Q: Complement Training

Q: How do you mix taijiquan into your external training? Do you completely separate the external and internal training or ever do them together?

Disclaimer: I’m a newbie. More experienced students can provide a much better and in depth answer for you and I encourage everyone (at any level) to post their training experiences and suggestions in the comments.

I’ll clarify the terms I used. “External” refers to more physical elements like: power, speed, strength, cardio, flexibility, etc… while “internal” refers to breathing, qi flow, using the mind, sensitivity, etc… No matter what you’re training, you’ll always have both, but your awareness of each depends on your skill. We have “hard” styles (e.g. Long Fist, considered an external style) and “soft” styles (e.g. taijiquan, considered an internal style).

Right now, my hard and soft style training are mostly separate because I’m a beginner. I do the Yang-style long form part 1 on my own and occasionally have it checked by an instructor. I’m still concentrating on basics like postures, proper breathing, timing of the movements, and qi flow. With a partner, I’ll work on drills like the “peng lu ji an” routine and taiji yin yang symbol. In kung fu class, we do soft drills like spine loosening and sticking/coiling – which are part of the YMAA curriculum (fighting forms).

Although I train hard and soft styles somewhat separately (for now), the styles complement and help complete each other. When I practice hard style sequences, qigong and taijiquan help me learn to be soft and hard at the right times and provide me with another perspective on body mechanics. When we practice sparring drills, students who can stick and have sensitivity pose the greatest challenge for me. When learning taijiquan, my Long Fist and White Crane background help me pick it up faster because I look for applications and structure. When I was recuperating from an injury, it helped me with balance and flexibility and being a student yourself, you know all the other benefits of practicing taijiquan. (This is my “short” answer. I may be going on a tangent from your original question.)

That was a beginner’s perspective and I’m just scratching the surface.

Thank you for your question. I’ve always appreciated the fact that YMAA teaches 3 styles: Long Fist (hard), White Crane (hard-soft), and Yang-style taijiquan (soft). Your question reminds me of how lucky we are to get a view on the whole hard-soft spectrum of martial arts.

4 thoughts on “Q: Complement Training

  1. Thanks for the detailed response and separate blog post! Appreciate the insight from others, it's very motivating. I guess a related question is what do you think of mixing conditioning/strength training with qigong/soft style training? I've heard before that it's a no-no to mix hard qigong and soft qigong? As I mentioned in the other post, I've been experimenting with intervals of hard and soft training. One workout I've been doing is conditioning and weight training (15-20 minutes) with qigong/soft training(15-20 minutes, repeating for total of maybe 1-1.5 hrs). It feels pretty good, like exhausting the muscles with conditioning helps relax them to have better flow. It seems like that's not the traditional way to do soft style training though, so I figured I'd ask the thoughts of someone else? Also, out of curiosity, when you do sparing and applications in your hard style training, do you also mix in push hands or do you usually just do push hands when you do your taijiquan training? thanks, -Chris

  2. hi chris,from my experience, mixing conditioning/strength training with qigong is fine. in fact, after the initial level of basic physical exercise, it is a must to add qigong into your martial arts training. without the internal side to complement it, the external is only able to reach a certain stage. mixing internal and external is seen in both eastern and western arts and exercises, whether they mean to have them or not. once you begin to coordinate with your breathing and begin to have a focused mind, it is already a low level of internal training. look at all the modern sports that do this: tennis, weight lifting, volleyball, fencing, etc.the way that we train right now isn't really set on if an exercise is hard or soft, but grouped by what style they belong to. for example, we usually practice white crane exercises first thing in the morning, taijiquan exercises after breakfast, body conditioning after lunch, and then sequence training after that. in white crane there are both hard and soft exercises. the same in taijiquan. the hardest part is being able to combine the two and knowing when and where to use hard and when and where to use soft.i believe traditionally, practitioners would learn hard before soft, but that's kind of difficult for us as the three styles we are trying to pick up are all almost completely different. i believe that if you are able to come up with a good training routine that fits your body and your needs, anything should be able to go (as long as you do it cautiously and safely). of course there are always "better" ways of training and more efficient ways of doing things, but everyone is different, so i think each person has to find their own training methods. it just depends what you are looking to accomplish.as for sparring/applications, we don't really differentiate between styles (or we try not to :P). although our foundation for sparring is white crane and our foundation for pushing hands is taijiquan, it all comes down to what our bodies naturally do with the reactions we have built. from my personal experience, white crane training has come into play when practicing taijiquan applications and taijiquan pushing hands have come into play while sparring. we're lucky in the sense that we have three styles which cover internal/external, hard/soft, and short/mid/long range fighting. we try to take what we can from each depending on our different body shapes/types, levels of understanding, and personal backgrounds.thanks for taking interest in our blog and for sharing your experiences with us. they may help us in designing future training exercises and new methods of self-torture :P

  3. Jon,thanks, I'm glad to get some confirmation on mixing conditioning with qigong. It does "feel right" but as you say there are often more efficient ways to train. I'm a little weary too with internal training and if there are health concerns if I'm doing it wrong. I'll try to listen to my body though and go step-by-step. I've mentioned my practice to other Tai Chi instructors and often get strange looks though. Maybe that's because they're not doing as much of both hard and soft style training. I like the idea of breaking up the day's workouts into different "styles," I'll try some more workouts like that.In regards to sparring, does that mean you allow grappling/throwing with striking? Also, out of curiosity, how do ya'll do (if you do) competitive style push-hands? My training partner and I have been experimenting with it, alternating sets of that and applications with the pre-set style. It feels like it adds more "aliveness" to the pre-set push hands, although can turn into hard style wrestling if we're not careful, which is why it seems to work better to alternate back and forth. It doesn't seem like I hear too often though of Tai Chi practitioners doing it. Sorry for the million-and-one questions. Appreciate the advice. -Chris

  4. hi chris,as of now, for pushing hands we have only added qin na and shuai jiao. no striking or kicking yet. personally i haven't trained for competition. i have mixed feelings about it. on one hand, it gives experience with different styles and different opponents, but on the other hand, you begin to build habits based on the rules of competition. for me, maybe sometime in the future :P when we practice applications, we start slowly and cooperate with our partners. as we begin to feel more comfortable with the techniques, then we begin to resist more and begin to give each other trouble. in the end, it all becomes free. of course sometimes it can turn a little more into wrestling, but that's because our level is still low. depending on how we feel, sometimes we go with it and sometimes we break. of course, when we start again, we try to remind ourselves to remain soft :P i believe in taijiquan, you should of course be soft, but there should also be some hardness. if you limit yourself to one or the other, you will only go so far in your training. as i said before, the most difficult part is knowing when to switch from one to the other. knowing comes from experience which in turn comes from practice :Pno need to apologize for the questions. they keep us thinking too :)

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