About this time we decided to arrange a video shoot which would show all the basics and the form, plus a section on how the palm technique should be applied. The preparation for this shoot was invaluable since I was directing it myself and consequently needed to be clear about what was going on. On the day of the recording Ji put a great deal of effort into his demonstrations and later sent a copy of the tape back to China where it was well received.
Eventually we came to the end of the form. I realized that I had scratched the surface. We went back to the beginning. I began to ask Ji more details about stepping and about the relationship of one arm to the other. It was clear that when he did the form the hands and arms worked in excellent partnership. Their spatial relationship in terms of distance was not easy to follow, given the nature of the movements. I chipped away at this in my own way. The T'ai Chi I knew proved a useful guide, and had given me a good basis in coordination. At the same time, I have always followed the dictum to find relaxation where possible in moving and as I struggled to understand the movements of the form this particular aspect was difficult. I stopped trying to string the movements together and went back to doing them repetitively, in isolation, to get the "swing" of things.
In one section of the form there are movements where the arms swing up, over and down like the sails of a windmill. At the same time the knees bend and the body weight sinks as the arm descends. It feels as though all the blood in the descending arm rushes towards the palms. I spent a long time going into this move, looking for coordination and trying not to tear myself apart doing it. A small voice kept saying to me, "Just pretend you're a plunging dragon . . ." The spirit was willing, but the flesh was lagging far behind. I began to think that twenty-four years of T'ai Chi tuned my body to move in a certain way, and it was very reluctant to adapt to new ways.
After about eight months on basics and form, which I realized was not long, Ji said we could move on to looking at using the sword. His visa could run out at any time and he might have to go back to China; so learn while you can. Alan Ellerton used to call round to see Ji while we were training, and he told me how difficult the sword was. I had done some Yang style T'ai Chi sword, but using the Pa Kua sword was once again different. You open with the sword inverted in the left hand and have to swing it forward and upward and spin it to present the handle to the right hand. My left elbow simply would not turn as much as my right and after hitting myself occasionally on the head with the blunt blade I took the precaution of always guarding my head with my right hand as I made the movement. Gradually I got the hang of it.
When walking the circle the left hand is raised high in the "sword charm" gesture, and the sword is held so that it's handle, as it were, emanates from the tan t'ien. The first technique is performed eight times as you walk the circle. Ji could do this without disturbing the rhythm of his walk or his balance. For me, this was the first challenge. To maintain steady momentum, whirl the sword right, twist the body and sword and return to the basic position presented considerable difficulties. The body as a whole is moving along the curve of the circle, but torso, arms and sword twist right, so with the extra weight of the sword there is a powerful tendency to break up the walking rhythm. I could see that Ji had long since coped with this. His twisting and turning took place as it were independently of the lower abdomen and legs, causing minimum disturbance. Later, when we had finished the introduction to the sword form and then returned to the details, he helped me to overcome this problem.
Studying the sword gave me first hand experience of
Paul Crompton struggling to get it right how the action of abdomen and sword arm can generate ch'i. I had experienced this in T'ai Chi, but softly. Certain movements of the sword form directly affect the abdominal region, as far as I am concerned, in a way which I had not experienced in the Swimming Dragon form. Ji smiled when I explained my experience and made several useful suggestions about developing this. His own attitude to ch'i development - he taught Wild Goose, Eight Pieces of Brocade and Muscle Tendon - seemed to me to be a mixture of what I would call traditional and "modern." By modern I mean treating the ch'i in a matter of fact way. He also showed me some simple ch'i exercises which his own teacher had taught him; to be used with and without the sword.
Study of the sword form continued. Ji began to show me more details; where I was going wrong, and how to put it right. Every time I realized that I had forgotten basics; that I had returned to using one part of the body in isolation instead of using the body as a whole, or that I was not "sitting down" far enough. As I write this piece I am still studying sword with Ji.
For what it's worth I conclude with a few comments on the contents of the Pa Kua Chang Journal to date. Several contributors have remarked that they have studied Pa Kua for a long time, and that it disturbs them that people who have studied for a short time have set themselves up as teachers. The implication being that they should not or are not qualified. But when tuition is very scarce you look for what you can, where you can. If you find someone who can teach you only a little, then you learn that. When you find someone who knows more than you, you learn from him or her, perhaps still continuing with the first teacher also. Maybe in China there was always a system, a protocol, a way of doing things the right way. But in our Western society this type of approach has largely disintegrated and people have to deal with the situation as it is.
The old commercial adage is appropriate: Let the buyer beware . . .
Those readers interested in obtaining the video tape of Ji performing Sun style Pa Kua Chang can contact Paul Crompton at the following address:
102 Felsham Road
Tel: 081 780 1063 - 081 788 9130
Fax: 081 318 1439
Chinese Character Index (This index applies to the previous two articles)
Ji Jian Cheng Chen Xiang-Jin Nan Ch'uan Kang Jou Ch'uan Wu Zong-Nong Sha Kuo-Cheng Wang Shu-T'ien Cheng Huai-Hsien Tan T'ien
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