2006 Tai Chi Journal

25 May, 2007 Ken Martial Arts

{finally being tweaked and here published}

Introduction

I never considered myself a Tai Chi master. The two main reasons for this is that first, I am not a master in that art, and secondly, that I am honest about it. I am and always have been a scholar — a student of the arts who has played the role of teacher in so much as making what I do know available where otherwise it would not. I have always deferred to the true masters when they became available for both me and my students, and felt no regret in pushing them out of the nest after digesting what I could only give them a taste of. But being looked up to as an authoritative souce for so long was a delusion too easy to believe, at least subconsciously. I was a big fish in a lot of small ponds, and an orphan in my own training.

And this is why it was a bit difficult — after years of teaching the little I have learned, practiced, and discovered — to empty my cup and start learning a particular, traditional, lineaged style. I have finally found a teacher that meets the necessary criteria: He has a style consistent with my training; he is more advanced than I in both experience and technical knowledge in one or more areas; and he is someone I have confidence in as a human being. That last point sealed the deal, because for me, the martial arts are a very personal, spiritual thing.

This long article, originally meant ot be a series of articles — my “Tai Chi Journal” — is a contemplation of a one-year journey (2006) into Yang Chengfu Tai Chi. I am coming into it fresh, but not new. For me this is like living a whole childhood in a faraway land, and then coming back to it years later as a man. It is impossible to forget all I have learned (and much I need to unlearn). It is unwise to pretend I know nothing of the theoretics or practice of other styles and schools. My challenge is not to throw out the cup, but empty it. This means to become detached from my previous experiences, keeping them only as a reference point, and even then at arm’s length and not as an immutable foundation.

I will give the reader this journal to be used as a number of things. First, this is a taste of training in a traditional style. This is also a contrast between formally learning a style and simply being exposed to it, studying it piecemeal, and practicing it without a strong foundation. The strengths and limitations of both approaches need to be acknowledged, and training like the other half trains will make these ever-debated positions come alive with hands-on perspective.

Also, I hope the reader will walk away with the ability to make a choice in their own path without having to spend their lives weighing what they have with what could have been. Learn from the mistakes of others who paid the price — we each make enough mistakes of our own as it is.

Lastly, my hope for you is that you can keep your own cup empty, no matter what you strive to learn in life. There is no belief, theory, or concept that is so sacred it cannot be left behind for a better understanding. Question, test, accept, and reject these things as needed. They are only planks in the boat that get you to the shore of real truth. And when you get there, be willing to leave your boat behind.

Peace in All Things,

Ken

19 Responses to “2006 Tai Chi Journal”

  • admin says:

    As a sequel to this journal, here’s a quick note what I’ve been doing. I occasionally go to a Tai Chi or Chi Kung class over at the school, but get together an average of once every couple weeks with Tian, a local engineer from China I met through http://www.MartialTalk.com who has experience with Hsing-I, I-Chuan, and Tai Chi push hands. His explanation of the Chinese terms makes it clear that even the simplest English words we use, such as “press” or “push” have a different meaning in application than one would think. Also, his perspective on “internal arts” deals with the areas of muscles that are used instead of “chi” as a martial concept. Doing push hands with him is intense at times, and it unforgivingly forces me to stretch and connect with my waist more than any other training or partners I’ve worked with. The three main things I learned right away:Don’t use full range of stance (except when training full range)Learn to rotate the center against center pushRelax my fingersThis hands-on training is giving me a very different perspective from my many years of slacking and training mostly with non-martial artists. It’s almost discouraging to see how far short of real skills I’ve come over the years, but at the same time, I have no desire to engage in long-term training results. I know that sounds silly, but I’ve always preferred skills that could be passed on over a shorter period with maximum gain instead of creeping up the curve over so many more years. I’d rather train to overcome the vast majority of the population’s skills instead of planning to win against some rare skilled opponent. Besides, as impressive as fa jing can be when developed in certain ways, I’m still a pacifist at heart and would rather apply defensive maneuvers and chin-na, skills I did not find tedious to develop. Just a preference I suppose …

  • admin says:

    Week 41 (Thanksgiving)I’m regularly teaching now at the VA center, Mondays and Wednesdays. I went to class Monday and Wednesday evening, which was mostly review and covered first section and parts of the second. Sharon wasn’t in town, so there was no sword. Friday morning, there was unofficially no class due to it being Black Friday. Or at least no one else showed besides me, and Sifu was busy running the store so I didn’t even get to led the class as planned. Week 42 & 43I’ve missed a lot of classes between appointments and other engagements. Tis the season! I’m trying to keep pace with sword class now that Bob has caught up, and I’ve been working with both Sifu Sharon and Sifu Bob to fine-tune the last parts of section three. But I’m starting to have doubts about how far and long I plan to study. I want to at least finish out the year, and want to finish going through the basics of the whole 103 set and perhaps even the sword form. On the negative side, though, my back wont allow me to do the whole 103 in one standing — not even close — and the sword form is cool but I didn’t learn anything directly practical like I had hoped. I’m sure that will come with the time and experimentation I will find outside of class. Week 44-46 (December 11 ff)Because of continued back pain any time I do almost anything, I took off except for teaching, but I did watch the sword class one Wednesday. Simple lifting, sitting in the wrong chair, and Yang Style Tai Chi all seem to exacerbate the condition, which I’ve went to the chiropractor several times in these few weeks. The last adjustment was promising, but I can still feel it.

  • admin says:

    Week 37 & 38 (Oct 23ff)I’ve been trying to go to more evening classes, and haven’t been to Monday classes. Sharon started up Fire Dragon Chi Kung class again on Saturday, shifting all classes 1 hour later. So we had two Saturdays of 3 hours: chi kung; tai chi; and sword. What a workout. And we’re nearly to the end of the sword form. I questioned Sifu Sharon about representing Yang Cheng-fu Tai Chi at the VA facility, and she disapproved. I need to be at least level 3 before teaching. Sifu Bob made the decision to send me anyway, but not to represent the style. He felt it was very informal and just plain helpful to the people there, forgetting all politics. Week 39On Wednesday, I taught at the Veterans Crisis Services Center and had a great time, albeit almost late. Later, I went to sword class but my back got really sore so I left before Tai Chi. Saturday I went to Trinity Episcopal Church in Buffalo to see Chi Kung experts from China but they never showed. Sifu Bob was there, along with Orie and Sara (a Deacon there), so we went through first section in the stone chapel. Week 40Between trial teaching at the VA facility on Monday and being out of town on things business and personal Wednesday and Friday, I hardly made any classes, including sword. Even on Saturday, when they unexpectedly planned to do sword, I had choir practice. During class on Monday I experienced more back pain than usual as well, and the chiropractic adjustment Friday was welcome — I wont be going to every 3rd week after all…

  • admin says:

    Week 32 (Sept 18 ff)Because of a hectic schedule (which included seeing the Dalai Lama), I went only to Tuesday morning, Wednesday afternoon, and Friday morning classes. Later Friday, I helped Sifu Bob by doing some painting in his new store. I also discovered this week that the 103 Form chart was numbered in Chinese the same as the printed reference done by the school, even though the Arabic numerals on the chart numbered every photo for every slice of every movement. This week was just generic fine tuning and practice, and bringing Bob up to speed with sword, while I fixed a few of the postures in my own work. Saturday afternoon, I’m introducing basic self-defense and Tai Chi to Girl Scouts at Seven Hills.Week 33The morning classes have been focusing slowly on second section, and evening ones on the first half of third section when newer students aren’t around. Sword classes are moving along nicely, and Bob catches up when he can in between other distractions at the school. Sifu Bob asked if I could teach for the VA Hospital two mornings a week. There’s no telling if an when it will start, but I decided it would be worth it — I agreed to do it in exchange for tuition and a few bucks for gas. Week 34I’ve been going sporadically to different classes, and we’ve continued to move the morning group forward into second section. Sifu Sharon and I worked on learning the last of the sequence of third section.Week 35 There was no Friday or Saturday class due to the expansive weather-caused power outages. I’ve also been working on building a frame for the 103 Set reference posters.Week 36I went to Tuesday evening class for a change, and Sifu Bob worked with me on the second half of third section in a bit of detail. I did not go to Wednesday classes due to spending my 9th Anniversary with my wife. Sifu’s wife is getting into the classes now, and I am feeling more and more confident with the whole style.

  • admin says:

    Week 28Tuesday and Wednesday I worked with two students, one who felt it was too slow and remedial, and the other who was really appreciative. I gave lots of verbal cues instead of just having them follow by sight, as we rarely do it that way. I was too sick (a nasty cold) to come in Friday, but I made Saturday class. Sifu Sharon showed us a lot of the things she learned at the seminar they just returned from. Week 29I came to Tuesday’s evening class instead of the usual Monday morning. Sifu Bob shared what he had gotten out of the seminar, but a point of timing is seemingly the opposite of what Sifu Sharon had just showed us Saturday. We also went through the idea of moving one way to go another and always being in motion, but clashed a little on interpretation of the idea. I had been starting the next movement before finishing the previous so the activity and intention is overlapped, but apparently the full extension of particular techniques is accented as a pause instead. Sifu became slightly frustrated at my questioning him on it in front of the class. I apologized the next evening and he was pleased I had taken notice of my transgression. He is from the older school of never talking, even to be helpful, to a teacher. Even though I do not accept this methodology, I did step over the line from constructive dialogue to class distraction. Now that Sifu Bob had worked on sword with Master Yang, Sifu Sharon led both of us in sword class. Afterward, we had regular Tai Chi class where Sifu Sharon led Bob, myself, and one other student. Unlike Sifu Bob’s bringing back interpretations of principles, Sifu Sharon went through many specific points where we must adjust our practice. Many of these I had discovered on my own by watching the school’s reference DVD while they were away at seminar. Week 30 We’ve been doing more expansive postures for warm-up just prior to the set recently, breathing in on the extension and releasing, picturing the set palm as a diaphragm. Stretches the muscles in a unique way, but reinforces connection nicely. I’ve also noticed more and more that Sifu Bob thinks in terms of body mechanics more than connection, relating applications from an external approach. We even practice kicks and strikes a little in such a way that I am not sure if the internal (energetic) mechanics are used as much as the external (physical) ones. I came to Monday morning and Wednesday evening class, but was camping on Saturday and Sunday. Sifu Bob and I even went through the sword a bit after Monday class, just for practice, not instruction, and we corrected each other on a couple points. I hope we get to do that more often. Sifu Sharon went through the next movement after Mustang Jumps Over the Ravine.Week 31I did the usual Monday and Friday morning classes where we worked the details of Hands Raise Up and Strum the Lute (called Play the Pipa by Sharon). I even filled in on Sifu Bob’s free Monday late-morning class, accompanied part of the class by Sarah. Wednesday afternoon, Sifu Sharon didn’t come, so I helped Bob with preparing for moving the school / store next door. We had a class thereafter with one other student. Sifu Bob stressed not shortening the step in Strum the Lute, where Sifu Sharon (on Saturday morning) followed closer to the book where it was brought in about a fist length forward. No disagreement really when I brought it to their attention, just a difference in focusing with some flexibility in application. Saturday during class, I got to work with Bob a bit practicing resistance on Hand Strums the Lute. I forgot myself and rooted, stopping him from executing the push. But then Sharon uprooted me easily when pulling on my hand. I discovered that pulling back must involve pressing on the ball of the foot, which after mentioning it Sifu Sharon said was a point stressed at the seminar. Also, the advice to sink with the back and elbow instead of the shoulder was well used. I really wish we could do this sort of interactive adjusting and learning all the time.

  • admin says:

    Week 23I went to the usual Monday and Friday morning sessions, and the Wednesday evening one after sword, in which I have not progressed much. Probably lack of practice from being so busy. This week I met with Sifu Sharon’s chiropractor for a second opinion from my first, as well as Michelle’s (a third opinion), and decided to go with the latter for treatment. By Thursday, I had thrown out my back from painting, and so went to my first session later that day. I was sore for Friday and Saturday morning, but could do all the exercises except a few bending ones and had to go easy on the twisting warm-up. The morning classes are mostly a workout and review for fine-tuning, but on Wednesday, we covered Shuttles over and over, which was great. I think I finally get it. Week 24I made it Monday and Wednesday morning, but could not stay much past sword class Wednesday evening. Orie is still talking about making sword classes, and even practiced with me after that morning’s class. In the evening, I learned a few new sword movements, which I hope to actually be able to practice now that my back is much better. I can even do all the warm-ups, albeit carefully. My SI joints are no longer really sore, and my Kua continues to open, making some stretches and movements a lot more possible and even comfortable. But I still have trouble keeping my knees from folding inward. On Monday, I was asked to work on Grasp Sparrow’s Tail with two new students, one of which (Sarah) clearly had previous martial experience. Isshin-Ryu, in fact, but was very fluid and followed new movements very well. She was also there on the Wednesday class where I had to leave early.I went Friday and Saturday morning, where we worked on the usual first and second sections. I can get through both now with minimal back pain. We also fine tuned Single Whip some more. Sifu Bob held the class by himself, as Sifu Sharon was unable to make it. Week 25We went a few movements ahead on the Sword this week, such as Tiger Shakes His Head left and right and Mustang Leaps, but I can’t remember the transitions to practice them properly. I went to Monday evening and Saturday morning class as well as Wednesday after sword — Sifu Sharon taught all three classes, as she happened to be there Monday and left Sifu Bob free to run the store. I’m getting through third section a bit, but most classes as usual are spent on earlier movements. Week 26Sifu Bob held the usual class Monday morning, but we worked on the first half or so of second section, going through it a few times. Afterward, I practiced sword a bit and helped Sarah with some basic postures. I was unable to make Wednesday class, but went Friday and Saturday. A bit more practice on second section these days. Saturday, I got to go over sword with Sifu Sharon. Week 27This Monday morning, Sifu Bob asked if I was able to lead the class during regular times in the mornings while he and Sifu Sharon were in Michigan for the Tai Chi conference. I have to find the line between informally helping and outright teaching, which is not yet appropriate for me to do, but I accepted the challenge wholeheartedly. He also asked me to list the differences I see between the way he and Sifu Sharon teach particular techniques. I’ll be making a list today. Wednesday morning we finalized plans for me to come in and lead the morning class (Friday, Saturday, Tuesday, and Wednesday), but an hour later than usual. Friday, only two people showed, and none of Saturday. Signs were never put up announcing the changed time, so I don’t know if people missed it by mistake or unavailability. On Friday, I taught “cheating” to maintain balance before placing a foot, as well as in the Golden Rooster exercise (touching the toe to the ground lightly instead of using the wall).On Saturday, I watched the Tai Chi DVD to see the sword again, and also looked at the 103 Set. I found many thing I need to correct, as well as variances from how we have been taught. I will take extensive notes on Tuesday.

  • admin says:

    Monday: Evening class for a change. Getting the hang of all the transitions in second section. Wednesday: Sifu Sharon couldn’t make sword class, but we being just us, we split up regular class into half an hour of sword and half an hour of open hand. In the sword form, I moved forward only a movement or so. Friday: No choir in the evening, but I decided on morning class anyway. We went through the whole set and it killed my back. I had to stop at the end of second section. Afterward, I showed my sword work to a senior student, Orie, who had previously learned sword from Sharon. I’m trying to talk her into working with us on Wednesdays. Saturday: We did first and second section, and Sifu Sharon tried to work on my back a bit, finding the lower Thoracic spot where the pain was, and tension above it. At this point, everyone is suggesting chiropracty. Sifu Bob was at a wedding (standing up for Mark, a senior student), and so no one came for saber. Instead, I got to expand my work on the sword a few more movements. Still questions about applications on both our parts, but we explored the possibilities and mechanics in some detail.Wednesday: After the 4th of July long weekend, it was good to get back, although we didn’t have sword class. One other student was in Sifu Sharon’s class with me for a change, and we went through part of second section. There is a discrepancy between how Sifu Sharon and Sifu Bob does Pick Up Needle, and she suggested I not such things to ask Master Yang at the upcoming seminar in August. Friday: Morning class was the usual review of first section, followed by a trip to the nearby gym where I have a three-day trial membership pass. Today, I told Sifu Bob I did not expect to be tested in August, as I have not gotten down the 103 yet and that I didn’t want to rush it for such a purpose. Saturday: Sifu Sharon had myself and two other students, all ready to explore third section. We focused on the beginning, in particular the series of Brushing the Wild Horse’s Mane. We also worked on Moving Hands Like Clouds, where I need to remember many points, such as turning the hands sooner and not raising them above nose level.Monday: We had a full house pretty much this morning with two fresh new students. After going through the usual warm-ups and first set (them watching), Sifu asked me to get them started on the first few movements. I also covered the principles a bit. It worked out well, as they seemed overwhelmed in the regular class. Wednesday: For some reason, I went to class in the morning, forgetting I’d be there in the evening as well. Same new people in with the old, but I didn’t get to work with them. We focused a little on really basic push hands, but were not paired up — just the motion, and Sifu Bob and I demonstrating what it would be like. My knees still like to turn inward at every opportunity. Afterward, I went to a chiropractor for the first time. Apparently, just as I had compensated for over-tucking my tailbone, my thoracic is now over-arched. Exchanging one pain for another it seems, and still not a truly natural position. I felt it in the class with Sifu Sharon, doing second section all the way through twice (along with personally fine-tuning Boxing the Ears). Embarrassingly, I was late for sword class, and we only had time to review what I had learned the previous week. I haven’t had much time to practice lately, and even my tassel no longer wishes to cooperate. Friday: I made morning class on Friday, but did not note anything that stood out. Saturday: Michelle came with me After working as a larger group, then we split up. She seemed to enjoy it and is considering it as a lifestyle fitness option.

  • admin says:

    Monday: It was just Sifu Bob and I and I had to have us stop at the end of Second Section while attempting the whole set due to back pain. We discussed stretching and otherwise took it easy. We specifically worked on the weak link in second set, just before Leg Separations — High Pat on Horse. Wednesday: In sword class, I slowly got up to speed. I didn’t remember the Little Dipper posture and so wasn’t sure how to work up to the first knee cut. After going over it, it came back to me and was able to get it well enough to learn the skipping motion that followed, finalized with a thrust.Tai Chi class was also just Sifu Sharon and I, and I worked once more on High Pat on Horse, as well as Shuttles. I still don’t feel confident enough to practice them on my own, but I’m close. Saturday: I missed class on Friday, and on Saturday went to teach Tai Chi and self defense at Seven Hills to the Girl Scout leadership. While there, I practiced my sword, and finally got the tassel not to get tied up. In fact, I got it to fling around somewhat like Sifu Sharon does it. I’m finally focusing on the handle when pulling the sword across.Wednesday: A friend’s crisis came up and so I was unable to make class Monday, but Wednesday I showed off my new-found ability to not tie up the tassel as much. We went a bit rather in the set, but spend most of the time refining the last few movements I previously learned. In Tai Chi, we went through second set and casually spent the rest of the class talking Chi Kung, including water-related exercises and environmental considerations. Saturday: After fine tuning more of second section, I asked Sifu Sharon to go over the last of the sword movements. It was brief, and even after this, I still can’t keep it in memory quite right.Tuesday: Still irregular in my schedule, but worked in a morning class. In these morning classes, we cover mostly first section and the beginning of second section. After class, I watched the Tai Chi sword demo part of the Yang video. Not a good reference, but gave me the idea. Namely, that is, the idea that it was nearly unattainable. Looking at him move, it just seems so far out of reach as to be discouraging even to me. I watched it three or four times in a row. Wednesday: Another morning class, and more fine tuning. Sifu Sharon took today off to give her elbow that has been bothering her some rest. Friday: In the morning class again, we focused on pushing off with the very last effort (the toes) when centering completely on the other foot. I didn’t realize I wasn’t doing this, and it really helped balance and stability. Tuesday: Morning class. Sink the elbow more, not over-extending in the wind up for Brush Knee. Wednesday: Finally got the last part of sword I was working on, and actually went much farther. Best yet, I remember it. I came to class a bit fatigued, and somehow that took out distractions and everything flowed better, more naturally. I also found the speed at which I must slow to for best practice. Moving up and down is still a problem in some moves. Tai Chi class itself (solo again with Sifu Sharon) was going through the forgotten transitions in second set, such as just before striking tiger with both fists. We talked a lot about methodology, application, and the like, swapping chi stories. To my surprise, they wanted to know if I would test out in August. For SECOND level. I reminded them I didn’t even know the 103 set yet, and they felt I still had a chance. I’m in no hurry, but it’s tempting. I found that Sifu Bob is testing for third level and that Sifu Sharon is fourth. There are one or more years of study required between levels, and third level requires knowing the 103 Set well along with one sword set (either straight sword or saber). Friday: I made morning class, and stayed for the free class in the middle of the mall for some extra work, interrupted by business calls occassionally, which was alright, as it was an informal class where I could come and go. A surprise road trip means I can’t make class Saturday.

  • admin says:

    Note: The numbering of the weeks will resume, ignoring this week’s absence.

  • admin says:

    Monday: I didn’t note anything in particular today, except I led the class in first section and helped the two other students on Raise Hands with the consent of Sifu Gott. Wednesday: Sword class went well. I was briefed in etiquette and starting posture. I learned the first few movements, namely Three Circles of the Moon and Big Dipper. Sifu Sharon explained that the Big Dipper referred to the stars of a Chinese constellation, not the object (ladle). Apparently those stars represent a guardian found on the doors of libraries and places of learning. And I believe I learned it well enough to practice on my own, which I did later this evening. In the main class Sifu Sharon went over section one with me and another student. We also worked on push hands, and I still have the habit of raising my chi up from the ground instead of extending downward and upward at the same time. So many details of advice that I can’t seem to consistently put into practice. And not raising upward slightly is very difficult, even after my weeks of learning not to in the set. I also asked Sifu to refine my Ward Off Left, which I understand now is more of an expansion at the end point of the posture, rather than a rotation rounded out. Friday: Sifu brought to my attention a number of things, saying I was ready for the next level. He suggested I focus on where my focus should actually be instead of looking at my own posture. The idea is simple. When you start out, you watch someone else, then you watch yourself. In the end, you watch your opponent, real or imagined. He also pointed out my tongue prancing about when I’m concentrating. It’s an age-old problem for me. In an arcade, people used to enjoy watching my tongue more than the game I was playing. And it’s a bit annoying and embarrassing to be lectured about not doing something (touching the tongue to the palate) I’ve told countless others to do over the years. Other tweaking included not raising my shoulders when I prepare for Raising Hands and settling my wrists completely before moving forward in the Push at the end of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. Saturday: We went through second section, then third, finally focusing on particular parts of the second section. Sifu Bob corrected a number of postures leading up to and including the backfist, which I was focusing downward instead of outward.Monday: I asked for the benefit of the students around me to go through Step Up, Parry, and Punch, but it turned out to help me a lot with my own timing. Wednesday: I couldn’t make Tai Chi class, but was able to stay for one half-hour for Tai Chi Sword. Sifu Sharon seemed pleased that I had the basic movements down — the almost daily practice paid off. We fine tuned it and added Swallow Sips and perhaps went further. I’m totally unfamiliar with the names. The main thing I am learning is to keep the sword low when pointing upward and to move it more using my waist. It will be a while before the tassel does what it’s supposed to … Friday: I went in the morning due to commitments later in the day — this whole week has been really busy. Sifu Bob has been focusing on details with me more and more it seems. For example, he showed me how hand position near the elbow in Press guides the right arm into fullness instead of merely bracing it. A lot of details that seemed obscure are making sense. I also snuck a look at the Yang’s book on Tai Chi (in the front of their store) regarding the last sword movements I learned to figure out if I was doing them right. It was in Chinese, but the pictures were very helpful, much more than the Tai Chi Sword book laying around the training area, which seemed a significantly different set. Saturday: During class, I pushed Sifu Sharon for details on “pong” energy, such as is used in Ward Off. It focuses on feeling (listening to) the opponent instead of transferring energy outward. That totally changes the expression in Ward off and other movements for me. I suggested, with a response of incredulity, that if the energies were taught earlier, it would be easier to learn the postures and let the chi correct them into place. I’ll bring this up again another time if appropriate, as I think understanding the different energies really will set me up to learn more efficiently. As only Sifu Bob was there for Saber, Sifu Sharon took a few moments to go over what I had learned Wednesday. The clarifications were really helpful and now I have something to practice properly.Monday: A half-dozen or so people in the class, we worked first section, holding postures to fill expression. Made a few fine adjustments. I came early to practice sword, as it’s been raining much of the day. Wednesday: It seemed an effort to overcome the stress of the day, and I was exhausted by the end of sword class, where we added a few movements. Then we chatted about Chi Kung (there were no other students that evening) and went through second section in more detail, which was helpful as I had really missed the details of a few transitory movements. Friday: I came in the morning due to afternoon commitments and we worked on first section. I don’t recall anything notable. Saturday: I was unable to go to Saturday class for the first time since I started. Unrelated to the school, I went out of town and did an introduction class to girl scouts based on my previous curriculum. For the first time since last year, I actually went through the set the way I previously taught it. I found myself slipping into Yang style movements the whole time, but also felt free as a bird due to the extra dimension of upward and downward hand and body movements.

  • admin says:

    Monday: A few new students and I worked on various particulars of the first section, and I was placed near the front to assist in helping the newer students follow the form. I was careful not to overdue Wu Chi, not extending too far, so there was little pain during the class. Tuesday: After going through the usual warm-ups (I used a figure four stance for Wu Chi and it seemed to work better on my back), I worked with a senior student on second section, going through it a few times. He knew the order better, but didn’t express the principles as much as I expected. I’m still working on correcting my Repulse Monkey and have a few hazy spots in that section to really go through. Afterward I volunteered to play dummy for the one student that showed up in his Hung Gar class, which was fun. Date unknown: I’m sure I went to class at least once between these entries, but did not make note. Saturday: We worked on the 3rd section up to Shuttles. The opening of the Kua in Parting the Horse’s Mane was awesome. I should use it as a stretch.Monday: After working on basics, I practiced doing the 360 degree spin from the second section over and over again. Wednesday: Sharon was ill and so Sifu Gott held class with me and another student. We did first section and worked on details of the second. At the end of class Sifu Gott explained that there should be a slight press of the foot back to the body after placing it and before a movement goes forward. He said Sharon describes it as “absorbing” and it makes perfect sense to me. Friday: We worked out better timing on Brush Knee and I had Sifu Gott clear up timing issues on Crane Cools Wings. Apparently, there is a pause after arm closure before placing the foot. Afterward, I stuck around to see the Hung Gar students tested for moving up. Saturday: Sifu Sharon was still a bit under the weather, but didn’t show it. After class, Bob and one other student practiced the saber form with her, and Bob loaned me a broadsword to follow along. I did so at a distance to not impede their progress, as he is preparing for testing later this year. Many parts were natural; many more I did not perform correctly at all. But then I’ve never done the form before and only watched it a handful of times. Sifu Sharon said she may start a straight sword class when one of the older students comes back to town, perhaps as soon as Wednesday.Monday: We were introduced to push hands. Sifu Gott demonstrated with my help to the other four students and then he asked me to work with one couple as he worked with the other. I was surprised because although I said I had years experience before this school, I had little in this style. I had to make the effort to keep my front knee aligned with my foot and found that the expansion of posture (extending outward) really helped deflect the push and not have the arm trapped, which I thought would be more likely when deflecting across the front leg instead of toward the back one. The particular exercise works almost exactly like Brush Knee, but Sifu equated it with Ward Off and Pull Back, except pulling to the other side. I believe the equation was due to similar energies, but it was confusing for one or more of the students. We also refined Single Whip a bit more, where the extension of the beaked fist at the end of the movement is no longer described as a strike, as it has no impact, merely equal but opposite bracing for the left hands palm strike. As for Brush Knee, I am once again becoming confident that my timing and posture is falling into proper place. Wednesday: We spent some of the class just talking, and Sifu Sharon showed me the preliminary posture and motions of the Yang sword form. We will start sword classes next Wednesday before our usual Tai Chi class. Friday: We did a thorough warm-up and then the whole 103 set, but took it one section at a time because my back was sore from mucking stalls Thursday. There are a number of spots in the third section and still the second where I’m not sure what’s going on or getting it quite right. Saturday: We went through the whole 103 set in 26 minutes. Then we spent most of the remainder of the class doing push hands. We did the Push (end of Grasp Sparrows Tail) against the crossed arms of the other person. My back was still sore and although I adjusted my alignment and focus to no end, there were many times I couldn’t counteract the other’s root. I was trying not to use muscular force and sometimes really connected, but other times only a little more physical force did the trick. I described Sifu Sharon’s root as a “mound” that I couldn’t find anywhere for my chi to grab into. It seemed almost like her upper body wasn’t there. I was much better at sensing Sifu Bob’s solid root and focus when rooting or pushing. He is definitely more physical, having trained so many years in a hard style.

  • admin says:

    Monday: I needed to wake myself up for the day (and the week) so I went in the morning today. A small group of us went through first section and part of the second, focusing on a number of movements, such as Pick Up Needle. Afterward, I accompanies Sifu Bob to the center of the mall to demo a bit. It was fun and we even picked up some participating spectators. Wednesday: With myself and three newer students, we worked much of the class on second movement. As simple as it sounds, I worked up a sweat, quickened my heart rate a bit, and still needed improvements such as keeping my hands in front of the shoulders instead of closer together. Sifu Sharon also demonstrated the direction of energy on the downward movement and brought to my attention what turned out to be an important point — the arms rotate slightly upward not on their own, but by opening the back. Thursday: I think I may have discovered the cause of my back pain … while working on the set alone, I decided to consciously avoid leaning into the movements and the stress on my middle back was greatly diminished. I never had pain from doing other styles leaning forward, but they weren’t large-frame styles where the hands are always drawn outward from the body so much. Afterward, we were asked to do the set by ourselves so he could watch, focusing on expanded, larger-framed movements. The correction he made for me was bringing the hand (but not the elbow) in near the shoulder before focusing forward in Brush Knee Twist Step. Maybe they should call it Twist Step Brush Knee… He also explained the to a new student the differences between rooting in Hung Gar and Tai Chi (external versus internal). I was surprised how solid and heavy his root was! And I called him on using a 3-point root, which I did not expect, but he explained that such was used in Hung Gar. Saturday: We did some training and went through the first section and the 46 movement set (which I had a lot of trouble following). Sifu Sharon also shared with us her growing understanding of teachings being “lost in the translation” and pondered the raising of the head as a debated point in Tai Chi circles. She asked me specifically if I had read anything about this, and I confessed that I had heard of suspending the head in Chi Kung, but not come across it personally in any martial style, including Tai Chi, except for Yang Style. We also went slightly in circles discussing whether or not there was such a thing as right and wrong technique, almost — but not quite — falling into the pit of total relativism. Sifu Sharon is an engineer, but not a philosopher, and she said the whole thing hurt her head. But I did share my finding earlier this week about an upright posture being more consistent with the large-frame Yang style. There was question as to the opening of the Ming Men (lumbar region) and I explained the leaning style open it by stretching from shoulders to heel, where the upright posture we use in Yang style seems to sort-of “round” it open. Sifu Sharon’s explanation of the back as one of the five “bows” of the body, finding straightness through curve, made perfect sense, also in light of how the uprightness of the head may work.Monday: It was a bigger class, with a half dozen people or so, and we went through first section a few times. Nothing stood out. Wednesday: I worked alone on the second section with Sifu Sharon, which was a nice change, and I am getting more comfortable with the sequence, though far from memorized. Friday: Sifu Gott tends to have us hold a rooster posture (one-legged) for some time on each side, then Wu Chi. The problem is that extending my arms for that long a time causes back pain, and the whole class tends to get worse from there. I was noticeably distracted with pain by the time we finished going through first section. Then I worked on second section by myself, focusing on the sequential order, while Sifu Gott worked with younger students. I realized from looking at the chart that I was doing Repulse Monkey incorrectly for Yang style by putting my one hand well behind me instead of to the side to start the motion, and no one had yet corrected me on that point. Saturday: As most times where I am the only non-beginner student, I chose to work with the rest of the class instead of going on with second section. We went through the details of Grasp Sparrows Tail in detail, and in particular I corrected the timing of the turning of the hands in press — I need to turn and start the press before my hand turns to touch my arm. I also finally get the extension before roll back. It isn’t a pressing away or pulling in with the back leg, but a focus on sinking into the front while pressing outward to the side slightly. I discussed the back pain with Sifu Sharon, and she recommended a particular stretch, as well as showing me an exercise called “3 phases of the moon” that I will have to try.

  • admin says:

    Monday: There was a new student and one with minimal training in class with me, so we went over the basics of the first few movements. I reassured Sifu Gott not to ever feel guilty for going through really basic training with me present or feel pressured to jump ahead for me. It was a really great class, and I can’t get enough practice of Ward Off Left to really get it down. Wednesday: Sifu Sharon worked with me on many of the more challenging movements in the second section, and worked together to figure out the meaning of some of the subtle instructions given by Yang regarding particular movements. I feel like she respects me as a peer as well as a student. I just need to be sure to keep my place as student, with my cup empty. Friday: I went to class in the morning because of choir practice in the evening. Once again, we worked on the first spin, along with going through the second section in general. Saturday: We actually went through third set, as I was with the older students. We also focused on a number of different sections and discussed the difference in application between Pick Up Needle and Play the Pipa. For some reason, I had a hard time following Move Hands Like Clouds until the realization was imparted — the upper arms move as little as possible in this and most movements. Another example of something I really knew well being completely new. I also briefly talked with a older student who had on an Inosanto t-shirt. I asked him if he met the man in person and what he was like. Either he was quite nondescript, or everyone is the same to such an observer. “Like any other man” is an oxymoron to me. Monday: I worked on the first two movements extensively with new students, then privately with Sifu Gott on Single Whip. I learned the details of the transition finally, and the turn at the end fell into place from the work we did on Ward Off Left. The pressing of the knee forward over the foot is what opens up the stance (and the Qua, or pelvic region). That changes the energy of the movement and makes it complete instead of turning one way, then another. The manual for Yang Chengfu Style came in and I purchased as copy. It contained the 10 Essentials (Principles) in the order I first learned them, which is slightly different in order from the school’s version. Wednesday: Sifu Sharon and I worked through various parts of the middle of the second section. We were both a bit beat by the end of class. The thing that I found most interesting was diagonal kicking. I didn’t realize they curved outward to the side as a kidney strike. That answers the question of lifting into it or sinking down … it’s neither. However, it is a bit infringingly close to my “secret” opposite-side instep kick I use in my personal art. There is little new under the sun I guess. On a side note, I bought a new chair for my office — one that has lower arm rests so I’m not shrugging all the time. It’s also a bit more upright without being uncomfortable. I’ve noticed I’ve been getting better at relaxing my shoulders and raising my head more to straighten the spine. I’ve even found it much easier carrying heavy things lately, as if my back is aligned just right. Thursday: My first Thursday, and there were two other relatively new students (one very new and the other older than I). While answering to customers at the store end of the place, he had me lead the class in doing the first section. We did it about four times before he got back, after which I picked his brain about the nuances of Step, Parry and Punch. It was very helpful. Afterward, he said I came a long way to applying the principles. he also said that in an interview just before he died, Yang Chengfu said to really master Tai Chi, one should practice the set seven to eight times per day. Saturday: I missed Friday class. Today we simply did the whole 103 set and a 46 form set. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be for most parts, but was for others. I need to do something about my posture, which I think is to blame for the mid-thoracic back pain I get from doing a long set.

  • admin says:

    Monday: I went in the evening to work out, but didn’t practice all that much. I had the senior Hung Gar student there push on me so I could see the difference in different body alignments and focus. I discovered that opening stance allows better transfer of chi down into the root, while closing a bit seems to help focus forward through the other person. Tuesday: I went to morning class and we did first set as a warm-up and worked most of the way through second section. The spinning posture was interesting, minimizing the use of inertia (physically throwing part of the body around). It’s almost like the spin happens by itself. He showed us two variants — one with the body chambering for the kick coming up, and the other keeping level with no “chamber” (using the body as an upward spring). I figured correctly that the latter was the more “official” way, as Yang would do it, but the other is acceptable. Afterward, I asked him about a number of the movements in the second section, such as Pick Up Needle at Sea Bottom. We didn’t go into much detail, but I want to be ready for when they come up again. I never got to ask him about the number of Move Clouds, but Pick Up Needle made sense when interpreted as breaking a wrist hold. He can do it very low, but the idea is to round the lower back and pelvis instead of bend like a hinge, so that the body may be raised up without undue stress. I told him about my experiments with his student, and we briefly did a little push hands. He immediately corrected my shoulders and other aspects of my posture, but my point was different approaches to using energy. I think the main difference is that am used to pushing up from the ground outward more than pushing downward and out at the same time. My approach may be not just different, but less effective in the long run. Time will tell. In any case, he was unable to determine my focus, but my focus was difficult to extend — almost “blurred” — from his heavy rooting. I also had trouble reading his chi flow, as if it was even throughout his body instead of directed in a particular way. Very strange. Outside of class, I am finding more and more instances where I have my shoulders raised. Part of the problem may even be the height of the arm rests on the chair I am sitting in now, and spend much of the day. I am even considering a new chair.Wednesday: Strangely, nothing stood out in this particular class, but was good as usual.Friday: We started late from talking and such, and he asked me if I had ever gone through the whole 103 form. I never did, in any style really, though I was familiar somewhat with parts throughout. He felt I ought to know how the whole thing feels even if I may not do it well. It was a strain on my back, but I relaxed more as it went on. It took a whole half hour, and there were only a few parts that caught me by surprise. Afterward, I asked him the differences between Flying Diagonal (called Slant Flying were) and Parting Horse’s Mane. The difference was mostly in application, where one uses the shoulders versus the forearm to push/strike. Sifu Gott sees the forearm as a strike and the shoulder a push, but that may be his inclination based on his hard style training. He also demonstrated Snake Creeps Low (Snake Crawls Over Log?) as a pulling down to set up for a kick.Saturday: We held various postures from Play the Pipa (Lute, Guitar, whatever) to Brush Knee for uncomfortably long periods of time. I think Sifu Sharon is convinced fatigue is caused by not relaxing when I am convinced it is the simple equation of the muscular energy required to hold any posture for more than two minutes. I hate lactic acid. In Crane Spreads Wings, Sifu tested my root and I had trouble expanding outward through the forward leg and upper hand. When she had me testy her route, she gained the result while pulsing in physical motion slightly. I think part of the trouble is attempting to keep connection for minutes at a time, instead of in dynamic motion. I asked about setting the foot. The setting was so subtle, I wondered if you had to lift at all instead of shifting weight from front to back (or vice versa). We arrived at the conclusion it is to encourage the change from substantial to insubstantial (or vice versa). I hypothesize the extra movement is for training so that after a while economy of motion could be achieved without sacrificing the internal working of the transition.

  • admin says:

    Monday: A conflicting appointment was cancelled, so I went at the usual time. It was a good workout today. Two new people were there trying it out, and I’m getting better at following the set the way we do it. I personally concentrated on keeping my height even and my hips level during transition between forward and rear stances. I also am having trouble breathing. the advice for the set is “breathe naturally” as mentioned earlier, but I’m used to doing the set at a speed I can breathe slowly in harmony with the movements. I find myself holding back inhales and exhales, or grabbing quick breaths to make up for it. Not moving with my breath just doesn’t feel right to me. Both another student and I noticed that today he was stepping in an outward arc instead of placing the foot directly. He explained that one of his teachers didn’t like it when he did that, but that “Yang” does it that way. I thought it might have been Hung Gar influence, as it is common in my experience of kung fu. I just never saw it in Tai Chi, and may incorporate it into my movements. But I have enough other things to work on, so I’ll put aside the idea for now. Wednesday: Sifu Sharon helped me fine tune transitions with Crane Spreads Wings and the Brush Knees and went through more detail on the last parts of the first section. She also showed me the details of some of the applications, which made the way they do certain moves, such as the set up of Roll Back make sense. Picturing different applications that what this style intends causes slight differences in movement that I don’t catch otherwise. I also asked about push hands, and although they start people on that after learning the whole 103 set, she demonstrated simple one-hand push hands. I didn’t grasp it until afterward, but the reason she seemed to have no weak point in her stance was that she deflected across the knee instead of to the inside. She even almost caught me off guard with her first push before I relaxed and let myself naturally compensate. I’ve thought a bit about push hands, and am eager to start, but really want to do this the traditional way and get through the set with some proficiency first. But after less than a month, being able to perform the first part of the set without too much difficulty seems like decent progress. I just need people like Sifu Sharon and Sifu Gott to keep reminding me about keeping the height of my waist steady. Friday: I couldn’t make it the usual time, so I came to the morning class. I worked out with one other student, someone who had years of experience in other styles, working with Bill Adams in particular. We fine tuned some things and went over a couple applications. I’m really getting comfortable with the details and execution of Twist Brush Knee.Monday: I remember hearing on the online forum MartialTalk.Com that Single Whip was performed in an open position and not a closed one, ending in hips to the direction of the palm. After going through it cursorily a number of times in the last few weeks, I discovered that Single Whip starts with the hips somewhat toward direction of the left foot, but then when the palm faces outward, the stance opens so you are pushing in roughly equal angles to both hands. Sifu Gott did explain the striking application of the beaked hand before, but now it makes more sense. Before this time, I always used it as a grappling block. Wednesday: Sifu Sharon started me on the second section! It was actually quite easy now that so many things are falling into place, but I’m still either too muscularly tense (and then sore) or too “loose” with my hands in between some movements. I’m still over- and under-compensating full limb extension, and think I’ll focus more on untensing for a while.One really helpful hint related to this that I received today was to treat certain transitions as Roll Back, even though they are transitory and not named in the form. This alone changed the flow of many of my movements.Another important discovery was the non-shifting of weight before some pivoting moves. She described it as “plucking” the back — a slight raising up and pivoting on the weighted foot. This is very foreign to me, and I kept wondering why my shifting off and back on made my transitions take longer than those around me. Friday: I worked out by myself at the school. Uneventful practice, but pleasant. Saturday: Sifu Sharon taught the mixed group alone, so we went through the first section only and focused on the details of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. She tested my posture, which I found to “not connect right” until I opened my Kua (hips). It was an immediate difference in stability and connection.When she tested my Press, I absorbed the energy by accepting it inward instead of maintaining direction forward. It was an unintentional reaction and I was trying not to focus my chi through her instead of letting the posture do the work. And that’s the hard part. Doing Tai Chi without the benefits of various subtleties of posture in the past, I compensated by fine-tuning my focus and sensitivity, keeping the postures almost over-simplified. I am also starting to believe the method I am learning now may very well be more effective in some ways instead of just different. My arms got a little sore from holding the postures so long, and Sifu blamed it on my not being relaxed. She also tries to pull my shoulders down when they don’t seem capable of going any farther. My first reaction is to think she is mistaken, but that is just me being a lousy student. I have the wisdom — though not the open inclination — to know I should consider relaxing more if I am convinced that I already am as far as I can go. Just because I cannot perceive tension does not mean it is not there.

  • admin says:

    Monday: Last week, I found out from Sifu Sharon and Sifu Gott that what they call Wu Chi is not the same as empty stance in their system. It is the posture I would call “neutral position” but with the arms rounded together pressing outward. I sort of already new this, but over the years I started equating it with just the feet being under the shoulders (hips) and the knees bent with spine straight, with or without arms raised. And then I find today that the term “empty stance” refers to all wright being on one foot, as in Play guitar (or their equivalent). So I’m realizing not only that some stances I equated with each other too much over the years, but that they use completely different name-stance associations. What I call triangular stance (from which you would do what the Taoist Tai Chi people would call a toryu movement) they refer to as a bow stance, whereas the bow stance in the systems I am familiar with places the feet either parallel diagonal or with the front foot tucked inward to the inside and the rear diagonal forward. On a positive note, a few prospective students showed up so we went through very basic basics — just what I needed — and I now feel confident again that I am improving. It doesn’t seem as daunting, at least for now and I am watching my posture for the principles in everyday activity, as I have always seen training and life as one and the same. I believe if I can master the principles, the rest of the training will come much more naturally. Part of my confidence may also be the conversation Sifu Gott and I had beforehand. We talked about natural and reverse breathing, and I asked about my discovery (after a couple years of practice) that pulmonary breath ought to precede movement. He confirmed that this was correct for push hands and real-life application, but that when doing the set, the advice of the style’s masters is to simply “breathe naturally” as the movements are done too slow (in recommended practice speed) to incorporate such breathing. With this and a few other things we discussed, it was nice to hear a few more points of my previous experiences hold true here.Wednesday: I worked a little with both Bob and Sharon. I just couldn’t keep my hips level and at static height through the set. In two steps forward, one step back, this was one step back. And doing the set actually results in back pain more and more. Sifu Gott thought it was the rising and falling of the stance, but I’ve been doing that for many years now and it never caused so much as discomfort. Besides, it was in my thoracic area, not my lumbar. I think I’m just too tense with pushing out the elbows from the shoulders all the time, and sometimes overcompensate for my shoulders being naturally back. I’m trying to adjust this (along with more regular stretching) in everyday life, slowly, including “levelling” my pelvis instead of actively tucking it. I always used the bending of the knees to tuck the pelvis for proper alignment, but am learning that I can tilt the pelvis level without bending the knees. Tucking by itself can overcompensate, and it draws the upper body down with it. The idea apparently is to let the upper body lift the spine straight and let the pelvis align with little effort almost by itself, and not by bending the knees more than slightly. It’s not the slight “slouching” that worked so well until now — this is a whole new way to do one more thing I’ve done for years. But I think it’s for the better. Sifu Gott recounted how his doctor couldn’t explain his perfect health at his age, along with actually growing an inch since he started Tai Chi. We also talked about using the eyes in a lively manner to cast attention strongly toward one’s opponent (or imagined opponent). I never went in this direction with my training before, probably because I don’t really use my eyes to fight (being blind in one eye and having practiced calm temperament in expressing my arts), but I realize I may have a powerful stare when under stress, such as when confronted by animals such as dogs I do not know acting aggressive. In particular, I recalled the incident of staring down a bull last year. Sifu probably wonders if I made it up. Either way, I need to have more “lively” eyes. Perhaps this will make me feel more in tune with my external environment during interactions with other people instead of getting lost in my own intellectual ambulations. I have felt for years like I’ve been slipping into an almost “virtual” existence more and more, as if playing a video game instead of being physically where I am. Being in front of a screen all day I’m sure doesn’t help. Friday: I spent a few minutes before class facing the mirror sideways trying to properly align my body. It’s like a stationary juggling act, trying to pull the head up to straighten the spine without using muscles to tuck in the pelvis. I feel myself compressing my abdomen, and rounding the shoulders helps. I used to think I knew when my body was aligned and how, and Bob confirmed I was doing it right, but I remember being unable to get it “quite right” for Sharon earlier in the week. He asked me if I felt ready to really start just doing the set, and I told him my need was to work on the principles, after which the set would take care of itself. He said he appreciated my honest insight into that, and recommended holding postures, in particular brush knee and wu chi, to allow myself to feel proper posture after falling into place by checking the principles. Saturday: A group of people were at class today, which was my first Saturday class. Sifu Sharon had me hold ward off left posture for 3 minutes as she started to work with more advanced students. (It’s a bit strange at this moment to hear me use the term “more advanced” referring to my peers instead of my own students.) For most of the class, one group practiced the second part of the set with Sifu Sharon, and Sifu Bob worked with me and two other people on the first set over and over. He told us that getting the set down without mastering the principles first isn’t a bad thing, as you can work on them while doing the set. I think the two opposing views of which comes first both work, and can be tailored to the student. Afterward, I commented to my wife that either I’m getting better at it, or they go a lot easier on the students as a group than with working with me alone. Out of class, I’m coming to grips with the fact that my posture is not as good as I taught others to have. I caught myself locking one or both knees, and arch my back even while typing this — at least until I catch it. The expectations of this curriculum are a lot more demanding than teaching Tai Chi to beginners in my own classes, and I’m grateful. It’s not really the effort of learning a different way, such as lifting instead of sinking, as it is an overdue change in my own well-being. Between stretching and keeping better eye on my posture, I can only see this getting easier. And relaxing more has eliminated the pain I experienced earlier when doing the set. Concentrating on too many points caused me to physically exert outward more than necessary in the upper body, and backing off even just a little did wonders, and enabled me to keep my elbows low and bent properly.

  • admin says:

    Monday: My first class. We talked about a number of things after going through some basic stretching and twist-brush-knee walking. Then we went right into “first set” (the first part of the 103 form). I was a bit shocked we would jump right into that, but I followed the best I could. Probably looked good to the people watching, but was pretty bad compared to what it was supposed to be. Sifu Gott explained the different alignment of the hips to the knees in different postures. I had heard of “open” and “closed” stances, but never applied them based on the intention of the technique. I had always used the bent knee as a guide for the direction of the hips. This meant a closed posture on the forward foot and an open one on the back, and this prevents the knees from twisting. Now I see that the knees can be pressed out over both feet and the hips are free to move if it is mobile. This means you can have the hips pointing apart from the direction of the bent knee without twisting them. This is a big revelation, or at least a path worth exploring in more detail. I also discovered that the copy of the “10 principles” used in Yang Style were in a different order than in this school, and so making reference to specific numbers raised Sifu’s eyebrow a couple times. We straightened that out by referring to the actual principle, and I got a copy of their school’s “official” copy. But it’s still neat to see different translations and explanations, and I’m starting to see the a glimpse of real life application of some of the principles.But I was in a bit of pain. I was overcompensating my posture and could not relax. I realize now I forced the shoulders round instead of letting them fall into place.Wednesday: I met Sharon, who is one of the official co-directors of the Yang Chengfu Tao Chi Center based out of the Red Dragon School. I could tell she’s been doing it longer, and she was even more meticulous than Sifu Gott. We had a great time going over the first parts of grasp sparrow’s tail over and over to make corrections. I also discovered that ward off left and ward off right are done very differently in terms of direction of focus and even hand posture. The name ward off refers to the concept of the movement — an expansion of the body and its energy — rather than a physical posture. It seems obvious now it should be this way, but I would not have thought of it. My two biggest problems (as I see it) were opening my stance and keeping my hips level. I found the first physically demanding, as I strongly lack flexibility in my pelvic joints. The latter comes from the vertically rounded movements I’ve practiced for so long — in particular a lifting when I pull in a foot, such as the beginning of brush knee or single whip. It may also come from using the Shaolin combat principle of attack rising up and retreat while sinking. I think that in Tai Chi such a principle may be there in a sense but is internalized, whereas it is physically manifested in the externally applied techniques of other arts. So my plan is to stretch a bit more often in this area and practice movements while keeping the hips at a constant level.Friday: Bob and I talked about Buddhism, spirituality, and theism a bit before class. It was nice to just openly talk for a bit, but with my background in such things, I almost slipped into teaching mode. I really have to control that. As for class, I always used to think my Tai Chi influenced my kung fu, giving it a foundation. I am starting to suspect it was my more external training that influenced my practice of Tai Chi, which was never really my central art. Using chi in techniques and even making them “soft” is different from a technique that is overlaying the activity of the chi. This is a whole new (and unexpected) world for me. In particular, the last part of the first movement, where the arms are lowered (a description that in no way does it justice), the body is raised slightly while pressing down into the ground instead of dropping your physical weight. I could feel the press between the feet and underneath the forearms as if they were pressing in opposite direction, even though they both focused downward. I am also leaning that using more of the principles truly maximizes chi flow. My rooting experience was focusing on the bubbling wells and the hui-yin (lowest point on the torso). Sifu Gott talked about focusing on all three dan-tien and relaxing the body so that everything lines up and drops. I could feel his center half-way between his lower dan t’ien and his knees. And when he allowed his chest to sink back with the shoulders forward, I could feel his root nearly double. In addition to up-teen different things I need to work on, I am trying to focus on constant extension of the posture, maximizing the frame with full stretch between the extremities and the center. It was explained to me that this is the method by which the movements are linked continuously. This is also very different from what I expected, as I am used to coiling and releasing in my postures. If I hadn’t been a teacher, or naturally persistent, I would have seriously thought of giving up. It feels like I have too much to work on foundationally, and I wonder if they go easier on students with less experience. Then again, being a clean slate can’t be any harder. One last note: on Monday, Sifu Gott corrected my hand position so that it was over my knees, which was at that moment outside the forward line of my hips. Sharon placed my hand within the line of my hips to correct it. They were both right, and I was wrong. It should be over my foot AND within my hips — the problem was that my hips and knee were not facing enough toward the foot. Originally I thought maybe it was a difference of opinion, but because I trusted them and asked about it I was able to understand. I’m glad I did.

  • admin says:

    I had known Sifu Bob Gott for a few years, ever since he opened the Red Dragon School of Martial Arts, specializing in Hung Gar. He was introduced to Tai Chi through two sources: Morning Light run by Jim Fox, which was the local Yang Chengfu center before it closed and Red Dragon took it over; and a Chinese gentleman who owned a shoe store at the mall who had done Tai Chi for years. The last couple years, he’s been studying more directly with the Yang Family, including a couple visits to China. Not of sufficient rank to run the center himself, it is run by proxy by Jim Fox, who relocated to the Northwest and has visited once or twice since. In 2006, Sifu Bob Gott attained level three in the system and with special dispensation is testing for level four in 2007, after only a single year of additional study. This will enable him to run the center himself, and will be at similar rank to Sifu Sharon, one of Jim Fox’s senior students who trains with Bob and teaches a few classes at the school, including sword and saber as well as “Fire Dragon Chi Kung” which she had learned through a separate tradition. Chinese New Year was celebrated at the school on Sunday, January 29th. I wore my red Chinese wedding outfit and carried a sword, walking ahead as crowd control for the lion dancers and musicians processing through the mall. We did a lion dance “blessing” of two stores that day, and it was the first event I was somewhat involved in at the school. A nice start in anticipation of taking my first Tai Chi class there the next day.

  • admin says:

    I had exposure to a number of Tai Chi styles and read a bit of various classics in Tai Chi and Chi Kung over the years, along with much personal practice and experimentation of what was available to me. In my own path, internal energetics was always fundamental to the sort of things I learned, practiced, and discovered. And that path was dominated by various Chinese martial styles, with respect for all arts in all cultures according to their individual merit. It started very shortly after I had starting training in kung fu my sophomore year at D’Youville College. The local Taoist Tai Chi school in Kenmore, NY offered an insanely early morning class a few days a week for several weeks if I remember correctly. I ate it up and practiced it daily on average for years, slowly incorporating bits an pieces of other disciplines I researched or encountered. It was an integral part of what I taught as a “student teacher” in the early 90s and many of my warm-ups, stretches, and kinesiological principles were taken from my early discovery through practice and teaching. After leaving the school I started on behalf of my teacher — who turned out to be more than a little dishonest about his credentials, but that’s another story — I received a phone call from Scott Himenz, founder of the 8 Tigers Academy of Tai Chi & Chi Kung. I had been guest speaker a few times at his school, lecturing and demonstrating qigong (chi kung), the practice of breath (chi) as internal body energy, in particular for use in martial arts. I was no expert, but my years of practice, reading, and applied teaching gave me a perspective not commonly available. Long story short, he needed someone to fill in for a Tai Chi community education class in Clarence Center, NY. I didn’t object, and agreed under the condition that I actually be taught their version of Tai Chi, as I would be representing their school. I cursorily learned their style between personal individual training and video reference, which wasn’t difficult given previous experience. I learned it just well enough to pass on the basics, but that was all that was required for such a forum. There was also a definite Japanese influence in the body motions and postures, as Scott had studied Karate in addition to the Eight Step Preying Mantis school’s version of Tai Chi, a derivation of Wu style, now called Shuyun style. The adjoined martial tradition showed its influence as well. In the end, I took the 8 Tigers style and went back to its Chinese roots, incorporating what I knew of more traditional body movements and postures. As more translated texts became available, that job got easier. And I was a stickler for coordinating breathing from the start. That was the way I started in my training and where I found my strength. The course was called “Intro to Tai Chi Kung.” I started, as I have since, by explaining there is no such thing, but the title of the course was to reflect both Tai Chi (which some people have a vague notion of) and Chi Kung, meaning I was going to scrape the surface of both as a cohesive whole — a pattern I follow to this day. After that one course (four or six weeks long, once per week), I contacted — and was contacted by — various school districts and became the “Southtowns” teacher for 8 Tigers, operating for years in adult education for the school districts of Frontier (Blasdell / Hamburg), Iroquois (Elma), East Aurora (“Union Free”), and occasionally in Williamsville, West Seneca, and others. I also taught at the “Wellness Center” in North Wales and did gigs for things like women’s retreats and retirement homes. Every year, I still look forward to the “Great Escape” Girl Scout leader’s conference at Seven Hills, where I teach the usual plus a self-defense class, some thing I offered but rarely taught in the school districts. I started teaching in community ed in 1999 after having “retired” from teaching kung fu a few years before, and now I decided to “retire” again, treating myself to letting someone else teach. Ironically, before this year was out, I was called yet again to fill in as a teacher. But back to the beginning …


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