I was asked a very good question about the Taiji class I am starting to teach soon. Very simply “What are you planning to teach?” Which can either be a simple question with a simple answer like “Chen style” or “Silk reeling” or a complex question looking for information about what I am really, REALLY planning to teach. I would have asked it in the latter context, so I felt maybe I should try to write a decent answer for myself and hopefully it might be of help to other people as well.
Taiji is a well researched and tested training method that helps a person become efficient in movement, in life, and in thought. When it is trained diligently more and more subtle skills can be accessed through a good teacher and solid practice and these skills are all based on building solid foundations before moving on to more advanced work. In the method I do there are nine levels of progression, three beginner levels, three intermediate levels, and three advanced levels. The first three are concerned almost entirely with body mechanics in stillness and movement practice, the intermediate levels begin to merge the biomechanics of the body with the intentions of the mind and learning to detect more and more subtle changes in oneself and opponents. The third stage or the advanced levels directly work on the influence of the mind, intention, willpower, and influence on oneself and refines their practice. (心神,意, 意志, 勢).
Beginners are normally started with choreography of a Taiji form to memorize and practice to get the flavour of the art which is then slowly refined over time with the help of a teacher adding more and more correction. This is like being given a text book handed out page by page by the teacher to the student who then works to keep them all to be read later. Unfortunately, all too often students will only receive a text book from their Taiji teacher and then be expected to read it before they even learn the language it is written in. I myself have had teachers use this method and having experienced it, it is exactly why I do not teach in this manner.
Taiji is like trying to learn a language and so one must start with the letters of the alphabet (if I use English as my example) which then slowly creates words that represent various things. Those words eventually strung into sentences and paragraphs until the student can freely express themselves. Learning a Taiji form is like being given a complex classical book when one is very young, without the proper teaching it cannot be expected that one will simply learn to read alone!
Instead I begin at the beginning when I am instructing people in the art to my best ability. While the following cannot be an exhaustive list for reasons of space and time writing some beginner, concepts include:
Standing Tall Like the Monkey: skeletal alignment and its correction versus gravity.
The Kua and its positions: Inguinal crease joint and all surrounding muscularity. Open, Close, Collapsed.
Origin point of movement: Dantian moving first in the body and rippling outwards to the limbs.
Six Harmonies: The pairs of joints which ripple when Dantian moves in coordination.
Rules of the Circles: Understanding the two circles of Taiji and their specific bodily rules of practice.
Foundational training needs to have movement and application to not only feel the difference between correct and incorrect movement but also its affect on an opponent. Silk reeling exercises done stationary in single stances are where these things can be explored, practiced, and corrected. Push hands testing allows for partners to solve ever increasingly difficult puzzles with one another. The use of single movement drills also appears here, taken from the Taiji forms to give examples of movement, alignments, and applications to impart the combative strategies in the art. These in turn help to correct posture, alignments, and movements in students as knowing the purpose of a thing brings it clarity.
Intermediate levels concepts continue with the various body mechanics and metaphors used in training to achieve the feel of the art. Some of these would include:
Spine Bow: 1st bow, as in bow and arrow, of the body is the spine. Creating a consistent potential on the vertical axis within the body.
Arch and Ball: The Dang (Archway) of the legs and groin is like being seated on a large ball. Downward pressure from the groin creates outward pressure on the legs, keeping alignment and building structure.
Seven Stars: Seven striking points on either side of the body, giving the Taiji fighter 14 opportunities to strike in any position.
Jin Gong: Manifesting structure vs Alignment and building the various intrinsic whole body connected types of force used in taijiquan beginning with the all-important Peng (expanding) power. This carries on throughout training until all the 25 ‘secret’ words have been taught.
C1: Centrepoint 1 is the direct space where the players root touches the ground. C2 is the opponents, C3 the point below the first point of contact in between. Controlling two or more of the C points results in stealing the opponents balance.
Advanced training is begun when the student has Taiji they can perform very well physically without undo mental effort. The more natural the ability becomes the more ready they are to move on. Advanced methods deal mainly with the use of the mind and the Qi. Cultivation of Dantian through its four stages of work must be completed early in the advanced training to work on more esoteric parts of the art.
While this is obviously not an exhaustive list, not including most of the principles, nor the forms, weapons, or various silk reeling or pushing methods. I hope it is enough to make clear that THE FORM IS NOT THE ART – it is the container. My teaching method is to work on learning the language of Taiji and understanding it rather than being able to simply repeat a form by rote.
Hope to see you in class.
Renegade Taiji starts in October through my Red Jade Live at patreon.com/rjma