At YMAA, students learn qigong (energy cultivation) as part of their taiji or kung fu classes. In ancient times, Shaolin monks trained the cultivation of qi (energy), and realized muscular power could be enhanced to a tremendous level, making martial techniques more powerful and effective. This was the beginning of internal cultivation in Chinese martial arts, starting around 550 AD /CE.
In internal styles, YMAA focuses mainly on traditional Yang-style taijiquan which originated from Yang, Ban-Hou (楊班候). However, other styles of taijiquan, such as Chen (陳氏, Wu 吳氏, and Sun 孫氏, will be introduced through seminars with qualified masters and publications. In addition, YMAA has hosted well known masters to teach Xingyiquan (形意拳), Baguazhang (八卦掌), and Liu He Ba Fa (六合八法), the other three well-known internal styles.
Taiji Qigong (太極氣功). Taiji qigong is designed to help the beginner to feel and understand qi, and also to learn how to use the concentrated mind to lead the qi so that it can circulate smoothly. Practicing taiji qigong exercises can significantly improve one's health. In addition, taiji qigong is the key which helps the taiji practitioner learn how to use the yi (i.e., wisdom mind) to lead the qi to energize the physical body for maximum efficiency.
Taiji Sequence (太極拳套). There are many different styles of taiji. YMAA students must learn the traditional Yang style of taijiquan, which has 108 postures/patterns. It is believed that the taijiquan which YMAA practices originated with Yang, Ban-Hou. After many years of practice, in 1997 YMAA completed its assimilation of traditional Chen style taijiquan into its regular internal training schedule. The Chen style taijiquan in YMAA was passed down from Master Liang, Shou-Yu (梁守愉). Master Liang, Shou-Yu learned his Chen style taijiquan from Grandmaster Gu, Liu-Xing (顧留馨).
Taiji Stationary Pushing Hands (太極定步推手, Taiji Ding Bu Tui Shou). The purpose of taiji pushing hands training is the same as that of the fighting forms in the external styles. However, taijiquan emphasizes sensitivity to touch (i.e., listening) (Ting), understanding (Dong), following (Sui), sticking (Zhan), and adhering (Nian). In stationary pushing hands you must learn many fundamental techniques, such as single pushing hands and double pushing hands. These incorporate the energies of ward off (Peng,), rollback (Lu), press (or squeeze) (Ji), push (or suppressed by palm) (An), pluck (Cai), rend (or split) (Lie), elbow (Zhou), and bump (Kao).
In addition, other advanced pushing techniques, such as coiling, controlling, borrowing, leading, and neutralizing Jins are trained. In YMAA stationary pushing hands training, there are four basic neutralization patterns which a pushing hands beginner must learn. Next, he/she will begin double pushing hands training, which includes six different training patterns. Normally, these trainings are used to introduce four basic Taiji Jin patterns: Peng, Lu, Ji, and An. An international training routine has also been absorbed into YMAA training and is simply called "Peng, Lu, Ji, An training."
Next, a student must learn the other four basic Taiji Jin patterns, Cai, Lie, Zhou, and Kao. Again, this includes two basic training routines, one is from Dr. Yang and the other is an international routine. These routines are commonly called "Da Lu," "Lu-Ji," and simply "Cai, Lie, Zhou, and Kao." YMAA has its traditional "Da Lu" training, even though an international training routine has also been absorbed into the YMAA training and is called "Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kao training."
Silk Reeling Taiji Symbol Training (太極圈纏手練習, Taiji Quan Chan Shou Lian Xi). Silk Reeling Taiji Symbol training is the foundation of the taiji pushing hands and sparring. This training includes two portions: the yang symbol and the yin symbol. A student starts with yang symbol, solo practice first, then with a partner. Begin with stationary practice, then move to forward and backward. After a student is able to move forward and backward with closed eyes, he or she then starts the parallel walking training. Finally, he will complete this symbol with the Bagua walking. When a student has mastered the yang side, then he should learn the yin side and follow the same training procedures. When these two yin and yang symbols are mastered, a student will be able to change his or her techniques smoothly and easily and apply them in the pushing hands or sparring.
Taiji Fighting Set (太極散手對練, Taiji San Shou Dui Lian). The 88-movement taiji fighting set was designed so that two people could practice together in a situation resembling actual fighting. The main purpose of this training is to teach the student how to step and move his body into the most advantageous position in combat. Naturally, it also teaches the student how to avoid being channeled into a disadvantageous situation. The student needs to have practiced stationary pushing hands first, so that he can combine that experience with the fighting set to make the techniques come alive.
Taiji Moving Pushing Hands (太極動步推手, Taiji Dong Bu Tui Shou). Taiji moving pushing hands is the training before taiji sparring. In moving pushing hands, the student must use stepping strategy with the techniques learned in stationary pushing hands and the fighting set. Students who have reached the level where the opponent cannot set them up, and can use their own techniques skillfully, have completed the basic training for sparring.
Taiji Free Sparring (太極自由散手對打, Taiji Zi You San Shou Dui Da). In YMAA, bare hand taiji sparring is one of the final goals of instruction. In taiji sparring, striking techniques come out of the sticking and adhering. Body protection is required for this training.
Taiji Sword (太極劍, Taiji Jian). The 54-movement taiji sword form is used to train the student's qi to a higher level. In fact, the theory of taiji sword is much deeper than that of bare hand taijiquan, and the techniques are also much more difficult to train and master.
Sticking Taiji Sword (太極劍對練, Taiji Jian Dui Lian). Sticking taiji sword training is similar to taiji stationary and moving pushing hands training. It helps the students to extend their feeling and sensing beyond the body and out to the tip of the sword. This training is very important for those who wish to learn taiji sword sparring.
Taiji Saber (太極刀, Taiji Dao). Taiji saber is another short weapon which trains students in the skillful coordination of the physical body with the qi body. Like the sword, taiji saber also has sticking training.
Taiji Staff (太極棍, Taiji Gun). The staff is the first long weapon in taiji. The principles of feeling (listening), following, sticking, and adhering remain the key to the training. Taiji staff also has two-person sticking training. This training is combined with other Southern-style staff techniques.
Taiji Spear (太極槍, Taiji Qiang). The spear is called the king of the long weapons. It is considered the highest level of taiji training. In taiji spear training, students train to extend their sense of feeling and to direct their qi to the head of the spear. This enables the student to feel (listen), follow, stick and adhere to the opponent's weapon. Sticking taiji spear is also part of the training.
When you practice taijiquan skills to a high level and have reached a state of "fight of no fight" (regulating without regulating), then every action is ultimately natural, comfortable, skillful, and effective. This is the stage of "fighting with enlightenment." In this stage, you are the one who controls the entire fighting situation.
There are two other articles that may interest you Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming's Yang-style Taijiquan Teacher, Kao, Tao (高濤) and learning more about the ancient roots of taijiquan.
The above is Dr. Yang, Jing-Ming's official YMAA Internal Arts Curriculum, which outlines his recommended order of study for tai chi chuan students.
Learn more about Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming's Yang-style Taijiquan teacher Kao, Tao (高濤)
Learn more about the ancient roots of taijiquan.