Get a Tucking Clue: Tai Chi and Your Tailbone

Practiced properly, Tai Chi is among the most beneficial activities for improving one’s health. Unfortunately, some students misunderstand one fundamental alignment principle, resulting in collapsed and contorted postures that are more likely to injure health than restore it. The principle: tucking the tailbone.

A straightened spine is required for most Tai Chi postures, and the proper way to accomplish this is explained the Tai Chi classics. The top end of the spine should be lifted, from the head; the bottom end of the spine should be relaxed and allowed to drop.

Over time, the combined forces of intentional expansion and natural contraction (supplied by gravity) will pull the spine taut, as if suspended in the air. The musculature will automatically adjust to support this straightening—unless it is prevented from doing so. Continue reading Get a Tucking Clue: Tai Chi and Your Tailbone

Tips for a Successful Martial Arts Demonstration

Last weekend, I attended the third annual World of Martial Arts demonstration in Seattle. The event featured local Karate, Hapkido, Iaido, Tai Chi, and other groups.

Karate demonstration
Karate demonstration

As in previous years, the show had some positive qualities, and a few negative ones. In the spirit of constructive criticism, I would like to offer some suggestions to participants in future demonstrations.

  • Every spectator should have an unobstructed view of the action. Seating your audience in chairs where they cannot actually see the demonstration is obscene. If you are performing in a flat gymnasium or some other ad hoc arena, pay special attention to the seating arrangements.
  • Continue reading Tips for a Successful Martial Arts Demonstration

Why Good Listeners Make Better Learners

Born without the gift of sight, Raymond Thiberge’s disability proved to be one of his greatest strengths. 

During his lessons with expert pianists, Raymond used his refined senses of touch and hearing to compensate for his blindness.  Listening to his teachers’ instructions and following their hands, he made a critical observation that his fellow students missed.

The experts did not follow their own advice.  Continue reading Why Good Listeners Make Better Learners

Jacky Wu Jing, The Tai Chi Master

Wu Jing, The Tai Chi Master
The Tai Chi Master (太極宗師)

Have you ever wondered how the slow and graceful movements of Tai Chi could possibly be applied in a real fight? If so, this expertly choreographed movie will give you some ideas.

In The Tai Chi Master, Chinese action hero Wu Jing (a.k.a. Jacky Wu, Jason Wu) portrays real-life master Yang Lu-Chan, the founder of Yang Style Tai Chi. Here, Wu Jing re-enacts the famous tower sequence from Bruce Lee’s Game of Death. Continue reading Jacky Wu Jing, The Tai Chi Master

Four Paradoxes of Standing Meditation

Wang Xiangzhai
Wang Xiangzhai
practices
standing meditation

In 1939, Wang Xiangzhai issued a public challenge through a Beijing newspaper. His objective: to test and prove the new martial arts training system of Yiquan, a system that placed standing meditation (zhan zhuang) at its core.

Expert fighters from across China, Japan and even Europe traveled to answer Wang’s challenge. None could beat him or his senior students. His standing meditation training produced superior results in a shorter time period, when compared to methods used in boxing, Judo, and other styles of Kung Fu.

Considering the proven value of standing meditation, surprisingly few people undertake the practice today. Why is this? As Wang himself noted, the exercise is plagued by logical contradictions. Continue reading Four Paradoxes of Standing Meditation

What Every Martial Artist Should Know About Chi and TCM

Bad answers to martial training queries are inconvenient, but ultimately innocuous. If every theory and technique is tested, as common sense requires, then false information will eventually be recognized and discarded.

Bad questions are more dangerous. A bad question is one with a useless answer: there is no benefit to answering it correctly. People who ask too many bad questions find themselves hamstrung, and unable to deepen their understanding. These questions are a defense mechanism of the ego, breeding complacency and conceit.

Are references to Chinese life science—qigong and TCM, specifically—a necessary component of Chinese martial arts instruction? This subject resurfaces every few months on Internet kung fu forums. Most recently, Joanna Zorya of the Martial Tai Chi Association argues against the practice. She invokes the names of famous instructors—Tim Cartmell, Chen Zhenglei, and Hong Junsheng, to name a few—in support of her claim that talk of qi is superfluous at best, and outright deceptive at worst. Continue reading What Every Martial Artist Should Know About Chi and TCM

Three Benefits From Lifting Your Bai Hui Point

Taiji master Yang Cheng-Fu said that, without lifting your Bai Hui point, even 30 years of practice would be a waste of time. Why is this particular point so important to martial artists, and to everyone else?

The Bai Hui point, which sits on the crown of the head, is known by many different names. In acupuncture, it is identified as Du Mai 20 (百会), the point where the body’s Yang energy naturally converges. In kundalini, tantra and other Indian yogas, this point is named the Sahasrara (crown) chakra. In many esoteric traditions, Bai Hui is regarded as the gate between Man and Heaven.

Bai Hui diagram
Bai Hui is not in the middle of the head, but near the twirl of the hair.

If your Taiji practice is in line with the instructions of the old masters, then you are probably already familiar with the benefits of lifting the Bai Hui point. If, on the other hand, you do not currently practice Taiji, zhan zhuang or any other meditative discipline, here is a sampling of the benefits you can expect—benefits which exceed mere self-defense. Continue reading Three Benefits From Lifting Your Bai Hui Point

Push Hands and Competition

Push hands is an accessible abstraction of fighting. Whereas mortal combat follows no pattern and honors no rules, the push hands exercise is relatively limited in scope. Push hands practice alone will not make a top fighter, nor is it intended to do so; it focuses on specific characteristics, such as sticking and following, in order to provide a consistent and effective learning environment.

Yang Jwing-Ming
Yang Jwing-Ming demonstrates Press (Ji)

Abstractions such as the fixed step tui shou exercise are often misused, by students who do not fully understand their context within the larger Tai Chi curriculum. These students shape the exercise into something more or less than it is intended to be, diminishing its relevance and benefits, and shortchanging themselves and their training partners.

What should the pushing hands drill include, and what should it exclude? Continue reading Push Hands and Competition

Single Whip: The One True Method?

Single Whip by Cheng Man-Ching
Dan Bian (Single Whip)
by Cheng Man-Ching

Single whip is one of the signature postures of Taiji. As such, you might expect a broad agreement about its ideal characteristics: hand and stance height, incline of the back, and so on. However, no such concurrence exists among Taiji masters of the past or present.

No matter how you choose to perform single whip, you can find a famous master whose personal demonstrations support your preference. Continue reading Single Whip: The One True Method?

How to Stay Safe While Practicing at the Park

I prefer not to play Tai Chi at home. Each of the Five Directions holds an unwelcome distraction. Look left: unpaid bills. Gaze right: a pile of laundry. Whenever possible, I head to a local park instead, where the sunshine, fresh air, and vibrancy of nature provide a pleasant environment for practice.

I have practiced outside daily for years, and I would recommend it to anyone, with one caveat: you need to know how to handle your audience. Here are a few tips to keep you safe and out of trouble. Continue reading How to Stay Safe While Practicing at the Park