Putting your foot down

As many of you know, LaoMa learned the Cheng Man-ch’ing 37 form as his first form. He took it all the way to China in 1975. China sent him back with a much more involved form later - which we are lucky enough to study!

taiji Foot diagram.PNG

Here’s an interesting picture of a foot work diagram that appears in the Cheng Man-Ching’s T’ai-chi: The ‘Supreme Ultimate’ Exercise for Health, Sport, and Self Defense. This snapshot is curtsy of Facebook.

Seniors - this is a very interesting exercise for learning the floor pattern of our form. Do you know how much of it is done more towards the center of your practice space? How much time is spent on the edges? How far forward and back do you go if you are without the hindrance of walls? The easiest of these to figure out first is can you do form entire form and return to the same two foot prints that you started in as The Professor’s does in this example?

Taking it apart to put it back together again

(In order to see how it really works)

Woody taiji

This would be my first time in writing for the student corner but I very much wanted to report my experience interacting with the abbreviated form composed of only three postures and the transitions among them. Dubbed the “Roller Coaster” form (it perhaps deserves a more elegant name?) is made from combining only the Grasp Sparrows Tail/Single Whip, Deflect, Parry and Punch, and Hug the Knee postures.

I had ‘learned’ the Wudang Mountain 108 form by progressing through the series of 152 postures at a measured pace. It took me more or less two years to work through all six sections and reach the point where I could complete the Form without following anyone. It was a work of memory and attention just to be able to finish the Form without finding myself lost for moments. That was a challenge and still LaoMa said -more than once! – “Now you know the choreography and you can begin to learn the Form.”  I took that to mean I would need to develop some mastery of the individual postures and in that way continue to learn the Form. The Form, by definition, is a series of postures ordered not in an arbitrary manner, but in a securely fixed and intentional sequence.
   
I’ve always admired how exceptional teachers are able to help students by continuously changing and constantly adapting their methods, viewing the subject from different angles, repeating many times what needs to be repeated, often surprising the students in various ways to awaken them.

Woody group taichi

Observing the capabilities and progress of each student, great teachers don’t teach out of books. I’ve watched LaoMa for many years now as he teaches with persistence, imagination and saintly patience. How many times might he have asked: “What posture is done only in the first section and never repeats? “, or “How many hug the knees in the whole form?” Responses range from blank stares, lucky guesses and, sometimes, a correct answer. The teacher-a telephone ringing in an empty room.

What does it take to awaken a senior student who himself recognizes he has become a little bored with the Form, just interested enough to show up regularly and maybe practice once in a while? Is a breakthrough even possible for her?

I write this because I feel I’ve made a genuine breakthrough in my practice after years of stasis and often regression. And I came to this through our recent work with the Roller Coaster Form.

So how did this happen for me? The development seemed to begin innocently enough with a detail review and corrections of a single posture DPP, while also noting where it was repeated in the Form. This exercise seemed to lead quite naturally, although unexpectedly, to the creation of the Roller Coaster. That experience of developing the abbreviated form (which is really not at all abbreviated as the missing parts are just not physically expressed) led me to a personal breakthrough. For the first time I began to see/feel/understand the Form not just as a memorized sequence of postures but as “The Form”, a whole greater than its parts-the gestalt. It’s difficult for me to describe this insight except to say I began to perceive the Form as a sort of landscape rather than a linear chain of postures.

Cold Front.jpg

I’ve begun to practice daily for the first time in many years. And enjoying all the benefits of frequent practice. It’s hard to identify what it was in my experience with Roller Coaster that so captured my renewed attention. It could have been the very process of disassembly and reconstruction through which I began to see how the Form “works”. I needed to think about the Form as a whole as we worked together on Thursday mornings in the development of the Roller Coaster. That attention was sustained as we then aimed to restore the entire Form to its original whole.

I write this filled with appreciation and gratitude to LaoMa for his extraordinary ability to wake up an oversleeping student.

By Woody Lomas, 7/2018

Grasp Sparrow's Tail Posture Instructions Updated

taichi_durham_singlewhip

“Grasp Sparrow Tail” (Lan Que Wei) is a sequence of postures that recurs 8 times total during the entire 154 posture, Wudangshan 108 Taijiquan Form, the most repeated sequence of any group of postures in this Form.  It is comprised of 4 separate postures:  Ward Off, Rollback, Press and Push (Peng, Lu, Ji, An), or 4 of the all-important 8 Gates above the waist, making this sequence even more important for students to understand.  Cross Hands (Shi Zi Shou) is repeated 3 times, and Close (He Taiji) bring the Form to its final posture.  In total this entire sequence of 39 repeated postures comprises one fourth of all the postures of Wudangshan 108 Taijiquan; a number that fits with most of the popular “short” Forms developed in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. 

Many of you referred to our written instructions during your early days of learning form or snuck a peak once in a while to remember exactly what you do on which counts!

LaoMa has worked tirelessly and updated these instructions.  The new and improved version is available on the website in the Class Info tab - under Class Documents.  

Take a moment to review this new edition of instructions.  It is clear and concise as well as up to date on new counts for the postures.

tai chi_chapel Hill

You may note that Single Whip is missing from this instruction set.  Keep an eye out for the new and improved instruction set for Single Whip and Cross Hands that will be coming out soon!  No need to wait in line - we'll post the new version online for your convenience!! 

Movement practice to create change

taiji-stance

It seems this year is a time to talk of change!  The new year brought the typical new year resolutions but, for some, it also brought a mindset towards enacting change in wider communities.  Some movements for change involve using various physical movement practices to help enact and create change in ever widening pools of interaction.  There are examples of techniques like this being used for physically empowering women and children, bringing communities into harmony with each other, and building teamwork. 

One specific example of this is the "Move to End Violence" group.  Norma Wong has a discussion of their stance and physical practice here: http://www.movetoendviolence.org/blog/discussing-stance-and-physical-practice-with-norma-wong/ 

Practices such as this provide a window into exploring how your practice of taijiquan influences not only your physical life but also your mental reaction and experience of life and the experiences around you.  

Possible thoughts to explore, discuss and consider?

  • How does connection with breath affect your taiji practice?  Do you use the focus on that breath to center you mind in other places in your life?
  • How does practicing a relaxed yet alert physical state influence your physical presence through the rest of your day?  Can you feel any influence of the alert relaxation in your mental reactions to situations around you?
  • Does practicing slow deliberate movement forward, back, left and right help you be more agile in your daily movements?  Do you find yourself more willing to explore different directions in your view of the world around you?
simple_Tai_Chi_mindful_Practice

All or none of these things may apply to you and your practice!  What other things do you feel influenced by your practice.  Do you feel the outside changing the inside?  

How has your practice changed you?  Is it stronger legs?  Better balance?  A relaxed, amused approach to the jerk down the hall? Join us in the discussion by posting a comment below!

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!