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!

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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?

One form to rule them all?

In the world of martial arts there are many many many styles! Too many for most to learn all of them - not to mention master them all. Even when you narrow your focus on one discipline (Karate, Wing Chun, Hung Gar..etc), you’ll find many styles with in that discipline. Furthermore - you’ll find many Forms within each style/family!

Take taijiquan for example. There’s Yang, Chen, WuDangShan, WuHao, Sun…and more and more. Within each of those, you’ll find long Forms, short Forms, paired Forms, weapons Forms, paired weapons Forms - etc. It’s enough to make your head spin.

As always, Facebook is a great place for great thinkers to debate about the things they are all experts on. So, we thought we’d bring you food for thought at the beginning of this new year - using a Facebook discussion.

Below are a few snippets of discussion from the “Taijiquan “One Family” Mission” group page on Facebook. For brevity’s sake, I have not included ALL of the comments that can be seen on this discussion. But I tried to include enough to give you an idea of different approaches to this interesting question:

“What is your take on only knowing one form?”

In the Black Bamboo school, we have many forms. We have one taiji long Form, Liehubafa (another internal Form), Tangquan (a hard style empty hand Form) as well as many weapons Forms and push hands paired Forms or drills.

We invite you to consider - why? What is the value (if any) of multiple Forms. If you’ve learned more than one Form, what is your take. If you’ve stuck with one Form, what has been your reasoning. Please join the discussion in the comments below. Or bring your thoughts to class!

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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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Feedback

Below is an excerpt of a letter from a long distance senior student sister.  This is in the context of responding to an older post on Student Corner: The devil's in the details.  This post involved Wing Chun hand positions.  You can view it by clicking here for a refresher.

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This student studies with other teachers in her area. 


Sometimes it can be challenging to reconcile two different systems.  Recently, I was told to try to just move my hand rather than to move my body to execute a certain drill.  The point of the drill, I think, was to experiment with certain rotations of the hands, which are useful for seeing the spiraling movements, but I am always trying to have the body make the hand move, remembering Master Jou saying, "Arms have no movement," in the last workshop I attended with him and your principle of whole-body movement.

Probably because I have finally broken though in the movement of the hip joints, I think, I am especially focused on this.  Two things, in particular, have come out of my working on this:  I understand now why you told me that I need to be 80/20 in Roll Back rather than going to 100/0 and what being 50/50 in Cloud Hands means.  In one of the taiji books I read, there was an anecdote about Cheng Man-ching standing in front of his desk and moving; not wanting to interrupt him, the person who told this anecdote waited for a while then finally interrupted him and asked what he was doing.  The name he gave was Constant Bear, and Cheng said that it was all you need for taiji practice. 

I believe that movement was what we call Bear Swings through the Woods (and Wags Its Tail).  I first began to work on this in the cane form when I found it difficult to move from one posture to the next in some places because I had weight on the foot I needed to pick up, and through some experimentation and a return to the Four Flowers, I began to see what I was doing wrong.  I am still working on this, of course, but I'm starting to have the sensation of riding a wave when things are going well!