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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Mind the Push

Slowly, mindfully does it. This is how we train Tai Chi in general rather than wave hands, look graceful devoid of intent, qualia and biomechanics.

Here is how one student does Push with deep awareness :-

Overall, it looked acceptable but to us being acceptable is not good enough. What we want is compliance to the principles of the Tai Chi Classics that enables us to have health, fajing abilities and control of our body so that we can apply the techniques.

To achieve this we must stringently and rigorously work towards compliance. How to do so? By making sure that each time we move we do so in accordance to prescribed steps as shown below :-

It goes without saying that part of learning how to rectify problems goes hand-in-hand with knowing what the possible problems are. Some problem areas identified are discussed below :-

Tai Chi is a multi-layered art so there are many layers of refinement that we go through to get there, very much like how a katana is created by folding it many, many times.

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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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Anatomy of a Fajing

Here’s a fajing demo I did to explain something about something :-

Watch the demo and listen to the sounds. Noticed anything about the fajing demo?

Yes? No?

Take a look at another example from a different Tai Chi style :-

The fajing is powerful too. But noticed that the mechanism employed is different? This is what we term the back leg thrusting fajing model.

Its too bad I didn’t managed to tape whole body as I just propped the phone on a chair and ended up with half body. But all is not lost. By using screen capture of the video we can also get a better idea of what is happening. You’ll have to click on the picture to get the full view

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After you have a look or a few more looks then I will give some comments.

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The Gung of Hand Rod

The Hand Rod of the Tai Chi Ruler system is little seen and little known to the public. It is a different system of Tai Chi that is said to descend from a royal family in China.

Master Leong Lin Heng learned it from a master in Hong Kong and taught it as part of a Chi Kung routine. Below is a picture of Master Leong teaching Tai Chi Ruler in a park in Ipoh in the late 90s :-

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As you can see in the picture above Tai Chi Ruler seems to be for old folks, another airy fairy, chi-gungy, exercise. However, Tai Chi Ruler is in fact a combat art.

Some of the things we learned seemed simple, like a one movement kinda Chi Kung exercise. Its martial application seemed absent. But don’t let the looks fool you. For example, take a look at this two men Hand Rod exercise as demonstrated by Master Leong’s grand teacher.

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At first glance it looks like a cooperative push hands type of exercise using a tool. But then it doesn’t make sense. OK, maybe using a tool of a longer length can make you more sensitive. Maybe.

Or maybe its a tool to extend your awareness. I like this better. But no.

This is what I think is the real reason for training the Hand Rod (OK, so I cheated by using a broom here but a rod is a rod………. ) :-

There! Was that what you suspect the Hand Rod to be too?

Looking back at it now the method should have been obvious but only with the benefit of hindsight. I have long suspected this after reading this portion of the very first book I have of the Tai Chi Ruler system :-

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However, as they say with time comes skill. So it is only with practice, reflection and insight that the secret purpose of the Hand Rod revealed itself.

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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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