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Archived Notebook Entries


December 23, 2010
It is with great joy and a little fear that I’ve decided to take a sabbatical in 2011. I plan to take the year off from teaching Tai Chi. It is my intention to take some time, clear some space and be open to change.

Not only do I feel that the timing is right for this to happen and I am excited as to what might unfold, but also I know that my students are at a good place in their training for me to step away for a bit.

The study of Tai Chi has been a heck of a ride in my life and I plan to keep my practice for a long time. Moving through 108 perfect postures imperfectly, most every morning has been my education, my mainstay, and at times the only thing I knew to be true.

Just because I won’t be teaching, doesn’t mean I won’t be around. I hope to hear progress and practice reports. Let me remind you to trust your practice and allow the art to teach you. I welcome your calls, emails and would love to meet for tea and cookies sometime.

I’ll continue to write in this notebook and share what I’m doing and what I’m learning, so please continue to check in. Actually, I plan to make writing a bigger priority and will post news, stories and ideas more often than I have been.

I am so very proud of my students and grateful to my teachers and training partners. I am looking forward to the year with wonder, excitement and a bit of fear. Stepping away from teaching will be hard for me and I reserve the right to change my mind at any time!

    And if you haven’t heard it before, let me say it again, "Relax! This is nothing!"


Fair warning, this update is a plug.

As most of you know my training partner Jim Madras and I have produced a series of video CD’s on topics like the Push Hands curriculum and several different Qigong practices. Jim and I found that after every class we taught, someone inevitably would ask us for a resource that would help students continue their study. It was in that spirit that we created the JanJimJam CD notebook projects. These are CD’s with different topics on them for use as a resource. You watch short quicktime movies on your computer and the only software you need to view the CD is a fairly current web browser.

This week we’ve re-packaged the Qigong CD’s. We wanted to put all of the Qigong practices on one disc. Unfortunately, there was just too much Qi for one disc, so we paired some practices and now have the Qigong Series disc 1 and the Qigong Series disc 2. By doing this it has been possible for us to lowered the price and it gives us hope that we will sell a zillion of them! (Especially in time for Christmas gifts or New Years health resolutions.)

The Qigong Series disc 1 has the 5 Element Qigong and the 8 Pieces of Silk (Chan variation) practice on it. The Qigong Series disc 2 has the Dao Yin Qigong and the Medical Qigong, including the Kidney, Liver, Lung, Stomach, Heart and Triple burner practices. All the practices on the CDs are divided into sections for ease of learning or you can follow the full practice for a complete 30 minute meditative practice.

I told you this was a plug, but it is also a special offer — so here are the details.
If you buy the Qigong Series disc 1 or 2 separately, the price is $40. each. The special deal is — buy them both for only $50. And that includes postage and tax if you buy before 2010 ends.

My fabulous web guys at ARKIOM (John and Hansoo) have made it easy to buy the CD’s on this site. Just go to the menu under Books and CDs. If you take advantage of the special deal and buy both disc 1 and 2, before Dec. 30. I'll send you the a Guanqifa Qigong CD as a bonus.

As Jim says, you can't beat that offer with a stick or with an 8 1/2 foot wax wood tree.

Enjoy your practice and I'm hoping you'll add a new one this week!



A Humble Salute • October 21, 2010

I know, I know, it has been over 6 weeks since I wrote in this notebook. Sorry! I think about posting something all the time and feel I have a lot to say, but it seems every time I begin, my attention goes out the window and another day passes. I have been spending an inordinate amount of time just watching time pass as I gaze out the window of my office, and truth be told, I don't mind one little bit.

So before something shiny or interesting passes by in the yard and grabs my short attention span, again, I want to give a huge “shout out” to the 2010 Yang Style Full Curriculum Intensive participants.

Congratulations to Erica Anderson, (Eugene, OR), Sue Leary, Pat Leary, (Salt Lake City, UT) Ed Cooper, (Campbell River, BC), Kim Kasasian, Michelle Livaja, Susan Matthews, (Bowen Island, BC), Colin Rudd, Sheila Fee, Peggy Scott, Monica Cleland, Fred Newman (North Vancouver, BC) and Peter Branson, (Wrangell, AK). These courageous, dedicated and enthusiastic students blew my mind and made my heart soar with their hard work, creative spirit, and skills. My respect for how they worked together as a group, as well as how they grew as individuals, knows no bounds.

I couldn’t be more proud as a teacher. I am very grateful to have been trusted to share my experience and understanding of the entire Yang Curriculum with them all. It was a joy and an honour to witness interested students grow into interesting players.

I want to thank my elder brother in the art, Ed Cooper. Ed came to the intensive as a student, a coach, and as a lover of Tai Chi. Ed's forté is play and exploration, and working with Ed is always a fun ride “outside of the box”. (Or as Jim would say, outside of the boxing!)

It is with great humility and love that I salute Art Baner. I’m so grateful Art said yes two years ago, when I approached him with the big fat idea of co-teaching this intensive. His passion for the art of Tai Chi is as obvious as his skill, and it is contagious. Art is a clear and generous instructor. I will forever be grateful for the time he spent planning and implementing our day to day schedule, filled with all the lessons and drills that made it possible for us to cover the entire Yang Curriculum in a mere three months. Art is not only my kung fu brother, but a brother in my heart. I cherish his friendship, knowledge and being. I thoroughly enjoyed working with and learning from Art. He was the best teaching partner ever. Salute!
 
The entire experience of this intensive was, as Kim would say, “yummy”. If you have never immersed yourself in an intensive study of any kind, let me encourage you to find a way to make the commitment and give it a go the next time an opportunity comes up. It is a grand way to study. The 2010 Yang Style Full Curriculum Intensive was such a good experience for me. I haven’t been able to really express or share the many lessons I've learned yet. Perhaps that is why I’ve been looking out the window so much lately. I seem to be letting it all settle and percolate with a very comfortable pride.


Tai Chi Applications
- Sept. 1, 2010

I was attracted to Tai Chi in the beginning because the movement was so beautiful and I had never experienced being in my body in such an authentic way. As my training continued and I understood more and more what I was into, Tai Chi as a martial art became front and centre for me. Thanks to my training with Sam and organizations like PAWMA and NWMAF and training partners like Melinda Johnson, Allyson Appen, Art Baner, Ed Cooper and Jim Madras, I was able to really explore the martial aspects. Sparring, ground work, joint locks and grappling were as much a part of my practice as solo long form in my yard or on the beach was.

Again, as my training continued and I understood more and more of what I was into, it became quite clear that my training helped me more in the day to day living than in finding a joint lock on someone. One time I was able to use the energy of na or seizing to stop my friend from stepping into the path of an oncoming bus. (That alone was worth all the lessons and training of this art).  My training helps keep me centred and able to sit with a sick friend or teach a crack addict self soothing tools to make it through another day clean. I can also spend all day making beads without hurting my shoulders or wrists by paying attention to my structure and being comfortable as I work. I can breathe when dealing with conflict and find resolution without violence or hard feelings and although I’m still practicing I am able to let go of resentment and regrets easier as they come up.

This is why I got excited when Jim showed me his class description Taijiquan: Thinking Outside of the Boxing Self Defense Against Inanimate Objects and Uncompromising Situations.

The description is as follows:
‘While it is certainly true that Taijiquan has self defense applications in “street” confrontations, chances are good that most folks who study won’t end up in a barfight. Fortunately, the greatest gifts of this art extend well beyond the barroom brawl.
Currently (and thankfully), our attackers are primarily onslaughts of information, traffic, crazy schedules, sitting at the computer… side effects of living in the modern age.
So why study push hands and martial applications? At its core, Taijiquan is about connection: with yourself, your relationship with gravity, and with other beings and objects sharing the planet.
When you train with a partner, your partner is invested in keeping you safe and healthy. Unfortunately, heavy doors, slippery sidewalks, firewood, and paths through the woods don’t have the same concern for you health & well being.’

We begin the 3rd month of training this week for the Yang Full Curriculum and our focus will be on sabre, sword, and spear. I also know our focus won’t be on how many ways we can slice and dice up an opponent, but more on how well we can extend ourselves into this world. And most important to me, we will learn and grow, and gain not just sword and spear skills, but more wonderful life lessons.

Why do we practice Tai Chi? I’ve been asking that question for 25 years. I keep asking it. I only know the practice of this art has made it possible for me to have and enjoy incredible adventures in this life.



Prep!
   August 7, 2010

I just heard from a friend who is presenting a course in Michigan. He asked for ideas and some games to play for team building. I found this funny, because he is already there and should have started teaching two days ago. Why was he asking for ideas now, wasn’t he prepared?

The more I think of this, the funnier it is to me, because it sounds like something I might do, yet knowing him, his preparation is not really in question. But it has me thinking about class plans.

Many years ago I was traveling with Sam to a 10 day workshop he was teaching. It was a short flight and he started to draw on a small piece of paper a circle, a wavy line and three solid lines. He then showed it to me, smiled and said, “There’s my class plan!"

Sure enough on the trip home as I reflected though the pages of notes I had taken, the drawing made sense to me and the lessons were covered. I was in awe at what seemed to me very little prep on his part. I was a less experienced teacher at the time and my class plans were much longer and filled with quite a few more details than squiggly drawings. I was known to not sleep at night as I thought about my class and how I would present it.

Today I understand how a class plan of squiggles can become a great class. The years of study and preparation Sam put in, made it is easy enough.

When you know something, you feel it in your body and it is easy to share. I rarely have a formal class plan anymore and if I do, it looks a bit more like the squiggly shorthand of my teacher on that flight years ago. I do think about my teaching a lot, but more than the topic of the course, I think about who will be in the class and how I can best reach them.

The art of Tai Chi is the vehicle I use for study and the form and guideline do most of the work for me. Tai Chi is a big and deep art that can consume and change us. I feel it is my job as an instructor to create a safe, fun, and clear environment to allow each student to have their own experience with the art.

Please don’t get me wrong a class plan is a treasure and the first 2 months of the 2010 Yang Intensive in March and June was built on a strong one. My cohort Art Baner has a knack with a course outline and together we covered all the planned material while still leaving lots of room for practice and questions.

The third month of this intensive will start again in September. The format is the same as the previous
• A dozen Tai Chi players
• Training six hour days
• Four days a week
• For the entire month
• Working and working the entire Yang curriculum

Last March and June we covered all the bare hand work, so this September, we will progress to the sabre, sword and spear. Art and I have a good class plan that will keep us on track and moving forward. We will study forms, and traditional drills and make sure we have time to “colour out of the box” with improv drills and discussions and review.

Yet, if in the middle of the course I start looking for ideas and exercise to get a point across, do not think for a moment we aren’t prepared for this class. Both Art and I know this work deep in our bones and we are looking forward to sharing and training with everyone again.



Sword shopping! 7/28/10

I am not a big shopper. I have almost everything and more of what I need. And the never ending list of desires that we humans tend to have gets squelched easy enough for me by living on a small island with hardly any commerce or stuff to buy.

That being said, I’m going shopping tomorrow. I have no plans to buy anything but I’m hoping the folks I’m going with will. I’m joining several students on an adventure that will take us into China Town. We are going sword shopping! Not just swords, but hopefully sabres and spears as well.

It is making me remember.

My first sword was a birthday present Ken gave me in the late 80’s. I was so happy. My excitement quickly dimmed when I was told to put the sword in my right hand. I am a lefty. I persevered and am grateful I did. Educating my right hand through the sword engaged new brain cells, which I’m happy to say, I still use today. I don’t practice with that sword anymore though. Today it hangs in the training room and serves as an example of what not to buy when shopping for a sword, but at the time it was perfect.

My first sabre took a while to find, actually more than three years! I first learned the sabre form from Master Yu at a PAWMA camp in 1992. We used those wooded “duck choppers” a shorter weapon than the dao, but it was all we had access to. One of my goals during my trip to China in 1994 was to bring home a real Tai Chi Dao. I looked everywhere, but I only saw two daos in all of Shanghai. The first, belonged to my teacher and I was able to borrowed it for the tournament I was competing in. The second dao was in the arms of a women, clutching it tightly and repeating “mine, mine, mine” to all who asked to see it, including me. She wouldn’t even let anyone touch it. I came home empty handed. I started practicing with a wooden boken instead of the duck chopper, at least it was closer in shape and feel to a real sabre.

One afternoon in 1996 when Ken and I settling into our new home on Bowen Island, my friend Koruger called to say Dragon’s Martial Arts store had a nice dao and I should go check it out before someone else bought it. I told Koruger I couldn’t possibly just get on the boat, go to Vancouver on an impulse just to check out a sabre. Lucky for me the voice of reason, (as I like to call Ken) reminded me it was hardly impulse when I’ve been looking for almost four years! I was on the next boat and came home with the most beautiful tai chi dao I’d ever seen! One day I’ll tell you more of the story of that dao, but it will have to be another day.

My first spear. Spear has always been the golden ring of the Yang curriculum to me. It was clear to me that not just anyone receives training in spear and finding lessons in it is rare. I was shy to find my own spear because I didn’t have a clue in how to even play with the 7ft. wax wood tree. I also didn’t have the rest of the curriculum under my belt yet and so looked at spear from afar and with wonder.

One year on my birthday, Sam gave me a spear. It was a huge thing that he had brought home from his trip to China in ‘94. I was so touched by this show of generosity. To me it symbolized a commitment that my teacher was willing to take me through the entire Yang syllabus. That the spear and the lessons would be there when I was ready. It stood in the training room for a few years and I am ashamed to say I hardly touched it. It was so golden to me, almost too precious and truth be told, I was afraid of it.
When I finally started to learn a bit about the spear I learned that this particular one was just too big for me. The grip around it made my hand cramp and it was so heavy. I had Ken shave it down a bit so I could work with it. The spear became my weapon to learn. I loved it and still do.

If you’ve been in my training room, you know I have a few more swords, sabres and spears now. But I think a Tai Chi player always remembers their first. This is why I’m looking forward to shopping with students tomorrow. For some of them, they will be getting their first sabre, or sword or spear. It will be a day full of firsts and I hope we will be making a great memory as we continue on this adventure.



July 8, 2010

There are a few blogs and web sites I check quite often for writings and stories. My favourite is a site that features glass bead artists who write on the topic of creativity. This last month, there have been no updates and I have to say this frustrates me to no end. I’ve gotten use to checking in on these sites for their stories of inspiration, humor and ideas.  I get disappointed when I click on to the site and it is the same old story week after week, I mean, how hard is it to post a story or two… oh wait a minute.

Posting each week is really hard. But I digress.

The second month of the Yang Intensive is over and I have been spending an inordinate amount of time looking out the window or sitting on the patio with a book. I have this luxury before we go again.

My non Tai Chi friends don’t understand why and what we are doing here. I guess this kind of committed training is something that if you have to ask why or what, you just don’t get it.

Let me sum up what we did by the numbers.

So far, 12 students have experienced 192 hours of formal training in 48 days with two instructors and we aren’t finished yet, we have another month or 96 hours of training to go!

Our study is focused, we start each day with Zhan Zhuang Qigong and the 108 Yang Style form with emphasis on Yang Chen Fu’s 10 essential points. We continue to review and fold over and over the 1 to 8 classical drills, forward and backward timing 4 hands (with the 9 changes). In June we add took the study on the road so to speak with follow and cover stepping aka, 3-3 and 3-2 stepping! The DaLu is just the DaLu, it doesn’t have a number to go with it, but we played it in all its varieties as well. And of course, my favourite, the 88 Attack and Defend form, for a lot of the students, both sides!

The intensive training has been a grand experience. The participants are incredible, committed and interesting. I admire them to no end. Watching people learn and grow in skill and personality is the best. Teaching with Art Baner is another great gift. It is so much easier to rest into a good structure, when you know who and what supports you.

In September we will go another 96 hours and add in the weapon study of sabre, sword and spear. These Tai Chi players know the “why and what” of this adventure and it has been grand.

I’ll do my best not to wait so long before posting a new story.


June 23, 2010

We begin week four of month two of the 2010 Yang Style Full Curriculum this week. It has been a huge amount of work and an amazing experience. I am so very proud of everyone involved.

Months ago, before this all began, we met to set goals and share ideas for this intensive. Everyone one of the dozen participants said personal growth was the main reason for committing to the three month training.

Today Erica Anderson, who is here from Eugene, OR said I could share this poem she wrote.

Growing a spark
blown gently ignites
flame earth to sky
gaining momentum
moving into self
strong, solid, planted
seeds ready to spring
out of fire into being

—Erica Anderson

Personal growth? You bet!


Try Again?  5/27/10  • Happy Birthday ML!

There is a Simpson episode that I refer to at least once a week, perhaps even more often because it can be so appropriate. I think the story line has Bart wanting to learn to play the guitar but found that the work he needed to do was too hard and so he ended up quitting. Of course his father, Homer said something like, “No problem Bart. Let’s just put the guitar away in the closet with your unicycle and karate uniform”. And then he says, “Let’s go watch TV”. Bart asks Homer, what's on and Homer responds, “It doesn’t matter”.

To me this is a sarcastic, and at times, realistic look at what we do and who supports us when we fail — and what we do next.

As adult learners, so many of us get frustrated and embarrassed if we are shown something and we have trouble getting it. Very often the first words out of our mouth is “I can’t”. It comes out with the same certainty of “I like chocolate or I don’t eat tomatoes”. As if it is a done deal and will never change. Maybe the words aren’t spoken, but under our breath we say, “I can’t do that, lets move on to something I can do”. "Now!"

This brings me to the post I’ve been trying to write this week. I’m having a lot of trouble telling the story I want to. I am fortunate to have my good friend, heather read all my writings before they get posted. She either gives me the go ahead or sometimes, like this week, she tells me no. This week she seems to think I could do better and she asked me to try again. Ugh! Grrrrr!!! No!! I can’t! It has me wanting to quit and wondering what is on TV!

During the 2002 Yang Intensive, Sam told me after I had experienced a crappy day of frustration and less than stellar learning, “Jan, you don’t have to be good at this right away”. I heard that lesson and still to this day I try to take it in. I have grown to accept that I am a slow learner, but there is proof after proof that I do learn. I just need to keep trying and not quit. I guess it is called practice!

So, I’ll keep working on and writing the story I want to tell. When it is ready, no matter how many re-writes I need to do, I’ll share it with you. In the mean time, I’m also working on my lotus kick, again!


5/14/10

I got the call to come back and teach Qigong at the Orchard treatment centre this last week and I couldn’t be happier. Last October I was laid off after 5 years working there because of  a “dip in the economy”. Being a Tai Chi and Qigong teacher is a great job and I’ve learned the importance of being persistent and having a daily mindful practice. And as a sober alcoholic, being able to start my day with other addicts in the early stages of their recovery is a real gift.

I have been practicing qigong since my second year of recovery in 1984. I would have loved to be treated for my addiction at a centre like the Orchard. Still, I wonder if I would have resisted it. Teaching people who want to learn is so different from teaching those who have to learn. Knowing your life must change yet not having a clue what that could or would look like is what I face each day.

Let me tell you a bit about what I do there every morning, what I have learned, and what I share.

I begin every class with the same warm up exercises that I have practiced for over 20 years. Creating new habits are important in recovery and doing the same simple exercises each day at the same time is one way to move a habit towards a practice we can count on. Most addicts had rituals in place when they got loaded, in recovery we strive to learn ways to do the next right thing again and again. The warm up exercises are easy and if you have ever taken a class from me, you are familiar with this routine.

I talk continually through the morning session. At times I pause to let the words and directions sink in. I feel it is one way to get folks to focus on something. I constantly ask people to seek stillness. “Stand inside yourself. Feel your skin, find your bones, soften your muscles, listen to your heart beat, notice your lungs as you breathe”. I like to remind everyone that they are a living part of this living world. That they belong."

Participating in the class day after day, the clients soon recognize the movements, gain confidence, and they start learning. I get to witness and share in what might be the beginning stages of their own personal practice. At times I see a calm strength replace a restless fear.

I think it is important at some point during every class we practice the Guanqifa Qigong. Guanqifa translates to "pouring energy method" and is designed to soothe the mind, smooth the qi, and gently move impurities out of the system. “Please raise your arms,” I asked, “bring to you pure and clean energy and invite it to wash down, in, and around you like a warm shower, taking out old ideas and expectations, drama and trauma, regrets and resentments.” I continued, “Create room for the things you need to see, say and hear today. Let go of what you don’t need. Relax. Breathe. Have a short meditation. Stand inside yourself, seek stillness and notice all that goes on. There is no need to hold yourself against anything.”

I smile when someone who has been practicing the Guanqifa tells me of a physical, mental or emotional change they notice in themselves. After all, we are inviting change to come to us in a qigong practice. Why are we surprised when we get it?

Qigong can be a powerful experience and I think clients need to be watched and protected in their first few days of detoxing. So, I feel participation should wait until one has several clean days. The challenge comes when a client has settled in for their 28 or 42 day stay, and the "I'll do anything" they proclaimed a day or two ago becomes... “What? Cheechong? King kong? What the fuck? No, I can't do that... I have a headache, stomach ache, didn't sleep last night, have to talk to a councillor, think this is crap, have to go the bathroom, need to make a phone call, I'll try it tomorrow, my back hurts, I need a cigarette.” and on and on. I can be pretty hard-nosed and perhaps somewhat callous when I tell people I really don't care about their excuses or reasons for not participating. Qigong, like recovery, is for those who want it, not those who need it. It only works if you do it and it only lasts if you continue. The good news this time around, the class is mandatory and participation is required.

New habits are hard to develop, and, practice just makes it all easier. There comes a time when we must keep showing up and doing the work, even on the days we don't want to. This is just one reason I’m glad they called me back. A scheduled daily class. How great is that?

One thing I know about addicts, they hate two things. Time and work! Maybe hate is a strong word, but addicts are strong people with strong ideas. It is all or nothing for them. Full speed ahead, get out of my way, or fuck it. Everything or nothing, the middle path is elusive. Some would say boring. I think this is also because most addicts have ADD or ADHD, diagnosed or not. The  addicts brain is missing something that allows for comfort. I have no medical proof here, (but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist). I do have the experience of my own brain and the struggles I had in learning how to live sober. I also have the experience of working with other addicts for over 25 years. Of course there are exceptions, but most addicts aren't comfortable in their own clothing, let alone comfortable in their own skin or thoughts.

This is why the brilliant practice of qigong is vital when someone finally looks for a lesson on how to choose to live differently. A qigong practice is a safe place to learn the skill of harmonizing body, mind and breath, of working towards balance, and for learning to live life on life's terms.

Let me say now, this is not easy for anyone.

Qigong is all about time and all about work. It is the practice of standing in yourself; again and again and again.  But addicts get drunk and loaded especially to avoid feeling their own feelings. It is it is easy to fall back into old habits that allow us to quit, give up, and not participate. We tend to chase a feeling of what may be or what was, rather than accept the reality of now. When things get really rough, it may seem an easier path to quit and move on to the next new thing, hoping that will be the thing that helps. When in reality we haven’t given what we are doing a chance to make a difference. At some point we all have to find the value of the work and we need to put in the time. My experience has shown that when we take the time the value is revealed.

I can think of a million reasons to practice qigong, but, none more important than to just feel better. It doesn’t need to be a dramatic feeling, just a genuine one. Because when we feel better, we do better. As I’ve said, for some addicts feeling comfortable is a strange feeling, yet I think the only way we can open ourselves up and see the real nature of a situation is to feel comfortable within ourselves. So part of the process of practicing qigong is to accept ourselves as we truly are. This is also step one of the AA and NA recovery process. When we start with acceptance, we can move forward with courage to change and grow.

A mindful practice can make going through treatment easier and I am proof that it can help addicts in the long run as well.

Oh, it is good to be back home.



May 3, 2010

I have been asked how often and how long I practice more times than I can count. I guess doing something fairly regular for years, it is a fair question.

My practice has changed over the years, but for the majority of it; in a nut shell, I am a morning practicer. I like to train shortly after I wake up. I spend any where from a half hour to 90 minutes moving. I usually always do a bit of warm up, some standing, some qigong and the good ole 108. I work with my sabre, sword and spear less often, but enough to keep up the forms.

I’ve been reading the Brown book again. That is T’ai-chi Touchstones; Yang Family Secret Transmissions compiled by Douglas Wile. A book I’ve read often and use as the title implies a Touchstone. This book has guidance and instructions that are worth the read as you study this art.

On page 7, there are instructions for how to practice. I have never followed these particular instructions. It says, “...one should do two forms after rising in the morning, then do two more just before going to bed. Each day one should practice seven or eight times, and at the very least, once in the morning and once at night. However, avoid practice when drunk or after a meal.”

I’ve never followed those guidelines except, well, I have never practiced when drunk.

Yang Zhenduo once told Sam that the 108 should be practiced three times in two hours. I’ve thought about this, but again have never practiced this way either. My 108 pace is closer to 35 minutes and usually once is enough.

The late Master T.T. Liang said in his book, T’ai chi Ch’uan for Health and Self-Defense, that at first he practiced as a hobby, gradually he became addicted to it and then could not get rid of it. He said he must keep on practicing for all his life.

This is a little bit more up my ally. I have ridden the peaks and valleys of my tai chi journey for more than two decades, and my practice as taken a lot of twists and turns. Still I feel that without a doubt, my practice will continue throughout the length of my life. At least that is my intention.

Life does change though. Tai Chi has been my primary interest, study and practice for the longest time. I was told this week that I had “climbed high enough up this mountain to have a clear view” of what it is. I agree. Not so much that I have climbed high, but that I do have a clear view of the art. I know of the rewards and the potential Tai Chi has in my life and the impact I have on my students. I know my hard work has paid off. I also know this is my art, my practice and I have my reasons for playing.

This week I have been thinking of saying no to an opportunity that has been offered me. I’m not sure I’ll have a chance like this again, and I don’t want regrets in my life. Still, I am inclined to say no. I sort of feel like the masters have told me how to practice and I'm still not listening. I do practice (my way) though and because of it I do have some knowledge. I know my knowledge would be different had I followed the masters advice. Right now, I’m going to trust the view from where I sit today and allow my “no” to be more of a “not now”.

Conscious change is hard and I’m finding it really hard right now because I have a fairly clear view of what I’m willing to miss.


April 19, 2010

I have two beautiful calligraphies in my training room. One is written with love and respect and the characters are of the three treasures; Jin, Qi and Shen. This piece of art was made for me and on one side is my name is written in Chinese and on the other side the artist of the scroll proudly signs his work. There are several characters on the piece that tell the story of me being a student of the creator of the scroll. The brush work is smooth and flowing and it is very clear the work was made and given with respect and love.

The other framed calligraphy in the training room is crude and dense. It translates to “Hard and Soft Must Work Together”. It is not signed, but this scroll was also created for me by the same artist. The energy is hard and cruel. No one would guess both of these works were created by the same person. They are that different. The first presented almost as a certificate of proud accomplishment and the other a backhanded send off.

My second Tai Chi teacher, Mr. Chan created both of the scrolls especially for me. He was very clear in his intent with the very different messages. I treasure them because of the strong feelings they convey. I want to remember the lessons I learned from Mr. Chan. Some of these lesson were about Tai Chi, and some were the kind of lessons that changed the course of my life.

I tend to get close to the teachers I’ve had. For good or bad, I am not the type of student who comes to class, participates and leaves. I seem to jump in a little deeper than most. I have no regrets or secrets.

Mr. Chan was a wonderful and horrible teacher to me. I was a wonderful and horrible student to him.

Sik Hung Chan died today, a week before his 85th birthday. I was his student for five years. He taught me a lot.

Salute. Rest in Peace.


March 25, 2010

Week three of the Intensive was wonderful. In the evening after everyone has gone home, Art and I sing praises of the students. We are absolutely blown away by the dedication and progress everyone is showing. We all work so hard, with open hearts and minds. The questions, discussions and willingness to take corrections and suggestions is an instructors dream. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was able to study whatever topic they wanted in a supportive and challenging format.

I’ve always thought that if only our world leaders would take a moment (or twenty) to stand inside themselves on a regular basis, how different would our world be?  What about our community leaders or even our neighbours and employers? What about our youth?

The practice of tai chi is a deep, yet not always graceful way to meet yourself. Persistence in this practice with a knowledgeable instructor and supportive, amazing classmates can take life lessons to a higher level. I have been witness during this last month to incredible personal growth and a lot of it has been mine!

It is easy to forget the rest of the world doesn’t live this way. Most people are kind and good, but I will say a lot have not been taught or encouraged to support another persons process. I think most of society is on a self help, save your own ass, get what you can path. I think very little positive guidance is offered to the masses.

Case in point, on Bowen Island this last week, a young man who is an employee at one of the stores here, went on a public rant towards another employee that was cruel, hurtful and from all accounts, abusive. The community started to discuss this on the Bowen Island On-line Forum and then unexpectedly the thread was shut down by the moderator. It seems some people got upset about naming the bad behaviour in public. As you might imagine, this doesn’t sit well with me.

In the past I have been a victim of different types of abuse, verbal as well as physical. My practice of Tai Chi, taking classes in self defense and my involvement with organizations like PAWMA, NWMAF and AA have shown me how important it is to have a strong and supportive circle of friends. I have a husband, friends and teachers who have taught me and enabled me to value myself; to stand well, be strong, and speak my truth. And if necessary, to speak it again and again, and again, until someone hears me.

I am grateful for such a healthy circle of openminded and supportive people in my life. I don’t remember the last time I was yelled at or treated with a lack of respect. I have the great gift of working with people who are not only willing to learn, but expect to discover, and truly know the truth of their value in this life.

This morning, I had to remember that these are learned lessons. None of them came easy to me. Someone taught me skills and showed me I was worth defending. I should not expect others in my community, especially young women to come out of the box of life knowing what to do when they are harassed or bullied. Those of us who can, need to reach out and help. We need to share our stories and teach each other what to do when we witness, or hear of abuse and we need to stop it. Right now I feel the need to step up and offer the youth of Bowen Island some skills that were generously share with me when I was scared and felt alone as a victim. I don’t really want to do this, I am busy! But the feeling is gnawing at me and I want young girls and women to feel safe and to be respected where ever they are. I would also hope that someone else is planning to help the young men in our community to learn how to deal with their anger and show them ways to be respectful of others.

I want the young woman who was verbally abused at her workplace, to know some options and to make her aware that she and others like her are worth defending and are not alone. If the community around her doesn’t want to talk about it, I will.

This Tai Chi intensive is stretching me and as a teacher I want to offer all of my skills. Self defense is much more than punching and kicking. Being able to deal with angry words being hurled at you in public demands different, but just as important skills. I know the value of being able to stand well, feel strong, and speak true, I’d like others to know it too.


Week three, day two. March 20, 2010

I didn’t get to write last week, but I thought about you who might be reading this page. I didn't write because my computer died. I had this particular computer for quite a while, but have had to replaced so many parts on it over the years it almost seemed new. So it took me by surprise when the screen just went white. The good news is I’m teachable and I actually had a recent back up! Woo-hoo! So, all I lost was a bit of writing time which I spent with a good book, Ken and friends.

Now, I have a new computer and will do my best to catch you up on what happened last week during the intensive and while I’m at it, this week as well.

I have to say the intensive has been a whirlwind so far. Time is flying by so fast. Yesterday, we started with a warm up and some housekeeping announcements and then the next thing I knew, the day was over and people were packing up for the evening ferry. Time warp for sure. Art and I are right on schedule for covering the material, still at times I worry this opportunity will be over all too soon.

Each morning we take the time to stand in Zhan Zhuang Qigong. It is a wonderful practice and next to the Guanqifa, it is my favourite right now. It is so cool to look in the yard and see a variety of people standing in themselves on these beautiful Spring mornings.

Art is taking everyone through the 108 and it is interesting and fun to see the small and subtle, and sometimes big, but unimportant, differences in our forms. We certainly aren’t of the school of “one true way”. We both focus on principles of organic movement, the 10 important essentials of Yang Chenfu, and personal comfort through structure. So it is all good. I loved having him teach snake creeps down this morning. He must have done the move at least two dozen times. And beautifully I might add. It is in moments like that, I’m thrilled to have him as a teaching partner! Hee-hee.

Having the time to really explore this art under a microscope has been so great. The progress and skill level of every student is sky rocketing. The time we are taking to “drill it again and again and again” is the best. We keep moving forward in the curriculum and we continue to take the time to reference and review the previous days or weeks work. As we examine forward timing four hands, the one to eight becomes more clear and much cleaner.

If I haven’t mentioned it before — let me do it now. This is an incredible group of people and it is an absolute joy to be able to work with each one. Doing what I love, with people I love. Can it get any better?

And we are so glad Sheila is back in health and able to join us.


I was telling a friend about the Intensive class I am teaching with Art Baner this month. At first she didn’t quite understand it. A weekend seminar? No, a four day seminar, four weeks in a row. Sixteen full days of training in one month. Four days on and three days off, repeated for four weeks. And we will do this again in June and September. No matter how I explain it, the concept really does take a few moments for it all to sink in.

Then the questions… Where do the participants all stay? What about their jobs? How can a person make this kind of commitment? My favourite question though is the super simple one… For Tai Chi? They do this for Tai Chi?

I smile and answer. Yup.

The dozen participating students have planned and arranged and saved for this study for quite some time. Some have been planning for it for more than a year. Imagine all the planning, training, and arranging you’d have to do in your life to be able to spend not one, but three months with your classmates and two teachers on Bowen Island to study Tai Chi.

And then… imagine, just a few days before it all begins you get sick. Not just the sniffles, which would be bad enough, but you get pneumonia. What if after all the planning, you have to take to your bed, because all you are able to do is lie down, sick, miserable, and sad, and think about what you are missing.

Well, it happened. Sheila got sick right before the class started and missed the entire first week of training. She tells me she will be here next week, but… pneumonia. It takes a while to feel good again. It takes a while to heal from such a strong illness. No matter how much you want to. Sometimes the mind doesn’t win. So this update is for her.

Dear Sheila,
We really missed you this week and hope you feel better soon. We want you to come play with us. I know reading about what we did is no match for being here, but, I’ll do my best to share with you week one.

Art arrived Thursday evening and to set the tone for the course, we opened the IChing for a reading. Asking for the "highest possible good" for the Intensive, we used beads that Nancy Walker made and threw hexagram #35-Progress, changing to #16-Enthusiasm. I mean how perfect is that?

We’ve also planned for this for quite a while, we know the material really well in the same and yet very different way and we promised to bring our best to the class and to each other every day.

Friday the sky was clear blue and it “looked” warm in the sun, so we trained outside for a lot of the day. The focus was on core principles and basics. We spent most of the day working and understanding the how and why of Zhan Zhuang Qigong practice.

This course is being built on the idea of being comfortable with the very simple and progressively adding complications to where we are and what we're doing, maintaining our comfort all the while through the changes. We started working from the ground up and spent the day, sitting, standing and by the afternoon, we actually were taking a few steps. Quite complicated! We added a few arm positions in symbolic 5 element postures, of earth, metal, water, wood and fire. We looked at our breath and filled our torsos in a mindful way. We found our hips and looked for our waist.

On Saturday after some Zhan Zhuang, we had a short talk on the Yang curriculum and how it fits with the 13 powers. We also started to look at the ten essential points of Yang Chen Fu with focus on #10. “Seek stillness in Movement”. Having the ability to keep calm and not get agitated in training, sparring or life skills. I imagine you may be pretty agitated about being sick Sheila, so do your best and stay calm!

In the afternoon we worked the core principles of walking, forward and backwards... hips and waist... you know the drill. Then we started into the 108 form. I think we worked up to White Crane. Art and I do almost every move just a tad different, but the principles and the feelings are the same, and everyone is so focused. We also started working the 1 to 8 drills with #1 and #2. Did I mention we had the emphasis on the 5 phases of the legs?

Sunday was wet and cold... We worked outside in the morning wearing the Roughrider uniform of mitts, toques and heavy coats. We kept the qi moving and worked the form to just before repulse monkey. In the afternoon, we studied numbers 1 through 4 and focused on the 9th essential point of Yang Chen Fu... “keep continual”. Once in motion keep going. (kinda like, once your on the road to wellness... keep on it!).

The power went off on Bowen Sunday night and stayed off for 20 hours. We trained the 108 up to turn to chop with back fist, down at the tennis courts, near the beach, in the sun and believe it or not, a little snow fell on us! At lunch Kim brought us hot tea water from her house as she had power. It was good! In the afternoon we stayed in the living room where we were warm and there was light. We wrapped up the week with a general review and some breath work.

Week one out of 11. So far, so good. There is lots of laughter, and learning going on. Good questions are being asked and I think everyone has sore legs. Hard work is happening in this relaxing business. The progress is obvious already and I love the enthusiasm. The IChing reading is coming to fruition. You are so missed. I hope you are making progress as well.



My Experience:

Seems like forever in the making. Each day I thought about the training as I walked up the hills on Bowen working to get in shape for the class. Each time I went through my form or practiced any of the weapons, the thought was on getting ready for this intensive. I've told others about it and most of them only can imagine all the people in our home - "how can you stand to have all those people there"? No one has asked about the actual content of the course. My Father asked me "when does the concentration camp start?". Ken and I have moved furniture, gone shopping and organized the logistics for this event. Three months of seminars - I'm so looking forward to how my body will feel, how my mind will expand, where my short coming's will arise and where my resistance will show, I wonder what lessons I'll learn.

I wrote the above in November of 2001.
I could just as easily have written the same words this morning. The difference — in 2001 I was a student, this time I’ll be instructing the full Yang Curriculum. In the sappy words of the Olympic… I believe!

Just about three years ago, I approached my training partners, Art and Jim, (who were part of the 2001 Intensive), about teaching our own intensive. As it works out Art and I will do it. Of course, if Jim happens to show up…. (Are you reading this Jim, hint, hint.)

In 2001, our teacher Sam took 11 students on the best ride ever. Now  almost a decade later, Art and I will take 12 willing and hard working Tai Chi keeners on what I hope will be the same, yet very different ride.

Be sure to check this web page often this month, as I plan to post reports and let you know of our progress. Please wish us good luck. This is a big deal. And like I said in 2001, “I'm so looking forward to how my body will feel, how my mind will expand, where my short coming's will arise and where my resistance will show, I wonder what lessons I'll learn.”

I do hope for one change though, please, no lone shooters on the gassy knoll, this time around.




Salute!
2/19/10

In less than two weeks, 13 students of tai chi will come to the rock with shovels and sponges and very strong legs. They are ready to dig deep and soak up lots of lessons and training as they study the entire Yang curriculum. Ok - I’ve been watching the Olympics and am sounding a bit grand. But this is grand, and I am very excited to get started.

The kick off for the 2010 Yang-style Taijiquan Full Curriculum Intensive on Bowen Island is March 4th and promises to be a transformative event full of hard work, lots of learning and I hope loads of laughter.

A few years ago a soon to be student asked what it would take to study Tai Chi with me. Not to be glib, but my answer was a simple “time and money”.

If you are a serious student of this art, you know all about commitment. Still, the full extent of what all is involved might have taken you by surprise. It isn’t long before you begin to see how a class once a week is good; but the road to self cultivation grabs some of us differently and we really jump in. I had no idea how long and wild the road I was getting on would be when I took my first class in 1986. Tai Chi has been my education and I’m very glad I made the commitment to practice, study and to seek out the lessons.

I am so proud of the 12 students who are committing lots of time and investing lots of money to study in a very intense way this year. But even more than the obvious commitment these folks are making, I am honoured that they are trusting Art Baner and me to guide them on this journey. My promise is to do my best and share what I know as openly and honestly as I can.

I salute: Erica Anderson, Sue Leary, Pat Leary, Colin Rudd, Sheila Fee, Peggy Scott, Fred Newman, Monica Clealand, Kim Kasasian, Michelle Livaja, Susan Matthews, and Ed Cooper.

I’ll do my best to keep this notebook updated with progress reports from the class, so check back often.



Passing the torch! 2/12/10

The opening ceremony of the Olympics is tonight and there is great talk and speculation of who will carry the final torch and light the cauldron. One very cool idea would be to have a hologram of Terry Fox. Terry was a Canadian hero who died before he could finish his run across Canada with the intent to garner support for the cure of cancer. I think seeing his image would be very emotional and inspiring — but as you know from my last post, I am torn between support and protest with these Olympic games.

This morning in my meditation, my thoughts were on 3 of my students who are just beginning their journey as Tai Chi and Qigong instructors. For me, I feel like a bright torch is passed when a student begins to teach. As a teacher, my greatest joy is watching a student study, work hard, and grow as they find a practice, that in turn helps them stand inside themselves and become happier and healthier in this world.

The reason I became a teacher is because I really wanted this art. Tai Chi and Qigong was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen and I knew my life would be better if I found a way to learn it.

All of my teachers have encouraged me to teach. I in turn encourage my students to share their knowledge and experience with others. I find my students to be as amazing and interesting a resource as the classic writings and the formal instruction I have received. Sam calls the classroom, a laboratory. Dave Harris said he taught students so he could have playmates. I’m grateful I grew up in this art with the generous nature of my instructors.

Years ago, Sam gave me a book on glass beads in the inscription he wrote, “Hand to hand teaching is something like making beads, I imagine. Even if your method is the same for a few years each bead comes out differently….” There is more to this inscription, but it is personal to me and not needed for this story. Dare I say my students are like beads? Yes! Each one is different, and unique, and like my beads, I get attached. I also feel such pride when a student who, wanting to learn more, creates their own classroom situation, and really begins to learn by passing on what they know. I can't wait to find out what they will learn next through the incredible teaching experience.

My students give me a great gift when they teach. For me, this is a torch truly worth passing.



No Tai Chi Lesson this week. 2/10/10

The Olympic torch was on Bowen Island this morning. I didn’t go to see it. Now, I’m feeling a bit weird about it. I am torn with feelings of support and protest.

For most of my life the Olympics have been something I actually aspired to. I wanted to race downhill on skis in the Olympic games. I wanted to ski as fast as I could and compete with the world. In my secret of secrets I dreamed of the podium but mostly I dreamed of the race. Of course I never even came close to this dream. After high school, I changed the dream and thought maybe I’d become a camera operator for a TV station. In my dream I would go to the Olympics and capture it all through the lens of my camera. At least I would be there I thought. Surrounded by skill, strength, and speed. My heart would sing when I dreamed like this. In the 70’s I went wild watching Spider Sabich, the Crazy Canuks, and especially Franz Klammer. I was in awe of these Olympic heroes.

As reality sunk in, my dream died and I was destine to watch the games on TV. My world would stop for the ten days and I spent as much time as I could watching it all, (except the ice skating; too boring for me). Ken and I loved the coverage even more so when we moved to Canada. It seems in the states they only show the gold medal American competitors, but in Canada, they showed the Olympics! It was great.

I will never forget the opening ceremony held in Los Angles in 1984. The extravaganza included 70 people playing Rhapsody in Blue on 70 grand pianos. It was incredible and when I heard the commentator wonder how the host city of the next games would beat this opening show; I knew a different game had begun and it had nothing to do with the athletes or sport. My heart sunk a little again.

In the novel The Last Chinese Chef, the fictional creator of the cook book, writes, “Give thought to opulence. Too much is perverse. But extravagance of some kind is important — it could be an ingredient, effort or talent.” This makes sense to me. I hate the opulence and the hoopla that surrounds the Olympics; it seems perverse. This year alone, 900 Million dollars is being spent on security alone and more money has been found for other crap that has nothing to do with the athletes or the events. Another example is "the" torch. They made 12,000 of them at a cost of $400. each. The budget is perverse. Our Provence is going deep into debt for this Olympic frenzy and only a very few of the elite will profit from this show. The extravagance that is needed, and should be spotlighted here, is the skill and talent of the athletes who come from all over the world. Yet, I don’t see them getting the kind of attention they deserve. Do top athletes really eat at MacDonalds? The ads would have us think so.

Now, I love watching anyone who excels in their field, be it sport, music or art. I think we all do. But for me, the Olympics are obscene in the priority that is being placed on image, politics and money. The sports, the athletes; the main reasons we have the Olympics have been delegated to the back by-product of the show. If you don’t believe this, why the hell is Arnold Schwarzenegger carrying the Olympic torch in Stanley Park of all places?

It is hard to explain why I’m not excited about the circus being held in my backyard, when for most of my life, I wanted to participate in these Olympic games. I am searching my heart, values and priorities. I needed to write this out and reflect on my mixed up feelings. I feel like those who say they are against the war, but support the troops. I love the athletes and I’m sure if I was given a free ticket to any part of the games, I’d go. But, it isn’t in me to make an effort to wave a flag even in protest.

The list price for tickets to the closing ceremony are $765. each. I haven't checked on the gold medal hockey game price. I’m sure London 2012 is watching and they will have to decide how to top the opulence of it all. I’m sure I’ll watch some of the events on TV, especially the down hill skiing. I’ll admire the small extravaganza the athletes and competition will provide — still I’ll be grumbling about the ridiculous amounts of wasted money, the truck loads of snow being brought in and the cuts of projects, programs and schools that are needed in our town and province. For me the opulence of the Olympic games have gone too far.



What's in your pocket? 2/2/10

I have a confession to make. I do not sell my best beads. Most of the time, I don’t even show them to anyone. I keep them at home, in my cave, on an ever growing strand of twine. I get really attached and would rather show you work I do that isn’t all that great. Once in a blue moon, I’ll give away a good bead, but only because I made the mistake of having it in my pocket, showing it to someone, and it gets admired. I’m a sucker if you show interest. I’m ashamed to say most of you don’t ever see my really good beads. I don’t want to even have the conversation about letting them go. The beads in my pocket are flawed and not perfect. It is easy to let them go to other homes, but the good beads, my best ones, I keep to myself and am too attached to share.

As a student of life, this make me look at questions like, why am I so selfish and attached? What is the pull to keep what I think is such a treasure to myself? Why is letting go so hard? But worse than those questions. The real question that puzzles me is; why won’t I bring out my best?

I'm bringing this topic up, because in almost every class I teach, I ask students to bring their best to the lesson. Especially when we work with partners. Everyone learns so much more, if we show up with an open and generous spirit. Like the golden rule - I ask students to be the training partner they would like to have. I teach this lesson so as to learn this lesson.

The purpose of Tai Chi is to harmonize the inner and outer aspects of life, to seek balance and to bring harmony to the player. Practice gives me a delicious and comfortable feeling, a sense of wholeness, but the joyful feeling can slip away quite quickly if I take too strong a stance or have too strong of an opinion on any given topic. At times it feels appropriate for me to keep one foot back as I step into life. Most of us prefer to hide our worst though, not our best.

My goal in this study is, as Art Baner says, “to take it off the mat.” To let the comfort and joy I feel during practice follow me throughout my day. It is hard though when I read the news, disagree with my husband, or encounter a stressful situation. I’d prefer to bring out my best during these times, but truth be told, I don't always. I complain and whine and keep my best hidden, like good beads in my pocket.

In AA there is a saying that we are as sick as our secrets. So, over the years I’ve worked hard to be up front and honest. What you see is what you get for the most part. Sometimes I share too much. But I believe the people in my life should know where I stand. I like to think that I bring my best to what I do most of the time. It is always my intention. I can’t say I do it though, because after all, I still have the really cool beads I’m not showing to anyone yet. Perhaps I need more practice!



How do you keep a light and sensitive feeling at the top of the head
if you are wearing an 80 pound hat? 1/15/10

This is where my thinking went this morning during practice.

In 1994 I met Sam in China. We were on totally different trips and yet our paths crossed. I said it was destiny — he said it was fate. We have a lot of stories from the trip, but let me share one in particular.

I will make the story short here, because first off it is Sam’s story; not mine, so I may get a few things wrong. But the gist of the story has stuck with me.

Sam met a lot of people on his trip and many would say something like, “You are very good, perhaps you should meet my teacher, he is really good too”.  After a while, it seems everyone in China has a masterful teacher and it became important for Sam to pick and choose where he went and who he met. There was one young man, who after watching Sam push hands said  “you should meet my teacher”. Sam told us he smiled and nodded and yet, had no intention of meeting this guys teacher; until, the persistent man said the words that stopped Sam and peaked his interests. He said, “You should meet my teacher, my teacher wears an 80 pound hat”. Well, that would spark your interest wouldn’t it? Sam said, yes, he would like to meet his teacher. So off they went down this street and around that one, until they came to a small courtyard and Sam was introduced to a small and wiry man. Sorry, I don’t know the teachers name. The man was humbled by the opportunity to meet a young Tai Chi expert from North America, and when Sam asked about his training methods, the teacher showed him a “hat”. It was made of concrete with handles on the side of it and yes, it weighed 80 pounds. Sam said his first thought was to “try it on” and then realized it could break his neck. So he didn’t, but the teacher did. Sam said it was very impressive and that this particular training stunt gave the wiry man pretty good posture! Pretty good posture!

I’d say it demanded him to have the ultimate structure in being upright. One little tilt off centre and smash — there goes the neck, the spine, his body.



After hearing this story, we all set off with new resolve to work on our upright structure. Our classmate Ted, started wearing all kinds of things on his head; coolers, medicine balls, water bottles. Ted would balance anything on his head. And for the record; Ted has great structure. I practiced with bags of beans or lentils on my head. Hardly 80 pounds, more like five; yet that is enough weight to keep my attention when I move.

Lately, I’ve been preparing to teach the  The 2010 Yang Intensive with Art Baner, and that includes more Zhan Zhuang or standing post qigong.

This morning I put a bag of lentils on my head as I stood. I went immediately into my legs. My upright structure got clear and the bound places in my structure became obvious. I kept the bag on my head as I start to move through my form and the downward, rooted feeling of my feet and legs took over. Then, I started to wonder how in the world I could find a light and sensitive feeling at the top of my head with this “heavy hat”. I thought of that 80 pound hat — the only way to feel light and sensitive at the head top, would be to take the weight off. So I did. The moment I let the bag of beans off my head I felt the spirit of vitality rise in me. There was a light and sensitive feeling at the top of my head. In doing this I was careful not to give up the feeling and reality of being rooted and powerful in my legs. I felt the light and agile freedom of intrinsic energy. The joy of effortless power.

The first of Yang Cheng Fu’s 10 Important points is about holding the head well. Putting something on your head helps to figure this point out pretty quickly. Maybe you won’t use an 80 pound hat, but let me encourage you to test out the principles of Tai Chi for yourself. Become honest about your structure; use props if you want to. Then let them all go and feel what is going on inside you. It won’t be long before we’ll all be saying, “Look mom - I’m doing Tai Chi!"


Happy New Year everyone,    January 4, 2010

I hope you enjoy good health, good love and good practice in 2010. I am looking forward to the next year. The 2010 Yang Intensive I’ll be teaching with Art Baner is shaping up and I’m very excited about it. I also love having a fresh calendar, a new notebook, and a new motto to set the tone for the year ahead of me. (I’ll share more on that later.) Right now, I am once again, looking at this art with new eyes and a new morning routine and practice.

Last October when I lost my job at the treatment centre; I also lost my practice.

I love a routine and the 5 years I taught qigong at the Orchard provided me a near perfect morning ritual. I would walk, drive or ride my scooter the 4 km each morning, and would usually be the first person to arrive for the day. I would spend the quiet morning time practicing in the big room before the clients came in. Then for a half hour, with some staff and clients in attendance I would help get their day going with breath awareness, gentle stretching and moving meditation: Qigong. No matter who showed up we had a good practice and 9 times out of 10 everyone felt better when the class was over. I would then join the rest of the staff for a morning meeting and we would read words of wisdom from several ‘day at a time’ books, then I would head home and continue the rest of my day.

I loved it. I think I did important work at the Orchard. I also think it was some of the best work I’ve ever done. I know for some people, the practice made a difference in their recovery. I know it helped mine. The fact of the matter is qigong helps in the treatment of addiction. Well, the economy caught up with the centre and I was let go. I was disappointed but I trust the powers that be and knew their decision was necessary.

What surprised me though was how long it took me to find my practice again.

My routine, my structure was shaken and I wasn’t sure how or where I would land. Practice has been part of my life since I began the art of tai chi in 1986. Of course my practice routine has changed over the years and there have been dry spells as well. But, the 5 years I spent in the big room at the O was also the 5 years when my teaching really took off. It was when as Ken says after 20 years I became an overnight sensation. I started to travel more and teach more seminars around North America. The Roughriders began getting together. It was an incredible period of growth for me and the morning ritual with addicts was a gift. I knew it was a good gig and I never took it for granted. I also hoped it wouldn’t change; even though I know everything changes.

Since October, my practice has been erratic. I just couldn’t find my groove or the new routine I so needed. At first, I missed several days and then I had some shoulder troubles and couldn’t practice and then the days turned to weeks and then a month and then 6 weeks. My practice got put on the back burner.

Early in December Ken and I did some home renovations and had a new patio built. It is beautiful. The winter weather has also been good this year and I started to wake up really early each morning and go outside. At first I would just stand on the patio in the darkness and look at the stars, I felt the cool air on my face and would enjoy the quiet start of the day. Slowly, over the course of a few days some gentle stretching was added to the routine and then just a bit of qigong. It wasn’t long before the 108 appeared and I had my practice back. Mindful movement has never let me down. I just needed the time for it to unfold again.

This new routine is delicious. I know it will change soon enough, I'm not worried about that. Tai Chi is all about change. Yet, I hope it doesn’t change too soon as my practice today is good. The ritual of my morning is grand. The practice of tai chi is what I do. Even when it changes.


Season's Greetings December 21, 2009

I want to thank everyone who comes to this web site and takes some time to read a few of my thoughts over the last year.

Tai Chi and Qigong are not only grand arts; with practice they prove to be the perfect vehicle for me to study and learn about myself. I have been privileged to see some of you grow on this ride as well. For that I am grateful. Thank you for sharing this path with me. It has been incredible, and I wouldn't change a thing! I'm looking forward to whatever our practice reveals next.

I wish you a _________________ (fill in the blank with whatever you celebrate this time of year) and may 2010 bring us all peace, prosperity and joy!

Thanks for being part of my life.
 


Listening lessons December 2, 2009

My best friend is Sandie Moss. We met in 1977 and have been the greatest of friends ever since. We do not live very close to each other and never really have. We speak on the phone at least once a week, we take vacations together and she and her husband Joe visit us and Ken and I visit them. Not as often as we want to, but as often as we can.
Sandie has learned some Tai Chi and she practices Qigong, but all that is besides the point I want to make here. What I want to share here is just one of the many lesson I’ve learned from Sandie over the years.

Side note — (as we say in class; we’ve been father off the topic),

At my mothers funeral, more than a half dozen women came up to me and said, “Your mother was my best friend”. I thought that remarkable. My mother Alice, was a good friend to so many people that they each thought they were the best friend! Sandie is like that. Sandie has a lot of friends and I know most of them think she is their “best friend”. She is interested in others and asks questions of them. Not just ‘how are you ?’ (which is a good start), but she asks about their work, family, health, and home. She send birthday cards in the mail and attends the weddings and graduations of her friends children. Sandie has genuine interest in others and because she shows that interest, a lot of people feel she is their best friend. Sandie can listen. Yet there are times when it seems this listening skill is only one way. Have you ever walked away from a good conversation with a friend and then realize you spent the entire time talking about yourself; never asking how the other person is?

One reason Sandie and I have best friends for over 32 years and why I am a good friend to others; is because Sandie taught me to ask questions; even if it seemed like small talk at first. It is my experience that if I really listen after I ask a question; the relationship I’m standing with will quickly move from shallow to very deep. Everyone wants to feel loved, important, and needed. People enjoy talking about themselves. A good friend will let you. A best friend will say “Enough, about me, tell me about you? What is new with you? And then, they listen to the answers. Good friends, good training partners, take turns. We all get to talk and we all need to listen.

The next time you step up in class and cross hands with a partner. Ask about them, and then listen. Sam’s first teacher Brein Gallager use to say, “Three turns of the hand and I know everything”. If you can’t find your feet or balance in this exchange, maybe it is because your partner is doing all the listening. Sometimes you have to stop and say, “Enough about me. How are you”?



Mine, Yours, It. November 27, 2009

I got a bit of flack for last weeks post. Ok, some flack and more comments than I usually get when I write here. If you didn’t read it, Check out the archive page. Let me also say thanks for the feedback. I like it.

I admit I felt nervous posting the Always and Never writing. I asked a couple of good friends if I should let others read it. Admitting I didn’t want to go to a class is risky. Some students may think I don’t care. If you’ve studied with me, you know I do.

Among some of the feed back I received, my Sifu Sam, wrote;
“I love the honesty of this little essay. Who wants to admit it? We fear it could somehow seem to demean us as committed teachers. But I think its the opposite. How many people keep getting up to do the right thing because it's the right thing, because love requires the same effort to overcome inertia as does fear?”

Being honest in what I’m thinking, feeling and expressing is a skill and again, Sam comes through with his response of  'embarrassment is the seed of enlightenment'.

I am willing to let you see me. It is how I learn.

Have you ever realized that on some days you can’t do anything wrong. Everything clicks and feels right; you just seem to be on. Then the very next day, practicing the same work, under the same circumstances, even playing with the same people, you can’t seem to find it. Nothing works well or feels right. Why is this?

I was asked to soak up lessons I didn’t understand and then wring them out in a mason jar, screw on the lid and put it on a shelf. Later, maybe tomorrow, next week or years from now, I was to take the jar off the shelf, open it up and the lesson would make more sense. I’m starting to understand a lesson I put on the shelf years ago.

There is “My Tai Chi, Our Tai Chi and The ultimate Tai Chi”. My life, our life together, and life itself.

Tai Chi or life, has a say in the matter. For me to think it is all up to me, or even to give my partner credit or blame is a mistake. I need to give Tai Chi or life itself, some space.

When I step into my practice, I do my best to bring my best. There are times, when my best just isn’t there though. For whatever reason. It could be me, my partner or the art in general. The reason doesn’t really matter.

What matters to me is doing the next right thing. I may not make it to every class or practice. My body, mind, and attitude seem at times to work against me. If I am honest; I do my best to bring my best. When my best isn’t good enough, I’ll bring it again tomorrow.



Never and Always! November 20, 2009

Right now, I am only teaching two classes a week, and to tell you the truth I never want to go to them.

One is a Tai Chi class in North Vancouver. Every week I find it hard to leave the island and I dread the 5 hour turn around it takes for me to teach the 90 minute class. I confess there have been times when the weather or the ferry make it impossible for me to get to the class and secretly, I cheer. The other class is a Qigong class held downstairs in the training room; at times it is just as hard to get to. There are 4 students in this class and perfect attendance is rare. I never want to go and I’m always thinking of reasons to cancel the class.

I show up to these classes for two reasons. The first is the students. I don't have a lot of students, but I do have the best ones. I really love and respect my students. The second reason I drag myself to these classes is that once I step in; something wonderful always happens. I love the art and I love teaching. I love the work we do as a class and am always amazed by the insights, the discussions, and the discoveries that are revealed. Then, to top it off like frosting on a yummy cake, when the class is finished, I feel really good.

The hardest part of any practice is the showing up. And because I never want to go, I make it a point to arrive to all my classes early. I like to be the first one there if possible. Depending on how early I arrive, I use the time to stretch, warm up or practice a little. Sometimes I read about Tai Chi or Qigong from one of the 200+ books I have on the subject.

Last night was the Qigong class. I really didn't want to go. I knew it would be a smaller than usual class. Two students were out sick and it was a real probability that  one of the other two would come late. I went downstairs 15 minutes early and read until one student arrived, the other one was right behind her.

We exchanged our hellos and began. This class begins with a seated and guided meditation. It is a good way to get present for the practice ahead. Lately we have been focusing on spontaneous Qigong movement. We move slowly together and before long, each of us is moving in our own way on our own path. Time flies and I am surprised when I glance at the clock and an hour has passed. We finish our practice with 3 lines of the Guanqifa.

We tend to linger when class is over. No one is in a hurry to get on with their evening. We all feel good.

I never want to go to these classes. I am always glad I do.


Gong! November 13, 2009

Years ago I worked at a newspaper. I ran a huge offset press and printed over 20,000 copies of the morning news each day. At the end of my shift I would clocked out and take a paper home with me. The newspaper was proof of my daily labour and very often quite rewarding. It was a short lived benefit though; by the next day the paper was trash, and I would go to work again and created another one. The work was routine, the paper looked more or less the same each day and yet, was always little different. It was good, production work.

Today I look at production with different eyes. These days I rarely have anything tangible to show for the work I do.

This brings me to the discovery I made yesterday while reading some old notes. I saw a definition describing Qigong that I hadn’t known before. (don’t ask me how it got in my notes) Usually, I define Qigong as two words; qi and gong. Qi= energy, breath, vitality and gong, meaning work. I think this is clear, simple and true enough so that people who are just this side of interested can grasp the concept.

I think most of us tend to be more curious about Qi and less on the gong it requires.

In my old notes, I read that the Chinese character for 'gong' combines the words "productive labour" and "strength".

Right now it may look like the way I spend my day is lacking in productive labour. I have a pretty clear calendar and a lot of free time. I spend most of my day now reading, walking the dog, and looking out of windows. It is amazing how just these few activities can swallow up a day. Now each evening when I reflect back over my day; I question the use of my time. Was I productive, did I made any kind of difference in my life or the life of others? I’ll wonder, but I won’t worry. I know everything changes and this will too.

My gong is not a tangible product right now. I don’t mind. Qi gong, writing gong, walking gong, laughing gong, have always satisfied any need I’ve have for productive labour. With practice over time, I’ve gained a strength and knowledge that unlike yesterdays newspaper will never become landfill.


Walking or talking?
November 4, 2009
for Diane

A young girl went to her father one afternoon. “Tell me about sex”. She asked. The father stumbled and hemmed and hawed and then finally said, “Why don’t you ask your mother?" The girl, let out a big sigh, “Well, because I don’t really want to know that much about it”.

Ken once told me that, I hit people with a fire-hose spray of information when asked about Tai Chi. He said most people are only interested in a getting glass of water.

It has taken me years to become aware of this particular lesson. Perhaps, it is because I found a passion and excitement in this art and enthusiastically want to share everything about it. I want to tell everyone how great it is and that the practice of Tai Chi and Qigong changed my life and could probably change theirs too.  I want them to see that it is not just a bunch of slow motion movements that old people in China do the parks each day. That it is hard, deep, and big work. I want everyone to know that the art is alive and well in hearts and legs of people like me. I’ve talked so much about Tai Chi that in some circles I’m known as “Tai Chi Jan”.

So, I’m learning to keep it simple when asked about the art and my part in it. Not everyone wants to know so much. Some people are just being polite in asking! (imagine!) So, I’ve learned to temper my answers. Sometimes I don’t say anything, I just smile when I hear someone say they did Tai Chi once or that they think they may want to 'do it' again.

The other day I read one of those little slogans that help us get through life… you know, bumper sticker philosophy. I read, “Talk and walk are only one letter, but worlds apart”. Ain’t it the truth! I can talk all I want to about Tai Chi, but my practice of it is what counts. I walk in the benefits of my own work.

I didn’t know when I began to learn Tai Chi that the practice would reveal to me who I am. I didn’t know the study would be so hard and go so deep. I thought it would be a nice exercise. I was even surprised to find out it was a martial art. Yet, persistent mindful movement has become the safe place for me to explore my all of fears, doubts, dramas, traumas as well as my joys and celebrations. How can I explain that to anyone simply?

I've heard it said, that Tai Chi people talk too much. We can. Most of the Tai Chi people I know like talking about what is going on in their practice because it affects everything else in their life. “Look what I’m learning,” we tend to exclaim.

I find the learning process to be more about creative expression and not the consumption of information. For me walking in that expression is more interesting and speaks much louder than talking about it.

Of course, if you really want to know lets talk after practice!



Suggestions Please - October 25, 2009

I talk a lot about practice. Practice is what we do in the Tai Chi and Qigong world. Through our practice we come up with insights, questions, answers and personally, I get a feeling of well being and joy when I move mindfully. I love my practice — even when days go by and I don't attend to it. I am a Tai Chi player. I always will be.

This got me thinking though. I sing, but I would never call myself a singer. I’ve been writing a bit, yet I don’t claim the label of writer either. I do say however, that I am a spinner, quilter, and glass bead maker even though I haven’t spun, sewn or melted glass in a while. Updating this page is a practice that the writer in me needs to attend to, yet even though I think about it almost every day, I’m not writing.

I do have a small notebook that I keep handy and I do jot down ideas, quotes and phrases I like. I plan to write. Really I do… any day now. I’m not sure why I don’t. Perhaps I need a kick in the pants like the one I got today.

I received an email from a friend pointing out that my last post was put up in September. September 9th to be exact. He reminded me that there are people “out there” that check for my updates and he also said he kinda missed it when this notebook is silent for a stretch.

Sorry!

A lot is going on in my life right now. Change has hit again. My practice is slow right now (no pun intended). I went to visit a friend in Florida and right before I left I got laid off from my job at the treatment centre. Perhaps the internal and healing arts cannot survive in the current economy. I have no seminars booked (ok, the Rough Riders may come in December and the Yang Intensive is scheduled in March 2009), and until then, my calendar is clear.

For today, my routine is different. I am trying to figure out how to structure my day now that I have more “free” time and I don’t want to waste this opportunity. I can do anything I want right now. I just need to find the practice of it all.

Hence the title of this post. Suggestions please! I would love you to send me some topics to write on for this notebook. I’ll update! I’ll put in the practice time. I’ll grow into being a writer.


The Greatest Gift
- September 9, 2009

What was the best gift you ever received from anyone?

Last night I was given the greatest gift ever. I know that sounds pretty bold. The greatest gift ever? Wow!

Now that isn’t to say that different presents over the years from family, friends and students haven’t been loved or appreciated, they certainly have been. I’ll even say thank you again for some particular gifts that really made me smile, like the Stand Mixer Jim and heather gave me and the books from Sam with his special inscriptions. Other wonderful gifts include the felted piece of art from the RoughRiders, a long purple ribbon Ken gave me on one of my birthdays, and my brother Art wrote me a sweet song when I turned 50. There certainly have been other gifts; given and received that have touch me, but last night I was moved by a particular generosity. A gift that came directly from the heart of the giver. I was grateful I was present enough to receive it.

In AA there is a tradition of “taking a cake” when you reach a yearly anniversary of sobriety. Last night I had the privilege of taking my 25th cake! I have to say it was a wonderful experience for me.

I was a bit nervous going into the evening and even dragged a friend to the meeting with me who isn’t an alcoholic because I wanted a friendly face in the crowd. Yet, as I “told my story and took my cake", to my delight, there were many friendly faces in the room. I was celebrated with love and acceptance. Several people shared with me specific things they had learned from me! Not in the "you are so wonderful, bla, bla, bla", way that is nice; but I was gifted with words like, "you showed me how to..." or "because of you I can now..." It was really nice. I was also given flowers, cards and Cracker Jacks! Grand gifts indeed.

But the best, and I mean really the best, was from a woman, I’ll call M, who I met at the treatment centre I work at. M has been clean and sober for a little over a year now, maybe even close to two. M is really hyper and has a hard time being inside her self. She doesn’t sit still, is jittery in her skin, and her hugs and touches are always more of a pat and run. Last night, M leaned over to me and said, "Jan, I have something for you". I smiled as she stood up, came over to me, found her feet and settled in to herself. M then took a deep breath and gave me a hug. A hug that was so strong, comfortable, and steady I could hear her heart beat. M held the hug and we got quiet together. We were present and still. Embracing the moment and each other.

I was so moved by this generous gift of presence. I believe, as I said earlier, this was the best gift I have ever received. Really. M made clear to me by her example, proving the point; that when we give of ourselves, we give what is truly important.

So, the next time I need to present a gift to anyone, be it birthday, christmas or cake, I hope to remember this experience. I want the courage of M. I hope I'll be willing and able to stand inside myself, breathe deep and offer a geniune hug from the heart. It was better than any thing could have been!

Thanks M.



Camp!
August 14 - 17, 2009

It is too hot to write! Really, it has been in the 30s and today in some places will reach 40 degrees. Now, for my American friends, that just translate to hot! But I don't want this notebook page to be about the weather, so I'll just mention the 4th Annual Bowen Island Push Hands Camp. For details check out the schedule page on this site.

I'm looking forward to camp this year. We are really going to play! I've been exploring connection and movement for a while, using the Yang curriculum as a vehicle. It has been a rich and powerful way to study this great art. At camp, we will take the lessons from the traditional drills and from our habits, we'll open them up to improvisation and play.

I'm excited to be bringing up Sifu Melinda Johnson from Seattle as a guest instructor for one day. Melinda and I have been playing together for over 15 years. Every time I touch in with her, my skill as a martial artist grows. I can't wait for her to share her skills and laughter with at this camp. (we will never be the same)!

Another part of the camp I'm looking forward to is the Talent Show. Pat Rice of A Taste of China fame in Virginia gave me the idea when I was at a seminar at her place in 2002. She encouraged each participant to share something with the group and I was amazed at the skills and talents folks brought out. At our talent shows we have laughed and cried, mostly laughed. Stories are told, art work is shown, poems are read, and I have to say the highlight for me has been the Michelle and Sheila show each year. I can't wait to see what they have in store for us this year.

Lunch will be served this year by my friend Monica. She promises wonderful and yummy meals. I know we won't be disappointed after all, some one else is doing the cooking!

With all the talk of lunch and talent shows, I haven't forgotten that the focus will be on the great play of Tai Chi and if the past is any indication - this year will be a blast.

It is not too late to register for camp - just do so soon as I need to let Monica know how many to feed. Contact me at 604-947-0888 or email me jan@janparkerarts.com


"stick, listen, and understand....
7/14/09

My singing teacher, Lynn said these particular words to me on Monday - “stick with it Jan”. “Find a way to support the sound”. “Good, you are listening, soon you’ll start to understand….”. No kidding. She even asked me to work towards having “no gaps or interruptions”. Really.

It takes most of my courage to step into my lesson with Lynn each week. There are times I feel foolish and very uncomfortable. Yet, I trust her knowledge and guidance and when she uses instruction like rest, support, stick, listen, and understand, my heart and spirit soar, even if my voice doesn’t. Principles are principles and bringing the exact same words, instructions and ideas used in the study of Tai Chi, in my singing lesson is pure joy.

On another note, (no pun intended) I am heading north to 100 Mile House with my student Dorian this weekend. We are meeting Anna, Lois and MaryLynn for three days of Tai Chi play. Four of us were classmates in 2002 during a three month training intensive on Bowen Island and since then, we try to get together at least once a year to train, laugh, and reconnect.

I’ve said it a thousand times before and I'll say it again today: Classmates are important in how you learn this art, and if you are lucky, they become friends. I’m lucky. This year Dorian, a graduate of the Mexican Tai Chi Intensive, is joining us. Perhaps next year, some of the graduates from the 2010 Yang Intensive will join us. I hope so!

I’ve stuck with the practice and learning of Tai Chi and my classmates over the years, as a result I have experienced huge rewards including having some good skills and wonderful friends.

I don’t know what is in store for me if I stick with singing lessons, but I have the feeling, I’d be missing out on a lot if I don’t.


Sappy but True


I was just outside with Cricket. It is early morning and the sounds of airplanes buzzing the island disturb the morning bird songs. A young girl is missing and there is a search party out. She was last seen leaving a party at 4am over the weekend.

The island is heavy with grief. Depending on who you speak to, there have been six or eight deaths on the island in the last few weeks. Everyone one of them involved alcohol.
It happens every June around graduation time in every town. Some of us were lucky and survived our teen years. Not all do.

I’m not sure I have the words to express what I really want to say here, so I’ll say thank you. Thank you to you who are reading this. We have this great opportunity to live today. We can study and love and laugh and move and create  and make a difference. I do not take that lightly, I doubt you do either.

The practice of Tai Chi and Qigong is healing. It is powerful and it is fun. I can’t believe I’ve participated in this practice for 24 years. It continues to keep my curiosity awake and my sense of wonder at the brink. I was told early in my practice that Tai Chi could change your character. It has changed mine. I am in a safe home, with a man I love. I am healthy. I make my living doing what I love. I have people around me who are willing to grow and explore the breath and depth of life with me.

I have made some good choices over the years. Thanks for being part of them.



I started the following as a letter in 1996. Some of you may have seen it before, and I hope you don’t mind taking it in again. If this is new to you, please know, I write this each year. I like making lists, and as I celebrate my birthday this week, (YAY!) I am using this medium to review how things are going. It is a way for me to show gratitude for the friends and family I have, and to keep my hopes and dreams real and in front of me.
Enjoy,
 
In May of 2009, what I know for sure is that home, friends, health, and laughter matter the most to me. I am wise to attend to these.

Today I am a lucky girl because:
1. I am married to Ken Parker who still makes me laugh. And even though he says that I never took to the leash, I am happily tethered to him.
2. All the critical parts of my body are intact and healthy.
3. I live in a safe and beautiful environment.
4. There are a few people who shout with glee when we meet.
5. I am a Canadian and a US Citizen.
6. I haven't had a drink in 25 years and my life is better for it.
7. I am not cold or hungry — and I have enough to share.
8. I am paid to teach, hence I am paid to learn.
9. People come to our home for a vacation.

A short list of things I've learned:
1. An education is an education, no matter how you get it.
3. Courage, intelligence and love are never out of place.
4. Error on the side of generosity.
5. A personal practice is personal.
6. Death is not the enemy.
7. Most big deals aren’t big.
8. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t say it mean.
9. There is always more to learn.
 
I am grateful for:
1. The home I share with Ken.
2. The Madrigals.
3. A notebook and pen.
4. Training partners, Art, Jim, Melinda, and Ed.
5. The Orchard.
6. Whoever has read this far.
7. Teachers Sam, Lynn, and April.
8. Morning check in.
9. Shared and given air miles
10. The circles that surround me, the Roughriders and the students of Yang study groups in Minnesota, Utah, Oregon, Massachusetts, Washington, and North Van, as well as the Tai Chi lab rats from all over the world I’ve had the fortune to work with.
11. This web site and John and Hansoo at Arkiom

I am surprised by:
1. How much I still miss my mother.
2. How easy it was to give up the long search for god.
3. How Gordon Campbell can be elected three times.
4. How hard it is to lose 10 pounds but more by why I care.
5. How simple life can be.

I'm still looking for:
1. An easy way to lose 10 pounds.
2. An opportunity to smoke.
3. A regular job chopping wood (but only for a 1/2 hour each day).
4. Someone else to do the cooking and cleaning around here.

I'm so glad to have:
1. A life-time companion.
2. A best friend.
3. A way to create art.
4. A friend to walk with.
5. A variety of Tai Chi shoes.
6. Teachers who inspires me.
7. A sense of curiosity.

I've finally let go of the desire to:
1. Jump out of a plane.
2. Ski in the Olympics.
3. Weigh 120 pounds.
4. Have a super clean house.

I'd still like to:
1. Change the name of the Roughrider Study group!
2. See qigong programs offered in treatment centres all around the world
3. Add to my tattoo
4. Watch a giraffe in the wild
5. Sing in public comfortably
6. See you walking down our driveway
7. Write my big idea that has been brewing for years

If I haven’t said it before, let me say it now:
I cherish the path we share. I’m grateful for my life and glad, dear reader, you are part of it.


Blessed Unrest! 5/07/09

“What are you working on now, Jan”, someone asked me last night. It is a question I get a lot. Usually I have an answer. Most of the time I am working on something specific, but yesterday I had to think about it.

What I’m working on right now — Nothing. Not a darn thing. I’m not working on anything. I’m not, working on keeping my shoulders down, I’m not working on finding balance or stillness, I’m not working on structure, not working on a book or one of the 10 important points. I’m not working on a quilt, a bead, a story, or a form. I’m not working on anything!

I have been playing a lot though. I’ve been enjoying the day, my husband, our dog, and Peet. I’ve had some interesting conversations, some wonderful walks, a good connection with an old/new friend, and I’ve been playing Tai Chi. I’ve been playing with glass, I’ve been playing music and I’ve been playing just to play. I haven’t been working on anything!

Martha Graham wrote to Agnes de Mille the following and I have been lost in it for a few days.
"There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive."

From time to time, I will hear a student say, they have been working so hard; yet they are still unhappy with their practice; their art. I have to say, I’ve rarely met anybody who is satisfied with their level of their practice or creativity. We are a society that tends toward "more, better and different". We are promised reward if we work hard enough and long enough.

This week my reward has been “divine dissatisfaction, blessed unrest” — I’ve been playing and I love it.




Here and Now or Then and Later
    4/30/09

I left the house at 7:10 this morning. It takes me just under an hour to walk to the Orchard and I love the walk, I enjoy the time alone.

Over the winter a large part of this walk was in the getting ready for it. Putting on the appropriate layers of clothing was essential as I trudged through the snow, at times in below freezing temperatures. Wearing long janes, mitts, scarf’s, sweaters, boots and wool socks kept me comfortable for the journey there and home.

Now, spring has finally come to our island, and it is as welcomed as seeing a good friend walk down our driveway for a chat. The demand for fancy footwork on this walk is less because the snow and ice has finally melted and the sun is rising earlier so I’m not walking in the dark anymore, but the clothing I wear for this walk is still a bit of a challenge. See at 7:15a.m. it is still somewhat chilly outside. So the question I need to ask before I walk out the door is; where and for how long do I want to be uncomfortable? Seriously, that is the question I ask myself in the morning. I know I will either be too cold or too hot on the walk at some point, so I need to choose which and get my brain around it.

Today the sun was peeking through the sky. If the day was to be anything like yesterday; I’d be pealing off my jacket and hat in no time, but the first 15 minutes of the walk I knew would be really cold if I chose to go without a scarf or gloves. Yet, coming home, an hour later, I’d be roasting and would have to carry my coat, hat or gloves. So, in prep, I ask myself, where and for how long do I want to be uncomfortable?

Paying attention to what I wear on a morning walk is a silly and small example of the choices we make each day. Yet, we make decisions all the time based on what we have learned from past experience. These choices inevitably affect our future. If we pay attention to these moments, I think the majority of our life will be grand.

What does all this have to do with anything? Maybe nothing - maybe this is it. Maybe this is an example of being present. I’ve been noticing how important it can be to prepare for the future, based on past experience, without losing awareness in the now.

As I read this again, I’m either enlightened, crazy or rambling. It doesn't matter, I've posted and now can go out to practice a little Tai Chi!



3/31/09
Yin or Yang? Active or passive? Sticking or letting go? The answer is, Yes.

Last weekend I was teaching a workshop, “What do you want?” a student asked, “You’re always talking about sticking, but you just told me to let go!” For a moment, I felt like my teaching must not be very clear. So I began to work with her, “Yes, stick… here, let go.”

As with most Tai Chi lessons, they relate to our life lessons. What should I hold on to, where and when do I stick, how and why do I let go?

Years ago, Ken and I read several books that had major influence on the way we have chosen to live our lives. One book was The Good Life, by Helen and Scott Nearing. The Nearings were people who lived simply and with mindfulness off the land they worked. The biggest lesson Ken and I took from this book was their 4-4-4 formula.

Like most people we are seeking a good life – a simple, balanced, satisfying life style. Our needs are food and shelter, (I’ll add massage) and when these are satisfied; we look to amenities like education, recreation and service that make life a bit more rewarding. The Nearing’s 4-4-4 formula is an ideal recipe for how to spend a day.

The formula recommends we spend 4 hours each day in what they call bread labour. This is the work we do for our basic essentials. It is what we to do each day to stay safe and well. Also 4 hours of professional activity is needed. Here is when we specialize our contribution to our community, family, and world. Then 4 hours should be dedicated to seeking fulfillment. This is the time we could spend playing music, dancing, working in the garden.
The challenge of the 4-4-4 formula is that most of us are not really clear as to what or how much of anything we really need. North Americans tend to think in terms of more! More money, more stuff, more time. To live mindfully, Ken and I had to find out how much and what kind of resources we actually needed in order to live the life we wanted. We then took it upon ourselves to meet those needs. Knowing what we need and sticking to these guidelines, has made it possible for us to be able and willing to let go of what we don’t need.

Let me take this back now to the lesson I gave last weekend. We need to absolutely stick to our work, our partner, and our ideals if we are to see any progress in martial arts and in life. And we need to be able to let go or change when the structure of our integrity is compromised. Commitment is important. Letting go appropriately is a skilled practice. Knowing when to do either is about timing. In push hands we get in trouble if we don’t stick and even more trouble if we hold on too long.

In life and in tai chi play knowing what and how much we need; and meeting those needs is vital to our being able to let go of what we don’t need.

So, the answer is clearly yes! Be able to stick! Be willing to let go!





3/19/09

I like making things. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved arts and crafts. I learned to quilt my first year of sobriety and in the last 25 years I’ve put together at least 30 quilts for friends and family. I was taught to spin wool as a physical therapy when my leg was hurt. It helped me get some movement and co-ordination back after a water skiing accident. Over the years I’ve spun enough wool for several sweaters, many hats and one beautiful afghan that Anne Masich crocheted for me. I collected cattails, reeds and willows because of a basket making class and have made a lot of very organic shaped baskets that drive Ken crazy. Lately of course, it has been glass that has kept my attention. I think playing with fire is about as cool as you can get.

Another aspect of crafting that I have taken for granted, are the tools I use to to create. I love starting with one material in a raw form, then with the right tool, a bit of time and know how, small scraps of fabric, rods of glass, or the sheared coat of a sheep can be transform into a warm blanket, a bead, or a sweater.

The tools we need to create are different depending on the way we create. A sewing machine, a spinning wheel, and a torch are the main tools for the art I make. All I have to add is a certain amount of creative juice that comes from my teachers and from what I discover over time with this equipment and I am able to make some cool stuff.

All this has me thinking because the kiln I use to make beads is broken. My fix it man Ken, has sent out for a replacement part but it hasn’t come in yet. I can make beads without the kiln, but they will crack and break sooner than later if they don’t get properly kiln annealed. I don’t make beads everyday, so you wouldn’t think I would care. I go through creative spells all the time. Some times I spend hours each day at the torch, and some weeks absolutely none. But, now that I can’t make beads, wow, do I want to!

This winter I didn’t make many beads and it was fine. Other activities kept me busy, I am still happily working on a beautiful orange quilt. But now, glass bead creations are filling my head. I am full of inspiration. I am thinking of different colour combos that would be fun to try, new shapes I want to explore and experiment with, the creative juice in me is on a run. As my friend heather suggests, it is like the lack of access has been a bit of an idea stimulator!

It is so typical that I fit into that old adage of wanting what you can’t have.

Lucky for me, I play Tai Chi. Martial arts is an extraordinary outlet that allows us to express creativity like no other. This weekend the Roughriders, an amazing group of dedicated Yang style die hards are coming Bowen Island for a four day training. The timing couldn’t be better. I can’t wait to see what we will create together as we take the time to dig deeper into this art. We will use the tools of the art and transform a raw interest into something really interesting.

Who knows, maybe one thing we will create is a new name for the group!





Push or Praise? 3/12/09 (happy B-day Koré)

There are two “games” I play each day. One is a memory game. Sort of like the TV show Match game of the 70’s. I am shown 20 squares of 10 shapes, colours or pictures quickly, they are then turned over and mixed up. I do my best to click on each square until I can “match” all 10 shapes. The other game is a math quiz. I get 10 “simple” math problems, like 5 X 7 or 6 -1 or 8 X 0, a clock is set and I am timed on how fast I can answer them, it doesn't matter if the answers are correct, speed is rewarded. I play both games because the math one is hard for me and I am learning as I work it, and the other is just plain fun.

What I find interesting about both the games is when I finish the games - one of them praises me when I finish no matter how I do “Good Job, that only took you 16 steps” - the other always encourages me to improve from the last time I played. “You did that in 42 seconds, see if you can beat your best time of 41 seconds” I think about this a lot. It is nice to hear Good Job! But, there have been times, when it really wasn’t a good job and I got the same feedback no matter. There is also the feeling, that no matter how well I do on one, I must strive for faster, better. There is something exhausting about feeling the need to always improve.

I remember being at a camp with Sam years ago at Rock Lake in eastern BC. We were working on this hip and waist turning thing (you might have heard of it)… the women next to me (I’ll call her Mary), was moving back and forth all wiggly here and there, like she was possessed. As far as I could tell, Mary had no concept of what we were doing.  Yet, each time, Sam walked by he would smile at her and say,” nice Mary, that’s the idea”. Then, he would come over to me and it was “no, not like that, nope, try again, no, no, no, no”!!!! I was ready to burst! I knew I was getting the concepts better than Mary, who as far as I could tell was hula dancing and not hip tracking… yet, she was getting the “nice job” comments. And me, well I couldn’t do any part of it well. I was so frustrated and a bit put out. I spoke with Sam about it, he knew I was upset. I asked him why? Why was he being so mean to me? Why couldn’t he see what I saw - surely I had a better understanding than Mary! Why wouldn’t he praise me???

His answer was… “Because I care about your Tai Chi Jan and you can do better”! I swallowed, yeah, but… Sam continued, “We will never see Mary again”. She had come to the camp on a lark, the week before, she was at a yoga workshop, from there she is was going to a healing touch seminar. This was her Tai Chi week. “She is not interested in the study of this art. You have committed to this path. You can do better and I want you to”.

This was a huge lesson for me.

Because of this experience I am constantly seeking a balance between pushing and praising. Of course we can all do better! Yet, there are times I really am giving the best I have. Master Jou says, “Make a little progress every day”. Let us acknowledge that progress from time to time!

I just returned from Salt Lake City, Utah. I teach a small and committed group of students there. Yes, they can do better. And Wow, have they improved!

So, I am calling out in particular the Utah group, but for all the hard work, practice and progress we find on this path. I say, Good job!



2/25/09

Can Tai Chi survive a recession?

In the current economic climate, with millions of people losing their homes and jobs, everyone is paying more attention to how, when and where we spend our money. Let me ask, is the study of Tai Chi the best way to spend a few bucks?

This has been a difficult and humble blog to write. I am very aware that my students support me. They make it possible for me to pay my bills. I know that when I am handed a cheque from a student, for a seminar, lesson, or CD, that they could be spending their money elsewhere. I am grateful not only for the support, but for the trust that is implied that our exchange will be fair. I do not take this lightly or for granted. I'm also not in it for the money!

Tai Chi teachers build classes over the years by word of mouth, trial and error and recommendations. We put up posters in health food stores, on community bulletin boards, we participate in local demonstrations, and offer informative talks to the public. We look constantly for rooms that are big enough and cheap enough to rent, and we hope enough students will come and stay, so that maybe it won’t cost us too much to teach this year! Yes, a lot of Tai Chi teachers pay to teach. Most teachers have another job that allow them some financial stability so they are able to teach. I know only one teacher that actually turned a student away for lack of funds. Most of us are willing to "work something out" if we need to. Please know, I am not complaining here. I am one of the few teachers that actually makes a living teaching Tai Chi. I am grateful and blessed. Yet, it hasn't always been that way. As Ken put it so well, - “After 20 years, you are an overnight sensation”!

So, when a Tai Chi class dies for lack of interest, it is one thing. When it dies for lack of funds — quite another. Sometimes, our interest dies when we can’t afford to participate. Recently, I heard of the demise of a Tai Chi program in Seattle. The parks and rec department cut the budget and a successful on-going class and good teacher were given the axe. Lately, I have had seminars canceled because “we just couldn’t get the registration”. Jim closed his dojo in Eugene this year. Is it lack of interest or lack of funds? Maybe a bit of both. Is it the economy?

Tai Chi classes will not be on the list of bail outs. They have never been subsidized. We support our own community and always have. Tai Chi people are generous, yet, in this economic downturn if one was to lose their job, home, or savings; of course we would have to start thinking about where to cut back. Maybe the money you spend each month on classes would seem like a good place to cut. Perhaps you’ll pass up a weekend seminar, thinking another one will come along soon, when times are better.

So, the point of this blog is to ask the question: Is Tai Chi a luxury or necessity? You have to answer that for yourself.

A lot of times when we are under stress, it is our own well being that is first to go. We lose sleep, quit exercising, eat on the run and most of the practices we have developed to help ourselves get though hard times are set aside in favour of  “important things that matter”.

I know the only constant is change and change is what the study of Tai Chi is all about. I wonder how in these stressful times, we can keep the ability to accept change without wavering in our commitments. Instead of backing off, let's we keep going. Perhaps it is time to really dig in. Maybe it is time to get some private lessons, sign up for a study group or an intensive training.

Don't give up your centre, your practice, or your class, in hard times. Keep your health and well being at the top of the list of priorities. Yang Luchan said, "I believe Tai Chi can save the nation". I believe it was true when he said it and I believe it is still relevant today.

I’m curious if in time, someone will look beyond the saving of a few bucks at the parks and rec department in Seattle. Maybe they will look at the seniors who are missing their class because of lack of money and not lack of interest. What will the true gain or loss be? We can never know the amazing insights and lessons we won’t get because the classroom, dojo or training hall is closed and empty.

Luxury or necessity? Your call. Please remember, practice time is free. This art is the great teacher. It will support you in hard times. So will this incredible community we have created together. Now is not the time to put your study on hold.

Thank you,
Jan



Feb. 17, 2009 (Happy Birthday Anna)!

Invest in loss - this instruction is a real puzzle as far as tai chi instructions go. I may not be able to drop my shoulder, but at least I know what it means!

Often I think I understand it when I get pushed over by someone and with a smile I save my ego with “investing in loss”! But, I’m pretty sure the lesson is bigger than me just trying to accept the loss of my balance. When Sana had her bicycle stolen, when I couldn’t find a special pair of earrings, even when our dog Lucy died: I resigned to these fates with the phrase “invest in loss”.  I'm not sure these events are what the phrase is meant for either, but, it is nice to have a fall back motto for the feeling of loss.

My computer hard drive gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago. I had a lot of chickens in this particular basket and when it was all gone; I sat staring at a blank screen and thought about the invest in loss lesson. Yikes! I started thinking of what I thought I HAD to have, then what I WANTED to have and finally I realized my computer is just a storage place for a different form of clutter, electronic clutter. I felt like I survived a fire, and my "stuff" had gone up in smoke. The convenience of having so much information in one small space is a blessing and also a bit of trouble if it goes missing. And like the ashes left from a fire, I had some clean up to do.

I spend a lot of time at the computer, sometimes, too much. I don’t play games or surf the web much. What I do on the computer is write, email, plan classes and book seminars. I also sell beads, and CD's, through my web site, and I design and layout a 12 page newsletter four times a year. Mostly though, I stay in touch with friends in Mexico, Minnesota, and McBride to name just a few.

I know my life is easier with the computer, but I don't really NEED anything on it. I have lost addresses and phone numbers and they sure would be handy to have. Same with the notes from all those workshops that were so amazing or the photos from my trip to Germany, but they are gone. The days of knowing my schedule by heart are over, I need to write things down or I forget to show up for the lesson or appointment and my calendar is clear for now! What I have found is, I know someone, somewhere who knows or has what I need and I just have to ask for it. The support I am given in my life extends to the tech world and the information I think is so important can actually be found elsewhere. No real loss, just inconvenience.

If I was to experience a real fire, my computer may not be the first thing I would grab, but it is on the list. Losing my hard drive and being lazy about backing it up, showed me in a very small way what it would be like to have a fire, and to lose some things I thought were very important.

I don't know any more about investing in loss than I did a few weeks ago. Perhaps it is time to start asking more about that particular instruction. I'm open to thoughts on the subject. What I have learned is my life is easier when I accept the reality of what it is. I've learned again, clutter is clutter - whether it is in a closet or on a computer.  And the best lesson I take from all this is my practice and understanding of tai chi can not be stored, backed-up or lost.

I send gratitude and thanks to Brian, Allyson, and Jim who made sure this loss was not such a huge investment!

Jan
P.S. I really did lose the contents of my address book. Please send me an email with your info if you want to get back in my new book! Thanks.




Must read! 1/28/09 (happy birthday Jen)

The books we have in our library tell a lot about ourselves. My friend Marion gives me a book each Christmas. She chooses from a selection of novels she has read over the year and picks one out for me. I like it. I rarely read novels. Reading is hard for me: I don’t like to waste time on, what Sandie calls ‘stupid girl books’. The books Marion gives me are anything but stupid. They tend more to the deep, engaging, and interesting. Sometimes a bit too deep or heavy. I can get lost in the vocabulary. I like the challenge though and think of the reading as a way to stretch my mind. I feel much more intellectual (smarter) when I read a book from Marion.

I read or should say have read, a lot of tai chi books. I like the “how to” books best. In the last few years the only tai chi books I really read, are the brown book and sometimes the red one. (for those of you that don’t know, I organize my books by colour). The brown book, Yang Family Secret Transmission, is the sort of bible of Yang tai chi. The red one, The Lost Tai Chi Classics from the Late Ching Dynasty, explains the history of Yang style as well as the classic tai chi writings. Both these books contain the instructions, the how and why of Yang style study. They are of course deep and wide and open to interpretation.

I am grateful for the English translation of these books. I think understanding the classic writings is a big part of our work as students of tai chi. Fortunately, my teacher, Sam has dug into these books in ways I never will. He explores the writings and translations like no one else I have seen. He translates these great books into great lessons I am able to better understand. He then encourages me to do my own reading as well, he told me once that the tai chi classics are a good investment of my time. I believe him. My first teacher Jim, read the Classics to us in class. That was also how I first heard of the 10 important principles Yang Chen Fu gave us. It was a few years into my study that I started reading these books for myself. Now I encourage my students to read them as well.

Yesterday I had a writing lesson. I love being a student. I can sit at the feet of a good teacher for years. I am like a sponge. I love learning. My new writing teacher, April, showed me a few books she uses in the craft of her writing. Then it came out. The little book was white. I bought it a few years ago, when I started to write, but I haven’t read it yet. Other writers have told me of it, yesterday was not the first time it was recommended to me. It was the first time, I was willing to pull it out and read from it though. Strunk and White - The Elements of Style. As soon as my fingers felt the pages, I got the very clear feeling this book is like the brown Yang Family book. Small, portable and full of inspiration, instructions, and guidelines. If I want to write well - Strunk and White is the classic book I must study.

Of course, reading about the art of tai chi is different from the practice of it - yet one informs the other. Both are part of the study. And most writers have told me that in order to write well, I must read a lot. Go figure!

I’d love it if you would drop me an line, let me know what are you reading right now. Is it something that is making your practice more interesting?



1/20/09

When you know your centre - your boundaries become very clear. I love this truth. I speak about it most everyday and am reminded of it when I am thrown.

I study life through this incredible art called Tai Chi. My moments of clarity, my conscience awareness, and every choice I make, whether it is what I say, see, hear or do, is influenced by my practice and involvement in the art.

It is easy to get distracted by drama, trauma, struggles and fear. Panic and fear can affect my behaviour and determine how I react to people, places or things. But knowing my centre, returning to it as quick as I can - by choosing my thoughts and actions from a space of comfort and centre makes my life and choices easier. How I am in the world is a sure fire way to look at how my practice is going.

I was accused of being a bully this week. I was confronted by something that is not right and not true. My first reaction was to ignore it. But, as we know if we set aside what is in front of us, sooner than later it will come back and we will to have face what we are offered. It is only by receiving force or dealing with reality, that we can chose to either hold it, throw it, smash it, hit it, or give it away, in others words, to resolve or transform it. So, we must look square in the face at whatever or whoever challenges us. As the harsh words and unjust action sunk in a bit, I was hurt and then started to get angry. I began to think of ways to “set things right”. I thought about going public, defending myself, do some name calling, justifying, and then even threatening (to myself) to do some real shin kicking.

It was nice this phase didn’t last long. I talked to those I love, got good advice and I found my centre (OK, I did grumble “asshole” once or twice), but I’m looking at progress not perfection. It didn’t take me too long to create the space I needed to see things. To listen and learn.

I am a lot of things - and, in this particular instance I was not a bully. Somebody attacked me out of their own panic and fear of loss. I am glad to say, although not everyone is happy yet, I am comfortable. I see my part, and I will make sure my actions cause no regrets. I am grateful for life’s lessons however they come. I know this too will pass.

Today is a new day. The U.S. has a new president. It is a good day and I don’t have to carry the anger and fear of anyone else. I don’t have to get even or prove my point and I don't have to be right. I will do what is right for me. I am grateful I can rest into substantial support square on when hit with conflict.

My centre shows me where I live. I happen to have a nice home.

Enjoy your practice,



Best Wishes!
1/7/09

Three of the Rough Riders (members of a Tai Chi study group) are either on their way, or already in Mexico. They and seven other Tai Chi players from around the world are going to study with my teacher, Sam in a three month Yang curriculum intensive. They will work four days a week, all day long, take three days to rest, recover and then do it again and again and again for 11 weeks.

It is an amazing way to study. I know, I participated in a Yang intensive with Sam and 10 others right here on Bowen Island in 2001 - 2002. I actually tried very hard to talk Sam into offering this particular intensive again on Bowen, but the warm weather of Mexico won out. It is probably better, as we have been having record snow fall and now flooding here.

There is something wonderful about a focused, long term, intense study. I feel my understanding of Yang style Tai Chi really took off after the intensive, but what I remember the most and with such love, are the people I shared that experience with. My classmates. No matter what art you study and no matter who your teachers are, it is your classmates that really make a difference. We get to choose our instructors and the subject to work on, but we have no say who else is in the class with us. Yet, it is those people who we have to work the lessons out with.

You may not know this about me, but I have a stubborn steak (some say it is a form of patience)! I am a Taurus and have strong opinions. I have my favourite training buddies and I confess there have been classmates that drove me nutty and rubbed me wrong. In some cases they were really hard to work with! I can only imagine how terrible I was to work when I held these grudges. That being said, I feel truly lucky in my classmates. I've studied and struggled and learned with the best. We shared an incredible experience over the three month intensive seven years ago and I wouldn't trade it for anything. We sweated together, shared sore legs, and worked really hard together. We backed up for each other when things got tough. And there were times, it was really tough.

We had times during our three month training that I will never forget. There was laughter, breakthroughs and breakdowns, as well as insights and even some smells that still either bring a smile to my face or a tear to my eye.

I have no regrets about not going to Mexico for this class. I am glad that I did participate once in this type of deep and focused training. I will think of the Tai Chi group in Mexico often (especially the Roughriders, Karin, Dorian and Ed). I send loads of good wishes to the participants of the 2009 Yang Style Intensive, I hope they are generous classmate to each other. I know if they let it, this experience will change them. I also send love and support to Sam who is teaching. He works hard for his students. Sam's take on Tai Chi is so deep, and he provides the best environment to learn in. I know he will again create a great space so classmates who haven't even met yet can come together and dig deep into the work.

Good luck everybody. We want to hear all about it!



Seeking stillness.
Christmas Eve 2008

I’m restless this week. We have a lot of snow (20 inches on the deck). This is unusual for us. Usually we get a little, we stay inside and then it melts. This year the snow has been around for over a week and as I write more is falling. It isn’t horrible, it is truly beautiful outside, yet it is not my “cup of tea”. I prefer winters that are a bit warmer with rain.

Because of the snow, I have been walking to the Orchard each morning. It is like a practice, a meditation for me. I am enjoying the beauty of nature on these walks. I leave the house in darkness and by the time I’m up the steep part of our road, the day is breaking. It is lovely.

Getting dressed for the cold walk takes time. I have to put on long janes, wool socks, boots, and hats, mitts and ear muffs before I leave. Layer upon layer of warm clothing gets me out the door. As I walk I start to see what I don’t need. The first thing to go was the ipod. A quiet walk is best. By the time I get to the treatment centre, I am covered in snow, but warm and settled. I peel off more of what is not needed for the class and I boldly ask the clients to breathe and stand inside their own skin.

This is difficult and painful for some. Especially if drugs and alcohol have played a big part in your life. Yet some days, I watch as somebody gets a little more comfortable and they smile inside themselves. It is a blessing and a gift to watch someone change. Of course not everyone can or will change. We got news the other day, of one man leaving treatment and only three days later he died of an over dose. I learned yesterday of a friends son being sentenced to 40 years in prison for crimes he committed while under the influnence. He is only 20 years old.

What do we have to do to be comfortable inside ourselves? What drama or trauma do we need to look square at and then somehow, let go of?  I know how hard this is. There are times, when I hold so tight to a resentment, that it is only by grace I stay in this world. I also stay, because I have learned to trust the process, and the practice of showing up again and again. I do my best to accept what the day hold for me.

During this holiday time, we all tend to pay more attention to those less fortunate than ourselves. We donate to our food banks, and we give our time in service, and our spare change to the Sally Anne kettle. We also spend too much on stuff we don’t need, and we eat too much, and drink too much. We indulge in excess.

This week take a moment and stand. Seek stillness. Get comfortable inside your own skin, even for a minute. Renew your commitment to participate in life through some kind of practice. Notice what you have, and what you need. If there is extra in your life, give and if you need anything please, ask for it.


keep on... 
12/19/08

I refer to my office at times as my cave. I spend a lot of time in it and it is full of stuff. On all the walls I have art work, photos, and lots of little pieces of paper with cool sayings on them stuck up with tape. Some of these pieces of paper I've written myself as inspiration and some are nice words I received from students and friends.

Some people would look in here and see clutter, I see a scrapbook full of memories and reminders that what I do is important.

One of the sayings on a scrap of paper near my desk says, "successful change requires abnormally intense, uninterrupted, concentration and repetition". It seems I am constantly trying to change, to get "better" at being myself, to better my skills. In reality I am as good as I can be today. We all are. If I could be "better", I would be. What I like about this phrase is - it continues to inspire me to keep on keeping on, even when what I'm doing is hard.

So in pursuit of the work I'd like to do, I will again start writing as practice. I got to the point with my writing that it was pretty easy, so I just expected it to be so, then I hit a wall. Actually I panicked at the pressure I put on myself. People told me they were reading my blog and as much as that was the point - it scared me a bit. I felt pressure to say something meaningful, teach some lesson, be brilliant! What happen instead is I quit writing. All or nothing, so typical eh?

Then I would look at that darn piece of scrap paper "successful change requires abnormally intense, uninterrupted, concentration and repetition".  In other words - practice.

The husband of one of my students who is a writer, gave me the much needed advice, "when you write, write. When you edit edit". Writing and Editing are different! This is my great lesson that I really need to practice. (I just rewrote that sentence three times) oops...

Write when you are writing - just write.

Let me take this to Tai Chi land, where I'm a tad more comfortable. When I practice, and I make a mistake, I don't stop and discuss it every time. If I do then I have to figure out a way to get started again. We all know starting is the hardest part of doing anything! Tai Chi is a movement art, so I must keep moving. Then I can find a way back to the transition where I stumbled and that is where I will learn. It is the place just before fluency, if I stop - I'd miss a great opportunity. When one parts move, they all move. In the 108, I like to linger or repeat one posture, section or idea again and again without losing the flow of the form. And surprise, it all gets figured out!

This is can be hard. (but who said Tai Chi is easy)?

 Over the years, I've learned to keep going. As Benjamin Zander says, the next time you make a mistake, yell, "how fascinating"! Writing for me, like Tai Chi, is learning through a zillion mistakes how fascinating something may be, if I just keep going. Like I said though, it is hard, my spelling mistakes make me want to stop, I watch the words go down and find that isn't at all what I wanted to say, so I tend to stop and figure out another word or phrase that may be better and before I know it, I've just spent 2 hours on one paragraph, or more likely, I quit.

Well. Steve, is a writer with lots of experience and so I will take his lesson and give it a go. I'll just write when I'm writing and edit when I edit. They are different skills and need to be respected as such. Will I look as foolish as a wooden chicken? Probably. Will my skill improve? Probably.

2009 is around the corner - this last year had everything in it. Great joy, and great sorrow. I'll bet the next year will too, and I want to be present for it all. Years ago, I tried to give up multi tasking - on the whole I did ok with it. This next year, I want to do the things that will improve my writing skills. I think I have a lot to say (I know this is a bold statement). I will listen to those that have more experience and skill than me. I will continue to put myself out there and keep going. Practice is practice.




Keep going 
11/5/08

When you have a practice, that is, a consistent one, every day will be different and each day can be the same. The routine or ritual surrounding a practice are as important as the work itself. Most of us have a favourite place and particular time we head out for our training and these places and moments hold our energy.

11/8/08

"I've been looking forward to class all day". I hear this comment a lot. People come into class and just the action of walking into the room, causes folks to breathe. I get this feeling when I lay on a massage table. It is the anticipation of what is to come. When I climb on the table and put my face against the flannel fabric of the head rest, I know it won't be long before I will "let go" of some stress, get some kinks worked out and that I will be supported and cared for in a comfortable way. This moment, is so good. I love it almost, (I said almost) as much as getting the massage itself.

Walking into a classroom, down to the beach, or where ever you train can have the same effect. The knowledge of knowing you are in a safe place, getting ready to do something wonderful for yourself and knowing that in an hour or so, you'll be different. It is a feeling we can look forward to.

I think a lot of the worlds people are in this place of "anticipated comfort" after the historic happenings in the states this week. But, we must remember, the excitement we feel before we raise our arms is one thing, the practice is another.

Continue to participate, show up, do your work. Enjoy the feelings you get  before you practice and embrace the benefits garnered because of one. Go outside and again and again, practice structure, harmony, and strength. Keep working towards balance and enjoy the great gift of change. Let's not miss any of it.

I look forward to progress and change, in my practice and in my world.




I get political this week...


Usually when talk of the upcoming election comes up - I turn a deaf ear. I prefer religion as a topic, but I received an absentee ballot for the US election last week and had to make a choice. I am one of six million U.S. citizens who are eligible to cast their vote from outside the country. I hate politics and am very cynical about the process and outcome of the election as well as the direction the U.S. is taking. I'm not sure I trust the process anymore, but it is what we have right now. So I put a stamp on the free election and sent off my choice.

Canadians go to the polls next week as well and I hope they choose a new prime minister. I'll vote here too, but, as in the states I'm not sure voting makes a difference. I wish we could vote "no" instead of holding our nose and choosing the lesser of  the crooks or worse, shaking our heads because someone like Sarah Palin could actually be in a position of power and leadership.

We know that in push hands play saying no, doesn't work in the long run. I don't think it works politically either. Saying no only buys a bit of time for the question or the problem (or the force) to come to us in another form. We have to participate, be willing to say yes to whatever comes our way whether it slaps us in the face, smells foul or is a smile from a loved one. We need to be willing to connect and participate, only then can we change it, accept it or walk away from it.

So I said yes, I voted, now I can choose what to do next. I've learned that when I make a good choice, I get to make another and when I make a bad choice, someone else starts making my decisions for me. As a sane, participating citizen of the world, I know my privilege and I am grateful for all I have and know. Today I am willing to take a stand. I'll encourage others as I have been encouraged - Vote - It may not make a difference, but your participating in life will.

"Stand inside yourself - it is truly how we will change the world".


 

10/1/08
I talk a lot about a life practice - having a practice that takes me though life. I am grateful I have a Tai Chi and Qigong practice to fall back on when life gets hard.
 
Jim Madras (of JanJimJam fame) wrote a nice article in his newsletter for the Natural Arts Center Dojo and I posted it on my "The Student Writes" page.  Take a few moments to read it. It's good. I'll bet all of us take away different insights from the things we read, and what I got out of Jim's post was a reminder that today is today and my training matters. Whatever comes with today, my practice is the back beat of my being, it helps me.

And I have needed the help the last couple of months.

I know life isn't always easy, or news isn't always good. But the last two months, (really just in August and September) sad events have made it difficult for me to remember to find the time, energy or even the will to "just practice". Yet, over the years I've learned to just do it anyway.

People we love are still hurting, I have feelings of helplessness and sorrow as death has taken friends, family members and pets. It is easy to worry and be fearful in the sadness, it is easy to make drama out of all the trauma. What is hard is to keep the back beat going, to practice. Experience tells me it is worth it. Experience tells me this too shall pass, so, today, I light a candle and dedicate my practice to Jim and Gary, Janice and Dorian, Dave Harris, Mike and Margaret, Lisa and her mum Barbara, and my dear Ken and our Lucy.



Most of the time I do my best to take what I learn in my tai chi lessons and practice, and bring those lessons into the rest of my life experiences.  And sometimes I wonder about the connection.

Like does it really help to rub your hands when you get angry or your ears if you crave something you don’t really need anymore. Does seeking stillness in movement bring tranquility to a restless mind and body? Is harmony really possible through the study of tai Chi? Can standing inside yourself really change the world?

Yes, is the answer to all of these questions. The lessons from practice do transfer to life experience. They always have and I believe always will. I continue to trust this process as it has served me time and time again. And yet, in good and easy times, certain lessons are one thing, in hard or sad times they become something else to work on indeed.

We all experience drama, trauma, joy and celebrations, health, injuries and death. There are countless opportunities and puzzles to figure out how to navigate our daily path.  And I am no master. In hard times I can be clumsy and awkward, but I do my best to know that my intent and purpose are clear.

I have the ability to learn from my practice on how to deal with life on lifes' terms and in turn I bring life lessons into my practice.

Here is what I’m working on these days......
Stay on my side of connection, bring my best to every interaction, error on the side of love and generosity, in life and practice have no regrets.

Life lessons indeed.

What are you working on?


The bravest woman I know ate a white bread sugar sandwich covered in blueberries and didn't even blink. Her Niagara qigong is very good. Her can head snap and she keeps her strength, she cries, she laughs, she dances and drives wooden cars on the autobahn.

The smartest woman I know holds her back, her front, her up, her down, she knows her centre, her boundaries are clear. Her feet are under her, she stands inside her self - it is how she has changed the world.

The strongest woman I know holds her love tight. Tight enough to let her go. She has to know she will never be alone and she will never be the same. Her structure supports her intention.


Where the mind goes, the qi will follow. The last couple weeks my qi, my heart and my love have been with people I love who are hurting. I am grateful for my strong legs and at times even the tension I hold in my shoulders have seem to help. The practice of giving support and allowing a resting in energy have been invaluable to me.

Our Tai Chi community is strong. It is full of incredible, loving people and I am grateful for each of you. I know our kind thoughts and this healing art make a difference in the world. This art of self cultivation I find impossible to do alone. I am grateful we don't have to.

Each of you have touched me and now I return the favour by a virtual 'touch in'. I'm here. Ask for what you need and don't be surprised when you get it.

Today - Ken and I are off to enjoy a wedding with the Parker family down in the states. It will be nice to see and visit with everyone, and yet, I may have some split energy as I continue to send great healing love to my family of creation. YOU!




Bliss Report!
8/17/08

Yesterday, I heard someone comment that summer was almost over! It is mid July and for me the summer is just getting started.

Ken and I had a wonderful time on our road trip up north. After getting over to Vancouver Island and seeing Orca on the way, we drove up to Port Hardy (including an unplanned but pleasant side track through Strathcona Park) and stopped in on our friend Koruger. Port Hardy is a small town that seemed to be holding an eagle convention, the glorious birds were everywhere. It was lovely to be in a place where you could walk everywhere, the library, the store, the beach. As we walked I think we saw more eagles in an hour than I've ever seen in all the time I spent in the states. These birds hold a majestic way about them and I loved watching them.

We left Port Hardy for Prince Rupert on board a ferry named the Northern Adventure. This ride took 15 hours (a bit longer with loading and unloading) and it was just wonderful. A swivel in our necks would have made turning our heads around and around much easier as we looked from scenic view to scenic view. We so enjoy the beauty BC offered us on this narrow passage. The posters and signs are right on with the slogan, Super, Natural British Columbia. Through the rain and clouds, we saw humpback whales, more orca, waterfalls, glaciers, incredible mountains peaks and more birds. I may hold the record for saying, "this is pretty" and a larger vocabulary would not have helped me describe the scene any better. It was just plain pretty. I would do this trip again and again.

With us, on the boat were close to a hundred First Nations Elders. They were traveling to Prince Rupert for an Elders conference. Watching them greet each other was interesting. Each time someone saw or met someone they either hadn't seen in a long time, or was just meeting for the first time, they smiled, hugged and held the hug for a good 5 seconds (I counted 1 - 1,000, 2 - 1,000...)  Go hug someone and see just how long that is! Then as they broke apart, they would look into each their eyes. I mean really look. Wow. Talk about making and keeping connection.

We traveled on by car for another week, visiting friends, exploring BC, singing with the radio and listening to TED talks on the ipod. Ever watching the scenery, we would try on the different places, and wonder if we could live there. (yes, was the answer often, especially around McBride). We watched for wildlife along the way and were not disappointed. We saw bears, moose, more eagles, rabbits, fox, even mice but no giraffes and I looked.

We had a ball. It was great to travel with Ken. We took our lesson from the Elders and made good connections, not only with each other, but with friends and the beautiful Province we live in.

Jan




25 years of wedded bliss!


There have been a few very right things I've done in my life.

Marrying Ken Parker on July 2, 1983, has been one of the best.

My life is better because I share it with Ken.

Happy Anniversary to us! We are off to celebrate with a road trip up north. I'm looking forward to riding in a car with Ken and singing along with the radio like only he and I can do!

It sure has been good so far and I believe the best is yet to be!

Thanks Ken, I love you!


I walked into my first Tai Chi class on June 24, 1986.

I had been moving in slow motion, around my house for a couple of years, waving my arms around, looking pretty creepy and asking just about anyone, who I saw, "do you know what this is?" No one did.

A lot of people I've talked to remember the first time they saw Tai Chi. Most people who practice the art remember their first lesson. Maybe they don't remember the exact date, but they remember some wonderful part of it or they had a feeling in the class that inspired them to keep going.

I remember it all! It was a big deal to me. I was so happy to be at the class. Jim Eisenman was moving so gentle and seemed so happy. My classmates, Anita, Don, Joey, Art and dear Darryla were delights. This class was like a family for me. It was a sane meeting place, a comfort zone in which to learn and laugh and study and stumble. It was one of the first times and places I went where drugs or alcohol were not a focus. I was in heaven.

We spent a lot of time warming up our bodies and calming our minds, then we took the next hour, to learn what I thought was just raising our arms and putting them down. At the end of the class, I had a hard time pushing the clutch in on my truck, my leg muscle fatigued. I hobbled up the steps to the house Ken and I had just rented in the town that would become our home for the next 10 years. Ken asked me how it was, I said wonderful. He said, "what did you do", I showed him. My hands went up and then they went down. "Why can't you walk then"? "I don't know", I replied.

Now, this morning, the morning of June 24, 2008, I celebrate that I am still raising my arms and putting them down.

 22 years and my legs are still sore!

What an adventure. What a journey,

Thank you to all the teachers, classmates, and students I've met on this path. I could have quit a million times without you and I'm so glad I didn't!



I Salute my Sifu - 8/10/08

I know it has been a while since I posted here. I appreciate all of you that let me know you missed these writings. I will do my best to make writing for this site a regular practice again - in the mean time, here is a writing I did in 1995 when I lived in Oregon. Sam was there to teach a weekend workshop and I was spying on him during his practice. These are thoughts I wrote near the beginning of my study with Sam.

Yesterday I attended another workshop with Sam, it was the last one I'll take from him before he moves from Canada to Germany. This is not the end of my study with Sam, I know I will have more classes and lessons with him in the future, but his move to Europe will change the way I study with him and I have to say I will miss him a lot.

Good Luck Sifu! Safe journey and Thank you.
Jan


November 1995

Sam is practicing on the deck and I am spying. He is doing the long form and he holds postures ever so slightly. He is beautiful. The movement is supported by love and time. Each movement is clear, calm, Zen like. I witness his lessons in his form.
It was on the 3rd brush knee he saw me. No qualities changed. His head, suspended, I see the effects of his breath - full on his back, his shirt wrinkles and straightens, inhales, exhales.

He moved out of my sight now, yet I know where his practice takes him. I feel his form, to apparent closure and my heart and eyes are satisfied to know he’ll be back this way with the repulse monkey.

I am excited about my life and the opportunities that are beginning. Imagine working closely and having access to this incredible teacher.

Take note Jan - you practice too fast.

The view though the window teases me. I see only his fingers extend and then like water he moves into view and then out again. I know practice time is private time and yet I steal this moment, his time and some energy. I try not to be obvious. He moves as I have. His spirit is strong. I’m missing the kicks - so I chance moving, sneaking a better look.

He looks at his watch as the 3rd section starts - he never misses his rhythm or cadence. Every posture is held ever so slightly. Maybe for a breath - every shape is round. He looks at foot work, posture. There are no approximations. He knows where his hands are, a result of practice and awareness.

I want to work with this man.

His wave hands really wrap around. He brings the knee up and then the toe.
Something happened in the push I don’t recognize, and then single whip, the snake get electric. Fa jing and two lotus kicks. Two!

I have tears in my eyes and feel so lucky to have watched this morning practice of Sam’s.
He makes more than movements - he is doing stuff.



Ego - you bet!
4/9/08


I want to reference Ekhart Tolle one more time, not only because he is popular right now, he has been popular with me for a while, and his insights are worth exploring. In one of his writings or talks, he said, anytime the word "my" is attached... ego is present, "my" car, "my" house, "my" work, "my" art.

Ego tends to come up a lot in this study. After all it is a study of our nature, habits and relationships. Over the years it has been a process for me just to recognize ego and to let go of the attachments I do cling to. But, I must say, after the last weekend training with the circle study group we call The Roughriders, I'm saying here and now, ego be damned...

You should see my students! I am proud as punch of them. (and very attached)!



Breathe! 3/21/08

In AA we use a lot of simple slogans. We use them, because they help. Phrases like "easy does it" and "one day at a time" are not just glib remarks, but are guidelines that help us to remember what is important. These slogans can help us to be able to look at a bigger picture for a longer time. If we can remember to "keep it simple" the days problems don't seem so huge. There are times, a deep answer or a complicated one will only serve to side track us from doing the work in front of us. This so called bumper sticker philosophy works well for me.

I have been accused of giving simple and flip answers sometimes when I teach. Especially when it comes to the breath. "In and out", I tend to advice when someone asks me how to breathe. "When in doubt, exhale" is another of my favorites and one I use a lot.

I stand by these simple catch phrases as instructions when we begin to go inside for the first time. I even stand by these instructions when we know ourselves pretty well. Eckart Tolle - says a great way to quite the mind is to ask yourself - "are you still breathing"? When I ask myself if I am still breathing - I find it to be almost a short cut, an easy way to find the stillness I seek inside me as a practice.

I don't know about you - but, I'm busy, I want a lot. I like to know and explore topics deep and wide. I'm a good student but, I have a very scattered mind and at the same time a very lazy one. Simple instructions help me.

My friend Jenny has a small sign in her car that just says, "Breathe". Catch phrases and slogans make sense to me, they remind me to settle in and I use them as corner stones to my comfort. When I pay attention to the simple, I realize I may not need the more complex. It is though this information and awareness that I can then choose how to explore something a bit deeper, be it sobriety or breath work.

I've been sober for almost 24 years - I've been mindful of my breath for most of that time. Both have been to my benefit, and both because I use some very simple and easy to remember slogans and phrases that help me.

Here's one, you may have heard, "This study is simple - it just isn't easy". I'll add, "it's worth it... if you work it"!

Another favorite saying of mine is, "give me the luxuries in life and I'll do without the necessities".  :)

Enjoy your practice and hey, "Keep it simple — breathe"!


Relax!
3/13/08    (happy birthday to Koré)

The last lesson I had with Sam - was very similar to some of the very first. We worked on sticking. Resting in and supporting the point of connection! It reminded me a bit of being in China at a seminar with Fu Zhong Wen in 1994. He gave a nice long lecture, and our translator told us, "he said, you need to relax".

As many times as we hear an instruction, there will be the time you hear it and something new clicks. All of a sudden (after 20 years) we understand a lesson at a new level. That is not to say we didn't "get it" before, but now, we work differently. My notebooks are full of the same notes, page after page reminding me of the guidelines and principles of tai chi, so I can understand again, and again, what I find so interesting about tai chi.

I really have never been bored with being told to relax or in hearing again, the importance of standing inside myself. That is because the words translate to an experience and I practice tai chi just for that experience no matter the depth or understanding I have on any given day. The first time I completed the 108 on my own was just as delicious as my morning practice was today. Same old form, yet deeper and richer from the effort of time and lessons and my willingness to stay present. I know that each lesson, and each practice tends to be just what I need at the time.

Just as important, I am reminded is that I understand what I understand, when I understand it and not a day or moment before I am ready. None of us do, no matter how many times we are told or shown something. Our level of understanding changes over the years and believe it or not, some of the errors I make today can be considered in some circles to be, "good tai chi".  We just continue to go deeper in this exploration.

This crazy tai chi is a journey. I love learning and digging and peeling the onion of understanding. During the last lesson, I don't think I heard anything that hadn't been said in a class before. Yet I still took almost 20 pages of notes over the course of four days! Now, as I review them, one note stands out among the others. Usually I draw stars and arrows by the notes that sing to me, and there are huge stars with all kinds of arrows pointing to a question Sam asked, almost in passing... "how do you gather information"?

What a great question to ask. Maybe after exploring that for a while, I'll ask Sam for another lesson. I'm guessing, I'll be told to relax!



AHA moments!    3/4/
08   

Has this ever happened to you?

You take a lesson - have a great light bulb moment and say - wow, I have enough to work on for the entire next year! Then, about a month later - during practice some other insight gets tagged and you think, ok, I should spend my time here for a while. Then, perhaps the next day, another lesson and a different topic rears its head -you follow that one, suddenly you remember the lesson from months ago - the one you were going to spend a year working on.

If it does — I’m sorry. Must be terrible. Not me, I set my course of study and stay on it...

Well, except for, MOST of the time!

It wasn’t so long ago - I was working on “supporting and resting” in connection - thinking I really want to/need to spend some time on it. Last week, I was keen on “flow and following” - yesterday - I was reminded about “moving more from the core”.

Very often, I think, if I could just spend some time here, it would make a big difference. I could really learn something... then, I’m off - onto a new way of looking at the either the same work or something totally different. At least I tend to stay in the Tai Chi realm. (want to see my new bead)?!

I think the ability to focus your practice is a real gift. I don’t have it. What I do have is persistence.

Yesterday, while working with my class mates, I had two really good "aha moments" - the kind where I knew it would be good for me to spend a few months focused on each, but then a mere 15 minutes later, another cool understanding came to the front.  I was reminded of a lesson I had a year or two ago. Oh - yeah, I thought, I was meaning to look at that. hmmmmm.

Sam use to talk of taking every lesson and soaking it all up as if you were a sponge. Then, at home you should wring out the lesson in a mason jar, put the lid on it, and put it on a shelf. Sooner or later, when you are ready, you ‘ll open up that jar (that lesson) and it will make sense to you. This I do.

I have so many “jars” and books full of lessons, filled with notes, and it is always my intent - but rarely my reality, that I spend the time needed to really work on every class or topic I’ve studied.

Please know, I do not take any lesson lightly. I do my best to practice, to dig and to study and because of this, what I have today is a lifetime practice, as well as a great curiosity and interest in this art. I’ve never been bored. There is just so much to study and to think about and to try. I get excited about one topic — only to get sidetracked by another. (no wonder I don’t study Bagua or Xingyi). The Yang curriculum is big, my plate is full.

I love old lessons rearing their heads. I do have enough material to work on for the rest of my life - and yet, I still seek new lessons. I love this shit. (oops, I probably shouldn’t say that, but hey if you are reading this, I think you know what I mean).


In training and in real  2/28/08

My friend Linda wants to get a tatoo of two ducks. She said it would remind her always that life is just "a pair of ducks" or a paradox.... get it?  Great symbol eh?

In tai chi we are constantly moving between yin and yang, learning and knowing, moving and standing, yes and no. Paradox!

I've asked some of my students the question Kim Ivy asked in her 100 day practice... what makes practice, practice? How is practice different from exercise?

I love the answers I'm hearing - I'll share them all soon. In the mean time, what is really cool is not so much the answers, but the thinking and conversations that are being generated by the question.

This morning I woke up asking a new question of myself. OK - it isn't a new question, I've asked it a thousand times. Today I want to look at it again, with new eyes because I have new information. The question is, "what do I want out of my training"? There was a time, I remember telling Sam, "I want to learn to fight". That is not true for me anymore. Then tere was a time my answer was, "I want to be a martial artist, not just study martial arts". Again, this is moving. 

One thing I love about training, is in how we start and stop. Sometimes I'll set a timer and for 5 or 15 minutes, romp and play until the timer goes off, or at anytime, with any of the partners I'm working with, we can stop (no matter the intensity) with just a tap. We will let it all go in an instant, if one of us taps out. With good partners, I can also just ask to work on "X,Y, or Z" and if we verve off in a new direction, we have the choice to bring it back or carry on. Always in my training, I am in a safe and learning environment. This I love. Being able to go to an edge, physically, energetically or emotionally and returning to centre.

I'm told, a phrase Professor Presas, founder of Modern Arnis use to use was, "in real".... meaning in training it is one way, "in real" life situations, it may be different. In training with sticks, you hit the stick, in real, you would hit the hand or the _______ fill in the blank.

I'm thinking the biggest difference between training and "in real" is how we end the dialogue. In real, tapping out would not stop someone with intent to harm. In real, I would have to find another way.

This is why I like training.

I am not interested these days in opponents but I am interest in training partners. I am not interested in fighting, but in playing.

My paradox today — I am a martial artist with absolutely no interest in fighting. I work towards knowing what is real, but I do not want to have to know "in real".

Safe and fun training,


02/20/08

I’m home from my latest teaching tour now. I had the opportunity to share skills in three cities in 10 days!

When I go on the road teaching, a part I love the best is staying at the homes of friends. In California I stayed in a very busy home full of love, children, video games, pets and laughter, there also was one of those great massage chairs. After class, I would sit and let the chair do the work of softening my muscles and as I sank in deep, I got out of helping with the cooking and the dishes. Being in San Francisco in February is a good gig. The weather was beautiful, and I really enjoyed the students who were keen to new ideas and hard work.

Then I flew into Eugene, OR. I use to live there, so I always ask if we can find time to browse Smiths book store. I’m part of a 100 days practice now and reading everyday is part of my commitment. Believe it or not, I’m reading Dr. Yang Jwing Ming. For years I found his work too heavy for me. Now, either I’m starting to understand his writing, or he is not as technical as he use to be. No matter, I like his qigong for massage book now. When I’m in Oregon, I stay with Jim of JanJimJam fame. Jim encourages me to keep reading Dr. Yang’s work and we all need someone to support us on the tasks we don’t always find easy. At Jim and heather's home, it is fun to sit together at their table into the wee hours, all of us have our laptops open as we chat. The group there was in demo mode for the Asian Celebration held in Eugene for the last 20 years. I heard they did great. I got to have dinner with my first teacher Jim Eisenman as well, he and his wife are getting ready to be grandparents. Time passes eh?

With only a few airline struggles I made it to Minneapolis. It is no secret that I really love working with the Minnesota, City of Lakes Tai Chi group.

I am 52 years old. I still expect to see new things, taste new foods, hear new sounds, but nothing prepared me for feeling a new sensation. Minnesota was -10F. I have never felt that kind of cold before. It was crisp, clear and in the bones cold. I found myself loving it, opening my arms and turning my face to the sky to feel it. It was exhilarating. Now, I don’t want to live in that kind of weather, but I’m happy I got to experience it. In Tai Chi we train the middle range, but I think it is necessary to experience the extremes as well - be it cold, fear, heat or love. Hard to sustain, but having access to all sensations is a true delight in being alive.

I’d like to thank my hosts, Allyson and Leslie, Jim and heather and Tom and Cecily. This tour was a blast. Thanks also to everyone who took the time out of their schedule to attend the seminars, classes and private lessons. I’d love any feedback or insights you care to offer. And thanks again to those who bought a copy of the Yang Push Hands Reference CD and/or a pretty glass bead!

It is good to be home,




JanJimJam 2/6/08

I’ve been playing Tai Chi with Jim Madras since 1995. He came to a Sam workshop in Eugene, OR and Sam suggested he study with me. Over the years, we have moved from teacher-student to classmates, friends and peers. We have shared a lot of laughs and adventures together including classes, workshops, the three month Yang intensive in 2001, we even write together.  We both love Tai Chi. Jim and I good training partners and we all know, good training partners are vital if you want to progress. I like to bounce ideas and concepts off of him and when I really have a Tai Chi puzzle it is Jim I cross arms with to dig for an answer. There are times we actually know what the other is thinking. Truth be told, I think of Jim like a brother.

Last summer we co-taught the “88” Attack ad Defend form in four days on Bowen Island and I hope he joins me again at the next August camp where the topic will be “An Introduction to Sabre, Sword and Spear”.

I'm traveling again this week. I'll be teaching in California for the first time, and I'll return to play with the awesome gang at City Of Lakes Tai Chi in Minnesota. In between those two cities I'll stop in Oregon to co-teach with Jim again. We’re calling it a JanJimJam!

All of this is my way of announcing a really special JanJimJam project.

Last September, we filmed the Yang style push hands material, and the video is now available on CD. The videos are a reference for students who have already been introduced to the material — they aren’t meant to be instructional. The idea is that they will serve as gentle reminders for times when you’re thinking “how does #7 go again?”, or “what does B do after Raise Hands in the 88?” — stuff like that. With that in mind we created a notebook-like environment, where you can easily flip to the page or drill you need.  If I do say so myself, it turned out pretty good.

Even though this is a joint project, I have to say Jim did most of the work making it really happen. And if you are reading this Jim, Thanks! You did good.

We have a web site up www.janjimjam.com with information on JanJimJam and we’ll post other projects we have in the works. Check it out. You can let me or Jim know if you are interested in the CD and we'll send you one and I'll have it available on JanParkerArts as well.

Enjoy your practice and thanks for the support you have shown us as we continue on this path. The best advice I 'd give a Tai Chi player these days... get a good training partner, like Jim!

 



1/30/08
Right now, there are 12 messages in my "inbox" that I need to respond to. Some of these e-mails have been staring at me for weeks and I admit I'm having trouble responding because my response is important and my communication skills need to be clear. See, of the 12 messages, eight are questions sent to me by students. Questions I encourage, and love, and want. Questions about practice, Tai Chi in general, as well as specific and personal insights. All are asking for discussion and feedback. All will require a different level of skill than if I just crossed hands with them. Yet, I want the result to be as positive and thought provoking as a face to face lesson would be.

Teaching Tai Chi is a privilege, an honour and a challenge. The art is passed teacher to student, and if I may, it is a lot like making a glass bead, the method is the same, yet, each bead comes out different. Every student who comes to Tai Chi, comes for a different reason and our method of interaction is different as well. Some students I only talk to at class, some we e-mail, some we chat on the phone, some become friends, some stay a long time, and others leave when they get what they came for, or realize the timing isn't right for our interaction. I cherish and value all of them.

I've said before, Tai Chi has been my education. It is the vehicle I use to explore just about everything. Of course, I have my preference and believe my strongest skills are best showcased when we are face to face. For me, the deep lessons come through touch. Writing and reading about Tai Chi is a vital and important component to learning this art, but it is not my strong suit. I struggle with the written word. But like so many things we struggle with, I am drawn to it. This year, I plan to spend more time reading and writing about Tai Chi.

So, if you are one of those students with a question sitting in my "inbox", be patient - I will reply. I am practicing the challenge of communicating this art through the written word and I may be clumsy for a while as I work on it, but I am committed and we know practice makes everything easier. In the mean time, please, keep writing, keep asking and keep practicing. I will too.


Salute!
- 1/15/08

When ever I think of people who influenced me, I think of my husband and martial arts instructors first. Of course there were others, mentors, teachers, bosses and friends that impressed me in a positive way. There were also times I slipped through the cracks and was influenced by not so stellar folks. I heard once, that Frank Lloyd Wright said, "if you are to only have one teacher, do not have teachers and if you will only read one book, do not read books". For awhile, I had no teachers and no books in my life. I spent a lot of time reacting to past events, not thinking and not standing inside myself.

I am happy to say the study of Tai Chi changed me. I am different because of this art and I am grateful to the people who came before me, to my teachers and class mates and students who travel this road with me. And I'm not just being sappy for no reason, this week, I'd like to honor and call out the name of someone who made a positive difference in my life at a time when I really needed it.

The combination of a co-worker, my father, the magic of google, and my amazing web site (thanks Arkiom) made the world small again and I got an e-mail from one of my first mentors last week.

Dale Garcia and I met in the early 80s. Dale hired me as a technical illustrator after my first marriage broke up and I was starting out again. If I remember correctly, he had interviewed over 35 people for this particular position and I was the last interview on the last day. To my good fortune he was tired of the process and to be honest, I think his wife told him to give me the job, because I needed the work. Either way, I was grateful. I wasn't really qualified for the job, but I was keen, interested in the work and I really needed the job. Dale was a talented illustrator who taught a left handed dyslexic to set type and use a rapidograph pen, no small accomplishment! He was a kind boss and became a good friend. I am delighted he is back in my life. Dale kept me laughing when we worked together. He has a compassionate and smart ass sense of humor and a way about him, that come to think of it, might have had a hand in how I developed some of my own teaching chops!

Dale came into my life at just the right time for me, he taught me things I still hold dear. We never know when or how we touch and influence someone. This is a huge lesson for me and a reminder to bring my best to every situation everyday. Dale took a chance on me when I needed one. I salute him today, the way I salute my martial arts instructors, with respect and gratitude.



1/8/08

Right now, I really am excited about how powerful movement is and in particular the healing qualities of qigong. The problem is my experience and knowledge is just that, it's mine. I can’t make people do what they don’t want to do even though I just know it will help. At the O, where I teach qigong each morning, very few of the clients are participating in the class right now. I am frustrated by this for lots of reasons, but the most important one is, qigong doesn’t work if you don’t do it.

I believe, if people are set in mindful motion, they can heal themselves. I know we carry wisdom in our bodies. We carry memories and we carry the medicine for what ails us. We can move our way to sanity. We can move our way to clarity. Baffled and confused, we can move our way to knowing the next right thing. I know this to be true, because it is my truth.

Now, I have taught many classes over the last 20 years to empty rooms and I have taught my fair share to folks who do show up and don’t want to learn. I have also known the greatest joy of being able to share an understanding and pass a skill or a tool on that really helped a person, and I’ve had the great pleasure of witnessing someone whose life changed because of this art.

So, I was sad, mad and frustrated this morning, when I walked out of the O past folks who put their head down and hid their eyes so as not to connect with me, as they puff on another cigarette or feign sleeping, while they killed time, waiting for the “scheduled treatment” of the day to begin. Today, I walked out of the O, with a “why bother”, attitude.

Now, I know, if you are like me, you don’t want your teacher saying things like, “Why bother”... and believe me, I hate feeling that way. So, I take my own lesson today and I keep moving. I continue on with my practice and I stay on my road to wellness. I give thanks for the greatest lesson I have ever learned — the wise saying of “This too shall pass”.


12/31/07

The motto for the year is "Discouver". The first thing I want to discouver is if there is a u in the word. Up here in Canada, they add u’s to different words just for fun. Like colour, neighbour, and my inclination is to write discouver, but the spell check says no u.  Might have an American spell check though, so, right after writing this I’ll look up the spelling. Before all that I want to tell you a bit about some of the mottoes Ken and I choose each year and why.

We like to set intention each year. The first motto we chose, I remember was years ago. I don’t know the year exactly, but the motto was, “put the top down”. I wanted a convertible at the time. Looking back on that year, I didn’t get the car, but we had a really fun year. Another memorable motto was “full tilt bogey” - that was a crazy year, full on and fast. The year we moved to Canada, the motto was, “a new direction”, say that three times fast and just see the trouble you can get in... We’ve had a motto most years, some really stand out and others fade away, I’ve been trying to remember last years... I remember “put the big rocks in first” - a take on the story of paying attention to what is important and the “smaller, other stuff will take care of itself. Then my favorite and one we will repeat one day, “I would, but I’ve got a cat on my lap”, the exact opposite of Full Tilt Bogey!

Usually around Christmas time, we start talking about mottoes. We throw out suggestions, do an I Ching reading, talk of how we’d like to see the next year unfold, we look back at the last year and notice the way it went, both the good and bad parts. - Ah ha, I remember the motto for 2007 now. It was “a little here, a little there”. Funny, how it just slipped back in my mind and how looking back on 2007, it was the perfect motto for us. Ken and I both spent a little time at home and a little time away from home. (we both like the home time best).

2008 - DISCOVER - no u.  I am looking for a sense of wonder this year. I want to discover the obvious and the not so obvious, the simple, optimistic, and to-the-point.. I want to be surprised often, to laugh with Ken, friends and family, to be real and authentic in what I do and think. I want to learn my lessons. I look forward to discovering again and again what I know and what I don’t know about myself by being present and awake. I don’t want to miss anything!

Happy new year,

Janparker



 

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