Relationship between art Taijiquan and combat Taijiquan

Updated: Aug 22, 2018

MA, Long

Taijiquan (Tai-Chi) originated from the battlefield fight in the cold weapon era, thus it undoubtedly has strong practicality on combat. It can defeat the enemy very suddenly, even including so-called killing people within five steps. Later, due to the need of popularization and teaching, Taijiquan changed to different degrees, so two branches were differentiated. One is practical Combat Taijiquan, which was preserved mostly in the way of family hereditary. The other is Art Taijiquan, with the more popular purpose for fitness, performance and sports.

There are some misunderstandings in terms of Taijiquan concepts, especially on whether someone can use Taijiquan to practically fight or not.  To explore this issue, we must first understand the process of the origin and development history of Taiji. Nowadays, the well-recognized and well documented origin of Taijiquan is from Chen Wangting, who, based on Qi Jiguang’s family martial art (Qi Jiguang was a famous general), combined with different styles of martial arts, and created Chen-style Taiji Five Long Fist Series as the embryonic form of Taijiquan.  After several hundred years of refinement, during the middle of Qing dynasty, Taijiquan was brought to the capital city by Yang Luchan, the student of Chen-style Master Chen Changxing and the master/founder of the Yang-style Taijiquan, and soon was loved by the royal family and the nobles.  Later, based on book of Wang Zongyue's "Taijiquan Theory ", with the enrichment of Taoism philosophy, today’s Taijiquan is known to be a comprehensive system, emphasizing harmony/unity of nature and human with Yin-Yang balance as the base foundation.  

The real large-scale promotion and development of Taijiquan began in the 1950s and 1960s. After the simplification of traditional Taijiquan by the Chinese National Sports Commission and Gu Liuxin (Chen Style Taijiquan), it became a simplified Taijiquan that is familiar to the public and easy to practice. In the 1990s, with the Asian Games as an opportunity, Zhong Shitong and Yang Wenguang et al. from Beijing Sports University standardized the simplified Taijiquan, making Taijiquan a competition for the Asian Games. It is because of these changes in Taijiquan that it is easier to learn and master, making it possible for the general public. It also made possible to spread Taijiquan around the world. It is said that there are up to 200 million practitioners of Taijiquan in the world.

With Chen Style Taijiquan, Sun Style Taijiquan, Wu Style Taijiquan, Yang Style Taijiquan as the representative of traditional Taijiquan, in the late 1970s, after the country proposed to explore traditional martial arts, traditional Taijiquan also produce great development. At the same time, many branches developed on the basis of these traditional Taijiquan.

Art Taijiquan has removed some of the fierce and aggressive nature, because of no need for actual combat. It became softer and more stretched, freely opening and closing, implicit, introverted, continuous, and combined with Taoism Yin-Yang theory in the application makes the practitioners' spirits gradually merge into one, and achieve dynamic and static integration. The realm of looseness and integration has the function of strengthening the body and guiding the health. The performing Taijiquan on the stage, accompanied by the elegant Chinese ancient music, is like a dream, making people feel relaxed and happy, full of ballet’s aesthetic and artistic nature. There is also a simplified Taiji practice mostly for seniors in the park in the early morning, soothing, gentle and peaceful. There is also a competitive Taijiquan as a sports event, which is generous and rigorous. These can all be classified as artistic Taijiquan. With the deepening of the understanding of Taijiquan, continuously improved techniques, and the practice of Peng(掤, warding off), Lu(捋, rolling back), Ji(挤, pressing), An(按 , pushing), Cai(采, pulling down), Lie(挒, splitting),Zhou(肘, elbowing),Khou(靠, body stroke), one can start to practice Taiji Pushing Hands (a method of confrontation practice unique to Taijiquan). Exercise offence and defense with each other, the fun of which can only be experienced by those who are in it. The practice form is to the point as well as elegant, and the transition between advance and retreat is like a flowing stream, which is very ornamental. This kind of expression full of tension and rich connotation has become a symbol of another Chinese culture.

The real traditional practical Taijiquan is still slowly developing at its own pace, usually within the family.  As we all know, a lot of China's traditional skills are family inherited, that is, it is passed on only to the family members, and sometimes only sons.   Thus many such skills are not really understood by the public.  Traditional Taijiquan is one of these heritages.  Although later it became less conservative in terms of apprenticeship and some began to recruit non-family disciples, there are still reservations in the process of teaching.  Yang Luchan, as a direct disciple of Chen Changxing of Chen-Style Taiji and after already having earned the title “Invincible Yang” in the capital city, was still able to be easily defeated by a girl from the Chen family. This is not a fabrication, but is not known to the public.  This shows that the difference between essential learning and peripheral learning is still very enormous. The difference lies between so-called “the front yard” and “the back yard (also called the inner court)”. The real essence is taught in the backyard, which is usually dominated by the family, or a few lucky non-family individuals. So nowadays the true traditional Taijiquan is the backyard Taijiquan, which is known to only very small group of people.

The practice of Taijiquan can be divided into three stages. The first stage is the practice of movements, and mastering movements through repeated exercises. In the second stage, under the premise of mastery of the movements, it is essential to understand the use of internal strength such as practice of Peng(掤, warding off),  Lu(捋, rolling back), Ji(挤, pressing) and An(按, pushing). This stage requires precise control of the body muscles. The third stage is the combination of the internal Gongfu method and the movements. At this stage, the yin and yang theory of Taijiquan can be truly interpreted, and finally the Yin-Yang Palms will be achieved. At this stage, in the application of the movements, it is necessary to achieve the use of sound to stimulate Qi, and use Qi to control the physical strength. The most important of these three stages is the third stage. In the past, there was a saying that, " You will receive nothing if you do not keep practicing Gong" this Gong is the internal Gongfu.

It is after these three stages that it can be called genuine traditional Taiji. The symbol of the third stage of Chen style Taijiquan is to practice the Yin-Yang Palms, and the internal skill of the Nine Qimen Internal Rotation Method. As the practice of Yin-Yang Palms was definitely a top secret in the past, it was very rare for people make a glimpse of Taijiquan.

Fortunately, one of the most outstanding modern combat masters Ma Laiwang, as the authentic descendant of Beijing Chen Style Taijiquan learned from masters Chen Zhaokui, Lei Mu-ni, Tian Xiuchen and Feng Zhiqiang, started to explore very early to preserve the essence of Chinese martial art. Through his compilation and promotion, more people have the opportunity to learn those internal secrets of the past, such as Yin-Yang Palms and Nine Qimen Internal Rotation Method. In this way the essence of Chinese martial arts will continue. Master Ma Laiwang and his efforts enable us to have a comprehensive understanding of Taijiquan, making it possible to form the concept of art Taijiquan and practical combat Taijiquan.

The traditional combat Taijiquan, which contains the internal Gongfu method, is too destructive in a contest, with the consequence of death or serious injury. Therefore, the combat Taijiquan is obviously not suitable for the modern single-elimination tournament. Such a bloody battle would not be allowed to appear in the ring. If one wants to make Taijiquan really enter into the ring, we should develop a third type of Taijiquan in addition to the art Taijiquan and combat Taijiquan. Some people have tried, but these efforts and development are still immature. The single-elimination tournament is based on certain rules. I hope that some people of insight can develop Taijiquan with both traditional combat skill and modern rules.

As fans and inheritors of Taijiquan, we need to understand the history of Taijiquan as well as the true meaning of Taijiquan. In the process of Taiji’s spreading out , we can eliminate the misunderstanding of Taijiquan and return the originality of Taijiquan. Through this way, more people can feel the charm of Taiji, and realize the harmonious unity of heaven, earth and people.

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