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Yang Tai Chi Chuan, The Wrists Have It

The Wrists Have It
Erle Montaigue
March 27, 2002

After one has learnt the basic Yang Tai Chi Chuan form and knows roughly how to move the hands, feet, waist and legs, there is a time of practice in order to change those simple movements into something else, something that is internal. This time can be anything from two years to 20 years with many changes happening within and without of the body along the way.

Many experience the flow of Qi for the first time and think that they have discovered the true meaning of Taijiquan and that they now 'have it'. I receive emails and letters from students who after only one year write that they are experiencing Qi Flow in the form of electrical impulses or a white light etc. etc. They think that they know it all. However, these little things are only the very tips of the beginning and it will take many years before you can say that you now know the internal; and more importantly are experiencing it. Do not let that put you off though, as along the way, it is a most rewarding journey of discovery and change. Remember, that it takes a lot of heat to heat up a large piece of iron; however, it will remain hot for a long time.

We are told that the wrists are one of the most important areas one our yang tai chi chuan training and like myself way back; we think that we know about the wrists once we have learnt the basic form. We are told to move the wrists like this or that so we simply move them like this or that. However, after many years of practice, one day you will be training, and something different will happen. It will be a wonderful experience, one that puts the whole body into a state of 'sung' for the first time. You will not feel your hands moving, they will be moving in a never ending mode, something like the cake ingredients when you are mixing using an electric cake mixer, it just goes around and around slowly, never ending, no beginning and no end. (I do a lot of cooking also for relaxation as it is a great way to just do nothing). The wrists will be the first area of 'sung' which will immediately move down into the rest of your body and finally, for the first time, tell you exactly what Taijiquan is all about. It is like a drug that you cannot get off of, you want to do the form like that more and more.

Sadly, though most people give up long before that stage has arrived, as they just do not have the patience to get there. They either give up because yang tai chi chuan just isn't working for them as it should (after one year), or they think that they are there, having experienced some little pulses or electrical stuff. This period after such experiences is called the 'void' where nothing seems to be happening, like the lull before the storm. Or like the great void across the ocean when people thought that there was nothing out there, just ocean. Many began voyages, only to turn around and come back because of the void. Others who were persistent kept going to discover great new lands. And that's exactly what learning yang tai chi chuan is all about, sticking to it until you get there!

The group of postures known as Grasping Swallow's Tail will be the first postures where you will feel the wrists. However, this will never happen if your grounding is not perfect. There is an old Chinese saying; "forget about the legs, think on the hands". Which means that the legs, once they are strong enough from doing lots of form work, will look after themselves and as long as the legs can hold you up, perfectly balanced, taking steps without having to move weight onto the stepping foot before it is fully placed. It really does not matter how the legs move as long as they are taking you in the right direction for the various postures of the form, all they have to do is to hold you up. It is the upper body that is the main thing once the legs are doing their job. The upper body is like the internal Qi flow and will move exactly in the same manner as that flow. You will not feel the wrists moving:

In order to come to this area of yang tai chi chuan, the wrists will move very little from a yin shape to a yang shape and back, only enough to cause the energy changes. The wrists will be continually changing state and moving in a never-ending circular/spiral way so that you can experience this 'non-movement within movement'. A true meditative state (sung) will never come fully until you have the wrists moving correctly. And although you might be adept at some kind of meditation, you will never fully experience true meditation until you have the body in sung. And the wrists will bring you to this experience. Once you have the wrists, you will automatically go into a true state of mediation for the first time and it is indeed a wonderful experience, the whole body, for the first time, really sinks internally and before you know it, you have finished the form, not even remembering that you have done it! A bit like going under anaesthetic, waking up at the other end with the procedure done! The Hands Do Not Touch:

At this level of yang tai chi chuan, the hands never touch! Not even the fingers of one hand will touch together for instance when performing 'Single Whip' posture, as to do so will short out the Qi flow. It's like when we have a resistance in electricity, for instance a speaker across two electrical terminals. The higher the resistance, the higher the 'EMF' (electro-motive force). So when we do the form without touching the hands together, there is a much higher 'voltage' built up across the hands so the body is forced to make much more Qi flow around the body. However, beginners should not do it like this! The breathing will naturally come into complete balance and harmony with the movement once the wrists begin to move correctly. You will no longer consciously think about when to breathe, it will just happen that on a yang movement, there will be an exhalation and visa-versa.


Never Forget Your Yang Cheng-fu's Form, You Might Just Need it Some Day!

Although the Yang Lu-ch'an form is the highest yang tai chi chuan form ever invented, it is often quite difficult to get to the internal because it is so physical and at the same time so internal. Because we have to do the fa-jing moves, beginners who only learn this form, often never get to the real internal as they learn the fa-jing movements incorrectly and only use physical force. They think that the fa-jing moves are the most important part and so, begin to learn these movements first as they are the most difficult. In doing so, they lose out on the internal part which the slower movements will give them. Remembering that even the fa-jing movements are 'slow' they happen so explosively that you haven't really done any movement! You must remember that it took 6 years just to learn Yang Lu-ch'an's form! And I have people who write to me after having the YLC form tape for only 3 months saying that they now know this form so what do they do next! It's OK to see what comes next and to even try it. However, you must continue with your basic forms until the internal arrives. And if you have not got 6 years nor the patience to wait that long, this is why we were given the Yang Cheng-fu form. It was meant as an interim form to give us the internal quicker so that we could then go into the Old Style and not have the danger of never gaining the internal.

We all take our health for granted when we are not ill! However, once in our lives (if we are very lucky) we will have that illness or body condition that will force us to take a long hard look at what we are doing. What we eat, how we move, the daily stress that we allow to creep in. However, all that stress and having to go to work, money matters, all fade into insignificance when faced with a life threatening disease and we finally see what really matters in life. Family and living are the only important things in life! Being balanced and happy are what humans should be all about and when we are faced with dire circumstances, we then see how important our health really is and that we are not supermen or women! During these times (and it usually comes at around 50 years of age) your Yang Cheng-fu form will be the thing that will get you through your current situation. This is the form that will take you into full meditation and allow your body to regenerate, along with a compete change of diet and life style. If you have been able to get to an internal stage with the YLC form, then this is OK, however, I have not known that many who have been able to by age 50! God Talks To Us:

We all of us (and I am speaking also for myself here) take our health for granted and do things that we perhaps should not, like drinking coffee (decaf included) or eating too much animal stuff etc. 'God' has only one way to 'speak' to us. And that is through the body and placing us into perhaps not so nice situations. I always tell people "be careful what you ask of God as he may just answer you"! The only way we have of knowing that we must change, is for the body to fall into ill health. This is the way that 'God' tells us things. And if perhaps you are not eating correctly, or perhaps you are not thinking the internal way, worrying about what everyone else does, speaking badly of others, placing coals onto other's heads etc., This all causes internal tension which leads to external tension and we become ill. And if we do not know the way to heal ourselves, then we could die never knowing that we could have healed ourselves. Even once we have had such an illness, we tend to get right back into the old ways of thinking that we have now been cured so we can go back to what we were doing! I have seen people who have been diagnosed with curable lung cancer who go right on smoking and eating rubbish, thinking that it is the doctor who will cure them. The doctor can only take care of the immediate symptoms; if you keep doing what it was that caused the illness in the first place, then it will return bigger and better than ever. It's exactly like if you cut yourself with a knife and the doctor sews it up for you, then you go and cut yourself again!

Stress is the biggest killer of human beings ever. Things like coffee actually cause stress! My faith in Western medicine is not as poor as it used to be as many doctors now are also looking to alternative medicines. For instance I had a specialist recently tell me that things like coffee and dairy products will actually cause prostate troubles! Now for a Western Urologist to say that, that's something! And even the humble GP is telling his patients who have perhaps some urine infection to take cranberry rather than the soul and body destroying anti-biotics for this complaint. So things are looking up. You mind can and will make you ill if you allow it to. Worry, causes stress and stress causes disease states to creep in with out your even knowing it. All of a sudden, you are seriously ill and wonder why! Even Western doctors are now beginning to appreciate the healing properties of Taijiquan. However, and here's the rub, it must be learnt correctly in order for it to do any good at all! So it is important to never forget your Yang Cheng-fu form as it may just save your life one day, as we all get old, even masters!