Monday, November 11, 2013

Internal Discipline "Folding Movement"

Excerpted  and some editing from "Uncovering the Treasure, Classical Tai Chi's Path to Health & Energy" by Stephen Hwa:

Please go to this link:
Internal Discipline Folding Movement Video Link

The folding move involves only one side of the body; but in this case it is not the entire side (includes legs which is shown in the photo above) which would be known as "hand follows foot , elbow follows knee", so please do not confuse this with that movement

This is just the upper quadrant of the body moving/folding as a unit. It is a QUARTER-BODY move.  In the case shown in the video, the right side of the body is folding or unfolding by keeping the left side of the body stationary.  The stationary part provides support, some of the power for the move but the lower 2 quadrants (legs) provide grounding.  The Right side of the body is yang, the left side of the body is yin.  The Yin-Yang junction is at the spine. One can visualize that the spine is a hinge, so each side of the torso, down through the buttocks is like a door which folds or unfolds using that hinge.  If the leg was involved in the movement, it would be a HALF-BODY move.

Even though only a quarter of the body is moving it is still an important example of how to make a move but still keep a portion (in this case 3/4 of the body) still.  It is also of importance as an example of how to make a move but keep a significant portion of the body alignment intact.  Whether half body or quarter body, whether the leg moves with it or not it can only be achieved when the turning power comes from the waist and the entire back's muscles.

If this is done correctly , one will achieve a continuous energy flow in the body.  It is a "neigong" exercise. It is tailor made to be a "silk reeling exercise" which might be defined as a continuous symmetrical simple internal movement or movements.  Doing this, one will be able to learn gradually how to move with internal discipline and enjoy the sensation of internal energy circulation. This exercise emphasizes the stimulation of muscles, tendons and blood flow along the spine and the back.  Those who practice this regularly experience a sense of rejuvenation and improved well being.  If one has spare moments during the day, particularly if the exercise can be carried out in a casual and relaxed mood, there will be more chance for the subconscious to play a part.  The ultimate objective is to learn internal movements like this in more or less a piecemeal fashion then integrate them into the Form play.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Form and Martial Intent "Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg"

Master Stephen Hwa speaking of the Form and Martial Intent of "Golden Rooster..." movement/posture 76 and 77 (Round Form) of Classical Wu Style at a workshop 2011, Buffalo, NY. One should keep a desire to deliver the internal power externally through the hands, arm and feet here, whatever the movent is.  I contrast Master Hwa's instruction of the Round Form with his "description" of the Square Form below. The Round Form video link is below where I also annotate  the instruction:

Video Form and Martial Intent "Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg"

Description of movements (Square Form) 76. Left Golden Rooster on One Leg 左金雞獨立

Posture 76 - Left Golden Rooster on One Leg 
 As the weight is transferred to the left leg, the left hand rises
to face-position, fingers pointing forward
 Right side of body turns left, rotating on the right heel, right
arm straightens to mid-position
 Right heel rises and right palm rotates to face up
 While right leg moves forward and left, the left hand lowers to

77. Right Golden Rooster on One Leg 右金雞獨立
Posture 77 - Right Golden Rooster on One Leg
 Right foot moves to empty step position and right hand moves to
mid-position while left palm rotates up
 Right toes push to the ground
 As the weight is transferred to the right leg, the right forearm
draws the right wrist under the left elbow
 The upper body rotates left and becomes centered
 The left foot moves forward in a kicking motion, while the right
forearm positions the right hand at face-position, palm facing
 As the right forearm draws the right wrist under the left elbow,
the left hip lifts the left leg

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Silk Reeling and "The Upper Body Turning Movement"

Master Stephen Hwa speaking of the quarter body movement, half body movement and upper body turning at a workshop 2011, Buffalo, NY.  The video is here:  "Upper Body Turning"

In speaking of Silk Reeling another movement is the “turning” movement.  You keep the pelvis fixed and you turn. The buttock is fully engaged actually.  The buttock function will keep the pelvis from not turning.  So when you are turning up there the buttock is holding the pelvis.

As usual, with this one, I find more people have problems when you teach this. The problem is getting the shoulder away from the turning movement. If the shoulder has even a little bit of initiation in the movement you lost it. Don’t use the shoulder.  Everything is in here (core, lower abdomen).  The shoulder is just a slave following the movement.

Anybody have any questions on this turning movement.

“Do you practice with a tuck”?

Yes, because the buttock is involved.  You feel the buttock is energized and holding the pelvis.

“Master Hwa, at the end of the turning movement, is there a sense of a denser contraction that is happening”?

Well, a lot of places you feel the contraction. When you turn in this direction, without moving the pelvis, your buttock is supporting you.

“When you change direction, does the new direction take over?”

I guess, initially it is relaxed back to the neutral position.  

You can do it either way.

You could relax to the neutral position or you could energize back to the neutral position.

You probably want to energize back to the neutral position.  Because when you have an application you may have to energize any segment of the turn.  So you want to energize back to the neutral position.
I think you want to energize so you are intentionally turning back, rather than just relaxing back.

Try to get the shoulder away from any of the movement.

I notice on this side, you get a little bit of drop of the shoulder.

Good, very good.  Do you find how much energy is involved in making this movement, compared to  turning at the pelvis…because it is moving at the abdominal area.  So this is another silk reeling exercise.  Boy the beginner just eat it up.

“Well it is something they can do”

They can feel, and they feel somewhere they never have sensation before.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Re-creating" the One Inch Punch

The Barrie Ryuesi Karate Club has posted a discussion and video  of Master Hwa's demonstration of fajing,  Thank you Barrie Ryuesi Karate, I discuss this with them here and their comments are enclosed in quotation:  Barrie discussion
"Here is quite a good and believable demonstration of fajing, or the explosive delivery of internal energy, by Stephen Hwa, who teaches taijiquan at the University of Buffalo and in Fairport, New York." 

A 720p version of the video:  Updated videoUpdated Video
Master Hwa does not still teach at the University of Buffalo or Fairport, but he can be reached at  Presently, he teaches in Pompano Beach Florida where (while in the springtime of his life) he enjoys Florida's perpetual springtime.
"He shows the “one-inch punch” made famous by Bruce Le (see below), who at the 1964 Longbeach championships knocks someone into a chair, without any windup, his fist starting an inch away from the target."

See this link for video of Bruce Lee and make up your own mind: Slow motion of 1 inch punch

I think it is a matter of opinion as to whether Bruce Lee does the punch "without any windup".  Notice his fist does start close to the man's chest (near solar plexus?) you see him touch the man's chest a couple of times before delivery of power.  If you look carefully you can see the man sway gently as Bruce's fist makes contact on a couple occasions.As he touches the man's chest, Bruce is also seen adjusting his foot stance with his back foot pointing almost 90 degrees out.
"Master Hwa shows how it is possible to generate this power using the taiji “hollow-fist punch.” He explains that other people have recreated this but using “external” or purely muscular power. In his demonstration, he has his "hollow fist with pointed knuckles" pressing against the pad held to another person’s midsection, while someone else holds onto his bicep and forearm, to feel his muscular contraction.
With the "hollow-fist punch" the reasoning is the same as why he maintained a relaxed arm.  Bruce's fist is clenched tightly, the arm is extended almost fully.  With such a clenched fist the arm cannot maintain relaxation. Try this yourself, clench the fist tightly and notice the effect it has on your arm, then on your body. The use of muscular power is evident in Bruce's punch with such preliminary muscle tension, it is "external" power.  When the punch is delivered, one can see him pushing from the back foot as well. Force generated from external limbs such as arms and legs has much longer duration and cannot be compacted into  such a burst as possible with "hollow fist" and relaxed arm.
"With seemingly little effort, he knocks back the man holding the pad, who feels a sudden surge of power. The man holding Hwa’s arm says it is relaxed before and after the punch, with only brief tension as the power is delivered into the opponent. Hwa explains that if the arm tenses before the power is delivered that the force will be greatly reduced."
 The "knocks back the man" is more detailed than appearance would have us believe. This is so because of  Tom's body structure and Master Hwa's as well. Ideally, one has to have a better body structure than the receiver.  Bruce Lee has a body structure incomparably better than the receiver who stands flat footed with feet together. Compared to Tom, Master Hwa's body structure is poor and it is the receiver who has better structure. The "reaction force" (Newton's Law of action and reaction) will push Master Hwa back instead of Tom. 

 To explain this better we refer to the term "Peng" which is one of the 13 movements of Tai Chi.  Peng for the most part has a major component which is an uplifting force. It lifted Tom partially off the ground, then a minor forward force (the knock back portion) knocked him back. In this case M. Hwa's tight compact and upright stance has the advantage as the reaction force is absorbed straight down the body into the ground.

 Actually, Tom did not receive all the "explosive" energy possible because of the pad.  As Master Hwa demonstrated on an amateur boxer (familiar with body punches) even a punch of reduced power with no pad results in the receiver collapsing (Uncovering the Treasure pp.109). 

 The "tensing" of the arm really just starts at the split second the 

hollow fist reaches the opponent.  Also, Bruce uses the whole fist whereas Master Hwa forms the knuckles into a hollow fist.  The analogy is like that of "holding a robins egg".  One can imagine that or clenching the fist either before impact or even during would crack the egg, would it not?The hollow fist has pointed knuckles not tightly held and it is designed to strike at soft tissue and not a bony part where it would hurt the fist.

The stiffening is a natural response to the feedback of a sensation of resistance".  A side note to this is whether the opponent or target is like, or one might say, analagous to a "creampuff" or a "side of beef".  In the latter the resistance will be instantaneous thus providing instantaneous feedback to such a pronounced sensation of resistance. If "creampuff" like with no resistance, there will be little or no delivery of power.

I had a recent discussion with Master Hwa who is a Ph.D., chemical engineer (and this got really interesting for me) about terms like "time constant".My layman's understanding is that all materials have a "time constant" in their elasticity. Well in this case, the force is coming at Tom (as Master Hwa later says) with so much force, so much speed it creates a "time delay"  (irrespective of the "time constant"?) in Tom's body going backwards. Measuring how far the punch penetrates during and after the pad is really only about 2 or 3 inches of compact movement.  Regardless of that it still penetrates into Tom's body and one might say completely.  I call it an "implosion",  on the inside of Tom's body as opposed to an "explosion" on the outside.  He receives the whole force before his body begins to move back, so much for "pulling the punch", don't you think? It is aptly called a "spike" of power because like a spike, the opponents body has no chance to get away from the full force. 

Now, one cannot get "internal discipline" and cultivate "internal energy" by external movement so it has to be learned from the Tai Chi form.  In all fairness to Bruce Lee, rip, he might have been pushing the opponent in order not to really hurt him, thus diminishing his force.  After all, he did not use a pad and the potential for injury was great because his fist looks like it was spot on the solar  plexus.  Either way you can come to your own conclusions and I humbly hope I have provided some additional observations based on my own experience as a practitioner/teacher of the art and as the individual who was lightly touching Master Hwa's arm.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Discovery in Classical Tai Chi

I know that Master Hwa has consistently examined his own movements and tries unceasingly to come up with better ways of teaching.  Additionally, he maintains the desire to share his own discoveries with his students.  There are of course some students who develop what they learn from the teachings naturally by just practicing. I believe he is right in thinking that his desire to shorten the learning curve might be viewed with a disapproving eye by old masters.  After all, they believed in diligent practice and self-discovery. Master Hwa is well aware of this concern and relates it to Mencius story about a farmer who was impatient watching his seedlings grow so slowly that he went to the field and pulled the seedlings up to help their growth.

My understanding of the story is that the pulling up to see the results resulted in the plants dying. Intuitively I think that Mencius wanted to illustrate that successful cultivation of personal virtue was a long term process.  It is a satirical thought indeed that anyone can be impatient for success yet act to destroy the very conditions upon which success depends, or hastens growth yet hopes for success. 

Here is one discovery that I have made:  The desire for success is a self imposed obstacle to success. As a Westerner, I think I have self imposed things standing in my way that make living Tai Chi very difficult.  I know that I am not immune to the many feelings wherein one needs success and needs it in a hurry - in things other than Tai Chi as well.  So the question of what Tai Chi can mean to me particularly in light of these self imposed roadblocks is ever more important. 

 Although Master Hwa feels the need to shorten the learning curve, I don't think he should ever regret it.  I hope I am not being too bold when I say that Tai Chi has had a difficult time in the West. For one thing the ground that he planted Tai Chi "seedlings" in is as I say,  in the West.  One might also say that it is needed very much in the West, but the ground is not the most fertile considering the obstacles, albeit self-imposed . If anything I think his efforts to shorten the curve were necessitated by forces that may well be difficult to control as I state above.  

I have encountered no other Tai Chi learning  as he teaches where students are taught to zero in on the correct sensation of a movement.  I have found that this is truly the best tool for achieving self-improvement.  One learns to sense the gradual discoveries of their own body which have been "under ground" for perhaps their entire life - how can this be called "pulling up"?  The health implications of this are incredible for the sensing of gradual discoveries is a direct pointer to how well the nervous system becomes both healthy and well "tuned".  One doesn't have to look for results, one can feel them.

In the domain of sensing movement and feeling the results I have included a link to a Youtube video wherein Master Hwa talks of one of these many discoveries.  I have included the link here: Discovery in Classical Tai Chi and the transposition of his workshop here:

Master Hwa: "You know sometimes, as I recently wrote in the book about discoveries. And it is still continuously discovered. For example, we talk about rotating this arm, your arm is up a little bit?  OK. Before I kind of said, now, because you rotate up, elbow is down.  So now you can go down like this. But really that rotation, HAS LOTS MORE MEANING TO IT.  

So you understand because you are nodding your head right?  You know, you try with one hand, you can see. So, one hand you rotate, ok, you rotate then you start moving again.  MORE.  You see this move, starting with this rotation.  This is a very powerful move. Right? Starting with this rotation. Once you start to move this...  So again, I just, just ...Ohhh, these old masters, they really think about everything. This is a very powerful move...for blocking, and later on, you can feel the power.  Right...very good, right, exactly. Right and also later on, when we talk about push hands, there is other uses for this move too.
You, know, so early on, I just followed my teacher, turning but. Now I really understand, why, so important but.  Two hands is actually  more difficult, so your both hands come down. You know most of the Tai Chi forms when they do this, they pull the arms back like this. It is NOT, we really do THIS.  It is more difficult than one hand...both sides actually. 

Student: "At that point, it is a feeling in the back?"

Master Hwa:  "Yeah, the back, my back goes down. That's how the back goes down. It's easy to illustrate it using one hand but two hands is a more difficult situation. Yes the SHOULDER SINKS. "
"Now two hands can also be used for blocking, Or, when someone comes underneath you, you strike him on the back with the elbows. The shoulder goes down."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"....Classical Wu Style Tai Chi with other martial arts..."

Master Hwa's Florida "Roots"
"Mastering others is strength": There is no end to the use of strength and there will always be others who are stronger, others who can learn to counter your strength, others to compare yourself to, in light of what is said in the Blog, why engage in such comparisons, there is only one of you however, "Mastering yourself is true power". 

"How can such a soft, slow moving Tai Chi Form be preparation for martial arts?". I guess some people missed this chapter in Master Hwa's book, for he says this and then explains.  At about 4:30 of the video we hear even a long time student repeat the same refrain:  "How does Tai Chi fare against Brazilian JiuJitsu?". You can hear the  refrain echoed in a thousand Youtube Videos and in those same videos you will sometimes hear the fighting  capability of the individual asking the question. Speaking only for myself, I have never been bothered by this question AND for myself there are far more important questions I ask of Master Hwa.  I flew to Florida over the weekend of May 11 (the Jet Blue tickets were my birthday present from my wife Barbara) and spent a great, long weekend visiting with my teacher Master Stephen Hwa and Eva.

After I wrote thank you emails, I sent a hand written card of thanks to Master Hwa and Eva for their wonderful generosity and hospitality.  While I was there, he would come to the apartment at least 2 times a day and spend hours at a time with me on my form, one might say I lived with him.  We also ate all our meals together, we took walks together, the training went on nonstop. I asked question after question about my form and he never wavered in giving answers about my form.   I had hour after hour to both question and do my form for him.  Not once in all of that time did I think of saying: "How does Tai Chi fare against (insert your  martial art)?" 

Perhaps it is because I finally realize in my heart, there is no end to it and more importantly, I cannot put an end to it...for it truly is endless.  How do people miss hearing him say: "There are no winning strategies, applications, etc. (insert your martial art), there are only winning executions of those strategies, applications, etc."? Listen to  4:30 of the video in response to: "How does Tai Chi fare against Brazilian JiuJitsu"?   Here is the link to the Youtube video from a workshop in 2011: "...Classical Wu Style Tai Chi with other martial arts..."

Master Hwa: "You know this is all individual. You know, we practice the form and we can reach a certain stage and this is called Mastery. You know you can learn and do the form so that every move is internal, that you don't have to think (about what comes next) . You know at that stage, you are mastering the form, BUT with martial art application, there will be no mastery.  With martial art applications there is endless improvement.  So it's harder to compare one to the other.  "

"You know when the first Tai Chi master  went to Beijing most Tai Chi was in the countryside, and people don't know that much. So he went to Beijing, liked to challenge people and beat up everybody. So he went to one master there and wanted to challenge him, "Oh, I know you are better than me now" the master said.  The challenger said "Please let's just do some". He just wanted to try it out on other martial artists.  Sincerely, not to just build the name, so he begged the guy. "Let's do something"

"So in that sense, at that time, he beat up everybody, there is no other martial art that can beat him, Certainly at that time, consider your knowledge, that is another thing, people do not know about Tai Chi. So people may not have developed a way to counteract it."

"Now if you know Tai Chi like in the fight between Wu Gong Yi and the other guy. Now both sides know each others art very well.  Now, I'm sure they both develop a strategy to counteract the other guy's strength. Now the other guy, if you watch the video (click here for LINK). Now I know (pointing to Jim) you watch it many times, you find (the other guy an "external" White Crane martial art) he changed the way, in other words, he doesn't use momentum, body momentum at all. He knows the Tai Chi is really good to counteract momentum, body momentum. Body momentum, that is what Tai Chi is really good at.  And he just chopped away, just using his arms, so there is no body momentum...remember that? There was just a flurry of arms without any body momentum. Certainly in that way, he cannot develop all the power and so forth. At least he tried to avoid being thrown by the Tai Chi. In that case Wu Gong Yi is not using Tai Chi, you cannot blame him, because the guy is not using body momentum. 

So at that time (and even today on Youtube) people are saying how come Wu is not using Tai Chi?  So he is not using Tai Chi and so everytime, he has to block.  So he is using this (side of the hand)  and hitting him (on the arms) and after awhile.  So after awhile, the guys arms got tired because the muscle got hit.  So he, himself, goes in and hit his nose (he walked into Wu's blocks and his nose started bleeding profusely).  You cannot blame him for not using Tai Chi because the other guy does not use body momentum (he moves, I move, if he does not move, I do not move).  So the guy did this with his arms and Wu did this to block him, block his chops. One of his hands he cannot raise or something."

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Correct Stepping in Cloud Hands

(video link)

"The way leads from the sacrum upward in a backward-flowing way to the summit of the Creative and on through the house of the Creative; then it sinks through the  two stories in a direct downward-flowing way into the solar plexus and warms it. Therefore it is said: "Wandering in heaven one eats the spirit-energy of the receptive".  

Excerpted from : "The Secret of the Golden Flower: A Chinese Book of Life", Richard Wilhelm, Translator, Translated from German, Cary F. Baynes,  C.G. Jung, Commentary, see p. 61 for the passage.  Richard Wilhelm, C.G. Jung and Cary F. Baynes also being collaborators on the Wilhelm/Baynes edition of the I Ching or Book of Changes.

In the context of "secrets", I see that there is no shortage of books being published that tout learning "...the secrets of Tai Chi..." in some cases they claim that the "secrets of the masters" are to be found in the "Tai Chi Classics".  Certainly we know that there have been high level masters of Tai Chi in the early days but as Master Stephen Hwa states: "These Classics started becoming known in the 1930-40s when books about Tai Chi first started to be published in China. These writings reported in those books are a collection of short works attributed to different authors from Chang San-Feng to anonymous authors. Even though their authorship cannot be verified, they are considered to be the holy writ on Tai Chi. They do contain some insights and principles of Tai Chi; but also some glaring mistakes."

We know now however, that regardless of any supposed or real literary accomplishments, the early masters structured the Tai Chi form to serve two purposes:  It was designed to be useful for martial applications and also to be good for health purposes.  One has to admire the thinking behind such structure and I think it can be safely said that it was designed by people with sound reasoning skills.  Reasoning however that was no doubt based in whole but certainly in major part of their own martial art experience.  Thus we have the 2 major components of the "logical structure" of Tai Chi but they built it with an understanding that it need be composed of many facets or building blocks for the structure. An example of only one building block  but a major one is how "...every move in Tai Chi needs a moving part and a stationary part (yang and yin)..."  Those "parts" come together at junctions in the body, some can be in the torso, some can be outside of the torso.  These junctions can be said to be the repositories of the two parts or what are "yin-yang pairs" but regardless of what they are called, their location whether inside or outside of the torso is what is of major importance.

When inside or "internal" to the torso the yin-yang pairs will have the most profound effect on the "two purposes", when outside the torso, it is simply an "external" movement and cannot provide such enhancement to the internal system of the body. There are so many movements in the Tai Chi form however, can there be one that provides an examplary illustration of what we say here?  I think if there is to be any outstanding example it must be the "Cloud Hands" movement of the Tai Chi form. I have included this video link which specifically shows Master Hwa not only demonstrating the movement but discussing how to do it correctly:  

"Correct Stepping in Cloud Hands with application"
"Correct Stepping in Cloud Hands showing pullback"

I will let Master Hwa do the rest because I can certainly explain it no better but will conclude by saying IMHO that the movement you see in his back is the characteristic "ripple effect".  In this video you see the force, an "intense muscle undulating motion" .  This is a premier example of the saying about Tai Chi that it is "outside cotton but inside steel" . In my humble opinion or at least conjecture,  I see parallels in the up and down motion of his back or "undulating motion" and how this is described in so many writings about Taoist meditation (see the Golden Flower comment). Or parallels as to how the "chi" is "tapped" along the spine, travels to the extremeties, then moves back to the body core for further use. 

 On the other hand, although I think the Secret of the Golden Flower is written in such an ethereal style (it has been long associated with "hippy-dippy, flower style Tai Chi of the 60's in the U.S.") that it is almost unintelligible to me in English, there is nothing ethereal about what we see demonstrated by Master Hwa, After all, and as we correct our stepping in cloud hands, it is  as Master Hwa says in Uncovering the Treasure: "...a bad posture will stop internal energy generation and qi flow. No mental state or wishful thinking, (etheric or otherwise) can overcome that".

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Addressing knee problems in Classical Tai Chi

"It is the heightened negative sensation enable the practitioner to sense that he or she has the wrong posture or body structure, such as a concaved back putting undue pressure on the lower back, or an out turned back foot which create a twist force in the knee, etc. It is these negative sensation guided me to improve my form movement. No teacher can correct every movement of the student. It is up to the student using his own feedback sensation to alert that something is not right. I am always wonder why so many people practice tai chi with such bad posture oblivious of its consequnces. As Jim point out that such feed back sensation needs to be cultivated. It may not be something born with it." on One Yin, One Yang  Master Stephen Hwa

Hello all, 

"I am new to Tai Chi, (practicing for the last two weeks!) and I've been trying to learn the square form from the DVD, before tackling the round form. 

I can do the first two forms (preparation and raise hands)but am encountering some difficulty in the transition to the third (Hand strums Lute).

The first two steps are(from the square form pdf on the ctc site)

(1) The left foot rotates on the heel so the toes point 90 degrees to
the right
(2) Shift forward onto the left leg

And here is where I'm having trouble. Placing the (weightless) left foot at 90 degrees to the right foot seems to create a torque in the right knee. Nothing very painful, but distinctly uncomfortable. Shifting the weight to the left foot makes this more noticeable. This stress is relieved only when the right foot is turned 90 degrees to make feet parallel.

Obviously I am doing something wrong, since Master Hwa does this effortlessly in the DVD. I did check that my weight is fully on my right leg and the left leg is 'empty'. I'm sure my body is stiff (which is why I'm doing Tai Chi!), but I can't figure a way to put feet 90 degrees to each other without straining the weight bearing knee.

If anyone has encountered this before, I'll be very grateful for any suggestions."

Thanks in advance,
A student

As best as one can and with no heroics here are some thoughts, observations and information about the subject:

3. "Hand Strums the Lute...."

“Pay special attention to the feet. This is the first form that subjects the students to complex feet movement. It is easy to be distracted by the complexity of the upper body movements and neglect the details of the lower body”

  • In further consideration of the above instructions  and what you say about “torque in the right knee but nothing very painful”.  
  • I would spend more time paying attention to details of the lower body and forego the upper body movements for now.
  • In other words, do the stepping, weight shifting of the square form without raising the hands and arms whatsoever, put your hands by your sides. 
  •  Do this just as though you were doing the basic walking.
  • The basic walking is the lower body work of the square form. 
  • The square form takes the lower body work and adds turns, weight shifts and complex foot movement, which is why:
  •  You may wish to consider holding onto a post as you practice these lower body movements, just as Master Hwa teaches in one of the Youtube videos.  This will stabilize your upper body and further lessen the chances of becoming uncomfortable.
  • I do this “post” work, even such complex foot movements with my students and they seem to relish not subconsciously worrying about their balance.
        There is not much discussion in Tai Chi instruction “out there” with such iteration about protecting the knees as Master Hwa provides in the DVD series. For the most part however, he addresses the mid size stance which is an optimum choice for most entering students.

              One’s build or one’s prior physical condition or prior knee problems are considerations that cannot be totally covered in a DVD environment. In light of any prior conditions please consult your M.D.    One’s homework ,willingness to try different approaches and consistent observation of the effects are very important.
             It is important to realize the extent to which one can address DVD study (although I never received his level of  care and consideration when I had access to "instruction" one on one or in group) and for this reason you may wish to consider making video records of your form work, even occasionally would help.
      In light of this however, it is important to consider at least a few, perhaps more, additional factors that he does not cover in depth:

Difficulties in turning from the heel is often due to the following factors:
        Too large a stance or incorrect/insuficient knee bend.  In his situation, when one shifts the weight to front foot, the back foot heel will not be able to touch the ground. 
          Finally, much more consideration should also be given to your step size

People have shortened and narrowed their stance almost to the point where the  back    foot goes slightly higher than the heel of the front foot, please note Master Hwa's step size. He is not a tall person and makes this point about "back foot...slightly higher" numerous times and even shows it many times as well as in the image above.

·         This is indeed really a short step size, but perfectly workable given the considerations we discuss here. Please look at Tape 2 lesson 9 where there is also discussion on implications of step size and its trade offs.
    If you had knee problem before, your first order of concern is to protect your knee. When you are comfortable with your knee and can do the form movement then add upper body work. P.S. You may wish to consult the new series of videos being published by searching under the name "Classical Wu Tai Chi" on Youtube. 

Sifu J.E. Roach

Monday, March 25, 2013

Classical Tai Chi is not dance

A student once wrote the following: "I just completed my first lesson -- the walk. Very tricky but also very fun. This is going to be exactly what I have looked for so long. I have always loved to dance but never enjoyed performing for people. This dance of Taiji will be that dance I have been needing for so many years!" 

Master Stephen Hwa wrote in response: "I am glad you have made a good start. It is important that you feel fun and challenged while you doing it. Your comments about Tai Chi as a kind of dancing is what prompted me to write about the topic "Yi" – the martial art intent. I remember my teacher became unhappy when someone referred to Tai Chi as an exercise. Again, the “intent” is lost when it was called as an exercise."

I can't remember a time when I ever thought of calling Tai Chi "exercise" and/or "dance"...although I hear of or read of people referring to it as such.  This puts Tai Chi as no better than pedalling away on an exercise bicycle while watching television. Since dance also qualifies as exercise, then Tai Chi in many minds also falls into the same "exercise/dance" genre as "Sweatin to the Oldies". 

I will always correct my students as well when I hear them refer to it as "dance" or "exercise".  Although it is not surprising that people do this for I once had a student argue with me that Tai Chi originated in San Francisco and not in China.  Given that it did originate in China and given that Grandmaster Wu Chien Chuan, as an "originator" of the Wu Style of Tai Chi was an officer in the Imperial Palace Guard...can we come to the understanding that it is not "dance" nor "exercise"?

"Again, the “intent” is lost when it was called as an exercise."  (One must find out what "intent" means in Tai Chi)

In fact, in his "Six Essential Elements of Practicing Tai Chi", Grandmaster Wu stated that the "first thing to be avoided as taboo in Tai Chi is to apply "Li" (muscle and awkward power).   All the movements should be poured forth with the "Yi".  He continues by saying: "In moving the hands up, they are not automatically moved up without consciousness.  It is the Yi which moves them up.  While the Yi is not stopping, the movement will not stop.  At the moment the Yi stops, the movement instantly stops."  "...beginners...should avoid the vain attempt of applying li, then they can gradually get away from prosaic and mechanical practice..."

So far "exercise" without intent is mechanical, prosaic (it is indeed commonplace), it uses "Li" , which is no more than muscles/muscular force and for the most part is certainly awkward, lacking in skill and most definitely clumsy. To show how widespread the misconceptions about Tai Chi are, I recall students saying "I bet doing more situps will help", "I have some belly dancing videos that I am going to look at now", "I can bench press 250 pounds, now how can that not help", "The Tai Chi looks like Ballet", "I do Karate, so all I have to do is my Karate in slow motion and I will be doing Tai Chi".

Addressing just Karate  and leaving belly dancing and ballet for now I know from extended personal experience that "Karate" does solo forms that are called Kata...I did some Shorin Ryu Karate.  In Tae Kwon Do, we called it "poomsae".  I did these forms with lots of power, "snappiness", lots of "kiai" (sounds like yelling) and as much speed/acceleration as possible...moving like there was an opponent  Someone watching could say, "yep, he is fighting an imaginary opponent, that is obvious".  It was challenging doing the Tae Kwon Do because I was also doing Wu Style Tai Chi at the same time in Toronto.  Poomsae had very tense arms/forearms/fists with stacatto movements but my Tai Chi had/has relaxed arms with continuous movement.  Yes, I felt the movements in Tae Kwon Do were done from muscles in shoulders, upper chest, arms, etc. In the case of Classical Tai Chi as Master Hwa says:  "The Yi in Tai Chi is therefore purely mental".

"Again, the “intent” is lost when it was called as an exercise."  (One must find out what "intent" means in Tai Chi)

I certainly have taught weightlifters, ballet dancers, karate practitioners, etc., and for some they seemed to grasp what "Yi" is.  For most I saw that it was not easy to get and "intentions" to do something else with the movement usually began to show...early on.  The dancers would not keep their heel down on the back foot and would rise up on the toe, with "fluorish" type movements in their hands.  The weight lifters were incredibly stiff and inflexible around the upper chest and shoulders, the internal discipline of the core would elude them.  Karate people seemed to be stuck on a permanent type of stacatto movement, making movements continuously seemed to elude them.  I recall conversations with one long time Karate practitioner who said in so many words that he could not understand why anyone called Tai Chi a martial art.  The implication being that only Karate (or at least "his" Karate) could be a martial art?

For the most part, I think that all of those folks engage in superfluous/extraneous movement of the extremeties. If there is superfluous/extraneous movement, there can be little if any "Yi" or intent in movement.  At this point I must defer to what Master Hwa has written so well about:  "Extraneous motions, or nerve signals, along the path of Qi, such as shoulder, elbow, and arms, have the same effect of disrupting the flow of Qi between the body and the fingers. People who use their hands intensively, such as dancers, typists, and piano players could have such problems. It is important for them to keep localized nerve activity dormant and let the Qi from the body take over. This is a good reason to learn the square form from which the practitioner will get used to movements with steady arms and hands without localized impulses."

"Again, the “intent” is lost when it was called as an exercise."  (One must find out what "intent" means in Tai Chi)
This brings us the most obvious question which is "what does Yi look like?" if it can't be found in these examples. Again, I defer to Master Hwa's statement: 

Tai Chi Form should be practiced with “Yi” (martial art intention). “Yi” is not something complex and elaborate. It is single minded and somewhat intuitive with the desire to deliver the internal power externally through hands, arm and foot, what ever the movement is. If the hand is moving forward, then the Yi goes to the palm and fingers; if the hand is moving laterally in a blocking movement, then the Yi goes to the leading edge on the side of the hand; etc. Once the practitioner masters the “Yi”, it is no long a conscious effort any more. It becomes subconscious and comes naturally whenever the practitioner makes a move. At this stage, when you play the Form, you have both the internal energy and Qi (nerve signal - a simple-minded definition) circulating in the torso of your body. With the “Yi” as a catalyst, the Qi is able to flow to your hands and fingers while the internal energy continue to circulate in your torso until you need it for an application. Then the internal energy will follow the Qi to the arms, hands, and fingers for delivery.