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When watching people doing the hand or weapon forms it can be hard to see the martial art in the Tai Chi, but all these slow techniques are fighting techniques put together to form a long series. These – slow – series are a sort of shadowboxing/fighting in which you continually defend and attack an invisible opponent. The hand and weapon forms along with Qigong and Nei Kung are the foundation for the Tai Chi performer to have the optimal possibilities for mastering the martial art of Tai Chi Chuan.
The Martial Arts essence of Tai Chi Chuan
The origins of Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art happens about the 15th century as a result of Taoist philosophers in the mountains of China being forced to defend themselves against both robbers and wild animals. As those who attack often have the advantage of size or strength, a martial arts system was invented, in which one was able to overcome without strength or size being an advantage (defeating hardness with softness). By studying the “combat” of nature between wild animals and the constant changing of nature a martial arts system was constructed based on the philosophy of Yin and Yang, the two opposites.
Tai Chi Chuan means “Supreme Ultimate Fist/Martial Art”, which in itself is a rather provoking name, but when you look at the principles on which Tai Chi Chuan is based it is logical. The principles are, as mentioned before, based on the philosophy of Yin and Yang, the two opposites, who complements each other, but are also able to defeat each other. When a force (Yang) comes towards you, it is avoided by stepping to the side (Yin), after which you can counter by using force (Yang) at a weak point on the opponent (Yin).
Using these principles, no resistance will be too great to overcome. In some martial arts strength, speed and size are deciding as to who would win, while with other martial arts are based on using the opponents force against himself. Tai Chi Chuan is one such system where the idea is to deflect and turn the force of the opponent on himself using a minimum of ones own force.
Hand Form and Martial Arts
The hand forms have been constructed from the martial arts techniques with the purpose of, among others, being able to practise the martial arts techniques without the “enemy” being able to see what one was doing. But even though the hand forms consists of martial arts techniques, it is not enough to do the Hand Forms if you wish to learn the martial art. You have to take each individual technique from the form and practise it with one or several partners and the techniques has to be practised many times to make them readily available. The hand forms can help the performers to better concentration, coordination and balance both physically and mentally, which is an invaluable ability of martial arts.
Pushing Hands and Martial Arts
Pushing Hands are partner exercises in which we practise martial arts skills of close quarter fighting. We have several Pushing Hands drills in which it is preordained what each person does in order to practise specific skills to perfection. To test if you are able to utilize these techniques we have Free Pushing Hands, which is much like a battle of balance. This is where you can test if you can use the skills against an opponent that does not follow your rules! In order to turn the opponents force on himself, we have to practise against larger and heavier opponents as one quickly can build a tendency of using force, which only works, if we are physically superior. In Wudang Tai Chi Chuan you will learn over time to relax and stay focused in order to react sensibly in the situation of an attack. The techniques must be practised many times to have them readily available.
Tai Chi Weapons and Martial Arts
In the Chinese tradition, as in Europe and Japan, people would travel by foot or horse and for self defence would have either and armed escort or carry weapons them selves, which before the invention of firearms, normally would include certain types of edged weapons. In Chinese martial arts there’s two main categories of edged weapons. Dao (Sabre) is a single edged weapon and Jian (Sword) is a double-edged weapon, both can vary in length.
In Tai Chi Chuan, most styles have some type of Dao Form while all Tai Chi Chuan styles have some type of Jian Form. However, while the forms of many schools are being persistently practised, the practical applications are either lacking or sadly inadequate. In PTCC DK we put an effort in practicing both the forms and the applications in order for the practioners to gain a deeper knowledge of, what lies behind the techniques.
In weapons practise the same process as in hand form is necessary. The first step is practising the weapons form, individual and partner techniques with weapons to develop a degree of experience and insight of the essential nature of attack and defence in the individual weapons. After much practise you will master the weapon to some degree and in time you will be able to achieve or approach the perfect result. The final phase is to practise until there no longer is any technique, enabling you to be immediate and decisive in any situation.
Why weapons? The intention is not to walk around armed, but to be able to transfer their techniques of the sabre or sword to a number of ordinary, readily available objects, such as an umbrella, cane or rolled up newspaper and use those as a means of self-defence.
Working with the practical application of the weapons techniques gives the practioners a deeper understanding of the individual techniques instead of ‘just’ swinging around the weapon without knowing why.
The Tai Chi Warrior above them all!
Yang Lu-Chan (Founder of Yang Tai Chi Chuan) lived in the 19th century and was known as “Yang the Invincible” due to his exceptional fighting skills. He taught the Imperial Guard and is still one of the most famous Tai Chi practioners through the ages.
Tai Chi Classics
The 5 Tai Chi Classics that has been passed down from generation to generation consists of 5 written texts that describe the basic ideas of Tai Chi Chuan. The basic idea that is the strategies and philosophy behind Tai Chi Chuan as a Martial Art is written as verse. It was common for the Masters to chant the verses in their Nei Kung practise, not only to memorize the 5 classics, but also to gain a larger understanding and insight of the strategies of martial arts. Besides of this, the repetition of the classics had a large meditative impact on the mind.
It needs to be said, that although the 5 classics contain many strategies, they do not contain all the martial arts strategies of Tai Chi Chuan. There are several translations of these, but in PTCC DK we work with the translation made by Dan Docherty.
A small excerpt of one of the classics:
Tai Chi Chuan Ching – the Song of Tai Chi Chuan Ching
Tai Chi (The Supreme Ultimate), It was born from Wu Chi (No Ultimate).
It produces both movement and stillness. It is the mother of Yin and Yang.
Once there is movement, there is separation.
Once there is stillness, there is unity.
There is nothing exaggerated, nor is anything lacking.
Sui (follow) bending then straightening.
When the opponent is hard and stiff and I am pliant and soft, this is called Zou (moving).
When I am smooth and the opponent is not, this is called Nian (adherence);
If the opponent’s actions are swift, then my response is swift.
If his actions are slow then I slowly Sui (follow) them.
Although there are 10.000 transformations, the principles remain the same.
Through practise and familiarity (Zhao Shu),
We gradually come to understand Jin (trained force).
From understanding Jin, we can achieve enlightenment (Shen Ming),
However, we must be diligent over a long period of time,
And cannot suddenly become expert.
Famous excerpts from the classics
A 100 grams defeats a 1000 kilos!
“One of the basics of Tai Chi is that a hundred grams can defeat a thousand kilos, which is understood as a force coming at you (1000 kg). Instead of trying to stop the force, you step aside and use a light deflection (100 gr) to change the oncoming attacker.”
Stillness defeats movement!
“If the opponent does not move, then neither do I move – When the opponent moves, I have already moved! This meaning that you must always be at the ready, focused, in balance and vigilant, so that when your opponent is doing nothing, then neither are you, but you are at the ready, so when he does attack, you are already moving.
That is what we call good timing!”
Be like the water in the river!
“The Tai Chi Warrior is like the water in the great river. The water adapts to any hindrance on it course through the land. If there is a rock, the water will easily glide around it without disturbance. Water is ever shifting speed and form in accordance to its surroundings. Water is of the softest substances, yet can be the hardest and be all destructive.”