A Simple Life

I remember Charles once telling me that a ch’i kung teacher he had in New York recommended that every so often the student should live an empty day – an entire day indoors alone with no gadgets (telephone, TV, music), just you, your energy, your work and your maker. I need one of these at least once a fortnight. It’s during these days that the stresses of other peoples’ egos, which have been clinging to me like a scab, making it difficult to connect to my own essence, slowly begin to slip away. The weight of the mundane, that earthly freight, so often smothers the delicate dance and balance of the finer aspects of energy and essence, bringing a general air of disheartenment and heaviness which we counter by desperately spending energy and time crassly and unproductively, gradually depleting our vitality and building a hardening shell around our true nature. Modern living is a bombardment of nonsense and clutter, all designed to appease and satisfy the superficial and desperate demands of the disconnected. The product of this is a society of people so over-stimulated that they are content to exist within their shells: scurrying egos constantly withdrawing their energy in order to accommodate others and protect their own sensitivities, happy in the knowledge that the next entertainment is waiting for them just around the corner. No yielding. Tai Chi and Heartwork don’t make you strong enough to cope with all this, they make you strong enough to reject it. Life needs to be simple.
        You think there should be
More, but this
This is all there is.
(Poem by Joseph Massey)
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. - Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

William Wordsworth



In our line of work (and I suspect on the deepest level in any line of work) progress is not really measured by how good you are at the Form or the pushing-hands (it’s possible to fake both), but how much your heart is opening up and extending into the world. The student must constantly remind themselves of this, especially if they don’t have the luxury of frequent contact with their teacher. Contact with your teacher provides what we call correction – their strength and softening presence corrects and realigns your energy, your posture and your attitude (these are connected). The teacher represents correct motivation, discipline, dedication, commitment and sacrifice – or as John would say, faith, sincerity and courage. Without them you need moments of empty time – away from any stress other than your own company – when you relax into your life and energy and deeply feel its context and meaning within the body of the teaching. These moments are times of reconnexion to the soul and spirit of the teaching and to the thrust of your heart. It’s during these times of quiet and peace of mind that your energy is allowed to relax into the connexions you have with your loved ones, your comrades, your teachers and those experiences you’ve had, and will have, that resonate. It’s when you connect to these that the meaning and necessity of the work becomes clear and you’re able to proceed with more strength and conviction. The fruits of your work nourish your connexions, and the enheartening of connectedness provides the vital correction you need. Which ever way you look at it, it’s a life of service.


To High Spirits

You have taken the vodka
That I was probably
Saving for tomorrow.
Go on and take it
For there's more enterprise
In waking naked.

Kenneth Koch


The feast is forwards. How many times have I said that? It is our first rule really, the rule of engagement. But is it? Part of the process of going deeper into the work is that the mind quietens and you begin to reside more in your energy and less in the head (or the body – being an athlete is as disconnected as thinking too much). The mass of your energy is behind you and if you are correctly connected with it then as you come forwards you will do so with the backup of a massive wedge of soft and softening realising potential. The world unfolds and is created as you venture into it. Soft and softening: restoring the spiritual balance. So there is an aspect of your posture that rears back into this energy. It is this connecting, combined with the wisdom of ward-off (our technique for bringing around to the front), that provides the impetus for that creative act, the act of moving into your life.

The genius of Cheng Man-Ching was his posture, which leant back into this energy. Where he got it is a mystery since the Yang family certainly didn’t have it. If you lean back properly (relaxedly) then you encourage this energy to enter into your body, mainly through the sacrum, to exit from the sternum (heart). It is this energy lifting and leaving the heart that draws you forwards. Forwards has nothing to do with aggression (self-expression) or ambition (greed). It is simply a natural expression of your humanity – the need to nourish and be nourished by the magic of connectedness. It is your energy that thrusts forwards and it is your posture that allows and stimulates this.



Remembering self disconnects and disheartens
Yielding softly begins heartwork
Forgetting self connects and enheartens

John Kells

Front Yard

Dragonfly's green thorax
glints mid-flight
against next-door's fence posts'
flaked white paint
      and lands on the sidewalk
in shadow slung
from a spray of nasturtiums
coiled up the side of the porch
- snail-pocked, flecked
with sun-blanched trash.
      You pluck a few, rinse them
under the garden hose,
slip them past your lips.
Joseph Massey

Joe Massey left a message yesterday: he has a new book out which if it's anything like the last (Eureka Slough from which the above is stolen), will be beautiful and passionate. They're the sort of poems that explode and make your toes curl up in delight. He can say more about connectedness in three short lines than I could in a hundred. Treat yourself.
          here, the one speaking
& the one
listening, is you



SHIMMER - to become a constant union
RAW - flowing tender surge
GLEAMING - steady passion
SOFTNESS - welcoming & pure
HUMOUR - clear & free

John Kells, Winter 2001/02

Faith, hope & charity

After discussing these Christian virtues with John at his place about 5 years ago, I arrived home to find this on my voicemail.

The activity of faith is hope and the foundation of faith is connexion and connexion is between human beings and human beings and everything - something we perhaps can call love. The ground is connexion - unless you're connected there's no reason to have any life at all or anything like faith. What enables faith to work is the feeling, the continuous reinforcement of that faith through the work. So all of them exist and they're all inter-dependent. If you don't go forwards you don't investigate the implications of faith.

John Kells, 2000


The Voice of the Devil

This is Blake again, who takes off from Milton. It's a beautiful take on the good/evil thing. I've put it here for Ray and Caroline. The work we do is all about channelling our passions and energies in a meaningful direction. Otherwise it tends to dissipate and the body wears out before its time. If you work correctly then some aspect of your energy should improve and strengthen with age. Think the long haul.

All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors:
1. That Man has two real existing principles: Viz: a Body & a Soul.
2. That Energy, call'd Evil, is alone from the Body; & that Reason, call'd Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.
But the following Contraries to these are True:
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call'd Body is a portion of Soul discern'd by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age
2. Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight.
William Blake
I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.
Pablo Picasso

Larry Koenig & Max, 1993



After teaching yesterday it occurred to me that if the student leads a partitioned life - one full of pigeonholes, each containing a different activity, one of which is called Tai Chi - then the Tao has no choice but to treat the student similarly - there will be secrets it cannot share. Freedom is the removal of partitions, not just within a life, but at the bounds of that life also. In a sense self is the congestion within a life, the clotted middle-ground that prevents free passage, the magnet that contorts the space you inhabit. Destiny and energy can only properly work for you if they are allowed free-flow through your being. Thinking is an activity that causes the energy to curl up into itself and stop flowing freely, especially in and out. Thinking, almost by definition, is an act of self-concern. Too much of it and you become a stagnant node. It implies that you have reality in a sufficient grip to be able to name and label its components and its interactions. This is pigeonholing.


He who pulls to himself a joy
Does that winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity's sunrise.

William Blake



My 8 year old daughter has been phoning me nightly to play me her newly practised violin and keyboard exercises. She has always been aware of the need to establish and maintain some sort of dialogue but has never quite found any common ground before, so I'm very pleased we're finally getting it together. What's fascinating me about her music studies is just how naturally, quickly and organically she learns, and it's all led by her ear rather than any feeling or notion of self. What's also striking is just how much the sound she gets from the violin is a reflection of her character and essential energy. And also, of course, the importance and efficacy of practice is always in evidence. At that age they're so malleable and open that as long as they have correct teaching (and the motivation to practice) they can't go wrong. The thing that's difficult to get into her is that it's not just playing the right notes that's important, it's getting the right rhythm. Rhythm is the common ground really. Without it she'd never fit in with others, either within an ensemble or communicatively with an audience. Communication is all about catching and carrying an audience and this is usually a matter of timing rather than self-expression. The same in pushing-hands - if you catch the other's rhythm then you naturally fit in with them and yielding and uprooting are effortless. To hear their rhythm you obviously must be relaxed and open but also some part of you must have swallowed or embraced the exchange in its entirety before it has started. Like John saying he always used to feel that Dr Chi had yielded to him before he got up in the morning. To do this effectively there can only be one thing in your life. You must approach everything on every level in exactly the same way you'd approach the other in pushing-hands. Yielding must be the consuming interest and passion in the life of a Tai Chi student.

Back in 1985 I visited New Zealand. One evening we were staying at Lake Taupo, the large lake at the centre of the North Island, and I was struck by the sounds the lake was making so decided to get up in the early hours when there was no traffic about and record the sounds on tape (I had a good tape recorder with me). I spent 90 minutes squatting on a rock ledge at the waters edge with a microphone dangling over, sleepily catching the lake's many rhythms. The most obvious sounds were the constant lappings of the water against the rocks, however, deeper than that there were slower swells, coming every five minutes or so. The longer I stayed there the more I became aware of the deeper rhythms and the more I was drawn to relax into and ride them. It occurred to me that there were rhythms probably thousands of years per beat which if I relaxed sufficiently I could fall into and join and become a part of. Then I would know the real secrets of that lake. On one level I was catching the lake on tape but on another the lake was catching me. It is the same in Tai Chi: on one level you are the yielder, swallowing, embracing and processing, but on another level you are being yielded to - something is swallowing, embracing and processing you, all of the time. If you can relax and soften into this process then you become a much more potent yielder and life takes on a deeper significance which my teacher calls destiny.


Fame & Fortune

the cows stop eating
to watch me pass.

more blackberries
than I will ever pick.

Bill Demeer


John once told me about a dear student. He explained that what made him special was his courage, which enabled him to step out of his conditioning when confronted by dangerous situations (such as being with his teacher). The way John described it was that he took one step forwards and so stood in front of his conditioning, leaving it behind him. It was an ability that enabled John to enter into energy exchanges and deep teaching transmissions with him on a regular basis.

This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. It just requires you to meet your teacher, raw and naked, at least half way.


I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have the light joyousness of springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labours it has cost me.
Henri Matisse

The Voice

One of the interesting things about the weight-training we did 12 years ago, was how it encouraged the chest to expand and the heart to fill. This was especially the case with heavy squats. To prevent the weight from buckling the spine one had to really thrust the upper chest up to the heavens as the legs drove the bar up. The feeling afterwards was of a heart emanating and reaching out into the world, and a spine strengthened by having stacked down through the backs of the legs. Chest work such as flies and pullovers were also excellent for opening the heart. What became clear in fact was that to manage hefty weights at all the spine had to be braced, the chest had to be full and open, and the belly had to be taut and contracted.

The closest I’ve come to the feelings of careless power, exuberance and generosity that the weights developed, is from reading poetry aloud. I stand up, sit back, hold the text up high and declaim (without in any way shouting) drawing power from the belly and legs and allowing that power to resound in the chest cavity, which expands and reaches up in much the same way it did whilst squatting. The resonating voice stimulates the physical body and the act of letting energy out stimulates the energy body. Projecting the voice to some imagined spot in the distance is helpful, and a good text is vital. I remember hearing old recordings of Yeats and Pound reading their own stuff and was struck by just how loud and strong their voices were. In the days before microphones projection had to be an act of spirit. We are vocal beings and part of being strong is to be of strong voice. Singing is probably even better, especially singing hymns within a congregation. An old girlfriend used to say to me that if ever I wanted to cheer myself up just sing. I’ve never done it but I will, one day. Some things stay on the back-burner for a long time before they’re cooked.

Those of you who have any of John’s writings (really dictations) should realise that they are meant to be read aloud in this way. This act evokes the energy with which they were created. The meaning is as much in their vital realisation by you as it is in the sense of the words and phrases. This is often the only way to make any sense of some of the longer sentences that just don’t seem to scan or resolve. They were originally read to me to write down, reading aspects of energy and the Natural Process. When I read them back to JK he’s as surprised as I am at what has manifest.


The Melting Heart

A practice session should leave you feeling as though you have just emerged, fresh and new, from a cocoon.
Raw and tender, but with perfected vision.
An imago from the imbroglio.
A skin has been shed rather than established.
This is only possible if you become completely engrossed in the "the perfect soul that is the eye of work."
Melting into the Natural Process.
The melting heart.

"Lose my definitions, steal my time, and leave me naked to all that is"
John Kells
The writer is the widow of an insight.
David Bromige, b.1933


Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much happiness as your spare time.
Pablo Picasso


Sticking to a persons flesh should be a magical and lively experience. “I’d want her thighs to put birds in my fingers.” Unless one of you is totally into themselves the area of contact should dance with energy and possibility. Dull or dead contact should be avoided. If you stick to someone and their flesh feels dead it’s because their humanity is not reaching out: their selfishness does not allow feeling for others, or as JK would say, a lack of compassion’s breath. They can have all the correct words and be seemingly friendly and well-intentioned but it’s all a show and means nothing if they cannot touch meaningfully. Trust touch, it’s more important than anything else. Through touch you feel the person’s heart and you feel their mind, and you feel the struggle between the two. Mind expresses itself as tension: either hardness or retreat. Heart is soft and giving. It is your job to locate and join with the good part. Your heart should ease their mind and allow their heart more exposure: your entering should encourage theirs. Joining will then be teaching enough; there will be no need for words. “So let us melt and make no noise.”

The Tai Chi Form is similarly all about touch and sticking, despite the absence of another person. You are always touching both the ground and the air and Tai Chi famously develops an improved relationship with each. The relationship with the ground we call rooting. The relationship with the air is less well documented but Cheng Man-Ching has talked about “swimming in air”. Heart should be involved with each. Your softness and entering (giving) should and will invite the finer energies of earth and air to enter you. Surfaces and boundaries dissolve. You reach out. You don’t need to be doing Form to work with earth and air: they are always with you. Try to be heartful of each. Feel how when you relax into gravity it seemingly disappears to be replaced by a floating lightness which extends you into the world. One of the interesting things about the two beacons in my life (John & Pip) is just how fine, delicate and light is their relationship with these two elements. Their fineness makes the air around them and the ground under them fizz and dance with life. This is infectious. It is at once everywhere.


Inspiration comes, but it has to find you working.
Pablo Picasso

The Internal

Kevin Grey below makes an analogy between the Ronald Johnson fragment and an
I Ching hexagram. I hadn’t seen it myself (being a bit slow) but do now, and Johnson certainly would have been aware of the I Ching. I was more delighted by the ear, art, heart and hearth embedded within the poem. The six lines make a solid block, and there is something solid and reassuring about composite numbers. It is the primes that stand out like peculiar lone beacons.

It would be nice to find someone who teaches the internal of the I Ching. I’m sure there is an internal aspect, but it has probably been lost. The problem with the internal is that it needs someone who knows to be able to take you there, not just to thrust you in but to give you support (hold you up) whilst you’re there. It cannot be done any other way. A transmission of energy. The world opens up, or opens in to a new and richer space. This is not the same as receiving instruction. The job of the good student is to prepare and ready themselves for these forays with their teacher into the internal. This requires the strength and purity of character that only the pain and grind of hours upon hours of solo practice can develop. In a sense the student has to be strong enough to support the teacher so the teacher can leap further into the flames of the internal. The teacher can then shower the student with some of this fire. This is the way of it. This is why a teacher of the internal teaches: he needs the company and stimulation of a well-trained and well-destined comrade to have access to areas he cannot venture into alone (or areas where alone does not exist). He is as much a student as the student, just a little deeper in. This is why it is the internal and the investigation of the internal that keeps the work alive and vital.

Back in 1978, during the summer vacation I went to work in a tungsten mine in Portugal. The mine was accessed through a long adit cut into a mountain, and it was a good half hours walk down the low, sloping tunnel to reach the active stopes. I was assistant to a mine captain who was responsible for a group of about 10 young miners who were drilling and blasting. It was the mine captain’s job to say where to drill, how far to drill and then to load the holes with dynamite and blast. The tungsten was mineralised as wolframite in a quartz matrix that also contained iron and copper pyrites, zinc blende, mispickel, and a little galena, native copper and native silver. After the stope had been blasted and the dust had cleared we would venture in to investigate the newly exposed quartz vein. Within the vein were vugs: hollow cavities from the sides of which grew quartz crystals encrusted with small golden cubes of pyrite along with varying quantities of the other minerals. Illuminated by the light from our miner’s lamps they appeared as treasure troves, especially since the gleaming, pristine minerals would be constantly changing colour, going through iridescent hues of green, blue, yellow and red, as they began to tarnish. Some of the quartz crystals were bigger than me. These magical experiences were the closest analogies I have found to what it is like to venture into the internal with one’s teacher.


Here Milton describes how Satan felt and behaved when he first beheld Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is a wonderful description of softness and effect of softness. (Needs to be read aloud with dramatic intonation.)
Such pleasure took the serpent to behold
This flowery plat, the sweet recess of Eve
Thus early, thus alone; her heavenly form
Angelic, but more soft, and feminine,
Her graceful innocence, her every air
Of gesture or least action overawed
His malice, and with rapine sweet bereaved
His fierceness of the fierce intent it brought:
That space the evil one abstracted stood
From his own evil, and for the time remained
Stupidly good, of enmity disarmed,
Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge

Ronald Johnson


Softness is both the sound and the echo of forwards movement into the Natural Process.
John Kells


bones in the child
child in the womb
womb in her
body in
bed in the room
room in the house
house in the

because we have

Robert Grenier, b.1941

The Third Heart

Having the ability to vibrate through a whole range of frequencies is essential for a teacher or for anyone who wants to be able to properly connect with others. You need to be able to attune yourself to your company – vibrate sympathetically – otherwise you wont be on the same wavelength. This has nothing to do with having interests in common, although if you have this ability then you are likely to be naturally interested in others. As a teacher, having attuned yourself to the student (stuck to them), you can then take them somewhere more interesting (for you). When you connect properly and well the connexion itself will have a unique vibration and you’ll both be learning and benefiting. When you leave each others company the connexion continues to vibrate, and if it’s strong enough and you both remain open to it (consciously or otherwise) then heart energy from each of you will feed it in absentia and keep it going until you meet again, when it will feel as though the relationship has developed whilst you’ve been apart. The heart will stay in touch. This would be an enlightened approach to relationship: one for whom heart felt and heart giving are all important. Everyone has such connexions, usually with close family. An ignorant approach would be to enjoy the togetherness whilst it’s there and then forget it whilst it’s not (moving from sensation to sensation): Saturday night out with your mates. An evil approach would be to manipulate the relationship such that the other gives into it and you receive: an energy vampire.

A good connexion is a living entity in itself, the heart of which we call the Third Heart (the first and the second being yours and the other’s). This is why, after making love properly, it feels, whilst you’re both lying there in each others arms, that there is another entity present that the intensity of your togetherness has created and nourished, and which now nourishes both of you. It has been a creative experience rather than just a pleasurable one. The magic of connexion is that it gives to both connecting parties – energy is seemingly created – you both go away feeling better. Love always passes through a third heart. This is why some people are very difficult to love – you may really like or fancy them but if there is no real connexion, no third heart, then in a sense there is nothing to love. Such people have often been thrust into a state of disconnexion through early abuse: they associate connexion with pain. In a sense we are all in such a state to some degree - we could all be better connected. Thankfully such people often have a pathetic air about them that encourages feelings of sympathy – your heart goes out to them – so hopefully some good hearted person will eventually have the patience and the perseverance to bring them out of their shell. Things tend to sort out and come right in the end. However, things also have the knack of settling into a steady state of mediocrity – a middle ground – so to achieve the truly extraordinary requires great effort – swimming against the tide. It is so important to strive to be better than average, and so difficult to achieve, everything around conspiring to drag you back. Personally I feel strongly that the only sure way out of the mire of mediocrity (which is really the same as the mire of self) is to believe in something beyond yourself and through that yearning to find great teaching.


Understanding is all about going forwards, not clutching, just entering and being with the consequences of this forward motion.
John Kells

Pastures new

I read recently that some of the most interesting poetry being published today in English is written by poets for whom English is not their first language. The use of words and rhythms (as well as the mindset) of such poets are often strikingly and refreshingly different. I remembered this after reading Corinna's comments to yesterdays post where she used the word "pasture" for "posture". Perhaps this is a more appropropriate word even, especially if one considers dwelling in a pasture/posture - grazing in it and becoming nourished by it. John has never recommended standing static in pastures, especially not a double-weighted one such as Riding Horse, because they work against a light lively mind. Far better to do the Form. If you do stand though it is possible to relax sufficiently to find the motion within the stillness. A posture should only ever be still because a light equilibrium has been established rather than a forced rigidity. The difficulty is to separate out and give some life and independence to the various equilibrated energies. This can be encouraged if you allow a subtle and gentle figure of eight into the sacrum - barely enough motion to be noticed. As the energies begin to shake loose of each other you can feel how the figure of eight encourages them to interact and breathe (almost like they are pushing-hands with each other). Liveliness is just a measure of the frequency of these interactions - the breathing becomes a vibration increasing in pitch. In a sense, your usefulness is your ability to embody all frequencies, from the lowest throb where a single pulse is a lifetime, to the highest fizzing tingle.


The heart is forever inexperienced.
Henry David Thoreau, 1817-62

Posture & Energy

I remember once, about 7 years ago, John said to me, “Take up Push posture and I’ll show you what Dr Chi showed me.” I obeyed, and adopted Brush Left Knee and Push, making every effort to get my bum in since I guessed what I was about to be shown may have something to do with this. John then put his hand on my lower back and drove it down and forwards with such energy that my front leg nearly gave way. His touch was very light and not forceful in the slightest and I’m not sure how he achieved such an effect on me – my guess is that he just placed his hand and adopted the posture he required from me himself. I was really shocked as to just how extreme the posture was. It felt as though the front leg disappeared and my connexion with the front heel was purely through the spine, sacrum and coccyx. It also felt as though, as he drove me down, the ground rushed up into me until it was level with the crown of my head. At the time I knew it would be years before I had the strength to even go there again, let alone take that posture as my regular one. However, the feeling has been a standard ever since – something solid and real that I have been semi-consciously working towards. I mention it because we’re beginning to retrieve it in the work we’re doing now and I’ve begun to realise that the strength I required was a spiritual sobriety – an inner quietness – rather than muscular strength. The pain and alarm I originally experienced from the posture was my response to the openness and the energetic invasion of my body by the ground brought about by the adjustment and the relaxation my teacher’s touch and presence induced in me. At this level relaxation means to slip out of the physical world and into the energy one. In the energy world there are always contrary tropisms, hence the figure of eight (and simplistically the circle). Relaxing into correct posture and allowing gravity to bear down induces the contrary rush up of energy into the body and out of the heart, face and crown (the face really glows). This rush can be so strong it can take the breath away and can even cause you momentarily to leave the ground. What is striking me more and more though is that when you relax and slip into the world of energy and heart you encourage those aspects of your environment not already so placed to do the same, especially those entities to which/whom you are connected (heart-to-heart). This is why simply having the company of the teacher is often teaching enough. And of course the more you relax into this world the more you connect because in this world there is no real disconnexion. As a human being you cannot expect to do more good than this. In equal measure, anything less would be an irresponsibility.


The heart has its reasons that reason does not know.
Blaise Pascal, 1623-62


Purging the computer I found this:

It is the job of the teacher to lend some of her energy and experience to the student so that they can achieve, whilst in her company, spiritual states they can't quite achieve on their own. This will bring to the student strange feelings - whether elation, anxiety, bliss or dread - it is of no importance. What is important is that the student honour this assistance by trying their utmost to remember, retrieve, practice and relive the experience. This is the painful process. How does it happen? Dr Chi could only say, "Somehow." John, as you may expect, says a little more - with Faith, Courage and Sincerity. But without this work the teaching will come to nothing and the teacher will quickly lose interest. When the student is with the teacher the work the student has done glows out of her and inspires more teaching to express itself. In a class situation, when many students are present, it is only those students who so glow that the teacher sees and her teaching is directed at them. The students who do not glow are lucky to be in the presence of the teaching - they are given another chance so to speak. In a one-to-one situation though it is crucial that the student has done the work otherwise there is no life or truth in the situation for the teacher. The student gives to the teacher by giving to the teaching.


A person's world is only as big as their heart.
Tanya A Moore



JK has always said that the single instruction from Dr Chi that most affected him was the word Natural, or Natural way best way. John’s investigation of this has lead to the discovery that the heart is the primary natural function of the human being: touch and connexion and softness all aspects of heart, whereas the thinking mind is the unnatural function, the part that lives in denial (of heart), the part that tends to operate through disconnexion. What always astonishes me about John is just how much he drips with connectedness and heart. He is so much of and in the heartworld that even when he thinks it is still of that world. The average person’s brain is filled with facts and data, information, feelings, memories, experiences, and thinking involves picking and choosing and rearranging into new patterns: interpolation and extrapolation. With John thinking is more like tapping into a vast energy bank, dredging ancient knowledge from some strange place (the primal well) where it has been hidden by other entities similarly connected. I know when he’s doing it because the hair at the back of my neck starts to stand on end: with John thinking is far more energetic (or even physical) than neurological. His energy, which through his work is now naturally connected, feels and his mind simply verbalises rather than thinks.

Meditation and contemplation are usually considered to be times when the individual relaxes, gets in touch with their own energy and begins to understand deeper meanings. It is our contention that until you work on connectedness, heart-to-heart, with others, your energy will generally be disconnected, at least from what really matters which is the heartworld, and will be unnecessarily limited. It is your connexion with the heartworld that enables you to touch others with your words, thoughts and deeds. Your ability to touch and enhearten is what we call your humanity. Without connexion to the heartworld there will always be an emptiness at the pit of your being, and living will generally be far more stressful than it should be, and real relaxation, which is a falling into something other than self, will be an impossibility. The truth of Heartworld is that everything touches. It is one thing to know this intellectually, or be attracted by its sentiment, it is yet another to truly understand it. Until you become a part of this world your efforts to touch will always fall short. Like Adam’s finger that limply and weakly (half-heartedly) reaches out for God’s, not quite bridging the gap.

The Truth of Touch

Everything touches.
Touch is everything.
Touch a chord.
Touch wood/paper/stone.
Touch of nature.
Keep in touch.


My friend tree
I sawed you down
but I must attend
an older friend
the sun
Lorine Niedecker


An open mind and an open heart are vital for progress. To start with most beginners live in the world of the thinking mind (the normal world) – they are usually reasonably well-educated, reasonably nice, reasonably middle-class and reasonably stiff. They come to their first lesson with some vague idea as to what Tai Chi is but with quite strong ideas as to how the world is and how it behaves, and they have learnt to function reasonably well in it. As my teacher used to say in the first lesson, “You’re all success stories – you’ve got this far – but to go any further you’re going to have to change.” To progress at Tai Chi the students will need to be open to having all their concepts/notions/ideas about anything and everything go through various transformations along the way. This is an exciting process, once one starts, and the Tai Chi class is the ideal environment for change: everyone is well-intentioned and eager to learn and usually there is plenty of support for students finding it difficult for whatever reason. The important change that needs to happen though, the one that was the most difficult for me, is the change in emphasis from head to heart. Until all one’s motivation comes from and to the heart one hasn’t really begun, or rather one is desperately preparing to begin. I always considered myself a good student: I realised in the first lesson that my teacher was the most remarkable person I’d ever met and I was intelligent enough to realise that people like him are very rare and I wouldn’t meet another, not in this lifetime anyway, so I decided to study his art (it’s not Tai Chi but it posed as such originally) to the exclusion of everything else, mainly because that was the approach he recommended. I practised all hours of the day and my life revolved around my daily trips to his Tai Chi school. However, I always had the nagging feeling that I was missing the point: I was going at it the same way I’d gone at everything else in my life – whole-headedly rather than whole-heartedly. The thing about the head is that it thinks the real in – it creates the world the way it would like it to be – it immediately sets up rational barriers between your energy and other energies and there is little energetic communication possible. This was evidenced, in my case, by my inability to respond to energy. I had an open mind in that I loved the excitement of adopting new rational structures and understandings: I would see something I couldn’t understand and immediately and voraciously set about tearing it to shreds to suss it out. However, this was of very limited use when it came to an integrated energetic discipline such as Tai Chi. My teacher’s Tai Chi required me to drop the (open) mind altogether and work from a different place entirely. This is what was difficult. I just couldn’t conceive of a way other than thinking. Eventually the barriers broke, probably from the accumulation of all those hours of hard work, especially the hours one to one with my teacher, and the shift from head to heart started. I always believed it would, as did my teacher, and I guess it’s this belief that saved me.


Ah your face
but it's whether
you can keep me warm
Lorine Niedecker

Odds & Ends

Talking with JK last night about various things including work, he reminded me of Dr Chi’s obsession with Tai Chi. Apparently he would sleep with the Classics under his pillow so that if he woke up during the night he could dip into the tradition, and he used to work so hard at his Tai Chi that when he got into bed at night he’d have to use his hands to physically lift his legs into bed they’d be so tired and sore. I also remember being told that when practising a slow, sunk Form he’d rarely get further than Crossing Hands because by that point he’d be screaming in agony. Pain does cleanse, and any intensity is better than none.

John also mentioned that students of the Internal will be interested in the meanings behind all things and will be suspicious of the obvious. He also discussed three aspects or qualities: heart, spirit and soul. Put simply, heart is feeling for others, spirit is vitality, and soul is depth. We all have them in varying proportions. The idea is to distinguish which one you’re lacking and concentrate on it. Those with plenty of heart are warm and loving but prone to being taken advantage of. Those with spirit tend to be fiery and great at getting things done (nothing is beyond them), but tend to lack wisdom and can be angry and insensitive. Those with soul are wise, sensitive and slow and prone to melancholia. All can be developed if the student applies themselves intelligently.

I’ve often felt that what my schooling lacked was any emphasis on heart. If, after completing my A-levels at 18 I’d had to spend a year caring for others I’d have turned out a much better person. A term each with children, the elderly and the mentally ill would have been perfect.

Across the road from us here is a home for the mentally ill. We once had a parcel delivered there and I had to go and collect it. I knocked on the door and the face of a young lady with Down's syndrome appeared at the large window next to the door. She opened the window and said, “Hello, my name’s Beautiful Pauline, what’s yours?” I introduced myself and explained why I was there. She ushered me in through the window (she wasn’t allowed to open the door) and led me by the hand to the live-in carer who gave me the parcel at which Beautiful Pauline led me back to the window through which I crawled to exit the building. That girl had so much beauty and heart that I spent the rest of the day in a state of elation, tingling with her energy and goodness, wondering if I’d ever have the courage to trade my intelligence for her heart.
In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
John Bunyan, 1628-1688



The most important thing for a human being is to learn to let their energy out. (Energy will develop and strengthen as part of this process, and not vice versa.) This is what we mean by freedom. Smiling is only useful if it frees up this process. It is a smile of courage rather than a smile of contentment or appeasement. We are not trying to become like the giggling Tibetans or the reactionary New Agers, we are trying to become warriors. Imitate the smile of a warrior about to enter battle. He smiles and laughs to dispel the fear trying to drag him down into the mire of self, to dispel the reluctance to engage (the reluctance to die). A correct smile should instil terror in the heart of the enemy because it is a sure sign that you mean business and are about to explode in their direction with everything you have.

Each moment you find yourself in is pregnant with possibilities - the manifold now. The normal approach is to use the thinking mind to pick or plan a single path through the unfathomable chaos of unfolding reality. We recommend instead you use lightness and humour to cut through the singular linearity of the thinking mind and connect to the totality of this complex. Your engagement can be total - you just have to make a mental leap and realise that reality doesn't happen despite you it happens for you and with you - you are the manifold now.
The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart - not something that comes upon the earth or after death.
Friedrich Nietzsche


The Tai Chi Centre, South London

Mark Raudva has finally got his website together.
It gives details of his highly recommended Tai Chi classes in South London.
A descriptive list of JK's warm-up exercises, plus other things, can be downloaded from his site.
What happens in the heart simply happens.
Ted Hughes, 1930-98


Some disagree with our approach. They claim heartwork interactions are not real and require cooperation. Heartwork requires connexion rather than cooperation; specifically heart to heart connexion. It also requires energy and intensity, honesty and commitment, and a body well enough trained and exercised to respond as a unit and follow the heart - integrity. Those failing to agree with what we do are effectively admitting to living in a world without the magic of connexion – a world of discrete objects involved in scientifically analysable interactions. (I once innocently asked one of the lecturers at university the meaning of life - "Propogation of the species" was his moronic reply.) These people fail to realise that this rational world is the creation of the mind and is just as artificial as the languages we have constructed. These people live in a world devoid of spirit and empty of soul. For us spirit and soul are our bedrock and we acknowledge and intimately work with them every day if not every moment.

Nature is not grammatical. It can be known, not by dispassionate observation but through impassioned joining.

Think a stalking cat.

Photo by Prema


stepping through the water to the rocks

Robert Grenier, b.1941
Things don't go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be.
Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784


The great conundrum of Tai Chi. Of life in fact. If softness were just a light touch then life would be so much simpler. One could just practice sensitivity. However, softness isn’t just a light touch. It is an entering, insinuating, seeping life energy that transforms as it goes/gives. It is an expression of a consuming interest and passion for the basic need of any living being – the need for connexion. It is an expression of your compassion.
Most creatures show softness at least some of the time, the most obvious time being when they are with their young. An enlightened being shows softness all the time, even when they’re being hard. For a truly soft being, hardness is just an intensity of energy that in no way means the withdrawal of their compassion – it just means they mean business. The best examples I can think of are cats. They’re certainly far better at it than humans. For a non-enlightened being hardness is the withdrawal of their compassion – selfishness. You don’t need to touch (or be touched by) a hard person to know that they are hard. When a selfish person tries to become soft without addressing the problem of their selfishness then they become sly - they use their intelligence to give the impression of softness, which is in fact just another expression of their hardness – their lack of compassion. This is a great strain and will lead nowhere. Most students of Tai Chi get it wrong at least to start with: they misunderstand what softness is. It took me 17 years to twig. At that point my teacher said to me, "Ah, now you’re ready to begin." Most students I know haven’t begun. They’re still aimlessly wandering around in the wilderness refusing to see what’s been staring them in the face ever since they were born. I suspect that the big insight people need to have before they can see what is truly there, is that the way they are is purely their own doing and their own responsibility. No matter how harsh your upbringing and your conditioning, it has been your response to that that has produced what you are now, not the circumstances themselves. Another person having exactly the same experiences would have turned out very differently. When you realise this, that the only thing reasonably to blame for your present state is yourself, then (after you’ve got over the shock) you are empowered because you realise that with a change of focus and emphasis, brought about through correct teaching, it can all be put right, by you (assuming you're willing to do the work). You have to believe this otherwise it’s all hopeless.
A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge.
Thomas Carlyle, 1795-1881

Solo practice

The foundation of the work is your own solo practice. My teacher always used to say that if you’ve done enough solo practice then when standing in front of another person you should be able to forget it all and concentrate fully on them; any techniques should naturally express themselves when necessary. A student who doesn’t practice is crippled by laziness. In the old days my teacher used to sometimes watch me in despair and shake his head. From that would come the vestige of a smile and the phrase, "What will save you is your willingness and ability to work hard." The student’s practice is like a tiny light: a beacon of hope that one day they may in fact learn and understand something of importance. Without it, no matter how well-intentioned and eager for partnerwork that student is, there will be an air of failure and decay about them: each time you see them they’ll be slightly older and their vitality slightly less. For a teacher that’s pretty depressing. Some people get it naturally right - there’s an element of the work that they practice in their daily life, without knowing it, and consequently there’s an aspect of their energy that continues to improve. Such people are rare but wonderful to behold. My teacher would call them natural masters. They have something important to teach. Whether they can teach it, other than by example, is doubtful – they’d have to spend years analysing and investigating precisely what it is they know in the hopes that they’d find and develop a means to instruction. If you come across one and they’re compassionate or stupid enough to agree to spend time in your company then lap it up: immerse yourself in their energy and vitality and try to suss what they’ve done to deserve it.

One of the tenets of Tai Chi is that although you can never guarantee to be stronger than an opponent, you can always choose to be weaker. The idea of partnerwork is not that you get a chance to practice techniques and compete but that you get the opportunity to practice listening, humility and compassion. Every person that stands in front of you is going to have something wonderful to offer – there will be some aspect of their energy or experience that is totally fascinating and worth emulating. If you have the heart you can locate and focus on this. Then not only will you learn but you’ll also be encouraging the best part of that person, which is probably the greatest favour you can do them. But to manage this you’ll need to have done your solo practice otherwise you just wont be quiet enough to hear what they have – you’ll end up projecting yourself on them instead. Can you imagine anything worse?


There is a light that shines beyond all things on earth, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in your heart.
Chandogya Upanishad


This from Masaaki Hatsumi's guidelines for the running of his dojo in Japan.

All those joining the Bujinkan must get an annual membership card. This card not only preserves the honor of the Bujinkan members, it indicates you are part of a larger whole - one whose members come together with warrior hearts to better themselves through training and friendship. It evinces the glory of warrior virtue, and embodies both loyalty and brotherly love.

The tradition of the Bujinkan recognizes nature and the universality of all human life, and is aware of that which flows naturally between the two parts:
The secret principle of Taijutsu is to know the foundations of peace.
To study is the path to the immovable heart.
We must put the heart of the warrior first, working together for self-improvement and for the betterment of the Bujinkan.


A full life

A full life is one that realises your potential (destiny) not one that passes arbitrarily from experience to experience, or as JK would say, from sensation to sensation. A full life has nothing to do with the range or variety of experience it contains, and everything to do with the intensity and passion with which each moment is lived. A full life is just as available to those in confinement, whether it be wheelchair, prison or a coma. Who can enumerate all the realms in which we are alive anyway? A full life gets truly stuck in.