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Stefan de Graffenried - ANATOMY OF YANG FAMILY TAI CHI

1 rating: 4.0
A Guide for Teachers and Students of Tai Chi. With translations of original Chinese Texts
1 review about Stefan de Graffenried - ANATOMY OF YANG...

"The waist is the commander in chief of the body."

  • Oct 8, 2011

It must be fun to write a book like 2007's ANATOMY OF YANG FAMILY TAI CHI. Certainly, joy and a desire to bring joy to others by means of this famous martial art radiates forth from all 108  pages by author Steffan de Graffenried. The literature, DVDS and courses offered on martial arts are vast. Core concepts like qi (chi), empty and full, straight but not straight and others are mysterious and cry out for clear explanations in current, colloquial English. And all this de Graffenried merrily and lucidly delivers.


Here are a handful of salient points picked at random that stay with me from ANATOMY OF YANG FAMILY TAI CHI


* * *  In Taoist thinking tai chi "birthed the universe ... is the mother of Yin and Yang."


* * * Tai Chi has two goals: (1) Become conscious of how you move. Let there be no movement that is unconscious. (2) Interpret the energy that others are expanding through the technique of "pushing hands."


* * * Both when fighting several opponents and in daily life, be aware of more going on around you than you can see.


* * * Commentary on a classic Chinese text:  "The waist is the commander in chief of the body." The waist must be flexible and fully maneuverable.


* * * Waist and legs have the largest muscle groups in the body. Between them they "control the majority of the body movements which comprise each Tai Chi posture."


* * * As in Feldenkrais exercises (my gloss) "Tai Chi Chuan manipulates the conscious mind, not ... physical force."


* * * Once upon a time, tai chi masters made their students spend five years doing standing postures only!  Then commenced the movements linking the 108 postures of Yang Family long form tai chi. Nowadays most instructors "teach movement from one posture to another quite early."


* * * Stand like the pole suspending two pans of a scale. Especially do not commit the commonest error in tai chi -- of leaning forward. Stand "as though a steel rod were inserted into the crown of your head down along the inside of the spine and then exiting through the perineum and into the floor."


* * * When you make a turn from standing like a scale or balance, turn "like a wheel." That is: rotate your upper torso "like a freewheel we created with that imaginary steel rod."


* * * Never hold your breath. "In-Out In-Out Don't Stop." Both inhalation and exhalation should be equally long and even.


* * *  A much quoted Chinese martial arts proverb is: "inch long, inch strong." The farther you can stretch or reach, the more power you deliver. In my words: build strength through length. Don't let anyone convince you that stretching exercises are of little importance.


 ANATOMY OF YANG FAMILY TAI CHI has other features worth noting:


-- Author de Graffenried begins with a 7 generation "genealogical" tree tracing his training back to Manchu Dynasty Master Yang Lu-Chan.


-- He briefly embeds tai chi within the larger family of martial arts and cosmic Chinese views of the universe, man's place in it and human health. He cites texts from Chinese classics, as rendered into English by Fei Lincoln. There are a few score black and white photographs and diagrams. These are, alas, rather grainy and fuzzy.


-- ANATOMY OF YANG FAMILY TAI CHI  concludes with practical illustrated  "Exercises to Improve Your Tai Chi," followed by References and a select Bibliography and finally a one page "About the Author," with photograph. Since 1992 Steffan de Graffenried has been studying Yang Family Tai Chi with Grand Master Wong Doc-Fai.


Here are my personal  concluding observations about  tai chi for normal Americans.


-- (1) Here in Black Mountain, North Carolina near Asheville, I have taken three continuous years of Yang Family tai chi instruction: two years with one instructor, then one year to date with another instructor (three classes a week), supplemented by weekly classes in a church vestibule with an ordained minister who is the second teacher's long graduated star pupil. I have gone to a few other classes here and there with four other local adepts, including one who is very close to master status. My conclusion is that tai chi is VERY instructor-specific. Every teacher is unique in what he or she offers. No matter what you learn with one, expect to start "from scratch" if you move to another teacher. I am 76 years old, not physically gifted, a very slow learner, but I love tai chi.


-- (2) You have to have had some hands-on training in tai chi if you are to get much from reading and pondering ANATOMY OF YANG FAMILY TAI CHI. I don't mean that you have to have five or ten years of training! No. But you should have had a minimum, I think, of 10 - 20 hours with the same teacher either one-on-one or in a regular class meeting at least weekly. You cannot teach yourself tai chi from this or any other book in the complete absence of training by another human face-to-face nor without some daily practice of tai chi.


-- (3) Similar philosophies and beliefs about healthy postures and movement are found in tai chi, qi gong (chi kung), pilates and feldenkrais. My occasionally sought physical therapist is adept in dance and is also a teacher of feldenkrais classes. My one-on-one pilates teacher began as a ballet dancer and is highly proficient in reiki. Common to these approaches to movement are beliefs that pain is bad and to be avoided; circular motions of arms, legs and torso are superior to linear lunges; and that the best posture whether sitting or standing is via an erect spine. Pretend you are a Jane Austen heroine sitting on a couch in a Masterpiece Theatre episode awaiting the arrival of Mr Darcy!


A totally different approach to movement is displayed in some other martial arts, notably karate, and in painful contact sports such as American football.


Take up de Graffenried's ANATOMY OF YANG FAMILY TAI CHI with confidence. He knows what he is talking about and he explains tai chi very well. Bounce the author's analyses and philosophizing off  your tai chi instructor. Ask how she or he assesses de Graffenried's stretching exercises. Above all:




"The waist is the commander in chief of the body." (p.29)

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October 09, 2011
These techniques make common sense in implementation .
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