Interview with Patrick Kelly
What have you gained from your years of Taiji work?
P.K.: Internal evolution is the main result of practise under the direction of a genuine teacher. Effort and sacrifice is the cost. In my early twenties, with 10 years training in Western martial arts, some knowledge of yoga and meditation, and about to complete my university studies, I made the decision to concentrate my life on the search for inner meaning and development. Boxing and wrestling had no depth, Yoga had depth but was too passive, while meditation lacked balance without some complimentary training. I tried some of the Japanese systems but their culturally based severity turned me towards the Chinese arts, where I began Taiji. Taiji, at least the teaching of Master Huang Xiangxian, has fulfilled all my expectations in terms of supporting balanced internal development.
What particular aspects of Taiji really interest you most today?
P.K.: Only the mind and beyond interest me. Teaching how to bring the body under the control of the mind is my chosen area in which to help people. Personally, as the mind goes deeper towards its source, my interest is gathered in by that process. Health and self defence are very minor interests.
Has your image of Taiji changed much over the past 30 years?
P.K.: Not really - I began Taiji not having seen it, only knowing it was one of the internal Chinese Martial Arts which were based on Daoist principles and that their purpose was internal development. After meeting one of Master Huang's instructors who clearly demonstrated knowledge and ability beyond anything seen in my previous 10 years of research, and then meeting Master Huang himself, I knew I had found what I was looking for.
What is your personal teaching philosophy?
P.K.: It is important to encourage students to make an effort, both to extend their outer limits and to go deeper inside themselves.
It is important to ensure students understand why they are practising certain exercises and where those practices will lead them. Seeing the way ahead and the purpose in going there, gradually allows them to be less dependent on myself. This understanding also protects them from being misled by unscrupulous teachers in the future.
It is also important to recognise the responsibility in becoming a teacher. Practise is for your own development, while teaching is to help others. If you practise in order to become a teacher, or you teach to gain prestige or money, it will neither help your own internal development nor others.
What are your future plans for teaching in Europe?
P.K.: From the large numbers who first came to my workshops, I chose and now concentrate on one hundred students who were most prepared to train what was being taught. My aim is to guide them until they can stand independently. If those hundred can really understand the methods well, find it in their own bodies and then pass it to their students, we will be free to concentrate on the deeper aspects. My experience and that of my teacher, is that it requires about fourteen or fifteen years consistent training before a student is capable of teaching independently. I trained under Master Huang for twenty years until his death in 1992, and that is the basis for the help I offer.
What are the deeper aspects?
P.K.: The deeper aspects are of the mind and beyond. There are three clear levels in Taiji, the body, the mind and beyond the mind (Spirit). I try to teach people the body level thoroughly, lead them further into areas of the mind, while steadily introducing the spiritual aspects.
What are the most important things to train on the different levels?
P.K.: The aim is to unite the levels, not to work exclusively on any one of them. People should first learn how to move smoothly in their body, then how to release and align, then to find the forces in the body - combining all these with the mind. All this is for the mind-body co-ordination. Just body training barely has any place in Taiji. Then there is training for mind-energy co-ordination and later for the deepest part of the mind. Simultaneously the Deep Mind connection with the Spirit can be allowed to grow.
In terms of the mind, what are you teaching?
P.K.: It is possible to say something but real understanding comes from training. There is awareness and intention on many levels from superficial to very deep. Awareness and intention combine and interact to produce response. Commonly people train some sort of awareness in Taiji but they seldom train the intention. Action with awareness implies body active, mind passive, while action with intention implies mind active, body passive.
The special training of the mind intention (Yi) was quite deliberately kept secret by the old masters. Master Huang and Master Ma, for example, kept it just for their inner school pupils, only passing it on to a few of their thousands of students. Because of this the method of developing intention is not usually found in the training either in China or the West, yet strangely, in the Classics it is stated as the most important thing. Even when it is taught, students must practise for a long time before they begin to find it for themselves and take it deeper.
Can you talk about your main teachers Patrick?
P.K.: When beginning on the path, it became obvious that I needed to find a teacher who really knew what they were about in a spiritual sense. I began Master Huang's Taiji and shortly after began training with a Sufi teacher. He was a sheikh in the Nasqabandi tradition from Afghanistan, drawing also partly on the Gurdjieff tradition. I continued to train with these two people until their deaths (Master Huang in 1992; the Sufi in 1987).
Other teachers who have had some influence are an old yogi who lives in the desert in India, whom I visit from time to time, and an old Daoist sage who is hidden in China and unknown in the West. Master Ma Yueliang, who stayed in NZ for 6 months and whom I later visited in China, helped me also and I have kept close contact for the past 15 years with Master Ni Hua Ching who knew Yang Pan Hou and Yang Cheng Fu and was a good friend of Zheng Manjing. These teachers all pushed me to teach. Without their mandate I wouldn't be so bold as to direct other people in their lives.
To come back to the Taiji practise - what is the purpose of pushing hands?
P.K.: Pushing hands is for sensitivity, the Form is to train internal strength. This is their original purpose but poorly trained students reverse this, training the Form lightly with awareness but no intention looking for sensitivity, then using strength combined with elementary mechanics in the pushing hands in an attempt to find internal strength.
Pushing hands teaches you to expand and extend your awareness to include others. It allows you to practise awareness of, and a correct response to the partners intention whereas in the Form it is your intention that produces the movement in response to the stored body memory of the sequence. Over time and with the correct method you become sensitive to the intention to move in the partner's body, energy field and mind. Pushing hands is also a teaching method where the students can interact with the teacher and learn from that contact.
Have you competed in a push hands contest? How do you feel about competitions?
P.K: I have never competed in a pushing hands contest, but in the Chinese world when you push hands it tends to be very competitive, remembering that most students and teachers in Asia have, at best, learnt in the 'outer schools' of the good masters. In Asia we would often go to the parks on the weekend where there would be Taiji people from many different schools meeting. Though our intention was to learn, this situation was extremely competitive. In China when I visited various teachers, it was often taken mistakenly as a challenge, and serious pushing hands would be difficult to escape.
I have watched competitions and they appear to produce and stimulate the worst aspects of Taiji. What people are doing, the competitiveness and desperate trying to win, is against the basic principles. I don't believe people learn much of worth from it. Some people feel they learn to handle an aggressive energy or an aggressive situation but I observe people just become more competitive themselves. The aggressive situation stimulates aggressiveness so it achieves the exact opposite of what people imagine. Pushy people feel justified in their behaviour and rise through the ranks of the organisations that convene the contests, perpetuating these patterns of behaviour.
Can free pushing replace the fixed pattern pushing hands?.
P.K.: It is much better to train the fixed pattern pushing hands and teach your body and mind, the correct responses, under controlled conditions. If you practice the free pushing you just use your existing abilities while attempting to become faster and stronger. Consequently it fixes these inefficient habitual responses more solidly in yourself. When a persons responses have changed to conform to the principles of Taiji, then gentle controlled free pushing can be used to enhance the naturalness of these responses.
Please explain the importance of the vertical circle as opposed to the horizontal circle.
P.K: The horizontal circle contains the external movements of the body which involve repositioning the centre. In the vertical circle the internal changes take place within the mind and within the body, producing subtle changes in the height and vertical forces of the body, while the body makes its external movements. The internal changes in their simplest form are contraction which produces movement followed by release which allows the body to 'swing' or move on under the influence of momentum and gravity.
Because the body works against the ground to move, contraction produces both a horizontal force and a vertical one. Faster movements require a greater horizontal force, which necessitates a stronger vertical force, which will produce a slight lifting in the body. While moving slowly in the Taiji Form gravity overcomes this lifting so people may not become sensitive to it. When people need to move quickly the vertical force overcomes gravity and will lift the body slightly, followed by a settling down of the body once the wave of contraction passes. Many people find this for themselves and Zheng Manjing mentioned it in one of this books, but this second phase of releasing or swing has 3 hidden phases that people seldom understand.
Please explain the different states of the muscles and how they affect the forces in the body.
P.K: The muscles cycle through contract, release, stretch and un-stretch, while the mind has its corresponding cycle of concentrate, relax, sink and empty, plus a neutral state for both giving 5 phases. Practical understanding of this only comes from long study. This cycle of mind and body is the basis of all Master Huang taught me in my 20 years learning under his direction.
If you don't understand the five states then it's difficult to find the relaxed elastic force of Taiji. It's commonly taught that there are just the two muscle states of contraction and relax. If you only know these two you will be stuck on the pairs of opposites, the Yin and the Yang. If you only consider, or attempt to combine these two as in first contract and then relax, or partly relaxed, partly contracted, then the search for the relaxed elastic force of Taiji is doomed to failure. Stretching and un-stretching are seldom talked about or understood. The corresponding changes in the state of the mind are even more obscure.
Please explain the different mind states to train in the form?
P.K: No, I can't really explain that. They need to be trained with a person who understands them. I can say, people first have to listen very closely to their body. Its not the normal listening which is from the superficial mind. Look for genuine body sensations such as warmth, pressure and non-visual body positioning.. This is the first step and it is considerably different from the feeling type of awareness that the average Taiji person trains. Merely increasing concentration on the level of normal daily awareness is a false method which just makes it more difficult to go deeper later on. Unfortunately, many modern systems of meditation teach people to value and strengthen just this superficial awareness. The ego observes the superficial perceptions, vision, hearing etc. and feels it sees reality 'just as it is'. It is not a true path. Each of my teachers spoke of this error, and my experience confirms what they said.
On every level of Taiji there is the paradox of letting go and keeping control. What are your thoughts about this and what ways of working with this do you recommend?
P.K: Central to Taiji is the paradox of how to combine the yin and the yang, e.g. Contract/release or control/naturalness. What we are looking for is not more yin or yang, or a mixture, but something new. You could call it yin-yang, as one thing. It seems like a mixture of the two, but it is something different, a third thing that is produced. Its never a matter of one is right and the other is wrong, but the simultaneous combination of the two produces something more subtle.
When producing Taiji force (jin) there is drawing in and sending out at the same time. The state of stretching is actually a new state that's produced within the muscle. The stretching allows the yielding and at the same time produces a force, it's not a simple combination of contracting and relaxing either in time or space.
The same with letting go and keeping control. The letting go that interferes with keeping control, is not the letting go that you need. The keeping control that interferes with letting go is not the control that you need. You must find that which simultaneously allows an increasing control and an increasing letting go.
Why is it important to align the body?
P.K: It's important to align, at the time of forces passing through the body. It's not necessary to align when you are just relaxing. Aligning creates a line of connection from the ground to the point of application which allows the forces to pass through the body without producing contraction, resistance or pain. A straight and vertical spine for example, allows the strongest vertical forces to rise from the ground. Usually as people get older their spine becomes less flexible and the curves increase causing problems with the disks. Releasing and aligning within the Form and auxillary exercises can reverse this process.
What is the importance of forming a good base?
P.K: Internal forces of Taiji work up and down from the ground. Without a good base people can't find these forces and will never escape using upper-body strength and weight, signalled by leaning and excessive movement when issuing force. Only when the body is stable can you really loosen the upper-body and find the vertical circle. Only when the body is extremely stable can you concentrate the mind [mj1]deeply while in the midst of action.
Why is it important for the body to be loose?
P.K: When babies are born they are already loose, but they don't know how to move. The first thing they learn in order to survive, is a reasonable ability to move the body, which involves contraction. Everybody learns that but they may never learn how to release. Consequently, residual contraction remains and accumulates in the body so that when they become older their whole body becomes tight and locked. As an antidote, people first need to learn how to release these residual, habitual contractions. Then, once they make a contraction, how to release it fully, immediately afterwards. Residual contractions block the blood flow and energy flow, as well as interfering with subsequent movements. Certainly when the forces flow from the ground through the body, it is necessary to be able to release previous contractions completely to allow the semi-automatic stretching and un-stretching to take place.
Why is accuracy in the form important?
P.K: The main reason is to train the mind/body control on the initial level. This is achieved by accurate positioning of the body according to a clear intention of the mind, either the stored memory of the position, or a fresh intention at that moment. With beginners, the mind intends one thing and the body does something different. Accuracy is the first step in practising mind/body control, as well as the first step in finding the types of position that allow a greater transmission of forces to and from the ground.
Why is it necessary to develop the deep mind?
P.K: The superficial mind, or normal daily awareness is basically brain consciousness. The real mind, in all its parts, exists in the energy field, not in the brain. When you die the superficial mind is gone with the brain, but the deeper aspects of the mind still exist and operate on three different levels. There is the mind connected with the body, the mind connected with the energy field and then there is the intelligence of the mind. The Deep Mind Intelligence functions through these three aspects. It connects into the brain and body through these 3 aspects, but is quite different from the brain. The Deep Mind, which includes the deeper parts of the energy field, is your real individual self. It's born in a body to develop its energy field and its associated intelligence's. That is the purpose of life. Not remembering this, you waste your lifetime.
So you would say it's the main purpose in training Taiji?
P.K: The classics say the main purpose in training Taiji is to achieve longevity, which in the Daoist teaching means immortality or the ability to survive after death in your diamond body. The Buddhists talk of enlightenment which means to create a body of light for the same purpose.
After death you live on in your energy body one way or another. If your energy body is strengthened and refined through correct effort during your lifetime then the deeper aspects of yourself become independent from the body, immune from death in your crystallised energy body. If you haven't achieved that, then you either gradually fade from all individual existence or return in a body to try again to escape the rounds of life and deaths. This is the truth of life. It is well understood by all real teachers. Other purposes for Taiji are minor ones, created by people in normal life, usually to nurse the body and make it more comfortable, or to attain fighting power and the dubious respect that confers. Unfortunately concentrating on health or self-defence may just make the mind more attached to the body, strengthen the ego and block internal development.
How can those interested in your concepts make contact with your teaching?
P.K: I don't advertise widely, but there is enough information around, such as this interview, my books and my students who teach. If a person is really interested, if they make some effort to look and if there is some inner resonance with the teaching, then the opportunity to make contact will no doubt be arranged by their own Deep Mind.