Wednesday, January 26, 2011

You need to curb your impatience

I teach a lot of beginners, so many so one might say there is a revolving door. From my observations I would say that people are not as patient as they were when I first started, nowdays they want faster results. I have people pay me money and then never come back to finish their monthly lesson, this is a good example of impatience. In over 35 years of seeing the revolving door turn, not one person has ever said, "I'm quitting simply because you are a lousy teacher". On the other hand and as I have said before, I have learned from my teacher not to compromise on what is taught.

I follow one of the learning paths outlined by Master Hwa in the Classical Tai Chi Forums. Infrequently, I start with teaching the square form first. In one case, I started with the square form because a student could not curtail the extraneous movement of his hands. He studied a Kung Fu style and I could not even stop for moments and explain things. He would burst into movements from his "Katas" while I was trying to talk to him. That is impatience.

My first teacher at Taoist Tai Chi in 1976 was a Clinical Psychologist who frequently told me he was looking for another line of work because he had no patience anymore. In my opinion however, often his comments on beginners were pretty mean spirited. "I'm not going to teach that guy Jim, but you can", "Well you did a good job, at least now he's walking like a human being", etc. On the other hand, he was very knowledgeable about the Tai Chi and quite articulate in teaching it, he just had no patience for teaching.  When I first started with him he wore a T Shirt that said "Patience?", "Patience my ass, I want to kill something".  It was a graphic of 2 buzzards talking to one another in a tree while they gazed on some grazing animals.  Out of 7 students that started, I ended up being the only one left in his class. There was a lot of impatience then, but I think there is more today because I see the revolving door first hand.

How impatient? I once had a student that handed me $200 in cash and never came back a 2nd day. When I called her she said keep it, "I liked what you do, I just cannot do it". There are so few students at my studio, that the tuition money literally goes from my hands to the owners for monthly rent. One might say this a labor of love, yet I love the art dearly and get back much when I do get students that can stick it out through the initial learning phase. Teaching this, articulating it gives me an understanding that is incredibly rich and deep.

On the other hand,  like Wu Gongyi was reputed to have said to his students and in so many words: If you guys don't know how to do  walking in Tai Chi, how are you going to fight. Not that Classical Tai Chi leans the "fighting" way of the Wu's Style in general. It just points out that the learning proceeds from a very basic premise. If you do not establish that, there is nothing to build takes patience. There are numerous benefits to be had even in the bare bones beginnings if one can curb impatience.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

If you are joining Facebook for Classical Tai least get the book beforehand

I get requests to join the Classical Tai Chi Facebook group and nowdays I ask this: Speaking as a teacher, does everyone here have Master Stephen Hwa's book "Uncovering the Treasure"? Still speaking as a teacher, the conversation here, sparse as it is, ok let's say my monologue makes little sense without a guidebook of the "territory" As Master Hwa said once to a student, "one needs a map of where and what the forest is, so that the individual trees do not obscure the view". A guidebook can also be useful to encourage people to speak up once in a while as well. I realize, some folks may feel a bit shy but there is never anything wrong with asking a question now and then.

Rick Matz said: Yes, I have the book and keep it handy in my computer bag along with copies of the DVDs so they are at hand. I review all of the material regulary and there is always something new in there for me to find.

John Calvert said:  I too travel with the book Rick. I fear I may need to purchase a fresh copy as my existing one is a little worse for wear now! I have backed up my DVDs (to protect them & keep them intact) by digitally copying them to my hard drive. By having them in digital format I can pause, 'rewind', jump, replay and slow down whatever lesson I'm studying without concern or worry about damaging my DVDs. I have also figured out how to get them onto my iPod which is handy since I travel a lot. Sometimes I just watch lessons when traveling in the hopes that the information is absorbed into my sub-conscious to enhance my training & practice later on. By the way I am not a technological geek - I was shown how to do all this by youngsters! :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Starting the Tai Chi journey and stumbling...

Jason said: "Hi.I'm just starting my tai chi journey & stumbled upon this post (see post on "Diamonds vs. Rocks"). I definitely want to learn traditional tai chi- not the watered-down Westernized version. Although I'm new to tai chi, I innately feel something is missing from
Westernized tai chi, but unsure what to do about it.

Can you give me some guidance? Since I'm new to this, I don't fully
understand this post. Also, I can't afford classes, so I'm learning what I can
from DVDs and online sources. Are there any DVDs or online sources you
recommend?" Thanks! -Jason 

Hello Jason

I do not think that you  stumbled when you found the post, on the contrary I think you came to the right place.   I will also let a student tell you themselves.  I do concur with what John says about the amount of work involved.   If you will sit down and completely read the website called Classical Tai Chi and all of the pages at the website, in one sitting with not letting yourself get distracted, you will have a good idea of what John means about work.  This is Classical Tai Chi it is  not "watered down, westernized tai chi", once you do the work to "get it",  it is like owning a large amount of diamonds...a real treasure.

John said:  “Firstly I would invest in the 'Volume I - Tai Chi Overview' DVD. Money well spent. This will whet anyone's appetite... or put them off completely after seeing the
amount of work involved! 

If money is tight I see the whole DVD set and book as being a good investment as they provide a lifetimes worth of classes for a one-off payment. This coupled with Jim’s Blog,
the Facebook group and the Yahoo group provide support and advice. The biggest
thing to realize (in my opinion) is that Classical Tai Chi is a serious
commitment rather than a hobby - it is certainly not a fad. Hope this helps.”



Facebook group


Saturday, January 22, 2011

There are rocks and when given sufficient light, then there are diamonds

Mr. Roach...I read the blog regularly but I'm sorry to say that I do not know how to send comments into it....Computer know how I don't have so I hope you don't mind this e-mail into your school...I have watched Mr. Hwa's introductory dvd 3 times. After spending the last 10 years doing Chen, Yang- Zhen Duo, and Chen Man- Ching styles I am forced to conclude that some Tai Chi is not Tai Chi. I claim no expertise in any of it but I am an excellent student...I practice constantly and enjoy it. What Mr. Hwa is doing on the DVD is like nothing I've ever seen.....not because it's compact since CMC style is such....but because of the subleties in movement. To really learn what he's doing would take a major you are well aware. It just seems to me that somebody dropped the ball.somewhere along the line. All these medical studies about Tai Chi have got to be BS...since there rocks  and there are  diamonds......I know the stuff works since i have experience but what I'm seeing in Classical T.C. is so much different than what most of what passes for tai chi........Please don't feel that you have to respond to's a rambling comment but I had to make it..I'm glad I have become aware of your blog and Stephen Hwa but I am a bit pissed off. I spent a long time trying to figure out how to relax.........CMC style does that for me.....but now I see this    Thank you four your time and your eye opening blog........Respectfully, Dennis, New Jersey

Hi Dennis,

I appreciate this letter very much and since you state that there was an intent to send it to the Blog I have published it here.  I think it has the “right stuff” to comprise a good article or certainly a mini-discussion about what you say. 

I suspect for some time now that there are people such as yourself who have this experience of doing some mainstream Tai Chi and finding that it comes up wanting.  I should reiterate as well that I was one of them.  I use the term “horseless carriage” regarding my automobiles, because I still feel after many years that I was taken on buggy rides for decades by the Tai Chi that I encountered in my many, many travels to Canada.  My questions were frequently dismissed, criticized or even laughed at. My teachers and fellow students were always right up front with their sometimes very personal criticism of me, so I feel I can do no less here.  Why should I be diplomatic here?  They never were...

Give it all the commitment you can.  What I got in terms of skill, I got from my own personal commitment, development, hard work, analyzing and thinking things through, not from any of my teachers and certainly not from my fellow students for they were no help whatsoever. I got it from much time and effort in my backyard or my very small living room.  I got it from much time and effort in running a studio where I found that teaching others gave me incredible amounts back in the way of learning.  Once in a great while, one finds diamonds in the rough, I have a few diamond like and  great students who really appreciate this. 

Do I think that Taoist, Yang Cheng Fu and Wu Style are lacking?  Indeed, I do and teachers/practitioners can make it reek even more.  I have published much in this Blog on what I find deficient in those styles…because as what happened to you, I stumbled across Hwa Laoshi’s website.

All my so called skill and rationales about what I learned went right out the window for I had learned “external” Tai Chi and it comes up short next to "internal" Tai Chi. Tai Chi desperately needs saving and with what Young Wabu and Stephen Hwa have done, both Yang and Wu Style at least have a chance of living. You are right, all the so called "studies" of medical benefits are indeed what you say,  because the Tai Chi they are measuring is "external", not internal.

I cannot be truly criticized for  what I say, for unlike the 99% I have experienced both Classical Tai Chi and their Tai Chi as well. I do occasionally hear from people who "think" they are doing internal and will not listen to reason.  Simply because one moves from the hip or even the core or engages the core  or hip does not necessarily make what they do "internal". One might say, they have found necessary conditions for internal but not necessarily sufficient ones.

 On other occasions, I find that I am not  engaged  in polite discussion but will hear taunts. One is resorting to a call to physical violence, when confronted by something that is as logical and has as much rationale as any scientific discipline?   That sounds no better that the typical childlike discussions one frequently sees on Youtube or a schoolyard bully.  I surmise that if one resorts to such mockery,  both literally and figuratively they both figuratively and literally do not have a leg to stand on.  For the many who laugh, mock, make jokes, criticize and generally spout nonsense about Classical Tai Chi, quite frankly, they have no idea of what they are talking about. 

Why is this?  Because they have not done Classical Tai Chi, so how  can it be criticized, by even the top most Masters?  An opinion about this is just that…an opinion, albeit an educated one. I often find that typically in what is largely a self serving discussion for their style, there is much drivel in the various Forums, email groups and so called discussions of Stephen Hwa’s Youtube videos.  It reminds me of children attempting to discuss geopolitics  or the national debt on the Internet.

I hope my own teacher is not upset but I put much of my personal feelings into this because your letter touched me. So Dennis,  my heart goes out to you and I completely understand and appreciate what you say.  I strongly urge you to get the DVD series if you have not already done so, for as I say, it is indeed in one’s own personal commitment that they will find fulfillment. There are indeed “rocks and there are diamonds” but needless to say, I have found Classical Tai Chi and my teacher Hwa Laoshi to be treasure.  Treasure is it not?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Classical Tai Chi is ours…but only through repetition

                                                    FAJIN (Peng jin or "1 inch punch")

On occasion, one of my students, Barry will demonstrate portions of his Katas.  Barry is a high level black belt in a Karate system in addition to studying Classical Tai Chi with me.  The techniques that he demonstrates are very powerful, whether using hand or foot and there is an audible “snap” when he blocks, punches or kicks.  On the other hand, lots of people who look at Tai Chi will most often say that it does not resemble a martial art, so how could it be?  So it would seem,  the very powerful punching and kicking of such external martial arts as Karate, Kung Fu, or even some external Tai Chi appears to be the correct way to gain martial expertise.

On pp. 104 of "Uncovering the Treasure..." by Master Stephen Hwa, he says:  "I remembered my teachers (lessons) very well allowing me to work and improve my form by myself.  When I had achieved the level where internal energy circulated during form practice and form practice was completely subconscious, I discovered that I could do fajin without consciously knowing I was doing fajin".  He goes on to say: "The full speed and power punch and kick of the Kata or Form of external martial arts, on the surface seems a logical way to train.  But in fact it has deficiencies.  When a full speed punch or kick reaches its end point, the momentum of the movement has to be absorbed by the shoulder or hip joint to stop the movement.  This could cause hyperextension of the tendon in that joint.  Since I am teaching Tai Chi in a Karate school, I hear stories about young and promising black belts who need to have their shoulder or hip repaired".

So we see, there are drawbacks to training with full velocity and strength.  There is a start to a high velocity punch, kick, block, etc., and there is a "jarring" end.  Each and every movement is also dependent on the momentum force.  Momentum force of course is dependent on the mass of an object multiplied by its velocity.   In addition, the external stylist does not have to be big if he can gain sufficient speed.  So there we have the “start” of a high powered movement, what about the “end”, and what of those drawbacks we mentioned?

Well, that all out, obviously high speed punch or kick has to stop, particularly if it does not hit something. What it stops on is the weakest link in the chain which as Master Hwa said may be a shoulder, a hip, a knee . So at the very least we can say it is doing the individual joints little good to absorb that impact, above all it is not healthy.   However, the external stylist will say, but wait, I “pull my punch, kick, etc.” so I am not hurt.  It stands to reason that the end result of this is a smaller amount of power being  furnished, does it not?  In essence one is training by “pulling their punches”, not really delivering full power strikes to train with.

In the video, my student Tom K. remarked that he felt the Tai Chi fajin  of Master Hwa penetrated into his stomach.  Well, from my vantage point next to him it not only penetrated but it most certainly seemed to knock him back before he had a chance to back away.  Master Hwa articulated this and reiterated this assertion  as well. There was no momentum (Master Hwa did not draw back to gain velocity for his mass), that delivered this punch, the hand was almost in contact with Tom to begin with. So the question, is, if Classical Tai Chi does not practice with full power, how does it attain such power with fajin? I don't think I am oversimplying things by saying that is indeed a "burst" of power BUT It uses the process of  slow, detailed “repetition” in Tai Chi form, silk reeling, and isolated practice of individual movments, to gain the skill. The punch or the movement to punch as it were is repeated, repeated and repeated literally thousands of times. 

Do not forget that Classical Tai Chi was the martial art of choice for the palace guards of the Chinese Imperial Family.  They obviously not only liked but put it to practical use on occasion.  Those top notch martial artists, the Yang’s, the Wu’s saw deeply into the art and learned that slowness, softness, coupled with detailed, meticulous repetition was the perfect way to train.  A fajin punch could be done with internal discipline, carefully paying attention to the detail as it were (the devil is the details) and also done over and over and over again with no chance of injuring a joint or wiring the skill of “pull punch” ability into their system. 
We will be speaking more on the subject of “repetition” in blogs that will follow this one.   If one thing can be said of this process to expertise that I describe, it has to be that those early masters were consistent in their approach.  Think of repeating a fajin punch literally thousands and thousands of times SOFTLY and SLOWLY, never bursting a powerful strike, that is the epitome of consistency. 
I leave you with this saying from the I Ching, Hexagram 29, The Abysmal (Water):
 “ teaching others, everything depends on consistency, for it is only through repetition that the student makes the material his own” , pp. 114, The I Ching or Book of Changes by Richard Wilhelm, Cary F. Baynes, Publisher: Princeton University Press; 3rd edition (October 1, 1967)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The role of transition between postures in Classical Taiji


There has been some call by students to discuss the role of the  various postures that repeat themselves as well as the role of “intention” in Classical Tai Chi.  We can certainly do this but to start things off I think no discussion of intention and repetition would be complete without a discussion of transition. 

As a martial art and in its place as an art, Classical Tai Chi is a medium that is ever changing, a mobile medium as it were.  The transitions between the many postures flow on and on and with sufficient skill on the part of the practitioner are performed with such continuity that there is no gap to be found in the “stream” of internal motion.

For the practitioner of “external” Tai Chi which is the modus operandi of large frame Tai Chi and for which there is no apparent shortage, there is no call to convert what they do to internal movment.  Transition between postures can proceed without concern from the obvious external movements. For the practitioner of Classical Tai Chi the task is to first learn the footwork contained in the first eight lessons, up to the first cloud hand movement.  The movements of the upper body then require MINIMIZATION OF EXTRANEOUS EXTERNAL MOVEMENTS, FOR ONLY THEN CAN INTERNAL MOVEMENT FLUORISH.

In the beginning of round form study the student will really only be learning the very obvious internal movements, extrapolated in most cases from the offline silk reeling practice.  It is in the learning of subtle internal movements however where one sees the play of the transitions.  For the subtle internal movements have to be threaded together to form  continuous movement but they also include transitional movements in the form. 

The importance of understanding this cannot be overemphasized for the key to offensive and defensive techniques is to be found in being able to perform a seamless transition.  Yielding/defending, attacking/counterattacking all need to come from many diverse angles, come from varied tempos, fluid transitions and being able to rapidly change between yielding and counterattack are an  imperative to the Tai Chi practitioner.

In the practice of the Classical Tai Chi form, each form is meticulously balanced as to tempo as well as structure and direction. The student should understand that form requires this but the space between the forms (transition) also requires this meticulous balance.  A clock will  show us a basic synchronization that the second hand and minute hand can arrive together. However the Tai Chi form/transitions need a more advanced synchronization for as we have said there is a multitude of subtle internal movements that are tied into transitions…many of which may each be moving with a different tempo. 

"Raise Hands Posture" is a good example to show not only "transition" but timing or "tempo" as well.  For in the movements of the right arm, left arm and left foot, we see a classic example of the varied elements leaving at the respective times/space/directions but still arriving at the same time at their "destination".

Much like the Algebra word problems many loved to hate, we could have several  movements (“trains”)  all leaving from different locations, different distances, using different speeds but all needing to arrive at their destinations at the same time.  In Classical Tai Chi we call this timing and the best word to describe its requirements is exquisite. For its need to approach perfection is to be found both in the form but also in the spaces between the forms…their transitions and their subtle constituents the internal movements.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A variation on "silk reeling" in Classical Tai Chi

A variation on "silk reeling", folding the body at the spine... like opening and closing a door.

See the video here: 

If you can stand with your 2 feet parallel and one foot in front with toe up, shoulder width apart and turn your upper body without moving the feet or the hips you can try to do this silk reeling variation.  I explain later why this is a variation.  This, like all moves in Classical Tai Chi is carried out by using the power of the abdomen and back.  The importance of this move is to be found in the action along the strip of the spine. In this regard, the shoulder blade should not move. If just the shoulder blade is moving then the part along the spinal strip is not moving correctly. So, the movement will be concentrated along the spine.  One side does move but irrevocably, you will feel some stretching on the other side of the spine...note the feedback from that in this instance. 

Visualize opening up and closing a door which operates based on not only the action of the door but also needs the stability of the frame.  Most people will find this move difficult to feel any sort of movement at that area of the back and along either side of the spine.  For beginners, as with all movements of this sort, the difficulty lies in the mental discipline in which one’s attention has to be concentrated not only in the core region but to the specific area along the spine.  Any attention on the shoulder blade or shoulder and the move will be partially  initiated from those areas and not the spine.  Done correctly and there will be no sensation of movement from the shoulder, shoulder blade or arm.

If we were to divide the body into quarters, the stable 2 legs and stable side of torso(that does not move) would comprise ¾ of the process.  It provides support, power for the move and grounding.  Since it is not moving  it is Yin. The Yin-Yang junction is at the spine. The other ¼ is moving as a unit , arm, shoulder, back and portion of the abdomen, the hip or pelvis is stable on that side.  That portion that is moving is Yang.  One can also visualize that the spine is a very large hinge, with the “quadrant” or ¼ on either side (depending on whether one is moving r. or l.) like a door which can fold/unfold. 

As to why this a variation: This is not the same as the classic “hand follows the foot, elbow follows the knee, shoulder follows the hip” that is described in the Tai Chi Classics.  That deserves its own special place as a “folding” movement since it also involves the lower body. 

With this variation as well, one might also visualize opening and closing a book since it actually has a “spine”.  In this case, one would hold half the book steady including the cover, then  visualize opening/closing the book repeatedly at the exact center of pages, including the other cover.  Only half the book would be opened, the other half would remain steady and not moving.  Of course we are talking of using just the top ½ of the torso and not the legs.  As we have said, “hand follows foot, elbow follows knee…” has its own place in the lexicon of Classical Tai Chi.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Time to do our Quan Jia

I recently had 2 elderly people express so much interest in taking Classical Taiji that they were willing to pay double to take a class.  This was up until I asked if they had seen a video of what we do and I directed them to “Tao of Martial Applications” and other videos at Parea10.  I’m reasonably sure they decided not to start based on what they saw of a student being hit with a one inch punch. 

I can hear the conversation now:  “Why do you want to go to this, I don’t want to fight?”   or, “this is not Tai Chi, these people are fighting with one another”, etc., etc.  Needless to say, they did not turn up for the Tuesday class, nor did I get “double the tuition”.   I assume that they had heard Tai Chi was loaded with health benefits and also based on that “introductory Tai Chi” class they had taken before, they were ready to wade right in.  I do not like to fight as well but that never stopped anyone from mugging me.  So, don’t fight, run away at top speed from muggers but just remember that Tai Chi is a martial art and the health benefits are inextricably linked with the martial aspect.

What does this mean “linked with the martial aspect”?  Quite frankly, there is just one, I repeat, just one method to get health benefits:  One has to practice with meticulous attention to all of the details, “the fine print” of Taiji’s martial aspect.  One has to practice in this manner and only in this manner in order to reap the most from its treasure trove of health benefits.  I like to think of it another way:  An imbalance will result If I do not balance my health concerns based on  martial details, thus providing the ideal template for practice.

There is nuance upon nuance in doing Classical Taiji and such layers of nuance are found in all the nook and crannies of the body.  Why so much nuance?  Well, for one thing, we want the internal energy to circulate continuously throughout the body during the entirety of our Quan Jia, our Taiji form.  If the practitioner does not train to continuously circulate the energy and instead has disconnections of movement, what happens to them when they are pushing hands, sparring, etc.?  Won't the opponent be able to find a "seam" a gap in our energy to attack?  If we learn to continuously circulate the energy, will we not be able to counterattack in a split second?

Practice as though you were surrounded by opponents, pay attention to all those martial details of movement, all the nuance.  Seemingly meaningless details no matter how small that are often overlooked can cause problems later.  What a good practice it is to take care of the small things, since it will lessen the risks of surprise from health or opponent.  It will be gratifying to get a nice surprise from our practice as we find insight after insight or see our health improve.  Leave the pratfalls (trouble that befalls us) and realize that they are preventable by remembering that the “devil is in the details” (when we pay attention to the details beforehand, we do not reap a “devil of a time” later).

It is time to do our Quan Jia like we mean it, not just an “oh, now I got to do my exercises…”

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Classical Tai Chi...Self Defense of the self

Oscar and Augie ("O" man and "A" man)

The "terriers like the classical tai chi  buffalo"

What do we mean when we say: "Self defense of the self"?

Master Wu Chien-chuan really handed down a legacy of the Wu Style that is as good for health as well as martial arts.  It stands higher, steps smaller, calms the mind, heals the body, protects the joints, and above all works from the “inside” out.   Classical Taiji (the legacy of Wu Chien-chuan) is so compact that it has to work from the “internal” out…one might say, almost by default.  Because there can be no large, external movements of the limbs with such a compact stance, the practitioner has to focus inward…there is no “frame” that would support external movement. If the internal was an engine, it would be a Porsche engine, but that Porsche engine would not work in a truck frame now would it?

Here we have the pre-eminent designation of Taiji as an “internal” martial art.  If one can think of almost all other systems of exercise, whether Western or Eastern, they are based on external movements.  The limbs and hence the outer layers of muscle and bone are required to perform all movements. The emphasis then being one of getting “fit” over getting healthy and maintaining that health.  Most people I talk to or beginning students that I teach really think that fitness and health are one and the same. Whereas most of that “external” really is based on mechanical functioning.  How does lifting kettle bells, pumping iron, flailing away at a heavy bag reach to the internal organs of the body?  Of course, you say in the offing, one may get one’s cardiovascular system “fit”.  However, what most fail to see is that one creates an oxygen deficit in striving for such “cardio” benefits. Depriving the body to make it "fit"?

I find it interesting that I can do several rounds of Classical Taiji round form after a night of little sleep and I will feel full of energy.  Whereas, the 2 mile walk that I take with the dogs, makes me tired and sleepy.  I should add that I have a Shepherd and a Terrier who both love to wake up early and play, hence the lack of sleep on occasion.

Classical Taiji serves 2 purposes, those being for martial and health. One might then say, that Classical Taiji serves as a martial art for self-defense against others, but also should not be forgotten to be practiced as self defense of the self…against illness. If one is not healthy, then saying it cannot really be used for martial purposes is the caveat.   Like I say, most confuse fitness with health and only deceive themselves.  The many may be deceived by displays of grandiose external martial arts, fitness and even Taiji that uses external motion, but the individual practitioner is only fooling themselves when it comes to health if it is not internal.  “Internal” as being based on the cultivation of internal energy in the core of the body as all movement is derived from the use of internal discipline.  

Classical Taiji: The art of internal motion that is powered by internal energy and directed by internal discipline.  Good for self defense…self defense that includes the self and others.