Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Final sessions and return

The final three sessions of the training were push hands. What a lot I learned! And what a lot of fun. During the nine hours of pushing hands I partnered with a lot of different people, and learned from them all. To this point I had only pushed hands with my own students. It was a delight to play with those who were much more skilled than I. Overall, I discovered that I have a very strong root, but that my skill level is quite low. I learned that however rooted and centered I felt, Master Jesse (and his senior students —now my friends) could always destabilize me. So much room for improvement! Master Jesse taught us a number of techniques that helped keep our own center, while finding our partner's center. Listening to your own body as well as your partner's is quite fun.
Reflecting on the planes on the way home I realize that during the week of intensive training I learned so much that will take a good while to digest and integrate into my practice. I hope I can embody my Chen family name and "fly like a bird."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A great honor

Yesterday was an important one. In the morning Master Jesse taught us the Five Animal Frolics qigong forms, explaining the health benefits of each form. This will prove invaluable. In the evening Dr Yibin Wang did a marvelous session on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) giving us some helpful warm up advice for before taiji, explained important energy points for self healing, told us about the health benefits of food (and had brought samples for us to try). She finished with an excellent demonstration of massage (using Master Jesse as a model). It was truly a lot of fun and Dr. Wang packed an amazing amount into the time. All in all a fine day's learning of qigong!

Of most significance yesterday is that I became a formal disciple of Master Jesse and was given the great honor of Chen family taiji lineage, thirteenth generation.

Chen family style taiji is the earliest traditional taiji and can be traced to Chen Wangting in the seventeenth century. The tradition was passed through the family. In time taiji was taught to others outside the family (Yang Luchan, who modified Chen style to produce Yang style, W'u Yuxiang, Quan You, and Sun Lutang who also modified the style). The traditional Chen style was passed down to the eleventh generation and the "Four Buddha Warrior Attendents" Chen Xiowang, Zhu Tiancai, Chen Zhenglei, and Wang Xian. These four have been responsible for a much wider dissemination of Chen style in China and around the world. Master Jesse Tsao is a disciple of Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei.

It is into this noble tradition of taiji that yesterday I was accepted.

At Master Jesse's home the simple but beautiful ceremony was witnessed by my good friend Larry Ashley and Michael, one of the attendees at the training. I received a lineage name Chen Cheng Fei. Chen is the family name. Cheng means "sincerity" and is the name given to all thirteenth generation lineage holders. Fei is the name Master Jesse gave me and means "fly like a bird."

I take this as a great honor and will do my best to faithfully pass on the heritage of traditional Chen taiji to my students.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Soft but note easy!

I have read a number of books on taiji (and websites are legion) that suggest taiji is an easy option for those who don't want to do "real" sport — that is anything that requires effort. This is because taiji is "soft."

After my first forays into taiji I discovered aching limbs, sore knees and a body that just didn't want to want to do what looked "easy" and "soft." In taiji "soft" does not equate with "easy" and "without effort." Though a great master makes taiji forms look "easy," the "ease" comes from many thousands of hours of taiji play. The "soft" refer to taiji as an "internal" martial art, more to do with the movement of qi — energy — than with simple muscular strength. And that requires much.

All by way of saying that this week's intensive taiji training has been hard work! Session five we continued to work on the Chen Old Frame. By the end of the three and a half hour morning session, my body was asking for rest! Master Jesse told us that after the hard work of Chen style, when we play with Yang, Sun or Wu styles, they feel very easy.

A nice Mexican meal followed by dipping my toes in the ocean was a nice tonic. I was unable to get to the sixth session. As it happens, an early night was quite welcome. My body is still on east coast time, though beginning to adjust to west coast time.

Today we have two qigong sessions. Looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

More than the eye can see

The morning of day three of the training. Physical check up? This has been quite demanding! When I returned after last night's session I was pretty sore — arms, shoulders mostly, not so much legs. I think this is because I have spent a great deal of time working on legs, particularly in the low forms. We have done much fa jin that includes the arms in a different way to slow forms Today I have a major headache and feel a buy " wobbly." Trust it will go away as the morning progresses. (Still jetlag perhaps? Or perhaps negative energy working out?)

Morning sessions are three and a half hours. Evening sessions are two and a half. So, quite a lot of energy expenditure.

Session Two : we continued to look at the thirteen postures, seeing how they are an integral part of the opening form in Chen, Yang, Sun, and Wu styles. This felt very much like an etymology of taiji. Master Jesse explained clearly and demonstrated the Jin of each posture. What fascinated me, and will be very good for my practice and teaching is that each form can be an application of more than one Jin. So, opening form (where arms are led by wrists to shoulder height, and then slowly down) can be pengjin, or anjin. Peng if the intent is to extend, ward off, an if the idea is the pushing control. Though the opening form is different in each taiji style, Jesse demonstrated each with a partner. Overall, this gave deeper meaning to each posture.

Intention is paramount. Each posture and movement is not merely a flowing, gentle and aesthetically pleasing form. Yi leads qi. The mind leads the energy and is expressed in the thirteen postures. In the slow play, the outward action may look the same, but the inner intent differs. There is more than the eye can see.

Sessions three and four: Chen style Old Frame. Master Jesse is teaching us the 75 postures of the Chen style first routine. This is proving invaluable as this has become my main routine. Building on the first two sessions Jesse is teaching the form with examples of the thirteen Jin and martial arts applications. This has meant much fa jin (an explosive energy release that involves the whole body).

Highlights? Having Master Jesse make corrections to my posture, a little here a little there, but what a difference it makes. Improving footwork. Seeing other taiji players and being able to measure my own progress. Daily taiji play is a solitary affair. It is nice to be with others. Master Jesse makes class fun.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Shi San Shi

Session one. Today Master Jesse covered the thirteen essential forms of taiji. The eight energy applications: primary — Peng, Ji, Lu, An; secondary —Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kao. And the five footworks :Jinbu, Tuibu, Zuogu, Youpan, and Zhongding. These are the basic hand and foot movements that are the basis of all taiji in all styles. Whether players know this or not every taiji posture and form is one or a combination of these thirteen. Very basic but very deep. Though in English it is usual to translate each of these Chinese ideas into one word, that is inadequate, and actually misleading. Each contains a depth of understanding and practice.

Homework was to find other words and expressions that convey the meaning of the form.

Peng : ward off, expand, brace, curved barrier, listening, buffer zone ... Stop, resist, bounce away

Ji : press, squeeze, extend, concentrated force ... Toothpaste, conflate, wedge, funneling

Lu : roll back, waist turning, deflect, redirect, neutralize, avert, fend off ... Non-resitance

An : push, seal, control, cover, drive away, constrain with pressure ... Confine

Cai : pluck, sudden pull, snap ... Twist down

Lie : split, surprise, shake, jerk out ... Scythe

Zhou : elbow strike, short distance, twisting force

Kao : body bump, explosive, smash

Jinbu : step forward, advance, pursue

Tuibu : step back, withdraw, back off, avoid, retreat

Zuogu : rotate step to approach left side, drawing near the left

Youpan : rotate step to approach right side, drawing near the right

Zhongding : maintain center position, settling at the center to stay balanced. Maintain equilibrium, stepping with poise and calmness

All good stuff. Downside, feeling jet lagged! But looking forward to more. Much of the first session was a demystifying of taiji. Getting rid of "false magic."

Monday, July 23, 2012


Another airport. Average but very expensive food. Few minutes to reflect.

My taiji practice ... Still a beginner but with 1100+ hours have some sense that my form is beginning to take shape. Recently been very pleased with low form (Snake Creeps Down). All of a sudden it clicked and I am able to get all the way down. Was feeling very good about this earlier today, then did something to my back! Pride comes before a fall.

Expectations? To deepen my somatic awareness. To correct mistakes that have crept into my form. To connect with a good bunch of taiji players. To have a new impetus for the classes that begin again in August. Another step toward enlightenment. If all that happens will be very pleased.

Pilgrimage of sorts

Sittting at Ithaca airport witing for security to open. I'm on my way to San Diego for a week's taiji training with Master Jesses Tsao. I intend to record the things I learn and insights gained. Stay tuned!