Northern Wu Style Taiji Quan

The making of a new conception

The commonly known embedded values of the Taiji Quan (also known as Tai Chi) in the West is a gentle graceful movement that promote health and enhance mental calmness and clarity. That the underpinning philosophy behind its principles (i.e. the duality of Yin and Yang) is Taoism that orientates around various themes such as naturalness, peace, non–action (Wu Wei), detachment, flexibility, spontaneity and receptiveness etc. With these concepts, many Taiji schools therefore, unknowingly give privilege to the health aspect of Taiji rather than bringing forth the other aspects that make up the entire system. As such, it connotes the modern concept of a ‘life style’ choice, and is therefore popular among the affluent who see Taiji as their trendy pastime activity. The practitioners who try to acquaint themselves with this ancient Chinese art, are characterised with traits as open minded, peace loving, self–monitored and health conscious mature people who practise the slow movements and get themselves feeling relaxed once a week in evening schools and health clubs.

The above is the dominant regime of representation and representational practices of Taiji Quan that form the dominant discourse currently in the West. The author has been involved in setting up the Wu Style Taiji Society which in many ways contradict the dominant conceptions of Taiji. The contradictions have not been deliberate, rather it is due to the society’s desire to bring forth the Taiji system in its entirety that aims to demystify the currently accepted ‘regime of truth’ and to disconnect it from a super–structure of Western meaning that has been added to it like a scaffold.

The foremost purpose of training in Taiji Quan originally was for combat and self–defence, hence the form (a series of slow movements) and weaponry trainings were designed for that purpose when they are properly applied. It is an ‘internal art’ (Nei Jia Quan) as opposed to the external art (Wai Jia Quan) such as Shaolin Quan, Wing Chung, Judo, Karate and Thai Boxing etc. It emphasises training from within such as mental sensitivity and the cultivation of energy (Qi) through Qi Kung exercises (inc. meditation) that simultaneously create the awareness of the flow of the energy in one’s body that as such, determine the quality of the external skills i.e. the postures and balance in the form, and the effectiveness in combat situations. It also enhances one’s awareness of external forces i.e. the opponents, the sensitivity of which can be cultivated through training in Push–hands (partner–work in reciprocal motions). Running through all these exercise is the principle of Yin Yang balance – the co–existing of the two opposing forces, yet they are complementing each other.

Contrary to the common perception of martial art as a skill for achieving positivistic goals (hence the belt system), Taiji training does not lend itself to an externally recognised level, rather it is the agreement between oneself with one’s own competence in a given moment that makes training a subjective and individualistic activity since each person feels, understands and experiences differently from others. Though one’s skills in Taiji Quan can ascend to higher and higher levels over time, but there is not an ultimate positivistic destination to aim at as it is believed that things in the natural realm (including oneself) are unceasingly in the process of change within the process of Yin Yang interactions, that opens up unlimited and unpredictable discoveries and realisations throughout one’s life time of practising. So, the regimes of training in Taiji can be seen as ways to help one to tap into the vein of nature and be connected with it. Taiji Quan means the ultimate fist, that is rightly regarded by competent martial artists of other styles that they would ultimately pursue the art of Taiji should they desire to enter into a more superior dimension in their martial art pilgrimage.

The above account plus others that have not been mentioned, make up the author’s perception of Taiji Quan, which is apparently a different perception currently held by the majority in this time of age and culture. The Taiji project that the author has proposed, is run based on these beliefs, that gives rise to particular attitudes and aims in training, that in turn gives rise to a specific set of practices and a regime of operation, a discourse is forming and is gathering its pace.

Few ideas, concepts and beliefs were brewing, when the moment was right, the Taiji project was conceived. The birth was to materialise ideas and concepts through a process of labouring in working out ways to deliver them into the world. It is live and kicking, and has been nurtured into a structure with its own system of operation, language, identity and a sense of vision and mission – a form by which people think and behave within and by. A ‘concrete’ reality that may one day replace the dominant one.

Written by eva golding - chinese cultural xchange