Ng Family Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan

Stuart is both a student of, and instructor in, the Ng Family's take on Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, under the instruction of Robert Earl Taylor.

Follow his discussions on studying the art and also on his experiences teaching the art to the next generation.

Lighting The Way Home

Planning For A September Return

Posted by Stuart Herbert on August 2nd, 2010 in Classes.

Just a note to everyone to say that I’m planning on starting teaching again in September, as before as part of the Vale of Glamorgan’s Adult Learning programme. There’ll be three classes this year: my Improvers class on Tuesdays, and Beginners classes both on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings.

I’m looking forward to it!

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Course Notes Back Online

Posted by Stuart Herbert on August 2nd, 2010 in Classes, Teaching.

My apologies to everyone who left comments or wrote to me pointing out that my T’ai Chi class notes were no longer online. I’m afraid I forgot to copy them back in the last time I upgraded the blog software. They’re now back, and available for download once again.

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Summer Term Classes Cancelled

Posted by Stuart Herbert on April 20th, 2010 in Classes, News.

Unfortunately, I’ve had to cancel my Summer Term classes, but classes will resume in September 🙂

My knee was damaged in a car accident last summer. I’m going into hospital on Tuesday 27th April for surgery on the knee, which is expected to resolve the problem. Fingers crossed I’ll have the summer to complete my rehabilitation in time for September’s classes and the new academic year.

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This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

After having no class on Thursday and on Saturday, it was really nice to get back to teaching tonight. I’m really going to miss teaching every week over the summer. One of the reasons I’m going to miss it is I find that working in a group (even though I’ve got a decade now of T’ai Chi, and the students I’m teaching are just completing the end of their third year of T’ai Chi) is that the group discussion can still help me find and understand points that had passed me by beforehand.

An important one came up tonight that I want to share with everybody.

We were talking about daily practice and how people were getting on with that and how the people in my Beginners’ group [my Thursday night class – Ed] were getting on with that. A couple of the ladies tonight mentioned that when they practice, they sometimes forget to do certain sections, but that it’s a different section each time. The point I wanted to emphasis to them, and what I want to share with everybody else, is the difference between what my Improvers are experiencing when they miss out pieces of the form from time to time compared to my Beginners, who find that they hit a wall and stop.

With the Beginners, they practice the form until they get to a point where they don’t know what to do, and they get stuck. They get stuck because they don’t know that part of the form, and they stop. They are unable to continue and unable to complete the form because they don’t know it well enough to play it on their own yet. The difference with the Improvers is they do know the form the whole way through, and on any given day they’re able to play so much of it, but they miss bits out. Not because they don’t know the form, or they don’t know the sequence of the form or the individual moves, but they miss bits out because they’re now working at the next level, which is their attention and their mindfulness, and they miss bits out because their concentration isn’t yet at the level where they can practice for 15 to 20 minutes and keep the form in mind the whole time.

And that is an important difference: they know the form, and are now working on the next level, which is their mindfulness and being there for the whole time they are playing the form.

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This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

Tonight, for some of my students, it was the end of their second year with me, and their third year overall playing T’ai Chi. One of the things we concentrated on tonight was the difference between when they started and where they are now. One of the points that was made, which I thought was very valid, was that it is the regular practice – playing T’ai Chi regularly – that makes the difference in how you feel. You feel completely different after a while. As you progress, you feel different again, and the feeling keeps changing and it keeps improving.

The reason it gets even better is that it is the practice of the form, and the application of the principles to the form that ultimately change you on the inside, both mentally and physically.

On the website, we’ve got a lot of studies listed, including medical studies of how practicing T’ai Chi improves various aspects of people’s health. You don’t have to take my word for it [in fact, you never should have to – everything any T’ai Chi teacher tells you should be verifiable and backed up by evidence – Ed] you can go and see what medical studies – proper research – has been finding out.

Those things aside, I always come back to the point that T’ai Chi is not a mechanical skill that you learn. It is not a tool that you pick up and use for a certain purpose and then put back. T’ai Chi is something that you make part of you – it becomes part of you, and you become part of it. It is a symbiotic relationship, and those people who come to class learning the form to keep themselves happy, and who don’t practice during the week (they only play the form in the class) and then drop it for whatever reason – they’ve completely missed out on what T’ai Chi has to offer them for the rest of their lives.

If you’re listening to this podcast, and you’re thinking that you don’t know when you’re going to practice between classes, I imagine that your teacher would be like my teacher, and like me, imploring you to practice this every day, twice a day if you can, rain or shine. No matter how you feel, do what you can every day, and the benefits mentally and physically will soon add up.

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This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

In the second year of the syllabus, it’s all about using the form to explore ten principles, which are based on Yang Cheng’fu’s ten important points, which is something you can go back in the old books and you can find those in there for yourself; you can look at them, and you can see what they said about them back then, and what we say about them now.

We’ve just done week 28 out of 30 for the second year, and as part of that tonight we looked at two principles, because we’ve been spending the last ten weeks of the third term doing a whistle-stop tour, a review of all ten principles just to make sure that people have a good idea of what they are trying to achieve with them, and because people go away on holiday etc and have had to double up tonight [I obviously meant catch up – Ed].

I had one of those “doh!” forehead-slapping moments as part of that tonight because, although it is blatantly obvious, I only just realised tonight that of course the principles go together, just like yin and yang. [Mrs H at this point helpfully pointed out that forehead-slapping is surely the sound of one hand clapping – Ed]. I’d never noticed that before; it’s so obvious, and I’m feeling very foolish about it. [It is good to admit these things, for one day we all forget what it was like when we were at the beginning of our journey … and that is when we lose our way – Ed].

The principles we looked at tonight were Continuous Movement and Stillness In Motion, two principles that absolutely complement each other. You can take any move of the form, and you’ve got Continuous Movement firing off, and it is being supported at all times by its exact opposite, which is a lack of movement – Stillness In Motion.

To explore Stillness In Motion a little bit more, what we were looking at tonight was the difference between stillness and Stillness In Motion. Stillness is where you stick, where you stop and you feel that you have stopped. Stillness In Motion, by contrast, is where you’ve become more efficient, and you’re still moving but you’re only moving that which needs to be moved.

So for me that was a very entertaining class tonight, and for me very educational, even though I’m the one teaching it, and I hope you find this point helpful too in your practice.

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This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

One of the reasons people choose to play T’ai Chi and learn it in Western cultures is also one of its major health benefits: it can improve your balance, and as you get older it can reduce the amount that your balance degrades and help prevent falls as you get on in life. Falls are quite dangerous as you get older in life, as your body just can’t cope with as much injury. [Don’t take my word for it – checkout all of the third-party studies and testimonials for yourself – Ed].

In our form, one of the moves is called the Lotus Sweep. You can view this on the YouTube video that I have of the form [it’s towards the end of the Part 2 video – Ed]. This move really challenges your balance, especially for a beginner. What you have to do is go into cat stance, weight is in the left, and you sweep in with the right leg and you then sweep out once and then twice in a big circle before placing the feet heels in line to finish.

When I play this move, my right knee (the leg that is doing the sweeping) the right knee comes up to hip height as I sweep in and out. It’s quite natural for beginners to want to try and copy that shape, because as a beginner you are learning the shapes. But what happens as you play the form with the knee up when you don’t yet have Single Weight and when you don’t yet have Relax The Hips and you don’t yet have the uprightness that comes from Head And Body Moves As One Unit … what happens to the beginner is that the sweep in and the sweep out cause the body to wobble left and right quite substantially.

It’s not unusual for beginners to fall over at this point, because they are trying to stand on one foot but don’t yet have the balance to achieve it.

I saw a great thing in tonight’s class where one of my students made a choice. Instead of bringing the knee up high, he chose to preserve his balance and his uprightness by playing the sweep low to the floor instead. He brought the right foot up just enough to clear the floor so that he could sweep in once and sweep out twice and keep his uprightness.

I must point this out as being a great choice that he made, and a great tip for everyone who is beginning to try and find their balance.

One of the reasons T’ai Chi teaches balance is that it is teaching the body to understand what it feels like and what it means to be upright. This is part of the mindfulness side of T’ai Chi. But, as a beginner, if you are wobbling left and right all the time, as beginners are want to do, and as I did too when I was a beginner, what are you teaching the body there? You’re not. You’re continuing to confuse the body by lurching from one side and back to the other. By smoothing these things out, by focusing and saying “right, being upright is the most important thing, and my form will have to grow around that core pillar,” over time it improves your balance far quicker and far better than throwing yourself from left to right.

That’s a great little tip from tonight’s class.

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This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

On a Tuesday night, I teach an Improvers’ class. This class is for people who have completed the Beginners’ course and can play the short form all the way through from start to end, either under instruction or, as time goes on, without instruction. The syllabus for the Improvers’ class is to look at the ten underlying principles that shape the way the form is meant to be played, and we use the form as a teaching tool for that. The idea is that every week we look at one principle in isolation, we study it, and we understand what is going on and a bit of why, and hopefully a little bit of how.

That’s what we’ve been doing tonight.

One of the interesting things that came out of tonight’s class was how difficult it was to look at one principle in isolation. The conversation constantly kept coming back to how the principles interlock, how they support each other and how one principle is possible by the application of another principle.

There’s an interesting point in this about how T’ai Chi starts of as very daunting and learning the form movements and moving around … these are movements that we don’t do in normal daily life, or at least we don’t feel that we do. In time we get the hang of that and we start to feel a bit more comfortable. And then we’ve got the principles which turn everything on its head again. For a while everything seems to be getting more and more complicated, there seems to be more and more involved.

Eventually what happens is that you reach a point where you start to internalise these things, and you move from thinking about them to simply feeling them. It is part of what makes T’ai Chi an internal martial art, I would argue, although that’s perhaps a larger topic for another discussion. Part of the key for this is that ultimately there is just T’ai Chi, and all these other things, they just blend and they all merge and they become as one.

And that is our half-way goal.

That’s what we’re aiming to get to. Once we’ve got to there, we can start thinking about how to use T’ai Chi once you can do it.

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Elbows Low Exercise

Posted by Stuart Herbert on February 21st, 2010 in Podcast, Principles, Technique.

This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

We’ve just done the Tuesday night class – the Improvers’ class – and tonight we did a recap of the principle of Elbows Low, which was highly entertaining for everybody, and quite informative too I hope.

The main thing we were looking at with Elbows Low tonight was the idea that, in order to keep your elbows low, it’s all about relaxing the shoulders as much as possible; getting the tension out of the shoulders. This results in the elbow naturally falling by your side [in much the same way that your hips naturally tilt forward if you eliminate the tension in the lower back – Ed].

We also looked at situations where the elbow is raised up. There’s a great exercise for this to let you feel the difference between what we’re looking for with Elbows Low and what to avoid. The question always is: if your elbow is not held at your side, but is deliberately held up in the air, how can that possibly be Elbows Low? The exercise, very simply, is to hold your right arm out in front of you, turn the right hand out, so that wrist and elbow are at the same height forming a bar facing to your right. From that position, raise the wrist a little bit to ensure your wrist is higher than your elbow. Take a moment to feel what that’s like at the shoulder. That doesn’t feel too bad I hope, unless you’ve had shoulder surgery or you’ve got a damaged shoulder, at which point you’ve got to learn to work within your own particular limits.

To compare and contrast this, instead of raising the wrist to be higher than the elbow, raise the elbow to be higher than the wrist. Can you feel the extra tension that has now entered the shoulder? That tension limits the mobility of the shoulder. It unbalances you as well because your shoulder has had to rise in order to bring the elbow higher than the wrist and, I’m willing to bet, that for a lot of people listening to this podcast, if someone was to stand in front of you and look at you, they’d see that you’re now leaning to one side because of the raised shoulder. It’s very disruptive to your bio-mechanical structure, just by making the elbow too high.

That’s just a little exercise we did tonight in the class to show how Elbows Low works.

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Thoughts On Practicing

Posted by Stuart Herbert on February 21st, 2010 in Podcast, Teaching, Your Practice.

This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

I’ve just completed tonight’s class teaching the beginners on a Thursday night, and there are two key lessons we’ve taken from tonight’s class.

First of all, no matter what the weather, no matter how hot or how cold it is, the class always goes easier if it is nice and lighthearted, and people are able to have a good old laugh as part of the class. It makes them enjoy themselves a lot more; as a result they actually find that they’re more focused. As a teacher, you’ll see that in the students because they’re not looking to escape – they’re not watching the clock; they’re here, they’re in the moment, and they are enjoying themselves.

And then the second lesson we’ve taken from tonight’s class is that there’s no substitute for hard work, no substitute at all. Repetition – going over the moves bit by bit, breaking them down and practicing, practicing, practicing 10, 15, 20 times a night in the class really helps people learn and re-enforces the teaching they’ve already picked up for each of the moves.

It’s amazing what difference you can see in two hours between everybody in the group, and it’s a real joy to see … it’s one of the things that as a teacher keeps bringing you back to class week in and week out.

And then there’s a third thing as well … as beginners, T’ai Chi is something that they cannot yet understand. They’re being taught the form because the form is a teaching tool [it’s also a martial fighting form – Ed] to teach true T’ai Chi afterwards. At this stage of learning the form all the movements are … they’re not flowing because it’s all muscular, it’s all hand and foot mentality, as my teacher would have said. It’s a case of always reassuring them and let them understand that they’re actually doing very well because at this stage they’re doing the best they can. It’s all you can ever ask from anybody. And encourage them to come back every week.

This is week 26 now for the Thursday group, and just seeing the difference from week 1 when they came in having not done any T’ai Chi before; and now they’ve played the form twice tonight, and we’ve done corrections on five / six separate moves, and had a good debate about how things should be and why, and such a short period of time really from when they first came through that door and this is just the start of their journey. It’s a real joy as a teacher, and as a student of the art, to share that with people.

You may be listening to this on the podcast and wondering what this has to do with T’ai Chi, and how does it help your practice … try and bring these things into your practice. Look for the enjoyment in your form and the moves and the principles that you are applying and the goals you are working towards. Put in the work to achieve those goals. Have a plan about what you’re going to do, what you’re going to explore. Stick to it: do the work. And then finally, accept that when you get there, what you really do is achieve a new level of understanding and a new set of goals to work towards. It never stops. You’re capable – everyone is capable – of infinite polishing; being polished more and more, improving more and more as time goes on.

And that’s just as true in solo practice as it is in a group teaching situation.

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