Interview with Sifu Adam Mizner for Taichimag
A return to the source
After the simplification of the form by Yang Chengfu and Wu Jianquan during the 30’s, Taijiquan has mostly become known to the public as a health exercise. Today, few teachers of this art are still capable of demonstrating the martial aspects and to apply its theory of empty and full when facing an aggressive opponent, including in China. Adam Mizner is among those exceptional people that come to prove that the simple forms of the Yang style still contain the martial principles which were at the origins of this school. Here you can read the original article in French, Adam Mizner Interview for Taichimag
By Emmanuel Angletiner - Taichimag n°7
His ability to maintain release in all situations and his mastery of Tuishou are of a rare level. And, furthermore, Adam Mizner is capable of utilizing these principles in the most dangerous situations, putting out a rigorous framework of coaching, or even dealing with experienced partners of other disciplines, in free exchanges. In Europe for a time in order to teach his art, he agreed to give us this interview.
Could you please introduce yourself to the readers of Taichimag ? How old are you and how long have you been practicing Taijiquan?
I am 37 years old and have been practicing Taijiquan for 20 years, naturally in the early years I was not really doing Taijiquan at all but just slowed down Weijia.
Where did you start studying Taijiquan and why did you come to this particular school of gongfu ?
I began training in Taijiquan in Australia at the same time I began training in Chow Gar Tong Long, I was encouraged by my teachers at the time to practice taijiquan to help develop more relaxation within my Tong Long. Like I said it was really just an outer shell with no true internal development as is so common among those intending to practice Taijiquan. When there is only an outer shell and one has not entered the door of the internal through the sinking and mobilization of the Qi then it is what I like to call “counterfeit Taijiquan”.
After 4 years or so I met someone with some real Taijiquan and my interest and then passion was ignited. The effortless power and grace was everything I had ever wanted from kung fu. It was clear to me that taijiquan was the way forward. I did not give up my external kung fu training until a year or so later, when it became very clear to me that the hard force on force nature of it was in direct contrast to my spiritual and meditative practice. At that time i let go of external training for good and have focused on meditation and Taijiquan ever since.
Have you been influenced in your practice by some people or masters ?
Yes of course. I have had seven primary teachers, all who have been greatly influential. Along the way I have met many other senior practitioners who have also influenced me to varying degrees. I am also influenced by the lives and skills of the great masters of the past.
In your teaching, which forms (Taolu) do you teach and how much importance do you put on them ?
Taolu practice is of course a very important practice and is at the essence of Taijiquan training. The way I see it, Taolu practice is the most advanced practice, in order to be able to do it correctly one must go through a series of body changes and Qi development exercises. These come in the form of body opening exercises, jibengong, song gong and Zhan Zhuang. When one is accomplished in these areas then he or she is ready to actually play Taijiquan and this is the true time to practice the Taolu.
Most modern people don’t have that kind of patience and or the time for such a learning schedule, alas in most schools the training begins with the Taolu. I like to introduce some Taolu work early while focusing on the Zhan Zhuang and song gong and as the students develop we focus more and more on the internal and external workings of the Taolu.
I practice a number of sets from Yang style Taijiquan from both Huang Sheng Shyan’s method and from the Yang Shao Hou method. My primary teaching tool is Huang’s set which is a variation on the 37 forms, though I have a few very senior and highly skilled students who have the needed internal development and thus have begun training in the Taolu sets passed down through Yang Shao Hou. Naturally all of my training influences every other part, it is all Yang taijiquan.
What is the main difference between Yang Shaohou’s style and Huang Xingxian’s (Huang Sheng Shyan) style of Taijiquan ?
Both methods are Yang style Taijiquan, there are only a limited number of postures in Yang style and the form sequence is always very similar. When we see some way out Taolu set that bares no resemblance to Yang style, that’s because its not Yang style, no matter the claims being made.
Taijiquan is the art of yin and yang, yin and yang must be realized in every function of the body, energy and mind. The governing skills to be developed are listening or Ting which is really the quality of knowing in the present moment and the Song which I like to translate as release. These two internal skills combined with the specific organisation of yin and yang in the mind and body give rise to Taijiquan and the 13 postures.
The older Yang family methods such as that transmitted through Yang Shou Hou are more complex and more demanding both internally and externally, they demand both a higher level of athletic ability and a higher level of internal development. Many of the “movements” are completely unseen to the eye, because of this the methods are very difficult to achieve. In contrast to this the more modern methods of Yang family Taijiquan are less complex and less demanding, the movements are visible to the eye. I believe it is possible to reach a higher level with the old methods but still most people achieve more with the newer methods. The older methods demand a kind of commitment almost impossible in our day and age.
Some people believe that some old or secret Taolu set will somehow give them special skills, this is certainly not the case. Its the correct body development and internal workings that give the skills. This aspect is often lost or misunderstood, even some lineage holders with old authentic forms have lost inner workings and thus are left only with the outer shell.
Do you think Huang Xingxian’s taiji had been influenced by his Hequan (Crane boxing) ?
Yes Huangs method was influenced by his White crane, every teacher teaches the art as he has embodied it, it can be no other way. Of the current generation teaching Huang’s method, some teachers have kept more of the White crane influence than others based on their experience and preference. My personal method and what I teach has had so much influence from old Yang methods that the White Crane influence is virtually non existent.
It looks like most part of Taiji practitioners are not able to use their techniques and theory for fighting nowadays, why is that and what do you think about it ?
The sobering truth is that most “Taiji practitioners” are not practicing taiji at all. This is not through any fault of their own, its simply that without the correct methods and internal development one cannot simply do Taijiquan. In order to do Taijiquan one must go through some major body changes to build a body and mind capable of doing Taijiquan. This is the primary purpose of the traditional practice methods.
Once one passes through that door and is actually doing Taijiqian then there is of course a lot more work needed to be able to apply the art in free fighting. The methods to do so need to be taught by someone with the given skill set. To simply attempt to fight when you have not achieved the Taiji body and are not using the true 13 postures is just normal external fighting wrongly labeled as Taijiquan.
It is my view that once someone has developed the body and mind, has sunken the Qi, can mobilize the Qi and produce the various jins, then one is capable of training to fight with the art. I have a small number of disciples who can truly fight with the art, but its not for everyone.
How important is tuishou and how should it be practiced according to you ?
Tuishou is at the essence of developing taijiqian application skills, without it one is practicing only a fragment of the art. The purpose of tuishou is to develop the skills of stick, adhere, join and follow. Though this may seem very simple it is very deep and it is in mastering these skills that true Taiji kung fu appears. Once one has skills in stick, adhere, join and follow then one can train in asking, neutralising, seizing and issuing.
Tuishao is a means to develop these skills and is not designed for competition. The training can vary from friendly and compliant when helping each other to learn to dynamics, and powerful when one’s skills are well developed. With deep investigation under the guidance of a skilled teacher who has these skills, one can develop authentic taiji kung fu and the seemingly mysterious powers the art is famous for.
How important is the use of intention (yi) when practicing Taijiquan ?
To say that Yi is fundamental is an understatement. It is Yi that we use as our main tool from the very beginning, Yi is how we command the song and the mobilization of the Qi, without it we fall back into the weijia method of movement. The vital point is that the Shen, Yi and Qi must be harmonised, this is the true goal of Yang taijiquan. If one can truly achieve this, his skills would be miraculous.
We can see clearly that if the Yi is doing something not in harmony with the qi that we are off track and following a false method. The work with the Yi should be simple yet deep, if it is too complicated or involves all kinds of imaginings then it has no use in real time.
Do you teach some specific stretching techniques to improve relaxation and if yes, where do they come from ?
Yes, I teach specific stretches to open the gates of the body. It is not related to stretching in the Yoga sense, but all about opening the fascia to allow grater Qi movement. The exercises come from the older methods of the Yang family and are said to be based on secret Daoist methods for Qi cultivation.
Do you have a message that you would like to deliver to the readers of Taichimag ?
The mind is king, the body must be developed and martial arts skills are fun and useful, but the ultimate goal is in penetrating emptiness and achieving peace.