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 7 July 2012

Creation Myths

It's the done thing these days to imagine a "prologue" to the main events: witness the recent film "Prometheus" as one of the very worst examples of this to be found in popular culture...
People like to do prologues to tai chi chuan as well, to explain the "backstory" as it were. Many of them, in fact most of these are very unconvincing. Particularly the ones that edit out the martial content. Tai chi chuan has always seemed to me like the art that was designed to be done after having trained in some "hard" style. It is, in my opinion, more of an approach to martial situations than a formal style of movement. It has now become a style, of course, out of necessity: it's very difficult to market a concept, particularly when one is surrounded by schools who are very sure of their lineage, the effectiveness of their art, and the skills of their founders. I'm not just talking about nowadays: I imagine it was the same in China two-hundred years ago. When someone says "demonstrate your art" what do you do if you don't have a "form"? Is is possible that the tai chi form arose out of a desire to have something concrete to demonstrate to prospective students? Obviously the Handform has benefits in and of itself, but I wonder...
It used to de rigeur ten or so years ago to talk about tai chi chuan as having sprung out of the combination of Xing-Yi and Ba-gua, which makes total sense to me on a physical level. Seven Stars looks like pure Xing-Yi and when I did Nine Palace Stepping recently in front of some Shaolin guys, they asked if I  had ever trained in Ba-gua. These two arts are rarely mentioned in connection with tai chi chuan's genesis today, presumably to give weight to tai chi chuan's miraculous virgin birth several thousand years ago, as some would have it. Others would point out that tai chi chuan became what is recognisable to us today right about the time George IV was illegally marrying Catholics and burning his way through the country's finances in the pursuit of various architectural follies.
I like to imagine tai chi chuan being cooked up by a bunch of worldly-wise and weary old salts who simply no longer possessed the vim required for extreme conditioning, or  acrobatic high-kicks, but whom were essentially still damned kick-arse. Using their pooled years of youthful high-jinks and encounters, and perhaps mixing in some basic Taoistic wisdom which favours the less frenetic approach to life, they came up with something none too fancy but which worked even if you were a bit overweight or had a dodgy knee or whatever.  Whoever they were, and however it came about, I salute and thank them for their cleverness, and their bloody-minded lazy-arsed effectiveness.

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