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The ‘Empty Force’ Of Tai Chi


Photo on 23-10-2017 at 17.52 #3

‘Empty force’ sounds nebulous and difficult to understand, but it isn’t. The body is a spring, when the posture is correct and the joints unlocked, when the soft tissue carries no unnecessary tension – the compression and release of a combination of the joints, including the spine, bodycore and soft tissue is a skill that can be trained in a multitude of ways.

The first level of skill is to unlock the body and keep it unlocked, start with good posture and then unlock the ankles, knees, hips, back and chest with the mantra ‘soften and connect’ when you can drop your bodyweight into the arches of your feet and feel them spread to the floor with the weight you’re ready to pump.

If you were to then jump in the air you would bend the joints and spring upwards, making the body ‘float’ upwards with an emptiness – and that’s what we’re looking for. Then try it without leaving the ground making the arms raise and float upwards with the Tai Chi technique at the beginning of the form called ‘raise hands’ although the hands float up they should still be connected to the feet so it they contacted the opponent at any point, the power would still come directly from the feet.

Then practice a series of exercises, (the Yang Family qigong is specifically designed for this purpose) making each part of the body float in every range of movement with that ’empty but connected to the feet’ sensation constantly unlocking and springing through the joints and soft tissue.

The next stage is the Tai Chi form with every technique practised in the same way so that you ‘float’ through the form with that characteristic soft, smooth, spiralling but still powerfully connected manner where at any point you can repel an opponent and also send an additional pulse in the same manner of a dynamic ‘pinball’ of energy into an opponent without overextending into them or collapsing from their pressure or your own technical failure.

This can then be applied to push hands and application work in a variety of skillsets.

The idea is simple. The action takes considerable training, but the skill is layered in at each stage. The purpose of this blog is to give you the vision of where to go and be able to recognise the training plan to get you there.

In Karate you may recognise the same process as ‘sink, swallow, float and spit’.

It’s an old internal skill that is rapidly getting lost as martial artists move from principles to technique only and a gym style of muscular development, throwing the baby out with the bathwater as they do so.

It wasn’t called ‘Soft Cotton Boxing’ and ‘Deceptive Boxing’ for nothing!



Martial Chakras

side quanyin

Martial Chakras

“Chakras?  What are they all about then?”  Ray was always the sceptic.

John answered “the word ‘chakra’ means ‘spinning wheel’, and it refers to the spinning wheels of energy on the microcosmic orbit.”

“Microcosmic orbit?” Ray jeered, is that out of Star Trek?  “Is it further than the Milky Way?”

“As far as your understanding goes,” said John, “it might as well be…”

“Fill me in dude, fill me in…” Ray wasn’t going to let go, “I need to know about ‘chakras’ and the ‘microcosmic orbit’..” Ray changed his finger ‘quote marks’ to the ‘live long and prosper’ sign from Star Trek with a big grin on his face.

“There’s nothing more I’d like than to ‘fill you in’” said John, “and to shove a Milky Way where the sun don’t shine, but we’re talking about an ancient system of mapping energy around the human body’”

“Ancient maps, microcosmic orbits, chakras, sounds like a great film, I’m all ears man, just like Spocky…”  Ray just can’t help himself; once he gets going no one can stop him…

“There’s no point in trying to explain anything to you,” said John in an exasperated manner.. “you’re just a born sceptical urine extractor!”

“I’m sorry,” said Ray, “I can’t help it, it sounds so ‘Trekkie’ and far fetched, it’s like this whole chi thing, nothing can be scientifically proven, so I really can’t see the point, I only deal in facts – and lets face it, this is all a construct of someone’s imagination.  I can’t believe that you fall for it all…”

At this point, Sensei made his usual well timed entry.

“Sensei,” said John “we were just talking about chakras and the microcosmic orbit, Ray is a non believer.”

Ray just couldn’t let that go knowing that Sensei was a practical person, “you don’t believe in it do you Sensei?”

“I don’t believe in anything,” said Sensei in a ‘matter of fact’ fashion.

Ray had that ‘I told you so’ glow about him and gave John ‘the finger’ in a way that Sensei couldn’t see.

“But……” Sensei hadn’t finished.  “This is what I DO know, when I follow the instructions given to me that have been handed down by generations of martial artists, when I soften, shape and move my body in the prescribed way, when I breathe as I’ve been taught and use the mindset I’ve been given, my ‘hackles’ rise with a controlled adrenaline release, firing energy up my back and the energy from that drains from my head to my abdomen, this matches the microcosmic orbit John described and most definitely increases my vigour and general health.”

Then you do believe it?” queried John.

“No, I don’t believe anything; I’m telling you what I know from direct experience.”

“What about the chakras then Sensei?”  Ray was now curious.

Sensei continued, “at the location of the root chakra, I experience sexual excitement and mortal fear, this is in accordance with ‘Jing’ energy.”

“Sensei’s don’t get sexually excited or feel fear!”  Ray couldn’t help himself.

“Oh, you’re young,” smiled Sensei, “at the sacral chakra point I feel all my ‘gut instinctive feelings’ it’s the location of my ‘seiki tanden’ and I move from there, it’s my centre point of balance and I commit my power from that point, this is in accordance with the idea of ‘chi’.

At the point of the solar plexus chakra, I experience the feelings of fear and anger, and when I can overcome them, I experience the power described as ‘geng’.”

“What do you mean by ‘geng’?” asked John.

“Geng is ‘warrior energy’” answered Sensei, if you have command of your sexual drive, your understanding of life and death, are in touch with and have learned to rely on your instinctive self and then conquered fear and anger, you are a martial arts warrior.  It’s said that you become the warrior and the gardener, you can deal with the violence of war and still go home and tend to the roses afterwards.”

“Interesting idea,” said John.

“Those three chakras are tied to the earth; they deal with survival and procreation, the ones above deal with human aspiration.  This is in accordance with the ‘snake and the crane’ – the snake is bound to the earth and the crane can leave the earth and fly in the heavens.

At the location of the heart chakra I experience the feelings of love, patience, tolerance and compassion.  These feelings are difficult if I’m still troubled by fear, anger, lust and desire.

At the throat, I experience communication, I ‘choke back’ on words that I’m unable to express either through lack of skill or emotion.

When I focus at the third eye in meditation, when untroubled, I experience visions, dreams and inspiration, and when I ‘lighten’ the crown of the head my whole body lightens with the feeling described as ‘shen’ or ‘spiritual energy’.”

“I can understand some of that,” said Ray “but I don’t feel the others, so I’m afraid I can’t believe it.”

“No one’s asking you to Ray,” answered Sensei, “as I said, I don’t believe anything, I’m only relating my personal experience to you.  It’s entirely up to you whether you ‘believe’ in what I say – and I’d be disappointed if you did, you should challenge all knowledge and experience it for yourself, because only then will you really ‘know’ it.”

“Then I’ll consider your statements and test them for myself,” said Ray in a matter of fact tone.

“Good man,” said Sensei…


The Secret Of Internal Power

Stella Bow

The Secret Of Internal Power

The Secret Of Internal Power,

Is in the spine and body core,

Learn how to manipulate these,

And you will have great natural power.

There 4 pairs of spine and core skills,

Understand them in the neigong,

Learn them in the qigong,

And then apply them in technique.

Soften and connect,

Open and close,

Stretch and compress,

Twist and release.

One normally follows the other,

But you release after every skill,

A release can be fast or slow,

When you release you always then soften and connect.

There are a multitude of ways to pulse,

Sending energy to the edge,

Into the opponent to disrupt,

Without breaking your own structure.

This is a secret,

But no one will know it,

Until they have put in the time and effort,

To really grasp these words.


Chi – The Users Manual

Stork cools wings

Chi – The Users Manual

“Do you think that chi is real?”

“I think it is just oriental mumbo-jumbo, there is nothing there that cannot be explained by science or biomechanics.”  This argument had gone on for months.  Eddie believed in the spiritual life within karate and John was a hardened scientist.  They had argued every time they met Eddie believed that she was spiritual energy and John believed that everything could be scientifically explained.”

“Can you not see that life force is magical?  Chi is the special energy that makes us alive, it’s what animates our body.”

“That is just your mind, I’m unable to see how that can be anything special.  You animate your body by simply using your mind.”

“But you can feel your chi moving around your body, you cannot deny those sensations.”

“But they are simply nerve responses to stimuli from the mind, there is nothing unusual in that.”

“What about your aura?  People can feel and see that, they have even photographed it with Kirlian photography.”

“Of course they have, it is a bioelectrical field a round of the body.”

“So what do you think of these people that cannot be lifted or pushed.”

“It is simply good postural alignment coupled with strong mental intention.”

“Okay, then what do you have to say about these no touch knockouts?”

“The instructor simply gets into the student’s head or intimidates the person before he conducts the so called knockout.  Any hypnotist or strong-willed person can recreate the same feat.”

“ Ah man….  you have no imagination….”

“The problem is that you have too much imagination!  Everything can be explained by science!”

“Excuse me…  everything?”

“Anything that can’t at the moment will be in the future!”

“But some things still remain a mystery, even to scientists?”

“Yes, but nothing that you have talked about or described as ‘chi’!”

“Apart from life force?”

“Mind, and bio electrical energy…”

“So scientists can recreate it?”

“Not exactly…..”  Just at that moment Sensei walked by.  “Sensei, we’ve been having a disagreement….”

“What a surprise!”

“Is chi esoteric or scientific?”

“They’re both the same to me.”

“How can that be?”

“Esoteric means ‘intelligible only to those with special knowledge’ – as I’m neither a scientist or spiritual guru, it’s all esoteric to me!”

“Then how come you teach us how to use it?”

Because using it and knowing what it is are two different things.”

“How so?”

“If you buy a washing machine, you get a ‘users manual’ with it.  It doesn’t tell you how the washing machine works, just how to make it work.  A significant difference.”

“Aren’t you curious as to how it works though?”

“A little, but I’m not a scientist, or a guru, I’m a martial artist and don’t want to limit my understanding of it.”

“Hang on a minute……  ‘limit your understanding of it?’….  you just said that you didn’t have one!”

“Not a scientific, or spiritual one, no…  but a martial artists, yes.  I have a user’s manual, I have been given instruction by my teachers in many layers that has led me to an ever increasing understanding of how to ‘be human’ more efficiently.  The one thing I have learned is that I limit my understanding by trying to put a frame around it.  Every time I think ‘this is it’ – it isn’t.  By having no barriers in my mind, it constantly expands.

Would this not be true of both science and religion as well?”

“Erm….  yeah…..  I think you just humbled both of us Sensei…..”

“Does it stop you arguing?”

“Not so much ‘argue’ as ‘healthy discussion’ Sensei.”

“Then maybe you just don’t need to set boundaries eh?”

Sensei walked off whistling ‘It’s not what you do but the way that you do it….’


The Speed Of Chi

steve pad

“Padwork!”  We paired off and collected a set of hook and jab pads.

“Warm up with half speed techniques, using only straight jab, cross and hook punches, low front and round kicks.”  The pad holder held the pad full on for the straight jabs, angled for the cross punches, side on for the hooks, full on low for the front kick and angled and down for the low round kicks.  The pad position let the hitter know which strike was required.

“Okay, now change distance and angle…”  This meant that the hitter had to constantly adjust distance and angle to get the impact required on the pads.

“Good….  Now start punishing for a bad guard…”  This gave the pad holder the opportunity to retaliate with the pad and politely ‘punish’ the hitter for any lapse in guard.  This tended to be done humorously.

“Okay change holder and hitter…”  The pad holder became the hitter and the hitter the pad holder.

Eventually we punched and kicked ourselves to a standstill….

“Mokuso….”  We stood still with both hands on our lower abdomen.

“Control your breathing, breathe from the stomach, open and straighten the back, close your mouth, tongue to the top palette, soften down the front midline of the body, pull in the lower abdomen, breath through and flare your nostrils….”  We stood for a few minutes allowing heart, mind and breath to harmonise…

“Power strikes..”  We worked on uppercuts using both fist and open hand, downward hammerfist and palm heel strikes, hook punches, slaps, round hammerfist, backfist and knife hand strikes.

“Short range to the body…”  One of us held the pad to our chest and the other stood naturally sideways on with the fist a couple of inches away from the target and delivered a short range punch into the pad.  Richard kept bouncing off the pad as he hit it.

“Richard, use the hammer and screw motion of the wrist to get penetration..”

“Sensei, I think it’s because his body mass is significantly more than mine..” wailed Richard.

“That’s why we have to use skill Richard..”  Sensei said patiently…

“But I feel that I am using the skills and it doesn’t make the difference I’m expecting.”

“Then change your expectations…  but don’t forget that one of the eight principles is ‘mind’…”

“And that means?” asked Richard quizzically.

“Where your ‘yi’ goes, your ‘chi’ follows…”

“And that means?”  Richard was now getting exasperated..

“Where your intention goes, your animation follows..”

“And this will make a difference to my power?”

“It certainly will…”

“I can’t see how it will overcome his superior body mass…”

“Don’t forget that the body is a slave to the mind, mental training and mindset is an integral part of everything that we do, his size is intimidating you and interfering with your technique and therefore your energy.”


“By deconstructing your posture and internal alignment and making your mind and chi energy go backwards.”

“Sensei….  How fast does chi travel?”  Richard had a scientific enquiring minds.

“At the speed of thought?”  Jon responded with lightening speed, but Richard wanted answers and wouldn’t let go….

“We encourage the flow of chi in meditation and you say our intention is to send out the ‘scouts’ and the ‘army’ of chi follows quite slowly. With hard work in training we ‘thread the 9 pearls’ forming the internal connections and when those connections are made chi travel seems to be instant, or as Jon observed ‘as fast as a brain impulse’ we hold chi throughout our body so is it the ‘awareness’ that’s travelling and not the chi?”

“Does it matter?  We aren’t scientists – we have the ‘users manual’ not the scientific explanation.  If you asked me how a light works I’d say that you turn it on at the switch, that’s all I need to know.  I’m not interested in the science behind it, it’s the same with my karate.  When we meditate, we’re strengthening the links and channels by using our intention, a bit like moving slowly to reinforce technique for when we move fast.  In some of the healing meditations we deliberately move the animation or the awareness slowly to help nourish the body.  By developing the animation or awareness throughout the body, responses and alignments become instant.

“So how am I going to make this work within my punch?”

“By technical practice, mental reinforcement and mindset. You’re thinking too much of the ‘why’s’ and not enough of the ‘how’s’.  Get the physical technique right and add in the visualisation and mindset.

Richard took a few moments, delivered his punch and got his first “OOOOOF” of the night as his partner doubled with the penetration of his punch.


What Is Chi..


The Chinese word chi often spelled qi, or ki in Japanese, gi in Korean and khi in Vietnamese is also close to the yogic notion of prana and is generally vaguely referred to as ‘internal energy’ in a magical kind of way and there are some very strange claims made as to its power.

The word chi translates directly as ‘air’, ‘breath’ or ‘gas’, the original calligraphy of 3 lines resembles breath coming from a persons mouth.  The picture representing rice was added with the 3 lines of breath over the top so that it reads as ‘steam coming off the rice pot’, rice being the staff of life and the ‘life force’ rising from it as it cooks.

Many years ago I asked a top Kung Fu Master what he thought the word chi meant and he laughed and said ‘air’ – if you don’t breathe, you die!  When I asked a top Japanese Karate Instructor, he explained that lightening was the ki of the sky, giving it life.

If something vaguely appears ‘magical’ or ‘spiritual’, there are many people out there wanting to trade on the on the needy and those wanting ‘special powers’ without having to do the work.  Some want money and some just simply power or authority over others and chi becomes their vehicle because as energy it has a multi cultural history and acceptance.  Even the Latin word spiritus and the Sanskrit word pranatranslate as ‘breath’.

After 40 years of study many with top Japanese and Chinese masters, I feel that the best English word to translate chi is ‘animation’.  To make qigong or chi kung (chi work) function effectively you need the combination of an aware, focussed and sensitive mind, good posture and deep breathing.  In gong fu or kung fu (work plus time, therefore your skill, in this case in Martial Arts) it is said that where your yi (intention) goes, your chi will follow.  To make this happen you send your aware, focussed and sensitive mind intentionally through the body to animate it, the sense of animation is that of chi flow.

When your mind, body and breath are well animated and in harmony they are healthy and powerful.  When you ‘animate’, you ‘emanate’ and can influence your surroundings and other people in both an overt and subliminal way.  We all know a happy person that lights up a room when they enter it and a miserable person that lights it up when they leave!  Boxers stare each other out at the beginning of a match and a fighter that ‘owns the space’ between him and his opponent is probably going to be the winner.

In all my years of training I’ve never met anyone able to affect me with a ‘no touch knock out’ technique or move or affect solid matter with their mind – and none of the top masters I’ve trained with have made any of those claims either.  However I am well aware of the subliminal effects of a ‘well animated’ person making others feel better by being close to them and by touch.  This is where healing arts like Kiatsu and Reiki can be effective by encouraging the healee’s body and mind to promote healing itself.  This also how goodneigong (inner work) qigong (chi work) and Taijiquan (‘grand ultimate fist’ or way of achieving harmony through Martial Art training) is so successful as a synergistic strategy of harmonising yourself and then being able to deal with the world around you.

Hard work over time does reveal an arcane ‘magic’ that can only found by following the process, it reveals a strong vitality, an emotional stability, a strong focussed mind and an ability to subtly influence the world around you that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.  Let’s look at the process….

Neigong (nei kung)
Niegong is the first essential step, it calms, connects, sensitises and subtly trains the mind and body core.  Good posture ‘opens the gates’ for energy flow and allows correct deep breathing and internal connection so there is no unnatural ‘pull’ on the myofascia.  Deep breathing brings more oxygen into the blood stream and therefore to the brain making the mind more alert.  By focussing the mind on the breath, spine and the core, gently pumping and sensitising them and because the body is externally still, it allows the mind to focus on the internal connection and ‘animate’ the internal system.

Without this process, none of the rest of this training system will work.  Looking at many Martial Artists, no matter how fast or powerfully they appear to move, without this connection, their power is still uncoordinated, unbalanced and clumsy.

Qigong (chi kung)
Good martial qigong takes the neigong skills and the body through its range of movements and animates the power lines, connecting each bodypart internally to the feet and powering movement from the ground up. The spine is bowed forward and backward and the core opened, closed, compressed and released during the movements.

The head is taken backwards and forwards, side to side and all the way around in a circle powered in four parts by the feet to prevent continuous rotation.

The shoulders are lifted and dropped whilst being circled forwards and backwards, the shoulder girdle is then used to lift the waist girdle and twist and drop for power.  A ‘splashing’ movement is then employed to loosen the shoulder joint; they are then pressed down by the fists to compress and release the core down to the feet followed by a gentle pumping from the shoulders through the chest from the backwards and forwards positions.

The chest and back are opened and closed utilising the weight of the head, the opening and closing of the core and bowing the spine both ways connected to the feet.  The spine is then opened and closed one vertebrae at a time.

The waist and torso are twisted against the feet and hips on both feet and then one foot with the other ‘empty’.  They are then bent sideways and backwards, opening the psoas group of muscles.

The legs and feet are ‘softened and opened’ by bending the torso over, circling it and then bringing it forward and backwards whilst still bent over.  The feet, ankles, knees and hips are rotated in one motion and then each joint independently with the leg raised off the floor.

Taiji (tai chi)
With the animated, calm, aware and focussed mind and internally connected body trained and animated in the power lines and movement, we are ready to take them into martial technique and movement.  Taiji is the process of weaving a structurally aligned and internally connected body animated with a powerfully aware and focussed mind into continuous, interconnected spiralling movements, where energy can be discharged at any point and at any time without vulnerability where an opponent can take advantage.

This process is followed through with more advanced, specific training utilising push hands, application training and a variety of weapons.

With these trained skills a Taiji practitioner is also able to sense an opponents skills in these areas and will therefore be able to utilise his animated ‘hunters mindset’ to take best advantage and cause the least possible harm.

In conclusion…
Chi is ‘animation’ and is therefore a quality to be added to all aspects of life and training, because it ‘brings you to life’ and your full potential, it can be described as and is written as ‘life force’.  It can’t move gross matter but can influence living matter subliminally.  It’s not magical in the way some people seem to think but certainly is when you witness the power it adds to your health, martial arts and everyday life.