Archive for June, 2009

Zhao Bao Taijiquan

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

This one is in here for curiosity’s sake.  This guy is clearly very athletic, and the stances are brutally low.  He is clearly a professional at this and as such is someone to observe and learn from, rather than someone you should emulate, that is unless you yourself are a Taijiquan professional.  His movements are very smooth and he is moving from centre in a way that I’ve not seen in someone so young for a long time (he could be older than he looks by the way.  Hard to tell with these Taiji people sometimes!)  You don’t need to be anywhere NEAR this good to get a lot of good health benefits from Taiji.

As it happens, whilst being able to do this is really great, you won’t be able to do this forever.  Just watch some of the video clips of old masters doing Taiji or Bagua and their stances are nowhere near this low. If you go back to the Bagua video clip of Master Sun, you’ll note that you d0n’t need to have stunning flexibility and gymnastic skill to be good at the internal arts.

At is happens this dude has both, and lots of it too.

Breathing in Form – Non Blue Face Edition

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

A question I get asked a lot in class is how to breathe whilst you’re doing your Taiji form. It’s difficult to answer it because how you go about learning breathing in your Taijiquan form isn’t intuitive. You can’t just give a student a pattern to breathe to as it’s a sure way to see someone go blue in the face as they try to do the form with the “correct” breathing.

You can always spot someone who’s trying to breathe to a pattern, because they’re usually the ones holding their breath. A posture that takes a bit longer than normal to complete means they’ll have to exhale for a lot longer, but because they’re not so good at it yet, they exhale almost completely by the time they’re 2/3 of the way through the posture and then hold their breath for the rest. This makes them hold tension and is a little self-defeating. They’re putting a lot of effort into relaxing themselves off, only to have their breathing pattern tense them up again.

Practising form for long periods breathing like this isn’t good because the body will, eventually pick up on that habit of holding the breath and start doing it, which means more tension.

Not good. It just ain’t Taiji as there’s no continuous change in the breath.

The other reason why you can’t just take a breathing pattern and shove it into the Taiji form is because your body varies quite a bit from day to day, and one day it might find it easy to breathe in the pattern you’ve been given, and the next it might struggle. This is something you don’t have conscious control over, because your body is different from day to day. That’s just the way it is.

One of the ways to get around this is to teach the body to coordinate breathing with movement. This way, whatever your internal state, your body will just start to regulate and synchronise whatever breathing pattern is most appropriate and most relaxing with your movement. It is, however somewhat unintuitive as it doesn’t use your conscious mind. Just try it out and see how it works, even if you don’t believe me.

Practise breathing with very natural movements, such as walking and eventually your body will get the idea, so that when you do start doing Taiji form, your body will automatically breathe to the movement, you won’t have to try to “fit” your breathing to the form.

So, the next time you’re walking along to get somewhere, breathe in for four steps, and out for four steps. As you walk along, gradually increase the length of the breath to ten steps in and ten steps out. Try not to hold your breath in or out at any point. If you’re trying to take ten steps and you run out of breath by eight, then that’s your limit for that moment in time. Don’t try to force it, we don’t want anyone going blue in the face. You need to practise long and short breaths, as there are long and short movements in the form. Go as high as you can without tensing up or holding your breath and do this often, try it out when you next walk to the shops or when you’re in the gym.

If you do this often enough, your body will get the idea of co-ordinating movement with breathing and it will automatically start do regulate your breathing during your form practise.

Chen Xiao Wang – Chen Taijiquan 38 Form

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Chen Xiao Wang is an.. um.. Chen style Taiji Master.  This display is rather recent, either 2007 or 2008 I think.

The date at which it was taken doesn’t matter, nor does the slightly jittery camera work.  Master Chen’s movements are focused, solid and powerful, he has that “flavour” of the movement and his fa jing is superb.

What I took away from watching this is that although his core does not appear to be moving that much, it must be to be able to produce movement like that and fa jing that explosive. You’ll never look like that just waving your arms without your body being involved.  So this means that what might feel like big movements of the body, can look like they’re very small or nonexistent.

The other thing to note is that his movement is so great because he has mastered the art of making his body movement small.  His centre is clearly moving, to power the form, but you can only see its manifestation clearly in the hands and feet, you’ll have to look very closely to see how he’s moving his core.

Master Sun Zhi Jun – Ba Gua Zhang

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Whilst it is ironic to post a Ba Gua video on a Taiji site, this video is really rather illuminating.  Sun Zhi Jun is the teacher of Jing Li, one of our teachers and friends.  It is interesting to note that despite his age, and the complexity of the movement, Master Sun still moves from his centre and all his movement are obviously relaxed and powerful.

What I find most instructive about this video, however, is the fact that it is possible to move like that.  It may take years to achieve, but it is possible to flow like that, and to be in such good shape when you’re that old.  I find it rather inspiring actually

Total Aside – Day 2? 3? Of Tannage’s Malaysia Trip

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Ahh.. Malaysia, the country of delightful contradictions. Ladies in headscarves hang out with other girls clad in hotpants that are no bigger than thongs. Here is the land where “air”* is water, and you won’t be arrested for getting out your “wang”** in public.

So far we’ve been eating our way across the country, tucking into all the good old staples like fried kway teow and last night chowed down to a rather large red fish that was probably well over a kilogram and a half.

I’ve had my obligatory iced nuts (“ais kacang”) and so I’m happy. For all you who’re not sure what it is, it’s basically a snowball laced with all sorts of sweet things and additives. Makes you go a little crazy with the additives and sugar high but otherwise it’s delicious.

Malacca has changed so much since I was last there, it’s quite the urban jungle with very few pedestrian crossings. You kinda have to play Frogger to get to the other side of the road. People take “Why did the chicken?” jokes very seriously here.

There are huge shopping malls in Malacca now, and walking through one of them on the way to the food court today we heard the “Psst! Psst!” of someone obviously trying to covertly catch our attention. It was that sort of whisper that someone gives you when they’re trying to sell you something naughty, like skunk or local women. Turned out he was trying to flog a couple of cans of San Miguel and a bottle of Johnny Walker… a strange enough thing to experience until you realise that Malaysia is a Muslim country and as such, selling alcohol isn’t particularly au-fait here, not to mention the fact that Annie is pregnant and I am lethally allergic to the demon drink.

I’m not sure what to call the museum feature on Pudu prison. Is it a highlight, or a lowlight? Well it’s a rather famous old prison in KL. For some reason they had a museum special on it and Annie and I went to see it. Heck it cost a buck each and we were looking for an escape from the heat.

Within we saw all sorts of interesting facts about prison life, as well as footage of someone getting caned. My god the prison warders really let those guys have it. No wonder the recipients of said caning couldn’t sit down for a month!

There are also these trishaws that are decked out to the nines with flowers. These guys have really gone to town. Those things look immaculate.. not to mention really, really kitsch. To top it all off they’ve got a boombox aboard the trishaw pumping out Westlife. I wouldn’t be seen dead in one of them, but the other tourists really like ‘em.

I’m sitting here at about ten at night, wide awake from the jet lag but it’s no big deal. I’m on holiday so I don’t have to worry about being compus mentis tomorrow.

Incidentally, Malaysian TV is the same it always has been, movies riddled with “iklan”, commercials and variety shows. Oh, and watching Spongebob Squarepants dubbed into Malay is probably one of the most surreal things you could ever see.

Gonna try to get up early enough to do some standing practise in the morning, and maybe a bit of mini-form to get the system going. Did a bit of standing today and didn’t half feel good for it. My body’s getting used to not being on a flying metal box and I’m relieved that the aches and pains are finally going away.

Darn it.. I’m getting old.

P.S. Why is it my hotel has got to be next to a karaoke bar? Before it was the “Unchained Merody” and “Under Plessure”. This time I can’t make out the lyrics. Thank heavens for small mercies.

* “Air” means “water” in Malay

** “Wang” means money in Malay, I know, I know there are all sorts of euphemisms that spring to mind but this is a family blog.

Good Breathing Habits – And How To Get Them

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Photo by karloswayne

This week’s Big Idea is Breathing

Breathing in Taiji is one of the big kahunas. It’s because breathing is a primary way we relax ourselves. Think about what you do when you sigh. It’s a way for us to relax and let go of tension.

Try it now, breathe in… and sigh…

Some part inside of you just lets go doesn’t it? It may not come as a surprise then that breathing affects us physiologically in a million different ways. It isn’t a coincidence that so many internal arts and qigong forms empahsise the importance of correct breathing to help the body heal itself.

If you hold your breath, you’re automatically going to hold tension in the body. It’s an unnatural state for your body to be in, stuck in some sort of limbo between breaths, because the body’s natural state is one of constant breathing, constant change. Try it, hold your breath for as long as you can and you’ll notice that there will come a point when your body starts to tense up. Holding the breath is stressful.

What happens when you’re stressed and thinking about a difficult issue? More often than not, you’ll be holding your breath. If you work in an office, watch someone who’s having a bad day. As they concentrate intently, they’ll inhale and hold their breath whilst they’re thinking or trying to do something, then instinctively exhale and sigh as if to try to relieve the stress. When you’re holding tension mentally, or emotionally, you’ll more than likely start to manifest it physically by holding your breath.

As another example, what happens when you get startled, or surprised? Say someone hides behind that tree and jumps out shouting “BOO!”. You get startled, and you breathe in sharply, and then you hold your breath

If you do any sort of martial art and have done some sparring, you’ll know that when you get hit or put under pressure you start to run out of energy quicker, unless you can stop the panic and clear your head. I’ll bet that it’s because you’ll be holding your breath at and the added pressure from your sparring partner just saps your strength quicker.

To handle the stress of childbirth both mentally and physically, pregnant women are taught to breathe. Soldiers in some forces are taught breathing techniques to handle the stress of combat. Just as our internal state can affect our breathing, so can our breathing affect the rest of our physiology.

If you can focus on your breathing and breathe in a more controlled manner, or better yet, just let your body do the breathing, it’ll start to let go of the tension that’s been collecting in the body. If we focus on calming the breath, the body and mind will follow.

This is why breathing is important in Taijiquan.

It’s not because breathing during Taijiquan practise will make our Taijiquan better, it’s because practising breathing correctly will make every part of our life better.

It’ll do that by making you a lot more relaxed for a start.

Once your body gets used to breathing correctly during Taijiquan practise, it’ll start to remember it when you’re in your everyday life. When you hit some turbulence, you’ll instinctively start to breathe more gently to relieve the pressure. You might even find it’s a conscious thing. When you start looking at a new problem at work, you might even catch yourself doing a “Deep breath… let’s go” sort of thing.

It’s the same idea that you’re re-programming the body to do something it does naturally. Just as we can have bad postural habits, we can have bad breathing habits, and practise of Taijiquan with the right breathing can really help us let go of these habits.

And that, can only be a good thing.

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Standing Meditation On An Airplane

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

I’ve just come off a flight from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur. In total it took about 7 hours, and for those 7 hours I spent 5 of them sitting down either trying to sleep or trying to watch Rock’n’Rolla (Good film, very British humour). Now those 5 hours were interspersed with about 20 minutes of standing practise, during which a pretty Korean stewardess asked if I was praying, which all things considered, was a pretty good guess. When I said I was doing Taiji, I got an even more puzzled look but I digress.

Now that I’m off the plane and able to move around again, I remember once again that the human body wasn’t built to sit down, immobile for such a long period of time. My shoulders are tight, and my back is aching from having to sit down on a seat that didn’t fit me properly. I just think of how much worse I’d probably feel if I hadn’t had the chance to do a bit of standing!

The purpose of this post is not to gripe about the flight, but to remind myself that the human body wasn’t made to sit still for that length of time. Remember the whole habit thing that’s the theme of the recent weeks, standing re-programs the body to hold itself in a good posture.

Equally if you sit in a bad posture, such as on a plane, scrunched up in a seat for too long your body will start to remember that, so getting up and moving around to remind your body what’s the right posture is something really worth doing, especially on really long-haul fights.

I try to do some standing meditation, and if there’s enough room, I even do a bit of silk-reeling. You might get really strange looks from people but I think I’m getting too old to care. To be honest, I don’t go 5 hours straight whilst I’m at home without getting up and moving. Movement is all part of my routine and my habit so I’m not really going to sacrifice that whilst I’m on an airplane.

As Greeny says, “be large”, just go ahead and do that standing or movement.

Yang Taiji 24 – Play Guitar – Posture 5

Friday, June 19th, 2009

This is the last posture in the first section of the Yang Taiji 24 Form.  It’s not quite as complex as some of the transitions you’ve already seen, so if you’ve got through those you should find this a bit easier to do.

Things to remember are to make sure you do a half step and not a full one, and to relax the shoulders as the hands lift.  Try not to hold your breath as you do this posture.  Holding the breath makes you hold tension in your chest, and the last part of this posture is all about a relaxation of the whole upper body, so it’ll help if you breathe out at that point.

Happy practise!

Yang Taiji 24 – Brush Knee and Twist Step Posture 4

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Brush Knee Twist Step is repeated twice more in the Yang Taiji 24 Form so you end up with your left foot in front.

You should be fairly familiar with these movements already as you would have covered them in the transition from White Crane Spreads Wings to Brush Knee Twist Step.

Taiji For Back Pain – How Taiji Form Heals It

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

The second in our videos on Taiji for back pain. The Yang Taiji 24 form’s a good form for helping your back heal, it’s not too demanding on the body and is simple enough to learn quickly. The gentle movements and flexing and stretching is very good for your back as it will loosen up your back and allow bits of it to move.

Another benefit of getting yourself to relax is the fact that relaxation allows the circulation of blood in the previously tense areas of your back to improve. More blood going through it means more healing as blood brings with it lots of good stuff that the back needs, and takes away all the bad stuff that might have been sitting there waiting to be cleared.

The link to connecting to centre can be found here.
And here’s the first in our lessons on the Yang Taiji 24 Form.