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It was about 35 years ago when I first consulted the Oracle from the Chinese classic I Ching, tossing coins to construct a hexagram that would offer a vision of my future. Que sera sera. What shall I be? I was casting about for the next move in my journalism career, looking for an opportunity, even a living wage. I was advised that I should wait. Good things would come.

I wasn’t asking the right questions, obviously, from the Taoist perspective. It was a beggar’s approach to a sacred text of Taoism. A “living wage,” or even fame and fortune, has nothing to do with the Way forward. I was not deserving of an honest answer, not a true believer. Still, there is almost always no harm in waiting, and I believed.

Patience as a remedy runs through the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching, and it doesn’t matter if your circumstances are a step removed from the ancient remedy. Yes, it is easy to rush in, but it is almost always better to consider carefully the move you will make. Wait.

By most accounts, Bruce Frantzis rushed in. He is a Taoist priest, martial artist and teacher of the ancient Chinese arts of Chi Gung, energy work, and its ancillary martial applications of Tai Chi and Ba Gua. Rebelling against the Greek Orthodoxy of his religious upbringing in New York, Frantzis turned to martial arts, eventually at age 18 traveling to Japan to immerse himself in Zen and martial arts forms.

Inevitably, Frantzis learned the Way of waiting, moving to Taiwan, then to China for 11 years during the Cultural Revolution, Mao’s purge of foreign influences, and to India for studies in meditation and yoga. This led him to legendary Taoist priest Liu Hung Chieh, who adopted him and extended his lineage to Frantzis, a foreigner. He became a celebrated master of Taoist meditation and healing through energy work.

Recently, in a suburban Washington D.C. conference center, Frantzis brought his seven-movement Chi Gung form called Dragon and Tiger to a group of about 170 students, me included. These exercises use breathing techniques to stimulate energy channels in the body, channel good energy through the major organs and dissolve bad energy. Five of the movements are condensed here:

Frantzis is a master teacher who recalls bitterly how Mao Tze Tung’s minions tortured people and discouraged martial arts, or any non-Party ideals, during the Cultural Revolution. He was required to heal the sick monsters of this political purge. Frantzis reveres the culture and history that begets the Chi Gung arts, but he is appalled by the political system that threatens people who practice.

Frantzis’s two-day Dragon and Tiger training was preceded by three hours of “Taoist Longevity Breathing,” which involves “breathing with your entire body” and from particular body parts. I am still trying to “breathe from my kidneys,” something I cannot feel but must visualize. I have a lot to learn. Fortunately, Frantzis has written nine books and is available for training sessions all over the world – although I am holding out for the lessons in his home base of Hawaii.

My quest is to understand, and realize, internal strength through energy work, particularly Tai Chi, a martial art that is also a healthful exercise and, essentially, moving meditation, my daily Taoist connection to the Earth and cosmic energy, performed outdoors when I can.

A few years ago, I explored the phenomenon of internal power with Sifu Mark Rasmus, an Australian martial artist now based in Thailand. His workshops focused on the “science of elastic force,” a unique Western-style look at the physiological and psychological power that derive from Tai Chi.

While the lessons of Mark Rasmus were hands on, with pressure, Bruce Frantzis asked you to feel, with only a little pressure, taps along the energy channels. With Dragon and Tiger Chi Gung, available through Frantzis’s Energy Arts associates, and they offer courses around the world, you learn to channel energy through your body, building inner strength.

As Frantzis explains it, all the paths to the Tao involve Chi Gung, energy work that touches and fortifies the inner body, from organs to blood circulation. You get in touch with your body, dissolve energy barriers and channel the energy of the universe. Yes, they connect.

There is obviously more here to explore. So much to learn, and feel.

 

 

 

Lessons from Sifu Rasmus

Additional video from our Frederick, Md., “Science of Elastic Force,” tai chi workshops, with Sifu Mark Rasmus, are now available for viewing on YouTube. As a prelude, check out my three-part series on the workshop in Tai Chi Revelations, Into the Mystic and The Body Electric.

ImageBut the best presentation comes from Sifu Rasmus himself, and these videos are revelatory. Following on The Body Electric, Sifu expands on the notions of vibrations and frequency – how to match vibrations with your practice partner to easily bounce them. Notice his cynical view of martial arts masters who keep these “very, very simple” techniques a secret. One commenter pointedly asks, “(If you keep telling all these secrets), what will become of the tai chi teacher?” Who would not want to experience this demonstration?

Here he describes how a compliant practice partner helps you develop rebounding force, giving you the pressure you need, that you feel down to your root:

Sifu demonstrates how to “touch the elasticity” in the body through the frequency of your practice partner’s push, then control them through the elasticity in your body:

Finally, Sifu demonstrates how you can use the Science of Elastic Force to deliver a strike – in this case with the elbow.

Sifu covers a number of different defensive and offensive moves in his workshops. Videos from other training sessions on his U.S. tour also are uploaded for your viewing pleasure.  Check them out here.

The Body Electric

Most of the individual exercises during Sifu Mark Rasmus’s workshop, “The Science of Elastic Force,” involved giving our partners enough pressure to allow them to bounce us by absorbing that force and turning it back on us, and vice versa. We were encouraged to sense the “springs” in our elastic joints and connective tissue. And we learned that developing that elasticity takes work.

ImageWe would alternately “push” and “pull” to open our joints and stretch our connective tissue. Pushing the arms, hands and fingers outwards, stretching the joints, is a natural movement. But then using the muscles in your arms to “pull” back against the reach, stretching and opening the joints, proved to be more of a stretch.

Sifu instructed us to use the magnetic Yin power to absorb the incoming force, drawing our partners off balance in order to make them susceptible to the return Yang power, which he described as electric, the opposite polarity to the magnetic force. How “electric” we were in response to our partner’s push depended on how well we were cultivating the elasticity of our joints and connective tissue.

It was hard to miss the difference between the electric force that Rasmus generated compared with the less assertive movements of his students. Using his arms only to “feel” the balance of his partner, his body would pulse against the incoming pressure, bouncing his partner violently but catching him with his sensing hand to avoid injury.

I have used “partner” and “opponent” alternately in describing this training to distinguish between developing the techniques in practice and using the techniques for self-defense. Our Sifu made clear, however, that the practice partner is an essential condition for becoming adept at tai chi as a martial art. One cannot simply practice the form and expect to develop the expertise necessary to defend yourself, he said. You have to practice with a partner.

That partner must be a willing foil for you, not your opponent. You don’t want a “sparring partner,” but a guide to help you develop your skills, and vice versa. “This is not the time to fight,” he said. “It is the time to learn.”

To connect with your partner or your opponent, you must tune into the same frequency, Sifu says, and you find that frequency by touching them gently, by sensing their root and their vibrations. This was perhaps the most difficult concept for me to grasp, and I struggled to gain this sensitivity to vibrations and frequency.

In this video clip, Sifu Mark Rasmus demonstrates to our group how to sense the frequency of a partner’s push, allowing you to “switch off” the body’s resistance to absorb the pressure and break the balance of the pusher. We quickly learned it is not as easy as it looks:

Aaron Green, director of Mid Atlantic Movement Arts, sponsor of the workshop, worked with me as my partner a few times, encouraging me to listen with my mind to the “switch” when he could be drawn off balance by my magnetic force. Inevitably, I would see it in his eyes, rather than feel it through the touch.

Tai chi teaching demonstrations of fajin – masters “bouncing” their opponents – as seen often on YouTube, may involve complicity of the student, whether overt or otherwise. The master has demonstrated the moves, and the autosuggestion for those who are most sensitive will be enough to move them, sometimes without any visible force.

This is not acting, however. It is a power that exists, particularly among those who do not resist it, who feel the power and respond to it.

As Sifu Mark touched each of his students, demonstrating different techniques, he pointed out that he feels different energy from different people. “Some are more receptive to this training; others are resistant,” and he likened this sensitivity to that of hypnotism, whether someone is receptive to autosuggestion, or who resists efforts to “put them under.”

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Drawing from his Hermetics training, Rasmus teaches that we can focus our mind through meditation to increase our magnetic and electrical forces, that we truly have control if we allow our minds to lead. The meditations rely on elements of the earth, water, fire, and “ether,” an astral plane, which correspond to trigrams in the I-Ching, the mystical Chinese Book of Changes.

As we sit quietly and meditate on the space between our hands, breathing in and out, Sifu asks us to take one particular thought, something you want, “perfect health, for example, anything,” and project it into the space between our hands, breathe into it and accept it as our own, close up our hands, embrace our thought, make it reality.

It is a summons to tai chi warriors to carry our vision forward, to believe and to succeed, guided by this art that focuses the mind and conditions the body to win. Clearly, we must practice. We have much work to do.

For more information about Sifu Mark Rasmus and his teaching, check out the website at www.markrasmus.com. He is making plans for another tour of the United States next year.

Into the Mystic

Sifu Mark Rasmus is an imposing man, a lithe heavyweight who has trained wrestlers and boxers, including Thai kick boxers. He is about 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, by my estimation, although he seems bigger as he moves with quiet energy and purpose, like a big cat.

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Sifu Mark Rasmus

Behind this warrior façade, however, is a gentle man eager to share his knowledge and expertise about tai chi and martial arts in general.  You sense that he is sensing you, measuring you, when you meet, and you get used to his mindful approach. You want to answer in kind. You sense his investment in your well being, as your teacher.

For our group, Rasmus has synthesized his “building internal power” training into a weekend workshop of 12 hours, “The Science of Elastic Force.” We are 14 tai chi devotees gathered in Frederick, Md., the next-to-last stop in the U.S. tour. Some are tai chi instructors with years of experience; others are just trying to expand their “push-hands” experiences. One comes from New York, and another from Delaware. A few are like me, local enthusiasts feeling lucky that Sifu had come so far, so close.

Mark Rasmus has taught martial arts throughout the Far East, building a worldwide following for his unique teaching method and style. You can witness for yourself his YouTube videos, readily available, featuring his lessons in Japan, where he lived for seven years, and Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he lives now “in a little hut on the side of a hill.” His skill is evident in this video, where pushes are neutralized with ease and force returned along three circular routes:

“The Science of Elastic Force” is one part mystical Hermetics, one part Chinese internal martial arts, and one part physiology – a course in body mechanics and flexibility. Connective tissue – ligaments, tendons and the fascia – are the elastic elements that give your body amazing strength, if you choose to train and develop their capacity.

We begin both sessions with meditation exercises that extend almost an hour. Sifu stresses the importance of visualizing and breathing in the “life force.” Consecutive meditation exercises ask us to 1) consider each thought that comes into your head, watch each fall away and others arise, enjoying each; 2) isolate one thought that comes to mind and concentrate on that one only, not letting it fade away for at least five minutes; and 3) let your mind go blank, dismissing all thoughts; sink into nothingness. Relax completely.

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Finally, we are breathing into the vacuum between our hands, which we  hold 18 inches apart and contract to 8 inches or less as we breath into it, literally and figuratively, filling up the space with our “life force,” our chi. Like in the video, as we run through demanding physical exercises, Sifu Mark holds up his hands, gently moving them in and out as if with an accordion, “Bring it back to this,” he says, “the life force.”

“Stretching” exercises are physically intense and exhausting, literally throwing our arms one way and violently pulling them back, stretching the tendons and opening the joints, a key condition for the “elastic” energy you need to “bounce” your opponent.  When Sifu Mark demonstrates the exercise, however, his sweeping arm throws sound like deadly weapons, whistling violently against the wind as the tendons and ligaments are stretched to their limits.

I try this with much effort and notice that I am recreating the sound of Sifu’s hurtling tomahawks but with the sound coming from my mouth, a low and restrained whistle reflecting my effort but hardly matching the power of the original.

By opening the joints and stretching our connective tissue, we are releasing our bodies to song (hsung), in the Chinese terminology, complete relaxation, a condition of readiness, a precondition for action in tai chi, as Sifu Mark demonstrates on the video, sinking below his partner’s body mass.

In Sifu Mark’s metaphysical world, this Yin relaxation is also the powerful magnetic force you use to suck your opponent into the vortex, to put them off guard, to doom them. The magnetic is Yin, the female, the cold, the dark, the low. It is water, the essential element. It is roll back, the energy of yielding. As he demonstrates in this video, your relaxation (song) allows you to return the force applied to you, without intention:

Next: The Body Electric

Tai Chi Revelations

I’ve practiced tai chi for 25 years, religiously pursuing an almost daily exercise to improve health, balance and mindfulness. It seems to be working within those parameters, but it may be too early to tell. Eventually, I will fall down and lose my mind. It’s just a matter of time, no matter how hard I work to prolong it.

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(C) The Kwoon, Port Orange, FL. Art by Warren Cain.

More recently, I’ve begun to understand how this 200-year-old Chinese martial art form can take you further than simple health and vitality, both physically and mentally. Those ideas began to crystalize during a recent weekend seminar conducted by Sifu Mark Rasmus, a martial artist and former clairvoyant who brings that mysticism to the teaching of tai chi, as I’ll explain later.

Tai chi chuan translates to “extreme, ultimate boxing (or fist).” This form of Chinese boxing (yes, these guys were flexing their muscles during the “Boxer Rebellion” in China at the turn of the 20th century) evolved from the martial arts form and practice of the Yang and other families in the 1800s. The Yang form was refined to 37 basic postures and popularized in the United States by Cheng Man-Ch’ing, a renaissance man renowned as the “Master of the Five Excellences” – poetry, calligraphy, painting, Chinese medicine and tai chi.

My teachers descended from the group of Americans, particularly Robert E. Smith, who were schooled by Cheng, a man of small stature who easily dispatched them in his New York studio. My teachers have explained that the power of tai chi comes from inside the body and is guided by a mind (yi) that is sensing the “center” and “root” of opponents, and then purposefully directing energy (chi) to neutralize and then dispatch them.

Anyone can develop these martial arts skills, as witness Cheng, a sickly young man who healed himself through tai chi. When you look at him on video, with his wispy sideburns and goatee, you think he could not possibly be a fighter. But using tai chi principles, he would outmaneuver and defeat larger men in America.  Check out Cheng displaying his martial abilities through push-hands exercises:

When Cheng is at his best, he doesn’t extend his arms in propelling his opponents – or “bouncing” them, as modern tai chi practitioners describe the process the Chinese refer to as “fajin,” or issuing explosive power. He is able to absorb the energy of his attackers and to send it back at them. To understand this process, you really must feel it. Now, after 12 hours of training with Sifu Mark Rasmus, I have a new appreciation for this internal power.

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Sifu Mark Rasmus in Chengdu, Sichuan, China.

Mark Rasmus (sifu is the traditional Chinese honorific for “teacher”)  came to tai chi after extensive experience as a wing chun fighter. He also studied Hermetics, an occult pursuit of magic and mysticism by training the mind and body, as popularized in Europe by Franz Bardon’s “Initiation into Hermetics.” Mark fondly recalls his work as a clairvoyant, with and without Tarot cards, and today still practices psychic healing through chi kung, literally “life energy cultivation.”

“Usually when I touch them, I can separate and remove the energy that is causing the sickness,” Rasmus says, “as long as they are receptive to the touch and the idea of healing through transmission of chi. The mind controls this energy.”

In tai chi, the concepts of chi, as the “life force” you can cultivate with breathing and meditation, and yi, the purposeful mind that allows you to direct this life force, suggest a power that at least borders on the metaphysical. The workshop title, “The Science of Elastic Force” could not disguise the mystical and magical tenor of the teaching of Sifu Mark Rasmus.

Tai chi has long had the allure of the mystical, the “secret” behind the underlying power of the internal martial arts. In the Chinese culture, however, these are hardly secrets, just the expression of Taoist and even Confucian belief systems. The concepts of Yin and Yang, for example, are essential Chinese identities, opposite forces that are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world. Understanding this duality in nature and humanity is an ancient road to knowledge in China.

Rasmus teaches a western perspective on this duality, drawing from Hermetics, referring to the yin quality as magnetic, the yang quality as electrical. These polarities serve as the springboard for his practice, and his training. As we learned, they intersect neatly with tai chi principles, and they work in the real world.

Next: Into the Mystic.