Some of my former students in Portugal have been puzzled by one of Master Chen's trailers posted on the Facebook group run by Neil Morley for Tai Chi Chuan practitioners
They could not quite follow what he meant in his Ground Connection trailer ( find it on the group page above). So I have taken the unusual step (for me anyway) of responding with a video explanation.
'This question and response highlight a real issue for many modern Tai Chi practitioners, seeking to improve by virtue of You tube'
In my defence, I did try a brief written explanation on the group page first.
Like most teachers, Master Chen expresses fundamental TCC concepts in his own unique vernacular. Where he talks about 'Connecting through the ground', I talk about 'Grounding through a stable framework'. Where one teacher uses phrases such as Tung Jin, another says listening, both refer to proprioceptive skills, the term I prefer. This issue is simply one of terminology.
The demonstrations below were filmed without set up or rehearsal, just before one of our regular classes, hence the noise as students enter. I was assisted by Graham Bould and Gloria on camera duty.
The observant among you will see that my stance wobbles a bit every time Graham pushes, this is because my legs have not yet recovered from the extensive surgery a few months ago, following breaking both legs and requiring a hip replacement. Because of the noise levels there was an explanation for the last demonstration, I have not posted, If I can sort out the sound I may post it later. For now I have written the explanation at the end of this blog. the videos are as shot and unedited
All of the above work in a similar manner,
This question and response highlight a real issue for many modern Tai Chi practitioners, seeking to improve by virtue of You tube. A teachers terminology can be a barrier or an aide to learning, and we all use terminology of one sort or another.
If the seeker is unfamiliar with the phrases that regular students are introduced to they may be misled or at least puzzled. Chen Zhonghua gives a clear and useful demonstration. If you must seek knowledge at a distance, you can visit his site, and buy access to his training resources properly, and you will get further. Alternatively you could join the Golden Rooster School, and I will send you details of our live online courses.
Today is one of those days where deadlines are looming, the pressure is building and time is precious. At times like this, it is easy to loose focus, fall behind and begin to fret.
This is when, a simple technique we teach to new students, can offer space, composure, and clarity.
This is when, a simple technique we teach to new students, can offer space, composure, and clarity.
Internal means - U sing the soft internal force of Qi (energy) combined with Yi (intention) and Shen (the raised spirit ) to produce what is sometimes termed Peng force (ward off power) although I prefer the term Jing (educated force).
Jing requires skill and subtlety in execution and has many forms. It is exemplified by the Tai Chi Classic advice “let the Yi lead the Qi and the Jing will follow". Jing is trained through the application of conscious movement with a relaxed mind and open body (unrestricted, free of unnecessary tension) moving fluidly through precise attitudes or postures. The mind set is one of calm alert patience, again the intention is crucial.
The mind set is one of calm alert patience, again the intention is crucial.Smoothness, and softness are used.
So let us now look at some other distinguishing features of internal martial arts;
Smoothness and softness are used to overcome hard force, which can all occur in one swift movement, or in a series of linked actions, this process can be viewed as evade control and counter. A number of differing tactics may be employed to control the opponent prior to his launching a committed attack.
The techniques tend to use diversion rather than blocking and frequently appear circular or spiraling. The variety of techniques encompasses the full range of methods available at all ranges, yet used with extraordinary skill and sensitivity as the need to be able to change technique according to circumstances is paramount, thus all techniques hold the Yin within the Yang and vice versa.
Some other aspects of Internal Chinese martial and health arts.
Internal is - Secret - knowledge is restricted to those within the family - group -clan - sect or society. For example students may need to become disciples (Ren Men or inside door students) to access the more advanced levels of a system.
Internal is – indigenous - ie Not foreign, so influenced more by the native philosophy of Daoism, not the imported philosophy/faith of Buddhism.
NB. the descriptions above may not sit quite so smoothly with Xing-Yi practitioners, please accept my apologies, this is not an in depth article.
Hello, I am interrupting my current series on Yin and Yang etc to respond to a post on our Facebook page.
If you practice these counters, or the wrist lock, be cooperative to begin with until you have the feel of it. Remember to tap out when it hurts, I suggest 1 tap for its on, 2 for thats enough. Joints, bones, and muscles etc can easily be damaged by unskilled over-enthusiastic practice, be gentle, be safe, gradually increase the resistance to each other as you learn, I would suggest over months, rather than hours. If you have to force any Chin Na technique, or counter technique, you haven't got it right, go back to the beginning and pay attention to the principles, above all, have fun.
The video below was shot in about 15 minutes without rehearsal, we somewhat rushed editing, and we had to make it small so it would fit, I hope its helpful. Have fun.
See the video here.
Yin and Yang, the emblems of duality in relation to the internal arts. Part 4 - Marvel at a thousand miracles
Gloria in cloud hands, observing the many changes in the hands.
For the intermediate practitioner there are a number of additional ways to enliven forms practice, and avoid double weighting. Obviously you have the options mentioned in the previous instalment, but there are a number of other options, which require more or less sophistication from the practitioner.
Analysing the form from the perspective of the 13 tactics.
In particular the 8 powers of the upper body, but also the five steps (or processes if you prefer) are a useful way to increase your understanding of what action is being reproduced in your form. For example if you can see the way that Peng and Lu interchange, or that An is followed by Ji in a technique, it provides an obvious focus for your practice. These later techniques occur in just that sequence in Grasping birds tail, so providing an easy and obvious correlation, other techniques require more thought and imagination to produce an analysis through the 13 tactics.
Of course the stumbling block is that the techniques of the form may be representative of several differing applications, almost none of which will be a direct translation of all of the movements as they are shown in the form. A slight hurdle also exists if one doesn’t remember that the weight or energy is seldom emitted equally in both hands at the same time. If you need more clarification on that point, re-read the earlier articles in this series.
Observing the processes of the first principle.
Another useful method is :
Observing the process of the first principle within your own body.
For those of you who have not studied with me, do not have a copy of my book ‘WuDang Tai Chi Chuan’ or who have forgotten, I will reiterate that the first principle of Tai Chi Chuan is ‘Tai Chi’: in other words the interaction of Yin and Yang. In this instance it is absolutely imperative that you have raised your awareness to a level where you are able to observe the state of tone, and the action of the body, and, that you are working with a sufficient level of tone and relaxation accordingly. It is not uncommon in the Nei Jia circles to hear the front of the torso described as Yang, and the back Yin, similarly the outside and inside of the limbs respectively. Whilst this may be a convenient and simple classification it is perhaps over simplistic to be of much help in deepening awareness of the way the body is used in the form. More effective is observing the relative actions of complementary muscles initially in the limbs, and later throughout the whole body, as you perform the movements.
To begin this practice, it is helpful to take a small section of form, and repeat it, observing first the action of one set of muscles in a limb, then the opposing set. When you remember that all muscles work by the simple action of contraction, or lengthening in harmony with their antagonist counterpart, it becomes a simple deduction to realise that excessive tension in one part, the bicep for example, reduces the ease with which its counterpart, the tricep, can extend the arm, thus reducing both the speed and force generated. When we use the body in Tai Chi chuan we aim to use the whole body to generate the force behind every technique. This requires that whole chains of muscles operate sympathetically and sequentially to execute every technique, and that the corresponding counterparts are relaxed so as not to hinder the potential. The fantastic by-product of this process, is that it makes the act of listening and responding to energy easier, clearer, and faster to adapt, all essential to advanced Tai Chi Chuan practice in all aspects of training. By adopting this method of practice consistently in some of your training, you will deepen your awareness of how the actions of the muscles spiral around the body to produce a technique, and truly marvel at a thousand miracles.
Part 5 will cover advance practice.
Good training !
Yin and Yang, with Yang in the ascendant phase.
The first principle of Tai Chi Chuan is Tai Chi, which is the interaction of Yin and Yang in the constantly varying process of natural equilibrium.
An attack is by its very nature is definitively Yang. By accommodating, redirecting, or avoiding the attack (becoming Yin) we encourage the attacker to enter the Yin phase, by over extending, becoming unbalanced, or simply needing to recover before his next assault. During his Yin phase we may become Yang and counterattack.
In the martial arts it is the potential for movement that is of greatest concern
As I walked through the swing doors into the large school hall I was surprised to find it relatively silent, silent except for the sound of deep, prolonged breathing, immediately I recognised from my training in Raja Yoga, the importance of this practice. I made my way as unobtrusively as possible to a bench where a few other observers waited. Observing the lesson, I recognised several people as former classmates from Judo and Karate. Before long I was treated to the spectacle of 4 of the senior student sparring first one to one, then one to three etc. while the other 30 or so members practised techniques at the other end of the hall. Shortly the Master joined the sparring seniors, they stopped immediately and bowed, he took a relaxed stance in the centre of the space and they surrounded him, all was still. Watching the seniors spar I had been impressed at their agility, the speed and sheer variety of techniques. The Master nodded his head and his protagonists exploded into action, they moved fast, their limbs blurred, the Master seemed to move slowly, calmly, without hurry, yet he ran rings round them. Where they kicked, he span, they punched he was gone, yet his hand passed across a face softly without harm, a deft sweep of an arm would send one into another, he had all the time in the world. This was my first live exposure to the Chinese internal arts, I had read about them, but this was real, this was great and I was hooked. I joined the Thetford Wu Shu Club under that Master, Ted Bird and thrived on it.
As my training progressed and I showed some ability (read ’put in more practice’) I was invited to the student section of the central training school in Dunstable, there we would be coached by the Grand-master, Chee Soo. The price of missing these sessions was driven home to me on one practice night when a fellow student with whom I shared a friendly rivalry, returned from a session I had been unable to attend. We had shared many hard battles without clear victory being established, In one session he had been transformed from being my equal in sparring; to someone I could not even touch. My kicks were intercepted half way, my hand strikes never landed and not a single technique of my fiendishly contrived combinations got through. Astonished and somewhat demoralised, I questioned my now superior and very pleased training buddy as to how this dramatic improvement was accomplished, generously he shared the secret and at the next session we were back at it hard as ever and even in skill once more.
Perhaps what was so surprising about Chee Soo was his ability to do so little and achieve so much. While senior level master’s flailed away, looking as cumbersome and uncoordinated as they made their own students seem, he stood comparatively still, a twist here, a shift of weight there, occasionally a step. His arms appeared magnetic, wherever you aimed, whatever devious angle or cunning combination you conceived, there they were sliding past you sending you into nothing, or a partner, trapping you without gripping, and yet you could not escape, or sometimes seizing you with a paralysing grip and an accompanying grin. This truly was mastery of ‘stillness in motion’.
To put this into perspective, as Master Grade teachers we had all acquired the ability to deal with up to five assailants in mass attacks, whether they were unarmed or armed with a variety of Chinese weapons we would spin in and out, throwing, tripping, locking and controlling, all without harming or being harmed, if you were hit in these tests you failed. So to see people with this level of skill handled like novices, made to look inept and inexperienced was somewhat awe inspiring, to be directly on the receiving end humbling.
Chee Soo could judge distance with the precision of a micrometer, timing to perfection, furthermore he understood and could exploit every angle or change of alignment with uncanny precision. This was the stuff he clearly enjoyed, even when well past retirement age.
Yet the other side to this was his encyclopaedic knowledge of how movement healed, how breath, intention and posture could affect the state of your body, or someone else’s. He happily modified the traditional postures of Tai Chi forms to make them significantly more beneficial to health, differences that you can feel physically and energetically.
Grand master Chee Soo, gave me a fantastic foundation in the Chinese internal arts. Thanks to his knowledge, tireless work and generosity over the 18 years I ‘Took from him’ I was inspired to continue my studies for a further 18, with other great teachers. Through constant research and practice, I have learned to see the connections between the martial arts and the therapeutic, the spiritual and the practical. I have observed that the gentlest of activities can be of tremendous benefit to those with reduced health, and yet those same movements can become vigorous and challenging, demanding the skill and stamina of an Olympic gymnast. Yet the combination of passive and active phases of the Chinese internal arts can also become a catalyst in the search for peace of mind, strong focus and balance in the fast paced world of today. Based upon Daoist precepts, stretching back through the millennia, they inevitably lead one to ponder the nature of life and our place within it, and almost as inevitably to appreciate the true nature of ourselves.
I am proud to be able to pass on this legacy.
Grandmaster Clifford Chee Soo (1919 – 1994) presided over the International Wu Shu Association, Chinese Cultural Arts Association and International Taoist Arts Society until his demise in 1994. He was taught by Chan Kam Lee, a dealer in precious stones and gatekeeper of the Lee family martial and health arts from 1934 until his death in 1953.
Keith Roost studied under Chee Soo from 1976 to 1994, receiving his Masters degree in 1986 from the IWSA. Keith is a senior level (30 years +) instructor with the Tai Chi Union of Great Britain, and Technical head of the Golden Rooster School (UK) and Institute (Portugal) he has recently returned to England after teaching Tai Chi Chuan and Daoist Qigong (pronounced Chee Gong) at Coimbra University Hospital and other institutions of higher education in Portugal.
The Dao of Living Now ... Are the Chinese Internal Arts a pathway to living in conscious awareness in the 21st Century
Keith Roost & Henry S Dean in Tui Shou
One of the marvellous benefits of Chinese Internal Arts is the development of conscious awareness, Indeed it is impossible to practise these arts effectively without developing awareness. The whole point of the Internal Arts is developing your self and your skills consciously. By becoming aware of our body and how we use it, we increase our ability to tune in to the subtle messages that are always there, reflecting our physical discomfort, stemming from unsympathetic body mechanics, or more simply poor posture. Whether you realise it or not your posture reflects your current psychological state:-
The Last of these posturers is the one, which at least in Traditional Chinese Medicine, is the most beneficial state for us. When we are open our energy can flow more clearly, Our breathing improves, and we live more fully. It is in the state of 'openess' that we are more receptive to ourselves, our surroundings, and to those we are interacting with, we literally become more conscious of life.
Our internal arts practice teaches us to become aware of ourselves, observing our posture is one of the keys to a richer life.
Gloria dean teaching WuDang Tai Chi Chuan
I heard Gloria’s voice, and instantly knew she was restraining amusement, not quite managing to sound like a chiding schoolmistress “did you just use a rude word?” the offending student, towering over her meekly replied that he had but “as it was in Portuguese I did not think you would notice” very gentle admonishment delivered, it was back to training for all amidst quiet laughter.
What our unfortunate miscreant was expressing (not quite as privately as he hoped) was his understandable frustration at not achieving perfection in a movement of the form, its not that he lacks talent, or indeed effort and concentration, just that Tai Chi is like that, your intellectual grasp of a technique is only part of the journey. If you have been practising Tai Chi for any length of time you will have experienced similar frustration (if not apply for saint hood it will surely be granted) of course you may well have been more successful at keeping it to yourself.
Sometimes it seems as though ones practice is defined by difficulty and frustration, sometimes all goes well. As teachers we are accustomed to judging the level of temporary discouragement our students experience, before intervening in some beneficial manner. We are also often surprised to observe the form of expression such sentiment takes, pulling faces, stamping feet, or throwing things are more obvious expressions of self recrimination and dissatisfaction, thankfully less common than a muttered expletive but very disturbing for fellow students.
Wherever you may be in your personal study, soaring the heights of new understanding, or stranded in the doldrums of “Why can’t I get this” contain your frustration, be cool. There is in Daoism, a tradition that laughter is often the best response to the efforts of man to transcend his own nature.
Focus your Yi, (your intention) upon the simple act of practice, keep your Hsin (Heart/mind) concentrated gently upon your goal, and continue along your path with tranquillity.
Share your thoughts amidst some laughter after class; you may be surprised at how many share your feelings, and perhaps, the door will open a touch wider.
Keith Roost applies a powerful Chin Na technique.
In my early training in the 1970’s it was customary for us to spar vigorously in the last half hour of the three hour lesson, we sparred with everyone, we fought hands only, feet only, with throws and chin na only and with all combinations of the above. Sometime we would don full contact equipment and go all out for a few minutes, as seniors we would spar against multiple unarmed and armed opponents, learning to use the weapons we seized according to their inherent characteristics, and to use positioning and tactics to good effect.. Without doubt it was tough, but it was also fun and we could not get enough of it.
Over time we progressed our ability grew along with our experience, and we began to see how much our seniors had preserved us when sparing with them. As your ability to exploit an opening, a momentary loss of balance or awareness increased, so did your understanding of the consequences. Perhaps it was then that you really understood the reason s for the many hours of practising the standard techniques, the endless committed attacks where you allowed a partner to execute a technique against someone (you) delivering a proper attack, on target and without trying to spoil the counter. I know that it was this practice, frequently painful, and often daunting, that truly enhanced my understanding of techniques. Being able to feel the difference between my classmates, and my teachers, when it was wrong, and what it felt like when it was right, opened the door to understanding the difference between enthusiastic but effortful technique and skilled effortless internal technique.
It is a fact that so many skills in the Internal arts, are really only acquired when you truly give yourself up to sincere practice according to the principles. This is true whether we are talking about the ability to relax our mental processes and our body, or execute high-level techniques at full speed without harm. I welcomed the opportunity to provide a focussed, committed attack against my teachers and seniors, to overcome the fear, not resist, or hold back, but commit fully, that is the way that I experienced the full potential and the many minute adjustments throughout the technique and subsequently gained the skill for myself. I hope you will also train sincerely and gain much.
All good things.
Keith has studied the Chinese Internal arts for over 40 years. He lives in England and Portugal with artist, designer and writer Gloria Dean and teaches in Portugal and the UK.