Insight 4.2 – Basics

1. INTRODUCTION

The fundamentals for practicing GM Wei’s Tai Chi reside in the inseparable internal-external mind-body attributes known as Internal Power Theory (内功理法) as listed below :-

a) Crown (所謂懸頂)
b) Eyes Spirit (眼神)
c) Armpits (所謂虚腋)
d) Elbows (肘墜腰圈)
e) Convex Wrist (鼓腕)
f) Energy Source (勁源)
g) 3-Chi Rings (三道氣圈)
h) Bell Body (身如鐘)
i) 2-4 Points (身中垂直線與二四點)
j) Bell Hammer (身中垂直線鐘錘)
k) Chest Character Ten (胸前十字)
l) Use of 3-Passes (三關的運用)
m) Fist, Palm, Hook (拳, 掌, 勾)

2. PRACTICE

We learn how to do the 22-form with the 13 attributes from the first day. The learning of the 13 attributes are inserted throughout the form to make it easier for a beginner to learn in bits and pieces instead of one overwhelming chunk. It takes time, a long time and much practice, to becoming familiar and more important, to extract the understanding and insight as to what the 13 attributes mean in terms of the performance and application of our Tai Chi.

In practicing the 22-form we should know how to move exactly, what principles and which attributes we are working on. There should not be any movement that is without a guiding intent. If you practice in this manner you will understand how the 13 attributes when put together transform our techniques into movements bearing the hallmark characteristics of our Yang style.

3. DISCUSSION

Below is a brief discussion on the 13 attributes from the perspective of how I learned them. For a more detailed treatment of the subject you should refer to the book on the 22-form by GM Wei entitled “Yang Family True Transmission : Authentic Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan” (楊家眞傳 : 楊式太極拳述真)

i) Crown (所謂懸頂)

The head is upright as if suspended from the ceiling (懸頂). This is achieved by gently tucking in the chin so as to bring the back of the neck towards the back of the collar. The feeling is as if your crown is pushing upwards (虛領頂勁). The adjustment of the head is part of the process of adhering to the requirement of the 3-Passes (三關的運用).

An additional benefit of this requirement is that it will force your eyes to look constantly ahead otherwise you will lose the head suspension feeling which happens when you look at the ground. This is a habit common to beginners. They feel insecure as to where their feet are landing so they have the urge to look down.

In our training we must control the urge to look down. Instead of looking at the feet to know where they are learn to feel instead. It will not be easy but if you keep working at it you will eventually get rid of this habit.

From the perspective of combat looking down at your feet is a bad habit because you are momentarily taking your eyes off the opponent. When we practice the 22-form we keep our eyes on an imaginary opponent at all times.

I can understand why this point is not properly understood by practitioners. This is because without a training partner to act as the opponent in front of them they do not feel the threat of an imminent attack if they fail to keep their eyes peeled for it.

I see this habit also during push hands practice. The best way to fix this problem is to do it right from the first day of learning the 22-form. The teacher can only nag the student so many times during training. So the onus is on the student to want to fix this problem and constantly check himself (or herself) during practice whether in class or at home.

I am guessing that the threat posed by an opponent is not felt so keenly in solo form practice or in doing push hands hence the tendency to keep forgetting not to look down. In weapons practice this point is easily understood because a mistake resulting in accidental contact is painful.

This point is emphasized a lot in Shindo Muso Ryu Jojutsu which I once learned in the afternoon on Saturday in between my kitchen shift work. My teacher, Sensei Maloney, would say to keep our eyes on the opponent at all times. We do this when practice the 12 basic techniques as well as when going through the katas.

If that was not difficult enough Sensei Maloney told our training partner to keep going when moving linearly across the room while feeding us a strike to counter. The training partner was not to stop when he saw our backs reaching the wall. We have to know ourselves when we reach the wall and we do the stopping. If we don’t stop then our training partner would keep going, smashing us into the wall. In this way we learn to quickly gaze behind us and assess how far we have before we begin the partner drill, mentally keeping track of the remaining distance as the drill progressed.

Once Sensei Maloney brought an actual samurai sword to class. He practiced with each of us in turn with his sword. His reasoning was that an actual sword would give us a better sense of the threat then when our training partner used a wooden sword. He was right. On seeing the real sword we became more attentive and wary of the training partner during the practice.

If you watch any Youtube video on Japanese koryu systems particularly the partner katas you can observe that both participants never take their eyes off each other from the start of the kata until the end. The sense of enemy is always present on heightened alert. This also applies when a solo kata is practiced.

For example, Japanese Iaijutsu katas are normally solo forms. Watch the eyes of the practitioner in any Youtube video; observe how his eyes are always looking at an imaginary opponent from drawing the sword out, cutting and thrusting, shaking the blood off the blade and returning the sword to the scabbard. Never once would the Iaijitsu practitioner look anywhere except where he should be looking.

ii) Eyes Spirit (眼神)

In Tai Chi the eyes see what our mind is visualizing. Think of it as having a VR headset on that is playing out a scenario with you reacting to whatever it is that you are seeing. Except in this case the headset software is our imagination playing out the set of instructions on how to play the form and the headset the screen in our mind.

As you become more and more proficient in visualization your body starts to feel what you are imagining and your body reacts to the mental stimuli. When the visualization begins to feel more real that is when even your eyes begin to see outside the mind at the space in front of you, seeing the imaginative examples being played out in space as if they are real and you react to it by seeing and feeling them affect you.

An external observer would see that your eyes are animated, having a spirited look, reacting to something that only you can see when you are going through the form. This is why sometimes it is helpful to practice by sitting down and not moving, totally relying on your visualization to go through the movements in your mind whilst carefully feeling how the imagery is affecting your body. Bringing imagination to reality is the key that enables to various fajin models to be applied.

iii) Armpits (所謂虚腋)

The arms are held away from the body such that it is as if they are not held too far from the body nor too close to the body. The correct way to hold the arms away from the body is to imagine that you are trying to use your upper arm to clamp a hot bun to your body.

I do not expect that you will actually try to experiment clamping an actual hot bun to your body because you risk burning your skin. So if you really want to try it do wear a shirt with thicker fabric to protect your body and upper arm.

An alternate way to understand what this means is to hold a hot bun between two hands (imagining that one hand is the body and the other hand as the upper arm). Since the bun is hot you will not be able to hold it firmly with constant pressure between both hands cause the heat will burn the palms. So you have to hold it gingerly, alternating between holding and not holding the bun so that when a part of the hand cannot bear the heat you quickly transfer the contact part to another part of the hand.

This attribute is essential to keeping the arms away from the body so that the qualia is like an inflated ball allowing you to use the arms out like a strung bow. However, at the same time your arms are not pushing away from the body causing you to resist the opponent’s strength which would violate one of the principles of the Tai Chi Classics.

iv) Elbows (肘墜腰圈)

However we position our elbows whether near or away from the body, high or low they must always be connected to the Waist Chi Ring.

This mind-body connection is a way to keep the arms connected to the body. It also allows us to sink the elbow without having to keep it close to the body to physically sink it.

v) Convex Wrist (鼓腕)

I had previously translated the term for our wrist structure as Elongated Wrist. I think the more accurate term should be Convex Wrist since the illustration for this in GM Wei’s book on the 22-form clearly shows the outline of a convex line on top of the wrist.

Sometimes our Convex Wrist structure has been compared to the Fair Maiden Hand structure in Cheng Man Ching style Tai Chi. However, I would say that other than the similarity in outer appearance our Convex Wrist is not the same as the Fair Maiden Hand. This is based on my learning of the Cheng style in 1977 and GM Wei’s style beginning in 1997.

In writing this section I had a look at Benjamin Lo’s translation of Cheng Man Ching’s book particularly the description of the Open Hand aka Fair Maiden Hand and nothing much of significance is written on it. By comparison, GM Wei’s book has a detailed explanation on the wrist structure.

The importance of the wrist structure is that it enables us to achieve a necessary and sufficient level of sung (鬆開) that is necessary to enable the release of internal force through the hand. This is possible by ensuring that the hand structure is not an obstruction to the release of force by attaining a condition as if the hand no longer exist and in its place the end of the hand is like a stump as described by GM Wei by the use of the phrase “no more hand, wrist is like a bare stump” (沒有手,腕是禿肢).

Another way to look at this is by thinking of our hand-wrist-forearm section as a pipe. If the wrist is bent then the flow of water will be choked. Similarly, if the inner part of the pipe is full of sludge built up the flow of water will also be obstructed, slowing it down.

The practice of Convex Wrist is to maximize the flow of energy by removing the choke point of a bent hand-wrist-forearm and clearing up the energetic block posed by the muscular tension sludge of the arm. With the right mental focus any beginner can do this even on the first lesson. What they cannot do is to hold on to the skill or apply it freely in push hands practice. That requires a longer period of practice until the phase of “no more hand, wrist is like a bare stump” is attained.

vi) Energy Source (勁源)

The Energy Source is a concept that is unique to GM Wei’s Yang style lineage. This refers to the point of origin of internal power hence the term “Energy () Source ()”.

In the human body there exists two Energy Source. The first one is at the base of the middle finger and the second one is on the back in between the scapula.

The training of handling the small Chi sphere (小氣球) in the hand is for the purpose of learning how to issue force in a sudden instant using the hand. This method of changing between palm to fist and vice versa is a unique training method of our Yang style.

The method of using the second Energy Source on the back relies on the use of the Open-Close (開合) mechanism. This also relates to the training of the Arm Bows. The different method of moving the arms in this style as compared to that in the more popular style propagated by the Yang Chengfu style is to use the Open-Close principle to facilitate the loading of the Arrow to the 5 Bows for force generation purposes.

vii) 3-Chi Rings (三道氣圈)

viii) Bell Body (身如鐘)

ix) 2-4 Points (身中垂直線與二四點)

x) Bell Hammer (身中垂直線鐘錘)

xi) Chest Character Ten (胸前十字)

xii) Use of 3-Passes (三關的運用)

xiii) Fist, Palm, Hook (拳, 掌, 勾)

2 thoughts on “Insight 4.2 – Basics

  1. Pingback: Insight 2.1 – Fixed vs Flexible | The Tai Chi Journey

  2. Pingback: Insight 2.3 – Practice Anytime, Everywhere | The Tai Chi Journey

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