Is Taiji Becoming Too Diluted?
Taiji has become increasingly popular, with many more teachers of varying backgrounds and training. The following versions of Taiji now exist: Taiji for Seniors, for Kids, for Balance, for Arthritis, for High Blood Pressure, for Chronic Pain, for Back Pain, for Shoulder Pain, for Knee Pain, for Lower-Leg Pain, for Neck Tension, for Chest Tightness, for Fibromyalgia, for Digestion, for Stress, for Weight-Loss, for Better Sleep, for Healthy Aging, for Happiness, for Energy, for Flexibility, for Peak Peformance, for Osteoporosis, for the Brain, for Brain Injuries and Stroke, for Fall-Prevention, for Diabetes, for Heart Conditions, for Rehab, for Varicose Veins, for Parkinson’s Disease, for Veterans, and for Life; Gentle Taiji, Seated Taiji, Aquatic Taiji, 3-Minute Taiji, and even Equestrian Taiji. On one hand, this increase in popularity is valuable because ancient Chinese knowledge is being disseminated. On the other hand, much content and exposure to the traditional elements are being lost—especially the martial elements. As a result, the health benefits of Taiji are reduced, and essential knowledge is becoming increasingly missing from this art, perhaps irreparably so.
Historically, Taiji evolved as a method of self-defense, and its health benefits were byproducts. Now, the health and self-development benefits are of primary importance to most practitioners, some of whom are elderly and sick, and few students are interested in anything pertaining to the martial aspect of Taiji. How then can these benefits be retained in the absence of the martial training? I've been thinking about this issue and have come up with the following start to approaching it:
The movements of the Taiji form were designed to inculcate the mental, spiritual, and physical elements so that practitioners would be ready and able to bring these elements forth when needed for self-defense. Those very elements rather than the hands-on martial practice provided many of the benefits of practicing the Taiji form. As these elements become diluted, their corresponding benefits will also become so.
Thus, at least a partial solution is encouraging teachers who have been exposed to the combat elements to find a way to transmit the essential martial elements without necessarily engaging in the combat element. Such transmission should especially go to those students who will teach.
We need to start by finding a way to include essential but mostly missing elements such as (a) nèi jìn and the timing of its yīn/yáng aspect, (b) dòng/dàng (meaning move/swing, which utilizes the optimal timing of shifting and turning relative to the circular motion of the arms for maximum transfer of movement), and (c) the optimal expanded shape of the arms for sustaining nèi jìn in all movements.
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