The Internal and External Aspects of Taijiquan
By Tu-Ky Lam
1) How to Increase the Internal Force Through Strength Training Programs;.......................................................pag.02
2) The Essence of Chen Style Taijiquan's Torso Methods;.........pag.06
3) How to Improve Qi and Internal Strength;.....................pag.13
4) The Importance of Acheiving Song;............................pag.19
5) Power Discharge in Chen Style Taijiquan;.....................pag.21
6) How to Align Your Body For Better Qi Flow: A Guide to the Correct Practice of Taijiquan;..........................................pag.28
7) Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan's Secret Weapon: the Rotation of Dan-Tian;.pag.30
8) Whoever Can Follow, Wins the Battle;.........................pag.33
9) The Essence of Yin and Yang in Taijiquan;....................pag.37
10) How to Get the Best out of Taijiquan;.......................pag.44
11) The Development and Dynamic of Chen Style Taijiquan as Taught by Hong Jung-Sheng;................................................pag.47
12) The Internal and External Aspects of Taijiquan;.............pag.51
13) The Function of Taijiquan Routines;.........................pag.58
14) Chan Si Jing And Its Application;...........................pag.59
15) Yao Cheng-Rong and Yiquan;..................................pag.61
16) CURRÍCULUM DO TAIJIQUAN:....................................pag.65
- A) Chan si Gong (Reeling Silk Work);
- B)Fundamental practices and principles ;
- C)Other Skills;
17) Forms: .....................................................pag.70
- Chen Xiao Wang's 19 Posture Form;
- Lao Jia Yi Lu;
- Chen Village Broadsword;
- Chen Village Spring Autumn Broadsword;
- Pear-Flower Spear and White Ape Staff of Chen Family Taijiquan (Li-Hua Qiang Jia Bai-Yuan Kun);
18) Tui shou methods (Push Hands)...............................pag.84
1) How to Increase the Internal Force Through Strength Training Programs
By Tu-Ky Lam
Although Taijiquan looks soft and slow, practicing it correctly every day can increase one’s internal force. However, this is a very slow process. To speed things up, Tai chi masters teach their students strength training, of which the importance can be seen through this old Taiji saying, "If you practice Taijiquan without doing the gong (energy or strength training exercises) you will be wasting your time no matter how hard you train." ("Lian quan bu lian gong, dao lao yi chang kong.")
Each style of Taijiquan has its own strength training programs which are not known to outsiders. I was amazed to see a photograph of a practitioner lying on the ground while a fellow student of his jumped from a height of two or three yards on to his stomach. Apparently this practitioner was doing a kind of hard 'qi-gong' that could help him take strong blows without feeling pain. However, most strength training programs aim to increase internal force as most Taiji practitioners try to neutralize an incoming force by circular and spiral movements.
There are two different kinds of Chen style Taijiquan strength training: one involves the use of equipments and the other does not. The former is quite physically demanding and so only suits people below the age of 50 while the latter is basically 'qi-gong' exercises, which suit people of all ages, and can greatly enhance the health and fitness of practitioners.
Zhan-Zhuang (Standing Postures)
The first of the strength training programs not involving training aids is Zhan-zhuang. These standing postures are in reality Qi-gong exercises which bear different names according to the different styles of Qi-gong practitioners, such as Yi-quan Qi-gong, Wu-ji Qi-gong and Iron Shirt Qi-gong.
Standing postures can increase our internal strength. People who have done Zhan-zhuang for a period of time (one or two years depending on the time they spend on it) can feel their internal force move from their feet up in their bones along their legs, and spine to their hands. When they practice Taijiquan, their moves are full of internal strength. They can achieve what the Taiji classics say, "The jing is rooted in the feet, released through the legs, controlled by the waist and manifested through the fingers."
Zhan zhuang can increase the density of our bones, and so harden them. One of my former teachers had very strong internal power and I could feel his bones hard as steel when he did push-hands with me or showed me the martial applications of a form.
In Taijiquan training, Zhan-zhuang and the Taiji form are complementary to each other. The Taiji form can loosen up all the joints in our body and so make Qi (bio-energy) circulate easily while Zhan-zhuang can help our Qi sink to dan-tian and later on to our feet and refine it and turn it into internal strength. Beginners find Zhan-zhuang boring because their joints are stiff and so they cannot feel the circulation of their Qi. People who have practiced Taijiquan for some years and have loosened up their joints can best enjoy the benefits of Zhan-zhuang. They can just stand there, getting their postures aligned (head and torso straight, knees slightly bent, hip joints flexed, crotch rounded, chest slightly drawn in, and shoulders and elbows dropped), relaxed, and concentrating on maintaining their center line, and their Qi will circulate.
Of the three standing postures described in my article entitled 'How to Improve Qi and Internal Strength',
I find the one in which I stand with both arms raised to the front of my chest like embracing a balloon (see right) most useful. With both arms in front of my chest, my center line moves back a little bit, which straightens up my body more and makes my buttock pull in and rectum contract automatically, so I can have better Qi and Jing flow.
As for breathing in Zhan-zhuang, it is quite all right to breathe normally as you can be more relaxed. But you can also use abdominal breathing (For more details, see my article on 'The Rotation of Dan-tian in Chen Style Taijiquan'.) if you are good at it and can breathe slowly and gently with your abdomen without interfering with your relaxation.
Many Taiji teachers do not teach Zhan-zhuang. Some even have prejudice against it, saying it can stiffen our legs. But I deeply believe in the saying "If you do not do Zhan-zhuang, you cannot understand what internal strength is" because you cannot feel your internal strength move from bone to bone and how strong it is.
Bai Ba Qi Gong Zhuang
There are quite a few 'fa-jing' (power-release) movements in the Chen Taijiquan first set, and even more so in the second which has a much faster and stronger tempo. The reason for this is simple: we want to throw our opponents afar in push-hands, or we want to hit them hard in fighting so that they lose the power to fight back. Fa-jing requires a lot of practice before we can do it properly.
In this context, Bai Ba Qi-gong Zhuang (Hundred-Round Qi-gong Posture) which is a power-discharge exercise, can help us make good use of the strength developed and accumulated from doing Zhan-Zhuang or the Taiji form. As we know, Fa-jing is fast and strong, and requires good co-ordination of the whole body: arms, torso and legs to produce the springy but explosive force, the repetitive movements of Bai Ba Qi Gong zhuang can help greatly in achieving this. Its benefits to health are enormous as it involves the use of our Dan-tian (lower abdomen) which rotates with the movements, and so provides a good exercise and a lot of stimulation to our internal organs.
Bai Ba Qi-gong Zhuang is easy to learn and contains only two moves. Stand in a left bow stance with the body weight 60% on the front foot, and 40% on the rear foot, and then move both hands out to the front of your chest with the palms facing out. (Your left hand is in front, with finger-tips pointing diagonally right and up; while your right hand is behind and below with finger-tips pointing diagonally up.) Keep both arms round.
Move 1: Bend your fingers and thumbs to make fists (signifying grabbing). Turn right for about 45 degrees and shift your weight to the rear foot (When you stop turning, stop shifting weight. Now the weight distribution is: 60% on the rear foot and 40% on the front foot); at the same time move both fists down (shun chan, that is rotate your arms so that the fists face up) in a slight leftward curve to the lower part of your chest (signifying pulling your opponent toward yourself). Try to keep your arms round as well. When you do this move, inhale and the left side of your dan-tian moves down in a leftward curve with your fists.
Move 2: Rotate your forearms so that the palm of both fists faces down; at the same time extend (drop) your wrists (zhuo wan) so that the heel of your palms drop, before releasing your fists and pushing them out quickly (discharge power to throw your opponent away) in a rightward and upward curve to the starting position. Now you exhale, and the right side of your dan-tian moves in a rightward and upward curve as well.
So far your hands have drawn a diagonal circle in front of your torso (and so does your dan-tian in the lower part of your torso). This is called one round. Beginners are advised to do only 36 rounds for the first month when they do this exercise. If nothing goes wrong (that is no discomfort, nor pain, etc.) then they can add one round a day until one hundred rounds.
Another version of Bai Ba Qi Gong Zhuang is more complicated but more versatile. Stand in a left bow stance with both hand in front like before. Instead of bringing in both hands, you just clench your left hand to make a fist, turn left to bring your left fist back to below your chest and at the same time move your right elbow (which will in turn bring back your right hand to your upper chest with finger-tips pointing to your left chest and right palm facing left and front) out and then push your right palm out very quickly to strike to the front. (Please note when your left fist comes back half-way, it is the moment your right elbow has moved out. Your left fist is now right below your right elbow.)
Then you clench your right palm to make a fist. Turn right to bring back your right fist to below your chest, move your left elbow out and release your left palm before pushing it out quickly to strike to the front. (Both your left and right palms should strike at the same spot.)
The application for this is: you pull in your opponent with one hand and strike him with your other shoulder, elbow or hand whichever is applicable. The action is executed from dan-tian with the co-operation of the hips and legs. After you have mastered the technique you can better understand this Taiji saying, "You can discharge power from any of these parts of your body: palms, wrists, elbows, shoulders, back, waist, hips, knees and feet. Your power comes out from your waist which includes dan-tian."
If the above exercises can increase our internal strength, then taiji training aids can make it go a big step further. In fact, strength training mainly refers to the use of equipments to induce and increase our internal strength.
Of all the tools that we use, such as Taiji steel tube, Taiji stick, Taiji ball, and Taiji drum, the long pole stands out as the most effective aid because it is very good training for our dan-tian. The long pole can help bring out the jing from dan-tian which goes out to our feet and our hands. Practicing this regularly can make our dan-tian strong, and so our power discharge can be explosive. People who are good at using the force produced from dan-tian have very strong and tough lower abdomen which feels like a fully inflated basket-ball. It takes about five to seven years of practice to develop strong dan-tain power.
There are several ways of practicing with a long pole, which is about 3 to 4 yards long and about one and a half inches in diameter. You can just use a timber curtain track of that length and thickness. (Choose a thinner and shorter pole if it is too heavy. Or use a small one for a start and change to a bigger one later on.) The simplest but most important way has only two moves.
Stand in a reverse right bow stance (that is stand in right bow stance first, and then turn left and shift your body weight to the left foot). Hold the pole with both hands as in Photo 3 . The left hand is near the end of the long pole with the palm facing down while the right hand is an arm’s length apart with the palm facing up. Turn right, rotate your left hand, and move your left hand quickly to near your right hand (which is stationary and loose enough to allow the pole to move forward and backward) to thrust the long pole out to the front. Now your left palm faces up. Exhale, and your dan-tian moves in a rightward curve to send your left hand and the pole to the front.
Turn left, rotate your left hand and quickly pull the end of the long pole back to the starting position as in photo 3. Now you inhale, and your dan-tian moves in a leftward curve to bring back your left hand and the long pole.
In short this exercise is very simple with only two movements: one to send the long pole out and the other to pull it back. (This exercise should also be done on the left reverse bow stance with you right hand thrusting the pole forward and then pulling it back.) Beginners can do the two moves slowly without fa-jing. After getting used to the technique, they can do them quickly with power discharge.
Taiji Metal Tube
The next training aid is a metal tube which is slightly wider than your wrist, and can be filled with gravel to a weight suitable to yourself.
Stand in a horse stance, hold one end of the tube with your left hand, and place the other end on your right forearm. Turn left (shift your body weight to your right foot to make a right bow stance) to push your right hand out and then turn right (shift your weight to your left foot) to bring it back. Your left hand, holding the tube, will move in accordance with your right hand.
This is like doing a single push-hands exercise with the weight on your forearm. You do a push (an), ward-off (peng), and roll-back (lu) and then back to push again. It goes round and round for about 20 to 30 times. It is advisable that you do this exercise on your left arm as well.
The weight on our forearms can make our arms strong, and so can greatly increase the peng energy in our arms, which will be a great threat to our opponents.
The Taiji ball can be a metal ball in the size of a soccer ball, or a basket-ball filled with dirt (not so heavy) or gravel (heavier). It is mainly used for developing the strength in our arms. We stand in a horse stance to lift the ball with one hand, lean it against the wall, and roll it by turning our hand. As the movement is also controlled by our waist, practicing Taiji ball is also good for developing the force of the whole body.
Strength training plays a significant role in increasing our internal force, and so gives us an edge in push-hands and sparring. No doubt practitioners who have strong internal strength are very hard to defeat. Evidence showed that in China teams that spent the most time on strength training won more gold medals in push-hands competitions.
Strength training does not have a bad effect on relaxation, which is foundation of Taijiquan. Relaxation basically means not to use brute force and loosen and stretch all the joints in our body. Beginners cannot avoid using brute force, so they are told not to use force (mainly from the tensed-up muscles). After they have reached a higher level of their training where they can be 'song', they will need to learn how to discharge power or use force effectively. This is what strength training is all about.
The saying "Use mind and not force" should be given a better interpretation. The word 'force' means brute force (which is so stiff and can be easily used by the opponent), but not internal force. Once we have obtained strong internal strength, there is no reason why we should not use it to our advantage. When we do this, use our mind to direct our move. When our mind and our body are united, we can produce enormous explosive power. That is what the Taiji classics say, "When you use internal strength, your jing should be like very refined steel, then there is nothing too hard for you to demolish."
2) The Essence of Chen Style Taijiquan's Torso Methods
By Tu-Ky Lam
In many people’s minds, to learn Taijiquan is to learn the Taiji form, and it is not unsual that some students learn the Taiji form and weapons such as the sword and the sabre in just a year. Of course, these students think that they have learned Taijiquan and are very good at it, but unfortunately the opposite is often true - they are still at the door step of Taijiquan.
This is not totally the students’ fault. Some instructors will need to take the responsibility as well. I have seen instructors who just teach the form (including weapons), but not the internal part of Taijiquan. The result is the Taiji form they teach is empty. The essential part of Taiji form is in its torso methods, applications and general principles. Each time we practice the form, we use it to train on the torso methods according to Taijiqan principles to make our qi flow and increase our internal strength so that our health and our skill can improve with our practice.
Ding Jing and Central Equilibrium
Believe it or not, one of the most important and also the hardest requirements in the torso methods is to lift the top of our head up. Many people do not know how to do it. Some people forget to do it while others do not bother. Yang Cheng-fu said, "Without lifting up your head-top, you will be wasting 30 years of your practice." ("Diu diao ting tou xian, bai lian 30 nian.") One of my teachers also said, "Without Ding jing (the jing brought about by lifting the top of the head), you will have no jing (internal strength) at all."
In my practice, I always find lifting the head-top can bring up my internal strength from my feet to my arms. This internal strength increases with my practice. It also helps me define my central equilibrium, a centre line in my body around which all my movements revolve. (Very often I feel as if I had a third leg, which helps my two legs support my torso by staying in the middle, or moving from one side to the other if need be.) The central equilibrium helps me maintain my balance, not only in the Taiji form but also in push-hands, where we all try to put ourselves in a strong position and upset the balance of our opponents. It takes a couple of years of diligent practice of the Taiji form to achieve this. Beginners will have to try to lift their head-top up by imagining a piece of string pulling their head and body upwards. (Pulling in their chins, which lengthens their neck, certainly helps.) And they need to line up their Bai-hui or head-top with their perineum and keep their mind on this center line all the time during their practice.
At the beginning, doing so can make you feel your neck stiff, but this feeling will disappear with constant practice in this posture. After hundrends of hours of practice, your ding jing will get better and better and your central equilibrium will gradually develop. If you have a teacher who has this knowledge, you certainly have better chances of achieving the ding jing right faster.
Controversy of Plucking Up the Back
Lifting up the head-top is widely accepted as necessary by practitioners of all styles, but plucking up the back is controversial. Most Chen stylists do not pluck up their back because it is not a requirement in the torso methods. Chen Zhao-pi, a famous master of the 18th generation of the Chen family who single-handedly revived and lifted the standard of Taijiquan in the Chen village in the 1960’s, (Chen Xiao-wang, Chen Zhen-lei, Wang Xi-an and Zhu Tian-cai are among his best known students) was greatly against this idea, saying it could make us top heavy. Master Ma Hong, student of Chen Zhao-kui, said this idea was added on by Chen Wei-ming, who had learned Xing-yi quan before learning Taijiquan with Yang Cheng-fu, when he wrote the Ten Important Points for Yang Cheng-fu.
However, under the influence of other styles, some Chen practitioners do advise their students to pluck up their back by lifting up the top vertebra of their spine. I myself have forgotten about plucking up the back because lifting up the head-top properly has made it redundant. But very often I ask my student to pluck up their back so that their torso can be straighter and longer, which will somewhat compensate for the defect of not having the ding jing. Another benefit for beginners is that when they practice with their buttock pulled in, plucking up the back can help ease the pressure on their lower back, avoiding lower back pain.
So to pluck up the back or not? In my opinion, it is up to each teacher or individual. Possibly, beginners will need to do this, especially if they have trouble keeping their back straight and so their torso collapses. But they should aim at getting the ding jing right so that they can establish their central equilibrium. At that stage, they will find plucking up the back is no longer necessary as it has merged with lifting their head-top.
Place Your Torso on a Firm Base
Our torso, which is from our shoulders down to our hips, is the most important part of our body. It is an area which is mostly lightly to be attacked in pushhands or fighting, and an area where our internal strength and movements originate. Aligning our torso properly and using it to move our arms is the key to the correct practice of Taijiquan. That is why there is a saying which goes, "Taijiquan is done with the torso, not with the hands."
Many people have difficulties in keeping their head and torso straight, which badly affects their qi and jing flow. A good way to correct this is to put a coin or a key or any small object on their head and try not to let it drop during their Taiji practice. After six months or so they will find their head is upright, and no longer swaying. To keep their torso upright, they need to relax their chest, line up their shoulders with their hips, and think their torso from their shoulders down to their hips are one unit. Each time they turn left or right, they turn their waist and their shoulders will turn with their waist. (Please note our shoulders and hips can move out of line a lot easier than we think. Keeping our mind on the three lines from our head and shoulders down to our perineum and hips can help solve this problem.) If they practice in this way, their chest and waist can gradually mould into one piece, and so can move their arms more easily (because their waist, after moulding with their chest, has more than doubled in size and strength). Now they can start to concentrate on getting the ding jing and their central equilibrium established.
At the same time they keep their body upright, they need to loosen and lengthen their back to enhance their qi and jing flow. This can be achieved by making the top vertebra in their spine go up, and those at the lower back stay down. After several hundreds of hours of practice they will have a lively feeling in their torso, and they can use their torso to do the Taiji form as it is required.
Apart from being kept straight and lengthened, our torso has to be set on a firm base. This base is in our legs. At the bottom of our legs, our toes have to cling to the ground to give us a strong root. In the middle, our knees have to bend to help our crotch support our torso. At the top, our crotch has to be loose and round to give us some flexibility. A round crotch is indispensable as the support to our torso, the turning of our hips and waist, the change from substantial to insubstantial or the other way round, the microcosmic and macrocosmic circulation of qi, the discharge of power, etc. are unachievable without a loose and round crotch.
It is essential that we flex our hip joints so that our torso can be connected to our legs. As a result of this, our knees bend more, our stance is lower (about one third of an inch lower than our normal stance), and our crotch is more round. When we feel we seem to sit on an invisible stool, and especially our legs are firm, this is a sign that we have placed our torso on a firm base. With diligent practice of the form and the standing exercises, we can lead our energy to the bottom of our feet and gradually develop a deep root for our Taijiquan.
The Correct Positions of the Buttocks
Many practitoners practice Taijiquan with their buttocks pulled in. This is because when our qi and jing goes up from our perineum, our coccyx has to pull in to create an impetus to send qi and jing up. It is also an optimal position for qi and jing to move down to our feet. But this posture only works for advanced practitoners who have got the ding jing and a loose spine and so have strong qi and jing flow. For beginners, this posture will do more harm than good as it puts too much pressure on the lower back, which can cause lower back pain. They would be better off just concentrating on lifting their head-tops and loosening their spines. When they have achieved this, the pulling-in of the coccyx will happen naturally.
Chen stylists do not always pull in their buttocks, but instead have them in four different positions. This has to do with their very spiral and circular movements which require them to turn their waist and hips more. To fix the buttocks to one position hinders the smooth turning of the waist. Normally, their buttocks are set to their natural position - not pulling in. When they turn right, their right buttock will rise slightly and their left buttock will sink accordingly. (Their body still has to remain upright and not move forward or backward too much.) When they turn left, their buttocks will behave in the same manner with their roles reverse. And their buttocks will pull in when their qi and jing rise from their feet to their crotch and then up to their back and their hands. This happens when they are at an advanced level where they have got their ding jing right and their spine is loose. The different positions of the buttocks help to enhance the spiral and circular movoements of Chen Taijiquan.
Coordination of the Whole Body
This involves our head, torso, arms and legs. On our head, our eyes are like a radar detector which gathers information of the surroundings we are in , and the movements of our opponent. We should not close our eyes during our practice, but should keep them open and look at our (imaginary) opponent (The Taiji classics say, "When you practice Taijiquan with no body else around, you should imagine that you have someone in front of you to fight with.) so that they can send information to our brain to make decisions and give orders to our body to counteract. When we step forward, we should look at where we are going to put our foot. When attacking, look at where we want to strike. Practicing in this way can help our concentration, bring out our spirits and make us look good."
The unity between our head and our torso is in our ding jing, which helps bring up our top vertebra as well as our qi and internal strength, and so make the two become one. That is why we have to lift up our head-top, keep our back very straight and maintain our center line (from our perineum up to our head-top, to start with) during training. Hopefully, one day we will get our ding jing and central equilibrium right.
As I have mentioned before, the connection between the torso and our legs lies in flexing our hip joints. But Taijiquan is not just standing exercises. We have to move during our Taiji practice. Movement is what usually causes the firmness in our legs to disappear and so unroot our Taiji form - making our qi and internal strength unable to reach our upper body from our feet. To counteract this, we shift our weight by making one side of our crotch move in a concave curve like a very shallow wok.
In actual practice we shift our weight by turning our waist, and lifting up one knee and at the same time lowering the other. We do not shift our weight or move forward or backward much, but rotate our torso (usually right or left) to execute a move (making it easier for us to establish our center line). In such forms as 'Single Whip' or 'Partition of the Wild Horse Mane' where our stance changes from reverse bow stance to bow stance and our body clearly moves slightly forward, we turn our hips and waist to achieve this, but never move forward deliberately. In short, we turn left or turn right to do a move, and hardly move forward or backward to achieve this. When we turn right, our right knee (and right buttock) moves up and left knee (and left buttock) moves down. When we turn left, our left knee (and left buttock) moves up, and our right knee (and right buttock) moves down. That way our internal strength can be surely delivered to our hands, and we can feel not only our legs but also our arms are firm (full of peng energy which rises from the ground) during our practice.
Now we can concentrate on using our chest and waist to move our arms. First, we will need to drop our shoulders and elbows, and use our mind to connect them to our torso. Then we need to be conscious to use our torso to move our arm instead of making them move by themselves. This can be tested and reinforced in push-hands practice. Do a roll-back (lu) to see if you bring your opponent over (to your left or right) and send him off to your rear, or do a ward-off (peng) posture to see if you can receive your opponent’s energy and transfer it to the ground. If you can do this without any difficulty, you are on the right track.
The balance of Yin and Yang is also important in the coordination of the whole body. We do not move the whole body in one direction, but instead in opposite directions to maintain our balance and produce more power. For example, in the first move of Buddha’s Warrior Attendant Pounds the Mortar, we turn right and bend our knees to move our forearms up. (If this is done correctly according to the torso methods, you should be able to feel your internal strength, which originates from dan-tian, move from the feet up to your arms.) In the last move of 'Red Fist Covered by Hand' our left hand and left elbow move back while our right fist strikes out. For more details, see my article on How to Improve Your Taiji Skill in the 1999 April issue of T’ai Chi magazine.
Lengthening Joints and Tendons
Last, but not least, we have to stretch our joints and tendons to make them longer - a continuation of the torso methods described above. In Qi-gong training, there are exercises called Tendon Changing Exercises where Qi-gong students try to make their joints and tendons longer. These people pull in their chin to make their neck longer. They also do exercises to stretch their arms, legs, and torso. The idea is just to loosen joints and tendons to achieve better qi and jing flow, and get to the stage of being 'song'. All the movements in Taijiquan should be done in such a way that all our joints and tendons can be lengthened. In this case, Taijiquan is similar to Tendon Changing Exercises but Taijiquan is far more superior in that it has martial applications and is much better co-ordinated because the stretching of the whole body is executed from the chest and the waist at the same time (we do not stretch our body one part at a time).
During our practice we need to pay attention to the lengthening our body. With the opening movements where our hands move away from our torso, we move our hands further away (still our arms have to maintain a curve) by dropping our shoulders, elbows, and wrists and extending our palms and straightening our fingers. With closing movements (where our hands are moving toward and close to our torso), we do exactly the same thing except that our shoulders and elbows stretch downwards instead of outwards while our wrists move upwards. In short, we should always be conscious to stretch our whole body both horizontally and vertically.
The stretching of joints and tendons should be done only after students have good co-ordination of the whole body, especially using the torso to move the arms. It is a very good way to increase our internal strength when we do the Taiji form. There is no need to worry about the stiffness or tenseness produced by stretching,. It will disappear with diligent practice. At the end of this stage, you will find that you are really 'song' and yet very strong (full of internal strength) because your joints and tendons have been loosened.
The Benefits of Torso Methods
As we all know, we have to relax in our Taiji practice. But if we do so without the correct body alignment, we will be either floating in the air or completely collapsed, instead of firmly grounding to the earth. This is what most Taiji students and many practitioners do without realizing they are on the track that leads them to nowhere.
The purpose of relaxation is to make qi flow and increase our internal strength so we can be healthier, fitter and stronger. The Taiji classics say, "... Qi must sink deeply. Then it can gather in the bones..." To make our qi sink deeply, our mind must relax first, then it can give orders for our internal organs and our muscles to relax, but our bones must align themselves properly, and our postures remain upright. In other words, our muscles go down while our bones rise. This is the balance of Yin and Yang at work and is also what the Wu Yu-xiang style Taijiquan calls 'the muscle and bone separation' which helps qi flow.
Therefore, relaxation with the correct torso methods should make you feel your qi sink to dan-tian and to the bottom of your feet which gives you a good root. Your qi circulates not only in your energy paths (both microcosmic and macrocosmic circulations) but also in your bones during your practice. (Standing exercises can make process a lot faster, and give you good internal strength.) This very beneficial to health as it detoxifies (cleanses) our body, hardens our bones and rejuvenates our bone marrow, which makes us feel young and strong on the inside.
From the martial point of view, it can provide us with a very effective weapon - the strong internal force, which we cannot do without in push-hands or self-defense. Chen Xin, a master or the 16th generation of the Chen family, said, "Taijiquan (movements) changes a lot, but it has to relate with strength. Although the postures are numerous, the strength (jing) is one. One means our body, from head to toe, which includes our bones, muscles and internal organs, should be united as one piece. Then when our opponent tries to split us into two, or crush us, we will remain unbreakable." You can understand this only if you have spent a lot of time doing the Taiji form and especially the standing exercises so you can feel all your bones are connected or moulded into one piece. Then you will feel that your fists are hard as hammers and fingers as forks, and you can do what the Taiji classics say, "there is nothing so hard that you cannot destroy."
The Development of the Internal Strength
The internal strength develops through different stages. It all starts from building a bone structure in the principle of the arch, in which our qi and jing can flow freely without any hindrance. We can feel our hands, our torso and our feet are connected. As a result, when an opponent touches our hand (or arm) the force will be quickly transferred to our feet, and when we attack, the force we discharge is will go quickly from our feet to our hands (so it is the force of the whole body, which is much stronger than the local force from our arms). It takes a lot of time and efforts to develop this internal structure, but once it is set up, we are on track to become a real internal stylist. From now on it is all up to us how much internal strength we want to increase and put in an equivalent amount of effort. At this stage, our power discharge is not very strong and we will still rely on the movements of the body and shifting weight to discharge power as our qi circulation is still sporadic and so not strong enough.
With more training, our whole body, our mind, our qi, and our internal strength (which originates in your dan-tian) will work more closely together. Qi circulation will get better and we will know how to rotate our dan-tian to discharge power. We use the inside to move the outside. As the inside and the outside are now united, our power discharge is stronger and will grow with practice. This stage of the development of internal strength Xing-yi quan practitioners call 'ming jing' (visible strength) as the power discharge is quite strong and visible.
Now many practitioners may want to train a lot harder as they are fascinated by the progress they have made. Apart from doing Zhan-zhuang and the form, we will need to do a lot of push-hands, single movements, and martial applications to familiarize ourselves with self-defense situations. Our techniques, our coordination of the whole body (under the pressure of our opponent) and our internal strength will be greatly refined and enhanced. We will have better control of our internal strength as we do not need to rely our body as much to discharge power. With small movements we can mobilize our internal strength very quickly to where we want to discharge our power. Our form looks softer and smoother but our internal strength is deadly. This stage of development is called 'An Jing' (invisible strength) in Xing-yi quan as our internal strength cannot be seen and detected by our opponents.
Many good Taiji practitioners can reach the 'An jing' stage of kung fu but few people can reach the final stage of the internal strength training called 'Hua jing' or ultimate strength where their kung-fu is so good that they can send their opponents flying off when attacked at any time and from any where. Their body alignment is perfect, their qi circulation is great, their reaction is quick and has reached the stage which the Taiji classics describe as "A feather cannot be placed and a fly cannot land on on any part of the body." It is said only such practitioners in the past like Yang Lu-chan, Wu-Yu-xiang, Hao Wei-zhen, Sun Lu-tang and his son Sun Cun-zhou, etc. have reached this stage.
The torso methods provide us with a bone structure whereby we can improve our health, fitness and skill. Unlike the Chen Taiji form which is more difficult to learn, they are simple and easier to put into practice, and can move us to a higher level of skill very quickly. All we need to do is practice in a relaxed manner with an upright torso (and head), flex our hip-joints, use our torso to propel our arms, and we will have no trouble making qi and jing flow.
Soon our internal strength will begin to develop. It usually takes beginners (who practise an hour a day) about three to five years to set up a bone structure whereby the internal strength can begin to emerge. From then on, with their practice, their internal strength will get stronger and stronger, and they move into the Ming jing or visible strength stage where their entire body is well-coordinated. Their internal strength can then be refined and they can react better to the moves of the opponents. They step up to the 'An jing' or invisible strength stage of internal training. Hua jing (ultimate strength) is the highest level of the internal strength training which many people aim for though few can reach.
3)How to Improve Qi and Internal Strength
By Tu-Ky Lam
Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan), with the exception of Chen style’s second routine known as Cannon Fist (Pao-chui), always looks so soft and slow. Its gentle appearance can easily lead people to a misconception that it is an exercise for the elderly, not a martial art, and so not good for self-defence.
In fact, the slow and the soft are used only in training, not its end. Taijiquan if practiced properly, can make our energy flow and internal force increase, which is very beneficial to health as well as self-defence. In this article, we will explore how this can happen.
How Qi Circulates
'Qi' (chi) is bio-energy which is formed from a combination of the essence of our life with the air we inhale and the nutrients we obtain from the food we take in. Qi is everywhere in our bodies, but usually not very active. When we practice Taijiquan Qi is activated and circulates vigorously in the energy paths in our bodies. In this case, it can be easily felt by the practitioner himself and noticed by the spectators as well.
There are fourteen major energy paths (jing mai) in the human body, of which two can be easily identified. One is called the Governing Meridian (Du-mai), which starts from the coccyx, goes straight up along the spine to the top of the head and moves toward the front along the center line of the face to above the upper lip. The other is called the Conceptive Meridian (Ren-mai), which starts from near the bottom of the lower abdomen and moves straight up along the center line in front of the body, passes the throat and stops below the lower lip. So the two meridians, one at the front of the body and other at the back, form a circle in the middle of the body. Most Taiji and Qi-gong (breathing exercises)practitioners like to make qi circulate along these two energy paths. When qi moves in a circle along these two meridians, it is said to complete a 'small cycle'.
Some of the twelve other meridians start from fingers and also toes and travel in the muscles in the arms and legs into the body, while others start from the body (heart, lungs, etc.) and go to the hands and the feet. Six of them are in the arms: three on the inside (the side next to the body) and three on the outside. Six others are on the legs.(Again, three on the inside and three on the outside.) We do not need to know the exact position of these twelve energy paths, but it would certainly help if we know that they are on both sides of our arms and legs.
Three major factors contribute to the circulation of qi. One is the adjustment of the body to a 'qi-flow' position, and the others are to relax and to concentrate. For example, when practicing the Taiji form, if we keep the torso straight, relax the chest (make the rib bones sink as well), and drop the shoulders, then qi will sink to 'dan-tian', a small area in the lower abdomen. Anyone who practices Taijiqiuan and can make qi sink to the dan-tian can be said to have gained a small achievement in the course of learning Taijiquan. It usuallytakes about one or two years to achieve this (if they practice an hour a day). And, more importantly, the better will soon follow.
After qi sinks to dan-tian, it will not be hard for it to continue its downward path to the coccyx. It is important that we should not pull in the buttocks deliberately as so many practitioners have been doing, because doing so can hinder qi’s move down to dan-tian. Just keep the buttocks in their natural, and loosen and sink the waist (lumbar spine), then qi will find its way to the coccyx. Once qi gets to the coccyx, the coccyx, together with the buttocks, will pull in automatically, producing a strong electrifying 'current' which shoots straight up like lightning to the top of the head. (Lifting up the top of the head is also very important if we want to achieve this.) Then if we relax the chest, drop the shoulders and keep our mind in dan-tian, qi will go back to dan-tian to complete a small cycle (or cycles). I had this experience many years ago when I did the solo push-hands movements. It was an indescribable but comfortable feeling that made me so excited at that time. Now it often occurs when I practice the form, and qi moves like waves in my body when I do standing exercises.
After qi gets to the coccyx, it does not necessary need to go up; instead it can go down to our feet and then back up again, partly to the head-top and partly to the hands before moving back to dan-tian. Then it is call doing a 'large cycle.(Bending the knees and flexing the hip-joints can help achieve this.)
No doubt our mind also plays an important part in making qi circulate. The Taiji classics say, "The xin (mind) mobilizes the qi (energy)." But it does not tell us how. If we try to move qi with our mind or keep thinking how qi moves in the body, the whole body will stiffen up and qi will become stagnant instead of flowing freely. A good way of making qi flow is to be relaxed and concentrate on doing the movements correctly. Keeping our mind on where we want qi to go, say to dan-tian or Bai-hui (at the top of the head), is not a bad idea. But do not force qi to move with the mind.
How Jing Moves
Yang Cheng-fu, the third generation master of the Yang family, said, "Taijiquan is a martial art which is strong in softness, just like iron wrapped in cotton." The iron in Taijiquan is its internal force, achieved through correct and diligent training. First, let’s find out what internal force is. Internal force is very similar to the ordinary force. The main difference is that internal force moves mainly in the joints and bones, and from the feet to the knees, hips, spine, shoulders, elbows and the hands. It is the force of the whole body, and so is stronger than ordinary force and can penetrate deeper and cause internal injury. The development and movement of internal force involves 'song', the lining up of bones and joints, the twining of the legs and waist, and shifting body weight. But we need to know the route of the internal force first.
The route of the internal force
As for the route of the internal force, there are different theories. Most internal stylists believe internal force begins from dan-tian. Master Ma Hong, a famous Chen stylist, said, "Fa-jing (power discharge) should originate and be executed from dan-tian and the waist." But the Taiji classics say, "Jing is rooted in the feet, released through the legs, controlled by the waist, and manifested through the fingers." These two statements may appear contradictory, but in fact they are compatible.
Indeed, internal force originates from dan-tian. If we are truly relaxed our jing (internal force) , which originates from dan-tian, will sink to our feet and go up along the path described by the Taiji classics. So the two theories are complementary to each other, as one tells us about the origin of internal force while the other describes how jing, after arriving at the feet from dan-tian, moves from the feet to the hands. When we have to release power quickly (e.g. quick punches), the force can go straight from dan-tian to the hand and out. In this case, the force is divided into two. One part will move down to the feet and the other will make use of this force (that goes down) to go to the hands. The two forces are actually one, just as Chen Xin, a sixteenth generation master of the Chen family, said, "It is divided into two, and yet they are one united force."
In order for internal force to move from dan-tian down to the feet, we need to be song first. 'Song' means total relaxation of the mind and the body, and more importantly the loosening of all the joints in the body, particularly shoulder joints and hip-joints. It is only through 'song' that you can make qi and jing sink to your feet and so achieve what the Taiji classics say, "Jing is rooted in the feet."
I have this experience: the more I am 'song,' the more force I will gather in my feet. This force continues to move down into the ground and makes me feel that I am well and truly rooted or grounded. When this internal force moves up from the feet and follows the route described by the Taiji classics to the hands, it is more powerful than the ordinary force. 'Song' gathers and produces internal force. Without 'song,' there will not be any internal force. Then we will have to rely on external force.
Lining up of bones and joints
As internal force moves from bone to bone, all the bones in the body will have to lined up properly, one on top of another. Chen Xin said, "The bones have to lined up (and connected) properly; otherwise you will not have power." If you are 'song,' the task of lining up the bones will not be hard. Start by keeping the torso straight. Lift the head-top up and let the vertebrae in the neck and the spine, one pile up on top of another, and you will solve the problem of lining up the torso. Lining up the torso with the legs requires that we sink our waist (bend ourknees and flex our hip joints)so that our weight and jing can move smoothly through the hip joints to the knees, where we have to make sure the thigh bones and the shin bones are properly lined up. If they are, we can feel that the weight is coming down from the upper body through the hip joints to the knee, and our knees are firm and heavy due to supporting the body weight and jing can sink to the bottom of the feet and down to the ground. Now our jing is rooted in the feet.
Before moving to another point, I would like to add that the lining up of the bones from the knees to the ankles is more difficult because, except in the horse stance, our legs are usually in different positions/directions, performing different tasks. Very often one leg is used to maintain the structure of the Taiji form or support the body weight, while the other is used to perform tasks such as stepping forward or backward, kicking or footsweeping. So the bones in the two legs are lined up differently: the leg that maintains the structure or supports the body weight is more or less lined up vertically (the knee and ankle are more or less in vertical line) while the other leg, which is used to kick, footsweep, step forward, etc. is lined up horizontally or diagonally. If we concentrate on lining up the knees and ankle in the leg that maintain the structure or support weight, the other leg will line up automatically, and we will find our kicks, foot-strikes or foot-sweep are more powerful.
Here is an example of how the two legs are lined up: in the bow stance the leg that supports the structure is the front leg, where the knee and the ankle are close to (although not quite) vertically lining up. The other foot that pushes the ground to send the power out to the hands is lined up diagonally. Another example is: when we kick with the heel or the back of the foot, the foot (leg) that performs this task is lined up horizontally or diagonally, while the leg that maintain the structure of the form and also supports the weight is almost straight (slightly bent). The knee and the ankle in this 'structural' leg is lined up vertically.
Our arms do not need to support the body weight and so can be lined up more easily. The key for connecting the arms to the torso is in the shoulders, which should be lined up with the hips. Each time we want to move or turn our shoulders, we have to move our waist and chest first so that our jing can reach the root of our arms, the shoulders. If we can loosen our shoulder joints, drop our shoulders, bend our elbows, bend our wrists and straighten up our fingers, then our arms are well connected and the internal force will arrive at the finger tips.
Twining of Legs and Waist
Lining up the bones in the body is like building roads for internal power to flow. The force that drives the internal power is the dan-tian and movements in the legs (released through the legs), such as shifting weight and turning right or left. The weight distribution between the two legs in Chen style Taijiquan are pretty even: usually 60% and 40%. They place a lot of emphasis on the twining of the whole body – chan si jing. Their internal force moves like a spiral up from (or down to) the legs to the waist, the back, shoulders, elbows and the hands, all controlled by the waist.
It is said that the force from the left foot moves to the right hand, and the force of the right foot moves to the left hand. This is correct but not complete, as the force of the left foot can also go to the left hand or the right foot. Except in the stance where we stand on one leg (like in Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg), the twining force from both legs should go to the hands, then the force can be united. Hao (Wu Yu-xiang) style Taijiquan emphasizes that the force from the two legs should be twined and joined into one. The key in combing the forces from the two legs into one is in the waist. It is only by turning the waist that we can twine the forces from two legs and make them into one.
Shifting weight can help qi and jing flow. In fact, when we do the form, we turn the body and shift weight all the time. If not done properly, weight shift can disrupt the lining up of the bones (in the legs), and so break the smooth flowing of jing. Therefore, when we shift weight, we must pay attention to the flow of our jing and make sure our jing is not broken.
Master Ma Hong often says, "When shifting weight, it is essential that our hips move in a concave curve (like the bottom of a shallow wok)." From my experience, when I do not follow this rule, the bones in my legs cannot line up properly and I feel my internal force is broken, and I have no power inhands. (It is not easy for beginners to do this. I hope this simple hint will help. When you turn left, your left knee stays or moves up while your right knee moves down. When you turn right, your right knee is up while your left knee is down.)
Dan-tian and Power Discharge
If we can be 'song' and line up the bones in the body, our jing can certainly flow fluently. But if we want our jing to be powerful and explosive, we have to use our dan-tian more. Just do afew fa-jing (power discharge) movements without using the dan-tian and then do a few more with the use of dan-tian, and you can tell the difference. Fa-jing done from the dan-tian is a lot stronger than fa-jing done without using dan-tian.
Furthermore, in quick punches, the power goes straight out from dan-tian to the hand(s). That is why Chen Zhao-kui style practitioners train with their dan-tian moving in horizontal, vertical and diagonal circles. Their power training programs, particularly 'Bai Ba Qi-gong Zhuang' (a Qi-gong exercise), are good training for increasing their internal power.
Fa-jing is internal power at its highest level. Before discharge power, we have to gather power first, otherwise our power will not be spring-like and explosive. To gather power is to be totally relaxed so that our qi and jing can sink down to the feet. The more relaxed, the power we will gather, and the more explosive our fa-jing will be.
The gathering of power and the discharge of power is a good example of the Yin Yang theory in Taijiquan: soft and strong intermix; slow and fast intermingle; and opening and closing interchange. When we are not doing fa-jing, the movement of our jing should observe this rule as well. It is an economical way of using our force, and we will not feel too tired from one or two hours’ training.
In the old days, students had to do the standing exercises for two or three years before they were taught the Taiji form. Today, some of them learn the Taiji form first and the standing exercises later. Many others are not taught the standing exercises at all. Some Chen style teachers still consider standing exercises an important part of their teaching. Their argument is that without doing standing exercises, students cannot understand and develop internal power.
Standing exercises are easy to do. The advantage they have over the Taiji form is in that you can be relaxed more easily than when you do the form. It teaches what relaxation really is. You can know where your own center-line is and so can maintain your balance easily, which is so important in Taijiquan, whether it be for the Taiji form, push-hands or even free sparring. The bones in the body can be lined up more easily, and you can feel the movement of qi and jing more quickly. Above all, you internal power can increase twice or three time more quickly than just doing the form. Equipped with this experience, you will achieve Taijiquan kung-fu (power, skill,etc.) quicker. No wonder Mr. Cai Song Fang said Master Yang Cheng-fu used Wuji qi-gong to achieve breakthroughs in his martial arts skill. (For more details, see the June 1966 issue of Tai Chi magazine.)
The simplest standing exercise it the Preparing Form, where you stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and palms placed on both side of your thighs and then adjust your body to the 'qi-flow' posture. Pull in your chin slightly to keep your head upright, and try to feel as if a piece of string were pulling your head-top upwards. Relax your chest and drop your shoulders. Sink your waist by flexingyour hip joints and bending your knee. Keep your crotch round, and your toes cling gently to the ground. If you have practiced Taijiquan for a few years, your qi should be able to flow easily.
A more common and useful one is called 'Embrace a Balloon.' The body alignment is like that in the Preparing form, but instead of placing our hands on both sides of our body, we lift them up to the front of our body at the height of our shoulders, (left palm facing our left shoulder and right palm, right shoulders). Now we can make our qi flow by imaging that we are holding a balloon. The balloon expands slightly, and our arms and even the whole body can expand with the balloon. Then we do not want the balloon to expand too much so we squeeze it gently to rein it in. So our qi expands and contracts with the balloon. We can also imagine we move the balloon to two or three meters away in front of us, and then bring it back. This happens only in our mind. But our qi can flow forward and backward with his imagination.
Relaxation plays a very important role in making qi and jing flow, but it does not make Taijiqiuan soft. Yang Cheng-fu said that Taijiquan was a mixture of soft and strong, and the Taiji classics go even further by saying, "Your jing should be like refined steel, there is nothing too hard for you to demolish."
The reason people who have practiced Taijiquan for many years and are still very soft (without internal power) is that their postureis not right. They lift their shoulders, do not relax their chest, do not sink their waist, etc. so their qi cannot sink to dan-tian. Their movements are not executed from the chest and the waist. They do not know that soft and relaxation is a means to make their qi sink to the feet to be refined and become strong, and they have not done push-hands.
If we know how qi circulates and jing moves and train hard and properly, we will be on the right track and can gain more benefits for doing Taijiquan, whether it be for health or for self-defence.
4) The Importance of Acheiving Song
By Tu-Ky Lam
'Song' (pronounced like 'sown') is the key to mastering Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan), and believe it or not, many people after practicing Taijiquan for 10 or 20 years are still not 'song', meaning they are outside the doorstep of this amazing Chinese martial art.
In the English language, there is no equivalent to the Chinese character 'song', which means relaxed and not using brute force, and more importantly stretching and loosening all muscles, tendons, and joints in the body, etc. You can tell if a practitioner is song or not only by testing him in a push hands contest or free sparring.
A lot of people look very song when they do the Taiji form, but are actually not if they are thrown off-balance each time their opponents push or apply other push-hands techniques.
Benefits of Being Song
If you are truly song, then when you opponent throws a punch, delivers a kick, or gives you a push, you will be able to ward off easily, instead of being knocked over. This is because all your joints are loosened, and your internal strength is always present where your mind is through good coordination of the whole body. You are so relaxed that you can feel the next move of you opponent once your arms are in contact with theirs. You will be able to follow – neither resist nor run away – but neutralize and counter-attack at the same time.
I often demonstrate to my students how to loosen to get out of difficult situations. When one of my senior students gives me a push, I loosen my waist while at the same time my arms stick to his and let him push. He can push in as deep as he likes. My looseness makes it hard for him to keep his balance. Advancing or retreating seems difficult for him. I can do a roll-back or a push to finish off the demonstration.
In other occasions, one student grabs my right wrist with his right hand while his left hand is placed above my right elbow, trying to do a roll-back on me. I loosen my hip-joints and am out of danger. If my arm is close to his body, I can easily place my left palm on the inside of my right elbow to 'press' him off his balance. Or if a student does a 'press' on me, I just turn my waist to neutralize and reply with a push.
At one stage, my senior students were keen to quickly pull my right (or left) hand up or down. They also liked to grab my hands and pulled them in opposite directions so that my arms were crossed to unbalance me. I simply loosen my waist and hips, and I was out of trouble. They often grabbed my hand and turn my elbow up, trying to throw me out. I just loosened and followed. Sometimes I could push them after getting out of their control. They do not do these tricks to me any more, finding they are not effective.
All Taiji practitioners must be song first before their skill can move up to a high level. Cheng Man-ching, a master in the fifties, sixties and early seventies, said in his book Zheng-zi Taijiquan Zi Xiu Xin Fa, that he dreamed both his arms were broken. The next day, in the training session, he defeated all his opponents because he had become song. From then on, his skill kept improving. His dream was a coincident with the timing of his song, which made him a Taiji master later.
Many people do not know that song can produce strong power. One of my teachers, when showing me the martial art’s application of a posture gently struck my lower arm with his hand (hand knife). My arm hurt so much that I was unable to move it freely for ten or fifteen minutes. In push-hands, his power was so strong that he could throw me out any time he wanted, whether I used force or not. Once he grabbed my hands (or arms), I could hardly get out. He did not seem to use force. At that time he was song, and I was not.
How to be Song
Do not be confused between song and relaxation. Song indicates a practitioner’s skill as he begins to move to a higher level. He is relaxed, alert (able to sense his opponent’s next move), flexible (able to follow), agile (able to move fast), strong ("like iron wrapped in cotton," as quoted from Yang Cheng-fu), and confident (of his skill). Song is the result of several thousands of hour of proper training. It does not comes from the imagination or dreams. Relaxation is the foundation of song. It involves relaxing both the mind and the whole body. Brute force is not recommended.
The hardest part of song is to loosen and lengthen all the joints in the body. For this reason, when we practice the Taiji routines, we have to suspend the top of our head, sink our waist (to loosen and lengthen the vertebrae in our necks and spines), drop our shoulders and elbows (to loosen and lengthen our arms), bend our knees and keep our crotches loose and round (to loosen and lengthen our legs).
Shen Jia-zeng, one of master Chen Zhao-kui’s senior students, wrote , in the book Chen Shi Taijiquan, which he co-authored with Gu Liu-xin, that the lengthening of the joints in the body could produce 'peng jing' or internal power, and he was right.
My teacher master Ma Hong said in his article on relaxation (my translation of this article was published in the December 1996 issue of Tai Chi magazine) that relaxation starts with a relaxed mind. The crucial point is in loosening our shoulder joints and hip joints. Once these 'four big pieces' are loosened, you are on the way to being song. He recommended practicing the Taiji routine in low stance, and strictly sticking to the rule of doing every movement with the waist, with the cooperation of 'dan-tian' (in the lower abdomen). "If the waist does not move, your arms should not move. If the inside (dan-tian) does not move, the outside (body) should not move." In my practice, I always move my waist and dan-tian first before my arm moves.
We should not underestimate the training of low stance. It is hard on the legs, but it loosens the hip joints a lot quicker than the high stance and so shortens the time to get to song. It also gives us strong internal power. From my own experience, I become song when my hip joints are loosened.
Contrary to many people’s belief that Taijiquan demands using mind and not force, internal power is absolutely necessary for Taiji practitioners. In push-hands or free fighting, without the internal power it is very hard, if not impossible, to win a contest. Internal power can be gained through practicing Taiji forms as well as doing power training drills such as practicing the long staff (da gan), short Taiji stick (Taiji chi), Taiji ball, Taiji qi-gong (Chen style’s Bai ba qi gong zhuang), etc. The power training drills play an important role in helping a practitioner to song and gives him strong internal power. We should reserve at least one third of our training time for doing these power increase exercises.
If you train hard on the Taiji forms and power training, I would doubt you will not do push hands to test the result of your training. In push hands practice, all your weaknesses, such as using brute force, without 'peng jing' (collapsed forms), lifting shoulders and elbows, resistance (ding jing) and running away (diu jing)) will be exposed. Of course your strength will also show through. Spend at least two hours a week doing push hands with your fellow students or training partners. Work hard on the four main parts of push hands: ward off, rollback, press and push. Then one day you will suddenly find your hip joints are loosened, and you are on the way to song. This moment is an exciting experience, which only those who have gone through it can understand.
From now on, you can move on to the highest level of Taiji training: free sparring. You will not be too scared to fight as your push hands practice and power training have already laid down a solid foundation for it. Your song and internal strength will give you the confidence. You are on the way to mastering Taijiquan.
I would like to stress that the key to song is in the hip joints. Ma Hong said that once the hip joint are loosened, the shoulder joints and others will follow suit. That fact that I am able to make the demonstrations to my students is because I am song.
The Taiji classics say, "The main thing is that every move should be conducted from the chest and the waist." They also say that "if there is any deficiency, the solution should be found in the waist and the legs."
You may wonder how long it will take to get to song. My guess is about ten years if you practice the Taiji forms, power training drills, and push hands an hour every day. It will take five years if you practice two hours every day. Some people may take longer to song while others take a shorter time.
5) Power Discharge in Chen Style Taijiquan
By Tu-Ky Lam
Power discharge in the Taiji routines is one of the main characteristics of Chen style Taijiquan that distinguishes itself from other styles. It makes Chen Taijiquan look like a martial art's system rather than a slow motion exercise, and brings a lot of excitement to practitioners and spectators. But if not executed properly, power discharge is at best a waste of energy, and at worst can cause internal injury. Knowing how to discharge power is quite important to Chen stylists.
What is power discharge?
Power discharge in a routine looks like a punch, a palm or elbow strike, a kick, etc. in the external systems. The difference is in its execution: we are still very relaxed, hit hard only at the point of contact, and then relaxed again - a very economical and efficient way of using our energy as we can send all our strength out on to the recipient. The impact of this kind of power discharge can cause injury to our opponent.
The other kind is sending our opponent flying away in push-hands. The execution is the same except the time at the point of contact is much longer. When we get hold of the center of our opponent, our hand, elbow or other part of the body sticks very closely to it and then push him away. The time at the point of contact is only a split of a second when we hit someone with a punch or a kick, but the contact time when we push someone away is much longer. Both these instances are called power discharge.
Cultivation of Internal Strength
A well-executed power discharge should include these elements: strong internal strength, the use of the Yi (mind/intent), Qi (bio-energy) and whole body force, and total relaxation. For a power discharge to be effective, you need to accumulate strong internal strength first; otherwise it is useless. Imagine when you hit someone but your punch or kick is like a mild irritant as your arm or leg is without power, they can just ignore you. Then there is the danger that you expose yourself to your opponent's attack.
The accumulation of internal strength comes from practicing the routine according to the torso methods (For more details, see my article in the December 1999 issue of T'ai Chi.), doing strength training exercises (See the August 1998 issue of T'ai Chi), and above all doing standing postures.
Why standing postures? Because practicing the routine is a very slow way to increase our internal strength, and doing strength training with equipments such as the long pole consumes too much energy, and better suits younger people. Standing exercises can lay a good foundation for the Taiji form, nurture our qi, make us healthy and fit first and then increase our internal strength quickly. Even an eighty year old can benefit from doing them.
How to Make Your Body Strong Like a Bow
As to how to build strong internal strength, each Taijiquan style has their own ideas. In order to produce strong whole-body force, Wu Yu-xiang (or Hao) style Taijiquan practitioners train hard to make their arms, legs and torso strong "like five bows". However, Wu/Hao stylists reveal very little as to how to achieve this. There is a simple way to go about this. Just do the standing exercise "Embrace a Balloon" until you feel your legs are firm and strong like two bows. (It may take two or three years, but just sit on your legs and stand, and you will get there.) This posture can also make your arms strong like two little bows, and your torso like a big bow as well. Sit on your legs and lift the top of your head up to make your neck and spine longer will help make your torso into a strong bow.
To increase our internal strength further, we can do another standing exercise called "Back-weighted Embrace a Balloon" because the weight is 70% on the back foot. Here our arms are still embracing a balloon but we change the stance from a small horse stance (with two feet parallel to each other like in the Preparing Form) to a small reverse bow stance with one foot in front of the other. (Do a small bow stance with the distance between two feet the same length as the distance between our shoulders, and then shift weight to the back foot.) We move our front hand to above our front foot and raise it to slightly higher than our shoulder while our rear hand is in front of our right (or left) breast and slightly lower than our shoulder. Our body faces about 45 degrees to the right (or the left) instead of facing the front (See photo 1).
To make our qi flow better, we need to align our body properly. We flex our hip joints and sit back on our rear leg. Then we turn our rear hip slightly inwards to push our front knee slightly forward (very small movement), which can make us feel our legs are connected. Our buttocks stay down while we lengthen our torso and neck by lifting the top of our back and the top of our head up. This is the most important and difficult task, which requires that our head go upward while our feet go downward. When this is done properly, our buttocks will pull in to connect our torso to our legs. (This means our body bow and the two bows in our legs are connected together, and they are ready to control and move the two bows in our arms to make the five bows into a workable unit.) You can feel your legs are firm and your energy go from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head. The support line of your body is also established (In this posture the support line is from your rear leg through your torso to your head.) This is the quickest way to establish your support line. It will take two or three times longer to establish it if you practice the routine without doing this standing exercise. With constant practice this support line will get firmer, stronger and more resilient. It can absorb incoming force and is the main route of power discharge. The Taiji classics say, "Your fist strikes out from your heart". Your heart means the center of your support line. Now we are almost ready to discharge power.
How to Discharge Power from Dantian
The center of our body is in our lower abdomen, which Taiji practitioners call dantian. Dantian has long been considered by many internal stylists to be the source of the internal force. They train hard on their dantian so that they can discharge more explosive force. This will require a lot of practice and guidance from a teacher.
The process of using dantian involves three stages: the accumulation of qi, the use of dantian to move our arms (which is called the rotation of dantian), and the release of power from dantian. You will need to spend a lot of time on the first two stages before you can discharge power from dantian. To start with, you need to be relaxed, let your rib-bones sink and keep your mind focusing on dantian during training so that qi can sink to dantian and accumulates in there. Then breathe with your dantian and make it move in accordance with your movements. This is called the rotation of dantian in Chen style Taijiquan. A simple way to explain this is to imagine the internal organs in our lower abdomen are like a ball, which can contract, expand and rotate. It contracts (our lower abdomen contracts as well) when we inhale; and expands (and so does our lower abdomen) when we exhale. In whatever posture, our arms are always round like holding a ball. When we move, they always move in circular movements. If we can relate the roundness in our arms to that in our dantian, we can make our dantian move in the same manner as our arms, which will eventually lead to using our dantian to drive our arms (by moving our dantian first).
To discharge power from dantian we need to be very relaxed and let our qi sink to the bottom of our feet first, then it will bounce back up quickly from Yong-quan (bubbling well) through our legs, torso and arms to our hands (if we can maintain the correct body posture). This requires a lot of practice. But then our power discharge can get better and better.
How to Utilize the Energy from the Ground
The sayings "Your fist strikes out from your heart" and "the internal strength originates from dan-tian" refer to almost the same thing. When we discharge power, we have to use our waist, where our dan-tian locates. But dan-tian or the waist alone cannot move our arms. It needs the help of the chest above and the legs below. If we train hard, we should be able to unite our chest and waist into one piece and use it (our torso) to drive our arms. In a power discharge, our torso rotates and pushes our arms forwards to strike at our opponents.
At this moment, our hips and legs will have to move to support our torso. First, they turn in the same directions as the torso. Then they need to borrow the energy from the ground to make the power discharge stronger. To be able to do this, our feet will have to push very hard down into the ground, and our legs moves in slightly different directions. Here is how they work. Many power discharges are from a reverse bow stance to a bow stance. Others are the other way round. To discharge power to form a bow stance, our back leg has to move forward (by pushing backward) while our back foot pushes on the ground; and our front leg (knee) pushes downward to stop the forward movement of the back leg (knee). (Try to avoid moving both legs or knees in the same direction.) The different movements of our legs (knees) will help to release the power we borrow from the ground to our torso and then hands, and make our power discharge explosive.
Here is a simple exercise which can help us get used to the different movements of our legs. From the back-weighted "Embrace the Balloon" stance, if we clench our fingers and thumbs to make fists, we will have a fighting posture. Our arms will give us good protection from attacks from the front; and we are ready to attack. Now we practice throwing punches from a left back-weighted stance. We turn right and use our torso to throw our left fist out to the front to punch, while at the same time we bring back our right fist to the front of our right shoulder. When we do this, our left/back leg moves forward and our left/back foot pushes backward against the ground; at the same time our front/right leg (knee) pushes down against the ground. Then we bring back our left hand to throw a right hand punch. The leg movements are reversed when we turn left and use our torso to throw a right hand punch. Always lift the top of the head up and try to use the back hand to help the torso power the front hand. Practicing punches in this way until it becomes a habit, then each time we discharge power we will know how to make use of the force from the ground, and make our power discharge powerful. I like this exercise as it helps increase the power of punches.
If you do not want to be so aggressive, you can do a roll-back and then a push. (Or you can do the last two moves of "Forward Trick and Backward Trick.") Repeat these two moves as many times as you like. Remember to maintain the body alignment as in the standing posture, and move quickly and strongly at the end of the push to discharge power. The benefit of doing these exercises is that they help to form a habit of moving the legs properly to utilize the force from the ground.
How to Use Your Mind to Move Your Qi and Jing
Our mind plays a very important role in helping produce a strong power discharge. The Taiji classics say, "Wherever our mind goes, our qi and internal strength follow." As to how to use our mind to move our qi and internal force, there is a saying, which states, "The xin (mind) mobilizes the qi". We use our mind to move our qi indirectly by correctly aligning our body as described above and more importantly imagining we are actually doing something - moving a balloon, punching, pushing or kicking our opponent, etc.
Here is a test. If you pass it, you will understand how your mind moves your qi and jing, and will know how to use your mind to help increase your internal strength. Start from "Embrace a Balloon" (facing the front) posture, imagine you want to take the balloon to the wall (or any other object) three or four yards in front of you. After you get there, bring it back to where you were before. Then imagine you are embracing a big rubber ball and finally a wooden ball and do the same drill again. To pass this test, you need to use your mind to control and direct your body. Otherwise, you feel nothing.
If you pass the test, you should feel your qi push your body slightly forward when you want to move the balloon forward, and your qi moves your body back when you want to bring the balloon back. The movement of your qi gets stronger when you are moving a rubber ball and the strongest when you are moving a wooden ball. Your mind mobilizes your whole body to do the job. Now in your standing exercises, you can use your mind in exactly the same way to help increase your internal strength. This way you will benefit more than just stand there leaving your mind wondering about.
The same principle can also be applied to the "Embrace the Balloon" back-weighted stance, where you can imagine you are holding a big rubber or wooden ball instead of a balloon. You want to squeeze the solid rubber ball. You squeeze not only with your arms, but your legs and your torso. So your arms, legs, and torso seem to curve in from both sides. In other words you squeeze the rubber ball with your whole body. After squeezing the ball, you try to pry it open, also with your whole body. Your arms, your legs, and your torso open up slightly, when we imagine prying open the rubber ball.
Your imagination does not need to stop here. Imagine you are trying to lift the wooden ball up and then push it down. You can also imagine you are pushing the wooden ball slightly forward and then pulling it back, pushing it to the left and then to the right. The visualization of pulling or pushing the wooden ball can make our energy flow strongly inside our body. Imagine how much energy we need to push or pull a wooden ball, and our mind helps to generate that.
Remember when you do this exercise move as little as you can (e.g. 2mm-5mm, the smaller the movement, the stronger the qi flow), and you have to use your mind, not force. It is important that you stop training to avoid injuries when you feel tired.
This is moving our qi and internal strength in a stationary position. It helps to greatly increase our qi and internal strength when we do standing exercises. In a moving situation, we can imagine we push a tree when we do a push, or punch through a wall when we throw punches in the above exercises. Other visualizations along the same line are also helpful. As to movements in the Taiji routines we need to understand the martial art's application of each move so that more power can be generated. For example, in move 1 of "Hold the Head and Push the Mountain," imagine we want to punch through a wall; and in the last move push down a tree or a solid object.
90% Relaxation in Power Discharge
Many people use too much force when they discharge power because they do not know they still have to relax when issuing power. Using brute force tenses up our body, blocking the flow of Qi, and slowing down our movements (because our mind is preoccupied with building up our strength and have little room for other things). What is worse is that our force is retained within the body, which can do harm to our health instead of hurting our opponents. That is why relaxation is required in the Taiji form, push-hands and sparring. In issuing power, we hit hard only at the point of contact and then relax again.
Although power discharge looks like movements in the external school there is a fine difference in their appearance. The image of a power discharge in Chen Taijiquan should be like waving a soft, swift and lively whip, not an inflexible stick. In our daily life, we can see many situations similar to power discharge: using a whip, throwing out a bucket of water, or throwing up a bag of rubbish to the truck, etc. Even animals do the same too. After a dog comes out of water, it gently and quickly shakes off the water in its body. We do almost the same thing in power discharge. We want to send our force out to opponent like water shaken off the dog's body. In my class I like to use the last two moves of "Blue Dragon Comes out of the Water" to demonstrate how power discharge is executed. I tell my students to throw out their hands as if shaking off burning bits of charcoal from the back of their hand; and I ask them to throw out a bucket of water when we do the last move of "Move Parry and Hinder with Elbows." This helps them to relax and not use too much force.
In short, whether we discharge power or not we must be relaxed. All we need to do is to relax from our mind and then whole body, but our head should be lifted up while our feet sink down into the ground, and remain alert. That way we can feel and observe our opponent's move, react quickly and discharge power any time we like.
To make our power discharge explosive, we will have to train hard not only in doing the whole routines but also the movements in the routines individually until they become a reflex. Many teachers tell their students to do this. But it is very boring and practically impossible to practice all the movements individually. I have a short cut to this. I group the individual movements together according to their use in self-defense - shoulder strikes, elbow strikes, punches, knee kicks, heel kicks, stomping, and some intercepting techniques such as blocking to the left, right, upward and downward, and ask my students to practice them.
For example, with the category of shoulder strikes, we mainly practice the shoulder strike in "White Crane Spreads it Wings" as the shoulder strike in "Lazy Tying Coat", and "Single Whip" are only its variations in different directions. We also do one move in "Shield Body Punch," which includes a back strike as well. This is re-enforced in push-hands until students can do a shoulder strike automatically when required.
Chen style Taijiquan is renowned for its elbow strikes, which go in all directions. To the front, we have "Step Back and Press Elbow"; to the back, "Smooth Step Elbow strike"; and to the left and right, "Wave Hands", "Twist Step Elbow Strike", "Elbow Strikes to the Heart". In "Six Sealing and Four Closing," our elbow strikes upwards while in "Punch under the Elbow" our elbow strikes downwards.
For punches, we do the punches as described in standing exercises above. For kicks, we do "Kick with the Heel", "Kick with the Back of the Foot" and add a "Round House Kick" from karate. The palm strikes to both sides and to the front in "Forward Trick and Backward Trick" are also very useful.
For intercepting or blocking the opponent's attack we practice the moves that block upwards such as the first move in "Pounds the Mortar", the last move in "Spreads the Wings" and "Backward Trick." Moves that brush aside the opponent's attack are "Brush Knee", "Roll Back" etc.
There is no pressure for students to practice all the above single movements. They can choose what they like to practice and do one or two at a time or do as many as they like. But they will need to train until they can strike with any part of the body at any given time. Practicing individual movements like this is more meaningful and interesting. And we can borrow some useful techniques from other system and add them to our stock. Just practicing them is not enough, you need to work with your training partner to see how strong your power discharge is and improve if there is any deficiency.
Automatic Power Discharge
We have heard stories about masters who, when attacked, could send the offender off flying instead of getting hurt themselves. For example, Chen Fa-ke's father just stood there with this hands in the pockets of his jacket to receive the attack from his family who were all thrown off balance when touching his body. Hong Jun-sheng said in his book Chen Shi Taijiquan Shi Yong Quan Fa that one day one of his student suddenly threw a punch at him, he just raised his right hand (first move in Pounds the Mortar) and the student was seen flying yards away. When Wang Xiang-zhai, founder of Yiquan, was attacked, his attackers often felt as if they were hit by lightning. Masters whose skill has reached this level can discharge power from any part of the body from any position. This is called automatic power discharge, which is power discharge at the highest level.
Few people can explain how automatic power discharge happens. My guess is that the support line of these great masters are strong like steel, and their reaction is quick like lightning. They have been able to transfer the opponent's energy into the ground and hit back with the attacker's own force at the moment they are attacked. So the harder the attacker strikes the more energy he will get back.
Power discharge starts with standing exercises to increase our internal strength (People who spend fifty minutes a day doing Zhan-zhuang can often tell you this experience: they feel their bones are hard like steel and their body is so full of qi that it is like a bomb waiting to explode - a sign that their internal strength is being formed. The internal strength developed from standing exercises can be carried over to push-hands, power discharge, the Taiji form, etc.) and build a structure with which we can discharge whole body force. Doing strength training programs will certainly help. We need to train hard on single movements so that our power discharge can be strengthened.
When discharging power, we need to relax and let our qi sink to Yong-quan (bubbling well), then at a twist of our waist (our dantian rotates at the same time), chest and legs, our torso power and send our hand(s) to where we want to attack.
If we can throw our opponent yards away or hit him so hard that he loses the ability to fight back, then our power discharge is good.
6) How to Align Your Body For Better Qi Flow: A Guide to the Correct Practice of Taijiquan
By Tu-Ky Lam
During our Taiji practice, we all want our energy to flow and develop into internal strength, a sign that we are practicing Taijiquan correctly. To achieve this, we need to adjust our bodies to certain positions when we practice Taijiquan. The following are some hints on how to go about this.
We will start from the bottom and work our way up, so...
Bend your knees and flex your hip joints
This is important because our legs are the base that supports our torso. Bending our knees and flex our hip joints can give you a good base. Moreover whether you can tell your substantial and insubstantial or not also depends on this. When you do standing postures or practise the routine always remember to bend you knees and flex your hip joints.
When you do this and feel that you are sitting on an invisible stool and more importantly your legs are firm then you are on the right track. With constant practice you will gradually be able to feel your qi and jing sink to the bottom of your feet, and at a later stage move back up to your hands.
Keep your crotch round and loose
The crotch is where your legs join or fork your body. It should be kept round like an arch so that you can turn or shift your weight easily. It can help you step forward (or backward) and yet can retreat quickly if need be. That is to say it help you have the insubstantial in the substantial and the other way round.
Positions of the buttocks
Many Taiji practitioners make a mistake when they advise students to pull in the buttocks and coccyx during their Taiji practice. Doing so can make people develop lower back pain because this posture puts too much pressure in the lower back. Leave the buttocks in their normal position — sticking out naturally — is the solution.
When qi wants to surge to the top of your head, your buttocks and coccyx will have to pull in to help qi perform this task. Your qi can circulate only if your entire body is relaxed. When you pull in your buttocks deliberately, you create tension and pressure, which can only block your qi flow, not helping it.
If you leave your buttocks in their natural position, the tension will disappear. When your qi wants to go up, your buttocks and coccyx will pull in (lift your head top up and pluck up your back will help achieve this) automatically to help qi go all the way to the top of your head. After completing this duty the coccyx and buttocks will return to their normal position again. So your buttocks and coccyx will move in and out all the time if you are relax and get your posture right.
In Chen style Taijiquan, the buttocks are in four different positions. Generally it is in its natural position — sticking out naturally. When your qi wants to go up, your buttocks will pull in. When you turn right, your right buttock is up slightly while your left buttock goes down slightly. When you turn left, your left buttock goes up and right buttock goes down.
Keep your torso upright
The torso is the main route where your energy travels. When it is upright, your energy can flow smoothly from your feet through your spine to your hands. This is beneficial to health. From the martial art’s point of view, your pushes, punches, kicks, etc. are much stronger when your torso is upright. For this reason, always keep your torso upright whether you turn right or left, move forward or backward during your practice.
An easy way to keep your torso upright is to line up your shoulders with your hips. Each time you move – turn left or right, etc.- you move your shoulders and hips together. That is to move your torso as one whole piece. When you can move your torso as one unit you will find it easy to use your waist (now enlarged to become the whole torso) to move your arms. To do this your torso will have to always move first to drive your arms. Do not move your arms by themselves.
Suspend your head-top
This is the most important requirement in the torso methods. A good tip for this is not to tilt your head forward (to look down) or backward when you practice Taijiquan. Just keep your head upright and imagine there is a piece of string from the ceiling gently pulling the center of your head upwards. This is called suspend your head-top. Tuck in your chin can help you suspend your head-top.
Suspend the head-top can help bring qi (energy or life force) from your coccyx or your feet up to the top of your head. We can say without an up right torso and an upright head there will be no qi or jing (internal strength) flow.
So remember always keep your head and torso upright during your Taiji practice. After constantly practicing with this principle for a few years, you will be able to find out where your center line is. Then when off balance you can regain your equilibrium quickly. At this stage you can adjust your body as a situation arises.
(Flex you hips joints and bend your knees and then lift your head top up are the two major requirements in your body alignment. The former help make your qi sink to your feet and give you good root while the latter help bring your qi up from your feet to the top of your head.)
Pluck up your back
This means lift up the top vertebra of your spine so that your torso can be longer. Pluck up your back can help keep your body upright. More importantly it helps to make your coccyx and buttocks pull in to send qi all the way up to the top of your head.
Relax your chest
Once your qi reaches the top of your head, it will find its way down, usually through the front center line of your torso. You have to relax your chest and sink your rib-bones to provide an optimal condition for qi to come down.
Loosen and drop your shoulders
You should try to loosen your shoulder joints and they should feel as if they were going to drop to the ground.
Do not lift your shoulders up. If you do, your energy will go up with them, your body will be floating in the air, and you can be unrooted and thrown off balance easily.
Besides dropping the shoulders is the best way to make the torso and the arms work as a unit.
Drop your elbows
This is to help you drop your shoulders. Try drop your elbows and see if you can feel your shoulders drop as well.
Remember when you push both hands out, always keep your elbows lower than your wrists.
Loosen up all the joints
People all know that we have to relax when we practice Taijiquan, but many do not know that we have to loosen and stretch our joints and tendons as well. When we lift our head-top up and at the same time keep our buttocks down, we stretch our spine. When we drop our shoulders, elbows and wrists, we stretch our arms. When we bend our knees and flex our hip joints we stretch our legs. Stretching our body in this way can provide good qi flow and increase internal strength. This is what torso methods are all about.
But the biggest secret is to practise.
7)Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan's Secret Weapon: the Rotation of Dan-Tian
By Tu-Ky Lam
Chen Tai chi is the original style of Tai chi chuan from which the other four major styles (Yang, Wu, Sun, and Hao) have evolved. With its soft and strong intermingled movements, slow and fast intermixed speed, clear martial applications, and explosive power discharge (fa jing), Chen Tai chi does not look like a low impact exercise for the elderly, but, instead, is really a branch of the Chinese martial arts.
Training for Chen Tai chi involves the two routines (Kata) with their martial applications, push-hands, strength training, and finally free sparring. Afterwards, people can learn the sword's, saber's, and other weapons' routines. Whenever Chen stylists train, they use their dan-tian (lower abdomen), and breathing is naturally incorporated into the movements. The way they use their dan-tian was kept secret for a long time. Chen Fa-ke, the famous 18th generation master of the Chen family, taught in Beijing from 1928 to 1957 but not many of his students knew this breathing method. His son, Chen Zhao-kui, was also a renowned master. Chen Zhao-kui taught a lot more students than Chen Fa-ke, but he only began to teach the rotation of dan-tian to his senior students during the 1970s. From then on this breathing method began to spread.
Rotation of dan-tian
The rotation of dan-tian is actually reverse abdominal breathing, plus the turning of the dan-tian, which is our lower abdomen. The Taoist monks consider dan-tian the most important area in the human body and so working on it can maintain good health and slow down the aging process while the martial artists consider dan-tian to be the source of internal power, training on it can produce explosive power. And they both have been proved correct.
Our ordinary breathing only involves the use of our lungs, especially the upper lungs. When we inhale the air goes into our lungs, and our chest expands. In abdominal breathing, we breathe deeper. When we inhale, the air goes into our lungs, but we imagine the air goes deeper into our stomach as well. (This happens only in our imagination.) As a result, our stomach, as well as our chest, expands. When we exhale, the carbon-dioxide goes out, and we imagine the air goes out of our abdomen as well. So our chest and abdomen contract. This is normal abdominal breathing.
In reverse abdominal breathing, we divide our abdomen into two parts, using our navel as a dividing line. Our abdomen from our navel up is the upper abdomen, and the part below is the lower abdomen or dan-tian. When we inhale, we imagine the air goes into our lungs and upper abdomen, and at the same time there is 'chi' or air goes up from our lower abdomen into our stomach as well. Therefore, our chest and upper abdomen expand, and our dan-tian contracts when we inhale. When we exhale, the air goes out of our lungs, so our chest contracts. We imagine the 'chi' that moves up into our upper abdomen now goes back down to dan-tian. Therefore our upper abdomen contracts but our dan-tian expands. The reverse abdominal breathing have been used by many Tai chi practitioners of all styles to good result. This was the abdominal breathing I learned and practiced fifteen years ago. Then I was so energetic that I felt I was ten years younger.
The rotation of dan-tian is slightly more complicated than the reverse abdominal breathing. Chen stylists compare dan-tian to a ball (which contains the muscles and all the internal organs in the lower abdomen). When they inhale the ball contracts. When they exhale, the ball expands. They also consider dan-tian to be the source of the internal force which can drive all the movements of their arms and even legs. Each time they move their arms (or legs), their dan-tian has to move first. The rule "If the inside (dan-tian) does not move, the outside should not move either" is always observed. As all the movements in Chen Tai chi are always spiral and circular, dan-tian has to move in the same manner as the arms (and sometimes the legs) in order to have better control of them.
For example, in the first move of 'Pounds the Mortar', Chen stylists move their arms up in a leftward curve (in a curve to the left and up) and then down in a rightward curve, thus drawing a vertical circle (from left to right) in front of the chest. Their dan-tian turns in a vertical circle as well. In 'Move and Hinder with Elbow', their dan-tian moves in a horizontal circle to the left and then to the right in conjunction with the movements of their arms. In 'White Crane Spreads Its Wings', their dan-tian moves diagonally up with their right arm. In 'Left Partition of the Wild Horse’s Mane', their dan-tian moves diagonally up to the left. In short, their dan-tian moves in horizontal, vertical, and diagonal circles in conjunction with the movements.
While dan-tian circles in this way, it contracts when the practitioner inhales and expands when he exhales. When exhaling, dan-tian expands to all sides: to the front (the lower abdomen protrudes) and the back (the 'ming-men', which is a point on the spine opposite the navel, moves out to the back); and to the left and the right. It is worth mentioning in here the rotation of dan-tian should be done in a very relaxed manner and not with force so that no harm can occur. It will be easier if you start with the reverse abdominal breathing first and move into the rotation of dan-tian later on.
The benefits of the rotation of dan-tian
From the martial point of view, dan-tian is the source of internal power. When we want to throw a punch, if we just bend our arm and then straighten it to do the job, the power of the punch is only partially from our arm. It is far less powerful than being executed from dan-tian with the twist of the waist and chest (our legs will have to turn as well), plus the bending and the rotating of the arm. The Chen family knew this, and they used dan-tian to great success and the rotation of dan-tian was born. The result was explosive power in their fa-jing (power discharge).
The rotation of dan-tian also helps to neutralize the incoming force more efficiently. The spiral movements generated from dan-tian play a great part in achieving this. So does the breathing. That is why the Tai chi classics say, "When you inhale, you should be able to uproot your opponent (by neutralizing his force); and when you exhale, you should be able to throw him far and away."
From the view point of health, the rotation of dan-tian is the best of the three different kinds of abdominal breathing mentioned above as it exercises the internal organs more than the other two. It gives a good lift to not only the organs in the abdomen but also those above it such as the heart, the lungs, the spleen, the liver, the stomach, the kidney, and the large and small intestines. As a result, it is of great help to our circulatory, respiratory and even nervous systems. (From my own experience, it is a good weapon against chronic fatigue which makes you feel tired all the time.) This is the reason why practicing Tai chi chuan can rejuvenate our energy and delay the aging process.
In the lower abdomen, there exist glands that produce hormones. The rotation of dan-tian can stimulate these reproductive glands and make them work to their full potential and enhance sex life. In China, at least two doctors use this breathing method as treatment to impotence with great success.
The co-ordination of breathing with movements
The co-ordination of breathing with movements is such a difficult task that most practitioners would like to avoid discussing. Most instructors will just tell their students to breathe normally in their Tai chi practice. Some have said that the late master Gu Liu-xin of Shanghai, China, who put in his books when to inhale and when to exhale, was wrong in doing so. They say this is not achievable because movements in Tai chi chuan are so complicated.
I have always taught my students abdominal breathing and how to co-ordinate breathing with movements. My reasoning is that if I do not teach them there is no way they can learn it themselves.
The co-ordination of breathing with movements is difficult but not unachievable. Practitioners in the past have left us with some guidelines. We inhale when we move our hands up, and exhale when we move them down; we exhale when we move our hands away from our body (opening movements). We inhale when we bring them closer to our body. We exhale when we attack, and inhale when we neutralize an attack.
These are supplemented by some other rules. For example, when there are two or three opening or attacking movements in a row, we may inhale at the beginning of each move and exhale near the end. When there are two or more closing or neutralizing movements, we may inhale in one and exhale in the other (this rule may be applied in the two or three attacking movements as well).
There should also be some brief, normal breathing in between our inhaling and exhaling to regulate our breathing so that is can be smooth and natural.
When Tai chi chuan was invented some three hundred and fifty years ago, breathing and the rotation of dan-tian were incorporated into the Tai chi form to make it a unique kind of martial art which is both practical (useful for self-defense and good for one’s health) and artistic (looking graceful and beautiful). Therefore, we can say they are inseparable components of Tai chi chuan.
My experience tells me that practicing Tai chi chuan with the rotation of dan-tian can more that double the benefits of doing Tai chi chuan with normal breathing whether it is for health or for martial purposes.
8) Whoever Can Follow, Wins the Battle
By Tu-Ky Lam
When teaching push-hands, the late grand master Chen Zhao-kui often said, 'Whoever can follow wins the battle.'
This is easier said than done. In push-hands contests, we have seen so many participants use force from their arms to deflect a push, and so many others are pushed off their balance because of collapsed form. The former commits the offence of resistance (ding jing); and the latter running away (diu jing) or without 'peng' energy. In other words, they do not follow.
How not to resist
How can we follow our opponents? The basic requirement is that we should not resist or run away from our opponent. On the other hand, we should try to detect and exploit the weakness of our opponents when they resist or run away.
When an opponent applies a push technique, we should not brush away his push with our arms. This constitutes resistance because we have to use force to do the job. Instead we should be relaxed and keep our mind on our arms, which can help us sense his energy and produce the 'peng' energy to stop him from getting at us too quickly. Move our waist (including the hips and chest) before we move our arms. Our waist should turn and move back at the same time. By doing this, we can redirect our opponent’s energy to go past us. Moving back can keep us at a distance from our opponent and reduce resistance; while turning can partly redirect our opponent’s push and partly move our body out of his way and keep us safe. We drop our elbows and bend our arms only when our opponent pushes - let his force make our arms bend or move back. Always rotate our arms, which should be executed by our waist and legs - shun chan and ni chan. If we can adjust our body like just mentioned, we are not resisting.
It is worth mentioning in here that moving back without turning is a recipe for disaster - you can be thrown out of balance straight away, because in this case you move back in a straight line and cannot redirect your opponent’s energy, and your body is in his way. Your opponent will just follow and push forward, and you will have no way of stopping him.
How not to run away
Running away happens when your oponent pushes and you move your arms back too soon and too quickly. It does not give you protection from your opponent’s push because there is no 'peng' energy in your arm. Your opponent can speed up his push, and you will be sent off balance.
There is a big difference between 'move your arms back by yourself' and 'your opponent pushes them back'. When you move your arms back by yourself, your energy moves back as well. As a result, there is not enough 'peng' energy.
On the other hand, when your opponent pushes, your hands (or arms) stick closely to his and not move back first (remember to relax and not use force to avoid resistance), but adjust your waist and hips first. Then your arms will have enough 'peng' engery to ward off his push. As his force increases, you drop your shoulders and elbows to reduce the resistance. By now, your body already moves out of his way. The rotation in your arms - shun chan and ni chan - will send his push to one side.
How to detect resistance and running away
It is easier to sense the resistance from your opponent than his running away as you can feel the presence of his force when he resists. Sensing his running away requires more skill and better sensitivity, but the reward is great as you can exploit his weakness and finish off the contest to your advantage.
Relaxation, or even better 'song' (Note: For more details, see my other article, 'The Importance of Achieving ‘song’ '), is the key to detecting the weaknesses and strength of your opponent.
Here are examples from push-hands situations to illustrate how you can detect your opponent’s resistance and running away.
Suppose you are doing a common 'Si zhen pui shou' (four parts push-hands pattern) with a friend or competitor. Both of you step your right foot forward and stick your arms (your right wrist sticks to his right wrist and your left palm is placed on his right elbow, and his left palm rests on your right elbow) together to form a ward-off posture. Then he moves his arms forward to do a 'peng' or ward-off technique, trying to force you off your balance. To counter-act, you will need to turn your waist and hips, and move (or sit) back; then your arms will turn to do a roll-back to send him to your right and rear.
If your opponent is good, he will loosen his hips and continue to move forward toward you until his right arm is close to your chest, and he is near the line of losing his balance. Then he will place his left palm on the inside of his right elbow (or wrist) and turn right so that he will not go where your have wanted him to go. At this time, he continues to attack you with a press technique. His right fore-arm and his left palm join forces and press toward your chest. Now it is your turn to loosen your hips and turn left to neutralize (his press). In this case, your opponent makes no mistakes - no resistance nor running away.
But if your opponent is not good enough, he cannot loosen his hips and follow (to continue to move forward). He will put his left palm quickly on the inside of his right elbow (or wrist) and turn right to do a press. When you feel that his press does not have the internal force that continues to move toward, his energy is running away (because he is not doing his ward-off to its full position, which makes his press ineffective, and his energy moves back too soon). You can make use of this moment and push him off his balance.
If your opponent follows your roll-back and move in closer to your and do a press, you should loosen your hips and turn left to neutralize before you can do a push to counter-attack. If you apply a push without neutralizing a press first, then you use force against force, which is resistance. At this moment, your opponent is in a good body position (shun jing), and you are not (bei jing). It is you who will be thrown out of balance.
If you do an easier and more common 'shuang shou ping yuan tui shou' (double-hands horizontal circle pattern), where you and your partner just turn horizontal circles with your arms, then the press technique is not used. When you push first, he will ward off and then roll back. Then it is his turn to push.
Each of your is supposed to do each move to its full position (dao wei). When he pushes he has to aim at and push deep in toward your center. To counter-act, you will ward off (let him bend or move back your arm) first and do a roll back. And both of you will go on and on like his, turning horizontal circles.
You will often find many push-hands participants do not do the push technique to its full position. They push half way and then do a roll-back, thinking they are safe. But, in fact, they are running away. In other occasion, when you push them, they overdo the ward-off and use too much force on their arms, which constitutes resistance.
In short, do the four techniques - ward-off, roll-back, press and push - to their full position, and do not changee half way to another technique is a good way of avoiding resistance and running away. If your opponent does not following this rule, exploit their mistake.
How to unbalance your opponent
In the article entitled 'Shui Nen He, Shui nen Ying' in his book Chen Shi Taijiquan Li Chan Wei, grand master Ma Hong suggested a good way to follow and upset the balance of your opponent by making his 'yang' more 'yang', and his 'yin' more 'yin'. That is to say making his yin and yang out of balance.
For example, when your opponent pushes (his yang), you moves your waist and hips out of his way, and bring him in further (such as by doing something like a roll-back). This will make his yang more yang, and so he will find it hard to keep his balance and wants to move back.
When he moves back, you should not prevent him from doing so, but give him a push to make him move back even quicker. This will make his yin more yin. Now he will find it hard to keep his balance again. In either of these cases, he is under your control, and is also at your mercy.
Also according to Master Ma Hong, you can trick your opponent into making mistakes by doing opposite things. For example, if you want to push your opponent, give his a pull first. If you pull his arms down toward yourself, he will certainly try to lift them up and move back - run away. Then you just follow and push him out of balance. This is exactly what the Taiji classics say, 'If you want to move forward, move backward first, and vice versa; if you want to move up, move down first, and vice versa...'
Try not to move first, but follow
In my push-hands practice, I do not usually make the first move. I just stick my hands closely to my partner or students, and wait for them to move first. One day when one of my students who had done push-hands with me for three years, pushed forward, I followed and sent him to my right and rear. When he did a roll-back, I threw him off his balance. He was big and strong, and was proud of his push-hands skill so he was frustrated. I said to him, 'If you move first you will lose the contest. You have to relax and try to feel and move your opponent.'
Another student was puzzled by my statement. When it was his turn to do push-hands with me, he said if both of us did not move then how we could do push-hands. Before he finished talking, he was thrown off to the ground. I quietly applied the 'peng' energy and found him not concentrating and so his energy is moving back - he was running away and I just followed.
In a push-hands contest or practice, if your opponent does not move first, you hands should stick closely to his and apply some 'peng' energy, which can make him move first. Then follow his move and make good use of it.
Three parts should follow one another
Before you can follow your opponent, the three part of your body - arms, torso and legs - should be able to follow one another first. In other words, your torso, your arms and your legs should be able to work as a unit. This can only be done through practicing the Taiji form.
Unfortunately, few people know that the Taiji form is the foundation of push-hands. Some even do not bother with practicing the Taiji routine, but just want to do push-hands.
When interviewed by a Wu-lin magazine journalist Yan Han-xiu, Yang Zhen-ji, the modern day Yang style founder Yang Chen-fu’s second son, said, "Your 'kung-fu' (meaning skill, internal power, etc.) cannot increase by only doing push-hands. You can obtain your kung-fu by practicing the Taiji form, not by push-hands... Push-hands gives you good training on your sensitivity (so that you can feel your opponent’s energy or internal force), your agility -- the ability to move fast, and a chance to discharge your power."
If you find it hard to follow your opponent‘s move, start training hard on the Taiji form. After two or three thousands’ hours of practice, you will find that your joints are loosened, and internal power increases, and it is not that hard to follow your opponent.
9) The Essence of Yin and Yang in Taijiquan
By Tu-Ky Lam
Many good martial arts systems have a philosophy to guide and support their discipline. Taijiquan, like other internal styles such as Xing-yi quan, Ba-gua zhang and Yi-quan, are no exceptions. The main guiding philosophy of Taijiquan is the theory of Yin and Yang, which has its origin in Yi-jing (The Book of Changes), and saturates the Taiji form as well as its combat techniques.
What are Yin and Yang?
While observing the universe at work, the ancient Chinese discovered one interesting phenomenon: many things go in pairs, which are opposing to and yet united with each other to form one integral unit. These pairs have contrasting characteristics: one signifying the male and active aspects such as strong, fast, and aggressive, (which are called Yang) while the other representing the female and passive aspects such as gentle, slow and relaxed (which are called Yin). Such concepts as top and bottom, left and right, forward and backward, opening and closing also fall into the spectrum of Yin and Yang.
It is easy to tell Yin from Yang, but it is very difficult to make them balanced, which is our major challenge in Taijiquan.
The relationship between Yin and Yang can be summed up by this saying, 'Yang has its origin in Yin, and Yin has its root in Yang (meaning Yin and Yang have their roots in each other.) Yin and Yang are one and should be balanced.' This idea is epitomized by the Taiji symbol, where the circle represents a complete unit while the two fish one black and one white represent Yin and Yang. In the fish there are one black dot and one white dot which symbolizethat in Yin there must be Yang and vice versa.
Balancing the substantial and the insubstantial
Talking of Yin and Yang, many people will tend to relate them to substantial and insubstantial. Indeed, Yang Cheng-fu said, 'The first thing of all in Taijiquan is to differentiate substantial and insubstantial.' How can we do this? It is more complicated than just say 'if the weight of the whole body is resting on the right leg, then the right leg is substantial and the left leg is insubstantial, and vice versa.' We should treat the following saying seriously which says, 'People who learn Taijiquan must begin with 'wuji', then they must pay great attention to Yin, Yang, opening and closing.' (Lian quan xu cong wu ji ci, Yin Yang kai he ren zhen qiu.) 'Wuji' in this case refers to standing postures, especially the Wuji posture where we stand with our weight evenly distributed between two legs. This is because standing postures can help us develop good body alignment and internal strength - the foundation of the Taiji form. Skipping this basic training is like building a house without a foundation.
From doing standing postures you will be able to feel that your body will straighten and best of all connected as one piece. When you feel that your legs are firm and you have a good root then you begin to know your substantial and insubstantial. In a bow stance your front leg, which is firmer (60 or 70%), and through which you are more connected to the ground, is considered to be substantial while your back leg, which is not so firm (30 or 40%), insubstantial. If you can lift up the top of your head then the firmness should be able to reach your arms through your torso. The arm that has more energy, and is usually used to attack or neutralize is substantial while the other which supports the main arm is insubstantial. There is also substantial and insubstantial in your torso. When your right leg is substantial, the right side of your waist (if you are good enough to make your waist and chest work as one piece then the right side of your torso) is also substantial. This also applies to the left leg and the left side of your waist. We use our waist (or even better torso) and legs to drive our arms, which can be substantial or insubstantial as the situation requires, not necessarily the same as the torso and the legs.
It is important that the firmness in our body be present during our practice (Please note you still have to be very relaxed. This firmness is by no means hard or stiff.) as it is the best way of knowing your substantial and insubstantial. When the firmness disappears, and you do not feel you are grounded, then you cannot distinguish them. You can use your body alignment to correct this defect. (For more details see my article entitled The Essence of Chen Style¡¯s Torso Methods in the December 1999 issue of Tai Chi.)
Knowing your substantial and insubstantial is important. To be able to have the insubstantial in the substantial, and vice versa (which means substantial and insubstantial happens at the same time and the same place.) is even better because the two have to interchange easily. In order to achieve this, first we always keep our crotch round. In the standing posture where we stand in a reverse bow stance, if we use our rear hip to move our front knee slightly forward (very little movement), we can feel our crotch is round (and sometimes our rectum can contract to send qi up to our head-top), and our legs are linked together to become one. Then we can change our stance very easily - we can step forward and yet can retreat any time we need. (In the 'Embrace the Tree' posture, we just need to flex our hip joints and bend our knees to connect to the ground and then keep our crotch round so that we can change from wuji to Taiji.)
If we extend our elbows (this does not mean lift our elbows up) to both sides to balance our left and right, our arms can be connected, and we can feel our two arms are united into one.This is useful in sparring or push-hands aswe can move one hand out to strike (or push) at our opponent and the other hand helps to propel the front hand. Conversely, the front hand can move back quickly and send the rear hand out to attack. A good example is when we are in a combat situation where we stand in a fighting stance (like the reverse bow stance but stand a lot higher for better mobility) with the right fist in front and left fist behind, and we throw a right hand punch to our opponent. If we do so by turning our waist (turn left) and moving our left fist back to propel our right fist, our punch will be more explosive.In Xing-yi quan they call this as 'The front hand hits the opponent but the rear hand sends out the force.' Then we can quickly turn right andmove back our right hand to throw a left hand punch. Our two hands can move in and out continuously as we like in the manner. We can apply the same techniques when we do push-hands. The interchange of substantial and insubstantial like this can confuse our opponent and give us the upper hand.
The interchange between substantial and insubstantial is executed from the waist. We turn to shift weight, changing the substantial and insubstantial and in this way perform all our movements. We do not move forward or backward to do a move, but just turn our waist. Even Yang Cheng-fu in his Ten Important Points says, 'Substantial and insubstantial change, and this is based on the turning of the waist.' Unfortunately not many practitioners take heed of this. (They usually move forward to push and move backward to do a roll-back, etc. instead of turning their waist to do it.)
Balancing the six directions
Movements in Taijiquan are numerous and go in all directions ¨C top, bottom, left, right, front and back. They all need to be balanced in our training. The rule of balancing these says, ' When one part of the body goes up the other part must comes down, and the same principle applies to left and right and also front and back.' It is difficult to learn to balance the six directions all at once. It is better we start to balance the top and the bottom first as these are the most important directions. Once we have got this right we can start to tackle the rest. From my experience I find the easiest way to start is to do standing postures (zhan-zhuang), especially the one where we stand upright with our feet parallel to each other at shoulders¡¯ width, and our arms raised to the front of our chest like embracing a tree. We balance the top and the bottom by lifting up the top of our head and by flexing our hip joints (cannot do this without bending our knees) to keep our buttocks stay down. When you feel your legs are firm, you have almost got the bottom part right. Then remember to always suspend your head-top. (If the joints in your body, especially your spine, have been loosened because of training, you can feel your qi move from your feet up along your spine to the top of your head.) Only when the top and bottom go in opposite directions can our top and bottom be balanced.
Balancing the other directions is easier. First keep your hands at shoulders¡¯ height, and then move your left elbow to your left and right elbow to your right. (The circle formed by your arms is an oblong shape with the distance between left and right forming the longer sides.) This is to balance your left and right. Finally, if you can make your shoulders stay where they are and make yourself feel as if they stay back and your hands and elbows stay forwards, then you can balance your front and your back. This is the balance of Yin and Yang in our arms.
When we stand in a bow stance or reverse bow stance, for example, in 'First closing' or 'Stamp Both Feet', (see photos) where we are in a reverse bow stancethe hip of our rear leg has to stay back while our front knee stays forwards (very little movement). This is the balance of back and front. The balance of other four directions for this posture is the same as in the posture 'Embracing the tree' described above. (Note if we make the stance high, we can stand a lot longer.)
Standing with all six directions well-balanced will help you produce an energy field around your arms and the whole body. Your qi (bio-energy) will flow strongly. With constant practice it will become a habit, then each time you move, you will be able to balance your movements in different directions ¨C top, bottom; left, right; front, back -automatically without even thinking of doing it.
Opening and closing
All the movements in Taijiquan can be grouped into two categories: opening and closing. Opening happens when two parts of our body move away from each other while closing means the two come close together and their internal strength are linked together. For example, when we push, our hands move away from our body. This is opening. When we do a roll-back, our hands move closer to our body. This is closing. This kind of opening and closing is external, and should be executed from our chest and waist.
The internal opening and closing are inside our body in our energy path, bones, muscles and internal organs, especially dan-tian (which is in our lower abdomen). In the opening, our qi moves from dan-tian out to our limps while in the closing qi moves back from our limps to dan-tian. At the early stage of our practice we normally use the external movements to help the internal ones. At a later stage the internal can drive the external. At all times the two should work closely with each to become one. The co-ordination between the two is in the mind. We should train hard so that our mind, our qi and our movements work simultaneously. Then we can react as quickly as possible.
The rule of balancing opening and closing says, 'There should be opening in closing, and vice versa.' Indeed, opening and closing happen everywhere in our movements. For example, in 'White Crane Spreads its Wings', our arms are open while our legs are closed (closer to each other). Then in our torso, our chest is closed (slightly drawn in) while our back is open. In the arms the elbows are open while the hands are closed (closer to each other). In the legs, we can notice that our knees are closed while our crotch is open. All this shows that opening and closing are everywhere in the Taiji form.
Light vs Heavy
One of the main characteristics of Taijiquan is its gentleness. There is a reason for this. In our daily life such as in work or sports, we all tend to be tense and use a lot of force. This is no good to our health as it consumes too much of our energy and blocks up the circulation of qi. Taiji masters in the past knew this and so recommended relaxation in our Taiji practice. If we practice gently our qi, blood circulation and our internal strength can greatly improve.
However, if we are completely relaxed, our body will collapse. We need structure to give our body some support. This structure will instil 'hardness' or more precisely 'firmness' in our posture. So 'hard' and 'soft' will need to be balanced. A good way to do this is to make our body light (result of relaxation) as well as heavy (internal strength gained from doing standing postures and the Taiji form) at the same time. In our Taiji practice we have to be relaxed. That way our movements will be light and nimble, and we will be able to change with our opponent¡¯s move.At the same time,wehave to flex our hip joints, which can keep our feet firmly planted on the ground and so give us the firmness that we need. And we also need to lift our head-top up, which will bring our qi and internal strength from our feet to the upper part of our body. That way our relaxation is balanced by a good structure, and with diligent practice we can feel our body is relaxed and light yet it is firm and heavy.
Most beginners unnecessarily use force in push-hands and Taiji practice, thinking it will make them look better. In push-hands training if they use force they often win. They lose when they are relaxed. So they will keep on using force and do not realize they are treading the wrong path. They will stay at the beginners¡¯ level all the time unless they convince themselves that using force can impair their health and hinder the progress of their skill, as well as internal strength, and so start to relax from their mind and then the whole body. Relaxation with the correct posture can actually help increase our strength, not weaken it. In my Taiji practice I always remind myself to be gentle and to be light (as a result I am more relaxed). In the gentle and the light there emerge the strength and the heaviness which are brought about by correctly lifting my head-top. This heavy and light feeling is really great. Sometimes when I forget to tell myself to relax, I inadvertently use force (the whole body is tensed up and stiff) and the wonderful experience disappears. I realize the strength lives in relaxation or the gentleness. Without relaxation there will be no internal strength at all.
Someone will possibly ask, 'Do we not use force when we discharge power?' Yes, we do, but it has to be balanced by relaxation. When we gather and move our energy, we still have to be relaxed or soft. We can say a greater part of our movement is soft;only at the point of contact can we use force or internal strength. It is important that our force comes from our waist (if you can make your chest and waist work as one unit it is even better), not from the arms. Even at this moment relaxation still exists. We use our torso to push our fore-arm(s) forward to strike at our opponent while our upper arm(s) are still relaxed. This is the balance of Yin and Yang in power discharge situation. In Chen style Taijiquan, soft and hard interchange throughout the form to give students and practitioners opportunities to train on balancing the two.
Slow or Fast
We all know Taiji practitioners practice slowly. Do we ever do it fast? Yes. Chen, Yang and Wu styles all have the fast routines so that we can move fast when needed. The Taiji classics say, 'If the opponent¡¯s movement is quick, then quickly respond; if his movement is slow, then follow slowly.' So we can say slow and fast are two facets of Taijiquan which we need to thoroughly understand and master.
When do we need to be slow and when do we need to be fast? When we gather our energy, we do it slowly but when we discharge power, we move very fast.In combat we move with the speed of our opponents.
It is clear that slow is a means used in training. We train slowly so that we can have better co-ordination of our whole body and be able to relax and so move fast. The balance or control of speed is with our mind. We train slowly until we are 'song' and our body and mind and are united. Then when our mind wants to move fast our body can move as quickly as we want.
How to seek stillness in motion
First of all, we need to clarify the terms stillness and motion. Stillness means more than not moving our body. It also means calm ¨C a state of our mind when we are not moved by what happens around us and can think clearly and is ready to react quickly and properly. On the other hand, motion can refer to movements in our body as well as our yi(mind) and qi (energy).
When we do the form or push-hands, we move but we ought to have full concentration to direct our movements, and our mind will have to be calm and alert so that we can respond to the move of our opponents. This is very similar to the case when a tiger is chasing its pray, it is running very fast, and yet its mind is always calm and alert to work out the best way of catching its target. This is an example of seeking stillness in motion.
How about seeking motion in stillness? Watch how a cat is waiting for a mouse to come out of its hiding place. The cat does not move but is on full alert to pounce at the mouse any time it comes out. So to seek motion in stillness means although we do not move (e.g. in the Preparing Form) we must make preparation for movements so that we can move quickly when we need to. When I do standing postures I find that although my body does not move, inside it my qi moves like waves in the ocean.
When we do the form or push-hands, we seek stillness in motion by being calm and alert so that we can concentrate better and spot the weaknesses in our opponent. When we do standing postures we use our mind to make our qi flow. For example, we can imagine that we are embracing a tree, we try to pull the tree up and then plunge the tree down, etc. Our body does not move but our qi will flow with our mind, which visualizes these movements.
To withdraw is to release
In push-hands, the tactics of Taijiquan is to move with the opponents instead of fighting against the incoming force. Such sayings as 'to adhere is to retreat, and vice versa' or 'to withdraw is to release and vice versa' show us a way to follow our opponents by neutralizing and counter-attacking at the same time.
Although to retreat means to move back and neutralize we should not move back in a straight line, which constitutes running away from our opponent. Instead, we should do so by turning our chest and waist. For example, when we are in a reverse right bow stance with the weight slightly more on the left leg (55% or 60%) and someone pushes to the left of our chest, we can turn left so that the left side of our chest and waist can move away from his push but the right side of our torso moves slightlyforwards. This will put us in a good position to counter-attack. If we change from the bow stance to the reverse bow stance by turning our waist and not by moving backwards, then we can move slightly backward in a spiral manner. The spiral movement will produce 'peng' energy and help us stick or adhere closely with our opponent. (To retreat and to adhere happen at the same time and the same place.) To adhere helps us sense the weakness in our opponent as we do not run away from our opponents and we can quickly counter-attack. If we are a lot better than our opponent we can even suck in the incoming force, putting our opponent in an awkward position where he finds it difficult to advance or retreat. In this case our arms are like glue, which sticks tightly to our opponent¡¯s arms that he cannot escape.
'To withdraw is to release' can be interpreted in the same manner. When we withdraw, we absorb and neutralize the incoming force. Many people have no problem neutralizing first and then counter-attacking. But if you have strong internal force you can neutralize and counter-attack at the same time. That is what the masters do when attacked. With a turn of their chest and waist they can send attackers off flying.
How to avoid double-weightedness
In the Taiji classics, Wang Zong-yue in his essay on Taijiquan (Taijiquan Lun)said, 'Anyone who has spent years of practice and still cannot neutralize, and is always controlled by his opponent has not apprehended the fault of double-weightedness. To avoid this fault one must know Yin and Yang.'He mentioned the result of double-weightedness but did not define it. As aresult it has caused controversy among Taiji practitioners.
The most common definition of double-weightedness is when our body weight is evenly distributed between two legs. This gives birth to the idea that to avoid double-weightedness we should not put our weight evenly on both legs, except at the beginning and the end.
Even today there is no satisfactory definition of double-weightedness that is readily accepted by everyone. The above theory is faulted with contradiction. If the even weight distribution is allowed in the beginning and the end, there in no reason why it cannot appear in the middle of the routine. Chen style has the horse stance where the weight is evenly distributed between two legs. (To avoid double-weightedness in this case, we lift our head-top up, flex our hip joints to connect ourselves to the ground, keep our crotch round to make the two legs connected with each other, and are always ready to move.) Then there is not much difference between weight distribution 50%-50% and 40%-60% (or 45%-55%). In push-hands when you are controlled by you opponent, nine times out of ten, your weight distribution is not 50%-50%.
Although the definition of double-weightedness is not clear, its fault is. In the Taiji form our qi is stagnant; and in push-hands our movements and qi are blocked by our opponent, and we cannot change. This can be avoided by maintaining correct body alignment and the balance of Yin and Yang as described above, and not by shunning the even weight distribution.One thing for sure is when we move we always turn our waist and shift weight; otherwise we will fall into the trap of double-weightedness.
Yin Yang theory is the underlying philosophy of Taijiquan. It works on balancing and harmonizing opposite aspects of things or phenomena to our best advantage.Being able to put it into practice will certainly enhance our skill.
All we need to do is to follow the saying "Learning Taijiquan starts from wuji and do standing posture so that we can feel our substantial and insubstantial, and then continue to do so every day in our practice so that at a later stage we can feel our skeleton is well-structured and is connected as one big piece, and our internal strength increased. When we do the form we pay attention to Yin, Yang, opening and closing. We need to train hard so that our Yin and Yang can be balanced."
Finally, I would like to say that the areas discussed in this article only cover the major areas of Yin and Yang. The others can be interpreted along the same line.
10) How to Get the Best out of Taijiquan
By Tu-Ky Lam
Millions and millions of people are learning or practicing Taijiquan every day, but a lot of them do not get the full benefits of doing it. To get the best out of our Taiji practice, we need to know the real intent of each component of Taijiquan training, match it with our need, and then concentrate on doing these parts.
Many people breathe normally during their Taiji practice. They miss out on a very good benefit of Taiji training, which can rejuvenate their energy, and keep them young and energetic. Many people have chronic illness, which nobody (including doctors) knows why. Traditional Chinese medicine says there is blockage in their energy paths. I think there is also blockage in their internal organs, which, like our bones and muscles, need exercises regularly so that they can be full of life.
Taiji and Qi-gong practitioners consider breathing important. They breathe in and out of their kidneys. In other words, they use abdominal breathing to improve their health and fitness. Kidney in this context means the kidney and the neighboring internal organs in our lower abdomen called dan-tian. People who are tired all the time (chronic fatigue), have problems with their stomachs, bowels, and even impotence should work hard on abdominal breathing. (For more details, see my article on the Rotation of Dan-tian on my site.)
I use reverse abdominal breathing (dan-tian rotation) not only in my practice but also in my daily life. I breathe with my abdomen when I am walking, sitting, and even lying in bed. It has become my habit. My stomach initiates breathing any time it feels like without me giving orders. The result is I feel energetic most of the day - a great feeling. (When I was on a long flight to and from London, I breathed with my abdomen to give me more energy and help my blood circulation with very good result.)
These are the main parts in Taijiquan training. When people learn Taijiquan, they learn the routines. The purpose of the routine is to loosen up our joints and tendons, to build up a structure with which we can still maintain our balance when other people try to upset it. It provides very good exercise on our physical body - bones, muscles and tendons, and so keep us healthy and fit.
One of the major intents of the routine is to stretch our joints and tendons to increase our qi flow and internal strength. So during your Taiji practice always try to lift you head top up to make your neck and torso longer - from two to five millimeters longer. You should also stretch your arms by making the shoulders drop away from the torso, the elbows away from the shoulders, the wrists away from the elbows, and fingers away from the wrists. Always sit on one of the legs (sometimes both) to know your substantial and insubstantial and stretch your legs when you shift weight. For example, from reverse bow stance to bow stance, your back foot push down and your back leg pushes forward while your front leg pushes down on the ground. (Note your front leg should not pushes forward.) This process is reverse when you change from bow stance to reverse bow stance.
To build a structure requires a lot of practice. If you train hard according to what has just been said you will eventually get to "song" (all your joints and tendons are loosened and lengthened. And you are relaxed.) and have a good structure where you can neutralize an attack and counterattack easily.
Two of the major features in Taijiquan training are slow and soft. We practice slowly so that we can have good co-ordination of the whole body by using our waist/torso to move our arms, and we can feel how the internal power developed from standing postures carried over to our hands.
We are soft or relaxed so that we can observe and feel our opponent's movements, and react quickly. In Chen Taijiquan, we also need to train on the fast and strong aspects of Taijiquan so that both the Yin and the Yang aspects of Taijiquan are fully covered.
Some teachers teach Taiji weapons' routines such as sword, saber, spear, and guan-dao (long handle broad sword). They all look graceful and interesting. Learn these if you want. But you will need to add an extra 15 minutes a day to practice them. If you want to spend only 40 minutes a day on practicing Taijiquan, you will be much better off just doing Zhan-zhuang and the routine.
Martial art's application
This is the major intent of the Taiji routines. Taijiquan is a martial art so each move has its special intent or use for a self-defense situation. Beginners need to know it so that they can concentrate better, have better qi flow and can practice with a sense of purpose. Eventually, they will be able to use it for self-defense.
The best way to learn the martial art's application of each move is from your teacher. Failing this, a video tape or a book on martial art's application of your style will be helpful. At the first stage you can only know how each move is used in self-defense, and with the cooperation of your fellow students you can also apply the techniques on them. Later on when your internal strength develop, you will get better and be able to do it without their cooperation.
This is the foundation of Taijiquan. Both beginners and advanced practitioners have to do it every day to improve their health and internal strength. In fact, the main purpose of doing standing posture is to build up our internal force. But its flow-on benefits to health are tremendous.
Zhan-zhuang is a very good weapon against the winter colds and flu. Doing standing exercises half an hour a day can reduce your chances of getting colds or the flu by 70% to 80%. Even when you get the flu, it is not so serious as to put you in bed for one or two weeks. It will be mild, and you need only a couple of days' rest with some pain killer. People who have weak legs, especially the elderly, and always want to sit down instead of standing or walking, can benefit from doing standing exercises.
From the martial art's point view, standing exercises increase our internal strength, harden our bones, and give us a good body structure so we can better defend ourselves against an attack.
In Chen style Taijiquan we have palm strikes, elbow strikes, punches, kicks, which look very much like those in the external schools (Shaolin or Karate). The difference is in their execution. We are still very relaxed and hit hard only at the point of contact. This is good for self-defense, but requires a lot of training. To be able to discharge power, you will need to spend a lot of time doing zhan-zhuang to develop your internal strength first. Then use Bai Ba Qi Gong Zhuang as a means to carry your internal strength over to the palm strikes. Your movements should be swift, lively, springy and explosive like a whip (if you train hard), and not as stiff as a piece of stick (if you do not train hard).
Strength training programs
These mainly refer to the use of equipments such as the long pole, Taiji stick, Taiji ball, Taiji drum (like a barrel filled with concrete or gravels), Taiji tube, etc. (See my article on the Benefits of Doing Strength Training Programs.) They help to increase our strength quickly but are only recommended for people under 55 years of age as they consume too much energy.
This is a two-person Taiji practice where each tries to upset the balance of the other. There are only eight moves in push-hands practice, of which four are more important than the others - ward-off, roll-back, press and push. Push-hands is a means to test our body alignment, and it bridges the gap between the form and sparring. People who want to put their Taiji skill (including body alignment) to the test and want to improve it should not miss this part of training.
This is mainly for self-defense. We cannot practice all the individual movements in the routines as there are too many of them. I group them according to their use in self-defense such as shoulder strikes, elbow strikes, palm strikes, punches, kicks, etc. and ask my students to practice these until they become automatic.
This is the last part of Taijiquan training. Very few people take part in this as most people do Taijiquan for health and for fun. Moreover, people start learning Taijiquan quite late and are too old to fight. (The age limit for San-shou competition in China is 35.)
However, young people should spar with practitioners of other martial arts systems. You cannot be a good fighter unless you have fought many times. Do the standing postures to develop strong internal force, learn how to carry over the force into sparring, do push-hands and individual movements, and then go out to fight. Do not worry whether you win or lose. Analyze why you have won and lost, and try to improve. Slowly you will be good at sparring.
As there are so many parts in Taijiquan training that not many people have time or the chance to do all of them, knowing which parts to concentrate on is important. Here are some useful hints.
If you reserve half an hour a day for training, then spend 15 minutes on standing exercises and the other 15 minutes doing the form. Try to incorporate breathing into your training to maximize the benefits. Find more time to do push-hands with your friend if you can. This is fun and can increase your interest in Taijiquan.
If you have more time, then find any other parts that interest you and work on them. To see good result for health you need to train properly for at least 30 to 40 minutes every day. For self-defense, two or three times longer.
11) The Development and Dynamic of Chen Style Taijiquan as Taught by Hong Jung-Sheng
By Tu-Ky Lam
This is a controversial article. When it was published by T'ai Chi magazine in the August 1996 issue, a very angry reader from Japan, who claimed to be a professional writer and had been training with Hong Jun-sheng until his death, (Note: one of Hong's letters to my ex-teacher said he retired from teaching Taijiquan after he was 70 years old.) wrote to the editor of T'ai Chi complaining my article was full of mistakes. He could easily write an article to prove his points. But he never did. So how wrong was this article? I still do not know for sure. Please read this article with an open mind, and use your own judgments.
This article was based on Hong Jun-sheng's book Chen Shi Taijiquan Shi Yong Quan Fa and the teaching of one of my former teachers, who was a student of Hong. My former teacher often said Hong's skill was the best, (if you think he was bias, I agree with you) and he was one of Hong's best students. What made me so unsure was that the Taiji form he taught me was not the same routines that Hong taught his students. The routines I learned at the time were a mixture of three products: mainly Chen Zhao-kui routine, mixed with some of Hong's form and my teacher's own inventions. Recently, I saw my ex-teacher's name listed among Hong's students in a Hong style website, which helped clear up my doubts.
I had seen some correspondence between Hong Jung-sheng and my former teacher. In one of the letters, Hong told my teacher that the Ji-nan team had won four out of five grades of the push-hands competition. Hong commented humbly that it was not because the Ji-nan team was very good but because all others had got it wrong. (Someone from China told me they won because they trained full time on push-hands and strength training programs. Amateur practitioners could not compete with them.) In another letter, Hong said such and such a person came to see him and asked him to correct her form. Hong said her form was not good but he could not say that to her and could not help her because her Chen form was different from his. In a third letter, Hong said someone asked Hong to accept him as a student but Hong declined, saying he had retired from teaching since he was 70 years old.
This article introduces the Chen style Taijiquan taught by Hong Jung-sheng (Hong style) as a new force to be reckoned with. Hong Jun-sheng, as one of the few best students of Chen Fa-ke, has weeded out the unnecessary movements in the Chen Taijiquan (new frame), make it more compact (smaller movements and higher stances) and practical, which is quite a great contribution to the development of Chen Taijiquan. It is supposed to be a compliment to Hong's achievement, not a criticism.
This is the revised version of my 1996 article in which the controversial part has been left out. As it was written only based on a book and some VCD's, mistakes are unavoidable. I would certainly appreciate your productive comments so that mistakes can be corrected.
Not many Taijiquan practitioners outside of China and Japan know much about Chen style Taijiquan taught by Hong Jun-sheng (Hong style for short). Although it does not have a long history, it is a new force which should be recognized as its representative, the Ji-nan team headed by Hong's senior student, won three or four gold medals out of five different grades of the national Taijiquan push-hands competition every year in the early nineties.
Hong Jun-sheng was born in 1905. Because of ill health, he began to learn Chen style Taijiquan with Chen Fa-ke in Beijing in 1930. Since then his health improved markedly, which aroused his great interest in Taijiquan. He trained under Chen Fa-ke for fifteen years before he left for a new job in Ji-nan in Shan-dong province in 1944. His intelligence, his diligence and his pragmatic approach to learning Taijiquan made him not only excel in the Taiji routines, but also push-hands and martial arts application. His skill already earned recognition from his fellow students such as Gu Liu-xin during the last few years he trained with Chen Fa-ke in Beijing.
In Ji-nan, he never stopped training and teaching. It was during the twelve years in Ji-nan that his new forms began to emerge. In 1956, he had the chance of going back to Beijing to revise the routines he had learned from Chen Fa-ke. Before he went back to Ji-nan, he showed his teacher the new forms he had modified, and they won his approval. After returning to Ji-nan from Beijing, Hong Jun-sheng continued experimenting and refining his new forms with his friends and senior students. From then on, he began to teach the new forms to his students, not the old ones that he had learned from Chen Fa-ke.
People came to learn Taijiquan from him from many parts of China such as Shi-jia- zhuang, Xu-zhou, De-zhou, Guang-zhou, Tai-an and Da-lian. A few years ago, in China, a society called Hong Jun-sheng Wu Xue Yan Jiu (Hong Jun-sheng's Martial Art Studies) was established in his honor. Many Japanese came to study from him, too. They honored him as the greatest Taiji practitioner. When they went back to Japan, they set up a Hong Jun-sheng Studies Society to further the study of his teaching.
In 1989, after more than thirty years of training and teaching, he published a book entitled Chen Shi Taijiquan Shi Yong Quan Fa (Practical Chen Style Taijiquan), a very valuable work for Hong's students and other practitioners alike. He passed away in January 1994(?) at the age of ninety.
Characteristics of Hong style
Hong Jun-sheng might have never intended to establish a new style of Taijiquan or call his style Hong style. From the fact that he still named his book Practical Chen Style Taijiquan and that he had the greatest respect to his late teacher Chen Fa-ke, he might still consider himself a Chen style Taiji practitioner. However, the Taiji forms and the Taiji theory that he taught are quite different from those taught by Chen Fa-ke or his son Chen Zhao-kui. Whether Hong Jun-sheng liked it or not, Hong style Taijiquan was born and today is growing steadily. Indeed, recently He Shu-gan, his oldest and most senior student, has openly declared the style they practice to be Hong Style Taijiquan.
Unlike the other two off-springs of Chen style Taijiquan, Yang style and Wu Yu-xiang style, which modified only the first routine of Chen style Taijiquan and did not modify or teach the Cannon Fist for an unknown reason, Hong style Taijiquan has two routines. The first routine has eighty-one postures and the second has sixty-four. The distinctive Chen style characteristics such as fa-jing (power discharge) and fast slow movements intermixed in the forms are retained in Hong style. "Chan si jing" or silk reeling force is emphasized. But Hong Jun-sheng does not teach the rotation of dantian, which requires a practitioner's dantian to turn in vertical, horizontal or diagonal circles in accordance with the movements. This breathing method is of great benefit to health as well as self-defense. Hong Jun-sheng said Chen Fa-ke asked him to breathe naturally.
Although many names of the forms in Hong style and Chen style are almost the same, the movements are done quite differently. The high stance in Hong style and the fact that Hong Jun-shen likes to bring in his upper arms right close to his ribs and seldom moves his arms wide open makes Hong style look like small or medium frame, a big contrast to the very low stance and wide extending movements of Chen style Taijiquan.
I have seen the VCD's of Zhang Lian-en, one of Hong's senior students. Movements of the first routine are quite similar to the first routine of Chen Zhao-kui form except the movements are simpler and much more compact (a lot of less useful movements are left out) and so easier to learn. However, there are lots of differences in the second routine. Hong modified the Chen form for practical reasons: easier to learn and use in self-defense. All movements in the Chen form, which are less useful, are weeded out in the Hong form. An excellent example of how Taijiquan can be modified to make it simple, easy, practical, and yet retain all the features of the original style of Taijiquan. No wonder Hong's students boast that their style is easier to learn and can get quicker results.
The Taiji sword routine has not been modified. Zhang Lian-en teaches the Taiji sword routine which he learned from Chen Xia-yu, Chen Fa-ke's daughter. However, Zhang adds a lot of movements to Chen's Taiji saber routine, making it three times longer - from 24 forms to 65.
There are two other things which distinguish Hong Jun-sheng from others. Hong Jun-sheng said in his book that all other Chen style Taijiquan books make a big mistake in teaching students to shift weight totally to one foot and then to the other. His assertion is based on the Taiji classics, which say, "The waist should be like the axle of a vehicle." The axle only rotates, and does not move back and forth; so should our waist. Our weight should be placed where the balance or equilibrium requires it to be. Throughout his book, he never mentions shifting weight or tells where the weight should be.
When the waist is compared to the axle, it has a wider meaning and refers to the whole torso. When your waist turns, your torso (and even the whole body) turns as well. Unlike the axle, which lies horizontal, or parallel to the ground, the waist (or the torso and even the body) stands upright. The waist usually turns right or left for 45 degrees only. If you want to turn more than 45 degrees (say 90 degrees), your feet will have to turn to follow, otherwise you have a good chance of twisting your lower back. Therefore, rotating in this context means turning left or right, but not 360 degrees continuously.
The other thing Hong Jun-sheng emphasizes on is "Chan si jing" or silk reeling force. Hong said the silk reeling force is produced through 1) the turning of our body: torso, arms and legs on their own axis, and 2) our arms drawing circles when we move. There are two types of circles: positive, when our hand moves out from our chest, and negative, when our hand moves towards our chest.
Hong Jun-sheng teaches only one pattern of push-hands, namely the smooth step (shun bu) push-hands, where one partner puts his right foot forward and the other his left. The knees and lower legs of the two competitors are close to each other's. The eight techniques, "ward-off, rollback, press, push, pull, split, elbow and shoulder," can be done without moving the feet or with one competitor moving one step forward and the other backward, and then vice versa. The weight of Hong style practitioners is usually evenly distributed between two legs. In other words, the horse stance is their major stance in push-hands. When an opponent pushes, a Hong style practitioner will do a "shun chan" and bring back the arms so that the elbows are right close to their ribs, and then turn right (or left) to do a rollback. He will not go back much while doing this. He just turns the waist and both knees to the right (or left), and his right hand controls your right wrist while his left wrist will press your elbow to send you off to his right and rear. When his opponent applies this rollback technique to him, he will step in to follow and neutralize, and then apply a press.
The secret to the Ji-nan team's success in the push-hands championships for so many years is, according a letter from Hong to my ex-teacher, that they have been taught properly while others have not. I have also been told that Hong's students' students spend a lot of time on strength training and push-hands. For these reasons, they do very well in push-hands competitions.
Hong Jun-sheng's views may not be shared by practitioners of the five major styles, who promulgate shifting weight. However, there is no conflict between Hong Jun-sheng and others. I think Hong Jun-sheng does shift weight in his Taiji form and push-hands, only to a much lesser degree. His skill has reached a top level which enables him to neutralize and counter-attack with small movements, especially shifting weight and turning the waist. Hong Jun-sheng may not realize this.
There are different stances in Hong style Taiji forms, such as front bow stance, horse stance, back stance (sit back in bow stance), semi-horse stance and independent stance (standing on one leg). In the right semi-horse stance, the right foot is turned to the right about 20 degrees. The left semi-horse stance is the opposite. In push-hands, Hong Jung-sheng uses horse stance, semi-horse stance and stepping in when rolled back by opponent. It is impossible to change from one stance to another without shifting weight. The difference is in that Hong Jun-sheng's weight shift is not noticeable.
There is nothing wrong with shifting weight, of which the purposes are to loosen up the hip joints and to avoid direct confrontation (or resistance) with the oncoming force. Practitioners of the five major styles have been doing this for hundreds of years, and it works well.
The implication of Hong's theory is that we should not move back too much when we are pushed. We move back only when we are pushed, and should not move back by ourselves. Then we are not running away from our opponent. In the Taiji form we should concentrate on turning our waist (torso) to move our arms instead of moving our torso forwards and backwards. I have put this theory into practice to great success. There are much better qi flow and stronger internal strength. This is the best part of Hong's teaching.
Hong Jun-sheng has passed away for over seven years now. The impact of his style can still be felt through the success of his senior students.
Despite the differences, his teaching contributes a lot to the development of Taijiquan.
12)The Internal and External Aspects of Taijiquan
By Tu-Ky Lam
There are several hundred different styles of martial arts in China. They can be roughly grouped into two different categories: the internal and the external schools. Taijiquan, together with Xing-yi quan, Ba-gua zhang, Liu-he-ba-fa, etc., has been considered to belong to the internal school while Nam-quan (Southern Fist), Wing-chun, etc. are viewed as external arts.
Internal and External Schools
It is difficult to clearly define the internal and the external schools. Generally speaking, when the energy of a practitioner of a certain style appears more on the outside of the body, for example in the muscles, his style can be said to belong to the external school, which has such distinguished characteristics as fast, explosive, and huge energy consumption. On the other hand, the energy of the internal style practitioners travels deep inside the body in the internal organs and inside or along the bones and ligaments, which is not easily seen by outsiders. Slow, gentle, calm, etc are the main characteristics of the internal styles such as Taijiquan, Ba-gua zhang and Yi-quan. In other words, the external stylists train hard to increase their muscular strength while the internal stylists, their qi (life energy) and jing (internal strength).
This concept is accepted by many people but disputed by quite a few others. The reason is that when externalists are mature in their skill and age and no longer rely on brute force to fight off their opponents, they are more relaxed and their energy flow inside their body as well, whereas some aspects of Taiji training are also more external than internal. The two schools meet each other at higher levels.
The Dividing Line
Taijiquan belongs to the internal school because it provides good training on our mind, qi and jing. It emphasizes relaxation, use of mind and good body alignment to produce strong whole body force instead of relying too much on local muscular force. However, this does not mean everything we do in Taijiquan is internal. If we take a good look at the practice of Taijiquan, we can see a lot of external elements in it. The difference between the external elements in Taijiquan and that of the external school is in that we move gently and slowly to activate our qi and bring out our internal force while the external school train with speed and explosive force. So the external elements of Taijiquan should be seen in this context and not be confused with the external school.
What are the internal elements of Taijiquan training and what are external? The internal elements of Taijiquan are the training which we cannot easily see: the mind, the bio-energy (qi) and the internal strength (jing). The external elements are what we can easily see: the Taiji routines and the strength training programs using equipments such as Taiji ruler, Taiji ball, the long pole, punch bag, etc. The external training in Taijiquan helps to kick-start or activate qi, improve our health and fitness, and to some extent increase our physical strength. The internal training will bring our health, fitness and skill to a new height. The two are so intertwined that they are inseparable.
Going from External Elements to Internal
Taijiquan training starts from the external components. Everything we do from the routines and strength-training programs to push-hands, martial art's applications, and even sparring are all external at the beginning stage. But with training our techniques will improve, we will slowly develop strong qi (bio-energy) flow and can strike with explosive jing (internal strength), then we become internal stylists.
To move from external to internal we will have to go through a long training process, which starts with improving our health and fitness and building a structure where qi can flow freely. To improve our health we train slowly and gently. Using force is not recommended as it drains on our energy too much. That is one of the reasons we emphasize relaxation. A good way to practice in a relaxed manner is not to have the desire to fight during training. The idea of fighting just makes us tense up, and our internal energy stagnant instead of flowing freely. For this reason some masters do not teach martial art's application at the beginning stage, but just teach the form in the hope that if students practice the form correctly in a relaxed manner, their joints and ligaments will slowly be loosened, paving way for their energy to flow. They will become fitter and healthier, and can move on to the internal training.
There was a rare occasion in the Chen Village. In order to speed up the development of the qi flow and strengthen the physical body, Chen Zhao-pi, a renowned 18th generation Chen Stylist, encouraged his students to train with speed and force so that the stiffness in the body could be broken up more quickly and their physical strength could be increased. After this they would be really relaxed and able to move to the internal training more quickly. This idea is very similar to Xing-yi quan's approach, but works well only with younger people who have a lot of energy.
The Torso Methods: Key to Move to the Internal
To practice the form correctly, the key lies in the torso methods, which is the first and major hurdle in the Taiji training. If we fail to tackle this, all our efforts will be wasted. I have heard people complain that after learning Taijiquan for some years they seem to stay at the same level all the time no matter how hard they train. What is worse is that their teacher cannot help them improve either. This is because they are the victims of conservatism or secrecy in the Taijiquan circle, and tumble on the first obstacle of their Taiji practice. Some teachers just teach the Taiji form but hide the torso methods from their students. That is one of the main reasons why they make no progress in their training.
The torso methods are like the first five points in Yang Cheng-fu's Ten Important points with which everyone is familiar, but few people know how to put into practice. Every so often I have to ask my students to lift up the top of their heads to make their body longer. I have seen so many practitioners practice with a crouching posture and do the movements only with their arms. After I have shown them how to suspend their head-top, the next minute they go back into their old habit again. Some other practitioners always think they have got the body alignment right or do not think the torso methods important and so do not want to listen. They need to reform their attitude in order to improve their skill.
I have written an article on the torso method (published in T'ai Chi magazine December 1999), but would like to recapitulate the major points, which are: 1) lift the head-top up, and 2) bend our knees, flex our hip joints and sit down on our leg(s). When we feel our legs are firm (like we are sitting on an invisible stool,) the weight of our shoulders goes straight down to our feet and we are connected to the ground, it is a sign we have got it right. During our practice, we should always sit on one leg, which gives a firmer feeling than the other. Any time when this firmness disappears, we are not connected to the ground and so we fail the second important requirement. To lift the head-top up helps to bring up the energy from the ground to the upper body. We need to lift the top of our head up (or even the top of our back up if this helps) by pulling in our chin (remember do not raise your chin) so that our torso is two or three millimeters longer (must try to make the torso longer), then we have a good chance of getting this requirement right. Finally, if we can use our torso to move our arms, we can make our whole body work as a unit, and later on, can produce whole body force.
These points are easier said than done, and failing to comply with the torso methods is one of the main reasons why many practitioners can make no progress in their training. Unfortunately, they cannot get out of this problem by themselves and will need a good teacher who knows how and are willing to reveal this secret to help them.
Zhan-Zhuang: The Best Means to Increase Qi and Jing
Getting the torso methods right is a first step in establishing a structure in our body where our qi can be activated and flow. Our qi will flow with our movements. If we want to improve more quickly and make our qi strong enough to drive our movements we will need to spend a lot of time on zhan-zhuang (standing postures), especially the ones called "Embrace the Balloon" evenly-weighted stance and "Embrace the Balloon" backed weighted stance.
How do we know that we have done the standing exercise correctly? In the "Embrace the Balloon" evenly-weighted stance, we stand upright like in the "Preparing Form" and raise both arms to the height of our shoulders with the right palm in front of the right shoulder and left palm before the left shoulder. Our arms are round like embracing a big balloon. (The shape of the balloon is oblong with the elbows at the wider ends.) We have to make sure the top of our head goes up and the parts below our calf muscles in our legs go down. The movement in opposite directions will lengthen and loosen our neck and spine with consistent practice. When this happens, our buttocks will pull in to connect our legs to our upper body to make way for qi to go up. We can feel our whole body is united into one and qi can flow freely from our feet to our head and then down. This will not happen for beginners. If you have done this posture for over six months or a year you will have this experience, and this is only the beginning. The best is yet to follow.
It is possible to make qi in our body flow like waves in the ocean with some visualizations. For example, we can imagine we want to move the balloon to a place 3 or 5 meters in front of us. We must have the desire to move the balloon forward but should not move our body. Then we can feel our qi is so strong that it moves our body slightly forward. When we want to bring the balloon back, our qi will move our body back. So we cultivate our qi and make it move like waves by imaging moving a balloon forward and the backward.
To build up strong internal strength, we need to use other visualizations. For example, in the above zhan-zhuang posture, instead of imagining we want to move a balloon forward and backward, we imagine we are holding and moving a big solid wooden ball. This visualization will help our body to produce a lot of strength to perform the task.
To move to a higher level of internal strength building, we need to do the "Embrace a Balloon" back-weighted stance (for more detail see the December 2001 issue of T'ai Chi magazine), where you imagine you try to lift up a big solid wooden ball, and then plunge it down or push it forward and then backward, etc. The internal strength generated by these visualizations is tremendous and cannot be achieved by only doing the form. But be careful when using these visualizations as at the beginning you will tend to use force and get very tired. Stop when you begin to feel tired before harm can occur to you. The principles for these visualizations are: use mind not force, and the smaller the movement, the better qi flow.
If we want to reach the top level of Taiji training quickly, standing exercises are an indispensable aid as they can make our body alignment correct, give us a very strong qi flow, which will accumulate into strong jing or internal power, help develop the strength of central equilibrium in our body, etc.
Central Equilibrium: the Steel in Our Body
The central equilibrium in our body has not been defined properly. Not many people have heard of it and know about its function. It can be easily confused with the center line of the body, which is a straight line down from the head that divides the body into two equal weights. In the "Preparing Form", our center line is from the top of the head running down to our perineum and the ground. When we stand in a reverse bow stance where our weight is more in the back foot, the center line moves slightly to the rear leg. In a bow stance the center line is closer to the front leg.
Central equilibrium is the center line plus the internal strength produced by lifting the top of the head up and at the same time making the feet go down. The movement in opposite directions - top and bottom - produces strength, which makes us feel like steel has been instilled in our body. The central equilibrium runs from the top of the head to the main foot - the front foot in a bow stance and the back foot in a reverse bow stance. This is the reason why in our practice we have to sit on one leg and lift our head top up.
Central equilibrium helps us maintain our balance during our form practice as well as in push-hands and free fighting. It is also the main route from which we launch our attacks or conduct our defense. Our punches, kicks, etc can be more powerful if we have "steel" in our body. In defense, it can help our body to absorb the incoming force and then retaliate quickly. It can transfer the opponent's force into the ground, or change its own position to avoid direct confrontation.
Converting our center line into a central equilibrium requires over one thousand hours of training. We have to train hard on the form and especially standing exercises. The latter can shorten our time by one half or two third. From my experience it is very hard to get there without doing standing exercises.
The following is an example of how to use standing exercises to test and build up our central equilibrium. Do the "Embrace a Balloon" evenly-weighted stance, for ten minutes or so, and then imagine you want to push a door open with your right shoulder, which moves slightly to the right (only 15 - 20 millimeters). Then do the same with your left shoulder. Always turn your waist (either left or right) to do this. You may have no feeling for the first few months or even the first year when you push to the right and then left with your shoulder and vice versa. If you persist long enough, you will be able to feel there is a line from the top of your head to one of your feet. This line shifts with your movement, and this is your central equilibrium.
The "Embrace a Balloon" back-weighted stance is even more helpful in establishing the central equilibrium for us. For more details, see my article on "Power Discharge in Chen Style Taijiquan" published in the December 2001 issue of T'ai Chi magazine.
Chan Si Jing: the Best Way to Move Our Qi
Our central equilibrium, once established, can help qi go up and down very easily. To send qi to other directions - front, back, left and right, we need to move in a spiral and circular manner.
That is why in the Taiji routines our arms always move in circles or half circles, and never a straight line. The circular movements of our arms are actually propelled by our upright torso, which turns left or right to make them spiral and produce the internal strength called Chan si jing meaning silk reeling force.
Chan si jing originates from dan-tian in our lower abdomen, from where qi goes down to our feet and comes up again through our torso to our arms. It is important that we do not turn or move our arms by themselves; otherwise qi cannot reach there and the force is only local force. We should train until our chest and waist can work as a unit then we can use our torso to drive our arms to produce whole body force. The process goes like this: train so that chest and waist become one (which is torso. Waist and chest should never work separately), torso and legs become one (if we turn our torso first, which makes our legs turn in support), and finally whole body becomes one if we use our torso and legs to move our arms. We will feel our body and upper arms are one piece first and then the feeling spreads on to the whole arm. That is how chan si jing is performed.
In our practice we must remember to turn our torso, arms and legs in this manner and do it to the full. The spiral movements help prop up our body to make it not too loose or soft and qi thrive on spirals. Spiral movements help to bring out qi and make qi become so strong that it takes control of or drive the movements - a good way to move from external to internal.
Training on Dantian
So far, we know if we practice in a relaxed manner according to the torso methods, we can make qi flow, standing exercises help to dramatically increase our qi and our internal strength and spiral movements, with the support of the strength of central equilibrium, help to make qi drive our movements. If we can do all these, we are on track to the internal training. If we include dan-tian training in our practice, our internal training will be complete. The saying "On the inside we train on our breath; and on the outside our bones, ligaments and skin" is an indication that dan-tian training is important.
Dan-tian is an area which includes all the internal organs in our lower abdomen. Taoist monks compare the human body to the universe, which works well only when Yin and Yang are balanced. According to Taoist theory, the sky is Yang and has qi which can come down to earth; and the earth is Yin and has qi which can rise towards the sky. When the two qi meet, the universe thrives and produces everything. As long as Yin and Yang in the universe are balanced, it will prosper forever.
Inside our body, our heart (where our middle dantian is located), which is classified as "Fire" in the Five Elements (gold, wood, water, fire and earth) is compared to the sky; and our kidney, which is classified as "Water" is compared to the earth. So we should train to make qi from the heart sink down to the kidney. The two qi meet in dan-tian. During their sitting mediation, the Taoist monks keep their mind on their dan-tian so that qi from the heart can sink there to meet the qi from kidney. When this happens, dan-tian and the kidneys are warm as qi is activated, and from here qi can flow on to the coccyx and then up along the spine to the head and back down again to dan-tian to complete a small cycle. This rejuvenates our energy and makes us healthy and live long.
To make this happen in our practice when we do Zhan-zhuang, we let our rib-bones sink and keep our mind focusing on dan-tian so that qi can sink there and have the same result. (One way is to concentrate on our forehead first, relax from there all the way down the center line of our chest to our dantian and focus there. Use our mind not force.) This is not easy to achieve for beginners, but if they keep trying they will get there.
In my practice after my mind focuse on dantian I use the reverse abdominal breathing with my dan-tian rotating in the same direction as my arms, which can have the same benefits to health (as just focusing on dan-tia), but can produce more strength when issuing power. For more details see the December 2001 issue of T'ai Chi magazine. It is the qi in my dan-tian that drives all my moves.
Pure Qi and Impure Qi
So we can see the internal elements of Taijiquan is all about qi as it is good to health and self-defense. When qi circulates, it can go up our spine to our head, which can make us feel like lightning or electricity going through our head and spine or we are having a shower. Qi can also go in the energy paths or everywhere in our body, which can make us feel like waves raging in our body. The feeling is very strong and fast but our body loves it and can take it all no matter how strong and how fast qi moves.
This kind of qi is good qi as it gives us energy and strength, and can cleanse all the dirty particles in our body to keep us healthy or heal us of chronic diseases. It should make us feel refreshed and energetic, not tired, sick, sore, etc. during our practice. When we mention qi in Taijiquan or qi-gong, we refer to this kind of qi.
Taoists consider good qi is inborn and is stored in our kidneys. Good or inborn qi is classified as "water' in the Five Elements. As we grow, the inborn qi deteriorates steadily. This is one of the reasons why some people have poor health. Practicing meditation, qi-gong or Taijiquan is for the revitalization of the inborn qi.
There is another kind of qi which we get from taking in food, water and air. This kind of qi is not so pure and stored in our middle dantian or our heart. It is classified as "Fire" in the Five Elements. The two kinds of qi have to be balanced. As "Fire Qi" is dominant in our body, and "Water Qi" is minimal, we need to train to increase the inborn qi and leave the afterbirth or impure qi alone.
When we do zhan-zhuang or practice the Taiji form, we want our qi to flow. This is pure qi, but impure qi can be stirred up accidentally. In our practice when we think of qi, we will be tensed up and our good qi will be stagnant. When we try to force qi move, good qi will be suppressed and impure qi takes over. When an oversupply of impure qi, often accompanied by an over-supply of blood as well, moves into our head, it makes us feel dizzy or have a headache. When it builds up in our chest, it can make us feel tight in there. Too much impure qi (stirred up by using force) makes us feel tired, dizzy, pain or other discomforts and is bad for health. So we need to always remind ourselves to relax and use mind and not force during our practice. (Just concentrate on the body alignment and do the moves gently, and not think of qi. If we get this right, qi will flow naturally and we will know.) If we feel great or refreshed in our practice, then we have got it right.
The Taiji routines, strength training programs, etc. are only external. They are means for us to bring out the internal of Taijiquan, which requires a lot of hard work. To be an internal stylist, we need to spend a lot of time on Zhan-zhuang and the routines according to the torso methods in order to build a structure where qi can flow strongly and internal strength increase steadily. This training process is long and hard and only those who persist in training can get there.
After a few years of hard training, we can suddenly find that our body alignment is perfect, our qi flows in our body like waves or lightning, our bones are hardened and very heavy, and we are so full of energy. We have a good foundation to move on to other training such as push-hands and sparring.
This article was published in the August 2002 issue of Tai Chi magazine.
13) The Function of Taijiquan Routines
By Tu-Ky Lam
With millions of people all over the world practicing and learning Taijiquan, its popularity is undeniable. However, maintaining this trend and improving our Taiji skill is an area of concern. I notice many Taiji students as well as practitioners have some misconceptions about Taijiquan, which are hindering the progress of their learning.
One of the misconceptions is: to learn Taijiquan is to learn the routines and the more routines you learn, the better you are. Because of this misconception, students try to learn as many routines as they can and try to learn as many styles as they can. One of my teachers can do the routines of four different styles: Chen, Yang, Wu and Hao. Once I talked to him on the phone, he told me four of his senior students were learning Hao style Taijiquan from him. Each of them was paying him forty Australian dollars an hour. He made $120 an hour. I told him the Chen routines that he taught me were excellent and I would not learn Hao style even if he taught it to me free of charge.
This teacher also told me that to learn Taijiquan is to work on the torso methods. The routines are just a means for us to do this. We have to train at least an hour a day on our routines so that our body alignment will get better and better and we can follow our opponents and strike back at will. To achieve this goal, we have to go through a stage where our joints and tendons are loosened, and our jing or internal strength develops.
Learning many routines will not improve your skill. On the contrary it is a handicap to your progress. You are bogged down by the many routines that you try to remember. Each time you learn a new routine, you are right back at the beginner's stage. Although you can learn the new routine faster, it may not improve your Taiji skill.
It takes about sixty hours with your teacher to learn the first routine, and another sixty hours to learn the second. There are over ten routines in the five major Taiji styles. This means it will take about six hundred hours to learn them all. You may think yourself to be very good as you have learned the Taiji routines of the five major styles. However, you may still only at the doorstep of the palace of Taijiquan - the beginner's level.
If you concentrate only on the one or two routines, work on your body alignment and do a lot of standing practice, the results of your effort will be ten times better than learning as many routines as you can.
I only teach the two Chen routines to my students. I will not teach them the weapons routines until I am satisfied that their body alignment is satisfactory and they train well over one hour a day. The routines I teach my students are only a means for me to teach the body alignment. I want my students to do each move perfectly well. If they do not practice diligently, they will not learn.
How do I teach the torso methods? The main points are in my article entitled '"Practice Guide." In each session, I require my students always sit properly on their legs and lift their head top up when they practice the form. This is only the beginning. I already come across problems. Some students have no intention to lift their head top up at all. My insistence make some of them lift up their head top. Then they do not want to sit on their legs - I call this 'lazy sitting'. After they have learned how to lift up the top of their head and sit properly, another problem arises: they do not train hard enough to make their buttocks set in their sockets. They have not been able to build up the strength of central equilibrium.
Traditional Taiji training methods require students to practice the routines 20 reps a day. This is an impossible task for us today. There is a way around this. Practice Yiquan and/or Xingyi standing practice an hour a day plus 4 reps of routine practice a day will bring the same result. Standing practice can speed up our learning process many times faster than practicing the form alone. (If you train hard with standing practice and the form like I have just said and make little progress, then the problem lies with your body alignment. You need to seek the help of a teacher who has this expertise.)
After I teach the torso methods and standing practice, (which is the main part of my teaching,) I teach push-hands, martial art's application, stepping, and power discharge. All these aim at improving our health, increase our internal strength and make preparation for the final test - sparring and self-defense. There is so much to learn in Taijiquan. You need to dig deep and not shallow.
If you are still not convinced that learning many routines can pose problems, then learn all the routines in your style. For example, in Chen style, you learn Lao jia (or Xin jia, or Xiao jia) Yi lu (first routine) and Er Lu (second routine), but not all of these (six all together. A big waste of time and you gain nothing. Concentrating on two is much better than learning all six.) Then you learn the weapons routines such as broad word, straight sword, spear, long staff, maces, Spring and Autumn halberd, etc. These weapons routines can make you look good though you may not be good.
So what is the function of the Taiji routines? Taiji routines are only empty shells. They are a means for us to train on the torso methods to bring out the substance. The more we train on the torso methods the better we will be. So we need to practice 4 or 5 reps of the routines a day, paying special attention on our body alignment as to bring about the result we want.
14) Chan Si Jing And Its Application
By Tu-Ky Lam
"Chan si jing" or silk reeling force is a circular and spiral force. When we practice Chen style Taijiquan, we can see or feel that our legs, body and arms are turning or twisting on their own axis upwards and downwards, sending our internal force from the feet to the arms and out. This also happens in a push-hands situation. For example, when we are pushed, we bend our back knee and turn our waist, and our weight sinks to transfer the incoming force sideways and downwards. When we push, our back leg straightens up and the spiral force goes upwards and forwards.
Power discharge in a routine looks like a punch, a palm or elbow strike, a kick, etc. in the external systems. The difference is in its execution: we are still very relaxed, hit hard only at the point of contact, and then relaxed again - a very economical and efficient way of using our energy as we can send all our strength out on to the recipient. The impact of this kind of power discharge can cause injury to our opponent.
As Chan si jing is always present in the Taiji form (push-hands and even sparring), it can be said that practicing Taijiquan is practicing Chan si jing. Our arms and legs keep turning in big or small circles. They look soft but the upright body helps to make them strong. This power is internal force. The more you practice, the stronger your internal force will be. It is the force of the whole body.
Chan si jing originates from dantian and is executed through the waist and the chest with the help of our hips and legs. It is important that we train until the chest and the waist are united into one piece in our movements. (We should always line up our shoulders and our hips from the top down and make them work together as one unit with the waist in control. We should avoid moving the shoulders only. If we consider that our torso from the shoulders down to the hips is one piece, this will certainly help.) Then we can use our chest and waist (torso) to power our arms, which will move in spiral and circular movements. The execution of Chan si jing is through turning our chest and waist -- left or right, but not forwards and backwards (which can reduce the force produced) to propel our arms. Our torso (chest and waist) controls not only our arms but also our legs. When we turn left or right, our legs will have to turn in the same direction to give their support. That way the whole body force is produced. We should not turn or move our arms by themselves.
Quite a few Chan si jing exercises have been invented by some practitioners. They are not bad, but I do not practice or teach them. I only teach two "chan si jing" exercises: these are the moves used in single and two-hand push-hands. I show my students what is Peng (ward-off), Lu (roll-back) and An (push), and ask them to practice at home. This is just like one person push-hands movements. The more they practice, the better they will be at push-hands.
Basically, there are two kinds of "chan si jing." "Shun chan" means "twining out or twining smoothly;" in other words, turn the arms and legs outwards. (Right arms and right legs turn right; and left arms and left legs turn left.) "Ni chan" means "twining in or twining adversely." We turn our arms and legs inwards. That is to say right arm and right leg turn left; and left arm and left leg turn right.
Besides rotating on their axis, our arms and hands keep drawing circles when we practice Taijiquan. Our hands can move up or down. Then we have up or down "chan si jing". When our arms or hands move to the left, we have the left "chan si jing;" to the right, the right "chan si jing." Similarly, we have big or small "chan si jing," front or back "chan si jing," inside or outside "chan si jing." These five different kinds of "chan si jing" - up/down, left/right, front/back, big/small and inside/outside - are classified according to the position where the hands are; while the two basic "chan si jing" - shun chan and ni chan - are classified according to the way the body, arms and legs rotate on their own axis. When we talk of "chan si jing," we normally refer to the latter.
When we practice the routine, chan si jing can help our form get smoother, rounder and so our movements are continuous and not broken. This is achieved through two stages. At the early stage it is important that we practice the routine very gently, which can nurture our qi or life energy, and make us strong. At this stage, our qi is activated by the movements of the routine, and is present mainly in the movements themselves, which we call "outside circle". Later on our qi gets stronger and stronger, and it no longer needs the movements to activate its flow. Instead, our qi drives our movements. If we have the correct body alignment and move in a spiral and circular manner it is a lot easier for our qi to drive our moves. Now our qi moves in the "inner circle" and will develop into "Jing" meaning internal force. This is what people who practice Taijiquan for self-defense will aim for. We still need to be relaxed and always use our torso to spin our arms and legs. There is a big difference in the degree of the internal force when we have the chan si jing and without chan si jing.
In self-defense, the twining of the whole body on its axis (shun chan and ni chan), and the circular movements (the five pairs of positional chan si jing) help to deflect punches, pushes, kicks, etc. more efficiently. The force that comes in contact with our arms or body is partly diverted to one side and the ground and partly dispersed through the whole body, making the impact on us minimal.
Fa-jing or issuing power is an explosive expression of chan si jing. The power produced by twining up the whole body is stronger than that produced by using only the arm. At its highest level, a good Taiji practitioner can use chan si jing to deflect and attack at the same time. It is said such masters like Chen Fa-ke and Hong Jun-sheng when attacked could send the attacker many meters away at just one block.
Before I conclude, I would like to answer the question how we can move forward and backward by turning our waist. We do so by changing our stance. For example, when we want to push we turn left (or right) and change from a reverse bow stance to a bow stance. That way our body will move forward but without losing the peng energy. When we neutralize a push, like doing a roll-back, we turn and change to a reverse bow stance. Then our body will move backward. (To be more exact, one part of the body moves backward while the other forward.) If we retreat instead of turning to neutralize we will lose the peng energy and so can be thrown off balance very easily. This should be worked out from push-hands to gain the experience. (My students know this very well and never have doubt on this.) In short, if we turn our waist we can move forward or backward with spiral move and strong internal power. But if we move forward or backward to do a move we will lose the internal strength as the spiral movement disappears.
15) Yao Cheng-Rong and Yiquan
By Tu-Ky Lam
Master Yao Cheng-Rong
In order to do a research on Yiquan, I made a trip to Beijing, China in June 2005 to see Master Yao Cheng-Rong, founder and head coach of the Zhongyi Martial Arts Academy.
Yao Cheng-Rong is one of the 3rd generation Yiquan masters. He began to learn Yiquan at the age of 9 with his father Yao Zongxun, who was one of the top students of Yiquan founder, Wang Xiangzhai. At the age of 53, Yao Cheng-Rong has over 40 years of experience with Yiquan. He first helped his father teach Yiquan. Ten years ago, he founded his own training school, and has since trained about 10,000 people, of whom many are now Yiquan teachers.
What has struck me most about Yao is that he is very humble and polite, even to his own students. The next thing is his power and skill. He has the strong power to send a much bigger person than he off flying. In push-hands, he can suck in his opponent who cannot escape no matter how hard he tries. Most of his opponents (in push-hands) find it hard to stand firmly on the ground and have to move around as he wishes and then get thrown off balance. His controlling technique is incredible. He can make you go left, right, front or back as he wishes and there is nothing you can do about it. He can spin you like a top or throw you off balance and then quickly hold you back so that you will not fall or get injured. In other words, his push-hands skill is so good that he can play around with you in the same way a cat does to a mouse.
Master Yao's frankness is also very impressive. He frankly states in his website1 that he will not hide any secrets from his students and he means it. He showed me clearly how "Hun-yuan li" (whole body force) is produced and answered to my satisfaction any questions that I asked him. I mentioned to him about the conservatism of some teachers. He said it was not because they did not want to teach you but because they did not know how. Anyone who had accepted a student's tuition fee would always try to teach his students something. This may be the case with teachers like him.
The majority of Master Yao's students are locals, but there are also some foreign students in his classes. Some of them come from Germany and France while others from Switzerland and the United States. Master Yao does not speak English. The foreigners learn by watching and copy what master Yao does. In some classes, some local students who can speak English help with the translation. The foreign students are very impressed with Master Yao's skill and learn a lot from him.
Introduction to Yiquan
What is Yiquan? It is a relatively new style of Chinese martial arts based on Xingyi quan2, but also taken into its system the best elements of Taijiquan, Bagua zhang and other styles. Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua practitioners can often relate themselves to Yiquan because they can see something similar to their own practice in Yiquan.
The most distinguished characteristic of Yiquan is that it does not have routines because they are considered to be a waste of time. Wang Xiang-zhai said routines are useless in self-defence. Teachers teach a lot of routines so that they can make money out of their students.
What do Yiquan students learn then? From day one they are taught various standing postures to improve their health and fitness and also develop their internal strength. Wang said the main purpose of practicing Yiquan is for health, fun and self-defence. Standing postures are the foundation of Yiquan training. Yiquan practitioners spend about an hour a day doing standing postures called Zhan-zhuang in Chinese.
Zhan-zhuang is very simple and effective. It can improve our health quickly, and is suitable for people of all ages. Just stand half an hour a day and you will see the result in six months: cold and flu will almost disappear, your mind is clearer, you eat better and sleep better, and more importantly feel more relaxed and happier. No stress, fear, or worries can bother you. Zhan-zhuang improves both our physical and mental wellbeing quicker than anything else can.
Zhan-zhuang is also indispensable for all internal martial arts systems. People who practice Taijiquan, Xingyi quan or Bagua Zhang without doing Zhan-zhuang will find that after ten or twenty years of practice their form is still empty because they do not have internal power. The only way to make up for it is: stand, stand and stand. That is the reason why in Yiquan classes you can often find people who have learned Taijiquan or other internal styles happily learning Yiquan3.
Yiquan students do not stand all the time in their training. Once they have gained some internal strength, they will put it into use in push-hands and sparring. Before they take part in these, they practice a few simple movements that are useful in pushing hands and fighting. These exercises are called "shi li" (moving or testing your energy) and "fa li."4
All "shi li" movements are done slowly and gently. They look like Tai chi but are much simpler. For example, there is the "push the water" movement where your hands from a wide open positions on both side of your body move toward the front of your chest, and then move them back to the starting position. Other useful movements are "throwing a ball" (pao chiu), "splitting" (fen gua) and "spinning" (xuan fa) shi-li. These are the basic techniques used in push-hands to control or unbalance our opponents before throwing them out. Like Taijiquan, the shi li movements are beneficial to our health.
There is a lot of difference between Yiquan and Taijiquan push-hands. Firstly, Yiquan does not have many push-hands patterns. They do only two kinds of push-hands: single and double push-hands. The single push-hands looks like Taiji single push-hands but with smaller circles. When doing this kind of push-hands, the students' or practitioners' arm is always maintained in the "Embracing-a-Tree" posture and will not let it collapse. They always try to guard their center line from attacks. They will change the angle of their arm to let the incoming force go downward to avoid the danger of getting pushed over. This is to neutralize. After this, they will move to an attacking position by applying force pointing to the opponent's center. And the opponent will do the same drills.
The other arm that is not in contact with the opponent will still be held in the embrace a tree position to guard an elbow strike from the opponent or push the opponent when the chances arise. They often push the opponent with both hands when doing single push-hands.
In double push-hands, they will make their right hand (fore-arm, to be more exact) stick to the opponent's left hand, and their left hand to the opponent's right hand. At the start, they hands move in circles similar to what Taiji practitioners do. But soon afterwards, they apply force pointing to the opponent's center and try pushing from any angle that is favorable to them, aiming to control, unbalance and finally throw out the opponent. The techniques used are totally different from those used in Taijiquan.
Taiji practitioners will find Yiquan practitioners use a lot of force to attack or deflect, which they are not used to. Some Taiji practitioners comment that Yiquan practitioners use force against force. I think Yiquan people do use force to attack and redirect incoming force, but not use force against force.
Before Yiquan students start to spar with each other, they are taught some punches and then stepping. Stepping is important because it can put you in a good position to defeat your opponent. The most basic stepping is "mud walking," where we stand firmly on one leg and lift the other up as if we were lifting our foot from mud and move it slowly forward. After putting this foot down, the other foot is lifted up and moved forward in the same manner. The other stepping is: stepping backwards, turning around, stepping forward like a worm, and "circle walking." The stepping evolves from Bagua zhang but is done differently.
Then students are also taught some punches such as zuan quan (drilling fist), zhai quan (punching down), pao quan (cannon fist, which has been modified to called straight punch that is not so straight), beng quan (crushing fist), pi zhang (splitting fist), etc. which derive from Xingyi quan Five Element Fist.
They also practice some kicks too. I was somewhat surprised to find that we have these kicks in Chen style Taijiquan. For example the low kick to the ankle in "Pounds the Mortar", the kick in "Wade Forward" and "Kick with the Heel". They also have similar power discharge movements too. All of these make me think I am practicing Taijiquan and Xingyi quan.
Without the burden of learning and doing the routines, Yiquan students and practitioners can concentrate on standing to develop their internal strength and then use it in self defence. It is a shortcut to learning internal martial arts.
In short, there are six major parts in Yiquan training: standing, moving energy, discharging power, stepping, push-hands and sparring. Breath control or yelling technique, which is exhaling with sound when discharging power, is similar to what some Chen Taiji practitioners do when discharging power.
People may think Yiquan only suits young people who are interested in martial arts. But that is not the case. Wang Xiang-zhai said, "Fighting is the last and so the least important purpose of Yiquan."
Yiquan movements are as gentle as Taijiquan, but its benefits to health are at least as great as Taijiquan, if not greater. Its movements are much simpler and much less physically demanding than Taijiquan. You can stand and do a few movements till you are over 90 years old, but you probably cannot complete the whole Taiji routine at that age.
Yiquan was invented from other styles of marital arts. Its no nonsense approach to learning martial arts provides a strong base (internal power) to develop people's martial skill and so can be used to great advantage by other internal stylists. I find Yiquan supplements Taijiquan training extremely well as it concentrates on the foundation (standing, and moving energy) and the application (push-hands and sparring) of martial arts while Taijiquan's major concern is in the routines.
http://www.yq-zywg.com. This is a Chinese website. Click at the language, say English, near the bottom of the home page, you wish to read. The English site is being developed.
I tend to think Yiquan is a new generation of Xingyi Quan. The family history is like this: Xinyi quan – Xingyi quan – Yiquan.
In one of Master Yao's classes, there is a Chen style Taijiquan and Liang style Bagua zhang teacher. He has been in this class for over a year. He is quite a character, who has visited and tested many Taiji masters and Yiquan teachers. 15 months ago, he rang Master Yao and said, "I have learned Taijiquan and Bagua zhang for many years. I have seen quite a few masters in order to improve my skill. None are very good. Are you good enough to teach me and are you willing to teach me without any reservation?" so he had an appointment to see Master Yao and had a push-hands contest. He was impressed by Master Yao's skill and decided to learn Yiquan from him.
"Fa li" means discharging power. "Fa li" movements are "shi li" done with speed and force near the end of the moves. When a practitioner discharges power, he lifts his head top up and moves it forwards. His torso, hips and legs also move forwards to propel his arms. His feet push hard into the ground. His back leg pushes forwards while the front leg pushes into the ground. Force is used only at the point of contact.
16) CURRÍCULUM DO TAIJIQUAN :
A) Chan si Gong (Reeling Silk Work)
* A wide variety of elemental movements could be used to practice reeling silk skill. Below are two chan si gong sets.
* Chen Xiao Wang's and Ren Guang-yi's Chan Si Gong
Link to thermal images with Chen Xiao Wang's counts
1. Standing post [zhan zhuang]
2. Front spiral single arm reeling silk [zheng mian chan si]
3. Front spiral single arm with side stepping reeling silk [heng kai bu]
4. Double hands reeling silk [shuang shou chan si]
5. Double hand reeling silk with stepping [qian jin bu]
6. Backward stepping, left and right [hui tui bu]
7. Direct (nonspiralling) reeling silk [chuan zhan chan si]
8. Side spiral single arm reeling silk [ce mien chan si]
9. Single hand small reeling silk (both directions) [dan shou xiao chan si]
10. Double hand small reeling silk (both directions) [shuan shou xiao chan si]
11. Leg reeling silk (both directions) [tui bu chan si]
Contact Wushu Taichi Center http://members.aol.com/npetredean/ for information on ordering Chen Xiao Wang's Reeling Silk videos
* Feng Zhi Qiang's Chan Si Gong
1. Turning the head
2. Revolving the neck
3. Head side-to-side
4. Revolving shoulders
5. Pressing the shoulder to the front and rear
6. Left and right arm chan si (single whip)
7. Left and right arm spiralling chan si (swimming dragon)
8. Double right and left arm spiraling (swimming dragon)
9. Double arm chan si (simialr to lazily tying coat)
10. Double arm diagonal opening and closing chan si
11. Double arm straight spiral up chan si
12. Double arm straight spiral down chan si
13. Double arm straight spiral forward chan si
14. Double arm straight spiral backward chan si
15. Double arm straight spiral horizontal chan si
- little finger leading the spiral out
- thumb leading the sprial out
16. Left up right down chan si (can include lifting right knee like “golden rooster stands on one leg”)
17. Right up left down chan si (can include lifting left knee like “golden rooster stands on one leg”)
18. Double arm opening and closing chan si
19. Double elbow opening and closing chan si
20. Left and right elbow chan si, both directions
21. Twisting the waist left and right, both directions for each wrist
22. Double twisting wrists, both directions for each wrist
23. Left and right spiral punch
24. Rotating the abdomen and kidneys (dan tien rotations in the various directions)
25. Rotating the waist, could include extra cirlce with chest opening
26. Spiralling the waist
27. Left and right knee spiral
28. Double knee spiral
29. Left and right chan si side kick
- could first perform pick up knee and spiral, left and right
30. Twisting the foot left and right
31. Golden cock shakes its wings
B)Fundamental practices and principles :
Eight Gates: The eight gates (ba men) or eight skills are methods used in taijiquan. They appear in many movements within taijiquan forms and in push hands, sometimes alone and often in combination. The eight are sometimes practiced as a simplified fixed stance or walking form. In push hands, the basic two-handed circle pattern is performed cycling through peng lu ji ahn. Note that refined skill or refined energy is referred to as "jing" and it is often convenient to refer to the skills below as peng jing, lu jing ...
Peng - Upward/outward expression of buoyant energy. Also, a feeling of connected fullness through the body that should maintained continuously during taijiquan practice.
Lu - Rollback. A leading, but not pulling kind of energy often used to counteract an opponent's peng jing. A common mistake in taijiquan practitioner is to block an opponent's force rather than roll it back and lead them into a vulnerable position.
Ji - Squeeze. This jing crowds and opponent. A common use of ji jing happens when an opponent rolls back the force of one of your arms. You crowd in and squeeze them with ji jing with the other hand or a combination of hands.
Ahn - Sinking down. An application of ahn jing is breaking an opponent's ji jing - use this vertical force to break their horizontal force.
Ts'ai - Pluck. This can be used with lu jing to draw an opponent into vulnerability and suddenly apply shocking "cold power" with ahn. Some chin na (seizing and controlling for joint locks) is said to employ ts'ai.
Lieh - Split force. Two-direction force. It is often thought of as force acting linearly in two opposite directions or circularly around two opposite sides of a circle. Many applications involving joint locks and throws utilize lieh jing. Some teachers are of the position that many strikes utilize lieh because, for example, one arm counteracts the other by using opposite directions in a punch (i.e., punch with right fist, pull back left elbow).
Jou - Elbow strike. The point (piercing elbow), flat of the forearm, or back of the upper arm may be used in a variety of directions.
Kao - Strike with the body. Common strike parts include shoulder, hip, back and chest.
(some of this material is paraphrased from Jin Taiyang's article in The Chen Style Journal Vol. 5, no. 1).
a) These five skills are added to the eight above to describe the "13 postures" of Chen Taiji.
Teng - Jump, rise, as in agile footwork and evading an attack to the legs. Example: jade maiden works shuttles.
Shan - Dodging, evade, quick avoidance, flash like lightening. Example: Flashing turn to back.
Zhe - Bend, fold
Kong - Leave empty, used in leading into emptiness
Huo - Change, unpredictability
b) Sticking and Following Skills: These skills can be refined in push hands. They support "ting jing", listening skill. These short definitions were used by Yang Wabiu.
Zhan - Contact your opponent with some part of you against some part of them.
Nian - Stick to your opponent with a ... sticky feeling.
Lian - Follow them continuously to many places, to any place they go.
Sui - Follow them directly to where they are going.
Bui dao bui dun - Not away (don't detach), not against (don't use force against force).
c) Methods used in martial arts: One perspective in Chinese martial arts is that a complete martial art must contain strikes (da), throws (shuai), and joint locks (chin na - seize, control).
17) Forms :
Chen Xiao Wang's 19 Posture Form
This form was developed by Chen Xiao Wang, 19th generation grandmaster of Chen Style Taijiquan. It serves as a good introduction to important moves in the primary Chen form, lao jia yi lu. It is an easy form to begin utilizing Chen Xiao Wang's reeling silk principles. It is also very well balanced with right-side/left side moves. Postures of this form are derived from Chen “first set” forms as listed below:
New Frame First set (Xin Jia Yi Lu): Step up walk obliquely (Shang bu xie xing), Whirling upper arms (Dao juan hong), Part wild horse’s mane (Yeh ma fen zhong).
Small Frame First set (Xiao Jia Yi Lu): Push with both hands (Shuang tui shou), Flashing the back (Shan tong bei), and Six sealing four closing (Liu feng si bi).
Old Frame First Set (Lao Jia Yi Lu) – Remainder of moves.
The form is composed of four sections that run back and forth on a straight line, with each section primarily running in one direction.
1. Yu bei shi ( Beginning the form)
2. Jin gang chu miao (Buddhas Warrior attendent steps forward from the temple)
3. Lan zha yi (Lazy about tying coat)
4. Shang bu xie xing (Step up walk obliquely)
5. Shang san bu (Step up three steps)
6. Zou yan shou hong quan (Hidden hand punch, left)
7. Shuang tui shou (Double pushing hands)
8. Dao juan hong (Whirling upper arms)
9. Shan tong bei (Flashing the back)
10. You yan shou hong quan ( Hidden hand punch, right)
11. Liu feng si bi (Six sealings, four closing)
12. Yun shou (Cloud hands)
13. Gao tan ma (High pat on horse)
14. You deng yi gen (Kick with heel, right)
15. Zou deng yi gen (Kick with heel, left)
16. Ye ma fen zong (Part wild horse's mane)
17. Yu nu chuan suo (Jade maiden works shuttles)
18. Jin gang dao zhui (Buddha's Warrior pounds mortar)
19. Shou shi (Closing)
Visit the International Chen Style Taijiquan site (Ren Guang-yi) to order a video of the Chen Xiao Wang's 19-Posture Form.
Lao Jia Yi Lu
Lao jia yi lu (or old frame first set) is a key conditioning and training form within the Chen Style taijiquan system and it is also the parent form of the other major taijiquan styles (Yang, Wu). The form contains many slow continuous movements that unitize the reeling silk movement quality of Chen taijiquan. Lao jia yi lu also contains fa jing, which is the explosive release of refined strength. Martial strategies within the form include strikes (da), joint locks (chin na), and throws (swai). Learning lao jia yi lu is of obvious interest to Chen stylists, and it is valuable to practitioners of the other classical styles in that they can see the original form and application of the moves they practice. The movements of lao jia yi lu tend to be larger, more expansive, and less complex that the other Chen forms (xin jia, xiao jia, er lu) and therefore is studied first.
The form is roughly 80 movements in length, which includes repeats of important movements and sections.
Begin Taiji (Tai Ji Qi Shi)
Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar (Jin Gung Dao Dui)
Lazily Tying Coat (Lan Zha Yi)
Six Sealing and Four Closing (Liu Feng Si Bi)
Single Whip (Dan Bian)
Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar (Jin Gung Dao Dui)
White Crane Spreads Wings (Bai He Liang Chi)
Walking Obliquely (Xie Xing)
Brushing Knees (Lou Xi)
Stepping Forward Three Steps (Shang San Bu)
Walking Obliquely (Xie Xing)
Brushing Knees (Lou Xi)
Stepping Three Steps (Shang San Bu)
Hidden Thrust Punch (and Revolving Upper Arms) (Yan Shou Gong Quan)
Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar (Jin Gung Dao Dui)
Striking Down by Twisting Body Obliquely (Pie Shen Quan)
Green Dragon Emerges from Water (Qin Lung Chu Shui)
Double Pushing Hands (Shuang Tui Shou)
Striking with Fist Under Elbow (Zhou Di Kan Quan)
Stepping Back and Wrapping Upper Arms (Dao Juan Gong)
White Crane Spreads Wings (Bai He Liang Chi)
Walking Obliquely (Xie Xing)
Flashing Turn to Back (Shan Tong Bei)
Hidden Thrust Punch (and Whirling Upper Arms) (Yan Shou Gong Quan)
Six Sealing and Four Closing (Liu Feng Shi Bi)
Single Whip (Dan Bian)
Cloud Hands (Yun Shou)
High Patting on Horse (Gao Tan Ma)
Brushing Right Foot (You Tsa Jiao)
Brushing Left Foot (Zuo Tsa Jiao)
Kicking With the Left Heel and Following (Zuo Deng Yi Gen)
Stepping Forward Three Steps (Shang San Bu)
Pounding the Ground (Zhi Di Quan)
Double Jump Kick (Ti Er Qi)
Protect-the-Heart Fist (Hu Xing Quan)
Tornado Foot (Xuan Feng Jiao)
Kicking with the Right Heel and Following (You Deng Yi Gen)
Hidden Thrust Punch (and Whirling Upper Arms) (Yan Shou Gong Quan)
Small Capturing and Hitting (Xiao Qin Da)
Embracing Head and Pushing Mountain (Bao Tou Tui Shan)
Six Sealing and Four Closing (Liu Feng Si Bi)
Single Whip (Tan Pien)
Forward Move(Qian Zhao)
Backward Move(Hou Zhao)
Parting the Wild Horse's Mane (Ye Ma Fen Zhong)
Six Sealing and Four Closing (Liu Feng Si Bi)
Single Whip (Dan Bian)
Fair Maiden Works Shuttles (Yu Nu Chuan Shouo)
Lazily Tying Coat (Lan Zha Yi)
Six Sealing and Four Closing (Liu Feng Si Bi)
Single Whip (Dan Bian)
Cloud Hands (Yun Shou)
Double White Lotus (Shuang Bai Lian)
Shake Foot and Fall into Split (Die Jiao Da Cha)
Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg (Jin Ji Du Li)
Stepping Back and Wrapping Upper Arms (Dao Juan Gong)
White Crane Spreads Wings (Bai He Liang Chi)
Walking Obliquely (Xie Xing)
Flashing Turn to Back (Shan Tong Bei)
Hidden Thrust Punch and Whirling Upper Arm (Yan Shou Hong Quan)
Six Sealing and Four Closing (Liu Feng Si Bi)
Single Whip (Dan Bian)
Cloud Hands (Yun Shou)
High Patting on Horse (Gao Tan Ma)
Crossed Feet (Shi Zhi Jiao)
Punch the Groin (Zhi Dang Chui)
Ape Presents Fruit (Yuan Hou Xian Guo)
Single Whip (Dan Bian)
Sparrow Dashes Earth Dragon (Que Di Long)
Stepping Forward to Form the Seven Stars (Shang Bu Qi Xing)
Stepping Back to Ride the Tiger (Xia Bu Kua Hu)
Turn Back and Wave Double Lotus (Zhuan Shen Shuang Bai Lian)
Cannon Right in Front (Dang Tou Pao)
Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar (Jing Gang Dao Zhui)
Close Taiji Form (Tai Ji Shou Si)
Visit the International Chen Style Taijiquan site (Ren Guang-yi) for videos of lao jia yi lu.
Contact Wushu Taichi Center http://members.aol.com/npetredean/ for information on ordering Chen Xiao Wang's lao jia yi lu videos.
Contact Greg Bissel for information on the English translation of Cheng Zhen lei's book on lao jia yi lu.
Notes on Posture Names
1. yu bei [prepare] shi [form]. The same movement is sometimes called taiji qi shi [begin taiji form] where qi means to begin or stand up.
2. jin gung dao dui: jin gung [Buddha's warrior attendent] is not a name of specific person. It is name for a guardian at the front of a temple. There are usually four guardians at the front of a temple, and sometimes eight for more elaborate temples. The term jin gong is often used to denote someone or some move that is very strong. A martial art move with the name jin gong would be a powerful move.
8. xei [oblique] xing [walking]
9. lou [brushing] xi [knees]. The same move is sometimes called the first gathering, and the repeat is the second gathering.
10. shang [stepping forward or stepping up] san [three] bu [steps]
14. yan [hide or conceal] shou [hand] gong [hit] quan [fist]
16. pie [twist] shen [body] quan [fist]. The movement is called by a variety of names such as "lean with back," striking down by twisting body obliquely," and possibily "7-inch shoulder strike."
17. qin [very dark green] lung [dragon] chu [emerge] shui [water]
18. shuang [double] tui [push] shou [hand]
19. zhou [elbow] di [bottom] kan [looking] quan [fist]
20. dao [backward] juan [wraping] gong [skill]
23. shan [flash, quick avoid] tong bei [back]
28. gao [high] tan [careful explore, hold back a little so you can withdraw] ma [horse]
29. you [right] tsa [a wiping throw process] jiao [foot]
30. zuo [left]
31. deng [heel stomp]
33. zhi [throw] di [ground] quan [fist]
36. xuan feng [tornado] jiao [foot]
39. xiao [small] qin [capture] da [hit]
40. bao [holding] tou [head] tui [push] shan [mountain]
43. qian [forward or first] zhao [a martial move]
44. hou [backward or second especially when following qian] zhao [a martial move]
48. yu [woman] nu [jade] chuan shouo, when yu and nu are used together they denote a fair girl, sort of opposite to jin gong
53. shuang [double] bai [white] lian [lotus]
54. die jiao [foot] da [big] cha [splitting]
65. shi zhi [crossed] jiao [feet]
67. yuan hou [ape] xian [offers up high, presents] guo [fruit]
70. shang bu [stepping forward] qi xing [seven stars]
71. xia bu [stepping back] kua [ride] hu [tiger]
Lao Jia Er Lu
Lao jia er lu (old frame second set) is also known as pao chui (cannon fist). It is an advanced empty hand form that expresses power and speed. The form is roughly 43 movements in length.
Taiji Begin Form (Taiji Qi Shi)
Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar (Jin Gong Dao Zhui)
Lazily Tying Coat (Lan Zha Yi)
Six Sealing and Four Closing (Liu Feng Si Bi)
Single Whip (Tan Pien)
Protecting Heart (Hu Xin Quan)
Walk Obliquely (Jin Bu Xie Xing)
Turn Head and Pound Mortar Like Warrior Attendant (Hui Tou Jin Gong Dao Zhui)
Lean with Back (Pie Shen Chuan)
Point to Crotch (Zhi Dang Chui)
Chopping Hands (Zhan Shou)
Turn Body and Wave Sleeves (Fan Shen Wu Xiu)
Hidden Thrust Punch (Yan Shou Hong Chuan)
Waist Hinder Elbow (Yao Lan Zhou)
Cloud Hands (Da Gong Quan Xiao Gong Quan)
Jade Girl Works Shuttles (Yu Nu Chuan Shou)
Riding Donkey Backwards (Dao Qi Lu)
Hidden Thrust Punch (Yan Shou Hong Quan)
Wrap Crackers (Guo Bian Pao)
Beast's Head Pose (Shou Tou Shi)
Splitting Pose (Pia Jia Zhi)
Turn Turn Body and Wave Sleeves (Fan Shen Wu Xiu)
Hidden Thrust Punch (Yan Shou Hong Quan)
Tame Tiger (Fu Hu)
Rubbing Eyebrow Makes Red (Mao Men Hong)
Yellow Dragon Stirs Water Three Times (Huang Long San Jiao Shui)
Left Thrust Kick (Zuo Chong) [AKA Dash Left]
Right Thrust Kick (You Chong) [AKA Dash Right]
Hidden Thrust Punch (Yan Shou Hong Chuan)
Sweeping Legs (Shao Tang Tui)
Hidden Thrust Punch (Yan Shou Hong Chuan)
Cannons in a Series (Quan Pao Quan)
Hidden Thrust Punch (Yan Shou Hong Quan)
Double Forearm Punches (Dao Er Gong)
Attack Twice with Left Forearm (Zhuo Erh Gong), Attack Twice with Right Forearm (You Erh Hong) – Four punches
Turning Head Cannon (Hui Tong Dan Men Pao)
Punches under Arm Pits (Wu Di Da Zhou Pao)
Waist Hinder Elbow (Yao Lan Zhou)
Hitting with Elbow (Shun Lan Shou)
Lower Side punch (Wuo Di Pao)
Turn Around and Double Forearm Elbows (Hui Tou Jing Lan Zhi Ru)
Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar (Jin Gong Dao Zhui)
Taiji Closing Form (Tai Ji Shou Shi)
Visit the International Chen Style Taijiquan site (Ren Guang-yi) to order a video of lao jia er lu.
Chen Village Broadsword
The image of the broadsword is an angry tiger charging down a mountain. This form is intended to be fierce and vigorous. The form is often executed with long, low stances, which are intended primarily for conditioning. When focusing on the applications the stances should be higher and more nimble.
Opening [dan dao qi shi]
Broadsword protects the heart [hu xin dao]
Green dragon comes out of the water [qing long chu shui]
Wind whirls the withered flowers [feng juan can hua]
White clouds cover the head [bai yun gai ding]
Black tiger searches in the mountains [hei hu sou shan]
Su-Chin bears sword [su gin bei qian]
Golden rooster stands on one leg [jin ji du li]
Rolling away from the blade [ying feng gun bi]
Cut the white snake at the waist [yao zhan bai sge]
The sun braces three rings [ri tao san huan]
Scatter the clouds and see the sun [bo yun wang ri]
Separate the weed to seek the snake (left) [zuo bo cao xun she]
Separate the weed to seek the snake (right) [you bo cao xun she]
Green dragon comes out of the water [qing long chu shui]
Wind whirls the withered flowers [feng juan can hua]
Swallow separates its golden wings [yan bie jin chi]
Flesh eating demon explores the sea [ye cha tan hai]
Separate limbs to expose body and chop (left) [zuo fan shen kan]
Separate limbs to expose body and chop (right) [you fan shen kan]
White snake spits its tongue [bai she tu xin]
Embracing the moon [huai zhang bao yue]
Visit the International Chen Style Taijiquan site (Ren Guang-yi) to order a video of the Chen Village broadsword form.
Nature of Saber: The form is intended to be executed very fast and vigorously, so be mindful leaps that rapidly in to close distance or are very nimble to evade your legs. There is a saying “The image of the broadsword is an angry tiger charging down a mountain.” Tiger is often used to denote a youthful energy of power and speed. A similar youthful brashness is observed in western saber: “Foil fencers talk about the technique of fencing; Epée fencers talk about the esoterics of fencing theory; and Saber fencers talk about themselves.
Conditioning vs Martial Applications: You can perform moves differently depending on your goals. Here are several considerations:
Fa jing – The broadsword can be used as a mass with inertia that you move around or rapidly thrust to gain strength from the resistance and develop fa jing, respective. If that is your goal, you may alter the moves to stress that component of training at the cost of lessening the martial aspect.
Low stances – Good for conditioning, but not very mobile. Best to practice over a range of heights to acquire different attributes.
Striking opposite hand – A training technique that is excellent for developing a strength and sense of impact while enabling you to control the nature of resistance. In BS work, it is sometimes used in chopping, and striking with the pommel (rhinoceros horn.), where the right hand strikes into the left hand.
Left Hand: There is a saying “To know single broadsword follow the left hand.” From this saying note that you can more clearly understand the applications by knowing the use of the left hand. Common uses of the left are as follows:
Reinforcing the back of the blade
Balancing the movement of right hand
Keeping it out of the way
More on Left Hand: In form practice it is said that the left hand should often mimic the spirit of the weapon so that the body is balanced. Specifically, for broadsword the left hand is often held with fingers straight out forming a chopping or slicing palm. Double-edged sword is pointier and straighter and that leads to the two-finger “secret sword hand.” Despite these common rules, a serious martial form will vary the left hand depending upon the specifics of the applications. It is said that in a serious application form you will understand the application by watching the left hand; and for double-broadsword work, you will understand by watching the footwork.
Relationship to Spear: Broadsword is often used against spear. In visualizing the applications, they are often clearer when you can imagine a spear. Consider the following:
Your ability to grab it
Ability to slice along its length to get at the opponent’s hands
Ability of your sword to bite in and draw its wooden shaft.
Chan Tao Dao: Important term to BS practice: chan tao dao - literally “reeling about the head, knife” The broadsword has one dull edge, which leads to a usage style of reeling the dull edge around the head and body to divert and attack. In chan tao dao to the left, the point is down; the back of blade goes around the left arm and close to the back while remaining vertical. It will then either slice across the front or down the front. The vertical aspect allows for broad protection. The closeness allows for strength and control. The left hand can be grabbing and pulling. In chan tao dao to the right, the sword points down and circles around the back to the right and down the front.
Flicks: Broadsword usage is not as articulate as the light double-edged sword. One articulation that is sometimes used is a flick. One type of flick is used to attack the root of the thumb junction with the wrist. Hitting it disables the thumb and it cannot grip the weapon. Another flick aims at the base of the palm, at the ulna nerve, where any force causes the muscles of the hand to weaken and drop the sword. In double-edge sword usage it often precedes coiling about their sword to flip it away. You need to weaken the grip before you can flip away the weapon. The same technique is used to attack spear or club holders. So this sort of flick is mainly used not so to flip away the enemy sword, but rather attack the wrist, then possibly follow up with a disarm.
Sharpened Back Edge: This form assumes a broadsword that has its upper third sharpened on the backside. That would allow for back cuts. Care must be taken with placing the left hand in reinforced moves.
Two-person work: We typically think of broadsword practice as solo work on forms or drills. Some recent experience with kendo showed me that for my movements to be spirited, filled with jing, and well aligned I needed two-person training analogous to two-person training needed in empty hand practice. I brought the kendo practice weapon (shinai) into training and teaching broadsword to enable two-person work. It has enriched the practice. For information on local (Rochester) Kendo classes contact Sensei Jose Rivera at Shoshin Martial arts.
Chen Village Spring Autumn Broadsword
(Green Dragon Crescent Moon Broadsword)
1) General Kwan carries broadsword over bridge boldly
showing power and strength
2) Clouds overhead
3) Holding the moon to wait for opportunity to attack
4) Three upward movements, three steps forward to frighten off Shu Chu with speed of movement like wind
5) Three downward movements, three steps to frighten off Chow Chow
6) White ape draws broadsword to prevent opponent from drawing weapon
7) Full circular movement (Step Back 1st Full Turning Flower)
8) Tiger leaps suddenly
9) Parting mane
10) Cross cutting
11) Turning waist and twisting root
12) Circulate and look for opportunity to cut forward (Half Turning Flower and Cut Upward)
13) Holding the moon to wait for opportunity to attack
14) Circulate and strike downward (Half Turning Flower and Strike Downward)
15) Holding the moon again to wait for opportunity to attack
16) Entire circular movement twist body strike (2nd Full Turning Flower and Great Impetus Turn)
17) Backward strike to frighten
18) Circulate and strike downward (Half Turning Flower and Strike Downward)
19) Clouds over the head
20) Circulate and cut upward
21) Lift up the green dragon
22) Circulate and cut downward (Half Turning Flower and Cut Downward)
23) Clouds over the head
24) Offer wine, pick up cloak suddenly turning back
25) Knife turns around and handle becomes bronze gavel
26) Double leg
27) Turn knife and it becomes iron bar to block attack
28) Rolling a curtain like waving a flower going back
29) Hold knife up in a cross
30) Green dragon come down, touches water and comes back up
Contact Wushu Taichi Center http://members.aol.com/npetredean/ for information on ordering Chen Xiao Wang's Kwan Dao video.
Notes on techniques:
Carry on back position: The shaft is held against the forearm and up against the back or back of the armpit. The tip of the blade is out a little way from the right toes, and the L hand is often at head height.. To start the swing out of this position you can hit one end of the shaft with your back while pulling the other end of the shaft with your arm, the hit and pull being powered by your center.
Great Impetus Turn AKA Twist Body Strike: The body and is twists and unwinds, usually to deliver a chop with great momentum. For a movement facing W, Great Impetus turn is performed as follows:
Step W with R foot
Step W and behind with L foot forming a twist stance (AKA girl foot)
Swing down KW using body weight
Pivot on balls of feet undoing the twist of the body to impart farce into the KD
Step back a little with R, Step in (W) with L and use momentum of the swinging KD to perform a move such as a downward chop
Tricks to minimize the use the arm strength and maximize full body strength: Pull the Kwan dao by sinking and shifting. Think of using the butt cheek on the opposite side of the Kwan dao to sink and pull the Kwan dao. When advancing and circling the Kwan dao forward, you can often position your right arm so its elbow is just off the hip. Think of the hip pushing the Kwan dao, with a connection from hip to elbow.
Notes on names:
The poetic forms of the names are intended to evoke a certain spirit to each move. Many of the names occur in various weapons forms of all different styles, not just in taijiquan kwan dao.
The moon is the crescent shape of the blade. The form should be called “new moon” broadsword, or “crescent moon” broadsword.
“Clouds overhead” - When you swing the knife it is like a white protective cloud overhead. It is defensive, while also preparing you for attack.
Shu Chu and Chow Chow are two kings from the three kingdoms.
“Cross cutting” refers to the cross (+) formed by the legs and shaft during the cut.
Offering wine is a weapons strike from your centerline held high (throat). It may also appears as holding a tray overhead.
Serving wine is a weapons strike from your centerline at bench or table level.
“Holding the moon” literally means holding the curved sword.
“Iron bar” is refering to the bar used to lock a house door.
The “green dragon” is General Kwan.
Information on “white ape”: A white animal in Chinese mythology has lived a long time and has gained the wisdom and knowledge that nature has to teach. There is a famous story about a white ape teaching swordsmanship (swordswomanship?) to young woman having status like a princess. She then became a great practitioner. Some of the white ape terminology naming of postures comes from this story. This white ape differs from the martial art style tongbei (tong – ape, bei – white) of Northern China, which is named for its cimean limb movements.
Series of 3 moves occur and denote some large number of the move is performed. A single move means that a single move was performed. A series of two moves indicate a sort of complete set (yin/yang). A series of 3 is any large number, possibly infinite. Series of 3 often occur for a chase or retreat sequence.
Many thanks to the friends that provided tranlastions.
Pear-Flower Spear and White Ape Staff of Chen Family Taijiquan (Li-Hua Qiang Jia Bai-Yuan Kun)
Ye Cha (Night Ghost) explores the sea
Full martial flower
Mid-level horizontal thrust
Three swift thrusts
High-level horizontal thrust
Rolling up the beaded curtain backwards
Lower-level horizontal thrust
Black Dragon presents its claws
Step forward and downward thrust (same thrust as 8)
Sweep the floor to thrust
Two hits forward
Yellow Dragon nods the shaft
Horizontal circle swing
Half marital flower
Blocking thrusts at waist level
Turn around, half martial flower
Pressing snake to the ground
Tilt the spear
Downward thrust (same thrust as 8)
Two covering thrusts
Wave banner and sweep to left
Spear point to the sky
Wave banner and sweep to right
Iron ox plows field
Turn around, half martial flower (18)
Dripping water thrust (Downward thrust, 21)
Two covering thrusts (22)
Ride dragon thrust
Step forward and part grass to look for snake
White ape steps back and looks for spear
Black dragon turns around and enters den
Take back the pipa
Two hits forward (13)
Wave banner and sweep ground
Mount Tai crushes egg
Turn around, half martial flower (18, 27)
Cat springs on mouse (Horizontal thrust 3)
Thrust from left
Thrust from right
Turn around to deliver thrust
Single hand thrust
Full martial flower (2)
Er Lang carries the mountain
Turn around, half martial flower (18, 27, 38)
Lower side thrust (31)
Turn around, half martial flower (18, 27, 38, 47)
Falcon diving on quail (19)
Left sweeping thrust
Downward thrust (8)
Full marital flower (2, 45)
Er Lang carries mountain (46)
Half martial flower (16)
Fair Lady threads needle
Jade Lady works shuttle
Turn around and hit
Full martial flower (2, 45, 54)
Protect the knee
Two covering thrusts (22, 29)
Black Dragon sways its tail
Forward hit again
Thrust to left (11)
Block to right (12)
Half martial flower (16, 56)
Old man fishing (17)
Turn around and downward thrust (52 and 53)
Visit the International Chen Style Taijiquan site (Ren Guang-yi) for a video of the Chen Village spear form.
Contact Wushu Taichi Center http://members.aol.com/npetredean/ for information on ordering Chen Xiao Wang's spear video.
Notes on Posture Names
Ye Cha: The Chinese term “ye cha” translates to “night ghost.” The symbol of the night ghost is a forked weapon. Another possible meaning of this term comes from Indian Buddhism, where Ye Cha is a particular immortal being. The Indian name spoken to a Chinese speaking person may have been interpreted as a Chinese term. “Ye cha” is sometimes referred to as a flesh-eating demon. I do not know if that translation relates to “night ghost” or the Buddhist immortal.
Yellow Dragon: “Dragon” is often associated with something royal, and yellow is the royal color of China. “Yellow Dragon” would signify a very strong “royal” aspect. In martial arts forms, this may signify a move require high level skill, such as sticking to the opponent's weapon.
Black Dragon: Something very evil and fierce. In the form we attack someone that is attacking us while we retreat. Another common term for fierce and evil is “black tiger” as in “Black tiger steals the heart” in Hung Gar, and “black tiger sits in the cave,” in Kwun Wu Sword. “Tiger” often has a more youthful energy than “dragon.”
Green dragon (Ching Dragon): In this form seems to refer or something long like a snake. Also refers something like a sea snake that moves smoothly and has great potential lying just beneath the surface ready to manifest at the appropriate time.
Blue dragon: There is no blue dragon in Chinese martial art names. That is, there is no “NAM” dragon in Chinese literature; there is only “Ching” dragon. Ching is the light fresh green of fresh budding leaves. “Blue” may be a translation in which the translator thinks blue is this color. The Chen style move is “ching lung chut sui,” which is “green dragon out of the water,” The green dragon refers to a fish that looks like a sea snake. The image is a snake-like green thing vertically sliding out of the water, relatively abrupt, silent, and frictionless.
Er Lang Stories:
Er Lang was supposed to have special vision, like a third eye intuitive vision. This might be way some Er Lang moves are used as false retreats and the back is temporarily toward the opponent.
He was the second son (literally from the name) of a famous general. Er Lang, himself was famous for defeating the Monkey King and became deified.
His father is Lau yin Cheung a scholar. His mother Holy Mother of Mount Hua . She was condemned for this unlawful human-goddess marriage and sealed under Mt Hua. Thus when Er Lang grew up, he used an axe to chop open the mountain to save his mother. This is a well-known story and leads to a common name used in many martial arts. “Er-Lang splits Mt Hua” connotes strength. Another common move is “Er Lang carries the Hill” [eh-lang dam san]. In “Journey to the West,” he did fight the Monkey King to a draw. The goddess Guanyin used a vase, and Lao Tsu used a metal ring to strike the Monkey king, which enabled Er Lang to defeat him. It is interesting to note that Er Lang’s weapon was a broad bladed spear called “3-spike, 2-blade spear,” The spear move may get its name from the use of this weapon.
Er Lang was the son of Li Bing builder of a famous architectural miracle, a wonderful water dam, around 200BC. It is still in existence in West China and is a tourist attraction. This Er Lang may not be relevant to our spear moves.
Eh Lang Man is a very famous old MA style, older than Chen Taiji In this style you would see an interesting oblique slant, similar to Wu taiji. It is supposed to be very graceful.
Tai Gong Goes Fishing: Tai Gong was a famous sage that was known for fishing with a straight hook. When asked “how can you catch a fish with a straight hook,” his reply was “ the fish that is willing will bite.” It is a funny story that leads to a common tease in China, that is, when you see someone fishing you call them “Tai Gong.” For us, does it mean that we are simply in a posture that looks like we are fishing, or does it mean that we are fishing for our opponent to willingly bite into our hook?
Fair Maid Threads Needle: This indicates a very careful concentration and looking at something, like you were going to thread a very fine needle. The move occurs before a rapid advance, which you would not want to undertake without a careful examination.
Jade Girl Works at Shuttles: “Jade girl” indicates a maiden so fair that her skin is like white jade. She is more mythological than a fair maiden. Most “Jade maiden” moves that I know of involve a very quick advance, almost like a mythological being floating in a cloud. Jade Maiden” also refers to a slender teenage girl. In Chinese the age is considered to be 12 to 14. The image is a bit shy, light, agile, and graceful.
Mount Tai: A famous mountain in Shantung province. Tai shan (mountain) is regarded as the “heaviest” of the 5 big mountains in central China. The others are Hua (mentioned above) of the west, Hang of the south, Hang of the north, and Zong of the central (site of Shaolin Temple).
Pipa: a musical instrument like a lute. It is held nearly vertical in the front midline, one hand up at the narrow part, one hand low at the strings. “Play the pipa” or “take the pipa” usually has a portion that looks like holding this instrument.
The martial flowers are intended to ward off or attack two opponents that have you surrounded, one in front and one behind you. In actual usage the opponents might be in different positions and you would adjust your flowers accordingly. Have the spirit of defending/attacking the front and back simultaneously. Very rapid changes in attention and stance are needed.
When starting a martial flower you often attack the front with the but of your spear. A good target is the opponent’s lead hand. It is closer than their head.
Horizontal thrusts often have a slight upward tilt. They are more difficult to block when they possess this tilt. Try your resisting a push down on your spear with and without the tilt and compare the difference in your strength.
When your spear is used in a defensive block try to get your hand parts (fingers, palm) on the side of the spear that is not taking the impact.
When thrusting far forward to end with both hands extended, note that the spear is weaker if you end with your right fist in your left palm. Try to end the thrust before one goes into the other.
Flower terminology - Flower movements refer to circling of the spear to slip away a attacking weapon and also to attack and defend to the front and rear. A similar term is used for other weapons.
Full Martial Flower: Seems to indicate spear circling while body turning 360 degrees L then 360 degrees R
Half Martial Flower: Seems to usually indicate spear circling while a body turning 360 degrees R
Turn Around, Half Martial Flower: Seems to indicate a body turn 180 degrees R plus 360 degrees R
Ending positions of flowers:
- Horizontal for horizontal thrust
- Pointed down for downward thrust
- Held up to be slapped down
Many thanks to the friends that provided translations.
18)Tui shou (Push Hands)
Push hands practice is key to developing practical skill in taijiquan. An opponent or partner allows you to work on your alignment when facing various forces, neutralization skills, sense of feeling, timing, ... The following collection of push hands drills are practices that we have taken from Chen, Wu, and Yang style.
Neutralization drills (transforming)
- Four corners
Single hand methods
- Horizontal circles with axis turning forearm
- Vertical circles
- Figure 8's
- Elbow attacks
- Rolling shoulders
- Turning flowers
- Rolling arms
- "Patty cake"
- Grounded entry (thigh/hip/shoulder bumping)
- Entrapment - Knee circles (same, opposite leg)
- Wu square
- Peng lu ji ahn
Two-handed-cross-body methods with stepping
- One-step peng lu ji ahn
- One-step da lu
- Multi-step da lu
- Chen taiji ba gua
- Wu taiji ba gua
- Wu taiji nine palace
Light and heavy practices
The above exercises should be practiced both light and heavy. If the attacks always go to lightness immediately upon deflection the defender will train for that sort of attacker. Most real attackers will not go light, so some heavy (extend ki, use yi,..) attacks need to be practiced. Also, defending against heavy attacks tests the defender's alignment and builds strength. If the attacks are always heavy the attacker is not practicing going to lightness upon being deflected.
Slow and fast
The above exercises should be practiced at different speeds. Important details are often missed in fast practice. Slow practice is unrealistic martially and often lacks spirit.
Links to some push hands videos on the web
Detailed comments on some of the practices
The notes below will not attempt to describe the exercises themselves. Rather, the notes are intended to clarify some concepts within these practices. Many of the comments made for the earlier practices extend to the more complex methods that follow below, but are not repeated in the interest of brevity.
The comments and focus described below for each pattern certainly are not the only useful perspective. Different approaches to these same patterns can be very worthwhile. My current perspective, interest and knowledge have a definite influence on the focus.
Neutralization (Hua) drills
Often called “transformation energy.” Learn to be soft when you want to be soft. Learn to lead by creating emptiness. A common fault is creating emptiness at the cost of losing your central equilibrium. “Transformation” (hua) should imply that you are leading the opponent’s force into your advantage, not “yield until you can’t yield any more.”
1. Four corners (shoulder, hips)
Single Hand Methods
The least martial due to the large number of constraints. Learn basic concepts to be used on more complex patterns and in applications. A significant lesson is training the rotation about the axis of your body.
1. Horizontal circles with axis turning forearm
- Key Concepts: Role your forearm to accelerate the opponent and to not alert them to your intention.
2. Vertical Circles
- Key Concepts: “Minimum deflection” rather than block. Learn “extend with intent” rather than a hard arm strike. Perform both emphasizing the role of the kwa.
- Strengths: Great kwa training.
- Weaknesses: Footwork is horribly static. Diagonal rolling back and pulling to expose the opponent’s back should also be well trained. Minimum deflection alone is too simplistic a strategy. Should balance that strategy with roll-backs (sort of a pull) to a diagonal that exposes the opponent’s back.
3. Figure 8’s
- Key Concepts: Attack open target, but yield when deflected, learn to deflect your turning of your hip and torso.
- Related move in taiji form: Brush knee twist step
- Strengths: Clearly and simply distinguishes attacking power from emptiness. This is one of the most fundamental aspects of push hands and most practitioners do not exhibit ability in this baseline area.
- Weaknesses: The defender can get lulled into thinking that all attackers go empty upon deflect, when most attackers will actually attempt to power through a deflection. Large movements are useful for training the yielding reflex (yielding when deflected), but they do not make sense martially. The large pattern would have the defender pulling a head attack down to their hip instead of the more natural upward direction.
- Interesting details: yang ba zhi hand for the deflector to add relaxed strength.
4. Attacking elbows
- Key Concepts: Control an arm just above the elbow. Draw the opponent in for close range attack e.g., neck break.
- Related move in taiji form: Attack the heart
- Strengths: Very good for learning where to position yourself on an incoming arm. Good for training the reaction to attack at the right distance for elbow strikes.
- Weaknesses: Drawing an opponent close to you can be risky if the opponent is very strong, skilled, or fast (or lucky).
- Interesting details: For the controlling arm, learn to make good hooks using the curved outer edge of the thumb and wrist or curved wrist and fingers.
- Other comments: Adding a step behind with a neck break turns this drill into a devastating and common taijiquan move. Stay close to the opponent, wrap your outer arm around their neck, securing their head in place, shoulder on back of head, hand cupping chin. Step back and twist to break neck and throw.
1. Rolling shoulders
- Key Concepts: Load your body with potential while drawing your opponent.
- Related move in taiji form: Opening the form
- Strengths: Great conditioning for upper torso. Simple, effective.
- Weaknesses: Static footwork.
- Interesting details: Should be the first application learned by taiji practitioners because it is a common application for the first move.
- Other comments: Instead of attacking the chest or ribs, the fingers can attack the throat or area under the jaw. Could also be used in a throw (push back) if you can get the opponent’s arms behind them and they are holding tension in their arms (a lot of “if”s).
2. Turning flowers
- Key Concepts: Concept of wrapping performed in an extremely large setting. Can also train principle of vertical force can break horizontal force. It is sort of an outer wrap version of rolling shoulders, which could be considered an inner wrap.
- Related move in taiji form: Double wind to ears (ribs). Six sealing four closing. Push with both hands.
- Strengths: Leads to a common and devastating shoulder attack to the sternum.
- Weaknesses: Usually performed without a martial focus.
- Other comments: A variation can include shoulder banging. Use front of the shoulder against opponent’s shoulder for work with friends. In serious martial settings use head of shoulder against sternum – DANGER!
3. Rolling arms
- Key Concepts: Similar to turning flowers, but arms are not it phase.
- Related move in taiji form: Oblique step, brush knee twist step
- Strengths: The arms being in a different phase of their respective circle is a more realistic scenario than the same phase scenario.
- Weaknesses: Usually performed without a martial focus.
Stepping and leg methods
1. Grounded entry (thigh/hip/shoulder bumping)
- Key Concepts: Enter with grounded power through the gate of an opponent’s stance.
- Related move in taiji form: Many steps.
- Strengths: Very important concept to martial arts
- Weaknesses: You could learn incorrect timing to a partner, since the pattern does not actual enter, rather it is set up for a mutual bump.
- Other comments: Don’t rattle your partner too hard. There is not much to be gained by hard banging. Learn the grounded entry habit, not masochistic hitting and receiving.
- Key Concepts: A common outer leg-wrapping method that breaks down an opponent’s stance.
- Related move in taiji form: Many steps with a toe-in in forms can be an entrapments
- Strengths: Important to have attacks above and below. This move can be threat to draw the opponent’s attention below, while you attack above, or it can be the follow-up attack after an upper attack. Also, makes your legs more sensitive and aware.
- Weaknesses: Practitioners often look down at the leg they are going to trap. That glance leaves them open and gives away their intention
- Interesting details: Use a quick knee press, like a hit, followed by pull in the direction of the side of their foot.
3. Knee circles (same side, opposite sides)
- Key Concepts: Learn to be soft and yielding with the legs. Yield, reverse, and attack with the knee, all within a continuous cycle.
- Strengths: Fundamental legwork used to develop leg abilities similar to upper body abilities.
- Weaknesses: Yielding with your knee could get it broken unless you are well trained.
- Interesting details: Attack the knee from its side, not the front.
- Other comments: Seems to work better with people of similar height. So fundamental that it is usually the first taught two-person leg drill. To make the yielding more martial you should add picking up the leg at the end of the yield and them bring it to the opposite side of the opponent’s leg.
- Key Concepts: Control the wrist and area just above the elbow. Lead your opponent into you and with little sensation on their part, move your hands into position to control and lock their arm. Continuous contact. Work peng lu jia ahn abilities.
- Related move in taiji form:
- Strengths: Good start for teaching sense of feeling in chin na
- Weaknesses: Static footwork
- Interesting details: Position on the elbow. Slightly above the elbow is better.
Two-handed-cross-body methods with stepping
1. One step peng lu ji ahn
- Key Concepts: A natural and very needed extension of the static version. Prior to the step forward you have exposed the opponent’s face. Attack it with your palm while advancing. Control their elbow while advancing. On the roll back, follow their attack to your face with your hand, not your full arm. Lead them in deep to take their balance. Learn to follow center to center (draw their center, attack their center). Introduces a very clear “ji,” (squeeze in and elbow strike) which forces the opponent to learn a good “peng” (ward off their entry into the strike).
- Strengths: Many. Stepping nimbleness and stability with leg entrapment. More realistic leading and following.
- Weaknesses: The step back would be more effective with a significant pivot. Stepping on the opposite side of the opponent’s leg can lead to a more effective “lieh” (splitting the body).
- Interesting details: Has potential for shoulder strikes.
- Other comments: The static footwork on the early exercises can lead to many bad habits. This exercise is critical to offset the “lead foot” syndrome.
2. One-step da lu
- Key Concepts: The extra circle performed in the low position is used for conditioning the kwa and waist turning. The extra circle attacks the opponent’s center when he thinks he has pulled you into vulnerability.
3. Multi-step da lu
- Key Concepts: More practical, mobile version of da lu. Uses body pivots when rolling back (puller pivots on a heel, thereby turning a small circle, while pullee must move fast along a larger circle). The person being pulled learns to follow, but stay in control to avoid having momentum used against them.
- Weaknesses: The person following the rollback often develops too much commitment and momentum that can be used against them.
- Other comments: Can work the stepping alone to train leg entrapment. Similar stepping is used in taiji swai jiao drills to learn set-ups for throws.
4. Chen taiji ba gua
- Key Concepts: Use ba qua “toe in” circle walking around the opponent while working chin na control of the arms above.
5. Chi Son (Body Sticking)
The following is from Ian Ball, a Wu style practicioner in Montreal
Chi-Sun literally means "Stick - Body". The name implies that the individual must stick to their partner while in stationary or moving postures. Chi Sun is purported originated when Wu Tai Kwai was trained by his grandfather, Wu Chien Chuan. According to reliable sources of the history of the Wu family, Wu Chien Chuan invited a Mongolian wrestler to stay at his home and train. Wu Tah Kwei developed and adapted his throw down techniques based on his interaction with the Mongolian wrestler. Although the Wu family officially does not recognize Chi Sun, many of the students of Wu Tah Kwei have knowledge or have actively practiced Chi Sun. WTK number two student, Lee Cheung Shik, taught Chi Sun on a regular basis. LCS birthday banquet always included Chi Sun demonstrations. The basic objective of Chi-Sun is to train a person to dynamical respond to attacks in real time by using circular walking methods, and a variety of throw down techniques in conjunction
with the eight elements of Tai-Chi. Chi Sun consists of two training methods:
2. Circle walking
The stationary/walking involves one person walking in semi-circles around the front of the stationary partner. This prepares the person for the footwork, weight transfers and techniques used in the circle walking training method.
The circle walking method involves walking in a circle with your partner. Either partner can initiate a change in direction, and the size of the circle. One person controls the waist, while the other partner controls the head. These positions alternate during the walking.