One month of Taiji and five years of Karate under my belts
My novel, Dusk Before the Dawn, has characters whose daily rituals involve martial arts training. My son and I trained and studied Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan (a Korean martial art) for five years, under an excellent instructor (Sa Bom Nim Milberger). Josh achieved Cho (1st) Dan, I reached Ee (2nd) Dan. This was a great five years for us, doing something together from age 8 to age 13 is a special experience that will stick with both of us forever. My son’s schoolwork and marching band and my commute across the state for work received higher priority than our training for the last two years (my hiatus only interrupted by taking some spectacular Qigong seminars from Dr. Yang in Boston).
I’ve resumed martial arts, training in Yang-style Taiji quan, an internal martial art vs. the external martial art of Karate. I choose my Taiji school using the same two parameters that were suggestted to me when I was looking for my first martial arts school: make sure it is convenient (so that you will attend!) and watch a class or take a sample class. My school is Wushu USA, with Master Jason Jung.
Even though I’m only a month in, I’ve noticed some interesting differences and similarities (comments and education of course welcome):
- One long form vs. several shorter ones: my first Taiji form is the Yang 24 “short” form, where 24 is the number of “postures” in the form (vs. the number of individual steps, which is quite large). Through research, I have learned that Yang 24 is a shortened “competition” form put together in 1956 by the Chinese Sports Commision; the traditional Yang style form is 88-108 postures. In Soo Bahk Do,we learned several Hyungs (forms or katas) per belt class, usually three forms per level; the forms were much shorter, but the emphasis was the same, in that forms in both disciplines are used to show the usage of stances and the martial applications of hand and foot movements. After one month of study, I am working postures 1-5, and have been shown two or three others. It should take about nine months to a year to properly learn the entire form; by contract, in my first year of Soo Bahk Do I learned more than ten Hyungs.
- Slow controlled vs. quick: no movement in Taiji is quick, all are expected to flow at the same controlled slow speed; of course, in Soo Bahk Do and other external martial arts, speed is essential, especially on striking. Interestingly, we did practice some Soo Bahk Do moves slowly, to increase muscle memory in the same fashion as what we are trying to do in Taiji.
- Kinesiology: interesting to me is that both Soo Bahk Do and Taiji focus on muscular and skeletal alignment, the former for maximum power (the black belt book for Soo Bahk Do Tang Soo Do by Grandmast Hwang Kee has some of the best explanation of body alignment for power of any martial arts book I have read), the later for maximum energy.
- Concentration: one of the reasons I enjoy the martial arts, both internal and external styles require all of my concentration and focus. This is not only the reason it is good for mental development and discipline, it is also the explanation for why martial arts are excellent for stress reduction.
- Belts vs. no belts: Soo Bahk Do was very belt oriented; while I know there are some Taiji schools that use belts as well, the one I have chosen does not.
- Effort: after a Soo Bahk Do class, I was always drenched in sweat (maybe it was the full white cotton uniform!); I did not expect the same in Taiji, which is slow movement, but moving slow and controlled involved quite a bit of exertion. I have a suspicion that this is because I am not yet fully relaxed in the postures as I should be.
I will continue to update this as I progress.
Interesting article here from Stanford University: Stanford researchers record ‘optimal force’ of tai chi master. http://www.mercurynews.com/search/ci_5807018
Hi Larry – From what you’ve written, Taiji sounds very similar to Tai Chi. That’s probably to be expected since it sounds like it also originated in China. I’ve always believed that it’s good to venture out and explore other “martial arts”. I’m leary of styles that are “exclusive”. I studied some Phillipine knife & mano-a-mano, as well as some cane (I believe the instructor followed a French system) techniques that actually made a point to say “use this with whatever art you study”. Well good luck with your training & keep us posted as you progress.
Taiji and Tai Chi are the same thing – just different ways of writing the Chinese. In any martial art, once you reach a high enough level of understanding, the internal and external become one and the same thing. Any martial art that doesn’t give you a workout (i.e. leave you drenched in sweat) is more a therapeutic series of movements than a martial art.
Louis, Alan, thanks for your comments. I certainly found the workout last night, as we went over a series of moves with all of our body weight on one leg, moving slowly, while still keeping the upper body relaxed and controlled. Learned section 6, now just have to put it all together.