Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What happened to Yang Shao Hou Taiji?

Very interesting post! But my Taiwanese sources tell me, that Xiong Yanghe's Taijiquan has many origins, from some nephew of Yang Luchan (named Liu Zhongfang), from Yin Tianxi (in the Gan Fengzhi lineage) and finally also some Yang Jianhou. On Xiong's website from his students, their is nothing to be read on Yang Shaohou. Do you know anything more? After Chinese Newyear, I'll start in the Xiong system, after more then 20 yrs. of 37, 64 and 108 (all YCF linegae). Happy holidays! Hermann from Taiwan
By Anonymous on What happened to Yang Shao Hou Taiji? on 12/28/10

Thanks Hermann,

I don't believe I ever stated Xiong only had one "origin" for his Tai Chi.  Actually, I was excerpting bits about him from an article submitted to me by Michael DeMarco of the Journal of Asian Martial Arts.

Actually, I think that Xiong’s origins of his  lineage are still open to question.   In Michael DeMarco’s contributions for instance we see that Liu Zhongfang is not listed as a Luchan nephew but a disciple of a Shaolin Master named Liu He.  DeMarco’s report states that Xiong was learning Shaolin at age 12.  As far as influence from Gan Fengzhi,  DeMarco reports that this came from Yin Wanbang of Jiangnan Eight Harmonies Boxing.   It is clear therefore that Xiong had quite a bit of exposure to Shaolin at an early age.

You may be interested in Chessman’s statements  at Formosa Neijia that he “found a teacher of Xiong-shi system that teaches four hours a day, everyday for free…it’s hard to pass that up”.

 An interview from China Wushu Magazine as translated by Key Sun and Leroy Clark, from the mid seventies was done with a  Chang Yiu-Chun a student of Yang Shou-Hou.  In the interview he states: 
“ My teacher was Yeung (Yang) Shou-hu the grandson of the founder of the Yeung (Yang) style, Yeung Lu-sum. (Yang Lu-Ch'an). I was with Yeung from 1911 until his death in 1930”. 

Finally: The interview  lists the following as being disciples of Yang Shao Hou:

 Wu Tunan (beijing),  Ma Runzhi Tian Zhaolin (shanghai),  You Zhixue , Dong Runfang,  Liu Xizhe,  Xiong Yanghe (Taiwan) , Li Shouqian (Taiwan),  Miao Lian,  Gu Lisheng , Cao Lianfang

Monday, December 27, 2010

Classical Tai Chi is minimalist


The above characters stand for simplicity and simplicity defines minimalism in Classical Tai Chi. For any style of Tai Chi to be done correctly it has to fulfill the Yin/Yang requirement.  One part of the body is moving (Yang) while the stationary part of the body (Yin) supports the moving part and provides the majority of the power.
We do not always see this requirement being fulfilled in Tai Chi.  More often than not what we see is a form of “externalism” where the entire body is moving with momentum. “Externalism” as in a jumping forward type of attack that is mostly seen in external martial arts. Where minimalism comes in is when the Yin/Yang requirement “minimizes” any movement of the body which normally would move with momentum.
As it is said in The Art of War: ”bait him with easy gains. Set out after he does, yet arrive before him.”  The “sit back” posture is yielding  and yielding gives him the “easy gain”. When the opponent commits his attack with momentum the Yin is the prime facet that allows you to give him an “empty” reception and “bait” him. So as you see, we can respond with internal power to the opponents momentum force because one part of us is connected to the ground.  We are also powerful because of our “intent” and lack of tension in the muscles.  Classical Tai Chi does not tense up muscles and becoming proficient at being still or Yin frees up muscles to simply relax.
Minimalism in movement eschews exhausting one’s energy.  The internal discipline inherent in Classical Tai Chi keeps us moving but  with a minimal range of motion.  Turning at the waist rather than at the hips, lifting the legs using back and abdominal muscles rather than purely leg muscles, strictly using the core of the body to power all movements, etc.,  are typical minimalist concepts. Our power is enhanced because we do not waste our movement by using an extreme range of motion.  Our power can be economized because of this allowing us to direct more energy onto the opponent when it calls for it (fa jin).
If I do not move by adhering to these minimalist concepts it is more difficult for my opponent to induce me to momentum or to upset my balance.  I cannot be pulled or maneuvered by the opponent.  My overall energy remains intact, I do not run out of breath nor do the muscles tire.  With minimal movement I can remain calm which enhances my ability to sense (ting jin) my opponents movements. If I am not waving my arms, kicking my feet high, etc., my movements are minimalized to the core until I can lightning strike…the opponent cannot know my intentions.  Giving no “telegraph” of what I am going to do, makes any counter of mine very surprising besides being loaded with additional power.
The minimalist credo:   “If my opponent does not move, I do not move. If he moves, I arrive first.” – The Tai Chi Classics.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What happened to Yang Shao Hou Taiji?

The question I asked some time ago and in the context of a series of articles on Yang Cheng Fu’s Taiji, was “What is Yang Shao Hou’s Taiji”?  Just yesterday, I  received a very nice letter and attachment from Michael DeMarco who is the publisher of the prestigious  Journal of Asian Martial Arts:

“Hello Jim,

…Because of your professional involvement in taijiquan, 
we are sending you this attached article gratis for  your own reference. We welcome any article ideas you may wish us to consider for possible publication…”

Xiong Style Taiji in Taiwan: Historical Development
Author: Michael DeMarco — Date: Vol. 18 No. 3, 2009 
Copyright: All Rights Reserved 

Here we have Yang Taiji that is not heard of but is nevertheless is an evolution of Yang Shao Hou’s Taiji.  Xiong Yanghe is listed as a disciple of Yang Shao Hou who emigrated to Taiwan.  He was a published writer of Taiji and DeMarco’s article also includes Xiong’s writings, “disciples writings, Taiwanese websites, personal observations and photographic observations”.  

What I found of particular interest is DeMarco’s use of English information that gives us a look into the socio-political background of the earliest Yang Taiji.  Here we have a clearly shown link to Yang Shao Hou, the lesser known brother of Yang Cheng Fu. In my humble opinion,  it is certainly a welcome respite from  looking at all the little criticized and varied  manifestations of  Cheng Fu’s incredibly popular (just for health) art.

Xiong himself as well as his teacher’s in the Yang Family had much to contribute to Taiji, but little known is the influence that their time and circumstances had on their Taiji as well.  This provides a better map of Taiji territory since that is what is really needed  because we do not want to get stuck on half baked notions about the art, its founders or contributors.  As a work in progress, or better yet a  work in process, we eventually start to understand  that our perspective is in continual flux but also hopefully in continual development.

Understandably the incredible amount of  as DeMarco puts it: “…nearly incomprehensible violence from the downfall of the Qing Dynasty to the founding of the PRC…” was an overwhelming influence on early Yang Taiji.  China was once referred to as “sick man of Asia” because of  not only the social unrest but also the many foreign incursions. I believe DeMarco when he says that Taiji history in China is “…influenced by a sense of nationalism and (an overall ideal) of self-strengthening for the country itself…”.  With these factors in mind we begin to see a glimpse of  what Yang’s Taiji evolved from .   Certainly Yang Lu Chan gave us an art that was used for fighting but what present day practitioners largely fail to comprehend is those fighting functions have a profound impact on the way they practice the art. 

As we have said before, taking the art that Yang Cheng Fu practiced, removing the martial influence and watering it down even further to various ethereal offshoots does a practitioner little good. In many cases these diluted versions may be harmful to health.  It appears from DeMarco’s article that he has captured the flavor of what Xiong taught as a fighting art that is also good for health benefits.

As Classical Taiji is being taught by Stephen Hwa and his disciples, it is also good for martial purposes, health and longevity.  The vast majority of practitioners in the world today under Yang Style and the influence of Yang Cheng Fu’s “self-strengthening” are practicing Tai Chi that bears little to no resemblance to that of Yang Lu Chan.  How can it, with no recognition of the principles provided by its martial origins?

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Tiger's Mouth revisited

You can link to the Classical Tai Chi of Buffalo Facebook Page.  I made a video in order to thank my teacher Hwa Laoshi for his analysis and articulation of the following rationale.  It is very appreciated.  This gives me a sense of wonder now as well at all the many arm rotations in the Classical Tai Chi form.  In particular, the aspects of arm rotations that accompany the complexity and combinations of internal discipline.  Wherein, I never had pause to reflect on this in the past, now more than mere explanation, his statement motivates further investigation.

We are speaking here of the photo of Wu Jianquan in the most recent blog preceding this one.  The photo above which shows Hwa Laoshi gripping the arm of a student was taken at a workshop given on his birthday.

I quote my teacher, Hwa Laoshi:  "There is another important reason to have an open grip.  If Wu uses a tight grip on the white shirt arm.  The white shirt person could simply rotate that arm. This rotation, due to the physics of leverage, is much more powerful than the power of the arm with the grip.  This means Wu's grip will have to move and follow the rotation.  Now the white shirt is controlling Wu's movements instead of Wu controlling the white shirt.  With an open grip, Wu is not affected by the rotation of the arm and can keep his control on the white shirt"

The Tiger's Mouth

Classical Tai Chi is based on Wu Style Taiji. It has a rather unique palm and in particular a unique thumb position. A student expressed puzzlement over this in comparison to what he experienced in Hung Gar Kung Fu. He states that students are told to keep the thumb close to the hand so it cannot be grabbed or broken. The thumb is open from the index finger in Wu Style and the space in between is called the Tiger's Mouth or Hu Kou 湖口.

The very gentle grip is seen in the photo of Wu Jianquan. 

The open thumb is seen on his left hand and you can see him gently gripping the opponents right wrist with a small tiger's mouth. This gentle grip allows for the maintenance of extreme sensitivity or "ting" jin, wherein there is no muscle contraction that would interfere with sensitivity to opponents movement. I'm sure that students can now intuit the advantages of this...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Implications of incorrect "peng" or "ward off"

Implications of “Peng” or “bing” also called “Ward Off”
A graphic representation of the problems encountered:

The vast majority of videos on Youtube show Peng as a defensive movement with no explanation that it is also the central component in the offensive aspect or “one inch punch”.  To further complicate matters, Peng is most often not even explained defensively as one sees “Masters” bouncing “disciples” backward.  For the most part, the arms of the “disciples” are tense and rigid as the teacher pushes them backward. being done with a stiffened and tense arm.  Or, the arm of the student or even the teacher bends excessively at the elbow  in the defensive posture and one sees It seems to me that an explanation of the implications of Peng is warranted here:
Implications of correct “Peng”:
·         Its integrity demands that the arm neither bend or become tense.
·         At the most basic level, learning Peng starts with the arm in one hand push hands.
·         Essentially, a primary implication is that the student keeps the form of their movement as they either yield or generate an offensive movement.
·         Collapsing the arm means the form of movement or its “shape” is being altered.
·         Tensing the arm means the form of movement or its “shape” is being altered.
·         We do not want the opponent to reach our body by collapsing the elbow so the arm has to be “firm” but not tense.
·         When we use “Peng” as a “push” or “one inch punch”, we maintain our form but the arm is not tense as well.
·         Collapsing the arm results in the use of external or arm strength, we feel tremendous pressure to use muscular force of the arm.
·         As we sit back or yield defensively our force is less than our opponent but we still have to maintain our form or shape.
·         An analogy here comes from the Tai Chi writings: “Peng is like the water that supports a boat”.  The water yields to the force of the boat, yet it supports the weight and shape of the boat but yet  it does not lose its own overall shape or form.
·         Tensing the arm during cooperative push hands results in our partner feeling tremendous pressure to use muscular force as well.
·         Implication here is either tension or collapse is that a player does not have “internal discipline” of movement and therefore no “internal energy” is being generated to either fend off an attack or push. 
·         In the same token there is an implication that a player does not have “internal discipline” of movement and therefore no “internal energy” can be generated to “push” or “punch”.
·         Another implication of faulty peng is that the player is not able to “ting” jin or “listen” to what the opponent is doing (we refer primarily here to a rudimentary sense of touch that is lost when either collapsing or rigidizing the arm, “ting” jin at higher levels is beyond the scope of our discussion).
·         Implication for faulty peng can often be traced to such deficiencies (among others) as not sitting back correctly.
·         Sitting back correctly demands that a crease appear in the trousers at waist level.
·         Sitting back correctly demands that the player not remain perpendicular to the ground when sitting back, the “crease” is achieved when there is a slight lean forward of the upper torso even while sitting back.  This slight lean forward also acts as a counter balance to the backward momentum that is generated when pulling with the rear foot.
·         We have only touched on some implications here but overall, the deficiencies we mentioned can always be traced back to problems with the Classical Tai Chi form playing.
·         Maintaining “form” or “shape” during push hands is directly relevant to maintaining “form” or “shape” during solo practice…after all, why do you think they call it the FORM?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Classical Tai Chi basic walking training (2)

Tai Chi Walking: Note what Master Hwa says in this video at the  about keeping the head up, not watching the feet. Now take a look and scroll to  2:45 of this Brain Fitness video 
Youtube link and you see what can happen when watching the ground while walking. Note the methodology that is employed in "internal discipline" of walking, how one lifts the pelvis which really offsets the body to first one side then the other...but how this ingenuity of training acts to improve balance. The caveat here is that one first must learn where they are unbalanced to learn how to balance themselves. This type of walking is not everyday walking where we move by an act of "controlled falling" through the constant movement and putting one leg in front of another...this is far from it, everything is under control and command from the core.

Student's may struggle in the beginning to not watch the feet or ground.  Just as in learning to keep the weight back while basic walking, this requires patience and consistently reminding oneself to keep the gaze up.  It is the kind of practice however, that one can integrate into daily activities.  It can be "practiced" anywhere/anytime and is called "offline" practice.  If you will see p. 68 of Uncovering the Treasure you can see the encouragement that Master Hwa offers in this endeavor.  

He says: "The advantage of (offline practice) this is not only to have more time to practice, but also to get used to the idea of incorporating internal moves into everyday life.  The other advantage is that such offline exercise is carried out in a casual and relaxed mood with more of a chance to let the subconscious play a part.  The objective is to learn internal moves piecemeal and then integrate them into form play".

He speaks of offline practice as being a means to learning internal and this "keeping the head up"  falls well within that "internal move" category.  One actually learns to right the head not only subconsciously but learns to do it from the core of the body.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

There are indeed "downsides" to Tai Chi, none for Classical Tai Chi

                    On the "outside looking in"...

          A "Downside to Tai Chi? None That I See"...Not

I think that research on Classical Tai Chi is on the "outside looking in" but one day things will change from the seeds planted here, and it will be on the "inside looking out".  Nowdays  I do not see a downside to Classical Tai Chi, on the other hand there are indeed plenty of downsides to Tai Chi per se:

In the Times article and stating: "It places minimal stress on joints and muscles and thus is far less likely than other forms of exercise to cause muscle soreness or injury."  

This is simply not true, wherein 98% of Tai Chi that is taught will indeed put stress on joints, particularly the knee joints and will indeed cause muscle soreness or injury.  External Tai Chi of these varieties does little to insure that there is no shear force directed toward knees/hips, etc.

The Times article states: "There is no “fake” version that could serve as a proper control to be tested against the real thing". I agree in principle just not with the "principals" used in the studies.  It is indeed true however that it is virtually impossible to design an ideal study of tai chi but not for the reasons of the Times article.  It is because there have been no studies of Classical Tai Chi which uses internal discipline, only of external styles of Tai Chi.  A study of Classical Tai Chi which used external Tai Chi as a control group would show the true "fake". 

I'll let you read the rest of the article:  Downside?

Also, do a search of "Uncovering the Treasure" at Amazon, you can search through the "Look inside" feature for such things as "shear force", "knees", etc.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tips on Classical Tai Chi basic walking

Neither "lurch forward" nor "walk like a duck" when practicing the Classical Tai Chi basic walking. Video demonstration

"That (keep your weight back) while walking, takes a lot of patience" Hwa Laoshi

If you do not keep your weight back THEN place your entire foot on the ground, you not only lurch forward but succumb to the "rocking chair" effect. One's weight is actually rocking forward as the weight shifts, makes it easy for an oppone
nt to pull you over.

Also, "they do not stand up" in regard to keeping a consistent knee bend. Constantly standing up results in a kind of "duck walk" wherein the body is bobbing up and down.

Imagine each of those people keeping their head level with a line drawn across that mirror. While watching their reflection in the mirror their head would not rise above, nor below that "line" as they walk.