An Investigation into the Tao of T’ai-chi Ch’uan
This form developed out of a deep investigation of the Tao of T’ai-chi Ch’üan and as such, contains an amalgam of information from many different sources. Primarily from Master Fong Ha, one of his great students Gerry Marr and Master Ha’s teachers, Yang Sau Chung and Tung Ying Chieh. The study also included many of their sons, daughters and students, such as the profound Tung Hu Ling, the venerable Chen Man Cheng and his marvelous gentlemanly student T. T. Liang (Ma Yueh). All of these beings and many others not mentioned by name, participated in visual transmissions of the ancient teaching, many as well contributed in written words only, some only in calligraphy. It mattered not what form it took, because the tao of it seeks us, if we relax and listen to our body’s desired movements and flow.
Sometime in the mid 1600’s in China (Huang Tsung-hsi 1610-95)[LTTCxvi], there was a developmental discovery into the nature of martial movement, involving the concept of yielding, which reversed the principles of the Shaolin Temple Style. In this approach, the being as a whole, is integrated into the situation, via a refined energetic awareness and softness, that is as balanced and fluid as the air which surrounds it. This understanding eventually led to a teaching and a sequence of forms was generated for various reasons, such as practicing the most important principles many times, inside a sequence of other martially beneficial postures, that all easily transform from one to another or several others and back and on and on, in what was known as Long Boxing. The art of stringing together martial maneuvers or postures into a continuously transforming sequence that enabled one to flow effortlessly like a river rolling to the sea. Practicing T’ai-chi as a daily discipline turns it into an endless dance designed to imbue infinitesimal sensitivity in a creature naturally capable of such limitless inward growth.
A very masterful form was the likely result of those early ventures into what we today call T’ai-chi Ch’uan and it most surely generated many incredibly accomplished masters, who did most likely move like ghosts and appeared to have miraculous powers by throwing opponents great distances, over walls or into nets around an arena. Some apparently fantastic stories, no doubt slightly propped up by the bent of historians and nationalists to glorify events, but still interpretations based upon real experiences, and onlookers attempts to record what they saw.
The discovery was real, the teachings are real, living in the present is real and full of surprises and changes that go along with the ebb and flow of discoveries and interactions with information we encounter all day long, through all of our days. One of those great pieces of information is the reality of the true nature of T’ai-chi Ch’uan. Doing these coordinated, synchronous, and balanced movements changes our beings in ways that cause words to recede into almost useless metaphors when called to describe, compared to the real feelings that arises when you call your body into alert, focused action, and every part rises at once, ready, aware and confident with vitality, capability and impeccability!
Those teachings can drift and change over time and still hold on to the efficacy of the art form, that the principles of yielding imply, but the actual form would likely and did evidently, take on several variations, even inside each of the major styles that developed; Yang, Hao, Chen, Wudang, Sun and Wu. My specific quest was to look back through the forms of the great artists of today and find that naturally endowed, thirteen postures boxing path in the 29 postures, that interweave during the actualization of the 108 long form that I had been taught. It had an origin, and a plan and layout at that time, consisting of the twenty-nine postures that Yang had learned from Ch’en Ch’ang-hsing (1771-1853)[LTCCxv], and I wanted to do that form, that sequence, in the full flower of the Tao of it, as it was at its inception. With deepest respect to all of my teachers and the enchanted path they unknowingly put me on, I dared to ask questions about each move. I asked lots of questions about the structure and application of each posture and each path of transformation to the next posture. When I found something that was not quite clear enough for my satisfaction or one that violated a principle, a rule, or a martial intent, I would search through the T’ai-chi Classics or watch videos of Fong Ha, or Tung Ying Chieh or Yang Sau Chung and others, to see if, what they were doing, answered my inquiry. If that did not help and even if it did, I would look through the photographs of the great Yang Cheng Fu in his book on T’ai-chi to see if they would hold the answer I was searching for. If I found an image or movie or text that indicated a path to clarity on the issue, I adopted it into the set, but only if it also felt mechanistically appropriate to my body. Sometimes, possibly often, it took trying it out long enough to understand the mechanism of the new move, to get it fluid and sometimes that took weeks. The surprises came when after revisiting adjacent postures in the sequence, the truth of the transforms between them, would come to be clearly understood. It was one of the most intriguing adventures of my life and it primarily took place on a hilltop, east of a small town in central Kentucky.
It seemed like an unlikely spot for an event of this nature and specter to be occurring, yet I am as certain that it did, as I am that what was found in my impassioned search, is the Tao of the long form of that fine art. There are those that disagree for this or that reason, but the Tao of T’ai-chi is freely available and its deep instruction permeates all beings. Douglas Wile, wisely stated that, “A unbroken master-disciple transmission might not in fact be necessary if we consider that soft-style theory is permanently embedded in the culture and perennially available to any art, or that it is a universal kinesthetic possibility that can be rediscovered at any time through praxis.”
The initial discovery was without doubt a convoluted exercise in martial archeology blended with philosophy, poetry and cultural anthropology, but my journey back to that original pattern was guided by the giants who originally danced it and left it deep in the archetypal memory for me to find. Asking questions is the sister of listening. The set kept unfolding before me as a series of inspired inquisitions. The Tao of T’ai-chi was evolving me into itself. I pressed on by doing set after set and watching the changes integrate, enfold and unfold, calling me into line with their intentions.
I owe a great debt to all of those practitioners of T’ai-chi that lent me a Song, a kick nuance, a foot or hand position or the ever so beneficial movement in a video. It was all there to be reassessed into the original, and I was fortunate enough to really need to do that, at that time in my life. T’ai-chi and I did each other favors and changed each other forever.
What is left behind in the form I now teach is a distillation of all of the resources I could bring to bear to elucidate that marvelous art form, that left behind such intriguing stories of men who were obviously even more impressive in person. They found it and brought it into existence within their bodies, by love of living and dedication to self-discipline. It is all ours for the simple price of dancing through their marvelous sequence each day of our lives, and furthering ourselves into the future.