When you see a new trail
or a footprint you do not know
follow it to the point of knowing.

Native American (Dakota)
in the half-light of dusk
after the day has prepared
hard surfaces for inspection
before the night has plunged
things back into themselves
there is a settlement in which
the external and the internal are
continuous with the evening air
if you are alone at the edge
of shadows you are not alone
the hours of light shine in you
with a compacted energy that
also burns in tree and stone
partly revealed and partly veiled

Thomas A Clark



In a way your fitness for a particular enterprise or exercise is measured by the proportion of your energy you can direct into it without getting tired (physically, mentally or spiritually). To learn to direct more and more of your available energy into the work takes years and is rather like training as an athlete - it needs to be taken slowly otherwise you'll hurt yourself.

When I started Tai Chi back in 1984 I was in the final throes of writing up a mathematics PhD - my mind was reasonably well trained (I was going to say developed) and I could readily use it for 12 hour stretches without tiring. I had never done any physical exercise in my life though, so when I started Tai Chi and tried to attack it with the same intensity with which I managed my academic work, I found that I tired quickly - after an hour my body would protest and I would have to stop. Now after 22 years of the stuff, my body doesn't get tired like it used to and I could easy do 7 or 8 hours of Tai Chi at a go. What is interesting though is that because of the time I have spent with my teacher (at least 3 hours a day for the last 10 years), the work I do, although it involves physical movement, is directed much more by spirit and energy, not necessarily mine either but the spirit and energy of the living teaching. The feeling is that rather than me doing the work, the work is doing me. So the constraint now is not physical but emotional and spiritual - the ability I have to remain open and connected to the energy coming through the teaching.
"If someone isn't absolutely for you then they are against you, and if they are against you then they are your enemy no matter what they say or what they do. Never forget it."

This is something JK said to me at least 20 years ago.


Energy & commitment

My teacher has always been at pains to point out to students that one doesn't really feel energy. One may readily feel the effects of energy – its traces, passages and gatherings through the body – and one may of course respond to it. The job at hand though is to work in such a way that one becomes immersed in it. This requires whole-hearted endeavour: working with a forever opening heart, and learning to channel more and more of one's energy into the work; at the end of a session one's exhaustion should be so complete that no part of you resists the call of energy. Recovery – rest and recuperation – in a sense bring you out of this world and back to the mundane; replenishment, as well as refilling the vessel usually means a drawing in of the threads of connexion. As the work becomes more and more engulfing – as you learn to channel more and more of your energy and commitment (heart) into it – this disconnexion ceases and immersion and exhaustion are complete – not only are you fully immersed but you are also fully empty – energy is no longer yours – what you receive is so quickly and readily passed into the work that at any particular moment you possess next to nothing.


This Room

This room is breaking out
of itself, cracking through
its own walls
in search of space, light,
empty air.

The bed is lifting out of
its nightmares.
From dark corners, chairs
are rising up to crash through clouds.

This is the time and place
to be alive:
when the daily furniture of our lives
stirs, when the improbable arrives.
Pots and pans bang together
in celebration, clang
past the crowds of garlic, onions, spices,
fly past the ceiling fan.
No one is looking for the door.

In all this excitement
I am wondering where
I've left my feet, and why

my hands are outside clapping.

Imtiaz Dharker

Tutoring a 16 year old today - trying to inspire him to a love of poetry. We did this poem from his GCSE English text - we both liked it a lot.


Remembering the future is more interesting than remembering the past.

John Kells



Compassion is the reaching out of my hand to allow the energy of the other a clear path into my own energy, especially into my heart.
This means that the other person will undergo an experience of my stability, which my whole life is dedicated to develop.
So compassion is not so much injecting my energy to do good but is somehow moving into the other's territory softly so that their energy is attracted down my natural pathways to where I reside in my power.
By my direction this energy they have sent into me is repaired and returned to them under the ground.
This meaning of compassion is really a form of communicating connectedness.

John Kells


There is a magic in this world  and I
have dared to try to find it all I know
is magic not that I can know it fully
how it says and stays
so close beyond a grasp
these fingers powerless to close upon it

Theodore Enslin



The first stage on the path of studentship is acquiring enough discipline to practice (work) daily. Once the student learns this then teaching of the art can begin in earnest. What the teacher wants is a student who will go away and work so thoroughly and sincerely that they come back with something that surprises, delights and inspires the teacher to give more teaching. Without a passion for the bitter taste of solitary practice, the teaching, despite talent, intelligence and protestations of devotion from the student, will go nowhere. The most important single phrase my teacher has ever uttered in my presence is “You are truly blessed to know you have no choice.” The work – your work – has to be as vital and necessary to you as the food you eat, if not the air you breathe. If you miss a session, for whatever reason, you should feel rotten – hungry for work – not because it makes you feel good (to the contrary), but because you know it has to be done, and if you don't do it who will? With the work a tiny part of humanity – you – is becoming gradually more relaxed, softer and more in tune with energy – closer to the truth. What bigger commitment to improving the world can you make? Like my teacher says, do it for those you love because it will be they who benefit most from the work you do.


It is never finished
what it is does not begin
the ends are only timing
and there is no time
a place to enter what is not
nor is it place to say of it
perfected perfect and pluperfect
only words to find a tense
some things all things what we cannot know

Theodore Enslin


It's a year now since I started this blog. Never realised I had so much shit in me.
Your sobriety has to run so deep that you can stretch the rules not only with impunity but with an overall benefit to your being.


is more
a possibility
we arrived in place
both talent and intelligence
transpose it
and then to lurk in waiting


Great teaching

Great Teaching calls out to all energies in all entities.
But who can hear this call?
It has to be one who is open enough, by accident or by design, to listening.
The listener is called a student.
To hear the Great Teaching requires greatness from the student.
Even a hint of listening is a hint of greatness and can be, and must be, built on.
The calibre of the student is indicated by how insistent the student allows the call to be.
"Allows" is an operative word and shows the control the far-reaching, self-important mind likes to extend over its environment within and ultimately without and back to within, the endless cycle of selfishness.
If by some grace an accidental listening is powerful enough, or the student is somehow prepared, then this selfish bubble, or ring of selfishness, is burst and the teaching can flood in.
In either case the energy released echoes a universal memory or yearning in the student for the connectedness of the Universal Principle.
The connectedness between student and teacher often speaks of "past" connectedness, and "future" connectedness through joint mastery, both of which indicate the futility of the concept of time.
This is a first and most important step away from the world of concepts.

John Kells


Natural wisdom

Some time ago my mother, who suffers from IBS, probably a consequence of having had 5 children by the time she was 26, went to a specialist for allergy testing. The usual culprits turned up in the test results: alcohol, coffee, bread, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc. which my mother then immediately cut out from her diet. Her IBS cleared up almost instantly and she remains clear – it only flares up if she eats one of these “bad” foods, either accidentally or out of weakness. Her insights at the time interested me. She pointed out that although she loved the taste of all the “bad” foods (and was literally addicted to coffee), whenever she consumed them something in her body knew she was doing the wrong thing. And what she found amazing upon recollection was that that something in her body knew before she had even put the food in her mouth. That protecting bodily wisdom is quite apart from the senses which at best just give information about how things are, and tell you little about how they will affect your health and well-being. Our culture and environment are full to the brim with things that are attractive but unhealthy, and we are programmed by that culture to let our senses override any other concerns, often even moral and ethical ones as well as our own natural wisdom. The trouble with the senses is that unless they are kept in check by a groundswell of connectedness, which is basically what our bodily wisdom is, they are not, in the long run, good for us. Selfishness brings only short term gains.



The reason the poems I post are short is because, being a Tai Chi teacher, I am acutely aware that the average attention span is even shorter. My teacher once told a class that in his experience the average attention span is less than 20 seconds. After the class he confided in me that it was in fact less than 1 second but that he didn't want to depress the students. What he meant by attention span isn't the length of time a person can concentrate on one activity for, but the length of time a person has the power to remain open enough for real energetic communication to take place. And it is a matter of power. This is why the intensity of the teachers presence, which lends power to the student, can force that attention span to stretch, and why the student feels so exhausted or out of sorts if not immediately after then certainly once they have ridden that power as far as it can go. The job of the teacher is to affect change. He will use all at his disposal to make it happen.


Intelligence is not a competence but a brightness.

Thomas A Clark


One of the most radical accomplishments a person can affect is to permanently change their posture. Not only does their energy change as a result, but so do all their perceptions, and the way they are perceived in turn. All changes in you are mirrored, if not initiated, in posture, especially once you start Tai Chi. Your fundamental relationships – the ones you absolutely cannot avoid – are the one with the earth and the one with the heavens. Your posture should be such that it softly receives (yields) energy from both, passing that energy into the heart where it can be offered to humanity through your connexions and your doings. The other fundamental relationship you have – the one that tends to get overlooked – is the one with your own energy. Talking about energy is terribly difficult. The language is not really there, despite poets' valiant efforts to afford it. Our language is founded upon naming things – giving objects unique labels so that they can be referred to in absentia. However, in the world of energy there are no objects (and consequently no in absentia either), there are just fields of energy with areas of more or less intensity. It is all a mysterious business which cannot be stood back from and analysed scientifically. The only way to investigate it is to join it and experience it with everything we have. The more of you you can throw in the more mysteries you will firstly encounter and secondly begin to unravel, and the more aware you will become as a result. This is the way of it. You start investigating energy, a process that begins to wake up energy within, making more available to you. To keep the process going you must throw this new energy into the investigation as well: the process must be all-consuming otherwise it grinds to a halt.



One of the difficulties in the teaching (one of the many) is the concept of always going forwards. The idea sounds great – if you manage to achieve it then you'll always have the advantage of immediacy – you'll be there at the inception of things, before they've developed into problems. However, it's important not to misinterpret what is meant by this instruction – to ensure that when you drive or project forwards that you do so from the right place. Many martial artists, and especially natural fighters, have a quality of always being out there – in front – looking for the next fight – intentionally on a short fuse. Such people just enjoy fighting – love the adrenalin rush and the pain, especially the infliction of pain. Psychopaths. Their aggression always stems from some negativity such as anger or fear or arrogance. They learn early on in life that losing their temper and lashing out works for them – brings the desired results – and so they spend the rest of their life practising it – making a virtue of it. And they become real masters – masters of anger and aggression – masters of laying their filth on the world and basically making it a worse place. These are extreme cases – extreme cases of getting is completely wrong. However, to some degree we are all like this – we all have our problems – problems which cause us not to listen and to respond inappropriately, carelessly and clumsily. The thing my teacher abhors more that anything else is coarseness – lack of refinement. As far as he is concerned the path forwards is the path into greater awareness, a path which naturally and obviously leads to greater refinement and subtlety. This will be achieved if, and only if, that thrust forwards comes gently and compassionately from the heart, and the key to this is posture. Aggressive people lead with their head – their angry spirit – not with their heart – they tend to lean forwards, if only ever so slightly. Our leaning back posture – driving the sacrum and belly forwards so that the energy from the ground thrusts up the legs and into and out of the heart is vital. Cheng Man-ching had it beautifully, especially when he was just standing rather than doing Tai Chi. It means your energy naturally rolls under and up the opponent, and it also means that your heart is always being stimulated to open and give – to connect. It is these connexions – made with heart and in the spirit of generosity – that open you up to other possibilities and are the impetus behind the refining process. The other, on some level, is always beyond what you could ever imagine and it is touching the unknown in them that wakes up those similar parts in you – increases awareness.

This all sounds wonderful but to achieve it requires such honesty that it is very rare. The problem is that we have all managed to convince ourselves that all our qualities are good in the sense of being natural and vital to our identity; we have all made virtues of what we are, including what others would consider glaring faults, and can't come to terms with giving up anything, especially anything that is going to be painful to lose. We live in a culture obsessed with acquisition and with alleviating suffering, with becoming wealthier and with avoiding pain, and those obsessions have driven deep into all parts of the modern psyche. How often have you heard students say, “Oh I just haven't had time to practice”? It doesn't occur to them that if they want to take up Tai Chi and do it justice then they'll have to give up some of their other activities in order to give it the time and energy it deserves. And if you tell a class of beginners that as they progress at their Tai Chi they'll have to give up more and more you'll probably never see them again, and if you do it'll be because they either weren't listening or don't believe you, which amount to the same thing.

To progress probably at anything, but especially Tai Chi, the student must have regular periods of real soul searching, trying to decide where their faults lay and what can be done to eradicate them. A good teacher will always stimulate such times – their company is always enough to shake your confidence to its foundations. If you have regular contact with your teacher then you have to struggle not to learn to protect yourself against his explicit or implicit criticism. Take it to heart and treat it as the blessing it is. The deeper you go the more difficult it becomes because the things you need to confront are closer to the bone, and just getting your mind around what they are is problem enough without the terror of having to do away with them. Our one saving grace is our posture. My teacher has always said that it is the most important part of the teaching – having the bum in. The rest is coming to terms with the implications of this posture.


So much has to be given up that one asks how much.
The answer is: everything you can think of, plus more.

John Kells


The Structure of Rime IV

     O Outrider!
when you come to the threshold of the stars,
to the door beyond which moves celestial terror--

the kin at the hearth, the continual cauldron that feeds forth
the earth, the heart that comes into being through the blood, the
householder among his familiar animals, the beloved turning to his
beloved in the dark

create love as the leaves
create from the light life
and return to the remote precincts where the courageous move
ramifications of the unknown that appear as trials.

The Master of Rime, time after time, came down the arranged
ladders of vision or ascended the smoke and flame towers of the
opposite of vision, into or out of the language of daily life,
husband to one word, wife to the other, breath that leaps forward
upon the edge of dying.

Thus I said to the source of my happiness, I will return. From
the moment of your love eternity expands, and you are mere man.

water fire earth and air
all that simple elements were

guardians are.

Robert Duncan

Riding the dragon

Most martial artists strive for invulnerability, and gauge their level by their ability to defeat others. In our discipline we strive (if that's the right word) for vulnerability – the ability to be defeated by pretty much everything in the sense of being ripped open by the reality of that other's presence and forced, as a consequence, to connect on their terms – our humility refuses us terms of our own. This may sound easy, or even trivial – just strive for incompetence – but in fact it is the most difficult thing of all to accomplish. It requires an internal emptiness – a lack of self – and an unquenchable appetite for moving forwards – onwards and outwards – fearlessly. The internal emptiness stops us becoming a target – others find nothing to stick to, or purchase on, in our presence – something that can confuse, irritate, anger or delight, but which usually just causes others to pass us by as though we are of little consequence. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it is the manner in which we drive forwards that attests to this. The average person moves forwards in life egocentrically – they take with them an enormous baggage which gets bigger and bigger with each new experience, and with each new experience they get stronger – more robust, more armoured – better able to take similar experiences in their stride. So, in a sense, relative to that baggage, they don't really move forwards at all. On the odd occasion when their ego deserts them – usually when put under intense emotional stress – the shock is so great that the last thing they are capable of is taking a great stride forwards into the beckoning unknown and leaving their precious cargo behind. We struggle to drive forwards relative to all that is worldly, a feat that is only really possible, continuously, if we have the heart to feel the connexion we naturally have with some part of that beckoning – a part my teacher labels destiny, for want of a better word. If that connexion is established (the only reasonable fear is the one of losing that connexion) then as long as you are doing work to loosen the shackles of ego then there will always be a net movement forwards. My teacher calls this riding the dragon. Riding, not grasping. Gradually picking up speed. The faster you ride the more of you gets flung to the wind until eventually there is nothing left to prevent you from becoming the dragon itself.


The student must return to his own strength of purpose and in quietude contemplate the violence of change and his inability to escape.

John Kells


The kitten
holds you in
your hand — that

mew — that purr —
that rag of
life — that home.

Cid Corman



Soft & open enough to allow what is there, at this time and in this place, to condense and settle onto the exchange and charge it with the immediacy and grace of spirit. Such spirit is intensely democratizing – humbling – levelling – but bringing you both up a level – to the level of spirit. Spirit becomes the teacher – it makes thing fresh, new and exciting. When teaching always look for something new and interesting in a posture – something you hadn't realized was there before – something that will bring the posture alive and transform the teaching experience into a creative and collaborative one. The students inspire the situation and on some level they should know it. Then, as well as teaching an aspect of spirit, there will be an emphasis put on posture as process rather than rigid structure. The postures are fluid and open enough to be vehicles for spirit and energy – the celebration and realization of what is unique and particular about an occasion – as well as general carriers of habitual (however beautiful or functional) form.

The big conundrum in Tai Chi is – How do I practice Form day in day out without it becoming habitual and stale? With spirit is the answer. Then each time it is different, but also each time it brings alive the spirit of the perfect Form which you never really manage to realize and you may never have seen (you don't need to have seen it), but you do manage to touch and rouse. We call this touching perfection.


          how to unify and
We must
our way back
to unity.
the links are important.



Two snippets from my teacher. Both written in May 2001. He's moved on a lot since then, but they're still unsettlingly accurate. Those who know him will attest to his uncanny ability to hit the nail on the head.
The skill of the teacher is to uncover the beginning of the process of understanding so the student realises he is already plugged into its swirling spiral - all he then has to do is honour it by putting forth his best effort.
In fact there is no other kind of effort.
Much comfort is taken in words, but there is no element of comfort or discomfort in the work.
Becoming one with the work is everything.
Everything is becoming one with the work.

Work is the vigorous training of all our energies.
We begin with purely physical energies.
Pushing back the barriers of pain with a correct method, the senses are noted to be working together: emotional, physical and mental.
The thinking rational mind is relegated to a specialised role, to be laid aside soon after the start of each cycle of communication, with a resultant expansion of understanding.
The external is the path to the internal and the internal becomes the path for the external.
The internal and external are never apart, focus on either and the other is activated.
But the internal cannot be described or defined by words, and is the foundation of the external.
The words you can use about the external only have meaning when imbued with the internal.
For this to happen, the internal must be woken up.
A good student is restless until he gives expression to what is buried out of sight to most people.
He must believe when most do not, when some may laugh at his obsession to uncover his "destiny".
He will find a teacher when he is prepared and qualified to do so.
With sufficient dedication he will reach this new world directed from within, the internal, wherein his spirit or essence reveals itself slowly, and reveals its connection to all other spirits.
Those who know are always doing, those who don't know think they can stop and start.
When work has squeezed out all that is not work, then the doing is natural, and you are one with knowing.
This knowing may be called understanding.
This understanding is continual doing without a conscious (thinking) awareness of doing.
This knowing takes the movement of other entities into account and makes way for them.
This means no fight or flight and may be termed "yielding" or "the knowing of communication".

John Kells


The world is split into two - those that believe and those that don't.

John Kells
only sun, moon for company
and those quizzing great
a-prism every heartbeat
ruins in which poet lives
under monkeypuzzle tree

Ronald Johnson


I scanned this picture from JK's inscribed copy of Assi Ben-Porat's Hebrew translation of Ben Lo's English translation of the Chinese Tai Chi Classics - The Essence of Tai Chi Chuan. The picture is by Assi.

How to work

“The symbol of all art is the Prism. The goal is unrealism. The method is destructive. To break up the white light of objective realism into the secret glories which it contains.”
ee cummings

Beautiful quote this – from Pat, my source of erudition – it explains exactly what happens during practice. In practice you pull to pieces what you have been given by your teacher to find its inner workings, its inner truth, and the principles at its core. If you simply practice what you've been shown – endlessly repeating – without this inquisitive tendency to discover what's inside then your postures will become hard edifices – great for rebounding attack but useless for working on softness or good character. The method is destructive – a peeling away of artifice and superfluity so that your postures can flow naturally and without thought or design from the principles through energy and with spirit. You'd like to work in such a way that lightness and delight of spirit are a necessity rather than just an infrequent bonus. If you manage to work this way then you'll begin to discover the real secrets of the postures – their moods – the reason an attacking stimulus makes you break into Single Whip rather than High Pat On Horse for example.


The big American is Robert W Smith and the young Chinese man at the back, not pushing too hard, is Dr Chi.


The rational mind and the world of energy are mutually exclusive. Not only that, the rational mind actively works against the world of energy to the point of denying that it even exists. The rational mind manipulates object, ideas, concepts and most importantly sees, recognizes and creates patterns. Such a tool is of no use in the world of energy where objects, ideas and concepts do not exist, and where what is paramount is the immediacy and uniqueness (violence almost) of what is there, and the purity and openness you can bring to it. You cannot project onto the world of energy, not without distorting and disturbing it beyond recognition. There are no patterns – certainly not ones you have experienced before. In the world of energy everything is new and it can only be fully connected to if you abandon all notions of past, present and future, as well as self. This is what openness is – forgetting what has happened so that you can be more full of what is happening – refusing to filter new experiences through old ones. Today you are not the person you were yesterday. Progress – moving on – is natural and inevitable if we stop holding onto the past with our minds. It is possible to directly experience and trust our energy to cope rather than indirectly experience and rely on the mind and its vast inventory of memories to keep us on top of the situation. The thing that irritates my teacher more than anything is when he tells a student something and the student says, “Oh, you mean such and such.” My teacher has been known to bellow, “No I don't! I mean precisely what I said!”


The inside real
and the outsidereal
Ed Dorn




The path of freeing your energy is arduous and extraordinary. The usual landmarks don't apply and it becomes instead a life of practice, partner work, time with your teacher and students, and rest. Rest is vital. Working on and with energy may not feel physically taxing but it takes its toll and can leave you frayed at the edges and even plunged into a strange reality for which only solitary recuperation is a remedy. The good student is usually one driven to work hard, so learning to rest properly and adequately is probably the most difficult task they will encounter. If they learn, success is assured, as long as they continue. Without it there will be very little real progress. In a way it is rest from the work, but keeping a part of your attention on your energy – the part that should always be on/with your energy. It is important to rest in an environment free of any pull or demand on your energy – away from other people, especially ones not particularly sympathetic with your path – but also away from the rigidity and hardness of your own rational mind. Far better, for example, to veg out in front of mindless TV than read a book.

The constantly chattering mind – the part that is always renewing and reinforcing both our self-image and the world around us – is also a real drain on your energy, and the skill of resting is to create yourself a secure enough environment (internal as well as external) – one without tension and anxiety – so that it can quieten down. It is only really when it quietens that you can relax and keep your mind naturally with your energy – feel energy. Rest then is just another aspect of the work – a simple and natural meditation.

My teacher once said to me, "If you find yourself in the company of a Chinese person and you realise that they have all their weight on one leg, be very polite."

This is interesting.


Free energy

You can use energy to do things – activities, chores – or you can use it to develop energy. You start to experience freedom when you have free energy – energy that isn't locked up in the doing of things – energy available to you to join and give to the world of energy – your subscription. It's like a grub stake of energy from which you need never look back – gradually freeing more and more of what you have. This energy is more akin to spirit and heart than the energy of work. Eventually, I suppose, most of your being could enter this realm, even much of the energy locked up in metabolic and other involuntary bodily and mental processes being freed. People with no experience of energy, or free energy, cannot imagine what it is or what it is like to have it, or, especially, what sort of discipline and sobriety are required to live a life devoted to it. Such a life, in a way, is a life of selfishness, or at least a life refusing to participate in the general dissipation of energy that happens in most realms of human behaviour, especially social behaviour. Far better to be alone in and with energy, or with similarly enlightened people, than pissing it out in company. For most people generosity consists of giving gifts – presents or money – or doing things for others. If you have free energy then your company can be enough – energy is available to you to give to whomever you chose, either by spending time with them, or in absentia, through simple techniques of projection – having the person in your heart and mind for a duration of time.

(In my experience those with the best feel for free energy, even if they don't possess much themselves, are people in the caring professions: doctors, nurses, home helps, etc. - people who spend a large part of their day giving their energy directly to others.)