Wudang Mountain

Just got back from China. I traveled with a group (fewer than twenty) from all over the US plus four from London. Our leader was Jesse Tsao, wonderful Tai Chi master and teacher (taichihealthways.com). We saw some amazing sights on a three-day Yangtze River Cruise and four-day tour of Wudang Mountain.

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Purple Heaven Palace, Wudangshan

The temples on the mountain were beautiful: Purple Heaven Palace (紫霄宫, Xǐ Xiāo Gōng), Tianyi Zhenqing Palace (天乙真庆宫tiān yǐ zhēn qìng gōng) and Dragon’s Head incense burner, and the Golden Summit. The summit in particular was breathtaking.

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The view from the Golden Summit

There’s a school half-way up the mountain, next to the hotel where we stayed. We visited with the master, who told us (Jesse interpreting) about the history and philosophy of his school, and who kindly gave us each a signed copy of a little book. I can make neither heads nor tails of it, but I will surely treasure it. Must figure out what it is.

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Yu Xu Palace Courtyard

Yu Xu Palace, which I have seen in so many videos, surprised me. It always looked to me as though it was set in a vast remote plain. There are no plains to be had in that part of China, however, and Yu Xu is in fact right in the middle of Wudangshan village (武当山, Wǔdāngshān). The interior of the Yu Xu Palace was closed for renovation, so we saw only the famous courtyard. Loved it.

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I did some Chen on the mountain.

As far as tai chi is concerned, we had several amazing sessions with Jesse. Most fascinating to me was a comparison of the first sections of the four traditional long forms (Yang, Chen, Sun and Wu). I had never understood how closely the first part of the Yang 108 parallels the first part of Laojia.

On the last two mornings, we found a group at a park in Wuhan. Master Tan led us through the traditional Yang-style long form and 24; then we did a qigong routine that was new to me. She called it shí bā shì (十八式, 18-forms) Tai Chi Qigong (太极气功, Tàijí qìgōng). I found a video and a list of the names of the movements. Nice routine. Master Tan’s recording, like the track to the video, includes cues for breathing. 呼吸 hūxī is breathe; hū  is exhale and xī  is inhale.

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Tai Chi and Qigong with Master Tan in Wuhan city park

18-form Tai Chi Qigong video and names of movements:

  1. 起势       Qǐ shì
  2. 开阔胸怀 kāikuò xiōng huái             open the mind/heart
  3. 挥舞彩虹 Huīwǔ cǎihóng                  wave the rainbow
  4. 轮臂分云 Lún bì fēn yún                   circle the arms to divide the clouds
  5. 定步倒卷肱 Ding bù dào juǎn gong
  6. 湖心划船 Hú xīn huá chuán             row on the lake
  7. 肩前托球 Jiān qián tuō qiú               hold up the ball in front
  8. 转体望月 Zhuǎntī wàngyuè             turn over the full moon
  9. 转腰推掌 Zhuǎn yāo tuī zhǎng        turn waist push palm
  10. 马步云手 Mǎ bù yún shǒu                horse stance cloud hands
  11. 捞海观天 Lāo hǎi guān tiān              fish the ocean to see the sky
  12. 推波助浪 Tuī bō zhù làng                  push to make waves
  13. 飞鸽展翅 Fēigē zhǎn chì                    pigeon spreads his wings
  14. 伸臂冲拳 Shēn bì chōng quán        stretch the arm to punch
  15. 大雁飞翔 Dàyàn fēixiáng                  wild goose soars
  16. 环转飞轮 Huán zhuǎi fēilún             ring around the flywheel
  17. 踏步拍球 Tàbù pāi qiú                        step and slap
  18. 按掌平气 Àn zhǎng píng qì               push palm for calm energy

We also did a Beijing-style silk-reeling Chen routine that blew me away, but I don’t have any idea how to find it on the Internet. Still looking for that one.

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Silk Reeling

During a recent spell of bad weather, I was looking for Tai Chi that I could practice in a small space, inside. Of course, Ba Duan Jin and Nei Kung are good for that. But also, silk reeling exercises are an excellent workout, especially for the legs, as well as good practice for improving all of the Chen empty-hand forms.

Chen Bing explains the most basic silk reeling exercise in a short video that has English captions: Chen Bing one-hand outward chan si jing.

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Chen Bing demonstrates Silk Reeling

An article in Wikipedia explains the principle that gives this kind of exercise its name, Chán sī jīng (纏絲精). Chan means winding or spiraling, and si means silk or thread.

“The name derives from the twisting and spiraling movements of the silkworm larva as it wraps itself in its cocoon [and the action of reeling the silk for thread]. In order to draw out the silk successfully the action must be smooth and consistent without jerking or changing direction sharply. Too fast, the silk breaks, too slow, it sticks to itself and becomes tangled.”

Chen Xiaowang  lectures and demonstrates at length (45 minutes) in his video on silk reeling. English subtitles help, though I’m sure we miss a lot not understanding the Chinese. It would take a lot of patience to work through this video; I confess I haven’t done it. Yet.

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Chen Xiaowang on Silk Reeling

For a great crash course, Jesse Tsao demonstrates a number of silk reeling variations in a short clip on YouTube from his full-length video on silk reeling, available on his Taichihealthways website.  I haven’t seen the full video, but I have several of his other instructional DVDs , and they’re good—all in English, too.

Here are eight variations I used from those Master Tsao demonstrates:

  1. One hand outward (across the top palm down)
  2. One hand inward (across the top palm up)
  3. Two hands inward (like Brush Knee Push)
  4. Two hands outward (like Cloud Hands)
  5. Two hands outward (opening)
  6. Two hands inward (closing)
  7. Two-hand blocking left and right
  8. Forward and backward (like Dao Juan Gong)

Red Sky in the Morning

I have a new book out! I am fortunate to have made quite a few friends in my neighborhood who are Chinese and practice Tai Chi. I’ve been meeting with them on weekends for three years now.

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Most speak no English (they are older people visiting grown children in the US), which is why I am trying to learn Chinese. Among those who do speak English, I have come to know Lily Blackard, who is Chinese, born in Vietnam, and now a naturalized American citizen.

As soon as Lily learned that I was a writer, she asked me if I would write the story of how she came to this country as a Vietnam War refugee. I jumped at the chance, both to learn more about her experience and to revisit that era in our history.

The result is a small volume (a little more than a hundred pages) that combines Lily’s story, as she remembers it from forty to fifty years ago, with a general history of the war and its aftermath. I was doubly fortunate that a wonderful watercolorist and friend, JU Salvant, offered to illustrate the book.

Red Sky in the Morning is available in print and as an ebook from Amazon. The print edition is expensive but beautiful because of the paintings, which include a gorgeous cover of red sky and sea. The ebook is a bargain, as it contains full-color illustrations as well (though some older Kindles might display only black and white).

If you read it and like it, please consider leaving a review on Amazon! The paintings are available as high-quality prints on heavy watercolor paper from JUSalvant.com.