Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wu Style Taijiquan Training

There’s a lot going on with my taijiquan class these days. There is a weekly weapons class that has become a fixture. They are studying the saber form there. Our teacher likes to hold more or less monthly workshops on a variety of topics. Recently there was one on taijiquan applications, and she’s planning another one for January.

While I would like to learn all that stuff one of these days, I’m not in a hurry. I think that I am further ahead by instead really trying to refine my practice of the 108 Standard Form.

For starters, when we do the form in class together, I still have a tendency to get ahead of the group, especially towards the end. This is a common error. So my assignment is to actually try and be a half step or so behind the rest of the class to break that habit. I’m sure it will be challenging, but I’ll benefit from it.

From my practice at home, after some discussion with my teacher, I have six attributes I am working on now whenever I practice at home.

The first is implicit, doing the sequence correctly, with all the little bits and pieces present every time. Do this, then that, then that; omitting none of the little sub sequences that I’ve been taught so far. It’s easier said that done. While working on the Short Round Form, which does some of the movements a little differently, I “smoothed out” a whole section of my Standard form. The result was that I skipped some movements and that’s one reason I got ahead of the class.

The next one is to do the form from a lower stance. This is a lot of physical work. To sit even a little lower and still maintain the correct postures isn’t easy. My legs are screaming at me, and it’s so easy to just stand up. The effect is that my body is pumping a lot of blood around from the flexing of my legs, and I’m breathing very deeply.

My teacher says that this practice is very good for me, but that it takes a long time. When I get past having to use strong muscles to hold myself up, I’ll really be getting somewhere. Doing the form like this is quite a work out. I am as drenched as I would be on the treadmill for an hour when I’m really pushing myself.

The next attribute is to practice slower on my own. It’s our tendency, or monkey mind, to want to rush through the form even when we’re on our own. This is related to the first point, but there I’m practicing with other people; here, I’m practicing alone. Going more and more slowly allows the monkey mind to settle. While it’s not the same as Zen, I think it’s the same sort of thing.

Closely related to going more slowly is to practice the pace more evenly. Again related to #1, we tend to want to speed up towards the end; to get it over with.

The Wu style of taijiquan requires 100% weighting in many of the stances. Well, there’s what you think is 100% weighting when you standing there, then there’s really being 100% weighted on one foot. Couple that with the lower stances, and you’re really working. An interesting aspect of this is seeing how solid you can feel even standing with all of your weight on one foot if you do it correctly.

The last point is to relax my lower back which flattens it, and in fact rounds it. Since I’ve been practicing this, some things have been loosening up in my back; I’m allowing to let it relax more. My lower back has not only felt very strong, but I feel like there’s a great deal of support there. It’s almost like the feeling of wearing one of those belts you see weight lifters or movers with. I distinctly feel stronger there, but I don’t think it’s at all to do with building muscle, but loosening up so my connective tissue is not working at cross purposes with my muscle.

My plan is to not be distracted with all the other things there are to practice in the Wu style, and there’s quite a lot. I’ll continue to go to class and soak up as much as I can about the complete art, but for my own advancement, I’ll concentrate on the 108 Standard Form and these six attributes. I’ll give it some time and see where it gets me. I could do worse.

To the extent that I can refine my practice, my practice will refine me. At least that's my theory.

Below is a video of the Wu style Taijiquan Saber form, performed by Kevin Steele at a large gathering of members of the Wu style in Asia some years ago. Mr. Steel is a disciple of the late Wu Tai Sin. Wu Tai Sin was the 4th generation head of the Wu family and was particularly known for his straight sword and saber forms. He was the uncle of the present head of the Wu family, Wu Kuang Yu (“Eddie”).

If you click on the title of this post, you’ll be directed to the original YouTube video.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing some of your taiji training. I was a bit surprised by the notion of doing the form in a lower stance. I have often seen Wu style done at a pretty high stance, and I am assuming you're referring to your own relative height as opposed to something like a chen style thigh parallel thing, right?

Rick Matz said...

Yes, a relatively low stance. It's a training method.

andi said...

Another interesting exercise is this one.

In each of the forms you're single weighted right? With fairly definite weight shifts between them, right? So you should be single weighted all the way to the weight shift however slowly you might do the form. In fact, you should be able to stop at any point and find you're single-weighted, right?

Just try this, do a bit of the form very slowly and check that you're single weighted all the way by stopping still and checking if you're stable, because if you ain't you ain't single weighted are you?

If you're fudging your weighting this will find it - but watch your knees!!!

Rick Matz said...

That's exactly one of the things I'm exploring. It's so easy to not be single weighted, but almost single weighted.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand group form work. Long form work is so difficult to really do "internally" as it is that it seems like purely a solo endeavor to get any real value out of it. Sounds like you are doing just that in any case, though.

Rick Matz said...

It's a whole other practice with everyone adapting to the speed of the rest of the group. There's also being in control of the space you use. I was in a habit of taking really big steps to my left. If I'm between a couple of people, I have to adapt so I'm not stepping on the people to either side of me.

To me, right now, the group practice is about adapting.

andi said...

It's also, as Rick says, a good way to check your consistency of movement. Ideally you should finish the form exactly at the spot on which you started (draw a circle round you feet at the start and try to land back in it!). Doing it in a group can highlight the things which may be working against that because they let you see your position at any one time relative to the start.

I, for example, take longer steps in repulse monkey than I do in brush knew: I know this because the people behind in are closer at the end of 'monkey' than they were at the beginning, but not at the end of 'brush knee'. Also, a martial art is about being aware of what is going on around you and adapting to that. If I can maintain my position in a group form then maybe I can maintain it in a fight?

Rick Matz said...

The group practice of the form is another training method.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. For timing, distance, peripheral vision, etc., I'd like to practice baguazhang drills if possible. For form work, I'd rather practice zhan zhuang as it's easier to approaching doing correctly. External shapes have started seeming relatively meaningless to me recently (though still interesting). Inconsistency is a good thing at some level.

Which Wu style are you doing - Wu or Wu (Hao)?

Rick Matz said...

I've been studying the Wu family style headed by Wu Kwong Yu ("Eddie Wu").

My teacher is one of his senior students.

Forms - again, training methods.

Anonymous said...

Ah sounds very cool.

Anonymous said...

great sharing Rick. I actually suffer the opposite. I try to correct too many things while doing the form, which ends up being very slow. Trying to feel each step of the way. It does speed up when, as u said, the legs are screaming, so even half way through the form, I'll be "standing" already, and the pace will quicken, until I catch my breath.

Rick Matz said...

I'm getting to see that there are a lot of ways to practice.