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#378772 - 01/15/08 12:23 PM Lessons of a Taiji Student
Gavin Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 05/11/05
Posts: 2267
Loc: Southend, Essex, UK
The Planting of Seeds by Gavin King

There really is a lot of seemingly nonsensical sayings in Taiji that Sifu’s seem to delight in repeating over, and over, and over....

“The head should be erect, ‘As if suspended from Heaven’...”, Steve said as he tipped my chin whilst kind of pulling the back of my head up which straightend out the back of my neck. If you picture someone with a ponytail having it yanked upwards and the effect that would have on their posture, you’d be pretty close to how I looked.

With my head ‘suspended’ I moved through a sequence called ‘Repulse Monkey’. This sequence has a tricky back step that is preceded with a downward strike with the forearm called Peng. To achieve this we do what in Taiji we call ‘Softening’. Well when I say ‘We’ I mean those that can actually do Taiji, with me, well I don’t really ‘Soften’ as I was about to find out,

“That’s a ‘Bend’ not a ‘Soften’!” Steve said as he corrected my posture.


“You’re ‘Bending’ not ‘Softening’! You lean down into your strike which is poking your chin forwards and sticking your arse out!” Steve clarified as he mimicked my posture...which looked a little like Groucho Marx probably would’ve done if he’d done Taiji!

Head erect, concentrating on ‘Softening’ and not poking out parts of my body unnecessarily I tried again.

“You’re sticking you’re bloody arse out! ‘Soften’ down. You’re rushing it and missing out on the process. Remember, ‘Feel every inch of the movement’!” Steve giggled patiently.

With a huff I tried again.

“THAT’S ‘BENDING’!” he blasted as he burst out laughing. I gave a big huff and stamped around the hall a bit.

“Come here, I’ll show you why we ‘Soften’ and not ‘Bend’!” Steve said beckoning me over for an impromptu Push Hands session. This usually means I’m about to go flying into something solid in the hall...

Steve had me push into him as he ‘Peng’d’ me. The first one was gentle and redirected my push down towards his feet. The second was decidedly less pleasant,

“You can also get a nice ‘phwap’ off this too...” Steve said as he rolled his forearm down into my arm which numbed it to the bone.

Steve gave me a few gentle pushes to give me the idea and said, “Now put some power into it!”

Immediately I leant forward to put the power into the strike. I was ‘Bending’ again.

“Yep I know I was ‘Bending’....” I preempted my correction.

“Yeah, but more importantly you rushed process. Remember the ‘softening’ process starts in the feet, then the ankles, the knees, the hips, etc, etc...that’s where the power comes from. When you bend you rush the process and miss huge amounts of power. But don’t worry too much about it, it takes years to train the body to move like this. We’ve planted the idea, that’s enough for now!”, Steve said concluding the lesson.

Planted the idea? That’s enough for now? How? I don’t need an idea I need to be able to do the sodding move. That’s another thing Sifu’s like to say a lot, “We’ve planted the idea!” Bull poop. I have absolutely no idea what this allegedly planted idea is supposed to be, that’s why I can’t do it! I was left to make the long drive home with my head spinning as it tries to make sense of the information I’ve just received.

There’s a regular pattern that I slip into after a Taiji lesson. For the first part of the journey I obsess about understanding the lesson. I’m usually so preoccupied that I miss my turn off on the motorway. This usually kicks in the second stage of the journey where the dust starts to settle. By the time I get out of the car my confusion seems to slip into the background and the spinning in my head slows down to a dull whirl as things begin to calm down.

A couple of days after my lesson I had one of my regular training partners round for a session. Rob is a former champion Kick Boxer and always gives me something to think about...usually in a very practical way. Rob’s professional boxing experience means he’s a demon to fight when his on his toes. I prefer to be up close and personal, so I can dominate once I close him down and clinch him up. Trouble is that in order to clinch up I need to cover ‘No mans land’ which almost always means eating a few shots before I can get hold of him. This sparring session was going to be no different.

As soon as we gloved off he was on his toes and I was on the chase. On my very first attempt on closing the distance I ate a short left hook that jolted all the way through my skull. I managed to clinch but this was out of desperation rather than design. Over the next couple of rounds Rob kept on landing that left hook although being a gentleman he started pulling them. After three rounds of being caught I asked Rob to show me how he was landing the shots.

“As you're trying to close me down you seem a little too eager and you’re leading with your head. It’s presenting your chin when you come forwards leaving you open for the hook!”, Rob explained as he showed me what I was doing.

As soon as Rob moved I realized he was pulling me up on exactly the same thing Steve was only a couple of days previously. I was ‘Bending’ again!

Once this realization clicked I felt my head tilt into place as if Steve himself was there making the correction. My head and back stood erect ‘As if suspended by heaven’! This removed the slouch from my posture and the raising of my head automatically tucked my chin in and engaged the muscles in my neck.

We had another move round and the movement from my head seemed to correspond with my footwork. I still caught a few shots but found I was able to ride them better and even bounce back with a few counters.

After we finished Rob said that my head was moving a lot faster and chin had stopped ‘Hanging out in the wind”....

“It’s funny that first shot you caught me with really had me seeing stars, really really jolted my skull. Once I sorted the posture out the shots you caught me with felt a lot duller.”, I mentioned to Rob.

“There’s an old saying in Boxing about ‘Rattling the stone in the tin can’, which is what we try to do to our opponents brain inside the skull. The more of a ‘rattle’ we get the better the K.O is going to be! That’s why we go for the whiplash of the head. My old Coach used to talk about ‘Shrugging shots off to your feet’ and when you left your chin out like that you had no chance of riding the shot....coz there was nowhere for it to go!” explained Rob.

“Steve is obsessed with sending stuff to the feet and having the body structure in place to be able to channel energy down to the ground. In Taiji we’d probably describe that rattling of the brain as ‘Leaving the energy in the head’. By this we’d mean that the force from the strike is absorbed fully in the head. In fact Steve was only saying the other day that when I stick my chin out, or ‘Bend’ as he puts it, I disconnect myself from my feet. Looking back at your Coaches shrugging off shots, there’s no way I could get to my feet...”

“That’s why we try to catch people when they are moving!”, excitedly interrupted Rob.

“...again he is always talking about attacking people during the gaps in their movements. Specifically how they clumsily shift their weight around...”, I even more excitedly interrupted him.

“ Boxing we talk about ‘Hitting on the half beat!’” Rob laughed as he butted in yet again.

For about another five minutes we continued to spew off all these ideas that were floating around in our heads. The little gems of wisdom imparted by the teachers from our respective disciplines seemed to be discussing exactly the same basic concepts. Also, despite the difference in the language used, the wisdom contained within those ideas was uncannily similar. Not only that, but the words used, although simple, transmit very deep concepts if put into the correct context.

One thing I’m beginning to understand about the Taiji style of transmitting its information is that it doesn’t always initially make sense. For my Western mind the nonsensical ramblings of Steve often seem overtly mystical and too metaphorical to be of any practical use. I have desire for instant understanding and become majorly narked when I can’t conceive the ‘idea’ Steve is trying to plant. Being told that the simple planting of the idea is sufficient often infuriates me further. But even here there is a sense of subtle teaching at work.

The concept of ‘planting’ an idea hints that it will grow from nothing to something of substance, if given time. This realization however does little to stem the annoyance experienced when we are first initiated with the system of ideas that is Taiji.

I think that people often view the study of Taiji as blind faith, but I’m beginning to consider that it’s more a case of diligent practice and patience. This planting of ideas like seeds, I believe, is a fundamental concept to comprehend in order progress through it’s study. Our craving for immediate understanding often dictates the worth we place on concepts and theories. Like planting a seed the environmental conditions need to be in place in order for it to flourish and grow. Also the manner in which the seed is sown is vitally important as well. I’m beginning to notice that Steve is very deliberate in how he plants the ideas in my mind, and more often than not he is not present when they blossom. What was meaningless when I was first given it actually turns out to be a key point to further my understanding. Like with seeds, ideas are worthless without the conditions for them to flourish. This leaves me pondering how many seeds are planted by those that don’t know how to sow them? Perhaps that is why my art is so misrepresented nowadays?

Edited by Cord (01/17/08 02:19 AM)
Gavin King
Follow me on twitter @taichigav

#378773 - 01/15/08 12:33 PM Re: Lessons of a Taiji Student - The Planting of S [Re: Gavin]
seito Offline

Registered: 09/30/06
Posts: 53
Loc: PA
Great lessons learned. Thanks for sharing.

#378774 - 01/15/08 01:02 PM Re: Lessons of a Taiji Student [Re: Gavin]
MattJ Offline
Free Rhinoplasty!

Registered: 11/25/04
Posts: 15634
Loc: York PA. USA
Great article, Gav. I can rarely make heads or tails of new concepts the first time I see them, so "seed planting" is a major part of my learning process. "It ain't quick, but it sticks".
"In case you ever wondered what it's like to be knocked out, it's like waking up from a nightmare only to discover it wasn't a dream." -Forrest Griffin

#378775 - 01/15/08 06:40 PM Re: Lessons of a Taiji Student [Re: MattJ]
eyrie Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 12/28/04
Posts: 3106
Loc: QLD, Australia
You've missed your calling son... I reckon this should be published on the FA reading room.

Love your writing style... great article.

#378776 - 01/15/08 11:23 PM Re: Lessons of a Taiji Student [Re: Gavin]
Ed_Morris Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 11/04/05
Posts: 6772
I have to say Gavin, I agree with the above comments - your narritive articles/writings bring subjects away from the theoretical and into the down-to-earth first-person experience. You aren't trying to write from the clouds with an air of an 'already knowing' context, but rather you share the process of your learning in progress - I respect that.

now the contructive critique - your last thought needn't be your lingering question. nobody can control who misrepresents and mentioning it takes away from whats important: the lesson learned, not the lessons that others haven' plants the wrong seed, for what you may be intending.

keep up the good training.

#378777 - 01/16/08 09:52 AM Re: Lessons of a Taiji Student [Re: Ed_Morris]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
Nice article. Although that phrase 'planting of seeds' irks me to no end. My first Goju class, and my head was all over the place from too much info. At one point, I know I had a quizzical look on my face...and with a maddening grin my teacher responds, 'Just planting seeds.'


#378778 - 01/17/08 06:33 AM Re: Lessons of a Taiji Student [Re: harlan]
ButterflyPalm Offline

Registered: 08/26/04
Posts: 2637
Loc: Malaysia

Although that phrase 'planting of seeds' irks me to no end.

Yeah, it's a male thing.
I'll rather be happy than right, anytime.

#378779 - 02/25/08 11:56 AM Re: Lessons of a Taiji Student [Re: Gavin]
Gavin Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 05/11/05
Posts: 2267
Loc: Southend, Essex, UK
Chap Sau by Gavin King

I was buzzing as I walked into my lesson and literally brimming over with stuff to tell Steve. I’d just started researching my Thesis for my Shiatsu course. There are books piled up on top of each other at home, billions of bookmarked webpages on my laptop and a folder full of scribbled notes in my bag....

“Steve, I found this in book I was reading the other day!” I said whilst excitedly skimming through an Anatomy book barely giving Steve a chance to glimpse at a single page, let alone read it.

“....And I found this out the other day which I thought illustrates perfectly a point we were discussing last week!” I said as I ruffled frantically through my bag pulling out a piece of paper with passages taken from a book on Chinese Medicine.

Over the next five minutes or so I spewed out all the discoveries I’d made over the past week. Steve always humors me at the beginning of a lesson by letting me share all the new bits and bobs I’ve been thinking about between lessons. He always gives me a chance to get it all out of my system...

“Do you think we could get on with some Taiji?” Steve smiled whilst discreetly looking up at the clock.

“Ooops, would be an idea wouldn’t it?” I embarrassingly took the hint.

“So lets start at the beginning of the form and see what you’ve been working on.” Steve instructed.

I went straight into the first move in the form, Raise Hands, and about halfway through the movement Steve interrupted...

“Whoa whoa whoa! Start again. You’re mind is still buzzing all over the place. Take a moment to centre yourself, find your feet and then start the form again!”

I took a deep breath in, shook my arms and legs off and then stepped out to do the form again. But just as I was about to start Steve stopped me again,

“Remember to ‘let the mud settle’!” Steve said.

Ah, I remembered this phrase. When Steve explained this concept to me he used the analogy of a jar of water with mud in it. If you shake the jar the mud makes the water murky and difficult to see through. But if the jar remains calm and still eventually all of the mud will gently sink to the bottom and you’ll be able to see through the water again.

Again I shook myself off, but this time I moved into the start position a lot more mindfully. I tried to switch off my busy mind and let the mud sink down to my feet.

“Better! Now soften down to find the feet and start the form.” Steve coached my ‘mud sinking’ process.

In my mind I recited our little mantra for ‘Softening’ through the body in the correct sequence, “Ankles, knees, hips, spine, abdomen, chest”....

“You need to hollow the chest more.” Steve pointed out.

“I’ve been having a real problem softening my chest over the past week or so. It feels really tight.” I explained.

“I can actually see it. You’re holding a lot of tension there.” Steve observed gently tapping on my chest.

He walked round to my side placed one hand on my back and the other on my chest.

“OK, take a deep breath in and hold it!” Steve instructed.

As I inhaled Steve provided very light resistance as my chest expanded to inhale.

“Good. Now I want you to ‘Sigh’ the breath out.”

As I ‘sighed’ Steve’s hands seemed to hollow my chest out. We repeated this a couple of times and the tension in my chest had completely disappeared. My mind had also stopped whizzing at 200 mph as well.

“Wow. That’s funky!” I smirked taking in a few deep breathes, but still gently sighing out the used air. I think the mud had finally settled.

“Let’s try the form again!”

This time I stood feeling comfortable and relaxed. Before I started Steve corrected a few points of my posture by poking and pulling me in a few places...

“Great, fire away!” Steve said motioning me to start the form.

I raised my hands for the first movement, but as I did it Steve carefully led my hands into the correct position. He then tweaked my thumbs which really kicked the muscles of my arms into action. Next he put his hand on my chest to hollow it and boy did that fire up a whole heap of my back muscles that I did even know existed!

“Next!” Steve smiled sensing my discomfort.

The next movement involves the pulling of an opponent into your by drawing the hands in. Again Steve started tweaking me,

“Remember this is ‘Yin’ and the body and framing of the arms need to be ‘Yin’ also...”, he said rotating my wrists inwards which I felt immediately in my Triceps, then my Traps and finally down into my Lats. My whole body was shaking trying to hold the corrected position.

“....and the hands need to be connected to the feet!” my new Torturer smiled with glee as he tweaked my hands in a manner which I felt all the way down to my feet. I have no idea how he done it, but just through re-shaping my hands Steve made my quads feel like they were going to snap.

After about another five or so moves I was dripping with sweat.

“Now thats what we call ‘Chap Sau’!” proclaimed Steve.

“I can think of a few other names for it!” I panted.

“It’s the physical transmission of knowledge! It’s where the student allows their Sifu to adjust their posture and put them into the right position. It gives your body a chance to feel exactly what it needs to do!” Steve explained.

“Well I definitely bloody felt it!” I huffed.

“And you’re not fully accepting the Chap Sau yet, there’s still a lot of resistance there. Chap Sau requires a quite developed relationship between the student and Sifu...”

“Carry on with stuff like that and our relationship will definitely be over!” I rather bravely joked.

“Shall we finish the form then?” Steve said signaling that my flippancy hadn’t gone unnoticed.

All I can say is that I’m lucky I only know half the form because by the end my T-Shirt was drenched and I was exhausted. Steve had quite comprehensively tweaked every movement in my form. With every correction came a new demand for my body to deal with. It was a remarkable session and by far the most intense workout I’ve had for a long time.

I’ve been physically corrected by instructors many times in the past and am often fairly hands on with my own students, but Chap Sau was something very different. It’s almost like you let your Sifu move your body for you. Steve explained that the student and Sifu must have their ‘Chi in agreement’ to allow this direct transmission of information to occur. I think by the end of the session I started to understand this, as every time Steve tried to move my body I unknowingly resisted. I think its a natural reaction as we are so accustomed to having control over everything we do. Sometimes handing the reigns over to a third party means putting a little more faith in something outside of our own control than most of us a used to. That’s a prospect I personally find quite intimidating and something that I really need to let go of in order to progress my studies.

The more I explore Taiji the more I’m continually challenged from every angle. It seems that there is not a single facet of it that hasn't been meticulously considered and planned out. The skill of being able to teach via Chap Sau is extremely deep. It was funny as I was practicing form this morning on my own, I swear at certain points I could still feel Steve correcting my position. I joked with Steve that I was training up my very own ‘Virtual Sifu’, but in all honesty I don’t think it is that far from the truth!

Edited by Gavin (02/25/08 12:09 PM)
Gavin King
Follow me on twitter @taichigav

#378780 - 02/25/08 03:06 PM Re: Lessons of a Taiji Student [Re: Gavin]
Vennificus Offline

Registered: 01/21/08
Posts: 206
Loc: The frozen realms of Kah-Nah-D...
make a boook
Taiji takes a long time to learn (one guy said ten years to one of kung fu), but I've yet to start. (one of these days)
thanks for sharing!
Livestrong Johnnyboxcutter!!

#378781 - 02/27/08 04:50 PM Re: Lessons of a Taiji Student [Re: Gavin]
trevek Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 05/15/05
Posts: 3337
Loc: Poland
Oh yeah, I know that feeling. It doesn't help I have lousy posture anyway and the chap sau always highlights the weak points on my spine!

doesn't half make a chap sore!

Great writing, by the way.
See how well I block your punches with my jaw!!

Supporting everyone saying "nuts to cancer"

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