Wu Style T'ai Chi Ch'uan
Q: If Wu style really is a martial art, why is the central form a Slow Set? What about the Simplified Form?
A: The Wu Style Slow Set or "Man Quan" is both the beginning and end of the internal knowledge. The "Man Quan" or Slow Set is used to train the joints, limbs, jing, inner and outer aspects. The proper practice of the Slow Set has the entire body function with a sophistication that cannot be trained through expressing external force/hardness "or wai jing." Many advanced practitioners of all schools of T'ai Chi Ch'uan often wake early every day to practice not one but two complete repetitions of their "Man Quan." Even schools of Pa Kua (Baguazhang) and Hsing I (Xingyiquan) practice their forms slowly at various points of the training. While the Simplified Wu Style is a shorter form it wasn't taught in the beginning traditionally, because first of all there was no "Simplified" form (it was developed in the 80's by Ma Yueh Liang and Wu Ying Hua), and secondly the Simplified of Wu is taught usually after the Slow Set as an alternative for the student to practice who already has an in-depth idea of the value of "Man Quan" practice.
Q: If the Fast set is the original form of Wu style, why is the Slow Set the form that is taught first as the foundation of Wu Style T'ai Chi Ch'uan?
A: The Wu Fast Set or "Kuai Quan" has some aspects in common to Ba Gua (the "Ba Men" or "Eight Doors") and aspects of Xing Yi (the "Wu Bu" or "Five Steps") in addition to rethinking many of the ideas of Yang Style T'ai Chi Ch'uan. An older name of Tai Chi was "Ba Men, Wu Bu" or "Eight Doors, Five Steps." The Wu Style Fast Set requires a practitioner's joints and body move in a way specific to T'ai Chi Ch'uan principles. These basic principles and their associated joint movements are taught (for the most part) in the Wu Style Slow Set. Wu style progenitors Chuan Yuo and his son Wu Chian Chuan learned these principles in their study of Yang style T'ai Chi Ch'uan. The Fast Set, while it was first, developed from an earlier version of Yang's "Man Quan." It developed as did other styles versions of Fast Sets and Cannon Fist forms, as a vessel to train and express Fa Jing (explosive energy). Expressions of force and energy that are based on a more sophisticated, internal foundation. Wu's Fast Set trains the frame to be even longer and considerably more dynamic, than it's sibling the Slow Set. Furthermore, more energetic with twisting and turning, and to express fa jing with all aspects of the body and coordinated with all mental and spiritual aspects of practice.
The Wu Fast Set or "Kuai Quan" was developed from Yang Style Tai Jianquan by Quan You, Wu Jian Quan's father. He had studied Yang Style with Yang Style's creator, Yang Luchan and his son, Yang Banhou. Quan You's Fast Set served as the template from which the Slow Set, that was popularized in Beijing from 1911 through the early 1920's. The Fast Set is often mistakingly associated strictly with the circular concepts of both the cyclical concepts of the mutual and destructive phases of Wu Xing (or, the Five Elements) and the the Post-Heaven symbol of Bagua (Eight Trigrams). However, this is only partially correct. The truth is, that while the Fast Set appears very circular in nature from the outside, it is a synthesis of both the polar and cyclical versions of both the Wu Xing and Bagua. The form was developed by Quan You and carried forth by Wu Jian Quan based on their treatise known as, "Ba Men, Wu Bu," or "Eight Doors, Five Steps" which was their theory of Taiji's essence and the importance of synthesizing both the polar and cyclical approaches.
Later, Wu Jian Quan took the Fast Set, and with his father, developed a new slow set of the Taijiquan small frame. On first inspection, the slow set might be mistakingly observed as more polar in nature, and therefore based strictly on the Pre-Heaven view of Bagua. However, the longer the practitioner studies the more simplistic, efficient approach of Wu Style's Slow Set along with their associated joint movements, the more they are able to sense the subtleties of the circular movements that emerge in the most fine, smallest of movements. Interestingly the Fast Set, while it was first, developed from an earlier version of Yang's "Man Quan" (or, Slow Set) as a way to more efficiently combine the polar and cyclical aspects: and did it very successfully. It should be noted that once Wu's Slow Set was born, the Fast Set became an inner door form. This is because the ideas that emerged from the Slow Set when it premiered in Beijing in 1911 were startling and wondrous and difficult to grasp. The Fast Set also was likely to be misinterpreted by external stylists much the way other styles of Taiji, Xingyi, and Bagua were, and in some cases still are. So, until the student was proficient at the Slow Set, and
able to use softness to overcome hardness, they were not taught the Fast Set.
The actual Fast Set was further hidden by the fact that some students, and even some family members, who didn't dedicate themselves to the study of the complete system, took the Slow Set, speeded it up, and began to refer to that as the Fast Set. Thinking that "speed" was the hallmark of the set, when it is the form as a centrifuge, and the application of centrifugal force that makes the Fast Set for loss of a better word, "fast." This made the true Fast Set unreachable to those outside the dedicated members of the family and their closest students.
While the Slow Set is first in the study of the Wu Style Taijiquan system, it is both the foundation and the pinnacle of the art, because of the internal study It affords the practitioner in the quest to unify both the traditional polar and cyclical concepts. The Fast Set of the Wu Style is thought to also have developed as did other styles versions of Fast Sets and Cannon Fist forms, as a vessel to express Jing (or, energy) and more specifically Fa Jing (or, explosive energy). Expressions of force and energy that are based on a more sophisticated, internal foundation, and synthesis of the foundational ideas of Traditional Chinese Medicine and early Daoism (Taoism). Wu's Fast Set trains the frame to be even longer and considerably more dynamic, than it's sibling the Slow Set. Furthermore, it is more energetic with twisting and turning, and designed to express explosive force with all aspects of the body and coordinated with all mental and spiritual aspects of practice.
Q: If Wu Style is derived from Yang Style, what about the Yang Fast Set?
A: Followers of different Yang Style teachers have many completely different "Yang Fast Set" forms. There are versions that simply do the Yang Slow Set fast as their Fast Set. The Dong family has their own version of the Yang Fast Set. There are perhaps a dozen "Yang Fast Set" forms with little in common. The Yang style Fast Set that was the direct ancestor of the Wu style Fast Set seems to have been been lost. There was a "Yang style brother" of the Wu Fast Set. The last time that this Yang Fast Set form was seen was when Yang Shao Hou performed his QuaiQuan" in Shanghai shortly before his death. That Yang style Fast Set seems to have been lost.
Q: What order should I learn the Wu style forms?
A: The Slow Set and its abbreviated version the Simplified Form provide the foundation. The fast set and the weapons forms are used to gain proficiency. The order of learning the weapons is a matter of personal taste. Most people usually start from short and work outward to long, i.e. sword (jian), broadsword (dao) and spear (qiang). The opposite order would be spear, broadsword, then sword. This approach progresses from the longest range to the closest range weapon. The chi kung forms and the power forms are the last phase.
Q: I ordered a Lan Cai Hua video from you last year and have enjoyed watching it since it arrived. I wonder whether you would let me know the answer to a couple of questions I have? First I was led to believe that Lan Cai Hua was a two person exercise and didn't realize that it could be practiced solo.Also the form you do on the video seems to have only a few techniques and postures (retreat step, beat the tiger, palm goes to meet the face and some cloud hands). Does this mean that all the other postures are not necessary?
A: To my knowledge Lan Cai Hua is a solo form that efficiently and precisely focuses on controlling the center line, gaining the dead angle, and retreating. The footwork follows the S-Curve of Yin and Yang, while the hands combine the fire element of the Five Methods with push palm (to meet face), transition to turn body to lotus swing, with retreat step to beat the tiger, then continues, connecting to repeat by using a variation on the fast set's cloud hands. These are optimized when practiced with a partner, but there is no traditional two person form for doing that. These techniques are not the only techniques that can be applied.
Many styles of internal martial arts especially use a Yin and Yang stepping technique or S-Curve pattern for training. In Jiang Rong Qiao's Pa Kua which I have also studied in the Earth palm of the Bagua Chi Kung they use a step that traverses the entire symbol combining the internal S Curve with the external sphere. In Jiang's Hsing I, the turns used in the forms are a fish step or half a symbol, then at the other end for the turn the other half. The footwork in Lan Cai Hua represents Wu's take on this concept, and it is very Pa Kua like in my opinion. Training lightness and mobility with T'ai Chi's precise traps, strikes, sweeps, and throws.
The Hsing I form is very like Hebei style Fire Fist, and specifically focuses on training Fa Jing with movement that aims at capturing both the center and the dead angle.
The Power Form again combines a series of simple, to the point movements that combine lightness in movement, fa jing (with the variation on single whip) in movement, and trains stability with footwork that sweeps, trips, and shin kicks.
However, as Ma once told me everything you want to know is on both the slow set and fast sets. These forms train the adrenals to relax and the practitioner to have confidence. Ultimately it is the quality of nothingness or emptiness that the learner wants to grasp and these are in the slow set and fast set. However, I will tell you that when I first saw these forms I thought they were nothing. When Ma did them and showed you how they were applied it really, for me, showed the inner power or magic by which an opponent would be sent flying with little or no force displayed at all.
I believe that learning and practicing these forms adds new ideas and awakens the practitioner to see the potential power that they can harness from the slow and fast sets and apply in self defense.
Q: What is the mind intent of "making your back as well as others soft and the front hard" in Ma Lao Shi tui shou (Ma Yueh Liang's push hands)?
A: Concerning, the hard front and soft back. This is kind of an interesting point. The front is never really "hard." "Still" is a better choice of words. While the back is never really soft, it's "flexible" (expansive when yielding; contracting when issuing)... The stillness idea comes from both the form's practice and Standing Practice. The slow set (or simplified) is done in a manner which combines stillness with movement. This stillness is from standing meditation, and when combined with the successive unforced movements inherent in T'ai Chi Ch'uan creates stillness in movement. The front of the torso is moved as little as possible. Instead, the torso only reacts with the necessary energy or movement needed to neutralize oncoming force. In some cases, this may be just a release of any tightness on the part of the practitioner. This is a different approach from other styles of T'ai Chi (or even external arts) which place a heavy emphasis on large movements of the waist. Wu Style T'ai Chi Ch'uan training emphasizes, that the movement in engagement is as small (in practice almost a progression of microscopic changes) as those movements in Standing or the Slow Set. This lack of movement, or emphasis on stillness then, can be interpreted as hardness. However, if anything it's actually a Yin Yang approach: Combining a lowering of the practitioner's center of gravity (not by bending the knees -- but by emptying) with standing one's ground and not giving up. Any yielding, even if sitting in the kua, is actually then a process of emptying onto the force -- like pouring massive amounts of sand or water on your opponent's force with your body's skill in letting go. Then to add fuel to the fire, you turn your torso, or that which is being attacked, like a turret -- on an arc. Avoid sitting back unless you are able to use the Kua -- not as an escape, but as a way of pouring on more density. Again this is different than other styles which emphasize huge forward and back movements for escape, or a sitting back to turn, combined with large (often wasteful from the Wu style perspective) waist turnings.
The back then becomes that part of the action which has the greatest effect on the oncoming force. If the back is soft, or flexible, then it can introduce subtle changes to the situation that cannot be detected as easily by the opponent. The flexibility synthesizes the practitioner's breaths with the aggression of the opponent. This then leads to opening and closing, which is generally translated as expansion and contraction. However, this is not to be carried to the extreme. Similarly in standing meditation, breathing is key and the movements or adjustments cannot be detected or seen easily. The calmness of the mind, or Yi, together with the breath, and the visceral aspects of Yin and Yang, then set the frequency by which the chi circulates. This is why the training of Ting Jing (Listening Energy) is paramount. The higher the level of the practitioner, the less that can be seen. But, using this approach, the opponent's force can be heard or sensed. Hopefully I've been able to answer your questions...
Q: I would like to clarify something. Regarding stillness and motion, I have always kept my spine still, while my front moved . To clarify further , My spine is the axis in turning and it is loose and still. Your description seems as if the point of contact is the axis, while the back/spine revolves around this point. I know that if I keep My spine still and make a very small turn that the force is returned to My partner. I would like to clarify the part about how My intent can make My partner's back loose, while their front is still. It seems to my that we both would be the same and that this would give My partner the same advantages as I would have. Please clarify.
A: When two people are at the same level, or are able to combine stillness with motion, then it really comes down to who is more patient, softer, able to listen more, whose able to use less to penetrate the spine or introduce, without detection, a change which upsets the other's central equilibrium in the most covert manner. On the gross level, a beginner, or someone who is not able to differentiate between hard and soft or inner and outer, when engaged in joint hands practice is unable to decode how to deal with oncoming force without running away, meeting it head on, or freezing. For example, if they are wrapped around by their arm, they will likely twist away from the force and pivot point without first seeking stillness. (The "all powerful waist" can be one of the biggest pitfalls of all.) After twisting, if the force continues to penetrate the spine, they will likely stop (I mean freeze --which is different from being still and listening), or tighten to try and stop the oncoming force. As you probably already know, this reaction causes the central equilibrium to be greatly challenged, and the opponent, unless they are able to relax is likely then manipulated with their own tightness. When we begin to see how we, with the simplest of movements (or lack of movement), are able to neutralize, introduce change, or affect the central equilibrium by doing something so uneventful, simple, then we are able to trust and use our intent more strongly, almost as if we had a third, fourth or more hands at our disposal.
Additionally, a huge factor in making the intent a more powerful factor is patience. Any heavy handedness against an advanced practitioner that goes against the natural movement of the opponent will, no matter how careful or sophisticated the application, be detected, neutralized, and likely used against the aggressor. This is an example of intention working against the power of intent, because the basics are not in place and most likely any such heavy handedness is likely an outgrowth of impatience. Patience is a virtue in all things, and certainly push hands and any engagement where martial skill is required is no exception. When one is able to both trust and use patience a new level of confidence, insight, and skill emerges. When patience is a spoke on the wheel, then that which is intended is willed and done. Mind you, in my opinion, this isn't remotely possible unless all other basic modalities--including softness (or flexibility) which in and of itself is not easily attained or trusted -- are second nature.
I feel every day I'm learning something new, and enjoying it very much.
On videos of Ma Yueh Liang and Wu Ying Hua
Q: On the Ma Lao Shi video for sale elsewhere...I thought that you should know about this footage of Ma Lao Shi (respected teacher Ma Yueh Liang) doing the complete fast form as well doing the 2 person sword set with his wife (Wu Ying Hua) who does the complete long form. Please let me know what you think.
A: I have at least two demonstrations of Ma Lao Shi doing the fast form (Germany, Hong Kong), he and Wu Ying Hua doing the sticky sticks, the two person sword; as well as Wu Ying Hua doing the two person sword with Shi Mei Ling in New Zealand; Ma Pushing Hands world-wide; a human interest show of them in New Zealand; Ma Yueh Liang and his son Ma Jiang Bao doing various forms and Push Hands in Germany; Ma Yueh Liang and Wu Ying Hua doing many forms in Hong Kong and Shanghai, etc. etc. There is also video of Ma on Bull Moyers' The Healing Mind television documentary. There is a poor quality download of Ma Yueh Liang performing a spear form on the Stanford University Wu style T'ai Chi Ch'uan website and I am sure there are others beyond this list.
I say if you want it, and someone's offering it, get it. My videos were given to be my Ma Lao Shi, and they should be preserved and placed in an appropriate format. One problem is the quality of my videos are not stellar. Although it seems at the very least to be no worse than what I have seen elsewhere. (After seeing a video from Canada of Ma and Wu doing the two person sword form that a student gave me, I believe I have better video.) Webmaster's comments: Some video of Ma pushing hands publicly in a park is included on the Power Push Hands instructional video. There is also a brief video segment in which Ma Yueh Liang goes through the Wu style push hands methods with one of his most senior students. This video record should make it clear that the Wu style Methods presented by Zhou Zhan Fang and Gerald A. Sharp in the Power Push Hands video are what Ma Yueh Liang taught. Ma Yueh Liang and Wu Ying Hua seem to provide the most direct link to the teachings of Wu Jian Chuan, the founder of Wu style T'ai Chi Ch'uan. In other videos, (including the Wang Hao Da video), there are clear differences in the Wu style Methods as performed from what Ma Yueh Liang does on the video and presents in his book on Push Hands. There is always a question about how a martial art changes as it is taught over several generations. There are also some people making exaggerated, dubious or duplicitous claims about their backgrounds and relationships (and this problem has gotten worse since 1998). The use of archival video to support teaching the art of Wu style T'ai Chi Ch'uan will become even more useful as memories fade. Some archival videos of Wu Ying Hua and Ma Yueh Liang are now being included in videos offered on the chiflow store.
Q: I would like to ask you what the particularities of the Wu style push hands are and how they compare to the Yang style ones. I have heard some people saying that they were more logical, more practical and martially oriented. Is it true ? Also about the Wu style itself, is it right that this style is strongly oriented to the wrestling applications ?
A: Your questions are very good and not easily answered without more hands-on interaction. At any rate, I'll give it a shot:
Concerning the particulars of Wu (Jianquan's) Push Hands, the methods are much more specific and martial than any other style I've seen. By specific, I mean the techniques and methods for training the hands are exact and fluid. If the practitioner persists, it ought to lead to a more precise way of using the hands, joints, body, and roots when dealing with opponents. Let me clarify martial as well, by saying that Wu Style's method of martial arts is to use precision in the most efficient, minimalist means possible and available during the moment to attain the maximum result. , One can use only the minimal and most necessary means to diffuse or eradicate a dangerous, or potentially threatening, situation.
Even though I am not unbiased in favor of Wu style, I couldn't criticize Yang Style's push hands. Anyone who begins to utilize methods that are more flexible and sophisticated against those who are using more crude, gross methods are eventually bound to be more successful in application.
However, I will say that in Yang Style push hands I have observed a multiplicity of approaches that aren't as well defined -- in other words all over the place. That is what I have observed worldwide in Yang style Push Hands is a focus on techniques or body dynamics, whereas in Wu Style I see a tendency to intercept an opponent's intentions -- whatever those may be -- before they escalate to another level.
Concerning wrestling, the goal of Taijiquan is not necessarily to emphasize a grappling or wrestling approach or strategy. However, it's a mistake to think that grappling is not inherently a part of many martial arts, and Taijiquan Push Hands is no exception. However, both in Yang and Wu there's an emphasis in moving away from the gross
motor movements.The object is in doing more with less (less force and less movement). The idea is to continue the process until non-action is achieved. That is, that you are so flexible in your approach, that more and more over time you are able to see more of the"chinks in the opponent's armor," and expose those shortcomings with very little, or, what may appear to be, no force.
While the idea of empty force is controversial, those who give-in or pretend to receive or apply such a concept, miss the boat entirely. The idea of empty force, means that you are able to remove the perception of force in your actions from both the opponent's and any onlookers' eyes for that matter, and at the same time, expose the fallacies of the opponent's wherewithal and lead them into emptiness.