Action originates in inaction
stillness is the mother of movement
— Wang Xiang Zhai (Founder of Yiquan)
What does this mean for taiji practitioners? At first, I would think not much, however on the first day of my first taiji class, the instructor got us in this weird position in which we were standing with our feet shoulder width apart and looked as if we were holding beach balls. I know pretty much everyone in the class felt a bit funny b/c we wanted to learn taiji and do taiji, why did he have us standing like this?
After correcting us, he turned around and held the same posture in front of the class. We kind of just looked around and giggled at each other wondering how long he was going to have us hold this posture. After a little bit of time, I started to feel soreness in my legs and shoulders and wanted to move. I just couldn’t stand it anymore and *needed* to move. What felt like an eternity turned out to be 5 minutes. He then told us a story that with his teacher, all the students were expected to hold this posture (aka ‘holding the ball’, or zhan zhuang) for 20 minutes before the start of class.
After class, I spoke with him about this whole holding the ball thing and he briefly explained that it was used to develop internal energy and central equilibrium. I just looked at him all puzzled and he finally told me to just give it a try and see what happens. At the end of the next class, he handed me a book titled The Way of Energy.
A couple of years later, I moved to another state and started taiji at a new school. At the beginning of class, the teacher told all of us to form a circle. After doing so, he said “Posture #1” and everybody stood shoulder width apart and appeared to be holding beach balls at the dantien level. Posture #2 was beach ball at heart level, etc etc.. We held each posture for 5 minutes totalling 20 minutes of class time spent on just standing!
Fast forward a bit to another school I attended. The beginning of class consisted of standing shoulder width apart with our hands at our sides (wuji posture) and then switching to standing post (aka universal post, beach ball at heart, zhan zhuang).
So.. what’s the point of all this talk about zhan zhuang or standing meditation? The point is that I feel it’s a very valuable tool and training aid and by the examples above, other people also seem to think so. I guess I’ve just been fortuneate enough to have trained at schools that see value in cultivating and training in the neigong aspects of the art.
I’ve often heard a saying that if a teacher really wants to teach you something, he’ll teach you qigong and various neigong techniques, but if a teacher doesnt’ really want to teach you, then he’ll just give you a bunch of forms. This is one of the reasons why I see value in just doing a couple of forms instead of being a “forms collector”. In my early days, I wanted to do it all. I wanted to do the 24 form, then the 48 form, then the 42 form, etc etc, I just wanted more forms.
After being exposed to more traditional methods, I realized a common trait among them is the emphasis on the neigong (via zhan zhuang, qigong, or silk reeling) and the focus on few forms. The idea is to take movements and break them down into their core comonents and principles. At first, we just learn the external movement, then we try to understand the core components, then we try to realize the principles. I’ve often heard taiji is like an onion, over time, you just skin layers, going deeper and deeper into the techniques.