sperm work
with great restraint
of means, makes


Three in the morning, four in the afternoon

This is a story in the Chuang Tzu. The man who keeps monkeys tells them that he is going to give them four chestnuts in the morning and three in the afternoon. They get angry and complain because they want more. The trainer concedes that he should be more generous, and agrees to three in the morning and four in the afternoon. At this the monkeys are satisfied and happy. The power of yielding - to give the appearance of backing down but without compromising at all.



Snowmelt pond warm granite
we make camp,
no thought of finding more.
and nap
and leave our minds to the wind.

on the bedrock, gently tilting,
sky and stone,

teach me to be tender.

the touch that nearly misses—
brush of glances—
tiny steps—
that finally cover worlds
of hard terrain.
cloud wisps and mists
gathered into slate blue
bolts of summer rain.

tea together in the purple starry eve;
new moon soon to set,
why does it take so
long to learn to
we laugh
and grieve.

Gary Snyder


“The more you bleed in practice the less you bleed in a fight.”

Imagine being in a fight for your life. The furthest thing from your mind would be relaxation. That's why it is imperative to “cultivate a relaxed habit” as Dr Chi put it. You must be relaxed all the time, or at least most of it, rather than just for the last half of each practice session. The same with yielding. If yielding is something you need to turn on once you are under attack then it is always going to be too late. The Classics recommend developing a yielding mind – a constant and continual yielding – yielding all the time. Life with all its richness and intensity is a constant barrage, and so continual yielding, for the Tai Chi student, delicate flower that he is, is a necessity. Not only does it allow him to survive, it encourages him to become a part of a process of opening and joining – opening to life and joining with its thrust – the natural process. Continual yielding also encourages the relationship between student and life – encourages life to present you with continually improving and refining energy to work with. The same law at work that causes the teacher to present you with the next facet of the teaching by the simple fact of his presence, naturally and without too much effort. Yielding encourages attack. As Liang used to say, to catch the robber you must first tempt him in by leaving a window open.

Yielding isn't withdrawal. It has little to do with turning the waist, sinking or relaxing. Yielding is the spark of connexion – the leap of compassion that engulfs the attack. Yielding comes from the heart. It is the very beginning of the creative act – a gentle but intense pulse of spirit. If you practice it enough then eventually life becomes a constant stream of such pulses and you begin to vibrate with life and a passion for life. This is Dr Chi all over. The glow you see in his face in those wonderful photographs is the glow of pure yielding.



Tao gives Life to all things. Teh gives to each one its Form. Tao gives the inward urge towards perfectness. Teh is the Expression or Name of Tao. By yielding to the influence of Tao men will be transformed from within themselves. Its effect is to be observed not only in the physical but in the moral kingdom. Through Tao is maintained the Unity of Prince and people. It unites Heaven and Earth harmoniously to produce the sweet dew. It gathers the people in the bonds of time and individuality. He who knows how to rest in it will never pass away.

Tao is remote and inexpressible, yet ever expressing itself. Tao is empty; yet, in the using of It, It is found to be inexhaustible. Tao is invisible; yet It shines through all things visible. In Tao is stillness; yet It is the source of unceasing activity. Tao is the well-spring of health and of never-ending life. Teh is the manifestation of life, which is forever seeking its highest expression in Tao. It returns into Tao, and is ever anew sent forth. In this way is formed the Rhythm of Life, with its unceasing throb and rest, eternally, progressively expressing itself.

from Tao Teh King, a tentative translation from the Chinese by Dr Isabella Mears, 1922.


increase and
then, culmination
with accelerated
is not thinkable


Each time your teacher teaches you he/she presents something new. This may be a new posture, a new principle, a new way of working, etc. More important though is the invisible aspect of the new – a new facet of energy and the internal that their very presence conjures, often unconsciously, just for you (ever had the feeling in a large class that the teaching was directed just to you?). It seems to be a natural law of the teaching experience – the coming together of master and student – that a facet of energy is always evoked that is new to the student (and sometimes even new to the teacher). Maybe it's just the natural awkwardness of the teacher – his distaste at the student's nauseating tensions staring him in the face and his refusal to even get involved in them – that naturally draws something from him to unsettle the student and drive them onto the back foot where they belong, at least when they're in his company. Or maybe it is simply that the teacher's rich energetic and internal presence – far richer than the students – gradually unfolds – the next new facet being the most apparent with each meeting. Whatever the reason it definitely happens and it is the true teaching – the postures being just a way of getting you all working together – catching your attention. This new facet of energy may excite or fascinate you but it is far more likely to upset and make you uneasy – make you feel that you are under attack – not a physical attack but an attack to the assumptions you have unconsciously based your view of reality upon – an attack to your very foundations. The fear and loathing, the terror and trepidation you feel when this happens, maybe not during – you're probably too involved or overwhelmed to know what you're feeling during the lesson – but after the event, can be severe, and must be weathered courageously. Such feelings are a positive sign – a sign that you have been open during the lesson and that the teaching is beginning to get to you. What is crucial though, obviously, is not to cut off from this aspect of the teaching, but to instead use your practice to sink into the energy of the teaching – the very thing that is making you want to resist or pull away. The meditative side of Tai Chi is not just using the Form to relax and quieten the mind, but relaxing into the energy of the teaching/teacher and through that relaxation evoking and conjuring that energy each time you work until it is so familiar that you have internalized it – you have made it part of you. Yielding – turning an enemy into a friend. If you work this way then your practice is a constant review of what you have been taught – remembering past energy experiences in the light of wisdom and depth you have acquired in the meantime can be very rewarding – you project yourself now to that past experience and live it again and realise it was far more than you thought or felt at the time. This is something my teacher does all the time. In a way it happens naturally when you teach, but if you can bring it to every solo practice session then you will slip into the world of energy and the internal with ease. This doesn't mean that your teacher's presence will be any easier to take but it does mean that your presence will be far easier for him to take – he may even begin to enjoy it (stranger things have happened) – and it does mean that time with the teacher will be far more productive for both of you.



Someone emailed me yesterday to complain about me being negative (yet again) about Chinese symbolism. For me images and symbols should be used the way poets use them – to evoke unusual feelings and moods – rather than to intellectually clarify a situation. A good image doesn't bring the comfort of certainty or clarification, it opens and then touches parts inaccessible without such opening – it sensitizes, connects, amazes and inspires. The problem with symbols and theories, from yin/yang to the Holy Trinity to Newton's Laws of Motion, is that they become a way of looking at the world, or worse still they replace the real world with one in which they are paramount – in a vain attempt to clarify what is there they distort to such a degree that one loses all touch with both the natural and the internal. And having, or requiring, a mind full of simplistic certainties the student will not develop softness, or not the delightful vibrating sensuous softness that seduces and transforms as it touches. Such softness comes from developing the sobriety, humility and openness to admit or even hold, in one's heart rather than mind, the whole of creation – every possibility is already within you – yielding heart. I remember hearing an interview with James Lovelock – the Gaia man – in which he explained that a system that supports life contains many active and volatile components that would usually combust or combine into relatively inert substances, but somehow the livingness of the environment stops this, allowing life to flourish. The tremble of life is the dance of life – the seething interplay between these components – and it is this that softness connects to and evokes. It is so supremely active that it can connect to anything – it already contains everything so connexion is simply admitting an aspect of its own experience.


           paths to
will be a
it must make itself



Relaxed enough for things to settle into their component parts. The thing itself is then the dynamic interaction of those parts rather than their physical agglomeration. Things begin to lose their thingness and instead become energetic processes, constantly ready and willing to combine and transform, if only for a moment. This is what the Tai Chi student struggles to become. Each of the main centres of the physical structure - belly, heart and head - has multiple aspects (my teacher calls them dimensions) as well as two halves, and opening these centres involves re-establishing and developing this multiplicity. The waist is always ready to turn both ways, as well as sink or rise, and never locks in stillness or in one direction. The heart is always giving, receiving, embracing, gathering, often all at once. The head (brain) is always ready to see all sides and never locks into an established train of thought: thinking should be gently and tentatively picking a path through undergrowth rather than pacing a well-worn path or a tarmaced road. If you can learn to admit all aspects then you will become the energy bouncing between. This is the healthy way to become an energetic being. It is the key to softness. It has nothing to do with yin and yang. Yin and yang, and the associated symbol, are an intellectual construct, and if you decide to think of the world in their terms then you are overlaying an unnatural structure, and the world will shrink from you. If you learn to naturally vibrate with energy rather than force it then you will become so seductive the world wont be able to resist - it will swallow you up as and into its natural processes.



'I am a walking fire, I am all leaves'.

'I find I incorporate gneiss, coal, long-threaded moss,
fruit, grains, esculent roots.
And am stucco'd with quadrupeds & birds all over'.

I find I advance with
sidereal motions
. . .my eyes containing substance

of the sun,
my ears built of beaks & feathers. . .

I ascend with saps

& flower in season

& eddy with tides.

With every moon,
I come from the darkness into incandescence.

My tongue assumes the apple's flesh
& my skin, the infinite spheres of the thistle's prickle. And as I

the wind has its billow. . .& all the grasses. . .

in a combing, mazy movement.

Ronald Johnson
The man who doesn't belong in a community is probably the man to pay attention to. The old idea of the stranger is still very strong. That's definitely a Greek idea - we may not honour him anymore - we don't - because we didn't inherit that part of the culture, unfortunately. But we certainly know who he is, and the stranger's fearsome. He's the man to talk to. He's the man who knows where he's come from.

Ed Dorn


My teacher once told me that, as a teacher, you must ensure that you give your students everything in their first lesson since it may be the only time you see them. Of course you cannot present the whole body of work in all its corporeal glory - it's far too massive - so you must present the essence of the teaching. This is only really possible, and is unavoidable, if you embody that essence - if you have become a limb of the teaching - if you bleed with it. This requires you to have received sufficient transmission from your teacher and then for you to have worked solely with those transmissions long enough to internalize them. Is all you can be sure of is that this process takes time - lots of it.


A poem is anything that doesn’t quite make sense but haunts you the rest of your life.

Gillian Conoley


Talking about natural leaders with JK yesterday. A natural leader requires two basic qualities: the charisma and power to inspire belief in those he leads, and a good nose (instinct): instinctively knowing which avenues are most worth exploring and the ability to safely and successfully navigate uncharted territory. The knowledge handed down to you by your teacher, if it is in the form of postures or Forms, is always finite and limited. A good teacher will impart methods and energy rather than structures: they will pass on to you the means to constantly generate your own material. What would you rather have, nine or ten stock Forms under your belt or the ability to invent your own – to devise ways of directly tackling areas of weakness within yourself, your students, and the work? The method shown to me is that of allowing the between energy to become the teacher. The between energy is not just what happens between you and another person, it is what happens when that between takes on a life of its own. We Tai Chi students have all experienced this. It's what happens when the work you do together really cooks. It requires you both to be in good shape, for your spirits to rise, for your sobriety to sink, and for you both to be humble enough – pure for the occasion – to allow the interaction to take you both into the unknown. Such experiences are heightened in the extreme and your past life is lit up by them – in fact the worth of your life is defined by them. They stand high as moments of perfection flanked by the dross of ordinary living. The good student worships these experiences – they are the only things that give meaning and hope – and he knows that they both nourish his own work and energy, and also hone his worthiness – make him a vessel better able to carry the teaching and those he is connected to. What is difficult is carrying on when they are over – in the cold light of day – cleaning up the next morning after the party is over – piecing together what actually happened, technically, so that the miracle becomes burnt into your fabric rather than just a memory to bask in. If you practice what transpired, to the best of your powers of recollection, rather than (or as well as) stock Forms then the between energy becomes the dominant force in your work and its soul will always be present even if there isn't enough energy or good-will to rouse its spirit. When between energy graces you you are effectively better than you are – you receive a glimmer of how you and things and relationships should be. This is foreknowledge and real instruction. To be in the almost constant presence of such grace requires real humility – the humility to look things in the face and expect and require nothing.


Relax the heart

Conditioning is tension. Energy becomes locked up in the cage of conditioning which initially prevents you properly expressing yourself, and in the long term leads to all sorts of problems, illness such as cancers, strokes, heart disease being the most extreme - eventually the dam will burst - eventually whatever is chasing will catch and do its worst.

Natural is what happens when relaxation replaces conditioning, especially relaxation of the heart. When the heart relaxes it feels like a weight lifts from it - it fills with lightness and joy, no matter your general mood, almost to the point of bursting, and always to the point of suffusing not only your whole body but your environment as well, including all those you are connected to - those you hold in your heart. When your heart relaxes/releases, you are at your very best and in a sense anything is possible, particularly abandonment, but also teaching, learning and healing.

When your heart is full you brim with love.
When your head is full you brim with ideas.
Which sounds more healthy to you?
A passionate life is one in which the heart leads.

John Kells


of its ego
a naïve joy


Text message received today from a student:
Just figured the best way to protect knees & ankles is to have a constant leg ward-off feeling which also wakes up inner legs and inner ferocity.
Energy tends to travel up the inside leg and down the outside. Ward-off is a posture that attracts and gathers energy into your core: arms into heart/throat, legs into groin/belly, and eyes into brain. What it actually does is send energy down the outside of the limbs from the back-brain, back-heart, sacrum, and then gather it up into the front of each centre. Embrace. Attack is usually what happens when this flow of energy is reversed. Inner ferocity is what you experience and develop when you naturally alternate yield (ward-off) and attack, i.e. when one naturally morphs into the other, or when your body contains both simultaneously, e.g. lower body ward-off whilst upper body attacks. The faster this alternation, or vibration, the more ferocious. What is difficult, and what requires maturity and humility, i.e. a refusal to be seduced by power - a refusal to adhere to anything other than good principle - is to allow this dual nature to develop as a consequence of that impeccability - relaxedly. Only then does it become natural to you - invade every aspect of your being, ready to invade in turn everything it touches - but also programmed in so that its expression, or rather its ability to connect and transform, is not at all a matter of energy. Nothings needs to be done. It is present and so it has already done its work. Work without energy. Dr Chi having successfully yielded before either he or his opponent have gotten up in the morning. This is what I find totally interesting and totally inspiring. How the way a person lives their life expresses in every aspect of that life. When I read poetry to JK his response is unusual. He has no interest in the work as such, only in the principles at the core of the life that produced such work. If these are firstly worth communicating and secondly well communicated then the poem is a success. There is always present the problem of communication. Is it ever possible to communicate successfully to those who don't, on some level, already know? If the principles at the core of the life and the work are 'true' (natural) are they any easier to get across? How muddy indeed are the stirrings and interferences that occur when one set of principles (the teacher's) meet another (the student's). In a way I suspect communication is always a matter of seduction and resonance. The supreme effort must come from the student - to make themselves a fit instrument first for tuning and then for use. The (im)possibility of teaching/learning.


              earth's attraction
for brief
critical moments
cuts through
leads us to take
in the fluid-gaseous realm
a pool of water
the stairway)
You have to take care


Sun Lu Tang

Today, the Black


are a smoke

you could put your hand through

& celandines reflect

the light back like mirrors.

Ronald Johnson

Today is our last day in the Forest of Dean - to London tomorrow - so it seems appropriate to quote from Johnson's The Book of the Green Man, the Spring section of which recounts his travels through the Wye Valley, inspired by Wordsworth, Kilvert and Vaughan, as well as the stunning scenery. From Symonds Yat, atop the cliffs of the Wye, you can see five counties.


Nothingness (no-thing-ness) means that the pair of “opposites” are so vibrantly connected that they cannot be viewed from outside but must be experienced.
The use of the activity that joins each apparent duality is the energy of life.
The meaning of the natural process is to be found in this outgoing embrace between one and the other which when balanced and harmonious may be called a complete or whole communication.
The combat between each “opposite” has the flavour of a fight, and the quality of respect required by a fighter for his opponent is the kind of attitude required by each opposite.
Pulling back from any aspect of developing respect is tantamount to pulling away from life, and is the initial mistake of people who think that wisdom is the acquisition of knowledge.
Knowing the opponent requires joining to his spirit so that what stirs in him stirs in you equally, all the wishes of one being equally the wishes of the other so the word opponent becomes a convenience that enables the fight to begin again and again and again as the spiral continuously reconnects with its source.
In other words the beginning is continuous, the entering, the embracing, and the natural process all equally continuous and alive.

John Kells



Lemniscate & Lissajous

Round fig8 wrong way leading with thumbs


in rounds
one follows the teacher
only slightly behind
sometimes higher
sometimes lower
sweetly so


sometimes I
what you tell me
i need
your voice
the eight

Wrong way

all ways
inside out
no matter
backside in


I feel
lost without
your lead
like tears
a sadness
i cannot see
but feel

With Thumbs

and said
what a good boy am I

Poem by a student, triggered by the title to a video clip of a heartwork posture I'd emailed. If anyone wants the clip email me.
Ward-off whispers through the figure of eight.

John Kells


Great website.

Click on picture for explanation.


When You Kiss The World

in a poem

you take its long throat

& fuck

so deep

you come



straight up


the bright face



Mairéad Byrne

Heart of hearts

In your heart of hearts you always know.
Honesty allows this knowledge to come clearly into the consciousness.
It requires you to be clear of agenda, side and opinion – any manipulation or desire for profit is sure to ruin everything.

In a sense the heart of hearts is the third heart – the heart of the occasion, always ready to express itself and thrust both into the beyond. If this doesn't happen it's because either or each is resisting the natural process. Softness is not resisting – being with the heart of hearts.


parking lot a-
wash with dawn.

Joseph Massey

Softness of surrender

If progress in Tai Chi is measured by softening then how does one work on softness?
The obvious answer is relax. The postures of Tai Chi, and the associated preliminary exercises you learn in class, are all designed to facilitate the process of relaxation. With practice tensions slip away – the student wakes up to the fact that they are not necessary and indeed impede natural functioning. However, certain tensions never seem to diminish or recede. In fact the more superficial tension is eradicated the more the deep-rooted tensions foreground and start to dominate your existence. This can give the feeling and appearance that you are going backwards – getting more tense rather than less. This is not the case. What distinguishes a good student is their refusal to baulk or flinch at the truth. Part of this involves not having it in you to brush what makes you uncomfortable under the carpet, but instead face it constantly until resolution, even if that means becoming so consumed by your battle that you almost cease to function as a normal social being. My teacher has said that the student's job is to clarify the voice of their discomfort. They must grind on with the work in the belief and hope that eventually the air will clear. And it will, but only if you make deep changes to both the way you view the world and the way you live your life.

These deep-rooted tensions are really just the indications of an incorrect foundation. To dismantle an edifice and reconstruct the foundations is clearly an enormous undertaking. And the chances are that these new foundations will in the future need to be rebuilt again anyway. The story of Milrepa whose teacher Marpa, to help him atone for past sins, instructs him to build a temple from rock with his bare hands. On viewing the completed temple, which has taken years to construct, Marpa decides he would like it over there instead of where he originally specified, so Milarepa has to dismantle stone by stone and build again. This happens a few times before Milarepa has finally, in the process, rebuilt himself, or rather undone himself sufficiently to be ready to receive real instruction. Those deep-rooted tensions are the foundations of your ego. Beliefs, opinions, feelings, convictions, cherishments (or tensions, anxieties, insecurities and inadequacies, depending upon how you look at it) all designed to help you stand up and be counted – effectively to be part of the race of man. But our job is to go deeper than that, deeper into our humanity to touch and tap our divinity. This requires a foundation that thrusts us into the world of energy and heart rather than bolstering self. It is this that your teacher hopes to provide for you: a foundation for connexion. This involves replacing those tensions with something slightly less uncomfortable but far more poignant: a yearning. Your teacher gives you a taste of and for real softness and relaxation. The softness that comes from being truly able, and constantly willing, to place the other foremost, even if they are ego-ridden, riven, and driven. The teacher's presence is the ultimate gift because their ability to feel your divinity helps you feel it too. The rest of your life is then spent struggling to realise it.

When you're in the presence of someone who really puts you first in the right way, that is, because they have enough inner peace and quiet to put anything and everything first rather than because they love you or like you or are related to you (because your presence bolsters their ego), then you begin to feel the inadequacy of your own view of reality. You feel deep-down that they are living a better life than you. What's important is to let this be an inspiration – to let it change your life.

It should be clear now why the partner work in Tai Chi is paramount. We are trying our utmost to reprogramme ourselves to put the other first so the more time we can spend with the other in front of us, trying their best to unsettle us with the intensity of their presence and reality, the better for us. It shouldn't matter how good the other person is – if you have the heart you'll make them as good as they need to be.


Hope may be regarded as the commitment to, and the energy arising from, belief.
Acting upon this commitment is called courage.
Indulgence in hope is called day-dreaming and causes you to unhook from the actions of the belief-hope-courage trinity, which is the power-house or base of a properly directed life.

John Kells


Opinion is founded on memory projected into the future by ego.
John Kells



A large part of talent is being more interested in what it is you're doing than you are in yourself. You then lose yourself in the doing and connect that much better, to the activity, to your own energies and abilities, and to the essential truth of the enterprise – the heart of the occasion. In fact when you lose yourself in an activity you become such a vital component that you define it as much as anything does. When you watch someone lost in Tai Chi (rather than lost in themselves doing Tai Chi) then they are clearly connected and motivated – driven – by the spirit of Tai Chi. It's as though the ancient masters speak through them. There is only a certain amount your teacher can tell you (everyone's patience runs out eventually), and technicalities are perhaps the least important. What the teacher struggles to do is connect you to the correct way of doing things so that you can begin to receive instruction from the endeavour itself, and from the energy that flows through it from its sources. In a way this defines mastery – being good enough not to require your teacher any longer, not regularly anyway. If the art is a living one (connected to a source that continues to feed with new energy and new knowledge) then the teacher will always be ahead of you, and their company is always a godsend and should always be treated as such. Just a casual glance in your direction and they will instantly be able to pinpoint the root of any problems you are having. This may be a problem you don't even realise exists, and almost always they are simply that you have ventured down an avenue of limited worth and need to be redirected to the straight-and-narrow. Always remember that progress in Tai Chi is measured by softening. If the student is not getting softer (losing the brittleness of self) then they are making no progress and it is all a waste of time.
Hardness implies barriers of self-satisfaction.
Softness implies lack of motives, lack of meanness.

John Kells
Good intentions and good nature are no substitute for correct method.

John Kells


We pretend to believe we are
speaking the words that say
themselves through us to hear
how silence sounds to be.

John Phillips



The thrust of vitality married to the wisdom of yielding ensures that our limited vehicle has the best chance, the only chance, to join the limitless, boundless, endless truth.

John Kells


Chi Chiang Tao

Photo: Barbara Richter


All along the kerb
the world bursts into flame.

My body the competent custodian
of my nervous heart.

Mairéad Byrne


The wonderful thing about between energy, and the big open heart it requires, is its immediacy. When you connect to it and work primarily with and from it then any attempts by the other to manipulate or control, either you, themselves or the situation, are so easily felt and can be cut through literally like a knife through butter. Even obeying the principles of Tai Chi – turning the waist, keeping the lower spine vertical, sinking – if they are having to be concentrated on rather than being allowed to happen naturally, will distract you from the between energy – the immediate reality of that other person in front of you. It is important to have practised the principles sufficiently in your own solo practice for you to be able to forget all about them when working with a partner, and just be with them, working together to get closer to the reality between that's just dying to express itself through your pooled enthusiasm for the magical inspiration of between energy. In fact the term energy is not quite right here because there is something about the reality between that is non-energetic – or at least is pre-energy. The pre stages are the most interesting, and of course the most subtle. When you stand in front of another in a Tai Chi class, when did that exchange actually begin? When you face each other? When the teacher announces “Find a partner” or “Change partners”? The beginning of the class? When you first decided to take up Tai Chi? When you were born? Or before that? Some people you feel you were destined to meet, and some you feel you've known all your life. And even those you don't like or just find difficult, if you work and honour the reality between sufficiently – put their annoying quirks aside and believe that something good can come from the exchange – then sooner or later a deeper connexion will develop, or, more likely, reveal itself to have been there all along.

The most interesting thing, for me, about my last teaching trip to Ireland, was being able to work with complete beginners on the Thursday evening. We started the session with some simple energy circuits which help connect you to the other (or rather open you to the connexion which is already there) and then did the first posture of the Short Form – the one my teacher added. I taught it entirely from the perspective of using the movements to connect heart-to-heart and embrace the imaginary other, and didn't mention the waist, or verticality, or sinking. It was fascinating to watch the beginners doing the posture far better than the old hands (which includes myself I dare say). The old hands couldn't help but relax, turn the waist and sink, and enjoy the power and familiarity of those actions. What they didn't appreciate is that by having those actions primarily in mind and in body they lose the other and remember themselves – the opposite of what we are actually trying to do with the Tai Chi. The beginners, in their innocence, could only do what they were told, which was to step out with their left foot to establish a vertical connexion with the other and then circle their arms to establish a horizontal one. They sank to step, and turned their waist to embrace, and kept their spine vertical (otherwise they'd have lost the directness of the heart-to-heart connexion), but they did it all naturally, not in order to do something else. What was beautiful about it was that even though the beginners were just embracing empty space in front of them, when I watched them from 10 or 15 meters away, I was emotionally affected by their actions. I was drawn into the space they were working with and their heart was moving mine. When I watched the old hands I could make dispassionate judgments about their postures only because they weren't reaching out to draw me in. This teaching experience gave me great hope because it made me realise that solo work needn't be an arena where you just put your body and energy through their paces (training – I despise that term), which, let's face it, is really just working on self. If you work as though the other were really present, heartfully and emotionally (dare I say it), then your work will be benefiting all you are connected with, which, the more you can sink back into the pre stages, becomes gradually the whole of creation. This is natural compassion and natural healing.


Hear, her
His error.
In her
Is clear.

Louis Zukofsky

A Zukofsky Selected Poems has just come out. Edited by Charles Bernstein:
"This poetry leads with sound and you can never go wrong following the sound sense... Zukofsky loved to create patterns, some of which are apparent and some of which operate subliminally... Each word, like a stone dropped in a pond, creates a ripple around it. The intersecting ripples on the surface of the pond are the pattern of the poem."

The Human Abstract

the shortest distance

between two points

is love

Charles Bernstein



Hopefully there'll be an "after" shot to match & contrast this one in a few weeks time. Then it'll be down to teaching this shit with a vengeance.
those who possess the de's fullness
remind us of the newborn

poisonous insects can't bite
wild animals can't attack

birds can't tear them apart
soft bone and weak muscle

but the grip is firm
no sexual experience

yet fully aroused
entirely made

a complete presence
cries all day

never gets hoarse
everything in its place

to have this balance
is called "constant"

to recognize the "constant"
is having "insight"

a full life is a good thing
when the heart tries to control

what it feels that is called
"forcing things"

when things are forced
they grow old quickly

that is called
"not the dao"

what is "not the dao"
comes to an early end

Section 55 from Thomas Meyer's daode jing


The beauty of between energy is that it is not really dependent at all on the quanitity of energy or strength either or both parties have at their disposal. It depends purely on the qualities of those parties, and the quality of the interaction. If either party has to muster or rouse their energy then it is too late. The between energy depends upon those qualities you present by the simple fact of your being – by the way you live your life and the principles at it's core and foundation. People who live good lives – who consistently and willingly put others first – who wouldn't even consider an alternative – aren't necessarily good-looking, or intelligent, or strong, or admirable even – all these qualities imply an observational separation – they require you to make that distinction. What they are is humble and in that humility they have an immediacy and an attractiveness – the natural ability to disarm and draw the other into their reality – into the inclusive space of their inherent goodness, for want of a better word. This inclusiveness is the key I suspect. The humble person – the natural yielder – exists in a reality that is larger than that of a less humble person, and can therefore swallow it up with ease. Not just with ease but with compassion: if you can contain another then there will be a natural force in play impelling you to. So humility implies, on one level anyway, big heart. You are so close, so involved, so present that the mind cannot make those cheap distinctions that would cause you, or give you an excuse to retreat into your ivory tower of self-congratulatory wankerdom, as my teacher would call it. The pinnacle of humility is sainthood. For that our model and inspiration will always be Dr Chi.



billions mistakes
amoebae into man

jammed sky the while
stark labyrinth

seethed with flesh
with ache seized

Ronald Johnson

daode jing

          to follow the dao means being unfulfilled
never done never starting all over again

The following is Thomas Meyer's Afterword to his wonderful translation of the daode jing. I quote it for the beauty of the prose as much anything.

Throughout this translation, I cite only four Chinese words (dao, de, lao, and zi). These I preferred to transliterate using the pinyin system which shies away from capital letters. The author of the daode jing (or more commonly in English, Tao-Te Ching) is someone called laozi (or Lao-Tzu). The character lao means “old”. And zi literally means “new born,” but is used to refer in general to a person, any person. So, in English laozi might be “old boy,” “old one,” or “old guy.” But just how dao or de would be rendered is, in many ways, the subject of this book. Throughout the unbroken text, for the sake of orientation and comparison, marginal numerals appear quietly to indicate the beginning of each section.

Although I am no speaker of Mandarin (nor reader, nor writer either), I learned many years ago how to use a Chinese dictionary. So when I found a couple of translations of the daode jing that had the original on facing pages, I decided to take a shot at reading the work first hand. Eventually, a database was set up on my laptop, and everywhere I went I carried it, the text, and a couple of dictionaries with me like a bag of needlepoint. A year or so later, I had myself a rough translation, concordance, and literal mapping of laozi's book. So, for ten years, each spring I have read the daode jing, character by character, one chapter a day, eighty-one days, five thousand characters. All the while, a translation seemed obvious. Though I tried, I didn't press too hard, heeding the old man's advice to look for and follow that inherent, natural course of things themselves. Nonetheless I wondered, how would you say dao in English; what would de be?

Out of the blue, it dawned on me that there was no need to find a phrase or phrases for dao. It was something almost everyone had heard of. In fact, it's in Microsoft Word's dictionary. Nor did I really have to English the term de. These days no one even bothers with rendering the title – though I had come up with How Come? Or, even more appropriate, despite being a bit frivolous, Wha' Happened?

Both these terms (dao and de), while being evident, are never really to be seen as agencies. Therefore, it was meet and right to let them remain in their pristine, uncapitalized, bauhaus (slash) pinyin purity. Just so upon the page. All at once, the text itself seemed to me like a rippling out upon the pool where these two ideas were being plopped over and over.

I had leapt over a big hurdle. While an even bigger one was overcome almost instantaneously. The fear and trembling every translator of the daode jing faces is the opening section or chapter. It seems nothing can go forward until that is set. A plan came to me. I would not begin at the beginning nor stop when I got to the end. Rather, I would use chance operations to dictate the order in which I translated each section. When I was finished, I would shuffle them back into their original sequence.

But upon reassembling the book, I realized that chopping it up into chapters didn't make sense. It worked entirely against the way my translation had turned out. The “clear pointing” (no commas, no periods), the lack of capital letters, the frequent right-angle turns the syntax took, the unbroken flow of couplets all called out for a text that cascaded from page to page. Not one that had put itself forward in a series of short, pithy vignettes. Besides, these divisions do not occur in the earliest manuscripts, and might, in fact, be somewhat accidental – the copyists having to work with pages that were actually strips of bamboo tied, untied, and tied back up into bundles. Even bolder on my part was not indicating where the text divides itself into two major segments: the dao and the de. Again, earlier manuscripts often set the de before the dao, so it seemed to me flux was more important that framing, that any parsing would impede momentum. That was what laozi was talking about, I thought. Flexibility. Things getting from here to there. Liberties like these, and the many others I have taken, are justified, I think, by the plethora of daode jing translations already out there. Each of which, then, becomes commentary by virtue of its reworking the original using different strategies of tone, approach, or view; in short, by virtue of the translators chosen “rhetorical pitch.”

Then, to my astonishment, I began to see something had been hidden yet present in the project all along: the daode jing is table talk. An old man, not holding forth really, but just telling someone what he knows. After dinner, the dishes pushed aside, a glass of whiskey, a cigarette. Or a pub and a pint of beer, even. All throughout the Seventies, the poet Basil Bunting would visit Jonathan Williams and myself where we were living in the Yorkshire Dales. This was like that. The tone was conversational, not canonical. Honesty and simplicity foremost, rather than piety or complication. There were no themes, ideas per se. Following one upon another, things circled, darted away, appeared again, or vanished altogether, with the natural ease and bonhomie of good talk.

Of course, I now remembered the traditional story of the daode jing's coming into being.

Many years ago an old man lived in the capital of a place called China. He was the emperor's librarian and renowned for having read everything there was to read. When the philosopher Confucius paid him his respects, he came away saying:
Birds fly. Fish swim. Animals run.
They can be caught, shot or trapped.
But this old man is like an air-borne dragon.
He can't be snared.
Then as now, things could not get worse but did. Big troubles were afoot. Those with power abused it. Those without grew cunning and two-faced. The old man could finally stomach no more greed, dishonesty, or corruption. The time had come, he told himself, to get out of China.

He climbed upon an ox, and leaving behind what little he owned, headed west toward the high mountains of another country. When he reached a gate that led up a steep pass, the border guard stopped him and said:
I recognize you and cannot let you go until you tell me everything you know. Otherwise we will see all that is worthwhile swallowed up by all that is not.
The old man welcomed a rest. The sun almost down, a bottle of wine opened, the two sat in the little station hut. The guard listened as the old man told him what he knew, which he said was not much. In fact, the moon was still in the middle of the sky when he got up to leave.

He was never heard of or seen again. The five thousand words spoken that night are all that is left of him. And that, in the mind of their speaker, was five thousand too many.

Thomas Meyer, Afterword to daode jing, Flood Editions, Chicago, 2005, ISBN 0974690279

          in matters of the heart
the important thing is depth


Chi Chiang Tao

Downloadable video clips of Dr Chi Chiang Tao doing Short Form and Sword Form are available on Mark's site - www.thetaichicentre.co.uk

A blessing

A long-tailed tit just flew through the open door into my room whilst I was sitting at the computer typing up some of JK's writings. They've always been my favourite bird. I got up to watch it flit away and there was a green woodpecker on the lawn. Woodpeckers are auspicious, apparently. Maybe the Dao is telling me something.



Tell em to take my bare walls down
my cement abutments
their parties thereof
and clause of claws

Leave me the land
Scratch out: the land

May prose and property both die out
and leave me peace

Lorine Niedecker


Texture is scale invariant

I suspect this natural law is a consequence of nature being made up of a seething plethora of discrete events – explosions, if you like, of activity. Each event has to start somehow – has to be triggered – and what we find in our work is that the energy that kick-starts an action/event is a tiny template or embryo of the whole action. The very final stage of the event is similar – a review or recapitulation of what has transpired, bringing the event to satisfying completion with enough power to resound into the environment and generate other events. The beginning – that tiny pre-echo – is in fact the yield – the part that catches spirit – from the air, from the earth, from the heavens, from yourself, from the other, as well as from the action itself, even though it has not yet quite happened. The event itself – the meat or body – is the celebration and flowering of this mingling or union of spirit, and the final consolidating shock at the end is the unsentimental shaking apart – the energy of the event settling into each component, leaving each the richer but also changed.

All this is natural, and has nothing to do with having an action firmly in mind before its acting out (although as a way of practising this may be a very temporary first stage). A natural action happens because of connexion – things coming together. Connexion is inevitable – and yet the consequences of this connecting are never predictable – especially if they are not resisted or manipulated. This is what we mean by joining and becoming.

The most important point I can make here is that natural means “of spirit and not of thinking.” “Texture is scale invariant” is a natural law of spirit. When spirit is roused and involved then this is how things are – richer and beyond the imagination. Real creativity has nothing to do with imagination or imagining or imaging – it's just what happens when every so often you get it right.

My teacher lives so much in this world of spirit that he's forgotten how to turn it off. This often makes his company almost unbearable – its trembling immediacy bites into one's own back-foot reality with such ferocity that it becomes difficult to breathe. Spirit is always a call to arms, the teacher's spirit especially so. What bites into you is that pre-echo which presages both the body of the interaction and the brutality of its completion.

What's interesting is that the field of an interaction – the common space – distorts a little before the actual coming together, facilitating the connexion. Almost like an air of anticipation. This is something that far precedes the pre-echo which is just the beginning of the interaction. If you can begin to connect with and feel this then your knowledge becomes fore-knowledge – what my teacher calls real intelligence.


Chi Chiang Tao

Photo: Barbara Richter

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