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

Wuji Zhuang: The Self-Knowledge Stance

Wuji zhuang is the weakest stance in Chinese martial arts. Standing straight and still with their arms down at their sides, the practitioner of the wuji stance is in no position to deliver an attack, or to defend against one. They are sitting ducks, utterly unable to resist force from any of the four directions. So why is wuji zhuang so esteemed among high hands, and considered an important part of training in taijiquan, yiquan, and other arts?

The practice of wuji zhuang, or standing meditation, releases the hidden power of self-knowledge. Continue reading Wuji Zhuang: The Self-Knowledge Stance

What Makes a Good Kicking Warm-Up Exercise?

Last week, I attempted to describe one of my favorite lower body warm-up exercises. Online and offline feedback since then indicate that my description wasn’t as clear as I intended.

The particular choreography of this kicking exercise isn’t so important. I recommended it for its general characteristics. To explore those qualities, let’s contrast the exercise with a more common kicking drill: Continue reading What Makes a Good Kicking Warm-Up Exercise?

Become a Better Kicker With This One-Minute Exercise

Kwa
Kwa (Iliopsoas)

The best warm-up exercises do more than increase your heart rate. They build flexibility, strength, balance and coordination, in a way that is relevant and beneficial to your martial art.

Here is one of my favorite exercises for loosening the kwa, or hip region. Tim Cartmell demonstrated it at a recent seminar in Seattle. Continue reading Become a Better Kicker With This One-Minute Exercise

Fight Like You Train, Don’t Train Like You Fight

You will fight like you train, as the saying goes, and there is some truth in it. If you have never tried to apply your martial art against a fully resisting opponent, it is unlikely to work as well as you would hope. Therefore, a practical martial arts curriculum should include a variety of common attacks, drilled with realistic speed and power.

A reasonable conclusion, isn’t it? But a surprisingly popular school of thought goes much further, contending that:

You should always train as if fighting, as this is the only way to improve your fighting ability.

This is nonsense, and every martial artist should understand why. Continue reading Fight Like You Train, Don’t Train Like You Fight

Do You Make This Zhan Zhuang Mistake?

Standing Like a Tree
Yao Chengguang performs zhan zhaung

Even an exercise as simple as zhan zhuang has its subtle points, the ignorance of which may hinder your progress in wushu. Wang Xiangzhai, the founder of Yiquan and a master of zhanzhuang, said:

We must, first and foremost, avoid the use of clumsy force, in body and in mind. Using this force makes the qi stagnant. When the qi is stagnant, than the yi stops; when the yi stops, than the spirit is broken.

To be sure, this is good advice, but even the greenest student is familiar with this principle of no-force. So, instead of dwelling on that, I would like to examine a more specific problem. Continue reading Do You Make This Zhan Zhuang Mistake?

Cultivating Happiness with the Secret Smile

This horse knows the secret

Happiness does not happen to us, it happens by us.  That is, by our specific intentions.

The Secret Smile is a simple and powerful meditative technique for cultivating happiness, to improve your health, your work, your relationships and your outlook on life. To practice the Secret Smile, follow these steps:

  1. Sit quietly and relax, until you have reached an emotionally neutral state. Continue reading Cultivating Happiness with the Secret Smile

3 Ways to Make Tai Chi Form Practice More Interesting

Chen style Tai Chi Chuan practice (photo by pfctdayelise)
Chen style Tai Chi Chuan practice

Attaining competency in Tai Chi Chuan requires hundreds of hours of correct form practice, and mastery requires thousands more. One impediment to sustained practice is a lack of interest: Tai Chi forms are too boring to perform daily.

Perseverance in the face of boredom builds character; however, feelings of boredom may be a sign that your learning has stalled. To keep your practice fresh, productive and fun, try performing these variations on your standard Tai Chi forms. Continue reading 3 Ways to Make Tai Chi Form Practice More Interesting