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...
Author’s Note: I have had the honour to train and spar with a number of very tough and yet very relaxed Muay Thai fighters over the years! All have been hardened fighters with a gentle spirit and respectful spirit. Muay Thai fighters (along with Goju Ryu Karate men) are amongst the few opponents in the world that I can trust with me hitting them ‘full-power’ with ungloved-hands during free-fighting. In return, their blows are sharp, powerful, decisive and repetitive! I have the utmost respect for this Thai Buddhist martial art! ACW (5.5.2021)
The deep-rooted foundation of Muay Thai – or ‘Thai Boxing’ - do not lie in the brightly and well-funded gymnasia of the modern Thai city, but exist in the poorest areas of the jungles and the remotest of Thai villages. Depending on where the art is still practiced, Muay Thai is often linked to an ancient local Buddhist Temple – with esteemed Buddhist bhikkhus (monks) acting as the instructors and preservers of the tradition. The cultural basis of Muay Thai represents the psychological and physical reality of what it historically means to be born ‘Thai’. Thai Boxing is form of ritual veneration for the Buddha, the Dhamma and Sangha – as well as the King of Thailand, the government and the Thai people. As a consequence, Muay Thai has no other purpose in its most traditional form.
Muay Thai is much more than preparing a fighter to compete in the modern ring. Muay Thai is a fully-fledged medieval military art designed to train Asian infantrymen as they advance into battle escorting battle-elephants (the infantry ‘protects’ the vulnerable underbellies of the elephant from enemy attack, etc). The male and female warriors are psychologically and physically ‘toughened’ so to produce effective and hardened soldiers fit to fight in prolonged hand-to-hand engagements on the battlefield. Through harsh and brutal training all day long – the mind is ‘calmed’ and ‘purified’ so that all greed, hatred and delusion are uprooted and eradicated in accordance with the Buddhist Vinaya Discipline. This is why a Muay Thai warrior is a ‘Buddhist’ warrior to venerates and applied the Buddha’s Teachings (‘Dhamma’) in every facet of his or her life. This activity is regulated by the educated eyes of the Sangha (or the ‘community of ordained Buddhist monks’).
We Take Refuge in the Buddha!
We Take Refuge in the Dhamma!
We Take Refuge in the Sangha!
We Take Refuge in the Triple Gem!
This is the ritualistic vow that every Muay Thai warrior repeats with a total and complete devotion early every morning as they rise from their simple straw mat which they use as a ‘bed’. After toileting and drinking a little water – the daily training begins by running two or three miles at a steady pace around the temple and local villages. The pace is slow but steady. Speed is not the purpose – but rather stamina, strength and endurance. Rubbing the shins and fore-arms with wooden rolling-pin type devices slowly develops into the anatomical weapons being sharply ‘struck’ by these heavy objects (at the advanced level – this includes striking different parts of the skull). This leads to rope-work (or ‘skipping) to work-up a sweat before body-conditioning begins.
After working on the strengthening of the bones it is time to strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Different Masters use different types of sit-ups, squat-kicks, back-raises, press-ups and loosening and stretching exercises. Relaxation coupled with strength and endurance is emphasised. All this voluntary suffering is designed to ‘burn-off’ the bad Kamma produced in the endless previous lives that have been lived by these Buddhist warriors. Next is the technique of striking, blocking, kicking, punching, head-butting and elbowing, etc. This includes groin-kicking and how to defend against groin-attacks. Devastating knee-attacks delivered at various (and unpredictable angles) are used to break ribs and paralyse the diaphragm of an opponent. This progresses to many different kinds of pad-work and bag-striking. Some bags are full of sand and others of small stones and the fighters must learn to punch and kick each with no injury or loss of stamina or will-power.
This leads to various forms of ‘sparring’ in the ring either with or without gloves. Nowadays, even the most traditional Muay Thai training temples usually ‘wrap’ the fighter’s hands early in the morning – although there are some traditional ‘hand-toughening’ exercises that involve punching trees, blocks of wood and various other objects. The hands are then treated with special (traditional) medicine. As violence is prohibited within Buddhism – greed. Hatred and delusion must be uprooted through long hours of seated mediation (usually in the evenings) and the reading of the Buddha’s Suttas. This distinctly ‘Buddhist’ training is the true foundation of Muay Thai and is the hidden conditioning ingredient to all the martial technique that this art involves.
Most people outside of Thailand only encounter the kick-boxing element of Muay Thai performed in a modern boxing ring. Traditional Muay Thai is fought on a raised stone disc or dais (after each performs a ritualised martial dance to the Hindu God Rama and the and the Buddha) Fighters have their hands wrapped by a thin and course rope (not Western bandage-wraps). Sometimes the hand-wraps are dip in a type of glue and then dipped into broken-glass – depending on the purpose of the fight. A rattan ring is worn around the top of the head as a form of skull-protection from the powerful round-kicks delivered with bare-feet, etc. For the King of Thailand, not only are his most trusted bodyguards all advanced Muay Thai warriors – but at least two specialise in the technique of double-swordsmanship incase a traditional ‘beheading’ is required of a convicted criminal.
As the Muay Thai warriors hold the status of ordained Buddhist monks – all are ‘celibate’ whilst they live and train in the Muay Thai Temple. There is no mixing with females allowed and certainly no girlfriends, or wives, etc. When not engaged in the actual physical training of Muay Thai – such a warrior-monk is expected to engage in studying the Buddhist Suttas, meditating, cleaning the temple and humbly serving the monks, etc. As they start training and fighting as young as 5 or 6-years old, a Muay Thai fighter could well in excess of two-hundred fights by the time he or she is 25-years old! Unless a Muay Thai fighter ‘retires’ and leaves his or her status as a Buddhist warrior monk – there can be no relationships with the opposite sex allowed.
Muay Thai is an ancient martial art that has been adapted to the modern, Western-boxing ring very well. I am of the opinion that it is one of the best all-round striking, grappling and throwing martial arts in the world today, that has retained its deep spiritual roots in modern times. Westerners, by comparison, possess a psychology and physicality that is all incorrect for Muay Thai. They do not possess the deep Thai cultural connection to the Buddha or to Buddhist culture. They have no understanding of Buddhism or any respect for the Dhamma, the Sangha or the Thai King. They know nothing about quietening the mind and uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. They think and move like a Western-boxer from a Judeo-Christian culture that has ‘secularised’.
This mentality is shot-through with the capitalist ideology and a one-sided effort defeats a multisided foundation. Westerners place all their and determination in the wrong place (as can be seen from the above video). When confronted with the best Muay Thai Masters – they incorrectly believe that if they just try harder – their inappropriate manifestation will somehow ‘work’ despite never working in the past during similar situations. They employ a lateral determination against the ‘deep’ and ‘profound’ training of a celibate Muay Thai warrior monk – as this is the case – why should they win? Why should this disrespectful and entirely incorrect interpretation of the Asian martial art of Muay Thai be allowed to succeed? This is where Western notions of ‘effort’ fall flat on their face – with no sympathy from me!
My personal preference is inner development through the life of a hermit (i.e., ‘eremite’) – rather than through the ‘coenobitic’ (i.e., ‘community-based’) life of a monk living in a cloistered - but interacting community. This may stem from my upbringing as a Chinese-Buddhist and my experience of being a Buddhist monastic attached to a Ch’an lineage in Hong Kong – but ordered to spend hours, days, weeks, months and years sitting alone in the local Name Temple of a Hakka village in the New Territories. This also included a period of some months sat in the isolation of the Devonshire moors in the UK – where the weather (and culture) was very different! The details do not really matter – what matters is the quality of the ‘inner gazing’. Whilst experiencing further and higher education in the UK, for reasons I cannot fathom, I was befriended by a number of Irish Roman Catholic priests and at least one Anglican vicar. As I do not believe in a theistic god – this was something of a surprise to me and them! Those I knew were good people – despite others not being so good (due to their conditioning) – such is life and there is no judgement on my part. People are human-beings and life does not always unfold slowly or as we would like it to.
I would say that what is important is the ‘quality’ of the ‘gaze’ as it is turned within. Many have endless problems perfecting the ‘gaze’ and so cannot ‘look within’ clearly. This is a common problem – East and West. Once the ‘gaze’ is perfected – it becomes vast and all-inclusive like a wide wall! Bodhidharma spoke of this but it is a concept often mistranslated or misunderstood. A mature mind is expansive like the surface of a wall-face that never ends – as if a practitioner is sat meditating with ‘open-eyes’ in-front of a wall – the edges of which cannot be perceived when the gaze does not ‘wobble’! An external wall (that does not ‘move’) is like the ‘empty mind ground’ that lies deep within! If a practitioner spends hours contemplating an external object that stands as a metaphor for an internal level of attainment – then eventually the internal level will spontaneously ‘materialise’! This is why Bodhidharma came from the West – at least this is what the Caodong (Japanese: ‘Soto’) Masters say.
I was taught Chinese martial arts from a young child as a cultural pursuit which equated to the necessity of ‘communal defence’. This was the ancient Hakka tradition – with our Great Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) - being the son of the Chan Family Name Clan Leader. He – and the Chan Family Clan – fought the Imperial Japanese invaders of Hong Kong from 1941-1945 – after the British Army was over-run in the region. The Sikhs in the Hong Kong Police changed sides and joined the Japanese and assisted in the massacre of ethnic Chinese and Europeans. For this treachery the Sikhs were forever expelled from the British Police and Military! Japanese soldiers stormed through hospitals raping nurses and bayonetting the ill and the wounded in their beds! At least 10,000 Hakka men, women and children died as a consequence of those years of resistance! The returning British even raised a monument praising the bravery of the Hakka people! I do not support warfare and would prefer a world without it – but as long as some humans use force to persecute other groups of humans – we must defend ourselves or die-out.
Master Chan Tin Sang possessed a progressive mind-set and believed in developing a better world – this is why he decided to bring his family to the UK in 1956. It was a difficult time of transition – but transition he did. Coping with the very real problems of the outer world is a skill a true spiritual martial artist must acquire. In this regard, this path is very much like that of Vimalakirti – the enlightened lay-man who was a contemporary of the Buddha. He had four wives and plenty of children – and yet never broke the vow demanding celibacy! He taught that the ‘Mind Precept’ is the essence of ALL monastic and Bodhisattva vows (a Chinese monastic must take and uphold the Vinaya and Bodhisattva Vows)! This is the penetrating and realising the ‘empty mind ground’ or that part of perception – non-perception that is the basis of all human ‘awareness’. The ‘empty mind ground’ is what the ancient Greeks refer to as the ‘psyche’ - or ‘breath of life’. It is interesting that the ancient Greeks understood that ‘breath’ and the ‘essence of conscious awareness’ are one and the same at the deepest level of perceptual attainment. Later, the Christian theologians re-interpreted the Greek term ‘psyche’ to mean ‘soul’ (possibly of Germanic origin) to refer to a movable spiritual entity that enters the mind and body at conception – and leaves the body at the point of death, etc.
As I get older it becomes ever clearer to me that martial arts mastery is not ‘physical’ but rather conceptual. It is a mind-body nexus of permanent and intimate association. Such an attainment is no longer limited to designated periods of physical training – but is present whether awake or asleep. It exists as the backdrop to everyday life and influences opinions and behaviour. It is an innate awareness of the ‘position’, ‘alignment’ and ‘interaction’ of the joints, the long bone-shafts and the solid ground. Every position and movement are permanently ‘powerful’ with no hesitation, fore-thought or doubt present. The seated meditation position is as combatively perfect as standing in stance, sat in chair or lifting up a weight, etc. The consciousness is calm, vast and unruffled like a perfect seascape at sunset! Always available bodyweight grants instant ‘power’ without any sense of weakness or problem with attitude. Each moment naturally folds into the next and there is no worry, contradiction or complication. There is only the eternal perfected moment of being – clear and vast for all to see!
Being a hermit means that a spiritual practitioner does not get entangled in the world he or she happens to exist within. Sitting ‘still’ and ‘clear’ means that the essence of being in the world is understood to be nothing but an all-embracing ‘void’ of reality that has no beginning and end. The material body exists within this ‘void’ and seems to be ‘nothing’ when it is required to ‘disappear’ in an instant. This happens when an opponent cannot ‘perceive’ your presence when stood in-front of them. On the other hand, when the ‘void’ needs to manifest with the heaviness of a mountain – then the body becomes ‘solid’ and ‘immovable’ for all concerned. This has to be the case as there is no longer any duality to befuddle understanding and certainly nowhere for ‘hatred’ or ‘anger’ to manifest and sully the situation. Indeed, the underlying frequency of human love continues to ‘colour’ the entire situation regardless of the nature of the encounter. This is what happens when the seated meditation posture is assumed correctly and the empty mind ground penetrated. This is what it means to be a monastic who practices the hermetic path of self-development and material transcendence!
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.
Probably from around 35-years onward, a serious practitioner of traditional Chinese martial arts should be beginning the slow transition from purely ‘external’ to predominately ‘internal’ training methods, exercises and understandings. The point of this is purely age-related – as we get older, we see more in different ways to a younger person – who naturally possesses a different type strength (which changes as age progresses). If a practitioner does not possess access to correct instruction, then he or she will not ‘understand’ how to accommodate these age-related changes, and almost always will ‘give-up’ their practice. Another factor that needs to be considered is the age that training start for an individual, as this will affect what objectives should realistically be sought-after. However, prior to 35-years old, a practitioner of gongfu should have experienced much of the ‘hard’, ‘external’ training, understand psychological and physical suffering (through direct experience), and ‘know’ how to defend themselves during a violent encounter. External ‘sensitivity’ training is very different from ‘internal’ sensitivity training. The latter example involves the turning of the mind’s awareness ‘inward’ so that a) the blood flow can be sensed, and b) after a deep-breath, the oxygen can be felt as it distributes throughout and around the entirety of the body! The point of ‘external’ and ‘internal’ training is a perfect ‘integration’ (zagong) of the two aspects so that qi-power can be manifested at anywhere on a scale from imperceptible to ‘massive’ and ‘highly destructive’. If none of this makes any sense, then train harder!
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.