My Learning Journey with Shifu Rennie Chong
by Frank Teo
The first account of my learning journey with Sifu Rennie Chong was in Nov 2014; that was after half a year of training under his guidance. During this period, it was very much the strenuous warm-up exercises and learning the 37-posture Taiji. It took a while to remember the postures.
Following that, the warm-up exercises were enhanced and get more intense. The same 37 postures were repeatedly practiced with emphasis on infusing Taiji principles into them - for example, the proper horse stance, hip-hand movement coordination, breathing technique, pushing technique, striking technique and many more.
With practice, I slowly begin to appreciate what Shifu taught. For example, in unconstrained space, I practice like a new learner executing the postures with big movements. In confined space, I execute the same with small movements. But the main point is not in the size of movement; rather it is to focus on "nailing" the foot to the ground. And one objective is to find that sense of balance - execute each posture in full and yet not to the extreme - there must be latitude for further movement at the end of each posture.
The finer points are more challenging to master. For example, Sifu advised us to execute movements slowly. How slow? "When raising the arms, it is like a fighting spider fanning out its front legs. When lowering the arms, float it downwards like a feather drifting. Execute movements slowly and you should be able to feel the qi." But it is not simply to purposely slow down the movements.
Another is the practice of intention/alertness. Here is what Sifu said, "Imagine a cat catching a mouse. That alertness. That cautious movement. That deep attention on the mouse. This is the basis of Taiji movement."
At this stage, I am practicing the 37-postures without much dependence upon memory - one posture leads to the next quite automatically without need to recall what is next. My pre-occupation is in translating the theories into practices through the 37-postures. During this period, there are frequent discoveries. For example, when I pay attention to the relative positions of my right and left hand, I discover that I can get a better sense of balance and coordination. Then, I would use a particular posture to execute a strike or push. When I can execute a strong punch or push naturally, I would confirm that I had executed it more or less correctly.
Although the practice seems to be the same, namely the warm-up exercises and the 37- postures, the feeling is different now. The sensation of qi in the palms during the meditation practice is positively identifiable. The palms are also warm despite meditating in the air-conditioned dance hall during the training sessions. There is a sense of progress and there is a sense of a lot more to learn.
What does all these translate to? Where did the patience and interest come from? For me, it is obvious - less backache, less susceptible to back and shoulder strain (due to my sedentary work life), improved digestion and less susceptible to indigestion, improved stamina (realized it during my routine jog), stronger core muscles - in short, a healthier body and a more alert mind. Another factor must be Shifu. He is an accomplished master who willingly impart his skills. He teaches, explains, demonstrates and helps us to execute Taiji correctly - all in the comfort of an air-conditioned dance hall will full height mirror at a very reasonable fee. It is indeed a rare opportunity be able to attend such a traditional Taiji training class in this modern age and close to home!