Only because I was Dr. Yang Yang’s student, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to China on several occasions and to meet privately with his teacher, Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang, at his apartment in Beijing. On my first trip to China, in 1995, I remember walking around Grandmaster Feng’s neighborhood, uncertain of which apartment building was his. I recall clearly passing an older lady who, upon seeing a Westerner walking around obviously a bit lost, smiled and, without a word spoken, pointed to his apartment building. Apparently there was little doubt what a Westerner would be looking for at that time and place in Beijing.
Though this was my first trip overseas (and my first experience with jet lag), I was bursting with excitement and enthusiasm at the opportunity to meet Grandmaster Feng and to ask him about taiji (tai chi) practice. After welcoming me into his home, we sat on his couch and he brought a large apple, peeled it, and served it to me – I was a bit embarrassed by his kindness and hospitality. He of course first asked about how Dr. Yang was doing, and about taiji in America. After greetings and probably sensing my youthful enthusiasm, Grandmaster Feng then generously began an impromptu lecture on taiji practice. The very first thing he said to me was:
Do not practice in a low stance.
There are two general and, I think fairly obvious, reasons for this. Continually practicing in a low stance: 1) is against taiji principles, and 2) will inevitably result in injury. Of course the importance of nurturing was one of Grandmaster Feng’s preeminent teachings. As noted in the previous article, the last of Grandmaster Feng’s 12 principles is:
You will be successful if you know both how to practice and how to nurture yourself.
After a lifetime of practice in the martial arts, Grandmaster Feng knew well the dangers of practicing form in a low stance, and even mentioned people he knew who blew out their knee(s) by doing so. The potential harm to the knee joint is reason enough not to practice form in an exaggerated low stance. But the obvious physical danger aside, how is practicing form in a low stance contrary to taiji (and martial) principles? Well, as the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning says, let me count the ways.
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