Wednesday, 18 April 2012

So, what is Taijiquan?

I came across an interesting article published in a Chinese martial arts magazine some years ago in which the current heads of Yang and Chen family gave their views on the development of Taijiquan. The first statement by Yang Zhenduo – bear in mind that this is addressing a Chinese audience – was: “The development and progress made by the Japanese in Taijiquan sets us a very good challenge. They have put in great effort. If we don’t follow suit, we should be worried that they will surpass us”! Later in the article he spoke of Taijiquan in the West: “People in the West describe Taijiquan as an Eastern dance because Taijiquan's movement is elegant and beautiful to look at. But we should not regard Taijiquan as a dance…although Taijiquan is soft, relaxed and slow, IT IS A MARTIAL ART”!

The different way he perceived Taijiquan in Japan and the West was depressing (unless you happen to be Japanese), but not really surprising. In the last few weeks several articles have been published in the British national press praising “the effectiveness of Tai Chi”. Surely a good thing you would think. One of my students brought me the first article which could be summed up in sentence “Tai Chi is good for older people and helps to stop them falling over so much”. Of course we all would agree that that’s a good thing! Another student brought me a second article, which could also be summed up in a single sentence – you guessed it - “Tai Chi is good for older people and helps to stop them from falling over so much”!   Today the Daily Mail, in ita female health section, included a guide to “Which Martial Art Should You Choose? Each art was introduced via a brief description of their combat techniques - Aikido: “uses quick and calculated movements in defensive strategies. The two goals of aikido are to overcome the opponent and to throw the opponent”. Judo: “concentrates on subduing opponents with throws and holds”. Ju jitsu: “includes kicking, striking, kneeing, choking, joint locking and immobilisation”. Thai kick boxing: “includes powerful and aggressive kicking techniques”. The one exception – you guessed it - Tai chi: “This style of martial art has become more familiar as people seek a relaxing, spiritual and healthy exercise to cope with modern stresses”.

Back to the Chinese article - Chen Xiaowang reinforced the point made by Yang Zhengduo: "iT IS MOST IMPORTANT THAT YOU SHOULD NOT LOSE THE CONTENT OF DEFENCE AND ATTACK - THIS IS THE BASIC REQUIREMENT OF TAIJIQUAN!"

At the time of writing he warned of the danger of presenting Taijiquan in such a way that people no longer understand what it really is: “…I’ve been teaching outside for a long time and am against making Taijiquan mysterious. I don't think Taijiquan’s theory and application should be excessively complicated, and explained with lots of hyperbole and talked about in a very mystical way. One does not need to go around the bush or in circles to explain the theories. Very simply, use the waist as axle and train sequential movement. These are very basic things . There is no need to make it so complicated that no one knows what it is and how to do it”.




6 comments:

  1. Agreed....sadly, but agreed,...but at the same time Taiiquan in China, especially in Push Hands seems to be going in the exact opposite direction of everything believed to be true taijiquan as set out in the Taiji Clasics and all we have heard from the great Family Masters who have inherited an tried their best to pass along, to the point tht all I can offer or say is at www.scanews.com/2011/11/s1109/110912/ Sory its the best I can offer but not good enough, Justin

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  2. Agreed....sadly, but agreed,...but at the same time Taiiquan in China, especially in Push Hands seems to be going in the exact opposite direction of everything believed to be true taijiquan as set out in the Taiji Clasics and all we have heard from the great Family Masters who have inherited an tried their best to pass along, to the point tht all I can offer or say is at www.scanews.com/2011/11/s1109/110912/ Sory its the best I can offer but not good enough, Justin

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  3. Hi Justin. Enjoyed reading your article and well done to your student. I trained a little with Tian Jingmiao (disciple of Lei Muni)in Beijing. She distinguished between two approachs (both of which could lead to success) - The first she called "skill through combat" which she likened to training in Chenjiagou. The second she referred to as "combat through skill",which was a more studied process with less aggressive practice.

    I do feel that there is a place for "stronger" rules if Taijiquan is to be able to show its effectiveness. It seems it is more and more being labelled as suitable for the old and infirm and there is a danger that this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy with only weaker people being attracted to the art. I guess that the most important thing is that those with a love for the art stick to their principles. Your article illustrates this perfectly.

    BTW I met Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang in Beijing some years ago and found him to be a really nice person.

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  4. This is an interesting article and I find it almost paradoxical. Chen Taiji, an invention born from qigong "chi work" combined with precision martial arts, now predominantly taught for health and wellness.

    Yes, Taiji has tremendous rejuvenating rewards for any practitioner. It's very relaxing on the mind and can give you great amounts of energy. In our modern world of heavy-laden stress, it's almost a miracle for newcomers to the art when they realize they can "still" their minds. Their fingers start to tingle, shoulders become relaxed, and they encounter a rare inner peace and power. We here it's like a "moving meditation", and I'd have to agree it is. Taiji is Zen in motion. We quiet the mind, yet still alert and focused, we go beyond the mind. Now, one can get plenty of benefits from doing just the warm-ups, qigong breathing/movements, and silk reeling. So my voice would say why not simply offer two teachings of Chen Taiji. Chen Taiji Martial and Chen Taiji Health. Obviously the majority of people, at least in the West, will gravitate towards the health side since we no longer really need to defend ourselves from thieves and bandits. I see no qualms with keeping Chen Taiji for health or self defense, as long as it is being taught authentically both ways.

    On a side note, to me Taiji is an enlightened martial art. What I mean by that is not mysterious either. If we look at the recipe for how to progress in Taiji, we will find the ingredients are: stillness(of mind), relaxation or better put "song", inner body awareness, dantien breathing or connection to our natural breathing rythm. There is much more of course like posture, proper fajing, waste rotation, etc. but there is no gateway to the real practice of Taiji without the first mentioned. So why is it enlightened? Well, since all of the above lead to a natural state, bypassing "mind" to "being" and placing us in the eternal "present", the practice of such Taiji is on a path of enlightenment- willingly or not.

    Thanks for sharing this write

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  5. Taijiquan will mysterious because year after year people who wants to learn it are chasing a carrot stick. They pay a lot of money and learn nothing but zhan zhung, san si gong, tuishou patterns. But hey at least they been assured that may be after 10 years they get some gong fu.

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  6. Great article. We should be emphasizing this more before our art totally disappears.

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