An introduction to Sun style Tai Ji Quan
According to legend Tai Ji Quan was founded by the Daoist monk Zhang San Feng who was living in seclusion on Wu Dang mountain researching the art of longevity.
After Zhang San Feng it is difficult to follow the succeeding line, and many researchers doubt the fact that Zhang San Feng had anything at all to do with the creation of Tai Ji Quan, but we can say for sure that the art was practised in Wen Xian area in the province of Honan where it was taught by such notables as Jiang Fa of Zhaobao village and Chen Wang Ting of Chen family village in the 17th century.
Yang Lu Chan learned the art from Chen Chang Xing who was a successor to Chen Wang Ting and taught it to the scholar Wu Yu Xiang. Wu Yu Xiang researched the art deeply and travelled to Wen Xian in order to receive more knowledge of the art. Eventually he became a disciple of Chen Qing Ping who was a successor to Jiang Fa’s Tai Ji Quan and completed his training under him. He also got hold of some ancient manuscripts on the theory of Tai Ji Quan and researching these was able to reorganise what he have learned from his teachers into a new form later called Wu style Tai Ji Quan. Later, Hao Wei Zhen learned the art from Wu Yu Xiang’s nephew Li Yi Yu and taught it to Sun Lu Tang who subsequently created Kai He Tai Ji Quan or Sun style Tai Ji Quan as it came to be known.
Sun Lu Tang had started his martial arts training with Shaolin Quan in his youth but eventually became a disciple of Li Kui Yuan who was a master of Xing Yi Quan (Form-Mind Boxing). After several years of practice under Li he was introduced by him to Li’s teacher Guo Yun Shen who took Sun as a disciple teaching him the finer aspects of Xing Yi. After completing his training with Guo he was introduced by Guo to his friend and Ba Gua Quan master Cheng Ting Hua. Sun Lu Tang lived and studied with Cheng for three years and was then left to practice and research what he had learned on his own.
One day he heard of a martial artist who had come to Beijing but became very ill and lived at an inn nearby. Sun went there and invited the man to come and live in his home while recovering and saved no expenses buying medicine for him. After his recovery the man wanted to give Sun something back in order to repay his kindness but Sun politely refused saying that all martial artist are like brothers and would expect no repayment from whatever favours done. The man, who was Hao Wei Zhen, was impressed by Sun’s attitude and good heart and offered to teach him his art of Tai Ji Quan. Sun who had long been interested in this art as it was supposed to be related to the ones he was practising, gladly accepted his offer and thus came to study the Wu style of Tai Ji Quan.
After many years of research Sun Lu Tang punding the commmon roots of Taiji, Xing yi and Ba Gua and including a lot of exchange with Yang stylists such as Li Jing Lin, Yang Shao Hou and others, created Kai He Tai Ji Quan or Sun style Tai Ji Quan as it’s known today.
Sun Lu Tang wrote five books on martial arts: “A study of Xing Yi Boxing”, “A study of Ba Gua boxing”, “A study of Tai Ji Boxing”, “A study of Ba Gua sword” and “The true meaning of boxing”. These books was among the first on internal boxing to spread widely and are still regarded as classics on the arts. Especially his last published book, “The true meaning of boxing”, is regarded as a real treasure on internal martial arts and has affected almost every other branch of martial arts practised today.
Sun Lu Tang chose his daughter Sun Jian Yun to be his successor. She has several prominent students such as Sun Yong Tian, Zhang Zhen Hua, Liu Shu Chun, Zhang Da Hui etc. who carries on the style today.
Characteristics of Sun style Tai Ji Quan1
- Entering and retreating coordinates.
This means that the body should be coordinated in all kinds of movements. Coordination of movement is accomplished if the back leg follows the front leg in advancing and the front leg follows the back leg in retreating.
- Movements are comfortable, extended, round, flexible, nimble and natural.
- Distinguish clearly between empty and solid.
- The movements of Tai Ji Quan are like “moving clouds and flowing water” (i.e. continuously without stops).
- Every turn of the body is accompanied by opening and closing.
Because of what is stated above Sun style Tai Ji Quan is also called “Open-close alive step grand ultimate boxing” (Kai He Huo Bu Tai Ji Quan) and is suited for people of any age, constitution or present state of health.
Important points in practice.
General: The whole body should be relaxed, round, straight, agile and have a constant feeling of power. Pay attention to the feelings in your body and in your mind while practising. Consider the form as an instrument helping you to find out about yourself, Tai Ji Quan and the relationship between these two. Focus on developing “whole body power” (i.e. the whole body is engaged in every movement with a unified intent). Whole body power comes from “the six harmonies”. The six harmonies consists of three external and three internal harmonies. The three external harmonies are:
1) coordination of the hand and the feet.
2) coordination of the elbows and knees.
3) coordination of the shoulders and the hip.
The three internal harmonies are:
1) coordination of heart and mind.
2) coordination of mind and Qi.
3) coordination of Qi and strength (force).
Head: The head should prop up but without using strength. The chin should be naturally held in, allowing the head to become really straight. If the head is straight the spirit will become alive.
Mouth: The mouth should close lightly. The tongue should press lightly against the upper palate. Use the nose for breathing.
Chest: The chest should be held in and not protruded out. This would make the Qi (vital energy or breath) to sink down to Dan Tian (The “field of elixir” in the lowest part of the belly2 ), otherwise it would be detained in the chest area. If the upper body is heavier than the lower parts the heel will easily leave the ground. The problem is that you’re not stable enough. If you do the posture right, Qi would keep close to your back and you’ll get the real power, the power that comes from the backbone.
Shoulders: The shoulders should relax and drop down. Do not raise your shoulders or the Qi will go up.
Elbows: The shoulders should relax down and be naturally bent making the arms keep their roundness, hiding straight power in it. Before you release power from your body first collect and build it up.
Hands: The five fingers should open and the wrist press down. The tigers mouth (the area between your thumb and index finger) should be round. Empty the palm as if though were to grasp and hold a ball.
Waist: The waist is the centre of whole body and the origin of power. Therefore the lower back should be straight so that you’re able to carry the weight of the whole body and allow the Qi to flow unrestricted.
Legs: The legs should be bent. Empty and full should be clearly separated, the weight of the whole body should be kept on one leg. If the weight is on the right leg, the right leg is full and the left leg empty and vice versa. To clearly separate between empty and full is an essential point in Tai Ji Quan because it allows one to start to move very quickly and also to become light and nimble.
Breath: Use deep breathing (down to the lower belly), but don’t force yourself to press the Qi down there. Let it sink down naturally.
How to practice Tai Ji Quan.
There are three important aspect of Tai Ji Quan that should be emphasised in practice. These three are: 1) The health aspect, 2) The martial/self defence aspect and 3) The Philosophical aspect. You can consider these three aspects as the legs of a three-pin chair. If you take one leg away the chair would fall over. Only when you have all three can the chair serve it true function, without one or two it can only serve as an interesting object to look at (at most).
Remember the important points in practice 3 and always check yourself to see if your movements follows these principles.
Practice regularly: It is better to practice for 15 min every day than to practice for two hours once a week. Don’t practice on a full or too empty stomach. Find a nice, quiet area for practice (usually areas are nice and quiet in the morning which is the reason why most Chinese get up at 5 a.m. for their daily practice (there are other reasons as well, but out of scope of this article)).
Though TJQ is a really wonderful thing it is also one of the most difficult things to study. In order to make progress in the art it requires more than just doing the form a couple of times every day. It requires research.
The way to research the health aspect of TJQ is basically to develop your feeling of your body-mind (i.e. become aware of thoughts and feelings coming to you while practising and also of the changes in your body when executing the postures). The way to research the martial/self defence aspect is to think about and figure out different ways to use the movements in the form in a self defence situation. Remember the Chinese saying “although when practising there is no-one in front of your eyes but in your mind there is, although when defending yourself there is someone in front of your eyes but in your mind there isn’t”. The way to research the Philosophical aspect of TJQ is to study literature on Tai Ji and related areas (Books on other martial arts, Daoist and Buddhist literature, etc.4) and compare the ideas you’ve found with how the form works.
Let your practice (and life) be guided by the balance principle (not to little and not too much), always seek to find a balance with yourself and your surrounding and you’ve taken an important step on the Tai Ji way…
- Taken in essence from the preface and introduction to “Sun shi Tai Ji Quan” by Sun Jian Yun (publ. “Renmin tiyu chuban she”, 1957) ↩
- Dan Tian refers to the area between the navel and pubic region. The centre of the area (Qi Hai) is a point located about 1½ ” below the navel. It is considered to be the storage area of the vital energy (Qi) and has a similar function for the Qi as the heart has for the blood. The “cultivation of Dan Tian” is a major concern in Daoist and Buddhist practice as well as in the hundreds of Qi Gong systems developed in china and, of course, in martial arts. ↩
- See the headline “Important points in practice” for details. ↩
- Some of the more important books are: The five books written by Sun Lu Tang that i mentioned in the history part (of which only “The Study of Form-Mind Boxing ” is currently available in English), “The Essence of T’ai Chi Ch’uan” by Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo, et al. is (in my opinion) one of the best translations available on the Tai Ji classics. On philosophical literature I recommend “Tao Te Ch’ing” translated by Wang RongPei and William Puffenberger, “Chuang tzu” translated by Fung Yu-Lan and “I Ch’ing”, Translated by Richard Wilhelm (while “Yi Jing”/”I Ch’ing” or the book of changes might prove difficult and the Chinese consider this book to be the most difficult one to understand they also consider it to be the most important book on Yin-Yang theory existent). ↩