It was 1970 in San Francisco. As a young college student, I was drawn to study Taichi with reputed master Kuo Lien Ying. In those days Taichi was very interesting and mysterious and I found myself loving it! And, I still love it after over 46 years of training. During that time I have studied with many teachers from several parts of the world and have learned a lot about Taichi. Depending on your experience, you know there are many styles of Taichi taught by many teachers focusing on Taichi for health, energy cultivation and as a martial art. Taichi is a ‘large subject’; I am not exaggerating when i say ‘a very large subject’. Kuo, a war hero reportedly used his martial arts, including Taichi, while fighting in World War II. I had heard that Taichi was a martial art and this was the aspect of the art I was drawn to from the beginning.
I really wanted to learn how to use Taichi as a martial art.
But, I found the vast majority of teachers teach Taichi for health and energy cultivation, certainly all good stuff. And, I have used this aspect of Taichi training in my practice as a biofeedback therapist for many years. But, in all my studies and training, I thought that Taichi was more than just Qigong because it was a martial art. After all T’ai Chi Chuan means, Taichi Boxing in Chinese. Reportedly, historical martial artists had devised a way to express the Taoist principles in a martial art. And, I had been told that Taichi was a ‘complete’ martial art, meaning that it included boxing skills, punching, kicking, throwing and joint locks.
This is what I wanted to learn.
But, until recently the idea of learning how to use Taichi as a martial art still seemed a distant goal despite countless hours of training in form, push hands and learning some martial skills along the way.
Sometime around the age of 60, I decided that after all these years practicing and gaining all this knowledge, I was determined to finally make the leap into really good if not masterful taichi which, of course, meant finding someone who could teach how to actually use Taichi for boxing. Though I am grateful for all I have from all my teachers, there was this nagging sense that I hadn’t quite gotten to the real training yet.
So, I looked for new Taichi teachers and training partners from other schools. It began to appear to me that somehow in the past, Taichi had fractured and there was an incomplete transmission from master to student. Most of the teachers I trained with only had certain pieces of Taichi. My thought was if I learned from enough different teachers and different schools, I could piece it all together for myself into something broader than I could find with any one of the teachers I had trained with. This seemed to be working pretty well until, surprise!, my searching finally led to a teacher who actually knew how to use and teach Taichi as a martial art
Later, I will talk more about my journey but today I am very pleased to say that I have finally found the training for which I have so diligently searched. Eureka!
This is what I want to tell you about.
I studied Wu style with my second teacher for 12 years. First in a class of 6 and then by myself. Here, I was introduced to free fight sparring techniques, form and push hands. This was the traditional Peng, Loi, Jai, An push hands and I loved it. Until recently, I had not found teachers who taught much of this but I kept looking. As you may know, the usual tournament style Taichi push hands does not involve Peng or Loi or Jai or An but features direct pushes to the opponent’s center and utilizes squirmy neutralization to avoid moving the feet. I have participated in small groups doing this for over 20 years and I got pretty good at it. But, some would say this is really not Taichi at all and it teaches very bad habits.
I have come to hold this opinion myself.
When I did the Peng, Loi, Jai, An push hands I was told that all the moves of the form could be applied inside this push hands. Of course, there is Da Lu for some moves that couldn’t fit in fixed step push hands but the promise was that all the moves of the form could be expressed in the push hands system. In all my training I had never been shown this. But, now I am learning it. And it is all due to my finding a teacher who knew and was willing to teach. His name is Robert Amacker and he teaches how to apply Taichi to every situation and not just some aspects of Taichi. He studied with two teachers who trained with Yang Cheng Fu, Master Cheng Man Cheng and Master Chu.
Certainly, in addition to spending thousands of dollars buying every Taichi DVD I could get my hands on I also bought books. I happened to purchased a book called The Theoretical Basis of Taichi Chuan by Robert Amacker. I didn’t read it immediately but I noticed it one day in my list and began reading. I was simply amazed. In this book, I found a depth of understanding and theory that immediately caught my attention. He talked about “making taichis” and he explained how making taichis was essential in partner training and he showed how to make taichis in all levels of push hands; single handed push hands, two handed push hands, 3 step moving step push hands, Da Lu and San Shou and in neutralization, discharge, uprooting, adherence, yielding, sticking, following, etc.
Needless to say I was intrigued.
After reading the book, I went online to search for more information…or more accurately followed the thread. I found 3 videos of Bob Amacker on youtube.com where he showed some push hands and I found his website, BobAmacker.com, which at the time had little information. Next, I found he had taught a woman in Prague, Vlasta Pehova, and she had a few videos on on youtube.com. And, I discovered that Vlasta had taught a workshop in Nevada City, CA for a school there and video of that was online. That gave me a clue so I contacted that studio and they referred me to one of Bob’s oldest students close by in Mill Valley California. I wrote him and learned that Bob was planning a workshop in the Bay Area soon (this was 2014) so I signed up. I really enjoyed the workshop but did not get a chance to experience anything directly from Bob. There were a lot of new students and old students and he was explaining the concepts of his book. This was impressive but I was still on the outside.
Then, later in the year Bob came to the SF Bay Area again and I booked a private lesson with him and I was blown away. He could actually do what he wrote about and he knew how to teach it. So, I started attending workshops every time he came around and I started studying with his senior student in Mill Valley, Tom Maxon.
By this time I really wanted to learn what they knew.
So, why do I think this is so great? I am not a newbie and my many years of experience have given me the perspective to judge the value of Bob’s teaching. This is what I found: the form and push hands and interpretation of the Taichi Classics form three aspects of a fully integrated training system where each part supports and amplifies the other. So often in the past, my training consisted of learning one aspect of Taichi or developing one skill after another, valuable and interesting but still in the end a patchwork. This was not the case here. Everything is internally consistent with everything else; the overarching goal is to learn how to apply the One Principle of Taichi to every situation. And the training system starts at the beginning and gradually trains skill all the way through. And, yes, I am learning how to apply every move of the form in push hands, my lifelong dream. And as training progresses I expect it will lead to safe, fun, freestyle sparring.
Eureka means ‘I found it’ and I believe I have. And, if your journey is anything like mine, you may be interested in learning more. I will be telling you about what I have found in future posts. For now, I enthusiastically recommend The Theoretical Basis of Taichi Chuan by Bob Amacker. Bob also now has a new website devoted to his classes in Northern California, White Crow Taiji. If you are interested in reading his boo, give yourself some time to graze and absorb what you can, it is dense, precise and certainly not complete since it is theory.
I can now actually feel what he describes and I can truly say it is real, practical and amazing.