Forums > Expressive movement / costumes and props > Tai-Chi movement theory meets Poi spinning.

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MeenikSAPPHIRE Member
272 posts
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada

Hi everybody. Below is an article I wrote for Momentum Magazine, published here in Canada. It's about my personal experience with applying traditional tai-chi movement theory to spinning poi. I thought ya'all might find it interesting. Let me know what you think. (Um, this is my first registered post, but I've been around for a while. I'm pretty quite, usually, but I enjoy the site.)Poi: Unravelling the Mysteries of MotionEight years ago, I was called to explore physical movement. It could have been the Bruce Lee movies, or the stories about Shaolin Temple monks, or the Buddhist books about peaceful warriors. Or maybe it was intuition (I'm not sure how these things work). All I know is that at age 19 I discovered a determination and enthusiasm for delving into the mysteries that lie within our ability to move.On a hunch I took up Tai-Chi, which proved a perfect place to start. My teacher had studied under the greatest masters of China, and he taught his students traditional Tai-Chi movement theory. This included the use of circular and spiral motion, the body's five bows, the stacking of muscle/body structure, the raising of spirit and focus, and many other concepts and techniques. I became a fierce believer in the intelligence and practicality of Tai-Ch theory.Although I practiced intensively, and learned a lot, I eventually longed for something more upbeat. Since then, I've trained in Arnis, dance, Wushu, and Capoeira. Applying Tai-Chi theory always helped me progress quickly, and each art taught me something fundamental about movement. Still, none of them were quite what I was looking for.I finally found "it" outside a dance party in Roberts Creek, where I watched a group of fire spinners jamming. As I watched, I realized that my entire history of movement practice, plus that of several past lives, had been geared to lead me to spinning Poi (fire chains). I don't know how I knew. I just knew. It was like God opened the skies and said, "Take up poi. You' ll understand later." I was soon practicing with a pair of rolled up socks and shoelaces. To my delight, I discovered that poi are amazing movement exploration tools. They are guides. They are teachers. They are like Yoda, only smaller and on strings.You see, in Tai-Chi you can mimic your teacher's form with non-connected movement instead of the more powerful inner-circles. The difference is subtle and it's often difficult to discern how to improve. Poi act as an external manifestation, and magnification, of inner circles. If you can't keep the circles straight within a given region of your sphere of movement, you don't yet understand how to extend yourself into that region with full control or awareness. As all movement is created by an interplay of body/energy structure that extends from your hands to your feet, straightening the circles re-stacks that structure from the ground up. For me, the whole process is like carving a rough piece of wood into a sphere. Bumps and corners make movement awkward and limited. As the block becomes spherical, movement becomes smooth and centred. The rhythmical, circular motion of Poi proves ideal for sanding. Fire helps further by raising focus and spirit (Tai-Chi prerequisites to good practice). Practice enough, and you develop a tangible sense for movement and space that seems to exist beyond your body. You begin to literally feel dimensions within your movement sphere. Getting even more metaphysical, the motion of poi is like that of a solar system or atom. The more spherical you become, the more you tune into patterns that lie at the centre of all matter and energy. At any level, the results of practicing poi extend well beyond spinning them. I'm enjoying leaps of physical ability across the board, as well as a revived sense of play, and an increase in discipline and self-esteem. Taking all that out onto the dance floor is fun. I can't compare poi to staff and other movement tools, as I haven't tried them yet. I can only say that Poi have opened dimensions for me, and I highly recommend exploring them. (Bi-line: Nick Woolsey spends about four hours a day spinning things around his head. You can email him at,or visit for fire spinning videos.)(((p.s. I've only been spinning for 8 months now, so this article was written from the point of view of a student who's happy with his progress. The video is at
I know the .wmv format is limiting, but it's all I can do for now.Best to all!Nick )))

"They're interdimensional fractal intelligences. That's why they wear funny shoes."

thejamesatronGOLD Member
1 post
Location: Australia

Wow, this is an old topic but I feel my post is still relevant =]

I got on the poi round a friends house when I was feeling "Relaxed" and his old dear walked in (She's a very spiritual woman) And said "That is an excellent form of meditation." And since then has offered to show me some Tai Chi and Qigong. I said yes and just looked it up to see what it is all about and I was linked to this page.

I have been learning poi from your videos Nick and feel that after reading your post, I already know the basis of Tai Chi and have been practising it now for 6 months. I think I have earned myself some beads without knowing it.

And your retreat in Bali looks.... immense. I am so there after 3 years of being a poor student.

poifull_spiritGOLD Member
64 posts
Location: Australia

*Bump* just starting Tai Chi myself, have been doing Wu Shu for the last year. I love it and find it a fantastic base for my poi spinning. I also do rope dart, which Wu Shu and Tai Chi will obviously help. I've found wu Shu helps my poi significantly and i get the feeling that i will be able to adopt tai chi towards my contact juggling.

ecaBRONZE Member
197 posts
Location: Minneapolis, MN, USA

I learned the basic forms of Tai Chi Quan years ago. And I do have to say that it is rather useful to know when working with skill toys.

"Think of the pussy, Weevil."
"What's a pussy-weevil?"

KaspurGOLD Member
Eternal Student of all things Skill
110 posts
Location: Kansas City, KS, USA

*bump* Well it was definitely a breath of fresh air to read what was in this post.

@Nick - great job on the main article, have been following what you've been up to since I started poi about 4 years ago and you have always inspired me.

Just got a free download of The Five Rings book and will be reading that in the following days.

I studied Tae Kwan Do from the age of 7 until I was about 16. After that I got more involved with music in my High School. Having been Really involved with martial arts during that time I naturally started looking a Bruce Lee's work and have definitely seen how the types of movement you learn from any and all martial arts will help in some way with your poi spinning.

As for the music, that ones kind of obvious as Nick has already made The Scales of Poi, and you know, what do you do when you have poi... you dance : )

Happiness runs in a circular motion!!


CozmkForestChildSILVER Member
Lover of Movement
3 posts
Location: Rochester, NY, USA

Awesome stuff!!! Its funny, I am learning a bit of Tai Chi in a Movement and Self Awareness class at my school SUNY Brockport (has an awesome dance dept.) and I have really been eager to fuse it with poi, as well as the Capoeira moves I'm learning now from the Capoeira club I joined on campus! I've been searching you tube like crazy looking for Capoeira style poi or fire manipulation to get inspired and can't come up with anything. I know that its going to help me hone in on the skills that are required for working with a partner as well as the more acrobatic moves (I also am looking to get into break dancing). I'm so glad you posted this!!!! I think there is sooo much to be gained from fusing dance/movement styles and creating new ones as well! The world is so rich in styles and traditions of movement and I feel the world of fire and prop manipulation could get infinitely more amazing by tapping into these. I am just a beginner so I am still very focused on getting the poi variations and movements down but I can't wait to dance with it...and dance with chi! <3

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