Did I detect a note of skepticism in my student’s question?
If there was a hint it would not be out of the ordinary. After all if you were to tell me that your arm and thigh muscles would relax instead of tensing up when you apply power I would be very skeptical.
But there is nothing like feeling for oneself to see if this was just a BS claim or for real.
Checklist 1 – his right hand pushes my right arm whilst his left hand is placed on my upper arm to feel if there is tensing of the muscles as he applies force and I send him off balance
Checklist 2 – his right hand pushes my right arm and at the same time he places his left hand on my right thigh to check for tensing of thigh muscle
(Note – the above checklist is from the draft of “The Mind & The Power : An Introduction to the Intention Method of Generating Force from Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan“)
Afterwards he can only shake his head and wonder how this is possible. Yes I know that despite all the talk of relaxation if you actually touch the thighs of many famous masters you would feel the muscle tense up. Case of say one thing but do another. Not to mention that its going against the principles.
However, if you persist in training relaxation in line with the principles you will find that when you receive and apply force you will relax even more instead of starting to tense up. Just because the majority can’t do it does not mean it cannot be done.
I once read about how Master Yu Yongnian of Yiquan fame was taught to stand in zhanzhuang and mentally practiced pulling a distant tree and pushing it back. Master Yu related how he practiced this for 3 years before understanding the teaching.
I told my student that this sounds funny to those who are not tuned into the internal arts methodology. However, if he can understand the implication of the Tai Chi principle on page 129, TaijiKinesis Vol 2 he not only can understand this pull-push tree practice but can demonstrate the power that can be acquired.
To underline my point I applied it on him. This was after I had explained and shown him different ways the intention can be used to generate power with different effects. Thinking back I think I like the dragon spitting ball power principle from Grandmaster Wei’s form the most because the effect is interesting.
Its what I would call the best of the worst solutions.
Using a foldable straight sword is fine for playing form. It works quite well too for playing sticking swords.
But when it comes to clashing swords during applications to simulate striking the hand, testing the power of different cuts, etc the poor foldable sword has reached its limits.
First, I could see that the sword was bent after practice last week. This week when I flicked it the last part of the sword would not longer come out. My student tried to pull it out but it was stuck.
Then I got my student to do sword disarming and he smashed his sword down really hard and there was a dent in the “blade”.
I think that dent must have caused a structural damage to the pommel because when I showed him how to issue power in a short, circling strike something dropped out. It was the weight placed in the pommel to bring the balance of the sword closer to the handle.
Perhaps we should start looking at some other viable alternatives that won’t get damaged so easily.
I start off this post with an excerpt from the article Jin training in Baguazhang :-
Many famous masters had strong hidden power, such as the bagua master Liu Fengchun, and the xingyi master Guo Yunshen. It was as if both of these masters had ‘electricity’ in their arms, the opponent would be launched away regardless of whether they were attacking the opponent or whether the opponent was attacking them. Stationary palms [ding shi zhang] are the main method used in bagua to train hidden power. Each posture, if combined with specific visualisations and practiced correctly, can produce hidden power. For example, in the first posture, ‘pressing down palm’ [xia an zhang], both hands ‘press’ downwards as if on a ball , with the arms rounded as if holding a large balloon. Posturally, the requirements are: relax the shoulder, press the elbows out [song jian cheng zhou]; hollow the chest and round the back [han xiong ba bei], hold the head as if suspended [xu ling ding jin] and the upper body should be slightly turned towards the centre of the circle while you walk using mud-wading step [tang ni bu].
When teaching about using the internal method to my intermediate level students I also told them about the use of the intention to imagine that his arms are holding something round like a sphere. So you see, in a true internal art the use of visualizations do exist. I am not inventing stories here.
If your Tai Chi Chuan style claims to be internal but do not teach how to do something similar you have to ask why if you are serious about picking up internal skills. Just doing the common things like leaning forward, lowering your level, pushing the rear leg off the ground do not really an internal art make. A true internal art is much more precise and sophisticated than that.
In a previous post I put up the drawing below.
You can that its not just a matter of holding a small sphere in your hand in your mind. There is a level of precision associated with how to use the small sphere to attack the opponent. Its not just about issuing the power and it will work. If anything, issuing power is only part of the story. The other part is about how to use your intention in tandem with the Small Chi Sphere to attack the opponent. This is what the internal is really about.
Continuing from the previous post.
So what’s the big deal about Tai Chi Chuan? Is there something so extraordinary about it that it enabled Yang Luchan to make an impression in Beijing ages ago; an impression that still have people talking about it today? Not to mention getting people gaga over conspiracy theories about the Yang family teaching watered down art to the Manchurians, lost fast forms, secret fajing methods, under-the-table practice methods, longer long forms, modified forms, etc, many of which seems plausible but when you think about it the only thing to do is raise an eyebrow and say “….seriously dude?”
Let’s take a simple example – teaching a modified art. I have seen this in some arts but if you show something that your student have never seen before you basically have a few excuses – its an advanced skill, the technique is in the advanced form which you have not learned, etc. If it contradicts something that you have told your royal patron before what do you think will happen? So yes, you can teach a watered down art but in those days you would have to be really careful not to show your real art. However, I wonder if Yang Luchan ever accidentally showed off something that he never wanted his Manchurian employer to see. I think it would be difficult especially when meeting a challenge in front of the Sixth Prince. This is why in our lineage it is said that Yang Jianhou did teach the proper Yang style to the Sixth Prince. What happened to the Sixth Prince after he learned it is something I do not know.
Then you have all these stories and speculations about secret and lost fast forms. I wonder if people who make such speculations have their heads screwed on the right way. Fast form – that’s the secret Yang family art? Really? I wonder if people who say this know that you can do the typical Yang Chengfu 108 form in a fast manner…..
And then you have the secret, solo posture fajing practice….. Those who make such claims are basically insulting our intelligence. Even if the Yang family never taught it you can easily find out about doing movements faster to fajing by simply observing arts such as Bajiquan and putting two and two together.
I have seen an article about those under-the-table, ultra flexible practice of the form. I have seen a picture of an old man posing under the table. I wonder if he was posing or he can still actually play the entire long form at a slow speed at that age under the table. I know really young kids have no problem doing so due to their flexible young bodies. But a mature man in his 80s still doing that? Really? Just this week my student came back from holiday and again he did his form with his knees really low and I told him that if he did it this way for 5 minutes he probably won’t think much about it. But try doing it for an hour and the pain would surface.
Modified forms, shortened forms, excised techniques, simplified techniques, etc makes up another popular theory train for why Yang style Tai Chi Chuan today is no longer what it once was. By extension of the argument a form that is more complex, has more movements etc would therefore fit the bill of an extraordinary Tai Chi form that Yang Luchan once practiced. Proponents would claim that this would be the Chen style that the Yang family practiced behind closed doors. I think there is no argument that Yang Luchan learned from Chen Chang-hsing. What is not clearly established is whether what Yang learned is the same Chen style forms we see today. So the argument is still up for debate in the absence of conclusive evidence.
All the above arguments have played out in other styles of martial arts. So its nothing really new. They could also be various, valid ways to realize the art. But they do not explain the one simple question of what makes Yang style Tai Chi Chuan, at least as practiced by Yang Luchan and his son, Yang Jianhou the extraordinary art that it was, such that even Yang Jianhou shared the nickname of Yang the Peerless with his father.
I’ll stop the post here and give the reader time to digest what I have written. I’ll also go and do some practice.
At UFC 168 ex-champion Anderson Silva lost the fight to the defending champion, Chris Weidman. I think if you ask people who saw the actual fight, viewed the video or even just heard about it you will get a pretty accurate and graphic description of what happened.
I’ve read the stories of Yang Luchan but frankly speaking I don’t really see what is the big deal about what he did that would have earned him the moniker of Yang Wudi literally Yang the Peerless. This is quite a lofty nickname, a hat so big that no sane, ordinary master would want to wear it because it would attract people who are eager to see how really peerless you really are and whether you deserve the nickname unless it was bestowed in jest.
At that time when Yang Luchan carved out his name I am sure there were great masters of other famous styles that were around. Having investigated some of the other well known styles in Beijing then and examining what they have today I have to say honestly that Tai Chi Chuan pales when put side-by-side with these other styles, a number of which are considered internal styles too.
At times I can’t help but wonder that since a punch is but a punch regardless of styles due to a human body being a human body why should the approach of Tai Chi Chuan be any different. In fact, having seen a number of Tai Chi styles I can only conclude that any difference is likely to be superficial. If you want to talk about stomping for power like what is in Chen style then Bajiquan has it, if silk reeling then Yin Yang Baguazhang’s version of spiralling is not inferior and if you talk about Chin Na many styles in the North too have it. If you want to talk about gentle expression and sudden fajing then styles like Dai Family Xinyi has it too.
So pray tell me what is the great deal about Tai Chi Chuan?
This is just one question. The other question I have is what makes Tai Chi Chuan an internal art. Again, when compared with the other arts of Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, Bajiquan, Xinyi Liuhe, Dai Xinyi, Piguazhang, etc. really I have to ask what do we have that they don’t have and better?
Sad to say, my conclusion is that what these other arts have are so much better than what we have in Tai Chi Chuan. That is until the day my senior first brought up the name of Wei Shuren in a letter. That was the beginning of the unlocking of this confounding puzzle.
OK, its time for an early dinner. I have to go do the cooking now. Will continue this another time.
To be internal means much of the art of Tai Chi Chuan exists in the mind of the practitioner. The nuances of the art is not readily observable in solo practice though the intention phenomenon can be felt through expressions of usage and fajing. I suspect this is why many practitioners are so obsessed and fascinated with the topic of fajing.
To the majority of practitioners they tend to settle the wrist when issuing power because they feel that this can focus the power. However, the result is more like trying to smash or ram the wrist / palm against the opponent. This is why many advocate tensing the wrist to avoid injuring it. Whilst many call this the internal way, I view this more as an external method of fajing.
To be internal means that one must conform to the relaxation principle even when issuing power. With the right principle you don’t have to tense your wrist because the objective is not to ram your wrist / palm against the opponent. Instead, the internal method of our Tai Chi Chuan calls for us to impart a force impulse that travels into and through the opponent.
However, if you read this and wish it to be so it won’t be so. You must use intention to train your body before it can be so. This is a difficult training because it is largely in your mind. Take a look at the picture below. This is a sequence from Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s 22-Form’s Beginning Posture. What do you see? Just some hand / arm movements right? Nothing much that is internal here or so it seems.
Until Grandmaster Wei revealed the hidden art of the Yang family Tai Chi Chuan to the world no one would have guessed that in the training of Beginning Posture his intention has both his palms holding a Small Chi Sphere. The thing about the Small Chi Sphere is that they are not there for Chi Kung purposes but for fajing usage!!!
I have read of other styles of Tai Chi Chuan talking about spheres, circles and so on but little explanation that borders on the internal. So your hands are holding Small Chi Spheres. So what? Anyone can imagine they are doing so. Even if they don’t know about it previously now that they do they can copy this practice too.
Yes, so they can. But until they can actualize the Small Chi Sphere such that it can be used then they are bluffing themselves by thinking that in copying us they are being internal. There is a method behind the madness of the Small Chi Spheres which Grandmaster Wei revealed to the world as shown in the drawing below.
Even then knowing how the Small Chi Sphere is to be used does not mean you can use it. You have to transform yourself through the internal method, rid yourself of the external, then your body will be able to use the Small Chi Spheres. This is the part that is difficult, not only in the practice but in that the typical learner resists the information, refuses to believe its possible and in doing so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the art truly becomes impossible to master.
The internal method of Tai Chi Chuan is real. But to disbelievers it might as well be fake. Man can have unbelievable talent and skills but knowing everything that is possible or impossible is not one of them. There is still much that we do not know of ourselves in spite of the advancement of science and how the mind shapes the body in motion to fajing is one of them. I know proprioception is another popular buzzword but it is inadequate to truly describe the wonders that defines the art of Tai Chi Chuan. Let us not lose this treasure of mankind through our own shortcomings and smart alecky know it all attitude.
Being internal is about using the intention to drive the body’s movements.
What then exactly is intention?
All of us have intention in that when we do something we have the intent to do it. For example the fine line that separates murder from manslaughter is intent. If you kill someone but didn’t plan to do it on purpose that’s manslaughter. However, if you preplan the ways and means to kill a person by deliberation that’s murder.
So when you do a Tai Chi movement by just wanting to do it this is considered having intent in that you intended to do the movement. The big question is how exactly do you do the movement. And it is in this aspect of the doing that the majority of players miss out on.
Now we move on to another tricky part of defining internal. So let’s say you know how to bend your knees, turn your waist, relax your body, torque your waist, thrust your legs etc doesn’t this mean you are being internal?
Yes and no.
To be internal also involves biomechanics but in a subtle, non-obvious manner. The biomechanics at this level is shaped by your mind’s instructions in conformance with the principles of the Classics rather than gross motor movements.
We can characterize the use of intention as the mind delivering a series of defined instructions on how the body should move and your body in turn executes the instructions precisely. In this manner this is very similar to how the software, the OS, drives a PC hardware.
For example, many Tai Chi players will tell themselves to relax. Many will say this is intention but it’s not the use of intention in the Tai Chi Chuan sense. To be relaxed in the internal sense means we have to define what exactly is relax, the steps to achieve it and when we know we have fulfilled the relax criteria. Otherwise, you can say you are relaxed but what does it really mean? Thus, even with my students when I tell them to relax they will sometimes tell me that they are relaxed already when to my eye they aren’t. Fortunately, there are ways to test it otherwise it would be a very subjective argument.
So until you know what intention is about I very much doubt that you can understand the actual rationale behind the principle of “use intention, do not use strength“. Without knowing the rationale this will be just something you heard of but unable to really relate to much less actually be able to use it. Then over time it will be treated as a marketing gimmick and eventually the reason behind it will be lost.
Takuan Soho wrote a very good book on the nature of intention. When I first read it I can intellectually understand some of what he was saying but most of it makes no sense and sounded contradictory. More important, I cannot use anything of the stuff he wrote about. I didn’t have the keys to unlocking this puzzle. It was until I finally learned Tai Chi Chuan properly that what Takuan talked about makes real sense and can be translated into physical usage. In being able to do so I now know that he was not writing or speculating about airy fairy stuff to fool the common practitioners and have a leg over them.
To summarize, to be internal means you must know how to use intention to control your body. Its not just a general command but a specific series of inner instructions from your mind to your body. You know what you are doing exactly. It is like building a house. Everything has a place and a reason. Built wrongly, the roof may collapse, the pipes may leak, etc. The blueprint for the internal is the Classics. If you don’t know what it means don’t blame the Classics. They are a record of what the past masters know. That you can’t make sense of it means whatever excuses you want to give it to justify not being able to explain the Classics. Just don’t call the Classics a lie or some intellectual gibberish.
Internal is such a buzzword. Everyone uses it to describe their Tai Chi Chuan. However, on closer examination many are basically based on normal understanding of what biomechanics is about. In fact, when you compare these Tai Chi styles with the approach of a number of external arts you won’t find much that is different. So the question that is begging is whether the claim of being internal is due to marketing or is there really something behind it.
Do note that being internal is not just about having fajing ability. This is simplistic thinking. Having the means to issue force does not an internal art make. It is but one of many components in a typical art that is set up for the purpose of combat. However, for some funny reasons even the rationale person can’t help but be obsessed with fajing. To use an analogy a nuclear missile is useless if you don’t have the means to launch it to your intended target.
So what exactly is an internal approach about? Why don’t I consider the typical approach as internal?
To address the latter first – using a biomechanical approach is at best part internal because to be internal means to be on the inside, to be hidden in plain view. If I can see and understand how it’s being done then it’s not really internal. I mean what’s sophisticated, high level about something that outsiders can easily understand. I know most of us will never dare to ask the emperor about his new clothes but if you are interested in the truth you should. In Zen you would not have the chance to breakthrough to enlightenment until you have great doubts. Since most of us tend to trust rather than doubt you should not be surprised that so many will never get it.
So that is the situation today and likely to be into the near future. We will next move on to tackle the question of what being internal is about.