Force generation is a function of the use of biomechanics consistent with the laws of physics. The core basis for force generation is the conversion of potential to kinetic energy and vice versa.
How to convert potential energy to kinetic energy in a recurring manner, a constant process of store and release is a topic that is studied physically when you practice the 22-form. Various mechanisms strewn throughout the form whether in the form of an actual physical motion or mental imagery is to train the use of intent in tandem with biomechanical actions to generate force.
In GM Wei’s Yang style Tai Chi we study six fundamental forces ( , , , , , ) that is augmented by additional two forces ( , ) for a total of eight forces. These forces can be represented by mental spherical lines outside the body that tracing the path of the particular force in space between the point of origin of the force and the convergent point that the forces are targeted at. Yes, you read this correctly – forces. Not force. Forces.
We normally read of how Peng Jing is used to fajing. When we do fajing we use not just Peng Jing but An Jing and Ji Jing together; at the same time. We use a trio of forces instead of a singular force because this makes it more difficult for the opponent to counteract your force when they are coming from three different directions simultaneously. When you add in the augmented forces you can have a total of four or five forces directed at one at the opponent.
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) Neck (後脖頸贈衣領) b) Eyes Spirit (眼神) c) Armpits (所謂虚腋) d) Elbows (肘墜腰圈) e) Convex Wrist (鼓腕) f) Strength 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)
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.
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) Neck (後脖頸贈衣領)
ii) EyesSpirit (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 fajing 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) Strength Source (勁源)
The Force Origin 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 “Strength (勁) Source (源)”.
In the human body there exists two Strength 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 Strength 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.
I do not have a time machine but if I were to be able to go back in time when Tai Chi was first conceived I would probably not find any form, nor an extensive number of techniques. Instead, I am more likely to find a handful of techniques, unpolished, perhaps a technique or two which might be linked, and usage that is specific to the situation encountered.
Practice would revolve around drilling each technique one at a time. Application would be against an imagined, simulated attack. At a certain time combinations would be discovered; the list of techniques would also grow from practice and with each subsequent real life encounters.
2.BIRTH OF A FORM
As the list of techniques grow someone discovered that stringing them together in a form makes for easier remembrance. A form is also a convenient way to group and store sequences of combinations.
A form then was probably a constant work in progress with additions, deletions, revisions and enhancements by the current generation and later generations of practitioners who would draw on their respective practice, experience and insights to make their art better.
3. ORGANIC VS DEAD
I do not know when it started, who started it and why it started. I will never know. But at some point in time the obsession with old, unchanging forms began.
Current practitioners would claim that their form is traditional, unchanged, old, perhaps even slap a label to give it a royal connection while some would accord street credence with a badass ancestor.
Along the way practitioners forget that a form is part of the range of learning means to an end. If a form loses its function then it becomes ornamental transforming into a dance, an exercise, a impractical relic from the past.
A form is organic, a living collection of techniques that is meant to teach strategies, principles, biomechanics, applications and a host of many more topics that is related to the art of combat. As such, a form is like your personal notebook. You use it to learn, to practice and to refine the same technique over and over again, over the years.
As such, the form that you have learned, your personal rendition of the form, is never fixed nor unchanged. As such, it will always change in many different ways.
4. LIVING KNOWLEDGE
Some systems of martial arts have many forms, each a living depository of knowledge containing a catalog of techniques. Some systems would be built around the concept of a few core, essential forms with additional supporting forms that each highlight a specific specialty skill of the style.
Forms do not all land at once in a completed manner. They are built up, accumulated over time. In some cases, forms are lost over time. In this way a system, a style, no matter how authentic the tradition is claimed to be, is never unchanging.
Today with the proliferation of Mixed Martial Art and ease of cross training we are already seeing some of the traditional styles transformed in the way they are applied, tempered by their encounters with the functionality of MMA.
6. PRACTICE FORMS
When GM Wei learned this Yang Tai Chi from Master Wang he was only taught the long form that is known as the Old Six Routines (老六路). Three years before Master Wang passed away he confirmed that GM Wei had mastered the teachings of the style.
GM Wei extracted a number of techniques from the long form and created a shorter version of the Old Six Routines which we refer to as the 22-form (22式老六路). To aid the transmission of this form GM Wei initially released a book detailing the practice of the form.
Later GM Wei released another book explaining the more advanced aspects of the practice. This second book was accompanied by a teaching VCD.
At a later stage of his life GM Wei created another form, the 37-form (37式老六路). This form is largely spread by his daughters.
By having three forms the art could now be organized along the lines of :-
a) Basic Level : 22-form b) Intermediate Level : 37-form c) Advanced Level : long form
7. DEMONSTRATION OF FORMS
Demonstration of the 1st section of the long form by GM Wei :-
Demonstration of the 22-form by GM Wei :-
Demonstration of the 37-form by Master Wei Shiping (GM Wei’s eldest daughter) :-
8. PRACTICING THE ART
Even though there are now three forms in the style, however, to master the art you do not need to learn all the forms. If you are looking to start a school based on the style then it makes sense to learn all the forms.
But if your objective is to master the art then you can learn any of the forms. This is because the essential and most important principles are found in all of the three forms.
If you have time constraint for practice then learning the 22-form will be the best because you can put in more practice in the same amount of time.
For learning of applications the arrangement of the long form makes more sense in terms of gradation of technical difficulty in how to apply the techniques.
My teacher’s advice on the amount of time to practice the 22-form daily :-
a) 1-hour : good for exercise and maintaining healthy body
b) 2-hours : the least amount of time for attaining a minimal standard of performance
c) 3-hours and above : to acquire ability to fajing and skills in application
Additional advice from my experience :-
a) Practice at least 6 days in a week
b) Practice non-stop. For example, if you want to practice the form 5 times over 3 hours then practice without stopping to answer messages or even for a drink. OK, if you have an urgent need for No. 2 in the toilet then that’s a valid excuse 🙂
c) Keep drilling the basics over and over again. You can never get enough of the basics until you begin to experience changes. At this point you need to keep on doing the basics in even greater detail and depth to reach the next level
A special transmission outside the scriptures; not dependent on words or letters; by direct pointing to the mind of man, seeing into one’s true nature and attaining Buddhahood – Bodhidharma on Zen
There are many lineages of the popular Yang style Tai Chi Chuan. Most of these lineages trace their transmission back to the third generation inheritor, Yang Chengfu.
I have learned different lineages of Yang Tai Chi beginning with the well known style of Cheng Manching before moving on to the styles passed down through the lineages of respectively Nip Chee Fei, Yang Shouchung and Dong Yingjie.
However, the style that made the biggest impact on me in terms of mastery, the one that I continue to practice today is the style that was first made accessible to the public by Grandmaster Wei Shuren.
The style of GM Wei goes beyond just mere training of the physical. To discover the essence of this unique method of Tai Chi we have to detach ourselves from that which enslaves our body and mind with the mundane.
Mastery of this particular Tai Chi as dictated by the principles of the Tai Chi Classics requires that we seek that which utilizes the mind to train the body to optimize its own movements with minimal outer motions.
The story of GM Wei’s style began when Yang Jianhou transmitted his family’s art to the Wang family (father Wang Conglu, son Wang Yongquan) in the residence of Pu Lun Bei Zi, a Manchurian Prince for whom the elder Wang worked to run the operations of the household.
In later years, Wang Yongquan taught Yang Tai Chi publicly in Beijing. He taught the popular Yang Chengfu version to the disciples that he accepted early in his teaching career. He did not teach the secret art to them.
It was towards the end of his teaching career that old master Wang finally revealed the art that he had learned from Yang Jianhou. It was during this period that a number of new students joined to learn this fascinating art. One of these new students was GM Wei who had been learning Chen style Tai Chi for a long time.
At the time of this writing GM Wei would have passed away for nearly nine years (11 June 2013). He had been instrumental in transmitting the art to 50+ disciples. At the time of his retirement GM Wei formally designated two disciples to transmit the art. Since then, the number of practitioners of this style has grown but remain low by comparison to other Yang styles.
My teacher said that learning this art is easy, but practicing it is challenging. To succeed in the learning you must really want to learn it, want to master it and is prepared to keep practicing it, gnawing away at the learning difficulties until you get through them. There’s a saying, one in a thousand, which means that out of a thousand students learning this art only one will master it.
The information I have written here is to give a better idea of what the art is about. It is not meant to be instructional because there are many subtleties to the art, subtleties that you will only realize when you have put in enough practice to get the basics correct enabling you to go beyond them.