I was in Derry 3 days and approaching the local Boys and Girls Club got immediate approval to begin an Isshinryu program. They had always turned down all offers but 5 years experience in Scranton and a solid letter of introduction certainly helped. I was able to use my experience to make some modifications to my program that I had been working towards and over the next few years proved successful. I was even able to begin an adult program, small and very personal as I always wanted.
My Yang practice remained solitary.
I had a bad onset of arthritis and for several years of pain and joint damage, except for instruction, all of my own practice became very light. Then in time the damage reversed itself a bit and I began to do more. Much of my Chinese forms were set aside, as much as lack of friends to train with, as my karate keep more of my time. My studies with Tristan Sutrisno also continued in greater depth in his systems of Shotokan, Aikido and Tjimande. I still saw Laoshi at summer camps and occasional visits both ways, me to him and he to me. When in Pittsburgh I’d practice my tai chi with his students too.
I met Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming at a demonstration in the fall of 87, and a friend was going to host a 9 month double class of Yang Tai Chi and Chin Na nearby in New Hampshire. My wife took those classes and studied Dr. Yang’s version of the Yang form. Close to the version I practiced, but more clearly striking points in the technique were my form was more smooth. Later I came to realize each version was focusing on part of other Yang variations using both style of movement. My wife and I never practiced together, but I was interesting to see a different version.
One Saturday practicing my tai chi before the group came to train beginning the 4th row I felt something different. This time my body center began to shift and move with the moving point I was looking at. (In Japanese it would be kyoshi, much more involved than just the hips often used for descriptions). It made my technique feel more alive. I was concerned and called Laoshi where he confirmed this was correct for me to begin feeling this. Note: training on my own I’m sure many such discoveries took much longer than if I was able to continue direct training with my instructor.
My adults saw my tai chi practice before class on Saturdays and finally a Dennis and Andy approached me about a separate study. I was commuting 150 miles a day round trip to work, thinking about it finally said, ‘Sure, but it will have to be Sunday Mornings, I don’t want karate and tai chi on the same day, and for my convenience let’s do it outside on my driveway.” It was the fall and that began Sunday morning tai chi hour from 8 to 9 except for rain. Snow, no big deal just shovel a place for practice.” I reasoned, “Tthey do it outside all year in Bejing and they have hotter summers and colder winters. Were we to take 2nd place to Bejing?”
So I became a Tai Chi Instructor. In January a friend with a Goju background joined the program. He was a surgeon and showed up for the first class worried that we would do tai chi outside in our karate dogi. He told me “I’m a surgeon and have to protect my hands.” I looked at Doc and told him, “That’s ok we have a way to deal with that in tai chi, they’re called Gloves!”. And now I had 3 students. Within a year there were 4.
Hot into the high 90’s, cold into -20f, snowing, blizzards nothing ever stopped tai chi except for rain. The years went by and this group of adults that showed up to train started to move beyond karate into the flow of the Yang.
New Hampshire Two
I believe it was about 88 at a Bushi No Te summer camp Laoshi had one of his students demonstrate the Yang sword form for me and I saw it was much longer than I had learned. There was a 2nd half yet to go. Later that fall I visited Pittsburgh, did a clinic for his students and he saw I was taught the remaining section of the form. More work for a lifetime.
It might be useful to describe where I was in my training at this time. I was teaching my Isshinryu program 3 days a week. I was 6 or so years into my studies with Tristan Sutrisno, focusing on technique studies applying his Shotokan applications, his aikido training and his Indonesian Tjimande. A very heavy counter-point to no application studies in my early training. In the early 80’s Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming published two books on advanced tai chi chaun, the 2nd book focusing on applications especially defining each technique has having 3 underlying application principles. I had showed the book to Tristan and he found it very much paralleling his studies.
One day I brought that book to my karate class, opened a page, selected an application and asked one of the group to attack me. Following the way my tjimande studies worked I made the technique work. Then selecting another page at random I did the same with a new technique. What I learned was the method of application I studied from Tristan unlocked those applications from the pages for me.
I wasn’t teaching tai chi to my adult karate program, but it was a very useful bit of knowledge to unlock. The inter-relation of many systems underlying principles of application. It wasn’t part of my tai chi students studies either as they were learning the form and developing some skill. Their instruction was paralleling the way I was trained.
It was 1989 when I started pulling from my studies to work up my own analysis of how techniques can be applied. I began very simply I took the most ‘useless’ techniques from my forms including tai chi. Useless in the sense I had studied no applications and they appeared the least useful. My studies simply found when applied they worked very well. Appearances are deceiving.
When I studied tai chi I wasn’t interested in using it for defense, just wanted to practice tai chi. Laoshi as I later learned was skilled in it’s application potential. It’s just we didn’t work on applications at all. Of course I was a beginner and too soon after my form study completed he moved away.
In fact when he taught me Yang, his Eagle Claw instructor was encouraging him to begin the study of Wu tai chi chaun which he eventually did study and in my opinion master.
So I decided to take one of my tai chi techniques I didn’t have a ready use for (and I wasn’t taking the time to cross reference Dr. Yang’s so I selected Lu or the pullback. It was interesting to experience it’s power. A student would attack and I’d insert myself into that attack to use the pullback and with very little power project them all over the place. It worked with another underlying principle I had worked out for technique applications: with exterior line of defense, with interior line of defense, using the arm using the leg, using the neck all with the same effect. And most interestingly if the attacker was coming in faster than expected it became a fingertip strike into the throat which really inhibited their attack too. Subsidiary it also was the way to open up follow up techniques common to Eagle Claw, Aikido and Tjimande.
A few years later after a spring tai chi class it hit on me to try and application using the tai chi pull back and then press. I had my student attack and softly performed the pullback to deflect the attack and then shifted into the press, a very small movement. I almost caved in my students’ chest and was as astonished as he was hurt. Not realizing what I was dealing with I asked another student to attack explaining I was going slower and softer and got the same results, almost caving in my students’ chest. I only takes two strikes to my head before I realize something important was happening.
So I call Laoshi and explained what happened. He responded: “Didn’t I explain to you not to use that technique or your students?” “No, we really never talked about applying any of the techniques” I replied. His reply was of course ‘tongue in cheek’ but I found this a repeatable demonstration when I met karate-ka that questioned the value of tai chi practice
In fact at that time my tai chi students eventually banned me trying to work karate applications after tai chi class, and my karate students banned me from working tai chi techniques after karate class. It was several year before I became sensitized to the power I was using in those cases. Continuing to press forward.
So entering the 90’s I’m training and teaching yang tai chi chaun. I decided to come out of competition retirement in 92 and decided to compete in a local tournament master’s division and wanted to do so with tai chi. As it turned out Laoshi was coming to Massachusetts for a weekend seminar on martial arts school business practices. I drove to meet him after the one class, took him out to dinner (Chinese of course) and then back at his motel room he and I built a short tai chi competition form to fit the 3 minute time frame.
On the day of the tournament a friend Jesse Knowles decided to compete against me for fun. As it turned out that day the form finished exactly 3 minutes. Somehow I ended in a tie for 3rd place with my friend (personally my senior in training and a much stronger karate-ka than I) and we had to perform another form. I chose Seisan and somehow I ended up with third place. The fun wasn’t winning but observing the faces of judges who had no idea what I was doing and making them watch me for 3 minutes. (In fact later one of them told me that he checked the time because he wanted to zap my score for making him wait so long but as it was 3 minutes he couldn’t do that (Big Grin) That and the fact I was able to go head to head with a friend in kata competition.
Minor note I did the same the following two years, the last feeling young again I competed in every form and weapons division available except the Seniors division (which the tournament wanted me to compete in but I refused because I’m not an old guy – yeah sure). That day I did tai chi, mantis form and bando staff. God it was fun!