The inspiration for this article came from a discussion I had with one of my Zhaobao brothers.  After practice the other day, we had a conversation about the terms substantial and insubstantial.   We both knew what the terms meant basically.  But did we truly understand the concept at their root?

This very same question can be asked of many terms in Tai Chi such as sung (often translated as relax), yin and yang, heavy and soft, yielding and following, and many more

As it turned out, we both agreed that we did not truly understand substantial and insubstantial, and that was actually a positive not a negative.  So, the title of this article is probably somewhat misleading as I am really writing about NOT understanding Tai Chi as a positive step toward making further progress.

That may seem contradictory as are many of the terms in both Tai Chi and Taoist philosophy, but bear with me and I will explain.

As fate would have it, the next day after our discussion, I sat down to do some meditative reading and came across a passage by Foyan Qingyuan (1067-1120), a notable Chan master during the Sung dynasty when Buddhism flourished in China.

The minute you fixate on recognition that ‘This is it,’ you are immediately bound hand and foot and cannot move around anymore.

So as soon as it is given this recognition, nothing is right, whatever it may be…

It’s like making a boat and outfitting it for a thousand mile journey to a treasure trove; if you drive a stake and tie the boat to it before you jump in and start rowing, you can row till kingdom come and still be on the beach.  You see the boat waving this way and that, and you think you are on the move, but you have never gone a single step.

Tai Chi like Zen Buddhism or Taoism is a lifelong journey that changes daily.  The moment you say to yourself or a teacher tells you that ‘This is it; this is the point,’ all is lost if you buy into that.

Like the I Ching, in the foundation of Tai Chi, there are no points of recognition or understanding, only changes.  The moment you truly believe that you understand, you have driven a stake into the ground and bound yourself hand and foot, tying up all progress.  Your journey has unfortunately come to an end.

Not only students but instructors especially should remember this fact.  It is a great responsibility to have the honor of teaching Tai Chi, an honor and a privilege that many instructors take lightly.

For a few it is a matter of greed.  Once they have received permission to teach from their sifus, they are off to the bank, like college graduates, to make up for all the time and money they spent learning their skills.

For some, their road to mastery is blocked by ignorance.  They ask their students to join them on their journey not realizing their boat is still tied to the dock.

Both types make the mistake of resting their laurels on the teachings they have previously received, believing their knowledge of the fundamentals is complete.

The Bottom Line: No matter how many years you have been practicing, no matter how wonderful your master and grandmaster, no matter how many workshops you have attended or given, don’t think you know it all.  There is always more to learn – much more than you can ever imagine.

“If you seek, how is that different from pursuing sound and form.  If you don’t seek how are you different than soil, wood or stone.  You must seek without seeking.”

Chan (Zen) Master Foyan

Seek without seeking sounds terribly incongruous in terms of Western logic.  But then isn’t that precisely its purpose – to diminish our dependence on rational thought when we inquire into the nature of being?

Haven’t we been warned time and time again by Laozi, Chaungzi and many Taoist and Buddhist masters that words can never access the nature of reality nor can we grasp it with conventional thought?

On the other hand, take the words attributed to Jesus Christ in the New Testament: “Seek and you shall find, Knock and it will be opened unto you.” 

How comforting, how inviting those words seem in contrast with Master Foyan’s admonition.

Of course, we have no way of knowing if Christ actually said those exact words.  Nevertheless, the saying conforms perfectly to the linear process of Western logic based on cause and effect.  First, there is the Seeking which in turn leads us to the Finding.  First, there is the Knocking which causes the Opening.

But in the Taoist and Buddhist traditions the process is circular not linear.   The Seeking and the Finding are one and the same as are the Knocking and the Opening.  Only when we divide the processes into linear increments of time do we create separation – beginnings and endings.

But a circle has no beginning and no end, the same for the nature of being and reality.  So, Master Foyan is urging us to realize that the Seeking and the Finding are one and the same.

How is this possible?  It becomes a circular process when there is no Seeker.  Christ’s phrase from the New Testament implies a Seeker and a separate Thing Found.  In other words, a subject that does the Seeking and an object that is Found.

However, when the Seeker is no longer the subject but the object, then the Seeking is the Finding.  This occurs the moment we seek within ourselves and not externally.

This is the meaning of Master Foyan’s “Seek without Seeking.  When we seek for things outside of ourselves, we are pursuing sound and form – material objects or situations.  But when we look within to come to terms with the meaning of our very own existence, we are seeking without seeking.

Master Foyan emphasizes this kind of seeking when he states: “Those who will not stop and look into themselves go on looking for intellectual understanding.  That pursuit of intellectual understanding, seeking rationalizations and making comparisons, is all wrong.

“If people would turn their attention back to the self, they would understand everything.”

And if we understand everything, then there is nothing that we could ask for that we would not receive, nothing that we could seek that we would not find, and no door that we could knock on that would not be opened to us.

Unlike Christianity and Judaism, Taoism does not have any commandments.  However, Chuang-Tse, the foremost disciple of Lao-Tse and a leading exponent of Taoist philosophy, some 2400 years ago enumerated the ten attributes of the gentleman sage.  These remain rather pertinent today for martial artists, Buddhists and Taoists alike who are trying to maintain peace and calm in our daily lives amidst the hectic frenzy and ambitiousness of this modern technological age.

Chuang-Tse begins by attributing these ten traits to his master, Lao-Tse:

“The Master says, “Great is Tao.  It canopies and sustains all creation.  The gentleman cannot but purge his mind (of personal gain and desires).  To act by not acting is called heaven.  To express without expression is called character.  To love one’s fellowmen and benefit all is called humanity.  To regard different things as belonging in common is called great.  Not to distinguish oneself by conspicuous behavior is called width of character.  To possess diversity is called wealth.  Therefore to preserve one’s character is called self-discipline.  To have one’s character developed is to have power. To follow the Tao is called being complete.  Not to allow external events to injure one’s mind is called whole.  When a gentleman understands these ten (attributes) then he achieves greatness of mind and all things converge toward him like a flowing stream…”

Chuang-Tse then poses collaries to these ten traits of the sage.  “In this case, he leaves the gold in the mountains and leaves the pearls in the sea.  He does not place value upon material goods, and he keeps away from honor and wealth.  He does not rejoice over long life, nor is he sorry to die young.  He does not regard a high position as honor, nor is he ashamed of poverty and failure.  He does not set his mind on the wealth of the world and appropriate it for his own benefit.  He does not consider ruling the world as his personal glory. And when he is in a p;osition of eminence, he regards the world as one common family.  To him life and death are different aspects of the same thing.”

Ikko Matsuura’s quiet demeanor makes him appear unassuming and more like an accomplished musician or artist than an energy master.  Yet, as he works on patients’ energy fields, he appears like a sculptor shaping the Ki or Qi with the delicate touch of his hands.

Master Matsuura’s clinic, Body Balance, is located in Tajima City, Japan, where he lives with his wife and three children.  He came to Los Angeles to visit one of my martial arts brothers, Eiji Inoue, the tai chi and yoga instructor at the South Pasadena and Alhambra YMCAs.  The timing was perfect for me.  I had just finished ten weeks of physical therapy on a severe shoulder injury, which had been extremely slow to heal.  In fact, my orthopedist said that surgery was the only possibility.

Fortunately, Eiji introduced me to Master Matsuura, and after only one brief Ki Energy session, my shoulder improved tremendously. I even returned to get a treatment on an old knee injury suffered way back in high school.  I was so impressed with Master Matsuura’s ability that I wanted to share some of his knowledge with fellow martial artists, athletes and anyone suffering from a debilitating injury or chronic illness.

At his clinic in Japan, he has both professional and high school athletes among his many clients that span the age spectrum from childhood to seniors.  He treats problems from simple muscular disorders to severe injuries like whiplash and all types of disease and illnesses from asthma to cancer.

Assisted by Eiji Inoue’s translations where needed, my interview with Ikko Matsuura follows:


PAUL: As martial artists, most of us understand what Ki or Qi is even though we cannot see it.  So, how is it possible for you to work with this energy.

IKKO: One method is with applied kinesiology testing to check the flow of Qi.

PAUL: What exactly do you check for?

IKKO: About eighty percent of illnesses are caused by spinal distortions.  So, I check first for distortions in the spine or backbone, and then I analyze the state of nerve energy.

PAUL: How do you go about analyzing the nerve energy?

IKKO: Through a person’s astral field.  Whatever blockage or damage they have in their physical body will appear in their astral field.

PAUL: And you read their Biofield directly?

IKKO: Yes, that’s correct.

PAUL: So, you don’t need any special equipment.

IKKO: No, no equipment, no needles, no drugs.  We don’t need anything.  Qi is everywhere.  It is infinite.  It is economical and completely safe.  There are no side effects.  It will not worsen a condition.  Therefore, it’s safe for anyone from a small child to an older person and even pregnant women.

PAUL: How come Qi or Ki Energy is so effective?

IKKO: Because it is simple, basic.  It’s undistorted primal energy – completely natural.  It is intelligent and very close to omnipotent.  Using it heightens the natural healing power, so a whole body adjustment can be performed.  That makes Qi treatment an exact and easy method of healing.

PAUL: We know that surgery is invasive and drugs can be very toxic and have severe side effects.  But how does Ki treatment compare to other non-invasive, alternative treatments?

IKKO: Neither the backbone nor the head is corrected hard as with chiropractic.  So, it is not painful.  Nothing is inserted as in acupuncture, which can be painful, especially if you have to move during the treatment.

PAUL: What about its effectiveness compared to other alternative treatments?

IKKO: The small stimulus of Qi Energy may not be enough for those who have a need for stronger stimuli such as acupressure, shiatsu massage, or Anma massage.  However, in actual fact, a smaller stimulus is more readily accepted by the body.

PAUL: Why is that?

IKKO: Because I first work with a client’s astral field in the fourth dimension.  From the astral field, the stimulus I send penetrates into the meridians, which are very subtle energy paths through the body.  Therefore, the more subtle the energy coming in the more readily it can be absorbed into the meridians.

PAUL: So acupuncture and acupressure work directly on the three-dimensional physical structure and do not interact with the four-dimensional Biofield?

IKKO: That’s right.

PAUL: Are there ever any side effects?

IKKO: No, no long term side effects.  Soon after a treatment, those who are weak and have less resistance may feel a little fatigued and/or a little dizzy for one to two days.  However, the benefits of Qi will soon take effect and any side effects will disappear.

PAUL: How many treatments does it take to get well?

IKKO: Everyone is different. Some people improve after one or two treatments, but others with more acute or chronic problems need prolonged treatment.

PAUL: I know you treat athletes at your clinic in Japan.  What are the benefits for them?

IKKO: Muscular power improves because the flow of Qi becomes smooth, and muscles become more flexible — This itself can also help prevent injury in the future.  Moreover, concentration also increases because the body becomes more pliable and posture improves.

PAUL: What about recovery time?

IKKO: With Qigong medical treatments, the flow of Qi, the flow of nerve energy, and any distortion in the bones are improved simultaneously. Therefore, recovery is quick!

PAUL:  A huge concern for athletes right now is head injuries.  The only treatments are rest and in some cases EEG Biofeedback and Neurofeedback.  Can Ki treatments help?

IKKO: They cannot hurt.  The brain is another organ just like the kidneys or the liver.  Whatever trauma it has suffered will appear in the Astral Biofield and can be analyzed and treated with Qi. That can only support and even enhance any other treatment.

PAUL: Can medical Qigong treatments also be preventative?

IKKO: Yes, there is a concept of “non-illness” in Eastern medicine. In the “Qi world,” there is an innate intelligence.  The Qi can perceive minor abnormalities and correct them, effectively preventing them from growing much larger. In Japan we say “illness comes from Qi (mind, feeling),” and, therefore, the secret of health is to improve the flow of the Qi (mind, feeling).

PAUL: And nutrition also plays an important role in improving or even damaging Qi.

IKKO: Food serves as a basis which builds the body and enhances QI. Therefore try to eat natural things as much as you can.  Also, be careful of preservatives, chemical seasonings, artificial coloring, chemical substances, etc. Do not use white sugar.  Also take in other sugars and fruits moderately.

Take alcohol moderately. Be careful of excessive drinking.  Stop bread (yeast) and dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, etc.). Also be careful of eggs. It stands to reason that smoking is bad for your health. Health cannot be bought from a vending machine. Please do not forget that you are the creator of yourself.  Once you realize that, your natural healing power is already activated.

PAUL: Good advice.  Thank you, Ikko.  I hope you will return to Los Angeles soon and possibly open a clinic here.

IKKO: Yes, I would like that very much.


If you wish to learn more about Ikko Matsuura’s work, you can visit his Body Balance website.  If you would like more information or to arrange a treatment session, contact Eiji Inoue at 323-791-9163

We have often heard people say: “I feel like I have a void in my life.”  Perhaps you yourself have said it at one time or another.

Generally, many of us say it after a rather heartfelt loss or disappointment.  Something that has filled our lives – a loved one, a job, or a dream – is suddenly gone, and we feel the empty space inside that is left behind.

This emptiness brings us sadness, loneliness and in some cases depression.  We start to look for ways to fill the void.

Feeling sad, depressed?  Find a therapist or go on a cruise.

Feeling stressed from the pressure at work?  Head to market and pick up some munchies, grab a cigarette or a café latte.

Put all that weight back on?  Join a different gym or buy the next fad exercise DVD advertised on late night TV.

Lost a job?  Fill out an unemployment claim then load up on lottery tickets.

Lost a relationship?  Try eHarmony or head to the local watering hole to drown your sorrows or maybe luck out and meet Mr. or Ms. Right.

We will attach to almost anything that can either stimulate us or numb us so that we can ignore the void, the emptiness inside.  Some of us try to fill the void with food or drink, with drugs, with sex.

But what we wind up ignoring is the fact that the void, itself, is a blessing in disguise – not for what new and creative measures we take to fill it. That will only put us back on the merry-go-round of illusion, never to come face to face with reality.

What most of us have come to “think of” as reality is nothing more than a projection of our thoughts, which are, in fact, unreal.

But that void inside is our only reality.  It is our original nature as any seasoned Buddhist or Taoist meditator will tell you.

Instead of trying to fill it with all sorts of compulsive actions or move away from it altogether, we need to go with it.  Follow it wherever it leads us.  Make it a very close friend, so to speak.

The hurts and traumas of life do not have to be debilitating or depressing.  They only bring us to that point when we try to overcome them.  But having the courage to move into the void like an intrepid explorer descending into a fathomless cavern can not only free us from the illusions of life but bring us face-to-face with our true selves.

In meditation, in qigong, in our tai chi and other nei jia practices, following the void and always keeping it before us will not only make us whole but will free us from the enslavements that we once desired.

Yes, song is the most important aspect of the internal martial arts (nei jia).  But one size does not fit all.  Having performed taijijuan thousands of times and push hands for the last twelve years or so I have come to realize that song has little to do with relaxation as we Westerners know it.  Instead, song is a combination of yin and yang.  But the ideal song, the ideal mixture of yin and yang is different for everyone.

It depends on many things: your size and physical stature (bone size, thickness of skin, etc.), your conditioning, your flexibility, the condition of your internal organs, the quality of your internal energy and circulation.

For example, a person might be very flexible and have good conditioning and stature, but there circulation might be weak or blocked, so their dantien is unable to store and issue much energy.  Or maybe they have a poor diet, and their body cannot build up enough internal energy.

Some people’s song needs more yang and less yin, and others more yin and less yang.

But I think the greatest factor is our mental song.  If we have too much stress, we will have too much mental yang and not enough mental yin (calm).  People with a lot of depression and sadness have too much mental yin and need more mental yang (joy).

That’s what I realized this morning as I was doing my forms and a memory from way back in childhood suddenly popped into my consciousness.  In order to make real progress one needs to be aware of not only their physical song but their mental song (yin and yang) throughout the day not just while practicing the forms.

One cannot separate their daily life from taiji or taiji and daily life from the Dao.  As Laotse tells us throughout the Dao de Ching, one must try to follow the Way (Dao, Nature) all of the time.