Wu Tai Chi (Hao)
Wu Tai chi, which is also known as Hao style, Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) has a set of strict requirements regarding its practice. From the external to the internal, each requirement is clearly stated in Wu tai chi Chuan.
The first stage is the practice of the external forms starting from the basics. This stage can be further classified into two phases:
- The movement of the posture.
- The torso methods (shenfa).
It is considered that knowing the Tai Chi movements of the form indicates the knowledge of the fists, while knowing and understanding the torso methods is Taiji. When these two are combined, then it is called Taijiquan.
The torso methods is the requirement that each individual part of the body, such as the head, shoulders, elbows, etc., meet certain requirements.
The practice of proceeds from meeting these requirements externally, which will eventually activate the internal energy. At the advanced stage, the external and internal will merge into unity. The torso methods are similar to the “Ten Essential Points; of Yang Cheng-fu.
The second stage of this tai chi style is the practice of the internal structure, so called the internal structure, so called the internal energy (neijing); this involves the practice of the “magnificent posture”
The internal energy appears internally and not externally. It also indicates the opening and closing of the mind and qi.
The magnificent posture is the “description name” for training of the spirit (shen), mind (yi), and vital energy (qi) in the body, which is expressed through magnificent posture in our form.
The spirit is like that of a cat about to pounce on a mouse, injecting one’s consciousness into the movement, sinking of the qi down to the dantian, and the postures like that of a hawk swooping on its prey and, lastly seeking tranquility in movement.
This second of this stage can be further classified into three phases:
- Separation of the mind and qi internally there is a feeling of separation between the muscles and the bones.
"Separation between the muscles and bones,” is a metaphor commonly used by (Hao) style and other tai chi chuan styles practitioners. It means loosening up the muscles and bones/joints in order to develop elasticity” and sensitivity.
- Distinguishing between the mind and qi; that is, using the working movements of the separated muscles and bones to sense the magnitude of the magnificent posture- big or small, long or short, thin or thick, etc. Where the mind reaches, the qi reaches and the energy (jing) reaches, the qi reaches and the energy (jing) reaches.
Moving is as if not moving. To have is then to exist; not to have is then non-existence; suddenly appearing and disappearing. These must be clearly distinguished in each and every movement.
- The agility in separating the mind and qi; that is, the whole body is united as a whole, where the body will automatically follow the mind.
Stage 1. External Posture (Waixing) Of Wu tai chi Chuan
Phase 1: Tai Chi Movements Of The Posture; From Commencing Form To The Closing Form, There Are 96 Postures.
The Hand Posture, From The Shoulder To The Fingers of Wu Tai Chi
Loosening the shoulders: the shoulders must be downwardly loosened. In every movement, the shoulders must be naturally loosen. Avoid lifting the shoulders.
Dropping of elbows: the elbows must point downwards. When raising the hand, bend the elbows, do not withdraw the elbows until they are behind the body.
The purpose of not allowing the elbows to be withdrawn until they are behind the body is that it will affect the ability of sinking the shoulders.
Sitting of the wrist: the wrist must not be flat and bent inwardly. The Taijiquan form does not contain any hook-hand movements.
There are no hook-hands in Wu (Hao) style Taijiquan.
- Straightening the palm: the palms must not be upwardly straightened and hollow at the center. Avoid flattening the palms.
The fingers: the five fingers are comfortably stretched open. Avoid straightening the fingers; the finger-tips are slightly pointing upwards. Both hands must not cross the middle border of the torso; each hand protects half of the body.
The body posture, in accordance with the principles of starting, connecting, opening and closing of Wu tai chi Chuan
“Starting” - The shoulders align with the hips, that is, forming the body posture into the four major directions.
“Connecting” - Stepping forward corresponds with raising the hands. For example, when the left leg and the left hand are in front, then the left hip and left shoulder must be in front.
They must correspond with each other. The body is slightly sideways, that is, forming the body posture into four sideways (four corners).
“Opening” -similar to the “connecting” formula mentioned above.
“Closing” – The back leg moves to the front, the hand at the back moves to the front and closes ( i.e., bring the two hands together), the body turns from sideways to the front and the shoulders align with the hips, forming the body posture into the four major directions.
“Starting” describes the change of one’s thought, or intention, to be actualized (i.e., initiating a movement.)
“Connecting” describes the beginning of a movement.
“Opening” describes the execution of a movement, and “Closing” describes the completion of a movement. Each posture of the Wu (Hao) style has these four states.
The Footwork Accords With The Movements Of Wu tai chi Chuan
“Starting” – Bend the knee and half squatting down on the substantial leg ( the leg which carries most of the body weight), lift the heel of the insubstantial leg ( the leg which carries less of the body weight) and move it beside the substantial leg.
“Connecting”– Stepping forward of the insubstantial leg. Move the insubstantial leg forward 45 degrees, the heel lightly landing on the ground and the sole slightly raised, the knee is slightly bent.
“Opening” – Push forward with the substantial leg, maintain the knee in a slightly bent position (i.e., do not straighten the substantial leg), shift the center of gravity forward and form a bow – stance with the insubstantial leg. The landing of the whole insubstantial leg on the ground to form a bow-stance must follow the forward shifting of the center of gravity. Imagine the knee is directed upwards.
“Closing” – Move the back leg and place it beside the front leg. Lift the heel first with the toes touching the ground. When changing direction, pivot with the heel of the substantial leg. The center of gravity still remains at the substantial leg.
The Spirit Of The Eyes And Wu Tai Chi
In Wu tai chi Chuan, When “starting” and “closing,” the eyes look forward. When “connecting” and “closing” look to the left when stepping out with the left leg.
Likewise, look right when stepping out with the right leg. The eyes must look straight ahead.
The Head In Wu Tai Chi
Keep the head upright. Avoid tilting the head. The neck must be naturally relaxed. Tuck the chin slightly inwards.
The Waist of the Wu Tai Chi
The waist must be straightened. Avoid collapsing or sinking the waist and avoid leaning backwards in Wu tai chi.
The Hips In Wu Tai Chi Chuan
The hips must be straightened. Avoid sloping/ slanting the hips. When distinguishing between substantiality and insubstantiality, use the substantial hip to lift the insubstantial hip.
The Knees In Wu Tai Chi
Avoid downward pressing of the knees. Imagine the knee is always directed upwards when squatting down, pushing forward or forming a bow-stance.
Phase 2: The Essentials Of The Torso Methods Wu Tai Chi Chuan
Holding in the chest, stretching the back, keeping the head upright ( suspending the head-top), suspending the crotch, loosening the shoulders, dropping of elbows, wrapping the crotch, and protecting the upper abdomen [These are the so called eight torso methods.]
The concept of “suspending the crotch” in Wu tai chi Chuan involves slightly moving the buttock forward, and slightly extending or projecting the crotch forward and upward. Do not confuse this with “rounding of the crotch.” Wu style does not place a lot of emphasis on “ rounding the crotch” as its postures are higher and compact. Instead, Wu style places the emphasis on “wrapping the crotch.”
“Wrapping the Crotch" follows the requirements of suspending the crotch which uses the energy of the two knees. Concentrate on the inner part of the knee, and at the same time, “scooping” the buttocks forward until the energy reaches the outer part of the thighs and extends to the inner part if the knees, such that the two legs are used as if one leg is being employed.
Keeping the body upright, distinguishing between substantiality and insubstantiality, sinking the qi down to dantian, attentive spirit and martial spirit.
[These are the so-called the five essential requirements.]
The eight torso methods and the five essential requirements as described above are mainly concerned with the correctness of the internal adjustments. However, for the beginners, the emphasis shall be on the external forms. They will slowly grasp and understand the various aspects of these requirements step by step.
The eight (8) torso methods and the five (5) essential requirements of Wu tai chi Chuan cannot be put into practice all at once. The thirteen (13) principles should be put into practice only ONE at a time.
For example, when practicing Taijiquan, start with the principle of suspending the crotch, followed by keeping the head upright. This is to fulfill the requirement of coordination between the above and below.
Also, this requirement is closely related with keeping the body upright and distinguishing between substantiality and insubstantiality.
At the next stage, the emphasis should be on holding in the chest and stretching the back. The key to a good practice of the torso method of holding in the chest is the ability to loosen the shoulders.
The next stage of practice is followed by dropping of the elbows, protecting the upper abdomen and wrapping of the crotch. If the eight torso methods are well-practices, then the ability to sink the qi down to dantian can be expressed.
All these symmetrical requirements of above and below, front and rear, left and right, substantiality and insubstantiality, take time to practice.
After persistent practice, all the principles will be balanced, coordinated and integrated. And when these principles are fully implemented in each and every movement, what is expressed is Taiji.
In order to coordinate the upper and lower limbs with the trunk of the body, one should give emphasis to their inter-relationships. Also, to master the skills of Taijiquan, one must pass through the so-called “storing” stage.
“storing” means to store up or save up, without causing the external forms and the torso methods to become desultory and uncoordinated. The key is the integration of the five bows.
The Five Bows Of Wu Tai Chi
In Wu style Taijiquan, the upper and lower limbs and the trunk of the body are considered as the five bows:
- Two bows of the lower limbs with the leg and hips as the tips of the bow, the knees as the handle of the bow.
- Two bows of the upper limbs with the shoulders as the tips pf the bow, the elbows as the handle of the bow.
- The bow at the trunk with the lowest vertebra [coccyx] and the thoracic vertebra (where the shoulders meet the spine) as the tips of the bow, the waist as the handle of the bow.
The word “storing” means the inter-relation between the handles of the five bows. In order words, always concentrate on keeping the elbows down, imagine the knees as always directed upwards, and combine with the torso methods of loosening the shoulders, protecting the upper abdomen, etc.
Store the four handles of the above and below at the waist, in order to form the body as a fully stretched bow. This fully stretched bow then uses the waist as the handle of the bow. the knees and the elbows as the tips of the bow. Thus, the upper and the lower limbs, and the trunk of the body must operate as a unit in order to complete the whole process of “storing up” of energy.
If the energy (jing) can be stored, it can also be released. This requirement must be fully understood in the first stage of practice. Hence, practitioners must concentrate on this.
Once the “storing” word is fully understood and practiced, then the movements will have the expressions of coordinating between the upper and lower limbs.
At this level one can then practice the four-character words stated in the “Withdraw-Release Secret Formulas”-“holding-up,” “luring,” ”loosening,” and releasing.”
To “store” well requires a good execution of “luring.”
The “luring” process must attract a “big piece,” that is, lure the opponent’s whole body to the front, and store the energy.
If the energy can be stored, it can also be released. One must release the energy in a straight line.
When releasing the energy, practice the “straight- energy release” first, followed by the practice of “horizontal-energy release,” the so-called “one-straight, two-horizontal.”
“Horizontal energy release” is the issuing of energy (fajing) in order to make the opponent uproot sideways (left or right).
Stage 2: Internal Posture (Neixing) Of Wu tai chi Chuan
Stage two involves the practice of internal posture, also known as ‘internal energy.”
Internal posture, indicates the internal movement. First, it requires the cultivation of qi in order to have the energy change internally. This also illustrates the adjustment needed between the mind and qi, which is the key to achieve the magnificent postures of Taijiquan.
The first phase is the separation of the mind and the qi, namely the opening character.
Sink the qi downwards, and raise the spirit upwards. The qi follows the movements of the muscles and sinks downwards, whilst the spirit follows the skeletal system and rises upwards.
When practicing Wu tai chi Chuan, the feeling of separation between the muscles and bones must be felt.
Sinking the qi downwards is closing, and so is inhaling.
Raising the spirit upwards is opening, and so is exhaling.
Within opening there is closing; within inhalation there is exhalation; within exhalation there is inhalation; they are all interdependent.
This is in accordance with the practice guidelines of, “The mind and qi serve as the primary role, whilst the muscles and bones (i.e. body) are secondary,” which is the true essence of Taijiquan practice.
The Second Phase Of Wu Tai Chi Chuan
The second phase is the distinguishing between the mind of qi, namely the clear character. This refers to sensitivity, such as listening energy (tingling).
The magnitude of the magnificent posture- big or small, long or short, thin or thick, etc., can be adjusted at will, and can accomplish the skill of “action is born of in-action” and “suddenly appears and disappears.”
At this level, the “threading” character must be added. That is, all of the body’s joints are linked together, with the feeling of “threading a pearl with nine bends without hindrance.”
And in push-hands one can express the effect of “where the mind reaches, the qi reaches and the energy (jing) reaches.”
The third and final stage is the agility in separating the mind and the qi, namely the “agility” character. At this level, one can fully express the skill of “arousing the spirit of postures,” and “the flowing of qi within the body without hindrance.” With the body united as a whole.
According to the ultimate skill of Taijiquan, the expression of whole body as Taiji is always present regardless of whether practicing the form, pushing-hands, rising, walking, sitting, sleeping, etc.
The above is just a brief introduction of Wu tai chi Chuan and its practice guidelines.
[ Article By Liu Jixun
Translated by Hean K. Low]
Wu tai chi and other styles in short
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