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.