Taichi Essentials for Beginners
|External Boxing||Taiji Boxing|
|Quick movements, unevenness in speed, uncontinuous||Slow movements, continuous and even|
|Movements follow a straight line||Movements are curved|
|Strength used is great||Strength used is small|
|Breathing is uneven and hurried||Breathing is even, long and deep. No breathlessness at end of training|
|Thoughts are on the target which is external||Thoughts are on softening own body, on the dan tian, or on whole body; thoughts focus on the internal|
|Eyes aggressive, energy is apparent||Serene appearance; energy is hidden|
|Mainly arm and leg movements||The body is whole; when one part moves the whole body also moves|
|Apparent, external force; hard and discontinuous||Hidden, internal force; soft and continuous|
|Mind is relatively one-sided and inclined to subjectivity||Mind should be whole, relatively objective especially in push-hand|
|Chiefly emphasize strengthening of tendon, bone and skin||Training in form, breath and spirit simultaneously emphasized; spirit being chief emphasis at later stage|
There are other differences, but in comparison, one notices they are extreme opposites.
Those who do external boxing will go daily to the gardens to beat the tree trunks or lamp posts with their hands/arms in order to become "invincible". In time, the nerves on their hands become paralyzed and so they do achieve a unique ability to withstand pain. Some youngsters are even very proud of this, but I doubt very much whether this kind of training is good for the body/is scientific. According to some elders who have been trained in this kind of boxing, once training stops, the skill regresses. Therefore, it seems that to maintain proficiency, one must tolerate pain and suffer loss daily.
This is definitely not true for Taiji, nor is such self-flagellation part of its training. Indeed, it's through relaxing, softening the body, that Taiji skill and its consequent health benefits are achieved. And when one reaches a certain level, even if one stops practice, the skill will not regress. Master Zheng Manqing once said this: "In external boxing the body is sacrificed for the skill/art, while in internal boxing skill is practiced to develop the body and cultivate life." In the world of martial art, there's always this old saying "Internally, breath is trained; externally, the tendon, bone and skin are trained" -- clearly and simply differentiating internal and external boxing.
In the country, there are more than several hundred types of quan or boxing, but all can be separated into internal or external boxing; either inclining toward one or the other. External boxing has a hard force and is strong; the movements are aggressive and powerful, with highly difficult moves, bounces and jumps. Great to watch and well-loved by the young.
Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan are among the most well-known internal boxing styles. All are inclined toward training of the breath, relaxing, softening the body and developing the force through the whole being, with health benefits being the most apparent. Many boxing masters learn both internal and external boxing when young, but on reaching middle age, many only train further in internal boxing. This is because all things which require effort uses up qi, and too much physical effort is required in external boxing. This is difficult for the older person, and not profitable for the cultivation of life. Therefore, most experienced teachers of external boxing will teach some kind of breathing exercises to substantiate the internal organs, compensate the loss of qi and strengthen the psyche. Thus, it's always been said " learn to fight without qigong, all is lost when one is old". However, learning qigong to strengthen the body (mainly done within the body) goes against the young person's inclination toward active movement and external pursuit, so they easily feel bored, and do not feel it's important. This is something which we should think about.
Although internal boxing stress both the training of the body as well as cultivating the breath and spirit, yet when the skill becomes more profound, there is greater stress on cultivation and accumulation than on training and using. This is also more beneficial for the prevention of sickness and prolonging ones years. Comparison of Taiji and external boxing reveal that Taiji principles are higher, deeper and more fine; and because of this it's more difficult to learn and one cannot freely apply its principles given short training periods. Further, if one does not meet a good teacher, it's difficult to enter into its principles and achieve something. On the other hand, the principles of using effort for both external boxing and daily life are similar, so it's relatively easy for the learner to gain certain results (greater speed, greater strength) within a short period of time after training. Therefore, objectively, the Taiji learner cannot compete with the external boxer if he has not attained the level where he can freely apply the principles of Taiji.
Those who seek quick results should learn external boxing; those who wish to study Taiji should first ask themselves if they have a determined will, and a fine and objective mindset. Further, they should know that three, five or more years of training is nothing in Taiji. Learning Taiji is lifelong learning.
Number One in Quality
Many who learn martial arts like to learn every kind of gong fu they meet up with, thinking that they are more able if they know more skill. Some masters especially feel that if they know external boxing, Taiji, Bagua, then they are ready with every good which can satisfy different kinds of consumers, like in a departmental store. This is not strange, but if this becomes a fashion, then even those who advocate Taiji may be influenced and become non-discriminating, feeling that it's okay to do taiji as well as other kinds of gong fu. Others cannot disagree if you as an individual simply prefer to focus on quantity rather than quality, but if this is the perspective that's generally taken to promote Taiji, then Taiji is in danger of moving toward a dead-end.
Even factories demand that quality goods be produced, knowing that inferior goods can hurt the country, the people, and self; so how can those martial arts demand only quantity and not quality especially when quantity often negatively affects quality? Already, lifelong learning of one skill may not enable one to reach its heights, so if one is not single-minded, how can its quality be raised?
From the perspective of training, different boxing techniques result in different training effects. Some have similar principles regarding force, so these can be trained together, but some have different principles and these cannot be trained together. Taiji is actually very different from other kinds of boxing techniques; it is even different from Xingyiquan and Baguazhang, although they too are internal boxing techniques, so what more from external boxing techniques?
One has its usefulness in hard strength while the other, in softness. External boxing masters pride themselves in being able to lift a thousand-weight. Taiji masters, on the other hand, train till they are so soft that they are almost boneless, discard all hard strength and sacrifice the self to follow others. The rule of Taiji is looseness and softness, with insubstantiality as the highest level of attainment; it's not easy to become really soft in one's lifetime of learning and so become a master in Taiji, so how can one be a specialist in external boxing as well as a Taiji specialist? So whenever I read about masters who are introduced as being experts in all kinds of external and internal boxing techniques, I can only smile.
Taiji is a difficult and complex skill. It is said "skill consumes much hardwork", so a great deal of time and energy must be spent to seriously study this skill before results emerge. Recently, to popularize Taiji, the relevant authority compiled the "abridged Taijiquan", and some even put a lot of effort in shortening the routines thinking, "the shorter the better." Though they mean well as they would like to popularize the skill, but if there are too few movements in Taijiquan, then it cannot help the body achieve the goal of softness and so becomes useless. And what has this to do with raising the quality ofTaijiquan ? This is definitely not what we should work toward. So, it looks like, besides popularizing Taiji, we should also solve the problem of raising the quality of Taiji.