Cultural Stories In Tai Chi Postures

single whip sea

“Okay lets do the form” said Sifu after we had completed the neigong and qigong exercises…

We were about to practice the ‘Yang Chen Fu 108’ form, probably the most popular Taiji form in the world today. 108 because it’s a magic number to the Chinese, there are really about 335 moves but then – who’s counting!

Taiji has names for techniques that are sometimes self-explanatory, like ‘Lift Hands’ or ‘Brush Knee’ but also have names that explain how the technique is done, often with cultural stories. Techniques are also often grouped by a name like ‘Grasp Sparrows Tail’ which alludes to a challenge match that Yang Lu Chan was faced with, he called a sparrow to his hand with some seed and every time it went to take off from his hand, it needed to push very lightly downwards with its feet and Yang Lu Chan softened his palm with such sensitivity that it was unable to do it, making the challenger change his mind about fighting him!

‘Stork Cools Wings’ gives the positioning of the body and ‘Stork Flaps Wings’ gives the violent application. ‘Return Tiger To Mountain’ alludes to the story of Yang Lu Chan having to go into the mountains and kill a Tiger with his bare hands to prove his skill to the Chinese Emperor and his sorrow was such that he swore to return a tiger to the mountain in spirit every time he performed the Taiji form.

‘Repulse Monkey’ gives the story of the Monkey God who stole some Buddhist spells and was able to travel from heaven to Earth on a cloud and make his weapons grow (I’m sure many of you remember the ‘Monkey’ series that used to be on television), the Gods were holding a feast and ‘Monkey’ stole the peaches. In the technique we offer a peach to the Monkey with one hand and when he reaches down from his cloud to take it we withdraw by stepping back and politely (you never upset Monkey or he brings mischief into your life) push him away with the other hand.

‘Waving Hands Like Clouds’ is a perfect description of the appearance and feeling of the technique as is ‘Fan Through Back’, ‘Yin Yang Fist’ with one hand open and one closed describes the harmony of the two forces in the hands. ‘Part Wild Horses Mane’ is the perfect description for the technique and ‘Hit Tiger’ the style of the movement. I think ‘Wind Though Ears’ is what the opponent feels as he is struck by the technique!

‘Fair Lady Plays at Shuttles’ gives a cultural reference as to how the move is done and the ‘shuttle’ is a weaving shuttle showing how it is performed. ‘Golden Cock Stands On One Leg’ is often changed to ‘Rooster’ but the ‘Cock’ means a ‘fighting cock’, giving the feeling of how it’s performed. ‘White Snake Spits Venom’ is also how the technique is performed and ‘Ten Shaped Hands’ refers to the calligraphy for the number 10 and the crossing of hands.

‘Snake Creeps Down’ is a description of the movement of the technique and it’s often also called ‘Squatting Single Whip’ as a description of its appearance. ‘Sweep Lotus’ describes the motion of the leg and ‘Punch to Seven Stars’ describes the shape of the body (the Plough constellation of stars).

A bit different to the Karate names of ‘Upper/Lower/Inner to Outer/ Outer to Inner Blocks’ and ‘Front/Side/Back/Round Kick’!

Whilst performing the Yang Chen Fu 108 we had to remember to ‘Suspend From The Crown’ – suspension kept us erect and in good posture making all the movements light and easy.

Whist ‘suspending’ we soften down through the entire core of the body connecting it internally and activating the ‘pumps’ to power the slow, smooth, circular, spiralling movements.

The smoothness and power comes from the feet pulsing to the floor, through the myofascial chains in the legs, connecting to the waist and deep core muscles , manipulating the energy out through the upper body.

The soft tissue of the body is opened and connected during the neigong and qigong, then actively used in the form to carry the bodyweight (as opposed to trying to balance it on the bones) and open the joints to give the connected lightness and connected floating sensation known as peng.

This inflated soft, smooth, spiralling action gives the strong connected frame that has integrity in all directions and is able to repulse an opponent with an energy pulse at any point without losing its integrity. This energy pulse is known as fa geng or fa jing.

If you imagine a stone being thrown from a car wheel, the stone is representative of the fist or foot and the wheel the body in most Martial Arts; in Taiji the stone would be the opponent. This means that there is no weakness in the structural integrity or continual spiralling movement, even when repelling the opponent.

“Wuji,” we stood to suspend, soften, open the tissue and joints and bring heart, mind and body into harmony…..

“Taiji Che She,” we raised hands, circled the arms to the left, shifted weight and held the ball before ‘Lazily Tying Coat’ and presenting our ‘Bridge’ to the imaginary opponent.

And so the form began as we moved seamlessly into ‘Grasp Sparrows Tail’…..

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