Taijiquan's Philosophical Base

Discussion in 'Tai Chi' started by SifuPhil, Jun 6, 2012.

  1. SifuPhil

    SifuPhil Lucky Cat Is Lucky

    Taijiquan, or "Supreme Ultimate Fist", is the Chinese internal art that utilizes many philosophical principles in its practice - in fact, it's these very philosophies that ensure the successful application of the techniques. Based mainly on Taoist philosophical principles, Taijiquan is in effect a living, breathing showcase for their everyday usage.

    First and foremost would have to be the theory of Yin and Yang, the opposing yet complimentary forces that are said to be in everything in the Universe. Many would say that Yin and Yang are opposites; while that is true, it's also only a half-truth. The secret is in knowing that they are also dependent upon each other for their very existence.

    Without Good you cannot have Evil; without light there is no darkness. It's important to learn how to conceptualize this theory in Taijiquan because every movement that you'll ever learn employs this principle.

    A corollary to this principle is that the Yin-Yang is in constant motion: the Yin is becoming Yang as the Yang is becoming Yin. There is no static state in which they are 100% themselves. Rather, they are always changing, always recognizing a little Yang in the Yin and vice-versa. It is actually at the point of intersection - when they are equally balanced - that you find your greatest strength and stability. Conversely, you seek to catch your opponent at the moment of their greatest swing to either full Yang or full Yin.

    Wu-Wei, or "the action of non-action", may sound like an outright contradiction, but like so many things in Taijiquan and Taoist philosophy it has a deeper, hidden meaning. Taijiquan prides itself on not exerting effort; it is said that you should be able to move 4,000 pounds with 4 ounces of effort. The trick to this is that ol' Yin-Yang principle again - if you catch your opponent when they're "floating" you need only apply a light tap to a strategic spot and their mass and momentum will do the rest. It's a case of doing very little but waiting and watching, but the end-results are more than satisfactory.

    You've "acted" without really "acting". You've merely helped your opponent go where they wanted to go in the first place. It's all about going with the flow, aligning yourself with the Tao.

    Grounding is as much a mental and emotional trait as it is a physical one. We seek to anchor and purify our mind, eliminate emotions in a conflict and physically drop a "root" to achieve grounding. This stabilizes us, enabling us to take advantage of both mental and physical imbalances in our opponents. Watch a toddler when he wants to be picked up: he's as light as a feather. Then watch as he throws a tantrum and doesn't want to be touched - it will seem as if he weighs a ton. Same child, same adult, but the intent has changed - he's grounding.

    Taijiquan masters can implement this ability at will; they can become so heavy that several people cannot push them over, yet they can move as quickly as a feather in a tornado when they so choose.

    Relaxation is one of the most-advertised health benefits of learning Taiji, but it is equally important in the martial applications. You remain soft, fluid and relaxed, even while striking, until the very instant that you reach your target - then you become hard. "Iron fist in a velvet glove" is a saying in Kung-Fu that is totally appropriate to Taijiquan's use of this principle. Also, it is through being relaxed that you can move so quickly without strain or effort. You develop a whip-like striking ability, which when combined with the internal energy - qi - enables you to produce jing, a sort of combination of the physical and energetic.
    Vldz, Blade Maker, Ben and 2 others like this.
  3. Ben

    Ben Master

    I thought Tai Chi Quan in translation meant something like "Spirit Boxing" :p Maybe I read wrong :p I was wondering if you could tell me some more about Tai Chi Quan. I have seen one particular posture known as the "Single Whip" posture and it seems like a beautiful movement/stance to me. I was wondering if you could tell me more about the posture itself, as well as its application. Thank you.
    Blade Maker likes this.
  4. SifuPhil

    SifuPhil Lucky Cat Is Lucky

    Hi Ben!

    Translation of Chinese terminology in the martial arts is usually a problem because we don't "see" words the same way that they do. In essence, your "Spirit Boxing" is just as correct as my "Supreme Ultimate Fist".

    "T'ai-Chi" or "Taiji" refers to the Yin/Yang, the complimentary forces of advancing and retreating or softness and hardness. In Taoist philosophy this idea resides in everything in the universe, the body as well as the spirit, so in a way "T'ai-Chi" can certainly be interpreted as meaning "Spiritual". The only problem I would have with that is that it neglects the body - you can't have one without the other.

    "Ch'uan" or "Quan" is simply a school or style of martial art. A common Chinese word for this is "Fist", but "Boxing" works just as well. ;)

    As for Single Whip (Tan Bian) ... yes, it IS a beautiful movement! The name itself is a play on words on two different levels: on a visual level the "whip" actually refers to a yoke or a "stiff whip" which farmers and other laborers would often carry with one hand looped over it ...


    Certainly I can see the similarity to the Single Whip posture ...


    So that's one aspect of the name. The other is the whipping motion contained within the movement, a motion created by both relaxation and control - in the picture above the left hand would be the whipping hand, moving quickly across the body with a snapping motion ("jing").

    The applications of Single Whip, like the applications of all Taijiquan postures, are many and varied, but basically you are capturing your opponent's wrist with your "beak" hand and pulling in, while with your left hand you are both pushing him away ("Warding Off") with the back of your arm (separating his shoulder joint) and giving him a little palm-strike as a going-away present. :D
    Blade Maker and Ben like this.
  5. Ben

    Ben Master

    Thank you so much! I've researched it several times but your explanation has given me SO much more information that I've found! And I thank you also for the information on the Taoist believes of the Yin-Yang. If you check out the Thread "New Styles" you can read about a style I'm inventing which is also based on the Yin-Yang :)
    Blade Maker likes this.
  6. Michael Spivey

    Michael Spivey Warrior Monk

    SifuPhil and Ben, perhaps an explanation of Yin and Yang being compliments would be easier to understand than a description of being opposites?

    I have had the honor of studying Wu Style Tai-Chi under close friend and Sifu Bill (Harry) Phillips of Monrovia California for a while now. I began studying with him when we were both working for Lockheed Skunk Works.
    Blade Maker likes this.
  7. Blade Maker

    Blade Maker Master

    Tai chi was a confusing art for me because much of the movements are recorded as prose and can be translated differently depending on the language and the translator.
    Ben likes this.

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