Rule #4

We have many “Rules” in our Tai Chi class. Rule #1, for instance, is: “If it hurts, don’t do it”… We know that some of us have had injuries and cannot perform each move the same as the instructors. This is perfectly ok. Tai Chi is about doing the most natural thing for your body to do. If you’re capable of performing a move to it’s extent, then do so. However, if you cannot, then do the best you can for what your body is capable of… that is your Tai Chi in its natural state.

Rule #4: Stay in your center, and in your space. The physical understanding of this, is that your neck should stay over your shoulders, your shoulder, over your hips, and your hips are balanced over your feet. Further, the heels of your feet never come off the ground. Especially, your back heel. That is your ground, your root which is responsible for you standing tall, and not giving way.

Like the roots stop the wind from blowing over a tree, this foot is responsible for us to not give way when we do not want to give way. 

Another way of looking at this rule is if someone enters your space, and tries pushing you off your center, then you get rid of them. In training with another person in the martial arts, if they start pushing you around, getting you off balance, then you start loosing. Staying in charge of yourself means staying in your center. Staying in control of your balance, and your posture.

Looking at this from a different perspective, we need to maintain a calm and clear mind. Imagine, you are sitting in your car stopped at a stop light, listening to one of your favorite songs, when someone comes up to you unexpectedly yelling, and being aggressive. All sorts of questions start rolling through your head at this point, like why are they acting this way… what is happening… and where did this person come from? All of a sudden you are off your center, out of your calm state of mind, where you are balanced and in control of what you are doing. 

We have lost Rule #4 at this point, we didn’t stay in our center. Most likely, in this state of mind you cannot think clearly what needs to be done, and may make a mistake in handling this or any other similar situation. We need to get our center back to find our way out of that situation, or any like it. 

Our center is more that just an aligned body, or a clam mind. It’s both and more. It will incorporate our body, mind and our spirit. Knowing our center and acting from it will also provide inspiration towards our goals. Whether will power, or determination to achieve a milestone in our life, or the creativity to see a solution to a problem. 

Our center is a holistic point, incorporating our human potential. Tai Chi, and the martial arts can teach us to find this, to develop it, and to use it when needed.

Shifu Daniel Cimino

Five Areas of Health

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Chinese Martial Arts consider five different areas when they talk of health: how we eat, exercise, the environment we are in, rest and spiritual practice.

The first two areas of health are very obvious. Most people understand that to maintain good health throughout their lives, they need to eat well and exercise.

If we eat good, whole foods, not processed foods, nor sugary foods, then we are giving our bodies the proper nutrition it requires to excel throughout the day.

If we exercise regularly, then we can develop our muscles, lungs and our bodies in general. Staying active and not sedentary will help the blood, water, and other body fluids circulate throughout the body. This is essential for bringing oxygen, and other nutrients to all of the bodies extremities, and back again. This will ensure proper function of our bodies.

The environment we’re in is another obvious area of health. Think of working in toxic environments where we breath in toxic fumes daily, or we drink toxic water, eat contaminated food, etc. This will do harm to our bodies.

Rest is one of the most overlooked of these areas of health according to Traditional Chinese Martial Arts. Especially in our society. We are always on the go, always doing something; rarely do we rest for rest’s sake. If our bodies never get a chance to heal, then they are constantly in that state of damage. Damage done by exercise and toxic environments, poor food, etc. even if we do everything else correctly, we still need to recover from that. Exercise is still work, which damages our bodies. With proper nutrition, we can heal that, but need the rest to do it.

Spiritual practice is necessary too. It connects us with something greater than our bodies, or even our minds. Having a connection with the spiritual, in whatever tradition each one of us chooses individually, will re-energize our spirit, our will to keep going. It will bring balance to our activities. It will help us see the reason, the truth, behind why we need, or want to maintain proper health. If we are too physical in our lives, we find we’re missing something. With a spiritual practice that hole becomes whole.

With focus on all of these five areas of health, we find balance in life. We feel good in order to bring the best of ourselves to the world around us. To our communities, where we both help and enjoy each other. 

Shifu Daniel Cimino

Rolling With What Life Offers

Rolling With What Life Offers

In the martial arts being led around by an opponent will mean that I’m under his control. He will do what he wants with me. I’ll lose, and my opponent will win.

Life treats us similarly. If I am constantly under life’s direction I will be its victim. I will not get what I’m looking for. I will not win at life, so to speak.

However, if we take charge of the situation we’re in, we can direct it how we want. This is by no means to say that we can control any situation, or even another person (combat opponent). What this is saying is that we can help direct it towards something favorable to us.

In a fight, if I tie up an opponents arms by crossing his left over his right arm. I can then attack his left side. His left arm is pinning his right to his chest, all directed by my left hand holding his left wrist. This leaves his left side open, and my right hand free to attack it.

We cannot tie up life, like we do an opponent in a fight, but we can roll with what life offers us. We’ve all heard the aphorism that “if life gives you lemons, then make lemonade”. This is exactly what I’m talking about with rolling with what life offers. 

If I remain rigid and stuck to my “plan” then I cannot adjust to what comes my way, alter my plan, nor succeed in my main goal. If I remain stuck in my ways, then most likely I’ll fall like a stiff tree in a strong wind. 

My goal in a fight is to win, my goal in most life situations is to learn from them and better myself, and offer that knowledge to those around me. This  way we’re all growing in a positive direction. This way we can work as a team, where we all offer somethings in order to be better than on our own.

We need to remember our goals, to not get lost in the fine details of getting things accomplished. If we keep our benchmark (our goal) in our sites, or refer back to it as needed, we cannot get lost. Just remember to keep that focus, to keep coming back to what your goal is. Don’t worry if it changes slightly over time. That’s rolling with what life offers us.

Shifu Daniel Cimino

Body Knowledge

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Body knowledge is a term used when it’s more than just our brain, or mind which knows a thing. It’s when the body knows it too. When the body knows it better.

When we practice something over and over again, It is ingrained deep within us. In learning a Tai Chi or Kung Fu move, for instance, it is our bodies which learns. It is our bodies which performs.

Our mind needs to be engaged to initially remember the move though. The mind starts in the drivers seat, performing what was just learned. However, over time the mind takes a back seat and lets the body drive.

Due to the repetitive practice of the body, the body knows how to perform the task learned better than the mind can imagine or direct the body. The body then becomes the driving point for the applying this knowledge.

When we know the form this way, we don’t think about it, we will just do it. 

From a martial art perspective, thinking about what to do (during a fight), will only slow your reaction time down. We need to respond to what our opponent is doing instantly, without thought. Body knowledge gives us this.

Our Mission

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What we teach here at AFC716 helps people stay healthy, active, mindful, energized, slimmer, calmer, and more relaxed. It helps people improve their balance, mental focus and improve their happiness! It helps people develop an integrated mind/body/spirit approach to exercise and their health. As this is developed it will spread into other areas of our lives, and benefit them too. 

While training the body will help people stay active, build balance, stay energized and become slimmer, it leaves out other aspects of what we’re helping people achieve. The body should be strong, but it is not where we stop. It is where we start.

Training the mind will build mindfulness, help us stay calmer and be more relaxed. This helps balance the the training of the body. With the mind being strengthened alongside the body discipline, responsibility, patience, respect, integrity, and self confidence are all built up. The mind can be seen as a muscle which needs to be strengthened too.

Training the spirit completes this trifecta. With all three being developed we become healthier and happier. The body working with the mind is a powerful force able to achieve great things. When we train our spirit with them though, we are able to take a step beyond physical strength, logic, will power, and move towards truth, and freedom. Towards creating the art in martial arts. 

Teachers and Students

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When we learn Tai Chi and Kung Fu, we receive knowledge from our instructor, and practice that. We do this over and over until we have it ingrained in ourselves. Ingrained in our bodies, so we don’t think about what to do, we just do it! This is called body knowledge.

We as students will hear from our teachers, and sometimes struggle (sometimes not) to incorporate what we’re learning. We’re all the same in this… We all learn differently and at different paces. One of the best teaching techniques that I’ve learned is to just let the student learn… they have the puzzle pieces before them, they just need to put them together. A teacher will get the student started, but at some point the teacher has to back away and let the student finish by themselves.

As a teacher, this can be a difficult thing. however, it is essential for each student to learn, not just for the instructor to teach. We’ve all heard the aphorism: you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. We each have our own paths in life. Even when we share very similar paths (i.e. students in a Tai Chi or Kung Fu class), we all take different things from it. We all incorporate different things into our lives and practices.

A teacher cannot force a student to learn. We can only bring them to the water. We as students need to be thirsty enough to drink though. We as students need to put the puzzle together. We need to take an active role in our learning. It is for ourselves that we are learning Tai Chi, and Kung Fu. We should create, in the learning process, a path to what we want to learn. Let us work towards making this learning process body knowledge… We don’t think about it, we just learn!

Balancing Yin and Yang

IMG_3002Most people have heard of Yang and Yin (light and dark, initiating and receiving, advancing and retreating; respectively). What, however, is the point of knowing about these opposites, without being able to apply it to your life, Tai Chi and/or Kung Fu practice?

Too much yang in ones life, they can be too aggressive, too intense, pushing through their daily activities without hearing or receiving what others are trying to tell or teach them.

Too much yin in ones life, they can be too passive, too sedentary, being too much in thought, and not enough in action. These people can talk themselves out of doing what needs to be done.

With opposite energies of Yin and Yang, we should look for ways to balance them in our lives. Too much negativity can overpower us and bring us down, so we need to counteract that with positivity.

Being aware and noticing what is happening in our lives is Yin. Reinforcing and affirming the positive aspects of what we noticed is Yang. This is our action, advancing towards more of what we want. Noticing and being aware of when we’ve had enough of one thing though is also essential. This is Yin again, and turning our attention and action towards something else beneficial is Yang again.

It is a constant back and forth dynamic. Learning to ride this wave is essential to success in Tai Chi or Kung Fu. This is definitely applicable to our daily lives outside of the the martial arts.

What is one way in your life where you’ve balanced these opposing energies? How did it feel?