Internal & external strength

In the Tai Chi Classics – the ancient writings of Tai Chi – is states that all problems of posture and movement can be traced to an incorrect use of the legs. I am now of the conviction that this wisdom applies to all problems: physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, social, external and internal.

Someone told me recently that our first semi-conscious act as human beings is to straighten the legs to thrust ourselves out of the womb, and you can see clearly in the baby that everytime it is held upright and its feet touch a surface it forcefully straightens its legs as if to leap upwards. Our instincts have conditioned us to automatically straighten the legs and lock the knees, hips and ankles. This conditioning leads us down the path of external strength – basically muscular strength – where the body becomes expert at moving itself as an independent object in space. It is this feeling of independent power that becomes ego. With external strength chemical energy is transformed to mechanical energy in the muscles which is then transformed into either kinetic or potential energy as our body moves or becomes still. This is the energy we learn about at school in our science lessons.

The first stage in Tai Chi – a stage that literally takes decades to complete – is to start using the legs differently. Instead of straightening the legs every time we feel a hard surface under our feet, we bend them, not in order to retreat from that hard surface but to melt into it and transform it. This is a special bending that requires a constant releasing in the joints of the legs: sacro-iliacs, hips, knees, ankles, toes, allowing energy to flow across those joints and through the legs. This is the energy of central equilibrium: an energy that flows when we start to relax into things and allow the forces operating upon us into our bodies to find their natural equilibrium (balance) there. This is internal strength – the cleansing and reconditioning that happens when energy flows through flesh, bone, and above all: mind.

Internal strength begins to develop when we learn to relax into things in order to allow them into ourselves. External strength develops when we interact with the world non-communicatively: forcefully and insensitively, neither entering nor being entered – as though we were independent enough of that world to control and manipulate it. We obviously need a degree of external strength, at least until we have developed a significant reservoir of internal strength, otherwise we couldn't function around other people. But we must also strive to distinguish between the two: to become aware of when we use external strength, and then investigate ways of softening that strength to make it more internal. This softening may start in the mind, but we must then take it into the body – into the legs, otherwise we have knowing but no understanding.

One must talk about everything according to its nature,
how it comes to be and how it grows.

Herakleitos (trans. Guy Davenport)

Workshop in London the day after Boxing Day - this Saturday.


Suffice it to say, I write to know who I am.

Ron Silliman


Always relax but never collapse.



To proceed meaningfully I must believe that here is where I need to be and here is where the world needs me to be, and I must believe that I am here to engage my spirit with everything in my vicinity to make things better. Energetically every engagement has a place for me. Assuming I am open enough to be reasonably clear of the inward spiraling congestion of ego, then this place is best inside my own body. When I empty of self then I can fill with all else, and I become supremely responsible, and responsive: the heart becomes hearth and home to all there is. That is ultimately all I am and all I can be: a house of and for connexion.


Some London clouds for those elsewhere (from Monica).
The strength (energy) to get things done and the power (spirit) to transform.

Some blue sky for those in colder climes.


Out of my mind.
The meeting edge of man and the world is also his cutting edge. If man is active, it is exactly here where experience comes in that it is delivered back, and if he stays fresh at the coming in he will be fresh at his going out. If he does not, all that he does inside his house is stale, more and more stale as he is less and less acute at the door. And his door is where he is responsible to more than himself.

Charles Olson


To strip the present moment of both its momentum and its urgency, allowing it to ring and resonate like a buddha-bell, clearing both the air and the mind.



I suspect that thinking started all those thousands of years ago when we lost faith – when we started to sense problems that required solution rather than simply being a part of the world in the world; when our love – our willingness to engage and allow the world into our bodies – lost its ferocity and centrality and became a passive and occasional luxury. Since then of course the thinking mind has become so dominant that it spends almost all our conscious time and energy not only solving problems but creating those problems in the first place. Thinking is an idle and largely unnecessary occupation.



In an energetic system (which we become when we start to relax) even the tiniest physical movements become palpable because all movements have energetic extension: all movements are along infinitely extending flows of energy, even if such a flow is into or out of itself.


The more I teach the more I see that peoples' fundamental problem is that they don't use their legs properly. The legs should connect the heart to the Earth rather than thrust the heart up and away from the Earth. Connexion isn't just a bond, it is a communication.



A fearful life is one based on the conviction that I have, or that I am, an independent autonomous self. Courageous work is therefore anything that undermines or erodes this conviction.



Posture will improve only if we manage to change the way we see ourselves – how we feel about ourselves – how we relate to our body. On those odd occasions when we hit good posture we must be sensitive to how that shifts our reality, and we must yearn for that new reality, like the good students we are, or hope to be. These are the glimmers – the beacons – that lure us onwards.


People often ask me what's the difference between Tai Chi and Chi Kung. Basically Chi Kung is about energy and Tai Chi is about connexion.


Musica universalis

I'm beginning to feel that that deeply relaxed meditative state comes when the natural rhythms in my body, particularly those of the nerves, the heart, the breath and the craniosacral system harmonize, in the sense that each adjusts to become an overtone of a deeper implied fundamental. In this sense we tune to a deeper aspect of self and a deeper aspect of existence than any one of those rhythms can give us access to.


By the gracious Lama's blessings
May I see whatever adverse events and sufferings befall me
As tricks of the evil spirit of ego-clinging
And use them as the path of bodhichitta.

Tibetan prayer



The presence of mind to be grateful (for) each moment. It is from gratitude that our true power springs.


Central equilibrium is the mindfulness of stillness and of moving. If I am still it is because I have balanced contrary motions. If I am moving it is because I have extended or contracted an energy in a direction opposite to the motion.


Everything is whirling in the world, from the smallest cell up to the galaxies of the Universe. Everything is turning. Our whirling is to join to this universal prayer.

Nail Kesova, Mevlevi Sheikh



Posture & Alignment

Posture should not be adjusted – it should be resolved. Making physical adjustments to an incorrect posture is just adding more tension to an already tense situation. Instead the teacher should address the sources of the tension that are causing the posture to be misaligned: he should have at his fingertips a body of exercises that help the students release the tensions in their postures so that the natural process of realignment can slowly begin. Given that there are likely to be multiple tensions in a misaligned posture, and that these tensions will not all release equally, the students' postures may change and adjust themselves strangely – often getting worse before they improve. The teacher should have the wisdom to let this happen and not interfere. Of all instructions, the blanket phrase: Keep your bum in, is probably the one most responsible for wrongly adjusted posture. Students who take this instruction to heart invariably apply an overcompensating force to their sacrum and pelvis with the muscles of the belly and groin, giving them a stiff or collapsed posture with a semblance of slouched relaxation and rootedness but with none of the real fluid connectedness to the ground, or more importantly to their own structure, that a naturally relaxed verticality would give them. For me, whether the bum is out or in is of no real consequence; what is far more important is whether the sacrum/pelvis/groin area is relaxed and loose. If it is then I know that it's not this area that is responsible for misaligned posture.

If I sincerely want a student's posture to improve I personally have to locate the tensions responsible for misalignment in their body, and then I have to help these tensions release. This requires me to manipulate the problem areas – it is my hands that must do the job. My hands don't realign the posture, they work into the tensions in the posture until they melt away, at least momentarily – whilst I have hands on, so that the student has an experience of clarity and awareness in that area that he can try to remember and retrieve when he practises. I then need to give him exercises he can practice alone that will assist in this retrieval. Without this personal touch I don't feel that I am teaching.


Giving up the ghost.



Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art and as such its natural scenario is the fight for one's life. This has nothing to do with self-defence – I am not defending myself when I fight – I am simply fighting for my life, and that life is always through the fight – without the fight the life is less. In such a situation there can be no room for distance because as soon as I allow or create distance the other is likely to fill it. What this means, technically, is that from the outset I must be using front-foot energy. Front-foot energy – basically spirit – is fundamentally aggressive – claims new ground, whereas back-foot energy – extending flowing energy – is fundamentally defensive – defends that ground. It is the same when the baby grasps at some object she likes the look of (desires). Firstly she attaches her spirit to the object through her eyes then her hand slowly (because inexpertly) moves towards the object, encloses it with her fingers, grasps and draws it in, generally to her mouth – she brings the world into her body. The front-foot works in the same way – it reaches out and claims territory – pulls that ground into my body (by pulling my body into that ground). This is basically an aggressive act – I must be prepared and eager to supplant whatever I find there – and it needs to be felt as such if it is to be whole-heartedly engaged. With my back-foot I create distance – space and time – by extending my root downwards and therefore my expression up and out. With my front-foot I create connexion which is the negation of space and time – of distance. And in my joyful enthusiasm I almost overreach – beyond and before. This is the danger and excitement of the front-foot – it takes me beyond myself.

Seated meditation is a fundamentally back-foot occupation. How meditators get around this I have yet to discover.



Mind dwells in distance and relies on distance. The body is immediate – it is and can be nothing else, but the mind can choose not to inhabit it – to take us away from it and out of it and into its comfortable domain – the head. This is it's first distance – the one all others mirror. But to be in the body is not simply a matter of awareness – of energy, but of mobilization – of spirit. Spirit bundles awareness into something eminently useful, and cuts through all the rules and restrictions the mind and the imagination care to impose. Science – the formulation of observation – tells us how things are to a passive mind but cannot predict or extrapolate for spirit. In a sense mind is always passive because it's activity is not of the world, so much so that its very activity creates distance – forces things to stand apart. And by creating distance it also creates time – the possibility for lack of immediacy.

In a sense distance is the comforting space between things – the appearance of separation. But distance is also difficulty. Any difficulty we may have is because we have chosen distance over immediacy.


Heart & Mind

Mind – yours or anyone elses – cannot eradicate conditioning. It can dismantle it but in the process it installs other conditions – one false idol replacing another – because the mind requires well-behaved predictable models – rules, syntax – to function comfortably. We need heart because heart always hearkens – back to a time before the conditioning appeared. Mind makes things new whereas heart makes things old – ancient – primordial. The mind differentiates – criticizes – and the heart embraces – transforms – not just space (things) but time as well. Mind is of the mind, and to convince itself of its own omnipotence it assumes all is mind. Heart is of the body – Earth – and doesn't need convincing of anything – it doesn't have such insecurities.


A spiritual life is one that hinges on an ever-deepening honesty – honesty becoming awareness.


Away from poetry – the mind yearning – and into the body – actuality. Not that the poetry is false, but anything experienced from another vantage point is only partial. The body must become so fully inhabited that even the Earth balks at our physical presence, and any retreat of the mind into itself and the body buckles under the stress of its own intense engagements.
Has anything been taught if nothing has been learnt?


Photo: Corinna


Lightness appears when we drop our baggage. It allows a quickness and a quickening that delights in the between.
All instruction starts in/with the body, and returns to the body.


and out
reaching in
from out-
side, out
from in-

Robert Creeley


What you need to do is claim the work as your own – break from its sources so that it can start to thrive inside each of us.

Rooting, life & commitment

Answers to questions posed recently. The questions are obvious.

Any energy effect (experience) is something to be passed through rather than held onto.

If you hold onto experience (energy) then it becomes a barrier to future experience (energy).

Rooting is only possible if you are allowing energy into and out of the body; then you root through your feet to the Earth, your head to the Heavens and your hands (or wherever – heart) to the other.

If you are truly and honestly letting energy into your system from the outside and giving energy to that outside (i.e. communicating) then your energy (and health) problems should dissipate.

Rooting is about aligning the body with the forces acting upon it so that flows of energy establish themselves in, out and through. The body as channel rather than vessel. Energy flows out of us into the Earth and so from the Earth into us, into us from the other and so from us into them. These flows cleanse us of anything that clings, whether it be tension, energy or ego.

Pushing Hands (the controlled practice of yield-attack with another) is generally a waste of time because it encourages both incorrect softness (a backward moving mind-body) and incorrect hardness (a forward moving mind-body). If we have central equilibrium then we have a still mind-body and moving energy.

Tai Chi simply offers the opportunity to practice beautiful principles in a controlled environment. It will not improve your personality. What will improve your personality is the commitment to bring those principles into your day-to-day living, especially your relationships. This should happen naturally if these relationships are passionate – if they involve feelings, emotions and the body rather than the considering and considerate mind – if they honestly face the issues rather than opt for comfort (avoidance).

I think Dr Chi abandoned Tai Chi for Christianity (really for Jesus) because he felt that Jesus's message of love – God is all loving and all forgiving (probably the most radical message ever preached) was far more useful to his spiritual progress than the principles of Tai Chi. His practice involved praying and reading scripture all day.

Dr Chi found seated meditation a waste of time because it didn't involve another. For him, like my teacher, the most important problem facing anyone is yielding – how to open up to and cope with energy impinging from outside one's immediate realm – how best to respond to attack. At present I find the problem immediately preceding this one – how do I get my own energy out there – how do I attack (trust) – to be more challenging. But ultimately they amount to the same thing.

From 1987-2007 I was a full-time Tai Chi student-teacher. Now I am making every effort to get a life. This involves being a partner to a beautiful woman, a father to beautiful children, a teacher to beautiful students, a therapist to beautiful patients and a friend to beautiful people. I can honestly say that this is far more difficult and rewarding than filling a life with Tai Chi and nothing else.

A real teacher always teaches the things he (desperately) needs to work on himself. What is the point in retreading familiar ground?

Never be ashamed of what you do, or consider any action you take as unspiritual. If you do whole-heartedly and with humility then it will always have spiritual content.


Stress of togetherness

Everything stems from Central Equilibrium – if I want to receive energy then I must pour my energy into the thing I wish to receive from – and if I want to give energy then I must open up and allow the thing I give to into my body. This is the spiritual in Tai Chi – oneness being the instantaneous combination of giving and receiving. But it only really becomes spiritual when I open up to, allow and encourage the stress of the togetherness into every part of myself – when I face the danger and allow the passion.


TaiChi HeartWork in London

Two workshops in London Saturday & Sunday 25/26 October. We will be investigating Central Equilibrium on the vertical axis (spine) and the horizontal plane (heart) and showing how the interaction of these two realities creates the Tai Chi Form.


Play Guitar

Ever wondered what the pipa looked like & sounded like?

Click here.


The real test, as always, is to keep the energy flowing – to feed the passion.


Photo by Siany Moore of her son (my nephew) Torfinn


For me, work – everything I do – must have spiritual meaning/depth – must be concerned principally with spiritual freedom (Forget self and become one with the Tao). Other concerns – martial prowess, understanding energy, power, technical niceties, different Forms – have no interest because I have come to realise that they all intrude between me and the other person, and particularly between me and myself. True change – revelation – is about shedding baggage, not acquiring more and more.


A tense (clenched) jaw is our attempt to set the world the way we want it. Not only the world but our own face.


A sincere smile relaxes the jaw.


There is no real spiritual worth in energy. Energy as a by-product of spiritual work is fine as long as it is not indulged. Energy for energy's sake is a waste of time, and a waste of work. What is important is to clear the body so that energy can flow through it. This means allowing it and not becoming attached to it. This is very difficult, partly because energy clings to our physical body as well as our ego and we have to actively and constantly shed it with relaxation (an expansive non-attachment).

Energy becomes a problem when it gathers and accumulates in the body. It will only do so if you do not have a healthy relationship with your sources of energy (Earth, Heaven, air, water, food, friends, lovers, teachers, students, etc). By healthy I mean one that gives as good as it gets – that doesn't attach and allows flow through – in and out. As soon as it starts to gather it begins to fuck the mind, indulge the ego, and make the body lazy – it clogs and bloats the body making it a difficult place for you to reside and an impossible place to invite others – it no longer allows free passage.

What is important is to become a strong channel or support for energy. If your relationships are healthy then you are connected to infinite sources of energy, and so the amount of energy you command depends only on your ability to stay connected and support the flow.


Even if you have it just a tiny bit wrong then still everything must change – if one bit is wrong then it is all wrong because every part mirrors the whole. But also if you have it a little bit right then in a sense you have the template of correctness already within you, and once you start to work from that little right place, it will all begin to fall into place.



A healthy spine is an extending spine. By extending we mean that energy is flowing through (along) it and out of both ends – through the head to the Heavens and through the legs and into the Earth. When the spine extends in this manner then energy comes into the spine from Earth and Heavens and gathers in the Heart, from where it engages the world we inhabit. The impetus behind extension is our basic joy at being (alive) – our soft spirit. The two major tensions in the body – in the hips and in the jaw – basically stopper the spine, stunting its energetic functioning, preventing energy flowing freely in and out – no breathing. These tensions are our way of locking up both our capacity for spontaneous free expression and our essential connectedness.


All and everything is caught in the bind of spontaneity:
all inner and outer worlds are spontaneously imaged,
the whole of samsara and nirvana is a spontaneous display
and pure mind is primordial spontaneity—
there is nothing other than spontaneous perfection.

from Old Man Basking in the Sun: Longchen Rabjampa's Treasury of Natural Perfection


Change is easy. What is difficult is coming to the decision that change is what you really want.

Not really change – rather maturation – wisdom. As someone once said: A man does not change, he just stands more revealed.

But to stand more revealed everything must change.

Real change doesn't accrue, it sheds.


I want my Tai Chi to be a way of investigating and practising love. If love is the driving force in the universe, which all spiritual disciplines tell us, then every action I make and take, from the tiniest twitch to the grandest sweep, should be motivated by love and should be an expression of love. For this reason my Tai Chi has little to do with postures and techniques (what I call the clutter of Tai Chi). It is the attentive and loving awareness I bring to whatever I do.


Hale & hearty.


3 months today
Ineffability, openness, spontaneous presence, oneness.

The Four Great Samayas of Buddhism



This is a difficult one. How do we change? How can we change? The usual approach in Tai Chi, what we call the Kung Fu approach, is to improve by working hard – practising moves and techniques endlessly, acquiring skill and power. Now the problem with this approach is that the change incurred tends to be external – cosmetic – and deep down the person remains the same frightened and neurotic individual that felt compelled to work obsessively hard in the first place: the work has been a form of retreat or hiding from basic insecurities and inadequacies, covering internal weakness with a gleaming armour of strength and expertise. This approach is based on the assumption that I need to be better than I am. As soon as we enter or construct such a world we have hierarchies and dualities – this student is better than that one – that teacher is better than this one – today's practice session wasn't as good as yesterday's, etc – we have external standards to which we feel we need to aspire. Such a world is competitive and comparative and will only serve to prevent a student or teacher from real internal change: one aspires to be the best – a position from which one never need face one's weaknesses again: (if you're a good boy then you'll go to Heaven.)

So what then is the alternative? Ripping yourself open, exposing your heart, and hoping for the best? Absolutely not. There is no need to suffer. Martyrdom is a complete waste of time, energy and life. The alternative – not really an alternative – actually the only possibility – is to completely accept the way you are at this present time. To accept you need to know, and if you accept you will know, because when you can deeply and honestly say to yourself that you are OK – you are perfect as you are – and what's more you are happy as you are – then all of your character exposes itself because it no longer has reason to hide; and this is the biggest shock – the most terrifying prospect – to fully and truly see yourself in all your glory and not feel pride or shame or whatever – simply to accept. Such acceptance is love and it is only with this healing love from yourself that you can move on, that you can change at the deepest of levels. It's like one of those Zen paradoxes: you can only move on when you are happy as you are. And this cannot be used as a technique: accepting yourself in order to change wont work because the acceptance will be superficial. It has to be entered into whole-heartedly and with complete honesty. And the beauty of it is that in learning to accept yourself you certainly learn to accept others – your critical comparing mind just stops and you see things as they are – beautiful and perfect.


The best (only) defence is an open heart.