A Yang Style Primer the Handbook of the Taichi Studio

September 16, 2017 | Author: mirkomazzali70245 | Category: Tai Chi, Qigong, Medicine, Sports, Science
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2nd Edition

Michael A. Babin

A YANG-STYLE PRIMER: THE HANDBOOK OF THE TAI CHI STUDIO Copyright © 2007 by Michael A. Babin National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data: Babin, Michael A., 1952 – A Yang-style Primer: The Handbook of the Tai Chi Studio 2nd Edition ISBN: 978-0-9735370-2-4 All rights reserved, the use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the author -- or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency -- is an infringement of the copyright law. Did you obtain this text for free from a friend or acquaintance who apparently doesn’t understand or respect the value of Canadian and international copyright laws? If so and you found the material useful. please send the author a $15. (cash or cheque) honorarium. Send payment, comments or questions on the text to: Michael Babin, Senior Instructor Tai Chi Studio 195A Bank Street, 2nd floor Ottawa, ON K2P 1W7 or [email protected]

DEDICATED TO MICHELLE CHAPMAN Michelle’s skill as a physiotherapist was instrumental in helping me to recover a portion of the mobility and strength in my right leg prior to hip-replacement surgery in the Spring of 2005. Thanks to her patient coaching, the exercises I learned from her helped me make a relatively speedy recovery from that surgical procedure. The common attitude among traditional martial artists that the “old ways” are necessarily better is harmful when we ignore the great strides that modern sports science and medicine have made in helping us to understand the function and health of the human body. Training regularly, moderately and scientifically is essential if you are to be a competent, much less healthy, practitioner of taijiquan.

I now have a greater appreciation of the value of a good physiotherapist and would not hesitate to recommend her as well as her colleagues at: MOTION MATTERS PHYSIOTHERAPY AND SPORTS INJURY CLINIC 170 Laurier Ave. West (Ground floor) Ottawa, ON K1P 5V5 Phone: (613) 237-4343 Fax: (613) 237-2264 E-mail: [email protected] Website: http://www.motionmatters.ca

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I have had more than a dozen taijiquan instructors since the summer of 1975 and Shirley & Steven Choi, Allan Weiss and Erle Montaigue, in particular, have been instrumental in shaping my understanding of the Yang style. I would like to thank them all for their patience with my efforts and for having shared their considerable skills and experience with me as freely as they did. On the other hand, any proof-reading or conceptual flaws in this text should be laid at my feet rather than blamed on them or any of the other talented individuals who have taught or influenced me over the course of the many years since I had my first martial arts lesson in the Fall of 1970. If you have read any of my articles in various Canadian and international taiji and martial publications, you may recognize the occasional subject or passage as I have sometimes adapted older material when it was relevant to the topic at hand. I would also like to offer a special thanks to Cal Climie, Mike Waterfield and Marc Seguin for having posed for the photographs in this Handbook. They, along with my other past and current senior students, have helped me to grow, over the years, as both a practitioner and a teacher. It has been a pleasure to watch them develop their skills and interest in taijiquan and to have played a small part in their martial journeys. I would also like to thank my student, Jaqueline Duck, for her permission to reprint a slightly modified version of her artwork on the front cover of this edition of my handbook.. You can see the varied work of this talented artist atwww.jduck.ca/ . The Author


INTRODUCTION The main purpose of this little handbook is to provide notes on standing qigong, the solo and applications forms as well as the martial training methods of the Yang style as I teach it to my students in group classes. If you are studying taijiquan elsewhere and have acquired this little text, you may well be annoyed at both the comparative lack of photos and written detail on the forms and methods that I describe. However, this is not meant to be a how-to manual. Though there are new ways to learn taijiquan these days (video and dvd self-instruction as well as on-line instruction through the internet) the best method is still the traditional approach. In this way, you find a qualified instructor whose private or group classes you attend regularly and whose material you practice with diligence and over the long-term. Fortunately, there are many more competent teachers available now than existed in North America in the early 70s when I began learning. Few beginners have any reason to follow the path that I had to take back then -- teaching myself a short form from the photos in a book. I almost regret not having filmed myself “in action” when reminiscing about that attempt to learn a taiji form when all I had to go by was a badly written text with rather fuzzy photos and my limited experience in karate and jujitsu. Being able to view my performance would be both a funny and valuable reminder that enthusiasm is no substitute for capable hands-on instruction! However, getting the most out of your money, time and effort isn’t just a matter of having a competent teacher; it is also a question of “who, what, where, when and why”, if I may be allowed to borrow an old catch-phrase from journalism.

Who you are is never easy to define at any age; but it certainly is important to have or develop enough self-knowledge to have some idea of what your relative strengths and weaknesses are at any point in your life as these will certainly affect the kind of student that you are and will become. For example, if you cannot stand to be corrected in general, it will be difficult for your instructor to give you honest feedback on your efforts; or, if you cannot stand to be touched, it will be very difficult for you to learn the two-person training methods as taiji tends to be a rather intimate martial discipline.

What you study are standing qigong methods as well as the Yang-style taijiquan forms and training methods of Erle Montaigue as interpreted by Michael Babin in light of his own two decades of teaching experience. Any aspect of traditional taijiquan is more difficult to practice and absorb than you may have imagined based on having seen such practice in public parks or on television. Good taiji on any level only seems easy and effortless when you watch someone with real skill demonstrating. It is hardly that way for the first months of training. Oh, and political-correctness aside, some people will never “get” the more subtle aspects -- no matter how hard they try!

Where you take classes is the Tai Chi Studio in Ottawa. However, you must also train on your own so it is essential that you find free-space with at least a modicum of privacy and quiet for your own regular training. This is not often easy to do if you live in a small apartment or house. If your living space is at a premium, perhaps you can use an empty boardroom at work or free-time in a gymnasium or community center to which you may belong. Bad weather and lack of privacy are the unrelenting enemies of safe, regular outdoor practice. The old saying that “the weather here is nine months of snow and three months of rough sledding!” isn’t too much of an exaggeration in Ottawa or in many parts of Canada. Even if the weather permits outdoor practice in a park, it can be still difficult to ignore the stares and/or thoughtless comments of those using the same public space.

When do you practice? If you want to see real progress, you must train everyday or at the very least, regularly. I define the word “regularly” as being a minimum of three practice sessions per week and those don’t take into consideration any group or private classes you attend that week. If you confine your physical efforts to the Studio premises, you will probably only scratch the surface of the Yang style or of your potential. As to attendance at your classes, it should go without saying that it is essential to go to the available classes as regularly as possible and not just fall into the common habit of saying to yourself “I’m tired tonight, I’ll go for sure the next time!”. Why you should study taijiquan on any level is, perhaps, the hardest question of all as many forms of work and exercise are as good for the body as taiji and, similarly, there are many paths that fuse emotional satisfaction and creativity with physical skill. For example, in terms of craftsmanship: a skilled tailor demonstrates proper focus and intention as she cuts a bolt of cloth precisely to make a fine suit; a butcher moves effortlessly with whole-body power as he slices through the joints of a pig so that the meat seems to fall effortlessly from the bones of the carcass; and, an artist can create a beautiful painting with what look like only a few random strokes of a brush. In addition, swimming, running, walking or cycling can be calming (i.e., by stimulating the production of endorphins, the natural opiates of the body) as well as by building and maintaining physical health in terms of strength, flexibility as well as cardiovascular endurance. In the end, beginners are usually motivated to try taiji out of simple curiosity; or wanting to get out of the house one night a week; or finding new friends or a romantic partner; or learning to relax on a physical level because a doctor or therapist has told them that they need to learn how to cope with stress. These are not necessarily bad motivations in the same way that those who come to a martial arts class with the goals of being less vulnerable and better fighters in not necessarily a good motive.

In the beginning you crudely copy whoever you are learning from to best of your ability; after a few years, if you have any ability, you stop copying your mentor to the same extent and start to put yourself into whatever you are doing. In time, an emerging expert does his or her "thing" so well that a casual observer is fooling into believing that the activity is as easy as he or she makes it look -- until they, in turn, take that first lesson. Still you don’t have to become an expert to enjoy and benefit from your training. It is essential to remember that one of the main reasons for doing taijiquan is to enjoy yourself while doing so; at least some of the time that you practice and come to class. If the process is never enjoyable then you are hardly liable to persevere with your efforts. Hard work that suits your nature and talents should become play in the best sense of that much maligned word in the world of adults. In time, with proper instruction and some effort, the beginnings of new skill and invigorated health may make you realize that your taiji is worth the cost of classes and the effort of practicing. After a year or two, you may find that you willingly practice daily in a way that surprises even you. You may even regret those days where ill health or circumstances keep you from training. After several years. you may find that taiji is no longer another daily chore that you must often force yourself to do; but, simply an intrinsic part of your daily life -- as natural as eating your meals and just as essential. This is the real magic that seriously studying Yang-style taijiquan can bring to your life.

I _______________________ GETTING STARTED IN THE YANG-STYLE The last half of the 19th Century was not an easy time for anyone living in China due to both external and internal pressures on that country. This is when a young man named Yang Lu-chan spent some years in the Chen Village in the northern part of that country learning the martial arts that were taught there. Whether he stole and modified the secrets of those martial forms and training methods; or developed his system afterwards; or, learned from one or more outside experts are open to argument by modern masters and martial arts historians alike. What is certain, is that after much study, he created a system that was different in approach and relatively more relaxed than the martial arts of his time. In his later years, Master Yang moved to the imperial capital, Beijing, where he taught his art to the upper classes and those that served them as guards in the Forbidden City. His method was not yet called “tai chi” or "taiji"; but simply referred to as Yang’s Method or sometimes “Cotton” or “Loose” Boxing” because of its relatively soft appearance when compared to the aggressive firmness of the prevalent styles of that time. However, Master Yang might well have been puzzled if you suggested to him that the main reason for doing the art was to become healthy. At that time, you became a healthier, stronger person as a byproduct of your martial training -- if you persevered despite the rigors of that training. However, even as early as the 1920s, many of those who came after him modified the forms as well as the training methods to make these more accessible to larger numbers of people. This was also done partly to make it more acceptable to the Chinese upper classes who tended to look down on martial arts training as being only suitable for thugs and soldiers. Since coming to North America, the trend -- particularly in the Yang-style -- is towards making the practice even easier and removing or modifying the martial side of the system. This is due, in part, to the desire of many well-meaning instructors to make the art more relevant to the elderly, the chronically ill as well as those unused to regular exercise. Consequently, most now think of slow, graceful movement, as in the Yang style, being the totality of taiji as opposed to being simply one aspect of the training in one style out of six official family styles (Chen, Wu, Hao, Sun and Zhaobao being the others) because that is all they have ever seen or heard of personally.

As in the China of a hundred years ago, it is difficult to cope with stressful times and uncertainty and many modern students have been told to take up taijiquan to learn how to relax. Unfortunately, the well-meaning health professionals offering this advice also usually know as little about traditional taijiquan as their clients. On the other hand, many Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) health professionals will also recommend that their clients learn taiji to improve their health in a variety of ways but the are rarely talking about the older or martial versions of the Yang style, but rather those that are taught solely as a mild calisthenic or moving qigong. Unfortunately, many beginners stop training almost immediately when they find out how demanding a traditional style can be of their time and effort. When you come to class expecting to leave afterwards in some exotic and relaxed state; it is difficult to reconcile your expectations with feeling tired and uncoordinated. Of course, the postures and body mechanics required to do any style of taijiquan are EVENTUALLY relaxing in the sense that relearning how to stand and move in accordance with the correct principles will make you more efficient at both activities. This kind of functional relaxation is also related to having learned deep abdominal breathing and calming the mind. In the end, practicing competently is one way to improve physical health, achieve some measure of inner peace and, for those whose interests take them in that direction, learn an effective martial system that can be practiced into middle age and beyond. As with anything that is worth doing, competence will not come overnight and you must learn to be patient in terms of your own progress without becoming too complacent about it. As I said, many taiji teachers only provide instruction in the health side of the Yang style and that is where the public demand largely lies. Of course, even this minimalist approach can still do wonders for the health of the average sedentary person who is looking for a way to become active again and to learn a system of moving meditation. On the other hand, a competent modern version of the Yang-style can still be a potent way of exploring martial and self-defense training and that possibility shouldn’t be dismissed or minimized by those practitioners with little or no interest in martial training! In this context, one of my students once told me about having asked his previous taiji teacher about where he could study the martial side of the Yang-style in Ottawa. That worthy is reported to have snorted “You’ll have to go to Michael Babin, if you want that kind of stuff.” and he apparently had the kind of look on his face that is usually reserved for occasions in which you notice that someone standing next to you in church has just passed wind!

Another reality-check that many newer students have trouble accepting is that the meditative and health benefits of taiji are not accumulative and regular practice on a daily basis will remain essential, if they want to reap ongoing benefit. Neither is mastery as easy as learning a solo form and then expecting to be able to reap all sorts of health benefits simply because you have learned the entire sequence and can practice it -- sort-of -- on your own. Similarly, human nature guarantees that many students quickly fall prey to boredom over the tedium of doing the same things over-and-over. I have seen this often in my own classes when students say or hint : “Well, that’s done with, what do I learn now?” as if being able to stumble through an entire form was the same as mastering its intricacies, much less mastering an entire style of which that solo form is certainly only a very small part. _____________ Doing the entire solo form with some basic competence is the beginning of your learning curve and not the equivalent of getting a black belt in taiji! _____________ Of course to find a master practitioner, you have to be experienced enough to tell one of these from the run-of-the-mill teachers as there seem to be many more of that sort teaching in Canada’s urban centers, at least. For example, there is a popular taiji association with chapters all over Canada and the world which had the habit of using volunteer instructors extensively when I was involved with them in the late 1970s. Some of these, including myself, were being encouraged to lead their own groups of students after putting in only a few months of basic training themselves. Perhaps, that organization has stopped doing this in more recent years. I hope so as the average beginner needs and deserves a teacher that has something more than enthusiasm and the willingness to work for free going for him or her! In the end, real experts are few and far between. For example, of the many teachers that I have met in the thirty years that I have been training in taiji, only a few have been outstanding role-models of what it means to internalize taiji practice. Perhaps the problem is that it is much too easy to feel and act like a big fish when you are actually only a small or medium-size fish, in a rather small pond. In this way, many practitioners tend to learn to a certain level and then are satisfied to continue with that same level of knowledge indefinitely. Unfortunately, many teachers also end up being overly content with their levels of expertise and it is their students who suffer the most. A beginner may not have the necessary skills to judge whether their first teacher is either terrible, adequate or great and even the best student in the world won’t be able to go past a certain point in his or her development unless that person never has, or makes, the opportunity to see and learn better taiji.

In the end, the most desirable taiji instructor: • is at least middle-aged and has a great deal of relevant experience (beware of self-professed 30 year-old Grandmasters.). • is someone with excellent posture who is neither seriously overweight nor top heavy in terms of muscular development. • seems "rubbery" or "springy" when you touch them in a martial context and who can appear as boneless and supple as a crane spreading its wings or a hunting cat creeping up on its prey. • is balanced and coordinated whether standing still or moving and can change from one such state to another with a spontaneity and ease that can be, at first, rather startling. • is someone who does more than stand at one end of the room either trying to look ‘wise” in a fancy uniform or just shouting instructions. He or she should be able to both explain and execute the skills that he or she claims to be teaching and seems willing to do so with all the class participants. • has a family, friends and a life outside taiji and the martial arts. While you can learn many things from a humourless, obsessive loner; you may also end-up becoming more like him or her than you want or is good for you. Martial lineage can be important, but when learning any martial art or taiji style, the most relevant question is whether or not your teacher can explain and demonstrate to you how you can train to eventually develop effective skills. Not how well his or her teacher and far back down the line might have done so! A wall of certificates and photos with famous masters, living or dead, is not an automatic guarantee of quality in the current lineage-holder; although a lot of practitioners that one meets seem to think that it should be that way. In this respect, one of my teachers, Erle Montaigue, has certainly taken a lot of flak over the years for his interpretations of the Yang forms, training methods and history. However, in recent years, Chinese experts are now producing videos and books on forms and methods that were once considered rare or lost, even in China so that Erle Montaigue is sometimes vindicated by impartial witnesses on subjects that were previously considered the ramblings of that “crazy Australian”. While I think of myself more as a an expert beginner rather than a master; my own teaching skills have certainly changed and evolved over the years although I have made minimal conscious changes to the forms that have come down to me. Those who have studied with me for years may, at times, feel frustrated by the changes that I have brought to what I teach: but a good teacher grows as a practitioner and his or her students must allow that person to do so -- especially if they want the best possible instruction.

WRITTEN RESOURCES FOR NEW STUDENTS Even though I have written extensively on taijiquan and the martial arts since the early 1980s, I also believe that books and magazine articles are often of little use for basic training as the essence of any physical training in a martial discipline resides largely in the transitional movement between the postures and not in “frozen moments” as can be depicted on a printed page. The gross as well as the subtle aspects of movement are impossible to capture through still photography unless you have endless numbers of photos. Even then, such pages would really only be relevant if you used them to make one of those oldfashioned flip books that gives the illusion of animated movement to whatever activity is depicted when the pages are riffled in smooth and rapid succession. On the other hand, the text in books and magazine articles can be valuable learning aids when used as a supplement to ongoing live instruction from a teacher. While you cannot competently learn a form or martial training method from a book; you can certainly refer to it much more easily than a video, dvd or internet site while training, if you forget something from a particular lesson. In addition, books can be most useful for the intermediate level of student to start understanding the theory and history of the discipline they are learning. I continue to be amazed by the numbers of otherwise experienced students (and even those who identify themselves as instructors) that I meet who have only a vague understanding of the background of taijiquan and know nothing about the Yang-style masters presently teaching in North America or the Orient. How can you claim to be a serious student of any discipline when you have no interest in the background of what you teach? Would you buy a car from a salesman who glanced at the vehicle that had caught your eye and then shrugged and said "I don’t know anything about this car; but it sure looks nice, doesn't it?" It also goes without saying that sorting through the wealth of opinions on taiji is not easy and not everyone who writes well says anything unique or inspirational. In fact, I remember asking the famous American master, William C.C. Chen, if he had received the copy of my first book on taiji that I had sent him back in 1993. He smiled rather enigmatically and said “Yes, thank you” and then added, “You write well” and then ruined that compliment by adding, “Many people who can write well don’t actually know much about the subject they are discussing.” However he meant his comment in relation to my particular book, he was certainly correct and even though I would prefer to believe that my articles and books are always gems, I know that such is hardly the case! In addition, it’s hard to be original and many modern books recycle the same old translations of the same old documents or just describe general terms of practice or their particular form(s).

Even though many of the current translators of taijiquan texts do their best, the finer details of practice are often obscured because of questionable translations of the original texts. Several of my friends earn their livings as translators in a variety of languages and it is obvious to me from their comments that translating any technical language in and out of English is a challenging task; particularly, as is often the case, when the translator doesn't know much about the technical or cultural history of whatever they are translating. In the past, it was often the case in North America that those trying to translate the old Chinese texts into English knew little, if anything, about taijiquan on any level. Often their mistranslations, minor and otherwise, were simply repeated in subsequent books and articles. With relation to these same texts, it is also true that the lack of clarity is partly due to the old code of secrecy in the Chinese martial arts in which your special techniques were jealously guarded so that treacherous students couldn’t steal them or that members of a competing school couldn’t learn them to your disadvantage. Perhaps this should help explain why many of the old "classics" are of little use to modern students, even when competently translated, as they were often a kind of martial shorthand aimed at trusted senior students and not for beginners. In addition, three separate official systems have been used to translate Chinese into English over the decades and you may notice this lack of consistency when comparing different books from different eras. I have used modern Pinyin spellings for the TCM and place names but have retained the Wade-Giles spellings for proper names of the taiji personalities as well as the the various Yang-style training methods that I discuss. There are many books available in English just on the Yang-style and it is worth your time to do some reading. Information that you dismiss when reading it for the first time may have more relevance when you read it a year, or a decade, latter. The following are good texts to start with and are available through Chapters Bookstores as well as Indigo.ca or Amazon.com: • Yang-style Taiji -- by Michael A. Babin; Paladin Press, 1997 {Yes, this is a shameless plug; but, it certainly can’t hurt to have it if you are studying with me. It will be more useful to those with some experience under their belt as a martial artist or taiji practitioner; but, it does go into considerable detail on a variety of topics. You can shop on-line at their website } • Yang Family Secret Transmissions -- compiled and translated by Douglas Wile; Sweet Chi Press, 1983. {This may be challenging for a beginner but there is a wealth of material by the original masters of the Yang style that you can benefit from reading and rereading over the years.}

• Yang Style Taijiquan -- by Yang Zhenduo, Morning Glory Publishers, Beijing, 1991. {The “official” version of traditional Yang style as taught by Yang Chengfu’s oldest son in Mainland China. The photos are not very wellreproduced in the edition that I own and the binding and paper quality is terrible; but the text is valuable for those interested in comparing how the style that you are learning from me is both similar to and different from other competent versions of the Yang style.} Commercial monthly magazines on the martial arts, like Inside Kung Fu, are of less interest to the serious taiji practitioner although they sometimes have articles by and about some of the more prominent taiji modern experts and styles as well as about other internal kung fu and qigong styles. By contrast, the following periodicals are more directly relevant. The first is only available by subscription but the other two are available in Ottawa at Mags & Fags News agents as well as at Chapters Bookstores: • Tongren is a quarterly newsletter published by the Canadian Taijiquan Federation. Their website is • T'ai Chi is a bimonthly magazine published by Wayfarers Publications in California. Their website is • Qi: The Traditional Journal of Eastern Health & Fitness is a glossy monthly magazine published in California by Insight Graphics. Their website is As well as bookstores, the internet is an exhaustive source of information on taijiquan and related arts. Enter “Yang style tai chi” or “Yang taijiquan” on any search engine and be prepared for a seemingly endless list of options. Granted that many of the sites are little more than advertising; there is also a lot of valuable information available, much of it free of charge. Relevant addresses of this type come and go but good starting points are: • which is the website of a loose umbrella organization of Canadian taiji instructors and schools that publishes Tongren. • which is my website in Ottawa. On the other hand, visiting the discussion forums on the various taiji and martial arts sites can be depressing, if you are searching for serious discussions. Many of the postings seem less like those between informed adults and more like juvenile arguments about minor details of practice or who is legitimate and who is not.

While a certain amount of good-natured arguing or teasing is fun at times, it's also easy to have a good forum ruined for serious discussion because the more experienced practitioners stop posting out of disgust at the excess insults and petty squabbling that so often takes place. On the other hand, the internet is also not a reference resource that you can easily ignore in terms of researching the history and current affairs of the world of taijiquan. SETTING REALISTIC GOALS A minority of gifted students will have one intuitive breakthrough after another over the course of their training. However, most of us will only create a deeper understanding, one element at a time, over the course of many months or even years. As I said in an earlier chapter, to do this, it is important to know what you want from your training as well as what you can bring to it in the way of strengths and liabilities. Keeping an in-depth journal or diary of your efforts is one of the best recommendations that I can make to the serious student for understanding and planning your training. Even doing this simply as noting when you make it to class, or fail to do so, and when you practice on your own, or fail to do so, on your calendar or in a notebook (electronic or otherwise) is worthwhile; although it is better to add some detail to such efforts. As to the physical side of your efforts: if you train excessively or at irregular intervals you are much more likely to injure yourself, especially if you’re an older beginner. If you never sweat or get tired as a result of training in the forms and methods that I teach then you’re probably not doing enough to make any real progress. Many students seem to think that they don’t need to attend classes regularly to see progress and will often feel heroic if they attend one session per week; others attend regularly but spend more time discussing taiji with their classmates or socializing than in practicing to the point where they break a sweat. If you are not used to training physically on a regular basis or have special health needs than you might find a training environment such as I encourage quite demanding. While a good teacher can modify what he or she teaches to make it accessible to a variety of student needs, it remains true that you need to approach your training realistically and moderately until you “find your sea legs” so-to-speak. It is also true that martial training may be beyond your physical capabilities, no matter how hard you try, and you may have to settle for doing solo form and qigong in your own best interests. Oh, and it is essential to learn to be patient in terms of your own progress without becoming too complacent in your attitude to your classes and training. A good student would do well to remember Sam Masich’s advice that "you can correct almost anything, except lack of practice." Sam is one of Canada’s finest current Yang-style experts and this was said during a week-long training camp of his that I attended in 1990 in British Columbia. The truth of his words have stayed with me.

In the end, a competent teacher can instruct you and correct your efforts while you are in class but that he or she cannot do the homework for you! If you do not practice regularly then you really are wasting your time, effort and money as well as the time and effort of your instructor. Similarly, it is difficult to learn any style of taijiquan to any level of competence and it is even harder to keep improving in your understanding of the core principles; sometimes, despite having practiced for many months or years and/or knowing many solo forms or training methods to some level of competence. Modern students (especially the middle-class ones) tend to have a hard time separating what they want to believe from what is actually taking place. All the more reason for any martial training environment having at least a little sweat and discomfort as part of the experience. Makes it more like life and less like a bad rerun of an episode of Kung Fu™. By contrast, true skill is usually the result of years, not months, of competent instruction and serious study. Having found a qualified and compatible instructor who you can understand and who can communicate the concepts in plain terminology, stick with him or her until you have learned everything you can from that individual -- then wait a little longer. You may find that your own arrogance had made things seem easier to comprehend than they really were. In the end, experience and, in martial terms, hard knocks are the finest teachers of any taiji style; especially if supported by that fine friend “commonsense”. Learning at the Tai Chi Studio is as easy as coming to class regularly, paying attention while in class and doing your best while practicing on your own and with your training partners. THE YANG-STYLE CURRICULUM OF THE TAI CHI STUDIO The long, slow form is an essential prerequisite to learning taiji martial skills; but, not just because of any techniques you might learn through its solo practice. Instead the Yang Cheng-fu form is designed to heal, loosen and strengthen the body, calm the heart and raise the spirit. Eventually, practicing the slow form properly and regularly. once you have developed a core understanding of the martial skills can let you MAINTAIN such skills. However, contrary to what I have heard from a variety of practitioners and instructors over the years, I don’t believe that you can automatically develop such skills solely by doing a solo form, no matter how well-designed that form may be or how well you may perform it.

Learning to interact with others -- whether in peace or in conflict -- only comes from actually practicing with a variety of people in a relevant manner; anything else is wishful thinking! Similarly, training twice-per-week with a variety of partners for at least three years is the minimum apprenticeship, if you hope to more than scratch the surface of the martial side of the Yang-style. SOLO TRAINING: • Three Circles Standing Qigong -- This is a traditional standing-still meditation that primarily generates and stores a more refined internal energy while strengthening the legs and posture as well as teaching you about Peng (Wardoff or Whole-Body energy); • Baduajin -- This is a set of eight standing exercises used as a warm-up practice or are done individually to strengthen and stretch specific areas of the body while energizing key areas in traditional energetic terms; • Yang Cheng-fu (Slow) Form -- This is the major solo sequence of choreographed postures (usually counted as a total of 108 postures). While it can be executed at a variety of paces, it takes a minimum of 20 minutes to perform once at the correct slow, even rhythm. This form is practiced smoothly to circulate and balance the internal energy while strengthening the legs and relaxing the upper body. It also teaches the fundamentals of Yang-style taiji martial body mechanics; • The Fast Applications Set -- This long fast form is usually said to have 88 postures that are very different to those found in the long, slow form. Practicing it by yourself teaches you continuity of movement while moving swiftly and eventually can be a way of practicing fajing skills as well. Practicing it with a partner is a way for two intermediate level students to each do 44 postures of the form against the matching 44 that fit together like a martial puzzle. • The Short Staff Set -- This is a fast solo sequence using an armpit length of wood or rattan as a weapon. It is quite demanding physically and uses a large arsenal of techniques. I normally start intermediate levels of students with a simplified version of this set as the full version takes a great deal of space to perform as well as strong legs and good taiji body-mechanics. PARTNER TRAINING: • Grounding & Rooting -- These are training methods which teach you proper body mechanics and posture within the context of a variety of taiji postures to learn to “stand your ground” and neutralize incoming force without doing so stiffly; • Uprooting -- This is a method which trains the participants to relax and hold their ground while trying to push or pull their partner off-balance without having to move their own feet or lose their own balance.

• Tui-shou or Push-hands -- These are training methods in sensitivity and yielding as well as other martial attributes and are designed to refine the ability of the student to use four techniques (Ward-off, Pullback, Squeeze and Press Forward) of the eight martial energies that are the core of the Yang-style as a martial system; • Da-lu or Big Pull-down -- This is a formal method of practicing the other four main techniques (Split, Pull-down, Elbow and Shoulder Strike) while moving in the five directions (to the left, to the right, forwards and backwards as well as “central equilibrium”). It was said that it was necessary to learn Da-lu to compensate for any martial inadequacies that existed in your skill with push hands. • Applications -- These are the martial usage of the individual martial postures found within the long, solo form. I normally teach or demonstrate at least one application for the individual postures of the slow form. A good student was traditionally said to take that one application and create his own viable variations as a way of testing/proving his or her developing abilities; • Large San-sau -- This is the two-person training method whereby you split the fast solo form into two parts (A & B) and practice it with a partner so that both parts fit together like a martial puzzle. This set is quite a challenge for the intermediate level of student to do safely and skillfully while learning the beginnings of real combative skills. • Chi-sau or Sticky Hands -- This is a less structured version of push-hands that allows the practitioners to practice fighting interactions in relative safety by using light and continuous contact; • San-sau or Free-fighting -- This is the practice of spontaneous give-and-take at a variety of ranges with controlled contact to limited targets on your partner’s body. Doing so is the highest expression of timing and distance appreciation as well as of yielding and, neutralizing skills; • Short Staff Applications -- This is accomplished both through learning a simplified version of Erle’s two-person short stick applications form as well as through practicing individual applications from the solo set. The goal is not just to turn you into the Chinese equivalent of Little John and Robin Hood dueling with staves; but to help you understand the valuable lessons that traditional weapons usage can bring to helping you refine your understanding of the Yang-style. Advanced students may get access, time permitting, to a variety of other training forms and methods. Cross-training is often a useful adjunct for such serious students; although, it is easy to confuse the forest for the trees and spend too much time learning a variety of forms and methods from too many different styles. it is better, for most, to focus on one or two systems rather then to sample a hundred superficially.

FINAL THOUGHTS FOR THIS CHAPTER Those of you studying with me or any other qualified instructor don’t have to bother worrying about finding a teacher; but for those who have bought this as research for finding a teacher of their own, doing so isn’t always easy unless you live in a large city, particularly those that have large Chinese communities. However, as I mentioned earlier, it can also be problematic to study with someone who doesn’t speak your language fluently as many of the concepts are not easy to translate or articulate even for a native. It can also be difficult to find a teacher who doesn’t take advantage of you in financial terms. Sadly many teachers have learned that middle-class students often don’t appreciate them unless they charge the earth for their services. You may have to go with your gut feeling in such issues. If your teacher seems like a slimy, money-grubbing opportunist who wants you to do methods that seem physically dangerous or stupid, he or she may well be! For those with a strong Christian or other religious faith, there is no need to embrace any variation of Chinese belief (e.g.,Taoism, Buddhism or Confucianism) to be a successful practitioner of taijiquan. On the other hand, some reading into those subjects can help you understand the cultural and historical background of what you are learning and this can be useful ... as long as you don’t confuse intellectual mastery of taijiquan with the real thing. Sadly, some middle-class white exponents; will go to the opposite extreme and try to become more Chinese than the Chinese practitioners of old! You don’t have to wear a foreign outfit from a hundred years ago, become a vegetarian, change your religion and spout oriental sayings to benefit from your training -- in fact sometimes it is an impediment to progress. In the next two chapters, I will go into some detail on the foundational solo practices of the Yang-style: standing qigong and the long, slow form of the Yang style.

II _________________ FOUNDATIONAL METHODS: STANDING QIGONG The term "qigong" means literally “breath or energy work” and is a relatively new term having been coined in China in the 1950s to describe the exercises done to improve health. These were based on the traditional methods known as “neigong” which referred to a variety of exercises done to strengthen the body in different ways, while also cultivating particular states of mental and spiritual well-being. This tradition of strengthening and healing the body and spirit can be traced partly through oral tradition as well as through archaeological discoveries of artwork and written texts going back to the Chinese Bronze Age. Judging by this evidence, even at such an early time, and probably before then as well, calisthenics of various types (perhaps in the form of ritual dances as with the now famous “Five Animal Frolics”) were taught both as a shamanic religious experience and as a means of warding-off or curing physical illness. In recent years, a number of respected experts have postulated that Chinese medicine and meditation is based, at least in part, on the theories and practices that were carried into China thousands of years ago by Indian traders and Buddhist missionaries. These blended with native Chinese traditions and have survived and thrived in their Chinese form, despite centuries of warfare and social upheaval as well as the occasional persecution by Confucian and Communists alike. Much intellectual baggage has been overlaid onto traditional martial and qigong practices in the last hundred years, first to make it more attractive to the Chinese educated classes and then, much later on, for middle-class Westerners; but the systems themselves thrive and have spread throughout the world. In recent years, the therapeutic value of the placebo effect, or believing that a treatment will heal you, has been been validated by western scientific research as an important ingredient in any medical cure. Perhaps, one of the major factors in the acknowledged crisis in Western medicine is that the average person has lost that sense of faith in the system that is so important to the healing process. Some of these “doubters” turn to qigong to replace that loss of faith and doing so can prove to be a double-edge sword in that such methods are sometimes taught without proper attention to body mechanics and the student's health or age limitations. In this way, the “cure” can cause as many problems as it helps -- most often, a variety of physical trauma: knee injuries, shoulder and lower back pain being the most common.

I prefer to describe competent qigong methods as being “active placebos” in that each has a therapeutic value when done properly and that it is not just the faith in the method that brings the healing affect. For example, one of the main benefits of exercising the body gently and rhythmically as is often the case with the moving versions of standing qigong is the beneficial effect on the functioning of the lymphatic system, especially for older practitioners. This biological mechanism is a key player in the immune system and when it functions properly, fluid balance is maintained; but, when it is blocked or damaged, excessive lymph fluid can quickly accumulate and cause edema and a number of potentially serious medical conditions. This network of ducts and glands has no pump (in the way that the heart moves the oxygenated blood throughout the body). The fluids in it are moved exclusively through the action of muscular contractions. If the muscles are flaccid and the joints are stiff, the system can’t operate as efficiently as it should. On the other hand, having too much faith in a particular method or instructor can be problematic. For example, one of my former teachers used to tell the story of the time he was teaching a qigong workshop to a group of strangers. As is often the case, there was one abrasive person in the group who kept interrupting and asking stupid questions. At break-time, he told my teacher than he was experiencing stomach aches and cramping and went on-and-on about it even though everyone was trying to leave to go for lunch. In a moment of devilishness, the instructor made up a simple exercise and told the complainer to go stand in the corner for 15 minutes while doing the nonsense exercise and he would feel better afterwards. The loudmouth did what was suggested and later reported that he felt much better after the miraculous qigong he had been taught. As this reminds us, the power of the mind when it believes that healing is taking place should not be underestimated. Sadly, there seem to be hordes of such people attracted to both qigong and Yang-style taiji in particular, not to mention to the more extreme -- and money-hungry -- television evangelists and qigong “masters”. While western students often find Chinese names and language difficult to use, I also think that having some familiarity with the traditional terminology in the original language is valuable for non-Chinese students. For example, practitioners are often told to visualize patterns of movement of energy when they practice and this involves memorizing acupuncture points and their traditional names (i.e., Baihui, Huiyin and Yongquan). Such memory work in a foreign language can be part of the intellectual side of learning properly although it sometimes discourages beginners.

By the way, there is a simple explanation as to how qigong visualization can benefit the student. To visualize energy circuits, whether they exist empirically or not, provides a form of biofeedback that promotes physical relaxation. Without such relaxation, stressful random thoughts (i.e., “why am I standing like this when I could be at home watching tv!”) heighten blood pressure, lower beneficial hormone levels and elevate others, like adrenaline, that can be harmful in inappropriate quantities and work against everything that you are working towards in health terms. Since modern research has demonstrated that biofeedback can be effective as a method of metabolic regulation, the physical processes described as happening during qigong can be aided by imagining, for example, the microcosmic circulation. Conversely, failing to use visualization when it is appropriate to the qigong exercise at hand, can only bring lesser results. However, visualization is less valuable if you take such instructions too literally. In general, the modern teachers who talk the most stridently about Qi and how to approach its cultivation from a mystical or esoteric perspective are often those who are the most exploitive of their students for financial or egotistical reasons. ____________ It is also important to remember that many taijiquan experts would say that what they practice and teach has nothing to do with qigong as the traditional methods are designed to make the body and spirit strong for martial purposes and not specifically as meditative or spiritual practices. _____________ SIMPLIFIED QIGONG THEORY In recent years, I have leaned towards the interpretation of internal energy as being something largely undefinable that can only be identified through its absence as when a loved one dies. No one, no matter how dull, mistakes death for sleep or unconsciousness. By the way, qi can mean literally “air” or “breath” in Chinese and this is certainly one way to approach it. In this way, qigong becomes a way of working or training the breath since “gong” means a skillful application of physical effort. A more traditional definition of qigong might suggest that it can be any or all of the following: • a loosening, realigning and strengthening of the body; as well as a balancing of the yin and yang energies of the practitioner with the yin and yang energies of the Heavens and Earth; • as well as a harmonizing of the interaction of the five elements within the practitioner {particularly in their corresponding yin organs -- liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys}; • as well as balancing the amount of "fire and water" in the energetic system; • as well as a calming, focussing and maturing of the body, heart and mind.

Doing all of this is also dependent on the practitioner developing and maintaining an optimal amount of qi as well as refining, storing and circulating this motivating force in a balanced manner throughout the body. When you are in good health, your qi is strong and abundant and flows smoothly to all parts of the body and even outside of it onto the skin surface. If your qi is blocked or deficient anywhere in the body, certain diseases can more easily occur or your vitality is impaired on a day-to-day basis. Our “Innate” or “Original Qi” is inherited from our parents and its quality and quantity is fixed and dependent on their health and age at your conception as well as what they had inherited from their parents. It is impossible to change the quantity or quality of this manifestation of qi; however, you can positively affect the quality of the Acquired Qi that you create within you on a daily basis while digesting the air, food and liquids that you consume. Doing this is one way to at least partially compensate for weak Innate Qi or having prematurely wasted it through immoderate living habits. Conversely, healthy living (clean environment, nourishing food and drink, good thoughts, avoiding or minimizing excessive behaviour and maintaining supportive relationships) are essential to support your qigong training on any level. Acquired Qi -- regardless of its quality -- circulates through twenty energy “power lines” or which twelve are main meridians throughout the head, torso and limbs and eight are extra “vessels” that lie close to the surface of the skin. The former are each connected to major organs or regulate organic processes while the latter act as storage reservoirs and major conduits for internal energy. The twelve meridians are divided into six pairs that each have a yin and yang relationship. In the upper (or yang) part of the body, the three yin meridians run from the chest to the hand and the three yang meridians from the hand to the head; in the lower (or yin) part of the body, the three yang meridians extend from the head to the foot and the three yin meridians from the foot to the abdomen and chest. Three of the eight “extra” vessels are particularly important: the Governing Vessel (Dumei) which starts at the bottom of the torso, rises up the spine and over the top of the head to the upper palate; the Conceptor Vessel (Renmei) which begins at the tip of the tongue and runs down the center of the front of the body to the bottom of the torso; and the Girdle Vessel which runs around the waist from the area of the kidneys in the back to the navel in the front of the torso. The last is the the only such power-line in the body that runs horizontally and is likened to the rope that ties together all the others that run in a vertical manner. That’s why there are many such exercises in traditional qigong that are designed to twist or turn the waist as this is said to massage, open, stimulate and strengthen this crucial vessel as well as the digestive and elimination organs and their respective meridians.

Good health depends largely on a smooth flow of qi along the channels and this in turn requires the body and mind to be in harmony. You can think of yin and yang as being a way to express this idea of a constantly changing state of equilibrium of your internal energy levels. Everything has both yin and yang qualities and it is the interaction between these two forces that creates qi. Like the blood circulatory system, the qi circulatory system, according to TCM, supplies energy to every cell. It is said that blood nourishes the qi and that qi leads the blood throughout the body. Any physical or emotional injuries as well as muscular tension can impede or block the smooth and balanced flow of such energy within the body to affect the health in various ways. Fortunately, blockages and imbalances will often clear-up on their own as qi always seeks to balance itself. The classical analogy compares qi to water which always seeks to flow into and fill the low from the high. More serious chronic blockages will require ongoing therapy in the form of specific qigong exercises or more serious intervention by a qigong doctor who might use massage, herbal remedies, acupuncture, acupressure or a combination of those healing methods. In addition to the twelve meridians and the eight vessels, there are also myriad minor channels which, like the capillaries in the circulatory system, carry qi to the skin surface, exiting through the pores, as well as to every cell of the body, especially to the bone marrow which is a major player in the immune system. This function of qi is particularly important as its protective aspect (Weiqi) acts like an invisible buffer against infection and “bad influences” entering the body through those same pores. QIGONG METHODS Traditional qigong methods can be divided into a number of categories: • self-healing methods are designed to allow those who practice them to strengthen their health and resistance to disease or to cure an existing illness or medical condition; • martial training methods are designed to strengthen and train the body and spirit of the practitioner to resist being struck and to develop skills that will support the practice of the traditional Chinese fighting arts; • medical methods are designed to strengthen the internal energy of the Qigong doctor or healer and aid him or her to treat clients with a “hands-on” application of qi as a supplement to the other means of treating illness from a traditional perspective (ie. acupuncture or acupressure, massage, the application of poultices as well as herbal soups and pills); • spiritual methods are designed to help the practitioner become a more highly evolved person in spiritual terms or even an Immortal in Taoist terms.

Such categories often blend and overlap, depending on the bias and training of the person teaching or treating you. They may take a Taoist, Confucian, Buddhist (and even Muslim, Tibetan or Christian*) perspective. However, the Qigong methods and healing taught in the modern Chinese medical colleges are usually devoid of any overt religious context. In turn, the methods themselves can be done while lying down or sitting or while standing as well as without the movement of the body or while moving. However, any methods cannot be neatly pegged into any of these categories. There is as much diversity of opinion about qigong theory and clinical practice as in any discipline. Many teachers seem as certain that they are correct in their methods as they are certain that every other teacher of such methods is, to a greater or lesser extent, in error! The main thrust of my own teaching in the group classes are a variety of standing methods as these are effective long-term methods of improving physical and emotional health as well as providing a foundation for the martial forms and training methods of the Yang-style. As to more spiritual work, I agree with the traditional Chinese approach: first strengthen, loosen and heal the body and calm the mind as a prerequisite to any deeper spiritual and meditative work. True maturity on any level is easy to talk about but much harder to put into daily practice in practical terms. STANDING QIGONG The methods that I teach and practice are based on complete or relative physical stillness. This comparative inactivity means that you can devote much of your attention to relaxing the body and the breath and to being attentive mentally. I like to tell my students that if they practice standing still methods regularly for one-to-three years, in addition to the rest of their training, that they will potentially shave months, if not years, from their total learning curve. Those standing qigong methods that involve being as physically still as possible have the primary function of generating and storing qi in the practitioner’s body. The secondary function of such training is circulating and balancing internal energy; particularly in the Governing Vessel that runs up the centerline of the outside of the spine and the Conceptor Vessel that runs down the centerline of the front of the torso. However, standing still or “like a post” (Zhanzhong) is also a way of learning patience and encouraging a sense of self-discipline while training the physical posture to be balanced and upright. Achieving this is primarily through training the spine to feel lengthened and gently suspended at the top of the back of the head without losing a grounded sense of being connected to the earth at the bottom of each foot. ____________ *There were pockets of native Christian belief in China thanks to Nestorian Christian missionaries who went to China in the early Christian era as well as more mainstream missionaries starting with the Jesuits in the 17th centuries.

In many ways, this is also the foundation of any competent version of traditional taijiquan and the old masters valued this ability to express the power gained when the practitioner’s whole body was connected in a relaxed manner to the earth and the body, breath and mind work as a unified whole. In taijiquan terms, this is sometimes summarized as cultivating the ability to be upright, stable and comfortable: • upright means your spine is held in a flexible, yet vertical, manner and that your overall posture is sound. It can also refer to ethical character as in an “upright” person. • stable means that you are well grounded and rooted strongly within your stance without sacrificing your ability to move freely at any speed. It can also refer to ethical/psychological character. • comfortable means that you do the above so well that someone watching you forgets how long and how hard you had to train to get to that position of relative effortlessness. The Body The body doesn't seem to do much work aside from holding itself up; but, standing still can be surprisingly challenging at first, whether you are already in good physical condition or not. The legs in particular (depending on the method used) can suffer a great deal from being in bent-knee postures for long periods of time. Similarly, methods that use a variety of arm postures will prove stressful for the muscles of the shoulders and arms of those unused to such activities. The muscles of the upper limbs initially rebel at holding static postures for any length of time and respond by trembling from using too much force or aching from weakness; while the muscles of the lower limbs may suffer if you do not stand in a structurally sound posture. However, with correct posture and time, the joints and muscles loosen, strengthen and realign, physical posture can improve dramatically and some chronic pains related to poor habits (e.g., tension headaches from holding the head or shoulders awkwardly or stiffly) can disappear or greatly improve. Proper methods of standing still also encourage the muscles of the torso to expand and contract in time with the breathing and this can counteract old patterns of constricting the chest and breathing in a shallow and hesitant manner. In this way, “the back is lifted and the chest is held open” (han xiung babei) so that the spine is relatively relaxed and upright while the ribcage is freed to expand and contract with the breath as it is meant to do by nature.

Relaxation, in this postural context, should not be thought of as slumping the shoulders and collapsing of the chest as is often found in people who spend too much time sitting in front of a television or computer monitor. This kind of postural sloppiness decreases lung capacity and can place undue pressure on the heart and internal organs. Unfortunately, this kind of slumped posture is also a commonly held misconception in North American taiji circles and you often meet teachers and practitioners who look old before their time thanks to their attempts to hollow the chest and depress the shoulders in an attempt to force relaxation in the upper torso. The traditional approach to the human spine in the Chinese internal arts was that it didn’t have a major bending role and that the three major joints responsible for squatting and sitting were at the ankles, the knees and the hips. The spine and skull were considered a unit in most ways and bending except in subtle ways at the lower back and in the neck were no-nos! However, neither is this posture the shoulders-back and chest-forward stance beloved by military drill sergeants but a more neutral stance in which the emphasis (again, depending on the method learned) is to assume a more natural verticality. This approach tends to hold up in terms of modern sports science in that any functional approach to efficient mechanics in the human body should have more similarities than differences. The details of how the posture is held may differ slightly when the advice of one expert is compared to that of another; but, for example, a competent upright yoga posture is almost identical to the posture recommended by the better taiji teachers that I have had as well as those who teach the Alexander Method® and these are also identical to the posture recommended by a good physiotherapist. After all, there is only so much that the human body can do in terms of having a truly functional posture and efficient body mechanics. A good athlete is a good athlete, no matter what the activity or the minor differences that may differentiate those who specialize in one activity over another. The experts that I agree with the most talk about lengthening the spine and feeling as if the torso and head “hang” as if suspended freely from the sky. Perhaps the image of being a marionette who moves and stands because of the strings held high above him by the operator is relevant. The average student will not find it easy to relearn to be upright while moving or standing; much less while doing so with only an appropriate amount of muscular effort for either activity. Finally, it is important to remember that bending actions of various types are important to the functional health of the spine and lower back in day-to-day terms, especially as we get older and that it is essential to engage in regular exercise methods that stretch and strengthen the muscles and ligaments of your back efficiently and effectively.

The Breath I tend to agree with those experts who say that the natural abdominal breathing (relax and inhale; compress and exhale from the Lower Dantian) is the most suitable way of breathing for standing qigong for health as well as during the long, slow form. While doing so, you will normally inhale and exhale through the nose while keeping the tongue pressed lightly against the roof of the mouth behind the front teeth during each breath. Keeping the tongue in the proper location also provides a physical bridge between the tip of the tongue and the beginning of the Conceptor Vessel and the hard palate which contains the end of the Governing Vessel. By the way, there’s another reason for developing the habit of keeping the jaws closed and the tip of the tongue on the upper palate behind the front teeth; but, you’ll discover that, even if I don’t tell you, if you get hit in the head even lightly during the martial training and you happened to have your mouth open or your tongue held carelessly between the upper and lower teeth! As you inhale, relax the lower abdomen and let the chest expand; as you exhale, compress those muscles gently. do not try to keep your chest from moving even though you want the breathing to feel as if it is centered in the lower torso. Imagine that your lower torso is an old-fashioned manual fireplace bellows that pulls in air as it is pulled apart with both hands and gently expels it when the handles are compressed in a firm but gentle and rhythmic manner. Contrary to what you sometimes read or are told by various teachers who advocate “breathing from the belly”, I believe that you want your entire torso (i.e., front to back, side to side, up and down) to gently expand and compress, not just the area around the bellybutton. It is true that any movement of the upper chest should not be exaggerated but it is essential to maintain a normal range of motion of the ribcage while practicing breathing methods. It should be a cautionary note to those who advocate restricting the use of the chest in breathing that an important therapy for those with lung infections or damaged ribs is to regularly take deep breaths while expanding the chest and contracting it as much as possible -- despite the pain -- to avoid the loss of range of motion which can dangerously limit the free movement of the lungs. Deep breathing should be a gentle, long-term process of allowing the diaphragm to rise and fall over a greater range so that all of the lungs are used more efficiently. This also produces a massaging effect on the internal organs which can improve the functions of the digestive and elimination systems in particular. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself belching or farting a little more than usual until your body adjusts to this massaging affect.

The Mind There are different opinions on what you should be doing with your mind while practicing; but I am with those who believe that the ultimate goal of your training is to quiet and empty the mind. To do this, it is best to start off as you mean to go on; rather than initially using overly elaborate mental visualizations. One of the major challenges of training in taiji is to minimize habitual tension so it seems rather pointless to relax the body as you stand or move and then create mental tension by encouraging all sorts of intellectual convolutions. However, the goal of minimizing thought doesn’t mean that you just stand there and daydream or spend every moment wishing you were doing something else. Although, to be fair, in the early weeks of standing training, the conscious mind resists the idea of being still and torments us with idle thoughts as well as forcing us to pay bitter attention to how sore the shoulders are or how much the legs are aching. In the beginning, I recommend that you try all the following methods and choose the one that suits your temperament the most for regular practice. • A simple method that I learned from Erle Montaigue was to imagine that the first breath of a practice session starts between the legs (the Huiyin acupuncture point (CV#1) located between the anus and the genitals) and rises up along the surface of spine in the back, over the head and down to the roof of the mouth. As you begin to exhale imagine the breath flowing down through the tongue and then along the mid-line of the front of the torso to the Qihai point about an inch below the navel. Every subsequent breath will start at this point and travel down to CV#1 before going up the back as before. Don’t try to actually make one breath stretch to do this full route, get your mental journey along the path to match your natural rate of breathing; don’t force the breath in any way or obsess about this imagery. • Repeat a short self-healing phrase to yourself. For example, "This heals and calms me in every way" or "I am growing more and more balanced and relaxed" or "This balances, calms and heals me in every way". Erle Montaigue has said on this subject "It's base to ask for specific rewards when you pray as in ‘God, I need a big, new car!’ I certainly agree with this sentiment and you're better off opening your heart to create the environment for becoming a better person. • Count your breaths silently to yourself and as much as possible to focus on the feeling of the lower torso expanding and contracting as you fill and empty the lungs. If you find yourself daydreaming or free-associating, simply acknowledge that you are doing so and consciously get back to paying attention to the physical feeling that accompanies the movements of each breath. Counting the breaths also lets you keep track of how long you stand in any given session. In this way, a moderately slow breath that takes about five seconds for the inhale phase and an equal amount for the exhale phase will add up to about 5-6 minutes to do 36 repetitions.

BASIC THREE CIRCLES STANDING QIGONG This particular method came to me from Erle Montaigue and I practiced it for many years. Like many other taiji practitioners that I have met, I resisted the idea of the value of such training initially. All I can say to a new student is that it is essential to be patient with the less pleasant aspects of training and to remember the words of the old Chinese masters whose surviving writings often suggest that a student must expect to “eat bitter” when exploring the banquet that is taijiquan. Even if you don’t learn to enjoy this training, you may someday understand why it can make such a difference to your understanding of the Yang-style. First Position • Stand with the feet parallel and about shoulder-width apart. The toes are slightly flexed, as if you were about to try and lift a pencil from the floor with them. Doing this will lift the arches slightly which is said to improve the flow of energy between the earth and the Yongquan points which are the only acupuncture points on the bottom of each foot. This makes the first “circle” as referred to in the name of the method . • Raise your arms in front of you slowly as if you were reaching upwards and forward to embrace someone much taller and wider than you. When your hands are a little higher than your shoulders, pull your hands in and back until you look a bit as if you were cradling a large beach ball in your arms. This makes the second “circle”. Remember to twist the forearms gently outwards. You should feel as if your are holding a tennis ball in your armpits with the gentle pressure of the upper arm. The bigger the circle made by the arms, the more difficult the exercise is in physical terms -- particularly for the shoulders and arm muscles. The elbows are held lower than the wrists and roughly in a vertical line with the knees • The third and smallest “circle” is formed by the hands as the arms finish moving into position. While the last three fingers of each hand must be relatively relaxed, there must be a little more tension between the thumb and forefinger to ensure that the palm is concave as this encourages the qi to flow along the circle created by the hands. The finger tips of each hand should be close to each other at the tips, but should not be allowed to touch. • At the same time as you assume the correct shape of the arms and hands, the knees should bend slightly until they are in a line with the toes. The easy way to learn to adopt this angle is to practice initially by standing facing a wall while placing the tips of the toes gently against the baseboard and then bending the knee until the kneecaps make contact with the wall. Close your eyes so you don’t get flustered by having the wall “in your face” and get someone to watch you stand for a few minutes to give you feedback on whether or not you are leaning backwards or putting more weight on one leg than another as both are undesirable. Don’t press too hard with your toes or knees but you should be able to tell if your knees lose contact with the wall as they start to straighten or if they are press too hard on the wall.

• The buttocks must be relaxed under so that they do not protrude; nor should you try to tilt them under in a misguided attempt to eliminate the curve in the lower back and tailbone. Lengthen the spine along its total length by maintaining a lifting feeling at the top of the back of the head as if you were comfortably suspended from acupuncture point Baihui at the top of the back of the head.

Mike Waterfield holding the First Position of Three Circles Standing Meditation.

• Remember to look above and through the hands without staring at them and into the distance as if you are looking at the horizon and enjoying the view without trying to see details of the big picture. Qigong is normally done with the eyes only slightly shut as so that you remain partially aware of your total environment rather than shutting it out. On a pragmatic level, closing your eyes completely while standing may, as with lying down training, encourage the practitioner to fall asleep and topple over and possible get hurt in the fall. I should also point out that standing qigong is often associated with martial training in the Chinese internal arts and this is one of the reasons why such methods often prohibit completely closing the eyes.

Second Position • After 2/3 of your total standing time, lower the hands while continuing to hold the same shape with your hands and arms until the hands are in front of the lower Dantian. The lower body should not move and check mentally (or visually if there’s a mirror handy) that your knees are still bent at the required angle. This downward arm movement should be localized in the shoulders. Don’t forget to maintain the gentle outward twist of the forearms. Continue to keep the armpits "open", as if holding a tennis ball with the gentle pressure of the upper arm against the torso. Stand in this position for the final 1/3 of your total practice time. Finishing Properly: • Exhale as you drop the hands by your sides, so that the palms face to the rear once they have stopped moving downwards. • Inhale and let the hands rise slowly up and out diagonally. When they are at the height of the tops of the shoulders bring them in until they are shoulder-width apart. • Exhale and let the hands fall as the knees straighten slowly so that you are standing normally. N.B. In the first few months of training, it is very common to discover that your knees have rather sneakily straightened almost completely while you were putting in your time during a session. SUPPLEMENTARY QIGONG: THE BADUAJIN STANDING QIGONG SET The "Eight Precious Brocades" is a traditional set of eight exercises that use limited movements of the torso and arms to stretch various muscles and ligaments while stimulating the balanced distribution of internal energy throughout the body. Many variations of this set exist and the one that I teach is my own synthesis of several versions that I have learned from various teachers over the years. In terms of the taiji slow form as a physical exercise, it is essential to note that you never bend substantially forward, turn your head significantly, lift your shoulders or stretch your arms to their maximum extent, However, developing and maintaining all of these ranges of motion are essential for good health at any age. Consequently, practicing Baduajin as a supplement to your slow form training is a good idea, especially if you don’t do any other types of exercise regularly. Do the exercises at a moderately slow pace and don’t force the breathing in any way. It is not a bad idea to return to the starting position and stand quietly for up to a minute in between each exercise. The following descriptions are intended only to help those who practice under my personal supervision or for comparison purposes if you have learned a version of the set elsewhere. They are neither comprehensive in their detail nor meant to be a substitute for personal instruction.

Exercise One: Holding Up the Heavens This exercise mobilizes energy from the Heavens downwards through the practitioner and into the Earth and back up through body to establish a balance of yin and yang energy in the Triple Warmer Meridian (Sanjiao). This is an energetic “thermostat” that regulates the balance of Fire and Water in the three heating spaces that are responsible for the absorption of air; digestion of food and water; and elimination of waste products.

If you cannot straighten the arms completely, don’t force your range of motion.

By convention, men should step to the left with their left foot (women should reverse that) until you are double-weighted and, for this exercise only, the ankles are directly below their respective hip-sockets. Inhale as you lift the hands in front of the body, fingers interlaced, and the hands will turn upwards at the height of the face to continue reaching upwards. As you do this, rise up on the tiptoes, lift the shoulders slightly as part of the rising effort. If this stresses your fingers and wrists too much, it is okay to hold the hands apart although the palms should face upwards by the end of the exercise. Try to keep the hands above the top of the back of the head rather than forward as will probably happen if your shoulders are stiff. Exhale as the hands separate and fall to the sides as you settle back onto the heels. Do three or eight repetitions of this exercise.

Exercise Two: Pull the Bow This exercise strengthens the Middle Dantian which, in TCM, is said to be the home of the “Emotional Mind”. This exercise also strengthens and coordinates what Erle Montaigue has called the “power band” formed by the two arms and the muscles and scapular bones of the shoulders. It also loosens and strengthens the neck and the eye focus while improving overall lung function.

Remember not to twist the hips but to turn the head and eyes to follow the hand holding the imaginary bow stave as you shift in the opposite direction.

By convention, men should step to the left with their left foot (women should reverse that) until you are double-weighted but using a wider stance than the previous exercise. Cross the wrists in front of the sternum and inhale. Exhale as you turn the head and stretch one arm out while "pulling the string" with the other arm. Inhale again as you return to the starting posture. The hand holding the imaginary bow should be held as if you were a child playing with a squirt-gun -- except that the nozzle points upwards. The other hand will be held in a loose fist. When you pull to your left side, your weight will end up on the right leg; but be careful not to over bend the knee on that side or lean to that side. Do not turn the hips, turn the head only. Alternate sides. Do three or four repetitions on each side.

Exercise Three: Strengthening the Spleen This exercise stabilizes the stomach and spleen and their corresponding meridians and is a good tonic for the digestive system in general. In physical terms, it can be a good stretch for the arms while also lifting and depressing the respective shoulder blades to help restore the normal range of movement in the scapulae.

Don’t stretch too vigorously but neither should the movement be overly gentle.

By convention, men should step to the left with their left foot (women should reverse that) until you are double-weighted with the feet about hip-width apart and parallel. Cross the wrists very lightly in front of the sternum and inhale. Exhale as the hands stretch up and down in opposite directions. Return the arms smoothly to what looks like a crossed wrists position (the wrists should not actually touch teach other) before repeating your actions in reverse. The shoulder on one side should rise slightly as the hand goes up while the opposite shoulder pushes down slightly as the hand on that side falls. Make the action of switching hands smooth and continuous. The fingers of the bottom hand will always point forward. Alternate sides. Do three or four repetitions on each side.

Exercise Four: Twisting the Heavenly Post This gentle twisting makes the back more flexible and doing so is said to strengthen the liver which also benefits the eyes and vision. You should mentally focus on cleansing downwards through the Yongquan points on the sole of each foot as well as upwards through the Baihui point on the top of the back of the head -- as if you were a wet washcloth being twisted to expel the energetic equivalent of dirt .

When looking back, you should twist from the waist... then the shoulders ... then the head... then the eyes; when looking to the front afterwards, try to reverse that sequence when untwisting.

Do not step out with one foot for this exercise and keep the knees completely straight (feet held comfortably close to one another). Keeping the legs straight is done to protect the knees from twisting as would happen if you turned the hips too far and had allowed the knees to bend for the exercise. Inhale as you turn and get the gentle feeling of having lifted as well as pulled in the abdominal muscles. Release this slight muscular force as you exhale to face the front. N.B. If you cannot do this exercise because of spinal problems, simply stand with your feet comfortably apart turn the head only from side-to-side in coordination with the breathing. Alternate sides. Do three or four repetitions on each side.

Exercise Five: Lean to One Side To Cool Excess Fire This exercise cools excess of the element Fire from the Middle Dantian in the upper torso and helps to balance the distribution of blood and qi throughout the body.

By convention, men should step to the left with their left foot (women should reverse that) until you are double-weighted with the feet wider than your own hip-width and parallel. This is the only exercise in which you should spread your legs wider than normal when stepping out to the side. If you cannot do this safely, then only separate the feet a comfortable distance and lean less to each side. Exhale as you lean, inhale as you rise. Remember to shift your weight onto the left leg without over bending the weight-bearing knee when leaning to the left and vice-versa. Try not to learn forward when leaning to one side as this is a common mistake and will put unnecessary pressure on the weighted knee. As the new arm rises to reach towards the point at which the wall next to you meets the ceiling; the other hand should fall in a coordinated manner. Lead with the hand that drops. Alternate sides and do three or four repetitions on each side.

Exercise Six: Leaning Forwards and Backwards This exercise strengthens the kidneys and Mingmen. The latter point is the area that governs and stores the prenatal energy (both qi and jing) that we inherit from our parents, i.e., the "spark of life". One of the main aims of qigong is to slow the loss of this vital store of energy that can be squandered through a poor life-style. This exercise also stretches the hamstrings.

Leaning Forward

Leaning Back

By convention, men should step to the left with their left foot (women should reverse that) until you are double-weighted with the feet about hip-width apart and parallel. Lean forward first as you exhale, inhale as your straighten up, lean backwards as you exhale, and inhale as you straighten up. You can hold the stretch briefly at the end of either lean; but do not do this if you find that you start holding your breath excessively while doing so. Remember to contract the abdominal muscles to begin straightening up. Keep the top of the back of the head as the leading point of movement when bending in either direction; but, don’t let your chin jut out and forward, particularly when leaning back. Repeat this only three times and, if you have chronic back troubles leave the leaning backwards part of the exercise out or modify it as required by your doctor or physiotherapist.

Exercise Seven: Squeezing the Fist with an Intense Gaze This exercise brings the energy from the interior to the exterior of the body to help ground the practitioner as well as release stagnant qi.

It is often said that you have to give-up the ego when doing some qigong methods!

By convention, men should step to the left with their left foot (women should reverse that) until you are double-weighted with the feet about hip-width apart and parallel. Inhale quietly through the nose as you extend one fist while retracting the other to its respective hip. Men lead with the left fist and women with the right fist. Exhale while using an audible "ha" sound and dropping the tongue to the lower palate, as you squeeze the extended fist (keep the thumb inside the closed hand to ensure that you don’t squeeze too hard) to expel toxins from the body. Remember to lift the Huiyin point under the torso between the anus and the genitals while exhaling in this exercise only. Inhale as you retract the fist and lead with that hand as you extend the other. Open the eyes wide in a concentrated way (it’s okay to look a little goofy when doing this -- in fact, it’s hard to avoid!) I often call this the “notpunching exercise” to help people remember that they are not striking with the fists when they do this. Alternate sides. Do three or four repetitions on each side.

Exercise Eight: Shaking the Body to Ward-off Illness This exercise ensures that any remaining stiffness in the joints and muscles is released; balances the energy and is considered to be specifically rejuvenating for the sexual and other hormone-producing organs. By convention, men should step to the left with their left foot (women should reverse that) until you are double-weighted with the feet about hip-width apart and parallel. Men should remember to keep a bit of lifting tension between the legs (or wear an athletic support) so that their testicles don’t shake or bang together uncomfortably. This exercise is something like a continuous bouncing action of the torso -- less so of the knees -- and something like the kind of trembling that you do when cold as that physiological mechanism produces heat and warms the body to some extent. This exercise should be done in a very loose manner and not too slowly. Your head remains “lifted” and arms should not move independently of the shaking. Try to maintain the same speed throughout your session and come to a gradual halt when done, don’t stop abruptly. Do not control the breath in any way and practice for one to three minutes. I sometimes joke that you know that you are doing this exercise correctly if everyone moves away from you when you practice on a crowded bus or elevator! GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR STANDING QIGONG PRACTICE I teach from the perspective of someone who has neither automatically rejected nor wholeheartedly embraced Western scientific thought any more than I have rejected or wholeheartedly embraced traditional Chinese theories. The following guidelines are based on my own experiences as well as those of my students. I have “practiced what I preach” in that I have never taught a method that I had not practiced intensively and extensively on my own. It has always seemed wrong to me to use one’s students as laboratory rats! Time and Duration of Practice As far as I am concerned the ideal is to be in accordance with the natural rhythm of the day (ie; more active in the morning and day, less active in the evening or at night). There is a wide variety of opinions on this subject; however, and in the long-run, it is essential to find a time of day that suits your lifestyle and schedule rather than skip practicing because you can’t fit it into a supposedly ideal time. Traditionally, it was important to practice every day and I tell my students that they are fooling themselves if they don’t do so or if they train in an irregular manner. If you want to see any real long-term benefits your definition of “regular” should be, at the very least, three times per week.

Quality vs quantity in relation to stationary qigong is always a tricky issue and I tell mine to aim for 15-30 minutes per session in their first few years of such training. I also suggest that they should not exceed 30 minutes of standing at a time unless they are also doing the same amount of slow form to balance that out. Some practitioners will find that they want to continue their standing meditation on an indefinite basis; others will practice intensively for a few months or years and then focus on the moving aspects of taijiquan. Both approaches have merit. Done in moderation, most people will only benefit from standing practice and there are hints that standing still for long periods of time can activate the mind and body in surprising ways. I saw a documentary once on traditional Inuit seal hunting practices in which the white narrator was talking about how long his old native mentors could stand above a blowhole in the ice without moving a muscle and while holding a metal hook poised to scoop the seal out of the water when it came up to breath. The scientist said he could only stand motionless for a little out in the cold while his native friends could do it for hours at a time and still move like lightning when a seal eventually did come up for air. Perhaps, there is a human genetic predisposition to being still as our ancestors had to do this to get food for many hundreds of thousands of years before civilization, relatively recently in cosmic terms, replaced hunting and gathering first with agriculture and then with Big Macs®! Environment Train outside whenever possible; particularly in the Springtime and try to do your training in bare feet, if the ground is free of broken debris or rocks. If you must practice indoors, try to do it on a balcony or at least facing a large window, especially if you have a view of nature. I often play suitable classical or New Age music to help the students relax when we do standing qigong or long, slow form. Many traditionalists frown on this for good reason as the students may learn to rely on a soothing melody a little too much to set their pace or they may focus on the music instead of on the details of the task at hand. For experienced students, standing qigong should always be done in a quiet environment, partly because a sudden noise can really upset the qi when you are finally getting into a relaxed and “gentler’ mental space. On the other hand, it is also true that it is important to be able to listen and blend to all the subliminal noises in your practice environment without being distracted by them. It's one of the conundrums of both standing and moving meditative training that having an empty mind does not mean ignoring everything around you or your own thoughts but rather means not being distracted from the task at hand and focussing on “the now” as opposed to the “how much longer do I have to stand or move like this?” There is an old expression that says that the practitioner must eventually get to the point where the expression on their face wouldn’t change if a mountain suddenly collapsed at their feet while they were training. Now, there’s equanimity for you!

Nourishment Don’t eat a big meal or drink alcohol for at least one hour before and after practicing. When your stomach is full, abdominal breathing and certain moving methods will affect your digestion and you may experience cramps, bloating and excessive intestinal wind. On the other hand, don’t train, if you haven’t eaten in some time as it is hard to concentrate if your stomach growls constantly; have a light meal of something light and nutritious about a half-hour before training. If you think of your training as being partly to refine and produce a better quality of qi, it is important to have a healthy diet that contains sufficient and balanced foods while avoiding an excess of greasy or sweet things. However, it is not necessary to abstain from meat or dairy products; it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that no-food or a severely restrictive diet will somehow “purify” you or make you a better practitioner. You should also avoid drinking anything excessively cold after practicing standing qigong. By the way, don’t train with either a full bowel or bladder as doing so will impede your mental focus; although some teachers have said that you should train before going to the bathroom when practicing after first rising in the morning. Weather Conditions and Clothing Don’t practice outside when there is a dramatic change in the weather -- whether that change is seasonal or caused by a severe weather change -- because doing so is said to interfere with your body’s natural readjustment to the new weather patterns. Avoid standing in the draft of an air-conditioning unit when training inside; or facing a strong wind, if doing so outside, as your practice opens the pores of the skin and you will be more likely to catch a chill. While the western medical establishment still insists that weather extremes have no real affect on the human immune system; I think that the Chinese traditional approach is sensible in recommending that you use caution about the weather conditions. In particular, don’t continue to train outside if you are wearing excessively sweaty clothing as you want to avoid getting chilled, especially in colder weather. If you are training outside on a very hot day, you should sweat as it is your body’s way of coping with being overheated. When you don’t sweat and are in a hot environment this is a sign that you have heatstroke which can be fatal. For myself, I remember sweating heavily when doing certain methods for the first few months -- nowadays, I rarely sweat when doing the methods that I practice regularly, unless I am outside on a hot day. Many traditional experts also feel that long sleeves and long pants help to keep the Weiqi (“Protective Qi”) where it belongs, evenly distributed on the surface of the skin instead of leaking away when the limbs are uncovered. It’s easy to get carried away with rules like this, though, and I think that commonsense and the weather should dictate your clothing when you train.

Some authorities have emphasized the importance of wearing long-sleeved clothing made from natural materials (ie., raw silk, cotton, linen) rather than synthetics as these can impede qi flow. I suppose that I will sound like a cynic when I point out that many of those who say this just happen to also have special uniforms cut from such natural fabric to sell to those attending their classes or workshops. In fact, while sometimes more expensive than natural fibers, many modern synthetic fabrics “wick” sweat away from the skin which minimizes chilling when training outside and may be superior to more natural fibers in that way. While on the subject, there are conflicting schools of thought on sweating while doing any qigong method. For example, if you sweat while doing self-healing methods, you are too tense or using too much muscle, i.e., you are doing it wrong! However, some experts interpret sweating as a sign that you are doing the methods properly and that you are releasing stagnant qi and toxins through the pores. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. On the other hand, don’t wear tight clothing and/or a belt as it restricts the easy expansion of the Lower Dantian. Similarly, women should ensure that their brassiere is not too tight so as to restrict chest expansion in the Middle Dantian. These two energetic centers are considered physical pumps for energy in traditional terms and it is considered important not to restrict their in-and-out expansion. In the first few months of regular training it is common to have sensations of excessive cold in the extremities (especially if you are a smoker or female) or to feel cold when practicing standing quietly as opposed to moving qigong. This is a stage that usually passes. However, if the feeling of cold is intense or accompanied by pain, stop training with that method and consult a qualified Eastern or Western medical practitioner as I am told this can be the symptom of a serious medical condition. Things to Avoid While Training Don’t practice any form of qigong if you have a strong fever or are in the acute phase of an illness. On the other hand, practicing the long, slow form will often at least temporarily clear congested sinuses caused by a head cold or allergies. It is okay to substitute sitting for standing practice, if you are infirm or have injured your legs. Both Three Circles Qigong and Baduajin are almost as effective if done from a sitting posture (use a bench without a back or armrests, if possible) as long as you can keep your head lifted and your spine straight. On the other hand, you should not sit down immediately after doing a session of either standing or moving qigong. Women should stop or moderate their training during menstruation or focus on the region of the heart or on the soles of the feet. In this regards, the most common complaint that I have heard is that periods can grow longer and heavier in those women who practice the maximum amounts of standing qigong, in particular.

Don’t scratch a sudden itch as doing so not only interrupts the postures that you should be holding or doing at the time but also means that the natural rebalancing of your body is impeded when your hands wander about consciously in this way. Don’t practice when angry or resume practicing if you are startled by family, friends or the telephone during a session as this is particularly bad for the qi and the liver. When angry, it may be preferable to do the long, slow or solo fast and/or weapons forms to drain away this excess of emotion through a more vigorous workout. STRANGE EXPERIENCES The taiji classics are worth listening to when they say (I'm paraphrasing) that "putting too much emphasis on the breath or on qi itself will only lead to confusion". Unfortunately, some unscrupulous instructors mislead their students into believing that the various symptoms of qi-flow that they may experience are worth pursuing for their own sake or can cause them to gain powers of some kind -- if they pay enough money for ‘secret’ instruction. It is important to remember that some practitioners never experience any strange phenomena when practicing qigong and that you are less liable to get such experiences from moving exercises like Baduajin or the long slow form. Also, don’t get concerned with a lack of any such experiences as this does not mean that you are training improperly anymore than you should be overly concerned if some of the following does happen to you. Most such symptoms are transitory and usually happen in the first few weeks or months of regular training. These are all usually harmless. It is important to not, as the metaphor goes, confuse the forest with the trees and a modern analogy might be that the heat in an electrical wire is a byproduct of the flow of electricity through copper and not the electricity itself. Discomfort Headaches are often a sign of qi-congestion in the head and can be relieved by doing “grounding” methods (ask me or your instructor, if you study elsewhere, to show you how to do these) or by simply massaging the face and neck in a firm downwards manner. Eye ache can mean that you are staring too much in general or when you are doing methods that affect the liver or strengthen the eyes (e.g., Squeezing the Fist with an Intense Gaze). On the other hand, I’m afraid that some pain and discomfort in the muscles and joints, particularly in the shoulders, legs and lower back are normal, at first, whether you are doing everything correctly or not. This is particularly true for those beginners who are not very fit to begin with or have chronic medical conditions like arthritis!

Within reason, you should persist in any given session: try tensing and releasing your toes if the pain is in your feet; if the pain is in your shoulders, try making the space within your arms smaller or lower the arms to the lower level prematurely; if the pain is in the legs or lower back, try rocking the body forward and back or side-to-side a few times or in rhythm with your breathing. Of course, you could be in discomfort because you are standing with your butt stuck out to one side or your knees excessively bent. It is important to make sure that your posture is “sound” and that you don’t stand too long at any one time for standing-still training or try too many repetitions of the moving methods. On the other hand, don’t ignore pain that is agonizing or sharp or that persists after a particular session or whose appearance seems to coincide with having started doing regular standing qigong. Numbness or Tingling Some experts have told me that numbness or tingling during training is a frequent byproduct of practicing qigong and is a good sign in that it means that the qi is now trying to move through areas that had previously been blocked. However, if the numbness and/or tingling continues after you stop a session or becomes chronic it might also be the symptoms of nerve damage in the affected limb or of something like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This tingling can feel like a mild case of when your foot “goes to sleep” or it can feel like the vibrating sensation that you get when you place your hand on a motor housing. Shaking and Spontaneous Movement Many experts say that you must experience a probationary period of time in which you shake or tremble (sometimes violently) for part of any session of standing qigong. Others say that you should never consciously induce trembling or shaking as a means of inducing physical relaxation or of encouraging the Qi to flow freely through minor blockages. You must also discriminate between the shaking that happens when you are doing standing still exercises as opposed to moving standing methods (ie., Baduajin). In the latter you induce shaking for specific purposes; in the former, shaking should be mild and happen naturally, if it happens at all. An episode of spontaneous shaking should subside fairly quickly although you may experience a few “aftershocks” when you stop such practice. If you are used to doing meditation or are relaxed and fit to begin with -- you may never experience any significant spontaneous shaking whatsoever. Speaking from my own experience, I find that I rarely shake anymore when I do any standing training and that, when this does happen, it is usually on days when I was feeling more tired or stressed than usual before I began that session.

Spontaneous movements often occur in standing qigong (e.g., your body starts to sway to-and-fro or undulate gently) and, depending on the teacher, such are said to be part of the learning curve in standing still meditation; or are sometimes cultivated as something 'special'. I tend to agree with the first approach and also think that spontaneous movement has nothing to do with martial skill although it is sometimes touted as being a sign of advanced qi power. I also find it hard to avoid feeling that consciously cultivating spontaneous movement (as well as making such an activity a rather amusing example of an oxymoron) is counterproductive to understanding the profound stillness of mind and body that is usually held up to be the goal of such training. Sudden Anxiety Many experts advocate training alone in a quiet and private environment as you can become very sensitive to outside stimuli and a sudden noise or being unexpectedly touched. Perhaps, it is like the phenomena you can experience when wakened during a dream in which you feel disoriented and are not quite awake. I have seen this happen and it can “disturb and scatter the qi” as the traditionalists would say so that you feel agitated and upset for quite sometime afterwards. Of course, it is also true that some experts maintain that your training should eventually reach the point where you can maintain your calmness even though “Mount Tai should collapse at your feet”. Difficulty Sleeping In general, the practice of standing and moving qigong will be very beneficial to your sleep patterns as you become more relaxed and stronger physically. However, it is important not to do methods that are too stimulating before bedtime although depending on the season, your health and the time of month, you may find that even the long, slow form energizes you too much, if done too close to bedtime. A good “rule of thumb”, as I mentioned earlier, is to practice the most physically active methods in the morning and the quieter methods in the early evening. Sexual Arousal Some of the traditional methods are designed to restore normal functioning to the kidneys and sexual organs (e.g., Shaking the Body to Ward-off Illness) and experiencing this effect as well as becoming healthier in general can also restore interest in such matters. Momentary feelings of physical arousal are often experienced when training and are nothing to worry about as long as you don’t act on them in an inappropriate manner! You are hungry all the time or have lost interest in eating Regular training can have a profound affect on your metabolism in that it will quite often make a skinny person regain an interest in food and gain weight and a fat person lose weight even though they are not trying to do so! Some methods are more affective than others in this realm and the adjustment is partly due to abdominal breathing massaging the digestive system and partly due to a gradual change in how you approach eating on an emotional level (ie., if you eat to compensate for being depressed, such cravings may cease as you become healthier through your training).

I should point out though that one must be careful about overeating after any particular qigong session as such practice can often make the practitioner feel very hungry afterwards. Train everyday in standing qigong only, overeat every day and it won’t be long before you start to gain significant amounts of weight FINAL THOUGHTS FOR THIS CHAPTER I have taught many other standing qigong methods over the years and two of Erle Montaigue's that I still teach to a few students are "Alleviating the Triple Warmer" and "Holding the Baby". The first is a more complicated and demanding version of the first exercise of the Baduajin while the second is an advanced single-leg weighted version of the Three Circles Method. I have not included a detailed description and photos of these methods for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it's because I'm getting older; but, I have come to believe that it is better to know a few methods really well and train in them regularly rather than waste your efforts learning a larger number of things superficially and only practicing them in a sporadic and haphazard manner. There is an interesting old saying that goes something like “When looking for water, it is better to dig deeply at a likely place than to dig a hundred shallow holes at random.” Many years ago one of my teachers told me that I would not really understand taijiquan or qigong until I understood the nature of my own heart. I thought he was "playing the master" at the time or alluding to how important it was to calm the heart and breathing process. Then, a few years ago, I read about an American study that speculated that the human organism is born with a certain number of total heartbeats programmed into it and that when your allotment of beats expired, so did you! If true, that might indicate the some of the old Taoists were correct to say that any hard exercise that makes your heart beat much faster for sustained periods would shorten your ordained life-span. Of course, not having any cardiovascular endurance can also shorten life, so perhaps the real answer still remains elusive in more practical terms.

III _________________ FOUNDATIONAL METHODS: THE LONG, SLOW FORM In thinking along the line of the famous pairing of yin and yang energies, one can say that both being still, as in Three Circles Standing Qigong, and moving, as in the long, slow form, are essential counterpoints to each other in terms of practicing a complete Yang style curriculum. The long, slow sequence of the Yang style is rather unique in the taiji world in that it is designed to supplement the process of understanding the martial fundamentals of that system while also providing a self-healing tool for circulating and balancing energy movement throughout the body. By contrast, other taiji systems use solo forms that are done at quicker paces and are more for training physical or martial skills than for bringing mental peace as well as the energetic benefits mentioned earlier. Actually, the first step for most modern beginners is to start learning the long, slow form even though it was originally more common to spend months first in standing qigong and then learning isolated martial postures and practicing them intensely both solo and with a partner before linking them together in the shape of choreographed sets of movements. Conversely, I do not force any of my own students to do standing qigong in order to qualify to learn anything else in my curriculum. In traditional terms, this probably makes me a bad teacher but we all have to make compromises in life and I certainly do not always do those things that I know would be good for me so why should I demand that my students do so. Furthermore, most beginners can relate more easily to learning and practicing a solo form even though they do not really understand any aspect of its combative aspect. Going through the motions while practicing martial postures that you do not really understand on a technical level can be sufficient for using solo form practice as a mild exercise. On the other hand, it will then be difficult to break the bad habits that result from lack of in-depth experience if you eventually start to learn about martial applications. Still, everyone has to start somewhere and it is certainly common for students in North America to begin their exploration of taiji by learning the 108 postures of the long, slow form; assuming that they can find a teacher who still teaches it. Sadly, nowadays, many teachers will only teach a variety of short forms to suit the limited attention spans of most beginners!

GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF LONG. SLOW FORM PRACTICE The following guidelines are meant to supplement the postural guidelines that were given previously when discussing standing qigong as how you hold your body while moving should reflect how well you have learned to embrace a functional ‘whole-body’ posture while standing still and vice-versa. Pacing The movements of the form should, in general, be executed at a smooth and even pace and done as slowly as possible without any stops between the individual postures. It is also important to remember that the form is really one long movement (said to be like the “long river’, the Yangtze, in China) so don’t think of it as 108 postures as it is usually defined for instructional purposes. Chopping it up into postures is a way of making each “bite” of a size that can be easily digested by the average student. In fact, one of the biggest challenges for practitioners of this form is to find the pace that is correct for them so that each posture “flows” into the next without losing the precise sense of completeness that each posture must retain. While it is important to practice this form slowly when you know it well enough to be able to use it as moving meditation; it is also important to remember that “slowness” is also done to have the time to focus on what you are doing at any given moment to make your movements and posture more precise and correct. Eventually, the form can be done with benefit at a variety of paces and for different purposes. I tell students that, for routine training, it should take a minimum of 25 - 35 minutes to do the entire form once. The latter speed -- or even slower as a few practitioners and teachers will be capable of -- is only suitable if you are sure that your body mechanics are near-perfect as it is easier to overwork and thus injure the knees or hips at that pace. It is also common in those who practice very slowly to stop at the ends of some or all of the postures more than is normally considered desirable in the Yang style. Physical Effort The goal in terms of muscular effort is to strengthen the legs and lower back while relaxing the torso and arms so that only the appropriate amount of muscular effort is present in the upper body. It can be very difficult for even experienced students to find that find the proper balance in terms of physical effort in which one neither moves as if a bowl of overcooked noodles nor stiffly and in a wooden manner. I sometimes follow the advice of the late Cheng Man-ch’ing. That “Master of the Five Excellences” as he was called suggested to his students that they imagine that they were practicing while immersed in water up to the chin so that their movement in that medium provides a gentle resistance and a feeling of doing work while moving; although it is important not to work so hard that you turn solo form practice into some kind of isometric exercise.

Connectivity One of the things that distinguishes a system like taiji from a hard-style is the greater emphasis on unity of movement or “whole-body” usage and what Erle Montaigue has called “connectivity” in that all movement of the upper and lower limbs are linked sequentially to the movement of the spine rather than it being a case of move the feet, move the body then use the arms on their own. Done properly, to paraphrase one of the written classics, taiji movement should be rooted in the feet and the earth, generated by the legs, directed by the waist and hips; transmitted through the spine and expressed by the hands. At no time should individual parts be moving on their own. By the way, connectivity is very difficult to achieve even in the arms as the shoulders must often relearn how to direct the activity of the elbows to properly and efficiently motivate the hand actions. Many beginners tend to obsess about their shoulders or their hands and forget how pivotal the role of the elbows are in terms of transmitting the power of the feet and the waist into the palms and fingers of the hands. Previously sedentary beginners often find any aspect of being coordinated very difficult to start understanding as it is more common to use the upper limbs somewhat independently from each other and from the torso while sitting at work or at home. Those who still work manually for a living or are trained in competitive sports often find it less difficult to get all of their movement to be coordinated than those who are sedentary or work in an office environment. Moving Forward Our taiji form was designed so that you are almost always moving forward and usually towards one of the four cardinal points. Sidestepping (Wave Hands) and retreating (Repulse Like a Monkey) are minority activities in terms of footwork. This is firm evidence that this was a form designed by and for experienced martial artists who knew that you couldn’t successfully defend yourself unless you were willing and able to move forward while defending and counterattacking almost simultaneously! Forward movement is accomplished by sinking deeper into the weighted leg and using the waist to lead the leg to sink metaphorically into the floor through the heel of the lead foot as that foot turns to the required 45 degree angle by swiveling on the heel as directed by the hip on that side. It is not easy to learn how to do a ‘weighted turn’ or ‘twist-step’ as this action is called in English. Beginners often shift the weight backwards before turning the leg which imparts a curious forwards and backwards rocking to the movement between the various postures. Doing so is not considered correct in any traditional Yang-style that I have seen although there are slightly different interpretations of how to accomplish the mechanics of advancing properly.

Another common error is allowing or forcing the knee to lead the turning of the whole body. This is not good for the knee joint which is not designed to support repetitive or excessive twisting and is primarily a hinge and has limited rotational capabilities. Conversely, some beginners cheat doing the turn properly by simply twisting the affected hip in isolation of the waist movement and neglecting the slight forwards and downwards weight shift that should motivate the turning of the waist and leg. Even if you visualize the area below and behind the navel, not your chest, as your physical center of gravity as if you were somewhat bottom-heavy it can be difficult to learn to do this, especially if you have not had much recent experience in any form of demanding physical activity or sport. On the other hand, those with a strong athletic or dance background usually have little trouble with this concept. It can also be tricky to do on some indoor floor surfaces, depending on the type of footwear that is used. One tip that helps many beginners to understand this way of turning is to try and lift the toes of the foot that you swivel as little as possible and to put the hands on the hips while practicing the footwork. If you are turning to the left, press gently with the right hand on that side of the waist and hip to lead the turning action to the left when practicing a weighted turn in isolation of the proper hand actions and when not in the context of practicing all or part of the solo form. Whether for turning or general posture, it is important to keep the knees moderately bent throughout the form and aligned with the toes of their respective feet. This is particularly important when in a forward bow-stance. It is better to keep the lower leg vertical in relation to the floor than to excessively bend the knees in an attempt to keep your weight low enough as is done by some teachers. SPECIFIC DETAILS FOR SELECTED POSTURES The long, slow form is usually divided into a 108 distinct postures for learning purposes but there are really only about three dozen distinct martial actions -- the rest are repetitions. My comments on the following postures of the First Sec pertain to the way that I practice and teach them. If you are studying the Yang-style elsewhere, may I tactfully remind your that if you read a particular description and think that I have got it all wrong, It is possible that you might be in error or maybe your teacher or style just does it equally well, but in a slightly different manner. The following text often point out the most common ways in which beginners stand and move incorrectly as well as offer tidbits of information that may help the student learning from me or one of Erle’s instructors in the WTBA. The postures are listed and discussed in the order in which they appear in that crucial first section. It is crucial for the simple reason that learning it properly “sets the tone” for learning the entire slow form. Even though it is the shortest of the three sections, there is little repetition of the various postures compared to what you find in the subsequent two sections and everything is strange and demanding for the average beginner.

I also agree with the opinions that I have sometimes heard told over the years from better teachers than myself that the postures contained in the First Section are those which are the most useful and versatile martially. Along this line, you will find as you learn the solo form that there is a great deal of repetition of those key postures that make up the crucial First Section. Preparation: Even if you are not facing North when you start your practice, imagine that you are in terms of orienting yourself during your practice. By the way, many traditionalists would say that you should align yourself to that cardinal point as it leads to the North Star which was important in the “old days” for religious and ritual reasons. In more practical terms, the form is structured in relation to the eight cardinal points of the compass; but predominantly on an East-West line.

Michael Waterfield in Preparation Ensure that the feet are parallel and a little farther apart than your own hip-width. You are officially double-weighted (i.e., the torso is centered so that each leg bears 50% of your total weight) for the only time before you finish the long, slow form, or whatever part of it that you know. The head lifts, the shoulders relax and the sternum relaxes while the space between the shoulder blades is expanded and opened. While this is happening the spine feels as if it gently lengthens. Expand the space in the armpits slightly so that you feel as if you are holding a small round object through the gentle pressure of your upper arms in each such space.

This small physical opening movement was caused by the scapular bones moving outwards which should also automatically move your arms into position. As your arms move in this subtle manner, the fingers spread into the “Beautiful Lady” shape and the wrists become slightly yang, facing downwards and a little farther apart than the width of the hips. I often call this the Wuji Posture in my own classes and it is important to note that many teachers use this posture as the basic standing qigong practice. A common variation of this is to let the wrists stay straight so that the fingertips point into the floor while standing still and only flex the wrists when the practitioner is about to begin the moving aspect of his practice. . Raise Arms: You are now ready to begin the form. Rock the weight forward and straighten the legs somewhat as you lift the arms a little higher than the shoulders as you inhale. The wrists should change shape gradually to become yin. Press down with the palms so that the wrists return to a yang-shape as you exhale and rock the weight back towards the heels and bend the knees moderately. The basic way of doing this posture in the solo form shows no obvious leading with either hand or much movement of the knees although both of these activities take place. A basic martial application is to intercept someone trying to throttle your neck by bringing your hands up inside their grasping arms before they make contact and then compressing their arms and body downwards by cutting downwards into the elbow joints with the open hands while lowering the body. Like any martial application, this can really only be learned through one-on-one instruction from someone who really understands how to do it in practice -- and not just in theory! THE NEXT THREE POSTURES ARE OFTEN GROUPED TOGETHER AND CALLED GRASP SWALLOW’S TAIL, LEFT. Push to the Left: Sweep your arms up to the right and then across to the left so that your left palm faces away from you while the right hand is palm-down and its thumb points into the area of the sternum. This can be a followup after the previous defense for Raise Hands. You could also be defending against a high punch with the left hand and counterattacking with the edge of the right hand or both hands could be pushing a strong force to one side by using your own weight as you shift onto the left leg. Block Right: do not turn your right foot more than 45% as you push down with the left hand and get that hand below the right wrist in a Peng/hinge position before placing all of your weight on the right leg. This can be an abstract way of practicing defending against a punch to the ribs on the right side; the left arm “bumps” the attacking arm as the heel of the right hand strikes into the top of the attacking arm. If an attacker is not used to being struck in the arms, doing so with real power can be very effective to setup a counterattack.

Single Ward-off: Shift the weight onto the right leg and step directly forward with the left foot (N,B, a common error in our style is to let the foot wander to the right instead of going straight down ahead of its initial position.) By the way, some modern versions step diagonally on purpose so that the left foot moves forward and to the right and you end up in a narrower bow-stance. When your left heel touches start pressing the right hand almost straight down as you lift and extend the left hand with the palm facing you at about throat height. I should point out that many students will reverse this sequence of events and that it is essential to break such habits. N.B. In general, throughout the form, the hand that ends up in a lower position should generally finish moving slightly ahead of the hand that rises. This is particularly important for those studying the martial usage of the postures. For those who are interested in the art solely as a method of exercise and qigong, it is still important to ensure that, at the very least, your hands stop moving at the same time relative to one another as you finish every posture. THE NEXT FOUR POSTURES ARE OFTEN GROUPED TOGETHER AND CALLED: GRASP SWALLOW’S TAIL, RIGHT.

The Final Moment of Double Ward-off Block to the Left & Double Ward-off (Peng): The peng/hinge action precedes lifting, pivoting and dropping the right foot into position before you shift and turn the hips squarely forward.

Both hands should finish roughly in line with the left shoulder and at about that height. The front hand will be slightly higher than the left and will have finished moving slightly after the rear hand did. You should look like you are holding an invisible ball about the size of a large apple between your hands which you are using to strike the inside of the attacker’s neck or side of the face. Pull Back (Lu): After the previous posture, sink a little more into the front leg so that your full weight is momentarily completely on it as you roll the hands across to the right and in front of the right shoulder without changing the shapes of the wrist. This arm movement is caused by a twisting action of the forearms as driven by the waist rather than a further turning of the hips.

The Final Moment of Pull-Down Subsequently, shift the weight 100% onto the rear leg (weight falling through the heel of that foot) and change the shapes of the wrists gradually as you let the arms fall. There should be a strong feeling of pulling back and down towards the floor in front of your left foot. Be careful here as students often lean the body forward when in a rearsitting stance in an effort to take the pressure off the weight-bearing leg if their muscles are weak. You should feel as if you have pulled something strongly downwards and back in slow motion and your hands should drop fairly low and to your left, near the left hip. In English, this posture often called Rollback and a basic martial function is to pull sharply downwards on an attacker’s arm while controlling the wrist and elbow on that arm. A less-common error is to lean backwards when in a back-sitting stance but this is even worse in terms of the potential long-term strain on your lower back and/or the knee joint in the supporting leg.

Squeeze Forward (Chee): Remember that you must not simply push with the backs of your forearms -- the feeling is of squeezing the armpits and the hips to lead the power slightly downwards and a little to your right-of-center and then out the back of the right wrist. do not just mindlessly drop the elbows either although they will fall in a subtle manner. The wrists change from yin to yang gradually as you shift forward into a square bow stance and make sure that the left palm is covering and supporting the base of the right palm as well as the wrist itself. Common errors are to hold the palms one in front of the other or too let the fingers of the left hand droop over the front of the right wrist or to put the left palm over just the lower forearm and not support the base of the right hand or to have the front wrist too limp or too stiff.

The Posture “Squeeze” Press Forward (An): You should feel as if you are pressing your palms upwards a little higher than your shoulders by pushing with your left foot as you straighten that leg to start turning the waist and hips fully as you get the weight forward. Remember to lead slightly with the left hip and hand and that both hands should "sink" gently at the end of the posture.

Feel as if you are pushing something heavy and the only way to do this is to push with the power of the rear leg straightening and by squeezing inwards with the elbows and using the power of the chest and shoulders. As with any physical way of generating this kind of efficient forward movement; part of the force comes by shifting the weight of the body as well as by turning the waist and shoulders at the right time.

Press Forward This is the only true “pushing” action in the entire form; but, even this technique has an element of striking and is a prime example of breaking an opponent’s sense of balance while sending them surprisingly far away. The actual application would involve placing your lead foot between -- not in front of -- the target’s feet. Sit-Back, Ready: do not let your right hand go "limp" as you sit back and try to keep the left wrist very folded, the left forearm slightly twisted and the left fingertips near the inside of the right elbow. A common error is to bend the left wrist the wrong way or to leave it straight. The correct shape will form the left arm and hand into a z-shape laid on its side. Even though you have sat back onto the left leg, your right arm and hand should look as if they are reaching forward in a subtle way -- think of it as the right wrist having risen from its previous position rather than the hand or forearm having done so.

Fishes in Eight: Turn your hips to the North as you lead with the left hand in a pulling action towards the rear, the right hand ends up pointing into the left elbow; shift the weight halfway towards your right leg while moving the palms past the chest. By the end of the posture, as you finish shifting the weight onto the right leg your hands should finish moving as well. Your palms will be facing the northeast with the left hand near the inside of the right elbow and the edge of the right hand leading. You should have focussed mentally and visually on the Northeast corner all the time, even when you were sitting back and “pulling” with your left hand. This is one of the few postures in which the arms and upper half of the body must move at a somewhat faster pace than the lower-half to coordinate properly. This kind of body dynamic is a little more common, usually for martial reasons, in other expressions of taijiquan and the internal arts. Do not lean the torso in any direction or straighten or excessively bend the knee and your weight should fall efficiently through the right leg and into the floor through the right heel. Your right toes should now point to the North to be able to easily do sweep around of the left leg in the next posture. Single Whip: lift the left knee enough to step back diagonally opposite to the direction in which your right arm is stretching. This is the only posture in the entire form in which you will want to keep an arm so straight that it almost looks locked into that position. This is done for martial reasons to actually block the normal flow of energy in the right arm so that all the energy that should be going out the right hand is fed back into the left-hand palm strike. Common errors include leaving the right hook-hand too high at the end of the posture as well as keeping that arm too stiff and too high in relation to the right shoulder. By contrast, many modern variations of the Yang style keep the arms so bent and “shapeless” that it no longer provides either any martial energy or even a mild exercise function for the strength and flexibility of the arm. As far as I am concerned, I would rather see a student having a shape that is a little too firm than one that is sloppy and floppy! Oh, and what looks like a push of the left palm should be a dropping of the left wrist and palm into the final position rather than a pushing action of any kind! At the end of this posture, the tip of the longest finger on the left hand should be even with the base of the nose.

Raise Hands: Sink into the weighted turn of the left leg so that your body is once again facing North. The heel of the right foot should land gently as you finish dropping your hands into position -- left fingers pointing into your right wrist and the right hand about the height of the chin. Be careful that you do not lean backwards or to the left while trying to support all of your weight on the left leg and don’t let the left knee sag inwards while it momentarily supports you. Shoulder Strike: Your left hand is yin as you lift it to near the right biceps before you step forward with the right foot into a square bow-stance, sink the weight into the right foot without leaning forward as your left hand goes yang while the right hand goes yin; the sequence of the imaginary impact on an opponent is left palm, then right shoulder with the right hand twisting free of the imaginary hand holding it. This twisting of the waist and sinking and rising must be subtle, not wiggling your butt all over the place. Remember to keep your nose, shoulders and hips pointed to the northwest corner as you finish this posture. however, your eyes and right shoulder face North and the posture doesn’t actually end until you have almost finished what looks like the mirror image version of Single Ward-off. White Crane Spreads its Wings: Remember to spiral the right arm quite high and then let it drop somewhat as you finish the second spiral. do not lean forward and make sure that you do not let your knee get hurt by incorrectly positioning your right toes. These should be turned slightly towards the Northwest and you can increase that angle, if you have trouble with your knees. Doing this modification is technically incorrect as you will lose the ability to harness the power of the waist properly: but, you may have no choice, at least until your body becomes stronger. This posture is often called White Crane Spreads its Wings and ii has always one of my favourites, both aesthetically and martially. Brush Knee & Brush Knee, Twist Step: Don’t lift the knee too high before stepping forward; life it only enough to get a pendulum effect for the lower leg and foot as you advance. Make sure that your lead hand is at the height of the center of the sternum by the end of the posture. Keep your lower arm curved at the elbow and feel as if you are pressing forward and slightly down after you gently brush the outside tip of the knee with the edge of the thumb. When doing a weighted turn, remember to sink into the posture while turning the foot and use the waist to start the turning action. As I mentioned earlier, many will incorrectly twist the knee or just turn the left hip when learning how to do what is called a “weighted turn” or “twist step”. Many modern versions of the Yang-style have eliminated this way of moving forward in favour of a back-and-forwards rocking of the torso that is dangerous for the knees and violates one of the key martial principles -- moving forwards when this is necessary. Done properly, this is one of the most versatile postures in martial terms and it is done in many ways and with many repetitions of those variations throughout the long form.

Final Moment of Brush Knee Play the Pipah: do not lean forward when shifting your weight firmly onto the front leg as you start to go into this posture. Lift the rear foot barely off the floor before putting it down and placing all of your weight on it. The action of the arms is both forwards and back as well as side-to-side. This is one of the hardest postures to do properly. It is also called variously Play the Lute and Play the P’i-pah. The latter is a stringed instrument which explains why the English translations refer to a guitar. Step Up, Deflect, Parry & Punch: Remember to do a weighted turn as you reach the right fist forward and up slightly -- ideally the right scapula will lead this extension of its arm. Drop the arms without moving the rear foot; Lift the hands to the height of your left cheek as the rear foot rises; do not reach too far as you place the heel down so that your feet make an L-shape pointing to the northwest corner.

Shift the weight onto the right foot as you "chop" forward and back with the knuckles of the right fist; turn the waist to power the strike with the left palm; and step forward with the left heel as you finish that strike. The left hand will lead the punch and the shifting of the weight. do not let your punching arm drop before it rises and do not over twist your waist . Power for the punch comes partly from straightening the right leg momentarily as you get your weight forward; partly from the subtle twisting and untwisting of the waist and partly from the “settling” of the right wrist at the moment of impact as you press with the tip thumb onto the second joint of the first finger. This is not an “ordinary” shape of fist and is very difficult to learn to do martially. Again, this is a marvelous posture in martial terms and I will always remember Erle, hair flying, voice roaring as he demonstrated the smooth power of the volley of strikes he could unload on a pair of focus mitts or his training partner. Sit Back and Push Forward: Slide the left hand under the right forearm and let the wrists separate as your weight goes 100% onto the front leg; sit back most of the way as the right hand drops down and the left hand finishes extending to shoulder-height; place all the weight back as you turn the hips to the West and lift the elbows/open the armpits; close them as you shift forward. leading with the right hand/hip; remember to drop the palms to the height of the pectorals as you finish with your weight 70% on the front leg. The right palm should finish moving slightly ahead of the left palm. Apparent Closure Reach slightly upwards with the edge of the left hand as you shift forward the last bit into the left leg bow-stance. At a basic level, your hands should stay in the "Guard the House" posture -- a triangle -- at about throat height as you sit almost all the way back; as you turn the waist and left foot so that your torso ends up facing North twist the wrists gently; as you sit onto the left leg twist them gently in opposition. As you separate the hands, move the right foot so that your feet are shoulder-width apart; bend the knees a little more than normal and circle the hands out and then down and then cross them at the wrist lightly. Your weight is on the right leg and you are facing North when you finish this posture. N.B. The edges of your wrists should actually touch gently at the end of each of the three sections of the slow form but not touch at all in the rest of the form when it sometimes looks as if you have momentarily touched the wrists together, i.e., many postures in the Kicks segment of the 2nd Section. _____________ For detailed information on the basic way of doing the rest of this solo form as well as selected martial applications; I recommend that you buy a copy of Power Taiji to supplement your studies with me or with a qualified instructor. (Yes, I admit that this is another shameless plug for one of my books). _____________

FINAL THOUGHTS FOR THIS CHAPTER Practicing the long, slow form properly can lead, among other results, to a deeper understanding of relaxation as an appropriate ongoing application of force rather than a total lack of muscular effort. You may have noticed that I did not make much of what is often touted as the most important activity in taijiquan by many modern instructors. There is a good reason for this -- it is not the most important activity in traditional taiji. I agree wholeheartedly with Yang Zhenduo who is one of the few remaining elder fathers of the Yang-style and who has often gone on record in recent years as stating that the object of his family’s taijiquan is not, as is often said, to relax. Rather, he feels, the goal of the Yang style is to use relaxation as one of many tools needed to unify the body and mind or, to put it more traditionally, to coordinate the internal with the external for a variety of purposes. In the next chapters, we will look at the martial fundamentals in some detail so I am afraid that you may have to skip to the end of the book if you have no interest in the traditional combative training methods and forms.


IV _____________ BASIC MARTIAL TRAINING METHODS & FORMS Practicing Standing meditation and the long, slow form competently can improve physical health; help the practitioner to achieve some measure of inner calm and, for those whose interests take them in that direction, provide the foundations for learning the applications of the techniques contained within the long, slow form. However, real competence will not come overnight and you must learn to be patient in terms of your own progress without becoming too complacent about it. The longer I study taijiquan, the more that it seems to me that it is relatively useless to study a solo form without understanding, as deeply as your interest takes you, the combative usage of the postures in that set. In other words, learning and practicing even the best of solo forms cannot bring even a basic understanding of combative usage by itself. Traditionally, training in a solo routine was often referred to as a process of learning to know yourself; while training in the various martial applications was a process of learning how to “know” an opponent. In the end, good martial form must follow martial function and vice-versa. Remember that the old masters normally came to taijiquan with years of experience in the hard-style fighting arts. In other words, they already knew how to fight through long training and bitter experience before their first taiji lesson. For such seasoned martial artists, taijiquan was literally a process of refining and reinterpreting martial skills that already existed. By contrast the average modern student has never been in a fight or done a serious martial discipline or has no interest, what so-ever, in getting bruised and sweaty while training. Having said this, a new student may find comfort in remembering that it is also true that continuing to practice the solo aspects of taijiquan, after you have developed a core understanding of its martial skills can let you maintain much of whatever selfdefense skills you develop during your two-person training. Scientific research has established in recent years that our muscles develop a surprising amount of “memory” for repetitive physical training so that ingrained fighting methods don’t disappear simply from lack of regular use. In the same way that we never forget how to swim, ski, skate or bicycle, even though such skills do get somewhat rusty from lack of use.

On the other hand, many modern schools that claim to teach the martial side of the Yang style only teach push-hands and claim or imply that competence in such exercises will somehow automatically bring combative skills. Other modern schools focus on developing the solo forms as well as on the pushing “games” that have been designed to allow for relatively safe sporting competitions as a way of winning medals. Developing skill is always a relative thing and depends on how often you attend class, how much aptitude you may have and how hard -- and consistently as well as intelligently -- you train on your own. Most students take a minimum of three years of regular group classes and their own personal training to be able to do everything on the following pages with some quality and ease. If you only attend on an irregular basis, are lax about your personal training and/or take lengthy sabbaticals the group classes, it will be difficult if not impossible to attain any real martial competence and only if you have an unusual amount of aptitude or a lot of relevant martial experience. Perhaps, it makes the most sense to decide where your interests lie and how far you are willing to go to develop some martial skill; perhaps, the best route in the end is to admit that you are better off taking yoga or learning self-healing qigong methods rather than simply going through the motions of being a martial artist by playing at push-hands. OUR BASIC MARTIAL CURRICULUM As described briefly in the first chapter, you will normally learn the following training methods in the following order although I am not always as consistent as I would like to be in my teaching. Traditional classes in the Chinese tradition are often taught in a rather unstructured manner and that is how I learned in my early years of training. It took me many years to realize that most students respond better to structure in the classes and that it is better for them to get a deeper understanding of relatively few forms and training methods than to dabble at everything that I might be able to teach them on a superficial level. Grounding & Rooting Exercises I have read and heard many explanations of what being “grounded’ or “rooted” means in terms of taijiquan and the best description to me is really more of a comparison to how an adult experiences a toddler who is having a temper tantrum. Suddenly your shrieking three year-old feels boneless and much harder to pick up than normal as he or she is suddenly twice their normal weight. Of course, the child hasn’t magically increased in density or size, but their emotional state combined with physical limpness makes them “hard to handle” in physical terms. I suppose it is also rather like trying to carry an armful of heavy chain as there seems to be no way to “find” the object you must carry.

Learning the proper body mechanics of a competent taijiquan style can bring that kind of relaxed “heaviness” and sense of being connected to the earth through the soles of the feet -- whether you are standing still or moving slowly or quickly. The exercises we use to train this are simple methods of training students to create and maintain this kind of relaxed and stable lower center of gravity in themselves. In the beginning, this is done by practicing holding selected postures from the solo form while under controlled pressure from another student.

Cal Climie pushes firmly but slowly downward as Mike stands in the posture “Single Ward-off” and trains to use his whole body, as opposed to the strength of his arm and shoulder, to resist this pressure.

This helps my students to understand, firsthand, how important it is to be upright and firm, yet relaxed while always having the potential for balanced movement. In many ways. This upward whole-body springiness is often described in the Yang-style as Peng or “ward-off”. You can get some idea of how important this is as a fundamental concept in any competent version of the Yang-style from the number of postures with that function or name in the long, solo form.

In a stationary version of one such exercise, one student holds a posture from the slow form while his or her partner pushes slowly in a slightly downward direction and a bit stiffly (at least until the recipient gets the hang of relaxed-heaviness) with one hand on the forearm, shoulder, or the abdomen of the person being tested. All the latter has to do is stand there without moving and with as little tension in the upper body as is possible. I also recommend using both the Brush Knee and Play the Guitar postures as being particularly suitable for this kind of training. The student doing the pushing should do so slowly but firmly and give the recipient feedback on how he or she is handling the incoming pressure. Do I have to remind you that the idea is to help each other understand basic aspects of posture and rooting and is not an excuse to shove each other about indiscriminately? In another version of this kind of training, your partner pushes firmly with one or two hands in contact with your shoulder(s) while stepping through your space. You have to use one or both arms to stick to their incoming force and deflect it off-course as you step back diagonally or swivel on one foot to move the other leg. There are a variety of basic follow-up martial applications possible for the more experienced; but, again, try to keep it simple and noncompetitive. A more advanced version of this training is a form of resistance training. The basic method is to assume a posture like Ward-off while your partner assumes Press Upwards. The “pusher” will slowly add pressure to his or her partner’s Ward-off arm as the latter resists this forward action properly by using the structure of the stance rather than just the strength of his or her arm. Pressure is increased by both players until a maximum isometric tension is reached. This can be done while shifting slowly forwards and backwards or even while moving. Within reason, this can be approached as a somewhat competitive game when you have a skillful partner in the sense that one person can suddenly release the pressure to see if the other person lurches off-balance as a result. Playing this way requires a partner who is roughly your size and weight when first practicing this method of rooting. It is also important to remember that you are not trying to stop your partner from moving but helping him learn about functional “push/pull” skills. You should balance practice in this method by reversing it so that one person pulls while the other resists being pulled by using the same kind of relaxed whole-body pressure. Use a cross-armed grip on each other’s wrists to minimize the chance of injury to the fingers or palm by gripping each other’s hands.

Uprooting Once you know how to stand in a firm. upright but relaxed manner while under some pressure from a partner. It is important to know how to apply the potential advantages of being able to do this to someone else by practicing uprooting exercises. A dramatic form of this uprooting is frequently said to be a specially of the Yang-style and one frequently finds photos and film clips of modern masters applying this kind of power to their students. While it is a good “trick” to send someone flying upwards and backwards with relatively little effort; it is not quite as impressive as it can seem once you understand the physics of pushing upwards against a resistant force. The uprooting exercises that I prefer to use and teach are less impressive on a superficial level but are very hard to master as doing so implies sensitivity to another’s balance and use of force through the laws of physics and not just doing stage magic with stiff or compliant partners. Training methods similar to what I call uprooting are often done together in a friendly (sometimes only semi-friendly) fashion by taiji students of different styles to test their respective abilities to be balanced, rooted and sensitive. These are all activities which are essential basics of any competent taiji style.

Uprooting is a way of beginning to learn how to keep your balance under spontaneous, though controlled, martial pressure.

A basic method that I have practiced and taught with some success begins with two partners facing each other at close range while standing with their feet roughly shoulder-width apart. Each player can stand with one foot slightly forward of the other or keep the feet parallel. The shorter practitioner will decide the range by being able to touch his partner’s torso with extended arms. Each player should be in light contact at the wrists/forearms to begin a session. While maintaining constant contact, the idea is to push, pull or lure the other person into being obliged to move their feet without the “doer” having to do so as well. Using this stance instead of a lower or longer one (ie. a bow-stance) limits how much you can cheat by using your leg muscles to compensate for a lack of use of the spine to control the knees or for failing to shift from side-to-side properly to help your upper body efforts. As with the rooting exercises, uprooting should be approached as a game in which you “listen” to the other person’s attempts to outmaneuver you and try to help him or her to fall over as much by exploiting their mistakes as by your own strategy. Think of it as not just forcing the other person to move; but of unbalancing them into a position that demands that they move their feet or topple over. Unfortunately, such an exchange is likely to degenerate into pointless arguments that often begin with “You’re using too much force!” It is important to remember that many of the old masters had had very hard lives and were “tough as nails’ from doing manual labour on farms much of their early lives. I would suspect that most would not have much use for the modern tendency to overemphasize rather limp, sensitivity training methods. Ideally, both partners should be of the same sex, height and weight until some real yielding and redirecting skills are formed or make sure that the larger person is the one who has more skill/experience which should imply that he or she will have more discrimination in how much power they use at any given time. Instead of practicing in which either person can push/pull or defend as necessary and possible; it is also useful to have one partner do all of the “attacking” while the other can only redirect the incoming force and not counterattack. Then they can switch roles for an equal amount of time. When you have an experienced partner and you agree on the ground rules before you practice, you can add pushing and controlling the joints, including the neck and hips and go at a variety of paces and, even use a little controlled speed and power. In many ways, training this way is a good way of learning about standup grappling skills which is a precursor to effective throwing and/or joint locking skills.

Push-hands (Tui-shou) Push-hands include a wide variety of formal two-person exercises that are designed to refine the ability of the student to use four of the eight energies that are often considered the core of the Yang-style as a martial system. These are Ward-off (Peng); Pull Back (Lu); Squeeze (Chee); and Press Forwards (An).

SINGLE PUSH-HANDS: Cal has just deflected Mike’s palm strike and is about to return that action by shifting forward. Among other things, this method teaches you to defend by turning your center, rather than forcing with the arm.

Most instructors will translate Ji as Press and An as Push in English but those words don’t do justice to either martial action. By the way, these four energies are not simply techniques, they are methods of generating power in that Ward-off can be described as a relaxed and springy force moving forwards and upwards; Pullback moves downwards and to one side; Squeeze moves forward and up and then downwards; while Press Forward moves first downwards and then releases upwards and away. It is essential to remember that any application of these methods will only work if the spine, the waist, the weight of the body and that the arms and legs all coordinate properly and your partner feeds you the correct stimulus in the various patterns used in push-hands.

As to the push-hands training that we do at the Studio; I think that many, if not all of my students, must ask themselves “Why am I doing this stuff?” on those class nights where I say “Switch partners and try it again!” for what seems like the umpteenth time. The relative beginners are already nursing stiffening shoulders because they have been using their arms and shoulders to do the work that their legs and spines should be doing By contrast, those with more experience are grumbling because they want to do “more interesting stuff”. They look at me with polite smiles when I suggest that after almost three decades of learning and practicing various push-hands methods, I still find it challenging to get such training to be even a pale reflection of what it can be. By the way, I think there is a great deal of truth in the idea that push-hands was invented as a relatively safe manner of training basic close-quarters tactics. Such methods shouldn’t be brutal; however, you shouldn't take it too far the other way. Most students have trouble doing any kind of formal method properly for more than a few minutes at a time -- then the chatting begins, if the struggling hasn’t already. Two of the most important energies of martial taiji -- Folding and Push & Pull -- can be learned at a basic level through formal push-hands exercises. I won’t describe them in detail as you can really only understand them by practicing with a partner, under supervision. Okay, that’s a bit of a lie, you can actually start to understand Folding by pushing on a revolving door and you can start to understand Push & Pull by helping a friend to saw some logs with an old-fashioned two-person saw. Most basic variations of push-hands use the bow-stance and there are a few generalities of practice that cross the many stylistic differences between Yang-style approaches. The legs must be (or grow strong) as they not only support your body weight but must shift or move smoothly and instantly as required. In the beginning this refers to shifting smoothly from leg to leg in time with your partner’s weight-changes without moving your feet. In the long-run, you should also learn to do the appropriate tactics while moving the feet. We use five ways to move the feet: a full step forward (use Brush Knee) while striking with the palm; a full step back (use Repulse Monkey) while pulling and striking; as shuffle steps (most useful at close-distances), cross-stepping (most useful if the opponent charges through your space); and changing steps (most useful as "an ugly surprise" if there isn't much room to maneuver). Some styles and teachers emphasize at an advanced stage of learning to move the feet so subtly and constantly that your partner doesn’t even know that you are moving in on them until it is too late! Erle Montaigue has called this “old man boxing” as you look superficially as if you are an “old fella” creeping stealthily forwards .

Competent push-hands also demands that your body mechanics are sound. For example, the knees are not meant to rotate, except minimally when you shift and/or step forwards and backwards. As in form practice, one way of ensuring that your legs are structurally aligned is to ensure that the knees don’t bend farther than the tips of the toes of their respective feet and that your lower leg stays relatively vertical. This applies whether you are moving your weight onto the front or rear leg when changing from a bow to a back-sitting stance which are the postures most commonly used in structured push-hands methods. In addition, the torso must be relaxed and supple so that it can direct the energy from the feet through the waist and hips to be expressed in the hands. Some versions of the Yang style will also advocate that you must learn to differentiate between the waist and the hips as well. Sometimes, the hips and shoulders will move strictly as a unit; at other times a subtle twisting/untwisting of the trunk between the last ribs and the hip bones will add power. As in all aspects of training, the spine must be erect with the top of the head lifted and the chin lightly tucked-in so as to keep all the body's energy and physical centers aligned. Keeping the spine straight and the buttocks relaxed connects the hands(s) being used to the rear or front foot as is necessary in terms of the potential for power generation. The shoulders must relax and not hunch upwards with muscular effort. This is particularly important when receiving force as raising the shoulders stiffly will likely upset your balance even if you can prevent the incoming force from making contact. This is most likely to happen if you lift the “active’ elbow unnecessarily high or if your shoulders tense up and bring the arms upwards because of that involuntary action. Speaking of which, the elbows must stay slightly bent and relaxed only rising momentarily away from the torso as a prelude to a closing action that follows while practicing issuing energy as a push or a strike. The elbows should never be allowed to rise or fall more than is necessary, as doing so opens the ribs and lower torso to the striking tactics of a skillful opponent. The forearms must learn to spiral so that their twisting is connected to the total effort and not just a gross attempt to gain leverage by jerking the arms forcefully. Similarly, the wrists must always be changing from one state to another and never double weighted (ie., you never have both hands Yin or both hands Yang at the same time). In addition, the hands must become sensitized to those subtle physical movements in your partner's limbs that can often betray a change of direction or force before they occur. Similarly, while contact with your partner's limbs are essential; it should not become a case of sticking for the sake of just keeping your hand or forearm crudely in contact with the other person.

A Moment in Double Push-hands: Michael has started moving forward to use Double Ward-off offensively and Cal is about to use Peng/Hinge to negate that prior to shifting back to apply Pullback as his counterattack. A skillful opponent will lure you into paying too much attention to one arm so that he or she can attack you suddenly with the other. Feints/faking is not a skill that can be easily developed; but is certainly useful if a less-experienced opponent takes everything you start to do at face-value. You have to be able to connect and disconnect smoothly and in a supple manner while doing push-hands otherwise your skills will never rise above a basic level. This is based upon a sensitivity that allows the experienced practitioner to feel the opponent's balance and force, while simultaneously adjusting his own balance and force accordingly to obtain or maintain an advantageous position. To put it simply, each hand has to be able to grab suddenly and effectively or open just as instantly, if necessary. Doing this without tensing up but while still having some real strength in the grip is and while also under any kind of martial pressure is much harder than most beginners assume.

In many ways, single push-hands is harder to do than double push-hands even though it looks superficially as if you are only using one side at a time. I like my students to let the other arm hang while practicing single push-hands instead of doing anything more “formal” with it. Letting it hang encourages relaxation in the limb and also makes it harder for the student to retain some attention in that side. Even in single push-hands all of your intention should not be focussed on the active hand. In my opinion, push-hands can only be learned if you have a good partner to practice with which is less true of applications training as you can at least tell, objectively, if the method works in some way if don’t get hit or knocked over. I know that some Yang teachers advocate the value of practicing push-hands patterns by yourself; but it is difficult to believe that this could sharpen your yielding, neutralizing or sensitivity skills past a VERY basic level. I once visited a taiji school in which a room full of overweight middle-aged people were all earnestly practicing repetitions of double push-hands by themselves in rows. The instructor told me that this was the ideal way for them to train as they could visualize martial training while doing so without running the risk of injury. "After all." he told me rather smugly, "the mind is everything in taiji." I hate to burst his bubble but while the role of the mind is essential in training intelligently in taiji terms, it is hardly everything in martial terms. By contrast, a good western boxer shadowboxes in front of a mirror to practice certain combinations and work on his posture and body mechanics -- not to learn how to fight using those same combinations. You can’t create basic interactive skills simply by visualizing yourself in a fight or through imagining that you don’t get punched or kicked during a real exchange of blows. Push-hands easily degenerates into being done so sensitively and lightly so as too make it hard to evaluate whether or not you are doing it or "just going through the motions". It will probably take many months before your body can respond instantly and spontaneously to your partner's attempts to penetrate your defenses -- even in a relatively slow and civilized manner. Which brings up the other problem with modern push-hands; progress will probably come more quickly with daily practice assuming you have some aptitude and good partners. So do not be surprised if it takes a while when you only get the chance to practice with a partner once or twice a week. Such training can be tedious and/or unpleasant if you don’t have a good training partner -- and that cuts both ways -- so keep that in mind when trying to deal patiently with your partner’s efforts! Having said that, it is also true for the highly skilled that you can do "lively" push-hands without seeming to pay attention. My former instructor Allan Weiss used to relate how his late instructor Lee Shiu-pak would do vigorous push-hands with him and the other senior students while holding a lit cigarette in one hand as he fended off their frantic attacks.

To build real skill, it is essential to practice with a variety of partners in terms of body weight, height and skill to have any hope of developing any kind of combative interactive skills. If you approach the training properly, you can learn from training with almost any partner! If I may offer a few clues to developing skill, they would be: • practice with both a light and heavy intensity as the former can aid in developing speed while the latter can aid in developing what Erle has called “connectivity” in terms of using all parts of the body in a synchronized and coordinated manner. Years ago I read an article in one of the American martial arts magazines in which the Chinese taiji expert being quoted said that there were only three real types of power in push-hands: light, heavy and sharp and that a competent practitioner needed to understand and master all three. • vary the speed between slow and fast so that you get used to being able to flow and change directions at a variety of speeds. As with any aspect of interactive training, most students will find it very difficult to match another’s speed with any precision and that being able to do so is normally the precursor to learning to effectively go faster than an opponent. • having a variety of partners is essential for really developing skill; but, remember to help your training partners by not working too much beyond each person’s abilities. Push-hands easily turns into a rather childish equivalent of “Oh yeah, you’re gonna get it now!” Finally, I remember reading a translation of an old text on push-hands written in the 1950s in which the old master being quoted was fond of snarling "True skill is found in understanding small things." I'm beginning to see what he may have meant. Of course, such arcane bits of advice are best viewed as starting points for serious longterm study. They are hard to really understand if your understanding is only on an intellectual level. Large Pull-down (Da-Lu) This exercise is also often called “Big Pull-down” in English and is a method of practicing the other four core Yang martial energies: Pluck (Cai), Rend or Split (Lieh). Elbow-Strike (Zhou) and Shoulder-Strike (Kao) effectively. These are said to correspond to the diagonal points on the compass in the same way that the other four skills learned in Double Push-hands are said to correspond to the cardinal points on the compass. Da-lu also introduces the modern student in the concept of bridging the gap that usually initially exists between an attacker and his target as well as evasion skills. This is one of the most biggest “missing links’ in modern taiji -- the comparative lack of training on how to safely bridge the initial distance between yourself and an attacker. I shouldn’t have to tell you this but, in a real fight, the opponent probably isn’t going to walk slowly up to you and offer his arms before he begins trying to hurt you!

Da-lu also an introduction to the concept of "finding the square in the circle" as well as "finding the circle in the square". When you really understand this concept, you're starting to get somewhere in terms of your martial skills. I won’t give you too many hints except to state that it refers to finding the power in the martial relationships between the diagonal and cardinal points on a compass. Many forms of this training method will actually use some version of such a representational diagram painted or scraped into the ground where that method is practiced. As with all aspects of training in the Yang-styles and Yang Family, there are a variety of formal ways of practicing da-lu. I have learned three distinct methods over the years and have seen several others demonstrated.

A Moment In Da-lu: Cal has tried to shoulder/elbow strike but Mike evaded that attack to his centerline and countered to Cal’s head. Mike’s left hand checks Cal’s right shoulder at the same time. To be useful in a martial sense, any variation that you learn must have some speed and close-range contact with your training partners, otherwise it is almost impossible to learn the valuable lessons that this method can bring.

As far as I am concerned, two of the most important aspects of this exercise occur in the first two exchanges -- if your partner pulls his or her wrist free or resists with skill or just because of superior size when you begin Pluck, remember to do your follow-up method of Split/Rend as a counterattack rather than as a defense. Doing this smoothly and as an aspect of the Push & Pull concept is very disconcerting to the person who thinks that they have gotten free of you, just be careful that you don’t hit your partner more than you want to while doing so. The basic choreography involves moving around your circular-square in a counterclockwise and clockwise manner with your partner. You never thought that you would take up dancing of any kind, much less square dancing, did you? Getting the basic way of changing direction can be tricky for most students. In terms of the way we do it, one of the keys is to remember that the person doing Split/Rend is the one who must initiate the change of direction and that the cross-step that he or she uses to do so must be fairly small to be effective. In reference to the small cross-step, it is important to remember that this action can also be a low kick into the ankle or the muscles of the calf or a foot stomp, if you applied it forcefully as necessary. The person receiving the change of direction must remember to lift and Peng with the bottom hand and to step back to their previous position before executing Pluck. In the beginning, practice with someone roughly of the same size. Significant height differences can make some of the methods problematic. For example, when practicing with someone taller than you be careful of your knees as the kneecap of your partner is liable to strike vulnerable points on the sides of your legs when they step in to do Shoulder or Elbow Strike. Be careful with Pluck and Rend so that you don’t use too much energy in your "negative strikes" (as Erle Montaigue calls a downward jerking action on the wrist or elbow that you are gripping) unless your partner is experienced. Even then, use control as strained joints and/or whiplash are counterproductive if they become routine in your training sessions. You have to look after each other even if it is only to ensure that you have someone with whom to train! Posture Applications From the Slow Form I have previously mentioned how important it is to develop some concept of what each posture means on a martial level or at least to use the mind actively when learning the postures, This use of Yi or “intention” is different from trying to plan your next physical move or martial response and refers more to what Erle calls the Reptile Brain and what other writers have called Martial Spirit. Certainly in a martial terms, the Yi leads the Qi which leads the Li or “physical effort”. Much is made in the more competent interpretations of the Yang style of projecting the Yi past the hands whether moving forwards or backwards in the two-person methods and forms.

Perhaps this refers to the idea that in the beginning a fighter must have trained his body enough to be able to react automatically in certain situations and that the emotions (especially anger and fear) must be "following" those actions instead of leading and interfering with them. However, with enough experience even when the fists are flying, your emotions no longer interfere with the fighting process. _____________ The best technique and posture in the world is useless, if you do not have the spirit or will to fight and can raise such an energy effortlessly. _____________

Cal has used Ward-off while stepping forward properly to simultaneously stop Marc’s punch while attacking his neck. I can see it in the eyes of a few of my students and have seen it often over the years in Alan Weiss, and Erle Montaigue and a few others that I have trained with or under. When such a spirit gets into their eyes, you will reflexively move away from the person even though you know you are probably safe as a good teacher -- a good person -can control his expression of such energy.

However, the beginning of learning to defend yourself starts by practicing the applications from the solo form with a partner. Such interaction, even when done slowly and carefully, complicates and changes your feel for the mechanics of each posture. Now you really begin to learn where your hands and feet should be at any one time, how to get them there using taiji principles and how to relax "under pressure." One aspect of the form to consider is that it was designed by a right-handed person and many of the individual postures are not performed leading with the other side in the solo practice. There is some discussion among teachers about the value of practicing all solo forms in the mirror-image manner and I will only say that balanced symmetry in an individual posture is essential; but I am not as sure of the value of doing entire forms equally well on both sides of the body.

Cal uses Rollback to control Marc’s elbow and balance. This would be a continuation of the use of Ward-off and not just a matter of grabbing Marc’s arm in mid-punch which works only with a cooperative partner. It makes more sense, especially in terms of making the most of your group practice sessions and your combative potential, to focus on developing your dominate side. People, with few exceptions, cannot learn to be ambidextrous.

Of course, this does not mean that you ignore your left side, if you are right-handed and vice-versa; only that you focus on whole-body usage that makes the most of your "strong side". In the long run, any martial skill you develop will result from internalizing the principles and a few techniques as opposed to learning many applications on a superficial level. This small arsenal can eventually become internal (or instinctive or subconscious or conditioned reflex -- call it what you like).

Squeeze is often a follow-up to Pull Back if the attacker resists that downwards pressure vigorously. Here, Cal has used the taiji principle of “if my opponent pulls, I push” to launch his counterattack with Squeeze.

One way to do this is to select a few postures from the solo form that you do particularly well or like the most and practice them on your own and with a partner and learn to effectively use sung, sticking, listening, neutralizing/yielding and counterattacking skills; rather than overusing your muscles and any size advantages you may have. By the way, don’t ever let anyone tell you that size doesn’t matter if the taiji practitioner is sufficiently “soft” and experienced at push-hands. Why do you think that they have weight ranges in almost all the martial sports competitions? Size is less relevant only if the smaller person is exceedingly talented and experienced in martial terms and the larger person isn’t!

When training, pick methods that cover attacks from the most common angles and from both sides, If you can eventually make them work while being attacked with some speed and power than you're on the right track. On a stylistic level, each posture has a relatively simple interpretation as a defense against either being struck or grabbed; however, remember that there are many possible applications of any given posture. What you do will depend on how skillful you are and what attack is used against you as well as the angle of attack. As in all aspects of taiji, it is much easier to talk about practicing applications than it is to do them effectively.

A Moment in Press Forward/Part One: Cal Sits Back to stop Marc’s two-handed attack while pressing down slightly on Marc’s arms before following Marc’s resistance to that downward pressure to use the technique of Press Forwards.

MAKING CONTACT One essential aspect of such training is striking a focus mitt or shield and/or heavy bag to learn how to use your breath and your intention to strike without hurting your own arm or knocking yourself backwards from the impact when you hit something aside from air. This also has the benefit of training the person holding the mitt for you to absorb the power of the blow on their hand, arm and structure.

A Moment in the tactic called Press Forward/Part Two: Cal has re-attacked and this will be particularly effective if Marc pulled back and stiffened slightly when Cal deflected his initial attack. This can be delivered with a “pushing” or “striking” energy depending on the severity of the attack and the skill level of the taiji practitioner.

If you strike badly and stiffen up while doing so there will be less real impact on the mitt or you will bounce off; similarly, the person holding the mitt gets used - albeit in a limited manner -- to the stress of sudden violent contact. The person holding the mitt must fight the natural tendency in the beginning to pull the mitt away from the oncoming fist or palm strike. One area in which many people fall short is the tendency to hold the head at a funny angle while training; although this is usually only a problem in those modern taiji and kung fu classes in which there is no longer even a pretense of making contact. Even the dullest student quickly learns how to hold their head properly after being hit there, with or without control, a few times. As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, the same practice will also teach you the pragmatic reasons that the traditionalists suggested that you keep the tip of the tongue behind the front teeth and the jaw closed. It isn't just about qi flow!

Finally, It is important to practice applications in a variety of ways: practicing striking and kicking the air at a variety of paces; hitting a focus mitt held by a partner and/or a heavy bag so that you learn how important it is to have the right shape to your wrist and fist or palm when striking and how to kick something without knocking yourself over in the process. I continue to be amazed by those who equate punching the air, no matter how quickly they do it, with having developed great skill. Punching or striking with the whole body can only be learned from someone who knows how to hit you quickly, precisely and with full body weight at a variety of ranges. Its not just about speed, its also about getting your mass into motion effectively to support the speed on your arms and legs. EIGHT ESSENTIAL POSTURES TRAINED AS GRAB RELEASES The following are the postures that you will often train in during the group classes and I have listed them in the order in which they are practiced with a partner in terms of starting from a formal static grab: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Single Ward-off Wave Hands Withdraw to Press Downwards Repulse Monkey Chop with Fist Fair Lady Works the Shuttle Play the P’ipah Brush Knee

An effective grab can be a good attack if it lets you get control of the person's wrist for an immediate follow-up control of that arm; or distracts him, even momentarily, for an immediate follow-up strike. Of course, you have to safely get into close-range to do this and it's easiest to do any of this in a classroom setting. However, on the street, shoving or grabbing is often used to test a potential victim or intimidate him or her. I’m not talking about complicated formal wrist grappling and twisting maneuvers as these work fine when you have already caused pain or started the process of being in control; it works less well, or not at all, if you opponent resists with any real martial skill. I have seen very few ch'in-na or aikido or jujitsu experts in action who were convincing in their ability to put a lock onto someone who knows what they are doing when they attack outside of the usual "let teacher demonstrate how good he or she is" scenarios. On the other hand, any good martial arts training is difficult to do safely and that all methods are compromised to a certain extent by having to do them that way. so I have also chosen some of the applications for their relative safety when people of different skill levels must practice together. These postures can be done a variety of ways depending on how skillful your and your partner are and whether or not you have the skill to counter whatever he or she may throw at you as a follow-up method to the initial simple grab.

The Traditional Two-Person Applications Set Erle Montaigue calls his version of this martial exercise, Large San-sau and the Chinese characters mean literally "free hands" or spontaneous, unrehearsed fighting; but for many months, if not years, this is very much a formal and choreographed exercise rather than a spontaneous exchange.

From Left to Right and from top to bottom: Cal uses the defensive move of Peng/Hinge to stop Marc’s punch and then steps forward while checking Marc’s elbow to strike across his throat and knock him backwards over his front leg.

As I said in an earlier chapter, with proper instruction and long-term effort, the long, slow form can become a meditation of the highest order as well as a way of practicing the martial basics of movement and posture -- once you have some idea of what each posture actually means in martial terms. By contrast, the two-person application form is a more challenging test of being calm that also provides valuable lessons in distance and timing which are two martial attributes that must be understood if your combative skills are to have any validity. If you can go fast while exchanging blows as you counter the other person’s attacks then you are making some progress at martial relaxation and doing so is also a good exercise in continuity and endurance. There is a fair amount of controversy over who invented this form and such discussions are often heated as well as pointless. My own feeling is that whoever really invented it was a genius and if you are fortunate enough to have access to one of the few surviving good martial versions of it -- count your blessings. As far as I am concerned, students who study this demanding exercise need solid basic martial skills and the willingness to risk a few bruises to benefit from their training. A common phenomena finds two students working just a little too far apart from each other -- at extreme arm’s length as it were. This is certainly safer for the participants but also makes it harder to mimic the close-in nature of real fighting for which a good two-person exercise should prepare you. This, of course, is a common problem with two-person sets in any martial training: to what extent do you compromise personal safety for the students to make the training relevant both to the art and to what actually happens when two people fight. To train relatively safely, pay attention to the following points: • many of the defensive methods will only work easily when you learn to move away from the incoming force only as much as necessary rather than "running away" from it; • most of what seem to be pulling movements are really ”snappy” downward strikes but be very careful when training with a partner as you can injure the joints in the limb that you are yanking on; and/or give the person a mild case of whiplash or, with way too much force, cause knockout (the whole idea in a martial sense.) if you do it excessively and he or she is excessively stiff. • learn the individual techniques by counting them as "One" for the defensive aspect, then "Two" for the offensive aspect; but remember that the majority are really one action when done well -- and a few postures are always done on a one-count right from the beginning.

• exhaling with a sound can help you to keep from becoming needlessly breathless. However, do not "ha" sound too loudly as you may use more power/speed than you wanted and hurt yourself (ie., hyper-extending your limbs) or your partner or scare the cat if you are practicing alone at home! • eventually you should be able to do this form at a variety of speeds and intensities and it is essential that you not lose sight of the goal of learning to apply internal-style martial sensitivity -- not just thump each other or do a little dance together. Meaningful choreography implies that both players “pay attention” no matter how quickly or slowly they may practice together. Whatever you call this form -- Large San-sau or the Yang Fast Set or the Yang Secret Fighting Form or the 88 Posture Application set -- it can be a valuable addition to your taiji practice -- a fast Yang to compliment the slower Yin of the slow form. Oh, and as a training bonus, while practicing it you also get to do many of the postures on the mirror-image side of the body (e.g., Single Whip with the right foot leading) Sticky Hands (Chi-sau) The Chinese characters mean literally "sticky hands" and the idea is to use a variety of methods and footwork to successfully attack and defend while always keeping at least one hand in contact with your partner's arm(s). Wing Chun uses this form of training as well although the actual exercise looks quite different because of stylistic reasons even though the martial goal remains the same: to practice in a semispontaneous manner while under enough pressure to train skills that might work against an actual attacker. I normally approach this exercise in two ways: • as a fixed-step choreography in which each person learns to shift in coordination with their partner’s movements while attempting to remain in contact with each other’s forearms while using Brush-Knee, Wave Hands, and Withdraw To Push. Remember to always go back to circling the arms after each successful controlled attack or defense or switch smoothly from one type of structured push-hands to another and back to Chi-sau. • as a moving ‘anything goes” exercise in which each partner attempts to strike the other while remaining in meaningful contact with each other. In the beginning, do not use kicks and only use light contact on your intended target to "score". Eventually, you can use kicks, grappling and full-contact to the torso. if you have a padded floor, the requisite falling skills and a tough skin. Chi-sau is really an unstructured push-hands. When done by two skillful partners who are not too dissimilar in size,, the speed and intensity can approach real fighting without being too dangerous. In fact, it is as close to free sparring as many traditional Yang taiji schools will go. It has been my experience that those students who excel at Chi-sau are not always those who have excelled at the more basic push-hands methods. In fact, quite often those who naturally take to freestyle push-hands are those who don’t relate as easily to structured push-hands.

This is becoming an exceedingly rare practice in many modern Yang-style curriculums and I was fortunate in that Allan Weiss had focussed on this style of training when studying with Lee Shiu-pak so that I had a solid foundation in it before I actually learned many of the more basic traditional training methods with Erle Montaigue who also taught this more advanced method.

A Moment in Chi-sau; Although it is limited in that the participants remain in contact; an experienced pair of students can use a variety of hand and foot techniques while moving about fairly freely to sharpen their appreciation of distance & timing skills.

I also suspect that those few students who take to Chi-sau most easily are those who have some previous experience in rougher forms of martial play (ie., Judo, Jujitsu, Chinese or Western wrestling, Wing Chun etc.) rather than in the more structured forms of two-person training. Should I remind you one last time that you cannot fully develop any martial skills (Yang -style or otherwise) if you don’t have some experience with freestyle and spontaneous interactions with partner(s) at your level who challenge you with some real commitment and skill and attack and defend in an unrehearsed manner! Stop-and-go two-person training is an intermediate level of skill at best; it cannot prepare you for self-defense in isolation.

Free-Fighting (San-sau) Though not with the gritty realism of boxing and mixed martial arts competitions that are really only appropriate to younger professional athletes, San-sau comes closer to combat then the “point-sparring” games of tag common to modern martial arts clubs or even of Chi-sau which is played while in constant arm contact. San-sau can be practiced in several ways: • as I mentioned earlier, it is the eventual logical expression of the Large San Sau form when to practitioners of similar experience practice together and use some power and speed and improvise instead of strictly following the choreographed sequence; • both participants move relatively slowly while one participant takes the attacker role and tries to touch the other’s torso or head/neck; they can move both around in the circle (which has roughly a five foot diameter); but the person with the defensive role must not leave it. He or she must keep the person playing the attacker from touching them in a vital area while countering with an appropriate feigned attack; • take turns being in the center or simply alternate roles and use controlled contact to the torso as well as continuing to attack and defend as long as a particular attack is countering only with contact to the attacking limb. In any of the above, the goal remains to keep your balance while destroying your partner's and stopping his or her attacks while launching and ‘scoring” your own. As an alternative way to practice, one student acts as an attacker (with or without protective martial body armour) and attacks with full power so that the other person must respond similarly as opposed to going though the motions. It is important to be be careful, though as even quality protective gear won't necessarily stop full-power striking, especially if the person in the protective suit or equipment is shorter and lighter in weight than the attacker. TRADITIONAL WEAPONS TRAINING While any such training would seem to have little relevance in an age of guns, smart bombs and biological terrorism, they remain important tools for refining your understanding of the the body mechanics inherent in a good style of taijiquan. I believe that it is important to develop a minimal understanding of the solo form and martial usage for at least one of these weapons for anyone who is serious about training in the martial side of the art. The range of weaponry available in a traditional style of taijiquan includes doubleedged straight swords that are primarily precision slicing tools; a single-edged chopping type of curved broadsword as well as the whipping and clubbing power of the long staff and the flickering stabbing cuts of the long spear.

In recent years, folding fan and cane forms have been invented and added to some curriculums. I am not a particular fan of fans as improvised weapons but a sturdy cane is a different matter. It also is true for any expert that any implement or weapon -even a folding fan -- becomes an extension of the user's whole body power and not something just held in one hand. In terms of overall practicality to modern selfdefense, I don’t doubt that techniques using a stout piece of wood of about five feet in length is certainly adaptable to practical self-defense. You’re more likely to be able to get hold of a broomstick, piece of pipe, tree branch or umbrella if you are being mugged by an armed attacker than to suddenly find a sword, broadsword or spear! Any weapon form practice needs lots of space for indoor practice -- an important consideration as with any of the more traditional solo forms. There's literally no point in starting to learn how to use a weapon if you cannot practice for lack of indoor training space -- remember winter? Practicing in a park is one option but this isn't the Orient and if you are planning to practice in public or even in your own backyard, you'll need a fair bit of privacy or at the least, understanding neighbours. Several of my students have reported over the years having the police arrive to question them while they were practicing in public places because some reported that "some guy is going crazy in the park". _____________

While I have always focussed on his short-staff curriculum, Erle Montaigue teaches sword, broadsword and spear forms as well as self-defense against knives. See one of his other representatives for live training in these or his website for information on his video and dvd self-instructional media. _____________ The Short Staff The short staff solo and application forms that I learned from Erle Montaigue use a stick that is measured individually for each practitioner to come up to the height of that person’s armpit from the ground. I have found that the average adult can use a Japanese Jo (approximately 50 inches) as the quality of the wood these are made from is usually preferable to what can be cut to length from the pieces of doweling available at a hardware or home renovation store. Erle has taken a lot of flak over the years over his short staff forms as no-one in the West had ever heard of this before he came along. Then, more recently, other experts started talking about short staff forms in the internal arts and because they were Chinese experts from the Mainland it suddenly became okay to believe in their existence! His solo and application stick forms are very challenging due to the extraordinary number of techniques, the physical complexity of some of the moves, not to mention the amount of free floor space that it takes to practice. I practiced them regularly for a decade and miss being able to do so more than most weapons forms that I have learned and discarded over the years.

I don’t teach these anymore for those reasons and partly because I can’t demonstrate the many jumping movements any longer because of my artificial right hip. Instead, I have shortened the original sets and teach these simplified versions to my few senior students as it takes much less time to teach a basic competence and also less freespace is needed to practice. My hope is that those who learn my simplified versions will make the effort, at some point, to learn the original versions from Erle or from one of his other instructors or, failing those options, his instructional videos. Training tips: • It is essential to remember in all aspects of weapons training that the person holding the weapon and not just the weapon itself should be your real concern. • When practicing applications, don’t stare at the other person’s staff as you will likely increase and not shorten your reaction time. In addition, if the other person can engage and stop your weapon for a moment with his own, he may well try to kick or knee you or strike you with a free hand or even a head-butt. • For attacking purposes, the staff is usually held with at least half of the shaft ahead of the lead hand although there are also defensive postures that use the stick with the hands positioned so that you have three equal lengths with your two hands as the dividing points. • Unlike the traditional edged weapons, the staff is often taken over the head, as such defensive moves are frequent and can vary from blocking an overhand strike down to your head to setting up a throw if the opponent tries to grasp the shaft and twist it out of your grip. • There are attacking movements in which both hands are held quite close together at one end of the staff and while this can increase your reach suddenly to confound an opponent, it also means that your weapon will take longer to retrieve to a more secure grip. These thrusting actions are done with a screwing action forward and back and this is an essential aspect of traditional staff and spear work. Twisting forward increases penetration. • Twisting in the opposite direction, as you retract a thrust, assists in snatching back your weapon if the opponent is able to grab the shaft. If you were doing this retrieval action with a spear, the sharp edges on both sides of a Chinese spearhead would sever or injure the hand(s) trying to grapple or immobilize the wooden shaft. • Some strikes will have a downwards pushing or clubbing quality to their momentum; some will have a more horizontal “snapping” quality that is aimed at the lead hand holding the other person’s weapon to hopefully make him or her lose their grip. By the way, that’s why it is so important to learn how to open and reposition the lead hand on your stick and not just always clutch the wood with both hands.

• Assuming that your weapon is both strong and flexible, you should find that there is often a shaking quality to the business end of a thrust or swing, and that this is considered a good sign among practitioners. A good staff was often made of waxwood or seasoned rattan as both are very strong, but flexible woods. In fact, I have heard of short staff sets in the Chinese systems being called “whip” forms because of this relative flexibility.

A defensive posture in the solo stick form.

Cal then counters initially with a low kick. It is always important in two-person training to exercise restraint but particularly when practicing with weapons. It is human enough in such sessions to get angry with a partner if they seem to keep making you look or feel foolish in terms of your efforts relative to theirs. But it is particularly dangerous when you are armed to get angry! Learn from your mistakes rather than just blaming your partner or getting irritated with yourself. In addition, don’t avoid practicing with someone just because you find them a less-desirable partner for whatever reason -- it’s good training in patience and perseverance to work with those with whom you are less comfortable.

FINAL THOUGHTS FOR THIS CHAPTER One of the reasons that the few real Yang style taiji experts that you may meet make almost everything that they practice and teach look like "magic" is the depth of their skill in their main art as well as the decades of experience in a variety of martial arts training and/or qigong. Oh, and many otherwise good students fail to heed their teachers’ advice to practice, even if it is only for an interim period. Stillness and movement really do compliment each other from an internal perspective. Here's another conundrum for the experienced practitioner: martial training without regularly practicing a long solo form makes it difficult to understand the health-bringing and meditative side of that art. Focusing on martial techniques and methods can make you a better fighter but is liable to harm your body as you get older and does little for your emotional development. Taijiquan should bring greater peace and wisdom as the years go by and part of that maturation process is the result of correct methods done correctly! However, even as one makes progress and learns to understand most, if not all of the crucial issues in their favorite art, it is always wise to periodically revisit the basics of that art. You will probably find, as I have, that it is often the small details that are the ones that bring the most benefit if you are attentive and disciplined in your training. The final step, after many years, is to simplify what one practices regularly and that applies both to the number of systems and the number of training methods and forms from each ot those systems. We’re here training together to help each other learn not boost our egos artificially. It is also important to remember that, without compassion, strength easily becomes intolerance and arrogance; without strength, fears of one kind or another tend to rule our lives.

V _____________ ADVANCED MARTIAL CONSIDERATIONS It was commonly suggested that an effective Chinese martial artist had to develop four sets of combative skills: kicking (ti) for long-range, punching (da) for medium range, as well as wrestling (shuaijaio) and joint-locking () for grappling or close range. These four categories mutually support and and each can also defeat an inadequate expression of the other. Unfortunately, it is rare nowadays to find a taiji teacher who is equally effective in all these aspects. I know I’m not and almost none of the experts that I have met are either. In terms of building self-defense skills, it is sufficient to be good at one or two of these categories while having some practical counters against someone who tries to use the other ranges and skills; but, in a perfect martial world, you would understand all of these. These aspects of the Yang style are not easy to learn -- on any level -- and it bears repeating, that of the three basic requirements for building martial skill: competent instruction, aptitude and persistence, that the first and the last criteria are the most essential to success -- and the hardest to come by! In this chapter, I will touch on some of the advanced and/or controversial aspects of learning the Yang-style in a martial context. MARTIAL SENSITIVITY AND STICKING One of the frustrating aspects of developing real martial sensitivity is that it is essential for instructor and students alike to remember that such training methods should create practical skills. This goes hand-in-hand with realizing that any skill in neutralizing and yielding in a classroom setting does not automatically bring real combative skills against an aggressive, much less skillful stranger. In this regards, being flexible and having an immovable root can be a liability if your partner doesn't play by the rules to which you are accustomed. The truth of this is hinted at in the rhyming couplet quoted in “Yang Family Secret Transmissions” as translated by Thomas Wiley which reads as “sticking is not good; not-sticking is not good” and there’s a whole list of such apparent contradictions as compiled by a senior student of Yang Ban-hou. I think that this should be interpreted as meaning that the ability to stick to an attacker can be a liability if that‘s all a practitioner can do!

Conversely this same statement also implies that ignoring the martial necessity to “stick-to and not let go” when such is necessary means that you are no longer doing things in a taiji-like manner. But, how can it be essential to do both when they seem at cross-purposes? I think the answer is in an old Zen Buddhist adage: “If your hand is always closed, it becomes a deformity and you can’t do your daily tasks; but, if your hand is always open, it also becomes a deformity and you can’t do your daily tasks!” In other words, be versatile. In self-defense terms, it is essential to know where your opponent is -- and not just with your eyes. Developing the ability to remain in controlled contact with your attacker is essential for being able to deliver your counterattacks while neutralizing what the other person is attempting to do to you. In the beginning, you start to understand combative sticking by remaining in relatively gentle and structured contact with your partner’s forearms, as in push-hands. However. I have noticed that many students are initially obsessed with sticking to my arms with their hands even when it is the least useful thing to do. So, they will quite often do their best to make contact with the limb that I am using as a distraction rather than waiting to see if they are in danger from it (“if my opponent doesn’t move -- neither do I”) or simply attack me as their defensive measure if they are within a range to do so (“if my opponent moves, then I get there first”). Here’s where the most difficult application of sticking becomes essential -- the ability to remain close enough to counterattack while neutralizing an attack by “grinding” or “rubbing” through it with the power of your legs and spine more than the power of the arms and shoulders as well as using the contact to affect the attacker’s balance. This is not the easiest thing to do; but is more likely to succeed on a self-defense level than just attaching yourself to your opponent’s arm and hoping that they get tired of attacking before you get disconnected. Greater skill and experience eventually leads to your being automatically able to maintain the correct distance between yourself and your partner at all times whether on not you are touching the person’s arms. Similarly, if you don’t have some experience in wrestling or judo or jiujitsu, it is easy to ignore the fact that if your opponent is close enough to touch you on the torso you are also at risk of being grappled or thrown. Dealing with contact means learning to stick and neutralize with your whole body and not just with your hands and arms. Erle Montaigue is often castigated by modern taiji people for being too direct and martial and seeming to discard the time-honoured concepts of sticking and yielding. However, it seems to me that the skills he demonstrates are the purest forms of sticking and yielding as they depend on timing, balance, sensitivity to movement and coordination; and, not just on reading telegraphed body movements because your hand or forearm is in contact with the other person’s arm.

This brings us back to the issue (I know that I keep harping on this but it is an issue that gets glossed over in modern taiji) that most such practitioners in old China when taijiquan was still primarily about fighting were, for the most part, experienced martial artists who already understood the mechanics of timing and distance and were used to vigorous physical contact. For students such as these, martial sensitivity drills were designed to teach just that and were not designed to teach the fundamentals of fighting. Nowadays, of course, most students of taiji have little or no relevant fighting experience to bring to their sensitivity training so it is less useful unless they also are taught the martial basics either beforehand or concurrently to the sensitivity training. Taiji can work in combative terms -- though you do not often meet competent expressions of that side of the art -- and is certainly "relatively soft" but that softness is useless unless you also have whole-body power and a wide experience using it against a variety of attacks from a variety of body types. Push-hands and sensitivity drills are only part of the martial package, not the whole thing. Any application of force is relative in terms of it's softness: are you 'softer' than the opponent who is ridiculously stiff and telegraphs his strikes; are you 'softer' in your response in terms of deflecting or counterattacking rather than doing stiff, 'blocking before striking', techniques or just barging in to throw your weight around; are you 'softer' in terms of your attitudes and your approach to defensive attacks. Effective martial methods always work best when done in a 'mysterious way' (i.e., as the result of much quality practice). The best way to get any understanding of this is a good training partner, or two, who understand that cooperative training means neither overusing brute force nor learning stunt fight choreography. MARTIAL BREATHING The "hen" and "ha" training was long considered an oral secret only transmitted to family members or senior students in the taiji tradition. The "hen" sound is the gentle, rather drawn-out, sound you make when inhaling deeply and fully. For self-healing purposes, using “natural” breathing, you inhale through the nose and any resulting sound should be almost inaudible. The lower torso inflates gently in a roundish manner in response to this kind of inhalation. The subsequent exhalation is also relatively quite and gentle and through the nose and/or mouth. However, for martial purposes, it is important to remember that the “hen” sound comes from a “Reverse” breath in which case the abdominal area feels as if it is compressing the air you inhale in a more cylindrical up-and-down inflation. By contrast, the "ha" sound occurs when the tongue drops onto the lower palate and, for self-healing purposes (e.g., a cleansing breath), is normally done in a relatively loud and drawn-out manner. For martial purposes, the "ha" sound is sharp, sudden, and triggers an explosive out rush of air while the abdominal area expands suddenly.

Even though the mouth must open enough to expel the air, it is important to keep the teeth and lips in some contact and not let the tip of the tongue protrude out of bad martial habit. There are several martial reasons for using the "ha" sound: • it focuses the physical effort of the muscles to provide stability and aid in the absorption of blows to the torso; • it can increase the power of your strikes as well as your reaction speed in a significant manner; • and, the sound itself has shock value against your opponent, often even if he or she is half-expecting it to happen. The use of a powerful cry to augment the power of a punch is nothing new. However, most modern martial arts no longer take such training seriously or only make a perfunctory use of sound to accompany techniques. By the way, real martial use of sound has to slightly lead the physical expression of the "explosion" -- not accompany it. Like the eyes the voice acts as a mediator between the spirit or intention and the qi to lead the hands to the target. When first exposed to this aspect of training, I found it very difficult to get used to the concept of making noise as part of my martial methods. In general, women and men both tend to resist really letting go of their fear of being noisy. Eventually, the letting-go process will include being able to "ha" from the very center of the lower Dantian. Like any other aspect of your training, you'll only by able to understand this martial usage by practicing correctly. You'll need relative privacy, so that you do not give your family or any pets in the house heart failure. Make sure that the shouts are short and sharp and come from the lower torso and not from the upper chest or the throat. do not do too many at one time initially, as you can get a sore throat if you make them too loud and do not get the mechanism of doing so quite right. Eventually the sound can issue as a relatively quiet “hiss” or “grunt” and doesn’t have to be loud unless you are using it to startle your opponent ... or scare the cat! FA-JING This way of striking is rarely discussed openly in the traditional versions of the Yang style; and, it is also true that many experts say that excessive fa-jing training is dangerous even if one knows how to execute such strikes effortlessly. I know that Erle Montaigue has often said that eventually your forms should only have a "hint" of power when playing them routinely. Of course, this all supposes, that one learns how to do fa-jing properly or that you can get two experts to agree on how to define it! Unfortunately, few experts, much less their students, can strike without winding-up and still generate effective power over the short distances that hand-to-hand combat normally occupies. Real fa-jing, also sometimes called “short power” feels sharp, sudden and disorienting to the recipient.

Conversely, the body of the one doing it appears supple and grounded as well as relaxed, balanced, and calm before, during, and after the delivery of that strike. Real manifestations of these kinds of skills also involve the use of the mind, the eyes and the breath in specific ways. I tell my intermediate level of martial students to focus on precision and timing, to learn the basic skills solo with only a moderate amount of speed and then practice them full-pace on a striking mitt or heavy bag. Only when there is some skill in both contexts should they advance to practicing techniques with each other. This is particularly important when those of different weights, heights and skill levels are practicing together martially. When you learn a martial art that might work combatively, there has to be the risk while training, but most injuries are actually caused by one student not paying attention to what they are doing or going too fast. Most of the time, modern taiji practitioners may have speed but no whole-body power or not enough experience actually hitting things. The true test for any method of punching is to first do it effectively against a focus mitt, makiwara, heavy bag etc. When you can deliver real force on those surfaces; then practice against a target that moves, bobs, evades and finally try to apply it against an opponent who either is used to being hit or who wears protective equipment or knows how to ‘take a punch” As in any aspect of efficient training, learning fa-jing is as simple as having a competent instructor for a role model who can actually do the strike, as opposed to telling you how marvelously his or her teacher did it. Having found such a role model, you have to develop the necessary physical skills (i.e.,a healthy,supple body, proper body mechanics and conditioning, elasticity of the tendons and muscles). By the way, being able to hit this way with the whole-body doesn’t guarantee that you have found a “magic weapon” as some students seem to expect. Fa-jing is one aspect of a package of skills that must be mastered to have anything that could work in a violent situation. DIM-MAK This refers to the martial use of the acupuncture points to cause temporary or permanent damage to the qi flow as well as the body. It is also often called pressure point striking in North America. On a pragmatic level, the value of striking or applying pressure to these points often lies in affecting arterial blood flow, dislocating bones, tearing muscles and ligaments and/or traumatizing major nerves. These are all aspects of training that are important to understand for the serious martial artist but such martial skills are hard to attain in a realistic context and some of the methods are so harsh that they have little place in ethical self-defense. Lethal force is rarely appropriate in a modern setting. If you train solely to automatically attack lethal points or the throat or eyes, it would be astounding if you didn’t reflexively overreact if frightened in a situation that didn't warrant such a reaction.

Conversely, it is also rather useless to memorize a number of acupuncture points and practice striking them on a willing partner unless you already have considerable combative skill. No one on the street would stand around and let you hit them the way you will be able to manipulate a classmate while learning the basic usage of these techniques! To his credit, unlike many of those who have taught workshops and produced videos and books in the English language on point-striking, Erle Montaigue has gone out-ofhis-way to help debunk the myths and demonstrate how important it is to not practice such tactics in a haphazard or martially inept manner. Since learning a little about dim-mak, I have often seen televised mixed martial arts and boxing matches in which the classic knockout and death points are hit with stunning power with no visible affect. Fighters are also routinely struck on very painful points on the torso, arms and legs and,again, to no visible affect. The argument as to why this seems to have little effect is often that these are trained fighters and that an untrained opponent would feel the effects immediately, which may have some truth. To be fair, it is also true that sometimes I have seen boxers knocked out with what looks like a relatively light tap and, in replay, the blow is shown to have landed on classic dim-mak points on the head. In any case, it is also true that an understanding of the body's weaknesses -- whether from a western medical or traditional dim-mak perspective --can certainly be an asset in self-defense. It just isn't as easy as studying a book or video or attending a workshop. As with understanding fa-jing, studying this aspect of taiji is a bit like getting a graduate diploma -- you better have the equivalents of a high school and under graduate diploma in combative terms! SELF-DEFENSE Those training together in a friendly manner should be doing techniques and methods that are recognizably Yang-style once the practitioners have a lot of skill and experience and competent instruction. On the other hand, Yang style fighting against a violent and/or skillful opponent would probably look rather sloppy and without structure by comparison. Learning to fight -- like anything else -- is best achieved by starting at the bottom and learning simple then intermediate and finally by complicated skills. For example. if a student has never made a fist then they need to learn to do so before they can be taught how to throw a punch, much less defend against one. If you introduce stylistic variations as well (i.e., the thumb must be positioned just-so, etc.) then even more time and effort is needed on the part of everyone involved. This is structure. However, at some point down the road, in self-defense terms, the student must have understood martial structure enough to understand how to adapt spontaneously to the attacks of someone who doesn’t punch properly in stylistic terms; but who is still able to hit them effectively. In other words, to properly understand structure in martial terms, you also have to understand how to adapt to a lack of the same structure (or any structure for that matter) on the part of an attacker.

Of course, to be such a paragon of self-defense you must also avoid long-term physical problems that might result from training badly. So it becomes essential to train regularly, moderately and scientifically (in terms of modern Western sports medicine). This implies being well-rounded in the sense of warming-up body, stretching, training both solo and with partners regularly and moderately. cooling down following those workouts as well as getting sufficient aerobic and strengthbuilding exercises into your regular routine to supplement your martial training. Fortunately, few of us will ever have to use our martial skills for anything more demanding than friendly practice. In addition, NO martial training can guarantee that you will automatically be able to successfully defend yourself against any aggressor. Of course the real problem with hitting people in such a context is that most are willing to hit you back. A few will fold with a relatively light tap; some will need power, accuracy and repeated blows while you may have to take a few in return; and there is always the risk that you will hit someone with "everything you got" and they just smile at you. You cannot always tell by looking at someone just what category they will fall into so It's much better to grow-up as a person and learn to avoid or stop such situations from getting ugly as that is what is really best form of self-defense in most cases. However, in the event that you are unable to do so, your training should give you a "fighting chance" and, properly taught and practiced, taijiquan is also an insurance policy that can also bring the dividends of physical and emotional good health. WHY MIXED MARTIAL ARTS FIGHTS SHOULD BE REQUIRED VIEWING FOR TAIJI PRACTITIONERS! Watching is not necessarily the same thing as “seeing”; but, even so, recreational taiji and martial arts practitioners should make the effort to watch a number of Ultimate Fighting Championship© (UFC) or mixed-martial arts (MMA) style competitions. Live is better but may be distasteful to some or prohibitive in terms of travel and cost for others. Watching a recorded match on television or a computer monitor is probably more convenient for most. The latter format is less exciting than watching such events live (which may be a plus for the more genteel); but the former has the advantage of allowing the viewer to re-play and study crucial moments in such interactions in slowmotion. So what can the average taijiquan or recreational martial artist learn from watching the violent, bloody and barbaric events between young, highly trained and motivated athletes? • kicking is rarely effective except to the legs as a way of hindering the other fighter’s balance and leg strength; on the other hand, knee strikes often can end or set-up the end of a fight; • those fighters who understand getting knocked down (i.e. grappling or wrestling) as well as they understand striking are more likely to win than someone who can only fight on his feet or on his back;

• the ability to absorb, neutralize and ignore a great deal of pain and punishment is often the crucial factor in winning; • overly defensive fighters rarely win and good technical skills will be a real asset; but only if all other factors are roughly equal. In particular, the bigger man with the longer reach has a definite advantage unless the smaller opponent is a much better and more experienced fighter. • when all factors are roughly equal, and sometimes even when they are not, the fighter who is determined to win and stays cool is the most likely to succeed. More specific to recreational martial arts and taiji training, lets look at some of the common myths you still often hear in taiji and kung fu schools and than compare that to what happens in the Octagon or in the ring: “Size doesn’t matter when one person uses real internal skill” The reality would suggest that when two combatants are well-matched in terms of size and fighting experience; the contest will go to the more conditioned athlete, especially if he is more aggressive; on the other hand, the larger, fighter -- if skills levels are equal -- will normally win due to greater weight to the strikes and or the superior reach of his arms and legs; “They can’t do the deadly techniques that I am trained in and are not allowed to attack the vital points in any sporting match that I would use on the street.” There is some truth to this for the very skillful recreational martial artist but it is also true that many people who fight for “fun” or because they have to to survive their neighbourhood are just as good, if not better, at accessing vital points as those who practise only in a classroom setting. Of course, the vital points that they access are those which are most vulnerable from a physical point-of-view but does that really matter in practical terms! By the way, fajing in the hands of someone like Erle Montaigue is such an impressive skill to witness or be hit with because of his decades of training and varied martial experience; the average practitioner of fajing based on a few videos or workshops is fooling themselves badly, if they think that being able to punch fast and hit a dim-mak point is everything in terms of countering a committed attack of any kind. “Taiji is a soft martial art so my yielding and neutralizing skills will allow me to prevent anyone from hitting me.” Yielding and neutralizing are essential aspects of any effective martial art and each will interpret those skills in light of the skill and preferences of the various teachers. On the other hand, being soft will work against you if you depend on it to work in the same way with an attacking stranger as it does with the training partners that you are used to working with during class time.

Real yielding is an active process that depends on counter-attacking in some way and not just in relaxing into your feet so that you cannot be easily moved about by someone pushing on you. There is more to life than being a great fighter and age and temperament are often stumbling blocks to developing well-rounded defensive arts. It is also true that a little skill can save your bacon in the kind of self-defense that is usually required when one is an adult. It is also easy to over-react to provocation and having the relaxed balance and calmness that is part of traditional internal training can go a long way to preventing a great deal of misery; but, let’s not turn up our collective noses at the fighting ability of these hard style athletes either! FINAL THOUGHTS FOR THIS CHAPTER The topics that I have just discussed briefly are not separable one from the other: to be able to defend yourself adequately you need to be able to neutralize and yield where appropriate (being “sensitive’ in a martial context); you have to be able to take the fight to the opponent by knowing how to strike well in taiji terms (fajing) as well as where to strike the human body to get the most “bang for your buck” (dim-mak). Doing all of the above is often sneered at by modern taiji teachers who seem to think that training in standing meditation or solo forms and, maybe, push-hands is all that is necessary to bring effective combative skills. It is often difficult to stand your ground on such issues when you are a beginner who wants to understand why you shouldn’t lift weights, do warm-ups and stretching or do cardiovascular training because you are told that “the solo form contains everything you need.” In the end, the intelligent student will take what is sound from the traditional practices that he or she studies and apply them wisely to develop and maintain a sound mind and body as well as developing combative skills.

CONCLUSION The late taiji master, Jou Tsung-hwa, said and wrote that you have to be your own teacher if you want to develop to your own full potential. With apologies for contradicting someone who had a major impact on the practice of taijiquan in North American during his lifetime, I feel that this comment may be true for a few practitioners but is also rather misleading. It certainly is essential to think deeply about whatever you are studying and, over the long-term, decide for yourself what is relevant to your needs and your capabilities. On the other hand, the average practitioner has no hope of developing real skill of any kind unless he or she has long-term competent hands-on instruction from at least one teacher who is both good at teaching as well as performing whatever is being taught. In other words, only the occasional natural genius will be able to create something meaningful out of thin air! The rest of us will have to put in much time and effort to digest the basic training before we personalize it, much less improve it. Student quality... a difficult issue indeed! Many have little real aptitude but try to get by with a strong body; or, have too much experience of varied sorts and not enough skill sorting out the principles from the details; or, have bought into the qi-manipulation and effortless aspect of modern taiji; or, have some aptitude and coast on that, never practicing or coming to class regularly enough; or, have the interest but don't have the health or youth to pursue the physical skills through the natural progression of hard to soft and back again to a new kind of hardness (needle wrapped in cotton)! Modern Yang style rarely attracts good students anymore -- I'm not sure if it is the marketing or the decades of North American reliance on well-meaning teachers like Cheng Man-ch'ing and T.T. Liang and those that followed them. "Softness" is appealing on many levels and there are too many overweight teachers like Sam in the Yang-style business and like attracts like in terms of new students. In this regard, I often have been told over the years by well-meaning or arrogant taiji i players that it is not necessary to be precise or follow a particular interpretation of the form(s) in a strict manner. Again, the attitude is that the most important thing is to have the right feeling and that the details of practice are much less important. Nonsense and wishful thinking! Those few modern experts that you meet who actually practice their taijiquan properly on a variety of levels as opposed to the many who go limply, stiffly or “creatively” through the motions of doing a solo form will tell you, without exception, that their skill is the product of long years of difficult training.

It is also essential to understand that any meaningful change through your training can only be effectively fueled by a general overhaul in your lifestyle. It is unrealistic to believe that you can continue to smoke, eat the nutritional equivalent of garbage, abuse alcohol and/or drugs, get too-little sleep, endure or provoke abusive relationships, work in an environment that stifles your body and spirit and somehow counteract that by doing a few minutes of standing meditation everyday. However, eventually through your training you may “awaken” to understanding that what you are doing is harming you. Every way, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, in which you change your lifestyle and your attitudes contributes to this process of maturing and gently accelerates a process that seems to have stopped in many people. There’s a price, though, as many of us think we want to get rid of our bad habits; but, then discover that the process of change is frightening and disorienting. Many students stop practicing standing qigong or the long, slow form just when they are on the verge of profound and beneficial changes in their overall health and lifestyles for that very reason. Radical changes in your personality and life-style can mean the loss of attitudes and habits that have, up until then, defined you as you are; it can also mean the loss of relationships as people in your life react badly or uneasily to how you are changing. But, if you persevere, perhaps much to your own surprise, you may find yourself wanting to quit smoking in a way that you may never have experienced before; or, you may find that you do not get the same number of flu attacks or colds in winter; or, it may seem gross to eat fried or fatty foods; or you may find yourself less stressed by certain things than you used to drive you up-the-wall. Taijiquan can make these and other changes happen for a variety of reasons: some of which are impossible to analyze empirically; some of which make sense from a traditional Chinese perspective and some of which make sense from a western psychological perspective. Perhaps one of the greatest problems with western science is that it seems to persist in trying to understand the universe by dissecting and examining its various aspects in relative isolation. However, this is a real problem when studying anything: the observer cannot help but change to a greater or lesser degree what he or she observes -- even if that impact is minute. In the end, the good student will train with faith and persevere until he or she starts to experience changes in their health that seem positive or until he or she is sure that the training has no relevance to their needs. Similarly, you can’t discuss the “big picture” of your life without taking into account all the elements that affect and shape that life. GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR TRAINING ON ALL LEVELS.


Michael A. Babin c.2003 [Photo by Anjela Popova]

After several years of karate, jujitsu and Preying Mantis kung fu in the early 1970s, I began studying the Yang style in Ottawa in 1975 with a succession of instructors -- the best of whom were Shirley and Steven Choi. By 1980, I was sure I knew it all and then I met Allan Weiss, a senior student of the late Lee Shiu-pak in Montreal (Master Lee had studied in Shanghai with Chen Wei-ming a senior student of Yang Cheng-fu). Allan soon shattered all my illusions about both my level of understanding of Yangstyle taiji and my martial expertise. Allan certified me to teach taijiquan in 1985. For the next few years, I taught my own classes; studied Jeet Kune Do and Wing Chun Do as well as taijiquan and wrote articles for a variety of martial arts magazines. I also traveled in Canada and the USA to do workshops and training camps with a variety of experts such as Eric Chew, Sam Masich, Yang Ywing-ming, Liang Shou-yu, William C.C. Chen and Carol Mancuso. Each in their own way, helped me realize that I still didn't know as much as I had assumed. I had been corresponding with Erle Montaigue since the late 1980s and invited him to Ottawa to do a workshop the first time that he toured North America in 1990. As a result of that experience, I decided to "start over" through his instructional videos and subsequent workshops in Ottawa and New Jersey in the early 90s. He eventually certified me to the Yang-style (1992) and later baguazhang (1994). I have taught short-term courses at a variety of local community and fitness centers as well as running the Tai Chi Studio at the same location in downtown Ottawa since 1997. My first two books Tai Chi Chuan: The Martial Side and Power Taiji, (the latter cowritten with Erle Montaigue), were published by Paladin Press in 1992 and 1995 respectively. My latest, and final book, on the Yang style was released by the same publisher in July of 2007.

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