Tai Chi With Attitude

A modernistic americanized approach to a meditative traditional Martial Art. Holistic, but without the New Age mysticism, Taoist, yet pragmatic. A completely different, real-world approach to an esoteric and difficult art.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

WILL THE REAL TAI CHI PLEASE STAND UP?

We live in the age of novelty, and reinvention. In some ways, this is a good thing, because creativity is an essential part of being human, the play instinct, the novel approach, the unique perspective.
This isn't ALWAYS a good thing. Balance should be used as some sort of yardstick.

Here's a perfect example of how NOT to modify a system.

There is, and I kid you not, a 'Cardio' Tai Chi, slapped together as some sort of makeshift Tae Bo, where the practitioners actually JUMP UP AND DOWN in some sort of ridiculous hand form, where the 'players' assume one pose, jump up, re-assume next pose, and so on.

In the words of Bart Simpson: "Aye Caramba!"

This system was put together by one Dr. Weng. I studied under him for two months, but was unimpressed with his Chang style Tai Chi. In a nutshell, Chang style TCC is a combination of shuai-chiao (Chinese wrestling) and TCC. There was far too much 'smack talking' for my taste, in short. This was some time ago, and perhaps the methodology is improved somewhat.

Dr. Weng learned shuai-chiao from master Chang Tung-sheng, who was also something of an expert in Hsing-I, Pa Kua, Shaolin, and a few other arts. Chang Tung-sheng is also mentioned in Robert W. Smith's Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods.

Be that as it may, this is a common criticism of TCC as a form of exercise or martial art. 'It's too slow', or 'how can that even be CALLED an exercise', etc.

There already is an aerobic version of TCC. It's been around a while. It's called Chen Tai Chi. While other styles are anaerobic in nature, due to their soft, slow natures, Chen is punctuated by sudden, explosive movements (fa ching), and performance of the Yi Lu and Er Lu (forms one and two, form two also known as Pao Chui, or the Cannon Fist)forms are most definitely aerobic in nature. Combined with deep (broken horse) stances, and some jumping (Pao Chui), it's a great exercise, and it takes time before one is no longer winded at completion.

Now, some modification will occur in the process of learning. That's a given. We can see variances, for instance, in the Cheng Man-Ching methodology just by observing Cheng's senior students. Ben Lo is extremely strict about adherence. Abraham Liu is noted as going far deeper into his stances than most, and favors the Long Form. William C. C. Chen is notable as teaching TCC in a martial sense, straight out of the box.

Another great example is Wu Ch'uan-yü who, according to answers.com:
" (???, 1834-1902) started studying the martial art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan in his capacity as an officer cadet of the Palace Battalion of the Ch'ing dynasty's élite Imperial Guards Brigade under Yang Lu-ch'an in 1850. He eventually became the senior disciple of Yang's son, Yang Pan-hou, and was given permission by the Yangs to teach his own students in 1870."
As noted in the link given above:
"The Wu style's distinctive hand form, pushing hands and weapons trainings emphasise parallel footwork and horse stance training with the feet relatively closer together than the modern Yang or Ch'en styles, small circle hand techniques (although large circle techniques are trained as well) and differs from the other T'ai Chi family styles martially with Wu style's initial focus on grappling, throws, wrestling and other groundfighting technique; tumbling, jumping, footsweeps, pressure point leverage and joint locks and breaks, which are trained in addition to more conventional T'ai Chi sparring and fencing at advanced levels. Although historically derived from the Yang style, the Wu style has a unique appearance to observers and seems to share some features with Sun style, due to the long collaboration between Wu Chien-ch'üan and Sun Lu-t'ang. Another significant feature of Wu style training is its routinely placing the body's weight 100% on the yang or full leg, 0% on the yin or empty leg in forms and pushing hands, and maintaining a straight line of the spine from the top of the head to the heel of the rear foot when it is at an angle to the ground; an "inclined plane" alignment intended to extend the practitioner's reach. Other styles of T'ai Chi (with a few notable exceptions) train this leaning occasionally in their forms and pushing hands, but not as systematically as the Wu style does."

Or the Fu system:

"When Grandmaster Fu Zhen Song was young, he first learned Chen Tai Chi Chuan from the Chen Jia-Guo Village with Chen, Yan-Si (also known as Chen Hui-Jie). Chen was the 8th generation of the Chen Style Tai Chi. Fu is also the 3rd generation of the bagua zhang creator, Dong, Hai-Chuan. Later, he met the Sun Style Tai Chi Grandmaster Sun, Lu-Tang and the Yang Style Tai Chi Grandmaster Yang, Cheng-Fu. They became very close friends and exchanged tai chi, bagua, xing-yi, and weapons. With this valuable knowledge and achievements, Fu had progressed to the next highest level of internal martial arts.

In the 1920's, Fu created Fu Style Tai Chi Chuan. He started with the Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan as a basic foundation, then added Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan and Sun Tai Chi Chuan along with bagua zhang. Fu used the elite forms of the Yang Style Tai Chi, Chen Style Tai Chi, Sun Style Tai Chi, and bagua zhang to created Fu Style Tai Chi Chuan."

Note that while in all of these systems, a great deal of modification was implemented, these folks had oodles of martial arts backgrounds. Most of them were reknowned fighters, and actually sat down and learned the fundamentals, had the basics burned into their systems before they even considered making modifications.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, we have people who have eclectic backgrounds, little grounding in basics, playing mix 'n match because of course the in thing to do is to invent or whip up some new system after a year's worth of lessons, further diluting the art to the pedigree of being a mongrel, in an effort to appeal to novelty, thereby currying new students.

Mind you, I'm not a fanatical purist: everything evolves, whether it's the human, the art, the technology. BUT: before you start slapping in your own retrofits, get some solid grounding, no, let's skip that, some solid embodiment of the principles, burning them into your neural pathways for years, not months, before you start taking the art, and retrofitting it to suit your purposes.

This isn't to say: don't pick up various ways of doing a movement. I've incorporated movements from Ren Guan Yi, Chen Xiaowong (Ren does this fa ching movement, the small circle, in Warrior pounds pavement, that I've incorporated: I've also incorporated the simultaneous stomp in Pao Chui at Beast's Head pose from Xiaowong), even though I wasn't taught that way. These are tiny adaptations, gleaned from recognized masters.

Here's a for instance: I have seen a picture of William C. C. Chen doing what seems to be 'Snake Creeps Down': he's not squatting down on the back leg, if I saw a beginner doing it like that, well, we'd be going over that stance until your legs were screaming for rest.

Because, unlike you and I, he's earned the ability to do it any way he pleases. He's put in the time, the effort, the decades of pain, of embodiment. He's so far beyond you and I, he gets a free pass. He embodies the principles: they're now hard-wired into his system.

So, in short, you want to modify the form? Fine. Put in thirty years of hard work, dedication, 'no burn, no earn' as Ben Lo likes to say, practice constantly (6-7 days a week). Then you can start modifying the art, putting in your personal touches, retrofitting it, etc. Or you have an extensive background in other internal arts (like Sun Lu-tang, who was fifty before he learned TCC, but was a recognized master of Hsing I and Pa Kua), or at least 2 or more decades of knowledge in other martial arts.

But please, please, don't take a few lessons in one art, a few lessons in another, and create some Jambalaya Judo mongrel martial art simply because you're bored, or want to make a few extra bucks, or want to impress your friends.

Because that, my friends, dilutes the efforts of the geniuses who went before, and is the equivalent (in my opinion) of wiping your feet on the shoulders of giants.

9 Comments:

  • At 12:01 AM, Blogger udonman said…

    cardio tai chi wtf im looking in to this

     
  • At 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I've bookmarked all of the links. I agree fully with your post!!! :)

    I'm still working on Snake Creeps Down. That move is difficult, but I'm finally learning to sink more and rest on my back leg. Five years, and I'm still working on that move...

     
  • At 9:18 PM, Blogger cloudhander said…

    udonman:
    cardio tai chi wtf im looking in to this
    Don't waste your time.
    It's Tai Chi Tae Bo.
    You'll probably be able to purchase the videos out of the 2.99 bin at Walmart VERY soon.

     
  • At 9:22 PM, Blogger cloudhander said…

    Ocean Lady:
    'm still working on Snake Creeps Down. That move is difficult, but I'm finally learning to sink more and rest on my back leg.
    & don't forget:
    Keep your back straight. This is a biggie for most Americans.
    Here's a good idea: practice w/a book on your head. Just a suggestion.

     
  • At 12:41 AM, Blogger udonman said…

    its not that I was going to actually get the videos I was looking for a laugh is all any ways it looks like I might be giving up on the tai chi for a while its to long of a drive to get to my class 15 miles each way no thank you its costing to much in gas money just cant do it for now loved it but damn this isnt the right blog to go on about the economy

     
  • At 9:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have seen Low Profile Snake Creeps Down and it is excess movement. I don't understand it. My Sensei teaches Yang Style. I have seen this Low Profile in Chen and Wu Style. It leaves you vulnerable to attack. How do you kick in following move?

     
  • At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I like your cynical approach. Check this out also: www.themartialartsforlife.com

     
  • At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The chen "horse" stance is is only broken if you suck.

     
  • At 12:29 PM, Blogger one.tao said…

    Just a quick correction, slow movements in tai chi are actually powered by aerobic(with oxygen) respiration, such activities where the body uses this energy system are called aerobic activities. Fast explosive movements are powered by anaerobic(without oxygen)respiratoin as oxygen cannot be resourced quick enough by the body. In very explosive and short bursts of exercise creatine phosphate is used for anaerobic respiration, for longer but still very intense exercise glycogen stores are used to power the anaerobic respiration. In in low intensity exercise, where the energy demand is relatively low, aerobic respiration is used. hope this helps!

     

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