Internet Gurus

Bill who?

An Essay on the subject of Bill Douglas: July 2014

Okay, first of all I don't really know
personally who Bill Douglas is, but what I do know is that he's the organiser of world Tai Chi and Qigong day and clearly an expert in Internet self-promotion, T-shirt sales and networking, since he’s been sending me e-mails in profuse quantities for at least 8 years. Normally I delete most of my e-mails but there's at least 100 from him in my inbox. I did participate in world Tai Chi and Qigong day for a couple of years; some of my students still wear the shirts.

I once e-mailed him in response to something he sent in which he suggested that in his opinion it was appropriate to vertically align the 3 Dantiens of the body with the weight more to the heels than on to the front of the foot. I suggested to him that this was not something that I could ever agree with and pointed out a number of technical reasons why it is in general widespread practice, even common knowledge, (ask an acupuncturist), that in standing practice to develop Qi the weight should be forwards in the ball of the foot area generally considered to be Yong Quan, often translated as bubbling spring, because that's where the force gets into the body from the Earth.

There's so much to this possible conversation that it would form the basis for a book in its own right, something I don't really have time to do right now. Let's just try and condense the main points for the moment. Like Bill, I spent the last 30 years of my life studying and teaching Tai Chi and Qigong: most of them with the late Dr Shen Hongxun, born in Shanghai in 1939, who as a child lived just down the street from Tian Shao Lin and used to watch him practising, who started studying Tai Chi with Prof Yao Huan Zhi at the age of 8 or 9 and who’s Tai Chi and Qigong knowledge and abilities in both my opinion and observation greatly surpassed those of any other so-called teacher or master in the modern world.

Nowadays people think Qi means breath, energy force, vitality, but back in the old days the world was divided into the tangible and intangible, known and the unknown, Xing and Qi. Zillions of people all round the world study Tai Chi and Qigong but not even 1% of them actually have the experience of moving Qi inside their body, mostly because they don't have access to well enough informed tuition. The devil is in the detail; practising for 10 years diligently with the bodyweight mostly supported on the heels or the back part of the foot will never, in any world, bring as much benefit, as much amplification of the Qi function of the body as 6 months spent practising with the weight forwards. This is a simple technical fact in my world; it's demonstrably how it works.

In the early 90s I wrote and published an article in the National Great Britain Tai Chi magazine (Google TCUGB) which was a factual account of my experiences at a Tai Chi 37 seminar with Dr. Shen. It included reference to and descriptions of the use and of the results of empty force, spontaneous movement, vibration force, information transmission and other sophisticated Tai Chi techniques. As a result of the publication of that article I was pilloried in the press and both insulted and assaulted by other Taiji teachers. I told the truth and what I described was so far beyond their event horizons it was considered to be offensive, blasphemy, stupidity, brainwashing. I watched experienced competent martial artists come to classes, be thrown around the room without being touched, have extraordinary profound emotional and mental and physical cleansing experiences as a result of the application of these techniques and simply leave denying that it ever happened, because it was more than their minds were able to accept or absorb at the time.

I admire and respect the wishes of the majority of Tai Chi & Qigong practitioners to better themselves and the world around them and to live in harmony. After all, it's one of the things I live for. However, again harking back to the old days, Tai Chi and Qigong were weapons grade technology. The biomechanics, physical energetic and mental training that made them legendary as a martial art in the late 19th and early 20th century were fiercely guarded secrets. Even my teacher had to marry his teacher's daughter in order to get access to that secret special internal family knowledge. Chuckle now, yes, we see that all the time, more or less everyone says that on the Internet. The trouble with the Internet is  {for example}  nobody knows you’re a dog.  :-)

I personally know a (by some) well regarded and widely published Internet Tai Chi Master and Authority who is in fact a liar, a cheat and a fraud. The truth does not come from a computer screen, book or DVD: it comes from human experience, interaction and transmission of knowledge. This is what lineage really means, not just your family tree but who you learnt from and whether they really knew anything worth learning. This also helps explain the “mines bigger than yours” phenomenon: no-one wants to hear that they invested years in the low budget stuff, but that’s whats widely available and offered as good.

So I can't help but find it a bit arrogant when I get these e-mails from someone I've never met and don't really know, moaning about how their book was badly reviewed and how it must mean that all Tai Chi teachers are out to get and destroy each other. Obviously I like to find out what I can, so I went and read some of the book provided and I looked at some of the videos and I have to confess that whilst the content used all the right words, several of them even in the right context, the demonstrations were pretty mediocre. It's kind of hard to trust someone who talks about using the Dantien and turning the waist but actually just folds their Gua / hip joint. Maybe it's just a matter of experience: maybe it's just a matter of degree: Bill says that under certain circumstances the Dantien can be felt lightly. I say from my experience that a fully activated Dantien can throw you (and other people) around the room in ways that you couldn't believe possible and you don't even know how it's happening; then over time you can learn to gradually control and refine it, developing what I shall refer to as industrial grade Qi, and by that I mean lots of it.

So here we are, a bunch of random thoughts. Yes, Taiji and Qigong are great for people and they can have marvellous and life changing results, but the dilutions of that once secret and concentrated knowledge from a small group of experts in China to several million people worldwide has in many senses reduced its function to almost nothing. I'm not really interested in Tai Chi that is about as good for you as walking or jogging or doing aerobics or bloody Pilates, (see the 10 year study by the prestigious American Sports Medical Association, published about a year ago in the Times, that said Pilates has no meaningful results)  

I'm interested in Tai Chi and Qigong that grabs hold of the insides of your body and moves them around, that integrates your force with the Earth Force and vibrates you, that connects with the celestial forces of the stars, that is based on the fundamental and inescapable analysis and principles of yin and yang, so that  {for example}  when you sink your legs you also raise the crown of your head and stretch the spine, on the real activation of a real TANGIBLE Dantien that moves you and stuff inside you around and makes the nature of your body change, that pushes old stagnant negative Qi out, that cleanses and changes your emotions and brightens your spirit. 

Sadly, much as I would like to believe it to be true, I'm absolutely certain, based on 30 years of practice and observation, that the modern, well wishing, arm waving fluffy Taiji, coupled with positive thinking and feeling good about the universe in the “Californian style" is not going to lead to people experiencing any of these things. In exactly the same way, the “look at us big boys pretending to be sumo wrestlers while doing competition” Tai Chi using big muscles, small brains and no yielding, sensitivity or concept of internal force is absolutely not going to get it either. And that's because they both forgot the fundamental thing that Tai Chi is: the physical practice and the manifestation, understanding and manipulation of the balance of yin and yang.

Too hard, too rigidly structured, too tense, too regimented, it doesn't work. Equally, without accurate structure, well-defined understanding of the component parts, detailed tuition as to how to put them together, organisation and discipline, it doesn't work either: Where is the balance between relaxation and concentration, expansion and contraction, soft and hard?      

If it isn’t Yin & Yang, it sure ain’t Taiji.

Language is a complex thing and never as synchronous between people as we might hope, particularly when they are separated by an ocean and different cultures. We can easily prove this: think of the colour blue, actually, better still, don't think of the colour blue. In order not to think of it you have to look up inside your mind and see some kind of blue so you can know you're not thinking about it. Now, what do you think the chances are that it's the same colour blue I didn't see?  Zero.

I love Taiji and Qigong and have devoted my life to them. I've helped change the lives of thousands of people for the better: made their bodies stronger, sent away their sicknesses and pain, opened new horizons for their minds to move into, helped them get rid of old emotions, change and grow as people and develop new lives, quite often without them even noticing. Sounds grand but it's true. Did I get well paid for this? Not really, I got a roof over my head, food on the table, no sick pay, no pension, enough money to cover my study and travel fees, a few bob left over to buy a computer so I can write stuff. There were plenty of times I didn't even want to be a Tai Chi teacher, but life kind of made me float that way. What I did get, through a combination of good fortune and dumb perseverance, was a life in which I answer to no one but myself and my conscience, which is pretty much clear because I follow the simple sutra of my late Teacher { Do No Evil }.  I do more or less what I want more or less when within the modest resources I have, and have been blessed with long-term access to a living treasury of Taiji knowledge that enables me to continue to exist, survive and share. 

Like everyone I have those occasional fantasies or dreams in which I have zillions of students and piles of money but then I remember the wise words of my teacher. “The fattest pig is the one most in danger at barbecue time". Compared to most of the world I am quite wealthy, spiritually blessed and modestly content, thank you.

So I hope you'll forgive me, Bill, in as much as I find your abundance of e-mails announcing that your book/videos is such a huge gift to the world of Tai Chi to be a bit overly self indulgent, your complaints about your negative book review to be a bit whiny and your video Tai Chi demonstration to be a bit lacking in technique, but in some kind of feeble attempt to extend the encouraging hand of commonality I'll tell you what I'll do to help you out. 

You send me a copy of your book and I'll review it for you: I won't send the review to Amazon, I'll send it to you, then if you like it you can publish it and if you don't you can throw it in the bin.

Fair enough?