I did roughly 14 yrs of external martial arts before training in taiji. This consisted of many years of Traditional Tae Kwon Do and Contemporary Wushu. Was the instruction I received in these external martial arts beneficial to my practice of taiji? I think so.
Not only did external training help with my conditioning and flexibility, but it also provided me with a greater awareness of my own body. Even now, I am able to pick up on gross form choreography pretty quickly and I attribute that to my training in Contemporary Wushu.
I recently came across the following:
In traditional martial art training, in Northern China at least, kids are usually taught basic Chang Quan (usually Tan Tui, Shao Lin) and Shuai Jiao first. This is not because they need to have basic mastery of external martial art first. But just to prepare them physically so they can do the very demanding physical movements in those internal martial art forms.
It is almost coincidental as my recent posts have involved topics of conditioning and stretching. While these are good components of general fitness and martial arts, they are not really emphasized in most taiji curriculum. I’m getting to a point in my life where I’m not considered a “young buck” anymore. When I was younger, I didn’t really care about my health, but now I am very concerned about my general health and well-being. I want to be able to play with my grand children in the backyard as opposed to being confined to a wheelchair.
During yesterday’s lunch time taiji session with my coworker, I spoke about the 6 harmonies in taiji (hand-feet, knee-elbows, hips-shoulders) and found it strangely difficult to try and demonstrate what it was like to disconnect the hips and shoulders. I laughed at myself for this, but my coworker demonstrated to me what he thought the disconnection was and I agreed with him.
How I do taiji now, is a result of my total training and experience, including the external martial arts. I am not merely a “taiji guy” but a martial arts practitioner who has trained in X,Y, and Z styles over the course of my life. This reminds me of the following note from the Chen Zhonghua workshop:
Peng, Lu, Ji, Ji, Ji. Ji (press/squeeze) is the most important of the energies. Ji is taking space but not letting go of any space taken (similar to the game go/weiqi). Peng is a result of Ji, it’s the show, Ji is the action that creates the show. Analogy of an opera singer and how we don’t see the training and the steps the opera singer does (ji) to prepare for the show/final results (peng).
Likewise, what we see masters demonstrate is the show/final result. How many masters will show the training they went through to get the results? If you just try to go on stage and try to sing opera, you will likely not be able to do it well. We don’t see the behind the scenes breath control and conditioning training of opera singers. A sister of mine was trained in singing and she showed me an exercise where they were taught to lay belly down on the floor and try to sing. This forced them to use Diaphragmatic breathing in their singing. This is the type of training we don’t see.
Flipping back to the lunch time taiji sessions, my coworker has expressed an interest in learning the Yang taiji set, so that is what I have been teaching him. We have finished going through the first couple movements of the Yang long form up to the first single whip. Now, we are going more in-depth on each of the postures, emphasizing controlled weight shifting as well as body harmony and alignment. I showed him the Chen Practical Method form that I have been working on and asked him if he was interested in learning, but he seems more fond of Yang Style right now.
My initial thoughts were to continue the Yang long form to finish out the first section, but I am having second thoughts. I want him to have a bit more exposure to elements of taiji. After thinking about the notions of conditioning, balance and flexibility, I am leaning towards going through the sequence of the Yang 24 form, but taught in the “traditional” style. That is, I will maintain the postures and movements found in the traditional Yang form as opposed to doing the wushu taiji version of the movements. This will expose my coworkers to things like Repulse Monkey, Kicks, Snake Creeps Down, Needle at Sea Bottom, etc, while at the same time enforcing concepts of conditioning, balance and flexibility. Plus, it will provide me with an opportunity to train those elements since they are sorely lacking in my own training right now.