T'ai Chi is and has always been a serious martial art. Long before any anyone started thinking about it in terms of health, it evolved as a deadly martial art. Just prior to the golden age of martial arts revival during the Chinese Republic Era (1912-1949), T'ai Chi emerged from ancient and still controversial roots and developed into the various branches we see today.
It was largely through the work of Sun Lu-t'ang and others during the early 20C that we came to think of T'ai Chi as a form of exercise to strengthen the body, retard illness and promote longevity. Although the use of the term 'internal' martial arts had appeared in the literature some three hundreds before, Sun Lu-t'ang is credited with the modern use of the terms 'internal' and 'external' martial arts. He grouped T'ai Chi, Xing Yi Quan and Bagau Zhang as being from the 'internal' school. However the notion of 'softness overcoming hardness' - a key characteristic of the internal school - is an ancient concept that likely predates modern usage. It is worth noting though that many of the characteristics of the internal school are shared by the external school.
T'ai Chi has many important concepts but perhaps the most important is the idea that one should not use brute force to repel an attacker. The Chinese proverb "four ounces moves a thousand pounds (Si liang bo qian jin)" is mentioned many times in the T'ai Chi classics as well as in many contemporary works on the art. This idea, so clearly stated, informs one's action (or inaction) in every posture, move or stance when practicing T'a Chi.
T'ai Chi is often casually referred to as a floating meditation or moving yoga. While T'ai Chi does have aspects of these other practices, it is not an esoteric alternate form of yoga or meditation. While there are often references to seemingly abstract or abstruse terms like "moving Qi down to the Dan Tien", these terms merely refer to concepts that do not translate well into English or into the modern view of the body. These terms make sense when suitably interpreted so we should not be put off early on in our study.
There are a number of definitions of the body standards in T'ai Chi. Hao Yueru wrote about Wu Yuxiang's Thirteen Fundamental Body Standards in Wu Yuxiang Style Taiji Boxing, 1961 (translation by Paul Brennan, June, 2013). Sun Lu-t'ang (1860-1933), was a student of Hao Weizhen (1842-1920), a disciple of Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880). Wu Yuxiang's standards are as follows:
1. Contain your chest - the chest is the area above the solar plexus. Your chest should not stick out, but should instead relax downward, your shoulders slightly closing forward. This is what is meant by containing your chest. If you can contain your chest, you will be able to use your mind to move energy.
2. Pluck up your back - the area of your spine between your shoulders seems to have an intention of rousing. Your shoulders should be enlivened and there must not be a lowering of your head. This is what is meant by plucking up your back.
3. Wrap your crotch - your knees put forth an effort with an intention of going inward. With both legs unified as if they are a single leg, you can distinguish which one is empty and which one is full. This is what is meant by wrapping your crotch.
4. Shield your belly - both your flanks slightly contract. They have an energy of grabbing downward and closing together forward. Inside there is a feeling of being relaxed and full. This is what is meant by shielding your belly.
5. Lift your headtop - your head and neck are upright, neither drooping nor hoisting. Energy passes through to your headtop, carrying your whole body. This is what is meant by lifting your headtop.
6. Suspend your crotch - your thighs apply strength and your buttocks are sent forward, so that your lower abdomen has a dynamic of tilting upward. This is what is meant by suspending your crotch.
7. Loosen your shoulders - use intention to get your shoulders to loosen, sinking energy downward. Within the intention add a thought of tranquility. This is what is meant by loosening your shoulders.
8. Sink your elbows - use intention to move energy, moving it to your elbows. Your wrists will then be able to be nimble. The tips of your elbows always have an intention of hanging down. This is what is meant by sinking your elbows.
9. Always be ready - when there is an intention to move but not yet movement, this is the energy of being ready to move. This is what is meant by always being ready.
10. Get it over with in a flash - your body, hands, waist, and legs move together in a continuous flow, issuing power outward like the loosening of an arrow, fast as a thunderclap, to an unguarded area. This is what it means to get it over with in a flash.
11. Centre your tailbone - there is strength in your thighs. Your buttocks gather forward. The base of your spine goes forward to prop up and lift your “elixir field” (i.e. your lower abdomen or dan tian). This is what is meant by your tailbone being centred.
12. Sink energy to your elixir field - if you can get your tailbone centred, contain your chest, shield your belly, loosen your shoulders, and suspend your crotch, then you will be able to use intention to send energy to your abdomen and keep it from floating up. This is what is meant by energy sinking to your elixir field.
13. Distinguish between empty and full - which leg is empty and which is full must be distinguished. “Empty does not mean you are in that area completely weak.” When touching down, the key point is that there should be an energy of being ready to move. With a readiness to move, there is an intention of the empty foot and your chest drawing toward each other, and it is thereby easy to sink to one side. “Full does not mean you are in that area completely stuck.” Spirit concentrates in the full thigh to prop up your whole body. There should be an intention of carrying upward. If empty and full are not distinguished, you will easily end up using force against force.
Loose fitting clothing is best as tight clothing can be too restrictive. Choose loose long pants instead of tights, and prefer loose T-shirts to close fitting tops.
Flat soled Chinese shoes such as 'happy' or 'kung fu' shoes are best. Street shoes generally cannot be worn in our studios. Bare feet are also acceptable but best results with respect to balance and stepping are achieved with shoes. Modern trainers are also ok but some people may find these too bulky.
Classes begin with a short warm up designed to loosen the main joints of the body. This is followed by our standing meditation practice known as San Ti Shi. We then review the form by practicing the pattern up to where we left off previously. After this we continue to introduce one or two new postures. During the class, you are encouraged to ask questions if you need clarification on a postire or concept. To conclude, we practice kan zhuang Zhuang standing meditation.
Just as Tai Kwon Do is different to Kung Fu or Karate, there are also differences among styles in T'ai Chi. While other styles of T'ai Chi are different from Sun Style, the principles and philosophies are the same. Your experience in another style will still be useful as you train in this style.
Of the five main styles of T'ai Chi, Sun style is the most recent and arguably one of the most sophisticated. Sun style is characterised by its upright posture, street-wise martial arts moves and its 'follow-up' step. Sun Lu-t'ang, already a master of Xing Yi Quan and Bagua Zhang, modified Wu (Hao, Wu3) Style T'ai Chi and created Sun Style T'ai Chi Quan (孙氏太极拳), a novel syncretic form drawn from aspects of all three martial arts.
Sun Style T'ai Chi is different from the other four main styles (Yang, Chen, Wu2 and Wu3) primarily because of the integration of Xing Yi and Bagau into the form. Sun described his T'ai Chi as using Bagua Zhang's stepping method, Xing Yi Quan's leg and waist methods and T'ai Chi's body softness. Also very prominent in the style is the presence of Qi Gong techniques such as abdominal breathing and the concept of opening and closing.
There are three main forms in this style. These are as follows:
1. T'ai Chi For Arthritis (41 Form) - This is a heaviliy modified form devised by Australian Dr Paul Lam, loosely based on the Competition 73 Form. It was designed for people with limitations to their range of movement. It is characterised by more upright postures, no kicking, shorter duration and changes to the stepping positions. It is the easiest form to learn and forms the basis of the other more complex forms.
2. Competition Routine (73 Form) - In 1988, the National Wushu Sports Taijiquan Committee in China established a sub-committee to develop a standard Sun style of Taijiquan hand form for use as the international Sun Taijiquan competition form. The sub-committee was led by the expert chairperson, Professor Men Hui-Feng (1936-) of Beijing University. The sub-committee did a careful study of the original 98 movement handform created by Grandmaster Sun Lu-t'ang, and published in his 1921 book titled "The Study of Taijiquan." The knowledgeable members of this committee also consulted with Sun Lu-t'ang's daughter, Sun Jian-Yun, and with many other experts on and teachers of the Sun Lu-t'ang Style of Taijiquan. The committee finished its research, created the new Sun 73 Taijiquan International Competition Form, obtained higher level review and approvals, and finally published in 1991 the Sun 73 Taijiquan Competition Form, in both print and media versions.Nearly 74% of the movement sequences in the Sun Taijiquan International Competition 73 Movements Form are identical to the original 1921 Sun Taijiquan 98 Movement Form. Kicking remains about the same, although the 73 Form has a double jump kick (Movement #35) not found in the original 98 Form. For the main purpose of a standardized international competition form, the new 1991 Sun Style Taijiquan 73 International Competition Form has been judged by a number of martial arts experts as a reasonable and fair representation of Sun Lu-t'ang's Taijiquan in terms of style, techniques used, sequence, stances, postures, pace, and spirit. (source Michael P. Garofalo, Green Way Research)
3. Traditional Routine (97 Form) - This is the original routine developed by Sun Lu-t'ang and published in 1921. This form is the most difficult to learn, and is the longest in this style. Like most long forms, there is more reptition of the postures. Unlike the 73 or 41 forms, this routine is not symetrical.