There are many ndividuals who practice the Li (Lee) Style Taijiquan and still perform what I call the single whip posture (Dan Bian Shi) still in a double weighted (Shuang Zhong) riding horse stance. This means that for the individual to move into the next movement they have to adjust they body weight which effects there smoothness of movement from one posture into the next. More importantly it also limits the individuals ability to perform a variety of the Taiji eight energies of Ward Off, Rollback, Press, Squeeze, Pluck, Split, Elbow and Bump especially within the practice of the sticki/adhere hands exercise (Nian Zhan Shou Fa). If we assume to remain using the double weighted riding horse or bear stance in the practice of the Lishi Taiji single whip posture then we are limited to simply using the eight energies of Pluck, (Cai) and Press (An) because the individual as centred their body weight between their two legs. Another aspect that I’ve also noticed is once the individual as performed their single whip movements they then seem to look straight ahead and do not focus on the primary hand to place their intent (Yi) to guide their qi.
As you can see in the accompanying photo of Laoshi Keith Ewers performing the Lishi Taijiquan “Single Whip Posture” (Dan Bian Shi) he has his body weight located onto his left leg using a left leopard stance (Zuo Bao Shi) he is also looking at his left hand which is the primary hand , hence using his intent to guide and lead the qi into the primary or substantial (Shi) limb . By placing himself into a left leopard stance he is no longer in a double weighted stance, which means that he does not have to add any readjustment to smoothly continue moving into the next posture. Also he can apply more fighting applications for example, using his elbow (Zhou) to strike with or his shoulder (Jian) and hip (Kua) to bump (Kao) to knock his opponent off balance or with the is out stretched left arm apply a splitting technique (Lie Fa). While the right claw hand apples the plucking technique (Cai Fa) to carry the opponents seized arm.
The practice of the Lishi Taijiquan involves that each individual understands that they must combine the five major conponents of their legs (Bu), torso (Yao), arms/hands (Shou) eyes (Yan) and breathing (Xi) into every movement and action of their Lishi Taijiquan form practice. The whole body must be fully integrated and unified, its movements must be smooth and continuous without any pauses, hesitations due to lack of balance or concentration. Many individuals forget that their eyes must also be used within the practice of Taijiquan and that is why it bothers me when I see individuals looking straight ahead when they are practicing the single whip posture. To me it says that their mind (Yi) is not present and connected to their body and more importantly not connected to their qi as were the eyes (Yan) are is also the intention (Yi) and were the intent is the energy (Qi) will follow.
Sadly today to many individuals are practicing the Lishi Taijiquan and basically watering it down, making it to easy to learn with no internal substance to it at all, to many simply concentrate on the physical and not connecting the internal and external together in the circulation, cultivation and nourishing of the qi to strengthen the body, mind and spirit through quality Lishi Taijiquan practice.
One popular method that is used within the practice of the Standing Post work (Zhangong) to cultivate qi for health and wellbeing comes from the “Mind & Body Boxing System” of (Xingyiquan) and is called the Trinity Posture (Santii). This is one of my favourite Standing Post postures that I practice more than any other, again good body alignments must be maintained to allow for a good flow of energy throughout the whole body. The stance should be sixty percent of the body weight placed onto the back leg, while forty percent should be placed onto the front leg, that is why this stance is some times called the 6/4 stance. You can if you wish hold a 50/50 stance with the body weight evenly distributed between both legs, this allows the individual to stand for a much longer period of time. Irrespective of we’re you place your body weight both knees should be bent with the pelvis sunk down as if riding on a horse.
The torso is held upright with the body square on to the front leg with both shoulders and hips in alignment. The nose and navel should also be lined up with each other. The chest should be slightly hollowed and the back rounded with both shoulders squeezing towards each other from the front. The front arm is extended forwards with the Palm face it forwards and the fingers pointing upwards. The tiger mouth (Hukou) the area between the thumb and index finger should be rounded and kept open and level with the eyes which look directly at the tigers mouth, the front elbow should be inline with the front legs knee. The rear hand is placed in front of the navel with the tigers mouth facing the body with the Palm facing the ground, both armpits of each arm are held open, the front hand should be inline with the nose and front foot.
The crown of the head (Baihui Point) should gently push upwards to the sky and the tip of the tongue should touch the roof of the mouth known as the “Magpies Bridge” (Que Qiao). The breathing should be in and out through the nose with the breathing being long, smooth, deep and even the individual should not be able to hear their own breathing. The. aim should be to then hold this posture for 10 to 15 minutes on each side of the body, gradually building the standing time to 30 minutes each side. The mind (Yi) should be placed on the lower elixir field (Xia Dantian) located at the navel to collect the vital energy (qi), as Lao Zi mentions within his book of the “Dao and Virtue” (Daodejing) “Fill the belly and Empty the mind” which means to gather and store the qi while clearing the mind.
Practicing the Standing Post methods (Zhangong Fa) is a really good way to strengthen both mind and body to mprove health and wellbeing irrespective of how old you are or what gender you are. You can practice them in-doors or outside in the fresh air in some quite spot were you cannot be disturbed. You do not need any special clothing other than everyday loose clothes to help you remain relaxed.
One of the most important reasons for practicing the Original. Feng Shou Quan-Gongfu Rolling Hands exercise is to develop your tactile awareness skill, which is very much needed when you are fighting in-close as you have no time to react to your opponents attacks, but through your sense of touch you can immediately feel their intentions, body weight and direction and quickly re-direct it. There are many types of tactile energy work that each student must learn and develop to a very high standard of proficiency
- Listening Energy (Ting Jin) is the first method the ability to listen through your sense of touch and contact with your opponent. This means that no matter what part of your body makes contact with your opponent you should be able to listen (Ting Jin) through that area of contact to feel your opponents intended move, obviously the more aggressive your opponent is the easier it is to feel their intent and direction of force.
- Sticking Energy ( Zhan Jin) is to develop the ability to attach and stick to your opponent, it is important to make contacts be able to listen through your sense of touch on your opponents intention. Being able to remain in contact with your opponent is a very differcult thing to achieve.
- Adhere Energy (Nian Jin) is the ability to adhere to your opponents limb while he is trying to pull away, you must make sure that you remain relaxed and pliable enough to adjust with your opponents actions of trying to break contact from you. Again the Adhere Jin is one of the most differcult Jins to develop skill in.
- Following Energy ( Sui Jin) is a combination of both the Stick, Adhere Jins to make contact and then to remain there for as long as possible by then following your opponents actions, but being ready to change and redirect your opponents strength should they try and attack.
- Joining Energy (Lian Jin) once you have developed the ability to attach and follow your opponents intention . The next stage is to develop the ability to join with your opponent, so that you can immediately feel every little change in the opponent intent to be able to develop the next stage of “if my opponent does not move, I don’t move, But if my opponent moves slightly I have already moved”.
- Coiling Energy (Chan Jin) is a type of controlling energy technique that allows the individual to circle around the opponents joints to be able to limit there range of movement and to redirect the opponents strength and possibility to strike. To skilfully use the Coiling Energy the individual must be able to attach to the opponents limb using any surface area of their fingers (Zhi), hands (Shou) or arms (Bei) this includes the back of the hands and arms as well as the inside.
There are many more types of energy (Jins) that can be developed through the practice of Rolling Hands ( Gun Shou Fa) to help the student of the Original Feng Shou Quan-Gongfu to become highly skilful with their tactile ability. Which allows them to have a better sense of control when fighting at close range with an aggressive opponent and to be able to successfully apply their own strikes, kicks, wrestling or throwing techniques in a natural, spontaneous flow that allows them to change and adapt their techniques to overcome the situation in front of themselves.
We all know that no matter what Style. Of taijiquan that you practice they all incorporate the heel to toe stepping action to make sure that the individual can distribute their body weight onto the stepping foot for good balance in the performance of their taijiquan form or qigong practice. I’ve have noticed with my own students that they fully concentrate on placing the heel onto the floor first, then lower the toes secondly so that the sole of the foot is gently being pressed into the ground as their body weight begins to sink downwards into the foot and then into the ground to develop their “rooting energy” (Gen Jin). But when it comes to lifting the back foot to take another step forwards, many simply lift the whole of the foot off the floor quickly, rather than gently lifting the heel firstly and then gradually lifting the ball of the foot and then toes in a rolling action from heel to toe as the body weight and centre of gravity is being lifted of the foot.
Basically to many individuals concentrate on the heel to toe stepping action of the foot being placed onto the floor and not the heel to toe action off the foot being lifted of the floor. Obviously to lift any foot off the floor the individual has to make sure that their body weight is being fully placed onto the none moving leg as this leg becomes substantial or full (Shi) and the moving leg becomes insubstantial and empty of body weight (Xu). It is the transference of the body weight being shifted from one leg to another that either presses the heel onto the floor or the lifting of the body weight that lifts the heel off the floor, but it should be performed slowly, smoothly and evenly with no jerking or fast clumsy actions.
Once the heel of the front foot as been placed onto the floor, it is the sinking of the hip joint (Kua Jie) towards the knee joint (Xi Jie) and the sinking of the knee joint into the ankle and foot that lowers the toes and ball of foot onto the ground. This gradual sinking of the body weight through the legs major joints gives the individual a feeling of the body weight moving in a “Rolling” action (Gun Fa) across the whole sole of the foot as the heel is placed onto the floor and then the toes. Whereas when the individual begins to lift up their back foot, it begins with the body weight being slowly shifted onto the front leg that allows the heel to be lifted off the floor, which in-turn pushes the ankle joint (Huai Jie) towards the knee joint which in-turn lifts the hip joint allowing then for the whole of the foot and toes to be lifted off the ground ready to take the next step forwards.
The practice of taijiquan involves the sensation of rising (Sheng) and falling (Lou) actions of the whole body, this rising and falling action must also be performed by the stepping actions of the legs and feet.
When you begin to practice the Chinese internal martial art of the Original Feng Shou Quan-Gongfu (Hand of the Wind Boxing) you will be introduced to a wide variety of footwork or stepping methods (Bu Fa) which ch should be combined with both defensive and offensive techniques. Usually all students are taught to start their practice of the Feng Shou Quan-Gongfu using the Ladder stepping method (Ti Bu Fa) which are performed using both a short attack/ defensive stepping method and a long attack/defensive stepping method, these two particular Ladder stepping methods are linear in their actions. Whereas the ZigZAg stepping methods (Jiu Chi Xing Fa) are diagonal in their stepping actions.
When using the ZigZAg stepping method the stance that is manly used is the Riding Horse Stance (Qi Ma Shi) which allows the student to combine a series of low line kicking methods in combination with their defensive or offensive hand methods (Shou Fa). Also because the ZigZag step moves in a diagonal direction it can also be used to dodge the opponents attacking techniques, allowing the student of Feng Shou Quan-Gongfu to position themselves around the opponents back or sides to launch effective counter attacks.
Within the practice of Feng Shou Quan-Gongfu we are taught that every stepping action can be easily turned into a kicking methods (Jiao Fa) and this is so with the ZigZAg stepped no methods. When the student steps out diagonally into a riding horse stance the whole of the leg and foot can be used to apply an effective low line kicking technique such as stamping, hooking, stomping and springing methods which are used to disrupt the opponents balance, while the student attacks the opponents upper body with powerful striking techniques.
Today many practitioners of the Original Feng Shou Quan-Gongfu mainly use the more direct stepping methods of the Ladder step and do not fully advocate the ZigZAg stepping method against one opponent, but do teach it to their students when surround by multiple opponents. But I was taught that to become fully accomplished with the Feng Shou Quan-Gongfu that you had to be comfortable using your defensive and offensive techniques using any type of footwork or stepping method no matter how many opponents were in front of you.
The Sun Style ( Sunshi) Five Element Boxing (Xingyiquan) involves five short individual fist forms that correspond to the five martial art methods of Splitting (Pi Quan), Drilling (Zuan Quan), Pounding (Bao Quan), Crushing (Beng Quan) and Crossing (Heng Quan). These then connect to the elements of Metal, Water, Fire, Wood and Earth which are then connected to the five internal organs of the Lungs, Kidneys, Heart, Liver and Spleen. Practicing any or all of the Five Element Fist Forms will cultivate strong energy (Qi) and blood (Xue) circulation to strengthen each individuals health and wellbeing.
The Crushing fist method (Beng Quan Fa) is a Wood element form which benefits the internal organ of the Liver. The Crushing Fist can be quickly delivered as a single powerful punch or a series of fast and powerful punches that take the shortest route to its target which is a straight line. Defensively the Crushing Fist (Beng Quan) can also be used to cut into the in-coming strike aimed towards the body, using the forearm to cut into the opponents attacking strike.
As an exercise towards strengthening the health and wellbeing when you combine your breathing to the Crushing Fist form movements the individual can greatly develop their cardio fitness. The strengthening of the legs is enhanced through the stepping actions which again will promote blood flow as the Chinese consider the legs to be the “Second Heart”. Meaning the more you work them the greater the effect on the heart rate they have.. many individuals do not realise that there is circular movement in the practice of the five element fist forms and this circular actions is obviously performed by the joints, which in-turn will develop the individuals flexibility and their ability to release joint stiffnesss and muscular tension on a physical level, as for the emotional level it can also benefit by helping to release any frustrations, irritability or stress that as accumulated. It can also help to develop the individuals ability to concentrate and calm the mind from all of the chaos that goes on within our minds.
The Wood element is associated with the Liver, anger hurts the Liver as it allows the energy (Qi) to rise upwards into the head which can cause problems with the Heart which in-turn effects the blood pressure and nervous system to become out of balance causing illness. Practicing the Crushing Fist form (Beng Quan) can help to regulate he Liver organ and release any build up of sickly energy (Bing Qi) allowing the individual to become more calmer in the self.
Within the practice of taijiquan irrespective of what particular style you ar studying they all involve correct body alignment. Learning to maintain correct body alignment allows the individual to have a strong structure to issue power into their movements, today many beginners come into he practice of taijiquan with very little knowledge about what the practice of taijiquan involves, many enter into taijiquan practice simply to learn how to relax or even to improve their sense of balance. But as they gradually progress deeper into their study they begin to realise that taijiquan can also improve their posture and ease of mobility through correct body alignment that conserve they energy levels.
Correct body posture in the practice of taijiquan means that the body is held upright with no leaning of the torso in any direction, the movements of the arms and hands must always remain in front of the torso, there should be no over stretching of the arms again in any direction. The turning of the waist must remain within the range of movement that each individual as in their pelvis or hips, the torso should not over twist or turn so that the lower back becomes tense or that the individual begins to lean.
In-correct body alignment can cause the individual to bring more tension and stiffness into their body, it can also cause them to use to much of their own energy levels. In-correct body alignment and poor hand actions (Shou Fa) and stepping movements (Bu Fa) can have an adverse affect on the individual health by causing them to tense up, raising blood pressure, knee joint pain, tendon pulls usually again in the knees etc. Developing good correct body alignment conserves your energy levels and allows the body to become relaxed and soft in its taijiquan movements. But through correct body alignment the individual should develop strength within each of their taijiquan movements, as the whole body is fully connected and moving in unison.
To develop correct body alignment in the practice of Yang Style taijiquan there are a few basic requirements that each beginner is taught to help give them a guideline in maintaining correct body alignment at all times in their practice of taijiquan.
- The shoulders and hips must remain in line with each other.
- The elbows must not become straight and move beyond the knees.
- The hands must remain in line with the front foot and not go beyond.
These simple guidelines must be used to maintain good body alignment so that each individual can then begin to develop and maintain strength within all of their actions of taijiquan. Again sadly not many individuals spend their time practicing correct body alignment some are happy just to go through the movements of their taijiquan form or sequence not really giving any thought to body alignment or circles they just what to get to the end of their taijiquan form unaware if their body was leanin to any direction, or that their hands are moving before they step or that their actions are more linear than circular.