Supreme Ultimate Wednesdays
For the past three months or so I have been learning Supreme Ultimate Fist, which is usually referred to using its Chinese name, Tai Chi Chuan (also Taiji Quan). For most people this brings to mind large groups of old folks exercising in unison in the park. It is that, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Supreme Ultimate Fist dates back to around 1000 a.d. in China when it was invented to mimic the movements of a snake fighting a sparrow.
Tai Chi Chuan is a soft martial art, it is all about internal forces and keeping the muscles relaxed. When striking the force lashes out like a whip, coming out of the ground, gathered at the hips, and redirects the force of your opponent back at them. It has its roots in Taoism, and in the balance of Yin and Yang. My early interest in the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu probably helped to lay a foundation for my interest in Tai Chi. The concept of Yin and Yang is pervasive in the form – it applies to each movement, it applies to the application of force when confronted in the fighting style, and it applies to the mind/body duality of the practice. There is always a balance of forces, and this is what makes it so strong.
The style I am learning is the Yang style, developed in the early 1800s by Yang Lu-ch’an. In the past two weeks, I have been working on the forms Carry Tiger to the Mountain, Repulse the Monkey, Diagonal Flying, Needle on the Bottom of the Sea, and Back as Fan (or Iron Fan). Just taking a glance at these written instructions for Repulse the Monkey you can get an idea of how complex the practice is.. but it is not something to read about and then do, it is about repeating the movement and focusing on careful control of your internal forces. Much of the skill is internal, so it really can’t be learned by simply copying the movement. Since it requires you to keep your muscles always relaxed, and to strike only from your whole body force (not from your arm, or shoulder for example) it feels a bit unnatural at first. It is difficult to stay soft, yet become capable of striking with force. This is why Taiji is taught in slow-motion, so that you can completely learn all the internal movements and balances required to execute the forms correctly. When you have mastered the long (slow) form, you move on the the fast form, sparring (Push Hands) and even sword or other weapon forms.
There are a whole bunch of great videos up featuring the various forms of Taiji Quan. Here a few:
Excerpt from the Yang Style long form (what I am learning at the moment)
Example of application to fighting Notice in the slowed down attack that his hand and arm remains soft and loose, even while striking his opponent in the head. The whip-like nature of Taiji also allows for extremely fast, forceful attacks which your opponent cannot anticipate.