Mittwoch, 24. August 2016

Little thought: About the Strategy of Pushhands

Martin Boedicker

During Pushhands with Ma Jiangbao I observed the following sequence again and again:

Ma Jiangbao succeeded relatively quickly to gain a stronger position than his partner. Through a powerful advance with an or ji he could now lift his partner off his feet.

But that he did not.

Although he had the advantage, he retreated with . The partner lost their structure and Ma Jiangbao was able to break their balance with little effort.

Foto: Manos Meisen

This strategy (even as the stronger not to strike immediately) is certainly not an invention of Ma Jiangbao. Rather, it is a general concept in Chinese strategic thinking. One finds it beautifully formulated in the Hundred Military Strategies of Liu Bowen:

The Strong

In general, if you want the enemy
to engage your stronger, more numerous troops in battle,
you should feign fear and weakness
in order to entice them into it.
When they careless come forth,
you can suddenly assault them with your elite troops
and their army will invariably be defeated.
A tactical principle from the Art of War states:

Although capable, display incapability.

(One Hundred Unorthodox Strategies, Ralph D. Sayer, Westview, p. 66)

How often do you see on a youtube clip a Tai Chi-practitioner throwing an inferior but still structurally stable partner with a fierce fajing? Certainly an excellent technique, but it somehow never fully convinced me. In my option the true fascination of Tai Chi Chuan lies simply in the application of the strategy mentioned above.

Not being immediately active - even against an inferior partner.
Lure them into action, thereby bringing them with less effort
and less risk to lose their balance.

Here one can find the ideals of stillness and lightness of Tai Chi Chuan and also avoids any danger of venturing too early and too far into confrontation.

Mittwoch, 2. März 2016

Text: The Breathing is Natural

Dear Tai Chi-friends,

here a little found from the German Wuhun-Magazin, which is a translated copy from the Chinese Wuhun Magazin.
I thought it might be an interesting quote from one of the old masters.

From "What is Taijiquan" by Wang Rongze
Wuhun-Magazin no. 8, p44

How does one breath doing the exercises. The masters of Tai Chi Chuan of the old generations have no doubt about the four words:

The breathing is natural.

Because the breathing is natural - not different as during daily activites - there was at this times no need to explain it more detailed. But still some people expand the sentence "the breathing is natural" in an unatural way. Therefore Master Wu Jianquan feld the need to say the following:

"While eating or drinking nobody thinks about the breathing. I also never heard, that somebody got harmed by eating or drinking. Let us suggest, that while eating and drinking you also have to think when you have to breath in and out and how to use the qi. Then it would be unavoidable become harmed. That is the easiest way to explain it."

Freitag, 12. Februar 2016

Interview: Questions and Answers with Ma Jiangbao

By Martin Boedicker

Ma Jiang Bao (Chinese: 马江豹; pinyin: Mǎ Jiāngbào; 1941 - 2016) is a well known teacher of Wu-style Tai Chi Chuan. He is the third son of Wu Yinghua and Ma Yueliang. In 1986 he came with is father Ma Yueliang to Europe to teach Wu-style. Ma Yueliang returned home after four months. Ma Jiang Bao stayed and lived in Rotterdam. His students are teaching in many countries, in Europe as well as in South Africa and Japan.

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 Tai Chi Chuan with such parents.

Ma Jiangbao: My family has been a martial arts family for a long time. So for me, Tai Chi Chuan 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 Tai Chi Chuan 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 Tai Chi Chuan 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 Tai Chi Chuan. 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.

Foto: Manos Meisen

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 Tai Chi Chuan masters started to teach in public. At that time many people who wanted to learn Tai Chi Chuan were not used to martial arts. So the masters at that time developed completely slow forms to introduce those people to Tai Chi Chuan. These forms became very popular and today nearly all Tai Chi Chuan 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 Tai Chi Chuan, how should one write his or her Tai Chi Chuan 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 Tai Chi Chuan 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 Tai Chi Chuan train weapon forms, but there are three good reasons to do it.

1) Tai Chi Chuan is a traditional martial art. In China, traditional martial arts always had weapon forms. Tai Chi Chuan 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 Tai Chi Chuan. 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-style 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-style 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.

Freitag, 27. November 2015

Film: The Thin Line That Defines

Martial arts is an endless cycle of search and discovery.
A deep well of philosophy and journey.
Which is the beginning? Which is the end? Which is the point that connects all points?

The Thin Line That Defines from SPACE by Spot Marasigan on Vimeo.

Dienstag, 24. November 2015

Anecdote: Old Shanghai

After a morning’s training four of us were sitting in the living room of the family Ma in Shanghai. Having a cup of tea, Ma Yueliang started to tell an anecdote from old Shanghai, from when he was around 30 years old:

When I was walking through the little lanes of the town, I saw a strong foreign soldier blocking the lane. He was standing with one shoulder against the lefthand wall of the lane and leaning with his right hand on the oppposite wall. Any Chinese who wanted to pass had to duck under the arm. I couldn´t stand this and went up to the marine. He saw me and indicated with his left hand that I should pass under his right arm. I looked into his eyes and pointed to my chin.

At these moment Ma Yueliang could not sit still anymore in his chair. He stood up and a friend of mine to stand opposite him and to play the soldier. My friend looked very surprised, but he made a fist with his right hand and punched Ma Yueliang with his full strength. Although Ma Yueliang was more than 90 years old, he moved faster than you could see, swept the punch aside with a , borrowed my friend’s strength and threw him with a loud ‘thump’ on the floor. Then he smiled and said:

Yes, yes, Taijiquan is really a practical thing.

Dienstag, 10. November 2015

Small Thought: Embellished Movements

I am constantly fascinated how plain the movements of the great masters are. They are soft, round and flowing, but never embellished or overstated, or as the Chinese would say flowery. They express a high degree of concentration and focus on the essential.

That this idea is also know in the West, is shown in the following short story by the German writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing:

The Owner of the Bow

A man had an excellent bow of ebony,
with which he shot far and accurately, he valued his bow highly.

Once, however,
when he looked at it attentively,
he said:

"A little too plain you are!
All your adornment is your smoothness.
What a pity! But this can be changed!"

"I will go and find the best artist.
He will carve the most beautiful images into the bow"

He went
and the artist carved an entire hunt scene on the bow -
and what would be better on a bow than a hunt?
The man was full of joy.

"You earned these ornaments, my dear bow!"

But then, he went to try it - stretched it and the bow - broke.

Foto with Ma Jiangbao by Manos Meisen

Samstag, 7. November 2015

Interview: On Tai Chi Chuan and Natural Movement

Interview with Andre Oelofse, Cape Town/South Africa.

Martin: Hello Andre, welcome to Germany. Before we talk about Tai Chi Chuan, please can you introduce yourself a little.

Andre: I am located in Cape Town, where I have an exercise studio with the name “Body Technology" specialising in the rehabilitation of injuries and movement analysis with sportsmen and women and anyone who wants to discover their true potential. The basis of my teachings stem from 20 years Pilates experience coming from a strong sporting background (both mother and father were professional athletes). I specialise in a unique technique to free up the spine to allow for a freer movement and use boxing principles to help people find their natural rhythm.

M: Andre, how did you become exposed to Tai Chi Chuan?

A: I met with Robert Rudniak in Cape Town and he invited me for a private lesson and within that session I was so inspired to see that this was the missing link on how natural movement should be taught today.

M: So you got inspired but what did Robert teach you in that lesson?

A: He taught me the gongbu and xubu and showed me the first preparation with the rotation of the waist.

M: This does not look like much, so why is this so special to you?

A: Because it is so clear to me that this is the natural diagonal functional movement pattern of the body.

M: So if this is natural, why is this so important?

A: Today, people don’t spend enough time on the legs and this is a great tool to teach people how to create a relaxed natural strong structure, without collapsing or being rigid.

M: Is there no specific training for that in the other sports that you used previously in your teaching?

A: The previous sports training and with regards to Pilates were limited to weight bearing exercises on the legs and did not offer enough natural rotations of the waist. An additional tool I used was the boxing which offers a lot more rotation of the waist, the only thing is it was too yang. That is where Tai Chi Chuan comes in with its blending balance of yang and yin.

M: So I think you have found a good name for our Tai Chi Chuan?

A: This is the missing link for me – the power of natural movement.

M: You also told me, that you got very excited about the body-awareness in Tai Chi Chuan. Please introduce us to the 25% rule.

A: It is been proven in research that the natural stabilisers of the body (muscles inside the body) will support the body structure best at 25% of their maximum strength. If one uses more than 25%, the global stabilisers become too active and can’t support the body structure effectively. This is just raw power and is not supporting the power of the natural kinetic chain, which relies on the power of the relaxed tendons.

M: I do not understand this in full? Can you try explaining again?

A: If one uses more than 25% of maximum effort to stabilise one‘s body structure then there is no synergistic connection between the natural internal stabilisers. Instead you get over activity of the bigger muscle groups of the outside of the body. This results in a stiff structure.

M: I try to simplify this. Please correct me. As soon as you use more than 25% strength to maintain your structure you start to use the wrong muscles. Is that correct?

A: Yes. In Tai Chi Chuan it is the same. One should use the muscles you need in a soft way to get into posture (natural stabilisers at 25% effort) and not more. That is why I think Pushhands is so important because it is a true test to whether the individual can withstand the natural 25% rule in motion and under stressful conditions. And the beauty of this application is that it can be taken into daily lives and everyday movement. This is an amazing tool to stay centred these days.

M: For me it was a great experience to share some time with you, because with your background you have a very special view on Tai Chi Chuan and I hope you can go on to interpret Tai Chi Chuan in a modern western way. Everything that you say conforms to classical Tai Chi-theory, but it explains it in our western way. In your teaching for a westerner it might be much easier to get access to the deep knowledge of the heritage of Tai Chi Chuan.

A: For me I am grateful to have my connection with the Tai Chi-world and I respect your insight, passion and work already done and I hope I can add some more of my insight in the future.

Andre Oelofse: here