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Reflections on Taijiquan—A Complex Art

by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, June 6, 2016

One of the best decisions I ever made in my life is to learn Taijiquan. It is one thing that has always brought me great happiness. I cannot deny how much health I have gained, how balanced my mind has become, and how deeply I have pondered life since I began training it at 16 years old. Taijiquan enabled me to not only live a healthy life, but also a calm and peaceful one. My life would have been so different otherwise. However, what I appreciate most about Taijiquan is that through teaching it, I was able to make many, many friends around the world and travel to so many countries. This has made my life so fulfilling and meaningful.

In 1985 I wrote the first edition of Tai Chi Chuan Martial Power. Taijiquan was just becoming popular in the United States. Nowadays, Taijiquan is commonly seen and taught in many locations worldwide. After years of studies and research, Taijiquan is now gaining recognition as a viable means of curing and alleviating many health problems, including high blood pressure, stress, and loss of balance.

Thirty years ago, I thought I knew a lot about Taijiquan theory. Through my own practice, research, and teaching several decades later, I now realize that I was wrong. The more I learned, the less I knew. I will never forget the words of my White Crane master, Cheng, Gin-Gsao (曾金灶): "The taller the bamboo grows, the lower it bows (竹高愈躬)." Staying humble and constantly emptying my cup was the only way I was able to continue learning more. I have updated some of my information and statements to reflect my new understanding. However, the basic theory of Taijiquan that was originally presented still remains the same.

I always tell everybody to put a question mark on everything I say. What I teach in books, videos, and seminars is based on only my own personal understanding and interpretations at any given moment in time. Actually, we should all always put a question mark on what we hear, read, and see. Only then will we be able to find real truth and substance through careful thought and study. We should always embrace the opportunity to research, develop, and improve upon the teachings we receive. In this manner, we will be able to achieve a comprehensive understanding of what we learn.

Famous Martial Styles

Qigong is a training system that helps to generate a strong flow of qi (internal energy) inside the body and then circulate it through the entire body. Many martial and nonmartial styles of qigong training have been created in the last four thousand years. The most famous martial styles are Taijiquan (太極拳), Bagua (八卦掌), Xingyi (形意拳), and Liu He Ba Fa (六合八法). These are considered "internal" styles (nei gong, 內功 or nei jar, 內家 in Chinese), as opposed to "external" styles like Shaolin because they emphasize working with qi. The best-known nonmartial styles, which emphasize the enhancement of qi circulation to improve health, are Five Animal Sport (Wu Qin Xi, 五禽戲), Eight Pieces Of Brocade (Ba Duan Jin, 八段錦), Da Mo's Muscle/Tendon Changing Classic (Yi Jin Jing, 易筋經), and twelve postures (shi er zhuang, 十二庄.

Taijiquan, which is said to have been created by Chang, San-feng (張三豐) in the twelfth century, is now the most popular qigong style in the world, even though it was shrouded in secrecy until the beginning of the twentieth century. At present, it is widely practiced not only in China and the East, but also in the Western world.

There are several reasons for the rapid spread of this art. The most important,
perhaps, is that the practice of taiji can help to calm the mind and relax the body, which are becoming survival skills in today's hectic and stress-filled world. Secondly, since guns are so effective and easy to acquire, taiji has been considered less vital for personal self-defense than it used to be. For this reason, more taiji masters are willing to share their knowledge with the public. Thirdly, ever since taiji was created, it has been proven not only effective for defense, but also useful for improving health and curing a number of illnesses.

Unfortunately, because of this healthful aspect, the deeper theory and practice of taijiquan, especially the martial applications, are being widely ignored. Most people today think that taiji is not practical for self-defense. To approach the deeper aspects requires much time and patience, and there are very few people willing to make the necessary sacrifices. In addition, some taiji experts are still withholding the secrets of the deeper aspects of the training, and not passing down the complete art.

A Complex Art

Anyone who practices this art correctly for a number of years will realize that taiji is not just an exercise for calmness and relaxation—it is a complex and highly developed art. It gives the practitioner a feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction that seems to go beyond that of any other art. This is because taiji is smooth, refined, and elegant, internally as well as externally. The practitioner can sense the energy (qi) circulating within his body, and can achieve the peaceful mind of meditation. Qi circulation can bring good health and may even help you to reach enlightenment.

Furthermore, when a taiji practitioner has achieved grand circulation, he can use this qi in self-defense. The principles that taiji uses for fighting are quite different from those of most other martial styles, which rely on muscular force. Taiji uses the soft to defend against the hard, and weakness to defeat strength. The more you practice, the better you will become, and this defensive capability will grow with age instead of weaken. However, because the martial theory of taijiquan is much more profound than that of most other systems, it is much harder to learn and takes a longer time to approach a high level of martial capability. A knowledgeable instructor is very important, for guidance from an experienced master can save many years of wandering and useless practice.

Today there are still a number of interested practitioners who are researching and practicing the deeper aspects of taijiquan with the help of the very few qualified experts and the limited number of in-depth publications. Many questions have arisen. Which is a good style of taijiquan? How can I tell who is a qualified taiji instructor? What is the historical background of the different styles? Which styles can be applied effectively? How do I generate qi? How do I coordinate my breathing with the qi circulation? How do I use qi in self-defense? What is jing (power) and is there more than one kind? How do I train my jing correctly? How does the fighting strategy of taiji differ from that of other styles?

All these questions puzzle people even in China.

The above is an excerpt from the Preface found in Tai Chi Chuan Martial Power: Advanced Yang Style by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming

Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, is a renowned author and teacher of Chinese martial arts and Qigong. Born in Taiwan, he has trained and taught Taijiquan, Qigong and Chinese martial arts for over forty-five years. He is the author of over thirty books, and was elected by Inside Kung Fu magazine as one of the 10 people who has "made the greatest impact on martial arts in the past 100 years." Dr. Yang lives in Northern California.


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