From Chicago to Montrose, Tai Chi Training with Lee Burkins
Reporting back with Installment #3 from two outstanding days of Tai Chi and Qigong training with Energy Arts Senior Instructor Lee Burkins.
Lee, a long time student of Bruce Frantzis, is a deeply experienced martial artist and teacher of Tai Chi, Qigong, Bagua, and meditation. A veteran of extensive combat in Vietnam, Lee writes about his wartime and postwar experiences in his memoir Soldier’s Heart, a book I highly recommend. For a recent article on Lee’s work teaching Tai Chi to combat veterans, click here.
Installment #1 covers Putting the Spine in the Feet, a lesson for increasing stability and whole-body connection. For Installment #1, click here.
Installment #2 covers The In and The Out, a lesson for accessing body cavities/internal spaces and beginning to move in and out from those spaces. For Installment #2, click here.
Now on to Lesson #3 – The Down and the Up
The Down and The Up takes Lesson #1 and #2 into the vertical.
The Down. The Down takes us back to Installment #1, Putting the Spine in the Feet. By Putting the Spine in the Feet, along with relaxing the body downward, you begin to establish a solid and stable connection to the ground, your “root.” At a physical level, your root helps guides your weight cleanly through you body, through your feet, and into the ground. That leads to one component of a core principle from the Tai Chi Classics, a principle Lee reminds us of as we practice:
Tai Chi is rooted in the feet, generated from the legs, controlled by the waist, and expressed through the torso, shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers.
From The Downyou help create by Putting the Spine in the Feet, you can now express The Up.
The Up. In teaching what I call The Up, Lee points out that if our expression of a posture or move stops at the level of the arms and hands, we are not fully expressing it. To fully express a posture or move, you continue the expression Up the neck and head. This means engaging the following parts of what I call our “Tai Chi Anatomy”: the upper spine, the neck, the occipit (where the C1 vertebra meets the skull), then up to the top of the skull (the “Crown Point” or “Ba Hui”).
When your expression of a move or posture continues Up through the Crown Point, some interesting things begin to happen. You increase the engagement of the spine, including the neck. This tends to open a little space in the posterior part of the vertebrae, especially in the neck. This can improve neck alignment, helping to reposition the head over the neck. Expressing moves Up through the neck and Crown Point also helps gently release neck and shoulder tissue that may have becomes tight or frozen from the chronic head flexion that typically results from computer work.
Now let’s play with the concept through movement.
The Down and the Up and Circling Hands. Let’s return to the relatively simple Qigong move of Circling Hands. First, settle in, establish your alignments, then Put the Spine in the Feet, connecting Down to the ground. Then begin making vertical circles with your arms and hands, roughly tracking your side channels. As the arms and hands circle away from the body, there is an outward expression of the move. As Lee teaches, the outward expression also has an upward vector, The Up.
When you begin to get a sense of The Down and The Up, moves and postures will begin to be more rooted, centered, full, and vertical.
Here Lee demonstrates Circling Hands. Note in #4 how his expression of the posture continues UP the neck, through the Crown Point. The whole upper part of the posture “fills up.”
From Circling Hands to Tai Chi. As Lee teaches it, once you get The Down and The Up going in Circling Hands, it is a straightforward transition to Commencement, the first move of the Wu Short Form, or similar first move of other styles. As you express outward through the arms and hands, you express The Up through the upper spine, neck, and Crown Point. Once that stabilizes in Commencement, work it into the next move. When that stabilizes, the next. Eventually more and more of your movements will combine a fullness that extends in the vertical with a more stable connection to the ground.
I encourage you to play around with The Down and The Up. Let me know how it goes!
That’s all for Lesson #3 from my time with Lee Burkins. Hope it helps!
Mixing it up at Lee’s Bagua Barn. Not having any luck getting my palm strike in on Lee! His next move might be a throw, an arm bar, or a clear shot to my head with his right. Watch out for those Tai Chi guys!
Tai Chi Instructor
Energy Arts Certified
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