My first exposure to taiji was via the wushu taiji variant. This is the more commonly seen 24 form, 48 form, 42 International Competition Routine, etc etc. A lot of traditionalist will dismiss the wushu taiji for their focus on aesthetics, however their training methods are nothing to scoff at.
- Extended Mabu (horse stance) Training
- Zhan Zhuang (standing meditation)
Are these the things we often equate with contemporary wushu taiji? In general, not likely. However, having quite a bit of exposure to this style/variant, I’d like to share my own experiences.
My first exposure to zhan zhuang was via a wushu taiji instructor. His instructor was a visiting professor from China. He expected his taiji class to do about 40 mins or so of zhan zhuang PRIOR to the beginning of class! Note, this is coming from a instructor that mainly taught the 24-form, 48-form, 42 competition set and 32 sword form. If this is not hardcore zhan zhuang training, I’m not sure what is!
Fast forward a couple of years, I moved to another state and found taiji instruction offered by a medalist in wushu taiji. She had gotten medals from both China and Korea, IIRC. I remember the first class I had with her, the warm up consisted of some light jogging, cycles of stance training (bow, mabu, crossed leg, cat stance, single leg) and zhan zhuang. After the warm-up we did a bit of the 24-form and then she had us run taiji kick drills up and down the whole length of the room! When I say taiji kick drills, I mean doing the kick in such a way that it was VERY SLOW and the toes were near nose height. In between each kick, we did low bow stance transitions. It was quite gruesome and not very fun, but quite a work out. At the end of class, she had us do some jumping jacks, push ups and situps! I’m not joking as this is not something I would equate with taiji training.
After a couple or so months in this class, I was invited to attend a free Saturday training session in a nearby park. I thought, sure, it would be fun to do some taiji around trees and such. I arrived at the park around 8am and was surprised to also see the wushu and taiji folks out there. The head wushu instructor came up to us and said, “Are you ready?” They all nodded, so I nodded along with them. He then just took off jogging. I thought, cool, a light jog in the morning air, but then I noticed he was taking us into the woods. Oh, man.. this is NOT going to be a light jog…
My thoughts of a light jog turned out to be like a 4 mile trek through the woods. THIS WAS NOT EASY and I felt that I would collapse at times! The jog consisted of winding paths and steep hills. It took probably close to 20 mins of jogging before we reached a little shelter in the middle of the woods. The instructor knew I was winded and walked over to me with a little grin and said, “So, you having fun?” I nodded yes and then told him this is not what I expected for a ‘taiji workout’. He then told me how he placed utmost importance on the health of the body and that our bodies must be healthy for us to truly reap the rewards of martial arts. He then yelled to the group, “Let’s Go” and we headed back the way we came…
After reaching the open area of the park, we split into our groups. Taiji folks headed to an open field, while the wushu folks headed to an area near the woods. We then spent the next couple of hours drilling forms, holding stances, drilling postures. Drills, Drills, Drills. It was like training under strict military order with little to no downtime.
The Saturday training session finished around noon. We all gathered together for some plum tea the instructors brought along. We chatted it up for a bit before heading our separate ways. Needless to say, I woke up the next day in a world of hurt from all muscles I had since forgotten.
[edited 2/16/07] In my post, I failed to mention that after about 3 months of training, I decided to leave the wushu-taiji school. One of the main reasons I decided to leave is because the training felt more like a physical education class than a martial art taijiquan class. In addition, when I further inquired as to why go so low in stances, the answer I often got was “because it looks good”. Furthermore, when I inquired about the application to “White snake flicks its tongue” (similar to a reverse repulse monkey), I was told:
“There are really no martial applications in taiji. Can you really expect to use ‘part wild horse’s mane’ in a self defense application? The martial aspects are just abstract”
Needless to say, I felt as if a knife had stabbed me in the heart. It felt as if all the principles and theories that taiji was developed upon was tossed out the door in favor of performance. I told the instructor that I believed taiji postures could be applied martially with adequate training in sensitivity and the development of internal energy. The instructor walked away.
The following week, before the beginning of class, I approached the instructor, did the kungfu ‘hand-fist’ bow, and said that I would not be continuing my taiji training. When the instructor inquired as to the reason, I simply said, “This is just not the right school for me”. I paid my respects and thanked the instructor for the training I had received.