Most people practice Taijiquan (Tai Chi) for the health benefits, others for competition and sport purposes and some as a martial art. Within Lotus Nei Gong we study Taijiquan as an authentic system containing original principles that make it the profound art it is through a syllabus of health, martial practice and internal skills. Although health is obviously very important, it's seen more as a by-product within traditional practice something that develops because of the practice, (If it wasn't for the health aspects, then maybe we would never have heard of Taijiquan today). Nor do we study Taijiquan purely as a martial art, we are more likely to die from stress related illnesses than from being attacked in the street, but for the balance to be right we need an understanding of this side of the art as well. This balanced approach has a positive effect on our Xing or Nature so we can overcome our inner conflicts whatever they may be that lead to emotional, energetic and physical disharmonies, in short we practice self-cultivation.
The human condition is to live in fear; of the past, of the future and of course of death, this can have a detrimental affect on us, draining our essence and the energy of the kidneys, which are considered very important in Chinese medicine for balance and harmony within the body. Through the martial arts we aim to face the unknown and rise above this fear by being in the present moment.
For me, traditional Taijiquan is not about what form or style you practise, it's about the qualities and principles that are within. Imagine a car, let's say an expensive Ferrari, it may look like one from the outside but when you go to drive it you find it has no engine and no internal mechanics, so is it still a car? Taijiquan, may look elegant from the outside but unless we have the correct principles and internal qualities it's not really classical Taijiquan in my opinion.
Taijiquan is a complete martial system but we must maintain the correct balance between combat and health. Too much emphasis on combat can inflate the ego, but too little or no combat knowledge waters down this profound martial art to no more than external movements.
We start with the short form which has a number of benefits including; the small tissues become soft and pliable allowing our fascia to slide over our organs more easily. We relax the major muscle groups, our tendons are lengthened and our joints are opened to allow the qi to flow through them. The correct alignments in our body take the strain off our joints, and the slow continuous movements relax the body, smooth and nourish the internal organs, lower stress and help boost our immune system.
This is the foundation level and generally takes students about three years of regular study to understand. At this stage we start to develop the two most important qualities in Taijiquan, Sung, (letting go, or sinking) and Ting (listening skill or awareness). Students who are interested in the health aspects can stay at this stage if they wish, whilst others may want to move into the more challenging aspects of martial development and the internal development of jin through a much deeper understanding of Sung and Ting. The syllabus takes us through a cultivation process harmonising the physical, energetic and consciousness bodies. Your focus at the start maybe just to feel healthier, but as you progress and you feel better your focus may change into wanting a much deeper understanding of this profound art, through the syllabus you have that option, there is no glass ceiling to your development.
As we progress in our study we develop 'root' or an energetic sinking that creates a strong connection to the earth through the feet, allowing us to yield to the oncoming force, through our body not by moving out of the way, which to my mind is basic stuff for any martial artist. The second form follows the principles that develop Silk Pulling power and Fa Jin through Peng.
Through the continuous practice of fundamental principles and the form we create an internal pressure which is then issued through Fa Jin, creating a powerful 'unbroken' force that doesn't rely on muscles or Li which are regarded as dull power in the internal arts, this is what the classics call 'steel wrapped in silk'. Of course this is not easy and takes a lot of time to develop the qualities within the body, (Taijiquan sets the bar extremely high) also it is not some miracle technique, we still must have an understanding of combat to apply it. A deeper level of understanding is attained when we practise Tui Shou or Push Hands, drills with a partner to test ones structure and more importantly, to test our Sung and Ting ability. Without Tui Shou practise Taijiquan would be missing a very important element.
The key to a deep and profound understanding of Taijiquan is found in Yin Yang theory and the Classics, it is stated that Taijiquan has eight key energies, they are; Peng (Expanding force), Lu (Contracting force), Ji (Horizontal force), An (Suppressing force), Cai (Plucking force), Lie (Splitting force), Zhou (Elbow force) and Kao (Bumping force). These eight energies can be utilised in push hands practise and later in an advanced stage - combat situations, where their use can take on an abstract form quite different from most martial arts, following the maxim of Stick, Adhere, Join and Follow, this is a very high level skill that not many master and one that I am always working towards.
Moving into the third stage of practice we aim to refine our Yi or Intent and bring energy to the sword tip. The Shen or Spirit is expressed through the heart and the movements of the blade. The Jian is seen as the highest level of attainment within the syllabus and one I don’t teach as I have a long way to go with it myself.
Main image; Taijiquan in Shanghi China. Top left; Paul and I practising tui shou. Top right;Applications from the form. Middle; At the retreat in Sweden. Bottom left; Press from the form. Bottom right; Practising Hunyuan Taijiquan.