Tai Chi / Bagua
What is Tai Chi and Bagua?
Internal martial arts emphasize the use of the mind to coordinate the leverage of the relaxed body as opposed to the use of brute force and strength. While external movements can be forceful and rapid, there is a focus on awareness of the spirit, mind, chi (breath) and the use of relaxed leverage rather than unrefined muscular tension. Often early in training there is greater emphasis on the internal aspects of the martial arts. As the student becomes more proficient, more power and force are added.
In internal martial arts, there is alot of time spent on basic physical training, such as stance training, stretching, strengthening of muscles, as well as on empty hand training and weapon forms which can be quite demanding. Many internal styles have basic two-person training, such as pushing hands.
Some forms of tai chi are performed slowly, although some include sudden outbursts of explosive movements (fa jin), such as those in some Chen forms. The reason for the generally slow pace is to improve coordination and balance by increasing the work load, and to require the student to pay minute attention to their whole body and its weight as they perform a technique. At an advanced level, and in actual fighting, internal styles are performed quickly, but the goal is to learn to involve the entire body in every motion, to stay relaxed, with deep, controlled breathing, and to coordinate the motions of the body and the breathing accurately according to the dictates of the forms while maintaining perfect balance.
External styles are characterized by the use of muscular power, speed, fast and explosive movements and a focus on physical strength and agility. In some of these systems, the more internal ideas are integrated later in training as the desired forceful techniques arte mastered. External styles include both the traditional styles focusing on application and fighting, as well as the modern styles adapted for competition and exercise. For example, Shaolin quan uses direct explosive attacks in training to fight and many Wushu forms have spectacular aerial techniques. Other non-Chinese forms of martial arts such as Karate and Tae Kwon Do are considered to be external forms. Some people describe the Japanese form of Aikido as being an internal form of martial arts.
The following synopsis of tai chi has been adapted from the website of my current Chen tai chi teacher, Richard Miller: www.greatlakeswushu.com.
In China, the martial arts are known as wushu. Born millennia ago, these ancient war arts bear little relationship to the flamboyance and fantasy of "kung fu" movies. Rather, wushu is a rich and challenging discipline; the unification of body and mind is its supreme goal.
Strength, health, and fighting skills are rewards of wushu training. The cultivation of inner qualities such as steadfastness, humility, and will, however, is the bedrock upon which the art is rooted. Wushu evolved over centuries on the battlefields of China. Today, it serves as a total fitness regimen, an effective means of self defense, an art that demands our best efforts.
Gongfu (kung fu) literally means time and toil. It is the fruit of sincere hard work and patience. Its benefits are manifold. Studying gongfu is like polishing a mirror to perfection - it is a way to know yourself.
Practiced the world over and widely praised for its health benefits, the Chen Style is the original taijiquan, and until the last century was rarely taught to non-Chen family members. This rich and sophisticated art includes both slow and fast movements, the development of chan si jin (silk reeling power).
The Lao Jia is the first form of Chen style Taijiquan. It is the style¹s foundation training that prepares students for the second form, Pao Chui. Lao Jia develops, strength, whole body unity, the basic flavor of Chen Style, and chan si jin (silk reeling energy). At this level of training, movement is primarily slow and soft, with an emphasis on relaxation; although some fa jin (power issuing) is also included.
Chen Chang Xing
Chen Gong Yuen
Chen Yen Xi --------------
Du Yu Zhi Chen Fake
Adam Hsu ----- Richard Miller
Here is an example of consecutive movements of one of the forms I study with the group, Great Lakes Wushu, taught by Richard Miller Moves 1 thru 18
The following information has been adapted and modified from the Wikipedia site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_chi_chuan
Tai chi chuan (traditional Chinese: ???; simplified Chinese: ???; pinyin: tàijíquán is an internal Chinese martial art often practiced for health reasons. Tai chi is typically practiced for a variety of other personal reasons: its hard and soft martial art technique, demonstration competitions, health and longevity. Consequently, a multitude of training forms exist, both traditional and modern, which correspond to those aims. Some of tai chi chuan's training forms are well known to Westerners as the slow motion routines that groups of people practice together every morning in parks around the world, particularly in China.
Today, tai chi has spread worldwide. Most modern styles of tai chi trace their development to at least one of the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu and Sun. The origins and creation of tai chi are a subject of much argument and speculation. However, the oldest documented tradition is that of the Chen family from the 1820s
The term t'ai chi ch'uan literally translates as "supreme ultimate fist", "boundless fist," "great extremes boxing", or simply "the ultimate" (note that 'chi' in this instance in Pinyin jí, not to be confused with the use of ch'i / qì in the sense of "life-force" or "energy"). The concept of the Taiji "supreme ultimate" appears in both Taoist and Confucian Chinese philosophy where it represents the fusion or mother of Yin and Yang into a single ultimate, represented by the Taijitu symbol. Thus, tai chi theory and practice evolved in agreement with many of the principles of Chinese philosophy including both Taoism and Confucianism. Tai chi training first and foremost involves learning solo routines, known as form. While the image of tai chi chuan in popular culture is typified by exceedingly slow movement, many tai chi styles (including the three most popular, Yang, Wu and Chen) have secondary forms of a faster pace. Some traditional schools of tai chi teach partner exercises known as pushing hands, and martial applications of the postures of the form.
At the height of its development, around 1644 AD, tai chi had become a fast martial art that also valued slow movements meant to expand the mind and focus the body's energy. However, the Manchurians invaded the Chinese empire and created the Ch'ing Dynasty and the slow flowing movements became predominant. Just like shaolin kung fu, both the meditative and physical practices of tai chi were originally considered necessary for the complete practice of tai chi, referred to as temple style tai chi. However, many of the slow elements of tai chi have evolved into their own schools of practice, such as Yang style tai chi chuan.
Tai chi chuan is generally classified as a form of traditional Chinese martial arts of the soft or internal branch. It is considered a soft style martial art — an art applied with internal power — to distinguish its theory and application from that of the hard martial art styles.
Since the first widespread promotion of tai chi's health benefits by Yang Shaohou, Yang Chengfu, Wu Chien-ch'uan and Sun Lutang in the early twentieth century, it has developed a worldwide following among people with little or no interest in martial training, for its benefit to health and health maintenance. Medical studies of tai chi support its effectiveness as an alternative exercise and a form of martial arts therapy.
Focusing the mind solely on the movements of the form purportedly helps to bring about a state of mental calm and clarity. Besides general health benefits and stress management attributed to tai chi training, aspects of traditional Chinese medicine are taught to advanced tai chi students in some traditional schools. Some martial arts, especially the Japanese martial arts, use a uniform for students during practice. Tai chi chuan schools do not generally require a uniform, but both traditional and modern teachers often advocate loose, comfortable clothing and flat-soled shoes.
The physical techniques of tai chi chuan are described in the tai chi classics (a set of writings by traditional masters) as being characterized by the use of leverage through the joints based on coordination in relaxation, rather than muscular tension, in order to neutralize or initiate attacks. The slow, repetitive work involved in the process of learning how that leverage is generated gently and measurably increases, opens the internal circulation (breath, body heat, blood, lymph, peristalsis, etc.)
The study of tai chi chuan primarily involves three aspects:
- Health: An unhealthy or otherwise uncomfortable person may find it difficult to meditate to a state of calmness or to use tai chi as a martial art. Tai chi's health training therefore concentrates on relieving the physical effects of stress on the body and mind. For those focused on tai chi's martial application, good physical fitness is an important step towards effective self-defense.
- Meditation: The focus and calmness cultivated by the meditative aspect of tai chi is seen as necessary in maintaining optimum health (in the sense of relieving stress and maintaining homeostasis) and in application of the form as a soft style martial art.
- Martial art: The ability to use tai chi as a form of self-defense in combat is the test of a student's understanding of the art. Tai chi chuan martially is the study of appropriate change in response to outside forces; the study of yielding and "sticking" to an incoming attack rather than attempting to meet it with opposing force.
There are five major styles of tai chi chuan, each named after the Chinese family from which it originated:
- Chen style (??) (founded by Chen Wangting, 1580–1660)
- Yang style (??) (founded by Yang Lu-ch'an, 1799-1872)
- Wu or Wu/Hao style of Wu Yu-hsiang (Wu Yuxiang) (??)
- Wu style of Wu Ch'uan-yu (Wu Quanyuo) and his son Wu Chien-ch'uan (Wu Jianquan) (??)
- Sun style (??) (founded by Sun Lu-t'ang, 1861–1932)
There are now dozens of new styles, hybrid styles and offshoots of the main styles, but the five family schools are the groups recognised by the international community as being the orthodox styles. Other important styles are Zhaobao Tai Chi, a close cousin of Chen style, which has been newly recognised by Western practitioners as a distinct style, and the Fu style, created by Fu Chen Sung, which evolved from Chen, Sun and Yang styles, and also incorporates movements from Pa Kua Chang.
The designation internal or nei chia martial arts is also used to broadly distinguish what are known as the external or wai chia styles based on the Shaolinquan styles, although that distinction is sometimes disputed by modern schools. In this broad sense, all styles of tai chi, as well as related arts such as Bagua Zhang (also called Pa Kua Chang) and Hsing-i Ch'üan, are therefore considered to be "soft" or "internal" martial arts. Many styles list in their history that tai chi was originally formulated by a Taoist monk called Zhang Sanfeng and taught by him in the Taoist monasteries at Wu Tang Shan.
When tracing tai chi chuan's formative influences to Taoist and Buddhist monasteries, there seems little more to go on than legendary tales from a modern historical perspective, but tai chi chuan's practical connection to and dependence upon the theories of Sung dynasty Neo-Confucianism (a conscious synthesis of Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian traditions, especially the teachings of Mencius) is claimed by some traditional schools.
The philosophical and political landscape of that time in Chinese history is fairly well documented. Tai chi's theories and practice are therefore believed by these schools to have been formulated by the Taoist monk Zhang Sanfeng in the 12th century, at about the same time that the principles of the Neo-Confucian school were making themselves felt in Chinese intellectual life.
As the name "tai chi chuan" is held to be derived from the Taiji symbol, commonly known in the West as the "yin-yang" diagram, tai chi chuan is therefore said in literature preserved in its oldest schools to be a study of yin (receptive) and yang (active) principles, using terminology found in the Chinese classics, especially the Book of Changes and the Tao Te Ching.
The core training involves two primary features: the first being the solo form, a slow sequence of movements which emphasize a straight spine, abdominal breathing and a natural range of motion; the second being different styles of pushing hands for training movement principles of the form in a more practical way.
The solo form should take the students through a complete, natural range of motion over their center of gravity. Accurate, repeated practice of the solo routine is said to retrain posture, encourage circulation throughout the students' bodies, maintain flexibility through their joints and further familiarize students with the martial application sequences implied by the forms. The major traditional styles of tai chi have forms which differ somewhat cosmetically, but there are also many obvious similarities which point to their common origin. The solo forms, empty-hand and weapon, are catalogs of movements that are practiced individually in pushing hands and martial application scenarios to prepare students for self-defense training. In most traditional schools, different variations of the solo forms can be practiced: fast–slow, small circle–large circle, square–round (which are different expressions of leverage through the joints), low sitting/high sitting (the degree to which weight-bearing knees are kept bent throughout the form), for example.
The philosophy of the style is that if one uses hardness to resist violent force, then both sides are certain to be injured at least to some degree. Such injury, according to tai chi theory, is a natural consequence of meeting brute force with brute force. Instead, students are taught not to directly fight or resist an incoming force, but to meet it in softness and follow its motion while remaining in physical contact until the incoming force of attack exhausts itself or can be safely redirected, meeting yang with yin. Done correctly, this yin/yang or yang/yin balance in combat, or in a broader philosophical sense, is a primary goal of tai chi chuan training. Lao Tzu provided the archetype for this in the Tao Te Ching when he wrote, "The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong."
Tai chi's martial aspect relies on sensitivity to the opponent's movements and center of gravity dictating appropriate responses. Effectively affecting or "capturing" the opponent's center of gravity immediately upon contact is trained as the primary goal of the martial tai chi student. The sensitivity needed to capture the center is acquired over thousands of hours of first yin (slow, repetitive, meditative, low impact) and then later adding yang ("realistic," active, fast, high impact) martial training; forms, pushing hands and sparring.
Tai chi trains in three basic ranges, close, medium and long, and then everything in between. Pushes and open hand strikes are more common than punches, and kicks are usually to the legs and lower torso, never higher than the hip depending on style. The fingers, fists, palms, sides of the hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders, back, hips, knees and feet are commonly used to strike, with strikes to the eyes, throat, heart, groin and other acupressure points trained by advanced students. Joint traps, locks and breaks (chin na) are also used. Most tai chi teachers expect their students to thoroughly learn defensive or neutralizing skills first, and a student will have to demonstrate proficiency with them before offensive skills will be extensively trained. There is also an emphasis in the traditional schools that one is expected to show wu te (??), martial virtue or heroism, to protect the defenseless and show mercy to one's opponents.
In addition to the physical form, martial tai chi chuan schools also focus on how the energy of a strike affects the other person. Palm strikes that physically look the same may be performed in such a way that it has a completely different effect on the target's body. A palm strike could simply push the person forward, be focused in such a way as lift them vertically off the ground breaking their center of gravity, or terminate the force of the strike within the other person's body with the intent of causing internal damage.
Other training exercises include:
- Weapons training and fencing applications employing the straight sword, a heavier curved sabre, sometimes called a broadsword, folding fan and spear.
- Two-person tournament sparring (as part of push hands competitions.
- Breathing exercises in coordination with physical movement and post standing or combinations of the two. These were formerly taught only to disciples as a separate, complementary training system. In the last 50 years they have become better known to the general public.
Tai chi classes have become popular in hospitals, clinics, community and senior centers in the last twenty years or so, as baby boomers age and the art's reputation as a low stress training for seniors became more well-known. As a result of this popularity, there has been some divergence between those who say they practice tai chi primarily for self-defense, those who practice it for its aesthetic appeal (see wushu below), and those who are more interested in its benefits to physical and mental health. The wushu aspect is primarily for show; the forms taught for those purposes are designed to earn points in competition and are mostly unconcerned with either health maintenance or martial ability. More traditional stylists believe the two aspects of health and martial arts are equally necessary: the yin and yang of tai chi chuan. The tai chi "family" schools therefore still present their teachings in a martial art context, whatever the intention of their students in studying the art.
Along with Yoga, tai chi is one of the fastest growing fitness and health maintenance activities in the United States.
Tai chi as sport
In order to standardize tai chi chuan for wushu tournament judging, and because many of the family tai chi chuan teachers had either moved out of China or had been forced to stop teaching after the Communist regime was established in 1949, the government sponsored the Chinese Sports Committee, who brought together four of their wushu teachers to truncate the Yang family hand form to 24 postures in 1956. They wanted to retain the look of tai chi chuan but create a routine that was less difficult to teach and much less difficult to learn than longer (generally 88 to 108 posture), classical, solo hand forms. In 1976, they developed a slightly longer form also for the purposes of demonstration that still didn't involve the complete memory, balance and coordination requirements of the traditional forms. This was the Combined 48 Forms that were created by three wushu coaches, headed by Professor Men Hui Feng. The combined forms were created based on simplifying and combining some features of the classical forms from four of the original styles; Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun.
As tai chi again became popular on the mainland, more competitive forms were developed to be completed within a six-minute time limit. In the late-1980s, the Chinese Sports Committee standardized many different competition forms. They developed sets to represent the four major styles as well as combined forms. These five sets of forms were created by different teams, and later approved by a committee of wushu coaches in China. All sets of forms thus created were named after their style, e.g., the Chen Style National Competition Form is the 56 Forms, and so on. The combined forms are The 42 Form or simply the Competition Form. Another modern form is the 67 movements Combined Tai-Chi Chuan form, created in the 1950s, it contains characteristics of the Yang, Wu, Sun, Chen and Fu styles blended into a combined form. The wushu coach Bow Sim Mark is a notable exponent of the 67 Combined.
These modern versions of tai chi chuan (sometimes listed using the pinyin romanization Tai ji quan) have since become an integral part of international wushu tournament competition, and have been featured in several popular Chinese movies starring or choreographed by well known wushu competitors, such as Jet Li and Donnie Yen.
In the 11th Asian Games of 1990, wushu was included as an item for competition for the first time with the 42 Form being chosen to represent tai chi. The International Wushu Federation (IWUF) applied for wushu to be part of the Olympic games, but will not count medals.
Practitioners also test their practical martial skills against students from other schools and martial arts styles in pushing hands and sanshou competition.
Simplified Short 24 Form T'ai Chi Ch'uan (Yang Style): Bibliography, Links, Quotes, Resurces, Notes, List.
Following is a brief introduction of Yin Style Baguazhang written by my teachers who currently live in Beijing, China.
By He Jinbao
Translated by Matt Bild
Yin style baguazhang was founded by Dong Haichuan’s senior student, Yin Fu. It has precise theory and methods, a well-knit structure, abundant content and a strong technical quality. The fighting theory, postures, usage, outward appearance, and internal developmental methods all originate from and accord with the Book of Changes.
Yin style bagua is well known amongst all bagua styles as the “hard palm.” Its movements are fierce and vigorous, utilizing penetrating palm point striking methods. Emphasizing direct force and having an abundant shaking strength, when the hands go out, Yin style is said to be “cold, crisp, and fast.” The primary hand form used in Yin style is known as the “ox tongue palm” (four fingers held out together, thumb tucked in).
A natural stepping method is used. The main training methods are embodied in the four areas of “standing” (strengthening postures), “turning” (circle turning), “striking” (fighting techniques), and “changing.” Bagua stepping methods are emphasized along with single action and combined strike practice. Upon this foundation, set forms and weapons are trained. Yin style bagua, according to the symbolism and meaning of the eight trigrams, has eight animal systems. Each animal system has eight attack methods. Emphasis is placed on practicing in strict accord with the meaning and intent of the attack method. Each attack method has three foundational single action strikes and seven set forms with seven movements each.
According to Orthodox Bagua Penetrating Palm by Men Baozhen, the attack methods and characteristics of the eight animal systems are as follows:
Qian trigram lion system interlocking palm:
The lion system is vigorous and fierce. The strength is straight and its force violent. Its techniques are used in interlocked fashion. Both arms extend out, resembling a lion opening his mouth to roar. It has the presence of the king of the beasts.
sweeping, cutting, chopping, hooking, shocking, blocking, seizing, grasping attack methods
Kun trigram unicorn system reversing the body palm:
In the unicorn system, the arms twist and the body turns. When it meets strength, it might walk, change, or turn. It spins like a top on a sheet of ice. It has countless changes in the midst of whirling and turning around and emphasizes moving with the opponent’s force.
sticking, adhering, soft, following, hip, striking, chopping, cutting attack methods
Zhen trigram dragon system holding and lifting palm:
In the unicorn system, the arms twist and the body turns. When it meets strength, it might walk, change, or turn. It spins like a top on a sheet of ice. It has countless changes in the midst of whirling and turning around and emphasizes moving with the opponent’s force.
pushing, lifting, carrying, leading, moving, capturing, chopping, entering attack methods
Xun trigram phoenix system windmill palm:
The phoenix system uses a whipping strength, with the arm wheeling around at the shoulder. The hands are swift like the wind. It can take control of the enemy in the wink of an eye.
dodging, extending, chopping, shocking, transforming, removing, curling in, cutting attack methods
Kan trigram snake system moving with the force palm:
The snake system has no fixed stepping pattern. It uses a constricting binding strength and coiling around methods to choke the opponent.
shoulder, elbow, knee, hip, shooting, binding, entrapping, grasping attack methods
Li trigram rooster system lying step palm:
The rooster system attacks in the midst of dodging out of the way. It has a stomping crashing strength that is hard yet crisp, like being scorched by flame.
dodging, extending, rising, shifting, entering, whipping, rushing, stabbing attack methods
Gen trigram bear system turning the back palm:
The bear system uses the back to strike; its strength is dangerous in close quarters. In the midst of a losing situation, it lures the opponent in to snatch victory from defeat.
rushing, penetrating, withdrawing, carrying, leaning, shocking, soft, following attack methods
Dui trigram monkey system enfolding palm:
The monkey system emphasizes leg and kicking methods over all else, the other animals all emphasize hand techniques. The kicks and leg methods of the monkey system are contained in the hand techniques. It uses interlocked leg techniques with a straight on and reversing strength to prevent the opponent from attack or defense
bending, thrusting, straightening, hooking, chopping, swinging, stopping, ending attack methods
Each animal system uses a different part of the body to emit force. Lion uses the waist; dragon uses the feet; phoenix uses the shoulder; rooster uses the elbow; bear uses the back; monkey uses the legs; snake can employ any part of the body; unicorn uses the waist to remove the opponent’s force. Yin style bagua weapons originate from the palm practices of the eight animal systems. They are dashing, energetic, intelligent and come in all variety of shapes and sizes.
Yin style bagua circle turning is smooth and agile, even and flowing, natural and comfortable. When practicing, emphasis is placed on the following: The arms should “roll out, wrap back in, pull back away, and drill out.” The waist should “twist, whirl, walk, and turn.” The feet should “lift, fall, swing, and hook.” The waist being the director is stressed as the hands follow the turning of the waist, the feet follow the waist’s movement, the waist strikes and the waist removes.
This art contains many technical skill movements, among them are “rubbing, filing, rolling, turning over, shrinking, small, flexible, soft, artful, et cetera.” Each technique has many ways to be used, and all are easily changed. The strength can have qualities of moving with and against, hardness and pliancy, roundness and fullness. The techniques of each of the eight animal systems can be used by themselves or mixed in with those of other animal systems. Although each animal system stands on its own as a complete system, there are opportunities for them to be intermixed.
Yin style bagua is a very special traditional internal martial art. The study of this art should begin with the study of the lion and unicorn systems. Once the concepts of hardness and pliancy are understood, the study of the remaining six animal systems will come easily. A long period of training can increase strength and pliancy, improve reaction ability, and speed of movements. It can also improve musculature, skeletal structure, the nervous system and functions of the internal organs. In addition, it can improve your fighting ability, ability to resist attack, and your state of mind. In all, it is beneficial for health, fighting ability and aesthetic value.
How Tai Chi and Bagua Helps Health
Idea is to still the mind through movement and to use movement to still the mind: meditation in movement
Create a state of emptiness
Promotes unattached centeredness
Body, breath, mind fusion into an integrated whole
Learn to use breath to develop power, to heal, and to raise consciousness
Balance the autonomic nervous system through focused and directed movement
Calm the central nervous system and still be able to react quickly, dispassionately, purposefully
Learning to fight using the internal martial arts is a metaphor for mastering/conquering inner psychological and emotional battles
Based on the great spiritual philosophy of Taoism
Follows the Book of Changes (I Ching)
Teaches us to follow the Tao, the natural order of things, which is ever changing and circular, and integrating the opposites of yin and yang
Tai ji focuses attention of the meditative aspects of relaxing, letting go, yielding with full attention
Tai ji absorbs energy of one’s opponent and uses that force to defeat this enemy – in meditation we are also receptive to and use the energy of the universe to gain strength to thrive in the world
Teaches us to adapt and change effortlessly which helps the person deal with the natural flux of the universe and life’s vicissitudes
Teach us to be egoless and empty of expectation and at the same time to be fully aware of the moment and the current event as it unfolds
Teaches us to be hard or soft, active or receptive as things unfold
Balance of heath and performance
Focuses first on health, then strength and fitness (unlike external martial arts which focus on the later first)
Development, transformation, and transmission of chi/energy for health of body and mind
Use external force at the same time maintaining a subtle calmness and quite inside
Transformation of energy and chi into healing, meditation, and fighting
Twists the spine, stimulating all the nervous system connections
Stretches and tones all the muscles
Massages all the internal organs
Pumping the fluids inside the spine up through the brain
Promotes fluid exchanges within and between the cells
Spiraling forces developed bring our forces in harmony with the spiraling energies within our own bodies (DNA, muscles, finger tips), powerful forces of nature (hurricanes, tornadoes), and the universe (solar system, galaxies)
Dance like movements and in fighting forms are used by the practitioner as a means to express him/herself artistically, creatively and beautifully in fluid and effortless motion, , much like a painter uses his paints to express himself
Movement begins from deep within the body and works itself outward towards the muscles and skin
Can add mental intention/will and visualization to move chi/energy through the centers of power/chakras/tantiens/microcosmic orbit for healing and health, raising awareness, development of spiritual qualities (compassion, acceptance, intuition, kindness, creativity), and for concentrating and issuing power for martial art purposes
Move energy through the meridians associated with acupuncture
Whole body mind/spirit unity
He Jinbao believes that regardless of what style of martial art one practices, the art should not diverge from the basic precepts of:
1) Strengthening one’s body,
2) Improving one’s health
3) Developing one’s ability to fight, and
4) Preparing one to display their art in a visually pleasing way.
5) Meditation through movement, especially turning a circle with full body, breath and mental awareness (I added this as a fifth benefit.)
He emphasizes that while martial arts have far reaching benefits, one must be alert to potential hazards. “In the beginning of practice the initial result will be that the body gets stronger and you will continue to strengthen and grow as you practice. However, practicing incorrectly may yield the opposite effect - you could actually hurt your body.”
He distinguishes between strength and health, saying that the latter, too, will improve with continued practice. “There are many important things to get out of training, says He, “But longevity is very important. Pay attention to the normal circulation of blood, breathing; the health of heart and lungs. Those who over train or move excessively should slow down and ‘gather’. You should take into account your age, constitution, how long you’ve been practicing and how much each day in structuring your training to reach the goal of a healthy body.”
Perhaps due in part to the advent of the performance art dubbed “modern wushu” and the prevalence of ill-trained gongfu “masters” or those insincerely touting the importance of application, some question the legitimacy of the Chinese systems as fighting arts. He Jinbao’s efforts to promote the value of Yin Style Baguazhang invariably reveal his combat skills. He is agreeable to challenges and possesses a spirit and abilities that tend to allay doubts.
“It doesn’t matter what martial art, style or system you practice, you should know how to apply it,” he says. “The Chinese saying goes, ‘Whatever you study you should be able to use.’ Only if you know how to employ your martial art can you raise your practice - bring it to another level. And by practicing well you will be able to apply your art even better. Your usage skills can also be seen as a way of measuring your growth or progress.”
He Jinbao dislikes the term “performance” when describing the demonstration of martial arts. “I feel that performing is something you do for others,” he says. “When you are practicing for yourself, observers will as a result notice more fullness in your movements. You ask yourself, do my techniques feel good, are my movements rounded and smooth, do I feel good after I practice? Once you reach a high level it (your gong fu) should look good to other people because it feels good to you”
He says that by dropping one’s qi the abdomen gains strength. He feels that by being exact in one’s body alignments and paying attention to internal sensation, “You get things moving and experience a kind of self massage of internal organs. And when you have to execute sudden or violent actions your organs will be strong and able to tolerate bouncing around . You can avoid becoming dizzy or nauseous. No matter what style you practice your outside should be strong and powerful as well as your inside.” To illustrate his conviction, when He Jinbao assumes the Lion Opens its Mouth, his rib area feels not unlike stone.
My Personal Experiences with Tai Chi and Bagua
A moment of instantaneous delight occurred when I first observed people doing tai chi chuan (tai ji quan) in the early 70's in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Being mesmerized by its slow, rhythmic, dance like motion and feeling quite emotional and captivated by its beauty, I soon realized I had to study this art form. And much to my delight, I soon learned that hidden within tai ji were both a powerful martial art and a meditation through movement.
Returning to Ann Arbor, my long study of tai ji (yang style) was initiated with a local, colorful, and soft-spoken Volvo mechanic, Bob Thorson, and his teacher, Phil Ho. In Madison, Wisconsin, while doing a residency in psychiatry and in Chicago while practicing holistic medicine, I continued to practice tai ji, although yoga and meditation became my primary focus.
We moved back to Ann Arbor in 1981 and from time to time Bob and I would get together to talk of old times and practice our tai ji form. In the late 90’s, I had decided to study other forms of Chinese martial arts and had often heard that Richard Miller had great skill in many of these systems. Nine years ago, I happened to meet Richard in Burns Park practicing with his group, was very impressed, and soon began studying tai ji and bagua with him.
In our class, we study chen style tai ji, the original and oldest form of tai ji, as well as baguazhang, another Chinese internal martial art.
My good friend, colleague and lawyer, Marty Kriegel, and I have had many discussions about the interface between tai ji, qigong and the concepts and practices of yoga. Recently, Marty asked me if I’d like to learn a short form of Yang tai ji that he learned while living in Hong Kong. We spent a few weeks in the summer of 2009 studying and practicing the sweet little form. It is the form that Mao Tse Tung asked to be developed so that all Chinese people could practice that was a bit less complex than the longer more rigorous Yang form. It is practiced all over the world, from the innumerable parks in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong to the China towns in Vancouver, New York and San Francisco.
My office manager and colleague, Cinda Hocking, herself a kung fu practitioner, also learned the form with me from Marty. We now have a study group in Ann Arbor, where we meet once or twice weekly, and have several fellow students where we teach, learn and practice together.
Another tai ji form I have studied a bit is Swimming Dragon. It is taught by Liping Zhu, an acupuncturist and qigong practitioner from San Francisco. We met at Tassajara Zen Center in Northern California and have taught a seminar there together integrating Zen, qigong and yoga philosophy. Her from is quite beautiful, combining the practice of tai ji, dance and the internal system of the microcosmic orbit, the latter method being a meditative system of qigong and Taoism. I really have just dabbled in this and someday I’d like to learn the whole form from Liping.
Bagua is a powerful fighting form and at the same time, like tai ji, meditative. We practice three days weekly, spending the first hour and a quarter on tai ji and the next two hours on bagua.
The chen tai ji and bagua we practice take concentrated effort, involve both slow and fast movements, and often are quite athletic. To quote from Richard Miller’s website, greatlakeswushu.com, “Chinese martial arts (wushu) is a rich and challenging discipline; the unification of body and mind is its supreme goal. Strength, health, and fighting skills are rewards and the cultivation of inner qualities such as steadfastness, humility, and will are the bedrock upon which the art is rooted.”
Since working with teachers Scott Berry, Richard and the group, my physical health has never been better and old back problems are much improved. Whether it’s doing the slow meditative movements of tai ji, turning the circle in bagua, or wielding our 7 pound, 5 foot bagua saber, I always feel stimulated, challenged, and sometimes a bit sore.