16 February 2018

Mark's Thursday classes

After 22 years of Mark commuting to teach classes, we now have a dedicated studio for The T'ai Chi Centre Thursday night classes, near Hampton Court train station. Get in touch if you do not yet have the address, travel or parking details for the new venue, as the details will not be publicly available on the website. The first Thursday class will be on 1st March at 6.30pm - 10.30pm as usual. There is a week off next week for final venue preparations.

Thursdays are for regular students who usually attend any of Mark (or Caroline's) classes, new students are welcome to come along at 6.30pm to the Tuesday venue to meet the teacher and arrange 121 sessions to get ready to join in an existing class or study privately. Tuesday classes are not moving. Private 121s with Mark or Caro will be at the new venue, come to the usual place first for tea.

14 February 2018

Intent and practice

Correct mind intent
plus physical repetition
equals practice.

Without correct mind intent one is 'going through the motions'.
Without physical repetition you have imaginary practice, only good for developing imaginary skills.
Mind and body correctly joined is a joy in itself.
The answer to 'why do it?' is 'the question is not relevant'.

Oh dear, must we get it right then? Ha, no! Just start. With singing, drawing, meditating, crafting, writing, T'ai Chi and gardening, in my experience, there is no 'correct state of mind' in which to begin. Starting is so much more important than anything else, despite what I have written above, which is about honing, rather than setting out. If you are finding it hard to set out try this:
Are you feeling annoyed? Do annoyed practice!
Are you feeling angry / inadequate / over-excited / dull / bored / confused / delete as appropriate?
Do that practice!
Pretty soon it won't be at all like it was when you started anyway. In fact, by the end you probably won't remember what flavour of affected state you were in anyway.

Move the pen or brush, make or mend that small thing, hum an old or new tune, write or type some random letters and words, do the form or warm ups, sit and watch the breath or feel the body. Something will change in us and therefore in the world. Nothing changes by sitting there dwelling on it. Even just walking around aimlessly is better than that. What is this thing that changes? What makes it change? What is this mysterious intent thing? These are good questions. I have been working on that last one 10 years, both awake and asleep, and I still don't have an answer in words, but I have a strong feeling, and a whole bunch more excellent questions with which to break my brain.

13 February 2018

Persephone swerves

Here's some of the work and materials for Dark Mountain 12. My next work uses the same raw materials but at a vastly different scale... more when I can say more.


Still keep drawing these... putting them around my home.
Feel free to print it out if you like.

Preserve Open

I choose the circle not the square.
I want the bare bones of belonging
not the drapery
which holds dust in all its folds
made of all my shed skin and dirt
and yours too

How many more years
will I witness winter trees
fuzzing with leaf?
their dark branching lines
against England’s grey skies.
These black bones support
the muscles of my mind’s eye

I cannot know.
So I cultivate open
and then
I preserve open

The House of Belonging

Thanks to Anja for lending me 'The House of Belonging', a collection of poems by David Whyte. They are great. His website is also really good and full of his work.


Thanks to all who came to this weekend's Aberdeenshire workshops, great work. The theme was 'innocence', meaning the unencumbered state one can come to in one's practice out the other side of experience. Adults are not innocent, by dint of growing up through life's experiences. But there is a way in both life and practice, by letting go of our conditioning, by working it through, that returns us to a state where we are not bound up in self. Taoist practice is largely about this: the famous 'uncarved block', and so on. But I am already a carved block! you may protest. Ah that's why we have practice... Yielding, allowing, returning to uprightness and naturalness, disentangling ourselves from the hooks and barbs of life, sometimes turning and walking away from what seeks to enmesh us. All this is clear as day when pushing hands, after 10 years or so!

A great Taoist line:
'Best not start,
But if started,
Best finish.'

The Hexagram for all this is 'Return'. It is the return of primordial energy, the first step on the path after 'the living midnight' or 'the Yin convergence', it is the point when Yang energy starts to return and cultivation can begin. For those not so interested in Taoist alchemy, you could think of it as Imbolc, 1st February, definitely still early days, not Spring yet, but Winter is noticeably receding because the days are longer, buds and catkins are appearing. There can still be freezing days and frosty setbacks, even snow. But it is not Midwinter anymore, there are snowdrops in the grass. Now is the time to stoke the fire, keep the stores filled and practice, literally and metaphorically. This is my take on it all, anyway, based on experience.
How does innocence fit in? It is the time to let go of old habits and patterns, symbolised here by the 5 Yin lines above the 1 yang line. Much work to do? Yes, me too. Going to crack on with it somehow? I will if you will. The way one becomes, after burning away what we cannot help having acquired, is an innocent state, a simplicity, which is more valuable for having come from complexity and strife. Like T'ai Chi's well known phrase: 'the stillness in movement is of greater value than the stillness in stillness', innocence here is not a denial of knowledge or wisdom gained through living fully, but an expression of it, just one where no decisions are made in advance, and our grand plans are not inflicted upon the world. This reminds me of my friend's reading of the Tarot card 'The Fool', a blithe youth stepping of a cliff, yes, but it is also the beginning of life's inner journey, ending in 'The World'.

Imbolc full moon

12 February 2018

Not knowing folk

Folk art version... much fun non-doing that one.

08 February 2018

Sunday workshops in London 2018

Here are the dates for 2018, topics to be finalised: Sword, Sabre, Dance, so far.
2-5pm, St Mary Magdalene Hall, as usual.
18th March         Sabre
29th April           Dance
27th May            Sword
24th June            Sabre
23rd September  Dance
We will also hold some outdoor sessions of Staff and other topics here by the river, weather permitting.

07 February 2018

Non-doing and not knowing

not knowing
save your heart

(I wrote this for a friend, and somehow also for myself, last week. I have been drawing it since.)

Shorter session this Thursday at Monymusk

This Thursday's session is 8-10pm in the Small Hall at Monymusk.

Aberdeenshire this weekend

I am really looking forward to seeing everyone this weekend in Aberdeenshire. I have lots of great stuff to share... Stay warm!

05 February 2018

February workshops

The next workshops with Caroline are this weekend, 9-11th February.

The Weapons session is at Fetternear Hall at 6:30pm, all other workshops are at Balvack. Great River students of any level are particularly welcome to the Saturday sessions.

Friday 6:30-9:30pm: Weapons, including Sabre for beginners 6:30-7:30  (£5).
Saturday 1-4pm: Short Form, and related study
Saturday 5.30-8.30pm: Partnerwork
Sunday 1-4pm: Long Form
Sunday 5.30-8.30pm: Advanced Studies and Dance

The price is £18 (concessions £12) per 3 hr session. Please bring food to share on Saturday and Sunday. Get in touch with your instructor if you need travel directions or feel free to contact me with any other questions.

The confirmed dates for this year's Aberdeenshire workshops are available here.

01 February 2018

Thursday session at normal time

This week's session at Monymusk will be 7-9 in small hall, 9-10 in main hall next as usual. Next week, 8th Feb, is a shorter session 8-10 in small hall. More details here

31 January 2018


Imbolc tomorrow, Brigid's day. Winter recedes, Spring approaches!

A good time for starting new projects, shaking off old accretions and forming new relationships: to self, to life and to others.

Soon the winter trees will start to fuzz and put on their leaf disguises. I like them best when drawn in inky lines, as below, black against a blue sky. I like to see their bones, and the shapes they take. It becomes clear how they reach for sunlight, how in many ways, they are earth reaching for light as alveoli in the lungs grow intricately branched, better to extract the oxygen from our in breaths.

Oak in Hampshire

Plane in London

Weapons next week

Weapons sessions in London at Mark's classes next week, first week of February. See you there!

24 January 2018

Ursula LeGuin

I've just been told by a friend that Ursula LeGuin has died, aged 88. The closest thing I have to a hero, her writing, and example, have been a huge influence on me all my life, starting in my teens, and continuing to the present moment, (I was only reading one of her essays 'Cosmic Crone' the other day). On my shelf is the second of her Earthsea books, ready for a friend's young son. I have delayed giving it him as I planned to read it first... I even carved a yew-staff when I was 15, so that I could be like Ged, the wizard.

She was a superb mixture of feminist, Taoist and anarchist - ah, I hope I can walk just a few steps in that same oblique omnidirection. She was for me, both the epitome of a great artist and a real human being. It is time to reread the Hainish Cycle again, I think, and to finish the last few books I had not yet read. The BBC produced a great radio version of her award-winning 'The Left Hand of Darkness' a few years ago. Perhaps that will be available online again. Seek it out. A few recommendations for her books will follow from me, when the sad news is a little less new.

Birch Bark

I have been working on birch bark, should be finished today. It is stormy on the river, so one has to factor in the movement of the boat when wielding a stick full of ochre.

Plaistow class this week

On Friday at 7pm we will have the monthly Plaistow class, all who have completed Short Form are welcome. Get in touch for the address.

Aberdeenshire last week

Thanks to all who came for a lovely weekend. Great work.