Yan Yuanhua is a fifth generation direct lineage holder of the Wu style T’ai Chi and was an experienced teacher at the Shanghai Wu Jianquan T’ai Chi School before coming to the U.S. three years ago, in 2000.
His emphasis is on neutralization, which is one of the higher skills of T’ai Chi Ch’uan.
It can be easy to use force in T’ai Chi, just as in any martial art. Most people are very impressed when they see force being used, especially explosive force, and they are not able to distinguish internal from external force.
Most cannot tell if there has been any neutralization before explosive force is used.
But one of the defining principles of T’ai Chi is to use mind, not force. So it would seem a contradiction to use force in T’ai Chi.
It is often very difficult for persons training in T’ai Chi to give up the use of external force in form or push hands because it has become part of their identity.
Yan’s approach involves training exercises and insight to develop mind/intent (yi). There are physical exercises and mental exercises as well as zhan zhuang.
He feels the dantian rotation is the key to higher-level skills, especially push hands. Yan said his teacher, Qian Chao Qun, had excellent skills at rotating the dantian.
This is a skill that a number of teachers have discussed in interviews and have said they felt was very important. But it is not something that can be done forcefully.
While Yan progressed relatively quickly in his Wu style studies and research, he first studied the Chen style while attending East China Normal University in Shanghai.
He subsequently learned the Yang style in 1983 and later Xingyi and Bagua. When he learned the Wu style, it was the softest of the internal martial arts that he had experienced.
When Yan says that mind/intent is the key ingredient, he does acknowledge that training for fundamental internal strength is necessary as a certain stage of over-all development and that, as the classics say, the strength comes up through the feet, legs, hips, back and out through the arms. However, strength is subordinate to the mind/intent.
Xie Bing Can has been teaching in the Seattle, WA, area for a number of years after emigrating from China.
I first heard of him while interviewing Zhang Luping about a decade ago at a tournament. Zhang spoke about his studies with Xie and when Xie first arrived in the U.S., Zhang helped to introduce him to students.
Xie is noted for his qigong skills, as well as his T’ai Chi teaching. In his article in this issue, he gives some useful insights for the development of internal energy while practicing the form.
Daniel K. Wong also gives insights into the teaching of Yang Shaozhong. The eldest son of Yang Cheng-fu, Yang Shaozhong had the best opportunity to learn from his father.
However, even his experience was cut short by the early death of Yang Cheng-fu at the age of 53. As great as he was, he could have developed to even higher levels had he lived 10 or 20 years longer.
Wong describes some of the details of Yang Shaozhong’s instructions and some of the innovations he made.
Born and brought up in Hong Kong, Wong studied Shaolin martial arts initially. He also studied teacher education in Hong Kong.
While teaching in Hong Kong, he studied T’ai Chi with Yang Shaozhong from 1959 until 1970, when Wong left to study higher education at the University of Manitoba in Canada.
Wong has worked as a school teacher, principal, director of education and adult educator for over 38 years. He has also studied Xingyi and Sun Bagua Zhang at the Beijing Institute of Physical Education.
Flavio Daniele of Bologna, Italy, writes again in depth on internal aspects of T’ai Chi.
Daniele has written a number of articles for T’AI CHI Magazine and is always able to present useful insights. He is the author of two books. He began martial arts by learning Shotokan Karate before learning about the internal martial arts.
Charlie Fechter of Vestavia, AL, writes about breath and it value in T’ai Chi practice and self-cultivation. He has had training in classical Buddhist and Taoist cultivation arts with John Bright-Fey since 1984. He has studied Northern Shaolin, Wu Tang Shia, Wu Chin Shi and several classical and traditional T’ai Chi styles.
Alex Yeo of Singapore writes about something every student and teacher have experience with: how to be a good student. It is the first thing that every student has to learn, although most of the time they just think they are learning T’ai Chi Ch’uan.
In a way it is amazing that although everyone who begins a T’ai Chi class has already had decades of experience being a student, from kindergarten on up, many are completely at sea.
Some schools have elaborate rituals to help give students an orientation to the training methods and the cultural factors in learning the art.
Other schools are very permissive and let the students learn by example from the teacher and other students and by their own common sense.
Unfortunately, in the absence of specific instructions, some students will do whatever they can get away with, present company excepted.
Alex Yeo gives some very good examples of what happens in a traditional class, including masters who don’t suffer fools easily.
Read the article and see if you can find yourself.