Archive for Tai Chi Chuan

10 Questions with Eli Montaigue

Posted in 10 Questions, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2012 by Combative Corner

What was it like as a youngster growing up with a father so well-versed in martial arts?

Well when I was younger, it was always cool knowing my Dad could kicks anyone’s ass kind of thin.  It was great also because I was home-schooled, and Dad did a lot of his classes from home, so he was always around.  There was of course a lot of play fighting etc, though from as far back as I remember whenever we’d be wrestling, he’d be getting me to strike in ST9 etc, so of course I was to small to hurt him, so I got a lot of Dim-Mak practice.  It was when I was 14 I started taking the training seriously, 7am every morning for 2 hours, a class with Dad.  Girls were the only thing that ever made me late!  Like father like son!
As I started getting better at the fighting arts, I became his main training partner, he called me Kato (Pink Panther), as I would always attack him in the house, either with a punch or a heap of questions.
I started at 14 with him having to push me to train, then by 16 he was having to hide!  I was so into it, and wanted to be as good as him.

When and how did the drive to become a martial art teacher start and/or evolve?

I guess ever since I started enjoying the training I figured I’d start teaching one day.
When I was 16 I started attending all of Dad’s workshops and classes, and helped out teaching the beginners.  Then when we moved to Wales, when I was 18, I got a job offer through one of Dad’s other students  to teach Tai Chi form and self-defence to children at the public schools in Swansea.
It was a great place to start teaching on my own, as they were aged from 5 to 15 years old.  So didn’t matter if I made mistakes.  That built up my confidence as a teacher.  Then after a year of doing that, I opened my first self-run classes.  At 19 years old I was very skilled in the arts, and a good teacher, though looking like a kid I wasn’t able to get many people to stay with the class.  (As so many people think Tai Chi teaches have to be old!)
So most of my students were of people who knew who I was.
I opened up more classes in the week, knowing I wouldn’t get many people to the Bagua one, but just did it because I liked this girl that was attending, so meant I could see her more.
She became my first love, and we were together for nearly 4 years.
So yeah I loved the arts, loved teaching them, and found that I could make money doing it!  So it’s not really something you’d say no to.  And when I started traveling all over the world with it, I got hooked, and has grown bigger and bigger.  Then Dad died, and I suddenly had a lot more work to do!
What is your daily training routine like?

I get most of my training though all the teaching I do.  That’s been one of things that has taught me most in my training.
So at the moment, I just do a little on my own.  Wake up, do a little stretching on my legs, Qigong, Tai Chi form etc, then I get all my partner training in classes.
When I was younger – 14 till 20 or so, I did a lot of learning new stuff through the day, class with Dad in the morning, and then watching DVD’s.  Then I would get Dad to look at what I learned to show me where I was going wrong.  And I would do my Standing Qigong for 20 to 30 minutes morning and night, in Australia in the summer I’d get up at 5am just as the sun was coming up, as even then it was 30 degrees, so was to hot in the day for Qigong.
As someone from the fast-food generation and someone who constantly travels, how does your diet fare?

And I’m a Vegetarian! No. I really don’t have much of a problem finding food.  France is the hardest.  They don’t seem to understand the concept of not eating meat.  But I always manage to find good healthy food.  The only time I would not eat well would be on a long driving trip, as the food in the Motorway services is not great.
You have to look a bit harder, but there’s good food in most places.

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.

How does your method of teaching push hands differ from most traditional styles?

Our push hands is to train you how to kill.  And there are no rules, just like there are no rules in the street.  All other styles that I’ve seen, seem to do push hands to beat other people at push hands!  I don’t know why you’d want to do that.
They push you and if you move your foot they think they’ve won! – whilst being completely oblivious to the strike I have just put in (while moving my foot).  We don’t stand still when we fight, so we don’t in push hands.
Other styles seem to put a great emphasis on up-rooting.  They try to get you off balance, then push you back.  This is what we teach to beginners only, for a bit of grounding and balance training.  If I try to up-root one of my advanced students, I’ll get a punch in the face for it! You can not up-root someone that wants to smash your face in… just like if I try to put on an arm lock, or throw a fancy high kick.  These things do not work in real fights, and push hands is about real fighting.  So once we learn the basics of push hands, if you were to watch me and another instructor doing it, we just look like we’re trying to kick the shit out of each other.  We try to pull any deadly shots, but there are still a lot of bruises and bloody lips etc.  After one of my last sessions I was limping home, and my partner was throwing up in the street!
Internal arts have been called the “soft styles” – This is because we are soft on the inside, in that we use the least amount of muscular force to get the job done.  So we look softer than someone using more muscle etc.  But in these modern times this has led everyone to believe that we fight softly!  You can’t fight softly, anyone who tells you this has had a very sheltered life!

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.

What would you have been doing if it wasn’t for the martial arts and why?

Music –  I do it now anyway.  I’m a drummer in a rock band, and also play for the Swansea Belly Dancing girls.  When Dad died someone had to fill his spot in the band as lead male vocals.  At that time we found out I actually had his voice.  So I’m now lead singer for our band.  So I guess if I didn’t have the Tai Chi I would put more time into singing and try to do something there.

When someone is starting out in Taijiquan, what is most important for them to concentrate on?

Depends on the person.  Young, fit guys usually have to work on softness, whereas girls tend to have to work on power.
I guess the main thing I work on with beginners would be strength and structure, while at the some time staying soft.  And just do it!
So many people worry so much about if they’re doing it right, that they never do it!  You’re not going to get it right at the start, so just do it as best you can.  We all suck at the start, I have video footage to prove it!

What does Eli like to do when he is not training, teaching or traveling the country doing workshops?

Mountain hiking/camping. Skiing, Motorbikes, spending chilling out time with family and friends, hugging, swimming, ping pong, roller-blading, Kayaking, Cycling, playing drums, singing,…or when I’ve just been doing to much, my friends will make me have an evening of doing nothing!  Just sit around watching movies, chatting, and just wasting time.  That’s always nice too, just not all the time!

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STANDING THREE CIRCLE QIGONG   |   ELI MONTAIGUE

10 Questions with Glenn Hairston

Posted in 10 Questions, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2012 by Combative Corner

What brought you from the “harder” styles, the security work to the softer style (i.e. Tai Chi)?

Actually it really wasn’t a conscious decision to switch to the “soft style(s)”. To make a long story short many years ago I sustained a serious injury. I was constantly in a lot of pain and had difficulty just making it through each day. The doctors suggested surgery but stated that I would most likely have limited mobility as a result. At that time I found it impossible to continue with my training in the “harder systems”. Actually it was difficult just getting out of bed on most days. By shear accident I found out about a Tai Chi class that was near me and I decided to go and watch. I never intended to participate but figured I might enjoy watching and gaining insight into something new. The teacher Master Yung-Ko Chou was a little old man who basically forced me to participate despite my attempts to decline. I discovered that because of the slow relaxed nature of the movements I could perform the Tai Chi postures on my own terms without risk of further injury. Because the moves were foreign to me they required my total concentration this proved to be a distraction from the pain I was experiencing. So, at that time I found the practice of Tai Chi to be a good method of diverting my attention from the pain that was consistently with me. As time passed, my teacher introduced me to the martial aspects of Tai Chi Chuan. This required structural changes to my postures and gave me a whole new outlook on Tai Chi altogether. Because of these changes I progressed in my training, began grow stronger and experience less pain.

I then began to understand what my teacher meant when he would say “It is not the practice of Tai Chi that promotes health, but rather it is the correct practice of Tai Chi that promotes our health” Although my pain has never gone away completely to this day it is quite manageable and as long as I am not foolish (and don’t pretend that I am twenty years old) I can do pretty much as I please. My professional History consists of such areas as Executive Protection, Witness/Dignitary Protection and Law Enforcement with the last Twenty Plus years working as an undercover Narcotics Detective. These are areas where physical encounters are inevitable and regular. I believe incorporating the principles of Tai Chi Chuan have been quite instrumental in the longevity of my career.

What is your favorite form or (exercise to practice) and why?

I can’t say that I have a favorite form or exercise. I enjoy strength, flexibility and endurance training. I also enjoy and benefit greatly from sitting meditation and various breathing and Qi Gong exercises. I believe it is important to exercise in a variety of genres. No matter which Martial Art System you subscribe to good health and fitness is paramount. You should always seek to be as fit as possible. Life is better when you are not hindered by pain and physical limitations. Regardless of your Martial Art system, if you are out of breath after one or two minutes of punching and kicking then how can you defend yourself? The streets are unpredictable. Many times there is more than one attacker. Your ability to fight is sometimes not as important as your ability to run. So even fleeing requires fitness. I personally find all forms of exercise to be enjoyable with my only complaint being a lack of time. I find that the secret to enjoying exercise is moderation. Do not over train, do not under train. You should find a level of exercise that allows for development but does not cause injury or render you unable to train the next day. Your level of exercise should allow you to maintain a positive attitude about working out each day. If you do not find enjoyment in exercise then you will most likely not remain consistent and consistency becomes even more important as you get older. I divide my training into different categories such as: Health, Fitness, Self defense, Strength and flexibility. It’s sort of like eating something from all of the food groups. Just as one food cannot not provide all the nutrients you need one type of exercise has its (nutritional) limits as well. For instance certain exercises are good for health and others for fitness. Health and Fitness are not the same thing. One can be fit (like an athlete) having strong muscles, good flexibility, superior agility other attributes but may have poor health such as problems with liver, kidneys, spleen, colon, stomach etc. This is why in order to get the most from your exercise you must understand the difference between health and fitness. Then you can train accordingly.

How do you get the most out of you training?

 Two ways:

1. Consistency. Working at it all the time and when I’m not working at it I’m thinking about training and when I’m not thinking about training I’m dreaming about it, and when I’m not dreaming about it I’m….well you get the picture…. LOL

2. Thinking outside the box. By thinking outside of the box I mean not getting stuck in repetitious viewpoints and other people’s theories. You must make room for creativity in your training. Don’t just rely on teachers, books and videos. Seek to get information first hand, Experiment. In order to really excel at Tai Chi you have to get into your training, get dirty, dig deep, experiment, experiment, experiment. You are responsible for growing your art.

Do you think there is anything under emphasized in the world of Tai Chi?

I believe that the Martial aspects of Tai Chi have been under emphasized. Martial application is an area where not only the most intricate lessons are discovered but an increase in good health is developed as a by-product. Tai Chi is taught in stages. In the beginning one is taught a series of movements or postures (the solo form) with no further explanation as this would be a distraction to learning the moves. Solo form practice helps us to understand ourselves; if we slip we can recover. If we drop something we may catch it before it hits the ground. After one has become proficient at mimicking the moves then applications are assigned to them. Martial application gives purpose to the movements and movements with purpose are no longer just movements. In this world we must relate to outside forces. Understanding Martial application is being able to adapt to outside forces that are not acting in concert with us; and in truth isn’t that all fighting really is. Do not misunderstand me I am not saying that one must be a fighter in order to study and benefit from Tai Chi. I am saying is that the movements have meaning and that by understanding the meaning you can practice correctly and benefit to the fullest. In Tai Chi our health comes from striving to bring our movements into accordance with Tai Chi principles. These Principles have theory but they also have function. In order to fully benefit we must graduate from Theory (form) to function (application).

Do you stress the importance of Qi development? Why or why not?

I do stress the importance of Qi development but no more than on the other areas of development. I feel that balance is important. Why spend all of your time developing your internal Qi and neglect the physical. I have known individuals who have spent all of their time doing internal Qi training exercises. However they couldn’t run two blocks to escape danger if they had to. That is not practical. The idea of training is to enrich your life. I have found that Balance = quality. Develop your Qi but develop your endurance, your strength, flexibility. Improve your diet and develop a good sense of humor. In my opinion this is the way to good health and longevity. If I would emphasis any single word pertaining to our practice it would be balance.

What has been the biggest obstacle for you as a teacher?

Time. Never enough time with my students and never enough time to improve myself.

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.

In your Law Enforcement work, how does your experience in Tai Chi help you?

In every way imaginable. Other than the obvious self defense training the increased sensitivity of being in tune with the intent of others is the greatest factor.

What is your message to people “on the fence” regarding the internal styles of martial arts.

I would first suggest that they write down the reasons for apprehension. Then they should seek out a competent Tai Chi instructor and present these reasons to him/her giving them the opportunity to address them. I realized the Internal Arts still have a lot of myths and mysticism surrounding them, but in reality when the smoke clears you’ll find strong Martial Arts with sound science behind them.

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Embodiment Of The Butterfly

Posted in Discussion Question, Internal Arts, Martial Arts, Philosophy, Taijiquan, Teaching Topic with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2011 by chencenter

Three years ago I asked a question of dozens of martial artists within my circle & social networks.  The question I asked was, “Within your martial art, what (if any) animal/spirit/creature/etc do you associate yourself with?”  The responses were numerous and surprisingly varied.  But the connection that I made, several years ago, was with the butterfly.  Here’s the original article.  Enjoy!

Before I get into the fillet of the article, I’d like to say that previously I worked with “the dragon.”  Historically, the dragon is the juggernaut of the martial world.  The dragon spews bellows of fire, claws at his prey and whips his tail unexpectedly.  The dragon is definitely the pinnacle of yang energy and leaves all the others… “how should I say… lacking.”  But it occurs to me, being so dramatically yang OR embracing the spirit of the dragon does not correspond to the natural and quintessential aspect of Taijiquan.  If one is to do the taijiquan form, the spirit must be above the form… we must be quick and evasive, yet resilient and rooted when needed.

THE BUTTERFLY

I don’t know how it came to me.  But after thinking for a moment on said question (of “What do WE/TAIJIQUAN Embody?”)… I remembered being in a butterfly farm.  This was quite a few years ago and I hardly remember the experience, but it DID make an impression.  Just like the first time I went snorkeling, the experience of having several butterflies land on my arm gave me an instant connection with nature.  Besides the new-found love for these delicate creatures, I remember the impression it left.

Funny that it never crossed my mind before… but you can’t tell when a butterfly lands on your sleeve (at least I couldn’t).  There is no weight.  When you move your arm (obviously this depends on the shyness of these butterflies, but I was at a butterfly farm for pete sake) their legs have a sufficient hold that naturally adheres, without having to grip.  The wings, which you would think would be like an umbrella in the wind, actually adjusts to your movement (as long as the disturbance isn’t a violent shake).  But as it flies.. it eludes you with such lightness, and fluttering quickness.  You need a net to catch one.  Has anyone caught a healthy, wild butterfly with their bare hand (one that didn’t want to get caught)?  I would think it would be a tremendous task.

Taijiquan has the reputation of being boringly slow.  However, the truth is that Taijiquan should be as spritely and lively as a dancing butterfly.  That is just my opinion.  There are probably some classic taiji players that would disagree with me… but I can truly relate to this “dance.”  I don’t know anyone who has seen a real-life dragon, so for me… it would be quite a stretch of the imagination to be one of those.  Plus, dragons are quite the carnivore.  And I’m desperately trying to separate myself from that.  At least as much as I can.

Coach Joyce

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A Few Words : Master Chungliang Al Huang

Posted in Day's Lesson, Internal Arts, Internal Development, Peace & Wellbeing, Philosophy, Qigong, Taijiquan, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2011 by chencenter

Master Chungliang Al Huang, is one of my favorite people on Earth.  For years I taught martial arts as a system… and it was only until I was able to relax inside my own body did my form “make shape.”  Taiji isn’t about this [boxing]*… it’s about that part of you that lets go and brings a smile to your face.  How did that happen? Was it your body? It was a feeling! A taiji feeling.  Summer is a great time for everyone to take to the outdoors and absorb the abundance of qi.  I hope you guys will take my advice.  Please watch this video (if only to smile)!

*Taiji/TaiChi and Taijiquan/Tai Chi Chuan are two different (but connected) things.  “Quan” or “Chuan” means “Fist” or “Boxing Style” and is often required if you are specifically talking about forms, systems or martial theory/principles/applications.  Taiji has a much deeper meaning, one of which is “letting go.”

Life, Is a Process, Experience it. “Ah-ha!”

Coach Joyce

What is Tai Chi?

Posted in Internal Arts, Martial Arts with tags , , , , , , , on June 29, 2010 by mindbodykungfu

Is it a mystical ancient art?  Is it a health panacea?  Is it a black and white circular symbol?  How about an ultimate fighting system?  What about a philosophy or conceptual framework?  Depending on who you ask, tai chi could be any one of the above mentioned possibilities.  There is a joke that goes “How many tai chi practitioners does it take to screw in a light bulb?  100.  One to screw it in, and 99 to say ‘that’s not how I was taught to do that.'”  Similarly, if you ask 100 different people what tai chi is, you’re liable to get nearly as many different answers.

To simplify the question, we need to differentiate between tai chi as a health practice, tai chi chuan (taijiquan) as martial art, and tai chi as a concept.  At the most fundamental level, tai chi is a concept; it is the state of harmony between yin and yang.  The yin-yang symbol is an illustration of this idea.  The whole is neither yin, nor yang.  Rather, tai chi encompasses both yin and yang.  It is the balance between yin and yang such that both are present and can evolve one into the other.  Tai chi chuan, in all its glorious variants, encompasses martial arts based on the principle of tai chi.  Tai chi as a health practice borrows pre-choreographed forms from tai chi chuan and removes most of the martial aspects of training.  Tai chi practiced for health instead focuses on improving health through a blend of body movement, qigong, and meditative exercises.

With the multitude of tai chi practices in the world, there are some common misconceptions.  A complete list would be impractically long, but we can explore a few examples:

Tai chi is not defined by circular movement.  Circular movement is a natural consequence of the joints of the human body.  No joint in the body allows linear motion.  Every joint works by allowing movement in arcs.  Harmonizing the yin and yang in the body makes the circular movement more obvious and links the arc across multiple joints.  Integrated and curved movement result from applying the principle of tai chi to body movement.  However, it is entirely possible to perform circular movements which do not manifest the yin-yang tai chi harmony.  Curved movement is an effect rather than a prerequisite of tai chi.

Tai chi is not just softly yielding to force.  “Four ounces deflects a thousand pounds” is a common tai chi saying.  Unfortunately, a lot of people misinterpret this as meaning that you must use no force and become limp to deal with incoming force.  Dealing with a force by just yielding and dropping back is just a yin movement.  Directly fighting back against a force is a purely yang movement.  The tai chi occurs when the force is met and dealt with using simultaneous yin and yang movements.  (note: “meeting” the force is matching the force and not fighting back against it)  If there is yielding to the force at one section, there must be an advancing force elsewhere for balance.  A common example of this is absorbing a force with one hand to project force with the other.  The concept also applies equally well to a single point of contact.  If one side of the point of contact yields, then the other side of the of the point of contacts advances–much like moving on a pivot.  When this harmony of yin and yang occurs, then the force can be deflected as a “rollback” where the opponent feels like they are touching a spinning sphere.

Tai chi is not shifting weight.  Shifting the weight is a training tool to understand movement at the hips.  Just shifting the weight translates the body weight from one leg to another.  Some people claim that making one leg empty and the other leg full is manifesting yin and yang.  That’s true in a sense, but that doesn’t make the weight shift tai chi; it makes the weight shifting either a yin or yang movement.  The tai chi occurs when the yin and yang are both present and harmonized.  It is more important to understand the coordination between flexors and extensors and between the anterior and posterior chain.  This yin-yang harmony can happen just as readily from an equal-weighted stance as from a split-weight stance.

Ultimately, tai chi as either a martial or health practice must manifest a harmonization of yin and yang.  The yin and yang in the body structure and body movements must be balanced to truly practice “tai chi.”  Tai chi practiced for health, taijiquan practiced as a martial art, or any art based on tai chi must be guided by this principle of harmonizing the yin and yang.

-Johnny Kuo

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