In this issue's cover article, Yu Xiaolin discusses some of the finer points of practice and how to elevate the level of one's practice. He mentions that you have to go through stages--the physical stage, energy stage and spiritual stage. Going through these stages means that the previous stage—all or parts of it—is part of the unconscious mind/body.
This doesn't mean that you don't have consciousness but that you are in a state of mind in which you are not riveted to always having to think what you are doing or how you are doing it. In other words, you are not criticizing your self or admiring your self or having to remember what to do.
What you are doing is so natural and relaxed that it is effortless. This is achieved by repeated practice over a long time. Yu Xiaolin has practiced long and hard over many years and still at the age of 69 practices three hours a day, some of it very strenuous, judging by what he demonstrated during the interview.
Of course, being “unconscious” doesn't mean you are not always trying to be mindful. Mindfulness is at the core of practice. Mindfulness can operate at different levels. And one always has the option of returning to a kind of mindfulness in which every movement and transition are done with awareness.
This latter mindfulness is helpful in becoming aware of what is real and what is not real.
Yu Xiaolin practices the Yang style from Yang Jianhou and Yang Banhou as well as some Yang Chengfu.
He also practices Wu style derived from Wu Gongyi and a personal Chen style learned from Chen Zhaokui and Yu's teacher, Xu Xiufeng, who became friends with Chen Zhaokui when Chen Zhaokui was visiting Shanghai..
Yu Xiaolin demonstrated some of the forms and those from Yang Banhou and Yang Jianhou looked quite a bit different from the traditional Yang style from Yang Chengfu. Even the initial Grasping the Bird's Tail sequence had many more additional movements.
Yu also showed some of the Yang Jianhou power movements and the Eight Brocades, which also had power movements.
Yu Xiaolin was with his teacher for more than 40 years as student and assistant up until Xu's death at 96 in 1995. His teacher was teaching right up until his death.
Dr. Xianhao Cheng of Philadelphia writes in this issue about the Random Ring Formula, which describes specialized methods of dealing with opponents. Dr. Cheng provides interesting insights into how th Random Ring Formula works. Study of the formula and Dr. Cheng's insights can be helpful for one's martial arts skills. At a certain stage in one's practice, one develops an intuitive understanding of martial arts skills and this enables one to more easily understand and use such formulas. In the martial arts there are many kinds of formulas, some important and others are just formulas.
We have had a number of articles about Yang Jianhou, Yang Banhou and Yang Shaohou. The article in the current issue by Liu xi Wen and Vincent Chu expands on Zhang Fu Chen, who studied with a number of Yang stylists, including Yang Shaohou and Yang Chengfu. This covers a period of considerable turmoil in China following the founding of the Republic, the civil war, the Japanese invasion and the Communist takeover.
Because of the lack of stability in the country, it was very difficult learn martial arts and pursue them for very long. At the same time there many students who wanted desperately to learn and made extreme efforts. These are the people who have carried forward the traditions and skills.
Alex Yeo of Singapore writes about the practice of song. He does a good job of explaining it. For a beginner, it is hard to understand, except as a relaxation. Yet, as he explains, it is more than that. One of the benefits of Tai Chi is that it gives you the opportunity to work on so many things such as song with your mind and body and to experience your mind and body as one.
Much has been written in the magazine about the dantian, including relaxing, putting the mind in it and rotating it. In this issue, Craig Voorhees examines the cultural history of the dantian and its implications for practice.
For a beginner or intermediate student, it can be hard to understand and use the dantian. Through practice it can be strong and soft. Focusing on the dantian can be a way of getting your thoughts out of your head and into your body. For a beginner it can be hard to become aware of the dantian and make it a part of your practice. It is a problem of persistence over time.
Some teachers have used a heavy wooden or cast iron ball to massage the dantian area in order to promote awareness of the dantian. Some will have students place their hands on the teachers dantian and then use the dantian to throw the student away. Sometimes this is real and some times it is a case of the student jumping away.