T'ai Chi Ch'uan

by, Kuo Yu-Cheung
From: T'ai Chi Ch'uan Theory and Practice
by, Paul Tam, translated by Peter Chan & Ying-Lok Lee

A description of Kuo style by Paul Tam

The unique features of the Kou style T'ai Chi Ch'uan are as follows: it belongs to one of the big posture branches, and each posture is designed and based on the fundamental principles of Chinese martial arts. The hands, eyes, body and legs agree in harmony. The steps are brisk and the body is agile. Inner energy runs smoothly throughout the body. The movements are circular, smooth, gentle, and continuous. All of the postures are closely related to each other, but emptiness and reality are always kept distinct. The postures manifest a unique style of being lively, rhythmic, gentle, relaxed and natural. The postures look elegant and graceful. It is a comparatively onerous style of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, requiring greater physical effort.

Kuo Yu-Cheung's Writings on T'ai Chi Ch'uan

When practicing T'ai Chi Ch'uan, I find it different from other forms of martial arts. For the external branch, the strength released is distinct and segmented, but T'ai Chi Ch'uan requires continuity of the strength directed by the mind. That is why I always remind students of the Confucian saying, which follows: "the way I follow is an unyielding effort of concentration." In every posture 'emptiness' and 'reality' should be distinct, just like a ring of beads, each bead being independent yet connected to each other by a thread passing through all of them. The thread represents the continuity of strength and mind.

It is said that T'ai Chi Ch'uan was invented by grand master Zhang San Feng. One day when studying Taoism in the temple, he incidentally saw a fight between a snake and a bird, which inspired him to create a new style of martial arts "T'ai Chi Ch'uan". The beginners usually cannot understand its essence and nature. However after practicing several years, with improved skills, our postures then become smooth and well controlled. During practice, we may feel responsive, as a snake is responsive. For example, if attacked on the left side, the right side strikes back simultaneously. The postures are never static and keep changing continuously. We attack and defend effectively by shifting the postures, but still we must learn to keep our minds concentrated and the inner energy circulating throughout our body. The philosopher Menius once said: "We learn to maintain the natural spirit, which can turn out to be extremely strong and boundless." The method of maintaining the natural spirit is similar to that in T'ai Chi Ch'uan, that is, during practice, we must keep our mind highly concentrated, with the inner energy sinking to the Dan-tian, shoulders relaxed, and the elbows dipping. For each posture, our mind should never be distracted. The movements and the mind must be integrated, the inner energy must move throughout the body. There should be no flaw (no caving in or out) in any parts of the body.

The classical boxing theory says: "Inner energy must be nourished by the concentration and no harm can be done on us." The nature of T'ai Chi Ch'uan agrees with the above mentioned expositions. Now let me mention some essential points for its training:

(1) Relaxed:It is the most important principle in practicing T'ai Chi Ch'uan. We should not take this as equivalent to "disintegration". Take sand as an example: each particle is separated from others without any linkage. Relaxation implies the idea of continuity. Just like a string of 108 beads, each bead is independent of the others but all of the beads are linked together by the thread, so none of them are detached. Therefore, when practicing T'ai Chi Ch'uan, we must first keep the shoulders, elbows and wrists relaxed. Then all of the parts will follow the same.

(2) Open:To open wide is just like pulling a bow in archery. T'ai Chi Ch'uan embraces skills such as "opening" and "closing", "emptiness" and "reality". The Boxing theory says: "At the first stage of training, aim at opening wide". During practice we should open as widely as possible, with the idea of stretching the limbs endlessly. By this, our tendons will be lengthened and our strength increased. Regarding postures such as spread hands diagonally (diagonal flying), bow and hands outward (push), hooked and hand and stretched palm (single whip), it is obvious that we need to keep the postures wide. However the postures should be well-balanced and we should avoid overdoing them. If we just pay attention to a certain part, neglecting others, we have committed a great error.

(3) Stretch: It is the natural outcome of "open". It means stretching out from a "closed" bending state like unfolding a manuscript. T'ai Chi Ch'uan postures such as step back and whirl the arms, pat the high horse etc. all carry this idea.

(4) Dense: It does not carry the meaning of tenseness. The classic of T'ai Chi Ch'uan theory says "As regarding Kung Fu training, open first, then the postures should be dense." For practicing all forms of martial arts, not just T'ai Chi Ch'uan, we must first learn to keep the postures open and stretched out to train the bones and tendons. After all, we will increase the density in our movements so that the opponent will not be able to penetrate the line of our defense.

(5) Distracted:We must avoid this at all costs in practicing T'ai Chi Ch'uan. If distracted, we cannot heighten our spirit and concentrate our mind, and then our movements will become sluggish and clumsy. If our concentration lapses, the practice will be a wasted effort. Moreover if we practice for just a short time, or just a half set of the postures and do not continue, how can we improve our skills ? Therefore, if we start practicing T'ai Chi Ch'uan then we must concentrate with our mind the whole time. Only with perseverance can we attain success.

(6) Slowness:We must avoid hasty movements. The movements should be slow and steady. There must be no pause, and no discontinuity. When practicing the T'ai Chi Ch'uan postures, which are the foundation of the training, we are learning to "understand ourselves". For the push-hands exercise, which is the application of the postures, we are alternatively learning to "understand others". It is not easy for beginners to keep their hand movements slow and steady, let alone keeping their leg movement the same. The classical theory reminds us: "Step as light as a cat." We must keep our steps light and brisk, not making any sound. If we can comply with this, all of our body parts will be in unison, and the upper part will coordinate well with the lower part, and the inner energy can accumulate well at the vital point Dan-tian.

note: At the EBM Kung Fu Academy, we teach the Kuo branch form of the Sun Style T'ai Chi Ch'uan, as described above.