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An Introduction to Taijiquan

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.  

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Experiences in Qi Gong

Every Tuesday morning from 11:15 – 12:15 we teach an Experiences in Qi Gong class at Monterey Centre, Victoria B. C.

Three different Qi Gong sets are worked through each session. The three are:

Eight Section Brocade ( Ba Duan Jin )

This exercise is first mentioned in a text dated c 1150 A. D. It is primarily a health oriented set but can help Internal (Neijia) martial artists discover how to move in an Internal manner.

Hunyuan Qi Gong

I was taught this set by three different instructors and corrected over a period of two days in Beijing by Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang.

Hunyuan Qi Gong is a robust set that incorporates elements of sensation, imagination and physical movement in order to move Qi. This set also builds considerable amounts of strength and suppleness.

Yang Family 21 Qi Gong

This was the first Qi Gong set I ever learned. Taught to me by Master T. T. Liang and his student, Kuo Ao ( Stuart Olson ). This set is less robust than some but still surprisingly requires practitioners to open the joints of the body in a profound way, and to build the strength required to do so. This is a very enjoyable set and is the closest to a form (Lu) than most other Qi Gong sets.

If the session goes on for 7 weeks rather than 6 we either work through any questions and postures  a student requests or work on my current Go-To set, Re Shen Gong.

Re Shen Gong

This set has been called Qi Gong for martial artists and I find it to be Zen like in its simplicity and complexity. The choreography of the set is unique and basic but the method of performing the movements not only informs one of how all Internal movement should be done, but calls for great coordination, strength and suppleness. A truly great set.


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A Tribute to Master T. T. Liang and his teachings

Back in 2006 I wrote a book about my time with Master Liang. I include chapters on his writings as well as a guide to every posture of the Traditional Long Form along with text describing how to perform the postures.

While this will not take the place of a teacher it is a good reference for the form and contains chapters that describe Yang Taiji and why it is unique among exercise systems.

This link goes to the Canadian website.

And this link goes to the U.S. version.

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Benefits of Taiji practise

Tai Chi Benefits

This entry was originally written to reflect the benefits of Yang Style Taiji but it applies to both Yang and Chen.

Yang Style Taiji is the most popular version of Taiji in the world. If you have seen photos or videos of people practicing, it is most likely Yang that you have seen.

Although initially created as a means of self-defense Taiji is best known for its health giving properties leading it to be endorsed by such prominent bodies as The Arthritis Society, The Harvard Medical School, The Mayo Clinic and many others. As Taiji is considered a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine it should not come as a surprise that it is a very effective means of improving your overall health.

Two central tenets of TCM are: Do No Harm (no bad side effects) and the concept of Eternal Spring.

Eternal Spring is the idea that although we cannot stop aging we can make it as enjoyable as possible through this physical practice, and remain viable: physically and mentally, until the end comes.

Some of the benefits of practising Yang Style Taiji include:

  • Increased strength. As we age we lose muscle and therefore the ability to do simple tasks such as carrying groceries or going for a hike. Taiji’s gentle method keeps us strong through low impact exercise.

  • Suppleness. In Traditional Chinese Medicine suppleness is associated with youth and vitality, stiffness is associated with weakness and death. Due to our unique method of exercising profound suppleness is promoted.

  • Vitality. Taiji is known as an immune system booster and is known to increase energy levels so that we can enjoy our days that much more.

  • Balance. Many seniors are concerned about their balance and the possibility of falls. Taiji improves balance quickly and helps you to remain rooted and balanced in any activity you are engaged in.

  • Focus and awareness. As Taiji practise contains elements of Meditation it also helps to improve the ability to focus and to be more aware of ourselves and our environment.

  • Arthritis and other degenerative diseases. The Arthritis Society promotes the practise of Taiji as it is known that it is capable of slowing down and sometimes curing many chronic diseases such as heart problems, arthritis and digestion issues.

Yang Style Taiji is truly a panacea and its daily practise can act to lengthen your life and make it much more enjoyable. Come join us in this unique health giving art.

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Three Foundation Systems

To bring your health to its highest level and to achieve mastery of The Internal Arts there are three main systems we use; Meditation, Qi Gong and Taijiquan.

Qi Gong contains elements of Meditation and Taijiquan contains elements of both. If you only practise Taijiquan you may still become quite proficient but without a very good teacher guiding you your progress will either stall or be slower than necessary.

Meditation combines breath control and mental focus. It is the best exercise to isolate the Release of body tension and does so in a setting where we do not have to be concerned with complex physical movement.

Qi Gong builds on Meditation and combines physical movement with breath control and mental focus. It also introduces the concepts of Rooting, whole body movement and Internal stretching.

Taijiquan contains all of the above concepts and builds on them by introducing complex physical postures. To maintain breath control, mental focus, rooting, whole body movement and internal stretching while performing complex physical postures.

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Taiji and Qi Gong

The relationship between these two arts has been going on since the creation of Taijiquan by Chen Wanting who lived from 1580- 1660. It is believed that his breakthrough was to combine the existing martial art of Chen village with meridian theory, Qi Gong, Chinese Traditional Medicine and Taoist principles.

He was successful in creating a martial art who’s movements and theories owe a lot to the principles of Qi movement in the body as developed through the practise of Qi Gong.