My Experience of Taiji Quan
by Phillis Wong
I started learning Taiji around 2 years ago. My aim is to acquire a form of 'exercise' which I can continue to practice in my old age so that I can age healthily.
At my very first lesson, Shifu told us that we must learn how to stand - placing the weight of our body on the "yong chuen" and resting on the "qua". This in turn strengthens our thigh muscles, relieving the load off our knees. After 10mins of warm up/loosening exercise, which may appear slow and effortless to an on-looker, I started to sweat profusely despite being in an air-con hall.
These experiences make me realise that Taiji is more than a form of physical exercise. It involves understanding of the purpose of every move, including the fundamental warm up exercise. It involves mastering the flow of our internal energy, "chi". Every move in Taiji accentuates the balance of "Ying" and "Yang" and calls for mindfulness of its intent. I know it will take me many more years to appreciate and embody the essence of Taiji in my practice.
In the process of writing this article, I reflected upon what I have learnt in Taiji and Taekwondo, which I practiced in my younger days (some 25+ years ago!). 3 things came to my mind, i.e. breathing, speed/agility, and strength.
In Taekwondo, exhalation is through the mouth, in short pulses, retaining 3/4 of every breath. (1/4 through the exhalation, roll back tip of the tongue and touch roof of mouth). The control of breathing helps to improve stamina as the rhythmatic pulses are synchronised with the delivery of punches/kicks.
In Taiji, we exhale through the nose, in slow lengthy breath (with the tip of tongue touching the roof of mouth at all times). The pace of the breathing cycle helps me to regulate the speed of my moves, which in turn improves on the transition and 'flow' of my moves. The awareness of the breathing cycle also helps me to focus on the internal and get less distracted by the external, but at the same time, feeling in harmony with the surrounding.
Before I encountered Taiji, I had the impression that Taiji is 'soft' and slow when compared to Taekwondo. I now learnt that speed and agility are key to both Taekwondo and Taiji.
In Taiji, one must learn to 'listen' to his opponent. Speed lies in one's agility to deflect upon his opponent's advance, prompted by the slightest exertion of strength by the opponent.
In Taekwondo, I learnt the importance of watching every moves of the opponent in anticipation of an attack. In Taiji, we are taught to 'listen' in the stillness of our body, which is much harder to master.
In Taekwondo, one's strength is 'visible' through the hardness of his punches and kicks. A strong good side kick can send one's opponent few meters away.
In Taiji, strength anchors on the 'rootedness' of one's stance, with energy sent from the feet and directed to the opponent through movement of the 'qua' or waist. I have seen Shifu 'propel' a 6-foot tall off the ground and hitting the wall some distance away (and that was in Shifu's restrained practice mode), while Shifu remained in his stance. When I was in the practice, I could feel Shifu's stance as firm as a mountain! In Taiji, movement of a push may appear subtle, but the strength is 'invisibly' powerful.
The sharing above is merely based on my personal experience and limited understanding. It is in no attempt to oversimplify either of these two profound martial arts. I'm on a long journey of learning. I hope one day, I will start to experience the flow of 'chi' and enjoying the health benefits brought about through the practice of Taiji.