Internal Training: Taiji Quan
Taiji Quan is the internal martial art that was created by the legendary Daoist Immortal Zhang San Feng in Wudang Mountain. When people think of Tai Ji they generally only think of the slow movement style of Taiji Quan. Taiji Quan is so much more to this. One part is soft, coordinated movement, but another aspect is it's martial application. Many moves within a Taiji form are rooted in a combative technique. This coupled with the "meditative" qualities of Taiji quan work together to develop a well rounded training experience. However, Taiji Quan is only one part of the three-part Taiji System (potentially four parts if we add in Taihe Quan). The three parts are Wu Ji, Tai Ji, and Liang Yi (better known as Tai Yi). Although they are defined separately they are complementary and integral to each other in practice.
The first part of the Tai Ji System is the practice of Wu Ji, translated as 'ultimate emptiness'. Through practicing Wu Ji, one works to cultivate the three treasures: Qi (energy), Jing (essence) and Shen (spirit). This internal alchemy helps one to better understand and communicate with the nature of the body and mind. With practice, cultivation of Wu Ji can be used to improve the physical well being to approach a better longevity and a balanced mind.
More about Wu Ji and three treasures here
The second part of the Tai Ji system involves the well known practice of Tai Ji Quan. However, the full cultivation of Tai Ji is deeper than the series of slow coordinated movements. Tai Ji is the balancing interaction between yin and yang. The movements of Tai Ji Quan become the physical version of this; soft concealing hard, weak overpowering strong, balance between the two opposites. By practicing Tai Ji Quan one can open the channels of the body and relax tensions both physical and emotional. Tai Ji is also a great benefit to becoming internally aware. The main benefit from the training of Tai Ji Quan is that it is a low impact style that can be progressed in at any age. Even though the training of Tai Ji does not require the expense of massive amounts of energy it is a lifelong experience that requires determination and a strong vigilance, consolidating the very idea of its own practice.
The final part of the Tai Ji System is the practice of Liangyi, from here written as Tai Yi. Contrary to Tai Ji Quan, balancing yin and yang, Tai Yi is defined as the separation of yin and yang. For this idea, Tai Yi uses slow and fast, soft and strong together to turn the internal energy into external strength through movements called Fajin, or explosive power. When yin and yang are separated through these movements, it is called the Two Extremes. Hence the namesake of the style Liangyi, meaning 'Two Extremes.' Tai Yi is known for its emphasis on body technique and coordination and the awareness and understanding of internal control.
The three parts of the Tai Ji System are interdependent as well as complementary in practice. In complete, the practice of Wu Ji is used to strengthen the mind and body and achieve longevity, the practice of Tai Ji is used to balance yin and yang and build internal energy, and the practice of Tai Yi is used to separate yin and yang to transfer the internal energy into external power. Each individual piece also carries traits of the others. In this way they are connected to each other at an even deeper level. Yang cannot exist with Yin and vice versa.
When all elements of the Tai Ji System are cultivated, one can develop the potential to create not only a stronger, softer, cleaner, healthier and more aware being, but one can also attune themselves to effortless action and develop clarity and intention to become more in harmony throughout life. This is where I propose the addendum of one more piece to the system. This would be Tai He (lit. supreme harmony). Tai He is where everything comes together to a perfect balance. Not only is there transformation but there is also connection and complementation. When the opposites and their extremes reach an equal conversation with each other, the world finds itself in order.
Taiji Quan Forms
Taiji Quan is trained is various sets. There is TaiJi 108 and it's shortened version of TaiJi 28. Another traditional set is TaiJi 13. Each of these sets covers a wide variety of movement. Each transition and technique aligns itself with the philosophy of Taiji and the balance of transformation. We also have a Taiji Sword form which extends the expression of Taiji down the length of the straight sword. Taiyi and Taihe also are represented each by a single form set of movement.
There are also a few complementary practices to learning the Taiji system. Of course the aspects of both external training and qigong principles greatly influence the shape of Taiji. This is seen in the basic structure of Taiji Bu, or Taiji Stepping, practice. This is a coordinated method of breathwork and movement that helps to introduce the framework of the Taiji system. However, not all Qigong can be Taiji Quan because of one important detail, the martial application of taiji fist. The introduction to such a practice is Tui Shou, or push hands. This is a partner drilling routine that works to build sensitivity and to correct technique that utilizes and connects the full body. Push hands is a comprehensive practice and comes with many different methods and routines to work on. Having a good understanding of push hands and developing skill within this practice are both so beneficial as to almost be necessary to ones practice.
There is no greater teacher than experience and each one of these practices is meant to be immersive. It is only through practicing with intent, deliberation, and structure can we eventually reach a point where effortless action becomes as natural and fluid as the movements of Taijiquan.