the power to cope), e.g. a labourer who doesn't rest sufficiently between bouts of hard work: his muscles eventually forget how to relax. Or it could be due to a sudden unexpected or unusual stress/trauma which has caused so much fear that the resulting tension dare not be released. Either way, the tension eventually becomes natural to us and the only way to release it is through a practice that works on forgetting self. This, of course, requires the removal of the stresses that caused the tension long enough for the individual to gain enough strength to cope, and the attachment to at least an inkling of something better. I'm reminded of one of my teacher's cats, a brown Burmese who had undergone some trauma before we got her, causing her to be basically terrified of everything and anything. All the time we've had her (17 years) we have striven to give her only one message, that of love and affection, and gradually that fear has dissolved revealing a beautiful animal who possesses great courage: underneath the fear there was a warrior waiting to leap out. It's a miracle really but has made me realise how long it takes (almost a lifetime), that you really must remove yourself from the occasion of sin, as the Catholics say, and that underneath all that tension/ego who knows what you are. The meaning of life is to uncover your essential nature and then share it with the world: to learn to let your energy out. This is the crux of heartwork.
Rigor of beauty is the quest. But how will you find beauty when
it is locked in the mind past all remonstrance?
William Carlos Williams



A consequence of our feelings for warriorship and destiny is a practical faith in the truth of what is unfolding before you. Yielding means going forwards into the world, entering it as it enters you, consuming it as it consumes you, being as active and as alive as reality itself: standing up to it like a man. This is a difficult proposition and to make a reasonable stab at it we must believe wholeheartedly and unflinchingly that what is happening to us now is what is meant to be happening, and is what needs to happen for us to proceed along the path of destiny. In the world of spirit there is nothing accidental or arbitrary, everything is pregnant with meaning and consequence, and everything conspires to drive us forwards. Once we start dipping into that world it will teach us by presenting us with challenges designed to hone and work weaknesses in our spirit. Everything that comes our way, almost by definition, we have the energy for, just. Challenges are not there to be shirked. We have to believe this or the world has no real meaning.

I recently saw the movie The 13th Warrior with a smouldering one-dimensional Antonio Banderas. It's worth catching for the depiction of the Viking way of life. They really were great warriors with a feeling for fate and a love of life (which includes death) that made them immense in their presence and bravery (one of them is called Herger the Joyous). Their enemies (in the film) were bizarre: primitive neanderthal types who all carried around Venus of Willendorf amulets and possessed the strength to rip a Viking head bare handedly from its shoulders (why does Hollywood spoil everything it puts its greedy hands on?). The characters were all captivating and utterly admirable mainly because, I suspect, they lived in the world rather than beside it. The trouble with our civilised middle-class existence is that it has been designed to shield us from spirit because the last thing the powers that be want is a populace of short-fused warriors making trouble. A good modern upbringing will try to instill the socially acceptable warrior qualities in its young by encouraging competitive sports. These develop many wonderful attributes but generally not the most important one - the ability to connect heart-to-heart and let your energy out instantly with no thought or qualification. Even (especially) competitive martial artists know nothing of this and the reason is because they are afraid of failure - they don't believe, in themselves, in spirit, or generally - they are not great lovers.
I believe in God
as fully physical
thus the Outer Predmost
of the World on which we 'hang'
as though it were wood and our own bodies are
hanging on it
Charles Olson: see comments page
Buckminster Fuller famously said "99% of who you are is invisible & untouchable". When you start working in the world of spirit the truth of this statement becomes apparent. Real useful natural intelligence is not the ability of your mind to solve complex problems, but allowing this 99% to come alive and operate for you. It is your better part because it is naturally connected - it is your divine aspect. When John's cat died last August (the most saintly creature I have ever known), John & I were thrown into this world of spirit & connectedness by the magnificence & perfection of his passing. For weeks afterwards our other bodies (our other 99%) were operating almost exclusively, especially when we worked together. We were throwing each other around simply by being & accepting. There was no need to join because we already were, through this third presence which was the spirit of the cat. This is another secret - that real connectedness always takes place through an intermediary - the third heart.


Hi, Hot-and-Humid
That June she's a lush

Marshmushing, frog bickering
moon pooling, green gripping

keep cool

Lorine Niedecker

Anyone can do it, but generally speaking,
few do. You can see it in the morning,
a subtle glimmer behind the glare. Whenever
treetops are brought plummeting down by
winter winds, lightning, or collisions, some
people, like animals, wake with a start. At
each evident instance, I start again. What
makes it seem one might be a perception
of ending, or it might be my refusal to
continue as I had been, as when, planning
or daydreaming or rehearsing recriminations,
I stop and notice that I am breathing again,
what color the moss is in this light, the
sounds no one is making

Steve Benson, from the ball (30 times in 2 days)



Unlike the 4-foots who have a direct heart connexion with the ground, and eye connexion with the thing infront of them, we have heart connexion with what we face, and a tenuous (at best) connexion with the ground through our limited 2-foot stance. The precariousness of our verticality is best seen in infants learning to walk. Pre-vertical they sit beautifully upright like little Buddhas, totally engrossed in their activity yet also totally connected to what surrounds them. When they crawl, or shuffle along on their behinds, they still look masters of their world, strength & mindset uncompromised by mobility, returning instantly to their seated composure once they've got there. However, things change as they try to stand up and take those first few steps. As well as uncertain balance, they just don't look right or comfortable when standing; suddenly insecurity enters their lives, not just the insecurity of a delicate balance but also the anxiety of reaching the object of desire quick enough. Add to this the pain of teething and they suddenly have to cope with a very different world. I suspect this is something we never quite recover from.

It is also remarkable how quickly children loose their natural flexibility once they start to walk, especially in the hips. I remember Max being able to get into full lotus with relative ease at 3 or 4, a flexibility that inspired Pip & myself into a few months of yoga (before we realised it lacked the humanity of connectedness). Now he can barely cross his legs when seated. It is just not really natural for our femurs to be at a greater angle than 90 to our spine. This is why, when doing TaiChi Form, the student is encouraged to sit into their posture (Dr Chi used to say "thighs parallel to ground" though I wouldn't recommend this - makes my knees hurt just thinking about it). We want the same openness in the hips and suppleness in the spine as a toddler, with the sure-footed confidence of a cat. The same way that a hollow chest encourages the energy in front of you to come in and connect (Liang used to talk of leaving the window open invitingly so that you can catch the burglar), a similar hollowness in the groin and hips should invite the ground up into your groin & belly. The legs should feel as though they are wrapping around something (weight on outside edge of foot). This consuming openness in the lower body should inspire the heart to open more so that your connexion with the ground is mirrored in your upper body connexion to the world in front. Think of the belly as a lower-heart. One of the major consequences of our upright, slighty leaning back, belly rising, sunk, relaxed posture is that the lower-heart & middle-heart (chest) join into one major organ of energy and connectedness. Body-as-one-unit requires the unification of our hearts. The upper-heart is the head. To bring this one in line requires you to forget the tyranny of sight. Instead of closing the eyes (never a good idea for a martial artist) concentrate on the peripheral vision and allow the head to move with the waist. Feel with the eyes rather than see with them. Also concentrate on the eyes in the back of the head (back-brain).
Eyes at the back of the head relax
and connect like hypothalmic threads.
The physical chiasma is the crossing of the optic nerves in the brain. This point is the Taoist place of mind in meditation. The back of the head where the optic nerves travel to after crossing sprout energy limbs that come round into the fray, controlled mainly by our peripheral vision. Softening & relaxing the face (think a subtle widening smile) hollows the head and naturally brings us into our peripheral vision and consequently into the world of energy and connectedness. The head is the most difficult part of the body to bring in line because it is the usual (though not natural) place of thinking - the activity that disconnects us from the real world. I remember reading an article by the great Buto dancer Min Tanaka where he described an exercise he had developed to relax the neck and unify the head with the rest of the body. He recommended throwing yourself naked into a fast flowing mountain river. Apparently if the neck is relaxed it will flow with the rest of the body along with the current that carries it, around rocks & obstacles. However, if tense the head will tend to smash against these obstacles. Beautifully Japanese - you either learn or die.

Min Tanaka b.1945; with hair, unusual for a buto dancer.



In all likelihood, our ancestors first stood upright in order to survey the savanna into which they had ventured from the relative safety of the forest. Standing up allowed them to take stock of the horizon, all 360 degrees of it. This image holds today. Most of us lean forwards at least a little, engrossed in our fantasies, ambitions & agonies - the safety of self. Standing & moving properly vertical (with the sacrum under the sternum) puts us terrifyingly in the whole world - our hearts lift and spill to that horizon. Only when there is the possibility of this freedom from self do we have the responsibility of spirit.

Modern reconstruction of a Neanderthal child. Note the red hair & blue
eyes, both characteristics we inherit from our Neanderthal ancestors.
John Kells feels much of the teaching coming through him dates from
times of ice.

magnetic congeries of genes
made-up of answers
Ronald Johnson


The more we love, the more we know; and so reversed.

Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanity.

There is no remedy for love but to love more.



When spirit engages boundaries disappear. This doesn't mean that all distinctness disappears (in fact things become more distinct), but that language is no longer appropriate because description (separation) cannot exist. Poetry/metaphor conjures spirit - the energy of unification - whereas prose simply describes things in their state of (disconnected) repose. Connectedness implies & requires movement. Time does not exist in spirit: all linearity/continuity is fractured. The infinite is not vast expanse but discretized (digitised) intensity. Dynamic tension: in tension: intention: attention: (extension - contention). Reality a plethora of energy explosions. Mind so alive & awake it trembles & becomes the space between. The salmon of wisdom driving against the current - using frictional slippage planes to find a path through the morass.

Peace lies in finding the true war - Norman O Brown
a step to the left
on this form
to the
now take a step


Sacred Mist

Mark Tobey

The one great eternal presence in our life is Mother Earth. The consequence of her presence & the field of our interaction with her is gravity, the force that binds us to her. Opening up & allowing her into every part of us (yielding to her - not resisting) opens us to the other side of the fact of her being - the opposite force to gravity which is an ethereal lightness which rises from her primal recesses - the sacred mist:
A mist ascends, clears the air,
and obliterates all landmarks.
Yielding is generative. It summons whatever is necessary to complete the picture. All great things are done by the force of opposites. It begets the opposing force through its action: attack naturally springs from yield. The yielding mind naturally opens to all aspects of reality.
Love is metaphysical gravity.
Buckminster Fuller


A Way of Being

     A way of being


believe it. Then

the slightest

Advice to a student in exile

What we do now looks very different to what we did when you were with us 12 years ago but the principles are the same, & if you connect with us in your heart by doing your practice & staying true to what John transmitted then some of what we do now will come through into you. Energy & connectedness (the between energy - heart energy) do not obey the laws of space or time. In fact this is the key really to everything (certainly the secret of life), that spirit cuts through everything & connects directly, heart to heart, without the need for language, scientific models or pretty pictures.
When John left Dr Chi in Taiwan he asked him, "What should I practice when I'm back in London?"
After some musing Dr Chi replied, "I suggest you practice spirit".
Why do anything else?


John Kells

Photo by Charles Bell
Yin & yang unite when the mind stops.
This insight comes in flashes as you face fear.
With correct practice these flashes become a steady stream of light.
You are truly blessed to know you have no choice.
I am with you out of time.
John wrote this poem in 1992 for Larry Koenig who was a student dying of leukemia. John would probably cut the Yin/yang reference now. In the last 15 years he has moved almost entirely away from the Chinese influence in his art and has concentrated on the Celtic/Irish connexion which comes through his family and other teachings he has received.



On my post of 14 June entitled Yielding a person kindly added a comment: Yielding - soft like eyes welling up with tears heart in mouth unable to speak
I understand these feelings absolutely (& appreciate the poetry) - the poignancy of opening & connecting can often cause emotions to well up & catch one off guard, so to speak. However, these feelings, whilst admirable and a real indication of sensitivity & humanity, can only be registered & dwelt on if yielding has not taken place. If you are truly going forwards then even though these feelings 'happen' to you, you wont have time to 'feel' them - you'll already be onto the next engagement and the feelings will be shrugged off with irritation because they are irrelevant - you will be too in the thick of things.
Both TaiChi & HeartWork are martial arts - all about fighting. Many practitioners object to this, claiming that physical combat is an irrelevance in a modern civilised 'middle-class' existence, or arguing instead the case for self-defence - "I'm learning to defend myself in the unlikely event of an attack". However, the martial aspect of our work is crucial to being able to yield: the mindset of a successful yielder is that of a warrior, not of a victim. You basically have a choice between being a warrior or a victim, you can't usefully be a little of both (the epitome of double-weightedness - picking & choosing). A warrior lives every moment of her life meaningfully & with focus - directed toward the next battle. She doesn't allow herself to think in terms of self-defence because she knows that the best way to defeat an enemy is to take the fight to them and try to catch them off-guard. If you really live this sort of impeccable life then the last thing you'll turn into is a bully (another complaint against the martial way by the average victim) because by treating every moment of every day as a campaign against ignorance & fear (your two real enemies) then you learn to treat everything with respect because to be successful in this lifelong campaign you need all the allies & energy you can gather. The warrior way is the only way to travel deeper into the world of energy, spirit & connectedness. The sooner a student understands this the sooner they start to make real inroads into that world and stop skirting around the fringes. As John Kells says, "You are truly blessed to know you have no choice".



Dr Chi always maintained the most important principle of TaiChi to be Light & nimble, like a monkey. That, combined with a yielding surface, gives us nimble centre, elastic circumference: the surface should be soft enough to give way instantly to pressure, yet elastic enough to stick to that pressure if released. If the pressure continues the yielding surface turns outside in, rather like an amoeba swallowing food: limbs of protoplasmic energy surround the oncoming energy as it is yielded to - an embrace.

Lightness implies something is constantly active, some part of you never slumbers and is never still, which brings to mind Jakobson's Static perception is a fiction, to which we propose an alternative: Motile perception is a friction. The constant movement is two figures of eight twining around each other, rubbing and smouldering, ready to burst alight. I am alive as long as there is fire in my head. Because of the way we're structured (facing outward) we move forward, magnetized by onrush, drawing the world into our chests as we go. The feeling is of not holding on or back, allowing things to flow through, not grasping onto landmarks: Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me! Lightness is also an energy and a blessing that you cast on the world, like a delicate shower of angeldust, each mote a pinprick of spirit. It enlivens and it enjoys; it is contagious and transformative: The action of the universe is metamorphosis - it's articulation, metaphor.
we are labyrinths
open spirals or cones
governed by
precision & touch
Painting by Assi Ben Porat a beloved student of John Kells, living & teaching TaiChi in Israel.


Tao Te Ching

My favourite version is translated by Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo (ISBN 0872202321). "This crystalline translation of the Tao Te Ching is accurate down to the nuance and as concisely poetic as the original. It preserves the quirks and flavors of the original text. The translators hearkened to the message of the book itself, and kept it clear and gently strong. Of the many translations I have read in English this is unquestionably the best." Gary Snyder
It is also one of the most beautiful books I have seen; the ink drawings/calligraphy are astonishing. I also use the Shambhala Pocket Edition translated by John Wu and the translation of the alternative text (Ma-wang-tui) by Robert Henricks. They're all quite different.
There are also interactive versions on the net.

The other three classic Taoist texts are the I Ching, Chuang Tzu & the Lieh Tzu.



Like ice about to melt - Tao Te Ching


It is tradition in TaiChi to follow the Tao Te Ching and classify students into three types: good, mediocre and poor.
The good student hearing the Tao, practises it diligently.
The mediocre student hearing the Tao, wavers between belief and disbelief.
The poor student hearing the Tao, laughs out loud.
Without that laughter it wouldn't be Tao.
Most students (the ones that continue anyway) start off as mediocre.
As a student once said to me, "I find your classes so inspiring but I just can't find the discipline to practice". This is the epitome of the mediocre student - intelligent & sensitive enough to know a good thing when they see one but too lazy to do any real work. Mediocre literally means "half way up the mountain"; as the climber often looses sight of the summit, it is important to have time in meditation so that one can see & feel one's life as a whole, from where it stems & where it's going. This is also the job of your teacher - to be your guide up the mountain.
Notice that talent is not mentioned. Talent means quick progress but it can be a curse. Talented students often pick & chose, and tend to glide through life so easily & superficially that reality never quite bites into them (no 'cogging' as my teacher would say). Liang put it, "Learn quick, forget quick". The only really useful talents are the ability to suss out what needs to be done (a good nose), and then the knack of applying yourself wholeheartedly to that task. These are the talents of the good student and fortunately, through practice, they can be developed and improved. The teacher will gently guide the student into those areas they'd rather not venture into. It is up to the student to find a way into enjoying the difficulties.
John Cage used to tell a little Zen aphorism:
If something is boring for 5 minutes then do it for 10. If it is still boring then do it for 20. If it is still boring then do it for an hour. In no time at all you'll find it's not boring at all but really interesting.
The word boring here can equally be replaced with difficult, impossible, horrible, painful etc. This is the secret to becoming a good student - practice with a willing heart. The good student also knows that she's in for a long haul and so doesn't allow enthusiasm to run away with her. As Dr Chi used to say, "True friendship is like water, not like honey".
The poor student is someone who mocks the Tao. These are either people with chronic negative dispositions - they mock everything out of self-defense or habit, but underneath it all they are touched by truth & beauty, or people so clotted with self and ignorance that the Tao is totally alien to them and their only possible response to it is laughter - those with no spiritual grace. These would be the students that insist that energy doesn't exist, or that the teacher's unusual abilities are just trickery. Of course compared to the vast majority of the population who never becomes students of a spiritual discipline, the poor students are quite advanced.

Cage also used to tell a Zen story about a young man in Japan who wished to study Zen. The boy's parents found a reputable master living in the woods and secured tutelage with him for their son. They asked the Zen master how long it would take before their son was enlightened and could come home. "Three years", was his reply. The student worked hard but after three years he had had little success and told his master that he would have to leave as his parents had only agreed to pay for three years instruction. The Master said, "Stay another three months and you will be enlightened". The parents agreed to this, but after three months still no success. The student, demoralised and miserable, insisted that now he must return home, but the Zen master equally insisted, "Three more weeks and you will be enlightened". So the student stayed three more weeks but still no enlightenment. The Zen master said "OK, three more days and if you are not enlightened by the end of the third day then I suggest you kill yourself". On the second day the student achieved enlightenment.


Sacrum os

I've just finished working with John.
Amongst other things we discussed the importance of having the bum (sacrum) in.
It became clear (it was clear before but this jogged the memory) that this is the single most important aspect of the work we do.
Everything else stems from that, including going forward: it is the sacrum os that drives forward (the sacred bone - there must be a reason it is so called).
Unfortunately the sacrum doesn't generally want to be in so this principle requires constant attention (care & attention as fishermen & poets - the sort of vigilance that results in death if relaxed): attention to the aforementioned energy-circuit of down the back & up the front.
Let the energy that flows up flood into your face & heart like a sacred mist (John's phrase) - give it respect & reverence; in a way it's the best part of you.

As a teacher the importance of this principle cannot be stressed enough.
Those that refuse this never really learn because they are refusing to face up to what life presents - ultimately life itself (destiny).
Not having the sacrum in is the ultimate act of avoidance.
All problems (not just TaiChi ones) can generally be traced back here.
But beware. If you have a chronic problem here then be gentle because there is bound to be some psychological or emotional trauma attached which needs to be addressed. When the armour is removed the raw bite of reality can be overwhelming.

It is important to try to develop some awareness in the sacral area.
Try exercising it (figure of eights) and getting a fellow student to gently place their hand on the area as you work.
Getting the sacrum in is a long project (my teacher used to say 10 years minimum) and will gradually refine for the rest of your life if you allow it.
It is the natural place of sobriety & ruthlessness, two of the most important qualities to cultivate as they are the bedrock of courage - the energy that sustains commitment and encourages those leaps of faith required to scale seemingly impassable obstacles to becoming a better person.


Love's Body

Trying to write something coherent about posture the other day led me to realise just how different heartwork is to taichi. One could almost say that despite driving to the same end - yielding - they are in many ways opposites.

The key to heartwork is the partner work. Everything we discover: principles, energy structures, ways of being, all come out of intense, high energy, heart-to-heart interactions. The only rule we insist on is to go forwards (all or nothing). Retreat, or holding back, is not an option. Also a poetic attention to the quality of the interactions - passionate, light, soft, spirited, spontaneous, yet equally sober, heavy, aggressive, disciplined. Any analysis is always after the event and is attempted purely to aid our solo practice (which is a process of retrieving the form of these interactions and allowing them to settle more readily into a body of work).

When the interactions work well the spirit binds together all our aspects and we enter mysterious energetic realms where time really is immaterial, distance is inside out & spirit is critical in allowing us entry. Such interactions demand high reserves of energy/spirit, sobriety/dedication, generosity/cooperativeness, fearlessness/ joyfulness, and an intelliegent, committed and uncompromising attention to the knitting together of the fabric of your life & being into a single driving heartworked thrust into destiny and the unknown.

Unfortunately taichi has nothing of the sort. I remember being introduced to Rupert Sheldrake in 1986 and him asking me what I did. I replied - taichi. "But that's just something you do for half an hour in the evening isn't it. What else do you do?" It was then that I realised that JK was not teaching taichi. His art was something very different.

"The meaning of life is life" John Kells


Tai Chi

Tai Chi is the art of concealing hardness with softness. Yang Cheng-Fu
carve out
of motion
this is how the plant
grows, how man
and beast walk or fly



In 1953 Charles Olson gave a series of lectures at Black Mountain College in which he implied that man's greatest achievement was standing upright: of having gravity so delicately as no other 4 foot has it. For a long time I have thought of TaiChi as the investigation of our verticality and the various engagements that implies and imposes.
Firstly, TaiChi should be considered a completion of the vertical because the evolutionary process of achieving it is still incomplete: most of us lean forwards from the hips and have then adjusted to vertical in the lumbar region: the sacrum leans forward whilst our mid-back leans back to compensate, causing a sway-back (it was Nitsan Michaeli who first pointed this out to me). It is absolutely crucial to have the sacrum vertical (the bum tucked in), otherwise energy engagements of any power are not possible.
Engaging your own energy. When the sacrum is tucked in energy naturally sinks down your back and into the Earth. With a tiny adjustment, brought about by a compassionate interest in the space in front of you, the belly lifts and this energy naturally rises up the front: a continuous energy-circuit is established: down the back and up the front.
Engaging the Earth. The bottom of the sacrum (where it joins the coccyx) should feel as though it is driving down into the weighted heel. When this happens relaxedly energy naturally kicks up the spine from the heel causing the upper spine to straighten slightly and the crown of the head to rise and the chin to tuck in a little.
Engaging the Heavens. A natural consequence to engaging the Earth through relaxed sinking. It should not be stiffly imposed: an improved posture should always result from a deepening understanding of relaxation - an opening to gravity - sinking the energy; then you feel not only a sinking down, but also the reaction to that - the rising of the Earth into you. Similarly as the head naturally rises towards the Heavens, the Heavens bear down into the head (to meet the rising Earth in the heart and belly). Feeling and allowing these opposing forces ("having gravity so delicately") is an aspect of softness. This is unique to our TaiChi. Other disciplines such as hatha yoga and Alexander Technique work on lengthening the spine but don't engage the Earth and Heavens softly as we do and they certainly know nothing of our fourth engagement:
Engaging the person in front of you. In classical TaiChi the opponent is engaged by hollowing the chest and rounding the shoulders, which requires action. We have found that the energy circuit mentioned above can be extended to include the other person in the rising part of the circuit. This happens naturally when one's spirit or compassion are stimulated (when you take the other into your heart). Through extended practice this can become a permanent aspect of your energy: it will flow constantly through those you hold in your heart, day and night. This will eventually give your presence the feeling that it has yielded (connected and undermined) a long time before contact is made.
On another level the heart engages with the other's heart by opening up and allowing something to leap across the gap between you. Here the tail-bone needs to loosen and straighten and dig down into the supporting foot whilst keeping the sacrum driving down and forwards. If the sole of the weighted foot lightens (almost as though it is going to come off the ground), then a ripple of energy rises up the spine and out of the heart (the sacrum must be directly under the heart), like a tentacle licking into the other's heart. It is a bit like using the spine as a whip and uses the natural curved S-shape of the spine with a suppleness and light burst of spirit.

Engaging with Heaven and Earth straightens out the natural S-shape of the spine. It requires an internal stillness, especially when moving (move as though not moving), and a delicate relationship to gravity - what Olson calls Man as Plant. Engaging the other person makes use of the natural S-shape of the spine, combined with a passionate interest in consuming what confronts you, which implies a pulsing, ceaseless, restless movement: Man as Animal. So, our 'imperfect' S-shaped spine and our 'imperfect' appetites and desires allow us to bite into the other and make stirring, emotional connexions.

By the way, Olson continues by saying, "I ask the question whether one needs the word progress because I ask what, exactly, is added to any one of us by what men have done ... I ask if it isn't what other men have worked on which is of use to us". (OLSON: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, vol10, 1978)

"Stance is very much a source & result of maximal attention"


     experiment with
very likely
and here we must attach
the reality
a kinship between



Last night a BBC reporter on the radio reported how he recently met a Greek Orthodox priest whilst working in Greece. He explained to the priest why he didn't believe in God and why he thought Christianity a cocked hat.
He then asked the priest, "What would you say to me to change my mind?".
The priest replied, "I would say nothing. I would simply be with you and I would love you". So powerful was this utterance that the reporter instantly believed.

Stories like this should abound.

Pushing Hands with Furrowed Brow

Photo: Monica Blake


Vision is not only what we see; it is a stance taken, an idea, a geometry...a beauty free at last from the notion of beauty.
Octavio Paz

This is the morning, after the dispersion, and the work of the morning is methodology: how to use oneself, and on what. That is my profession. I am an archaeologist of morning.
Charles Olson

The original in man is that which articulates him from the very outset upon something other than himself.
Michel Foucault

We make up a different language for poetry
And for the heart - ungrammatical.
Jack Spicer

We have been spoken.
Robin Blaser



Over the past months I have been helping a very inquisitive 15 year old with his Science GCSE course-work & exam revision. Consequently I have been bombarded with the question Why? It has made me realise that Why? is neither a question one can reasonably ask (it’s precisely up to you to find out for yourself), nor is it a particularly interesting question. Far more pertinent would be How? That is, “How do I go about finding out for myself”, or put another way, "Can you give me a method that will take me inexorably along the path of discovery?". Method seems to be the one thing he is not being given at school. The teachers seem far more concerned with cramming his head full of facts, concepts & ideas so that he can do well in his exams & thereby improve the prestige of the school. As I talk to him I gently try to shake the assumptions at the base of his questioning because many of the concepts he finds difficult (chemical valency, potential difference, Doppler red shift, etc) are only difficult to a small mind – one constrained by too many “self-evident” axioms. On one occasion this process of shaking led him to exclaim, “Gosh, we assume so much don’t we!”, and allowed him a remarkable insight – that growing-up is a process of digging out the assumptions so that one’s consciousness & awareness can expand for ever. In that moment he realised that his education will never stop & that his passion for life & his engagement with life will grow as long as he can stay true to that insight. Good for him.


     but what is
what symbol best
centre, the possibility of dividing
kinds of elements

A Chiasma

Entities can be thought of as quivering threads of spirit.
When two such entities connect the threads cross.
A decussation.
The point of intersection is the heart of the connexion - a place of natural intensity.
The ends of the threads then curl around and meet the others and a figure of eight is formed, the natural shape of relationship.
A lemniscate: the fundamental unit of heartwork.
It brings unity to a relationship (the value of unity is two) - a pairing.
It also divides units into two interacting halves (I'm not talking yin yang here).
It brings together whilst keeping apart.


Photo: Corinna Moehrlen
enables him to
a metaphysical

Fundamental Principle of TaiChi

On one occasion about 15 years ago my teacher said to me,
"Would you like to know the fundamental principle of TaiChi?".
Of course I was extremely eager to receive such a gift & told him so.
He then proceeded to tease me, "Mmm, I'm not sure that you're ready".
I tried my best to allay his doubts.
He teased a little more, mainly for dramatic effect, before finally saying,
"The fundamental principle of TaiChi is not to be a turd.
Now go away and work on that one".

This is actually quite a profound statement.


source of
his physical weakness
and his ideal ability to measure
earth and cosmos
he keeps breaking his arms and legs


The first time my teacher spoke to me personally with any instructional force he said,
"Find one thing that you're really interested in and do it to the exclusion of everything else for 25 years; then, briefly stop and take stock. You'll be amazed at where you've got to."
I still think this is the most important thing he's ever said to me.
Only 4 years to go.

On another occasion my teacher was pushing hands with me.
I could tell he was getting irritated by my noisy mind & lack of spirit.
Finally he said, "For God's sake, don't let me stick to you!"
"How do I do that?", I desperately asked, trying my best to keep my balance.
Suddenly his irritation relaxed, a wave of compassion overcame him and he said,
"You need to start living a different life."


Intensive Sunday 29 May

Photos: Corinna Moehrlen, Hamid Momtahan

Beginner's Mind

Once I was pushing hands with my teacher, trying unsuccessfully to maintain my internal equilibrium.
"I always feel that I'm at the beginning stage", I complained.
He looked at me with a mixture of pity & disgust and muttered,
"That feeling never changes".

The study of TaiChi is not about the acquisition of expertise, but the shedding of conditioned responses to the world so that one can join more effectively and enthusiastically with other energies.
A desquamation.
The resulting rawness is managed by a developing compassion: the ability to embrace the myriad connexions and bring them into a consuming heart.
This is yielding.
Pursue knowledge, increase daily.
Pursue Tao, decrease daily.


Christians, Taoists & Buddhists

Back about 1993 I was teaching a weekly TaiChi class in a church hall in Clapham (South London).
One day the vicar came in and said to me, "Can I ask you a question?".
I said, "Of course you can."
So he asked, "Does TaiChi have a spiritual content?"
Feeling rather pleased with myself I said proudly, "Yes."
To which he replied, "Well in that case you'll have to leave because I can't have you practising on consecrated ground."
I realised after we'd left that I should have said that anything done correctly has spiritual content. Not that it would have made much difference.

Another time I wanted to start a TaiChi class in a beautiful large church in Hackney (North East London).
Before the vicar would give his permission I had to sign a piece of paper declaring that TaiChi has no philosophical, spiritual or self-improvement content.
I explained that TaiChi was a martial art & I was just teaching people to kill each other, to which he replied, "Oh that's OK then."

Having said that we do get together every now and then in a church hall in Kentish Town (North London).
The vicar is lovely.
He said to me once, "Oh I so much prefer you Taoists to the Buddhists." (A buddhist group practises there weekly).
I asked why, to which he replied,
"You don't get candle wax on the floor."
For the rest of my days that statement will sum up the difference between Taoists & Buddhists.


Time, immaterial

Light is critical
Time, immaterial
Distance, inside out.
Louis Zukofsky