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 ~

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Path May Be Hidden

Steven Pressfield is the author of several well known books: The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Gate of Fire and The War of Art. He also authors a very good blog.

Below is an excerpt from a recent blog post. The whole post may be read here.

“In the End, We’ll Succeed”

By Steven Pressfield | Published: May 1, 2013

Not long ago I took a wilderness trek with an old friend who had been the commander of a Recon company in the army. We were out in the boonies for five days, with no check-ins with civilization. I had never done this kind of thing before and I noticed two things:

One, my friend was completely confident of our whereabouts at all times.

Two, we were lost at least half the time.

A phrase kept re-appearing in my friend’s conversation: “In the end, we’ll succeed.”

At first I didn’t pick up on this theme, but after the twentieth time or so, I started saying it myself. It was a great mantra, and I think it applies equally well to such diverse enterprises as writing a novel or starting a business or undertaking any long-term, high-aspiration project.

What is a “Recon commander” anyway? As my friend explained it, recon teams or platoons (among many other assignments) guide larger formations across unfamiliar territory. Their job is to go into the unknown and make it known to those who follow. My friend’s vintage is the era before the invention of the GPS or other satellite-based navigational technology. He’s old school. A map. A compass. The sun.

I know from unimpeachable history that my friend is a superb land navigator. But, trust me, when you’re out in the deep boonies with no highways or man-made landmarks within miles, everything starts looking like everything else. My friend taught me about “blind maps”—a map with no place names on it, just topographical features. It’s amazing how hard it is to scan the horizon and say, “Ah, that peak over there is this peak on the map.”

One evening as the sun was setting we couldn’t find our way out of a box canyon. I was starting to freak. My friend was calmly collecting firewood. “In the end we’ll succeed.”

Another day we hiked all morning toward a road that had ceased to exist since the map’s publication. No problem. “In the end we’ll succeed.”

And we did.

There seemed to be two components to my friend’s principle:

1. Commitment to the ultimate object.
“In the end” meant to him the final goal. What happened along the way was purely anecdotal. There was a goal. That was where we were headed. Nothing would stop us from getting there.

2. Indifference to setbacks along the way.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

International Alliance of Martial Arts Schools

Previously, Mr Colin Wee wrote a guest post describing the Traditional Tae Kwon Do he teaches in Western Australia. Today, we have another guest post by Mr. Wee. He is the motive force behind a movement to form a loose network of schools world wide to provide ... well, see below.

My name is Colin Wee, I’ve been practicing martial arts in one form or another for the last 30 years. 

Many of you know me as the blogger who runs the Traditional Taekwondo Technique Workshop. 

This particular blog was created so I could explore techniques and training methodology beyond the confines of the 1.5 hour classes we have during the week.

Just so you know, the blog receives far more traffic than the handful of active students that train with me. Despite the healthy traffic, I have not received a single cent from providing that resource. In fact, 

I not only provide classes for free, I often find myself digging into my own pocket to fund additional club activities.

It seems I’m not alone when it comes to this giving mentality. When I recently revisited my instructors in the US, not only was I welcomed back with open arms, but they scheduled daily training (sometimes twice daily) and social activities. I felt like I was visiting family! What more can you ask for?

Well, let me tell you something you might not know.
n 2002, a friend of mine, Stuart Anslow started an organisation called International Alliance of 

Martial Art Schools. The premise was simple – any travelling student or instructor gets to train for free for up to two weeks at any participating member school. Joining was free – all you had to do was display the logo on your website, announce member benefits and away you went.

Dubious about the people I may meet – that is to say, those giving our industry a bad name – I was wary ... I wanted to stick with my own school and my own association, and I didn’t think this online group was going to amount to much.

Boy was I wrong. What I can tell you is that there are many solid honest-to-goodness martial art practitioners out there, and if given the right circumstance, they will come and will participate and will bring value to your lives.

Before IAOMAS, I was almost about to give up teaching martial arts. Nothing in my syllabus made sense to me. I had lost my way and my teachers were 10,000 miles away. But because of the opportunities through IAOMAS, I was able to embark on research, started discussions with very clever and informed instructors, and pretty soon started hosting my own IAOMAS joint seminars.

In the last few years, IAOMAS has fallen off the grid a little. There was a lot of work that had to be done by a very small number of volunteers. And we let the ball drop. It’s now come to me to reboot IAOMAS and to get instructors together again in one large global community. As Coordinator, I’ve chosen to form my committee with individuals all of whom reside here in Western Australia. We also are working with a larger group of regional facilitators who are helping us extend the IAOMAS message and network worldwide.

Please come and find out about what IAOMAS can do for you and your student body at our website And come say hi at our FaceBook page Looking forward to getting to know you better!

Sunday, September 22, 2013


The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. 

Some of the best poems of that period have been collected into an anthology known as The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. A online version of the anthology may be found here.

Li Qi


When this melody for the flageolet was made by Lady Cai,
When long ago one by one she sang its eighteen stanzas,
Even the Tartars were shedding tears into the border grasses,
And the envoy of China was heart-broken, turning back home with his escort.
...Cold fires now of old battles are grey on ancient forts,
And the wilderness is shadowed with white new-flying snow.
...When the player first brushes the Shang string and the Jue and then the Yu,
Autumn-leaves in all four quarters are shaken with a murmur.
Dong, the master,
Must have been taught in heaven.
Demons come from the deep pine-wood and stealthily listen
To music slow, then quick, following his hand,
Now far away, now near again, according to his heart.
A hundred birds from an empty mountain scatter and return;
Three thousand miles of floating clouds darken and lighten;
A wildgoose fledgling, left behind, cries for its flock,
And a Tartar child for the mother he loves.
Then river waves are calmed
And birds are mute that were singing,
And Wuzu tribes are homesick for their distant land,
And out of the dust of Siberian steppes rises a plaintive sorrow.
...Suddenly the low sound leaps to a freer tune,
Like a long wind swaying a forest, a downpour breaking tiles,
A cascade through the air, flying over tree-tops.
...A wild deer calls to his fellows. He is running among the mansions
In the corner of the capital by the Eastern Palace wall....
Phoenix Lake lies opposite the Gate of Green Jade;
But how can fame and profit concern a man of genius?
Day and night I long for him to bring his lute again.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Harvest Moon 2013

Alone And Drinking Under The Moon

Amongst the flowers I
am alone with my pot of wine
drinking by myself; then lifting
my cup I asked the moon
to drink with me, its reflection
and mine in the wine cup, just
the three of us; then I sigh
for the moon cannot drink,
and my shadow goes emptily along
with me never saying a word;
with no other friends here, I can
but use these two for company;
in the time of happiness, I
too must be happy with all
around me; I sit and sing
and it is as if the moon
accompanies me; then if I
dance, it is my shadow that
dances along with me; while
still not drunk, I am glad
to make the moon and my shadow
into friends, but then when
I have drunk too much, we
all part; yet these are
friends I can always count on
these who have no emotion
whatsoever; I hope that one day
we three will meet again,
deep in the Milky Way.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Baguazhang and the Art of War

Over at Dao of Strategy blog, there is a post (from an article that was originally published in Jade Dragon), which introduces the Internal Chinese Martial Art, Baguazhang; then goes further and describes some similarities to Sun Tzu's Art of War. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.

To most westerners, Taijiquan (TJQ) is the only Chinese exercise that teaches one how to integrate the mind, body and spirit into one unit. This is totally incorrect. There is another marital art system that not only shares the same principles and philosophy as Taijiquan, but it is outwardly simpler yet relies more on one's focus and concentration. This exercise is called Baguazhang (also referred to as Bagua or BGZ and pronounced as bah gwah jang. It is also written as Pa kua chang or PKC).
Baguazhang (BGZ) 八卦掌 is one of the more famous of the traditional Chinese martial arts that possesses many distinctive practice skill methods and its palm method changes unfathomably. It also has a good balanced reputation in the martial arts community. From the time of Qing Chengfeng (1851-1862), when Mr. Dong Haichuan (of Wen'an County in Hebei Province) introduced it until today, it has been practiced daily and enjoyed by martial artists in China and overseas.

Baguazhang is an exceptionally beautiful martial art emphasizing the use of spiral movements and a sophisticated use of footwork and fighting angles. It makes the body extremely flexible and able to move with tremendous grace, speed and power. Bagua practice is vigorous and aerobic. Many have considered Bagua to be the most advanced of the Chinese Martial Arts. The foundation of the system is a meditative circle walking practice and the "Single Change Palm" which was developed in Daoist monasteries over 400 years ago. As a meditation practice, Bagua allows one to produce a stillness of the mind in the midst of intense physical activity. This esoteric system at its highest levels becomes a method of manifesting the energetic patterns of change described in the Yi-Jing (I-Ching) or The Classic Book of Changes.

Technically, the correct performance of this exercise increases the practitioner's energy through simultaneous circle walking, forms practice, and breath control.

The practice of Baguazhang is very Zen-like in its approach to calming and focusing the mind, the body and the spirit. The basics are a series of movements done while walking in a circle. The goal of this exercise is for the individual to understand and maintain proper body alignment while staying centered and relaxed. Once this practice is consistent, the practitioners of this unique approach would move faster and more intricate with turning and twisting, moving the body in all possible angles and directions for fitness, centering and agility. Baguazhang emphasizes on the usage of quick footwork and turns as part of as its self-defense strategy.

Baguazhang is literally translated as Eight-Diagrams Palm. This style is one of the three primary Nei Jia Quan or internal styles of China. The other two styles are Xingyiquan and Taijiquan. As with Xingyi and Taiji, the practice of Bagua generates Qi (internal energy) for both health and combat purposes. Baguazhang primarily uses palm techniques, and this is reflected in the name, Eight Diagram Palm. This makes Baguazhang distinct from XingyiQuan and TaijiQuan styles, both of which incorporate fist techniques. (FYI - Taijiquan technically uses more palm maneuvers than fists.)

Its movements are based on the mobility of position and agility of body, this system proves itself to be a formidable style for the many players.   ... 

Instead of directly attacking an oncoming force, BGZ 'melts' around the attack; either simultaneously redirecting the attack while closing the position, or by evading it and re-positioning one's self to an advantageous 'doorway,' for finishing the opponent instantly.

There are some advanced Baguazhang players who are able to thaw the plans of their opponents by following their intent.

Historical Abstract
This style of Chinese boxing was very popular during the time of Qing Dynasty's Emperor Dao Guang who reigned from 1820 to 1850. The story goes that Dong Hai Chuan of Wen'an County in Hebei Province came to Beijing in 1852 when Emperor Guang Xu ascended the throne and worked in Prince Su's mansion. There he began to teach his Baguazhang, which soon became very popular in Beijing, Tianjin and the surrounding areas, and he was acknowledged as the respected founder of Baguazhang.

Dong Haichuan had a large number of followers and he taught each of them in accordance with their aptitude, adapting movements to suit their ability and talent

The Various Styles of Baguazhan
A hundred years later, Dong's Baguazhang has now branched out into various forms with some differences between them, each having its own distinctiveness.

Some of the modern branches of Baguazhang are the Cheng style (after Cheng Tinghua), the Yin style (after Yin Fu), the Jiang style (after Jiang Rong Qiao), the Liu style (after Liu Fengchun),  Liang style (Liang Zhenpu), Fu style (Fu Zhensong)  Sun style (Sun Lu Tang) and Gao style (Gao Yisheng).

While each of those Baguazhang systems is based on the individual's whose background and previous martial training. Each style has its own specific forms and techniques. In essence, all of the different styles adhere to the basic principles of Baguazhang while retaining an individual flavor of their own. Most of the styles in existence today can trace their roots to either the Yin Fu, Cheng TingHua, or Liang Zhenpu variations.

The distinctive trademarks of the Yin Fu style are the large number of percussive techniques, multiple quick-strikes combinations, explosive movements and very quick and evasive footwork. (Yin Fu was said to "fight like a tiger," advancing forward and knocking his opponent to the ground swiftly like a tiger pouncing on its prey.) Their approach also utilizes long range threading strike maneuvers.

Cheng Tinghua styles of Baguazhang features movements that are executed in a smooth flowing and continuous manner, with a subtle display of power. 

Popular variations of this style include the Dragon Style Baguazhang system, the Gao Yi Sheng system,  the "Swimming Body" Baguazhang, the Nine Palace System, Jiang Rong Qiao's style (probably the most common form practiced today), and the Sun Lutang style.

Liang Zhenpu's system is viewed as a combination of the Yin Fu and Cheng Tinghua styles. Liang's student, Li Ziming, popularized this style. 

All Baguazhang systems possessed a variation of a form known as the Single Change Palm (SCP). The Single Change Palm is the most basic form and is the core of the "eight change" palm exercise found in this  martial art system. Besides the Single Change Palm, the other forms include the Double Change Palm (DCP) and the Eight Changes Palm (also known variously as the Eight Mother Palms or the Old Eight Palms).

These forms are the foundation of Baguazhang. Baguazhang movements have a characteristic circular nature with a great deal of body spinning, turning, and rapid changes in direction. Beside the Single, Double and Eight Change Palms, most but not all styles of Ba Gua Zhang include some variation of the Sixty-Four Palms.
"Circle Walking" Training
"Baguazhang is a walk with benefits." - Anonymous

The first stage of the Baguazhang training is walking the circle. Research has shown that there are medical benefits that are derived from this exercise. Benefits include the prevention of contracting premature osteoporosis to the avoidance of acquired deformity and chronic diseases in nervous cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive systems. 
Abstract on The Single Change Palm (SCP) 
and The Double Change Palm (DCP)
After circle walking is taught, the first palm movement most Baguazhang players learn is the Single Change Palm (SCP). This movement is the outgoing hand posture that is focused on striking at the body of the opposition. Once that movement is mastered, the Double Change Palm (DCP) exercise is taught next. This movement is a continuation of the Single Change Palm, executing two or three consecutive strikes. There are six other palm movements that is the basis of Baguazhang(BGZ).
It has been said that 80-90% of Baguazhang fundamentals can be found in the Single Change Palm exercise (SCP)  the Double Change Palm (DCP) exercise and the Following Posture Palm. If one cannot perform those three exercises correctly, he or she would not be able to master the five other palms movements.

Theories of Baguazhang Combat
Who knows the limit? Does not the straightforward exist?   ... The straighforward changes again into the crafty, and the good changes again into the monstrous.   ... Indeed, it is long since the people were perplexed.    -Dao De Jing , 58 (D.C. Lau translation)
In combat, Baguazhang is similar to the other Chinese Internal Arts where it does not directly attack an oncoming force. The proficient BGZ players would dissolve around the attack; either simultaneously redirecting the attack while closing the position or by utilizing that same offensive move against the attacker. The technical distinction is the re-positioning of one's self to an advantageous 'doorway,' for finishing the opponent instantly.
Thus when someone excels in attacking, the enemy does not know where to mount his defense; when someone excels at defense, the enemy does not know where to attack. So subtle it approaches the formless, so spiritual it attains the soundless. Thus he can act as the enemy's Master of Fate.  - Art of War 6

Those same expert Baguazhang players are noted for employing its unpredictable changing movements, feints and dexterous moves, which are combined to misdirect and wear down the opponent. 

In order to cause the enemy to come of their own volition, extend some apparent profit. In order to prevent the enemy from coming forth, show them the potential harm.  
- Art of War 6

Experts of this open-hand system are occasionally utilized a counter-offensive approach. They often do not strike first, rather, they remain composed in the face of determined adversaries, conserving their energy and looking for positional openings that would allow a launch of an attack. While the force of the Eight Diagrams Palms action is sometimes indescribable, it can be found in other internal martial art systems.

From another combat perspective, it was also designed for combat with multiple opponents. This action can be accomplished by its footwork and changing motion motions, which ease the rapid change of direction.  Some people have claimed that it was designed to defend against opponents from eight directions.
In conclusion, the combat strategy of Baguazhang is based on the implementation of quick and continuous changes to avoid directly opposing force. Depending on the combat experience of the teachers, the BGZ student is supposed to be trained in the elements of positional mobility and physical agility. From our perspective, there are some Baguazhang teachers that do instruct or even know with detail the principles and the exercises of Baguazhang.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Comparing Martial Arts Practices

As a martial arts student, you're always anxious to improve your practice; to be the best you can be. Then we fall into a trip. We ask others what they are doing and how they are training and we can't help but to compare ourselves to them.

One way or the other, comparing ourselves to others will certainly make us unhappy because of human nautre.

Below is an excerpt from a post at Zen Habits. The full article may be read here. Please pay a visit.

The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others

By Leo Babauta
One of the biggest reasons we’re not content with ourselves and our lives is that we compare ourselves to other people.

Picture it: you see photos of what someone else is doing on Facebook and think your life isn’t exciting enough. You see someone else who has a cool job and think you’re not doing that great in your career. You see someone with a hotter body, and feel bad about yours. You see someone who has created an awesome business, and think you’re not doing enough. You read about people who are traveling the world, learning languages, going to exotic resorts and restaurants, and wonder why you’re not.

Of course, you’re comparing your reality to an ideal, a fantasy.

It’s not a comparison that makes sense. You can’t compare apples to apples when you compare yourself to anyone else. Which means it’s a dumb comparison — why would you compare how tangy an orange is compared to a beach? They’re not similar things.

Let’s take an example: I’m out running in the park, and I see someone running past me. Obviously he’s a faster runner, and better than me! Oh, that makes me feel horrible about myself as a runner!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11 (1683)

September 11, 1683.

The seemingly unstoppable advance of militant Islam was brought to a halt and the tide turned at the Siege of Vienna in 1683.

Led by the last heavy cavalry in Europe, the Husaria, the Winged Horsemen of Poland, King Jan Sobieski III Poland routed the entrenched Muslim forces and the retreat of Islam from Central Europe had begun.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

An Interview with Ma Jiang Bao

UPDATE: Ma Jiang Bao passed on October 12, 2016.

Today we have a guest post by Dr. Martin Boedicker. Dr. Boedicker is a senior student of Ma Jiang Bao, a Grandmaster of the Wu Family Style of Taijiquan.

Dr. Boedicker's blog is Tai Chi Chuan and Philsophy. There is always interesting reading there. Please pay a visit. Dr Boedicker is also the author of Taichichuan in the History of Martial Arts and The Philosophy of Taichichuan.

Dr. Martin Boedicker, born 1965, is training martial arts (judo, teakwood, aikido) since his youth. 1986 he started to learn Wu Tai Chi Chuan with Ma Jiangbao. After his phd in Chemistry he studied East-Asia-Sience opened his international Tai Chi-school and taught Tai Chi Chuan as a guest teacher at the University of Witten. Beside the teaching he concentrated on translating and commenting of chinese texts, connected to Tai Chi Chuan. These were published in German, English, Dutch and Indonesian. This became now the centre of his work.
From the Wikipedia page on Ma Jiang Bao

Ma Jiang Bao (Chinese: 马江豹; pinyin: Mǎ Jiāngbào; born 1941) is a well known teacher of Wu-style t'ai chi ch'uan. He is the third son of Wu Ying-hua and Ma Yueh-liang. In 1986 he came with is father Ma Yueh-liang to Europe to teach Wu-style. Ma Yueh-liang returned home after four months. Ma Jiang Bao stayed and lives now in Rotterdam. He and his students are teaching in many countries, in Europe as well as in South Africa and Japan.
Now to the interview!

Questions and answers with Ma Jiangbao

Question: You are son of the Ma Yueliang and Wu Yinghua, the daughter of Wu Jianquan, creator of Wu style. I think many of us wonder how it is to learn Taijiquan with such parents.

Ma Jiangbao: My family has been a martial arts family for a long time. So for me, Taijiquan was always there. I can remember, when I was a child, the members of my family training a lot in our house and me watching them. There were not only my parents, but also my brothers and sisters and other members of the family like Wu Gongyi. Later I just joined, like a child, which is playing. When I was about 8 years old I finished the form. My parents were guiding my training, but I also trained a lot by myself. At about 16 I finished the weapon forms. Pushhands training was always there. I learned with my father and mother, but I also trained a lot with my two older brothers. At 18 my parents asked me to teach for the Jianquan Taijiquan Association Shanghai.

Question: It is said that Wu style Taijiquan is the one that most resembles the original Yang style. What are the similarities and differences?

Ma Jiangbao: The Wu family learned for three generations with the Yang family. So at the beginning, the styles were very similar, but after a while they diverged. But the patterns of the long forms are still very similar. Today I teach the forms as Wu Jianquan standardised them. Our tradition is also very rich in Pushhands techniques. Differences to the Yang style can be found, for example, in the forward inclination of the body in some movements and in the parallel position of the feet.

Question: Could you explain these features?

Ma Jiangbao: The forward inclination of the body means that the body is in a line from the heel to the top of the head. This posture fits with the parallel position of the feet and is very good for exerting power. You have an unbroken line from the heel to the shoulders and all parts of the body reflect the direction in which the power is exerted.

Question: It looks like the interaction of waist and hips in Wu style differs from other styles. Could you explain this to us? 

Ma Jiangbao: This is connected to the last question. In the Wu style the feet are often parallel. If you turn in these postures from the hip, you will lose your central equilibrium. So we turn the body around the waist. In this way it is also easy to divert an attack and let it fall into the emptiness without losing your own central equilibrium.

Question: In Wu style the progression of movement is taught as hand–waist–feet. This seems to contradict the principles applied in other styles. Could you tell us about the mechanics of this?

Ma Jiangbao: Yes, in Wu style the progression of movement is tought as hand–waist–feet, but the whole movement finishes together. This is the best way to exert power and in the end, the whole movement becomes on. But if, for example the body moves first, the opponent can easily see this. It will be very simple for him to divert the attacking hand that follow after the body moved.

Question: In Wu style Taijiquan many forms are trained. In which order should the student learn them?

Ma Jiangbao: One starts with the slow form. The slow form is the foundation of Taijiquan. After that one learns the saber form and then the spear form. Once proficient in these, you can go on to the fast or sword form.

Question: Is there a reason for this order?

Ma Jiangbao: Firstly, there is the basic idea of finding stillness in movement. For this purpose the slow form is the best. Furthermore the slow form allows you the opportunity to work on your movements to a very deep level. Basic skills can be acquired and postures can be corrected. After that there is the more dynamic training of the weapon forms. The weapon forms are more demanding on the body, because the weapon has weight and the form is performed faster. Therefor thorough preparation in the slow form is necessary. The fast form tests the skill and fitness of the student. It requires the use of power and high speed where even small mistakes can cause damage to the body. Before learning the fast form one should have worked intensively on any problems in the slow and weapon forms.

Question: How long would it take to learn a form?

Ma Jiangbao: If you are training very hard, you can learn one form in a year. But for that you also have to work hard at home. One year of learning should be followed by one year of training. Only after that the student should start a new form. If the student is not training so intensively, progress is of course slower.

Question: Is it permissible to learn two forms at the same time?

Ma Jiangbao: This is not a wise decision. Many students come only once a week to the class. In this way it is impossible to learn two forms at the same time. I have noticed that even if students are coming more than once a week, one form loses its quality as soon as they start learning the next one. That is not good. Before you learn a new form, the old one should be mastered very well. That means not only the sequence,but also the finer details of the movements.

Question: Is there a didactic structure when learning the forms?

Ma Jiangbao: Yes, first you learn the main postures of the form. Once you have mastered these, you learn to connect the postures with movements. Here you have to know the direction of the movement as well as the timing. When the postures and the movements are mastered you have to combine them together to develop a certain flow (depends on the form) to the form. 

Question: So there are three steps in learning a form. Do you have any tips for training at home?

Ma Jiangbao: At home, you should not always play the whole form. You should regularly train single postures and movements. Through this, you develop an understanding of the finer aspects.

Question: Should one hold postures for a long time.

Ma Jiangbao: Standing in a posture for a long time is in general not wrong. But it can be easily a problem or lead to seriously problems, when you have known or unknown orthopedic problems in your body. So I advise people, especially, when a bit older, not to do it or not to do to much of it and if so, just with a teacher watching and correcting you carefully

Question: As you said above, apart from the best known slow form, Wu style also includes a fast form. Can you tell us about it? How do the slow and the fast form complement each other? 

Ma Jiangbao: In old times there were only faster forms. From about 1920 the Taijiquan masters started to teach in public. At that time many people who wanted to learn Taijiquan were not used to martial arts. So the masters at that time developed completely slow forms to introduce those people to Taijiquan. These forms became very popular and today nearly all Taijiquan forms are slow. In Wu style we have retained the old fast form. The Wu style slow form has developed out of the fast form. They have the same pattern and sequence of movements. This means, for example, that when at a certain point in the fast form you do the cloud hands, you do them in the slow form as well. Although the pattern of the movements is the same, the movements themselves are not. The slow form is not the fast form simply slowed down. For example, jumps and hard twists of the body are left out or are changed to a softer way.

Question: If one has studied with several teachers of Wu style Taijiquan, how should one write his or her Taijiquan curriculum vitae?

Ma Jiangbao: Today a lot of students study first with a teacher near to where they live. Later they go to one of my top students or to me to learn more or to improve. If a student wants to write his or her Taijiquan curriculum vitae, they should certainly mention all teachers  who have had an important influence on their development.

Question:How is pushhands taught and perfected in Wu style?

Ma Jiangbao: First you have to find a good teacher. This is one of the main problems. Then you have to look for good partners which suit your needs. In the beginning, it is a good idea to train with only a few partners. Then you can get used to each other and you can train new techniques very well. During this time you should place a lot of emphasis on training the ability of feeling (tingjin). If you train like this, after a while you will develop naturally the ability of understanding (dongjin). After you have reached a certain level, you have to look for as many different partners as possible. This will greatly increase your technical abilities and your tingjin and dongjin.

Question: In Wu style pushhands there are one-person exercises. What are the differences between these exercises and the form?

Ma Jiangbao: The one-person exercises are the same as the two-person exercises in pushhands, only done alone. In this way you can concentrate much more on the precision of the exercise. You have time to concentrate fully on your own movements. After a while, you will be able to do the exercises well. Then you can start to train them with a partner. Because your own movements are correct, you can then concentrate on adjusting your movements to the movements of your partner.

Question: If an advanced student is training pushhands with a beginner how should he do it?

Ma Jiangbao: As a beginner of pushhands you need full concentration to coordinate your own movements. Though the advanced one should not correct to much. Instead he should keep care of his own movements and try to imrpove them. If one train with a beginner this is a good oppurtunity to deepen one owns ability.

Question: Why do we lift the tip of the foot in xubu?

Ma Jiangbao: There are two reasons. First, this makes you to shift the center of gravity really back. Second, this will strenghten the muscels of the front of your legs. In Pushhands, we often keep the tip of the foot down. The student should now be able to control his weighting center. And a lifted foot could be dangerous to the partner. After a good technique he could be fall over the foot.

Question: Let's come back to the weapon forms. Why should one learn weapon forms in modern times?

Ma Jiangbao: Not all friends of Taijiquan train weapon forms, but there are three good reasons to do it.

1) Taijiquan is a traditional martial art. In China, traditional martial arts always had weapon forms. Taijiquan as part of this tradition offers to the student several types of weapon forms. If one is interested to follow the tradition and to learn a complete system, weapon forms are an important part.
2) The weapon forms are trained dynamically; this means there is the interchange between fast and slow, hard and soft. This promotes the athletic development of the student and demands high levels of skill in body control. Therefore the weapon forms are an ideal compliment to the slow form.
3) The athletic activity and the more demanding bodywork increase the health effect of Taijiquan. Because you train the weapon forms alone, you can control the physical demands to suit your constitution.

Question: At what speed should one practice the weapon forms and the fast
form as a beginner?

Ma Jiangbao: This question is very important. The weapon forms and the fast form have a special rhythm. It applies: Hard and soft support each other. Fast and slow are in harmony. It is very important to practice these aspects right from the beginning. One does make the movements a little bit slower as a beginner, but the rhythm must remain. There exists no case where these forms are practiced slowly and evenly as the slow form.

Question: Are there sword forms in Wu style (for example the double sword form) which are created just for women.

Ma Jiangbao: No, the sword forms are for men and women. But it transpired, that the women really love the sword forms and that they train them therefore intensively. That is also the reason; why in demonstration often women are seen demonstrating the sword forms.

Question: How does one breathe in Wu Tai Chi Chuan?

Ma Jiangbao: Proper breathing is very important. The main aspect of breathing is naturalness (ziran). When you do the form, you should breathe as normal. You should not artificially connect the breathing to the movements. This is the wrong way. It is the opposite way around. If the movements are light and without stops the breathing will naturally became deep and slow. But if the postures are wrong, for example shoulders or elbows are lifted, this will have a bad influence on breathing. When speaking of body postures, it is very important to have an erect head, an empty neck, to sink the shoulders, relax the elbows, straighten the spine and relax the waist. If you concentrate on correct body postures and the lightness and smoothness of the movements, the breathing will become deep and harmonious. Then after doing the form you will feel relaxed and refreshed.

Questions: Why are there no shouts in the Training of the forms of Wu Tai Chi Chuan?

Ma Jiangbao: A central point in the training of the forms is the development of naturalness (ziran) in the breathing. One tries to development a natural deep breathing by correct postures and not-interfering with the breathing. Shouts are no part of the training of the forms

If you train the faster forms more intensive or small exercises with hard attacks, you will breath out naturally stronger. Because of the strength of the with the movement coordinated breathing, there will be a sound like "ha". This is fully in concordance with the naturalness, but one should not artificially make the body stiff to increase the effect.

Foto 1 and 4: Courtesy of Manos Meisen