The following discussion by Jeffrey Segal is reproduced from the thread Breathing Methods and Control in Taijiquan in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum on 26th December 2004.
I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season. Before we turn again to the theme proper of this thread, it may be useful for me to clarify my purpose in this and other debates that involve different aspects of Form, Force, Combat Application and Philosophy, the 4 pillars of great martial arts.
This is the official Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum and being a Wahnam Taijiquan instructor, it is my duty and great privilege to put forth the Shaolin Wahnam views on those points presented here that differ from ours, so that the many Shaolin Wahnam students reading this pages will not be confused into thinking that our remaining silent is a form of tacit agreement.
I am very careful about mentioning “Shaolin Wahnam views” and when I do so, it is with Sifu's blessing. Sifu pays close attention to this forum and considers our posting here to be a vital part of our training.
Please remember that when we mention any disagreement, it does not mean that we disrespect other views, though we honestly think our views are correct. We make no apology for this statement that we think our views are correct - just as others who think their views are correct need not apologize for their belief. It is only logical. If we didn't think our views were best (for ourselves), we would not hold them or follow them dedicatedly in our daily practice.
Similarly, respecting other views does not mean hypocritically saying how right and wonderful their views are when we know that personally we ourselves would not accept and follow those views. What it does mean is that we accept their right to their views and different practice and would not attempt to change them. What they choose to believe and practice is their own business. However, if someone values and appreciates our advice, we are ready to offer our help generously. In many ways this whole forum is a glorious elaboration of these principles.
Next post, back to breathing
I'd like to now spend some time addressing the various questions and points that have been put forward in this thread.
“I have been fascinated with the Shaolin Wahnam breath control techniques,which according to Sifu allow the exponent to spar for hours without being tired. Unfortunately, I have yet to experience this first-hand (but I soon will). Also according to Sifu's book "The Complete Book of Shaolin", Four Gates is performed with 5 breaths. I am wondering about that, because in between each breath, there are striking movements (or in Taijiquan parlance, fajing movements) which should require an expulsion of breath. I would have thought each strike requires an outbreath to expel the qi (and waste). Maybe the Shaolinquan instructors could explain this to me, although it is probably all academic.” Wuji.
Breath control is found not just in Shaolinquan but also in Taijiquan. It is surprising how few martial arts schools pay close attention to such an important aspect of combat application.
Depending on the purpose at hand and the various levels of attainment, students employ a variety of breathing methods. Initially, when the emphasis is on correct form and reasonable force, they use one breath per pattern. Later on, when the emphasis is on fluidity and speed, but without sacrificing correct form and force, they may use one breath for a series of patterns.
In such a series, there may be zero, one or more strikes, and each strike is usually executed with an out-breath. If for example, there are three strikes in that series, there will be three out-breaths. If the three strikes are consecutive, they may all be executed with just one out-breath.
One gains a clearer understanding of the above by realizing that a breath does not necessarily consist of just one in-breath and one out-breath. Breathing methods in Shaolin Wahnam are quite sophisticated and the following are just three of many breathing-structures. Each structure below constitutes one breath.
"Follow", or "sui" in Chinese, is a breathing technique where the exponent gently holds the breath but allow it to slip out naturally. "Swallow", or "tun" is another breathing technique where one gently lets the remaining energy sink gently into the dantian. My repeated use of the word gently here is no accident. Both the intention and the action are performed gently.
The amount of breath or energy involved as well as the time in between breathing techniques is regulated according to the intended purpose. For example, the first breath above, which involves five breathing techniques may be three times longer or just half as long as the second breath involving four breathing techniques.
I believe that in saying this is “probably all academic”, Wuji was referring to the fact that it will remain so for him until he has attended the intensive Shaolinquan course. I'm really looking forward to hearing from him, post-intensive Shaolinquan course! From the perspective of a student of Wahnam Taijiquan or Shaolinquan, all that I have written is by no means academic. These are the practical means that enable Shaolin Wahnam students to spar for hours without feeling tired. There are of course many other benefits. When you pay with your platinum card, you get all sorts of bonuses.
Now for some fun: Would anybody like to offer a sequence of patterns that follows any of the breathing sequences I have mentioned above? Shaolinquan practitioners are welcome to use patterns from their own repertoire.
Now it's time for me to go to the park and train!
Comments from Zhang Wuji
27th December 2004
Thank you, Jeffrey for that excellent and illuminating post - it answered just about every question I had. The only question left is "How do I do that?"
And yes, I meant it is academic for me. Because I have not experienced it yet, I can only make intellectual guesses, but i certainly want to learn the skill. I certainly did not mean that the fantastic breath control techniques and methods in Shaolin Wahnam are academic. And so, the answer to my question above is "learn from Sifu at the intensive Shaolinquan course."
And to make it even more fantastic, all these techniques are learnt in the course itself (though to do them well requires lots of practice, if my experiences after the qigong course is anything to go by)
28th Dec 2004
I'm glad you enjoyed my post. I have plenty more information concerning the theory and practice of breathing in Wahnam Taijiquan which I plan to post over the holiday period.
“and to make it even more fantastic, all these techniques are learnt in the course itself.” Zhang Wuju.
I'm not sure whether you will learn all the techniques I've spoken of during the intensive Shaolinquan course. To be honest, I can't recall exactly which breathing techniques Sifu taught at the last intensive Shaolinquan course I attended (March 2004). Apart from that, Sifu adjusts his teaching according to the level and needs of whichever students are attending so each course is different. I have a vivid memory of learning various breathing techniques specifically at the special Taijiquan course in 2002.
You can rest assured that Sifu will teach you whatever is right for you at the time you attend the course. You may even find that he teaches you some things without even mentioning them formally. These to me are 2 of the qualities that makes Sifu such a great teacher.
Shaolin Wahnam Australia (Melbourne)
“2. In - follow - out — swallow”
This is similar to what we use in One Finger Shooting Zen. It's also similar to the art Sifu taught us for increasing overall speed (by adding more and more patterns to a single breath cycle).