Friday, December 28, 2012

Classical Wu Tai Chi Silk Reeling (Quarter Body Move)

 Silk-reeling exercise is really about taking a small segment of the Tai Chi form and converting it to a symmetrical/continuous movement.  One then can concentrate on practicing just those few movements. This is of course different than practicing the Tai Chi form which as we know is huge in scope. So then we have reduced things to a very simple motion and can just work on that. This concentration is really concerned with the kernel of the movement and goes to the heart of it which is the internal.

So these are not easy and some of them are extremely advanced.  Talking of these movements we see that practitioners in old times did not begin silk reeling until after about 10 years of experience.  Now however and in consideration of improved teaching methods we  can teach beginners and see that people do get it and enjoy it.  It is quite convincing that anyone you want to teach can incorporate this as part of the teaching program. This incorporation can be in parallel to the teaching of the Tai Chi form so this can maintain the interest of the students.

A movement which is considered the most advanced but is really quite simple to learn is moving the hand in conjunction with the body.  The hand becomes a slave of the movement of the body and does not move independently.  With either the right or left arm hanging down at the side you slightly stretch it down at the shoulder.  I repeat "slightly" for you do not want to bend the body itself as you stretch.  One can concentrate on the elbow and slightly stretch at the shoulder as you do this.  Then you move the body on the right or left side to move the arm.  Ask yourself if you feel the connection between the arm and the abdomen at this point.

There is a common mistake which occurs when that movement is taught.  This mistake occurs when students start bending the arm at the elbow.  Once the elbow is bent, you immediately lose the connection between abdomen and arm.  This loss of connection occurs because your concentration goes to the forearm instead of to the body.  So the whole arm has to move like a unit and not bend at the elbow. In observing students try this,  one also sees them angling the arm across the front of the body from right to left side or left to right side.  You should try to keep the arm moving straight ahead and not across your front.  Other mistakes I observe are students drooping the engaged shoulder, sometimes drooping one entire side of the body and even cocking their head down as well.  If you observe the students in this Youtube video you will see what I mean as well as what to avoid.

  • Do not bring arm across the body
  • Do not bend the elbow
  • Do not scrunch up the chest, this is using the pectoral muscles, not the abdominal
  • Do not drop the shoulder so much that you droop the body or cock the head and neck

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tai Chi is hard work

One can "scratch their head" but Tai Chi is hard work.  In the previous blog, you can hear Master Hwa say this as well. Teaching Tai Chi is hard work.  Writing about Tai Chi is hard work.  Those aren't my opinions, those are my experiences, something I have done for a long time (they are not my "feelings"). Here is an example of the importance of hard work in writing about Tai Chi as well as taking personal responsibility for it:  I received one comment from “anonymous” on a recent blog.  This in spite of my written statement that comments signed “anonymous” will be immediately deleted, which I did.  Quite honestly, I don’t even remember what was said.  Writing is indeed hard but my finger on the delete key is like lightning.

As the author of this blog,  publishing comments signed “anonymous” are a difficult thing to do. As I said previously, I have enough difficulties, I do not need anymore. I think of Master Hwa saying "I want to simplify my life".  I am in solidarity with him on that.  If this were not a democratic country or there was some similar scenario that gave birth to burning social issues I could understand and even appreciate "anonymous" authorship.  On the other hand, if I am the author of any comment, much as I do with this blog, I take ownership of what I write.  In other words, I have to stand by my words, I am accountable for them.  Master Hwa has been kind  and pointed this out to me when I have strayed too far afield.  He also signed his name when he told me this.  Now it is my turn as a teacher to pass this "accountability" on to the student or student(s) that write but wish to remain "anonymous". 

It has even been said that anonymity “calls into question the very validity of words without an identifiable author”.   Let us not bring into question here how hiding behind anonymity provides an excuse for bad behavior. Let's skirt the question of how easy it is to remain "anonymous" and how one might wish to avoid the "hard work". Why do you expect a Tai Chi teacher to compromise this or a writer for that matter? Don’t you see that its usage brings problems into what you write? If you tell me who you are, you will be treated as a human being, you will lay claim to your own authenticity and what you say will be treated as having meaning.   You are “anonymous” because you want to remain “private”?  You wish everyone to see it on the internet but you want to remain private?  I wish to have my cake and I want to eat it too.

Some sites will allow you to do this but there also many sites with many good reasons (this one too) for banning and deleting anonymous comments.  A quote by Master Hwa comes to mind:  “ I don’t understand the reasoning (thinking or reasoning ability) of modern day Tai Chi practitioners”.  If you wish privacy and anonymity it only demonstrates confused reasoning.   The better reasoning would be not to participate at all.  This blog, is mine and as with most others are not icons of democratic ideals, due to private ownership and accountability…(this blog is not a democracy, although it is written in a democratic country).  You can quote me for I take ownership.  Much like people cannot come into the house I "own" and do or say what they wish. 

Now on to another subject, that of "opinions" :  In my 10th year of Tai Chi, someone said to me:  “If I practiced Tai Chi as much as you, I’d be a Master by now”.  My now 40 years of Tai Chi has shown me that the oft quoted “practice makes perfect” is a widely held opinion/belief/assumption about not only Tai Chi but things in general and so overused it has become cliché’.    On how truly immaterial and irrelevant the “opinions” about Tai Chi and its practice are,  I can only quote the philosopher Bertrand Russell:   “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not entirely absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief  is more likely to be foolish than sensible.” 

From someone who has experienced Tai Chi for these many 

years, Tai Chi is  not easy, it is hard from beginning to end.  

You can engage in wishful thinking about it, pay lip service to 

doing it and even practice and practice till you drop, but the 

real experience of it will always be different, each and every 

time you do it. 

Engaging Tai Chi with one’s “opinions” at the forefront is like 

trying to press water with a flat iron.  This comes to mind as 

an analogy, which is the way my experience tells me  lots of 

things are. For the most part,  one can never find a flat iron 

and enough water when it is needed, so pressing down a 

beach ball into water may be more apt to one's experience.

If you disagree, you are certainly entitled to your "opinion" but 

unless you are talking 40 years experience, an opinion is just 

that.You can quote me on that, for it is borne of my 

experience and I am pleased to say I own what I say about it. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Classical Wu Tai Chi Form & Delivery of Power (Fajin)

I have found that Tai Chi is difficult to learn but conversely it pays off quite well for the time and energy invested.  In the Tai Chi form for instance, there is no gradual increase of learning from easy to hard.  Quite frankly, it is difficult from start to finish.   On the other hand there are movements which are quite economical in scope.  In this economizing of effort one can literally learn and train numerous facets of both form and delivery of power at the same time.

In the photo it illustrates Master Hwa using "Cai" or "Yank" at the same time he kicks at Tom.  In the Tai Chi form there are several different moves to practice "Cai" and some of those have slightly different applications.  

In this Youtube video (click the link please) I present a clip of a 2011 workshop.  In the clip, Master Hwa talks quite extensively about the difficulties one faces in learning.  He also discusses "economy" of learning.  Practicing the movements from the "kicking" section of the form one sees a good example of this economizing.  Namely, the hand movements practice "Cai" or yanking, while the foot movements practice the kicking routine.  He points out that many movements in the form are designed this way.  In other words, one limb practices a move for a particular purpose, while the other limbs practice for some other purpose.  This is indeed a very economical design that packs much practice opportunity into the 108 Long Form.

Now, as to delivery of power or Fajin:

I recommend  the learning of any movements with the same structured approach.  I would learn direction, hand/foot position, timing, internal discipline for any posture in that specific order.  It makes no sense to start doing a kind of  silly attempt at Fajin for a posture if one has incorrect hand or foot position for instance.  I say "sillified" because as we already talk about how hard Tai Chi is, one's efforts will be compounded if there is no logical progression to learning.  

So, for the kicking section, one has to know what direction(s) they will both move and kick in. Master Hwa talks about keeping one's balance while both kicking and yanking. If one does not have direction, hand or foot position, and timing, it stands to reason there is probably some balance issues involved in the fault.  In other words it is hard enough to stay balanced while standing on one foot, much less complete a yanking movement with the arms...don't fool yourself that you "got it".  Particularly so if you keep losing your balance every time  a shoddy "fajin" yank results while you are kicking.  

You can break down the kicking and just practice kicking with no use of arms.  Then when you get good to very good balance... add in the "Cai" movement.  Keep putting the cart before the horse only confuses the horse does it not?  One ends up going nowhere very fast.