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In 1973 I began studying the Hwa Yu Tai Chi Kung Fu, under GrandMaster John Chung Li, which was developed by the Emperor's Guard during the Sung Dynasty. This form is a combination of Hsing Yi & Pa Qua, and contains many very deadly moves involving strikes to nerve centers & joint breaking.
I then realized that you can get bound up in form, so I began doing the moves in different orders, so I could move from any move, into any other move. That is when I began to become interested in the transitions between moves. I spent some time not doing any of the moves at all, but going from one transition into another. These proved to be most effective....
Most people practice Tai Chi slowly, at 30 seconds per move, but you can do Tai Chi at many other paces.
Other paces you should try are :
Hard & Abrupt (tensing only at the moment of IMPACT)
Fast & Flowing (as fast as possible)
Slow (one minute per move)
Super Slow (five minutes per move)
And my favorite pace for practicing Tai Chi, is Dance Pace. Put on some music with a good beat & take off. You don't have to stick to any regular form, but just keep throwing out move after move after move. It looks beautiful, and will make you extremely quck & agile.
Each of these paces trains your body in a different way, giving the Chi a wide variety of ways to flow. The Super Slow mode is the most powerful, engraining the moves into your autonomic nervous system as a new set of reflexes that will operate in combat without any need for your mind to slow you down. Also, the Super Slow mode will pull up a tremendous amount of Chi, such that you will see it dripping off your feet, like a clear syrup, & Magickal things will begin to happen around you. At that pace, I have seen trees dancing the Tai Chi with me deep in the forest, & have been visited by the fae...
Best to wait until you are comfortable with Slow mode, before doing Super Slow mode. The body needs time to adjust to it. Super Slow mode really is a monster, which is why nobody teaches it. I just sort of stumbled onto it myself. When you are ready to do Super Slow mode, you will notice every tiny nuance of each move, every single muscle, tendon, ligament & nerve that is involved. Having your form exactly correct is very important in Super Slow mode, because you are deeply imprinting the move in the reptilian portion of your brain.
Another thing to consider, is Short Form & Long Form. In Short Form, conservation of movement is practiced, and the back is generally kept perpendicular with the ground. In Long Form the movements are extended quite a bit. With a Brush Knee the back leans forward making a straight line at an angle from the back foot. Also, in Long Form, you always raise the knee up to the waist in every move where you lift the foot at all. In Short Form when you do Snake Creeps Down, you come up with the knee to the waist, but in Long Form you go straight into a kick.
If you already know some other Martial Art, you don't need any books, tapes or videos. You can take the forms & katas that you already know, and practice them as Tai Chi forms. BTW, this deeper level training, will show up in your ability to do what you are already learning so much, that they will probably move you up to 2nd Dan very quickly. They won't know why you have suddenly developed an effortless grace, and they probably won't care. They'll just promote.
As to learning the points to attack, all you need are some anatomy charts showing the skeletal system, the muscular system, the nervous system, and the placement inner organs & endocrine glands. Compare these with detailed acupuncture charts.
Before we begin, we must warm up. Before you can walk, you must learn how to stand. Assume a slightly wider than normal stance, and sit into it a bit. Raise your hands above your head. Make the arms form a circle. As you inhale, expand your body just a bit. As you exhale contract your body just a bit. You will be standing still, yet you will be moving. Grandmaster John Chung Li had us do this for 5 minutes before class.
Something I can add for advanced practitioners is that any stance may be used. With asymetrical stances, 5 minutes should be given to each side. You will be very pleased with the increase in Chi.
Rowing the Boat
In this exercise you begin with both feet directly below your shoulders. Take one step forward, and extend your arms in front of you. They should take a slightly rounded form with your elbows just a bit lower than your hands which should rest at shoulder height. Now exhale & relax your shoulders letting your arms simply hang in the air in this position.. The rear foot should thingy out at about a 45 degree angle. Then slowly sit with back straight. (Do not bend the lower back forwards to do this: the slight curve to the back should be outwards as you sit into the posture.)
Keeping the back straight, press forward from this position. Now rise up in height as you pull back your center to the rear foot. All of this comes from the belly & pelvis. Repeat for five minutes, then switch legs. Keep remembering to relax the shoulders while allowing the arms to hang in the posture before you.
Eventually, this will become effortless, as the internal force becomes stronger.
Now that you know how to stand and sit, it is time to learn how to walk. Beginining with the posture in Rowing the Boat, Take a step forward. Place the foot on the ground before you put your weight on it. Take another step, and another, until you run out of space. Now go back. Again, place the foot carefully behind you before any weight it given to it. Do all this slowly, so that the whole body is involved in the movement.
One of the Keys to Tai Chi is the entire integration of the whole body into every movement. You can go forward or back or change directions entirely, because you are learning to be in control of every phase of every movement. This learning takes place at a very deep level. Essentially, you are training your body into a new set of reflexes that will operate beneath your mind's comscious control.
When you are more advanced, lift the knee to thigh level with each forward step, and also with each retreating step. In combat it is useful to be able to slip a knee in there without having to think about it.
Once you're comfortable with it, slow down to one move per minute. At this pace you can begin to notice nuances within the moves, and make corrections to your form, so that you are always in proper posture & balanced. One of the benefits of Tai Chi, is that it coordinates the entire body into each move. Thus a punch will carry, not only the force from the arm & shoulder, but the energy of the entire body, including the legs. That is, a punch with the force of a kick... Also, more than muscular strength is employed, since the strength of the ligaments is also utilized.
After a few months of real slow, you will be ready for super slow : one move every five minutes. Here you will become aware of every single nerve & muscle fiber. Subtle things in the forms will become apparent, & your back will adjust itself to perfect alignment. At five minutes per move you will not only feel great amounts of Chi flowing through you, but you will also see it dripping off of your hands & feet, like a clear syrup. The Chi will flow up from the center of the Earth. Trees & wild animals will know what you are doing, and you may be visited by the Fae...
At this point the moves will be etched into your autonomic nervous system, as a new set of reflexes, which will be under the control of the lower portion of the brain around the brain stem. This part of the brain is known as the reptilian brain, because it governs reflexes & involuntary movements, and is the earliest part of our evolution as a physical species. In other words, your reaction time in combat will become so fast that neither you, nor your opponents will ever see what you did.
For example, once I was practicing in a park, & two bullies attacked me. Some friends of mine described what they saw from 50 feet away as they were just entering the park. They said they saw the two bullies on either side of me throw punches at me simultaneously, and suddenly both of them just dropped to the ground unconscious. They said that one moment they saw me in the midst of a form at my "crazy" five minutes per move pace, and in the next moment, I was merely standing with my arms down at my sides. They never saw me move.
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