Monday, October 25, 2010

Gary Torres: Journal Notes #10

Notes from my training with Dr. Gary S. Torres of the Phoenix Dragon Kung Fu Academy. At that time, Gary was offering classes in Michigan one weekend per month. I attended these semi-private classes, one-hour per month from January - September 2000 which is nine hours of instruction.
"Trained by the legendary Grandmaster Peter Kwok, Doctor Gary S. Torres has been teaching the Phoenix Dragon Kung fu System, a direct copy of the Kwok System for over fourty years. As both a physician and a martial artist, he brings to his teachings a unique perspective that simply can't be found anywhere else."
In my last posting: End of the Road: Journal Notes #9, I concluded with the journal entry stating that I quit training. Although I quit zhan zhuang training in August, I met with Gary one more time and then also quit this training after the September class.

A brief recap, the only form I had wanted to but didn't learn from my Long Island Tai Chi days twelve years prior to starting with Gary was a two-person fighting form. So I thought I knew everything about Tai chi except this form.

However, after a few classes with Gary, I realized how wrong I was! Sadly, I was too attached to my investment in the past to say, "Let's stop here and start at the beginning." In hindsight, I wish I had accepted the truth of my situation and had started anew, again.

In my classes with Gary, I learned a lot about body-positioning, stances, fighting strategy, the reasons why applications are the way they are in terms of body mechanics, etc.

Here is a sample of my journal notes while studying with Gary Torres. You can read more by following the link at the bottom of this page. (My current reflections are added in italics.)


* Hang by one hand from a rafter and punch as hard as possible with the other hand. Result? Not much power. Now stand on the ground and punch as hard as possible. Lots of power. Moral: Power comes from the earth.
(And I would add, the more "rooted", the more solid the punch. Practice stance to develop "root".)

* Keep the focus of questions on body placement and body mechanics.
(This was a big shift for me from the way I learned Tai-chi and one I struggled with for a long time even in zhan zhuang practice. Don't get all mystical/philosophical. Keep it real. Be able to demonstrate.)

* Develop sensitivity to intent. Does the person standing there intend to harm me? Got to be able to sense/feel that. If yes, what is the intention? Slander my reputation? Hurt me emotionally? Hurt me physically? So the daily, going-about-my-business needs to include developing a sense/feel or intuition of others' intent.

* The telephone book exercise. Open a telephone book somewhere in the middle. Place a hair on one page. Cover the hair by placing another page on top of it. Touch the page covering the hair with your fingers. Feel where the hair is. Add a second page covering the hair. And repeat. Develop a sensitivity of touch. Can you cover a hair with the entire phone book and be able to locate the hair?
(I got up to four pages and then quit practicing because it was no longer a novelty - practicing became a frustrating "impossibility". I wonder how sensitive my touch would be had I kept with this?)

* Question: What's the meaning of the soft in the hard and the hard in the soft? Answer: This means to have the sensitivity to change in an instant, to react spontaneously to changing situations, to be able to go from extreme hardness to nothing instantly. How is this possible? Relax! Relaxed muscles respond more quickly than tensed muscles.
(For so long I thought relax meant limp. And it made no sense that a limp relaxed body could respond quickly except through some Qi magic. It's been a tricky journey for me in learning the feeling of relaxed as in "relaxed is not limp". I think I'm beginning to get a sense of it now.)

* Question: What is the hardness of Tai-chi? Answer: It is having the body aligned in a precise, minutely particular fashion such that the vectors of force form one linked, connected path from the ground/earth to finger tips. To get and have this alignment is called having "groundpath".

* Question: How to train groundpath? Answer: This must be learned through working with a competent teacher. It cannot be learned from a book or video. Many Tai-chi teachers do not have this.

* Practice makes permanent. (Not practice makes perfect.) If you learn something wrong and practice it, you won't get perfection, you'll get a permanent wrong way of doing it.
(Boy did I learn this lesson big time! The old "Mr. Slinky" body that I developed in my early push-hands days still shows up from time to time in today's push-hands practice though less and less. Boy, if I could have it all to do over with what I know now... )

* The hungry duck story. Find a duck and start feeding it bread. It will consume past what it can assimilate and poop out what it can't assimilate. People learning Tai-chi are like the hungry duck. Always want to see a new trick without understanding, digesting, assimilating what they already learned.
(I love this story. Since I've been practicing zhan zhuang, I see it's doubly true. There aren't a lot of new tricks in zhan zhuang. It's more about taking a simple lesson "stand and relax" and chewing it over and over and over and understanding, digesting, and assimilating deeper and deeper and deeper. )

* Primacy of stance. Structure determines function. 10,000 techniques are useless without the proper foundation. All applications are built on different stances.
(I think this is where I realized the shortcoming of my original Tai chi training. The way I originally learned Tai chi was like building the house (learning forms) without first building the foundation (practicing stance). )

* Stance must become your nature. Not your second nature, but your nature.
(I didn't have a clue what this meant at that time. I think I'm getting a better sense of this now. Practicing stance is slowly transforming my body. The effect of stance work is becoming my natural body. Maybe this is the same as saying, whatever you do a lot of, is what you become.)

* Purpose of stance is to train the body. It is not to build strong legs, however, this is a peripheral benefit.
(The above three notes are about Tai-chi stances, however, I think these notes are also equally applicable to zhan zhuang stance.)

(The following notes applied specifically to my case regarding the way I first learned Tai-chi.)

* Question: Is it better to learn karate first to get a clear sense of application and then learn Tai-chi? Answer: Tai-chi is a martial art and has all the application in it. Without karate or other kung-fu experience, you will be learning applications for the first time in the combat form.

* Disadvantage of trying to learn the combat form with a Tai-chi dance background is that you don't have the application knowledge already. The Tai-chi form needs to be taught and learned as a martial art.

(Even though I have forgotten the details of these classes, the lesson that sticks with me is that IF you aren't learning and training Tai chi EXPLICITLY as a martial art, then all you are learning is a slow-motion dance form. Don't fool yourself and expect your tai chi dance to magically work as a martial art just because you learned a move called Deflect-Parry-Punch.)

See also: Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi: Martial Stances

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: The End of the Road: Journal Notes #9
Next article in this series: Three Years Away: Journal Notes #11


  1. Perhaps letting go should include the "PAST"?

  2. Oooo you Guru6040

    I really enjoy reading these post from his old journals! It's very rare someone is willing to share their path, growth, and insights as is shared here. I am thankful as it allows me to see what is possible and how insights along the way can change.

  3. Guru6040,
    Many people hold onto their past in different ways: personal dreams, values, identity, bad memories, etc...

    In Wujifa Zhan Zhuang, we look at the body: How deeply can you relax while standing?

    Many practitioners, including myself, have different muscles or areas of the body that are chronically tense. We could call these tense areas a muscular holding pattern.

    My current understanding is that tension is an impediment to developing relaxed connectedness ("Sung"); a component of internal strength.

    Sometimes relaxing a tense area or releasing a holding pattern results in changes in demeanor or behavior.

    Sometimes an experience or conscious behavioral change results in muscular changes.

    Whatever the approach, letting go can be _________ .

    How did you fill in the blank?

  4. Let me see if I understand you correctly. You state that your studies with Grandmaster Torres exposed the deficits in your previous practices yet you decided to quit with him. I find that curious. If one finds a book with all the true answers to something they have been after for many years why would you give that book away?

    Saying that I must tell you I studied with Dr. Torres for over 15 years and received a number of black belts from him and I had studies other styles prior and some since. What he teaches is THE REAL THING. Your prctice was with Tai Chi, in all the classes I have seen across the country what he teaches is the only form I think that represents what true Tai Chi is. It doesn't take long to expose how little most of the others don't really know or understand. That was not the case with Dr. Torres. Everyone who truely loves martial arts should at least take one class from him, from that I am sure they will come to the same conclusion.
    Martial Arts is a search for clarity and truth. What one learns should represent just that. D. McGee

  5. Hello D.,

    During this time, I came to realize that my first five years of Tai chi training was mostly b.s. There were a lot of holes to fill and wrong-learning to un-do. What I needed to do was to basically start over. But instead of being mature and accepting the facts, I became angry, resentful and regretful. I just couldn’t come to grips with all this.

    Also, my other training was maxing out what I could handle. The duck was really, really full. I just couldn’t assimilate everything fast enough. So like an idiot, I threw the baby out with the bathwater.

    I know that I lost a huge opportunity, one which I may never have again.

    On the bright side, I saw (at least a glimmer of) the light in those nine short hours training with Dr. Gary Torres and that influence can be seen in many of my posts in this blog.

    Thank you for reading and commenting!