Aside from the explosion of the availability of instructional martial arts cassettes and dvds in the last 25 years and now internet courses, the same period has seen the proliferation of workshops and seminars. The good side of this is that practitioners can spend an intensive weekend or week studying with like-minded students under a famous instructor with an international following. Deepening your understanding or contrasting how your style diffes from what is being shown can be very useful for an experienced practitioner. The bad side of this is that some participants will inevitably confuse a superficial familiarity with the material with competence. This can affect all levels of attendees and it is not uncommon to find teachers incorporating new material into their own curriculums based solely on what they were able to glean from a few hours or days with a master practitioner.
I had some sad news yesterday when a former taiji colleague phoned to let me know that she had recently learned that our first taiji teacher, Shirley Choi, died in April of this year. While I had lost touch with the deceased since the late 1980s, I owe her and her late husband, Steven, a great debt as my first serious instructors in the Yang style. I had first learned rudimentary taiji at a three-month course in 1975; however the instructor didn't offer another session after the first one finished. I learned about Shirley's classes from a couple who had been in that course with me and who were more in tune with the local taiji world, and went to watch one of Shirley’s classes. I was hooked even though Shirley focused on Yang style for health and I was looking for a more martial approach.
The Baduajin ("Eight Precious Brocades") is a traditional set of eight qigong exercises which are usually performed while standing though I have seen traditional seated versions as well. The exercises in this set strengthen and stretch the muscles and ligaments while, according to Chinese Traditional Medical Theory, stimulating the distribution of internal energy throughout the body. Manuscripts excavated in Chinese tombs in the last few decades have proved beyond doubt that the tradition for therapeutic movement/exercise goes back well into antiquity.
Even today, there are hard style versions from the Shaolin tradition that are quite demanding as well as relatively easy sets from the Taoist perspective and also those developed in more recent decades, that are suitable for the old, the infirm or those looking for meditation rather than physical activity. The Eight Brocades usually taught by taiji instructors these days can be viewed as relatively easy warm-up or cool-down exercises for more demanding practise. However, the better versions are hardly as simple as they may first seem to beginners and can help serious students identify the principles common to both qigong for health as well as the internal martial arts practices.
The quantity of martial solo form demonstrations and instruction available online in recent years has been a boon for those who want to see how whatever style they may be interested in is interpreted by other teachers. Sadly, it is hard for those who are beginners to tell the difference between mediocre and good examples of solo form work. However, learning to know the difference between, for example, "Wow, that sure looks good" and "Hmm, that kind of movement is really efficient compared to what I do" is part of the process of becoming educated to what is really important in learning and practising a solo form, especially in the Chinese internal martial arts.
Whether you learn from a person in a group class or on your own from a video on the internet or a dvd; part of becoming skilful is being able to see and copy what is being shown on first a gross and then an increasingly subtle level. This is far from easy and is made even harder for those going the self-instruction route as they won't get much or any feedback on their efforts to copy what they see. [Should I really say "What they think they see!"].
In taiji two-person training, we are told to “find” or “stick-to” or “search for” the other person’s Center and how important it is to be relaxed/sensitive to do learn to do this. I have tried to keep this little article rather general in the sense that I refered to the person you are doing [or trying to do this] with as your “partner”. I suppose I could have made it sound a bit more martial by writing “opponent” but many who study taijiquan are interested in formal push-hands training as a sensitivity exercise more than as one of the many tools needed for self-defense — much less fighting for fun or as a competitive sport where youth and fitness are essential — so I will keep my comments to the civil side of taiji two-person training.
By the way, in talking about a partner’s Center in taiji, we are discussing, at a basic level, the practicaliities of training your own physical touch to establish how well connected to the ground the other person is in structural terms [for example, do they feel stiff in some parts of their body or overall? do they feel segmented in terms of their upper and lower body or uncoordinated in general? do they feel solid but relaxed? etc.,]. All this has to be done while moving your body in the manner prescribed by the style/teacher that is supervising your efforts. With time and effort, you can learn to do this “your own way” but that is sometimes difficult to reconcile with stylistic needs.
He was tested... and not found wanting." Consequently, it gives me great pleasure to announce that Lloyd Keane has today successfully completed the necessary apprenticeship and demonstrated the technical requirements for becoming an instructor of the Baguazhang solo forms and methods that I teach: Stationary & Moving Qigong, Circular Solo Set from the Jiangrongqiao traditiion, Core Linear Fighting Methods, Solo Staff, Broadsword, Straight Sword, Double Knife & Semi-Circular Knives Forms as well as a variety of two-person training methods for both empty hands and weapons-play.
One of the challenges and joys of teaching something like Baguazhang is passing on one’s skill and experience to a younger generation of practitioner/instructor who can use what is taught to research the art to develop their understanding and make it their own while still staying true to the origins of the art and those who taught them their basics. I have every faith that Lloyd will continue his study and teaching of this discipline for many years to come.
Thanks to Lloyd for his patience with me over the years and for having been a good training partner. A good teacher can only become that way by having students who challenge and stimulate their understanding of whatever martial discipline they choose to teach.
Thanks also to Justin Dickie who trains with Lloyd for having agreed to witness the test and I trust that it will stimulate him to continue his baguazhang studies with Lloyd now that he has seen almost all “the secrets”.
Copyright Michael A. Babin ©2018
Training seriously in the Chinese martial arts since 1973; accredited and teaching Yang Taijiquan since 1985 and Baguazhang since 1994.