Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tai Chi Chuan And Xingyi: Levels Of Intensity

Yang Chen-Fu In Taiji Single Whip

I've been trying to put my thoughts together on the level of intensity I am experiancing in the Chinese Internal Arts recently.
- Let me begin by saying that while Tae Kwon Do and Kenpo of my early training gave me a sound foundation to build on, there was no way near the level of inner body knowledge that the internal arts offer. You could plow through a hard-style form and it felt about the same as if you had just done a bunch of push-ups or something. A sort of external vibrant stimulation, but superficial.
For the purpose of this post, I will focus on Taiji and Xingyi, the two arts I have been deeply studying. At this time, Xingyi is still a fairly new art for me, so I'm investing a lot of training time in it currently.

Tai Chi Chuan:
I started learning Yang-style Tai Chi Chuan around 1996, so I've logged a few hours in on that system. After years of Karate, I initially looked at Taiji with Karate "eyes". It took quite some time to let go and just feel the shapes of the postures and the rythym of the movement. At the time, my form instructors were superb, but there was no application work. None-the-less, my Karate benefited from the aspect of Taiji that resembles the movement of water. The long slow Taiji form changed my timing and rythym, and allowed me to see gaps and fill voids. My sparring got a lot better.
As I moved away from external Karate arts, I sought out higher level training and found our Tai Chi Chuan instructor, Michael Gilman. Under Gilman's supervision, the form came alive with applications, push hands and Chi development. What I feel now is that of the three internal arts, Tai Chi Chuan provides the best tune-up for balencing Yin and Yang. That includes the internal feeling as well as the movement evident in the postures. My Bagua training is temporarily taking a back-seat while I'm learning Xingyi, so the remaining thoughts will center on Xingyi.

Several years ago, I was ready to dial it up a notch. I had been in touch with Jake Burroughs of "Three Harmonies Martial Arts Center" in Seattle. Jake has hosted seminars with Master instructors Tim Cartmell and the late Mike Martello, among others. Through these training seminars, the science behind the movement in internal martial arts was explained. All these instructors had a no-nonsense approach to fighting with these arts, and there was a lot, A LOT of throwing. Angles were disected, strategy explained, and obscure form movement revealed.
By this time, I decided that if I was going to understand the totality of the Chinese internal arts, I needed to learn Xingyi to complete the Trinity. Jake patiently walked myself and another training partner through the five elements, strategy and later the linking forms and two of the animal forms. At this time I have a pretty good foundation but have a lot of training ahead of me.
What I feel in Xingyi is somewhat different than Taiji. As I said earlier, Taiji provides the greatest Yin-Yang balence (as I currently feel it). Xingyi however, brings out a far more aggressive feeling. As I have been instructed, we mostly practice Xingyi at a slow moderate speed like Taiji. But the feeling is completely different. Xingyi produces more rising, Yang energy in me. There is something that is associated with the aspect of hitting and crashing through imaginary opponents that brings out the warrior spirit. With that said, the level of focus is at least as powerful as Taiji, if not more. It is not haphazard flailing. One of the unique features that has changed a lot of my training is using the "Phoenix-eye fist", with the index knuckle extended.

Something about this fist, used for pressure point attacks, has completely changed the focus in hitting. Try it if you haven't, and see what you think. I have no doubt it activates something different in the meridian system of the body.
With all that has been said, I think Tai Chi Chuan and Xingyi complement each other perfectly. Taiji puts a little more emphisis on yielding, Xingyi on bold attacks.
But these arts offer a far deeper level of inner contemplation than any hard-style martial art I have ever practiced.


Man of the West said...

One of the unique features that has changed a lot of my training is using the "Phoenix-eye fist", with the index knuckle extended.

Something about this fist, used for pressure point attacks, has completely changed the focus in hitting.

You knew, I have no doubt, that this was karate notable Choki Motobu's favorite fist, but just on the off-chance...

Quoting from Nagamine's The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do:

One of Motobu's specialties was keikoken-zuki (forefinger-knuckle punch). Motobu always attached great importance to the use of makiwara in karate training. There are no karatemen who do not use makiwara, but the difference between Motobu and the others was that he could strike makiwara with keikoken No other karateman in the history of Okinawan karate has ever matched Motobu in the destructive power of keikoken.

cfink144 said...

Hey DR,

Great blog as I’m always interested to see what influences one’s path in the martial arts.

I’m sorry to see that you’ve given up on Karate. Since the early seventies, I’ve always trained in Tai Chi and Karate on a parallel track. Like yin and yang, I’ve found that my Tai Chi and Karate training have always complemented each other in that Tai Chi has made my Karate more softer or yielding, and Karate my Tai Chi more martial or direct. Maybe it is worked for me because I practice an old style type of Karate/Kobujutsu that is more flowing than the modern Karate systems today and with equal emphasis placed on training with Okinawan weapons. So my martial mindset is to always see what I can use as weapon first then empty hands secondly.

However most people practicing Tai Chi today do so for health and aesthetic reasons. I feel that the martial art aspect in Tai Chi is slowly being lost. Every couple of years, I would have my students pair up (defender and attacker) and work through the martial application of every move in the Zheng Manqing (Cheng Man Ching) Taiji 37 form. Obviously this is done slowly and softly. Even the ones not interested in the martial arts initially appreciate this as it brings relevance to what was a totally obscure move to them previously.


Restita, Seattle Wushu Center said...

Great post...thanks for sharing! I too, feel that the martial side of Taijiquan in slowly going by the wayside as many people get into Taiji for purely health reasons. Of course, I am a firm supporter of the health benefits, but there are still so many people out there that get into Taiji because of the stereotypical "new agey" things they hear about...and sometimes new students of this type will be greatly surprised, if not shocked, when I teach basic push hands or applications. With your permission, I'd like to share this post with my students... :-)

Dojo Rat said...

I love the Phoenix eye fist

Don't worry, the Kenpo still comes out in my actions. I just need to focus on Internal arts for now.
The Kenpo comes out like crazy in freestyle, I am just organizing my skills differently and don't care for Karate forms any more.

Thanks, and yes you are always welcome to share information off the Dojo Rat Blog.
I looked at your Blog, and may like to hear more about the Seattle Wushu Center. Thanks!

Chuck D said...

TO:CFINKI144 I know what you mean about training Two arts at the same time (yours being karate and Tai Chi Chuan) Me i study Wing Chun & Jeet-Kune-Do (Also "Kali" because you learn that in JKD). but my question is i want to take a animal type martial art and I had a opportunity to Learn the Shaolin Southern animals such as Praying mantis, Snake, Tiger, Crane, & Dragon) each animal takes at least four years to learn according to this guy so i decided to walk away from it plus when i did train with him it seemed liked he was more involved with himself. On the other hand I just found out where i live there is a very good teacher that teaches Xingyiquan and others like it, my question is how long does xingyiquan take to finish? and i know you cant Master it that takes a lifetime, but to get the top of the ranks and know most of it?

also is the animal fighting similar to the ones of the shaolin animals?
how long does it take to complete a Xingyiquan course at a dojo? (not master just complete course of knowledge)