Old Yang Middle Frame Taijiquan
BLOG Installment #7 is about the Old Yang family Middle-frame Taijiquan, video by Sunshine Chen.
We also have a short form of my own devising, but it has taken me awhile to decide to make the long form more widely available. In doing so I am influenced by my fear that what in our contemporary culture is not video-documented may be lost.
This form was unknown outside China when I studied it in Canada with Dr. Shen Zaiwen in the period from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Shen learned the form from his father and uncle; they had learned it from Tian Xiaolin / Tyan Zhaolin who was an early senior student of the Yang family. He had learned it from Yang Chien Hou, the son of Yang Lu Chan and father of Yang Cheng Fu.
In 1994 Dr. Shen certified me as a lineage instructor in his style which he referred to as the "authentic Yang-family middle frame Taijiquan". Since then I have seen videos from students of the Tian family who have clubs in the U.S.A. and the U.K. One of my former students who initially learned it from me has also trained in it in Shanghai where it is performed publicly by various groups connected to the Tians. In addition, I have been told that the form was also transmitted by Chen Zhaokui, a Beijing grandmaster of the Chen family, who himself learned it from the Tians when he was teaching in Shanghai.
On several occasions, when engaged in personal practice in parks, I have been approached by Tai Chi practitioners asking, "What kind of Chen style is that?" Their confusion is understandable when one considers that many characteristics of this style seem closer to the Chen tradition than that of the contemporary Yang family: the silk reeling is very apparent, there is no reliance upon square postures, "Grasp Sparrow's Tail" includes movements which in contemporary Yang style are done on the oblique, etc.
This clearly represents a Yang family Tai Chi that was highly evolved and refined before Yang Chen Fu began his great work of creating the modern public form in the 1920's. I think we can assume that this form, said to have been perfected by Yang Chien Hou, is a Tai Chi of the late 1800's.
Dr. Shen told me that in Tai Chi there are two fundamental ways of teaching the art. One way is to teach from the outer to the inner. In other words, one goes from posture to posture and seeks to create those shapes which are optimal for the cultivation of qi; then, when this is done, one links them into the sequence of the long form. He told me that this style goes in the opposite direction, from inside to outer. By practising the associated systems of qigongs (Basic form-based qigong, Body Softening, Eight Skills, Four Animals), one generates powerful movements of qi; in turn these movements of qi give rise to the postures of the long form. The additional Yang family Eight Brocades focuses on fa-jin, but fa-jin skill derives also from the long form itself. This form clearly involves a great many combative elements which may be unfamiliar to many Yang stylists. But what really drives the form is the meditative qigong.
In a single long silk-reeling movement that lasts at least 30 minutes, the dantiens are opened and closed and qi is coursed through the various vessels, meridians and jin-lu's. Initially, combative awareness serves as a reference point that helps in acquiring the logic of the movement. But in time focusing on the combative aspect holds one back. One must learn to sink into the river of qi and then float like a feather on its waves.
I often find it perplexing that so many practitioners are in denial about the existence of qi and adhere so resolutely to a strictly materialistic approach to the art. However, in light of the airy delusions of New Age wishful thinking, such a response is perhaps natural. This said, this old style must remain a closed door to those who find themselves unable to engage with the internal alchemy of Tai Chi Chuan (Please excuse my mixing of Wade-Giles and Pinyin; old habits die hard!).
I have some skill in a number of different styles of Tai Chi. This one is maybe the least accessible of them, but is dearest to me. It is my anchor form. All forms are fundamentally the same "stuff". Yang, Chen, Old Yang are closely related and share the same essence.
And all are based on coordinating what is inside, to what is outside.