Chi Energy – Fact or Fiction?

It has no smell, it cannot be seen. It is a palpable part of our existence. Insubstantial and substantial at the same time. But is often seen as pure hokum. I confess I found it difficult to understand too in my early years, if it wasn’t for my keen interest in other aspects of the arts I would probably have written off Tai Chi and taken up something else.  

But what really convinced me that there was something here I didn’t understand was my daughter who was four years old at the time. Returning home after the weekend courses I tried the chi energy exercises with my daughter. To her it was just like, great dad is playing a game with me. She had no opinion, she just carried out the instructions I gave her and I was astounded at her ability to perform them.

I came to realise my problem was I was trying to understand what was going on intellectually. But these exercises were about how it felt. Whilst I was trying to argue with the results in my mind. My daughter just did them without any preconceived opinion as to its validity. Having persevered in my training, the credit for that persistence went to my daughter to a large extent. I slowly came to accept that Chi was something that was real and with practise, can be felt.

I now find it fascinating that people find it so easy to accept that watching say the Olympics on TV that is taking place in some far off land like China. The video of the event travelling through the ether from far away to be picked up by an arial on our roof, then transferred to our TV screen where we can watch it virtually as it happens.

Of course there is one big difference between that and Chi, and that is we can see the picture on the TV screen. We don’t need to understand how it gets there, we can just enjoy the program.

But because we cannot see Chi, it does not mean it does not exist. 

Chinese medicine along with other cultures have long accepted the concept, merely giving it different names. Being opened minded to such a concept it not easy, as one risks being labeled a little unhinged, although to be fair less so today than in the past. Nevertheless it is an embarrassing subject for many Tai Chi practitioners.

Yet others drift into fantasy in any conversation about the concept. Making claims that lead others to draw the conclusion it’s all rubbish. My Tai Chi Master Chee Soo always presented it as a natural aspect of our human abilities that have become dormant over the years. I remember him saying. “Have you ever had a baby grip your finger tightly and marvelled at the power of that grip that small child had. That baby is using its Chi, but as the child grows it starts to use its muscles more and more and the Chi becomes dormant. We endeavour to re-cultivate that ability through our training in Tai Chi.” By doing so we strengthen our health and well-being beyond what we previously though possible. 

This is the gift that Tai Chi bestows but it has to be earned, it awaits us at the end of much practise. It is no quick fix. And can only be achieved by those that believe it is possible. For the concept of Chi itself is hidden from those that deny its existence. Like the £10 note you may have in a pocket or drawer you have forgotten about, it can’t be used because you don’t know it’s there. And again like the concept of Chi, should something bring you to remember it’s there as you once knew long ago, then that ability can be relearnt and used and your health will certainly profit from it.

The Family Seahorse Crest

I came across this video of a seahorse giving birth on youtube and thought you would be interested to know the Lee family arts of Tai Chi etc’s crest is a seahorse. The following text is an extract from my book 'Student Of A Master'.

Our badge has a circle showing the Yin and Yang sign with a seahorse wearing a coolie’s hat. The circle shows that we are one family. The Yin and Yang symbol shows the two opposing yet complementary factors within any family and everything within the universe. When the seahorse mates the male pairs with a female and she inserts her long ovipositor into the males pouch which is situated on his belly and lays her eggs. When the young have hatched and are ready to be born the pouch opens. The male seahorse bends and then straightens its body in convulsive jerks until finally its baby seahorses shoots out through the mouth of the pouch. They are about ½ inch long at birth and perfect miniature replicas of their parents. The male rests after each birth and shows signs of extreme exhaustion when all the babies are born. 

To me my Master was the perfect embodiment of these principles. He was the head of our family and he nurtured his offspring (his students) with great care. His pouch (training hall) was always open to newcomers. Once they entered he nurtured (trained them) with great care and attention. And when they had grown physically, mentally and spiritually he would open his pouch that they may be born and go forth and live and multiply (having become teachers themselves they may now repay the debt and teach others). He existed for his family and his work, which was teaching our Taoists Arts. The coolie’s hat worn by the seahorse is a symbol of humility. Many times I watched my Master walk round the training hall picking up bits of paper, cotton thread etc. whilst some instructor has been designated to conduct the warm up exercises. In full view of his students he showed he was prepared to do the most menial task himself. I once saw him use a vacuum cleaner that had been left in the training hall. He turned it on, and off he went round the hall cleaning the place up. Everyone including myself was amused to see the Master vacuuming the place. I was taking the warming up exercise session at the time and enjoyed the fun too when he stuck the vacuum on my training trousers in an unfortunate place, however, I survived the experience intact.

I have met no other Master who’s ego and self-importance would not forbid him from performing such a menial task as cleaning up the training hall himself. Yes, Master Chee Soo, you wore the coolies hat, and you wore it with dignity and pride. I feel deeply honoured to have had you as my teacher.  After his passing I felt obliged to carry on this work as others have before me. So that others may have the opportunity to study the Taoist Arts. Their value is as relevant today as it was in ancient times. 

The truth will always be the truth. The way of the Tao will remain regardless of man’s interference. Ecclesiastics 1:4 A generation goes, a generation comes, yet the earth stands firm for ever. 

It was my honour and privilege to be a student of Master Chee Soo for those twenty one years. The essence of the Taoist arts, is it's the doing that counts, the direct experience. Many times during that training I wondered why I continued spending my weekends turning myself into a physical and mental wreck whilst others went off seeking pleasure and indulging themselves. Well, now in my seventies I have the physical abilities and health many others envy and I have an optimism and zest for life that seems to have disappeared from the lives of most of my contemporaries.

So I sincerely mean this when I say, “Thank you for that training Master.”

New Tai chi Master Grade

Tai Chi Instructor Gary McKeown

Gary Mc Keown receiving his Master Grad Black Jacket from Master Howard Gibbon at Holme On Spalding Moor

Tai Chi Warm Up Exercises

The Warm Up Exercises which we do before each class.

New Master Grade

Chris Heczko receiving his Feng Shou Black Jacket in the art of Feng Shou.

Well done to Chris Heczko on receiving his Black Jacket in the art of Feng Shou.

The Joy Of Learning

Sent in by Angela Fallon - County Coach Edinburgh

Having not been to a course for some time, I had forgotten what a tonic it is to be a learner and immerse myself in a full three days of Tai Chi and Feng Sau.  I forgot how alive I feel when I am learning and how everything else going on my life is just forgotten about.

On the Spring Course our group worked through 82 to 102 in the Tai Chi Form.  We had repeated it a few times when Howard came over and went around each of us making small adjustments to the arms.  When he came to me, he adjusted my left hand as I hadn’t noticed a kink in the wrist.  As soon as it was adjusted I could feel the chi flowing through my hand and arm.  I hadn’t noticed I’d shut that wrist channel off.  Howard talked us through keeping a smooth movement as we ‘put the ball down’ and rotated the wrists.  For all of us, this had become like two movements – put the ball down – circle the wrists.  Instead Howard told us to relax the wrists, and then the movement became one.  Even after 20 years doing this, I feel a joy in my heart when I learn and feel something new.  I always marvel at the wonder of this art.  It is a limitless source of knowledge about ourselves and gives us the opportunity to not only find out more about where we hold tension, but more importantly, it shows us that we can ‘let it go’ when we choose to.  That is so incredibly valuable in this busy life that we lead, full of pressures and stress.

One of the benefits of being on a course is having so much time to immerse yourself what you are doing.  Sometimes, when we practice movements we are familiar with, we often stop noticing what we are doing. Our brains are hard-wired to create frameworks so when you have done something a few times over, the brain tells us that we’ve ‘got it now’ so we begin to lose the openness in which we approached the movement in the first place.  We are no longer like a child exploring the world for the first time and alert to every experience.  That is when we need to remind ourselves to explore the feeling in that practice again.  We need to do something over and over - not to experience the same - but to be open to your body showing you something new.  

We must not fear correction or change, but recognise that we are being guided to experience something even better.  I think this can be an area many teachers struggle with as we want to teach everything ‘correctly’ and we want our students to trust that we are teaching them ‘correctly’.  It is a subtle balance between accurately passing on what you have been taught without embellishing it, but not being so precise as to be unnatural, and recognising what is right for our individual size and frame.  It is especially important for teachers to feel comfortable with being corrected.

I have seen first-hand in other associations how not being able to be ‘wrong’ can be destructive.  I have experienced teachers who will fudge things, make up what they don’t know or are resistant to change because they do not want to ‘lose face.’  This is usually because people are fearful of being judged, fearful of being less than perfect, and sometimes because they view themselves as being elevated above their students instead of being equal to them.  That is the ego and no one likes feeling vulnerable.  However, no one is perfect and just like our students, teachers are also students of this art, on our own journeys and working on ourselves.  If we are to retain this fine art, without diluting or changing it for future generations, we need to have the humility to be corrected and correct ourselves when we start to add our own habits, and to be continually open to learn.  

When I look back at my Tai Chi journey, I feel grateful for all my experiences; I learned good lessons in sometimes bad situations.  I had some teachers who were bullying and controlling, and some teachers who put themselves on pedestals and said their way was the only way.  In my early Tai Chi journey, it was a struggle to experience this.  But no one is all bad or all good, we are all just flawed in different ways.  It has been an education about people, the effects of power, the importance of humility and the precious gift of always being a learner.  

What all these teachers had in common was that they had stopped learning.  They had become stagnant.  When we stop learning and challenging ourselves then we ‘hold on’ and become resistant or fearful of what we don’t know.    When I left the first association, I planned to give myself a year of exploring other associations before finding the right place for me.  I was conscious that I had a class of students whom I had pulled out of an association and I did not want to jump blindly into another association only to find a similar situation.  I decided to explore and experience for a year so I could make an informed choice.  One of the reasons I stayed with EWTA was because Howard’s passion to pass on these arts was apparent.  More than that, he was, and still is, joyful in what he is doing. And that is the secret to all learning.  When you are joyful you are relaxed, you are peaceful and open to learning.

I remember early on in EWTA, someone asked Howard something about a movement in the Silk and for a moment you could see him thinking.  My previous teachers would have said what they thought, but Howard went to his table and checked a folder of notes, then came back and told us.  That says a lot.  A number of years ago Howard took up learning to play a musical instrument.  Rather than sticking with what he is comfortable with, Howard took up a new challenge to become a learner again.  This willingness to learn is a choice and is not age dependent.  It is a willingness to grow and a love of life and all its experiences and challenges.  When we choose to be stagnant or stay in our comfort zone, we are holding on and fearful of change.  It is the death of the growth of the spirit and the soul.  But it is a choice.  When we choose to learn, in whatever that may be, we are joyful, inspired, energised and often creative.  If you are feeling stagnant right now, you can change that very easily.  

If you love these arts and want to develop both your skills and your knowledge of yourself, I urge you to get along to some courses when you can.  Recognise what a valuable opportunity you have to learn with Howard.  He will not be doing this forever. Seek your opportunities to grow and develop, to challenge yourself, do not take the familiar for granted but instead look for the new in the old and enjoy the journey.

New Awards

Good evening Howard, I hope you are well. I just wanted to say thank for such a wonderful spring course over the weekend. It was a privilege to meet with you and to have the opportunity to learn from you. I have been so very fortunate to have had a tremendous introduction to the Arts from Susan and I was both keen and a little apprehensive to attend the Spring course to further my knowledge. I can't speak highly enough of the wonderful welcome and support received from all of the attendees. As a beginner to be made so welcome and to learn so much was a wonderful experience. There were many highlights of the weekend with every day yielding many new discoveries. I was amazed and left with a great sense of achievement having successfully passed my first Feng shou grading.

Thank you again, take care and very best regards. Craig - Newcastle Upon Tyne

David Walker from Rotherham receiving his Tai Chi Teaching Certificate at Scarborough, North Yorkshire 

Carl Pearson from Coventry receiving his Tai Chi District Coaching Award at Scarborough, North Yorkshire 

New Master Grade

Heather Wood

Congratulations to Heather Wood from Horbury, Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Who received her Black Jacket Award from Chief Instructor Howard Gibbon at Holme On Spalding Moor on the 2nd March.

Sunderland Course – New Master Grades

Dorothy from Sunderlands Ryhope Tai Chi Club receiving her Black Jacket Master Grade Award

Glynis from Sunderlands Ryhope Tai Chi Club receiving her Black Jacket Master Grade Award

I just wanted to pass on some feedback from the students today about the course you gave on Saturday. Everybody has been buzzing about the day, your teachings have generated such enthusiasm amongst the class. They particularly liked the slower place, that enabled them to begin to embed some of the lessons and felt that they had learned some great tips to help them improve. Students also enjoyed the attention to detail given to the stances and the form. Following on from Saturday in the class today we went right back to basics. Thank you Howard for coming to Ryhope and for helping us to improve our T'ai Chi and Feng Shou. It was great to see so many instructors, too.

Best Wishes, Susan Bird 

Area coach for Tyne & Wear

Tai Chi and The Power of Practise

Russell Poldrack, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Los Angeles, has conducted a number of brain-imaging experiments to trace the transition from explicit to implicit monitoring that occurs over many hours’ practice. He has discovered that the prefrontal cortex is activated when a novice is learning a skill, but that control of the stroke switches over time to areas such as the basal ganglia, which is partly responsible for touch and feel. This migration from the explicit to the implicit system of the brain has two crucial advantages. First, it enables the expert player to integrate the various parts of a complex skill into one fluent whole something that would be impossible at a conscious level because there are too many interconnecting variables for the conscious mind to handle. And second, it frees up attention to focus on higher-level aspects of the skill such as tactics and strategy. This transition between brain systems can be most easily understood by thinking about what happens when you learn to drive a car. When you start out, you have to focus intently in order to move the gear stick while keeping the steering wheel in the right place, pushing on the clutch, and keeping an eye on the road. At the beginning these tasks are so difficult to execute simultaneously that the instructor usually starts you off in a car park and slowly helps you to integrate the various elements. Only after some hours practise can these various skills be performed effortlessly, without any conscious control, so that you are now able to arrive at your destination without even being aware of how you got there, your mind having been on other things. Your skills have moved from the explicit to the implicit, from the conscious to the unconscious, and your ability has graduated. These are the skills that allow the Tai Chi practitioner to perform their routine with such flow and precision. Initially the Tai Chi students focus is on perfecting the various hand, arm and leg movements. After many hours of practise these are integrated into the unconscious. Now attention moves to the flow i.e. blending the movements into one harmonious structure.

As a teacher I have been privileged to witness this marvel on many occasions; watching a group of experienced Tai Chi enthusiasts practising, seeing them harmonising their Tai Chi together as one flowing majestic movement. Confirming to the beholder, that with concentration and a willing heart all people can work together to lift the spirit so we can live together peacefully.

There are other aspects of Tai Chi practise that deepen the understanding on a personal and group level but these are best learnt through attending a class conducted by an experienced teacher. Many of these attributes unfold themselves gradually over the years.

The dedicated hours of practise are also an absolute requirement to gain a high level of skill in the art of I Fu Shou (Sticky Hands), too.

Check out Howard’s Article: Tai Chi/Pushing Hands

Recommended Reading: Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice HarperCollins Publishers. Available on Amazon Books


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