Every taiji master has his own sequence of training, emphasizing his methods and content. The following is a list of general training procedures according to my experience with three taiji masters and his teaching experience of more than thirty years. This section is a guide only to the bare hand training procedures of taijiquan.
The general sequence of taijiquan training is as follows:
- Understanding the fundamental theory of taijiquan
- Relaxation, calmness, and concentration practice
- Breath training
- Experiencing and generating qi
- Qi circulation and breathing
- Still meditation
- Fundamental stances
- Breath-coordination drills
- Fundamental moving drills
- Solo taijiquan
- Analysis of the martial applications of the sequence
- Beginning taiji pushing hands
- Fundamental forms of taiji jing training
- Heng and ha sound training
- Fast taijiquan
- Advanced taiji pushing hands
- Advanced taiji jing training
- Qi expansion and transportation training
- Martial applications of taiji pushing hands
- Free pushing hands
- Taiji fighting set
- Taiji free fighting
Before the taiji beginner starts training, he should ask himself several questions. Why do I want to learn taiji? What benefits do I hope to gain? Am I likely to continue training for a long time? After you have answered these questions you should then ask, Does this taiji style offer what I want? Is this master qualified? Does this master have a training schedule? How long and how deep can this master teach me? Will this master teach me everything he knows, or will he keep secrets when I approach a certain level? After I have studied for many years, will I be able to find an advanced master to continue my study? In order to answer these questions, you have to survey and investigate. You have to know the historical background of the style and the master’s experience. Once you have answered the above questions, then you can start your taiji study without any doubt or confusion.
Six Steps to Learning to Taijiquan
The first step in learning taijiquan is to understand the fundamental theory and principles through discussion with your master, reading the available books, studying with classmates, and then pondering on your own. You should ask yourself: How does taijiquan benefit the body and improve health? How can taiji be used for martial purposes? What are the differences between taijiquan and other martial styles? Once you have answers to these questions, you should have a picture of the art and an idea of where you are going. The next question to arise should be, How do I train to obtain the relaxation, calmness, and concentration skills that are the most basic and important aspects of taijiquan? This leads you to the second step of the training.
Usually, if you have the right methods and concepts, you can train your mind to be calm and concentrated and can relax physically in a short time. Keeping this meditative attitude is very important for beginning training. The next step is to train your breathing. The breathing must be deep, natural, and long. If you are interested in health only, you can use Buddhist, or normal, breathing.
However, if you want to advance to martial applications, you should train and master Daoist, or reverse, breathing. You should be able to expand and withdraw the muscles of the abdomen area easily. After you have trained your breath correctly, you should then begin to sense the qi in your abdomen and dan tian. This will lead to the fourth step—generating and experiencing qi. If you are interested in knowing more about taijiquan and breathing, please refer to the book Tai Chi Qigong, published by YMAA.
Usually, qi can be generated in two ways: externally and internally. To generate qi externally is called wai dan (外丹), and when it is generated internally, it is called nei dan (內丹). Interested readers should refer to the author’s books Qigong for Health and Martial Arts and The Root of Chinese Qigong, published by YMAA. Through training qi generation you will gradually realize what qi is and why smooth qi circulation benefits the body. You will also build up your sensitivity to the movement of qi.
The more you train, the more sensitive you will become. After a time, you should then go to the next step—circulating qi. This is best practiced through still meditation, which will enhance your qi generation and circulation. Qi circulation is guided by the calm mind and made possible by a relaxed body. You must train your mind to guide the qi wherever you wish in coordination with correct breathing. First you should develop small circulation, which moves the qi up the spine and down the center of the front of the body. Eventually you should develop grand circulation whereby qi is circulated to every part of your body. When you have completed the above six steps, you should have built a firm foundation for taiji practice. With correct instruction, it should take less than six months to complete the above training (except grand circulation).
The above six steps are purely mental training. When you practice these, you can simultaneously practice the fundamental stances, which build the root for the taiji forms. You should be familiar with all the stances and should practice them statically to strengthen your legs. Also, at this stage you can begin fundamental breath coordination drills. These drills are designed for the beginning student to train the following: (1) coordination of breathing and movement; (2) coordination of qi circulation and the forms; (3) smoothness and continuity; (4) relaxation; and (5) calmness and concentration of the mind. These drills will help you experience qi circulation and the mood or atmosphere of taiji practice. After you have mastered the fundamental stances and fundamental drills, you should then go on to the fundamental moving drills.
In fundamental moving drills, a few typical forms are selected from the taiji sequence to train proper movement, in addition to the five points mentioned above. These drills are discussed in author’s tajiquan books: Tai Chi Qigong and Tai Chi Chuan Classic Yang Style, published by YMAA.
The taiji solo sequence is constructed with about forty apparent techniques and more than two hundred hidden techniques. It is practiced to enhance qi circulation and improve health, and is the foundation of all taiji martial techniques. It usually takes from six months to three years to learn this sequence, depending on the instructor, the length of the sequence, and the talent of the student. After a student has learned this sequence, it will usually take another three years to attain a degree of calmness and relaxation, and to internalize the proper coordination of the breathing. When practicing, not only the whole of your attention, but also your feelings, emotions, and mood should be on the sequence. It is just like when a musician or a dancer performs his art—his emotions and total being must be melted into the art. If he holds anything back, then even if his skill is very great, his art will be dead.
When you finish learning the solo sequence, you should then start discussing and investigating the martial applications of the postures. This is a necessary part of the training of a martial arts practitioner, but it will also help the nonmartial artist to better understand the sequence and circulate qi. With the instruction of a qualified master, it will take at least two or three years to understand and master the techniques. While this stage of analysis is going on, you should begin to pick up fundamental (fixed-step) pushing hands.
Pushing hands trains you to listen (to feel) the opponent’s jing, understand it, neutralize it, and then counterattack. There are two aspects of pushing hands training. The first emphasizes feeling the opponent’s jing (ting jing, 聽勁) and then neutralizing it, and the second aspect emphasizes understanding the emitting of jing (dong jing, 懂勁) and its applications. Therefore, when you start the fundamental pushing hands, you should also start fundamental jing training. Jing training is usually difficult to practice and understand. A qualified master is extremely important. While training jing, the coordination of the sounds heng (哼) and ha (哈) become very important. Uttering heng and ha can enable you to emit or withdraw your jing to the maximum and coordinate the qi with it, and can also help to raise your spirit of vitality.
When you finish your analysis of the sequence, you have established the martial foundation of taijiquan. You should then start to train speeding up the solo sequence, training jing in every movement. In fast taiji training, practice emitting jing in pulses with a firm root, proper waist control, and qi support. In addition, develop the feeling of having an enemy in front of you while you are doing the form. This will help you learn to apply the techniques naturally and to react automatically. After practicing this for a few years, you should have grasped the basics of jing, and should start advanced pushing-hands and jing training.
Advanced (moving-step) pushing hands will train you to step smoothly and correctly in coordination with your techniques and fighting strategy. This training builds the foundation of free pushing hands and free fighting. Advanced jing training enables you to understand the higher level of jing application and covers the entire range of jing. During these two steps of training, you should continue your qi enhancement, expansion, and transportation training to strengthen the qi support of your jing. The martial applications of pushing hands should be analyzed, and discussed. This is the bridge that connects the techniques learned in the sequence to the real applications. When you understand all the techniques thoroughly, you should then get involved in free pushing hands and learn the two-person fighting set.
The taiji fighting set was designed to train the use of techniques in a way that resembles real fighting. Proper footwork is very important. Once you are moving and interacting fluidly, you can begin to use jing. The final step in training is free fighting with different partners. The more partners you practice with, the more experience you will gain. The more time and energy you spend, the more skillful you will become.
The most important thing in all this training is your attitude. Remember to study widely, question humbly, investigate, discriminate, and work perseveringly. This is the way to success.
The above is an excerpt from Tai Chi Chuan Martial Power: Advanced Yang Style by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming