Taiji has been evolving for more than seven hundred years, and it is very difficult to state just exactly what makes up the art. The content of the art has varied from one generation to the next. For example, one generation might specialize in the taiji spear, and gradually come to ignore other aspects of the art, such as the sword or saber. The contents of the system can also vary from one teacher to another. One might have learned only the sword from his master, and so naturally the sword would be the only weapon he could teach. Some masters will emphasize a particular principle or training method because of their experience, temperament, or research, or perhaps create a new training style for a new weapon.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, taiji weapons practice has been increasingly ignored. Frequently, only the bare hand solo sequence is taught. In some cases the solo sequence has been modified to make it simpler and shorter, and therefore more accessible to a greater number of people. Although a number of techniques have been eliminated, the sequence still serves the purpose of improving health. However, a simplified sequence may not be enough if one is interested in deeper research and practice

Additionally, the coordination of breath and qi circulation is often ignored. Most people these days learn taiji without ever being exposed to the martial applications of the postures, the concept of jing, bare hand fighting sets, or taiji sparring. Taiji sword and saber sequences, because of their beauty, are practiced in the United States, although the applications of the techniques are seldom taught. Qi enhancement and extension training seems almost to have disappeared. Taiji spear, staff, and ruler can hardly be found in this country.

The reason for this is nothing new. The practitioners today are usually looking for a relatively quick and easy way to improve and maintain their health. Very few are willing to sacrifice their time for the long, hard training required to develop the other aspects of the art. Because of this, both in China and the rest of the world, even if a master is qualified to teach the whole art, he may be reluctant to pass it down to an unappreciative, if not actually doubting, generation. It seems very possible that the deeper aspects of taijiquan will die out in the near future.

The various aspects of taijiquan that are still available are listed below for reference:

1. Bare hand:

  • Taiji Solo Sequence
  • Applications from the Solo Sequence
  • Fast Taiji Training
  • Still Meditation
  • Qi Circulation Training
  • Jing Training
  • Pushing Hands and Its Applications
  • Taiji Fighting Set and Deeper Martial Applications
  • Taiji Free Pushing Hands and Sparring

2. Taiji Sword:

  • Taiji Sword Solo Sequence
  • Qi Enhancement and Extension Training
  • Martial Applications
  • Taiji Sword Matching Forms
  • Taiji Sword Sparring

3. Taiji Saber:

  • Taiji Saber Solo Sequence
  • Martial Applications
  • Taiji Saber Matching Forms
  • Taiji Saber Sparring

4. Taiji Spear and Staff:

  • Individual Spear and Staff Martial Techniques
  • Spear and Staff Sticking-Matching Practice
  • Long-Weapons Sparring

5. Taiji Ball:

  • Listening and Understanding Jing Training
  • Adhere-Stick Jing Training
  • Two-Person Taiji Ball Training

6. Taiji Ruler:

  • Unknown to Author

The Proper Approach to Learning Taiji

Whether or not a person learns something depends upon his attitude and seriousness. First he must make a firm decision to learn it, and then he must have a strong will to fulfill his intention. He needs perseverance and patience to last to the end. Even if a person has all these virtues, his achievement might still be different from that of another person who has the same qualities and personality. The difference is due to their manner of learning. If a person practices and then ponders every new thing he has learned, and keeps going back to research and master it, he will naturally be better than the person who never explores what he has learned. Both students may learn a method for changing rocks into gold, but only the first one will know why the method works. The former's knowledge will continue to grow and he will soon become a master; the latter will always be only a practitioner.

Taiji theory is profound. It takes many years of learning, research, pondering, and practice to gradually grasp the key to the art and "enter into the temple." However, the more you learn, the less you are likely to feel you understand. It is just like a bottomless well or a ceaselessly flowing river.

There is an ancient list of five mental keys the student of taiji needs in order to reach the higher levels of the art. It is said: (1) Study wide and deep; (2) Investigate, ask; (3) Ponder carefully; (4) Clearly discriminate; and (5) Work perseveringly. If you follow this procedure, you can learn anything, even how to become a wise and knowledgeable person.

In addition to the above learning attitude, a good master is also an important key to learning the high art of taijiquan. In China, there is a saying: "A disciple inquires and searches for a master for three years, and a master will test the disciple for three years." It also says: "A disciple would rather spend three years looking for a good master than learn three years from an unqualified master." A good master who comprehends the art and teaches it to his students is the key to changing a rock into a piece of gold.

It is the teacher who can guide you to the doorway by the shortest path possible and help you avoid wasting your time and energy. It is said: "To enter the door and be led along the way, one needs oral instruction and practice without ceasing; the way is through self-practice". It is also said: "Famous masters create great disciples." On the other hand, a good master will also judge if a disciple is worth his spending the time and energy to teach. A student can be intelligent and practice hard in the beginning, and change his attitude later on. A student who practices, ponders, humbly asks, and researches on his own will naturally be a good successor to the style. Usually a master needs three years to see through a student's personality and know whether he is likely to persevere in his studies and maintain a good moral character.

In the fifty years since taijiquan has been popularized, many good taiji books and documents have been published. A sincere taiji practitioner should collect and read them. Books are the recording of many years of learning, study, and research. If you do not know how to use this literature to your advantage, you will surely waste more time and energy wandering in confusion. However, you should not completely believe what any book says. What is written are only the author's opinions and personal experiences. You should read widely, investigate, and then clearly discriminate between the worthwhile and the not-so-worthwhile in what you have read. If you do this well, you can minimize confusion and avoid straying too far from the right path.

In addition, you should take advantage of seminars, summer camps, and other ways to come in touch with experienced masters. In this way, you will be able to catch many key points and gain a "feeling" for many things that you may have only read about. But remember, you must research on your own in great detail in order to achieve a deeper understanding of the art. Thus, it is said, "You don't ever want to give up your throat; question every talented person in heaven and earth. If [you are] asked: how can one attain this great achievement, [the answer is] outside and inside, fine and coarse; nothing must not be touched upon."

The above is an excerpt from Tai Chi Chuan Martial Power Advanced Yang Style by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming.