In this issue, Zhang Zhi Jun presents a new approach to training that warrants serious consideration, not only for his approach but also from the standpoint that we should always be considering new approaches consistent with the classical principles and goals of T’ai Chi training.
Also in this issue is a report on the death of Wang Hao Da, a popular teacher from Shanghai who has been brought over by George Xu from Shanghai to teach at workshops in the U.S. and Europe since 1997.
Wang Hao Da was a very pleasant man. He was quiet but perceptive. George Xu frequently said that he was a high level master focusing on internal development. Wang developed a good following during the years he came to the U.S. because of his skills.
With all the force commonly used in push hands, it was remarkable that a man 5 foot 4 inches and weighing 120 pounds could so expertly neutralize force from much larger people.
During an interview, I wondered about his thin frame and asked George Xu if Wang had good dantian. George said something to Wang, who promptly expanded his dantian to show its good size and strength.
More extended coverage of Wang is planned for the next issue.
In addition, a student of Gene Chen writes about his memory of this highly regarded Chen stylist in San Francisco, who died a year ago in June. Gene Chen had considerable skill as a martial artist and teacher. In the late 1980s he wrote a few articles for T’AI CHI Magazine.
Zhang Zhi Jun, who was in the U.S. for the second time early this year and is to return this fall, is a disciple of Chen Zhaokui, who lived for a while in Zhang’s home in Zhengzhou, China.
A key principle of Zhang’s training method is that the extremities (hands and feet) lead movements, not the dantian or the waist. He feels it is too slow to lead the movements up from the feet, then up through the legs, hips, waist, back and arms to the hands.
However, he is not saying that the extremities act only locally. He says they should lead the movement but still should be connected with the waist and the entire body. This applies to forms, applications and push hands.
Zhang is a serious student who is concerned that due to the way a great deal of training occurs now, it will be difficult and take too long for serious T’ai Chi Ch’uan students to reach a high level of skill.
A lot of his emphasis is also on applications using his methods.
Tu-Ky Lam writes about the external and internal elements of T’ai Chi. The Yin/Yang elements pervade T’ai Chi, so there is always some external element in our practice. But if we can learn how to train properly, we’ll get the right balance.
He has some good suggestions and insights on how to develop the internal aspects.
Sometimes people think that because others are very strong or have very good technique doing T’ai Chi movements, then they must have good T’ai Chi. That is not necessarily so. There should be a balance of external and internal and hard and soft.
Knowing what is good T’ai Chi and what is not will always be a problem, especially for beginners. Even if you have some level of true accomplishment, you may only be measuring another’s accomplishment by your own.
When I asked one master about this, he said he could just look at someone do a movement and tell what level he was at.
One problem, however, is that often two people can reach higher levels doing T’ai Chi very differently and it may not be obvious how they got there.
And the “there” they reach may be different, too. It is not as if a higher skill level is always the same.
Douglas Woolidge has translated another chapter in the book by Xu Zhiyi originally published in 1958. It includes basic information about push hands that is useful at almost any level.
The third part in the series about Yang Shaohou’s Application frame appears in this issue. It is useful not only for what it says about the frame and its dynamics but also for understanding various terminology. It is hard to understand the meaning of many terms and phrases in Chinese and even more so when they are translated to English or another language in different ways.
Li Lian gives some explanations that help with some of the important T’ai Chi sayings, thanks to the good questions by Zhou Lishang, who interviewed him for the article.
For those people who haven’t worked with a punch bag, Graham Barlow of Bath, UK, gives some useful tips. Isn’t punch bag for boxers? Sure, but it can be use for T’ai Chi, too, if you want this level of training. Barlow is an instructor with the Yongquan Tai Chi Chuan Association in Bath, UK.
Flavio Daniele of Bologna, Italy, takes a completely different tack in explaining how to use the Yi, mind/intention, to develop internal strength. He describes the various levels of development and the different kinds of internal strength.
Rich Marantz, founder of the Green Mountain School of Internal Arts in Manchester, VT, writes about the importance of having openness in the body, mind and heart in the course of developing one’s training.
He feels that when the body, mind and heart are closed, the individual is vulnerable to attack and negative energy can easily find its way into a person’s center.
Mark Wasson of Livermore, CA, writes about some of the problems people have trying to understand T’ai Chi terminology and gives some definitions intended to clarify the terms.
He also offers a useful analogy to resolve conflicting opinions that frequently occur and how they can be resolved without saying who is right or wrong.
Alex Yeo of Singapore contributes his second well researched article about the development of the Yang style.•