The Design of Taijiquan Movements

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Taijiquan is often misunderstood outside of China, and sometimes even within China. Why are Taijiquan movements designed the way they are? Taijiquan is a martial arts style premised upon the ancient ideas that define Tradition Chinese Medicine (TCM). Therefore, the movements of Taijiquan are both ‘martial’ and ‘medical’ in origination. The movements are simultaneously rounded and elongated to allow the energy channels that carry blood, nutrients and oxygen (qi) to be loosened, strengthened and freed from unnecessary psychological and physical tension. When these energy channels are fully ‘opened’, then qi energy flows unhindered, and the inner organs are literally soaked in health-giving nutrients. The movement can be performed slowly (although not always) as a means to build awareness and concentration that penetrates the parts of the body being moved whilst remaining aware of the central requirement to remain ‘rooted’ to the ground through the legs and feet (even if the legs and feet are moving). Kicking stimulates the energy channels of the legs, as do stances such as ‘Monkey Pushes Away’, and ‘Snake Creeps Down’, etc. For the energy channels throughout the limbs and torso to be fully opened, the major and minor joints must also be open and rounded. All this requires a system-wide relaxation of muscular tension. Once the energy channels are opened, qi energy flow is enhanced and assisted by the maintenance of a rounded posture (that moves forward and back – up and down). Bodyweight is dropped into the ground through the centre of the bones (creating the unbreakable ‘root’), whilst the resultant rebounding force creates a reservoir of effortless power that can be channelled anywhere throughout the skeleton and emitted through any part of the body as required. Breathing is deep and full, taking oxygen in from the outside and circulating it through the energy channels. The term ‘Taiji’ refers to the ‘Grand Ridge-pole’, which despite its cosmological implication, actually refers to the spine in the human body. Essential nature (jing) – along with qi – is guided up the spine from the genital area, up and around the top of the head to the upper jaw (traversing the Governing Vessel), and then travels down the from lower jaw and the front of the body (the Conception Vessel) back to the genitalia – where the two energy channels meet between the genitalia and the anus. All other energy channels in the body feed off of these two central meridians – and by circulating and nourishing sexual energy (jing) and vital force (qi), these two substances integrate and merge together (thus transforming one another), whilst both feeding into ‘shen’ or ‘spirit’, which means the building of a strong mind that perceives its own empty nature, whilst realising this emptiness contains all things (including jing and qi). Taijiquan looks peculiar to the Western mind because it is an encapsulation of an entirely different way of viewing the world. Its harnessing of dropped bodyweight and rebounding force is not only ingenious, but also very difficult to master. This type of power emits the bodyweight anywhere and at anytime through an advanced understanding of the body-mind nexus. It is a higher form of physics that transcends the usual localised muscular tension and superficial joint leverage utilised by many other fighting systems. As such, combat efficiency within Taijiquan can take a considerable time to master, and only then if one has access to a master that has been thoroughly trained in its use. Due to the difficulty of this kind of training, and the dedication required to master it, many people simply practice Taijiquan for health and have no real understanding of its combat ability.

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