The Art of Stillness

Saw this on the back of a book cover today “…….. movement makes most sense when grounded in stillness.”

In the Tai Chi of Grandmaster Wei Shuren we see this at play. Unlike the demo of many Tai Chi masters the demo of GM Wei does not look powerful or busy with lots of obvious powerful movements.

All we see are simple movements grounded in stillness of the movement, expressed by the intention as captured in this video.

This is what makes Tai Chi, particularly the style of GM Wei, a truly internal art in the sense of the word “internal” as opposed to other arts slapping the term “internal” on what they do but its painfully obvious that what they are doing is not internal, just soft.

If you are like me and looking for an art that is truly internal in every sense of the word I think you will agree that the search ends at Grandmaster Wei’s style of Tai Chi*. After more than a decade of practice I will say that the use of intention conforms to the rules of physics. However, it is subtle enough that it is not immediately obvious how it works.

So if you are looking for a biomechanics explanation for some of the things you see in this video you will be in for a hard time. However, if you know how the intention model works you can say that it conforms to the rules of physics. The only question is how exactly.

And for that you have to learn the intention model to find out for yourself. Nothing like drinking the water to know what its like.

*Disclaimer – I just want to point out that today there are a lot more teachers of GM Wei’s style of Tai Chi. I have seen some that have proper lineage and teaching students, yet they cannot even perform the basic 22-Form properly.

So if you want to pick up this style don’t just look at the lineage. Instead, ask for a demo of form and intention power. Compare the teacher’s form performance to that of GM Wei. Those of us who learned the form properly will be able to demonstrate a flavor that is like what you see in GM Wei’s demo. The rest are just moving their body rather than their intention.

A demo of power will show if the teacher is using ordinary biomechanics or the intention model of GM Wei. Normally, if a teacher cannot do the form properly the chances are high that he will not be able to demonstrate power using the intention model.

Though it is good that the Tai Chi of GM Wei is gaining more exposure I am also concerned that there are more teachers who are teaching based on them becoming disciples of a master rather than based on the fact that they have mastered the art. Such teachers are basically selling dog meat but calling it beef.

Ultimately, their lack of understanding of the intention model will cause outsiders to think that the style is over-hyped and has nothing substantial, even labeling the intention model as fake when it is the over eager student becoming a teacher too early that is besmirching the good name of the style.

As a service to readers I can only offer a simple advice when it comes to learning Tai Chi – caveat emptor.

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Of Alternative Facts 2

Part 1 here.

Below are my comments based on what my teacher told me during those years I was learning from him.

Alternative Fact No. 1
…..Imperial Yang Family Tai Chi, a mysterious branch of the most popular style of Tai Chi that originated from the Palace staff during the Qing Dynasty in the early 1900s.

Grandmaster Wei never called the Yang style he learned from Great Grandmaster Wang “Imperial Yang Family Tai Chi”. The name was concocted by some of GM Wei’s disciples.

If indeed the name of GM Wei’s Yang style is Imperial Yang Family Tai Chi then why was this name not used for the title of GGM Wang’s book and GM Wei’s books on their Yang style?

Also, the claims of a mysterious branch is a modern marketing thingy. After seeing the very different form in this style somebody once asked GGM Wang why he did not call the style Wang style Tai Chi. GGM Wang became angry and said that he could not do so because this was the Yang family’s Tai Chi.

Thus, what is written in this blog post about GM Wei’s style as originating from Palace staff is a marketing claim.

Alternative Fact No. 2
Master Yang Jian Hou, son of Yang style founder Yang Lu Chan, was summoned to train the royal family and, along with his son Yang Chengfu, used the palace staff to absorb the blows. No one absorbed blows better than Wang Chonglu and his son Wang Yong Quan. After years of pushing them around, the fearsome Yang Chengfu rewarded their courage with lessons in the Yang family secrets, not shared with others.

It is interesting that the writer of this post had a link to Jarek Szymanski’s translation of some stuff from GM Wei’s book. I wonder whether the writer read through Jarek’s translation because writing his own post because if he did he would notice a glaring mistake in this paragraph.

Hop over to the article of Jarek’s that the writer linked to here.

Read the article and you will see why this paragraph is basically full of alternative facts when compared to Jarek’s translation of what GM Wei wrote about GGM Wang and his father’s learning of Tai Chi from the Yang family.

Alternative Fact No. 3
The Old Six Roads seems distinctly different from the Yang form, with shorter and more compact movements within the larger postures.

“….. seems distinctly different…..” – seriously dude? The form is not “seems distinctly different” but is “distinctly different”. Unless the writer is not comparing apple to apple (I think he is probably comparing GM Wei’s 22 form to the longer Yang Chengfu 108 form) then the form is longer and not shorter than the conventional Yang style form that originated from Yang Chengfu’s lineage.

The postures are also not larger when compared to that of Yang Chengfu’s version of the long form. Unless one is watching someone not competent in the form doing the demonstration the onlooker should not be getting this impression.

Take a look at the conventional 24 form that is based on Yang Chengfu’s 108 form. The arrangement of this form is basically nearly identical to GM Wei’s 22 form.

 

Next, take a look at GM Wei’s 22 form performed by the master himself :-

Alternative Fact No. 4
For decades, Wei Shu Ren traveled China and South Asia to teach and compete.

I have to say I have only heard of GM Wei travelling to Australia and Taiwan to teach. I have not even heard of GM Wei travelling within China to teach and certainly not to South Asia, in fact not even to Southeast Asia.

As to the claim of GM Wei competing I have to say that apart from that one video of him doing a push hands demo I have not seen more. Nor have I heard from my teacher of GM Wei taking part in competitions.

You would think that if these two claims are true you would see pictures in GM Wei’s books of him with medals and scrolls from competitions, as well as GM Wei teaching seminars or posing with large group of participants in countries that he taught. But no, the only seminar pictures in GM Wei’s books are from the book launch of the 22 form and with participants in Australia and Taiwan.

Alternative Fact No. 5
Today the Imperial Yang Family Tai Chi tradition is carried on by Wei Shu Ren’s three daughters

A reader may get the impression that it is only GM Wei’s daughters who are carrying on the tradition.

The facts that have been left out whether intentional or out of ignorance by the writer is that GM Wei once held a ceremony to officially proclaim his retirement from teaching.

During this ceremony GM Wei did three things – announced the formation of a formal style for his Tai Chi, designate his adopted son as the official custodian of the style, and named two disciples (his adopted son and one senior lady disciple) as being official teachers of the style. None of the other 50 odd disciples nor his daughters were named as official teachers during the ceremony.

Of Alternative Facts 1

Kellyanne Conway.

The arrival of Kellyanne on the political scene following Trump’s ascension to the White House was the birth of the term alternative facts. Since then the US political scene has been filled with so many alternative facts that I am sure many less politically savvy readers would be utterly confused by the amount of information coming out.

I would think that the Tai Chi scene would be safe from alternative facts but I was wrong. Alternative facts have arrived.

Today my friend Paul pointed out a blog post to me. I read it and went “huh”.

I don’t claim to be a representative of this school and style or even a formal lineage. But then in the early years my teacher explicitly said that there is no need to have a formal disciple relationship.

Anyway, a person can be a disciple but the status can be meaningless unless the person truly practices to achieve the skills of the style. This is as opposed to a person paying money to be a disciple, learning a form (not mastering it mind you) then going back to his country to open a school and teach the style’s form without first mastering it. Basic competency is not the same as mastery!

Anyway, I read the following alternative facts in this post :-

Alternative Fact No. 1
“…..Imperial Yang Family Tai Chi, a mysterious branch of the most popular style of Tai Chi that originated from the Palace staff during the Qing Dynasty in the early 1900s.”

Alternative Fact No. 2
Master Yang Jian Hou, son of Yang style founder Yang Lu Chan, was summoned to train the royal family and, along with his son Yang Chengfu, used the palace staff to absorb the blows. No one absorbed blows better than Wang Chonglu and his son Wang Yong Quan. After years of pushing them around, the fearsome Yang Chengfu rewarded their courage with lessons in the Yang family secrets, not shared with others.

Alternative Fact No. 3
The Old Six Roads seems distinctly different from the Yang form, with shorter and more compact movements within the larger postures.

Alternative Fact No. 4
For decades, Wei Shu Ren traveled China and South Asia to teach and compete.

Alternative Fact No. 5
Today the Imperial Yang Family Tai Chi tradition is carried on by Wei Shu Ren’s three daughters

The problem with alternative facts is that over time they are accepted as facts because readers particularly those in the West do not always have access to other sources of information.

The problem is compounded by the fact that over time key players pass on and unless their version of the facts are made known, allowing for comparison with other competing facts that came later the truer facts may become lost to history.

So what is my contention with the above five alternative facts?

Read on in the next post.

 

Use Heart

In Tai Chi training we admonish the student to 用心 (use heart / intention) when learning and practicing. When we say this it is not uncommon to point to our chest  or pat the chest where the heart is to put our point across.

In this sense we seem to be literally telling the student to use his heart which is kinda silly, right? This is because we know that to say 用心 we are actually telling the student to learn and practice with attention and awareness rather than use the actual heart.

Enter the HeartMath Institute. In the video below they claim that the heat is much more than what we thought it is :-

After watching the video I hopped over to the HeartMath Institute’s website. The following are excerpts which caught my eye :-

The heart has been considered the source of emotion, courage and wisdom for centuries. For more than 25 years, the HeartMath Institute Research Center has explored the physiological mechanisms by which the heart and brain communicate and how the activity of the heart influences our perceptions, emotions, intuition and health.

We now have a much deeper scientific understanding of many of our original questions that explains how and why heart activity affects mental clarity, creativity, emotional balance, intuition and personal effectiveness. Our and others’ research indicates the heart is far more than a simple pump. The heart is, in fact, a highly complex information-processing center with its own functional brain, commonly called the heart brain, that communicates with and influences the cranial brain via the nervous system, hormonal system and other pathways. These influences affect brain function and most of the body’s major organs and play an important role in mental and emotional experience and the quality of our lives.

The heart communicates with the brain and body in four ways:

Neurological communication (nervous system)
Biochemical communication (hormones)
Biophysical communication (pulse wave)
Energetic communication (electromagnetic fields)

You can read more about what they wrote beginning here.

In the last excerpt I put in blue the sentence Biophysical communication (pulse wave). What has this got to do with Tai Chi?

Let’s see……. first a screen capture from the HeartMath video, then one drawing and one picture from Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s book side by side :-

Heart

 

Most readers would not be familiar with the principles of the Yang style from GM Wei so I’ll try to put things into perspective here. The use of Qi Posture is an important element of GM Wei’s Yang style.

One of the keys to creating the Qi Posture is to open the chest at the position where the abstract rather than actual heart is. It is interesting to note that in the HeartMath video they also show the aura as emanating from the abstract heart rather than the actual heart. You can watch the opening chest sequence at 0:38 in the video demonstration by GM Wei below :-

After the intention has moved through the requisite steps to open up the body then the mind mentally creates the 3 Qi-Rings. Now, if you look at the picture of GM Wei above you can see the 3 Qi-Rings shown as solid rings. However, if you look at 1:23 in the video above you can see that the Qi-Rings actually emanate outwards in the form of a pulse in a manner that is reminiscent of the HeartMath video as shown in the screen capture above.

Does the findings of the HeartMath Institute validate the 3 Qi-Rings approach of our Yang style Tai Chi? Is the pulse wave referred to on HeartMath website here similar or have some connection to our 3 Qi-Rings? I have no idea but it would be interesting to look further into the findings of the HeartMath Institute. Who knows – it may be another avenue to help us to Master Tai Chi Today or at least understand it better.

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Thinking of Mountain

In a post dated 16 May 2016 on Mastering Intention – Yang Style Tai Chi Secret Transmissions I mentioned about the similarity between Fujita’s microburst and something Grandmaster Wei Shuren wrote about the practice of qigong or to be more precise the Skill Set.

The Skill Set is said to be practiced by Yang Jianhou in the evening in lieu of the form. The Skill Set captures the essential principles of the 22-Form in a simple, short, easy to practice set. The Skill Set is not meant to be practiced by beginners; rather it is more for the learner who has spent some years on the 22-Form because once the learner has made some inroads into the 22-Form the Skill Set will help push his mastery forward.

Coming back to the question raised in my Facebook post……..

When the word mountain is mentioned what typically comes to your mind? Perhaps an image like the one below?

mountain-1

And if I say geometrical shape of the mountain would you think of the image below?

mountain-2

In the practice of the intention part of the Skill Set it is said that we must use intention to move the hands along the mountain character. This will give rise to puzzlement if you are thinking of the mountain from a Western perspective.

In ancient China the mountain was originally thought of as two small humps with a central mountain as shown below :-

mountain-3

Over time the pictograph was simplified to the character we see today – 山.

Now let’s take a look at the diagram of the microburst which I had put into the Facebook post :-

mountain-4

Do you see the point about similarity which I made? Yes? No?

If no, take a look below where I superimpose the Chinese character for mountain on top of the microburst diagram :-

mountain-5

If you are not a practitioner of Grandmaster Wei’s method of Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan this will probably make no sense to you. For those who are practicing it and have learned the Skill Set you may ask if the microburst is really applicable due to the fact that the mountain character is only brought up in the part of the Skill Set that trains opening and closing of the arms.

I would say yes. Despite the mountain character being mentioned only in the Intention section of the Skill Set it is not the only section that uses it. There is another section that does and it is in this section that I would say understanding the microburst would enhance the development of your body structure. There is actually another ancient Chinese martial arts principle which connects up the use of an analogy that I would opined is close to what a microburst is about.

The key to Master Tai Chi Today is not by blind learning. Instead, you have to look beyond the obvious to penetrate to the heart of the art. There you will discover the true wonders of the art. Fujita’s discovery of the microburst merely demonstrated that there are things that science didn’t know about for a long time. Even after Fujita made known his finding it was not accepted widely until proven years later. The microburst showed that what may seem like a nonsensical practice without scientific basis in the Skill Set may in fact be scientific.

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Diversity in Practice 2

In the earlier Diversity in Practice post here I compiled a clip showing how various descendants of Grandmaster Wei Shuren played the first section of the 22 Form. It is certainly an eye opener to realize that within a two generation span the way the form is played could vary in the essential requirements.

I can imagine if I am someone totally new to the style looking from outside in and wondering what to make of the differences, particularly if I am looking to learn the style. Or I could be a beginner wanting to improve myself, being confronted by the differences and wondering who to look to as a learning model or perhaps I should try to take in all.

In another previous post The Classics As A Standard I highlighted the importance of using a reference standard in assessing our practice of Tai Chi. The same tool can be used in the case of the 22 Form. For us we are fortunate because we also have the following :-

i) A number of videos of Grandmaster Wei playing either the 22 Form or 108 Form

ii) Four texts including one text specifically on the 22 Form

Taking into account the above we can then use them as tools to understand what we are seeing in the videos of the different performers. We can compare them with the first clip of Grandmaster Wei to have a general impression.

We can then move on to the text on the 22 Form to see what the general and specific requirements are and observe if they are in play consistently. For example, the requirement of elongated wrist is highly specific to our Yang style Tai Chi.

Using these tools as reference standard will also allow us to answer other questions such as this – the Cheng Man Ching style uses the Fair Maiden Hand which outwardly looks very similar to our elongated wrist. Based on this observation some outsiders have concluded that our Yang style is similar to the Cheng style.

However, I have learned the Cheng style before and I can say that outer appearances aside we are not similar. I don’t make this conclusion based on emotion but by using the tools above to make an objective evaluation.

For example, below you can see the Single Whip posture of Grandmaster Wei Shuren and Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching :-

singlewhipx2

The characteristics of our style which can be seen in the posture of Grandmaster Wei but absent from Grandmaster Cheng would be the following :-

i) Bell body posture

ii) 2-4 line

iii) Bell clapper line

iv) 3-Chi rings

v) 3-Passes

vi) Elongated wrists throughout

vii) Hot bun under armpits

viii) Others

 

I have not drawn the lines in but as an exercise you can do it yourself and my conclusions here will be very clear.

Instead, I am highlighting three obvious discrepancies in the performers in the video compilation which you can easily spot below :-

a) Non-elongated wrists

This is something that is easily overlooked when playing the form. If you cannot keep the wrists elongated properly it means that you have not developed deep awareness of what your hands are doing.

If you are unable to master the principle of elongated wrists how then will you be able to fulfil the requirement of “when intercepting strength do not use wrists…..” – this saying can be found in the text that GM Wei wrote for GM Wang Yongquan on the 108 long form.

violation

b) Carry the wooden tablet

In the posture of Wild Horse Parts Mane we have the requirement of Peng Ti which is likened to using the arm to carry a Chinese court official’s wooden tablet.

This is a very important principle for fajing purposes. So if you fail to fulfil this requirement you will not be able to demonstrate the fajing flavor shown by Grandmaster Wei and you will end up using normal biomechanical means.

violation-2

c) 3-Passes

The 3-passes is a method for controlling the spine mentally. There are 4 variations to the 3-passes. If you fail to keep the 3-passes it also means your bell body will be non-existent.

Consequently you will not be able to develop strong, springy power through the principle of what is normally referred to as Peng Zhang but often mistakenly called Peng Jing. Thus, each requirement is for a purpose. You can think of them as pieces that make up the entire puzzle.

violation-3

 

Sometimes its not politically correct to analyze what other people do. But if we want to Master Tai Chi Today we should be bold to ask politically incorrect questions. For example, an obvious politically incorrect question is if everyone is correct then why no one is really getting it. So what’s the answer? This I leave you to ponder.

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Diversity in Practice

It is quite amazing to note diverse flavors of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s 22-Form that is out there. Take a look at the video below which starts off with a performance of the first section of the 22-form. Thereafter, you can see performances of the same section by two of his disciples and others.

As part of our strategy to Master Tai Chi Today we should do research and observe how others practice the same form from our style. Who knows, we might learn something whether it is how to improve or what to avoid doing.

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