Monday, July 20, 2009

The Myths of the Taijiquan Form

1. The Myth of the Standard Form

These ceramic figures represent some postures of the "Standard Form" Yang style taijiquan prescribed by the Wushu authorities in Mainland China.

This so called "Standard Form" has been set up for many years and it has been practising by millions of people in China and all over the world.

Some time ago, there was a video clip circulating on the web purporting to be a demonstration by the late Master Yang Shou Zong (the fourth generation gate-keeper, great grand son of Grand Master Yang Lu Chen, who stayed in Hong Kong after the 2nd World War), practising the taijiquan form on his 70th birthday. While following the same sequence, the form as demonstrated by late Master Yang (showing, inter alia, a 100% to 0% balance) is obviously different from the "Standard Form" in many respects.

The Yang taijiquan was originally passed down by the Yang family.

Who defined the standard, the Yang family gate-keeper or the Wushu authorities?

Different people may have different answers.

My view is that if you do not understand the fundamental principles of taiji martial art and their relationship with the taijiquan form, a form is only a form. An empty form has very little value from a martial art perspective. However, if you only treat taijiquan as a morning exercise, and you do find that the form you are practising is beneficial to your health, why bother?

On the other hand, if you already have a good understanding of the fundamental principles, it should not bother you either. You should have no difficulties in identifying which form to practise.

2. The Myth of the Fighting / Application Form

In the past 10 years or so, we start seeing people telling the world that there are in fact two types of taijiquan forms. The "Health Form" is for health purpose and the "Fighting / Application Form" is for fighting applications. According to these people, the "Health Form" was designed for the general public and aim at promoting good health only and that the "Fighting / Application Form" is the "real" art and reserved secretly in the Masters' small circles and was transmitted on secretly.

I have no comment on the authenticity of these claims. Be that as it may, do we really need such kind of form distinction?

As discussed previously, practising the taijiquan form is good for health for, amongst others, the following reasons:

1. For body and mind coordination; and

2. For recovery from injuries and illness.

When I first learned taijiquan, there was no such "health form" and "fighting / application form" distinction. Whether you learned the form for health purpose or for martial art training, the teacher taught you the same form - If you know how to coordinate your body and mind efficiently in your movements, you obtain a balanced body and you will have good health. For martial art training, you also need to develop a balanced body before you are in a position to learn the application techniques, so you practise the form as part of the training (you will need to train in other things to reach the martial art standard). Hence, everyone learned the same taijiquan form from the very beginning.

After a practitioner's body has revived back to the balanced position (in the martial art standard to be exact), the form can be used to fine tune the body and mind coordination. You do the form slowly, in accordance with the martial art requirements, so as to check if each part of the body has been fully activated. However, this is not something a beginner or a practitioner in the intermediate level can appreciate.

The reality is that practising the taijiquan form is only part, and the elementary part, of the Taiji Martial Art system.

Whilst taijiquan form is important to the system, it is incorrect to believe that one can acquire some super-natural power by learning the "right" form or that one can become a fighter by practising the form alone. There is no shortcut to success. In order to become a real taiji martial artist, one has to undergo a series of hard training. There is no secret in this.

In order to develop a balanced body, you will of course need to prastise the taijiquan form in the correct manner.

3. The Myth of Soft as if Without Bones

As the taijiquan form is good for health, a lot of people practise it everyday as "morning exercise". However, it appears to me that not many people know how to do it in a "correct" manner and, therefore, cannot get the best out of it.

By "correct" I mean meeting the requirements as set down in various Taijiquan classics.

One such requirement is that "when you move, the whole body moves; when you stop, the whole body stops".

The purpose behind this requirement is that, you coordinate various parts of your body to do a task. For morning exercise purpose, this trains a practitioner to keep good control of his body and learn how to maintain his balance (reducing the chance of falling down due to lose of balance on slippery floor). While the muscles power of a practitioner may not be be strong, he can still be active if muscles in different parts of his body can work together in carrying out a task.

The requirement is to move different parts of your body coherently. There should be a linkage between these separate parts such that the movement of one part will enhance the movement of the other related parts.

You gain very little benefit, if, for example:

(1) after your main action has stopped, you extend your arm / leg slowly, pretending to be artistic, relax and soft; or

(2) separate parts of your body do things separately / independently, pretending to be soft as if without bones.

In these 2 circumstances, a practitioner uses individual parts of his body separately and independently. Hence, he cannot get the benefit discussed above. You can regard this as a kind of exercise nevertheless, but this kind of exercise can not be regarded as up to standard in the taiji system, and there is no room for further development.

Taiji emphasises "softness and relaxation". Such "softness and relaxation" is a kind of "coordinated softness /relaxation" engineered by "will power". It does not equal to the misinformed concepts of "absence of strength" or "soft as if without bones" - such misconceived "softness" leads to the defect of "detach" in application techniques.

Apart from coordinating the mind and body, there are other requirements, such as: relax your shoulder, lower your elbow, sink your chest, pluck up your back, upright your tailbone and upright your head, etc.

All these requirements, like the requirement of coordination, have their respective rationale in the martial art aspect and should not be taken literally.

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