This newsletter will address excerpt from my diary based on my latest trip to my Sifu Sam Tam, a bit about my Taiji instructor training/Taiji intensive 2017, Qi Gong teachers program, my online teaching program which will be launched in February 2017, private sessions, my own Taiji workshop in November, upcoming workshops including the one with Rob Liberti, event with Sam Tam 2017 etc.
But most of all I will, starting from now, in my newsletters include small excerpts from my quite big book on Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Standing meditation, starting out with a section about when I first met my teacher to be – Sam Tam.
Since I came back from Vancouver a week ago, my calender has been quite full with private clients, teaching classes, conducting a workshop covering different kinds of meditative practises and teaching private students.
My recent trip to master Sam Tam:
Those of you who over the years have followed my newsletter know that I have described that visiting Sam Tam for me, feels a bit like “coming home”.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been there, but somewhere between 25 to 30 times.
I sometimes get the question from students and/or family, why I continue to visit Sam Tam and if I haven’t learned all there is to learn. I am far from that – and I never will.
Sam Tam has been training for more than 65 years, has had exceptionally skillful teachers and practitioners of Qi Gong and Martial Art – combined with his own special talent for these things. So the well will never be empty, I will never get to the point, where he no longer has more to offer me.
My own main focus these days is to become more soft, keep on improving my yielding skills and continue down “the path of internal”, using less force and let the energy flow more freely, to achieve better timing, to be more spontaneous and 100% present in the moment – in my Martial Art and my Qi Gong – and in life in general.
I believe there is plenty to work with for a while …
I have on many occasions stressed that if it was only for the Martail Art, I’m not sure that I could have maintained the interest for so many years. For me it’s about integrating the basic principles of Taiji – to yield, listening, neutralizing, being capable of staying and remaining centered regardless of whatever external forces I am surrounded or affected by, staying relaxed without collapsing, etc. In martial art, and especially in daily life where it really stands it’s test. To unify “the Martial and Civil art of Taiji.” That’s what motivates me and makes sense to me.
Every time I visit Sam Tam, it’s also a reunion with old friends and meeting new ones. This time I met for the first time Charlie Jenks, who for many years was a colonel in the US Army, and taught combat troops in “close combat”. He has been in Afghanistan on several occasions and knows first hand about self-defense in the real world. He has just retired and his own main interest today is Taiji, Qi Gong, hot yoga and helping out clients with change in, and optimizing of, lifestyle.
I trained quite a bit with some of them I’ve known for 10 years and who always turn up when I am in town.
I also had the opportunity on several occasions to train with a direct student through five years of Yang Shao Shung (the son of yang Cheng Fu), which was quite an interesting experience.
My own training consisted primarily of a lot of bouncing practise – either bouncing another student or being bounced myself against Sam Tam’s mattress. Apart from that different Qi Gong sets, including the Bear and the Bird from 5 – Animal Qi Gong, the Taiji form of course, two-man-fighting form, lots of hands on touch to feel and sense Sam Tam and what happens in his body when he yields or issue – and of course lots of focus on my own yielding.
Those who know Sam Tam knows that he does not use the big superlatives when he comments on his students “skills”, but more say things like, “not bad”.
This time I got however, many roses on the road – both from him and especially his local students.
There was broad agreement that I had developed a lot the last six months, which can be difficult for one self to notice and feel. Sam Tam said among other things that I was a “miniature” of him with my own flavor, my speciality and my own way of doing things. Or as he put it on another day, which might not sound so flattering:
“You have finally entered the door to the internal. Before hand, you stood outside and took a glimpse in now and then, and took whatever fragmented piece you could get. Now you are indoor, and are on your way to leave the external for good “:
The evenings where I often am alone with Sam Tam is very special for me. It is not uncommon I treat him a bit, give him a little massage, loosens an arm, a shoulder, working with a neck stretch on him or the likewise, for as he puts it, “to feel my hands and how I work”. I suppose there is also a bonus for him being in the receiver role.
It is also in the evenings we often have the more deep talk. It seems that he, like myself, thinks that when the day ends, it creates space for contemplation and reflection. Be it about things that is happening in my private life, and/or the more refined details in the internal work.
I have always periods during my stay with Sam Tam, where I feel more naked, more sensitive, more open and more vulnerable. It is part of the process and a necessary step for further development to take place. And this time was no exception. Sam Tam can be very confronting, direct in speak and message, and intimidating at times, and the stay is intense. But it is in this precarious situation my biggest step forward takes place.
During my stay this time, I was also influenced by my recent involvement in a deep love relationship, where we were separated for the first time for a longer period with the challenges it may bring about. Here, too, I came out in some corners of myself, which probably otherwise would have taken many months to get access to. I get to know myself better – and for that I am grateful.
My diary has followed me faithfully since I started learning from Sam Tam. It is about to be filled. It will be interesting for me to see what impact it gets on me when the last word, the last sentence, is written in it.
Taiji instructor/Taiji intensive:
My instructor training/intensive with start-up in 2017 is about to take shape.
It will consist of 1/2 year independent blocks, each ending with an examination/test.
It is open to all – both those with a desire to teach at a later point, those who have been teaching for years and would like to dig deeper – and those who only want to take part to further their understanding and skills.
It will be intense, and practising at home is a necessity.
Each block consists of 80 hours of teaching spread over every third Monday night and 4-5 weekends.
I’m not quite finished organizing the final program, but will be within 10-12 days.
I still need to put dates on weekends, and I haven’t decided the prize for the course yet. The first teaching evening will be Monday, January 30.
Qi Gong – teachers program:
I get a lot of inquiries about when I will start the new class up. I will finish a group in the first weekend of November, and the new class will be in early March. Dates are to be confirmed soon.
The videos for my online teaching in English in Taiji, will be shot in November, and the program itself will be launched February 2017. It will be a very exciting program and I have thought about doing it for many year. There will be weekly video teaching sessions, material in writing, Skype sessions, etc. There will be more information about that later in the year.
Workshop grounding and sensitivity:
The upcoming Saturday (October 8), I will conduct a very popular workshop focusing on grounding and sensitivity. It is open to everyone and not just for people interested in Taiji and/or QI Gong.
I have held the workshop many times, and it has often been sold out quite quickly. There are a few seats available and registration is possible here:
Workshop Rob Liberti:
I do not think you should miss this workshop if you have the opportunity to participate!
A very interesting workshop with Rob Liberti – a longtime student of Dan Harden. The workshop will take place October 22 to 23.
Event with Sam Tam in 2017:
I mentioned in my last newsletter the possibility of Sam Tam coming to Denmark in 2017 to do a private event “by invitation only”, and it seems it will be a reality.
He has a very tight schedule and his calender is often more than full, but the event will probably take place in September 2017. If you wish to be considered as a participant for this event, please write me an email so I can put you on the list. When the time comes and I shall compose the group of participants, I will get back.
Workshop Taiji and Qi Gong with the undersigned:
I have the date of my own twice a year 3 – day workshop on this side of Christmas, but not the final program. It will be set up during the week and put on Billetto ready for registration. But I have the dates – November 25 to 27.
More and more people from outside Denmark use the opportunity to come and learn on “one on one” basis, usually from a friday evening till sunday evening, but everything can be arranged. If you think this could be of your interest, feel free to write me an email.
Excerpt from my big book “Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Standing meditation”
Meeting Master Sam Tam
One of the primary reasons I had the wish to learn from Sam Tam was due to his huge knowledge about Standing meditation. During most years in my “taiji career”, I have trained standings. Most of my teachers, with a few exceptions (including Patrick Kelly and Peter Ralston), have or had standings as part of their system. In addition, I have always liked standing and been able to stand for a reasonably long time in the different positions and remain relatively relaxed. Still, there was something missing. Through Jan Diepersloot’s first two books, I became familiar with Sam Tam, and the descriptions I read harmonized well with the direction I wanted to work in.
After a year of correspondence, I succeeded in inviting Sam Tam to Denmark in 2005 to conduct a workshop.
To be honest, – I was not very impressed to begin with. He could easily push me around as he saw fit, and he was convincingly able to demonstrate the self-defence aspects of the taiji form, – or any movement for that matter.
However, his first workshop was very different from the many, many workshops I had arranged previously with my other teachers. Normally a workshop consisted of hard and sweaty work, and most who attended would get so much pain in the thigh muscles from the strenuous work, that they could barely walk. And I liked it!
Before I began practising taiji, I had been performing hard physical exercise at a high level. I was used to no pain, no gain or – my own variation – do or die training. Pain and exhaustion was something I could relate to. So meeting Sam Tam, where he was unusually casual (half of the first workshop day he did not even remove his jacket), and the lack of physically demanding training, was a bit disappointing to me. And his taiji form looked like a bunch of unrefined and unfinished movements. The way I thought my first taiji form must have looked like, after I had trained for half a year….
The precision I had practiced and practiced in every single movement and position, and in the transitioning between them, in the master Huang system of taiji, did not seem to be present here. Moreover, every time Sam Tam repeated a form piece, the movements looked different, and I realized with horror, that his feet seemed to skate around. Where was the grounding? Where was the connection from the feet up through a relaxed body?
And when we were finally working through a couple of movements, he asked us to take a little break and ask any questions we might have. It almost turned me mad!
At the same time, I felt a big responsibility towards the many people who were attending the workshop from both Denmark and abroad.
In Denmark, I have a reputation for great quality in regards to arranging workshops with people from outside the country. I feared that I was throwing it all away. It takes 30 years to build a good reputation, and 30 seconds to destroy it.
The workshop lasted for 2 days, and it was my impression that the attendees were having mixed feelings about it. Especially those who were used to the very strenuous training from the master Huang system seemed displeased.
When I were taking Sam Tam to the airport in the early morning a couple of days later, he suggested we took a walk after checking-in his luggage, to talk a bit. He asked me for feedback on the workshop as a whole and his teaching. And I gave it. Honestly, but respectfully of course. Among other things, I told him that my teacher at that time in the master Huang system was fantastic at letting go and emptying the body, in a way I thought was more refined than what Sam Tam had shown.
Immediately he asked me to feel his body as he did exactly as I had just described, only in a much more refined way, and I lost my balance. He said to me calmly “Come visit me, and we can have a talk and I can teach you”.
To make a long story short, this became the beginning of an ongoing, 11 years at this point, and close relationship with my new teacher – master Sam Tam.
Shortly after Sam Tam’s workshop in Copenhagen, my teacher at that point came to Copenhagen to conduct a workshop as well. I showed him a short video of Sam Tam, where he demonstrated some of his pushhands abilities, and my teacher asked if I wanted to visit Sam Tam with him. And so we did. In the beginning, I only intended to learn Standing from Sam Tam and a little pushands and applications, and then integrate it into what I already trained in and was proficient with. However, I would soon become clever …
My teacher at that point had arrived at Sam Tam’s home a day before me. I was really exited of course to learn, how their friendly testing of each other’s pushhands skills had turned out. My teacher was very difficult to push and is without a doubt one of the people I have known, with the highest developed grounding.
After my arrival, I was immediately thrown against Sam Tam’s mattress on the wall, as if he were playing squash with me. “To get rid of the jetlag”, as he said to me. Afterwards, my then teacher invited me out for coffee and a talk. I immediately asked him how his pushhands test with Sam Tam had ended. To my great surprise, he said that he never had a chance! He also added that according to him, Sam Tam had at least the same power as master Huang, but that he had developed his yielding to an even greater level! I have never met master Huang, but I have trained under many of his top students. I have of course seen videos with master Huang again and again, but it will never be the same as actually touching him with my own hands.
The following days I received irrefutable proof that Sam Tam absolutely was, and is, in a league of his own. Both my teacher and I were thrown around as had we been light as feathers. If we tried to use physical strength and resistance, it only made matters worse.
At that point, I had no idea of how high a level Sam Tam actually has, and in some ways, I still do not.
The first 4-5 times I visited him, I tried to schedule it so that I could be there at the same time as my previous teacher. A year earlier he had said to me, that there was nothing more he could teach me, and that he considered me his training partner. I saw and still see him as my teacher in the master Huang system
After a couple of visits with Sam Tam I decided that I wanted to learn his system, and realized how foolish I had been during my first visits, believing that I could just take or discard as I saw fit as had it been a buffet, and integrate it into that which I already knew. From this point, I once again started all over as a beginner.
My – now former – teacher continued visiting and learning from Sam Tam for a couple of years more, after which he decided to stop. A thing I have witnessed several times: Students that have trained for many years, who realize that they can develop further if they learn from a new teacher, but end up deciding against it when they get the option. For as they say “then I have wasted the time I spent with my previous teacher”. Nonsense – you only waste your time if you continue to do what you have always done, while there is a possibility to learn on an even higher level, from an even better teacher. Change is difficult.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”
Footprints and weight
One of the first things Sam Tam did was to check my standing, since that was what I had shown the greatest interest of in the beginning. Like many Chinese, he has thick carpets on his floors. That gave me a good opportunity – I thought – to show him, how good my grounding was.
I positioned myself in a standing and stood about 15 minutes, where he adjusted my arms a little a couple of times. When I was done, my feet had left deep prints in his carpet, and I was very satisfied and proud of my accomplishment.
He pointed towards my footprints and said, “You have too much weight in your feet”. Afterwards he entered a Standing as well, and when he was done I could barely see his footprints on the rug!
The following day he took me sightseeing around Vancouver. It was a fantastic weather, and at the beach he said “How about we stand for a few minutes?” I stood with my feet solidly planted in the sand, and felt how they sank deeper down and my experience of grounding and connection was incredible. When I was done, I once again marvelled at the deep footprints I had created. I looked towards where Sam Tam had been standing – barely any footprints in the sand! Once again, he told me that I had too much weight in my feet…
Ok, I weighted more than him, so on a physical level, I had to make deeper prints than him. But that is only a part of the explanation.
With my previous teacher and in the master Huang system there had been an enormous focus on “taking the force into the ground”. And I was good at it, I thought, and it had been my primary focus for many years. If you are not familiar with what different visualizations can do, it may seem weird that what you imagine and visualize can make that much of a difference, and change how heavy an 80 kg man is perceived to be. However, it makes a huge difference.
Many times, I have made new students “feel” one of my experienced students and childhood friend, Jeppe Türck. He has a slender build, but when people feel him or try to push him, he seem incredibly heavy and big. He did not feel that way years back. Through Taiji training, standing and different visualizations, his body has changed – but his physical weight is the same.
Sinking versus dropping the energy
Later the same day with Sam Tam, he followed up on the two episodes. He told me, that in my previous training I had dropped the energy to my feet; in his system, we sink the energy to tantien instead and, when it comes to self-defence, expand in all directions at the same time. I was naturally a bit sceptical in the beginning – I have a background in anatomy, physiology etc. – and I could understand how we could make the body seem heavier through letting more and more go of the musculature, comparable to lifting a chain weighting 30 kg and an iron rod weighting the same thing. The chain feels heavier. But the opposite? Making me ”light” again?
Sam Tam mentioned several reasons for only sinking the energy to tantien. First of all, there was a great risk of destroying ankles and knees by having too much focus on dropping it to the feet (something both I and others who had done the same thing could attest to). Secondly, it is simply to slow in regards to self-defence. By only sinking the energy to the centre and expanding from there in all directions, force is returned to an opponent much faster.
As always with Sam Tam, he gives clear demonstrations, so that it is not just theory. One of his other students came by later that day – a heavy guy weighting around 110 kg. Sam Tam asked me to lie on my stomach on the floor with my arms straight and a little away from my body. He then proceeded to stand on my hands, and began throwing the student against the mattress on the wall. I could hear from the sounds of him hitting the wall that he was thrown with significant force. But I felt no difference in the pressure on my hands!
It felt as if Sam Tam’s feet were barely touching my hands and, most particular, there was no change in the pressure from his feet against my hands, when he issued relaxed force.
I of course got the opportunity to be on the receiving end of the push, as the other student now was the one lying on the floor. Same result: I flew through the air with great force towards the wall, and the student felt no difference in the pressure against his hands. It was an enormous eye opener for me, and it changed my way of training completely and forever.
Sam Tam did another demonstration a couple of days later, where my previous teacher arrived at his home. He sat in a chair with his feet lifted from the ground, and threw my previous teacher around in first one and then another direction, as had he been a tennis ball.
You are of course dependent on being connected to the ground. In the sitting position, this connection goes by way of the buttocks and pelvis through the seat and legs of the chair and into the ground. In the standing position, the feet gives this connection. However, you must not force and press down towards the ground. Gravity must be allowed to work by itself, and it does this the best when the skeletal structure is balanced appropriately, so that you only use the muscle tension needed to maintain an upright and vertical position – sitting as well as standing. Having too great a focus on sinking down into the feet, risks creating a compressed and collapsed body structure.
Today I view training in taking force into the ground – a training partner’s force in pushhands or your own by letting go of and relaxing the musculature – as part of a process to be trained for a while. To feel and practice exactly how a push from a partner on a shoulder for example, in an appropriately balanced structured body can go to the ground. Becoming better and more sensitive in regards to feeling and developing this structure, and letting go of unneeded muscle tension. As part of a process, not the end result. When this is understood, learned and integrated it can be taken over into the next phase of your training, where there can be focused on a feeling of lightness, among other things.
As an old saying goes:
”When you go out to fish, the bait is important. When you have caught the fish, the bait isn’t important anymore”.