Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Earliest Video of Wu Style Tai Chi

"Possibly the earliest Wu style Taijiquan video with Zhu Minyi, disciple of Wu Jianquan, recorded in 1937 in Shanghai. The video shows the Wu style set, tuishou and even Zhu's 'modern and scientific' approach including his 'stick' and 'ball' system. A piece of history"

Here's the link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDaV9C0ERP8

I'm not sure if this is the "earliest" video of what Wu Style Tai Chi does.   In addition,  Archery, "hackey sack" or "Jianzi", "Push Hands" with a ball on a bungee cord, "Push Hands" with a bungee cord apparatus are not any of the trainings I have ever encountered.

  • Certainly, early photos of Wu Jianquan (Wu Chien-chuan) show him in "large frame" postures.  Stephen Hwa reports in "Uncovering the Treasure", p. 32; "In the "Gold Book" of the Wu Family "Wu Chien Chuan's Form photos are excellent examples of Large Frame", "Wu Kung Yi's photos show a form more compact". 
  • Link to photos:  http://wustyle.co.uk/gallery.html  (scroll to bottom of page for images)
  • From that same  Gold Book:
  • In photos of Wu Chien Chuan, knee never projects over the toe.
  • In photos of Wu Chien Chuan, pelvis faces forward when sitting back.
  • In photos of Wu Chien Chuan, back foot is always seen as rooted to ground during  movement.
  • In photos of Wu Chien Chuan back foot is never seen as turned out.
  • In photos of Wu Chien Chuan elbow does not extend past the back when punching. 

I will leave it to the reader to decide for themselves if the disciple is in accord with what the master does.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hang in there...DVD's CAN provide rigorous training

Hello Mr. Roach,

I  live about 20 miles from where your studio is located in Buffalo.  I must tell you that I have been interested in Tai Chi for some time now.  I kept thinking however that I was too busy and did not have the time.  Then I had the surgery.  My Doctor surprised me by saying that I should take something like Tai Chi.  I told him I had heard of your classes but never followed through on my interest. He said, that maybe it was part of my physical problems that I kept thinking I had no time to do things.  It took a surgery to realize that he was right.

So, I’d like to learn from you.  Is there something you could recommend to me?  I’ve seen lots of Tai Chi DVD’s for sale at the Supermarket. Several of them state that it is better to learn a 9 movement “short form” than it is to stick to a “boring”  and long series of movements.  Still,  It’s hard for me to believe that I could learn much from any DVD.  I feel that I would just be mimicking the movements of the teacher and not really learning anything.  Also,  I still can’t drive much to come to a lesson at your studio every week however.  Your right if you are thinking I’m a mess.  I can come every couple of weeks. What do you think?

Best regards,

Dear Walter,
Since you ask for opinions, I believe I can offer some thoughts on the subject and also relate a bit of my own experience. In my opinion:  Everyone will always tell you that you should seek out the “best” and not settle for second rate.  However, I think the worst thing a student can conjecture is that “best” is “easy” and  rigorous training is not necessary to learn Tai Chi.  In the Internet age and era of short attention spans it is also relatively simple for people selling anything to prey on our desire for  “easy” and “fun”.   

In my opinion, we are in modern times and the “golden age” where the “best” masters quietly taught a select group of students in their village is gone. In my opinion,  (but one can easily imagine in the present age of giant political contributions by wealthy patronage), even then as still happens now, it was even possible for wealthy students of little training and low skill to still give the best teachers lots of money.  Why? In my opinion,    students wanted to make claim to the teacher's dynasty without doing the rigorous work necessary.  In fairness however, in many cases they could not travel to where the teacher is.  How could they, they teacher was probably traveling themselves. So perhaps, the student learns from a disciple but still gets their name on the list of Master's disciples.  In my opinion,  nowdays, the “best”  teachers are in great demand and one sees them traveling a great deal.  

Over the years, I was told  that rich "businessmen" in far away places think nothing of shelling out thousands of dollars.  Why else (in my opinion)  but to get their names in the halls of discipleship and recognition. In my opinion, the dynasties of the best teachers are left in the hands of senior disciples who manage the brunt of the teaching on the home fronts and elsewhere.   In other words, we have been in the era where Tai Chi is in demand by masses of people for some time. In my opinion, whether that demand is for rigorous training or personal aggrandizement seems to be up to the proclivities of the students.  It has become a consumers market.

Of course in all fairness (in my opinion)  teachers "have many mouths to feed".  Teacher's have to feed their families, take care of their own children, bills to pay, etc.  Someone once had the nerve to ask me what I did with the money I earned from teaching.  Rather than getting angry, I simply said, "I spend it on food and gasoline to get here".  

For many years I sought out these teachers and I went to where they were located.  I found fortunately then that I was on the cusp of the trend for learning. Video was just in its birth throes.  A couple  of my teachers were not traveling as extensively as they did later. With one, I remember forgetting  what I had learned  once I drove back to Buffalo.  There was no video available of what he did.  Even today, the organization (in my opinion) is so secretive that no comprehensive video of the teacher is available.  One goes to local chapters and learns from disciples who have learned from other disciples, etc., etc.  Talk about changing things and in each chapter they do things differently than other chapters.  In my opinion, corners are cut here, corners are cut there, bearing little resemblance to what I struggled to learn in person from the teacher. 

 I still managed to do it without a video however, but I was fooling myself that I did not need one.   In another instance, one of my teachers did make a video. I felt I could buy the video and learn the complete form from it.  I did succeed.  I still went there for lessons however and came to class more than 1x a week.  That was at great personal expense and even danger because of weather concerns.  I tried that, and I took part in classes that he taught.  I was  able to get his personal critique as well.  He is in very great demand, and in my opinion it seemed like he was concerned about the next class in some other location.  That is understandable because there are many financial demands, perfectly understandable. 

Since that time I became a student of Master Stephen Hwa.  I always remember him saying that if I could not travel to where he is, I could study the DVD and we “could get together from time to time”.  Not only did I not have to go to him, he came and visited me.  He arranged for a place for us to meet inside as well.  I have subsequently visited him in Rochester many times over the years.  He has subsequently visited me many times over the years…never has he charged a dime for his personal critique.  He also urges students to send their videos of themselves for critique...no charge.   I became his first certified teacher .  The important thing however, is I still use the DVD extensively, over and over and over , again and again.  Viewing after viewing reveals things that I glossed over on previous viewings and my practice is enriched time and again.

With my own experience in mind,  perhaps you will find your decision a little easier to make.

Jim R.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

...and starring Internal Energy

               The image will, with "internal motion" take you to another website if you click on it.

I recently had a chance to "define" what Classical Tai Chi is to a new class that I am teaching.  "Classical Tai Chi", I said, "is the art of internal motion, directed by internal discipline and starring internal energy".  To which one of the students moaned "ooohhh boy".  If I had to guess what she meant by that I would say that she felt the definition was complicated.  From my point of view however, it may not only be the most succinct definition I have ever used but also the most accurate as well.

The definition also encompasses the eventual goals of learning Tai Chi whereas the numerous and let's face it, the corny definitions of Tai Chi have never done it justice.  I got the "what is Tai Chi?" question from someone at a party just a couple days ago.  Instead of giving me a chance to even say anything, the woman's husband interrupted and said, "Tai Chi is a meditation".  I felt like saying:  That's only one kernel of "corn" out of the box.  The "corny definition" box includes "its for relaxation", "it's like Yoga", "it's a dance", etc., etc., ad nauseum.  Those one faceted definitions, I'm afraid, have been so overused and are so corny they have gone completely stale.  Just as I have suspected all these years the public perception is in the death grip of the dreaded "cliche' disease".

I quote Tem Horwitz from Tai Chi Chuan: The Technique of Power. He feels that cliche's are metaphors of our social and emotional lives:  From pp 14, "Cliche's are a curious phenomenon.  They are truths universally evident,  yet cheapened by constant repetition and simplification until they lose the substance of their meaning.  This has been the sad fate, within the last few decades of much of the  Oriental philosophy that has found its way westward.

What Horwitz says about cliche's is tailor made for Tai Chi.  A new definition is overdue in the public perception.   I can't help but thinking how ironic it is that my definition is not "new".  It is simply the correct one that I got from my teacher Master Stephen Hwa. 

Here in extrapolated version are the components of the definition, courtesy of "Uncovering the Treasure" a book by Stephen Hwa, Ph.D. Internal movement (neigong)  "directs" external motion (waigong). Waigong is soft and relaxed  while neijing (internal energy) moves in the body. Neigong  becomes the "engine" that drives the Tai Chi Form.

In  "Pivot", Y.L. Yip and Leroy Clark stated that Wu's Tai Chi was called "The Solar Plexus School" .  "Pivot" was a lengthy article in Qi Journal about the 1950's fight between Wu Kung-i and Ch'en K'e-fu.  In "Uncovering the Treasure", Stephen Hwa quotes Jou, Tsung Hwa.  From: "The Tao of  Tai Chi Chuan, The Second Stage".  "The hallmark of the second stage is the use of the torso method.  Torso method is characterized by use of the body, specifically the waist and spine, to initiate and empower the movements of the arms and legs...Only those who reach this stage can truly be said to be practicing Tai Chi, yet these are few indeed."

Few indeed as well, are those that will quote this:  "Tai Chi is the art of internal motion, directed by internal discipline and starring internal energy".   Ah well, It is still gratifying to know that even though I am among the few and am  squarely on the right path. I am taking the first step along side my teacher in righting the good ship Tai Chi.  It is a Herculean effort to be sure but the cliche' does say: "Journeys of a thousand miles..."