We all know or have heard that regular practice of the ancient Chinese Mind & Body exercise of taijiquan is very beneficial towards maintaining and improving back & spinal column stiffness and tension. I have lost count of how many individuals have come to my classes with a back problem and gain tremendous benefit in helping them to manage and control their back problem, helping them to regain their flexibility and mobility within the muscles and joints of the back and spine, raising their vitality levels and balancing their emotions.
It is through the rolling of the shoulders and the gentle turning of the waist within the practice of taijiquan using its slow, soft, circular movements that gradually stretch the muscles of the upper and lower back and gently stretches open the joints of the spindle column. It is through the rolling of the shoulders in various circular directions that both the shoulder joints, muscles and tendons that surround the shoulders are stretched, which in-turn connects and works the scapulars and the muscles of the upper back including the thoracic part of the spine. Whereas, it is the turning of the waist from one side to the other, plus through action of the upper body learning forwards slightly as seen in the accompanying photo of Laoshi Keith Ewers practicing the Li Style (Lishi) Taijiquan that stretches the muscles of the lower back and lumber area of the spinal column.
Obviously within the practice of taijiquan the turning of the waist (Yao) guides and leads the movements of the upper and lower extremities. So the turning of the waist and the rolling of the shoulders are usually performed at the same time in the practice of taijiquan, some times the waist turning and shoulder rolling are performed moving in the same direction and on other times they are moving in opposite directions to each other. It is the through this action of turning the waist and rolling the shoulders that causes a traction within the muscles and joints of the back and spinal column that stretches the muscles and opens the joints of the shoulders, spinal column to release tension and joint stiffness helping the back to remain relaxed and pliable.
Practicing any of the Li Style (Lishi) Taiji Qigong exercises repeatedly on both sides of the body can greatly benefit individuals who suffer with muscle tension in the back and joint stiffness of the spine helping them to either prevent or manage better the health of their own back muscles and spinal column.
In the practice of the Li Family’s (Lishi) Energy Bodywork Massage when certain individuals begin to treat a patient using any of the massage techniques that make up the full repertoire the Li Family’s Bodywork Massage System. So seem to just immediately go to work on the patients muscles, tendons, sinews and joints. They do not seem to take the time to try and connect to the patients energy (Qi) first, they quickly and simply use the strength of their chosen massage technique to stimulate the blood and other bodily fluids of the patient working on what we call in the LFIAA as the middle level or physical level massage, which also means that there is a lot of movement from the practitioner as they work moving around the patients body using up a tremendous amount of energy.
Whereas, to work on the energy level we at the LFIAA are taught to use what Laoshi Keith Ewers calls the one, two, three connection method. Firstly we will place our hands or hand an a specific area of the patients body, usually covering an energy cavity (Qixue) using our own energy cavity in the centre of our palm to line up with the patients energy cavity. Then we will gently begin to press down until we can feel the patient begin to tense or resist, then we will quickly give way a little which makes the patient relax more, as we feel the patient begin to relax we will then press down further. This then allows us to connect deeply into the patients interior were we will then remain in the same position for some time until we can use our own energy (Qi) to connect and gather the patients energy to were our hands or hand is placed on the patients body.
Once we have began to feel a tangible sensation of heat, warmth, tingling or fullness underneath our palms. It is then that we can use other massage techniques found within the Li Family’s Energy Bodywork Massage System to then guide & lead (Daoyin) the patients own energy (Qi) to either rise, lower, enter or exit out of their body, while still remaining in the same area of the patients body that we originally started. This also means that the practitioner themselves must be able to keep their own body as still as possible with a fully concentrated mind that is connecting and guiding the patients energy, belying lead from their own lower Dantian through their entire body and into their hands to connect to the patient.
Obviously without developing a good connection to the patients energy (Qi) as soon as the practitioner places their hands onto the patient can save a tremendous amount of time and effort. As by remaining in the same area of the patients body they can then guide & lead the patients energy in any direction within the patients body to help treat many types of illnesses.
Another of the defensive or offensive hand methods (Shou Fa) that is taught and practiced within the LFIAA Original Feng Shou-Kung Fu style as taught by Laoshi Keith Ewers and is known as the “Willow Tree Hand Method” (Yang Liu Shou Fa). Defensively this particular hand method is used to defend against low blows or kicks aimed towards the stomach or groin area, it uses a twisting, spinning action of the wrist, turning the little finger edge of the hand forwards to help deflect or parry any low blows or kicks away. The forearm is used to cut into the opponents punch or kick to protect the centre line by only slightly crossing it to guide and lead the opponents in-coming force away making sure not to over rotate the torso so that you end up side on.
When the Willow Tree Hand Method is taught defensively by Laoshi Keith Ewers the students are taught to press their palm towards the floor and twist and point their fingers back towards themselves as seen in the photo of Laoshi Keith Ewers demonstrating the Willow Tree Hand Method. Some times students are also taught to point their fingers towards the floor as they perform the Willow Tree Hand Method by many other teachers. The pointing of the fingers towards the floor as you perform the Willow Tree Hand Method can enhance the defensive qualities, but it can also take away the ability to use the Willow Tree as an offensive Hand Method.
Offensively the Willow Tree Hand Method will involve the usage of the “Heel of the Palm” (Zhang Gen), the Elbow (Zhou) and the Shoulder (Jian) to strike the opponent or to apply joint locking techniques which can then be turned into fast throwing methods (Kuai Shuai Fa). Sadly not many teachers of the Feng Shou-Kung Fu seem to teach the offensive fighting methods of the Willow Tree they mainly just teach the defensive aspects, which to some degree limits the students to fully discover this very popular hand method that is taught throughout the many associations and organisations to profess to teach the Original Feng Shou-Kung Fu.
In the stepping methods (Bu Fa) that are used within the study and practice of the Li Style (Lishi) Taijiquan Form. It is the action of the knee (Xi) that controls the rising and lowering of the foot (Jiao) off the floor, plus the lifting and lowering of the ankle joint to control the lifting and lowering of the toes, it all stems from the action of the knees. To lift the foot off the floor in the preparation to step forwards you must shift your bodyweight fully onto the supporting standing leg, then slowly begin to lift your knee upwards to a height that feels comfortable to yourself, as you lift the knee, gradually peel the foot off the floor from heel to toe. Then begin to take a step forwards (Jin Bu) slowly lowering the foot onto the floor, placing the heel down firstly with the raised legs knee slightly bent at the knee, but not fully locked. As you place the heel onto the floor slowly and gently begin to press forwards with your knee the bodyweight will follow the direction of the knee and begins to shift forwards onto the front leg. As the knee presses forwards it also transfers more weight and pressure into the ankle of the same leg, which in-turn begins to transfer the bodyweight through the whole of the foot and into the toes which are then slowly lowered onto the floor by the action of the knee slowly pressing forwards.
The knee should be in alignment with the ankle and the downward pressing of the knee should be transferred into the ball of the foot or through the “Gushing Spring Qi-Cavity” (Yongquan Xue) this allows the Qi to sink into the ground beneath the foot extending from the toes and ball of the foot to strengthen the individuals ability to root (Gen) themselves to the ground for better stability and power. To lift the same foot off the floor the individual needs to shift their bodyweight onto their rear leg, this is performed slowly. As the bodyweight is now placed fully onto the rear leg the front legs knee begins to draw back following the direction of the bodyweight as it shifts from front leg to the rear. This drawing back of the front legs knee allows the downwards pressure on the ankle to be released which then allows the ball of the foot and toes to be raised off the floor. The knee is then raised upwards to gently lift the heel of the floor to the height that best suits each individual. The drawing back of the knee (Xi) to lift the toes and foot (Jiao) allows the Qi from the earth to raise upwards into the body and back down through the weighted leg into the earth in a circular action of rising and lowering.
To many individuals of the Li Style (Lishi) Taijiquan raise and lower their foot on and off the floor way to quickly. His maybe due to their ability to balance on one leg, hence they step faster and loose the skill in being able to feel and sense their Qi rising and lowering through the length of the leg as they step in any direction. Within the practice of taijiquan the both legs are considered to be the engine room of taijiquan or are some times reffed as the “Second Heart” ( Er Xin) by many Chinese Taiji teachers. As through the correct and skilful stepping actions of taijiquan will in-turn activate and strengthen the individuals cardiovascular system. Correct stepping in the practice of the Li Style (Lishi ) Taijiquan involves very slow shifting of the bodyweight in a smooth rising & lowering action, slow lifting and lowering of the legs that maintains an even speed with no sudden pauses or changing of speed, the both knees like the elbows must be kept soft and bent at all times during the actions of the Li Style (Lishi) Taijiquan form.
The not so much talked about hand method (Shou Fa) known as the “Cloudy Palm” (Yun Zhang) can be used both as a defensive or offensive hand technique. But a lot of senior teachers who. study and practice the Feng Shou-Kung Fu only teach it as a defensive technique to deflect and parry away punches, originally when I was first taught the Cloudy Palm Method by Master Chee Soo he would advise that the wrist was kept straight, so that the wrist could twist and rotate using the back of the hand and the little fingers edge of the palm to deflect or parry a punches that were delivered at you. Whereas, I have slightly changed the shape of the Cloudy Palm so that the wrist is bent backwards with the palm of the hand facing upwards. This is because the back of the hand can be used as a hooking technique to pull, trap or move to open the opponents defences.
In the Original Feng Shou-Kung Fu system as taught by the LFIAA the Cloudy Palm Method (Yun Zhang Fa) can be used either in a vertical, or horizontal direction not just to deflect punches and kicks as a defensive tool, it can also be used to trap and move the opponents extremities or body aside to set them up either for a counter strike , kick or even a throwing method. Because we use the back of the hand and wrist to hook and pull the opponents limbs by allowing the palm to face upwards, naturally leads us to use various parts of the palm to counter strike like using a hacking, chopping strike (Kan Da) that is delivered horizontally or we could use a straight pushing, crushing palm strike (Tui Zhang Da) or a hooking, scraping palm strike or a lifting, uppercut palm strike etc.
Using the Cloudy Palm Method as an offensive technique is not openly taught by many senior Feng Shou-Kung Fu teachers of other associations or organisation. They much prefer to teach the Cloudy Palm to their students more as a defensive method. Whereas, I like to also teach the use of the Cloudy Palm as an attacking method that can be used to enter into the opponent and open up their defence by using the back of the hand to hook, trap and move the opponents limbs aside to create an opening in their defence to attack into.
The Cloudy Palm Method is a very useful, practical tool to develop and have in your bag of tricks, as it can be used alongside other defensive or offensive techniques and can really open the doors to connecting other areas of this unique Chinese internal martial art together in a more proficient way.
To many individuals who study and practice the Li Style (Lishi) Taijiquan use two different palms shapes when they practice their Taijiquan form or sequence. The first hand shape that many beginners hold is a very stiff and rigid shape, the fingers are held straight and kept together stiffly, the wrist is tense and holds to much strength. Whereas, the second hand shape that is used more by individuals who have been practicing for over a year or more is a very relaxed hand shape. The fingers are slightly bent at the joints and held in this position all the way through the Taijiquan form, the fingers are separated and held in a very soft way with an over relaxed wrist.
The practice of Taijiquan should be a demonstration of the inter change between Yin & Yang. Closing, Opening, Rising, Lowering, Fullness and Emptiness. If we simply look and concentrate on just the skilful manipulation of the wrists (Wan), palms (Zhang) and fingers (Zhi) to activate the flow of both blood (Xue) and energy (Qi) to enter and exit the both hands while performing the Li Style (Lishi) Taijiquan Form. Basically the Wrist (Wan) should control the rising, lowering, opening and closing etc of the Fingers (Zhi). Every time the hand is moving away from the body either in a forwards or downwards direction then the wrist should be gently used to sink, lower or press down below the height of the fingers, as the wrist sinks the fingers should extend and raise higher than the wrist itself. Whereas when the single or both hands are pulled backwards towards the body or are raised upwards. Then the wrist should be slightly bent and used in a Pulling action to lower the fingers, the fingers should be slightly lower than the wrist with the fingers slightly bent as if drawing energy (Qi) back into the hand.
Through the action of the wrists to control the opening, closing, rising, lowering of the fingers combined with the breathing (Xi) and mental intent (Yi) will then produce a stronger feeling of fullness and emptiness as the energy (Qi) and blood (Xue) enter and exist the whole hand. It is through the practice of the many Taiji Qigong exercises that can be found within the Li Style (Lishi) Taijiquan Form that each individual can begin to attain the skilful manipulation of the Wrists and Fingers to produce a stronger and more powerful sensation of energy flow as it exits and enters into the both upper extremities.
Sadly to many individuals who study and practice the Li Style (Lishi) Taijiquan Form simply concentrate to much on completing the Taijiquan Form, moving from one posture to another. But not paying any attention at all on the quality of each of the movements as they blend and transform into each other. To many practice the name of Taijiquan. But do not perform the actions of Taijiquan through skilful inter-change of Yin to Yang and vice-versa.
A good Swans Wing Ward Off Method Hong Chi Dang Fa) should involve a spinning, rotating action of the wrist and forearm as it cuts into the opponents punching arm. The little finger edge should twist so that it points upwards allowing the elbow to raise higher than the hand. So that as the arm cuts into the opponents punching arm the spinning, rotating, twisting action of the wrist and forearm to perform the Swans Wing Ward Off deflects or bounces the opponents punch away in a slightly upward direction. If the opponents uses a great amount of forward pressure after you have made contact with their punching arm, you may then need to use the turning of your waist (Yao) in harmony with the spinning, twisting action of your Swans Wing Ward Off to re-direct your opponent strength and momentum to either the inside or outside of your body opening up the opponents centre line for you to counter strike back.
A big mistake that many students of the Original Feng Shou-Kung Fu do when using the Swans Wing Ward Off is that they over rotate their torso, twisting their body around to far using their waist, so that they end up side on to their opponent, plus they use to much strength from their shoulder which forces them to cross their own centre line way to much, rather than simply using the twisting, spinning, rotating action of their wrist and forearm to deflect the opponents punch away and only slightly crossing their centre line. Plus when they make contact with the opponents strike using the Swans Wing Ward Off they allow the arm to bend to much from their elbow which allows their own hand to nearly touch their own body, which also means that the opponents punch is way to close.
When you use the Swans Wing Ward Off to deflect an opponents strike or punch away you must meet the opponents strike with a forwards, expanding pressure, cutting into the opponents punching arm, then as you make contact, immediately twist, spin and rotate your wrist and forearm, pointing your little finger edge upwards to deflect and re-direct their power away from its intended target. It is also important that you stick (Nian) to your opponents arm so that you can feel their next response, if they break contact then quickly strike into the space that they have created.
The Swans Wing Ward Off can be performed in two methods a forwards or inward Ward Off and the second method is what we call a reverse Swans Wing Ward Off Method. I have only explained the inwards Swans Wing Ward Off as demonstrated in the accompanying photo. Now either of the Swans Wing Ward Off Methods can be combined with linear, angular or even circular footwork to enhance their effectiveness.