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OPT Reference Material

Long Form — Current Study

This information is aimed at those currently studying the Long Form with Luke on a Tuesday evening.
The weekend trainings in Spring and Autumn will further consolidate what is being trained in the ongoing class.

Overview
Following the completion of the Long Form choreography, the training is turned towards looking for a more accurate condition of the body/mind through the 5 stage verticle circle. The training focus for the past year has paid particular emphasis on a) listening to the upper body changes during the releasing phase (phase 3) of the 5-stage muscle cycle. b) the closing of the body as it reaches central stability. These areas of focus are continued to be refined, but further emphasis will be placed upon the following….

Current Training Focus for Tuesday Long Form

Autume Term 2011. The focus for this term is a deeper re-examination of the freedonm of movement in the body. The aim is to create a fluid interpaly between full and empty, through a careful training of the intention affecting the muscle states which enable freedom of movement. The transition between the contracting and releasing muscle phases will be examined, leading to a smoth transition between phases. The training method of advancing the timing of the intention (yi) will be clearly explained and worked upon throughout the term so that this can be build upon in 2012. This focus will be included in loosening esercises, form and all push hands training and all students are encoureaged to focus upon this for the whole term.

From Spring term in 2011
The training focus now moves on to the sensations of pressure as the body releases.
Initially the trainning will focus upon the sensations of pressure between the ground and the sole of the foot as the body “closes” and develops a sprung condition while reaching central stability.

Further trainning will be placed upon sensations of pressure that rise up the body duriing the releasing / stretching muscle cycles.

The focus for spring term are the internal changes causing the connection of the base to the ground, followed by the upper body. Strong inention to create internal changes in the releasing phase, while listening for associated pressure sensations.

The Mind is encouraged to move it’s focus of attention away from sensations of movement and towards the sensations of pressure. This involves a deepening process and sitting meditation practice will be introduced to support this process.

NB/ Centre pressure can be caused by both muscular contraction and muscular release and can often be a mixture of the two. However, both yield completely different results. The awareness of the sensations of the body gives the feedback mechanism to determine which is being utilised. Important not to let the releasing leg tighten or to “look” for support too early. Both these tendencies will halt the continuing release that allows a buoyant pressure to develop. As the muscles are released, allow the body to “fall” as it merges with gravity.

Releasing
The largest focus remains the releasing and aligning of the body. This can be refined to encourage the releasing to become smooth. If you become aware of a part of your body that doesn’t respond to your intention to release and change, it is good practice to give this area more focus. This develops your ability to listen to this area more closely, with willingness for it to change. The intention to change the muscles to a releasing phase is accompanied with developing the accompanying awareness of sensations of these areas. The deepening of the mind helps with this process.

Closing
The releasing and aligning of the base (foot, ankle, calf, thigh, kwa, groin, buttocks, inguinal region and lower back) sets up the condition of the centre becoming buoyantly stable. The intention to encourage the upper body (middle back, shoulder blades and chest) to release and align sets up the condition of the chest becoming buoyantly stable. The arms become stable as the shoulders, neck and head release. The intention to ground the base ahead of the upper body cannot be underestimated.

Practice
Aim to focus upon a single training aspect throughout your practice period. Ensure that this aspect is neither too simplified, nor too complex. A rough indication will be that you can accomplish it approximately 4 out of every 10 attempts. This will enable you to remain calm (external relaxation of the mind) throughout your Long Form, without becoming overwhelmed by training an aspect that is too complicated for your current ability. Over time, you will be able to remain calm and deeply focussed during more complex movements. The mind progressively sinking to a deeper level as the body reaches central stability enables the focus to become more internalised.

Obstacles and Remedies
Obstacles to developing sprung elastic force are commonly: -
1. Content to use contracted force. Remedy: Invest in Loss
2. The mind too superficially looking at the body movemnet. Remedy: Deepen the focus and listen to body sensations rather than movement.
3. Double Contraction – the leg that receives the weight of the body is in a contacted condition too early. Remedy: Give a small amount of awareness to the receiving leg and intend it to remain releasing, even before contracting the opposite leg.
4. Muscular changes taking place are too rough combined with misalignment. Remedy: Work consistently with the sensations from the base upwards. Applying force from a wall or partner can help with understanding alignments. Misalignment can arise from trying to be stable too early. Give time for the body to fully arrive in the centre before moving on.

Websites and Links

Books

  • Relax, Deep Mind by Patrick Kelly
  • Spiritual Reality by Patrick Kelly
  • Infinite Dao by Patrick Kelly
  • Inspirations by Luke Shepherd
  • The essence of T’ai Chi Ch’uan by Lo, Inn, Amacker and Foe, published by North Atlantic Books, ISBN 0-913028-63-0
  • There are no secrets by Wolfe Lowenthal, published by Frog Ltd., ISBN 1-556431-12-0
  • Gateway to the miraculous by Wolfe Lowenthal, published by Frog Ltd., ISBN 1-883319-13-7

DVD’s

Other Ref.

Form Reference

37 Posture Short Form

Section 1

1 Opening
2 Preparation
3 Ward Off Right and Left
4 Grasp Sparrow’s Tail — Ward Off
5 Grasp Sparrow’s Tail — Roll Back
6 Grasp Sparrow’s Tail — Press
7 Grasp Sparrow’s Tail — Push
8 Single Whip
9 Lift Hands
10 Shoulder Stroke
11 White Crane Spreads Wings
12 Brush Knee Twist Step
13 Play Guitar
* Brush Knee Twist Step (repeat 12)
14 Step Up, Deflect Down, Parry and Punch
15 Apparent Closing
16 Cross Hands

Section 2

17 Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain
* Grasp Sparrow’s Tail — Roll Back, Press and Push (repeat moves 5,6 & 7)
* Diagonal Single Whip (repeat move 8)
18 Taoist Immortal Flaps Wings & Punch Under Elbow
19 Step Back to Repulse Monkey – 1st right
20 Step Back to Repulse Monkey – 1st left
* Step Back to Repulse Monkey – 2nd right (repeat 19)
* Step Back to Repulse Monkey – 2nd left (repeat 20)
* Step Back to Repulse Monkey – 3rd right (repeat 19)
* Step Back to Repulse Monkey – 3rd left (repeat 20)
21 Diagonal Flying
22 Wave Hands Like Clouds — 1st right
23 Wave Hands Like Clouds — 1st left
* Wave Hands Like Clouds — 2nd right (repeat 22)
* Wave Hands Like Clouds — 2nd left (repeat move 23)
* Wave Hands Like Clouds — 3rd right (repeat 22)
* Wave Hands Like Clouds — 3rd left (repeat move 23)
* Wave Hands Like Clouds — 4th right (repeat 22)
x Transverse Single Whip
* Single Whip (repeat move 8)
24 Snake Creeps Down
25 Golden Rooster Stands on Left Leg
26 Golden Rooster Stands on Right Leg
27 Separate Right Leg
28 Separate Left Leg
29 Turn and Kick with Heel
* Brush Knee Twist Step — left (repeat 12)
30 Brush Knee Twist Step — right
31 Step, Bend and Punch
* Grasp Sparrow’s Tail — Ward Off, Roll Back, Press and Push (moves 4, 5, 6 & 7)

Section 3

32 Fair Lady Weaves Shuttles — corner 1
33 Fair Lady Weaves Shuttles — corner 2
* Fair Lady Weaves Shuttles — corner 3 (repeat 32)
* Fair Lady Weaves Shuttles — corner 4 (repeat 33)
* Ward Off Left (repeat move 3)
* Grasp Sparrow’s Tail — Ward Off, Roll Back, Press and Push (moves 4, 5, 6 & 7)
* Single Whip (repeat move 8)
* Snake Creeps Down (repeat move 24)
34 Step Up to Seven Stars
35 Retreat to Ride Tiger
36 Turn to Sweep Lotus
37 Bend Bow to Shoot Tiger
* Step Up, Deflect Down, Parry and Punch (repeat move 14)
* Apparent Closing (repeat move 15)
* Cross Hands (repeat move 16)
x Conclusion
* Attention

Note

* Moves which are repeated
x Moves not numbered (usually part of a transition)

108 Posture Long Form

First Section

  • Preparatory movement
  • Ward off right & left
  • Ward off, Pull Back,
  • Press & Push Single Whip
  • Raise Hands
  • Shoulder Stroke
  • White Stork Spreads its Wings
  • Brush Knee & Twist Step Left
  • Play the Guitar
  • Brush Knee & Twist Step Left,
  • Right & Left Play the Guitar
  • Brush Knee & Twist Step Left
  • Step Up Block, Parry & Punch
  • Apparent Closing
  • Cross Hands

Second Section

  • Carry Tiger to Mountain
  • Diagonal Single Whip
  • Taoist Immortal Flaps His Sleeves
  • Fist Under Elbow
  • Step Back & Repulse Monkey (3 to each side)
  • Slanting Flying
  • Raise Hands
  • Shoulder Stroke
  • White Stork Spreads its Wings
  • Brush Knee & Twist Step Left
  • Needle in the Ocean
  • Fan Through Back
  • Turn and Chop with Fist
  • Step Up, Block, Parry and Half Punch
  • Ward off, Pull Back, Press & Push
  • Single Whip
  • Wave Hands Like Clouds (3 to each side)
  • Single Whip

Third Section

  • High Pat on Horse
  • Separation Of Leg, Right & Left
  • Turn and Kick With Sole
  • Brush Knee & Twist Step, Left & Right
  • Step Bend & Punch
  • Turn and White Snake Puts Out Tongue
  • Step Up, Block, Parry & Punch
  • Kick With Right Sole
  • Shoulder Stroke
  • Hit Tiger Left & Right
  • Diagonal Kick with Sole
  • Box Opponents Ears
  • Kick With Left Foot
  • Turn and Kick With Sole
  • Step Up Block, Parry & Punch
  • Apparent Closing
  • Cross Hands

Fourth Section

  • Carry-Tiger to Mountain
  • Ward off, Pull Back, Press & Push
  • Transverse Single Whip
  • Part Horses Mane Right, Left & Right
  • Ward off, Pull Back, Press & Push
  • Single Whip
  • Fair Lady Works At Shuttles (4 Corners)
  • Ward off, Pull Back, Press & Push
  • Single Whip
  • Wave Hands Like Clouds (3 to each side)
  • Single Whip

Fifth Section

  • Snake Creeps Down
  • Golden Cock Stands on One Leg, Left & Right
  • Step Back & Repulse Monkey (3, to each side)
  • Slanting Flying
  • Raise Hands Shoulder Stroke
  • White Stork Spreads its Wings
  • Brush Knee & Twist Step Left
  • Needle in the Ocean
  • Fan Through Back
  • Turn and Chop with Fist
  • Step Up, Block, Parry and Half Punch
  • Ward off, Pull Back, Press & Push
  • Single Whip
  • Wave Hands Like Clouds (3 to each side)
  • Single Whip

Sixth Section

  • High Pat on Horse
  • Diagonal Jab
  • Turn and Kick With Heel
  • Punch Opponents Groin
  • Ward off, Pull Back, Press & Push
  • Single Whip
  • Snake Creeps Down
  • Step Up To Form Seven Stars
  • Retreat to Ride Tiger Turn & Sweep Lotus With Leg
  • Shoot Tiger With Bow
  • Step Up, Block, Parry & Punch
  • Apparent Closing
  • Cross Hands
  • Conclusion Of Taiji

Quick Fist

The fast form of Master Huang Xiangxian

Section One

  • Feet together
  • Step L, Step R, Jump Step
  • Circle Hands, L at elbow
  • L out palm up, L steps back
  • Hands circle & grab, R on toe
  • Turn L, Hands Circle
  • Face front, Sun Moon salute
  • R foot back, Cross hands
  • L foot adjusts, Arms open
  • L foot back & In, Palms down
  • R foot in, Heels together
  • Arms down
  • R Step, Jump Step, L at elbow
  • Turn L, Palm under elbow
  • Circle R hand, L foot in
  • Step L 45°, R backfist in palm
  • L steps back, Sink & grab
  • R punch, L punch
  • Inch back, Hands slap L
  • L circles R, R circles down
  • R knee to L calf, R hand grab
  • Kick, R elbow hits L palm
  • R elbow pulls back, L punch
  • R elbow circles L, Inch back
  • Double punch, Inch forward
  • Fist at elbow, Inch forward
  • Turn L, Palm under elbow
  • Circle R hand, L foot in
  • Step L 45°, R backfist in palm
  • Lift R knee to hands, 45° R
  • Step, Jump step 45°, Punch
  • R elbow hits L palm
  • Fist at elbow 45°
  • R elbow circles L, R foot in
  • L elbow circles, Step R
  • L step, Jump, Drop, R punch
  • Jump up, Punch R, Punch L
  • R elbow circles L
  • Inch forward, Double punch
  • Inch forward, Fist at elbow
  • Turn 180°, L slides under R

Section Two

  • L steps L 45°, R jab
  • L steps back, R circles up
  • Step R 45°, L palm hits fist
  • Feet L 45°, R elbow block
  • Feet R 45°, L jabs
  • L foot L 45°, R Punch down
  • R knee to L calf, Double grab
  • R kicks
  • Step R, Jump step
  • Double push
  • Circle L, L on toe
  • Push L, Inch forward
  • Circle R, R on toe
  • Push R, Inch forward
  • Circle & Push front
  • Wrist relax, turn 225°, L slaps

Section Three

  • R slaps 45° to L
  • Medium circle R
  • Large circle L, L steps back
  • Step, R block, L punch
  • L foot in, Hands chop
  • L jab, R jab
  • Small circle R
  • Medium circle L
  • Large circle R, R steps back
  • Step, L block, R punch
  • R foot in, Hands chop
  • R jab, L jab
  • Hands circle, Feet parallel
  • Step 45°, two finger jab
  • Step L, L hand down
  • Step R, R hand jabs under L
  • Double grab, R knee in calf
  • R kick
  • R jabs front, Inch forward
  • L slides on R, Inch back
  • R punch, Inch forward
  • Turn 180°, L wrist block

Section Four

  • Step 45 deg. L, L pulls down
  • Punch, R up, L down, R mid
  • Inch back, R on toe
  • Step 45° R, R block, L punch
  • Inch back, R elbow L_
  • Inch forward, L elbow R
  • L steps L 45°, L hand down
  • Slap, Kick L
  • R slides on L, L hooks
  • Inch back, L elbow R
  • Inch forward, R elbow L
  • R steps 45° R, R hand down
  • Slap, kick R
  • L slides on R, R hooks
  • L steps forward
  • L block, R punch
  • R steps, R block, L punch
  • L steps, hands drop
  • Double punch
  • Double block, L foot 90°
  • R Turn 180°, Fist at elbow

Section Five

  • R circles & pull back
  • R jabs, inch forward
  • Inch back, L palmout
  • R elbow hits L
  • Circle R, Pull L, Knee in calf
  • R kicks
  • R steps, Jump step
  • Double palm strike
  • Inch back, Hands slap legs
  • Inch back 45°
  • Inch 45° R, 2 palm push
  • Inch back, Hands down to L
  • Inch front, Double palm strike
  • Inch back, Hands slap legs
  • Feet parallel, Hands circle
  • Sun Moon salute
  • Heels together, Arms down

Taiji in the UK is in Crisis - Printed in the Tai Chi Union Magazine 2011

Taiji in the UK is in crisis. The debate over whether Taiji is essentially a moving meditation for relaxation or whether taiji should be functional as a martial art continues. The TCUGB perpetuates this schism by its continued liberalism of equally tolerating either and both and approaches. Yet taiji practiced to any degree of proficiency shows that it favours neither one nor the other, but employs both aspects simultaneously to astonishing affect. It also includes a further spiritual or esoteric dimension, which often gets marginalized by those who are practically minded, yet picked up by those more drawn to pondering these aspects of the art.

My view is that the acceptance by the TCUGB of such polar opposite possibilities within a single heading of taiji enables and encourages teachers and schools who, by definition, only offer certain aspects of the whole training system. This creates confusion and division to the actual meaning of taiji and to the function of the Union itself, apart from possible disrespect to the lineage holders who have dedicated themselves to keeping taiji alive. An example of this is the defining of instructors as A and B grade. Not distinguished by their lineage, depth of knowledge and training, but by what aspect of the art they are able to teach.

With the vast majority of the population viewing taiji as an art of gentle relaxation (as seen in the film Calendar Girls and on the BBC2 link) and the other extreme being taiji competition and our union tolerating the belief of these as acceptable views of taiji, the polarity is further perpetuated. There is in fact no divide and taiji surely must contain clear training methods that encourage an understanding of the deeper aspects of the mind together with a clear development of relaxed elastic force and their controlled application. Without this an incomplete art is being practiced which no doubt could be a great method for self-growth and personal exploration using ideas on loan from taiji, but bearing little resemblance to the totality of taiji. The taiji for special needs campaign seems to have created a good balance of knowing that what they offer is specific to particular goals and not the whole system. But could such a partial system qualify for the term “the Great Ultimate”? Is the reputation of taiji, that has been refined through sincere dedication, being used to bolster something that may be good, but isn't exactly taiji?

As a traditionalist, I postulate that this represents the current trend; at least it appears to be this way from the articles I read in the TCUGB magazine. And ask if this is the case in your school? Are we allowing taiji to change and by what amount? Because what we choose today will have further repercussions in the future.

I would like to illustrate my opinion through my own 29 year exploration of Taiji. I studied for 13 years (with one teacher) before being invited by him to teach under the banner of one of the UK’s largest and most respected taiji schools. The focus of the school was not martial and rather aimed to bring a clear understanding of taiji principles into daily living. The practice was awareness based and used the forms and push hands as a method for developing sensitivity to the present moment, raising the spirit of vitality and gaining a sense of grounding in the present moment. Classes were large with the students keen and easily able to see the applicability of what was being offered to their daily life situation. Other approaches which offered a more technical or physical approach were viewed as having less relevance or as having somehow missed the central point. The principles of taiji were used for self-growth together with meditations aimed at the development of single pointed concentration and openness of heart. Many other training methods were also explored and brought into the syllabus. The push hands taught was soft, with an over emphasis on external and psychological yielding, letting go and mindfullness.

External neutralizing was used, but internal neutralizing was not on the curriculum. Issuing was occasionally talked about with a very basic issuing practice, occasionally trained, but generally we were led to believe that the taiji force would develop in 20 years or so, from training softly and focusing on yielding. The school had an excellent central aim based on a Buddhist and Daoist philosophical bias and the teachings were well co-ordinated to meet students’ needs. During my time studying in this vein I noticed a genuine transformation of habitual patterns which stimulated further practice. I am immensely grateful to my first teacher for that period of study and what was offered, but it left me wondering why taiji was called “the great ultimate”? For a school steeped in the self-growth and meditative approach, these were probably some of the better classes to be found in the UK, despite an overly yin, awareness based training.

However, having seen videos of Master Cheng Man Ching and Master Huang Shen Shyan, I could see that there was something else going on that wasn’t being addressed. It was time to me to further explore and I was searching for a teacher or system that was able to clearly demonstrate and explain how the ideas of aiming to relax and deepen the mind could give rise to an internal strength of the body that could generate enough power to overcome a partner or throw them a few metres.

It seemed that if taiji was to encompass both aspects, then a training method would have to be found that did not train them separately, but moreover, trained them together, from the onset. This would avoid the common male dominated push hands class, training external muscle contraction combined with quick timing, as is so common in many push hands classes and seen so often in taiji competitions. I wasn’t looking to be able to throw a partner, or to avoid the meditative depths of practice, but to unite these 2 aspects in what is essentially a martial art. I was fortunate to be introduced to my current teacher over 14 years ago. He studied intensely for over 20 years with Master Huang Shen Shyan and emphasizes a training method that goes far deeper than anything I have encountered.

Of course we all rave about our own teacher; we wouldn’t be following their methods if we didn’t. However, the lucidity with which the most complex energetic exchanges were being explained in terms of internal muscle changes, intent and the generation of internal pressure and elastic forces left nothing from the classics unexplained. I was compelled to leave the school I had been with for 16 years and pursue a very different and demanding enquiry. It quickly became clear that the internal processes necessary to develop these forces are the key to combining both the meditative and the internal strengths of the art. Without an informed understanding of the training methods necessary to develop taiji jin, the movement will be either slow or smooth but with no internal pressure or firm and stable yet contracted, without elasticity. With this in mind it can be seen when watching the videos that the moment before Cheng Man Ching issues his force, he seems to become completely serene and empty - as if asleep. What is taking place here? It looks as if he has dropped into the deepest meditation and yet out of this the strongest force is generated.

I have see so many practitioners (including myself) contract and accelerate towards their partner to find an external strength at the point of issuing force. The videos clearly demonstrate that this isn’t a shove and utilizes a different power that doesn’t rely on speed or the contracting force of the muscles. In fact the hands stay motionless (or even possibly move backwards) while a wave of stretched elastic force passes into the partner to cleanly lift their feet from the ground. How can this be?

The training must involve using the deeper aspects of Mind Intention (yi) to govern ones muscles to relax and stretch, enabling soft elastic forces to be generated without the body reverting to its pre-conditioned response of tightening and contracting to generate force. In order to refine the development of this force it is vital to access a deeper intention that has control over the reactions of the body and can continue to allow the muscles to stretch under the incoming force of the partner. This gives a vital clue that the mind is paramount in the process of generating the correct internal changes and is the key to the development of taiji jin, alongside a technically accurate training method. This stems from the correct use of deep intention and cannot be found in a training system that over emphasizes awareness. In the training, refinement of soft elastic forces, or taiji jin, are the milestone to assess the correct use and development of the deeper aspects of the mind. This gives an inroad to the internal energy work and meditation of the art and goes beyond its purpose being purely martial.

It would take me a book to write detailed training methods to develop this ability and I am humbly learning that the understanding takes many years to piece together and refine. However I write this article to show that there are teachers readily available who can demonstrate and offer lucid training methods that lead towards what the Master’s demonstrate. Without these internal skills, taiji lacks any true depth and does not really deserve its name, taken from an art that has taken many hundreds of years to evolve through many decades of dedication.

I am aware that not all people enjoy push hands training and indeed I remember the steep learning curve necessary in the early years. I am also aware that working with an insensitive partner can push more than just hands. Push Hands works from the outset with the emotional centre where habitual competition spurred by the ego can easily take hold, more so in the early years when the practice is by necessity fairly gross. I have known students who find push hands very challenging and I encourage them to engage with their inner process, rather than externally project and blame the practice. However, push hands is a central part of taiji and it makes no sense to avoid or change the nature of partner work, especially if it brings up issues we would prefer to not face. Schools that do not include all aspects of push hands on their curriculum inevitably run the risk of the training becoming unbalanced or confused. It is common to see certain training methods given over emphasis or ideas from other modalities brought into taiji, according to the conscious or unconscious preference of individual instructors. As a result the art changes, running the danger of unbalanced and confusing training methods.

I have seen the over training of external forces brought in by an instructor more used to an external martial art and how this radically diminishes the subtlety that can be attained from the practice of push hands. A common mistake, as speed, timing and acceleration are the simplest types of mechanistic forces to overcome a partner’s push, commonly seen in taiji competitions. The instructor however, fully believed that he was adhering to and training his students in taiji principles from the classics.

I have also seen push hands used simply as an awareness or mindfulness practice, with an over emphasis on sticking lightly and yielding, but with no sense of how to turn the forces back upon the partner. Also described to his students by the instructor as fully adhering to the principles. Both approaches lacked any internal focus and moreover, the 3 areas of training (namely the preparatory exercises, the form and the push hands) being offered did not include congruent training methods. If the same principles are trained throughout these 3 however, then a natural progression can be developed. So that in a more complex engaged situation, such as that of push hands, the principles that have been thoroughly trained in the preparatory exercises and form have the possibility to be applied, if the appropriate depth of focus and intention (as opposed to awareness) can be attained. It is for no reason that the classics add a warning that to miss the training method by a small degree leads to the practice becoming far from the desired aim. Surely it must be one of our Union’s major responsibilities to ensure that taiji continues to thrive and that training methods by the Union’s instructors do not miss… even by the smallest degree.

I was recently approached by an organization calling themselves “The Skills Active Accredited ChiBall™ Method” who teach instructors to lead classes in ChiBall Flow Yoga, ChiBall Yoga Sculpt, ChiBall Pilates, ChiBall Remedial Pilates and ChiBall Gentle Moves. I leave it with the reader to make their own mind up, while asking; Are you aware of any deviation from the classics in your school and if so, to what aim?

Full-time taiji teachers, who are not currently students of a teacher themselves, are possibly the greatest culprit of creating a further crisis within Taiji. Whatever is said, on some level they are driven by the numbers game of filling classes. Bums on seats.

The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of students do not want to engage in a demanding internal practice. Many come seeking gentle exercise, meditation, to work upon themselves or on the other foot to learn self-defense. Syllabuses and teachers training courses are invented to meet student’s desires and fill classes, consequently the art suffers. It is obvious that there are always going to be teachers with varying levels of ability. But to actively support an acceptance of taiji becoming polarized into an activity that can be purely martial or an activity that can be purely for self-growth is a stance that that can only lead towards the decay of good practice and ultimately shows little respect for those pioneers who were able to dedicate decades of their lives to training their art to a level that gives taiji its legendary status as the “great ultimate”.

TAIJI - MILESTONES IN THE MIST – by Joe Harte

[Written at the request of Master Huang’s Singapore Taiji Society on their 50th Anniversary]

Taiji has a beauty and depth that links us back through time to ancient wisdoms, on its myriad of inter-woven paths each traveller is challenged to rediscover that truth for themselves. Taiji is well recognised as one of the most subtle and refined of martial arts, and as such it’s usually only those with some reasonable experience of it that are perhaps best placed to appreciate its riches. Beyond the learning of the outer sequence of Forms, Set Patterns and the like, it can be difficult for newer people to know if progress is really being made. It’s tempting to approach the art as something new to be acquired, or something to add to an increasing repertoire of skills. Often the perception of progress is attached to this outer accumulation rather than any sense of inner evolution so that it can seem, even if an effort is being made, that nothing much is happening for quite some time. Of course change takes place very gradually and those delicate shifts can be largely obscured from our view. Often it’s others who recognise our changes long before it becomes apparent to ourselves.

Starting Out

I began Taiji in the early 90’s with Dan Russell in Carlisle in the far northwest of England. Having reached a reasonable ability in my Kung Fu (or so I thought at the time) I had found it easy enough to adapt to other styles and systems as I had done on numerous occasions in the past. I mistakenly assumed Taiji would be the same! It was a few years later in 1995 that Patrick Kelly first visited our school. Patrick had spent some 20 years as an inner school student of the late Master Huang Sheng Shyan and was now sharing Master Huang’s methods with those who showed an interest in the teachings in Europe. On that first visit we began putting in place the 5 Loosening Exercises, re-learning the Short Form, and adding the basic fixed pattern pushing hands that are at the core of Master Huang’s methods. I remember clearly being thrown powerfully as Patrick patiently explained the process by which the rising wave of elastic power travelled through his body - How could that be? It felt very strange! Like being picked off your feet by the powerful and gentle ocean swell as you stand in the water. I was watching for the quick twist of the hips or a sudden thrust, but none were evident. It seems my previous experience had left me inadequately equipped to perceive the subtlety that he so effortlessly displayed. So for a half dozen times or more my body was propelled up and quickly backwards finally coming to rest some meters away. I shook my head in wonder and headed back across the floor only to be picked up by the next wave and effortlessly thrown again – Patrick seemed to be enjoying himself! Had I been able to ‘listen’ deeply at that moment rather than just ‘watch’ then I may have had a better chance to understand the inner process by which I was being thrown. Slowly a dawning realisation settled in me that the outer movements were barely a beginning in the Taiji journey – A ripple on the surface of something profound and unfathomably deep.

Outer Form – Inner Practise

I found it immensely frustrating. For quite some time no matter how I tried, as soon as I moved my awareness bubbled straight back up seemingly forever locked to the gross outer movements of the body itself - an amorphous fusion of intention, awareness, forces and movement. How to separate it all out into clearly distinguishable components is still very much a ‘work in progress’, but is at least somewhat clearer now with a few further years of training behind me. Only long practise of attempting to close down the superficial mind will break through to allow the possibility to awaken a deeper state. But back then even though I heard the words I had no idea how this could possibly work. It seems each layer of Taiji is of an increasingly subtle nature, and as we dig deeper attempting to uncover those layers the challenge that we really set ourselves is to initiate a process of inner change that reaches deep within us. To explore the art we have to begin to explore and change ourselves. Having made the initial effort to learn the outer shape of the Form beginners sometimes mistakenly think that that’s it, job done. In reality of course this is merely a beginning step. In my own classes it’s not uncommon for people to leave at around this stage becoming bored with the necessary repetition and not yet able or prepared to make the sustained effort to break through to find something deeper than outer movement itself. It’s a difficult moment for people, and because of the subtlety it’s usually not yet clear to them that some changes are beginning to take place so that people struggle to understand their own progress. Of course Taiji does not suit everyone, some find the harder martial arts more immediately exciting, or yoga and meditation may suit them better. This being part of the natural intelligence of disciplines that filter out those not suited to the training. To carry on requires an extra effort, and it’s usually only those that are motivated from something resonating deep within who can persevere to break through. What follows are a few examples from my own experiences that helped me understand that changes were taking place. I hope it might just help to encourage someone who has reached that plateau to keep it going. There is a way in, but like anything else in life you have to be prepared to make the effort to look for it. As Patrick points out “There are no secrets in Taiji - just things much deeper than people can see”.

Relax!

Life can be tough both emotionally and physically, and often we learn to deal with those forces that impinge upon us by armouring ourselves against them. The wall of resistance that we build can be very deeply rooted and difficult to undo its negative effects. It can manifest as the daily ‘mask’ that we wear, the posture we hold, the way we use our voice, the way we act, all of those and more. Dispassionately observing our own reactions when with others is a useful way of seeing what work we need to do. There is no doubt that releasing residual muscular tensions and corresponding emotional states (or visa versa) is a lifetime’s work that can only really begin once some awareness of that state has begun to surface.

Tension

After about a year of Taiji I couldn’t understand why I was becoming so tense! I asked my teacher Dan about it – this being before we began our journey with Patrick Kelly. He laughed and pointed out that the growing sense of tension I felt was the result of a deepening awareness, I was simply experiencing my current state of being! The news came as a bit of a shock, I had never really thought of myself as tense, but at least now armed with this information the opportunity existed to do something about it. I made an effort over the next few years attempting to relax using hypnosis, meditation as well as Taiji of course. But on first contact with Patrick a few years later he told me “your arms are too stiff, relax!” It reminds me of the quote from Master Huang about people being like baked potatoes and needing a long time of ‘cooking’ to soften right through to the centre.

Foot Pressure

The forces that support the body are actually quite large, just by standing still I exert a downward force of (74Kg x 9.81M/s/s) = 725 Newton’s. It’s a big number, so somewhat helpful that the nature of floors is to withstand those forces. If the floor on which I stand exerts an equal and opposite reaction to my downward force there must be some compression and some considerable pressure at sole of my foot. These forces increase dramatically in dynamic situations as in when walking or when combined with the forces of a partner – So how is it we are hardly aware of them? Like a fish in water that doesn’t know it’s wet we are all swimming in gravity. An interesting observation came when training in a newly carpeted room. After the loosening exercises the man next to me pointed out the pressure indents that our feet had made. Interestingly having trained for quite some years more than this beginner there was a marked difference in the depth of compression in the new carpet, mine being noticeably deeper than my much heavier friend. I had been aware of foot pressure for quite some time but this moment helped me to confirm what I was beginning to feel in my own body. That the resulting dynamic forces generated in a body that has begun to loosen and separate are far greater than those in a body that is still locked together as one.

Lines of Connection

Having found foot pressure logic dictates that it doesn’t stop there of course, and the forces rise naturally through the body following the lines of connection through bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, stretching muscle and interconnecting tissues. The careful and sensitive addition of a partners force to ones body is a great method for bringing awareness of these lines of connection into oneself. In the beginning we are all somewhat immune to the sensations of our own body-mass combined with gravity, of course at a deeper level our body mind knows it well, but when we only look with our superficial mind it feels almost nothing. By adding sensitively applied forces beyond that which we normally experience when working solo it definitely helps us to tune our awareness.

Touch – Connect – Merge – Follow.

Some years ago I attended the class of a Taiji teacher in Manchester’s Chinatown with whom a friend had trained. I was welcomed and during the class the teacher showed his particular version of single hand push. As we began, intending no disrespect, as soon as we touched I connected immediately down to his foot, he stopped and looked me squarely in the eyes smiled broadly and walked off leaving me to train with one of his students. I don’t know if some particular etiquette prevails in these circumstances I rarely visit other Taiji classes, but it was obvious that he was clearly aware of the connections that had been made. New people to our classes are often amazed and baffled by the ability to touch into their feet – as I was before finding it for myself. Of course there are varying degrees of subtlety to be found, and these days even with a somewhat increased awareness I am unable to detect the connections that my teacher uses on me until the situation is far too late for me – and there I go again rocketing off across the room!

Moments of Clarity

Patrick often reminds us that the best way to progress is to concentrate on one particular aspect for some time. That effort and concentration eventually brings results - where attempting to vaguely work on everything all at once leads nowhere, as we all too readily slip back into a soporific watching state – pleasant but of no real use. The effort to close down the superficial mind and use a clear line of intention, whilst at the same time deliberately holding back the impending movements of the body will eventually begin to separate out the movement of the mind from the movement of body, and leave us free to listen more deeply to the responses that naturally arise in the spaces in between. “The Dao that can be told is not the eternal Dao”. Difficult to speak of - It happens on rare occasions that random glimmers of depths we are not yet ready for appear for a moment and then quickly fade unable to be recaptured. Just like a dream that seemed so clear and yet can hardly be remembered a short time later. Alongside those are also moments of clarity much closer to our current level that more readily shine through like guiding beacons in the mist. With genuine effort our practise slowly deepens. Each effort being like the weaving of silken threads that slowly fuse together building layers that will eventually sustain a new level of lucid experience. Over time this can be incorporated and becomes our semi natural practise leaving us free to move on to the next step. Underlying a growing clarity in my own practise is also a deepening sense that the mists have spread further ahead to unknown horizons, and yet more questions arise. Occasionally in the swirling mists I glimpse the footprints of my teacher Patrick Kelly and those of a man I will never meet, a man from a different culture half way round the world whose influence in my life has been hugely positive, my teacher’s teacher Grand Master Huang Sheng Shyan.

May 2009 - Joe Harte is based in the UK - A student of Patrick Kelly.

Page content © 2008 Luke Shepherd; Page design © 2008 John Allsup

Page last updated: Monday, October 24, 2011 16:33