Beginning Wu

Open. Close.

In our style of Tai Chi we call the Wu (Hao) style long form Kai-He (Open-Close) because its main training theme is the principle of how to open and close the body to generate power.

Our form is from Hao Weizhen who taught it to Li Xiangyuan who in turn passed it to Dong Yingchieh who then made it part of his family’s style of Tai Chi Chuan.

Below are two drawings depicting the Open and Close concept from Hao Shaoru’s book on Wu style Tai Chi. Hao is the third generation lineage holder of Wu style. His father Hao Yueru is the son of Hao Weizhen.

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Wu (Hao) style trains a different set of characteristics from Yang style. So when we first learn Wu (Hao) we should pay more attention to the differences so that we can bring out their outstanding flavor.

After learning Yang style it is natural to gravitate towards a Yang-centric flavor as demonstrated by my student on his first lesson in Wu (Hao) style.

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But after developing a foundation over years it is also easier to tweak his posture and made it more Wu (Hao)-centric after a few tries as seen below :-

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You can compare his posture to that of Liu Jishun who is the adopted son and disciple of Hao Shaoru below :-

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Learning something new is never easy when it can be diametrically opposite of what one is used to. A bigger posture to a compact posture with internalized movements can be a challenge but at least my student can now understand why this form is sometimes known as hard style Tai Chi.

Yes, you read it right. Kai-He is our version of a “hard” style Tai Chi. After training for a while my student felt stiff. This is normal for beginners who have not learned to seek internal relaxation within a “stiff” structure.

I used the term “stiff” here within the context of mechanical engineering. This is because our version of “stiff” is not so much a tensed body but more like a body tightened like a highly strung bow. This specialized training is what enables us to send-off our push hands partner on contact.

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Despite having a high, small stance we must still develop a strong root through the use of intent. By adjusting our body we can then prime the 5 bows and keep tweaking them until we can generate the forces of Peng, Lu, Ji, An as desired.

The Wu (Hao) form represents a significant shift in paradigm for those used to Yang style type of flavored movements. With sufficient practice I am sure students will grow to love this alternate approach to applying the principles of the Tai Chi Classics.

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Everyday Kung Fu

Today when we learn kung fu its not uncommon for punching pads to be trotted out. And if we are in a gym there would be even more toys to play with.

Yet, traditional kung fu took some inspiration from everyday life. In this way, a normal everyday move becomes a movement for training Gung Lik.

A versatile movement is one which allows you to extract more usefulness or skills from it. In push hands using the palm to vertically slam the chest is not out of place.

As such, in the absence of a striking bag to train power and condition our palm all is not lost. We can milk the posture White Crane Spreads Wings for another skill we can train as shown below :-

When not trained well the technique looks powered by arm movement. But add in the right ingredients and you can use gravity, compression and whipping to train heavy, fast strikes. Below is an example of how this is done :-

The details for training the general principles of moving the body is already in the form. Its just a matter of getting it right. Below I touched on what my student did not get correct :-

After you know what you are supposed to do you can train the small details without having to lift up your arm. You can do this in public and no one will be the wiser.

If you feel like putting your arm up just like what is shown here you can also do so in plain sight. This is how I managed to train my Tai Chi a lot even when I don’t appear to be training – by using an everyday movement to do so right in front of everyone.

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Knowing How to Correct

In learning Tai Chi one of the more important factors that contributes to your success in mastering the art is knowing what you don’t know, what you are doing wrong and how to correct for it.

It is for this reason that we only teach on 1-to-1 basis because each student has their own specific set of problems to solve. Take a look at the picture below of Bend Bow, Shoot Tiger :-

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Outwardly, the posture looks fine but there is a small point that is off. Here is the same posture after correction. Can you spot the differences?

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I took these pictures to show my student what he was doing wrong. Now, we don’t say something is wrong just because we don’t like the look of it.

In this case, we did a test of pressure – whether the posture can hold up. Next we tested if the posture can be used to fajing. If the posture only fulfills one requirement but not the other then the posture is wrong.

Most readers will probably spot the two main differences but fail to spot the more important difference, the one that I actually corrected. Even my student commented that it is minute, difficult to see if he didn’t know beforehand what it was that was changed.

But this is how the study of Tai Chi is. We do not gloss over things we don’t understand or find difficult to do. We work on them again and again until the postures, the form can meet all the requirements of the principles of the Tai Chi Classics.

If the photos of Bend Bow, Shoot Tiger is difficult to analyze try looking at Right Hit Tiger posture. The correction here is the same as for Bend Bow, Shoot Tiger. This is the “before” photo :-

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And this is the “after” correction photo. Spot the difference?

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Sometimes a movement can look correct. However, the moment you try using it is the proof of the pudding. If the energetic connections are off then your structure won’t be strong and robust. Under such circumstances you will have a problem overcoming the opponent’s resistance.

The video below touches on corrections for Brush Knee, Twist Step. There are a few things that was discussed.

Some of the things discussed may not make much sense and seem unnecessary, that is, until you use the movements in push hands where your partner will do his best to stop you from applying your techniques.

When your movement is wrong even a simple downward sweeping block will not work. You will find the moment you try to sweep the opponent’s arm you cannot move it. Other things such as timing also matters because the wrong timing means you are too late to reach your opponent.

In conclusion, knowing how to correct what you are doing is important because more frequently than not its the fine details that keeps you outside the gate of mastery. Pay more attention to these little things and you will see a big improvement.

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Punch Koan

It was as if he was immersed in a koan.

Instead of practicing the form as he would normally do I found my student standing in front of one of the shelter’s post tapping away, trying to work out the mechanics of the punch that I covered the previous week.

The post is hard, painful to the knuckles but it was an itch that had to be scratched to uncover the solution. So there he was picking away like a woodpecker.

Yeah, well, I’m no Iron Fist so I did one tap, not as hard as I did last week. Yeah, just dial back a bit on the mechanics.

Bones can be hard but tendons and ligaments I don’t think so – perhaps one reason why those who practice hard conditioning have problem holding small objects.

Having power is but one part of the equation. Having the means to deliver it is just as important so we should pay just as much if not more attention to the main details and nuances of how to perform Step Up, Parry & Punch.

Its one thing to hit with power. We should remember that our opponent will also try to hit us back. So learning how to perform Step Up, Parry & Punch is just as much about studying the means to defend, counter and deliver the power.

Though the performance of Step Up, Parry & Punch makes it seem as if it is but one technique, in reality there is more than one technique inside the sequence.

For example, when stepping diagonally after twisting the step the right fist can be changed to a palm to grab the opponent’s wrist and pull it towards him while using the left arm to bar the opponent’s arm just above the elbow.

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Alternatively, the twisting of the right leg can be a heel kick. The right fist then becomes a block whilst the left palm becomes a strike.

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This is the reason for taking the practice at a slower pace so that we can develop a feel for the hidden and derived techniques.

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Learning Details 2

Continuing from the previous post here.

To train heavy arms using this specific posture, White Crane Spreads Wings, from the form we need to pay some attention to basic details as explained below :-

This video only captures some of the explanation. The rest weren’t taped.

However, this should give you an idea of how our Tai Chi is taught, the level of details given even at a very basic level.

In this way, students don’t have to guess as to how to practice. They just have to listen, practice, get corrections and practice more to master the art.

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Learning Details

A Tai Chi form can be a wonderful toolbox from which you can learn all sorts of stuff.

In our Tai Chi learning we can use White Crane Spreads Wings to train soft, heavy hands. An example of how to do this is shown by my student :-

What he is doing here is to borrow the transition right arm movement when we change from White Crane Spreads Wings to Brush Knee, Twist Step to train how to relax the arm and move it diagonally across his body using the 6-harmonies principle in tandem with the 5-Count mechanism that is covered in the eBook TaijiKinesis Vol 2 : Learning the Taijiquan form.

However, his movement is not precise enough so the power is not expressed at the optimal level. You can tell this from the sound of his palm striking his body. Before this he also tried hitting a solid post to check his power as can be seen below :-

Below is my demonstration of how to do it correctly :-

The correct application of the principles will allow you to have heavy, relaxed arms – you can hear the sound of light striking on the post below :-

The videos here do not explain how to do this arm movement to obtain this result. So how do you do it?

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Empty Emptiness

I learned a new term today – Empty Emptiness.

Actually, I saw this term previously but did not pay attention to it. Today the time is ripe so I noticed it.

I didn’t set out to read about it. I just thought why not read it when I was organizing my files. The writer was talking about his learning of his family arts and mentioned about his father’s fond frequent recitation of a particular Buddhist sutra.

Empty emptiness is a paradox in that the sutra contains nothing yet has a lot of things. In a way this type of paradox is reminds me of the story of how Damo answered the Emperor of China when his majesty wanted to know about the spiritual merits he would get for advancing the course of Buddhism by building temples, copying sutras, etc.

When you learn Tai Chi initially you would look clumsy. Too many things out of place, not right. When you become more familiar then your movements look more coordinated, filled with energy.

At a more advanced level your movements look powerful and you can demonstrate fajing skills. To many this is what Tai Chi should be like. However, the concept of empty emptiness tells us that this is not so.

If anything Tai Chi at the level of conformance to the principles should be in compliance to empty emptiness in that it looks like there is nothing there to most viewers, except those in the know.

My teacher says that at the 1% level of attainment only true masters can see what we are doing. This is when we have internalized the skill such that movements look ordinary and unimpressive. At a certain stage even the form you play does not matter as much; you can apply the intention models from the 22-form into the normal Yang Chengfu long form. After all principle is just a principle.

So now you know a goal that you can work towards. Have fun finding the emptiness that is not empty.

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