Weighing in on the “no touch” “light touch fajing”.

Touch

Youtube is now full of clips showing a teacher demonstrating a light touch and even no touch fajing skills.  Fajing refers to a quick release of force.  It has the characteristics of a shock or whip type energy.  What one sees is the teacher touching a partner or pushing hands with a student.  With very little movement or show of force from the teacher, the student then bounces back several steps.  The extreme of this shows teachers just waving their hand before a student reaches them and the student is knocked backward or downward by some force.  Now that enough of these teachers are demoing their art, there is a stronger and stronger push back from some in the Tai Chi community saying that this is embarrassing them and is giving the wrong impression of Tai Chi.  I think it is a valid subject to address.

Some take the position that if this skill is for real why doesn’t one person with this skill (and the number is growing) enter one of the most popular venues such as MMA or Jujitsu competition and show their stuff.  Some of the reasons that have come back is that these competitions have rules which would be unfair to their art.  Seems to me this skill just needs to touch lightly and that is all that is needed (I’m discounting the no touch for now).  Some have answered that it is not ethical to desire to hurt someone through the use of martial art only for personal fame or glory.  Sounds nice but you know there is always at least one rogue warrior in any group.  One teacher even honestly suggested that it would take away the mystery of the skill and would hurt the selling of tickets to their seminars.  Sounds honest but doesn’t seem to score high on the ethical side.

My take on this is that there are actually things to learn from the teaching of this skill.  But realistic thoughts and critical thinking should rule.  Any time in combat, especially at close range if one becomes stiff, the Tai Chi expert can apply projection to the stiffness of the opponent which can certainly knock the person away. The study of this projection on a target of opportunity is good training.  If the dynamic of momentum is included and the opponent is over extended etc. a more dynamic outcome or result is possible.  But what if the opponent is loose when the touch of projection is applied and they yield or give to the sudden projection? How is the yin controlled. This would indicate that the partner or opponent needs to be in a certain state of tension and maybe motion in order for this technique to work.  Whether this state is come by naturally or whether the partner is a student that has been brainwashed or trained to react as we see on film is a good question.  It is true that the type of projection thrown can indicate how a person is affected.  Being one who has received these things from a teacher and learned how to ride it out with the bounce jump, I can say that it can be faked in the sense that the helping student can be stiff enough so the teacher’s projection will knock them back.  Now when the touch is extremely small or nothing it causes one to wonder if this is something a little more magical and beyond physics.  I believe in some things that are transcendent, but I have to have good reasons and facts to do so.  That I think is what the believers in this method have failed to explain if that is what they want to do.  The ability to bounce takes effort as well. Those I think acquainted with athletic movement can see the effort of the student in the hops that occur.  If these things were powerful and real you would probably see people go out of control more and fall awkwardly more than is exhibited by the sometimes very athletic students.

The deception is that some of these people who do this do have skills of energy control that can be understood.  So when some people who are skillful go this direction it does make it harder for the average person to give a fair judgment.

Another point that I would like to make that is often discussed on this topic is the need for the Tai Chi practitioner to enter the MMA etc in order to prove the value of martial Tai Chi.  I have problems with this on several levels.  Tai Chi is primarily an art at close range.  While the instructor can make the difference in teaching an art, most of the Tai Chi theory works when one is at close range in touch.  I have heard well known Tai Chi teachers say that Tai Chi begins at touch.  One must only protect with coverage but once the attacker’s arms touch you the Tai Chi will take over.  I see problems with this approach as there is a whole world of skills in the area pre-touch.  The footwork and upper body explosion coming form deceptive footwork and upper body deception can account for a head start and big advantage on the defender.  Of course Tai Chi starts working at touch but there is a difference in starting neutral and at a considerable disadvantage. Depending on the quality of the attackers non-telegraph and deceptive skills one can get a disadvantage that is difficult to overcome.  Is Tai Chi willing to give that pre entry area up.  I don’t think so but Tai Chi is not known for teaching much in that area publicly.  The reasons that one wins a fight can depend on many factors.  We know that size, strength, speed, non telegraphic speed, timing, will, endurance, toughness and technique all play a role.

I use to be irritated when the original UFC would indicate that we would be learning what the best style was from these matches.  In the end it is not the style that wins but the fighter.  When you limit the fight with rules then you may favor certain styles having advantages over other styles but still the fighter himself or herself is the bottom line.  Much of martial art development was based on the weak overcoming the strong.  This meant that one had to take advantage of the no rules aspect in real lethal fighting.  For every rule in a competition the fight potentially changes for one of the participants.  Advantages and disadvantages exist anyway, but the rules will always lean toward a certain way of fighting. It only takes one mistake to lose a fight and when weapons and targets are taken away especially from the lesser athlete what we are seeing is fighting that may give us a skewed view of what is best.  The study of realistic fighting is a difficult journey since it takes great effort to train in a way that will contribute to realism while maintaining safety.

I heard one person say that they were glad there were some mma fighters who listed Tai Chi among the many arts they are credited with training.  Ok, many of these arts have opposite theories to Tai Chi so if he wins is it because of Tai Chi or because of one of the other arts?  Actually we can see the defining moments of the fight when there is a winner and can often really see the reason for the outcome.  Sometime it is very simple.  Could be simply speed or timing. Could be any number or combination of things but when a fighter list 8 styles with Tai Chi one of them, what are we suppose to think unless we see a clear example of something in Tai Chi that caused the outcome?

All this is not to belittle the great shape, athleticism and skills that some fighters in the MMA possess. They are young, they are professionals and they do their job.  They would win many fights against other people based on these attributes alone.  It also should be said that if one is to bring Tai Chi to a high level of fighting there has to be training of high intensity and there would have to be competition of high level.  Tai Chi people would need to master the entire Encounter and not just the part standing and at touch distance.  But a realistic art will never be fully tested without injury if you remove all the restrictions. So we can say that we would have to settle for a restrictive sport that will give the advantages to certain ways of fighting based on the environment, the rules etc.  It means that at best we would be left again with speculation as to the question about the effectiveness of the arts.

Some of this problem of Tai Chi teachers focusing on this bouncing exercise could be averted if people who demonstrate would just be honest about the demonstration.  I had a great teacher of Tai Chi named Master Tao Ping Siang.  He was very knowledgeable about all phases of Chinese Martial Arts but using Water Style principle he loved to teach out of the Cheng Man Ching Push Hands and teach his technique in that venue.  Most of his teaching was on the reading and yielding side of things but when he would teach something about pushing the opponent out with projection he used the ground and gave a fairly light swift unitary push/strike to bounce a person back.  Some of his students did the bouncing but the demonstration was explained and why you can get results by pushing at such and such a time and when the opponent is tight and overextended and out of balance etc.  He taught that somethings can look like magic but it was all physics and know how.  He did not mislead and I appreciated his honesty.  What we are seeing many times now are people that do these things on their students and allow the viewer to think it is some kind of magic and the explanations are not meant to really teach or explain.  Some will say you have touch or you don’t or maybe you will get it after 20 years or so.

I don’t think ridiculing these people is the answer to the problem either.  I think they should be questioned as far as they are willing and we can always ask for more proof.  But why ridicule.  We don’t need to force others to operate as we believe they should operate.  The person who seeks for the truth sincerely and is skeptical enough to always question, test and verify will come to an understanding if they keep open to research. I think the pressure remains on these teachers to show some evidence this will work against someone who is not cooperating and in some sort of “blind test” environment.

Tile Hand in Chen Tai Chi

Wujimon.com is a blog by a martial artist who has some interesting things from time to time. His article on a recent seminar with Chen Zhonghua is posted and his discussion of the Chen Taiji Tile hand you may want to see. It is a two part article starting here. Chen Zhonghua studied with Hong Junsheng. Hong Junsheng was a master who studied with Chen Fake. Li Enjui came to South Florida and did a seminar for American Chen Taiji Association years ago. He demonstrated the Chen Taiji of Hong Junsheng which was a very small frame and very combative looking in its movement. On Chen Zhonghua’s site you may want to read an article on Chen Fake and Hong Junsheng.


Tai Chi and Stroke Survivors

In the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health, Oregon Research Institute (ORI) senior scientist Fuzhong Li, Ph.D., describes how senior community centers in Lane County, Oregon successfully adopted an evidence-based Tai Chi program to prevent falls among older adults. Based on this success, the Oregon Department of Human Services, in partnership with 4 counties in Oregon, has now adopted the Tai Chi program as part of its efforts to disseminate evidence-based interventions to promote physical activity and reduce falls among community-living older adults.

Read the entire story.


Tai Chi – Double Weighted

The topic of Double Weighted has been one of debate by some in years past. Most agree that double weighted is wrong, but the definition of double weighted often differs among Tai Chi Groups.

Some say that double weighted is when one’s weight is 50% on both legs. This would mean that everyone double weights briefly on every shift of weight.

Chen Quanzhong was asked about double weight and related it to two areas. First you can double weight by having your body locked in various places. When the body locks the chi slows and one’s circulation is cut. In my previous post on How to step in Tai Chi, I mentioned that when one’s hip is several inches beyond the edge of the foot, the hip will tend to lock and one cannot sit as solidly on the legs. This would certainly fit the idea of double weighting.

The other idea of double weighting is with an energy encounter between two people. If another pushes your arm and you resist pushing back with the arm in the opposite direction… then this is double weighting. Both of these ideas make a lot of sense.

One teacher told me that the classics also gets mistranslated from time to time and he felt this was the cause of the error in viewpoints. I know that many schools teach their students to rise when they shift weight. Although classically one is suppose to sink in order to shift weight, I would not see a problem in rising if the rise was limited and one could keep his entire weight sitting on the legs and not leaking into the hip structure for support. It is my own hunch that in push hands, Tai Chi people often would raise their body while shifting causing too much weight to be supported in the hips. Then someone would blast them with a push and they found it difficult to handle. Some concluded that when this happened they were about 50/50 with the weight and at the pinnacle of height so they further concluded this is double weighting. I would conclude that it had little to do with the weight distribution and a lot to do with how they shifted and lifted up their body too much.

Chen Quanzhong, a 19th generation Chen Family master would have a lot of up and down movement in his form. I wouldn’t say it was bopping but he did change heights frequently. He always sank before shifting and would not rise while shifting. Chen Xiaowang appears to move very small amounts in terms of up and down in comparison. The sink to shift can be slight and can involve an exhale of the body giving a subtle sink in order to shift.

Of course these things are still debated, but in understanding the term double weightedness, this explanation always made a lot more sense to me.

2009 Copyright James Cravens


Big Picture and How to Step in Tai Chi

February 22, 2009

Whether we are talking about your world view of the meaning of life or an ultimate theory of combat, the starting point or the big picture will influence drastically one’s path and direction in whatever pursuit is active. The subject I want to broach is the manner in which we control our weight and body while stepping in Tai Chi.

In the classics there is information about stepping with 0% weight and then shifting 100% of the weight to the other leg. Now if this is to be followed literally without balance, then one can actually be destroying his/her Tai Chi. Again, it will depend on what one considers important and in what order that importance must occur. If the straightness of the body and the and structure is the highest priority in practicing Tai Chi then this must be taken into account when stepping.

It is actually quite easy to just step empty. The problem is that when most people step empty their hip is not directly aligned over the support foot, but can be measured from 2-10 inches sticking out past the hip. If after stepping you dropped a plumb line from the outside of your hip to the floor. Then you measure the distance of that drop to your foot, the distance should not be more than an inch or two. Ideally no distance. So the problem is that one either sticks the hip out or bends over in order to step lightly. This compromise to the structure is very damaging. For health we could say that the hip is locked therefore the chi is being blocked. For martial art it usually means that the weight is so far back that if one receives pressure from the opponent one will have to go backwards.

diagram from Wikipedia plumbline

The option is to step lightly but make sure the structure is very good. If that requires you to step with a little more weight than zero, then that is the sacrifice one will make on this point in order to keep the structure of the body proper.

Is it possible to to have both structure and an empty step. Yes, of course, but it may need to be thought of as more of a goal. In other words as one puts structure first, he then learns to stay in his legs more with the weight of the body and to relax the kua and hip area. As he/she relaxes and the legs get stronger then it is possible to step lighter and lighter because the leg is able to hold the weight when one truly relaxes into the leg. This is an ongoing process.

Many problems multiply when the priorities are out of whack. Whether we are talking about the meaning of life or following the principle of stepping lightly and shifting the weight. First one has to agree on what is true at the top and then set priorities in the proper order. This balancing of the principles are very helpful as we all try and improve our Taiji practice.


Stepping with the hip properly placed over foot.


Stepping with the foot several inches behind the hip.

Article Copyright CBII 2009


Everything is Inside the Form

(excerpt from article by Yan G. and J. Cravens)
February 16, 2009

There are no special secrets in Chen Tai Chi. The form is the source of the information. Within the form we get many things. One thing is zhan zhuang (stillness stance). Stillness stance has three benefits:

1. It builds up the rooting. This helps the chi go downward. Body alignment must be proper and mind must be quiet.
2. It improves our endurance.
3. If the chi does not flow in a spot on the form, stillness stance can help at that spot.

When Chen Quanzhong is asked about the type of Qigong he practices, he states that Zhou Shen Huen Yue Xia Tian Qi means one piece, whole body unitary. He says one should not cut chi into different parts. Since he was born in the Tai Chi Family, he never followed the fashion of various Qigong methods. He was taught and believes that Tai Chi is the most effective way to practice moving qigong. When the body keeps straight and the chi goes down, this is the natural way. One needs a good instructor to help you feel the chi. According to Chen Quanzhong, this is better than the mind moving the chi. The chi will go by itself in this way.

Wu Ji, which is stillness standing at the beginning of the form as well as the end, is more simple than anything requiring movement, yet it is excellent in developing the qigong. Stillness exercises, form, and solo exercises are the types of qi gong practiced by Chen Quanzhong.

It is still important that one majors in the form. From the form we get Fa jing. Fajing is not fast or hard. Fa jing is a quick, powerful release of energy. Fa jing must be unitary and relaxed so that one can shake. If you can relax and make the body a unit, then you can automatically fa jing. Power/Explosiveness must depend on silk-reeling energy, relaxation, internal chi and harmony.

In Push hands one must learn to relax and be unitary in order to fa jing. If the opponent locks some part of his body, you can fa jing in order to throw him out.

What then is the role of the second form Pao cui (Cannon Fist) if the first form has everything? While the first form does have everything contained in it, the second form focuses on the following:

1. One gets to practice the Fa jing continuously.
2. There is jumping, stamping, and the movement when you are fighting many people or if you are with many people.
3. For more endurance in fighting.

People should know that in the old days (60 years ago) Mr. Chen saw that the Chen family practiced Pao cui very little compared to the first form. This is for people to understand the importance of the first form and that it is through the first form that one can become masterful. Many people think there is a great secret with the second form, but the emphasis in old times was always the first form.

Copyright CBII 2009