The Importance of the Classical Theory

Discussion in 'Tai chi' started by Martin2, Feb 8, 2015.

  1. Martin2

    Martin2 Valued Member

    Would like share this article with you and ask you:

    Which classics do you like?
    What does reading the classics gives you?

    The Importance of the Classical Theory

    From Ma Hailong (son of Wu Yinghua and Ma Yueliang)

    From the Magazin of the Jianquan Taijiquan Association Shanghai Journal 85-86, 25.2.2001, p. 3

    Taijiquan is a part of the traditional martial arts of our country and expresses a special branch of gongfu. It's attraction lies in the very subtle effect on human vitality, by which one can reach the highest level of self cultivation and nurturing our inner nature. From the time of outset of Taijiquan until today the masters have worked to improve and perfect it, completing it's form and increasing its depth, without which it would have become an outdated martial art. Naturally there are unique principles connected to it.

    Perfect Taijiquan requires not only the finest ability, but also a deep and thorough understanding of its theory. Thus the perfect system of Taijiquan becomes visible. But it does not stop here. There are a great number of classical texts connected to the theory of Taijiquan, like the "Taijiquan Classic", the "Taijiquan Treatise", the "Song of the Thirteen Basic Movements" and others. Each one has its own style and describes in each case aspects of the essentials of Taijiquan. Thus one can receive the thoughts of the old masters. I am of the following opinion:

    That the theory originates from the lifelong experience of wise masters, written down and complete. It should be an obligation for every student of Taijiquan to read. It is to be regretted, if during learning Taijiquan no great importance is attached to the reading of this classical theory. Possible reasons for this are to be described in the following:

    1) Language difficulties
    Many people do not have knowledge of the old-Chinese language. So it is very difficult to understand the texts. Therefore deep research and understanding are impossible

    2) Difficult theory
    If one has not the instruction of an intelligent teacher, one will experience difficulties in training. It will not be easy to receive explanations from them. This is a problem if one wants to make fast quantitative and qualitative progress.

    3) People's circumstances in today's world
    People, who practice Taijiquan, are restricted by their circumstances and the spare time they have. Because of this they put training first and thereby neglect the theory/foundation. When practicing Taijiquan one goes through step by step development over a long-term. If one does not have an excellent foundation, one will not be able to structure the thoughts deeply and reach a high level.

    I want further say: I think, we must set greater store by learning and investigation of the theory, because it is an important step in building the foundation. In former times the venerable masters, e.g. my father Ma Yueliang, my mother Wu Yinghua, as well as my uncles Wu Gongyi and Wu Gongzao dedicated regular time to the study and investigation of classical theory. They had a large collection of classical texts and were able to interpret most of it. I in comparison select such writings from these texts, that state important things simply - in order to allow everyone access to their contents.

    So, a few simple ideas can help to create a fruitful discussion. I hope my article will create an interest in classical theory.
  2. Dan Bian

    Dan Bian Neither Dan, nor Brian

    I'm not really one for reading the classics, particularly not committing them to memory.
    I will occasionally refer to them if I have a particular thought or question.

    Q) Which classics do you like?
    A) I like the "Fighters Song"/"Song of Pushing Hands"

    Q) What does reading the classics gives you?
    A) A headache if done too often, and for too long.. :p

    I think the article posted is clearly biased towards the idea of "the old ones" having all the answers, and the classics being the "ultimate" way of learning the theory of taijiquan.
    I would disagree with this - I would, infact, go as far as to say that, with a competent teacher, one need never look at the classics, as everything in them should be able to be taught in a practical, hands on way. This leads to instant understanding, rather than the "read, try to put into practice, mistake, try again, eventually get it" method.
  3. aaradia

    aaradia Choy Li Fut and Yang Tai Chi Chuan Student Moderator Supporter

    So far, I haven't gotten much from reading anything about TCC.

    I feel like I SHOULD, but I just don't. And it is weird for me, because usually whenever I get into something, I read all I can and get a lot from doing so.

    But it just hasn't been the case with my martial arts. I learn a lot more from the actual practicing than the reading. The theory I get from my Instructor, other instructors, and my Sifu.

    At least so far.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2015
  4. Martin2

    Martin2 Valued Member

    Hey aaradia and Dan Bian,

    thx for your posts. And yup, in a way you are right - a good instructor, who can give you all is a must.

    On the other hand, Tai Chi Chuan is given from one generation to the next - so I think it is very important to write down some guidelines and these are the classics - telling you where to concentrate and what not to forget.

    They are a very good tool to check if you got what your teacher wants to teach you and to reflect on your own training at home.

    One day you will have learned everything what your teacher knows - but your teacher can not know everything - then the Classics can guide you on your way into a future on your own feet.

    The "Fighters Song"/"Song of Pushing Hands", the "Song of Striking hands (Dashouge)" is a good example and I love it too - here my own translation:

    Peng, lü, ji, an have to be practised conscientiously.
    When up and down follow each other,
    it is difficult for the other to advance.

    No matter how strong he attacks me,
    with the use of four ounces
    one can easily deflect one thousand pounds.

    Divert the attack into emptiness,
    the counter-attack follows immediately.

    do not lose contact or resist.

    It is also said:
    If he does not move,
    I do not move.

    If he moves imperceptibly,
    I move first.

    The power appears to be relaxed, but it is not relaxed.
    The power is ready to open, but it does not open.
    Even when one’s own power breaks off,
    the idea continues to exist.

    Big hug

  5. Dan Bian

    Dan Bian Neither Dan, nor Brian

    All martial arts are given from one generation to the next - that is how an art that is 400 years old carries on to the present day. Whether it be taijiquan or koryu Jujutsu.

    So are your own class notes - which are more directly relating to what you are working on at the moment.

    Again, if you have a good teacher, then by the time you have learned everything you can from them, you shouldn't need the classics to continue developing yourself because the core message of the classics teachings will be ingrained in your practice.

    The classics were an individuals ideas on methods of practice, and were traditionally passed on orally, not in writing.
    The minute they were written down, and committed to a set format, they no longer relate to an individuals learning, and the words lose all of their potency.

    Grab a note-book, ask questions of your teacher and record all of your thoughts and learnings. Create your own classics!
  6. Martin2

    Martin2 Valued Member

    Hey Dan Bian,

    OK, I have to accept your opinion as it is.

    I am just surprised to see classics on the Medway Tai Chi Societies homepage (The Secret song of the Eight Powers by Tan Mengxian) - looks like someone there see some value in the Classics.

    All the best

    Last edited: Feb 9, 2015
  7. Dan Bian

    Dan Bian Neither Dan, nor Brian

    I see value in them as historical texts, not as praactical training guides. Certainly, the value i place on them is much less than you seem to.
  8. Hannibal

    Hannibal Cry HAVOC and let slip the Dogs of War!!! Supporter

    In a similar vein there has been a reconstruction movement of Viking combat from descriptions in the Sagas.

    Even with HEMA manuals and books such as Bubishi reconstruction is tricky and they have illustrations
  9. Mangosteen

    Mangosteen Hold strong not

    We embellish stories and movies or fights and wars that happen now, what makes people think that the sagas and classics of old didnt heavily embellish stuff.
  10. Hannibal

    Hannibal Cry HAVOC and let slip the Dogs of War!!! Supporter

    I spoke with Lagenschwert about this actually and got the following

    Like martial arts in movies - for the masses anything will do, but if your market is fighters you better get your poop in order!
  11. Martin2

    Martin2 Valued Member

    Hey Mascarenhas,

    I think, as one should not follow his teacher word by word, one should not follow the classics word by word.

    All teachers and authors can make errors or make things up, consciously or unconsciously.

    Thus, as Confucius already advises, it is good to learn in a group.

    In this way one is exposed to more than one opinion and can discuss what one has heard or read. This kind of reflection of the teaching can help to progress a lot.

    The best example is meeting here and reflect and discuss with people with very different background.

    Love it.

  12. Johnno

    Johnno Valued Member

    The Taiji classics are a bit like the US constitution. (Only without all the amendments.) Practises can change subtly over time, but the classics give us a yardstick to measure whether what we are doing is still really Taiji.
  13. El Medico

    El Medico Valued Member

    But some of them ARE practical training guides,while some are just basic ideas,execution,theory,etc.

    Of course much of what was written was written for the initiated and wasn't meant to be intelligible in those days for those outside the disciple circle.
  14. Chen dakhan

    Chen dakhan New Member

    It seems Tibetan budhism explains Taichi also , or they both explore the same phenomena .
    Dakhang :-D
  15. Chen dakhan

    Chen dakhan New Member

    And , in my experience / much more humble than before opinion, there's big danger in using written word as a guide to which direction to go, it's better to use them to check; like a trial balance. When you get there it's never what you thought it was when you started ; the Tao that can be written n all that lol then of course, to return to wuji, you have to let everything go , beyond subject and object; but that's easier said than done .
    Dakhang :-D

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