Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Karate and Tai Chi - Part One

I was already a Sho Dan in Isshinryu when I saw a new school was opening in Scranton, It was a branch of the Shaolin School of Ernie Rothrock.

What interested me most, was he was also offering instruction

in Yang Tai Chi Chaun.

Something I had been interested in since my college days.


I attended his opening demonstration, saw his tai chi, and after approached him to see if I could be a student.

He said sure, it would be $7.50 a ½ hour class a week.

Thus I began with him.


The first class I was shown some simple warm-up exercises, then I was taught a standing drill, the holding lute position, and made to stand in the position until one muscle in the middle of my rear leg quadriceps began to cramp, of course it was a very short time at that.


After that we went over tai chi stepping,

and a small portion of the first row of the tai chi form.


Then week after week it continued. I would be there before class to do the warm up drills, then class would begin and another small piece of that first row would be covered.

The instruction did not worry about names for what we were doing, just hands on correction of what I was doing or being shown.

For the most part, the instruction was non-verbal.


I persevered and class continued. It was really private instruction, for I was the only student.


One evening I came home after class and discovered my instructor, Charles Murray, was in town on a leave from the USAF, visiting his wife’s family.

The discussion that ensued finally got around to describing my tai chi studies with a small demonstration of what I knew. About 1/3 of the first row.


I stood up and began doing my form before Charles. When he asked me to stop then repeat what I was doing.

So I did so.


When I finished he spoke.


“Victor, when you did that movement, where your arm swept across and in front of your body, I felt a wave of energy sweep across my face, then when I had you repeat it I felt the same thing.”


“I have been working on Chinkuchi in my own practice, you remember I described it to you when we were training together, I think that made me sensitive to your movements.”


I had no answer, I was just a student at that time.

I would just note Charles and I shared that experience together.


So week by week my lessons continued.

Eventually I completed the first of the six rows of the Yang form.


Believing I had made some progress I was waiting for the 2nd row to begin.

But then Ernie told me, not so fast,

For I had to learn the first row two more times,

with different lessons.


I had thought the first row was challenging, knowing karate did not give me any advantage to learn these movements.

But these lessons would teach me that I had a lot to learn.


Ernie explained that the first row which I had learned was only the beginning of the movements.


The next time I would learn the first row a different way, with head movements, as my eyes followed a moving point just before my hands.


In no time I was falling all over the place, for I learned a real lesson.

Much of our balance involved keeping our head stable, and when the head began rolling around so your eyes could follow that point, 

you had to learn a new balance, one based on your core.


Slowly, move by move, the lessons continued,

and eventually I completed the first row for the second set of lessons.


Now a new lesson. I would continue to do the first row, basic movements and the head and eye coordination which I had learned.


But the third lesson was to learn the Yang Tai Chi breathing pattern.
And it would be move by move, step by step.

Which of course I made a new discovery, I again continually lost my balance, falling out of  stance continually.


I was learning another lesson,

we rely on the sound of our own breath to assist in finding our own balance.

Not the breathing pattern of the Yang form, was robbing us of our normal reliance on breathing to form our balance.


This meant you had to work to find your balance in your own core.


Internalizing it.


No longer to rely on your sight of hearing.




So  many lessons I never expected, And now I was to continue the focus on the moving point, and the tai chi breathing practice on the remaining studies.


I am no longer sure of the exact time this practice began, but the day then came when Ernie began me on the single push hands drill.


This is where your hands touch at the back of the wrist, one hand pushing with the palm at the wrist, the other person receiving that pusn, buth hands making a circular motion ending before the chest, where the receiver is to deflect the attack and then press with his own palm into that other wrist.


At first you are both just moving your hands in a circle.

Then with time when you receive the push you learn to shift your hand into a palm deflection to grab their arm and unbalance them.


Unless both of you neutralize each other and continue the circling.


You eventually learn that the timing of your hip role has a big component of what your hands do.


Another little trick, if you neutralize their push, you then can continue the circling using a bigger circle this time, making the counter easier on the next larger circle of motion.


This drill is to begin to develop the use of tai chi against an opponent.


I realize now with my karate background, that I must have been as much fun to teach as pushing around a bag of wet cement.



So I learned the 2nd row.  All the time with warm up drills, stepping practice, standing still and holding lute. And accompanying single stationery push hand practice. It  was getting involved.


About this time I also started to perform the single push hands drill stepping inward and backward, No longer stationary it began to resemble a martial drill, especially when you consider  you were attempting to unbalance your partner.


Then the 3re row.  Another different set of movements. Different difficulties.

And another drill, this time double stationary push hands.

This drill used the pull, press, deflect motion in 4 parts to also be a partner drill to learn how to read when your partner applied too much pressure and then to use that pressure to upset them, so to speak.


This was a more martial practice, yet nothing like practical sparring.


Expecting to move onto the last 3 sections, I found instead something else was to be learned.


I had to learn a Tai Chi straight sword set.


Essentially the first row of the Yang form was done with sword techniques, then a second row was begun, returning down the original path, with very circular sword techniques.


I believe this was the hardest thing I have ever attempted, for the only thing you could rely on to control the sword movements was your hand and wrist, to express your control out to the tip of the sword. Not easy, and it time it never got easier.


But I got through it and eventually studies rows 4, 5 and 6. Everything did build atop each thing I practiced.


The double push hands drill also revealed new aspects.

It was done moving forward and backward,

Then done while stepping forward and backward with turning.

It became quite the practice.


I found out I was only the 2nd person who had trained with him to learn the entire form.


Two years after I began the study, I completed, that portion.

Very soon Ernie had to move across Pennsylvania to take over one of his students schools in Pittsburg.


My practice was now my own responsibility.

When possible I did travel to Pittsburgh to train with him,

But most of those studies were on other arts, for a time into my tai chi study I began to study other arts with him, in order to become a knowledgeable judge (my own priorty). No doubt the stances I used in those forms also improved my flexability and my tai chi.


I always worked my sword, but when in Pittsburgh I worked hard not to show him where I was, I was dissatisfied with my study of sword.


So work, work work.


Then I moved to New Hampshire and practice continued.



I am sure by this point you are asking  yourself what this has to do with Kararte. That comes later, first you need to understand what I mean by Tai Chi, and this is a start. During this decade or so, the practice of  Tai Chi was separate from my karate practice. The inter-twining of these arts comes later.

Part Two to eventually follow.


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