The Madness of the Mizner Method
by Discover Taiji
In the world of internal martial arts, truth is madness. Most who claim to have internal skill rely on either external muscular contraction, partial internal skill with cunning techniques, or worst of all, imaginary internal skill. But the truth of internal martial skill can be found in the pudding of pressure-tested push-hands – where the body will undoubtedly manifest its skill level when uncooperative forces are applied upon it.
Enter Sifu Adam Mizner, an Australian Taiji prodigy who has in recent years been bouncing such forces off his body in dramatic push-hands Youtube videos to the dismay of many an Internet troll and McDojo critic. Since unveiling his Taiji course online in 2014, participating in a widely-viewed Martial Man interview, and starring in a documentary called Power of Chi, Mizner has set the Taiji world ablaze with his demonstrations of incredible internal power. In an era pregnant with videos of martial arts charlatans getting their heads handed to them in full-contact sparring matches, it is only natural that controversy would surround videos of a Taiji master launching people off his body with little to no discernible movement. To the untrained eye, these videos are madness.
But the madness of Mizner’s skill is that it is, in fact, real. When the sign of the times is such that truth is as rare as a blizzard in the Caribbean, it is no wonder that his controversial videos are largely viewed on the martial arts scene as staged or performed by zealously cooperative, hypnotized students. What else would an unknowing viewer conclude? The Tao De Ching aptly says that when a fool hears the truth, he laughs. That same Chapter 41 goes on to say that the path into the light seems dark. Such is the Mizner method – that leads to internal skill that is equal parts mysterious and controversial. What the skeptics overlook, however, is that the training methods required to acquire such skill involve delving deeply into the dark interiors of our being in order to find the light of experiencing our own body. And with this knowing, Mizner promises, comes real transformation, and real skill.
Mizner insists that practicing Taiji begins by turning the torch of awareness inward – into the truth of one’s interior. At least for me, this interior has been dark – as the Tao De Ching forecasts. Looking inward has proven quite lonely and challenging, even horrifying at times. Mizner explains that the path of Taiji is bottom-up, starting with the body. One must first have a body capable of performing Taiji – which Mizner calls the Taiji creature – such that the body is full of chi, capable of releasing tension upon command and mobilizing power (and chi) along internal pathways carved out during many an hour of gruesome, internal training.
With the noble goal of transforming our being into one that can perform these Taiji functions, forty students and myself just wrapped up a one-month training intensive with Sifu Mizner and his senior students in Phuket, Thailand. We spent some 80 hours turning inward, pushing ourselves to follow Mizner’s dictates to saturate our body with our awareness while following the specific instructions of each exercise, and nothing more. If a student had turned up to view fancy push hands or the famous Mizner bouncing, they were certainly to be disappointed as the training was not about show -- but about getting our consciousness inside our bodies to engineer the laborious work of transformation.
As it turns out, turning inward is anything but easy. Most of us spend our days projecting our awareness toward any number of distractions, completely lost in the past, the future, or fantasy, often blaming others for our predicament, but generally escaping the discomfort of our present moment. Despite the challenges, the attendees continued to show up to Mizner’s session after session with the aim of exploring and excavating our interior world. But my, how quickly the body rebelled, convulsed and refused to comply! How creatively the mind fabricated excuses to not persist!
Exercises often involved holding postures for extended periods in order to open the body’s fascial network or sink the chi. But to be fair, “holding” was exactly the opposite of what we were doing. While observers would note a static posture – minus the convulsions – we knew that inwardly, our body was working intensely to apply the instructions to get our consciousness inside our body and release, or open, portions of our body. With a static exterior but a very active interior, there was no visualization, but real work. The consequence: pain, and lots of it.
Perhaps this is why Mizner repeatedly proclaims that the path lies in sincerity alone. To remain in a posture endeavoring to open one’s body in this manner has a way of quickly revealing one’s internal condition, and even character. If you fell under the pressure, was your body too weak to endure the pain? Or did you lack the integrity and simply surrender? If your body convulsed at the pain, were your energetic pathways blocked, your muscles fatigued, or were you simply chasing the convulsions in order to escape discomfort? No matter the result, failing to continue to apply the instructions sincerely was not a choice for the sincere.
And what does all this effort have to do with the supposedly effortless internal power of Taiji? The answer is perhaps what qualifies Mizner as a genius. The path to internal power, Mizner proclaims, is paved with enormous effort, pain and introspection, and is not for the weak-hearted. If one is unable to withstand the severity of these fundamental exercises, then internal power is not to be gotten as Mizner attests the training only gets more difficult. A fundamental quality required to trudge this path, therefore, is will power. Mizner insightfully realizes that no pupil of this path will acquire skill if they do not have enormous will power and faith in the method!
There is a silver living here. To be able to endure such pain, the mind must eventually develop the ability to transcend the fight-flight response of the nervous system – for how long can a person dwell in fight-flight mode and remain healthy? The Taiji practitioner must learn to not self-identify with pain or fear, so that one’s interior can be harmonized. But how could one convey such a non-identification or harmony in words without actually doing the exercises? Once learned, the student becomes capable of applying a more focused, higher quality effort during each session such that they more quickly and more sincerely enter into and maintain the essence of each exercise. The outcome is a much higher return on each effort – the snowball effect – where the learning and skill curve trajectory skyrockets after a long, initial plateau.
While I do not claim to be on a skyrocketing trajectory, I can personally attest to the slow progress at the start. Despite having begun the Mizner system with some 15+ years of martial arts experience under my belt, it was not until I had trained his method for over three years that I finally had a breakthrough that sealed my faith in the efficacy of the Mizner method. No bells, no whistles, no visions, just the hard realization connecting the causes with the effects. Mizner has said himself that most people do not succeed in Taiji Chuan because they lack faith, and my personal experience certainly supports this statement.
And so, if I were to sum up Sifu Mizner’s training method in a single sentence, I would say: The path to Taiji mastery lies in applying the teacher’s instructions with sincere, immense and protracted effort. The rest is just detail. Trying to make sense of every detail will only hinder progress as the mind and its cleverness are constantly trying to invent ways to improve or avoid the bitterness of the training. But are we not meant to grunt and sweat in this weary life?
Because internal skill is hard to discern to the untrained eye, there is an ever-present risk with internal martial arts of a cultish-like atmosphere around teachers who require devotion to the teacher at the exclusion of sincerity. Beware of one who places truth and sincerity behind devotion to the teacher, or even worse, to the lineage. If sincerity is honed, the student will see the lies and falsity of such a teacher.
“Is this not blind faith?” the critics ask. We seek out teachers for their wise instruction. If the instructions are not delivering results, then the problem is either the instructions, or you. Look sincerely at this question, and the answer appears. If the instruction is indeed deficient, it takes a strong character to admit he has chosen an errant path and to keep seeking. But to admit that you are the problem requires integrity. There is nothing blind about following instructions to a tee and one day waking up to a transformed body – more upright, more noble, less tense, where stresses that agitated you yesterday now simply bounce off you the way opponents do when they apply force into your body.
To abide in a newfound being that is kind and patient; to lose interest in the mundane but seek that which nurtures the spirit; to share with others the practical causes of these effects – all is the fruit of sincerely walking the internal path with a genuine teacher. With such a transformation, a newborn faith in the path naturally arises. Perhaps only one in a hundred have the capacity to be this sincere, and if the intensity of Mizner’s training is any measure, he seems to be targeting that one percent.
In this digital age where quick-fixes, how-to lists and instant results are all-the-rage, a training method that presupposes sincerity, faith and protracted faith will hardly be fashionable. In fact, it will even be perceived as madness. That Mizner has dared to present such an approach to the world at large in degenerating times such as these, is a form of crazy wisdom, or might I say, madness.
– Richard Alvoid
Phuket, Thailand, March 2023
Richard is a Floridian with a little world in him. Resides in Bologna, Italy with his BS, MS, JD, NY/FL Law Licenses, wife and 3 kids, and 20+ years of martial arts training, 4 of which have been under the Mizner method!