Saturday, October 13, 2012

Class with Alex Dong

I was visiting New York City last week and decided to drop in on a Taiji class with Alex Dong - - the grandson of Dong Huling, the same lineage that TToPA derives from.

In this particular class, Master Dong was emphasizing keeping roundness and energy in the arms when transitioning in the postures in order to maintain balance.

He first demonstrated this principle with 'brush knee and press forth palm'. During the transition from 'brush left' to 'brush right', after turning the left foot out to 80 degrees, you sink all of your weight onto the left foot as you twist left and upright your torso, at which point you are fully weighted on the left foot and vertical. At the same time, your arms are also in motion with your left arm circling back, around, and up while your right arm slowly sinks down. And this was the point of the exercise - as the arms are in motion, you need to keep them rounded and energized in front of you (like holding a big ball) in order to keep everything balanced throughout the transition. This transition has always been tricky for me - which is frustrating since it seems so simple - but, as we did the exercise, I realized how disconnected my arms were (particularly my left one) and that keeping them rounded/energized made everything much more stable.

Master Dong went on to demonstrate how the same principle applied to 'step back and repulse monkey'. In this case, when your transition from right foot forward, you move backwards by sinking all of your weight onto the left (back) leg while twisting to the right as you upright your torso. During the transition the left arm circles around and up while the right arm rotates clockwise. Again, during this transition, you need to keep the arms rounded/energized (like holding a big ball) to keep everything balanced. And again, I realized how disconnected my arms (particularly the left one) were throughout the transition and how much more stable everything became once I was mindful of the arms.

As we subsequently went through various parts of the form in class, I realized how much this principle applied throughout the postures, which I had completely missed (not that I haven't been shown this same principle before but it finally resonated with me). Towards the end of class, Master Dong showed how it even applied to 'crossing wrists', which put that movement in a new light.

Overall, it was a great class and I really enjoyed meeting Master Dong and his students - I hope I get the opportunity to work with them again sometime soon. It was striking how similar their approach to the form is as compared to what I've learned at TToPA - I felt very much at home in the class and was able to apply what I learned directly to my own practice. I had been curious about this because, while we're from the same lineage, things do tend to change over time. Not to say that there aren't any differences - there are - but they're minor compared with taking a class from a different Yang-style lineage (e.g. Cheng Man Ching).

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