Internal Martial Arts
Taìjíquán, literally ‘Grand Pole Boxing’ is currently by far the most popular internal martial art, though in general perception it is rather more for health and well-being than fighting or self-defence. Indeed, health is a pre-condition for any form of combat. Yet self-defence is an art that by definition is non-aggressive. It is designed to favour the weak and old against assailants with superior force. From this starting point, taìjíquán aims first to nourish the physical pre-conditions through optimal posture, breathing and elimination of counter-productive tensions. Only when these basic requirements have been met, can there be productive instruction and training in martial techniques.
The basic meaning of ‘internal’ in this context is opposed to the use of conventional muscle power. It is founded on the principles of ‘sinking’ (chén) the weight down to your feet. This is the way to develop whole body power. Integration of whole body energy (qì) means relaxing the joints so energy can flow upwards from the ground to the extremities without obstruction. It means losing tensions from the muscles so that the tendons of the whole body can operate freely like bow-strings released in unison.
To make this theory into reality, the daily foundation exercise of taìjíquán, after preliminary stretches and limbering, is the ‘form’ (tàolù), a fixed sequences of movements and dynamic postures (shì 勢) which the practitioner may in time start to understand are martial techniques. Consequently each is constructed to maximise efficiency in coordinated use of the whole body. The key parameters in practise are relaxation by sinking weight into the lower body, abdominal breathing, and a slow constant speed. With the mastery of this meditation in movement, the mind can focus on precision in body alignments and actions which will yield ample returns in health and ultimately self-defence.
Personally, I have trained with several leading masters from 1968 when I first arrived in Hong Kong. Later in Tokyo I trained in taìjíquán under Zhang Yizhong, senior disciple of famed master Wang Shujin. During the 1970s I trained in the related internal martial arts of baguá and xingyi under master Wang himself in Taizhong (Taiwan).
In recent years, I had the incredible good fortune to be accepted as a student by Master Liu Yazi from Xianyang (near Xi’an), known here as Master Yaz, who currently teaches in North London (Kentish Town, Camden). Master Yaz teaches a rarer but older style of taìjíquán named Zhaobao after its place of origin in north Henan, close by Chenjiagou, home of Chen style. To study under Master Yaz is to realise there are no short-cuts, no YouTube substitutes for hands-on instruction from a real master. I have never met any teacher, in my quests throughout China and the Far East, so ready to demonstrate his awesome techniques without inflicting injury. Over the past five years, I have enjoyed his meticulous instruction, benefitting from his deep commitment to the art and warm personal support with that of fellow students.
Dr Marnix Wells
PhD Classical Chinese, SOAS.