|The Chinese Internal Arts
|*** this issue has been archived off ***
|( only selected articles remain)
Graduates (and teachers) of the Taijiquan Advanced course relaxed after their demonstrations at the end of the three-year course (on 12 October 2002).
On the whole our students are progressing quite nicely in their quest to learn Taijiquan and acquire Internal Power. However, it is not an easy task and it takes time and dedication to understand, in the body, how to move and generate power. The understanding can come only from experience; intellectual understanding counts for very little. This experience can come only through practice: solo practice - that usually means Form practice, and partner practice - that usually means Pushing Hands. Through solo practice we learn what Internal Power is and through Pushing Hands we learn how to use it. Pushing Hands provides a very effective feedback with which to check our progress and use as input into our solo practice. Through Pushing Hands we can correct our Form. But practising Pushing Hands is a learning experience in itself, not just an adjunct to the Form. When we encounter difficulty in Pushing Hands, say our sinking is deficient, we can go to back to our solo practice to correct it. Pushing Hands can help our Form and the Form can help our Pushing Hands.
How to Practise Pushing Hands
The quality of our practice affects how we progress. However, the understanding of how to practise Pushing Hands really comes after we understand what Internal Power is. This is one of those chicken-and-egg situations - after all, we practice Pushing Hands in order to understand Internal Power! That means we (I mean You) have to take some things on trust until our understanding enables us to verify it for ourselves.
Pushing Hands is a very versatile exercise that can take many forms, both competitive and co-operative. Students usually focus on the competitive part - after all, trying out Internal Power on someone who is co-operating doesn't seem much use! This is one place where you should take it on trust that eventually you will be able to test your Pushing Hands on uncooperative partner but that to start with you want to co-operate with each other. The reason for this is that otherwise both participants would resort to using strength and speed and that might be fun but would be of no use for development of Internal Power. Form practice is used to develop strength, Pushing Hands practise is used to develop non-strength qualities, such as 'listening', 'sticking', 'following', neutralising' and similar others. As in solo practice, no strength should be used and practice should be slow and with concentration.
In the first instance, a Pushing Hands pattern is learnt and should be practised with no force whatever. After a period of such practice, both the listening and the sticking abilities will increase. This is all that is really necessary because as our body becomes 'heavier' through the Form practice, it will naturally impact on and change the Pushing Hands practice. But not everyone can take this kind of practice regime! Usually students wish to be more active (been there, done that!). So usually after some time, a force is gradually introduced into Pushing Hands. The determining factor at all times should be whether the use of force provokes the other partner to use obvious muscular effort to either absorb or neutralise. If it does, less force should be used so that it can be handled effortlessly. First, each partner should use a small amount of force and only at the beginning of each pushing movement, using no force when their partner neutralises (redirects the force away from the centre). This helps with absorbing force. Later, the duration of the force can be increased so that it is present during the neutralising phase, but still allowing their partner to redirect it easily. This helps with neutralising force. As their skill grows, the push (or pull) can be correspondingly firmer and eventually even full force can be used.
Equally important to what actions should be done during Pushing Hands is what we should pay attention to as far as sensations and state of mind is concerned. Unless we are teaching someone, we should not concern ourselves with how our partner is doing. We can tell them if we want them to use less or more force and should listen to their requests but that's all. Especially we shouldn't offer any helpful advice! Everyone needs time to notice what they are doing and figure out what to do about it. It's bad enough that I interfere (from time to time) with that process, they don't need anyone else burden them with additional advice, too. What we should do instead is to pay attention to our root, dantian and general kinaesthetic feeling during different phases of each movement. We should watch for signs of tension or effort, both physical and mental.
If you have any questions, just ponder on them quietly during long winter evenings.
Pulling Nine Oxen Tails
Blue Dragon Extending its Claw
During his last visit, Master Chen produced a number of calligraphy paintings and left several with us for sale. Together with each calligraphy will come a picture of Master Chen in creative flow (see enclosed photos). If you are interested, get in touch with Eva.
Chen Yingjun taught the Chen Guan Dao form in Bracknell on 2 - 4 August 2002. There were fourteen of us who gathered to learn it. I was the only woman between all these warriors. We all managed to learn the whole form over the weekend, though not all will remember it. John Henry practised very hard and knew it well enough to demonstrate the form during the CIAA demonstration in October. Well done, John.
I thought I would share my experience with running a workshop in a 'hostile' environment with a large audience. It may help new teachers when planning a similar event.
John Radcliffe Medical School in Oxford organised a day on Complementary Therapies focusing on Acupuncture, Alexander Technique, Chiropractic, Homeopathy, Hypnotherapy, Herbal Medicine, Meditation, Shiatsu and Taiji.
I was invited with regard to our work with the Battle Hospital where we have introduced balance and Taiji and Qigong exercises in their Elderly Care Unit. I was to do a practical session after a lecture on the research into the benefits of Complementary Therapies and especially balance and Taiji.
Fortunately, I discussed my workshop with David (my son, who happens to be doctor and knows a thing or two how medical students think) who correctly forecast that the students would not be particularly interested (short attention span, too much alcohol in bloodstream,...) unless I made my presentation dramatic.
I was in a big hall on a stage and had between 100 to 120 students filing in laughing, talking and generally being noisy. It was difficult even to get their attention so that I could start my presentation. When I clapped to get their attention, some of them also clapped and laughed. This is what I mean by 'hostile' environment. The students were not hostile at all; they were just not very interested and attended only because they were expected to. I started with gentle exercises of Taiji (the flowing sequence) and though some of them started to pay attention to the co-ordination and the flow of the movements, there were still some who were talking, shoving each other and laughing. It looked like it was going to be an uphill struggle - clearly a more dramatic approach was needed. So I invited two most disruptive boys on the stage and asked them & everyone to do Zhan Zhuang, the standing pose to build up connection and root. The boys' posture was quite bad, so I corrected them and explained that if they carried on like this they would end up with a painful back and would need a back operation. I then asked these boys to push me in my usual bow stance and (of course) they could not. Everyone started to pay a little more attention to what I had to say. As I was on the right track, I thought that more dramatics were in order. I thanked the boys and explained that I would like someone really strong to come and push me. I had their attention now. Everyone turned to a tall, strong looking guy. He came on the stage and though he tried quite hard, could not push me. I explained the partner exercises regarding balance, we often practice in our beginners' classes and did it with him, asking him to be fast and use strength if he wants to. Again he tried his best but could not push me whereas when my turn came, I had no problem in pushing him off balance. He was a karate guy and genuinely interested in what I did and amazed how easily I could uproot him. By now the audience was quite transformed; you could hear a pin drop. I then carried on my presentation with no problem - and when we did partner exercises, the karate guy came onto the stage and asked to work with me. At the end I received a standing ovation! I was on a high for quite a few hours afterwards.
Dr Gerry Bodeker, Oxford Medical School, and Chair of Global Initiative for Traditional Systems of Health observed the session and immediately invited me to come next year again. He was also intrigued enough to say that he would start Taiji himself in the local classes with Emma Westlake and Phil Muil.
Few days afterwards I received the following letter from Angela Davis, a Senior Lecturer from the Oxford Brookes University, who helped to organise the Complementary Therapies Day.
Thank you very much indeed for your involvement in the Study Day on 11th October. The students evaluated the experiential session very well and wanted more of them!! Your session was definitely the highlight of the day. When students were having a hand massage in the afternoon I was able to question them gently and you won them over at the point of not being able to push you over. There were dead impressed!! We intend to run a similar day next year and I am hoping to get a one-hour slot for Tai Chi. It would be great if you could be involved again.
I am getting quite dizzy again - I should probably lie down for a while! Anyway, I don't know what people have against medical students. They are just like little lambs.