by Nigel Sutton
Zhou Mu Tu lives in southern Malaysia and his martial arts experience consists of training in Taijiquan and Karate. His practice of the former has been colored by his black belt karate skills insofar as the reason he first took up Karate was to make up for what he saw as Taiji’s lack of sparring practice. Having reached black belt he returned to Taiji well aware of just how much Taiji actually had to offer.
Shifu Zhou Mu Tu is easily overlooked as he is often overshadowed by the presence of Shifu Lee Bei Lei, his shixiong and the man he regards as being his main teacher since Shifu Lu Tong Bao died. But he is undoubtedly a man of great skill. Even in his 60s he is still competing in pushing hands competitions and beating people who are more than 20 years younger than him. His interest in Taijiquan has always been in its practical function as a fighting art. Not content with “mouth gongfu,” Shifu Zhou has also practiced Karate, acquiring a black belt before returning to Taiji, satisfied that it was the martial art for him.
Shifu Zhou is quick to tell you that he is only interested in pushing hands in so far as it develops fighting skills. Unlike most exponents from whom you hear this, he is not using this as an excuse for poor pushing hands skills. Shifu Zhou has represented Malaysia in international competition on a number of occasions and is truly a Shifu of practical Taijiquan.
Taijiquan is based on principles which are laid out in the classics. Thus, an understanding of the classics is very important. When I first started learning, during all those years that we were training on our own, the only guide that we had was our memory of what Shifu Lee had taught us and the classics.
Of course if you’re just learning Taiji for health I don’t think the classics are very important; but if you want to train in pushing hands and sparring then the principles laid down in the classics are vital. You must, however, take care to ensure that the principles can be applied. You can know all the theory in the world but if you can’t do it, it is useless.
Pushing hands, form and sparring are all three facets of the same art, but at the root of all achievement in Taijiquan lies yi: mental intent. True qi is a source of strength in the body but it is the yi that motivates the qi, so place more importance on this. If qi is important then yi is doubly important. If your yi is no good then how do you expect to be able to hit people? You certainly can’t hit people with your qi.
Don’t get me wrong, qigong is an important practice. We practice four types: one is seated meditation, the second is the moving qigong form, a third is the neigong set of internal strength exercises, the fourth is zhan zhuang, standing post exercises. The latter method when stances are held for long periods of time is extremely effective in strengthening the body, both internally and externally. Zhan zhuang is an essential training method. In our school we use lots of different postures: you can take moves from the solo form such as lift hands or single whip, the beginning posture. All of these may be used.
Form training’s purpose is also to train your strength, lay the foundation for your needed skills and to improve your health. But perhaps the most important thing is to train your mental intent. In every technique you must train your technique so that you are not only doing the postures with your body but also feeling them with your mind.
In this process song is very important because if you are not relaxed you cannot be agile, alive. But you must make sure that you don’t confuse song with limpness. Your relaxation must be alive and alert. If you don’t have relaxation your automatic response to attack will be to resist and this is not Taijiquan.
**The following article was excerpted from Nigel Sutton’s book, Wisdom of Taiji Masters**