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Use Your Head!

Stork cools wings

Use Your Head!

In the Tai Chi classics it states:

Suspend the headtop – like a rope is attached to the crown of the head and pulling upwards.

This is consistently taught in Tai Chi classes but the teaching is rarely understood.  This idea has to be active – in other words applied all of the time, not just periodically applied.

When I’m teaching I constantly find myself saying, “head, head……. head….. head…. you’ve dropped your head, you’re sticking your chin out, now you’re tucking it in, don’t drop the head to look down, don’t lean the head to the side to transfer from leg to leg…”

The head weighs around 5kg (about 10lbs) and doubles in weight for every inch it drops out of alignment of the spine and atlas at the top of the spine, I often get students to hold a 5kg medicine ball out from the body to get an idea of how much the misalignment affects the body and how it can make them so clumsy.

Suspending the headtop is a part of peng the opening and activation of the joints and myofascia of the body and lengthens and opens the spine upwards. Combined with opening the hips and releasing the tailbone downwards it’s an essential skill for internal connection, mobility and the issuing of power from the spine and core.

Most importantly it lightens the body and makes all movement light and graceful.  It improves the blood and neural flow to the brain, the alignment also gives kinesthesia, the spatial understanding of where the body is in space.

I wrote this poem about the important connection of the head and the arches of the feet ‘Putting The Egg In The Eggcup’  This awareness and sensitivity gives the correct weighting and rooting into the feet and improves the transmission of power to the hands and feet.

In conclusion… This is the important part that so many people miss:

Suspending the headtop is active! Not just all the time you’re training but ALL OF THE TIME YOU’RE AWAKE! It has to become a part of your mindfulness training, something you eventually do all the time so it becomes a natural part of you. When you stand, sit, walk, run and lay down – always suspend. It will improve your posture, your breathing, your spatial awareness, your blood flow, your neural feedback, it will nourish your brain, make you more alert and it will lighten your movements, make you more graceful and improve your life generally.

How can you not do it?



Why Yang Tai Chi Is A Deadly Fighting Art

steve strangle gav

Why Yang Tai Chi Is A Deadly Fighting Art

Many people practice Yang tai Chi for health only and I see nothing wrong with that as the ‘magic’ is effective at many levels, but I also teach and have taught it to many fighters, law enforcement officers across Europe and security personnel.  One of my students, a long time nightclub doorman described it as the perfect ‘skirmishing’ art.

What is it that makes it so effective?

The first aspect is the mindset and training in emotional intelligence.  In the neigong we train:

Good posture
Good breathing

Bringing more oxygen to the bloodstream and up to the brain, coupled with meditation practice in the standing practice, this leads to a mind that is:


This mind in meditation in the yin postures is focused on:


In the yang postures on:


This trained mind is now in a position to deal with violence in both soft and hard skills and with impending physical violence becomes the Hunter’s Mindset meaning that the practitioner is focused on resolution and not ego or sating anger or revenge, but is prepared to do whatever is necessary to resolve the problem and has the intensity and skill set to do so.

The qigong practice opens the joints and myofascia connecting the body and developing the core power and fa jin skills. At this point I would recommending my blog post on the subject here….

The Yang Chen Fu 108 Form is then learned ‘Monk’ style, this means concentrating on posture and breathing with smooth, spiralling movements and a mind that is aware, focused, sensitive and intense focussing on spatial awareness and kinaesthesia, ensuring that all the skills listed above are practised in the ‘yin’ form so that there is no excessive physical, emotional or mental tension from preconceived ideas about fighting. You can’t write on a piece of paper that has already been scribbled on, it needs to be ‘cleansed’ first!

Basic yin pushing hands is learned at this stage using the skills learned and focusing on stick, follow, redirect and return single hand, double hand horizontal circle, single and double hand and vertical circle.

This brings us to the Chong Chuan (Long Boxing) form which is practiced ‘warrior’ style, where the martial is extensively trained. Now an opponent is present in the practitioners mind and every move is learned with martial intent, fa jin and chin na and the 13 Dynamics utilised.  Each movement is given an open ended amount of application for every centimetre of movement and any weak spots worked on. Yang Tai Chi is driven all of the time from the feet, powered through the  spine and core, constantly spiralling and the energy transmitted into the opponent through the dynamics used within the technique.

Pushing hands now becomes far more martial using techniques from the form and small circle using locking, striking, choking, strangling and manipulation. It can flow from compliant to non compliant and turn freestyle.

These skills are then utilised and enhanced in the weapons training. The Dao (broadsword) Jian (double edge sword) and Qian (spear) each have their own character and individual skills that can all be worked back into the hand forms.This range of weapons covers the skill set required to use any weapon and utilise any object as a weapon. All weaponry is learned through application into form.

The 2 person Sanshou set and Da Lu (4 Corners) sets are also learned at this stage to learn how to use all these skills to neutralise and respond to technique at a subliminal and sensitive level.

The Dynamic pushing hands involves strengthening the structure and peng training for one side and receiving and redirecting on the other, training the 13 dynamics within a transfer of energy and throwing a partner against a wall to learn how to control and utilise adrenaline flow on impact.

Yang Tai Chi structures the mind and body, breathing to move in a structured and aligned manner driven from the feet, powered from the spine and core and transmitted to the opponent without any loss of structure or power, the level of sensitivity and intensity means that the practitioner is always in control of both mind and body in the most extreme of circumstances.

To my mind, one of the best and most comprehensive systems of learning how to deal with violence and the trials and tribulations of life.


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Fa Jing In Yang Tai Chi

steve grab gav

Fa Jing In Yang Tai Chi

When I was training in Hong Kong with Ma Lee Yang I described ‘fa jing’ to her as ‘like a whip’, she thought for a moment and replied “no, it’s more like a pinball inside a pinball machine.” 

It was a long time before I fully understood this. I had been used to the ‘whip’ idea that was used in other martial arts like Karate, Kung Fu and other styles of Tai Chi, so this was a completely different idea to me. A pinball being fired and bouncing off barriers in continuous movement, how did this work?

So many people these days in the ‘dumbed down’ zeitgeist of  ‘health’ Tai Chi seem to think that Yang style ‘is only for health’ or that it doesn’t contain ‘fa jing’ and they couldn’t be more mistaken!  You only have to look at the history of the style to see that the family taught the Emperor’s elite bodyguard and often successfully took on all challengers.

But legend and stories mean nothing without current validation and I teach it to European law enforcement and a large variety of security personnel that successfully use these ideas on a daily basis to deal with violence.

So let me try to explain in the most succinct and easy to understand way how it works.

Before it can happen, these basics must be in place:

Good posture by ‘suspending the headtop’, as this lightens, opens and balances the body.

A mind that is highly aware, focused, sensitive and intense utilising a ‘hunter’s’ mindset.

‘Peng’ opens the joints and myofascia in a powerful curved alignment that presents a connected barrier to the opponent’s touch.

Continuous spiralling of that light, aligned and curved structure that is always ‘driven’ and never ‘thrown’.

Ability to manipulate the spine and rooted, connected core like a powerful, giant bendy spring with opening, closing, compressing, stretching, twisting and releasing powers out through the body.

The manipulation of the spine and core ‘fires’ the energy like a pinball out through body to wherever the opponents touch takes place into his body without breaking the spiralling ‘peng’ structure of the practitioner.

This means that the practitioner’s movement never has a ‘weak’ point that the opponent can take advantage of.

Add in the 13 Dynamics and this ‘fa jing’ can be applied whilst:
Warding off (repelling opponent without losing structure)
Rolling back (sticking, following and redirecting)
Pressing (closing the opponent down and/or absorbing and returning)
Pushing (uprooting)
Plucking (shaking)
Splitting (taking the opponents structure into 2 opposing circles)
Bumping (with entire body)
Striking (with any bodypart)
Stepping forwards
Stepping backwards
Stepping left
Stepping right
Staying on the spot

These basics and dynamics can then be utilised anywhere inside the ‘techniques’ of Yang Family Tai Chi.

The advantages are immense.  Yang Tai Chi is always powerful because it is always driven, structured and spiralling, do not underestimate the power of this. The ‘fa jing’ is hidden as it is transmitted from the manipulations of spine and core and transmitted through the dynamics within the techniques and as the continually driven spiralling structure is never broken, it appears that the practitioner has done nothing or very little and he has no weak points the opponent can take advantage of.

This aspect of the Art is getting lost as so few people progress past the Yang Chen Fu 108 form and learn these skills through the neigong, qigong and the martial aspects of the ‘Chong Chuan’ (Long Boxing) weaponry, pushing hands, 2 Person Sanshou and application work, but for those that do, the rewards are great.


Calendar Of Steve Rowe Seminars


The monthly masterclass seminars for adults and children are with me and at Chatham the costs are:
Adults Seminar £30 Dojo Members £20
Kids Seminar Dojo Members only £10

The Tai Chi Coaching Seminars are only for those on the qualification programme.


12th Level 1 Tai Chi Coaching
13th Level 2 Tai Chi Coaching
19th Kids Seminar & Grading
20th Adults Seminar & Grading
27th Sheffield Seminar

9th Level 1 Tai Chi Coaching
10th Level 2 Tai Chi Coaching
16th Kids Seminar & Grading
17th Adults Seminar & Grading

9th Level 1 Tai Chi Coaching
10th Level 2 Tai Chi Coaching
16th Kids Seminar & Grading
17th Adults Seminar & Grading

6th Level 1 Tai Chi Coaching
7th Level 2 Tai Chi Coaching
13th Kids Seminar & Grading
14th Adults Seminar & Grading

11th Level 1 Tai Chi Coaching
12th Level 2 Tai Chi Coaching
23 – 25th Czech Republic Level 1 Tai Chi Coaching

8th Level 1 Tai Chi Coaching
9th Level 2 Tai Chi Coaching
15th Kids Seminar & Grading
16th Adults Seminar & Grading
29th – 1st July Czech Republic Level 1 Coaching

6th Level 1 Tai Chi Coaching
7th Level 2 Tai Chi Coaching
13th – 20th Czech Summer Course + Level 1 Tai Chi Coaching

10th Level 1 Tai Chi Coaching
11th Level 2 Tai Chi Coaching

7th Level 1 Tai Chi Coaching
8th Level 2 Tai Chi Coaching
14th Kids Seminar & Grading
15th Adults Seminar & Grading

12th Level 1 Tai Chi Coaching
13h Level 2 Tai Chi Coaching
19th Kids Seminar & Grading
20th Adults Seminar & Grading

16th Kids Seminar & Grading
17th Adults Seminar & Grading

14th Kids Seminar & Grading
15th Adults Seminar & Grading


The Martial Arts And Violence

Dennis Street

The Martial Arts And Violence

A good explanation of the Kanji for the Japanese word ‘Budo’, which is ‘Wu Shu’ in Chinese….

“The character bu is constructed from the characters meaning “arms of war” or “violence,” and “to stop, prohibit, or bring to an end.”  Therefore, bu is more accurately translated as “to stop violence,” or perhaps “to bring about peace.”  Thus  budo,  bujutsu and  bugei might more appropriately be  known as the “arts of the peacemaker.”  The warriors of China and Japan saw their skills as tools for maintaining the peace rather than indulgences in a love of war.  And although warfare was sometimes necessary to restore peace, peace was always the ultimate goal.

Sokon Matsumura (1797-1889), revered founder of the Shorin schools of Okinawan karate, described bu as comprising seven virtues:

1. Bu prohibits violence.

2. Bu maintains discipline among soldiers.

3. Bu maintains order among the citizenry.

4. Bu spreads virtue.

5. Bu gives a peaceful heart.

6. Bu helps keep peace between people.

7. Bu makes people and nations prosper. “

Source ––Bu%20and%20Budo.pdf

The ‘Art of the Peacemaker’ is an excellent description of good quality Martial Arts training.  By developing emotional intelligence and the virtues of patience, tolerance, compassion and kindness along with those of resolve, determination and inner strength the Martial Artist becomes a useful and skilful member of society.  This can be seen in the clubs around the world teaching these skills to empower people from infants to those in their dotage, including many with a wide range or abilities and needs.

Violence is the domain of the troubled souls who lack the social skills to function normally in society and feel their only resource is to lash out.  This is often inherited from their parents and/or peers and they lack the resources and skills to pull themselves away from the nature and/or nurture part of their upbringing and sometimes they can be extremely difficult to help because violence and it’s temporary ‘bullying’ power and control over others can be highly addictive.

Martial Artist and author Geoff Thompson talks about his fears and upbringing thus:

“I’ve been scared all my life, but there has never been a moment in my fifty years, from the bullying playgrounds of my adolescence, to the depressing factories of my youth right through to the killing fields of the Coventry nightclubs that saw four of my friends murdered when I did not turn into my fears. Sometimes it took me longer than others. Sometimes I cowered before finding courage and many times I did feel as though I could not live another moment with my crippling anxiety.” 

He goes on to say:

“But I always stepped up. I never gave in. And I will never give up.

You can read the full article here:

This is the heart of how we learn to overcome fear and the fear of violence through Martial Arts training and you can see how Geoff has learned to deal with his own special set of needs and has gone on to now help others with the same or similar problems.

The people that deal with violence on a professional level each day like the Police, Army and Professional Security Personnel are taught to be peacekeepers and how to keep the peace in a professional manner.  I worked in various security companies finishing up as an Operations Manager for a large company with around 500 staff in the ‘80’s and we would recruit personnel on their professionalism and not on their record of violence.

Like most people these professionals were not afraid of violence, they just dealt with it as it came along.  They didn’t have to ‘work themselves up’ for it and didn’t explode into violent psychotic episodes at the drop of a hat.

The problem can be that people that do have that paranoia are attracted to the Martial Arts to resolve their fears but as fear can be contagious can end up passing on that paranoia to others when it wasn’t there in the first place.  The psychotic bullies from the school playground can also in the wrong type of club become instructors and end up bullying the students that came to them to resolve those very issues.

The Martial Arts are an excellent form of self development, they work on making your mind more aware and focussed, they help to increase your emotional intelligence and through good postural alignment, breathing technique and movement, your physical health and skill to be able to deal with problems.

Violence is a result of a failure to be able to deal with a problem intelligently.  You don’t train to be like a tiger to defeat one; an intelligent person would hide behind a tree and shoot it if they have to equal the odds.

Most people that take reasonable precautions never end up in a one to one violent confrontation and certainly don’t want to have to train to be more of a thug than the thug that might want to fight them, that would be really stupid.

My advice is to take care around the scaremongers and the thugs and think hard about what you really want from your training and find the right Instructor and Club to fulfil your needs.  The quest to find the right instruction really can save you a lot of time, effort, money and maybe a lot pain!


Sensitivity In The Martial Arts

SZ fighting colour

Sensitivity In The Martial Arts

“Sifu, in my mate’s class they learn to harden and desensitise their arms by bashing them together with the blocking movements, why don’t we do that?”  Rod had lots of martial arts ‘mates’ who trained at different clubs and they would get together on a regular basis to ‘share’ their knowledge.

“What purpose do you think our arms, hands and fingers serve Rod, why do you think we have them?”  Sifu answered the question with a question in his usual ‘Chan Buddhist’ way…

“To hammer the crap out of our opponents?”  Rod was being mischievous, as he knew Sifu was looking for the opposite answer.

“Rod………..”  Sifu gave him ‘that’ look….

“Okay… To be able to touch and feel things not directly attached to our body..”  Rod conceded..

Sifu continued – “and would it be better to desensitise or increase their sensitivity to improve the skill in their use?”

Rod was still being a bit awkward, “depends on what you’re using them for…”

Sifu patiently allowed the conversation to take its course… “okay, why would you want to desensitise them?”

Rod became more animated given his chance to explain, “surely in combat it must be better to have hard arms that don’t feel pain?”

“Only if you’re unskilled,” replied Sifu, “the more sensitive you are in your arms, hands and fingers the more you will be able to stick, blend, follow and redirect your opponents force.”

“That’s true” replied Rod, but what if the other person hits your arms?”

“Pain is in the mind, not in the arms” said Sifu.

“That’s true….” responded Rod thoughtfully.

Sifu continued, “If you bash your arms together like that you will damage nerves and bones and deep bruising will block and damage the pathways that blood uses to renew itself from the centre of the bones, what you’re describing is the old ‘peasant’ training and not that used by the more intelligent members of society.

We’re looking to improve the capability of our body not reduce it.”

“Increasing sensitivity just seems to be the opposite of what so many people are doing” said Rod.

“And that’s why skill levels in the Martial Arts is being reduced, everyone wants a ‘quick fix’ and the sort of ‘emotional trauma’ training caused by winding themselves up that’s shown in the movies, causes long term damage and can’t be sustained,” replied Sifu.

He continued…..“Our mind needs to be refined; this is a painstaking process achieved through meditation, qigong and form.  When we are in harmony with our own mind, breath and body, we learn to ‘listen’ to that of others through touch with push hands drills and pairs work.

Mindful repetition is the cornerstone to success, under pressure we will react in the way we have trained ourselves to, providing we have trained with sufficient mental and physical focus.

Our arms are our ‘tentacles’ and our fingers are our ‘tentacles on tentacles’, because we’ve always had them attached to us we don’t tend to think of them in this way.  To get the idea, imagine that you were an alien being that was a nice neat circle shape and you rolled out of your space craft on Earth and met a human…

You’d be shocked by our ‘shaven monkey’ appearance with eyes that swivel in our head and when we smiled and showed our hidden teeth as a sign of friendship, we’d look quite scary!”

“I’d be horrified!” laughed Rod.

“And yet these would be ‘friendly gestures to us” continued Sifu… “and of course when we extended our ‘tentacles and tentacles on tentacles’ in greeting, for the alien it would be like a human meeting the creature from ‘Alien’ for the first time….”

“I’d probably roll back into my spaceship and leave at top speed..” joked Rod.

“My point is that they are our ‘feelers’ and therefore the softer and more sensitive we can make them, the more effectively they work.  Utilising the ‘touch reflex’ or ‘listening energy’ we are able to tap into the opponents parasympathetic nervous system and sense their balance, posture and intention, often before they can realise it themselves, but we are only able to do this if we can control our own and be ‘open’ to sensing them, this takes training.”

Rod was now staring at and wriggling his fingers…. “tentacles…… it’s kinda spooky really, we look at animals with tentacles and find them creepy, yet we’re probably the most creepy looking animals on this planet!”

Sifu laughed, “well you certainly are….. but as Martial Artists we have to learn to ‘think out of the box’, to be able to step outside of who and what we are and be able to see things as they really are, this gives us a rare perspective that others don’t have.  Our training and meditation should give us this ability and mean that we are not ‘duped’ by the manipulation of thoughts and emotions of others.

Rod was still compulsively wriggling his fingers….  “tentacles…….’

Sifu walked away smiling enigmatically.

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Bowing In Karate

Stella Bow

Bowing In Karate

It was unusual for Sensei to line us up for class and do the warm up….

Seiza….”  We all knelt down.  “Kiritsu” We all stood up.  “Seiza….” We all knelt down again.  “Kiritsu” We all stood up again.

“Is this our warm up Sensei?” asked Bob cheekily…

“It wasn’t going to be, but I think the lesson plan has just changed” replied Sensei.  When you kneel down, don’t lean forwards, your head needs to go straight down with your eyes looking forwards…” As we all tried it, our heads were bobbing all over the place.

“It’s hard Sensei, makes my legs hurt…” Bob wailed..

“There’s pain from doing something wrong” answered Sensei “and ‘good’ training pain where you are doing it right, this is ‘good’ training pain and should be where you’re putting your bodyweight into the muscles to make them stronger and not into the joints at awkward angles….  Bad pain means you’re damaging yourself.  Keep practicing and build the strength you need!

Squat straight down and control the drop of your bodyweight  with the leg muscles and you should be able to immediately stand balanced to protect yourself, turn forty five degrees to the right and drop onto your left knee, ensure you can still stand if you need to, now drop in your right knee – don’t lean forwards!  Stay erect!….  that’s better, put your feet under and sit straight!”

Bob’s legs were shaking with the effort, “you wouldn’t think that kneeling down and standing up was so difficult!” he cried.

“It’s difficult to do skilfully,” replied Sensei, “you need exquisite control of your movements.  It’s something you can work on at home – and as Bob pointed out, all this is a good ‘warm up’ for you…  You tell a lot about a person’s training by watching their Dojo etiquette…

Is everyone in the seiza position?”  Sensei waited until everyone was kneeling down and sitting straight.  “Okay….. Sensei ni rei!  He ordered in an authoritative tone for everyone to perform the kneeling bow.

“Bob……” Sensei asked, “why are putting out one hand at a time?”

“Leaving one hand free until the last moment to draw my sword Sensei..”  replied Bob.

Sensei looked around humorously…. “And where’s your sword?”

“I don’t have one Sensei….”  Bob replied.

“Then don’t bow that way” replied Sensei.  “When you don’t have a sword you simply bring both hands forward at once to the front breakfall position.  This means that your opponent can’t smash your face on to the ground as you bow…”

“I never thought of that” said Bob.

“Very useful if you don’t have your sword with you” replied Sensei tongue in cheek.  “Keep your back straight – and your head, don’t look up!”  Sensei pushed Bob’s head down.

“But I thought you’re not supposed to take your eyes off the opponent ‘even when you bow’” said Bob in his best Bruce Lee voice imitation.

“Bruce Lee’s got a lot to answer for” replied Sensei, you use your metsuka, your peripheral vision to see all around you as you bow…

“Damn!  Why didn’t I think of that…… very clever these Japanese….” joked Bob…

“Indeed…..” said Sensei – “to stand up you now simply reverse the kneeling procedure, as if the head is being pulled upward by a rope.”

“I have to lean back and use the muscles really intensely for that” moaned Bob.

“Indeed…..” said Sensei again with that hint of a smile as Bob struggled up… “You’ll probably have to practice that quite a lot to get it right….”

“Thanks a lot”, said Bob.

“My pleasure” replied Sensei, “I’m here to help!”

“Now we have the standing bow….  Stand erect, head straight, bow from the hips to a 45 degree angle with the ‘heart’ (middle) finger of each hand running down the gall bladder meridian.  Hold the bow for 2 seconds and return.”

“This is a lot of effort just for ‘etiquette’” moaned Bob.

“It’s not just etiquette” reminded Sensei, “it’s training, if you want to judge a person, watch the way they stand, walk, talk, act, kneel down, bow and get ready, you can tell as much if not more about them than watching them fight.  Those that take care in everything they do are to be feared a lot more than the reckless, mindless fools that can be manipulated subliminally.

The Buddha was asked what the correct position for meditation was, he answered ‘standing, sitting walking and lying down’ – in other words, you need to be mindful all of the time.  Another answer of when to meditate or train is ‘when you have your mind with you’.  We should practice our Martial Arts all the time we have our mind with us and try to act skilfully all of the time.”

“So everything has to be considered as training and a ‘zen art” asked Bob.

“Now you get the idea” replied Sensei – If your mind is ‘present’ you are training. And that is zen.