We’ve all (probably) seen the movies where Shaolin Monks undergo training sequences of slamming their hands into large urns of hot sand or walk precariously atop poles in the ground. But what about supplimentary training for Taijiquan?
We’ve all (probably) seen the movies where Shaolin Monks undergo training sequences of slamming their hands into large urns of hot sand or walk precariously atop poles in the ground. But what about supplimentary training for Taijiquan? The other Martial Arts a full of exercises where the practitioner punches or takes stances for long periods but Taijiquan only has the From, right?
At first glance, we see Push Hands and Applications training as the first additions to our training plan with Weapons following. Yet there are many more methods of training that we should also be looking into even at the initial phase of learning. It serves little purpose to doing the Form if we are doing it right (but it must be noted that some Teachers have the student learn the Form before correcting it and this is not wrong, only a different approach). Zhang Zhuan, Pole Standing, is a great supplimentary exercise that many styles have within their “curriculum” and He-Style Taijiquan is said to begin with Fan Dantien (turning the energy within the Dan Tien).
How and when you will learn the supplimentary exercises depend on your Teacher but there are other “exercises” we all can do to aid our Taijiquan practice.
For simple posture correcting, see the videos on the Taichicentral Youtube page. Ian has done a great job of explaining some basic points we all should follow.
Within each system of Taijiquan there are also Basics that we should all be familiar with. Within the style of Taijiquan I practice (He-Style) there are a variety of strikes and kicks that we train in separately to the Form (although they are all within the 108 Form) and Push Hands training has Essential Methods for Upper, Mid and Low usage. There are also supplimentary exercises that strengthen the body and aid in balance etc. For example, stand in a high Horse Stance. Turn your upper body to the left and move your right knee down to the ground (actually stop a few inches above the ground, don’t take the easy way out). Your left leg will have the upper leg roughly parallel to the floor with the knee above the foot and your right upper leg will be pointing straight down, with the lower leg almost parallel to the floor. Return to the starting Horse Stance position and repeat to the other side. Another has you standing in a more natural stance and spinning on your feet to face the rear (let’s start with a turn to the left). Your right knee will move into place behind the left knee. Lower your weight down so that the right knee moves next to the outside of your left foot and rests just off the floor. The entire motion is one movement (not turn then drop) with the arms swinging along with the motion. Return to the start position and repeat to the other side.
Taijiquan is a great form of exercise and many people first come to Taijiquan as a form of improving their health. Contrary to some opinions, weight training is not negative to Taijiquan practice. Personally, I don’t go in for the heavy weights anymore as I found it restricting my movements but it has been explained to me that sufficient stretching will counter this. But I do enjoy a simple workout with weights that I find aids my Taijiquan.
Being healthy is not as hard as it may seem. Use the first kick-start of oh-yeah-ness you feel from beginning Taijiquan and transfer it your commitment to living a more healthy life. Jog, or walk, practice some simple Dynamic Tension (this is a great approach to exercise that even my heavy-lifting weight training friends have gotten into to suppliment their workouts and are loving the results). A student of mine says he has found a great balance with Taijiquan and weights and the results are evident. That all said, doing Taijiquan on its own will get you the desired results if you train properly. How much is “properly”? Well, that depends on you but I get in a few hours worth of training each day (Form, Push Hands, Weapons, etc) and feel energized, not exhausted, afterwards.
While these examples are but a few (your own Teacher will advise you on the best to use), they are simple and can be used by anyone.
Jumping is another great one. Find a solid bench or a short wall and jump up onto it then back down again. Try to keep the feet together and don’t stop at either height but merely pause. Going to the local park and climbing on the equipment there may get you some odd looks but is another great one. The exercises can be developed that will have the full body working together rather than just isolated muscles.
I like pizza and burgers as much as anyone and get my fair share but we all can follow simple diet guidelines.
Years ago, when I first arrived in Japan, I had been eating nothing but fruit (I’m from Australia) for breakfast and had such a hard time finding fruit of the same quality and at an affordable cost. I tried the Japanese breakfast of rice, salmon, miso soup etc. but it just didn’t make me feel as fresh each morning. Now, I put all the good fruit I can find into a mixer and drink it when I don’t have the time to sit down and enjoy each piece. The amount you pay for cereal, milk, coffee, toast or whatever you eat (including the morning snacks) is not that different from what it costs to buy a lot of fresh fruit.
Five Elemenets Theory.
Within Tradtional Chinese Medicine there is the Five Elements Theory that gives us, amongst other things, a guideline to simple diet and exercise. Simply, as the weather changes, so too does the required fuel we need and the exercises that strengthen our bodies. Following is a very quick idea of the concept.
Spring, a time of Sprouting and new growth. Sleep early and rise early, rebuild your body after the cold winter with lots of stretching. Eat a lot of green vegies and avoid clogging fats such as cheese. Get plenty of protein and Vitamin C.
Summer, everything is Blooming, including your energy levels. Sleep late and rise early, get a lot of raw salads and cool fruit to take away the excess heat within your body. Do active exercies as the heat prevents muscle strain, move and sweat!
Late Summer (the humid time), this is a time of balance. For simple explanation, follow Summer’s ideas but also seek balance as Yang has burned itself out and begins to head toward Yin.
Autumn, the Growth is beginning to wither. It is crucial to prepare for the coming winter by eating white, spicy food (onions, garlic) and to strengthen the immune system and lungs. Pears and apples will nourish the lungs, preventing dryness. Avoid eating as much salad and take in plenty of easily-digested foods such as soups. Avoid meat (if possible. It’s hard when trying to get in the last BBQs before the cold). As lungs are a major focus during this time, do ample Taijiquan and Qigong breathing exercises.
Winter, everything is dormany and cold. Slow down and store up while Yin dominates. Sleep longer in the mornings (oh yeah) and nourish the body with hot foods like beef, ginger, beans and alcohol (yep, you read that right!) and ease off the aerobics. Build muscle and especially the core.
This may not have covered Taijiquan Iron Fist or Qinggong (the cool flying over trees or rivers seen in the Kung Fu movies), it does answer the question that yes, there are significant forms of supplimentary training in Taijiquan that we all can be using.
About the author:
Steve Gilshenen is an Australian teaching English language and Chinese martial arts in Japan.
He is the author of the novel, “Mark of the Shaolin,” the first in the “Tigers of Wulin” series, due for release in 2014.
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