Martial Vocabulary and Principles of Application
I am always a little bit annoyed but sadly not surprised when martial artists of the more Kick and Punch persuasion laugh at Taiji as a martial art. This prejudice is based upon the common presentation of Taiji as a therapeutic practice only. Whilst it is true that it is an excellent health practice, to practice Taiji without an understanding of its martial content would be to miss its real meaning and to ignore its heritage. Rest assured that it would not have been taught to the Imperial Guard of the Ching Dynasty if it was not considered as a high level Martial art. Indeed the modern founder Yang Lu Chan ( Yang Fu Kui. Died 1872) was known as ‘Yang the Invincible’ which is no mean feet in a period of history where losing a challenge could mean death or serious injury. The persistent view that Taiji does not really work as a martial art does not add up when viewed historically.
The typical method of practice in the Wu, Sun, Yang and Hao styles do not generally exhibit any martial content. By this I mean obvious expressions of power and much prejudice arises from this apparent neglect. Old and traditional methods of training martial skills may have been lost and or often rewritten. Generally though, Form is considered as only a first level of practice and must be achieved before training any martial skills. Sadly, many people do not go to this level. Early learner Form practice contains much of the language of Taiji but does not show martial content neither does it train martial skills. Training with a martial perspective is quite a different proposition. In the Wu style we are lucky enough to retain an additional hand form known as the Fast Form which exhibits changes in speed, strikes, high and low kicks, stamps and energetic expression ( both Yin and Yang) which are the common elements that are required to turn a movement skill into a functional martial application. Unlocking the meaning of Form and it’s multiple applications is necessary to begin to develop ‘appropriate’ speed and ‘appropriate’ power before it can be digested into Form.
In learning the martial application of Taiji there are four key areas that must be trained. Wu Kong Cho, Grandson of Founder Quan You, in his treatise on Taiji principles published in 1935 stated that there where four principles of application. In no particular order they are : Neutralising Skills (Hua Jin), Emitting Skills ( Fa Jin) , Locking Skills ( Na Jin) and Striking Skills (Da Jin).
To neglect the study and practice of any of these martial aspects will evidently leave Taiji a depleted art subject to doubt and prejudice. To understand them will change the character of your Form and give it a martial ‘flavour’ that will both fulfill the art as a therapeutic practice and most importantly express it as a powerful and very real and highly evolved martial system. In this way Form is not only the first level of practice but eventually becomes the last.