Friday, November 30, 2012

Know your Bagua Styles

Bagua Zhang means Eight Diagram Palm. It is an internal martial art like Tai Chi but it is practiced a bit differently. The Bagua player learns to walk in a circle while holding various arm and hand positions. This circle walking is done in a very specific way and teaches the player how to balance, move, and kick by dint of thousands of steps taken around the circle. The idea of the Eight Diagrams comes from the Chinese classic known as the I Ching or Book of Changes. All the styles featured below are named for their founding teachers. This little list of videos is far from complete. While they may look different all are true to the principles of Bagua Zhang.
The Bagua Symbol

Without further ado here are examples of famous Bagua styles.

Sun Lutang Bagua Zhang

 This is the style I practice and teach it happens to be my favorite.

Wang Shujin Bagua Zhang

Jiang Rong Qiao Bagua Zhang

Liang Bagua Zhang

Yin Fu Bagua Zhang

Cheng Ting Hua Bagua Zhang

Fu Bagua Zhang

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Too often we are obsessed with learning new things. New information comes at us at the speed of light these days it seems and in some ways that is good. In other ways it is not so good. We need basics. Every art or science has basics and if you understand the basics well enough then the advanced work becomes simple. When we hear the word basics we often think: Oh, beginner stuff I already know this so I can forget it. This is never the case.

In Tai Chi and other martial arts there will be basic exercises. Most people want to do forms or sparring and they neglect these because they are boring. They require repetition and hard work. In Tai Chi it is eight energies and five steps. The 13 postures. It is standing meditation. It is opening and closing. This is the basic work. Without these things the form is a dead mess. Another dance.

Today, no matter what you do pay attention to the basics because they are the foundation of all the advanced work in any matter. Never be bored. You can always practice the basics.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Master William CC Chen and Tai Chi Fingers

This article is by the great Yang Style Tai Chi Master William CC Chen. He was a student of the late great Grandmaster Cheng Man-ching and is still teaching Tai Chi in New York City. He is a superb Tai Chi practitioner and is a formidable fighter. He has both the Yin and the Yang, healing and self-defense. Here is a link to Master Chen's article about Tai Chi Fingers. This is incredible stuff. Enjoy!

Master William CC Chen performing his Yang Style Form

Know Your Tai Chi Styles: 24 Movement Style

The 24 Movement Tai Chi form was created by the Chinese Sports Committee in 1956. Three recognized masters were given the task of creating a form of Tai Chi that could be quickly and easily learned and used for exercise. The three masters consulted were: Fu Zhongwen, Cai Longyun, Zhang Yu, and Chu Guiting. They took the longer traditional forms of Tai Chi and broke them down into 24 movements that would be a simplified approach to learning Tai Chi. This form is a pretty darned good place to start your Tai Chi training but many traditional teachers scoff at it citing that it lacks depth and martial content. Still it is a nice exercise to relieve some stress. I put this one in the class of a beginner's form only. You will almost never see an advanced Tai Chi practitioner who studies only the 24 form.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Know Your Tai Chi Styles

So often I get asked how many styles of Tai Chi are there? The answer is that there are hundreds of different ways of doing Tai Chi. I'm going to post some videos here of the major styles you will find performed by various masters. I personally only practice Yang and Sun because that is what I was taught. All these styles are valuable for healing or fighting.

Yang Style Tai Chi

This is the big one. The most popular and commonly seen style in the world.

Chen Style Tai Chi

Considered by many to be the oldest and most original style of Tai Chi. 

Wu Style Tai Chi

This style focuses on throwing and wrestling. 

Hao Style Tai Chi

This style features small subtle movements that have devastating power and great health benefits.

Sun Style Tai Chi

High stances, agile footwork, and elements of the other internal martial arts make this one of my personal favorite Tai Chi styles to practice. 

Don Ethan Miller's Tai Chi Equipment Training

Let me say that this is a fantastic DVD and well worth the price. Clearly presented by a champion Tai Chi teacher and packed with exercises that create fast gains in Tai Chi skill and power you couldn't ask for a better supplement to your training no matter what Tai Chi style you practice.
You learn how to incorporate weights, balance disks, exercise balls, and even belts and sashes into your training. I highly recommend this DVD from Mastodon Productions. Get it quickly before it goes out of print You will not be disappointed!

Black Friday Stress Relief

Ok. It's Black Friday that infamous shopping day after Thanksgiving here in the United States. You have been dealing with family all day yesterday. You have been cooking, traveling, or hosting guests. You spouse, parents, or children are all on at you to do 1 million things today and the dog has just dragged the table scraps out of the garbage.

It's safe to say you might be experiencing some stress. Family, pets, holidays are all wonderful things but even wonderful things can stress us out and make for reduced immunity, headaches, and a general sense of tiredness. So without asking you to meditate, take up Yoga, or even Tai Chi I'm going to give you an early Christmas present. I'm going to give you two excellent exercises for relieving your stress.

Body Attention for Healing Exercise

The first one is simply paying attention to your body. Go someplace quiet (the bathroom works great) and take an imaginary tour around your body. Start with your head and proceed feel all the parts of your body, pay attention to everything you can but don't sweat the details. If you feel an ache or pain just sit there and bathe it with attention and see what happens. (This exercise also speeds recovery from injury and illness) But you must be certain to just look at your body. Don't try to make stuff happen as that simply makes more stress. You simply pay attention to the body itself. If you do this before sleeping at night you may just get rid of insomnia for good.

 Instant Control Exercise

This is one of my favorites because it is so simple and so effective. When you feel overwhelmed or out of control simply pick a spot on the wall. Then go touch that spot with your index finger. You have chosen a goal and taken the proper action to achieve it. This may not sound like much but it has saved me many times when I was feeling out of control. The illusion that we can't control our lives is very strong so choosing a simple action like this can reveal that we still do have power in the situation. From touching your spot on the wall you can build up to organizing, cleaning, cooking, or whatever else you need to do.

Relax and Breathe

Just remember this is your life. You have the right to be in control and to let go of stress. Choose to do small things. Take big tasks and cut them into bite sized pieces. That is how you make the unmanageable manageable. 
Susan Zhang, my Sun Style teacher once chided me for trying to learn too much of the form (it was 97 movements long) at one time. She said it was like I was trying to eat a whole watermelon in one bite. Ever since I have tried to cut everything down to size and it works for me every time.  So relax, take a deep breath, and stop trying to swallow whole watermelons!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tai Chi, Martial Arts, and Anxiety

I went to the laundry today and as I was waiting for my clothes to be dried I encountered a charming young lady named Jenny. She's a bright woman, personable with a good sense of humor. We made some jokes in that friend I made in the Coin Laundry way. She told me about her boyfriend, her life experiences, and the fact that she had recently lost her job due to anxiety attacks. She worked making coffee and sandwiches. Her boss wanted her to serve all the customers by herself as he sat and played on his computer. He fired her when her performance was not up to his standard. She went on to explain that she suffered from Social Anxiety Disorder and General Anxiety Disorder. Her clothes finished, she wished me a happy Thanksgiving and we parted ways but she left me with a gift.

The gift was one of insight into a deeper problem that plagues millions of people here in the US. I have met so many people who talk of panic attacks and anxiety issues. It's almost mind boggling. I myself have never experienced much anxiety at all and this state of affairs puzzled me. I'm an American, have debt, own my own business in this battered economy, I have even experienced the pain of losing both parents and a son. And yet anxiety has never really had a role in my life that I can remember. Then it hit me. I had trained in Tai Chi and other martial arts for over 27 years now. I had learned the differences between actual and perceived harm. Between pain and injury. Between mental and physical pain. I had also learned to take steps to analyze the situation and take action to neutralize the source of the pain. It really comes down to a set of very simple tools.

1. Stand outside the situation. This is not always easy but it is a valuable life skill to attain. You look at the situation not as an involved participant but from the point of view of an observer. I know it sounds hard but if  people can be trained  to do it in life and death situations like combat then you can learn to do it in your daily life. There are exercises to help you. I'm working on putting together a course and booklet of these.

2. Assess what is real versus what is imagined. In martial arts we talk about blocking the actual punch coming in rather than the one you are expecting to come in. But you needn't get hit in the head to explore this. You simply have to look at simple situations. Look at the reality as opposed to what you THINK you know. This kind of data parsing is invaluable in combating anxiety.

3. Feel Safe. You have to learn how to key certain feelings by physical gestures, code phrases, or breathing techniques. This will help you to create a calm and alert feeling that can help to combat the feelings of powerlessness and danger that anxiety attacks engender. You must learn to recognize true safety from danger.

4. Empower yourself. I have spent a long time learning at first hand to hand combat and later how to handle confrontations to the point of never having to fight at all. These concepts can be applied to social situations as well. You can maintain your own well being while being relaxed, calm, and confident.

5. Practice. My brother is a fire fighter. He runs into burning buildings and saves lives. I'm a martial artist I can handle attacks that come at me unbidden and unexpected. How do neither of us freeze up in these high stress dangerous situations? Simple. We practice and prepare for them mentally and physically. An anxiety attack is no different. You learn all you can about it. Learn your triggers. Face them in practice day in and day out. Daily practice takes the teeth out of the tiger.

I'm working on a course called Tai Chi for Anxiety. I'm hoping to offer it very soon and hopefully it will help anyone who deals with anxiety on a daily basis. Remember you are beautiful limitless beings and you can tame the tiger that is anxiety!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and a special thanks to Jenny, my coin laundry buddy who brought anxiety into sharp focus. As the Shaolin Monks say Amitoufou!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tai Chi for meditation

Meditation is the art of paying attention to a single matter. Doing this repeatedly trains the mind to be more calm, more alert, and more aware. Tai Chi is a wonderful thing to pay attention to. It helps boost your immune system. It helps your physical and mental balance and can even improve or heal some diseases. You can do Tai Chi simply within a small space. The key to meditation is not what you do. It is choosing one thing to do and doing it regularly with the intent of paying attention. To do a Tai Chi meditation all you have to do is learn a movement or two... or if you are inclined learn an entire form. Then you practice the movements over and over feeling each particular movement. Paying attention to what goes on inside of your body-mind as you move. You do this everyday. This is the path to meditation. Above is a short, safe to practice Tai Chi form to get you started!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Diet and Weight Loss

Exercise is an important part of weight loss but it is not by any means the most important part. If you want to lose weight you must take in fewer calories than you burn. This is the simple truth. No tricks, no lies you simply must eat less. There are numerous ways of accomplishing this task. I'm going to give you the way that I have worked out for me. I'm losing weight slowly and surely and am feeling better everyday.

My method for shedding the fat that I gained through years of believing: "I'll eat anything I want. I'll just exercise and burn it off." If that were possible I'd be a thin person right now but I'm not. I worked out diligently everyday and ballooned up to over 300 lbs. I would workout for 1-2 hours daily and still I got fatter and fatter. My workouts did help me overcome many of the horrors of being that heavy. My knees are fine and healthy, my cholesterol is good, my blood sugar is good but I was a tremendously huge person and it was not muscle. It was fat or as the old timers so charmingly called it "table muscle."

Exercise is good but you need to couple it with dietary changes. We hear the words: "sensible diet"over and over again but get conflicting information on what that should be. Low Carb? Low Fat? Glycemic index? Take weird hormone shots? Eat six small meals per day. Juice Fast. It's all so bloody confusing.
Well I happened to think one day: What happens if I just eat less. I'll eat the foods I enjoy just less of them.
So I embarked on that and experienced some weight loss. But the rest remained. So I considered something radical. Rather than counting calories like an obsessive and difficult to be around maniac why not just fast for 24 hours per week. I Googled this idea and came upon several articles that indicated that not only did it help with weight loss but it was also beneficial for restoring insulin sensitivity and it helped to stave off Alzheimer's and other degenerative brain disorders. So I tried it out. I lost a full pant size the first month. It was pretty amazing to say the least. Now I fast every Monday and feel great about it.

There is also a practice called intermittent fasting which has been used by various monastic orders for centuries. Basically you choose not to eat between certain hours. A friend of mine abstains from food between 6 PM and 6 AM everyday. She is losing weight and feeling healthier.

Now we come to a big question: What exactly do you do during a fast like that? Easy you drink nothing but water while you are fasting. I always like the Chinese idea that anything that isn't water is a food. This includes: tea, coffee, flavored waters, fruit juices, drinks of any kind. You only drink clear, pure water. For those of you who say: I don't like the taste of water go find some other diet then because the water is not only essential to this it is good for you.

I'm not saying that this is the ultimate diet. Many people will likely disagree with me on its validity. What I am saying is that it is what works for me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tai Chi, Hard Work, and Diet

Oftentimes one thinks of Tai Chi and you get images of elderly folks flowing effortlessly through some choreography. A good exercise for your arthritis but nothing terrifically demanding. However, nothing could be further from the truth. If you practice a Tai Chi form with your knees well bent and your movements slow and steady then you will work hard!
Your legs and back will shake from exertion. You will feel burn in your legs, back, and abdomen. The movements combined with the standing posture practices will make your legs and core very very strong. For a long time I practiced Tai Chi in a high stance and got little benefit. Now that I have learned about low stance training I'm seeing huge gains in flexibility and strength as well as significant weight loss. I'm dropping pounds slowly but surely I'm below 300 lbs and I feel great.
Of course you may ask if I was always practicing and working out before now why did I become so overweight? Simple. No amount of exercise can make up for an abysmal diet filled with overeating and junk food. Garbage In, Garbage Out as the old computer adage goes. So I did five healthy things per day and then counteracted them with twenty unhealthy things. So now I strive to have a more balanced life. I work hard and train my Tai Chi to accomplish that goal. It's a great workout and as I have said before a companion for life!
Next time I'll talk a bit about my diet specifically and how it has helped me regain control of my health.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why Tai Chi

A lot of people ask me why should I do Tai Chi over aerobics, kickboxing, Brazilian Jiujitsu, or MMA?
The answer is very simple. You shouldn't do it over any of those things. The truth is Tai Chi can be a devastating martial art if you have a good teacher. But even an introductory Tai Chi class can be hugely beneficial. Tai Chi teaches us about efficient body mechanics and relaxation. You learn to relax and you learn to move efficiently with no wasted effort. This means huge benefits in terms of the performance of other martial arts and sports.
Aside from a purely physical persepctive Tai Chi does several things that help any athlete tremendously. It relieves joint pain, boosts your immune system, and has a number of other unique healing benefits. Imagine you are an MMA fighter and you get hurt. Tai Chi can actually help you rehab the injury faster and allow you to keep your range of motion without having to start over from scratch.
Want to improve your performance? Want to bounce back from injuries? Tai Chi is the way to go!