Experience and Appreciation of Studying Tai Chi
As I contemplate writing a summary of my four decades studying Tai Chi, I instantly recall a Taiwanese school song “A Little Path in the Country”, the first few lines of which that sum up my feelings - if it is fame and fortune that you are seeking, then walking on a country path only gives your a feeling of struggle, frustration and anxiousness. On the other hand, for a city slicker enjoying a rural holiday, a walk on a country path brings carefree joy and relaxation. I learn Tai Chi entirely out of passion, and the many years of training were filled with enjoyment without a single bit of tedium, just as the song goes, “A hint of smile on my face, humming a country tune, I let my thoughts flutter in the evening breeze, all melancholy dispersed in the wind, left behind on the little country path.”
I was born in 1952 in Shantou of Guangdong province, China. My family tended to enjoy traditional Chinese culture, but not in a serious or conservative way. When I was little my grandfather and father would often tell me tales from the classics “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, “Warring States”, “Outlaws of the Marshes”, “Zhou Zhou Chi”, etc. They told the stories interspersed with commentaries, priming my admiration for the spirit of chivalry of olden days. This led to my love of reading Kung Fu novels in primary school.
My father had broad interests, and one of his habits was to procure books relating to whatever was his subject of interest at the time. Therefore our house had an abundance of books. In the fifties, he learned Tai Chi for a time, and bought a great number of related books. Unfortunately there were no accomplished Tai Chi masters in Shantou at the time, so his interest shifted to table tennis.
In 1958, my uncle Liu Ji-hung (husband of fifth maternal aunt, referred herein as Fifth Uncle) suffered from severe kidney disease and was operated on 3 times. He was gravely ill, and medication had no effect. Subsequently Tai Chi practice brought him back to health and thus he developed immense interest in the art. He immersed himself totally in the study and practice of Tai Chi, and became a legendary figure in the Shantau Tai Chi circle. At the time, whenever he visited Shantau (he lived and worked in Ling County) he stayed at our home. He would ask me to inform his Tai Chi pals, and they would flock to hear his discussions on Tai Chi topics.
This aroused my interest in Tai Chi. I read books on the subject available at home, and this generated great interest in me. Fifth Uncle noticed my motivation and promised to teach me. As he was not in Shantau normally he arranged for me to learn the forms from one of his friends, and later would correct me and explained the principals to me himself.
In the summer holidays in August of 1963, I went to the People’s Square to learn the Tai Chi forms, starting with the Simplified 24 Forms, then the Yang Style Tai Chi Forms and Chen Style First Routine. In the Spring festival several months later, I joined my teacher and his group to demonstrate in the Jung Shan Park Performances. I performed the Chen Style 1st Routine individually, and that was the first time I displayed my Tai Chi Chuan in public. Subsequently Fifth Uncle taught me push hands. Because I was still short I had to stand on a chair to train with him. The more I learned the more I was hooked. Sometimes when the family went out to watch a show, have supper or visit friends, I would rather stay at home. I lied on the cool bench with Tai Chi books as pillow and read while keeping watch on the house.
When the Cultural Revolution started, formal educational activities were cancelled, so I started giving my friends Tai Chi lessons. By the end of 1968 we were sent to labour in the rural regions, and because of the heavy farm schedules there was little time to practice. In 1970 I absconded back to Shantau. Following the prolonged heavy exertion on the farm, after I returned to Shantau I had very poor appetite, eating only half a bowl of rice at meals. Medical checks found nothing wrong physically, and I decided that I must resume my Tai Chi practice. I started to have an hourly push-hand session with a colleague each day, followed by a chat about Tai Chi. I then went home to practice the forms and read Tai Chi books. From that time on, I have not ceased training, and have always had companions to practice push-hand with.
At the time I also made an important decision. Although I was physically at Shantau, I was still registered as residing in a rural village where I was to continue a livelong revolution. I had completely no control over my own livelihood and future. I decided that irrespective of the situation I was in, I should have a speciality to assign value to my life. The official conditions meant that the career choice must not require certification of my skills, nor could it involve joining any institutions. Within this environment I considered Tai Chi Chuan. The best Tai Chi in China was also the best in the world. With my Fifth Uncle’s connection I could contact the best Tai Chi teachers. Thus I abandoned all my other interests and concentrated on studying Tai Chi.
Perhaps because I was not overly ambitious and rather conscious of my environmental conditions, I did not set myself any practical objectives. I was given to following fate and not my desires. Being determined but not stubborn, my training was always conducted with passion.
When my Fifth Uncle Lau Ji-hung was feverish about Tai Chi, he called on all the teachers in Shantau. After a time, his appetite was not sated, so he started learning from books. He acquired a great number of old publications by mail order from old bookstores in various cities. When books were not sufficient to quench his passion, he started writing to the authors directly. In late 1963, on invitation of Mr Gu Liuxin (顾留馨) he went to Shanghai to learn for 3 months. Mr Gu specially introduced him to Mr Hao Shao-ru (郝少如). He also recommended that Fifth Uncle must study seriously with Mr Hao so as to learn Wu (Hao) style Tai Chi (式太极拳) correctly. At the Martial Arts sports centre where Mr Gu presided, Fifth Uncle also took the opportunity to learn from the luminous masters of the five major Tai Chi styles presented. They included Wu Ying-hua (吴英华), Ma Yue-liang (马岳梁) and Fu Zhong-wen (傅钟文). He also visited many famous teachers in Shanghai, and made acquaintances with Shao Pin-gen, Liu Ji-shun, etc.
Over time I learned from Fifth Uncle various styles of Tai Chi, including Yang Style, Wu Style (吴式) and Wu-Hao Style (武式).
My clan nephew Wu Chongji who was older than me by 3 years, was also a Tai Chi enthusiast. In 1974 on my introduction, Fifth Uncle wrote a letter of recommendation for him. Under pretext of work, he travelled to Shanghai to learn push-hand from Mr Gu Liuxin. Subsequently on Mr Gu’s introduction he went to Bejing to study under Chen Zhao Kui (陈照奎), from whom he learned Chen Style First and Second Routines as well as push-hand. On my clan nephew’s return, I also learned these routines from him.
In summary, the experience of learning from Fifth Uncle since 1963 was fortunate for me on several scores:
Fifth Uncle had a wide exposure in the Tai Chi world, and knew of many anecdotes regarding famous masters. Some of these he heard, and some he witnessed himself. Together with his own demonstrations, I developed in my mind a proper and high level objective to aim for - in good Tai Chi application, the Force Release “fajin” (发劲) must be able to crisply eject the opponent away (but not necessarily viciously). Fifth Uncle often commented on what was genuine Tai Chi and what was not. A clear target is an important perquisite for effective learning.
Pursuit of the practical and feasible techniques, and not to follow the abstract and mysterious methods. Tai Chi Chuan is martial art, emphasising the development of real internal strength. To be sure there are diverse understanding and approaches to developing internal strength, and that discussion is left for late
Relentless pursuit of perfecting one’s Tai Chi forms. Fifth Uncle’s attention to form correctness was very stringent. This was due to the requirements by his teacher Master Hao. He instilled in me the proper habit of paying attention to minute details while training in the Tai Chi routines.
Fifth Uncle was courageous in his endeavour acquiring knowledge, and his spirit of broad learning set a very good example for me. This later prompted me to travel widely and benefited from studying from various sources.
This period of learning from Fifth Uncle laid a solid foundation for my understanding and fulfilment of Tai Chi.
In April 1984 I followed Fifth Uncle to Wuhan to attend the International Tai Chi Chuan and Sword Invitation Competition. I was fortunate to witness 13 masters and gained a realistic understanding of what “experts” were about. I came to realise that experts were also human, and between them their standards varied greatly. When I observed the experts, I did not focus on their Tai Chi form performance. I was more interested in their skills manifested during push-hand. If their push-hand demonstrated a superior level then I took notice of their Tai Chi forms.
One morning the event organisers arranged for the masters to give coaching sessions. I noticed one master pushing hand with a young person, and their hands kept on detaching from each other. The master commented that the student was too stiff. In reality the master was also too hard. When two hard objects came into contact, they would slip. Had the master’s hands been soft, would their hands have kept slipping from each other?
Another master, on finishing his coaching session of Tai Chi forms, was invited to give tuition on push-hand. He casually picked a student to start the exercise. After a few rounds he stepped forward, separated his hands to hold the opponent’s underarms in an attempt to dislodge and throw him. Surprisingly the student relaxed and sank down, and this caused the master to be forced backward a step. He tried again and this was repeated 3 times. The master finally declared that the student was too stiff. I thought, if the student was not stiff, wouldn’t the master have been bounced back even further?
When I saw these situations I felt disappointed. The concern was not that the masters had won or lost, as even masters could encounter skilled opponents. My thoughts were that the techniques the masters used were not of high standard, and not different to that of ordinary practitioners. Later on Fifth Uncle chatted to the young person who resisted the master’s attempt to dislodge him. As it turned out he was a later student of Master Hao Shao-ru who Fifth Uncle learned from.
After the event, I followed Fifth Uncle to Shanghai to call upon several masters. Two of them impressed me greatly. One was the Wu Style Master Shao Pin-gen. Master Shao was unusually sensitive and agile. Once in contact with him, the slightest bit of force applied by the opponent would cause him to be taken along. One would feel the heels being raised off the ground and placed in a defenceless position. The characteristics of Wu style Tai Chi were very distinct.
Another notable expert was Master Liu Ji-shun. He was able to represent the characteristic style of Master Hao Shao-ru. To an opponent who was standing in a solid bow stance, he could apply fajin (release of explosive force) to launch him flying with both feet off the ground. This was different to ordinary fajin. I have heard and read many masters’ comments that prior to fajin, it was necessary to destroy the opponent’s balance, causing his to be unstable in order to bounce him off. The effect of this method is that the opponent would stumble a few steps on one foot or both feet, or just fall over. To be able to throw an opponent cleanly and crisply is not common. To be able to launch a person into the air from a solid stance must involve other secret principals, something of a higher level. I immediately decided to follow Master Liu to learn Wu (Hao) style Tai Chi Chuan.
In 1964 Master Hong Jun-sheng (洪均生) wrote a series of articles in the Sports Magazine debating “Silk Reeling Force” (缠丝劲). This attracted Fifth Uncle’s support, and they became acquaintances by correspondence. Once a student of Fifth Uncle visited Master Hong in Jinan. He brought back a stencilled complementary copy of a manuscript authored by Master Hong. It was a detailed description of the Hong’s version of Chen Style First Routine. I carefully studied this material, and although I enjoyed some benefit, there were aspects that I could not comprehend. For example, with every movement Master Hong would describe in detail where the fingers should be pointing, and in which direction the palms should be facing. I felt this was very tedious and unnecessary (later on, I came to appreciate the intricate side of this.)
In November 1984, after visiting several cities calling upon Tai Chi masters and friends, I finally arrived at Jinan (济南) in Shantung Province to meet Master Hong Jun-sheng. Prior to visiting Master Hong, I had already consulted him by correspondence for some time, but had never met him. I stayed at Master Hong’s home for 20 days. He suggested correcting my Tai Chi forms. I expressed that I would rather start afresh so as to learn the forms properly. Because of the restriction of time, he taught me the Second Routine (Cannon Fist.)
My situation of learning Tai Chi with Master Hong was mentioned in an earlier commemorative article I scripted (accompanying article). In separately articles I will introduce Master Hong’s techniques from different aspects. Here I will only describe one typical aspect, as manifested by his practical experiments with students. Often his students brought along queries arising from push-hand and realistic situations. No matter how different the questions, or how disparate the techniques being scrutinised, Master Hong’s solutions were always very similar. As soon as the student used force Master Hong would follow with a slight turn, showing only minute change in posture. The student would already be under his control (although apparently still very solid and steady), and would invariably be pushed flying in the air. As to how far and how high the student was ejected, it depended how much force the student used in the first place, and also if Master Hong advanced a step in the attack. Master Hong usually appeared very relaxed, making the effort seem light. It should be pointed out that Master Hong’s student were no ordinary practitioners. Most of them would have been equal or better than other Tai Chi experts. For example, his senior student Jiang Jia-jun (蒋家骏) who could deliver a very sharp force fajin, could be thrown up 1m high and 1 to 2m away which looked very spectacular.
This was the most satisfying demonstration of Tai Chi combative skills that I had seen. With a slight turn of the body Master Hong was able to accomplish deflection of the attack and control of the opponent. This ability impressed me deeply and continuingly guided my direction in Tai Chi training. Even now I still constantly reflect in my mind, experiment and train on my finding.
From my own experience, no matter how much one reads or listens to theory and discussion it is no substitute for personally witnessing a truly great master’s demonstration. Better still, being able to experience the effect is even more wonderful. Although I could not analyse fully the process, this demonstration of Master Hong’s technique revealed to me the direction for my future training, and showed the way for a lot of practical details. At the present I have partly achieved this skill, but there is still much to be learnt.
After the meeting with Master Hong I had invited him to visit Shantau to teach. However it was difficult for him to leave Jinan, so it did not eventuate. I continued my open attitude towards Tai Chi learning. I constantly made contact with experts and enthusiasts, inviting them to Shantau or visiting them. Later, through videotapes, disks and the Internet I was able to observe performances of past and current experts. To date I still have not discovered anyone comparable to Master Hong.
In 1987 I relocated to Melbourne in Australia. In a strange country, the priority was to secure a living. Apart from looking for a job, supplementing the income using my speciality was a logical move. Considering the possible directions for teaching Tai Chi, one was to aim at the elderly and the feeble, teaching for health improvement and relaxation. This target group would be numerous. Another approach was to interest the traditional martial arts enthusiasts. This was a smaller group, but the endurance would be better, their progress faster, and the requirements more in-depth. Eventually I elected to follow my passion and opted for the latter. I could not set about to do something I was not passionate about. This could cause myself to lose interest. I decided that I could only teach Tai Chi as a secondary occupation. Without relying on it as the main source of income I could teach what I liked to teach. Therefore I worked in a factory in the day, and only taught in the evenings and on weekends.
Teaching martial arts in Australia provided opportunities to be exposed to self- defence disciplines from different nations. This was beneficial to broadening my horizon. Master Hong said that much of his techniques were learnt from his students. This I can concur. Students raise many questions that oblige you to consider and analyse. Students also bring along many different self-defence techniques for you to deal with. Having to constantly resolve these challenges raises my own standards. However there is one important point, that is, you must have a correct foundation. Without a good Tai Chi foundation the solutions you developed would be of inferior standard. Master Hong followed his teacher Chen Fa-ke (陈发科) for 15 years, and the techniques he developed were superior. I steadfastly remember Master Hong’s methods, and although I may not be able to instantly apply them, my adherence to the correct direction is bringing results.
In 1999 the factory I worked for was relocating and it was to become too far from where I lived. At the time a Tai Chi colleague invited me to teach in North America, so I quit my work to make the trip. When teaching in USA and Canada, a young student who had studied other martial arts was very impressed when learning push-hand with me. He asked if I practice very solidly every day. I jokingly said not, because I was lazy. He then asked if I had practiced very diligently in the past. I replied I had never trained very hard which he could not understand. I explained Master’s Hong’s view. In 1984 Master Hon’s senior student Jiang Jia-jun took a young pupil to see him, commenting that he was very clever, but did not train hard enough. Master Hong said: “I advocate training skilfully.” This is an important reminder that training must be done with an analytical mind, and it is meaningful only if performed correctly. I often bring this up with other enthusiasts. In the past I would often add: “if over and above training skilfully, training hard must be better.” Now I think that is not really true. In reality every practice should be cleverly conducted, involving one‘s analytical mind. Then every practice would be different. Tai Chi comprises so much one can never learn it all, so one must not merely train by mindless repetition.
In early 2000 I went to Paris to teach for a month. As the daily teaching schedule was not long I could freely arrange my day. I did something very significant which lead to my martial art skills entering a new stage. Prior to that time I did not regularly practice Master Hong’s version of Chen Style Routines. I felt Master Hong’s forms contained too many unfamiliar elements (relative to the popular Chen Style routines). Completely adopting the forms would make it inapplicable in push-hand and self-defence. I took the view of ignoring the visible aspects and only integrating some of his internal requirements into the popular forms that I practiced. For a time I did improve. On hindsight although it seemed progressive, it was actually a slow approach. Thus while I progressed, there were no breakthrough.
Later someone reminded me that only by practicing the Hong forms that I could apply Master Hong’s style. With the time I had on hand in Paris I carefully followed the requirements and application of each movement in Master Hong’s book. Basing on my recollection of how Master Hong explained the action and effect, I practiced each movement meticulously. After a short period of time the results became obvious. Numerous things I had wanted to do but could not, then became achievable. This illustrates a principal: good external form could better realise the internal requirements. Many people insist that external forms are not essential, only one’s intent, chi and internal force are important. In reality it is the case that they have not properly learnt a really good form and its movements. Truly good forms could assist the elevation and expression of intent, chi and internal force.
From that time on, I have concentrated on the Hong forms. The more I practiced the more I appreciated the exquisiteness embodied in it, and Master Hong’s extraordinary insights. On my trip back to Melbourne from Paris, I considered my future path. I saw the advantage of having more time available to train. Working and teaching left too little time, so I decided to try teaching Tai Chi as my sole occupation. By the grace of God although I do not earn much, it is viable. I have more time to consider matters concerning Tai Chi Chuan, and now I feel I am improving from year to year, although not in a breakthrough manner.
In summarising my 20 years in Australia studying and understanding Tai Chi I obtained the following 3 aspects of result and realisation:
I) What is the definition of 'Tai Chi'
Not long after I arrived in Australia a Karate teacher invited me to his school’s demonstration performance. In one event his students performed a set of Karate movements very slowly and called it “Tai Chi” which I found laughable. But on reflection, why could it not be called Tai Chi? There were no clear reasons. If they were to be excluded for the fact that it was not similar to popular Tai Chi routines, then Tai Chi Chuan could only be defined as a set of movements. This would have been a very superficial definition. Since then I have observed how others defined Tai Chi but still have not come across a good conclusion. After some years of reflection, in considering Tai Chi from the point of self-defence there are 4 essential factors:
1. Extension Force- Shen-jin (伸劲): The force in Tai Chi is sometimes called internal force (内劲). Others call it “spiral force” (螺旋劲), “silk reeling force” (缠丝劲), ward-off force (棚劲), etc. Not only are the terms different, the practical processes of activation are also quite dissimilar. Even when called the same, the contents are not necessarily similar. To avoid confusion I therefore introduce a new term: Extension Force (伸劲). This is to indicate the strength derived from extending the muscles. The nature of the force so generated is different from that of muscle contraction. When applied in Tai Chi combative techniques, what can be demonstrated is not achievable by ordinary forces. Ordinary people feel this incomprehensible and claim it a trick. I will write about this in the future. Extension force is not exclusively used in Tai Chi. Some other martial arts also employ it in certain movements, but it is not their major force. On the contrary Tai Chi applies it throughout in every action. Proper Tai Chi employs extension force consistently throughout, but very few current practitioners comply with this requirement. Indeed, in Tai Chi competitions a lot of the champions display movements that are relaxed and open, but do not reflect power arising from extension. In a strict sense what they perform is not quite Tai Chi.
2. Resolving Force - Hua-jin (化劲): This is a commonly known skill associated with Tai Chi. “Deflecting thousand pound trust with four ounce force” has almost become the representative phrase of Tai Chi. Tai Chi must employ Hua-jin to be able to subdue a stronger opponent, and this does not require too much discussion. Other martial art disciplines also employ deflection techniques, but not in such prominence. Only Tai Chi utilises this principal in every movement.
3. Control – (控制): Wang Zohg-yue in his “Tai Chi Chuan Discourse” commented on the phenomenon in martial arts of the weak subduing the strong, and the slow winning over the quick. Put in another way a good Tai Chi practitioner can defeat a stronger and quicker person. An elderly person cannot match the strength and speed of a younger opponent, but utilising Tai Chi he or she could overcome the disadvantage of age. Following Wang’s discussion on the above, many other Tai Chi commentators also jumped on board writing about “4 oz deflecting 1000 lb trust” and the Hua-jin techniques. In reality they have only answered the question of “weak subduing the strong”, but not addressed the issue of “slow winning over the quick”. But although no one has explained it clearly, in practice a lot of masters already have the practical solution. A combatant when engaging an expert would instantly feel losing his freedom to manoeuvre. When one cannot move as one desires, then naturally quick action is out of the question. This is the situation of being controlled by a Tai Chi expert. Other martial arts also employ control, but mostly relying on techniques. Good Tai Chi consistently applies control, and this to be discussed in future discourse.
4. Launching Release – (腾放) Teng-fang: Kicking, Punching, Tripping and Grappling are the common techniques in any martial art, but ejecting with explosive power is a unique technique in Tai Chi Chuan. Pushing with power is different to ejecting with power release. Pushing relies solely on hand techniques, targeting the opponent’s weakness to send him away. Ejecting with power release on the other hand, requires first establishing control over the opponent (using internal strength and not hand techniques, whereby the opponent becomes stiff and cannot change,) then bouncing him away. On a higher plane, launching is a higher form of ejecting. Normal bouncing requires destroying the opponent’s balance then pushing him horizontally. The opponent would often stumble on one or both feet, or simply fall over. Launch release could cause the opponent being ejected into the air from a stable and balance position. This method of bouncing release requires higher level of force and skills.
Some martial arts have pushing with force release, but not as much as in Tai Chi. Launch releasing is unique to Tai Chi. In other disciplines, by chance a practitioner can send the opponent flying, but these are only occasional and accident events. Tai Chi Chuan practitioners specifically train in this sort of techniques, and can achieve launching release by application. Using the ability to launch release as a standard distinguishing feature of Tai Chi is currently too discriminating, as not many people can really do this. However for the sake of upholding and developing Tai Chi Chuan, it is useful to promote a higher target as the ultimate, and I wish to work with enthusiasts to study and strive towards this.
Here I explain briefly why I promote the skills of Launch Releasing. Some might argue that the objective of martial arts is to win, and being able to defeat the opponent is everything. On the battlefield, protecting oneself and destroying the enemy is the purpose of martial arts. However if we are not at war, then the requirements of martial arts are a lot more complex. In famine, feeding to one’s fill is the only concern. But in ordinary times, we would eat for pleasure and wellbeing. This is the same in self-defence. Some martial art technique drills you to poke the attacker’s eyes or kick at the groin. This seems effective, but if a friend or sibling comes at you in a rage would you employ these techniques? I have compiled some Tai Chi self-defence techniques that focus on subduing the opponent but incurring no injury. One of my students is a Karate teacher who has a pupil working as a nightclub security guard. The preferred method dealing with a troublesome patron is always to subdue him and escort him out the door. If on the other hand you injured him, the consequences are much more problematic. Society is progressing, and Tai Chi’s requirements will follow suite. If one could eject an opponent off squarely, the score is instantly settled. Both parties are happy, isn’t that more spectacular than injuring the other party? Moreover, training in Launching Release requires mastery of some higher level Tai Chi technique, and is more advantageous for any contest. If Tai Chi push-hand employs less viciousness and develop more “fun”, like the American MBA or Brazilian soccer, which contain a high degree of entertainment, then Tai Chi would be more attractive generally to the public.
II) Summarising the Training Method of Launching Release:
In the past I heard many tales about Tai Chi Masters, and was very envious of their skills in fajin, or power release. Although I understood that this skill was not to be acquired in a day, I wrongly believed that if I persevered with practicing according to common routines then I would eventually attain it naturally. Later on I heard about an expert communicating with Fifth Uncle lamenting that he could not send an opponent flying, and could only achieve it once by chance. I then realised that there must be some profound methodology behind Launching Release. When I later witnessed Master Hong Jun-sheng and Master Liu Ji-shun launching their opponents into the air, I compared them to superhuman.
I have always wanted to summarise the techniques of Launch Release, because there is no single practicable and complete training methodology. Seven or eight years ago, I developed “7 Steps for Launch Release Training” as a method for training my students and myself, and it met with a certain degree of success. I will write about it in the future.
III) Concluding the definition of “Extension Force” and Training Content:
What is Tai Chi Chuan? This is what many accomplished practitioners vaguely know but are not able to clearly define. You always hear practitioners repeat a saying that make you neither laugh nor cry: “Use intent, but not force”. If one is really to use only the mind and not any force, then all that is needed is to lie in bed and think about it. This saying definitely does not express the meaning behind. Some say that you need to be totally relaxed but not limp. Relaxing necessarily involves being limp, so there must be something that acts as support within. After many years of practical reasoning I have finally realised that this is muscle extension force. Mr Chen Jia-zhen‘s conclusion of “the flexible exercise of body and limb stretching” partly explains the substance of Tai Chi - that is to engage the opponent’s force with one’s body and limbs extended like stretched rubber band. However Chen does not explain clearly the situation when one proactively applies force, nor does he explain the functioning of the muscles. I am not familiar with physiology and sport anatomy, but I have read some text describing generation of power from muscle contraction. This is force generated by ordinary function of the body. Tai Chi employs the force generated by the muscles lengthening and narrowing. It would be very meaningful to investigate this concept under controlled conditions with medical professionals. Being able to develop power by muscle extension is beneficial not only to Tai Chi, but significant to other martial arts, to sports and to human activities generally. Movements can be easily learnt, but this unusual way of developing strength – one requiring muscle extension, will require a length of time in training to attain. A lot of people would not accept this idea of deriving force because they could not immediately accomplish it physically.
After understanding Extension Force, I discovered another issue- most people believe that after developing internal power, then all that follows would be to enhance the extent, depth and speed of the force, leaving only the question of the application techniques. Actually this is not so. For example take the spiral force- Master Hong’s force is one that spirals from the ground up. It is not a question of the visible form, but is one of coordinating the muscle extension to generate the force. This is a different force in substance, not merely the general internal force applied differently.
Having understood this, I have collected a list of the different stages of force I have experienced, witnessed, heard and deduced. I have distinguished them into 18 concepts, each one represented by a term. Originally I did not want to use common Tai Chi terms to represent these to avoid confusion, but I really had little choice. Several years ago I listed 16 of these for my students’ reference. I heard that one of them read 9 of the terms and declared that he was already practicing eight of them. This was a misinterpretation. I have only recently started to train seriously in the 6th term. The following stages I have dabbled in bit and pieces, but have not mastered or developed any depth.
In these twenty years in Australia I was able to achieve an understanding of these 3 aspects of Tai Chi, by which I am rather gratified. I am even happier that I have gathered a group of real Tai Chi enthusiasts around me. Tai Chi has become a part of their lives, and they really enjoy their Tai Chi training. One student joked: “Master, Tai Chi is too hard, and one lifetime is not enough to learn everything. I am putting my name down for continuing training in the next life.” I jested in reply, “Fine, pay your fees in advance and you’d get a discount”.
Many concerning friends say: “You have sacrificed too much. To focus on Tai Chi training your have not even married.” I correct them “I did not marry because I couldn’t find a wife. I Concentrate on Tai Chi because I am not married.”
I say I don’t know politics, don’t know commerce, don’t know how to womanise, therefore I have to focus on Tai Chi. It takes away my melancholy, puts a smile on my face, and fill me with enjoyment.
I describe my 4 decades of Tai Chi experience as one of studying and learning, but not as training. Training is repeatedly practicing something you already know to gain proficiency. Studying is to discover something you don’t know.
Master Hong was my last Tai Chi Teacher. Because of him I have a fundamental understanding of the mainstream subjects of Tai Chi. However still I maintain an open mind about what others have to offer, and I would learn anything that is useful. The more I learn the more I discover my own shortcomings, and the more I am critical of my own training. Confronting the parts of Tai Chi unknown to me, there is much more for me to experiment, investigate and to reflect upon. I will continue with an attitude of learning.
I want to continue to learn, because this is a “little country path” with no end.
April 15th, 2009 in Shantau, Guangdong Province, China.
(Translated by Michael Ngai)