Taiji training is based on two “pillars”, namely form and pair training. All of Taiji’s “secrets” can be found by form training and verified and checked in pair training.
Taiji forms are composed of combat techniques which have been seamlessly arranged as sequences of movements. The techniques are of the following four classes: throws, punches, kicks and qinna or joint locking and controlling techniques. These techniques originate in the book on war strategy by the Ming dynasty general Qi Jiguang (1528-1588) where he presented 32 unarmed combat techniques.
It is useful to practise the applications of the techniques in the forms with a partner to understand the correct execution in the form as well as to get an elementary idea of the practical applications.
However, the forms are not mainly technique drills as they primarily serve the following purposes:
* Accumulating the qi energy in the body and learning to control it,
* understanding and developing the connection between the mind and the body,
* learning relaxed and efficient body mechanics.
In China, the combination of these properties is called internal gong fu (or kung fu as it is usually written in the west). The real application of Taiji as a martial art is based on internal gong fu which enables the efficient application of any technique.
As part of form training in Taiji, it is customary to do repetitions of single movements, with the goal of understanding taiji’s principles and to then include them in the actual form. An example of this are the silk reeling exercises typical for Chen style Taiji. They develop a twisting movement and power of the whole body, in the beginning external but transforming in to more internal as the training progesses. In fact, the applicability of Chen style for combat is mostly based on using silk reeling power.
In addition, through history, some qigong and mediation practises have been included in the Taiji curriculum, for example zhan zhuang standing meditation. These were not a part of the original training method. They can help one to progress in internal training but they are not mandatory for making progress in Taiji.
It is important to understand that even if the external appearance of the form does not change much as the training progresses, the contents change a lot. In the beginning external, coordinated body movement is practised, later one moves into internal (energy) training which then progresses to the practise of the mind. All of this happens within the framework of the same form.
Weapons training has also been included in Taiji training during its history. The most common weapons used are the sword, saber and spear. It is said that the weapon is an extension of the arm and nowadays when practical weapon usage is rare, the main benefit of weapons training is perhaps in helping progress with unarmed training.
Master Lü demonstrating the first part of the Chen style Yi Lu form:
Master Lü demonstrating a part of the Yang style long form:
To obtain a deeper understanding of Taiji, one needs to practice pair training in addition to and as a natural continuation of form training. In Taiji this is based on tuishou or “push hands” exercises where the things learned in form training are “tested” in contact with a partner, first using prearranged drills and later with more free “sparring”.
One of the most essential things in Taiji is to get to know oneself and to learn to control oneself which starts with form training and then continues in a natural way with a partner in tuishou training. Without good self control it is not possible to learn to control one’s opponent and hence also in tuishou training it is essential to concentrate on oneself and to avoid “fighting” with the partner. One strives to hide one’s own intentions and on the other hand to learn to “listen”, through the contact with the partner, to their intentions. This requires sensitivity which is developed through a longer period of training.
In Taiji one does not respond to power using power but instead one strives to “borrow” the opponents power, making the opponent work against themself. The goal is hua, which means more or less getting a hold of the opponent’s power, neutralizing it and returning it. At the moment of returning the power, one may add an “interest” using one’s internal power. This is called fa or fa li or fa jin which means making the internal power exit one’s body. As said, the purpose is not to use this fa against the opponents power. In addition, this is a different type of power than that which we produce using our muscles and developing it is one of the goals of form training.
Hua is based on circular or elliptic shaped movement, first external and as the training progresses more on internal. This requires that one relaxes one’s body as it is not possible to produce internal power if the muscles are tensed. This explains the basic principles of Taiji’s form training, namely relaxation and round movement.
Tuishou training is very useful also for those who are not interested in combat skills. The goal is to help one’s partner and not to use violence. However, for those who are interested in fighting skills this also means that one’s partner should also at times use power, “helping” one’s partner by “causing them problems” which the partner should solve using Taiji’s method, avoiding the usage of power against power. This brings out perhaps the most diffcult thing to be learned in tuishou, namely to get rid of the competitive instinct. This is an essential point for those who wish to adopt the deeper content of Taiji.
Making progress in Taiji requires that one gets to experience the actions of a skilled master hands on. In addition, it is very useful if one can practice tuishou with partners who are more advanced than oneself. It is good to keep in mind the saying “invest in loss” when practicing tuishou.
As a result of tuishou training it is possible to learn the special feature of Taiji: the opponent completely loses control and usually gets launched off the situation. The highest level is described by the saying: “wu xing, wu shi; yi chu, ji fa”, which can be translated freely as “no power, no technique; one touch and the opponent is launched off.” Only very few of the most diligent and talented masters have actually achieved this and nowadays when Taiji is mostly known as a health exercise this sort of goal will be reached or even known about by very few practitioners.
Master Lü: Tui shou – internal structure and movement:
Master Wei Shuren demonstrating tui shou:
Master Feng Zhiqiang demonstrating taiji’s applications and tuishou with Lü Baochun:
Taiji Training in Baji Association
In Baji Association we practice the first form or yi lu of Chen style Taiji which has 83 movements as well as the Yang style long form with 85 movements. In addition to this, we practice single movement exercises, including the silk reeling exercises of Chen style Taiji.
We also practice tuishou pair training which starts with single hand, fixed step exercises and then two hand exercises which later progess to moving step drills. After obtaining the basics through these prearranged, fixed exercises, we move on to free tuishou where the attacking side usually uses some power and the receiving side will strive to handle it using the Taiji method.
The following video is a short introduction to master Lü’s way of teaching Taiji:
As to weapons training, we have practiced Taiji sword and also some power generation drills using a long spear.
Master Lü demonstrating pole shaking exercises with the long spear: