Eulalio, I apologize for apparently giving you offense. Such was not my intent. Taijiquan should be a source of joy and challenge, rather than a cause for giving or receiving annoyance. I have an obsession with language and work in a multi-lingual environment. Time and again, I have been amazed by the subtleties of language and the importance of context in understanding meaning. Unfortunately, exploring this territory in a clumsy way can exacerbate the problem.
This thread has soared way beyond our particular interchange, but I feel I must reply to your post to me. Although I believe I largely share the viewpoint of most of the posters on this board, I will mostly let them speak for themselves.
The Internet is one of those environments where it is hard to give and interpret context and so I tend to write too much and reach for commonalities that may not exist, including linguistic ones. If it may help to add context to my particular example, let me say that the Portuguese-Spanish example I gave was first told to me in a conversation involving at least four people, at least three of whom were native speakers of Portuguese. However, our personal origins, our native linguistic competence, and the origins of our surnames each covered three or four continents (though a different geographic combination for each), including Asia. The point of the story at the time was that the very same things that appeared to unite us in some ways could unexpectedly divide us in others. If you felt I was stereotyping you, I must confess that I am uncertain what the stereotype would have been.
I find that my linguistic interests overlap my Taiji interests in many ways. One such way is that linguists (as opposed to grammarians) often find it impossible to define the boundaries of individual languages. There are many languages in both Europe and Asia where the speakers of one “dialect” cannot make themselves understood with speakers of some of the other “dialects” of the same “language” (e.g., Mandarin and Cantonese). At the other extreme, there are speakers of what are termed different “languages” who have no problem conversing with each other (e.g., Swedish and Norwegian).
By saying that we do not use Taiji terms in the same way, I am analogizing to a situation where one person is using Mandarin and the other is using Cantonese. The Mandarin speaker cannot claim precedence by saying he or she speaks better “Chinese” and seek to correct the other’s Cantonese. Although the grammar and vocabulary of the two versions of Chinese share an enormous amount in common, ignoring their distinctiveness would create confusion. The principles of the two are best analyzed and studied differently, rather than bothering about deciding which is better. Routinely mixing the two in speech does not really combine the “benefits” of both, anymore than speaking a sentence half in English and half in German would inherently be more expressive or pleasing to the ear than sticking to one or the other language. Even loading up a German sentence with English words does not convert it into English, since the grammar involved will be different.
I used the example of Spanish and Portuguese in my earlier post because there are extremely good linguistic (as opposed to social or political) arguments that these are actually two dialects of what is really a single language. Certainly, they are far closer to each other than Mandarin and Cantonese are to each other. Nevertheless, the grammar and thought patterns of Spanish and Portuguese are simply not the same. I have suffered minor embarrassments recently by neglecting phonetic aspects of this reality.
I began my study of Taijiquan believing that everything I was taught or had read on the subject was simply a different aspect of a single well-defined discipline. I thought there was a group of Taiji adepts who shared a pool of mysterious knowledge that it was my task to penetrate and acquire. Many people writing on Taijiquan take what appears to be an ecumenical approach that seems to imply this. After much effort, I now believe that Taijiquan is a label that people apply to a variety of practices. Some of these practices are mere variations on a theme. Others I believe to be different themes, some better, some worse, and some just different. Not appreciating this possibility cost me several years of progress trying to pursue what I did not realize were different visions.
As I have worked with other Taiji friends, I frankly have seen echoes of my experience in their practice, where I have seen them struggle to reconcile what I believe to be apples and oranges. A “seated” wrist cannot be both extended straight out and flexed backward. One cannot “relax” by both trying to eliminate all muscular activity and by using the muscles to “open” the joints. I cannot both concentrate my attention on moving “qi” around my body, while simultaneously not focusing on “qi” at all. Even if I do these things sequentially, rather than simultaneously, two opposing processes cannot both become automatic aspects of my movement.
I realize that it is important for many Taiji practitioners that their concept of Taijiquan form a coherent whole with such concepts as mapping “qi” meridians, Qi Gong, bone marrow washing, Bagua circling, Kundalini, chakras, prana, and energy auras. Please realize that for some people, these concepts are ancillary or even opposed to their Taijiquan. Some people do not accept the validity of some of these concepts at all and turn away from Taijiquan when it is implied that all types of Taijiquan accept them. You are free to consider this narrow.
<<And so, to be a serious student of Tai Chi, you should be able to look into every stone unturned but best to practice it diligently without using all your efforts into arguments on what is Tai Chi and what is not Tai Chi. Tai Chi should be experienced and talking about it would too much without much self research is dangerous.>>
I apparently expressed myself badly. My whole point was not to define what is or what is not “Tai Chi,” but rather to distinguish your point of view from mine and to clearly express my belief that trying to integrate the two would be problematic, just as arguing about the real meaning of “embarazada” is problematic without being aware of one’s language environment. Surely, you do not think we share the same viewpoint about our respective practice methods.
I also said that “the best is the enemy of the good,” by which I meant to express that arguing over whose is the best or the most authentic Taijiquan often obscures whose Taijiquan is beneficial, useful, or even fun. I would also argue that leaving “every stone unturned” may involve neglecting what may have already been found under earlier stones. If you derive the wonderful benefits you describe from your practice, you should certainly share your treasure with others who can and want to benefit, regardless of its label. In doing this, however, please accept that there are those who practice in ways they may not want to give up and that may not fit well with what you do.
I personally try to take an expansive view of what is and what is not Taijiquan in the general sense. A good portion of my Taiji experience has been in settings where my teachers have mixed in principles from other martial arts.
With one teacher I spent the better part of a year studying a Baguazhang broadsword form in the context of a Yang Style Taiji class. He included drunken-style elements in the form and had us do it not only with broadswords, but also with straight swords, fans, and without weapons. I cannot say that I put enough practice time in the form to gain much proficiency with it, let alone with all the variations; however, I learned interesting ways to explore the concepts of Taijiquan, despite the fact that none of this was “traditional” Yang Style. One thing, however, I definitely had reinforced for me was that people teach different principles using what may sound on the surface like a common vocabulary.
You reproach me for taking a narrow view of Taiji practice. I cannot look at myself objectively and so cannot agree or disagree with your opinion. However, I do think it is important to distinguish two things: (1) the question of what is and what is not “Taijiquan” and (2) the question of what are compatible practice methods, objectives, and traditions.
I have nothing enlightening to say about the first question. Does Taijiquan include: pure meditation, yoga relaxation exercises, Five Element Breathing, circling exercises with Filipino fighting sticks, and push hands with fans? I have done all these activities in the confines of Taiji classes (though not with much skill), but cannot really say whether they should all properly be considered Taijiquan. What standard am I to use? Chen Wangting’s manuals? The writings kept by the Yang Family? The sayings attributed to Zhang Sanfeng? The practices described in Tai Chi Magazine? Whatever my teacher takes it into his or her head to teach? For me, it is a matter more of semantics than of substance. What I do find important to focus on is what I learn by engaging in these activities and where they seem to take me.
If, however, instead of talking about “Taijiquan,” we talk about Chen Style Taijiquan, I think it becomes easier to define what should be included and what should not, otherwise the very term “Chen Style” begins to lose meaning. For example, in my opinion, if one does not prominently display silk reeling energy in one’s movements, one is not doing Chen Style. Similarly, if one’s art is built around using pressure-point strikes or iron-hand techniques, one is not doing Chen Style. For me, it does not matter whether these techniques are effective, whether they can be traced to Zhang Sanfeng or the Wudang Temple, or whether they mirror Sun Tsu.
Similarly, if someone advocates an approach to “Taijiquan” that does not prominently feature something similar to Yang Chengfu’s Ten Essentials and some version of a slow form, I question how compatible it is with what I have generally described on this discussion board. The mere fact an approach uses concepts like “qi,” “yi,” “internal energy,” or “relaxation,” is not enough for me, since I, for one, do not even take these terms to be uniquely descriptive of the so-called internal arts, let alone uniquely emblematic of Taijiquan or Yang Chengfu’s particular approach. Hans-Peter responded to one of your posts with what seemed to me a similar reaction, although perhaps from a different perspective.
You seem at pains to de-emphasize the role of form in learning basic Taiji principles, going so far as to suggest limiting one’s practices to the postures of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail (presumably as is done in Yang Chengfu’s form). Instead, you emphasize using standing practice as a means of learning how to “turn ‘qi’ into ‘jin’/’jing’.”
I believe I have read at least one of the books you have referred to, more than once, and so do not believe that you are just creating a theory out of thin air. Nevertheless, I must admit that I do not see what is wrong about distinguishing this approach from a method that teaches basic principles through practicing the form and de-emphasizing conscious control of “qi.” “Sinking the ‘qi’ to the ‘dantian’” is about as much as I understand is required of “qi” in the Yangs’ basic method.
When I think about the concept of “jin,” I have in mind a concept that a beginner should be able to manipulate within a matter of seconds or minutes of one-on-one instruction (depending upon circumstances), not something that takes up to two years to learn. What I am talking about is not all that different from learning scales on the piano or the guitar. The principles and mechanics of it are not particularly mysterious. It is the control, consistency, and depth of understanding that require years of arduous practice to begin to master. When you talk about taking months or years to learn how to generate “jin,” I think it is important for me to make clear that I am not using the word “jin” in this way.
I also have no problem at all with the value of standing as a practice. What Michael and Gene have described in their posts sounds little different from what I have done from time to time and why I have done it. I understand them to be using standing as an adjunct to the rest of their practice, a way of deepening certain skills and insights, not as a prerequisite for understanding or making use of the form. My only issues with standing are what role it should play in overall practice and what one should expect it to accomplish.
If I only have 30 minutes a day to dedicate to active Taiji practice, should I reserve this for form, standing, or something else? Should I do form and standing on alternate days? Should I do 25 minutes of form and 5 minutes of standing? If I have an entire hour, should I spend half doing form and half doing standing, or should I try to squeeze in extra repetitions of the form? How do you weigh the value of the “Third Rep” (i.e., doing the “long” form three times in a row) against the value of doing 5 minutes of standing?
During at least one seminar, I recall the Yangs giving a passing reference to the value of standing in gaining practical martial ability. But suppose I have little interest in such practical ability? My inclinations coincide with the idea Gene expressed. Studying things like the saber form does not seem to me the most practical way to defend myself against a carjacking. I also know that standing can increase lower body strength and rooting ability; however, weightlifting can give lower body strength, and posture testing can also teach rooting. I am not knocking standing as a practice, but question that it has to be central to everyone’s practice, as opposed to helpful to all and central only to some approaches.
You said in your post:
<<I am CHI-literate if you will, and I speak the same language as you do but it is your single-mindedness that keeps you within the strict discipline of Yang Tai Chi and not understand others. While I am speaking to you within the realm of Yang Tai Chi, you eloquently speak of Tai Chi as if you know the whole thing.>>
Again, I do not believe I have either accused you of being illiterate in “qi” or of speaking a different language than me. My point is that you use “qi” and other terms in ways very different from me. For example, I do not recall referring to “bone marrow” washing prior to this exchange or to transforming “qi” into anything else. I frankly do not recall talking much about using “qi” at all.
I heartily disclaim any authority in interpreting “Yang Tai Chi,” let alone “the whole thing.” The Yangs certainly do not need me to speak for them or interpret what their art is. My posts simply attempt to lay out my personal reaction to the their teaching, spiced with some experiences from other teachers who have taught me from other perspectives.
You also said:
<<To be blunt with you, you can master the literary part of Tai Chi and doesn’t know how to fight using Tai Chi as an applied art. It is funny how “westerners” (if you want to play this stereotypes you have started) deem Tai Chi as their own creation based mainly from classes and seminars attented from their hobby and have the nerve to be authoritative in this life long discipline.>>
I am certainly not a very impressive martial artist, let alone an “authority.” I would be highly embarrassed if someone would see me as such. I hope I have been very clear that much of my speculation and theorizing is based on “classes and seminars” I have attended, rather than on any status as a “master” or even anyone’s “disciple.” If this means for you that my opinions and speculations are valueless and “not the real deal,” please feel free to ignore my posts and look elsewhere.
It sounds as if you interpret my claim to difference as a claim to superiority. I apparently was not clear about this, because I do not. What I do assert is that behind common words, we model our Taijiquan on different standards that have major differences.
You also said:
<<In Asia, the testing ground is not forum such as this. You pit your skill and knowledge on reality based platform instead of discussing it intelligently. While I can discuss this with you scholarly, it won’t matter since the ultimate test of your skill must be verified on real life situation. Can you tell me what is Wu Wei if you are faced with a Kris wielding adversary? Can you tell me how you are going to do your SINGLE WHIP with thug who has ill wishes to take your head off? Bluntly, I don’t so.>>
Again, I make no great claim to skill in Taijiquan and have no trouble believing that a “Kris wielding adversary” could slice me to ribbons. I have no objection if you feel skill in such areas is necessary to discuss Taijiquan, but I hope you will allow me to have a different view.
Also, if your reference to “Wu Wei” is merely a criticism of me, that is fine. If, however, you are still talking philosophy, I have to say that my understanding is that following “Wu Wei” can even require one to surrender to death as just one more expression of the “nature of things.” Surely all Daoist sages were not martial art masters or even sought to be. Surely, most martial arts masters are not Daoists or even seek to be. Again, I claim to be neither.
By insisting that Taijiquan is virtually synonymous with Daoism, as opposed to influenced by Daoism, you separate yourself from sections of the Taiji community without being willing to acknowledge the separation. I do not object to the separation, only the lack of acknowledgement of it. For example, it is fine for you not to value Chen Style particularly; however, if major leaders of Chen Style say that their art is not particular Daoist, I, for one, would tread lightly in correcting them about their own art.
As this thread has developed, you had an exchange with Jerry over the concept of “Seeking stillness in movement” (dong zhong qiu jing). I would like to comment on it, since this for me is emblematic of my differences with your approach. Again, I do not say that your view is objectively wrong or wrong for you; however, by insisting that yours is the only true interpretation even for Yang Zhengduo’s community, I think you do unwitting damage. You end up subtly distorting Jerry’s position. Since I think Jerry’s position and mine end up fairly close on this point, let me explain why I see such damage in your assertions. Jerry may well disagree with my particulars and how I express myself.
On another thread, I explained my understanding of the concept of “Taiji” as a philosophical principle. I went to great pains to explain that in my view it involves exploring the dynamic tension between “yin” and “yang.” I did so because of many within the greater Taiji community who approach all Taijiquan through the prism of “balancing” yin and yang. (I.e., “If you do a little of this, you need to do a little of that.”) In my view, this is an approach more characteristic of traditional Chinese medicine and Five Element theory. (I.e., make sure you balance salty with sweet, sour, bitter, etc.) In my view, Chinese culture has tended to try to integrate philosophies (Buddhism with Daoism, Communism with Capitalism, Five Element Theory and Yin-Yang Theory), rather that seeking to have one “disprove” another. Nevertheless, my understanding is that all these were originally seen as competing theories.
“Balance” can be a destructive concept for the idea of “Taiji” because it implies that 50-50 has some privileged position over 99-1. In Yin and Yang theory, Yin and Yang can be just as harmoniously positioned at 99-1 as at 50-50. On the other hand, Yin and Yang can be in catastrophic alignment at 50-50. Rather than “balance,” I think that the “Taiji” embedded in the art practiced by those like the Yangs revolves more around something like “appropriateness to the particular configuration of Yin and Yang presented at any given moment. ” I.e., if a situation call for a 99-1 response, make sure you are not 50-50. If it calls for a 70-30 response, make sure you are not 30-70. If it calls for a 51-49 response, try not to be 49-51.
Central to the ability to use this approach are two things: (1) having the ability to assess what the relative state of Yin and Yang is at any given moment and (2) being able to change oneself to adapt appropriately to that state. Nothing in this requires one to dwell within some area of 50-50 balance. In fact, to do so would mean catastrophically neglecting the ability to be 99-1 or 1-99.
Eulalio, when you insist that movement and stillness are separate things, when you insist that form is movement and that standing is stillness, and when you insist that Taijiquan only exists when someone balances form practice with standing practice, you leave no room for my art. If anyone applies these concepts to my art, they destroy it through confusion with something else.
“Seeking stillness within movement” in the art I practice absolutely requires doing both at the same time. It is not a sequential process. Doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that is not the same thing. Moreover, although I value standing as a practice wherein I can “seek movement within stillness,” this is not one of Yang Chengfu’s Ten Essentials. The “Taiji” he discusses is about movement. The “Wuji” he discusses is about stillness. “Taiji” comes about when movement begins to occur in “Wuji” and Yin and Yang become distinct. When movement stops and Yin and Yang become indistinct, we have Wuji. Yang Chengfu called his art “Taijiquan,” not “Wujiquan.” He made “Within movement, seek stillness” one of his main principles, not the reverse.
If balanced practice is a requirement of the traditional methods, I frankly fail to see this principle much in action. The modern forms created by the Chinese government are all balanced and symmetrical; however, I know of none of the traditional forms that are. As far as I am aware, the Yangs, and most of the traditional teachers I know anything about, do not even do complementary left- and right-handed versions of their form. They do not practice left-handed weapons forms. When the left hand is used to wield the saber, the techniques are quite distinct from those of the right hand. I do not claim that such “balanced” practices are forbidden. I claim only that they would be easy principles to incorporate, but instead receive little or no attention.
Let me close by saying that you have very sophisticated and firm ideas about what Taijiquan is. I have no objection to this. I hope you appreciate, however, that your ways may not fit the ways others practice. If I study haikus (17-syllable poems) as the quintessential expression of poetry, can I improve them by adding just a few more syllables to make them more “complete” and “comprehensive”? Am I narrow-minded because I refuse to accept the superior beauty of a 20-syllable haiku or a 200-line “sonnet”? By choosing to treasure haikus, am I necessarily denying a role for epic poetry or limericks? I insist that the art I study is based on “Taiji,” not on “balance” or “Wuji.” It is based on seeking stillness in movement, not on balancing movement with stillness. I am willing to leave you room for your art, please do not insist that mine be the same as yours.