Our sea, to rough trade cautiously approached. Pea green
and troughing, sounds like poetry. There's a license finds me

at wild anise, out this window facing one of all the hills to the
sea run. Prominent stalk to yellow promise, ordered and notified.
Able solitary laws to grow in me

excrescent, damned, never enough. Exterior to year's own
narrative, one's evolving mis-calculated hunger, or hunger's
tumor. Weed be beautiful, be beauty, dependent

simply in anticipation of youth drummed everywhere but home.
Take and use. Discriminate. As in laying.

scrape up art from surfaces unbidden. My body standing next,
compared to what a wild seed produced. I walk away

Gil Ott



Sticking is just listening: when you put your hands, heart, energy on someone and feel where they're coming from and where they're going. When your touch cuts through their ego – confidence – and feels their truth: fragile, tortured and pathetic though it be. What turns sticking into yielding is compassion: feeling how your involvement – intercession – in that life can help heal it. What makes sticking and yielding, for us, natural processes is our insistence on forwards as the principle that underpins all. To understand forwards: what is it that goes forward, how does it go forward without clashing, how can we earn the assistance of up, down and behind in our devotion to forward, takes tens of thousands of hours of meditation, form and pushing hands.


Off to Israel today for 2 weeks so this blog may be quieter than usual. I'm not promising though.


There are two ways of tackling – fighting – fear. With relaxation and with spirit. Fear tightens and pulls your energy into yourself, knotting it up. Relaxation does the opposite, whereas spirit marshals your energy for a concerted attack on the enemy. It is important to coordinate these two approaches – relaxation and spirit, so that for you they always go together. Then each time you rouse your spirit you'll automatically relax a little, and each time you relax your spirit will kick in. You'll then have a tool sufficient to the task at hand, which whatever it is will always be fighting fear on some level at least.


May Intensive 1993

Leaving Wimpole St for the last time - 1 May 1993


Students often ask me to elaborate the concept/principle of single-weightedness, and the more I talk about it, think about it, and more importantly practice it, the more I am inclined to feel that it is a lot more complex than simply having the weight solely or dominantly in only one foot at a time, although it all comes from that starting point. The single-weightedness we are after is the single-weightedness of the pianist. When a person starts to play the piano they practice one hand at a time. Once they achieve some technique – fluency and facility – they start to use both hands at the same time, in unison to start with and then in concert. With practice there comes a point, apparently, when the hands become independent of each other and are able to behave like two separate entities on the keyboard – each doing their own thing. There also comes a point when the fingers become independent of each other, and the good piano player effectively has ten different performers and personalities at his disposal, each physically tied to its neighbours but well able to sing its own tune. Counterpoint. By cultivating such independence Glen Gould revolutionised the playing of Bach with his spikey clarity and dexterity. Chopin composed differently for each finger. David Tudor, stimulated by the technical demands of contemporary composers, taught himself to play block chords with a different loudness in each finger, and Cecil Taylor did the same in his high intensity and richly textured improvisations. The ability of a performer to transport the audience lies not in the interpretive will, but in the ability to become free of technical and interpretive constraints and let body, energy and spirit fly. For this to happen an edge – a tension – has to be created, and this edge is the one between constraint and freedom, control and abandon. This is what single- weightedness is all about – creating this edge and riding it. The only way to really start dipping into it is to work with speed. To start with when you do the Form quickly it will appear to glide and details will become glossed over – it loses texture. But with practice, and in particular as the body and root strengthen, the opposite will happen – the speed will develop a more dynamic engagement with both the ground and the heavens, and with your own body and energy, and detail that you never realised was there will begin to shake loose and scatter into your Form. You can then bring that detail into your slow Form in order to gain real familiarity with it. Spirit keeps it all together – stops it falling apart – and since the practice of spirit is probably the most important function of the solo Form, working with speed is vitally important.


The natural power in the connexion is far more powerful than anything you can possess.

The change that needs to take place in your energy is not a change of capacity but a change of meaning.

The weak & foolish attempt to delineate the mist and turn it to their will.

John Kells


The Guardian runs an article today on Tai Chi by Joanna Hall.


True communication is a matter of heart. It transforms; and it requires connexion. The heart is in the connexion – in the ability to connect, which enables the communication. Practising heart is a matter of making connexions and nurturing them. In Tai Chi we call this yielding. Buddhists call it compassion. It is a matter of drawing an aspect of essential nature into the heart, healing it (making it clear and whole) through an action of the heart, and then returning it. This is a process that happens continuously and constantly with those you love. The aim of the work is to make this process enter everything I do. For this to happen I must internalize basic principles, which involves working with them and developing them (letting them breathe and live) under pure and controlled conditions for extended periods each day. The most important function of this work is not that it makes me strong or balanced but the opposite – it rips me open revealing a world more alive, more intense and more raw (more immediate) than the one I know. To feel this bleeding edge, and to live on it and by it, is the meaning of the work. It is a painful edge but supremely nourishing, and once you reach a certain level in Tai Chi it is the only place where you are not bored rigid. It is not a place you need to travel to. It is always there waiting for whoever is ready.
Jane Colling Xmas card


The work is so dedicated it's nothing else.

Let others taste your life.

Your humanity comes from your inhumanity.

The ultimate responsibility is here now.

If abandonment comes natural to you then you have a far better chance of hitting the right thing.

You have to be able to spill into the sun and get your energy from the stars otherwise the earth will weigh you down.

Abandonment = Forgiveness

John Kells on the telephone 15 minutes ago.


Energy hates to be confined and if it is it is being misused. Energy should shudder through you like a vast consuming wave, take your breath away, sweep you off your feet (literally). The only way to survive it and be strengthened by it is to become its constant companion: open to it, enter it and allow it to pass through every pore, lodge in every cell of the body, and vibrate every nuance of your character. This is the heart we talk about. It is not the heart that does good, necessarily, it is the heart to enter and become alive – energetic – and leave all concepts, plans, desires and expectations – all thoughts – far behind. Energy has its own wisdom and intelligence. It is the stuff of connexion so it must have, and it must be superior to your own, on some level at least, and that level is always attainable – in fact beckoning – but only if your engagement with it is total: all or nothing. It always takes all you have. How else can you be empty enough to receive it?


Love heels.


Letter from Big Dave

Dear Steven

I am in Prague working with a Czech theatre group and am struck by the parallels in working principles between this and the Tai Chi / Heartwork.

We do improvisations using so many layers that the thinking mind simply can't remember them all and dominate the action anymore and all that's left is your partner, the floor and a submission to the work you've been building layer by layer under the keen eye of an exceptional director.

All the exercises are focused on something outside your body/self, even simple warm up stretches are encouraged to have imaginative or emotional associations within them.

What's exciting and alive about the work is that you simply couldn't sit at home and conceive such stuff by yourself, because its bricks and mortar, its very essence is about the quality of meeting.

Anyway, I miss the push hands, green tea and blah blah.

Love to all,



The job for all of us is to undo the blockages that prevent our true quality – our essential nature – expressing itself in all we do. That essential nature resides in the heart, hence Heartwork.



The heart's burden is the thinking mind. Sitting atop, it weighs down with its machinations – constantly churning and twisting in on itself – depressing and stunting the heart. During moments of respite and quietude the heart lifts, opens and expands, filling both the chest and the head, revealing a different world both inside and out. The magical substance of the heart is love which lights, alights and delights – a natural animation that binds and connects, each object throbbing with life and significance, each object equally part of the dance. The activity of the heart doesn't just reveal, it creates – it gives for good, and everything it touches is charged and changed forever despite the mind's destructive efforts to retrieve control and maintain a managable status quo.



Just had my teacher on the phone. Here's some things I jotted down with my pencil-wielding hand – mostly his words.
The purity of the connexion belongs to neither of you.

You must stand away from the weight of your conditioning.

Something is in control other than your desires.

A panoply of sensitivities.

The colour of your character.

A pellucid veracity makes you reliable.

A saint brings blessings without design.


Listen to your heart

"The most important thing in Tai Chi Chuan is correct teaching. The dynamic effort required to learn engages the body, mind and spirit. Perseverance in the face of this required effort over a period of time is necessary for the process to become self-inspirational. This means that your motive for starting has to be as strong as possible. Honestly facing the need for change requires the courage to face the pain of that change. Talent is useful but it is the hard-work that is essential. Finding the right teacher requires you to make a strong effort to open to the candidates you find. Your very first instinct, in their presence especially, or connecting in any way, is your best help. The pressures of ordinary life will try to override this first impression, and the courage to believe in your own instinct here is the start of the required change within. Finding correct teaching should be like coming home. It is always the teaching that takes precedence. The teacher may have human weaknesses but if a chord of recognition is struck within then that is your starting point. If you don't find that feeling of recognition then don't waste your time attempting to learn without it. The famous phrase “Tai Chi Chuan is easy to learn but difficult to correct” means that if you are out by a hair's breadth you are as far apart as heaven from earth. Tai Chi Chuan is a series of moving-meditation / self-defence postures derived from the ancient Chinese understanding of the laws of nature. Correct posture is the key, and the door to be unlocked resides in the heart. Make all the effort you can to find your teacher, but when you stand in front of him or her for the first time, listen to your heart."

John Kells 11 Oct 2006


The Hard Heart

I worked it out the other day that during my Tai Chi life I have done in excess of 20,000 hours of Pushing Hands. What all this experience has given me, amongst other things, is the absolute conviction that heart is everything. It is all a matter of heart. All the important things in life happen or don't happen because of heart. When you stand in front of another person and the hearts are not being exercised then you're wasting, as Dr Chi would say, golden time. In fact everything can be done with heart, and if not then you're not really alive.

But heart can harden as well as soften, and it is important to have both – the ruthless and the sweet. A hard heart is not a withdrawn one, it is one that cuts through any flabbiness, stops you being smothered by feeling and indulgence, and drives to the point – cruel to be kind. It is the hard heart that should drive you through the pain of physical practice – in fact drive you through anything difficult. Pleasure is as irrelevant to it as pain – it is a moral sense – a higher nature calling to and being called by the truth. Without it you will simply be a leaf in the wind – blown every which way – and paradoxically you will never properly be able to relax because there will be no fundamental stability – no peace of mind – to your being. The best arena to practice and develop the hard heart is on your own – during your personal and private practice. Discipline. Very simple. Just set yourself tasks and do them. Or better still, have your teacher set them. I'll do it if you like: 3 Short Forms each day before breakfast, the first one to warm-up, the second slow, sunk and painful, and the third fast and delightful. Everyday. And if you don't have time then make it. Making time is a magical skill to develop – it is very similar to making energy.


that which is not conceivable by thinking


Dangerous Ground

Everything hinges on understanding and engagement – the yin and the yang. True internal work makes your energy so active that these two meld and become what we call becoming. Understanding has nothing to do with thinking things through. It has a little more to do with talking things through: using your environment to help you channel your energy and some of its energy into the work – into the engagement. It is simply a process of whipping up some enthusiasm and spirit to use your energy more fully and more effectively than ever before: somehow seeing the next incarnation of you as a being that relates not just with others, the world and life, but with that strange pull we call destiny. Understanding provides the courage and impetus to move forwards into the unbearable – unfaceable – but always beckoning unknown. Understanding should thrust you more whole and better able into engagement. It is always self-trickery – controlled folly – an expediency to make perfection – to make the now really work. Yesterday's understanding today appears almost embarrassing simply because it has been successful – it has thrust us beyond it. My teacher's teaching and life's work pivots on one assumption – perfection is now, not tomorrow. What this has led directly to is the Third Heart, which if you like is a manifestation of the perfection of the coming together of the sum total of everything that has ever impinged on either of us – a gathering of times and connexions into something that will always cut through the linearity of time with its ever present and developing wonders. Such intensities can only be engaged if all thoughts, notions and considerations of self are abandoned. That is why I so strongly feel that the very idea of loving oneself before one loves others doesn't just put you on the back foot and disable automatic engagement, it makes you always too late for everything of real importance – especially pain: that raw edge where the intensity of life always bears in. If you are truly forward then this is where you reside – on this edge. It makes you tremble with energy and compassion. “I feel the edge is torn.” It also means you weep, uncontrollably, but that is by the by.

I perfectly understand the argument that to be strong enough to be weak – to reside on that edge – one needs to spend equal periods attending to self-centering, self-loving, and self-strengthening. In a sense this is what your solo practice – your work – is all about: getting you to such a pitch of togetherness that you can abandon everything to the engagement without falling apart. However, this understanding is that of a relative beginner to spiritual work. Mastery comes when you move beyond this understanding – when the safe and partitioned life it supposes and maintains wears so thin, and your connexion with the truth becomes so strong, that you cannot face or stomach time off. Unless everything you do exists on the trembling edge where life really happens then you just get bored.


Truly loving is melting into nothing.

Ronit Adar


Mike Shannahan has been eloquently expounding the self-realisation avenue to spiritual endeavour (see the post called Work below – Dec 6th). I'll put my reply here since it is somewhat wordy:

Your approach sounds reasonable and strong but I've never known it enable someone to yield. For that every cell in your body, every fibre in your brain, and every cord in your heart has to put the other first to such a degree that you, as a centred individual, disappear. Being centred in yourself or oneself is admirable but should only be a relatively insignificant by-product of the work you do to put the other first.

It all hinges on motivation. Your motivation now – at this moment – flavours (energizes) the work and the product of the work, which is you tomorrow. Serving the divine within and serving the divine without – do they not amount to the same thing? Certainly not. One produces ultimately an enlightened target and the other produces a shimmering entity, not quite there and not quite not there. What I am insisting is that when it comes to motivation – to honour – you cannot afford to be woolly or slack or hit-and-miss. It has to be as clear as a bell. It also has to motivate every action you make, not just your practice. If each breath you take and each beat of your heart can be motivated by exactly the same thing that motivates you to get off your backside and do some Tai Chi then effectively you are working all the time. This is what my teacher means by "falling in love with Tai Chi".

Spiritual progress amounts to an expanding heart. The heart expands and contains. It contains the world – the world you move in. When you make spiritual progress the heart expands and the world you move in grows – you are now part of a bigger, richer and more inclusive world. How does this progress happen? Firstly, the work you do gathers energy to you. This energy is tinged by the quality (purity) of your motivation. This energy in itself, no matter how strong and intense, cannot break out of your present world and into the bigger purer one beckoning you until your motivation shifts to align itself with that next new world. The inspiration for this realignment always comes from outside – a moment of grace – a powerful teaching you experience somewhere and somehow. The vigilance required to be awake to these subtle moments is the vigilance of a yielder – a non-self-centred person, so accustomed to putting the other first that their energy and awareness are always connecting and never residing within. The inspired shift in motivation amounts to a change of strategy, a change of heart and a change of life. The next change is always more difficult to achieve than the last, otherwise how can it possibly take you outside the realm of your experience? What this difficulty means is that you need to become more and more consumed – more passionate – more emotional – as time goes by. This doesn't need to express itself as raging lunacy, but as a rawness, fragility and openness just this side of bearable. Always on that edge.
No mean feet.



Don't believe what you read or what you feel.
Just believe.
It is enough.



My daughter, who is 9, recently went to see the latest James Bond movie. When she returned I asked her if she enjoyed it. “Yes I did but I didn't think he was a very good Bond,” she replied. Curious, I asked her if she'd seen any of the other Bond films. “No,” she said, completely oblivious that this innocent admission somehow weakened the power of her previous statement. For her what is important is having an opinion, and I guess she's learned this from adults, either directly or through her friends. The fact that the opinion has absolutely no solid foundation seemed to be immaterial, at least to her. What would have provided a solid foundation? Work. Work to the point of absolute and complete immersion. Such work gives everything a foundation, and what's more removes the anxious need to spout opinions in the first place. If you don't want other's tacky minds or energy sticking to you then the last thing you can afford to have is opinions. You need to exist in a world of energy where there are no discrete objects, just connecting threads along which your beloved dances. There are no shortcuts, and there is no substitute for good old honest work. Like my teacher always used to say “I can't do it for you, and if I could I wouldn't.” What you have, inside, is potential. What work provides is hope – the positive environment for that potential to possibly realise itself. Other things assist the creation of this positive environment – correct teaching, good diet, good company, relaxation on all levels, but without work there is no hope. Work creates and stores energy. Insights and realisations only have foundation if they are the product of such personal energy and personal work. Insights are just starting points on which to do more work – stepping-stones in your progress. Those gleaned from books or from the intelligent application of the thinking mind, or from outside the bounds of the teaching are only useful if energetically you can reach them without falling in the river, and only then if you can bring them into the main flow and thrust of your river. What a great teaching provides is spiritual power – a speed and momentum that leaves things whirling and swirling in its wake. My teacher, and others, liken it to a great dragon, willing to take on board and carry those with the calling and courage to take the pace. It's a very tough and rough ride and the only thing that prepares you is suffering and the moral fibre and discipline acquired from having the honesty and probity to work very hard at precisely the right thing, which is always what your teacher tells you, and never what you like. The direction – the teaching – has to come from outside, otherwise you'll never be taken beyond self – your work will simply be a journey of self-realisation and self-discovery, and whilst that may be very worthy and may produce admirable and upstanding pillars of society (privileged people), it is still damn selfish. Correct motivation becomes more and more important the more work you do. In fact, through work you become your motivation. If you are motivated by greed or ambition then work will simply make you more greedy and more ambitious. If however what motivates you is the inner need to work, and in particular the need to do the correct work, then in time, and with work, you become the work – you embody it. To me this is far more interesting than becoming or realising myself. If I become the work then how many more people can I affect positively, how many more can I take on board and sustain, with my work, for their whole lives, if they have the heart to stay connected.



I've had one comment and a few emails from disgruntled sword weilders, taking exception with my flippant comments yesterday regarding weapons forms. I've heard many arguments propounded for weapons, especially swords, the main ones being that their practice develops upper body strength, sensitivity, and the ability to project energy, particularly to the end of the weapon – the part one imagines penetrating a human body. No one has ever mentioned heart though in connection with weapons – will weilding a sword make me a better lover? If not, and I imagine not (and what's more my teacher tells me not), then I'm not sure I have time for such distractions. One thing my studies have convinced me of beyond a shadow of a doubt is that heart – the willingness to create and enter connexion – is the foundation for energy, and is sufficient. Anything else is technical tinkering: worthy and often inspiring, but not taking me in the right direction which is always beneath – under the floss and dross, and into heart.


A winter's day on Nitsan & Prema's ranch

Sword & Tea

I received an email from Leigh Robinson who runs a company in the UK making quality swords and other martial arts weapons. I've never been able to get my tiny mind around prancing with an instrument for killing in my hands so have never learned the weapon forms, but these items – hand-forged – do look stunning. £300 may seem steep, but for something lovingly hand-crafted I think it's a steal.

Another Christmas present idea – somewhat less expensive but no less classy – is fine tea and teaware.


another world of charge and borderline,
an earth-tide in the spine

John Burnside



Words speak
among themselves —

when no one's
there to listen

What they say is
what we're after

John Phillips
so that my mind would be one selving or pitch of a great universal mind, working in other minds too besides mine, and even in all other things, according to their natures and power

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Awareness and connexion

Connexion depends largely (very largely) on awareness – just how aware are you of that other entity? Your awareness – which is you putting that entity first – creates an inviting and welcoming space within your energy for that entity to enter and reside, for however long. So awareness must precede connexion, indeed presage connexion. But it must be an awareness that is in the habit of being fulfilled by connexion – connexion should always be realised otherwise that awareness will begin to shrink, and the respectful distance will open up so wide that it'll become ever more difficult to bridge. Your awareness is an active sensitivity that trawls things in. This is what we mean by having your energy out there rather than just residing within. The between energy is really just a very active part of your pooled awareness: energy is awareness, and awareness is energy, but only if it joins hands with connexion. Energy requires work – needs to be used – otherwise it'll begin to work against you. To feel potential – consciously or otherwise – and not realise it – either through ignorance, laziness or fear – is a huge mistake.



Intuition means relying on energy and connexion rather than the rational thinking mind. Energy and connexion are present before events actually occur so to rely on them means that you have a quality of being previous – or at least on top of things. Thinking about things is always either late (after the event) or relying on the ability to predict – rational extrapolation; neither are particularly effective for anything other than assuaging the ego and its inevitable fears which are always dancing attendance. Instinctual fear – the hair bristling when danger approaches – is a good thing – it protects, whereas fear generated by the institution of the rational mind – that is, fear designed to protect the ego and thereby keep you disconnected and out of the world of energy and heart – is totally negative and to be countered at every opportunity. But how do we counter this fear? One approach is to catalogue, formally or otherwise, occasions when such fear arises and make a point of changing one's behaviour so that one replaces a fearful response with a courageous one. This approach is a little artificial and belaboured, and it still uses the rational mind – the ally of the ego – to counter the ego – an approach doomed to failure. The approach we recommend is to take up some activity, such as Tai Chi, that will actively improve your energy – strengthen it and open it up – so that you start relying more on intuition and less on the rational mind. Concentrate on increasing and improving the positive – energy and connexion – rather than on removing the negative. This will always create a more agile, lively and active energy – generous and overflowing. Concentrating on removing the negative (which is basically what self-defence is all about) will make you measured, passive, twitchy, and wont develop your ability to let your energy out. The best way to deal with negativity is to flood it with your positivity – obliterate it.
Fight the good fight.