An amusing story of Howard training with Chee Soo in our exercise of whirling arms at a course held at Carnegie college Leeds in 1980s
Morgan from Leeds asks
In the arts of kaimen and daoyin, why are the repetitions either in 3s or 4s?
When we trained with Chee Soo we always used three repetitions for exercises that don’t have a left and right section, an example would be cobra stance and some eagle and frog stance exercises.
An exercise such as dragon, leg triangle etc the exercise is performed on the left and then the right, and gets repeated twice on each side, first during the sequence and then the same again during the extension. That is the recommended quantity. I personally don’t recommend practising any Kai Men or Dao Yin exercise repeatedly but rather I suggest you vary the exercises and especially if you are a fairly new student. Say two Kai Men only per day, followed perhaps by some Tai Chi Form and then the next day two Dao Yin, followed by some Tai Chi Form, or, if you prefer, the Tai Chi form first and the Kai Men or Dao Yin after.
More repetitions of the same exercise can be done by students with many years experience under their belt. But caution is needed. Too many repetitions can cause injury.
A very experienced student of mine once rang me to say he would not be attending class that week. I asked if the reason was their work hours, but he replied that he had a bad back, due to practising the cobra exercises every day, I had only taught them the previous week! The lesson here is to increase the repetitions only if you are a seasoned practitioner and then pay attention to your body and stop as soon as you feel enough is enough. Never push yourself to do just one more. Learning to understand how you feel and then to stop pursuing repetitions before overtraining is all part of the learning process in our arts. Remember the arts are ultimately a journey of self discovery.
My personal preference is to practise the Tai Chi form, something I have done daily with an odd exception for the last 45 years. Adding a few Kai Men or Dao Yin usually 2 or 3 time during the week and occasionally replacing my Tai Chi form practise with a longer Kai Men or Dao Yin session i.e. 5 or 6 different exercises, practiced by repeating them 3 or 4 times as explained above. Once a year, usually in December, I give a Kai Men and Meditation course and during these often we practise some of the Kai Men exercises with a greater number of repetitions, the maximum repetition we do are 10 i.e. 5 each side or as in the case of cobra etc where there is only one side 6 would be the limit.
As I said the arts to me are a journey of self discovery. Once after a few years training, when I was already an instructor, Chee Soo who had been waiting for some training suits to be made, which took a very long time. Students were complaining they had paid but had not received their suits yet, so Chee Soo decided to deliver them himself. When he arrived at my house we had a cup of tea and a chat and as he got into his car to continue his journey he said “Do you know why I have practised the arts these last 60 years?” I stared at him blankly but with great expectation. I had no idea what the answer would be. Was I about to be given a great secret? I felt myself tingle in anticipation. Chee Soo stared deep into my eyes and said “Because you are learning about yourself, no one else, just yourself”. Then he got into his car and drove off to turn round to travel back in the direction he had came from and gave me a wave as he passed. A great grin spread across his face, probably because he noticed the look on my face, me basically thinking, what the £$&$ is that supposed to mean?
As with many other things he told me over the years I came to realise the wisdom in his simple words. Chee Soo could pack such splendid knowledge into one elementary statement. How fortunate I was to be able to train with this remarkable man for 21 fascinating years.
The only fitting statement is ‘Thank you for the training, Master’.
© Copyright 2018 Howard Gibbon – all rights reserved
What is Chee Soo's Shou Pay Fah in the art of Feng Shou Kung Fu?
Watch this 3 min video to get an overview.
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Why do we face South to start practising Tai Chi?
A great question asked by Morgan from Leeds
Firstly what I say here applies the Lee Style Tai Chi as taught by the late Master Chee Soo. If you practise another Tai Chi Style I suggest you check with your instructor to see there are no contradictions.
Taking into consideration your available practice space any direction that is suitable will be fine.
However, if you have the choice, as Chee Soo says in his Tai Chi book, stand facing South with your back facing North. East should then be to your left and West to your right.
I am fortunate that my living room, my practice area in bad weather, allows me to face South but when the weather allows I prefer to train outside.
The Chinese Five Elements System places North under Yin and South Yang, well to be accurate, South is Lesser Yang and North is Greater Yin.
So we start facing South and perform ‘Gather Celestial Energy’ drawing in Li energy in the process. At the end of the form set 41 we perform ‘Gather Earth’s Energy’ drawing the Chi up the body into the chest and then letting it sink (Set 42) to its natural home in the Dan Dien. Between the sets of the Tai Chi form we move through Greater Yang (East) and Lesser Yin (West) passing through Lesser Yang (South) as we absorb oxygen energising our body. Stretching and relaxing muscles, moving the weight from one leg to another exploring and perfecting our balance in the process. Then learning to circulating our Chi and allowing in Li energy from heaven, letting it pass through us revitalising us, providing it is unimpeded by tense muscles and a busy mind.
So by facing South to start our Tai Chi practice allows the Li energy to reach us more easily as we perform our movements
These benefits only come when one puts in the the practice on a regular basis for the benefits of Tai Chi have to be worked for. Having a goal to attain these gifts is not enough the Tao (The Way) must be walked step by step.
I hope you found this helpful. Any questions please ask.
The only stupid questions are the ones you didn’t ask but wish you had.
© Copyright 2018 Howard Gibbon – all rights reserved
What's the Difference between a Parry and a Ward Off?
Great question I explain the basics in this video
Learn about Eagle and Bear stance strengths and weaknesses
How often should I practice my Tai Chi?
Having watched students attending my Tai Chi classes over the last 40+ years these are my observations.
Those who attend class regularly, listen to instruction, and then practise diligently make the most progress. When asked by beginners how often they should practise my answer is:
About 10 to 20 minutes 2 or 3 times a week, preferably every day. My experience is until the new students have been attending for many months I find 20 minutes or so is about right, more than that and concentration is lost and therefore the benefits gained may start to unravel. Of course people who have built up an ability to concentrate for longer through the practise of other disciplines such a Yoga etc., may be comfortable practising for longer. So the individual must decide when their concentration flags and then stop. Another practise session later in the day, time permitting, is okay. But learning not to rush the learning process is a very important lesson. As one learns more moves and becomes more proficient, the more the practise time can be extended. My observations show me that students who practise little and often develop greater stamina over time along with the many other benefits that regular Tai Chi practise brings.
I am sure most of you have heard the story of the ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’.
The hare was once boasting of his speed. "My speed is such I have never yet been beaten," said he, "Is there anyone here who thinks they can challenge me?"
The tortoise said quietly, "I accept your challenge."
"That is very funny," said the hare. "I could dance around you all the way."
"Lets race then and keep your boasting until you've won," answered the tortoise.
So a course was fixed and the race started. The hare darted off at great speed, but soon stopped and, to show his contempt for the tortoise, lay down to have a nap. The tortoise plodded on and plodded on, later when the hare awoke from his nap, he saw the tortoise nearing the finish line, but he could not catch up in time to save the race.
Moral: Consistent unhurried practise of Tai Chi wins every time.
© Copyright 2012 Howard Gibbon – all rights reserved
This is a true story but the names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty
David was hoping to enjoy this day off work. His first full day off for ten days and this happens. True to form his brake cylinder had developed a leak the day before. Just typical of his luck! Whenever he got a moments peace something turned up to spoil it, it always happened to him.
So there was David, gathering his tools by the car ready to fix the new brake cylinder, he had had to get up early, on his day off, to go into town for a new cylinder gasket. He checked his tools jacked up the car and placed blocks under it, not worth taking any risks, not with his luck.
As he was placing the blocks under the car his neighbours John and Emma walked by.
They said ‘Good morning David’.
He pushed himself out from under the car thinking to himself ‘ just my luck can’t even get on with this bloody job without getting disturbed’.
"For some it might be, but my brake cylinder is leaking and I now have to spend my first day off work for ten days sorting it out." he said.
"Never mind at least the sun is shinning." Emma said.
"When did that happen David." asked John.
"Yesterday, I noticed it as I was coming home from work, the brakes were a bit spongy and I thought to myself. Just my blooming luck! I might have known the something would go wrong when I have a day off tomorrow and I was right. It always happens to me you know", said David.
"Well, like Emma said, at least the suns out." replied John.
"Yeh! And with my luck it will start to rain soon," moaned David.
John and Emma went indoors going about their business. David looked at the car and thought to himself, well now I have been dragged out from under the car I may as well make myself a cup of tea before I start. So off he went into the house to put the kettle on.
Up in heaven God was looking down on earth admiring all the beauty that was his work. He noticed David, listened to him moaning.
"Great" he said to Gabriel who was sat beside him. "Go get the rain hose Gab so I can give this man what he’s asking for."
So Gabriel went and fetched the hose passing it to God.
"Shall I go and turn it on Your mighty" he said.
"No not yet he’s gone to make a cup of tea, we will wait while he gets under the car and has the thing in bits then we’ll drench him" God chuckled to himself.
He loved giving people what they asked for and it constantly amazed him that most people persistently complained about their bad luck, day after day after day. So instead of helping people to prosper and be happy, he was forced into giving people bad luck because that is what they asked him for all the time.
Well, he wasn’t going to let it get him down, he was God and he was going to be happy in spite of the ungrateful majority he gazed upon.
David came out of the house with his mug of tea, surveyed his tools, looked at his car in total disgust, thinking damn that thing had been nothing but trouble since I bought it, just my luck. Under the car he went tools in hand and would you ‘Adam and Eve it’ five minutes later the heavens opened.
Down it poured as David raced to the front door. Shouting "I knew it! just my luck!!"
Just as he shot through the front door he thought he heard a strange noise from the sky, almost sounded like a chuckling noise.
"Oh, No! Don’t say my ears are playing up." It would be just my luck wouldn’t it."
Be careful what you ask for!
© Copyright 2018 Howard Gibbon – all rights reserved
One of the problems experienced by new students to Tai Chi is they often complain they can not remember the moves. Because Tai Chi relaxes the body and dulls the thought processes, the moves are often easily forgotten but the essential benefits of Tai Chi i.e. the meditative experience is remembered. Because it is absorbed into their being.
This is the beauty of Tai Chi. The inner experience outweighs the outer for the newcomer and as this is an unfamiliar experience, the mind fights it because it does not understand and can not define the experience by looking at other experiences. The mind wants to understand to link to a past experience and to commit that experience to memory. Now we have a big problem. The new student feels good after the class but when trying to relate their experience to others, find it difficult to put it into words what that experience was, because essentially it was an experience that was felt not deciphered by the mind.
Tai Chi practice should refresh you; not burden you with more things to remember. True understanding in Tai Chi brings a deep wholeness to your essential being. Not another memory attached to the intellect. There is no need to remember it – it is there…
As you practise let thoughts come and let them pass through. Become the watcher. Be indifferent to the thoughts. When you listen or read words of wisdom, don’t try to remember them or the meaning will be lost. Let them wash over you, cleaning your mind, emptying it. Do not let thoughts whip up your mind like a strong wind ruffling the surface of water causing confusion and doubt, be still like a calm lake. The purpose of meditation is to throw out the mind. Tai Chi empties the mind. Do not burden yourself with more words or thought processes.
See from your deep inner self, let that wisdom go to work to change and empower your essential self, the real inner you. Forget for the moment your outer self, your conscious self that was born of your upbringing, your surroundings and moulded by others’ expectation of you and what you should become.
Tai Chi, given the chance can change your life, if you let it. This is true, I know beyond a shadow of doubt because I am living proof of that.
Being of service to others by passing on the teaching I was so privileged to receive from my Tai Chi Master and spiritual mentor. I am living a life of happiness and satisfaction beyond my wildest dreams. I have found my personal Dao.
Perhaps I was lucky but I really believe I had the sense to see the Master when I met him and intuitively felt that this was what I should be doing. I didn’t understand why, it just felt right and I did not deny that or subdue it with logic. I followed my heart though the good and the bad times and allowed my inner self to flower.
by Howard Gibbon
© Copyright 2017 Howard Gibbon – all rights reserved
The object of the I Fu Shou exercise i.e. Tai Chi Sticky Hands Practise is to upset your partner’s balance. This is not because it is a competition with a winner and a loser. Although sadly I see that ‘Pushing Hands competitions’ are starting to appear, with some Tai Chi Organisations subsequently advertising that one of their students won this or that section, presumably in the belief that this will attract more students to their organisation.
The types of students that this attracts are the ones who want to win competitions and show off in front of a crowd. I feel this is a retrograde step that moves away from the true spirit of Tai Chi. I do not consider that I Fu Shou should be presented as a form of competition which inevitably breeds a winner and a loser. I consider it to be a voyage of self-discovery. The practice of which will enable the practitioner to develop a heightened state of awareness, firstly of themselves, then others they come into contact with. There is nothing to lose but your ego. And the prize to be won is humility.
Perhaps by looking at the names given to this exercise we can understand the different philosophy behind them. Firstly, to push, this word is defined as meaning: to exert force on a thing, to move away from oneself or from the origin of the force. This in essence seems rather an aggressive attitude.
This type of philosophy leads to ambition, desire, and glorification of the self and the wish to make oneself superior. This inevitably leads to separation from the Tao (way). There is no harmony here; only conflict. ‘Sticky’ is defined as tending or intended to stick or adhere. Adhere is defined as: stick fast to a surface, another substance, etc. Also, to behave according to, follow in detail or give support or allegiance. These words explain the essence of the instruction I received from my Master Chee Soo. He always taught me that once contact has been made it must be maintained, and that this contact should be light, so light in fact, that if a feather where to fall upon your arm it would sink under the weight of the feather. He also taught me that the object of the exercise was to follow the movements of your partner, not to force them to change the direction but to allow them to move their hand and arm in whatever way they wish. Learning to work within this framework whilst maintaining your own balance, giving in to their force which completely negates their strength and allows you to gently guide them in the direction they wish to go. Gently, helping them on their way.
If you offer no resistance, then no matter how much force is used against you, it cannot restrict your freedom. By giving in to that force and offering no resistance your partner sacrifices their balance when they exert force against your arm. By this action they create a weakness within their posture that can be exploited allowing you to maintain your balance whilst upsetting theirs. The object of this is not to gain power over your partner, but to learn to remain in control of your own balance whilst being put under pressure by your partner. This helps us to deal with the problems we encounter in everyday life without losing control and resorting to violence. And by violence I do not necessarily mean physical violence but also mental violence, which is the modern way to bully and make people fear you. Power hungry people weave their webs of mental manipulation, praying on the weak within our society – we are all weak at some time or another as we fall into our yin periods during our journey through life.
There are no laws, that can be enforced effectively, that will eradicate this kind of mental violence that we all have to suffer at some time or other at work, from parents, teachers and countless enthusiastic exponents of officialdom. We just have to learn to deal with it. We have to learn to take responsibility for ourselves. Instead of becoming physically or verbally violent which can only escalate the conflict, we have to learn to absorb the energy thrown our way.
In doing so we strengthen ourselves and weaken the perpetrator, but more importantly we remain entire.
by Howard Gibbon
© Copyright 2012 Howard Gibbon – all rights reserved