Huai Hsiang Wang, or just Howard Wang for us Westerners, visited Denmark recently and I had the pleasure of having him living in my house for around 10 days. It was the first time I encountered Howard, but my Danish teacher Torben Bremann had talked about his impressive skills so I was exited to get to touch him myself – and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Howard can clearly and calmly demonstrate a very high level of martial skill (he talks about modulating the energy core and says that the particular system, taiji, aikido or whatever is less important) and also has a wealth of knowledge about the more philosophical/spiritual aspects of life.

Howard and his student Frank, from Germany.

“the moment you touch we are connected”

Howards philosophy, wording and teaching style is different from what I have encountered before, although it seems to be pointing to many of the same things. This is how I understood the five principles of his approach:

  1. Rooting. Connecting from point of contact to (below the) foot, while also staying with the connection to the “antenna” (imagine you have an antenna above your head). Have a sense of both gravity pulling down and counter gravity moving up. Make space in the spine.
  2. Alignment. Always being aware of and staying with the center line. Keeping the joints open.
  3. Inflation/deflation. The ability to expand or empty the body. Based on releasing the unnecessary tension in the muscles.
  4. Bypassing. Never meeting the partner at the contact point, but rather expanding into their tension or into space.
  5. Synchronization. Connecting to and moving from the hip.

The difference between “running away from the force” and sticking is very clear when practicing with Howard. He emphasizes the connection to the tension or line of the other and then staying with that tension without disturbing it – which enables you to move your partner. When Howard lets me move his arm around it feels as if I am in control, but when I start trying to move away from his arm rather than trying to move him it becomes obvious that he is sticking to me and that I can’t get away. For me this connects to to core concepts.
– yielding is not running away, but giving yourself to the other and sticking to them. Not by trying to stick, but by being lighter than them.
– bypassing feels like “going past” the point on contact, stretching out further, rather than meeting the partner at the contact point. Howard often talks about bypassing as stretching the skin and instructs it as an opening in the wrist.

A video of Howard, that I found on youtube where he shows some of his skill.

Partnerwork

Howard talks about “feeding” as a central element in partnerwork. The feeder is the one who is helping their partner by giving a stable amount of force that can be worked with. However, the feeder is in this way also practicing their own sensitivity of what is going on.

If you are the active part in the exercise, these are the elements of application as far as I have understood Howards approach. When pushed, relax and open ( “hang on the other” by being lighter and softer, keeping internal structure so you don’t collapse, and let go of fear and ideas of fighting),´”antenna up”, bypass (yield), and expand (balloon) to balance the incoming force while connecting to your root (to neutralize it), then sense tension in the other (“feel the line”) and don’t disturb the tension in the other by fighting, put your mind on the other. To move the other put mind on the other and synchronize the whole body when moving.

Solo practice

“Remember the sensation.”

Most of Howards teaching is based on partnerwork. When doing solo practice he recommends visualization – always visualizing someone touching me to practice bypassing, expansion (ballooning) and getting the mind outside. Repeating the sensations from the partner work. When walking in everyday life he recommends keeping the connection between the feet and the antenna.

My practice focus

My experience is that when I practice with Howard I become better at expanding, physically as well as mentally. Instead of “falling into myself” when I try to yield I become better at expanding and balancing the force from my partner which enables me to stay with their tension. A few days after Howard left I was at a workshop where it really became clear for me that people feel me as heavier when I feel light. I feel more inspired than ever to work with lightness in my practice which seems to imply working with releasing both physically and mentally.

According to Howard I have some core issues holding me back all connected to what he calls “defragmenting the body”. The way forward implies remembering the antenna, focusing on relaxing and opening joints, opening the chest and dropping the tail (like a kangaroo). So largely the basics and I am focusing particularly on two elements:

  • Not collapsing. I am collapsed (in both legs and arms) when I am doing form and should focus on the (energy) connection between hand and foot. I drop into my knees which creates tension in my lower legs. I should stretch more up to really be able to feel the connection to the ground. Rather than being heavy in the legs, being full and focusing on feeling energy flow from the ground up.
  • Releasing tension: I have too much tension in my arms. Howard constantly told me to let go more and be lighter. I notice how I feel the line (the tension) in others much better when I am corrected and manage to relax my arms properly – and then manage to bypass by relaxing rather than trying to do something.
  • Keeping the mind outside. When I want to do something my mind automatically moves inside my body (often to the point of contact), but if I don’t try to do anything my mind can stay outside.
Howard

“Kong fu is a scientific and empiric system of Reverse self engineering”.

The core of Howards teaching system is constantly discover what is holding you back and letting it go. This also implies letting go of rules or systems.