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No Wind-ups in Tai Chi

Everywhere the hands are in a tai chi form---there is a fighting application.

There are no wind-ups in tai chi. No matter what your hands are doing (or legs) a fighting application is available at that moment.

Here's a glimpse into a fun class we had a few weeks ago, when I walked the class through some of the fighting applications from the second movement in Laojia Yilu -- Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar. Some students have only been doing tai chi for a few months--others have been involved over a year.

Click the play button below to see a few minutes from our class.

Chen Bing and the Skill of Relaxing Against Force in Taiji

Cbweb Chen Bing is the nephew of Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing. He has a college degree, and it doesn't take long to realize that he has a different style than his uncles--more involved, more accessible.

I met him in Chicago at a push hands seminar. He put one hand on my left shoulder, and I put my hand on his left shoulder. The object was to push the other person off-balance. Each time I pushed, he relaxed, and before I knew it I was falling off-balance.

It's the same thing that I felt when pushing hands with Chen Xiaoxing. When force comes in, it's met with relaxation and neutralization, not force. It's one of the things that really marks the difference between "external" and internal arts. I've rarely met a karate or TKD person, or even another kung fu person for that matter, who understands the concept of relaxed strength. Force comes in and you relax and deal with it.

This is a skill that I grapple with, trying to ingrain it into my reflexes. One of the most difficult things to do is to un-learn what you've been taught. We've been taught all our lives to tense up when force comes at us. It's a natural instinct, but when you see other martial artists do their forms--all sound, fury, and tension--it becomes obvious why some of us who have studied other arts have a hard time re-teaching our bodies how to react to an attack.

I would push at Chen Bing and it was like pushing a noodle. He relaxed, sunk, let the force dissipate, and then before I knew it I was being pushed off-balance. I would laugh and he would laugh. It was amazing to experience and feel his skill.

Tai Chi or Taiji?

You may notice that I usually spell my martial arts by the Wade-Giles method rather than the spelling most commonly used by people who consider themselves very "serious" about Tai Chi.

The pinyin method of translating Chinese words was developed in the mid-20th Century by the Chinese government. It's the most commonly used method now.

But the Wade-Giles method of spelling and pronouncing Tai Chi caught on before the pinyin version, which is Taiji. I use the Wade-Giles spelling of Tai Chi Chuan rather than the pinyin method of Taijiquan.

I'm not the only one. Even T'ai Chi magazine uses the old way of spelling the art.

That's not why I do it, though. I use "Tai Chi" because that's what Americans know. Most Americans seeing the word "Taijiquan" will not realize that it means "Tai Chi." And they have a hard time using the "ch" sound when reading the letter "q."

Hsing-I has always been a challenge. Xingi is also a logical way of spelling this art, but it isn't as well known as Tai Chi so I don't worry about it. I use the Baguazhang version rather than Pa Kua Chang because it more accurately represents the pronunciation from an American perspective.

I wanted to clear this up. It would be nice if everyone could use the same spelling, but until Americans understand that Taijiquan means Tai Chi, I'll continue to use the Wade-Giles spelling just to make it easier for newcomers to understand.

Another One Bites the Dust

I was sorry to read this article about a kung fu school closing. I can totally relate. We closed our school about three weeks ago, just before Nancy and I moved to Florida.

My goal was always to own a kung fu school, but the reality is a lot different than the mental image. The need to meet expenses has a dampening impact on the whole endeavor.

Before too long, I plan to search for a couple of college students to teach. At the same time, they can help me as I practice and improve my skills. It's strange to wake up on a Saturday morning and not have a class to teach. On the other hand, Nancy and I are headed for the beach later this morning. We plan to find a secluded spot and go through our tai chi forms.

There are pros and cons to everything. :)

"Moving" Peng and the Ground Path

Moving_pengweb The North American moving guys didn't do their job right and didn't have any extra help to unload our furniture and household goods at our new home in Florida. They seemed to be moving in slow motion, and I quickly realized that if Nancy and I were going to get our stuff into our new home, I'd have to pitch in and help unload.

It didn't take long to learn that when you load heavy boxes onto a dolly and take it down a ramp, it can quickly get away from you.

So I applied tai chi principles and maintained the ground path and a sense of "peng" throughout the process. By maintaining the ground and peng while stepping backwards, I kept the dolly from coming down too fast and was able to control it easily, with much less physical effort.

Tai Chi principles can be used in many day-to-day activities, from opening heavy doors to lifting and carrying heavy items. I was once told to imagine moving as if your dan t'ien was being pulled along a level plane. I tried that while running and it made my strides more even and relaxed.

I learned another valuable thing while moving. It's dang hot in Florida. :) I worked about 10 hours carrying boxes and furniture, and was sweating so badly that the brim of my Kung Fu Quad Cities cap was dripping with sweat!

The past couple of weeks have been so intense, with the move and the death of my mom, that I haven't had a chance to even practice tai chi or kung fu since we held our last class at the Bettendorf school. What little free time I've had, I've tried to chill a bit with Nancy. I'm hoping that this week, we'll begin practicing again.

The End of a Life

My mom died on Monday. I told her weeks ago to hang in there until Nancy and I were able to visit Atlanta on our way to our new home in Florida.

She did hang in there. I tried to talk to her every day on the phone, and every day she grew weaker. On Saturday, she was barely able to speak. We were at my daughter Harmony's house in Cincinnati--the first stop on our Victory 2007 tour to Cincinnati, Lexington, Atlanta, and then finally Tampa, our new home. I called her and both my daughters talked with her. She was able to say "I love you."

By the time we got to Atlanta on Sunday evening, she was a skeleton and unable to speak. She was barely able to squeeze my hand. Her eyes were cloudy, and one would barely open. The other didn't appear to focus very well.

My mom could be a very generous person, but she also was full of rage as I grew up. She started life with several strikes against her--born into a hillbilly family in Eastern Kentucky, a group of mean alcoholics. Her father either killed himself or was shot by my grandmother in front of my mom when she was 3 years old. She was taken to an orphanage in Lexington and lived there until she was 16, when she married my father. Her mom died of alcoholism when she was 36 years old. Her brothers were both very mean alcoholics, but when they were sober, they were charming and generous.

I grew up in a home where rage could explode at any moment, triggered by my mother. My dad was a lot like me, easy-going with a very evident sense of humor. She treated him terribly, and finally, they divorced when I was in college. She loved her children but had a hard time controlling her anger and rage. She drove some of us away. At the same time, she did wonderful things working with hospice in Frankfort, Kentucky, and she gained friendships among families whose loved ones she helped so wonderfully during their final days. She would give you her last dollar if you needed it, but she made many destructive decisions as well. She was a complicated person who lived a life that was so full of potential, but in the end, a little tragic.

When I arrived in Atlanta on Sunday, none of that mattered. Seeing her in such a state, unable to move or speak, and knowing she had waited to see me--I could only feel compassion and love.

She could barely respond, but she could hear, so I talked with her. I joked about her weight loss plan, and how skinny she was. I said, "I love what you've done with your hair." Her eyebrow raised. She knew I was teasing her.

On Monday morning, it seemed that she could pass away at any moment. Her breathing would stop, then she would take another breath. Outside of her earshot, a relative said that he believed she was hanging in not only to see me, but also for some sort of release. She felt guilty about divorcing my dad and other things troubled her.

I went in to see her alone, and told her that if she felt guilty or bad about anything in her life, she was completely forgiven and completely loved. I told her that she had raised some fine children and she had done a good job. And I told her that it was okay to go. She would be okay, and she would be remembered for the rest of our lives. I wanted her last hours to be full of love, something that was so difficult to find during her life.

I kissed her on the cheek several times. She made a kissing noise and was able to say "bye."

I was emotional as Nancy and I left to hit the road for Tampa. For the first time in my life, I didn't want to leave my mom.

About 5 hours later, when we were almost to Valdosta, my sister Kathy called. Our mom had died holding her hand.

In the end, nothing matters but love. If your parents are still alive, call them and give them love. It doesn't matter if they have been less than loving in the past. How you react is what's important, and offering love and compassion is never wrong.

What does all this have to do with the internal arts? Nothing. And everything. It has a lot to do with the art of life, one of the most internal arts of all.

Nothing is more important than family, and nothing is more important than treating others well. When you begin to think that other things are more important, including tai chi or other martial arts, you're straying from the path. When you feel the urge to reach out with negativity or anger, you're losing sight of how precious every moment is, and how each moment must be treasured and valued. By being angry or critical of others or mean, you're wasting time that you'll never get back.

Seeing my mom in that state -- unable to move and dependent on others to clean her and take care of her -- drove home the fragility of life. Some day, we may all be in that situation. It's something to keep in mind as we deal with those we come in contact with each day.