Understanding Taiji only with Taiji?

I recent comment on chessman’s entry got me thinking, it was his post on an IMA view of BJJ, and in it he wrote:

Wuji and sword,
That’s why I like you guys. You have varied backgrounds like me that show you some fo the IMA weaknesses I love to discuss. That’s probably why you put up with me too. )

This reminded me of something I felt and realized early on. My first wushu teacher commented that he thought it was great that I had a wushu background coming to taiji b/c it gave me the first-hand-experience of sparring that most taiji folks don’t encounter. If the goal of taiji is to remain centered and relaxed in any situation, how can this be fully achieved without putting oneself in varied situations.

In relating back to chessman’s thoughts on Brazilian Jujitus (BJJ), I think most people will become quite shocked and surprised how much energy it takes to grapple on the ground for just 5 mins. Not only that, but how much patience and planning it takes to survive. To me, BJJ is really a lot like a game of chess in that you have to try and plan 3-4 steps ahead in order to get you in that effective position.

Is taiji the same? I believe most advocates of taiji feel the goal is to react spontaneously thru conditioned training, but really, where/when is this conditioned training? In this regard, I think taiji could be slightly different in that you don’t necessarily have to train the specific applications/counters. For instance, I was showing a former coworker once my form and he asked about applications and such, so I showed him that taiji helps to develop sensitivity and showed him the one-handed push hands sequence. While we were doing this, he decided to test me, without my knowledge, and tried to perform a qinna he learned from aikido on me, but luckily due to my sensitivity, I was able to neutralize it using some of the silk reeling found in chen taiji. Did I specifically train for this type of attack, no.

While I did not train for this type of attack in any of my previous external arts, I feel that my exposure to sparring in the other arts prepared my mind to not lose centering. I did not get excited or scared, I was calm enough to just react accordingly. I guess what I’m thinking about is, would’ve I behaved the same way without my previous experience in “high stress” sparring situations? Would’ve doing the taiji form alone produced similar results?

I feel we really need to vary things around. In my own training, I do this by varying the way I face when I do the form. Sometimes closing my eyes, sometimes going faster, slower, higher, lower during the set. One of the things that has really helped is doing the form on non-flat surfaces like a backyard with rocks, grass, bumps, etc. This really exposes your body to potential circumstance and scenarios that may not be idea. Like my first wushu teacher noted,

True martial artists can do their whole form in the space of a cow sleeping.

What was his point? Learn how to react and behave in non-ideal conditions. Work the corners, train the footwork, don’t get locked in patterns, learn how to react when you don’t know what to do.

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About wujimon

taiji, meditation and health
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6 Responses to Understanding Taiji only with Taiji?

  1. chessman71 says:

    I love that quote from your teacher. “In the space of a cow sleeping” is imagery that’s pretty hard to forget! I also agree about BJJ being like a chess match. It is surprisingly strategic, maybe too much so some times for some people.

    As for doing more external styles first, I know it’s controversial but I just think it’s the way to go. If people don’t understand and can’t use more external type movements then I just don’t think they can fully appreciate and use IMA. Simply because they won’t understand what MA are all about or how to use them. If someone is raised in a “family” style and their last name is actually Chen or Yang and the whole family does taiji, then maybe the situation would be different. But that doesn’t apply to many of us. 🙂

  2. robi sen says:

    In most internal arts, at least authentic ones that have not been changed into health practices, there are still free style exercises (i.e. sparring). Tui Shou and free style sparring in Chen style is as aggressive and rough as any other form of wrestling. Indeed one might say it can be more aggressive since kicking, sweeping, join locks, punches, slaps, etc are all allowed. I think the real problem here is that Internal martial arts systems have been so watered down that few people ever actually learn them as martial systems and we have been so inculcated with the ideas that Tai Chi etc are not boxing systems that people think they have to study something else to make their system work. If that’s the case the problem is with your system or the teaching and most likely because the system has been corrupted.

  3. wujimon says:

    @Chessman: Glad you like the cow quote. I often keep it in my mind when training.

    @Robi: I think you bring up a very interesting point. One of the things I like about chen is that it’s been preserved for quite some time in the village before getting out. Due to this, there aren’t too many degrees from the source.

  4. Pingback: wujimon » Hotel Taiji

  5. RiverPoet says:

    I think that a lot of what you say is true, but I’ll throw in my impression that a lot of people come to taiji later in life only as a form of relaxation. Thus, the 55+ crowd interested in lowering hypertension just don’t get into push-hands. When I was in my late 20s hanging out with taiji people at about the same age, we did a very aggressive push-hands that allowed for head shots, leg sweeps, qinna, etc. We kept to taiji principles, but were looking for–as you rightly point out–challenging situations so we could test our equilibrium. In the midst of this, I met a hapkido guy who dismissed taiji as, well, I can’t quite remember. We talked about joint locks. He claimed a strength and speed that was unbeatable. That is, he could lock anyone up, pretty much instantly. I asked him to demonstrate. Like you, because I remained relaxed and listening, he couldn’t lock me. Not because of any inherent “mad skillz” on my part, but because I’d practiced with more, um, vigor than some.

    This is a long comment. Sorry. I’m always excited by the conversations on your blog. Keep up the good work.

  6. wujimon says:

    Hi Riverpoet.

    Thanks for the comments. This topic is something I’ve been exploring and teetering on for quite some time. The hardest part for me is to try and balance out the martial, health, mental aspects of taiji.

    Ultimately, the last time I got into a physical fight was over 10 yrs ago and I don’t really forsee physical encounters anytime soon, so that leads me to question the purpose of training as I feel I need more focus on the health, meditative aspects of the art. Like most things I write about, it tends to teeter back and forth between these two..

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