For sake of simplicity, practitioners of Taijiquan access this method through a teacher who specialises in a particular ‘Form’ or ‘Type’ of Taijiquan – often inclusive of its own historical and ideological baggage – and which is wedded to a specific ‘Frame’ of reference, in this instance, quite literally! I was taught both the ‘Old’ Long Yang and the ultra-modern Yang 24 Step ‘Beijing’ Short-Form. To the mind of my teacher – Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) - this combination represented the best philosophy from both ‘Old’ and ‘New’ China and re-emphasised the ‘flexibility’ of approach with the Yang Family conceived of and practiced Taijiquan (which built upon the ‘Chen’ Form Foundation and in many ways ‘Improved’ upon it – and I say this as a ‘Chan’)! Master Chan Tin Sang trained in Hong Kong with a visiting Yang Family member when young (prior to WWII) and I have inherited a ‘signed’ Taijiquan book given to our ‘Chan’ Family from the Yang Family.
Old ‘Long’ Yang Taijiquan is a truly magnificent Form that was developed in a feudal cultural milieu that was certainly very ‘martial’ in its manifestation and long-term logic. Training was related to Clan-Name and Clan-Association. within this, there was a bewildering system of layers of access all designed to ‘keep people out’ of the inner core of the organisation. What is often either ‘forgotten’ or ‘not known’ is that a number of versions of the style would be taught be different branches of the family, with junior males teaching a watered-down or incomplete version, and senior members teaching full the genuine method. As each version was treated as ‘genuine’ and of the ‘utmost value’ - the junior teachers valued their incomplete version often NOT knowing where they fitted-in in the over-all scheme of things in the Clan Association structure, as everything was designed to ‘protect’ the Clan and everyone in it. Some of these teachers of incomplete styles still managed to find fame and fortune because they naturally developed those parts of technical skill which were missing. Quite often, I am told, after a lifetime spent engaging in and winning numerous ‘honour fights’. It seems that psychological and physical evolution tends to ‘fill-in’ any missing gaps in a style – often generating ‘new’ styles!
All the ‘Snake Creeps Down’ within the Old Yang Long ‘Form’ is bias toward bending the right knee and straightening the left-leg! It was assumed (in the 19th century) that the only way for an Old Yang Taijiquan ‘Form’ practitioner to learn ‘Snake Creeps Down’ with a bent left-knee and a straight right-leg forward – is to also learn and master the single and double-straight sword (Jian) ‘Forms’ - within which all ‘Sneek Creeps Down’ stances are bias toward the right-leg being straight! This study is assumed to take at least 20-years alongside the Old Yang Taijiquan ‘Form’. Although we respect tis tradition – the Yang 24 Step ‘Beijing’ Short-Form contains (in its 24 postures) Snake Creeps Down left and right – speeds-up this learning process immeasurably! We must not fight progress – but find our place within it. What is important – and a lesson acquired from the Yang Family – is that a practitioner of Taijiquan should alter and adjust their practice by exploring different ‘Frames’ - which are ‘high’, ‘middle’ and ‘low’. A Taijiquan ‘Frame’ is measured by how far the elbows and knees are ‘deployed’ away from the torso.
With a ‘high’ Frame the elbows and knees are ‘close’ (but not too close) with the stance being ‘high’ (with the feet being perhaps three-foot apart). For a ‘middling’ Frame the elbows and knees are a little further away from the torso (with the feet being perhaps four-foot apart), whereas for the ‘Long’ Frame the elbows and knees are the furthest apart from the torso (with the feet being perhaps five-foot apart). Advanced Taijiquan practitioners often vary the ‘Frame’ they are using as they move through a single repetition of a Taijiqian ‘Form’ and experiencing no difficulty or contradiction. The ‘intention’ in the mind regulates the flow of Jing, qi and Shen as and when the situation requires – which requires the distance between the bones to be increased or decreased, etc. Of course, all this is approximate and a true measure of a ‘Frame’ is dependent upon a) the size of the body in question, and b) the development of inner and outer ‘awareness’ possessed by the practitioner. All types of Frame should be explored and eventually ‘mastered’!
Holding the horse stance (馬步 - Ma Bu) requires a stable, physical structure which is permanently held regardless of the emotional or physical feeling’ that is present. This includes – but is not limited to – the pain experienced in the muscles when deep stances of this nature are assumed and maintained over a set period of time. The structure must prevail over every other consideration. The structure must prevail over a determined time scale no matter how tired the mind and body appear to manifest. The point of this mode of psychological and physical discipline is that although the physical structure is deemed ‘permanent’ for the duration of the exercise – the ‘feeling’ capacity of the mind and body is understood to be fleeting, changeable and impermanent. This being the case, feeling tired, distressed or overwhelmed is not a good enough ground to ‘stop’ holding the physical structure of the horse stance!
The advanced holding of the horse stance must ‘root’ the practitioner to the ground, whilst the inner energy is circulated through micro and macro-cosmic orbits (simultaneously or alternatively as required), with a deep and full breath that empties and fills the (mind) and body without fail and in a continuous and powerful manner. The mind should be calm, expansive and all-embracing so that the physical body and immediate environment seem to manifest within the fabric of the mind all at once! Energy flow is optimised in an existential and historical manner, with the individual mind ‘detached’ from both whilst permanently interfacing with reality in an indifferent attitude of all-encompassing awareness. All types of feeling is understood to be ‘fleeting’ - whilst the powerful nature of the horse stance is considered the essence of all martial ability.
The structure of the Book of Change (Yijing) hexagram is the model which all effective horse stance training should follow. The legs are the bottom two lines, the torso (and arms) is the second to lines) and head is the top two lines. Although not representing any particular hexagram (six-lined structure), the body of the martial artist holding the horse stance represent ANY and ALL of the sixty-four hexagrams that transition from into another. In my training, I often visualise the second hexagram of ‘earth’ as the six ‘yin’ lines symbolise the ‘dropping-down’ activity of ‘water’ sinking into the ground! Of course, as the energy rises up the spine, I visualise hexagram one – or ‘divine sky’ to assist in the ‘lifting’ of force! Any part of the body can represent any hexagram, whilst the entire situation can also be represented a an over-all and defining hexagram! This is an area of study that must be built-up over-time and which requires and in-depth and drawn-out study of the Book of Change (Yijing).
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.