3rd October 2014


I had a call today from someone enquiring about tai chi classes and during the conversation they were surprised to hear that there were, in his words, "two types" of Yang style – the popular version and the authentic or classical version. So I drew his attention to the fact that there is a very good article on the topic at Wikipedia  under Tai Chi Chuan - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%27ai_chi_ch%27uan  - and recommended he read it. I recommend it to anyone who wants to know about the serious art.

But it is not just the Yang style that has this issue. The other styles like Chen, Wu, Wu/Hao and Sun styles do as well. Many Chinese have migrated to the West these days and teach simplified forms or forms based on Wu Shu (martial performing arts). They may claim to know a lot about qigong and martial arts and they may ormay not. Many naive Westerners just assume that because they have a Chinese face they are experts (which is a sort of racism in reverse) - nothing could be further from the truth. I know of one Chinese teacher who has one of the biggest schools in Australia who told me that he just went to China and learnt some forms. A Sydney-based doctor is another case in point - a prolific teacher of shortened and Wu Shu-based versions of various styles. These people, often with the best of intentions in relation to promoting the art as a health practice, help to foster an incorrect perception  amongst a naive Australian public of what ‘real’ tai chi is all about.  

A  video of Yang Sau Chung, son of Yang Cheng Fu, doing the authentic form can be googled at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bze07WyY0C0&feature=youtube_gdata_player  - this is the form we teach.

August 27, 2014 The Tension between Flow and Content in Form Training

In the moving form no sooner has one posture appeared and been executed in a distinct and exact manner, than it disappears and dissolves seamlessly into the next posture – the taiji student becomes a shapeshifter. Posture is the beginning point and ending point of movement, whilst movement is the transition between the postures. Both the individual postures and the transition movements must adhere to the all-important structural principles (See article on Posture Testing). As a result there tends to be a paradoxical tension involved in correct Taiji form practice. On the one hand, there are precise static postures or stances, and on the other, the ceaseless, flowing transitional movement. No sooner has the static posture appeared than it disappears – there is a dynamic tension occurring here between form and formlessness, yin and yang. The tempo of this type of movement is captured in the Taiji saying: ‘seems to stop, does not stop’. This is one reason the form is done slowly and mindfully, because it is building in such detail whilst, at the same time, moving continuously.

Hence, the form is not empty choreography – there is a lot going on. Often those practising ‘popular’ or ‘pseudo’ Taiji are attracted to the tempo and flow of the movement but lack knowledge of the precision of the postures, and so it deteriorates into flowery, overly-loose movement. In authentic Taiji, beginners often struggle with getting this balance of flow/even tempo with precise structure right, often finding that the detail being built into the postures interferes with the flow, and as a result pauses are created in the form. Eventually more advanced practitioners manage to synthesize these two aspects and their performance of the set makes a quantum leap forward. The synthesis of flow and precision produces an incredibly graceful form markedly different in quality from a flowery one. The gong (power) is clearly present within the graceful, flowing movement. 

July 23 Spiralling More Refined in Yang Tai Chi

Some Chen family Tai Chi disciples[1] claim these days that their style is the only one still practising  spiralling and that the other styles have lost “the deeper aspects” and “have become watered down tai chi”. This is certainly true of the ‘popular’ versions of Yang style, but not true of the how the authentic art is taught by Yang family disciples to this day. In a previous article, Hallmarks of Authentic Tai Chi Training (23 August 2013), based on how I was taught by Master Chu-king hung, I have outlined the revisions of the form we undertook to build the spiral qi into the form. A cursory glance at the websites of contemporary official disciples of the Yang family will also show that the spiralling concept is still an integral part of Yang family training[2].

In fact, in stark contrast to this claim by Chen stylists, it is considered within the Yang family that, even though Yang style evolved out of Chen style, this type of force became more refined and internalised in the Yang style than in the Chen style. In historical accounts of Tai Chi there is even the claim that the Yang family returned the art to its original subtlety that the Chen family had lost. The spiral movements of the Chen style are much more visible and larger in their form than those in the Yang family style where it is more hidden. I remember Master Chu once commenting on this saying something like Chen style “is just like Kung Fu” – by which he meant more external. I had a Chen style student join my classes at one stage several years ago and he claimed I was generating a similar degree of power to what he had witnessed in his Chen style training but with a lot less movement.

This is not meant to be a criticism of Chen style. I am glad that this original style of Tai Chi is still around and vigorously promoting the fact that it is a sophisticated martial art. Other styles, such as the Wu style, probably claim that their spiralling is more refined than the Yang style’s! For further discussion see the article Spiralling in the Chen and Yang Styles.

[1] Wasson, M., 1997, Chen Xiaowang Speaks Out. Is Chen style the only true tai chi?, KUNGFU, Dec/Jan 1997, pp. 28-33.

The Form is a Workout, June 9 2014

I found an interesting remark on respected internal arts commentator Mike Sigman’s blog page ‘Internal Strength’ (http://mikesigman.blogspot.com.au/) recently, which I tend to agree with. He says that many people think that a qigong (and any good Asian martial-art which is based on qigong principles like tai chi) is a series of movements which somehow imbue benefits just from ‘doing’ the sequence of postures.  You get the impression, for example, that many think the ‘magic’ of a Taiji form is in the sequence and choreography.  You even hear of people who think that somehow just by doing the form in a slow, relaxed way they will get the ‘Qi’ necessary for martial arts.

In actuality, the benefits come from how the body is managed during the performance of the sequence.  In other words, a qigong, a Taiji form, etc., is a type of workout regimen in which the body is moved and conditioned in specific ways. The fact that the actual workout part is difficult to see has led many people to focus on the choreography and to miss what is really going on in qigong-related exercises and martial-arts. 

The ‘workout’ we learnt under Master Chu King hung, for example, included building in Yang Cheng Fu’s Ten Important points, the Six Coordinations (Liu He), and three revisions of the form to bring out the spiral qi – the yin/yang form, the open/close form and the centre-move form and there was more. All this took quite a while to learn and then you had to take it all away and use the form as a tool to condition all these principles into the body - to embody them. If you did not do the practice you did not get the power (jin) the training could bestow.

So the fact that people only ‘see’ the beautiful choreographed movements and mimic them, and the paucity of instructors around that have been trained in the deeper principles of the authentic art is an explanation for the proliferation of the superficial form of ‘popular’ taiji. Some call it pseudo-Tai Chi!

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