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David Watts

Regents Park / Euston

Yang Tai Chi London

London, GB 49 Members

Tai Chi (Regents Park/Euston Area)Tai Chi is a martial art derived after observing nature, then used by Daoists for centuries in China to promote good health and to restore …


Wudang Shan is a Taoist enclave situated in North West Hubei province, central China, rising to sixteen hundred metres, being famous as the spiritual home of the internal martial arts; Tai Chi Chuan, Hsing I and Pa Qua Chang. The adepts practiced, taught and studied, and still do, these disciplines as well as their source from the Book of Changes – The I Ching– also the works of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Chang Tzu, Lao Tsu etc. Wudang Shan has been a place of reverence for thousands of years with the more recent complex of temples and shrines being built and embellished in the Ming dynasty, c.1413- by Emperor Cheng Zi The work took three hundred thousand labourers ten years to complete. Wudang Mountain, with its seventy two silent and beautiful peaks extends for over seventy kilometres from the Jingle Palace in Gujunzhou City to the Golden Hall at the top of Tianzhu Peak. There are a maze of mysterious places to uncover amongst eight palaces, two main Taoist temples, thirty six nunneries, seventy two shrines on breathtaking cliffs, thirty nine bridges across spectacular ravines, twelve ornate pavilions and ten ancestral temples. It is still a retreat for adepts and those interested in Tai Chi Chuan, Chi Kung, Pa Qua, Hsing I, Taoist philosophy, science, medicine and meditation. Although Wudang Shan is World Heritage Site yet still remains a wholesome place to reflect and restore the mind, body and spirit.
Although Tai Chi appears to have a fairly modern history, supposedly founded c.1200 A.D on Wudang, its history is timeless. The meditative movements are based on the I Ching which was laid down in 2600 B.C. This is evident from the corresponding esoteric nature of the Book of Changes and its outer manifestation in Tai Chi Chuan, Hsing I and Pa Qua. These internal styles, if taught and practised properly, balance, build and store the internal energy or ‘chi’ of the body, in a natural manner. Thus Tai Chi is a moving mandala expressing the universal life force, in human form, embodying the principle of yin contracting and yang expanding energy giving rise to its upright, relaxed and constantly flowing movements. Where the chi is fused with the mind acting as the motive impetus. Hence the spirit moves the chi that moves the body, extolling the Taoist virtue that ‘the only constant is change, but one must remain constant in change’. Hence the many postures are linked together to form a relaxed fluid exercise which harmonises the inner meridian and outer aura energy of the mind and body. The posture to engender this phenomenon is detailed in Chapter 5 of :- Tai Chi Chuan & The Code of Life By Graham Horwood www.taichi-horwood.com
Also Taoist Masters claim that if one poses a question before practising a solo form, an answer can subsequently materialise. Being in the fashion of consulting the oracle of the I Ching which is a tool that also accesses the realms of the unconscious.
The reason that Tai Chi has been attributed a recent history, is mainly because a martial discipline was incorporated into its tradition, at a later date. The earliest recorded title of Tai Chi Chuan was in the Tang Dynasty (AD.618-906), but as secular Tai Chi was and still is a secretive art it must have a much older source.
For example there are the therapeutic drills which were devised by a Taoist physician and pugilist called Hua To, from the Han Dynasty circa 200 AD. His callisthenics were named ‘animal frolics’ because he observed that certain creatures had qualities that if imitated would enhance the health of an individual. His exercises were called ‘wu quin xi’, ‘five animal play’. He noticed that various animals would naturally perform certain movements to stay alert, fit and healthy for survival purposes using their ‘instinctual’ chi. The creatures which he observed in particular were the tiger stretching out its limbs, a deer extending its neck and head, a bear crouching then extending up to its full height on two legs and last but not least the movements of birds flapping their wings on the ground and in the air. All of these are incorporated in the Tai Chi form for example, in the central route the ‘bird’ postures evolved into the ‘crane’ kicking sequence of the Original Yang Style.
These Chi Kung exercises are known as Taoyin. The science of Taoyin was constantly evolving enhancing the ability to control the chi or inner breath throughout the history of Chinese callisthenics. It was also adapted by the monks of the Shaolin Monastery in the Tang Fung District of Henan. The Buddhist monks founded the exoteric or external Kung Fu school advanced by Ta Mo a sixth century AD. mentor to Shaolin. He wrote his classics on ‘sinew changing’, ‘the eighteen Lo Han’ boxing and ‘marrow washing’ exercises at the Shaolin which became the spiritual home of the external martial arts. These disseminated through the centuries into hundreds of Kung Fu styles in China such as Wing Chun, Crane Boxing, Praying Mantis, Plum Blossom Fist, Tiger and Crane System, Snake Hand and so forth. The northern styles using the lower limbs more and the southern systems employing more hand techniques. These styles filtered into the Far East and now all over the world becoming Karate, Judo, Aikido, Kick Boxing, Tai Kwan Do, etc.. In 2001 I met several Shaolin Monks where the head monk asked his team to demonstrate a Tai Chi Chuan form in my honour. He also told me that they now teach, nei kung versions of standing Chi Kung, Pa Qua and Hsing I as well as their other own Shaolin derivatives. It seems that this loop from external to internal has come full circle.
However the legendary patriarch of latter day Tai Chi Chuan is Chang San-Feng who has been ascribed as living during various times, the earliest being the Sung Dynasty (AD.960-1279). However the most reliable and accepted period is that Chang San-Feng was the former magistrate and Confucian scholar for Chung Shan County, a native from I Chow in the Liao-Tung district. He was born the ninth day of the fourth moon of 1247 AD in the Yuan Dynasty. (AD.1206-1368). Today his birthday is celebrated all over China as a festival in Tai Chi circles.
His legendary fame became established after he had completed a ten year devotion at the Shaolin monastery where, besides studying the Chinese Buddhist doctrines, he learnt the external martial arts, ‘wai kung’. He then went on to study Taoism at the K’o Hung Mountain Monastery which led him onto the Taoist enclave at Wudang Shan. Here he founded the Hsun Tien Monastery and the first major internal school, nei kung, of the martial arts and the modern birth place of Tai Chi Chuan.
This Chinese Merlin laid out the initial moves of latter day Tai Chi after some inspirational visions and dreams. The Tai Chi classics state that one night he dreamt of a Taoist Immortal advising him to reform his strenuous training methods from his former Shaolin disciplines. The content of the dream troubled him, until one day he spotted a snake and a crane in deadly combat.
Chang noticed that before the snake attacked it would raise its head, bowing its body, gathering its intrinsic energy, ready to strike out like an arrow, only for the crane to deflect the attack effortlessly with a downward arc of its powerful wing. This became the ‘brush knee’ posture in –Brush Knee and Twist Step- and -Crane Cools Its Wings-. The crane retaliated by stabbing its beak down in the manner of Taking A Needle From The Bottom Of The Sea.. The snake used its flexibility to dip, sway and ride the strike as in –Snake Creeps Down-.. This allowed the snake to lash out, –White Snake Puts Out Its Tongue – at the crane’s legs, which simply raised the vulnerable limb in a relaxed fashion so that the snake’s bite could not attach itself, due to the emptiness. Thus the crane moves were integrated into the middle of the Yang style especially with the kicking sequences designed to strengthen the lower limbs and improve balance and root. This natural display of yin and yang from the animal kingdom made a great impression on the hermit. Chang realised that yielding was more effective than using brute force. He also incorporated many of the martial postures from the Shaolin Temple into his ‘chang chuan’, long boxing, such as –Fist Under Elbow-Repulse Monkey-Elbow and Shoulder Stroke-Downward-Punch-Single Whip- etc.
A Tai Chi Master once informed me that the snake and the crane sequences symbolised the rise and fall of a person’s destiny.
The snake and the crane also have a magical significance in the Occident, where Western alchemical texts of Nicolas Flamel et al. designated that the snake represented the dark, earth energy being a yin element, whereas the crane acts as an aerial, spiritual psychic energy being the yang principle. Therefore the snake and the crane signifies the two principle opposites of Nature for both Chinese and European esoteric forms. In Tai Chi Chuan besides the ‘Snake Creeps Down’ having a martial application, it also signifies the descent into underworld. Redemption taking place by the next move the ‘golden bird (crane) stands on one leg’, portraying the ascent of the spirit; hence paradise lost and found.
There is a legend that one of the sons of the Emperor of China was hunting and encountered Chang in a forest. The courtiers ordered the dishevelled Chang to leave the area immediately, as his presence was disturbing their prey. Chang who was up a tree at the time, politely refused. There was an order given to dispatch this recalcitrant monk to his next incarnation, with a flurry of arrows. Several ace archers fired their bows at the hermit but to the Prince’s surprise, the monk jumped off his branch, catching and breaking all the arrows during his descent. When safely on terra firma, he returned the snapped shafts to their surprised owners.
Although a Wudang recluse, Chang taught openly, his reputation reaching far and wide. The Emperor of China, Tai Tso sent soldiers to recruit Chang in order to increase the martial prowess of his Court. The military escort was disappointed on finding Chang Sang Feng because he convincingly feigned madness. The duped envoys left empty handed, leaving the religious hermit to continue his path in peace, but thereafter he taught more discretely. For a more detailed history of Tai Chi Chuan and its Western correspondences please refer to Tai Chi Chuan & The Code of Life By Graham Horwood www.taichi-horwood.com
f you are interested in developing your Tai Chi Chuan, Pa Qua Chang and Hsing I please refer to my website as I am organising a trip with workshops to Wudang Shan and Shaolin, in China in April 2005. Where we will visit Beijing, White Clouds Taoist Monastery, Great Wall, Xían Terracotta Warriors, Wudang Mountain Monastery, Shaolin Temple..
The trip will have a Chinese Taoist Guide as well as the obvious advantage of Yang family introduction to Wudang mountain as I was taught a Master Chu King Hung the adopted son of Yang Shou Cheung. I also know many Shaolin Monks where one can participate or just admire the spectacular training first hand.
After Chang’s withdrawal, the history of Tai Chi Chuan becomes cloudy again. The saga re-emerging with the Chen clan which were a powerful family, from Henan province, in central China, who were devoted to Taoism. It was customary in those days for the elders of powerful clans to patronise and retreat into monasteries. It seems reasonable to assume that the Chen clan were taught their Tai Chi Chuan by disciples from Wudang Mountain being not too far away. See (fig.7).
Then in the sixteenth century Chen Wang Ting (c.1597-1664), a ninth generation Chen family member improved Tai Chi Chuan, also publicly documenting it for the first time. He lived at the end of the Ching dynasty residing in the Chen village of Chen Chia Kou of the Wen district.
Chen Wang Ting was an accomplished warrior who devised many new skills from Tai Chi including ‘the pushing hands’ exercise for two people. He designed it to increase the sensitivity by animating the limbs and torso with a spirallic form of chi. This mind and body exercise produced an incomparable flexible, yet tensile strength. This exercise ingeniously combined the principles of Chi Kung and the shadow boxing from Tai Chi Chuan into a very effective method of practising internal martial techniques without fear of injury. When chi is developed by an internal master, the blows from the nei kung martial arts are very dangerous because they can disturb the flow of chi in the meridians and internal organs. The internal systems exploit the mind’s ability to project and concentrate its intention which turns the ‘chi’ into ‘jing’ power chi. ‘Jing’ is a concentrated form of ‘thought chi’ which is an ‘invisible’ intrinsic martial weapon.
Chen Wang Ting also developed, Chan Shu Jian ‘the silk cocoon reeling’ technique which exploits the advantages of spiral movements. He was inspired to create this method after watching the young Chinese girls, who tirelessly drew the fine delicate threads from the silk worms. He observed that the girls could effortlessly do this, only if the movements were naturally gentle, slow, controlled and continuous. These circular actions wound the silk thread without interruption. This natural yin or feminine action could tirelessly perform these actions without breaking the thread. The Chan Shu Jian, as well as having peerless martial implications, reinforces the chi in the meridians, primes the waist to twist and turn, thus stimulating the kidney ‘essence’ Jing (seminal essence) at the same time. Jing being the generative and primal motive energy of the body which, when animated by nei kung methods can be transmuted into chi. See Chapter 5 on Chi Kung.
All the moves of Tai Chi are performed in this spiral ‘Chan Shu Jian’ way, after the fashion of the Tai Chi Tu, . The spiral is very much a part of cosmic law, to be found everywhere in Nature from the coil of galaxy, several light years across, right down to the humble snail which carries its own DNA code in a spiral on its shell. The Indian mystical tradition uses the Sanskrit word, kundalini to denote the primal yogic power, which means the ‘spiral or snake coil’ energy. The twin snakes entwined around the winged staff of Hermes or Mercury, the Caduceus which came the Western symbol of healing and medicine.
There are a plethora of evolved man made spirals which increase efficiency like the rifling of a gun barrel giving greater accuracy, the twist of flight feathers on an arrow, elliptical space orbit, the handyman’s drill bit, the builder’s screw, the Archimedes screw, the twist of a rope and so forth. The word spiral derives from same source as ‘spirit’ and ‘inspire’ etc. all indicating breath.
The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), was a period of native born Chinese rulers that founded a stable but very autocratic system of government. This over reliance on a vast bureaucracy created a corrupt core, which literally rotted the very foundations of the Dynasty. This over stretched collective structure crumbled giving rise to its own disastrous end, terminated by the fateful struggle against the invaders from Manchuria who founded the Ching Dynasty (1644 – 1911).
Even though Chen Wang Ting, as commander in chief of the civil militia defended his province successfully against the Manchu army, he became disillusioned by the pointlessness of the struggle for striving for power. This reflection of his violent career, caused him to become influenced by the more profound aspects of Taoism, thus he ended his days a recluse. During his latter years he wrote a poem about his time as a warrior, although needing great courage with all its risks and honours, was in vain realising how hollow it had been, compared to the final journey that lay ahead. He took up the study of the Taoist medical canon, the Yellow Emperor’s Classic on Internal Medicine, the Huang Ti Nei Ching as well as working with the peasants in the fields. But still continuing to teach and practise the martial arts in order to benefit the lives of the ordinary people of his county.
Taoism and other free spirited disciplines went underground due to the oppressive Ching dynasty of the Manchus. They held an iron grip not only on the people but its culture including anything that could threaten its authority. This included Tai Chi Chuan because of its martial, philosophical, spiritual independence. Curiously Western Alchemy became very secretive in Europe at the same time due to the various inquisitions and repression of many alternative beliefs including alchemy, the study of the cabalah etc. For example Isaac Newton invented the apple story to cover up his studies of alchemy which was the true inspiration for his many discoveries including his laws on motion and gravity, mathematics etc.. This was also the case for Newton’s academic rival Gottfried Leibniz. Both were familiar with the Rosecrucian and Masonic orders where arcane texts such as the Kabalah, the Hebrew book of correspondences were studied..
Even though Taoism and Tai Chi Chuan became more secretive they acted as an ‘inner’ yin psychic balance to the yang oppressive administration of the Manchus. Similarly Western alchemy compensated for the dogmatic social and religious mores of the time.
It took Tai Chi Chuan nearly two hundred years to enter its next historical phase when an impoverished lad of ten years of age called Yang Lu Chan (1799-1872) in 1810 headed out from his birth place in Hebei province in North China to seek fame and fortune. His destiny led him to the Chen Chia Kou village where he purposely found work with the Chen Clan, the descendants of Chen Wang Ting.
Then one evening, whilst still a lad he was strolling in the permitted outer courtyard of the Chen family mansion, where he overheard controlled shouts coming from the inner courtyard which was strictly forbidden to non-family members. Fate permitted him to stealthily climb a tree unnoticed, that overlooked the training area. There he saw members of the Chen family performing their shadow boxing skills, which were kept highly secret, for reasons of self-preservation. This became a superlative, clandestine experience for this intelligent lad, who then privately practised the forms, which he had memorised from his nightly vigils.
His hard work, loyalty and honesty made him popular with the Chens especially with a senior of the clan called Chen Chang Hsiang (1771-1853) of the 14th generation. During an outing, Chen Chang Hsiang, accompanied by family members and the young Yang Lu Chan, was challenged by outsiders to a customary duel. The purpose of the opportunist pugilist was to try and gain a reputation by defeating the Tai Chi Master. Several clan members went to defend their chief but without success. Then out of respect and honour for his patron, Yang Lu Chan stepped forward, defeating the adversaries easily. Chen recognised that Yang had used the family’s secret techniques, very effectively.
Yang was summoned to appear before him at dawn, to explain this outrage. Yang was very concerned, as it was a serious offence to infringe on the privacy of such a noble family, especially concerning martial practises.
In the morning Yang confessed that no one had betrayed any secrets, explaining his tree learning apprenticeship. Chen was impressed by the story and the skills of the young lad but in true Chinese martial tradition, ordered him to return at the same time on the following day. An hourly ritual ensued each day. Yang would enter to find Master Chen, crossed-legged, meditating on the podium of his chamber, then after his hour was up he would politely leave.
Then one morning a year later, Yang was patiently in attendance whilst Chen meditated when he noticed the Master start to lean forward. Yang jumped up to catch his teacher only to receive a shock that sent him flying across the room ending up at the entrance. When he looked up, very surprised, at Chen, he saw that the Master was still sitting quietly, meditating.
Yang had passed the first test of patient endurance. Thereafter Yang was accepted into the family martial circle where he enjoyed a privileged learning status for the next twenty years. He learnt the shadow boxing forms, ‘push hands’, weapon forms, Chi Kung and self-defence.
When Yang Lu Chan was about to return to his homeland of Hebei to continue his famous destiny, Chen Chang Hsiang in parting told Yang that as he had become such a skilful master in his own right, that he would never have to worry about food or clothing ever again, which turned out to be true.
Yang Lu Chan’s fame travelled across the land as he taught and duelled on his journey through China. His exploits led him to Peking where he was summoned to the Emperor’s Palace in the Forbidden City to demonstrate his skills.
On his visit to the Emperor, the gates of the Forbidden City were opened to Yang Lu Chan by the customary eunuchs who had mischievously left two courtyard dogs loose for their amusement. The dogs attacked the legs of Yang Lu Chan who just shook them from his legs in a casual manner. Later that evening when the eunuchs were feeding the dogs, they wondered why the hounds had lost their appetite but on closer examination, the servants noticed that the dogs had lost their teeth. The teeth were found at the spot of the attack on Yang’s legs earlier that day. The Chan Shu Jian training had allowed the chi to permeate into the bone and soft tissue strengthening his body. Hence the Tai Chi maxim ‘limbs of steel wrapped in cotton wool’.
After several displays of his prowess defeating many Imperial champions, he was naturally offered a senior teaching post at the Court. Although he was obliged to teach Court officials and even the Emperor himself, he was in a quandary because if he showed the Emperor and his staff the secrets of Tai Chi Chuan he and his family would be dispensable. Whereas if the Emperor discovered that Yang held back the secrets, the same fate would transpire.
So he devised an ‘external’ or public form of Tai Chi that would promote health without showing the more intrinsic aspects of self defence that made Tai Chi such a formidable martial art. Several times the Emperor would ask why his ability did not match that of Yang. Whereupon the Tai Chi Master disingenuously explained that his Royal Highness had to relax and practice more. Thus, he saved his neck and his secrets not only for the rest of his life. This ruse lasted for three generations of the Yang family who equally duped everybody, yet became Martial instructors to the Imperial Court. This became a very private joke for the Yang family right up to the Last Emperor of China.
To ensure the hermetic family tradition, the secret tradition was only passed on to sons, because the daughters would be under a vow of obedience when married to disclose any secrets to their spouses. This was done to protect the Yang daughters as the Chinese nuptial mores of complete obedience to their husbands were very strict. Yang Shou Cheung (1909-1984) broke this tradition by teaching all his daughters Tai Chi. Some of whom still instruct Tai Chi today in Hong Kong, where the Grand Master lived, after being forced to flee China in 1949.
The Yangs privately called the public forms ‘Tai Chi dancing’. There are several systems of so called Tai Chi Chuan being taught today that stem from the public forms. Neither the Manchu Emperors nor their Courtiers could fathom the internal aspects because the concept needs careful instruction of the nei kung training.
Yang Lu Chan modified the Chen Tai Chi Form eliminating the acrobatics, alternating speeds and the foot stamping. Thus making it a subtler flow of movements incorporating the more natural principles of yin and yang. The Yang style was developed with an internal emphasis, by using the ‘spirit’ or mind to control the chi transportation as opposed to a physical bias using force to move the body. Hence another of the Tai Chi precepts ‘the spirit moves the chi, which moves the body.
Yang naturally taught all his sons. The most renowned was his third son, Yang Chien Hou (1839-1917). He was a gentle man and a scholar who also revised the form. Chien Hou was famous for his technique of ‘adhering’ as he could follow an opponent’s movements relentlessly without losing touch or being felt. The following anecdote will demonstrate his unusual skill.
A local Kung Fu expert had borrowed some money from the wealthy Yang Chien Hou and one day came to Yang asking for more time to repay the debt. Yang, being a generous joker, offered him an alternative method to settle the outstanding sum by way of a challenge. The martial contest consisted of a challenge that if the debtor could shake loose the Tai Chi master, the debt would be null and void.
The Kung Fu master readily accepted this and mounted on to the roof over looking the courtyard. The challenger stood in front of Yang on the edge of the first story roof. Yang was at the rear with his right hand, imperceptibly placed on the other’s shoulder. Instead of jumping straight down as expected, he did a somersault in the air landing nimbly on his feet. He felt no sensation of Yang at all, during his acrobatic and sudden descent. The Kung Fu master looked around smugly, thinking that he had outwitted the Tai Chi Master, only to find to his astonishment, that Yang was standing behind him, in exactly the same manner as on the roof, still with the right hand on his shoulder.
One of Yang Chien Hou son’s, Yang Cheng Fu (1883-1936) became very famous at the turn of this century as a Tai Chi champion. He also modified the form into the style recognised today as the ‘Original Yang Form’, which had a ‘public’ and ‘family’ face. He realised that Tai Chi had lost its martial prowess with the general introduction of firearms into China at beginning of the twentieth century. Yang Cheng Fu took stock of this and moved south, still teaching, selectively, the ‘public’ Tai Chi but to a wider range of students in order to improve the health of as many people as possible. He did this as he saw China and its peoples were impoverished needing an uplift. This was the birth of Tai Chi Chuan as a Chinese health art which, then stealthily spread out of China. Particularly after the communists took power in 1949, causing a mass exodus of Chinese intellectuals and aristocracy. However dubiously the Yangs had served the Imperial Court, they were considered nobility by the communist faction, causing many family members to leave China during the revolutionary upheavals. Around that timeYang Cheng Fu’s eldest son Yang Shou Cheung (1909-1984) moved from Peking to Hong Kong where he lived modestly to the end of his days teaching selected students including Master Chu King Hung his third adopted son. In 1978 I was fortunate to meet, then to study with Master Chu for over eight years in the U.K.
Tai Chi Chuan is a conscious, outward manifestation of the inner, unconscious essence of the life force. It is a Taoist manifestation of the archetypes. Over the centuries it has evolved from a spiritual discipline through a martial phase to become a useful tool as a health art. The reason for its flexibility is because it is based on archetypes which remain eternal yet ever changing.
In the following chapters I will break down its various medical and practical implications, explaining its essence in a Western manner, which will not address all its secrets, because life is still and always will be a mystery.