Focus Taijiquan - A Study of the Taijiquan Classics

In April of 1644, the last emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644) hanged himself and marked the beginning of the Qing dynasty (1644 - 1912). The Manchus of the Qing dynasty were an ethnic minority that forced the Han majority into submission. This period of transition–from the late Ming to the early Qing–was a pivotal period in the development of barehanded martial art styles such as Taijiquan. It was during the late Ming dynasty that Daoist alchemical beliefs, cosmological concepts, and physical practices were integrated with martial techniques. The Manchu conquest of China influenced the creation myth of these martial styles, and the syncretic arts of fighting, healing, and self-cultivation that resulted from this period have appealed to generations. Before we explore the development of Taijiquan, we need to understand what a martial art is, and the classification of Chinese martial arts today.

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Earth Dragon Canon - Walking, Martial Arts, and Self-Evolution

“This is the only book on the subject that is easy to follow.” D. Gold

 Earth Dragon Canon — Walking, Martial Arts, and Self Evolution describes functional practices for the Chinese internal martial art known as Baguazhang (Eight Trigram Palm). Martial art practice is more than the study of physical movement. This book introduces Bagua and Chinese medicine theories in their historical context. A series of standing and floor exercises stress good internal martial art practice before introducing the circle walking practice of Baguazhang. Three “Stepping” patterns and eight “Standing Palms” prepare you for the ten classical postures of Sun Style Baguazhang. Advance students will find my unique Internal Power exercise routine that developed from my personal journey with the internal martial arts. With so much material at your disposal, I encourage you to develop your own practice routines and remain engaged in a lifelong journey of self-evolution.

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Yin and Yang

In the beginning there was nothing but a formless chaos. Out of this chaos, there was born an egg. When the egg split the heavy yolk sank to become the Earth, while the light egg white rose to become the Heavens. Yin and Yang are represented by two lines.

Yang is a solid line that represents brightness, lightness, masculinity, and the tendency to move upwards.

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Xingyiquan is perceived as the hardest of the internal martial arts even though its development starts and ends with the simplest of exercises--standing. Since it stems from military training it may be the oldest martial art and has produced some truly wonderful martial artist. The practice of Xingyiquan (Hsing-I) is the practice of the same thing thousands of times. If you are looking for flowery forms with dramatic jumps and spins you should look elsewhere. The Xingyi student works daily to practice the simple until it is highly refined. Thus the saying, “practice hard, keep it simple.”

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The simplest modern definition of wuji is the state before, or more precisely the state before creation. The problem with this definition is that it implies a definition of creation, and defining creation is a touchy subject.

The historical and more literal definition of wuji is without ridgepole. A ridgepole is a timber laid along the ridge of a roof. Attaching the upper ends of the rafters to this pole creates a sloping roof. Adding a ridgepole to a structure creates a horizontal apex that separates the roof into two halves. This separation is taiji.

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Wu Xing

The Five Phases are called the Five Elements, but the system of five phases does not describe static elements, rather interactions between phenomena. It was employed as a device in many fields of early Chinese thought, including seemingly disparate fields such as geomancy, astrology, music, military strategy, martial arts, and traditional Chinese medicine.

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Searching the internet for information about fitness will turn up millions of results. One type of physical activity that appears as being the safest and most beneficial is walking. Walking can reduce the risk of so many diseases that it sounds like the miracle claims made by many "alternative medicine" healers, however, these claims are backed by major research.

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Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) translates as supreme ultimate fist, or great extremes boxing. The concept of Taiji is found in both Daoist and Confucian philosophy where it represents the beginning of movement, and the creation Yin and Yang. Quan is a term meaning fist, or fighting form.

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Qigong is a term used to describe physical, mental, and breathing exercises for health. Qigong exercises are classified into static and dynamic postures. Taking a broad look at the history of qigong practice, you first must understand that at the time these practices were developed; they were not called qigong. For the daoist and Chinese medical doctor there was dao yin, and for the buddhist there was the yi jin ching, for example.

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Qi is the most difficult concept to define when discussing martial arts or Chinese medicine. The reason for this difficulty is that term is associated with a kind of mysticism that causes many rational people to dismiss discussions of qi entirely.

Before attempting a rational explanation of qi let me state flatly what qi is not. Qi is not magic. Qi is not a new (or ancient) force that scientists have not discovered or measured. Qi is not electromagnetism or some variant of electromagnetism that acts as a magic force on the world around us. At its simplest, qi was a way to define and classify all those invisible forces that made the world around the observer function.

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Huangdi Neijing

In the Huangdi Neijing (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon) the Universe is composed of various principles, such as Yin and Yang, Qi, and the Five Phases (Wu Xing). The work was one of the first medical treatise to stress the integration of both spiritual and physical treatments as a holistic approach to medical treatment. The Huangdi Neijing is composed of two texts. The first text--Suwen, or Basic Questions--covers the theoretical foundation of Chinese medicine and its diagnostic methods. The Suwen includes topics on Feng Shui, Qigong, acupuncture, herbal medicine, fortune telling, meteorology, and astrology. Because of this vast amount of information it is a major text of Daoism. The second text--Lingshu, or Spiritual Pivot--shares the practical elements of acupuncture therapy in great detail.

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Cosmology is an account or theory of the origin of the Universe, and by extension man’s place in it. Many martial arts take their name or philosophy from Confucian, Daoist and/or Buddhist cosmological concepts. At The Walking Circle we do not view these concepts as being fixed in time or in polar opposition to each other, rather we seek to understand how they influenced and borrowed from each other over time.

Many cultures have creation stories derived from scriptural teachings or considered dogma. In some creation stories, the universe was created by a direct act of a god or gods who are also responsible for the creation of humanity. In many cases, religious cosmologies also foretell the end of the Universe, either through another divine act or as part of the original design. Many esoteric or occult teachings create elaborate cosmologies that represent a "map" of the Universe and various states of existence.


Eight Trigram Palm, or Baguazhang (Pa-Kua Chang), is the youngest of the Chinese internal martial arts with much of its growth happening at the beginning of the last century. Baguazhang is easy to practice and the health benefit that continuos walking provides is obvious.

The practice of circle walking, or Turning the Circle, is Baguazhang’s (Pa-Kua Chang) characteristic training method. Practitioners walk around the edge of a circle in various postures and periodically change direction as they execute martial forms. This practice trains flexibility, body alignment, and martial agility. Since the circle walking practice can be applied to any martial art, Baguazhang contains a wide variety of techniques that are executed while moving. This variety can be overwhelming, but the greatest masters of the art are known for training extensively in only a few postures or palms. In short, Baguazhang is an excellent activity for those looking for a new exercise program or for those seeking to improve their martial art practice. It takes the simple post training skills of classical martial art training and ads a walking component that, when combined with some imaginative changes of direction, provides a fitness program that never grows stale.

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In 2852 BCE Fu Xi is credited with creating the Eight Trigrams (Bagua). The trigrams of the Bagua, and the hexagrams of the Yi Jing are more complex representations of the simple Yin and Yang symbols of a broken and solid line.

There are two arrangements of the Bagua trigrams. The first, pre-heaven Bagua, is based on The River Map. The dots are unitary (base one) representations of the integers one through ten. In this diagram the sum of all the odd or even integers on the periphery equal 20. Adding any number on the inside squares with 5 (the center) will equal the number on the outer square.

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Zhang Sanfeng

Zhang Sanfeng (1247 - 1370) is another legendary figure of Daoism and the mythical creator of Taijiquan. Some stories about Zhang Sanfeng place him as early as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907 - 960 CE) when China was undergoing a period of disunion. Others place him in the Song dynasty (960 - 1279 CE) which saw many achievements in science, philosophy, and arts, including the first use of printing (700 years before it was used in Europe), and the use of gunpowder (invented by Daoists during the Tang dynasty) in grenades.

If Zhang Sanfeng existed he was probably born in 1247 and lived during the years of Marco Polo’s (1254 - 1324 CE) visit to China. He studied Buddhism and martial arts at the Shaolin temple before leaving and establishing the Daoist temples at Wudang Mountain.

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Yue Fei

The information we have about Yue Fei and his Song dynasty contemporaries come to us from histories collected during the later Yuan dynasty. As with all such histories it is sprinkled with a lot of myth.

We do know that Yue Fei was a great military leader who is credited with the creation of many qigong and martial forms including Xingyiquan, Eight Pieces of Brocade, and Eagle Claw Boxing. As a child he learned Shaolin martial art from a man named Zhou Tong, who had studied at the Shaolin temple.

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Yu the Great

Yu is regarded with legendary status as Yu the Great (2059 - 2149 BCE), and he is considered one of The Three Sovereigns of China. King Yao ordered Yu's father, Gun, to tame the annual floods. Gun built earthen dikes, but they collapsed, and the project failed miserably. Gun was executed by King Shun, Yao's successor. Shun ordered Yu to complete his father's work. Instead of building more dikes, Yu began to dredge new river channels, to serve both as outlets for the torrential waters, and as irrigation conduits to distant farm lands. Yu spent a backbreaking thirteen years at this task, with the help of some 20,000 workers. Passing his own door three times is a tale of Yu's dedication:

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