Friday, 24 January 2020

Four types of Taijiquan...

Going into a new decade we have to face the fact that Taijiquan is a seriously misunderstood discipline. To the point that Chen Taijiquan master Zhu Tiancai disparagingly spoke its descent to the point where today there are four different expressions of the art. The first three he labelled Taijiquan “exercise”, “dance” and “religion” - each in their own way distortions and misrepresentations of Taijiquan. The fourth and last being authentic Taijiquan.

Casual practitioners would probably be surprised to hear that much of the Taijiquan they see in the parks of China is really little more than a shell of the traditional art. According to Zhu Tiancai the majority of these practitioners fall under the category of Taiji Exercisers”. Arriving in the park at dawn they wave their limbs, breath the early morning air, socialise with friends and the go about their daily lives. While certainly gaining some benefits from moving and stretching most pay only passing attention to the subtle and practical aspects of Taijiquan. Their practice differs from authentic Taijiquan in two key areas: it lacks emphasis upon the development of the internal efficacy of the body; it also places little attention on the development of combat capabilities that the name Taiji”quan” alludes to. Where casual practitioners and the public see the Taiji players in the parks as the idealised face of Taijiquan, Chen Xiaoxing spoke of the sad state where “... Taijiquan suffers from the fate of being viewed by the general public as a kind of exercise for the parks and street corners. This isn’t to say there are no Taijiquan practitioners passing on the traditional art in the parks, but they are few and far between.

The second category of practitioners were likened to “Taiji dancers.” Here the main emphasis is upon public performance and competition. A dramatic example would be the thousands of performers who drew beautiful Taiji patterns as they showed the art to the world during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games. We can include in this category the many wushu competitors who take Taiji almost into the realm of gymnastics. The elite performers in these competitions can be truly spectacular in their athleticism. But again they fail to incorporate aspects considered essential in traditional Taijiquan: the central importance of cultivating the qualities of roundness, sunken relaxation and intention; a lack a focus on training in a way that can develop practical application potential etc.

The third misrepresentation of the art was classified as “Taiji Religion”. To be clear here we are talking about the negative aspects of religion and cult would probably be a better description. This is the crazy world of fantastical claims and “empty force.” In popular cinematic culture it is the old master with the white hair and flowing robes who defeats his enemies by just pointing his fingers. In real life their are whole sects based on this kind of mystical nonsense. A notorious contemporary example is China’s Yan Fang who routinely demonstrates her supernormal abilities by performing feats like projecting energy to knock over students standing behind a concrete wall.

Where the first two examples can’t be considered as the traditional art practitioners can get some benefits: as we said before both categories can get exercise benefits; on being exposed to these partial representations of Taijiquan some people can become inspired to delve more deeply and seek out the traditional art. There’s no doubt that the physical capabilities developed by people in the second category can provide a good foundation upon which to develop the more subtle aspects. The third category is wholly negative and doesn’t warrant any more attention.

The final category of authentic Taijiquan is the methodology honed and passed down by generations of adepts. Categorised by the development of both the internal and external - that is the complete harmonisation and integration of an individual’s psychological, energetic and physical aspects. At all times working with an understanding that Taijiquan is a martial system and training appropriately. Following a clearly laid down system of progression where qualities that support the system’s martial function also serve to exercise the body. Where aesthetic expression comes from conforming to natural principles. And where “spiritual” development follows years or decades of serious study as a practitioner’s character is imperceptibly shaped.

5 comments:

  1. I totally agree. I've gotten to the point where I simply ask someone to do a short, simple, slow and exaggerated set of movements where they are moving the body with the dantian, qi, and jin. If they can't do that, whatever they're calling Taijiquan is bound to be 'something else'. If you have "internalized" your reeling silk and so on, then you should be able to do a slow and exaggerated version all the easier. Most western teachers cannot even do something this simple, so the concern by the Chen Villagers is justified.

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  2. I agree with the statement that “today there are four different expressions of the art.” but I disagree that these expressions are misrepresentations or wrong.
    We know from the Taiji Tu (Tai Chi diagram or symbol) that nothing is just black or white. If it was the Taiji Tu would be a circle with a straight line down the center and things would be one or the other but not both. However, the symbol has a curved line dividing both halves that shows that transition from yin to yang and yang to yin. Each side also contains a small circle of the opposite color – showing that nothing is totally yin or yang. In the same sense there are different interpretations of the Taiji martial art. To judge them as right or wrong negates the Taiji principle of change. Why should it bother us if people don't practice the way we do? If people enjoy going to a park or class to practice and socialize I see nothing wrong with that. They still get some benefit.
    Not everyone wants to learn the martial aspect of Taiji and we should accept that. Remember everyone is different and we shouldn't look down on people because they are different from us. We can all get along despite our differences. That is Taiji.

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    Replies
    1. I like your answer. When and where I teach no one is interested in how to fight. I teach individuals that have chronic issues, high stress levels and the elderly. The y want to feel at peace inside and with the world around them. It is in most part the inner self they seek.

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  3. "The Tao that can be described is not the real Tao" Tao Te Ching

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  4. "Taiji" in Taijiquan refers to the constant cycling between Open and Close, in an unbroken sequence from the start of the form until the end. Someone who can't move with the dantian, can't use reverse breathing, has not jin or qi, etc., can't get there. So everything is not really acceptable as Taijiquan.

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