Practice and the memory of "Ben Lo"

The text below was taken from the Facebook Page Taiijquan “One Family” Mission. Posted by Matt Stampe on Nov 8th, 2018.

While it’s a little longer it is very worth the read. Especially for those of us who struggle with practice. While we don’t stand in postures for an hour as they did at one time, it’s good to be reminded that slow steady practice is what wins the race. You don’t have to be able to do every posture correctly before your practice is effective. It is with a focus on CORRECT practice that we improve.

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As stated so eloquently below, “Begin where you are and invest the time that you have. The better the quality of your practice, the greater the return on your investment of time and energy. “

Ben Lo event this weekend (Nov 8th) in DC/VA/MD area: Wuwei T'ai Chi for announcing the November 10, 2018, 10 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. gathering honoring Master Ben Lo, starting at the Cabin John Park taijiquan court, and followed by lunch at a local restaurant.

Written by Russ Mason

Dear Friends,

As has been noted on this forum, the great Lo Pang-jeng, known in the West as "Benjamin P. J. Lo", passed away peacefully in his home surrounded by long-time students and family on October 12th. Lo Laoshi was the first person to study with Professor Cheng Man-ch'ing after his relocation to Taiwan in 1949. In spite of his eventual and very impressive achievement in T'ai-chi Ch'uan, he first came to Professor Cheng for medical treatment, not for martial arts instruction. Due to Ben's serious physical illness, Professor Cheng advised him to take up the practice of T'ai-chi so that his body could gain enough strength to derive benefit from the herbal remedies that had been prescribed. Ben was not aware of the fact that Professor Cheng had been a martial arts master of great renown on the Mainland, and he was quite surprised to hear that his doctor would prescribe the art, much less offer to teach it. He asked somewhat incredulously, "You know T'ai-chi? " Professor responded in simplicity and in sincere humility, "Enough to teach you."

With that, the young Ben Lo began his arduous course of study. Professor Cheng taught him in the traditional way. Ben was shown the first posture and instructed to "hold the posture" and relax...without moving...for one hour. Ben was not shown another posture until he could demonstrate the previous one to Professor' s satisfaction and hold it without moving and in accordance with the principles of T'ai-chi for one hour. When he had gotten as far as the posture Lifting Hands (T'i Shou), he stood in his teacher' s presence for a total of 120 hours holding that one posture. But Professor would not show him the next movement. He was only able to progress beyond this point in the form due to the intercession of Madame Cheng, who implored her husband in Ben's behalf. She said, "You cannot teach him so strictly as Master Yang taught you. Times are changing!" Professor' s response was, "Why should I show him another posture when he can't yet do this one properly. His leg is shaking like a pipa string!"

Still, gradually, Ben made progress. Mr. Lo told me that for several years he only went three places: home, school, and Professor' s house. He would go to Professor Cheng's and practice for one hour in the morning and back again after school for one more hour of practice in the afternoon. Then he would go home and in his personal time "practice T'ai-chi" . He said that other young people his age, such as his school mates, went to social gatherings, saw movies, and so forth. Not Ben. He only attended to his school work and practiced T'ai-chi. In the beginning, his motivation was to save his life and regain his health. Later, he learned not to fear suffering but, rather, to invest in loss and to "eat bitter" . And as Ben endured the bitter training, not only did his health improve, but his gong-fu grew deeper and more profound.

Ben eventually learned of his teacher' s fame, as many famous boxers came to visit and to pay their respects. Some came to test Professor Cheng's ability. In these cases, they had to first face Ben Lo. Few passed this initial test. As Mr. Robert W. Smith put it, "Ben was discouraging. " Yet, as his skill and reputation increased, he demonstrated that he had learned the lessons of wude as well as wushu. It is unusual in the world of martial arts for a person's substance to exceed his or her fame, but this is true of Mr. Lo. Although he is known and respected around the world, Mr. Lo remained sincerely humble and never demonstrated his skills just for the sake of showing off. When his close students asked why he didn't demonstrate more of his amazing abilities in public, Ben simply said, "Why use a quarter when a nickel will do." Mr.. Robert W. Smith referred to Mr. Lo in this way: "Modest man; true T'ai-chi. "

I met Mr. Lo almost 40 years ago. Although he was my T'ai-chi "uncle" and not my primary teacher, he influenced my life and practice profoundly. I am deeply grateful for his kindness, his example, his instruction, and his patient and persistent correction. He inspired me again and again over the last four decades to continue practicing T'ai-chi, especially when my perseverance was wavering. He challenged me to deepen my practice when it's quality was found wanting, reminding me of the old Chinese saying, "Buy the best and cry once." When I lamented over all of the time I had lost by not practicing as diligently and correctly as I should have, he looked me in the eye and said, "Go ahead and cry. Then, dry your eyes and commit yourself to practice. Begin where you are and invest the time that you have. The better the quality of your practice, the greater the return on your investment of time and energy." I have never trained so diligently as when I was under Mr. Lo's watchful eye.

In addition to setting a high standard of practice in the West and blessing us with excellent instruction, Lo Laoshi also contributed to our T'ai-chi community in other ways. In particular, we must thank him for his excellent translations of several key texts: Professor Cheng's masterpiece (Cheng Tzu's Thirteen Treatises on T'ai Chi Ch'uan, North Atlantic, 1985), the T'ai-chi Classics (The Essence of T'ai Chi Ch'uan: The Literary Tradition, 1979, revised in 2008, IRI Press), and Chen Wei-ming' s T'ai Chi Ch'uan Ta Wen (Questions and Answers on T'ai Chi Ch'uan, North Atlantic,1985) .

For more information on Ben Lo, please see the excellent article by Larry Mann and Don Davis, "Conservator of the Classics: An Interview with Benjamin Pang-jeng Lo", published in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Volume 5, No. 4, pp. 46-67 and reprinted in the anthology entitled Cheng Man-ch'ing and T'ai Chi: Echos in the Hall of Happiness, Via Media Publishing, 2015.

See also the comments of Mr. Robert W. Smith on Ben Lo, particularly in his final book, Martial Musings: A Portrayal of Martial Arts in the 20th Century, Via Media Publishing, 1999, pp. 294-303, etc..

I also had the honor of working with Mr. Lo on his articles memorializing his classmates and friends Robert W. Smith and Liu Hsi-heng. The first, entitled "In Memory of our American Tai Chi brother, Robert W. Smith", was published in T'ai Chi, Marvin Smalheiser&# 39;s quarterly magazine, Volume 37, No. 1, Spring 2013, pp. 6-9. The second, "Liu Hsi-heng: Memories of a Taiji Sage", was first published in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Volume 19, No. 2, pp. 72-107, and it was subsequently included in the anthology entitled Cheng Man-ch'ing and T'ai Chi: Echos in the Hall of Happiness, Via Media Publishing, 2015.

Moreover, Martin Inn, of the Inner Research Institute, compiled and published DVDs of Mr. Lo's lectures on the T'ai Chi Classics (The Lectures, with Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo: Commentaries on The Essence of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, IRI Press, 2010). He also persuaded Ben to allow him to publish invaluable footage of Mr. Lo demonstrating the solo exercise and double-edged sword forms (Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo: Enduring Legacy of Professor Cheng Man Ch'ing, IRI Press, 2016). These are priceless treasures for all who study the art of T'ai-chi Ch'uan.

Those of us who knew him will never forget him. May he rest in peace, and may his memory be honored with deepest respect.

Sincerely,
Russ Mason

*Taken from the Facebook Page Taiijquan “One Family” Mission. Posted by Matt Stampe on Nov 8th, 2018.

Taking it apart to put it back together again

(In order to see how it really works)

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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.

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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.

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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

Taiji vs Tai Chi Conversation on Facebook

If you've talked to anyone about your taijiquan practice and used the term "taiji", you might have gotten confused looks.  When you say "Tai Chi" your conversation partner's face clears up and they suddenly know that you're talking about old people waving their arms around in parks!  This confusion happens more frequently when sending emails, texts - and especially on one of our most popular venues - Facebook!! 

This cross communication happens because there are two Chinese transliteration systems - Wade Giles and pinyin.  The Wade Giles system was the original system and many Americans learned to recognize Chinese words and concepts through that system.  In later year, pinyin has taken it's place and is now the preferred system.  

Below is a cut and paste of a recent conversation on The Facebook.  I've taken screen shots for those not able to enjoy these kinds of debates because of lack of access.  It is also possible that this link might take you to this thread.   

We can cover this ground more in depth in classes but it would be educational for you to glance over the comment thread below.  You'll see an extended explanation from LaoMa within this thread.

Take a second an leave your thoughts on this debate in the comments section below.

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Taiji Daily Handy Helpers

As we mention continuously, taiji is based on principles of movements and is not tied to a specific set of movements.  Any activity done using taiji principles can be taiji practice!!  

One of my favorite things is finding the places that taiji principles creep into my daily life or the places where taiji practice can make things easier.

A fellow student, Gary Forbach, ran across the blurb below in an AARP magazine recently and sent it our way.  We thought we'd share it and ask for other places you all might use taiji to keep yourselves safe from injury, as well as the spots that you find taiji enhancing your daily life.

A couple that pop up into my mind are below the image.  Share yours in the comments!

Daily Taiji
  • Opening a public door:  Have you ever had someone pull a door at the exact time you push - only to have both of you topple over and scare each other?  Taiji pulls and pushes are completed whole body and are not executed by leaning into or away from someone. 
  • Pushing a car:  A classic example of how we can draw energy up through the ground, direct it through the waste and send it right into the back of that car to get it moving!
  • Holding a toddler:  The sticking and reading that we practice in push hands, combined with a light touch, can be very useful when holding a squirming toddler.  You don't want them to feel trapped but you can't let them get away either!
  • Relaxing and deep breathing in trying situations:  While this may be something push hands players experience more than form practitioners, there is something to be said for learning how to be relaxed and breath while someone is being slightly aggressive in your direction.

Grasp Sparrow's Tail Posture Instructions Updated

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“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.

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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!! 

On the Cat Walk

Shifu Rose Oliver of Double Dragon Alliance Center, Shanghai, China, modeling, front and back, our Black Bamboo Pavilion t-shirt.

Rose Shifu conducts workshops sponsored by Magic Tortoise Taijiquan School, at several of DrJay's longtime students' schools along our east coast, as well as here in Durham-Chapel Hill.

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MMA vs. Taiji Master?

For those of you not on Facebook or without a feed full of taiji videos, this short video has been making the rounds.  It's very short - 10 second fight!  

"A (short) video has gone viral on Chinese social media today showing a "fight" between a mixed martial artist and a Tai Chi "master." (http://shanghaiist.com/2017/04/28/mma-vs-tai-chi.php)

Take a moment and share your thoughts through the comments link below.  

Shufa and Women's secret scripts

Women's Shufa

Nüshu is a 19th Century Chinese Script that women in a Jiangyong County used to communicate with each other.  The script is very distinct from the style we are used to seeing, very elegant long lines and is phonetic rather than symbolic.  As with lots of ancient arts, the ability to write and read it is dissappearing.

“Out of the thousands of scripts that are gender-specific to men, here we have one that we know is gender-specific to women,” says Silber, who has been researching Nüshu since 1985. Yi was one of the last remaining writers of Nüshu, a fading script that only women knew how to write and read.

Stemming from the southwestern Hunan Province county of Jiangyong, a small group of women in the 19th and 20th centuries practiced this special script that no man could read or write. The writing system allowed these women to keep autobiographies, write poetry and stories, and communicate with “sworn sisters,” bonds between women who were not biologically related. The tradition of Nüshu is slowly vanishing, but at one time gave the women of Shanjiangxu freedom to express themselves.
— http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/nushu-chinese-script-women

Read the full article here.  

Effective Practice revisited

After our last post, one of our students brought a podcast that touches on how our brains learn to our attention.  Bill sent us a link to a Bulletproof episode that contains an interview with Anat Baniel.  She talks about nine steps that can be followed for peak brain and body performance.  

The podcast is longer (about an hour) but the last half may be interesting to taiji practitioners.  She outlines a few of her steps and talks about how they are effective.  Around minute 31, she begins to talk about mindfulness in movement.  Allowing time to observe the body and what it is doing provides time to process and react.  

Variations are also a part of her system.  They allow the brain to work on movements and allow change to happen within an action, slowly and over time.  Changing movements can help you focus on the task at hand because you do things less automatically.

She also talks about slowing movements down to allow the brain to wake up and process. Keeping a slower speed can help the brain process and change the motion in a way that wouldn't be possible at higher speeds.

Reducing force is another step of hers.  She argues that the greater force a movement has, the more force is needed for the practitioner to register the need to change and slows the ability to respond.  

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While I'm paraphrasing much her her information, it is an interesting conversation that is not about taiji at all.  Baniel works with movement to treat neurological problems and rehabilitate injuries.  Yet, if you listen, you'll hear a great argument for many of the basic practices in taijiquan!  

(I would suggest picking it up around minute 31 if you want to take the time! :-)

Thanks Bill!!!  We're happy to find new things through our students and our conversations on here!

(Link: https://blog.bulletproof.com/nine-essential-steps-peak-brain-body-performance-anat-baniel-394/)

Effective Practice

Knowing how to practice and what to practice is really important in advancing any skill you are trying to learn. An interesting TED Ed video, forwarded by one of our students (thanks!!), has some great points to consider while constructing your practice for any skill.  

You'll notice a little taiji thrown into this.  Can you pick out taiji's favorite advice in this list?  

All of these apply to our practice!  Tells us what helps your practice or how this might influence your habits moving forward.

How To Practice Effectively, According To Science

Practice is a physical activity, of course, but it's also hard mental work — if you're doing it right. A new video published by TED Ed gets down to the scientific nitty-gritty of what good practice looks like, and what it does to your brain. (Think axons and myelin, not "muscle memory" — muscles don't have "memory.")
As Annie Bosler and Don Greene, the creators of this TED Ed lesson, point out, this advice can apply to everything from music to sports. They define effective practice as "consistent, intensely focused and target[ing] content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one's current abilities." That's another way of saying: Don't waste your time practicing the stuff you already know, just to fill up those minutes.
More of their specific advice, with each point bolstered by research:

Read more here: http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/03/06/518777865/the-most-practical-tips-for-practicing-according-to-science

Movement practice to create change

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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?
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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!

Inspiration - Low

While we focus primarily on our training with taijiquan forms, we can draw inspiration from everywhere in the martial arts community.  In all forms, stance work is a primary piece of the puzzle and leg strength can be a big part of that training.

Primarily, we see taijiquan performed in relatively high stances.  However, as a student progress in their studies, they may train lower, being sure not to compromise their structure or form.  Working lower will give you increased leg strength and stamina.  

What do you see happening in this video?  Does it inspire a new focus in your own practice?

Another Internal Martial Art

LaoMa’s experience with Wing chun go back to VA beach with a teacher who today is a teacher of other teachers or masters, Duncan Leong.  LaoMa's experience with Duncan and “Doc” Savage, who was a student both LM and Duncan,  was similar to what you see in this video.  Wing chun is a more internal art than a hard style art. 

The accompaniment has some thoughts from Bruce Lee in it.

What do you see in this compilation of applications?  Do you see similarities to taijiquan?

Fa Jin Ball

Just a quick Student Corner blog today.  LaoMa ran across this video of someone playing with what they are calling a Fa Jin Ball.  (You can follow the link below the video to view this on YouTube.) 

What do you see when you look at this?  Leave your comments and thought below.

Critical thinking

Tuesday night Raleigh Wudangshan students listen to words of wisdom

Tuesday night Raleigh Wudangshan students listen to words of wisdom

LaoMa frequently talks of the eight gates and five elements in class.  We've run across a short article by Steve Rowe that explores the "13 Techniques".  He starts with the following thoughts:

Often called the ’13 Techniques’ or the ’13 Postures’ this list can really confuse Tai Chi practitioners and therefore they often get sidelined or bypassed, but when understood, they lie at the heart of Tai Chi practice.  To understand that they are ‘fighting’ dynamics that are held in the mind that are trained with the potential to be used instantly, reflexively and spontaneously in response to the opponent’s actions at any time  and although some are linked to certain techniques they are not the techniques, they are fighting strategies of ‘aliveness’ and are therefore dynamic because they are used to change the situation.

You can find the whole article by clicking here.  Take a few minutes to look over it and share your thoughts and reactions in the comments below.  What things stand out to you?  How does this relate to class discussions?  Remember to always think critically when reading discussions of taijiquan and its various aspects.  Exploring these help round out your understanding.  Sharing impressions can help you see new things!

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!