Long, long ago I was a serious martial artist, and have the resulting damage to my body to demonstrate my devotion; and then one day after I turned thirty my body said "Enough!" and one aspect of my life in that regard ended and yet another aspect began. Suffice it to say that due to certain childhood injuries I simply can no longer risk engaging in rough and tumble aspects of what I was conditioned to think of as 'real' martial arts training and practice -- so no more semi hard-contact sparring practices, no more heavy duty mat work, no more strenuous hand to hand struggling. Nowadays (and for many years now, really) it's either strictly forms -- also known as kata or sets -- work or nothing at all. Heck, so bitter were my feelings over what I considered to be my body's betrayal that I even ended all forms of martial arts practice for a decade -- more or less from age forty to fifty. Then at age fifty (and I am fifty-six now) I began training and practicing again on a daily basis and haven't yet stopped. Now, mind you, in my youth I would have sneered in disdain at what I today call training and practice, but then again to be fair to the seasoned old athlete I am today, I did not have had the intellectual ability or patience back then to do the sort of intricate movements that I work on today. The form of martial arts I practice today is simple to explain on the face of it but really, it is not. The announcement that I practice a Yang style Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) form is of value only if you know what Grand Ultimate Fist (just one possible translation) is. The opinions on that are many, but I just consider it to be a rather interesting form of exercise that does not bore me to tears. Call me prosaic in nature. Anyway it's predominantly slow motion martial arts movements done in a set pattern and it takes between twenty to thirty minutes to complete from beginning movement to the end of the form. It is designed to moderately challenge one's body while promoting good blood circulation and an emotional feeling of contentment while stimulating the body's general nervous system, and -- in my experience anyway -- sort of perform the service of a general chiropractic adjustment for one's body. Not bad for one exercise program. Now, however, we get into some of the confusing aspects. Yang style Taijiquan as it is performed by the majority of practitioners on Earth is a slow and gentle system of martial arts related movements that do not altogether come to a complete halt once the pattern is started. That means that the end of a punch or a kick one immediately continues into the beginning of the next movement and then so on and so forth so that you can think of it (and any taiji form, I guess) as sort of the gently flowing current of a river; never stopping once it's begun. Ah but then again, that would be too simple, because some forms of taijiquan includes periodic fast movement sequences (fajing) that one could envision as a brief segment of rapids along the course of your river. So in some forms you are moving languidly in a nonstop fashion -- essentially spiraling into the next movement in one manner or the other -- and then -- hah! -- you are moving with explosive energy for just a split second -- or maybe two -- and then you are back into a slow motion coiling and releasing of energy and physical movement pattern. But . . . not in the traditional Yang Cheng Fu version (or should that be written Yang Chen Fu?) of Yang style taijiquan. That's one of the forms that's traditionally taught and practiced as being exclusively a singular speed and rhythm form in slow motion from beginning to end. But then again, I am training in a Yang Lu Ch'an version of Yang style taijiquan instead . . . or at least I have been told that I am. You see, there is some controversy about that claim. The theory goes that a pair of brothers were taught the original Yang style as created by their very own father Yang Lu Ch'an -- actually I think there were three brothers, but let's not additionally complicate this tale -- one of these brothers was impure as an artist but very clever as a promotional business man and so he -- Yang Cheng Fu -- removed most of the physically challenging movements from the family form and then promoted his severely watered down family version of the Yang style form to all of China (beginning in the 1920s or 1930s I believe) as the real deal; and since it was vastly simpler to do than the genuine family form, everybody enthusiastically embraced it as a really neat form of healthy exercise that even the elderly and the infirm of body could do in one form or the other. Sweet! Supposedly that brother made a bloody great fortune from his innovative idea. Yay! Then there was the sorehead brother -- and ironically I can't recall his name. Boo! He continued to teach the original style of the family form, which was much more physically and spiritually demanding in nature than the form that his brother Yang Chen Fu was teaching. But since this 'original' form was rather demanding in nature and not for everybody -- as some people just couldn't do the movements -- he had very few students. Besides which, I remember reading that he had a violent temper. Aw, what a shame! Oh and also the story goes that this particular brother had a rather distressing habit of trying out full power and full strength movements on his unprotected students . . . which is (seriously) a very bad thing for any instructor to do. But what few students he had learned everything he could teach them and they in turn trained a small cadre of other students, and I mean really small numbers; and then one day (in the 1970s I believe) this one rather old Chinese gentleman taught this earnest youngish Australian bloke (yes, somewhere in Australia) the original Yang Lu Ch'an style of Yang Taijiquan who in turn then began teaching it to the world via training videos and seminars and so forth and so on. Of course since the mysterious Chinese gentleman went away after training this Australian bloke, the Aussie could never prove that he'd actually learned his brand of taijiquan from an original source teacher. It's genuinely mythic in nature, isn't it? Or at least it's material for a really weird soap opera. Oh and the Australian gentleman himself died about three years ago and so that ended the possibility of ever being able to substantiate his claims. But for reasons of my own, I believe him. So nowadays the fellow's grown children continue teaching his version of the Yang style taijiquan form to the world, and in November of last year I purchased a DVD instructional video from them and began learning this different version of the long form -- and in this case it is perhaps the lengthiest version of the Yang form in existence. Sheesh! Will this damn form never have an end to it? Oh,and as to my taiji background; something like twenty-five years ago I learned a variant of the traditional Yang Cheng Fu form in about six weeks time -- which is waaaaaaay too fast for even an experienced martial artist to learn any taijiquan form, believe me. But I was still relatively young at the time and impatient to 'learn' it and so I trained and study for about twelve hours per day until I had the fundamental basics of that particular long form. Heh . . . I was smugly proud of myself at the time . . . not realizing that as a result of my haste to 'learn' I would actually have to spend several years after that relearning what I erroneously thought I already knew. What fun! So, for the fun of it, let's contrast that with who and what I am today as a more seasoned practitioner. I began on November 20th of last year teaching myself from the instructional DVD and also from a comprehensive illustrated textbook --that I was able to download and print out -- and yet I have gotten under my belt only three-quarters of this form to date. Actually had I not put a halt to additional learning I could have finished learning it in August but I halted so that I could get really good at what I already had learned up to that point. I am, you see, trying to savor the learning process this time around, and in relative terms the learning of it has been quite tasty. Really, I have no way of knowing if this supposed Yang Lu Cha'an version of the Yang taijiquan form is in fact closely related to the genuinely original version but it is extraordinarily lengthy and complex and outrageously challenging (for a man of my age anyway); and I have had a great deal of fun both in the learning of it (to date that is) and practicing what I have learned of it on a daily basis. But now for the health related stuff. I move easier than before and so so with the stride pattern and gate of a much younger fellow. In addition my leg muscles have turned to iron. Weird, eh? They never did that when I performed the Yang Cheng Fu version of this form; but daily practice of what I know of the Yang Lu Ch'an version has made the musculature of my legs rock hard. Oh and speaking of rock hard there have been interesting developments in another aspect of an aging man's existence as well. Who needs Viagra? I have taijiquan long form practice! I never expected to reap that sort of benefit. I mean I have done a rather physically strenuous form of Yoga for many years now and that stuff -- though it's kept my body limber -- never did much for me in the libido department. Very strange. In a way it's pretty cool though. I might have accidentally stumbled across a method of revitalizing the fundamental sex drive of older men that does not depend on herbal or pharmacological infusions and yet it's worthless to anyone who hasn't had a rather extensive martial arts background, because without some rather serious training and study it's highly unlikely that anyone could pop this instructional DVD (even with the accompanying illustrated textbook on hand) into a player and learn enough of the form close enough to the instructor's rendition of the techniques to reap those particular physical side benefits. Heck some of it has been really challenging for me and I have been studying various aspects of the martial arts since 1975. So all of this is because it's been a slow morning and because I simply wanted to write about this stuff, and also because I've decided to go ahead and finish off the learning of this long form by the 20th of this month simply to bring the process to a satisfyingly symmetrical close.