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Analysis of Taijiquan Techniques

by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, August 22, 2016

It is important to understand how martial sequences are created and what purposes they serve. Sometimes people who lack this understanding tend to view the taijiquan sequence as a dance or abstract movement. A proper understanding of the root of the art will help you practice in the most effective way.

A martial sequence is a combination of many techniques, constructed in the imagination of the creator to resemble a real fight. The creator of a sequence must be an expert in the style, and experienced enough to see the advantages and disadvantages of a form, technique, or even just a step or stance. Within a martial sequence are hidden the secret techniques of a specific style.

Three Levels of Sequences

Chinese martial sequences contain two or three levels of fighting techniques. The first level is the obvious applications of the movements, and contains the fundamentals of the style.

The second level is deeper and is usually not obvious in the movements of a sequence. For example, a form might contain a false stance at a par tic u lar spot. This stance allows the practitioner to kick when necessary, but this kick may not actually be done in the sequence. Experienced martial artists can usually see through to this second level of applications.

The third level is the hardest to see, but it usually contains the most effective techniques of the style. These third level techniques often require more movement or steps than are actually shown in the sequence, and must be explained and analyzed by the master himself.

Purposes of Sequences

Therefore, a Chinese martial sequence has several purposes:

  1. A sequence is used to preserve the essence of a style and its techniques. It is just like a textbook that is the foundation of your knowledge of a style.
  2. A sequence is used to train a practitioner in the particular techniques of a style. When a student practices a sequence regularly he can master the techniques and build a good foundation in his style.
  3. A sequence is used to train a student's patience, endurance, and strength, as well as stances, movements, and jin (i.e. martial power).
  4. A sequence is also used to help the student build a sense of enemy. From routinely practicing with an imaginary opponent, you can make the techniques alive, and effective in a real fight.

The taijiquan sequence was created for these same purposes. However, as an internal style it also trains the coordination of breath with qi, and qi with movement. For this reason, taijiquan training is slow in the beginning, and then gradually incorporates speed.

Though Yang style Taijiquan has many different versions which can have either 24, 37, 81, 105 or more postures (depending, in part, upon the method of counting,) it actually contains only 37 to 40 fundamental martial techniques.  These fundamental techniques form the basis of more than 250 martial applications.  Within the sequence, many postures or fundamental techniques are repeated one or more times.  There are several reasons for this:

  1. To increase the number of times you practice the techniques which are considered more important and useful.  This, naturally, will help you learn and master them more quickly.  For example, Wardoff, Rollback, Press, and Push, which are considered the most basic fighting forms, are repeated eight times in the long sequence.
  2. To increase the duration of practice for each sequence. When early taiji practitioners found that the original short sequence was not long enough to satisfy their exercise and practice needs, they naturally increased the time of practice by repeating some of the forms.  Doing this lengthened sequence once in the morning and/or evening is usually sufficient for health purposes. However, if you also intend to practice taiji for martial purposes, you should perform the sequence continuously three times, both morning and evening if possible.  The first time is for warming up, the second is for qi transportation training, and the third time is for relaxed recovery. 

Three Categories of Techniques

As I mentioned before, there are more than 250 martial techniques within the taiji sequence.  These techniques are divided into three main categories, Downing the Enemy, Qin Na Control, and Cavity Strike.  There are a number of martial styles which also train these three categories, but taiji remains unique in that it specializes in doing them with relaxed muscles.  This relaxation increases your sensitivity to the opponent's movement and intentions, which allows you to use the soft against the hard and to conquer strength with weakness.  Because of its qi support and jin training, muscular strength becomes unimportant.  It is for this reason that taiji's martial applications are much harder to understand and train.  A qualified master is almost a necessity to lead the student to an understanding of the techniques, and of the coordination of jin and qi with the techniques.

It is impossible to keep all the techniques in your conscious mind.  In order to learn these techniques well enough to use them correctly and automatically, you must learn how to analyze and dissect them.  You must learn how to figure out why a technique is done a particular way, and you must learn how to evaluate your options when your opponent makes a particular move.  For example, when your opponent raises his arm to block, you should be familiar with the various techniques available to you, and you must understand why you should do this particular technique and not that one.

If you continue your analysis under a good instructor, you will be able to grasp the key to taiji martial applications, and then find it unnecessary to memorize all the techniques.  This is what is called, "Learning the trick of changing a rock into a piece of gold, instead of just taking the gold."  The first way is alive and unlimited, the latter is dead and limited.  Once you have learned the trick of analysis from your instructor, you will then be able to continue to develop and learn on your own.

The above is an excerpt from Tai Chi Chuan Martial Applications 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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