transcription i did 20 years ago on a Tai Chi video from a guy Wilson Pitts who taught at VCU in Richmond Va., i typed it out yesterday when i came across it.
Taijiquan with Wilson Pitts
Taijiquan is the most popular healing art in the world. To achieve health and well being was part of the tradition of the Taoist sages of China. Taiji translates into “Grand Ultimate.” The ancients had called the North star ‘Taiji”, it is the ridgepole of which the constellations and stars rotate. This ancient Taoist term was given to this Grand Ultimate Martial Art.
From its inception, Taiji was designated to be in accord with principles in nature. Chinese say that the earth turns at a constant rate, moon, sun, and stars travel across the sky at a constant rate, day changes to night at a constant rate, the seasons flow uninterrupted, so we must learn to do the same with our practice. The best way to observe the self moving at a constant rate is watching our shadow. Taiji is also referred to as ‘Shadow boxing.’
The art of Taiji posture training teaches how to express the coiling, spiraling, binary, and pulsing energy of life with the body. Later it becomes refined and strengthened. The highest aspect of every area of Chinese thought were melded in Taiji, the highest spiritual teachings, philosophy, medicine, physics, art, and physical culture.
To truly investigate the art, we must understand the intentions of its founders. The root of the art leads to its founders and the information they worked with. Taiji as an ancient centering exercise based on principles of harmony. To harmonize with gravity, one must stand and move erect with knees bent. Taiji is practiced in slow motion, so harmony can be sought throughout the practice. Taiji is a progression of movement, where anyone in any condition can begin to practice. The slow graceful movements strengthen the legs and abdomen while relaxing shoulders and neck. Daily practice balances the body and slowly changes the way it moves. What designated Taiji from other forms of physical education is that there is full knowledge of Chinese medicine and qigong (breathing exercises). These arts were developed side-by-side sharing the same goal of balancing the energies of the body. Taiji postures and flowing movement is taught in the beginning as a foundation so the beginner can have deeper insights. The “qi” or internal is nourished and circulated inside rather than expended.
By centering in the present, one learns to experience life as it happens. This position of harmony gives you the pliability of water, the ability of adaption to constant changes in the environment as they are happening to you. This could be change in weather, thinking, or in martial combat. Taiji has many benefits including increased circulation, balance and stability, less stress, relaxing increases, legs stronger, and deepens breathing.
The I-Ching, or “Book of Changes”, the oldest Confucian classic’s basic premise is: “The only thing that doesn’t change is change itself.” The inability to change creates stress, so in order to change for health, you must be in tune with who you are, and not who you think you should be. Healthy people move toward what they need to stay healthy. Your health is dependant upon the degree of harmony between the way you choose to live in the world and the way the world directs you. The language of the body is not Chinese, English, or any other verbalization. Taiji teaches to communicate with the body through feeling. Once you enter this new body awareness you can realize many paths.
Our teaching method serves as a guide. The true lessons are in the process. Take them for what they are, and in the final analysis, you will be your own guide. Usage, whether healing, fighting, spirituality, competition, etc. will decide the meaning of the practice.
Traditionally Taiji was training along with Qigong and standing meditation in the Taoist monasteries of Mt. Wu Dang and Mt. Huashan. Taiji as a slow motion exercise and meditation system came from these monasteries. This body awareness system is sophisticated and practical. Taiji is recognized as the most important of the other arts developed alongside Taiji. Xingyiquan and Baguazhang are other arts recognized as Taoist yoga. The arts complement each other, Taoist yoga is not a religion, but a system of holistic health care developed alongside Chinese medicine.
Meditation is a mental discipline that allows the mind to concentrate on one thing at a time. The definition here in this case is “Mind fascination” where the mind is fascinated totally like a child in play, the mental focus contemplates, not on dogmas or gurus, but the “qi”, the internal energy in the “here and now” experience. This qi energy circulates in passage ways called meridians, circulates in the internal organs, creating harmony with the nervous and circulatory systems, which are also manipulated in acupuncture. Through breathing, visualization, and will, this energy can be balanced and strengthened. The body has an innate intelligence, but it doesn’t have an owner’s manual. It is learned through correct techniques. The body can maintain perfect health and create a body that can combat stressful situations of daily life.
These Taoist arts are unique as they developed in an environment where knowledge from one generation was handed down to the next generation to be investigated further uninterrupted for thousands of years. The West is just beginning to find out this information to reduce stress and disease and maximize the body’s full potential.
Taiji is not an esoteric method not everyone can do. The techniques are straight forward and effective. With discipline, you will want to practice and learn more. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching is a base of Taiji philosophy- “Softness conquers hardness, gentleness over comes ridgity.” The series of movements in Taiji challenge your mental and physical capabilities, rather than muscular strength. It is like the early stages of learning to play an instrument. At first it is awkward and the student feels discouraged, then learning becomes easier, and then you learn to enjoy and become proficient, lastly one can find great expression though the art. In Taiji, the body is the instrument.
The generations of families devoted to the study of Taiji have given us classical forms to study the underlying principles in a holistic way. These classical forms are living and dynamic, and can be worked away from uniformity and imitation. The student is given knowledge of the unchanging principles, encouraged to practice in a way that promotes change. In learning, a student can practice slowly and increase the speed each time to create changing emphasis. As the body changes with practice, form will change. Eventually the student will make the postures their own. Some teachers will not take the student away from robotic imitation. This attitude is harmful for not recognizing individual physical differences and neglects the student’s reason for practice. Chinese say that the practice is a daily decrease rather than a daily increase. Taoist yoga of Taiji is always relaxing and releasing patterns of tension, thereby increasing Qi circulation. The meditation of chi is only accomplished in the present state; the incredible body of awareness is developed through posture training, the vocabulary for this is in the form of movements. It is internalized through practice, and is later able to be expressed by the student. The martial aspect allows one to examine the vocabulary of form. Slow exacting postures keep energy inside; this is valuable self knowledge for someone battling the stress of daily life as well as a martial artist in combat.
There is a saying that the father teaches the son 80%, from son to son 80%, finally after generations of this they are teaching 80% of nothing. This is like the empty robotic forms many people practice. Study underlying principles, and have the motions reflect this underlying principles takes a lot of time so that the motions do not become robotic. We must start at Taiji kindergarten and build a solid foundation to which we can pursue the higher levels of the art. When the basics are correct outside and the mind can remain relaxed and still, then the higher levels can be pursued. Without proper foundations, the spiritual aspects will be mere words. The eventual goal of form training is formlessness. When the body flows, the mind also flows, not stopping, not judging, but abides in the constant change of Tao, creating postures as they come. No two times of practice are ever the same. To reach this level is to practice Taiji in the present moment with clear focus.