The Real (Long) Yang

As I mentioned in previous blogs, my Tai Chi training came from a school founded by students of Professor Cheng Man-Ching, who had studied with celebrated Master Yang Chengfu in China and eventually simplified the Yang long form from 103 to 37 postures. After practicing this short form for 28 years, I am comfortable applying the principles of Tai Chi within the flow of this exercise.

I expected to get out of my comfort zone during this trip, but I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be to maintain balance and focus learning new postures. My first experience came in Omaha, Nebraska, under the tutelage of Bruno Repetto, who learned the Yang long form in Seattle from Yang Jun, a direct descendant of Yang Chengfu and Yang Lu Chan, the creator of the Yang form, which is the most popular of the five major styles of Tai Chi.

While the Yang long form includes much repetition of the 37 postures I learned, many postures are completely different. For example, “Needle at Sea Bottom,” “Turn Body and Chop with Fist,” “High Pat on the Horse,” “Left and Right Tiger Strikes” and “Turn Body and White Snake Spits Out Tongue” left me somewhat twisted out of shape. It was clear that I would need much study to expand my Yang repertoire. You can watch Yang Jun perform the full 25-minute long form here.

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Yang long form instructor Bruno Repetto, right foreground, leads his class in the saber form in Papillion, Nebraska, near Omaha.

Repetto, a mathematician who helps to ensure that Union Pacific trains run on time, teaches Tai Chi for the love of it, and refuses to consider accepting payment, at least for the time being. “Maybe when I’m retired and moved back to Seattle, I can devote more time to it,” he said. “But I’m not going to make a living off this.”

Many Tai Chi teachers have struggled to make a living off the training, but as Taoist martial arts gain popularity, that could change. In Omaha, Repetto is competing with a number of teachers, particularly those who work with the Cheng Man-Ching form.

“Many students, when they see what I am teaching, are interested in the more complex form,” he said. “And I spend the time necessary to make sure they have the postures just right.”

Repetto was born in Peru, where his family moved from northern Italy in the 1800s. His expertise in mathematics applied to computer technology won him a scholarship in the United States, where he eventually received a PhD in applied mathematics and a job offer from Boeing. He moved his family to Seattle, where he became a U.S. citizen.

Although he had dabbled in judo as a youngster, Repetto knew when he saw a Tai Chi performance by Yang Jun that he had found his passion. “There really is no comparison, for me, between the external martial arts and the internal arts. Tai Chi helps you focus on health as well as your martial arts skills.”

While the sword form includes 67 different postures, the saber form postures are based on a 13-line poem. I stood clear as Repetto led his students through the saber form, which is a martial technique that includes cuts, uppercuts, slices and stabs. Yang Jun demonstrates in this video how the poetry is conveyed in a saber dance that is firmly rooted in the principles of Tai Chi.

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