Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Good exercise but it is not Tai Chi

How do you remove the martial side of Tai Chi and still train Tai Chi?  How do you remove the internal of Tai Chi and still have Tai Chi? There is a real inconsistency here that no one has ever managed to resolve for me.   How do you present Tai Chi without giving coherent and comprehensive reasoning for it being internal?

How do you say that what you do is for "health" minus martial intent in the light of many Tai Chi masters, living and dead who with martial intent lived to ripe old age in the springtime of their lives?  Witness, Grandmasters Young Wabu, Master Stephen Hwa.  How do you resolve an obvious conundrum in being proficient in Tai Chi by not being able to articulate and demonstrate why what you do is internal?

Why put people off by telling them "what we do is for health, not for fighting"?  How do you say "knowing the benefits a punch is doing for your heart and back" is more valuable than as you say "I'm not interested in learning how to punch someone"?  How do you "project" energy from your arm by visualizing your heart for instance?  It seems to me that certainly  in one sense that we are talking about the same thing but from "external" and not "internal" perspective.   That thing is "martial intent" or the lack thereof. How do you justify telling me that what you do is the only thing "good for health" and that what I do is merely learning to punch people?

Apart from sparring under relatively controlled conditions and doing "external" Tai Chi, I cannot remember the last time I "punched" someone during Tai Chi. How would you justify making cutting motions with a knife for  health purposes only while ignoring that the "intent" of a knife is to cut something?  How do you explain the fact that one has to know which part of their arm and in this case the fist where the internal energy has to be moved beyond ("to project").  This is called martial intent.  How do you tell me you have "intent" when what you do is not internal movement to begin with?

Take a look at about 48 seconds into this video.  VIDEO  You will see an annotation at about 50 seconds which talks about Yin/Yang and junction. How do you stretch out your arms to full extent in a "punch", with the  arms really to the lateral sides of the body without intent and say that it is "internal"?  Try this experiment which is somewhat based on what you see Master Hwa doing.  "Punch" ahead of you in the air by flexing your arm back and forth at the elbow, elbows out to the side or even pointed downward, extend the arm fully each time as you see him do.  He is talking about the "junction" being at the shoulder in this one. You can do it really fast, flex/extend......... Pretty easy right? That is an "external" movement, the junction is at the shoulder as well.

  Now hold one arm directly in front of the "centerline" of your body, elbow down and arm not extended yet as though you are going to punch.  Master Hwa does this and moves the arm with no flexing at the elbow, just a stationary part and a moving part using the core only.  We will experiment a little differently. Try to extend/flex, extend/flex as fast as you did "externally" with  your arm fully  in front of the body as he does, keeping those guidelines in mind.  Junction is now at the core and try to do what Master Hwa did, just extend/flex at the elbow very fast with arm in front as he does. Pretty difficult yes?  The reason you cannot extend your arm, "straighten" it without some difficulty, is because you are "engaging" your core muscles, abdomen and back.

One cannot do "internal" and external at the same time.  You can do one then do the other but the two cannot operate at the same time.  In this event, one would have to setup the parameters for external (elbow and arm not directly in front of centerline and more toward lateral sides of body) to successfully be able to extend the arm fully and easily once more.

What is behind these true internal movements that Hwa demonstrates other than martial intent to project internal energy? How does moving arm at shoulder junction benefit your back, spine, heart, etc.?  If real internal only comes from such structure, alignment, and projection as I have outlined then how can you begin to say what you do is even good Tai Chi and not just merely good exercise? What is "internal" about holding your arm to the side and flexing it at the elbow?  So what is the problem with using "martial intent" considering that what one does is not Tai Chi to begin with?  In any event with those parameters in mind, you cannot have intent without internal already in place. Reason is very simple and since it is not Tai Chi unless it is internal,  do you have it?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Getting "better" in Classical Tai Chi

Sitback, sitback, sitback till there is a "crease" in the front not merely a "wrinkle". Turn the body, turn the body, turn the body to ward off. Don't bend the arm, don't bend the arm, don't bend the arm...review, review, review...
I have been told by students that telling them to review is "Preaching to the choir" in Classical Tai Chi.  A cliche' if there ever was one...right?  I hear it from students and it seems to be in a way that discourages doing it.  An idiomatic expression that means "you are wasting time" and "what you are doing is useless because you are boring, annoying, I've heard it a million times and I am already persuaded."
  • Well for one, you are listening to me. You are here because you want to be here and you want to hear "preaching".
  • A student or potential student is not the teacher.  A class needs a teacher.  You can think for yourself but you need someone who can see a little further into the future and can focus your efforts.  Someone who can inspire and motivate you.

When I hear "you are preaching to the choir", I can certainly read between the lines because what a student is saying is that they do not want to hear the lesson again.  Or, they do not have a problem, it is the other guy who has a problem.  In other words the student is passively resisting what the teacher has to say.  Why?  It is because teaching that you do not wish to hear again is teaching that you really do not agree with.  If you say you agree with me, not wanting to hear me and telling me to do something else is not a "positive" response to teaching.
"Talk is cheap, put your money where your mouth is". Another cliche', but it certainly has not been "cheapened" (no pun intended) by repetition, review or great improvement. In other words, back up your "agreement" with action and committment. Things are not always a "problem" either, sometimes it simply means doing something good, helpful or better.
"Better", "doing better, "get better", etc. Pure and simple, people forget, you forget, I forget, we all forget.  For as long as you do Classical Tai Chi, you will have to not only learn, learn, learn but you will have to review, review, review.  Want to get better?  Review, and review some more. 
Here is a great quote for your perusal: 
"You need to remember, sometimes the appearance of reality is actually an illusion. My students in class often told me that they thought I was moving a certain way and tried to do the same.  Later they found out that their observation was not correct.  That was the reason I incorporated different views in my DVD lessons, so you could see my moves at different angles to lessen the chance of wrong impression.  Using a fresh eye to review the lesson DVD could also uncover any misinterpretation of my movements."
"Learning Tai Chi often follows an unexpected path: advancement followed by periods of stagnation and even a turn for the worse.  This is because at this stage, you still have not built a firm foundation under your form practice.  Once you are familiar with the movements, you may become careless, neglecting some of the fundamentals in the form playing.  You can test this by critically looking at how you do the tai chi walk.  My experience with my students in class is that such review often showed missing details which they had done correctly years past. Eventually when you full grasp the principles, rationale and common thread of the movements you will be able to maintain an even keel progress and make discoveries on you own"  Master Stephen Hwa
I recall someone telling me they were "scolded" for offering a suggestion regarding someone's Classical Tai Chi form. The individual told them, "I know what I am doing is right because I have been doing it for "x" amount of years."  That is not a reason, that is an excuse. The person and I later discussed the incident and I asked: "Why do you think they said that".  He replied: "Because they do not want to get any better".

      Monday, July 16, 2012

      The Gait of Classical Tai Chi Walking and Dementia

      Hexagram 30, Li The Clinging, Fire I Ching

      Nine in the third place means: In the light of the setting sun, Men either beat the pot and sing Or loudly bewail the approach of old age. Misfortune. "Here the end of the day has come. The light of the setting sun calls to mind the fact that life is transitory and conditional. Caught in this external bondage, men are usually
      robbed of their inner freedom as well. The sense of the transitoriness of life impels them to 
      uninhibited revelry in order to enjoy life while it lasts, or else they yield to melancholy and spoil
      the precious time by lamenting the approach of old age. Both attitudes are wrong. To the superior man it makes no difference whether death comes early or late. He cultivates himself, 
      awaits his allotted time, and in this way secures his fate."

      Ikkyu, the Zen master, was very clever even as a boy. His teacher had a precious teacup, a rare antique. Ikkyu happened to break this cup and was greatly perplexed. Hearing the footsteps of his teacher, he held the pieces of the cup behind him. When the master appeared, Ikkyu asked: 

      "Why do people have to die?"

      "This is natural," explained the older man. "Everything has to die and has just so long to live."
      Ikkyu, producing the shattered cup, added: "It was time for your cup to die."

      Dementia, old age, lack of movement, the bain of old age?  Are you doomed to merely "clinging" to life as you reach old age or do you celebrate going into it by "living in the Springtime of your life"? There are numerous studies and articles about the health benefits of Tai Chi for any age, but there should be  much more written about Classical Tai Chi.  As with Tai Chi in general, the health benefits of Classical Tai Chi can be examined from different perspectives and with different intensity.  Unlike Tai Chi in general however, the health benefits of Classical Tai Chi will always be linked inextricably with the training of Internal Discipline which is the exclusive domain of Classical Tai Chi.

      It is an unfortunate occurrence of old age that the elderly begin to move more and more from the extremeties of the body and less and less from the core of the body.  We hear the statement, "I feel stiff" quite frequently from elderly people, whereas one seldom hears that refrain from the young.

      This is an excerpt from the book Understanding Dementia, which is meant to be a practical manual for primary care physicians and other health care professionals. Chapter 6 deals with theneurological examination, which includes an examination of gait (i.e. how someone walks).

      "A crucial (and often neglected) part of the neurologic exam is the observation of gait. Common gait disorders associated with dementia are the hemiplegic gait, parkinsonian gait, ataxic gait and apraxic gait. The characteristics of a hemiplegic gait are well- known (circumduction at the hip, dragging of the affected foot, and lack of movement at the knee). Parkinsonian and ataxic gaits are also familiar to most primary care practitioners. The former, in its most characteristic guise, is accompanied by a stooped posture, loss of arm swing, shuffling, small steps, and festination - an ataxic gait is characterized by imbalance, and usually a broad couching stance in compensation. An apraxic gait is present when the previously learned motor activity (gait) can not be performed despite normal power and coordination of the legs. Typically the patient can stand, but has difficulty initiating gait, is very unsteady, takes small irregular steps, and their feet appear frozen to the floor. Detailed cuing (e.g. "life your right leg, now bend the knee, now put it forward.") often is helpful. This gait is consistent with both vascular disease and normal pressure hydrocephalus . "

      Taken from Understanding Dementia: A Primer of Diagnosis and Management
      © Kenneth Rockwood & Chris MacKnight, 2001
      Chapter 6, pp 108-109

      That is an interesting terminology:  "Detailed Cuing" (e.g. "lift your right leg, now bend the knee, now put it forward.")  This is exactly how Classical Tai Chi approaches its most basic training of Walking by using internal discipline.

      I find the Walking exercises, training, practice of Classical Tai Chi to be tailor made for this dilemma.  One can intuit quite easily that it is important to maintain the ability to walk, what is more difficult is getting people to do it particularly if they feel unsteady.  

      Moreso than any Tai Chi that I have experienced over 35 years, the Classical Tai Chi  takes this and goes right to the crux of the problem.  The elderly do not move from the core, they stoop, shuffle their steps and exhibit very little flexibility.  Any training should take the "core" movement into account  for the stagnation of the core is at the heart of the matter.  Any training should take a cognitive approach...talking, instructing exactly(How do you lift your leg..."lift the leg by using the abdominal and back muscle, by lifting the pelvis, etc."  It is part of the training to take "small steps" but with Classical Tai Chi the training makes the steps "regular".  The training encompasses schooling people in how to not have "feet frozen to the floor".  This is accomplished through teaching people to keep the body's center of gravity under control.  Not allowing the body to fall forward as is done in the everyday common walking motion.  Most importantly, one learns to pull the body forward or backward, not pushing with the legs.

      In this way dementia patients can work toward a visceral understanding of proper body posure, foot position, body weight distribution, all while using a highly cognitive and unique training for gait dynamics.  

      Sunday, July 15, 2012

      "After Finishing the Lessons...A Beginning"

      After finishing the lessons...thunder, lightning...a real "jolt"...a "shock"... but upon further reflection...a beginning...

      51. Chên / The Arousing (Shock, Thunder)I Ching

       SHOCK brings success.
       Shock comes-oh, oh!
       Laughing words -ha, ha!
       The shock terrifies for a hundred miles,
       And he does not let fall the sacrificial spoon and chalice.

      As a human I have spent my share of anger.  As a Tai Chi instructor I have also seen my fair share of anger “coming and going” as the saying goes.  There is a baseball adage  wherein one figuratively acts as “pitcher” and “catcher” at the same time, thus my own saying “As a teacher, I see anger coming and going”.  My student and fellow teacher Mike F. tells me that as a professional musician he swims in a sea of perpetual criticism.  Such criticism he says comes from his fellow musicians as well as orchestra leaders and conductors.  Yet, he states  that he does not lash out at the conductor or his colleagues.

      I recall an incident in 2004 which happened right after meeting my present teacher, Master Stephen Hwa. I was in the throes of patting myself on the back because I had learned the Classical Tai Chi form with quite a bit of ease.  What I failed to perceive is “that I was moving a certain way, but in fact I was not moving that way” at all. After all, I thought,   I had finished the lessons from the Classical Tai Chi video series. Master Hwa wrote that when he observed me trying to internalize my movement away from the arm and shoulder, my movements initiated from the chest area.  He stated that I would scrunch my chest to start an upper body movement. 

      I recall being admonished quite vehemently by him on this “scrunching”.  The  critique came during one of my private classes with him at a local park in Rochester, NY in the Summer of 2004.  I admit being surprised by the vehemence of his correction but did not feel angry. 

      In October of 2004 I recall reading the Classical Tai Chi Forum 10 which was called : “After Finishing the Lessons, A Beginning”.   There I came across a complete written account of the critique.  First I read “You need to remember, sometimes the appearance of reality is actually an illusion”.  This was followed by an admonition to use “ a fresh eye to review the lesson video which can uncover any misinterpretation of movements”.   Then I read a synopsis of my meeting with Master Hwa and my “scrunching” when I thought I was moving correctly.

      Where I did not feel “angry” upon receiving admonition in person, I did feel angry when reading the admonition in writing.  My thought was: “How could my teacher put my mistake in writing for all the world to see”?  I initially felt sullen and angry because I felt my teacher was being condescending and insulting and I felt shocked by what I read.  After all, I thought (even though he did not use my name but simply said “one student”) who else could it be but me, me, me.  Insert the melody and additional lyrics for:  "You are so vain, you probably think this song is about you" here.

      After stewing on this for some time, I began to reflect more calmly.  During the “hottest” moments of that incident however, I refrained from making any angry retorts to my teacher.  As I “cooled” down however, I began to realize that I had been proud and arrogant thus thinking more highly of myself than I ought to.  Upon further reflection my  initial angry thought was “I have studied Tai Chi before this for a long time, I am a good student, how can he say this to me”?.   After further consideration however, I realized that it was I who had contacted Master Hwa and asked him to teach me, not the other way around.  If I wanted him to teach me why was I not being humble and gracious about what he had said or wrote about “me”? After further reflection, I realized that he had provided a great talking point and lesson for a hundred other students who could benefit from my mistake. 

      I realized I was being “Egotistical” and perhaps one might well ask what is egotism,  what does it have to do with learning Tai Chi or you for that matter?

      Here is a "story" that may help:

      “The Prime Minister of the Tang Dynasty was a national hero for his success as both a statesman and military leader. But despite his fame, power, and wealth, he considered himself a humble and devout Buddhist.

      Often he visited his favorite Zen master to study under him, and they  seemed to get along very well. The fact that he was Prime Minister apparently had no effect on their relationship, which seemed to be simply one of a revered master and respectful student.

      One day, during his usual visit, the Prime Minister asked the master, “Your Reverence, what is egotism according to Buddhism?” The master's face turned red, and in a very condescending and insulting tone of voice, he shot back, “What kind of stupid question is that!?”

      This unexpected response so shocked the Prime Minister that he became  sullen and angry. The Zen master then smiled and said, “This, Your Excellency, is egotism.”

      Author Unknown

       Thunder repeated: the image of SHOCK.
       Thus in fear and trembling
       The superior man sets his life in order
       And examines himself.

      Thursday, July 12, 2012

      Not a mystery to be good at martial applications

      Dear Master Hwa,

      "I have become impatient with the slowness of the learning curve regarding Classical Tai Chi for this reason alone: the forms playing does not seem to be leading to martial application, and there does not seem to be any partners out this way who know Classical Tai that I can practice.

      So, I am enrolling in a Wing Chun class through a park district close to where I live. My first class was this past Wednesday, and I asked for an opportunity to use what I have learned in the Forms playing with the Sifu that is teaching the class. Here is the scenario. He asked me to use a boxing jab to try to attack him. He became aggressive immediately by using a barrage of strikes, blocks, and forward motion. I used circular defensive arm moves while playing Repulse Monkey. I could feel my internal energy in my Dan Tien and quarter body moves. However, Sifu was able to tag me in the face. In blocking his punches, I received a large bruise on the top of my left hand. We did not have padded gloves.  OK, so here is the question. How did he get inside me so quickly?  It was all a blur. Now, given I was not as aggressive as I could have been. I did pull back. But still, he got close to me very quickly, and stuck to me. It was like I was pulling him round trying to free up some space between us. He had the advantage. He was fighting on the inside before I could do anything effective."

      When I used Fair Lady Works the Shuttle as he squared off with me, my ward off was good using the turning of the waist and arms connected to the upper body while lower body stayed rooted. But he grabbed my T-Shirt as he went in the other direction and used the power I used to move away from him after the ward off as a way of sticking to me. He could have hit me in the temple, or in the back of the head. But it was a demonstration I had asked for and so he did not.  I did knock him off balance because he was double waited at the time. That felt good.

      In another demonstration, Sifu wanted to prove a point that he could finger jab me in the sternum before I could do anything about it. He was lightening fast. I was not fast enough to block his incoming force. Probably because my reflexes are not as highly developed as his. Thinking back, I could have turned my upper body quadrant away from his incoming force, but didn't because he wanted to square of with him. I simply followed instructions.

      Here is where you come in Master Hwa. I need your concerted effort in analyzing what happened. I know that you where not there and did not have an opportunity to observe my form and delivery. But you have observed my playing the Forms both in Florida and Buffalo. you also have your own experience and wisdom in how you might have handle these situations.  

      Don't pull any punches :)  The above could be a good subject matter in one of your Forums e.g. how is it that we are employing martial application along with our Form playing.

      By the way, how does it take to be a Tai Chi fighter? Have you had sparring experience?

      Hope all is well with you and your family.


      Hi James: There is no mystery to be good at martial art application. This is discussed in my book and video.
      You need to go through three steps:
      1. Develop internal energy or power through Form practice, so that one can deliver the power at any angle and position.
      2. Practice the form such that the ability of delivery becomes instinctive, no need to think.
      3. Practice push hand and sparing to develop sensitivity and finesse.
      As I recall when you visited me in Florida, you were not close to master step 1. You were able to use internal at several moves but not all angles. From your description of your sparing experience, you still need to think when you move. No wonder you were always one step behind, and being controlled by the opponent.
      Step 3 needs partner to practice. There is no short cut to that.
      I hope I have answered your questions.

      Stephen Hwa

      "There are no winning moves, only winning execution of moves"...Stephen Hwa

      Hi James,

      I studied at Wu's Tai Chi Academy in Toronto for some time, then I met Stephen Hwa and my Tai Chi got better.  I was doing Tae Kwon Do at the time  at Wu's and my skills were not great, nor were my Tai Chi fighting skills in the studio.  On the street however, I was able to defend myself quite adequately as I had the misfortune of being attacked/mugged on several occasions. I found in Tae Kwon Do some different experiences than I found at Wu's.  For instance, with Tai Chi I found  myself in situations where I ended up grappling but in Tae Kwon Do   I did not. 

      I had quite a number of occasions to spar in both arts and even to use Tae Kwon Do against Tai Chi people. I find myself thinking here of Grandmaster Young Wabu and his expression of the difficulty he had in forgetting the external arts he learned.  In other words, I think he felt it did not help his Tai Chi. I found that there were some Tai Chi people that could not deal with my kicks and there were some who could.  I found that there were some people who could deal with my punches and there were some who could not. I submit the following: To use Tai Chi against Tai Chi, Tae Kwon Do, Wing Chun, etc., etc. is not a matter of proving which art is "better".  It is a matter of which opponent is "better" at the art they are using. I believe there is an adage that says: “It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.” 
      ― Mark Twain

      Why not get some Wing Chun people to spar against you while you do Tai Chi, why "throw out the baby with the bath water"? In Tai Chi one does not use "boxing jab to attack him", it is a pure defensive art, why not an agreeable "sparring" situation, where he uses a boxing jab to attack you?  Anyway, all this proves is he is better at Wing Chun than you are at Tai Chi, not Wing Chun is better than Tai Chi. I don't wish to analyze your synopsis any more because it reads the same throughout.

      If one wants to get better at Tai Chi,  it requires sensitivity to opponents movement, ability to ting jin, stick to opponent and to have  intelligence under pressure.   I see no reason why any of that cannot be maintained into old age.  Even Western Boxing's clinch (before it became the disgraceful stalling tactic it is now) could be said to have once relied on some semblance of sensitivity. Even with that the bout between Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes went to grappling and trapping range 10 times in the first three minutes...once every 18 seconds. This means "practicing push hands and sparring to develop sensitivity and finesse" with a variety of opponents. 

       How can anyone expect to develop sticking from just practicing the form?   I see no place where Master Hwa promises a "flowering" of self defense ability. Additionally, no one ever promised folks "Pie in the Sky" in Classical Tai Chi and on the contrary the limitations of what we do have been spelled out even more than I got at Wu's.  Learning to stick to opponent in close quarters   This step requires willing and trusted partner and ones own willing participation. How to learn to spar with Tai Chi, particularly  if one can find a Wing Chun partner , particularly one who is physically stronger then they will find the guy will just ram down your centerline and smash you out of the way...like what you describe. Then you have  to stick with his smashing, not run away.

      As one gets older, they are no longer going to be the fastest or strongest so they have to rely on feeling out the opponent.  If one can't beat with speed then you  have to stick.  This does not mean you are not going to get hit.  In his fight with a Hard Style opponent, Wu Gong Yi was limited by rules not to stick, if he could then I think things would be much different and perhaps not "called a draw". 

      If one is moving from Tai Chi to Wing Chun having some idea of the difference between Wing Chun and Tai Chi comes with research before starting.  My student Anh Le does Wing Chun and also spars with people who do mixed Martial Arts.  He also admits there are things that he personally can do and cannot do and although he is defeated, he does not blame either Tai Chi or Wing Chun, he has enough reasoning ability to put the onus squarely on his own shoulders. He states that Chi Sao in Wing Chun is done with arms that move independently of the torso in straight line fashion and yin yang junctions are at the shoulder in contrast to that of Tai Chi. 

      It is interesting that chi sao in Wing Chun which to the uninitiated "looks" like Tai Chi push hands emphasizes economy of movement and decrease in circular action by centering the elbow in straight line arm movements. On the contrary, we  see  centering of elbow in tight compact form with a subsequent increase in circular action.  If one does not posess number 1 where internal power can be delivered at any angle, much less from one's own center how on earth can one expect to attack an opponent when one cannot even protect oneself by sticking, which comes from push hands which have  never even done?

      You wish me to be honest, not pull punches, I would say get a  "grip", so to speak.  How can one  with  reasoning that Tai Chi is not good enough, also expect to reconcile the attitude "I'm here to learn to kick him in the *&%$" that I heard at the workshop.  How does that reconcile   with "He who knows much is learned; he who knows himself is wise. He who rules others has the power of muscles; he who rules himself has strength?"  Once again, who is attacking you?  Do you get mugged just walking out the door, simplest martial art would be the art of "getting out of Dodge"...move your belongings to another section of town, I see no one else but you, where are the muggers?   Wishful thinking and an   "I wannabe" attitude , to learn to "kill 10 people at one fell swoop" from any martial art...ain't going to happen. If 10 guys jump you, then hope they have mercy.

      What do you think about my adding a Wing Chung Traditional Wooden Dummy along with my learning the 108 Classical Tai Chi Forms?
      What do you think my about adding a Free Standing Makiwara Board to my regimen?

      The impetus for my questions has to do with my desire to move into martial application. I do not know that mastering the Forms is going to be enough for me at this point. I liked what I observed at the training in Buffalo last summer between you and a student regarding "Carrying the Tiger to the Mountain."

      I have been practicing Classical Tai Chi for 7 plus years, and am on the 98th Form, and anticipate finishing sometime in 2012. I feel alive, and competent when practicing Wudang Tiger Tail Short Staff, and powerful when palm striking and kicking a 4 x 4 free standing piece of wood outdoors. I have an appreciation for my adequate self defense skills in what I have learned in all these disciplines.
      Your feedback will be greatly appreciated.

      OK, you ask for "feedback" and I am not going to pull my punches, which by the way Tai Chi does not do anyway:

      How do you figure a striking post will help?  If one cannot muster internal power for application, isn't this a weakness that is a priori to any "striking post"?  Want to get better?  Then develop internal power for application.  Other than that you are relegated to using external force which gives you no advantage over a more accomplished external martial artist, as you clearly illustrated.  Master Hwa tells me even some retired old ladies that he teaches seem to enjoy using their newly acquired semi-internal power to push people around.

      To paraphrase Master Hwa's statement about "winning moves":  "There are no winning martial arts, only winning execution of martial arts" , in other words it is the size of the fight in the dog, not the dog that is in the fight.  

      James R.


      Wednesday, July 4, 2012

      Knock yourself over with your own "holding pattern"

      From the web page of Master Stephen Hwa in 2005 and updated in 2012 for this Blog: "I am pleased to announce and congratulate the first certified teacher of Classical Tai Chi is Jim Roach of Buffalo, NY. He is extremely dedicated and accomplished. Jim has another background in such diverse external styles as Karate and Tae Kwon Do but Jim began his Tai Chi study in 1976. He subsequently studied Yang and Wu's Style of Tai Chi, even while he was studying Tae Kwon Do in Buffalo. He spent much of his time traveling back and forth to Toronto Canada over the years at least once a week, sometimes more to study with very notable teachers. Jim had the privilege to study with and become a disciple of the Great-grandson of legendary Grandmaster Wu Chien Chuan, Master Wu Kwong Yu.  

      Jim became actively engaged in study with Master Hwa in April of 2003.  Since that time, Jim has engaged in numerous private instruction classes with Master Hwa as well as group classes. He also assisted and participated in many of the scenes of the DVD "Tao of Martial Applications".  In addition, he appears in several photographs of the book "Uncovering the Treasure".  After only a short time, Jim  was (to paraphrase Master Hwa ) "fascinated with the underlying principles that unified Classical Tai Chi’s seemingly complex movements." 

      In addition to  Ken-Ton community education classes where Jim taught under Master Hwa's personal and direct supervision (Master Hwa was in attendance to monitor Jim's classes). Jim is actively seeking out experienced Tai Chi or other Martial Art students in order to conduct further workshops and classes in Classical Tai Chi. While he was an employee of the U.S. Customs Service, Jim conducted self-defense classes at the Federal Building in Buffalo, NY as well as Customs Inspectors at the Peace Bridge.. He has also conducted workshops and personal instruction in Tai Chi to continuing education programs at local public schools, hospitals as well as medical professionals. He has also taught Tai Chi to Karate Instructors and Karate Studios in Buffalo."  Master Stephen Hwa
      You can visit his webpage: Classical Tai Chi of Buffalo

      Once in awhile I have taught  Tai Chi  to students that have previously studied Tai Chi, Karate, Kung Fu, etc. I have  students now that have studied both Tai Chi and "hard" styles as well.  One of those students is still involved with studying Wing Chun along with his study of Classical Tai Chi.  I recall teaching someone who owned his own Karate Studio and who had become a martial arts legend of sorts.  He saw me practicing the Wu's Sword Form and asked to learn it.  I said I would teach it if he would learn the Wu's style 108 long from from me. He appeared in the “Inside Kung Fu” magazine because of his prowess in several other martial arts and was versed in many weapons forms.   Grandmaster Young Wabu who Master Hwa  states was versed in many martial arts as well as being a master of Pekkwar Monkey boxing when he met Wu Chien Chuan.   The Karate teacher unfortunately did not stick with Tai Chi as did Grandmaster Young with Wu Chien Chuan or learn the sword, as he stated he was “bored” learning the long form.

      I noticed when I taught the Karate teacher however that he constantly had his shoulders in a "holding pattern" of being hunched forward and held very tightly.  I also noticed it was very difficult for him to "release" the holding pattern to drop the shoulders, in fact I never saw him able to do it at all.  This gave his back a constant hunched appearance, causing the chin to jut out.  The hunching and tightening seemed to extend to the lower torso where he was unable to loosen the buttocks to straighten the back and thus free the waist to turn freely. 

      In thinking of "ingrained" muscular tension as a holding pattern, I also came across this message from a 2004 post in the Classical Tai Chi Forum on a student's previous experience with other arts and its effect on learning Classical Tai Chi:

      "I am coming from a karate background.  For me it (classical tai chi ) is like learning karate all over again. Learning how to walk, turn, block and strike. The 'square form' is much easier for me to follow. It is more familiar to me. Coming from a 'hard' style, I find it hard to relax as I do the form. It is ingrained to tense as the blocks or strikes are applied. I can find many practical martial moves in the form. Understand that in karate katas not every move is explained as to application unless you ask the instructor, 'how is this used'? All blocks are also strikes, and all strikes are also blocks. To me it seems Tai Chi is a form of martial arts Qi Gong. This is great as my body can no longer tolerate a 'hard' style.

      A comment on “Kata” by Master Hwa from the context of “Yi” in another Forum: “ External martial arts such as Karate also practice a solo form called Kata. Kata allows the practitioner to study movements at full power and speed and allows the student to move with the enemy in mind. So, both Tai Chi form and Kata is practiced with “Yi”. But, Kata is practiced with a tensed up arm moving with power and speed: while Tai Chi is practiced with a relaxed arm and moving at a slow speed. The “Yi” in Tai Chi is therefore purely mental.”

      I have a suspicion however that tensed up body parts are not strictly the domain of Karate practitioners. I see them over and over again in students who do not study other martial arts.  I find many, many students who state they only want Tai Chi for "health".  Yet, many of these practitioners are so tense, it looks like their extremities are literally tied into holding patterns. Although, I think in the case of karate there are a number of them with such repetitive movement in Katas where it eventually becomes what is called a “holding pattern”.  In other words their arms, shoulders, backs, chests, etc. get more or less locked into a detrimental position.  I speak not as just a Tai Chi practitioner but as a former Karate and Tae Kwon Do practitioner with an advanced belt.

      Master Hwa has talked about how the practitioner needs to not “tense up” during push hands training.  I vividly remember my own push hands training with Yang Style then later at the Wu’s Academy in Toronto.  I was always urged to “sitback” in order to loosen my back and waist, with danger of “getting pushed” ever present.  I was told over and over to "relax", "relax", "you have got to relax or you will get pushed". At Wu’s Academy this often consisted of a free style where one would end up on the floor or bounced off a wall.  This was not the “mean spirited” actions of my fellow student, it was my own body tension and they really only had to apply very little of a very gentle “push” in order to send me flying.  Often I found myself on the floor or slammed against the wall because I was retreating with a tensed up body and tripped myself up…the other practitioner had not even pushed me.

      “Holding patterns?”  In all the times I was “sent flying” I did not learn "why". Flailing one's extremities will do nothing for showing where one has excess muscular tension.  It has only been through the study of the Classical Tai Chi Form and Internal Discipline that the fog has lifted. It is anathema to correct practice to use external movements while attempting an internal movement.  It is anathema to correct practice to use extraneous movement while attempting internal movement.  Extraneous movement, tensing a shoulder here, tensing an arm there, etc.  occurs because one simply cannot sense it happening...and  I eventually came to learn I had some extremity that was held tensed or even crooked.  This extremity sent tension into the entire body and provided an easy target, as I proved over and over, ostensibly even knocking my own self to the ground with no one touching me…just my own fear and tension doing the job.