Welcome to The Palace Guard, the tai chi chuan and martial arts blog for intelligent martial practitioners. As the blog develops, I hope to feature other writers with a fresh take on the martial arts and related subjects. For now, I hope you enjoy my posts: feel free to leave comments, or email me at the address available on the profile.

Saturday 30 July 2011

The journey of a thousand tai chi miles begins with...

Apologies for the slackness of late, but I'm back now!

My idea for tai chi training at the moment is lightness of foot and swiftness of change. The image and idea that many people have of tai chi is rather ponderous. This I think is because people confuse the benefits of doing the handform slowly, with the actual martial application. In tai chi we learn good balance and structure so that we can then move our feet, not so that we can stand still. If we are out of aignment, our body is biased in one particular direction, and thus our options to move are reduced. We have to "be on our legs" as Ron Sieh puts it in his rather nifty little book "Tai chi chuan: the internal tradition" published by North Atlantic. Stepping is itself slightly neglected by the Classics: of the Thirteen Tactics, five are stepping and they are: centrally fixed, left, right, backwards and forwards. Well, like, duh...There are also the "Seven Stars" and "Nine Palace" methods, and our Da Lu drill also features nifty footwork. Think fencing, think boxing: these arts have masterful stepping methods. Look to them for inspiration. Notice that of the rather lame five steps in the Thirteen Tactics, only ONE is centrally fixed...
The idea of being able to step gives us the idea of following our opponent. We don't always want to follow,as there are two sorts of retreat that the opponent may make:1) He may be retreating or disengaging in order to swing back with something bigger, or to tempt you to come forward so he can hit you, or 2) He may have had enough and be trying to beat a genuine retreat. In the first case you want to stick and smother, in the second you want to let him go andd maintain a ready stance and awareness. The line between these two may not be immediately discernible.
In the next edition of "Tai Chi Chuan and Oriental Arts" I have an article which talks more about people's fixation on fixedness, one which may ruffle some feathers. So look out for that if you're a subsciber, and if you're not...well why not?

Thursday 7 July 2011

Whose tai chi gang are we in?

I'm physically out of action for a good few days, owing to a minor but painful operation hem hem...
So I can't train. Boo. I can philosophise, however...

We in the Monkey Army can't help but feel that, as far as the "tai chi community" goes, we are outsiders at best. Our opinion of what the art is about doesn't seem to be shared by many (any?), and we are caught between the two camps: the competitors and the healers. Really, we are a third camp all to ourselves. What is best? Try to convince the rest of the validity of ones's view? Or stay as the grey men, content to roam the outskirts and pass on what we know to the interested few? The latter way seems to be the one of integrity to me.

Another beast struggling to survive on its lonesome

I can see why people end up breaking away, and starting up their own thing. It's not that we wish to pioneer a "new style" or anything like that, but it's a question of expression: is there the room to express what interests us within the existing forms of tai chi?
This may all seem very navel-gazing, and it is. It's just a martial art; it's not something that the world would be bereft without...On the other hand, we wish to express our gratitude to those who passed it so carefully and expertly onto us. We want people further down the line to enjoy what we have enjoyed, discover what we have discovered. To us, it would be a great shame if the only tai chi chuan available in the years to come was to grow solely from the most popular forms available today. Tai chi chuan, like so many things, is swift becoming a mono-culture, or at best a bi-culture. We like to think that we represent biodiversity, facing the wave of McTaiChi TM Inc. that's heading our way. And with the construction of the "Tai chi city" in Huairou, Beijing, to look forward to, our work will be cut out for us.

Hopefully I'll be up and about soon and will stop bothering you nice people with this nonsense.