Fa Jin

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28th, 2013 by Walls-Kaufman

By Dr. David Walls-Kaufman

Today, on Mario Napoli’s very fine Tai Chi Chuan Study Group Facebook page, one of the members, Barry Strugatz, whom I don’t know, posted an interesting Youtube piece from Harvard on the distinctly human mechanics of throwing. And Barry made the analogy of the storing of elastic tension in throwing to Tai Chi, and I’m assuming he means Fa Jin.

But I have to strongly disagree. Fa Jin, or the push, in Tai Chi is not like throwing at all. Throwing necessitates a big “wind up” to generate the elastic tension to throw the object.

You see that in Judo and Aikido, but not in good Tai Chi. And this is one of the reasons why Tai Chi is so completely unique to other arts, aside from the “internal” component. So, I posted this suggestion of difference, and underneath is the link to the Youtube:

Hmmm. Yes, but I would suggest that in Tai Chi the elastic energy you are storing and releasing is in your opponent’s body. That energy in your body is powerful and massive, and so it can be contained and concealed in a small area – and then moved or swiveled around like a canon directed just on your opponent’s center. So – they’re similar, but still miles apart. Tai chi is much more like compressing a balloon against your fingertips to blast it off.


Professor Cheng’s breakdown of the four component parts of a Fa Jin help us understand the difference. He said a Fa Jin needed four things: 1) strong root, 2) strong internal energy, 3) the wave of resistance from the opponent, and 4) aiming your Jin like an arrow straight through the opponent’s center, and slightly upward.

[I may have this wrong! He may have made one of the four points “the right touch”, i.e. don’t be too heavy, so that you are sensitive to what they are doing.]

Without the first two components, that both come from powerful internal energy cultivation, it won’t work. Your powerful sung energy makes you like a wall, or a tree, a massive immovable object completely disproportionate to your physical stature. (So, big people can imitate this advantage over lightly built skinny people; hence, there’s a lot of big “Tai Chi Masters”.)

Your unusual magnet-like connection to the ground, the root, makes the opponent’s attack against you like a balloon compressing itself on a blunt stick. Once you have weathered the storm of their attack, i.e. neutralized their mass and energy, the huge compressed energy of the “balloon” rests squarely lined up on your person. You have the opportunity at this point, to unleash all of the balloon’s tension against itself, as if the balloon was massively compressed on the stylus of your fingertips. Your “push” is the release of that massive tension build up, that only happens if your root is powerful enough that you are immoveable to them.

If you move, or slip, or shift, the tension pops into release. If you have insufficient root, then the tension never builds up to the amounts required to send them flying away, because you have taken advantage of that law in physics that states, “If you control the center of the object, you control the object.”

[Most of the success in push hands and Tai Chi as a martial art is derived from your ability to manipulate the “movement discussion” between you and your opponent because of your internal power. Your internal power is so strong that they cannot reach to, or find, or manipulate you to give them, your center. And likewise your internal power is so strong that they cannot stop you from touching their center, or do so without producing a situation that makes them tense, without using tension, and thus giving you the wave of resistance that you then dilate with the precisely-timed and exquisitely-aimed pulse of your push.]

All of that compression power is built up by you directly on their center. It takes great internal power or external strength (strength works too, as in the example of the fat master who has no internal cultivation, but the physical mass to partly imitate the physics) to direct the pressure and the direction of force precisely where it needs to be directed, or changed slightly, in accordance with any shift your opponent might make in the moments before the Fa Jin.

That precise, subtle steering and control around the opponent’s center is also something that comes from the internal power. The touch, the great sensitivity, to manage the triggering and aiming of the great power comes from long practice in push hands. Feeling people defend, move, attack, shift, protect. The lighter you work, the more you progress. So, Professors Yang and Cheng, and Ben Lo, both said work light, aka with four ounces.

As light as you can. You will always be too heavy!

And “hearing” the subtle energy of their bodymind react to how you are influencing them and trying to force them to use force against you.

To repeat, the best analogy I have so far is that of compressing a balloon against your fingertips so that the elastic tension of the balloon itself blasts it away from you. You actually do so little!—just create the tension and keep it aimed as you want it. The analogy is easy to grasp when your mass is so much greater than a balloon. What seems too fantastic is to think that the analogy stays exactly the same for you when you confront someone that outweighs you by double or so!

But that is what it is!

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More On Tai Chi Knee Pain; Proper Knee Alignment

Posted in Uncategorized on May 29th, 2013 by Walls-Kaufman

by David Walls-Kaufman

One of the most common problems in the Tai Chi population is knee problems. And it isn’t because of Tai Chi. It’s because of a problem in your own knee – and here’s how to fix it.

I wrote a comprehensive article on the four causes of knee pain for Tai Chi Magazine in rebuttal to a poorly-informed criticism of Yang Style Tai Chi (in the critique called Cheng Man-ching Style) for its alleged “trauma” to the knee.

Aside from massive injury, the four causes are 1) chemical/inflammatory, 2) excess physical stress such as obesity, 3) improper nerve supply so that the knee tissues grow weaker from cellular derangement, and 4) improper knee alignment.

Improper knee alignment is everywhere in the world, let alone in Tai Chi circles. And the fix is so simple – it must be discussed here. Being simple means that there is no individual variation – which is wonderful. And once you are educated to the basic concept – you too will see it everywhere and can help spread the word to prevent costly and unnecessary doctor visits and even surgeries that will yield disappointing results on top of this underlying cause.

First, an anecdote on the effectiveness of proper knee alignment.

I went with Ben Lo down to Virginia Beach nine years ago to his workshop. There, a Tai Chi student of my dear deceased Tai Chi colleague, Larry Mann, told me he had chronic worsening knee pain and was slated for bi-lateral knee replacement surgery in a month.

In class, I stood behind him and saw the ankle alignment you see pictured in the photo below:

Here, you can see the extreme angle of the ankle and Achilles Tendon placing gross abnormal pressure on the foot, ankle and knee. The Achilles Tendon should be straight, not collapsed inward as in this photo.

“I’m going to take a photo of your ankle alignment,” I told him. “Now, I want you to roll out your ankles and cup the soles of your feet upward to form an arch until I tell you to stop.” He began, but kept stopping because this new ankle and foot alignment felt so preposterous. I prompted him, “Keep going. . . . Keep going,” until he was laughing absurdly.

Then, I took this second photo:

When I showed him the two photos, and how his ankles were FINALLY nearly correctly aligned in the second photo, he understood how his brain had accepted the crushed, awful ankle alignment in Photo One as his “normal”.

Why does ankle alignment from foot pronation bear upon the knee?

Because the ankle is the pedestal on which the knee joint rests. A tilting pedestal makes the knee crush inward. Ninety percent of the time the feet roll inward – called pronation. The knee then crushes inward, hyper-stretching and ripping up the cartilage, the meniscus, and ligaments from the inside of the knee bones.

To demo this – hold your fists up with two pens sticking straight up out of each between your fingers. Now, roll your fists inward to imitate foot pronation. See how the pens tilt dramatically inward? The tops of the pens represent the tearing pressure on the knee joint. This is why 90% of knee problems involve the medial (inside) part of the knee, not the outside.

Foot pronation, ankle buckle, knee buckle move hand in glove.

If the ankle pedestal continues to lean after the surgery or any procedure – what outcome do you expect there will be?

I advised my Tai Chi colleague to practice all the time walking around out-rolling and up-cupping his feet. A basic Yoga position.

I told him to see a chiropractor to remove nerve interference from the nervous system because the collapse of the ankles and knees definitely pitches out his low back, and this (at least) creates huge negative feedback for the knee nerve supply from the spine.

And I told him to get Foot Levelers foot orthotics from a chiropractor so that all three arches of his collapsed feet could get the proper low-grade support that allows full foot movement to “breathe”, rather than being imprisoned by conventional Old School orthotics that also only address the pronation of the one arch, when the foot has three arches.

I told him to lose a little weight – he wasn’t at all obese. And to load up on the fruits and veggies and lower the carbs for a more nutrient rich, calorie poor diet to help him on the inflammation/chemical side.

A year later – he beamed at me as he walked me into a big bear hug, saying:

“I’m doing fabulously! I didn’t need the knee surgery! I didn’t need the knee surgery!”

Often, foot pronation is much more subtle than this, which is why you should consult a chiropractor that is good at sports adjusting or extremity adjusting, i.e. works on the rest of the skeleton away from just the spine.

When we combine this simple alignment understanding with our other holistic modalities, it goes a long way to improving our health and body comfort in the way we expect the Holistic Lifestyle to do so. So, plug this in.

In all my decades seeing patients, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a case of chronic knee pain that did not involve an important piece of foot pronation.

Now, go out and help change the world.

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A Letter of Appreciation

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28th, 2012 by Walls-Kaufman

Dear David,

I would like to share some of my observations about your Push Hands skill with the readers of your blog, if you don’t mind. This is a small token of my appreciation of your mastery.

So this is addressed to someone who would like to know you better.

I’ve met Dr. David Walls-Kaufman at one of the Push Hands gatherings hosted by sifu Paul Ramos. I immediately noticed David’s distinctive individual style of Pushing Hands, and obviously wanted to have some practice with him. I was lucky enough to have numerous exercises with him at the Tuesday gatherings during almost two months. I also went to one of his Saturday morning open classes and practiced with him a Tai Chi Form. I have learned some very useful thing from David, and would like to thank him for sharing his experience and knowledge.
Here are some of my observations on David’s style and skills.

First, I (I believe, as many others) experienced David’s enormous power of Push. This is not just a physical power but a power of his Chi. It is extremely difficult to keep your balance under such a Push. Almost impossible.

Second, I noticed his very advanced yielding skill. He could meet any Pushes, even very quick and hard ones, with a gallant yielding and absorbing. After that, of course, the attacker will face an unstoppable Push. David’s Yin and Yang work together and harmoniously.

Third, David has a brilliant skill of redirecting the opponents Pushes. It doesn’t matter, from which sides Pushes come – David will somehow redirects them from his center and then goes to the center of the opponent.

Fourth, I always observed David’s sensitivity, full concentration, or mindfulness, if you will. “Your hands are your antennas,” once he said to me. His antennas are extremely sensitive and work very well indeed.

Fourth, he has stressed the importance of standing meditations, by using different elements of a Form. I believe, his strength is partly based on this practice.

Fifth, David pays a great attention to breathing, circulation of Qi and Qigong as a whole. Once he said during a practice: “Tai Chi is Qigong”. So his approach is clearly internally oriented one.

I also noticed and respect his willingness to teach others and practice with less advanced individuals. So it is not a coincidence that all novices love to learn from him. He is indeed very well-respected Master among all levels of Tai Chi practitioners.

Finally, David is a good storyteller, he can tell many fascinating stories about his teacher and other great Masters. These are inspirational stories, and they can describe not only a beauty of Tai Chi, spirits of Push Hands and skills of great teachers, but David’s dedication to this Art. David, despite of his mastery and 25 years of experience, is a devoted student of Tai Chi. His love of Tai Chi, perhaps, is even bigger than his powerful Push. It is nice to see his determination to continue learning Tai Chi. This quality characterized any real Master.

I guess there might be some critics or skeptics of some aspects of David’s Push Hands style. That is quite normal since every Master has his or her own way of doing things. One thing is clear for me: David has developed a powerful technique of Push Hands and his skill deserves recognition and a huge respect.

Alisher Faizullaev, D.Sc., Ph.D.
PS. Here is the link to Alisher Faizullaev’s article titled “Tai Chi Lessons for Negotiators”: http://isd.georgetown.edu/files/Alisher_Tai_Chi.pdf

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On Practice

Posted in Uncategorized on August 5th, 2011 by Walls-Kaufman

Hi David,

I have been practicing t’ai chi for a long time. When I began I gave it a lot of time every day, but in recent years much less time. As I grow older, I am more aware of the need for the benefit of a regular commitment. Also, through the practice with Julian Chu’s group, I have become aware of the reality of root and of chi in a way that was not apparent to me previously. It is clear that I have no root and no reliable experience of what it means to cultivate chi. I believe that you have both. So I appeal to you — can you explain anything? What will help me to develop these two aspects?

I see that you have a blog. I can easily imagine that other people would also be interested in what you have to say so please feel free to post this question, including my first name, if you wish, on the blog.

All the best,


Dear Maureen,

Thanks for the note: Okay, so, yes, Tai Chi takes a regular commitment. I think the best way to think about your Tai Chi commitment and practice is to think of it as your daily ritual of meditation, which medical research tells us is essential for optimum wellbeing. Also, research tells us that physical exercise is also essential—how convenient that with Tai Chi we can kill two birds with one stone! This makes Tai Chi the neatest thing on earth . . .

So, with Tai Chi taking care of the meditation and exercise component of the Holistic Lifestyle—how long should you do it each day to earn better wellbeing? Anything is better than nothing. You know as well as I do that it’s probably longer than you now do it, so get busier.

With this daily commitment, the longer you do it for (your kung fu, i.e. time) you are growing a green plant of energetic internal connection and power that integrates you within yourself physically in a way that nothing else on earth can duplicate, and that connects you to the ground physically also in a way that nothing else can duplicate. Together, these spiritual components are the power of internal martial arts.

You say you can’t feel them—they are growing in you whether you know it or not. Their growing can’t be helped; it’s the Tao. It’s the dividend the universe gives us proportionately for setting aside all else and paying attention so conscientiously that we don’t even move. If you dabble in this practice, then they grow so gradually that it’s hard to notice a difference in yourself week to week, month to month. So, if you want more wellbeing and connectivity, then practice more: Tai chi teaches us that the universe is a perfect Meritocracy on this score. (Actually, on any score, if we look at life through the lens of the Holistic Lifestyle.) You will never cheat yourself if you practice hard—on the other hand there is no free ride if you do not practice, i.e. strip away all the concerns of life down to nothing mentally so that your mind and being are absorbed only with your internal space and energy connecting through your core and your Tan T’ien to the magnificent majesty of everything. It seems meditation is an appreciation of the majesty of what is. It could not be simpler or less adorned.

It is to revere the creation that you are, of all that is—to take it all in at once, and not even move.

So, make Tai Chi shapes your daily meditation, and gradually but steadily your awareness of root and chi will bloom because you are growing more chi. It plays upon itself and grows more substantial. All of this can’t help but pour into your push hands, and you will feel changes and improvements. It has no top end. It has no glass ceiling.

In the beginning, as a beginner (and you will know who you are!), “being there” in that meditative space of chi and relaxation is too fine a point to maintain in the workaday world. Not that you shouldn’t try! But don’t spend years fooling yourself. You need to set aside serious time to be alone with your interiors and the effort and focus of being there. In time, with more chi, it plays naturally upon itself in your interior playground—and just by relaxing your shoulders or thinking of your insides, effortlessly you are authentically “on line” and streaming.

The end of all of this chi cultivation and push hands is that it makes your being a more stable column connecting heaven and earth, standing upright, that turns or absorbs un-troubled the influences of life. The more chi you have, the more genuinely spiritual you become; the more un-troubled you are. It’s all meant to be a wonderful, unique affirmation of the spiritual, and of the unmatched magnificence of the space we live in.

Again, it is so simple. I hope this helps you to practice more.

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Why I Call Him “Lao Ba”

Posted in Uncategorized on June 13th, 2011 by Walls-Kaufman

By Dr. David Walls-Kaufman

People have asked me why I call Ben Lo “Lao Ba”. As I write this line, I remember the illuminated, deeply satisfied expression coming over the face of my tai chi nephew, David Chen, when I told him that I called Ben by that name.

David, his wonderful smile spreading across his face, chuckled softly and exclaimed, “That’s a wonderful name to call him. . . . ‘Old Father’.”

David nodded again in deep approval.

The subject had come up because he and I were discussing our concern about the way Ben always behaved so remote and aloof towards us whenever we called him long-distance from Washington DC to San Francisco, Ben in his 1930s bungalow four blocks from Sutro Heights Park and the quietly roaring Pacific Ocean.

David and I, in that conversation, discovered that we both shared the fear that Ben didn’t know how much we loved him and how much he meant to us. More than anyone I ever met in Tai Chi, David shared my passion for practice in the old way that Ben taught and encouraged. Only one other I’ve met recently wishes to practice that hard.

David Chen was a wonderful exponent of Yang Tai Chi. More than myself, David never forgot to regularly call Ben and stay on top of his regular discipline to make sure Ben knew David was thinking about him. I shake my head, wishing even now I was as good as David at this mindfulness.

You can’t let your teacher forget that you love them. For you to let that happen is obscene.

If you don’t do it—it necessarily means that either you or your teacher aren’t worth a damn. . . . You decide.

If your teacher is what the Japanese call “A Living Treasure”, then you pay attention.

David developed a benign brain cancer, had the tumor removed, and then died, so tragically two weeks later of post-surgical complications. His funeral was gigantic. Six hundred people, at least. He was adored. I carried my young son, Kimble, then a little over one year old, past the coffin to have him look in one last time at his Uncle David. . . . I will never forget a night I spoke with Ben about David’s death. Ben, so stoic, began to weep. “He was such a good student,” he whispered.

Ben does not weep. There is no loftier praise.

Plunging on:

In the early 1990s, I told Ben several times that I wanted to go with him on any trip to the Orient. I only hoped I practiced hard enough that my lobbying would not insult Ben. I had heard of the odyssey my San Francisco classmates had taken years before with Ben to Malaysia to observe the 80th birthday of Ben’s fabled classmate, Master Huang Hsing-hsien. Oh, my gosh—the stories.

I wanted some of my own.

Ben gave me my chance in late springtime 1996:

“Day-bee,” Ben said over the long-distance line, “you say you want to go with me to China, right?”

Unhesitatingly: “Yes, Ben.”

“Okay. Now you have chance.” He explained that he was going on a three-week trip to China with Wei Shan, a woman student of his who arranged regular trips every few years with girlfriends of hers, and Ben was tagging along, and one of the lady’s who had committed had to cancel.

In August, I landed in Shanghai with them and we embarked on our journey to ten major cities, seventeen destinations.

At another time I’ll review the highlights of the trip. But the one germane to this journal entry has to deal with the fact that the four ladies on the trip and Ben often spoke Mandarin and I only launched into my study to attain my level of speaking Chinese like a child when I returned from that trip. So I had no idea what they were talking about.

“David”, said Wei Shan—a very attractive, very capable tour leader Chinese woman of forty-something who, I had learned, was Ben’s last student. There was some hope, I later learned, that maybe she and Ben would find their way together. “Do you want to know what we have been laughing about?”

I had noticed how a certain oft-repeated sentence pattern and word-set had regularly got my companions rollicking. Wei Shan was offering to enlighten me now while we were traveling on our hired short bus toward a restaurant in Chunking for the evening meal.

Wei Shan, by the way, was a professional gu-jung player, who had been taken from her parents by the State and placed in the Beijing conservatory. She told of fleeing for her young life out the back of the dormitory one day when screaming Cultural Revolution goons piled in the windows and doors looking to kill these prodigies of China’s past. They dragged more than a couple to ground. At one point, while we were visiting a museum, Wei Shan stepped over the velvet rope keeping visitors away from the gu-jung there on display with other classical instruments. The guard said nothing, gloved hands folded behind his Mao uniform, he looking on curiously as Wei Shan settled on her knees before the instrument, expertly tuned it, adjusted by millimeters the set of the ivory bridges lifting each string to delicate tension. Then, she started to play. The first note captivated the being of each of us fifteen-odd souls lucky enough to be in the room. Her notes swept up like birds, ringing from first to last with utter mastery—and shamed the playing I’ve heard on professional recordings of Chinese classical music.

She gave our ears a glimpse at perfection.

“We are telling everyone that Ben is our father.” Wei Shan waved at Ben sitting placidly at his dusty window seat, gazing out at the untellably congested side street, teeming with people and rinky-dink shops. “And I am the Oldest Sister, Da jie, and Vicky is the Second Sister, Er Jie, and Susan is the Third Sister, San Jie, Emily is the Littlest Sister, Xiao Jie—and you are the son from the concubine!”

The ladies jumped into howls of the exact same modulations of laughter that I mentioned a paragraph ago that I’d been hearing for days.

Enjoying the joke as much as they now, I asked, “Wow! And everybody believes I’m his illegitimate son?”

. . . . I have very dark hair—but I ain’t no Chinee.

“Oh, yes!” my lady comrades chimed together. “We can’t believe it either, but no one even bats an eye!”

Susan then told me that concubines were even then not so uncommon; her own father had two wives. Wei Shan and Vicky corroborated with other examples of somewhat hush-hush polygamy in Taiwan.

“So,” Vicky turned around to urge me, since my seat was always in the back of the short bus, “you keep it going by calling Ben Lao Ba, which means ‘Old Father.’”

And we sealed the deal with another peal of laughter, everyone enjoying the joke even more now that I was in on it.
For the remainder of the trip, I dutifully dropped the “Lao Ba” term in front of the next tour guide in the next city we visited, and then the ladies explained to them our curious genetic intermingling. I had time to accustom myself to the vision of our tour guides easily stepping across the narrow gulf of incredulity regarding my being the concubine-begotten half breed son of Master Benjamin Lo.

The cute habit of calling him Lao Ba engrained itself in me in that time, and was thereafter strongly encouraged by my friend David, as I said, and so my habit continues to this day.

The term of endearment not only makes me feel closer to Ben, but it crosses a bridge of time and culture as well, to the Dowager Empress Middle Kingdom of dog-alleys tinged with the bite of coal smoke in the paper lantern light that has flirted with the sinophile in me since I was eight years old when I first poured over the characters in my mother’s two Chinese language text books that I still have on a shelf near at hand. A flirtation, I’m sure, many of you share.

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