There was something perfect and
formless before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging.
Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the universe.
For lack of a better name I call it
- Lao Tzu
Tai chi is one of the arts of Chinese taoism, a tradition thousands of years old. This ancient tradition includes qigong, various ”hard” and ”soft” martial arts, acupuncture, philosophy, meditation, dance, poetry, painting and music. Tai chi chuan (”chuan” = fist or boxing) is said to have begun in the 12th century with the legendary Chang San-Feng. In essence, it began with the Tao Te Ching and the founder of taoism, Lao Tzu, in the fifth century before our era. The philosophy behind the tai chi movements is even older, going back three thousand years to the I Ching of King Wen. This classic scripture is equally as important for far eastern cultures as the Bible is for western cultures. Chang San-Feng is one of the sources for the ”Tai Chi Classics,” which existed as oral instructions long before they were edited and written down in the 19th century by Wu Yü-hsiang and his nephew Li I-yü. The former was a student of Yang Lu-Chan, founder of Yang family tai chi chuan and incorrectly thought to have been the first editor of the ”Tai Chi Classics”. These scriptures lay the foundation for all the tai chi styles practiced today by millions of people all over the world. (Yang Lu-Chan's sons)
Tai Chi Chuan
Daily training tai chi brings balance and harmony to body and soul. Memory and concentration are strengthened, breathing becomes deep and even, and the muscles return to a natural relaxation. The main principle is to have the body and the senses to function as a unity. With soft and slow movements one creates a serene, meditative state which is important not only for self-defence, but also for coping with stress and other problems in daily life. Regular training brings with it enduring health, a deeper awareness of oneself and techniques for effective self-defence. One learns to maintain an even temperament, even when confronting a violent person. The strategy is to meet hard with soft like bamboo in a storm. Bamboo prevails by bending and yielding to the wind, while a stiff tree is uprooted and knocked over. Eventually a ”tai chi dancer” finds that the real adversary is within oneself – all the bad habits that we carry with us through life. The instructor, Theo Radic, originally from southern California, has lived in Stockholm since 1974. The long Yang style form that he teaches comes from Master Fu-Yuan Ni. Master Ni, who is 99 years old, was born in Ningbo in southern China, and began training tai chi when he was fifteen. He later moved to Taiwan and then to Santa Barbara in 1974. Theo Radic has trained tai chi for over thirty years. He began in Stockholm at Louis Lin’s Wushu Academy, and continued with William Dockens, originally from Baltimore, Maryland, at that time a resident of Sweden. Theo began learning Master Ni’s many forms in Santa Barbara in 1987. (see complete list below) They include the long Yang style form (right and left forms), sword, saber (right and left forms), double sword, sword sparring, pushing hands and tai chi sparring. (The last three are for two people.) He also learned the combination form (a combination of the left and right Yang forms) and the Wudang Sword Dance mentioned in Crazy Devil Sweeping. The beginner course includes:
§ Warm-up exercises
§ Yang style form
§ Qigong breathing exercises
I know 20 things about each move. I tell the student 10 of them.
They hear 7 of these and incorporate 2 of them.
This is why I don't speak so much.
- Master Fu-Yuan Ni
Master Fu-yuan Ni
Training hall on Chapala Street
Santa Barbara, California
The patterns of Tai Chi are formed from yin and yang.
Master Fu-yuan Ni
A person’s energy is also formed from yin and yang.
Yang is born from stillness and yin is born from movement.
Stillness is substance and movement is function.
The Extreme is stillness; stillness is what is called
“returning to the root.”
Extreme pliablity leads to extreme hardness.
Softness nurtures; exertion injures.
February 6, 2002
Master Fu-yuan Ni
If you want to learn tai chi you must practice.
If you want to learn about tai chi, go to library.
- Master Fu-yuan Ni
Note: Most of the tai chi forms listed above are derived from a student of Yang Cheng-Fu, grandson of Yang Lu-Chan. The 88-movement sparring form is not a part of the Yang family teaching. Its members engaged in paired practice on individual moves only, but did not have a continuous sparring form. A student of Yang Cheng-Fu named Chen Yan-Ling created a two-person form by connecting up some of the single move elements that Yang Cheng-Fu taught him.
*Liu Lu Wudang Jian or “Six-Section Wudang Sword.“ (Note: Master Ni has taught his pupils to perfom this form slower than is shown in the video from Wudang Mountain above.) The lineage begins hundreds of years ago with Chang San-Feng on Wudang Mountain, where there is a Taoist temple to this day (see video above). Li Jing-lin (1885-1931)(left) was a famous practitioner of Wudang sword (known as “China's First Sword“), a general in Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist army. On his initiative, a Yang-style tai chi chuan was formalized, with Yang Cheng-fu as the most important of the contributors. One of Master Ni's students, Gary Kukuk, wrote to me concerning our teacher's teacher: “Recently Master Ni confirmed to me that he learned Wudang sword directly from General Li Jing-lin, the greatest swordsman of his era, not from Meng Xiao-Feng [as we previously thought] but from Meng's teacher. Master Ni's connection to Li is direct & not thru Meng.“ Before Li Jing-li, “Six-Section Wudang Sword“ had hardly been seen in China, as it was mostly practiced by monks and hermits. One of Li Jing-lin's students, Huang Yuan-xiou, wrote in his book about Wudang Sword: “This form was rarer than other [sword] sets as it was not passed down to as many people.” (The Major Methods of Wudang Sword, Huang Yuan-xiou, translated by Dr. Lu Mei-hu, Blue Snake Books, Berkeley, California, 2010)
Excerpt from chapter one (“Tai Chi“) of
Crazy Devil Sweeping :
It is interesting to compare the secrecy with which tai chi was taught and practiced up to the 1930's with the wide spread openness and popularity of this art today. Anyone who wants to learn tai chi today has the possibility to seek out a qualified teacher and begin training. In the time of Yang Ch'eng Fu, grandson of the founder of Yang style tai chi (Yang Lu-chan) the relatively few individuals who knew about this art could not learn it simply because they had a desire to learn it and had the money for lessons. Once upon a time, the master chose his students. Today the student chooses the master. The Tai Chi Classic attributed to the Immortal Wang Tsung-yueh states that the early masters did not just trust anyone: “They were apprehensive about transmitting their kung-fu skills to others without good reason.“(7)
Along with the positive results of this change – the benefits that tai chi chuan has brought millions of people all over the world – is the pseudo tai chi that misleads in one way or another. This may be what my American teacher calls “hippy tai chi“, where the self-defense aspect has been removed, or the very excited tai chi competitions in which the self-defense aspect has been exaggerated at the expense of the meditative. Either way, it smacks of incomprehension of the essence of this art. Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming writes that one of the reasons for the rapid spread of tai chi in China and the West was that since “guns are so effective and easy to acquire, tai chi has been considered less vital for personal self-defense than it use to be. For this reason, more tai chi masters are willing to share their knowledge with the public.“(8)
Another element that has contributed to the rapid spread of tai chi is money. People earn money teaching tai chi, which has become a veritable industry producing books, videos, clothes, posters and paraphernalia. When the master chose his students, there was less waste in the energy used to teach, for those whom he chose to teach were scrutinized and seen to possess a predisposition for this art. When the students choose the master, many are deluded or mistaken about tai chi being something for them, and after six months or a year they drop out of class, but not before having paid the teacher a tidy fee all this time. And thus, people are encouraged in their delusion to train tai chi although they have no real “inner necessity“ (to use Kandinsky's term) to practice for many years, indeed for the rest of their lives, simply because the training center needs their money to survive.
The sacred manner of teaching these arts which was prevalent in monasteries throughout China is being sacrificed in favor of commercial interests. The manner of exciting advertisements and hype is not a sacred manner. What is in the wallet of a beginner is often more interesting than what is in his or her heart.(...)
At one big wushu competition in Stockholm that I attended a few years ago, hard rock music pounded in the huge hall, trashy advertisements lined the wall space around the training floor, and squawking loud speakers made commentaries amidst the commotion of rowdy spectators, whistling, shouting, and chattering idly. It was all far removed from the austere atmosphere one can imagine as the status quo of the shaolin temple.
There were extremely good martial artists and mediocre ones. I winced as the Korean tae kwon do instructor needed several embarrassing attempts to break his beloved plank of pine, while the ad on the wall behind him made its pitch for body-building vitamins. It was all far removed from Art. The participants competed in various martial arts, but as sport, not Art. They were eager for the prizes, forgetting Lao Tzu’s words: “Good winners don't contend.“ In the general commotion, the serene and artistic milieu which was the origin for all and sundry of these arts was brutally murdered, encased in concrete, and dumped in the ocean to the dum-didee-doo of hard rock music.
Master Fu Yuan Ni once told his students: “Those who over-emphasize the martial aspects of tai chi have no idea about the dark mystery at its core.“
The loss of respect for the sacredness of these arts is a symptom of the loss of respect for the sacredness of Art in general. It is a sign of humanity's banishment from the Way. The Oglala sage Hehaka Sapa (Black Elk), who died in 1944, often spoke of doing things in a sacred manner. This does not mean “in-a-holier-than-thou manner“ like that of priests, bishops and popes, but just the simple manner of living in harmony with the Way, without pretentiousness and vainglory to sully it. Acting in a sacred manner is acting without striving, wu wei. To contend and strive proudly after awards and trophies is to ignore Lao Tzu's teaching:
Those who assert themselves are not illustrious;I have come to realize that the expression “kung fu” is often misunderstood. For example, training as a classical guitarist for 30 years, this too is kung fu. According to Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming, “kung” (or “gong”) means “energy” and “fu” means “time”. He continues: “If you are learning or doing something which takes a great deal of time and effort to accomplish, then it is called Gongfu (Kung Fu). This can be learning how to play the piano, to paint, to learn martial arts, or to complete a difficult task which takes time and patience.” (From his book Taijiquan, Classical Yang Style)
those who glorify themselves have no merit;
those who are proud of themselves do not last.(9)
Master Ni in Taiwan, August, 2011
courtesy Caitlyn Mclelland “We don't compete because it produces losers as well as winners.“
- Master Fu-Yuan Ni
Read more of Master Ni's transmissions
March 16, 2009
Very many people train “public tai chi” today devoid of nei kung (inner technique). According to tai chi adept Waysun Liao, this is partly due to Yang style founder Yang Lu-Chan himself. He lived during the Ch’ing dynasty, established in 1644 when the Manchurians invaded China and founded their dynasty by force. The Manchus adopted a Chinese lifestyle and soon were absorbed into Chinese culture, starting a period of corrupt rule that was to last for centuries. When the Ch’ing dynasty officials heard about the sophisticated martial art called tai chi chuan, they called the most famous master of the times, Yang Lu-Chan (1799-1872), into royal service. Unwilling to teach the former Manchu enemies, Master Yang deliberately modified the tai chi forms, converting them into a slow external exercise which completely ignored the inner philosophy and discipline which is essential to the art of tai chi. Waysun Liao continues:“Master Yang knew that if the royal family learned of his unwillingness to teach them, and of his modifications, the emperor would take retribution for this offense and appease his anger by murdering not only him, but his entire family. Since Master Yang felt he could trust no one except his own sons, it was to them and to no one else that he taught the genuine art of T’ai Chi... [Yang’s modified tai chi] soon became the fad of the leisure class throughout China, and it remained so until the end of the Ch’ing Dynasty. When the revolution of 1900-1910 succeeded in overthrowing the corrupt rulers, the noble families, deprived of their power, scattered throughout the country. T’ai Chi, of course, traveled with them. Practitioners claimed the authenticity of their art, stating that it had been taught to them by masters of the Yang family, or other T’ai Chi families, and the public naturally accepted their claims. In this way, the modified form of T’ai Chi became today’s T’ai Chi Ch’uan, or the so-called T’ai Chi Exercise. This is the T’ai Chi practiced publicly in China today... In other words, most of the T’ai Chi practiced today is not the original T’ai Chi, and it is devoid of meaning.”
The Essence of T’ai Chi, Waysun Liao, Shambhala, Boston & London, 1995.
“Summer Bamboo” Wu Zhen (1280-1354)
Inscription: ”A decrepit grass hut by a long, narrow road, trees leaning in the setting sun (look) aslant.
I have walked all the mountain path, which hill can I not call my home?
Signature: In the summer, during the 6th month of the year keng-yin of the Chih-cheng era,
Mei-hua lao (Old Plum Blossom) plays with ink.
Excerpt from Crazy Devil Sweeping
When I try to think back to where it all began, my memory takes me to a Stockholm sidewalk [twenty-eight] years ago. That day I had stopped in front of a poster advertising a wushu academy where one could learn shaolin and tai chi. I had only heard about tai chi once before that, when an acquaintance who knew next to nothing demonstrated tai chi movements he had learned from an American instructor in Stockholm.
I immediately became interested and asked where I could get in touch with the American, who was from Cleveland, Ohio. I was told he taught in a high school gym one or two nights a week. I went to the high school. No one knew who he was, let alone how to get in touch with him. I did more searching, all in vain. Getting a bit frustrated, my eye caught sight of the wushu academy poster, complete with telephone number and street address, and I figured I might as well stop my search for the illusive American. I went to the training center and looked at the window display filled with trophies won by Swedish adepts of shaolin in international competitions.
The young Chinese director of the wushu academy had trained with Bruce Lee in the Jet Kune Do style and had also made kung fu movies. That year the wushu academy had won two gold medals and three bronze medals in the international competitions in Taiwan, and the display window made this fact readily apparent to passers-by. I learned later that the dressing room in Taiwan looked like a military hospital in a war, for they all, from light-weights to heavy-weights, beat each other bloody. One of the gold medals was won in the men's heavy-weight division, and a photo showed the victor, an enormous Swede with clean-shaven head, delivering a terrible blow to the opponent's head in the final match.
The shaolin students went through the rough training of elite military units, with strenuous work-outs that could involve 2,000 blows of the fist on a brick or stone. A magazine in the window showed the Chinese director on the cover, breaking a cement block with his head. It was all far removed from my interests. But tai chi was said to be different. The tai chi instructor was the director's Swedish wife, who had won the other gold medal in shaolin in the international competitions for women. A photo in the same magazine showed her breaking six cement pavement blocks with a sweeping blow of her forearm. She has become quite well-known in Sweden since then.
It was all very glamorous. I had not been able to find the American tai chi instructor who, as I learned later when I became his student, had absolutely no form of advertisement other than word of mouth. I succumbed to all the spectacular advertising and enrolled in the tai chi class for beginners. After all, she did win a gold medal in international competition! The fact that she won the medal in shaolin, not tai chi, did not yet strike me as a problem. (… )
I trained at the wushu academy for three years until I discovered that it was three years spent learning what tai chi is not. I learned movements that, perhaps, vaguely resembled tai chi, but that were muscular and tensed, more like shaolin. They were merely pretty movements, lacking all inner technique and philosophy. I thusly trained "tai chi" two nights a week, watching the A-group, the best shaolin students, train in the adjoining room, led by the young Chinese director. When our "tai chi" instructor was away, one from the A-group once led our group with much contempt. He was one of the bronze medalists in the Taiwan competitions and thought us to be sissies, unable to defend ourselves. The muscular "tai chi" which we were learning was for show, not self-defense, and if our female instructor would ever need to defend herself, she would be unable to do so with tai chi, despite her gold medal. She would be obliged to revert to shaolin.
The last straw was when I found myself leading a class in "tai chi" after three years, with the strange realization in my brain that I did not know the slightest thing about tai chi. The movements were in total opposition to the basic rules of this art. But I did not know these rules, nor was there anyone to tell me that I was learning something totally different than tai chi. For three years I had been doing what Chen Kung, who first published the Yang family's tai chi secrets, called "climbing a tree to hunt for a fish." (7) My instincts eventually led me back to my original search for the illusive American tai chi instructor.
When I finally tracked him down, he asked me to show him my form. I had barely begun when he told me to stop. I would have to completely forget it and start over from scratch. Even the beginning posture, before one even moves, was wrong. I was perhaps a bit disappointed about wasting those three years, but I was now sure I had found a genuine instructor for tai chi chuan, as I began dealing with what Chen Kung called "a beginner's coarse sensitivity." It had proven to be very easy to find the wushu academy, but the extra effort needed to find the hidden instructor who had no advertisements or glamorous photos and trophies was worth it. It put me on the right path for the rest of my life, although after two years learning the American's form I was to completely forget it as well, to learn the many forms of Master Fu-Yuan Ni in California. (…)
The tai chi instructor, an African American, had grown up in Cleveland and at an early age had a practical need to defend himself in the rough city. His father had been a boxing champion in Pennsylvania and it was natural that boxing become his first martial art. Then followed commando wrestling, karate, shaolin, and hsun na, a Chinese art of various grasp, lock and twist techniques. But his search for a better self defense technique led him to tai chi chuan, "supreme ultimate boxing", and the Cheng Man Ch'ing school in New York, and later to Dr. W.C.C. Hu. When I became his student, he had trained tai chi for nearly thirty years. He also studied flamenco guitar with Carlos Montoya and developed a masterful technique in this art as well. On the last day of a summer seminar, he treated his students to an enjoyable concert. Along with his tai chi lessons, he taught psychology at Uppsala University, and these courses he gave in Swedish.
When I told him I did very much long-distance swimming and had surfed since I was fourteen, he said swimming was very compatible with tai chi, but he didn't think surfing was. I silently held onto my belief that surfing brings one into immediate contact with the fundamental idea behind tai chi. The spiralling energy of the wave is like the chin or intrinsic energy of tai chi. Surfing a wave is like doing push hands with the ocean. A "wipe-out" means the ocean found your center of gravity and pushed you down. Successfully riding the wave means you were undefeated and yet you are no victor. Such is the advice of Chen Kung: "Even if you do not wish to overcome the opponent, at least you ought not be defeated by the opponent."(7)
Big waves can be a formidable opponent. In surfing, such tai chi energies as "stick", "adhere", "listening", "interpreting", and "neutralizing" all have meaning. With the feet firmly planted on the deck of the surfboard in the "bow and arrow" stance, the wave's energy enters the surfer's body through the soles of his feet, just as in tai chi. Surfing is walking on water. The tai chi adept Chungliang Huang spoke of meeting three Hawaiian surfing champions who watched his tai chi group working in San Francisco and said that is exactly what they had been working on – a "surfing yoga". (Commentaries on surfing)
I became a swimmer at an early age and in high school had work-outs every day after school during swim season for three years. While runners need not think much about breathing, if a swimmer does not concentrate on his breathing he will drown. So in a very natural fashion I began concentrating on my breathing years before I encountered tai chi and meditation. Cheng Man Ch'ing wrote: "Swimming is the only other exercise that conforms to the principles of tai chi chuan and which concentrates the ch' i to become supple... For this reason I use swimming as an example of tai chi chuan; the practitioner can immediately see the comparison. It is easy to comprehend that air, like water, is not empty. When you execute each movement, you feel your motion as if you were swimming." (11) (…)
At one of his summer training camps in Sweden [in 1983], my American teacher ended the session with a talk in Swedish to the whole group. (He, unlike Master Ni whom I was soon to train with in California, talked very much.) He told us that 90% of the times you may be in a conflict with another person, you can reason with him and bring it to an end peacefully. Of the remaining 10%, he said that a determined and evident willingness to defend yourself will be enough to dispel the threat in half of them. For the remaining 5% you will be required to physically defend yourself, and perhaps 2% of these times you will hypothetically be faced with an opponent who is a skilled martial artist.
But being a peaceful man, he said that you can live a whole life without having to defend yourself, that you simply leave the scene of potential trouble. Perhaps a bit irreverently I then asked him on what planet I should live. He got my point. Avoiding the circumstances in which physical self-defense is required is quite conceivable for a whole lifetime, for living a life of withdrawal and study does not pose many such threats. But using the art of tai chi chuan as daily self-defense against the atomic-age civilization we live in that wreaks havoc in millions of souls on a daily basis – this is practical utilization of this art on a philosophic level.
Chinese woodblock print of a double sword form
(collection of the author)
Taoism and the Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan
Practical Tai Chi Chuan International
Stockholm Practical Tai Chi Chuan
Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming
Yang Style Lineage
The Tai Chi Site
Chen Tai Chi Ireland
Deities of China