Posts Tagged ‘taiji’
The first fa jin in the 99-step Chen Pan Ling form we do often causes students some problems. The logical thing to do would be to copy the movement, but that’s not really how you can get this posture, or for that fact, any posture right. Technically perfect movement is still not Taiji. One student we had a few years ago was a professional dancer and it took her three weeks to learn the form. What she didn’t get was the understanding of the flavour of the movement. This flavour, this feeling is what makes Taiji what it is rather than a sequence of movements. Flavour is in the feeling. The English language is well equipped to describe each sense in isolation, we have many adjectives for describing sight, sound and touch, but the feeling of movement is a combination of these senses for which English, or for that fact any other language has no vocabulary to describe.
So, how do you learn something you can’t describe? Through experience.
The process of learning Taiji is largely experiential. It isn’t till you have experience the flavour that you can really know or understand it. Some teaching methods just got the student to repeat the postures again and again until an awareness of the flavour develops, but we don’t believe that is an efficient way to learn. What we prefer to do is to present different metaphors, give new perspectives to the student that they can try with the movement until they catch a glimpse of the flavour they’re aiming to capture. That glimpse is all that’s really necessary, as the student can then develop that glimpse until it is a part of the form they practise every day.
Last year, I hurt my back – and I used my Taiji form to help me heal it and get back to my normal self within a week or so.. And I thought I should share how I did it.
It’s my own fault really, I had a “me Tarzan, You Jane” moment and was a typical man. I lifted a 45kg chest of drawers from the showroom to the car and then up the stairs to my son’s bedroom. Now, bear in mind that I (Tannage) am a middle-aged 5’4″ midget who weighs in at 65kg.
So, unsurprisingly something had to give, and unfortunately it wasn’t my pride.
Two days later, I wake up unable to really bend at the middle. If anyone of you have ever seen the Cybermen, that’s what I looked like when I walked around, well minus the shiny suit and evilness.
My back had gone into spasm, and a rather unpleasant spasm it was. I get stabbing pain, the sort that feels like hot chopsticks being stuck into your body.
Taiji person, heal thyself
So, having taken this hit to my pride, I resolved to be even more of a man. No painkillers. Stabbing pain? Crippling discomfort? Nah, I will be a man and get through it all!
Well.. Actually there was a method to my madness.
I’ve used Taiji to help me heal my back before, but it’s not quite as straightforward as just running through the form again and again, although that would also help.
Shotgun vs Sniper Rifle
Practising Taiji form heals the whole body, and if you have a bad back it will also help heal it, but this is something of a shotgun approach. A rising tide lifts all boats so they say. Raise the general health of the body and the back will heal itself.
Y’see, for a Taiji person, I was (1) Impatient, (2) in dire need of salvaging some pride.
I prefer Taiji practise for healing to be somewhat more focussed, I prefer it to be like a sniper rifle.
The question then is..
How Can I Practise Specifically To Heal My Back?
First up, I played through the form, paying attention to which postures caused discomfort, and the nature of the discomfort. Yeah I was doing the macho thing without taking painkillers, but there is method to the madness. Painkillers dull your sensations, and by taking them I would have dulled my sensitivity to the pain, and would therefore not have got as good a reading on which postures I needed to work on.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re thinking of doing this, and you ARE in severe pain, maybe take some (but always consult your doctor first). There’s no point in being in so much pain you can’t concentrate on anything.
1) Find the Postures That Hurt
I drew up a list of postures that were uncomfortable or painful, and took some notes on how these postures were different to the normal way I usually practised. Unsurprisingly, these postures were the ones that all had gentle flexing of the back, like cloud hands, snake creeps down, needles at sea bottom and especially grasp swallow’s tail.
2) Play The Form, Focussing On The Postures That Hurt
So what I did next was play the form repeatedly, paying attention to those postures, focussing on the back at those postures and making sure it got some movement and some flexing and circulation during the form. The main focus was in relaxation, as it was my back muscles going into spasm that was causing all the pain. I didn’t push these postures as hard as I normally did, didn’t sink as low, or make the movements too big, as the focus was to help rehabilitate the back.
Well, it’s remarkable what a few days of focussed practise can do.
3) Other things to consider
Now this, in of itself is not the whole story. I was also paying strict attention to how I was holding my body during the day, as bad posture is a major contributor to my back pain, as a bad posture is sure to bend an already hurt back even more out of shape. Give your back the best chance at healing itself is what I say, so even though I’d be practising, I’d still be doing other things that would help too.
It took a week, but my back was well and I had no pain after that time.
It’s worth mentioning that I had strained the muscles in my back, and there was no structural damage like tearing or inflammation. This was a back spasm (which I’m sure many of you will be aware of), so if you have some tissue damage this method may not work and you should see a health professional.
Taiji Form is a Tool
Taiji form is more than just a sequence of healing movements. It’s a tool that has certain properties. Just like you can use a knife to cut vegetables, slice meat and so on, your Taiji form can also be used in a variety of healing ways, it’s a tool that, if used in the right way can yield great results.
There have been numerous posts recently on how to do fajin, and we’ve received quite a few emails about how the fajin can be used in a more self-defense and combat context. So in answer to all the questions:
1) Yes you can use fajin to issue power, but doing it in a combat context is a different avenue of study to that of cultivation. When you’re learning it you can use it to cultivate both but there comes a point when you have to decide within your training session either to train power issuance, or train cultivation.
2) No it is not a method to crush bone and smash all and sundry in just 7 days. Crushing said bone is just a by product of being able to generate power. Proper fajin, in that I mean, fajin that isn’t going to injure you or your training partner is the result of careful training. Power as they say, is nothing without control and developing just the power bit is not going to help you to crush aforesaid bone. You also need to develop accuracy and control to deliver the goods where and when you want to
3) Yes, cultivation and self defence are two different avenues of study, both have many common elements to begin with but quickly branch off. You can specialise in one or the other or spread yourself over the two depending on your own training goals
4) There is a two man form in taiji, and parts of it are what you see in the video above. If there is a way to perform it for health we don’t know it, for us, cultivation is mainly done via forms and qigong, we save the paired exercises for trying to bat each other senseless.
Following on from the Fu Zhongwen Fajin blog post, we thought we’d add a bit more to the pot. Faijin isn’t just for martial arts or self-defense. Fajin can also be used to help the body heal itself, and keep itself healthy. A bit of impact every now and again helps the bone density, apart from the fact that you just feel good after practising fajin for a bit.
So, we’ve filmed a short video on how to practise basic fajin, which, at its heart is just a quick shake of the hips. The trick to it is to be relaxed enough so that the weave of power produced by the hip shake flows all the way into the limbs and fingertips. The feeling is not unlike a bounce. You’ll feel the wave of power bounce out from your core and into your extremities.
Now, you don’t need to have complete mastery of fajin to garner health benefits from it, and we believe the tradition of needing fajin being absolutely perfect stems from the self-defense days. Fajin was (and still is) used as a method of generating massive power over short distances, e.g. striking over a couple of inches. At high levels, this power would be lethal power over such short distances. In the days when there was no police force in China, mastery of fajin to this level of martial effectiveness was the difference between life and death, so it would obviously be emphasised. Fajin was after all what gave martial Taiji it’s edge, it’s what made it different and was the thing that it could do that not everyone else could.
Fast forward a few hundred years, our priorities are not so much “Am I going to walk away alive” but rather “How can I fix my back?” and so on. So, the emphasis of Taiji, and of fajin is now different. We’re all about the healing, and fajin, just like any other exercise in Taiji, will assist with that.
A little while back whilst Greeny and I were in the throes of getting married and moving house (I got married to Annie (again) and he moved house) @ezduzit777 on Twitter posted a note on Snake Creeps Down that inspired a short conversation on how this posture should really be done. As I was in Malaysia at the time and Greeny had packed the camera we couldn’t do a short post on what you should be looking out for in this posture.
Snake Creeps Down usually conjures up images of lithe and limber ladies literally slithering along close to the ground. Now that’s not something that everyone can do, not that I was ever a lithe and limber lady. My point is, that the whole point of a good Snake Creeps Down is not how low you can go, it’s not a limbo competition. What you’re trying to do is to stretch all the yin meridians that pass through the inside leg, and if you’re practising for health and cultivation, this should be your main focus when practising this posture. So, you should go as low as you need to to feel the stretch on the inside leg, which may be higher or lower than you might think.
If you really want to do a low Snake, then you’ll have to work the posture down to a low level over a period of time like Greeny did. It’s not strictly required for health cultivation but if you want to impress the girls and stay healthy at the same time I’d say go for it.
Loosely translated, Fajin means “to issue power”. There are lots of explanations for this phenomena, from relatively simple to rather mystical.
Practically speaking, Fajin is a way of generating power, more specifically short power for striking or grappling applications in the martial aspects of Taijiquan. Training Fajin can allow you to generate tremendous amounts of power over short distances, something first popularised by Bruce Lee’s one inch punch. If you’ve been studying Fajin for martial purposes for any length of time, you’ll probably have realised that that sort of power is your bread and butter power for martial Taijiquan.
This doesn’t mean to say that Fajin does not have its applications in the healing discipline within Taijiquan or any internal martial art. “Soft” Fajin is a way of practising Fajin that allows the body to experience gentle impact to stimulate the bones and allows the body’s Qi to circulate more freely. Practising Fajin is also a useful way for the Taijiquan practitioner to “self-diagnose” areas of tension or Qi blockage within his or her own body, as the wave of power will travel and stop at any points of tension or blockage. The practitioner can then practise to relax these areas in his normal Taijiquan form practise. Fajin for health is not often taught these days, and it is a point of interesting historical speculation as to why it was not emphasised in the modern teachings of Taijiquan.
Biomechanically, a Fajin is nothing more than a vigorous shake of the hips, allowing the wave of power to move up through the body and then out through the hands, much like the force travels through the hanging ball bearings on a Newton’s cradle. Whilst this principle is very easy to describe, the practise of it is slightly more tricky because the body has to be relaxed enough to allow the power to flow.
Much of the initial practise of Taijiquan is aimed at relaxing the body, because this relaxation is required for effective Fajin to take place. Once the body has achieved a baseline of relaxation, then meaningful Fajin practise can begin, and each posture of the Taijiquan form can be used as a short Fajin drill.
If Taijiquan is all about balance, the soft, slow movement of the form has to be balanced by quicker, harder movement, which we believe is the role that the practise of Fajin in the cultivation of health fulfils. In the next post, we’ll talk a bit more about why Fajin is so good for you.
Photo by exfordy
There’s a blog post over at martial development on The Four Paradoxes of Standing Meditation.
The post describes the philosophy of Wang XiangZhai, a master of Yiquan boxing and a hard as nails dude in his time. Yiquan’s training syllabus is based completely around standing meditation, and practitioners do hours and hours of standing as it is the heart of the system.
I’d like to draw your attention to two things in the blog post:
1) Perspectives: Chris gives a different perspective to what happens when you do standing meditation. What happens to all of us when we practise standing is essentially the same thing, but we all perceive it in different ways. Chris’s perspective on what happens is different and you may find it useful as it’ll give you another way of looking at the experience to the Taijipedia, and different perspectives are always helpful.
2) Comment: There’s a small argument that goes on in the comments section. A reader asks about whether we can “objectively verify a state of relaxation”. Comments 2 and 7 are the ones I’m referring to.
You can’t really objectively verify a state of relaxation. Our senses and perceptions are relative, and thus, our perception of relaxation is relative, and by inference, all relaxation is relative. You may feel really relaxed today, more relaxed than this time last week. However, you may be MORE tense than last week because you had one of those days yesterday and was stressed to the eyeballs.
Your state of relaxation is much like your sense of smell. If you step into a room with a bad smell (read tension) hanging around, sooner or later you get used to it and don’t notice it any more. Go into a room with the same smell, but not as bad and you’ll hardly notice it (tension less than before, but still tense). It’s only when you come out of the room (totally relax), then go back in (tense up again) that you’ll notice the tension again.
So, what does this mean for your Taijiquan practise? The training and practise will, over time relax you even if you cannot yourself always perceive this relaxation. It’s a proven method that’s worked for hundreds of years, so you can trust it to deliver the benefits, all you have to do is practise.
The title of this post might sound a bit like a Zen koan, but it’s something one of my teachers asked me if I could do. In typically traditional and mystical fashion, he left me to figure out what it meant.
I spent quite a bit of time contemplating the question, pondering the nature of the breath, looking at different breathing techniques, observing the breath to see if I could shed light on the rather cryptic lesson. At the time I was at the height of my Taiji nerdity, and I systematically went through all the principles to see if they would shed any light on how to breathe without breathing. Reaching the answer took a few years.
In that typically clichéd Golden Harvest Kung Fu movie fashion, the answer came to me whilst I was reminiscing about my childhood in Malaysia. It’s one of my earliest memories, and I think I was about five. One day I became acutely aware that I was breathing. My chest was moving and air was entering my lungs before I emptied my lungs. I was concentrating on breathing in, filling my lungs, and breathing out, emptying them. It occurred to me that I was controlling my breath and then it all came crashing into my fragile 5-year old mind.
What happens if I stop trying to breathe?
Naturally, this really scared me. What would happen? Would I stop breathing and asphyxiate? Was it possible for me to survive without breathing? What’s Mum going to say when she realises I’m not breathing? Ahmagawd! I’ve not even done my chores! I couldn’t contemplate the consequences to the last question, but I knew they’d be worse than when I shaved my eyebrows off for a laugh.
You might be thinking that it’s all kinda obvious, that I’d have to have been breathing, but to my little 5-year old brain predisposed to missing the obvious, it posed a rather interesting and frightening problem.
This was the point when I realised that I’d got so caught up in the retribution I’d get for not doing my chores. I’d stopped trying to breathe, but a funny thing was happening. I was still breathing! I was not consciously trying to control my breath, and I was just letting my body breathe by itself as it wanted to. I was breathing, without breathing
Naturally I was relieved that this was the case. I’d be able to get my chores done, and all those images in my mind of being a zombie child vanished (The music video of Thriller was fresh in my mind). No life of being undead for me, I’d still be alive and breathing although I’d probably not stay that way for much longer if I didn’t get my chores done.
Now having worked it out, and put it into my practise, I have come to understand the wisdom of my teacher. Here are three ways breathing without breathing can help your Taijiquan:
- You won’t hold your breath – Your body is doing the breathing so it’ll always keep itself breathing, only pausing naturally between each breath. As you’re not holding your breath, you won’t hold tension, which leads me on to..
- You can explore deeper levels of relaxation: Now that you’re not unconsciously tensing yourself up by holding your breath, your body is free to relax even further, for free! You won’t have to concentrate on relaxing as your body will start to do it for you.
- You let your body do what it needs to: Your body will take in as much air as it needs at any given time, and the best thing to do is to just let it do this. You can trust it, it knows how hard, how fast and how deep it needs to breathe.
The last point is by far the most powerful one. We sigh to release tension, we breathe quicker and more deeply to feed our muscles oxygen, our body regulates our breathing for us to do whatever we need at the time, and we don’t even have to think about it.
It’s amazing if you think about it.
One of the fundamental steps in healing is to stop doing anything that’s going to make the situation worse, and letting the body breathe and regulate itself is one way of doing this.
Even if we have bad breathing habits, our body will, if we just let it, start to breathe appropriately for our state at the time. All we have to do is get out of the way.
So how do you learn to breathe without breathing?
The principle is easy to explain and is an extension of the technique explained in the post about breathing and form.
All you have to do is to become more aware of your breathing, observe and understand it, watch how it changes and what happens to it when you do various activities.
When you become aware of your breathing, you will then know when you are messing with it, i.e. deliberately breathing like I did when I was 5, or when you are letting your body breathe.
Deliberate breathing has a different feel altogether, like when you breathe in just before a sigh.
Natural breathing just happens. Stop your breath for an instant, and then just watch what happens next. Your body will just start breathing again, all by itself, and that feeling of your body just doing it, is what you need to get to.
This can be a bit scary, the conscious mind starts to think like me when I was 5. It’ll probably say
“WHAT!!! NOT BREATHING???!? ARE YOU NUTS!!?”
Yeah, big scary caps like that. Ignore your conscious mind. If my little story from when I was 5 proves, your body will simply start to breathe as nature intended it to.
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.