I have nothing to attain.

John Kells
Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.

Mother Teresa


If the first stage of Tai Chi is personal relaxation then the second stage has to be coming to grips with the art as interaction and communication. Generally this involves learning the martial applications of the postures so that an imaginary opponent can be visualized as one performs the solo Forms of Tai Chi. There are different ways in which this can be practised: you can imagine the opponent as a physical or energetic or spirited entity. With each you effectively yield to that aspect of the opponent with the same aspect in yourself: if you “see” the opponent as a physical being then you yield to that physicality with your physicality (arms and legs and waist turns). If you “feel” them as energy then you yield with your energy – throw it towards or around them, meld and draw them into your spirals. If you regard them as a spirited entity then you must rouse your spirit to bite into them – piercing to their core and revealing yours in the process. Each approach is important and the Chinese recommend a graduated path, i.e. start to work physically then progress to energy and finally reach the realm of spirit, and they claim that working in this way the next stage naturally develops from the preceding one: so working physically correctly (relaxed, body as one unit, etc.) will develop ch’i which in turn, over time, will accumulate in the body and gradually transform into spirit. This may be the case but it’s a very external approach to spirit. By external we mean acquisitive: it is all to do with self – personal gain – and at no point really puts the other first. An internal approach is all to do with purity of intention – just how pure – how selfless – can you make each act. And if each act, each breath and each moment stops being burdened with the cloying self then is life not one long thread of vibrating connexion? This is the realm of “empty spirit” or what Dr Chi called “nothing.” My teacher calls it the perfection of Tai Chi. It is attainable by all of us at any time – it doesn’t require decades of practice, it just requires us to lose ourselves in the breathtaking magnificence of the moment. This is a far more useful skill than regarding each entity as a threat and having the ability to counter that threat if required. It is the compassionate edge.


Lose yourself - your past history - in the process.

John Kells
When the electron vibrates, the universe shakes.

Sir Arthur Eddington

Thanks to Brad Fuller for this quote.


The leaves embrace
in the trees

it is a wordless

William Carlos Williams

Pushing Hands

Compassion is not pity. It is simply the creation of a benign and beneficient energetic space into which both your energy and the energy of the other are drawn. Compassion is the prerequisite of togetherness, communication and understanding. It allows, encourages and in some instances actually creates the Third Heart. Compassion is the bedrock of my teacher's teaching. Without compassion at its core a martial art is just the practice of overcoming others. With compassion a martial art has the opportunity to become the practice of creating connexion – creating life. Gentle, non-competitive Pushing Hands is surely the best way to practice and develop compassion – close enough to smell their breath and feel their heartbeat. The practice of being with another – spending tender time together with a gentle passage of energy and feeling – back and forth. Opening up in Pushing Hands is the key to making the solo Forms of Tai Chi meaningful – taking them beyond simple personal relaxation and development and into the realm of energy and communication. With enough sincere practice of Pushing Hands your energy starts to behave naturally – do its own thing despite the thinking mind – and the natural functioning of your energy is always to communicate – to seep and swirl with other energies.
The learning is in the process and not in the result.

John Kells


Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the principal source of success in life. Since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop inner peace.

Dalai Lama
Happiness is peace of mind.

Tibetan saying


to catch the somehow meaning of the splintered whole

John Kells


A Master of Tai Chi is basically a student with over 10 years experience whose teacher has given them their blessing to teach. The teacher confers Mastery. A Grand Master is the head of a lineage (his teachers have passed on) who has produced Masters. A Grand Master therefore has at least 20 years experience (and generally has much more). In the same way that students can be classified as good, mediocre or poor, so can Masters. A mediocre student becomes a mediocre Master, etc.

My own feeling is that a Tai Chi Master must also have received a transmission of energy from their teacher. These are energetic teachings that, once imparted, reside in the energy of the student awaiting the right time and conditions (developed through persistent practice) to fully flower, generally in the teaching of their own students. Mastery implies that the master will continue to develop and improve even in their own teacher's physical absence. You are only a master when your teacher can confidently allow you to go forth and multiply, not just externally (by teaching others) but also internally in your own energetic and spiritual development. This requires the student to have captured the correct way of working from their teacher.

Technique & Energy

This from Christian Birch's Re-vitalise website.
There are two approaches to T'ai Chi Ch'uan. Technique and Energy. The first approach is to work on technique and the mechanics until they are mastered. Nothing more, nothing less. What this approach lacks is understanding energy. It is cold and sterile.

Energy permeates everything, seeps into every fibre of our being and existence. It is all inclusive. It is not about ch'i. There is no place for intellectual understanding. It is about a deeper connection. My teacher, John Kells, calls this Heartwork. This is what the Tai Chi I share with you is about. Technique then becomes an expression of this approach. It is alive, a creation of the moment. The Sufis say that we should feel that God is breathing through us, not the self. Drop the baggage of the self.


Davina Gray in Aberdeenshire sent me this photo she'd taken of a chanterelle mushroom she'd picked in the woods.
Through dint of hard work all is revealed
When all is revealed then all is concealed
When all is concealed then principle is revealed
When principle is revealed then inclusion is revealed
When inclusion is revealed then nothing is revealed

John Kells, 18iii01


Fire of Myself

What I miss most is
that live
that subtle transformation
from inert to
trans-atomic structures
that leaves my welded
and supple body
that carries the imprint
of that body
into the land
of pure migration

Joseph Ceravolo


Heartwork Weekend at BTCCA London 4-5 Nov

Email me for details.


Tim Walker sent me this article which many should find interesting. Scientists are pretty fickle though so don't put too much store by it. (Complete article available in Comments.)



My teacher always used to say that learning Tai Chi is a process of replacing bad habits with good ones. Some bad habits are relatively easy to eradicate – smoking, eating meat, etc. – because it's obvious when we're indulging. But habits of posture, character and attitude are much more difficult to get a handle on. In these cases a positive model of how we should be is vital – far better for your energy to focus on the positive than the negative anyway. The teacher is this model. There should be aspects of your teacher – the energetic aspects – above all his connexion to the living truth, rather than personality or power, that you totally admire, and feel – have always felt – your life drifting, and now driving, towards. Each time your teacher is with you is all he is saying is stop being afraid, start believing, and join me. This is the most positive message and invitation you will ever receive. Reasons to say no – excuses – abound, they are too numerous to even contemplate. It is the surest indication that the thinking mind is ally to the ego that these reasons abound as they do – they are expressions of our fear. It is the heart that takes those leaps of faith. The work at hand is to open the heart, put it out there, thrust it, trust it, and get the body and spirit in good shape so that when the heart leaps the rest of us follows very shortly after it. The great teacher – the great human being – lives each and every moment with such an unfolding heart, letting it spill into the world as reality opens up before them. That is their greatness.


as steady as a great tree
branching into delicate life

Thomas A Clark



It's not what you believe or what you know that's important – it's what you are.

John Kells

Internalization is the process of converting what you believe and know into what you are. A technique or principle has become internalized when it bites into every part of you and expresses in every action you make. The only way is through endless repetition – practice, practice, practice. It is what we mean by “becoming”. Eventually, after decades of practising internalization – after years of becoming, each and every experience is internalized as it is lived. Nothing washes off you: everything washes through you, transforming as it goes. This is yielding.
Twixt firmament above
And firmament below
The Billows of Circumference
Were sweeping him away -

Emily Dickinson


I've heard & seen ignoramuses referring to Cheng Man-ching's Tai Chi as "tofu tai chi" i.e. soft with no power; and probably bland as well. Until one encounters real softness it is impossible to imagine its power. It gives one time. The more I look at his photo & the more I watch him on film the more convinced I am that he was in a class of his own. I'm also pretty sure that what he preached (Short Form etc) wasn't what he practised: he had a few secrets he wasn't sharing!


I had recovered silence

The power to be
irretrievably lost

Rae Armantrout


The work is not just endless in the future, it's endless now – there's no escape.

John Kells

Tao Te Ching translated by Tam Gibbs

Tam Gibbs was a student of Cheng Man-ch'ing's.
The full text of his translation of the Tao Te Ching can be found here.
The tao that can be talked about is not the Absolute Tao.
If it can be named, it is not an Absolute name.
That which has no name is the origin of heaven and earth;
That which has a name is the Mother of all things.

Thus, if always without desire, one can observe indescribable marvels;
If always desirous, one sees merest traces.
These two come from the same source but are differently named.
Both are called Mysterious.
The mystery of the Mysterious is the gateway to all indescribable marvels.

Photo: Ken van Sickle

Relax by Cheng Man-ching

These are apparently the words of Cheng Man-ching. I've taken them straight from Bataan Faigao's website.

I have been practicing Tai-Chi Chuan for over fifty years. Only two years ago that I started to understand the word "relax". I remember my Tai-Chi Chuan teacher Yang Cheng-Fu who did not like to talk much and he used to sit all day without saying a word if no one asked him questions. However, in our T'ai-chi class he would tell us to "relax" repeatedly. Sometimes it seemed like he would say the word hundreds of times during the practice so that the word could fill up my ears. Strangely enough he also said that if he did not tell me of this word that I would not be able to learn T'ai-chi in three life-times (meaning never). I doubted his words then. Now that I think back, I truly believe that if he did not keep reminding me of the word "relax", I doubt if I could have learned T'ai-chi Chuan in six life-times.

What is the meaning of "relax" in T'ai-chi? Here is an example to help you understand the word. When we go visit a Buddhist temple we usually see a statue of Me-Lo Buddha. The one who has a big rounded stomach with a big smile on his face. He carries a large bag on his shoulder. On top of this statue we see a motto: "Sit with a bag. Walk with a bag. It would be such a relief to drop the bag." What does all this mean? To me, a person himself or herself is a bag. Everything he or she owns is baggage, including one's children, family, position and wealth. It is difficult to drop any of one's baggage, especially the "self" bag.

T'ai-chi Chuan is difficult to learn. To relax in practicing T'ai-chi Chuan is the most difficult phase to go through. To relax a person's mind is the most significant obstacle to overcome in practicing T'ai-Chi. It takes a great effort to train and exercise one's mind to relax (or drop one's "self" bag).
Heart, rise
with line of birds
fear not naked
coming fall.

Let fall
nerves let rise
let go

& go

Aaron Tieger


A warrior's strength is his solitude.

John Kells



Ever get the feeling that your teacher is holding something back - witholding secrets? This will always be the case. If the teacher is worth his salt he'll have a whole panoply of techniques and devices up his sleeve plus a limitless ability to invent new ones when the need arises. Most of these - the less important ones - are simply tricks to assist you in your task of demolishing the known world. Others however are devices to help you maintain and develop your relationship with the unknown once the known world starts to crumble. These cannot be imparted until the student is ready - until they have done the work - the techniques would have no power if practised by a student who is unprepared. They are never invented but dredged from some distant memory: an energetic facet of the teaching that may take a multitude of different forms but the energy of which remains pure and intact. The sincere and qualified student's need sets up a vibration in the teacher which calls and awakens these energies and brings them to the surface. The teacher will then clothe the energy in a technique that both he and the student can practice, but the energy must come first. This is why the teacher needs the sincere hardworking student as much as the student needs the teacher: both inspire the other to attain new heights and greater depths.


The world of energy

The most important and most difficult step for the student is to abandon the world they know and throw themselves into the world of energy. This sounds relatively straight-forward but to manage it requires years of work – a particular type of work such as Tai Chi or Heartwork that gradually nibbles away at the foundations of that known world until collapse is inevitable. This process tends to require many repetitions as the student becomes expert in rebuilding their known world with slightly different foundations – anything rather than enter the real world that beckons us all all of the time. Eventually the student has the maturity and wisdom, acquired through their heroic efforts at demolition as well as their ridiculous attempts at reconstruction, to understand that their known world is a self-construction – what their senses perceive and what their mind imagines and creates is some sort of self-projection and as such it repels and keeps at bay the immensity of the world of connexion and energy: it is necessarily confining – a narrow constricting insignificant contortion of reality. The work, and poetry, somehow present us with sensations and experiences that don't fit neatly into our world – they behave badly causing that confining skin to weaken and rupture. The subsequent bleed is a real communication – or communion – our energy mingles if only momentarily with that all around and suddenly we join and perceive, if only momentarily, the world at large. This is softness – the dissolution of barriers and boundaries.


Minima St

Joseph Massey's first book Minima St is available online as a pdf.


More Tai Chi video clips

Fu Zhong-when (1908-96) a student of Yang Cheng-fu, doing the complete Long Form.

Ma Yueh-liang (1901-98) a top student of Wu Jian-quan, founder of one of the Wu styles, performing the Wu style fast form.

Hao Shao-ru (1908-) son of the famous Hao Wei-zhen, performing the form of the other (older) Wu style.

Dong Jing-jie longest running student of Yang Cheng-fu, performing the Yang form. Compare with the Fu Zhong-when and decide for yourself which is best.

Sun Jian-yun (1914-2003), daughter of Sun Lu-tang, performing her father's form.

These are all taken from videos released by the Nova Scotia School of KungFu & Tai Chi.


I commit myself, and,
given my freedom, I'd be a cad
if I didn't.


Ben, who runs the Round Chapel in Hackney, took me up St Augustine's Tower this afternoon. Amazing views from the top. This is Norman Foster's famous gherkin. Apparently his wife is a sex psychologist which some think accounts for the shape.


Waded, watched, warbled
learned to write on slate
with chalk from an ancient sea

If I could float my tentacles
through the deep . . .
pulsate an invisible glow

Lorine Niedecker

More Cheng Man-ching video clips: here, here & here.


Some principles of Heartwork

Every thing has a heart and an internal life.
By internal life we mean a developing connexion to subtle energetic aspects of reality.

When the heart connects it does so to another heart.

Every connexion also has a heart and an independent life – we call this the Third Heart.

To connect and then to maintain a connexion requires energy. It is the creative inspiration of the Third Heart that provides this energy.

The heartworker gradually stops being a solid mass of regulating experiences retrieved by memory, and instead becomes a trembling web of connexions, each dipping into a different source of energy. Memory is not required because the devotion and dedication with which the life is lived nurtures and keeps alive each connexion – each is eternally present.

A heartworked life – one ruled by the natural wisdom and generosity of the heart – takes on significance by virtue of it feeding so many other hearts. This significance itself has a heart – the Heart of Life – what we call destiny.



Tai Chi and Heartwork are both methods for being alive – for interacting with other energies. The quality they both place foremost is respect – putting the other first so that each interaction can fulfil its potential. Tai Chi aims to bring harmony by balancing the yin and yang aspects of a relationship: just enough energy is brought to each situation to round it off and bring it to a harmonious conclusion. Sensitivity and timing are paramount. Heartwork feels, nourishes and nurtures the essential life in each and every situation – the jewel or spark at its core that gives it vitality and potential. Strength, especially the strength to connect and give all you have into that connexion, what my teacher calls passion, is paramount, and practising heartwork will develop such strength. Where Tai Chi is measured, Heartwork is abandoned.


Two more principles

Turning / Spirals

Every movement we make is activated by turning about an axis. This means that an opponent's force can be emptied without having to retreat – instead we turn about them leading them on and drawing them through with one side of the body whilst advancing around them with the other side. This is yin/yang – one side of the body being yin (yielding) and the other yang (attacking). If we sink as we turn then a spiral movement results. Because of the way the body is constructed we can only turn a limited amount in one direction before the body is fully twisted and is compelled to turn back. If we rise on this turn then we effectively trace a returning spiral – a figure of eight – the shape central to Heartwork.


The place in the body where our yin and yang sides meet needs to be as insubstantial – light and airy – as possible if we are to be truly soft. This means that our place of essential stillness – our peace of mind – needs to be energetic rather than material. Peace resides not in material security – temporary and full of compromise as that always is – but in a consuming commitment to energy and the laws of energy, the most fundamental of which is that of connectedness: everything is connected, or as my teacher puts it: everything touches. A life and a being that has this truth at its core becomes more and more energetic and less and less material.



During a Heartwork exchange – the closest thing we have to a natural process – the energies don't just cog – grip into each other – they ratchet until the intensity is at such a pitch that resolution – the blossoming of the energy into another space of increased clarity and openness – is the only possible conclusion. The pawl of the ratchet is the courage of the participants – a warrior's courage – a steely determination to see the thing through to its bitter end. Bitterness is just the taste courage leaves. The end may be sweet but courage doesn't allow us to consider it as such. This gives us the detachment to move on to the next exchange rather than wallow – however momentarily – in the products of our own creativity. In a way the pawl never disengages. This is the forwards we talk about.

Fickle Hill

Joseph Massey has another publication out – a broadside (one page fold-out) from Anchorite press called Fickle Hill. He very kindly dedicated it to me and below there is the correspondence that passed between us which may interest you. The pdf version of the poem Joe sent me for perusal was in a slightly different order to that shown on the link. The darker type which starts the poem and then continues towards the bottom was in fact continuous: “ripped against / brush / bunched at the hill's lip” and “What syllables” ran into “what light...” (see Joe's comment to this post – the change in sequence is illusory)


First off: thanks for the heads up on RG's birthday. He's one of my favorites, too. I've never made personal contact with him but perhaps I should try. I'll send him a copy of Property Line when it comes out.

Attached find the manuscript of a poem I dedicated to you -- written last month -- that will be published soon as a decorative fold-out broadside by Anchorite Press. Hope you like it. I tried to do something formally a little different for me in this piece. The forward momentum I tried to generate, by breaking the poem in the way that I did -- the energy -- reminded me of your blog, the things you say about feeling, energy, power, etc.


Hi Joe

The more I read Fickle Hill the stronger it gets (it's alive!)

It's also just so pertinent to the work we do, especially the work we are doing now, that it almost reads like an instruction manual.

The exercise central to our present work is what my teacher calls the Salutation – a simple enough practice that involves engaging with the heavens, the earth, the horizons and the imaginary person in front of us (the other) with the arms and heart whilst standing and moving in our special sunk posture. Dawn draws out / the landscape's margins perfectly describes the reaching of the arms – not just describes but evokes that mood of respect that's required to make our movements meaningful. through fog is simply our sacred mist – the mist-like energy that rises from the earth when we soften and sink our own energy down into it. ripped against is my reminder that the movements of the arms need to rip (my teacher's word exactly) the heart and chest open – that my own resistance and tension (brush / bunched) must be violently cut into – engaged – for the movements to similarly bite into heaven/earth/horizon & especially the other. This is where our work differs most from Eastern approaches: we don't sit on our arses and pleasantly forget self – we engage it in battle, and this engagement mirrors our relationship with everything else – we engage as a tiger does with the prey he is about to pounce and consume. the hill's lip (a stunningly beautiful expression) is simply the battle ground. I love the way the first page seems to resolve on brush and then one turns the page (something that always seems to take me an age) and is confronted by the wonderful richness and muscularity of bunched at the hill's lip – if that doesn't remind me to bring my spirit up and become physical then nothing will. Swaths of sun / muted – sibilant softness – the gentle hiss of light and energy as it expands the perceived world. (Seeing the word swaths (not sure if it's not the first time) brought to mind, if only momentarily, swastika, swaddling and swart gevaar – a complicated moment!) With the next sentence – What syllables / what light / articulates – the mood really changes as the poet (and Heartworker) becomes self-conscious, but not just conscious of self as a separate observing entity, but as a being, like the sun, that illuminates and brings alive in the act of opening the heart and embracing what he sees. It is not enough to simply engage and become involved – become another participant – one must be acutely aware of one's responsibilities and duties towards the rest of creation as one is, indeed, intimately involved in its creation. This is crucial & key to how you, Joseph Massey, differ from all your peers and all who went before, and why to call your work retro is ridiculous. You force me to wake up to a real visceral, almost bloody, engagement with my world, my work, my loved ones (the poem) yet at the same time you force me to hold it all in my palm and face up to my responsibilities – to actually put a value on it all and say, in all honesty, yes this is my life and I will die for it whenever necessary. That takes real power – the power of heart and commitment. Web ends the line and starts a new sentence – the web of connectedness – right in the middle of the poem – the central word – the central theme – the process that binds it (us) all together – the natural and the divine combined. The vastness of everything suddenly focusing down onto a particular spider's web with a leaf caught in it – Web / one leaf / hung from it / in a halo of / diesel exhaust – Williamsesque in its observation, humour and staggered 3 line form. And yet with what weight! A leaf as symbol of poet, of man, of Jesus hung on the cross, of modern man busy destroying his environment, his planet, and himself with his noxious emissions – about to fall from the web – precariously hanging by one tiny thread – still claiming his divinity (his halo) and yet about to destroy it all. It's a very sad but necessary reminder of the sobriety, seriousness and weight of our responsibilities – one false move and we perish – that posture must be perfect – the time for mistakes is over. The mood continues as the sound of diesel extends into distant and discern with A flowering shrub / too distant to discern / its color (this brings to my mind Himalayan rhododendrons, the most precarious species on the planet. Because they are so sensitive their habitats are only a few square meters, and each day many varieties are wiped off the face of the earth by road construction.) The dis sound – disrespect – disconnexion – disheartenment – the negative – the thing we must all fight. The struggle at hand is to reveal our true colours. The flowering shrub – our essential nature – too distant to discern its color, and the cloud's just covered the hill anyway, so we must go inside ourselves and approach it internally, and for that we need energy (mist – cloud), spirit and teaching – the Sun. Suddenly there's Sun – nothing more positive in existence – mentioned for the second time – and ending a line as did Web. The spirit and/of the teaching, through the Salutation, ignites the energy and the student, and forces him into a space at once unclear, mysterious, veiled, frightening, dangerous, a space from which one can emerge reborn, renewed, to start again, a little emptier of self, a little fuller of the world, and a little more entwined.

There you go, I've torn your beautiful poem to pieces for you, but its taught me a great deal – especially to struggle with my fearful need for clarity – it is far more important to engage with mystery as a process of deepening connexion rather than an intellectual or physical challenge to illuminate. I have just realised that this is the lesson my teacher has been presenting me with for months now & I've been too full of myself to see. The unknown is not there to be uncovered – or to be revealed – but to be entered.

You're a genius – my hero – look after yourself – the planet needs you – humanity needs you.


I'd like to post this on my blog sometime – with your permission – maybe once the poem is out there – partly to show the TaiChi people who read it, many of whom whinge about the poems I post ("I never hear the poets complain about the TaiChi," I subtly point out), that poetry isn't just sentimental musing but is a vital teaching to those open enough to let it bite into them.


That's a very beautiful reading of my poem! Thank you. And it confirms why I felt in my gut that a dedication to you was right. The idea to do that just landed and stuck, and for good reason. I'm very happy the piece works for you, and on so many levels. Deeply appreciated.

Yes, feel free to post it!





Squeezing time

The blocks we make within ourselves attract the self-constructed blocks that others carry.
Melting these blocks by abandoning fear reduces the past and the fears of others they bring to you in order to reinforce their past.
Squeezing time till it becomes less than a memory can only be achieved by entering the heart-space glowing within others.
Discriminating is a way of drawing back to give time for consideration.
Instead achieve the front-foot life of always entering, no consideration, especially not of cost.
Abandoning self begins by letting go fear and is not a negative process because it requires the embracing of others and what is directly in front of you.
This forwardness lays sinew to sinew, bone to bone, heart to heart.
The twining of the Internal becomes the soul of the natural way...

John Kells