What is Tai Chi?
Different people define it differently just as different people will use it differently. There’s no single consensus as to what Tai Chi is.
Sometimes you get a vague definition of what Tai Chi. Or sometimes an incomplete idea is used to define Tai Chi like saying that a car is a wheel but then bicycles and skateboards also have wheels.
The more I research, the more I learn, the more I read, the more confusing the picture becomes. It might seem to become clearer but when you really practice it and especially try to use it then the reality does not do justice to the ideal of what Tai Chi is supposed to be.
The Tai Chi Classics provide the framework of what Tai Chi is, that is, if you believe that they are true. Some believe in parts of it, some deny it and some like me just wonder if we are missing something here. My teacher said that the Tai Chi Classics is a record of the experiences of those who have gone before.
Good except what is written still does not seem to make a lot of sense. Well, maybe some parts do but many parts don’t. Some sound nonsensical, some I can’t wrap my head around. You would think that since I am learning Tai Chi I should be able to understand what the various writers mean but I don’t, not for a long time anyway.
Below is one of those demos I do during lesson to explain and show what our approach to Tai Chi is :-
After many years of hunting for the elusive it that is the Tai Chi written about in the Tai Chi Classics I believe that the Yang style Tai Chi of Grandmaster Wei Shuren comes closest to it. I can actually make sense of what the Tai Chi Classics mean after practicing the style!
If some of the things in the Tai Chi Classics don’t make sense to you it can be because :-
a) Their model is different from your model
b) What they wrote can only be understood once you reach advanced level
Based on what I have observed I would say that if you can’t understand the Tai Chi Classics it is very likely that your model is not the same, maybe some parts are the same, but in some critical parts not the same. So the parts that is not the same is like a path that takes you in a different direction hence you won’t see the sight you should see if you take the path that is written about.
So if you want to understand the Tai Chi Classics find the path that leads you to understand it. A question is why should you want to understand it?
The reason is because if you understand the Tai Chi Classics it is a means to confirm that you have attained mastery of the principles that exist in those days. Remember that being traditional is not simply about your master learning from master Z who learned from Master Y……. all the way back to Master A, the founder. Being traditional means have the same understanding and mastery of what Tai Chi is from as far back as we can trace it. The writings serve to give an informal confirmation of this.
Why I put this video as an example is because if you examine it closely you would notice the lack of attempting to root or spiral or breath in-out. Yet, there is a tangible force that can be felt and issued to affect the person receiving it. So how can this be performed?
Some might feel that this is nothing but a trick that is not practical. I treat it as a means to illustrate the workings of the intent. When the intent is used with normal movement the intent can amplify the physical movement. An example is shown below of the use of Push Energy with a strike that can fit easily into a normal application that calls for a punch :-
The above should give an idea of what is not the Tai Chi that is written about in the Tai Chi Classics.
What is the Tai Chi that approximates the Tai Chi described in the Tai Chi Classics is harder to pinpoint, not without a lot of effort in sleuthing to find this elusive animal. Or sometimes luck just dump it in our lap.
What is missing in the Tai Chi Classics is the how to do it method. Perhaps this is deliberate because the objective of many martial arts text is to serve as a reminder rather than a how to practice text. There many subtleties and nuances in actual practice that is difficult to describe. This could be the reason why few Tai Chi texts go into any meaningful depth. Those that do, such as GM Wei’s books, tend to fly over the head of most readers. Despite practicing his style it still took me many more years to make sense of what he wrote about.
When the many that purports to be the mainstream fail to explain, then the obscure no matter how little known it is could well be a path that leads us to the destination we want to go. So sometimes we need to empty and scrub our mind of preconceived notions of what is and is not Tai Chi to allow ourselves to see when we finally glimpse it.