The traditional Japanese method of knowledge transmission

Author: Yukio Takamura, edited by Nanette Okura (by courtesy of shinyokai.com)

“Shu-ha-ri” literally means embracing the kata, diverging from the kata and discarding the kata. The pursuit of training in a classical Japanese endeavor almost always follows this educational process. This unique approach to learning has existed for centuries in Japan and has been instrumental in the survival of many older Japanese knowledge traditions. These include such diverse pursuits as martial arts, flower arranging, puppetry, theater, poetry, painting, sculpture and weaving. As successful as Shu-ha-ri has been into the modern era, new approaches to teaching and learning are altering this traditional Japanese method of knowledge transmission. Whether traditional Japanese arts and endeavors are successfully passed to the next generation of practitioners is up to the sensei (teachers) of today and their wisdom in confronting the inherent strengths and pitfalls of Shu-ha-ri. In this essay I will focus on Shu-ha-ri and its unique application in the honorable martial discipline of Takamura ha Shindo Yoshin ryu jujutsu.

Shoden/ The beginning level of training
Shu (Embracing the kata)
The kata or form is the educational core of all traditional Japanese knowledge schools. It is the most visible representation of a schools knowledge packaged into one seemingly simple set of movements or concepts. Because the kata is so accessible it is often mistaken to be the most important aspect of determining a students ability or progress. In fact, properly taught the kata does contain within it the ura or hidden level of information, but this information lies beneath the surface or omote of simple observation. Without first devoting oneself entirely to the mastery of the omote of the kata, the student is destined to remain forever a beginner, never able to progress towards the true depth of knowledge that rests hidden in the ura before him. To experience shu and embrace the kata, the student must first resign himself and his ego to a seemingly random series of repetitious exercises. Often these beginning or shoden level kata are by design intended to challenge the students concentration levels and devotion to learning. In some of the more rigorous traditions, kata are intended to create physical discomfort in addition to this exercise. Overcoming physical discomfort in this type of kata is just the first level of training the student to mentally focus exclusively on one task. As the student progresses thru the various kata, different aspects of stress and distraction are encountered. As these challenges grow more intense the student’s mind learns to process information and stress in a much more efficient manner. In time different neuro-muscular processes become intuitively ingrained in such a way that they are no longer consciously realized by the student. Once this level of kata is absorbed and executed satisfactorily, the student has reached the first level of his or her training. Other more advanced kata will be presented throughout training which present greater and more diverse challenges but the mental methodology for learning is now in place. The most basic reason for kata training has been achieved.


The pitfalls of teaching at the shoden level
At this level it is possible for kata to teach all by themselves. They are after all physical repetitions which challenge and instruct in an almost totally private experience. Although it might seem an exaggeration, anyone who knows the basic movements of a kata can take a student to this first level of training. It is even possible for some students to reach this level of training entirely by learning from a device like a book. However, this hands off approach to learning by the sensei places the student in a perilous situation, especially in the teaching of paired kata. The most common downfall here is a sensei’s lack of diligent attention to physical form and proper timing. Simply stated, many low level instructors teaching ability suffers due to their own mediocre instruction. Due to this they now instill poor habits into their students which must be unlearned at a later time. This is not only potentially dangerous but can be quite frustrating to the student. This teaching flaw has resulted in many excellent prospective students becoming disenfranchised with their training experience and discontinuing their pursuit. Diligent instruction even at the most basic level of kata training is absolutely mandatory. Basics are at the core of any pursuits proper execution and should never be undervalued.

Chuden / The intermediate level of training
Shu, at the chuden level
At the chuden level kata study includes a new element. This element is the application or bunkai. The deeper reason for the kata and its construction is now presented to the student. The scenario in which the kata exists is also studied and evaluated. This study and evaluation is however strictly limited to the pure execution of the kata without variation. Only thru this strict study can the kata accurately demonstrate its relevance to the student at a level he can comprehend. During this process the sensei helps the student begin to grasp the existence of the ura, those aspects that lie hidden beneath the surface of the physical form. For some students this realization is a revelation while to others it has been obvious for some time. Either way, the sensei must now accurately present basic concepts on a more abstract level than before. This paves the way for the second aspect of Shu-ha-ri.


Ha (diverging from the kata)
In the traditional Japanese concept of Shu-ha-ri, ha is the first hint of creative expression allowed the student. It is when the henka waza or variation is first experienced. It has been called the “divergent form existing within the form” or the “orthodox variation that co-exists within the confines of the strictly defined greater kata” . This is when the student is encouraged to consider any response to a failure within the pure kata. Extremely attentive instruction is required by the sensei at this juncture because too much deviation will lead to sloppiness or bastardization of technique, while too much restraint can cripple any underlying intuitive talent. Encouraging intuitive creative talent is the purpose here but this creative experience must be diligently tempered by the confines of the greater kata. The kata must remain recognizable as the kata. If the kata diverges too far from the norm, it is no longer related to the original kata and becomes an altogether different expression of technique. It is imperative that such a deviation be avoided at this level of learning.


Ha, at the chuden level
Once the student discovers the boundaries of his training within the greater kata he will find the possibilities of learning almost endless. Progress comes now in leaps of ability not experienced in the past. Most excellent students first demonstrate their real potential during this stage of their study. The concepts and forms of the ryu integrate in a manner that intellectually stimulates the students mind. He now more fully appreciates the kata and recognizes the technical wisdom that exists within it. Consequently, many sensei find this time the most rewarding in a students progress. The fruits of a sensei”s labor demonstrates itself powerfully during this period.

The pitfalls of teaching at the chuden level
Strict adherence to the core concepts of the particular tradition must be adhered to at this time. To deviate from the core concepts that define the ryu will allow the student to proceed in a direction not intended by the Ryuso (founder). The boundaries of the kata must be adhered to for the ryu to maintain its identity and focus. Stepping beyond the confines of the kata at this point can be disastrous and a student”s ultimate potential compromised. Sensei often fall into the trap of becoming too unstructured in their teaching at this level of training. They misread the students progress and take him too far beyond his level of comprehension. The students mind and technique must be constantly challenged during this intermediate stage of learning but occasionally an overzealous student will attempt to move too far too fast. This tendency must be avoided or it will compromise further progress and learning.

Joden / The advanced level of training
Ri ( discarding the kata)
Some practitioners of modern martial traditions dismiss kata and Shu-ha-ri as being too confining or old fashioned. In truth, this position is flawed because the purpose of kata is misinterpreted by them. Like so many arm chair experts, they have not been properly trained beyond the shoden level in kata and are commenting on a subject they simply are unqualified and therefore unable to comprehend. Like most observers outside the experience of deep study they see the kata as the art itself instead of a sophisticated teaching tool that is only a surface reflection of an arts core concepts. The kata, in their flawed interpretation “is” the art. This is like the flaw of assuming a dictionary to be a complete representation of language. Unfortunately numerous older martial traditions in Japan unintentionally reinforce this misinterpretation by overemphasizing the kata. Often with these schools significant core elements and knowledge have been lost to antiquity so that all that remains is the omote or outer shell of the kata. With nothing left but the kata to embrace, these schools often reinterpret their mokuroku (technical syllabus), making the kata the primary driving force of the ryu. When this happens the ryu inevitably degenerates into a simplistic dance where the ura and applications of the kata becomes of secondary focus. These traditions are effectively dead. They are like skeletons attempting to represent a total person.

Ri, What is it?
“Ri” is difficult to explain as it is not so much taught as it is arrived at. It is a state of execution that simply occurs after shu and ha have been internalized. It is the absorption of the kata to such an advanced level that the outer shell of the kata ceases to exist. Only the underlying truth of the kata remains. It is form without being conscious of form. It is intuitive expression of technique that is as efficient as the prearranged form but utterly spontaneous. Technique unbridled by the restriction of conscious thought processes result in an application of waza that is truly a moving meditation. For one who has achieved ri, observation becomes its own expression of reality. The mind is now free to operate on a distinctly higher level than previously possible. To the casual observer it appears that the exponent has become almost psychic, able to recognize an occurrence or threat before it actually exists. In truth the observer is just fooled by his own minds mental inertia. With ri, the lag time between observation and cognitive response is reduced to almost imperceptible levels. It is “ki”. It is “mushin”. It is “ju”. It is all these things in combination. It is the manifestation of the highest level of martial ability. It is what we refer to in the Takamura ryuha as “wa”.
The level of technical execution associated with ri is realistically beyond the ability of many practitioners. Most people are simply incapable of reaching this, the most advanced level of expression of a ryu’s potential. Frequently however, practitioners who never reach this level of technical execution make excellent sensei, able to take a student to the edge of mastery even though they themselves are incapable of making the jump to the intuitive execution that is ri. Some observers try to dismiss this recognition of limitation as elitist. I find this thinking odd. I would like to remind these observers that not all human beings are innately capable of mastery in all pursuits. As individuals we are endowed with certain talents and deficiencies. It is these individual talents and deficiencies that make us humans the diverse and unique species we are. To try to deny this truth is to deny what makes up our individuality. With this in mind it is imperative to remember that the humble individual realizes that mastery in one pursuit does not guaranty even average talent in another. Likewise, technical expertise does not necessarily guaranty teaching expertise.

Pitfalls of teaching at and beyond the joden level
Once a student has reached the level of realizing ri on a regular basis he has essentially achieved all the technical ability a sensei can strictly teach him. The process of instruction and teaching must now evolve. The relationship between teacher and student must be allowed by the sensei to evolve as well. At this point the student is charged by the traditions of his ryu and the vows of his keppan to maintain control of his ego and recognize that without the sensei and the ryu he would never have achieved his ultimate potential as a student. He must acknowledge that he owes all that he has learned to his sensei’s devotion to teaching and his sensei’s sensei. His behavior must reflect that he is forever in debt to the ryu and that he is compelled to be humbled in his teachers presence. Likewise the sensei must now allow autonomy and self expression by the student in a way never previously permitted. More a leader and pointer of the way, the sensei should proudly stand beside his student with a glad heart. He is likewise humbly compelled and called by his responsibility to the ryu to continue to live up to the principles and standards he impressed upon his student. His task of teaching is over. He is now a grandfather instead of a father.
Unfortunately it is at this time, the time of a sensei’s highest calling to the ryu that many fail. Instead of demonstrating confidence in themselves and pride in their students accomplishments they fall prey to vanity and insecurities of the spirit. The failing of a sensei now is usually associated with a perceived end of respect from the student, an end of respect that doesn’t actually exist. Frequently this problem manifests itself when the sensei attempts to reintroduce a strict student-teacher relationship that prevents the student from realizing his mature position of authority within the ryu. At this time some sensei perceive deviation from their own path as a students rejection of their teachings. In truth some of a sensei’s teachings must be denied for a student to reach the highest levels of self expression within the ryu. Some sensei are also unwilling to recognize that a deviation from their own teaching at this level is actually a manifestation of the students individuality and mature confidence. This confidence it must be remembered was imparted by the sensei’s own teachings as part of the bargain between student and teacher. The sensei must remember his duty and charge as simply a member within the ryu. He must humble his heart and reacquaint himself with his own past as a student. This he must do to remain an effective leader of “the way”.

Conclusion
White, becomes black, becomes white again.

It is the calling of every member of the kai to acknowledge his charge and regularly peer into the kamidana’s mirror, the mirror that reflects undistorted truth. And to humbly ask the kami to assist him in viewing his own heart and motivations with a critical eye, to scrutinize that small voice that is the harbinger of vanity and rationalization. Only thru the expression of truth can the process of Shu-ha-ri successfully embrace student and teacher in the charge of passing the knowledge and wisdom of our kai’s ancestors forward responsibly.

Y. Takamura , 1986

Yang’s Ten Important Points

by Yang Cheng-fu (1883 – 1936)
as researched by Lee N. Scheele

1.) Head upright to let the shen [spirit of vitality] rise to the top of the head. Don’t use li [external strength], or the neck will be stiff and the ch’i [vital life energy] and blood cannot flow through. It is necessary to have a natural and lively feeling. If the spirit cannot reach the headtop, it cannot raise.

2.) Sink the chest and pluck up the back. The chest is depressed naturally inward so that the ch’i can sink to the tan-t’ien [field of elixir]. Don’t expand the chest: the ch’i gets stuck there and the body becomes top-heavy. The heel will be too light and can be uprooted. Pluck up the back and the ch’i sticks to the back; depress the chest and you can pluck up the back. Then you can discharge force through the spine. You will be a peerless boxer.

3.) Sung [Relax] the waist. The waist is the commander of the whole body. If you can sung the waist, then the two legs will have power and the lower part will be firm and stable. Substantial and insubstantial change, and this is based on the turning of the waist. It is said “the source of the postures lies in the waist. If you cannot get power, seek the defect in the legs and waist.”

4.) Differentiate between insubstantial and substantial. This is the first principle in T’ai Chi Ch’uan. If the weight of the whole body is resting on the right leg, then the right leg is substantial and the left leg is insubstantial, and vice versa. When you can separate substantial and insubstantial, you can turn lightly without using strength. If you cannot separate, the step is heavy and slow. The stance is not firm and can be easily thrown of balance.

5.) Sink the shoulders and drop the elbows. The shoulders will be completely relaxed and open. If you cannot relax and sink, the two shoulders will be raised up and tense. The ch’i will follow them up and the whole body cannot get power. “Sink the elbows” means the elbows go down and relax. If the elbows raise, the shoulders are not able to sink and you cannot discharge people far. The discharge will then be close to the broken force of the external schools.

6.) Use the mind instead of force. The T’ai Chi Ch’uan Classics say, “all of this means use I [mind-intent] and not li.” In practicing T’ai Chi Ch’uan the whole body relaxes. Don’t let one ounce of force remain in the blood vessels, bones, and ligaments to tie yourself up. Then you can be agile and able to change. You will be able to turn freely and easily. Doubting this, how can you increase your power?

The body has meridians like the ground has ditches and trenches. If not obstructed the water can flow. If the meridian is not closed, the ch’i goes through. If the whole body has hard force and it fills up the meridians, the ch’i and the blood stop and the turning is not smooth and agile. Just pull one hair and the whole body is off-balance. If you use I, and not li, then the I goes to a place in the body and the ch’i follows it. The ch’i and the blood circulate. If you do this every day and never stop, after a long time you will have nei chin [real internal strength]. The T’ai Chi Ch’uan Classics say, “when you are extremely soft, you become extremely hard and strong.” Someone who has extremely good T’ai Chi Ch’uan kung fu has arms like iron wrapped with cotton and the weight is very heavy. As for the external schools, when they use li, they reveal li. When they don’t use li, they are too light and floating. There chin is external and locked together. The li of the external schools is easily led and moved, and not too be esteemed.

7.) Coordinate the upper and lower parts of the body. The T’ai Chi Ch’uan Classics say “the motion should be rooted in the feet, released through the legs, controlled by the waist and manifested through the fingers.” Everything acts simultaneously. When the hand, waist and foot move together, the eyes follow. If one part doesn’t follow, the whole body is disordered.

8.) Harmonize the internal and external. In the practice of T’ai Chi Ch’uan the main thing is the spirit. Therefore it is said “the spirit is the commander and the body is subordinate.” If you can raise the spirit, then the movements will naturally be agile. The postures are not beyond insubstantial and substantial, opening and closing. That which is called open means not only the hands and feet are open, but the mind is also open. That which is called closed means not only the hands and feet are closed, but the mind is also closed. When you can make the inside and outside become one, then it becomes complete.

9.) Move with continuity. As to the external schools, their chin is the Latter Heaven brute chin. Therefore it is finite. There are connections and breaks. During the breaks the old force is exhausted and the new force has not yet been born. At these moments it is very easy for others to take advantage. T’ai Chi Ch’uan uses I and not li. From beginning to end it is continuous and not broken. It is circular and again resumes. It revolves and has no limits. The original Classics say it is “like a great river rolling on unceasingly.” and that the circulation of the chin is “drawing silk from a cocoon ” They all talk about being connected together.

10.) Move with tranquility [Seek stillness in movement]. The external schools assume jumping about is good and they use all their energy. That is why after practice everyone pants. T’ai Chi Ch’uan uses stillness to control movement. Although one moves, there is also stillness. Therefore in practicing the form, slower is better. If it is slow, the inhalation and exhalation are long and deep and the ch’i sinks to the tan-t’ien. Naturally there is no injurious practice such as engorgement of the blood vessels. The learner should be careful to comprehend it. Then you will get the real meaning.

Reference: http://www.scheele.org/

Develop a Good Attitude to Learning Taijiquan

by Wee Kee-Jin

Master Huang Sheng-Shyan once suggested that a student should be prepared to look over the mountain for a good teacher, and a teacher should be willing to travel the oceans for a good student”. Both efforts reflect a good attitude.

Empty Your Cup
The first requirement to learning something new is to let go of what you already know. Only when your cup is empty is there space to add something further. Fully absorb the purpose and function behind the new lessons, before relating them back to the classics. If it fits with your understanding of the principles then incorporate it into your ongoing practise, otherwise let it go. It might be contrary to your present direction, or it might only have some relevance later, on your Taiji journey.

Practise
Students seldom give a teacher the chance to teach, by not practising what was previously taught you don’t have the foundation to be taught the next things. Just attending classes or workshops does not mean that you will become good at Taiji, results come from practise.

Accept the Keys
When someone teaches you they are imparting a method of training, or offering you a key to the door. To open the door and enter the room, you need to practise to develop a foundation of what was taught. During the next stage of training the teacher’s guidance can present you with another key. However if the you haven’t walked through the first door, this new key will be of no use.

Enjoy your Training
Initially it is necessary to establish a regular daily training routine to develop self discipline. However you must soon find enjoyment in your practise and therefore develop the want to train, otherwise you will build up mental resistance that will prevent the subtler depths of Taiji being apparent.

Become your own Teacher
The Taiji journey begins with a teacher being required to build the foundation, or as the classics put it “to come through the door, you need oral transmission”. But once the foundation is solid, and a clear direction is set you can still progress even without your teacher. Then when a certain level is reached, a new dimension of understanding will open up, and begin a process of exploration and discovery that can be continued for the rest of your life.

Always remain a Student
As a teacher it does not mean that you have stopped practising. “Teacher” is only a form of address, we are all just students, always learning and practising.

Reference: http://www.taijiquan.co.nz/

Building a Connection

by Wee Kee-Jin

Taijiquan is not simply relaxing, sinking and being grounded. It is about developing; the right structure; the right sequence of movements to connect the structure; the right timing of the movements; and the mind awareness (Yi) to travel through the movements.
A structure without the sequence of movements is like an electrical cable without the copper wire inside the plastic tube. Without the mind awareness (Yi) even the correct structure with the right sequence and timing of the movements, is like the wire not having a current passing through it.

Connecting the Base and Arms
Often the movements of the base (feet, legs & hips) and the arms are co-ordinated but unconnected, and therefore incorrectly act independent of each other. The connection between the base and arms is in the body’s torso and needs to be cultivated using the mind awareness (Yi) to create a melting sensation through the body as it leads the force from the feet to the finger-tips.

When initially practised it is difficult to recognise anything happening but after a few years of training it is possible to feel even very small muscles in the body change as the mind directs. Eventually the base movements will actually produce the movement in the body which in turn will produce the movement in the arms, both during sinking and issuing.

It is easier to first cultivate the body connecting the base and arms in static foot positions and repetitive movements such as in Master Huang’s relaxing exercises before involving the stepping and changing postures of the Form. Later work it with the addition of an external force in the controlled environment of fixed pushing-hand routines, before attempting it in the free pushing, where the external force direction and speed is not restricted.

Once the whole body is continuously connected, and the timing becomes almost natural, neutralising would involve allowing an incoming force to pass through you into the ground where it would be combined with the energy of the earth and rebounded in greater magnitude back to the source of the incoming force. This “interception” does not require you to initiate any issuing as your body will have become a medium for the forces to pass through unimpeded.

Reference: http://www.taijiquan.co.nz/

Master Huang’s 20 Important Points

Translated by Wee Kee-Jin

For the Taijiquan Form and Qi cultivation Master Huang Sheng-Shyan referred to 20 points:

1 Every muscle in the body has to be relaxed and loosened.

2 The body has to maintain an upright position without leaning or tilting.

3 Empty the chest, relax the shoulders and drop the elbows.

4 Tuck in the back and keep a light consciousness on the crown of the head.

5 Contract the anus, but ensure the buttocks are relaxed and hanging.

6 Bring the Spirit (mind awareness) within to cultivate the Qi. Avoid unnecessary movements in the three parts of the body: head, arms and torso.

7 Maintain an awareness of the three centres (centre of palms, tantien and bubbling well).

8 Use the mind, not brute force, to stay in your centre.

9 Calm the mind, relax the body and maintain an awareness of the body.

10 Initiate all the turning from the hips and waist.

11 When stepping forward or backward, the substantial and insubstantial feet must be clearly differentiated and firmly grounded.

12 The legs initiate the forward and backward movement.

13 In calmness there is movement and in movement there is sinking.

14 Upper and lower body must synchronise harmoniously, without dispersed movements.

15 Relax the neck, sink the shoulders and drop the elbows.

16 Three things that should never be locked straight in the form; the body; the arms; the legs.

17 Maintain continuity without any breaks, internal and external in harmony.

18 The hands move like reeling silk from a cocoon and the feet move like a cat in motion.

19 Have faith, modesty and perseverance and success will prevail.

20 Fully understand the Taiji Form and the applications will be natural.

Reference: http://www.taijiquan.co.nz/

Practising the Classics

by Wee Kee-Jin

In Taijiquan, we must know the direction we want to head in, then focus on the process not the result. Practising the right process will take you to where you want to go. Even knowing and preaching the Taijiquan ‘classics’ will not amount to anything, if you don’t practise it.

Structure
The ‘classics’ state that; the body has to be upright as if the head is suspended from above; the hips have to be relaxed and seated into their sockets; the chest should be hollowed; shoulders relaxed and elbows dropped. These requirements combined create the taiji ‘structure’.

However if all the attention in placed on the structure without having an awareness of the processes and details in the movements, the structure will be empty and without substance.

Substance
To develop substance we must learn the sequence of how the body moves in the taiji way. Any raising or lowering always having always originated from the feet, before passing through the ankles, knees, hips (kua) body torso, to the shoulders, elbows, wrists, palms and then fingers. All turning is motivated by the hips turning the waist, body trunk, arms then hands. Both the ‘opening’ and ‘closing’, stem from the ‘centre’. Expanding outwards from the ‘centre’ produces the ‘opening’ and contracting inwards from the ‘centre’ produces the ‘closing’. Similar to how an umbrella is opened and closed. A balloon inflates from air being blown into the centre expanding it outward, and deflates when the air is allowed to escape from the centre.

Most taiji practitioners sequence their leg movements (feet, ankles, knees then hips), and arms (shoulders, elbows, wrists, palms then fingers), but neglect the changes through the body trunk. The legs and arms may be co-ordinated, but are unconnected and therefore moving independently. The ‘classics’ state that when one part of the body moves every part of the body moves, when one part changes – every part changes along with it, and when one part arrives – every part arrives together. Therefore every movement originating in the legs must ripple through the body to produce the movement in the arms.

This releasing of the body trunk is produced by mind awareness visualising a melting sensation as it travels through the body muscles. Only then will the movements of the legs be connected to the arms and the whole body change as one.

Synchronization
Once the sequence of movement is established and connected, the sequence should be timed to synchronize the whole body. If we divide the body into three groups of parts; base (from the feet, ankles, knees to the hips); body trunk (abdomen, chest, spine and shoulder blades); and arms (shoulders, elbows, wrists to the hands and fingers), the changes must be timed to be in relation with each other. So if the base has released 10%, the body trunk should have released by 10% and the arms also 10%. 10% in the base but only 5% in the body trunk and 20% in the arms means that there is a disconnection between the base and body trunk, and you are holding yourself up, and the arms are collapsing into the body.

Continuous Sinking
Throughout the Taiji ‘form’ from the beginning to the end, the whole body is continuously changing and synchronizing, and the mind is initiating wave after wave of sinking. Master Huang maintained that sinking is the main theme of the ‘form’, and Taiji is all about changes. Sinking throughout the ‘form’, not only ensures that we are stable and grounded, it produces a continuous supply of ‘relaxed force’ (jing). To cultivate sinking we initially work it in three stages as follows;
1) When moving the insubstantial foot (e.g. stepping), we send the mind awareness through the body visualising a melting sensation, into the ground under the substantial foot.
2) During the transition (e.g. adjusting the substantial foot and turning the body) we send another wave of awareness and melting visualisation from the crown of the head, through the body into the ground beneath both feet.
3) When issuing the ‘relaxed force’ (fa-jing) from the feet, through the legs, body arms, palms to the finger tips, we visualise the melting sensation as the awareness passes through the body.
Eventually these stages must be combined into one continuous sink.

The Form
The ‘form’ is the foundation of Taiji. Whatever process happens in the ‘form’ will translate into the fixed ‘pushing-hands’ and ‘free-pushing’. We should therefore work on the same things in each. If we were to practise one way in the form, another way during fixed ‘pushing-hands’ and something different for ‘free-pushing’, it is like leaning the English words, using a German sentence structure (or grammar) and writing an essay in the Chinese direction (top to bottom left to right).

Pushing Hands
‘Pushing-hands’ is not just being able to neutralise an incoming force, or being able to stick to your opponent and follow his or her changes. When we are neutralising and the opponent is still grounded he or she can still come in from another direction. When we are advancing although we may be sticking, he or she can still change if they are connected to their base. Both in neutralising and sticking we must take them out of alignment so that they become immediately disconnected. Without a base they will have to rely on you to keep their balance so that effectively you become their centre. Being able to disconnect a partner from their base and use a ‘relaxed-force’ to uproot and throw them is a good level, but the ultimate is not to have to use any of your own force, rather absorbing the force of your partner and returning it to them. A public company operates and grows using the funds from shareholders not their own money.

Reference: http://www.taijiquan.co.nz/

Important Points for Progress in Taijiquan

by Wee Kee-Jin

Master Huang was a renowned practitioner, but it was as a teacher that he most stood out. He developed exercises and a systemised training method that recognised the stages of a student’s development.

Physical Mechanisms
When learning Taijiquan we all start with poor posture and awkward actions. So we need to work with big loose movements to free up locked joints and accumulated tensions, with particular attention on uprightness and an awareness of the feet to cultivate greater stability. Initially the body moves as one block, but as the joints and muscles loosen we start to turn from the hips, to lead the waist, to lead the body, to lead the arms. The raising of the arms, instead of lifting, gets motivated from a force below and expressed by the relaxation of the body’s trunk, shoulders and elbows. Then every movement in the upper body becomes a product of the changes from below.

From the beginning the importance of the structure must be emphasised. This is the accuracy and alignment both in posture and later during the transitions, and provides the pathways for the energies to pass through. Like the hose, where either kinking or squeezing can stop the water flowing, in the body locked joints and muscular tension will restrict the energy’s path.

Focusing on the Qi or Yi before the structure is established is of little use, like generating electricity without having the wires to transmit it. Meditation and Qigong also works on the Yi and Qi but without the Pushing hands they do not provide the method to deliver a relaxed force.

Accuracy is not just the details of the positions (the where), or the sequence (the when), but more importantly the process of how you move. Inaccuracies may be made obvious to you in Pushing-hands, but it is in the Form that you train them. If you can’t maintain your alignment when there is no external force affecting you, then it must be impossible if there is.

Alignment refers to a state of central equilibrium, that is being upright and centred both horizontally and vertically. When moving, both left and right need to change evenly, so both knees, hips and shoulders should drop at the same rate, not one side faster than the other.

If students only work on being loose, relaxed and sensitive then their Form will not be grounded (floating Form) and during Pushing-hands they not have a relaxed-force to issue. Even their sticking will only be at a surface level. Therefore you need to include sinking in the Form.

Song is an external and internal process – physically relaxing, and mentally sinking. The relaxation is a physical mechanism involving the releasing of the joints from the feet up. To connect with the ground you must relax the feet and ankles, give at the knees by dropping the hips into their sockets. This will create the space for the body to fall into. The shoulders can then drop closely followed by the lowering of the elbows and wrists. The base, upper body and arm relaxation should happen almost simultaneously to avoid holding-up the sinking.

Internal Mechanisms
All internal mechanisms in Taiji must be cultivated using the Mind (Yi), which consists of two parts – intention and awareness.
When you intend to move you first think of it, then the body acts, in a way that you need to be aware of, otherwise you will not understand the process or the changes. So in every movement you must have the intention first, closely followed by your awareness.

Thinking is only planning. It is the awareness that you use to cultivate the relaxation, the sinking and the rebounding forces – visualise them, and move your awareness to experience them. Initially they may not physically occur in a way that is obvious, but after prolonged practice they will happen as you have visualised.
The Yi directs the Qi, so wherever the awareness is, the energy will be there. Focusing on the Qi itself can actually block, or stagnate it. The flow of the Qi is a product of your directed awareness

Sinking is the continuous flow of sensation from the crown down. To first train we release (as described above) then visualise a cup of warm water being poured at the crown of the head, draining down the body and the legs with a melting feeling, through the feet and into the ground.

In the first stage of training with sinking in the Form, the student learns to sink into posture by getting into position then allowing the sensation to complete, before issuing and moving into the next posture.

After a year or so of sinking into every posture, sinking during transition is introduced. Here the process starts at the moment the insubstantial foot begins to move, whereby the student sinks into the substantial foot and continues uninterrupted by the adjustment of the foot, the turning of the hips, the transfer of weight, and even during the releasing of the force (issuing).

The result of relaxing and sinking is a noticeable increase of pressure in the feet. This is termed grounding, or taking root. It is important to remember that the calmness produces the relaxation, the relaxation produces the sinking, the sinking produces the grounding, the grounding produces the rebounding force. Therefore Jing is a product of Song, and continuous sinking will supply a continuous force.

Pushing-Hands
Tui Shou, is just an extension of the Form. The only difference is an external force motivates your movements. You should move in the same way, with the same awareness as you do in the Form and whatever you are working on in the Form you need to include your Pushing-hands.

Yielding is not to retreat from the force. Nor is to take root to stand against it. To move a moment ahead of a force, is pulling away or disconnecting. To move a moment after, is to resist. It is the fly alighting that sets you in motion, not because the fly lands that you move away. It is the incoming force that creates the movement in you. When you push into a sponge, it isn’t trying to move away from you, it just absorbs your force. When you force is exhausted, the sponge follows you back. This is sticking.

In Taiji Sticking is following someone else’s centre, being connected from your own root through and into another persons, so that two can move as one. It requires listening, sinking, opening, closing and harmonious movements. The process of emptying an incoming force into the ground, and sticking to the base of your partner, requires the same mechanisms as used to sink in the Form.

Therefore if someone has not trained the sinking, they could be able to yield and extend a force to weaken it, but an amount of it will still be on them. What’s more they will only be able to stick to the surface of the opponent and not contact into their root.
Neutralising is redirecting an incoming force and later the ability to empty it completely from the body into then ground. With good alignment the first direction learnt for neutralising is horizontal, pivoting about the spinal axis. When opening, closing and sinking can be incorporated, the neutralising also becomes vertical and internal, enabling the incoming forces to be intercepted, and rebound back into your partner.

Closing and opening refers to the space between your hands, arms and body. Letting go from the centre is closing; opening is expanding from the centre. The movement of the outside is a product of the changes inside. Closing needs space to take place, which is what the sinking provides.

Speed and timing must be in relation to one another. If your turn a watch, although the winder turns a gear, and that turns another wheel and so on until the hands move, they all seem to turn together. No wheel turns any faster than the one driving it, they all move at exactly the same speed and at the same time.
Although you turn from your hips, the linking together results in your body parts arriving at different destinations simultaneously.
In Pushing-hands, even with good listening skills and sensitivity, inaccuracies or poor synchronisation will either leave a gap for someone else to come in, or you’ll get stuck by locking yourself up.

Synchronising the changes throughout the Form is an important step in developing your Taiji. This is the natural timing that results when relaxation motivates your movement, sinking and issuing originates from the root below and closing and opening is from the centre within.

When letting the air out of a balloon, all sides contract together and at the same rate. This emptying is even and is called balance which should be within every closing and opening, that is – throughout the whole Form and Pushing-hands. If you are in balance then like a set of scales, the slightest pressure sets you in motion, providing the structure is in place.

Before issuing there is always a point of breaking the root of your partner, which can begin the moment you stick. When developing the ability to issue, the student needs to wait for the sinking to be complete before allowing the force to – bounce back from the root, magnifying it in the legs, directing it with the hips, and passing it through the body and arms to the fingertips (or any other point of contact).

Initially the release of force is triggered by a small push of the substantial foot into the ground. But later this becomes unnecessary as 1% relaxation becomes 1% of sinking, which is 1% of grounding which equals 1% of force. Just as in a spring, where as soon you push against it, a force returns towards you. Remembering that the efficiency of a spring is dependant upon its structure – if too rigid there won’t be any compression, too soft and it will collapse, poor alignment and it will buckle.

The quality of a push is much more important than the quantity of how far that you throw someone. With a good clean push, both of their feet will leave the ground, rather than them just staggering backwards. The power comes from the energies not physical strength so the experience of being issued upon should be light and comfortable not brutal or forceful. If everything is in place from structure through to timing you may be made to fly, but even that is not the point.

Taiji is a process not a result. Exercises, Forms and Pushing-hands are methods for exploring the Principles within all movements. To improve we only need to refine our movements and deepen our understanding of the Principles. However this is an ongoing, continuous process. Ultimately the Form becomes formless, and every action or non-action is in harmony – that is Taijiquan.

Reference: http://www.taijiquan.co.nz/

The Importance of Sequence and Timing to Achieve Synchronization

by Wee Kee-Jin

The Taiji Form regardless of what style, was created as a means to train moving in a synchronized and harmonious Taiji way. During Pushing-hands we extend the practise of synchronized movement to include when being effected by an external force. When we can synchronize all the physical (external) and mental (internal) movements in our daily life, we will no longer be restricted or imprisoned by the Taiji Form, because then the Form will have become formless.

Synchronization
The classics state that; when one part of the body changes every part of the body changes along with it; when one part of the body moves every part of the body moves; the destination might be different but the time of arrival is the same – all parts of the body arriving together.

The key to achieve this principle is synchronization both of the sequence and timing. Being the continuous fine tuning of muscles co-ordinated simultaneously throughout the body.
The physical synchronizing and aligning always begins at the base by releasing the ankles, knees and hips then the shoulders, elbows and wrists. Both upward and downward actions start at the feet, get magnified in the legs and ripple through the body into the arms before being expressed to the finger-tips.

All turning originates from within. There is a line you should imagine running from the crown of the head (niwan) to the tailbone (weilui) that serves as the central axis of the body. From directly above you would see turning as being initiated at the axis about a small circle then expands to the medium circle of the body, then reaching the big circle of the arms.
Although there is a sequence, the movements must be in relation to each other. Any missed timings would effect the whole synchronization.

When stepping forward or backward you need to continue the synchronizing into the substantial foot to create the movement of the insubstantial foot. While the insubstantial foot is stepping, the centre is changing, so the substantial foot adjusts continuously.
Therefore both in the Taiji Form and Pushing-hands all parts of the body synchronize to create a movement and to respond to an incoming force.

To internally synchronize, there first must be physical relaxation and mental calmness. Then the melting sensation of relaxation can flow through the body and legs, into the ground. This is what is called ‘sinking’ and produces ‘grounding’. This downward feeling can then be released and rebound up from the ground through the feet, legs, body and arms, to the fingertips, but only if the body has continued to relax. This generates the force (Jing) and cultivates the ability to deliver it (Fa-jing). Although there is a sequence from the feet to the finger-tips, the timing required is in close relation to each other. After a while the stages overlap until eventually simultaneous, that means at the moment of 1% of relaxation, there is 1% sinking, 1% grounding and 1% rebounding force, which will then continue to 2%, 3% onwards.

In Taiji the ‘opening’ and ‘closing’ originates from the ‘centre’, which is where the ‘tantien’ and the central axis meet. Not only does the opening expand from the centre, but the closing also contracts from there; – both are from the inside outwards.
Once the opening and closing are clear, their timing recombines until simultaneous. Then “when there is opening there is closing, and in closing there is opening”. So that at a moment of closure you also experience being open.

The opening and closing needs to be synchronized with the relaxation, sinking, grounding, and issuing of the relaxed force.
Finally when the external and the internal are in harmony, and the timing and sequence are in relation to each other, total synchronization is achieved. Then when one part of the body changes every part of the body will change along with it, and when one part of the body moves every part of the body will move, and when one part of the body arrives every part will arrive.

Qiqong and Taiji
A commonly asked question when someone is studying Taiji, is whether they should practise Qigong as well. Any exercise that develops the use of your mind to circulate the flow of energy (Qi or Chi) in the body is Qigong. Therefore Taiji is Qigong, however Qigong is not Taiji.

Yin and Yang
The terms of Yin and Yang are frequently used in Taiji, and are often made to sound mystical. Unlike words such as table and chair which refer to specific objects, Yin and Yang are concepts describing opposites that have a relationship to each other; up and down; front and back; internal and external; positive and negative; male and female; dark and light; etc. They are as complementary as they are contrasting. Their existence and combination are actually scientific, not mystical.
The essence of Taiji is simplicity; black and white. It is not necessary to colour it with esoteric descriptions.

Reference: http://www.taijiquan.co.nz/

Master Huang Sheng Hsien

One day in Taiwan the famous White Crane Kung Fu champion and teacher, Huang Sheng Hsien, went to meet Professor Cheng Man Ching. T.T. Liang who was present during their meeting, engaged Huang in a Pushing-Hands and knocked him down almost immediately. Huang was both stunned and amazed. Liang said he was like a small baby, and couldn’t figure out why he was considered such a highly skilled kung fu master.

Huang in typical Chinese fashion, quit his White Crane Kung Fu immediately and took up learning T’ai Chi. Liang remembers not only Huang’s true expression of humility, but his perseverance in learning the T’ai Chi. According to Liang, Huang spent 7 years just learning solo form in order to gain root and develop his ch’i. Then for an additional seven years he just had people push on him, so he could develop his yielding and neutralizing skills. Lastly, he spent another seven years psuhing on people in order to learn how to issue. Huangs’s twenty-one-year learning program really impressed Mr. Liang.

Many times I heard Liang comment on how he considered Huang to be the best living T’ai Chi master in the world, equaled only by one of Liang’s other teachers, Wang Yen Nien. Liang showed me a film that was taken in Malaysia of Huang’s famous match against a champion wrestler named Mr. Liao. In a decision of twenty-eight knockdowns to none, Huang soundly proved his T’ai Chi skills before thousands of people.

Master Huang continued to reside in Malaysia until his death in 1995. He had thousands of students and was bestowed the nickname “The Grandfather of T’ai Chi”. Over the years Liang periodically received letters from Huang, wherein Huang would always humbly refer to Liang as his savior. What really impressed Liang the most about Huang was his unfailing trait of never speaking bad of others – no matter the rumor or situation. It was from Huang that Liang claims he learned the idea of “internally imagine your self as already being a master of T’ai Chi, but externally never express it to others.”

Reference: Steal My Art – The Life and Times of T’ai Chi Master T.T. Liang by Stuart Alve Olson
ISBN: 1556434162

Pages: 76-77

Huangs wrestling match with Liao on youtube.com

Huang Xingxian Vs. Liao Kuang Cheng I

Huang Xingxian Vs. Liao Kuang Cheng II

Questions and answers with Master Huang

Are there different schools or sects of Tai Ji?
Tai Ji embodies a comprehensive set of knowledge, developed and handed down by our learned predecessor with mystifying principles and profound philosophical learnings. The Tai Ji movements are scientific as the principles are based on scientific fundamentals. Our predecessors developed the art for improving human health, warding off sickness, slowing down the ageing process, achieving longevity and defending oneself. All this benefits mankind and society. Good character formation is promoted. An adherent imbibed with the Dao (or philosophy as a way of life) of Tai Ji would contribute towards proper governance of the country and universal peace. Tai Ji is not a martial art meant for bragging and antagonistic purpuses. A Tai Ji exponent would need to understand the principles and philosophy of Tai Ji. No one should deviate from these principles and philosohpy. The movements can be developedand modified but the principles are eternal. The external forms may differ from person to person but the principles are standart and unvarying. Because of this, there is no basis for differentiation by schools. Instead a spirit of a single family should prevail. Common interest of the art should take precedence over personal interest. An open attitude should emerge, bearing in mind the spirit of the founder and predecessors to propagate the philosophy of Tai Ji thoughout the world so as to improve the health of mankind.

How should we practice Tai Ji in order to reach accuracy?
The gap between accurate and non-accurate achievement is wide. Remember the words of the old master, Wang Tsung Yueh that the body must be naturally and vertically balanced bearing in mind the principles of being relaxed, rounded and awareness of the various parts of the body. During practice of the set movements, one must be careful, concious or alert, observant and must feel where one is moving. Otherwise there is form without substance and deception to people. To achieve accuracy, the principles of Tai Ji must be followed in addition to correct methods of practising. A good master is necessary coupled with one’s own constant research. The art must be learned progressively having to be on firm ground first before advancing to the next step. Personal requirements are also important. One must be determant, confident, persevering and motivated. A secure means of livelihood and having normal environment coupled with single-mindedness, constant learning and practice and clear understanding of the principles throroughly – all this will lead to achievment of accuracy. This is in contrast to those who want to learn fast, who concern themselves with the external forms and who learn to practise sporadically. These hope to learn first and be corrected later not realising that it is worse than having a new person learning from scratch. Others take the principles of Tai Ji lightly or superficially and liken the art to a common exercise, drill or dance. All this has form but no substance. One’s body must be likened to a perfect machine where a wrong spare part will affect the operation of the machine. The founder of Tai Ji has said, “Achieving the Dao is important, acquiring the skill in the art is secondary;not learning my Dao, he is not my student. ” Therefore also important would be honesty and righteousness or a good moral character.

There are different forms of Tai Ji? Are the principles different?
The founder created the art. But through the years, the forms of Tai Ji have differed:some have 24 basic movements while others have 37; some have 64 set movements and some have 72 while others have 108 movements or even 124. There are long sets and short sets. Movements have been large and expansive and have been small and compact. Some emphasised high postures;others opt for low ones. Some practise slowly;others practise at a faster pace. All this divergence is writter by men. What is important is that the principles remain the same. Different masters with different temperaments have been following the basic principles through the ages. They have engaged in continous research and training. They have reviewed and improved the art until the ultimate objective is achieved where form becomes formless, limbs are no more important, brute force becomes nonexistent and stiffness has given way to being fully relaxed. Character formation has advanced to the stage of “non-self” and of non-resistance so that the whole body is used and hands are no more used as hands. Youthfulness and longevity are attained. It is easy to master correct forms as the Qi and the principles of the art are internally harmonised. Harmonisation is also to be achieved between the upper, middle and lower parts and between the left and the right body. Even though difficult it is relatively easier to master correct forms compared to aquiring skill in the art. This is so as in training or practising there are a number of normally undetectable parts of the body that are difficult to keep under control from the aspects of speed, timing, rhythm and balance. Because of this, skill in the art is difficult to acquire. But then as the founder says, “Understanding one portion of the art would mean being enlightened on all portions or parts. Then all schools and sects become one. ”

Is it better to practise Tai Ji more frequently or less frequently?
There are no extremes in Tai Ji. The essence is in the training method. If the method is not correct, it is no different from ordinary drills with a lot of time spent but relatively little achievement. So it is not a question of practising more or less frequently but practising correctly. That is, the central equilibrium must be vertically maintained. Every movement must be disciplined such that the posture is vertically balanced. The principles remain unchanged:there is straightness in a curve and vice versa. There must be constant learning and practice, understanding the principles and the less obvious points. Mastery of this will produce skill naturally. There is no question, therefore of practising too much or too little but rather of practising correctly.

Is it correct to practise the art fast or to practise it slow?
The earth rotates at a constant and specific rate. Similary, Tai Ji should not be practised too slowly or too fast but should be practised comfortably. The human body must be moved naturally otherwise there would be weaknesses. If the practice is too fast, breathing is affected resulting in uneven respiration, breathlessness and the heart pulsating too fast. If the practice is too slow, the limbs and the joints become stiff. Qi is blocked and is locally stagnant:intent or consciousness is employed but the Qi is not flowing. Internal force and Qi must be synchronised. Internally, there is the harmony of the libido, energy, Qi and spirit while externally, the mind, consciousness (or intent) and body are also harmonised and in turn both the internal and external harmonies are synchronised. Muscles must be relaxed and all parts of the body are naturally without tension. It is not possible therefore to say practising fast is correct or practising slow is correct as this has to be based on the standard or level of achievement of the student. One must practise until the whole body is relaxed and comfortably balanced. Once there is internal and external synchronisation, then the question of slow and fast in practice is unimportant. At this stage, one gets the feeling that the upper portion of the body is like the drifting of clouds and the lower portion is like the flowing of water. Consciousness is continuous and is harmonised with movement. All parts of the body are natural and are unified. There is then no question of being fast or slow.

Is it correct to have either high or low postures in the set movements of Tai Ji?

The art of Tai Ji does not distinguish high and low postures, but is rather based on the idea of four “balances” or equilibriums: 1 balance in the magnitude of the posture or movement such as both sides of the body must have “balanced” amount of spatial displacement when moving; 2 accuracy or precision achieved simultaneously by all parts of the body; 3 bodily balance when moving or turning; 4 steadiness particularly when moving. External and internal balance or harmony must be cultivated where there is no slanting of the central axis of the body. When hind force is invoked, the hind knee being bend will move up or straighten slightly though the height of the body remains unchanged. This is so as consciousness (or intend) and Qi would “close” centrally instead of coming up while the bent knee is used to adjust accordingly. Consciousness is used to lead the muscles in relaxing. Joints, muscles and ligaments must then be loosened, relaxed and “thrown”open but still linked. The body is then erect and comfortable. Consciosness is also used to “move”Tai Ji principles to parts of the body. Having achieved “four balances and eight steadiness,” the question of high and low postures is then answered individually.

How can substantiality and insubstantiality be distinguished between left and right or between top and bottom parts of the body?
The muscles, the skeleton and the nerves are parts of the body system. when practising the movements, the use of consciousness to sink and relax the body is most important. The centre of gravity is moved while perserving the uprightness of the central axis of the body. It is important to focus on steadiness, tranquillity, relaxation and rootedness. The movements propel the external movements in a continuous or uninterrupted fashion. Internal force is gernerated with turning movements. After a long time, the whole body is in balance. When left and right is distinguished, one is substantial and the other insubstantial along the pattern of “cross alignment”. For instance, together with the distinction between top and bottom parts of the body, when the left upper part of the body is substantial, the left lower part is insubstantial and similarywhen the right upper part of the body is substantial, the right lower part is insubstantial. This pattern of cross alignment is used in shifts of the centre of gravity from one leg to the other. This is similar to the “cross-roads”of the nervous system. When moving Qi, therefore, one must separate substantial from insubstantial, move the step without moving the body or moving the body and not the hand. If in moving a step, the body also moves, then it is not separating substantial from insubstantial. If in moving the body, the hand also moves, then the shoulder and the hands are not relaxed. It is important to follow the principles of using consciousness to propel movement. The top and bottom, left and right portions of the body must be coordinated. a rounded grinding stone may move but the centre is not moving. All parts of the body become one system characterised by lightness and agility, roundness and smoothness, even respiration, alternate opening and closing like that of the sea where with movement from one part of the sea, all parts are also moved. The movements are guided by consciousness and are properly regulated like the regular movements of the waves in the sea.

How could the movements be practised in order that they can be usefully applied?
Take the five loosening(or relaxing) exercises as an illustration. These exercises are based on Tai JI principles. During practice there must be full concentration since any distraction will nullify any effects. Bear in mind the three points of non-mobility:the head which must be locked on to the body, the hands which must not move of its own volition and the soles of the feet which must be still and rooted to the ground. Consciousness(or intend)will lead the Qi along. Steps are made without affecting or moving the body. Turning movements start from the waist and hips with hands propelled from the waist and hips in accordance with the principle that all movements originate from the waist. Principles must be understood and no movements are separated from the principles. Once you make it internally you are also “through” externally. Once you are fully relaxed, you can change according to circumstances and can therefore, neutralise an oncoming force. You would have reached that position of “non-self” where the whole body is the weapon and the hands are no more used as hands. If you are not able to usefully apply your movements then you still have not understood the basics of the five relaxing exercises. If you have not mastered the essentials, then there is no point of talking about application of the movements.

What is the rationale for relaxing the abdomen and withdrawing the coccyx(or tailbone)?
Qi is stored in the Dan Tien as a result of using consciousness to sink the Qi to this point. From here Qi should circulate to the whole body. If Qi just remains in the Dan Tien, then the abdomon will have the sensation of being styffed. Only when Qi circulates throughout the body will the abdomen be relaxed and pliable. After a time, the abdomen will acquire some “bouncy” or”springy” effect and Qi would have been circulating to the whole body. Qi can be occluded or absorbed into the backbone. the Song of the Thirteen Postures says, “If the abdomen is thoroughly relaxed, then the Qi will rise. “So do not just store the Qi in the abdomen otherwise it will simply bloat. Having coccyx withdrawn means there is no protrusion of the buttocks while making sure at the same ime that the hip joints are not”sliding”forward. This must be combined with relaxing the abdomen and both requirements must be met at the same time. Otherwise, there is no rootness while the waist is stiff resulting in vertical imbalance or disequilibrium. It is important to maintain the uprightness of the central axis of the body in order to achieve central equilibrium. A test can be made as follows to see whether all this has been done correctly all along:use one thump to press the abdomen and release the thumb suddenly. There should be a bouncing or springy effect of the abdomen. At the same time, the seat of the buttocks behind should be very soft to the touch.

What is true spirit of Tai Ji?
Good and famous masters of Tai Ji teach the same stuff but students will learn differently. This is because students differ in natural endowment and physical make-up. The real acquisition of the art is not in just mastering the external forms but also in mastering the principles and philosophy. The learner must be a man of reason having learnt, practised and understood the art successfully. He applies those principles and philosophy to his daily life. He will not take unfair advantage or be selfish. He is wholeheartedly devoted to Tai Ji. He shares the founder’s spirit of striving for mankind to be physically and mentally healthy. This would be the true Tai Ji spirit.

How many times must we practice the set movements everyday?
The important principle is moderation. The practising technique must be correct in the first place. Some people say you must practise the whole set of movements ten times a day with one set lasting about 25 minutes. This only focuses on quantity and is wasting Qi and energy. It is contrary to the basic principles of Tai Ji succeeding in only making you sweat and reducing weight. It is not beneficial to the development of the internal force, internal organs or gererally the body internally. Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching has said, “I practise the mobilisation of the internal force and Qi using the 37 basic movements every day. One set of movements lasts only 7 minutes. ” Practising too much or too little is subject to whether it is practised correctly or not. Utilising my experience and following my practising technique, students are encouraged to practise every morning and evening using about 5 minutes to practise a particular movement or posture(dividing each of them into 2 parts)over and over again. Those studens who do so are likely to succeed.

Some students have been learning and practising Tai Ji for several years and are yet unstable. Why is this so?

A lot of students are using wrong learning and practising technique. Students must start with understanding the Dao of philosophy, then the principles, then using the correct method and finally putting in the effort. He must understand the relationship of man and his surroundings or the universe and use the method of Qi to practice. He must be humble and persistent in his practice. Slowly, rootedness will result and the method of practising be understood. Understand the principles and be aware of the less obvious and unnoticeable aspects in slowing acquiring skill. Being rooted and having internal force can never be observed externally. They can be accomplished through correct method. In practising the movement and developing the internal force, the joints of the body must be loosened and yet linked. The whole body is relaxed and is not easily pushed over by an opponent. Substantiality is distinguished from insubstantiality. Aim to be flexible and pliable like a snake whose tail will come in to help if you attack the head, or vice versa or whose tail and head will assist when the centre is attacked. Be responsive to consciousness(or intent), then tranquillity and pliability can be achieved. It is easier to lift off a 200 katies iron rod than to lift up a 100 katies iron chain. This illustrates the principles of throroughly relaxed joints. Students must also understand the application of yin and yang in the movements and push hand exercises. Yin and yang principles are in Tai Ji which encompasses the universe:all movements whether divided according to upper and lower body, right and left, front and back, internal and external must not deviate from the principles of substantiality and insubstantiality. Moving and stillness alternate continously:Yin does not depart from Yang and vice versa. When Yang moves, Yin also moves and vice versa. This principle must be understood when practising the set movements. The body and the character is trained together as is the acquisition of the Dao and the art. Dao is likened to yin while the art or skill is the yang. Yang is evolved from yin at yin’s completion. Being relaxed, stillness and being rooted become yin comonents. Neutralisation of force forms the basic foundation where no strength is used. Stillness is like that of the mountain. No change is seen but it is capable of a lot of changes. The founder has said, “Dao is the basis, art is the consequential”. One must therefore acquire Dao by learning not to resist, for only then will the body learn to be obedient. In attacking and defending, one must understand the method, then acquire insubstantiality and quietude. Only then will the defence be solid. Attacking will also be successful as one is naturally comfortable. In pushing hands exercise, one must learn to achieve non-resistance and stickiness. Having achieved stickiness, then one can achieve the ability to neutralise force. With adequate reserves, the neutrasising ability is applied with an involuntary exertion of internal force.

How should a student relate to his teacher?
In the present day, science is very advanced affecting all aspects of human endeavour day by day. This gives rise to stress and keen competition in business having a telling effect on the spirit. This is a common malady. This is why Tai Ji an ancient art, is popular and a common practice. It has no secrets. It is equitable to all as it discriminates against no student. But students often commit errors in practising the art. Students should bear in mind the following pointers:
1 Respect the teacher and accept the philosophy or Dao of the art;
2 Be honest and do not take unfair advantage;
3 Be conscientious and serious, think, observe and feel or being aware during practice;
4 Progress step by step;
5 Be humble and practice constantly;
6 follow all the principles mentioned earlier when practising by themselves.

Reference: Interview with the late master Huang Sheng-Shyan from bao i dao Tai Chi Chuan

Open Taijidag ’06 in Amsterdam

Stichting Taijiquan Nederland invites the whole world to an open Taiji day with forms, demo shows, workshops and competition in Amsterdam, Holland all day 28. October 2006.

Amsterdam, Holland, Europe
SPORTHALLEN ZUID
Sporthallen Zuid, Burgerweeshuispad 54, 1076 EP Amsterdamzaal

Enterance 8.30 (9 -17) € 7,- per person

http://www.taijiquan.nl
Open Taijidag 2006 Invitation (pdf)

The 10 Guiding Principles of Master T.T. Liang

1. Nobody can be perfect. Take what is good and discard what is bad.

2. If I believe entirely in books, better not read books. If I relay entirely on teachers, better not have teachers.

3. To remove a mountain is easy, but to change a man’s temperament is more difficult.

4. If there is anything wrong with me, I don’t blame others, I only blame myself.

5. If I want to live longer I must learn T’ai Chi and accmoplish it both physically and mentally. To accomplish it mentally is much more difficult.

6. I must learn how to yeild, to be tactful, not to be aggressive; to lose (small loss, small gain – great loss, great gain); not to take advantage of others; to give (the more one gives the more one will have).

7. Life begins at seventy. Everything is beautiful! Health is a better of utmost importance and all the rest is secondary. Now I must find out how to enjoy excellent health in my whole life and discover the way to immortality.

8. Make one thousand friends, but don’t make one enemy.

9. One must practice what one preaches. Otherwise it is empty talk or a bounced check.

10. To conceal the faults of others and praise their good points is the best policy.

Reference:
Steal My Art: Memoirs of a 100 Year Old T’ai Chi Master, T.T.Liang
by Stuart Alve Olson
ISBN 1556434162

Pages: 125-26

The Harmony of Yin and Yang

As the Yang energy arises in another it is embraced with your Yin energy and becomes one harmonious energetic interaction. Dualistic thought is lost as one flowing energetic movement is embraced so that it is only one movement and not two. When this is demonstrated it appears as one seamless, graceful flowing movement without any conflict of energy being observed. The Yin completely absorbs the Yang and then leads it on its chosen path. In this way the desire of the one expressing Yang is not interrupted in any way but is encouraged and embraced. It must arise naturally and in so doing cannot be repeated as that would mean putting a movement on top of what was occurring instead of being in harmony with the movement as it is happening. As such it will be different every time.

The feeling of this movement is like falling into a ‘void.’ You are not thrown in the true sense but will find yourself falling into nothingness with no idea of what had just occurred. This is because it arose out of harmonious connected movement without any conflict. As this occurs it creates joy in both people as they experience oneness.

Quote: Aikido Journal, Mark Bilson 12.th. of July 2006

Master Huang’s 14 Important Points

Master Huang Xingxian1. Calmness
– use Deep Mind (Xin) to calm and balance the energy.

2. Suspend the head
– empty the neck, send intention (Yi) to top of head.

3. The gaze is level
– use peripheral vision to be aware of left and right.

4. Loosen and open the chest
– ensure breastbone and upper-spine vertical, supporting the hollow space between them.

5. Sink the shoulders, drop the elbows
– shoulder-blades slide down the back to sink the shoulders, shoulder muscles loosen to droop the elbows.

6. Sacrum central and vertical
– lift the perineum slightly, draw the coccyx down and forward and loosen the lower back.

7. Loosen the waist and inguinal regions (Kua)
– waist controls the upper-body, inguinal regions are the base of the waist.

8. Breathe deeply
– breathe in, ribs expand, diaphragm sinks, abdomen in.
– breathe out, ribs relax, diaphragm rises, abdomen out.

9. Three harmonies, internal and external
– internal: Spirit (Shen) with Intention (Yi), Intention with subtle energy (Qi), subtle energy with body energy (Jing).
– external: shoulders and inguinal regions, elbows and knees, hands and feet.

10. Hands follow the body
– use the trunk to yield and neutralise, the hands to follow to protect the trunk and to prepare to attack.

11. Steps respond to body movements
– change the steps to support body movement.
– hands are like swinging doors; whether you win or loose depends on your steps.

12. Differentiate empty (Yin) and full (Yang)
– meet fullness with emptiness and emptiness with fullness.

13. Smoothness and continuity
– one thing moves, all things move.
– co-ordinate upper-body with lower-body.
– Deep Mind (Xin) and Intention (Yi) determine the speed of the movements.
– use Intention (Yi) to naturally harmonise the breath with the movements.

14. Use Deep Mind Intention (Yi), not insensitive strength
– relax the body, use Deep Mind Intention, then the senses and feelings will be very responsive.

Reference: Relax, Deep Mind Taiji Basics Patrick Kelly 2. ed. New Zealand 2004
ISBN: 0-476-00425-x

Red.: The book is rare to find. Patrik Kelly is a student of the late Master Huang Xingxian a famous student of the renowned Taiji master Zheng Manqing (Cheng Man-Ching).

Links:
Master Huang’s 20 Important Points by Wee Kee Jin http://www.taijiquan.co.nz/

Chen Wei-Ming on Calm

The mind should be calm. If it is not, one cannot concentrate, and when the arm is raised, (whether) forward or backward or back, left or right, it is completely without certain direction. Therefore it is necessary to maintain a calm mind. In beginning to move, you cannot control (it) by your self. The entire mind must (also) experience and comprehend the movements of the opponent. Accordingly, when (the movement) bends, it straightens, without disconnecting or resisting. Do not extend or retreat by yourself. If my opponent has li (strength), I also have li, but my li is previous (in exact anticipation of his). If the opponent does not have li, I am also without it (li), but my mind is still previous. It is necessary to be continually mindful; to whatever part (of the body) is touched the mind should go. You must discover the information by non-discrimination and non-resistance. Follow the method, and in one year, or half a year, you will instictively find it in your body. All of this means use i (mind), not chin (internal force). After a long time the opponent will be controlled by me and I will not be controlled by him.

Red: from Five Character Secret

Reference: T’Ai Chi Ch’Uan Ta Wen, Questions and Answers on T’Ai Chi Boxing Chen Wei-Ming ( Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo & Robert W. Smith ) North Atlantic Books 1985
ISBN: 0938190776

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