Hallmarks Of Authentic Tai Chi Training

The Traditional Triad

The training method of Yang family disciples practised to this day, and the one I undertook with Master Chu King Hung, is based on the traditional set of:

  • Standing Qigong (zhan zhuang),
  • Moving Qigong -  form training, and
  • Partner work, which includes posture testing, ‘push hands’ (tui shou) and ‘exchange of hands’ (combat applications).

The first involves the harnessing of qi, the second circulating the qi, and the third the application of qi for health, healing and self defence. Any style of authentic taiji tends to have these elements in its training curriculum.

Standing Qigong

  • This tends to be entirely missing from most popular tai chi schools and yet is an essential part of the training and is extremely good for the health. With Master Chu our classes started with twenty minutes of it, which is considered the minimum necessary to refresh the whole system. Serious students do it for much longer (hours).

Spiral Qi Form Training

  • This is the most distinctive aspect of tai chi of whatever style, and yet it is usually completely missing from popular tai chi training. It also often does not get a mention in books on Taiji by well known authors.
  • In the original Chen style it is known as chansijin translated as “silk reeling energy/force”, or “twining” or “spiralling”. In Yang style we call it spiral qi force. Sometimes you hear people of Chen style say that it is missing from Yang style Tai Chi. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes it is missing from the ‘popular’ styles that derived from Yang style. Because Yang style has become the most popular style around the world many popular styles of tai chi are loosely based on it. However, it is not missing in the authentic art. In fact it would be true to say that the bulk of the form training I received under Master Chu King Hung was about bringing out the spiral qi force. Indeed the type of spiral force available in Yang style is considered more refined than that of Chen style.
  • We did (and do in my school) three complete revisions of the form to achieve this -  known as the yin/yang form, the open/close form and the centre-move form. This training involves going over and back over the whole long form three times, to build in these different aspects of an internal infrastructure that brings out the spiral qi force.
  • Thus the form becomes a tool you use on your body-mind to achieve this skill - if you don’t do the work you will never get the ability.
  • All authentic styles of tai chi are aiming to bring out this force. Yet it is missing in popular Tai Chi and as such seriously undermines their even calling themselves Tai Chi.
  • Also because the unique spiralling motions in the body stimulate the acupuncture meridians (jingluo) and thus the circulation of qi it calls into question whether popular tai chi forms are delivering all the health benefits they could.

Postural Principles

  • Authentic Tai Chi is a very exact art – it has to be because it is based on not using physical strength for self defence but something else – a natural, instrinsic strength that comes from unimpeded chi circulation. To allow this circulation the postures have to be exactly  correct structurally, and the body has to be relaxed.
  • In fact, Yang Chengfu stated that if you do the whole tai chi form and the postural principles - Yang Chengfu’s “Ten Essential Points” - are not present, then it is not Tai Chi. If you do one posture with these principles present it is Tai Chi. When you observe people doing the form in popular styles this is the first thing you notice; for example, one sees people doing the form in our town from one of the schools here that has lots of students and their arms are held straight out in front (in the “Push” posture) completely breaking the principle of sinking the elbows and shoulders. So according to Yang Chengfu this is not Tai Chi.

Posture Testing

  • Because of the crucial importance of posture, testing the postures is an essential part of traditional training. Posture testing is partner work that involves pushing and pulling (in a controlled way) on the partner’s posture to see the difference when the posture has these principles present and when it does not. People are astounded to discover how strong the postures are without relying on gross physical strength but instead the use of relaxation and intent to hold them stable. If the posture is structurally correct the qi is flowing unimpeded and the posture has a powerful intrinsic, resilient stability and strength. If the posture is incorrect the qi is blocked or wasted and it collapses easily under pressure, or forces the partner to fight back with external strength, which does not work. Usually the testing is done correctly then incorrectly and correctly again to feel the qualitative differences. It is fascinating and enjoyable training that requires a lot of cooperation between students.
  • Holding the stances against pressure by relaxing and using only intent, also in my opinion, calls up a lot of qi and improves the circulation so it is good for the students’ health. During this type of training they feel warm and usually a light sweat breaks out. So again this important health benefit is missing from the popular styles. It is also a valuable way to learn to relax and discover your tendencies to unconsciously tense up and  thus be able to release them, which carries over into everyday life. So it teaches a deeper form of relaxation than just being limp.
  • In a way it is testing the function of the internal infrastructure one is building up through standing qigong and form training. It can be used, for example, to demonstrate the effect that spiralling or twining the limbs has on bringing out the intrinsic strength of the postures.

Going Lower

  • Traditionally the Yang family form and the standing qigong is done lower and lower as the training progresses and the knees and legs strengthen. It is not advised to do it too early on in one’s training.
  • Three heights are stressed in traditional training – high, medium and low – and these are known as the Crane or Stork form, the Tiger form, and the Snake form. The postures can also be done as more extended and more contacted and this is known as big circle, medium circle and small circle.
  • They are designed to stretch connective tissue and sinew and prepare systematically for the next lower level.
  • Doing things lower stimulates qi circulation and in my opinion builds up the torque available in the internal infrastructure one is building into ones’ body.

Push Hands (Tui Shou)

  • Push hands partner work starts to train you in using the qi built up through standing qigong and form training for self defence, it also tests the postures in a dynamic situation (whereas previously they were tested in a static situation)
  • Traditionally one learns single, double and free-style push hands with fixed and moving steps that stress applications to what are known as ‘the four sides’. Then one learns Da Lu, which applies them to ‘the four corners’. Then you progress to San Shou, which is a more free flowing partner set based on applications in the form.
  • All of this is aimed at developing ‘listening and following’ skills (ting jing).

Combat Applications

  • These are taught from the word “go”, but initially just to illustrate what the movements in the form are for. Most popular schools do not even know what the postures are for. Later they are explored in earnest and in real time and reveal that every posture in the form has multiple applications.
  • Also Tai Chi has its own unique approach to combat, for example, we were taught by Master Chu that every movement can be a simultaneous block/counter-strike and take down. The art in no way, shape or form needs to import applications from other styles – if the teacher does this he does not know the authentic art! The exploration of these applications can be fun for those not necessarily interested in the martial side, or serious work for those who are.

Fast Form

  • This is a little known form (Chang Chuan) for advanced students teaching you how to use the qi fast and it comes as a surprise to many people that Yang style has this fast from as well as Chen style (after all it did come from the Chen style).

Weapons

  • Weapons training – typically sword (jian), sabre (tao), and staff (kun) – are taught only after the hand form is assimilated as the weapons represent a way to use the internal infrastructure built up through solo form training to extend and project the qi out into the weapon.
  • They are then used to build up one’s ability to project qi in the hand form and push hands and combat.

Supplementary Exercises

  • There are also supplementary exercises like, core exercises, yin/yang walking and moving qigong taught for health and to bring out the Tai Chi principles - they represent  important training in the basics like correct stance, width and rootedness.

Meditation

  • We were also taught sitting meditation by Master Chu as a form of sitting qigong

 If these elements are not being taught in your classes you are not being taught the full, authentic art. You are in effect being cheated or short-changed. It is like learning how to drive a car but being shown only how to drive it in one gear, or without inflated tyres, or not at its top performance levels.

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