Archive for the Taijiquan Category

3 Essential Tai Chi Reads

Posted in Martial Arts, Products, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2015 by chencenter

Just the other day, I had a student come up to me and ask if there is “Anything I can do or read to help me improve” [in Tai Chi].  Immediately, three books shot to mind (out of several dozen that I’ve read over the years).  The first book that I think anyone with an interest in the art of Taijiquan should acquire and read (and definitely if you’re an instructor of Taijiquan) is Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain by Chungliang, Al-Huang. [click on the image for Amazon.Com link]
Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain

Embrace Tiger Chungliang

Published in November of 1973, it is probably safe to say that North American hadn’t had its influx of Taijiquan influence, however it was this author and masterful teacher, Chungliang, Al-Huang that helped me to form my vision of what I wanted (my personal) Taijiquan to become.  There are many parts to Taijiquan and although everyone will see them differently, Master Al beautifully illustrates what they can grow into, and how you can use the power of Taijiquan to create boundless energy and freedom.

Pros: This book is highly under-rated. Because of this, people are selling used copies for only pennies.

Cons: Many people are interested only in the combative potential of martial arts (even Taijiquan) and will thus will get very little joy from this movement/energy/spirit-based book.

Taijiquan: The Art of Nurturing, The Science of Power

Taijiquan Book Yang YangPublished in 2008 by one of my early teachers, Master Yang Yang, this book is  more detailed on the science and study of Taijiquan as a martial art and system of mind-body therapy.  If you are looking for a clear explanation how and why Taijiquan practice can benefit you, look no further! Very thorough and well-written, Master Yang Yang gives you the foundation for not only Taijiquan practice but gives you principles that can benefit all martial artists.

Pros: This book encompasses everything that is great in a martial art book. Very easy-to-read, and explains what is (for some) a difficult, and deep subject to breech.  As an indoor disciple to the late Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang, and someone who stands strong to his Master’s teachings, you can feel and can’t help but to get swept up in the feeling that this could have easily been written by the founder of Hunyuan Taijiquan (GM Feng) himself.

Cons: Available only in Hardback, this book comes with a higher price tag of approximately $30-40

Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method, vol. 1: Theory

Chen Style Practical Method BookThis book, written by Hong Junsheng was translated and published by his disciple, and my primary teacher, Master Chen Zhonghua.  Hong Junsheng, as many of us know, was the most senior disciple of Chen Fake; one of the true legends of all Taijiquan.  Hong spent his lifetime dedicated to the cultivation and perfection of his master’s art, faithfully practicing and passing on his master’s teaching.  If any book can be called a “Masterpiece,” this one should!

Pros: The one and only book diving right to the source of Practical Method theory, a useful resource for any martial artist (particularly those that study Taijiquan).  Although the book can be costly ($39.99 at PracticalMethod.Com), you can get a digital copy for only $20.

Cons: In order to obtain a copy of this book, you’ll have to spend $39.99, which makes this the most expensive book on the list (and it’s not even hardback). Although you’ll be reading a well-translated volume, the read can be a bit tedious; more cerebral in parts.  There are parts of the book that are quite poetic and without a bit of clarification here and there (most likely from Master Chen’s articles, videos and workshops) you might misunderstand certain concepts. Needless-to-say, this book is certainly for all serious practitioners of Taijiquan (particularly the Practical Method).

Well there are certainly some other books that I could add to the list, but these are my TOP 3.  Do you agree with my list?

WHAT BOOKS WOULD MAKE YOUR LIST?

LET US KNOW!

MICHAEL JOYCE

CHENCENTER.COM

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10 Questions with Ronnie Yee

Posted in 10 Questions, Internal Arts, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2015 by chencenter

Ronnie Yee copy

Ronnie Yee is a martial artist from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada but now lives in Vancouver, BC.  He is a student of Chen Zhonghua and a dedicated Chen Style Practical Method practitioner and teacher.  I (Michael Joyce) first met him at Hunyuan World, a gathering that Master Chen set-up at the end of our extensive training course.  During these few days, I got to meet, speak and get-to-know my taiji brother Ronnie.  One thing was very true – this guy knew his stuff! Those of us training towards our certification were even more impressed with Ronnie’s explanation of complex taijiquan concepts and his willingness to share his knowledge with others.  Nowadays, with social media and advances in communication, it’s even easier to reach out to him.  For anyone interested in learning more about Mr. Yee, please comment on this interview or email us directly at CombativeCorner@gmail.com and we’ll make sure he gets it.  Now,… for our Special World Taiji Day Interview!

10 QUESTIONS

What brought you to the martial arts?

I grew up in the 70-80s in a small prairie Canadian city. At that time, there was very little social media influence and no martial arts schools. My sole exposure were television and movies; the martial arts stars: David Caradine, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan and my favorite, Bruce Lee are what got me hooked from a young age. The city’s first martial arts school, a traditional kung fu school, opened in 1979; I learnt of its existence in 1980 and I joined right away. From that moment on, the practice of kung fu consumed my life. As time went on, more styles of martial arts began to emerge in the city such as: Tae Kwon do, Karate, Judo, Aikido and Muay Thai, to name a few. I became friends with students in the other martial arts and trained with them all. My momentum in the martial arts exceeded many of my classmates and my ego was in full-bloom. I was a case of “big fish, small pond”. In 1986, everything changed, I met Master Chen and was humbled to the core. Master Chen was the embodiment of the true martial artist and as much as I feared him, he became one of my greatest mentors and helped me to become the martial artist that I am today. 

What were the first few years like studying under Master Chen?

I was a juvenile sixteen-year-old when I first met Master Chen. At the time, Master Chen was teaching ESL in my high-school and he decided to start-up a wushu/taiji class after school. I was excited to attend his first class and show-off because, as far as I knew, I was the best! Needless to say, I was quickly proven wrong. The very first demo of the very first class, Master Chen used me in a demo and made an example out of me. My ego collapsed and I became his student. Master Chen had a very strict regime but it didn’t begin with taiji. He wanted all of his students to have a foundation of wushu basics and the discipline that came with it. His training was gruelling. As students we had no structure, no discipline, no natural talent and no maturity. We were never fast enough, never low enough, never flexible enough, and never up to his standards. After roughly 3-months of wushu basics, the classroom size shrunk from 15 students down to only 3. It wasn’t until he knew that we were devoted to the arts that he began teaching taiji. Master Chen always wanted perfection from his students; it was very frustrating for all of us but probably most frustrating for him!

You have a great skill at teaching and expressing your ideas. How did you excel as a teacher in your own right? 

After having studied 2 years intensively under master Chen, he left Regina in pursuit for his career in teaching at a secondary school in Edmonton. I was thrust into the role of instructor to my classmates. I had to validate my theories into practical reality regardless of the skill level I was at for that time. This way of teaching has always been an ongoing, evolving process throughout my life. If one thinks they have found the absolute ultimate truth, then they have stopped learning and stagnate. That is why my philosophy is based on being humble and learning from everyone regardless of their skill level. I put my ego on check, and take all criticisms seriously and try to better myself. Even the most diehard beginner that walks into your class for the first time can teach the instructor something of great value. 

Master Chen’s way of teaching using many concepts and analogies to describe one paticular move definitely had significant influence on me. To look at one thing from numerous angles so that a student can understand. Presently I come to the realization that I am very critical of myself. Watching recent videos I see so many mistakes and weaknesses. I see these same errors in many others. I have become obsessed with finding ways to express the way some particular move or application is being performed. Also I have been to workshops or classes with other instructors in other systems. You watch for ways that work well for people and you borrow teaching methods. It’s important to know how each individual student learns best and suit the teaching to them. 

Out of all that you’ve studied, is there something you enjoy most (form, weapon, etc)? 

 If there is one thing that I enjoy most, it would be the validation when an application is successful. 

What does Taijiquan mean to you?

As a martial art, Taijiquan challenges practitioners both intellectually and physically. For me, Taijiquan is the balance between good body mechanics, physics and health. 

How important is “Qi” or understanding of “Qi” to you

I believe Qi is the energy of all things. I do not understand how Qi relates the the practical application of martial arts but I do recognize Qi’s benefit to the spirit. 

Besides Master Chen, have there been other mentors/influences that have greatly impacted your evolution as a martial artist?

In 91′ I went to China for a summer and trained under Hong’s disciple, Zhang Lian En. He influenced my physical mechanics by improving my grounding and strength. Around this time, Joseph (Master Chen) and I were introduced to Liu Chengde (another one of Hong’s disciples). Liu Chengde taught me the soft side of chen taiji which helped balanced the art. 

Over the years I have sustained my share of injuries and have endured many pains in the body. In the Early 2000s I met a woman named Amelia Itcush who taught me the Mitzvah technique. In simple words, the Mitzvah technique is the base of body alignment through natural movements. Following 3 years of consistent Mitzvah practice, all my pains disipated and I began to incorporated the techniques into my taiji. 

In recent years I have had my eyes opened to real world effectiveness of the Filipino Martial arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I like to study these two arts specifically because it helps me think more critically of taiji applications.

When you train yourself, how do you arrange your session? (Do you add other non-taijiquan exercises, endurance or resistance training, etc)

Presently I mostly focus on single drills, positive and negative circles and specific movements of both yilu and paochui (the 2 main hand forms in the Chen Practical Method). I rarely practice the forms from beginning-to-end as I prefer to isolate each movement within the form and deconstruct its application. I also do modified pole shaking exercises, modified chin-ups, and modified pushups, that simulate taiji mechanics. As stated in the previous question, since the early 2000s the Mitzvah technique has become a part of my everyday motions. 

Do you feel that Taijiquan will sustain your interest/passion forever, or do you wish to supplement your training with other systems of study?

Taiji as a martail art is so beautiful, detailed and complex that it could capture my attention for multiple lifetimes. I love it for the counter-intuitive approach to body mechanics. Although I plan to practice taiji for the rest of my life, it would be unwise to be blind to the strengths of other martial arts. One of my character flaws is procrastination but I do plan to learn more from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the Filipino Martial Arts.

When I first met you, I was amazed at how multi-talented you are (magician, wushu, rope dart, massage therapy). Do you still engage in all of these activities and do you have any other things that take up your day these days? What’s new in the life of Mr. Ronnie Yee?

My girlfriend of 6 years and I recently moved to Vancouver. I still teach taiji, still do massage therapy and am still very passionate about magic. I personally think the study of magic has helped my taiji. Puts me into the mindset of drilling every nuance to perfection. I dabble in many things but those are the main pieces of my life. 

BONUS QUESTION

If you could meet one martial artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

It’s a tie between Hong Junsheng and Rickson Gracie. They have both been or are true legends of their craft. Hong Junsheng obviously because he is my grandmaster and is the one that shaped the art for how my teachers taught and how I practice. I briefly met him in 1991. But unfortunately did not get to experience his ability. So that is why I would like to meet him again. To learn taiji but very importantly to feel his skill. 

Rickson Gracie is undeniably a legend in the world of BJJ. To me high level BJJ appears to have a lot of the same physics as high level taiji. I would love to experience the crossover between taiji and BJJ at this level. 

FIN.

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Bring Tai Chi into the New Year

Posted in OFFERS, Products, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , on December 30, 2014 by chencenter

Hunyuan Tai Chi DVDThe art of Taijiquan is a big part of my life.  It has helped me to eradicate my low back pain.  It has helped me become a relaxed and patient jiu-jitsu practitioner.  Taijiquan has certainly helped me to manage stress, and channel these stressors effectively.  In 2010, I remastered my dvd on the Hunyuan 24-Posture form of the late, Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang.

Being December 30th… just a short time till our New Year begins… I’d like to offer this dvd for a low price (U.S. only).  If you are interested, please click on the above image.

(or search “Hunyuan dvd” on Ebay.Com)

Enjoy,

Coach Michael Joyce

ChenCenter.Com

This is Push Hands

Posted in Internal Arts, Taijiquan, Training with tags , , , , , on December 28, 2014 by Combative Corner

For the first time, there is a complete video on YouTube regarding a martial, practical form of Push Hands (they way it was meant to be*).  Of course the late, great Erle Montaigue has dvds, and video clips on this extraordinary method, however now, his son Eli has put the movements together in one video whereby we can observe the progression and gain insight on how and why certain things are done.

Obviously many taijiquan practitioners are going to differ on this, but this important video is for those students and instructors who wish to impart an approach that more closely resembles the realities of combat, while at the same time testing your balance, posture, technique, etc.

For Eli’s in-depth article on Push Hands, click: Push Hands: Learn to Fight, not Push

* This summary was written by and reflects the opinion of taijiquan instructor Michael Joyce.

Can Modern Students Rise To The Challenge?

Posted in Taijiquan, Training with tags , , , , , , , on March 14, 2014 by Combative Corner

David Gaffney SingaporeI saw the new year in in Singapore, a place with a great martial arts vibe. Whenever I’m there I usually take the chance to drop into the Tong Lian martial arts book and equipment store in Bras Basah. While browsing through some of the books in the store I came across the following quotation from the famous Taiwanese internal martial artist Wang Shujin: “Follow the rules honestly: do not doubt, do not cheat. All these rules come from our ancestors. I did not invent them; I am simply transmitting them”. It made me think of Ma Hong, a well-known student of Chen Zhaokui, who passed away earlier this month. He kept copious notes of his years training with Chen Zhaokui, which he documented in a number of books. These were a great reference tool that we turned to in writing our own books. Like Wang Shujin, Ma was adamant that his role was to pass on the knowledge that had been passed down to him.

In the last few years we have lost some of the greatest of the older generation of Taijiquan masters – Feng Zhiqiang, Wang Peisheng, Ma Yeuhliang, Yang Wenhu to name a few. These teachers all learned first hand from an older generation in the slow, painstaking way that characterises traditional Taijiquan.

Can we say that Taijiquan is in such good hands today? How many teachers stress the realities of real Taijiquan and how many students are prepared to  go down the traditional route. Traditional Taijiquan has many sayings that point to this complexity:  “Don’t go outside the gate for ten years”….”Three years small success, five years medium success, ten years great success”…..”One days practice, one days skill”…..”Treat 10 years as if it were one day” etc etc…

David Gaffney ChinaI was in Tiantan park in 1998 killing a few days before we traveled to Henan. We walked through the park in the early morning looking at the different Taijiquan and Qigong players. What I was looking for really was any interesting Chen Taijiquan, but what arrested my attention was an old Wu style practitioner. At that time there were lots of groups, some being quite large. Zhang Baosheng was training with one student. As we watched it was immediately obvious that this was high quality Taijiquan. When he finished his routine he came over to chat and we arranged to do some training with him over the next few days.

Zhang was a student of the aforementioned Wang Peisheng, who he described as simply the “best Taijiquan teacher in the world”! Zhang believed that there was too much emphasis upon different styles of Taijiquan. To him what was important was understanding the correct method and then being able to apply it practically. For example talking of the merits of different styles pushing hands he simply concluded that “It doesn’t matter who is doing what style, the one who is still standing up at the end is doing it correctly”. Zhang described the tortuous early years of training fundamentals with his own teacher – everyday for the first few years having to do several hours standing before beginning any form training. At seventy-three years old he was still very strong doing one legged squats while holding the other leg above his head – as a warm up.

Close to Zhang’s patch in the park a large group trained in one of the modern simplified forms of Taijiquan. With accompanying music and many of the students chatting casually to each other as the leader set the pace, it was little more than a nice social way to begin the day. His one student, on the other hand was serious and disciplined. When we commented on this Zhang said that unfortunately that was the way it was now – “young people in China are not interested in the old ways”. While he felt an obligation to pass on what he himself had been taught, he sadly concluded that the authentic Taijiquan was in real danger of becoming extinct. When we we visited him again in 2005 or 2006 he was in the same place – still training and still looking great. Now in his eighties, and now alone – Zhang’s sole student had left to find work.
Contrast the above approach with Jet Li’s new Taiji Zen project, a high-profile modern example of Taijiquan in the “internet age”. Prospective learners are wooed with the possibility of achieving a 9th Duan grade in as little as 3 years. And to validate their “achievement” at each level they receive a certificate signed by Jet Li himself! Forget the fact that Jet Li is a wushu guy who did a little Taiji on the side, the difference in approach could hardly be more striking. But sadly it seems that this is what people want today. I’ve touched on this phenomena in previous blogs with the explosion of short and simplified Taijiquan forms and fast track instructor courses. If that’s what people want that’s what they want, but don’t anyone kid themselves that they will get any of the often mentioned benefits of Taijiquan. The traditional art is a lifetime process of constant introspective refinement. Traditional skills are hard earned. An individual is said to have “good gongfu”, whether it be in Taijiquan or any other pursuit, when it is clear to a skilled observer that they have put three elements into their discipline: The first is that they have studied for an extended period of time; the second is that they have worked very hard or “eaten bitter”; and the third is that they have exhibited yongxin – literally “using their heart” – more than just working hard, they have given it their full, deep and unwavering concentration.
Wang ShujinI’ll leave the last word on whether this fast track type of Taijiquan can give results anything like the old ways to Wang Shujin. Talking about the merits of slowly and meticulously training the fundamentals of Taijiquan (in this case the likelihood of gaining high skills without seriously training standing): “You must practice Post Standing (Zhan Zhuang). No matter which Chinese martial art you study, Post Standing is considered fundamental practice. In ancient times, students had to practice standing for one or two years before they were allowed to learn any forms. That is why each generation produced outstanding martial artists. Society and people’s way of thinking have changed, making adapting to these requirements difficult…If you skip the fundamentals, your form will remain undeveloped and you will be ridiculed by experts”.
David Gaffney
Talking Chen with David Gaffney
Originally titled: “Can Modern Students Cope with Traditional Methods?”
Reposted with Permission.
Original posting Jan. 6, 2014

Why Practice Tai Chi? By: Sifu Herb Parran

Posted in Health, Internal Arts, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2014 by Combative Corner

Herb Parran Tai Chi 2Tai Chi is practiced by ten percent of the world’s population and is vastly becoming the most popular exercise in the world. Tai Chi is a valuable tool for improving health in a corporate setting. Companies see that Tai Chi improves productivity by helping employees to be happy, relaxed, and creative.

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese art, in the beginning it was purely used as a martial art. It was also a guarded family treasure passed down from generation to generation. Now many all over the world practice Tai Chi for health, relaxation, stress reduction and a state of well-being. There are many styles of Tai Chi, the most practiced is the Yang style. Other styles include Chen, Sun, Wu and Wu Hao, however the principles are the most important. Tai Chi is an internal art practiced slowly to gain balance, endurance and flexibility. Its form is a continuing motion from one posture to another.

Herb Parran Tai Chi 3Tai Chi differs from most arts because people of all ages can practice it. Many people with disabilities and illnesses practice Tai Chi as therapy. No one is restricted from practicing Tai Chi, and yet Tai Chi can benefit the fittest athletes, just as it benefits elderly arthritis sufferers. Tai Chi has no belt or ranking system because the benefits of Tai Chi can be felt and not seen.

By practicing Tai Chi’s relaxed movements every day, we allow the muscles to release tension on the bones. Tai Chi recognizes that the body always wants to be in most healthy posture possible.
Guidelines about fall prevention in older people from the American Geriatrics Society recommend tai chi balance puts less stress on the body throughout the day and you will find that you have more energy as Tai Chi practice improves your balance. According to a balance study conducted by Harvard and Yale University, Tai Chi practitioners fall and injure themselves only half as much as those practicing other balance training. For aging Americans, the simple act of falling can be fatal; it is the sixth largest cause of death for older Americans.

Other Benefits of Tai Chi:
• Boosts the immune system
• Slows aging process
• Lowers high blood pressure
• Increases breathing capacity
• Reduces asthmatic issues
• Alleviate stress responses & stress level
• Aids senior citizens to improve mobility
• Improves balance & coordination

Sifu Herb Parran
314-397-2560
www.TraditionalTaiji.com

Tai Chi Will Make You Soft

Posted in Internal Arts, Martial Arts, Taijiquan, Training with tags , , , , , , , on January 9, 2014 by chencenter

Michael Joyce Tai Chi TaijiThe title is a bit provocative, and carries with it a double meaning. One being the ‘softness’ that is implied when someone normally speaks about Tai Chi (i.e. yin).  The other (viewpoint) being ‘softness’ as it is implied by many non-taijiers – especially those practitioners that put emphasis on physical strength.

What may infuriate many taiji players is that, in my opinion, both are true.

What many teachers will have you believe is that internal energy will improve internal health and thus, foster physical (external) strength.

Speaking from personal experience, I’ve noticed tremendous gains (over the past year) in fluidity, balance, coordination and power when supplementing my taiji training with jiu-jitsu, inversions (yoga), and various body-weight exercise (movnat).  These supplemental methods of exercise provided me with a mirror that showed several imperfections, the two most notable being; strength and control.  With these reflections, it allowed me to see that my so-called “perfect practice” was quite “less-than perfect.”

The late Grandmaster Feng said:

“If you are physically strong but can also work on internal strength, then that is the real strength.”

(Tai Chi Magazine, vol. 25, no.5)

Michael Joyce tai chi 2If you exercise using the tai chi forms, a strong standing practice and occasionally engage in pushing hands – how can you develop sufficient strength?  Why wouldn’t tai chi practitioners supplement their training with other methods if by doing so it: enhances your feeling of progress, improves confidence and body image, keeps the mind engaged & growing with new skills and movement patterns, aids in the management of pain and in the reduction of common injuries?

[We welcome your comments! Please let us know what you think.]

Focus

Many practitioners refuse to change focus, adhering to the classic myth of “A Jack of all trades, a master of none.”   Many studies have shown this to not be true.  On the contrary, those that dabble in different activities show more creativity, broaden their field of understanding and are generally less likely to become bored and/or unhappy with their life/practice.  Doesn’t this play into what GM Feng meant by “striving to reach the Big Tao?”

Tradition

Many choose not to supplement their art because they fear it will ruin the ‘purity’ of their practice.  If the masters of the past reached their level of skill because they did the form “X”-number of times, then surely I too will excel – right?  Well, we know this is not true either!  Taijiquan masters like Feng Zhiqiang and Hong Junsheng (teachers of Chen Zhonghua) are just a couple who have gained this ‘high skill.’  They had the genetics, strength and psychology to excel.  If you are missing just one thing, you are a thousands miles off course.  Could you practice and reach their level?  Would that be a futile chase?  Would you even want to try?  Not to be pessimistic, only realistic.  Remember though, it’s choice that pulls us through.  If we convince ourselves that ‘mastery’ is bleak, it’s easily done.  But if we take it as a challenge and proceed to take the strides with the pitfalls, and continue to progress towards our personal goals we are 100% assured of success. Agreed?

Another teacher of mine, Master Yang Yang said this at our Blowing Rock, North Carolina workshop (2004):

(Ultimately) Find what works for you & change… adapt.  Only stay true to the principles (of Taijiquan) while doing so.

The New Year

Michael Joyce tai chi 2

To start of the New Year, I would like to urge everyone, especially those people who diligently plug away at one style; internal or external, to add movement, more movement, different movement.  I know it’s cliché, but Life is about balance.  If you consistently practice tai chi form (without any supplemental strength training), I can guarantee that your overall fitness will diminish.  If you train in gymnastics, weight-lifting, wresting, parkour / freerunning, etc, you will likely wear your body down and thus, be more prone to illness and/or injury.  My advice to them would be to adopt a supplemental program that deals with internal development, i.e. yoga, qigong, transcendental meditation… maybe even some taijiquan.

I end with Chen Xin’s Song of Meaning:

With your entire being, develop your Life.

Health & Happiness Everyone!

Coach Michael Joyce

RELATED ARTICLE: BRING MOVEMENT INTO THE NEW YEAR

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