CLASSICAL YANG STYLE TAI CHI
Classical Yang Style Tai Chi school curriculum's include: Solo Forms; Power Development - Push Hands, Dynamic Push Hands, Free Sparring; Staff, Sword, Broadsword, Spear; Qigong; and related topics. Descriptions of these topics are listed below.
Pictured in this section is Sifu Dimitri Mougdis, one of few sanctioned teachers of the Gin Soon Tai Chi Club. The Gin Soon Tai Chi Club was founded in 1969 with permission from Grandmaster Yeung (Yang) Sau Chung to propagate the Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan in North America.
For individuals interested in more information about the full classical Yang Style Tai Chi curriculum, weblinks to Sifu Dimitri's website (Stuart, FL) and his teacher's (Master Vincent Chu) website (Boston, MA) are located on the resource page, and at the bottom of this page.
Just as students of yoga learn different poses or postures, so, too, do students of Tai Chi. A Tai Chi posture is a stance in which weight distribution, balance, foot position, leg position, waist, shoulder, arm and hand positions are all properly situated and aligned. In former times these postures were taught in isolation from one another before any sequence was introduced, but today they are usually taught right from the start, as “linked”, so that how to get from one posture to the next—“transitions”—are immediately part of the training. Also known as “moving meditation,” any series of tai chi postures and transitions is referred to as a “form.” Each posture and transition has offensive or defensive applications, thus forms are a necessary foundation for the martial art of Tai Chi Chaun. But forms are also excellent exercises to develop balance and coordination as well as mindfulness—the harmony of intent and action. The ability to perform a form correctly will help to dramatically decrease the possibility of falls and injuries. Another description of a form is “stillness in motion” referring to the proper relationship of inner and outer strength and awareness that practice instills. Movement while performing a form is uniquely self-conscious, resembling that of a cat stalking prey. It also incorporates a distinct rhythm. Typically, a basic long form (taking about 20 minutes) is learned first, then for students who master this, if interested, they can then move on to many other forms, including staff, sword, knife, two-person and a host of more advanced forms.
RETURN TAI CHI
Also referred to as Pangu Tai Chi.
Return Tai Chi is a solo form that was created jointly by Master Vincent Chu and Grandmaster Wen Wei Ou. It is the culmination of years of research and development of the roots of Tai Chi. Vincent has written a book "Tai Chi Chuan: A Comparative Study" that can be found on the Resource Page, that details the various Tai Chi forms. The solo forms that are typically practiced today, are not the same forms that were practiced by the first and second generation Yang Family members. The Return Tai Chi form harks back to the very roots of Yang Style Tai Chi and includes elements of the art that have dropped by the wayside as forms have been modified over the course of 200 years in order to be more accessible to the general public.
Master Vincent Chu developed the Return Tai Chi form in collaboration with Grandmaster Wen Wei Ou by combining together portions of the different tai chi solo forms and organizing the sequence of postures and transitions to optimize qi cultivation and other benefits realized from performing the form. Each posture is intended to augment the benefits of the previous posture. The fundamentals are in keeping with the traditional goals of improving agility, balance, and coordination; and opening the body’s joints by stretching ligaments, tendons and muscle groups, with special emphasis on the body’s lower half to improve blood circulation. Integrating movements from all the major Yang Style forms, this demanding routine involves deep leg bends, taxing transitions, firm discipline and sustained concentration.
This form increases in difficulty as one advances from one of its three seven-to-eight-minute sections to the next. Most tai chi forms were developed with right-handed students in mind, but Returning Tai Chi favors both sides of the body equally.
In addition to working on the fundamentals listed above, Pangu Tai Chi has two unique features. Pangu Tai Chi incorporates the highly effective Qigong called Pangu Shengong, harnessing the Qi of the universe in order to improve the body's physiological condition, including the immune system. And secondly, it has an emphasis on exercising the lower body - while not neglecting the upper torso - to improve blood circulation, thus making it easier for the blood to return to the heart.
A Tai Chi staff is a wooden pole that is shorter than a spear but longer than a sword—about six feet long—that is used as a weapon in Tai Chi training. Proper staff practice combines elements from other Tai Chi weapons forms. One difference is that both ends of the staff are employed when using it. After learning the staff form students progress to deploying it against someone else wielding a staff in a strictly choreographed two-person form. The benefits of staff training include projecting Qi in an integrated manner that turns the staff into an extension of the hands. The explosive force that can be generated when properly performing a staff thrust is called Fa Jing. It requires proper alignment of all parts of the body and it delivers power derived through the feet from the earth up through a relaxed structure and out the tip of the staff like a projectile. Moreover, the staff form teaches one poise and awareness of the opponent’s intent and how to counter a powerful attack with grace and gentleness.
SWORD AND BROADSWORD
Although shorter in duration, these two weapons forms are closely related to the basic forms and echo their principles. The broadsword form is sometimes referred to as the Knife Form”. Neither of these weapons forms should be practiced until a thorough knowledge of at least one basic form is acquired. Both are intended to refine and augment this knowledge, because they emphasize an awareness of sinking the Qi to the dantien (one’s center of gravity), suspension of the head from above, harmony of internal and external, the importance of intent, and coordination of the entire body so that when one part moves every part moves in unison, including the sword itself. This last fundamental is vital to correctly executing movements in which one hand grasps a weapon. Using the arm alone is an egregious error, as it is in virtually all Tai Chi maneuvers, and these forms—in both of which the weapon is an extension of the arm—serve to single out this fault and are excellent means to correct it. Another benefit of Sword and Broadsword is that they train one to combine agility, flexibility, speed and stability in generating both offensive (hard) and defensive (soft) moves. They require that the eyes follow the hands and they teach that a light hand and a flexible wrist are more effective than a stiff, tense grip.
THIRTEEN TECHNIQUE SPEAR FORM
Tai Chi Big Spear is also known as Tai Chi Staff and Tai Chi 13 Spear Set. It is a 10 foot long weapon included in the Tai Chi Chuan system's weapon armory. It is made from a springy wood known as 'white wax wood'. This weapon is usually reserved for advanced training because it requires more power and body coordination from the practitioner in order to execute its movements correctly. Tai Chi Big Spear is not common and most Tai Chi Chuan practitioners today do not know it. Tai Chi Big Spear has 13 techniques that include Four Adhesion Techniques, Four Free Techniques, Four Application Techniques and One Coiling Technique.
TAI CHI CHAUN SPARRING
Sparring is a two-person exercise for those who are interested in the martial arts applications of Tai Chi. If a student is learning the art solely for health and longevity, as many do, he or she will not receive this training. But for those who want to learn the self-defense advantages that a knowledge of Tai Chi affords, this is an excellent way to understand the “application” of all those movements in the form. Of course a thorough familiarity with one or more forms as well as a period of Push Hands training are required to embark on Sparring. This is not a free-form exercise. It is carefully choreographed to demonstrate how to move and strike most effectively when combatting an opponent. Defense and offense are equally important. Proper use of hands and feet along with body mobility and balance are emphasized. Although the “set” looks slow and graceful, quickness and power are are just beneath the surface.
Virtually everything taught in the classical yang style curriculum contributes to one’s internal power, which, in turn, increases one’s overall power. A ubiquitous Tai Chi/Qigong exercise known as Zhan Zhuang (also as Horse Stance, Tree Hugging Stance and Post Standing) is one of the best training methods for developing the leg strength necessary for performing the Tai Chi forms, which also augment limb strength. This, along with an extensive list of additional standing exercises is part of the curriculum. Whole body power is the cornerstone of Tai Chi training, with internal power as the key to its development. Arm swings, twisting, bending, reaching and balancing on one leg or both legs is part of the exercise program. Issuance of power is as important as its cultivation. Exercises and form performance with a staff are very helpful for this. Most important, however, is the use of the entire body when issuing power. Rather than tensing one’s arm and cocking it in preparation for delivering a blow, students are taught to strike by coiling and uncoiling in order to derive strength from the ground and direct it through the body to the hand. “From the feet to the legs to the waist to the hands,” is a familiar Tai Chi directive that summarizes this strategy. Sinking one’s Qi to the dantien (a point in the center of the body between the navel and the pubic bone) is another common technique that prepares one to deliver not only the greatest possible striking force but also to remain balanced, grounded (“rooted”) and relaxed while doing so. You might not think that Tai Chi practitioners—who resemble slow-motion mimes—are actually increasing their strength, but if you were to ask them they would assure you that they were.
While practicing Tai Chi solo forms teaches the how, two-person Tai Chi Push Hands teaches the why. Which is to say that the former trains the body to move in a relaxed, balanced, unified manner, and the latter teaches the advantages of doing so when in contact with an opponent. In this sense the benefits can be said to differ; yet basic forms and Push Hands are mutually beneficial because they feed off each other. Practicing Push Hands will improve a student’s solo form ability, which, in turn, improves his or her Push Hands ability. Most students who graduate from practicing a form or forms to Push Hands do so because they are interested in exploring the martial arts side of Tai Chi. Yet Push Hands incorporates many exercises that will lead to a better understanding of relaxation, lightness, roundness and agility—all of which are requirements for correct solo form practice. Consequently, practicing Push Hands can greatly benefit those whose only goals are improved health; greater strength, balance, and flexibility; and longer life. Push Hands dramatically improves what is known in Tai Chi as rooting. Just as a tree is firmly embedded in the earth and resists the force of the wind, so too should a Tai Chi student have a stance that roots him or her to the ground. Engaging with the teacher or another student in Push Hands teaches the necessity for this and encourages one to “sink the Qi.” Correct body structure and an absence of tension are crucial components of Push Hands. More advanced techniques include “sticking,” “adhering,” “following,” and “borrowing,” which are aimed at maintaining contact, anticipating an opponent’s next move and generating superior power.
Qi is much more than simple electricity. However, it's electrical properties can be experienced first hand when pushing hands with a skilled practitioner and /or observed when watching a highly skilled tai chi practitioner push hands. When watching the video of Dimitri pushing hands with his students, consider the properties of electricity and how magnets attract and repel. Each of the students has a different energy (different values for each electrical / magnetic characteristic), thus you have the opportunity to observe the outcomes of Sifu Dimitri interacting with the energy of different individuals.
DYNAMIC PUSH HANDS
Training in internal power development through the practice of Dynamic Push Hands, in which student and teacher “push” against each other via clenched hands is a true shortcut, as it were, to the discovery and development of internal strength, called neijing. It is a profound training that dates back to Yang Cheng Fu and has been transmitted to very few disciples.
Although the word “push” is in the name, it does not involve pushing as is commonly understood. It relies not on muscular strength but on stance (centered, aligned, balanced, relaxed), tendons and ligaments. The energy that is developed goes beyond Qi. The teacher applies only as much strength as is needed to neutralize that of the student, which is very important. The student learns to counter this pressure by relaxing—much as is done in the form—and “borrowing” energy from the teacher to “push” back while remaining soft externally, especially muscularly, and consequently generating internal power. The exercise complements the form and is synergistic. It is key to the revelation of the hidden force that is at the very heart of the art.
Probably one of the greatest milestones for a student is graduating to the level of Free Sparring. Also referred to as Open Hand Push Hands, Free Sparring, as opposed to everything except two-person staff practice (but that is choreographed), resembles actual hand-to-hand combat! Nothing about it is preordained, although, of course, there are rules. Striking can be done to the forearms, but not to the rest of the body, In this respect, punches are “pulled” so that injuries do not occur. But it is clear when one opponent could land a blow because he or she has been afforded an opening. All the important principles learned in everything leading up to this level of instruction apply: coordination, flexibility, stealth, remaining rooted and relaxed, keeping one’s center of gravity low, resembling steel wrapped in cotton, yielding to force in order to lead an opponent off balance, blocking a blow—by employing a basic move such as “ward-off”—and striking not with the arm but in a spiraling fashion from the earth using internal power developed in Push Hands and Dynamic Push Hands. Free Sparring is analogous to the training that combat soldiers in the armies of the world receive—as close to the real thing as possible. It is the last level of training in order to prepare the student for actual combat.
GIN SOON TAI CHI FEDERATION &
INTERNAL ARTS INSTITUTE
The Gin Soon Tai Chi Club was founded in 1969 with permission from Grandmaster Yeung Sau Chung to propagate the Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan in North America. It is the oldest school teaching Tai Chi Chuan in the Greater Boston Area today.
Although there are many schools of Tai Chi Chuan available in the United States, the Gin Soon Tai Chi Club is different from others because its founder Master Gin Soon Chu, is a disciple who studied with and was authorized to teach by Grandmaster Yang Sau-Chung, firstborn and heir of the legendary Yang Cheng-Fu. Master Chu received a deep and well-rounded training, first from Master Lai Hok Soon and then Grandmaster Yang Sau-Chung, a training that covered all aspects of Classical Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan.
The school has attracted many students from around the world with its traditional approach to training characterized by personal individualized attention, emphasis on correct forms, personal development, integration of body, chi and intent, repetition, mutual respect, and hard work. Over the years, many students have graduated from the school and became instructors themselves. In 1995, the Gin Soon Tai Chi Chuan Federation was established.
The Internal Arts Institute was established by Sifu Dimitri in June of 2000 with the guidance of Grand Master Gin Soon Chu, Grand Master Ning Fang, and Master Vincent Chu. The Internal Arts Institute is located in Stuart, Florida and is dedicated to teaching the true Classical Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan for promoting good mental and physical health as well as Self-Defense.