December 1997, Vol. 21 No. 6
One of the benefits of interviewing Tai Chi Chuan practitioners in the 70s and 80s is that they are still full of energy and remain seriously focused on the art. Gao Fu is one of those practitioners.
Despite a long day, we talked late into the evening and she was still full of energy in her effort to try and explain some of the profundities of T'ai Chi.
Now 81 years of age, she came to Tai Chi Chuan only after she retired at 55 from a position as a draftsman, but she said it turned her life around in many ways. She had a hard life after 1949 because her family had been wealthy and her marriages also presented problems.
During the Cultural Revolution, she was put up on a stage and criticized and humiliated. Learning T'ai Chi changed her life, improving her health and a bad back and renewing her emotionally.
“When I practice T'ai Chi,” she said, “I just feel joyful and see things more optimistically. I practice Tai Chi Chuan to release and ease suffering.
Many seniors in China practice T'ai Chi, but she won the respect of her teachers with her ability and serious practice, literally practicing morning, noon and night, spring, summer fall and winter. She would get up at 5 a.m. to go to the class in the park in Beijing and when other students left, she stayed to practice.
At noon she would go home for lunch and then go out and practice again. “Sometimes I wouldn't go home at noon. I would just get a steamed dumpling for lunch and find a bench and take a nap and practice some more. Then after dinner, I would go out and find someplace where there was light and practice some more.”
Chen style's cannon fist, or pao chui, is one of the most dynamic and difficult of the Tai Chi Chuan forms, so it is interesting to get some insight into it from Peter Wu and have him clarify some of the misconceptions about it and some of the other Chen style forms.
One of the last parts of the body that T'ai Chi students learn to work with is the spine, yet it is certainly one of the most important. Zhang Luping has spent a lot of time and energy on researching its use and teaching students its importance.
He discusses in his article the three parts of the spine and how they are used to mobilize energy for health and self-defense.
Many students are told that the weight distribution between the legs should be 70/30. But is that really correct? Robin Johnson researched it by getting two scales and actually weighing people with one foot on each scale. You may be surprised at what he found.
Bill Walsh and Holly Sweeney of New York City write about the Alexander Technique, which, like T'ai Chi, emphasizes correct alignment of the body. Bill Walsh, a longtime practitioner of T'ai Chi and the Alexander Technique, describes how a straight neck is held and why.
Dr. David Dai of Vancouver, BC, Canada, packs a lot of interesting information into his article about the use of power in various positions and in various styles. Sometimes practitioners emphasize power too much, making Tai Chi practice all Yang and unbalanced. But this kind of information is very useful
regardless of what your orientation to the art is.
Every aspect of the art presents various opportunities and problems. Push hands releases new energies, allowing people to express themselves in ways they could not conceive of during daily life. But is also is a problem because it requires an adjustment in how we are willing to see ourselves. Can we be aggressive and push? Can we be yielding and not push or resist? Can we only push to defend? Can we only yield to push? Arieh Lev Breslow writes about some of the problems people have with yielding in push hands.
Are you a good student? Bob Mendel writes about some of the preconceptions people have about training and suggests ways for people to strip away some of the unnecessary and perhaps self-defeating ones.·