being alive

Announcing the inaugural Tai Chi/Morning Ritual workshop, Saturday October 3rd

If you are willing to do what others won’t, you can have what others don’t


The Inaugural “Firedance” Tai Chi/ Morning Ritual  workshop

I first began learning Tai Chi in about 1984, studying with Hawkins Cheung (classmate of the amazing Bruce Lee.  His “core art” is Wing Chun, but he took private lessons with the son of the originator) and have practiced and taught it ever since.

Teaching at SF and writing workshops, I only had 2-3 hours MAX to try to convey the value of this beautiful art.  Considering that people can generally only absorb about one move per hour, it usually takes a YEAR to learn the form. And the form isn’t even the most valuable part of the art!  Arrgh!

So…I began to “cheat”.  Find ways to give more value in less time.    And a central question was: what are the core values of Tai Chi?  Why is it the most popular movement and meditation system in the world?

It can be learned by anyone, at any skill or age level.

It can be used for health, meditation, fitness, relaxation, enhancing coordination, flexibility, balance, and much more.

It CAN be used to enhance self-defense–but need not be, and generally is not.  (Using it for self defense demands a harsher, faster training against resistant opponents with a motivation to hit you!)

It requires no equipment, little space, and small amounts of time.

It is a life-time discipline. From 9 to 109, it has something to offer!

How in the world, though, could I convey (at least) a year’s worth of training in a few hours? Was it even possible?

I decided to take the challenge.

For   fifty years, I’ve studied disciplines such as martial arts, yoga, NLP, hypnosis, Pancultural Shamanism, and more.  The almost “magical” secrets that exist in the world, hidden within swaths of cultural mythology, are mind-boggling.

The challenge was finding a way to “deconstruct” everything in the Tai Chi universe and re-assemble it to provide value as fast as possible.  And over the years, have heard back from students that even a few sessions, spread out over years, have changed their lives for the better.

Why?  Because my approach, which I call “Firedance,” connects body, mind, spirit and emotions all at the same time.  We are creatures who live in all of these domains, and by aligning the inner and outer worlds align, and using techniques and approaches pulled from a variety of disciplines, it is possible to accomplish more…much more…than traditional teaching allows.

Countless students have said to me: This was terrific!  Do you have a school?  Where can I learn more?   

Well…anyone loves hearing compliments like that, but I’m fully involved in my writing career and family, and can’t afford the time and energy to maintain a brick-and-mortar facility.   I CAN teach some of these things online, but the most basic teachings are sort of like “tuning forks” vibrating in tune with each other–the person who “has it” has to actually be there, able to make subtle corrections to the way you breathe and move.   It’s a lot like a fire passing from one torch to another.

What could I do, darn it?  Because following a recent promotion from my beloved karate instructor, I now have the responsibility…and permission…to pass on what I have learned in the arts.     And my goal, my passion, my commitment is to create


Together, I honestly believe we change the world for the better.  But how?

It occurred to me that what IS possible is to teach one-day seminars.   I could fly into a city, take one day and cram it FULL of life-changing value.   I know I can do that.  And THAT could be the foundation of a body-mind workshop unlike anything ever presented.

But I need a test group, first.    


So…On October 3rd, I’m going to do a smaller workshop, lasting 4-5 hours, from 10 am to 3pm in the San Fernando Valley.  I will work with a group of 20-30 people, and in that period I’m going give them a program that can change their lives in just 100 Days. In the process we will learn, together, what is the “difference that makes the difference”, the “critical path” to awakening from your dream…or nightmare…of low energy, crushed hopes, poor health, negative emotions and non-existent focus.

The purpose of the workshop is nothing less than taking control of your life, from the root (body) up to your heart, and head.   Body, mind and spirit, all working in unity.


If you engage your BODY first, everything else MUST come along. You can read a book, attend a lecture, listen to an MP3 and it can remain all “head stuff”. There is no “trickle down.”

But if you start with the ROOT, the flowering can be sublime.

Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan will be the framework.  NO EXPERIENCE NEEDED.  ALL LEVELS WELCOME, of any style or no style at all.  All fitness levels accommodated.

If you are a beginner, you will probably remember 4-5 movements—but have an online resource to learn all 108 if you wish. But…it is not necessary, because you will learn an exercise that provides about 80% of the value of Tai Chi, can be learned in an hour, and performed in just minutes a day.

We will use other movement arts to support this: The Five Tibetans, the Five Minute Miracle (Be Breathed), and others to create a simple complete fitness system anyone can perform, every day for the rest of your life.

You will learn, create and refine your “Morning Ritual”–the 10-20 minutes of movement, affirmation, and visualization to align all goals and emotions for your day.  POWERFUL BEYOND BELIEF!

You will learn the “Ancient Child” meditation for emotional healing, focus, and connecting with your inner wisdom.

We will use exercises and concepts from Tai Chi, including “Push Hands”, the two-person energy drill that teaches you to relax under pressure (and opens the door to self-defense applications, although those will not be a part of this workshop) and Chi Gung, the “energy system” that brings Tai Chi to life.

You’ll learn the secret of shifting your emotions ON DEMAND.  Crush (non-medical) depression forever!

And much much more.

We’re going to change the way you breathe, move, think and feel–in four-five hours.   If you will commit to performing your “morning ritual” for 10-20 minutes a day for just 100 days, YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE.  Crush procrastination.   Be the positive force for change in your world you were born to be. And here’s a hint: even your “failures” will be successes!


Saturday October 3rd, 10am-3pm (½ hour lunch break–bring your lunch, a towel or mat, drinking water, and a journal for notes)

6012 Tyrone Ave, Van Nuys

CA 91401


You will leave the workshop with a customized program to heal and accelerate your life.  IF you will commit to actually using it for 100 days (do your best!  that’s all we ask), investing a minimum of ten minutes a day…we will welcome you to the workshop for a token payment, enough to cover the cost of the facility and pay for my Sushi afterwards!  (Well, a LITTLE more than that, but you get my meaning!)

FIFTY BUCKS for the general public

THIRTY BUCKS for members of the LASFS fan community (I love you!), Active service members, students and those with special needs.

That’s it.  Seriously.   One time only, because you are helping me test and refine.  You will be the first group.

Together we can change the world.

With Gratitude,

Steven Barnes

P.S. — (and again, if you want to learn more about that recent promotion, you can read HERE.  Frankly, I’m a little shy!)

P.P.S.–some twenty-five years ago I recorded a “Firedance Tai Chi” video of the entire form.   If you’re interested, HERE IT IS


Your Ego Is Not Your Amigo

World Tai Chi day is coming Saturday.  I wanted to touch on an aspect of my relationship with it.  Some thirty years ago, I first taught a Tai Chi workshop at a science fiction convention.  I was stumped: if it takes a year to learn the form, and you had to learn the form before you could really learn the “feeling” contained in the form, and it is the feeling, the capacity to relax and feel “flow” under stress, that creates the core value IMHO.

Because stress doesn’t hurt you.  It is STRAIN that hurts you, and strain is a maladaption to stress.  If your life stress doesn’t negatively affect  your posture, breathing and muscle tension, it simply doesn’t become strain, and what happens is that that life stress: physical, mental, or emotional, will trigger an ADAPTIVE RESPONSE, and you get STRONGER.   That’s how we grow.   Stress plus nutrition (physical, emotional, or mental) plus rest equals Growth.

(Bonus question: who can spot the relationship between this and the “Secret Formula”: Goals X Faith X Constant Action X Gratitude = Results.   If you can see it, you’ve just learned something critical)

Anyway, what I decided was that I could NOT teach tai chi the traditional way and give my friends and family something of value in just one or two hours.  Not possible.

So I “cheated” and brought in body-mind concepts from Yoga, other martial arts, Pancultural Shamanism, Eriksonian Hypnosis, NLP and the other disciplines that had been proven to be of genuine power and purpose.   Other material came from Sri Chinmoy, Harley “Swiftdeer” Reagan, Sufism, and Circular Strength Training.

Anywhere and everywhere.

One of the concepts I used was what is called a “Perfect Template.” A PT is a physical movement pattern which, if done correctly and consistently, will change you on multiple levels.  “If I could do THAT, I would be THIS.”   There are many forms of sacred and profound motion that contain within them the secrets of being a healthy, dynamic human being.  You simply cannot practice them daily without changing.   If your ego is strong enough, and clings to your “old patterns” enough, what will happen is that you will NOT BE ABLE TO SUSTAIN THE PRACTICE.  If you do it, you change.  Period.

Tai Chi can be one of those, especially.

One reason is that fear is the greatest barrier to growth. Oh, it might come under the label “stress”, “anxiety”, “anger”, or whatever, but if, for the sake of communication, you consider the underlying emotion to be fear, it can be addressed directly and powerfully.

Because if you “act” brave long enough, you actually become able to DO the things “brave” people do–in other words, the fear is there, but you can perform anyway. And when you actually take actions long enough, if you are also practicing one of these “Perfect Template” disciplines you will begin to internalize things that cannot be put into words…and you wake up one day, realizing you are a different person.

Here is a way you can “hack” your nervous system to get his effect even if you don’t have a “Perfect Template” practice:

The next time you feel “up”, optimistic, filled with energy and joy: notice how you are breathing, your expression and posture, the language you’re using, and where your attention is focused. REMEMBER THIS. Then, the next time you are feeling “down” hit “replay” and do the exact same things–and you’ll trigger the same emotions in the exact way that, were you to imitate the language, body movement and focus of feeling “down” you would “crash” the best mood of your life. It goes both ways!

  • Is it really that simple? And is it as easy as you make it sound?” I was asked this just minutes ago.
  • And the answer:  I never said it was easy. SIMPLE, yes.
  • Your ego thinks it is you.   And will fight to the death to defend its ground.  And if you have a negative ego-identity that means it will literally destroy your external life to maintain your self-image.  As the man said: “your ego is not your amigo.”
  • That means that we need to use the “Five Minute Miracle.”   EVERYONE HAS FIVE MINUTES A DAY. IF YOU THINK YOU DON’T, YOU ARE LYING TO YOURSELF.  Period.   
  • The “Five Minute Miracle” uses a fantastic “cheat”–if you need to learn something, you will learn it better practicing multiple times during the day.  Practicing piano for 12 minutes, five times a day, is better than practicing it for an hour in a lump.
  • And sixty seconds of breathing, posture, and focused thought five times a day, once every three hours, can change your life in a single month.    
  • Catch yourself in a positive mood, and learn to intensify it. Catch yourself sliding into a negative mood, and interrupt the negative pattern. The breathing is probably the single most important thing to change. Go to a tai chi teacher, yoga teacher, or opera coach and learn deep, diaphragmatic breathing. Do it for sixty seconds, five times a day (every three hours), along with the postures and mental focus and internal dialog you use when ‘up’ and the effect is startling.  

Stand up or sit up straight.  Smile.  Breathe deeply and slowly (work with a teacher!   If you have a hard time staying in a positive mood I PROMISE you are breathing non-optimally!).  Walk with confidence. Move like a healthy animal on the prowl.  Say something positive, aloud, with confidence.   

Sixty seconds.  

Five times a day, once every three hours.

That’s all it takes to get started.    I’ve had hundreds of fans over the years tell me that a single hour of working with me at a con, teaching them how to breathe and move and relax properly changed their lives.  Now, I have a goal of changing one MILLION lives. That’s my goal. That’s what I want to do with the rest of my life, and have developed a way of doing this far more deeply and profoundly in a single day.    I’m open to brain-storming about how and where to introduce this one-day workshop across the country, and thoughts would be welcome.


But first–help yourself. Try it, and see if I’m not telling the truth.  Then…get in touch with me. Let’s change some lives together, shall we?



theancientchild dot com

World Tai Chi Day this Saturday!

World Tai Chi Day is coming this Saturday.  Thought I’d reflect on that, just a bit.  I first studied Wu Style Tai Chi about thirty five years ago, under Hawkins Cheung, who learned it directly from the son of the founder.   Hawkins is a senior Wing Chun practitioner who learned directly from Yip Man, and his approach to learning Tai Chi’s combat applications was deliciously simple: he attacked his teacher every lesson.  And out of the bruises and bumps, he learned. That’s pretty serious.


I was studying Kali with Danny Inosanto at the time I met Hawkins, and befriended Hawkins, and decided that this was a rare opportunity to learn, and shifted over (they shared a school at the time) and for the next three years, there I was 2-3 times a week, practicing every day.  It takes about a year to learn the complete 108 movements (you learn about one move per class) and I really wanted it.


You see, the Tai Chi form is NOT “Tai Chi.” It is…the form.  Learning it is like building a bucket.  What you want is what goes IN the bucket, the specific feelings, perceptions, sensitivities, balances, and internal-external connections that you can only learn actually touching hands with a teacher.  In this it is much like the sexual magic work of the Quodoshka I studied in the Deer Tribe.  The theory was great, but without the Firewomen I actually worked with, it would have been impossible to advance.


Without Push-Hands and actual combatives practice, I would have had nothing but the external form.  Now…don’t get me wrong. The reason Tai Chi is the most popular martial art in the world is that even if you don’t Push Hands, even if you don’t have the slightest interest in the martial applications (which, btw, are very Silat-like), it still has much to offer.


The benefits of Tai Chi are very similar to the benefits of joint mobility drills.  And that means HEALTH, which is far more important than mere “fitness”.  In fact, health contains within it the roots of generalized “fitness.”   They are circles that overlap but are not concentric.   Fitness is “how much, how far, how fast, how many.)   How far can you run in X time.  How much can you lift, how high can you jump, etc. etc.  There is no “generalized fitness” really–it is all specific to some activity you desire to perform.  (That said, there are definitely activities like FlowFit or TacFit that provide such a beautiful mixture of fitness qualities that they come pretty close to “generalized fitness.)


Health is a different thing.   How do you feel when you wake up in the morning?  How well did you sleep?  What’s your mood?  How does your body feel, in general?  Like a healthy animal?  Do you stretch, twist, and move spontaneously during the day?  Animals do.     Appetite for food, rest, sex and exercise?  Is the “kid” inside you still alive and well?    Can you move your body in such a way as to process negative emotions and trigger positive ones at will?  How often do you get sick?  What is your overall energy level?   How is your balance?


Two weeks ago I was with an older friend.  He misjudged a step and fell.   Without thinking, I reached out to steady him.  I was wearing a heavy backpack, and could not control my own balance perfectly, and in slow-motion, we fell to the ground.  I positioned myself under him to cushion him, collapsing with control, trying to find something, some way to break our fall, thinking in that syrupy fast-motion you experience under stress if you stay calm.   Could find nothing to hold onto, but managed to get my left arm under me to act as a brake.  My right knee was twisting fiercely as he fell atop me. We reached the ground safely.


He said I saved him.  I could feel it in my knee–the stress had twisted it a little out of true.   I still feel it a little, two weeks later.  But…we were both fine.     That wasn’t “fitness”.  How in the world do you train for something like that?  It was just “health.”  Tai Chi contributed the following things:


  • Relaxed perception.
  • Instant reactions.   
  • Balance
  • Lower body strength
  • Flexible tendons (otherwise I’d have torn my knee out, I kid you not)
  • Coordination (for a few seconds, our two bodies became one, with my mind in control of both)
  • Proper breathing under stress.  Controls fear, connects the entire body, allows instinct and tactical mind to operate simultaneously.
  • Spinal flexibility.
  • Relaxation under stress.  Critical to be able to fall safely.


There is more, including things I never consciously knew I was learning.   Many of these qualities can be gained simply through patterned motion and daily connection with your body (processing toxic emotions, removing “sensory motor amnesia”).  They are available if you will just begin to move, and give yourself the gift of connecting your animal and human selves.


The Tai Chi Form I recorded twenty-five years ago, available free on Youtube, can teach many of these things, and I will answer any questions I can about any issues you have in connection with it.  PLEASE, if you have no daily discipline, begin to integrate some practice.  I call Tai Chi a “perfect template”, one of those exercises which, if mastered, convey wonderful, broad-based benefits beyond conscious competence.

Happy World Tai Chi Day!

Steven Barnes

www.lifewritingworkshop dot com

The Purpose of Life is…

“I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we desire contentment. In my own limited experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the principal source of success in life. Since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop inner peace.”–The Dalai Lama


There is no such thing as a fool-proof statement, tactic, or philosophy, because fools are so ingenious.  Well, the term “fool” is too harsh, really, unless we grasp that we all play the fool at times.  In the attempt to protect our egos (which believe that they are “us”)  justify our misery, selfishness, or dishonesty, the human mind can twist something as simple as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (“what if you’re a masochist?” we ask.  What if we are suicidal?) when, if a child were to ask us this, we would find our answers rapidly.


Simple doesn’t mean easy.  In fact, simple is hard.  Fitness is simple: work, learn, rest, grow.  The discipline and focus to keep it up day after day, year after year, decade after decade, is another thing altogether.  Same with relationships, with our careers, with managing our finances.  Simple steps taken daily.


So a simple statement like “The meaning of life is happiness” will immediately be attacked by people who want to justify their misery, or to believe that there is no meaning.  What if you just smoke dope or drink beer all day long.  Doesn’t that provide happiness?  Why work, strive, learn, grow?  What is the point of digging through all the emotional garbage that was shoveled into our hearts in childhood, to supposedly find “happiness” or “contentment” as adults?


Ultimately, you have to find your own reasons.   Mine are simple: I wish to experience all there is of life while I am here.  To give all I can, because much was given to me.  To relieve all the misery I can, because others reached out their hands to me.


I’ve never met a miserable person who was just “wired” that way naturally.  In every case, digging in,  they had conflicting beliefs (security versus freedom, for instance), negative beliefs (“you are worthless” “you are weak” “you cannot have your dreams”), painful experiences (rape, abuse, rejection, failure, etc.) without the necessary self-knowledge to reject the negativity.


Worse yet, their core belief is often that they, themselves, are ugly twisted things (reinforced by parents or lovers early in life) such that they believe that if they DID dig deep into themselves, they would find nothing but pain.  So they remain on the “surface” of their existence. Take trivial pleasure in external accomplishment or intoxication or distraction.  And never find out who and what they are.  “This is just who I am” they say.  Without the slightest idea who and what they really are.  Terrified to look.


Any activity approached deeply enough will take you into wisdom.  Wisdom into truth.  Truth into joy.  Writing, loving, and martial arts were my route.  And because I never quit, no matter how hard it got, eventually I found the connection between them: authentic presentation of Self.  Seeking to answer the Two Questions in every moment, with every breath: Who Am I?  What Is True?


Again and again. Over and over.   No matter how painful it got, because I had faith that at the core was beauty, and love, and the same divine substance that makes the stars.


Take your stand.  Seek to excel in all the basic foundational aspects of life: body, mind, emotions.  Add “finances” unless that aspect of your life is totally handled.   Each of them will force you to give all you have. Seek to apply the lessons you learn across disciplines.


The “Secret Formula” says it best:


  1. Clear goals, written, with plans and deadlines for their accomplishment.
  2. Faith that you can and should accomplish them.
  3. Constant Action, taken daily, seeking to create one perfect day at a time, having ascertained that a string of such “perfect days” would create a perfect path to a perfect life.
  4. Gratitude.


And here it comes full circle.  START your days with the positive emotions most people think can only come from external accomplishment.  Dig deep into your heart, seeking the single star in the night sky. The single positive memory in all the pain you’ve held onto.    If you can’t find it, imagine it–ALL human beings were loved and protected at some point in their infancy. If they were not, they die.  Period.  If you can’t find it, keep digging.  Create your foundation there.  Let that sense of love and appreciation propagate through the rest of your existence, just as some people let a single negative event color their entire lives.  It works both ways.


The purpose of life is happiness.   True joy is found in growth, and service, and Self knowledge.  Simply decide that you are going to be happy, and feed yourself, every day, with the knowledge that brings you closer to your goal.


The life you save may be your own.




What Type of Exercise is Tai Chi?

There are many different types of exercise: strength training, cariovascular endurance, muscular endurance, skill training, flexibility, explosive movement,  emotional toughening, and so forth.


And no exercise does it all.   One might well suspect that Tai Chi offers genuine “bang for your buck” or it wouldn’t compete for the title of “world’s most popular exercise”.


Lets go over the aspects of fitness that Tai Chi “touches on” but then look at the ones where it excels.


  1. Strength.  If you hold a deep stance and move slowly, you definitely can gain strength of legs and core.  Upper body?   Not much.
  2. Endurance.   By going deep and slow, or high and fast (or deep and fast! Ouch!) you can get your heart pumping, no question.   As cardio as walking, and walking is terrific exercise.
  3. Skill.  Excellent for developing awareness and coordination.  Fighting “sensory motor amnesia”
  4. Explosive power.  Depends on the form, or your modifications to it.  Combat applications will demand explosive movement (generally), so preparing the body for storage and release of elastic energy is built into it…but you have to dig for it, it’s not on the surface.
  5. Self defense skill.  Not under ordinary practice.  You’d have to extract the techniques and principles and practice them under realistic stress.  Do NOT believe that “if you push hands for twenty years, you will be able to fight.” This is an okie-doke.  A con.  For all practical purposes, it simply isn’t true.   Six months of full-out Kali or Silat hand flow drills will cut a push-hands expert to pieces if he hasn’t practiced at intensity.   And by intensity I mean that it has to HURT if you lose.  Pain is the best teacher in the arts, and nothing is really in second place.


Now…other than skill, then, what does it offer?


  1. Balance.  Fantastic. Moving slowly, you have the chance to really feel the “slinky” like flow of balance from one foot to another. Feel which part of your foot is on the ground at what moment as you flow from 80% weight on right to 60-40 to 50-50 to 40-60 to 20-80.
  2. Flow.  Focusing your mind and breath into the present moment is valuable in countless life activities and essential to countless skills.   To find flow, you have to have enough challenge to focus your mind, but not so much as to create anxiety.  A slightly detached sense of interest is very smooth and cool in this arena.
  3. Focus.  See #2.


And what does it SHINE at?

  1. Joint mobility.  If there is a single aspect of fitness that is most critical, it is remembering that fitness is NOT health. Fitness and health are two different circles which overlap.  Generally, you don’t really want flexibility–you want mobility.  The capacity to move smoothly within a non-extreme range.  Relaxed, smooth, flowing motion.  In many ways, Tai Chi is just a complex joint mobility drill, maybe the best in the world.


However, it is not necessarily the most EFFICIENT joint mobility drill.  In other words, if someone has bad back, aching joints and so forth, if it takes them a year to learn the form before they can reach “unconscious competence” and relax into the slow-motion swirl and flow of the movement, frankly most people will never get there.   When I teach Tai Chi at a convention,  I have one or two hours to try to give my students something of value.  And it could well be that the mobility drills with which I begin class are the most important lesson of all.


Basically, you work through your entire body, top to bottom, rotating and flexing every joint at least five times. A possible order is: neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, trunk, hips, knees, ankles.    In five minutes you can work through every tendon, ligament, joint and muscle in your entire body, and this daily work might be the single most important “health” activity you can commit to, for a lifetime.


Tai Chi does this, and in a beautiful, aesthetically pleasing manner.  But if you want to cut to the chase–or to learn the perfect warm-up for Tai Chi, I suggest Scott Sonnon’s joint recovery drills, available free on Youtube:

Every day, for the rest of your life.   Five minutes to feeling GREAT when you wake up in the morning (the saying is: if you want to heal a bad back, do it slowly.  If you want to prevent a bad back, do it daily). Aren’t you worth it?