USWA Coach Pei's Corner
Yin and Yang
Yīn = 阴 (traditional 陰 )
Yáng = 阳 (traditional 陽)
Today I want to go into more detail about Yīn 阴 and Yáng 阳. We understand that they are two different forces. They need to be balanced because they are opposites. Once they are balanced, they create a new force.
Do you remember first learning to ride a bicycle? In the beginning, you had many chances to fall down. Most of you probably had training wheels or someone running behind you, hanging on to your seat to hold you upright while you learned to keep your balance. These two different styles of learning are very useful in the very beginning. But if you only count on the training wheels or someone running behind you to ride, you will not learn and grow and will be restricted about where you can go. So, there is a time that we need to take off the training wheels. You have to rely on yourself if you want to go places. Once you are on your own, you have to pay attention to your own balance. If you don’t pay attention, you will fall down.
Each time that you fall down, there are only two choices: You can quit or you can get back on the bike. If you quit, you never move forward, but if you try again, you can keep learning even though you might fall down again. That’s pretty much like the current situation we are in now. We need to balance ourselves. We can count on each other for support, but the main thing is we have to balance ourselves.
When we practice Taiji, we are completely counting on ourselves. First of all, we learn to understand the principles of Taiji. The second step is to understand that it’s okay to do it wrong. If you do it wrong, just correct it next time. If you fall down, just get up.
Just get on the bike again. No need to cry over the bruised knees, no need to cry and think, “I cannot do it”. The attitude we need to have is to try again and find balance.
The balance of the Yīn 阴 and Yáng 阳 also controls our breathing. We exhale when it’s Yáng 阳. When it’s Yīn 阴, we inhale. To remember easily, every ending frame has an exhale which is a Yáng 阳 move. So, based on that, you can begin to regulate your breathing and begin to use your heart to listen to yourself.
Build a Good Structure
You might remember that I’ve said before that, initially, learning Chen-style Taiji is easier than learning Yang-style. This is because every physical movement that you see in Chen-style is exactly what’s happening inside of your body and expresses what your mind is thinking. With Yang-style, when Yáng LùChán (杨露禅) began to teach, he changed a lot of the physical movements and in doing so removed a lot of clues, so one has to really understand what’s going on to do well in the Yang-style.
I studied Yang-style for 13 years, but I always felt there was something missing for me in my practice. Like I said before, Yang-style takes away a lot of clues. I just didn’t feel the connection. Then I began to study Chen-style, and it made me understand that what you do physically is exactly what happens inside. Once I understood that feel, my Yang-style changed too. My Yang-style became better because I was able to now understand that feel. My Yang-style became softer, and then my Chen-style became softer too. Many people who practice Chen-style look very physically powerful and do a lot of fā jín 发 劲 but I feel differently. I feel that this tension and looseness, softness and hardness, it’s a balance. If there is too much focus on the hardness and not enough softness, then the yin and yang principle is not correct. Try to show on the outside what’s going on inside. Nurturing this sensitivity is how we grow in our Taiji practice.
The way we practice Taiji is the same as building a house: When we build a house, we build a frame first. After the structure is solid, we put up the walls, the plumbing, the electrical lines, then seal off the walls. Only after the walls are finished can you begin to design the interior and add the paint and furniture. You can’t approach building a house by changing it as you go. Changing the structure is very hard. So before the building begins, we start with the blueprints, so we know in our mind what we want our house to look like.
When we practice Taiji, we should have a very clear idea of what our intentions are. If I want to go inward to become a better person, those are the blueprints. Then I start working on my body and that is my framing. As I work on my body, I begin to go inward to explore my feelings. Those feelings are the plumbing and the electricity. I make the adjustments that make me feel better and get stronger and I begin to understand the moves. I start to understand the technique and begin to make it mine. It’s only once the house has its final paint and furniture that we can begin to really live in the house. Isn’t that easy?
Looking at Crisis
Crisis = wéi jī 危 机
In English, crisis means a time of intense difficulty or danger.
In Chinese, the first character, wéi 危, means “dangerous”, but the second character, jī 机, means “opportunity”. So, at the same time as there is a dangerous or crisis situation, there is also an opportunity to make a change, to create more space, to learn in a different way.
Although we may be limited in our physical practice of Taiji (Tai Chi) right now, we can use this opportunity to make our inner practice stronger. We can focus more on the basics and make them more robust. We can do one movement repeatedly or combine several moves to go deeper into our understanding of the form. Use your creativity to adapt your practice to the situation.
Survival = shēng cún 生存
In English, survival means to stay alive despite adversity.
In Chinese, the first character, sheng 生, pertains to anything that is alive. The second character, cún 存, means to store something precious in order to save it for future use.
So, the way we practice Taiji (Tai Chi) during this crisis goes beyond just "staying alive" but can also deepen our practice for the future. Virtual classes can’t be the same as in-person classes because limited space might restrict our movement of the full form, so let’s use this opportunity to focus on how the qi is moved: In Taiji (Tai Chi), the mind thinks, then Qi moves the body. Qi energy goes where the mind directs it, so the mind needs to be clear about where it is sending it. Also, wherever the body is loose the qi can flow freely, so when the body opens and closes with tension and looseness, the body can feel the qi passage.
In the same way that the hands in Chen-style Taiji’s (Tai Chi) folding move are like ocean waves that come together in a brief moment of chaos which flows into controlled power, we can use this chaotic time and this new kind of practice to deepen our Taiji (Tai Chi) experience. This is something precious for our present and our future.
Tension and Looseness
Tension = jĭn zhāng 紧张
Looseness = zhāng chí 松弛
The highest good is like water = shàng shàn ruò shuĭ 上善若水
Taiji is based on Yīn 阴 and Yáng 阳, the two opposing forces that balance each other. Yīn and Yáng are concepts from Daoism. The Daoists have a saying: “Shàng shàn ruò shuĭ 上善若水” which means, “Water treats all living things equally. It does not discriminate.” The character of water is that it goes where there is no resistance. If you don’t create resistance for it, it will flow quickly.
Qi is exactly the same. When you don’t resist, qi will flow. We create the tension and softness in our bodies. When we are tense, the Qi is compressed. As soon as we loosen and let go, Qi flows to where we are most loose. The energy goes where there is no tension. Energy is like water; it goes where there is the least resistance.
When we practice, we need to have this tension and looseness, but that tension is always created with two opposing points. It’s not just “holding tense” like a fist but rather like the tension created between two hands facing each other, feeling the tension between them without touching. And looseness is not simply being relaxed.
The whole body has tension and looseness, compression and expansion. During our Taiji practice, we move our body in a way that certain parts of the body are tensing while other parts are loosening and therefore Qi will flow toward the specific loosened part. In Qigong this is called Dăo Yĭn 导引 which means “guiding the energy” to where you want it.
November 2, 2018
A message for our ten USWA members who are representing USA at the 12th PanAm Wushu Championship.
“Today you take on the journey of your dream. You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.
I heart goes with you and remember be humble when winning and congratulate other winners with a smile.
Quiet your Heart and Regulate your Breathing
A. Quiet Your Heart
xīn jìng 心静 = Make your heart quiet
Xīn jìng 心静 is the idea of calming yourself down. Whatever style of Taiji you practice, the requirement to be “jing 静”, or quiet, is there. In qigong practice, whether you are doing the Buddhist style, the Daoist style or any other style, they all require that your heart has to be “jìng 静”.
When we talk about xīn 心, we are not referring to the physical heart but to the emotions. So xīn jìng 心静 means that your emotions need to be calm and not disturbed. Only when this is achieved, you can go to the next level, which is to regulate your breathing. If your heart is not quiet and your emotions are disturbed; if you are doing one thing while thinking of something else, it is difficult to practice Taiji.
So, xīn jìng 心静 is the first thing that we want to achieve.
B. Regulate Your Breathing
tiáo xī 调息 = Regulate your breath
The second thing we want to do is to regulate our breathing, tiáo xī 调息. In breathing, there are three different levels:
When we practice together, try to breathe so the people near you can’t hear you breathe. When you practice at home, try to do it so you can’t hear yourself breathe. Taiji is not a sitting meditation and we are moving, so the third level is more to visualize than to achieve.
Shallow or tight breaths make noise in the throat, so if you can breathe more deeply, you won’t hear it. That tells us that when we breathe, we need to let go of the tension, so our body can take in more as we inhale and let go more as we exhale. When we are able to do that, we can move our Qi.
The regulation of the breath is not something that we do once, like checking things off a list. It’s more like this: When you do #1 then #2 happens. When you do #2, you go back and it makes #1 deeper. It’s like climbing Huang Shan (黄 山), one of China’s holiest mountains. When you begin to climb the first 100 yards, you see things in one view. When you climb the next 100 yards, the mountain is still the same, but your feeling changes. Every 100 yards you go up, and the way you see things changes.
Breathing and calmness are heavily influenced by each other. If your emotion is not calm, it will affect your breathing. You can try your best to quiet down, but if your mind is disturbed, then your breathing will have little effect on calming your body. If your mind is calm and clear and undisturbed, then your breathing becomes more clear too. Then when your breathing becomes more clear, it makes the mind and the heart more calm. They keep influencing each other.
So, xīn jìng 心静 and tiáo xī 调息 are related to each other. When we are calm as we practice the form, then the mind is clear, like an undisturbed pond. Physically, it’s loosening the tension and emotionally it’s calming down and getting quiet. Heart (xīn 心) and mind (yì 意) are related to each other too. When they are combined, you have shén 神, which is spirit. Focus on calming your emotions and clearing your mind, then you can begin to regulate the breathing to let go of tension.
A Bonsai tree is best shaped when it's young.
Both good and bad habits are formed at the beginning so strict requirements is a must for beginners.
Our Wushu training is focused on developing children's serious attitude towards work with cooperative team spirit.
From Conscious to Subconscious
Learning = xué xí 学习
Learning is a journey and a process of growth. There are many levels or steps that we have to go through before we can say, “I understood”.
Before we take on any study, we have no knowledge of the subject.
When we begin our study, we know we don’t have knowledge but have a desire to continue the study. Then, after many years of study, we know that we know the subject. Decades later, we use our knowledge with even knowing that we are using it.
Therefore we say:
You don’t know that you don’t know.
You know that you don’t know.
You know that you know.
You don’t know that you know.
Since the levels of don’t know that we know is the highest level of learning and understanding. The question is how do we go from knowing that we know to the level of not knowing that we know?
When we first started learning to drive, we were very nervous and thought about every detail, but I know today you don’t even think about it when you drive, at least not in the same way you did when you were learning. You just get into the car and you drive. This knowledge became subconsciously, something you do automatically.
How do you change knowledge that is conscious into something that is subconscious? The answer is very simple: If you do it enough times, you will change the conscious to the subconscious. Driving is one example, typing without looking at the keyboard is another example. I had shared with you how raw iron ore becomes steel through high-temperature meltdown. The same process as with a good sword that has to be battered and folded many times to become sharper. All these examples come to one point and that is: repetition.
It is through hardship that we can transform one thing into something else. Taking the iron ore through the high temperature meltdown turns it into liquefied metal which then cools and shapes it into strong steel. The metal of a sword has to be pounded and folded thousands of times, and by going through that torture it becomes a very sharp blade. Same with a flute, which starts as a piece of wood. It has to endure the knife cutting its flesh away, endure that pain to become a flute that helps create beautiful music. Ceramics are more beautiful after going into the thousand-degree heat of the kiln. Everything that we do is polish. When we polish ourselves, we become stronger, better and it always takes time.
A student once commented that her movements were “not like Coach’s” and my answer to that was, “It’s not the right time yet”. If you practice with patience and with time, your movement will be more beautiful than mine because I am giving you all my knowledge. I have spent all my life to become what I am and now I am sharing what I know with you, so you can build on my knowledge. You don’t have to go through the mistakes that I made. Even though I can give you knowledge and encouragement, you are the one that has to go through the physical practice. Just like the sword is pounded, the flute is carved and the pottery is fired, you are the one that has to go through it. I’ve gone through it, I understand. I am leading the way, but you are the one that has to go through the fire and the carving.
We are all going through an extreme time right now. This situation might last more than three months. When something like this happens, we are also given an opportunity to change ourselves. If we don’t, these 3-6 months will be a torture and when we finish, we will come out the same as we were before. We don’t want that. We want to come out like the flute, where we can play even better, more beautiful music than was possible before. We want to become a new person. We practice, we train ourselves, and we better ourselves.
Every day we should practice on our own, no matter how much or how little time we have. We do it for ourselves, to change ourselves. There is no better medicine than having a strong immune system and the only way I know to have a strong immune system is through exercise to make the body stronger. We do Taiji for more than just an exercise though, we do it to clear our thoughts; we do it to get rid of bad habits. To make our good habits enter a subconscious level of not knowing.
This opportunity gives us a chance to reflect on ourselves – What do we want to become?
Diamond is formed under extreme temperature and pressure over a long period. A strong children's growth is also under constant pressure and challenges.
Every year during the Chinese New Year performances, all our children need to compile their own unique combination of basic techniques, and approved by coach before they can perform.
Keeping the Water Clear
Listening = tīng 听 (traditional = 聽)
In Chinese, the character for “listening” includes the ear (ĕr耳)，the mouth (kŏu 口) and the heart (xīn 心) . When someone opens their mouth to say something, you have to use your ear to hear what they are trying to communicate. But most important is to use the heart (xīn 心) to hear.
The word “listen” in Chinese has multiple meanings, first is the physical act of hearing. Second is to follow or obey a command. And third is to go deeper to analyze the information that is received. These are three different levels of listening.
When we practice Taiji, we listen inwardly. The question is how does one listen inwardly? It is only when we are physically quiet, when your heart, your xīn 心, is not disturbed then you can allow yourself to really listen.
For example, when you want to find something in a pond and you step in violently, the mud comes up. The water becomes cloudy, and you won’t be able to see clearly to find what you are looking for. The only way you are going to find what you wanted is to move quietly to let the water settle down so it becomes clear. Let it calm down, then gradually the water will become clear and you will find what you wanted.
This is the same as the emotions that go through our mind during our practice. When we practice Taiji, we need to calm our emotions, to loosen and let go of our tension, and then we can listen inwardly to our heart, listen inwardly to our body. In Taiji we say qing tīng 倾听. Which means you listen clearly to yourself. You don’t practice and then become calm, the practice is to achieve that calmness by loosening tension by sinking first and then beginning to move. At the end of every move you will let go of tension, you will readjust your calmness and therefore you can continue to the next frame. Remember, everything starts in the mind; when the mind thinks, the qi flows and then the body moves.
Energy Flows in Twelve Directions
Today I want to talk about the spiral motion that we should engage the whole time when we do Taiji. Only when we can see in our mind that our body moves in a three-dimensional spherical rotation, then the body will become alive.
In Taiji, there are twelve different directions. Because Taiji is based on Yin and Yang, you will always have opposing forces when one of the energies is present.
With forward motion, you will have the opposite backward energy. When you have the left side, you will have right side. These four directions make one plane of two-dimension movement. When you add upward and downward motion, you have a three-dimensional sphere. These first six directions create our three opposing energies, which don’t change its shape or domain. But if you want to change the shape, then next six directions become very important.
For example, the chair you are sitting on is a three-dimensional shape that you can pick up with two hands or even with one hand if you find the center balance of the chair. You can move it, but you cannot affect the shape of it. A person is exactly the same. You can move in all these directions, but you are still the same figure. Therefore, when I know where your center is, then I can disrupt your center and move you.
The next six different directions make you alive and make it more difficult for others to find your center or to move you.
When we can change our frame from big to small, we are expanding or compressing our energy. Additionally, when we can move farther away than normal or make a smaller step, this changes our range of domain. These are the next four directions.
But the last pair of opposing forces is the most powerful one. That is when you can rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise. As soon as you rotate plus all the other directions, you become unpredictable and there is no way for me to know where your center is.
These twelve directions are six oppositional pairs of energies.
The first three pairs of directional energy create a fixed shape. When you add the next three pairs of energy together, you become an unpredictable sphere, which can change its shape, size, and domain. Your body, your energy comes alive. The more you practice, the more you gain a deep mental understanding of these twelve directions.
You never know how strong you are, until strong is your only choice.
Last week, our academy was invited to perform at the closing ceremony to celebration the 2016 China-US Tourism Year at a NBA half time show.
Heart = xīn 心
The meaning of “heart” is not just about the physical body part, but also about the emotions. News is changing like the wind right now, we have no idea what will happen in the next 30 minutes or 90 days. Uncertainty can bring up many negative emotions, but it is important at times like these to do what we can to calm the chaos. Keeping a regular schedule can help with that.
It is important that we keep our emotions calm and our minds clear to help make the right decisions. If the mind is clear but emotions are stressed, it is hard to make a good decision. Our breathing and our looseness will determine how we handle stress.
When breathing, focus on the exhale, on letting go. When we let go with our breathing, the body can be loose. Pay attention to not disturbing your center core from your băi huì 百会to your huì yīn 会阴 at the same time learn to let go.
In our practice, pay attention to the spirals in your body. They are more subtle in Yang-style than they are in Chen style, but they are there. The three-dimensional spiraling movement originates from your center core dān tián 丹田, not your extremities. Before each step, feel the corkscrew originating from your center core, spiraling down as your kuà 胯 loosens, your knees expand slightly and your legs are solid. You feel yourself sinking a little bit lower. This corkscrew creates a pressure that is then redirected to power your next step.
Connection = lián jié连 接
In Chinese, lián 连 means to connect or to join, but jié接 means to receive. In order to really connect, one has to be willing to receive, to listen. If there is no listening, there is no connection.
Everything we practice in Taiji is all connected to our lives. If we only practice Taiji as an exercise, it will only be a physical exercise, but if we apply what we learn in Taiji to our daily lives, it creates a deeper connection.
In this universe, everyone and everything is interconnected. We all affect the people around us – those we know and those we don’t know. The mind is the beginning of this connection. The mind moves the qi and the qi moves the body. If we think positive, we will see a positive outcome.
When the mind begins to understand, the body will change. With this pandemic, at first some people thought it only pertained to “other” people, but as they began to understand that it affects all of us, their actions changed.
Single Whip is one of the most repeated techniques in both Yang-style and Chen-style Taiji. Practicing this move gives us an opportunity to play with the connection created by tensing and loosening while spiraling. The spiral tension created in the arms and legs is taken to maximum tension when the frame is almost complete, then loosened just at the end. Similar to shooting an arrow, we pull and let go, but don’t hold for long. We build tension, it reaches its maximum as the frame is completed, then we let go.
As one part of the body changes, everything else has to adjust. Developing this sensitivity to the connection between body parts and their spiral motion will deepen our understanding of the form. If we don’t pay attention, the parts will be disjointed and un-connected. To do well, we have to open all the senses. This practice goes beyond Taiji, but also into the rest of our lives.