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Rip It Up

In the 2015 book Rip It Up by Richard Wiseman, the author details an experiment in which two coachloads of elderly people are taken on holiday to a destination they once visited when younger.
Coach 1 was like any normal coach.
Coach 2 was different. The people had to dress as they did when younger, listen to the music of their youth and were offered the opportunity to participate in holiday activities akin to those they did when young.
After the holiday the people in Coach A exhibited no real improvement in health. Coach B people showed significant, measurable health benefits from their experience.

Consider this: Most people live lives that are not particularly physically challenging. They sit at a desk, or if they move around, it's not a lot. They aren't performing manoeuvres that require tremendous balance and coordination. Thus they settle into a low level of physical capabilities - enough for day-to-day activities or maybe even hiking or biking or playing golf or tennis on the weekends, but far from the level of physical capabilities that a highly trained athlete possesses.

The reason that most people don't possess extraordinary physical capabilities isn't because they don't have the capacity for them, but rather because they're satisfied to live in the comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it.

The same thing is true for all the mental activities we engage in. We learn enough to get by but once we reach that point we seldom push to go beyond.

(Anders Ericsson)

A rut

Most people have fairly routine lives. They stay safely within their defined 'comfort zone'. Nothing really challenges the status quo and there is no real reason to change and grow.
Often, gratifying illusions provide the impression of higher level mental activity:

  1. The news

  2. Politics

  3. The internet

  4. Technological toys

But these don't actually require any change. When somebody watches TV or regurgitates political opinions/commentaries, they are not using any higher brain functions at all.
Opinions are the result of memories, thoughts, ideas, the past. By contrast, challenge lies with the unknown, the unfamiliar, the uncertain...

An observer

Much of modern life makes people passive. Instead of actively engaging in life, people are content to just watch. They form opinions, they judge, criticise and remain spectators.
Whilst this is taking place, their own life is ebbing away hour by hour... Rather than do, people observe.


In Greek mythology there is a story about an island in which the inhabitants consumed lotus plants; making them dull and apathetic.
This is what TV, news, politics, social media and mobile phones do to people. These activities hypnotise and stupify the mind.
The flickering screen entrances the viewer and they sit gawping for hours on end. Passivity is fostered, not action.

Invest in loss

A major theme in tai chi is letting go of what you think. Students are encouraged to recognise that we don't know very much at all. And yesterday's tools are not equal to the challenges of today.
We need to engage with life with a fresh, receptive, open mind. Not with ideas, preconceptions, opinions and a desire for confirmation/gratification.

Failure to engage

In tai chi is quite common for a student to reach a rudimentary level of skill and simply remain there. They may learn many new forms and exercises. But everything is performed in a simplistic manner.
The problem with training long-term at a simplistic level is that the training is intrinsically incorrect. Provably so.
Tai chi is a refined, subtle, complex, sophisticated art. If your progress halted at a lower grade and there are 13 belts to pass; this is hardly impressive.

Ba duan jin #7

The seventh exercise of ba duan jin involves an action of the arms that looks similar to a karate reverse punch. For novice students there are 3 ways to perform this action:

  1. Using just the arms

  2. Connecting the arms to the scapula and moving with relaxed musculature

  3. Natural-seeming movement that is connected to the ground

Version 1 is what the student started out with: tense, disconnected and focussing upon localised elbow joint movement.
Version 2 is a notable improvement; albeit somewhat robotic. (Most beginners never reach this stage and stay tense; indicating that they have in fact learned very little in class).
Version 3 is higher-level and employs the 5 bows.


The body mechanics of the internal martial arts are significantly more sophisticated than those of the external martial arts. 

(Bruce Frantzis)

Easy tai chi?

Despite the popular notion that tai chi is easy to learn, it is anything but easy. So why do people persist in thinking of tai chi as being easy?
The answer is simple. Most people are not doing anything remotely authentic.
Also, when you compare tai chi to running, lifting weights or other martial arts, tai chi is not strenuous or exertive.
But don't be confused here. The movements of tai chi are physically sophisticated. The mind must be be engaged to the utmost. This is why most tai chi people in the world are merely beginners...

Engage with the syllabus

Engaging with the tai chi syllabus entails actively climbing the syllabus. Getting better. Stronger. Deepening understanding. Broadening knowledge.
Constantly re-thinking/re-evaluating (metacognition) what you are learning. The process is on-going and has no conclusion.
This is not the same as simply attending class once a week...


Tai chi requires the student to deepen their awareness of what is taking place moment-by-moment. This is called 'mindfulness'. It requires the student to have clarity, to pay attention.
Not to space out, daydream or get lost in thoughts, memories, ideas or opinions.
Our syllabus features a number of 'guided awareness' lessons designed to increase presence: breath meditation, meditation on emotions, meditation on body sensations, meditation on hindrances and walking meditation.

Engaging with life?

Being more present enables the individual to see what is happening right in front of them and fully engage with it. You may think that you are already doing this and maybe you are.
Most people are not. They are distracted.
The typical tai chi new starter is eager and curious, but they are also incredibly tense, have poor concentration skills, bad coordination and exhibit signs of stress.
One of the unique features of authentic tai chi is that it teaches the individual to engage more fully with life.

Keep you alive

Running, swimming, the gym, yoga, Pilates etc may all work the body in a manner that improves fitness. However, none of these pursuits comes to close to tai chi when it comes to rejuvenation.
Tai chi has been employed in countless clinical trials that prove unequivocally that the art significantly affects aging.

Mind, body, spirit

Tai chi is quite different from sport and conventional exercise. There is no competition, no stress, no ego, no aggression and absolutely no pressure at all.
The body is exercised in a careful, gentle, relaxed manner. Natural, healthy, comfortable movement is encouraged, with an awareness of what is taking place at all times.
Students encounter new ideas and new skills every lesson. There is the joy of discovery; of finding out for yourself what works and why.

Daily tai chi

Dr Michael Greger (author of How Not To Die) recommends 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day.
The three doctors who wrote The Okinawa Program maintain that tai chi - with its ancient origins and incredible health benefits - is the ideal form of daily exercise for modern people.

We walk, and our religion is shown (even to the dullest and most insensitive person) in how we walk. Or to put it more accurately, living in this world means choosing, choosing to walk, and the way we choose to walk is infallibly and perfectly expressed in the walk itself. Nothing can disguise it. The walk of an ordinary man and of an enlightened man are as different as that of a snake and a giraffe.

(R.H. Blyth)

Degree of engagement

Progress in tai chi is entirely contingent upon the individual students degree of engagement.
Somebody who trains their tai chi at home every day, reads the relevant books, attends weekly lessons and workshops will make sustained strong progress through the curriculum.
The art will yield incredible, rich rewards to any student who makes tai chi a notable part of their life


These three films illustrate how meaningful engagement with stimulating, unfamiliar, challenging situations can provide an anti-aging benefit:

  1. The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen

  2. Mr Holmes

  3. Victoria and Abdul

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Page created 21 May 2005
Last updated 16 February 2020