Liu Hong Cai Chen Style Silk Reeling: Basic Exercises and Demonstrations
Master Liu describes two types of silk reeling, a wrapping type of energy ‘doing’ the movement and ‘using’ it to affect another. He stresses that you have to understand energy to apply silk reeling. Silk reeling is a gathering and closing of energy, or power in spiraling movement. Energy manifests itself differently in different people. Whatever form it takes you must learn to maintain the feeling and gain control of it as it happens to you when you’re doing the form. Circulate qi through body so that it passes through the body to apply. He shows how doing single whip. The feeling, or the energy, has to arrive at the exact point (da wei) not just the body.
“Mindful awareness is the supreme tool in training, and is the essential energy of taiji. This energy is classically known in taiji circles as ting jing or listening energy. So what is it that we listen to? Through mindfulness we direct our awareness to the knowing or listening to form, feelings, mind and phenomena. First is form or the material body. Starting with our own body in our taiji forms practice and moving on to the bodies of others in our taiji push hands practice. One directs their awareness to the knowing of the aspects of the body. Structural alignment (alignment of the 9 pearls) weight distribution, relaxation, the stretching and unstretching of the tendons and the presence and placement of the physical centre of gravity. This knowing of ones body when nurtured can be projected to knowing the bodies of others in push hands and martial practice. The mind controls and directs the physical body so there is a mind body connection. Most so called internal arts stop at this level of refined awareness of the body led by mental intent.
Second is mindfulness of feelings, it is at this stage that we work with the chi or fine material energy. The chi is most easily perceived through feelings and this path of practice helps one to bypass the common pitfall of relying on imagination and visualization of the internal energy as this can quickly become a fabricated fantasy rather than a direct knowing of reality in the present.
The student trains in mindfulness of the feeling of the chi as it moves up and down the body or is projected from the body through intent. It is from this relationship between mindful awareness, feelings and body that the saying “mind leads chi, chi leads body” finds its meaning. Moving waves of relaxation through the body with the intent moves the chi through the body, the relaxation acts as a pump to move the chi and makes the body more sensitive to the feeling of the chi, the deeper ones ability to relax the higher the potential for the movement and cultivation of the internal energy. Once again this process starts within oneself and progresses to encompass ones training partner as well.
Third is the training of mindfulness of mind, once again both of oneself and of our training partners. Mindfulness of the mind starts from the courser aspects of mind and moves to the refined. The thought formations in the mind are observed and trained to act in a skilful way, perceptions are observed and purified. This help the martial artist in many ways as our perceptions govern our subconscious reactions. Unskilful mental states such as aggression and fear can be known directly in the mind and let go of and replaces with clear awareness. In this stage of training we a working heavily with the mental intent and how it leads the internal energies and the body. Finally we have mindfulness of phenomena. This stage refers in general to the awareness of the workings of cause and effect in relation to the training of the first three foundations of mindfulness and specifically to the realization of emptiness through direct experience. One trains in mindfulness of body, feeling (chi) and mind. Through direct experience we begin to realize that body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and sense consciousness are all inherently empty and thus release attachment to them. This is the goal of the training, in this emptiness the duality of yin and yang, yield and issue, self and opponent, taiji and non taiji cease to remain. Everything becomes an aspect of your own mind which in itself is empty. This is the realization we aspire towards.”
An Interview with Grandmaster Gin Soon Chu
by Tai Chi & Alternative Health Magazine*
TCAH: Master Chu, when did you first begin to study Tai Chi Chuan?
GSC: I began to practice Yang style under Master Lai Hok Soon in 1956 with a very close friend, Mr. Chan Ping Tim. Before this time I had learned the Wu style. I knew Mr. Wu Tai Ki, the 4th generation head of Wu style Tai Chi Chuan. He referred me to his father’s disciple (I don’t remember his name now). I spent many months with this disciple learning Wu style. One day Mr Chan practiced push hands with the teacher–the teacher could not push Mr. Chan & actually fell down! So we realized the teacher was maybe not that good and left.
TCAH: Why did you choose Tai Chi Chuan as opposed to other styles?
GSC: My health was very poor & everyone I knew at the time told me that Tai Chi Chuan is a very good exercise to improve one’s health–as I wrote in Yang Sau Chung’s book “Practical Use of Tai Chi Chuan”.
TCAH: You mentioned studying under Master Lai Hok Soon–who did he study Tai Chi Chuan with?
GSC: Master Lai was working in the local Canton government at the time when Yang Cheng Fu came to Canton. At the time Master Lai was studying Pa Kua Chang under the famous Fu Gin Sung. With Yang Cheng Fu’s arrival, Master Lai began studying Tai Chi Chuan with Master Yang Sau Chung–Yang Cheng Fu was not actually teaching any more at that time, he would sit & instruct his son what to teach. Master Fu Gin Sung knew that Master Lai studied Tai Chi Chuan and would often come to the training hall to observe his practice.
TCAH: After Master Lai’s death you went on to study under Master Yang Sau Chung. How did you first meet him?
GSC: Master Lai and Master Yang often communicated between each other. When Master Yang first taught in Hong Kong, at a sports club called Kung Ming in Kowloon, Master Lai was his only assistant instructor. Later, when Master Lai was very sick in hospital, Master Yang came and visited him. That was the first time I met Master Yang. After Master Lai’s death, around 15 of us went to learn from Master Yang. Within one year I was the only member of the group left! Training from Master Yang was very hard–he demanded a very high standard from his students. He often said “This is how my father taught me, that is why I teach you this way”.
TCAH: What memories do you have of training under Master Yang?
GSC: There are a lot of memories I have of this time–there is not enough room here to recount them all! The main one is of his standard of teaching. He maintained the same quality for all students, nothing was adapted as is often the case today. He would say “If you can do this, then I will teach you. If you cannot do it, best find someone else”. The other thing that comes to mind is the relationship between us. When he knew I was coming for a lesson that day, he would always sit and wait for me. He would cancel any appointments, even cancel going out with his wife somewhere.
TCAH: Are there any stories you can relate to us of this time?
GSC: Okay, my very first lesson with Master Yang, I showed him what I had learned from Master Lai. A woman student standing next to Master Yang commented that I was sinking much lower into my postures than my friend Chan Ping Tim. Master Yang nodded, which made me very pleased. I was then asked to show Master Yang my pushing hands exercises: ward off, roll back, press, push (as a senior student with Master Lai I used to practice push hands with him a lot). Master Yang again nodded, so I thought I had done a very nice job. However, Master Yang then said I lacked the most important ingredient, ward-off power (peng jing). I then pushed hands with him, and he showed me how this worked–when he applied this power I was shocked and unable to move my arms! Then I knew how much more I had to learn! Since that day I have spent a lot of time developing Peng jing through dynamic pushing hands. I emphasize this a lot in my teaching–it is the essence in all aspects of Tai Chi Chuan.
TCAH: Did Master Lai and Master Yang’s teaching methods differ?
GSC: They had very different styles of teaching. Master Lai taught in the parks. He had many teaching locations. Often he could not cover them all, so I would teach at some of them. Classes were always conducted as a group in early morning, then after classes everyone would go to work. Master Yang taught individually in his own home. Generally, he divided his time to allow each student a lesson at different times throughout the day. No two students had the lesson at the same time. All lessons were taught privately–Master Yang was adamant that his students should not practice in public. He wished many aspects of the art to remain known only to a few. In this way he could be sure of maintaining high standards.
TCAH: How did you feel upon being accepted as Second Disciple of Master Yang?
GSC: Becoming a “closed-door” or “inner circle” disciple carries a lot of responsibility. It is only at this stage that the higher levels of the art are taught. One can be sure that one is receiving the true transmission. It also becomes a responsibility to ensure the continuance of this transmission, maintain the high standards set by my master and to continue the propagation of classical Yang style Tai Chi Chuan. Only in this way can the true art continue to flourish and grow.
TCAH: How have you gone about carrying such a task?
GSC: In the past 25 years, Tai Chi Chuan has come a long way in the United States. I formed the Gin Soon Tai Chi Club in Boston in 1969–not many people knew what Tai Chi Chuan was! Since then I have done a lot of educational work. Now, when you mention the name Tai Chi Chuan, people know what you are talking about. The next step is to improve the quality of Tai Chi Chuan. Although I keep my school small and private, many practitioners seek me out and invite me to conduct seminars at their schools. In this way I can continue to improve the standard of Yang style, both in this country and abroad.
TCAH: Talking of seminars, on your recent course in London, you often stressed the need to sink the chi to the Dan Tien. How is this achieved?
GSC: Many people think that as long as you keep relaxed and think about it, it will happen. This is not so. You have to make it happen physically as well as mentally, over a long period of time. There is no such thing as overnight success. This is why a beginner must seek out a knowledgeable teacher, not simply a famous teacher. When you can sink the chi, the legs become stronger, the body is stronger–you become stronger as a person.
TCAH: Many people are confused by the term chi, or internal energy. What is its meaning for you?
GSC: Chi to me is something inside our body that keeps us alive. It is the energy originating from the blood. In Tai Chi Chuan, the power is often called chi, but more properly it is jing. This is the combination of power from the tendons and ligaments with chi. This power can only be gained through persistent practice. My classmate, Master Ip Tai Tak always says: “Power training is very boring. It is like saving a penny every day”. We do not look for the immediate result, we are looking long term.
TCAH: As a leading authority on Yang style Tai Chi Chuan what advice would you give to practitioners at different levels?
GSC: For beginners–be patient. Learn a few movements at a time, do not try to take in too much information at once, it just becomes confusing. Spend time practicing what you have learned already. To build a tall building begins with a strong foundation. What you have already have learned is the most important thing. At an intermediate stage–do not hurry, spend time doing it right. It is very important at this stage to have correct posture. This will lead to correct energy circulation and set the way for future growth. For advanced practitioner–people are into number games these days. They think, the more Tai Chi routines they know, the better it is. A practitioner should fully understand the how and why for each posture. One should spend more time to understand Yang Cheng Fu’s Ten Points.
TCAH: Often there are people who practice Tai Chi Chuan for 10, 15 years and achieve no power. What advice would you give to these people?
GSC: Obviously this individual did not have a good teacher. Stop and find someone else. As I said before. you should find a knowledgeable teacher, not just a famous one. Generally a knowledgeable teacher will be someone whom very few people know of and is difficult to find.
TCAH: There are many interpretations of how Yang style should be practiced. How important is it to practice the right way? Does it matter as long as the principles are applied?
GSC: It is very important to practice Tai Chi Chuan the right way–otherwise one is wasting time and money. If you practice according to the principles, you are practicing correctly. However, there are many ways to interpret the principles. Yang style interprets them in one specific way and one way only; so if you do not follow that interpretation, you cannot truly be said to be practicing Yang style.
Chan Szu Chin Exercise of Master Feng Ziqiang
by Sifu Justin Meehan
Master Feng’s system of Chan Szu Chin exercises is derived from the Chen family style of Taiji, taught to him by Master Chen Fake in Beijing, China, and from his Xin Yi lio He Quan background with Master Hu Yao Zhen. Master Feng puts great emphasis on the practice of both Qigong and Chan Szu Chin exercises to improve Form, Function, Health, and Push Hands skills. Because of the necessary terseness of the Chinese language, I thought it might be interesting to examine a few of these exercises in greater depth. I apologize in advance to my teacher, Master Zhang Xue Xin, for any errors or mistakes which are the result of my misunderstandings alone. Chan Szu Chin exercises are an excellent means of practicing Taiji principles of movement. For many of us, practicing the form alone is not the easiest way to improve our skills. In the form, we are often just finishing one movement, when we have to go on to a new and completely different movement in the form. Although there are repetitions, they are spaced away from each other and not practiced repetitively. This is where the Chan Szu Chin exercises come in. They allow us to practice basic body mechanics, which will form the basis for one or more movements contained in the form. They allow us to focus more carefully on the important principles of movement required in the Chen style. Although Chan Szu Chin exercises are found exclusively in the Chen style, other styles often accomplish the same result by repeating individual movements. By way of example, both Yang Zhenduo and the late Fu Zhongwen advocated the repetition of individual basic movements from the Yang form as a way to improve performance and to develop internal power. In addition to Chan Szu Chin exercises, the Chen form has its own supplementary power training exercise, such as twisting the short stick (for Chin Na), shaking the long staff, and rolling the Heavy Jar (for developing waist power and body connection). Master Feng’s style includes training supplements as well.
Although Chan Szu Chin exercises are found exclusively in the Chen style, other styles often accomplish the same result by repeating individual movements. By way of example, both Yang Zhenduo and the late Fu Zhongwen advocated the repetition of individual basic movements from the Yang form as a way to improve performance and to develop internal power. In addition to Chan Szu Chin exercises, the Chen form has its own supplementary power training exercise, such as twisting the short stick (for Chin Na), shaking the long staff, and rolling the Heavy Jar (for developing waist power and body connection). Master Feng’s style includes training supplements as well.
1. Side-to-Side neck turn
2. Rolling the head around the neck
3. Circling the shoulders (individually)
4. Double shoulder circles
5. Forward and backward double shoulder press
6. single arm circle (left and right)
7. Single under arm spiral and press
8. Double alternating under arm spiral and press
9. Double arm counter circles (Tying the Coat)
10. Finger thrust and chop with waist turn.
11. Two arms circle in, up, and out and then press down at the sides
12. Two arms circle in, down, and out and then lift up at the sides
13. Circle arms out and double finger thrust forward on each side
14. Circle arms in and chest thrust out
15. Double arm spirals under arms and thrusting out to sides (and reverse)
16. Left upward and outward “Golden Cock” arm spiral
17. Right upward and outward “Golden Cock” arm spiral
18. Double elbow circles (forward and backward)
19. Single elbow circles (left and right)
20. Single wrist circling (outward and inward)
21. Double wrist circling (outward and inward)
22. Left and right spiral punching (in left then right bow stance)
23. Circling the hip (a) sideways (hula hoop), (b) upward, and (c) downward
24. Twisting the waist with double arm swing from side to side
25. Circling the upper torso around the waist
26. Circling each knee
27. Circling both knees
28. Circle and kick with each leg
29. Turn the foot and leg in and out (left and right)
30. Shaking the body
What I would like to do in this article is to go into a more complete description of three of Master Feng’s Chan Szu Chin exercises. This will give the practitioner a greater appreciation of the technical requirements of these exercises. Hopefully, the reader will even be able to practice these exercises on his or her own. They are certainly helpful regardless of style. Keep in mind that these are not just “range of motion” or “loosening up” type exercises. They will increase range of motion but in Taiji, no part of the body should move in isolation. “When one part moves, the whole body moves” is a good maxim to keep in mind. Beginners should emphasize integrated whole-body movement “led by the waist.” More advanced Chen-style practitioners should remember to keep “peng” alignment throughout and to circle each and every moveable body part in a coordinated fashion to increase “spiral” body power. I have chosen three of the easier exercises to focus on: Single Shoulder Circling (#3), double shoulder circles (#4), and Waist Turning (#24).
Exercise #3 Single Shoulder Circling Purpose: The purpose of this exercise is to increase the range of motion in the shoulder and to open and close the “thoracic hinge,” which divides the chest and back along the center line (see August 1994 Tai Chi Magazine regarding the “Thoracic Hinge”). This will also aid in the ability to neutralize by rolling the shoulder and to develop the power of “kou” or shoulder smash. 1. Forward Shoulder Circle: Stance: Stand with left foot forward about the natural distance of one step. The front foot faces forward with the rear foot turned out at a 90-degree angle. This stance is like a shortened front stance. As the shoulder rolls and circles, the weight will shift forward onto the front leg and then backward onto the rear leg. The knees are kept bent and the weight of the body is kept lowered. Do not let the body stand up out of its rooted position on either leg. Compress and expand the Kua to sink and rise (see 1994 Tai Chi Magazine regarding “Pumping the Kua”). Body Movement: For the Single Shoulder Circle, there are two main variations: (1) circling upward and backward or (2) circling forward and downward. The lead shoulder is doing the circling and the rear shoulder remains back in a relatively stabilized position. The lead shoulder will be making a complete circle. After completing at least 9 repetitions with the left foot forward, change the stance and do at least 9 repetitions with the right foot forward. The important distinction between this exercise, as opposed to a simple flexibility or “range of (shoulder) motion” exercise, is that in Chan Szu Chin exercises the whole body is involved, not just the shoulder. The shoulder turning should be the result of shifting forward and backward in stance; raising and lowering the body; circling the “tantien/mingmen ball”; and opening and closing the chest and back at what could be called the “thoracic hinge.” This is not just an isolated shoulder movement. Try to involve the whole body to create the maximum shoulder circle.
2. Backward Shoulder Circle: This is the reverse of the forward shoulder circle. In this exercise, push backward from the front left leg to the rear right leg, raising slightly. The forward left shoulder will rise with the lifting body. The left shoulder and left side of the chest will open outward, opening the chest at the sternum. The body will continue to circle the shoulder backward and downward as the weight shifts and sinks downward on the right rear leg. The body will then bring the shoulder from underneath to forward as the body shifts from the rear leg to the forward left leg. Now the chest is closed or hollowed and the back is open or rounded. Do at least 9 repetitions on each side with the left foot forward first and then reverse the stance. Some important points to remember are to keep the rear shoulder backward. There is another Chan Szu Chin sub-exercise, which alternates shoulders, both rolling simultaneously, but this is not the exercise which I am describing. In this exercise, it is primarily the forward shoulder circling and not the rear shoulder or both shoulders circling together. By keeping the rear shoulder backward while circling the forward shoulder, we make it easier for the chest and back to open and close. This also helps to increase the range of motion of the lead shoulder. Another important point is to avoid the tendency to bend the torso forward and backward at the waist. Try to keep the torso vertical and upright throughout. Just as the leg has a “Kua” (crease between upper thigh and front torso called the inguinal groove or crease) so also does the shoulder have a “Kua” (also called the “Shoulder Nest” by Denver based Chen-style instructor Liang Bai Ping) in the front of the body where the shoulder crease can open and close adjacent to the pectoral muscle. Try to maximize the opening and closing of the shoulder “Kua” and the “Thoracic Hinge.” Another benefit of this exercise is that it can massage and invigorate the heart and lung region and expand oxygen capacity. Applications: As with all Taiji movements, there are numerous applications within the circularity of any movement. A description of any one application should not be considered exhaustive but merely illustrative. However, doing the movement without any understanding of application can also be limiting. For the Backward Shoulder Roll, imagine or have someone push against the front of your shoulder. Instead of resisting the push to the lead shoulder, neutralize the push by rolling the shoulder upward and backwards and opening the chest, in order to neutralize the punch. For the Forward Shoulder Roll circling up from behind and down the front, you can think of practicing “Kou” or a downward smash to the body of a close range opponent. Other Exercises: After doing the left shoulder, change position and do the same exercise with the right shoulder. After doing the backward shoulder circle, try turning the shoulder in the opposite circle, creating the forward and downward single shoulder circle. Just reverse the instructions already described. One can also try the following exercise: Exercise #4-Double Shoulder Rolls Begin this exercise by standing in a forward-facing, Chen-style “horse” stance and circling both shoulders backwards. After that, circle both shoulders forward and inward simultaneously. The key is to raise and lower the stance while opening and closing the chest and back. Do not stand up all the way so as to straighten the legs or to lose the power potential of the hip joints or kua. Once again, do at least 9 repetitions forward and at least 9 repetitions backward. Application: The Double Backward Shoulder Rolls could be used to disengage a two-handed forward push to both of your shoulders, and it forms the basis of an important two-person “Push Hands” exercise. This popular two-person exercise is shared by many different styles and masters, including my first (in 1967) Taiji instructor, Master William C.C. Chen. Form: The ability to open and close the shoulder “kua” and to circle the shoulder is an important sub-movement to many movements in the original Chen form, Master Feng Zhiqiang’s simplified 24-movement Form, and his 48-modified Chen form. The Forward Shoulder circle can be seen as a closing movement preceding the White Crane Spreads Wings posture and can be used to strike the opponent’s ribs with your shoulders after deflecting his punch. The Backward Shoulder Circle is seen as the Double Arm Opening just before Movement #8 “Lifting Hands and Raising Leg” and before Movement #29 “Shake Both Feet.” Exercise #24-“Horizontal Waist Turn” (Side-to-Side Waist Turn) Purpose: The purpose of this exercise will be to develop the horizontal turning power of the waist. In order to do that, we assume an open Chen-style, horse-riding stance. Master Feng allows the feet in this stance to turn out naturally about 30-40 degrees each. They are not limited to the both feet pointing forward and parallel to each other. Sink into your stance and turn the waist and arms from side to side. Keep the hips back and do not allow them to turn too much. By isolating the waist from the hips, we can concentrate on the horizontal (“ping”-level) elasticity of the waist and back. We also massage and invigorate the kidneys and other organs within the “belt” meridian. Keep the torso within the open stance power base. Do not shift the weight completely from one side to another. Keep dynamic tension within the inner groin arch of the Bow Stance. As a word of caution, do not overdo this exercise, especially if you have lower back and spine problems. Typically, it is done 9, 18, or 36 times in a row, each count involved turning to both sides. Be careful not to raise and lower your height. Sit down and stay down! Do not throw your arms and upper torso so vigorously as to possibly wrench your back or spine. Use smooth and relaxed Taiji-type motion. Each turn involves opening one kua and closing the other kua on the side to which we are turning. Stance: Keep a low, but not uncomfortable, “horse” or “open Bow” Stance. The legs and hips should not turn very much. The purpose of this exercise is to emphasize waist turning. This exercise could be done as if sitting on a low stool. Master Zhang Xue Xin would place his knee under my tailbone in order to keep my stance seated and down throughout this exercise, not rising. Sit into your Kua, and do not hyper-extend forward at the knees. Both knees should keep their outward bow or “peng,” just like an arched bridge. This is a very good leg and stancestrengthening exercise. When one “Kua” opens, the other closes but does not protrude outward. When turning to the right, the right Kua closes and the left Kua stretches (but does not protrude) open. Keep the knees turned out in the direction of the feet to avoid strain. Body Movement: Both arms will cross the body from side to side and help the waist to turn. When the waist turns to the right, the right hand is in a back fist position and lower than the body-crossing left hand, which is in “hammer” fist position. An application of the hand could be to block low and out with the right back fist and chop down and across with the left hammer fist or inside forearm to the neck or shoulder of the opponent. The major goal of this exercise is to (1) create horizontal “spring or elastic” power in the waist and back along what is referred to as the “Belt Meridian”; (2) to make the waist flexible like pliable rubber; and (3) to develop torquing power (like wringing out a wet towel). Turn the horizontal waist muscles in one direction, wind up even more to the same direction, release, and then let the waist spring turn the torso and arms to the other side. Rationale: The waist, which includes the “tan-tien” and “ming-men,” has several important spring- or rubber band-type actions, including:
1. Side to side, (along the “ping” plane)
2. Up and Down (along the “li” plane)
3. Lateral circling (along the “shu” plane)
4. Combinations of one, two, and three, such as diagonal or circular movements.
This exercise emphasizes and strengthens the side-to-side waist-turning movements. If the sideto- side waist power is correctly manifested, then many other movements relying on this commonly used body action, contained in the Chen form, will also be improved. Not only will the body develop greater internal power, but the organs within the abdominal cavity (liver, spleen, stomach, kidneys and intestines) will benefit from this gentle waist massage. Loosening the waist also increases our ability to neutralize by turning of the waist in push hands practice. Keep your central body axis aligned vertically. Keep the “baihui,” top of head, straight and gentle, lifting upward throughout. Do not shift your hip outside the power base created by the inner arch of your legs.
Form and Applications: The use of this exercise can be found in the Chen 48 Form of Master Feng: in movement #46, “Sink Waist With Elbow Down,” and also in movements #6 called “Move and Hinder with Elbow on Both Sides” in the 2nd Chen style routine, Pao Twi. The application could be to step in front of your opponent’s lead right leg with your lead right leg, so that you are facing legs at the level of shin or thigh. Block his forward hand attack with your rear left hand. Bring your lead right arm under his attacking right arm. Use your right elbow to hit his back and/or kidney area by turning your waist to the right. Besides being the recipient of an elbow strike, the opponent may be thrown over your right lead leg to the ground.
As you may now see, there is a lot going on inside these Chan Szu Chin exercises. To do them all slowly, for a minimum of 9 times for each exercise, could take anywhere from 60 minutes to over an hour. This does not mean that one cannot practice individual movements separately. Each exercise has something special to offer. I have limited myself to a hopefully clear technical description of how to do a few of these easier, basic exercises. I hope you will be able to enjoy their benefits and increase your progress. Although much more could be said regarding the Taiji Principles, let me just summarize by saying this: Be sure to emphasize and to distinguish the substantial and insubstantial; circle and spiral; and the whole body integrated movement. Also, be sure to emphasize and to distinguish between opening and closing; uniting inside and outside; expanding and compressing; raising and lowering; turning left and right; advancing and retreating; maintaining “peng” alignment throughout; and, of course, staying smooth and relaxed. Good Luck!
People know taichi as one of the main branches of Wushu. It is one of the Daoist martial arts. But is taichi really what people think it is nowadays? Before 1912 taichi was passed on within unopened circles, (family circles), which at times absorbed things from the outside martial arts world, but what was accepted was strictly restricted. This is why taichi is called ‘internal’. (In the Chinese language internal martial arts are expressed by the character that means inside or within a family.) After 1912 Mr. Xu Yusheng established a sports research society in Beijing and invited the great masters of that time such as Wu Jianquan, Yang Shaohou, Yang Chengfu and Sun Lutang to teach taichi. Thereafter taichi started spreading to the masses and was then taught relatively openly. Because it then became possible for so many people to study it, the number of people doing taichi rapidly increased.
After a while taichi gave form to the modern styles. During their respective development there were various changes in the postures, but these were not so great. We can still now see that all the different schools of taichi have similar postures. It is after these developments that the styles were given their respective names. The popularity of each of them – namely the Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu(Hao) and Sun styles – grew rapidly inside China. The main goal of those teachers was to popularize taichi on a grand scale in order to improve the health of the nation. Another important reason why taichi is so widespread nowadays is the research and exchange that these masters and their students carried out during that period. Nowadays, especially in China, a lot of new styles with a lot of different names are created and mixed with the five original styles without sharing any real roots with them. This is very unfortunate. It not only complicates things but also mixes everything up in a way that brings about many misunderstandings, especially to people who are new to taichi.
Wu-style taichi was created by a Manchurian named Quan You (1834 – 1902). Quan You was a student of Yang Luchan, (founder of the Yang style), and Yang Banhou. Quan You’s son, Wu Jianquan (1870-1942), loved martial arts from his youth and studied under the tutorship of his father. By doing so he rapidly improved and deepened his taichi skills. After 1912 he continuously developed the teaching of the wu-style at the Beijing Sport Research Society, gradually refining his father’s style. His two sons, Wu Gongyi and Wu Gongzao, were his first students. Along with other students they rapidly reached a high level of skill. In 1928 Wu Jianquan was invited to Shanghai to teach taichi. In 1935 he established the Jian Quan Association of which he was the director and my father Ma Yueliang was the deputy director. At that time Wu Jianquan went to Hongkong and Canton as well as numerous other South China cities to spread the Wu-style there. When Wu Jianquan died in 1942 it was a great loss for the taichi world. His sons started to teach taichi all over South China and Wu Gongyi’s son, Wu Dagui, spread the style to South Asia. Wu Dagui’s son, Wu Guangyu, teaches in Canada today.
Wu Jianquan’s eldest daughter, my mother Wu Yinghua (1907 – 1996), started studying taichi with her father at a very young age. In 1935 Wu Yinghua was also appointed deputy director of the Jian Quan Association in Shanghai. She married her father’s student, Ma Yueliang (1901 – 1998), and throughout her life she taught with her husband all over China. In martial aarts circles she was regarded as one of the most renowned teachers. Ma Hailong, the eldest son of Wu Yinghua & Ma Yueliang, also liked taichi from a young age and is now the president of the Jian Quan Association. I am Ma Jiangbao the third son of Wu Yinghua & Ma Yueliang. In 1986 I came to Europe to spread the Wu-style and I teach students from many countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, England, Denmark and others.
Before 1912 taichi was practised as a fast form. After 1912, because many people came to study taichi in Beijing some of whom had not previously done martial arts, the fast movements and jumps were taken out to make the form more subtle and precise and the stops were removed to comply with the theory of yin and yang. That was the birth of wu-style with its own unique slow form. At the same time Yang Chengfu and Sun Lutang etc created their own styles. Thereafter taichi became a slow form, but the wu-style kept the fast form. The wu-style slow form has such special features as its compactness, and it is relaxed and calm with smoothness from the beginning to the end so that it can be practised by everyone.
The wu-style pushhands (partner exercise) is strictly structured. The body is kept straight and each method is precise and exact. Pushhands should be very soft and smooth. When practising one must try to keep a very calm attitude, not actively trying to attack or use force. My father Ma Yueliang said, ”Overcome hardness with softness. To try to use force is in contradiction to the principles of taichichuan. To meet the hardness with softness is to go along with. To go along with is to neutralize. The important thing for the beginner is to learn neutralizing.” The pushhands techniques incorporate single hand and double hand training methods. There are also many different stepping methods which are learnt after the fixed-step pushhands. The pushhands techniques are a very important part of taichi, and only through its practice is one able to manifest the taichi theory. The wu-style still makes use of a lot of weapons such as broadsword, sword and lance. Together with the slow and fast forms and pushhands, wu-style taichi is a traditional system of Chinese martial arts. Wu-style taichi is a sport that respects and adapts to the physiology of everyone.
A perspective on silk-reeling training by Zhang Xuexin, a student of Feng Zhiqiang, 18-generation. Chen style Taijiquan and founder of Chen Style Xinyi Hun Yuan Taijiquan.
Feng Zhiqiang, a leading student of Chen Fake is one of the most famous exponents of Taijiquan in the world. He is also well-known for promoting a complete set of silk-reeling exercises (Chansigong or also occasionally romanized as Chan Ssu Gong) in thirty five postures which form one of the fundamental training exercises for the mastery of Chen-style Taijiquan.
Feng Zhiqiang’s senior indoor student, Zhang Xuexin, was the first to introduce this system of exercises to the west. The following introduction to Taijiquan silk-reeling exercises is from Zhang’s video tape on silk-reeling and dantian rotation exercises.
Master Zhang will demonstrate the complete set of silk-reeling (known as Chan Si Gong in Pinyin) and dantian rotation exercises arranged by Master Feng based on his studies of Chen style Taijiquan. One major objective of this set of spiral exercises is to open up and exercise the 18 major joint areas of the body (in sequence from the head to the ankles). The 18 major joints consist of: neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, chest, abdomen, waist, kuas, hips, knees, and ankles.
These 18 major joints are also referred to as 18 “balls” of the human body. By harmonizing the internal turning and external twisting with the Qi and Yi via the silk-reeling exercises, one can reach a state where the entire body will become an integrated “Taiji sphere.”
In practicing Chen-style Taijiquan, the human body may be seen as a tree with three sections: branch, trunk and roots. In reference to the entire body: the arm is the branch, the torso is the trunk and the legs are the root. The entire body may be further subdivided. For the torso, the head is the branch, the waist is the trunk and the abdomen is the root. For the arm, the hand is the branch, the elbow is the trunk, and the shoulder is the root. For the lower body, the ankle is the branch, the knee is the trunk and the kua is the root. All total there are 9 sections of the human body. The dantian is the center from which the jing and energy are propogated to each branch like a wave.
These exercises also train the famous eight energies of Taijiquan – Peng, Lu, Ji, An, Cai, Lie, Jou, and Kao along with qinna (joint locking and grappling) and counter-qinna movements. Master Zhang and his students will also demonstrate applications of the silk-reeling exercises and the fundamental dantian rotation exercises.
All of the exercises presented are useful foundation training not only for students of Chen style Taijiquan but for students of any style of Taijiquan. They are also a good foundation for students of related internal martial arts such as Baguazhang and Xingyiquan.
It is common among martial artists to discuss their skills. The same is true of Tai Chi Chuan practitioners. We have seen a competition match where an older man defeated a younger man; we heard from our teachers and read from books how the Yang Family members’ kung-fu was so good that they defeated hard style practitioners without any difficulty. When a young man is defeated by an older man, we say that the young man’s kung-fu is not as good as an older man’s. You may wonder how to measure kung-fu skills in Tai Chi Chuan. The following is my understanding and interpretation of how to measure different levels of Tai Chi Chuan kung-fu with my sixty years of practical knowledge.
Tai Chi chuan kung-fu is divided into ten levels. The first three levels are called lower level or what some people call the level of “entering the door” for this is the beginning of a journey of Tai Chi Chuan training. If a student has achieved the third level, he is considered to have entered the door of training. Fourth to sixth levels are called the middle level or what some people call “enter the door and go into the room”. It is so-called because the student is no longer a beginner and all his instructions are taught in a closed space. Seventh level is the level for a Tai Chi Chuan practitioner to master. Eight to tenth levels are the higher levels and are commonly referred to as “reaching the peak and summit.” Eighth level means one has reached the peak but not the summit. Throughout the history of Tai Chi Chuan, the number of people who achieve this level is very few, so few that we can count them without fingers. People who have achieved this level must have spent decades of diligent practice. For now, anyone who has achieved eighth level will be very famous not just in China but throughout the world if he wanted to show his skill to the public.
The following is a more detailed discussion on the ten levels of Tai Chi Chuan kung-fu. We all know that Tai Chi Chuan is an internal martial art and it is based on the philosophy of yin-yang(that is soft interacting with hard). The whole process of Tai Chi Chuan training is to break down the stiff and rigid body into a soft and relaxed body and then assemble this soft and hard body into a hard and solid body like steel. The Classics say that one should first seek the familiar and then try to understand the jing (internal power). From beginning to understand the jing, with practice the practitioner develops enlightenment. With the term “familiar” the Classics refers to the concept of transforming the hard and rigid body into soft and relaxed body through push hands and the knowledge of these concepts is also called “entering the door” kung-fu. Therefore, it is taught orally. Of course, if one practices Tai Chi Chuan just for health, one does not need to practice push hands. However, if one practices Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art, one must practice push hands. Otherwise one is never considered to have entered the door. From push hands exercise, one slowly understands the jing. These are the first three levels of Tai Chi Chuan kung-fu.
From push hands exercise standpoint, the first three levels of kung-fu are the yielding or neutralizing of the opponent’s energy. The Classic of Tai Chi Chuan Circle says that the retreat circle is easer to do than the advance circle. The first three levels are also called the retreat circle. In level one, most of the movements are composed of stiff and rigid energy, very little of yielding energy. In the second level, yielding energy increases and rigid energy decreases in all movements. This is the result of understanding the concepts of push hands exercises and getting familiar with the opponent’s energy and movements. In the third level, all the movements are controlled mainly by the yielding energy and one begins to understand the jing. At this time, one does not just understand and know the jing but is able to maneuver in a circular motion to neutralize the coming energy.
The first three levels is for a student not familiar with the concept of circle to become very familiar with the concept of circle and can use this circle principle to adhere and follow the coming energy. When one understands how and when to use this circle to retreat, one is beginning to understand jing.
Fourth to sixth level kung-fu is working with the advance circle. Therefore, it is also called the advance circle training. When I speak of advance circle, it is not simply a response after retreat. It is in the process of retreating that your yielding energy adheres to the opponent’s energy at all times and under this condition you are forced to advance. For in this situation, your advance maneuver threatens and can cause your opponent to lose balance and get defeated. Your offensive maneuver can be a strike or just fa jing(release energy) and can send the opponent flying. At this time, the student begins to develop fa jing or one inch fa jing techniques. Therefore, if a practitioner does not possess these fa jing or one inch jing techniques, one is considered not to have achieved the fourth level and has not entered the door.
In this fourth to sixth level kung-fu, training involves collecting all the limber body parts and beginning to form firm body parts and from one inch fa jing into even smaller unit of fa jing techniques. Common people generally withdraw their arms one or two feet to reserve power and then punch forward. This is called one foot fa jing technique. At the fourth level, one does not need to withdraw the arms and hands. At this level, a simple fa jing technique cause the opponent to fly. This is the sign that he has entered the door and begins to go into the room. At this time the practitioner should feel the legs and feet are much stronger and are rooted. After one has achieved the fourth level and higher, one is at a very delicate time. The classic calls this as one day’s worth of practice and one day’s worth of skill. This is also the time when the practitioner has entered the door and has gone into the room. The classic also calls this the time of “no rest and keep practicing.” The classic says that in order to learn correctly, one must begin by oral transmission. When a student has achieved level four, he has completed the oral transmission period. Although the student does not practice push hands exercises this time, practice of the solo form can improve Tai Chi Chuan kung-fu. Of course, with a teacher’s guidance, the student’s progress is much greater.
When a student has achieved level six, he has entered the room and understands the knowledge. Now he is beginning to understand how to let oneself go and follow the opponent’s energy and apply energy any way he likes. From my sixty years of practical experience, level seven is the key level in which one is going from middle kung-fu into higher kung-fu transition. It is the level of using the mind to control all movements any way one likes. When a student completes this level, the student has also completed the advance circle. The next step is no circle. It is also for the student to practice one inch fa jing technique to small units of fa jing techniques. At this time, one should find that part of the body is soft and every part of the body is solid. Every part of the body can yield and every part can fa jing. Therefore, depending on which part of the body is in contact with the opponent, that part of the body will strike the opponent.
From push hands application standpoint, the first three level are outer circle yielding while fourth to fifth levels are inner circle yielding. The sixth level is yielding with the body. That means one leads the opponent’s energy close to the body and then maneuver the body for yielding. This technique is called “separation of the flesh.” Level seven is no circle strike. Besides the three ways of yielding as described above, one can lead the opponent’s energy to come close to the body and counter strike without yielding. This technique is called “point strike.” At this time, you cannot see the hands move because when the hands touch, it is a strike. When the hands stick, it is also a strike. In this point of contact, it is composed of strike and fa jing and it can be either soft or solid, it can be yield or fa jing. You can say that it is soft and you can say that is is solid.
Levels eight to ten are advanced Tai Chi Chuan kung-fu. Because I have not achieved this yet, I cannot define what it is. From what I heard from my teacher and sixty years of practical experience, anyone who has achieved this level can do wonderful things. This is what the classics commonly refer to when it says, “the opponent does not know me but I know the opponent.” The body is so sensitive and light that one cannot add one feather, fly and mosquito cannot land on the body. When an opponent punches the body, the opponent is already injured and is flying backward but you did not see my improvement. Any movement can cause the opponent injury and bleeding. Of course, in martial arts taining, There is no such thing as the end state. The more your practice, the better the skill. Skill is infinite. Tai Chi Chuan practitioners past and present have achieved skill that most people do not believe was humanly possible.
Professor Fang Ning, 83 years old, speaks fluent English and Japanese, graduated from an Amercian Mission School, St. John University in Shanghai, China, in 1947 with degrees in Political Science and Economic. He has been practicing and researching qigong for more than 50 years. He is the 5th generation successor to Wudan Yang-Style Tai-Chi Chuen. Prof. Fang’s name carved on the tombstone of Wuden Yang-Style Tai-Chi Chuan, 4th generation successor, Grand Master Cui Yishi’s Grave. Prof. Fang is also the direct disciple of Grand Master Chen Yen Ning, a famous orthodox Taoist and the first president of the Taoist Society of China in 1958. Since then, Professor Fang has been studying, researching and collecting information on various qigong techniques available.
The Taiji ball or “qiu” is an integral part of intermediate and advanced training in Yang Taijiquan. While there was some interest in the ball among Taiji practitioners in the 1920’x and 1930’s, interest subsequently diminished and few people, even in China today, are familiar with its extensive practice methods. In English there have only been several short written accounts by Lee Ying Arng and Yang Jwing-Ming, in particular, that described certain aspects of this training. Ball practice, however, is still taught to Yang family members and some close “indoor” students. The purpose of this article is to shed some light upon the purposes and methods of the taiji ball to the many students of Yang style Taijiquan that practice around the world.
The goals of ball practice are to develop one’s root and refine one’s qi and internal strength. It is usually not taught in the family until the student has practiced for a minimum of four to five years and is somewhat familiar with the forms of Yang Taijiquan and the basic principles of push hands.
If one has not attained a certain level of practice, it is counter-productive to learn the ball, as the student will rely more upon muscular effort than upon utilizing the unified strength of the whole body.
Yang style ball practice probably has its origins in the Chen style, although the ball was also utilized in Wudang and Omei training for many hundreds of years. Yang style Taijiquan, while it evolved from the Chen style, in practice focuses more upon internalization of force and rarely emits it externally, except in fighting.
To my understanding, among the major styles of Taijiquan, only the Yang and Chen styles have developed extensive practice methods utilizing the ball.
The Yang style Taiji form is designed to develop physical conditioning, like most internal systems, by increasing the circulation of blood and qi as an integral method of self-healing, spiritual cultivation and fighting. The ball practice greatly helps to achieve this.
The ball is practiced in relatively lower stances than the open hand form, in which the practitioner must be comfortable and relaxed, and which must not rely on muscle tension. In practicing in low postures, one develops strong ligaments and connective tissue to support the weight of the body, thereby improving one’s “root.”
Like the open hand set, one essentially develops “passive” internal strength, but one finds that when using it “actively” for fali, or explosive force, it greatly improves one’s power in push hands and fighting.
As beginners do not usually possess the ability to eliminate tension in low postures, their energy and their blood circulation become blocked in lower stances and their root remains weak. The more relaxed one is within the stance, the deeper one’s root.
One then can move easily to handling the heaviness of the ball because one’s strength emanates from qi, not from muscular tension, with practice.
Over the years, one can start to utilize heavier and heavier balls, progressing, for example, from 8 pounds to 18 pounds. My grandfather used to say that if one changes the weight of the ball four times in one’s life and can handle the ball easily, one is sure to develop good gongfu. This is obviously not a short-term process.
One must also learn, as in the practice of weapons, to allow one’s body and intention to “follow” the ball, not “lead” it. If one attempts to “lead” the ball, one has the tendency to use muscular force, so that the body “fights itself.” If one “follows” the ball, the qi and blood circulation in the absence of muscular tension can open and become more free-flowing.
There is an old saying that if one’s qi and blood circulate well, one’s life can be long. In more advanced drills, the Taiji ball also contains a lot of coiling movements, which are used to improve Taiji ball push hands and fighting skills.
The Taiji ball exercises were developed for these purposes by the first and second generation of our family; Yang Banhou, for example, was particularly adept with the ball. As one’s root and coiling ability improve, one can emit explosive fali, or spring power, even in low stances. At higher levels of practice, one does not focus on qi, but rather upon the cultivation of spirit, or shen.
Little physical strength is utilized at this level and the movements appear to be executed almost effortlessly. At the intermediate and beginner levels, however, it is more important to learn how to develop spring power rather than brute strength. This is done by developing one’s qi and blood circulation. Therefore, the goals of ball practice are to lower the root, increase coiling ability and to develop spring power. This will in turn improve one’s gongfu.
“Gong” may be translated as ability and it must start with basic exercise training. In ball practice, one first begins with a heavy cube-shaped weight placed on a table, making the body to move it is multiple directions and in circles. The weighted cube is utilized first because it moves in a flat plane only.
The ball comes later, as it allows movement in multiple planes at the same time, including up and down in the vertical plane and in multiple planes simultaneously. Balls can be made of iron, wood or leather filled with sand, and must be perfectly round. The diameter of the ball depends upon the size of the practitioner and the type of practice in which he is engaged. The standard ball, however, has approximately a two foot diameter.
In the United States, a medicine ball is a reasonable substitute. On the table, the wooden or iron ball is more commonly used and there are four basic table exercises with many variations. In these exercises, the ball is moved in multiple planes, and one can use a round or square platform on the table to further refine exact spirals or distances using both one-handed and two-handed methods. Here predominantly spiralic or coiling exercises are practiced.
The next level of training focuses upon the practice of the hanging ball, which may also be made of wood or iron, but is usually made of leather and filled with sand. It is suspended from above by a singular line. Again, spiralic movements are practiced, as well as fali and spinning movements. The hardness within the softness of the ball allows one to better emit fali, or explosive force, and to receive force while neutralizing or changing the direction of the ball’s path.
Multiple balls may be hung together to allow one to practice these methods in multiple direction, simulating attacks by multiple opponents or multiple forces directed as you by one opponent simultaneously. At home, however, we never utilized more than two hanging balls at once. There are 18 exercises in this practice.
Later, one goes on to two or even three person practice with hanging balls in which one person throws or thrusts the ball at another practicing fali, who must receive the force and change its direction or spiralic revolution (practicing fa-jin). Fa-jin here entails a change of direction or transmutation of force from one qualitative state to another. For example, a straight force can be changed into a circular force.
In some exercises, one sends the ball back to the first person or to a third person who is in another direction, further refining and quickening one’s reaction. There are 28 exercises in this particular aspect of ball practice, although one can improvise numerous variations.
The student will also learn a variety of basic exercises in which the ball is held in one or two hands. These postures are practiced in lower stances than one will actually practice the standard Yang style open-hand set, in order to deepen one’s root, develop one’s coiling power and fali, to improve martial skills.
Many of the exercises are similar to actual postures in the open-hand form, such as “Lan Chao Wei” or “Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail” and “Ye Ma Fun Zhong” or “Parting the Horse’s Mane.” Other postures are quite different from the open-hand form.
It is essential that, like the open-hand form, the movements be executed without muscular tension, have smooth transitions, show internal strength, clear intention, coiling ability, and utilize the whole body in unison, not just the arms. Although each of the individual exercises should be repetitively practiced on both the left and right sides, they can also be linked into a set.
The number of different exercises practiced while holding the ball is 28. Therefore, the set contains 28 exercises. In addition, when performing he combination set, there are slight variations in some of the movements, to allow them to better flow into the next exercise.
While the practice of Taiji ball can be grueling, depending on the weight of the ball, this set allows one to build endurance, allowing one to practice a variety of movements. Examples of these exercises are shown in the photos.
The final component of Yang style Taiji ball practice applies push hands methods. The stances are also particularly low to cultivate ones root, and the methods may be divided into two types: two persons pushing the ball itself and two persons utilizing pushing of the ball to push the opponent. Peng, Lu, Ji, An, as well as other aspects of push hands practice, include “banshi,” or “adhering jin,” in which the ball is cupped and held with one hand. There are also 28 exercises in this aspect of ball training.
The Taiji ball is a very good ancillary practice for Taijiquan about which little today is known or understood. It is the author’s wish that this article will help spread awareness among Yang style practitioners of this useful method, as well as its goals and precautions.
Yang Style Tai Chi Ball T’AI CHI – Vol. 25, No. 3
Note: This interview was done over the course of several sessions. I took the liberty of organizing the interview into a cohesive discussion of an “insider’s view” of Yang style Taijiquan. The essence of what Yang Fukui says in this interview is consistent with how he personally practices the traditional methods of Yang style Taijiquan – Bob Feldman
Bob Feldman: You started learning Taijiquan as a child from your father and grandfather, and you also learned and taught within the official Wushu establishment. How different was your family’s traditional training from modern training that Taiji students now receive?
Yang Fukui: It was quite different. Traditionally, we do not train by long sequences of forms. We concentrate more on developing gongfu, but first it is necessary to discuss the connection between energy, gongfu, and forms.
Yang Lu-Ch’an first studied the Chen style. It is quite different from the Yang style. In the Chen style forms, the energy is open, and it is expressed outwardly and explosively.
The forms of the Yang style, on the other hand, keep the energy internalized. Although forms appear to be outwardly quiet and slow, they have a lot of internal movement.
BF: By forms, do you mean the complete set or “Taolu”?
YF: By forms, I mean the individual movements.
BF: Can you continue?
YF: In the Chen style, the energy opens and is expressed externally in the forms. This is possible because the energy pathways, or meridians, are opened. In the Yang style, the focus is more upon gathering the energy than expressing it in the forms.
In the Yang style, our focus is slightly different. Although we must use explosive energy during a fight, we train by utilizing slow, soft movements that also have an inner hardness. We focus on utilizing our spirit to generate both the energy and the movement. This is also best accomplished by practicing the forms slowly, combining softness and hardness. The movements must have a quality of stillness. This is very good for health and internal energy circulation.
My grandfather told me that if you practice Taijiquan, you must develop a spiralic internal energy. This spiralic circulation is not externally apparent to others who may be watching you, but internally, it is there. To outsiders, the forms appear beautiful and balanced because of the spiral quality of the internal energy circulation. Yang Lu-Ch’an’s method results in the development of increased awareness and sensitivity to the world around you.
There is a famous story of the bird that could not fly off Yang Lu-Ch’an’s hand because every time the bird attempted to fly, he could neutralize the birds push-off by dropping his hand. This was because he was sensitive enough to feel the bird’s push off.
Therefore, in Yang style Taijiquan, we practice in order to increase our internal energy and our sensitivity and devote much time to cultivating the heart spirit. The heart spirit is our internal energy field, or circulation. It allows us to internally transform our body, keep our health, and refine our spirit. This is the essential foundation of traditional Yang style Taijiquan practice.
With this basic philosophy, Yang Lu-Ch’an combined Daoism with Taijiquan and modified the Chen style into a new style of art. He reinterpreted the principles behind the old Chen system and created the training methods, hand forms, and weapons of Yang style Taijiquan.
It is well known that he was quite an effective fighter and there are no records of his losing a challenge. He also never attempted to unnecessarily hurt or kill a challenger. This is why the system became known to the Imperial Court in Beijing and why Yang Lu-Ch’an was invited to train the Imperial guards.
BF: How was the second generation of the Yang family affected by their fathers’ reinterpretation of Taijiquan?
YF: Yang Ban Hou and Yang Chen Hou’s practices were both somewhat different from each other, as well as from modern practice. I think if they or their father were alive today and observed modern Taijiquan, they would not recognize much of what we call the Yang style Taijiquan.
BF: How did they practice then?
YF: First of all, they devoted most of their practice to gongfu and martial arts, not to health or “spiritual development,” although these two latter aspects certainly underlied their practice. Their emphasis was different. For example, they never practiced more than a two or three form or movements in sequence, in order to develop fighting skill and gongfu, and they never linked more than five forms together. There were no such things as the 24 or 85 or 108 form Taijiquan. Only two or three forms at a time were used for the solo practice of gongfu.
According to my grandfather, Yang Chen Hou’s practice stressed more form combinations while his brother, Yang Ban Hou, put more emphasis upon push hands for fighting and two-man practice. Yang Ban Hou also had fewer students than younger brother, perhaps because his teaching sessions were very rough and painful, as there was a lot of contact. Similarly, in the third generation, my great grandfather, Yang Xiao Hou, was also more interested in push hands and fighting. He had far fewer students than his brother Yang Cheng-fu. He was more “closed door” and interested in preserving the family’s practice. Yang Cheng-fu was a more of a public figure, and his desire was t promote the study of Yang style Taijiquan throughout China.
Therefore, he created the Taolu, which is known in English as “The Long Form.”
The Long Form Taijiquan set is good for health and for improving the quality of the body’s vital energy. But in order to fight, one must learn how to build u[p the energy and then explosively send it out. My grandfather told me that Yang Chen Hou’s energy was very elastic and spring-like during push hands, while Yang Ban Hou’s energy was more explosive and heavy.
Therefore, Taijiquan has several ways in which one can practice. The first way is to practice for physical exercise and emotional well-being. The second way is to practice Taijiquan to open one’s energy and to be able to use the energy in explosive expression. This second way serves as a basis for fighting.
Whatever direction one chooses, it is also good to practice push hands with another person. Push hands can both help to increase one’s sensitivity and explosivity, and also serve as an introduction to fighting. In addition, a higher level fighter can more easily use explosive force, while lower level Taiji practitioners use brute strength in pushing or striking the opponent instead. This is because they do not possess the inner sensitivity and ability to generate sufficient power and force by using the whole body together.
BF:How are push ands and fighting different?
YF: If you watch someone practice the Taiji forms, they are performed slowly, peacefully, and quietly. Fighting is different. Push hands is preliminary training for fighting and usually starts off slowly. In push hands one also has to “listen” or “sense” the opponent’s force, and to remain relaxed and soft while receiving an opponent’s force prior to responding.
In fighting, the opponent does not attack softly or slowly. The attack is as rapid as possible. In Taiji fighting, with experience, one can follow the opponent’s force, and use their own force and their energy to defeat them.
This method is part of Hua Jing, or the “mysterious force” of Taijiquan. Hua Jing is gained through many years of advanced practice, which allows you to summon a great amount of force from a deep state of centered relaxation and connectivity within your body, of the bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles, to achieve spring-like explosive power and minimal expenditure of are your own energy.
If I want, I can use your energy to fight you, by allowing you to fully extend yourself to the point where you are off-balance. I then redirect your energy back to you in order to defeat you. This must be executed very quickly. If you attempt to attack me quickly, I use circular or spiralic movement to gain the advantage and defeat you.
If you attack me with a slow, sustained force, I will become very soft and follow your force. I allow you to overextend, after which I pull you off balance. Hence, I follow you and then you follow me. Therefore, I have to use little of my own energy to accomplish this. If I really want to hurt you, I can add more of my own energy to make the counter-attack more powerful and destructive.
BF: In the traditional way of practice, how did the earlier Yang masters practice the forms to enhance their fighting skills?
YF: First of all, they would initially practice slowly and softly, but they would also practice the forms and sequences with speed and explosive power. The kicks and punches would also be done at full speed, but the kicks are internally generated by utilizing the power of the whole body. This sudden emission of force, using the internal methods, can cause deeper penetration and internal organ damage. It is not just muscular force emitted from the arms or legs; it uses the whole body. It can be achieved only by practicing Taijiquan as gongfu. You can only learn this from a master who understands the internal method of generating power.
BF:What other kinds of basics did they practice traditionally besides forms and push hands?
YF:: As in any Chinese martial art, one has to develop adequate flexibility through stretching. This is often not appreciated by many people in the West who learn Taiji. Although Taijiquan Taolu will help you obtain better flexibility, if you study Taijiquan as a martial art, it is required. After one gains adequate flexibility, one can start training the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones for strength and rooting. This is done by practicing in lower stances and using special weights, the long staff, and the Taiji ball.
BF: In researching some of the history of your family before this interview, I noticed that, especially in Tenjin, many masters of Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, and other martial arts also learned Taijiquan.
YF:: In the 19th century, China was a turbulent society, and many people would learn some type of martial art for self-defense. It was fairly unique, but in Tenjin, where there were a lot of martial artists, there was an open exchange within the Wushu associations that formed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Martial artists were often subject to many challenges and fights, causing emotional mental stress. Taijiquan is very good for quieting the emotions, as it is done slowly and softly. The Yang Taiji forms are very “quiet” compared to other martial arts. Therefore, many martial artists that specialized in other systems were attracted to Yang style Taijiquan.
If you can relax your mind and body, you can relax the emotions and become empty. This also enhances your abilities in other martial arts. Yang style Taiji is particularly soft and peaceful, which makes it very suitable for this purpose.
This is also why it has become popular today with many people who seek to lessen the stress of everyday life, as well as in hospitals and by senior citizens. The mental and physical health benefits of Taijiquan, especially Yang style Taijiquan, have been documented by scientific study both in China and in America.
BF: Can you tell me a little bit more about the differences between Yang Ban Hou and Yang Chen Hou and their personalities?
YF: Yang Ban Hou was a fierce fighter and more severe with his students than his brother, Yang Chen Hou,
BF: To return to the basic training of Yang Taijiquan, besides stretching, individual forms, and push hands, what else did the early Yang family practice for gongfu training?
YF: In Yang style Taijiquan, as well as in other internal martial arts, it is necessary to follow the cycle of natural change, the seasons and weather, and the four directions. This is very important.
If you practice Taiji and you are not aware of the differences in the energy of the daily cycle or the seasons, your practice cannot become very deep. You must follow Nature in your practice. This is essential.
BF: Can you further discuss the Taiji ball and other training aids that are used in traditional Yang style Taiji?
YF:: Yes, There are several. One is Taijixio, or Taiji ball. This ball is very heavy. The ball’s weight was usually between 2.5 to 10 kilograms (5.5 to 22 pounds). Some were made of leather and filled with sand and were hard on the inside. Others were made of wood.
One must use one’s muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones to perform the movements. By using the whole body to practice, we can get a lot of energy. In order to achieve this, however, we must practice from the core of our heart spirit.
If a teacher only teaches you the Taiji forms, or any of the training methods or weapons, this is the beginning level. If the teacher also teaches the student how to control the emotions and how to practice utilizing the heart spirit, this is a very high level of teaching. We called this “Gaoji.”
But the student must be ready for this kind of teaching. They must be open enough and have sufficient awareness to grasp the underlying principles, in order to be able to use them effectively in practice.
Physically, for internal martial arts, you also need strong bones, strong tendons, strong ligaments, and strong muscles. If your spirit is strong, you can heal your bones, ligaments and, in fact, your whole body, and use your heart spirit for gongfu, fighting, and Taolu. This is very high practice.
BF: How old were you when you first started to learn Yang Taijiquan?
YF: I started at six years of age, but I did not like it. I liked fast acrobatic exercise. Therefore, as a child I liked to practice external martial arts. I again became very interested in Taijiquan at 17 years of age and I began to vigorously study with my grandfather and father. Between the ages of six and 17, I learned much of our family’s Taiji, but it was not my favorite.
I also learned Baguazhang and Xingyiquan from my maternal granduncles. I liked Xingyi best at that time because it is explosive, but I preferred to practice external martial arts, and both my brother and I learned from some excellent teachers.
BF: How about your father and grandfather. How old were they when they began to learn:
YF: Both of them began as children. My grandfather exclusively practiced Taiji from the age of six, but my father also learned other internal martial arts, as well, as a child.
Very few children studied Taiji. Most of my father’s and grandfather’s younger students were in their early twenties. When my father was 12 years old, he devoted his full time practice to Taiji, but he always told me that when a child practices Taiji, it is usually not a deep practice. It is mainly play.
From six years old until he was 12, he was not able to comprehend or experience “energetic practice.” By the time he was 12, perhaps from repetitively practicing the Taiji forms and because of his father’s influence, he began to experience energy circulation during his practice.
BF: Can you discuss the other training aids that your family uses to practice Taiji gongfu?
YF: First, we use a heavy cube-shaped weight. It is used for certain simple exercises to help strengthen the bones, tendons, muscles, and ligaments. It is usually done in a low posture.
Next we progress to the Taiji ball, which is more advanced, as it incorporates circular and spiraling movements while holding the ball in a variety of exercises. It is also done in low postures and can vary in weight from light to heavy, as your root deepens and you become stronger.
There is also the long staff for which we have basic exercises. There is no Yang style long staff Taolu. The Taiji staff is similar to Xingyi and Bagua long staff exercises.
BF: When did you start to practice Taiji fighting?
YF:I had become accomplished in push hands by the age o f18, having pushed a lot with my grandfather, father, older brother, and their advanced students. I later even won a national championship competition in Weihua City, Shandong Province, in 1984 in the middleweight division of Yang style push hands.
If I tried to push my father and grandfather, they would become very soft and empty, but when they wanted, they could emit tremendous force, which permeated your whole body on impact. Push hands requires you to sense the opponent and follow them. If they are fast, you must move faster. You must start after them and finish before them. If they move slowly, you must find a way to change their direction and cause them to lose their balance.
Strictly speaking, Taiji practitioners usually do not “practice” fighting by sparring for practice. When we have to fight, we fight. As in other internal martial arts, we devote more time to developing internal power and good gongfu, by cultivating Fa-li and Fa-jing.
Of course, one gains fighting experience mainly by fighting, but the application of powerful attacks are soft, elusive responses to an opponent’s attack, and the ability to both follow and redirect the opponents force is more the product of good training in the other aspects of Taiji that we have discussed. If your skills are good, then you need to fight to be able to learn how to use them, while keeping the relaxed, centered mental state of Taijiquan.
The foundation of Taiji fighting comes in part from push hands, although push hands is not all there is to fighting. Most Taijiquan fighting utilizes close fighting methods, but in push hands we still have to adhere to some form, which is the basis for our movement. Fighting is much more free and without forms.
There are two general types of push hands. One-handed and two-handed push hands. One-handed push hands is basic. Both one-handed and two-handed push hands can be divided into standing and moving push hands. One progresses from standing to moving push hands, as well as to Da Lu, or the “Great Pulling” techniques, which teach you how to follow the opponent and attack them. In addition, one must practice Peng (Ward Off), Lu (Roll Back), Ji (Squeeze or Jostle), An (Press), Cai (Pluck or Grab), Lie (Split), Zhou (Elbow Stroke), and Kao (Bump). This is closer to real fighting.
BF: What if one fights with an opponent is not trained in Taiji?
YF: Taiji fighters will usually look for the opponent’s center and attempt to uproot their balance by whatever technique is used.
BF: How important are the kicks and punches that one practices in the forms?
YF: In the forms, one practices the kicks and punches very slowly, but when we use them, we use very fast moves. Kicks and punches in a fight and in the forms are different. For example, although a kick may be high in the form, the kicks in fighting are usually low kicks.
Internal martial arts requires that the whole body must have root. Without root, Taiji fighting is not as effective. To kick implies the loss of some root. Yang Cheng-fu slowed down the speed of the kicks in the form. Before him they were practiced with speed and some rooting. Therefore, the kicks are executed low to minimize loss of rooting.
BF: In the West, many books have been written suggesting that the Yang family possesses two separate methods of training and there are two separate Tao Lu, one “outdoor” for the public, and a second “indoor” for the family. Is this true?
YF: This is true, but probably not in the way you think. In internal martial arts, each move has gongfu, and each move can transform into many variations. These numerous variations and the gongfu needed to apply the techniques comprise true internal martial arts.
For example, some people need only to use one form, such as “Loxiapu,” or “Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail,” to win a fight. These people are usually highly advanced internal, marital artists. They can do this because of superior speed, sensitivity, training, and internal power.
Therefore, our so-called “Family Taolu” is really the method by which we train, not a series of secret forms. It is rather the ability to take each form or a series of several forms, and utilize them effectively. This is traditional Yang Taiji training. You will recall that the Taolu did not develop substantially until the 3rd generation. The Taolu created by Yang Cheng-fu and others are good fro health and conditioning but are not that meaningful for fighting as the training methods we have discussed: the ball, weight, staff training, and push hands.
BF: What is your opinion as to how old one must be to study Taijiquan for gongfu?
YF: While it is healthy for your people to train in Taijiquan, it is my opinion after studying both traditional and modern training methods that heavier, more intense training methods such as Taiji long spear or Taiji ball, are better reserved for students once their development reaches adulthood. If they practice these methods when they are younger, it may not be that healthy and may be very stressful to their joints, muscles, tendons, bones, ligaments, and internal organs.
If they are practicing with light weapons, that is okay, but they will not reap all the benefits of why we practice with these weapons. It is better for them to focus more on softness, flexibility, and eventually explosive power when they are younger. By 18 or 20, their internal energy is very strong and they can then learn these other methods.
BF: How similar or different was your grandfather’s practice from your father’s?
YF: My grandfather practiced only Taijiquan for most of his life. He had a lot of internal energy and fighting skills. He stressed the importance of imagination and the power of Nature in his practice. My father talked about intuitively sensing the natural Bagua or eight directions and the process of Natural Change, such as in the Yi Jing.
But my father was required to teach the government mandated forms, unlike my grandfather, who only practiced and taught traditional Taijiquan. Because my father had to teach modern Taijiquan, perhaps he could not as much convey the deeper training to many of his students. Nor could he teach the old way as often as my grandfather.
Both my grandfather and my father stressed to me that, although I had to teach the new way, I must remember and continue to practice the old way, in order to enhance vital energy, feel the changes of Nature, be able to combine hardness with softness together, and be able to emit the explosive energy of Taijiquan. If you only practice Taolu, this is difficult to achieve.
BF: Some publications and some Yang style Tajiquan teachers teach standing qigong postures along with the Taolu. In the family, do you use or are there any standing postures that you practice traditionally?
YF: We do not have specific standing postures, although the forms and Taolu should mostly be practiced very slowly. How slow depends upon your ability y to feel or guide the energy. The slower you practice, the more you can guide the energy. Normal speed takes about 20 minutes. My grandfather, Yang Jun Xiang, would usually practice each set for about 30 to 40 minutes.
In my experience, the Taolu, or set, was never practiced quickly. Speed is used only for the traditional short combinations of individual forms of fighting, or at times, in push hands.
We have already discussed the inner state of consciousness that should occur during the practice of Yang style Taijiquan. This, perhaps, could be likened to the internal state of some qigong practices.
(Interviewer’s note, based on Yang Fukui’s discussions in the past: Yang Fukui teaches the same set as Yang Cheng-fu, as well as the 24 and 42 forms for competition and the 48 forms for broadening the student’s experience. But they are not the original, traditional or family practice. He said when you practice traditionally, you first work on developing tranquil natural energy. Later, you concentrate on power and gongfu.
Repeating short combinations helps to develop intent for fighting and also to develop qi. It is not to develop form. Each movement is practiced repeatedly on the left and right sides. This enables the mind to find the fighting intent within the movement. The combinations were practiced slowly and only executed rapidly in push hands or fighting situation, which might be among family members and indoor students or in actual fighting outside the family.
It was not required to practice a certain number of repetitions per practice session or concentrate on how often you practiced each movement.
The focus was on practicing the energy. This can be done anywhere, even standing in line. The most important thing is to develop your gongfu.
At a deeper level, you should practice according to the meridians of the body and their associated times of the day and year.
In the beginning, on a physical level, your practice must be more repetitive, to make the movements natural and to allow the mind to inculcate the feeling of the movements, to deepen your root, and develop softness, flexibility, and power.
As your practice becomes deeper, it becomes of an energetic practice. That is why an advanced practitioner can gain more than a less advanced practitioner in a shorter period of time.)
BF: What did your grandfather, Yang Jun Xiang, tell you about your great-grandfather Yan Xiao Hou?
YF: My great-grandfather died a long time before I was born, so I never met him, but my grandfather told me that when he practiced, you would sense the power of the energy in his movements. It was very unique. He was also more “indoor” than his brother. He was a hard teacher and like to practice fighting.
BF: In Yang style, what constitutes the basic practice methods?
YF: It is essential that in internal martial arts, one must use the heart spirit to practice any movement or forms.
The first goal is to develop flexibility. In order to develop gongfu for internal strength and fighting, one should also train by practicing the circular movements of Taijiquan both on the left and right in low postures as well as with the heavy square weight, and later with the heavy staff and Taiji ball.
One should also use a slightly heavier weapon when practicing Taiji weapons than one would sue in external weapons practice. This will stimulate the development of internal energy in one’s muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones, thereby stimulating the bone marrow to increase vital energy and circulation.
My father said that the blood is the physical connection between the Heart Spirit (vital connection of internal energy in the body) and the Yi, or mind, as blood circulates throughout the body and the brain. Therefore, the goal of these practices is twofold: to stimulate the circulation of blood and qi. On a practical level, this will help give one good gongfu.
BF: After practicing these basic exercises, what else does one practice?
YF: The individual forms, both on the left and right sides, one-handed and two-handed push hands, standing and moving push hands, emphasizing Peng, Lu, Ji An, Cai, Lie, Zhou, and Kao (“ward off,” “pull back,” “press,” “press down,” “grab,” “split,” “elbow,” “shoulder”), and two-person Taiji individual fighting forms.
There is a Taolu which is much newer, broadsword forms for a single person and two persons (the Taolu came later), straight sword forms for single and two persons, (the Taolu came later), heavy long staff forms (there is no Taolu), and staff and spear forms (and their Taolu) for single and two persons.
BF: You have practiced a number of internal martial arts. How would you characterize the Yang style differences in push hands between the Yang style and other styles, as well as other internal systems?
YF: In the Yang style, our mental state should be without preconceived intention: “I will follow you and react to your intention.” Therefore, it appears soft or quiet on the outside, but internally it is full of movements. Yang style push hands is more Yin than Chen style push hands.
In Chen style push hands, although you still utilize the principle of “Ting Jing,” one uses more intention. “I want to push you.” Therefore, Chen style push hands, like their Taolu, is more full and explosive.
Xingyi push hands is also more explosive than Yang style push hands. The principles is to keep going in with explosive force and to uproot the opponent.
In Bagua push hands, one circles the opponent, usually from the outside, and follows their energy. One catches the opponent in a spiraling motion and then emits explosive attacks and uprooting force to defeat them.
BF: Are there separate spear and staff forms?
YF: Yes. The traditional spear was a “she qiang” or “snake spear.” This allowed one to use pulling or “Lu” methods, as well as stabbing methods with the blade, but the standard spear is also acceptable.
BF: Thank you, Master Yang, for these insights into your family’s Taijiquan. It has been very enlightening.
YF: You’re welcome.
T’AI CHI – Vol. 24, No. 5 AN INTERVIEW WITH YANG FUKUI xinyiwuguan.com