1. Chu Shong-tin (徐尚田)
Zeng Nailiang’s Xin style Taiji
Parry and Punch
The positive effects of Tai Chi Chuan training on balance and stability are well known. Clinical studies have shown that, with as little as a few weeks of Tai Chi practice, students are significantly less likely to fall down accidentally, inside or outside of class. From a martial arts perspective, they are also less vulnerable to trips, throws and takedowns.
Not every slow-motion exercise routine is worthy of the name Tai Chi, though. The subtle details of your performance will determine whether your practice is excellent balance training, or just marginally beneficial. Here are three adjustments to enhance your Tai Chi form practice for improved balance:
After reviewing the training methods of Qi Dao, Kumar Frantzis suggested that such material would be more precisely labeled as shen gong, or spiritual cultivation, rather than as qi gong (energy cultivation). While I cannot disagree with his observation, it seems to me that most English-speaking qigong enthusiasts are in fact seeking self-realization, harmony and peace of mind—not merely a vehicle for increased physical vitality—so some imprecision can be forgiven here.
Qi Dao: The Art of Being in the Flow is (to my knowledge) the first English book on the obscure Tibetan art of Shamanic Qigong, or trul khor. Written by Lama Somananda Tantrapa, an ordained Buddhist monk and longtime martial artist, Being in the Flow introduces the basics of this unique brand of Tibetan Yoga.
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.
While conducting some unrelated research, I recently came across an book written by the disciple of a blind kungfu master. I was gratified to read his advice, so similar to that which I received from my own martial arts teachers. I’ll explain why in a moment; first, a few quotations:
On the primacy of coordination…
The principle of “divide and conquer” may have some validity in those branches of education concerned with knowing rather than doing, but in the education of the artist, “integrate to coordinate” should be the battle-cry.
Demonstrating the ability to make one single movement by genuinely coordinated means, is worth more to the growth of the student than showing them now to negotiate any supposed technical difficulties by the employment of “end-gaining” methods.
Clumsiness in general, and technical failures in particular, have no other origins than in the making of simultaneous contradictory gestures.
In his final years, the founder of Aikido was seen to demonstrate many skills that defy the layman’s understanding of physics. Ueshiba sensei reportedly used sen sen no sen and psychic powers to disrupt his opponent’s attacks, threw attackers without touching them, or simply disappeared and reappeared in a safer location.
O-Sensei’s disciples and descendants are unable to repeat his incredible demonstrations. Instead, modern Aikido dojos will introduce ki (life energy) principles to their students with the help of a crude parlor trick: orenaite, or the “unbendable arm”.
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 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.
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.
The easiest way to rob your opponent of their power is to break their connection with the ground. Thus uprooted, Newton’s Third Law compromises their ability to generate penetrating force, and reduces any continued aggression from a potentially deadly threat to a mere nuisance.
The complementary skill—the ability to keep your footing amidst incoming force—is known in Chinese martial arts as rooting.
Typical demonstrations of rooting skill consist of a wushu master in a static posture, with a pack of disciples pushing and pulling to no avail. These shows are impressive, but often fail to highlight the most important characteristic of the skill:
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.