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What Are the Six Harmonies in Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua?

A member of the online school asked a question on the discussion board and I thought it would also make for a good post here on the blog.

What are the Six Harmonies and what does it mean? Does it mean the hands move with the feet, the elbows move with the knees and the shoulders with the hips?

Some people say the Six Harmonies are:

1. Shoulders

2. Hips

3. Elbows

4. Knees

5. Hands

6. Feet

So the shoulders move with the hips, the elbows with the knees, the hands with the feet.

That isn't the complete story, however. These three groups of two (hips/shoulders, elbows/knees, hands/feet) make up the THREE EXTERNAL HARMONIES.

The other three harmonies that make up the six harmonies would include Yi (Mind/Intent, which is frequently paired with "Shen" or Spirit), Chi (Energy), and Li (Strength, pronounced "Lee"). These are known as the Three Internal Harmonies.

You must have a strong spirit ("Shen") in order to do the internal arts properly, and in a self-defense situation to do effective techniques. Your mind and intention must be clear, determined, and focused (Shen and Yi), your body mechanics and technique must be good (Chi), and then your strength will be powerful (Li). All three of these must act in harmony.

Let's go back to the original list of six above (the Three External Harmonies). For these parts to move in harmony, there must be a connection. So if you're doing any particular movement, your feet are connected through the hands, your hips through the shoulders, and your knees through the elbows.

This is another way of talking about whole-body movement and silk-reeling. Each part can move separately -- on it's own -- and yet the movement is not effective and not internal if the other parts are not moving in harmony. A strike with the hand must also use the feet (ground) and it spirals up through the knees, waist (dan t'ien), shoulders, and elbows. Silk-Reeling movement -- spiraling -- must happen throughout, and the ground path and peng jin must be maintained along with proper structure. That is how you establish "chi flow."

Think about this the next time you're practicing a movement -- use Buddha's Warrior or Lazy about Tying the Coat. You notice that at the beginning of Lazy About Tying the Coat, you step out with your right leg but your right elbow isn't really over the knee and the right hand isn't over the foot, so the idea that the elbow must be over the knee or the hand over the foot isn't really accurate.

However, when you are doing the movement, you are connected if you perform the movement properly. Even at the end of the movement when you are "relaxing," your elbow is spiraling as you sink and your entire body should be closing. At this point also, your elbow is over the knee and the hand is over the foot.

Where does the breath come in? It is coordinated through your movements. When practicing a form, you should breathe naturally. But in self-defense, when executing a "yang" or attacking technique, you should exhale, coordinating your spirit and your breath (and body mechanics). When you do that, your strength (Li) will be evident.

Spirit can also be described as "attitude." If you are mentally frightened or insecure, your Spirit (Shen) is unable to support a strong Intent for your mind (Yi). When someone attacks you and your Shen is weak, you might cover and be unable to defend yourself. But if your Shen is strong, and you put your mind into the task at hand and you are determined to defend yourself and fight ferociously, you then have the Shen that you need. At that point, your Mind/Intent (Yi) is determined to defend yourself. You are mentally strong and you will not accept the idea of defeat. Next, if you have trained your body to respond with proper mechanics, technique and breathing, you can support your strong Spirit and your determined Mind/Intent with strong Chi. The result will be strong Li (Strength).

If any one of the first two Internal Harmonies is not present, your Strength will suffer. If you have strong Spirit/Mind/Intent and Chi, your Strength will be there.

This is how you translate Chi from a mystical perspective into a more realistic perspective. This is what Chi means from a martial perspective. It is NOT a literal "energy" running through your body along meridians. It is the manifestation of proper attitude and body mechanics.

You can find more video lessons on the Six Harmonies on the online school.

Learning the Internal Arts Online - the Beauty of Video Coaching

Silk-Reeling1-250 Another member of my online internal arts school opted for personal coaching last week. He shot some video demonstrating a couple of silk-reeling movements and standing stake. In a move that I thought was very creative, he put the video clips on Facebook so that only I could see them.

I watched the video clips -- each one was between 3 and 5 minutes long -- and was able to make comments right there on his Facebook page. 

Whether we are enrolled in a regular school or the online school, most of us make the same mistakes when we're beginning. The most important thing for the student is to have a teacher who can identify errors and clearly explain them.

I shot a reply video for this person, showing him how he was turning his hips too much, and other tips just for him. Turning the hips is one of the most common mistakes people make early in their training. It's very hard for people to separate their waist/dan t'ien area and the hips. When you tell people to turn the waist, too often they turn the hips and it throws their posture all off. 

Another common mistake in silk-reeling is the "dead spiral." You'll put your hand in a position and move it across without spiraling it. He was doing this, too, along with performing at too fast a speed. You really need to slow silk-reeling down and feel the spiraling through the body -- feel the connection with the ground, peng, and whole-body movement as you spiral from the ground to the hand. These are skills you need for any internal art, whether it's Chen tai chi, Hsing-I Chuan or Baguazhang.

Another common mistake is with the elbow. The elbow should not be higher than the hand, especially when spiraling the hand across the front, as in single-hand reeling. 

I posted my coaching video to a private page on the web. I sent him the link. His reply was "Wow!" He said the video really made him see what he was doing wrong. He's going to practice a little and then shoot another video for coaching.

There are a lot of folks out there who don't understand how technology has improved. They say "you can't learn this art through the Internet."  I believe you can, and for a lot of people who don't have access to good teachers, it's a great option. When I work with people and see them inspired, and see them take steps forward, it's a great feeling.

New Bruce Lee Book - Wisdom for the Way

BruceLee-WisdomBook Okay, I'm a sucker for Bruce Lee books. I bought The Tao of Jeet Kune Do when it first came out in hardback back in the mid-70's and since then, most of the books that have hit the market have made it into my library.

I don't always buy books about Bruce that are written by others, depending on whether the author was an original student or not.

The newest book in my Bruce Lee library is a very small book titled "Wisdom for the Way." It contains a lot of photos - none of them really new -- and snippets of philosophy compiled by his daughter Shannon from Bruce's writings, interviews, and books. You won't run into anything that will make you go, "Wow, I've never read that before." Most of it is familiar

This would make a great stocking stuffer or holiday gift for the Bruce Lee fan on your list. A sample bit of philosophy from the book -- "Defeat is a state of mind. No one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality."

People who know me understand that I've had my share of ups and downs in my life -- losing a daughter, sometimes losing jobs, and in the past 11 months, fighting to push through a challenging illness. The philosophy reflected in this book has guided me through my life.

As Shannon says in her introduction, this book is meant to be simple. Pick it up, look through it for a moment, and walk away inspired.

After all, that's what Bruce did for most of us, right? He has inspired me for nearly four decades, and with the release of this book, he continues to do so.

Some Tai Chi Folks with the Right Attitude - Martial Tai Chi

One of the members of the online school found a group in the United Kingdom that focuses like pit bulls on a subject near and dear to my heart -- putting the martial art back into Tai Chi.

Take a look at this site for more information.

Joanna Zorya is the organizer, and she seems to have a clear-headed, no BS view of Tai Chi.

With more people like this, maybe eventually we'll get the message across that Tai Chi is a powerful and effective martial art.

Tai Chi and a Positive Impact on Osteoarthritis - Study from Tufts University

You know me -- I believe any activity for adults and seniors that involves movement and flexibility has a tremendous positive impact on bone strength, muscle strength, balance, flexibility, etc. Especially as opposed to being inactive.

And if you read this blog regularly, you know that I wonder why they pick Tai Chi out as an example for these studies.

Here's a report on a new study from Tufts University.

In the new documentary on the Chen Village, one master says they teach foreigners different than Chinese students because foreigners look at Tai Chi as more of a health thing and can't handle the intense training. So I put research like this on my blog for informational purposes, almost under protest, because there's nothing magic about Tai Chi. Someone with osteoarthritis could also probably pretend to play softball and do it in slow-motion and get the same benefit if they're doing the slow and soft "health" version of Tai Chi.

The Road Back -- Nowhere to Go but Up (My trip to the Cleveland Clinic)

KenHospitalPostOp I have lost the past two weeks in a sedated haze with tubes down my throat and doctors poking around inside my lungs and heart. 

Holy cow! I've achieved a new level of empathy for what people have to go through to try to regain their health, and in the process of lying flat on my back for 11 days, I now know what it's like to lose almost all of your muscular strength.

Yesterday, it took two guys to help me walk 3 feet to a chair. Today, I was able to walk by myself--shaky and unsteady as long as I had something to use as a "walker." Nancy walked with me up and down the hall and we both agreed we had never expected to see Kenny in this physical condition. 

I can't imagine how this impacts you when you're 85 years old. It's enough to take you out. In fact, more than one doctor has told me in the past 2 weeks that my high level of physical conditioning has helped me endure the problems that I've been aggressively trying to solve during the past year.

Teams of cardiologists and pulmonologists tackled my case and there are differing opinions about what's happening. I got lost in a haze because when they went in to do the initial procedure there were complications and they had to run tubes down my throat. Because of my strong gag reflex, they had to sedate me so the tubes would stay down. 

In the end, apparently there was narrowing of some pulmonary veins and the pressure inside the lungs was imbalanced, causing shortness of breath and bleeding. A couple of cardiac arteries are also up to 80% blocked. I'll have stents put in within a couple of months (I need to build some strength back first, though). 

So how could a guy who has tried to keep in shape all his life develop these problems? One theory is that it's the result some people have who go through laser heart ablations to stop atrial fibrillation (a wacky heartbeat). I had three of these procedures last year. Another theory is that they see calcified spots on my CT scan that suggest my body has had a strong reaction to histoplasmosis -- a fungus that most of us are exposed to during our lives but most of us don't know it.

I talked with some pulmonologists today and a couple of cardiologists. Some have been very interested in my "story" -- the kung-fu teacher who came down with such a condition. I wondered aloud to one cardiologist if I would ever be the same. "Yes you will," he said, "and you shouldn't doubt it."

I love that attitude, but I sure do have my work cut out for me. I've been in the hospital 15 days today. I'm hoping to be released tomorrow.