Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The role of transition between postures in Classical Taiji


There has been some call by students to discuss the role of the  various postures that repeat themselves as well as the role of “intention” in Classical Tai Chi.  We can certainly do this but to start things off I think no discussion of intention and repetition would be complete without a discussion of transition. 

As a martial art and in its place as an art, Classical Tai Chi is a medium that is ever changing, a mobile medium as it were.  The transitions between the many postures flow on and on and with sufficient skill on the part of the practitioner are performed with such continuity that there is no gap to be found in the “stream” of internal motion.

For the practitioner of “external” Tai Chi which is the modus operandi of large frame Tai Chi and for which there is no apparent shortage, there is no call to convert what they do to internal movment.  Transition between postures can proceed without concern from the obvious external movements. For the practitioner of Classical Tai Chi the task is to first learn the footwork contained in the first eight lessons, up to the first cloud hand movement.  The movements of the upper body then require MINIMIZATION OF EXTRANEOUS EXTERNAL MOVEMENTS, FOR ONLY THEN CAN INTERNAL MOVEMENT FLUORISH.

In the beginning of round form study the student will really only be learning the very obvious internal movements, extrapolated in most cases from the offline silk reeling practice.  It is in the learning of subtle internal movements however where one sees the play of the transitions.  For the subtle internal movements have to be threaded together to form  continuous movement but they also include transitional movements in the form. 

The importance of understanding this cannot be overemphasized for the key to offensive and defensive techniques is to be found in being able to perform a seamless transition.  Yielding/defending, attacking/counterattacking all need to come from many diverse angles, come from varied tempos, fluid transitions and being able to rapidly change between yielding and counterattack are an  imperative to the Tai Chi practitioner.

In the practice of the Classical Tai Chi form, each form is meticulously balanced as to tempo as well as structure and direction. The student should understand that form requires this but the space between the forms (transition) also requires this meticulous balance.  A clock will  show us a basic synchronization that the second hand and minute hand can arrive together. However the Tai Chi form/transitions need a more advanced synchronization for as we have said there is a multitude of subtle internal movements that are tied into transitions…many of which may each be moving with a different tempo. 

"Raise Hands Posture" is a good example to show not only "transition" but timing or "tempo" as well.  For in the movements of the right arm, left arm and left foot, we see a classic example of the varied elements leaving at the respective times/space/directions but still arriving at the same time at their "destination".

Much like the Algebra word problems many loved to hate, we could have several  movements (“trains”)  all leaving from different locations, different distances, using different speeds but all needing to arrive at their destinations at the same time.  In Classical Tai Chi we call this timing and the best word to describe its requirements is exquisite. For its need to approach perfection is to be found both in the form but also in the spaces between the forms…their transitions and their subtle constituents the internal movements.

1 comment:

Rick said...


Another very good post. For me, timely too, as I'm starting off the year with a deep dive into the round and square forms.

If I were to pick a "best of" post to form a training manual for CTCC, this would be one of them.