On behalf of the STN and the Yin Yang Magazine I (Lucas van Aart) had the pleasure to interview Kim Kanzelberger and learn more about the sometimes-overlooked discipline of sword practice. He shared a.o. his perspective on the role of the sword in the Taijiquan practice and what to expect from the one-week sword camp in which he will teach the whole form from zero.
His sword camp will take place from August 28 till September 3, 2020. More information via this link.
Can you tell a little bit about your own Tai Chi background?
I began martial arts at the age of 16. At that time, I had no access to Tai Chi Chuan. My karate teacher who served in the US military in Taiwan had an interest in Chinese Boxing, especially Tai Chi Chuan and encouraged me to find a teacher.
In 1975 I began my formal Tai Chi studies while living in Denver Colorado. I studied with two students of Cheng Man-ching, Bataan and Jane Faigao, who moved to Colorado shortly after Professor Cheng’s death. In the summer of 1976, the musical group I played with relocated to California where I had my first private lesson with Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo. Although I have much respect and learned a great deal from Bataan and Jane Faigao, I felt that I had finally found my teacher with Mr. Lo.
Four years later, I moved to Kansas City and, not being able to find a good teacher, started my own school, Center States Tai Chi Chuan, which is now celebrating its 40th year. In the 1980s I led Tai Chi therapy sessions for Eating Disorder and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder groups as well as wellness programs in various businesses. In 1989 & 1990 at the encouragement of Ben Lo, I competed in form and push hands in one of the first US Tai Chi Chuan tournaments. In both years I won my weight division.
Although I learned the sword form from Bataan Faigao, I practice and teach Ben Lo’s rendition. When Mr. Lo would lead a workshop in Kansas City once a year, he worked privately with me on push hands and sword plus he did three consecutive summer camps where he corrected the sword form after morning practice. This was a rare event.
Can you tell something about his lessons and what especially inspired you?
I enjoyed the hard work and his incredible skill level. His teaching method, which greatly influenced me, was detailed, clear and precise. His approach was not for everybody. He could be brutally honest at times and the classes were quite strenuous. I know that in some cases he hurt people’s feelings, but to me, he was generous and supportive. I found his no-nonsense approach appealing.
How would you describe your view on Taijiquan?
It is a unique and ingenious martial art, health exercise and meditation. I believe its great insight lies in its emphasis on developing strength based on sung (relax) instead of tension. If you develop this skill you will live a very different life. It is certainly good for health and is an effective method of meditation.
Where do you put the emphasis in your own form classes?
I want people to understand the mechanics of the form (Ben Lo’s 5 principles), how to cultivate a daily practice and integrate their growing Tai Chi knowledge into their daily lives, how to meditate in stillness and movement, and how to live a good, healthy life .
What do you think is the most important thing a Taijiquan practitioner needs to keep in mind? And what are you doing to inspire/stimulate your students in this?
Of course, the prime directive is relax. Then, daily practice and integration of their practice in their daily life. The best inspiration I can offer is to be a good example – we say ‘to walk your talk’. To accomplish that I’ve taught uninterrupted for 40 years providing ongoing form and push hands classes as well as leading retreats and camps.
How do you feel about the martial side of Taijiquan?
It depends what is meant by the martial side. For Tai Chi it should about learning to deal with stress, aggression, or conflict using our principles: relax, yield, follow, adhere, neutralize, etc. Those things we try to embody in our push hands practice. We should not train to dominate or intimidate.
What is the role of sword in the Taijiquan curriculum?
It’s about extension. We want to extend our intention/mind to the tip of the sword. Your focus, needs to be very strong. A sword, is a hard metal object, but the aim is to make it sensitive and yielding. The sword form is energetic and light, unlike the more solid, ‘standing like a mountain’ solo form. There’s a kind of joy to it.
How do you feel about the different sword interpretations?
Most forms are more acrobatic than the one Professor Cheng taught. To me, they appear more performance oriented. Our sword form feels more meditative. If we are just talking about other interpretations of our sword form, I would say that there is a fair amount of variation, but the principles are the same. Ben Lo’s form is noticeably different from William Chen’s, Maggie Newman’s, and other senior teachers but they come from the same source.
Do you prefer swords with historical accurate weights and balance or lighter swords?
If I were a soldier, I would prefer a sword made for battle, but I use the sword to refine my Tai Chi practice, so I’m not so concerned about historically accurate weights. My favorite is a metal sword. I prefer the sword to be balanced near the handguard, not too blade heavy, but not having the floppy, hyper flexible blade some use.
What do you find attractive in the sword form?
The extension – making something hard into something yielding and sensitive. The spirit, the lightness, and agility in combination with the focus and the strong intention.
What can people expect from your sword workshop? (only sword or other subjects?)
I am glad you ask this. I have never taught the whole sword form in one workshop. But it is not unprecedented. My understanding is that Ben Lo taught the sword in just one weekend – I’ve got 6 days! If participants are well-grounded in Professor Cheng’s form, it should be achievable.
The curriculum will be different than a normal form/push hands workshop. Since most people will be learning a new form, there will be more classes each day, but they will be shorter (no more than one hour) to allow participants time to practice in between each class.
I’m excited to have this opportunity. I look forward to an enjoyable and educational international camp.