H. WON TAI CHI INSTITUTE
Article: No. 6
Letter to Scott
by H. Won Gim
Because I've been training & teaching the traditional Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan, I'm only qualified to talk about the martial art aspect of it, & not the esoteric or the meditational aspect of it. So, as I go along explaining different aspects & principles, perhaps I can shed some lights on the real Tai Chi Chuan, & not some exotic, flakey, or funky kind of mystical system.
What is Tai Chi Chuan (commonly known as Tai Chi)? Tai Chi Chuan is an internal martial art that was supposedly created by a taoist sage--Zhang, San-Feng--at Wu Dang mountain in China, during Yuan Dynasty. As for the historical accuracy, nobody knows for sure. Moreover, there is a number of different versions as to how the art was inspired & created; this is also a subject to debate. What is clear about Tai Chi Chuan is that it is based on the philosophy of Yin & Yang--hence, "Tai Chi" or "Great Ultimate".
As for the traditional Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan, we can definitely trace it back to Yang, Lu-Chan, who has supposedly learned it from a member of Chen family. However, strangely enough, the modern Chen style is drastically different from that of the traditional Yang Family style, in both external & internal principles. I often wonder why this significant difference has occurred although Yang came after Chen. Incidently, Yang, Lu-Chan is the paternal great grandfather of Yang, Sau-Chung.
In last 30 years or so, the west has witnessed a tremendous growth of interest in Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art, self-cultivation, health exercise, meditation, etc. Even though Tai Chi Chuan can offer various different disciplines, it is foremost a martial art. However, as a martial art, more than few people have wondered & questioned how it can be an effective one, considering the gentle, slow, effortless movements one sees. The practitioners do not often fit the stereotypical images of martial artists, the hard hitting brawny characters of the movies & the competitions. Instead, one often sees old people or over-aged hippies practicing in the parks, in early mornings. These people seem to claim that Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art, but one finds it difficult to believe their words.
In truth, 99.99% of the people who practice Tai Chi Chuan doesn't know it as a martial art because they do not understand the real martial principles of Tai Chi Chuan. Tai Chi Chuan is about the "internal power". Therefore, to understand Tai Chi Chuan is to understand the internal power. Students spend years nurturing & accumulating this power. Some people think that Tai Chi Chuan is practiced leisurely & gently, & all of a sudden, on one day, a practitioner can attain a superhuman strength--don't believe it! One can't attain power if one doesn't train for power; and, there are specific power training exercises in the traditional Tai Chi Chuan. 99.99% just doesn't know what they are! Let me rephrase 99.99% by saying that there are over three hundred millions of people practicing Tai Chi Chuan throughout the world, but only a handful truly understands the real Tai Chi Chuan.
So, without the internal power, Tai Chi Chuan cannot be the famous martial art of Yang, Lu-Chan, & this power cannot be learned through the books, the videotapes, or wish-washed masters. Students have to learn it through years of training with a knowledgeable master. To those who have disciplined themselves in any training for many years know the value of this attainment. Such an achievement doesn't get squandered to just anyone for a few bucks.
Something as precious as this, a master wants to find worthy students to carry on the tradition--this was the way of traditional Asian cultures & disciplines. With this worthy way of carrying on the traditions in mind, I find mass marketing of Tai Chi Chuan by many ill-qualified masters a bit disturbing. If one knew of their qualifications, the backgrounds, & the sources of information, one would know how I feel. In other words, many don't know jack! Then again, people don't know what is good/bad Tai Chi Chuan, so they get caught up in the hype of misinformation of exotic Asian offerings; this applies to Chi Gong (internal exercises) as well. Meanwhile, some people are expoiting the situation & making a whole lot of money.
Enough with the bad Tai Chi Chuan, so how does the good Tai Chi Chuan start? Well, it starts with one's desire to learn & with a knowledgeable master. Assuming one has those criteria, one learns the long form--incidently, of all the forms, the long form is the most important one. At first, students learn the movements & the proper speed. As you know, Tai Chi Chuan is practiced in slow motion, but this is not the only speed in which one practices Tai Chi Chuan. At the advanced level, the speed is greatly increased to practice "the fast form". One has to learn how to move slowly before one knows how to move fast. Yin/Yang? Naturally. Also, moving slowly helps students to fine-tune the body; most importantly, it teaches how to relax the body & the mind. Consequently, when the body & the mind are relaxed, wonderful things begin to occur; for example, stress is greatly reduced. Believe it or not, stress is one of the main causes of many illness, substance abuses, untimely deaths, etc., in our society. So, reduce stress, be healthy & enjoy longevity!
Also, Tai Chi Chuan is devised in a such way that, when practiced properly, it cultivates "chi", the internal energy. The mysterious energy. Scott, did you ever see the movie "Big Trouble in Little China"? In the beginning of the movie, an old man suggests that the trouble started because of this particular energy, & the old man shows it between his palms, with the help of Hollywood's special effect, of course. Well, there is some truth to this--as far fetch as it may sound.
My understanding is that everyone has "chi", including other living beings. Scientifically, I cannot prove this; then again, science is still relatively young; so, we'll have to give more time for it to mature. As to what exactly "chi" is, not many people can define it in words, myself included. Some people say it is a feeling of warmth, tingleness, vibration, etc., throughout different parts of the body, but this explanation is more confusing than helpful to many uninitiated. But, one thing is for sure, for the traditional Tai Chi Chuan practitioners, we want to fine-tune the body, so that we can sense it & cultivate it (or cultivate it to sense it) to higher levels by diligently practicing the long form & others. If I can sense it, I should be able to define it; but, I can't. Then again, I can't define the sweetness of sugar, but one knows what that sweetness is like without me defining it. My suggestion is to go & experience it.
However, we are not only concern with "chi". In order for Tai Chi Chuan to be an effective martial art, we must nurture "peng jing", the internal power of the traditional Tai Chi Chuan. Without "Peng jing", Tai Chi Chuan cannot be Tai Chi Chuan. It's like a car without an engine: it is a car, but it's useless. Therefore, "peng jing" is the next level of internal energy. If "chi" is an internal energy, then "peng jing" is the internal power. Any version of Tai Chi Chuan can help to cultivate & sense "chi", & offer health, but none of them will nurture "peng jing". He/she has to train in a specific method called "Dynamic Pushing Hands". In Chinese, it is called "tui sau--pushing hands". The word "Dynamic" was created & added in order to differentiate from the modern style of pushing hands in the U.S. & elsewhere. Unfortunately, the latter will not develop the internal power; it is only adequate in making he/she skillful in executing the techniques.
Again, like "chi", "peng jing" is a very difficult concept to define. Moreover, even if there is an adequate definition, he/she won't be able grasp the understanding. A definition of sweetness can be found in dictionary, but it can't make you experience the sweetness. Therefore, understanding Tai Chi Chuan has to be empirical; it is neither scientific nor intellectual in the western sense although understanding Tai Chi Chuan requires intelligence. Some have tried to explain the internal connection of "peng jing" with the principle of tensegrity. Interesting as it may be, this explanation barely scrapes the surface of the internal principles of Tai Chi Chuan. Moreover, understanding a portion will not help in understanding the whole system.
To begin the process of understanding Tai Chi Chuan is to start with the long form. The traditional Yang Family long form (the word, Tai Chi Chuan, means both the long form & the system) is about 20 minutes long; however, these days, it is common to see shorter versions as well, but the shorter versions do not develop the profound internal principles. Also, as for the long form, it might take about anywhere from 3 to 4 months to learn, & there is the subsequent follow-up corrections. Incidently, my master's older tai chi brother was corrected more than 40 times of the entire long form in his lifetime. One of the reasons why there are so many variations of the same style or difference in the forms & the postures is because people stop receiving corrections. Therefore, one cannot completely learn & understand the long form in a few years; at best, he/she merely imitates.
One of the purposes of the long form is to learn how to move entirely different way, which is manifested in its slow, relaxed movements. This slow & relaxed manner releases tension in our body. Everyone knows that tightness creates tension, & the tightness or hardness represents death in Yin/Yang philosophy whereas softness life. It is through this softness that we are trying to rejevenate our body, by making it supple, alert, & responsive. As he/she executes the series of movements, one is physically fine-tuning the body by stretching the tendons & the muscles, & gently massaging the joints & internal organs throughout the body. It is through the slowness & relaxation of the body that these processes can be achieved. As a result, he/she becomes more aware of the body & the mind. With this awareness, the balance the body & the mind (Yin/Yang) is slowly achieved. This balance is then the best weapon against the stress & other societal poisons. It is this protection against the psychological, physiological, & sociological stress that makes an individual physically & mentally healthy. As to how the balance is actually achieved, we are again reminded of Yin/Yang principles of Tai Chi Chuan. From the external movements of the long form to the internal principles of the form, Yin/Yang principles are present: body/mind, left/right hand, upper/lower body, hands/feet, elbows/knees, shoulders/hips, chest/back, sinking/rising, forward/backward, turn left/right, roundness/squareness, circular/linear, palms/fists, closing/opening, calm/alert, etc.
When the body & the mind are exercised in Yin/Yang principles of Tai Chi Chuan, "chi" is cultivated. As far as I know, all living beings have this energy. When it is depleated, all beings die. But, in Tai Chi Chuan, this energy is cultivated & strengthened; thus, giving an individual healthier body & mind. It is not uncommon to see Tai Chi Chuan practitioners to live into their ripe age of 90s or more. Furthermore, Tai Chi Chuan is devised in a such way that even someone who is in the 90s can still practice it. No other exercise can offer this.
In Asian medicine, the concept & the presence of "chi" is everwhere. Again, in its medical theories, the balance of "chi" is greatly emphasized for a health body & mind. Moreover, along with "chi", there are other theories, such as "chi channels or meridians" throughout human body. When "chi" is strong, it circulates throughout the body without any blockages (thus, balanced), but unhealthy or weak "chi" will stagnate & create blockages in certain parts of the channels or meridians (thus, unbalanced). In diligently exercising Tai Chi Chuan, he/she not having strong "chi" is not a problem. With many years of diligent practice, these energy channels open up naturally--such is the marvelous system. Because of the presence of strong "chi", the channels are free of blockages. However, even in "chi" the principles of Yin/Yang exists; therefore, there is "yin chi" & "yang chi". Therefore, even with strong "chi", it too can be unbalanced. To balance this strong "yang chi" that is cultivated, in Tai Chi Chuan, he/she must practice "dynamic pushing hands" to balance "chi". By releasing & refining the excessive "chi", we develop an internal power that is unheard of by many people & balance the "chi". This difference separates from the traditional Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan from all the rest of modern, imitational tai chi.
TO BE CONTINUED
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