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My 53 year odyssey, thus far, with this fascinating and magnificent art form, began in an other worldly encounter with William C.C. Chen in his New York City school back in 1964.  My actual training did not begin then, mainly due to lack of schools and teachers, but six years later in 1970 when a friend and college classmate, Larry Mann, began teaching it in his Norfolk, Virginia, KungFu School.  By 1975 when I took my first trip to China, I had joined Larry and classmate Billy Hook in the founding of the Tidewater T'ai Chi Center, and soon after established my own school in Norfolk, the Tidewater T'ai Chi Club.

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In 1985 I fell into the most magical period of my life when I was able once again to not only journey to China, but to live, work and train there -- a vastly different China than the one I experienced a decade before, and a completely different world than that of today, some three decades later.

When I embarked on the 1985 trip, I left the Tidewater Club in the good hands of dedicated senior students who tried their best to keep it functioning during my absence.  I was recently given these photos by Kam Hitchcock-Mort, the senior-in-charge, the other two students are Warren Pretlow and Chris Walters. Many of the students in the group portrait joined the class while I was away and are unknown to me.  One Lady in particular though, Anita Adams, between Warren and T.T. Liang’s calligraphy on Taijiquan, is healthy and in her 90’s and we are still in contact! In the picture of Warren and Kam with the double broadswords I can tell, with her bowed head and the smile crinkling around Warren’s eyes, that a mistake just took place infeatured the two-person, shuang dao set.

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I completely lost contact with Chris over the years since returning from Wuhan’s Snake Mountain, but Warren, after graduating from an Oriental Healing School in California, established a thriving, dynamic and successful Taijiquan/Qigong/Acupuncture School in Anchorage, Alaska where I have had the honor of being “visiting pubah” several times.  Kam retired from librarian work in California and Texas and lives with her retinue of exotic dogs and cats in coastal Virginia.  The three of us reunited finally during my 60th year (Confucius’ milestone, ‘Year of Obedient Ears!’) in both Alaska and Texas (Alaska is the magical land north of the Lower 48, and ya don’t mess with Texas!).


In 1989 I transferred what was left in a storage locker of the Tidewater Tai Chi Club to Dr. Jay’s Magic Tortoise Taijiquan School here in the Triangle Area of Central North Carolina.  After 26 marvelous years with him and Teacher Kathleen Cusick, I am now at the Black Bamboo Pavilion School, with Violet Anderson in charge, which has become my final Taiji Jia!

Martial Art SASHES:  Sashes in Black Bamboo Pavilion Taijiquan School (Part 2)


In Part 1 on Martial Art Sashes (found by clicking here) I talked about where my knowledge of and ideas concerning the wearing of sashes originated from. To reiterate, it came from the Martial Art Folk School of "Grandfather" Ding Honkui on Snake Hill, Wuchang, Hubei, China.  Of course, my understanding is restricted to that Folk School, and others associated with it.  The primary reason for the adornment of sashes first and foremost is the honor, respect and deference paid to the long history and lineage of the place Martial Art holds in the fabric of the tapestry know as the Nation of Zhongguo (Middle Kingdom or China)!

To me the nature of the sash, it's color, material, size, and meaning is secondary to the time honored respect wearing it pays to the Art the wearer practices and tradition he or she trains under.  Wrapping the sash also represents a symbolic "binding" of the dantian and power of Qi!


Additional to this over-arching purpose, in Hei Zhou Tingzi Taijiquan Jia (Black Bamboo Pavilion Taijiquan School) there is a special significance to the colors represented; Green, Red, Brown (for a more detailed explanation of where these colors originated, and a thoroughgoing review of a Sash System go to and click on "Advancement Program" link).  As outlined in Part 1, the original idea of students choosing their own sash was exchanged for a more systematic system: Green indicating a commitment to study, train, practice and complete the Taijiquan Form of Wudangshan Yibailingba Taijiquan, Red representing the completion of the basic level of posture sequence linkage.  


In order to achieve Red Sash standing, Form construction has to be there and its demonstration "recognizable."  In other words, a student must be able to perform the form solo, from beginning to end without break and with each posture being recognizable.  The perseverance to reach this point takes a commitment of several years, and it is a very big and important milestone in anyone's training.  But, it is just the beginning of a lifetime of practice! This is the time the all important practice to lock in the floor plan of the Memory Palace and the focus of adding to FORM the equally supportive components of FUNDAMENTALS and FUNCTION ... begins!

The beginning student purchases the green sash to show his/her commitment and is later presented the red sash to show our respect and deep appreciation for their success.

When a student can perform the whole Form without conscious effort to remember sequence, sections, etc., and can focus on the Fundamental principles as well as continuing to progress with martial applications and Function (not to mention answering any question thrown out at class by The Ma), then they can choose whatever color sash, belt, cumberbund or other dantian binding apparatus that suits their fancy!  It will still represent honor, respect, and deference to the Martial Art...  (Violet won't be testing for that belt anytime soon - scary!  ;-) 幽  默 (humor)

Last Lesson with Jou Tsung Hwa: GO BACK FUNDAMENTALS!

Part 1:  My Introduction to MrJou

I first met the incomparable Taijiquan teacher Jou Tseng Hwa in 1981, 17 years after first being introduced to Taiji, and last saw him 18 years later, 4 months before his untimely death on August 3, 1998.  This post is a short preface to the story of our last lesson on April 5, 1998.

LaoMa and DrJay beginning work on MrJou’s dream, building a Tai Chi College.  We were digging the corner stone hole to lay the time capsule.

LaoMa and DrJay beginning work on MrJou’s dream, building a Tai Chi College.  We were digging the corner stone hole to lay the time capsule.

I will explain my use of the form of address, ‘MrJou,’ here at the outset just so you’ll understand the inclusion of deep respect and great love it conveys in my usage.  MrJou never cared for titles such as Master, Grand Master or any of the misleading alternatives for the Chinese term Shifu (teacher/coach/Master, depending on the Chinese character used).  He said on more than one occasion”…if you want, you can call me Master, I have a Master’s Degree in Mathematics!”  Mr. (or Xiansheng in Chinese) carries great import, it is not disrespectful to use.  Ninety-one year old Ding Hongkui, the greatest teacher I was ever privileged to study and train with was referred to simply as, Ding YeYe ---  Grandfather Ding!  Students prefer to call their teachers by grand titles, grand teachers that I have had the privilege to study with do not.

MrJou looking down at students’ landscaping

MrJou looking down at students’ landscaping

I first heard about MrJou thru Brother Jay Dunbar about 36 years ago.  Jay had recently opened his school here in the Triangle called Carroboro Tai Chi Center.  We were introduced to each other by a couple of his students who relocated to the Norfolk, Va. area where I had a school, Tidewater T’ai Chi Club.  He and I became acquainted through letter exchanges until meeting for the first time at a festival he held outside his school in an empty field in Carrboro where the Weaver Street Market now stands.  I brought a few carloads of my students down to a Zhang Sanfeng Festival he organized and hosted, where we first met in person and where, at the same time, I first met Jou Tsung Hwa, (and obtained a treasured autographed First Edition copy of his book, The Tao of Tai Chi Chuan:  Way to Rejuvenation, the tome we use as a textbook!)

MrJou’s Ancentor Altar in Tai Chi Farm’s Zhang Hall; DrJay lecturing

MrJou’s Ancentor Altar in Tai Chi Farm’s Zhang Hall; DrJay lecturing

For the next four years I did train with MrJou at his school in New Jersey, and with much help from his senior instructor, Marsha Rosa, learned his version of the Yang Family Sanshou (I had already learned Mr T.T. Liang’s version of this 2-person set from his disciple, Paul Gallagher) and the Chansijin Exercise.  When I returned from my China sojourn, 1985-88, and joined DrJay’s Magic Tortoise School as Senior Teacher, my relationship and training with MrJou grew at a much more rapid and regular rate as we hosted his 2 to 3 annual workshops and helped him establish his Tai Chi College on the grounds of the 100 acre Tai Chi Farm in New Jersey.  MrJou’s last workshop, “Master Key,” in our yearly Magic Tortoise workshop series, the weekend of April 4-5, 1998, is the setting for this story of “The Last Lesson” which will be my next posting…


From the Student Corner

Student corner now has a home of it's own.  You can access it through the menu at the top of the page or click here.

While working with some senior students in class,  LaoMa frequently encourages students to analyze the form.  This includes picking it apart so that they know the number of postures, number of techniques within a posture, how many times postures are repeated, explore variations of repeated postures and what the reasoning might be for each of these differences.  Below is a short blurb that resulted from a Monday night class discussion ending in an early morning epiphany. 

I woke up this morning at 5:00 thinking about why there are only 3 ward-off lefts compared to 8 ward-off rights. I came up with an answer (disclaimer: this is “an” answer, not “the” answer, because a) I’m not even sure I’ve got this right b) I’m not sure it’s actually an answer  and c) also I imagine there is more than one answer anyway). In my head I was thinking that what you are doing with the right hand in ward-off left is like what you do in diagonal flying (I think). So there are 2 diagonal flyings (Section 2; Section 5). Then, I think you’re also doing the same thing with part the wild-horse’s mane, and there are 3 of those in Section 4. So you have 3 ward-off lefts, 2 diagonal flyings, and 3 parting the wild horse’s manes (3+2+3=8). So, 8 ward-off right things, and 8 ward-off left like things.
However, like Jason and I sometimes used to say to each other after pontification about something or other: “Or, I could just be full of @#$4”
-Micah Sam

We’re putting this out there to help prompt thought and discussion.  Feel free to leave comments and questions!

Ding Hongkui at 91

Yeye and LaoMa

Yeye and LaoMa

Ding Hongkui, 91 years old at this picture and reaching the end of a 60 year career of teaching at this same Snake Hill Pavilion. The foremost authority in China on Tang Pai, an almost 1400 year old Martial Art System. He never allowed himself to be called anything but Ding YeYe... Grandfather Ding... Fortune surely smiled on me to be able to study under this great man, and be called both his first Foreign Student and Closing Student. (Snake Hill Pavilion was--it is now a mah jong parlour--at the very place on Snake Hill where the 1911 Republican Revolution of Sun Yet- Sen began the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty!)

Looking back at the Monkey New Year

The time flies by so quickly!  We ran across a few shots from the Monkey New Year party and we thought we'd pass them along.  Always nice to have a reminder of fun times during the middle of the week!

Wudangshan Taiji cohort starting first section.  Feb 2016

Wudangshan Taiji cohort starting first section.  Feb 2016

Wudangshan Taiji Cohort finishing first section. Monkey Year 2016

Wudangshan Taiji Cohort finishing first section. Monkey Year 2016

Small gift for the children in hong bao.  Monkey New Year 2016

Small gift for the children in hong bao.  Monkey New Year 2016