GM HUANG'S TAI CHI SYLLABUS - My Understanding
by Mr Foong Choon Sang. Translation by Len Lee Nam, assisted by Lai Yin Wai
Tai Chi Huang Tenom decided to have its own website and invited me to write briefly of the various subjects (Tai Chi forms) taught by GMH. It is to be noted that GMH taught Tai Chi based on his own experience and understanding of the art to students at different stages of his life. Unless a student is able to be with GMH throughout the latter’s Tai Chi journey, he is not equipped to give a comprehensive account of all that has been taught by GMH. I am of no exception. I will endeavour to be objective in my undertaking but do bear in mind of such limitations as mentioned earlier.
I first learnt the art of Tai Chi personally from GMH when he was in his early 70’s. Besides conducting normal and Instructors Training classes in Tenom, GMH also spent time with students of Tenom and we lived as a family. Of the twelve Instructors Training classes held between 1983 and 1992. I have attended ten of them and from my diaries and records, I append below the syllabus taught by GMH.
- single hand, alternate with right and left hand & stance.
2) 定步左右手换步互采 (ding bu zuo you shou huan bu hu cai)
- pull, alternate with right and left arm & stance.
3) 定步左右手换步采按 (ding bu zuo you shou huan bu cai an)
- pull & push, alternate with right and left arm & stance.
4 )定步双推换步互练 (ding bu shuang tui huan bu hu lian)
- double hand, alternate with right and left arm & stance.
5) 定步承接左右手换步互练 (ding bu cheng jie zuo you shou huan bu hu lian)
- absorb and expel, alternate with right and left arm & stance.
6) 定步左右手无手换步互推肩 (ding bu zuo you shou wu shou huan bu hu tui jian)
- shoulder push, alternate with right and left arm & stance.
7) 定步左右外挤换步互练 (ding bu zuo you wai ji huan bu hu lian)
- side press, alternate with right and left arm & stance.
8) 定步中挤换步互练 (ding bu zhong ji huan bu hu lian)
- central press, alternate with right and left arm & stance
9) 定步捋挤互推(左右)(ding bu lv ji hu tui - zuo you)
- roll back and press, alternate with right and left arm & stance.
10) 定步圆推 (左右) (ding bu yuan tui - zuo you)
- round push, alternate with right and left arm & stance.
11) 定步四正互推 (左右)(ding bu si zheng hu tui - zuo you)
- 棚履挤按 (peng lv ji an), alternate with right and left arm & stance.
12) 定步连环化靠(左右)(ding bu lian huan hua kao-zuo you)
- simultaneous nullifying and striking with shoulder and elbow, alternate with
right and left arm & stance.
13) 定步拉推腰肩中定互练(左右)ding bu la tui yao jian zhong ding hu lian-zuo you
- pull and push, alternate with right and left arm & stance.
14) 定步平步开合手 (ding bu ping bu kai he shou)
- opening and closing hands, alternate with right and left arm & stance.
15) 定步七动不倒翁 (ding bu qi dong bu dao weng)
- seven steps push hands, alternate with right and left arm & stance.
16) 按化互推 (甲平马，乙正马)(an hua hu tui - jia ping ma, yi zheng ma)
- push and nullify, alternate with right and left arm & stance.
1) 鸡啄米, 钱投鼓吐纳法 (ji zhuo mi, qian tou gu tu na fa)
- chicken feeding, simultaneous attack and expel movement.
2) 白鹤翅 (bai he chi)
- white crane training.
3) 转盘物理松体运动 (zhuan pan wu li song ti yun dong)
- training using twister.
4) 骆驼行功四法 (luo tuo xing gong si fa)
- camel walk.
5) 太极球六动 (tai ji qiu liu dong)
- Tai Chi ball - 6 movements.
6) 铁拐李行功法 (tie guai li xing gong fa)
- limp walk.
7) 上下梯腿功法 (shang xia ti tui gong fa)
- up and down the stairs walk
8) 左右螳螂腿法 (zuo you tang lang tui fa)
- praying mantis - left and right steps
9) 左右龙回头腿法 (zuo you long hui tou tui fa)
- dragon turns its head.
10) 床前内功六法 (chuang qian nei gong liu fa)
- practicing Tai Chi in lying position
Objectives/Emphasis of Various Exercises
1) 浑元站桩 (hun yuan zhan zhuang) - hun yuan stance
Attempt to develop ‘hun yuan’ (浑元) force while in the state of calmness, irrespective of whether in the situation of fixed footwork or in motion. Emphasis is to inculcate ‘yi’, to mobilize ‘internal song’, to achieve internal nullification, mobilization and expulsion.
2) 开合脚 (kai he jiao) - opening and closing footwork
Learn to differentiate “empty and solid/full”, substantial and insubstantial.
3) 松身五法 (song shen wu fa) - five relaxation exercise
While standing learn to expand (stretch) muscles, ligaments and joints. Such foundation is a prelude to proper Tai Chi solo exercise.
4) 37势简易架子 (37 shi jian yi jia zi) - short form thirty-seven postures
1) to 3) predominantly involved static movements. Whereas this exercise involves execution of self-defence postures while in motion. Emphasis is on achieving and execution with calmness of all required movements while in motion.
5) 定步推手 (ding bu tui shou) - fixed step push hands
In these exercises, emphasis is placed on achieving balance so that all parties gain from ‘song’ , nimbleness and the ability to nullify force by opponent.
6) 活步推手 (huo bu tui shou) - free step push hands (rooting)
The foundation of song, soft, stability, calmness etc diminishes while one is in motion. ‘hu bu tui shou’ exercises help to develop the ability to achieve all the necessary ingredients mentioned above while in motion and enable students to achieve a ‘rooting’ effect.
With sixty years of martial arts expertise and experience, GMH experimented and put into practice the concepts of ‘utmost light’, ‘utmost soft’ and ‘empty through song’. At an advanced age, GMH developed his teaching methodology based on these concepts. ‘Utmost light’ results in awareness of your opponent while your opponent is oblivious of your own movements. ‘Empty through song’ results in the loss of vector by opponent where force created by opponent is nullified. ‘Utmost soft’ develops a kind of ‘hun yuan (浑元)’ force. When in application, these factors are put into use and the fusion resulting is nullifying and expulsion at the same instant.
GMH’s training is rather simplified with an emphasis on foundation. However, the standard of foundation gets higher as one progresses in Tai Chi. GMH used to remark “the level of expertise lies not in the number of steps learnt but rather in foundation”. He further said: ‘If your foundation is at a 5% level, even if you have learnt thousands of movements, your ability to execute these movements would be limited to 5% only”. He further advised his students that whenever they reached a bottleneck or wall in training, they should revisit the basics - back to foundation.
The training conducted by GMH was as follows:
浑元劲 (hun yuan jing)
GMH while performing push hands at an advanced age utilized the ‘hun yuan jing’ which did not reveal any extension of arm movement and yet he was able to throw his exponents a great distance. The execution was so refined that onlookers were unable to detect when it was carried out. To GMH, he merely utilized ‘yi’ and ‘chi’ to perform the ‘hun yuan jing’ and the result spoke for itself.
‘Hun yuan zhan zhuang’ (HYZZ) as the basic foundation of Huang Tai Chi Chuan Tao is the crystallization of GMH’s sixty years of martial arts experience. GMH first introduced this foundation lesson to us at the 8th Instructor Training, held on 5th December 1985 (refer to 'Lesson Instructions' for commands and notes on HYZZ in the 'Downloads' secton above). He further explained to us that ‘hun yuan zhan zhuang’ is an integral ingredient in developing the ‘hun yuan jing’.
Let us turn to the ‘劲 (jing)’ as contained in the ‘hun yuan jing’:
As mentioned in Chinese Dictionaries, the meaning of ‘jing’ is the same as force. However, in the circle of martial artists, ‘jing’ and force is clearly differentiated to enable students to achieve a better understanding of these elements and the resultant effects with various executions.
‘力 (li)’ - brute force is inflexible and stiff. It is hardened strength and usually takes the path of a straight line. Its execution lacks focus. No emphasis is placed on the training of ‘yi’, ‘chi’, ‘awareness’, ‘suppleness’, ‘emptying and loosening’ and ‘hard and soft complements’.
‘劲 (jing)’ is springy and dynamic; its emphasis is on ‘yi’, ‘chi’ and ‘awareness’. The execution of ‘jing’ is carefully orchestrated with a combination of ‘hard and soft’, ‘yin and yang’, with unbroken structural linkages such that energy of great momentum is discharged when executed.
Chinese Dictionaries describe ‘hun yuan’ as intrinsic energy ever flowing, likened to a voluminous flow of water which has not found its own level.
GMH listed ‘浑元站桩 (hun yuan zhan zhuang)’ as the primary foundation lesson for Tai Chi beginners, as they have yet to understand the philosophy and the benefits of practicing Tai Chi.'Hun yuan zhan zhuang’ requires the student to practice the utilization of ‘yi’ to direct the flow of ‘chi’ from the head down to the soles of the feet and reverse the flow repetitiously while in a state of tranquillity. The practice of ‘hun yuan zhan zhuang’ enables the student to grasp, feel and appreciate how to ‘song’ at different parts and sections of the human anatomy.
The movements in ‘hun yuan zhan zhuang’ allow the student to experience the expansion and contraction of ‘jing’ which when fully mastered, give rise to a natural reaction when encountering an external force.
Besides paying attention to the necessary notes and the essentials, GMH repeatedly advised us to acquire the skills of complete suppleness and softness, be thoroughly light, ‘song’ and yielding in order to succeed in Tai Chi. GMH’s untiring and repetitious remarks cannot be over emphasized and these are indeed the key to learning and mastering Tai Chi.
From being able to remain supple, soft, ‘song’ and yield to empty, the student will progress with the various foundation exercises and stimulate and direct the flow of intrinsic energy which at a later stage develops the ‘hun yuan jing’.
A Tai Chi practitioner is likely to go through the state of entropy and oblivion (浑沌 hun dun) to the state of mindfulness with defined execution (浑元 hun yuan) and to the state of defined completion (浑圆 hun yuan). This cycle is likened to a small universe within a human. GMH once said “Heaven and Earth as parts of the Universe, a practitioner of Tai Chi having his universe when in unison with the Universe, Tao is automatically derived”. Any how, ‘hun yuan zhang zhuang’ is only a subset of the whole Tai Chi Chuan Tao, other foundation exercises are 开合脚 (kai he jiao) 'opening and closing' and 松身五法 (song shen wu fa) 'five relaxation/loosening exercises'.
The opening and closing footwork was developed by GMH to instil in the student the differentiation of substantiality and insubstantiality. It is a prelude to practicing 松身五法 (song shen wu fa), 太极起势 (tai ji qi shi) and 推手 (tui shou - push hands). GMH was wary of the many Tai Chi forms which do not instil in the practitioner the concept of opening/closing, substantial/insubstantial right at the beginning when performing the Tai Chi solo exercise. Very often practitioners merely separate the feet and move. The practice of 开合脚 (kai he jiao) enables the practitioner to be mindful of ‘yi’ and be aware of the distinction between hard and soft, ‘yin and yang’, static and dynamic, opening and closing, expansion and contraction etc, such that these concepts are translated whenever Tai Chi is practised. It is important to build in the 浑元功 (hun yuan gong) as mentioned above when practicing kai he jiao.
Improvised by GMH 'song shen wu fa’ is a form of prerequisite movements before the practice of Tai Chi solo exercise. ‘Song shen wu fa’ involves the directing of ‘yi’, or thoughts, when performing extension and retraction of arms, turning of hips and waist, up and down movement of the anatomy including leaning forward and backward of torso. These movements result in the entire human ligaments, cartilage and joints like neck, shoulders, elbows, wrist, fingers, arms, torso, waist, hips, legs, knees, ankles, toes being exercised and becoming ‘song’. It is essential to incorporate ‘hun yuan gong’ when carrying out training in ‘song shen wu fa’.
Before coming to this stage, students would have undergone all the training described under (1) to (3) and gained basic understanding and techniques such as attainment of calmness and concentration, directing of ‘yi’, body equilibrium, opening/closing, substantial/insubstantial, contraction/expansion, extension/retraction, relaxation and loosening of muscles, joints, turning of hips and waist etc. The practice of the solo exercises is thus made easier with the above mentioned prerequisites. Indeed the solo exercise is an extension of the basic training.
The main difference between the solo exercise and other basic training lies in the solo exercise requiring movements of stance, be it left or right, forward or backward. These extensive movements add to the difficulties and usually a student will encounter diminution of the ’hun yuan gong’ in the solo exercise vis-à-vis training as in (1) to (3). It is for this reason that the solo exercise is practised to allow students to achieve uninterrupted, continuous linkages and the acquisition of ‘hun yuan gong’ even in continuous motion.
The requirement as set forth by GMH in fixed step push hands is that of nullification and harmonious execution of force between two practitioners. In the Tenom Association, we named the platform for push hands as ‘化发台 (hua fa tai)’ which define the application of push hands as first nullify, then expel. Further improvement can result in the simultaneous nullification and expulsion of external force.
Hence the push hands exercise aims to develop the sensitivity of feeling the exponent's force by neither resisting it nor losing sight of it. At the same time it allows both parties to sharpen and strengthen the foundation acquired in the aforementioned training. It is wrong to utilize push hands to “push” your partner, as this uses brute force which contradicts Tai Chi principles. The party who is being pushed and falls, is still the winner if he is practising ‘song’, according to GMH.
When performing push hands, GMH garnered all the necessary ingredients such as in the state of full concentration governed by consciousness, ‘yi’ and ‘chi’. His movements were lightest, most sensitive, most agile and yet so natural and complete that his exponent was thrown out without knowing what had happened.
It may seem simple yet GMH’s footwork was never fixed to the ground, but mobile according to the exponent’s movements. GMH was able to focus all his energy by linking all parts of the anatomy with his feet rooted on the ground and apply his ‘jing’ to overthrow his exponent and yet this ‘jing’ could quickly dissipate and accumulate in a split second and the procedure repeated many times without his exponent realizing. Onlookers had no idea what transpired as they merely witnessed the results and not the process leading to the results.
It was obvious that only when one masters the ‘hun yuan jing’ through all the necessary training, even while in motion and faced with externalities, that rooting effects can take place and the issuing and retention of ‘jing’ becomes second nature.
Other augmentative training was taught by GMH and recorded which will be discussed later.
Hear not, See not; I beg your pardon
I recall when writing an article entitled ‘松无止境 (song wu zhi jing)’ - ‘No limit to Song' some years back that I mentioned the phrase used by GMH 'Hear not, see not'. After conducting a training lesson, GMH would say “What I have said or demonstrated, you probably hear not or see not”. To many, this may sound sarcastic and ridiculous yet he had his reasons for making such remarks! Every one of us has our own notions and are usually self-opinionated. The message that we received was influenced to a large extent by our own prejudices and level of comprehension, resulting in misinterpretations or taking the wrong message from the sender (GMH). When I look back on my own training and progress in Tai Chi, I can well appreciate such remarks made by GMH and greet it with a whole-hearted smile. It is to be noted that such is a reflection of what has been written by me so far. If there are any short comings, I beg your pardon as it is a result of my own level of comprehension.
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