I often have students ask me how they can judge whether or not a particular teacher is of a high standard. The best answer is that an accomplished teacher will be supple and strong.
Taijiquan (often called Taiji) is an Internal art partially based on Qi Gong and shares the attributes of Release, Root, Balance and Rotation. When you combine these you soon realize they can only be cultivated in a supple yet strong body. People that tend to embrace rigidity, locked joints, shallow breathing and lost balance have not adequately trained and cannot be said to display Taiji attributes in their movements.
A released body is one in which all joints in the body not only bend and align but stay so, and are capable of a full range of motion. Locking ones joints, which is a default habit of many Westerners, prevents Qi flow and defeats the quest for Root and Balance.
The roots of Taiji go back several thousands of years but were only realized as a recognizable art in the 1600s when Chen Wangting combined an existing martial art with Qi Gong, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Taoist breathing techniques, meridian theory and meditation. His goal was to create the ultimate martial art and his thinking was that rather than mimic powerful animals or other creatures of the natural world, as others were doing with the development of such Gong Fu styles as Preying Mantis, Tiger, White Crane, Dragon and so on, that he would attempt to combine his existing martial art with the most all encompassing universal Principles, The Tao or Taiji.
Taiji is an ancient Chinese philosophy about the natural world and is one of the central elements of traditional Chinese culture. The word Taiji itself refers to the “great primal beginning” of all that exists, and is often translated as the ‘Supreme Ultimate’.
The name Taijiquan combines Taiji with the Chinese word Quan which translates as fist or martial method.
That Chen Wangting was successful is evidenced by the fact that so many Taijiquan practitioners became famous not only for their martial skills but also for their very robust health.
My first encounter with its healing abilities came about when working with Master T. T. Liang and his students over a period of roughly 14 years. Master Liang had been diagnosed as close to death in his forties, and had been given only a few months to live. By adopting the methods of Taijiquan and in other ways changing his life he managed to live to 101.
Taijiquan was a jewel of Chinese culture and one that helped maintain the health of the entire nation. Under Mao Tse-tung it and many other ancient arts were halted causing a great loss of knowledge. Along with that many Westerners have created their own versions of Taijiquan that display none of the attributes discussed here. Embracing Taiji as a way of life not only leads to a long and healthful life but can help to bring this beautiful art back to its full glory.