Archive for Tai Chi Chuan

10 Questions with Nasser Butt

Posted in 10 Questions, Internal Arts, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2018 by Combative Corner

What got you interested in the martial arts?

This is going to sound like a cliché but I got involved in Martial Arts after getting a good beating from a group of kids in my neighborhood!

The 70’s had ended and we were at the beginning of the 80’s. – racial incidents were very high. We were the only ‘mix’ family (Asian/Irish) of any colour living in my street at the time and I remember going to the park which was at the bottom of our road. As I entered the park to go play, I was attacked by a mob of white kids. I would’ve been around 12 or 13 years old at the time. Most of the kids were older teens and they made a mess of me and told me that the park wasn’t for my kind! I literally crawled back home as I couldn’t walk.

An Irish musician friend of my father’s took me under his wing after the incident and started to teach me Wing Chun above his music shop. That was my first foray into the martial arts world, until then I had no compulsion to have wanted to study them!

A few months later I returned to the park and took out one of the biggest kids who had attacked me, as per my instructions – no one ever chased me out of the park again!

What is the most important thing (you can think of) that you’ve learned from the study of martial arts?

Martial arts for myself, at least, have always been a study of the self – all the components lead inwards and are eventually expressed outwards! The real foe to conquer is the self – this requires a lifetime’s study and hard work, it’s not easy but then it was never meant to be!

However, I will point out one other thing – all martial arts are only as good as the practitioner!

There is no ‘super’ martial art which makes you invincible – no magical technique! When I see people comparing martial arts I often smile at the folly of such folk. All martial arts kick, punch, strike, throw etc., and are therefore made up of essentially the same components. Equally, all martial artists have two arms, two legs, a torso and head etc., so again, we have the same tools with which to work with (of course strength, size and speed etc. will vary, but I am speaking in general terms).

So, when I see a MMA practitioner take on a Taiji practitioner and win – I don’t see that as MMA being better then Taiji as most people will state. YouTube is full of such tripe as are the various martial arts forums!

No, that simply means that in that specific instant – the MMA practitioner understands and knows his art better then the Taiji practitioner, or any other arts you wish to ‘compare’!

So, any martial art is only as good as the understanding of the practitioner and his time and effort of study – period!

How did you come to teach martial arts and what made you drift towards your particular discipline?

I had stuck with Wing Chun since my childhood. It had worked for me and got me out of many scrapes. I stopped formally training with a school when I left for university. Although I continued to train alone, I couldn’t find a school that I wished to join. They were all commercial and I was used to training with only 3 other guys in the room!

I eventually found another Wing Chun instructor a few years after leaving university, he introduced me to Erle’s work whilst I was training Wing Chun with him… it began with the small San-sau. It made sense and the more I began reading and looking into Erle’s work and the internal arts, the more sense they made. It was an act, ultimately, by Erle, himself, as a person and teacher which made me finally switch towards the internal arts! (See Question 6).

I never had any plans of teaching martial arts full-time!

My background is in the sciences… it is what I had studied at college and university, and went onto work as a research scientist in Israel. However, I first started teaching one night a week after I began training with Erle Montaigue – whom I regard as my main teacher, though I have had others!

Erle always told us that if you teach, then teach for selfish reasons! At first when I heard this, I found it shocking and asked Erle to elaborate. He did.

He simply stated that the only real reason to teach is because you wish to learn and reinforce your learning, and teaching is the best way to do that. Students will ask you questions that you, yourself, may not even have thought about yet and teaching others will make you creative and think outside the box. It will make you innovate because no two persons understand and learn in the same way!

So, I began teaching for purely ‘selfish’ reasons. It was never about earning a living for me – I had other means for that!

I began teaching full-time in 2006 upon Erle’s request. At the end of 2005 Erle was in Leicestershire giving a workshop and we sat talking during the lunch break, as most of the folk had wandered off to eat. At the time I was working for one of the major international banks in Leicester. Erle simply turned around and said to me, “It’s time!”

I looked at him quizzically and he said, “I think you should teach full-time.”

I was in a state of shock!

I won’t go into too much of the detail here as much of the conversation we had that day is private but, Erle asked this of me on the Saturday and that night I went home and spoke to my wife. We had just had our third child and I was the only one working. My wife asked me if I thought I could do it? I replied that Erle believes I can! My wife simply said, if you believe that then you have my support. On the Sunday, when I returned to train with Erle, I simply looked at him and smiled and he gave me a big hug. I have a photograph which was taken a few seconds after that moment – Erle leaning over my shoulder and both of us grinning like the Cheshire cat!

I quit work at the start of 2006 and later received my Third Degree from Erle. I had also, already, been given the right to grade by Erle himself and he started referring some of his oversees students to me!

As a teacher, what is one piece of advice that you hope really sinks in with your students?

Do not be afraid of making mistakes! If you fear making mistakes then you’ll never be free to explore and if you do not explore then how will you ever discover, and if you do not discover then how will you ever learn and advance, and grow?

Mistakes are also tools of learning and can often teach us far greater lessons then those we get right! Once we stop being afraid of making mistakes and looking foolish, we are ready to learn freely. However, this is far easier said then done. The most difficult component is recognizing mistakes in one’s own practice and having the honesty and integrity to deal with them!

What advice do you have for teachers?

Like the student, do not be afraid to admit that you do not have all the answers! Do not BS your student if you don’t know – that is the sign of a bad teacher and practitioner and you will eventually be found out!

No one has all the answers and if you are asked a question that you do not know the answer too, then tell your student that you do not have the answer BUT you will go and find out! Then go and search for the answer – that way you will both learn and your student shall respect you even more!

You’ve been a long-time student and friend of the late Erle Montaigue. How did you first meet him?

I first met Erle in 1999, in Folkestone, England! I had already been studying his system for around a couple of years earlier with a local instructor.

I had emailed the WTBA sometime in 1997, enquiring about Erle’s videos which he had made for Paladin in the USA. Financially, times were difficult and I had figured that Sterling was far stronger against the US dollar and would therefore make my money go further. As much as I wanted to take more weekly lessons, it just wasn’t financially viable, so I had decided to buy some videos, which I hoped would help with my training.

I wasn’t really expecting much of a reply, at best I thought that some secretary would contact me and was therefore, surprised when Erle contacted me himself!

He asked about my training and who I was training with and why I wanted information on his US videos?

I explained my reasons and he simply replied, “Send me your address.”

I did as I was asked. A few days later, I had a knock on my apartment door. It was the postman with a package in his hand for me from Australia. When he told me that it was from Australia, I immediately replied that a mistake had been made since I didn’t know anyone in Australia and nor had I ordered anything from there!

The postie simply said, it’s your name and address on the package and handed it over. I took the package and it had a stamp from a place I couldn’t even pronounce! Anyhow, I opened it up and inside were a bunch of Erle’s videos with a small note:

“I hope these help. Kind regards E”

I panicked thinking that Erle had misunderstood, thinking I wanted to buy these videos (which I could not afford. I immediately emailed him saying he had misunderstood and that I could not pay him for the videos! The reply that came back floored me – in a good way!

I apologize here for the language… but this was Erle – he had simply replied:

“Who the f*ck has asked you for money? I am rich enough and if these videos help you grow then I’ll be richer still!”

I sat staring at my screen, for several minutes, dumbfounded! What kind of Master was this? Not only did he reply to his correspondence in person but carried no airs about him and wanted to help me learn at his own expense! What kind of man would do such a thing for a complete stranger thousands of miles away on another continent?

That was my first encounter with Erle Montaigue. An encounter that would change my life forever. I decided there and then that I would, one day, meet this man – if only just to say thank you in person. Whilst waiting for that time, I consumed every article he had written on his website!

In 1999, after several years absence, Erle finally decided to tour the UK again. I saved up my pennies and registered for the workshop.
I remember the day… the hall was full of people. Erle was surrounded by his instructors and students from around Europe and elsewhere. I waited and when the crowd thinned out a bit, I went up and tapped him on his shoulder as he was standing with his back to me. He turned around, looked at me and cocked his head slightly, smiled and said:

“You must be Nasser! Good to meet you mate…”

I stood there, mouth agape – How did he know?

“I was thinking about you on the flight across, wondering if you would make it?” He continued as if in response to the surprised look on my face.
This was one of Erle’s magic moments. Don’t ask me how he did it but I’d see him do it to others in the years to come!

I thanked him for the kindness he had shown me and he just gave me a big hug and an even bigger smile. The rest is history, as they say – maybe for another time. Suffice to say, I never looked back… Erle was the teacher and guide I had been looking for!

Are there any good stories you’d like to tell of you and Erle?

Oh, there are many stories I could tell but question 6 is my favourite… it’s the one that brought us together. The other time is far too emotional to go into detail – it was the time when I told him that I saw him as a ‘father’ – it ended with both of us in tears!

Erle was a practical joker. One summer camp as we all met up on the field, early in the morning, he began teaching a qigong and as he started he looked at me and winked. I immediately stopped… he had folk doing crazy things and stood back with a smirk on his face! There was no such qigong – he was just in one of his playful moods! However, it turned into an important lesson – far too often folk believe something just because a ‘master’ had said so. This was one of Erle’s ways of telling folk not to believe everything and to always question!

On another occasion, Erle demonstrated a kick to the groin on myself in Germany one year. Of course for those who do not know it – it is a trick! I pretended to do some Iron shirt qigong and then Erle kicked me several times in the ‘groin’. I stood there smiling – not even a flinch! A couple of years later we were in America and one of the local instructors gave me the wide berth. I couldn’t understand his behaviour. I asked my host if I had offended him in some manner and he simply replied: “He’s in awe of you – he’s seen you take kicks from Erle in the groin online!” I burst out laughing and explained it was a trick but we never told the person concerned – I was a ‘man of steel’!!!

What are your favorite things to train (ie. barehand forms, tui shou, applications, weapons, etc) and why?

I no longer make distinction between the various training methods!

For myself, the most important components of Taijiquan are ‘The Thirteen Dynamics’ commonly referred to as The Thirteen Postures. This, however, is a misnomer and I no longer use the term ‘posture’ as this, I believe, leads many people down the wrong path in their training!

The Thirteen Dynamics are the foundations of Taijiquan. The Masters of old have continually warned us to pay attention to them in songs and other texts:

“A mere thirteen dynamics is not a lot.
But however many there might be, if their standard is not maintained
and if the position of your waist and head top is misplaced, you will end up sighing with woe.”

Taiji is an art based upon movement. However, it is not simply moving for the sake of moving but, rather, ‘Moving With Awareness’ according to no less an authority than Yang Ban-hou – the only other Yang to inherit the title ‘Invincible’ after Yang Lu-ch’an himself!

These Dynamics are innate within us but difficult to recognize and achieve. Collectively, they teach us how to ‘move with awareness’ based upon the four terms: Perception, Realization, Activation and Action. Where moving = the activation of movement plus the act of moving, and awareness = the perception that something is plus the realization of what it is – moving with awareness.

Without understanding these terms we cannot move with awareness. In other words, we must be able to recognize the ‘source of movement’ and the ‘basis of awareness’ within ourselves before we can identify energies in others.

According to Yang Ban-hou:

“If there is activation and perception, there will be action and realization. If there is no activation or perception, there will be no action or realization. When activation is at its height, action is initiated. When perception is fully lucid, there is realization. Action and realization are the easy part. Activation and perception are tricky.

First, strive to move with awareness for yourself, grasping it within your own body, then naturally you will be able to spot it in the opponent. If on the other hand you try to find it in opponents first, you will probably never find it in yourself. You have to be able to understand this concept in order to be able to identify energies.”

Most people who do not train or study the Thirteen Dynamics with diligence will ultimately fail or have a poor understanding of their Taiji! It is usually these practitioners who will try to change the Taiji Form due to their own lack of ability and understanding! To put it simply – they are the ‘alphabet’ of Taijiquan, without which we cannot produce words, sentences or develop the skills with which to ‘read’ the art!

The concept of ‘No Mind’ boxing arises from a thorough understanding of these principles. For example, if we do not understand why P’eng is considered a Yin defence and Lu is considered a Yin attack, then we have no way of understanding how to connect to our opponent’s energy, on a subconscious level, thereby producing a ‘No Mind’ response.

So, regardless of what I’m training – Form, Empty Hands, Weapons, Tui Shou or any other martial drill – I’m always looking to identify the Dynamics, for that is all what these various methods are, a variation or combination of The Thirteen Dynamics.

In this way all training methods simply become one!

What’s one of the biggest martial arts myth(s) that you wish more people knew the truth of?

Whilst there are many obvious ones that will come to most peoples mind like, for example, no touch knockouts, I’m going to be a little controversial here and say the myth of lineages!

Whenever, I come across a discussion I see folk instantly bring lineage into the conversation and the authenticity of their line and as if this somehow places their knowledge and skill above others. Authenticity of the skill and knowledge of the master does not necessarily translate to knowledge skill, full-transmission and understanding to their students or off-spring!

A teacher should be looked upon with merit according to their own skill and understanding of the subject matter – Yes, of course their pedigree will and should matter – but one should not take their pedigree/lineage alone as a confirmation of their knowledge and skill or that they have received full-transmissions. The Yangs of old taught tens of thousands in their lifetimes, yet we only have a handful of their students who rose to the challenge to continue their art and in most cases these students were not necessarily their natural off-spring! Majority of their students fell by the wayside, or trained slackly, or left too soon to set themselves up as ‘masters’ – this is something which is confirmed in the historical documents which have survived.

Sadly, we also have ample examples in history where lineages have been bought or sold and do not necessarily represent skill or knowledge. Equally, after the cultural revolution, once the ‘bamboo curtain’ went up, many martial artists set themselves up in Taiwan, Hong Kong and in the West claiming ‘masterships’ or lineages of renowned families in China, when this simply wasn’t true. Some had only trained with them for a few months or even weeks and later claimed they had been disciples for a number of years!

Self-appointed masterships continue to this day and lineages can be bought with martial arts having become a multi-billion pound industry and business.

So, beware the myth of a lineage!

Besides teaching and practicing the martial arts, what does Nasser like to do in his spare time?

I love reading and watching movies, as well as writing! I love music and am a huge Pink Floyd fan!

I’m a comic book geek and have been since I was a kid. I’ve been editing my own martial arts magazine for almost two years now and it has been highly successful, picking up several awards to date. I’m a history geek too, and love to travel when I can, and the research scientist has never left me… I use the skills I learned and developed in that field to further my own training and understanding in other subject matters as well as life itself.

Bonus Question:
If you were a superhero and had one ability, what would it be and why?

Like the Batman – Deductive Reasoning!

I have always believed in logical reasoning and this has served me well throughout my life in solving problems, including Taiji. As the great Sherlock Holmes once stated: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth!”

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The Tai Chi Debate : MMA vs. Tai Chi

Posted in Discussion Question, Mixed Martial Arts, MMA, Self-Defense, Taijiquan, Training with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2017 by Combative Corner

Lately Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) has come under fire and is now (as if it hasn’t always been) labelled as “The Flowery Art” – one without much practicality or effectiveness in the ring or the streets.  As an avid listener to Joe Rogan’s Podcast, The JRE, I am often in agreement to many of the discussions.  In this recent episode (#962) with retired Navy Seal officer Jocko Willink, there was much that I was in disagreement with (see video clip below). There are several factors Joe (and many others) must understand…

First… the video that everyone is talking about! [warning: violent content]

The 3 Tenets

  • Any “fight” does not a “street fight” make
  • Whether a fighter wins or loses has more to do with his/her training over any “style” or “discipline”
  • The training of any effective fighter must be directed towards common street attacks and (hard-to-predict) changes in such things as: social and environmental cues, level of aggressiveness/intensity, and opportunities of “unfair play” (i.e. eye gouging, groin strikes, etc).

It should be obvious that martial arts (including Taijiquan) came from a more violent time and its movements were designed to protect, subdue or kill.  Over the years (some may argue) as we evolved into a more civilized society, we (in the Taijiquan world) re-directed our focus to health and wellness.

Who is going to argue, especially if you live in a non-violent area, that martial arts training is best (or more beneficial) if you train it for health? Therefore it comes down to the need (for survival) and/or personal preference.  Can you do both?  Absolutely.

We’ve all seen Tai Chi for health.

But what is Tai Chi for “the streets?”

Does it exist? And if so, what does it look like?

First off, while some people DO “Choose to believe that there are secrets/magic” (as Joe Rogan mentions), there are many experienced Tai Chi practitioners that understand that fighting works on the same plane of existence as everything else.  “Rooting” is not magic, nor is “directing ones Chi”…but I digress.

I don’t want to fall into the trap of saying “It all can be boiled down to 5 simple steps”… however, for the benefit of time simplicity and brevity, I want to make these points known – especially to those that don’t understand the (internal) martial arts.

Intent

  • You must have intent.  You must have intent to do damage.  This is the main thing that the traditional martial artists of Taijiquan will likely object to, because the singular practice of a combative form may (depending on the person) develop a propensity towards violence.  This quickly brings to mind a not-so-old saying that is grounded in truth- “What we think about, we bring about.”  The often peaceful intent of a Taijiquan brings a sense of inner calm, a harmonizing of mind and body and enhances the likelihood to resist the urge to make altercations physical.  This important point of “intention” training, and devising a “go or no-go” plan to initiate leaves a lot to think about on a personal level.

Hitting (Explosively)

  • You must have the ability to hit explosively…what we in the internal arts call “Fajin.” In order to do this, internal arts excel, because it is rooted in “sung,” the ability of the body to release energy from a soft, relaxed state.  This was what I believe Bruce Lee was talking about when he described the “Gongfu punch.” It’s less mechanical, like many strikes you see in Karate and Tae kwon do… it’s more elastic – applying a snapping, yet penetrating power.  Anyone with a high skill in fajin (and obviously finding an open line of attack) will easily dominate in a one-on-one encounter.  One key note on training is that structure is essential and one shouldn’t practice moving explosively without understanding and finding the proper structure from which to release the strike.  This is one of the main reasons that Taijiquan is performed and often seen as a “slow, ineffectual, flowery” art form.  Remember, learn structure and technique before you concentrate on “fighting.”

Multiple Attackers

  • Today’s street fight is seldom mano-a-mano.  If you are not sucker-punched or thrown off balance suddenly without you first knowing, I’d be surprised.  Going back to intent…part of our trying should be directed in fighting and maneuvering tactically in a multiple attacker situation.  Forms or katas should include practical movements and practitioners need to practice individual drills that replicate this type of environment and chaos.

Calm through Chaos

  • It’s a great label, but most of us will never “calm” in a street fight.  However, all arts (if we are to call them “martial” arts) should be pressure tested.  These pressure tests can and should be done quite safely at first with a steadily growing intensity.  If one only does forms and katas, there will never exist a true understanding of fight dynamics and your level of skill in dealing with them.  As our experience, confidence and skill level grows…the more likely we will be able to deal with adversity.  As in the “controversial” video (posted above), China should not be upset with the conclusion.  Clearly the taijiquan “master” was unfamiliar with dealing with chaos.  Personally, I’d choose Ren Guang Yi to represent the combatively-capable taijiquan fighter.

True Grit

  • Lastly, if one intends to survive a street fight (all luck aside), one needs grit.  “Grit” is the emotional and physical fortitude that presses on when confronted by an obstacle.  Grit is courage and resolve and without it.. you are frail and destined to lose.  Can some train grit?  In my opinion, yes.  I believe grit can be built with a combination of training using: violence-prevention drills, gradual pressure-testing of these drills, physical techniques, and sparring.  The experience that we accumulate will produce confidence (not blind faith), and confidence in ourselves will be transferable to ourselves on and off the streets.

Joe Rogan talking about MMA vs. Tai Chi

Ultimately, in regard to the martial arts we choose to study, we have to make up our own mind.  I’m more apt to say “Train wisely” over “Choose wisely.”  After this article, I hope you are.

LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

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Push Hands: Learn to Fight, Not Push

Posted in Internal Arts, Martial Arts, Self-Defense, Teaching Topic, Techniques, Training with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2014 by Combative Corner

Eli Montaigue Mountains Push Hands

By Eli Montaigue of WTBA ©2014

Push Hands, is probably one of the most misunderstood training methods in Taiji.  Most schools of taiji teach push hands for the sake of doing push hands, to beat other people at push hands.
Taiji is about learning how to defend yourself in a fight. Pushing is not fighting.  No one is going to come up to you in the street and try to push you over. They are going to punch your face in, then kick you while you’re down.

I know people who have been training in push hands for many many years, and they are very good at “push hands”. If I play push hands with them, we are of equal skill etc.
However, I have been taught to hit from push hands. With these same people, when I start to put in any kind of strikes, they have no idea what to do. Because they have only trained in how to push. They might for example push me a little off balance, which makes me react with a strike. Followed by “you can’t do that, we’re doing push hands!” This only applies to a beginner doing push hands. Of course they must do it in a certain way, to learn certain principles. But if two advanced Taiji practitioners are doing push hands? You can do what you want. You can stand there and kick me in the groin, or head but me in the face. If I cannot stop you? My push hands is not good.

Eli Push Hands 1

picture 1

Ok, so how and why do we train push hands?

First up, stance!
Most schools of Taiji teach Push Hands from the same stance as they would use in the Taiji form. See picture #1.
This is a big mistake! The large stances in the form, are there for 3 main reasons. 1, to build heat in the legs to help the flow of Qi. 2, to strengthen the legs. 3, to stretch the legs. It is for health and exercise, and is in no way meant to be used for fighting.

The big stance in push hands teaches us many bad habits.  My father Erle Montaigue, use to teach big the stance to beginners, then he would advance them onto the small stance later on.
This is how he was taught.
However, after years of teaching, he found that the big stance, although easier to learn, was teaching the student nothing but bad habits. The big stance gives you a false sense of balance. What use is it to be able to hold your balance in a big stance, when you can’t fight from a big stance. In a small stance, you are more
mobile, you can protect your groin and knees, and you are
training yourself to be able to fight from the stance you’re already in when walking down the street.
The only way to deliver force from a small stance, without losing balance, is to use the same muscles as you would to strike. Via twisting of the waist, compression and release of the spine.
Thus training your body how to strike with power.

Eli Push Hands 2

picture 2

In a big low stance, you will be more likely to be training your body in the best way to push.

There are no pushes or pulls in Taiji, as they do not have a place in self defence. Unless your opponent is standing on a cliff edge!
{See picture #2}
It’s like if you were doing 500 squats every day and
hoping it would make you a faster runner.
You have to train the muscles for the work you want them to do. When we hold a big stance, this causes us to get into a forward backward weight change.
The pusher comes forward, the receiver evades by sitting back. See picture #1 again.
What’s the first thing you learn in self defence?
When someone attacks you, don’t sit back! You are
putting yourself in a vulnerable position. See picture #2.
In a small stance, when we shift the weight, this causes us to evade to the side, maintaining our forward intent. This now changes the intent of the pushing, from you attack and I defend, to you attack and I defend by attacking! In every attack there is defence, and in every defence there is attack. Basic Yin and Yang. See picture #3 and #4. Notice the closer proximity of the players, and that in Lu #4, it is applied with an intention of sitting to the side, rather then sitting back as in Pic #1.
This means you can maintain forward intent, and truly evade the attack. Sitting back does not get you out of the way of an attack. The closer lateral evasion also puts you in a
position to re attack.
The mind set is most important in Push Hands. Even if you are doing a pushing movement, you should have the body structure and intent of striking.

Eli Push Hands 3

picture 3

Eli Push Hands 4

picture 4

Hard or soft?
Ok here is where a lot of people get things wrong. Ever heard the quote “Steel wrapped in cotton?”.
This means we should seem soft on the outside. It does not mean we do things in a soft manor.
Anyone who tells you that you can defend yourself without using any substantial force, has clearly never been put under pressure.
What we do however is to structure the body so, that we have to use very little strength to get great effect. This is what P’eng training is all about. We learn this first in single Push Hands.

For example, when I do Push Hands with a beginner, but someone with much bigger muscles than me, their arms will get sore before mine. To them it seems like I have really strong arms, not that I am all soft and jelly like. But in fact my muscles are not stronger, it’s just that I am structuring my body so that I only have to deal with half the pressure.

The pressure of the incoming push, should start soft for the student to learn. Too much pressure in the
beginning can cause the student to use bad technique. But be sure to increase this to as much pressure as you can develop, as someone attacking you is not going to do so lightly!
From the receiving part, well you should use as much pressure as you need to. As you get more advanced, this amount will get less, as you will learn to move your centre around the force coming in.
Very soft training has it’s place, this teaches us to “listen” with our hand.
But to have this as your only practice? Well that would be like learning to kick without being able stand on one leg.

When I was learning push hands, if I did something wrong, lost my balance, or opened my guard etc,
I did not get pushed over. I got punched in the side of the head! Or kicked in the groin!
Two advanced Push Hands players should look like they are having a fight, not like they are dancing.

Eli Push Hands 5

picture 5

Ok now onto attacks.
In the beginning, for students learning the ground work for Push Hands, we do some “pushing” attacks. This teaches the beginner how the hold up a strong guard, stay grounded and move their centre out of the way of the
incoming force.
Then the power speed and aggression of the attacks are increased gradually, till they are full real attacks. Any type of attack can be put into push hands, from a practical cross punch, (see picture #5) to a silly back spinning kick to the head. It is most important not to see Push Hands as a competition!
It is a training method. Yes you try your best to hit the other guy, so you could say that you are trying to beat him. However, what you have to do in your push hands, is to use all types of attacks, not just the ones you’re best at. For example, if I was competing, I would only use the techniques that I knew were best for me. But this would not give my partner a very rounded training.

I would never throw a back spinning kick in a competition, because I know it is not my forte.
Same with grappling, I would not use this if I wanted to beat the other guy.
But I will use them in training, so that my partner gets to train against them. I still throw the attack as best I can, trying to catch my partner out. But knowing that due to the fact that I am throwing an easily defeated attack, I will most likely be the one to get hit. I have tested this one many people. They only train practical attacks, then they get hit by the silly attacks, because they are not use to them.

Eli Push Hands 6

picture 6

In defence though it is different. You see if you attack, you are not reacting, you have made a conscious choice to attack. But if you are defending, you are reacting to
something your partner is doing. And when you are training your subconscious to react, you want to train it in the most practical way that will be best for protecting yourself in the street.

Your first reaction in a situation should be to strike.

It is the quickest and most likely way to protect yourself. See picture #6. In my opinion, other methods such as arm/wrist locks, sleeper holds etc, should only be used when you know you have control of the situation. Perhaps there is a drunk guy in the pub, you have some mates there, you know there’s no real danger. So you would try to take care of the guy without doing too much damage.
But someone breaks into your home and catches you off guard, you have to protect your family. So your first reaction should be to strike. This is why we practice our locks and holds from the attacking part of push hands.

So to consolidate, if you have been training in push hands for anymore than a year, but don’t feel comfortable when someone is throwing punches at you, then your push hands has not done its job.
As I said at the top, what use is a training method that only makes you good at doing the training method.

Eli Push Hands 001

Eli is a guest writer for the CombativeCorner.  If you enjoyed this article, please check out the others that he’s done for us.

10 Questions with Eli Montaique

Standing Three Circle Qigong

Special thanks to Francesca Galea, Leigh Evans, and Lars-Erik Olsen, for appearing in the pictures

Proof read by Francesca Galea
Written by Eli Montaigue 04/12/2014

© Eli Montaigue 2014

____________________________________________________________________


eli montaigue profileEli Montaigue is a man of many talents.  He’s the chief instructor of the World Taiji Boxing Association, inherited from his late, legendary father-teacher Erle Montaigue and also the lead singer of the band Powder Monkeys.  Originally from NSW, Australia he currently resides in London, England.  Intent on spreading quality martial art teaching, he conducts many workshops throughout the year, locally and internationally.  For more information, visit the WTBA website at www.taijiworld.com

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

The Principle of Gradualness

Posted in Martial Arts, Philosophy, Taijiquan, Teaching Topic, Training with tags , , , , , , on January 2, 2013 by Combative Corner

chen zhaopi

To fully understand Taijiquan it is necessary to understand its underlying philosophy. This is less of a problem for Chinese students as many of the ideas are omnipresent throughout  their everyday culture. Western students, on the other hand, need to explore aspects of Chinese thought that have permeated its culture for several thousand years. Failure to grasp its philosophy results in one training a superficial system that is lacking in real foundation. 18th generation exponent Chen Zhaopi believed that this does not just apply to Taijiquan, but that every action a person takes in everyday life should be in accord with a higher philosophy.

At Taijiquan’s core is the Taiji or Yin-Yang theory – the search for harmony and balance. In Daoist alchemy heaven, earth and humans are collectively known as the “Three Powers”. Humans thrive to the extent to which they conform to the forces that mould and nurture them. It was said that:

“Heaven is clear and calm; earth is stable and tranquil. Humans who reject these virtues perish, while those who adapt them thrive.”

Following its Daoist roots, Taijiquan asks practitioners to seek “ziran” or “the natural state”. To do this we must accept the principle of gradualness – the long journey towards mastery can only be achieved gradually. Looking at the normal development of a person from infancy to maturity – each day they may seem the same as the day before, but if all their basic needs are met a fully functioning adult eventually emerges.

Taijiquan places great importance on fulfilling basic requirements which must be trained daily over a long period of time. We all know the rules – suspend the head, store the chest, relax shoulders, sink elbows etc etc… This is the core of Taijiquan skill and no amount of new forms and novel applications can replace it. The following advice from Chen Xin’s “Illustrated Explanation of Chen Family Taijiquan”, reflects this inexhorable approach to developing real skill:

“The Taijiquan practitioner must apply ceaseless efforts to make his mind aware of each tiny transformation taking place in the postures…one must establish full mental control over every movement: from the way one’s hand commences a posture, to the area through which it passes, and up to its final resting place.”

This can only be achieved gradually!

David Gaffney

from his blog: Talking Chen Taijiquan qith David Gaffney

*pictured: Chen Zhaopi.  “Lean With Back”

Twitter Link CC bFB Facebook Link CC b

10 Questions with David-Dorian Ross

Posted in 10 Questions, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , on August 20, 2012 by Combative Corner


The Combative Corner is pleased to present to you a man that shouldn’t need any introduction. If you’re a martial artist, you’ve certainly seen his dvd (likely alongside the yoga videos of Rodney Yee).  Truth be told, he’s been spreading the joy of tai chi for many years and nowadays, thanks to the many social media platforms, his wisdom, positive energy and wonderful tai chi can be seen and felt the world over. 

For more information on Mr. Ross, please visit his website by clicking the image above.  For the answers to the much-anticipated questions, please continue to read.  Enjoy!

How did you initially get interested in Taijiquan?
I got into Taijiquan by accident. I was initially looking for a way to learn how to meditate, and I really sucked at traditional sitting techniques. After failing miserably at zazen and some other even more “beginner” methods, I heard about “moving meditation” and decided to give it a try. I have to confess that the idea of Taijiquan really appealed to my whole Kwai Chang Kane/Bruce Lee/Kung fu fantasy (yes I grew up in the 60’s & 70’s). I was completely unprepared for the experience. I took a class from Sifu Kuo Lien Ying, the man who brought Guang Ping taiji to the US. In my first class, I had a sudden spontaneous opening of all my meridians. It lasted probably all of 60 seconds, but it was enough to completely change my life from that moment on. The rest is history, as they say…
As a long-time teacher & promoter of Taiji, what are some of the changes you’ve seen?
The main thing, I think, is how much T’ai Chi has grown in popularity and availability. When I first started teaching T’ai Chi, it was definitely a little-known and niche exercise. I used to compete in Karate tournaments all across the country, and so over and over people would come up and ask me what I was demonstrating – because although they had heard of T’ai Chi, they had never seen it. Now it has found its way into the mainstream so much so that Jack Black raves about it on late night, and Keanu Reeves is making a movie about it. There are a lot more teachers here in the US – more Americans have access to it. And I think that’s amazing.
In playing Tai Chi for the first time, what’s most important for the student to understand?
This changes every time I teach a class. Everything is the most important thing – because T’ai Chi itself changes every time you look at it from a different angle. Years ago, I had a yoga teacher who would always introduce a position by saying, “This is the most important asana you’ll ever learn.” Then the very next position he would again say, “Now THIS is the most important asana you’ll ever learn.” Teaching taijiquan is kinda like that for me.  But if I had to pick just one thing, I think it would be this: don’t take yourself too seriously. Have fun. Enjoy T’ai Chi- play it, don’t work it to death. Taijiquan is a technology for finding, restoring and maintaining balance, harmony, bliss and authenticity. Being overly serious and significant leads away from those things, not towards them. Every time I meet a taiji teacher or practitioner who has to exert how much better they are at taiji, or find fault with the way another student is doing it – I feel sad that they’ve forgotten this most important point. Lighten up, people!

Out of all the locations that you’ve performed Taijiquan, name 3 of your top spots and why (this might be a thinker!)
Top three? Hmmmm…. in reverse order: #3 is up in the mountains in Oregon, in the middle of a blizzard. I was so bundled up in snow gear that I could hardly move, and the snow was coming down so thick that I couldn’t see past my hand. But the white-out experience was so surreal that it felt like I was doing taiji in some other dimension. Far out, Man! #2 was in the Beijing Sports Arena when I competed in the 1st World Wushu Championships in 1991. A stadium filled with spectators from all over China and a panel of Taiji master judges. Wow! It was a once in a lifetime experience. (drum roll please) #1 was at Esalen, taking a T’ai Chi class from Al Huang. He is such a lighthearted spirit. We were on the pool deck, overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean, and at one point he stops and says, “You know, I have done T’ai Chi with all the luminaries (of the Human Potential movement) on this deck. Alan Watts, Joseph Campbell, Abraham Maslow – they all did taiji with me here. ” I felt like was swimming in the river of history.
Besides another martial artist, name of your biggest influences
I’d have to say that aside from my father – who introduced me to the Human Potential movement back in the early 70’s – my biggest influence is probably Joseph Campbell. Campbell, the author of The Hero’s Journey and the person who popularized the phrase “follow your bliss,” helped me understand the real power behind the study of taijiquan. We are all on a journey of life – to find our way to the Soul, or “authentic inner self.” But where do you find the map and compass for that journey? What are the rules for successfully managing the voyage? And how do you prepare for the dangers or recover from the disasters of the trip? T’ai Chi is the perfect training for our Hero’s Journey. T’ai Chi is a classic example of what Campbell would call a ritual – a formalized set of actions that immerse us in the “myth” we are living, and bring us closer to our Soul.
What is the largest obstacle for you in terms of being a successful taijiquan teacher (or promoter, if different)?
Believe it or not, the largest obstacle turns out to be the taiji community itself. Like almost any group devoted to their art, or their philosophy or their leaders – taiji people have a tendency to be iconoclastic. You know the old joke: how many taiji teachers does it take to change a light bulb? Ten – one to change the bulb, and nine to stand around a say, “Well, you COULD do it that way, but in OUR school we do it this way…” I read a lot of blog posts and FB conversations, and while I love intellectual discourse and a healthy debate, I think it is self-defeating how much wrong-making I see. Come on, people – lighten up! At the end of the day, the main effect our internal bickering has is to drive people away from getting into taiji as beginners. I think if I were a beginner these days and I started reading the FB discussion groups, I’d be thinking – “OK these guys are whacked! I’d rather do Zumba – much less violence!”
Who is your favorite martial artist (living or dead) and why?
Bruce Lee, without a doubt! Why? Because he was a total hipster. He was like the quintessential hipster. What passes for hipster-ism today – why Bruce had more soul in his one-inch punch than modern hipsters have in their whole collective body. Bruce didn’t try to be hip – he was just authentic, and that is hippest thing a cat can do.
What are some of your tips on starting & invigorating a Tai Chi Community?
I have main pieces of advice I give to teachers trying to jump-start their community. First, continually organize extra-curricular activities. Arrange trips, flash mobs, or field trips to other martial arts schools. Put on a movie night, and let the students bring their kids. The second tip I have is to bring in guest speakers and teachers on a regular basis. I know a lot of “traditional” teachers who have a cow about exposing their students to some other teacher or school.  I say, “Oh shut up.” We should be focused on the experiences that delight and benefit the students, not somehow put our own selves on a pedestal. Your students will appreciate the education, respect you more for it – and typically become even more loyal than before.

What’s a funny Tai Chi experience that you’ve had? (You’ve probably had one or two from people who haven’t seen tai chi before)
I could be influenced here by my 4-year old daughter, who thinks that farting is the funniest thing EVER… but in fact one of my funniest taiji stories has to do with gas. One Sunday morning many years ago, I went up to the campus of my old university to play some taiji. An older Chinese gentleman wandered by and stopped to watch. He said, “I really like your taiji! Can I practice with you?” I said of course and he said, “Do you know the 48?” I said yes, and so we stood side by side and started the routine together. Somewhere around the 4th movement, I heard a pretty loud… musical note? I couldn’t help it- I glanced over at him.  He was just blissfully looking straight ahead, continuing with his motion as though nothing had just happened. I went back to focusing on my own moves. and then it happened again. For the next nine or ten minutes, my companion provided a real symphony of sounds to go along with our T’ai Chi. He never changed expression or missed a beat. When we were done, he simply smiled a big smile and said thanks for the T’ai Chi – and walked off into the trees…
What’s one or two of your personal goals within the next 5 years (this can be anything!)
Well, I just turned 55 and I’m ready to settle into the next phase of my career and body of work.  I’m turning my attention to doing a lot more writing. I just published my   first book on the iTunes library, using the new technology to create multi-media experiences as both learning tools and entertainment. You can expect to see me publishing at least ten new books in the next five years.  I’ve also started writing a regular advice blog on my website daviddorianross.com, using my t’ai chi/life coaching blend called Invincible Living. That’s been really exciting, and I look forward to doing a lot more with that. With regards to my T’ai Chi, I would like to contribute to making taiji more hip. I’d like to firmly implant taijiquan and taijicao into American culture, in a niche called “if you want to be hip, you’ve got to be doing T’ai Chi!” LOL – just part of my philosophy that taiji is supposed to be fun. It’s meant to be played, not worked.

Wisdom of the Masters | Taijiquan

Posted in 10 Questions, Day's Lesson, Martial Arts, Philosophy, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2012 by Combative Corner

Erle Montaigue
How ‘intense’ should Taijiquan be?
…Sure, Taijiquan has the above aspects (e.i. soft, calm, peaceful) simply because the body must be relaxed, or as the Chinese put it, in a state of sung, but for the most part, Taiji is a very violent martial art. In fact, I always tell people when they are looking for a Taiji class, to look for violence in that class. If it is not there in the advanced classes, then leave that class.

On Taiji ‘Doldrums’
…Once you know that it is the Taijiquan alone that is healing you, you will then practice every day no matter how great you feel as you will realise that it is this simple set of movements that is causing you to be in this great area of health and well-being.

Full 10-Question Interview : Click Here

Master Hai Yang
On teaching the internal arts.
Focus on details. I always tell my students: there are only two type of teaching in the martial art field. One is good teaching and the other one is bad teaching. The difference between them lies on the depth of understanding the details of each movement. Our ancestors created these arts with detailed thinking, researching and testing. Focusing on details of each movements will help us to be able to follow their path of practice.

Full 10-Question Interview : Click Here

Chen Huixian
What is your favorite aspect of teaching others Taijiquan?
My favorite aspect is letting people know more about Chen style Taijiquan. That it is not just for health, but that it is also an effective and realistic martial art. Many people in the west do not know what “Tai Chi” really is and where it came from. They don’t know it can be fun for people my age and younger and I like breaking those misconceptions. I also like watching my students’ leg muscles burn as they learn how to practice properly. Then they start to understand what gong fu is.


For many people, Taijiquan and the concept of Qi is still “mysterious.” How do you address your student’s questions regarding the energy in Taijiquan?
Taijiquan, and Chen style in particular requires balance, both internal and external, mind and body. If you only read books and use your mind to think too much about Qi without physically practicing, you can’t experience this “feeling” of Qi energy moving through your body. That’s not balanced and it’s not Taiji. Likewise, if you only practice your physical skills without using your mind, that’s not Taiji either. So when you practice, you have to balance your mental intent with you breathing and movements. Only then you can start to feel your Qi moving in your body. The more you practice, the stronger and more noticeable this feeling becomes. I always tell my students that Chen Taijiquan has no shortcuts. You need to practice correctly, practice often, and work hard. And don’t think too much about Qi. It will come it time. If you want to feel your Qi faster, practice more.

Full 10-Question Interview : Click Here

Eli Montaigue

What are some of your favorite forms or exercises to practice and why?

My favorite form would be the Yang Lu Chan Tai Chi form – For it’s “stoner qualities!” It gives the best feeling of building power in my body, and switching off the mind – getting high off the Qi.  It to me is the most complete form, I could do just that form everyday and get what I need out of it.  I’ve felt the most interesting things happen to me in that form, and seen great things in other as well.
Push Hands also.  I feel push hands has taught me more than anything else about the fighting side of things, and it’s s a great full body work-out as well.

Your father imparted many things to you over the years, what sticks out most in your mind?

To not take things so seriously.  Make fun of yourself.  Never think yourself better than anyone else.  How to love, how to hug, even to those you don’t even know.  To show love to them and care.

Full 10-Question Interview : Click Here


Yang, Jwing-Ming
What is your primary teaching message?
Art takes a lot of time and the right mind to truly appreciate and enjoy. Many things we do in our everyday lives and careers can be considered very complex and beautiful forms of art. Whether it is martial arts, music, writing, painting, engineering, speaking a language, healing and helping people, playing sports, playing chess, or whatever we concentrate on and dedicate ourselves to, the development and true feeling of the breadth of each art-form can only be felt when practiced diligently, with discipline, with humility, and with the right intentions. Without these things, the art you practice will always be only on the surface. You should continue searching deeper and deeper into your practice. Keep finding resources and people to learn from and help lead you. Don’t get stuck in the same spot. What you will discover is so rewarding. Keep your cup empty and you will always see the beautiful horizon ahead. If your cup is full, then there will be too many clouds obstructing your view. I began training martial arts because I wanted to fight, but from that time until now, after more than 50 years of practice, it has evolved into something so much more.


What has been the hardest obstacle in teaching?
The hardest obstacle today is finding committed students. It is not easy to find a student who is able and willing to sacrifice or compromise things such as their job, families, or social lives to sincerely dedicate to training. Kung Fu has been downgraded to a hobby or sport. Some might even view it as a luxury in today’s society. Additionally, it is not easy to find a student who has the will, patience, endurance, perseverance, and morality required to train to a meaningful level. Due to the exaggeration of martial arts in the media today, just about all students have fantasies about how good of a martial artist they can be in a short period of time. However, any deep art takes a lot of time and patience (Gongfu) to reach an accomplished or exceptional level….

Full 10-Question Interview : Click Here


Glenn Hairston
What do you think is the best way to bring people into the study of Tai Chi Chuan?
To actually be “That”, which we claim Tai Chi has to offer.


Is it best to separate Tai Chi for Health and Tai Chi for Combat?
There is only one Tai Chi; to ignore the Martial is to limit the Health benefits. When you visualize applications during solo practice the body makes subtle adjustments. With the idea of encountering an opposing force the entire body alignment is changed causing everything to work harder. It’s the difference between just standing and standing with the knowledge that someone is going push you backward. Just the knowledge that you will be pushed is enough for you body to make subtle adjustments in its structure in preparation of the incoming force. The mind makes adjustments as well. These ongoing adjustments are what over time promote health by strengthening and toning the muscles, increasing blood and oxygen circulation, improving mental focus and more.

Full 10-Question Interview : Click Here

Chen Zhonghua
For someone who is just starting out in Taijiquan, what do you recommend for them to concentrate on?
Learn the rules and regulations of the art. Don’t try to make them up on your own.

Full 10-Question Interview : Click Here


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