Great River Tai Chi offers graduated tuition in T’ai Chi Ch’uan. The syllabus is the Yang style syllabus of the ‘British T’ai Chi Ch’uan Association’. Beginners start by learning Cheng Man-ch’ing’s Short Form alongside Pushing-Hands partner work. Students may then go on to learn Yang Chengfu’s Long Form, the Ta Lu, Wabu, The Dance, Sword, Sabre and Staff forms and partnerwork. There are also advanced studies in Left Side Special Form, silk-reeling and much else. We also teach Chi Kung (Qi Gong).
The first part of the Great River T’ai Chi syllabus is Professor Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s Yang Style Short Form. Although this is simplified T’ai Chi, it contains all of the important basic principles. Once learnt, the short form takes about 8 minutes to perform and is an ideal daily practice. The form is studied gradually by learning a posture each week. We look at the applications of each posture to give meaning to our practice. This period of our study familiarises us with the principles of sinking, turning and relaxing, letting go of excess chatter in the mind and cultivating a relaxed upright posture.
CHI KUNG (QI GONG)
Chi kung (qi gong) translates into English as breath or energy work and is related to, though separate from, T’ai Chi, which is a martial art. Simpler to learn, co-ordinating movements and breath, chi kung settles the mind, relaxes the body and helps develop a sense of grounded-ness. We teach several chi kung sets which I learned from Kajedo Wanderer in 1987-1990, and have practised to great benefit since then. These are suitable for everyone to learn, young and old. We have also developed a seated version of the sets so that those who are wheel-chair users or who are chair-bound for a time can still reap the benefits.
Various forms of Pushing Hands are taught throughout the syllabus at Great River T’ai Chi. Pushing hands is the part of T’ai Chi that allows us to work on the principles in relation to another person. From sticking, right through to the more advanced partner work, we develop a collaborative approach to learning in a non-competitive environment. Through fixed-feet pushing hands we learn to stand our ground using softness rather than striving to overcome someone or something else through brute force. Through stepping partner work (wabu, ta lu, san shou and free style) we learn to discern when a step is needed to maintain our central equilibrium rather than doggedly holding on to the patch of ground we stand on.
When we have finished learning the Short Form we begin to study Yang Chengfu’s Long Form. With more expansive movements and at over twice as long as the Short Form, this traditional form is studied to deepen our sinking, settle our mind and strengthen our postures through the release of excess tension. We look more deeply at the applications of each posture and at cultivating continuous flowing movement, without tightness or rigidity. At this stage we begin to deepen our awareness of conscious movement, learn to remain settled whilst in motion, and to move with the body as one unit from the lower tan t’ien.
TA LU and WABU
Ta Lu (big roll back) is the exploration of the four corner energies of split, pull-down, elbow and shoulder, as well as dynamic stepping. Through practice we gain a physical understanding of the correct touch and appropriate distance when working dynamically with a partner. With both Ta Lu and Wabu (lively stepping), we gain an appreciation of keeping our central equilibrium whilst in the midst of spontaneous and sometimes swift footwork; maintaining stillness in movement. The four ‘sides’ of Wabu or push hands, the four ‘corners’ of Ta Lu plus the ‘five elements’ (or phases) of central equilibrium, step forward, step back, look right and gaze left make up the 13 postures or energies of T’ai Chi Ch’uan. Through sustained practice of the various stepping partner work we learn to stick, adhere, connect and follow without the mistakes (as listed in the Yang Family 40 Chapters) of butting (leading with the head or leaning forward), insufficiency (falling short), separation (losing contact) or resistance (the use of excessive force).
We study weapons forms to further develop our sensitivity, always seeking to express the T’ai Chi principles we value in our empty hand practice. Sabre is suitable for T’ai Chi players with at least 6 months’ experience and of all ages, both men and women. This form encourages us to extend our awareness into an inanimate object, much as a master craftsman feels through the lathe into the wood, or a skilled musician feels at one with her instrument.
This Yang Style Sabre Form is flowing and dynamic with strong silk-reeling movements. It is practised with a single edged slightly curved blade which is longer and narrower than other T’ai Chi sabres. It is distinct from other Yang Style Broadsword forms, sometimes referred to as Sabre Forms, which use a blade which flares wider towards the tip. At the beginning we practice with wooden bokkens, which have a similar shape and length, but later we may choose to use metal sabres. Sabre warm ups, sticking and preliminary exercises are taught as well as safe handling of the sabre and correct weapons etiquette.
Also known as the Dance of Vitality, this 88 move stepping partner set is a jewel of Yang Style study. Comprising two interlocking forms referred to as A and B sides, they are wonderful solo forms to practise in their own right. Played together with a partner, a compendium of martial techniques and a laboratory for exploring true yielding and close-up partnerwork are revealed.
Our Sword or Jian study comprises the Classical Yang Style Sword Form as well as partner work sets devised by Mark Raudva and the study of the applications of all moves in the form. Weekend workshops are also held to deepen the practice begun in weekly classes. Sword practice improves our concentration, extends our energy and awareness and takes one’s T’ai Chi practice to a new level. There is an excellent book as a guide to this form by the Kobayashis, see resources.
Staff or Spear study covers the Yang Style staff form as well as drills such as ‘4 jabs’, as well as stepping and fixed feet partner work and solo exercises. Outreaching beyond the confines of our fingertips and through a 6 foot pole really increases one’s spatial awareness, connectedness to our partner and sense of timing.
As part of the advanced syllabus, we study in depth silk reeling, spirals, rooting and uprooting, connection, power training, energy work and further Heartwork. Left side forms are explored as well as many variations on the applications of postures at increasingly realistic speeds and intensities. Enquire for more details.
Created by John Kells and as developed by Mark Raudva, Heartwork grows out of our T’ai Chi, deepens and expands it through better connection, outreaching and sensitivity. When this connected ‘way’ is achieved, much less force, wilfulness and strength are needed in whatever we attempt, allowing a more appropriate response more in tune with the immediate context.