Tag Archives: yang

Aspects of the Yang 24-Step Form with Master Huang Ping

Aspects of the Yang 24-Step
with Master Huang Ping

– Saturday 24th February 2018 –

10.00am – 4.30pm

This course will look at various aspects of tai chi using the 24-Step as the working tool.  It is helpful if you know the form, but not essential that you are familiar with the entire form.

The aim isn’t to learn the form, but to take a detailed look at various parts of it, e.g. opening & closing, using the centre, and understanding how the body works efficiently, comfortably and effectively within movements.  With this in mind, participants are very welcome to ask any questions about the movements including their applications.


  • Venue :   The Abbey Community Association, 
                   34 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BU
  • Time   :   10.00am–4.30pm [Doors open at 9.30am]
  • Cost    :   £80
  • Tube   :   Westminster, or St. James

Master Huang Ping was born in Yunnan Province of China, and was first introduced to Wushu at the age of eight. At this age, she was taught Wushu basics including stretching, stance training, footwork, kicking and hand drills.
By the age of 10, Huang Ping had caught the eye of the Yunnan Provincial Wushu Team Coach and was invited her to join the Yunnan Wushu Team.  She was taught the arts of Bagua Zhang, Xing Yi Quan, Tong Bei Quan, Chang Quan (long fist) and Tai Ji Quan, and many weapons forms.

At the age of thirteen, Huang Ping took part in her first senior All China National competition, and over the following years took part in many All China National competitions.  Considering the intense competition and high skill level within a country of over a billion people, this was no mean feat and is testimony to Huang Ping’s skill and dedication to her Wushu training.

In 1979, Huang Ping joined the China Wushu Team, and in 1987 became a coach for the Yunnan Wushu Team.  In 1991, she was selected as a Top Judge for National Competitions, and in 1994 she coached the Burma Wushu Team, taking them to compete in the 1995 South East Asian Competition held in Vietnam, and in the 1996 All Asia Competition held in the Philippines.
In 1997, Huang Ping returned to China to continue as coach for the Yunnan Wushu Team. 
She came to the UK in 2001, where she now lives and teaches.

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James Drewe teaches Taijiquan and Qigong in both London and in Kent. Details of weekly classes can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Taijiquan on one Saturday a month.

CONTACTS:
http://www.taiji.co.uk
http://www.qigonghealth.co.uk
Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281 or 020-8883 3308

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Sinking to Move (1) – The Lower Limbs

The Balance Problem in Certain Tai Chi & Qigong Moves
I’ve often noticed when teaching the Yang 24 that balance in certain movements often causes a problem for students – incidentally, this isn’t specific to the 24-step form, it’s just that this is a form that I teach more than others.
The moves to which I’m referring are any that require the body to turn to left or right at the same time as transferring the body weight from one foot to another (this could be a forwards or backwards step).
Some examples of this are: Parting the Wild Horses Mane, Brush Knee and Twist Step, Repulse Monkey, and Fair Lady Weaving Shuttles.
Golden Cockerel/Rooster and 164 Taiji Parkthe Kicks have their own set of problems, though perhaps for a different reason (at least, for the moment, although it will become apparent that the reason is actually the same), as there is no turn of the body in the same way in these two moves.

The knack of retaining the balance is to ‘sink the qi’ as you begin the process of moving into a posture.  The question is, how do you do this?

Stability & Instability
The basics are that, when we are standing on two feet, we are stable. When we step forward or backward, during that moment of taking a foot off the floor, we are temporarily unstable.  It is during this moment that we need to stabilise ourselves.  This is where the concept of ‘full’ and ’empty’ comes in.

Full & Empty
This concept refers to the energy status of the body; in order to be able to lift a leg, you need to ’empty’ that side of the body.  If you leave tension in the ’empty’ side, it isn’t empty, and the freedom of movement of the stepping leg is restricted.  When stepping in tai chi and qigong, this residual tension is nearly always in the hip and/or shoulder joints (which can also affect the stepping), – in other words the joints that attach the limbs to the body.

How do you sink the qi?
When teaching a move where a step is involved, I often use the expression ‘sink to step’ meaning “bend the stepping leg slightly (or a lot) just before stepping”. This is true, but isn’t the whole story.
What you really need to do is to ‘sink the qi’ just at the moment of freeing the stepping leg. This is partly something physical that you do, but it is also a feeling inside… a letting go of the hip joint amongst other things, and is a release of tension in one side of the body. There is a sensation of not holding on any longer, and the correct timing is essential.

Try a 3 stage test:24move-121
The starting position for all 3 stages is to stand with your feet side by side.

1) Notice what you normally do: Move the weight on to (e.g.) your right foot (ready to step). Now lift the leg ready to step. At the moment of lifting the stepping foot from the floor, try to feel what goes on in the hip.

2) Next, notice what you don’t normally do: Before moving your weight on to the right foot, stick your bottom out behind you, enhancing the ‘S’ bend in your back. Now move the weight on to (e.g.) your right foot (ready to step), and lift the leg ready to step.  You could try actually stepping.

3) Observation & enhancement: Now do (1) above more consciously. If you are able to let go of your hip joint at the moment of shifting the weight, you will find that your bottom sinks slightly. In other words your pelvis does a slight rotation – the tip of the coccyx dropping further as if to tuck between your legs. You will also feel the lumbar area of your spine flex slightly (the ‘S’ bend beginning to straighten out). If you don’t hurry into the step (in fact try not bothering with the step at all), you will feel a sensation of sinking into the foot that you’re stepping from.

 157a Man exercising taijiWhy does the hip rotate and the spine flex?
Each time you lift your knee, for whatever function, you need to engage your core muscles (try lifting your knee as high as possible – it’s unmistakable). This means that your abdomen draws in slightly. When you draw in the abdomen, the hip rotates and the spine flexes.
BUT, the hip cannot rotate efficiently if you forget to release the hip joint. Locking up one part of your body compromises the other parts causing them to either malfunction, or to attempt to do a job for which they are not designed. In Alexander Technique this is called ‘recruiting muscles’.

‘Not Holding On’
Incidentally, I used the expression ‘not holding on’ above.  I know it’s frowned upon to use negative instructions, but I have found that this is far more effective than expressions such ‘relax’ or ‘release’ etc.  If ‘holding on’ is a negative concept in the process of free movement, maybe ‘stop holding on’ is therefore a double negative (= a positive) … just a thought.

Conclusion
So, to come back to the original point, i.e. the moves in the Yang 24-Step Form, you are asking your hip to function efficiently not only whilst moving forwards/backwards, but, in the cases of Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane, and Brush knee, etc. whilst turning at the same time.
When standing for Golden Cockerel or the Kicks, the same principle applies – the sinking again performs the function of grounding you by allowing your hip to move into the right position, prior to rising out of one foot.  This activates the spine, allowing it to connect from foot to waist to middle of the back (opposite the heart) to neck to crown.

Just ‘stop holding on’.

Yang 24-Step Form: Horizontal & Vertical

‘The word Peng’ (pron. ‘pung’ as in ‘sprung’) is used in a general way to explain the feeling of expansion/protection of the body as though you are inside a large balloon; the front and back, left and right, and top and bottom are all working together equally, so that, for example, if you were to push forwards, you would feel an equal expansion backwards.  The operative word here is feel, because you naturally wouldn’t be able to ‘push’ your back in the same way behind you!

However, the word ‘Peng’ is also used to describe one of the 13 Principles, occurring in every style of tai chi in one way or another.  In the Yang 24-Step form it appears at Forms 7 & 8, following the 4th Repulse Monkey (Step Back and Push); at this stage in the set of movements – assuming you began the form facing 12.00, you are facing 9.00.

In Form 7, the movement consists of the left arm simultaneously sinking (lowering) and drawing in (towards the body), before lifting up the centreline of the body to project forwards again at approximately shoulder height.
Peng directionIf you turn your body to the right during the sinking-and-drawing-in process, the movement that follows, i.e. the lifting of the left arm, changes from Peng to ‘Lie’ (or Lieh, depending upon your preferred method of spelling the word… Pinyin versus Wade-Giles ).
‘Lie’ is a sideways or horizontal movement, and is another of the 13 Principles. You can see this being used in Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane (i.e. Form 2 in the Yang 24-Step), first by the left arm, then by the right, and then by the left again.PTWHM Direction

In the previous form, i.e. Form 6 (Repulse Monkey), each of the 4 backward stepping movements is initiated by turning the body to right or left; so it’s almost automatic for beginners (and sometimes for more advanced practitioners also) to turn the body once again.
However, it shouldn’t turn, or at least it should only be a very small amount.

To stop the urge to turn the body to the right at this point, focus on the role of the right hand. Instead of allowing it to wander aimlessly out in the 1 o’clock direction (assuming you began the Form facing 12 o’clock), give it the intention of reaching towards 9 o’clock as though to grasp your opponent’s clothing, or shoulder, or even the back of his head. The right arm will still lift up into something resembling a ‘hold ball’ shape (although in reality you’ll never arrive at this shape), but the right hand’s intention will stop the body from turning to the right because the hand is leading and is reaching forward.
All of a sudden the body will feel better balanced in this movement, the left and right sides of the body will coordinate better (see the previous blog on ‘balance’), and the right arm will no longer feel so ‘useless’, or functionless.

Learning (2)

When going for a lesson with my tai chi teacher, it always intrigues me that, when she’s trying to explain a new concept to me, it almost feels as though I’m on a different planet.

28aHow do you get to grips with a concept that is totally alien to you?  You can only relate it to something that you already know; otherwise it’s like being spoken to in a foreign language, or trying to join in a team sport of which you have absolutely no idea of the rules.

I noticed this particularly when learning some Wu style tai chi recently; to date I have done a lot of Yang style, a fair amount of Sun style, some Chen, some Wudang, and many years ago, 5 years of Lee style… well, 34 years ago to be precise.

The example that springs to mind was when learning how to do Brush Knee & Side Step.
Brush Knee has certain characteristics in the various styles… (The final position is that you are pushing one hand directly ahead, the other hand is palm down by the side of the body, and the front foot is the opposite to the hand that is pushing; e.g. right hand pushing, therefore left foot forwards.
However, the way that the left hand (in this case the lower hand) operates in Wu style has a subtle difference compared to Yang that I couldn’t ‘get’ at first.

Both my teacher and I obviously found this very frustrating, and this was exaggerated because her spoken English is better than my Chinese (which is virtually non-existent), but not nearly as good as her Chinese….

This last sentence is my first point; you have to spend a while deciphering what the teacher means, especially as a Chinese person, if translating in his/her head directly into English, will produce a sentence that will have the concepts of the sentence in a different order to the way that an English person would express the same sentence.
But this is just structural.  My main point is that when we learn, we base our new understanding on the construct of the old; we can only see the view from where we are at the moment, not from the other side of the valley.  To get to the other side of the valley, we bring ourselves, i.e. our habits, our patterns, our perspective, and our understanding, so it’s impossible to get an entirely new view or perspective of the world.

The only time this happens is when there is a ‘leap of understanding’, a eureka moment.  It reminds me of the story of Magellan’s discovery of the Straits that I once heard in a lecture.
I have no idea how accurately I’ve remembered this story, but the gist is that when Magellan’s ships came in sight of the shores, the inhabitants of those shores were unable to see the ships; the ships were so far from any experience that the inhabitants had previously had, that their minds were unable to compute their possibility, and therefore they were ‘physically’ unable to see them.

Whether or not this story is true doesn’t really matter, it’s the concept that’s interesting, because in a very minor way, this is what is going on when you try to learn something new. When you are learning, and the lesson makes a jump (perhaps you missed a class), it’s much harder to ‘see’ … almost as though an evolutionary thread has been broken.