Thursday, February 24, 2011

Classical Tai Chi uses a "compact" and "tight compact" form

If one searches the Web they will undoubtedly find many styles of Tai Chi that state they are "small" or even "compact".  It becomes apparent that there is no universally accepted definition among all parties of what these frame sizes mean.  One styles "compact" looks like medium or even large to someone else.  One can even see well known masters doing forms or even push hands in what can only be called a Compact Form by anyone viewing it. There are many videos of older masters in the Wu Style that show them in a compact stance while doing push hands.  The same videos show them uprooting students to the point of the students falling down.  Seemingly, the master is using some hidden "internal" strength. To put this issue to a temporary rest, I will quote my teacher who states: "To attain that type of capacity requires many years of training beyond proficiency in forms training".

 Now is it not quite poor reasoning  and really just conjecture to think that any style  or even any individual does only one frame or size of Tai Chi?  The questions still arise however, then we may even see the same masters doing a larger frame form.  Thus raising  further questions:  Did this master, did that master,  learn compact form 1st, now they are showing us their large frame?  Did they learn large frame first and do they really know compact?  Can we assume from these photos or videos that Classical Tai Chi is not the only Tai Chi that does Compact Form?  Putting aside the definiton of compact for a minute, let us examine what it means to be "compact" in Classical Tai Chi.

I quote largely from "Uncovering the Treasure" by Master Stephen Hwa:  "Wu chien Chuan did not start Young (Young Wabu) on Large Frame probably because Young was an accomplished external martial artist with a well developed external structure and lower body foundation already".

  • Such difference in appearance also signifies how the Tai Chi movement is done
  • Large steps/low stance requires use of leg muscles to push the body in all dimensions
  • Compact form primarily uses core muscles to pull the body forward and upward
  • Internal discipline, internal movements cannot be taught to students in large frame
  • Large frame uses large swings of arms at shoulder, outstretch (telescoping) arms
Is it not now clear what defines compact form in Classical Tai Chi is the use of "internal discipline" or "internal energy" as explained once again in the Classical Tai Chi "turning move" videos attached here?  Please see "turning move" video 1 and 2 on that page.  What is not conducive to "internal discipline" or "internal energy" is also explained.

Now I have a couple of questions in light of our clearly defined manner in how a compact form can be performed:  Why do these famous masters demonstrate compact form on places like Youtube?  Specifically,  If a compact form can only really be performed correctly by using "internal discipline" and core muscles, shouldn't this be announced and taught to the world unequivocally and ubiquitously by all the famous masters?  How does not announcing this knowledge and making it obvious, contribute to promulgating  and most of all saving the art of Tai Chi?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What is a Yin-Yang Junction and why so important for Tai Chi?

I read many emails in various Tai Chi Forums on a regular basis.  I am quite shocked to see that there are many Tai Chi afficionados who not only do not know what internal discipline is but they do not know what a Yin-Yang junction is.  My teacher Stephen Hwa states what it is in his book "Uncovering the Treasure":  "The most important instruction on Internal Discipline passed down from Wu Chien Chuan to my teacher Young Wabu is that":  "Every movement in Tai Chi Form has to have two complementary parts of the body, a moving part (called Yang) and a stationary part (called Yin).  When the yin-yang junction is located in the torso of the body, it is an internal move.  When it is outside the torso, it is an external move".

I include Youtube links to  2 videos below that were excerpted from a  seminar at Rochester World Tai Chi Day.  In the videos, Master Hwa explains it all by demonstrating and then teaching a group of students.  He uses what is called a "Turning" move with internal discipline to demonstrate.

What is a Yin-Yang Junction?

How to find Yin-Yang Junction, how to do turning, what is internal energy?

Normally, one would expect that it would only be people not trained in Classical Tai Chi who would turn at the hip and carry the torso with it, while the legs have a twisting motion.  However, he recognizes several people who participated in a last years seminar in which he demonstrated this very thing. In fact, I was filming the seminar and I recognized them as well.  In one case, the practitioner is turning his hips so much the legs are not only twisting...they are dancing, with the feet moving all over the place.  You can see this almost immediately, it is so obvious.

You also do not want to move the arms and shoulders as you do this and it can be checked by standing in front of a mirror.  Also, there is a tactile feedback sensation from abdomen and back...but there should be no sensation of feedback from shoulder and arm.  You can read more about this on page 4 and 5 of "Uncovering the Treasure" available at Amazon.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Master Seminar July 2011

It is my pleasure to make an early announcement  that a plan to have a seminar  on Classical Tai Chi by Master Stephen Hwa is being formed. At this point, Master Hwa is in agreement with me that it will take place on the weekend of July 9 and 10, 2011. It will be in Buffalo, NY.

*Please contact me directly as we need to make sure of logistics and numbers.  At this time, you may contact me at My Email Address.  Be sure to put "Seminar" in the subject line.

You may also email me with any questions on location, lodging, and further announcements will only be made through email if you are not a current student. 

Master Hwa has never charged for any seminar, one can only hope to aspire to such generosity.

It looks like a "go" for a big location with lots of space. 

That gives good parking, air conditioning, electronics for video taping the seminar, lighting and WiFi for a possible skype session worldwide.

*If you are not currently a student of Master Hwa,you will need to purchase the DVD series  at Classical Tai Chi Website .  Then you will need to contact us for the details of location, times for the seminar, etc. 

It is a one time purchase which entitles you to as much help as you can tolerate for the rest of your life;>). 

*When you email us,  please provide info. of  your current status as a student if you are interested in attending. If you are not currently a student, please  provide proof of DVD purchase in the email.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What is Neigong 内功 or "Physical Internal Discipline"

Not the best in translation from Simplified Chinese to Pinyin to English, (but at least refers to the physical) yields:
内功 [nèi ɡōnɡ] Pinyin
"exercises to benefit the internal organs, internal energy or power, internal capabilities"

I am never happier as a teacher than when I hear people both within and outside the Tai Chi community ask what "Internal Discipline" is. Although it is still perplexing that Tai Chi afficionados do not know what it is. After all Tai Chi has been known for a long time as an "Internal" martial art. A typical question from even long time Tai Chi practitioners is "what is internal discipline". 

Perhaps a literal definition would be appropriate to start things off. I do not like what Merriam-Webster had to say. I find that the "Free Dictionary" has this among several other definitions which I do like and find appropriate to Tai Chi: Discipline is : "training or conditions imposed for the improvement of physical powers, self-control, etc".

Note the use of the word "physical" which is particularly encouraging because most definitions only dwell on "mental". This, sadly to say is also the proclivity of most Tai Chi practitioners that I have heard over the years. I hear over and over and in many formats that Tai Chi not only cultivates but depends on a particular "mental" state. For the most part this is roughly defined as being one of relaxation, serenity, placidity, free of tension, "be cool", etc. Most, then expand this further to (as my teacher says) "an unspoken belief that as long as one has the right mental state, almost any Tai Chi movement is a Tai Chi movement" p. ii, "Uncovering the Treasure". This, he seems to feel is the direct cause for "infinite varieties of Tai Chi that have sprouted everywhere". Having heard and seen what he is speaking about I must say the use of the word "sprouted" is certainly not lost on this writer.

In light of the phenomenon that I describe I find that in going a little further I not only have to define "internal discipline" to people but I have to show it/demonstrate it. For in the explanations, I have found no justice. I inevitably end up showing it to both beginners and afficionados as I try to explain what I am doing. What is even more surprising to me is that even though "internal discipline" translates to the word or term called "Neigong". Long time practitioners do not understand the physical. That term has been in the Tai Chi lexicon for quite some time yet even the online martial art encyclopedia definitions still lapse into such things as: "Neigong, also spelled Nei Kung, neigung, or nae gong, is any of a set of breathing and spiritual practice disciplines associated with Taoist religion and Chinese martial arts".

I have a feeling my teacher realized the difficulties associated with explaining what it is and instead opted to explain HOW IT DOES: (From the Classical Tai Chi website)"The central element of the practice dictates how a movement should be made from the internal core of the body—the abdomen and the back—not from the external parts of the body, such as arms and shoulders".
AND WHAT IT DOES: "Internal Discipline enables you to initiate movements from the internal core of the body (the abdomen and back) rather than from the external parts of the body (the limbs), and cultivates and mobilizes your internal energy for health benefits and martial arts applications".

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Slow work produces fine goods

In his book "Uncovering the Treasure", Master Stephen Hwa states on page 105:

"It is amazing that Masters of the past could have such insight that slow and seemingly soft movements could be an ideal tool to train a person to deliver exceptional power."  Speaking of Classical Tai Chi and not Tai Chi that relies on external movement of the limbs which constitutes 99% of what is practiced today, he continues by saying: "What they discovered was that the slow movements with internal discipline trained a person in every little detail of fajin moves. After a person repeated the moves a thousand times, it becomes part of him and is available to use any moment he wishes at any power or speed".

 Some very rare video has appeared on the Internet of the legendary golf professional, Ben Hogan.  Video after video and with accompanying audio one hears him advocating and demonstrating slow motion golf swings and in this video at a certain point we even hear him mentioning the words "Tai Chi".  In his book "Slow Practice Will Get You There Faster", Ernest Dras, states that Ben Hogan practiced slow motion drills thousands of times in front of mirrors and advocated it to beginning golfers. It is said that Sugar Ray Leonard who had incredible speed, utilized slow motion training to maintain perfect form. I'm reasonably sure as well that a search will reveal many other top athletes who utilize slowness in their training drills.  The purpose being to make their movements perfect.

In his book "Long strokes in a Short Season", the swimming coach Art Aungst talks of his own studies in Tai Chi.  He states: "Tai Chi incorporates slow speed patterning of perfect movement through 360 degrees of body rotation, stressing balance and core body movement. My teacher demands that each basic movement be perfected before moving on to the next one.  My understanding of the thought behind it is that the neural pathways are "grooved" so that in a true performance situation, there is no conscious thought to interfere with the speed of perfect movement."  He even quotes from the Tai Chi Treatise:  "The outer  academies use clumsy external strength, so that the beginning and end are broken, the opponent thus has a chance to attack...from the beginning to end, Tai Chi is continuous, without interruptions, like an endless circle". This statement about "neural pathways are grooved" is also used  by Eric J. Horst in his book about mountain climbing called "Maximum Climbing".

The concept of "neural grooving" is to be found in book after book from the psychology of learning to many anatomical texts. I suppose if one had to use an analogy to describe what happens it might be one of a giant steel ball  resting on top of a sand dune.  Each time we give it a slight push it rolls down and creates a groove, moving ever slowly because of its size.  Then we keep repeating the process from the top of the dune,  gently starting it to roll, over and over and over again.  Because it has formed an initial groove, it will subsequently be easier to continue rolling it.  The key concept however, it to do it as Master Hwa has stated, Ben Hogan advocates and probably many athletic coaches  urge:  Do it thousands of times, do it slowly, do not stop practicing... for the least amounts of "grooving" will produce small and weak tracks,  doing it slowly and frequently will make big,  strong neural paths and give us a fine product.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

"Great understanding is broad and unhurried..." Chuang Tzu

 "Great understanding is broad and unhurried; little understanding is cramped and busy." - Chuang Tzu

For most adults, the Internal Discipline in the learning of Classical Tai Chi does not come naturally.   However,  the natural question for beginners  is "what is there to expect/look forward to/reward during the actual practice of internal discipline...not some future time?"

This blog evolved out of a discussion over the previous Blog on "Sitback".  A student apparently realized that there would be no quick fix to learning Classical Tai Chi but also had a kind of insight: "To move a mountain one begins by carrying away small stones".  From a certain perspective, this appears to be true.  From another perspective,  most cannot carry one "stone" at a time without their concentration breaking and subsequently ruminating how many other 'stones" are left to carry. That seems to be the domain of the beginner and in some cases the "perpetual" beginner in Classical Tai Chi.

This discussion really does seem to fall into the hands of Chuang Tzu and I'm sure he would love getting his hands on it indeed.  It is all tied up with perspective, perception, insight, conscious attention, the subconscious, etc.  So, in regard to "rewards",  I can only relate from my own experiences as a beginner, or at least what I remember and what I seem to see in the beginners that I teach, however. 

  • Experience/reward early on in Classical Tai Chi is a plurality rather than singular events
  • It requires concentration/patience yet one is rewarded with deeper concentration/patience
  • One has no insight in the beginning yet one's insight begins to appear, we see things more clearly
  • For example, I had no concentration when beginning, yet I clearly began to see how much my mind wandered
  • I clearly began to see that I wanted to practice more in order to stop my mind from wandering
  • I experienced moments of clarity and "stillness" (particularly in basic walking practice) with no breaks in concentration
  • Yet, a beginner's hold on these things is tenuous "little understanding...cramped and busy"
  • Yet, it is the beginner's job not to do things half heartedly
  • Half a mind will find it very difficult to attain conscious control over a long dormant nervous system in the core of the body
  • Yet, there are rewards even for beginners but their hold is very tenuous, very easy to throw up one's hands
  • Basic walking (really the square form) with its "pauses" gives the beginner direct experience of physical "stillness"
One's "understanding", hopefully evolves into being "broad and unhurried", one becomes a proficient practitioner and no longer has to rely on the conscious mind to play the form.  The "looking forward to/what to expect" voice becomes quieter and quieter as well.  I quote my teacher, Hwa Laoshi from his website at Classical Tai Chi:

"It is the movement with the Internal Discipline that plays an important role in influencing the mental state of the practitioner. In order to perform the internal movements, the beginner must focus intensely inward trying to communicate with the long neglected nervous system in the torso. When the student becomes a proficient practitioner, playing the form becomes subconscious without the need to think. The mind is clear, except for the enjoyable sensation of internal energy flowing and stretching at the yin and yang junction. It is important to learn the Tai Chi form rigorously, so this sensation can circulate continuously in the body without break."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy Year of the Hare ... make sure this year to do sitback correctly

See "Sitback" Video above: Whether Form or Push Hands, how well we "sitback" is the Acid test of how good any of our postures will be. If we have back pain, try checking how well you sitback during form practice. There needs to be a "tuck" under of the buttocks to coincide with contraction of abdominal muscles to pull back...

Tom is tall as well and needs to sitback with a crease appearing in the front as Master Hwa articulates. These types of problems can be traced to incorrect form practice, push hands shows up these errors. Hence, the statement from Master Hwa:  "if we do push hands before having internal discipline (basic contraction of abdomen to mobilize body during sitback, forward lean, walking practice) it is putting the cart before the horse". Sometimes people think they got it but push hands will show things with a glare. Tom is not sitting back and has to use arm strength, that goes hand in hand with nervous tension,  it makes the arm rigid, rigidizing  the whole body in the process.  Muscle Tension as I explain below is not the bugaboo people make it out to be in Tai Chi,  but we should eschew   nervous tension that inhibits body movement.

Sitting our posterior into any chair, couch,etc., is a perfect analogy for sitback in Tai Chi. Try it and observe what happens to angle of back, you get that crease he talks about. Just watch that you do not stick the rear end out, tuck it under to sit. Keep this anology in mind during form. This is basic sitback, there are variations of sitback.   Also, all need abdominal contraction  and proper "tuck under" to mobilize forward and back movements. 

As my teacher has said, ‎"TENSION is abhorred"  in Tai Chi. I hear people all the time say they take Tai Chi to "relax" because they have so much TENSION. However, we want muscle tension  in Tai Chi for it is none other than "JIN" in all of its forms. Substitute the word "ENERGIZED" for TENSION and then work to eliminate nervous tension.  This is all about posture, core alignment, nerve impulses and cultivating that muscle tension...ENERGIZING. Substitute ENERGIZED for TENSION and understand the sameness but don't think to eliminate muscle tension, instead think that it is an integral and dynamic part of the engine that drives JIN.

My student Tom Kostusiak says: "When I first started doing Classical Tai Chi with Sifu Roach several years ago, I experienced back pain while playing the form. Sifu pointed out that I was not sitting back and tucking in properly during this time as well. As I progressed with correcting my posture my back pain subsided. Upon further investigation, it became clear that incorrect posture was the cause of the pain problem (for me) as I was not properly aligned to perform the moves. So while I agree that being able to consciously relax the muscles is important, posture plays a significant role in making sure that our core is properly aligned in order to perform the movements themselves."

As for me, I broke my hip in 2000 because of a roller blading accident...yes, roller blading. My lower back was in agony for a couple years, all that after doing Wu's Style many years, it did not help  I started Classical Tai Chi in 2003...voila'...That lower back pain is gone now, no Ibuprofen for me either.  My upper back pain from years at a computer, disappeared after I started this, about a year. I have no knee pain but I used to when I did styles where back foot was splayed out. So much knee pain I could not squat, that is gone. It is possible to do this and cause ache because of overdoing it. However, it is also certainly possible as Tom has said to do things incorrectly and create pain. That is why it is critical to check, check and recheck everything you do in Classical Tai Chi...after all, everyone is a distance student. 

 If anyone had reason to gloss over things it would be me more than 99.9% of the Tai Chi community.  Why?  Because, I have 35 years experience in Tai Chi, 30 in Wu Style alone,  and a fat head when I started this. Speaking for myself, I learned to put the ego on the back shelf to learn this the right way.  How did I do that, not easy but I learned to  know "Treasure" when I see it.