Tuesday, 30 September 2008

leaving behind the hard and following the soft

I have gone back to visit Master Her Ren Shan several times (the master of Chen style, from the last post) and decided to give up Wai Jia (hard styles) and focus my energy on Nei Jia (internal styles). I am going to study Chen style, and also keep my eyes open for any Xing Yi Quan or Ba Gua Zhang in our area.

Master Her explains that Internal styles focus on using the mind rather than muscular or structural strength. In the ancient Taiji texts, it says that the mind should direct the Qi, which guides the movements of your body, starting from your feet, guided by your waist, through your spine to your arms. There is a woman called Teacher Yang, who studied Taiji for 30 years along with Master He and often attends class. When I push hands with her, she keeps saying "bu yao li, yao yi!" Li means physical power/force, Yi means mind/intention. So she is saying dont use strength, use your mind, by this she means make your arms soft, but alive and with intention. Also, she says you should be "Peng" which means a springy force, so if you push on my arm, it should hold its structure in a soft, but springy way.

After pushing hands with several different people i have begun to pick up on their different engergies. Master Her is very heavy and immovable, but I dont mean in an untrained way, it is the hardness that comes from years of softness, the highest skill. Its like steel wrapped in cotton wool. There is another man who regularly trains with us, who is called Mr Liu and he practices Wu style Taiji. Pushing hands with him is like pushing a ghost, its impossible to feel his weight centre or any trace of force, intention or direction. He stands with his feet together, and if you push him he just leans back with the force in such a way that its like trying to push fog and you end up falling forward, at which time he has turned slightly, so you land on the floor next to him. A similar thing happens when he pushes you.

Master Her doesnt teach any forms, but of course he has studied them, he knows Chen, Yang and Wu styles of Taiji, Mantis kung fu and bits and pieces of other styles. He says once you grasp the essence of Taiji you can be formless and fit into any style, after all, Taiji means the supreme ultimate, the interplay of Yin and Yang, the very flow of the universe, so knowing the fighting style based on this theory means moving in accord with the universe and so the essence of all styles is contained in it if you understand it. Master Her can demonstrate this by using fighting applications of hard styles such as Mantis against any attack, but using it in a soft way, which generates incredible power. An example of this is when he asked me to attack him and used the "mantis climbs mountain" technique against me, but sent me flying just with the block.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Chen style Taiji Quan

I have a friend I often talk to in the park after my Mantis class who studies Chen style Tai Ji Quan (t'ai chi ch'uan). He is a university teacher in the local university and we often talk about martial arts. He explains that the essence of Tai Ji is that it is about using your mind (yi) to guide your movements rather than your strength (li). The first thing you must practice is Zhan Zhuang, which means standing like a tree. You stand with your feet at shoulder width and bend your knees and put your arms in front of you and naturally curve them. The important point is keeping a straight back. Then you focus your mind on your Dan Tian, which is also known as the naval chakra, a point just below your navel where Qi is stored and is also your centre of balance. This excercise roots you to the ground, so that you are immovable in combat. The longer you hold the posture, the better rooting you will develop, 10 minutes a day is sufficient, but advanced practitioners aim for half an hour.

Anyway, my friend Chen Ning, took me to meet his master this morning. He is a man in his 70s who is very large and powerful. He is famous around Qingdao for his skill in Tui Shou (push hands). I cant really do push hands, its different from Wing Chun's Chi Sau, but I had a go anyway. I found the same as the Yang style master I wrote about before. He was just immovable and yet so soft! But as soon as he felt my weight come forward, he gave a gentle tug and sent me crashig to the floor. He said the skill is learning to feel where the opponents weight is, kind of like listening to their body. I did Tui Shou with a woman there too, who was really good and showed me the basics of it.

Afterwards, the master showed me some Qin Na (joint locks). He said this is not the aim of Tai Ji, but just a skill that is developed from it. He showed me several locks, and then the counter for each lock, so that they all flowed together. The master was a very welcoming and friendly man, who didnt act secretive or distant. I got a huge sense of warmth and kindness from him, from the moment he shook my hand. Everybody seemed to respect him and I feel this is the attitude that a master should have. He was philosophical about Tai Ji and said that the aim is to develop Wu Xing (mind of no-mind), which means to act instinctively, not to plan and scheme in your mind, so that when somebody attacks you, you just knock them down, and maybe you dont even know how you did it!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Om and the Himalayas

I was doodling yesterday and I found myself drawing the "Om" symbol without realising it. It caused me to remember last year when I was in India I stayed in a little guesthouse on the side of a mountain high in the Himalayas. The head of the family was a very nice man called Mr Prakash-ji (Ji is added at the end of Indian names to show respect). He was a very spiritual man who practices yoga and meditation. All the food served in his guesthouse is vegetarian and organically grown by his own family, and all the water used, even for washing pots, is Himalayan spring water, which flows freely from the mountain. Every morning some of us would get up early to meditate with him and he would also talk to us about the nature of our mind. The type of meditation we practiced was a type of transcendental which used chanting "Om" out loud. Om is made of the sanskrit particles A, U and M. A represents that which has form, U represents the formless, and M represents that which is neither form, nor formless.
He said that the mind is like a crazy horse that runs wild. Meditation is like tying the horse to a pole. It will cause it to run around even more at first, circling the pole and getting restless, but eventually, it will calm and will become still. This stillness allows us to perceive Sunyata, or emptiness. However, we shouldnt dwell on the idea of emptiness, for then it becomes another form and is not truly empty. We should let it arise naturally.
I find it extremely hard to let my mind still, whenever I sit in meditation there I become aware of how busy my mind is, like the horse running round and round the pole, but I figure if I can sit long enough, then the horse will tire and rest.