Dienstag, 27. Januar 2009

Article: The Importance of the Classical Theory

From Ma Hailong (son of Wu Yinghua and Ma Yueliang)
From the Magazin of the Jianquan Taijiquan Association Shanghai Journal 85-86, 25.2.2001, p. 3

Taijiquan is a part of the traditional martial arts of our country and expresses a special branch of gongfu. It's attraction lies in the very subtle effect on human vitality, by which one can reach the highest level of self cultivation and nurturing our inner nature. From the time of outset of Taijiquan until today the masters have worked to improve and perfect it, completing it's form and increasing its depth, without which it would have become an outdated martial art. Naturally there are unique principles connected to it.

Perfect Taijiquan requires not only the finest ability, but also a deep and thorough understanding of its theory. Thus the perfect system of Taijiquan becomes visible. But it does not stop here. There are a great number of classical texts connected to the theory of Taijiquan, like the "Taijiquan Classic", the "Taijiquan Treatise", the "Song of the Thirteen Basic Movements" and others. Each one has its own style and describes in each case aspects of the essentials of Taijiquan. Thus one can receive the thoughts of the old masters. I am of the following opinion:

That the theory originates from the lifelong experience of wise masters, written down and complete. It should be an obligation for every student of Taijiquan to read. It is to be regretted, if during learning Taijiquan no great importance is attached to the reading of this classical theory. Possible reasons for this are to be described in the following:

1) Language difficulties
Many people do not have knowledge of the old-Chinese language. So it is very difficult to understand the texts. Therefore deep research and understanding are impossible.

2) Difficult theory
If one has not the instruction of an intelligent teacher, one will experience difficulties in training. It will not be easy to receive explanations from them. This is a problem if one wants to make fast quantitative and qualitative progress.

3) People's circumstances in today's world
People, who practice Taijiquan, are restricted by their circumstances and the spare time they have. Because of this they put training first and thereby neglect the theory/foundation. When practicing Taijiquan one goes through step by step development over a long-term. If one does not have an excellent foundation, one will not be able to structure the thoughts deeply and reach a high level.

I want further say: I think, we must set greater store by learning and investigation of the theory, because it is an important step in building the foundation. In former times the venerable masters, e.g. my father Ma Yueliang, my mother Wu Yinghua, as well as my uncles Wu Gongyi and Wu Gongzao dedicated regular time to the study and investigation of classical theory. They had a large collection of classical texts and were able to interpret most of it. I in comparison select such writings from these texts, that state important things simply - in order to allow everyone access to their contents.

So, a few simple ideas can help to create a fruitful discussion. I hope my article will create an interest in classical theory.

Sonntag, 25. Januar 2009

Link: Tai Chi Classics

The Tai Chi Classics are the backbone of the study of Tai Chi Chuan.
Here are links collect to a great number of Tai Chi Classics.
They may help to get a depper understanding and a better background to the art of Tai Chi Chuan:



A praise of the East Asia scientist Dr. Rainer Landmann on the "Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan"

A praise of the East Asia scientist Dr. Rainer Landmann on the "Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan":

The German version of the "Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan" was issued in 2005:A great step for all people who are interested in Tai Chi Chuan or in Chinese philosophy.
Tai Chi Chuan Teachers are often asked what to read in order to deepen knowledge, to get background information and to become better acquainted with the ideas behind this art.
It is indeed a difficult question, but Martin and Freya Boedicker were able to answer it in a fascinating way by publishing this masterpiece.

Of course Lao Tzu or the I-ching or Sun Tzu´s Art of War are always worth reading, but the question is which translations should be chosen, which parts of the books are important for a deeper understanding of Tai Chi Chuan.
Only a few people spent the time and the patience to gain the necessary knowledge (in theory and practice) , which is needed to be able to study the main works of Chinese philosophy. But Martin and Freya Boedicker did so and were thus able to identify the essential passages related to Tai Chi Chuan. They chose the most important parts of a dozen of classical writings, made new translations, brought them together with a brilliant short history of each work and added an extremely useful glossary.

To summarize briefly:The philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan is a clear must for everyone who is interested in Tai Chi Chuan, Chinese Martial Arts, Chi Kung or in the Chinese way of thinking. And it is absolutely fascinating and great fun reading it.
Dr. Rainer Landmann (Hamburg/Germany)

Samstag, 24. Januar 2009

General links for Chinese Philosophy

Why Chinese is so damn hard

China the Beautiful Classical Chinese Art, Calligraphy, Poetry, History, Literature, Painting and Philosophy

The Internet Sacred Text Archive One of the largest freely available archive of online books about religion, mythology, folklore and philosophy

Chinese Philosphy Page Chinese Classics Chinese Classics in English and Chinese

Chinaknowledge A universal guide for China studies

Chinese Culture Texts This page contains a summary of all the text files available on this Brooklyn College Core 9 Chinese Culture Website, including Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, Legalism, history and others

Essential Readings on Chinese Philosophy This list represents one opinion on the essential secondary readings in English on Chinese philosophy.

Chinese Philosophy The learning module "Chinese Philosophy" is designed as a learning module in the form of a research textbook.

Article: Ziran – the Chinese Concept of Naturalness

An essential concept of Taijiquan, whose importance is repeatedly stressed, is naturalness. This concept is often used when referring to the execution of movements. For example, Wu Yinghua says:

“Whether in the form or in pushhands all movements should be natural.”
(Ma, p. 24)

It is also used to stress the naturalness of breathing. In an interview with the journal “Martial Arts”, (p. 8), Ma Yueliang answers the question of whether the study of Taijiquan is associated with any particular technique of breathing:

“No, only breathe naturally.”

Ma Jiangbao expounds that instead of controlling the breath or adjusting the movements to the breathing, one should breathe as usual when learning the form. A deep and full breathing is achieved through regular practice, and “breathing will adjust quite naturally to the movements.” (Ma, p. 53)

However, students of Taijiquan – particularly Western students – react with a mixture of amusement and helplessness when they meet with difficulties in the execution of movements, and are advised to conduct them, “completely naturally”. This is usually attributable to a misunderstanding based on ignorance about the background meaning of the Chinese concept of ziran.

In Taijiquan, ziran is translated as “naturalness”. But ziran is a concept that has both a colloquial and a philosophical meaning. Ziran is a two-character word that consists of the characters zi and ran.

A simple translation would understand the word as a combination of its single components. A dictionary translates the sign zi with “self” and ran with “so”. Combining its single components would thus render ziran:


This is quite a simple translation, and it does indicate the original idea that informs the ziran concept. In an expanded entry in the same dictionary, we find under ziran:

“nature, naturally, by itself, to let something take its [natural] course”.

Ziran can simply be equated with nature, but it also indicates the inner nature of all beings and things, which are self-so.

If one studies the history of Chinese philosophy, one finds the first usage of the concept of ziran in the Laozi, in the Zhuangzi, in the Mohistic Canon, and also in the Xunzi (see also Röllike).

The concept of ziran was developed as an answer to the question, ‘what is dao?’ In the Laozi, verse 25 says:

Human beings follow the law of earth,
earth follows the law of heaven,
heaven follows the law of dao
and dao follows the law of ziran.

Bauer explains:

"The expression ziran literally means “to be so by itself”. It is first used in the Laozi and refers to the structure of Tao, which cannot be referred back to anything else.” (Bauer, p. 202)

Within daoist tradition all of this implied that through retreating back to nature, one could be nearer to the dao. In observing and imitating nature, and through rejecting human culture, one could perfect one’s own character. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD these ideas changed. It was no longer absolutely necessary to search for the dao in nature, but rather one’s own self became the mirror of the dao.

Bauer says that, “it is the sole acknowledgement of the own self in all expressions and activities of life which is the decisive feature of ‘naturalness’ and ‘freedom’ , which can be found in nature and the dao as well as in the ideal/perfected human being.” (Bauer, p. 203)

According to Wu Yinghua the demand for naturalness can be explained by referring to the origin of many movements of Taijiquan in traditional Chinese martial arts. These movements were developed in accordance with human physiology and the laws of nature. In Taijiquan one says:

Shen xin ziran – the body and the heart-mind are natural.

Through calmness of movement and stillness in the heart-mind (xin) practitioners of Taijiquan shall find and cherish their naturalness. This form of naturalness refers to body and mind and is not assumed to be automatically there, but needs to be worked for and maintained in a continuous process. This becomes apparent when Ma Jiangbao (Ma, p. 53) says about the practice of breathing in Taijiquan:

“Although breathing should not be consciously directed, the correct breathing can only be achieved if the body’s posture is correct: upright position of the head, upright coccyx, upright back, lowered shoulders, elbows and pelvic hips.”

These are the very preconditions, which for most people are not given as matter-of-fact, but need to be achieved and sustained through regular Taijiquan practice.

· Bauer Wolfgang, China und die Hoffnung auf Glück, DTV,
Munich1989 (China and the Hope for Happiness).
· Das neue chinesisch-deutsche Wörterbuch,
The Commercial Press, Kong Kong 1989
(The New Chinese-German Dictionary).
· Ma Jiangbao, Tai Chi Chuan, Mach: Art, Ratingen 1998.
· Martial Arts, Heft No. 8, Martial Arts Verlag,
Stelle-Wittenwurth 1986.
· Rollike Hermann-Josef, Der Ursprung des Ziran-Gedankens
in der chinesischen Philosophie des 4. und 3. Jh. v. Chr.
Europäiche Hochschulschriften: Reihe 27, Asiatische und
Afrikanische Studien, Bd 51, Heidelberg, 1994.
(The Origin of the Ziran Idea in Chinese Philosophy in the
4th and 3rd Century B.C).

Article: The Flow Experience in Tai Chi Chuan

By Martin Boedicker

Tai Chi Chuan is often described as meditation in motion. With this feature, the simultaneity of physical action and the achievement of a meditative state of awareness, Tai Chi Chuan has become famous. This fusion of inner stillness and outer movement leads to a special feeling. One is in the here and now, highly concentrated. All the worries of everyday life are forgotten and it simply feels good. The own body, breathing and the change of movements are perceived without being focused on it. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi saw this kind of inner experience also in artists at their work. He named this state flow experience and investigated it in further studies.

First results of his study showed that many artists even without the prospect of wealth or fame invested a considerable amount of time and effort into their artistic activity. None of the rewards, which are used in the normal working life to motivate employees (money, recognition) played a role. There was also no external motivation. The artistic act was done for its own sake. The motivation must be found in the characteristics of the activity itself. Thus one speaks of intrinsic motivation.

In his further work Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi investigated, which inner experience takes place when it is activated by intrinsic motivation and what factors affect the intrinsic motivation. He made a study with 200 people, who spend a lot of time with intrinisic motivated activities, such as playing chess, rock climbing, dancing, basketball and composing. It showed that many participants described their experience as a optimal state, where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, as being in a flow. Thus Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called it flow-experience. The flow experience can be described in more detail with the following components:

- The self and the activity become a unit
- One is fully concentrated upon the activity
- The thoughts move completely into the background
- Enhanced perception of your own body and the environment
- There is a sense of control of the current situation

In his further exploration of the flow experience Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found the following conditions for the flow experience necessary:

- Fitting of the skill of the performer and the challenge of the task (not too difficult - not too easy)
- Clear task
- Fast feedback on the activity

I think a flow experience can also often be observed in Tai Chi Chuan. The theory by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi now gives us hints how to reach the flow experience easier in the practice of Tai Chi Chuan. Here are a few suggestions:

- Define a clear task before the training, e.g. I try to relax the shoulders.
- Choose forms or movements which fit to my current physical and mental situation.
- When practicing individual movements, I try to get a feeling for the movements and correct them if necessary.

In addition to improving one‘s own practice you can also modify the learning of Tai Chi Chuan in such a way that a flow experience can be experienced. Conditions are here:

- The movements to be learned fit in their level of difficulty to the skills of the student.
- The depth of the correction fits to the skills of the student.
- The correction of a movement must be clearly defined.
- There must be a fast feedback on the exercise by the teacher or by one‘s own feeling

The flow experience in the Tai Chi group is certainly something very special. Is it not often like this: The slower the movements, the greater is the inner experience and the faster the time runs.

News: The Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan

Our book the "Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan" is now at the printer.

Article: To Help the Seedlings Grow

References to Chinese philosophical classics in Western Taijiquan literature

Freya and Martin Boedickerer

If you look closely at Western Taijiquan literature, you can easily find anecdotes or allusions which even a Western reader can identify as references to Chinese philosophical classics. Here are two examples and their sources:

1) When Zhang Sanfeng was asked by a student about the principles [of Taijiquan], he replied by sticking out his tongue. The student didn´t understand. “Do you see my tongue? ’’ The student replied: “Yes.’’ “Did you see my teeth?’’ The student smiled and said: “You have none anymore!’’ “That´s just it. The tongue is soft and supple, it always was there and will be there. The teeth are hard, they do not last and, in the end, they fall out.’’ (Anders, p. 20 f)

This anecdote is surely inspired by the daoist Huainanzi (from the pre-Christian times), where it is written: “Therefore, a weapon which is too rigid, will burst. A piece wood which is too hard, will break. A piece of leather which is too brittle, will tear. The teeth, harder than the tongue, suffer first damage. Therefore the soft and weak are the trunk of the life. The hard and strong are the students of death.’’ (Boedickerer, p. 77)

2) As a tip for the beginner in Taijiquan you can find the following advice: “Even when you think that Taijiquan has its roots in the philosophy of Asia, you should be careful not to mystify or overemphasise the spiritual aspects. Taijiquan lives through its great naturalness and, as you would not pull a seedling to make it grow faster, you should take time to learn Taijiquan step by step.’’ (Engel, p. 124)

This image of the stalk can also be found in the Confucian book Mencius, where a farmer is blamed for being too impatient. This man “was sad that his grain was not growing and so he was pulling at it. In the evening he came home and said to his family: 'Today I am tired, I have been helping the grain grow.’ His son ran out to the fields to have a look and saw that all plants were already withered.’’ (Men 2A/2, p. 55)

These two examples show how ideas of the Chinese philosophical classics entered into Western Taijiquan literature. The authors were certainly not always conscious of the source. But that is not important, providing that, as in these examples, the meaning remains true to the source.

Anders Frieder, Tai Chi Chuan, Econ, Düsseldorf 1994
Engel Siegbert, Tai Chi, BLV Verlag, Munich 2004
Boedicker, Freya and Martin, The Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan, Berkley, California 2009