Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tai Chi Chuan Fighting Form: A Work In Progress

Recent Practice

Previous Practice

This last weekend I went to train with my instructor Michael Gilman, the focus was on the 88-movement fighting form. Michael always goes into great detail and the form evolves in efficiant and dynamic ways. It was also a great three-hour workout. Later, back at the Dojo we made another video, this time with a different partner who is learning the form from us. This is the most difficult form I have ever tried to learn, and it is very difficult to teach. Each partner has 44 movements and you have to learn both sides - 88 movements.
In these videos, done over a year apart, I am doing the "B" side in both so I can compare more carefully. It's a different partner, and everybody moves differently and has a different body type and energy.
In the recent version, we are doing the form slightly faster. The faster you go the less deep, pendulum-type movement is possible. Things shorten up and are not as clean. When you do this at top speed, it is incredibly aerobic and you can get pretty winded after doing both sides back-to-back - (we just show one side in these versions).
Looking at both versions, I see we have quite a lot to work on. When the form is performed at this speed or even slower, we have to try harder to have deeper movement, in "Parting wild horses mane" for example. A little closer and more accurate contact. Each technique should be clearly apparent, where some of our moves here tend to blur together. I'm sure my instructor will have lots of criticizm, but to be fair, the partner in the recent version has only learned the form from us, not from our instructor.
All-in-all, I still feel pretty good about where we are at on this form, there is still much work to do, but we're on the right path.
-- On a side note; My instructor Michael Gilman learned this form years ago at a retreat camp on the Island where we live. The teacher was none other than Jou Tsung Hwa, a world-famous Taiji instructor. The years rolled by, and my friend and I started training with Michael, eventually learning this fighting form. Now the form has come full-circle, back to the island and is being kept alive here by our current practice.
That really makes me feel connected to a long lineage of great Tai Chi Chuan, and this form is truely an example of the "Art" in "Martial Art".


José said...

Hi John.

Nice form, it's almost the same as ours, with slight differences in the interpretation of some of the moves.

A couple of comments: you seem sometime to lead with your front foot when punching, for instance, at the beginning (your first punch, 0:05), where we can see the back foot clearly lifting from the ground as you punch. This seems to contradict the Taiji way, but it is permissible (my teacher allows it), but you need then to compress into the front leg and qua, to be able to root there. I think. It's a common Xingyi way of doing it, and my teacher would ask you to do it while punching a focus mitt, to see how to apply the power to the strike. My teacher would also question the fact that you seem sometimes to not have a "defined" stance ("Is that gongbu, or 60-40 or what is it?") especially since you are doing it slow, you should more clearly define the stances and extend the postures. But I'm just nitpicking, I guess! I love that form and wish I could do it more often. Few of my colleagues know it, and my karate teacher (who also learns from Sifu Wu Xuan) is leaving to go back to Japan for about 6 months.

Kudos to you guys for constantly getting your stuff on the web for us to see, exposing yourself to all sorts of stupid criticisms.

Do you guys sometimes do it with helmets and light gloves? To increase the speed and power? It's worth trying it. Establish some rules (obviously no one should kick full power to the knee etc) and then go faster and with power on some of the punches, to force the other guy to react credibly. Basically do it somewhat faster than you are doing it, and allow both sides to get in 5 real strikes, for instance. Setting limits keeps it in the cooperative realm and stops it from degenerating into a free for all.

On an unrelated note, I haven't yet gotten around to copying the stuff I told you about.

Bob Patterson said...

From my very non-Tai Chi eye it looks very nice!

I can also see a lot of combat application there so it's not totally art.

Dojo Rat said...

Thanks guys,
I appreciate the suggestions Jose', I know I should be hitting more from a rooted position, thanks for pointing this out. That's one reason I wanted to put these on video so I can find all my mistakes. There is a lifetime of improvement in this form and I realize I have a tremendous amount to work on.
We actually do try to do it at full speed, I did it with my instructor this weekend. As you can imagine, it gets pretty wild and inaccurate but more realistic. We can usually only get through about five moves each at full speed, like you say.
I don't mind putting my fat ass on the internet, none of us are supermen and it allows me to improve.
Thanks for the suggestions, I gotta lot to work on!

Formosa Neijia said...

I don't think I'll take the time to try to re-learn this form. I'll likely never teach it. It takes waaay too much time and commitment to getting it right. My thought was to break it down into drills for students. The moves and reactions could be taught as one-step sparring and then linked together eventually as the students pick up the motions. If they want the full form at the end, it would be easy to pick up at that point.


Dojo Rat said...

Formosa Dave;
You and I are on the same track. We are using pieces of the form, either in linear format as in repulse monkey vs brush knee, or in loops like cloud hands vs parting wild horses mane.
I think you will know what I mean, I may try to put a couple on video later.
Great idea, we are on the same track, and I always appreciate your input.

JoseFreitas said...

Actually, I think that's exactly where the form comes from, from individual drills and applications, linked together into a complete form. Wang Bo is a master from Shanghai who has introduced an interesting book on the QuanYou LaoJia Tao Lu, an older form that stands at the threshold between Chen and Yang and northern Wu (it looks more like Chen than anything else). In it, he says that the form came complete with the 32 (or 36?can't remember, have to look at it again) San Shou Methods. These are simply 32 applications that have been standardized and that the students practiced over and over. There are many indications that the 32 San Shou continued to be taught under Yang Luchan's descendents and that one of them (probably a student of Yang Chenfu) put them together as a complete two person set. Being a good chinese martial artist, as opposed to say, a good Aikido or Jujutsu student. Of course, these 32 apps are different and expanded from the initial ones, but it's almost certain they represent a choice of apps that Yang stylists practiced, linked together as a form.

I think that you are actually meant to dissecate the form, and practice the little bits alone over and over. It's also easy to make loops of them so you can practice just parts, as flow drills. At least my teacher thinks that's what it was used for. He also says that nowadays, since we mostly practice for health and fun, we are not required to do it, just do the form well. And if one day you need to actually learn the real fighting, well, presto! There you have it, a manual to teach you what bits to practice realistically.

Dojo Rat said...

Exellent comments Jose', as usual.
I am putting some of the pieces up as you will see in later posts