The following text is an excerpt from the introduction to Yang Yang's recent book
The word taiji is an ancient Daoist philosophical term symbolizing the interaction of yin and yang, which are opposite manifestations of the same forces in nature. The dynamic interaction of yin and yang, underlying the relation and changing nature of all things, is epitomized in the famous "Taiji Diagram." Taiji is often translated as "grand extreme" (as opposed to wuji, which means "no extreme"), and quan means "fist" or "boxing". Thus "grand extreme boxing", or Taijiquan, is a pugilistic art rooted in the Daoist concepts of the interplay and necessary balance of yin and yang.
It is helpful to think of yin and yang as complimentary opposites - each fundamentally relies upon, and gives birth to, the other. So, for example, a fundamental theory of Taijiquan is that hardness comes from softness and quickness comes from slowness. In Taiji practice emphasis is placed on relaxing the body and calming and focusing the mind. Taiji form movement is performed slowly, accentuating the intention, mechanics, accuracy, and precision of the motion. By practicing in accordance with Taiji principles of softness and slowness, the practitioner will paradoxically begin to experience a quality of hardness and strength and efficiency of movement that are significantly different from that of ordinary natural ability. Throughout this book, I suggest possible explanations from the perspective of Western neural science and kinesiology for how improvements in power, quickness, and agility are made possible by the seemingly contradictory Taiji training principles of softness and slowness.
The martial arts of China are typically categorized as either "internal" or "external." Taijiquan downplays brute strength and natural ability and emphasizes learned motor skills, nurturing, and the accumulation of hardness through softness, and thus it is considered an internal martial art. Other popular internal martial arts include Yiquan, Xinyiquan, and Baguazhuang. Classification of a particular art as internal or external is useful in describing beginning training practices to novices, but it is ultimately an oversimplification of the martial arts. In their complete form many, if not most, external or "hard" styles also eventually seek to develop and incorporate an internal or "soft" aspect in their practice. Similarly, all practices of the internal martial arts are intended to develop gong, the physical aspect of which includes improvements in strength or power. In the classical literature, Taijiquan is referred to as the "science of power." And so it can be seen that the practices of internal and external martial arts eventually merge toward common ground (if not unification).
While Taijiquan was originally created as a martial art, it is also, importantly, a holistic art that develops and informs one's life. Physical, mental, and spiritual components are all integral to its practice, and this must be thoroughly understood to grasp the complexity of Taijiquan, to achieve high levels of skill, and to obtain the full benefits of practice. The balance of yin and yang, which is a central theory of the art, explains the linking of spiritual (yin and internal) and martial (yang and external) aspects. The classical literature and poetry of Taijiquan emphasize the importance of this dual cultivation of the martial and spiritual. For example, Chapter 19 of The Yang Family Forty Chapters explains,
. . .Without self-cultivation, there would be no means of realizing the Tao. . .The spiritual is cultivated internally and the martial externally. . .Those whose practice is successful both internally and externally reach the highest level of attainment. Those who master the martial arts through the spiritual aspect of internal cultivation, or those who master the spiritual aspect through the martial arts attain the middle level. However, those who know only internal cultivation but not the martial arts, or those who know only the martial arts without internal cultivation represent the lowest level of attainment.The holistic nature of the art is perhaps best summarized in the classical Song of Real Meaning, where the highest goal and purpose of Taiji is distilled into a single sentence:
With your whole being, develop your life.Unfortunately, this important aspect of Taijiquan is often underemphasized in current books and teaching.
I would also characterize Taiji as a living and growing art. It is not static or restricted to traditions and understandings of past generations, but continues to be enriched by thoughtful insights of each successive generation. Further, as with all art forms, Taiji is ultimately a deeply personal experience and expression of one's feelings, outlook, and understanding of life. One's inner spirit is not only nurtured and molded by Taiji practice, but also is inherently reflected in practice. The practitioner's spirit and competence is mirrored first in the mechanical movements of the form and later, as one assimilates the lessons from practice, in one's entire relation and interaction with the world.
The fact that Taiji is a personal, living, and growing art is apparent in the different "styles" that have developed over the years. Chen, Yang, Sun, Wu and Wu (Hao) family styles are currently accepted as standard, orthodox forms, and there are several variations within these styles, as well. Turn to Appendix I, A Brief History of Taijiquan and Developments of Modern Chen Style, for more information on the evolution of various styles and for further explanation for why I believe that Taiji is a living art that cannot possibly be limited to the understandings of previous generations.
A tradition of secrecy is embedded in many aspects of Chinese culture. Chinese martial arts in general are steeped in enigma and mystery, and Taijiquan is no exception. The martial arts in China were often held as a closely guarded secrets that were passed only to select members of successive generations. Often, an art was held within a single family, as was the case with the original Chen style of Taiji. Largely, I believe, because of the mystery surrounding the art, there are three common misunderstandings about Taiji: first, that there is a difference between practicing for health and practicing for martial arts; second, that 'slow form movement' is all there is to Taiji practice; and third, that Taiji is a mysterious oriental practice that cannot be understood without decades of practice. These misconceptions are prevalent in China as well as the West and need to be refuted before we go further.
(To continue reading about common misconceptions and for a detailed analysis of the methods, principles, and benefits of practice, please examine Yang Yang's book, Taijiquan: The Art of Nurturing, The Science of Power. You may also visit the articles for additional information about Yang's training experience in China and advice for Taiji practice.)
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