Trailer for Joint Opening and Loosening DVD

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Below is the trailer for my DVD on Joint Opening and Loosening Exercises. The release date for the DVD is set for June 1, 2014.

There is also a dedicated Facebook page for the DVD.

Total running time of the DVD is 1 hr 57 min.

The price is $20 plus S&H. It can also be purchased directly at my business location in Delaware.

For ordering information, email me at info@firstchoice-acupuncture.com or call me at 302-792-2831.

Please subscribe to my YouTube channel if you have not done so yet so that you never miss a new video of mine.

 

The Hips and Stretching – 4 Weeks Progress

I have started stretching again recently. I am pleased so far with the results, but I will get to that a little later. Be sure to watch the video at the end. In the past, while doing external martial arts, I was very flexible and strong with my own body. After switching my focus to internal martial arts, I realized that my flexibility and strength were no match for the type of relaxed looseness that my teacher had. During that time period, I never did catch on to how my teacher was able to do those stretches the way that he did, and it took all I had just to try to keep up with him, a pale external imitation. In 2000, going back to school had me change priorities, and stretching took a back seat.

Though I continued to practice t’ai chi and qigong since then and did joint opening and loosening exercises the whole time, because I was not actually stretching, I lost quite a bit of range, especially in stretches that involved my hamstrings. I could no longer do the splits or bend straight down with my body flat to my legs, just to name a few.

About three years ago, I decided to start stretching again. I used the exercises / stretches that I learned from my teacher. I also added a few that I used to do back in my external martial arts days. It was rough going. I was worse off than I thought. I did try a different approach, though, based on my new understandings.

I knew I had to loosen and relax rather than to stabilize and stretch. Stabilizing part of the body and literally stretching another part of the body away from that was how I had always stretched. It seemed to fit in well with my former external martial arts paradigm. However, that method was no longer appropriate for my body, and I needed to find another way.

I had done a lot of work on loosening, relaxing, and extending my spine in my t’ai chi and qigong practice, so I made sure I was doing that while doing the stretch routine. That did help some, and I was able to increase my range, but I was still nowhere close to my former flexibility. Furthermore, my hamstrings never, ever stopped feeling tight. On top of that, the stretching left my hamstrings painful, and I mean painful every day. I was stretching every day for the first few months, then I switched it to every other day. After a while, I tried two times a week. Still, my hamstrings were not recovering between workouts. I finally gave up.

It had been over two years since then with no stretching and losing flexibility and range. For some reason, I decided to undergo the process once again, hoping for better results this time, and better results I got.

About four weeks ago, I decided to start stretching again. I basically went into it with the same mindset of needing to loosen and relax rather than stabilize and stretch. I also decided to do this two to three times maximum per week. The first week was horrible. It was just like my attempts a few years ago, except I had even less range, and my hamstrings hurt even more.

I was discouraged, but I did not give up. On week two, I decided to really slow down the process and listen to my body. I needed to figure out what was going on that was keeping me from getting into these stretches.

I realized that my hips were playing a huge role in my lack of progress. Because I felt relaxed, I assumed that my hips were relaxed when I was trying to bend at the hips. On the contrary, there was a bit of stabilizing going on in my hips that I did not notice until I really paid attention. This kind of stabilizing caused me to fight against myself which amplified the hamstring issue. My remedy was to specifically release the hips while loosening and relaxing into the stretches. This made a notable difference. I instantly gained more range with much, much less hamstring discomfort during the stretches, and I had very little to no lingering hamstring pain between stretch workouts.

I do have to be mindful that releasing the hips once is not going to do it. I have to keep releasing the entire time during a stretch. I have also noticed that even while releasing the hips, my hamstrings can still be problematic at times. When they tighten up and inhibit my movement like that, it means I am fighting myself somehow, and because I am already releasing my hips, it must be somewhere else. What I discovered is that if I place my attention on the front of my thighs while releasing the hips, I can get into the difficult stretches more easily. Very simply put, the muscles on the front of the thighs oppose the muscles on the back of the thighs. So, while releasing the hips, if I also release the front of the thighs, my tight hamstrings behave better.

This is week four now, and I can fairly comfortably get into the splits which I have not been able to do in well over ten years. I filmed myself last night and have included the video below. In watching the video, I can see that I need to do more work on loosening and releasing the low back, but at least now I look forward to stretching, and I am not in constant pain because of the stretching. In just four weeks, I have made a lot of progress stretching only two to three times per week for about 15 minutes per session. I think I am finally on the right path with this.

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My Taijiquan Lineage and the Zheng Manqing (Cheng Man Ch’ing) Form

I first want to discuss my lineage. My teacher is Chung-jen Chang, originally from Taiwan, now currently residing in Bowie, MD. He studied with several different teachers in Taiwan, but he considers Lin Ah Long, from whom he learned Yang style taiji and sword, to be his primary teacher. Chung-jen never speaks of his lineage unless I ask specific questions, and it has been very rare that he ever brings up one of his teachers other than the rare occasion that he mentions Lin Ah Long. His focus is on the teaching itself, and, by far, the most emphasized part of the teaching is “emptiness.”

I also almost never speak of lineage. I wrote this article to serve as a reference for my students and to serve as a reference for inquiries from the internet and elsewhere because the question of my lineage does comes up from time to time, and I do not have all of this information memorized. Now, I can just give people the link to this article when they ask me.

Here are the various lineages leading to Chung-jen Chang based on my own research regarding his own teachers. Any errors are not intentional, and if you have more accurate information, please bring it to my attention.

Yang Style Lineage:

Yang Banhou ⇒ Miao Lien ⇒ Li Shoujian ⇒ Xiong Wei ⇒ Lin Ah Long ⇒ Chung-jen Chang

-and-

Yang Shaohou ⇒ Li Shoujian ⇒ Xiong Wei ⇒ Lin Ah Long ⇒ Chung-jen Chang

Li Shoujian in the Yang style lineages above is a recognized disciple of Yang family taiji. He did not study the large frame method of Yang Chengfu. He learned from an earlier generation, studying a small frame method which emphasized tight movements, explosive power, and firm, deep stances. He studied directly with Yang Shaohou. He also studied with Miao Lien. Miao Lien studied both with Yang Banhou and some Daoist Wudang line of internal arts. I do not have any information about the Wudang line, but I do know that it had some influence on Li Shoujian’s taiji.

I have seen Lin Ah Long and some of his students play the Zheng Manqing form and part of another Yang form. Chung-jen Chang plays the form with a slightly smaller frame and with some minor variations in the specifics of the choreography.

Zhaobao Small Frame (Hulei Jia) Lineage:

Chen Qingping ⇒ Li Jingyan ⇒ Yang Hu ⇒ Chen Yingde ⇒ Wang Jinrang ⇒ Xiong Wei ⇒ Chung-jen Chang

There is a lot of controversy regarding this style of taiji. It is different than both traditional Chen style taiji and Zhaobao style taiji from Mainland China. To top it off, Xiong Wei plays the form much differently than his teacher. Xiong Wei has more obvious tight spirals that are very smooth and require much more relaxed flexibility and relaxed strength. The explosive power looks softer and reverberates in several fast successive waves out of the body. Additionally, Xiong Wei developed a set of 12 exercises known as Taiji Daoyin which were derived from the form itself. The set and the form develop full body connection with tight spirals, coordinated breathing, and a soft explosive power. Additionally, athletes and dancers from all over the world have traveled to Taiwan to study the Taiji Daoyin set to improve their flexibility, strength, and performance. Oddly, though the movements of the daoyin set are from the Zhaobao small frame form, the inspiration for the method behind the set came from Xiong Wei’s recognition of the power in the limb rotations of his Yang style teacher, Li Shoujian. The development of the daoyin set informed Xiong Wei’s changes in the Zhaobao taiji form.

Also, after my teacher moved from Taiwan, Lin Ah Long (his Yang style teacher) studied the Zhaobao small frame (hulei jia) method from Xiong Wei, from whom he also previously learned the Yang style. While residing in California, I was lucky enough to meet and visit with Tim Cartmell who also studied this form, though he studied it with Lin Ah Long rather than from Xiong Wei as my teacher did. Of note, Tim Cartmell spoke highly of Lin Ah Long’s fighting ability as an internal martial artist. My teacher, of course, seconds that.

I also want to mention that Xiong Wei studied Hao style taiji.

Hao Yueru ⇒ Zhou Zhenglin ⇒ Xiong Wei

My teacher did not learn Hao style from him, but I must note that the Hao style also uses a small frame method. I bring this up because of the large amount of small frame influences my teacher has had.

Chen Style (Laojia) Lineage:

Chen Fake ⇒ Pan Wing Chow (Pan Yongzhou) ⇒ Chung-jen Chang

-and-

Chen Yan-Xi ⇒ Du Yu Ze ⇒ Chung-jen Chang

My teacher studied Yilu with Pan Wing Chow. I have seen Pan Wing Chow do laojia yilu and my teacher’s version of the form is a bit different. My teacher plays the form with a bit smaller frame, deeper stance, and more obvious spiraling. My opinion is that this is from the Taiji Daoyin influence from Xiong Wei. I also want to note that Pan Wing Chow practiced and taught small frame Chen style also, but that it was the large frame method that Chung-jen had studied with him.

My teacher studied Erlu with Du Yu Ze. This was large frame Chen style laojia erlu. Of interest, Du Yu Zu’s teacher was Chen Fake’s father. Therefore, Du Yu Zu learned Chen style taiji before any of the changes were made to it attributable to Chen Fake. Du Yu Ze also practiced and taught hulei jia (see above in the Zhaobao section), but this is not what Chung-jen Chang learned from him. I bring this up to note that Du Yu Ze also practiced a small frame method. I have seen Du Yu Ze play laojia erlu. My teacher’s erlu frame looks similar to that of Du Yu Ze’s, however, my teacher moves more smoothly and has a slightly smaller and more obvious spiraling. Again, I think this is an influence from the Taiji Daoyin of Xiong Wei.

What did I study with Chung-jen Chang?

I have learned (and am still always learning more, of course) Yang style taiji via the Zheng Manqing form and Yang style taiji straight sword along with a very large body of jibengong and partner exercises. Where the Yang style sword form comes from will have to be a topic of another article. I have also learned Chen style yilu and erlu, though that is not the main focus of my practice. Additionally, I have learned part of the total set of Taiji Daoyin.

As previously mentioned, I do not talk much of lineage. I see the value in it, but I also know that good lineage does not guarantee that a student of that lineage will automatically acquire good skills. Also depending on the teaching abilities and disposition of the teachers in that lineage, some information might not even be taught due to secrecy or inability to articulate and transmit to a willing and apt student.

Also, I did not learn from anyone in my lineage except from my teacher, so in essence, my taiji comes from him, Chung-jen Chang style. I do experiment a lot with the things that I learn with my excellent training partner. I also have been exposed to a lot of taiji and other internal martial arts literature and videos. I have seen many live demonstrations and have been to some workshops. Therefore, though Chung-jen Chang is my teacher, ultimately, my taiji is just my taiji, for better or worse. I do work and will continue to work to try to get down all of the skills my teacher has to offer.

Why do I do the Zheng Manqing sequence?

Well, the short answer is that it was the form that I was taught. Goodnight.

Seriously, though, I have wondered this myself. Upon asking my teacher why his teacher taught that form, he stated that it was because the form was very popular in Taiwan. People liked the idea of a short form.

What are the implications of all of this, then? As you can see above, Zheng Manqing appears nowhere in my lineage, and I have never made claims to Zheng Manqing’s taiji lineage. Claiming such is not important to me, either.

So, can it really be said that I practice and teach his form? I do not know. Perhaps I should say that I teach the sequence. The form that I practice and teach is the same group of movements in the same sequence as the 37-Posture Zheng Manqing short form. I do know there are some stylistics differences in the choreography. My form looks different than my teachers form, also, though not for lack of trying to copy him. I am just not there yet. His form looks different than his teacher’s form, too, as I explained above. I think that it is probably more important what your body and your mind is doing on the inside that counts as long as the outside is not blatantly violating taiji principles. Especially for beginners, the outside shape is, of course, very important, but what makes it an internal art has to do with what the body and mind is doing while in those shapes and what the body and mind does in order to get those shapes to change.

I use the form as a vehicle to practice taiji. While practicing, my body has to be shaped like something, and then if I am doing moving practice, my body has to change into another shape, so a common sequence of movements, such as the Zheng Manqing 37-posture short form, makes for a convenient vehicle for practice.

I want to make it clear, though, that I am also NOT claiming that I am doing the same thing that Zheng Manqing is doing on the inside. I have no idea what he is doing on the inside. I never looked into it, and I never received instruction from him or any of his students. At this point in time, it is not important to me. I am, however, trying to duplicate what my teacher is teaching me to do, internally speaking. If I can get his skills down, I will be ecstatic. Chung-jen speaks very highly of his teacher, Lin Ah Long, and has recently stated that now Lin Ah Long is doing something different yet. I suppose that there are different internal engines that vary by differing degrees. At some point, I would like to study with Lin Ah Long in Taiwan, if only for a short time, but I still have a lot of work to do with my teacher here.

So, there it all is. I have stated my lineage to the best of my knowledge, and I have stated why I practice and teach the 37-posture Zheng Manqing short form. Now, enough of all of this, and let us get back to practice.