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The Tai Chi Two-Person Dance: Tai Chi with a Partner Paperback – December 12, 2003
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About the Author
Jonathan Russell, "eldest" and senior student of Master T.T. Liang, has studied and taught Tai Chi for more than thirty years. He began his Tai Chi studies with Master Liang in the late sixties. Together they co-founded the Tai Chi Dance Association, setting up numerous schools in the Boston area. He currently lives in San Francisco, where he teaches, writes books, and produces videos on Tai Chi. The readers of the newspaper The San Francisco Weekly voted his Tai Chi class "Best Of" San Francisco. He can be contacted at: www.TaiChiSF.com.
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I just had one more comment on something the author said. I should mention that although I am a martial artist, I was trained in the field of neurobiology, in which I did my master's and doctoral work. One interest of mine is working out the neurological principles behind the martial arts. For example, one way to perform a faster punch is by doing a very small jerk back in the opposite direction, which works by means of a spinal cord muscle reflex known as the reciprocal inhibition of flexor/extensor pairs. This is why people often perform that small backward jerk with the punching hand just before punching. This reflex relaxes the muscle tension on the extending muscle so that it can move without as much opposing flexor resistence.
The only problem with this is that many people make it too obvious, which causes them to telegraph it. But the physiological mechanism is sound. It just needs to be more subtle and more like a quarter of an inch rather than the inch or two often seen. Of course, this takes greater skill to get the same effect so that it works well. Tthe best thing is to be able to do it without the little jerk and also with your hands completely stationary, as it's also easier to do if your hands are moving, but that takes even more skill.
This is a well known phenomenon in neurology. In fact, the area of the nervous system that mediates static and dynamic muscle tension is just below the cerebral cortex and consists of three structures, the putamen, caudate nucleus, and globus pallidus, which are collectively known as the basal ganglia, and also telencephalic nuclei. The nerve pathway is known as the gamma-motor efferent system. These three structures are intimately involved in muscle control and especially with the control of muscle tension.
The author mentions just such an important and useful neurological idea. He says that the main reason why one must learn to relax the muscles to reach true skill in tai chi is that if you don't, the input from the mechanoreceptors of the body will be drowned out by all the muscle-related nerve activity. I had surmised this was the case myself but did not have any independent confirmation of the idea. This could certainly be true and is one of the gems of information in the book that was most helpful to me, since I like to have western scientific explanations for the principles as well as the eastern ones (I admit to something of a bias there).
So all in all a very fine book on this more advanced aspect of tai chi.
The brilliance of TT Liang's San Shou form is that by making it into a dance he brings its benefits to everyone. Many people have a hard time with fighting, and by presenting it as a dance, it's much easier to learn the choreography and shapes of the movements. But it helps with much more than just the choreography.
The fact is that Tai Chi fighting practice requires a supreme amount of softness, resiliance, sensitivity and timing. What better way to teach it than in a simple, carefree dance? You couldn't do this in Shaolin or Xing Yi Quan. Simply because they don't rely on the qualities of softness, sensitivity, poise and ease that Tai Chi fighters need to beat their opponenets. Tai Chi fighters can't depend on strength, so the use of the dance is perfect, the rigidity and tension of regular sparring is replaced with an easy, simple, fun dance.
Once that is utterly ingrained and fused into the body, these same moves make vicious, horrifying fighting techniques. Elbow strikes to the face, shoulder dislocating throws, stomps, throat grabs, the works. All martial arts have these moves, the difference is that a Tai Chi player has to use them within the framework of this internal style, otherwise they won't work. So the San Shou training is ideal for getting people into the right "frame" of mind and body to fight sucessfully.
Some say that the dance is wrong or that it's been made too easy. They are silly because it shouldn't be so hard to fight using Tai Chi. You simply need to mentally and physically manifest the "Jin" or energies of Tai Chi. This two-person dance is a brilliant short cut to understanding "Peng Jin" "Lu Jin" and all the rest in a very concrete, physical fashion.
Once this way of movement is burned into your very nervous system, you can move into actual combat if you choose, or if not you just have a effortless and powerful way of moving in your everyday life, which is obviously worth much more than any fighting skill would ever be.
Jonathan's teacher, T.T. Liang, learned this fairly rare Form from Xiong Yang Ho, a student of Yang Jian Ho (2nd generation of Yang Style). In order to make the Taiji San Shou (which might be called "prearranged sparring") accessible to people who were primarily interested in the health benefits of Taiji Quan, Master Liang called it a "Dance" and arranged the movements in regular "beats" which he set to music. So it becomes a pleasant practice method.
However, within this innocuous-appearing "Dance, " a serious practioner
can find many usable combat applications of Taiji Quan.
The book is very clear and well put together.
Needless to say, for any real achievement in the Taiji "Dance," the student should first have reasonable mastery in the Taiji Solo Form and Push Hands.