From 29 May to 29 July 2015, our Tai Ji Fire course took place. We welcomed 11 new students from Mexico, Poland, Ireland, Denmark, Portugal, Australia, Switzerland and France. They settled within the temple compound, and were introduced to our martial art family and to the rules and etiquette of living within a temple with a Daoist master : how to light and offer incense, how to beat the drum in the morning, the requirements and prohibitions of the temple life, the duties and chores of each student, etc. Through a ceremony that took place on the 30th May 2015 within the main altar of the Five Immortals, they were given Daoist names and entered the 24th generation of the Complete Reality Dragon Gate sect of Daoism (Quan Zhen Long Men).
The new students were first introduced to the practice of sitting meditation, its theory and practical aspects, and we all started sitting meditation together for one hour every evening. We also learned the practice of Dao Yin, the early morning Qi Gong practice, to renew and gather the rising Yang qi of the first hour of the day, including the sun-gazing method, and the standing meditation method, that was to be maintained for at least 30mn. Within one week, all students acquired a routine to practice these early morning exercises and the evening sitting meditation by themselves. For the first month of our training, we mostly focused on the Water style of our Tai Ji form, training for 3 to 4 hours every morning and every afternoon. At first, the students learned the complete form of the Heavenly Horse Tai Ji, Tian Ma Tai Ji, made of 33 movements, in a very systematic way, posture by posture, holding low stances for repeated periods of time, so that the form enters their body’s memory in the correct position. Once this initial process was completed, we trained the Water style even deeper, very slowly, until we were all able to link each movement with the next and really flow through the form without interruption, like floating clouds and flowing water which never stops. Everyone’s bodies had already changed and shaped themselves with stronger roots and more flexible limbs throughout this process. The student’s magnetic fields started to develop within the temple spiritual power.
In the same time, during rainy days, we also studied the theory of Tai Ji :
– History of Tai Ji : from the foundational concepts of the Great Dao giving birth to One (Tai Ji) giving birth to Two (Yin Yang) giving birth to the ten thousand things… all the way to Tai Ji Quan, the fist forms as we know them today. So it can be said that the root of Tai Ji comes from the foundational principles of Daoism, put into form by the ancient shamans from their observations of nature’s cycles, and refined through the generations of masters; and that the original Tai Ji Fist comes from the Huang Di Jing, the Yellow Court Scripture, an ancient Daoist Scripture that only high priests used to be well-versed in, and that it comes from the Daoist transmission before extending into society to the various Tai Ji families.
– Requirements for the body : including the mysterious teaching of what is held at the top of the head, how to develop our eyes’ spirit, the working of the breathing during practice, the correct position of the tongue, chin, chest, back, hips, knees, toes, shoulders, elbows, palms, and the storing of Qi within the Dan Tian…
– Requirements for the movements : hands spiraling and feet grinding like silk reeling, one egg under each armpit, 5 bows in the body (spine, legs and arms), joints bent waist twisting hips turning… Moving clouds flowing water, waves uninterrupted, never ceasing. Stillness creates movement, the last reaches the first, the soft defeats the hard…
During more rainy afternoons, students learned and practiced methods of massage, especially for the neck, the back, the head and the face. As the practice of Tai Ji develops one’s magnetic field and the energy flowing through the hands, offering massages is a simple way to use this skill to help other people and develop one’s own compassion, with the use of precise hand methods and the knowledge of a few key acupuncture points.
After a month of training or so, we were ready to shift gear and move into the Fire style of practice of our Tai Ji form. We then started training a few Kung Fu basics, such as leg stretches and stances, kicks, and punches, as well as Tai Ji basics of power emission (Fa Li). Day by day, we slowly learned various Power Emission methods of the fists, palms, elbows, shoulders and hips, and were able to incorporate them into the Tai Ji form. One by one, each movement of the form was transformed into power emission. Learning the process of emitting power, gathering power from the ground into the body to emit it in a short strike from a single point of the body, strengthened decisively the internal aspect of our bodies, i-e our internal organs and connective tissues, sometimes inducing detoxing effects for some people. At last, we could grasp the essential key of Fire style training ‘Saving power- drawing the bow, Emitting power – shooting an arrow’ that uses the 5 bows of the body (the spine, the 2 legs and 2 arms) for power emission, first pulling the bow while saving power (Yin) then shooting the arrow for emitting power (Yang). This alternance of soft flowing circular movements to gather power, leading to intense and fast power emissions is the decisive characteristic of ancient Tai Ji, and gives the form a particular rhythm.
Water style aims at developing longevity and harmonizing the five elements within the practitioner’s body; it is soft, slow, with a deep breathing method. Fire style, on the other hand, emphasizes the fighting aspects of the Tai Ji form, the martial art aspect of Tai Ji Quan, fast, fierce and powerful. While training, we need to develop fiery eyes, so that only through seeing our eye’s spirit, the opponent would be scared, and develop our murderous qi, a kind of agressive energy that pushes the practitioner to the development of its complete physical capacity through the training. However, it is very clear that our higher goal is to develop always more compassion, which is the highest power amongst all, so to balance ourselves after such kind of training, sitting meditation is absolutely necessary.
Finally, we trained in Push Hands (Tui Shou), first learning simple basics of the legs and hands, then little sequences, and finally having a lot of fun with some free sparring time. The practice of Push Hands really allowed us to verify the solidity of our Tai Ji skills, especially concerning our postures and hands movements. We also studied and practiced some applications of the movements of our Fire Tai Ji form.
Our last afternoons of theory classes were spent on studying simple methods of Chinese Medicine. We learned how to use cups for diseases caused by dampness, cold and for pain; how to prick to let some blood out and remove evil qi from specific acupuncture points, which can be used for treating fevers, headaches, skin problems, etc, or for emergency situations like strokes or drowning. We picked herbs and rolled them into sticks that we used for moxibustion, an ancient method using fire to cure rheumatism, old injuries, backaches, or illnesses caused by cold and dampness, etc.
At last, all the new students passed through the process of examination of their Water and Fire style Tai Ji form, by Li Shifu himself. Upon completion of the examination, the students who passed successfully were granted a certificate of honor testifying of their diligent studies. It has to be repeated here, that the two intensive months of training we had together were barely enough to lay a foundation, that their purpose was mainly to pass on the correct methods of training to the students, so that they may continue training after going back home. Gong is achieved through time and sweat, and only one’s continuous efforts over a long period of time may really produce it within oneself. There is a saying that for ten years one may not leave the door of Tai Ji. This means that the practice of Tai Ji Quan is one of the entrance door into the gate of Daoism, in itself so deep and rich of learning that it may not be grasped in less than ten years of diligent practice. The highest goal of growing into pure compassion and elevating one’s thoughts should be kept as a constant direction.