Important note on how to read this journal

Important Internal Arts Note: A lot of my notes about xingyi, taiji and other interal arts will not make sense if you don’t have an experience with internal energetic work. The idea of placing a basket over a tree behind your partner, for example, will make no sense.

If you are curious about this next stage of work, start with standing post (Zhàn zhuāng | 站桩) work. Once you do some standing and sinking practice or find someone who can show a few things these metaphors/intentions/ways of adjusting awareness will make more sense.

I just wanted to make this note so people weren’t trying to figure out how to make physical gestures based on what I’m describing. Of course, see also “the purpose of this journal”.

The purpose of this journal

All of my friends and senior students of (zìránmén | 自然门) in China kept journals/logs of every session of training. (They were often training twice a day when everyone was in town.) These little notes were a great way to keep an eye on refinements when (Shīfù | 师傅) dished them out, and we often shared what we learned through our notes. Just for fun I’ll throw a few of my daily notes up here, both to keep myself on track and to perhaps provide a resource for others.

2023-12-14 YiChuan

Foot pointing forward during rotations
Blade foot when going side to side
Start w toes just like fingertips energy – ma gathong is dynamic – tiqie for standing leg
Transitions – still flowing all through them
Arm is just a rope – nothing there – for ti and peng
An – fingers of hand like paintbrush moving down a wall – fingers out and slightly up
When outside force, push, comes: response is just to increase Tiqie
Thinking mind brings the energy up into the chest and shoulders – notice and return to body center

Andrew Plack Yiquan Visit 2021-10-03

Unfortunately I was only able to attend one day of Andrew Plack’s 3 day Yiquan training this time around. My shoulder, nerve and arm injuries are starting to heal but I wanted to be careful not to overdo it. That said, there were some great tiny insights – little pointers in the right context and in the right moment that can be the key to new experiential ah-ha moments. Some of these notes are very similar to notes I took during his last visit.

Be like a child playing

Let yourself swing your arms too far, too little. Extend too much, too little. Avoid overthinking and let your body play its way to the right place by playing like a child.


To try to imitate the trainer is to fail. To not imitate at all is also to fail.

Middle Space

Always the middle space. In this case, I was fiercely focused on ju long, with my arms completely loose – loose with no connection. The only alternative felt like tightening up. What is the middle space between body and muscles completely limp and too tight? Between being tense and relaxed?

Only the Hands

Try putting all intention in the fingertips, and just beyond. Relax shoulders, arms, elbows and let them vanish.

Zhuang Tai vs Ju Long

I still can’t seem to find the characters or pinyin for these words, but they are repeated endlessly in practice. From my very weak understanding so far: Zhuang Tai is the state of effortless readiness. Being like an animal in the wild – the way a squirrel is always alert, ready, can move instantly at any moment. The state we are in when we are about to run and someone says, “ready… set…” and we in the state that second before movement. Ju Long is the movement that is happening at the center, that can be tested by quickly lifting the feet, ready to move at any moment, like a little walking person at your core – “movement in stillness” because this is happening as we appear to be still. With both(?) there is a repeated reminder of going up and down at the center at the same time, or sometimes called “condensing” at the center.

Energy Never Out

The energy during the movements is never “out” – going forward. Example of gesture where we go from bao to tui – it is a continuous flow, and energy goes from bao (hug, drawing in) to extending slighly upwards. Rather it is upwards. How do we ever make contact with another person? By moving our whole body.

Andrew Plack Visits 2020-01-16

Andrew, a student of Master Han, came to visit and taught two classes. As always, these are my quick brain-dump and these notes may be completely inscrutable if you haven’t worked with han shi yi-quan
  • No shoulders, no arms, only alive hands
  • Attention, focus, look (yi) – a mile away
  • Feels effortless when working. “I didn’t do anything”
  • Find the body connected feeling, then activate with the 1-2-3… ready to sprint feeling (can use drawing in of feet like light running to activate and get feeling)
  • Hands like they are reaching out to pinch or grasp something – but with no arms or shoulders – just the hands grasping feeling
  • Really felt it with the arms outstretched and slowly pivoting back and forth around the center – Han, instead of center pole, likes idea of a towel being stretched out and twisted around a center to turn
  • With the arm swings, arms don’t go backwards past your comfortable and strong range (so up to center and front, as high as forehead, then back and up roughly the sides of body)
A video of Andrew at work:

Draw to the center

A reminder from my i-chuan teacher today that drawing energy towards the center is not the same as drawing towards the dantian. It sounds simple enough – but is yet another profound shift in the experience. Again, this is i-chuan, not taiji, where energy is developed and used slightly differently.

Hot round of tips

Haven’t been able to get together with my forms teacher for a while due to both of our schedules. Without regular updates I was getting a little off so he had some, er, stern corrections.
  • 8 Silk Brocades feet: There are two moves that use horse stance. The rest all use a stance shoulder width apart
  • Separate mane: forward hand is like an offering – hand only up to shoulder height blocking where a punch would come – not reaching up to the sky
  • When turning left into cloud hands from right side partition horses mane, left hand comes up and strikes/blocks with back of hand side of arm – so back of hand is facing left – and right hand is palm down at waist
  • In Plum Blossom 16 form when doing the 180 to the right, bringing weight all the way onto right foot first, with outward pressure on the knee to not have it collapse, before turning.

Qigong 2019-06-28 – 8 Silk Brocades

Today I got some interesting corrections on 8 silk brocades. Now that we are getting into the finer details I think I’m seeing some difference in methodology of the teachers. This is where things get tricky. With different instructors, some (I believe) hold the actual sensations and experience and others are more focused on making the physical form precise. Both have value, but sometimes come into conflict. Corrections:
  • On “Shake the head and wiggle the tail” he said it was important not to shift weight, but rather to hold a solid center weight in horse stance and rotate the upper body above and around that. This makes sense, but is a bummer as I was using this as a mindful weight shift exercise.
  • On “Draw the bow to shoot the hawk” add more intention on drawing the bow and wrap in the bottom two fingers as well. This makes sense by anyone’s system.
  • On “Divide heaven and earth” instead of palm in center of body facing down, hands are on the sides of the body, arms are so extended they are nearly locked, fingers point straight back (overhead) and forward (lowered hand). This is very different from the Daoyin way I have been using this sequence. Looking at ancient diagrams I could see it either way.
  • On “Bounce on the toes 7 times” he wanted me to do them really slowly, basically calf raises as a physical exercise. This blew my mind, as I had been show then in a way that made sense to me as a way of learning to drop qi by making a movement like shaking a bag of coins. These are completely different practices. Looking online I see most in agreement with my version – gentle bouncing that lightly shakes the body.
  • On “Raise the heavens to activate the triple warmer”, more of a squat (makes sense) but also suggested eyes/head facing forward the entire time. Again, very different. Facing forward (instead of up) at the top actually makes balance at the top a little easier (when up on toes) but feels like less of a full open movement. I’ll see how this changes things over time.
Definitely feeling a little frustrated and confused, and now the endless internet search begins for what are likely a variety of truths as this form has evolved and been handed down for hundreds of years. What were the original intentions of these movements? Are there better ways to use them now? And so goes any technology passed human-to-human over time.

Taiji 2019-01-18

Worked on very specific but important corrections to the beginner 8 form.

Repulse the monkey

  • Lower hand is a little kinked – needs to be like a scoop so energy flows all the way through

180 rotation from the first brush knee:

  • From end of brush knee (left), shift all weight back to right foot and lift the left toe and then turn the left foot by rotating the waist not rotating the leg – the leg is turned by waist, which also turns the shoulders and both hands.
  • That same right foot needs to be at a 45 degree already, or I won’t be able to turn completely to the right – and regardless, stop when I feel the need to shift any weight off the right and rely on the “cheat step” to fix the remaining turn
  • Cheat step is a rotation of the foot on the heel (not ball of foot)
  • Make sure the foot that lands to stabilize the “cheat step” is far enough out to not be in the way of the turning “cheating” foot
  • When push from brush knee is complete, weight should be even on heel and forefoot – even a slight lift of the heel from being too far forward is enough to be easily pulled off balance

Internal Martial Art Underworld 2019-01-05

Realization: external movements are guides for internal

Moves like gathering heavenly qi are external movements to help teach your attention/qi to move through the body internally – ultimately the “move” is entirely internal and there is no external movement – these external movements are just to help you get the feeling and understand how to move internally! This completely changes the way I experience and practice these kinds of moves now.

Example from today: of the five loosening movements the arm swings are about dropping energy abruptly down so that it rushes/bounces back up to fill. The idea is to feel the energy fill the body and extend out through the hands. The idea is to learn how to “pulse” energy like this – dropping to have it fill and expand.

Of course, you are also loosening the shoulders and learning to be more song/loose/relaxed/released ( 松 | Sōng ).

Push hands

Noticed how different it is to have one point of contact instead of two: just making a second point of contact with my hand to their body feels like it stablizes the whole system.

Taiji 2019-01-04

8 form

  • Start hands alive middle finger touches leg
  • Bring hands around to front simultaneous with heel lowering to floor
  • Hands only come up to shoulder height before lowering
  • Repulse the monkey
    • Rotate only at waist (no knees)
    • Rear arm not rotated too far away from chest
    • Arm energy extended fully outward as both arms out
    • Bring bent arm further forward, elbow down, fingers to ear
  • First 180 turn
    • Keep outward pressure on knees through whole movement
    • Left foot lift toe all the way up and shift weight back before turning
    • Left foot and both arms move at same pace during the actual 180 turn