Tai Chi the Dichotomy of Yin and Yang
By Bru Bowden
(Response to article by John Mills: Tai Chi for Health or Tai Chi for Self-defence (TCAA Newsletter, July 2005).)
Firstly I must say that I found the article by John Mills (TCAA Newsletter, July 2005) extremely interesting. It is refreshing to read that broaderunderstandings of Taijiquan (used in lieu of Tai Chi Chuan purely for ease of typing) are permeating through. However I have the following comments to contribute.
I am one of those that never doubted that Taijiquan was BOTH a martial art and a fascinating method of health preservation and improvement. My background in studying most of the major traditional styles (and sub-styles; at least 5 different methods of Yang school) of Taijiquan, has enabled me a greater understanding of the similarities rather than the differences between the styles. If we look only at the external appearance of different styles, then the obvious is evident. However, if we delve deeper into the principles, we discover that they are similar if not the same for all. One obvious difference is the use of Fa-jing (issuing of energy) in Chen forms, which I will cover further in this article.
In his book ‘Tai Chi Theory & Martial Power’ (1996), Dr Yang Jwing-ming states that Taijiquan is now the most popular Qigong style in the world. It is of the ‘internal school’ (Neijia) of martial arts. We know that all Taijiquan forms contain, or indeed are, Qigong, both Neigong (internal work) and Waigong (external work) are evident. These were designed to build a number of positive aspects, which contribute in both health and self-defence. The Qigong of performing Taijiquan forms strengthens; muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones and the internal organs. It improves; respiratory function, relaxation, balance, concentration, reflexes, bodily energy levels and raises the spirit. All of which are necessary for both health and self-defence.
The ‘Taiji’ (yin-yang symbol) expresses the dichotomy of yin and yang. Is it not therefore, reasonable to assume and accept that health and self-defence can coexist in balance, within Taijiquan? I remember one of my Masters, Professor Lin Tzi Chiang, back in the mid 1980’s often saying, "To gain the full benefits of Taijiquan, it must be practiced as though for martial art purposes". I do not think that he was referring to the fighting benefits, but to the methods of practice and attitude towards training, expressing the principles of Taijiquan.
Historically, until the early 1900’s, Taijiquan was primarily viewed as a martial art. This is evidenced in the classic writings of the late 1800’s where Taijiquan was portrayed with descriptions of its martial methods. Chen Pan-ling in his ‘Original Tai Chi Chuan Textbook’ (Chang & Carruthers, 1998) acknowledges that the popularity of Taijiquan was due to its ability to combat an epidemic of tuberculosis among the professors and students in Beijing in 1912. It was then dubbed "tuberculosis curing technique" and itwas Yang Cheng Fu that first revealed it to the general public in Beijing in 1926 as a health exercise. an epidemic of tuberculosis among the professors and students in Beijing in 1912. It was then dubbed "tuberculosis curing technique" and it was Yang Cheng Fu that first revealed it to the general public in Beijing in 1926 as a health exercise.
Today, it is essentially only the Chen systems that retain elements of Fa-jing (which most overtly demonstrates Taijiquan as a martial discipline) within their initial forms. That is not to say that Fa-jing is not included in the other systems, but it is less evident and not generally taught if health is the primary focus. However, from a martial perspective, all slow forms of Taijiquan have a matrix from which Fa-jing can be expressed. Therefore, I suggest that for advanced practitioners, it is not necessary to learn forms containing Fa-jing if you understand its fundamental principles, as it can be applied at any time during the form. However, a beginner without an understanding of the basic principles will tend to resort to external power in attempting to express Fa-jing, which will almost certainly retard their progress in Taijiquan. Also, Fa-jing is dangerous to practice with a partner and I do not recommend sparring within the context of internal martial arts.
Regarding the development of Taijiquan, it is unlikely that it was Yang Cheng Fu that removed the Fa-jing from his ‘long form’ prior to promoting it for health. I say this because the other styles were not essentially influenced by him in their development. It appears that his grandfather, the great Yang Lu Chan, is the common denominator in the development of all the popular styles except Chen. Wu Yu Xiang studied both small frame Chen and Yang Lu Chan’s methods directly from the master himself. Wu Chien Chuan studied under his father, who learned from Yang Lu Chan. Yang Cheng Fu studied under his father Yang Chien Hou who in turn learned from his father Yang Lu Chan. Sun Lu-tang was of the Wu Yu Xiang lineage. So one can speculate that either Yang Lu Chan learned his ‘long form’ as a Qigong form from the Chens directly or he created it as a Qigong form encompassing the fundamental principles of the Taijiquan that he learned from the Chens.An exponential amount of research over the past few years, as presented in peer-reviewed journals, has endorsed Taijiquan as a health enhancing exercise. It is interesting to note that many studies were of short duration (3 – 4 months) but adequate data were gathered to create positive findings. So Taijiquan is solidly endorsed as a health exercise and it is my belief that it should continue to be promoted as such. There is a potential danger in Tajiquan being promoted as a martial art activity, in that many people may be dissuaded from beneficial participation, through misunderstandings.
If one wishes to study Taijiquan directly as a means of learning to fight, one will rapidly become disillusioned, or instructors may sacrifice the internal principles resulting in an external gong fu and not Taijiquan,purely for expedience. An example of an art that arguably switched from internal to external is Wing Chun, which is promoted as the ultimate fighting art (partly because of its connection with Bruce Lee). Traditionally Wing Chun has a large internal matrix within its forms, but these are mostly overlooked in the quest to fight and gain superiority and advantage over others in the quickest possible time. This has resulted in Wing Chun losing its internal martial values and gaining the reputation as an extremely effective external system. In reality Wing Chun has more in common with internal martial arts than it does with external ones. If one observes the older lineages of Wing Chun (non-Yip Man/Hong Kong) it appears to contain elements that relate more to Taijiquan, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang than the external martial arts. It is very soft and relies on the development of internal energy. It relies on contact reflexes and non-visual understandings (which are internally processed) and body position and structure is extremely important. It also relies on disturbing the opponent’s balance through their centre of gravity and is passive until contact is made (a bridge is created) with an opponent. This discussion on Wing Chun is merely to illustrate that a shift in view without adequate explanation or education can have profound effects on a system.
My hope for the future is that Taijiquan will be promoted in its entirety, so that it can be enjoyed for health and well-being, relaxation, recreation, socialisation, cultural interest, philosophical interest, sport and competition, self-discipline and self-defence, as the pathway should essentially be the same for all reasons for participation.
Background: Bru is currently undertaking a Master of Health Science degree at Victoria University; researching aspects of Taijiquan. He is a Registered Nurse, Division 1 and holds a Diploma in Acupuncture and Moxibustion and Graduate Diplomas in Gerontic Nursing and Hospitality and Tourism. He has over 30 years study in martial arts and 23 years study of Taijiquan with notable schools and instructors, including: Master Chen Fei (deceased), Master Yau Yee Kay, Prof. Lin Tzi Chiang, Master Liu De-ming and Master Peter Wu. Bru is also a member of the ‘Australian Kung Fu (Wu Shu) Federation’ and is the head instructor of Yi Li Fa (Taijiquan, Qigong and Neijia Gong Fu Association).