Thursday, March 10, 2016
Golden Rooster Part 2: the Taoist Yang
The second installation of Golden Rooster features a story told by Master T.T. Liang. He told the story many times, sometimes with great detail, other times in passing reference. For Master Liang and his own personal learning and quest for the highest levels of Tai Chi, this was the epitome. It shaped how he practiced,taught, and looked at the amazing art of Tai Chi. And it all boils down to one posture, golden rooster.
Going back over my notes, searching my memory, and including experiences I've had practicing and teaching, I am here reconstructing what I feel is the fullest and most complete telling of this story about my teacher, and my teacher's teacher. It takes place in the mountains outside of Taipei, Taiwan in the late 1950s.
In Boston, in the late 1970s as a young Tai Chi student, Master Liang told me about his various teachers, and his study and practice of Tai Chi. During tea breaks, he would recall many amazing teachers and lessons.One day he told me the story about meeting and studying with a mysterious Taoist who lived in the mountains above Taipei. Master Liang said,
" Through some connections with fellow martial artists I heard stories of a certain Taoist monk, named Yang, I forget his other name,living in the mountains outside of the city. Rumor had it that he was an immortal who had fully mastered Tai Chi Chuan. I learned that he was a retired customs official, like myself, and found out the name of his wife, the only person who knew exactly where he lived. She lived in the city and I got her address from the customs records. On several occasions I went to question her about her husband's whereabouts. But each time she acted as if she knew nothing. For about one year thereafter I brought her gifts, clothes and jewelry, trying to win her favor. Finally one day she told me her husband agreed to meet me and told me to come to the house the next day.
When I went back to the house the wife met me, and introduced me to a young boy about 14 years old. She said this is my husband's only disciple and he will take you to him. He led me out the back of the house and we wandered through neighborhoods gradually leaving the city and hiking up into the mountains. Arriving at our destination, there I saw the Taoist sitting outside his cave. After introductions he asked me why I wanted to visit such a simple person. I answered that I wanted to learn Tai Chi from him and he said no need. After some back and forth, me trying to intimidate him, he finally said OK let me see you do some Tai Chi.
I performed some of the postures for him, which I felt were quite good, and he watched silently. He said very good you don't need to learn from me. Knowing that he would show me nothing unless I intimidated him, I've told him that my Tai Chi was the best and much better than his. His answer? He asked the 14 year old boy to do some Tai Chi, which was exceptionally good. His postures were low, rooted, and smooth, so much better than mine, or many of the teachers and classmates that I knew! Now I was hooked. I needed to learn from this master. So I tried intimidation again.
I said my Tai Chi is much better than this boy's, let me see you do some of the postures. The old hermit stepped out and began doing his form. It was the form he had learned from Yang Pan-hou and it was quite strong and low, using some energy, yet so soft. He was at a level that I've never seen before, and I really want to learn from him. So I resorted once again to intimidation.
I said I want to try pushing hands with you. The old Taoist said no need to challenge me, I'll show you my level with one posture. Then he asked me to stand in Golden Rooster. When I stood in Golden Rooster, he reached out and squeezed my leg. He stepped away, shook his head, and softly said one word, "wood."
He then stood on one leg in the posture of Golden Rooster and invited me to feel his leg. With great astonishment I discovered it felt soft, like cotton. When I touched his leg it was completely soft! I worked my way down and his calve and ankle were completely relaxed and soft! I was amazed! I said where's your energy, where is the tension? He said in my Bubbling Well Point in the bottom of my foot. He said when all the energy is concentrated at the Bubbling Well Point, you will have complete circulation of ch'i and blood throughout the entire body.This is the enlightenment of the founder of Tai Chi Chuan,Chang San-feng.
As I stood there in amazement, he said, push me. I've been practicing pushing hands many years with Professor Cheng. I pushed him a little bit and met resistance, and so immediately withdrew, using the t'i-fang techniques to unbalance him. But nothing happened. When I pushed again he was still rooted on one leg. This was incredible,unbelievable.
He said "you can always be more relaxed, otherwise there's still some tension in your body." I said how can you reach that stage? He said he learned from Yang Pan-hou ( no relation) for many years. Also that he practiced standing and sitting meditation for 40 years. He said the key is to use the mind intent to direct that ch'i to the Bubbling Well Point. That was the end of my first and most amazing lesson. He invited me to come back.
I went back to my teacher Professor Cheng and asked him to stand in Golden Rooster. When I felt his leg, his thigh was quite relaxed, but his calve, shin, and ankle were hard. Then I told him there's someone better, at a higher level than him. He asked who and when I mentioned the Taoist named Yang, he got angry and kicked me out of this school. Now I deeply regret my actions with my teacher. If I could do it over again, I would not have been so disrespectful in front of everybody.
I went back to the Taoist three more times and each time the old hermit gave me one lesson on how to circulate my energy down to the Bubbling Well Points. Then, the next time I went , the old Taoist had passed away.Gradually I went back to Professor Cheng, asking forgiveness and being accepted back as a student. I embraced the teachings of Taoist Yang, incorporating them into my own practice and teaching."
Master Liang showed me the three methods for relaxing down, and sinking the ch'i, to the Bubbling Well Point's. One is physical, one is mental, and one is energetic, but all have the same goal: acquiring the true meaning of Yang Style Tai Chi summed up in the words, relax and sank.
Next installment, part 3, I will share the three teachings of Taoist Yang, and some of the many ways I practice and exercise Golden Rooster. And the answer to the mystery of "72!"