Tai Chi Chuan
Taijiquan In the Modern World
by Aldyn Jones
The primary reason for practicing Taijiquan is health. The movements promote both external and internal health and its meditation benefits have been widely documented.
Taijiquan is not possible without a calm, united mind. Once this mental state is established you can begin to consciously focus your attention on getting the body to relax as it moves. Though relaxed, the body is alert and its movements are precise.
The central nervous system is also being trained. This occurs because a calm mind is able to receive and transmit more accurate information through it. The central nervous system in turn optimizes blood circulation which promotes the cleansing of organs.
Besides promoting health, Taiji is also a martial art. Taijiquan, in fact, can be translated as the Grand Ultimate Fist or, in other words, it is the ultimate martial art form. Some would-be practitioners are put off by this aspect of Taiji. They are only interested in learning a dance or meditation and are not interested in fighting. This apparent conflict should not be a problem in an authentic school. The martial applications are inherent in a legitimate form and need not be emphasized. However, and this cannot be stated too strongly, if a form is being taught that does not include these martial applications, then none of the aforementioned benefits will accrue to the practioner. It is extremely important to be aware of this because questionalbe forms are sprouting up all over the place and practicing them will yield nothing of lasting value. Let me say more about this.
We live in a period of time when Taiji is becoming increasingly popular. It is a good thing that an awareness of Taiji should become more widespread. But, as with all popular movements, a great deal that is unworthy cashes in as well. China is churning out Taiji Masters the way India churns out gurus. It is wise to ask for your teacher's lineage and to be aware of where (or even if) that fits into the True Taiji lineage. I will come back to this shortly, but first it is necessary to familiarize you with the time-honored styles of Taiji. There are three that stand out: Wudang, Chen, and Yang. Yang style Taiji is the most widely practiced today and also the most corrupted. Chen style is older than Yang style and is more difficult to learn, but also more dynamic. The lineage of the Wudang styles has been lost, but it allegedly began with Zhang San Feng who was born in 1247. Besides these styles there are three legitimate offshoots: the Wu, Sun, and Fu. If you venture into styles other than these six, (especially so-called secret styles), be cautious! There is, of course nothing preventing you from learning several sets in all three styles. It is wise to have a teacher who has done this. Now, back to a discussion of the true Taiji lineage.
It is more likely you will come upon a teacher who is teaching Yang style Taiji. Even though Yang is one of the three authentic styles, it is still important that your teacher's lineage be as direct to Yang Luchan as possible. Yang Luchan (1799-1872) was the founder of Yang style Taiji. Luchan was the first "outsider" to be allowed to learn the Chen style. He became the greatest practitioner of this style in China, but when he tried to teach it to enthusiasts who hadn't grown up with it, he met with unsatisfactory results. Therefore, he adapted it into a form that a serious student could master in time. This became known as the Yang style. He passed this style down to his son, Yang Jien-Hou (1839-1917), who passed it to Luchan's grandson, Yang Cheng-Fu (1883-1936), who brought the Yang style to its fruition. Yang Cheng-Fu's greatest student was Fu Zhong-Wen (1903-1994), who taught the form exactly the way Yang Cheng-Fu did.
The final thing you want to have in your Taiji curriculum is at least one set of Qigong. The Qigong/Taiji combination generates an extraordinary amount of energy. You feel this energy both inside and around you. It is not an anxious, nervous, nerotic energy. It is instead a poweful, clean, clear, relaxed energy that seems to be inexhaustible. Even though you walk through a world of anger, fear, and suffering, you have come upon a solid core that doesn't get thrown off. You remain calm without denying the existence of frustration. You remain alert and so spot danger well before it arrives. You remain balanced, no matter what. In fact, through a greater awareness of how your body moves, you learn where there is disequilibrium and make the necessary adjustments to come back into balance. At first, this only occurs on a physical level, but eventually you utilize this ability in every facet of your life.
Further, by training your body to move at a slower, smoother, more certain rhythm, you reduce the risk of accidents such as falls while also developing the ability to avoid (or at least minimize) an injury should a fall occur. Finally, the regular practice of Taiji improves your posture. This helps to ease or elminiate back problems. It also causes people who glimpse your relaxed, alert image to have a favorable impression of you.
Taiji is, of course, not the only meditative, mind-calming, consciousness-raising discipline in existence. The value of various sitting meditations, for example, as well as Hatha Yoga, is beyond dispute. Yet, also beyond dispute is the fact that we do not sit through life, nor do we stand on our head through life, we "move" through life and only Taiji teaches us how to do that gracefully, alertly, and with enhanced awareness.
California Martial Arts Institute's Master, Sifu Tim McFarland, has been a practitioner of Taiji for over thirty years. He began his Yang style instruction with Au Chen, who taught in the tradition of William C.C. Chen. He also studied under Grandmaster Wang Jurong, daughter and inheritor of the famous Wang Ziping. He received his final corrections directly from Fu Zhong Wen himself. HIs Chen style lineage is through Jiang Zhou Chun, head professor of the Jinan Wushu University. And his Wudang instructors have included Huang Min-feng and Zhang Wei-xiu, a top researcher of the National Chinese Chigung Society.
California Martial Arts Institute's Head Instructor for Taijiquan, Aldyn Jones, began studying Taiji in April 1973 with Master Fong Ha. For ten years he studied with Bob Cook, as well as Sifu Cook's primary teacher, T.Y. Pang who was a disciple of Dong Yingjie, (one of Yang Chen-fu's sons.) Aldyn's graduate studies in the Yang style have been directed by Sifu McFarland, as have his studies in Wudang and Chen styles.