What is Taiji ?
Tai Chi Chuan/Tai Ji Quan, means approximately 'Great Ultimate Boxing' and it is a style of self defence with breath control + health + fitness exercises created from centuries of study by Chinese Scholars, teachers, soldiers etc. Also incorporated is Sun Tze's 'Art of War', along with thousands of years of Chinese medicine and philosophy. TaiJi without the 'Chuan' does not mean the same thing!
The 5 big styles of TaiJi Quan
Chen = founded by CHEN WANGTING 1600-1680
Sun = founded by SUN LUTANG 1861-1932
Wu = founded by QUAN YOU 1834-1902
Wu Yuxiang = founded by WU YUXIANG 1812-1880
Yang = founded by YANG LUCHAN 1800-1873
The reason i say the big 5 styles of Tai Ji Quan is simply, though there are other styles of Tai Ji Quan these 5 are the most well known as far as i can tell. Not to mention Shaolin Taiji?
Wu shu is made up of two Chinese characters, Wu = martial/warlike and Shu = arts/skill. Kung fu is also made up of two Chinese characters also,Kung (Gong) = work or labour and Fu = man, in other words 'a man doing hard work'; i am using 'man' to denote human kind not men!).
Left Step Centre Right Step
1/Peng 2/Lu 3/Ji 4/An 5/Cai 6/Lieh 7/Zhou 8/Kao
The 13 essences (sometimes called the 13 postures etc) comprise of 5 essences and 8 essences, (it is one of the versions i have seen in print). I use the 5 essences to teach beginners balance and the 8 essences to show a few basic techniques as well as give structure to the body. These 13 appear in every move in the Taiji form and unless you know what to look for, you will miss it.
Silk reeling (Chan Si), that almost corkscrew like movement of the entire body takes time to develope and requires the whole body to move as one unit. What you get sometimes when people pracise Tai Chi Chuan is the legs and arms going good, but there is little movement in the waist or spine. And how many people who play Tai Chi Chuan realise how important a flexible back is to health and that the spine is not anatomically'ramrod straight' on a skeleton! I have met some people who have straight spines, whether from birth or from an accident.
Because no two students are the same, the way they learn is also different even though they may have been taught the same things. The learning process is for the student to work out how to adapt the theory to their own body mechanics and for me has the teacher to help them; thereby i am also learning. The training process is to do the exercise over and over again, playing with the moves until it becomes a part of the person, like a reflex.
I teach beginners basic circular exercises to loosen up their bodies and the form in a linear fashion with a clear beginning(wuji) a middle (taiji) and an end (wuji). Then once they are happy with that I introduce slowly more circular moves to make their movement less robotic and more natural. By that time they are able to focus more on what they are doing and why they are doing it. I start with big movements/spirals and then work my way down to smaller ones, so the students has different ranges to play with constantly.
And if that was not bad enough they have to begin to read the Tai Ji Quan Classics written by the scholars, teachers and fighters who came before them. Then they have to put the theory and the moves together until they become one thought, one movement.
These reasons make Neijia (internal) styles so hard to learn, it is not simply a case of kick-punch or focus on nothing while still breathing. Trying to apply theory in practise is not the same as understanding the theory in the first place! Then you have to find some method to know whether you are actually doing what you are supposed to be doing and not going in the wrong direction almost like conducting science experiments in ideal conditions.
Once you have all of that, you still haven't finished; shadow boxing (punching the air) is not the same as facing someone, let alone free sparring without pads!! And what about Fa Jin (explosive power)? Then when you think you have finished you realise you have forgotten Daoyin and NeiGong for health, talk about someone letting all the air out of your car tyres or what!
The simple fact of the matter is, there is always a higher mountain, there is always some where you have never been or something you haven't done. Take your time because it is quality you want not quanity. A lot of people learn the hard way that all that kick-punch kick-punch when you are young comes back to haunt you when you are older.. Shinsplints anyone, ouch!!
Doing the form slowly gives you time to to study each movement and prepare your body for the time when you have to go faster. If you did the form fast to start of with it would simply be another form of aerobics and you would be out of breath quite quickly. Ok i hear you say practise makes you fitter, this is true up to a point but when do you get time to 'THINK' about what you are actually doing. How can you connect your whole body from foot-to-hand so that when you make one move, it seems as if your whole body is one muscle not hundreds of different ones.
Tai Chi Chuan requires the student to constantly think about what they are doing and what they are trying to achieve. A group of students may look as if they are doing the same movements but if you ask them; one might say i am concentrating on linking my breathing with every move i make, another might say i am stretching, a third might say i am going through the actual martial applications and so forth.
It is not always easy for a student let alone a beginner to know the differences so i suggest you ask if you are uncertain; just be prepared in case you don't understand the answer. And yes i have been there and done that! And i am still doing it because even though i instruct i am still a student.
Contact details for Alan;
+44 (0) 7947 009 888
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Current TaiChi classes:
Mondays & Fridays;
(No classes on UK Bank Holidays)
St Hilda's Church
Brockley Rd (Courtrai Rd)
London SE23 1PL