Monday, August 8, 2011

In search of a better turtle

The beauty of zhan zhuang and tai-chi is the simplicity of their stance and form. One can easily grasp the mechanics of a stance (for example, embracing a tree), and with diligent practice, one's body can eventually generate the chi for health and structural benefits. As for tai-chi form, there is basically only one moving Form (let's disregard the weapon forms here). And a practitioner can work with different focus on this single Form to derive different benefits (for example, square vs round form, slow vs fast form, just to mention a few). For tai-chi Nei-gung, take Wu-style as an example, there are only 24 forms (some stationary stance and some with simple movements). In this post, I shall talk about the most important form in 24 styles: Golden turtle.

The most popular Golden Turtle can be seen in Mantak Chia's Iron Shirt Chi Kung and Wang DiXian's (汪棣贤) Tai-chi Nei-gong 24 styles (in Chinese). The form itself is simple: a squatting stance with horizontal spinal cord. Those practitioners who can go through the initial difficult period can get the great benefits out of this simple form.

The question is: Is this the only way to do the Golden Turtle? I searched the literature, and noticed that there are at least two published ways of doing the same. The first one is in a Chinese Yoga text called Positive yoga (正位瑜伽) by a famous Taiwanese yoga teacher, madam Chan. In Chan's book, the stance is simply called a squatting stance, but I have never seen any yoga teachers posting like this. The stance itself is exactly like Golden Turtle but work with the hands in praying position and elbows touching the legs. The rationale, as I see it, is for a practitioner to do the stance in a more aligned manner (in contrast to Wang's stance, unlike Chia's stance, the elbows do not touch the legs, and in both cases, the hands stay horizontally part). My view is that one should at least make one's elbow touching one's legs, like Chia's. Chen's stance definitely gets it benefit and is recommendable if one is comfortable with a hand praying position.

There is yet anther published golden turtle stance, and it is taught by late Wu-style grandmaster Wu TuNan (吴图南:student of Founding Father of Wu-style tai-chi, Wu JianQuan 吳鋻全, but no blood relationship) in a Chinese book called Wu tuNan tai-chi-gung (吴图南太极功) published by his disciple Ma YaoQing (马有清). Wu called his style "Turtle belly breathing"- 龜腹調息 and went further to make a perfect alignment by wrapping the hands around the legs and holding one's knees (Wu also got a "junior" stance with hands pointing forward, called "Cicada listening to quiet wind"- 蟬靜聼風). Whether or not one should go so far as Wu, in search of a better alignment, is up to each practitioner's choice. But surely Wu got a point here.

Wu-style practitioners treasure the golden turtle stance a lot, and some are not happy that Wang and Chia "disclosed the secret". They shouldn't be unhappy at all, because there are indeed different ways to practice the Golden Turtle as I mentioned above.

Classic Golden Turtle stance

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