Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Visit to Master Chen's (4/25)

During my recent visit to NYC, I had the chance to drop by Master William CC Chen's studio. Lincoln, who visited me at my school earlier in the year, encouraged me to drop by and arranged for me to attend both the Long Form and the Push Hands class. I was a bit unsure of how I would be received - I hadn't been there in a long time and, in the interim, have adopted a different style of Taiji - but I needn't have worried, I was remembered and warmly welcomed and had a great evening.

In the first class - the Long Form - not only were my (former) fellow students Lincoln and Anna there but so was my (former) instructor Alex. It was great to take class with everyone. Master Chen focused a lot on me that class - he didn't try to correct my form but rather focused on principles and pointed out places where I was popping up (uprooting myself), keeping tense, and generally losing structure/power. It was a bit embarrassing at first but he was doing it because I don't get the chance to work with him often and I really got a lot out of it.

I wasn't sure what to expect at all from the Push Hands class - I had never taken one with Master Chen when I studied out there - but it was also a great experience. Master Chen worked with me for quite a while to begin with, pointing out places where I tensed up and generally trying to get me to relax and loosen. He even demonstrated some effortless power that sent me flying, which was also a really cool experience. He then paired me up against various students in the class and emphasized loosening drills based on what he had been teaching me. I met some very cool people that session - there were about 20 altogether - and even got to push with Lincoln and with Alex (who is, as expected, really good). The last guy I pushed with - Jordan Forth - was somewhat younger then the other students and, after some basic practice, Master Chen told us to play free. Jordan is really good - very flexible/loose and rooted - and I had to use my ILC training to counter him and we even got into some moving step as well. I had a lot of fun pushing with Jordan - he's a cool guy with a great attitude - and it turns out he has several gold medals in push hands and was in training for a san-shou tournament when I visited.

At the end of the evening, Master Chen told me that I had improved a lot since the last time that he had seen me and, if I focused on loosening, I would improve a lot more. Adam Mizner said the same thing to me about loosening at the end of his workshop too. So I'm now starting to focus on loosening, which brings me eye-to-eye with the classic Taiji Paradox - how do you work on relaxing?

Taiji Workshop - Adam Mizner (4/21)

While visiting NYC recently, I had the chance to attend a workshop with Adam Mizner (Heaven Man Earth) that was put together by Joshua Craig, whose ILC classes I attend when I visit NYC (Internal Arts Training). Due to my schedule, I was only able to attend the second day but it was a great experience.

The first day of the workshop they spent going over a set of loosening drills - Song Shen - that we reviewed on the second day as a warm up (and later, as a cool down). After warming up, we went through the four basic energies by doing Stroke Peacock's Tail (aka Grasp Sparrows Tail).

We spent the rest of the day doing two-person drills. Initially we did drills based on each of the four energies and then spent time on a drill based on Holding the Ball where we focused on how just sinking could uproot your partner. In the afternoon, we went through a push-hands training pattern that was different from what I'm used to primarily because it incorporates other energies (e.g. the bump) and it was an interesting break from my usual routine.

Overall, the essence of the second day - what Adam was really trying to stress in each exercise and drill - was how staying loose and not using arm strength really made everything more effective. Adam demonstrated this many times by launching people 5-10 feet with little effort. He demonstrated this once on me and it didn't feel like being shoved - I was standing there one moment and flying backward the next - very cool skill.

So, if you get the chance, definitely check out an Adam Mizner workshop. In the interim, he has a youtube channel HeavenManEarthTaiji with some nice videos.

Benjamin Sanchez, Joshua Craig, and Adam Mizner

ILC Workshop - Steve Arboleda (3/23-3/24)

A few months ago, I took a 2-day I Liq Chuan workshop with Steve Arboleda from Chinatown Internal Arts in New York City. Steve is both highly skilled - he has studied with Sifu Sam for many years - and entertaining.

On the first day of the workshop, we spent time working on the 15 Basics Exercises, with emphasis on certain key points. One point Steve stressed was that, while it's difficult to keep all 13 points of alignment in mind, it's important is to focus on the center of the feet and the top of the head first - do this and the other points fall roughly into place and can be refined over time. I've been keeping this point in mind for the last couple of months and it has had a positive impact on both my ILC and my Taiji training. We also spent time doing 2-person drills based on the 8 circles - the main idea was to have one partner hold the wrists of the other and for the other partner to use one of the circles to break the hold (which explains why Steve calls them 'wrist-breaks'). We went through the circles one at a time - the wrist-breaks give a nice insight into where the energy should be focused for the circle and whether you're using your waist or your arms to drive the movement.

One the second day, we worked primarily on the 5 Elements by starting with Earth and incrementally adding the subsequent elements. While doing this exercise, we focused on how the different elements move you from heel to toe (or vice-versa) and how the transitions from yang to yin (or vice-versa) neutralize the energy. I've done 5 Elements before but this was the first time I was able to make the connection from the exercise to the ILC principles. We have subsequently practiced the 5 Elements in class and it's a great overall exercise - you can use it to focus on most any of the aspect of ILC training.