Saturday, December 31, 2016

Impressions of Wu-Style Tai Chi

Last fall Sifu Amin Wu suggested that I take her Wu 13 Form class as a first step in training Wu-Style Tai Chi. In my last post, I went into great detail about how I feel that learning too many forms can be a bad idea so I wasn't at all convinced about the idea of taking on an entirely new style.

Sifu Wu is best known for Wu-Style so I was interested in giving it a try and asked her why she suggested I take it up. Sifu Wu is a master of 5 different styles of Tai Chi (Wu, Hao, Chen, Yang, & Sun) and explained that different styles of Tai Chi suit different people and, from her experience, she felt that Wu-Style would suit me best. She also told me that she didn't want me to stop training Yang-Style but rather wanted me to train both and assured me that Wu-Style and Yang-Style training are compatible.

While still unsure whether it was a good idea, I started taking the 13 Form class last fall and split my solo training time with half the time spent on Yang-Style and half spent on Wu-Style.

Wu-Style is derived from Yang-Style small frame but there are a number of differences between training the two styles. The most obvious differences show up in the Bow stance.

In Yang-Style, the Bow stance has the forward leg with the toes pointed straight forward, the back leg with the toes pointed at 45 degrees, and the torso upright (perpendicular to the ground) with about 70% of the weight on the front leg.

In Wu-Style, the Bow stance also has the front leg with the toes pointed forward but the back leg also has the toes pointed forward, which requires a lot more flexibility with the back ankle. Instead of being upright, the torso is inclined in line with the back leg. In the stance, the front toes, knee, and nose all form a vertical line with 80+% of the weight on the front leg.

Stepping is also much different due to the difference in posture/weight distribution. In Wu-Style, you do not shift back and turn out the front leg but instead you pivot on the front hip/kua to bring the torso upright while simultaneously bringing the back leg in beside the front leg. Once you are fully upright on the front leg, you step the (formerly) back leg out forward and shift your weight forming a new Bow stance.

The difference in weight distribution makes holding the Bow stance in Wu-Style more challenging for the front leg than in Yang-Style and taking the step requires holding the weight on that leg, making things even more difficult for the front leg.

The 13 Form class finished in mid-December and, after 3 months of training it, I do really like Wu-Style. The movements are similar to how I trained Yang-Style previously at TToPA and the movements came pretty naturally to me.

As for training the two styles simultaneously, that also worked out pretty well. The Wu-Style training improved my leg strength and Sifu Wu had me use that strength to go lower in Yang-Style.

The inclined posture in the Wu-Style Bow stance was different from what I've done before (i.e. with TToPA's Yang-Style, the front shin never goes past perpendicular to the floor whereas Wu-Style the knee goes out to the toes) and getting the weight in the center of the front foot rather than in the toes required relaxing the lower back.

Over time, I realized that in my Yang-Style Bow stance I was carrying that same tension in my lower back and relaxing the lower back in the same way made my stance more dynamic.

Lowering my stance and relaxing my lower back combined to improve the overall flow my Yang-Style form - in the stance, I feel a lot more ready (and able) to move.

Sifu Wu wants me to take her Wu 45 Form class this winter as a follow-up to the 13 Form class. I still have my reservations about learning too many new forms and styles but I trust her judgement and will see how continuing to train Wu-Style works out.