Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Stages of Zhan zhuang

Zhan Zhuang (Standing Pole) occupies a very important position in traditional martial arts practice. What are we actually doing and how do we practise it?

Zhan Zhuang is a training method by which to know oneself. Invariably the human body become “deformed” (out of its natural form/structure) because of incorrect use throughout life. The average person has such a poor sense of their body that they cannot feel, let alone command and control the different parts. In particular, they cannot differentiate and separate flesh, tendons, and bones, so that when expressing energies, the flesh, tendons and bones tense up together forming a stiff mass. Zhan zhuang is a static practice through which to experience and understand your own body frame and structure, so as to improve the body's capability and functionality.

The first step of zhan zhuang is to learn to fangsong (relax and let go of tension). Through fangsong, allow the “deformed” body to return to its natural state: qi and blood calm, neck insubstantial and the jaw drawn in, chest empty and the abdomen filled, back rounded and the waist relaxed, the buttocks level and the hips seated so that the ability of the mind and consciousness to perceive the structure and sensations of the body is gradually improved.

Having learned how to fangsong and to improve the ability to understand and feel the different parts of your body, you are ready to express strength, as you are now able to tell whether you are using tendons and bones or using muscles to do so.

The second stage of zhan zhuang involves stretching the tendons and pulling the bones. Because the tendons, bones and flesh are now differentiated, during zhan zhuang the emphasis is on training the tendons and bones - the tendons are stretched to the correct tension, the bones are braced whilst the flesh is relaxed. If the first step is not complete, and you cannot distinguish tendons, bones and flesh, it is not possible to practise the second step.

Changing from slow to fast training...

At what point and under what condition is it appropriate for your practice to change from slow to fast?

There are two standard criteria:

1. The ability to maintain physical and energetic integrity....
When you speed up your actions either in a single posture or the whole form, you are ready only when the the body structure remains composed and intact and qi remains contained and not floating. If you are not able to do this, then it’s not time yet to add speed to your movements. You should slow down immediately and, following the guidelines of the criteria, gradually add speed as you improve.

2. The ability to express the appropriate energies.
Taijiquan is composed of different elements of the so-called “eight methods and five steps” or the “thirteen energies”. Any one of these elements should be expressed during movements. If a movement is done too quickly often the details are skipped over or lost and the intended energy is not expressed. Therefore, if you find it difficult to clearly express all the necessary energies, or competently change from one energy to another during fast practice, then you should continue to practise at a slower pace that allows you to do so.

These are the two criteria for the most appropriate time to incorporate speed into your movements. The power release of Taijiquan is realised by using this accelerated process. As well as its changeability and neutralisation skill. However this does not mean that all the movements of Taijiquan should be changed to fast movements. Instead, within the opening and closing, rotation and folding of Taijiquan, there must be an alternation of fast and slow.

Looseness in Taijiquan

“Song” (translates as loose, unimpeded, relaxed, devoid of tension) is the most important component of Taijiquan and cannot be spoken of enough.

“Song” in Taijiquan is achieved only when every part of the body has acquired the state, not in isolation but in uniform distribution. “Song” must be initiated from inside out - the mind first rid of tension in order to facilitate the physical body to relax.

“Song” is prone to two common misrepresentations: the first is being soft so that the body is weak and flaccid; the second is believing prematurely that a state of “song” has been achieved and the mind is no longer open to guide the body. The first instance is very common. In the search for “song” earnest players often overplay softness and become deficient and lacking in vigour and effectiveness. “Song” involves releasing and letting go and therefore opening and expanding. It is not contracting and shrinking. It is not a localised but an overall releasing. It is permeating rather than in-situ.

To reach the correct state of “song” it is equally important to overcome deficiencies as well as excesses.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Extracting JIn

The main purpose of form training is the extraction of its core components, referred to as its intrinsic jin. This is the ultimate aim of all martial arts.
Sun Lutang, for example, understood this and through a lifetime study and practice was able to “extract”the core components of three kinds of martial art to create his own system: Taijiquan’s balance and harmonisation of opposites; Xingyiquan’s footwork whose core component is “step forward to follow, step back to”; and Baguazhang’s core body method of agile twisting and circling. Taijiquan itself was created through the extraction and absorption of the core components of several martial arts systems at the time of its creation as well as the incorporation of the core principles of an ancient Chinese philosophy and Traditional Chinese Health Methods.

"Jin" is the most important component of Taijiquan, and the understanding of "jin" is the door to the application of its skills. The initial Taijiquan practice concerns “fixing the frame”. Fixing the frame is the fundamental of skill building because the correct body frame is the key to realising jin.
Begin with the basic foundation of vertical and horizontal alignments of the body and joints, and then, strictly in accordance with the requirements for Taijiquan, proceed in an orderly way.

Sloppiness to strict adherence leads to gradual distortion and the desired result will not be achieved.
Form practice is the foundation for entry to the attack and defence elements of the art, which in turn is gleaned from understanding the core components that make the art what it is. The past masters have clearly summarised the practice process for us in the form routine. The arrangement of the routine in the whole set is not arbitrary. Its compiler used the clever combination of potentials to form a continuous situation that trains attack and defence from all directions, not by single technique but integrated through a complete set. This is the representation of Taijiquan.

Monday, 22 July 2019

The Yin and Yang of Taiji Philosophy...

In China the traditional transmission of the practice of Taijiquan has always been verbal and conspicuously few written descriptions of the art have been passed down. This is because the philosophy that underpins the practice has long been recorded in the literature and works of sages and literary men of past generations, and there was deemed no need for anymore redundant description.

The way of Taijiquan practice is actually the physical movement and the inner change of mind and spirit generated by the Yin and Yang of Taiji philosophy.

On Movement and Stillness

The combination of movement and stillness in Taijiquan means that the combined practice of static fixed postures and dynamic form routine is necessary. The form routine is in itself divided into movement and stillness, conversion/transition movements being the dynamic phase and end postures being the resting phase. Every moving phase must be completed with a resting phase, which in turn influences and assists the moving phase.

Quiet static practice promotes the accuracy of mo...vements and improves the internal power. There are specific static exercises, such as standing pole, sitting meditation, or single posture or fixed posture training. But they are preconditions for dynamic training. Dynamic practice refers to the whole set of a routine or several combinations of movements. It improves the flexibility and connectivity of Taijiquan movements.

In Taijiquan there is stillness within movements and movement within stillness. It requires practitioners to possess the mental capability to accommodate the idea that only the ingenious combination of both will enable and improve the quality of movements and the skill level of Taijiquan.

Training Gong

One often hears the phrase in Taijiquan, “training ‘quan’ without training ‘gong’, in the end all efforts come to nothing”.
The acquisition of “gong” takes effort, but where the effort is placed makes a big difference. ‘Quan’ is movement-based and therefore movements and postures play major roles in one’s acquisition of skill. However, people often mistake training “gong” as learning more movements. As a result they learn many forms and put all their effort on "quantity"... rather than on “quality”.

Taijiquan does not only attach importance to training the outside (physical) shape but also to internal (mental) practice. The failure to do both are often manifested in movements that are undefined and empty, and/or excessive and superfluous, or else stiff and clumsy. Wrong habits become embedded and corrections become very difficult, which not only affect the acquisition of ‘gong’, but also reduce the health and fitness as well as the functionality of Taijiquan.

Quantity and quality are the unity of contradiction. Without quantity, there is no quality. But quality is more important than quantity. The high level of Taijiquan is mainly reflected in its high quality. The "quality" of Taijiquan mainly refers to its “nei gong” (internalised skill), which includes “nei yi” (mental intention), “nei qi” (intrinsic energy) and “nei li” (internal force)- manifesting in the coordination of mental intention, guided qi, and trained strength. Mental intention is the prerequisite, guided qi is the core, and trained power is the result. They are the main standard by which to measure the quality of one’s movements and also the foundation of Taijiquan health and fitness as well as its functionality.