Yang Cheng-fu, however, used both styles, as did his father, Yang Jain Hao, and both breathing methods are, or should be, learned by advanced Tai Chi students, as well as Kenpo students. Additionally, Yang Cheng-fu taught his later students to breath in through the nose and out through the mouth, while his early students, and those of his father and grandfather, were tought, Buddhist style, to breath in and out through the nose - and this is the method used in the Body Set. Unfortunately, most Tai Chi instructors simply tell their students to, "breathe naturally", and go no further.
Kenpo students are notoriously poor at learning Yang Cheng-fu style Tai Chi Chuan. My brother Al Tracy recognized this in 1967 when we created "Kenpo for Self-Defense; Tai Chi for Life", because two years of Kenpo was better for self-defense than 25 years of Tai Chi. The stances of Yang style are often contrary to Kenpo, with the body leaning into the moves, instead of remaining erect, and the movements are too expansive to fit into the Kenpo style. Chen Man Ch'ing's adaptation of the Yang style was far better suited for Kenpo, and this was the style Al Tracy chose to teach. The style is, however, little more than an exercise and seldom advances one beyond movement meditation. I, however, have retained Yang Cheng-fu's style, holding to the same standard that I apply to Kenpo, to master the original style first, and eschewing styles that abridge or limit the style.
Seeking stillness of motion is an arduous process even in the best of training, and even more so in Kenpo. It's for this reason that I espouse Yang Cheng-fu style Tai Chi, which, when properly practiced, develops the mental faculties for Intention, the development of Chi and directing the movement of Chi. I've advocated teaching Tai Chi in Kenpo schools for some time, not just for the health benefits, but because the Baby-Boomers will soon number between 50 and 60 million people over the age of 55, and there will be a market for Kenpo for Self-Defense, Tai Chi for Life.
NOTE added by Roarke Tracy: It took my father four years after his accident in 1999 to be able to concentrate on Tai Chi moves to where he could complete the form. He now practices every day and tells me it is the only way he can control pain.
The problem with Tai Chi instruction is, it takes time to learn not just the form, but to be good and look good doing it. When comparing Tai Chi in the United States to that in China where Tai Chi is practiced every morning, I would say the average person practicing Tai Chi in China is far better that most of those teaching Tai Chi in the United States.
That aside, once the form is memorized and the student can mimic the instructor, the process of developing the mental and spirit state, where a "insubstantial spirit rises to the top of the head," begins. This is probably the easiest aspect of Tai Chi to experience, yet I've seldom found an instructor who can explain it, let alone a student who can exercise Xu ling ding Jin 虚灵顶劲. This, like intention, can be demonstrated, and most students can feel it in less than ten minutes although the "feeling" of Xu ling ding Jin dose not mean you can maintain it for more than a few seconds let alone utilize it. That takes practice, and even then the "insubstantial spirit" is lost as soon as you move. There is, however, a conflict in maintaining the "insubstantial spirit" once Chi is being development, as Xu ling ding Jin is the beginning of Chi, and despite what Tai Chi "experts" theorize, neither Xu Ling ding Jin nor Chi flow naturally. If they did, everyone would quickly develop Chi. But until one has developed Chi, this is not important, because the purpose at this point is not to develop Chi but to develop stillness.
There are 108 postures in the Yang Cheng-fu form as it was taught to my brother Al Tracy, and me. I counted 242 moves in the form back in 1967, and may have missed some by combining one move with another, but the exact number was so trivial I never revisited it because 108 is a mythical number, representing the 36 beneficial spirits in the north and the 72 malevolent spirits one faces to the south. The beginning student will perform the 108 postures in about 15 minutes, while the advanced student will take 30 minutes or more, and when one's breathing is mastered, the form will take close to an hour. But this requires complete relaxation and a meditative state.
There are three Yang Cheng-fu forms, traditionally called the body form, mind form and spirit form, and each has 108 postures that are done differently from each other. The traditional from is the spirit form, and many Tai Chi instructors say this form should be practiced three time, once for the body, once for the mind and once for the spirit. While this may be good practice, it is not the same as practicing the three different, Yang Cheng Fu body, mind and spirit forms; and to facilitate meditation, and move beyond meditation to stillness it's best to also practice the mind form.
Memorizing the form takes tim
e, and in the process, every student will experience "monkey brain". That is, a state where you are lost and don't remember the next move, or forget what move you have just performed. The lesson one gains from this is to become more focused. It's really not until one has committed the form to memory that correct breathing can be fully practiced. But the student should practice proper breathing whenever it comes to mind; while walking, sitting, resting, before going to sleep, etc. After breath control is modestly achieved, Xu ling ding Jin is practiced and coordinated with your breathing. This will require a great deal of practice, and once the insubstantial spirit can be felt and maintained, one should begin to coordinate it and breath control with intention.
I wrote Stillness of Motion in 1995 for tracyskarate.com when it went on line in February of 1996, and while it is just as applicable today as it was 30 years ago, I have since developed my own method of Tai Chi Breathing, and my original Chi breathing system Xe Chi which uses XenOx, xenon gas.
Kenpo students are usually aware of coordination of upper and lower body, but Tai Chi, and stillness requires distinguishing between substantial and insubstantial; that is the amount of weight on each foot, when one leg is full and the other empty, or partially so, and which corresponding hand movement is substantial or insubstantial; that is, the amount of extension or force of each hand, arm, shoulder or back movement. With this one must be aware of where movement emanates. For instance, most Kenpo students begin the punch with the fist moving forward. But the actual movement must first come from the elbow; yet the elbow cannot move without the shoulder behind it; and, this is where most Kenpo students get their speed. Tai Chi, and stillness, require the movement to begin with the waist as transmitted to the back, and it is for this reason one of the ten essentials of Tai Chi is, Han xiong ba bei, (sink the chest, lift the back). But all this is done in a relaxed state, with the waist (which leads the back), hips and chest relaxed so the back is extended. This is in contrast to the erect posture found in Kenpo. But anyone who has ever seen an NFL game has seen a running back who, after a strenuous play, goes to the bench where he sits hunched over with his chest sunk, his shoulders dropped and his back raised as he naturally relaxes his body to grain strength.
There are ten important elements generally considered essential in Tai Chi, but those, and the dozen other important elements not listed in Yang Cheng-fu's essentials, must eventually be mastered. However, they are not necessary here for the purpose of explaining stillness of motion. Once the form is committed to memory and the frustration of memory and movement have been overcome, - where muscle memory replaces brain memory - the student must practice being quiet.
The Yoga student will learn this from the beginning, but both in Kenpo and Tai Chi the purpose of being quiet is secondary to proper movement and technique and posture. Being quiet is a meditative state where the noises and physical environment are blocked or ignored. We do this every day in our lives without realizing it, and only recognize that we have blocked out common sounds when, for some reason, they stop. The most striking examples of this are experienced by sailors who become so accustomed to the drone of the ships propellers they no longer notice them until there is a change in speed, or when they stop. But the Kenpo student must go deeper and quiet his thoughts. Each student will discover the best method for doing this. But the Tai Chi student first learns to concentrate thought on a single element, and then combine the thought with multiple elements of the form, and when the mind is clear and movement is harmonized, one reaches the first level of tranquility in movement.
There is a fine distinction between tranquility in motion and tranquility of motion, but those who achieve this understand. When the mind is calm, the Tai Chi movements are harmonized and flow from one to the next. But when the movements flow with intention the motion is itself tranquil or calm. When one can distinguish the difference, the next step goes contrary to what is generally accepted in Tai Chi training, to forget self.
To forget self means exactly that, to stop thinking, stop the mind from directing intention, and allow the movement to proceed without thought. This is a difficult concept, but it can be understood when your mind is like walking across a bridge over a rushing river, you stop, but the bridge moves on. When you have reached this state, there is stillness in motion. When your mind is void and is like walking across a bridge over a rushing river, you stop, your movement stops, the waters stop, the movement of water stops, the bridge is no more and you are on the other side of the river, you have experienced the stillness of movement. The form is no longer important. Your hand and feet can move however they wish, for like the archer drawing the bow, the arrow releases itself, and you step into the Void, Wu Chi.
©1996, 1999, 2006, 2015 by W. Tracy. All rights reserved. No portion may be reproduced without permission. The Law Offices of Michael Tracy.
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