Living in one’s eighties in great health

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Oct 25, 2009 Living in one’s eighties in great health

Some amazing teachers are amazingly selfless. Ben Lo is one of them

At 82, ten years after a liver transplant, flying from his home in San Francisco, and — as always –tremendously powerful physically, mentally and spiritually, Master Lo continues to come to the Washington, D.C., area each year to share his teachings and to give pointers to each attendee doing the t’ai chi form.

Yesterday, I attended my fifth training session with Master Lo. In the morning, he talked and took questions and answers about the t’ai chi classics, as covered in "The Essence of T’ai Chi," which was arranged by him and three colleagues many years ago. In the afternoon, we got thru not even the first third of the t’ai chi ch’uan Yang style short form, as he highlighted even to highly accomplished teachers and practitioners how to take their t’ai chi to the next higher plane.

By divine coincidence, a seat remained at Master Lo’s table for lunch, even though I was one of the last to arrive. There, I asked Master Lo whether he saw a connection between non-duality in Buddhism and non-chasing in t’ai chi. He did, but that is about as far as I got with him on that topic as he was engaged in talk with those sitting closer to him. My three-year-old son so much enjoyed meeting Master Lo that he gazed for a long time at the picture we took together, which I do not post here based on Master Lo’s preferences.

Master Lo came to t’ai chi around sixty years ago so weak that his body could not even absorb medicine to make him better. His teacher Cheng Man Ch’ing came to t’ai chi sick from tuberculosis. They both experienced rapid returns to health after heavy t’ai chi study and practice.

Master Lo’s most basic teachings are to relax and to correctly practice t’ai chi morning and night, even if for as little as ten minutes. However, more time than that is needed to make one’s body strong enough to take the essential t’ai chi approach of bending at the hips and knees to be in sitting postures as if on only one leg that moves from substantial to insubstantial as the insubstantial leg transitions to substantial. Master Lo and the other t’ai chi masters teach of the need to strengthen our bodies at such a level in order to have a lifetime of physical, mental and spiritual strength, including being relaxed.

T’ai chi focuses heavily on relaxation and softness, but still requires enduring the discomfort of strengthening the legs. As Master Lo says, no burn nor earn, no pain, no gain. At the same time, he says that the burn means the practitioner needs to develop more strength.

Master Lo physically helped align several of the approximately seventy attendees’ bodies to stand relaxed in the wardoff posture and to not be moved off balance by substantial force. However, each time he asked them to stand up and resume the posture themselves, with little force he was able to push them over. This highlights the great importance of having a quality t’ai chi teacher.

Here are some other highlights from the session with Master Lo:

– How does one reach the necessary level of t’ai chi relaxation and softness if one also lifts weights? (Perhaps the same answer applies to those who do external martial arts and who do heavy lifting at their jobs).


Doing t’ai chi and lifting weights is like having two significant others. You cannot marry both of them.

– If the practitioner has substantial knee pain or back pain, alter the physically demanding  t’ai chi practice accordingly.

– The whole body must be connected in doing t’ai chi.

– One day Master Lo was doing t’ai chi meditation, and started feeling his body parts disappear. He got concerned, and the sensation went away. This might be  similar to my several experiences doing t’ai chi in a mirrored dance hall or a yoga practice room and seeing my body parts start to become transparent or disappear, and in feeling some of them disappear when practicing in my backyard. Even if the mirror experience was an optical illusion resulting from looking at the same point in the mirror for a long time, it was a great experience that went away when I let my fear take hold of disappearing for good.

– Doing the initial raising hands move as shown by Master Lo, I felt the ch’i or else bloodflow in my fingertips more than ever before.

– To prevent an opponent from moving your extended arm, it is necessary to actively relax the arm while putting the mind in the arm.

– Cheng Man Ch’ing’s teacher Yang Cheng-fu could push people by barely touching them. Jon Katz

ADDENDUM: quotes Cheng Man Ch’ng’s student Wolfe Lowenthl as saying that Ben Lo "has probably gone deeper into ‘the fearlessness of taking pain’ than any of Professor’s students in this country. Master Lo’s instructional DVD can be purchased here.

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