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Insights from Training by Michael Banaag

Posted in Martial Arts and Training, Quotes and Articles with tags , , , , , , on June 5, 2012 by ctkwingchun

James DeMile (left) with     Michael Banaag

This is a guest post from Michael Banaag:

Michael Banaag had the honor and privilege to start his martial arts career at the age of 13 under the guidance and tutelage of Sijo James DeMile, founder of Wing Chun Do/DeMile Defensive Tactics. He would go on to become not only the youngest certified Black Belt and Certified Instructor that DeMile would personally award those ranks to, but would develop a close friendship with DeMile that lasts to this day. While continuing his training with DeMile, Michael also began training and receiving instruction from Ronald Ogi (one of DeMile’s original students and direct student/close friend to the late, great Professor Wally Jay of Small Circle Jujitsu), and developing a close friendship with him as well.

More recently while still maintaining a close relationship with DeMile & Ogi, Michael has had the pleasure & honor of training and interacting with Master Steve Smith of Fook Yeung Chuan, and learning from Jesse Glover and his group in Seattle. He also is one of the first Official MovNat Certified Trainers in the world, receiving that honor and training from the founder of MovNat, Erwan Le Corre. Today while continuously focusing on his own growth and development, Michael teaches a small private group (and some individual lessons) out of his garage a mixture of what he’s authorized & certified to teach: his experiences training in MovNat in addition to the Gung-Fu from DeMile’s lineage.

He can currently be reached via email at  structuralselfdefense [at], or visiting


MovNat founder Erwan Le Corre

Six LIFE LESSONS I Gained from Training with Jim DeMile (in no order of importance)

1. The Martial Arts is a tool to help you feel better about yourself as a person, not solely because you can defend yourself, but because you see your own personal growth in something “tangible.”  For example: something physical – and it proves to yourself that you CAN learn, you CAN do something you put your mind to.  You CAN learn to be “good” at something.


2. Martial arts can be for most just a blip in their long life – it’s not the main thing. For students it doesn’t provide financial support, yet what it does provide is something personally enriching – especially due to the camaraderie and experiences gained through the interaction with others who are also striving for the same goal and helping each other grow towards achieving that goal. Respect that it IS not a major part, but respect that it CAN have a major influence.


3. Generally speaking, people join martial arts because of insecurities. With that in mind, if all you are good at is Martial Arts, you become one dimensional. It’s okay to be passionate about the martial arts, but if your excuse for only being good at martial arts is because “it’s the only thing you’re good at,” then you still have insecurities that the martial arts failed to help you overcome. But that’s actually very common, because most martial artists are not interested in overcoming their “demons,” they’re interested in overcoming someone else. Which is the problem with competition…“competition breeds a focus on others weaknesses [1st and foremost], rather than focusing on your own [1st and foremost].” (that is a paraphrased quote from Erwan Le Corre).


4. How everyone interacts with each other is directly proportional to how confident they are with themselves, or an aspect in their life. Work on your confidence and you will be able to interact with others better. But it shouldn’t be a situational confidence (i.e. I’m confident b/c I can “kick your butt”) because that’s NOT true confidence! If a person has the confidence to defend themselves, but doesn’t have the confidence to speak in front of a large group for a board meeting, or ask someone out on a date, they just have situational confidence…weak confidence. One needs to develop TRUE confidence – where they believe in themselves under any contextual demand.


5. Martial arts is like religion. Too many people argue over which religion is best, or why one religion they found really doesn’t work for them. But sometimes it’s not the religion, it’s that person’s experience with the Priest or Pastor they had at that particular church where they didn’t do the job that the person was looking for. Same for martial arts. Even in DeMile’s lineage, someone will say that what DeMile teaches doesn’t work, but unfortunately that’s based off the experience that they had with an instructor in a lineage that let his ego get larger than the time he should’ve been spending training. Is it really that a style sucks? Or is it really that the person you interacted with “representing that style” sucks? The key to suggesting what someone should train in is not to suggest a style, but to have them really pay attention to the teacher of every school they interact with. Teachers help guide one to be a good practitioner, not “styles.”


6. Legacy is not carrying on teaching what was taught to you technique by technique in it’s exactness. Unfortunately, everyone teaches with their own flare to it. So therefore, I’ve found, that legacy to me is carrying on the INTERACTION you have with your students. I will not remember Jim DeMile solely and most importantly for the techniques he taught. In reality, I will remember him for the more meaningful times. The numerous week long visits spending the night at his house. His wife, Irene, teaching me how to cook. The laughter we shared when I was first learning how to swim with a snorkel and I “almost drowned” because the tube never got out of the water when I first inhaled.  Or him being at my wedding and sharing life lessons with me. That’s what real legacy is. At your death bed you will not remember your techniques, you will remember the love and friendship you shared with others and that was shared to you. I will not be thinking of greats in their specialties like Randy Couture, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Bruce Lee, or Tiger woods when I die. I will think about the love and friendship I experienced from those close to me.


7. (This is more from my life theme lately:) Everything is movement. Don’t master just martial arts – master movement. As Erwan Le Corre says “Be well rounded; with sharp edges.”

The farther you go, The less you know

Posted in Health and Wellness, Martial Arts and Training, Quotes and Articles with tags , , on May 28, 2012 by ctkwingchun


This is a guest post from the author of

Random workouts.  Random results.


Sometimes it’s nice when you wake up and find that something you know has changed…

Atten-HUT! Listen up, you squishy globs of mule excrement!  All of you reading today have been asked here to perform your sacred duty for your country, and I’d sooner give Che Guevara a lap dance than let you pimple-butted pinworms fumble this mission under my watch!  Am I clear?


Right now, right at this very moment…you are nothing!  You are the rubbish that rubbish throws in the tired old bin!  You are less than a single aromatic molecule in one of Satan’s farts!  Is that understood maggots?


When I am finished with you, each one of you will be a mindless, deadly human weapon of randomness!  You will be a social miscreant!  You will seize the emotional core of your each and every breath and rip its heart out with your teeth!  You will do this or by God as my witness…I will impale your limp asparagus frame on a spire in the latrine and use you as my personal toilet paper until Gabriel sounds the trumpets!  Comprehend?


Now get out there and do your duty before I personally polish your empty skulls with the rough side of my…Hold on a second?!?  What is Ricky Oh doing here?!?

The First Dragon Rider Aikido Q&A

Posted in Martial Arts and Training, Quotes and Articles with tags , on April 5, 2012 by ctkwingchun

I must confess something – I’ve always had a soft spot for Aikido.  I always felt there was something about it that pulled at me.  I once found The Essence of Aikido at a local bookstore.  It was signed by the Founder’s son.  I gave it to a good friend who was practicing at the time.

Also – check out Roy Dean.  He makes it look really good and uses a lot of wrist locks in his BJJ.

Drew, who writes on his blog, often comments here at Dark Wing Chun.  I wanted to do a Q&A trade with him.  Below are my questions to him and his responses.  When he sends me my questions, I’ll let you know.



What is Aikido to you?

A way to be at peace with yourself as a human being.

Why Aikido for you?

I don’t know exactly. Even after 6 years total of training in the art, I’m still trying to answer that question myself. I can only suspect that will go unanswered for a while.

One thing I can attest thought is I have not seen or heard any other martial art to date that has Aikido’s unique combination of holistic, meditation-like processes alongside its martial movements. Despite its many distractors, Aikido does have martial movements that cause severe damage on unsuspecting attackers.

I know right now I could be practicing something more “reality-base” or competitive, but Aikido seems to fit me perfectly in terms of what stage I am in martially and personally. I wish to train in other arts, but time and finances have kept me with Aikido, although maybe that’s a good thing!

I see a lot of karate-chop type of attacks.  Why is this?

A lot of Aikido comes from the art of Aiki-jujitsu, which in itself is comprised of many movements and techniques that the Samurai used in combat with the sword. These sword movements were then transcribed into hand form. According to my Sensei, if you were hold out your arm and form a straight palm with your hand, your arm forms the shape roughly the same as that of the katana.

The “karata-chop” is suppose to mimic that of the samurai sword coming at you. As I have been taught and have experienced, having someone come at you with the manner of using the samurai sword does produce reactions that would throw you off.

What’s with the dress you guys wear?

You mean this one?

It’s called the hakama and originally it was the standard garment pants for the samurai. It’s a skirt-like pants that divided down the middle that gives it the pants-like look. Once considered standard wear among those in the samurai class and above, it is now only worn during special occasions by the Japanese such as weddings, funerals, formal prayer sermons at the temples, etc.

And of course, it is worn in many Japanese martial arts such as Kendo, Iaido, Kenjutsu, and Kyudo. In Aikido, the hakama is reserved for those who have obtained their black belts. However it is known that some branches of Aikido allow senior, non-black belt students to wear it.

Out Of The Darkness by Peter Skillen

Posted in Quotes and Articles with tags , on February 11, 2012 by His Dark Side

Sometimes we all succumb to the darkness.

Darkness manifests itself in many different forms but all forms bring with them pain, fear, heartbreak, anguish, anxiety, deep seated sadness, and sometimes they bring with them the pinnacle of all darkness; hate.

All these feelings can and will, if fed create procrastination. Procrastination is the lack of drive born from self-loathing, the mother of hate. Procrastination is an underhanded emotion that leads us to believe that the achievements we seek are far from our grasp. Its one aim is to steer us away from our goals onto the path of failure.  When Procrastination takes its seat within our soul it eats away our dreams and aspirations. Procrastination feeds on our interests and slowly one by one takes them from us, leaving us as shadows of our former selves. A man whose life was once an expanding living mini-universe fuelled by the drive and determination of achieving goals, suddenly becomes a desolate desert of loss and anguish. Gone are the great days of glory and success and in its wake lays self-pity and heartbreak.

Recently I have experienced all of these emotions and have spent many dark nights sat in the company of procrastination wallowing in self-pity and almost drowning in a sea of sadness. My days have been unproductive and my evenings have been shrouded in darkness. Fear and jealousy along with hate and deep-seated sadness have been my associates. Lately when the shroud of blackness that is the night fell I let myself be drawn by darkness into a paranoid world of self-loathing. My goals and aspirations have been thrown to the side to make way for Procrastination.

Outside in the dark I sought solitude in an alleyway next to my house. I had invited loneliness to once again become my friend. Sitting in the darkness of the alleyway looking into its blackness I would blame the world and everyone in it for the wretched despondency I was feeling.  I sat nightly waiting for the answer to a way out of the confusing mess I had gotten myself into and one night very recently it came. When I sat in the institution of darkness I had imprisoned myself in I always sat looking into the darkness and at the end of it stands a cold lifeless brick wall. Sick of counting out the bricks and staring into a soulless black tunnel capped by the daunting site of the wall I turned and as I turned I noticed the street lamp shining majestically against the cold blackness of the sky. The street lamp lit up the night sky and acted as a beacon of hope against a backdrop of dark rain filled clouds. As I sat there mesmerised by the light the answer to my predicament came to me and like a having a dark veil lifted from in front of my eyes it filled me with hope.

I had for the past few weeks been shrouded in a cloak darkness and my nightly sojourn into the alleyway had taken me into the deceiving arms of self-loathing and procrastination. Every night whilst I have sat there manifesting my own and many others down fall I had been trapped in this tunnel of self pity and fear but this night I had come to realise the one reason that was taken me deeper into the abyss. Instead of looking out into the light and finding the answers to my problems I had been looking into the wrong end of this tunnel of disbelief and heartbreak. The whole time I had been courting the shadows I had been seduced by the blackness that was causing me so much pain. I stood up and walked towards the light of the street lamp that had cut through the darkness and reignited my soul and with it my inner belief.

The light at the end of the tunnel reminded me of some of the dark days of the past and how in that past I had spiralled into a world full of darkness and pain. It reminded me never to look for answers in dark places but instead look for the places that harness the light. Go to those people that shun the darkness and feed the on the light. Cast aside the shadow people that live in seedy world of the night traveller and succumb to its offerings that are often cloaked in short lived fun and laughter lived by those that build their lives on sugar pedestals that will one day crumble and leave them too laying in the dark.  Seek out those people who seek to guide you towards the light. You will find these Shepherd’s of light have also walked long and dark paths and now they wait for people like you and I to come calling. They wait in patience knowing that you will arrive and they know the anguish you have felt for they too have felt it themselves. They wait like stonemasons ready with tool and chisel to carve you into a warrior of life. They have only one aim in life and that is to bring you out of the darkness and into the light.

Who are these Shepherd’s that lay in wait for you to call? They are the champions of the dark, they are men and women who have conquered their fears they have been deep into the darkness and come through the other side and are now constantly bathed in light. They are those that inspire, they are trainers and coaches, they are writers and poets, they are scientists and teachers, movie makers and preachers, they are the people we want to be who have made it and they are waiting for you to seek them out.  So turn around and look out of the darkness and into the light, for it is the light that shines in the darkness that holds the key to your happiness and success.

Peter Skillen – Chief Instructor of Professional Martial Arts Coaching (PSMAC)

The Twelve Step Warrior.

Why I Hate Breathing by Scott Phillips

Posted in Quotes and Articles with tags , on December 23, 2011 by ctkwingchun

I was driving in my car the other day and a woman comes on the radio and starts telling me how important breathing is!  Not like there was any actual content there, it was just a disjointed emotional rant scientifically calculated to sell HMO Medical Insurance.  That’s when I realized, I hate breathing.

Think about it, animals don’t breathe.  Dogs don’t breathe, they pant.  Cats don’t breathe, they purr.  Pigs snort.  Birds just flap their wings and the sky rushes in and out.  Can you image what would happen if fish tried to breathe?  Whales and dolphins have a special whole for blowing, think about that, they only exhale!

When we sleep we don’t breathe, our whole bodies shrink and expand, either that or we snore.

If you run for a quarter of a mile the pretense of breath control is completely abandoned.

You might as well try to lower your heart rate by watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

When a child wants more air, she moves around, she wiggles, squirms, jumps, rolls, skips…

The Chinese invented breathing in the 6th Century in order to teach children to read and write.  It was a trick to get them to sit still, and the first lesson—As one dips the brush in the ink inhale, then hold as the brush touches the page, and exhale as the brush lifts away from the paper.

And no doubt we could lay a bit of blame on South Asia.  If a guru is going to encourage  his disciples to live in a cave and sit still for 12 hours at a time, then sure, weird permutations of “in” “out” and “hold” may be the order of the day.  But I seriously doubt that yoga, as a movement art, if it really did exist in the forgotten past, had much to do with breathing.

By the way, none of this view comes from a lack of trying.  The problem is that posture and breathe are simply inseparable.  Try to change a person’s posture, and three to five breaths later they are back in the same position.  Try to change a person’s breathing and three jumping jacks and a booty shake later they will have reverted.

The problem of teaching can be divided into two general categories, (1) challenging the  already motivated, and (2) spoon-feeding the wayward.  In the first case it is the teacher’s hope that the student will surpass the teacher in unexpected ways and fortify not just their own experience but the entirety of the art in the world. With the latter it is hoped, against the odds I might add, that the natural curiosity of the student can be stoked with inspiration.

Ba Duan Jin

After many years of teaching I have found only one reliable way to inspire people; grab them by the scruff of the neck and the feet simultaneously and play them like an accordion.   Alternately one can grab the chest hair and the seat of the pants.  Thus, by manual manipulation, inspiration can occur.

Just in case there are a few readers who think they may be able to improve their breathing, the Daodejing has this to say: “To use the heart/mind (xin) to direct the breath (qi) is called forced!” Laozi (chapter 55). 

 And randomized double blind controlled studies do tend to back this assertion.  If the purpose of breathing is to get oxygen into the blood, one might think that better breathing would get more oxygen into the blood.  But it turns out that VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen a given person can get into their blood) is set early in life.  Athletes, even adolescent athletes, plateau in measures of VO2 max after only a short period of training.  Improvement is not an real option.  Which brings to mind a useful adage for handing out items to children which may not be of equal size, shape or color: You get what you get and you don’t get upset!


Inevitably, when a new adult student begins studying with me, they will ask about breathing.  Oddly enough, this question is sometimes lodged as a protest, as in “Why don’t you teach anything about the breathing?”

While babies do not breathe, they do begin to sigh in the first few weeks of life.

For those readers who 1) wish to dive into the unknown with their eyes wide open, or  (2) have more than a year of non-conceptual meditation, or (3) have something on the order of 10,000 hours of internal martial arts practice – I venture this:

There are three types of breathing; The lungs breathe, the body breathes, and the mind breathes.  There is nothing special to know about the lungs unless you are sick.  To develop wild animal flavor in martial arts practice or in life, every part of the adult body must be trained to shrink and expand.  Once that ability is attained, the intent to do it must be discarded.  If the body is empty – meaning (1) empty of intent –xu, and (2) empty like a container- kong, then qi will fill and surround the body. This is the fruition of non-action (wuwei).  Once this experience is discovered and established the spacial mind comes into play.  The spacial mind begins by breathing and gradually becomes more lively and animated.   The body, effortlessly following the qi, will shrink,  expand and spiral seamlessly as the spacial mind moves.

“Heaven and Earth are like a bellows.”–Laozi


Scott blogs here, and he teaches here and his bio is here!

Release Your Demons (by Becky E)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 8, 2011 by His Dark Side

“One of my biggest struggles with learning the art of Wing Chun is getting in touch with my anger. When it comes to the skills we are learning the point is to be able to, as a woman, stay safe and have some tools to defend ourselves. Getting in touch with that rage is going to come in really handy when some jerk is approaching with less than honorable intentions.”

Mastering Taijiquan: The Full Curriculum Approach by Sam Masich

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 18, 2011 by ctkwingchun

Greater than the sum
It is interesting to observe what sends taiji practitioners into heated debate.  It seems we are often driven to fits of criticism by motives of self justification. I have heard countless lamentations about the loss of traditional forms in taijiquan and, if I am honest with myself, can also tread self-righteously along these byways without much provocation. The incessant promotion of the latest pop short forms, the dearth of principled push-hands training globally, the ever-changing gymnastic requirements of official taiji forms developed by the China Wushu Association—all these are don’t-get-me-started issues.

Of course I, like most taiji players, value the practices I’ve devoted myself to over the years and decades and wouldn’t have continued in them without some belief that they were worthy of effort. I would defend my approach to the art with considerable conviction and so appreciate it when others do as well. Still, I always feel uneasy when debates fall into either: ‘they don’t do it traditionally’—where ‘traditionally’ often reveals a thinly disguised ideology rather than researched observation; or, ‘in our style we do it like this’—where ‘like this’ is more a disclosure of obsessive fixation around a cherished method or a pet peeve.

Many of the ‘this style versus that style’ debates regarding the direction the art is taking somehow miss a fundamental point, this being the importance of promoting taijiquan styles in their wholeness. Before the last half of the 20th century, this is what taiji masters did. Although participation in the art has surged, there does not seem to be a proportionate increase in the numbers of serious, full curriculum practitioners or instructors. From the standpoint of maintaining and continuing the development of traditional taijiquan, this may be deemed a crisis.

It was an ambition for the innovators of all schools of Chinese martial arts to develop a fully rounded syllabus of training—this being passed down from master to master through generations. Virtually all traditional systems of wushu present a central theory elucidated by a full and systematic course of study. The training regimen was designed to adhere to the central principles around which the art was based, theory and practice being inseparable. This is particularly true of traditional taijiquan which offers a plentiful curriculum developed in the light of a rich literary storehouse.

One would not attend university to become a physician and only take preferred miscellaneous courses. Acquiring reasonable expertise in a full taijiquan curriculum could be likened to doing a masterʼs degree as the thorough learning of an entire curriculum takes somewhere between four to six years depending on student aptitude, time commitment and training circumstances.

The regimen of practices is designed to take the learner, in a principled way, through a wide range of experiences equipping him or her with a complete set of skills which can be employed under any circumstances. It can be argued that full understanding of early items in the curriculum and of the literature associated with the art cannot really be achieved until one has embodied the whole training. In this important sense, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

For example, it is difficult, if not impossible, to truly understand a basic solo barehand form without studying push-hands and the applications of that form. Likewise, it is improbable that one will achieve any high level of skill in tuishou by foregoing traditional studies and only practicing freestyle. Fixed-step push-hands practices are deepened by an understanding of moving-step drills and barehand training is greatly enhanced by the study of weapons.

It is through the interplay of these yin-yang dichotomies—solo and partner work, barehand and weapons training, theory and practice—that the art does its transformative work. The traditional styles evolved into their late 19th and early 20th century forms enabling practitioners to experience full understanding and mastery of the art.

There are of course, examples of schools offering a full and intact taiji curriculum but this is increasingly rare. A plethora of new simplified and synthetic solo forms appear yearly in the marketplace, often devoid of any reference to any other aspects of the art. The recent fusion—and confusion—of taijiquan with qigong gives little clue to masses of new practitioners what taijiquan is, how it works or what it is for. The dominance of Cheng Man-ch’ing’s highly abbreviated syllabus in the West for the last forty years has siphoned off thousands of potential full curriculum candidates as well.

When eager new taiji-fans do cotton on to the idea that there is something more to all this and feel moved to seek out something of greater range, they are deluged with data in the form of books, DVDs and YouTube clips, and confronted with an inverse scarcity of instructors fully versed or qualified in the entire syllabus of any style. This has lead to a generation of what might be called ‘taiji bums’; enthusiasts seeking out patchwork solutions as they study odds and sods from various sources to gain some semblance of a complete curriculum.

These days taiji practitioners typically learn a basic solo barehand routine, some qigong/standing practices, a weapon (usually straight-sword) and perhaps a few pushhands drills. This is most often heavily augmented with ‘freestyle’ push-hands workouts (a practice which exists nowhere in any formal traditional taijiquan curriculum or writing but which dominates taijiquan training worldwide). While this is certainly enough to give a recreational practitioner a general sense of the art, it must be asked whether a deeper and fuller experience and understanding couldn’t be accomplished through an actual traditional curriculum.

When teachers of high calibre are to be found they are often unwilling or unable to teach their whole system due to discouragements such as high dropout levels, time versus finance constraints, student usurpation and other frustrations prevalent in the modern mentoring-scape. There is little personal incentive today for teachers to develop the next generation of traditional torchbearers in the whole-art sense. Although there is much commerce done in the taiji teaching trade in modern times, it just doesn’t pay to try to appeal to serious acolytes.

While there is certainly nothing wrong in studying with many teachers to gain varied perspectives and new movement vocabulary, the result seems to be the formation of a taiji community composed largely of ‘forms collectors’. While the open-mindedness of this approach may have real benefits for taiji society, building one’s repertoire in this fashion may lead in the long run, to an endemic problem as successive generations of teachers pass down increasingly hodgepodge curricula.

What is a full curriculum?
This issue of full curriculum study is complicated by issues arising both in interpretation and in historical fact. Taijiquan styles developed over generations and vary greatly based on factors such as: from which point in history the curriculum is being studied, which branch of a particular style is being studied and which aspects of the style were made known to the school promoting the curriculum. Indeed, given the previously mentioned tendency toward self-justification, promoters of various styles have been known to depict taiji history/lineage/curriculum in a just-so manner as to create justification for their own particular body of knowledge. Anyone can say anything they like about these issues—and they do.

Regardless of the particulars however, a full curriculum in any style of Chinese martial arts will include: preparatory practices; solo and partner bare-hand forms and exercises; solo and partner short and long weapons forms and exercises. In Chen-style Taijiquan for example, the curriculum is broadly outlined as follows:
1. Zhanzhuang (Standing Post)
2. Cansigong (Silk Reeling Training)
3. Taolu (Bare-hand Forms)
4. Wuqi (Weapons)
5. Tuishou (Push-hand)
6. Fangshengshu (Applications)

Within wuqi, there exist several weapons routines (sabre, straight-sword, pole/spear, halberd, double sabre, double straight-sword) and depending on the branch there can be even more. Likewise there are multiple forms, drills and practices within each of the six outlined categories. In most Chen schools these various aspects will be taught in a somewhat intermingled fashion. The practical teachings are normally interspersed with wisdom around principled practice and in some cases guidance toward improvement of personal character qualities derived from Chen family ancestral doctrine.

In the case of Yang-style Taijiquan the curriculum is structured in consonance with the teachings of the Taijiquan Classics which essentially submit the possibility of spiritual illumination (shenming) through a mastery of the thirteen powers. These thirteen can be subdivided into, those having to do with the legs and waist (the wubu or ‘five stance phases’), and eight core kinetic possibilities which are dependent on an intact leg/waist structure. Ingeniously, the ‘eight gates’ (bamen) study is broken into two main categories, ‘the square’ and ‘the diagonal’ (sizheng and siyu). These function interdependently to manage a vast range of martial situations. The standing practices, solo bare-hand form and push-hands training are crafted to take the learner progressively into the square/diagonal study. The work then continues to extend outward through weapons training.

The full curriculum in my own Yang-style Taijiquan program looks something like this:
1. Taiji Preparation studies:
Zhanzhuang (Standing Post)
Luodian Qigong (Breath Placement Training)
Taijigongli (Taiji strength, flexibility and conditioning training)
2. Taiji Solo bare hand:
Yang-shi Taijiquan (108) (Yang-style Taijiquan solo form)
37 Essential Forms
3. Taiji Push-hands:
Bapan Jiazi Dingbu Tuishou (Eight preparatory fixed-step drills)
Sizheng Tuishou (Four-square Push-hands. Fixed and moving variations)
Dalü (Large Rolling)
4. Taiji Sparring:
Yang-shi Taijisanshou (Yang-style Taiji Sanshou: 88 form, mix & freestyle)
5. Taiji Sabre:
Yang-shi Taijidao 13 (Yang-style solo sabre—‘Fu Zhongwen’)
Yang-shi Taijidao 32 (Yang-style solo sabre—‘Chen Yanlin’)
Yang-shi Taijidaofa Shiyong (Yang-style Taijidao Applications)
Shisanshi Dao (13 Power Sabre—solo & partner training)
6. Taiji Straight-sword:
Yang-shi Taijijian (54) (Yang-style solo straight-sword)
Shisanshi Taijijian (13 Power Taiji Sword—solo & partner training)
7. Taiji Spear & Halberd:
Shisanshi Taijiqiang (Yang-style 13 Power Spear—solo & partner training)
Sanfa Taijiji (Taiji three method Halberd—solo & partner training)
8. Taiji Literature
Taijiquan Jing, Yangjia 40 Pianzhang (Taijiquan Classics, Yangfamily
Forty Chapters and other literature)

While the details of a full curriculum program will vary from teacher to teacher even within a style, the list above gives an accurate representation of a traditional taijiquan program. Each facet is considered to be integral to the understanding of what the art is and how it is intended to function in theory and in practice. Generally the biggest differences occur around preparation practices, sparring approaches and the long weapons. Some styles also include apparatuses like the fan, double fan, the staff and other weapons which were not documented in former times.

Many books released over the last century have purported to be ‘complete’ taijiquan books. The better ones at least give a summary of a full curriculum and some are excellent, but for the most part, these publications have done a poor job of presenting the full method of any taijiquan system. There are some notable exceptions. Tseng Ju-Pai attempted something akin to a full Yang-style curriculum in two volumes in 1975 and Dr. Yang Jwing Ming presented his full version of Yang syllabus (sans sabre and spear) in 1981. The best full curriculum book remains Chen Yanlin’s controversial 1943 manual: ‘Taiji Boxing, Sabre, Sword, Pole, Sparring Compiled’ (Taiji Quan, Dao, Jian, Gun, Sanshou Hebian). Although there are several chapters of this book available in English and French the work has yet to be translated in its entirety.

What ‘full’ has to offer
I can imagine some readers thinking, ‘Well this is all well and good for people wanting to become teachers and masters but I just do taiji for me. I don’t need to learn all that stuff to be satisfied.’ Many recreational taijiquan players are very serious about their practice. They exercise their form daily, go to classes regularly and attend workshops and events because of a real interest in the art. Often they have learned many different forms and still feel something missing in their basic understanding—the difference between snacking on bits of this and that versus getting one’s teeth into something deeply nutritious.

It’s possible to practice many forms of very different character and remain always at the same skill level. Like a music enthusiast learning to play song after song in the same way without deepening understanding of the music and their instrument, many taiji players cruise along for years and even decades, without quite getting it. They read books, watch videos and go to workshops but always with the same eyes—eyes searching for something to help them break through.

This is what the curriculum does. The preparation work breaks ground for the solo form. This in turn sets the conditions for basic partner practice, then advanced and so on. Each new stage of the process stretches the player, as in the making of a Chinese sword, where each beat extends the block of raw steel until it can be folded back on itself, lengthening, strengthening and becoming malleable. Step-by-step one is moved past their limitations, through their resistances and beyond their expectations into the very world of grace, coordination and connection that first drew them to taiji. Learning to experience oneself in new ways through taiji and never getting bored—this is not only for elite players, its for every player.

Mastering a full curriculum in taiji is not about checking off boxes on a list or collecting certificates, its about entering a world where a new type of dialogue can occur both with one’s playmates and with oneself. Its about touching into and even living through something ancient, something classic and something profound. Ultimately everything in the whole world of taijiquan can be found in the full curriculum study.

In the past the masters said, ‘If it doesn’t contain the thirteen powers, it cannot be called taijiquan.’ Today it’s not uncommon to find practitioners who don’t even know what this refers to. Taijiquan requires serious effort but it offers high benefit. So there are two questions: Is the art worthy of my effort? And, am I worthy of its benefits? To change one’s thinking, to value one’s own commitment, to go the longer path up the higher mountain.

Only by the willingness of teachers to pass down, and students to learn, whole taijiquan systems, can the technical knowledge and holistic insight gained over generations be preserved. To push ourselves and our teachers is to keep a living art alive for future generations.

Sam Masich has mentored about 50 students through the full Yang-style Taijiquan curriculum in the last thirty years. He has taught his three month Yang-style Taijiquan Full Curriculum Intensive twice, once in Canada (2001-02) and once in México (2009).

He lives in Berlin, Germany. Information on his work can be found at

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