Monday, June 20, 2011

Having sufficient light and heat to find "Treasure" in Classical Tai Chi

Plutarch said: "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignighted".
"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire". William Butler Yeats
Regarding finding treasure, I can only relate in my own fashion what my teacher has told me:
The lighting of an educational "fire" for light and heat to gain "treasure" can be fraught with problems :  There can be many causes of this. Admittedly students like the wood  are  "green", and it will be harder to get it to 'catch'. If not enough starting material such as paper or in the case of Classical Tai Chi things like "silk reeling","basic walking"  is used, it won't generate enough heat to get the fire going. Putting pieces of wood that are too large such as forging ahead too far too fast,, in the form on one's own,  soon smothers the fire and it will die. If the fire is arranged so that air cannot get up through the wood,or one has built a "spaghetti like learning structure" as I outline below it will likely sputter and die.
My teacher has said: "Silk reeling exercise is encouraged for not so advanced students so that they can  experience some internal energy flow rather quickly. For advanced students who can play the form with ever  move using internal discipline, silk reeling exercise is no longer necessary, since the entire Form practice is a complex silk reeling exercise  with internal flow continuing without stop from beginning to the end." 
As I see it:  The problem with learning too much of  the form before "silk reeling" is like putting too much wood on a fire that has not really been burning for very long.
There was a student back in 2005 that purchased the DVD, Vol. 2 and did not purchase Vol. 1, Overview.  He stated at the time that he felt he should get input from every possible source rather than confining himself to one commitment.  He would continually say things that made it crystal clear he did not understand the overall structure, rationale and goals of Classical Tai Chi.  My teacher addressed that in an email to him because he said he did not feel it was necessary to view the "Overview DVD Vol. 1":
Master hwa said: "I think if you have studied vol 1 Overview, it will be much clear,to you the overall structure, rational and goal of learning Classical Tai Chi. Vol 2 Form Instruction is teaching details. It will take a while learning individual trees before you can see the forest."
The only thing this student seemed to accomplish was to be "lost".  He seemed to want to clutter himself with too much information as fast as possible.  The problem with "clutter" is that one cannot see the forest for the trees as my teacher says...the way is not clear.  In the early stages of learning one needs direct pathways to find stuff...I refer to the establishment of "neural pathways" in the brain.
Why burden oneself, complicate things with "neural paths" that resemble nothing better than a giant plate of noodles, with no starting point or end?  The same holds true for starting on Vol. 2 DVD before viewing Vol. 1 Overview.  That would be like buying a map that resembled a plate of noodles.
It also occurs to me that folks don't much like my telling them how to get their learning organized, to get the "neural paths" in order. Cetainly, my aim is not to force anyone to do things right, it can be frustrating to students if viewed that way. However, I've seen too many students that aim too high or burden themselves with all the wrong concerns.  Remember, the ignition of a fire cannot be rushed, it takes proper structure time and patience....and there is a distinct rationale to reaching that goal.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Back to Basics"

Young Wabu and  Master Wu Chien Chuan

"When you have something that works well, why complicate it?"

The study of Kata cuts across all martial arts and Classical Tai Chi is no exception.  In Tai Chi of course, the term Form is most often used instead of Kata.  Prof. Geoff Lane of the Danzan Ryu  JuJitsu system has written an article entitled "Back to Basics" which can be found here: Back to Basics.

In the article Lane pays tribute to Grandmaster Young Wabu's devotion and adherence to fundamental principles.  I include the excerpt here:

"Another martial artist I was very fortunate to meet with a similar quality was Linyi Maslin's father: Master Wabu Young, a Tai Chi master.  He studied in Hong Kong under Master Wu Chien Chuan in the 30's after he came to Hong Kong from Shanghai to escape the Japanese.  He spent his whole life perfecting one kata.  Doing it square, round, regular and mirror image, fast and slow, large and small...the basics...doing the same Tai Chi form for 70 years.  He passed away in 2004 (correction: note that Grand Master Young Wabu passed away on April 18, 2005 at the age of 101 in Rochester, NY), dying a "typical Zen Master's death (but that's another story), exuding power and grace to the end.  The basics served him well.  When you have something that works well, why complicate it?"

 Professor Geoff Lane teaches jujitsu at the Nibukikan in Chico, California.  Grand Master Young Wabu's daughter Lin-Yi Maslin also teaches Wu Style Tai Chi at the Nibukikan.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Learning "stages" and "curve" in Classical Tai Chi

My student Barry knows the travails of “forget” when it comes to his training in external martial arts. He has trained many years in a form of Karate to the level of a high ranking Black Belt.  He is also a defensive training officer for the Government.  Barry made good progress these past 2 years with the form and one can see he can go through much of it without thinking of what comes next. 

Note: This is really what comprises the 1st stage of learning Classical Tai Chi, wherein one can do the form in all the right directions.  

What is really next for 2nd stage is correct hand position, then 3rd is timing and finally 4th is integration of internal discipline.  Barry feels chagrined about some things I mention but  what I see is somewhat normal for the stage of learning he is at.  In some respect that is that he holds his arms very close and tight (like a compact form with no internal discipline). That seems to create tension and compression of arms, one can see scrunching at the shoulders, tensing the neck.  It appears he does not stretch at the shoulder, for that matter he keeps the wrong angles of arms for postures.    

Barry’s learning, scrunching, tension is not very different from other students who are at the same stage. However, they all, including Barry are more advanced than they think.  Specifically, they do have  internal discipline in the major movements, I can see core moving and engaging with the arms. My own teacher, Master Stephen Hwa touches on this “learning curve” in an email that I include here.  So I thought about  this some more and  read pages 72 and 73 of “Uncovering the Treasure” (link to the book on this page).  This is where the discussion gets into whether arm leads core or vice versa.  I must say I got some inspiration for teaching him from this. 

Note: In some regard, I find that this is a situation where he truly needs to learn how to use his arms, which is clear to see falls into the realm of the 2nd stage…learning correct hand position.

Now I spend a little more time with him doing repetitions of movements and pay particular attention to whether he is stretching at shoulder and keeping elbow down and not “chicken wing” the elbow out to the side.  This seems to alleviate the scrunching and tightening at neck and shoulders. I am also doing this with my other students who started at the same time as Barry. By encouraging him to stretch from shoulder, one can see the proper angles and hand positions improving as well.

After I sent an email to my own teacher  on this subject, I recalled his  narrative about his student  Ernie and how his concentration on relaxing shoulder actually did not work because he was thinking about it too much.  I include this
 link to the Tai Chi Forums (just click) and you just search for Forum 14, do a search for the word “shoulder”.

Although Barry is not really ready for push hands, I thought the "solo" of that movement might be of some use.  I see now that doing that solo push hands movement where one can stretch at the shoulder appeals to him.  He seems to take to it naturally because of his Karate background . My telling him to stretch did not make much impression, however having him do the one person part solo of push hands seems somewhat intuitive for him.

He does not show scrunching when he does that.  So now time will tell if he makes that "transfer" to stretch shoulder lightly, keep elbow down to the rest of the form.

Email from Master Stephen Hwa:  Jim: I am teaching a group of not young people here (he is enjoying the wonderful climate in Florida after many years living in snow country). I do not expect them to really learn the whole form. So I started them on some of the silk reeling exercise including the "moving arm up while engaging the core". It is a hit to everyone. They love it. I know this is an upside down approach. But, if they enjoy it and getting somethng out of it. Why not?  With our methodology of teaching this move, we do not need to follow the old tradition which teaches this only after ten years of tai chi training! 

Now a day one needs to keep student's interest otherwise they leave. Learning this kind of internal movement seems really appreciated by even the beginners.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"FORGET the deeply ingrained external martial arts, in order to switch..."

Someone arrived in the studio and I said "How can I help you?"  "I saw your web page and I see that you teach Tai Chi".  "You studied other martial arts?" I asked.  "I studied Wu  Style for some time, I stopped, but I want to start again."  I asked her to demonstrate some of the Tai Chi that she knew and she refused.  "I don't remember it very well" she said.

"Do you realize you will have to unlearn all you have learned and start over again?" I asked.  "No," She said.

"Let me relate what my teacher Master Stephen Hwa says about his teacher's experience with the founder of Wu Style Tai Chi." I said. Biography of Grand Master Young Wabu 

"Now, you understand the point?"  "Yes," she said. "You want me to empty my head of old knowledge and old habits so I will be open to new learning."

"Exactly," I said

Later, she told me that she had to quit after the 3rd lesson.  "Why?" I asked.  "When I did Wu Style, my teacher did not do it like you are teaching it."

"By the way, did you forget what you agreed to?" I said.

"No." She said.

"That is why you  quit, you just cannot forget." I said.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

3. Hand Strums the Lute 手揮琵琶 Shǒu huī pípá

The  pípá or the Lute as a stringed instrument is held in a vertical manner in front of the body.  You can see the position of the hands in this video.  Liu Fang plays the PiPa
In Classical Tai Chi "strumming the lute" can be applied to the opponents arm (which presumably is  the "lute" or "pipa").  Noticing the foot position of Master Hwa's feet however shows him sitting back with the front foot pointing up.  From that position he can kick, stomp, step on the opponents foot, step behind the opponents foot, etc. His front foot is free to move, with no weight on it, it can be fluid.

With one hand facing down and one hand facing up, the equal and opposite force can be applied to an opponents arm, the opponents arm can be grasped between the opposite palms, the opponents arm can be encircled.  From that position his arm can be jammed back into him, it can be pulled down, pushed down,  one can attack the opponents neck with the fingers of the front palm, etc.

The word Shǒu means hand, the word huī can mean "wielding", "waving" or even "wiping away".  The character 揮 has one part that means hand and the other means chariots and an army division (but the chariot character is significant for its other part that involves rolling, revolving or crushing)  .  

I think the full implication of the character can be interpreted for Tai Chi purposes as wielding (holding) the opponents arm.  However, the act of wielding here is not limited to traditional thought of how to hold something, except for the fact that the hands have to act in an equal and opposite manner. One could hold something for instance by encircling it with one's arms in that position, etc. 

In the round form, Master Hwa states that the right hand dips down in a quarter body movement which he refers to as a "block".  From that quarter body movement it works into a combination of internal movements.  Whether square form or round form however, it is really noted as starting from its "sitback" position.

  • There are complex foot movements used to transition to this posture and I often see beginners forgetting to pay attention to the demands of the legs and feet.
  • When you turn the left foot to the right, it is quite common to forget to turn it 90 degrees, I sometimes see students only turning 75 degrees or even less, that failure will affect the upcoming posture adversely.
  • Learn to shift the weight to the left leg smoothly using internal discipline from the core.
  • The pulling down of the right elbow should eventually be internal.
  • When you make a chopping motion to the right, keep it at head level.
  • When you lift the right hip and draw the right heel up, do not stand up by flexing the left knee and rising.
  • Don't pull back your right arm and hand when you rotate 90 degrees to the right.
  • Check to make sure your feet are parallel.
  • There is important timing to be aware of as you bring left arm and right foot on a shift to the right...the left hand arrives at the right wrist as the right foot extends onto the heel...both have made a slight shift to the right in mid air.
  • Be aware that there is also implication for the transition move as a tremendous application in itself or even combination of is very dynamic in its own right.  As Master Hwa says, the right hand rising can be used to jab the underside of the opponents neck.  The left arm can be used to ji or press into an opponent as the left foot encircles the opponents leg, etc.