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?

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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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.

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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

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!

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.