Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summer Training with Taijiquan Master, Dr. Jesse Tsao

I was honored to join the summer taiji training with Master Jesse and a couple dozen wonderful folk from many places in the USA and beyond.
But how to distill such a wonderful and intense week into a short blog? With difficulty! As they say with any good story; "You had to be there!"
The week was themed around the idea of neigong—internal energy cultivation—and Master Jesse taught us in three areas: neigong in a new short form—mini compact taiji, based on the Chen system; neigong in each of the long forms in the main family traditions of Chen, Yang, Sun and Wu; and neigong in push hands play.
Much of the week focussed on the core concepts of taiji that can be applied in any style. As Jesse teaches, this is like learning a formula rather than memorizing the answer to a math question. The formula can be applied in many situations. Yet, like some math formulas, the core concepts of taiji, though easily stated, take much practice for a player to become proficient. Simply stated the core concepts are: 1) settle down before any movement (feet, hips, shoulders), 2) practice the "figure eight" from heel to opposite toes, to same foot heel, to opposite toes, and 3) become aware of the connections between the three "rings of energy," feet and hands, knees and elbows, hips and shoulders. I used to think that patting the head and rubbing the tummy at the same time was difficult, but this? There are so many layers of somatic complexity. Whatever the style of taiji practices, these essential ideas form the core. Jesse taught us the principles using the Chen compact mini routine, and we then applied them to other forms. During the week I had opportunity to apply the principles in the long forms of Chen, Yang and Wu, with some shorter work with Sun. Chen and Yang long forms are my alternate daily practice. Wu and Sun were new to me and I enjoyed their different energies. The fluidity and power observed in taiji masters derives from the internalization of these principles with their effect in every posture and transition. When you look at taiji and it seems less flowing, wooden (sticklike) and disjointed, it is because these principles have not yet been internalized.
The testing out of the principles comes not only in the forms but in partner work often translated into English as "push hands." Jesse taught us that "control" is a better understanding than "push," and that hands are a minor part of the play. Much more it is about rooting, settling, centering, controlling your self (knowing your self) and only then controlling your partner (knowing your partner). There is immense subtlety in push hands. The temptation is always to overcommit, lose the center, panic, win at all costs, and save face. I learned from Jesse that much is about the Ego  and Ego-attachments. We win by losing. We invest in loss. This week I did a great deal of investment! (Not to mention a fair few bruises from my friends who sometimes gripped too hard!)
All in all, a wonderful week of learning, and a great deal of fun. I returned home with so many new insights, and in this morning's practice I already see the benefits.
Many thanks to all participants from whom I learned a great deal, to Isabelle, Alain and Thomas who cared for me above and beyond the call, and most of all to my sifu master Jesse, a wonderful, compassionate and extraordinary teacher.

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