Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Summer Tan Tui Love


Every summer, it seems my focus in training returns to the famous Tan Tui set. I've been practicing the sets now for about 3 years, but with nowhere near the intensity of my Tang Soo Do training. I often add them to my class drills without explicitly calling it Tan Tui, because I enjoy how they flow right into normal TSD techniques.

Historical reasons aside, I've been contemplating why I enjoy the techniques of Tan Tui so much. To be perfectly honest, they aren't exactly special. In fact, once you've practiced them enough, they lose their exotic (to a karate person anyhoo) luster and just become another technique in your repertoire. In fact, I've thought of making Tan Tui required for black belts to know. When I mentioned this once, the irony of having black belts learn a "basic" form was not lost.



As I practice more, I find the Tan Tui movements to be especially useful in 2 distinct areas: upper body relaxation and using the legs to drive power into a technique.



Almost every karate student has done a punching drill in horse stance. Watching from the sides, you should be able to see a distinct difference in efficiency and power generation. Senior rank should have pretty loose upper bodies, allowing their core to lead the body. Lack of excess motion creates a faster technique because they are doing less. Junior rank, in a futile attempt to keep up with their seniors, attempt to force the technique. Their arms and necks tense and they start to throw a punch that is disconnected from the rest of the body, relying only on the arms and shoulders. After 100 punches, they start to get winded and wonder why the yudanja have just started to form perspiration. When I first started doing Tan Tui, I practiced with far too much tension, and was very disconnected in my movements. Even though it looked powerful, it was off-balanced and nowhere near its potential.

Tan Tui motions, especially 1 and 3, work the shoulders and require them to be loose and moving in a large frame. Remember when you were a kid and would let your arms hang dead while you spun in a circle? Remember the force that whipped your arms as a result? Tan Tui feels kinda like that. It has a whip to it that translates well to Tang Soo Do.

As for the second point, Tan Tui loosely translates to "springing legs". Ask a Tae Kwon Do or Tang Soo Do person to visualize a form that earns such a name, and I imagine you would get a very different form. I would expect to see a lot of jumping spinning kicks, maybe even a 540 or tornado and butterfly kicks. In Tan Tui, the spring refers to the momentum generated by transitioning from one stance to another. Moving from a horse stance to a front stance, you really feel that back leg getting into the action.

Of course, both of these principles should be expressed in the practice of Tang Soo Do. Unfortunately, this is often forgotten, especially with junior ranks.

So why add ANOTHER form if students are struggling to correctly perform their current curriculum? Let me attempt to answer from an instructor's perspective.

Frequently in class, I remind students to pay attention to their stance and transitions, hip rotation, relaxing the upper body and any other tips I can come up with. Sometimes they stick, but I often find myself saying the same darn thing every class. The pessimist in me thinks they've long since stopped listening to me, no matter how I spin it.

Then, we go to a clinic, and my students work with another instructor. The student returns to class and says to me in that star-struck amazed manner "Master so-and-so mentioned that we should be paying attention to hip rotation in our movement, as that is the source of our power." As I explode internally with frustration thinking "what sort of q-tips did Master so-and-so use to clean out my student's ears????" I politely gather myself and say reverently "Yes, Master So-and-so sure knows her stuff." Conversations like this have given me an affinity for bourbon.

Tan Tui is a lot like that. It's a new (from our perspective) way to teach something old; something that you should already be practicing. The focus is just different enough that you can really understand the needs for relaxation. Once you catch the feeling, you get a bit of an epiphany and apply the new found knowledge to your other hyung and movements. Ironically, that's a very circular path, as the movement principles used in Tang Soo Do were largely acquired from Hwang Kee's training in Tai Chi and--you guessed it: Tan Tui.

Tan Tui is practiced in many schools of Kung Fu, especially in the northern styles. There are 2 major differences: 12 and 10 "road" style with a few other number variations in the wild as well. Within these 2 schools are a world of difference in terms of speed and tempo, techniques, height of stances, size of frame and more. A few Shaolin versions don't even feature the famous "yoke punch" but do regular punches like you'd see in karate. If it is in the cards, I'd love to have a "Tang Soo Do" flavor of Tan Tui for my school with it's own emphasis, expression, and lessons to pass on.

We'll see...
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