Recently I was working with one student in one of our Tai Chi classes, and she was expressing how she was “stuck” on a certain move in the health set. More specifically, she couldn’t keep her balance when standing on one leg in this one spot in the set. She could balance on that leg in other spots, but just not in this one place, about half way through the set.

This sort of thing usually screams out to me that her posture is off for some reason. Taking a closer look I was able to confirm my suspicions. We usually adhere to the rule of stacking the head, shoulders and hips over a foot when trying to balance only on that leg. This student was not stacked properly, which was causing her to be out of balance.

Over time the strength in our stabilizer muscles will increase, which will allow us to muscle through the balance in something like the above. The proper way of balancing though, is to be stacked as described above. This allows us to use our muscles as little as possible, and it uses the alignments of bones, and the strength of the tendons to support our body.

Tai Chi may not be alone in this, but we use this rule throughout the health set. Making this a normal daily practice creates a lasting feel of controlling our balance. Once we can replicate this regularly in the set, we can then incorporate how we move in Tai Chi (stacked and balanced at all times) into the rest of our lives. 

When we’re standing in a line, we are thinking of our head, shoulders and hips stacked over our feet, with our knees slightly bent. Or, when we walk down a side walk, we can feel that fluid stacked-ness of our body while moving. Once we start enjoying this, we can start relaxing through it, making it easier and easier to succeed at this each day.

Shifu Daniel Cimino

AFC716 Has Always Been About…

We’ve recently been watching Cobra Kai on Netflix. While this post starts off talking about that show, it’s less of a review of it, and more of a spark for an idea about what AFC716 has always been. 

Miyagi-do Karate in season two of the show brings people together. They are not divisive. They do not create a separation between groups of people. All are welcome in learning their art. All are able to learn to defend themselves in their tradition.

We at AFC716 have always wanted a community where everyone feels safe and secure to be themselves. We want a place where each of us can continue down the road toward our health goals, and we have always wanted to spread the wisdom of these great martial arts.

There are certain things that are learned along the way, such as respect for the teachers, as well as the other students. The Shyun Systems of  Tai Chi, and Eight Step Preying Mantis Kung Fu are in depth arts which can fulfill an individual for a life time. The Kung Fu Blitz can offer a great, yet simple workout. AFC716 however, offers more. We feel that one of the best things about this school is the great connections we make with new people. Finding amazing people who all share some common interests. Having lasting friendships develop from an original initial meeting… Ask Kate, or I someday about how the two of us first met, and we’ll tell you a fun story about an F’ing poke.

AFC716 has always been about inclusion, and respect for one another. It’s more than just a school teaching Kung Fu & Tai Chi. It’s about friends and family who have built a community around the martial arts together. Who hang out and enjoy each others company outside of classes. It’s about enlarging our circle of friends, into our tribe of people!

Shifu Daniel Cimino

Black Coffee Initiative

I remember the day I started drinking coffee. I was at my friend’s wedding and I really needed some energy if I was going to dance the night away. It was the summer of 2008. Up until then coffee smelled good but was the grossest thing ever, no matter how much junk I put in it.  

I was sitting with some friends and everyone was dumping cream and sugar in their coffee and enjoying the wedding cake. I did the same… and said a silent prayer that I wouldn’t gag and took a sip… it was good.  I took another sip, dove into my cake, and finished the coffee…

I then danced the night away. WHAT IS THIS MAGICAL POTION?!?!?!?!?

Thus began my love hate relationship with coffee.

I love it and can drink it all day. I hate how much junk I need in it to make it taste good. As I have changed the way I eat over the years, the stuff I put in my coffee has changed too. When I was plant based, I had to eliminate dairy and went with nut based milk and sugar. It was ok. 

I didn’t feel well eating that way so I flipped the switch and eliminated sugar and added back meat and dairy choosing to live the low carb life. I added heavy whipping cream to my coffee and LOVED it. I was able to totally remove any sweetener as long as I had some cream. What a win. Then… I stopped losing weight. 

I did some research and I stumbled on Intermittent fasting. I gave it a shot. It wasn’t hard. I read books and follow groups. Some people can have a little cream in their coffee, or a diet soda and still do well. I have found that makes my hunger worse. So I have to go with … GASP…. Black coffee…

I started slowly. Backing off on the amount of cream that I use and then I bit the bullet at drank a whole cup. It was ok. I survived. I even kind of like it. Admittedly, I like the kind of coffee we have at home.  At work, it’s ok. I need to sprinkle in a bit of salt to cut the bitterness.

I am beginning to enjoy it. At this point in the journey, I still prefer a cup of cream with a hint of coffee, but I am learning to like it black. Maybe one day, I will crave it.

How do you take your coffee? Do you have any tricks for me?


Quieting Our Minds

In a recent Tai Chi class we were discussing how we can get wrapped up in thought, and lose track of what we’re doing. One thought turns to another, and another. Before we know it we lose our place in the health form, and we feel like we are lost in that moment.

We even touched on what is called “autopilot” driving. That is when we arrive at some destination, and we don’t remember actually driving there. It feels like we are no longer in each moment of our lives, as if they are passing by before we can be there. Sometimes we let our thoughts control us to a point where we are more wrapped in them, than in what is happening in the world around us.

I suggested that we work on what I call ‘grounding’ while practicing the health set. As we practice the Tai Chi, we focus on something like how our shoulders feel. We just notice them. We do not think about how the shoulders feel, but just to give our attention to the feeling of our shoulders. No matter what they feel like, we do not judge what we feel, or try and change what is there. That is just another thought, which will take us down a road of more thoughts. 

We are using this grounding exercise to quiet our minds. Whether our shoulders (or any other point of focus) feel like they are at a point of stressed induced tension, or loose and relaxed, we just tune into that feeling. 

This does two things. One, it will help us relax. It will cause the area of our attention to loosen up, and ease up whatever it’s doing. It will also help that area of our bodies return to its natural state of alignment. It will straighten our posture; our shoulders will drop and fall back to their nature point. It’s amazing what mindful attention will do!

The second thing this ‘grounding’ will accomplish is that it takes our minds and firmly plants it in our bodies. Not only are we focused, and at peace with what we’re feeling, we tend to think less. Especially about thoughts that have no relevance to what we’re doing… Practicing Tai Chi, or Kung Fu, or just working out in general. 

This can be practiced while walking, sitting, reading, writing. This can be done while talking with friends, working out in any way, shape or form, or even just sitting on a couch watching TV. This can be literally done anywhere, or at anytime.

Our thoughts can take control of us at times, especially when we’re stressed or anxious. This practice helps us let go of unnecessary thoughts so we are able to focus only on how we feel at the moment. This allows us to feel at ease in our own skin and to quiet our minds. 

What other tools do you use to cope with stress and anxiety?

Shifu Daniel Cimino

Learning to Walk

I am sure that you have heard me mention my nephew Tank, and his adventures in learning to walk. I have learned a lot watching him. Not that long ago, I have compared his journey to ours as we learn Tai Chi.  As adults it’s often hard to not be super great at something. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, or even embarrassing when we don’t “get it” right away.

While watching Tank, he would often take a step, panic, and quick sit down.  Sometimes he would even take a few steps and plop down just to scoot the rest of the way. Either way, no one ever once said he was doing it wrong. No one told him he would never be able to do it. No one made him feel bad. We all cheered him on. When he fell, we picked him back up and held his hand until he got the hang of it. We all told him what a good job he was doing and how strong he was. He would look up at us, smile his gooey smile, and try again. It might have taken him a little while to figure the whole walking thing out, but now he is a pro! 

Learning Tai Chi is a new “thing” for many of us. Most have never moved their body like in second circle, or Single Whip. I have joked with many of you; I have said that I will be starting a new thing using single whip to choose items at the grocery store. I am sure it will catch on soon. Looking at this from the right perspective; a lot of these moves are very new experiences. Especially trying to coordinate them and remember the next one. So we need to give ourselves some slack. As long as we keep trying, we will get it! Always keep in mind, RULE #2: don’t worry about it. The moves will come. The sequence will come. The balance and coordination will come. The only wrong way to do Tai Chi is to give up! 

The Japanese proverb “Nana korobi, ya oki” means “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” It means choosing to never give up hope, and to always strive for more! 

Shamelessly including a picture of this handsome guy…

~ Kate

The Next Level

One of our student’s brought this up in class recently. I haven’t thought about this topic in a while, but I’ve found that it’s very true how this works. It was the concept of bringing her Tai Chi practice to the next level.

We think we’re doing something well, and we usually are, but we really don’t know what it feels like to do something “right” until we do it “right”. Here we’re doing Tai Chi “right” when we are following its principles. Like adhering to the concept of the form, being mindful of our balance, upper & lower body coordination, having a slow steady speed and continuously moving.

Once we do “feel it”, then we have reached that next level when practicing. This will be like doing the form, and connecting with the balance aspect deeply. Where we know the set so well we can focus our attention on noticing how we are off balance. Whether we’re leaning forward with our shoulders, or more accurately our hips have pulled back behind our shoulders. We connect to what we’re really doing, and we can adjust ourselves to do it “right”.

We are always reaching for doing Tai Chi perfectly, but we always find something else to improve upon. This may seem frustrating on the surface (to never be done), but it is the right way to practice. Knowing that we can do the set well, and being happy about that, but also knowing that we can do it better. We however, don’t let that deter our positive outlook on our practice. We learn to enjoy the process of learning. That tends to be a greater joy than to doing it really good once. It will continue to offer happiness as we continue to train.

To look at this from another angle, it’s a false belief to think that at some point we will be done. I don’t know about anyone else, but I do not come close to thinking that. I’d rather to never be done, but to continue to improve throughout my life. Especially if I know the concept in my mind, but have not put it into practice fully. That means I don’t practice enough. But If we continue to practice throughout our lives, we will continue to reach new levels where our practice deepens and offers more to us. There’s no rush here; all in due time, and no matter what, it will take time.

This coupled with the joy of learning keeps bringing more and more peace and ease in my life. I hope that we all practice enough to reach that next level at some point in our lives, and to then strive after the next one. 

This is the will to be an expert. We all know it in some area of our lives. Where we’ve gotten better and better at something in our lives, to a point where others come to us for help on that topic. That’s reaching the next level at work, or gardening, or mathematics, or anything we’ve excelled at in life. 

There are many levels to pass through. If you’re patient with yourself and practice, you’ll pass through them and see Tai Chi from a different perspectives. Over time You’ll see many subtle areas, and some not so subtle, where it provides great benefit to our lives.

Thanksgiving in August?

I want to say THANK YOU! If it weren’t for all of our dedicated students, AFC716 would not be what it is. Over the past few weeks we have had some really awesome things happen. We posted a really cool facebook commercial of some of our students and their testimonials as well as Daniel and I practicing section one on top of Chestnut Ridge. That led us to Mike Randall coming to interview us for The Now Buffalo. That was an incredible experience. As a result, we have had some new friends come to try out Tai Chi. People are really starting to hear us when we share the benefits of Tai Chi. 

I will never forget the day Daniel and I decided to teach together. I had a small class on Saturday mornings, he had a small class on Thursday evenings. We were standing in the parking lot after our class on a Wednesday evening talking about life and how we really wanted to get out of the daily grind of “the day job”. We both share a passion for teaching and our love of Tai Chi is limitless. He asked if I would like to teach with him. I said absolutely.  We decided to launch a 12 week session over the summer. We came up with a flyer and we walked around the village and talked to anyone who would listen  to us about the benefits of Tai Chi. We put up flyers anywhere and everywhere they would let us. We talked endlessly about how wonderful it would be if this “thing” took off and we could teach all day every day. 

That first session was a success. We did it again in the fall. In fact we did two. We met a lot of new awesome people and really honed our skills of teaching and sharing what we love. Some friends stuck it out and some moved on. We learned from, and appreciate every one that tried it out.  We decided after the second session what we wanted to make it a real class. That way beginners could start any time and we could really take our time and teach our students at their pace instead of packing everything into 12 weeks. We decided to let things build slowly and really enjoy every second. 

So here we are three summers later with 5 classes and lots of friends to share Tai Chi with. It is still kind of unbelievable. All the walking and talking led us here to you. We are so honored to be sharing Tai Chi with you. You have all become our family. I am humbled at your dedication. I look forward to each and every class. Blessed doesn’t even begin to cover it. So thank you from the bottom of my butt because it’s bigger than my heart. 


Relentless: Part two – Kate’s ramblings

In the last post I wrote about how being relentless in my dedication to be better and do better was a good thing. I relentlessly show up both for myself and for my classes who rely on me. These are great things. There is, however, a part of me that doesn’t want to. 

That nagging voice is relentless. That negative self-talk is relentless. Not feeling as though I am good enough is relentless. The procrastination part of my ADD is relentless. Some days it’s like fighting an uphill battle all day long. 

Over time, I have managed to work through the negative self- talk that tells me I am not good enough at this fitness stuff and I should just hang it up and let someone more fit teach these classes. What helps get me through it, is people talking about how refreshing it is to have an instructor that isn’t “perfect”. I am regular, just like them. I am good with that. My quest for fitness is for my own self. If I can help others along the way, then the more the merrier.

I have a harder time trying to quiet that naggy voice that tells me that I am too silly, that I need to be more serious and more focused because I am not holding up my end of the bargain. I am extremely fortunate that I have surrounded myself with people who understand my silliness and don’t try to “fix” me. I still think I’m too much. I am not everyone’s cup of tea, but I am the right people’s double shot of whisky. 

The procrastination is the hardest thing to manage. Even as I write this I am working on three other things. I write a little, and then go back to my spread sheet… then I come back all the while singing along to classic rock. I have honestly put off writing this for weeks. I knew what I wanted to write about. I thought about it a lot, but I just couldn’t sit down and write it. It has been like this my whole life. There is always tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. This is by far the most relentless thing in my life. It is a huge bummer and something I struggle to manage. One of my tools is Tai Chi. Tai Chi helps calm me; it calm’s my body and my mind. It helps me stay focused and get things done. The relentless thing about ADD procrastination is that I will always choose to do Tai Chi or another form of exercise over what-ever task I am putting off.  So it’s ultimately a wonderful tool in my box of tricks, but sometimes too much something good is something bad. 

There are two sides to every coin.  I can say that for as much as these things bother me and create havoc, my silly side, my happy go lucky self, is even more relentless. So, I suppose, it evens the score.


Relentless: Part one

What does it mean to be relentless? 

This word has been used a lot lately during my workouts. I see this as the intensity, focus and drive needed to smash my goals. Be Relentless!

Good, Better, Best, never let it rest until your good is better than your best. Be Relentless.

This term keeps circling around and around in my head… it’s kind of relentless. I looked up the definition. There were many similar ones, but the most straight forward is- Relentless: showing or promising No abatement of severity, intensity, strength, or pace. Knowing this, I have been reflecting on what it actually means in my life.  

Be Relentless – Show up even when you don’t want to. Long after the fun wares off; I show up. 

This is especially true in my alternative fitness class: Core De Force. I love it! I love the physical challenge. I love the music, and let’s be honest here, I LOVE hitting things & feeling powerful. There are days, however, that I just don’t want to. I am tired. My body hurts. I am just shot! I show up.

I love my ladies, and they need me to be awesome. I am relentless when it comes to being there for them. Sometimes I need to be silly and make them laugh. Sometimes it’s to struggle along-side them as we chase our fitness goals together. Those are the days that I draw strength from them.  

I am a firm believer that exercise has to be fun, or you won’t do it. We change things up regularly to keep our bodies moving, but we laugh. We have fun, and we build each other up, physically, mentally and emotionally. 

Most classes I am there ready to hit it, and hit it hard! There are other days that I confess, that I had a crap day and I need a bit of grace. They smile and we get through it together. We show up. For ourselves, and also for each other. 

Ultimately, the drive to be relentless comes from within. You determine if it’s worth showing up, and putting in the work. There are days that will be a struggle, but show up anyway. I’ll be there. 


The Art of Tai Chi

While Tai Chi is based on certain rules, such as, form, balance and continual motion. It becomes inherently one’s own. Two people may be doing the same move, but they each make it their own. One person may have a bad shoulder, and applies our principle of “if it hurts don’t do it”. They, therefore, make a Tai Chi “move” look slightly different than a person who doesn’t have that same injury… They don’t raise their arm as high as the other.

The injured person will still practice daily, sometimes more than the person who is not injured. They will apply the rules of Tai Chi to their motions. They will be in balance. Their body will be coordinated well. They will be moving slowly and steadily, never stopping. Their form may be slightly different though.

This is what we call making it your own. Doing the health set 1000 times, it will never be forgotten. Doing the health set 1000 times, helps you make it individually yours. Each practitioner will follow the rules. Based on their individual bodies, and how they move, they express it slightly differently. This then becomes creative part of Tai Chi. The art of Tai Chi.

Shifu Daniel Cimino