|May 22, 23, 2004 in Los Angeles -- "How to Improve Your Taiji Practice" by Zhang Yun
* I was glad I was there.
|Feb. 27, 2000 -- "How to Improve Your Taiji Practice" by Zhang Yun
* The kind of teacher you wished lived in your neighborhood.
* I am learning is not based on a style; it is based on taijiquan principles.
Date: Fri, 25 Jun 2004 07:13:00 -0700
I wont comment on the seminar itself cuz I dont think I can do it justice at this point. The depth and breadth of the Taiji
centric principles and terminology that was presented was unique and I hope is revisited in class. However, I would like to
comment on one item that I was able to take back with me that improved my training/gongfu.
To begin, when I went to the seminar, I had basically 3 questions in my mind that I was hoping for some answers to: how
to improve my standing, how to relax, improving my basic peng. I felt if I got any information concerning any or all of
these questions, that incremental improvement alone would be enough for me. I was lacking something, but what was
it? What was the cause of my ignorance?
It was during the second day, that Zhang Yun made a comment on correct standing that hit me hard. He said to stand
correctly you must, "...think physically downward into the ground, but internally your inside goes up..." I immediately tried
it and KNEW this is what I was seeking. For up to this time, whenever I stood, I always exerted a downward
pressure/force from BOTH inside and outside. Thats how I did it. I ended up being tensed up all the time, unable to relax,
with no peng. When I tried the ZY way, I could immediately sense being more relaxed, not pressing so
hard, and yet a feeling of being more "sunken" into the ground. After playing with this method for a couple days, the feel of
being more relaxed and rooted have continued.
Zhang Yun continually emphasized throughout the seminar the principle of yin-yang. i.e., that every action (yang) must
counterpart (yin)at the same time. Not yang, then yin or vice versa. But that both actions are complementary and coexist
together. His method of standing and doing push hands was an illustration of this principle. One of the highlights in the
seminar is that he gave many functional demonstrations/applications that clearly demonstrated the use of the yang-yin
principle against an opponent and how readily you can control him without excessive force.
It seems to me that Newton's Third Law of Motion [for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction] is another
way of stating the yin-yang principle. Therefore restating ZY's method of standing in classical Newtonian physics jargon,
employing the physically down/internal up action in standing allows the ground reaction force to permeate up through the
interior vertical torso or column of the body, thereby balancing the initial downward physical body force (weight/gravity)
into the ground. Both forces in unison act to support and stabilize the body at the same time. With this in effect, one can
start to relax the upper body because gravity and the ground reaction force are counterbalancing each other and is doing
all the work. Both forces will support your body and keep it upright if you let it through proper mindset, alignment and
structure. This seems to me how one can keep the upper body relaxed while the legs are screaming and burning during
horse training. For me, the mental adjustment from Zhang Yun's standing method was able to address my three major
questions I had before the seminar.
In summary, Zhang Yun is an example of the "warrior-monk"; he can talk the talk and he can walk the walk/talk. He is
willing to share his extensive knowledge and yet remain humbled by it cuz he realizes that very few can fully embody what
Taiji is. The whole seminar was based on WHY to practice, WHAT to practice, and HOW to practice. A clear
exposition of Taiji centric principles and terminology was given, replete with many definitions. It gave me a new insight and
perspective on Taiji that I didnt have before, that it is effective in combat but requires extensive training. I was glad I was
there. On those 2 days, May 22-23, 2004 the universe changed again.
Date: Tue, 29 Feb 2000 19:18:02 -0500
From: Murali Sharma <email@example.com>
Subject: Zhang Yun Seminar Review (long)
A review of Zhang Yun's NJ Seminar (Long)
Zhang Yun, a teacher in the Wang Pei Sheng lineage, taught an excellent one day seminar in New Jersey last Sunday.
I had really enjoyed an earlier (Aug 99 Philly) weekend seminar by Zhang Yun, but was too lazy to write a review,
especially because of the density of material he covered.Much of this appeared in a recent issue of Mike Jones' Internal
Martial Arts magazine (on 'Seven Stars' standing).
The seminar was rather unusual, perhaps because most of the attendees were ZY's students when he was teaching in the
area. (He recently moved from Princeton, New Jersey, and now teaches in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania). The theme was not
so much a form, or applications, but a higher-level discussion and demonstration of 'how to practise'. I suspect he chose
the theme to guide his students' practice during his absence.
The first thing that sticks out is that his seminars are almost like academic classes: he comes well prepared, with
handwritten outline and notes, fills up the blackboard (!) with material even before the seminar begins, entertains questions
at any time, gives nuanced explanations replete with quotations from texts and anecdotes of masters, and has a broad
exposure to the field. I couldn't help but think of the phrase 'scholar-warrior'.
The following is an attempt to summarize the material; in some cases I include details I found interesting. Naturally, these
are my recollections, some could be inaccurate. Perhaps Mike Jones will coax out more stuff from the horse's mouth!
What Taiji Is:
There are different aspects of Taiji: the martial aspect, the
inclusion of Chi Gung, and personal development. But
the martial aspect is fundamental to understanding Taiji.
Physical movements in martial arts are basically similar.
What then distinguishes Taiji? The difference is 'inside'.
In most arts, the goal is to increase power; in Taiji
however one should constantly be asking oneself how to
reduce the force and still win.
The goal is 'highest efficiency', the appearance is of
'small force', and the effect is of a physically less powerful
person winning over a bigger opponent. To attain this,
a specific method of practice is needed.
Aspects of Taiji
Taiji uses Taoist principles. There is a distinction between
Taoist religion, which isn't relevant, and the Taoist
philosophy, which permeates Chinese culture, and is what
is being referred to here. Yin and yang
are both present, and present simultaneously. As opposed
to a 'block and then punch', a single move should achieve
There is a mechanical aspect, but Taiji is not just
There is psychology involved. Yang Lu Chuan is supposed
to have said he could defeat anybody but someone who is
made of metal, wood, or is simply dead! Taiji depends on
the natural reactions of a (living) opponent. That is,
there is a physiological aspect involved also.
There is also a basic knowledge of Chinese medicine that
is useful, as well as awareness of military strategy
(e.g. when Zhao was attacked by Wei, Qi agreed to help,
and rather than reinforcing Zhao's troops, attacked Wei's
depleted territory instead).
What is the correct method of practice? In traditional
times, one had so much time for practice that one could
hope to improve simply by putting in adequate effort.
But now, people practise so little that correct practice
is critical for any progress.
Levels of Achievement
Several steps can be enumerated. Not all the levels below
are distinct stages, some overlap and are interrelated.
The final goal can be pithily proclaimed as
1. Four ounces beating a thousand pounds.
- This simply means small beating big, not a literal
'weighed in the scale' statement. If you are using
a 100 pounds to beat 200, you are already in the
right mode of practice, further effort will improve
To be able to do this, one must necessarily
2. Borrow the force of the opponent.
This requires the skill of being able to
3. Seduce the opponent into emptiness.
A necessary prerequisite for this is
(These three skills are related. Once one is
practising correctly, they all improve).
4. Good Timing and Direction.
To achieve this, one needs to understand
5. where is Yin, Yang, and the Jin.
Such an understanding requires the ability to
6. Yield and follow,
which is possible only if one is able to
7. Know oneself and the opponent
8. Sharpened sensitivity.
1-8 are abilities that can be got only from push hands
practice. Forms alone cannot give you these results.
To get such sensitivity one needs to (again, each
requiring or interrelated to the succeeding point)
9. Relax the body, concentrate the mind, collect the qi,
focus the shen.
10. The body should be stable, the step nimble and the
11. The six 'coordinations' ('harmonies') must be present.
12. The eight methods of application of the force must be
13. Movements must be relaxed, slow, smooth and even, and
14. The movements must be correct.
9-14 are abilities that are developed by practising forms,
and improved by push hands practice.
One begins at the last stage, and moves up. After explaining
these concepts, Zhang Yun proceeded to explain each one in
detail, by having us practice the opening move of the Wu
form for 9-14, and by demonstrating the push hands concepts
on a dummy (I got lucky).
For instance, first get the movements correct. That is,
think where the arm and leg should be, (e.g. in the Wu
form opening move, if the thumb in the '7 stars' posture
is not aligned with the nose, the center is not properly
covered), how wide should the moves be (for instance, in
the next move, too wide a circle isn't proper balance), etc.
An interesting comment was not to try to coordinate the movement
with the breath; i.e. don't do 'breathe in, arms up, breathe
out, arms down'. In a fight, you will be too slow - an
opponent will 'beat your breath'. Instead, adjust your
breath during the opening move and forget about it. Let
the breath take care of itself. This adjustment naturally
led to reverse breathing - one brought attention to the
mingmen, subsequently to the navel, and repeated. The
movement of the navel unconsciously coordinated with
such reverse breathing.
There was much emphasis in both this and his previous
seminar on where one put one's mind. One did not move
without an explicit movement of the mind, the external
moves were concomitant and natural. e.g. the point of
intent if it went from shoulder to elbow to hand, would
reverse that path, then move to the other shoulder etc.,
and the weight shifts would accompany.
Moving to the push hands items, Zhang Yun had me push his
chest with both hands repeatedly, and illustrated a different
aspect each time. For instance, sensitivity was required to
judge which hand was pushing stronger. One understood where
the opponent's force was directed, as well as what one was
communicating to the opponent. One forgot this stronger
(opponent's yang) pushing point (becomes yin for you), and
focussed on the other point (yang for you). Yielding at
this point however does not mean withdrawing there! Instead,
the opponent feels resistance there, and believes his push
is beating you back. This is the 'understanding of yin,
yang, and jin'. But this is not enough! You need to understand
at what point in this movement continuum the opponent
becomes weak, and suspicious of something amiss. And you
need to know which direction you should act. There are
directions in which you would actually end up helping
the opponent recover. There are many options to how one acts,
depending on one's skills, and even one's personality!
When one gets an understanding
of these skills through practice, one is now practising
correctly, i.e. can improve the first three abilities.
The same principles apply for instance to chin na. He invited
participants to ask questions about specific locks. For
instance in a 'Nikyo' that is applied against you, the point
of application is 'yin', you could choose your middle
finger as 'yang' (if you are not trained to bring your
mind there, you could visualize moving your middle finger
toward the opponent's belly). Depending on your skill level,
this could resist the Nikyo or even apply a counter Nikyo.
Against several aikido locks that one participant tried,
that Zhang Yun said he had not necessarily
seen before, Zhang Yun demonstrated how the same ideas could
be used to recover and escape.
What about against a punch? Again the same principles, but
a higher level of skill was required because of the speed.
He mentioned seeing Wang Pei Sheng calmly following a quick
finger jab at the eyes with his hand, and bringing down the
opponent with a finger chin na applied at the right moment.
Depending on one's skill and personality though, one might
have to use different approaches, but using the same principles.
To a question on Fa Jing, Zhang Yun replied that while Fa Jing
was important, it was not the most important skill to train.
It was more important to understand the aspects mentioned
above, and fa jing just enough in the right direction, rather
than just training to increase one's power. He mentioned
parenthetically that the most spectacular fa jing he had
seen was in fact from Ba Ji and Tong Bei masters.
It is important in push hands to try to practise correct
principles. In a real fight, it doesn't matter how you win.
But in push hands, if you choose to win using tricks, you
are losing an opportunity to improve your real skill.
I was very satisfied with the contents of the seminar.
I also found Zhang Yun very admirable: an unusual combination
of real (and subtle) skill, the willingness to teach it, and the
to do so. He is especially inspiring because he is, like
many of us, juggling a professional life with an interest
in martial arts. I found him modest (he often mentioned
limits of his skill), cheerful, very accessible and
enthusiastic (lunch time was filled with stories and historical
discussions). The kind of teacher you wished lived in your
Of course, these are MY opinions. Talking to other non-students
I found that there were those who felt they could have read
these principles in a book (perhaps since I was the dummy for the push
hands portion I am biased), who thought they understood these
already, or simply wished for a greater proportion of practice
to theory. YMMV?
Listers who get a chance should check him out!
Date: Thu, 02 Mar 2000 21:28:00 -0500
From: "Email address withheld by the author's request. Contact the webmaster if necessary."
Subject: Re: Fwd: Zhang Yun Seminar Review (long)
I was the other list member who attended the Zhang Yun seminar. I am glad I went. I will not review the specifics, since
that has already been done quite exhaustively. Instead, I would like to post my impressions and some of the small gems I
came away with. Sifu Zhang seems to teach on a micro level, which is different than what I am used to. His style is Wu,
which although I have some familiarity with I am far from proficient in. However, the san shou I am learning is not based on
a style; it is based on taijiquan principles. This is what I came to learn and I was not disappointed.
Sifu Zhang did teach Grasp the Bird's Tail-- Wu style. I pick up pointers on how to achieve Wu style dynamics. He
spoke a lot about yin & yang and how each action has to be both; not just one or the other. To call an action a yin action
is not correct, because then it is not taiji. He presented his views on push hands, which are different from what I am used
to. He seemed to make specific parts of his body yin and yang much more readily and frequently than I am used to. I am
use to more whole body actions.
Sifu Zhang ended with a formidable display of escaping from wrist locks. I usually do not ask for demonstrations at
seminars because too many instructors like to impress the audience at the expense of the questioner's body parts. I felt
comfortable asking sifu to demonstrate quite a few escapes.
Sifu throw me quite quickly when demonstrating Wu style foot/leg positioning. I am sure he realized it would not be a
problem even on the hard wood floor.
That was the ending to a well spent day for me.
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