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Tai Ji Quan

Traditional Taiji Quan

Forming the foundation of the exercises and movements that help relate the physical practice of Taiji to the symbols of the Yijing, I teach a complete traditional syllabus of Taiji Quan.

Ian CameronThis syllabus comes to me from Sifu Ian Cameron (on the left, in the posture Single Whip), who learnt his art from Cheng Tin-Hung (鄭天熊) in Hong Kong in the early 1970s. Sifu Cheng called the style of Taiji that he taught "Wudang" (武當 [*]), named after the sacred Daoist mountain in China.

Wu-Cheng Taiji QuanSince Sifu Cheng passed away in 2005, many practitioners have taken to calling the style Wu/Cheng, thereby acknowledging the stylistic connection to the Wu family. This also avoids any possible confusion with the styles of Taiji claiming direct connection to the region of Wudang Shan 武當山. The Chinese for this is shown on the right. The first two characters are Wu and Cheng, the family names of the respective stylists, and the remaining three characters are Taiji Quan, whose meaning we have already explored.

I have done a little research on the lineage of this style, which I have documented on the following page:

The Syllabus

The syllabus consists of five distinct, but inter-related components. Although each component is trained in its own right, they overlap and reinforce each other to create a comprehensive system of training. The five components are:

Unlike some schools, where a student is perhaps expected to complete the hand form before moving on to other components of the syllabus, in the Wu/Cheng style we get people involved in pushing hands and simple self-defence techniques right from the outset. In practice, this usually helps the development of the hand form, reinforcing what is learnt in the solo practice.

We shall now look at each of the five components in turn.

Brush Knee Twist StepHand Form

The hand form is what most people think of when they think of Taiji; it is the long, flowing sequence of movements that people are sometimes seen practising in the parks of China (the posture Brush Knee Twist Step is shown in the photo to the right). It gently exercises the joints and muscles, trains co-ordination, and gradually increases stamina. In additional, each of the movements has one or more self-defence applications, so the form is also a library of techniques, teaching the correct body mechanics for the deflection and application of force.

In this syllabus there are two hand forms. Both forms consist of the same sequence of movements; the difference is the way in which the movements are performed.

  1. The first form, called the Square (or Segmented) Form, is taught first. All of the movements are performed to a fixed count which helps beginners remember the movements and keep in time during group practice.
  2. The second form is the Round (or Continuous) Form. This builds on the square form. The movements are smoother, more flowing and do not rely on a fixed count. The co-ordination is considerably more difficult than the Square Form.

The reasoning behind this is explained by my teacher with the following analogy: when you are first taught to write, you learn the shapes of the individual letters, and the style of writing is akin to printing. Only once that has been mastered, do you move on to "joined-up" writing.

More details on the hand form can be found here.

David and Ranald in Four Directions Pushing HandsPushing Hands

Pushing hands consists of a range of two-person exercises designed to develop sensitivity to a partner's movements. The simplest exercises involve contact through only one hand each, and require no footwork. The exercises then increase in complexity, adding contact through both hands, and then varying patterns of footwork (Nine Palace Stepping is shown in the photo on the left). The final form of pushing hands is free-style where, as the name suggests, there is no fixed form of movement, instead you learn to follow and respond to your partner's movement.

The aim of the exercises is firstly to learn to deal with being pushed without becoming tense or using strength, and then to learn to deliver pushes to unbalance your partner, again without using unnecessary muscular strength. To achieve this you must become very aware of your own and your partner's centre of gravity and direction of movement, and to cultivate this awareness you must learn to stay relaxed throughout the practice.

ApplicationSelf-Defence

As noted above, each of the moves in the hand form has at least one self-defence application. Sometimes the name of the style itself tells you the intended application - an example of such a move is Slap the Face (a variation on this technique shown in the photo on the right). But often the name of a movement is poetic rather than informative - for example Cloud Hands. In such cases it is important to have a teacher who understands the application of the moves and can demonstrate their practical use.

Taiji Quan, as a form of self-defence, has been described as "the art of overcoming hardness with softness". This is a very difficult concept to grasp and master since, in many cases, it runs against our natural instincts. If someone pushes you, it is your natural reaction to resist the push. However, pushing hands practice shows us that if we do not resist, but instead move with the push, and absorb and redirect its energy, then we can defeat the aggressor with relatively little expenditure of energy. My teacher, Ian Cameron, sometimes describes Taiji as "the art of letting your opponent have his own way", and it is through the continual practice of the applications from the form that we learn to overcome our counter-productive instincts, to develop more refined habits, and learn to apply the theory of Yin and Yang in self-defence.

Andreas in Sabre's Withdraw Step and DivertWeapons

There are three weapons in this style of Taiji. These are:

    Sabre (or Broad Sword) - 刀 dao
    Spear (or Staff) - 槍 qiang
    Straight Sword - 劍 jian

Traditionally it is said that the practice of the sabre strengthens resolve (Withdraw Step and Divert shown in the photo), the practice of the spear increases wisdom, and the practice of the sword nourishes the qi.

You might feel that weapons practice, with swords and spears, has no useful place in the modern world - but remember, as with the hand form, each move in the weapons forms has an application, and those applications translate readily to everyday objects such as walking sticks and umbrellas, should you need to defend yourself.

Equally important is the fact that the weapons forms provide methods of exercise that are quite different from the hand form. For example, the sabre form is much more vigorous than the hand form, and is usually done quickly, to help develop focus and power. Because of their weight, practising the weapons also helps to strengthen and condition the upper body. Thus, this practise adds an important component to the syllabus, training forms of energy that are not overt in the hand form.

Internal Work

The Neigong 内功, or internal strength exercises, are designed to develop your body and train power. In many ways it is the most important part of Taiji Quan, both for health and self-defence.

From the point of view of health, it is said that Neigong helps regulate breathing and improves the blood circulation. It also loosens and relaxes the joints. From the perspective of self-defence, you cannot hope to be involved in a fight without being hit. If your body is weak, you may be hurt and your attacks will lack sufficient power to disuade your opponent. Therefore, to hope to survive in a fight you must develop a strong physique. This is one of the goals of Neigong.

There are two sets of internal strength exercises: a Yin set and a Yang set. Although there is a great deal of overlap, in general, the Yin exercises develop health and physique, whilst the Yang exercises concentrate more on developing focused power and strength. In addition, some of the exercises have direct self-defence applications.

 

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