August 21st, 2012
Our Tuesday T’ai Chi evening under the stars. Doron Lavie, arriving early is ready to begin the session.
After our warm-up, Chi Cong session, T’ai chi 88 form and Sword Cutta 32 form, we had a break! I spoke to Eliahu Levy, a longtime participant in the Eshkol T’ai Chi group held on Kibbutz Nir-Oz.
Judih: Can you introduce yourself, please.
Eliahu: I’m Eliahu Levy from Kibbutz Nir Itzhak, 78 years old. In the past, I’ve been involved with Physical Education and all kinds of sports. About 12 years ago I got involved with t’ai chi.
J: How did you get involved?
E: I was doing karate and it was very intensive and then the sessions stopped. My friends told me that they were coming to Nir Oz to do t’ai chi. So I decided to try. From the very first day, I knew that I’d never stop.
J: What grabbed you, exactly?
E: It was a time when I was going through a serious personal breakdown. I had just become a widower. And I stopped working at my job and I found myself in the middle of all these life changes. I was really in a bad state. It was then that I got into t’ai chi and discovered a new world. Afterwards, I began to study Chinese medicine and everything came together for me. I became a new man. And t’ai chi was a vital part of this restructuring.
I have continued to study and advance in this practice and not only did I become a new man, but everything changed for me: my behavior, my conception of life, and my perception of the world around me. I am now a practitioner in Chinese medicine. And t’ai chi provides the physical base for it all.
Judih: Do you practise everyday?
E: I do chi cong everyday. Sometimes t’ai chi, but chi cong everyday. In this way I prepare my body for the day, for fairly intensive work, since I work a lot using massage. And in addition this grounds me for my usual daily activities. This is the essence of t’ai chi: connecting me to the earth, to the sky and me in the middle, feeling very good!
J: Do you work with music? How do you practice?
E: No, without music
J: Do you use a mirror?
E: No I go outside, listen to the birds, look at the green around me. I feel the morning dew on my bare feet. And this gives me so much. It fills my batteries for the day.
J: So you practise early in the morning?
E: Yes, I wake up usually before 6 and then I go out to do t’ai chi. Also, when I go to the pool for a swim I feel the water, and again feel myself between the sky and the earth. When I get back on solid ground, I do t’ai chi or chi cong and re-connect with myself.
J: So you’d recommend t’ai chi to everyone?
E: Yes to everyone. I can tell you. I have no physical pain, not in my knees, back or head. I take no medications. You see, when I first found t’ai chi I left all my medications behind and I’m living very well! If at any time, there are any physical problems, I can deal with them.
J: Have you changed your diet, how you eat? Or is this all because of the physical activity you engage in?
E: It’s all my conception of life. I eat according to the prefects of Chinese medicine – mostly healthy food– no fats or carbonated drinks, although I do drink some wine that I like. And that’s it. It’s a new way of living.
J: Thank you. Is there anything you’d like to add?
E: Yes, I recommend t’ai chi to everyone. I recommend doing it and practising regularly, because it acts to regulate body processes that serve to heal the body. Healing comes from within utilizing oxygen. T’ai chi works to facilitate the connection.
J: Thank you, Eliyahu
Doron Lavie, teacher of T’ai Chi, Chi Cong, Zen meditation, kung fu and practitioner of holistic healing has won championships in Tokyo in T’ai Chi, and has worked with many populations bringing the benefits of his knowledge and experience to a wide variety of populations. I, myself, have been studying with him since 1993 when he first began classes on Kibbutz Nir-Oz. I was fortunate that Doron agreed to be interviewed and am happy to share his answers to my questions.
J: What is T’ai Chi, Doron?
Doron: A Chinese Martial Art, definitely martial arts combined with awareness. It works on our quality of life: how to use the body, the mind and how to use them well.
J: What are its origins?
D. In early Chinese history, there evolved the idea that the world and its processes work according to the principle of yin and yang. The I Ching developed at the same time, according to the same principles. Everything is balanced. This balance of power controls everything in the world.
These two principles are not opposite as some may think, but rather they complement each other. It is our task to find the balance between them and in all areas of life, we need to maintain that balance. Along with that, we endeavour to learn more about our bodies in accordance with the same principles and rules. The Chinese, who originated this point of view, realized that the cosmos and the body work in the same way: the body being a microcosmos of the same guiding principles.
This philosophy led to the development of different branches. Some were religious, as happens in all cultures, some were mental processes, such as meditation, without a religious element, some were physical exercises or sports, and eventually developed therapeutic branches such as chi cong, acupuncture, etc.
T’ai chi fits combines physical movement with awareness.
J: Who can benefit from t’ai chi?
D: Everybody! Everybody who truly cares for him/herself, who values their quality of life can benefit.
J: How often does one have to practice it?
D: There are many people who practice once or twice a week, but the more the better, in accordance with one’s schedule, time and how long one can invest. As in most things, people who are attracted to t’ai chi and see results from their practice, tend to practise and develop a regular routine.
Background: Full Name: Doron Lavie
Place of Birth: Jerusalem
Current Residence: Lehavim, Community Settlement
Favourite Childhood memory: There are many to choose from. When I was growing up, I was surrounded by nature. That is what I remember, that and my family life – which was very strong, very enjoyable. I loved our family trips into nature.
J: When did you first become interested in T’ai Chi?
It’s hard to say directly. Not specifically T’ai Chi, but, at a young age, I was interested in seeking something “more”. As an adolescent, it didn’t seem right that there was just daily life and nothing beyond it. I always looked for something more. At first, I tried looking for it in religion and I went in that direction. Up till today, I’m connected to it. I’m not orthodox, nor do I keep Shabbat in the religious sense, but I feel religious. I say the Kiddush (Kaddish) and I live my daily life in a ‘God-awareness’; that there’s no such thing as randomness, but rather there exists some kind of larger order. While on this search, I found many things. Yoga was good for me, and I discovered meditation which I continued while in the army and afterwards. Then a friend invited me to observe t’ai chi and I’d never seen anything like that before. I was enchanted and I went again and again and continued. And that was that. That was my connection. I connected to my teacher, who was very special. He combined mental/spiritual/meditation work with exercise. He taught the total concept of doing holistic work.
J: Who were your first teachers?
First teacher? Tzvi Weisberg, an American, who wanted to immigrate to Israel. He was the first to make tofu in Israel; he would sit and prepare it as it is done in a monastery. He was also one of the first to bring the practice of zazen to Israel.
J: When did you first go out east?
We went at the end of 1985- We (Irit and I) got married and went. I had thought it wouldn’t be for a long time, but Tzvi had always told me to leave this place and not to hang around him. I wanted to be with him, I was sure that it would take a lifetime to learn all that he had to teach, but he urged me to go out into the world and look at other things. My wife also strongly encouraged me to go look at other things. And that’s what we did.
J: What would you say were the most important elements that you found while you were in Japan and China?
I learned about processes. It’s hard to speak of specific elements. The first thing was how to learn. What it is to seriously learn. It influenced me deeply in how I saw things. I learned I could see things differently, I could do things that I’d thought were impossible. I learned that it is possible, there is a way, the mind has a lot of strength if used properly. This would be the most important thing.
I also got acquainted with chi – I felt the sensation of chi. Before that, I hadn’t really known what it was. But in the east, it was very clear – I knew when Chi emerged. It was more than a feeling of the flow. I knew chi, beyond all doubt, very clearly. Especially in a group exercise, when others had the same experience and we all felt it. It was obvious that we were not imagining or fantasizing, but that it was real.
J: What do you try to impart to your students?
First of all, I would be very happy if I could awaken within them an inner curiousity. And with that, a broader look at the world around them. If a connection can be made in those two realms, a person is taken to a better place where every day is a little better than the day before. There is an underlying feeling that everything is okay.
J: Can anyone do t’ai chi? Everybody can do it
J: What about Chi Cong. Can you explain what it is?
It is similar to T’ai Chi, but it emphasizes the energetic side, teaching us to learn to recognize it and to control it. Someone who is strong in Chi Cong can truly help others.
J: There are different forms of Chi Cong that you teach. Could you briefly mention a few and explain them?
There are many series of Chi Cong. Most of them work on improving posture, balance, to remedy disease or unbalanced emotions. They all work to increase chi and its balance. That’s the most important aim.
There are some very static forms and others dynamic, some very dynamic like shaolin. One form, for example, used in almost all schools is The Five Elements, or Five Postures (as called by the Chinese).
These are static positions which are held, then changed, from position to position, relating to the Chinese five elements and addressing the five pairs of organs in the body. This is a little different to what we know in the West.
The elements relate to the natural cycle of energy that flows between these five pairs of bodily organs.
The Five Elements balances the mental, emotional, hormonal energies within the organs, themselves, and in their relationship with one another.
Another series is called the Eight Pieces of Brocade. It is also one of the ancient series, getting its name from the lace from which the Caesars’ robes were made, a very expensive cloth. The Eight Pieces do major work on all aspects of health; one on cartilage, another on the skeleton and others on the seven emotions (joy-anger, happiness-sadness, etc).
One works on the nervous system, another on the immune system. It does thorough work.
Another series of Chi Cong is the Wild Goose, which develops the body and awareness through movement. It is one of the few Chi Cong cutta –(a dynamic series of movements). Most are static.
Because it’s not too technical and fairly easy to do, it improves coordination, orientation, and body awareness in general. There are a few forms of the Wild Goose. They all open up energetic channels, providing a good base for other movement or awareness work, no matter what it might be.
It works specifically on the immune system.
Doing almost any form of Chi Cong will relax the body, relieve tiredness, awaken the body. It can dissolve negative emotions including anger. People feel good afterwards and don’t think of negativity.
J: Would you say that t’ai chi has changed you?
In many ways.
First, when I was young, I would get angry quickly, and I was easily frustrated. At times, I even got violent. My attitudes about life were set and inflexible. All these things changed. I was suddenly able to relax, through my own control, something I never could have done before. I could deal with my frustration in a kind of dialogue. I learned (perhaps by myself) that the world was nicer than I had thought. Of course, there’s no shortage of things to fix and I wish that things were different but it’s not as bad as we think. There are many issues in the world, whether individual or on a universal scale that I once assumed were lost causes, beyond anything I could do. Now I think I can influence things, by every positive action that I take.
J: Do you see T’ai chi making a change in your students?
I have many students, thank god, everyone different, in personality, in their reasons for coming. I can see where it doesn’t work. Not everyone is ready or open to doing t’ai chi. But definitely, as they become more aware of their movements and improve, I can see how it also influences their approach to themselves and to the world. I have seen self-deprecating people who suddenly recognize their own abilities to do things. And for some, it’s a true discovery, allowing them to explore totally new things in their lives. Tai chi is a vehicle to self-awareness.
J: You have a very gentle way of teaching. You target one particular point for a student to work on and help them focus on observation and correction. Is this a method that other teachers use, or is it your own particular technique?
Yes. This is one of the things I learned with Tzvi, and in Japan or China, but mostly in Japan, during a very intensive period. When I arrived there to do T’ai Chi, I searched for something similar to what I had been doing with Tzvi. But, I couldn’t find the same style. There were many styles, of course, but due to my own state, I was unable to adapt. Nothing seemed to suit me. Also I had no criteria with which to judge what was good or not. Then a friend of mine who was studying acupuncture invited me to a monastery to watch a T’ai Chi class. I went there and suddenly, it didn’t matter about the style: I saw the teacher, a woman, and how she moved, her very being, her aura and I wanted her to help me get to her level. Wherever she was, I wanted to be there.
The teaching was very gentle, very harmonious. People were never reprimanded. Sometimes, I missed that, sometimes I felt as if I needed to be hit on the head. In China, they would do things like that to awaken awareness. When required, I sometimes use that technique, but afterwards I feel badly for doing it.
In Japan, however, they were very gentle, focusing on one thing. When I was an assistant-teacher, I used to show a person everything that needed adjustment. But it’s impossible to remember so many corrections, and I learned to look for the most central thing. People are able to work on one thing, and if central enough, other things will be corrected as well. And that will open up the possibility of working on something else. The issue for the teacher is to locate the center of the problem. When I look at a person, I look for what is being done right, and I emphasize the positive. That way I can see more clearly where the interference might be coming from. In getting to that central thing, you solve more than one area.
J: You give several T’ai Chi classes in the Negev area, including kibbutzim and the University. Do you find any noticeable difference in the classroom atmosphere?
Yes, every community has a separate personality, making it special. I work in different sorts of communities and the atmosphere is very different in each.
For example, I work with the elderly and I work with a younger group of pensioners. With one group, I am not expecting them to be t’ai chi masters, not at all, but we work with the here and now, what is possible in the lesson and what will remain with each person after they leave the class. What is unique in working with that group is that there is a very harmonious feeling in the room. With the slightly younger pensioners, on the other hand, there can erupt some rather angry dialogues, in the middle of the lesson. It’s very interesting that the lesson sets the stage for such discussions. I am not a part of the particular stories, but since it happens in my lesson, I have to deal with it. I can either ignore it or relate to it. The fact that I can dissolve any negativity that might develop is very satisfying. Sometimes, I can deal with it in a joking manner and that can transform the entire situation. So although such things are not directly connected to t’ai chi, they can constitute a major part of the lesson.
J: Are there any other questions you wish I had asked, or any comments you’d like to add?
Yes, I have a question: I often find myself wanting to give more than students apparently want. When I first came back to Israel, society in general tended to be more attracted to holistic practices but, in recent years, that has lessened. The fact is that I don’t understand why people don’t gravitate more to t’ai chi. Or to yoga or meditation. Why aren’t more people doing these things?
We are at a period in society where most people are good people, clever people trying to live well. But they focus on the external. They devote attention to their car’s colour, its radio, its GPS, but not to the engine or the gear. This is why they work extra hours, make one more deal. Even nurses will take care of one more patient, instead of going home, instead of paying attention to the time or to themselves. They themselves could be sick, but they don’t offer themselves the attention they give so freely to others. Why must an actual illness force people to finally pay attention, when it can so easily be prevented.
It takes awareness to maintain the body. More people need to make a connection to themselves.
This brings back the point I made earlier. The essential thing is to arouse a true curiousity in the self and when that happens, a person will be able to see what is required, aware of what’s important in life.
Is it really necessary to have a better looking car, a larger TV, or is it more important to feel healthier, better nourished inside?
If one’s priorities are in order, one feels inner contentment and nothing external can change that feeling.
If you are happy, you are happyl Receiving a gift is always nice, but it all starts on the inside. That’s the place to start.
Thank you, Doron.
Doron Lavie : T’ai Chi and Chi Cong classes are given from Sunday to Friday. For inquiries about classes in t’ai chi, chi cong, zen meditation and kung fu, contact Doron. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Telephone: 08-651-2636
Doron has been teaching Chi Cong and T’ai Chi on Kibbutz Nir-Oz since 1993, on Tuesday nights from 20:30 – 22:00. For information about classes given on Kibbutz Nir-Oz, e-mail: email@example.com
Watch a short clip of Doron illustrating a point in ‘Wave Hands Like Clouds’ (Hebrew spoken, but useful to watch)