Upcoming Workshop on Joint Opening and Loosening Exercises, Saturday 6/28/14

For additional information, please visit the event page for this workshop, and indicate your plans for attendance.

Here Are the Basics:

Topic: Joint Opening and Loosening Exercises
Date: Saturday, June 28, 2014
Time: 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
Location: Oriental Medicine and Health Services, 1201 Philadelphia Pike, Suite D, Wilmington, DE 19809
Cost: $65 for the workshop which includes my instructional DVD on the topic (for details on the DVD, click here)
Registration: You must be registered and paid by Thursday, June 19, 2014. Call me at 302-792-2831 or email me at info@omhs.biz for more information. Space is limited, so it is first come first served.

Workshop Content:

You will learning the set of Joint Opening and Loosening Exercises. Below is a video of me doing the set, but trust me, the movements are not as they appear. During the workshop, you will be given very detailed instructions on how to do the movements. You will find yourself learning a very different way of moving than what you are used to. In addition, you will learn how to pressure test the movements so that you can be certain that you are doing them correctly. Remember, you will also be given my instructional DVD on the topic to serve as a reference for your practice at home.

It is Qìgōng (氣功).

The joint opening and loosening exercise set makes for an excellent daily qìgōng routine. It is relatively simple to perform and only takes between 10 to 15 minutes to complete depending on pace. By opening and loosening the joints, you are also helping to open the acupuncture channels in the body, thereby aiding in the circulation of your and blood. There is a saying in China that roughly translates to “a used door hinge never rots.” Regular practice of this set while working on becoming more correct in how you do the set will bring you many worthwhile benefits.

It is also Jīběngōng (基本功).

Jīběngōng translates roughly as basic exercises. This set of joint opening and loosening exercises serves as a set of basic training exercises for developing foundational skills in tàijí. Having open and loose joints is a requirement in tàijí, and in my opinion is an important part of the “sinking” that is also part of tàijí. Doing this set regularly and correctly will help build part of your martial arts foundation.

Additional Benefits

If done conventionally, this set has value in that is keeps you moving and able to maintain range of motion into your old age if practiced carefully and daily. However, I do these movements in a specific manner driven by awareness. Done this way, this set is a vehicle for discovery of what it means for a joint to be open and how to maintain that openness. Having open joints, in my opinion, is not only a basic requirement for internal martial arts and for allowing forces to pass through the body, but it is also an important part of good qìgōng, allowing for better circulation of the and blood. I feel that if physical forces can get stuck in your body at certain points, then the and blood flow can be negatively affected at those points as well. Therefore, not only will regular correct practice of this set help bring about many health benefits including more freedom of movement, but it can also improve your practice of ANY martial art.

A FREE Bonus

Though the workshop ends at 1:00 pm, we will be breaking for lunch and returning at 2:00 pm to watch a kung fu movie. I have not yet decided which movie to show, but as a workshop attendee, you are welcome to watch the movie with me. If you are a kung fu movie fan, then you know it will be fun.

The Flyer

Click on the flyer for a larger, printable version.

JOLE workshop 140621

Click this link for a PDF file of the flyer.

Video of the Set of Joint Opening and Loosening Exercises

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Thanks for taking to the time to look at all of this. I hope to see you there.

Trailer for Joint Opening and Loosening DVD

fb cover photo

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 T’ai Chi Journey and How I Met My Teacher, Chung-jen Chang

bca and cjc

Before telling the part of the tale involving my teacher, I have to start a little further back to put it all into context. It was 1990. I saw a flyer for a local kung fu school, and one of the styles that it offered was T’ai Chi. I already had previous martial arts experience, but I had always wanted to learn kung fu, and I was previously not aware of any local kung fu schools. This was great, I thought, and the fact that T’ai Chi was being offered made it even better.

About 2 years prior, I was at a friend’s house watching a martial arts documentary, The Warrior Within. Masters from various martial arts were showcased including a few from various styles of kung fu. Of particular interest to me was the demonstration by Eagle Claw Master Leung Shum. Rather than demonstrating Eagle Claw, however, he performed Wu Style T’ai Chi. I had not seen anything like that before, and that combined with the hypnotic 1970’s styled deep-voiced commentary had me hooked. I needed to study T’ai Chi.

Back to the flyer: there it was, T’ai Chi at a local kung fu school. I enthusiastically signed up and studied everything they offered including various external styles of kung fu, many traditional kung fu weapons, and, of course, T’ai Chi. The T’ai Chi classes had much less attendance than the external style classes. It was not everyone’s cup of tea. As time passed, I became an instructor at the school, teaching both the external style classes, including weapons, and the T’ai Chi classes. At first, I assisted in teaching the T’ai Chi classes, and then later, I completely led the classes.

During that time, I competed in various tournaments, competing in external styles, both empty hand and weapons, and in T’ai Chi, both forms divisions and pushing hands divisions. I placed in every tournament I every competed in without exception. I thought that I was good at T’ai Chi and that I knew what I was doing. Hey, I even read the Classics. My T’ai Chi seemed to work well even in sparring against external styles. Even though I was not able to duplicate the feats attributed to masters of the past, I assumed that if I continued to practice what I had been taught, that I would continue getting better at what I had been taught, and that it would all come together. Little did I know that I could not get there from where I was. Unfortunately, that is just how T’ai Chi is: off by an inch, miss by a mile. Without a proper foundation, you will never do more than an external representation of T’ai Chi. No matter how clever and sensitive your moves, no matter how effective your techniques, it will still not be T’ai Chi. I, however, was blissfully ignorant. How could I have known?

It is time to introduce an important character in this story: Bill. Bill had joined the same kung fu school after I had already become an instructor. Initially, he studied both the external styles offered and T’ai Chi, however, in time, he had settled in with just T’ai Chi. He was my most dedicated student and took it all very seriously. He eventually plateaued and made me aware of my own plateau. At this point, I had been with that kung fu school over 5 years. The head teacher of the school did not seem to have anything else to offer in regards to T’ai Chi. Bill asked me if I could recommend another teacher that he could study with. I did not know of anyone in the area, but I gave it some thought. I remembered that one of the friends that I made at the tournaments, Al Jean, was an instructor under Yang Jwing-Ming. Both Bill and I were familiar with Yang Jwing-Ming through some of his books and videos. Though Al Jean did live in Boston, I knew at the time that he had recently moved to the Baltimore, MD area. I knew Al always did well at the tournaments, and I assumed that if he was an instructor under Yang Jwing-Ming, then he must have a decent set of T’ai Chi knowledge and skill. So, I recommended that Bill get in touch with him. I cannot recall if it was I or Bill who had found his contact information, regardless, Bill contacted Al Jean and had a fateful conversation.

Bill explained to Al who he was, how he knew me, and what he was looking to learn. Al decided to steer Bill in another direction. Al was under instructions from his own teacher, Yang Jwing-Ming, to seek out instruction from Chung-jen Chang of Bowie, MD while Al was living in Baltimore. Yang Jwing-Ming would have Chung-jen Chang teach various workshops at his school in Boston and thought highly of him, so he thought his own advanced student / assistant Al would do well to study with Chung-jen while he had the chance. Bill contacted Chung-jen and started studying with him in 1995.

For about a year while he was taking private lessons with Chung-jen, Bill would still work out with me regularly. He would show me what he was learning, which was a lot of basic exercises, no work on the form. Considering the T’ai Chi background that I had, this seemed strange to me, and the basic exercises seemed similar to ones that I had already taught Bill. Of course, my eyes only saw the outer shell of things because I did not know any better. Bill insisted, however, that Chung-jen was very knowledgeable and skilled.

About a year later, June 1996, the kung fu school at which I taught was set to perform during the Masters’ Demonstration at the 3rd World Wushu Games held in Baltimore, MD. Bill informed me that Chung-jen would be there performing as well. I was excited about getting to meet Chung-jen. During the event (when I was not engaged in conversation with Cynthia Rothrock), Bill kindly introduced me to Chung-jen. He seemed friendly enough, but I did not know what to think. I was anxious to see him perform.

Wow! I sure did see him perform. Though I did not really know the depth involved in what I was seeing, I could plainly see that it was qualitatively different than any other T’ai Chi performance that I had ever seen. His movements seemed very precise, very together, and very flowing. His stances were low, but he looked very relaxed. In the Yang style sword form that he performed, the sword was clearly an extension of his body, a part of the whole. The Zhaobao small frame (Hulei Jia) form that he performed, showed me a coordination, flexibility, and type of strength that I had never seen.

I was seriously impressed. About a month later in July 1996, I started studying with Chung-jen. Bill and I were taking private lessons together in Yang style T’ai Chi at the rate of about 1 to 2 lessons per month. After about a year or so later, I started learning Chen style T’ai Chi with Chung-jen on Saturdays in a class setting rather than having private instruction. During that time, I continued the private lessons in Yang style T’ai Chi at the same rate. I did not mind the 2 hour drive each way at all. It was worth it. This went on until November 1999 when I moved to San Diego.

I learned much during that time period, but I was never quite able to pick up what Chung-jen was putting down when it came to internal power. I found a good training partner, Jim Hogg, while I was in San Diego, and we worked out for hours at a time, usually twice a week. I also visited the East coast twice and had more private lessons with Chung-jen. Then, one day, in mid 2001, I got sick.

To say I got sick is an understatement. This would end up being a chronic illness that wasted me away, literally dropping my weight down to 106 lbs at 5’ 5”, an illness that lasted a trying 9 years. I had some type of dysautonomia which was never fully diagnosed let alone adequately treated. I had to stop the workouts. It took all of my strength just to finish Chinese Medical School, which is why I was in San Diego. During 2004, my last year in San Diego, I had just enough strength to start training again, but only for very small periods of time. At first, I would work out literally for just one minute. I was determined.

I moved back to Delaware at the end of December 2004. A few months later, I had regained another small portion of strength, enough to get my Chinese medical practice up and running. I also decided to teach T’ai Chi and Qigong. Honestly, teaching those two classes was the only physical activity I was capable of doing. Somehow, I was able to teach and do those 2 things and mostly feel OK while doing them, but nothing else. Have me walk down the street or up a flight of steps or carry groceries into the house, and I was beat. It did help that my students were mostly there for the health benefits and not for martial arts training.

I knew my skill level was not what it should have been. I was, however, blessed with a good memory, and so I continued practicing all that Chung-jen had taught me and did get better at what I had been doing, but I had truly plateaued once more. I knew I wanted to study with Chung-jen again, but I was embarrassed. I was a weak shell of my former physically fit, strong, flexible self. Then, one day, I got a new training partner. This was in March 2010.

He would work out with me a few times a week. I slowly started to build up stamina and strength from the workouts, and luckily, some of that extended to my activities outside of T’ai Chi and Qigong. I tried to get him to understand the inner workings of what Chung-jen was trying to teach me, but it was futile being that I did not have a good grasp of it myself. We did, however, get very efficient at what we were doing, but in the end it was still mostly external.

A few months later, my training partner declared that he absolutely must start studying with Chung-jen and that I must go, too. Though I was still feeling embarrassed and inadequate, I called Chung-jen and set up a lesson. I had kept in touch with him over the years via Christmas cards and occasional letters, so it was not quite like I was just calling out of the blue. Still, he was glad to hear from me, and we set up a private lesson for July 2010.

We showed Chung-jen what we had been working on, and he seemed interested that we had discovered a few things. That lesson, he taught us some things that made a major difference in my T’ai Chi. The door had opened. Chung-jen stated to me, “You have been in high school long enough. It is time to graduate and go to college.” I was totally psyched.

As we continued with private lessons, I was finally catching on to what Chung-jen had been trying to teach me previously and what I had been working on for so long. There were times when Bill, who introduced me to Chung-jen, would attend the private lessons with us as well. My training partner and I worked out several times a week, a few hours at a time. Also, during this time period, my health situation changed for the better rather quickly, and though I am now still not 100%, and I still must avoid certain activities, I am doing much better. I completely credit the “new” T’ai Chi that I was learning from Chung-jen and practicing regularly with my training partner. We got what we thought was really good, really fast. However, each time we would go for another lesson, Chung-jen effortlessly showed us the great divide between our skill level and his. He did not do this explicitly. It would just become very obvious during the course of the lesson. This went on until September 2013 when it finally sunk in about how to judge myself and what it was I needed to do in order to continue to acquire more and more skill. I felt like a total dummy leaving that lesson, but within a week, I realized that in many ways, it was my best lesson yet.

It is now March 2014, and I have not had a lesson with Chung-jen since that September 2013 lesson. Worse yet, circumstances have changed, and my training partner and I do not have the same access to one another like we used to have. Workouts have been infrequent. During this time period, I have once again started focusing on basics. I have been trying to build a better root and work on being more song (relaxed). This is what Chung-jen kept trying to tell me. The “higher level” stuff, mostly involving yi (mind intend) that I was doing would fall apart against someone with skill because I did not have a good enough physical foundation behind it. I am, however, glad that Chung-jen answered all of my questions, humoring me, showing me how to do higher level skills. This kept me motivated; I felt like I was getting somewhere, having something to show for my efforts. It got me healthy.

Now, though, it is time to really get down to business. I have a lesson this coming Sunday with Chung-jen, a long overdue one. I really just want to work on zhan zhuang (standing), song (relaxing), and how to properly move my arms and legs. I cannot emphasize just how important those things are. The first 30 minutes of the lesson are going to be jibengong (basic exercises) as usual, and it scares me to think about it. Honestly, it is like you have to train to get into shape to just be able to make it through those exercises with him. Then, I am going to feel wasted for the next 30 minutes, as I try to get my body to behave after that initial gauntlet, if you will. It will be worth it though, because the rest of the lesson will be chock full of basics, just like I want, just like I need.

So, that is my T’ai Chi story, up until now. I hope you enjoyed it. I know I have.

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.

Joint Opening and Loosening Exercises – Upcoming DVD Release

I am currently working on a video project currently that will result in an instructional DVD for joint opening and loosening exercises as taught in my qìgōng (氣功) and tàijí (t’ai chi -太極) classes. I have finished all of the filming, almost 2 hours of footage, but still need to do much editing. The target price is set at $20. I want it to keep it inexpensive so that it is accessible to more people.

The DVD has its own Facebook page HERE.

It is Qìgōng.

The joint opening and loosening exercise set makes for an excellent daily qìgōng routine. It is relatively simple to perform and only takes between 10 to 15 minutes to complete depending on pace. By opening and loosening the joints, you are also helping to open the acupuncture channels in the body, thereby aiding in the circulation of your qì and blood. There is a saying in China that roughly translates to “a used door hinge never rots.” Regular practice of this set while working on becoming more correct in how you do the set will bring you many worthwhile benefits.

It is also Jīběngōng (基本功).

Jīběngōng translates roughly as basic exercises. This set of joint opening and loosening exercises serves as a set of basic training exercises for developing foundational skills in tàijí. Having open and loose joints is a requirement in tàijí, and in my opinion is an important part of the “sinking” that is also part of tàijí. Doing this set regularly and correctly will help build part of your martial arts foundation.

The DVD consists of 4 parts, not counting opening and closing remarks.

Part 1 of the DVD is a demonstration of the set of exercises for the purpose of following along in order to memorize the sequence or to serve as a reference. I have uploaded part 1 to YouTube as a freebie, and it can be found here:

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Part 2 of the DVD consists of a breakdown of how to do the individual movements. There is much more to it than meets the eye. Based on appearances, this is a simple set of range of motion exercises for the major joints of the body. If done conventionally, this set has value in that is keeps you moving and able to maintain range of motion into your old age if practiced carefully and daily. However, I do these movements in a specific manner driven by awareness. Done this way, this set is a vehicle for discovery of what it means for a joint to be open and how to maintain that openness. Having open joints, in my opinion, is not only a basic requirement for internal martial arts and for allowing forces to pass through the body, but it is also an important part of good qìgōng, allowing for better circulation of the and blood. I feel that if physical forces can get stuck in your body at certain points, then the and blood flow can be negatively affected at those points as well.

Learning the material in this part of the DVD is very important, otherwise you will not get beyond the conventional, and you will miss out on all the additional benefits to be had. It is difficult to explain in writing about the “how to,” but there are two general things to keep in mind while doing the set. 1) You must relaxedly extend outwards so it is as if the body is expanded in a non-forced manner. The wording is a bit weird when you consider that there are certain angles involved with some of the movements, but I hope you get the drift of that idea. It is much clearer in the video instruction. 2) Care must be taken to not involve any muscles / parts of the body that are not actually necessary for the movements. Use only enough to allow the movements to happen. You would be surprised at how much unnecessary movement you do all day long without even realizing it, much of which makes you very non efficient.

It is also important to note that you will be able to learn much of what I explain by watching, thoroughly contemplating, and practicing the movements as indicated in part 2. However, hands-on instruction is the best method for learning this type of material. If you do decide to practice this on your own, you can always schedule a private lesson with me for corrections and pointers for improvement.

Part 3 of the DVD is also very important for learning this set correctly. It contains methods for testing whether or not you are doing the movements correctly. This requires another person to administer light physical challenges for you to overcome while performing the movements of the set. If you become impeded by your tester, then you have become “stuck,” which indicates that the joint(s) being tested are not really open and loose. Having physical force get stuck in your body like this indicates that your flow has also stagnated. There are degrees of being stuck, and it is typical for beginners to be very stuck. As you improve, you may be partially stuck, but the goal is to not be stuck at all. Therefore, this testing is a very important part of gauging your progress. People can easily fool themselves with practices like this, so a testing method like this adds accountability to the process. The tests that I show in the DVD are not the only tests. You can come up with your own tests once you get the idea of the function of the tests and how they are done.

Part 4 of the DVD has me demonstrating what having open and loose joints could possibly do in self-defense situations. When a person comes at you using force, and you have trained yourself so those forces do not get stuck within you, then your movements are much freer than they would be without that training. This section is not meant to teach self-defense or to be comprehensive. It is only demonstrations of a few scenarios so you get the idea of the potential uses.

Overall, this will be a good DVD for beginners or for those who want to take a look at these practices of qìgōng and tàijí beyond the superficial and conventionally apparent. Also, you will be able to learn a good amount of what I am trying to teach just by your diligence. I know many think that learning internal practices from video is not possible, and I have kept that in mind. The basics that I show are within your grasp. A release date has not been set yet, but I will keep you updated with posts here about it. After the initial round of editing, I will soon be posting a sample trailer of the DVD so that you can get a sense of its content.