October 2012

  • October 2012


It’s Back…


…the second issue of The Coffee Break is here for your reading pleasure. The inspiration for this issue: Halloween and Taoism.

Our first article delves into the rather interesting history of this month’s big holiday and it’s origins while also revealing where some of our Halloween traditions come from.

In our second article, we will be exploring the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of Tai Chi and it’s relation to Taoism.

Lastly, our project spotlight this month is focused on structural engineering exploring a recent project where we needed to replace a 15 ton crane with a 40 ton one.

And of course another brain teaser since the last one was received so well.


Last month’s brain teaser:
2+3=8, 3+7=27, 4+5=32, 5+8=60, 6+7=72, 7+8=??
Solution = 98
2+3=2*[3+(2-1)]=8, 3+7=3*[7+(3-1)]=27, 4+5=4*[5+(4-1)]=32, 5+8=5*[8+(5-1)]=60, 6+7=6*[7+(6-1)]=72
therefore 7+8=7*[8+(7-1)]=98


Brain Teaser


“Bridge Crossing”


A group of four people has to cross a bridge. It is dark, and they have to light the path with a flashlight. No more than two people can cross the bridge simultaneously, and the group has only one flashlight. It takes different time for the people in the group to cross the bridge:

Roger crosses in 1 minute,
Crissy crosses in 2 minutes,
Steve crosses in 5 minutes,
Anita crosses in 10 minutes.
How can the group cross the bridge in 17 minutes?


Answer to be posted in the next issue of The Coffee Break or email your answer to rkuhl@gkwassociates.com to find out if you have the solution.

This is Not a Trick, It’s a Treat


Samhain Offerings 300x201 October 2012

Samhain Offerings ¹

Halloween will be here soon. An exciting time for children as they wait in breathless anticipation of the biggest sugar rush of the year. An exciting time for many adults as well as they celebrate the holiday with friends and family. There are corn mazes to get lost in, haunted hayrides and houses to scream in, and plenty of horror movies to watch all month long. But, let’s look at where all this started shall we?

Approximately 2,000 years ago, in what is now Scotland, Ireland, and France, the Celts had a different, pagan holiday known as Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”). Samhain was a celebration on the night before the new year as summer ended and the winter began. It was on this night that the Celts believed the worlds of the living and dead blurred allowing the dead to crossover for a time. It was also a magical time where faeries were believed to roam the lands, and where, if you could read the signs, you could tell the future.

The Druids (Celtic Priests) would light a sacred bonfire for the celebration and people would attend in costumes made of animal heads and furs so that the spirits wouldn’t recognize them. It was a grand old time (really old) with the entire community gathered together trying to tell the future whilst dining upon the members of their herds that had been culled for the coming winter. At the end of their celebration, using carved turnips, they would take live embers from the sacred bonfire home to light their hearth with. This last little tidbit later evolved into the tradition of Jack-O-Lanterns with a little help from the Irish myth of “Stingy Jack.” (We’ll save that story for next year).

As happens with all things, the Samhain changed.

In 43 A.D. the Romans had already conquered most of the Celtic lands and, as conquerors will often do, they brought their own holidays for that time of year. In this case, there were two celebrations near the end of October that the Romans incorporated into Samhain. First was Feralia which honored the passing of the dead. Second was the honoring of Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. Pomona is the most probable root of today’s Halloween tradition of bobbing for apples. “How?” you ask. Her symbol was the apple and, as the holidays were merged, the Celts would play a game where those of marrying age would try to bite into an apple either in water or hanging from a string. The first one to bite into the apple would be the next to get married.

Skipping forward a few centuries we take a short stop off in the late 9th century. It is here that we introduce another, although slightly different, conqueror: Christians. Pope Gregory IV, in an effort to counter pagan influences with Christian ones, moved All Saints Day from May 13th to November 1st. All Saints Day was also called All Hallows thus the night before All Hallows became All Hallows Eve which eventually became, you guessed it, Halloween. As is common with the attempts of the Church to replace pagan holidays with Christian ones (Easter and Christmas for example) we ended up with a blended Pagan-Christian holiday with a variety of symbols and traditions from both sides interspersed throughout.

Jumping ahead a little over a 1,000 years, we’re now comfortably back in the present with our smart phones and LED Halloween lights. Halloween today is still celebrated in many countries but, Halloween still has a somewhat dichotomous nature. In some cultures, Halloween is celebrated more on the Christian side of things honoring the dead, the Saints, and the Martyrs. In other cultures, like the United States for example, it’s celebrated more as a secular holiday, or less tied to religion. Halloween is aimed more at the children and costume parties than it is honoring the dead.

There are many more pagan traditions with this holiday, and I’ve already gone on too long but, at least now you know where some of the traditions of this particular holiday arose from. With that being said, go out there and have a Happy Halloween no matter how you celebrate it.

Tai Chi Defined

Yin Yang October 2012

Yin Yang Sky Earth-Illustration 2

Tai Chi is found under as many different headings as there are applications. Among those headings are t’ai chi, tai chi chuan, t’ai chi ch’uan, and taijiquan. Webster’s defines all of these variations in the same way: “a Chinese martial art and form of stylized, meditative exercise, characterized by methodically slow circular and stretching movements and positions of bodily balance.” This definition, however, gives no indication of its spiritual or philosophical aspects. Nor does it touch upon the depth and complexity of this seemingly simple martial art.

The literal translation of Tai Chi, “Grand Ultimate”, represents the energy that pervades the universe and everything in it. This force is divided into two distinct and inextricably linked forces. These forces are symbolized by yin and yang. The common misunderstanding is that yin and yang are the forces, when in fact they merely symbolize the forces. To understand Tai Chi, one must also understand this symbolic concept. Yin and yang are concepts that relate two different ideas that are complementary. For example, dark and light are ideas that cannot be separated. To have dark one must also have light. If things are uniform, then yin and yang have no meaning. This concept of yin-yang, the main tenet of Taoist philosophy, is also a fundamental part of Tai Chi, and in fact was how Tai Chi first came into being.

Although there is some debate of the origin of Tai Chi, the most widely accepted theory involves a Taoist priest, Zhang San Feng, who lived near the end of the Song Dynasty in the 13th century. A master of Shaolin Kung Fu, a ‘hard’ style, Zhang adopted a softer approach to his Kung Fu after witnessing a fight between a snake and a crane. This new style was called Wudang 32-pattern long fist, which later evolved into the style we now know as Tai Chi. Centuries later Wudang was named Tai Chi Chuan by Wang Zong Yue in “The Treatise on Tai Chi Chuan,” a piece of writing that defines the essence of Tai Chi in only 357 words.

“The Treatise on Tai Chi Chuan” is considered the definitive source for Tai Chi and is quoted in almost all works on Tai Chi. So far be it from me to stray from this timehonored tradition.

“The cosmos is born of the void;
is the source of motion and stillness;
and the mother of yin and yang.
Because of motion, there is separation;
Because of stillness, there is integration.” 


This first passage from Wang’s treatise not only describes the essence of Tai Chi but also the basic premises of Taoist philosophy. The figurative translation of Tai Chi is “the cosmos” which is the source of yin and yang. Yin and yang represent the hard and soft aspects of Tai Chi: the constant ebb and flow that defines the movements characteristic of all of the different forms of Tai Chi. From Zhang San Feng’s original concept of Wudang which then became Tai Chi Chuan several additional styles of Tai Chi developed; Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun. Of these styles Yang style Tai Chi is the one people are most familiar with today.

Tai Chi has three levels of mastery. First is the jing or form. This level involves mastery of the movements of Tai Chi, which provides health and meditative benefits. In practicing this form, the student exercises proper movement and alignment of their body. To do this, one must relearn how to move. The tendency people have is to always rise up, to fight gravity, in an attempt to keep their balance or strengthen their position. This constant struggle to fight the natural order causes tension and lack of balance. In Tai Chi, the student learns to settle in towards the Earth, letting strength and balance both sink into the Earth and out of it. A tree’s weight flows into the Earth and the tree’s strength comes from the Earth. Throughout the form, balance is shifted from one side to the other, but the student’s center is always in line with gravity. Everything flows from the center through the legs, into the feet and into the Earth.

At the same time the student is working on natural movement, a meditative state is also being held. The form is made up of a series of slow movements with the Taoist influence of yin and yang. The way the body is always in fluid motion, where one side is hard and strong (yin) and the other is soft and free, merely following the center (yang), is a form of moving meditation where one applies a physical manifestation to the Taoist concepts of yin and yang; of balance and relaxation.

The next level concerns the chi or spiritual energy. Here, the student can use the principles of the form in combat situations. The student can effectively choose to perform defensive counters that also act as effective counter-attacks using the opponent’s strength against them. Tai Chi’s form is designed to never meet force with opposing force, for that only causes injury to both. Instead an opponent’s strength should be redirected, causing harm, or simply and effortlessly redirecting the opponent many feet away, without causing harm.

The highest level is on shen or mind. At this level the practitioner is on the path to spiritual enlightenment and the emphasis is on the Great Ultimate. Here the Tao Te Ching is an indispensable resource. This set of teachings is to Taoism as “The Treatise on Tai Chi Chuan” is to Tai Chi and in striving to reach the highest levels in Tai Chi, one cannot escape also striving towards the highest levels of spiritual enlightenment found in Taoism.

The Tao Te Ching currently has this author in its grips and is instrumental in my own pursuit of understanding Tai Chi and the Taoist philosophy. Tao Te Ching is made up of eighty-one chapters of philosophical prose meant to impart Taoist wisdom to the reader. This same Taoist wisdom is also the subject matter of meditations on Tai Chi in the sense that the student learns how to apply this wisdom to his/her Tai Chi and also to life.

One such bit of wisdom is the recurring theme of yin and yang as demonstrated in chapter two of the Tao Te Ching:

“When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the Master acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.”


As can be seen, the principle of yin and yang is clearly evident and this passage can be applied to Tai Chi as well as Taoism. The ebb and flow, back and forth, examples are characteristic to the constant sway of the Tai Chi form and its constant transition from hard to soft and back again. This balance is the core of Tai Chi and Taoism.

Tai Chi’s origins lie in martial arts, so like many of the other types of martial arts, Tai Chi was developed by Shaolin priests. These priests were not only looking at the martial aspects and the inherent health benefits of practicing a martial art but they were also looking at the spiritual connotations of Tai Chi. In developing Tai Chi, Zhang applied the tenets of Taoism to Tai Chi and thus made the philosophy inseparable from the art. This integration of philosophy with art has made the deceptively simple movements of Tai Chi into a complex form of meditation used to traverse the path not only to health and longevity, but also to spiritual enlightenment.

40 Ton Crane Installation


A fabrication shop has an existing 15 ton crane riding 35# crane rails that are supported on existing concrete columns 20 feet high with unreinforced concrete arches/beams spanning 14 feet. The shop wanted more capacity to handle some upcoming jobs fabricating kiln components and in order to make the work more feasible they wanted to replace the 15 ton crane with a 40 ton crane. The existing concrete arch with 12”x8” wood beam supporting the rail was not capable of handling that kind of increase in loading so the fabricator called GKW Associates to create a solution.

One of the main problems with the increased load was the crane rails. Obviously they needed to be replaced however, we still had to maintain the same rail height since the 40 ton crane was only going to be used in eight bays of the building while the shop’s other lighter cranes were going to be used in all of the bays including the eight where the 40 ton crane was to be installed.

There was no feasible way to maintain the rail elevation by replacing the existing crane rails with new crane rails with increased load capacity so we developed an alternative solution. Additionally, we also wanted to avoid creating increased load on the existing concrete arch any more than the original design since the new crane was much larger.

What we decided to do is use two wide flange beams and a ¾” thick plate and create a composite section as a base. We placed the beams side by side with the plate running between them, lengthwise, and welded it all together with full penetration welds. This new composite section, capable of spanning 14’-0” between concrete columns, became the base for the new rail. The new rail was then machined out of 3 inch square AR bar that was welded to the top of the rail support. This solution allowed us to keep the top of rail height the same while avoiding increasing the load to the unreinforced concrete arches allowing the shop to install their 40 ton crane.

Questions or comments? E-mail us a rkuhl@gkwassociates.com or call 610.776.2042

Venefica, Avia. “Samhain Offerings.” Samhain. www.flickr.com. October 31, 2009. October 14, 2012
2 DonkeyHotey. “Yin Yang Sky Earth-Illustration.” Yin Yang. www.flickr.com. May 16, 2011. October 14,2012


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