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  • Breathing methods and control in Taijiquan

    You make a good point about allowing the chi to flow where and how it needs to within the body during a Tai-Chi Chuan Forms Set. The same holds true regarding regulation of the breath during a Forms Set practice, when it is best to naturally allow the speed and depth of the breath, as well as the speed and strength of the heart rate, to synchronize with the speed and rhythm of the movement pattern. Practicing a full routine of the exercises in this way, without any deliberate mental control, enables these normally autonomous physiological functions to adjust themselves naturally for maximum efficiency and benefit.

    However, it is my expert opinion that the practice of repeated, individual Form Postures for the training, development, and maintainance of specific skills necessitates a mentally directed and regulated practice of the individual Forms used for these purposes. A common example would include the training of internal power issuing techniques for fighting applications, since the 'intention' to project or issue the chi in a strike or kick and the proper regulation of the breath in doing so is imperative to the use of such skills. Another common example would be the practice of an individual Form Posture known to enhance the volume of chi in a specific energy meridian vessel for the purpose of eliminating a diagnosed blockage of the vessel, and to supplement the flow of chi to a weakened internal organ specifically supplied with energy by that associated meridian vessel.
    I have been meaning to start a thread on breath control methods in Taijiquan for a while but StierSifu's post above galvanised me.

    I have been fascinated with the Shaolin Wahnam breath control techniques, which according to Sifu allows the exponent to spar for hours without being tired. Unfortunately, I have yet to experience this first-hand (but I soon will). Also according to Sifu's book "The Complete Book of Shaolin", Four Gates is performed with 5 breaths.

    I am wondering about that, because in between each breath, there are striking movements (or in Taijiquan parlance, fajing movements) which should require an expulsion of breath. I would have thought each strike requires an outbreath to expel the qi (and waste). Maybe the Shaolinquan instructors could explain this to me, although it is probably all academic .

    Now for Taijiquan. I am curious how Shaolin Wahnam breath control techniques work in Taijiquan, because:
    a) the movements are slow. It is impossible to perform 5 breaths for 24 postures (impossible for me anyway).
    b) the way the 108 form is structured, there are fajing movements that require one to release the energy build-up. I am sure StierSIfu knows what I mean. He mentioned the Single Whip which is a very powerful release of that built-up energy, passing from the hook to the striking palm. There are movements like that fairly often in the form so there should certainly be more outbreaths than in a normal Shaolin set, I suspect.

    How as I taught? I was taught to breathe naturally, although I know of some schools that teach to breathe in when the hands come inwards and out during an oitward movement.

    I have always suspected there is something missing in the way I was taught because my instructors would be panting or visibly tired after a full set. The reason is that they had used a lot of qi in directing their movements. We in Wahnam know that after qigong, you should feel fresh, not exhausted. I mentioned elsewhere that visualisation is involved which takes its toll on shen (mind).
    百德以孝为先
    Persevere in correct practice

  • #2
    I have been fascinated with the Shaolin Wahnam breath control techniques, which according to Sifu allows the exponent to spar for hours without being tired.
    Not just according to Sifu. Anyone who has attended Sifu's Intensive Kung Fu course can attest the truth of this.

    Unfortunately, I have yet to experience this first-hand (but I soon will). Also according to Sifu's book "The Complete Book of Shaolin", Four Gates is performed with 5 breaths.

    I am wondering about that, because in between each breath, there are striking movements (or in Taijiquan parlance, fajing movements) which should require an expulsion of breath. I would have thought each strike requires an outbreath to expel the qi (and waste).
    All of what you have written is correct. Noone mentioned that you "hold your breath". Each out-breath is a series of out-breaths - controlled in force (explosiveness), quantity and direction. The final out-breath is often the most explosive after which the remaining (unused) Chi, which was taken in with the in-breath, is sunk to and stored at the Dan Tian.

    Andrew
    Sifu Andrew Barnett
    Shaolin Wahnam Switzerland - www.shaolin-wahnam.ch

    Flowing Health GmbH www.flowing-health.ch (Facebook: www.facebook.com/sifuandrew)
    Healing Sessions with Sifu Andrew Barnett - in Switzerland and internationally
    Heilbehandlungen mit Sifu Andrew Barnett - in der Schweiz und International

    Chi Kung Courses: May 2019 in Landquart CH
    QEA Discussion Forum: www.qea.ch/forum

    Comment


    • #3
      The Warrior's Breath!

      Hello again, Wuji!


      The Natural or Post-Natal Breath, also called Later Heaven Breath, is used by all of the Internal System/Soft Style Schools (Nei-Jia) for normal Forms Set practice in which 'Gathering, Compressing, and Storing Chi' is the agenda priority. When Tai-Chi, Pa-Kua, and Hsing-Yi Sets are performed properly over a period of time, this process happens automatically and spontaneously if no conscious interference is permitted.

      When Form Postures are performed for Fighting Application, however, a Reverse or Pre-Natal Earlier Heaven Breath is usually employed. In this case, the inhalation is taken while defensively neutralizing attacks, and the exhalation is performed while counterstriking. In this way, one fills the spaces between the internal organs with air and chi in order to minimize or prevent injury to these organs, and to 'draw and receive' the enemy's energy and power so that it can be joined with your own for maximum counterstriking strength and power. Additionally, both hands in any posture can be used either 'defensively' or 'offensively', unlike many External/Hard Style Systems (Wai-Jia) in which most techniques are classified and applied as one or the other only.

      Years ago when I was new to these practices, I witnessed a demonstration of the Single Whip Posture by famed Tai-Chi Master William C.C. Chen in which he split the wide back binding of a big New York City Manhattan Telephone Book with a very fast and powerful strike of the hooked hand accompanied by a sudden expulsion of his breath. Split it completely in half in the blink of an eye! Needless to say, I was and still am very impressed with Master Chen's skills!

      Lastly, whether practicing a Set slowly for 30 minutes with Later Heaven Breath, or fighting for 30 minutes with Earlier Heaven Breath, an expert practitioner will be 'energized' from the effort rather than exhausted from it! Would anyone care to comment on why that is so?
      http://www.shenmentao.com/forum/

      Comment


      • #4
        Dear Andrew, thanks for that succinct yet incredibly enlightening answer. Like i said, since i will be going for the course in July, this is academic. But knowing this beforehand is really useful (if nothing else, for curiosity's sake). I must thank you, Andrew, for always being so gracious and helpful in your replies (both publicly and in PMs).

        Hello StierSifu,

        I WAS hoping you would join in, and as usual, I really enjoyed your insights. At an advanced level, I am told, the whole form is done with the reversed breath. I have also heard that in combat, the Taijiquan exponent uses the energy of the opponent for his own benefit, much like what you have described. He therefore borrows or steals the foe's qi away.

        My instructor explained that when exerting energy in the form, one loses a lot of energy but at the same time is energised by the inflow of new energy. I think what he means is that there is a meaningful exchange of stale qi and fresh qi. But it is important to do the form in natural surrounding. His exact words were: 先舍后得 Maybe that is why an expert is energised. Me, i just get exhausted when I do the fighting applications so as my instructor advised, I should stick to the health aspect first till the movements are second nature so i need not think.

        Incidentally, StierSifu, what happens when a movement is both a neutralising and striking one at the same time? As you know, Taijiquan is very offensive, despite the misconception that it is passive (Yielding is not the same as being passive, or purely reactive). Say, for example, Cross-Hands Kick. The crossing of the hands is normally thought to be a block, but it can also be a strike to the neck. If we have 10 consecutive strikes, would it mean there is no time to take an in-breath?
        Last edited by Zhang Wuji; 22nd December 2004, 06:49 AM.
        百德以孝为先
        Persevere in correct practice

        Comment


        • #5
          Different Views

          You make a good point about allowing the chi to flow where and how it needs to within the body during a Tai-Chi Chuan Forms Set. The same holds true regarding regulation of the breath during a Forms Set practice, when it is best to naturally allow the speed and depth of the breath, as well as the speed and strength of the heart rate, to synchronize with the speed and rhythm of the movement pattern. Practicing a full routine of the exercises in this way, without any deliberate mental control, enables these normally autonomous physiological functions to adjust themselves naturally for maximum efficiency and benefit.
          Taijiquan is indeed a wonderful internal martial art. When I first read the above passage, I thought that despite some slight differences I agreed happily and wholeheartedly, especially with the importance of learning advanced skills from a competent and experienced master.

          However, when I was in Malaysia with Sifu recently I had an amazing opportunity to advance further, and directly experienced some of the wonders of Taijiquan. As usual, especially with advanced students, besides teaching us skills and techniques, Sifu Wong also explained the underlying philosophy. Anyone who has had the honour and pleasure of drinking tea or sharing a meal with Sifu will know that in Shaolin Wahnam, it is a tradition that some of the best lessons are taught in informal settings. Sifu has often told us that Ho Sigung also used discussions over tea as a powerful teaching method.

          What I have learnt and directly experienced caused me to ponder over the advice given by Sifu Stier in the above and other relevant passages. At first I was puzzled as my learning and experience contrasted not slightly but actually quite drastically with Sifu Stier’s advice.

          Then it struck me how lucky I am, or perhaps we the readers of this forum are, as this gives us a rare opportunity to compare and contrast the teachings of two grandmasters on the same topics. It also struck me how wonderful Taijiquan is – as one advances in its cultivation, concepts that initially seem true can change or blossom into other possibilities.

          I still have much to learn and experience in Taijiquan, but I believe that what I have learnt and experienced during the 5 or so years that I have been training under Sifu Wong is sufficient for me, at least for the purpose at hand, to present our Shaolin Wahnam views on “Breathing Techniques and Control in Taijiquan”. I would welcome Sifu Stier and other experts, as well as my Shaolin Wahnam brothers and sisters, to correct me if I am wrong. But I would like to express right at the start that whoever gives advice or comments in this thread must not expect others to accept them without question or debate, but it should be carried out in a friendly and courteous manner.

          Next post, "Entering Tao"

          Best wishes,
          Jeffrey Segal

          Comment


          • #6
            Entering Tao

            You make a good point about allowing the chi to flow where and how it needs to within the body during a Tai-Chi Chuan Forms Set. The same holds true regarding regulation of the breath during a Forms Set practice, when it is best to naturally allow the speed and depth of the breath, as well as the speed and strength of the heart rate, to synchronize with the speed and rhythm of the movement pattern. Practicing a full routine of the exercises in this way, without any deliberate mental control, enables these normally autonomous physiological functions to adjust themselves naturally for maximum efficiency and benefit.
            Re-reading the long paragraph above, it seems to say that by following natural breathing a Taijiquan practitioner will get maximum efficiency and benefit.

            This was quite true when I first learned Taijiquan from Sifu Wong. In fact we did not start with any Taijiquan sets or even patterns. We started with “Entering Tao”. We just stood there, thinking of nothing and doing nothing. Sifu asked us not to worry about our breathing, in fact not to worry about anything.

            But he made sure we were standing upright and that we were totally relaxed. Soon some of us started to sway “involuntarily”. Sifu encouraged us to let go and “go with the Tao”. I remember him saying, “Taiji originates from Wuji, and this is what we are experiencing now”. That was a most memorable experience. I felt free, joyful and also energised. This was my very first lesson from Sifu and I can still remember being amazed. I had been meditating for several years and was a dedicated yoga student and ex-karateka but I had never felt anything like it. For a couple of months prior to the course I had been training from Sifu’s books and thought that I was doing rather well, having felt various qi sensations in my arms and body. Comparing a thimble of water with the mighty ocean would not be an exaggeration of the difference between learning on my own and being initiated by a genuine master. Ah, Camponuevo!! (That’s where the course was held in Spain)

            That was at the beginning stage. But at more advanced stages, the advice that by following natural breathing a Taijiquan practitioner will get maximum efficiency and benefit, no longer holds true. As a student progresses in Wahnam Taijiquan, various methods of breathing as well as mind control are employed. This means that if he just uses natural breathing in his Taijiquan training, he will not get maximum efficiency and benefit.

            It may be helpful to point out that in our school, Shaolin Wahnam, Taijiquan is performed at three levels:

            1. The beginning level, which is the form level, where natural breathing is used.

            2. The intermediate level, which is the energy level, where appropriate breathing methods are used.

            3. The advanced level, which is the mind level, where the mind directs energy, and energy leads forms.

            This classification is for convenience. In actual practice, there is much overlapping. I’m sure that some of our astute members will notice that we have here another manifestation of Jing, Qi and Shen.

            I seem to remember Wuji mentioning that Sifu gave him a taste of performing Taijiquan at the mind level during one of his visits to Malaysia. Perhaps he or any other students of the Shaolin Wahnam Institute would care to describe their experiences using the mind to direct energy, which in turn leads forms.

            Enjoy your breathing
            Jeffrey Segal

            Comment


            • #7
              Jeffrey,

              Thank you for your excellent posts.

              . The advanced level, which is the mind level, where the mind directs energy, and energy leads forms.
              I have experienced this on different levels:
              1. Personally using Mind to direct Chi to direct Form. I actually experienced this for the first time during a Shaolin Kung Fu course with Sifu. The difference between this and "normal form" was (and still is) amazing.
              2. I have seen it happen in that I have watched and been able to see and "sense" the difference in the 3 methods you have so kindly and clearly defined. See and "sense" in terms of form and energy - quite astounding.

              Andrew
              Sifu Andrew Barnett
              Shaolin Wahnam Switzerland - www.shaolin-wahnam.ch

              Flowing Health GmbH www.flowing-health.ch (Facebook: www.facebook.com/sifuandrew)
              Healing Sessions with Sifu Andrew Barnett - in Switzerland and internationally
              Heilbehandlungen mit Sifu Andrew Barnett - in der Schweiz und International

              Chi Kung Courses: May 2019 in Landquart CH
              QEA Discussion Forum: www.qea.ch/forum

              Comment


              • #8
                Hello everyone,

                Thank you Zhang Wuji for starting this thread, and to Jeffrey and everyone else for the excellent posts.

                I have one question though. I was told that I shouldn't worry about my breathing now since I'm a beginner. But because of the fact that I have been doing Chi Kung for a while, I'm used to having to breath in and breath out depending on my movement. So now when doing my Tai Chi form, I noticed that I breath in and breath out depending on my movement. What I mean by this is that my breathing is not forced in any way but it is following a certain pattern. It comes naturally to me. Hope this makes sense.

                Should I worry about this or just leave my breathing the way it is now? One thing I know though is that I feel good and energized after doing the forms.

                Respectfully,
                MoMo.
                "If you can walk one mile, you can walk a hundred miles"
                Sigung Ho Fatt Nam

                Comment


                • #9
                  Hi Momo,

                  It sounds to me like all is well in your practice. As we often say in Shaolin Wahnam, very good-carry on.

                  I seem to remember you saying that you are learning Taijiquan from a Chinese master. I suggest that you follow his instructions to the best of your ability. That's the smart way to get the best benefits from your training.

                  I'm glad that you are enjoying this thread

                  Enjoy your training!
                  Jeffrey Segal

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Hi Jeffrey Sihing ,

                    How are you doing ? You sound well

                    " Perhaps he or any other students of the Shaolin Wahnam Institute would care to describe their experiences using the mind to direct energy, which in turn leads forms. "

                    When Sifu came to Cape Town in July , he was kind enough to take all the Taijiquan students aside ( after a long day of teaching us Chi Kung and others Kung Fu ) , and give us a little class . Just half an hour of Sifu's Taijiquan teaching made a big difference to my training . Earlier in the day Sifu told me to think of some Taijiquan applications I would like to learn , and I was honoured to have Sifu demonstrate the applications of White Crane Spreads Wings as well as Brush Knee and Bending the Bow ( not sure on that last name ) .

                    After that Sifu taught us how to transfer the skills we had learnt in his Chi Kung classes ( like using the mind to direct energy to lead forms ) , to our Taijiquan Form Practise . We were told to stand with our feet together and to go into a Chi Kung state of mind . Then , we allowed the Chi to move around making us sway gently . We were then instructed to go from that flow into our Taiji Forms . It was amazing , it was like my Taijiquan was transformed . Thank you Sifu !

                    Best Wishes ,
                    Kevin

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Hi there Kevin

                      I'm doing really well, thank you. After nearly 3 years of on and off wandering, I'm ready to settle down in Melbourne with my fiance Lauren. She'll be making her living as a musician (she plays the viola) and I'm looking forward to going to university next year to study Human Biology/Chinese Medicine which I will combine with teaching Qigong and Taijiquan. I'm also very excited about the courses I will be organising for Sifu here next December.

                      Many thanks for your inspiring post and congratulations on your attainment. I'm sure that your words will resonate with the experiences of many of our members.

                      Best wishes,
                      Jeffrey Segal

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Hi there "Uncle" Jeff,

                        I wish you all the best with your education. I think we will finish our educations at the same time. I hope you will share your wisdom with me although I study something different All in all it will be the same (Thanks to Sifu's generous teaching and helping me to improve my therapy!!)

                        Respectfully

                        Rolo
                        "From formless to form, from form to formless"

                        26.08.17-28.08.17: Qi Gong Festival with 6 courses in Bern:
                        Qiflow-Triple Stretch Method-12 Sinewmetamorphisis-Bone Marrow Cleansing-Zen Mind in Qi Gong

                        Website: www.enerqi.ch

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Jeffrey Segal
                          It sounds to me like all is well in your practice. As we often say in Shaolin Wahnam, very good-carry on.
                          Yes! Thank you Jeffrey, "very good, carry on", those are very powerfull words that Sifu uses. I will do just that

                          My teacher here is very humble and kind, and I'm happy to be learning from him. In January a few of us will go with him to China, we will train at a school there. It's only for three weeks, but it should be good for me cause I'll have more time for practice.

                          Good luck in your studies and practice Jeffrey, have a great x-mas and new year.

                          Respectfully,
                          MoMo.
                          "If you can walk one mile, you can walk a hundred miles"
                          Sigung Ho Fatt Nam

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            thanks

                            Hello Momo and Rolo,

                            Thanks for your posts. It means a lot to me to know that our forum members from all over the world are somehow part of my learning process and you can be sure that I’ll be keeping you updated during the 5-year course.

                            Momo,

                            Your trip to China sounds like a wonderful opportunity! I’m looking forward to your thread “Training Taijiquan in China” when you get back.

                            Best wishes,
                            Jeffrey Segal

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Platinum Card Kungfu

                              It's me again!

                              Now I’d like to return to the post that was the impetus for this thread in the hope of shedding some more light on Wahnam Taijiquan.

                              However, it is my expert opinion that the practice of repeated, individual Form Postures for the training, development, and maintainance of specific skills necessitates a mentally directed and regulated practice of the individual Forms used for these purposes. A common example would include the training of internal power issuing techniques for fighting applications, since the 'intention' to project or issue the chi in a strike or kick and the proper regulation of the breath in doing so is imperative to the use of such skills. Another common example would be the practice of an individual Form Posture known to enhance the volume of chi in a specific energy meridian vessel for the purpose of eliminating a diagnosed blockage of the vessel, and to supplement the flow of chi to a weakened internal organ specifically supplied with energy by that associated meridian vessel.
                              After reading this paragraph several times, my conclusion is that it tells us that a special technique is required to develop a special skill for a special purpose. In the initial stages of learning Wahnam Taijiquan this is most certainly true. For example, to teach our students how to differentiate yin-yang (a skill), we teach them how to move their legs into the Goat-Stance correctly (a technique). In this way we promote agility and good balance (a purpose). At this stage, we do not worry about breathing or even about our arms. Students are instructed to just let their arms dangle effortlessly.

                              At more advanced levels, this viewpoint undergoes a transformation and the advice that a special technique is required to develop a special skill for a special purpose is no longer applicable.

                              To this effect, Sifu often jokingly says to advanced students that requiring a particular technique to develop a particular skill for only one particular purpose is an indication of low-level Kungfu. Please understand that this is stated firmly from our perspective and anyone who disagrees is of course entitled to their opinion. Indeed many people refer to our arts as crazy Kungfu. I use the word Kungfu here in its broader sense which includes Taijiquan, Shaolinquan and Qigong. (Please excuse my mix of romanisations, “Gongfu” may be unfamiliar to some readers)

                              High level Kungfu, Sifu explains, enables you to use just one technique, and sometimes any technique, to develop a variety of skills for many different purposes. In keeping with one of our tenets which says that training (including Kungfu philosophy) should also be fun, Sifu uses the term platinum card Kungfu. Many Wahnam Taijiquan practitioners find this to be one of the dimensions of our art that makes training Taijiquan fun.

                              Let's take “Grasping Sparrow’s Tail” for example. Shaolin Wahnam students can use this technique to develop different skills like being totally relaxed, attaining a one-pointed mind, generating energy flow and developing internal force, for varying purposes such as overcoming pain and illness, enhancing vitality for work and play, sharpening mental clarity, increasing combat efficiency, and expanding the spirit. Can this possibly be true?? My own experience and that of many of my Sihings and Sidais assures me that it is.

                              Here is another example from my own training. In 2000 Sifu taught me Abdominal Breathing. This was before he started teaching Dantian Breathing in public. Imagine my joyful surprise when after some months of diligent practice, I found that my small universe was starting to open up. Without teaching me Small Universe Breathing in a formal way, Sifu was able to help me attain the Small Universe.

                              Would anyone care to share any other examples where we are able to use one technique for a wide variety of purposes (other than Lifting the Sky)?

                              Enjoy your training!
                              Jeffrey Segal

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