Saturday, May 30, 2009

This upbeat, albeit French song bearing clip is almost 10 minutes of a workshop by Wang Yen-Nien, pupil of Zhang Qin-Lin. Wang Yen-Nien was behind many of the Michuan transmissions and thanks to him and those who sought him out and worked with him the Michuan taijiquan tradition will endure.

The michuan tradition apparently originates with Yang Luchan who in the employment of the Manchu Rulers of the late Qing chose to keep some of his teaching secret from his employers and thus creates and passed along to his sons a secret style of taijiquan, while he created another form for his employers which in modified version is the Yang long form that passed through Cheng-fu, who it would appear never received the Michuan teachings from his father.
Instead his father chose to impart their knowledge to pupil of Cheng-fu whom he approved of greatly, this mans name was Zhang Qin-lin and he won an 0pen fighting tournament in which life was lost, using taijiquan. He retired as a taoist and Wang Yen-Nien met him when Yen-Nien was still a child.

Taiji master TT Liang

Michuan Taijiquan 1st section

This is the 1st section of the Michuan taijiquan form by a man who was a student of Wang Yen-Nien for over 50 years:

Kunlun Jian

By the ineffable Albert Efimov, A jian form said to be from the Yang Jia Michuan tajiquan tradition.

Sun Jian form

This form is the Sun Style taiji version of bagua jian being done by Sun Jianyun.

Sun Style Taijiquan

This is sun style by Wang Yanji.
It incorporates Wu Hao taijiquan with xing-yi and bagua and was put together by Sun Lutang.

Wu hao Taijiquan

This is Wu Hao style taijiquan.
It comes from a man who was a student of Yang Luchan who also went to learn at Chen Village at one point.
It is this type of taiji that was adapted by Sun Lutang into his Sun style Taijiquan.

Small frame

This Yang form is small frame. This elderly gentleman is a student of one of Yang Ban Hou's pupils:

Large low frame form

Wu Tunan is said to have mentioned that the Yangs made him do a very low form under a table.
Yang Luchan was known to be able to apply taiji to below the knee.
The form below is associated with Yang Ban Hou and is very much consistent with the claims above:

Sim Pooh Ho

Here is a student of Wu Tunan doing a taiji form. This one appears to be a version of Yang style coming from Shao Hou, said to be like that of Ban Hou.


If you translated the term form into another language, it could easily be conveyed as a dance.
This is because form and dance are both typically choreographed sequence.

What is the difference between learning a taijiform and learning to dance?
Who said there is a difference, they are the same.

In the old method of learning taiji, the body was trained and techniques were learned sequentially. This resulted in the skill so renown of taiji generations past.

The modern method of teaching is now to learn to dance, to learn a form and then try to use the form as a tool to learn the moves, this approach is nearly the exact opposite to the traditional method. This is because the dance of the original forms was too difficult to learn up front, and because the forms did not form the basis of traditional training. Form based training leaves out so many important things it is not worth the time to list them all, needless to say that learning to practice a dance and learning to practice a form are the same and should not be confused with learning to practice a martial art.

Forms are a type of practice and are designed to refine skills over time, however the skills they refine are introduced one at a time. The traditional methods involve getting the skills and methods down one at a time, when this aspect of training is complete the skills can be strung together in the form properly without error. In many modern and non-traditional schools there is the idea that you learn taijiquan by learning a form, this is not only false, it results in very poor skill levels compared to the traditional method. The problem is that form corrections do not work, breaking a habit is next to impossible, the only solution is to begin training all over again and with a proper method.

Doing things the wrong way over and over, contrary to popular belief, does not lead to learning the right way to do it, rather it is teaching the body to do them wrong. The idea that you practice a form and learn new ways to do the same moves over time is a very poor idea. This is not how the art was mastered in the past, but it is how many people ruin their ability to master the art in modern times. Part of this is because the skills that are found in the forms of taiji are not those that can be seen, they are essentially unseen forces that the student must have introduction to first, before form training begins.

A more traditional approach to learning taijiquan from the form is to take the very first move and learn it by doing it properly many thousands of times. This cannot be done from a book or a video because it requires a transmission that can only be felt, the explanations of what is going on are worthless to the eye, only knowing how they feel will allow the proper approach. This is the only way to unlock a form, because the transmission is the key. Once the first move is learned properly, and this cannot be determined by the student, only then is the student ready to move on to the next part of the form.

When taiji began to be taught to the public instead of just soldiers and martial artists, the method of teaching had to be changed drastically. Cheng-fu found that many people demanded to learn the form up front, however this cannot be done with the proper form, so he simplified it and made it easier. His refinements eventually took into consideration his massive stature, later postures of his taking into account his very large belly which got in the way of some of the more traditional movements. Despite these alteration the form was still too difficult, at one point a friend and student of his modified the form to make it even shorter and more easy, so as to enable the soldiers who were learning the form during the several weeks of training they had at the University where Cheng-fu and others were teaching, to be able to learn the form more easily. The name of the man who came up with the condensed form for the fast paced conveyor-belt setting of the University was Chen Man-Ching, a rather well known enthusiast of taiji.

Now the condensed form of Chen Man-Ching is among the most widely practiced forms, particularly for the conditioning effects it has upon the body. It is a healthy form, however it is not traditional to learn taiji through learning a form and thus the students of Chen Man-Ching that are the most renown, like William CC Chen and TT Liang, sought out and added much more to their own practice and transmissions than was passed to them by Man-Ching himself. Thus many years later many schools are found that employ the condensed form of Man-Ching while still training in a manner closer to the traditional methods than the modern form based training. However there are also groups which employ his form as the foundation of their understanding and do not employ more traditional practices. Also there are those who think that they can learn taiji from books containing forms, among these are Man-Chings own work, however without the transmission of an authentic line the unseen forces of taijiquan cannot be appreciated.

It is my belief that the 108 karanas were the original martial art posture. The training method in which they were mastered in very close to that of traditional posture training in martial arts. There are also many other similarities. What seems apparent to me is that the 108 karanas contain versions of all of the taiji postures and more and that having reviewed this for a few years now it is also apparent that taijiquan appears to be a refined version of a reduced set of karana postures. The karana postures were used for both dance and martial art. One of the frequent notions of Hindu art containing these postures is that they show dancing, even though such dancing frequently involved weapons and the Hindu classics clearly relate dancing to the martial arts. However many so called experts on India from the west have repeatedly failed to note this connection between dance and martial arts.

Many of the previous posts here illustrate martial dances that appear to have spread out across Asia from India over the last 3000 years. They almost all involve variations of the same posture and slow movement for training and fast movement for application. In many cases the costume of the dancer is based on ancient armor and in many cultures there is a connection between warrior and dance, Japan is a good example of this and the influence of vedic tradition in Japan is also rather apparent.

Over time I have come to see that many dances are more martial than are realized, and many martial forms are more dance like than realized. In the end form equals dance and dance is just form and skill does not come from knowing the choreography, it comes from mastering the moves themselves.

Wu Tunan

This mans taiji is very nice. He was a student of Yang Shao Hou.
Note his precision when he is moving fast.
I believe that in at least one of these videos he is over 100 years old.
For a long time the Yang Family denied his authenticity, however records clearly show that he is indeed authentic and the Yang Family now acknowledges that he is the real deal.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Unseen forces

The slow movement found in taijiquan can be hard to understand from an outsider point of view. It is natural to want to speed the motion up, and it is true that this is done in application, however to speed up the motions can also create terrible misunderstanding about the nature of the use of force and energy in taijiquan.

Taiji is all about the conservation and utilization of momentum, to be able to do this a comprehensive understanding of the nature of force must be had. For example expansion has retraction on the other side of it, this is because there are complimentary pairs which are thought of in terms of Yin and Yang. However do not let this mislead you, there are no things that are yin, or yang, because these terms illustrate a relationship between these two qualities, thus they do not exist independently of each other. Some people may tell you that slow movement is yin and fast is yang, however this not the case because yin and yang are not properties, they are a relationship.

In the use of energy and force there is essentially a kinetic wave involved. In taijiquan this kinetic wave is generated, manipulated and transmitted in a way unique to the art. The methods involved are not such as can be conveyed by any text or image or information. While they involve a profound understanding of force and superb use of body mechanics, this understanding and use cannot be seen or explained. No eye can pick up this comprehension of force.

Involved in this methodology is a form of conservation of momentum that plays a pivotal role in the movements found in the various taijiforms. The aspect of flowing requires this conservation of the kinetic wave and this skill can be quite hard to see. When the movement is slow and continuous the momentum of the techniques flows from one to the next, however when we speed them up improperly something happens that changes this effect and can lead to trouble. When we move quickly our ability to conserve the momentum becomes challenged and we must use extra force and tension to hold back our movements. You can feel this if you punch the air as loose as you can in front of you, but with speed. When your strike reaches the end of the travel the force of it becomes absorbed by the body, it simply cannot push enough air to be able to issue or transmit the force of the wave fully into the air, nor can it simply be controlled and the momentum conserved the way a slow movement easily allows.

The problem with this fast motion in the air is that it trains the body to do the wrong thing. This does not mean there is not a proper way to do the taiji moves fast and conserve the momentum, however the vast majority of fast movements seen in modern schools do not display proper technique in this regard. It may never even become apparent that the movements being practiced do not transmit force, because they still impact with force, however there is a very large difference between kinetic impact and the transmission of a kinetic wave. Kinetic impact for example can be trained for with a heavy bag, this is not the case with the kinetic wave. When you transmit force properly none of it is retained, this requires a type of relaxation that cannot be had with uncontrolled sneeze like movements whose kinetic wave is absorbed by the body. Performing the moves this way looks very impressive to others, however it trains the body to reflexively absorb a great deal of the force of strikes this is both inefficient and contrary to the principals of taijiquan.

By practicing slowly the foundational skills are learned properly, the body learns what to do. By speeding up the movement, particularly for beginners, we can create more problems than we can solve. It can be very hard to beginners to be able to conserve the momentum of their motion in fast forms and this can lead to problems understanding the techniques. This is because faster motion requires more effort and tension.

One common taiji myth is that you can get better at something without practicing it. This myth knows no limit but a common version is that by practicing one so called harder motion, then a simpler motion is learned, even though the simple version is not being practiced. However the body shall always defy such logic and it will simply learn what it does. You cannot learn to transmit a wave of kinetic force by any method other than practicing to do it. This does mean that one will learn to speed things up, and that one must learn real speed timing for the moves, however this should not be done until the slow movements can be done properly, and it cannot be done by practicing the wrong moves fast.

There is the idea that if you practice a form incorrectly that this is ok and then you can get corrections later. This is not true, you will only build bad habits and correcting a habit is much, much harder than learning a technique. Likewise there is the idea that practicing a form will allow you to learn taijiquan, this is also not true. By practicing a form we learn to do a form, doing a form is not practicing taijiquan, it is only practicing a taijiquan form. The form is not enough, and worse the image of the form is far, far too little. The real forces and skills of taijiquan are unseen forces, they cannot be learned through imitating the motion of others. They cannot be learned from a book or video, they require transmission and practice of many aspects of their refinement.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Have you ever tried to grasp the sparrows tale?

The names of form sequences often seem peculiar, sometimes people don't like them, many ignore them, redefine them, or throw them away.

Why do so many martial arts bear similar named sequence patterns? Why give a move the name, monkey steals peach? Why not call it man attacks genitals? What is the reason? To be secret? As a disguise?

Perhaps, just maybe, the descriptive names of the moves pertain to a little bit more than secrecy, but lets not count that out. What can we find in the funny little names and poetic descriptions that are not found in straightforward descriptions of the same movement?

The answer, as obvious as it is sublte is: attitude. Consider the monkey stealing a peach, monkeys evoke concepts of deftness, agility and cunning, maybe even an unpredictable playfulness, the attitude behind the name monkey steals peach speaks volumes, while to say man attacks genitals has no attitude, it has no flavor to it, in short it has no soul.

And what does a soul need?
That's right, Salvation!


Because the soul of martial arts is not immortal. This vital soul, this attitude is none other than what allows the expression of martial arts as a manifestation of the persona of the artist, without this personal expression there is no art. If there is no art, there is no martial art as that the flavor, the very soul is absent. The flavor of your expression is unique, the soul of your art is a facet of your own.

There is a difference between grasping the sparrows tale and performing grasp the sparrows tail after all, one is art, the other is dead movement, just empty choreography even if it is martial and deadly it is not art. The test of a martial art is not found in the martial it is found in the art, this subtlety goes all but unnoticed in these modern days. Art is about the very nature of the human experience, it can lead to enlightenment and it connects with the passion of individual. The martial is just violence, it is harming others, it has no soul, no attitude, no flavor but that of blood and the thirst for it. Without the martial, the art is nothing, but without the art the martial is but a road to the grave.

For the art to endure, you must endure.
The stake of the very soul of your martial art rest in your capable hands in every move you make.

Indeed: Have you ever tried to grasp the sparrows tale?