Monday, October 24, 2016

5 Keys to Mastery

Master Liang's 5 Keys to Tai-Chi Success

When I was learning Tai-Chi from Master T.T. Liang, he always used a variety of teaching techniques and tools to communicate this amazing art. One that he used he called the 5 Keys to Mastery. Each key helped with a particular facet of each posture. In time, I was able to apply the 5 Keys to whole forms and, eventually, complete systems. The 5 Keys are:

The Posture
The Name
The Application
The Breath
The “Left” Side

I'll give a brief explanation of each and if you apply them, you will be amazed at how easy it brings your learning, practicing, and teaching into focus and direction.

1. The Posture.

When learning a posture, or movement, Master Liang had some breakdowns which he taught.

The Stance, which one was used.
The Direction, of the movement, eyes, application, navel, etc.
The Counts, how many parts or pieces to a posture.
Heights of hands, like heart height or chin height.
Measurements, of stances, shoulder width or not, hands, arms, and size of circles.
Hand position, whether it was a Lady’s Hand, fist, hook, etc.
Steps, transitions, shifts, etc.

Book suggestion- Tai-Chi Chuan It's Effects and Practical Applications by Yearning K. Chen

2. The Name.

The names can help with teaching and learning. We can quickly identify what posture we are working on. Otherwise we are reduced to “Let's work on this one. You mean that one? No, the other one.” The Names cover a variety of meanings and lessons, and also include a deep and rich history of Chinese culture. The names can mean, describe, or teach:

External Motion/Action, like “Parry and Punch.”

Internal Feeling, like “Retreat to Ride the Tiger.”

A Story, like “White Snake Spits Out It's Tongue.”

Humor or Pun, like “Diagonal Flying.” WE don't fly diagonally, the opponent does!

Partial Phrase, like “Embrace the Moon.” Full phrase is Embrace the moon to your heart, which can teach action, height, etc.

Color can indicate an organ, emotion, or direction. For example, Green can indicate, anger, liver, East, shouting, etc. And can help with the both external and internal aspects of the posture.

Animals can also indicate direction, fighting technique, spirit, etc. They can also be mystical, like a dragon, which is more internal, or a tiger, which is external.

Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucionist references find their way into the names, such as “Raise the Curtain” in the sword form which is a Buddhist reference to getting a glimpse of reality.

History, like “Strike Tiger,” from a historical novel, Outlaws of the Marsh, in which one hero, Wu Song hits a Tiger and kills it with his fist.

Hidden meanings to keep the applications and healing from outsiders.

Martial Arts slang, known to those “in the trade.”

Helpful Hints, like “Needle at Sea Bottom” give the exact direction to make that joint-lock work.

There are others, but this gives you more than enough to study.

Book suggestion-How to Grasp the Sparrows Tail if You don't Speak Chinese by Jane Schorre

3. The Application

Tai-Chi's postures comes from many martial arts, most of them cataloged in General Qi Qi Guang's book of 32 Essential Movements. Through the centuries, many postures have been modified to include Taoist Meditation, Qi-Gong, Animal Frolics, and Chinese Medicine. Knowing their applications can help with the general outline of the posture as well as where to put the intent and focus. The applications therefore become the “working definition of each posture.”

A guideline for understanding the applications comes from four Chinese words:


Many of the postures have one of these as the obvious application, and many have all of them. The Two Person San-Shou form teaches applications from the Yang Style Solo Form and has applications from the older Chen Style Tai-Chi.

Book suggestion- The Essence and Applications of Taijiquan by Yang Chengfu

4. The Breath

Master Liang taught that each posture has an exact breath pattern and timing. For example, the posture “Push.” When you separated your hands and shifted back, you inhaled, when you shifted forward and pushed, you exhaled. This is usually for application. You can also reverse that sequence, breathing out at the end of “Push,” and that is for healing.

Also, how you breath can be explored. Mostly we use Natural Breathing, where your abdomen expands on inhalation, and contracts on exhalation. You can also do Reverse Breathing, where your abdomen contracts on inhalation, and expands or releases on exhalation. That is good for low postures, kicks, and slow rounds of the Form, as well as Pushing-Hands.

The highest level of breathing comes from the Tai-Chi Classics. “If you pay full attention to your spirit of vitality and ignore your breathing, your striking force will be as strong as pure steel.” This is what my teacher Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi calls, “don't bother your breathing.”

Book suggestion-Tai-Chi Chuan and Meditation by Da Liu

5. The Left Side

Master Liang emphasized doing the postures right and left, especially those that only have one version done in the solo form. Liang felt that for good health, the body should be developed equally. The Solo Form was choreographed by a right-handed person and you will find most of the squats, kicks, big circles, and difficult movements, etc. are done on the right side.

He also wanted us to practice the weapons in both hands, and to learn both sides of a two person form, especially if it was asymmetrical, like the San-Shou. This will totally inform our bodies and help us balance strength and flexibility in our whole body.

Book suggestion- T'ai-Chi by Cheng Man-ch'ing and Robert W. Smith

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Suggested Reading List for Tai-Chi

"Time is of no account with great thoughts. They are as fresh today as when they first passed through their author's minds, ages ago."
-Samuel Smiles

OK, here goes! I get asked for book recommendations for Tai-Chi, so here is an article and a list. Don't blame me if you go broke, join the club!

Suggested reading list for Tai-Chi and related arts and sciences.

Master Liang always encouraged us to read as much as we practiced. He would caution us that “if you believe entirely in books, better not read books.” He also gave us many guidelines about how to study from books. For instance, he would tell us that if eight out of ten authors say the same thing, then we could pretty much conclude that that was an accurate teaching. If an author said something different from the majority of authors, Master Liang pointed out that it could mean that either that author was at a higher level and had more insight, or was a lower level with lesser insight. We had to discern for ourselves whether to accept that writing or not. I was fortunate to have Master Liang as my sounding board and teacher. When you read books about Tai-Chi, especially if you've been practicing for a while, you will actually experience some physical benefit by reading and letting your imagination stimulate and move your energy, or ch’i.

The bare minimum, and the most quoted and used, of readings that Master Liang suggested were from the Tai-Chi Classics, the Art of War, and the source of these two, the Tao Te Ching. Below is a list of what I consider some essential reading on Tai-Chi and related topics. There are many beginner books on the market as well as personal-story books, but for me, first as a student and now as a teacher, I want books that cover the widest amount of topics or the deepest level of the subject.

Included are some books from other subjects that are related to both Tai-Chi, Taoism, health, martial arts, spirituality, and a short list of books from outside the Chinese culture which I think will greatly enhance your practice. I’ll leave you with Master Liang’s often repeated adage,

 “You should learn from many teachers, read many books. But only by serious practice can you discover the truth for yourself.”


Tai-Chi Chuan for Health and Self-Defense by Master T.T. Liang
Cheng Tzus 13 Treatises on Tai-Chi Chuan Trans by Benjamin Lo
Tai-Chi Touchstones: Yangs Family Secret Transmissions by Douglas Wile
Tai-Chi Chuan and Meditation by Da Liu
Drawing Silk, Master’s Secrets for Successful Tai Chi Practice by Paul Gallagher
Lessons with Master Liang by Ray Hayward
There Are No Secrets by Wolf Lowenthal
The Tao of Tai-Chi Chuan by Jou Tsung-Hwa
Yang Cheng Fu the Essence and Applications of Taijiquan trans by Louis Swaim
Taiji Sword and Other Writings by Chen Wei-ming Trans by Barbara Davis
On Tai-Chi Chuan by T.Y .Pang
Practical Use of Tai-Chi Chuan by Yeung (Yang) Sau-Chung
Fundamentals of Tai-Chi Chuan by Wen-shan Huang
How to Grasp the Sparrows Tail if You Don’t Speak Chinese by Jane Shorre
Silk; Meditations on Tai-Chi Postures by Morgan Grace Willow
Tai-Chi: A Simplified Method of Calisthenics for Health and Self-Defense by Cheng Man-ch’ing
Tai-Chi Chuan Its Effects and Practical Applications by Yearning K. Chen
Taijiquan Classics: an annotated translation by Barbara Davis
Questions and Answers on Tai Chi Chuan by Chen Wei-ming Trans by Robert W.Smith and Benjamin Lo
Tai-Chi Weapons by Tseng Ju-pai
The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai-Chi by Peter Wayne
Master Cheng’s New Method of Taichi Ch’uan Self-Cultivation by Cheng Man-ch’ing Trans by Mark Hennessy

Taoism, Qi Gong, Spirituality

Tao Te Ching by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English
Sun Tzu’s Art of War Trans by Samuel Griffith
The Tao of Love and Sex by Jolan Chang
The Way of Qi Gong by Kenneth Cohen
Taoist Mysteries and Magic by John Blofeld
The Importance of Living by Lin Yu-tang
The Art of the Bed Chamber by Douglas Wile
Taoism: The Road to Immortality by John Blofeld
The Jade Mountain by Whitter Bynner
The Illustrated I Ching by R.L. Wing

Related Martial Arts

Hsing Yi Chinese Mind-Body Boxing by Robert W Smith
Mother Fists by Chiang Jung-chiao
Chinese Boxing Masters and Methods by Robert W Smith
Liang Zhen Pu Eight Trigrams Palm by Li Zi Ming
Real Gold Does Not Fear the Fire: the Teachings of Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi by Ray Hayward
The Major Methods of Wudang Sword by Huang Yuan Xiou Trans by Dr Lu Mei-hui
Bong Bu by Paul Eng
Shao-Lin Temple Boxing by Robert W. Smith


Anam Cara by John O’Donoghue
Soul Food by Jack Kornfeld and Christina Feldman
The Druid Way by Philip Carr-Gomm
The Celtic Wisdom of Trees Jane Gifford
Druids, a Beginners Manual by Cairistiona Worthington
The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter
In Search of the Miraculous by P.D. Ouspensky
Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Castaneda
The Sufis by Idries Shah