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

Filing Up Cups

If you have ever taken a Tai Chi class with us, you have most likely heard us talk about balance.

What is balance? I am so glad you asked! A quick google search of the word gives a few different definitions. Each one is important and meaningful.

During a class you will hear us talk about your physical balance. Maintaining an even distribution of weight to enable you to remain upright while learning and practicing Tai Chi. We show you how to shift your weight between your legs to help you maintain your posture while keeping you as steady as possible.

We like to talk about filling up your cups. The cups are a lot like your legs. … some like to imagine mugs like the picture above and others like to imagine red solo cups. As we shift our weight from one leg to the other, it’s like pouring water from one cup to the other. It’s always easier to move a cup with little to nothing in it. Pour all the water into one cup and move the empty cup and begin to fill the empty cup from the full one. We shift our weight into our right leg before we turn our left foot and begin to shift the weight back into the left leg thereby ensuring we do our best to never turn a joint with weight on it. We cannot break infallible rule number 3… or is it 4? I can never remember.

Balance can also mean doing whatever we can to remain upright in life. Take it from a person who falls down a lot because I am always “busy”. It’s a struggle sometimes to stop and be quiet. There is always one more thing to be done, or one more thing to say. I have a hard time being okay with where I am, like Daniel say’s. So Balance for me is coming to class. It helps me to focus on you for the hour you are with us. By helping you learn to calm and balance yourself physically and mentally, I find my own inner balance.

You can’t fill from an empty cup as they say. If you ask us, we will make tea in class, and we can all enjoy filled cups.

Whether you come to class regularly or you are still on the fence about trying it out, I hope to see you soon. We can figure out this crazy upright life thing together. It’s always better when we are together.

~Kate (and Daniel because I made him proof read this)

Harmony Between Yin & Yang

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Balancing yin and yang has several different aspects to it. This is based on how these two very different sides of the coin interact. 

Yin could be in harmony with yang, where they both agree. The yang aspect could initiate the idea of wanting to learn another language. The yin aspect would nurture that idea until it grows strong enough for action to be taken (which is yang). In harmony they work together.

Yang initiates; yin receives that and responds to it. This receiving and responding gives support to the yang energy to keep initiating. 

Think about a man approaching a woman. If the man approached her, and she didn’t give some sign that she wanted him to continue talking to her. He would then feel less inclined to continue the conversation. He would end the conversation, and he would not feel the need to start it again. There would be no harmony between yin and yang here.

Yang can start things all day long. Unless it works in harmony with the yin, then it will not be successful. Unless yin is willing to support the yang, the yang will fall. Yin needs to catch the yang’s initiation. Yang needs to see that and continue, or notice that it’s not happening and stop itself.

Harmony is an awareness of what your partner is doing (here yin and yang are partners in the same event). With this awareness the two play different parts in the same song. The two move together in the same direction. One drives and is in the lead; the other supports and provides sustenance to keep going.

If we notice and are aware of what energy is being presented to us at any time, we can receive that and respond accordingly (yin). If there is nothing being offered and we’re free to create something, then we can initiate (yang). It starts with knowing what is going on though. 

Pay attention, be aware, and you will start to see the differences apparent in everything. You will then start to see the balance, or imbalance of various situations. Over time we can start to help correct the imbalances when they become apparent to us. This is the goal of any true martial artist. To help provide balance in the world.

Shifu Daniel Cimino

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