Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Zhan Zhuang

During Standing Pole exercise (Zhan Zhuang) the Bai Hui acupoint (at the top of the head) connects with the heavenly qi; the Yong Quan (at the bottom of the feet) joins with the ground qi; the Lao Gong at the centre of the hands opens up to the body's inherent natural qi.
It is said that during Zhan Zhuang the nerves in the knee joints receive strong stimulation that result in the activation of true qi that in time causes the body to warm up and the hands to have the feelings of expansion, numbness and tingling. Negative qi (postural deviation, physical illness, mental stress etc...) is expelled, usually through perspiration.
Achieve effective Zhan Zhuang through its root - from the feet. Known as the "second heart" or the “base of jing and qi”, a vast amount of the body's nerves are concentrated in the soles of the feet. It is credited for taking a major part of the body's physical demands. Zhan Zhuang is also an important method by which to open the Hui Yin acupoint (in the perineum) and dredging the meridians. It helps to quick start the body's energetic mechanism and promotes and enhances the circulatory functions of the Du and Ren Meridians and energy flow in the channels and collaterals.
The famous Chinese poet and pharmacologist Su Dongpo (1037-1101), evaluated qi cultivation method: "Its effect may not be felt initially, but accumulated over 100 days (over time), its benefits cannot be quantified. Compared to medicine its effect is a hundredfold."

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Progression in Taijiquan

The progression of Taijiquan practice can be seen in this way: in the first stage practice is like moving at the bottom of water; in the second stage it is like moving in water; and in the third stage it is like moving above water. This represents the progression of Taijiquan from substantial to insubstantial. In the beginning the practice is focused upon weightedness and substantiality. As skill increases movements become insubstantial- light and agile - until movements ...appear to glide in the wind.
Practising at the bottom of water the feet constantly seek the ground. When the body moves the water resistance is constantly felt. As one progresses and the body starts to move in the middle of the water, the feet do not need to seek the ground at the bottom and the resistance of the water become lesser; until the third stage when movements are above the water and resistance from the water is no longer felt. The body is extremely light and agile. The expression of Taijiquan is “vacuous, loose, whole, alive”. How does one achieve this? Taijiquan demands that in training movement principles, begin from denseness-heaviness towards lightness-agility. People achieve this in different degrees through their lifetime training.
The Taijiquan principle that says “feet planted like putting down roots” is a metaphor to pay attention to the stability under the feet. Ultimately for health and functionality the body needs to be free and nimble.

Friday, 3 November 2017

The role of breathing on qi circulation...

When correct Taijiquan practice is achieved, the joints and muscles move unimpeded and the Qi flow is no longer blocked. There’s a saying “in order for the water to flow first build the channel". Qi is a subtle abstract substance that makes up and sustains human life activities. It is difficult to observe directly, but its existence is perceived through the senses of the body and according to the various changes of one’s environment.
Qi can be compared to water; abdominal... breathing is like a pressure pump; the dantian is the pressure container; all meridians are water pipes; the limbs are larger pipes; and the heart (mind) is the generator. The mind is on to adjust the breathing, which facilitates filling the dantian and strengthening the pressure. 
Breathing must be deep, long, fine, gentle, smooth, soft, and in step with movements. Through the breath Qi can be distributed through the meridians to the limbs. The distribution process being - using intention, 60% of the water travel upwards, spiralling through the shoulders to the elbows, the wrists, the palms to the fingers, first the little finger then in sequence to the ring, middle, index fingers and the thumbs. 40% travel downwards, spiralling through both kuas into the legs, knees, ankles, feet and into the digits of the feet in sequence.
The flow of Qi follows opening stretching movements and exhalation of the breath. Even as internal Qi reaches the extremities, the internal strength must be full - “Qi must be present in every possible place”.
The key is awareness-guided breathing. Through the reverse abdominal breathing method the rotational movements in the dantian strengthen gradually. In between the in-breathes and out-breathes the little pauses make the abdominal region full like an air-filled balloon, to become “outside soft like cotton, inside strong as steel”. The whole body is imbued with Qi feeling. When pushing hands ‘peng’ energy is fully present and with it the ability to ‘zhan-liang-nian-sui’ (stick-link-adhere-follow). In every part there is the possibility of connecting to an opponent. In time a strong jin develops for attack and defence, as well as the potential to emit power.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Guarding the essence...

For various reasons not many contemporary practitioners are able to realise or transmit the true method and essence of Taijiquan. The past generations of pursuants of the art valued their heritage and guarded it fiercely and did not easily pass it to another person.

 Taijiquan is the essence of classical martial arts. That it had been preserved through the ages was due to the fact that it was not given over or taken up casually. If transmission had been indiscriminate it... would have long become watered down. Also, a complex art such as this can only be grasped by people who are pure in their pursuit and dedicated in their scholarship and self-cultivation.

 People of superficial knowledge expect quick success. The deeper content is beyond their understanding and therefore the need to put in great efforts. They are deemed not worthy of carrying such a weighty thing.


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Three Principles of Change

Taijiquan’s core principle is based on the “Zhou Yi", the Book of Change. The three principles of Change as explained in the Book are that change is Continuous, Reductive, and Constant.
The first principle says that change is happening continuously, that nothing, no person, not an idea nor a thought stays static, nor is it possible for them to remain the same. So the first thing one needs to understand is not only about change but also how to adapt to the principle of chan...ge. Taijiquan from its inception to the present have undergone continuous change in accordance with spatial and temporal changes. It has been said that "in the minds of 1000 people, there are 1000 variations of Taijiquan". The detailed explanations of Taijiquan content is like a phantasmagoria; each thing learned or unlearned is capable of change and evolvement into countless other possibilities. Learning Taijiquan is to begin to understand and accept "change".
The second principle of change is that it is reductive. Everything, no matter how profound and mysterious, when we begin to decode the mystery the profundity becomes ordinary and simple. Taijiquan play consists of a plethora of methods and moves that appear insurmountable at first. The “13 Methods” set against the contexts of the “Eight Trigrams” and the “Five Elements", for example, is a summarisation devised by the ancestors by which to understand and learn Taijiquan. Higher wisdom enables the final reduction to the all encompassing Yin and Yang, the theory of mutual existence, mutual creation and mutual change and the quest for the balance of the two complementary opposites.
The third principle of change is that it is “Constant”. Everything is capable of change at any time, but its original principle remains constant and unchanged. It facilitates transformation without its original state being changed. The central theme remains the same - “Change ten thousand times without departing its original state”. No matter that Taijiquan has evolved into many forms and many styles its principle remains constant and unchanged. Taijiquan is so called because its underlying principle is Taiji, of which there is only one. If the principle of Taiji is not applied to the quan, then it is not Taijiquan.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Following the nature of water...

The highest virtue is to be like water (the big dao of Taiji).

Laozi stated:

 "The highest virtue is like water, benefitting all things, contending with none, and is content with what others disdain. It is therefore closest to the dao"

 Water possesses these virtues:

It flows unceasingly and benefits all living things; therefore it is virtuous.
Always flowing downwards, whatever its shape it is formed without going against the rule of nature; therefore it is righteous.
It is vast and has no limits; therefore it has dao.
It travels without fear into challenging terrains; therefore it is courageous.
It remains level and settled wherever it lies; therefore it is constant.
It is as you see it, with neither embellishment nor detraction; therefore it has integrity.
There is no opening it does not enter; therefore it is perceptive.
It finds its way to its destination; therefore it is tenacious.
It adapts and adjusts continuously according to its situation and environment; therefore it has changeability.

These are the characteristics of water, seemingly harmless but has the potential for great damage; seemingly weak but latently powerful.
It is an ally to everyone, and yields unnoticeable benefits on everything around it. It is a formidable foe, and destroys everything in its path.

This is the nature of water. People who study the internal martial arts need to understand the big dao...

Learning to "harmonise"...

Taijiquan postures are often complex in nature and require the mind-intention to be focused on more than one area, such as on the coordination of the upper and lower limbs with the waist; on the coordination of the hands, eyes, body and footwork; on the physical form and structure being in their intended positions; on the functionalities of each action and each non-action; on keeping the whole body relaxed and supple; on the coordination of every movement with the breath and energetic feeling and many more.

In practice the different aspects cannot be considered separately and the mind-intention should not focus on one area at a time. If the mind-intention were to direct each one separately it is not possible to integrate the whole body whereby action, breath, relaxation, energetic manifestation, power, etc are at one. A new learner does not yet know how to work in concert and tends to focus on one aspect and lose another - e.g. concentrate on the hands and forget the feet, thinking of relaxing and forget to move freely...

Therefore training the intention is to train the ability to "harmonise", to be able to bring different requirements into play at the same time. The key is in the slow practice method of Taijiquan. From the simple to the complex. First train intention-breath, so that the mind becomes focused and until breathing becomes natural. Then intention-breath-relaxation, as now the intention is able to focus on the relaxation aspect, and the breath is able to synchronise with the relaxation processes; then intention-breath-relaxation-movement. Built upon the previous training of coordinating intention with the breath and relaxation, the focus is now on coordinating movements with the other aspects. In this way step by step train the six harmonies i.e. intention-breath-relaxation-shape-energy-spirit. Shape encompasses the correct movement coordinations of the hands, eyes, body and footwork. All that are visible and invisible will completely come under the control of mind intention (xin yi).

In practical learning and training, find out the meaning of each action, what the key points of an action are, its specifications, its Yin -Yang (complementary opposites) principles, so that proper intention is used. Continuously correct and adjust as skills improve.

"Living in the art"

Incorporate your art into every aspect of your daily life

Firstly, as much as possible ensure that your life style and habits do not contradict or conflict with the rules of your internal arts. For example, Taijiquan requires looseness, suppleness and calmness; in life, therefore, try to avoid using needless strength and holding unnecessary tension. Secondly, try to incorporate your internal art... into every aspect of your daily life, so that it can be practised anytime, anywhere and not restricted to certain times and conditions. The cultivation and maintenance of energy, spirit and consciousness have positive effects on the development of your art, and should be practised anytime anywhere. Saying that you have no time to train is an excuse. There are training opportunities when you are standing in queuing, waiting for your transport, reading, chatting...If you forget your practice as soon as the designated time for training is over, then your training time is indeed limited and short. The correct way is to "live in the art", whether standing, walking, sitting, or laying down. Then you will find that there's limitless and abundant time for training and you are never too far from your practice.

Internal martial arts are trained through the vehicle of the body and mind. Anything that is detrimental to the physical body and mental health is therefore bad for its development. The external factors which cause physical illnesses are the excessive or untimely exposure to the six conditions - wind, cold, heat, humidity, dryness and fire. Also habits such as unregulated food intake, irregular lifestyle, personal uncertainties, overworking or too much idle time. Mental stability is affected by the extreme exhibitions of the seven emotions namely: joy, anger, anxiety, thought, brooding, grief, fear and shock. And emotions such as arrogance, envy, greed, pride etc...These external and internal factors have the capacity to reduce physical fitness and mental health and therefore directly or indirectly affect the focus and potential for a successful long term practice.

Only people who love their art fervently and who have the deep interest to study every aspect of it will embrace it as an essential part of their lives.

Monday, 6 March 2017

"Song" - loose, relaxed and devoid of tension...

"Song" (translated as a state of looseness, relaxation, devoid of tension etc.) is one of the most important and fundamental essentials of Taijiquan, and is the ongoing goal of every Taijiquan player.
This is because "song" enables the body to sink; sinking facilitates softness and pliancy; softness and pliancy leads to lightness and agility; lightness and agility results in extreme sensitivity and the neutralising skill that enables entry to the higher levels of Taijiquan.
Within the dynamism of movements, the body must be loose and soft. No part of the body should have a trace of any unnecessary musculoskeletal as well as mental or energetic tension. This is an extremely difficult state to attain.
Even with guidance from a good teacher, the state of "song" can be achieved gradually only after a long period of self discipline and correction, of which there is no end point. It involves a multi-layered understanding of essential principles. It can be said that almost all of the essentials of Taijiquan are directly or indirectly associated with "song". Any action that does not adhere to principle will affect to some extent the quality of "song". For instance, if the frame is not balanced and stable, the muscles and joints contract in order to restore balance during movements, using unnecessary strength as well as creating musculoskeletal tension. The mind become anxious and the attempts become frustrating, affecting mental calmness. Therefore, achieving balance and correct structure is one of the methods for achieving "song".

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Trunk vs Leaves and Branches

There are two main methods of transmitting and training Taijiquan: one is the "trunk" method and the other is the "leaves & branches" method. The Yang family were the first known Taijiquan masters to make a living by teaching Taijiquan. They used the "trunk" method for some students and the "leaves & branches" method for others. The "trunk" method requires great effort and commitment in order to have an effect, and has little if any fun or enjoyment in the learning process. Only a person who possesses natural talent, tenacity and a deep commitment to Taijiquan is willing to accept this kind of training. The "trunk" method was used by past martial artists who needed to hone their skill in a limited time to defend home and country. They did not have the luxury of time and indulgence. Today the common method is the "leaves & branches" method. This method does not require very hard practice before yielding the first results. The sense of success and accomplishment is reinforced by the many branches and beautiful foliage - unlike the trunk where there's only the thick body and bark.
However, all is not lost in the "leaves and branches" method. Sometimes a discerning person recognises that establishing the trunk is a prerequisite for the branches and leaves to survive and to continue to be beautiful and robust. This is considered a roundabout and longer route. Sometimes the significance never becomes apparent and the trunk never reaches its full potential or is rendered useless and discarded.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Conforming to the essence of Taijiquan

It is easy for beginners of Taijiquan to exhibit two extremes: one extreme is to be stiff and inflexible, the other extreme is to be flaccid and weak. Neither of those conform to the essence of Taijiquan, in that movement and form are "light but not floating", "heavy but not stiff", fulfilling the underlying Taijiquan principle of duality, of equal display of softness and hardness; expounding the popular Taijiquan adage "mutual manifestation of pliant softness and heavy strength".
Taijiquan cannot be achieved through envy or subterfuge. It takes its natural course, following the gradual order of Yin-Yang changes and the philosophy of the ”middle path". The small dao enables a healthy body; the medium dao enables self-defence capabilities; the high dao disciplines the temperament and cultivates the moral character.

Understanding Principles to Realise Content

Ultimately Taijiquan is not about its appearance but its content. Without expressing the content the practice is incomplete and has not reached its final goal.

 Successful practice requires the understanding of core principles in order to bring about its content. Realising the existence of content enables deeper study. However, appearance and content are dual facets of Taijiquan. Appearance without content is flawed, but then expression is required to bring forth, exhibit and validate the content.

 The appearance can be viewed as the path that leads to a destination. One needs the path to go forward, but one must not remain on the path. A boat takes one across the water to the other side, but one needs to step off the boat on the other side.

 Often people do not realise this and devote time and effort to maintain appearance rather than expressing Taijiquan's content. Being able to do a form beautifully does not necessarily mean one is exhibiting its content and character. Taijiquan movements without its content is not Taijiquan.

Training the martial arts "way"

Training "Quan" (martial arts skill) is about undertaking the "Dao" (the Way); hence the existence and traditional emphasis on "Quan Dao" - the Martial Arts Way. "Quan Dao" is a formula for practice, a blueprint for self-discipline, self-development and self-examination. It is through the pursuit of physical, mental and spiritual perfection that the ultimate goal "Shen Ming" (Enlightenment) may be achieved. The "Dao" must be unadulterated, and understood and realised, so t...hat the "Quan" will have etiquette,ethical and structural order and form. 
First know what is "Quan Dao". It is the doctrine of the "Golden Mean" and follows the "Ideal Way" - the doctrine that constitutes balanced practice and one that encompasses cultivation. It seeks an ideal physical state as well as mental and psychological equilibrium. Its quintessential element is Quietness. It is the physical and mental quietness that ensue from training and cultivation. For quietness heightens awareness, enables clarity and provides insight, and leads to gradual enlightenment. It is not ordinary nor is it easy.
The study of "Quan" is a dynamic spiritual journey. Using the discipline of external training to nurture and develop inner calm and growth, to temper the character and to reap the intangible but real benefit of "Quan" practice. In the process of long term practice, it is said that the formation of the "Dao" "begins in the heart and goes out to the outside world, and then from the outside world back to the heart" - that is, advancing from simple to complex, then from complexity return to simplicity, which become interchangeable.