Foundational Taijiquan is practiced by those with health or mobility issues. This is a gentle set of physical movements designed to get a person moving around in a dextrous manner. Taijiquan can be very useful for those who are not fit and need some type of co-ordinated physical movement combined with deep and full breathing. With repetition this training process can build strength in the legs, improve balance and dexterity, and enhance the circulation of oxygen throughout the body by relaxing any and all unnecessary muscular tension. Through aligning the bones (and dropping the bodyweight into the ground), the bones, joints, ligaments and tendons are made more ‘robust’ through correct weight-bearing! Many people spend years working on this practice and quite often gain a considerable suppleness through this relaxation and the sharpening of ‘awareness’ in the mind!
For many practitioners in the West, Taijiquan is encountered only later in life, and quite often is not the common spectacle it is in China and throughout many diasporic Chinese communities. The popularity of basic Taijiquan (even in China) relies on quick courses which involve a ‘coach’ who has learned a Short Taijiquan Form over a six-week time period and is then tasked with conveying these movements to two or three classes of students a few times a week! This approach certainly gets the basic techniques ‘out there’ and gives dedicated individuals a training platform which they can build upon at a later date. This can involve longer and more complex Taijiquan Forms (of which there are many Styles), and can even include competitions, seminars and demonstrations, etc. However, even if this type of practice results in winning a World Title for ‘moving about effectively’ - this is still not the complete Taijiquan practice.
If you want to master the proper and in-depth practice of Taijiquan, you will have to find a genuine gongfu Master who is knowledgeable in Daoist self-cultivation technique and knows how to ‘fight’ in real life without compromising the sublime spiritual vision that underlies the Chinese martial arts. Following decades training with Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) - I now occasionally have the honour of meeting the odd male or female Taijiquan Master through ‘invitation’ so that my physical and spiritual understanding of Taijiquan can be ‘tested’ and ‘confirmed’. Such encouragement ‘dissolves’ difficult to see ‘habitual blocks’ in the mind and body and moves onward or deeper into penetrating the empty essence of the Dao – as all movement is equally ‘empty’ and ‘still’ - this is why an immense power emanates through the channels that connect the ‘broad earth’ to the ‘divine sky’. This is why every perfect technique is both immensely ‘powerful’ and equally ‘empty’ from beginning to end – and within this freedom is vibrating a positive light that is a combination of wisdom, loving kindness and compassion for the entirety of existence!
Advanced Taijiquan is a product of a perfected state of mind and body that expresses the perfect Taijiquan technique – but which is no longer ‘limited’ to the practice of the physical Taijiquan Form - which naturally manifests every moment of everyday, whether formally training, lying in bed, going to the toilet, meditating, making love or carrying-out your work! As many of you reading this either have a low opinion of Taijiquan or believe Taijiquan cannot be used for combat (viewpoints that are a product of a lack of direct cultural knowledge), the manner in which Taijiquan technique is used on a kick-bag is simple and straightforward.
Advanced Taijiquan expresses the entire ‘bodyweight’ through any part of the body without any undue effort. Just as the bodyweight ‘drops’ into the ground through the aligned bone-structure – a re-bounding force naturally rises up continuously and without a break in the circuit. This remains true just as long as a practitioner is stood within a strong gravitational field. I start a suitable distance from the kick-bag and carry-out a mini-form set of co-ordinated movements that brings my body nearer the kick-bag and sets-up the power-technique! Today, I started with the left leg forward and threw on the spot a left-lead punch, right-reverse punch and left-lead punch. Weight shifted back onto the reverse right-leg (with bent left-leg forward in ‘cat stance’) and I throw a front-snap kick – landing forward on my properly placed left-foot and bringing the weight onto the left-leg. The power-shot is the reverse right roundhouse-kick – which swings through the air and impacts the bag with considerable and unhindered power! The process is repeated on the other side of the body and I repeat this for three-minutes.
Any combination of techniques can be used that test the ‘smoothness’ of Taijiquan technique on the one-side – and the unbroken (and considerable) power on the other. Obviously, being ‘rooted’ is important as is continuously changing sides so that left and right are properly trained and tested (as true combat is unpredictable unlike fighting with rules during sporting encounters). The mind should be calm, still, aware and all-embracing so that it is ‘reflective’ of all phenomena (like a mirror). The Buddhist Surangama Sutra explains this principle, as do various Daoist texts such as the Laozi and Zhuangzi, etc, and the ‘Book of Changes’ (Yijing). Not everyone is trained to this depth of Taijiquan attainment, and not everyone wants to be trained to this degree – but it is an option with the proper training and instruction.
Advanced martial arts practice is ethereal even though it involves the movement of the body. In fact, moving the body is basic gongfu training, a mastery of which should be gained in one’s youth if possible. When the body ‘ages’ - a practitioner does not want the problem of mastering martial technique whilst coming to terms with how ‘ageing’ changes the mind and body. Knowing how to stand, fall, get-up, moving, kick, punch, block and evade, etc, are foundational issues that must be thoroughly absorbed into the deepest levels of the mind and body well before middle-age is reached. Of course, this is not always the case, as some people take-up the practice of traditional Chinese martial arts late in life – but with regards the more robust and rugged ‘external’ techniques – youthful practice is preferred. This is why many older people (with no previous experience) start their martial arts training through one of the ‘internal’ arts – which are a product of an ‘advanced’ and ‘mature’ mind-set.
On the other hand, if an individual is able to build 20-30 years of training prior to hitting 40-50 years of age – then the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and inner organs have all had time to experience a ‘hardening’ process over-time - and are far more ‘robust’ whilst the individual traverses into older age. Probably the greater reason for early martial arts practice is that the ability to produce massive (internal and external) impact power (with minimum) effort must be mastered before the body transitions into older age. This observation does not mean that older people cannot achieve this ability later in their life – but to already possess this devastating power is one less burden – particularly as we may also have far more responsibilities as mature people than the average young person. However, with the right type of instruction from a genuine Master, anyone of any age can ‘master’ gongfu regardless of circumstances. Motivation is the key to it all.
The mind must be ‘still’ and ‘expansive’. Its psychic fabric must be simultaneously ‘empty’ and yet ‘envelop’ all things without exception! Although there is much experimentation in the West with the physical techniques of the many (and varied) gongfu styles – very few practitioners are interested in the spiritual or higher psychological aspects of traditional Chinese martial arts. This is because gongfu has been taught the wrong way around in the West to suit the cultural bias of the fee-paying audience. Whereas in China kicking is learned before punching – in the West punching is taught before kicking (because of the influence of Western Boxing). Whereas in China a gongfu practitioner learns to stand still and to stand ‘solid’ whilst defending the ten directions – in the West students are taught to move around before being taught how to ‘stand still’ (this is because Western students do not understand the important of achieving inner and outer ‘stillness’). Whereas in China gongfu student learn to ‘relax’ before assuming postures – in the West students are taught to ‘stretch’ using yoga-like techniques (mostly unknown in China). Whereas students in China learn to ‘strike’ various wooden objects to condition the bones of the hands and feet – in the West, students are encouraged to hit ‘soft’ pads that give a false impression of what it is like to hit a ‘real’ body! In the West, the mind is ‘entertained’ as a means to secure continued fee-paying through class attendance – whilst in China the Master continuously looks for new ways of ‘testing’ the virtue of the student and for any reason to ‘expel’ them from the training hall!
All this ‘inversion’ must be remedied if the highest levels of spiritual and physical mastery are to be achieved. This has nothing to do with rolling around on a padded floor wearing padded-gloves – and everything to do with ‘looking within’ to refine the flow of internal energy. The awareness of the mind must permeate every cell of the physical body whilst the practitioner sits correctly in the meditation posture. What else is there? When advanced practitioners ascend to a certain age of maturity, reality has nothing to do with the ego pursuit of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ in petty disputes that ultimately mean nothing. Most of the combat sports of the moment are fleeting and exist merely to make money – and they are ineffective on the modern battlefield and not practiced by the military! The final lesson is to ‘leave the body’ with the minimum of fuss when the time presents itself. In a very real sense, a genuine Master of martial arts has ‘already’ transcended the boundaries of material limitation whilst still living. This sense of ‘completion’ and ‘transcendence’ is what draws the already perceptive into his or her presence to receive instruction...
I was recently asked (by a prominent [British] Muay Thai practitioner) to write a short text about the cultural differences between ‘Western’ Thai Boxers when compared with ethnic ‘Thai’ Muay Thai counter-parts. He was particularly interested in the different cultural patterns of ‘effort’ that are in effect in the Thai Boxing ring in Thailand. He explained to me that he knows full well that many dedicated and very respectful Westerners travel to Thailand to compete in ethnic Thai Boxing competitions (not ‘adjusted’ to the sensitivities of the international community) - and as soon as they step-off the aeroplane suffer the beginnings of a psychological collapse and the development of tremendous feelings of doubt!
Furthermore, despite bravery and stoicism – as soon as the ‘smiling’ Muay Thai Warriors the ring and being the traditional ‘Ram Muay Wai Kru’ - an ancient ritual of respect that praise the Hindu God – Rama – as well as the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – a very strong sense of ‘alienation’ manifests. This sense of ‘cultural’ distinction is made even more pronounced as the Thai practitioner also ‘praises’ his or her family ancestors, parents, teachers and fellow students, etc. Perhaps this is one of its main purposes. This ‘dance’ is in fact a ‘secret’ martial art that only true Muay Thai Masters know how to interpret and use in combat. Muay Thai Masters have told me that it is a Thai manifestation of ‘internal’ martial art similar to the Taijiquan of China – which is often performed nowadays to ‘music’ as is the ‘Ram Muay’ (this is the shortened title my ethnic Thai friends us who live in the Warwick area of the UK).
I have had the privilege to train in the UK with students of Master Sken and Master Toddy over the years – despite never meeting these two experts in person. When some of these practitioners have passed through Sutton (South London) - they have come into our gongfu training hall on Sunday mornings and we have worked together. They have always been respectful, tough and very dedicated. Other than this contact with Muay Thai, my family frequent the Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon, and on occasion, the Forest Hermitage (Wat Santidhamma) in Warwickshire – both of which serve the British ethnic Thai population and the Theravada Buddhism they practice. Years ago, when I lived in Hereford, I sparred full-on with ethnic Thai visitors and I was impressed with their ‘relaxed’ attitude and ‘fierce’ manifestation when fighting! I was inspired by how they live and breathe Buddhism first and foremost – and throw punches and kicks only after they have learned the Buddha’s Teaching fully! This is why I often seek-out special Theravada Bhikkhus living in the Buddhist temples in the UK. Unlike in the Thai villages and forests – this is not a common occurrence in the UK – but occasionally I get lucky!
I have also discovered that the Head Monks are often reticent to discuss this issue in the temple due to many Westerners developing the wrong attitude about Buddhism and Muay Thai. The way this works is that if the Head Monk wanted Westerners to learn Muay Thai – he would make its presence known and organise access. When I have discovered Muay Thai practice in the Buddhist temples – it has always been by mistake. This has also included incidents of special ‘tattooing’ sessions – whereby ‘sacred’ images and spiritually empowered mantras are ‘tapped’ into the skin – using a pointed-bone and coloured ink... These marks are considered ‘sacred’ and ‘divine’ as they grant the carrier with special spiritual powers. Interestingly, when I asked the Head Monk about how a person should begin their practice of Muay Thai? He answered that I should read the Pali Suttas about ‘correct breathing’, and about ‘stilling the mind’ - whilst living in an isolated meditation hut for at least three-years. Without this foundation of ‘Dhamma’ - I was told – I cannot practice ‘genuine’ Muay Thai.
Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) was of the opinion that ‘Taijiquan’ (太極拳) is an advanced martial art developed by Confucian scholars for the perfect of archery skills. After twenty-years of my own research - I would agree. Of course, Taijiquan is very much part of the Daoist tradition – but as it is premised upon the philosophical principles of the ‘Change Classic’ (易經 - Yi Jing) - specifically those elucidated within the ‘Great Treatise’ (大傳 - Da Zhuan) of the associated commentaries. This is where we learn about the ‘Tai Ji’ (太極) concept which serves as the centre of the Confucian world view - ‘cosmology’. Tai Ji’ (太極) literally translates as ‘Grand Ridge-pole'. In this early model of the cosmos (the content of the ‘Da Zhuan’ probably developed over a thousand-year period – c. 500 BCE – 500 CE, etc, with the concept of ‘Tai Ji’ being included in its earliest strata – perhaps 300 BCE). The ‘ridge-pole’ equates to the human-spine which unites the ‘head’ to the pelvic-girdle and legs – which in transit also includes the arms and hands. This is the human-body as it exists in the material world. The early Confucians assumed that the spiritual (unseen) realm mirrored exactly the material (seen) realm – and so the human-spine was transposed onto the cosmos so that it linked the ‘divine sky (head) - with the ‘Broad Earth’ (lower body, legs and feet). Just as a developed martial artist positions the limbs in perfect repose through the timely ‘turning’ of the spine – the cosmos rotates its cycles around the ‘grand ridge-pole'! Just as the cosmos turns around a central-point – and the planets rotate around individual suns – the seasons come and go in a timely manner – just as night turns into day and vice versa.
This fits-in with the Confucian attitude of everything occupying its rightful place at the correct time. Movement is always timely and only performed for a good reason and never impulsive or ill-disciplined. A Confucian scholar brings order to the mind and body – and through his or her example – a similar order is brought to the material world. The Confucian scholar practices the unarmed martial art of ‘Taijiquan’ so that the foundations of ‘long-sword’ and ‘archery’ can be imbued in the mind and body well before a bow or a sword is ever picked-up. The ‘Taijiquan’ practitioner learns effortless ‘penetration’ of the opponent – this gives an insight into how a sword and arrow-tip ‘penetrates’ the target. More to the point, the ‘Taijiquan’ element of ‘inflating’ the joints with a buoyant qi-energy prepares the mind and physical-frame for the drawing and releasing of the arrow from the bow! When a bow is drawn (a Confucian scholar was expected to draw and fire with an equal accuracy from both sides of the body) the physical-frame is brought under a great intrinsic ‘pressure’ from the draw-poundage of the bow! When the arrow is released – this accumulated energy ‘rushes’ out of the body with the arrow!
By aligning the bone-shafts and joints so that the body-weight drops into the floor through the centre of the feet – a rebounding ‘force’ is generated from this ‘rooted’ stance that raises up through the body and which can be released through any part of the body. Any stance and shape that is ‘held’ can be ‘rounded’ to such an extent that an ‘intrinsic’ force is accumulated in the joint areas – which can be ‘released’ as a striking-force where needed (adding to the rebounding body-weight). This ability of the advance ‘Taijiquan’ practitioner to accumulate this force mimics the reality of drawing a bow. It just so happens that when accomplished without holding a bow – this ‘massive’ force can be ‘released’ through any part of the body as an overwhelmingly powerful strike. This skill can also be used as a ‘brick wall’ that stops an opponent in his or her tracks! When I have demonstrated the ‘immovable’ posture – usually the biggest man present puts all his strength into pushing my palm – but as I ‘reflect’ his force back at him – the more he tries the greater the force I have at my disposal to reject his intention! He gives me all the energy I need. This is just like drawing a bow...
A very interesting (internal) Longfist Form! Master Zhao Ming Wang forwarded this video of a Qianfeng Disciple. This is a traditional mode of practice just like our own in the Ch’an Dao School. Of course, what follows is not a discussion on the movements perse, but rather the manner in which these movements are performed. Developed insight and seasoned will-power is a matter of a good and fully-rounded ‘intent’. This is the exact opposite to what is expected in the training and technique designed found in the ‘audience-pleasing’ practicing for sport. For sporting purposes - the movements are speeded-up for dramatic effect.
This changes the leg use, balance and coordination. Sporting forms are practiced 'top down' which is good for audience entertainment but sacrifices a good and effective 'root'. Proper (traditional) form training for fighting is practiced 'ground up' (like the building of a hexagram in the Book of Changes) and unfolds like an arrow fired from a bow (or a bamboo stick stuck firmly in the ground - which is pulled back and suddenly 'released'). Sporting forms push the generated power downwards whilst simultaneously denying any strong or stable leg structure for 'rooting' - so that its is wasted and dissipates into the air without effect. Traditional forms - such as seen here - generate the power from a firm and stable base and then radiate that power upwards and outwards in all directions.
The 'shape' or 'technique' chosen or assumed (such as a lead straight punch front and back - or a front-kick and a palm-block, etc) - harness and directs this generated power, into a focused emission suitable for a particular self-defence requirement (expressing 'stopping-power'). Although practicing forms at lightning speed is good every now and again (whilst retaining the 'root'), it is better to practice like the practitioner in this video so as to continuously perfect the 'foundation' - as each repetition removes a layer of doubt in one's ability (from the mind and body). As the body ages, this type of 'internal' exercise ensures a constant standard of practice as the physical processes and psychological perception both mature.
Notice how the drop-down stances are not as deep as those found in Taijiquan to facilitate a smooth interaction of the movements. These Longfist forms possess drop-down stances that can be performed ‘deep’, ‘moderate’ (as seen here), or ‘high’ for various adaptions of training. Each type of low-stance must be perfected by the Longfist practitioner as a preparation for the different requirements of all-round self-defence. It is best to master the low-stances when young so that this ability can be retained and applied to the body as it ages.
My Chinese gongfu teacher (living in Sutton) - Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) - advised me to ‘explore’ the many martial arts that were then around, bearing in mind that virtually all Japanese karate has its roots in the Chinese gongfu styles imported into Okinawa from China’s Fujian province over the last few hundred years. As long as this exploration was carried-out away from Sutton (where I did not live at the time), there was no problem despite the memories of the Japanese atrocities carried out in China still being fresh in the minds of the elderly members of the British Chinese community (many of whom had witnessed these barbarous acts, been subjected to them or lost relatives). Whilst attending college in the Reigate area, myself (and a friend – Robert Townsend) decided to make a study of a Japanese school of karate. As we started in September, 1983 and only had to July, 1984 at this college, our study would be relatively short, but committed. The classes were held once a week (I think Tuesday evenings – 730pm-9pm) at the Sovereign Leisure Centre, and conducted by Sensei Alan Bound 1st Dan (at the time).
We did not know what style this was to start with, but just turned-up (we were both 16 years old). It turned-out to be administered by the ‘Southern Karate-Do Wako Kai’ association which interpreted its mission as returning to the ‘true’ of the Wado Ryu (和道流) style founded by Hironori Otsuka (1892-1982) - who had only passed away the year before. It was felt that the original ‘spirit’ of Wado Ryu had been departed from, and a return to the ‘Way of Peace’ was needed. Within the Chinese language ‘和道流’ is pronounced ‘He Dao Liu’ - and means ‘Harmonious Way Tradition’. Like many ‘old’ traditions in Japan, Chinese ideograms are used to describe its principles. In this style I was taught power through correct positioning. There was no body conditioning such as in my family gongfu style, but a practitioner was taught to assume a superior psychological and physical positioning from the very beginning (which eventually culminates in ‘enlightenment’ for those who pursue the spiritual aspects), a dominance which is maintained in combat through continuously out-manoeuvring an opponent so that they cannot set themselves to deliver their best techniques against your body. Within our Ch’an Dao System, this is reflected in the principles of aligned power and correct approach found within Taijiquan (and internal martial arts), although Wado Ryu has part of its roots in Jujitsu. We generated power through exact movement and we learned a reverse-punch drill I have never seen in any other karate style (involving ‘snake’ stepping). Sensei Alan Bound was a very good and talented teacher.
Eventually, the classes (which always seemed to have around 20 or 30 people attending), were moved to the Scott Hut next to Redhill train station. The spiritual message was that if you align yourself with the deepest and loving principles of the universe (and do not conflict with life), then you will be invincible in the face of untoward violence and harassment. I have a soft spot for Wado Kai (and genuine Wado Ryu) despite the fact I am a Hakka Chinese martial artists! As young students, Sensei Alan Bound gave use a karate suit each and allowed us to pay for it over a few weeks. He was a gentleman! We successfully graded for our yellow belts (and probably our orange belts) - I think we travelled to Guildford to do this (and were graded under Sensei Barry Wilkinson 4th Dan) – and many years later, whilst looking through boxes of old documents and academic work, I came across my Wado Kai ‘licence’ and a grading certificate! It is my belief that Wado Ryu could do a lot of good bringing the Chinese and Japanese communities together! Thank you Sensei Alan Bound for enriching our lives!
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.