Rob Hunter - BA; MA (Social Anthropology); Grad.Dip Psychotherapy
Introduction to Taiji
Taiji is an internal martial art that embodies the Taoist principals of yielding, neutralising and returning.. There are a number of stories as to how Tai ji developed. One accepted history of Tai ji is that it was created over 700 years ago by a Taoist sage Zhang San Feng as a practical method for attaining immortality through cultivation of Qi or internal energy. Its principals were those formulated 2500 years ago by Laozi founder of Taoism.
Another version of history regarding the development of the internal school is with reference to “Master Tsan Fong (Yuan Dynasty) (1200-1367) who is described as having started the art of the internal school by spiritual inspiration when carrying out his duty of protecting a delivery of herbs to the emperor. While travelling to the capital, one night Master Tsan, San Fong and the carriers stayed in a temple on the roadside. A spirit, the main god of the temple Shuan Ti (the authority of the North Star) taught master Tsan Fong the art of using a sword in a dream. The next day, he and his carriers were besieged by a group of bandits who wished to take the herbs. With a single sword, Master Tsan Fong defeated over a hundred bandits. In this way without having learned external martial arts, he came to be respected as the initiating master of the internal school” (Master Ni Hua Ching)
“Tai ji has evolved over time into a flowing set of circular movements, which are co-coordinated with concentration of mind and breath.. Movements are circular- on reaching one extreme they return without break. This is achieved using the will, not muscular strength. From Deepmimd arises the will which moves the Qi (Chi)When Qi moves, the joints extend like blowing into a rubber tube, so the Qi moves the body.
During practice the internal pathways in the body are thrown open, the internal organs receive a gentle massage, while the blood, sinews and bones are strengthened. In time Qi will gather and circulate strongly through the body. On further refining Qi, the spirit may manifest. To achieve this it is said to attain the strength of a tiger, the pliability of an infant and the peace of mind of a sage.” (Patrick.A.Kellly)
Psychologically tai ji pacifies the emotions and calms the mind. This is initially achieved by concentrating awareness on sensing and conscious relaxation of the body; this process helps break the cycle of associative thinking and physical tension that tends to unconsciously accumulate in the body through exposure to stress in daily life.
Tai ji Psycho spiritual aspects of training
by Rob Hunter
The psychological component within Taiji is relatively simple to understand but psychological balance is not easy to achieve. The same thing can be said for Taiji as a whole. The way we initially work with the mind in Taiji is by turning our attention on to our body. We turn the mind towards listening for the unconscious body processes that occur below our ordinary mind or day to day awareness. By concentrating on and listening for these processes the mind sinks towards a deeper state. The focused concentration required for Taiji helps an individual slowly find the subtle physical and energetic sensations that accompany deepening states of consciousness.
The sensations we look for in Taiji usually go unnoticed by the ordinary part of the mind – the part of the mind we spend most of our day to day lives in. This ordinary mind is useful for living in our external world but not so helpful when turning towards our internal world. As we engage in this process of turning our attention from the outer world to our internal world our emotions are slowly pacified. The ruminative or associative thinking may quieten down and allow an opening for a deeper part of our selves to wake up. The part of the mind we awaken in Taiji is the part of the mind we pass through as we go to sleep, which is a hypnogogic state.
Patrick has explained that our motive for practice influences our spiritual development. Our motive relates to the intention within the deep mind. On a practical level this can be explained in terms of pushing hands. When the impulse to push a person arises in the mind the body will usually contract. The contraction at the moment a push is delivered appears to be connected to a less pure motive such as ambition, domination, control, fear, anger, the wish to win etc. These kinds of motives influence the type of force that is expressed via a push. To issue a push as the mind deepens using a relaxed force requires a motive that is not encumbered by negative emotion. In terms of training and working on ourselves psychologically this is a useful feedback loop and can help us understand where we are at with regard motive.
Patrick has emphasized the importance of the motive changing over time. At a certain level if the motive is not purified the process that we train can become blocked. The motive in Taiji influences the intention and the body movement. Going deeper within ourselves is really the only way to work with this. Patrick once gave an example of how the motive can influence a person's progress. Master Huang, Patrick's teacher, had a good student who at a certain time in his life had some trouble. He became involved in something dubious and as a consequence his motive changed and his Taiji became blocked.
To clarify this idea further Patrick has explained to his students that in the deep structures within the mental, emotional and physical bodies there are hidden motives on each level and it is by refining these motives that an individual consciousness can slowly develop. As the three bodies: mental, physical, and emotional are purified more contact with our spirit is able to come though. Eventually when we have realized ourselves it is the spirit that directs us not unconscious desires.
The psychological spiritual aspect of Taiji is present from the day we begin and continues throughout our training. In the beginning this may not be conscious however as we progress this will become more conscious. It does require an intention in the direction of going deeper. The process we train works on our total system: body, mind and spirit. Whether we are conscious of it or not our motive influences our development. It does not matter so much what the motive to start Taiji is in the beginning. If an individual is drawn to this method the deeper part of them will understand its value over time and the motive will slowly change. If the motive does not change it is unlikely that a person will continue.
The work we do in Taiji requires perseverance and a willingness to ‘invest in loss‘ as suggested by Master Huang Xingxian's teacher Cheng Man-Ching, otherwise the obstacles encountered along the way may interfere with the training process. If we do not refine our motive and make the effort to go deeper we will not find the true value of this practice. From my experience this is a great practice worth embracing.
Photo: Doug Casement