Sensing vs Pushing

Interactive work in taijiquan is typically referred to as “Push Hands”. There is a school of thought that would like this phrase to change to “Sensing Hands” to better reflect the less aggressive side of taiji interactive work. This is because many people attempt to train by touching hands, waiting to ‘sense’ what your partner is doing, and responding accordingly instead of being that attacker. What actually happens (lots of pushing instead of sensing) is another matter entirely :-). But allowing the emphasis to be on yielding and reading an opponent, rather than pushing can help a player focus on the relaxing and yielding energies taijiquan uses.

Regardless - Always have fun pushing!!

Regardless - Always have fun pushing!!

A recent, ongoing discussion on Facebook reminded us of the difference in schools of thought around this subject. On the Taijiquan “One Family” mission page, Daniel Pfister started the conversation with this post below. The ensuing conversation is interesting for all players.

We’re posting some screen shots of the discussion that has arisen around this post. It’s worth taking some time to read through them. What do you agree with or not agree with? For those with little push hands experience, what is your understanding of taiji principles and the practice that you do. Are you able to think about interactions within your current practice?

Daniel Pfister

Yesterday at 3:40 AM

Putting the "Push" Back in Push Hands

At one point push hands was known as striking hands. Some call it "sensing hands" so as to get away from the idea of a forceful push. Currently, I think the pushing, rather than yielding, needs to be our default mode in pushing hands. Thus it should remain true to its name.

Pushing against your opponent will most quickly cause them to react in some way, then you can practice taking advantage of their reaction. Not pushing and/or constantly disengaging with the opponent provides less opportunity to learn how to move with them. Yielding is a basic technique to use when someone resists your push in an excessive way which unbalances them. But when that resistance isn't there, its a good idea to return to pushing into them in a deliberate way.

The more skill you build, the less force you should need to use in your push to elicit a response that you can turn into an advantage. But being too light in the beginning just for the sake of being soft or "letting go" might slow down your progress.

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Whole conversation can be found here.

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?

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.

BenLoTaichi

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.

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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Push Hands, Wrestling or ... ???

Sometimes discussions on Facebook can challenge us to think a bit deeper about our art from. And sometime they can just make us shake our heads….

Below is a series of screen shots of a recent discussion. We’re posting on Student Corner so that it is available to our students not on Facebook - especially our students interesting in interactive work.

Take a moment to read through the initial post and subsequent comments would be educational. We’ll take a few moments in upcoming classes to develop this into a conversation and perhaps a teach point or two! Or leave your comments below.

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It's all in the hands

Chen Zijiang is performing a 5 star routine here; a perfect, seamless flow of Fundamentals, Form, and Function!


Watch the hands. As a great teacher imparted a way long time ago, when I was too young and dense to understand, “watch the hands, they come from below, they tell the whole story, between the visable and invisable opponent.”

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.

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.

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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!

Dissecting the form: Student Analysis and Guides

Over the course of a long empty hand form, there are a few groupings of postures that are repeated.  These postures combine together to make up a significant part of our form.  Given the repetition of these postures, one might infer that they are particularly important to the practice of taijiquan and special attention should be paid to them.

Over the last few months, classes have expanded on this theme and begun to include short forms that are comprised of only repeated postures.  For example, one form may include all of the Hug Knee postures in sequential order but no other postures from the form.  Or perhaps, all of the Grasp Sparrow's Tails/Single Whip sequences can be strung together to provide a complete picture of all of the occurrences of this sequence, providing a short form and a way to compare variations through the form.

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Working with the form in this way can give a practitioner a clearer picture of the structure of the form.  Think of the form as a building.  Perhaps the most often repeated sequence can be seen as the support posts for the entire structure - something the artist returns to over and over as the base of their form - Grasp Sparrow's Tail/Single whip for example..  From there, the form contains other frequently repeated postures like Deflect, Parry and Punch or Hug Knee.  These can be seen as the joists or beams that tie the substantial posts together, helping to create a cohesive structure.  As other postures are added in, the structure of form begins to take full form, a structure complete with all the trimmings (think complicated postures that appear once in the form).  

As our classes have worked with this concept, one of our students has created a helpful guide to the Deflect, Parry and Punch posture, which is repeated a total of six times.  It's important to know how the repetitions are similar and in what ways they differ.  

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Here you can see Gary Forbach's personal chart to track these differences.  While it's helpful for every student to figure out their own way to track differences in the form, this is a helpful guide to all and can provide a good starting point for anyone wishing to do their own analysis of the form.  

 
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The second document here is another take on how documentation used to explore the form.  This is a study guide to the form compiled by another student, Bob Ingram.  This guide breaks the form into groupings using colors and other notations.  It's a one stop shop!

Do you have a way you explore the form on paper?  Have you created cheat sheets of your own? What other types of things may be helpful in deepening your understanding of form?  Leave your thoughts and comments below.

#BlackBambooP