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.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


This first clip is of my sifu, Dr. Johnny Jang, at De Anza college a few years back. He's doing the 36 Fu Style Tai Chi form. Note that it seems to be more flowery than most, but the differential is, is that it combines Yang Style Taiji with Pa Kua Zhang movements. It's exceptionally more difficult to do. I've won a medal or two with this form.

Here's something completely different: a Chen fan form!

It used to be, there was no such creature. As of this writing, the only place I can find that sells this VCD, is a company in Hong Kong (on eBay). The lady's name is Ma Chunxi. It's exceptionally good. It combines movements from Chen forms one and two, with some of the jian (sword) moves. I'm teaching it to myself, and it is very hard, even with my background.

And yes, I find it odd that of all the styles, Chen never developed a fan form, common as the fan is in China (and how beastly hot it gets over there, to boot!).

Once I absorb it, and practice it often enough, it gives me an excuse to get out my metal fan that I bought, a few years back. I was going to learn a Pa Kua fan form, but it got put on the backburner. Not to mention that the metal fan is much heavier, and harder on the wrist than a standard fan.

Watch, enjoy, ponder, ask if you have a question or two.

And good playing to you all.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


My sifu, Dr. Johnny Jang, greatly admires Ma Hong, and has adopted many of his smaller movements (in the following clip for instance, Ma Hong adds a sliding step to the hidden punch movement).
This was taped (as I understand it) while the man was in his 70's. He still goes very deeply into his stances.

Here is a great interview with the Hsing-i magazine, also featuring George Xu. For those of you unfamiliar with George, he's a no-nonsense martial artist, who made his reputation fighting in the mean streets of Shanghai. Short version: he's definitely NOT a paper tiger. And if George backs up a martial artist, that guy had better be DAMN good. Ma Hong was the first artist that George brought over to the US.
I've heard a tale or two about Ma Hong: he's a very humble fellow, but if you talk smack about his art? He's been known to call people out.

Anyways, watch, enjoy, study.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


My apologies to anyone, for not having updated this blog in many a moon. It’s been very busy for me lately.

One of the ongoing issues for many Tai Chi players is that of keeping the routine fresh. While it is by far much more entertaining than the treadmills we see in the gyms (the image of guinea pigs on an exercise wheel pops into mind), a year or more of doing the same routine over time can become a tad too routine, and so, the player is encouraged to do some experimentation.

(NOTE: it is perhaps best for the player to have a very firm foundation in the basics and principles, and to have been doing their routine for at least a year – this is advice only.)

Some items to spice up your routine:
A. Practice with your eyes closed. This is far more difficult than it seems. Once you get to what I refer to as a ‘kick’ section (i.e., Separate Left Foot, Separate Right Foot, Rooster Stands on One Leg, etc.), you will likely find that your balance isn’t QUITE as good as you’d thought.
B. Practice in your head. While this is one of those ‘mystical’ levels (Cheng Man-Ching was rumored to have reached it: the story Ben Lo told, was that as they went up a tall hill for practice, Ben did his, asked the Professor if he was going to do likewise, to which the Professor responded: “I already did.”), it is an interesting exercise. When learning the Chen style, I’d lie in bed and close my eyes, and do the 24 or 37 movement form. Amusingly enough, each time I came to Hidden Punch, my body would try to respond by throwing a punch, roughly corresponding to a myoclonic twitch – “Myoclonus also occurs normally, as a person falls asleep or while sleeping. This type of myoclonus is not associated with disease.”
D. Deepen your stance. This is definitely a leg-burning sweat-inducer.
E. Learn a new form.

As to this final item, I admit freely: I’m a bit ‘forms crazy’. I originally did the 37-movement (CMC) form for eight years. I went on to learn; the 24 Yang, the 42 Compulsory (combined), the Chen 24, 36, forms one and two, Fu style 42 and 108, the Yang 108 (I never do this anymore), Chen 56 sword, Chen 18 spear, Chen 36 broadsword. I have since taught myself the Chen 56 form, via a book and youtube.

I recall many years ago, when I was at my five-year mark. I began to branch out a bit, learning Hsing-I from Peter Ralston, some Pa Kua and Kali. I spent nearly a year learning the Yang Long Form from Wilson Ng. After six months or so, I dropped in on Pat Kelly (I would occasionally pop in for a visit). After watching me do the 37 CMC form, her response was: “Your Tai Chi’s improved! I don’t know how you did it, but it has!”

Rich in context, intertwining the mind with the body, Tai Chi is one of the most enriching aspects of one’s life. It has been observed, that exercise is an integral part of any adult’s life: in this case, if you love it, you’ll do it. The other nice feature is that you don’t require a gym – you can take it with you, anywhere you go.

And of course, my favorite maxim is, as always: “Practice, practice, and practice.”

Good playing to you all.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


One major necessity for the Tai Chi player, is to watch other players, especially high-level practitioners. Sometimes, a question gets answered, sometimes a nuanced mechanism opens a door or a window in the mind, or sometimes, you (or I) are simply doing a movement/posture wrong, and a correction is needed. Or just sometimes, the flow is too fast, or too slow.

I have recently become a fan of www.youtube.com, as it has a lot of great Tai Chi clips.
This first one (as well as the second) is a very old clip of Chen Xiaowang demonstrating a nine minute demo of form one (yilu). It's Laojia (I do Xinjia, I kinda skipped the Laojia phase). When I saw how long it was, I thought maybe I was going way too slow, but the practiced eye will note that some extra repetitive movements have been left out.

This second one is form two (ErLu), about 5 minutes long (this is one that I am DEFINITELY doing too slowly).

SPECIAL NOTE: if you only have dial-up, it's probably not a great idea to view. Upgrade to DSL or Broadband, as it's getting cheaper all the time.

Friday, August 25, 2006


This video from youtube is perhaps the funniest take-off on martial arts I've ever seen.

Sadly, there's many, many pretenders out there. Funny as it is, I can see this actually happening.

Sunday, August 20, 2006



Whenever I do my weapons routines, I always try to get the tip to shake. This requires concentration and relaxation to do so.

There are two reasons for this:

A. Sifu Jang says that skill is measured by getting soft weapons hard (such as a nine-sectioned whip), and hard weapons soft (as in having the spear seem as if it’s far more flexible).

B. When I was in George Xu’s camp (2002), he told us that the reason for a sword or spear vibrating at the tip was that, in combat, that on entering the opponent’s body, the vibration of the sharp point would do extra damage to the foe’s body. (Yeah, that qualifies as a big fat EEEWWWW!, but it’s martial arts folks: maximum damage).

At this point, I can get some wiggle out of my staff (if it had a spearpoint, I could get far more), and as I do the Chen 56 movement sword, when I thrust, I can get a vibration of about a ½ inch from my jian. Not so much with my saber (broadsword): but the ding! is audible.

Note also, that I don’t practice with those ‘toy swords from Mattel’ (you may know what I mean: those aluminum jobs that weigh about two ounces, and you couldn’t rip paper with the bloody things: I can make THOSE puppies patter like miniature thunder). Both my swords are a few pounds each.

It’s all right to use wooden swords, but it’s most definitely not the same: like the extensible swords, they’re sufficient to practice the movements in the beginning, but if you’re going to start practicing a sword form regularly, do yourself a favor, shell out the extra dollars and get yourself something with more heft and substance.

After all, you get what you pay for, right?

Sunday, July 30, 2006


I’m speaking here, of the principle of Yang, not the style.

I’ve spoken before of my adoption of small items, when I do my Chen form. I recall a Ren Guan Yi seminar in Sebastabol, and Sifu Ren did the Double Stomp feet (this is a movement, in the 36, 38, and Form One [YiLu], where the practitioner stands, palms facing down, flips the palms and goes up and stomps one foot after the other, in a boom-BOOM! manuever). It’s hard to describe: I felt vibrations from the ground through my feet, and when Sifu Ren did it, it was as if he exploded his root down into the ground. I found it terribly impressive. My Sifu, Dr. Johnny Jang, demonstrated it once, and his was more like a focussed, thin line of force. I watched Mark Wasson do (I think it was the 38) a form, where he did the Beast Head pose at DeAnza college, on a gym floor, and while I was sitting, I could tell how much power was expended. I watched a Chen Xiaowang video once, and he also did a double stomp (form two, ErLu) on Phoenix Spreads Wings. Dr. Jang taught me to stomp when doing Press the Elbow. Now I do two (Press Elbows), instead of one (which confuses some folks, but I’ve been told that was the traditional way to do it, so I adopted it). I’ve been told I shake the floor now.

Short version: I do a helluva lot more stomping than most people do in Chen. And, yes, I’ve limped away from practice more than once: the right foot absorbs a tremendous amount of force in this. But, when I practice in a park, I can hear the sound travel. It’s not quite gunshot loud, but pretty close. Maybe some day, I’ll be able to crack pavement. Probably never.

At this juncture in my development, my form is very, very Yang. This stems from reading and watching. I recall from the Tao of Tai Chi (a truly wonderful book), that Chen YiLu is supposed to be 80% Yin, 20% Yang, and form two [ErLu] the reverse. However, upon viewing Feng Zhiqiang’s VCD on Form Two, the subtitles state it should be a 60-40 variance. So I adopted this (Master Feng was a student of Chen Fake, while Jou Tsung Hwa was more the experimenter). The results are interesting.

On one occasion, as I practiced in class (Sifu Jang), a fellow student approached me after doing form two, and asked where I’d learned it. I said, “From him.” He told me it looked very different. At the Lake Merrit Bart station, another fellow came and chatted me up. He too, remarked that it was extremely masculine (he also was familiar with Sifu Jang). Told me it was the first time he’d seen someone do it like that. Occasionally, I manage to get to a group class, where everyone’s doing the same form. I’m the only one who seems to make noise: everyone else is nice and soft. The flip side is that whenever I was prevailed upon to lead the practice, by the time I was halfway through with YiLu, the rest of the class had finished it.

Most styles (all, excepting Chen and perhaps Zhaobao) have an extreme emphasis on the Yin methodology; the concept here being that extreme Yin will result in Yang.

There are twofold points to stomping that hard: one is that the player should be careful about it. It CAN injure you. Two, is that the movement is actually used to stimulate the ‘Bubbling Well’ meridian point, located in the middle of the metatarsal ridge of the foot (the Double Stomp Feet is a two-fold rationale: one is to harm the opponent, the other to alleviate a blow to the groin). I have heard that it can be injurious, to not only the ankle/foot, but to the brain stem as well. Thus far, I’ve not suffered any deleterious side effects. But doing any form of exercise improperly for long periods can have implications. So if you stomp, try to do it softly, and build it up after time. Also, make the effort to spread the impact along the length of the foot: don’t just hit your heel or upper sole. This is what causes injury (I can speak to that from experience).

There’s only one place (that I know of) in Fu/Yang style where there’s any sort of noise, and that’s in the posture Sweep the Lotus. In Yang Jwing-Ming’s book, Tai Chi Chuan Martial Applications: Advanced Yang Style, he tells a great story, about this posture. In olden times, it was a game played by martial artists. One literally would sweep the kick through a lotus stem, and if that person could break the reed (it’s simply standing, not held), it was a sign of great internal power. So when I practice the 42 compulsory, the 42 Fu, Fu long form (even when I used to practice the long Yang form), I always try my best to smack my palm with my foot [special note: DON’T swing your hands at the coming foot: the hands need to be stationary, the foot needs to hit THEM. Way harder, ain’t it?]. The Cheng Man-Ching variant doesn’t do this – rather, you very softly brush the toe across the stationary palms (way harder still).

Regardless of your style, Tai Chi is about balance, first and foremost. So there is a time for hardness, a time for softness, a moment of explosive movement, a moment of intense stillness, one second of being the wind, one second of being a rock.

You can live without Tai Chi. But Tai Chi can instruct you in that essential ingredient inherent in all good lives:
Exquisite timing.