Q: Can you Talk about Zhong ding?
A: Zhong ding is central equilibrium in Taijiquan. What are we centering with? We are centering with the ‘Taiji pole’ that runs through the body from the top of the head at ‘bai hui’, through ‘hui yin’, down to ‘yongquan’ point in the soles of feet. When I was in college I heard a teacher at a karate studio was teaching Wu style Taijiquan. From reading many books on Taijiquan, I had gotten to be familiar with stories that the Wu family got certain attributes and training from the Yang family that the Yang family no longer taught as much. Like I always felt Wu style was the small circle taiji of the Yangs they got from Yang Banhou. Wu Quanyu was said to have gotten the ‘Neutralizing skill” from Yang Luchan. The class had a very interesting warm-up that was very relaxing, developed qi sensitivity, and worked with “zhong ding” like no other I have learned from any other Taiji school. (And I’ve been around the block to several taiji schools up and down the east coast.) Online I called this “Zhong ding gong” and now I hear and see several people use this phrase online, without knowing the actual methods and skills I learned from this Wu style teacher Odessa Brooks. The only other method that comes close to Zhong Ding Gong, is a Crane set of qigong from Huashan another teacher of mine Wilson Pitts taught, but only two of the crane exercises is similar to the Wu set that has a half dozen or so exercises. So Zhong ding training is part of our basics or jibengong. Jibengong is a word I pulled from Wushu’s modern Taijiquan training. Every traditionalist hates the word “wushu” as it is associated by silk pajama acrobatic martial arts. However it is funny that since I mentioned Jibengong on forums, now the traditional taiji people use it in marketing.
Q: Lots of confusion online when people talk about Yi (Intention) Jin (force), Jing (Essence), Shen (spirit), and Qi (vital energy) which ones are talked about in Yang Taijiquan?
A: This is another problem in the Taijiquan community. Lot of buzz words being thrown around and people talking like high level experts cause they know some Chinese words. The trinity in Taijiquan is Jing-Qi-shen. Jing is essence we get from parents, seminal essence in men, and ovary essence in women. Jing is a building block of Yuan source qi of Kidneys. We can say this is our hormones, each cell in body needs hormones and nutrition, this helps maintain function, Qi we get from food and air, maintains our vitals in the body like heartbeat, respiration, blood pressure, nerve impulses, and more, shen is mind and spirit. Jing is like a foundation for a house, Qi is the framework, and Shen the roof. Jin is force, that which we cultivate from practice. There are many types of Jin, but primarily it is force guided through the entire body and structure by refined postures. Yi is intention or intelligence, it can lead and guide force. Another aspect not talked about is Zhi or will power. Another aspect not talked about in Taiji groups.
Q: Taiji Chin na, how is it trained or is Taiji more Anti-Chin na?
A: Well in some of the schools I attended Qin-na was trained as either application training or from push hands. Grappling and throws can be considered a kind of Qin-na as well. Each posture has strikes, elbows, shoulder bumps, peng, lu, ji, an, tsai, li, etc. in them. One drill I liked a few teachers taught is the wide array of joint manipulations you can do from Ji or press. Anti-qina is something one of my teachers mention. You have to be able to escape holds and know how to counter holds.
Q: Did you learn striking in Taijiquan?
A: Only from “Taiji boxers”… people who taught taijiquan with taiji san shou, could fight, and had fight records. There is a huge denial in many Taijiquan folks who do not believe in striking or short fajin power. They think too much in terms of Tui shou or ‘push hands” as a mean to an end. This is severely incorrect. Striking training as I have been taught consists of fist strikes, open palm strikes, hammer fists, and angular strikes. In 2010 when I was at United States Wushu Academy taking Yang Taijiquan and San Shou courses, coach Christopher Pei taught in the Yang Taijiquan class, “Da shou” striking. He says it came from Yang Zhenji who learned it from Yang Shouzhong. There were 5 partner sensitivity drills that look very similar to wing chun or Filipino arm trapping drills. The Da Shou is a buzz word now, you now see on youtube by many “experts” , but is not the right Da shou people have now been showing. Some do push hands and add striking, and others show striking with people flying backwards in a woo-woo way. I feel I helped revitalized Da Shou to the public as a lost art that was practiced before they made it simpler and safer for people as Tui shou, aka push hands. There is a group in Beijing that trains in the Da shou striking of Yang Taijiquan. My videos online however I must admit are pretty weak as I tried to show it as a demo with people just learning them so the flow is not excellent. Also when it comes to the world of fighting, Da shou will be a no nonsense quickly hurt your opponent type counter attack and not a flow drill. The “song of push hands” is really called “Song of the striking hands” in the Taiji classics.
Q: The net force on an object is equal to the mass of the object multiplied by the acceleration of the object.. How is this related to Taijiquan power?
A: Newton’s Second Law describes Taijiquan pretty well. People need to train with and be familiar with hard force, not just soft all the time. I don’t believe in this double soft approach to Taijiquan training that was simplified by Cheng Man Ching. I think it did real harm to Taijiquan and “defanged the snake” so-to-speak. It is really odd cause I know some really great Cheng Man ching Taijiquan push hands champions from NY and they clearly know and understand you have to work with real pressure. They were aware of hard forces used in competitive push hands competitions and were able to win events by neutralizing and countering the opponent. The non-competitive Taiji folks who criticize those event as “Sumo” really have no clue and are living in a fantasy taiji land.
Q: Where is the power coming from in Taijiquan? Is it from structure?
A: I honestly think it comes from the ground. The structure is just a conduit to the force coming at you and proper structure allows it to sink and rebound back. Of course the feet, legs, kua, yao, waist, spine, body, qi, and sensitivity play into all of it as well. I’m not a show boater video guy, I do honest videos where I get pushed, and of course I push back. Nobody is infallible no matter how much they BS with videos. Of course you have to be very well aware of the videos of guys who lightly control guys who are there students or non-taiji people. Videos can be edited to make someone look really good at power and structure. Often these guys do not compete, have an exclusive circle or clan, and don’t go out of their niche. Anytime someone wants to test them, it is nearly impossible to do so. I think it all has to do with income and not losing the “rice bowl”. Buyer beware.
Q: Conditioning: what are the methods you have learned to condition the body from incoming strikes?
A: Get used to getting hit in sparring is #1. I’ve been taught drills to get used to getting hit. You have to get comfortable with it. Of course you can empty a opponent strike by not letting it hit you first. Stepping out of range is one. Eventually you will get hit in the action “inside the pocket”. That is the connecting range. Also I’ve been taught by Yang style teachers that had hitting drills with partner and self. For example “Pai Dai gong” or self-hitting was used as a warm-down after practice to “pack” qi into the tendons, muscles, and bones. There were several two man hitting exercise we did that are similar to those used in other martial systems. Neigong is another critical and internal method that has to be carefully cultivated and employed.
Q: Tui shou/push hands: What is the purpose of Tui shou?
A: Know yourself and opponent. Stick-adhere-neutralize-follow is part of it but “da” and “fa” are as well. Learning to use soft and hard force at varying degrees: soft, soft with some hard, hard with some soft, hard all have to be dealt with. It is a sensitivity drill that has now been taught as the means to an end. Really you just have people really good at Tui shou and only able to beat other Tui shou people, but rarely can take it to another martial artist. A good reason why I respect guys who do Tui shou and test it against Brazilian jujitusu guys. Know your limits to Tui shou.
Q: On fighting: How does a Taijiquan fighter “bridge the gap” with a truly resisting opponent?
A: Da Shou is a method, but some of the prerequisite drills to free sparring san shou help. For instance Da Lu is a way to “bridge that gap” as well as the Da shou training. Free sparring San Shou is the best way to employ both Da Lu and Da Shou. One of my fighting teachers taught strike-bridge-finish, but it is not always that simple especially with someone in a fight event trying to knock you out. That is a whole other ball game by the way. Fighting events are legal ways to test your ability and they go a long way in improving your skill. Being able to fight under adrenaline dump and fast paced situation is not easy. It is so easy to sit in a chair and critique a fighter if you never fought on stage, but there is nothing in the world like it, so their opinions are null.
Q: MMA (Mixed martial arts) now dominates the martial arts world since 1993 with the emergence of the UFC (Ultimate fighting championship). Can you mix other styles with Taijiquan?
A: Many fighting arts share the same movements. I call this ‘Universal fighting principles”. There is only so many ways a person can throw a punch, kick, grapple, etc. Taijiquan teaches striking in very unique way different from other arts as we pay close attention to detail on how we move inside. So a Taiji punch is not really a normal punch, but really it is has to be trained with real resistance and pressure. To be a good fighter you have to do fighter things. Top champions don’t do standing forms and rounds of Taijiquan form. They do sparring, bag hitting, mitt hitting, running, cardio, strength training, etc. Taijiquan fits in there as a recovery art to not over train and over tax the body. Boxing shares the most principles in regards to mixing styles. They just say things in a different way. They both say relax, and train to control breathing, use of foot, leg, waist in transfer of power. I’ve mentioned many similarities of both arts on forums in the past.
A: Taijiquan is a dynamic qigong that has martial arts applications, but not all qigongs have a martial arts component. Taijiquan and its neigong component are very profound in cultivating and circulating qi in the 8 extraordinary vessels and 12 channels talked about in Chinese Medicine. What they all have in common: Taijiquan, qigong, neigong is “Dan tien” which is a great starting point for anyone interesting in the health aspect of Taijiquan.