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A great teacher
Bruce Frantzis has written several books, produced countless informative YouTube videos and taught students and seminars around the world for a number of decades now.
He has a lot to offer and some terrific insights for tai chi students.
Bruce's books provide a clear, no-nonsense account of what it is like to study the internal martial arts. He combines amusing and diverse anecdotes with illustrations of what 'internal' means.
Example quotes from Bruce's books and videos:
If you let go of your
muscular strength your body will start relaxing.
Teachers can only teach you to the level that the strength of your basics will allow them to. They can't do anything more, it's impossible.
In all martial arts there is a constant, never-ending emphasis on getting your basics right because without those basics, you'll never become all that you could be.
When your teacher demonstrates something for you, you are obligated to practice it, or else you may invoke the following consequences of your own free will:
1. Your teacher may not correct you because your actions have shown that you did not really want to learn the skill.
2. You will not achieve the skill.
3. If you learn the next stage of the skill, it will be weak because it has no foundation.
4. Your skill will not rise to a high level until your attitude changes.
The body mechanics of the internal martial arts are significantly more sophisticated than those of the external martial arts.
Not all tai chi is equal. Just as there are different models of cars, makes of computers and universities of varying calibres, so too are there different kinds of tai chi.
If every time you decide to do a punch, kick or throw during form or sparring, you tense up, lock up, or make a certain type of scream, all of this creates a certain mindset that constantly trains your body to tense.
A lot of martial arts will basically destroy your body.
So, people's shoulders being up like this (lifted) it doesn't just affect their shoulders. It pushes their neck vertebrae out - which is why they get sore necks. It actually makes their chest lift a lot. It puts pressure on your heart. It does a whole lot of things that are not good for you.
The Chen form derived from battlefield military movements, where people wore medieval body armour that had to be compensated for. The Chen-style stances were specifically designed to achieve these compensations and obtain a workable position from which to realistically throw an armoured opponent.
By the time Yang had reached Beijing, times had changed. With the advent of firearms, battlefield armour became obsolete; hence, the need for techniques to deal with armoured foes had passed.
Yang and his students had to deal with situations encountered by bodyguards, not armies opposing each other.
At the very base of this health crisis is the cancerous spiritual malaise in the West, a fundamental disharmony that keeps people from positively engaging with life and relaxing in virtually any circumstance that life can throw.
The equivalent process to seeking the "Holy Grail" in internal arts is the ability to move more slowly than your opponent and consistently win.
Slower speed that wins out requires three types of speed coming together simultaneously:
2. The signals required to maintain some level of conscious power.
3. The ability to release the internal gears of your body, which, if they freeze up, can create a momentary mental gap that breaks the connection between you and your opponent.
This method is referred to in the tai chi classics in the form of a question:
"How is it possible that an old man can defeat a group of younger men?"
Obviously, elderly men, even the most talented, are not physically capable of moving at the speed of young men. Virtually, by definition, the elderly move with slowness, and yet those old men internal arts masters by slipping in between the gaps, are justifiably well-known for defeating younger and faster men.
In silk arms, the fist moves very fast, covering both sides of the opponents body from top to bottom, fluidly changing from straight hits, to sideways cuts to hooks, like the tip of a piece of silk blown in a high wind.
As this occurs, the arms and elbows appear to be boneless as they seamlessly bend and fold like undulating cloth.
They develop training methods like silk arms where they can twist and bend their joints like a piece of silk, making their movements highly fast, reactive, unpredictable and mobile, which makes it hard to grab or lock their joints.
When both the self defence aspects and the methods of training internal power are seamlessly integrated, you are doing tai chi.
Tai chi is about changing our internal environment so that life becomes a joy to live and not a burden to drag into old age and death. It is about helping your body to let go of the past and your mind to slow down and cease churning. Tai chi encourages your internal focus to shift toward cherishing and remembering all that is wonderful in your life. It predisposes you to look forward to ways to make life better, rather than remembering how unsatisfying it has been.
Most importantly, tai chi gives us the ability to realise a greater human potential in ourselves and to have genuine compassion for others. Tai chi, with its gentle strength, moves us closer to feeling more truly alive.
Beginners often have the mistaken idea that their qi alone is going to be enough to defeat an opponent without needing to master the skills of hitting, kicking, throwing and joint-locks.
Being useful is a central value of Taoist philosophy - how something is useful, why it is useful, and for what. The context could be anything you could possible conceive of, regardless of perceived value, including health, wealth, social interaction, morality and ethics, spirituality, or a tai chi movement.
Practicality is the mantra.
Instead of asking if you ought to be conventionally moral or if it doesn't matter, taoists would ask "is it useful to be moral?" The answer would be yes. Rather than focussing on your narrow self-interest or the wrath of God, Taoists genuinely consider what the natural consequences are to yourself, human relations, the entire society, and spirituality if you are not moral.
Taoism is unique in that it is probably the only major religion in the world whose practitioners as a rule have not sought great secular power. In the past, Taoists took on such power only out of necessity to correct specific abuses. After these excesses had been corrected, they were always ready to relinquish the power and fade away, or "leave no footprints" as they put it.
A person who is considered to be fit in the West may be able to do over 100 push-ups, run a marathon, possess a beautiful, muscular physique – and yet not be internally healthy.
He or she may have a bad back, damaged joints, liver problems, unbalanced emotions, an inability to handle stress and sexual weakness or dysfunction.
These neigong practices can transform the ordinarily tense human nervous system into a very fluid one in which there is virtually no time lag between conscious will and the body moving swiftly or delivering power.
Ultimately, a great deal of the fighting prowess of internal martial arts derives from the absence of central nervous system lag time. With reaction time virtually nonexistent, the internal martial artist is able to change fighting techniques faster than an opponent can, and is able also to combine the normally separated areas of the body into one integrated, unified and powerful whole.
If you have good timing, if you have a strong enough punch, you don't have to do fifty movements - you condense all the possibilities into one action. Make one cut, hurt him, Boom... it's over, down he goes. Enough already with all the screaming and excessive movements. Just do the job, get it over with, and go on to the next thing.
This is the animal way of martial arts: a potentially violent situation arouses animal instinct, which leads to fear, which activates the glands, which raises the heart rate, which engages the body, and it fights.
This is the human way of martial arts: a potentially violent situation instantly arouses the human ability to detect how best to handle the situation, without stressful anger, then the mind/body becomes tranquil and highly alert.
Don't be concerned about learning so many moves; learn a few well.
Many excessively bounce around learning the next 'new' form or movement set without ever extracting the real internal value from any of them.
My interest was in growing and being effective, not in projecting an emotional investment in the superiority of any martial art system. After all, it is the person who fights, not the martial art system.
So, you have a strong punch, but do you have it with uncontrolled anger, or do you have it with peace of mind? Are you able to integrate to a point where fighting or combing your hair or studying or typing at your computer all have the same smoothness, or is it that each of these has this stressed-out, manic spike to it?
Tai chi is the one exercise that can universally help solve our growing health crisis. It has stood the test of thousands of years. We have a generation of baby boomers with increasing health problems; old people who are sick, in pain, fearful, and cranky; a middle class that is increasingly incapable of affording most of the drugs that are prescribed for their ailments; children that are flaccid, diabetic and asthmatic. People of all ages are addicted to drugs, alcohol, sugar, cigarettes, and caffeine. Stress follows almost everyone like a shadow.
The ability to instantaneously bring all of your power to a single point is one of the techniques that the art of bagua develops.
I was admitted to a select special research program in karate... here the innermost secrets of karate are introduced to future teachers. After a few months, it became obvious that many of the most 'secret' techniques were ones I had already learned in my first 2 years of basic training in the internal arts.
Many karate people had to wait 5-20 years before being taught the same material.
He taught me to vibrate the breath and body rather fiercely and loudly like a growling lion, stretch the tendons, turn the waist like the motions of a food mixer, hit my own body and then flap my arms in the air.
I started accruing some fa jing, although of a more shocking nature, rather than the smooth kind that can come from tai chi.
The drawback is that it made my energy jumpy.
The single most important fighting skill in internal martial arts is waiting. You wait until your opponent gives you an opening as a gift. Look at joint locks, which are hard to do in full-speed fighting, particularly if you go for them aggressively. Some martial arts like jujitsu and aikido make joint locks look deceptively easy and make them out to be a perfectly reasonable fighting strategy applicable to a majority of situations. In their training practices one partner willingly lets the other grab his arm, usually with a decent grip., deliberately making himself vulnerable. This is a foolish and potentially suicidal strategy in real-life confrontation with a well-trained opponent.
How do yoga and tai chi compare?
Here is a very simple way to explain the difference: in tai chi, you relax to stretch; in yoga, you stretch to relax. Tai chi emphasizes stretching through sophisticated dynamic fluid motions rather than by holding static postures. Yoga tends to use more extreme stretches than tai chi and some postures lock the joints and arch the back, which never happens in tai chi. These poses can be difficult for those with back or joint problems.
Many of Bruce's videos are aimed at tai chi beginners. They are worth watching in detail e.g.:
Common mistakes when practicing tai chi
Learning strategies for beginners
How to relax in tai chi
Relaxing the face
Relaxing the eyes
Where to place your tongue
Relaxing the shoulders
Sinking the shoulder blades
Sinking the ribs
Sinking the hips
Sinking the knees
Sinking to the feet
Dropping the elbows
The 70% rule
70% rule: arms
70% rule: legs
Arms and legs move together
Raising the spine
The four points
The waist and four points
Turning left and right
Four points and 70% rule
70% rule and kwa
Opening the dang
21 July 1996
Last updated 16 May 2018