Newsletter of the Forum for traditional Wu Tai Chi Chuan
Dear friend of Wu Tai Chi Chuan,
now online: Interview with Freya and Martin Boedicker
now online: Wu Tai Chi South Africa Clip
now online: A Tribute to Wu Yinghua
now online: Interview with Freya and Martin Boedicker
now online: The 20 min long version of the Willich Pushhands Seminar
and the Blog Tai Chi and Philosophy
We have four new clips online:
Wu Tai Chi Chuan Pushhands Seminar Willich/Germany 2008
Wu Tai Chi Chuan Qian Kun Sword
The Book Clip:The Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan
Wu Tai Chi Chuan Demo in Shanghai
25.-27.9.2009 Teachers seminar with teachers test
10.10.2009 2. Saturday
13.00 14.30 Long form
14.30 16.00 Sabre
16.00 18.00 Pushhands
18.00 19.00 Spear and fast
14.11.2009 2. Saturday
12.12.2009 2. Saturday
Below comes a little article from Ma Hailong about the importance of the classical theory and another article from Heidi Elseven Regensburg/Germany.
Hope you enjoy it.
The clip for the Book "
The Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan" is now online:
The importance of the classical theory
From Ma Hailong
From the Magazin of the Jianquan Taijiquan Association Shanghai Journal 85-86, 25.2.2001, p. 3
Taijiquan is a part of the traditional martial arts of our country and expresses a special branch of gongfu. It's attraction lies in the very subtle effect on human vitality, by which one can reach the highest level of self cultivation and nurturing our inner nature. From the time of outset of Taijiquan until today the masters have worked to improve and perfect it, completing it's form and increasing its depth, without which it would have become an outdated martial art. Naturally there are unique principles connected to it.
Perfect Taijiquan requires not only the finest ability, but also a deep and thorough understanding of its theory. Thus the perfect system of Taijiquan becomes visible. But it does not stop here. There are a great number of classical texts connected to the theory of Taijiquan, like the "Taijiquan Classic", the "Taijiquan Treatise", the "Song of the Thirteen Basic Movements" and others. Each one has its own style and describes in each case aspects of the essentials of Taijiquan. Thus one can receive the thoughts of the old masters.
I am of the following opinion:That the theory originates from the lifelong experience of wise masters, written down and complete. It should be an obligation for every student of Taijiquan to read. It is to be regretted, if during learning Taijiquan no great importance is attached to the reading of this classical theory. Possible reasons for this are to be described in the following:
1) Language difficulties
Many people do not have knowledge of the old-Chinese language. So it is very difficult to understand the texts. Therefore deep research and understanding are impossible.
2) Difficult theory
If one has not the instruction of an intelligent teacher, one will experience difficulties in training. It will not be easy to receive explanations from them. This is a problem if one wants to make fast quantitative and qualitative progress.
3) People's circumstances in today's world
People, who practice Taijiquan, are restricted by their circumstances and the spare time they have. Because of this they put training first and thereby neglect the theory/foundation. When practicing Taijiquan one goes through step by step development over a long-term. If one does not have an excellent foundation, one will not be able to structure the thoughts deeply and reach a high level.
I want further say:I think, we must set greater store by learning and investigation of the theory, because it is an important step in building the foundation. In former times the venerable masters, e.g. my father Ma Yueliang, my mother Wu Yinghua, as well as my uncles Wu Gongyi and Wu Gongzao dedicated regular time to the study and investigation of classical theory. They had a large collection of classical texts and were able to interpret most of it. I in comparison select such writings from these texts, that state important things simply - in order to allow everyone access to their contents. So, a few simple ideas can help to create a fruitful discussion. I hope my article will create an interest in classical theory.
My experience with Wu Tai Chi Chuan in contact with other martial arts
Actually the martial arts aspect of Taijiquan was not my first concern in teaching. I wanted to leave it to the boys. But then came more and more students from other martial arts to my classes. At the beginning it made me a little bit nervous, when high belts (including Dans) came for me to be taught at the University. I thought that probably can not really work. I had studied for a long time Shotokan Karate at the University and recognized quickly the Karatekas due to the nature of their movements. They usually learn very quickly and in general can also move very well. Especially fascinating for me is their ability to jump.
Even during my own karate training, I wondered, however, that even the black belts were standing with a tensed and bend chest in Kiba Dachi, the Mabu of karate. I was also surprised that the joints of the hands and feet were making cracking noises during punches and kicks. Some of my karate friends have joint damage, which they think are coming from the karate training. I also wondered about the short time for the explanation and correction of the postures in comparison to the Taijiquan training.
When I teach, I adjust to the group which I am teaching. In groups with many martial artists, I try to teach in connection to the martial aspects. It is easy for me with karate students, because I have a solid background on the practice and theory of Karate. The other way around also Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate-, studied the classics of Chinese philosophy, which is as a part of training to become a karate master. Thus I told the student of my own experience at the karate training, taking care to express my enthusiasm for karate. I began to explain what I think are the students faults in the training of their martial art. These are, as already noted above, the misalignment and excess stress on the joints. And this is not only for Karatekas, also for Judokas and Jujitsu students. The common mistake often lies in a strong tension on the chest and not sufficiently sinking of the coccyx, often a tension in the diaphragm or in the whole abdominal cavity. Thus the spine can not align correctly, as well as breathing and the centre, according to the Eastern philosophy also the energy, are not sinking to the lower dantian (Japanese hara). Due to tense muscles the breathing may not deepen. Because the centre of gravity is too high, the legs and feet are weak.
In the forward position (Gong Bu or Zenkutsu Dachi) the axis of the rear leg to the apex of the head is not infrequently broken, causing pressure on the lumbar spine. With a broken axis, it is difficult to withstand external pressures, because the force does not go through the leg into the foot and into the ground. The structure is easy to break, where the opponent is tensed or his structure is already weak or broken. To demonstrate this very simple game is useful. The partners are standing in Gong Bu or Zenkutsu Dachi opposite to each other and try to get the other out of the balance. One with a tensed chest is easy to get out of balance. The centre is too high; he lacks strength in the legs. The bad structure in the lumbar spine is easy to break. If, however, mind and body are still and relaxed, the focus and the breathing (the eastern philosophy to energy) in the bottom Dantian (Hara), the spine remains straight. This stays even if the body is tilted. The axis runs in a line from the rear leg to the apex of the head. With such a structure the power of the opponent runs through the body into the rear leg. Such a structure is not to move. It is stable, without the use of the slightest force. While the other is acting and sending his strength through my body, I can look relaxed where I have to push the opponent to unbalance him. That is big fun for me!
Let's transfer what we know from the theory and have used in practice to the slow form of Taijiquan. This requires only the first movements of the 1st Part till up to Dan Bian, because this already contains all the basic postures. In practice, students of other martial arts, who have much tension in the chest, have difficulties to stand on their legs when the chest and abdominal muscles are relaxed. This is because with the relaxation of the muscles and sinking of the centre the legs have to support that what is not any longer carried by the muscles of the upper body. Another difficulty is the forward-oriented position of both feet. Here one sees misalignment of the joints. The hip or knee or both tilts from the natural direction of the joint (which is obviously very damaging for the joints), the leg often has no connection to the hips or to the rest of the body. The body has no stable structure.
Yes, that's how a lesson for my martial students looks like. A lesson like this is fascinating the students of other martial arts. They are also quite surprised that no one ever told them these things before. And they really love the slow and precise movements. Other key points in my martial arts lessons are:sinking the elbow and turning of the waist, the movement of the joints, the opening and closing of the joints, applications and more. That's for today - that you got an impression of my teaching.
Meanwhile I do also Bojutsu. About karate:I share thoughts with the principles of the Shorin Ryu. Both following Oshiro Toshishiro, who is known in America as a great martial arts expert. For me, this man is in karate, what Ma Jiang Bao is in Taijiquan.
26. February Teacherseminar
On the Pushhands of Wu Tai Chi Chuan
In the time of the Qing Dynasty the practise of martial arts was very
popular. During those times rich people trained in private circles and
invited great masters, such as Yang Luchan (founder of Yang Tai Chi Chuan),
to their homes to teach them. Yang Luchan became so famous that he later
gave lessons at the Emperor's court. It is said, that one day the Emperor
asked Yang Luchan which of his students he could recommend. Yang Luchan
said:"There are three who excel, but however Quan You is the best at soft
neutralising." Quan You (1834 - 1902) was born of an aristocratic Manchu
family famed for their martial art. He supervised the training of officers
in martial arts at the imperial barracks. An anecdote of Quan You portrays
him as follows:
"One day, as Quan You was strolling about the streets, he noticed some
privates beating a shopkeeper. Quan You immediately took them to task but
the soldiers abused him. One of them must have thought Quan You did not look
very awe-inspiring, and attacked him. Wu Quan You threw him on the ground
forthwith and defending himself against the other soldiers, who were now
also attacking him. None could better him, and so they ran off."
It was Quan You who developed neutralization as a legacy to Wu Tai Chi
Chuan. His son Wu Jianquan (1870 - 1942) learned the art of his father and
took over the duty to spread this art. After the emperor Puyi abdicated the
throne Wu Jianquan was recommended to President Li Yuan Hong. He was
appointed to the Eleventh Corps of the Presidential Body Guards as a
military instructor and martial arts advisor by the government. An anecdote
tells us the following about Wu Jianquan:"Once Wu Jianquan showed his Tai
Chi Chuan at a demonstration in Beijing. The audience felt, that his
movements were like a long river. Outside he was soft, but inside he was
strong. There was no break or stiffness. After the demonstration a sigh
could be heard from the audience."
The form as the foundation
1912, in the early stage of the Republic of China, Xu Yusheng established a
Research Society for Physical Education in Beijing and invited Yang Shaohou,
Yang Chengfu and Wu Jianquan to teach Tai Chi Chuan there. Tai Chi Chuan was
for the first time taught to the general public, thus creating a new
beginning. It was here that Wu Jianquan gave Wu Tai Chi Chuan the slow form
and developed his own style. Wu Jianquan's daughter Wu Yinghua (1907 - 1996)
married his accomplished student Ma Yueliang (1901 - 199 and they both
spread Wu Tai Chi Chuan throughout China. In 1986 their son Ma Jiangbao came
to Europe to teach Wu Tai Chi Chuan in their name.
The slow form of Wu Tai Chi Chuan emphasizes the basic skills of agility,
softness, central equilibrium (zhongding) and stillness in motion. These
points are also of paramount importance for Pushhands. Further on the slow
form teaches how to know oneself, as written in Sunzi's Art of War:
"He who knows the other and himself
Will never be at risk in a hundred battles.
He who does not know the other, but himself,
Will once win and once lose.
He who does not know the other, or himself
Will lose every battle."
Or in Laozi, Chapter 33:
"He who knows others is wise.
He who knows himself is enlightened.
He who conquers others has strength.
He who conquers himself is strong."
Without the foundation of the slow form and the "knowing of oneself",
Pushhands on a high level is impossible. It is like a single beam of wood
that cannot support or a single palm that cannot clap.
The application of Pushhands
Today, the Tai Chi Chuan beginner usually learns the slow form first. The
slow form of Tai Chi Chuan has become famous throughout the world. But the
slow form is only one part of Tai Chi Chuan, the foundation (ti). With good
development in the slow form one can also learn about the applications
(yong). In Wu Tai Chi Chuan the tool to learn the applications of the slow
form is Pushhands. Pushhands means to know your opponent. It follows the way
of stillness and movement using the subtle change between full and empty.
Thus one can stay clear of the main force of the opponent and strike at his
weak points. For this, one has to meet the opponent with calmness. The "Song
of Striking Hands (Dashouge)" states:"He does not move, I do not move. He
starts to move, I move beforehand."
Overcome hardness with softness
In Pushhands the feature of prime importance is to adapt and move with the
changing conditions of the opponent. Through this one is able to overcome
hardness with softness. One should not use force against force. To try to
use force is in contradiction to the principles of Tai Chi Chuan. Never let
the intention of attack enter your mind. To overcome hardness with softness
is in fact the essence of Tai Chi Chuan, as it is said in the "Tai Chi Chuan
Classic (Taijiquan jing)":"Tai Chi is born out of Wu Ji. It is the origin
of movement and stillness and the mother of yin and yang. In movement, it
separates; in stillness it unites. There is no excess or insufficiency.
Bending leads to stretching. The other is hard, I am soft - this is called
going along with."
Retreat in order to advance
Traditionally in Wu Tai Chi Chuan Pushhands the power of neutralizing
(huajin) is of high importance. It is developed in three steps:
I) The power of feeling (tingjin)
In the first step one has to focus entirely on the power of feeling
(tingjin). For this purpose one must meet the offensive with calmness and be
able to go along with the partners movements without resisting or losing
contact. The body has to be soft and light. In this way one can discover the
direction of the attacking forces and the full and empty points of the
partner. One does not only feel with the hands, but with every part of the
II) The power of understanding (dongjin)
If one obtains information about the partner in this way one slowly starts
to see the full picture. This is the second step. It develops naturally
after a long time of training and is called the power of understanding
(dongjin). The "Tai Chi Chuan Classic (Taijiquan Jing)" states:"To go along
with is to adhere. Yin does not separate from yang. Yang does not separate
from yin. Yin and yang complement each other. This is the way to the power
of understanding (dongjin)."
III) The power of neutralizing (huajin)
If one understands the activities of the partner one can start to use the
power of neutralizing (huajin), which is the third step. Therefore one
starts to retreat in order to advance. By retreating one neutralizes the
incoming force, but at the same time one is ready to go on with one of the
eight hand techniques, which are part of the classic 13 basic movements of
Tai Chi Chuan. The resulting effect of this combination is explained in the
"Song of the 13 Basic Movements (Shisanshi gejue)":"In stillness one
encounters movement, in movement one encounters stillness. According with
one's opponent, the transformation seems to be miraculous."
The 13 basic movements of Tai Chi Chuan
In Chinese the 13 basic movements of Tai Chi Chuan are called "shisanshi".
"Shisan" is the number 13 and the second "shi" means basic movement. But
"shi" has also a much deeper meaning in Tai Chi Chuan which comes from the
Chinese strategic thinking. Here "shi" means "strategic advantage" or
"power" and is often explained by the picture of water, for example in the
Sunzi:"That the velocity of cascading water can send boulders bobbing about
is due to its strategic advantage (shi)." Sunzi wants to say that the power
of water is not inherent in the water itself, but in the height from which
the water is falling. Therefore this level is the strategic advantage and
gives the water its power. But "shi" is not only just a strategic advantage.
"Shi" is the manipulating circumstance to create a strategic advantage as an
alternative to the commitment of brutal force. This is also the concept of
"shi" as one finds it in the 13 basic movements of Tai Chi Chuan and is
explained in the "Treatise of Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan lun):"In advancing
forward and retreating backward, one can gain the opportunity and the
strategic advantage (shi). If you do not gain the opportunity and the
strategic advantage (shi), your body will be disorganised and confused." So
the 13 basic movements are much more than just movements. They are highly
sophisticated strategic concepts.
To order the 13 basic movements they are subdivided into eight hand
techniques (bamen, literally:eight gates) and five steps (wubu). The hand
techniques are peng, lü, ji, an, cai, lie, zhou and kao, which are in line
with the eight trigrams (bagua), and jinbu (to advance), tuibu (to retreat),
zuogu (to look left), youpan (to look right) and zhongding (central
equilibrium), which are in line with the five phases (wuxing). Peng, lü, ji
and an belong to the trigrams qian, kun, kan and li and represent the four
sides. Cai, lie, zhou and kao belong to the trigrams xun, zhen, dui and gen
and represent the four oblique angles. Jinbu, tuibu, zuogu, youpan and
zhongding are the equivalent to metal, wood, water, fire and earth. By
combining the hand techniques with the different steps, one can achieve a
huge variety of movements.
In teaching Wu Tai Chi Chuan Pushhands Ma Jiangbao follows the concept of
soft neutralisation. Therefore the first of the eight hand techniques to be
learned is lü, the diverting power. But how can lü are understood?
Tai Chi Chuan's technical vocabulary quite often uses Chinese characters,
which are not standard characters. Also the character for lü is not found in
any standard dictionaries. It is a self-made technical term of Tai Chi
Chuan. Therefore there is no direct translation for lü, but only
explanations of the quality of lü.
Chinese texts often use for an explanation of lü the words "yin" or"yindao",
which means "to lead", "to guide" or "to divert". This is how it is for
example used in the "Secret Song of the Eight Methods (Bafa mijue)", where
one finds about lü:
"How to explain the meaning of lü?
To lead the other (yindao) and allow him to come forward.
following the other's incoming force.
Light and subtle, without loosing contact or resisting.
The power ebbs out naturally into the emptiness.
Throw or attack follows naturally.
Maintain your own centre.
This can not be exploited by the other.
Ma Yueliang explains:"Lü is an overt power. If the other attacks, this is
the moment to familiarise oneself with his direction through peng. Then, one
leads him on - without even noticing - to continue the advance. Thus one can
divert the attack to the right or to the left. The power and speed of the
diverting depends on the power and speed of the attack. One waits until the
other's power is waning, which is when one lets go and starts the
counter-attack. Mechanically, lü works like an axis, going either to the
right or the left."
Ma Jiangbao points to the explanation of lü also on the "Song of Striking
Hands (Dashouge)", where it says:"Divert (yin) the attack into emptiness".
In doing so he concentrates on the quality of a good lü, which should give
the attacker the feeling of falling into an abyss. Ma Hailong, the eldest
son of Wu Yinghua and Ma Yueliang, says this about lü:"Lü is the diverting
(yin) power. It has a circular effect, follows the power of motion and
retains control. If doing lü, one has to keep one's centre."
Lü is therefore a technique that leads the attacking power into a circle, so
that it misses one's body and head into emptiness. It is important to note
that the diverting is based on a minimum of power and one's centre is not in
danger. If one can achieve this, one can also realise the principle of
lightness and one can deflect the power of a thousand pounds with the use of
The technical development in Wu Tai Chi Chuan Pushhands
All that is explained above is taught in Wu Tai Chi Chuan Pushhands, but is
based on the common theory of Tai Chi Chuan. What is special in Wu Tai Chi
Chuan Pushhands is the step by step process of learning. It starts with the
single hand methods. They are divided into five different methods. In the
first three methods one learns to stick and feel with the palm, the back and
the wrist of the hand. In the second two methods one trains to keep contact
with the elbows. When one has managed to work properly with one hand, the
double hand methods are following. In Wu Tai Chi Chuan Pushhands fifteen
different double hand methods are distinguished. Every double hand method
has a standard set of techniques, where the 13 basic movements are trained.
For example with the first method of double hand pushhands one practices
step by step twelve different kinds of lü's.
These twelve different lü's are of great importance for Wu Tai Chi Chuan
Pushhands. Here one learns the fundamental skill of neutralization. The
twelve lü's are arranged in four sets of three lü's and thus ordered in a
way that the student progresses from the easy to the difficult. In the first
set three lü's are done without any attack of the partner. So one can study
the lü in its pure form and tries to fulfil the ability of not resisting and
not losing contact. In the next set the partner attacks with "an" on three
different levels (up, middle and down) and one answers with lü. This time
one has to apply the principles one has learned in the first set. In the
third set one learns to hide the lü in a circle made by the hands. In this
way it is very hard for the partner to recognise the lü and a possible
reaction comes too late. The fourth set deals with lü in answer to one of
the nine lü's above. In the end one learns to answer always with lü even if
a partner does lü himself. If one has learned this step of Wu Tai Chi Chuan
Pushhands very well, one can start to learn the next double hand method.
Here the basic movement "lie" and some lockings (chinna) and answers to the
lockings are introduced. Every next double hand method introduces then more
and more different techniques. In the end one covers all possibilities of
attacks and answers in the fix step procedure.
After learning the fifteen double hand methods with all their techniques,
there follows moving step Pushhands and so on. The student of Wu Tai Chi
Chuan will learn the single and double hand methods and all the different
techniques in the correct order of the standard set. So he follows a step by
step process in which he will learn the full Wu Tai Chi Chuan Pushhands
without missing or overemphasising any part.
Copyright Bödicker GbR 2007