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Bob Boyd - Bao Tak Fai Tai

As the Disciple of Grandmaster Ip Tai Tak and founder of the International Snake Style Association (ISSA), Bob Boyd ( Bao Tak Fai Tai) is teaching the Snake Style tai chi system world wide. If you would like to know more about organizing a snake style tai chi workshop in your area, please contact him here.


Yang Tai Chi – Tai Chi Class Versus Personal Practice


I teach tai chi almost every day and I always practice the form with my students during the class. There is a nice energy about doing a group form. However, the highest and best use of tai chi is private, day-to-day practice. Tai chi is a very personal exercise, and each individual may have a different place or part of the day for their practice. This is as it should be.


Therefore, tai chi class is for learning tai chi, not practicing it. Of course, practice is part of every class, but learning the next move of the form, or getting a deeper understanding of the concept of how to move, is what class should be about. The teacher teaches and the student learns. This is like music lessons. The piano teacher teaches you how to play, so that you can find satisfaction in your personal performance. You learn how to make music from the teacher, but you make music on your own.


Many people today go to a yoga class for the workout. Sometimes the same is expected of attending a tai chi class. Many people are now interested in so-called “ji gong” class. This is often simply a group calisthenic and stretching class with a little standing meditation added in. It's a little more like the yoga class, where everyone does everything together. But true ji gong (chi kung) is also a very personal exercise to be practiced privately in a tranquil environment.


Personally, whoever decided to put Chinese music behind every YouTube tai chi video should be shot The rhythm of tai chi is in the mind of the practitioner, and quietude is a most important ingredient of a good practice.


An old karate teacher and friend of mine once said (when criticizing the structure of the class I attended), “If you want exercise, go run around the block. If you want to learn Karate, go to a karate class. Not exactly pearls of wisdom, but a noteworthy point of view.


Yang Tai Chi: the Dan Tien, the Bubbling Well, and the Perineal Pump.

Most Yang tai chi practitioners are familiar with the concepts of the Dan Tien, the Bubbling Well, and the Perineal Pump.

I was certainly aware of these “chi” pumps and taught my students of their importance. I also believed that I was stimulating these important body pumps whenever I practiced my tai chi form. Truthfully, as in so many circumstances during my 17-year tiger style practice, I did not have any significant feeling in any of these parts of my body. But I faithfully believed that these pumps were activated through the natural magic of tai chi movement.

I did practice a meditation where I sat on a chair or bench with my private parts hanging over the edge and squeezed the kegel muscles in my perineum to pump energy from my dan tien up through my spine and down the front of my body in what was called the “microcosmic orbit.” I actually found a tangible feeling of energy movement from this exercise, but it was never duplicated while performing tai chi.

When I became Master Ip's Disciple, he never spoke of energy pumps. He focused solely on teaching me the Snake Style of the Yang family. A most important part of his teaching was the emphasis on “hollowing the chest and raising the back.” Although I had read about this Yang principle from the beginning of my tai chi training, watching Master Ip raise his back was undeniable proof that I had no understanding of this profound Yang family principle.

Like many other tiger style practitioners, I always thought that “hollowing the chest” meant collapsing my chest and drooping my shoulders; believing that this made energy sink to my dan tien. How absurd! Anyone can collapse their chest, but flexing the thoracic spine (raising the back) requires proper instruction and determination on the part of the student to develop this powerful internal action through dedicated practice.

Now, more than a dozen years later, I understand the importance of this “Holy Grail” of Yang family principles. By “raising my back,” I activate my bubbling well, dan tien, and perineal pump simultaneously.

The snake style revealed to me that energy pumps are activated bio-mechanically, and “raising the back” creates a strong suction at the bottom of the foot, a strong pulling up of the perineum, and a strong pulling in of the dan tien. By moving correctly in the snake style, these pumps are stimulated each time a new posture is created.

The combination of correct bio-mechanical and energetic pumping creates a very powerful core body strength that unifies the upper and lower parts of the body into a rooted, flexible and powerful posture. This is the key to health and longevity, and is also the key to the “real” power of tai chi as a martial art.



Yang Tai Chi and the importance of Continuing Education.


I consider my snake style tai chi practice a “work in progress.”

I have always been a student first and a teacher second. My passion and drive in life has always been centered around the continuing improvement of my understanding and performance of my physical art.

But what's the big deal? I'm sure Eric Clapton would never say that he has done everything he can with the guitar, and that there in no room for improvement.

Yet, in Yang tai chi, I sense that students tend to regard their teachers as complete masters of their tai chi system. In many cases the teachers promote this image by refusing to demonstrate their tai chi, making themselves larger than life in the minds of their students.

Not in my case. I openly practice with my students and I know that my tai chi today is better this year than it was last year. I hope this will continue for the rest of my life. That's what I love about the snake style. It is unfathomly deep and continously evolving.

I have students who became teachers and then stopped learning from me. I can only assume they feel they have received enough knowledge from me to continue alone.

How strange, I think, because my understanding of the snake style is so much greater now than when they left me. One teacher stopped training with me over six years ago! Another, over two years ago. They continue to teach the snake style, but lag far behind their counterparts who continue to train and attend seminars with me.

As my tai chi improves and evolves, I constantly pass the new information on to teachers and students. Consider it an upgrade or like a software update. Why stay with old technology when there's a newer, more improved version to be had?




Yang Tai Chi and Snake Style Denial


Email from Mabel Ip to Bob Boyd circa 8/2001:


My father asks that you forget all of your previous tai chi training including your practice habits. He wants you to empty your cup so he can fill it with fresh tea.”


I received this email from Grandmaster Ip's daughter before I made my first trip to Hong Kong to train with her father. I had to laugh. “I guess it's “his way or the highway,” I thought. “All tai chi is more or less the same – right? He just wants me to do it his way – right?”


Wrong. Now, 12 years later, I understand what he meant. As his Disciple, I was now allowed to learn the snake style of Yang family tai chi chuan. This system was kept a secret, and Grandmaster Ip had learned it from Great Grandmaster Yang Sau Chung when he became Master Yang's First Disciple.


The snake style changed my world. It fulfilled the promise of tai chi both martially, but more importantly, physically. My body became flexible and strong and I felt a vigor and youthfulness that I hadn't felt in a very long time. Grandmaster Ip gave me permission to teach this system openly. I began to do this in 2001. In 2012, I wrote a book about the snake style and my experiences in Hong Kong. It is called: “Snake Style Tai Chi Chuan – The Hidden System of the Yang Family.


Since its publication, the internet is full of criticisms. “He made this up,” some say. “I never heard of it and I knew Master Ip,” others say. To them I say: “Of course you don't know about it, it was a secret.” The definition of a secret is “...not meant to be known or seen by others.” The Chinese have been a secretive society for generations and martial arts clans are notorious for keeping their methods hidden behind closed doors.


The snake style clearly and practically applies the Yang family principles as written in the Yang family's writings. If the snake style had been lost forever, it would have been a sad blow to the integrity and legacy of both tai chi and the great Yang family. Grandmaster Ip had the intelligence and vision to allow the snake style to become an open teaching. I am proud to be carrying it on in his name.


Yang Tai Chi – Keeping the energy in the Dan Tien.


How often have you heard the term “keep the energy in the Dan Tien?” Do you understand the practical application of this concept?

Although it is a Yang Family principle, it is also found in other classic kung fu systems like Shaolin Temple Boxing and Ba Gua. Unfortunately, its true method was often held secretly, or was lost from one generation to the next. Great Grandmaster Yang Sau Chung, fourth generation head of the Yang family, clearly explains how to keep the energy in the Dan Tien in his book “Practical Use of Tai Chi Chuan.” He says it is done by “hollowing the chest and loosening the waist.”

However, there is a common misconception in Yang tai chi that this is accomplished by hunching the back, folding in the chest, and letting the abdominal muscles slacken. This is not only very wrong, but also potentially harmful to the practitioners health.

In my book, “Snake Style Tai Chi Chuan, The Hidden System of the Yang Family,” I explain that the act of “hollowing the chest to raise the back” is a bio-mechanical movement using internal, core muscles that connect the bottom of the feet to the the crown of the head by uniting muscle, tendon and fascia into a dynamic internal “bow string.” I describe “loosen the waist” as the act of softening the lower back muscles, buttocks and hamstrings. When both are done properly, the muscles below the navel pull in strongly toward the spine. This action “activates” the Dan Tien and “keeps” the energy there, creating a powerful and rooted posture.