Natural fighters

I was amused to find Ray bemoaning in a comment below that his Tai Chi failed him when he recently got into a fight. How do you yield when a really aggressive and well-trained attack is flying at you from all angles, he asks. My first response would be to say don't be so stupid as to get into such a situation, however this probably doesn't help. I'd also say that no amount of training under the polite controlled confines of a Tai Chi class is really going to help you much unless that class is teaching you, first and foremost, to fearlessly let your energy out. Unless you can do this yielding will probably be of little use to you. Yielding to blows will be too late. You must yield to their mind and spirit, which requires you to leap in and catch it. In a real fight you cannot afford to have any concerns other than those of survival (winning). Suss out who is the leader of the pack and go quickly for their groin, eyes and nose. Strike first. My teacher has said to me, if you ever get into a fight just hope it happens so quickly that you don't have time to get frightened. He's also said that the one thing you must not do, and which most non-natural fighters will do, is flinch. He's also said that the amount of yielding necessary in a real fight is miniscule and is faster than thought. He's also said, if you find yourself in a fight then your Tai Chi has failed you. If you insist on fighting I would recommend a different martial art.

I remember once in my local kebab shop in Hackney there were two young black men messing around and throwing punches at each other. The blows were literally so fast and loose that I couldn't see the arms. "You'd yield to their spirit", was my teachers response when I told him about it. I also remember another occasion in Hackney seeing a black teenager taunting a group of about five Turkish men. They came at him, fists flying, and he gently walked backwards, staying just inches out of range of the blows, still taunting, for a good minute before he got bored and turned and ran. I was at a perfect vantage to see the energy of the situation (I was upstairs on a stationary bus): the young kid had thrown some energy out - a tempter - and had then reeled it in. At no point did he lose his cool and he stayed on top of the situation because he had created it - he had tricked those Turks into playing his game.

I haven't come across many natural fighters (Begbie in Trainspotting is a good example of a natural fighter). John Kells is certainly one. There was only one other from the Tai Chi classes (Tai Chi doesn't usually attract them), a Welsh guy who lived down the road from me (also in Hackney) who I would often bump into on the 253 bus. I had taught the class he was in and he looked up to me and we would generally chat. He was extremely intense and on a very short fuse and his company always had the thrill of danger for a softy like me who had never ever raised a hand to anyone. He told me once that the first fight he ever got into was at school with an older boy and he got badly beaten up. He went home, bloodied and bruised, and told his dad, a tough cookie by all accounts, what had happened. The dad asked where the boy lived, dragged Glynn round to his house, dragged the surprised boy out of his house, past his even more surprised parents, and made the two of them fight it out in the street until Glynn won. It took ages apparently, but eventually the other boy lost heart and Glynn pasted him. That was his first lesson. He also told me how Tai Chi had helped him control his aggression. Later in the same conversation he told me how the night before he’d had some difficulty with a punter at the club he worked (he was a doorman). He’d stayed calm and tried to gently persuade the trouble-maker to leave. “He just wouldn’t listen to reason”, Glynn said. “What happened?” I asked. “Oh, I eventually hit him with a hammer”. In his opinion the fact that he’d tried gentle persuasion before he’d used the hammer was an indication of his softening character. I managed to keep my class in Hackney secret from him. I didn’t want him terrifying my nice middle-class intake with his wild Celtic aggression, although I dare say it would have done them some good.
God is infinite in his simplicity and simple in his infinity. Therefore he is everywhere and is everywhere complete. He is everywhere on account of his infinity, and is everywhere complete on account of his simplicity. Only God flows into all things, their very essences. Nothing else flows into something else. God is in the innermost part of each and every thing, only in its innermost part.
Meister Eckhart
Hope is the positive environment that encourages connexion.
John Kells



The old Intensives of Wimpole Street days always contained a talk by the Master, generally on the subject of Respect. This was described as the ground from which all else sprang: our starting point. In many ways Respect is precisely the simple ground or still desert of Meister Eckhart: an acknowledgement that we are all of the same space and the same (divine) substance - no distinction. Spinoza proved in his Ethics, from a small set of self-evident axioms, in a manner analogous to Euclid's (a geometry of respect), that the universe contains only one substance. By all accounts Enlightenment happens when every cell within us relaxes sufficiently to connect to this Truth: when we stop fighting the Truth (intellectual understandings are of no real consequence in heartworld). The work we do, especially the Heartwork, and I suspect any martial art at its highest level, requires a feeling for a divine presence that permeates everything, and that certain entities and beings embody more than others. This is what your Master should be to you, not just someone with a clutter of techniques and secrets they may or may not teach, but a person who, through karma, grace and hardwork, is a little closer to the Truth than you. This is why Jesus was called the Son of God, not because God bonked his mum, but because he was remade, by the teaching he had received, in God's image. Respect is not an excuse for a cosy unheirarchical spiritual democracy or a lack of intimacy (the respectful distance), but an acknowledgement that we are all on the same spiritual journey and that evidence for this can be seen in all things.

The strongest sense I have had of this all-pervading divine substance was the time my Master's cat died last August. He was the most spiritually advanced being I have known, and as he passed away he somehow opened a door and the room was filled with what I can only call divine grace. The subsequent Heartwork was so connected as to be eerie and otherworldly: we were responding to the other's mind and intention before it had even become part of themselves. When you work with another person, especially in a Heartwork context, you should aim to touch a little of this. If you give yourselves a good two or three hours together, work from the teaching and from respect, and let that take you both, comrades in arms, into uncharted territory (the heartworld), then you'll succeed in bringing the connexion alive, not just to each other but to this divine grace.


I have occasionally spoken of a light in the soul which is uncreated and uncreatable. . . . This light is not satisfied with the simple, still and divine being which neither gives nor takes, but rather it desires to know from where this being comes. It wants to penetrate to the simple ground, to the still desert, into which distinction never peeped, neither Father, Son nor Holy Spirit. There, in that most inward place, where everyone is a stranger, the light is satisfied, and there it is more inward than it is in itself, for this ground is a simple stillness which is immovable in itself. But all things are moved by this immovability and all the forms of life are conceived by it which, possessing the light of reason, live of themselves.
Meister Eckhart, 1260-1328

Learning Tai Chi is easy, but taking correction is difficult

I have remembered the context in which my teacher's wonderful phrase "inner viciousness" originally cropped up. I had made the observation that although Tai Chi is meant to be a method for "forgetting self to become one with the Tao", in my experience many students just use it as a way of settling more strongly and confidently into their own conditioning. John agreed with me and added that to use Tai Chi as a spiritual tool requires real inner viciousness because you need to be constantly thrusting yourself into unknown territory, constantly allowing your confidence to be shaken to its foundations so that those foundations can shift and reassemble in the image of the teaching. To do this you must honestly and unconditionally listen to the teaching, and not just take on board those aspects that appeal and conform to you. The teaching is a complete package and any attempts, conscious or otherwise, to filter or interpret will limit your progress. As my teacher would say, "Just grit your teeth and take the medicine".

The Classics of Tai Chi, and many other spiritual texts, famously state that if the work is even slightly misdirected then the end result will be far from the mark. The student's efforts will always be a little off, so constant regulating feedback is required to make the adjustments necessary to come back on track. This brings to mind another Tai Chi adage, "Learning Tai Chi is easy, but taking correction is difficult". You must practice enthusiastically and whole-heartedly knowing that what you're doing is imperfect and requires correction. This is easy once you realise that the perfection in Tai Chi is a matter of heart rather than form, and that it is this perfection and heart that brings to light both the need for correction, and the grace of the correction itself. This is immensely reassuring, the fact that love does indeed conquer all. The inner viciousness required is not a blinkered determination: the putting of more energy and effort in the same direction, which is how I interpreted it at the time, but the courage and softness to be open to the grace of correction that is constantly befalling you. Is all your teacher really does is give you a technique for opening to this, which is actually just an aspect of your own essence and karma.

If you don't have regular access to your teacher then it is vital to gather a group of like minded comrades with whom to practice. It is the partner work you do that nourishes the learning process by working on your heart. This will manifest later, and usually unconsciously, in adjustments in your posture and Form. Make every effort to engage your partner, not just in conversation but energetically by involving them in the circuit of energy that flows down your back and legs, under the ground, up through their feet, legs and body and out of their head, over the top and back through your own head. It is very important for the development of your humanity that your energy circulates not just within your own structure but between you and other entities. I have known students with beautifully vertical postures, wonderfully connected to the earth and the heavens but remote from others. A good ward-off (hollow chest rounded shoulders) should always at least threaten to degrade a suspended head and pull you forwards. It is the subtle dynamic tension between things that generates energy and interest.



One of my abiding memories from childhood are the hours my father spent in the garage tinkering with his car – a beautiful 1954 Riley RME. He was constantly dismantling, cleaning, repairing, reassembling. At one point he even electroplated all the nuts, bolts and screws with gold. I had no idea about any of the technicalities but I enjoyed the feelings his care, attention and love for that car generated in the space. Feelings that were generally absent from the house. This work of refinement – the dismantling, cleaning, healing and reassembling that we engage in is vastly important: if my father had spent the same time and energy working on his own structure I’d have learnt such valuable lessons and he (and I) would be far healthier now. However, it is the space between the moving parts – the feelings I experienced – that interest me.
The interactions of matter and energy are the domain of physics and the thinking mind.
However, the energy we investigate is massless and works best on living connecting entities.
At its best and most effortless the energy is an aspect of the living heart of interaction.
It resides in the space between interacting entities.
This space is totally susceptible to the quality of your non-thinking mind.
In a sense it is mind: mind is aether. Is space.
If your mind is relaxed and beneficient then it will encourage interaction – it will enhearten, not just the space between you and others but the spaces within your own being.
Doesn’t it say in the Tai Chi Classics that mind is the oil that lubricates the body?
If the mind is tense and negative then it will actively dishearten and connexions will be broken, between you and others and within your own structure.
The ruthlessness and inner viciousness I’ve recently talked about are just aspects of the struggle to remove self-concerns from this space: the lack of pity is really just a lack of self-pity.
Your mind then becomes the mind, becomes the aether, and there is only knowing, and you become and create the ideal environment for heart and life to flourish.
Without this selfless, meditative base you will always struggle, not only to connect but to belong.


We have got onto slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are uanble to walk. We want to walk: so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!
Ludwig Wittgenstein


Staying Alive

My teacher has always said that when you find yourself in a difficult situation the most important thing is to stay open. He always sees things in terms of a fight - a struggle not only for survival but for victory - a difficult situation being one in which you are in some way under attack (he relishes such occasions as he knows it's an opportunity to practice some yielding). A victory would be an outcome that is beneficial to you. If you remain open throughout the battle then such an outcome will ultimately benefit all involved especially when viewed from a heartworld perspective. To achieve a victory you must at all points be prepared to attack and must be well practised in attack: you must be well able to let your energy out effectively and strongly. It is this willingness to attack (my teacher has likened it to being on the verge of losing your temper) that gives your presence and involvement tone, vibrancy, resilience and danger, engaging (others) with vitality and bite. Just being soft and yielding will not get the job done effectively - it will probably be as useless as bullying your way through life. You must always be prepared to stand up and fight and this requires you to be strong enough to give and take good blows. The vibrancy and intensity of your presence comes from you containing the two extremes of softness and hardness. And again, thinking in terms of yin and yang - one balancing the other or one transforming into the other - is neither helpful nor accurate. It is much more a vibration between the two extremes. They say that when you put your hand on a great Tai Chi master he should be so soft as to not be there but should have the hardness of steel at his core. When I put my hand on my teacher I feel both at the same time: he is so soft that he offers no resistance to my touch yet that contact has all the qualities of steel (hard, cold, shiny, springy, etc.) without the physical mass and inertia. If there is any energy in my hand then I'm thrown immediately, but never back - his energy doesn't repel - if anything it draws me forwards and I become more deeply entangled in his vibrancy.


Everything vanishes around me, and works are born as if out of the void. Ripe, graphic fruits fall off. My hand has become the obedient instrument of a remote will.
Paul Klee

Never give in to tiredness - it's always an illusion

Students often have difficulty with this one and I don't blame them, it's a difficult, or rather it's an unusual proposition. The world of energy, spirit and heart - the heartworld - is quite different to the physical world we inhabit - the world of objects. In fact in many ways one could say that the two worlds are opposites. They also require quite different languages to elucidate, or quite different usages of the same language. A world of objects can adequately be enumerated by a system of well-defined nouns whereas a world of interconnexions, energies, processes, feelings, inklings, glimmers, possibilities, impossibilities requires a web of metaphor to hint and suggest and evoke: "Metaphor, the revealer of nature . . . The known interprets the obscure, the universe is alive with myth." This is why I like poetry and why I feel certain poems belong on these pages: they evoke quite specific worlds that resonate strongly with the heartworld my teacher regularly thrusts me into.

My teacher has always said that he's interested in process rather than state. Tiredness is a state whereas work is a process. A process involves transformation, from one state to another and then to another, fluidly or otherwise. We all know that hard-work will gradually deplete your energy and transform you into a state of tiredness from which you will only recover by resting. However, we have also all experienced a tired state transformed into an energized or an enthused one by the injection of energy or stimulation from another source. The secret here is to find that source within yourself, or within the heartworld you slip into; then you will always be within the process of heartwork and will have the power to transform both yourself and others from a state of tiredness to a state of connectedness. As metaphor evokes, so your practice should gently tempt and tantalize the real world to reveal itself and allow you entry. This is why softness is so important in the work we do: it is the most seductive quality there is and it doesn't just seduce others, it seduces the better aspects of yourself, and it seduces reality. My teacher no longer mentions states such as tiredness, instead he talks of two transformations: disheartenment and enheartenment. Disheartenment is the process of disconnecting and enheartenment is the process of connecting. Tiredness usually involves disheartenment: we get tired, retire, wind-down, rest, and this usually involves disconnecting from the work we do. After resting well we feel refreshed and have the energy to reconnect: we are enheartened. Heartwork, however, should be a process of constant enheartenment: the best part of us never tires and constantly yearns for deeper immersion. This is the part of you that your practice should search out and exercise. OK, this may be hidden under layers of conditioning, but it's always possible to locate. We all know that starting the practice is more difficult than doing it. Once we trick ourselves into starting, it somehow takes care of itself and takes us on a wonderful journey, as long as we allow it to develop naturally rather than imposing some gruelling regimen we would only be capable of when bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Chinese Tai Chi masters famously tire themselves out with standing postures before they start their Tai Chi - they wash out their overly masculine bumptious energy first in order to then concentrate on the finer aspects such as sensitivity, softness and spirit. These finer qualities do not require lots of energy to exercise, they just require openness, willing and a little connectedness, just enough to start us on the path of enheartenment. This path has, of course, already started, probably before you were born, but in a sense it is starting all the time because each moment is potentially new and fresh. Like my teacher's cats who can daily walk past well-known objects as though it is always the first time.
Every time you work, you have to do it all over again, to rid yourself of the dross.
Carl Andre, b.1935
To see far is one thing, going there is another.
Constantin Brancusi


Inner Viciousness

The most difficult part of my teachers teaching, and for that reason probably the most important, is its inner viciousness. He has also variously called it ruthless, wicked, biting, cogging, cutting, mean, grim, gritty. It is really a development of the place of no pity I talked about yesterday and he confided in me that he has found it as difficult as anyone. It is an amoral presence - a refusal to allow yourself to be constrained by any concerns, those of society no more than your own. Without it you will not enter - entering will be something you'll have to turn on and it will always be too late. My teacher developed it partly by going at his Tai Chi like a possessed mad man, practising all hours of the day whether he had the energy or not ("Never give in to tiredness - it's always an illusion"), and partly through teaching: he learnt quite early I suspect that, as he once said to me, "Mr Nice Guy don't get the job done". Paradoxically without this ruthless streak sweeping through your being you cannot be compassionate: your compassion will instead be a weak, sentimental pity, more to do with your own distaste or fear of suffering. Compassion means taking on board the others suffering: you don't take it away from them, you join them in it and lend them a little energy and support. A truly compassionate person does this automatically without thought: their entering is part of their essence. But also they enter from the ground up, through the roots, so to speak. This is only possible if you have the immediacy and presence of real ruthlessness - if you are that ground. Without this your entering will always be inappropriate, it will either be too much or too little, too late or too soon, it will be unnatural and against the grain. With this ruthlessness you become the other, and entering or listening will not be necessary. Listening especially has always felt far too inactive and back-foot for me to have any sympathy with.

Disturbing the Sallies Forth

What has been brought to a finish
I do not want to see, face.
Watch the earth as a heavening ball
wound in hand to press the land,
be stumped. The works are alive.
And say, Drop your plans in waves of
thought wider than rift at the edge
of widening pact. Haul on reason
and snap. When did the change turn up
that makers found their materials
twins to matters? When did
we enter? Caught now awake
simultaneous inside and out there, nevermore
the need for such a travel, poised at the point
of a work in light lines of blood.
World, worlds, the shout vision of just another
ball wavers in the void of edged weights.
Nights the battery juice peers over the coiled prow.
I have an answer collection, patent leaning.
I lean a ledge on which apples are painted.
I jingle all histories in my anchor pocket
and stand by a window of birds erased by trunks.
Happiness calls from the cold mines beneath my sanity.
And wonder is a twine of wands lodged
to spine of nothing I know at least to hold.

Clark Coolidge, 1990


The deepest questions are no questions at all.
Ludwig Wittgenstein


In 1990 my teacher said to me, "It's OK to be human but you should try your best not to be". At the time I had no idea what he really meant. I had recently split with a woman and was still whimpering so I assumed he just wanted me to pull my self together and get on with it - be a man. However, there is an internal aspect to most things, and there most certainly is a deeper and more internal aspect to everything your teacher utters in your presence, even if they are unaware of it. Even the most flippant and seeming friendly exchange drips with meaning and danger. As he said to me yesterday, "Real laughter can only come from a very serious person". This statement suggests maybe a yin/yang interpretation: the smile and the frown being the two sides of the coin. However, I know him better than that. Both statements are the same and are saying that whatever emotional state you find yourself in, there is always a ground beneath it free of feelings that you should be inhabiting. This is the real purpose of sinking - to touch this cold world. It is a world totally free of sentiment and pity. In it there is no coming together or pushing apart, no connexion or disconnexion. When you enter it you become it - you permeate and know all parts of it. That knowledge is before knowing - it permeates all of you. The knowledge is the world. It really is like the ground, life issues from it and death goes back to it, yet it is both before and after life and death. Human concepts do not register, let alone exist. You may enter this world when your energy shifts - when your identity becomes unstable - during meditation or during moments of great stress or emotional turmoil - you'll catch a glimpse of this world through the cracks in your self-assurance. The important thing is to get to know it and take the flavour of it into everything you do. If you manage this then you'll save years. When Yang Cheng-fu said Tai Chi is the art of concealing hardness with softness, the hardness he refers to is this ruthless ground to which the roots of all things cling, unknowingly, for support.

Dictionary definitions

Yield: to give forth by or as if by a natural process, especially cultivation (the rich ground will yield a good crop).
Soft: present a yielding surface.



Talking about the heart leaping towards the loved one yesterday I realised that this action - the leap of the heart into the fray - should be the trigger for every action we make. The giving heart. The courageous heart. This is what the buddhists mean by compassion - the heart leaping into the next moment, and then the next, and then the next. It is very difficult, and all your negative conditioning (including your thinking mind) will conspire against it. However, it is absolutely vital. It is the very first stage of yielding - entering - and if it is managed sensitively and wisely (appropriately) then further stages of yielding are often unnecessary. It is what we mean by "forget self and become one with the Tao" - put aside those aspects of you that prevent your heart leaping carelessly forward. If there is just one thing to devote one's life to then it should be the study of this. All else comes after and will follow naturally.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
Samuel Beckett
the salmon of
wisdom when,
ecstatically, one
leaps into the Beloved’s
love. And feels the air
enter into
strike into one’s previously breathing
Charles Olson


Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.
William Wordsworth

The Moving Heart

Working with Victoria last night I was struck by just how much movement there needs to be. And that that movement is rooted in the heart and not the waist. It is the heart that needs to move. Imagine being on your death bed, so weak and decrepit that you can barely move a muscle. If your loved one entered the room, which part of you would move to connect? Certainly not the waist. The heart would open, fill, warm and leap towards them, especially if theirs had done the same to you. How do we move the heart? In a sense it happens all the time, it's called being human, but it can be worked on. The chest cavity needs to become flexible and mobile. If a part of your body feels stiff and blockish then split it in two (mentally) and try to move the two halves against each other. We do this with the arms/shoulders and legs/hips (obviously) but also with the hands and feet (less obviously), the eyes, the spine and also the sternum. We can split the sternum (heart) vertically into a left and right side but also horizontally into a top and bottom - effectively into four sections. Each section corresponds to a circle of the two figures of eight that would be traced by the two hands in front of you. As you do the figure of eight exercise (alternate vertical figures of eight with each hand) try to get the movements into the chest in order to reveal and work this four sectioned heart. Limit the movements of the arms and maximize the movement in the hands. Your hands (and feet and eyes) have a natural connexion to the heart which you should utilize. As the heart moves things will stir up and emotions will surface. This is the feedback you need - it indicates that you've hit the spot. Through all this just try to maintain your root. In fact, working the heart in this way will develop a really fluid and elastic root. You will be connecting not just to the ground through your feet, but to the living vital essence of the ground - its heart, and you will develop an emotional and compassionate connexion to it, rather than simply the power connexion you would develop by sinking and relaxing.

Yang Style Tai Chi contains none of this. It encourages the torso to remain stiff and immobile. The torso moves with the waist but there is no movement within the torso. Similarly there is no movement within the hand or the foot (or the eye), or between the left and right shoulder or between the left and right hip. If there is no movement within a body part then it is dead - or rather it doesn't contain heart. What we're striving for in heartwork is to get heart into every part of us - on a cellular level eventually - and thereby into everything we do and touch. Heart should be the flame that licks and burns through all aspects of you and yours.

I learnt yesterday that the Chinese ideogram for "to speak" is a mouth with two words and a flame issuing from it.


No poem is an end product. Each is a controlled transformational process. As the cables of a suspension bridge graph a system of stresses, the words on the page plot stabilized energies.
Hugh Kenner


Heart World

The thinking mind finds it difficult to concentrate on more than one thing at once. So we often have a dilemma: where do we place our attention? Me or you? This or that? Here or there? Now or then? Do I talk or listen?

The heart is the part of you that brings things together into one living mass. When it opens things rush in and mix. The mixing and joining produces energy that nourishes both you and those connected to you. This is love.
An open heart produces life: the coming together of things that would normally remain separate. The heart swallows and the resultant energy produces new things. This is the creative process.

When we do our Tai Chi Form we usually concentrate on one thing at a time in order to gradually solve various technical problems. This is the work of your own private practice.
My teacher suggests that when doing Form together, you forget these technical concerns, open your heart, connect to the others in the room and just do the Tai Chi. Sticking. Your heart opens and swallows the others, but so does each heart in the room, so, in a sense, there is a large collective heart at work which is swallowing all of you, giving you all good energy from the source of Tai Chi. This is why, even when Tai Chi is badly taught, the class can often touch perfection when they practice together.

You have a heart that is constantly opening and swallowing. But you are constantly being swallowed as well, not only by other peoples hearts, but by a higher aspect of your own heart. The nesting goes both ways. When you relax and settle sufficiently to feel this, then you've accepted your destiny, because in the reality of heart world one thing does not follow another: it swallows and is swallowed, and so time does not exist.

And neither does space. You don't stop loving someone because they move away. You may forget them but that's because your heart has closed off. If it ever opens again you'll be suprised how much has gone on in the meantime.
Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.
Leonardo da Vinci



This from an article in the Guardian. Thanks to J. Nakouzi for sending it to me.

Yesterday I read a study by the anthropologist Daniel Everett of the language of the Piraha people of the Brazilian Amazon, published in the latest edition of Current Anthropology. Its findings could scarcely be more disturbing, or more profound.
The Piraha, Everett reveals, possess "the most complex verbal morphology I am aware of [and] are some of the brightest, pleasantest, most fun-loving people that I know". Yet they have no numbers of any kind, no terms for quantification (such as all, each, every, most and some), no colour terms and no perfect tense. They appear to have borrowed their pronouns from another language, having previously possessed none. They have no "individual or collective memory of more than two generations past", no drawing or other art, no fiction and "no creation stories or myths".
All this, Everett believes, can be explained by a single characteristic: "Piraha culture constrains communication to non-abstract subjects which fall within the immediate experience of [the speaker]." What can be discussed, in other words, is what has been seen. When it can no longer be perceived, it ceases, in this realm at least, to exist. After struggling with one grammatical curiosity, he realised that the Piraha were "talking about liminality - situations in which an item goes in and out of the boundaries of their experience. [Their] excitement at seeing a canoe go around a river bend is hard to describe; they see this almost as travelling into another dimension". The Piraha, still living, watch the sparrow flit in and out of the banqueting hall.


The action of the universe is metamorphosis - its articulation, metaphor

Working with John today, the stuff came alive, as it often does, once we'd both opened and connected to the five hearts: your own, your opponents, the heart of the heavens, the heart of the earth and the heart between you.
A bit like the five directions of Tai Chi, but with more heart.
Once this clicks into place the creative process begins to work and new material is born.
This may be as significant as the discovery of a new principle, which will eventually go on to permeate and change everything we do, or as modest as a slightly new way of looking at a posture (which will also permeate and change everything we do, but less obviously).
Today it was the latter.
John said at one point, "I feel I have these wrought iron hoops all around me, filled in with a grainy sandstone."
It was perfect at the time.
The session continued to develop, both of us hot with the excitement of new birth.
Tomorrow, having come down from this trip, we'll both be confronted by the torture of sifting through what can be recalled of the session in our own private practice.
It is this private work that develops the internal strength and stability - the sobriety - to enter these creative frays without losing our collective composure.
It is the same torture a beginner goes through as she tries to recall what was taught in a class.
If you relax into the practice, be mindful of principle and face the new stuff aslant, then you're far more likely to accurately recall the spirit of what was taught.
A light but persistent touch is all that is ever required.

Europa, moon of Jupiter


When the enemy is committed to a mistake, we must not interrupt him too soon.
Horatio Nelson, 1758-1805

Master of Masters

Cheng Man-Ching, Ueshiba and Tohei are all great Masters, and they know it.
Dr Chi, on the other hand, thought nothing of himself. His face is empty of pride - it knows nothing, and consequently beams with openness and compassion.
The same can be said for Egami.
They both possess humility - nothing gets in the way, which makes them attractive: they don't repel or intimidate or diminish the other.
They both went far beyond their art and became what Liang would call a Master of Masters.
To become a Master of Tai Chi is relatively straightforward: you just keep up your studies for 10 years or so, start teaching and show yourself able to hold together a class of students, and the Chinese would consider you a Master.
Master of Masters, or what John would call a Master of the Tao, is something else though. It is more a matter of destiny, or even pre-destiny, and involves an ever deepening immersion into the vortex of the work, resulting in many transformations (rather like rebirths) and redefinitions of both yourself and what constitutes the work. It only becomes possible as you leave more and more of yourself behind, lightening the load, jettisoning ballast, which includes not just redundant aspects of self, but also the clinging debris of a crumbling life style. It also requires you to be apprenticed for a long period (25 years is considered the minimum) to a great teacher, because for your mastery to reach out into more and more general and abstract areas of energy and spirit, your allegiance and connexion to a powerful teaching or lineage needs to strengthen and tighten. Paradoxically your heart and soul open out into life by narrowing, sharpening and concentrating your focus and energy. Without this there will be a gradual slackening and a dispersion, which is what happened, by all accounts, to Cheng Man-Ching. Dr Chi, on the other hand, simplified his life so much that by the end his whole day was spent in contemplation of Jesus. No distractions. Hence his saintliness: no words were ever necessary - his presence was enough - it cleared the air and filled the space with softness and grace.

Egami had the ability to simply stand in a posture of readiness, clear his head, open his heart and order his energy such that none of his advanced students could find an opening and so were unable to attack. There are stories of students circling him for 20 minutes or so, unable to find it in their hearts to attack. Their master's heart had reached into theirs and taken away any motivation for aggression.


I put my heart and soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.
Vincent Van Gogh


Abbas Kiarostami, The Taste of Cherry

Another sleepless night.
Rather than suffer in silence now I get up and make my tofu: a 3 hour labour of love which at least results in something alive, unlike the processed rubber you buy in the shops. The making has many stages with waitings between so is ideal for blogging. At the moment the hot ground pulp is straining through the nylon muslin Rita gave me.
The computer screen is the only light in the room. I learnt when the kids were here that a dim ambience is more soulful.
Kiarostami (the greatest film-maker of his generation?) said that when watching a great film (presumably on DVD) he needs regular breaks, to make a cup of tea or a telephone call, the truth being almost too much to bear. When watching a Hollywood blockbuster though he is pinned to his seat like everyone else: an experience he doesn't value.
Egami's question really struck me: In going beyond traditional karate and making it evolve, have I gone too far, putting too much emphasis on the soul?
I can't imagine any other martial artist of his generation except Dr Chi (which includes Cheng Man-Ching and Tohei), having the humanity to say such a thing. He really stripped himself bare for and with his art (he weighed 37 kilos when he died in 1981), realising that soul requires nakedness (forgetting of self).
Cheng Man-Ching copped out. When he refused those years of solitude his progress required he effectively gave up Tai Chi, preferring instead to bask.

When John asked his Tibetan Rimpoche whether ch'i was internal he received an emphatic and resounding No. (Liang had told John that if he wanted to develop his ch'i then he should find a Tibetan teacher.)

Soul is not developed, it is uncovered. It precedes everything else including energy and spirit. What can be developed is the passion for it. The soulful yearning.

Soul is content.
Form is no more than an extension of content. (Robert Creeley)

The soul
is an onslaught

The Alba

Love requires
talk of itself

Its own ebullience
to its own inquiry

Love is love
because it's endless
Once it has begun
it is at once
It is an empiry.

Love is no object
Love is form because love
is its own subject,
love is the only subject, the rest
requires form.

This is why it has been called volatile.
It is not. It is simply that it is very difficult
to believe
that there should be only one subject
in all the universe

Charles Olson, 13/1/56



Wisdom resides in the body and energy rather than the mind.
It is already there, around us & within us, it need not be constructed.
It comes from untangling the threads of energy and being, and allowing them to interact as they should within the web of our existence.
This is not a thought process but one of relaxing and connecting and allowing the connexions to transform and take you forwards and more deeply into the process.
Thoughts and language always enter a long time after the event: they destroy the event.
The well-trained thinking mind is clever and can extrapolate into many areas it really has no experience of.
It runs away with itself into theory and speculation – the universe of discourse – at the drop of a hat.
It creates its own world, parallel to the world of connectedness but not of it.
These worlds are by no means mutually exclusive but experience of one has little bearing on the other.
The problem is that a well-trained thinker often feels he is capable in other arenas.
Thinking is really just taxonomy spread large: all untangling but no reconnexion.
Taxonomy leads to taxidermy: you are left with a world of stuffed objects – shadows of their former selves.
What you truly know you should be.

One of the many refreshing things about rural living is that the local people are not generally sophisticated.
They are very practical people: of their environment.
They are not overly busy and have time to digest their experiences and allow them to settle into a body of experience.
They are stacked from the ground up: feet firmly on the earth.
Their interactions with you tend to be of the earth rather than the head, chthonic rather than neurotic, and so their company is nourishing and settling rather than stimulating and exciting.
They are strong, energetic, and practically sensitive in that they respond to what is there rather than what they think or feel is there.
Practical philosophers.
I have learnt a lot here and am not relishing the move back to the big shitty.


The words of Shigeru Egami

He who would follow the way of true karate must seek not only to coexist with his opponent but to achieve unity with him. There is no question of homicide, nor should emphasis ever be placed on winning. When practising it is important to be one with your partner, move together, and make progress together.

If the way of thinking changes, everything will change.

The mind should be clear, that is, without thoughts, and all movements should be made in a natural way. Without a clear, supple mind, the body cannot be supple.

The old masters said that when confronting an opponent you must be mentally prepared to die. In other words, you must be in a state where life or death is irrelevant. Once in this mental state there cannot exist any antagonism towards your opponent, there will be no winner, no loser, no feelings of fear nor hate. You will confront your opponent with a clear mind. Thinking is useless, you must simply act. Through practice this will become understood in a natural way. A relaxed and flexible mind together with a flexible and rapid body are the best requisites for a karateka. With practice you will be able to attain rhythm, the sense of opportunity, distance, breathing and the flow of vital energy.

The problem of the mind is a deep subject. The attainment of a higher state of mind, self-growth and self-purification are the ultimate attainable goals through practice. You must train mind and body, otherwise practising has no value.

Once you attain a perfect understanding of the other person, you can attain unity with him and words such as victory and defeat stop having meaning. This is the true secret of Karate, coexisting with your opponent. And when an understanding of the human essence is attained, it will make us co-operate with others and through this obtain self-understanding. Practice will not be complete before this mental state is acquired.

I wish to understand the relationship between human beings, between human beings and nature through my own body (body and spirit as an inseparable unity); it is my wish that our practice should follow this way.

Humans because of their very nature cannot live alone. Thus one desires personal peace and at the same time for all others. Being able to take care of others, think and act as if in the place of other beings, building what is marvellous in the human being: that is practice.

In going beyond traditional karate and making it evolve, have I gone too far, putting too much emphasis on the soul?

Vija Celmins, Untitled (Web 1), 2001

Single-Weighted (take 2)

This is usually the most difficult principle for beginners. It is also an example of a principle that changes quite dramatically as your Tai Chi improves over time. To start with it is explained as the weight being only in one foot at a time. So during the Short Form students are encouraged to emphasise the transfer of weight from one foot to another by taking long steps, staying sunk, and really driving with the legs. Step like a cat. Sink the body and energy to raise the foot from the ground, bring the foot in to the supporting calf before sending it out to step, and sharply point the toe at the spot you intend to place the foot before you place it. Ensure the foot is wholly on the ground before you start to move the weight into it. Savour the stepping: the foot should linger in the air. At any point in the Form you should be able to stop all movement and still maintain your balance, even when a foot is off the ground. A double-weighted posture is one that is too long for you to take either foot off the ground without leaning or jerking. This should be avoided.

Energy is generated by the leg, directed by the waist and issued through the hand. The energy crosses over at the sacrum, so energy from the left leg crosses into the right side of the lower back and is issued from the right hand. We call this cross-energy. Once the student has mastered the rudimentary Short Form she is introduced to cross-energy and encouraged to visualise the intricate martial applications of the postures as they are executed. So, in a very simplified Ward-Off Left posture the body turns to the right, the weight moves completely into the left foot and the energy moves into the right arm which is contacting and yielding to the imaginary opponent’s right arm. The waist then turns to the left, the weight passes into the right foot, the left foot steps forwards and the energy passes into the left arm which rises into an uprooting ward off. The posture finishes by sinking into the left foot, the energy passing into the right hand, pulling the opponent’s right wrist down to sharply downroot and whiplash the neck.

As the student’s energy refines she is introduced to the idea that energy can be generated in a leg by either loading or unloading: bending or straightening. It then becomes clear that when transferring weight from one leg to another (whilst remaining sunk) there are in fact two actions: the straightening of one leg and the bending of the other. So if I transfer from my left foot to my right whilst turning the waist to the right, there are two separate actions - turning to the right whilst pushing with the left leg and turning to the right whilst pulling with the right leg: the left turn is in fact in two halves. Transferring weight by pulling with the empty leg rather than pushing with the full leg is very interesting and powerful. It works the hamstring as well as the quadricep and is potentially more dynamic and spirited.

These developments encourage one’s root (energetic connexion to the ground) to strengthen, and eventually allow the two sides of the body (or the two crossed pathways) to dissociate from each other, rather like the two hands of a pianist being able to play completely independently of each other. This requires the sacrum to loosen and open, as well as a high degree of physical relaxation. The student can then investigate how the two legs are in fact constantly pushing and pulling (as are the two sides of the waist) and it is this dynamic interaction that generates the sharp, short energy of Tai Chi. When the two sides have achieved a high degree of independence it is possible to allow them to subtly shift out of phase with each other, generating an energy of even higher frequency, rather like an interference pattern (certain pianists can do this as well with their two independent hands, and some even with their ten independent digits). This is the sort of detail that the thinking mind can neither impose nor control. Just rouse the spirit, work with speed, and let the body and energy take over. It’s your inner sobriety that keeps everything in order, not your mind. Sobriety develops through single-minded practice. Single-minded means not giving yourself a choice. When you are truly single-minded the mind stops because it’s undistracted. Then the heart and spirit take over and you enter the world of connectedness.



We all remember Newton’s Third Law of motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, if I want to push something forwards I also have to purchase the ground and push back with the legs (standing on ice I’d have difficulty). There are always two forces. Similar can be said for energy: energy is generated when things interact: the clash of excitement.

Single-weighted is just a practice to shake the cloying tension from the body, mind and energy, and reveal the relaxed double aspect of everything we have. Once the two halves have been shaken loose of each other they can then start to interact dynamically and energetically.

Going deeper into the Tai Chi is really just finding the double aspect of things you thought were single. This process is never-ending and is what I mean by a fractal reality.


The Cutting Edge

Hans Arp, Configuration, 1928

Interfaces are really interesting places.
When and where things touch there is always energy and tension.
Feel your skin as a sensitive interface rather than a boundary.
Seepage in each direction.
Live on the nourishing interface between the known and the unknown.
The soup of dusk - where all is strange.

Good Vibrations

The middle way is, in fact, the vibration between extremes.
A resonance, rather than a blinkered middle ground.
To tread the middle path requires intimacy with all the edges, and beyond.
Working in extreme territory will often give you the energy to leap to the next stage.
The path is like a series of stepping stones across a river.
The distance between the stones gradually increases, so your training has to be wholehearted and thorough otherwise you wont manage the next challenge.
It is well-nigh impossible to miss a stage out.
There is a Tai Chi saying: "The next stage is always the most difficult".
A student once stupidly said to me, "I'm really glad I didn't practice what you showed me last time because it has all changed now".
If the work is alive it will always be changing and developing, in form and energy. The students have to be constantly vigilant to these changes. Even if the Form looks exactly the same, try to feel how you, your teacher and the energy have subtly moved on.
Accept the challenge of the unknown rather than weakly clinging to the known.
This is the key to immortality.


The adventurous state of mind is a high house.
To enjoy life the adventurous state of mind must be grasped and maintained.
The essential feature of adventure is that it is a going forward into unknown territory.
The joy of adventure is unaccountable.
Agnes Martin, 1912-2004


When you want to do something in Tai Chi, try doing the opposite first. So a left turn of the waist can be preceded by a small right turn, a sinking by a tiny rise, and a movement into the left foot by an initial kick into the right. The change from one to the other acts as a trigger - firing the spirit. When the main action finishes there will also be a small natural opposite reaction – to stop the waist turning to the right you effectively apply a left turn – clearly visible if the movements are light and spirited. So if we denote the main waist turn by a capital L or R and the small waist turns by small capitals then R becomes LRL. So, a string of three main waist turns, RLR becomes LRLRLRLRL. Each LR & RL pair effectively constitutes a tiny figure of eight in the waist.

Add to this the fact that the waist has two halves (as does everything – “the value of unity is two”) – the right side of the waist controlling the right side of the body, powered by the left leg, and vice versa – and that ideally each side of the waist moves independently of the other in order to control the relevant limbs, then even the simple postures of the Short Form become extremely elaborate.

This is what I mean by the Form needing to develop beyond what you were initially taught. The simple version remains the template, but within that there is a plethora of detail that will reveal itself if you practice with vital energy and a creative spirit.


Brief Encounters

I love those chance meetings with strangers (although I certainly don't search them out - my failing). Strangers don't know you and tend not to encumber you with opinions and expectations. There can be a whole universe in a brief encounter, which can resonate through the rest of your life.

The job of the teacher is to see clearly your potential (destiny) and thrust you unmercifully into it. This is the opposite to friends and family who often hold you back with their selfishness and fears. John was always astonished that Dr Chi's family had no idea of his greatness. To them he was just a provider. There was so much he couldn't share with them and he had to remain somewhat aloof otherwise they would have drained him.

As you get deeper into your Tai Chi, any drain on your energy becomes a real impediment to progress. Best locate and excise. Or, if bound by duty and love, establish for yourself a circle of spiritual comrades and give each other all the encouragement and support necessary for you all to advance on a unified front. Strength in numbers.

The difference between support and disapproval can be subtle. People who claim to love you may still disapprove of your commitment to a teaching, which they may see as a weakness or slavishness. Hopefully your improving energy will win them over, but even this can be threatening to some. I remember one student whose wife gave him an ultimatum - it's either tai chi or me - because she was terrified that the positive changes he was undergoing would drive them apart (she was right). Unfortunately he made the wrong decision.

Real love does not attach, and certainly does not impede one's spiritual progress. Real love should be like that from your teacher: a burst of energy and connectedness that thrusts you into your destiny, no strings attached. If you find your soulmate then your destinies will be intimately bound up and you have companionship for the rest of your days. Next to finding a teacher, this is the ultimate good fortune.

There is no end to the teaching.
The pool is infinitely deep.
It's touch is constantly inspiring you to become more atuned - better connected.
There is no end to connectedness.
It will gradually deepen and transform if it is worked on.
The work strengthens and exposes your essential qualities.
Masculine - strength, sobriety, vulnerability.
Feminine - softness, sensitivity, omnipotence.
Within each of us there is an infinite richness.
Within the connexion there should be a similar infinite richness.
That's what life is.


Prima materia
Elementum primordiale
Pure subject and the unity of forms
Root of itself
We glow together


The heart energy I'm involved with both nourishes and is nourished by a particular thread of the Natural Process which the word destiny is an attempt to suggest.
John Kells

Sign of Progress

About 18 years ago my teacher was chatting to me at the old Wimpole Street centre. He asked how my practice was going. I told him that it seemed to be going through an unfruitful patch where everything I did seemed to be wrong and nothing felt right. "Ah, sign of progress", he said. He then thought for a while and added, "You have to believe that otherwise it wont be".

In a sense Tai Chi is a negative exercise in that it is all about removing conditioning, ego, hardness, in order to reveal and encourage our more subtle natural qualities such as essence, heart, softness. It stands to reason therefore that there are going to be regular periods of discomfort and darkness, especially in our solo practice. These are just times of internal conflict - the last desperate gasps of the old you putting up a valiant defence - and must be weathered cheerfully (unless you enjoy depression). I have seen so many students give up Tai Chi when they hit one of these walls. One student in particular gave up her very successful and well paid job in the city to devote herself to Tai Chi (she had some romantic notion of becoming a spiritual ascetic, living in a luxury flat in Hampstead). Within a week of her new life, practising about 3 hours a day, she hit a wall, and gave up Tai Chi almost instantly, never to do it again. The tragedy was that right at the end her energy was fantasic - strong and available - but she couldn't cope and nothing I could say would change her mind and bring her back. She had no negative capability, not at the time anyway. She went on to have children, without the support of a man, and had to learn that one in a hurry.

Back at the old Wimpole Street centre the Tai Chi syllabus was structured as so: Short Form, then the Long Form, then the Left Side Long Form, and then a time of what was called a Power Class, before going on to the Dance of Equality. Da Lu ran alongside these classes, as did extra pushing hands. The Form classes were basically about learning to relax whilst going through a rigorous and disciplined set of movements. This involved learning to use the turnings of the waist to direct the movements, the power for which was generated by the legs (single-weightedness). The Power Class was about strengthening the legs which meant sinking, hours and hours of it every day, and learning to fire your energy out - whipping the energy up from the ground, through the body and into the opponent. The Dance was about developing lightness and spirit. I was lucky in having 3 years of the Power Class, each week listening to my teacher find a new and inspiring way of getting us to willingly put up with the pain of sinking (I used to marvel at his powers of invention). One thing he said was that becoming stronger was like acting: you had to pretend you were strong and that would draw the strength to you. He used to get us to swell out into such huge ward-offs that the room felt barely able to contain us all: "Make yourself as large a vessel as possible and energy will naturally flood in". To eradicate self-image you have to first take it through various transformations. For me this meant changing from weak to strong to lively, etc. The process is still going on. Still polishing those facets, one by one.


What is real is not the external form, but the essence of things . . . it is impossible for anyone to express anything essentially real by imitating its exterior surface.
Constantin Brancusi, 1876-1957

Paul Klee, Ancient Sound, 1925. "One eye sees, the other feels"

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
The work at hand is to make all our facets glow.
Even the ones beyond the edges.

Why do students give up Tai Chi?

People give up for many reasons but the principle one (and the one all the others can be boiled down to) is FEAR. Most people can only take things so far. Any further and they'd have to change beyond recognition, (which is precisely why I do it). When Robert W Smith asked Cheng Man Ching why none of his students were as good as he, he said, "Because they don't believe". The Tai Chi (or the Tao, through the Tai Chi) is constantly battering the person with the need for change and eventually that person either changes or they give up. John once said, "Most people would rather die than change". I remember about a year ago an advanced student of John's came down here to work with us. He is quite stiff and severe, but John managed to shift his energy (through slight bullying) and got him to work in a most delightful, spritely (spirited) and humourful way. It was wonderful because I knew that was what he was really like and that his normal demeanour was an unnatural armour. His transformation allowed the session to blossom into a life changing experience for all of us (it certainly inspired me for months). However, we haven't seen that person since, and by all accounts he has retreated even further into his shell.

Change is difficult. It requires courage, and plenty of it. Something in you has to be really interested in the unrealised possibilities within yourself and really dissatisfied with the way you are. When my teacher called me a turd that time it was a real eye-openner. What have I (and you) got to lose?

Also something as deep as Tai Chi or Heartwork (which is far deeper) requires an ever deepening commitment from the student, otherwise they get stuck, demoralised, bored and hence give up. Which brings us on to motivation. My teacher used to say that people start Tai Chi for all types of reasons: self-defence, relaxation, society, health, etc. However, as they continue with the Tai Chi their motivation should change into a spiritual one (without necessarily calling it that). They should do the Tai Chi to battle their ego and find the heart of their heart, the same as their teacher. Unless the student is travelling a similar path to the teacher's there will be no fruitful transmission of energy, no sympathy and no resonance - no real reason to spend time together. If the student's motivation doesn't begin to shift then they will eventually give up.

The Tibetan's say that the greatest good fortune is to find great teaching. And the biggest stupidity is to refuse great teaching when you find it.

Giving up Tai Chi or Heartwork is fine. But never give up the connexion you have with your teacher (in your heart, at least). They are far more important to you than you could ever imagine. If you honour and cherish that connexion then you effectively remain a student and your energy and heart will continue developing even though your body may never again go through the motions.

Thanks to the other Kevin for asking the questions.


The Form must be full of vital energy, not merely movements.
Shigeru Egami, 1912-81

How Poetry Comes to Me

It comes blundering over the
Boulders at night, it stays
Frightened outside the
Range of my campfire
I go to meet it at the
Edge of the light

Gary Snyder

Relaxed habit

Charles reminded me of a Dr Chi story yesterday. Dr Chi and John Kells were together and Dr Chi asked John how much practice he managed each day. "Eight hours", was John's reply. "Eight hours!", said Dr Chi, pausing just long enough for John to feel the pride welling up inside himself, before adding, "Not enough."

John recommended developing strategies for bringing the principles, at least, into other areas of your life. One of these was, "Develop a relaxed habit". He suggested taking a couple of habitual, simple tasks that you repeat many times a day and trying to do them consciously in a more relaxed and sensitive manner. Two he suggested as examples were opening a door, and sitting down and standing back up. Try to use a minimal grip on the door handle, and turn the waist to pull or push it rather than yank at it with the arm. Descend onto the seat of a chair by bending at the hips, using the legs to take the strain. Try to impact the chair with zero velocity. On rising, tilt from the hips and push gently with the legs, then the action will be effortless and will generate a little energy which will rise up the spine and through the head, giving your spirit a slight lift. When someone hands you something and you take it from their hand, try not to snatch. Grip, allow the others grip to release, and then take. When facing another person let your heart open and embrace them. When standing try never to lock the knees, and always have the weight mainly on one slightly bent leg. When looking at something (especially the computer screen) try to soften and relax the eyes (imagining they are at the back of the head helps). The possibilities are endless. And, especially in your dealings with others, you can similarly develop a listening habit (Mac used to imagine he was a sponge soaking up all around him), a spirited habit, a compassionate habit, a generous habit, a cheerful habit, etc. Let your Tai Chi subversively eat its way into everything you do. It's the only reasonable way of practising more than eight hours a day.


Judgements and opinions . . . are doubtful murmurs in mental mud.
Robert Smithson, 1969

Apparently, recent droughts have exposed Smithson's Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake, which has been submerged almost since its construction in 1970.

Under shallow pinkish water is a network of mud cracks supporting the jig-saw puzzle that composes the salt flats. As I looked at the site, it reverberated out to the horizons only to suggest an immobile cyclone while flickering light made the entire landscape appear to quake. A dormant earthquake spread into the fluttering stillness, in a spinning sensation without movement. This site was a rotary that enclosed itself in an immense roundness. From that gyrating space emerged the possibility of the Spiral Jetty. No ideas, no concepts, no systems, no structures, no abstractions could hold themselves together in the actuality of that evidence. Robert Smithson

Maximus of Gloucester

Only my written word

I’ve sacrificed every thing, including sex and woman
– or lost them – to this attempt to acquire complete
concentration. (The con-
ventual.) “robe and bread”
not worry or have to worry about

Half Moon beach (“the arm of her”)
my balls rich as Buddha’s
sitting in her like the Padma
– and Gloucester, foreshortened
in front of me. It is not I,
even if the life appeared
biographical. The only interesting thing
is if one can be
an image
of man, “The nobleness, and the arete.”

(Later: myself (like my father, in the picture) a shadow
on the rock.

Charles Olson, 5/11/65


Each of the postures of Tai Chi constitutes a transformational procedure for dealing with oncoming energy. You transform from a target into a receptacle for the energy, turning it, uprooting it, downrooting it, and finishing it off with a deadly blow. When yielding you have a choice whether to yield with the inside or outside of your left or right arm, inside or outside their left or right attacking arm, by turning to the left or right. This then makes 32 possibilities, and doesn’t even include changes in direction. So, for example, in Ward Off Left posture you yield with the outside of your right arm to the outside of their right arm by turning to the right. In Ward Off Right you yield with the outside of your left arm to the inside of their right arm by turning to the left. In Roll Back you use the outside your left arm on the outside of their left, turning to the left (having first entered with a small right turn - such a small turn of entering should precede each neutralizing turn within the Form). Press is a follow up posture but can also be thought of as an advancing yielding turn to the right with the outside of your right arm to the inside of their left. Push posture involves two yields, the outside of your left to the inside of their right, turning to the left, followed by the outside of your right to the inside of their left, turning to the right. In Lifting Hands you yield with the insides of your arms (palms) to their left arm, using the inside of your left to the inside of their left with a left turn, followed by the inside of your right to the outside of their left with a left turn. And so forth. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

Technical considerations such as these would bore my teacher rigid and would certainly have infuriated Dr Chi who would not tolerate any talk of applications. The real transformation happens before. It is difficult to know who transforms who. But what is for sure is that it happens in and with the heart. I guess the one with the biggest most generous heart is the winner. The students my teacher feels most connected to (and therefore the ones that continue to receive teaching energy from him in absentia) are those with the loving hearts: Pip Pennington, Hugo Vanneck, Tony Visconti, Roberto Fraquelli, David Tremayne, to name the obvious ones. These are special people and anyone with a heart will feel it and will be transformed by their company (just thinking about them does it for me).

I remember a student of John’s going across to Vancouver for a holiday. He of course decided to drop in on Dr Chi to see if he could cadge any instruction. He knocked on the door and Dr Chi opened it. “Hello, my name is Kevin, I’m a student of John Kells. I wonder if you would take a look at my Tai Chi”. Dr Chi said, “Just a moment”, and rushed off. He came back a minute or so later with a small book. He thrust it into Kevin’s hands and said, “Read this, it’s far better than Tai Chi”, and closed the door. Kevin looked down at the book. It was the New Testament. Later that evening Kevin phoned John and told him the story. Kevin was resigned to not being able to do any Tai Chi with the great man, but John said, “Go back and make yourself useful”. So Kevin returned the next day, this time explaining that he was also a tradesman and did Dr Chi have any jobs around the house that needed attending to. Dr Chi was delighted, invited Kevin in and showed him all the broken items that needed fixing. Kevin got to work immediately. Whilst he was working he and Dr Chi chatted, and eventually Dr Chi offered to take a look at his Tai Chi and even eventually pushed hands with him. When Kevin returned to London he came along to Tai Chi classes, took one look at how a posture was being taught, peevishly announced that this was not the way Dr Chi did it and left the building never to be seen again.

There are a few morals to this story.


Somehow face up to fear and move into the world of your own heart.
John Kells

The Runaway

There are sparkles of rain on the bright
Hair over your forehead;
Your eyes are wet and your lips
Wet and cold, your cheek rigid with cold.
Why have you stayed
Away so long, why have you only
Come to me late at night
After walking for hours in wind and rain?
Take off your dress and stockings;
Sit in the deep chair before the fire.
I will warm your feet in my hands;
I will warm your breasts and thighs with kisses.
I wish I could build a fire
In you that would never go out.
I wish I could be sure that deep in you
Was a magnet to draw you always home.

Kenneth Rexroth


Is the name of the game. And connexion. To transform into a better connector.

The Chinese talk about transformations: transforming work into ch'i, ch'i into spirit, etc. However, my teacher's interest is in the between-energy. The spark of connexion between entities. One can call it spirit but it is really more than spirit because it goes with an opening and working of the heart. Love? Spending time with my teacher's dying cat (she is 18 and has cancer and only a week or so to live) my heart naturally opens and feels pain. Part of me shrinks from this and thinks, "We should take her to the vet and end her misery", and yet when I leave her company I feel less than I did whilst I was with her: her company and my consequent connexion with her and her suffering (they are inseparable) makes me more human and more alive. She is very frail and finds breathing difficult yet she connects better now than she ever did partly because she doesn't have the energy to resist and partly because she naturally opens my heart and makes me better able to connect with her. I am the deficient one, not she. She transforms me into a better person, at least whilst I'm with her*. This is the reality that we students of heartwork need to open to and become aware of. One can do all the strength training, ch'i kung, Tai Chi and spiritual exercises in the world and still be unable to connect and transform.

On a practical level it is important to exercise and get some mobility into the three hearts - the one in the chest and the ones in the belly (sacrum) and head (mid to back brain). We do this using gentle figure of eight movements. It is then necessary to interact energetically with your colleagues. Pushing-hands wont do it, the energy isn't good enough, it doesn't vibrate. The exchanges need to be far more charged (more like real attacks) with no holding back, only then will the workings of the heart be visibly effective. Real interactions are going to produce real emotions. You will feel more alive and will realise that the reason for this is that your heart has worked, opened and connected. This sort of connexion is with everything. Your energy will fill the room and even inanimate objects will come alive. You will waken to the fact that everything touches and affects - transforms. There can only be objectivity when we actively force the world to be a collection of unconnected objects - when we withdraw our hearts. When we do this the thinking mind often comes to the fore. When the heart is present there is no need or room for thought. When the heart withdraws, for whatever reason, we are disheartened and lose sight of the reality of everything touches. These are the times when we need the courage and belief to actively search out hearty connexions and not suffer in silence. Life connects. Death disconnects. Whilst there is still life, no matter how tenuous, the energy of connexion is present. In primitive societies disheartenment would be very rare because as well as there being the constant society of friends and family to tease the withdrawing heart out again, these peoples tend to have world views which teach the divinity and connexion of all things*. This is what we need: heartwork as the foundation and fabric of our society. A new mythopoeia. A permanent revolution.

* Because connexion is all she has left the thing she loves now more than anything is company, more specifically she likes you to sit with your head the same level as hers, looking into her eyes with your hands on her body. The energy conversations that go on between us are remarkable and very affecting. Makes me realise how limited language is as a tool for communication, it gets things across but it also keeps a distance and gives us an excuse to be insensitive to other more intimate aspects of communication.

* I remember Archbishop Trevor Huddleston saying that when he moved from missionary work in Tanzania to take over the parish of Stepney in east London he was struck by how materially rich the working-class Londoners were compared to the Tanzanian tribes people and yet how deprived they were of love and connexion.

Feline softness

Posting Assi's painting yesterday with the two young men struggling to learn to yield in their ridiculously long stances, both staring desperately at the cat for inspiration, I remembered something my teacher once told me: a sure way to learn softness-listening-yielding is to own and regularly handle an affectionate cat. Watching him with his cats is a lesson in itself. Like he says, "These animals are so pure, the only thing they know is connexion. I can only strive to be as good as they."