- 1. What kind of Tai-Chi Chuan are we practicing in our school ?
- We are practicing the Combined Tai-Chi Chuan 67 movements. This form was created by several masters of Tai-Chi Chuan during the 60's and has been adopted in 1958 as the first official form by the Chinese National Athletic Committee. It is a form that makes a synthesis of diverse elements of old family forms. China has since created many new official forms, so we could say that we are practicing the "old" new form.
- 2. What are the other styles of Tai-Chi Chuan ?
- The style Chen, Yang, Sun, Wu, Wo and Fu.
- 3. Who is at the origin of the Tai-Chi Chuan ?
- The historical origin of Tai-Chi Chuan is controversial. We may consider two official theories to explain the roots of our martial art.
One of them gives a Taoist monk Chang San Feng as the creator of Tai-Chi Chuan. This monk would have lived in the 14th century AC as an ascetic in the Wudang Mountains and would have created Tai-Chi Chuan after his observance of the fight between a snake and a bird. Another legend tells that Chang San-Feng would have received Tai-Chi Chuan from a fairy while he was dreaming. However the real existence of this monk is called into question by the historians.
The other theory is the follow up of the discovery of official documents dating from the 18th century mentioning Chen Chang-Xing as practicing and teaching Tai-Chi Chuan and by this way this makes the link between the Tai-Chi Chuan and the clan of the Chen family. It is widely admitted that the clan Chen is at the origin of Tai-Chi Chuan and in the same time that Chang San-Feng is the founder father of Tai-Chi Chuan.
Both theories may be seen as controversial however we may very well agree to both if we admit Chen San-Feng as the legendary founding father and the official records of Tai-Chi Chuan mentioning the clan Chen at the origin of the practice.
In any case, Tai-Chi Chuan is a martial art that has acquired its specific quality through an evolutionary process as well as from other martial arts.
- 4. What is the symbol representing Tai-Chi Chuan and its meaning ?
- The symbol is called "taiji" and represents two fishes, one black, one white or in other words, the Yin and the Yang. The white fish is Yang, the black one is Yin.
Each fish in its entirety contains the "seed" of the other (represented by the small round shape of opposit colour in its centre) and by this way reminds us of the cyclical transformation from one into the other and their interdependency. Looking at the symbol, we see the two fishes turning clockwise. Therefore with the Taiji symbol (or more simply : Yin-Yang), we have the representation of the universal polarity.
The translation of the word Taiji would be "the supreme top" - also valid for Yin-Yang - and is in full a part of Chinese philosophy. It is a picturesque way to make the difference between the top and the bottom, the inside and the outside, the beginning and the end, etc.
And Tai-Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) means the boxing (as martial art) of the polarity.
- 5. Which are the main basic techniques of Tai-Chi Chuan ?
- We count 13 of them from which 5 techniques are for the feet and 8 for the hands. The one for the feet are : to move forward, to move backward, to turn on the right, to turn on the left and to stay at the centre. Those for the hands are : to stave off (Peng), to press (Ji), to pull (Lu), to press (An), to pull (Tsai), to knock with the shoulder (Kao), to torn (Lie) and to knock with the elbow (Zhou).
- 6. The 8 techniques for the hands are divided into 2 distinct groups. Four of them are oriented on the 4 cardinal directions and the 4 others on the diagonals.
- They are Peng, Ji, Lu and Au. These four energies are applied face to face with a partner and allow for a tui-shou with non-interrupted flux between two partners. This small series is called Xiao Lu.
- 7. We have seen Peng, Ji, Lu and An. Still remain now the 4 other technics for the hands to complete the list of 8 Tai-Chi Chuan techniques for the hands. Which are they ?
- They are : Cai, Lieh, Kao and Zho.
These four technics are also called Da Lu or Large Diversions or also the Four corners technics.
Here the strengths involved are more martial and break the contact with the adversary. We could say that the diagonal technics are emergency technics and secundary to the square ones.
- 8. What is Chi or Qi ?
- Qi could be translated by the Breath, the Fluid and the Vital Energy or even by Prana, speaking of Yoga or by Ki, like in the Japanese tradition. In the Christian tradition we might be talking about the breath of God. In other words, it is what animates the living. The Chinese also use the word Qi to speak about the environment as we do about vibrations
- 9. What is the Wu Chi and what is the meaning of the position called Wu Chi ?
- In the Chinese cosmology, Wu Chi is the mother of Yin and Yang.
The Wu Chi is the original state of being, the one before separation into polar strengths which are necessary to give birth to any movement or creation.
This is why we use the Wu Chi position at the beginning of the form, a standing position without separation of the Yin from the Yang in order to be centred : equal weight on both feet, the body aligned as to be one unity between the top and the bottom, the left and the right, the arms connected or generically encompassed in the chest. The spirit, the breathing and the physical body are adjusted to simply BE between sky and earth. This position allows unobstructed exchange between the energy of heaven and energy of earth through our body and ressources us. It could be told that it is a way to recharge one's batteries and to enter with accuracy in the Tai-Chi Chuan movements.
- 10. Can you name five characteristics which makes you recognise Tai-Chi Chuan?
- According to sifu Bow Sim Mark:
1) The continuity in the movement
2) The coolness in the movement
3) The relaxation in the movement
4) The harmony between the inside and the outside
5) The harmony between suppleness and firmness
It is considered that the Tai-Chi Chuan movement must flow like a large river, continuously and with quietness, without interruption. The body moves with a minimal muscular effort, on a relaxed way.
- 11. How can we translate Dantien?
- Dantien is a Chinese word to explain the notion of energy centre. In fact we work with three Dantiens, with three energy centres corresponding also with three treasures that are Jing, Chi and Shen.
The lower Dantien is situated roughly two fingers below the navel, inside the abdomen. This centre is associated to Jing. Jing is the treasure expressing the creativity, the sexuality, the expression, the movement. It could be compared to the light (bulb).
The middle Dantien is situated in the chest. It is associated to Chi. This centre collects all the energy provided by the breathing, the feeding and the relations. It could be compared to the electricity.
The upper Dantien is situated between the eyebrows; it is associated to Shen. This centre is the home for the mental energy, the intellectual and spiritual concentration, the abstract. Shen expresses our spirituality and could be compared to the master electrician.
The three Dantien are of equal importance in Tai-Chi Chuan even though we work more on the bottom Dantien at the beginning because it is associated with the movement, expressing the energy. Later we work more on the second Dantien associated to breathing and Chi. The third step would be the work on the upper Dantien with the goal to always survey our three treasures as they are interdependent.
- 12. Do you know the 10 rules of Tai-Chi Chuan given by Yang Cheng-Fu (1883-1936) ?
- 1. Put energy at the top of the head, keep your spirit sharp and destressed
2. Pull your breast in and stretch your back
3. Relax your waist
4. Make the difference between solid and void
5. Let your shoulders and your elbows down
6. Use your spirit and not your strength
7. Link the top to the bottom
8. Unify the inside to the outside
9. Move in the continuity - without interruption
10. Seek for calm in your movements
- 13, Does the codification of the movements and the forms make law or are we allowed to proceed to changes ?
- Tai-Chi Chuan is a heritage. As pupil we are bounded to the given codification, in respect to both the creators of theses forms and the tradition. All modification must be done conscientiously and not by negligence.
For patricians this codification assures a correct development of the art and also frees the spirit to allow a better concentration on the internal work.
You must arrive to a very deep control to be able to create your own form because any modification involves or means the beginning of a new style. For example, the Yang style is the result of modifications brought by Yang Lu Chan, the Cheng Man Ching style, the result of modifications brought by the master on the Yang style or even more the William Chen style, the result of modifications of the master on the Cheng Man-Ching style.
Nevertheless Tai-Chi Chuan is above all the way you move and this can be trained by free improvisation respecting the essential (see question 12).
- 14. It is known that in ancient times the masters were much very respected by their students and were almost venerated. How did this master/student relationship develop over the years in Tai-Chi Chuan?
- It is true that the master/student relationship was different in olden times. We all heard about stories of disciples who had to wait a long time at the master's door step before being accepted or about the chores the students had to do (like cleaning the place) as a sign of complet dedication. This code of comportment in China was wihout doubt inspired by Confusionsim which is based on a hierarchical order of the society, like respect of the young towards the elder, respect of the pupil towards the teacher, respect of the women towards the men. Since then, society has changed; the Confucian society has lost its hold and the society has generally re-defined itself. There are for example only few schools left who practice Bai Shi, the ritualized initiation which morally ties the student to the master and his teaching in Tai-Chi Chuan schools.
In Europe, usually, the relationship teacher/student has no particular restrictions besides mutual respect. It is understood that a certain ethic naturally comes from the practice of Tai-Chi Chuan which is also a practice of self developement. The teacher must show benevolence towards his students and the students must recognize the knowledge of the teacher and trust in his judgement. This is why good students will not teach the transmission without their teacher's agreement.
- 15. In the texts it is written : no hills (or bumps), no valleys (or holes). What does this mean?
- The movement must be smooth without extrems. The body alignement must be in a gentle continuos line.
- 16. What is the difference between Qigong and Neigong ?
- Under the word Qigong we put together all Chinese energetic exercises. As regards the word Neigong concerns more precisely the internal exercises.
The Qigong when specified by Neigong is practiced in martial arts to grow the internal strengh and protect the body from violant impacts.
Qigong is practiced for the general health; it is normally accessible to anyone. Neigong requires a larger physical and mental investment than health Qigong does.
- 17 Is it more efficient to train inside or outside ?
- It is well known that Chinese people train in the parks, early in the morning. This concern a popular Tai-Chi Chuan often described as a kind of health gymnastic.
It is of course an advantage to work in a clean and healthy spot with fresh air. These conditions can in fact be found outside as well as inside. The place where one practices Tai-Chi Chuan is more a question of personnal choice.
At school we have a room specially created for Tai-Chi Chuan practice and at entrance in the wuguan, one is immediately in the Tai-Chi Chuan atmosphere. It is easier to concentrate in a protected space far from eyes, spectators and distractions inevitably encountered in the nature. This is why in our school we mainly give all lessons inside the wuguan.
However when you are in a pure and strong nature, the desire to play Tai-Chi Chuan comes from itself and the communion with the environment give an extraordinary strenght.
- 18. At which frequency does it need to be trained to make progress ?
- The learning of Tai-Chi Chuan first goes through the mental then it matures in the body. It could be said that the body has to be reprogrammed to execute movements with rightness as per the Tai-Chi Chuan rules. Only the endless repeat can print the manner how to move our body.
In our school we do not impose a daily practice but we recommend a regular training at a frequency compatible with each one's agenda. By no way we would like to add an extra duty and stress to the daily life that society imposes to anyone. To progress it is however good to establish a rhythm and to maintain it.
In relation to each one evolution, the demand to practice more comes naturally. But already from the fist lessons a progress can be seen; as only by making the decision to take time for us and to play Tai-Chi Chuan is already a benefit in a stressed life.
Quickly it becomes necessary to insert Tai-Chi Chuan in a daily habits. So the time between the practice and the life beside becomes undissociated.
At a higher level, the desire to dig always further to integrate the different levels of Tai-Chi Chuan will grow so that the investment in time will be in accordance with this desire.
- 19. Is the only training of the form enough to acquire the "Tai-Chi Chuan" knowledge or is it necessary to add other exercises ?
- To acquire some Gong (Kung), as to say the self-control, it is necessary to build the body in different ways. The sequence of movements is a group of different individual movements helping to print by a continuous repeat, the techniques in the memory of the body.
Like any learning, there is also a logical progress in the learning of Tai-Chi Chuan. The body must first be shaped by smoothing movements, muscular reinforcing of the legs, structural alignments and concentration. Of course, we can say that all these exercises are also beneficial to Tai-Chi Chuan. Nevertheless to reach a higher and more interesting level of self-control you need to shape the body in the same time you train the form. The beginners certainly take benefit of a start of the body and time to enter the mental presence. During this leaning phase the mental is so much solicited to learn the movements by hart that it is unbelievable to integrate other goals to this memorisation. On the other hand, by Qigong and the stretching positions, the practicer can concentrate himself on the reasoning without being troubled by sequences of difficult movements. In our stressed society it is also important to take time changing rhythm before playing a form.
At a very high level, the practician can use the form to train all different aspects as streching, meditation and Neigong. Tai-Chi Chuan become than an universal tool.
- 20. What was the spirit when Tai-Chi Chuan was created and in which spirit are we practicing it nowadays ?
- At the beginning, the Tai-Chi Chuan was created to defend one's own and their possessions. Of course in was in a war spirit.
Now, you find a long list of reasons for which you practice Tai-Chi Chuan. For example, relaxation, affirmation of oneself, flexibility, adaptation, unification, harmonisation, reimforcement of physical health, generate joy of life, interpersonal aspects, concentration, physical balance, mental balance, meditation.
- 21.Why choosing a martial art ?
- Of course, it is always comforting to have few techniques by the side in case of ..... but mostly it is beneficial to know when we are at our place and when we have the right to be at it.
We are not automatically the victim of the circumstances. A martial art trains discernment, quick decision, adaptation and research for solution. A martial art trains the personal discipline leading to patience and perseverance. The martial Tai-Chi Chuan grows the attention, the sensibility towards others and the non-verbal communication.
- 22. How is the meditative aspects of Tai-Chi Chuan ?
- Tai-Chi Chuan is also often called “Meditation in Movement”. The meditative aspect can be very important for the practice. From the beginning, the player can make the experience of the relaxation regarding its daily stresses by the “give up” and the permanent concentration on the movement. For the beginner, the practice is a preparation to the medication that will reveal itself fully once the movements are printed in the memory of the body. The meditation goes beyond MAKING – therefore this aspect of Tai-Chi Chuan continues to take importance and wideness all along the way.
- 23. Why is there so many way to write Tai-Chi Chuan and which is the good one ?
- Tai-Chi Chuan is a phonetic transcription of Chinese. It is evident that the transcription of the Chinese ideograms in our writing is delicate. The only translation is subject to various interpretations as the Chinese ideograms correspond to images that are clarified by a complete text. During the Chinese revolution, Tai-Chi Chuan and Qigong teachers left their country and migrated to Taiwan, Australia and the States, amongst others. The English speaking peoples heard Chinese speaking about Taichchuan (an English phonetic transcription). It is then from these first people who practiced Tai-Chi Chuan outside from China that come the word Tai Chi Chuan, Taichichuan, or Tai-Chi Chuan. This transcription makes however confusion because of the word “CHI” meaning “vital energy” and “Chi” in word Tai-Chi Chuan; both are not written alike in Chinese language and therefore haven’t the same meaning.
China has finally developed a standard phonetic language, called Pinyin, to transcript ideograms in our writing. So the exact transcription in Pinyin would be Taijiquan – a word widely used in French speaking countries. In our school we have kept the English transcription with the ad of a heathen between Tai and Chi to remember that here the chi is linked to Tai and matches to the image of two ideograms meaning the head roof beam.
- 24. What are the 4 qi ?
- This question comes for somebody having made researches on Internet. The “4 qi” concept is not established in our school. It could be imagine a division by four in antenatal qi, postnatal qi, external qi and internal qi. This reply is only a reflection and not a key reply. Chinese people divide qi in many categories depending to different teachings.
- 25. What are the three treasures ?
- In Taoism, you have the concept of the three treasures, Jing – Chi – Shen. This concept is also integrated in the Qigong and Tai-Chi Chuan philosophy. Jing correspond to the essential, sometime translated by sexual fluid; Chi by vital energy and Shen by spirit. It is necessary to take care of our three treasures to develop one’s own potential and remain healthy. On a simple way we could say that Jing is the energy that generates the matter, Chi the energy that animates the matter and Shen the energy that will survive to the matter.
Here you must consider that Jing in the three treasures and Jing (= applied Chi or strength) are not written alike in Chinese though having for us the same pronunciation. They have a very different meaning one from the other.
© Tai-Chi Chuan Cornelia 2006-2023