We practiced Taiji outside in a lovely park, had mostly warm fine weather, and good long rest breaks which helped our brains absorb the learning. Keeping shoulder, hip and toe in line when moving. Some of the best martial art pearls of wisdom we gained were "No hollows, no protrusions" in relation to keeping a strong structure and defending your space; "Allowing the thief in the house" yielding to your opponents energy so they are then in the best position for you to strike; remembering to keep your get away room space between your feet; and Laoshi's favourite saying from the Yang Family transmissions "Pummel the soft flank mercilessly". The nights we spent oiling our new swords, scribing and remembering the form, and trying to sleep despite the best attempts of the other backpackers to imitate a boozy herd of elephants.
Best Martial Art Training in Applications
We practiced in pairs, and drilled just a few of the applications. Laoshi showed us 'Carry Tiger (in this case- Richard) to the Mountain', which is a double leg take down that basically spears your opponent (duifang) into the ground headfirst (although thankfully Tashi caught Rich). Laoshi also demonstrated 'Grasp Sparrow's (this time Tashi's) Tail' and 'snatch his beanie' while flipping him about. Learning the applications of the Michuan form some of which are quite vicious, reinforced the martial power of this ancient art, which as Laoshi says "Ain't your grandma's taiji".
At the end of Day 5 we were running low on energy, but most of us we had dinner together and got to experience more of Laoshi Rodell's stories mostly about swords and we got excited about the best martial art training still to come -five days of sword. In anticipation, Rich started to teach us basic cuts in the rather small room at backpackers, and also tried some flashing nunchaku moves, with the light off and with the fan going (and me covering my face with my arms).
Best martial Art Training in Push Hands (Tui Shou)
Push hands training occurred at the Katoomba gym squash court. We first revised the importance of body structure in being rooted into the ground, the finer points of yielding yet always being ready to counterstrike, and being fang song - relaxed with unclenched muscles, while at the same time being strong in structure and 'rooted' securely into the ground, to be like "steel wrapped in cotton". We practiced 'willow bends', with one person pushing and the other yielding, then tried some free play, during which some people were almost pushed into the walls. I found that to succeed I needed a lot more practice at sticking and following slowly (listening with your body to your opponent), before trying to use power and speed.
Day 7 was the beginning of our sword training and we got up super early to pack up and shift again up to the Blackheath Christian School which would be home for the next week. Our group was joined by two more Blue Mountaineers, Matthew, a student of the high school, Michael, and Tony who had come all the way from Perth.
Best Martial Art Sword Camp Begins
We starting basic cuts and drills with Dian and Ci (thrusts), and also deflections) before beginning the Yang Family Michuan Taiji Jian form. For this we split into two groups, with the beginners working to complete the first two sections of the 9 section form, and the advanced students, including Rich, working on completing the complete form over the course of this 5 day training.
On Day 8, the weather began to warm, we continued form work and more basic cuts (Pi- split, Tiao- upward spring and Duo - chop ) then started sword play in pairs, with only one person armed and the other practicing moving out of the way as in 'willow bends'. A most important part of sword practice is to move to where the sword is not, avoiding the sword by moving the whole body out of the way, leading from the waist just as with the open hand form.
On Day 9, the third day of sword training, I was feeling particularly stiff and sore, we moved out onto the oval over looking the mountains to work on more form and more cuts - Hua (slash) and Mo (wipe) (arm killers!), later migrating inside to escape the increasing heat of the summer sun.
We commenced two person free play and earned some bruises, and learnt the advantage of cricket gloves in protecting the thumbs (or one thumb at least).
We had about 6 hours training a day with good rest breaks and a luxurious 2 hour lunch breaks, during which we had many an interesting conversation and also practiced the open hand form to make sure the new stuff we were learning didn't push the old new stuff out of our brains.
Best martial Art Fun with Swords
On Day 10, Tony showed us (Rich, Marc and I) the benefits of doing yoga stretches in the morning which helped limber up our stiff muscles. It was a very humid hot draining day, and we did more form, cuts (Liao upward slash and Zha - poke downward), combination drills, and some slower free play which of course progressed into faster bruising free play. Laoshi encouraged us to 'Show in your eyes that you are like hungry tigers about to strike'. Tony showed us some Iron Shirt Qi Gong techniques from a different system, which were a little freaky yet fascinating.On Day 11 our last day of sword, the weather was thankfully cloudy and a lot cooler. We did some more yoga, finished off the form work and then practiced alone work on the moves we got stuck on.
Tony had to depart after lunch, and then we all went out into the oval under the shade of the pines for one-on-one bouts where the rest of the class would watch and then offer a constructive critique so we could better our play.This was a highlight of the sword seminar for me and we were all were excited and a little competitive, which is not ideal when you need to stay calm and focused so you don't get whacked in the face with the heavy wooden sword. One of the big traps we got caught in as beginners was lack of point control, and dealing the opponents sword instead of their whole body, and getting tied up with defense instead of counterstriking.
On the last night we all had dinner (a feast) together at the Chinese restaurant in town, where they had the super hot hot-and-sour soup and delicious deep-fried ice cream that most of us couldn't resist. Sharing lunch and dinner together as a group over the camp helped create the enjoyable friendly experience, and allowed us time to hear some of Laoshi Rodell's many humorous tales of his best martial art experiences through the world, and time for us to ask the many questions that arose about extensive knowledge of the Yang family Taiji system.
Is This the Best martial Art For You?
It was a bit sad to wake up on the last day and not have any training. Marc and I packed up for the long trip home over two days, and Rich spent another day with for his sojourn to Melbourne. I found the whole seminar and camp was a very exciting and invigorating way to start off the year and great motivation to really get stuck into a good training regime and advance my skills in taiji, in open hand forms and with my lovely new jian sword.
I encourage anyone with an interest in swordsmanship to attend the next seminar that happens. It's the best martial art experience you can get. With Laoshi and Linda Heenan attending the international Sword festival happening in Estonia this year there probably won't be a sword camp in Australia for a couple of years, but if any one wants to practice let me know!
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