The Essential Curriculum

BLOG installment #11

Perhaps because I practice several very different styles of Tai Chi Chuan, one subject which has occupied me for many years is that of the core curriculum of the art as a whole. By this I am not alluding to form, nor to elements such as weapons, pushing (tuishou) etc. The question is: What basic elements are required for a thorough realization of real Tai Chi skill?

With minimal elaboration, here is my effort at the essential curriculum.

Pervasive energies: The two required elements of all Tai Chi touch and movement.

  1. Peng: Firm resilience (NOT hardness).

  2. Song: Yielding accommodation (NOT softness).

These qualities constitute the essential Yin and Yang of contact and movement. They interpenetrate; you cannot have one without the other. Without them what you have is not Tai Chi.

Secondary energies: Comprising the elements of rootedness with every step, advancing and controlling space, connection and control through silk reeling.

  1. Centre ground: rootedness and central equilibrium.

  2. Proximity: comprises range and angle, but also nearness. One does not evade.

  3. Connection: contact and controlling the opponent’s core.

  4. Turning: silk-reeling, stillness in motion, motion in stillness.

Four basic methods in application: One or more of these is seen in every Tai Chi transition. Transition is where the Tai Chi happens! These are the essentials which, building on the Pervasive and Secondary energies, empower effective self-defence.

  1. Open

  2. Close

  3. Cross hands

  4. Rotary

Understanding these methods at an energetic level is what differentiates them from mere techniques. While #3 and #4 in combination manifest as essential "exchanging" skill when parrying or countering the movement of an opponent, understanding #1 and #2 is crucial to grasping the energetic difference between Yang style "Ward Left" (Kai Peng) and "Ward Right" (He Peng). "Rotary" extends upon the idea of "Turning" by actually applying force to the overthrow of the opponent.

Eight Gates: Seen in form as movement combinations with variations, these are regarded as basic methods. In traditional Yang and the Wu styles the first four are combined in "grasp Sparrow's Tail" and are held to be cardinal. The second four are combined in the sequence following "Repulse Monkey" and are considered to be to be secondary. This is a doctrinal issue and does not necessarily apply to other styles such as Chen and Old Yang Middle-Frame.

  1. Front bump (Ward / Peng)

  2. Roll back (Lu)

  3. Sharp squeeze – expand to front (Press / Ji)

  4. Pulse (Push / An)

  5. Sharp to side (Elbow / Chou)

  6. Side bump (Shoulder / Kao)

  7. Torquing ( Rend-split / Lieh)

  8. Pull-down / Pluck (Tsai)

25 Explicit energies: Incorporating the Eight Gates listed above and two of the Four Basic Methods, these traditionally are the elaborated methods for applying refined energy (Jin’s).

Two essentials not included here are Extending and Releasing.

1. Sticking / Zhan nian 2. Listening / Ting 3. Receiving / Zou 4. Comprehending / Dong 5. Neutralizing / Hwa 6. Enticing / Yin 7. Seizing / Na 8. Issuing-Expressing / Fa 9. Borrowing / Jie 10. Opening / Kai 11. Closing / He 12. Rising / Ti 13. Sinking / Zhen 14. Bumping / Peng 15. Rolling / Lu 16. Squeezing-Expanding / Ji 17. Pushing-Pulsing / An 18. Plucking-Pulling down / Tsai 19. Torquing-Rending / Lieh 20. Elbowing / Zhou 21. Shouldering / Kao 22. Long / Chang 23. Intercepting / Jie 24. Drilling / Zuan 25. Soaring or Empty / Ling Kong

Honestly, what we have here is beyond the scope (and possibly the interest) of many. But in my view it constitutes an overview of Tai Chi Chuan's essential elements.

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