It will come as no surprise to you that as a practitioner of Tai Chi for the last 45 years I believe that Chi energy is a fact. However, that was not always the case. In my early days of training with Master Chee Soo I often thought the Chi energy exercises and demonstrations were pure fiction, illusion, accepted as truth by deluded students.
So what changed my mind?
Was it attending training Tai Chi days for quite some time and seeing Master Chee Soo occasionally demonstrate Chi energy in various ways, usually on one of his instructors? Nope, that certainly didn’t help convince me at all. Curious, I talked to a few of them and frankly got the impression that they were merely sycophants, willing to accept whatever they were told by the Master. One or two others however, seemed normal enough. These instructors had experienced Chee Soo’s demonstrations of this Chi energy first hand, and whilst their explanation seemed a little tongue in cheek at best I had to admit they did not come across as weird or puppets of the Master’s will. They seemed perfectly well adjusted people. Of course I was just a newby so would be unlikely to be chosen for a demonstration, and to be honest the thought of being on the receiving end of this mysterious energy was a little scary.
So what to do in search of the truth?
Some time later after a great training weekend I arrived home after a three hour drive, tired but content. I had learned a lot, and also seen yet another Chi energy exercise which left me yet again not convinced. I sat down to a welcome meal and then plonked myself in front of the TV for some light entertainment. My youngest daughter had other ideas and pestered me to play with her. My protest that I was tired and wanted to rest fell on deaf ears, all you parents will know this one, so eventually I gave in.
Then suddenly I had one of those moments that often arrive after you subject yourself to the inevitable. Why not try some of these Chi exercises with my daughter. She was only four years old and had no knowledge of what to expect.
At the end of this article is a short video of the exercise that convinced me that Chi energy was a reality. But please read the rest of the article first.
So it became a regular thing I would see and try some Chi energy exercise and then return home and try them with my daughter. She loved it. Dad was playing games with her and for me it was an eye opener that was to play a major part in my development and understanding of the art of Tai Chi. You see I realised my daughter had no preconceptions as to the outcome whilst I tended to form an opinion as I watched these demonstrations. Naturally I tried to analyse something new to me, something that I didn’t understand. I tended to look for a reference point in my internal computer i.e. my brain. If nothing came back from the memory bank I tended to disbelieve what I saw. My daughter however, just immersed herself in the game with no expectations but just enjoyed the experience. True Taoism is action. No wonder the Taoists talk so much about returning to the child’s mind, a little understood aspect of Taoism most people gloss over as its doesn’t fit well with their world view of themselves. For me this was a defining moment in my development of the arts. Over time I cultured a different attitude, instead of questioning whether a Chi demonstration or technique in some other part of the arts worked or not, I merely went away and practised it. I eventually came to be able to look and see, without peppering what I saw with my own thoughts. A quantum leap in development of the art followed.
Take a look at the exercise I shared with my students on one of my day courses. But first consider this - why should you become heavier because you point your fingers at the floor and imagine pushing them downwards? There is no logical explanation why you should become heavier, you weigh what you weigh.. The answer is you send you Chi downwards and it makes appear you heavy to your partner.
© Copyright 2018 Howard Gibbon – all rights reserved
Hi Howard, I’m enjoying reading all of the articles on your blog.
My question would be: What, in your opinion/experience is the most important thing a new student should do, in order to progress in the various Lee Arts ?
Respect/Regards, Nic Bravin - London
Great question Nic, thank you for that. Here is my opinion:
Over the last 45 years of practising and teaching the Lee Style Arts I have come to the conclusion that the most important thing for new students who wish to progress is to make time for practice outside the training hall.
This is easily said and I know from watching students that many find this difficult. But as an instructor it soon becomes apparent who practises at home and who doesn’t. Sports experts say that to become an expert in any discipline you need to practise for 10,000 hours. As a beginner this is perhaps a daunting thought. However, the Chinese saying of ‘A thousand mile journey starts with a single step’ holds true here, too.
If you allocate say 10 to 20 minutes a day for practise in whatever aspect of the arts you enjoy in the beginning that will kick in the habit after 30 days and practise will become a part of your day.
My favorite practise is the Tai Chi form but it can be anything, in my early days I was learning the art of Feng Shou Kung Fu and used to practise the Shou Pay Fah upstairs along the landing in an evening after work. Later when I also added Tai Chi I started practising the form and have stuck to that ever since supplementing various other parts of the arts now and then i.e. the sword and staff etc. In the summer I often practise for 45 to 90 minutes depending on what I choose to supplement my Tai Chi form practise with, usually 20 to 30 minutes. I much prefer practising outside when the weather allows and I am now fortunate that I can practise in the morning which sets me up for the day. Being a Gemini my brain is usually busy, we all have our problems, eh! My morning Tai Chi form practise calms and relaxes me, stretches and loosens my body, gets my energy moving. All this gives me an appreciation of just how lucky I am to be living in a wonderful country. Being alive and healthy and able to teach such a beautiful thing as the Lee Style arts to others. This is something I am very, very grateful for.
If you are a beginner, please continue, I have been given so many gifts from the practise of Tai Chi and our related arts. In times of difficulties Tai Chi training has always stood me in good stead. However, being consistent in my practise has not always been easy and there have been times when I lapsed a little but the benefits are too great to give up once you become accustomed to them to lapse for long.
So find time for your practise and enjoy the experience and soon you will find it is a part of your day that you cannot do without.
I wish you all I wish for myself
Watch the video to see Howard's thoughts.
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.
If you would like to learn this fancinating art, a training DVD or subscription to our online membership is available from our shop. Take a look to learn more. Shop
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