Taiji Principles for Business and Life
A Martial Arts Profile of Jonathan Miller
Taiji Principles for Business and Life
A Martial Arts Profile of Jonathan Miller
Can one of the world’s most successful business leaders ever be underestimated? Jonathan Miller, the influential digital industry leader and Chen Taiji practitioner, says he often was.
“I'm not a confrontational person, so my personality meshes well with Taiji.”
Despite an enviable record as a prominent CEO in the global media industry and current work as a venture capitalist, Miller asserts, “In my professional life, I’ve often been underestimated, because I don’t come on a certain way. But I’m usually the last one standing.”
Miller’s understated confidence suggests more than a focused business persona. It hints at what fuels the success of this inimitable world-class business leader. Perhaps it is his long little-known devotion to Chinese martial arts, in particular his devotion to Chen Taijiquan and the teachings of renowned Taiji master, Ren Guangyi. Miller describes himself as “not a confrontational person, so my personality meshes well with Taiji.”
A CEO’s Martial Arts Bio
Before his rapid ascent to the top of the business world, Miller began martial arts training as a student of Wah Lum kung fu in Boston in 1978. Miller joined Chan Poi’s school based on a recommendation from a Chinese-American high school friend. At that time, Chan Poi’s original Wah Lum Preying Mantis school was fast becoming a prominent traditional Chinese martial arts institution that produced a number of well-known practitioners, including Yao Li and Miller’s friend, Josh Grant.
Miller recalls when Grant, one of his fellow students at the time (who later produced one of the world’s first, best-selling Taiji instructional videos), traveled to Mainland China in the early eighties and returned “with things we had never seen, including Hsing i, Pa Gua, Chen Taiji and other forms. He introduced us to more internal training techniques, such as standing exercises (zhang zhuang). Until his return, we trained with a very athletic orientation.”
Miller moved to NY in 1987 to work for the NBA, and then moved to the UK as CEO of Nickelodeon UK in 1993, continuing his practice of Chinese disciplines with Peter Young. As Miller solidified his status as a highly-regarded CEO, leading such powerful media companies as AOL and the USA Information & Services company, his martial arts training slowed. But during this period he heard of Master Ren. Miller’s first exposure to Ren was from Ren’s early (1994) instructional videos.
From two of those videos he gained an appreciation of Chen Taiji “as more real and genuine than many other systems. Chen Taiji is designed as a true martial art.” Upon first sight of Master Ren, he recalls, “The stances were so low! How can I ever learn to move like that?” He also noted that “Chen Taiji has a real aesthetic, a beauty to it with powerful energy and health aspects”. With these videos in hand, he became more intrigued with Chen Taiji and hoped to meet Master Ren.
In 2003, he finally met him from an introduction by one of Ren’s most celebrated students, musician Lou Reed. Miller stated that “Around the office, some knew that I was interested in martial arts, but I didn’t talk about it much.”
One of Miller’s employees, AOL’s then VP of Programming, Scott Richman – a student of Master Ren who arranged an AOL online Lou Reed concert – mentioned that Reed was a Chen Taiji practitioner and student of Ren as well. Richman arranged a dinner with Miller and Reed. During the meeting, Reed excitedly described what he was learning from Master Ren, which, Miller recalls, “excited me too”. Reed then arranged an introduction for Miller and Ren.
From his first meeting with Ren, Miller “noticed Master Ren’s presence.” He immediately arranged to train with Ren privately, which he does religiously to this day. Miller lives in NY, but currently spends an increasing amount of his time at his luxurious training retreat in Westchester County, ‘Beckoning Path’, which he designed as a Tai Chi training center like no other in the world.
Miller quickly learned that how he trained before would not work for his training in Chen Taiji. He had to start over. “It was hard, yet very exciting”, he recalls. He describes his training as “following exactly as I’m being taught, which has been very rewarding.”
The Universal Principles of Martial Arts
Celebrated playwright David Mamet’s popular article in the summer 2005 issue of Men’s Health magazine described martial arts as the perfect compliment to business practices. Mamet, a long-time martial artist, studied at the Boston Kung Fu Tai Chi Institute founded by Miller’s early kung fu brothers, Yao Li and Josh Grant.
Mamet wrote that the strategies of unarmed combat – namely the use of leverage and technique to overcome a larger, stronger foe – can be used for business success. Not knowing that Mamet studied Chinese martial arts with practitioners from the same lineage he once did, Miller readily agreed with Mamet.
As such, Miller is especially vocal about how Taiji is applicable to many facets of life and work. He notes that Taiji principles hold a universal quality that impacts areas beyond martial arts. Miller’s view that Chen Taiji concepts are “universal principles” is especially noteworthy. He maintains, “I think about this a lot. If these principles apply here, they should apply to other areas. If it is a true principle, it should apply in other places. That’s one of the tests of a true principle.”
“One should be prepared to move when ready and able. In business, it is most important to see the situation at hand and move as the situation requires. You have to fit yourself to the situation.
Chen Taiji Principles for Business
Miller notes that “Chen Taiji emphasizes extremely high levels of precision taught with tiny corrections that have a big impact. Master Ren is a technician. He knows where/how everything should be and is supposed to work. Everything is very precise.” He notes Chen Taiji’s emphasis on precision as “translating to my work in the business world, where small things that start wrong can end up as big problems.”
Miller gives an example: “The concept of Peng is a true principle that can be applied and tested in any environment.” In Taijiquan, Peng defines a crucial physical and mental state. Peng is perhaps the most important of Taiji’s ‘8 Powers’ or ‘Ba Fa’. These powers, or skills, known as ‘jins’, describe the attributes core to Taijiquan. In Chen Taiji, the Ba Fa are especially evident. (They are Peng, Lu, Ji, An, Lie, Kao, Cai, and Zhou.) Each jin is a specific expression of energy that forms the basis of Taiji usage. Peng can be described as a structurally intact physical frame that expresses energy outward in a connected, wholistic manner. In Taiji ‘push hands’ or partner training, Peng is honed as the dominant physical state necessary to apply Taiji correctly, especially for combat. Peng in use allows the skilled Taiji boxer to meet force with a rooted softness, permitting a smooth whole-body neutralization of attacks from any direction. When expressing Peng, the Taiji boxer appears full, yet relaxed; still, yet responsive.
“True principles should apply in many ways. Taiji principles have been around for many, many years and can be applied to many different things. Taiji principles are universal.”
Miller adds, “As Master Ren teaches, Peng is a connected state of fullness; it is both hard and soft. The concept of Peng can be helpful in dealing with situations like workplace confrontations. You don’t have to meet confrontations head-on, but can yield with them. I don’t say this type of thing in the office, because they don?t think that way, but I do.”
Like a true martial artist and Taiji boxer, Miller states, “One should be prepared to move when ready and able. In business, it is most important to see the situation at hand and move as the situation requires. You have to fit yourself to the situation. From my understanding, I believe that is a Taiji approach, as opposed to saying that the (business) problem must be solved ‘my’ way without looking at the situation for what it really is at that moment in time.”
Miller likens it to Ren’s execution of qinna or joint-locking. He states, “To me Chen Taiji qinna is an excellent example of this.” Chen Taiji joint-locking techniques are trained quite differently than other martial arts. Chen Taiji qinna is not based on repetition training of techniques. It is instead based on the principle of ‘silk reeling’ (chan si jin) that instills a responsive, unrehearsed coiling skill to escape and apply locks. Recalling his recent qinna practice with Ren, Miller says, “Master Ren lets you lead, not knowing what will come. He has no preconceived notion of the situation. He reacts to the situation as it is, allowing him to escape any joint-lock with ease. I can never catch Master Ren in a joint-lock! This Chen Taiji principle has an influence on me.”
For Miller, “True principles should apply in many ways. Taiji principles have been around for many, many years and can be applied to many different things. Taiji principles are universal.”
Taiji Benefits for the Business Leader
On work and Taiji practice, Miller says, “I work in a high-stress environment. Stress tends to disperse one’s energy. I have found that Chen Taiji enhances one’s focus. My family notices when I practice. Chen Taiji instills a smoothness – it smoothes out the rough edges.”
He adds, “I also enjoy learning a true craft. This art is very full. It does much more for you. Chen Taiji is a full experience that combines hard and soft movement, applications, and health.” He also describes the craft of Chen Taiji as “a deeply satisfying way to get everything right, that does more for you.”
When asked if he would recommend Chen Taiji to his peers, he replies, “If you only have so much time available, do something that provides the most benefit. It is real work, real exercise, but it is not draining. In Chen Taiji you’re getting many things all at once. It’s very sophisticated.”
On the Future of Taiji
Miller reflects, “It would be nice to see Chen Taiji become more mainstream.” When asked how the corporate world can help promote Taiji, Miller says, “Corporations might be able to provide exposure at different levels, but they can only do so much. Chen Taiji, however, is sophisticated and depends on high levels of personal commitment that companies can’t directly address.”
But Miller insists, “I think we’ll see over time that Taiji will become more popular. Chen Taiji, in particular, combines real martial arts with universal principles both young and old can equally enjoy. In the future I want to learn the whole Chen Taijiquan system from Master Ren and over time do it well.”
To that, Miller has partnered with Ren, fellow student, Alan Bandes, and businessman, Michael Osterer, to form the leading online Taiji school, Chi Force. The learning website was created to accomplish one goal – the wide promotion of authentic Taiji training to all.