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Issue 618   Date: 06/27/2002

A Synopsis on Taijiquan 


2002 World Tai Chi and Qigong Day Celebration

By Mak Tinghei 

[Editor's note: For consistency, the following convention will be adopted for this article:
1. the last name(surname) of a person is placed first, followed by first and middle names, bounded together as in Chinese usage. 
2. Individual Chinese characters, when appropriate, is bounded together for a specific meaning. Thus, 'Taijiquan' is used instead of 'Tai Chi Quan']

Taijiquan' is a popular form of Wushu' or Martial Arts in China. Its unique methodology and movements make it stand out among the rest. Its philosophy teaches us a sound approach to problems often encountered in life. It is also a good exercise for the young and old, and an appropriate therapy for recovering patients. There are many styles of
Taijiquan today. The most popular form is the Yang style, which was widely promulgated by [Yang Luchan]'(1799-1872). The others are Wu', Chen', and the rest. Almost all styles of Taijiquan came from a kind of Wushu practiced by the Chen clan in the Chenchiagou' village, [Wen County]', Henan' Province. According to [Tang Hao], the Chen-wushu can be traced back to their ancestor, [Chen Wangting]'(1597-1664), a retired general of the late Ming Dynasty. He collected the popular Wushu style of his time, consulted Wushu writings of another Ming general [Qi Jikwang]'(1528-1587), edited those styles, made some contributions and formed several styles of Wushu, including the 32 postures Long Boxing, five different 13-postures, and the Cannon Fist. 

These styles of Wushu were orally transmitted down and practiced by later generations. By the time of [Chen Changxin]'(1771-1853), only two styles remained: the Cannon Fist and the First 13-posture. Chen Changxin did not leave behind any writings on Chen-wushu. When Yang Luchan came to the Chen village as a child servant at the age of 10, he learned Chen-Wushu from Chen Changxin, and went back in 1839 to his home village, [Yuen Nien]', Hebei' Province, where he taught his style of Wushu to [Wu Yuxiang]'(1812-1880). Wu also learned Chen-wushu briefly in 1852 from one member of the Chen clan. Up to this time, 'Chen-wushu' was not called 'Taijiquan'. 

The name, Taijiquan, was first mentioned by [Wang Tsungyueh]' who was a contemporary of Chen Wangting in the 1600s. One of Wu's brother discovered, sometime in 1852-54, several Wang's manuscripts; one of them is called 'Taijiquan Treatise'. Wu's student, also his nephew, [Li Iyu]'(1832-1892) composed in 1860 and revised in 1880, a collection of writings by himself, Wu, and Wang. In it, he attached the name 'Taijiquan' to 'Chen-wushu'. There is no evidence to show whether it was his idea or his uncle Wu's. Wu and Yang were close friends. So Yang certainly would know about the Taijiquan Treatise. About 1860, or shortly thereafter, Yang was introduced by one of Wu's brother to teach Wushu in the Ching' Imperial Court. Since then, Taijiquan has spread far and wide.

The most popular one is the legendary Taoist monk [Chang 
Sanfeng]'. But this assertion can not be verified and validated. At present, the single originator of Taijiquan has not been found, and it appears that Taijiquan is a collection of combined contributions from many Wushu masters over along period of time.

The principle of Taijiquan is based on Wang Tsungyueh's Taijiquan Treatise using the idea of Taiji in Yi Ching , and the requirements for boxing. It stresses the application of the interaction of two opposites, Yin and Yang, to the strategy of fighting so as to achieve the utmost advantage over your opponent. However, this treatise provides a concise description without details to methodology. Still, the Taiji idea can be applied to find the details of the basic requirements of Wushu. When two opponents are in a fight, one must have a fighting strategy and tactics to achieve victory. Strategies means external and internal maneuvers while tactics mean actions and postures. Continuing this 
method of analysis, a set of requirements is obtained for the motion of hand and feet, as well as the body postures and state of mind. Any routine that satisfies these requirements is called Taijiquan. This set of requirements were grouped together by the Taijiquan masters, and is called the 13-Postures. Of these, six are the names of curvelinear 
motions, and the rest of 7 postures are named as Lean, Elbow, Move Forward and Aft, Observed, Aware, and Calm. Based on these 13-Postures, various stances of Taijiquan are formed.

The important writings of the Yang style came from Wu's-wushu. The earliest mention of Taijiquan by the Chen family is in [Chen Xin (1849-1929)]'s book (1933). There are no authenticated document and oral evidence to show that the name Taijiquan was first used by the Chen villagers, and no evidence to show who was the first to use the name 
Taijiquan for Chen-wushu. There are other suggestions to the originator 

To demonstrate that Taiji requirements are effective in fighting. Newtonian mechanics are used. The conservation of angular momentum is used to show that the curvelinear motion of Taijiquan can conserve energy so as to outlast your opponent, store up energy for making the strongest blow, dispel incoming blow without being hit hard, and etc. 
The strike of Taijiquan against an opponent is of contact strike/pull, not impulsive nature. The advantage of a Taiji strike over an impulsive inelastic strike can be understood by applying the conservation laws of momentum and energy and Newton's equation of motion. When fighting, one usually doesn't stand straight up but lower the upper body somewhat. How low should one's body be? The static principle of lever is used to find the optimum body height to deliver the strongest blow to the opponent. This optimum height is approximately achieved when both hands can touch 
the knee cap while keeping the body vertical. 

Next, the motion of Taijiquan is continuous and curvelinear, not reciprocating. It implies a swifter action and has two degree of motion than the reciprocating one. Two degree motion is also harder to predict than one degree motion. If one starts to move along a straight line, the intended target along that line is known before the strike's arrival. This 
known strike target enables your opponent to prepare for the strike a priori. The direction of curvelinear motion is changing during its course, making its potential target harder to predict, and often catching your opponent unprepared when the strike does reach its target.

One may wonder why only Taijiquan is practiced slowly compared to other Wushu? There are two reasons for this. First, practicing slowly enable one to sense the motion of one's body parts and, therefore, enable one to use his mind and thinking to direct his action instead of relying on the 
rash and subconscious judgement. Second, practicing slowly trains one to control his temper and emotion so that one would not act recklessly during a fight. Normally, we use our chest for breathing. Taijiquan requires that breathing be performed by the abdomen, because in fighting, the chest 
muscle is used for striking. If it is used for breathing, its efficiency for strike is reduced. As a result, both breathing and striking are hampered. On the other hand, the abdominal muscle is not used for any striking action, but can help breathing if needed. Taijiquan trains one to a custom to abdominal breathing.

Popular traditional Taijiquan routines have one hundred and eight or eighty eight stances. Most of these stances are repetitive or similar. If they are discounted, Taijiquan actually has only thirty some independent stances. Confusion arises when these stances of traditional Taijiquan have literally names that are not fully explained in terms of the meaning of the name and its associated motion. The names of some 
stances have no direct or obscure relation with the motion. In order for the stance to have the correct movement, the meaning of the name and the movement must be consistent with each other in a period of time.

One of the famous stance is called [Single-Whip]'. A whip has three functions. When a whip is swung forward and then suddenly swung back, its tip produces a cracking sound. This strike is deadly. A whip is swung so that it winds around the body and then is pulled to throw the body away. A whip is lay on an object and is swiftly pull back. The friction between the whip and the body tears the surface of the body open. These three functions of the whip must be simulated by the motion of the stance, Single Whip, if it is called Single Whip.

To understand the Hit-the-tiger stance, one need to realize that to hit any body part of a tiger, one has to bypass its deadly mouth. This is impossible to do. So, one can only hit the tiger's mouth. The construction of a carnivorous animal skull and jaw, such as a tiger, has a unique feature. On the side of the skull near where the jaw is hinged to the skull, there is an arch bone structure called the zygomatic arch. 
Also, near where the jaw is hinged to the skull, the jaw has a protruding bone structure, called the coronoid process, such that when the mouth/jaw is closed, this protruding structure is between the arch bone and the skull. The function of this feature is to help the tiger's mouth to hold on its struggling and heavy prey without the getting its jaw shook lose. When the mouth is wide open trying to catch its prey, this protruding bone is not between the arch bone and the skull. So, if at this critical moment, the skull and jaw are hit in the opposite direction, the jaw will come loose, disabling the ferocious tiger

The meaning of the As-If-Sealed'-And-Seemed-Closed' stance is fuzzy and does not describe the purpose of stances clearly. Yet, the meaning of a stance with an almost vocally similar names in the Chen style called Seal-Six' and Close-Four' is more explicit. It means protecting the six critical acupuncture points and shielding the other four 
acupuncture points. Movement of these stances should perform those functions. Thus, the names of Sealed-Six and Close-Four instead of As-If-Sealed-And- Seemed-Closed should be used. Other names are easier to apprehend.

Nowadays, Taijiquan has evolved into routines for competition, improving health, stage-shows, and spiritual enhancement. These various branch development have relaxed or change some of the basic requirement for Wushu. Even though they are doing Taijiquan, they are not since 
their performances do not satisfy all the basic requirement and Wushu spirit. Today, Taijiquan is seldom practiced for Wushu purpose. Still, one important lesson one can learn in practicing Taijiquan is its method of dealing with one's adversaries. Its stresses not giving up or outright confrontation but continuous contact till one can find a winning solution. It emphasizes conservation of one's resources and thought out approach to solve problems. The emphasis on slow and relaxed motion during the training helps to smooth out the stresses due to intense mental 
and physical exertion.

About author: 

[Mak Tinhei] has a Ph. D. In Electronic Engineering from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. He is now working in the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, MD. One of the activities he does in his spare time is practicing Taijiquan. Not satisfied with the traditional way of explaining and learning Taijiquan, he did his own research on the subject. 

Using the results of his research, he published a book. He 
welcomes to discuss Taijiquan with anyone and can be reached on Email thmak@yahoo.com.


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