Thursday, October 29, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Mindfulness and Kindness: Inner Sources of Freedom and Happiness
By Jim Hopper, Ph.D.
(last revised 5/15/2009)
Today there are many options for learning to be more mindful. Which ones are best for you will depend on a variety of factors, including your current ability to regulate your emotions and where you live. One key question is whether to learn mindfulness skills first from a (mental) health professional, or from a teacher at a meditation center or Buddhist community.
I recommend that you do a little research: start with the resources below, then look into resources in your area, which could involve a series of calls to gather information and referrals from local clinics, therapists, and/or meditation centers.
1. There is no substitute for actual mindfulness practice (especially in a daily, disciplined way).
2. To maintain a regular practice, most people will need regular contact with a meditation teacher and/or supportive group or community.
3. You may need to learn some emotion-regulation and other skills first, so if you haven't yet, be sure to read Caution: Mindfulness Includes Pain, and Requires Readiness before reading this section.
Here are four free and inexpensive options for getting started on your own. Please don't be discouraged, though, if you find that going it alone isn't working for you.
* Mindfulness in Plain English, a book by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, includes detailed instruction on how to meditate, and is available free on the web or from Amazon.com.
* Mindfulness Meditation Practice CDs and Tapes, by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
* Meditation for Beginners, an audio CD by Jack Kornfield, another highly respected senior teacher in the Vipassana tradition.
* The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness (book plus CD), by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindal Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn; though focused on depression, this is a valuable resource for anyone struggling with a lot of sadness and suffering.
Other options for developing a mindfulness meditation practice largely on your own, but more structured than the options above, are self-study courses available from Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein, two of the most respected meditation teachers in the West.
* Insight Meditation: An In-Depth Correspondence Course includes an 88-page workbook and 18 hours of audiotaped instruction designed to help you establish and sustain a daily mindfulness meditation practice. There is also the option of receiving personalized instruction (via email) from an advanced meditation teacher.
* The smaller (and less expensive) Insight Meditation: A Step-By-Step Course on How to Meditate, includes a 240-page Insight Meditation workbook, two 70-minute CDs and twelve study cards.
The Vipassana Fellowship offers a 90-day online meditation course, taught by Andrew Quernmore, a meditation teacher in England.
Online meditation courses are also available from Wildmind Buddhist Meditation.
There are many workshop and retreat options available at conference and retreat centers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other countries. If you're interested in a workshop/retreat I'm leading in May of 2009 with my colleague Dana Moore, a therapist and yoga teacher, see Buddhism, Yoga, and Neuroscience: Concepts and Tools for Transforming Trauma and Addiction.
Another way to learn be more mindful is by participating in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program.
MBSR is very accessible to people who have no experience with meditation, and was originally developed to help people struggling with medical illnesses that were not responding to Western medicine. MBSR was developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, who by now have trained hundreds of practitioners around the world – including medical doctors, nurses, psychologists and other health-care professionals – who in turn are offering MBSR programs of their own. The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society maintains a web page where you can search for MBSR Programs in the United States and other countries. To get a better sense of their approach, you might want to read Kabat-Zinn's best-selling book, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.
If you have great difficulty regulating your emotions, especially unwanted emotions and impulses to harm yourself (problems that are not uncommon among people with histories of child abuse and neglect), then you may benefit from learning mindfulness through Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).
This combined individual-and-group therapy approach, developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan to help people who can be said to suffer from "Borderline Personality Disorder," is available at many mental health clinics and hospitals in the US and around the world. DBT incorporates training in mindfulness skills within a comprehensive program that cultivates skills of emotion tolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness. If you really do struggle with regulating negative emotions and self-harming impulses, please don't let the term "personality disorder" scare you away: this treatment can be extremely effective at helping people who have not yet had the opportunity to learn essential emotion regulation skills. To learn more, read Dr. Cindy Sanderson's excellent Dialectical Behavior Therapy - Frequently Asked Questions.
If you're interested in learning more about the Buddhist tradition that has cultivated and preserved mindfulness practices for over 2500 years, and tapping into communities of Westerners practicing mindfulness and other meditation practices from this great spiritual tradition, there are many organizations and centers in the United States and around the world. Two highly respected retreat centers in the U.S. that teach mindfulness meditation are the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. The IMS web site has two pages of links to web sites of other centers, possibly one near you (for the second page of links, follow the "more centers" link on the first page).
For some people, standard sitting and walking versions of mindfulness meditation are not appropriate, at least initially. Focusing on the breath might cause intense anxiety to arise, or scatter attention, leaving one "ungrounded." Or a more physically active and movement-oriented approach might be a better match. (However, some just assume "I could never sit still and meditate for half an hour!" then actually discover that sitting meditation is not only possible for them, but quite beneficial.) Also, more active and movement-based approaches can be extremely helpful if you don't feel at home in your body and often lack awareness of bodily sensations and needs. If so, Iyengar yoga or Qigong practices like Tai Chi may be great ways to begin cultivating mindfulness. Unlike some popular yoga methods, Iyengar strongly emphasizes mindfulness of bodily and breathing sensations. Iyengar Yoga Resources includes a very clear description (What is Iyengar yoga?) and a directory of Iyengar yoga centers worldwide. The National Qigong (Chi Kung) Association explains What is Qigong and allows you to search for teachers near you.
Finally, increasing numbers of therapists and counselors are also mindfulness meditators, and many incorporate teaching of mindfulness skills into therapy. Therapists who are meditators will also tend to know about other local options for learning mindfulness – and just a couple of consultation sessions with such a therapist could be extremely helpful for sorting out your options. A few phone calls to local therapists or clinics might be enough to find such a therapist or counselor in your area.
This will orient you to this extensive webpage, via some opening comments and brief descriptions of each section.
Opening Comments and Suggestions
Is this page for you? You'll have to see, but some of the people I'm hoping to reach and benefit:
People seeking new ways to overcome childhood hurts, depression, addiction, and other all-too-human problems.
Meditators interested in the insights of a fellow meditator who happens to be a therapist, clinical psychology and psychiatric neuroscience researcher, as well as a husband and parent.
Therapists interested in bringing mindfulness and meditation into their clinical practices.
Simply reading this page (whether you try meditating or not) will introduce you to new, and potentially very transformative and healing, ways of thinking about, experiencing and responding to your own emotional and other mental and brain processes. Just learning these concepts and perspectives (without ever meditating), has proved extremely helpful to many people, including those struggling with a great deal of emotional suffering. I can't guarantee that will happen for you, but I would like to encourage you to take the time, at some point, to find out for yourself.
A suggestion: If you discover that you are really interested in what you're reading, print the entire page. At 34 printed pages, it's too long for most people to read on the computer.
Descriptions of Each Section
What is Mindfulness? defines mindfulness by expanding on an often-quoted definition of Jon Kabat-Zinn. My elaboration speaks to struggles that we all have, with overcoming 'bad habits' that cause problems and suffering in our relationships, our work, and the most private parts of our lives. My definition also addresses common misconceptions about mindfulness by clarifying what it is not.
How Could Mindfulness Help Me? describes several ways that mindfulness can help people overcome habitual and automatic ways of responding to experiences that are either strongly unwanted (from emotionally uncomfortable to traumatic) or strongly wanted (including addictive). These include loosening the grip of habitual responses that cause suffering, quieting and calming the mind, and fostering greater awareness, enjoyment and cultivation of healthy positive experiences.
How Can I Cultivate Greater Mindfulness? begins with a few comments about meditation and Buddhism, followed by instructions for a standard mindfulness of breathing meditation. It then discusses some key issues, including the distinction between concepts and skills, daily versus intensive mindfulness practice, and formal practice versus weaving mindfulness into daily life. It ends by addressing some common questions and concerns about the cultivation of mindfulness in daily life and relationships.
Caution: Mindfulness Includes Pain, and Requires Readiness is a very important section, particularly for those who can become overwhelmed by unwanted emotions. It discusses the need for a solid foundation of self-regulation skills before practicing mindfulness meditation, and how this is essential for people who struggle with certain problems.
Kindness - An Essential Companion of Mindfulness explains why cultivating mindfulness is necessary but not sufficient, and how cultivating kindness promotes acceptance, peace, freedom, and happiness. It also includes some simple but very effective practices for cultivating key aspects of kindness.
Resources for Learning To Be More Mindful provides very specific advice for how and where you can learn to become more mindful. It has immediately useful information about books, tapes, online mindfulness meditation courses, and meditation centers. It also includes suggestions and resources for those who need more help cultivating self-regulation skills, or for whom more movement-oriented practices such as yoga or Tai Chi will be most effective.
Recommended Books, CDs/Tapes/MP3s, and Articles includes recommendations for everyone as well as therapists in particular.
Links to Other Resources on Mindfulness and Meditation has a small number of highly recommended sites.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
I have read several books by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming over the years and still use his two books on Tai Chi Chuan as references to advance my knowledge of this incredible martial art. His books are the most detailed ones I have ever seen and I recommend them to everyone from beginner to advanced practitioner. This amazing detail is present in all of his books whether it be his book on Northern Shaolin Long Fist Kung Fu, Chin Na, or Soutnern White Crane. You can read a short biography of him at the end of this article. This short history of Taijiquan contains a few more details that I think you will find interesting. I highly recommend Dr. Yang('s) Jwing-Ming books to anyone interested in traditional Chinese martial arts. He founded YMAA many years ago to make sure the detail and integrity of these original and powerful martial arts are preserved and available to everyone today. Enjoy!
Shaolin: the Root of Taijiquan
After Bodhidharma (Da Mo) passed down his qigong (chi kung) theory at Shaolin Temple around 550 A.D., the Shaolin monks trained the cultivation of Qi, and realized that from this cultivation, muscular power could be enhanced to a tremendous level, which could make martial techniques more powerful and effective. This was the beginning of internal cultivation in the martial arts. According to ancient records, it was only about 50 years later that internal martial art styles based on Da Mo’s internal Qi cultivation were created.
Small Nine Heaven and Post-Heaven Techniques
Two of the best known of these styles are “Small Nine Heaven” (Xiao Jiu Tian) and “Post-Heaven Techniques” (Hou Tian Fa). All of these early Chinese martial art styles were created based on the same Taiji (tai chi) theories and principles known today.
These theories and principles are:
1. Qi should be first cultivated and developed internally. This Qi is slowly manifested as power through the physical body and finally applied into techniques.
2. In order to allow the Qi to circulate smoothly and freely in the body, the physical body must first be relaxed, and the movements must be soft.
3. The Yin and Yang theory and concepts are the foundations and root of Qi development.
The roots of Taijiquan (tai chi chuan) have existed for at least 1400 years. During this time, thousands of techniques were discovered and hundreds of styles were created. The very theoretical underpinnings of Taijiquan have been studied and researched continuously. From the accumulation of thought, its theories have reached a very deep and profound level even as its contents have expanded into an ever wider range.
Taijiquan originally Changquan (Long Fist)
The implications of these two styles were probably the progenitors of Taijiquan. It is believed that Taijiquan was not actually named “Taijiquan” until the Chinese Song dynasty (circa A.D. 1101). Zhang, San-Feng is widely credited as the creator of Taijiquan.
Taijiquan in ancient times was also called “Changquan” (Long Fist). It is said:
What is Long Fist? (It is) like a long river and a large ocean, rolling ceaselessly.
Originally, the name “Changquan” came from the Shaolin Temple. “Changquan” means “Long Fist.” It can also be translated as “Long Range” or “Long Sequence.” Ancient documents suggest that the meaning of “Changquan” in Taijiquan means the “Long Sequence” like a long river that acts as a conduit to the open ocean. The Qi circulating in the body is rolling continuously, flowing, and ebbing in natural cycles.
Shaolin Temple to Chen Village
From surviving fragments of documents, it can be surmised that the Shaolin temple was the major influence on the development of Qi cultivation in martial arts society. It is valid to infer that substantial Taijiquan theory originated at the temple. Looking at contemporary Chen Style Taijiquan, similarities emerge between it and certain external Shaolin styles. For example, both the first and second routines—“Changquan” and “Pao Chui” (Cannon Fist)—originated at the Shaolin temple, yet they also exist in Chen Style. Even the names were kept the same as those in the temple. Although the Shaolin Changquan and Pao Chui have been modified and revised in Chen Style Taijiquan, it can still be traced back to the root and origin of every movement in today’s Chen Style Taijiquan. This holds true for many of the Taijiquan weapons routines.
Yang Style roots
It is well known that Yang Style originated from Chen Style and that they still share the same Taiji root and essence. Wu and Sun Styles originated from Yang Styles. Taijiquan and Shaolin martial arts also share the same root. It is no wonder that many Taijiquan masters who have also learned Shaolin martial arts are more expert and proficient in the martial roots and applications of Taijiquan. The reason for this is simply because the “Dao” of Chinese martial arts remains the same in all Chinese styles. Different styles are only different variations and derivations like branches and flowers coming from the same root. When you learn different styles, you will have different angles from which to view the same “Dao.” Naturally, your mind will be clearer and your understanding will be will be more profound.
Taijiquan means Grand Ultimate Fist
As written down in the past, “Taijiquan” originally was written as “Taiji”. It is said:
“What is Taiji? It is generated from Wuji. It is the mother of Yin and Yang. When it moves, it divides. At rest it reunites.”
Taiji can be translated as “Grand Ultimate” or “Grand Extremity,” which refers to the most essential movements, or the very origin of motivation or force. Wuji means “No Extremity,” and means “No Dividing” or “No Discrimination.” Wuji is a state of formlessness, of staying in the center: calm, quiet, and peaceful. Once you have generated a mind, or have formed the mental shape with which you will influence physical reality, the motivation of dividing or discriminating starts. When this dividing happens, Wuji will be derived into Yin and Yang. From this, you learn what Taiji is—it is the motivation of distinguishment. When you have this motivation, the Qi will then be led, and Yin and Yang can be distinguished.
Once this motivation (i.e., Taiji) stops, the motivator of division stops, and the Yin and Yang will once again reunite and return back to Wuji. Taiji is actually the motive force generated from the mind (Yi). From this force, the Qi is led and circulates throughout the body. Summing up, Taijiquan is the martial style which trains the practitioner to use the mind to lead the Qi, circulating it in the body, and generating the Yin and Yang states, either for health, fighting, or otherwise.
Thirteen Jin Patterns and Strategies
Taijiquan is also called “Shi San Shi” (Thirteen Postures). It is said:
What are the Thirteen Postures?
- Peng, Lu, Ji, An, Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kou; these are the eight trigrams.
- Jin Bu, Tui Bu, Zuo Gu, You Pan, Zhong Ding; these are the five elements.
- Peng, Lu, Ji, An are Qian (heaven), Kun (earth), Kan (water), Li (fire); the four main sides.
- Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kou are Xun (wind), Zhen (thunder), Dui (lake), and Gen (mountain); the four diagonal corners.
- Jin Bu, Tui Bu, Zuo Gu, You Pan, and Zhong Ding are Jin (metal) Mu (wood), Shui (water), Fo (fire), and Tu (earth).
All together they are the Thirteen Postures.
Taijiquan includes eight basic moving or Jin (martial power) patterns which are considered the eight corners of the Eight Trigrams. Peng, Lu, Ji, and An are considered the four sides of the Eight Trigrams, while Cai, Lie, Zhou, and Kao are regarded as the four diagonal corners. Taijiquan also contains five basic strategic movements or steppings: Jin Bu (forward), Tui Bu (backward), Zuo Gu (see the left), You Pan (look to the right), and Zhong Ding (firm the center).
The Thirteen Postures is a foundation of Taijiquan where hundreds of techniques and strategic movements can be generated. For example, a waltz has only three steps in the basic movement, but the variations can number in the hundreds. In order to understand the Qin Na (chin na) applications of Taijiquan, you must first become familiar with the Qin Na hidden in the Thirteen Postures and know that Qin Na can be used against these Thirteen Postures.
37 Postures to Hundreds of Applications
Taijiquan has also been called San Shi Qi Shi, which means “Thirty-Seven Postures.” If you count the technique movements or postures of Yang Style Taijiquan, you will find that they number only thirty-seven. It is from these thirty-seven postures that more than 250 martial applications are derived. These thirty-seven postures are also built upon the foundation of the “Thirteen Postures” or “Thirteen Jin Patterns and Strategies.” Many of these thirty-seven postures are constructed from two or more of the original thirteen Jin patterns. For example, “Wave Hands in the Clouds” and “Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail” are the combinations of “Peng Jin” and “Lie Jin.” The original thirteen patterns first derive into thirty-seven basic postures or movements and these thirty-seven basic postures can be derived into hundreds of techniques and variations.
Yang, Jwing-Ming Ph.D., is a world-renowned author and teacher of Chinese martial arts and Qigong. Born in Taiwan, he has trained and taught Taijiquan, Qigong, and Chinese martial arts for over 45 years. He is the author of 35 books and 80 instructional videos, and was elected by Inside Kung Fu magazine as one of the 10 people who has "made the greatest impact on martial arts in the past 100 years." Dr. Yang lives at the YMAA CA Retreat Center, in California.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
T'ai chi ch'uan was originally taught as a martial art and longevity exercise. In the early 20th century the health benefits were discovered and it took on a new persona as a preventive medicine or wellness exercise. It was later promoted by the Chinese Government to keep the citizens healthy. The martial art aspects then took a back stage to it being a health exercise in China.
Consumer Reports (CR, Feb 2000, p 45) calls t'ai-chi the "Ultimate low-impact exercise", an exercise that can be done by any one who can walk, the only caveat being people with knee problems may have problems doing it. CR claims t'ai-chi can improve cardiovascular endurance as well as improve posture, strength and balance. CR sites a 1992 Australian study that found it had the same effect as brisk walking on heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones. Scientific studies have found that it can lower blood pressure, improve balance, improve circulation and make seniors feel empowered.
According to Dr Robert Whipple, a gait and balance expert, "T'ai-chi has come up with the best possible biomechanical scenarios for keeping a person stable - to maximize your standing base by widening your stance, and to keep your head and torso as vertical as possible." (CR, Feb 2000) The methods showing the best results have the feet in a wide stance position, with the back and head held straight upwards. As the t'ai-chi classics stay the head is held, "As if suspended from above." There should be no leaning over, forward, back or to the side.
History of T'ai Chi Ch'uan
©H. Kurland 1998, 2000
Adapted From H Kurland, "The Web of Tai Chi Chuan"
parts 1 & 2 Karate/Kung fu Illustrated, July & August 1998,
History of T'ai Chi Ch'uan
T'ai-chi ch'uan (also spelled taijiquan and taiji chuan) is an ancient Chinese martial art that comes in so many variations that it's often confusing to the layman. Some styles can trace their lineage back to the founding of the art, while others date back to the early part of the 20th century. Some stress competition, while others emphasize health or self-defense. Obviously, without the proper information, choosing the one that is best for you can be a daunting task. This article will present an overview of the major styles of tai chi, and after reading it you'll be able to understand how one style begot another. And you'll be able to more easily choose one that is right for you.
Before examining the many styles and sub-styles of the art, however, it's wise to heed the advice of t'ai chi ch'uan Grandmaster Tchoung Ta-tchen. He insists that all are valid and beneficial to the student as long as the basic t'ai chi concepts are adhered to - even though many teachers proclaim that theirs is the only correct method.
First, the Art
T'ai-chi ch'uan is usually literally translated as "grand ultimate boxing". I see this as meaning, instead of being an immodest title, the "grand ultimate" portion of the name refers to the Chinese concept of the origin of the universe. That is the principle of yin and yang. In fact, the common yin-yang symbol is properly called the t'ai chi diagram. I see t'ai-chi ch'uan being the art of the harmony of yin and yang, in tangible form.
The history of t'ai chi is foggy at best. There are many conflicting stories from the past, and the confusion continues right up to the present. To make matters worse, there are many revisionist versions of t'ai chi's history which are expounded by those out to promote their own style as the best, or the most authentic. So it is difficult to get the full story.
The foundation concepts of t'ai chi ch'uan, which come from Taoism and Confucianism, go back to the beginning of written history in China. They come from Lao Tzu's monumental text, Tao Te Ching, from the I Ching and from various other health-promoting and breathing exercise treatises. The actual art can be traced back only 300 to 700 years, however. The founder is said to be Chang San-feng (Zhang Sanfeng), who is thought to have lived from 1279 to 1368, but no one knows if he actually existed. Some experts claim him as just being a myth, while others argue he did exist and there are monuments to him in China.
Many believed Chang San-feng was a Shaolin monk who decided to leave the monastery to become a Taoist hermit. On Wu Tang (Wudang) mountain, he gave up the hard fighting style he had learned and formulated a new art based on softness and yielding. One story tells how he had a vision between a snake and a crane (although some say it was a magpie, an eagle or a hawk). In theory, the crane should have had an easy time killing the snake, but in Chang's vision, the crane would try to attack the snake's head, and the snake would evade and hit the crane with it's tail. When the crane would try for the snake's tail, the snake would bite the crane. This resulted in the discovery of the basic t'ai chi concepts of evading, yielding and attacking.
Chang assembled a martial art that used softness and internal power to overcome brute force. He is believed to have written: "In every movement, every part of the body must be light and agile and strung together. The postures should be without breaks. Motion should be rooted in the feet, released through the legs, directed by the waist and expressed by the fingers. Substantial and insubstantial movements must be clearly differentiated."
This marked the beginning of t'ai-chi ch'uan, but at that time it was called chang chuan, or long boxing after the endless flow of the Changjiang (Yangtse) River. Later, Chang formulated the 13 postures of t'ai chi. While no one knows what his art looked like then, it is thought that the movements were practiced as individual techniques and/or concepts.
The next major historical figure was Wang Tsung-yueh (Wang Zongyue), who wrote the second t'ai chi classic and first referred to the art as t'ai-chi chuan. He also coined the statement, "a force of 4 ounces deflects 1,000 pounds." He is thought to have expanded the original 13 postures into a linked choreographed form. Some historians believe Wang actually founded the art, while others dispute his existence as well.
Another candidate for the role of t'ai chi founder is Chen Wang-ting. Some believe he created the art based on his military experiences, his study of local boxing methods and his gleaning of classical texts like Ch'uan Ching (Boxing Classics), which was written by Chi Che-kwong (Qi Jiguang) (1528 - 1587) as a compellation of known methods.
Chen developed several forms, and his family passed them along only to its members. At the 14th generation, around the late 1700s and early 1800s, Chen's style spilt into the "old-frame" and the "new-frame" versions. The New frame was taught by Chen Yu-pen, and the Old frame by Chen Chang-hsing.
It was at this time that an outsider learned the art and started opening it up to the rest of the world. These days, students can learn several versions of the Chen style - including the old frame, new frame and modern forms- as well as offshoots which developed in towns located near the Chen family village. There are many variations of Chen style.
The Chen form requires the body to be straight and upright. Variations of the horse stance are emphasized. In the most popular version, which was taught by Feng Zhiqiang, the basic stance has the toes pointing outward slightly. Other forms use a parallel-foot horse stance. In all reputable versions, the knees are positioned directly above the toes. Most movements are executed with a sideways orientation - as if one's opponents are standing to the side. The two of the most famous and highest level teachers today are Chen Xiaowang and Feng Zhiqiang who teach different versions of Chen style.
A novel part of the Chen style is the multitude of explosive movements: jumps, strikes and kicks. There is an emphasis on "silk-reeling energy", or the spiraling energy that flows from the feet to the hands. Even thought the art is performed quickly, the practitioner should remain loose and relaxed. Any tension or disjointed movements mean it is being done incorrectly. It is difficult to practice the Chen style correctly because of the ease with which excessive force and muscle tension can creep into its movements. Perhaps this is why some hard stylists can do impressive imitations of this style - but without using the correct concepts. It may also be the reason the Chen style appeals to martial arts students who need a tangible sense of speed and force.
Yang Lu-chan (1799 - 1872) learned the old-frame style from Chen Chang-hsing. Many stories tell how this took place. A popular one holds that Yang wanted to learn the art, but the Chen family would not teach outsiders. So Yang took a job as a servant for the Chen's and learned t'ai-chi by watching through a crack in the wall. Afterward, he would practice what he learned when he alone in his room. One day he was discovered and asked to spar with the other students. He easily defeated all of them and was taken under the wing of Chen Chang-hsing, who then taught him the whole old-frame style. Yang is said to have spent the next six years studying under Chen. (Some historians say he studied for 13 years and others 18 years)
Yang eventually returned to his hometown of Kuang Ping (also spelled Guang Ping) and taught the old-frame Chen style. He later traveled to Beijing and became a military martial arts teacher for the Manchu government. After he altered the sequence of the movements in his form, it later became known as the Yang style.
Some modern practitioners claim that Yang watered down the art he taught to the Manchus and reserved a different version of it for his townspeople and family. But this may be just a selling point for those who insist they teach the only "authentic" form.
It is important to remember that Yang played a pivotal role in opening the once-closed art to the outside world. Two facts are significant: He learned the old-frame Chen style, and he was never beaten in combat. Even as a beginner, he defeated all of Chen's students. For those who claim he didn't learn all the secrets of the Chen family, this action speaks louder than any speculation. Because of his victories in challenge matches, he acquired the nickname "Yang the Invincible". Nevertheless, he always avoided hurting his opponent in a match. Two of his sons carried on his art and family tradition: Yang Pan-hou (a.k.a. Yang Yu) and Yang Chien-hou (a.k.a. Yang Jian). The senior Yang also taught Wu Yu-hsiang and was friends with Tung Hai-chuan, who was the founder of pa kua chang (bagua zhang) another major "Internal Style" of kung-fu. It would be easy to speculate there was some influence of pa-kua over the Yang's t'ai-chi ch'uan and Yang's t'ai-chi ch'uan over Tung's pa-kua chang.
Old Wu Style
Wu Yu-hsiang (Wu Yuxiang) (1812-1880) studied under Yang Lu-chan for an extended time. He then traveled to the Chen family village, and for three months he studied the new-frame style, with Chen Ching-ping. After that, Wu founded his own version of t'ai chi, which is now called the Wu style, the old Wu style or the "Orthodox Wu style". This is a different family name and style than the Wu who studied with Yang Pan-hou and formed the "New Wu" form (described later). Some people call this form Hao Style after Hao Wei-chen.
Wu is responsible for the classic text titled Expositions of Insights Into the Practice of the 13 Postures. Wu Tu-nan, a master who lived to 107 years old, studied under Wu Yu-hsing and Yang Lu-chan, then developed his own form which influenced others teachers such as Tchoung Ta-tchen. Three major offshoots stemmed from Wu Yu-hsiang: the Li, the Hao and the Sun styles.
Li I-yu was Wu Yu-hsiang's main disciple. He wrote several t'ai chi classics, including The Five Character Secret and Essentials of the Practice of Form and Push Hands. That text was based upon a secret manuscript, allegedly written by Wang Tsung-yueh, which the Wu family claimed to find. Li style is considered a small frame form.
Li I-yu taught Hao Wei-chen (Hao Weizhen) (1849-1920), who then founded the Hao style of t'ai chi. This is another small-frame form, which means it uses tight small-circle movements and shorter stances. This is called small frame (Xiao Jia) and the Hao style name is often used for Old Wu form.
In 1914 Hao embarked on a trip to visit a friend named Yang Chien-hou, who was Yang Lu-chan's son and a major figure in Yang style. Hao ended up contracting an illness before he could find Yang. A well-known hsing-i master named Sun Lu-tang came to his aid, and Hao repaid him by teaching him his fighting style. Sun was already renowned for his hsing-i ch'uan and pa kua chang skills, but he decided to combine the Hao style of t'ai chi with the other two arts to form a new system called the Sun style, after Sun Lu-tang.
Like the Hao style, the Sun style is considered small frame. It employs many "step-ups" into its techniques, and this fact makes it somewhat similar to hsing-i. The Sun style also used short stances and straight leg kicks, but jumps have been taken out of its repertoire. It is said that the art melded pa kua chang's steps, hsing-I ch'uan's leg and waist methods, and t'ai chi's softness. This is often called the "lively paced" form (Huobu Jia). The Sun style was carried on by Sun's daughter, Sun Jian-yun who teaches in China.
Sun Lu-tang (1861-1932) is also well-known because he was highly literate and a prolific writer. This made him a rarity among martial artists of that time. He authored several books and in the late 1800's popularized the term nei chia chuan, which translates as "Internal Family Arts" or "Internal Martial Arts." The term Internal Martial Arts caught on and had a conceptual influence on other arts, which actually is different than the meaning of the term. The concept of Internal Arts referred to Arts developed within China such as T'ai chi ch'uan , Hsing-I Ch'uan, and pa-kua chang. External arts are those based on Shaolin ch'uan which came from India. This idea often confuses people as they think it means having to do with "Internal power".
New Wu Style
Yang Lu-chan's two sons carried on his brand of t'ai chi ch'uan. One of them, Yang Pan-hou, taught a modified small-frame style. He is also reported to have taught a watered-down form to the Imperial family and still another form to his towns-people.
Several versions of t'ai chi are now attributed to Yang Pan-hou. The most famous is the other Wu style or "Medium Frame" form of Wu Jian-chuan (Wu Jianquan) (1870 - 1942) and another is Kuang Ping style (described later). Yang taught Wu Chuan-yu, who taught his son, Wu Jian-chuan. This style is called the "New Wu style" by some, and is distinct from the Wu style of Wu Yu-hsiang.
Some Wu stylists advocate using a pronounced lean in many of the techniques to help the student gain leverage and power. Other Wu practitioners remain upright as in the Chen style. The original form had 108 to 121 movements, but several short and modified versions of Wu style now exist.
Kuang Ping Style
Another t'ai chi ch'uan offshoot from Yang Pan-hou is the Kuang Ping (also spelled Guang Ping) style, which Yang allegedly taught at one point in his life. It's interesting to note that there are very few similarities between the Kuang Ping style and the Wu style. The Kung Ping from is more open and linear, and it uses a more sideways-oriented stance. It also has very extended arm movements and sometimes appears to be a bridge between the Chen style and the Yang style. As in the older Yang forms, the upright stance is used.
The Kuang Ping forms use an upright stance and straight-leg heel kicks and jumping kicks. It is usually done at a faster pace, at least faster than the later Yang forms. The form also includes some fast step-up movements which are similar to those found in hsing-i ch'uan. Most of the techniques in the Kuang Ping form are different from those of the Chen, Yang, or Wu forms. Some people, such as Andrew Dale, a t'ai chi & pa-kua master in Seattle, say there is a large pa-kua chang emphasis in the form. Several versions of the style are taught today, mostly in California. Some other instructors teach the art but call it the Ch'en style.
Yang Pan-hou taught the Kuang Ping form to Wong Jiao-yu. His followers claimed it was a secret of the Yang family's that was never taught to the hated Manchus. Wong supposedly taught Kuo Lien-ying, who was already a master of northern Shaolin kung fu. Kuo was also a famous master of pa-kua chang. Kuo later shortened the form and taught his condensed version to thousands of students. When Mao Tse-tung seized power in China, Kuo fled to Taiwan and later to San Francisco's Chinatown, where he taught the art.
Kuo has many students who also teach versions of the Kuang Ping style; some of these are very different from what he taught. They include his wife Simone Kuo, Henry Look, Y.C. Chiang, Tom Brayne, and T.R. Chung. Kuo wrote two books, one of which was translated into English as Tai Chi Chuan in Theory and Practice, translated by T.R. Chung and has pictures of Kuo doing his form.
Old Yang Style
Yang Chien-hou (1842-1917) taught large-, medium-, and small-frame styles of tai chi. He was easier to get along with than his brother and had more students. One story told how he once held a sparrow in his hand and used his sensitivity to prevent the bird from taking off by neutralizing its push. In another story, armed only with a brush Yang is said to have defeated a martial artist who was wielding a sword. His sons, Yang Shao-hou and Yang Cheng-fu, carried on his art. Some of Yang Cheng-fu's students originally trained under his brother, Yang Shao-hou. Consequently, they inherited the energy of that form.
Stories of Yang Shao-hou described him as being brutal and often injuring or killing his students. Consequently, he did not have many followers, but the ones he did have were good martial artists. The well-known ones include his son Yang Chen-seng, Tian Shao-lin, Hsiung Young-hou, and Chang Ching-ling, all of whom carried on his unique small-frame method.
After Yang Shao-hou died, his students became followers of his brother, Yang Cheng-fu. Some tai chi historians claim that many of the senior students of Yang Shao-hou, believing their skill was higher than Yang Cheng-fu's, went off on their own after Shao-hou died. Thus, they were written out of the official lineage, and some practitioners do not consider their versions of the art authentic.
Some experts claim that Tian Shao-lin and Hsiung Young-hou were also students of Yang Pan-hou. Tian taught Shi Tiao-mei, who taught Tchoung Ta-tchen. Hsiung Young-ho also taught Tchoung Ta-tchen - as well as Liang Tung-tsai and several others - the san shou form. Researcher Andy Dale refers to this San Shou form as another "secret" Yang style, which Yang Shau-chung claimed was derived from the Chen Ar Lu style (pao chui, or cannon fist), as taught by Yang Lu-chan.
Yang Cheng-fu style
Yang Cheng-fu (1883-1936) was one of the most important historical figures in modern t'ai chi ch'uan. He taught a "Large Frame" t'ai chi form that used slow, smooth, expansive movements. It was often said that he felt like a steel bar wrapped in cotton. Legend has it he was never defeated in combat. Chang Ching-ling an advanced student of Yang Shao-hou also practiced with him and may have helped develop Yang Cheng-fu's skill.
Yang taught at the Central Kuo Shu Institute in 1926. When he moved south to Shanghai, he modified the Yang form, taking out the fast kicks and the more strenuous movements. He is also credited with emphasizing the health benefits of the art and popularizing it among the educated class. Yang deserved much of the credit for the current popularity t'ai-chi ch'uan and especially of the Yang style. Some claim he taught one art to the public and another to his closest disciples. Though many experts deny this idea. His form is referred to as "Yang Family Style", as the "Family" designation is only appropriate for familial relations.
Tchoung Version Old Yang Style
Tchoung Ta-tchen taught the "Dual form" of the Old form of the Yang style form. His is a symmetrical form in that all movements are done on the right and left sides, which is different than most standard forms which are one sided. This symmetrical movement is thought to promote greater benefits for the nervous system and for coordination, though is more difficult to learn at first. There is also an emphasis on the "Silk Reeling Energy" which is omitted from many other Yang versions. It also emphasizes pull-down, shoulder and elbow techniques as well as some fast kicks, which the more modern Yang Forms have removed. At 274 movements, this form is much longer than the standard versions; it actually takes an hour to complete. Tchoung's "annotated form" is composed of 120 movements.
Tchoung's method can be traced back to Yang Pan-hou and Yang Shao-hou, depending on which historian is believed. His students also teach his short form, pushing hands, applications, san shou, walking stick form, t'ai-chi chien, t'ai-chi tao and several other sword forms.
Tchoung also trained with Hsiung Young-ho (1886-1984), who was a student of Yang Shao-hou. From Hsiung he learned the san shou fighting form. He trained in push hands with Cheng Man-Ching and was a friend and practice partner of Kuo Lien-ying, Wang Shu-chin, Yuan Tao and Wang Yen-nien.
Tchoung studied ch'i kung at China's O'mei Shan (Emei Shan) monastery in 1942. Tchoung also studied the "Nature School of Boxing" with Hsiung Chien-yuan of Hangchow. He was a renowned swordsman and studied many systems of sword. Teaching several methods to his followers.
Like his friend Kuo, Tchoung traveled around and tried out other martial artists. If he heard that master was supposed to be good at push hands, Tchoung would visit him. According to Laurens Lee: "He was famous in t'ai-chi ch'uan push hands in Taiwan. During that period of time, there was a statement in Taiwan's martial arts field: 'Big Tchoung cannot be moved, and Little Tchoung cannot be pushed off balance.' Big Tchoung referred to eagle-claw master Tchoung Fu-sheng, and Little Tchoung referred to Tchoung Ta-tchen." There are many students and teachers of the Tchoung system in Canada and the USA.
Yang Cheng-fu taught several well-known instructors, including his son Yang Shau-chung, Tung Ying-chieh, Chen Wei-ming and Cheng Man-Ching. Each went off to teach his own version of the Yang style. Fu Zhen-song studied with Yang Cheng-fu and Sun Lu-tang, then formed his own style, which he called the Fu style. It combines t'ai-chi, hsing-i and pa kua chang.
Fu developed the form called liang-i, as well as his own version of pa kua. Fu's forms contain a lot spinning, twisting, body ripping, and backward and forward leaning. It is a very active and energetic form, which is a popular competition form. Well-known teachers include Bow Sim Mark in Boston, Massachusetts; and Victor Fu in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Tung (Dong) Style
This is a variation of Yang Cheng-fu's form that is popular in Hawaii and Los Angeles. Tung Ying-chieh (1888-1961) is a famous teacher of the Yang style and was Yang Cheng-fu's assistant. He also helped edit Yang's book and wrote some of his own. Tung later developed his own form, which he taught his students after they learned the standard form. His son, Tung Fue-ling, taught the style in Hong Kong, Hawaii and Los Angeles.
The Tung version of the Yang style became popular in Los Angeles and Hawaii. Huang Wen-shin, a student of Tung Ying-chieh, is usually credited with popularizing t'ai-chi ch'uan in the Southern California area through his classes and his book, Fundamentals of Tai Chi Chuan. Huang's students are still teaching a modified version of that form.
The Tung style is said to have descended from the Yang Cheng-fu form, and the Tung family added fast forms it developed and other forms. The style is characterized by higher elbow positions, angularity, a greater amount of hand tension and reduced usage of the waist than the Chang Ching-ling or softer derivatives. Some observers believe that the Tung form seems to place more emphasis on peng (ward-off energy) and less on yielding. It is a very straight forward form of t'ai-chi ch'uan. Tung Fue-ling's son Tung Kai-ying, teaches in Los Angeles.
Cheng Man-Ching Style
Cheng Man-ch'ing was a well-known student of Yang Cheng-fu who wrote several books, including his famous Cheng's 13 Chapters on T'ai-Chi Ch'uan. He was famous for his pushing hands and had many students in Taiwan. Some historians have suggested that Cheng also trained with Chang Ching-ling and other students of Yang Shao-hou, but Cheng officially recognized only Yang Cheng-fu as his teacher.
Cheng at first taught the standard form but later shortened it to 37 movements. Cheng, who was well-known for his push hands and softness, also had very good kicking skills. He later moved to New York and started teaching there which lead to popularity of his form.
There are stories which tell how Cheng was knocked unconscious twice while engaging in push hands with Yang Cheng-fu. He is also reported to not have gotten along with Kuo Lien-ying or Hsiung Yang-hou, who did not like his style. But was friends with Tchoung Ta-tchen who practice pushing hands with him. His friend Tchoung Ta-tchen moved to Canada.
Liang Tsung-tsai was his teaching assistant in Taiwan and moved to Boston where he taught his own long form version of Yang style. Liang wrote books on the art including, T'ai Chi Ch'uan for Health and Self-Defense. Several of Liang's students have published many books on their version of the art. Each teacher of Cheng form went their own way and there are now many versions and modifications of the Cheng Man-ch'ing form.
In Taiwan he was a famous tai chi instructor. There were many skilled teachers who worked with him, some stayed in Taiwan such as Liu Se-heng, who inherited his school in Taiwan. Other famous students who moved to the United States, including Ben Lo, T. T. Liang, Abraham Liu and William Chen.
Many versions of Yang style are taught today. Some are called the "standard" or "authentic" versions and claim to be based on Yang Cheng-fu's 1930s form. In reality, t'ai-chi practitioners often shared information, sparred and worked out with practitioners of other styles, and this probably influenced everyone's technique. This was apparent before the cultural revolution in China and afterwards in Taiwan. No two masters seem to be doing the exact same form. According to Tchoung Ta-tchen this is to be expected, as no two person's energy is the same. According to Tchoung as long as the concepts are correct the small artistic differences are inconsequential.
Stagnant or Evolving?
There are many examples of possible sharing of ideas. For example, Yang Lu-chan was a friend of Tung Hai-chuan the founder of pa kua. Do you think they did not work out together and discuss concepts? Hao Wei-chen was a friend of Yang Chien-hou and taught Sun Lu-tang. Chen Wei-ming, a well-known student of Yang Cheng-fu, was friends with Sun Lu-tang and studied pa kua chang and hsing-i chuan with him. As mentioned above, there is speculation that Cheng Man-ch'ing also worked with Chang Ching-ling and Yang Shao-hou's students. Yang Shao-hou was a friend of pa-kua chang legend Cheng Ting-hua. And Tchoung Ta-tchen was friends and training partners of Kuo lien Ying, Cheng Man-ch'ing, and Wang Shu-chin among others. It is very possible that their associates influenced their arts. One would be foolhardy to not think these men learned to adapt and allow their forms to evolve. According to Tchoung. "T'ai-chi ch'uan should adapt and evolve with current technology and knowledge," he claims it is a living, evolving art form. Otherwise it is just stagnant and against the Tao (Dao).
Yang Family Discussions
Currently there is a power struggle between the two factions of the Yang family: the Fu Zhong-wen side and the Yang Zhen-dou side. Fu began studying with his uncle, Yang Cheng-fu when he was 9. Fu became a disciple of Cheng, and his followers even say he was Yang Cheng-fu's favorite family disciple. Fu recently died, and his son, Fu Sheng-yu, carries on his art.
Yang Zhen-dou is the son of Yang Cheng-fu and is considered by many to be the fourth-generation inheritor of the Yang style, even though simple math shows that he was only 10 when his father died. But Yang and Fu had plenty of expert family members from who to learn so is very skilled. There seems to be some controversy as to whether Fu or Yang carried on the true from of Yang Cheng-fu. Basically Yang (surname) family members say only those related to the family with the Yang family name, can really claim they teach "Yang Family" t'ai chi. The say others teach "Yang Style" t'ai chi, Not "Yang Family Style", a distinction they want to make very clear.
Outwardly the patterns are the same, but there are significant differences in the way the two Yang forms are done. In the Yang Zhen-dou version, many of the movements - such as the one called "brush knee" - have a slight lean. (Interestingly, this is similar to how it's done in some versions of the "new Wu style.") But in the Fu version, the body is held upright, as is done in the Chen and Kuang Ping versions, Yang Zhen-dou argues that if you look at pictures of Yang Cheng-fu, you can see him lean. They both agree that their ways differ from other forms, as well. In reality it matters little, as to small differences in styles as long as one does the exercise, the benefits will follow. Similar arguments are found in Chen style and other forms as well.
There are many new forms such as the "24 from "developed in 1956 by Committee on Mainland China. These were developed as calisthenics exercise methods and for competition. For example the 24 Simplified form is mainly Yang style used for exercise, but others such as the 48 and 66 Forms combine several styles methods into one form. Simplified sword forms have also been developed for exercise and competition.
Several of these new forms are designed as competition forms and lack the essence of the more traditional forms. Many schools teach the 24 Form as an introductory form to the art, while others only teach that form. Though many instructors of traditional methods have questioned the energetics of the 24 form, as it does not seem to have the same benefit as does the other more standard Yang forms. This may be due to an incorrect order of the techniques. In my opinion the equivalent to studying the 24 form would be learning the first section of the Traditional Yang, Tchoung or the Cheng form, and would give the student much better energetic results.
As enlightened martial artists are fond of saying, the study of most any style will ultimately benefit the student. Therefore, the student should choose the style that most appeals to him. It is hoped that the historical and developmental information provided in parts one and two of this article will enable martial artists to better decide which style of t'ai-chi ch'uan best fits their need. Because numerous experts devoted their life to perfecting each version of the art, they all deserve to be respected.
Harvey Kurland is certified as a "Sifu", a professional teacher, of T'ai chi ch'uan by the Chinese T'ai Chi Ch'uan Association. He studied with many notable grandmasters including Kuo Lien Ying, Liang Tsung-tsai, Chen Xiaowang, and Tchoung Ta-tchen and others.
Kurland also has Professional Certification from the American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association, and International Sports Sciences Association. Kurland has a Master of Science Degree in Exercise Physiology and a degree in Community Health Education. He did an internship with the Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Institute in Seattle and did a preceptor ship in Sports Medicine at the University of Washington Medical School under Dr. James Garrick, where he did research into the effects of t'ai chi ch'uan. Kurland has taught exercise science, health education, and worked as a clinical exercise physiologist for many years. He was an Exercise Specialist in outpatient cardiac rehabilitation under Dr. Albert Kattus and worked with Dr. Ronald Mackenzie in Preventive Medicine. Kurland was the Director of Exercise Physiology for the National Athletic Health Institute and was in charge of testing most of the professional athletes in Southern California, including the LA Dodgers, Kings, Lakers, Rams and Lakers. He was also a consultant to LAPD Training Academy and was a member of the LAPD Medical Advisory Board. He is now a member of the LAPD Civilian Martial Art Advisory Panel. He currently teaches for University of California Riverside, Loma Linda University and Riverside Community College. Kurland has conducted several studies into the energy cost of t'ai chi ch'uan. He has published over 200 professional and lay articles on health, fitness, martial arts, and t'ai chi ch'uan.
Note: Harvey Kurland's credentials are impeccable to say the least but I must question his comments about the 24 Simplified fom. I have been doing a 24 Step (Posture) Yang Style Form for over 19 years and if I generate anymore energy, I will be included in the new Green Energy Bill in Congress...lol! I have seen a couple of 24 Posture forms that just did not make sense because some of the postures interupted the flow of the form. If he is talking about this, then I can understand his analysis. This shows you the importance of finding the right teacher. Mine learned and trained with a "Family" Master in China. I have a copy of a VHS tape of her, yes "her",...performing my Form at normal and slow speed. It also contains a section with her teaching, I believe, 20 different Temple Exercises (Chi Kung) too. I plan on digitizing it when I learn how and saving it to my computer. I will then put it online for all to enjoy. I have never seen such calm focus and beautifully fluid movement in my life!