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Archive for July, 2008

Go to amazon.com, type in “tai chi,” and the pickings are kind of depressing: Tai Chi for Dummies, this form and that form etc. Lets be honest, no one has ever become good at Tai Chi by just reading books or even DVDs. I have a few of those kinds of books for reference, but really, the bookshelf should be filled with books on the internal aspects, meaning the internal alchemy and the philosophy side of things. Type in “Internal Martial Arts” and the result is a bit more encouraging: at least you have 4 books on the first page that were written since 2000 on the topics. And due to the hard works of some translators, we now have some classics such as Yang Cheng Fu’s book, and even Chen Xin’s tome, long thought to be one of holy grail of books to be translated (*).

The English contents pale in comparison to the Chinese literature though. You can glimpse a little bit of Wei ShuRen’s classics work at sites like chinafrominside.com, but that’s less than a page out of four of his books. The story has it that Wei got the book from his teacher, and his skills greatly improved afterward.  {EDIT 09/02/08: I was told that this particular story may not have been true and that Master Wei simply learned (very well) from Master Wang. END EDIT} Look at this video of Wei ShuRen when he was 80 years old:

I don’t know about you, but when someone can do that when they are 80, I sure will try to read everything they write down. Fortunately, I have located one of the books. I am hoping to get a copy of his “Secret teachings of Yang Jian Hou,” hopefully one of my contacts will come through.

I also have gotten a copy of Li Ya Hsuan’s book on Yang Tai Chi. Both this and Wei’s books contain much information that were secret and certainly not very well known in the West even today. I hope to share some translations in the days to come.

(*) Oddly enough, for a bookworm like me, I have not ordered this book yet, perhaps I still cannot believe that anyone can translate this book adequately….

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Have you gone to a Tai Chi or other internal martial arts seminar, and the sifu would touch another person nonchalantly and BAM! the person does a jump and get bounced off (replace the encounter with demonstration of other neat technique as you see fit)? What happen next is usually people would start to play with the technique on each other, see if they can replicate it. They may think the secret is the hip turning, or may be the sifu is using his jin to control the person’s dantien such a way, or they may think it’s all woo-woo handwaving magic.

Meanwhile, if the sifu is good, he would start telling people to do some seemingly *basic* stuff. May be some Standing to develop the Qi, may be some simple exercises. You know, the boring stuff, the stuff that we all know already. After some practices, the brazen may even start to ask questions, “Sifu, when you do such and such, you hook your foot in, and when you do, you feel the jin connection from the foot to…”

Um, not even close. If your gong-fu is not there yet, no matter how detailed the analysis is, it would be like explaining calculus to someone barely know how to do multiplication – ain’t going to happen. Equally bad is the “I am an expert in ice skating, we have a technique similar to this, and we…” Um no, ice skating is not like Tai Chi. For that matter, neither is Karate, Jijutsu, Boxing… Not that those arts do not have similar techniques, but if they do, the way it is done is different. Know how something works from one arts does not necessarily give you an insight on how it works in the internal martial arts. Unfortunately, it is very easy to fall in this trap. After all, it’s just a technique, right?

If you train in internal martial arts, your body will change. What you do, the so called technqiues or applications arise from the all the trainings you have done. The gong-fu. What you do is an expression of what you know, not in the analyitc part of your brain, but in your Yi and in your Shen, and in your body. Until then, *that* technique, you do not know it.

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Qi and the Internal Martial Arts

Discussing Internal Martial Arts in the Orient is a very different exercise than in the West. A Chinese sifu would say “the Qi goes here” or “sink Qi to the dantien” all day long and no one would raise an eyebrow. The strict teaching method is that you just do what your teacher asks. You wouldn’t dare to question, at least not interrupting a whole class with your silly questions. Besides, Qi is so central to the Chinese thought that no less than 50 expressions involve the word Qi! In contrast, the western science legacy is based on questioning: what does it do? How does it work? In the West, before the sifu could finish the sentence, inevitably someone would ask “What is Qi?”

Unfortunately, most people who want to discuss Qi and Internal Martial Arts scientifically are asking the wrong questions. Often the first assumption is that if the Chinese cannot describe Qi in western terms (“is it a thing? What kind of thing is it?”) then the Chinese paradigm is either flawed, incomprepensible, or incompatible with western science. So they ask, “if Qi exists, how come we can’t measure it?” or “it must be [fake, bio-electricity, body alignment, … ]”

Lets think about this: the Chinese martial artists have been using Qi to describe, and more importantly, transmit their knowledge for hundreds if not thousands of years. Consider that some of the brightest minds in Chinese history are martial artists, the conclusion must be that the system is fine as it is!

In other words, throw down the preconceived notions on how things *should* work, and accept that it does work, and it may work for you too. While the Flatlanders could not comprehend the 3-D world, nevertheless, the 3-D world does exist. So if a student has problems with the Qi paradigm, then the problem is with the student, and not with the paradigm!

Can we *supplement* the Qi paradigm with more scientific information? Absolutely. Search the web for body alignment, bio-mechanical model, tendon, sinew, fascia, and you would find much information, perhaps more paletable to the western minds.

However, that is still missing the point. For the word Internal in Internal Martial Arts refers to Shen, Qi, and Yi, the internal aspects. To start the journey on training in Internal Martial Arts, one must start there, but that’s for another post. The very first step though, must be that the mind must change to accept the Qi paradigm, and that Internal Martial Arts is different. It’s not just doing thing softly or slowly, or that it’s just whole body power. It’s those, and a lot more, but that’s a topic for another post.

// richard

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