24 February 2018

Mark's Thursday classes

Some pictures from the final two weeks at Streatham.

Classes resume at the new venue this week, get in touch for details.

Sam Masich arts

We have just had a lovely few days seeing our dear friend T'ai Chi Master Sam Masich. We met a Taichi Caledonia many years ago, and have hung out since whenever our lives allow. In the new T'ai Chi studio we have almost completed, pride of place goes to a beautiful ink painting made with one brush stroke, from the founding myths of T'ai Chi. Sam gave it to me in 2009, but it will now get the wider viewing it deserves. Like Mark and myself, Sam makes music and art as well as teaching his internal arts. If you'd like to see more of his great drawings and paintings, many of which are available for sale, have a look here. I will post a picture here of the painting in situ soon. Thanks to Sam for a great visit, and much insight. Friendship in Tao is a great joy. I have been rereading the 9th Century poems of Han Shan, and even then, drinking tea or wine on a boat, and laughing with friends on the Way was greatly valued, and worth a good poem.

I call to my friends, picking lotus,
Wonderfully afloat on the clear river,
And forget, in my delight, how late it grows,
Till gusts of evening wind whirl by.
Waves scoop up the mandarin ducks;
Ripples rock the broad-tailed mallard;
At this moment, sitting in my boat,
Thoughts pour out in endless streams.

(Trans Burton Watson)
When you have let it all go
What is left?

What you are still doing, everyday, when you no longer cling to anything, is your practice.
You may be surprised at what your practice actually is.
It may not be what you thought it was.
It may involve drinking a lot of tea, for instance.
Let it all go.

18 February 2018

Dream work - Aberdeenshire

As a couple of folks had asked, I am arranging an informal session introducing the dream work, for 1 hour after the Saturday evening Partnerwork session, during my next Aberdeenshire workshops: 8.30pm, 10th March. Any T'ai Chi student is welcome to come along, there is no charge and we will drink tea! Bring a notebook and pen. I will give a brief outline of my approach, explain a  few methods for remembering dreams if you find that hard, as well as good ways to record them, once you remember them. We will also talk about why this might be a worthwhile activity, and also contraindications to this work. Any queries, let me know.

I always eventually write dreams down longhand, but now also type them up on the laptop. I have turned many into songs, or parts of songs over 30 years of song writing, I currently make spontaneous drawings from them many years later, after re-reading them, and sometimes make drawings from them fresh when I wake up, if there is a particularly interesting visual aspect, much more easily described in marks than words. They do not look at all alike, and vary wildly in style, materials and content, but here is one quick recent drawing of something a decade old.

Plaistow classes

Plaistow classes are on hold until April as neither Jonathan nor I have and Friday evenings spare in common until then! Come to the new studio for 121s instead... Watch this space for when classes resume.

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