Putting the Quan back into Taiji

Hmm. I’m not referring to Joanna’s excellent Martial Tai Chi site (she has a similar titled article) – but I thought this title would fit. I’d like to talk a little bit more about motivation in Taijiquan. It seems to be an important issue to a lot of people.

Um.. is this thing on? *taps mike* ok. Let’s talk about some videos.

The first thing I want to talk about is the martial spirit. The spirit of martial arts. I do not mean spirits entering your body like “African Bagua“. That isn’t really what gongfu is about. So now that we’re on this blacktaoist sort of vibe, I’ll bring up Frank Yee (Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kuen) as an example of martial spirit. In blacktaoist’s “Hung Gar Talk“, Frank Yee talks a little bit about martial spirit. Frank Yee sounds a lot like my old Hung Gar sifu.

When you combine wu de with martial spirit, there is an incredible drive to better yourself through training, both physically and as a person. So martial spirit does not mean you want to kill people. It is more of a drive to train and perform the movements with the correct flavor. So to this end martial spirit is a means to motivate yourself to train. I’ve talked about it a little before in Training Diary.

The second point I want to make about martial taiji is is how effective it is. Taijiquan is a real martial art which has a reputation of being able to stand up to other martial arts depending on the individual skill of the practitioner. Let me use Hung Gar again as an example. If two friends trained in the old days, one in say hung gar and one in tai chi, they might spar and we can say the result would be uncertain. We need to understand this. That taiji is capable of being competitive with other martial arts should the need arise.

Let’s see what I mean. In “Martial Talk #4“we see the hung gar concept of bridging (check 2:40 to 2:50). Serious Question #1: Can your taijiquan deal with this? It’s nearly the same concept you learn in push hands. Most Chinese Martial Arts have this skill. It is also found in Wing Chun, Preying Mantis, and White Crane just to name a few. So if your taiji can’t compete at this level, a good question is why not.

Another popular art is Bak Mei (white eyebrow). In Jik Bo Explanation it becomes clear that Bak Mei has concepts of fa jing and qi gong which are also found taijiquan (ignoring the qi debate for now 😉 ). And this isn’t just in Bak Mei. Everywhere you look this kind of stuff is going on. Granted, Bak Mei and other arts may look like the complete antithesis of taijiquan, but there are a lot more similarities than you think. And most chinese arts deal with jing and qi. How is taijiquan any different? I am just saying qi and jing to draw the obvious comparisons between what is going on in the above bak mei video and what a lot of taijiquan players like to talk about. So then, serious question: can your taijiquan generate this kind of power at the drop of a hat? How are you training?

Now let’s discuss wushu. Yes, wushu. Everyone laughs at wushu. It’s for sport, right? Well let’s take a look. In wushu, we see a level of physical conditioning absent from nearly all Taijiquan schools. Based purely on their physical strength, flexibility and endurance, most wushu players would be able to overcome the average taiji player. If strength, flexibility and endurance is not a foundation of gong.. what is? I feel if you seek a mystical answer then you’re setting yourself up for failure. Yes, taiji is different than wushu. But there are many things which are the same. More than you might think. Check out 0:27 and 0:55 in the above video. So yeah, how’s your stancework coming? And get a load of this guy. Okay, he does wushu. But what do you think – good foundation huh? Wushu Basics and Wushu Basics II are similar to “Wushu Foundations” above. Question: Would crosstraining in wushu improve your general ability to fight? For most taiji players the honest answer is yes. And this is wushu we’re talking about.

There is a saying that if you practice quan without the gong it is only a waste of time. But even if you want to talk just about accquiring quan, do you have quan? Take Eagle Claw as an example. Eagle Claw is another one of those suprisingly deep systems. But just looking at the surface applications in this video it seems that there are some very effective self-defense techniques being shown here. And this is just scratching the surface. Eagle Claw is well known for an extensive repertoire of qin na techniques. Sure, tai chi has some good quan in it. But have you studied it?

Going right on down the line, let’s check Preying Mantis. Preying Mantis, like Hung Gar, Wing Chun, Bak Mei, etc etc etc, can be a suprisingly complete art. As Martial Taiji players we love to believe that we are studying the supreme ultimate, but how well would we fare against someone who has trained an equal amount of time in Praying Mantis? If you take me as an example, I think I’d probably get destroyed.

What is it about taiji that you think makes it worth studying? Well it’s an internal art but most of the arts in this article are somewhat internal too. Maybe our sensitivity will help us? Adhere, stick follow? Push Hands, while not fighting, is certainly a major core training method of taijiquan. But allow me to play the devil’s advocate. Check this Wing Chun. Can you compete? Time to rattle that saber again, because from what I have seen of the mainstream taijiquan community the answer is no. I would say about 5% of the taiji people out there even train in push hands; and out of them, how many train enough that they could defend themselves against some serious chi sao as shown in the above clip?

And I haven’t even begun to discuss groundfighting! There are some taiji people who are researching this. But considering yourself, how would you fare against a judoka or even a highschool wrestler? We’ve all seen the UFC. It seems as if the bottom has come out of traditional martial arts as a whole, and this woman’s taijiquan is no exception.

And finally, lest you take solace in the saying “taiji does not go out the door for 10 years”, I’ve been doing taiji for longer than that. And I am telling you why it took me longer even just to get the basics. I hope this is a major wake up call to people who want to use their taijiquan for self defense. Yes, taiji can take upwards of 10 years. With proper training.

Taijiquan is well known as an ecclectic combination of the best of many different arts, with some unique contributions such as chan si gong. So… You want to put the quan back into taiji? Now you know what needs to be done. I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Turn off your computer right now, get off the couch, turn off the TV, stop playing world of warcraft, tell your friends to go home, whatever it takes. I’m begging you: pull a Jou, Tsung-Hwa and stop reading the newspaper in the morning. Stop drinking and smoking, and start training a lot more than you do now. Is this just your hobby or do you want to achieve something unique? It’s up to you.

I want you to go to the window right now, and scream it at the top of your lungs. “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Then go do some forms!

Then, maybe, just maybe you will be able to say to yourself in ten years time, “I did it”.

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4 Responses

  1. A lot of great points in there – I’m shouting with ya. I would focus a bit more on those basics (and physically developmental exercises) and less on linked forms, a bit more on contact and less on solo work than the average Taiji practitioner, but I’m with you in spirit!

  2. I’m sorry, but if you’re only doing forms a lifetime will not be enough to get you martially proficient. It doesn’t take 10 years to get results if you find the right teacher and see what a complete system is like. W/o training various components vital to fighting, such as basic reflexes, strategies, etc., it’s just not going to work. Fighting is an activity that involves at least 2 people and you need to account for that. If you can’t find a tai chi teacher that teaches the whole curriculum then the next best thing is to take any kind of MA that does, so when eventually you do find the teacher you will at least be conditioned to pick things up quickly. I’m not saying forms aren’t important either, but they’re not useful for martial proficiency BY THEMSELVES.

  3. To Q: Of course the tone of the article conveyed that forms alone were insufficient – talking about various non-form elements like the bridge in hung gar, stancework and agility in wushu etc. should make that clear. So I definately agree with you. Training is more than “just” doing forms.

    About how long it takes, 10 years.. or less? I think there is a lot more to taiji and martial arts in general than just having a good teacher. In fact, with the 10 year comment, I am assuming you DO have a good teacher, as without a good teacher you won’t get through the door in 10 years or 20. The 10 year comment is an average. As the saying goes, taijiquan does not go out toe door for 10 years. It is not a matter of learning, it is a matter of expressing. If you cannot express, it does not matter what you have learned. And some levels can only be achieved by combining old expressions into new and more useful ones; so it is useless to discuss them until the basics have been covered. This is why it can take 10 years. Although I do agree, in the special case where a dedicated student is trusted by a dedicated teacher, results might be achieved in as little as 3 years. I still have a problem believing master level could be achieved in less than 5 though. I’m talking about more than just empty handed forms though. The empty handed form is not tai chi, it is like 1/4th or 1/3rd. If you just want to master the form and get good at push hands, then 3 years no problem. But is that what it takes to be a master? To fight? No, you need more. So if you really look at it, lay out the requirements, it is difficult to say if it can be achieved or not even in 6 years. The average joe? 10, maybe, with a good teacher 🙂 JMO

  4. Well, I agree that to become a “master” will more than likely take 10 or more years, as tai chi is extremely deep. However, if you just want to be able to fight while expressing your style’s flavor, you can definitely do it in a much shorter time, provided you have the right circumstances; good teacher, classmates, free time, etc. I highly doubt most masters waited until they’ve attained mastery before they started their first fight. Most likely they fought when they were mediocre, then learned and improved themselves based on such experiences.

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