A Week ('15) with Sam Tam, A Month ('17) — Peter Munth-Kaas

Discussion on the three big Chinese internals, Yiquan, Bajiquan, Piguazhang and other similar styles.

A Week ('15) with Sam Tam, A Month ('17) — Peter Munth-Kaas

Postby marvin8 on Sun Jun 24, 2018 5:07 pm

From "TAIJI WITH MASTER SAM TAM – AUGUST 2015," http://munthe-kaas.dk/taiji-with-master ... gust-2015/:
Peter Munth-Kaas on July 18, 2017 wrote:
For the last week I have stayed and practiced taiji with Master Sam Tam in Vancouver, Canada. Sam has been the “Sifu” of my Danish teacher Torben Bremann for about 10 years and before this trip I had only met him at a few workshops in Copenhagen. I have practiced taiji in the system of Master Sam Tam for around 6 years myself guided by Torben.

It has been quite a privilege to get more “hands on” experience with Master Tam. He has the ability to clearly and effortlessly to demonstrate what yielding, neutralizing and issuing is all about and embody the taiji principles like no one else I have met.

Sam is good. Very good. When pushing hands with him you never feel him using force of any kind – there is no resistance from his side when you push him, he just moves with whatever comes at him, but without collapsing, using whatever movement you make to get you out of balance. He has an amazing sensitivity and can explain in great detail (greater detail than what I am usually aware of myself) what your body is doing and he is happy to let you feel both his yielding and issuing ability.

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The practice takes place in the basement of Sams home in Vancouver, which is simply furnished with what you need for taiji practice – basically empty floor space and a mattress on the wall for bouncing practice. Taiji sticks, swords, fans and other practice weapons lie strewn around the space that has a tea kitchen in one end and a couple of computers in the other. Sams house seems to be a bustling hub for taiji practitioners from all over the world. Several people came by the house during my stay and there was always someone new to practice with.

My experience

When I arrived Sam asked me what I wanted to practice while I was staying with him. After answering something rather incoherent I said something about improving my yielding and that is what we have mostly been working on. I have practiced the taiji form, done a bit of standing meditation, some mokabu and a lot of bouncing exercises and pushing hands.

Practicing form with Sam is a very giving experience. Apart from the fact that he himself can show how everything should look, he is very attentive and can demonstrate why it is supposed to look as it does. When teaching Sam will repeatedly demonstrate the practice by letting you touch him, which often results in you lying on the floor or thrown against the wall after a few seconds. But he also has the extraordinary ability to slow down to a pace where you can actually follow what is going on and notice every slight movement made, allowing you to become aware of still more imbalances and tensions.

After instructing us to practice on our own, Sam would do chores around the house, fiddle with his computers or just sit and watch in silence. Several times during my stay I was surprised by how aware he was of what was going on, even though he was doing something else.
– While I am practicing the form walking past me with the laundry basket he points out that the angle on my front hand in the single whip should be more than 90 degrees and quickly demonstrates how easy it is to push me if the angle is wrong.
– Or when he steps into the middle of me doing the form to very powerfully demonstrate why the back hand in single whip should be around a fist above shoulder height (so that you can hit the throat of the opponent, and then grab the collarbone).

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I mentioned earlier on that Sam is good. Well he is. But to be honest his level exceeds my understanding as I feel completely defenseless when I am in his hands – and he only rarely opens up the bag to show his fighting skills. Most of the time we practice his taiji form, bouncing or pushing hands exercises, but once in a while he will demonstrate applications or just reveal a little bit of his fighting skill – and when he does, the experiences is that he could kill you in seconds if he wanted to.

“You are the mouse and I am the cat. How can you win? You need to transform yourself into a cat as I am telling you and maybe you can do something. You can gather 100 mice and throw a conference, and still you couldn’t do anything.” (Sam Tam)

Sam’t taiji philosophy is undogmatic. People have different bodies and different strengths and weaknesses and thus cannot perform taiji in the same way. Rather he refers to “the happy medium”, the personal place of comfort you can find while following the taiji principles.

Very patiently he repeats again and again that you should not react (reaction is something you do after the fact), but rather respond to whatever is coming at you and that the only way you can do this is to have no intention or idea of what you are going to do, but rather follow and yield. If you try to use technique or have a premeditated idea of what you are going to do, you will not be able to cope with change in the situation. My conceptualization is that Sam responds to what is actually there (in reality), rather than assuming that something is going on.

More than just a martial art

I was positively surprised about how much Sam focuses on the connection between your general being and behavior and the taiji practice. I had a lovely time chatting with Sam about politics, philosophy and life in general and really enjoyed his honest and firm approach to everything around him.

"Taiji is about confronting the problem without confrontation. Many people tend to go for confrontation without confronting the problem." (Sam Tam)

Sam is also very focused on communicating the inner aspects of taiji (or “inner martial art” in general). Control in taiji is not about controlling the enemy, but about controlling yourself. You don’t want to do anything towards the other. You just follow and fill out the space that he is leaving, so that he has no exits.

Ironing out my bad habits

Sams teaching entails a lot of time spent “ironing out” the mistakes and bad habits of his students. His attempt is to not just deliver information to his students, but to actually allow them to learn and gain embodied knowledge.

We generally have a tendency of seeing other people’s mistakes while being blind to their own. If you can start to see your own mistakes more clearly you will learn more, so below are some of my notes on what to work with and improve in my own practice.

When pushing hands and bouncing
Sam defines yielding as “not allowing the opponent to lean on you”. To achieve this you cannot use force as that will give your opponent a “handle”, but neither “run away from the force” of the opponent and allow him to find your center of gravity. This balancing act is excruciatingly hard to perform in practice. I have a tendency of yielding “halfway” (to the place where I feel safe) instead of going until the end of the push. This habit is part of the reason that I often find myself in situations where the second attack is impossible to respond to.

Don’t do anything against the opponents will when you start to yield. Give him what he wants without giving him your center to push on. Don’t think or try to get your opponent and yield without the intent of getting his center – that will happen by itself. If you commit by having intention in your movement, it means that you have already lost. Intentional movement = force.

Let the whole body move when you yield – don’t isolate the arms. Always yield where there is more force. If the force is equal between the hands, yield the place closest to the body.

Another central point is that you don’t move by your own accord when yielding – only if your opponent moves. Personally I have a horrible tendency to start guessing what my practice partner will be doing next and move accordingly. This works in many cases, but while touching Sam and some of his other students I quickly realized that it was a dead end street, however hard it will be to let go of the habit.

Other points
– I should remember to keep my chin down when pushed backward, otherwise I have no chance to stay balanced.
– I have had a tendency to use my thumbs to push towards the ribcage of my practice partner. Sam thoroughly demonstrated why this was a bad idea.
– I have a tendency to collapse and thus allowing my practice partner to get me. Collapsing implies allowing the opponent to enter your circle, so a project for me is to keep my frame when pushing hands.
– I have a tendency of pushing down, where it would make sense to go more upward.
– I have a tendency of leaning forward with my upper body, both when I am receiving a push and when I am delivering it. If I keep straight my sensibility will improve.
– When pushing use the whole body and aim for a feeling of fullness. Keep the sensation of wholeness while practicing the form.
– Don’t retreat.

When doing the form
Sam keeps emphasizing that the form is about learning how to “sink the chi and shift the weight”, but for me there are other central points that should be remembered. A central sensation that I am taking with me is the idea that I should have fighting power in (and between) every position in the form. Otherwise I am not doing it right. This one is going to take a while to work through.

There is a subtle difference between focusing on the movements of the form and keeping awareness on the form practice. The first will lead to divided attention, while the second is a catalyst for flow. Sam would also express it as letting the chi move you rather than thinking about the movements.

Other points
– I have a tendency of looking down while I do the form which makes it harder for me to balance and according to Sam also generally weakens my movement.
– Remember to have a lot of airtime in the form to practice sinking, but also to give power to the legs and feet in the form.
– Lots and lots of corrections to specific movements that I won’t try to reference here.

Until next time

It has been truly great to experience a taiji master in action in this way and I feel that I have learned a lot. I hope that I will have the opportunity to study more under the guidance of Master Tam in the future, but for now I am looking forward to come back to Copenhagen and practice with Torben to see if I have actually improved.


From "TAIJI WITH MASTER SAM TAM – JANUARY 2017," http://munthe-kaas.dk/taiji-with-master ... uary-2017/:
Peter Munth-Kaas on July 18, 2017 wrote:
In September 2016 I was feeling that I had stopped developing in my taji practice and doubted how I could move forward. At that time I had been playing around with the I Ching for a while and asked how I should approach my taiji practice to improve faster. What stuck to me in the answer was “to connect and seek mastery with a great person”. This inspired me to contact master Sam Tam to see if it was possible to organize another stay with him. I spent a week with Sam in 2015 and was overwhelmed with his skill and willingness to teach (see my blog from back then here).

Before going (as Sam generously agreed to have me again) I asked the I Ching what I should be aware of during my stay. My interpretation of the answer (“seeing” or “contemplation” depending on the translation) was best framed in the question “if you had no presumptions, what might you see” and the sentences “need nothing, but remain committed” and “stay with uncertainty”.

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I went to Vancouver on the 4th of January. Sitting in the airport on my way back to Copenhagen, these two answers from the I Ching seems like a good context for my stay with master Sam Tam. I have tried to describe the central elements of my experience here.

Learning
The first days of my stay were not all that easy. Sams comments on my practice were quite clear although not exactly what I wanted to hear:
– “You are leaning”
– “You are holding your breath”
– “You are using force”

In addition I again experienced how skilled Sam really is and again I found myself completely helpless in his hands, unable to move him at all, while he could throw me completely effortlessly from every position. However, after the initial humbling experience I found myself opening for learning.

“You would not come here to learn if you were better than me, so why do you experience it as a problem that you can do nothing against me?”

During my days with Sam I started noticing how I hold my frame with relatively stiff arms, holding myself up to be balanced. At the same time I hold my breath (just a little bit) to keep the position. I do this to stabilize myself, but I also lift myself in the process, ruining my grounding. I also found myself in many (many!) situations where I was leaning forward to brace myself from being pushed, which of course does absolutely no difference when you are in the hands of Sam. After some time I also started noticing how I have a tendency to use hand force to (try to) push my opponent when doing pushhands, something I now realize will be a constant struggle to let go in the coming times.

Yielding

Before I arrived Sam had asked what i wanted to focus on during my stay, and I asked for “the basics”. In practice this translated into learning how to yield.

Yielding is the foundation of everything in taiji and implies moving with and neutralizing the force that is moving towards you. Yielding is not “giving space” for the will of the other but rather recognizing that we are 2 in the space no matter what and putting yourself in the beneficial position of the relationship. Paradoxically you don’t do that by trying to move the other into a position which is beneficial to you, but rather wait for them to move and then yield until they have to adjust – and then you are in the beneficial situation without much effort. You don’t try to decide what the other person does, but allow them to do whatever they want without allowing them to “lean on you” or connect with your center.

As Sam says “If you have 1000 techniques, you will need to practice them all to be good. I only have one trick. Don’t let them lean on you.” If you are able to yield, you can move with whatever comes at you and you don’t have to think about what to do, you just allow your opponent to do whatever they want and then yield to their force.

Yielding implies that the body moves as a whole unit and that you do not make any unnecessary movement. To do that I need to let go of my premeditations of what is going to happen (how I am going to be pushed) in the attempt to react properly and instead relax and respond to whatever is actually there – in other words stop trying to control the situation, relax, and trust that I can yield to what is coming, or allow myself to be pushed.

When yielding you stick to your opponent from the moment he touches you and do not let go again. You keep the point of contact (what Sam calls “bone contact”). When they move, you move and fill out the gaps in the space between you.

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Yielding is also the requirement of issuing (or “pushing” without using force). Without yielding you will meet force with force and the strongest (or fastest) will win. When doing pushhands I found myself struggling with not “coming out” or using force and thus revealing my intention and planned direction. Gradually i got a better hold on how to shift, sink and expand instead. Shifting implies moving the whole body as one unit. Sinking the chi implies expanding from the center which is not easy at all.

Thoughts and reflections

I have realized (again maybe?) that the biggest potential to develop my taiji practice is to stop cheating myself by not recognizing the mistakes I make, because it seems too much work to deal with them (a realization which connects to many other aspects of life than taiji I guess). The notion of “good enough” is holding me back from learning something new and improving. The taiji shortform in Sam Tams system felt quite short before I arrived. Now it feels very long. I think that is a good measure for how much I am learning while doing it.

“Practice means weeding out mistakes, not just repeating the same movements over and over again.”

If I knew what I should learn I wouldn’t need a teacher, but just practice. After visiting Sam I feel like I can improve my private practice, but I will also focus more on receiving guidance from my Danish teacher Torben Bremann.

My focus for the coming time will be to let go of my desire to use force (and to win). When doing the form some central elements (apart from the many many small and large corrections I have received) will be to work with “sinking the chi”, shifting and investigating how I can use less force to hold up my arms and hands and “use the chi instead” as Sam has adviced.

“Don’t let taiji run your life.”

Taiji is a philosophy meant to contribute to life, not dominate it and I was very pleased to hear master Sam talk about taiji as a practice meant to teach practitioners about life. When talking about how to practice at home Sam emphasizes that you should see taiji as an art and treat it that way – keeping it precious. For me the challenge will be to remember what I have learned during my stay in Vancouver and allow that to remind me on how to develop my practice.


From "TAIJI WITH MASTER SAM TAM – DECEMBER 2017," http://munthe-kaas.dk/taiji-with-master ... mber-2017/:
Peter Munth-Kaas on December 28, 2017 wrote:For about the last month I have had the privilege of living and practicing taiji with grandmaster Sam Tam. This was my third stay with Sam and the longest so far (I have written a bit about my previous experiences on this blog). I have largely only been out of the house to eat or to take short walks in the local area, as my days has looked something like this:

7.30: Get up
8.00: Practice
9.00: Breakfast
10.00: Practice
13.00: Lunch
14.00: Break
16.00: Practice
19.00: Dinner
20.00: Break
21.00: Practice
22.30: Go to bed

It has been quite amazing to have so much time to dedicate myself to the practice, but it has also shown me with great clarity that a lot of practice is needed. Sam has pointed out many things that I can improve and I have had the pleasure of touching hands with quite a few other students, which has every time led to some new discovery – for example that I am not turning enough from the center when rolling back or that I am really fooling myself when I think that I can yield to strong physical force.

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This blogpost of course only reflects my current level of understanding and should not be seen as any kind of “truth” about what taiji is or how to practice it. It is simply my best attempt at communicating my understanding of the art, as I am seeing it right now, based on what Sam has tought me over the last month.

My experience of Sam

Sam is a friendly and nice teacher, but you feel that there is deadly power behind the soft surface. When he goes from “teaching mode” (where he obviously slows down so I understand what is going on) to showing a little bit of his fighting skill it feels quite overwhelming (terrifying even), even though he has never actually hurt me.

"Very casual right?"

Sam yields effortlessly and without any tension, and that means that he can return the force to me at will. When he stops guiding my movements to help me out and shows a little bit of his fighting skill instead it feels like i am only “in the fight” for a brief moment after which I am in full retreat and bodily panic – I imagine this is what it feels like to be mauled by a tiger.

"Respond. Technique is subordinate to the principles."

Sams system is a combination of taiji and yi chuan. When touching him he can feel very dense or very light depending on what he wants to show. Sam can convincingly demonstrate many different aspects of yielding, from something that feels very firm (his arms become hard as steel and completely impossible to move) while still being “suspended in the air” and without direction, to being so soft that I am barely able to touch his skin. Furthermore he is in complete control as soon as we touch and obviously knows more about what is going on in my body (and mind?) than I do.

When doing pushhands with Sam a very common experience is that he “fills up the space” and limits my freedom of movement when I don’t am collapsing or using force. It feels like being “herded” into a limited movement space. This usually ends with me standing in an unbalanced position or going into some sort of lock.

"When they come forward, you yield. When they go back, you follow."

Sams can also demonstrate issuing at many different levels. Simply shifting the weight with a solid frame, sinking the chi into me (feels like being pinned down in my own center), softly bouncing (which feels like being sucked in and thrown like a ball) and more Yi Chuan based bouncing (which feels like having your insides punched) are some examples. All involve some degree of yielding, sticking, frame and shifting, but the levels are different.

Video 1

One thing that is imporant to note is that his power doesnt come from the feet. Sam can convincingly demonstrate issuing while sitting down with his feet of the floor. It i all about expansion from the center. I still don’t feel that I fully understand how “chi” works, but what I can say with great clarity is that it works for Sam and that he can convincingly demonstrate the “sinking of the chi”.

Sam doesn’t “do” taiji, he embodies it. He moves effortlessly in the spectrum between soft/firm and fighting/teaching and inspires a holistic understanding of the art.

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Standing meditation

I have focused a lot on standing meditation during my stay. According to Sam, the standing meditation is what makes it possible to work with the chi and he attributes his own power to working with the standing. The analogy is that the standing is like putting money in the bank, so you have something to use of when you are fighting.

One of the first things Sam pointed out how I was not connected in my upper body – something I have worked a lot on during my stay. Sam has helped me correct my rather crooked standing meditation, where I had gotten used to standing with my left hand around 5-10cm closer to my body than the right hand. This has led to a lot of interesting experiences with tensions and pains at different spots in my back, but also to a sensation of being able to sink more inside the chest. This feels like an important start of a longer process as I still feel quite tense around the ribs. Sam says that my chi is stuck in the ribs and around the solar plexus.

Sam emphasizes that the standing meditation is meant to be a tool for developing and cultivating chi, lightness and expansion – and for distributing chi evenly in the whole body. This also implies that you should not sink physically when in the standing meditation, but focus on sinking on the inside – to the dantien (the center). A good focus for me has been to imagine “shrinking” and chi going to the dantien on inhalation and expanding chi to the whole body (“to the fingertips”) on exhalation.

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Form

"I will give you a pass for the mechanical part, but you need to bring in more of the chi."

We started off from this statement. The outer physical movements in my form was ok, but it was (and largely is) lacking that which makes it useful for martial art. Of course there were lots and lots of details to correct that I won’t go into here and Sam has shown me many applications for the movements that, although I can’t remember most of them and wouldn’t be able to perform them anyway, is helping me to understand important details of the individual movements. At some point Sam mentioned about “waiting for the chi” rather than moving with external force. For me this implies a sense of feeling into waves of softness in my body that seem to make my movements feel lighter when I manage to hold this focus.

I have worked throught the whole form a couple of times with correction and gone into particular depth with a few movements – grasp sparrows tail, cloudhands and single whip.

When I asked Sam how I should work on my form when getting home, he said to 1. do the mechanical right (he says that I am doing around 70% right now, which for me feels pretty good) and 2. focusing more on the chi in the parts that are right. He also mentioned that heat (“raising of the yang chi”) is a good sign.

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My work on the form in the year to come:
– Bringing the standing meditation in. Only move the upper arms in accordance with the upper body (it seems obvious, but it is making a big difference for me to focus on this).
– Not holding the breath. (again a bit obvious, but that doesn’t mean that I am not doing it.)
– Moving from the dantien and shifting from the center instead of using the hands to push.
– Stepping out before I shift the weight.
– Hand and foot coordination. The shifting should be timed with the application.
– Sinking the chi instead of sinking down physically.
– Keeping the back straight rather than leaning forward.

Furthermore, Sam has made it quite clear (when doing pushhands) that “holding the ball” in the form translates to holding your partners wrist and elbow. So I need to remember that. Another nice little detail, that I had not understood before, is that there are many places in the form (single ward off, grasp sparrows tail, brush knee etc.) where the heel of the foot should be placed where the toe was before. For me this has given a greater stability in the form.

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Pushhands

A big part of the daily practice has consisted of doing Sams single and double hand pushing hands exercises, experiencing his yielding by pushing his body and being bounced to the mattress on the wall a few hundred times.

For me these experiences has given a lot of insight into my own limitations when it comes to yielding and also how much there is to learn from the exercises if I do them with full consciousness and not just as external exercises (which I realize that I have often been doing). I have had many experiences where I have noticed how I use force, lean or change pace in the single hand pushhands exercises and have again and again failed in issuing from these without using force (it still doesn’t work for me – very frustrating). Similarly, doing the pattern (rollback, press, push) I noticed how much work my rollback needs as I am simply not able to yield if a good measure of force is applied.

Sam has several times demonstrated different ways of doing the single hand bouncing:
1. From using some handforce (to show me how it feels).
2. To yielding completely (where i can’t feel him at all).
3. Adding some chi in the hand (where his arms get very heavy to move)
4. Sinking the chi to partners center (where I feel pinned down in my center).
5. Bouncing the partner by shifting the weight (where I don’t feel him coming before I am moving backwards).

In the following sections I have written a bit about some of my core learning experiences, when it comes to pushing hands and yielding.

In the following sections I have written a bit about some of my core learning experiences, when it comes to pushing hands and yielding.

Getting “under the radar”
Sam emphasizes “evenness” when doing the pushhands exercises, as you will otherwise be felt by your partner when you change your speed, pressure etc. You should be able to match the energy of your partner, nothing more, nothing less. For me something has gotten clearer around responding to the whole situation/relationship when doing pushhands. Speed, angle, direction, force etc. must be constantly responded to, so when Sam says “I only move when you move” he is referring not only to external movement, but also to pressure, leaning etc. Thus there is a greater level of detail/sensitivity that has opened up for me. Furthermore this means that you don’t stop moving while doing pushhands unless your partner does. Stopping most often implies that you are readying yourself to attack instead of yielding.

I think I now have understood how it is the softness and evenness that makes it possible to “get under your partners radar”, meaning that they don’t feel that you are coming and thus have no inclination to respond, and why it thus doesn’t make sense to use force as it will be noticed and possibly countered.

Furthermore Sam tells me that his experience when I feel him as very heavy is that there is “nothing” in the arms and says that when you feel light it means that the heaviness is on the partner and conversely that if I am heavy, nothing comes out to the partner.

Video 2

Sticking
Sticking makes more sense to me after my stay with Sam. It is clear to me now, that as long as I am not sticking I am either fighting or fleeing from the force, and thus not really yielding. Consequently collapsing means “not sticking” and makes it impossible to return or counter your partner. I often noticed how Sams yielding is always perfectly timed and that my own is almost always to fast (running away), but also often to slow (using force). Sam has an almost magnetic effect when he brings the chi to his hand. It becomes impossible to move away. When he “sinks the chi” to his arm i cant move it at all. It feels like a rod of steel hanging in the air.

"Always yield to the dantien."

I notice that I, especially when my arms are pushed upward, have a tendency of forgetting/loosing the connection to the dantien. On the other hand I have found that it really improves my yielding to always try to yield to the dantien, but that is not as easy as it sounds.

The center of equilibrium
Of some reason it only dawned on me, when Sam explained it, that center of equilibrium is not the same as the centerline. The centerline is physical and static where the center of equilibrium is moving and dynamic depending on your relationship to another body.

"All positions and moves has a counter. That is why you have to move continuously."

During my stay I often noticed how I have to move physically to get into a position to push, where Sam can push from any position, because he is connected at all times.

Some pointers for working with the center of equilibrium is:
1. Keep the back straight
2. Fill the body (For me this is better experienced as the opposite – don’t “forget” parts of the body. I have a tendency of being empty in large parts of my body – especially when having my full weight on one leg.)
3. Move the center for equilibrium (You can move to positions that are not straight, but only if you stick to the hand that pushes you. You have to keep the center of equilibrium.)

When pushing hands the core challenge is to permanently be in a state of resting comfortably (as in the standing meditation) while responding to the partner.

Developing my yielding

There is a lot of stuff to work on for sure. I move (much) more than necessary when I try to yield, I lean (brace up, use force) when pushed and when I want to push, I have a tendency of putting weight on my partners and should look for a more suspended feeling in my arms, I also have a tendency of “folding” my body forward when pushed. I have also begun to notice how I, even though I am not actively conscious about it, have a tendency of “locking my mind” into an idea of what is going to happen and investing in that. My body then follows and I fail to respond to what is actually there.

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Here follows a compiled list of things I have picked up for developing my yielding skill:
– Be vulnerable and allow my partner to push me rather than leaning forward or bracing up to try to avoid it.
– Practice lightness, sinking of the chi and shifting rather than force, leaning and sinking physically.
– Always yield to the point with the most force or to the point closest to the body.
– Always yield in a curve.
– Don’t move the arms to yield or push. When doing the pushing hands the arms should only move within the frame of the standing meditation (unless pushed somewhere else) and the upper arms shouldn’t move (much).
– Don’t try to sink physically and then push to “get under” your partner. Sink the chi instead. If your partner sinks the chi, you respond/yield by sinking the chi.
– Keep the back straight and either turn from the center or shift the weight.
– Don’t move down or back without being pushed.

And something that resembles a process:
1. Finding my center of equilibrium (through standing meditation)
2. Learning to move my center of equilibrium (through the form and pushhands)
3. Finding the right balance between firmness and softness (through pushhands)
4. Learning to do the same in awkward positions (through pushhands)
5. Learn to do it when meeting a lot of force. (through pushhands)

Video 3

"You need to stop using tricks to get people. It will set you back."

Sam warns me against being triggered to use force in my pushhands practice as it will set me back a lot.
I have too much intention when I push, so my partner feels it. In other words I need to stop trying to push my partners, but focus on the yielding instead. Yielding is not a “doing”, but rather a “responding”. I tend to want to do too much. As long as I want to fight (or “get”) my partner, I will be using force. He also encourages me to get as many people to push me as possible – and then yield instead of using force.

So when I get home from Copenhagen, this will be my project: “Do not fight and do not let anyone fight you. Just respond effortlessly to what is there.” The problem of course, is the “just”.

Learning taiji

Learning taiji is difficult. Not because it there much to learn, but rather because what needs to be understood (or rather embodied) is very simple. The core problem is that merely thinking that I have understood it is not enough – the understanding needs to pervade my body-being. Furthermore, the practice is holistic. You cannot yield if you are rigid or using force, you cannot be soft and “stick” without having a frame and none of those elements are attainable without working with the “chi”. That means that I can change my focus to understand one aspect better, but I still need to be able to do it all at once.

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)"

The western exoteric (you give the student the right answers) and the eastern esoteric (the student should ask the right questions) forms of teaching have very different approaches to how you learn best.

For me a combination seems to be useful. It can be helpful to compartmentalize and analyze, but in the end everything has to go together. So on one hand it can be helpful to get exoteric pointers about which direction to go in, but on the other the best way to learn for me will be constantly revealing my uncertainty to the teachers, so they can help me to improve – asking the questions which enable the teacher to understand what I need to be shown. In other words, practice beginners mind.

"If something is not working. Go back to the basics."

Learning taiji is not about understanding something abstract or “getting it”. Neither is it simply “doing something differently”. Learning taiji implies that I (as in my being) needs to be transformed – or maybe even “purified” if we are talking alchemy. Practicing taiji should make my practice more finely tuned and precise. After staying with Sam for almost a month I feel that I have access to a lot of unexplored territory and that there is space for exploring in all parts of my practice. In other words, some doors have been opened an now it is up to me to discover what is on the other side.

As another student of Sam that I met during my stay said: “taiji is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do”. I fully agree. Luckily it is also a practice that seems to make other aspects of life much more pleasant – at least I give my taiji practice credit for a lot of the happiness and ease I have found in my life.

Leaving Canada soon, I have a lot of work to do developing my practice. It has dawned on me that the Yi (mind) part of Yi Chuan implies a deep focus when doing the practice, but also a state of non-distraction outside of the practice. At least I notice how often my mind can fly away from my body-being and I have a desire to bring the stillness of taiji even more into my everyday life.

Luckily I have a great friend and teacher in Torben Bremann (http://www.exploringtaiji.com), one of Sam Tams senior students, who can follow up on the guidance where Sam left off.

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Re: A Week ('15) with Sam Tam, A Month ('17) — Peter Munth-Kaas

Postby charles on Sun Jun 24, 2018 5:15 pm

Is there something about this that you wanted to discuss? Or, is it simply an "of general interest" piece?
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Re: A Week ('15) with Sam Tam, A Month ('17) — Peter Munth-Kaas

Postby marvin8 on Sun Jun 24, 2018 5:32 pm

charles wrote:Is there something about this that you wanted to discuss? Or, is it simply an "of general interest" piece?

Consolidating in one place. I haven't read these articles completely, yet.

A person's account training with a "Taiji Master"—qualities Sam Tam has and what type of training to build those skills. Sam's philosophy and strategies. Maybe I'll have questions, later. Any thoughts or comments are welcome.
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Re: A Week ('15) with Sam Tam, A Month ('17) — Peter Munth-Kaas

Postby Bao on Mon Jun 25, 2018 1:24 am

Interesting, thanks for sharing. Have only watched a few vids but never read anything else about him but appraisals without explanations. My appreciation continues to be mixed and a bit puzzled…

Some good pointers and the vids are much better than the other ones published in other threads. There are a lot of good sound advice … but …. mixed with a whole lot of unnecessary ”qi-talk”

Good quotes: ”As Sam says “… I only have one trick. Don’t let them lean on you.””
”To yielding completely (where i can’t feel him at all).”

One of the main issues in TJQ for both PH and applications practice is really to never let someone put any pressure on you and never resist. Good.

But then… :/ :

”You cannot yield if you are rigid or using force, you cannot be soft and “stick” without having a frame and none of those elements are attainable without working with the “chi”.”

So utterly BS… IMHO ;) All this talk about qi makes me believe that the author is a bit confused. In one of the vid Sam says ”sink the qi” and laughs as he pushes him against the mat. What Sam really does is just a matter of using structural alignment to his advantage. No talk of qi is necessary.
I loved this quote:
"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)" This goes for teaching as well. If you don’t need to put in a confusing ingredient you shouldn’t do it. Nothing of what he does in those vids or what is explained in the text need to be calculated with Qi. Unnecessary and helpful to no one.
Last edited by Bao on Mon Jun 25, 2018 1:24 am, edited 1 time in total.
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