19 August 2007

Long Form

We didn't do much in taiji class yesterday. Around the beginning of July, Don commented that he was running out of things to critique on our forms. Not that they're perfect, or anything, just that our mistakes are getting more and more subtle, and generally are very different from student to student. Essentially, he was complaining that any critiques would be of benefit only to one particular student, and not to the whole class. So Melissa suggested that maybe he could teach us the Yang long form, since our Cheng Man-ch'ing forms were so much improved. He looked surprised, thought for a second, and more or less said, "Why not?"

The ironic thing is that, as Don refamiliarizes himself with the long form, he's finding new things to critique us on the short form. From the sounds of things, he's planning to actually start us on the long form in September. Yesterday, he showed us a video of the sixth Yang lineage holder (uh... Yang something Jun, I think) practicing the long form. The interesting thing is that Jun has incorporated some of Professor Cheng's principles into the Yang long form.

I should probably throw in a bit of history for non-taiji players. Cheng Man-ch'ing was a student of Yang Chengfu. He did not do well in sparring. Then he went away for a year. Legend has it that he studied with one of the Eight Immortals. When he came back, he had made some modifications to the Yang form and was no longer losing every sparring match. One of the modifications is variously called "Fair Maiden's Wrist" or "Beautiful Lady's Hand." In the Yang long form, many postures end with the hand cocked back from the wrist, as close to ninety degrees as the practitioner can manage. Cheng Man-ch'ing is supposed to have said something like "I can't relax that way. If YOU can relax that way, go ahead and do it that way." In the Cheng Man-ch'ing form, the wrists are kept straight nearly all the way through the form.

Another difference is that in the Cheng Man-ch'ing form, we "shut the gate." That's taiji talk for turning the back foot in to forty-five degrees, rather than leaving it out at ninety degrees to the front foot. I find that my stance is less stable if I forget to "shut the gate." It's also harder on the knees not to shut the gate, though that's less of an issue with the Yang long form because they do not emphasize squaring the waist to the front foot, either. Again, I've found that I'm less stable if my waist is not square. We noticed that Jun has adopted the idea of turning the back foot in, if not the idea of keeping the waist square, or keeping the hips and shoulders aligned.

At any rate, I suspect that Don's going to throw some of the Cheng Man-ch'ing principles in while he's teaching us the Yang long form. They won't all work in every posture, but where they do, he'll probably use them. Occasionally, I come across a yang-stylist who disparages the Cheng Man-ch'ing form, and Cheng Man-ch'ing himself. "His form wasn't approved! He only studied with Yang Chengfu for seven years! It looks weird!" Don has a fairly simple rebuttal: one of Yang Chengfu's senior students wrote a quite favorable introduction to one of Cheng Man-ch'ing's books on the Cheng Man-ch'ing form. In that era, a senior student would not have done so without Yang Chengfu's approval. It's also thought that Cheng Man-ch'ing actually ghost-wrote Yang Chengfu's own book. Someone had to have done so: Yang Chengfu was illiterate.

Okay, enough history. Initially, I was not particularly enthused about learning the long form. There may be some unconscious snobbery on my part, but I figure I've still got so much to learn about the Cheng Man-ch'ing form that it seems odd to add something else into the mix. The thing that changed my mind, mainly, was seeing Don's enthusiasm. He's been a bit down this past year, what with all the health problems. Relearning the long form so he can teach it to us has done wonders. He seems much happier and full of life, now. My own interest also grew when Don started finding new things to tell us about the Cheng Man-ch'ing form as he relearned the long form.

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