Cross-Training In Taijiquan

Cross-Training In Taijiquan

Postby meghdad » Fri Jun 21, 2013 1:02 pm

Dear my Friends and Masters,
Today I read an article entitled "Cross-Training", written by Dr. Yang Yang in their center's newsletter, June 2013 issue. The main idea of this article is for me a long-standing question about Taijiquan training, specially traditional Taijiquan, and that is whether we should incorporate physical exercises such as aerobics and strength training (like running and muscle training) into our Taijiquan practice.

I have always been inclined to the answer "No" and my major hindrance to answer "yes" has been the idea that Taijiquan is by itself a complete regimen and is able to lead its practitioners to a considerable state in all three aspects: physical, mental and spiritual. Now those who prefer the answer yes might implicitly conclude that in Taijiquan practice the physical aspect is not heightened as much as the other aspects. It was surprising for me to see that Master Yang Yang, a desciple of Late Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang and a highly acheived master trained in traditional system, believes in cross-training. That made me doubt my own idea. He says:

Just as one’s Taiji/Qigong (TQ) exercise curriculum can be deficient in mental and spiritual exercise, it can also be deficient in physical exercise. Balance is the meaning of the word taiji; balance is a defining principle of taiji practice, and physical/mental/spiritual balance is what we seek in practice and in daily life. The question is: do we need to augment our taiji/qigong training with cross-training, for example aerobic conditioning and strength training? For many, I think the short answer is "yes."

It may be surprising for some to hear that I recommend cross-training. People might argue: "I never heard of taiji masters doing weight training—it is against the principles of practice as TQ promotes and emphasizes relaxation." I had the same thoughts many years ago. Then I understood: in the old times, most of the grandmasters (those that created taiji) were farmers in the Chen village area. And I don’t mean "ride in an air-conditioned John Deere tractor cab" farmers—they did daylong heavy farm work which is very high intensity cardiovascular and strength training. After that, relaxed bare-hand form and meditation was balancing cross-training for them. Many of us today work in offices, ride in cars for all transportation, and do not routinely approach the physical intensity that was the daily life of the old masters.


and he goes on with scientific point of view as well (he has a PhD in Kinesiology) and talks in more details about Aerobic exercise, strength training, balance training and stretching/flexibility. at the end he concludes:

To conclude, keep an open mind and learn the best parts of different disciplines. Learn the essence of TQ tradition but understand that it is balance of mind, body, and spirit that we seek in TQ practice. Balance of yin/yang is the principle of training, but this balance, is, ultimately, an "inside job." Depending upon your general health and daily activity levels, cross-training for aerobic conditioning, strength, and/or flexibility may be beneficial to your overall well-being.

In all endeavors, remember the essential principles of nurturing and moderation, and do not attempt to push past your physical limits.


It is a very interesting article and you should read it and these few quotes is not enough to fully get his idea about "cross-training". Now I would like to know your idea about this important issue and my ultimate wish is that some of the friends here would be kind to discuss this issue with Master Yang Jun in an interview format and share it with the rest of us, in Association journal. I indeed very much like to know what is the opinion of Yang Laoshi about cross-training. I think this would make a great and insightful article and will solve this big (IMHO) and important problem.

Thanks,
Meghdad
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Re: Cross-Training In Taijiquan

Postby Audi » Sat Aug 17, 2013 4:04 pm

Hi Meghdad,

I think I generally agree with your point and had reached this conclusion some time ago for my own practice; however, I think part of the problem is that we tend to apply the term "Tai Chi" to only a limited range of practices, even though most systems include much more.

I don't know anyone that can do much staff practice or moving step without experiencing vigorous cardiovascular training. If you use a relatively low stance and slow movement, even doing form can be quite physically challenging.

I do not recall Master Yang directly addressing these issues, but he tends not to discourage people from doing whatever works for them. Mostly I hear him encouraging a balance between still and moving practice, although he explains these as relative, Yin-Yang terms, rather than absolute ones.

I personally find that my form and push hands improves a lot when I am in better shape and so usually include or pair vigorous activities with my "Tai Chi" workout. If I am doing pure Tai Chi activities, these activities might include Shaking Staff, linear Fajin exercises, stepping Fajin exercises, and solo-equivalents of moving step drills.

Take care,
Audi
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Re: Cross-Training In Taijiquan

Postby Bob Ashmore » Mon Aug 19, 2013 4:41 pm

I have a view very similar to Dr. Yang Yang's, who I had the distinct honor to meet as well as the privilege of being able to talk with for some time at the first Symposium. He is an amazing teacher, I learned a lot just by talking to him as well as following along with his meditation techniques when he was kind enough to do so during his lectures (I AM RETIRED).
That being said...
Of course TCC is a complete system; all by itself and only practicing TCC to an adequate degree you could stay healthy and balanced for the rest of your life.
The form work being both slow and fast will help with balancing our energy and aerobic health, the weapons training and pushing hands being vigorous and extended without using tension will help to build up our whole body strength as well as keep us limber and the meditation will help us to calm our minds, bodies and spirits.
However...
How many of us do any of that regularly for even an hour every day much less to the degree that would be required to use it to maintain our health?
Be honest here people. Do you do enough of all aspects of TCC every day, or even most days, to maintain your overall health by doing only TCC?
And the winner is...
(It's OK, you can say it, we already know)
No, of course not.
I don't know about you guys, but I do more TCC than anyone else I know (around here) with the possible exception of my partner (who is a complete nut, did I say that out loud?) and I don't do enough TCC to keep myself healthy by only doing that.
I practice form work for an hour nearly every single day. I do my best to do at least three long forms throughout the day and I average around 18 to 20 minutes for each form when going slowly, about eight to twelve minutes for a fast form.
I do one day of sword practice then one day of saber practice, alternately, so as to keep that practice up.
I practice staff (Wu style 24 spear actually, but without the head it's a staff) at least three times a week, more if I can find the time.
I do standing and sitting meditation, a lot of it. I can't really put a number on it, I do so whenever I find myself in a position to do so, but I can't quantify it clearly. I hope it's enough, but...
I most certainly do not do enough push hands/sparring. Not even close.
I have one push hands class that I teach each week. That allows me to push with my students for about half an hour to forty five minutes, once a week.
That's just not enough to maintain my whole body strength.
I do not have a regular push hands partner for daily practice. I never have, I doubt if I ever will.
I work for a living, sitting at a desk for eight hours every day with very little practical way to get up and move very often. This means I just don't have the time during the day to do TCC to the degree that is required for it alone to maintain my health. It's just not possible for me due to having to battle that level of inactivity every single day.
So there is a decided gap in my TCC training, one that I cannot easily fill.
What to do?
My personal answer to this dilemma is that I cross train on an elliptical machine, for twenty minutes five days a week.
I run at a moderate pace and use resistance, but without straining myself; starting out with no resistance for one minute to warm up and doing intervals of moderate resistance at various levels after that, ending with no resistance again for the last minute as a cool down.
I call my elliptical my "Tai Chi Chuan machine" as I find that if I maintain the principles of TCC while doing my run it is very, very similar in both appearance and feeling to doing moving step Wu (Chien Chuan) pushing hands.
Take a look at their basic pattern, stepping pushing hands, you should see what I mean.
It's not perfect, it's not what I would prefer to do to maintain my health...
But it's what I can do at this time.
I find that being "in shape" is much preferable to not being in shape, even though round is a shape it's not the shape I wish to be in.
Knowing that the major early proponents of TCC were mostly hard working farmers, and having spent some of my misspent youth toiling on my grandparents farm I know how labor intensive that is, leads me to believe that just running for twenty minutes five times a week on my elliptical, even with resistance, isn't going to destroy my ability to perform TCC.
In fact, I have found quite the opposite to be true.
Maintaining my cross training is crucial to my ability to perform TCC well.
It allows me to keep up my strength without tensing up my muscles and it allows me to maintain my aerobic capacity at a level that allows me to perform even the most vigorous weapon form, done at my fastest speed and even when doing fajin throughout, without ever breathing hard when I'm done.

So it would be fair to say that I am a big believer in cross training intelligently to maintain the level of fitness I feel is required to perform my TCC well.
Since I can't do TCC enough or to the degree required to maintain my health, cross training is really my only option.
I do not see it as being detrimental, I see it as a performance enhancement technique that is a necessary step to hold me over until I win that billion dollar lottery and can retire into doing nothing but TCC all day, every day.
Since I can't really plan for that...
I'll keep up my cross training for now.

That's my opinion and my experience with the issue of cross training.
It is only my opinion and so take it or leave it as you see fit.
I am no expert on these things. I'm just a guy doing his best to keep up with it all.

Bob
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Re: Cross-Training In Taijiquan

Postby extrajoseph » Tue Aug 20, 2013 11:04 am

Hi Bob,

If we look at nature, cross-fertilization helps to maintain a greater variety for natural selection to act upon, thereby increasing a species’s capacity to adapt and to survive, so why not cross-training in TCC?

EJ
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Re: Cross-Training In Taijiquan

Postby meghdad » Fri Aug 23, 2013 1:58 pm

Dear Audi,
Thanks for your elaboration, Thanks Bob for your detailed opinion about this issue and thank you Extrajoseph for sharing your point of view. I think that we should consider three main issues separately to make this issue clear.

1- Does Cross-Training in general improve our Taiji practice, and if so is there any limitation to it according to Taiji principles? I mean Cross-Training is a broad term. What other trainings can be incorporated and which trainings can't, the characteristics of the trainings are more important to be mentioned.

2- If we believe that Taiji practitioners need to do rigorous training as well, is there any history of Taiji practitioners from beginners to Masters practicing rigorous, more externally oriented practices? I mean when a Taiji master trains a beginner with no history in Martial Arts how did they train them? and if they trained them rigorously, did they use other styles' training methods (Cross-Training) or Taiji itself has a Yang side of rigorous movements and practices?

3- Master Yang Jun in one of his interviews in the journal very briefly mentioned his memories on his own training by Master Yang ZhenDuo, and he mentioned that the practices were pretty heavy, and mentioned static stance training (Mabu, Xubu, ...) for several hours. This implies that Taiji itself has or at least had emphasis on rigorous practices of its OWN.


I recall a passage from one of the books (Zhan Zhuang and the Search of Wu) of Prof. Yu Yong Nian (a disciple of Master Wang Xiang Zhai) comparing the benefits of Zhan Zhuang with that of running. He mentioned that Zhan Zhuang if practiced correctly can give you the benefits of running (along with many other benefits) without the drawbacks of running. Thus implying that running (as an aerobic exercise) is not necessary for those who regularly practice Zhan Zhuang.

Looking forward to your comments.


Thanks,
Meghdad
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Re: Cross-Training In Taijiquan

Postby Audi » Sat Sep 21, 2013 7:32 pm

Greetings Meghdad,

I am certainly not an expert on this area, but here are my further thoughts.

1- Does Cross-Training in general improve our Taiji practice...?

Yes, I strongly believe that "cross-training" improves Tai Chi practice; however, not as much as doing equivalent Tai Chi exercises improves it. Many people have only a limited exposure to Tai Chi other than through forms or simple Push Hands. In such a case, doing other exercises makes sense.

...if so is there any limitation to it according to Taiji principles?

My understanding is no; except that exercises that stress isolated muscle movement or that strengthen muscles at the expense of flexibility, are probably not the best choice. The only such exercises that occur to me off hand would be isolated weight lifting. Even so, I think doing push ups and sit ups would generally be beneficial.

If we believe that Taiji practitioners need to do rigorous training as well, is there any history of Taiji practitioners from beginners to Masters practicing rigorous, more externally oriented practices?

My understanding is that we do not just want a strong interior, but a strong exterior as well. The difference between what we do and external arts is not that we ignore strength and external fitness, but rather that we train from inside to outside. We want wiry strength, not isolated strength, but we do want strength.

is there any history of Taiji practitioners from beginners to Masters practicing rigorous, more externally oriented practices? I mean when a Taiji master trains a beginner with no history in Martial Arts how did they train them? and if they trained them rigorously, did they use other styles' training methods (Cross-Training) or Taiji itself has a Yang side of rigorous movements and practices?

The stories say that Yang Banhou and Yang Jianhou received such rigorous training as children that they wanted to run away. I suspect that, as sons of Yang Luchan the Unrivaled, they were at great risk of dangerous challenges and so were trained hard for their own physical, social, and economic safety. As for beginners, I think the common means of traditional training was to start with static postures that had to be held for long periods over the course of a year or so, before other training was given.

I have also seen pictures elsewhere on this discussion board of weights that Yang Luchan supposedly used in his training and read stories of training under large tables to force practitioners to use low stances.

In general, I have also been taught that we first want to develop our softness, but then need to work on our hardness. One way of understanding this is to practice lots of form and circling for many years and then to move to practicing Fajin. Most people find practicing the soft-side quite pleasant, but the hard side, not so much fun. The Fajin training I have been taught is quite repetitive and somewhat physically demanding. It requires dedication to do it for long periods and is much less "interesting" than form or Push Hands. I would say that this is when Tai Chi clearly becomes a martial art.

The "hard" training I have received has had quite a different rhythm than what you see in external arts. You pause between many movements to settle your Qi, rather than just simply doing them rapid fire. When I occasionally do a work out focused on these things, it might include: up to 50 shaking spear movement to each side and then 10 Fajin movements to each side, using Dantian, chest, back, shoulder, elbow, palm heel, fist, hip, a little bit of knee or knee circles, and 3-4 types of kicks. Each movement has a storing and releasing motion. If I am ambitious, I can add Fajin practice with Roll Back, Press, Push, Parting Wild Horse's Mane, Repulse Monkey, and/or Brush Knee. If I still want more, I might practice a solo version of straight or cross stepping Push Hands with various variations.

I recall a passage from one of the books (Zhan Zhuang and the Search of Wu) of Prof. Yu Yong Nian (a disciple of Master Wang Xiang Zhai) comparing the benefits of Zhan Zhuang with that of running. He mentioned that Zhan Zhuang if practiced correctly can give you the benefits of running (along with many other benefits) without the drawbacks of running. Thus implying that running (as an aerobic exercise) is not necessary for those who regularly practice Zhan Zhuang.

I think such views are interesting; however, I think the truth will vary from person to person according to the circumstances of their own situation and biology. I personally think that there is value in variety. Master Yang Jun seems to think similarly by stressing a "balance" between practice that is more "mobile" and practice that is more "sedentary."

Take care,
Audi
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