Taijiquan, regardless of its philosophical underpinnings, or its historicity, is the product not of a mind ensnared in a world of vague mystery and rampant imaginations, but is rather a product of the objective observation of the human body whilst experiencing the duress of combat. Taijiquan is the advanced and progressive consequence of a human rational mind, which has transcended the limitations usually associated with the brutality of human conflict. Of course, Taijiquan is not a physical art imposed upon the body by a mind that is out of control, or operating through the premise of ordinary awareness. On the contrary, minds that created the physical framework of the Taijiquan form were themselves ‘mature’ and ‘cognitively developed’ – this is how the principle of Taijiquan emerged through environmental (and psychological) conditioning. Those who practiced regular military arts, and who experienced and survived engagements in battles that remained primarily ‘hand-to-hand’ – despite the presence of fired projectiles on the ancient and modern Chinese battlefield – were able, through the agency of experience, to eventually ‘see through’ the psychological and physical confusion, hesitation, and fear, and were consequently able to develop and modify the existing military martial arts into a physical expression of an advanced state of understanding, which operated through physical movement. These circumstances created the material reality of the Taijiquan technique – a clearly recognisable set of movements that share a common philosophical basis.
Ordinary logic – which satisfies itself primarily with instinctive responses to perceived and real external threats – was transcended by those individuals who experienced combat on a regular basis throughout their lives and lived to benefit from the experience. This progression of human understanding is thoroughly inaccordance with the premise of human psychological and physical evolution, and as a principle, has been evident within Chinese science for millennia. The military martial arts, far from being inferior in structure or theory, have performed a very important function throughout Chinese history and culture, and have been the preferred vehicle for conveying discipline, moral fortitude, virtue, honour, and the notion of ‘selflessness’ to the younger generations, as they have been prepared for service in the military as a soldier, or as a scholar-official within the government. The military martial arts are the historical foundation of Chinese martial culture. These martial arts developed out of primitive combat and hunting skills, and were transformed into effective self-defence techniques practiced and used by vast and disciplined military formations that numbered tens of thousands, or more.
The ability of the mind to direct the body in combat led to the extensive diversification of armed and unnamed martial related skills, styles, and lineages. Martial practice in peacetime became a cultural habit within Chinese culture, which acted not only as a vehicle for self-development (through the replication in training of the discipline required to fight on the battlefield), but acted as an insurance policy to enhance the chances of survival of the individual, should war ever breakout in reality. The acquisition and development of proficient martial skill in peacetime, equated with the ability to adequately manifest martial ability in wartime. The notion of nobility contained within martial practice, probably dates back to the time of Confucius, who pointed-out (through his philosophical teachings), that the concentration required for the practice of martial arts (and the seriousness of engaging in combat), is the same as that required by a scholar who has the task of studying the classical books of China in his attempt to pass the state examinations, with the intention of assuming public office. As an official and a soldier serve both the people and the government – their roles, although distinctive, share certain characteristics. Indeed, for Confucius a scholar was a warrior, and a warrior was a scholar, and this led to him using the Chinese ideogram ‘士’ (shi4), which means warrior, and knight, (as well as gentleman), to refer to a cultivated scholar. Progressive rationality, in whatever form it has taken throughout Chinese historicity, has been an important aspect of Chinese culture for thousands of years.
As a development of higher reason, Taijiquan is a distinct activity with a unique philosophy, which is indicative of an advanced rationality. This use of the human mind has developed a set of combat effective physical exercises that are designed to complement the anatomy and physiology of the human body. No movement exists within Taijiquan that has not evolved from the requirement of optimising the inner and outer physical structures of the body. Not only does this mean that there is no resistance to the natural structure or functioning of the body – which builds both health and strength – but through the requirement of aligning the bones and joints, and becoming aware of how gravity operates on (and through) the human body, the awareness of a great systemic power is realised that can be emitted through any part of the body without recourse to the excessive tensing of localised muscle groups. Muscles assist the alignment of the bones and joints, and operate in natural ripples up and down the body, unhindered by pockets of habitual tension usually found around the joints. All these attributes stem from the development of deep and full abdominal breathing that utilises the entire lung capacity, and which is designed to take in the maximum amount of oxygen with each breath, whilst cleansing the maximum amount of carbon dioxide (and excessive water vapour) from the body, through exhalation of the outer breath. The slow performance of the various techniques extends and expands the movements, opening the joints and strengthening the bones. Slow movement builds awareness of every part of the technique, thus building co-ordination through an advanced use of the neural network. The neural network is comprised of extensive nerve-fibre pathways that link the brain to every part of the inner and outer body. This means that by practicing slowly, and strengthening the neural network through experience, the foundations are laid for lightning fast reflexes should the situation require such a response. Slow practice builds awareness over a greater period of time through movements, which in regular martial arts, is executed so fast that awareness does not penetrate its inner structure. The fastness associated with regular martial arts diminishes with levels of fitness and age, but the fastness associated with Taijiquan is the product of the enhancing of mind-body co-ordination through the permanent development of the neural network. All Taijiquan movements are rounded – as are the bones and joints that form them. Nothing is wasted, health is enhanced, and martial ability is assured.