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I recently had a chance to "define" what Classical Tai Chi is to a new class that I am teaching. "Classical Tai Chi", I said, "is the art of internal motion, directed by internal discipline and starring internal energy". To which one of the students moaned "ooohhh boy". If I had to guess what she meant by that I would say that she felt the definition was complicated. From my point of view however, it may not only be the most succinct definition I have ever used but also the most accurate as well.
The definition also encompasses the eventual goals of learning Tai Chi whereas the numerous and let's face it, the corny definitions of Tai Chi have never done it justice. I got the "what is Tai Chi?" question from someone at a party just a couple days ago. Instead of giving me a chance to even say anything, the woman's husband interrupted and said, "Tai Chi is a meditation". I felt like saying: That's only one kernel of "corn" out of the box. The "corny definition" box includes "its for relaxation", "it's like Yoga", "it's a dance", etc., etc., ad nauseum. Those one faceted definitions, I'm afraid, have been so overused and are so corny they have gone completely stale. It's not only merely corny, it's really most sincerely corny . ...Just as I have suspected all these years the public perception is in the death grip of the dreaded "cliche' disease".
I quote Tem Horwitz from Tai Chi Chuan: The Technique of Power. He feels that cliche's are metaphors of our social and emotional lives: From pp 14, "Cliche's are a curious phenomenon. They are truths universally evident, yet cheapened by constant repetition and simplification until they lose the substance of their meaning. This has been the sad fate, within the last few decades of much of the Oriental philosophy that has found its way westward. (Funny that as I was writing this, I had to "multitask" and respond to a student on Facebook. In order to enter my response (a link to my website) I got a "security check" from Face book. It wanted me to enter the "security word" "ORIENTAL". Tsk, tsk, facebook, that one is really N.P.C. Who has not seen the poster or greeting card with a few well chosen words from Lao Tzu concerning change and the cycles of the universe? A small clear bell of recognition rings the first time you see it and then it fades away in the over-abundance of words and pictures and hip decorating motifs."
What Horwitz says about cliche's is tailor made for Tai Chi. A new definition is overdue in the public perception. I can't help but thinking how ironic it is that my definition is not "new". It is simply the correct one that I got from my teacher Master Stephen Hwa. How ironic it is as well that it once again became "correct" but Young Wabu had to bring it 14,000 miles to the U.S. where he passed it on to Stephen Hwa. Stephen Hwa (in typical humility) simply says he wanted to "document what I learned from my teacher".
Here in extrapolated version are the components of the definition, courtesy of "Uncovering the Treasure" a book by Stephen Hwa, Ph.D. Internal movement (neigong) "directs" external motion (waigong). Waigong is soft and relaxed while neijing (internal energy) moves in the body. Neigong becomes the "engine" that drives the Tai Chi Form.
In "Pivot", Y.L. Yip and Leroy Clark stated that Wu's Tai Chi was called "The Solar Plexus School" . "Pivot" was a lengthy article in Qi Journal about the 1950's fight between Wu Kung-i and Ch'en K'e-fu. In "Uncovering the Treasure", Stephen Hwa quotes Jou, Tsung Hwa. From: "The Tao of Tai Chi Chuan, The Second Stage". "The hallmark of the second stage is the use of the torso method. Torso method is characterized by use of the body, specifically the waist and spine, to initiate and empower the movements of the arms and legs...Only those who reach this stage can truly be said to be practicing Tai Chi, yet these are few indeed."
Few indeed as well, are those that will quote this: "Tai Chi is the art of internal motion, directed by internal discipline and starring internal energy". Ah well, It is still gratifying to know that even though I am among the few and am squarely on the right path. I am taking the first step along side my teacher in righting the good ship Tai Chi. It is a Herculean effort to be sure but the cliche' does say: "Journeys of a thousand miles..."