Chinatown Tai Chi Center

Ed's Corner

Tai Chi Scholar
Posted By:
On March 20, 2012 at 14:17

Grandmaster Wong has on occasion referred to me as a "tai chi schollar," recognizing that although I do not "practice" tai chi, I have learned many things "from a distance," as did Yang Lu-Chan, through "spying" upon those who were practicing their tai chi in the Chen Village. What, over the last two decades, have I managed to learn?

I have learned that the worst mistake any tai chi practitioner can make is to compare him or herself to others. In true tai chi, you "compare yourself to yourself." Is my tai chi better than when I first began? In what ways has my tai chi improved since the last time Grandmaster came to teach seminars with us? Comparing yourself to yourself is the only way to true progress.

I have learned, as Grandmaster has taught since first beginning to teach tai chi in San Francisco, to always remember "Where You First Drank the Water." If you do not remember where you first drank the water of tai chi and continue to practice in the lineage and style that has been handed down to you, then, as Grandmaster has said, one day you will end up practicing a style that is no longer the style handed down by Yang Cheng-Fu. And that is why, as a traditional school of tai chi chuan, we pay respect to our past and present masters.

Lastly, I have learned that "scholarship" about tai chi means nothing at all compared to the "practice" of tai chi. A student once asked Grandmaster Wong: "What is the philosophy of tai chi?" The student expected some answer about Taoism or the mysterious energy of chi. Grandmaster answered the question but not with the answer the student might have expected:

"Many people collect tai chi books or videos, but real martial arts is practicing. You can learn a thousand techniques, but it is no good unless you practice them. The philosophy of tai chi is practice."

Make It Fun
Posted By: Sifu Calph
On June 13, 2011 at 17:40

Having taught tai chi chuan for nearly 20 years now, I have been searching for a way to describe my wife's teaching philosophy to those who may ask about it. And my answer is that her teaching philosophy is simple but effective: Make it fun.

From the beginning, she always wanted to make her school full of energy. Work may be boring, even retirement for some people may be boring (not me), but when it comes to tai chi she wants her students to feel excited. She wants them to feel positive, look forward to exercising and working out, learning a traditional martial art.

This coming summer we will have been together for 43 years. Researchers speak of the "Michelangelo effect," referring to the manner in which close partners "sculpt" each other in ways that help them attain their valued goals. And it turns out that what people are really looking for in modern relationships is a partner who makes their lives more interesting. That need has been the case for me.

Not surprisingly, the qualities that have made her a good partner have influenced her teaching as well. Numerous students throughout the years have not only grown and expanded in the art of tai chi, but have found that their lives have become more interesting as a result of having had her for their teacher in an art that is as challenging to learn as to teach. She plans to retire from her daytime job in approximately a year and a half. But I hope that she will never "retire" from teaching the art of tai chi chuan.

Jan./Feb. 2020
Posted By: Sifu Calph
On February 13, 2011 at 10:25

When I watched Grandmaster's own teacher, Professor Hu Yuen-Chou, demonstrating tai chi at 94 years of age – I knew that he was a “living treasure” of China. At the same time, as he would agree, I realized that the “true treasure” was the art of tai chi itself. You do not have to be strong to practice tai chi. You do not have to be in perfect health to practice tai chi. And, it can be practiced well into old age. Any martial art of that nature seems a “true treasure” to me.

Having studied a hard style of martial art in my youth, two herniated discs (the result of an accident) physically prevent me from practicing any hard style arts at my current age. I think of all the people I know who fell in love with the martial arts at a younger age in their life, but for a variety of reasons can no longer keep practicing arts such as karate and tae kwon do. Once again, tai chi is a “true treasure” - as it allows them to continue their love for the martial arts - through their practice of this internal style of Chinese kung-fu.

And, if they stay the course, they will soon discover numerous martial techniques that were left out in the long route from China to countries like Okinawa, Japan, and Korea. For example, according to Grandmaster Wong, even push hands is very rare in the martial art world, as a way to "spar" safely without the high risks of physical injury. And the power of pushing, the power of pulling, the energy of splitting were not something I had ever experienced prior to my wife's training in this true treasure from China.

This ancient art will continue to challenge students at Chinatown Tai Chi, throughout the new year.

September 2010
Posted By: Sifu Calph
On October 22, 2010 at 07:36

One of my favorite writers on tai chi chuan is Adam Hsu who teaches numerous styles of kung-fu in Cupertino, California. He writes that, as students, we should approach our tai chi chuan like babies. It should seem like a mysterious, interesting new world to explore. Our eyes should be fresh, our bodies willing to learn a totally new way to move. Learn to move very differently than our daily lives at work and play.

Also, the form is not just a series of movements to be memorized parrot-like. Rather, it is a tool to learn how to move in a relaxed, natural, and powerful way. The form must be done seriously, like writing Chinese calligraphy. Learning tai chi is like learning how to write. It takes practice of every single stroke before one can write properly and correctly. One posture by one posture. One form by one form. Make every point correct. And, tai chi must be practical: it is analogous to swimming--you must get into the water and move.

Grandmaster Wong has mentioned that one of the reasons why tai chi chuan is such an interesting world to explore is because within this one art is contained many of the techniques that are similar to other softer arts, such as aikido and ju-jitsu.

"No force against force."
"Soft overcomes hard."
Perhaps this is why tai chi chuan has been called "The mother of all Martial Arts."

May 2010
Posted By: Sifu Calph
On September 25, 2010 at 06:30

The reading from the Tai Chi Dictionary that is being compiled was a fun and invigorating time! What follows are some excerpts from the reading, listed alphabetically, for those who were unable to attend.

On breathing: “Tai chi breathing is comfortable and without burden, as if breathing in one’s sleep.”

On energy: “Tai chi breathing is not the practice of forms or techniques, but the study of the water-like characteristics of its energy. The ocean has no technique: it sinks you, floats you, and surrounds you. If you jump in you are soaked.”

On form: “Take each movement and polish it like a fine jewel.” “The outside of the form is like a tea cup that holds tea. It’s the tea, or internal energy inside, that has the value.”

On practice: “Tai chi breathing is like the making of fine wine: time and patience are necessary.”

On push hands: “In push hands, your partner is your teacher.”

On relaxation: “Relax from the soles of your feet to the hair on the top of your head.”

And last but not least: “Eventually, tai chi becomes a part of a person’s total life, so that every response will be a tai chi response.” The Chinese have a saying: “The kung-fu has now got into your body. It is part of you now.”

March 2010
Posted By: Sifu Calph
On September 25, 2010 at 06:28

I am in the process of compiling a “dictionary” of tai chi chuan, based on interviews and articles contained in over 80 issues of "Tai Chi Journal" over the past 20 years.  It will cover A -Z (a = arms, b = body, c = chi, etc).  The same format will be used to compile the forthcoming book on Grandmaster Wong’s teachings, with a revised title:  Dictionary of Tai Chi Chuan:  Lessons with Doc-Fai Wong.

On Sunday, March 28, a reading will be offered of my favorite quotes.  In addition, students will have the opportunity to ask questions on topics of interest which will no doubt be addressed in this informative compilation.  I close this second column with two of my favorites: 

“The teacher is like a guide who gives you the key to the doorway. But you have to open it and explore the other side for yourself.”

“There comes a point where the teacher you need is yourself.”

January 2010
Posted By: Sifu Calph
On September 25, 2010 at 06:24

I’ve decided to label this column “Ed’s Corner.”  Every day, after teaching at New Spirit Middle School (70% Hmong, 30% Latino & African-American) I go to the “corner” of Cleveland & Ford Parkway to have tea.  It’s at the “corner” where all my best thoughts come together.

Already, this has been a spectacular new year, with the school moving into the facilities of Macalester-Plymouth UCC.  In addition, Grandmaster Wong is my “Kung-Fu Brother.”  We were both born in the Year of the Rat.  We were both married in the same year.  He has provided me with the title for the next book to be published on his teachings.  A sequel to the first, it will be titled:  Treasures of Tai Chi Chuan:  Lessons with Grandmaster Doc-Fai Wong.  My intention is to have this work in print by the end of 2010.

I close this first column with this quote:  “If you practice one day, you have one day’s benefit.  If you practice 10 days, you have 10 days benefit.  If you don’t practice at all, you have nothing.”

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